Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shattered Candy

I like candy.

I don't like it for breakfast, or mixed into breakfast cereal or ketchup, or masquerading as vitamins or pretending to be anything other than the glorious thing that it actually is -- a mildly subversive experience with decadence.

When I was a kid in the summer we used to go to the Penny Patch and pick out 5- and 10- and 25-cent candies from shelves of glass jars. The picking was half the experience -- an exquisite kind of torture, because you only had a dollar or two, and could only get so much. As much as you fervently planned to come next time with FIVE or TEN dollars and get EVERYTHING you wanted, somehow there you always were with a sweaty handful of small change.

You could blow the whole thing on a few yards of licorice whips, or get a box of spicy pink bubblegum in the shape of cigarettes that puffed clouds of powdered sugar, or get caramel Sugar Daddies that might or might not wrench the fillings out of your teeth. Candy was weird and dangerous and spicy and sometimes hurt to eat, like Pop Rocks. Also, it was one of the only things you would really buy on your own, and one of the only stores you'd really go into on your own with real business to do, and you probably didn't want your parents to know you were there, so there was this thrill of independence. When you came out of the store with your little brown bag of treats, what can I say? It was like you'd scored.

Ah, those were the days. Candy sucks now, the same few offerings, no fun, no thrills. I have no time for it, and I am scornful of my children that they like this modern crap. I know, I know, I'm a crabby old fart, but I make up for my crabbiness when we discover a good old-fashioned candy counter and let my children share the thrills of candy lust. Recently we found a vintage store on Court Street that has candy jars of what are now basically old fashioned candy -- the candy I grew up with. Sprees, violet or lemon candies, and one of my all-time favorites, Charleston Chews.

Yesterday I gave them out at my son's birthday party as part of the goody bag. "You have to freeze these," I told the kids. "Then you shatter them."

"What do you mean?" one kid asked.

I wanted to give him really explicit directions: You should be in a bathing suit, preferably an orangey-red racer back tank, and you should be cool to the bone from hours in the pool, but the blazing sun will have dried your skin, so that you are basically a perfect balance of wet, warm, dry and cold. Your suit will be damp, as will the crumpled dollar in your hand. You will take the Charleston Chew (vanilla, DUH!) from the freezer, which is still a few years away from freezing Milky Ways and Three Musketeers -- right now it is only Charleston Chews that any retailer has thought of freezing. You pay the guy, without even thinking about if he's cute or not. Why would you care? Outside, you squat down on the pavement under the snack bar awning and with a resounding, expert CRACK, smash the Charleston Chew onto the pavement, shattering it into perfect bite-sized pieces.

"You just smash it," I told the kid. "You'll see."

He has to find his own path. That is the way.

Rooster Sauce

(How fitting, right?)

Ever since the Times ran a story on Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce a couple weeks ago, I can't stop thinking about beef noodle soup with sriracha. Not because of the chicken reference, obviously. It's just the sheer deliciousness of it.

I live with a hot sauce purist, who thinks Sriracha is bullshit, because it's chock full of sweeteners and artificial preservatives. He likes the ones with four ingredients: pepper, vinegar, water and salt. Yahhh, whatever. I wish Sriracha didn't have potassium sorbate in it, too, but ... what am I going to do? It's so good! And it makes me want to eat Thai beef soup.

I've made Thai-inspired beef noodle soup - with Sriracha -- three times since the story ran. I've already talked about how to make the soup at home from scratch, from a purist's sort of viewpoint.

But lately I've been doing the lazy-crazy, figure-it-out-as-you-go-along version. The got-to-get-my-mojo-on-or-else-get-my-ass-to-Chinatown-NOW soup. (and can't get to Chinatown cos I got laundry to do and kids to pick up at 3. YAH, baby.) (Uh, that would be my mojo speaking.) I use what I've got, and somehow it works out to be delicious.

I use beef or beef-chicken stock, which I sometimes have in the freezer, and sometimes have to make from frozen bones, which is fine on these cold spring days. My kids complain like crazy about the smell of the stock when they get home from school, but whatever. Life is hard, I guess. It airs out, right? And they don't complain when the smelly stock magically turns to savory soup with rice noodles and steak strips.

