Where’s the MEAT!

Brad is busy building a house. He’s out literally from dawn to well past dusk renovating (tearing down?) a summer cabin and building anew in a flurry of activity to get it done and livable by Thanksgiving. Before we’re buried in snow so deep that they won’t find our frozen bodies until well into spring.

I’m inside the rv in my own flurry of activity – but mine is more the mental rather than physical type. I’m on the computer, off and on, until I go to bed. I’ve never been a manual labor type but even so, my mental fatigue is every bit as real as someone else’s physical exhaustion.

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Me

Same, but different.

Breakfast has always been a “whatever you want” meal, each on our own. I don’t do breakfast. I can’t cook first thing. I have coffee, half a bagel, and wait until the electrons start firing. I have no problem making the “main meal” but I am certainly not interested in cooking full gourmet fare three times a day. Or even twice. We eat Mediterranean style, so our main “supper” is done in the afternoon. And the evening meal, if you are still hungry (which I’m normally not) it’s a sandwich, salad, or leftovers. Easy, light and thrown together quickly.

When I was overloaded on the computer, Brad would sometimes take pity and take me somewhere, anywhere as long as I didn’t have to cook, or clean up afterwards.

Here in the woods, all bets are off.

One of the biggest obstacles for a writer is interruptions. This goes for anyone who has to write anything for a living – I do marketing full time and writing part time. Both involve searching for the right words, put together the right way.

When Brad takes a break, he wants to eat. IMMEDIATELY. And for me, I’m in the middle of doing numbers and writing prose and I look up and think “oh, shit it’s 1 p.m. and the beast will be arriving soon wanting something in his mouth within 10 seconds flat.”

If I had my crock pot (which is still packed away with all my summer clothes, which doesn’t matter now because summer is heading out the door here in Montana) I’d throw a bunch of stuff in it and call it supper. I don’t. So I don’t.

But I”m getting better. I’ve started a bit of planning at breakfast, and by the time Brad gets himself into beast mode, I have a healthy, filling and delicious meal to last him the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, that’s good in theory but not in practice. After I prep, cook, and clean up, I have to jump back on the computer. And by that time, I’m elbow deep into emails, promos, planning, not to mention my promise to blog about the construction process of the home. I promised Brad I’d do that. Even though I have no idea about the process. So I sound like an idiot and make it up as I go along. A promise is a promise after all. I never promised it would be good. So my hope was that the huge afternoon meal would suffice. Silly girl.

Last week, I was horrendously busy doing bookings, loading information on several booking engines, updating social media, answering phone queries … that I had literally grown roots in front of my computer. I forgot to brush my teeth. I hadn’t looked at a mirror all day. My neck and shoulders were stiff, my back hurt and my knees locked up from inertia. I was an aching, rigid, drained yet over caffeinated mess. A mess without a plan.

So that I don’t sound like a complete whiner, I do understand. Brad works harder than anyone I know. He’s out there doing sweaty stuff. Felling trees, lumber milling, peeling logs, digging holes, filling them with concrete, building and installing floor joists. By the way, I just actually learned what a joist was. I had a vague idea, but now I actually know. Brad? He’s a regular Paul Bunyan. And of course, he is starving when he walks in the door. Whereas I’m so worked up, stressed and trying to hit my deadlines that food is the last thing on my mind.

He walked in, looked around and asked “what’s for dinner?” Mind you, he had three huge burritos only a few hours earlier and I thought it would fill up the gnawing ache in is belly. I had one and I would have vomited if I put any other food in my mouth until breakfast.

He started rooting in the fridge, pulling out the egg carton. And then I stepped into it. I asked, innocently enough “you’re going to have eggs? Again? You had 2 eggs for breakfast.”

I had awakened the hibernating bear.

“Well, what am I supposed to eat? There’s no lunch meat, or anything!”

I offered to make a salad, and he informed me that he needed PROTEIN. Again, trying to appease, I said that we had some cooked beans. A good protein!

“BEANS? You expect me to eat BEANS? I need MEAT!”

