Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What the bleep!

So we got our chickens on Monday and I was hoping to blog this evening about how wonderful and excited this new venture is, but than today happened.   Or I should say this evening happened, right around dusk.  Gage and I had opened the chicken coop door this morning for the chickens to have their first  romp outside.  They were petrified, none of them stepped outside for hours.  They talked to each other and pecked around their coop happily with the door wide open.  

So, many hours later I decided to make those girls go outside.  I pushed them out of the coop into the wide, wide world.  They looked around, shook out their wings and ran back into their coop.  Silly girls, back outside you go!  Eventually they stayed outside and seemed to start enjoying themselves.  I was so happy with myself.

They spent their day going inside and out - being chickens.  I felt so happy that we had gotten the girls and brought them to this wonderful home.  The girls are here & we are happy.

But than, holy bleep.  Gage and I go out around dusk 5pm-ish, to lock the chickens into their coop.  I was told and expected that they would just go back into their coop around dusk.  They loved their coop, spent two full days in their coop and when they were let outside continued to run back into their coop.  So we were going out to lock them into their beloved new coop for night time safety.

When I walked into the back yard, one of my black girls was up on top of her coop.  A hop, skip and a jump from the 6 foot fence that surrounds our yard.  The 6 foot fence that separates our beloved chickens from the neighbors yard.  The neighbors yard that houses the dog that eats chickens - well certainly kills chickens.  Gage and I stop in our tracks and I tell him not to move.  I race out of our yard, around our house to the neighbors house, where I calmly (as calmly as I can) knock on the door, while my new little baby chicken roosts on the fence between our yards.   I quietly tell the neighbor, who is in the middle of making dinner, that my new chicken (that she didn't know about) is roosting on her fence.  She winces that lets me know that isn't good - Dakota kills things.  "I know" I say "I know".

So she sends her son Ryan into the back yard to chase the chicken back into our yard.  Well, that doesn't work.  The lovely, silly, uncoordinated, scardey-cat chicken jumps into their yard.  Uh-oh!

Luckily they had brought their dog inside.  Their dog that lives outside, sleeps outside is an out-side dog was inside at that moment.  Huh.  Well I say "let me in, I'll catch her".  I like my neighbor, she is a single mother and a nice person - but definitely not interested in dealing with chickens in her yard, or probably in our yard.  I run after this crazy chicken and try to catch it, but chicken are hard to catch!  I keep seeing my neighbor in the corner of my eye as I chase the chicken and she is trying to keep a semblance of calm.  But this situation is clearly not OK for her.  Her son Ryan is having a ball and I am finding it a little hard to figure out whether I should have fun with Ryan or stay serious and adult about this situation.  So I get an old towel and finally lasso this a-hole, rambunctious chicken, who is clearly not grateful enough of her current situation.   Gather her up, let Ryan pet her a bit and start heading home.

I leave with my neighbor asking if it is even legal to keep chickens.  Um . . . . well, no not really - but it is currently being negotiated in the city council and many of our neighbors have them.  Um, Um, Um . . . . .     Well thank you for letting me catch the chicken and this will never happen again I promise.  I hope that I can keep that promise for the neighbors sake, for the chickens sake, for my sanity.  I stuck her back in with her sisters into their beloved coop.

WEW, the first 24 hours with the chickens, the girls - did I make a mistake?

Well let me get another glass of wine and ponder that.  Hmmmmm.

Updates and bios on the girls coming soon.  Even if they are a-holes.  :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken Coop

The coop is done!!!  The girls will be here soon.

Here is our finished product.  With steps going up to their door.  We thought about building a ramp, but decided the steps would be more interesting.

Adding decorations and a personal touch.

The fence is up, now we just need the chickens.  Can't wait.

The Slingshot

The most important thing when building a slingshot is to find the perfect stick.  That was the first thing we did.  Although the perfect shape it started out a little big, but we can deal with that.

Try to ignore how dirty my child is and take a look at that perfect slingshot stick!   We found it attached to a bush and lopped it off.  After accomplishing step one we needed to cut the stick down to Gage size and add the additional parts.  As we weren't up to trekking to the hardware store to complete our impromptu project we began to search house and shop to find the finishing parts.

We found one rubber band that was kind of small and some blue twine.  So, we became creative.  Cutting the rubber band and affixing it to the twine, which we than attached to the perfect slingshot stick, now the appropriate size.  And bingo - we have made the perfect shooting machine!  With just enough stretch from the small, single rubber band to make it effective, but limited in its shooting strength.

The perfect slingshot for a 4 year old.  It shoots rocks about 3 or 4 feet and folded pieces of paper about 12 feet.  A relatively safe toy that we made together with creativity and lots of fun.  :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I am so excited (perhaps a little too excited), we are getting chickens!  I have been hemming and hawing on this subject for some time now.  But I finally decided they are worth the extra work and poopy smell :)  For those who haven't spent much time with chickens the notion of being excited about them may be completely foreign.  However, my childhood memories are filled with chickens.  My aunt had a farm and I spent as much time as possible there riding horses, taking care of the cows and having fun with the chickens.  They would follow us around, try to eat our scabs, all sorts of fun stuff.  During the cold winter months both the chickens and the cats would ride on the warm backs of the cows as they foraged in the fields.  They knew from trial and error which cows were more willing and docile.  I witnessed a cat try to climb upon one of the horses only to experience a strong rejection.  The horses were far less tolerant of the seemingly symbiotic relationship.

