Thursday, May 31, 2007

A hairy tale

I've promised Kitchen Witch, who recently wrote about her run-in with some Canadian bears, that I will tell the story of "the time I punched a baboon." Everyone should have a story like that, don't you think?

It happened in 2002. I went on a trip to South Africa with my mom and stepdad. We had a lovely tour guide named Colin who said things like "jolly good" all the time. (The older generation of English-heritage South Africans have a vocabulary that is sort of hilariously Jeeves and Wooster-like, because they were essentially walled off from global pop culture during much of the 20th century, due to apartheid. This leads to phrases such as "ring the doorbell" being translated as "touch the goodie." I would love to see a thorough linguistic examination of the phenomenon. But I digress.)

We had a lot of amazing experiences, including walking through the Cape Malay district of Capetown, visiting the botanical gardens at the base of Table Mountain, touring the Stellenbosch and Paarl wine country, and checking out a lot of really pretty beaches and seaside towns.

Near the end of the week we took a day trip to Cape Point, which is part of the national parks system. It's a breathtakingly beautiful place where we were able to see some very large elands and other wildlife.

If you followed the link in the previous paragraph, you may have read this:

"At the car park there’s a reputable restaurant with great big windows which take in the awesome views and dizzying drop below. Here one can retreat from the wind and have a bite to eat with no danger of baboons snatching your scoff."

That pair of sentences is one of the best I've ever seen written about South Africa. It is awesomely prophetic, because the park is awash in hairy, fanged primates.

On the way to the park's main gate, we had to stop several times to wait for baboons to scuttle across the road. At the gate, we were handed a pamphlet that offered helpful advice such as "Keep your car doors shut when you get out to take photographs. Once a baboon gets into your vehicle, it is very difficult to get it back out again." There were entire baboon families perched atop many of the vehicles in the parking lot. And the restaurant had installed barbed-wire fencing along the edge of its roof, because apparently in the past there had been a problem with baboons waiting up there, then jumping down on hapless patrons who were leaving with takeaway lunches.

After a hike to the lighthouse, we were hungry, so we decided to have a meal at the restaurant. We sat down at a white-tableclothed, Evian-umbrella'd table on the outdoor balcony. We were perched directly on the stony cliffs that led down to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. An immaculately dressed waiter brought us a basket of bread rolls. Then he reached into his apron and handed me a generous double handful of smooth rocks.

"Keep the bread rolls covered," he said. "And if the baboons come for them, throw these rocks."

I stared blankly. I had a sense, at that moment, that no odder sentence would be spoken to me for years to come.

But seeing no apparent danger, I ordered a sparkling water and a springbok carpaccio, and we fell into lively conversation.

Jabbering about something or other, I distractedly opened the cloth napkin that enclosed the bread rolls and began to pull out a roll. It was at that moment that I saw, over my mother's shoulder, a dark shape bounding over the balcony wall. A 40-pound baboon arced through the air and, with a thump, landed on the table in front of me.

My first thought was of the little pile of rocks next to my plate, but the baboon's face was at most two feet from mine, so throwing something wasn't really the way to go. I panicked. Instinct took over, and I reached out and punched the baboon in the chest.

Startled, the baboon sprang, frog-like, over my shoulder and narrowly missed landing on the next table. The family at the table screamed and scattered. The baboon disappeared over the low stone wall.

"Good heavens," said Colin. My mother and I stared at each other incredulously.

Then the food arrived. It's really a very good restaurant.

Monday, May 28, 2007

They grow up so fast

Geese, in pictures. Click to enlarge:

You know what? Geese are a little like turkeys in that they suffer from a bad reputation, but in reality they are so much fun to have around. I think everyone should raise some!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Subconscious intentions?

I didn't realize until I had practically finished decorating this birthday cake...

...that I had made a giant Hostess Snowball. Nice.

Thank you for the birthday wishes, everyone! You are all very important to me, and I'm so glad we know each other. Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

In other news...

The geese spent most of the day out in their yard yesterday, happily crunching grass and gargling water. They seem to have no desire to re-test the electric fence. I'm about to go put them out again. I'm sure the turkeys appreciate the relative cleanness of their living quarters without their big clumsy friends in the room.