Sometimes I roast some onion and ginger and then put that in; sometimes I don't. Sometimes I buy a London broil to thinly slice; once I sliced up chicken sausage; once I just used noodles. I like sliced onions and fennel, and some kind of green. Lately: baby kale.

The only essential thing is a couple tablespoons of fish sauce, a tablespoon of palm/brown/raw sugar, and some lime juice. Bean sprouts, basil or mint leaves help. Noodles. Sriracha. Perfect for this weird spring, some days hot, some days cold. Always good for spicy soup.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend

I just had a perfect weekend. We went nowhere. No park, no zoo, no relatives, no parties. We barely left the house.

We had the goal of almost-finishing the chicken coop, and cleaning up the backyard for various upcoming birthday parties and visitors.

Our backyard has some rough spots, including a few construction-junkyard corners, but it is still like an oasis for us. It is lush and beautiful and completely enjoyable to read the Sunday paper under the fig tree or zone out on the stone steps next to the catnip, or to just mess around trimming euonymous bushes or watching the trickster squirrels prowling around.

So to spend three days back there, with baby chicks to bring out for their afternoon sun, plants to move around, and some hard and heavy work to do was really wonderful. There must be a Jonathan Richman song to go with the broad and happy sentiment I have about the perfect three days I just spent hanging with my family, spitting cherry seeds and working on my garden.

Chris did indeed almost finish the coop. This was taken on Sunday, so much more happened after this. The kids were sitting up in the nestbox by tonight with newly shucked corn in their laps but I didn't have my camera nearby, so I leave it to your imagination to picture the cuteness of that. We are slowly morphing into a mid-century Iowan family.

Today my daughter had a friend over, and in between applying scotch-tape to the cracks in our 8-year old kiddie pool and then filling it up with water (which actually worked)...

...and while I was scalding peaches to make a pie...

they made Nutella tarts.

which actually came out great.

Meanwhile, I went on to cap off our weekend with a traditional Memorial Day dinner. I'd had no intention of doing this, but while food shopping on Friday I was seized like a drunken sailor who stepped too close to a congo line. What was I thinking, shopping in the Coop on the Friday before a holiday weekend??? Mindlessly, with no will of my own, I bought red potatoes for potato salad, chicken for barbecuing, corn for shucking, peaches for pie -- visions of blaring Top-40 tunes, a sixer of brewskis and a backyard grill pit obviously churning deeply somewhere in the depths of my mind. What the hell?

But lucky me, I'm subversive. You fools can't make me cook Memorial Day food, just because it's Memorial Day. I might go through the motions, sure. But I'll have the last laugh.

I burned the chicken

and the corn

and the garlic bread

did you catch just HOW burnt the bread was?

Don't mess with me, people. I think for myself.

The pie came out great, though. Peach and blueberry. And my apple-pie-loyal son broke his trust with the honeycrisps of the world, and accepted peach pie into his repertoire.

Hope you all had a great weekend.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Cute Chicks

We're still all about the chicks over here.

One chick has been a little sick.
She has, well there's only one way to say it, at least if I want to sound like I know what I'm talking about in the chicken blogging world. She has pasty butt. Leave it to chicken farmers to say it like it is. I don't know if she ate a pine chip or if I fed her something weird too early, or if she is just a weak-stomach type, but she has trouble passing her shit. We've given her a few baths, we've cleaned her up, and most of all, we've discussed her passing events in great detail, as a family. What can I say, it's been a bonding event.

We think she's going to make it, but she's already smaller than the other ones. Aww. The one good thing: we can identify her! She is Ginger! She looks different from the other three Brahma chicks, whom I've begun to think of as the Budweiser triplets. Remember them? Blond, buxom, fit, gorgeous, fluffy-- and identical. And, maybe not that smart. That's my three girls in a nutshell: Dot, Monkey and Sunset.

And then...

...There's Scrambles, who should have a theme song of her own by now.

This picture of Scrambles is like when you take a picture of some funny or cool or large than life person, and the picture looks Is his nose really that big? Is she really that short? Scrambles looks so squat and humble in all her pictures, but meanwhile she is the star of the roost. She is so friendly and fearless and funny. She runs over to us when we appear in their window. She likes to be picked up. And she rolls. She's a roller. She likes to lie down, and then she just flops over and rolls on her side, and stretches out her wings.

