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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Fall!

At Harmony Valley's Harvest Party, members are allowed to pick pumpkins to take home. This year, there were enough for two per family (or more in some cases), so Andy and I each grabbed one. His larger one is going to be carved into a jack-o-lantern. We'll toast the seeds for ourselves.

My smaller pumpkin became a tasty chicken treat tonight. We ground up the seeds and gave the resulting mash to our remaining SUPER SURVIVOR (knock on wood) CHICKENS. We also gifted them the empty shell. They loved it! Plus, I read the seeds are super nutritious for the chickens. They need all the help they can get!

Check out their fun:

Ani, our limper, getting some needed (and yummy!) nutrients.

Janis enjoying Harmony Valley's gift.
"We don't know what it is, but we like it."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Harvest Weekend!

Andy and I took a break from our own Backyard Market to venture to Viroqua. The inspiration for our weekend-get-away was Harmony Valley Farm's annual CSA member Harvest Party on Sunday.  With  a quaint Farmer's Market, a bountiful food co-op, an eclectic coffee shop, and a Mexican restaurant serving amazing food, Viroqua has become a favorite spot for us to take a little break from life.

Saturday morning, we spent time at the Farmer's Market, which had a wide variety of vendors. We bought a bird feeder made by a local artisan, two jars of fruit preserves for my parents (they were our chicken-sitters this weekend), and a bag of garlic to be planted in our garden this fall. There were several furniture vendors which tempted my checkbook and loads of Amish baked goods that tempted my stomach, too!

We ventured to the Vernon Winery that afternoon. I've discovered that eating fresh Concord grapes from the vine is one of my new favorite activities! I can't wait to grow some in our yard next year!

Saturday evening we ate at a new restaurant called Optimo, serving only local food. Andy had a wonderful squash ravioli with collard greens. 

Sunday morning, we had our second breakfast at the Viroqua Co-op. Something about the atmosphere of that place invites dreaming, planning, and high hopes. Andy and I planned out the next twenty years of our yard over a few cups of coffee and some delicious food. With the pictures below, there's no need for me to give a further explanation.

The next day, we made our way out to the Harmony Valley Harvest Party, our favorite CSA event of the year. The colors are so beautiful, the hayride is so educational, the pickings are always good, and the potluck is always more than amazing.

This year, we visited the pepper and raspberry fields. We grabbed an insane amount of mini-sweet peppers for eating and for harvesting seed, guajillo and poblano peppers for drying, and UW roaster peppers for roasting and freezing.

Next stop, turnip, radish, and cauliflower fields.

The collard greens and kale field was beautiful. Notice how high the tops of the purple kale are. A sign of a good harvest!

Then, the kids' favorite part of the day: the pumpkin harvest.

After that highlight, the wagons all made their way back to the farm for the pig roast and potluck. This year, the crew prepared pork barbacoa with guajillo salsa and cabbage, mango, and jalapeno pico de gallo. The farm's hard-working Mexican crew put together a permanent underground oven for events such as this. The corn tortillas were moist and wonderful. Of course, all of the members brought delicious dishes, and we all ate too much. Being around such like-minded people for a day is so refreshing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ella, our lovely lady

Friday evening, we had to put Ella, our sultry, lovely lady down. She began showing symptoms of Marek's on Thursday night. According to various websites we've visited and according to our vet, some chickens that are exposed to Marek's will often exhibit a limp, which is not necessarily fatal. Other chickens will get internal tumors; that's where the fatality comes in. Salt and Pepa both died due to internal tumors, and Ella was on her way there.

We've decided to let the last four chickens live out their lives. We've read that Marek's usually wipes out around 60% of a flock. We can't get any more chickens while those remaining are still alive, but we're going to do the compassionate thing and let these chickies live until their times come. However, the second we notice Salt-and-Pepa like symptoms, we're putting them down.

That's why Ella is gone. She was standing around in a daze, clearly not herself. Her crop was empty, and her dander was flaking off in large bits. She must have been suffering from internal tumors. Unlike Salt and Pepa, she wasn't totally incoherent or clearly in pain. It was a bit harder to end her life, seeing her seemingly normal.

Ella had been one of my favorites. First of all, she was so beautiful. Secondly, she had quite the boisterous personality. When Janis wasn't around, the sounds that came from petite little Ella were shocking. She could really yelp! I always thought Janis and Ella acted like two little old ladies. They'd holler at each other - one would step on the other or they'd argue over a worm or piece of cheese. But each night, they'd cuddle on my shoulder together or snuggle on the coop ladder, and they'd always sleep cozied into each other. They were a team. Twice, Andy and I came home in the rain to find Janis and Ella nestled high up, getting soaked. All of the other chickens had the sense to go in, but not these two stubborn gals.

