Monday, June 30, 2008

He should get into the naming business

Starbeans named one of our friendly Dominique cockerels "Chicken Coop" yesterday.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Kitchen update: mostly complete, kind of

Our BIL, who works in decorative concrete, completed Phase Two (or is that Three?) of our Kitchen Remodel. He did the counter tops, backsplash, and the floor. It has been very nice - we have really enjoyed having an interesting and attractive kitchen set-up rather than interesting and hideous-beyond-words. Really. It was that bad. Shoddy carpet in half of the kitchen; wheel-chair accessible counter tops and cupboards; general yucky-ness and a kitchen sink that was 6 inches deep.

We were able to choose the colors, so we went with a sand-ish tone for the counter tops as the starter. The backsplash is sand, slate, white, and green - marbley-like. The floor is sand, slate, and white. Because the floor is concrete, my BIL used giant mats to press the lines in; he then went through, by hand, and cut each line a bit deeper. The lines are a little hard to see in these shots, but we had them done in different sizes - big, small, long, short. We are pleased with the results. All in all, a much more pleasant room.

My favorite part of the kitchen is the earthy feel and look of the counter tops

Finally! Rid of that dratted microwave, now and forever

We still have to stain and varnish the new woodwork, nail trim along the baseline of the floor, put up new trim on the walls opposite of this shot, finish off the wallpaper, prime and paint, and raise the front door. It makes my palms get clammy just thinking about it. It seems like it will never end - but mostly that we'll just never have enough time to do it, especially with a toddler and baby underfoot. I'll keep you posted [meaning, you'll hear about it Summer 2009 - when we are finally done].

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008


  • I made a fantastic rhubarb sauce sweetened only with chopped raisins. The original recipe [from my favorite cookbook, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman] called for dates, but raisins can be used as an alternate. It was delicious! We've been eating it on our pancakes. I love rhubarb, but h-a-t-e refined sugar. I'm always looking for ways to get around it in conventional recipes.
  • I love hanging laundry on our clothesline. It isn't a chore, it is a pleasure. I've hung our diapers out to dry since Starbeans was born and tried to hang as much as I could from fencepost to fencepost in our backyard in Minneapolis, but now that I have a pair of sky-blue clothesline poles behind our garage under a towering ash tree, I am in hog's heaven. The breeze - the shade - hearing the leaves rustle above me - hanging the damp articles with Wilburn's wooden clothespins. It feels so good.
  • I rendered lard last week. Yes, I did! My in-laws bought a pig from a local farmer and when I found out, I begged them to save the lard for me. They did, very obligingly, and now I have 3 shiny quarts of snowy-white lard (and more to come). I followed directions from a blog I found on my google search called An Obsession with Food & Wine. It was easy. I made refried beans with it for our bean-and-cheese quesadillas last night and it dyn-o-mite! There is a reason why - other than necessity and using what they had - that Grandma and Great-Grandma and Great-Great Grandma used lard in their cooking. It is fan-tabulous. Besides, who doesn't want to use a good saturated fat vs. these freaky man-made fats that have dominated us for the past 30-40 years?
  • I've been re-re-reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon recently, which has spurred me into soaking and fermenting grains before consuming them. I have already been soaking and sprouting the beans I cook with (I highly recommend this - not only does it heighten their nutritional value, but they cook up in a snap). This week, I've eaten amaranth porridge for breakfast - it has the consistency of Cream of Wheat and smells like roasting corn as it is cooking. I eat it with cinnamon honey, butter and/or yogurt, and walnuts. Delicious. Starbeans, however, prefers his oatmeal.
  • Speaking of cinnamon honey, I finally met our neighbor - the beekeeper. Her name is Walentyna: she is 81 years old, Polish, and as fit as a fiddle. She eats whole foods: the woman makes her own butter and bread and who-knows-what-else. She told me of her elderly mother visiting her here in the Rolling Prairies from Poland who shook her head and said, "America - a country so rich, that eats garbage food." While we were at her house, she introduced me to cinnamon honey: 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 1 cup honey. Simply amazing. I've always loved cinnamon toast, but that dratted white sugar has kept me away from it all these years; I don't know how I could have forgotten about our friend the honey bee. Now I can have my toast and eat it too.

