Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Miss Henny's Wild Ride

     Miss Henny has had a challenging life. Not the usual kind of born-in-the-ghetto story that you're expecting, but rather a life plagued by misunderstanding and the lack of acceptance that follows bookish girls who skip a grade. Except, paired with a heavy dose of dumb in place of the bookishness. But don't worry - we can still craft this into a makeover story.
     She was given to my friend Kate along with 6 other unsexed chicks as an Easter present. Later, after many mornings of countless crows, it became obvious that Henny was the only lady in the group and also that having 6 roosters sucks. So Kate made plans to drop all the birds off to be processed. Around the same time, Henny laid her first egg.

     Keeping a single hen through the winter didn't make much sense, and killing her right as she began to lay was also an odd choice. So, we offered to take her in, as we had just lost Miss Meatloaf to a bad case of "sorry we had to break your neck." These things happen. Henny was bigger than our birds, the only one with a full beak, about six months younger, and by far the most beautiful. She was doomed. The girls picked on her and at her for quite some time, and she seemed pretty sad. Plus, she always wore a smirk when I would pet the other girls as they 'assumed the position' for a rooster. She had gone way beyond heavy petting, and frankly, life at our place was boring. Having transferred from public school to a private all girls school, I related to her pain.
     For much of the time that we had Henny, she was able to roam the yard freely. Free ranging chickens are at their happiest - they forage for worms, bugs and greens, and most importantly they leave all that petty BS back in the coop. Kind of like having a reprieve from mockery during school breaks when everyone is too busy having fun to care about how big a loser you are. Miss Henny was actually doing ok. But when summer came and all of the gardens in the neighborhood got planted, we had to lock the girls up again. Miss Henny slid back into a lethargic trance only worn by the most far gone of social outcasts. She wouldn't leave the (unfertilized) eggs and barely ate. She was broody.
   Around this time I spoke with my friend Kristine, who is a caretaker on the island directly across from our shoreline with her husband, Tim. Together, we've been keeping a beehive on the island. She was waiting for a break in the weather so that she could boat in and get some more laying hens since hers were starting to slow. And that's when Miss Henny's future flashed before my eyes. And she was slightly more popular. 

     On this particular weekend, my parents and uncle were visiting and my nephew and brother and law were also around, entered in the LCI Fishing Derby. My dad, who grew up working on the family chicken farm, volunteered to manhandle Miss Henny into her cage. We all decided to make the trip together.

     Jack carried her down to the dock to wait for Kristine while Josh fished. Miss Henny really didn't have much to say at any point during this adventure, but usually she's a loud, high-pitched squawk-chirper.

     It was a windy, choppy, yet beautiful day for a boat ride. Jack put a nightcrawler in the cage with Henny, but she just sat on it. She seemed numb to the whole affair.
     After we docked and unloaded (we had some bee maintenance to deal with) we packed up a cart that Kristine was towing behind an ATV - I sat on the back while my family found room in the cart.

     Kristine's dogs followed us everywhere we went - Jackson even has his own seat in front the windshield.

     Our trip to the barn included a view of the garden, and a visit with the alpacas.


     And then, it was time. Henny needs to spend a few days in a cage in order to protect her form all of the 'mean girls in the lunch room' per se- but then she'll have a lot more space and freedom, as well as the love of a rooster.

     Her new family includes some birds who look a lot like her - Buff Orpington/Black Star mixes, as far as I know.

     No pictures of our bee tasks - sorry! I'm sure my mom took some, and maybe I'll insert them later. Needless to say, it was a great tour, and we saw lots of amazing sights. Solar panels, cisterns, a beautifully constructed log cabin - it is truly an inspirational place.
     Back at the dock, Jack and Josh were still fishing. They caught 23 fish at Savage Island, and 45 for the day. But sadly, they did not 'catch the big one.'

