Friday, January 31, 2014

Eggses! And cooking eggs in cast iron

Our new chickens are laying! As you can see, the eggs are a nice blue-green color. They're slightly smaller than the eggs Beatrice and Sophie lay, but they're just as yummy and the yolks are exactly the same size. Three of them make the perfect omelette.

I now have a favorite egg dish that I make most mornings for breakfast:

3 eggs
1 tbsp oil
pat of butter
1 mushroom
1 section of green pepper, chopped
1 thin slice of onion, chopped
1/4 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 of a roma tomato, chopped
1/2 cup of mixed cheeses (I like smoked gouda and cheddar)
salt & spices (I like salt, pepper, dill, and a tiny bit of curry)
bacon blue cheese dressing by Lighthouse or your favorite creamy dressing
1 tortilla (preferably the princess-y kinds like the blue corn flaxseed by Mission)
Optional: guacamole or chopped avocado, chopped lettuce, sliced olives

Heat a cast iron pan on medium heat. Warm the tortilla and set it aside on a warm plate covered with a paper towel. Add the oil to the pan and sauté the mushrooms, green pepper, celery and onion until the onions are transparent. If you like, you can lightly salt the veggies. While the veggies are cooking, beat the eggs with the seasonings. Add the butter to the pan. When the butter is melted, pour in the eggs and turn the heat down. Let them cook for a bit and then scramble. When the eggs have mostly cooked through, add the tomatoes and the cheese. Heat to desired consistency. If you like melted cheese but don't like browned eggs, you can cover the pan. The tomatoes and cheese will heat through very quickly. Dress the tortilla with bacon blue cheese dressing. Add optional ingredients to the tortilla. Roll the eggs into the tortilla and enjoy!

Because time is often short in the mornings, when I want this for breakfast I chop the ingredients on the evening before, usually when I'm making salad. The mushrooms, peppers, celery and onion go in one snack-sized ziplock bag, the tomatoes (sometimes salted and with a splash of balsamic vinegar if they're not very ripe) in another, and the lettuce and olives in a third bag. It'll keep for a couple of days so you can make more than one morning's ingredients at once. We usually keep grated cheese on hand, as we have two sets of the fabulous cheese grater/grated cheese storage plastic combo sold at IKEA. It allows us to create custom blends of grated cheese that we use on salads, eggs and sandwiches.

It's a pretty rich breakfast burrito, but the benefits of having mostly-fresh ingredients and cooking a high-protein meal from scratch outweigh the fat and cholesterol contents. It seems like the more home-cooked meals made from scratch I eat, even if they're classic bad-for-you items, the better I feel, and the more pre-processed, factory-made meals I eat, the worse I feel. I also seem to gain weight when I eat ready-made meals as opposed to scratch, home-made meals, even though the calorie content is probably higher with the scratch meal.

By the way, cast iron will act like a non-stick pan if you let it do its thing. I preheat the pan for a reason, add the oil and the butter at those times for a reason, and let the eggs cook a bit before I mess with them all for the same reason. The eggs won't stick (much) to the pan if you keep that oil hot and don't scrape too much. Using a wooden or bamboo spoon helps. When you're done cooking, clean the cast iron right away while it's still hot and the eggs should come right off. If they don't, put some water in the pan and leave it on the stove on low heat while you eat. When you're done, turn the burner off, run the wooden spoon around the pan to separate the remaining egg from the pan and rinse using a clean sponge under very hot water. Lightly oil the pan and put it back on the burner, which should still have some residual heat. Wipe out the pan after a few minutes with a paper towel until it feels dry but is still dark with oil. If you do this faithfully, you never have to use soap in a cast iron pan.

