Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Are You.... Chicken?


My mother grew up on a farm, a cattle ranch actually, in Wyoming. I think that's where she learned it. It was there in the modest farmhouse surrounded by cows, vast sky and dancing, endless fields that she must have picked up the skill of how to make one of my most enduring comfort foods.

How does she do it?..... I still wonder. What magic ingredient or secret flick of the wrist kitchen trick does she do that consistently fries the perfect egg? I didn't really even know that a fried egg was a comfort food of mine until I left home, had a few heartbreaks and starting moving in the grown world. That's when we all find out what we are made of I guess. But, no matter what wild adventure I have come out of or what  rite of passage I have, um.... passed since then, there has been this exquisitely simple, deeply satisfying offering of perfect mother nurture gently pressed in front of me on a plate. And if it's not, I ask for it by name. Strange..... I'm not that much of a "comfort food" kind of girl. Yet, there it is. My little secret. Mom's tasty fried egg.

In all the many places I've lived over the last decade and a half,  I've typically grown a good selection of heirloom food crops, culinary herbs and other edibles in my yard. Even when I've only had a tiny patio at my disposal, I have packed it with yummy eats in clay pots or in patches of dirt along the borders. So one would think that by now I would have thought to include the cultivation of that magical orb, the humble egg, in my little garden world. But not so. What was I..... chicken?..... to raise.... well, CHICKEN? What has taken me so stinkin' long to actually bring daily fresh eggs and their fluffy friends along with them into my backyard?

A few years ago I chicken sat for one of my brothers in the Valley over a couple of months while he was away in India learning earth building techniques. It was fun to watch the energized flock of chickens run about in the yard and hunt for grubs and other treasures in the compost pile. They were well fed and beautiful birds. Something about keeping one's own chickens just seemed soo right. To be completely honest though, part of his chicken set up kind of freaked me out. His little flock of Rumpless Araucanas was mostly made up of roosters and they just never let that one poor hen rest. She was popular! It wasn't anything intentional on the part of my brother. He incubated a batch of fertile eggs and he got what he got. BOYS. ... and lots of them. So he was left with the unfortunate issue of what to do with these.... um.... undesirables. The whole raising chickens thing suddenly seemed like a bit of a mixed bag to me. They were entertaining and lovable on the one hand, and sex crazed  bouncers who would have to become tomorrows soup on the other hand. I figured that if and when I ever did get around to raising my own chickens that I would raise them for their ability to naturally fertilize the garden, for their wonderfully useful habit of eating bugs in the veggie plot and for their gorgeous eggs and feathers only. I still had to move a couple more times to a couple different homes before the idea of tending to a flock of my own really entered my mind again.

In this last year, we had done enough reading up on the subject to satisfy our minds that our birds would be well looked after and so it was just time to do it. The kids were excited about the prospect of pets that could feed you once you've fed them and we went about collecting various supplies. It really is surprising how little a chicken needs to get by. So we brought the birds home:

There is NOTHING so soft in all the world as a day old chick! Here we are in the spring.

Our little punk rock chick, "Blondie" got her name due to the green dye that the hatchery dabbed on her head to help differentiate her rare breed ( a Delaware ) from a similar looking bird. This is her, just two days old,  in her first few moments playing in the clover on her first day home.

The black bird under the red light is our Barred Plymouth Rock, named "Tweeds", checking out her temporary digs in the brooder on her first day at our place. And the eye lined beauty stretching her wings in the garden is our Ameraucana, "Cleopatra",  at just one week old.... they grow so fast ( she is the teeny day old chick pictured on the skateboard in the opening pic of this blog entry ).

"Tweeds" and "Scarlet" ( our Rhode Island Red ) curl up in my knit wool scarf on a cool day at just a few days old.

James built and I painted the chicken's coop and run out of mostly salvaged materials. This is the coop when it was under construction. I still marvel at how James just pieced it together without plans. He is amazing to me! Pre-made housing would have been a lot easier but we had a bunch of salvaged wood, wire, bolts and other stuff just begging for a second life. Re-using stuff is always an eco chic first resort around here.