Janis, Andy, and I will miss Ella. I'm glad she didn't suffer too much before she died and that I had the opportunity to say good-bye to her on the ride to the vet. I hope her 19-week little life was enjoyable.
Such a little gal
Our two little "old" ladies
Happy and healthy
The comfort of Dad's shoulder

Friday, September 24, 2010

Salt -n- Pepa Together Again: Marek's Disease Sucks

Salt passed away, and we found out that the reason is Marek's, meaning that . . . most likely, the whole flock is or will be infected. I am feeling pretty sorry for myself, so this blog entry will pretty much be a pity party. If you're not in the mood for that, feel free to skip this entry.

Salt began exhibiting Pepa's symptoms the day Pepa died. When Salt got to the point of not being able to breathe well, we took her to the Emergency Clinic for Animals in Madison. Dr. Mark Koeppl (who also took care of our late beloved cat, Riley) handled Salt with care. He kept her overnight, and in the morning, recommended that we put her down. He sent her little chicken body off to the State Lab, and today the results came back: we've been dealing with Marek's this whole time.

This is devastating news. Since Marley was put down, we've been waiting for results from the state lab to no avail. We're not really sure why that has taken so long, but the turnaround time on Salt was only three days. Shouldas, wouldas, and couldas are running rampant through my mind: we shouldn't have put all the chicks together, we should have waited until we got the State Lab results for Marley, we could have gotten another coop so the chicks could be separated until we knew, etc., etc. Ani is currently limping around the run, and I'm sick with worry about her. She is the chicken version of the love of my life.

We're waiting for answers as to how to proceed. I want our chickens to live. I don't even care about eggs. I love those little birds. Luckily, I have a super compassionate and empathetic husband who consoles me with back rubs, tears up with me, and has a deep fondness for our feathery friends. Thank goodness for soul mates.

Back to Salt, the main reason for this post . . . she started off as little "Blackie." All of a sudden, in a matter of days, she turned white, and we started calling her "Whitie." When we realized how terrible referring to this little chick as Little Blackie and/or Little Whitie sounded, we came up with the names Salt and Pepa, because Salt had, in effect, been sort of both at one point or another. The names fit in brilliantly with our musical theme.

Salt was the most affectionate of the babies. Ever since she was one-day old, she'd snuggle her little head between my arm pit and chest. She did that to Andy too. It was like she couldn't get close enough to her human parents. She imprinted on us early on. It was very hard to watch our "little" chick go from our little pet to a sick birdie with no chance of survival.

Salt as a baby, with our only Easter Egger left, Spinderella

Andy with his favorite baby chick
P.S. We don't normally add face photos, but this one really shows Salt's personality.
 Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella were the first chickens to fly onto the weeping pea shrub we planted for the chickens. They'd all share the space and perch on that for hours. Poor Spinderella misses her chicken friends and hasn't been up there since they've both mysteriously disappeared from her life. She's really lonely. Janis and Ella are friends. Ani and Zappa are friends. Poor Spinderella is all alone and often bullied. What can we do? Not purchase any more chicks with Marek's here.

We've learned quite a bit from this ordeal, including:
1. Get all of our chickens from one source. Purchasing from multiple places was our mistake in this situation.
2. Marek's is rare, the second rarest chicken disease after Newcastle Disease. (We're unlucky!?!)
3. Marek's shows up through so many symptoms. The "respiratory symptoms" were Marek's. The limp was Marek's. The empty crop= Marek's.
4. If chickens are pets, culling them seems impossible. To us, it would be like hitting our cats over the head to put them to sleep. We'll be taking all of our chickens to the vet to say good-bye when the time arises just like we would our cats. We seem crazy. We know it, and we're okay with it.

Please send our chicks: Ani, Zappa, Janis, Ella, and Spinderella your most optimistic vibes ...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Trails Pepa: Salt and Spinderella are not the same without you . . .

Last week was a sad one. On Tuesday evening, we noticed that Pepa was standing all alone under the grape vine, seemingly sleeping standing up. By Wednesday morning, she couldn't open her eyes and her breathing was belabored. 

So, we made a little hospital for her in one of the cat carriers. Eyes closed, mouth open, she stood there struggling for breath all day. Dr. Karin came over  and took an educated guess that Pepa had a very-developed respiratory infection. She prescribed medicine, but without too much optimism. Pepa had lost a lot of weight, and her crop was empty.

That night, we spent time with Pepa on the sofa. We administered the  meds and tried to get her to eat a liquefied version of food, water, and Pedialyte through a syringe and tube. Because her breathing was so belabored and she was struggling so for breath, she wasn't able to stop breathing long enough to consume much.