If you let the pan sit, though, you can later boil it with water in it, and then use a little soap, some elbow grease, or even an SOS pad to take care of the dried food in the pan. You might go down to bare metal in the process ... don't worry. Then oil the pan and put in a warm oven or on a burner set to 2. Very lightly oil it. Leave it on the burner until the oil begins to brown to the bottom of the pan. Wipe with a paper towel. Add a little oil to a clean part on your paper towel and wipe the pan with it. You'll notice a kewl pattern forming on the bottom of the pan as the oil seasons the bottom of the pan. Keep wiping with fresh (thin) layers of oil and continue to season the pan until the bare metal areas have darkened somewhat. Before you put the pan away, make sure that there's as much free oil wiped away as possible so that it feels dry and has a satin, not glossy, sheen, and please let it cool first. Over time, if you're good to your pan, it'll be a uniform black and will be shiny, but not greasy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Yay Chickens! And Seeds!

We've had some progress in our flock combining efforts. Well, efforts may be a strong word. Ever since they were out of quarantine, we've let them do whatever they want, and whatever they want has meant pretty much that they avoid each other.

Until now!

My DH has been feeding them at the same time every day, which has encouraged Sophie and Beatrice to come down to the coop because the new chickens get fed before them. And voila! They still don't roost in the same place, but I'm hoping that will change soon.

And then ....

The rooster finally started crowing the other day. He's so proud of himself! So I'm hoping that we'll have fertilized eggs come spring, and maybe even a batch of chicks if the little black hen gets broody. That would be so awesome.

In other news, I finally made my seed order from Territorial Seeds. Here are the veggies:

Armenian Cucumbers, Cherry Buzz Tomato, Chinese Pac Choi, Cube of Butter Squash, Flash Collards, Gold Nugget Winter Squash, Helda Pole Beans, Improved Dwarf Siberian Kale, Lemon Cucumbers, Planet Peppers, Kosmic Kale, Red Ace Beets, Stupice Tomatoes (from the former Czechoslovakia!), and Winter Luxury Pumpkins.

In the flower department I have:

Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea mix, Mow-No-More Flower Mix, Rosa Romantica California Poppies, Sunseed Sunflowers, and Unwin's Striped Butterfly Sweet Peas.

Whew! I'll probably pick up some fava beans from our favorite Middle Eastern grocery store, and nasturtiums and some main-season tomatoes from BiMart. Beyond that, I'm set!


The deer fence isn't around the garden yet.

Argh! I can just imagine them foraging their way through my lovely garden again this year, slaying my plantings with large-eyed, big-eared, adorable glee. I told my DH what I'd like him to do for the next stage, and the next time the weather is good and he has some time, he will make it so. Thankfully, realistically, it will be late May or early June before I dare put most of my treasures in the ground. The pac choi, collards, kale, and possibly some of the flowers are the exception. Everyone else will have to wait until the soil is nice and warm.  Sometime mid-February, I'll put tomatoes and peppers into seed trays, and maybe start some flower seeds to, and we'll go from there.

It's all very exciting. I think this is going to be a good year. Of course I always think that when I start planning, but I'm getting better at this every year. Here's to hoping!

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Old Perspective on Phones

Apparently I've gotten to that stage in my life when "I remember when ..." becomes seriously amusing. It's easier to notice and happens sooner now in our lifetimes because we're living longer and technology changes the world so rapidly.

So this morning, I heard an angry buzzing noise, followed by The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme. My DH was still in bed, so his phone was not actually on his body.

That's another sign of our generation–we don't take our phones to bed with us, no matter how sexy the voice on the phone sounds or how many toys there might be on there to distract us. Now I'm editing myself as far as what we prefer to distract us. Moving on!

Back in my day, the phone rang on the other side of the house. We had a fancy house. We had one upstairs, in the kitchen, and one downstairs, in the family room. Sometimes it took a while to get to the phone.

To answer my DH's phone, I had to slide my finger over the screen, and I did an old lady thing. I said, "Rory's phone, Kami speaking." During my youth, no one had a personal phone. You had to learn to answer the phone, and it was a grave responsibility, like being a butler. "Hi, this is the Zeman residence, Kami speaking!" Because, get this, we had no caller ID. Unless we had a pre-arranged phone call coming in (that we had to sit by the phone and wait for) we had no idea who might be on the phone. It might be someone from my dad's work. Some of us were a little psychic and knew why the phone was ringing (or we were lucky guessers.) But my DH's phone told me exactly who was calling, so while I was doing the finger slidey thing, I was already on my way to get to him.

