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Mainely Tipping Points

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Turkey Tracks: Friday Night Update

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Turkey Tracks:  January 17, 2014

Friday Night Update

It’s 4:04 p.m., and it is not pitch dark yet.

But, soon.

And, soon, spring will come, too, as the days are growing longer.

We have been having a January thaw for the past week.  We can see green grass again, and there is still lettuce in my cold frame.  Imagine that…  Beneath all that snow…


The chickens are laying again.  Rosie, the Copper Black Maran, laid her first egg since, I don’t know, October?  The Americaunas molted in the fall and started laying again a few weeks ago.  They are, once again, looking posh with all their new feathers.  Beauty, who is so ugly I called her Beauty, laid all winter–though the shell to her eggs is very thin.  She is so friendly and sweet.

The Diva, who I think is Queeny, is in the kitchen, resting, healing (one hopes).  Her neck still looks pretty bad, but her eyes are bright, and she’s eating.

The brother of my friend Linda, who house sits for me and cleans, was standing beneath the edge of a roof with lots of ice on it.  A slab broke loose and hurt his arm, side, and leg and broke his foot.  Last Tuesday, in the middle of our January thaw, Linda went to get into her minivan, slipped on hidden ice next to the van.  Her face is all bruised, and she broke her wrist.  She drove herself to the emergency room.

Of course she was not looking for ice; everything had melted off.  And that’s when the ice is the most treacherous.  When you think it’s gone.  Now she and her brother visit each other, each nursing a broken bone, and laugh wryly.

I talk to her every few days to see if she needs anything and to remind her to go slowly.  The loss of income is very serious for her, of course, and I will pay her same as always, work or no work.  She is so good to me in so many ways–I can’t even begin to tell you all she did for me when John was so sick and how she has cared for me this past year.

Today I went to Belfast (about 40 minutes north) to the big Coop for ground chicken for the dogs and green things for me.  AND to pick up this amazing herbal powder from Dr. Herzig, a holistic vet, that keeps Miss Reynolds Georgia bright and busy tailed.  She thinks she’s a puppy again, which is great since twice now I have been sure she was not going to live through the night.  For about three months this summer I had to gently force feed her.   Anyway, it was nice to get out a bit.

Celtic Solstice:  I put on the white border yesterday.  And got one triangle border on when I realized that I had TWO blocks with the orange going the wrong way.  Mercy!  I took the rows apart and turned the blocks, and the job was easier than I had expected.  When I finish here, I’m going to make a cup of tea and put on the other three borders.  Tomorrow I’m going to a big quilt fabric sale to get some green or blue to finish this amazing quilt.  And, the backing and binding.  There are so many seams that I do not want to piece blocks for the back.  It will be so hard to quilt if I do.

“Sails Up and Flags Flying,” the bright orange quilt,  is loaded onto Lucy the longarm, and the great yellow thread has come in the mail.  So….  Tomorrow, maybe…

Here’s a block to remind you…


And one of the really fun things I’ve learned from Bonnie Hunter is to take the time to “swirl” your seams on the backside of a block as it cuts down on bulk when it’s time to quilt the layers.  See the little tiny squares in the middle of each block–that “swirling” means two layers of bulk, not four.  Bonnie has detailed instructions under the four-patch unit “clue” of Celtic Solstice on her quiltville.com blog.  Look for the “Celtic Solstic” mystery information.


I have been hand-sewing blocks for this great quilt–pictures below–from Material Obsession 2 by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke, both from Australia.  I have not decided which layout to use yet.



I am kind of leaning toward the second one, but maybe making it a bit bigger.  I have almost finished two blocks and have cut out pieces for the third and chosen fabric for a bunch more.  I am getting obsessed with the beauty of these blocks.  I’ll take some pictures tomorrow.

BUT, if I do the first layout, it might make a great quilt for the red guest bedroom…

Who knows?  It’s a work in progress…  And I’m just having fun.

It’s dark now.  I’m going now to lock up the chickens, fix dinner (stuffed green peppers and baked squash), make a cuppa, and sew.  And to listen to what is likely the final part of P.D. James’ Devices and Desires, which has been wonderful, wonderful.  James is a master of murder mysteries.  This book is so full and rich and so full of depth.