Is it starting to seem like even if one of our chicks is a rooster the chances of us slaughtering the poor guy and eating him is a total impossibliity? Or that (my real plan) once the chickens stop laying eggs we'll slaughter them all and start over again? Uh, yeah. At this point we're not even sure if we can keep eating anonymous chickens. It just seems a little weird, that's all. Is it because the chicks are in a brooder right off our kitchen, where we eat? Is it because they are so cute and we are really identifying with them? Or because when I hold them I can identify their bone structure with my fingers and know what it feels to like to crunch through certain parts, or to use the tip of my knife to cut through the joint?

No, I think it all harks back to the dinner in which my daughter speared a chicken thigh on her fork, ran over to the brooder, and then danced around the cage, chanting "Bok bok bok bok!" to the chicks, while waving the chicken thigh in front of their faces. Their bobbing heads, following the chicken thigh and responding to her Lynchian call to complicity, or possibly ecstasy, was a bit much for me. I can do without eating chicken for a while.

But I'm loving the whole process.

Here's a picture of one of the triplets who fell asleep on my daughter's lap.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Picky Chickens

I read somewhere that when you first give chickens a new food, they'll act like you're trying to kill them with it: dramatically run away, and cluck about it until one brave chicken decides to try it.

Our chicks are almost a week old, so we're allowed to start giving them more foods. Last night we dropped a couple raw kernels of corn into the brooder. They dove after them and took turns doing the grab-and-run before they were finally consumed. So this morning, with no ill effects from the corn, we put in an end piece of of corn cob. This time, it was like a bewitched meteor had fallen from the sky.

First they ran over to see it, and then couldn't get away fast enough. The village mob ran as fast as they could to their village hut to have a conference about it. They cheeped and cheeped and scurried around inside, and then finally huddled down. After a while, one brave chick -- Scrambles, of course -- came out to inspect. She walked the length of the brooder, making nervous cheeping noises the whole way, took a look at the corn, and high-tailed it back to the hut.

The next time I looked, about 10 minutes later, they were all huddled in a corner next to the corn, eyeing it.

The next time I looked, about 5 minutes after that, they were huddled in the same corner, sound asleep.

I finally took the corn out. They must not be ready.

Mothers Day Pancakes

Okay, so I'm not really a big MD-celebrator. My unconventional mother was scornful of the whole shebang. Even now if you call her on Mothers' Day, she kind of rolls her eyes and groans and mutters about what a guilt-producer of a holiday it is. I don't feel so passionately against it, but I don't lay any great claims to the day either.

Basically, I'm happy for that fact that it is GORGEOUS outside, we are going to the Queens County Farm Museum, and I have no deadlines, no worries, no... uh, promises to keep. (Sorry, the 4th Grade Musical was on Friday night and my son's class sang The 59th Street Bridge Song. Another class sang "Takin' it to the Streets", pumping their fists in the air on the chorus, the thought of which still makes me a little teary-eyed...)

Anyway, our Mothers Day breakfast was our family's latest favorite pancake recipe, which my son found on the internet at school several weeks ago and brought home and asked me to make.
"What kind of pancakes are they?" I asked him when he handed me the scrap of notebook paper on which he'd copied down the ingredients (which has has since kicked around our kitchen long enough that it has acquired enough stains and evidence of family life to become an Important 2009 Family Memento).

"It said they were Dutch Pancakes."

"What made you copy the recipe down?"

"I don't know, I just thought they sounded good. Can you make them?"

This is what I thought parenting would be like: my kids bringing home interesting recipes or ideas and asking me to make them. I didn't know it would take 10 years to happen.

It turns out they are really thin pancakes, basically crepes. My son is devoted to the recipe's suggestion to use cinnamon and sugar and butter, instead of our usual maple syrup. Considering the price of maple syrup these days, I'm all for this. He rolls them up and eats them like a hot dog. He shouts enthusiastically when I suggest making them.

I keep meaning to use some buckwheat flour, to make them like breton crepes, but keep forgetting. I use whole wheat flour, and they're great.

Happy Mothers' Day to all of you moms out there!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Speaking of Chicken...

