Friday, December 29, 2006

Rooster exchange accomplished

I met Maggie! She's awesome. And, although I don't know why I would have pictured her at any particular height, taller than I had expected.

We met at a nice little brewpub in Greenville, South Carolina--approximately halfway between our houses--to exchange roosters. She wanted a Speckled Sussex rooster, and I happened to have one extra. Meanwhile, she had a rooster that kept attacking her daughter. So we swapped. Here's mine, avoiding me:

I wish all of you could have seen the actual grabbing and exchanging of chickens in the parking deck. Yes, both of them tried to make a run/flap for it, but we were too quick for them. It was a moment for the ages.

I've met enough "internet people" that you'd think I would no longer be surprised by how cool they often turn out to be. But when you're brought together by common interests--and when you've already read the Cliff's Notes on their daily lives--it's just so easy. I highly recommend getting out there and meeting your bloggy pals!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Is it just me, or... this the most insulting thing you've ever seen? "Oh, I thought triple meant four rolls."


The holiday is over, and now we can get back to reality for a few days (only a few, though, because we are having some friends over for Bloody Marys and Hoppin' John and whatnot on New Year's Day).

We drove to northwestern Georgia on Christmas Eve to visit the in-laws (or outlaws, as the case may be, since the s.o. and I are not actually technically married). We had a wonderful time, got to hang out with everyone for a while, and of course got to see our beloved ex-cat Taxi, who now lives with the s.o.'s dad and brother. She is fat and happy. I had my knitting gear with me, so I made her a pompon toy with a tail of curly sparkly gift ribbon.

Dad-outlaw has been watching Paula Deen on the Food Network, and I must say I approve heartily. He made these little bundles of fresh steamed green beans that were wrapped in streaky bacon, drizzled in olive oil, seasoned, and baked. The s.o. has been requesting them twice daily ever since we got home.

I missed being able to see my family at Christmas, especially since my uncle is really sick and I would have liked to be able to visit him. It's looking now as though he'll get better, but he had a bad spell of a Mystery Illness that will definitely mean lots of physical therapy and continued care, and may leave him permanently blind in one eye.

Mom and I have each sent each other multiple packages, and in each case there has been one that has utterly failed to arrive. *taps wristwatch impatiently* C'mon, Post Office!

The s.o. and I spent Christmas Day at home; in fact, we never left the property, and only grudgingly went outside. It was like a monsoon. When I bundled up and went to collect eggs in the afternoon, I found the chickens out in the lowest, wettest corner of their yard, pecking around ankle-deep in water. I hope it doesn't hurt them! They must be getting peer pressure from the ducks.

I spent most of the day doing laundry and vacuuming, with occasional breaks for book-reading* and TV-watching. I had originally meant to roast a duck for Christmas dinner, but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday came and went without us having any time to kill a duck, so we had to raid the freezer instead. We "settled" for Citrus-Braised Lamb Shanks with mashed potatoes, green beans, and white wine. And (urp) most of the rest of the Christmas cookies. Ooooh, the lamb was good. Quite a feast.

Today, since the weather created sloppy havoc out in Poultry World, I spent the bulk of my morning mucking out the chicken and duck houses. Glamorous! But them's the breaks.

* We have lots of good books to consume. The s.o. received a veritable library of home-brewing manuals, and I got a novel I've been wanting to read, a posthumous collection that has already made me laugh and cry about 10 times each, and two very different and utterly delicious-looking cookbooks.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Wet Christmas

Hey, Santa?

When I said this past summer that all I wanted for Christmas was some rain, I didn't mean I wanted it all at once on December 25!

Oh, well. At least the ducks will love it.

A slightly soggy toast to my readers: May you have a joyful Yule, and may all your holiday wishes come true!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Christmas lights earn their keep

At 4:10 this morning, the dogs went absolutely hysterical with barking. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is something humans can't see and 10 is a Bernese Mountain Dog (don't ask me why, but they think that's the apocalypse), this was an 11. And then the doorbell rang, which escalated it to a 12.

The s.o. and I staggered out of bed, and he approached the front door to assess the situation. He glanced through the curtain. "It's a girl," he murmured, and fell back to let me do the talking. (This made sense because he was shirtless, whereas I was wearing a t-shirt and a lovely pair of flannel pyjama pants with holiday-themed kittycats all over them, given to me by J. And handknit socks, although that's neither here nor there--it's just nice.)

