Monday, February 28, 2011

A Big Ol' Duck Egg

Well the Bickerson's are making a regular attempt at procreation again.  After almost a year with no duck eggs, Mrs. Bickerson, aka Yacky Doodle, has laid eggs for 11 days straight.  I don't know what she's doing or why she wasn't laying anymore, but all I can think is, omelet!  An even sweeter thought is that if we want to make more ducklings we can try incubating some of them.  I thought our chance to do that was long gone.

The Bickerson's were an afterthought to hen raising.  After purchasing four Golden Commet pullets and a little black Bantam, who we later found out was a Golden Seabright, we decided that while the chicks were under two weeks old it was a good idea to add ducklings if we wanted them.  My husband said he'd stop by the feed store after work to see if they had any left from the spring shipments.  He came home with a brown paper bag that he was gently cradling in his hands.  A faint, "bew bew" could be heard coming from inside it.  My little boys and I sat down while he folded down the top of the bag for us to see what was inside, a surprise to the boys.  I immediately picked up the fuzzy yellow duckling almost driven to tears by the puffy sweetness of its soft little body.  My sister had raised a little yellow duckling when I was a child and I had completely forgotten how adorable they are.  The other was a little Mallard, black and yellow and as fuzzy as a dandelion seed head.  Apparently, we had a mixed pair because they had been the last two remaining ducklings at the feed store and no more would be shipped for the season.  We were all very happy to give those two neglected babies a home. 

We named our little ducks, Yacky Doodle and Daffy after our two favorite cartoon duck characters.  Daffy was the Mallard of course.  In a hurry, we learned everything about duck raising as we could before the time would come to move them from the brooder to the hen house we were building.  It was easy to work out the dimensions for the hen house and run, by making it according to the size recommendations for 8 to 10 birds, but what we hadn't counted on was the fact that ducklings grow an ounce a day.  They were quickly surpassing the chicks in size and taking up all of the space in the brooder.  It became an ever increasing problem to find a larger container for them as the ducks grew.  We wanted to raise them with the hens, so did not want to separate them while they were young. 

Every morning we would run warm water in the bathtub for Daffy and Yacky and let them swim to their hearts content, zipping from end to end like mini motor boats.  Carefully, we'd wrap them in towels and get them as dry and warm against our bodies as we could, imitating what we thought a mother duck would do, then we would take them back to the brooder to warm completely under the brooder lamp.  We realized that to keep them happy, we would need to make a pond for them and the task of building a farmyard for our poultry grew more difficult.

After a long summer of waddling and bathing, quacking and pecking around the farmyard, we moved our ducklings who were now full grown and named Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson because of their ceaseless squabbling, into the potting shed that's attached to the rear of our home and is more like a screened-in porch.  There wasn't as much room in the hen run as we thought there would be and the ducks made a horrible mess by trying to bathe in the drinking water.  They spent the winter in the potting shed on a fluffy bed of pine shavings and were moved into a new home we built for them in the spring.

I would love to raise more and have a large, safe yard for ducks to roam at will, but as loud as Mrs. Bickerson is, think Afflac commercial, we have hesitated to let the eggs incubate.  But now that she's laying again and spring is just around the corner, I have to decide what to do with that big ol' duck egg she's giving us every day.  Do I carefully tend the eggs and let them grow into those soft little puff balls with the stubby featherless wings, or do I save them to make one of my favorite breakfast dishes, yellow squash, sausage, and cream cheese omelets.  I could have one every day, it only takes one duck egg...gonna have to think about this one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Healthy, High Antioxidant Lunch To Feed A Cold-- Chicken and Veggie Pita Wraps with Tomato Bisque

This meal is high in antioxidants which can boost the immune system.  I made this for my family when we were all fighting a cold.  It hit the spot!!
Here are detailed instructions for making your own pita, if you enjoy scratch cooking and knowing exactly what goes into your food.  You can use white or whole wheat flour.  Quinoa or oat flour would be an exact exhange in the recipe.  Whole wheat may require a bit more water. 

Chicken Veggie Pita Wrap

4 Pita or unleavened bread
2 cups lettuce, chiffonade
1 c. snow peas, sliced lenghthwise
1/2 c. carrots, finely shredded
1/2 c. whole black olives
1/2 c. sliced Roma tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, grilled, sliced

Spread 1 T Lime Chickpea Dip on each pita.  Lay lettuce down on pita, then other ingredients.  Roll up and cut on the bias.

Tomato Bisque

1 clove garlic, minced
12 oz. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T whole wheat flour
3 c. milk
1 T golden flax seed meal
2 T grated asiago cheese
salt to taste

Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until translucent, careful  not to burn. 

Sprinkle in flour whisking into a roux.
Reduce heat and cook for one minute.  Stir in tomato paste, whisking vigorously. 

Gently pour in milk while whisking to avoid lumps forming.  Whisk smooth. 

Heat to boiling while stirring contstantly.  Reduce heat to low simmer and stir and cook until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add flax seed meal, whisking to smooth and season with salt to taste.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a bit of asiago cheese in the middle.  Serve.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Serious Side Effects of Common Pesticide Use-- It's not just a lot of hype, your masculinity may be at stake!