We had roast chicken last night for dinner. It was a chickeny chicken, the kind the Coop likes to sell, with some dark feather quills in it that I had to pull out and a lot of skin, and was just very intensely... a chicken. Or am I getting sensitized?

When I told my daughter we were having chicken for dinner, she gasped and clapped her hand to her mouth. "Mom! We can't eat chicken! Now that we have chicks we can never eat chicken!"

That's not exactly what I had in mind. Already it's seeming like my plans to possibly slaughter any chicken that turns out to be a rooster, are looking a little far-fetched. Here are some sample comments:

"Scrambles knows me. She totally likes me."

"I can't wait til the chicks learn their names!"


"I love our chicks."

"I'll eat bacon. Bacon's good. But I'm not eating chicken.... I don't KNOW any pigs. Now I KNOW chickens. When are we having lamb again?"

There's a discussion on about psychologically preparing yourself for slaughtering your chickens. People who have whole flocks of meat birds are realizing it's hard to do. Some of them have slaughtered their chickens and then been unable to eat them.

I liked one method I heard about -- you take the chicken to one of the Chinese or Halal butchers. Ten minutes and $2.50 later you walk out with a bag of plucked chicken parts.


Anyway, I heard back from the hatchery. They're not sure but they're guessing Scrambles is an Easter Egger! I really hope she is! I was so wishing we'd gotten some Easter Eggers-- these are the mongrel breed of chickens that lay blue and green eggs.

Here's what's going on in the brooder.
We built the chicks a little palapa, and they love it.

The are so smart, they are learning to roost, and are really good, even wantonly enthusiastic, about scratching. They scratch the shit out of whatever in on the ground, spraying pine chips or feed every where.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Noms de Plume

We have names.

This is Scrambles. She is our mystery chick, because she doesn't look like the other chicks, who are all Brahmas. Scrambles has more wing feathers, scruffier fluff, and no feathers on her legs. She is also a little more advanced than the others. First to scratch, and still the best at it; first to roost, and still has the best balance. We think she's a little smarter than the others. We're hoping she's not a he.

Then there is Monkey, Fancy, Nancy, and Sunset. They all look identical, so I'm not going to introduce them with individual pictures.

They are still cute, and our house is suddenly a very popular destination for a playdate. Four kids coming over today.

Chicks are funny how they like to sleep in their food bowl.

It's really relaxing to sit there and watch them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My New Best Friends, Cauliflower and Jerusalem Artichokes

I'm going to break from my coverage of the chicks since... they're kind of doing the same thing they did last night. Actually, right now they are collapsed in a heap of sleepy chicks, letting out involuntary cheeps every now and then. They are like kittens, just crashing every few minutes to catch up on their sleep.

But back to food. This blog is supposed to be about picky eating, and about raising kids to have a great relationship with food. So I need to document my two recent triumphs over my own pickiness. I love most vegetables but there are a few I'm not crazy about.

1. Cauliflower, for instance, I've had absolutely no use for my entire life. It's like a weird white tasteless thing that shows up on crudite platters, right? Who cares about it? Who would go out of their way to actually prepare it?

But then I did an interview with Susan Rubin from Better School Food, and she mentioned how she got her 11-year-old daughter to try cauliflower 3 or 4 times, and finally her daughter started liking it. Susan mentioned that she cooks it the crunchy way, in the oven. I was like, "What crunchy way?"

This is her recipe:
Cut the cauliflower into small florets, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast in a 400-degree oven until practically burned. So it's brown and crunchy on the outside and sort of creamy on the inside.

I decided to give it a try --and now I'm obsessed with cauliflower. Oh my god, it's so good! Now my daughter eats it, too -- this is her shoving it into her mouth as I was trying to snap a picture:

-- She also runs and grabs it in the grocery store and puts in the cart herself.

2. And then there's Jerusalem Artichokes, which are basically a weird vegetable that my mother grew when I was growing up and I forever associated with her -- it's always been one of these weird things my Mom likes: stale marshmallow Peeps, canned asparagus, Mallomars, Jerusalem artichokes... They look like sunflowers (the name derives from the Italian word for sunflower -- girasole, which must have sounded like Jerusalem to somebody), and are very easy to grow. My mother grew them on her compost heap -- a giant bushel of sunflowers, which she dug up every fall.

