Author Archives: jess s

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everything is going surprisingly well.

Baby Chicks: Day 11

As certainly as the sun rises, baby chicks grow out of their fluff in an instant. It seems like every time I turn around, they are sprouting new feathers. These photos are from their Day 11 photo shoot.


Ponyboy


Goldie!


Sodapop


Two-Bit

Salmon Faverolles pullets and cockerels are supposed to look different by the time they’re two weeks old. We’re having a hard time making sense of the ‘sexing’ of salmon faverolles. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent wondering What is a “black feather”? and what exactly does a “salmon feather” look like? This is where life experience is better than google results. However, I think we have 2 hens and 2 roosters. Two-Bit and Ponyboy look very much alike, while Goldie and Sodapop’s feathers are the same. I just couldn’t tell you which two are which. This alleviates a lot of my “What if we hatch four roosters???” nightmares. I’m no expert though; I could be wrong about this rooster/hen ratio. Any salmon favs experts reading?

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The 48-hour kitchen makeover

Our oven died recently at a very inconvenient moment. We decided to seize the opportunity to convert to a gas range. Then we decided that we should re-do our kitchen floor before the new stove is installed. One thing led to another, and it seemed like while we’re re-doing the floors, we should replace the baseboards. And it would be nice to paint the kitchen too. This led to a frenzied 48 hour marathon of tile shopping, watching adhesive dry, being covered in glue and agreeing on the perfect shade of white paint. This is what our weekend looked like.


We loved the Armstrong VCT sample kit.


The gray grime is a leveling compound. The blue X marks the center of the room.


Low-VOC adhesive.


The borderlands.


The tile roller weighs 100 pounds!


We’re so pleased with the results.

We’ll work on before/after glamour shots once we can move all the furniture back to the proper place. Our new range arrives tomorrow. We have more painting, spackling and baseboard installation to do, and we need to seal/polish the new floor when the adhesive is cured, but I feel great about how much we accomplished in two days. These kitchen projects have been on our list since we bought our house and it’s exhilarating to cross them off.

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Bloomin’ Rhubarb

If you grow rhubarb, this is a familiar, exciting sight this time of year.

Last year, I put in a few new rhubarb plants. They were rather inexpensive and I thought I could fill in ye olde rhubarb patch a bit. Then, this happened.

The variety I bought is an old-fashioned rhubarb variety known for bolting. I would not have bought it if I had realized this at the time, but it was an impulse buy. Bolting occurs when the plant sends up a flower stalk in an attempt to produce seed. Bolting reduces the amount of energy the plant has to put into leaf growth. We eat the delicious leaf stalks of rhubarb, so bolting reduces the harvest and is an undesirable trait. More modern rhubarb varieties have had the tendency to bolt bred out of them. I am reminded of modern commercial turkeys who can’t reproduce without human intervention, but I want more delicious rhubarb so I prefer the modern varieties too.

The flower is a little alarming and it looks something like pink cauliflower. The gardener can simply chop off the flower stalk, and the rhubarb should return its attention to growing leaves. It would be preferable to chop it off before it gets this big, but we were busy.

Now that the flowers are gone, hopefully our new rhubarb plants will go back to making pie fillings. I’m not sure if I’m willing to tolerate this behavior, or if I should dig them up and plant a different variety.

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chickens before they’re hatched

I’ve mentioned the trouble we had acquiring chicks this year, so we cast a wide net for our options. We bought the lavender pullets, but we needed a couple more hens. Specifically we wanted Salmon Faverolles. They are, as you can clearly see, the most adorable chickens on the planet with their lovely beards and feathered feet. Levi tells me faverolles are the “three french hens” mentioned in the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” so they go way back.


Photo borrowed from the Faverolles Fanciers of America

Unfortunately my attempts to source day-old faverolles chicks were extremely frustrating and I learned a lot about the genetic stock available at big commercial hatcheries. This led me to the Backyard Chickens forums (Those BYC people know everything about chickens. I’m serious!) where many people recommended a breeder in Oregon who sold hatching eggs. There was a waiting list for eggs, which we signed up for. I ordered an incubator, which was back-ordered but arrived just in the nick of time. The eggs arrived, full of hope and potential, packed into shredded paper and wrapped in bubble wrap.

We installed them in our new Brinsea incubator, where they will spend the next 21 days growing into happy, healthy baby faverolles, hopefully. The Brinsea Mini Advance is the smartest incubator we could buy. It turns the eggs. It controls temperature and humidity. You can even set it for a daily cooling period to mimic a broody mother hen who gets up to go eat and drink. Hopefully it can help eliminate a lot of rookie mistakes. Plus it’s a clear dome so you can see everything that’s happening inside. The incubator holds seven eggs, so that’s how many we bought.

We placed the incubator near Krista’s favorite gnome, who can watch over the eggs and read them stories.

We might hatch anywhere from zero to seven chicks. I’m trying not to, well, count them before they’re hatched but it’s difficult not to be hopeful. And yes, I do feel like we’re kind of crazy for doing this, but now that it’s happening, it feels like the most reasonable and exciting thing. So, stay tuned for future incubator updates: from candling to countdown!