That's another thing. Phone cords! They got twisted and tangled and the older and more worn-out they got, the more often they did that. Longer cords were great because sometimes you could do stuff (or hide in another room with the door closed) but that only made tangling more likely and far worse when it happened. Of course this generation has been deprived of one of life's great joys–dangling the phone at the end of the cord and watching it unwind. (It's faster to hold the phone and let the cord unwind, but much less fun.) Another lost joy–playing with the coils, which could be interlocked, partially uncoiled and recoiled again, etc.

So I'm on my way to my DH with this cordless marvel, and I hand it to him with, "it's G." During the pass somehow, something that would have never, ever happened with the phone I grew up with happened. The phone took a picture somehow. Click! Wrong part of the screen touched or something. I can't wait to see the results. It should be the best pic ever, or at least best pic of the week. For a moment my DH wasn't sure if G. was still on the line. He couldn't hear anything. But eventually he got into the right phone mode and it was all good.

I was raised in the modern era, don't get me wrong. In the unlikely event of a dropped call (almost never happened) we did have one modern convenience during my teen years, and it was actually easier to access than on my DH's phone. A redial button.

But it only worked if we made the call from our side. And it was only the latest number.

Still, it came in handy. The digital phones (the early ones of which had to transmit the rotary phone noises in order to communicate with the switchboard) were a huge advance and my sister and I love playing with them. I did miss playing with the rotary phone dial, though. There was something magical about putting my finger in that little hole and turning the dial around the center pin. (Quiet, all y'all with dirty minds out there!) Also, not only were international calls expensive, we had to talk to a human being to make them, who then talked to a human being in another country to make the switch. There was excitement, drama, and suspense when we made a long-distance call!

And you were never in danger of your phone taking a picture of you, sending you on a wild-goose chase if you're trying to find your way through an unfamiliar town, compromising your identity or pocket calling someone who then listens to your garbled conversation at a cafe for gawd-knows-how-long until they get bored of yelling to get your attention or laughing at you.

Though toddlers were still capable of randomly calling and talking to perfect strangers for quite a while before you caught them at it.

I'm enjoying the hell out of this sense of perspective. It's a never-ending source of hilarity. The fact that half the population doesn't get it doesn't diminish it's charm.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Seeds of Spring

The seed catalogue arrived last week, and seedling growing supplies are in at the stores. Here's a summary of what I've found over the years of starting vegetable gardens on the west side of the Cascades in the Pacific NW:

Despite fears of 'starting too soon' (and ending up with spindly plants in root-bound containers) I always start late. So I'm going to order my seeds this week.
I can never start tomatoes or peppers too early. One year I ended up potting all the way up to gallon containers and they were gorgeous! We had a really good year that year.
I've tried starting squash/pumpkins indoors. Really uneven results. Direct seeding seems to work the best.
Even when starting indoors, early varieties of tomatoes work out the best. In particular I've had good results from Stupice, Legend, and pretty much every cherry/grape/etc. tomato I've tried. Main season tomatoes have always been a disappointment. Even when they get ripe in time, often the tomatoes succumb to various diseases.
Want to try an odd variety? More and more nurseries are offering Indigo Rose and other rare or unusual varieties that I've only managed previously to find in catalogues. Rather than fuss with a seed packet, buy a single plant. It costs more, sure, but there's far less labor, and it takes up less space in your garden (one plant vs. a whole row of something that may or may not work.)
Yes, you can make the soil in your garden too fertile. Guilty as charged. I have to set aside some space for plants that like impoverished or average soils to do well. Not all plants are heavy feeders. Blame my love of tomatoes for wanting to make the entire plot tomato-friendly.
You gotta develop a strategy of weed suppression that works for you. Not a weed-pulling schedule. Those fall apart, and not just because of time constraints. As your veggies get bigger and their roots spread, it gets harder and harder to work among them without causing excessive damage to them. For me, I mulch with weeds and compost. That may have to change this year (due to the rich soil issue) to mulching with straw, chips, plastic, newspapers ... I'll figure something out.
Row covers are your friend, not just to protect the young plants from unpredictable weather, but it also foils a lot of pests. Commercial farmers use it, and you can benefit from that because producers of the material keep the price attractively low so that the commercial farmers can afford to cover a whole field with the stuff and still make a profit on their veggies. Shop around before you buy, and do some research on the various types. I like the white, very thin stuff ... but you have to have every weed off the ground because when you go to pull it up, it'll tear and snag. So good housekeeping will allow you to use the same material year after year.
There's no such thing as too much shed and shelf and potting bench space. Now is the time to get organized. Pick a dry weather day, get out there in the freezing cold and mud and make sure you've got your duckies in a row.
Weeds grow year 'round here. Go get 'em!