Anyway in February we brought our friend Liz to NH with us, and one night she roasted up a bunch of Jerusalem artichokes. I was all, great, you and my Mom can eat them together and bond. But then I happened to try one... and now I'm addicted to them. They are incredibly crunchy and nutty and wonderful. Like a cross between nuts and parsnips. This post is happening because I started thinking about them and desperately wishing I had some to eat roasted and cold out of the fridge. The recipe's pretty complicated: I slice them, toss them in olive oil and salt, and roast them with the cauliflower.

Let's hear it for discovering new food loves!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chicky Deedly Dee

Gosh diggely darnit, those chicks are some cute.

I was at work when I got the call from the USPS today (hey, let's here it for the Van Brunt Station, usually the worst mf'ing post office anyone's ever heard of, but I got two calls from them, and, unprompted, they put the chicks on the truck and hand delivered them -- something the hatchery acknowledged happens in Portland, ORE, but never mentioned Brooklyn, NY -- and then when I wasn't there, the delivery guy called me at work, and we back-and-forthed all day until the chicks got home.)

I'm sure that waiting for a baby to arrive from Korea is more painful and intense, but... I don't know. We were definitely tapping from the same well. We could NOT WAIT for these little chickies to arrive.

So I got the call, and I called my man, and he left work early to get the delivery. Then the kids came home, and I got a series of emailed photos and texts of cute pictures and comments.

such as these.

Now I am finally home, and I can sit and watch them and the oxytoxin just oozes in this free-flowing river of love and joy. Seriously, you could cut the cuteness with a knife, as I sit there watching these little bumpkins go for some feed and then in mid-reach decide -- OOPS!, actually I'm SLEEPY, I'll just tuck my head down here right in the feed bowl and rest on my beak and take a little 5 min-er

Like this:

They CHEEP! CHEEP! and it's uncanny, they sound exactly like a little chicky toy. How did they figure out how to make that cute sound?

whew. It's cute stuff around here. So glad we're doing this, and the eggs aren't even coming for six months.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Brooklyn Food Conference

I went to the BFC yesterday, and was totally overwhelmed (in a good way), and came home buzzing with Brooklyn love.

First we saw the chickens which were on display at PS 321, and i talked to Declan of the Red Hook Poultry Association.

My kids had to leave to go to a birthday party, so I went on alone to my friend Sarah's milk panel. She had Anne Mendelson (who wrote the fabulous and James Beard-award-winning book Milk), Sally Fallon (of Weston Price Foundation), Dante Hesse from Milk Thistle Organic Dairy, and Sam Simon, another dairy farmer, who started Hudson Valley Fresh, a dairy cooperative.

The milk panel was fascinating. All the panelists agreed that whole milk was best, and all of them (Anne Mendelsohn a little less enthusiastically) agreed that dairy products were essential to good health. Sally Fallon said that even in Asian cultures, where dairy products are not regularly consumed, that bone broths are an essential daily food.

The most interesting thing I learned was this about organic milk: Dante Hesse, the organic farmer, said that a major pitfall in his opinion in the organic statutes is that cows on an organic dairy farm can never ever be given antibiotics. Once they're given antibiotics, they have to leave the farm. This creates a problem for the organic farmer whose cow needs antibiotics. Do they sell the cow right away? Or do they wait and see if she heals on her own or with homeopathic/alternative remedies. He said very candidly and bluntly, "Or do you wait and wait and finally give the cow antibiotics, and then she dies anyway because you waited too long?"

Of the huge dairy conglomerates, Dante recommended Organic Valley, which he said was a real cooperative made up mostly of small farms.

Another interesting thing: Sam Simon said that milk is a global commodity, and its price is set in Chicago, somewhat mysteriously. Large dairy farmers are heavily subsidized; small dairy farmers are not, which is one reason small dairy operations have expensive milk.

Anyway after the milk panel I went to the Chicken Farming workshop. Owen Taylor and Declan Iforgethislastname were showing slides, passing out bagged samples of chicken shit and generally psyching everyone up for the idea of backyard chickens in NYC.

On my way out I passed through the Exhibition Hall, which was packed with tables on holistic parenting, bio diesel, jewelry, veganism, parent activism, composting, and just about everything else. It was vibrant and amazing. I love Brooklyn.

Here's some coverage from the Times.