     And then, just like that, it was all over. Miss Henny was gone. She was the funniest chicken I've known, but I was usually laughing at her, and not with her (not like Miss Rita, now there's a clever girl.) I'm kind of looking forward to seeing her again, and that in itself is a makeover of sorts. ??
     So, until Kristine comes to get me, or I patch the rest of the holes in our canoe, I'll just have to wait.  My biggest hope is that she becomes a mother - she really likes to sit on eggs.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Get Your Slow Blog Button Here!

   Slow Blogging is a term that has surfaced a few times on the internet - maybe you've even heard of it? You can read the original Manifesto by Todd Sieling here, which I find remarkably well stated. Similar to the Slow Food movement, the concept is that some things are improved upon by a slower, more thoughtful approach, and that the opposite mindset (i.e.; fast food) can inspire rather ill consequences for both bloggers and readers. Together, with all of these weekly, daily, and hourly posts, we are fueling a pace to life that feels beyond our control and often times void of true substance.

  Of course, Slow Blogging can hold very different definitions for all of us. We might each admire the idea for varying reasons and institute our own pace. Some Slow Bloggers post just a few times a year, others monthly, and some of us can't keep any sort of noteworthy regular schedule. You might feel that within your community, weekly and daily posts are considerably slower paced than your peers - feel free to define Slow however you like. In my mind, it is simply a rejection of any sort of expectation. You are a person, it is your life, and you should share what you like when you like without feeling obligated to anyone - even yourself
   My exploration of this topic has surfaced one constant theme: Slow Blogs have very few readers. This seems to be an unavoidable fact, and it may be enough to make some bloggers steer clear of the whole affair, especially if they are attempting to earn profits through advertising. Maybe in addition to re-thinking the pace of blogging, we could also be re-thinking our methods for gaining value from the blogs we write. Your blog may not earn you any monthly income, but it may eventually assist you in reaching other life and professional goals;  therefore, you might consider keeping it clean - void of fluff, junk, and anything else that reveals you to be a last-minute, I'll just throw something together individual. Just sayin'.
   Something else that I've noticed is that other than Todd Sieling's Manifesto and a NY Times article, there is not a lot of readily available information out there. Unless you search 'Slow Blog' you're unlikely to come across the concept. Although the idea has been discussed briefly here and there, it really hasn't been popularized to the level that I think it deserves. So, my solution has been to create a button that bloggers can publish on their sites, notifying readers that Slow Blogging is a concept the author subscribes to. Hopefully, it will spread from blog to blog (admittedly a pipe dream via my 32 readers) but wish me luck.
   If you would like to publish the Slow Blog button (illustration by Katya Andrievskaya) on your site, simply copy the html code below and paste it on your blog. I will compile specific instructions below the code for anyone who needs more direction. And feel free to share your stories and opinions! I will happily expand upon this post with your words - together we might build something beautiful.

<a href="" title="Artful Greens"><img src="" border="0" alt="Slow Blog Button" /></a>

To publish this button on Blogger, copy the code, and then 'add a gadget' under 'customize.' Select HTML/JavaScript, and paste the code in the box. It is not necessary to title the gadget. Save and view to see your new button.
I am not experienced in other blog publishers, but hopefully we can get the correct information up for anyone who might need help with Wordpress, etc...

A little Wordpress help from Piet, July 13, 2010:

I like the idea.... However the button is a JPEG and hence has no transparent background (surrounding) but white only. I made a GIF version with transparent background. The usage is the same in WorldPress.
Is it okay to use it in this way ?

P.s. The GIF is on my site and better for my performance. You can copy it from there if you want.
Thanks, Piet


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mountainside Maple Sugaring

     My father-in-law is a retired engineer who spends the majority of his time at his mountain retreat, hunting, fishing, and working hard to prepare for sugaring season. I wish I could tell you more about how hard he works repairing lines, fighting with the weather, and chopping wood. A better kid would know and might even offer to help. Somehow he still smiles when we he gives us our yearly gallon, and black fly season aside, I think he enjoys his time alone in the woods.