On our porch was a woman about our age, upper-middle-class or thereabouts, black, and extremely apologetic for waking us. She was from Atlanta, she explained, and she was lost. She wanted to know how to get to I-20.

As I gave her directions, it occurred to me how brave she was to stop. Imagine approaching an unknown house in the rural South at 4 in the morning, alone, and ringing the doorbell--then being greeted by a barrage of barking. Yet she did it, and she was still standing meekly on the porch by the time we opened the door. I felt a rush of compassion for her.

We chatted a bit. She had a daughter studying at Le Cordon Bleu who had needed to be dropped off somewhere (I don't know where or why; this part of the story didn't get filed in my long-term memory because I was too groggy). The place was supposed to be "just a couple exits past Covington," but had turned out to be an hour farther down the interstate. And now, having delivered the daughter to her destination, she'd gotten hopelessly turned around--and, considering the remoteness of our location, had probably been wandering for quite some time. I'm assuming her cell phone wasn't working, either. They often don't around here.

"I'm so sorry to bother you," she repeated.

"No, I'm glad you did," I said. "There's not much out here, and the roads feel really lonely if you don't know the area."

"I stopped here because of your lights," she confessed. "You looked like you had the Christmas spirit."

Usually we turn our holiday lights off when we go to bed. But I was suddenly very, very happy we had forgotten to flip the switch last night. I hope she found the Interstate easily and was home in bed by 6 am!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Poor confused creature

I almost don't know if I should write this. It is unsavory in some oddly undefinable way.

Yesterday when I went to feed the turkeys, I noticed that our Bourbon Red hen had flattened herself to the ground and wouldn't budge. I was mystified and worried; I suspected an orthopedic problem. Then I thought perhaps she was sitting on an egg, so I felt around under her (gingerly, as one does to avoid sticking fingers too deeply into potential unseen piles of turkey manure, which is possibly one of the nastiest substances in the known universe). But there was nothing. Just a hen who wouldn't move.

Then I had a sudden moment of clarity.

Around Chez 10 Signs, we have a habit of gobbling at our turkeys. Why? Because the tom turkey gobbles back, and it is intrinsically funny. GOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLE! GOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLE! Funny. But rarely do we imitate the hens, because they just say PIK! PIK!, which isn't nearly as amusing.

So of course our Bourbon Red hen had gotten the impression that we humans were especially large and magnificent tom turkeys. She was, er, making herself available to me.

I backed away slowly and watched as the actual tom turkey moved in. To his credit, he tried his best, but as far as I can tell, he mainly succeeded in stepping all over her.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this will be the only blog entry written in the entire world today on the topic of turkey puberty.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006



The s.o. has tacked up thick, semitranslucent greenhouse plastic over the back porch's screened windows. This will not only keep the north wind from screaming through our sievelike kitchen door, but it will give us a place to start plenty of seedlings as we head into spring. (Am I the only one who is positively itching to start seedlings? For now I will have to content myself with planting experimental winter peas in the hoophouse.)

The only odd thing is walking out onto the porch and encountering milky whiteness instead of a view of the back yard. But it is a small price to pay for a cozier, less-expensive-to-heat house.

Sometime in 2007 we aspire to replace that kitchen door, too. Ever upward!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A car by any other name

Today one of the s.o.'s friends fixed Squeaky The Car's namesake problem. It was a belt that had slipped, then had carved a big groove in itself because it was in the wrong position, then had been retightened in the correct position but was still making noises because it was carved up. He replaced the belt with the s.o.'s help.

So now the car needs a new name. "The Blue Car" doesn't really work--not because we have another blue car (we don't), but because we jokingly refer to the other car as The Blue Car.

Some of you might remember The Blue Car as the one that caused me to take an unplanned mini-vacation in central Illinois at the end of October.* It is actually an odd pale violet/sand/silver color that baffles all who try to define it. Before I brought the car home from Ohio, I called my uncle to get the information I'd need to get a Georgia license plate and title. Not being able to remember much about the car other than that it was a small Japanese sedan sitting idle in my grandparents' garage, I asked him, "What is it, blue?" "Yeah," he said, probably not remembering any more about it than I did. And so now the official Georgia title says that it is blue.

