Joy in the Journey

Backyard Chicken App Update: Pickin' Chickens Expanded and Improved

A photo of Jenn NemecGot chickens or thinking about getting a few? Got an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch? Well, have I got the app for you!

ChicknPickn appGRIT Blogger Michelle Hernandez and her friends at Funny Farm Industries have updated the Pickin' Chicken Breed Selector by Mother Earth News. They've added more breeds (expanded to 82 breeds and more than 100 varieties), new photos and expanded search options.

Put together with expert breed advice from the American Livestock Breeds Association and the APA, the app helps you to find the ideal chicken breed for eggs, meat, personality, or any combination, now using more than 16 “Eggspert” search options.

“We’re pleased and humbled by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our user community,” Michelle says. “We enjoy getting photo submissions from our users’ flocks. We get some funny ones as well as ones we share in our app.”

Here's a quick overview of the Pickin' Chicken app:

Someone new to the game can find breeds best for them by simply answering a few questions.

The “Pickin'” intro screen displaying the 1st of 3 egg questions 

If you're a little more savvy or just interested in looking a little deeper, the built-in “Eggspert” search allows you to choose exact combinations from 16 different characteristics, including temperament, climate and housing suitability, growth rate, and broodiness. The new update adds comb type and APA status to the list.

The Eggspert screen, showing some of the 14 different options on which to Power Search. 

If you've got a particular niche that you want to fill, you can filter matches to only heritage or endangered breeds as identified by the ALBC, while hybrids still appear in the list of available options.

See all matching breeds or filter to Heritage or Endangered breeds by clicking on the appropriate tab. 

Each breed also has a profile page that offers specific info and one or more full body photos. The number of photos is always increasing, because Michelle and co. are always looking for more birds to add to the collection. If you'd like to share a photo of your own photogenic chicken, you can share your photo under the “More” section.

Pickin' Chicken Catalana details 

Pickin' Chicken more Catalana details 

Catalana rooster.  Thank you, Karen Keb, for sharing a photo of your handsome roo! 

A few additional features of Pickin’ Chicken include: an editable Favorites library, a Browser function, a Glossary of terms, educational Resources, Tips on chicken care, an integrated Twitter link, and an opportunity to subscribe to a free newsletter.

Don't have an iPhone or an iPad? Check out similar information in our Perfect Chickens article or other chicken information here on GRIT.com or at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Wherever you get the information, raising chickens makes for fresh eggs and hours of laughs. Enjoy the journey!

Community Supported Agriculture: Connecting with Food and Farmers

A photo of Jenn NemecWhether you call it serendipity, luck, coincidence, or the hand of God, sometimes you just feel guided down a certain path. You find the dominoes just sitting there, patiently waiting for you to knock them down. I recently experienced this phenomenon. Reaping the benefits will require a bit of work on my part, but I am going to do my best.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out celebrating World T'ai Chi Day, and a woman from my Tai Chi class said something about the Topeka Natural Foods Co-op. Now, here's where I admit that I've lived here almost 3 years, and I didn't even know we had a co-op, let alone its location. (Until now I've driven over to The Merc in Lawrence to meet my natural food needs.) Turns out the woman's husband is an officer in the co-op. She took me over to show me the place and told me about their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offering, touting fresh produce until November. And, well, they had just one spot left on their list.

Bok choy, carrots, eggs, radish tops on the CSA tables

I've read and written enviously about people with CSA memberships. The cost and amount of food they talk about always seemed to be too much for my single, publishing-salary life. This one fit my budget and is a grocery bag full of produce rather than the "box" I've heard about. (See the dominoes all in a line?) So, right that minute, I signed up – and the first pick-up was last Friday.

Luminous radishes

I really wanted asparagus. (What could be better than fresh asparagus?) So did everyone else, apparently, because even though I got there within 20 minutes of the start of pick-up, the asparagus was already gone. But what was left was so gorgeous. Japanese mushrooms, radishes like we used to have on the farm in that special luminous red, carrots with dirt still on, bok choy, farm-fresh eggs, a bag of baby spinach, and some mixed greens. There were even some choices in there like asparagus or mushrooms, carrots or shitakes, eggs or spinach. Some lovely volunteers kept the tables full (even filled them especially for my photographs) and helped with decision-making.