I was scared, so I let him eat his eggs.

I then vowed that I would do a more Biblical job of feeding the hungry, so started, of course, looking on Facebook. And found an article by a doctor, a cardiologist no less, on the best forms of protein. And so it went …

Mind you, this is one of those annoying videos that you have to sit through to get the answer, and then you’ll have to give up your email and then you’ll be stalked until you give up and get a different email address.

But the doctor set out the protein options starting with the first – cow. Cow is good. NO cow is bad – move on to pig.

Pig could be good, but it’s not. It’s not the ‘other white meat” so don’t be fooled. Chicken is the best bet.

Except it’s not because out of all the protein, fish is the healthiest. Yes. I love fish. We love fish. We can do fish … except

There is too much mercury in fish. It’s not healthy. The best form of protein is BEANS.

We do beans! And legumes! I make a great bean soup and a killer bean, veggie and rice burrito. SAVED. Except

Beans are bad. They used to be good until this doctor found out how bad they are. They have lectins. Lectins can destroy your body. Last thing you want is a lectin messing with you!

At this point the video is winding down, and I’m thinking, if one more person tells me that beets are so good for me, I’m going to grab my Italian Mama wooden spoon and go after the backs of their thighs.

But wait. Dr. Feelgood has the answer. And all I need to do is grab it, and put it on a plate for Brad. Protein. The best ever protein. TWO CHOICES EVEN!

Wait for it …. drumroll please ….

Spirulina and Chlorella!

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And, if you’re not sure how to prepare these amazing forms of the best protein ever, the good doctor has just the spirulina and chlorella shake that has your name on it. And he will sell it to you for the price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling. I’m dragging out my credit card as we speak.

Yesterday I went to the store. I bought chicken and hamburger and tuna and beans and pork. Today I put together meals enough for a week, and stuck them in the freezer. So we have taco and burrito guts, pasta toppings, chicken sandwich fixings, and pulled pork at the ready.

Because, when I go and meet my new primary care physician, and she inevitably asked me “do you feel safe in your home” i won’t have to say “no. I do not feel safe in my home.” Because I have learned my lesson. Never, under any circumstances, do you poke an angry lion.

Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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Not Feeling the Rooster Love…

If you know me, you know I love my chickens. It’s like potato chips. I can’t stop getting chickens. When I walk into the farm store and see those fluffy little bodies, I know that I NEED at least 6 or 8 more.

In spring we purchased what was called a “straight run.” We did this because they were so darned cute, and so darned cheap. Straight run meant that you get what you get. You may get hens, you may get roosters, but there’s no guarantee as they aren’t sexed beforehand.

Out of the 20 or 30 chickens we got, 3 were roosters. And what magnificent roosters they turned out to be. Lovely, regal glistening black boys with almost iridescent plumage. I walked down every day with my basket of goodies, my egg apron, and chatted with Rooster Cogburn, Black Bart, and Brett Maverick. We communed. And I loved them.

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Two weeks ago I bounced my way down to the coop to say hi to the brood. Called the boys by name, and with over 30 hens, don’t have the energy or creativity to give them their own personal monikers, so just normally shout “Girls, I have some treats for you!” All of a sudden, something bashed into the back of my shoe. I turned around and just saw chicken eyes. Nobody said anything, nobody did anything and I figured that because I was in the middle of the mosh pit, someone inadvertently stumbled into me. Hard.

A few days passed and I was down at the goat pens bending over trying to fill up water buckets and out of the corner of my eye, a mass of black feathers came hurling at me, slamming into my right knee with claws out. What the hell? What did I ever do? I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just bending over turning on a water faucet.

I pulled out my chicken books, took to the internet, researching why my precious baby would turn on me like that. One site said that roosters may not like your shoes. So I changed my shoes. Still wary, I made my morning stroll to collect eggs. Black Bart gave me the “rooster eye” but I spoke sweetly to him, promised to throw out some corn scratch and passed by with no incidence. The operative words being “passed by.” As soon as my back was turned, I glanced over my shoulder to see Bart with his neck feathers  on high alert, and with wings flapping, as he started running after me.