Just being around free range chickens helps you to understand their whimsical nature and strong personalities. If you still doubt me check out this great documentary The Natural History of the Chicken.  (If you have netflix you can stream it)

We are getting 4 pullets (laying hens about 5 months old, just beginning to lay eggs) from Split Rail Farms in Penngrove, one Buff Orphington, one Austrolorp, one Americauna and one Sussex.  I pick them up the first week in February - a birthday present for Imogen.

Gage and I have been building our chicken coop.  I found a great coop plan at www.mypetchicken.com using pallet wood.  The plan cost $15 and was definitely worth it.  For those novice builders it is a great reference, although I altered the plans slightly.

We started with the base:


And built this into the main structure:

Added the roofing material

Almost done!  The nesting box has been built - I will add that on when the main structure is done.  Last we will paint it, purple is the planned color.  I will add a picture of the finished product when it is done, along with pictures of the girls!  :)  So excited.

Last here is our run for the girls, where they will spend their days when we don't have them out in the yard with us.  Lots of slugs, snails and other insects have made this space their home until now!  The chickens will eat them up.   I will update you on the chickens and their names when we get them.  Again, I am so excited.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bread, bread, bread

I love bread.  I love any kind of fresh bread, the crispy white bread, the hearty whole grain, rye is a particular favorite.  Yum. I had finally come to terms with the fact that I can never make the quality I get from bakeries,  when I stumbled upon some interesting articles (I love Mother Earth News) both touting instructions on how to make great bread.  There were many similarities in these articles, namely they both negating the necessity to knead.  This little fact was a pleasant surprise.  Every time my bread didn't turn out I had always assumed it was due to my lazy kneading.  I would start out with great commitment to kneading for 10 to 15 minutes, and last maybe 5.

I perused this article  http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/Artisan-Bread-In-Five-Minutes-A-Day.aspxh a clip from the book Artisan Bread Making in 5 Minutes a Day.  This was an information article, giving me plenty of information to get started including her basic recipe.  The next article http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/homemade-bread-zm0z10zsto.aspx concured with the no knead method and suggest that you don't need a recipe.  Encouraging the novice baker to play with your dough, add some flour, yeast, water, salt and whatever else sounds interesting and get to know how the dough should feel, etc.  But what I found even more interesting was the information the author found in his quest to understand why we knead.  When he was perusing old cookbooks researching bread preparation and such,  he found that the cookbooks in the 1950's started the emphasis on kneading.  Quotes in the cookbooks expressed that a mother/wife proves how much she loves her family by the time she spends kneading her dough.  Seems very depicting of that time period.  Kneading time came from a cultural value, not a culinary importance.  So what we know, what we believe to be fact, to be necessary may just be what our culture, our role models have touted.    Hmmmm, even more interesting.  Who know that bread could be so historically interesting.  One more reason to not knead your dough :)

Anyways, I decided to start with basic recipe from the Artisan Bread Making article, 6-3-3-13, 6 cups warm water (about the perfect bath temperature), 3 Tbs yeast, 3 Tbs salt and 13 cups flour.  I cut the recipe in half to start.  The author also says to reuse the same container (she recommends a jar which does seem like the perfect devise rather than a bowl, I will get a gallon jar and use that next time) with each batch.  Just scrape down the sides and leave it in the bowl to add to the next batch, it makes it more sourdough like.

Here is my bowl with some left over from the last batch.

Here it is scraped down

So next I added 3 cups warm water 1 1/2 Tbs yeast and 1 1/2 Tbs salt.  Mixed everything together and let it sit for a few minutes.  While it was resting I stepped things up a notch and milled some grain.  Yes, I have a little mill and wanted to add some rye to the mixture.  So I milled some rye berries.

I added 4 cups of the fresh rye flour and 2 1/2 cups of unbleached white flour.  The freshly milled flour is great, but definitely different than what we are used to.  It is less processed and more flavorful - I have to admit my family shows a preference for the crunchy white loafs - but I still change it up a little :)

The appearance of the dough is more like a gruel.  It is not a dough-like consistency.

But it would seem the yeast are much happier in the mush, there is immediate activity and bubbles begin to form in the gruel shortly.

I let this "rise" in a warm place for 2 hours and the dough has gotten significantly larger.  Now I get to the baking.  This is the step that can make or brake your bread.  I have made a huge batch of dough, so I cut out or tear out a grapefruit size ball, cover the rest and put it in the refrigerator, leaving it for up to two weeks.  Taking out these balls to make a loaf whenever we have finished the last.  This is a genius idea, now we can have a freshly baked, small loaf of bread everyday.  Great for the taste buds and the wonderful aroma filling the house.

So I take this ball and make it into a round loaf, using lots of flour on the board as this is sticky dough.

I let this loaf rest/rise for 40 minutes to 1 hour.  Pre-heat the oven to 450.  I have found that a hot oven is VERY important in getting a good loaf of bread.  I moved the oven rack to the second slot from the top and put my baking stone on that rack.  When I cook the loaves in a hot oven close to the  top, they get that crunchy outside and moist inside.  Slide the loaf into the pre-heated oven and bake for 35 minutes.

A beautiful, crunchy, moist loaf of bread the perfect size for my family of four.  We are all happy.