Tonight after watching two Castle episodes from season 2–which is really all about watching Nathan Fillion whose Firefly series got cancelled way, way too soon (Josh Whedon, and  the movie Serenity kind of finished off that series)–I’ll read another big chunk of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which I’m really enjoying.

And, oh my gosh!, when checking spelling for Fillion, I realized he’s also in Buffy the Vampire Slayer just a bit, which Josh Wheden also did!!!  I’ve always wanted to check out that tv series…ever since Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia (from her blog about Julie cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and spoke of her delight in Buffy…

If you don’t have dog-eared volumes of Child’s Mastering the Art of…, you might want to get at least the first one and cook around it a bit.

Life is so full of wonderful surprises some times…

Turkey Tracks: Sunday Cooking–French Onion Soup Dinner

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Turkey Tracks:  January 25, 2011

Sunday Cooking: 

French Onion Soup Dinner


We have some friends here in Maine who LOVE French Onion Soup.   Jack and Barbara Moore own the schooner Surprise, which takes people out of our Camden harbor for day sails during the summer.  They went to Tufts with John, and we did not know they lived here when we first began to get serious about moving to Camden.   We attempted to rent a cottage from them in January 2004 for the summer of 2004, and John realized who they were.  We all met at Boyton McKay for lunch (Phil had cooked vegetarian French Onion Soup), and the three old friends reconnected.   (Boynton McKay has the best pancakes in America–seriously, it does.) 

A week or so ago, Jack and Barbara invited us to dinner at the newly renovated cottage we once rented–it will now be their home–and it is beautiful–and I promised to make them French Onion soup.   Traditional French Onion Soup begins with a sturdy beef stock, but many French soups just use vegetables and water (leek and potato soup, for instance), though Julia Child always has a variant for a good bone broth stock.  In the winter, especially, bone broths are more prevalent because people are eating hearty meats for warmth.   And, if you know me at all, you  know I’m a passionate advocate for good bone broths.  They are nutrient dense and provide minerals we do not easily get elsewhere.  Besides, they allow the use of all parts of an animal.  Nothing gets wasted and it’s healthy to boot.  How can you go wrong?  Also, onions are storage vegetables, so we have a lot of them in the winter.  What a French Onion soup is, in the end, is a way to use what is prevalent in the winter season, and use ingredients in the most delightful way.

However, Barbara is mostly a vegetarian, so I promised her I’d make a vegetarian French Onion Soup.  And we invited them for Monday night, so I started by making a really good vegetable stock on Sunday afternoon:  2 celery stalks (you don’t want too much celery), some celeriac  I had from Hope’s Edge which is mild, 2 big onions, 3 spring onions greens and all, chard stalks, a small turnip, a parsnip, a few potatoes hanging around the potato basket, 4 carrots, three or four garlic cloves smashed, some of the parsley I froze, some dried lemon thyme, a bay leaf, and some good unrefined sea salt (which is full of minerals like magnesium and good for you,  unlike the fake salt in the grocery store which I never buy).  I would have used 2 leeks and 1 onion if I had had leeks.  Once assembled and brought to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about an hour.  You will have gotten all you need from the vegetables by then.  Let the stock cool and strain it through a colendar.   In this household, the dogs get the carrots the next morning mixed into their raw meat, and the chickens get some carrots, the chard stalks, the turnip, parsnip, and a few of the spent potatoes.   If  you can’t part with the vegetables,  pull off a bit of the stock and puree the vegetables in it, reheat,  pour in some heavy REAL cream or put a few tablespoons of butter on top, and you have another lovely soup.  If you don’t have animals, you could compost the spent vegetables.  If you don’t have a composter, put them outside under a shrub.   They don’t have any fat in them, so they won’t attract vermin, and you won’t be adding, mindlessly, to the waste stream.  The shrub will thank you. 

Anyway, here’s what the broth looked like on the stove.  Isn’t it pretty?


Roughly speaking, here’s what you need for the soup  ingredients:

2 quarts of stock minimum–I probably use 2 1/2 quarts–and at least  1/2 cup dry white wine (red isn’t bad if you’re using a beef stock)

8 or 9 medium to large onions cut pole to pole and sliced into 1/4-inch slices  (I use more than Julia who calls for 5 cups I think)

1 tsp. salt, a pinch of sugar, 3 Tablespoons of butter, and 2 Tablespoons of other fat (olive oil, coconut oil, tallow, lard)

Grated swiss cheese–good swiss which is sweet, not bitter, is usually European in origin.  And, if you like, the following enrichments:  3 Tablespoons of Cognac, egg yolks ( 1 to 4)

Really good French Bread Baguette

While the stock was cooking, I sliced up the onions, put them into a HEAVY pan with the butter, oil/fat, and salt, and on medium heat, began caramelize them.  When they have all melted down, add the bit of sugar which will help caramelize the onions.  Hang around the kitchen and stir them up every couple of minutes.  Keep the heat from being too hot.  You don’t want to burn them. 