I have to say, I just don’t run. It’s just not a good look for me. And I’m not the most graceful  or coordinated athlete.But run I did, like a screaming banshee up the driveway (the long, uphill through gravel 1/4 mile driveway) stumbling and looking over my shoulder, yelling for my husband to rescue me from the beak of death.

My husband, being ever so supportive, said ‘why don’t you just kick him out of the way? That’s what I do.”

Seriously?  A whirling dervish of midnight black feathers, crowing beak and talons drawn comes flying at the back of me and I’m supposed to #1 actually see him coming from behind and #2 try to spin around and kick him? When I had to pay soccer in junior high PE I missed kicking the ball. Every. Single. Time. What makes him think I could actually hit a moving target that can also fly? Aside from the obvious, I’m not big on using my body to ward off anything. I mean, I can’t even kill a bug by stepping on it. I have to physically remove my shoe and hit at with the shoe not attached to my foot. I get grossed out swatting at a fly with my hand. Yeah, I’m a girly girl. And not apologizing one bit for it.

“That’s it” Brad proclaimed. “I can’t have you scared to go down to the chicken pasture. I have too much to do already. The rooster is going to be butchered tomorrow.”

Oh no. Nonononono. I would work something out. I searched the house for an appropriate anti-rooster defensive weapon and spied a small chimney broom. Perfect! I would simply circle the area around me, front and back, with the broom to create a sort of rooster safety zone. After all, I’m an intelligent, college-educated person. I can come up with a solution. Putting a chicken in the pot is akin to hitting control-alt-delete on the computer. It’s the last resort. And I’m too savvy for that.

Roosters are not stupid creatures. The broom worked somewhat, but I would have to swat at him constantly, always walking in circles because he’d flank me, and I was afraid to stand still. If I did, he’d charge. So I had to hop around, spinning the broom in one hand while I simultaneously opened up the nest boxes and held the lids open with my head while collecting the eggs with my other hand. All the while swooshing the broom and screaming.

After two weeks, I decided, OK, this is NOT working and I’m NOT going back down there. I’m over it. Done. Not only that, but he was also being aggressive with my sweet little hens. The most popular of which bore a huge bald spot on her head. I guess no means no, except if you’re a rooster. So … RIP Black Bart …

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It was bittersweet. It was nice knowing you, but you just had to go.

Yesterday I gleefully walked to the mailbox, passing the chickens strolling the property. They always run up to greet me, and cheerfully I asked how their day was going. They were all smiling their little chicken smiles, Rooster Cogburn and Brett Maverick joining along. I passed the crowd, down the end of the drive, and heard a scrambling of feet which sounded more like a charging herd. Turned to look and saw the dust flying and … the neck feathers of a rooster up in attack mode, charging after me.

Holy shit! We convicted the wrong criminal!  I felt SO guilty. I’m a pacifist! What did we do?

It’s been 4 days and I’m dealing with it. Especially since Brad turned him into some mean (pun intended) tamales. I guess I can live with myself. Pass the napkins, please.

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The Trouble with Piglets

My refrigerator is full of eggs. Lovely, organic eggs. But really, that’s all we can fit. I have about 18 eggs coming every day. I’ve thought of making quiches and freezing them, but why? I mean, why bother freezing them when I can make several fresh ones daily and not even make a dent. So we’ve just hung a sign outside our drive to hawk our “farm fresh eggs.” Which I guess means I can’t wear my fuzzy lounge pants all day anymore, and I”ll actually have to start brushing my hair in the morning. Otherwise, my husband is afraid I’ll scare potential customers away.

To go with all those lovely eggs, Brad has suggested we get some pigs. Bacon or sausage to go with scrambled or over easy.

So we went to a pig farm, and brought home two piglets. With a stern reprimand from Brad, that these are “meat, not pets.”