Greens, baby spinach, carrots and eggs from the CSA table

I got home with my haul and was a bit intimidated. But, here we are almost a week later, and I've done an OK job of not wasting what I took home.

My CSA vegetables from the first week

Right away I got out Susan's bok choy slaw recipe from GRIT and made that up (yum). Most of the mushrooms got sautéed and included in a stir-fry/fried rice dish. The carrots I'm eating raw or grated on sandwiches (made with bread created by Hank's Partner in Culinary Crime). I made the best egg sandwich ever with farm-fresh eggs, dill bread and havarti cheese.

The spinach and greens make great salads. I'm not a huge radish fan, but they're just so darned beautiful to look at I couldn't resist. I did salt a couple and eat them like we did when I was little, and I found a radish salad in Simply in Season that I'm planning to try.

I'm so excited to have the opportunity to support local agriculture, to eat food that I know how it was raised (I think I'll try to visit the farm sometime this summer). I sometimes talk about how much I miss eating meat that I knew by name. (I'm sure this sounds weird to some of you, but when you grow up knowing that the cute baby calf will sustain you later, it becomes a part of life.) With this, the garden here at work, and maybe even some meat from one of the farmers I know here, I'm feeling more and more connected to my food and this community.

I'm sure there will be weeks when I get veggies that aren't on my favorites list, and I may ask you all for recipes to help out with the weird stuff I'm expecting. But, the dominoes were lined up too perfectly for me to not give this a try.

Anyone have other suggestions for bok choy? Or something for my gorgeous radishes that doesn't taste too radish-y?

The Ogden Community Garden: Planting a Seed

A photo of Jenn NemecI never thought it would be possible for me to be excited about a community garden. Planting a seed and watching it grow had never been high on my list. I was always looking forward to the next thing, never wanted to wait for anything. (Never my mind on where I was, what I was doing.) The theme of this year has been patience, however, and I've suddenly found that the time it takes for a seed to sprout and become viable feels much shorter than it did in my misspent youth.

Sunflower starts I planted.

I think part of my problem has been my perceived black thumb. Mountain Woman and I have things in common – not the least of which is, how did she say it? “There are those of us who know everything we touch turns brown. ... I walk into a nursery and plants shrivel as soon as I glance their way.” There was at least one incident in grade school with a plant in a Dixie cup, and probably another with a potato or an avocado seed.

Sunflower starts

And then there was the fuchsia. I still mourn the fuchsia just a little. I was living with my grandmother during graduate school, and the sweet guys I was working for part-time bought me the most gorgeous fuchsia for Secretary's Day (we still called it that back then). They knew me well enough not to hand me a bouquet of posies, but ... instead they picked out a touchy plant to give me. Lucky for the fuchsia, my grandmother took charge of it. I swear that plant had a more detailed social calendar than any human: a light misting first thing in the morning in the breakfast nook, then tea on the porch from 10 to 11:30, then back inside for cooler indirect sunlight during the midday heat – you get the idea. I swear it survived for years in a hanging basket in our living room. Then Grandma went into the hospital for about 10 days, and it was about day 6 before I remembered the fuchsia. It was brown and dead by the time I got to it. My fate as a black thumb seemed sealed.

Ogden Garden before we started

 But somehow when the call went out to help with the Ogden Garden I thought maybe I could help. I started thinking about the gardens I remember helping with as a child.

The first things we planted, sunflowers.

Picking and shelling peas (mmmm, fresh peas), pulling weeds, snapping beans. I felt like I spent hours and hours snapping beans – but how I'd love to sit still for an evening of conversation and snap beans now. (I know, Mom, all I did then was complain.) I remember how beautiful the dill was, the feathers of the asparagus late in the season. Rhubarb with the dirt still on. These images called to me.

The garden ready for seeds, with a few small plants put in.

Plus, what a great opportunity, some of the people who work here are well-known for their gardening abilities (Cheryl Long, editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for example) – they’ll protect the plants from me, right?

Ogden Garden with a few plants

The photos in this post show our progress to date. Cheryl helped me plant sunflower starts (it was crazy how worried I was about those plants). We started with the grass next to the sign out front. We removed the grass, laid out our paths, added compost, tilled the compost in, and have finally started planting. (I have a new appreciation for anyone who handles sod.) The Kansas wind is taking its toll on our first baby plants, but I'll keep you posted on how they do.

