Thursday, March 29, 2012

Big birthday? Make it a big thing.

Do you freak out over milestone birthdays? I do a little. I don't want to be 20 again, or 25...but I don't feel old enough that TV advertisers should no longer care about me. Or old enough that my next milestone birthday is (gasp) 40.

So (way back) in my 20s, I decided to plan something so awesome for my 30th birthday that I could sort of forget I was turning 30 because I was completely focused on the exciting, big thing that happened to take place around the same time.

We went to New Zealand. It was awesome.

I tell you this so I can share a photo of the first glacier I ever saw, and also because it had an impact on my recent milestone birthday (35).

After two weeks in lovely, relaxed New Zealand, Bill and I returned to our jobs in DC. I was sitting in my office, listening to the angry car horns outside (and the godawful pan flute band that was on the corner every Thursday)...and Bill was stuck in endless commuter traffic - and we decided DC had been fun, but it was time for something else.

That something else turned into an old farm house and a few acres in Indiana. And a dog.

We realized we liked living in the country. We liked it a lot. We were entertained by fireflies and learned how to make jam and raise chickens. The cliched "simple things" were very fulfilling and though we miss many things about living in a city, we realized our little life was pretty satisfying.

Our consumer needs decreased and we found that what we really wanted was more time. Time to weed the garden. To make beer. To raise goats. To preserve seasonal food. To fix the multitude of sad things about our once-lovely house.

So, we made a plan. As a nice coincidence, that plan lined up well with my 35th birthday. For the past two years we've been living on a budget - paying off debt and saving money. We've been living on less, which meant lifestyle changes. Much less travel. Much more home cooking. Way fewer gadgets. We met our goals and we were happy doing it. We didn't miss the things we thought we would.

A few weeks ago - after two years of planning - I quit my job to become a full time small farmer. (Most of the time I'm really cool saying that. But it still gives me mild panic attacks on occasion).

Starting in May, I'll be part of a growing number of college-educated women who have chosen to leave the workforce. There are many reasons why we've made this choice - some political, some economical, but mostly it's probably because the only thing I think I've ever wanted to be is a small farmer with an old house.

And soon I will be!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

Travel Tip: If it's 70 degrees and sunny and a Saturday that is Actual St. Patrick's Day and you are in will see a lot of drunk people wearing green.

A. Lot.

Bill did a scientific survey and found that over 80% of the people that walked by the window where we were having breakfast were wearing green.

I did a scientific survey and found that people drink beer with breakfast, starting at 6 am.

Bill wore orange (like Liz Lemon). But he did it not to honor of "William Of" more like "Otto The." (Go Orange! Elite 8 tonight!!)

Green River:

It's, like, 4:00 in the afternoon in that photo, so all the green people are passed out on the sidewalks. It was nutty.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Birthday Chicago.

Monday was my 35th birthday (I have Big News connected with that to share...soon) and we went to Chicago for the weekend to celebrate.

First stop - Tapas! It was yummy and I realized how much I miss good olives. I don't think I've had a good olive since we moved to Indiana (nor have we had good tapas...). In DC we would walk to tapas on Tuesdays - half-price Sangria pitcher night - sit outside, watch the people, get tipsy and walk home. We often would stop at the library because it was on our way home and it feels really, really naughty to go to the library drunk.

This was our favorite course - asparagus in a pear (poached in red wine) with some grapefruit sauce thing and cabrales.

We ate and drank and ate and drank and when we felt like this:

...we walked back to our hotel. The luxury I miss most about DC (besides olives) is walking. The night was beautiful and the sangria potent.

I was so excited about walking that I realized how much I miss living somewhere where there is gum on the sidewalk, and apparently felt the need to document the moment.

Bill was looking especially adorable. Living in the country rocks, but we were both pretty excited about our vacation in a City.

The next day was St. Patrick's Day and it was insane. More on that later...but, Krista darling - if this is what it's like when you go to the City every year, I am going to implement a You Must Check-In With Your Cousin When You Arrive Home Safely Policy.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kevin Bacon (the sheep)

As a reward for enduring the chicken proselytizing post below, I give you Kevin Bacon (the sheep).

One of the March challenges in the knitting tournament on Ravelry, Nerd Wars, is to craft something that can be connected to Kevin Bacon (the actor). I made Kevin Bacon (the sheep). He is inspired by the sheep in the movie Babe. The farmer dude from Babe was in W with Josh Brolin, who was in Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon (the actor). My sheep has a Bacon number of 3 (I think that's how that works).

Kevin Bacon (the sheep) is, of course, a big fan of The Lord of the Rings, and he always wears a green cloak like the ones the elves gave the fellowship.

Plus, he goes on adventures and pretends he's on a quest to destroy the One Ring. He even has his own little Mount Doom.

The pattern is A Sheep in Sheep's Clothing and he took me all of an evening to knit. I love him.

A tale of two chickens

Two of the drawbacks I hear folks banter around about heritage breed chickens is that they grow too slowly and they aren't big enough for modern Americans. A lot of farmers and consumers tend toward hybrid birds to get past those drawbacks. (Sometimes gross hybrids, like the Cornish Cross we raised our first year which also make up all grocery store chickens. And sometimes more natural hybrids.)

For the past two years we've been raising Dark Cornish. They do take months, rather than weeks to mature and I can see how that is a draw back. If you're trying to raise chickens for profit, these probably aren't going to be them. Ours mostly free range which means low, low, low feed costs, but it also means greater loss to predators. (Ask me how my opinion of red tailed hawks has changed since my college days as a wanna-be-naturalist...).

I don't understand, however, the idea that these birds don't produce enough meat. I think that is problem of expectations and creativity. A problem we can solve right now. Ready? Think of meat as a condiment...not the whole meal.

A million years ago when we watched "Super Size Me" the thing that stuck with us most is that a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. It changed the way we eat at home and at restaurants (the annoying people that share a buffalo burger at Teds - that's us).

Two weeks ago Bill took two Dark Cornish out of our freezer. For two weeks they've made most of our meals - and I think we'll still be eating them for another week.

The first two meals were shredded dark meat from the legs, which was simmered in salsa and then added to nachos and burritos. Total meals: 2 each for 2 people (aka, 4 meals).

The chicken breasts were made in to chicken parm. 3 meals x 2 people = 6.

Bill made stock from the carcasses and plucked off the rest of the meat. We've had chicken soup at least 4 times each and just made tortilla soup from the stock. There are at least 6 meals of soup left for lunches this week. Some of the tortilla soup was also thickened and used on our breakfast of chilaquiles and again to make Big Bill's Bodacious Blend of Salsa de Enchilada (sauce for 5 total meals of enchiladas).

Side note - we eat a lot of tortilla based meals around here. It's because we have a tortilla press and homemade corn tortillas are the MOST AMAZING THING EVER! (Best $25 you can spend)

Bill is a big guy. He likes to eat much food. So we aren't talking about little girly meals here. In most cases we're getting fulfillment from the other parts of the meal. Homemade corn tortillas are tasty, but they are also way more filling than store bought ones. The same is true of the homemade pasta we ate in the soup and with the chicken parm.

So, I think we're up to 31 meals with products from 2 chickens. The chicken wasn't necessarily the main ingredient in many of the meals - in some it was a condiment. But we feel pretty great about this. Processing your own chickens sucks. It's really hard. Knowing that we've gotten so many meals out of these two birds is satisfying.