 A new study shows that ten common fruits and vegetables that most families eat in abundance daily contain pesticides that have been seen to lower testosterone levels in men.  Buy organic when you can and do your best to grow your own produce.  Even if you live in an urban area or lack the growing space for a full organic garden, you can grow lettuces and herbs easily in a container garden and save a portion of your grocery budget for organic fruits that you can't grow yourself.

Another study shows what may be the alarming results of the frequent use of the herbicide known as atrazine and sex changes in frogs.  It appears that the residue can actually feminize these frogs.  Really, do you want to be eating something that can cause side effects such as this?  If you are pregnant or trying to conceive would you be willing to take the chance that by eating pesticide treated produce you may be altering the development of a growing male fetus?  In the article by Ashley Ahearn, Endocrine Disruptors Linked To Genital Changes and Sexual Preference, it is suggested that signs of this endocrine disruption may be going on all around us and is visible in the "second most common birth defect".  The effects on sexual preference are also startling when you think of the implications.  Check out the article for yourself.  If rumors and the hype surrounding the dangers of commercially grown food does not get your attention, maybe the details of just a few of the side effects of the saturation of our food with common chemicals may.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another One Bites The Dust

Well, we have lost two out of 11 birds, now.  Our second hen from the first batch we raised from chicks four years ago went missing today.  I felt bad because we didn't notice until we went to lock them all in the hen house for the night after letting them work on getting the garden ready for planting.  When we did a head count, one of our Golden Comets was missing.  She was found, immobile, way in the back of the run under the hen house.  It seems that she died of natural causes.  Everyone else appears to be acting normal and very active so I am not worried too much about it, though she will be missed.  The last casualty was around a year ago.  Like this hen, everyone else seemed to be acting normally during the time surrounding her death and no trauma could be detected to her limp body.  It is a little sad, but nothing like having to have our 15 yr. old beagle put to sleep last spring.  Like my son said, more food for the other chicks. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I really, really, really love yoga.  I wish so badly that I had started practicing 20 yrs. ago.  It has only been a little over a year since I started.  Swimming has always been my favorite sport and form of exercise.  Even as a child I was never athletic, but when I was in the water I was a fish.  Yoga feels the same to me as swimming.  I can't explain how, but it just does.  Here is an article I wrote on the health benefits of regular yoga practice.

This article says nothing, however, about how yoga makes me feel.  I'm not quite sure, so I am going to scribble down some thoughts and see if I can put my finger on it.
1. stretched-- there is definitely lots of stretching in yoga that I can't achieve by doing anything else
2. calm-- forcing myself to move slowly while focusing on breathing is extremely calming.  I can't avoid feeling more at peace when I do's impossible.
3.  mindful--  I tend to have a short attention span.  Yoga postures force me to be mindful.
4.  long--  I was taller than other kids I grew up with, but am not really a tall adult, per se, but yoga makes me feel like my arms and legs are abnormally long.  It's very strange when I am stretching in all directions and it seems as if my index finger will touch the opposite wall at any second and that my toes extend beyond the horizon and into the atmosphere behind me.
5.  balanced-- well, duh, there's a lot of balancing in yoga, but that's not what I mean.  I feel so balanced after practicing for a year that it feels like I am doing something that I genuinely should have been doing my whole life.  It feels like yoga was really missing.
6.  clumsy and inadequate--  on the other hand, after a year of yoga practice I feel like such a novice, and still stare in awe at some of the poses that I am sure I will never be able to do.  But of course if I am sure that I won't be able to do them I never will be able to do them.  Still, I'd rather not break my nose, which is what seems could only be the end result of any attempt I may make to successfully master the more challenging poses.  I still have about 30 lbs. to lose before I'm even willing to try.  No sense trying to "stand on my head" when the weight of my backside will only be pulling me back down.  Yes, I know...the visual...gross!
7.  bold--  I still feel proud of myself for entering into an area that was so foreign to me in the past and it makes me more willing to live outside of my usual self.
8.  aware--  I have learned through yoga and how much I crave a yoga session, to be aware of what I need.  I need the quiet focus and have remained conscious of this need and now do things throughout my day to ensure that I get it.  It's strange to be so selfish.  I used to line cook in a frenzied, desperate attempt to get what I needed to feel at peace with myself and my life.  I felt guilty if I was home with my family and not cooking for strangers, which is what I loved to do and not contributing to the family bank account which is what I felt I should do.  But when I was working I just felt guilty for taking precious time away from my family to do something that I wanted to do.  Yoga just seems to fill the gap of all that need and calms me down when I start to get antsy and wonder what I'm going to do for myself.
9.  bendy--  I am definitely more flexible and have fewer joint aches and pains since beginning yoga.
10.  connected--  I don't know how much I buy into the religious aspects of yoga but there is a universal, timeless connection I feel to humanity by making yoga a part of my life.  I'm not fond of people, really, and need few in my life, but this connection to other practitioners in our time and through the past feels more like a connection with nature than with other people, but stems from that connection with humans.