Spring Bulbs: A Gift to the Future

A photo of Jenn NemecI have never been much for growing things (maybe it was the huge gardens we raised when I was a kid). Since I left home I have had exactly 3 house plants, and they've all died of neglect. I used to say that I had a black thumb. But ... whoever lived in my house before me planted perennials, so I have spring flowers.

And they tickle me to no end. I smile, I giggle, I talk about "my daffodils blooming" and "my crocuses coming up," just like I had something to do with it.

Crocuses when they were just coming up

They herald the hope of the season for me, and I thank whoever planted them from the bottom of my heart every year as the cold finally creeps away and the first purple crocus peeks out of the ground.

Purple crocuses

The crocuses (which are finished now) were beautiful.

Purple crocuses in the sun

But the weird weather we've been having around here (really, snow on April fools?) messed with my daffodils. (Hear the ownership I feel?) They did bloom, but the stems had already bent over in the cold/wind/storms.

Sad daffodils

There's something especially sad about flowers that point at the ground. But, spring is coming, and, whether it's frozen or not, the moisture we're getting will make everything greener in the long run.

Daffodil from last year

Cookbooks as Gateways to the World and Your Local Market

A photo of Jenn NemecI'm not that into cooking (as you can read in my potato salad and Thanksgiving dinner posts). I can do it if I have to. I have actually had days when I've enjoyed the process, but these are few and far between. Finding the time to go to the store (because I never have the right stuff in my house) and then prepare everything, well, I find that difficult. So, imagine my surprise to find myself reading a cookbook.

I was visiting my parents, and my mom (who seems to be involved in all my cooking stories) had rediscovered an old favorite and had discovered a couple of new ones in the bargain. Herald Press and the Mennonite Central Committee have a collection of lovely cookbooks that are being sold as "World Community Cookbooks."

More-with-Less Cookbook originalThe first and oldest is the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. Originally published in 1976, this book was an early entry in the caring for the world while eating better, improving nutrition and saving money category. My mother has a very well-worn copy in her kitchen. Our editor-in-chief, KC, walked by my desk and picked up the 25th anniversary edition from my desk. She hugged it close and said, "I learned so much about cooking from this cookbook. It brings back so many memories." It does for me as well. When I look at the cover, I can see and smell the kitchen where mom cooked when I was younger. KC mentioned one of her favorite recipes involved enchiladas.

The next in the series is Extending the Table: Recipes and stories from Argentina to Zambia in the spirit of More-with-Less by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. First published in 1991, it begins with a map showing where the stories and recipes come from. It is a joy to read, with recipes from Ginger Tea as made in the Dominican Republic to Groundnut Stew from Ghana to Saudi Arabian Chicken Stew. And all the recipes have stories.

Simply in Season cookbookThe one that got me reading, though, was Simply in Season: Recipes that celebrate fresh, local foods in the spirit of More-with-Less by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Created from some 1,600 recipes that were tested rigorously, it is divided into seasonal sections based on what fruits and vegetables are available. Perhaps one of the most beautiful cookbooks I've ever seen, each recipe is again accompanied by a thought or story.

One of my favorites: "For me gardening is a connection to my rural roots, to my parents and grandparents who loved the soil and to my daughter who, though an urban child, has grown to love gardens also," from Joan Gerig of Chicago (page 125).

The MCC has put together a group of study sessions around this cookbook that explore the value of eating local, seasonal food. The Simply in Season leader's guide is available for download (or purchase in hard copy) from their website.

But it doesn't end there, the most beautiful of all the books and the one that caught my attention on my mom's shelf is the one created especially for kids, the Simply in Season Children's Cookbook. It's a gorgeous book with simple and fun recipes you can make with the little ones in your life. I think my mom was thinking of my nephews (they seem to really like to help out in the kitchen).

I've still only scratched the surface of these, but I intend to spend some more time in my kitchen, learning about the world community and seasonal foods. I'll keep you posted!

Photos courtesy the Mennonite Central Committee.