I'll be ordering my seeds soon. I'll post my seed order when I make it. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Animal Stories Pt. 2

It had been a long time since the DH and I took the puppies for a walk, so we decided, today was the day.

Bear in mind that the 'puppies' are all adult: two Great Pyrenees crosses and a little herding dog. All together they probably weigh 250 pounds.

So we get our leashes and go outside. Instant excitement. Walkies! The sea of unconditional love froths into a storm and we're surrounded by wagging tails and a yipping, chirping, squeaky little thing running between and under the big dogs. I have no idea how we go the leashes on them, but somehow we did, and out to the 'dirty' car we go.

This car, a Nissan Sentra, is the walkies car and is already lined throughout the interior with white dog hair.

We open the doors and in they pile. The DH and I manage to get in before they invade the front area, shut the door, and buckle up. The scent of dirty dog is immediately overpowering. "We gotta get them to the groomers sometime," I choked as we rolled all the windows down a safe 6" each.

My DH is driving, so I'm the 'arm bar'. I'm fending drooling, excited dogs as we make our way down the hill. None of them are used to being in a car, since we usually walk them up the road from our house, so this is big fun. They're rocking and skidding around in the back and I worry about the big dogs' hips as we negotiate the steep S bends on the hill. But at last we make it to the park. Normally we try to hang on to the leashes so they don't bolt, but this is unmitigated as opposed to mitigated chaos, so we just open the doors and they pour out. I snag two dog leashes and my DH grabs the third. And then I realize we forgot the plastic bags.

My DH hands me the third leash briefly while he forages through the car for plastic bags. In about five seconds I'm at the center of a cat's cradle weaving of dog. The Finn and Chase immediately wind themselves around the nearest posts (two separate ones) and Brian criss-crosses the others.

"Hey, that's pretty kewl," my DH remarks when he gets back to us. "How did you do that? It's doing a great job of keeping them under control."

"Um, yeah, they did that."

It takes a while to get organized, but eventually we hit the trail and cruise around the park. Brian, the big bum of the group, quickly tires. No surprise there, but the little herding dog, Chase, who runs endlessly after cars along the fence line all day long, wears out too and starts heeling like a champ.

We explore a while, cross the dreaded hole-y grate where Chase slinks around so low her belly almost touches the ground and tucks her ears and tail while running around on it trying to escape the evil, and then we head back to the car.

The dogs are all exhausted and just lay there. No arm barring needed. We take them home, they run in through the gate, and we're all good.

"We gotta do this again," I told my DH, but it's going to be a while. I'm serious about the groomer. Gross gross gross. In the house they're fine, but in the confines of the car, not so much.  And yet ... so much fun. The chaos was part of the fun. Walking was fun. Spending time with the dogs and my DH was amazing. Such a simple thing, stuff most people think nothing of. Simple pleasures of life, the cliche' goes. I think it's a cliche' for a reason. It's too true to let go of, no matter how corny it sounds.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Animal Stories Pt. 1

Lately I've been bumming around the house when I'm not at my day job. If I'm not writing, I'm doing art, if I'm not doing art, I'm designing stuff, if I'm not designing stuff I'm reading about art, writing or design. Sometimes I'll do housework, garden, or go for a walk when I get stir crazy.