Thursday morning, she was still living...but barely. And she couldn't stand up anymore. Andy and I told her good-bye and went off to work. She passed away while we were gone. Watching any animal suffer is terrible, but watching one with a name struggle to breath was really depressing. At least she was loved while living, I guess.

Now, Salt is exhibiting the exact same symptoms. As crazy as many readers will think this is, she and Ani (hurt foot) have vet appointments on Monday morning. I know to many, it's hard to imagine that  someone would ever spend money on an animal that's potentially food and has such a bad rap (dirty, dumb, etc.), but our goals in getting the chickens were not meat-related. Really, since I was 20 and became a vegetarian, I've always had a soft spot for chickens. They live such horrible lives in confinement, and I wanted to give a few a great life. It turns out that they return the favor. They are so affectionate, they all have such distinct personalities, and I (we) honestly adore each of them almost as much as we do our cats...anyway, we hope we've caught Salt's illness in time. 

Dr. Karin assured us that we just have bad luck. She looked over our coop, we talked about snacks we feed the chickens, and she checked out their feed. It was nice to be reassured that we're not somehow killing these poor little creatures.

But, back to poor Pepa. She was part of our little Salt-Pepa-Spinderella baby trio that we got in early July. Compared to the other two, she was always a bit of a loner, and as she grew, she was impossible to photograph. I remember recently, Andy and I took the little trio out because I wanted to get a nice, cute picture for my "Introducing the Flock" post. Spinderella almost seemed like she was posing  for me, Salt was sort of "whatever" about the photo-shoot, but Pepa ...she seemed to know I was coming with the camera and moved her head just in time for me to miss my shot - every time! 

I hope she had a good little life and that, from birth to death, she was in peace. We hope Salt doesn't get a post like this anytime soon! Send us positive chicken vibes!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Viva Mexico with Applesauce? . . . and Locavores Like Local Apples

On Tuesday evening, Andy and I ventured to the Door Creek Orchard in Cottage Grove. What a lovely place! Sheep, a beautiful apple orchard, and a quaint country store. We will be heading back! 

The purpose of our after-school detour was twofold. On Wednesday, my colleague, Carol Samuel, and I were hosting our first LOCAVORE meeting at school. We basically wanted to bribe students to come with food, so I bought a bag of freshly-picked Gala apples. On Thursday, my students and I were having a little fiesta in celebration of La Independenica de Mexico. My classes are very multi-cultural this year, so we decided that the celebration should include cultural food. What's more American than homemade apple pie? Freshly-made applesauce!

Wednesday's first club meeting went well. Though we only had a few students, they were ENTHUSIASTIC students with very innovative and exciting ideas, including holding an after-school workshop to teach other students how to make their own compost bins. We  have a PR plan for the rest of the month to recruit more members. If any of you have ever started a new club, please send suggestions my way!

Wednesday evening, I came home and made applesauce for Thursday's Mexican fiesta. I had bought a 20 pound bag of McIntosh apples for this, but I added a few other kinds of apples that were tucked away in my fridge.

I don't peel my apples for sauce. Why get rid of important fiber and other nutrients?

sugar to taste

1. Core apples and cut into wedges.
2. Put into a large pot on medium-low heat.
3. Add a bit of water to keep the apples moist.
4. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste.
5. Cook until apples break down to your desired consistency.

For a delectable treat, serve a dish warm with a splash of heavy whipping cream or half and half.

Or refrigerate and serve cold. Of course, freeze the extras!

...and if you have chickens or have neighbors who have chickens, the cores are an especially appreciated chicken treat. Our flock clucked and cooed in excitement.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Final Canning Weekend of the Season?

This weekend, Andy was sick...and we had 25 pounds of Romas and 10 pounds of tomatillos to can. He mustered through parts of the process, but my role was much bigger than normally expected on a CANNING WEEKEND.

We canned 7.5 quarts of diced tomatoes, using the same process we've used for years.

And, we made 10 pints of canned salsa verde. This year we've frozen quite a haul of various salsas, but this is the first time in our lives that we've canned salsa. We're wondering what the difference between the frozen salsa and the canned salsa will be. All of the our canned and frozen salsas are blended for the sake of consistency. I don't like slimy cilantro, for example. What do all of you think? Have you had better results with canning or with freezing salsa? Obviously canning is more work and often takes more of the nutrients out of the food than freezing does, so we're wondering: what's the benefit? Please comment!