He says this because my 20 chickens are egg producing pets. They shall never find their way into my pot. So I am not to develop any kind of relationship with our “meat pigs.” “Do not engage in any kind of pet-based activity Susan. Because these will NEVER be pets.”

“I’m not stupid. I understand. I’m not going to get attached to pigs, for God sakes.”

 But, you know, I HAVE to feed them. Yes, they get grains. But I have to also bring them by snacks. Stuff that is left over. After all, we are sustainable. We don’t waste anything. It’s all about recycling, reducing, reusing. So, with that in mind, I brought down some tomatoes that were on the edge of rotting. I didn’t look the piglets in the eyes. I simply plopped a metal bowl in the pen, brushed off my hands, and said ‘there. Go eat.” And walked smartly away.

This went on for a week. Then I noticed something. The damn things were actually looking forward to my daily visits. They would no longer eat scraps that Brad tossed into their pen. They only wanted food fed to them by me, in their silver bowl.

And, I realized, they were no longer running away from me when I went into the pen. They were walking with me. And I committed a capital offense. I looked them in the eye.

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OMG are they the cutest things ever? They run around like little dogs, so excited to see me. The run in circles, clicking up their little hooves in joy. And they wait for me to put down their almost rotten tomatoes, so gleeful that I’m giving them treats.

So today I made them oatmeal, soaked in a little goat milk, with some chopped apples and a bit of flax seed for omega 3s. I mean, yes, their lives with us is only a short 6 months, but shouldn’t they experience daily joy for those 6 months? Really?

And, then, I pet them. They let me pet them. Between their little twitching ears, as their little piglet curly tails wagged back and forth.

I’m totally, unequivocally screwed. And I don’t know how I”m going to tell Brad

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

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In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

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Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

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We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

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I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

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Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.

Put that candle someplace else!

Yes, I had another birthday.

Because I live a lot of the time in my head, I tend to have random thoughts that make perfect sense to me, but sound like gibberish to some less enlightened individuals who don’t share my superior intellect.

But I was thinking, you know, birthdays are really kind of a strange ritual. I mean, someone says “oh, it’s your birthday today! Happy Birthday.” And you are congratulated for what? For being born 35 years ago on the same day. So, Ok, it’s not 35 years, but we’re dealing with hypotheticals here.

But the point is, we are being lauded for a process that we had absolutely nothing to do with. When in actuality, it should be our mothers who are congratulated for their part in our birth process. I mean, really, did any of us “ask to be born?” No. And by the way, I never, ever said those words to my parents. Friends did – when they’d get in trouble, they’d yell “Well, I never asked to be born.” I never said it because I was afraid my parents would then say “OK, we can fix that.” I wasn’t the most charming child. I had my reasons.

I don’t care for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The whole candle blowing, singing, having a restaurant stop in mid air and wish you a happy day? No thanks. I hate it. I don’t know how to respond. “Thank you, I did it all by myself”?

This is something that I thought was strange for a long time. I’ve looked at my birthday photos, and most of the time I either look bossy (because everyone MUST do things the right way – which is obviously my way) or slightly peeved.

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Yes, I’m at the head of the table, and I am annoyed. First I’m wearing a stupid hat, and even at 5 I hated hats. Second, because there are an overabundance of boys at the table, and third, it means that I have to share MY cake. Even then I thought birthday parties were odd.

This year, I wanted it on the lowdown. My husband has known me since 7th grade. We’ve been married for 28 years. So he KNOWS me. But he also thinks he can “fix” me.

For my birthday, I wanted nothing more than to be swept out of the house, and to a “nice corner table for two” at a restaurant where the napkins were cloth, the plates were not paper, the wine came out of a bottle with a cork, the food artfully presented and appealing to all the senses, and there would be cake. Discreetly dropped off at my table.

Because, while I hate the pomp and circumstance, I love me some cake. Not a cake lit up like the Forth of July, with Crisco frosting. The kind that coats the top of your mouth for the next millennium with sprinkles that chip your molars and cake that dries your mouth until you yell “MORE WINE PLEASE”.