Dave's design/build sugar house

     You must've heard by now that mountain living is bit different from your standard country living. Loretta Lynn still gets airtime, right? Well, there's no electricity here, although some people have wind turbines and solar panels, as well as gas lights. We're talking outhouse life. Roads turn into trails that are only accessible with snowmobiles or skis in the wintertime, and everything becomes impassible as the  mud takes over in the springtime. School bus deer camps, cooking kettles hanging from chains, huge deer fences around gardens, and the steady hum of buckshot. Paradise or Hell, depending.

Beaver dams abound up here

A house down the mountain; I think I want to live here. Those black dots make up a sweet little container garden that got blown over in the high winds. Notice the covered bridge over the creek bed. Perfect place to sleep.

     This was my second trip up to camp this season. The first time the sap wasn't running because the nighttime temperatures were too high (sap runs best when the nights are cold and the days are warm.) This time around we had a different issue; a recent cold snap froze all of the sap in the tank, and although we were expecting the weather to warm up, the wind really kept things in check. We had to thaw the sap with boiling water so that the boiler would fill before dark.

   A web of sap lines work their way down the sugar bush to the mainline that fills this outdoor tank. From the inside of the sugar house, the quantity of sap in the tank can be read right through a window. My father in law keeps excellent records of the sap flow, sugar content, weather conditions and overall quantity and quality of syrup. Mostly he writes it on the walls inside the sugar house. The building is designed with a vent that opens via a hand crank, allowing the steam to escape. (My mother used to boil sap in our kitchen, until she ruined the walls - all for about 1/2 cup of syrup...)

     As soon as the sap began flowing freely from the outdoor tank into the boiler, it was time to fire up the stove. Maple syrup is 66 % sugar, and this sap was about 2.5 %. At 2 %, it takes 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. The higher sugar content meant that less sap would be needed - about 34 gallons per one of syrup.
     On a cold day like this one, it's really nice to be in the sugar house as it turns into a sweet smelling sauna.

     For all of that water to boil off takes a really long time. You're supposed to drink beer, I think. Personally, I could take pictures all day long without ever getting bored, but my nephew was losing his ten year old mind. My mother -in-law had told me that years ago everyone would boil hotdogs in the sap for lunch as well as eggs, which I brought along. Jack would've killed for a hotdog as he has no use for eggs. But he did peel one. There's a pond right outside the door that we were able to cool the eggs in, and then we stored them in the snow so that they couldn't float away. I thought they might have a hint of maple sweetness to them, but no such luck, they were pretty ordinary.

     The egg trick did not take much time. Severe boredom began to set in. Even the dog was bored. Jack and Georgia shared 2 cups of snow to pass the time.

     And then, it all happened. And by this I mean very slowly, and after a really long time. The sap began to thicken, and we all tried to stay out of the way while Dave made a draw. If you've ever made jelly or candy, you'll know about that visible moment when the liquid has evaporated enough water to change the sugar content and begin to congeal. You really have to master instinct and timing to recognize when to act, or else you'll get it all wrong. If you overdo it you can taste a smokiness in the syrup, aka: Bean Syrup. Only good for making baked beans.

     You may know that syrup is graded, and often times it continues to darken in color and gain a stronger maple flavor over the course of a season. This is usually weather related and is not set in stone. This year, for the first time ever, my father-in-law's total take was comprised of more than half 'Fancy' or Grade A Light Amber. I don't even remember the last time I tried Fancy, and I don't know anyone who buys it. But we have a whole entire gallon, and it is wicked, wicked good.

Fancy on the left, then medium amber and dark amber

     All of the syrup passes through a filter before being graded and packaged. This particular batch was Grade C, and therefore went into a 5 gallon bulk container for cooking. Most likely, whatever is left of the season up here will also produce Grade C, and after this container is full, Dave will call it quits.

     We finally made it to the good part. Sugar on Snow. Followed by shots of syrup. And then a long, bumpy car ride home.