Anyway, my DH has been taking care of the animals for months now, with me picking up the odd day here or there. I do like having a vacation from it, but I miss my animals. I hardly see them except at a distance. It's good, though, because if I kept at it, he wouldn't have come in from outside with a subtle smile lighting his eyes. He turned around in place to display himself. "Any chicken poop on me?"

He had a dirty shoulder. That's about it. "Nope."

"I got the little black hen to sit on my shoulder. Had to shoe her down after a while. She eats out of my hand now too. Won't let the other chickens get near. And that rooster? He's a big chicken." He smiled and I laughed. "He starts to come closer, and she looks at him, and he moves away again." My DH made a coy gesture with his head. "Like, sorry, I'll go over here now."

"She's the big boss," I agreed. "Does Sophie still come down sometimes?" Sophie being our mean silver-laced Wyandotte.

"Oh yeah, every day at 3 o'clock she's there, and she won't let any of the other chickens into the shed until she'd done. Did you know that the little black hen can fly, like five feet higher than the roof of that shed? She did that when they had a chicken tiff."

"Wow." None of our other birds are capable of that kind of air. The best Beatrice can do is the top of the highest fence post, about six and a half feet. "I hope they all form one flock. It'll be good for them."

We talked more, mostly him sharing micro-stories about the animals, me listening. With me doing the grunt work day job and my DH freelancing, we've changed roles in a lot of surprising ways. This sharing of animal stories after he's had a day of working outside is fast becoming one of my favorites. From where I sit, it looks like he's loving it too, loving our farm and all the crazy critters on it. They're not outstanding or unusual animals, except in this: they know us. Now that they know him better, he and I share something new through them, a new connection in our lives after over twenty years together.

Thanks, little black hen.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Good Things

My DH and I watched Catching Fire the other day.

We seldom go to the movies, and when we do, usually one of us is disappointed. This time both of us walked out of the theater feeling like we could have watched another hour or more. It was that good. I enjoyed The Hunger Games very much. Catching Fire took an already great story to the next level. Outstanding, and highly recommended.

Speaking of highly recommended ....

I had to leave work early yesterday because it felt like someone was knifing me from inside my gut. I don't know if it was just a passing thing, or what happened. Various stomach products didn't even touch the pain. Eating made it worse.

Until I decided it was time for yogurt.

I don't know for sure if whatever was going on fixed itself or not, but as far as timing, the yogurt seemed to be the thing that ultimately fixed my tummy. I had yogurt (plain, Greek, mixed with a little marionberry jam–honey might have been better) when I got home, again in about an hour, and when I felt well enough to eat real food, I had yogurt on my baked potato.

I used yogurt instead of soy milk with my cereal this morning. Here's hoping my stomach is all better!

When something upsets your stomach and intestinal bugaboos, anything probiotic is worth a try. My go-to is yogurt, but if you can't stand the stuff, there are alternatives in the vitamin/herbal remedies section at pretty much any grocery store. It's worth a try. At the feed store, there's a goat version too for my goaties when their tummies are upset! Good stuff, good for you. In fact, we really can't do without our little gardens inside us. Treat them nice, and invite some new friends over for them when they're feeling down.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Happy Birthday 2014

Just a quick note to wish the new year a happy birthday!

Here's some un-asked-for advice, as is traditional for this time of year:

Adopt healthy habits so that you can feel better inside your own skin. Set health goals that aren't abstract, driven by fashionistas or that rely on stupid numbers, like being able to walk on your hands or do the splits.
Make good financial decisions so that you don't feel guilty or afraid all the time. If you're already trapped in a corner, go to the library. Seriously. There are all kinds of resources there.
Appreciate the other beings in your life. The awesome thing about appreciation is it gives to others and feeds your soul at the same time. They don't even have to appreciate you back for it to work. It's like magic.
Feed your brain. Look what doing the same things over and over again does to animals trapped in a cage. They lock into repetitive movements. Caged too long, and the brain doesn't know how to escape its training. Like the polar bear released from a tiny cage, it'll pace the same square over and over even after it's set free.

I hope everyone has a great 2014!