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But maybe a classic dark chocolate cake with a delicate mousse filling drizzled with raspberry coulis. Yeah, I’d eat that all day.

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And if you threw in a coupon for a massage, I would be every so grateful …

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But this is a birthday for City Susan. City Susan is no longer. She may live, forever, in my heart, but this year was my first birthday as the Reluctant Farm Girl. And the Reluctant Farm Girl has boots in the garage that have hay and chicken poop on the bottoms, shirts stained with blueberries, and a diamond ring that sits in a safe, not on her finger.

“I have a confession to make” said Brad, 2 days before my birthday. “I invited the neighbors over for a barbecue on your birthday.”

A barbecue.

There are 5 reasons I like barbecue:

1. It’s cooked outside so there are no pots for me to clean

2. It’s cooked outside so in the summer it doesn’t heat up the house

3. It’s cooked by someone else because I can’t barbecue

4. Most fish tastes better grilled, and I love fish

5. I can’t think of another damn reason I like barbecue because, in reality, I’m not a fan of the “Q.” Because it mainly consists of hamburgers and hot dogs, or maybe a charred piece of chicken. Not really elevated cuisine, especially on one’s birthday.

bbq

While I wasn’t over the moon about my husband’s birthday plans for him, I remained mute. Mainly because, this year in January, I totally forgot his birthday. I mean, zip. In my defense, we were in Texas, getting ready to do a big promotion to a large travel agency, and I didn’t sleep well in the hotel the night before, and was extremely nervous about said presentation. So I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of having to eat burnt food for my birthday. In my backyard. With paper plates. And plastic cups. And a cooler full of Bud Light, which I don’t drink.  Or having to vacuum the house and clean the kitchen before the neighbors came.

And, by the way, several years before Brad completely forgot my birthday. So while it doesn’t excuse my lack of manners, it does even the score, don’t you think?

So my birthday came, I put on make up and a colorful summer dress, all the while thinking that I SO deserved better. I deserved a pedicure and a night on the town. In a town that had Michelin rated restaurants. Or at least Zagat rated.

The “cue” was smoking, Brad was cooking, and the neighbors showed up. Bearing cards saying that I was the best neighbor ever, bearing gifts from the country – a “nectar plant” to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, pounds of salmon from their recent trip to Alaska, fresh frozen halibut, a pot of homemade beans, and wide as a country mile smiles.

And, yeah. I liked it. I want to kick myself, but I liked it. I liked the beans, the bush, the fish, and the sense of community. I liked knowing that my neighbors care. I like actually knowing my neighbors. And, in the long run, that’s what life is all about. Being with people who make you feel loved and who make you glad you live where you live, and who accept you, chicken poop on your shoes and all.

I got an ice cream cake. With an oreo crust. And I ate it for breakfast. Because it was my birthday. And because I could.

And next year … I want that damn massage!

What a Chick Wants …

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I can be a complete imbecile.  Basically,my skill set is pretty low. I’m not a jack of all trades.  I have very few talents, and the few that I have, I try to exploit mercilessly.

As far as anything to do with my new life at Reluctant Farm, I have to google it because I know nothing. So it is with my chickens. My husband prefers to fly by the seat of his skinny-ass Levis. For me, I want to be accomplished – at least in my mind.

Which brings me to chicken feed. When the chicks were little, they stayed in a big cardboard box in our garage with a heat lamp. We had the baby chicken feed, and then I read they could eat other stuff – so I would occasionally toss in some leftover lettuce. Once a mouse happened to crawl into their box, and they pecked it to death. So I figured they were probably not big meat eaters.

When they were finally big enough to go into the magnificent pen and coop that my husband built, I wanted to step up my game as far my interaction with the chooks. And I wanted to feed them the proper “extras” to make them happy with their new home with us and keep their lives in balance.

I continued to toss in some leftover salad stuff, and inhaled everything I could about what I could feed them, and what I should not.

The first evening after the first feeding I went out to see if they finished their snacks and every single chicken was dead. Laying down, head down to the side, dead as a doornail. I almost projectile vomited. What did I do wrong? All 20 chickens down for the count?