My lard, before the final step of melting it down

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Snugglin' brothers

Diego at almost 3 - Truen at 8 months
My sweet little ones

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's official

Our little Pumpkin can clap [as of yesterday] and he is mobile in a forward-direction, not just backwards or turning in circles. As of today. It wasn't crawling, per say, but he was inching forward - pushing with his fat little feet and pulling commando-style with his arms.

Sweet Little One.

He is also crazed about rattles, cats, slapping things with his little hand, his big brother, sucking on dandelions, and catapulting himself to his belly from a sitting position. What a big boy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A scattered tale of our baby chicks

I was just walking down our long driveway yesterday, after visiting with my neighbor across the road; and I thought, "I live here? Really?! I live here???" It will be a year at the beginning of July. A year ago Monday is the exact date that we closed on our house in Minneapolis. It can still be such a strange thing to contemplate.

Our baby chicks are doing well - like any babies, they are growing and changing right before our very eyes. It is amazing. They are quickly outgrowing their enormous hot-water heater box; it looked so big when we first put them in it two weeks ago. My in-laws are building a transitional coop for the chicks as a birthday gift to Squeeze. [Isn't that a great 31st birthday present?! ...Oh my goodness...I'll be 31 this year...!!] It is in a stall of one of the outbuildings. Squeeze's mom called it a "stye" yesterday. Meaning, a literal pig stye, not just mess (although it is a total mess as well). I'm not sure what it is, but the space is going to work so well for us.

It has a concrete floor, three sides of the building are steel walls, the roof is insulated, and it is right next to a grassy area between it and one of the dairy barns, which will be perfect for the chicken yard. They are building a wall along the 4th side with a human-sized door for us and the chicken-sized door for them. There will be chicken wire along the upper part of the wall, so there will be plenty of air movement in there for them. It is perfect. Perfect! The only downside is that it doesn't have a window and from what I've read, chickens need that; the morning light tells them when to wake up in the morning. We may be able to cut a window for them - we'll see.

Pecking at spinach and grass

Here they are! The buff chicks are Buff Orpingtons, the one light brown one is an Ameraucana (they lay blue/green eggs), the chicks with the black and white flecks (and white spot on their heads) are the Dominiques, and the ones with the black and white coloring, faces included, are the Silver Laced Wyandottes. The Black Australorps are black with a white belly, but it doesn't look like they appear in either picture.

A relaxed Dominique

The Dominique chicks are extremely friendly. Out of all of the chicks, they come running to you instead away. They are very curious, always pecking at my rings, pulling on the hair-ties on my wrist, or climbing onto my hand, as you see in this picture. I am so pleased, because there are ten Dominique chicks and five each of the others. I scored on the friendly ones and didn't even know it! Yesssss. I chose them because I read that they were an American Heritage bird and I like their barred feathering. I definitely like them the best out of the whole crew - I have a feeling we're going to be great buddies.

The Ameraucanas, on the other hand, cower in the corner whenever I put my hand down into the brooder, poor things. Once they are used to my presence, they carry on with their chicken-like behavior: pecking, scratching, giving themselves dust-baths in the wood chips. But they never come up to me. The other three are neither overly-friendly or over-frightened. Some come up, some cower, others totally ignore me.

They were downy soft babies just a few weeks ago. They came in a fairly small box, with breathing hole all around. Squeeze brought the frantically peeping box of babies into the house and as we opened it, they were piling up in a corner squishing the unfortunate ones on the inside and peep-peep-peeping. Poor things. We took them out, one by one, and put their beaks in water. Once each of them drank (by lifting up their heads, swallowing, and smacking their beak together - it is so cute), we put them in their little boxes under the heat lamps - 15 in each. I bet they would be too small for even five or six birds now.

They were downy and round - so tiny. I've noticed that they started feathering out within days, the Buff Orpingtons first. It starts on the end of their wings with the cutest little tips of feathers you can imagine, then it spreads up until all their wings are feathered. Then their tail feathers start to grown, then their backs. They look really gawky and awkward once this starts to happen. Not unlike big-toothed greasy pre-teens with wide spaces between each of their teeth. Just weird.