Here are the onions getting close to being done:

The onions are now a soft golden color.  You can get onions to caramelize to a much deeper color, but the taste changes as the process continues.  Since I was using a vegetable stock, I didn’t want the onions to be as strong as I would for a beef stock.  This picture is showing the onions to be a bit light, but they were actually a lovely golden color.  When you think your onions are dark enough, stir in about 1/4 cup of flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes.  Add your stock and stir up all the bits in the bottom of the pan.

At this point, I let the mixture cool and refrigerated it.   All I needed to do on Monday was to heat the soup gently, let it simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes, and taste it for salt when it got warm.  My soup was very sweet.  Onions are sweet, but remember I had also used carrots and a parsnip in the broth.  Chard stalks are sweetish too.  

Here’s the soup on Monday cooking gently for 40 minutes: 

I thought it needed some zip, so just before serving, I added a good 3 Tablespoons of cognac.  (A plain brandy would work too.)  And, I enriched it with 4 egg yolks, which made it silky smooth and gave it some lovely body, not to mention protein the body can use easily. 

To add egg yolks, drizzle a ladle of soup into the eggs while you whisk them.  For safety,  as I had used 4 eggs, I added a second ladle slowly while whisking.  (This is called tempering the eggs.)  Then, with the soup OFF THE HEAT, stir the eggs into the soup and stir the soup until it thickens–just a minute or so.

I put grated swiss cheese (a GOOD swiss) into the bottom of each deep bowl and ladled soup over it.  My gratinee soup bowls are small, and we wanted big bowls of soup for dinner–not a smaller size for a first course.  And, as we had really fresh baguettes, we just quartered them and put a hunk at each person’s plate.  I can get lovely raw butter, so we had that for the bread too.  (We didn’t want to toast sliced bread and put it into our soup this time and put the cheese over it and put everything into the oven to melt the cheese.)

While the stock made and the onions caramelized, I made a three-layer cake–a recipe I had put away to try years ago.  It’s a caramel cake, but not a southern style.  Instead, the batter and the icing are flavored with mocha syrup, Bailey’s cream liquor, a coffee liquor, and vanilla.  I didn’t have a mocha syrup, so I put the other ingredients in a pan and threw in about a tablespoon of chocolate bits and a tablespoon of some caramel syrup I had and let it all sit on the oven shelf to warm and melt the chocolate.  The cake is spectacular and lovely, so that innovation was fine.  Here it is, though the camera distorts the bottoms of things (making them look smaller) if you don’t have it level with the photographed object:

Here it is cut:


It is yummo!  I got it from “Better Homes and Gardens” Dec. 2005, “Secret to a Great Cake:  Cream Caramel Cake,” page 220.  The only downer is that the icing has EIGHT CUPS of confectioner’s sugar in it.  That’s more sugar than I eat in two years!!!! 

So, you remember those chard stalks I used in the soup stock?  Here are the leaves–with some green onions–all ready to be sauteed for dinner on Sunday night.  Dinner was roasted sweet potato and a seared sirloin steak and some of my sauerkraut.  Aren’t chard leaves pretty?  Chard is in the beet family, you know.  I usually grow a variety called “rainbow” chard that comes in all sorts of electric colors.  It’s quite amazing in the garden.  It’s great sauteed with some coconut oil and when it begins to melt down, a splash of fruity vinegar and a drizzle of honey.  Sometimes I also add some raisins or some sliced apple, peel and all. 

So, on Monday, I only had to make a salad and grate some cheese.  Here’s the salad:

I wanted something citrusy.  Lettuce greens are not in season now, so this salad is from “away.”  It has some water cress, some leaf lettuce, some romaine, a naval orange, some fennel sliced thin on the mandolin cutter, some hearts of palm (I grabbed a CAN thinking I was buying asparagus hearts–bad, bad as can linings leach BPA–I should have NOT used anything else), some green onions, some toasted pine nuts, and a fruity dressing of lemon and olive oil.  It was delicious!