Well ten is such a good, round number, I think I'll stop exploring now.  And just like when I post a rich, chocolaty recipe on my food blog or research such luxurious edibles as creme angles and cheesy potatoes gratin and end up craving them, I am now yearning for that yogalicious feeling and need to go get me some!

There's a Monkey in my Hen House.

Sometimes late in the morning while I'm going about my business doing household chores, I am mentally transported to a tropical rain forest.  Even in the winter this happens on occasion.  After three years it still cracks me up to hear the monkey in my hen house.  The jungle sounds aren't coming from a monkey, of course, but from my little Golden Seabright Bantam, affectionately dubbed "Bantam" by my young son when she was no bigger than a river stone.
She is the sweetest little pet we have ever owned and is a family favorite.  It's amazing to hear such a raucous come out of that little mouth of hers as she jaunts around checking on each member of her brood.  Always the mother hen of the bunch, I'm convinced that she would be on the top of the pecking order if it weren't for her minuscule stature.  Even as a tiny chick, we caught her with a fuzzy duckling under each wing, protectively sheltering them against her warm body.  She is still protective of her "chicks" though they are all grown and dwarf her in size.
It is her protective nature and the companionship she feels with this mismatched flock of birds that led us to first discover the tropical bird-like, simian call of Bantam's.  So my son could play with her and let her fly around in a larger space for a bit, we brought her to our screened in potting shed.  After only a few minutes she stood up very tall and let out a call that sent everyone into fits of laughter.  We had no idea until then that our little mini chicken could utter a sound and certainly wasn't expecting to hear the noises that came out of her.  There she stood in a beam of sunlight which turns the black edges of her scalloped feathers to an iridescent teal green, hollering her heart out for her babies.  She didn't stop until we brought a few more of the chickens in to join her. 
Since finding her voice, the monkey chant continues.  I have never been able to find out if she sings after she lays an egg, which she still does almost every day, though she's going on four years old, or if for the sheer joy of making her tiny existence known.  Either way, it always makes me smile to hear the monkey sounds coming from the hen house.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent, Dry Floor Cleaner, Carpet Deodorizer

I have used this recipe for over two years.  I still use Ivory soap, though it is rumored that the formula has changed.  It foams beautifully, so I suspect it has SLS as an ingredient.  I intend to switch to Dr. Bronner's Lavender solid castile to grate into it, but am using the Ivory to save money.

2 bars Ivory, grated
1 box borax
1 lb. baking soda

Combine all ingredients.  I actually find it relaxing to sift my hands through it.  Don't know why, but that's why I mix it by hand.  Smells so nice.
Laundry Detergent:
I use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load, but have seen others state that they only need 1/8th cup.  I wash in cold, generally.  I use hot water and add vinegar when doing whites.  I have no problem with my clothes getting clean. 
Dry Floor Cleaner:
It works really well to deodorize.  Just sprinkle it around the bathroom or any other high traffic area.  Leave it to sit for at least 30 minutes, then sweep it around vigorously.  Sweep it into a dust pan and all the dirt comes up with it.   I do this in the bathrooms between mopping. 
Carpet Deodorizer:
It also makes a great carpet deodorizer.  Sprinkle, brush in with a broom.  Let sit overnight and vaccuum the next morning.
I also soak the grater in the bowl I used to make the mixture until the soap dissolves off and use that water throughout the day as an all purpose cleaner.

Anything Goes-- the slouchy, tacky, unprofessional side of a small town hoe'r.

I am a professional cook when I work.  Cooking is my favorite thing to do.  I have chosen to stay home and homeschool my children and work my small farm to grow healthy, chemical free food for my family, refusing to contribute to the problem of what I see as a toxic planet. I buy organic as much as my grocery budget allows and have reduced the use of chemicals in our home as much as is feasible.

This blog is a way for me to share my sometimes whacky attempts to help the Earth by recycling, repurposing, and reusing materials which has always come easy to me, as well the successes and failures of my organic gardening attempts.  It is here that I wish to document the ways in which I use the eggs and produce that I garnish from my novice experience in hobby farming for my own learning purposes as well as for those of anyone who may read my posts.

The Diary of a Small Town Hoe'r is something I have wanted to start for a few years now.  A stagnating sense of creativity in my culinary endeavors has led me to jump head first back into the culinary field by starting a blog dedicated to great food and the intense cooking that I learned in culinary school even if I am only cooking in my own home and no one but me and my family gets a chance to taste the final products of my culinary experiments.  I am continuing my culinary education with the cooking blog.  I can't allow that side of my personality to be back-burnered, no pun intended, any longer, but neither do I wish to let my goal of sustainable, green living slip away. 

This blog is my alter ego of sorts, contrary to the one that I show on my cooking blog.  What I don't want to share on the cooking blog is how determined I am to choose natural, organic when possible, and fresh ingredients.  I want to keep it focused on food and cooking.  This blog will allow me to share my obsession behind choosing organic, the source of the food that goes into my cooking, how I grow and store the vegetables and herbs that I cook, and why it is important for me to think health first concerning my family and the Earth. 

I hope that anyone who stumbles across this blog will not only find it useful, but will share their green living and organic gardening ideas as well as healthy recipes and alternative and herbal medicine with me.