So now I have this low-level, probably unrealistic fear that one day I will be pulled over for some minor infraction--a burned-out tag light, for example--and will be hauled away to jail because the car doesn't match its registration information. It's a dumb thing to worry about, of course, because if I were stopped I would tell the police officer what I've just told you, and about three minutes into the story, the cop would decide I was too insane and blathery to bother with and would send me on my merry way.

But anyway, the s.o.'s friend, having already done us an amazing service by fixing Squeaky The Car (for the princely sum of a six-pack of Heineken and a dozen eggs), is now offering to repair the deer-shaped dent in the front of The Blue Car. And once that is done, he says he'll be glad to repaint the vehicle if we purchase the needed supplies.

We think we may buy some blue paint.

* The fuel system problem (you know, the one that stranded me in Illinois, was "fixed," and then reappeared almost immediately, causing me to have to drive hundreds of miles at a truly octogenarian speed) seems to be in remission. We are trying to pretend the incident never happened, but then again, we try to remember to take the cell phone along whenever we drive it somewhere.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


I just wrote this in an e-mail to a friend, and it struck me funny. So here it is for everyone's enjoyment:

I still haven't had time to carve my Jack O' Lantern. The pumpkin continues to sit, uncarved, on the front porch. Several weeks ago I downloaded a turkey stencil off the internet in hopes of making a Turk O' Lantern, but it never materialized. Now I suppose it will have to be Christmas-themed. Or maybe I should just carve "2007" in it and light it up on the night of the 31st.

I really hope it doesn't turn into the Easter Pumpkin.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quick notes

Well, this is just about the most chaotic December I've ever had. Usually December is fairly mellow for me because most magazines work about two months ahead, and just about everyone's February issue has a strong tendency to be thin and pamphlet-like. But this year is very different. Dunno why.

So if family members are reading this: Your gifts may be late. I'm sorry. And my odds of sending out cards are approaching nil. Sorry about that, too.

But importantly, fruitcakes are in progress. I know of one reader out there who wants two. Anyone else? They are $8 apiece plus shipping, and I may have a few to spare. E-mail me offblog.

Update: The fruitcakes are all spoken for. Thank you everyone!!!

We had a protracted cold snap last week that finished off all my lettuces and about half my escarole. Not even the hoophouse was safe--it spelled the end for my basil and sun-drying tomatoes. No matter. The other half of the hoophouse is planted in a nice winter mix (lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, etc.) that is at the "large sprout" stage. And the half that is now full of blackened tomatoes will be cleared in favor of peas. I don't know if peas can be grown well in a hoophouse starting at the winter solstice, but I intend to find out.

The Royal Palm tom turkey is completely healed from the post-Thanksgiving melee, and now he is more magnificent than ever.

For a while I thought Marge the Buff Orpington chicken sounded wheezy, but she is eating voraciously, laying eggs, and acting normal now, so if she had a cold, it must be gone.

Our friend L decided that she didn't want the three humongous muscadines in her back yard--her space is limited and she wants to plant blueberries instead--so the s.o. dug them out and we moved them into our vineyard. It was no small effort. The roots were positively Lovecraftian: giant grey tentacles that reached ten or fifteen feet in every direction. We really hope they do well, because they are way, way ahead of our puny transplants (a few of which croaked in the drought).

Tomorrow is the town Christmas party!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

We love Jenny

Jenny has been here this weekend. We've been having a wonderful time, and she was a real trooper about the whole lamb carcass that was delivered on Saturday morning. We roasted a rack of lamb and OMG it was delicious.

I think she has gotten me addicted to birdwatching. I had wrongly assumed that the human race had done so much environmental damage that the only birds left would be starlings, turkey vultures, etc. I can't believe how wrong I was.* Phoebes, warblers, kinglets, thrushes, the list goes on. I watched a chipping sparrow for a while and was incredibly charmed by its cheerful manner. Birdwatching seems like a really cool and meditative activity that appeals to my inner science geek.

We just saw Casino Royale with J and her husband. What a fabulous movie--it far exceeded even my inflated expectations. And Daniel Craig? Rrrrraaaoooww. The theater was awash in Girl Drool.

* I mean, yes, we have destroyed the planet and caused a lot of extinctions, but nevertheless there are still a lot of really neat birds around here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Two recipes that go hand in hand

Not because you eat them together, necessarily, but because you make them together.