Now they sleep snuggled together at different points of the day and as soon as it gets dark; but that first week, they slept anytime, anywhere. I watched them fall asleep eating, drinking, and even walking. All of a sudden, their eyes and heads and wings would start drooping, and there they'd drop - whatever they were doing. Literally! The second week, the those that were awake would walk on the ones who were sleeping, causing them to peep in protest and have to re-settle themselves. They are such babies. Even with their natural instincts, they have so much to learn. They are simply adorable.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Photographic miscellany

Have you ever heard of peak dandelion season? Yeah, me neither. But it exists. The soil in these sections of the farm site is extremely poor: so rocky that only dandelions and other raggedy weeds can live. The farmer must have laid gravel down at some point many years ago; and, as my grandma likes to say, it has "gone back to nature" and turned into a sea of dandelions. [If you can believe it, this had been mowed just the day before.] I took these pictures last week and the sea is now all but gone: thus, the peak season hypothesis.

The baby chicks. We moved the brooder from an upstairs bedroom (safe from cats) into a large box in the garage (safe from cats). This picture was taken at the beginning of this week and I can hardly believe how much they've already changed! They are in the process of feathering out and really, they look more like gawky teenagers than sweet downy babies now. I plan to do an entire post on them, once I get better pictures and more time.

A slice of our garden. In this shot, you have the heirloom lettuce sampler in the foreground. Isn't it beautiful?? The next row is badly grown-in kale and spinach next to that. The row after that is turnips, peas, and...I can't remember. Good thing we made a garden map! The row after that is potatoes. We laid down newspaper and straw in all the walking rows to choke out the weeds. Garden items consumed thus far: lettuce, radish, rhubarb, spinach, asparagus. As my FIL was once known to say, it has been "Nummy-nummy good-good."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Personal feasibility

  • Stop eating and buying all processed food.
  • Veto soda.
  • No fast food (obviously) or slow fast food, like Fridays or Chili's (maybe not so obvious).
  • Learn how to cook.
  • Eat as seasonal and local as possible.
  • Patronize local Farmers' Markets.
  • Join a CSA.
  • Patronize local co-ops, or join a buying club.
  • Grow whatever you can; if tomatoes, peppers, or herbs in a patio pot is all you can do, that is enough.
  • Buy a big freezer.
  • Know that change is a process: it takes time.

Barbara Kingsolver made several great points in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: buy whatever you can locally and only what is in season; then create a system for food storage - freezing, drying, canning, root cellaring, etc. While we may not all be able to grow our own food to hold us over the winter, we all can buy it from local farmers: to eat both in and out of peak season. This is my plan for this coming winter. Whatever we can't grow ourselves, I want to buy from the area growers. It isn't limited to produce: buy a quarter of a cow, or a half a pig. Whatever! The options are limitless with a nice big freezer.

Whether you live urban, suburban, or rurally - there are options. In higher density populations, there are co-ops, buying clubs, and CSAs at close hand. In smaller towns and the country, more than likely there will be small farms at hand - and, I'm learning, buying clubs. It is a matter of changing your perspective in food consumption: from processed, boxed, and available year-round to local, seasonal, and strategic. There may or may not be a cost difference, depending on what you are eating. It is a long process, but once you make the switch you'll never go back.

Change is possible, but it starts with each individual who realizes our way of eating - though it may be all we know - is not normal, then going forward to change the way they eat and shop. My hunch is that the change will (and has) begun with the affluent: well-read people who can afford the time and energy it takes to begin pulling up roots and make the switch. Society-wide, I'm not sure if an over-all change is possible unless our lives are shaken up radically. However, that does not mean that we cannot change or that we should not change.

Please reference this post for my recommended reading.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mammothicity, that is: big, big problems

I brainstormed the other night while our computer was in the shop, based on the research I've done over the past year. The following list are the reasons I could identify why, as a nation, our Factory Farming and current agricultural practices must change.

As you may begin to tell, feeding lambs corn is just the teensy tip of the iceberg of the mammoth issue of health and happiness for all: man, land, and animal combined.