So, Bon Appetit! to all and mega thanks to the incomparable Julia!

PS:  For a good beef stock, put a selection of bones in a roasting pan, add some celery (2 stalks only), carrots, onion, and garlic (I slice the whole bulb in half after seeing son Bryan do that) and roast until brown at high heat–400 degrees–turning and stirring after about 40 minutes.  Usually everything is brown in no more than an hour.   Drop the heat if you think things are moving too fast.  Put everything into a large stock pot.  Put water in the roasting pan and scrape up the goodies and pour all into the stock pot too.  Add more onion, carrots, garlic, fresh or dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, parsley) and GOOD SEA SALT THAT IS DAMP AND GREY and cook for at least 5 to 6 hours and up to 12 hours.  Strain and discard bones and spent veggies.   Freeze extra in Mason quart jars.

Written by louisaenright

January 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Tipping Points 10: Meat Chickens

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Tipping Points 10

June 9, 2010


Meat Chickens

 I am helping raise fifty pastured meat chickens with Pete and Rose Thomas of the Vegetable Shed on Route 173 in Lincolnville.  I am mostly a bystander at this stage.  I paid for our twenty chicks when they arrived, am paying for half of the feed as Pete and Rose are doing all the work, paid for half of some of the start-up equipment, and go admire how healthy and beautiful the chickens are about once a week.  I will help slaughter them later this month.

We got twenty pastured chickens in a Community Shared Agriculture arrangement last fall, and we would have done so again.  But, as Pete and Rose helped us acquire and manage our layers, it emerged that they wanted to raise some Silver Cross meat chickens.  They agreed to let us be partners, and we’re all learning a lot as we go along.

After watching the movie JULIE AND JULIA, where Julie Powell cooks all 536 recipes in Volume One of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) in one year and blogs about the experience, I pulled out my Volume One—nearly 50 years old now and one of the cookbooks I brought with me when we culled books and moved to Maine.  I made the master leek and potato soup recipe.  Delicious!  Next, as I’ve never been a strong baker, I challenged myself with the cake section.  I was amazed at how many eggs and how little flour and sugar the French one-layer cakes contained.  And, real butter cream icing is velvet on the tongue; has an intense, satisfying flavor; and is smooth all the way down.  Yummo!

Then, I discovered the DVD set of eighteen of the early Julia Child television shows, made throughout the 1960s.  One of these shows is “How To Roast A Chicken.”  Julia lines up six chickens to compare their sizes and purposes:  a broiler, a fryer, a roaster, a capon (castrated rooster), a stewing fowl, and an “old lady” hen fit only for soup.  The broiler Julia shows weighs 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds and is 2 to 3 months old.  The roasting chicken is 4 to 7 pounds and is 5 ½ to 9 months old.

Nowadays, we are raising 4 to 5-pound Cornish Cross chickens in six or seven weeks.

And, they are tasteless.  In her memoir MY LIFE IN FRANCE, Julia sums up the problem she encounters in 1955 when she begins to experiment with chicken cookery:  “The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear” (213).

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NCAT), beginning in the 1950s, industry worked to develop a chicken that was meatier, was broad-breasted, grew rapidly, converted feed efficiently, had limited feathering which minimized plucking, and which had “other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement.”  Uniformity dictates this model.  If all the birds are the same size, processing equipment can be designed for maximum technical efficiency (http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry_genetics.html).

In April 2009, Harvey Ussery, in “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” noted that the development of the Cornish Cross has “pushed muscle tissue growth to extremes, at the expense of balanced growth of all other systems—resulting in failed tendons and crippled legs, compromised immune systems, heart failure, and other problems.”  This chicken is given antibiotics and arsenic to “force still faster growth.”  And, since they are raised in “filthy, high-stress conditions,” antibiotics are required from “day one to slaughter” (“Sunday Dinner Chicken:  Alternatives to the Cornish Cross,” Apr/May 2009, “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Cornish+Cross+Alternatives.html.).

Ussery vowed never again to “coddle such a compromised bird” when he lost twenty-two in two hours during a temperature spike.  The distressed birds, wrote Ussery, were at slaughter weight.  And, they “sat…in the shade of their pasture shelter, panting desperately, and died—rather than walk six feet for a drink of water outside the shelter.”  Meanwhile, his group of “young New Hampshires, the same age as the Cornish Cross to the day, [were] scooting about the pasture like little waterbugs, crossing their entire electronetted area when they needed a drink of water.”