Julian's very own chicken is a sweet natured Buff Orpington named "Peaches". One day, Julian remembered that there was a picture of her breed in a book on our shelves. He scouted it out, found the page and showed "Peaches"........ peaches! " Peaches ... it's you!", he chimed. Juju is convinced his chicken is famous!

Many days, Peaches can be found hanging out on Juju's shoulder or forearm..... kind of like a pirate's parrot. She has even taken a ride in Julian's car seat to pick up the kids after school! But here, they just soak up the sun best buddy style on the patio.

A young scarlet is the first of the flock to figure out that a dust bath in the sun is a very good thing.

Just two weeks old and hunting around under the tree swing on a late spring day for any tasty thing they can find.

Fast forward to today. Here is Scarlet and Cleopatra this afternoon hanging out under the nectarine tree.

Tweeds seeks out some fruit in the branches above only to discover that we already chowed down that particular harvest a couple of weeks ago.

Blondie finds a good vantage point as the sun starts to set against the foothills

Scarlet struts the stone wall looking for a treat to eat amongst the sunflowers and quinoa.

The girls pick up seeds and grain with total precision as they scratch and coo.

"Buttercup", our other Delaware, ventures into Julian's garden ( dubbed Jujubee Way ) in the quest for fat juicy bugs to munch on.

Our girls leap on and off the wall between garden beds as they express their chickeness. Free range is a beautiful thing!

The ladies follow their natural instincts to roost up high as they head back in to the coop for the night while the light shifts to darkness. And I get one last snuggle from the affectionate and curious Tweeds before saying goodnight.

"Nefertiti", our chicken of questionable breed ( we think she may be a Welsummer, but her white earlobes keep throwing us off. she was sold to us as an Ameraucana.....but...... um...... no.... don't think so.), gives the garden a final look before heading in. You can almost hear a happy chicken sigh as she clucks " to scratch, to graze to roll in the dirt........hey that was a great day!"

So seriously why didn't we do this sooner!?!?!!!

We love these wacky birds! They've quickly become a part of our life here. Up to this point they have just been fantastic and affordable pets ( a day old chick literally costs less than a latte!). We are expecting their first eggs in a couple more weeks and everyone is excited at the thought of the daily egg hunt. Local organic, free range lovingly raised eggs... here we come. Now if I could just get Mom to fly in to my kitchen to fry them every morning the experience would be complete!



Saturday, July 17, 2010

It Takes a Village

We'd been looking forward to this day for weeks now and the time had finally come to spruce up the house, set out some tables and get the place ready for the 2nd Annual Claremont Food Not Lawns Fundraiser Talent Show Potluck. Yes, I said that...... fundraiser talent show potluck. It's a mouthful, true. But it barely begins to cover the variety of things that transpire at a gathering of this nature.

This particular bunch of diverse, interesting peoples could meet a hundred different times a year in a hundred different ways and probably never repeat the same theme twice. There is that much skill, talent, knowledge and ability among them. But tonight we all gathered  in the gardens and by the stage at Pomello Farm to celebrate the stuff of which this community is made. There was a spread of vegetarian dishes both savory and sweet, some organic lemonade and even a keg of locally brewed Dale Brothers beer for the crowd to enjoy. We held a raffle in which an assortment of eco friendly gifts, from a basket of handmade natural soaps to a homemade pomegranate liqueur to a basket of organic gardening goodies, was offered up at a dollar per ticket. There were dozens of raffle items.... too many to mention and all highly sought after!

Conversations flowed freely and connections were made. At one point I sat back to scan the mix of individuals in attendance. Our guests included everyone from a raw food chef to a woodworker, a ton of great parents to a documentary film maker, many musicians and performers to owners of a solar energy business to a farmer, a photographer, a martial arts instructor to a massage therapist to a handful of artists, a doula, a histomologist, a radio host to a big collection of environmental activists, to college professors to radical thinkers to a screenwriter to you name it! My mind buzzed with all the potential of the collective! Mingling happened. Regular laughter rose up out of the crowd in little pools and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the company.