We used a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Here it is (copied and pasted):

Tomatillo Green Salsa

  • 5 cups chopped tomatillos
  • 1-½ cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
  • ½ cup seeded, finely chopped jalapeño peppers
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Read more about ingredients. Yield: About 5 pints
Please read Using Boiling Water Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.
Caution: Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.
Preparing Tomatillos: Remove the dry outer husks from tomatillos; wash thoroughly. They do not need to be peeled or seeded.
Preparing Peppers: The skin of long green chiles may be tough and can be removed by heating the peppers. Usually when peppers are finely chopped, they do not need to be skinned. If you choose to peel chiles, slit each pepper along the side to allow steam to escape. Peel using one of these two methods:
  • Oven or broiler method to blister skins - Place chiles in a hot oven (400°F) or broiler for 6 to 8 minutes until skins blister.

  • Range-top method to blister skins - Cover hot burner (either gas or electric) with heavy wire mesh. Place peppers on burner for several minutes until skins blister.

  • To peel, after blistering skins, place peppers in a pan and cover with a damp cloth. (This will make peeling the peppers easier.) Cool several minutes; slip off skins. Discard seeds and chop.
The jalapeño peppers do not need to be peeled, but seeds are often removed.
Hot Pack: Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2O minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations in Table 1.
Table 1. Recommended process time for Tomatillo Green Salsa in a boiling-water canner.
  Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 - 1,000 ft 1,001 - 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints 15 min 20 25
Note: You may use green tomatoes in this recipe instead of tomatillos.
The only other change you can safely make in this salsa recipe is to change the amount of spices and herbs. Do not alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe. Do not substitute vinegar for the lemon juice.

Nutrition Information (Estimated values using Nutritionist Pro™ software)
Per 2 Tbsp: Calories 10, Total Fat 0 g, Sodium 89 mg, Fiber 0 g, Protein 0 g. 
Daily Values: Vitamin A 1%, Vitamin C 17%, Calcium 1%, Iron 1%.
Percent Daily Values based on Dietary Reference Intakes.
We'll see what the future holds, but I'm wondering if this is the last canning weekend of the year!  The pantry is looking good, and the freezer is loaded with goodies. There is always a sense of bitter-sweetness at the end of the season. On one hand, being done frees up some time, but I believe solidly that there is nothing quite like listening to This American Life or some good tunes, drinking a cup of tea (and later wine), and steaming up the kitchen with cooking. Until next year though... enjoy the harvest!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chickens and Chickpeas

All of our chickens are in the coop! Despite not hearing back from the State Lab regarding Marley's illness, we decided (after checking with our vet) to put all of the chicks together in the coop and run. We're crossing our fingers that Marek's has not visited the Poquette residence.

Tonight, we enjoyed all of their company for a few hours. We let them frolic outside of their run while we grilled some veggies for a new kicked-up-a-notch version of one of my favorites, Tex-Mex Chickpea Salad.

...and so, here is our official flock (drum roll please!)...

The oldest two first. Both are Bantams.

Zappa: King of the Roost
Sweet, sweet Ani (she doesn't fit her namesake very well!).

Next, the middle ones: the Polish hens...who have managed to sneak their way to momentary favorite status (at least for the writer of this blog). They're time inside the house from July to the start of September lent itself to many moments of bonding and cuddling. The first night they finally slept outside, I felt like I was experiencing empty nest syndrome.

Sultry Ella...she really loves perching.
Janis ... she does fit her namesake.
And finally, the "babies" ~ though they're much bigger already than all of the other birds. They still look less mature, but their size is massive in comparison. They are Ameraucanas, otherwise known as Easter Eggers because of the color and size of their eggs. These ladies will eventually be much larger than their flock mates.

Spinderella...she is ALWAYS flying onto everything. It's very endearing.
Salt...on a mission.
Pepa never poses...this is like my 100th try at a picture of her. She's very elusive.
Now for the chickpea recipe (I love word coincidences!). We usually make this inside, but last  night we decided to grill all of the veggies. The results: delicious!!! However, if you don't feel like grilling or it's not the right season, the inside version is nearly as good. We usually make a huge batch so that we can take leftovers for lunch all week.

Tex-Mex Chickpea Salad (grilled)
Ingredients (all are approximates and could be adapted to your liking):
4 cups dried chickpeas (soaked and prepared)
3 tomatoes
1 chipotle and adobe sauce
3 jalapenos
1 large onion
3 large cloves of garlic
2 bell peppers
juice of 2 limes
2 Tbs. olive oil
sour cream (optional)

1. Prepare beans or use canned chickpeas.
2. Cube the bell pepper and onion. Peel and half garlic cloves.
3. Halve limes.
4. Prepare hot fire on the grill. 
5. Grill onion, garlic, and peppers in a grill basket. Put large tomatoes and halved limes directly on grill. 
6. Cook until charred and soft.
7. Dice tomatoes, juice limes, and dice chipotle.
8. Combine all ingredients.Salt and pepper to taste.
9. Top with sour cream, if desired.

Honestly so good! ...and so nutritious! Great source of protein for a Meat Free Day!