Steve Hode of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, who raises chickens in Windsor, Maine, says the flesh of the Cornish Cross chickens is so soft that it dissolves in your mouth without much chewing.  Further, Hode noted, the bones of these chickens, because they grow so fast, never develop the density that makes for mineral-rich bone broths.

The efficient feed conversion factor means that meat chickens are fed, as are industrial layers, 90 percent corn and 10 percent soy.  Feeds, even organic feeds, contain the synthetic protein methionine and an array of chemicals and waste-product oils.  Changing to 70 percent corn and 30 percent soy solves the protein problem, but affects production costs as less carbohydrate (corn) means a longer growth time, more money for additional feed, and more manure (“There’s a synthetic in my organic chicken,” Rodale Institute, 1 April 2005, http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/columns/org_news/2005/0405/methionine.shtml).  A 70/30 mixture does not solve the problem of making omnivore chickens vegetarians, which affects the omega 3 to 6 ratio of the meat.

According to the Lion’s Grip web site, what chickens prefer to eat is much more diverse.  Too see this list is to understand how blighted a diet of 90 percent corn, 10 percent soy, and a bunch of chemicals is.  Chickens need ample grass and living plants, especially clover; subterranean flora and fauna; insects; and protein that raises the omega 3 content of flesh and eggs so that it is equal to the omega 6 content, like fish, meat, milk worms, and nuts.  A grain supplement should only be given free choice and should be based on a mixture of five or more grains.  Legumes should be offered with grain to balance grain proteins.  Salt should come from free-choice kelp, and calcium from oyster shells or grass-fed bone.  Oils, like the highly processed, already rancid waste products from industry, should never be added to chicken feed   (www.lionsgrip.com/chickensidealfeed.html).

We are feeding our chickens commercial organic feed, as we have not yet worked out how else to feed a large flock of organic chickens outside what the so-called free market has standardized.  We do not like giving the chickens soy, synthetic chemicals, and waste products from industry.  But we have not yet located local grain mixtures and protein sources that are economically feasible and not too time consuming to organize.

Four major transnational companies supply 80 to 90 percent of the chicks to the worldwide commercial meat chicken industry, some in the form of hatching eggs sold to independent hatcheries.  Alternatives to the Cornish Crosses are limited, but some of these companies are now offering a slower growing Cornish Cross, like our Silver Crosses, which are slaughtered closer to their sexual maturity.  And, and at least one of these companies, Hubbard, a French company, is offering a chicken sold under the Red Label system in France that is most commonly known here as a Freedom Ranger.  This chicken, apparently, takes twelve weeks to grow, forages pasture well, and is loaded with flavor.

Our Silver Cross chickens come from Henry Noll in Pennsylvania.   While still a Cornish Cross, they are slower growing and will take at least 9 weeks to grow to 5 pounds.  Crossed with a Barred Rock, they are a beautiful silver grey with barred feathers and red combs.  Pete and Rose, who ate one last fall, say they definitely taste better than the flavor-challenged standard Cornish Cross.

Our chickens are very lively and have huge yellow feet and legs.  You can tell which ones are roosters now, and they are, suddenly, looking quite heavy.  However, all of them eat like piranhas.  It’s eerie to watch them eat.  And they are eating us out of house and home.  They will eat the grass and clover in their large, movable pen only if grain is withheld.

So, for fall and the future, we are looking to the Freedom Ranger chicken.  Ussery describes the meat as being “incomparably better.”  And NCAT says the “meat is flavorful and firm, but not tough.”  Freedom Rangers are also good layers.

Do not ask us to sell our meat chickens to you.  We cannot.  The food Nazis at the Quality Assurance and Regulation Division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, in the name of food safety and without any evidence of problems, will likely be successful in revoking the 1,000-bird poultry exemption for small farmers.  Now, any farmer who wants to sell even one chicken must build his/her own, very expensive processing facility, which would only be used a few weeks a  year.  Additionally, equipment may not be shared between farmers.

Here’s exactly how government helps the big and uniform get bigger and more uniform.  Here’s how small, local, and diverse gets driven out of the market.  Here’s how tasteless chickens are created.