Effed, enumerated:
  • Food safety - tainted meat (i.e. fecal matter), sick animals, antibiotics, genetically-modified commodity crops.
  • We are what we eat - walking corn chips.
  • Non-sustainable farming practices - we only have one earth and it is being raped by our current practices.
  • High cost of cheap food - ecologically, but also physiologically.
  • Non-nourishing food - processed C-R-A-P aside, most food is less nutrient dense from being grown in a mono-culture or "finished" in a feedlot on corn - not to mention being bred for heavy travel and a long shelf life instead of taste.
  • Obesity - we aren't eating REAL food.
  • Anti-nutrients - eating food-like substances instead of the aforementioned REAL food.
  • Loss of cooking knowledge - unless you count heating something up as cooking, which I hereby proclaim it is not.
  • Marketing reigns: the public as victim - swept up with fortified C-R-A-P (aka processed foods) as an answer to "healthy eating", so much so that we don't even know what is normal.
  • Dignity for domestic animals, both in life and death.
  • The nation's food supply - dependent on a limited number of mono-cultures.
  • Reliance on fossil fuels - farm machinery, pesticides & fertilizers, shipping distance.
  • Agribusiness vs. Small Farmer - trampled.
  • Excessive waste - vast.
  • Loss of farming knowledge and tradition - sad beyond measure, not to mention completely frightening. This is our food, people! What happens if/when we can't depend on the manufacturers to get us our frozen, boxed, canned food-like substances?

Recommended Reading:

There are many more books that can be read on this subject, but these are the ones I've read thus far - and in the order I read them. It has been a very illuminating year, indeed.
  • Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World - Greg Critser
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal - Eric Schlosser
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life - Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals - Michael Pollan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Michael Pollan
Anything by Wendell Berry is important as well. Most, if not all, of these authors reference him in their work.

I highly, highly recommend reading on this subject. We truly are what we eat - this issue is a beast that will not be calmed. At one point or another, we [Americans] will have to deal with the way we eat, whether it be on a personal or societal level.

It is a problem, once learned about, that necessitates change. Indeed, it may be impossible NOT to change. It is an issue that can be ignored only out of ignorance.


You haven't heard from me recently because we have been without a computer for the last 5-6 days. I brought it in to have more memory added, because this sucker was sloooooooowing down. It was well worth the time away, because now its back and better than ever!

I plan to post on corn soon. Very soon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

His sweetness is my weakness

Starbeans has been taking care of various babies he's adopted recently: stuffed animals, Mr. Potato Head, dolls, and most strangely of all (and his perennial favorite), an air pump. Some of them are imaginary, so I have to be careful because I can unknowingly place our real baby on top of them. "Watch out!" he says, "My baby is sitting there!"

Yesterday morning he was taking care of three babies - it was naptime and he was covering them up tenderly with blankets [he even set the monitor up when he was finished]. The air pump kept on hitting its head and crying, but he was diligent in comforting it.

Once the baby was quiet and asleep, he turned to me and said, "I a good mama." Awwww, sweet babe: yes, you are.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Keeping it real

It was 11:11 when I got on the computer this evening. A coincidence? Never!

I have been prepping for a big blow-out post on corn, the way this country eats, and the gargantuan ramifications involved; but it will have to wait, for I am too vexed on an entirely different subject [though becoming friends with Anna on Facebook cheered me a bit - so glad you found me]. What is bugging me is something irritating enough to make me blow a nut, and that is: parenting an almost-3 year old.

I mean really - could things be any more difficult? How many times in a row do I have to tell the kid to stop, or quit, or show me, or put your underwear back on, or please stop wiggling while I'm brushing your teeth, or put that stick down, or please get off of me, or get that out of my face, or stop hitting-kicking-rolling on-bumping into your baby brother before I get some action? How many times??? I swear, that kid has been in time-out more than he has been in time-in. My patience is wearing very thin; in fact, I'm not sure I have any left.

I've read (and noticed) that 2-3 year olds seem to have streaks of excellent behavior mixed with streaks of testy behavior. I've also thought that the times when I want to check out (like today) or when I'm pretty much expecting him to be naughty, he kicks it up a notch - either living up to my expectations, or, I presume, doing anything he possibly can to get my attention. I noticed myself trying to distance myself from him this afternoon - innocently enough: I wasn't reading or online, but simply sitting with the baby. And trying to remain calm. He had to be right next to me (in between me and Pumpkin) or ON me. It was enough to make me want to send him into another dimension - a vortex where he would be completely harmless and outta my face.