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Flock Integration: Can’t we all just get along?

Poor little Katniss and Primrose. They’re beautiful, certainly, but sometimes that’s not enough. They seem to be inadequate at being chickens. They aren’t comfortable with basic chicken skills like “scratching and pecking at the same time” and “perching on a stick.” There are certain chicken behaviors that I believe(d) to be inherent to “chicken-ness” but these two are continually teaching me that in fact not all chickens have survival instincts.

But we’re fed up with having chickens in our house and I started to have nightmares about them starting to lay while they still lived in the brooder, so they got booted out to the coop. We’ve been nervous about flock integration. The “pecking order” is a very real thing, in that chickens actually peck each other to establish a social hierarchy, sometimes injuring or killing each other. It turns out that our concerns were not unfounded.

Lenora, queen of the roost, could not care less about the little chickens. She’s got a really busy calendar and so much to do. She can’t be bothered with some little newbies and simply ignores them 99% of the time.

But Pepper is another story. My theory is that Pepper is second in the pecking order, and she has more to lose with the integration of new birds. She definitely doesn’t want to play second fiddle to younger, smaller, dumber birds. Or maybe she just can’t respect them in their inferior chicken-ness. I’m no chicken sociologist, but either way, this is the face of our bully bird.

She chases them and tries to peck them; they cry desperately and run. No one has drawn blood yet, so we’ve been trying to stay out of it and let them work it out themselves. It’s painful to watch, though. I want them to cuddle up and sing Kumbaya, you know? Until we get there, we’ve been free-ranging a lot to distract Pepper, and Krista built some hideouts for the Littles to escape to.


Unfortunately the Littles don’t seem to be smart enough to hide inside the boxes yet, but they learned to stand on top when Pepper gets aggressive — which is progress! Two days ago they flapped and squawked and tried to fly through the fence when she came at them. Keep your fingers crossed for some peace in the hen house soon.

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Lavender Hens dilly dilly

Thanks so much for your kind words about Ramona Rickettes. Your sentiments help us get through rough spots and we appreciate it.

Today, I bring another chicken update.

Over the past month, we have been discussing adding to our flock. Even before Ramona passed away, we needed two more birds. We researched our options: chicks-by-mail via USPS, buying chicks from a feed store, buying hatching eggs, getting older birds, etc. We scoured craigslist, mypetchicken.com and breeders’ websites for hours. I have called just about every farm store in a 100 mile radius to talk to them about chicks. I made plans to pick up day-old chicks, but the chicks died in shipment. None of our options seemed like the right fit.

Some history: Years ago when we started planning our future as chicken keepers, Krista and I became a little obsessed with a British breed, the lavender orpingtons. They are like standard orpingtons, fluffy and docile and dependable layers, but they are a very strange color. We did some research and learned that there was only one breeder in the US actively improving the lavender orpington. We couldn’t find a single breeder in our state. Those were the good old days when I didn’t think I would drive to another state for a chicken. So we put our lavender dreams on the back burner and focused on some more practical breeds for our backyard flock.


Photo from Feathersite.com
They are so pretty.

Last week, Krista saw an ad on craigslist from a lavender orpington breeder who sounded competent in her ad. If you’ve ever looked at chickens on craigslist, you know that competent craigslist ad-writing is not a prerequisite for chicken husbandry. I placed a phone call and we found ourselves in the car lickety-split. After a harrowing experience with traffic in Bellevue and several conversations about how we would never, ever willingly move to that metro area, we found ourselves at a 10-acre farm some 30 miles outside Seattle. It was dark when we arrived, so we took charge of two sleepy young pullets and brought them home.

Welcome home Katniss and Primrose!

They are such a peculiar color. I can’t wait to see them fill out with fluffy feathers. We’re very smitten. They are being quarantined in the brooder for a while because biosecurity is important. It’s very sweet to hear the peeping and talking of young chickens in the house again. We’re spoiling them with cuddles and treats so they will be trained to worship us like the big chickens do.

Speaking of the big chickens, stay tuned for our experiences with flock integration. The pecking order is very real and merciless, so keep your fingers crossed for us.

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R.I.P Ramona Rickettes

I know a lot of our new readers are here for the food, but the heart of our operation is really the animals that live with us. I need to share a few words about our recently departed hen, Ramona Rickettes. When Krista went out to let the chickens out yesterday morning, she found Ramona lying still and quiet in the run. There was no sign of violence or illness, just a quiet bird lying down like she was taking a nap. We spent a long time trying to guess what went wrong – was she egg-bound and we didn’t notice? It seems unlikely since we spend a lot of time with them, but it’s possible. Could she have eaten something sharp or poisonous? Did her heart give out from the excitement of a rare sunny day? We’ll never know, we can just re-double our efforts to be vigilant, re-read all the books and hope we’re better at spotting problems in the future.

She was supposed to be a Welsummer, but through a fateful mix-up, we got a Speckled Sussex instead. She was an extremely cute, spirited chick who grew into a beautiful speckled bird. She reliably laid lovely light brown eggs. She was one of the best models during the early days of chick photography.