As you are no doubt aware, we have a lot of eggs. We intend to start selling them soon, but in the meantime we have to be resourceful. We give them to friends. We make noodles. We make fried rice and egg-drop soup. We scramble them and boil them and devil them. We make clafoutis and quiches and spongecakes. And (helpfully) the two batches of fruitcakes I'll be making this week will consume 8 to 10 eggs per batch.

Yet we still have a lot of gorgeous, sunny free-range eggs. What to do? Let's start with what the s.o. said are "the best meringues I have ever had."


You'll need two batches of ingredients:

4 egg whites
1/2 to 2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

4 egg whites
1/2 to 2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 to 2 Tbs. cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. No, that's not a misprint.

Beat the first 4 egg whites in your mixer bowl until they start to form peaks. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks and can stand on its own. Dollop the mixture onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. (The size of the dollops is up to you, but be aware that larger meringues may stay a little marshmallowy in the middle no matter how long you cook and dry them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a matter of preference.)

Now, without bothering to wash the mixer bowl (because really, why should you?), beat the second 4 egg whites until they start to form peaks. Add the sugar and almond extract and beat for a few more seconds. Now stop the mixer a moment and gently fold in the cocoa powder. (Failure to stop the mixer will result in your entire kitchen being coated in a fine film of cocoa.) Beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks and can stand on its own. Because of the cocoa, it will never be quite as lofty as the first mixture, but it should still have some life to it.

Now dollop the second mixture onto parchment-lined cookie sheets.

Bake the meringues 50 minutes, rotating the pans to ensure even cooking. Then do one of the following: Either...

(a) DON'T OPEN THE OVEN, but turn the heat off, turn the light on, and leave the meringues overnight, or...

(b) Open the oven, "test" a meringue, and then for a couple of hours, cycle between turning the oven on and off until the meringues are as done as you like them. Your goal is to bake them incredibly slowly without browning them very much. You are almost using the oven as a dehydrator rather than a cooker.

The consistency I like best depends on the type of meringue. I like the vanilla ones dry almost all the way through. But the chocolate-almond ones are optimal with a glob of moussey goodness in the middle. Regardless of which you choose, make sure to put the cooled meringues in airtight containers to keep them from re-absorbing moisture. No one likes a flaccid meringue.

Now you are left with 8 egg yolks in your refrigerator. Luckily, the following recipe will use up 6 of them.


6 egg yolks
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 c. milk
1 Tbs. vanilla

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they become pale yellow and form soft ribbons.
Put the milk in a saucepan and heat it slowly to a simmer, being careful not to boil. Now pour the milk in a thin stream into the egg mixture, beating constantly. Beat in the vanilla.
Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and beat constantly for two minutes, making sure not to let it boil. Cool, then chill overnight.
Freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions.

When I transferred this gelato into a freezer container, I swirled in a handful of graham cracker crumbs and coconut flakes that were left over from last weekend's baking. You can, of course, come up with your own creative additions. Also, don't be afraid to replace the vanilla with some other kind of liqueur according to your preferences.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Getcher crumb cakes here!

The next town down the road from us had its Christmas Bazaar this weekend, and the 10 Signs Garden & Gourmet table was there. We didn't bring any vegetables; it was all baked goods and preserves. Buttermilk pie, apple pie, cinnamon crumb cakes, cowboy cookies, cranberry coffeecake, pumpkin cake, and the s.o.'s top secret "magic bars" were on the menu. We did a nice brisk business considering that the setup for the event was sort of diffuse. There were booths all along the parade route, and some areas were definitely more populated than others.

Did I say "parade route"? Oh, yes.

I am posting this snapshot of a very stylish drum corps mainly because (due to privacy concerns) I can't post a photo of the s.o. and his friends riding on our town's fire truck. Oh, was I proud. A lot of the firefighters' kids were riding on the truck along with them, and the s.o. was teaching them how to wave like the Queen of England. Beautiful.

The s.o. is a marketing genius, by the way. At the end of the day I had a whole plate of cinnamon crumb cakes left over. He suggested I take them with me as I walked to the lot where our car was parked, selling them at half price. I followed the parade route (where people were still gathered in small clusters) yelling like a peanut vendor in a ballpark. I sold every single one! Half price is a lot better than no price, and now I will not be obliged to eat them myself.