    Here are our favorite things to do with maple syrup:
  • slushy spoonful out of jar from freezer 
  • drizzled over spoonful of peanut butter
  • mixed with cocoa powder on the stovetop to dip fruit in
  • pan fry tempeh in oil, then add a glug of syrup and a dash of soy sauce at the end to make a glaze
  • toss with carrots, salt, and a little oil before roasting
  • maple baked beans, good feta cheese, homemade bread, and salad = my favorite dinner
  • maple apple butter, maple pumpkin butter, maple sweet potato butter
  • thinned syrup with cardamom/ginger over fresh berries 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ode to Green Smoothies

In college I wrote an assigned speech about Vinny Barbarino, which was (if you'll please pardon my bragging,) a smash hit. You'd think this would encourage me to boldly continue on proclaiming my adoration for whatever I want, whenever I feel, but truthfully I'm much more inclined to the Haiku. Not so much skilled as inclined. My favorite traditional Japanese Haiku is by Matsuo Basho c.1689:

Not knowing
The name of the tree,
I stood in the flood
Of its sweet smell.

That one gets me a bit weak in the knees, in a romance for nature kind of way. Moving on to human nature and modern  Haiku, Jack Kerouac wrote in 1959:

All day long
wearing a hat
that wasn't on my head.

Who can't relate to that? But now, thanks to my assuming post title, I'll share something with you that tells you everything I feel about Green Smoothies, in 17 syllables or less:

heart of a monkey
gas station shopper
blends best guess.

Several years back I randomly began reading this raw vegan blog - I think I was looking for a salad dressing recipe. It was my first blog and I still read it, as somehow it's evolved into this can't-put-down novel for me. Quirky cast of characters and all. Regardless, I became really interested in Raw Foods and began experimenting. For the sake of making an enormously long story short - I cannot be a raw foodist; my throat itches all of the time, and the majority of the recipes involve foods that come from nowhere near where I live, which interests me zero. But I did come away with some valuable ideas and recipes. 

Green smoothies are fruit smoothies which include greens, hidden deep down in a landslide of fruity taste. Kale, spinach, chard, purslane, beet greens, lambsquarters - and all you'll ever taste is fruity goodness. Victoria Boutenko, a well known raw foodist, wrote a fantastic book called Green for Life complete with theory, data, recipes, and all things green smoothie related. The premise here is that we need to eat a motherlode of greens - but we don't. We've evolved to enjoy other tastes, and sitting down to bowl after bowl of greens is not manageable for most people. So, she's devised a way to sneak them in - like how mom's grate apples and sweet potatoes into those Mickey Mouse pancakes. Although totally undetectable, eventually you might start to crave the taste of the greens, advancing on to recipes that feature them more than hide them.

My go to green smoothie recipe includes strawberries and blueberries from my freezer (still frozen,) a handful of any kind of greens, and apple cider. If there's any bitterness, I add maple syrup. I also like romaine lettuce mixed with melon and ice. And I'm not opposed to throwing in a banana now and again, but usually my taste buds equate bananas to baby food, especially when they're pureed. I use a Vitamix Super 3600 which I bought off Ebay and have grown to love. I feel similarly emotional about the Vitamix as I do my pets; our time together is bound to be shorter than I can stomach. Later, I found the same model fortuitously underpriced in a Florida thrift store and bought it for back up. Vitamix blenders have high powered motors and the ability to reverse the blade motion, but no matter what you use it's really important to macerate the greens to smithereens, as hiding the taste is only so good if the texture remains chewy. Plus, greens in your teeth is not what we're going for here...

I'm embarrassingly behind on planting for Spring. I normally would've planted the hoop house in February, but instead I went on a road trip for 2 weeks. Of course, life is always changing, and I have to go away again before I can plant. So, for now, I'll buy my green smoothie greens, but I assure you that they are the sweetest when they are home grown.

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