I ran down the hill to where Brad was busy with his favorite activity – riding his riding lawnmower. Swear, this man mows lawns incessantly. The grass is so well cut you need a magnifying glass just to see it. He rolled up the hill, and damned if every single chicken  wasn’t standing upright, looking at me as if I was the village idiot. I was. They were just sleeping.

Anyway, not to divert from the curious case of the Reluctant Farm Girl and how to feed the chickens, I began exploring culinary treats for my flock. And much to my glee, they loved everything. So I made it a routine. Every morning at 9 a.m. I would come down with my cup of Earl Grey, and their morning snack. It was the highlight of my day – a break from sitting in front of the computer writing, responding to emails and doing all the bookings and marketing for our resort.

I brought down yogurt and they circled it, a bit wary, but once one brave Barred Rock settled in, they all stepped up to the plate and loved it. As the weeks progressed, it became a ritual that the chickens understood. I’d stand on the deck of the house and call “Girls! I have treats for you!” and walk down carrying their brightly colored crocks with their morning treat.

It was amazing – I was the Rock Star. They would cluster around the gate, waiting for me to enter, running around my feet and looking up at me with their cute, one-eyed stare. I was their messiah, bringing messages of hope and manna from heaven. It got me going. Now I would not just focus on what we had for dinner, I would focus on how the chickens would like the leftovers.

Some things they turned their little beaks up at. Radish greens? No thanks. The can of bamboo shoots that I was going to use in some won tons, but I thought they tasted gross? They apparently agreed. But they definitely had their favorites. I brought out soft scrambled eggs, and they gobbled it up. Encouraged, I brought out the leftover rice noodles from my Pad Thai – and I was Katy Perry – they loved me unabashedly.

So I upped my game. Each day I’d come out with two crocks of treats – and I would announce to them what they were having. One day it was salmon carpaccio with an apple/lettuce salad, the next it was homemade potato gnocchi. I’d hide food from Brad just so I’d be sure we’d have enough leftovers for my girls. I made shredded zucchini with the squash I claimed was “too soft for us to eat” but was, in actuality, just fine – I had run out of treats for them and couldn’t face them without something luscious in my hands. I cooked oatmeal, emptied out the freezer of frozen peas, to which I added slivered almonds for taste. I baked 2 dozen bran muffins – we had half  a dozen, I froze the rest for the chickens.

In the early days Brad would toss  a few slugs over the fence as he passed by, and we were amused at how the chickens would shoot out of the coop and dive on the slimy snacks. So yesterday, in desperation, I thought, hell. I have nothing  –  but there are literally hundreds of slugs in the grass. I put on a glove, grabbed the crocks, and set out to pick slugs – 1 per bird. I mean, they loved the slugs and I forgot all about that! I no longer had to fret over what to cook or create to keep them adoring me. So I walked in, told the birds that they were getting slugs, which was met with more merriment, more running around my feet, over my feet, running in circles around me, ostensibly waiting for an autograph from “She Who Cooks So Well.”

I put the slugs down. They looked at the slugs, looked up at me, and started clucking. I can only imagine what they were saying. Probably along the lines of “You have got to be kidding? Yesterday you brought us swiss chard and cheddar quiche. The day before you brought orzo with basil walnut pesto. And today you are bringing us slugs?” They started pulling at my pants.  I am not kidding. They were grabbing my pjs with their little beaks. I was in a mosh pit.

I had to run out the gate before the mutiny took full hold.

As I sit here, at 11 a.m. I know that Brad ate all the spoon bread I made last night. The freezer is empty of zucchini bread and muffins and frozen corn. I’ve used all Brad’s Oatmeal. We only have 2 eggs in the house. I have several loaves of bread, and I have a can of tuna that was home canned by a neighbor. I’m thinking I can fool them into thinking it’s tuna casserole – which will give me enough time to run out the door before they notice I didn’t actually cook anything for them.

I am so doomed.