Hanging with My Bobbasheelies: A Few Minutes with the Dictionary of American Regional English

A photo of Jenn NemecThe editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) are nearing the end of their long road. According to the publisher (Harvard UP), this soon-to-be five volume work (the fifth volume, "S to Z" is due out next year) "captures the language spoken on America's main streets and country roads, words and phrases passed along within homes and communities, from east to west, north to south, childhood to old age." The dictionary has been in progress since 1965, and it is built on interviews recorded in 1,000 cities across the United States.

It's no secret that language fascinates me. My first article to appear in GRIT, "The Soft Drink Debate," explored just some of the regional differences that this dictionary is out to capture. 

Dictionary pageOne of the things that struck me as I read the AP story on this "Quirky Regional Dictionary" was how many of the regional words cited were rural in nature. Joan Houston Hall, who took over as editor for the dictionary when its originator Frederic Cassidy passed away, spoke of a quotation from president and Arkansan Bill Clinton that someone didn't know him "from Adam's off ox." Also mentioned were a "stone toter" (a kind of fish), and several versions of that great rural tradition a "potluck" (called a "pitch-in" in Indiana and a "scramble dinner" in northern Illinois).

Hall says that bobbasheely – a Gulf Coast word meaning "a good friend" or "to hang around with a friend" is her favorite word in the dictionary.

On the DARE website you can find a few more entries from the dictionary. Many, many children's games made that grouping. I was also excited to see some of my own dialectal/ethnic phrases – kolaches, kitty-corner, schnickelfritz – and a phrase from Caleb's most recent blog that was new to me "noodling" (catching fish with your bare hands).

You should definitely check it out. Meanwhile, I'll be over here hanging with my bobbasheelies on the punee looking for a schnibble and trying not to get honeyfuggled.

Photo by adotjdotsmith, licensed under Creative Commons.

The Cure for the Common Wine Charm

/uploadedImages/GRT/blogs/Jenn/charms.jpgSo, today I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I usually keep to myself: I’m crafty. No really, I am. As someone who grew up a serious tomboy, it almost pains me to say it, but, it’s really true. I spin, I knit and crochet, I weave, I even learned a historical netting technique called naalbinding, which until fairly recently was only the purview of a few Swedish grandmothers. 

This Christmas I finally had to accept it because a significant percentage of the gifts I gave were handmade. One of the gifts made me especially proud.

While the family was at my brother and sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving, we drank some wine one night. It was typical family time, lots of up and down and laughing and cooking, so people were forgetting whose wine glass was whose. A solution was reached pretty quickly, which was dubbed, “The Redneck Wine Charm.” Jodi had a stash of bread ties, and each of us used a different color. (They suggested that I take this picture and blog about it, so here we are.)

Redneck Wine Charms

Chrochet pattern for Christmas Tree and OrnamentsWell, this simply would not do, so, I set out to make some wine charms. The day that I decided to start the project, Lime & Violet (a great knitting blog) offered a crocheted Christmas tree and ornaments as their pattern of the day.

I thought crocheted Christmas ornaments would work great for wine charms. So, I blithely downloaded the pattern, gathered some colorful yarn from my stash, reminded myself how to read a crochet pattern (and a foreign one at that) and started in on them.

They turned out pretty cute, but a little big for a wine charm.

Crocheted Christmas Star   Crocheted Christmas Ornaments

So, I went back to the drawing board and to my bead stash.

For these you need:
* Several novelty beads (some of these I made myself)
* Memory wire (I got this at my local craft store)
* Memory wire tips (though you could put little turns in the wire instead)
* Some kind of quick-set glue
* Needle-nose pliers (perhaps a few kinds of pliers)
* Wire-cutter of some sort

Tools and materials with finished charms

Cut memory wire so that that it overlaps a little more than halfway around its circle. Add a tip to one end using quick-set glue (or turn back on itself to create end). String beads in attractive groups. Add another tip using quick-set glue (carefully, to avoid gluing yourself to the charm). And, voila, wine glass charms.

Finished wine charms

You could get really funky with these, using any beads that you have around or that you can find. I've seen everything from crowns to letters to leaves to dogs at craft stores. I think my sister-in-law was happy to have them. We haven’t had an occasion to use them ... yet.

Also, a quick update on my “not-to-do list”: My inbox currently has zero unread items in it, I haven't been to a fast-food restaurant in the evening once (let alone 2-3 times/week) since I made that resolution, and, well, I'm going to be here at least another hour, so this isn't really the end of the day.