I guess this is what several days of on-again, off-again napping does - mixed with both children napping in succession on the days that he does sleep. Add that to the mess our house is in from the kitchen remodel last week. Ack! Everything has to be pulled out of our cupboards and cleaned [we are about 3/4 of the way done]. These ingredients brew a potion of angst and insanity for me, where I often wonder if I'm cut out to be a mother. Of course, I am being completely over-dramatic when I write that - but the helpless fury is there.

I need to go to bed ASAP - I've noted that days/weeks like these get worse when I'm over-tired. But dang - can't a girl get any down time? I just need to suck it up and stop sniveling. Talking about it (whether verbally or blogging) makes me feel so much better: it is like working poison out of my system.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tender love for baby pancakes

Me: Do you want the Baby Pancake?
[Holding the littlest pancake up to show Starbeans]

Starbeans: Yeah!

Me: Okay, do you want syrup on it?

Starbeans: Noooooo! That might hurt it!

Me: Hurt it...?

Starbeans: Don't cut it up! That might hurt the Baby Pancake too.

Me: Okay...but how are you going to eat it...?

Starbeans: I just gonna bite it.

Me: Ohhhhh...okay.
[Big smile, happy heart]

Starbeans: Mwararararsmacksmackguuuuulp!
[Wolfing it down like a little puppy]

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Ok, seriously. If you haven't read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, you really have to. Have to! It is blowing my mind, day by day. Folks may have noticed by now, but at this point in my life I am absolutely obsessed with our [America's] food and where it comes from. This book, like no other book - I swear it - makes me feel like getting radical. Like, let's get heinous on somebody's anus, because things are really really screwy.

It is interesting - once you start delving into food, where it comes from and/or how it was made, it is like the domino effect: one game piece collides into another and all of a sudden you have a full-out kaleidoscope of things to change and/or adjust. Going Green falls into a similar vein. You can't just change one thing. I like it, though it is sometimes hard to remember that it is a long-term project. I want change NOW.

Anyhow...I have distressed myself. Seriously, I have lost sleep over this. One of the big things that Pollan talks about in The Omnivore's Dilemma is corn, and how it has left the status of food and become a commodity. This concept fascinated me: I, too, saw it piled high in the streets of Small Town, Minnesota last fall. Kernels of corn, as high as a house. Nobody cares to keep it clean, because it will be processed to the point of no longer recognizing it as corn. Pollan says that Americans might as well be walking corn chips, with how much of it we consume.

Think of that 20 oz soda that most of cubeland drinks each day: 100% corn. Any kind of processed food: corn. CAFO beef: corn. CAFO chickens: corn. And now...CAFO salmon: corn?! That's what Pollan says. I've always heard, peripherally, the term, "corn-fed", like it is a good thing - but never paused to considered the implications. Like...feeding animals corn that were not designed to eat corn. Yikes. That is like us ingesting grass or twigs for a meal. Not good.

But here I am bumping into this again [and have realized that I will be stumbling upon this regularly, given the our current location]: our lovely neighbors, who are wonderful, generous, and kind, keep sheep. They have 50 or so ewes and 3 rams and sell the lambs for meat each June. This is our first spring here - the lambs were gone by the time we arrived last July, so we never got to see them. They are born in January and sold by late June, "when the market for lamb is hot".

We will be taking care of the sheep next week while our neighbors are on vacation. I went over there this weekend to receive our instructions. Water, check. Hay, check. But the lambs...what do you think these little baby lambs eat? Corn. "Is it hard on their system?" I asked with some hesitation. "Yes," he replied forthrightly, "they have to build up to it." And why? Because as ruminants, they are designed to eat G-R-A-S-S. Their poor little tummies!

Something is majorly effed up here, folks. What on EARTH are we doing?! Sometimes I feel strong, like I can take things on and make some kind of a difference; but other times, particularly when contemplating the magnitude of the problem, I want to curl up and go hide under a rock. What can I do? What can any of us do? Agribusiness and the High Cost of Cheap Food is flattening us like a steamroller.

But for now, I will take a shower and go to bed. Lambs eating corn, people. Lambs. eating. corn.