Our multi talented MC, MaryBeth, called out raffle winners and announced  performers throughout the festivities. She is an absolute force of nature!

Well-fed, our guests start to settle in for some lively entertainment.

Both kids and parents alike soaked in the relaxed and mellow surroundings.

Guests gather, serve up plates of food on the dishes they brought themselves and strike up conversation with both familiar and new friends.

Here at Pomello we have a little stage we've created from the standing foundation of an old house that burned to the ground a few decades ago. It turned out to make an ideal stage due to its great acoustics and the absolutely nurturing view of the mountains as it's natural backdrop. Many performers have already graced this simple little stage and most have expressed their desire to perform on it again as soon as possible. Our guest talent line up for this Food Not Lawns event was a dynamic and down to earth mix of all ages. Everyone did their part. A local folk band, the Sugar Mountain Mama Serenade started our evening of entertainment with a great set of songs that really helped to warm the crowd. There was a charming Mother-Daughter singing act, a troop of fun spirited jugglers, a talented hula hooper, a beautiful interpretive dancing duo, a fresh voiced a capella solo singer who was later accompanied by her dear husband, and an awe inspiring rather sophisticated harp song performed by a six year old! It really does take a village to throw a fundraiser talent show potluck!

Our talented hula hooper, Ivy, was accompanied by the Sugar Mountain Mamas as she worked the routine that she had prepared especially for this event. This young lady could swivel that hoop just about anywhere!

Face recognition anyone? Yes..... these are some of the kids, plus instructors, from the juggling class at our place the other day, complete with banjo player. One can squeeze a lot of practice into just three days. And yup... those are my two guys, Keoni and Kai,  front and center. They all impressed the heck out of me!

Over the last couple of years I have shared in two different , 8 week  long discussion groups with Lynn ( pictured above). In these groups we spoke in depth about all sorts of topics, sometimes diving deep into our personal life experience or understanding. So... Whoa! Who the flip knew this woman could sing! You think you know a person! It's wild. I'm still blown away by the hidden talent of people in our life. Her husband, Leroy, joined her on stage for the second number at which point I was called away by a child in need so I am hoping that someone elses camera holds some pictures of those moments.

There is just something about certain selections of music that just fit the persons performing them. Last year, members of this family sang a charming folk tune that won the crowd over. This time around was no exception. There is such a sweetness about the way this family engages that I now will look forward to their participation every year ( no pressure! )!

This is the first dance performance here on our stage at the Farm. And what a great first! It was a particularly beautiful experience to see these two friends dance by our three sisters garden as the sun was just starting to set. There is something magical about confident young ladies twirling and leaping as their hair catches the light that just makes you breathe in the abundant beauty of it all. And also a wonderful experience that this was a nurturing community to receive that beauty as it unfolded! Thank you Ellen and Sara!

Nara's harp solo was so elegant and soothing in it's sophisticated simplicity that it was easy to forget that our little centered performer was a first grader............. that is, until the end of her musical number where she jumped off the stage into the warm embrace of her proud mother. A great moment.... a happening! 


Oh yeah......... and then there was what I will now refer to as " the ambush". I was called on stage, by the Sugar Mountain Mamas to sing a number with them. So I did the only sensible thing you can do in a situation like that.............. I hid behind a tree....... until I was discovered and lovingly nudged on stage by person after person. I sang and people were kind about it. We'll just leave the actual performance to your imagination.

The sun set and it was time to go home. But what's this?....... someone lit a campfire!.......... and someone else started a drum circle! The spirited after party had just begun. Marshmallows were shared and toasted by the kids and a small yet soulful jam session ( guitar and banjo ) broke out in another part of the garden.

It was a joy and a pleasure to welcome this circle of people to Pomello for the evening! Thank you to everyone who showed up early and stayed late to help set up, clean up and prepare! And another great big thank you to all our brave and talented performers! We love you all! And we look forward to many more magical nights with you under the sky at our place!

And now, dear ones, I will leave you with a few images of some of the unique and wonderful people who came to play:

Thanks for bringing the love!