She was best friends with Pepper Walker, and you rarely saw one of them without the other. They were closer friends than any of our other birds, and I feel especially bad for poor Pepper, who has lost her kindred chicken spirit.

I know she was “only a chicken,” but what a chicken! She was one of our first chickens, and she brought so much joy and life into our backyard. Thank you for the cuddles, Ramona, and for your peeps that grew into squawks. Thank you for quiches, fritattas and poached eggs on toast. Rest in Peace, Ramona Rickettes. You were a funny, beautiful bird and we miss you so much.

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Chickens Disapprove of Snow.


The first snowfall of the season

We can happily say that winter has arrived in Olympia. The weather people are predicting a ridiculous amount of snow in the next twelve hours, which will get annoying quickly. Snowy weather around here is quite funny. Everyone forgets how to drive. The grocery store shelves are stripped bare. I think our county owns two snow plows? It’s a special time.

We took this opportunity to introduce the chickens to snow.

Chickens are like cats. They don’t really like new things. Most of the time, they hate new things. Lenora had a strong reaction to the snow, while Ramona was just stoically offended. Pepper was too busy hunting worms to be photographed.


Cold weather is a good excuse for some snuggling.


And also snowball fights.



Don’t worry, I have really bad aim so I didn’t hit any chickens. I hope you’re enjoying some winter weather, too. Send hot chocolate.

xoxo,
Jess

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GTL: Green Tea Latte

It’s finally cold in the Pacific Northwest, which means I have become very fixated on hot beverages. My latest obsession is the matcha green tea latte. You can get this beverage at many coffee shops, including Starbucks. The Starbucks version costs about as much as a day’s worth of food, so I’ve been making them at home. We are nothing if not frugal. Bonus: This is simpler than my coffee rituals, so my morning routine is faster.


Matcha powder is a finely milled, high-quality, powdered green tea from Japan. You can buy cakes, pastries, noodles, ice cream, candy, and smoothies flavored with matcha. It’s purported to have all kinds of health benefits, but I just like the flavor and energizing effect. We sourced this locally from the Tea Lady. You can also find it at high-end grocery stores, food co-ops, and health food stores. You cannot find it at Trader Joe’s. I checked.


I don’t use a lot of matcha in my lattes – about 1/4 tsp. I add the matcha powder to 8oz. of homemade soy milk (measured to fit my favorite cup) in a small sauce pan on the stove. I whirl it with my immersion blender to eliminate clumps. The milk gets very foamy if you use an immersion blender, so I recommend that you blend first, then heat it. The bubbles can mellow out while the milk warms. I greatly prefer the immersion blender, despite the foam. I cannot eradicate the matcha clumps with whisks, forks and sifting. Heat the milk and matcha, but don’t boil it.


Matcha can taste bitter, so I add sweetness to taste. Some coffee shops don’t sweeten them at all, but Starbucks sweetens their GTLs with melon syrup. It’s a little weird. I use plain sugar usually, but sometimes I take advantage of the exciting syrups we keep around. For example, this Ikea elderflower syrup.


That’s my GTL. Pour into your favorite vessel, and enjoy your Kermit-colored beverage.

xoxo,
Jess

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Oly Food Swap

Have you heard about the food trend sweeping the nation, FOOD SWAPS?

Contemporary swappers can thank Kate Payne for this trend. Kate’s book, the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, encourages people to host these parties and trade homemade food. We went to the second Olympia Food Swap last night. I attended the first one a few months ago, but we took a lot more stuff to swap this time. The swap itself is a bit overwhelming at first. Everyone’s running around, trading blackberry jam for fudge and beer salsa for homebrew, and it can make you a little dizzy. Once you relax into the chaos, though, it is an organic process and a lot of fun.

We took some preserves from our pantry to trade, but we also made some extra treats just for the swap. Krista made a compound butter with organic butter, honey, orange zest and lavender. And whoa, this stuff is delicious. If butter is your favorite food (you know who you are), you should consider making this. And then eating all of it.

We also packed up the brown butter crispy treats that were such a hit when we made them recently. This time around, Krista dipped half in white chocolate with espresso salt, and half in bittersweet chocolate with sea salt.

We’ve been in love with Martha’s southern pralines since we made them as holiday gifts last year. Everyone seems to appreciate their delicious, bourbon-y charm.

We also made my favorite granola of all time. I make this granola every other week or so. We usually make this recipe with honey, but we made organic cane syrup for this batch and it turned out extra delicious. I hope the granola lovers who took it home appreciate it.

We also took some homemade cola syrup, too. That went fast.

I was impressed and excited by so many things that our fellow swappers brought. It’s certainly nice to diversify our jam and salsa collection, but it’s also exciting to get ideas and inspiration. I really like seeing the food other people can make at home. One of the swappers had homemade rainbow sprinkes for goodness sake. I can say with 100% certainty that the idea of making homemade sprinkles has never crossed my mind before. We’re going to try to feature some of our swapped food in upcoming blog posts to keep the inspiration going.

So, have you gone to a food swap? What was the best thing you brought home? If they are happening in the little town of Olympia, there’s probably one near you. If not, you could organize one. Go forth and swap, and report back!

xoxo,
Jess

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