The s.o. took the old ragged plastic off the greenhouse and weed-whacked a good percentage of the garden paths. The garden looks much more impressive now that the intentional plants are taller than the unintentional ones. Foolishly, pridefully, I wish that J and her sister and her nephew could have seen it the way it is now, instead of the way it was on Wednesday when they visited! Don't mind our squalor, people. Nothing to see here. Heh.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I don't feel 37, although actually, when I think about it, I have no idea what 37 feels like. So maybe I do feel 37. All I know is, in general I am very happy and I feel lucky to lead the life I lead! Hugs and kisses to the s.o., the dogs, and our families and friends for bringing so much joy. It's been a good year and (weather aside) I think it'll be another good one.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

When snakes panic

Last night, after dark, I put the ducks and chickens to bed and locked the doors of their coops. On my way out of the area, I turned the electric fence on. I suddenly heard two sharp POP noises. Startled, I turned the fence back off.

Caught with its tail in the electric fence and its head in the adjoining chickenwire fence was a several-foot-long black rat snake. It wasn't moving. Upon closer inspection, it appeared the snake had been shocked by the electric fence and, in its confusion, had bolted headfirst through the chickenwire. It had woven itself through two loops of wire, and was stuck like a size 40 man in a pair of size 30 jeans.

I did the sensible thing and hollered for the s.o.

He came outside and I filled him in on the situation. He poked at the snake gently with his pocket knife, and it flinched. He took the flashlight from me ("Don't move--I'll be right back!") and went to get a pair of wire cutters from his truck. When he returned, he clipped the wires that bound the snake, and we watched uneasily as it slithered into one of the chicken yards.

"We should have killed it," he said.

"They eat mice, not chickens," I said. "Although it might steal eggs if it could get in. Which it can't."

I'm right, aren't I? I hope I'm right. I like snakes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Climate change is not our friend

Lately, about every second or third day, we are bathed in smoke. At first I thought the forestry department was doing controlled burns in the national forest nearby, but then I realized they'd never be so foolish since the weather is so dry. Then I thought there might be local brush fires, but none of consequence came over the s.o.'s fire department pager.

Finally I realized it was smoke from the vast, raging wildfires in southeastern Georgia, about 150 miles away. When the prevailing winds are a certain way, we get a faceful of it. It lingers in a thick, polluting haze. It must be terrible closer to the fire. It is expected to keep burning until the area is hit by a hurricane.

There is no rain here. Everyone's crops are a month behind and tenuous at best. The grass crunches when you step on it, and clouds of dust rise whenever a vehicle turns onto a dirt road.

The other night some dimwit was shooting off fireworks. The s.o. and I tried to see where they were coming from. "One more, and I'm calling the police."

What with the late freeze that killed all the fruit, and now this, it's not a good year so far.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I just heard that I got 100 percent on my written egg test. However, let's not count those proverbial chickens, because my practical egg candling test has not yet been graded. My lab partner and I were the very last ones done, and it felt as though we were guessing almost all the time. Yikes!

The s.o. is a genius. For a lot of reasons, actually, but for one in particular right now. You see, we were looking online to find an egg candler, and mostly they are really cheesy. The only ones that looked even halfway acceptable were more than $50. The ones that looked as though they might actually be useful on our brown eggs were several hundred dollars. Horrifying. But the s.o. noticed a resemblance between the very high-end candlers and an old filmstrip projector he had picked up at a thrift store for $15 a couple of years ago. We fired that baby up (500 watts!) and could see through even the darkest egg. Awesome. And, aside from the fact that you don't want to leave it running for long because of the wattage, incredibly cheap.

I wish I had had my filmstrip projector for the practical exam. Talk about an unfair advantage!

So, about the rest of it. We have to cobble together a facility--not in our kitchen--with a separate sink and fridge for egg handling. The s.o. favors building it in a quick, no-fuss manner on the back porch, although it would mean enclosing the porch more fully. I'm not as thrilled with that idea. I think I might like to wait and make it part of the commercial kitchen we hope to build within the next couple of years. We can definitely get by on exempt egg selling* until then.

No predictions right now. We'll see how it pans out.


* There's an exemption in Georgia wherein you can sell up to 30 dozen a week, ungraded, from your farmstead without having to comply with the normal regs. But the people actually have to show up on your property in person; you can't take the eggs anywhere off your property to sell them. Not to a farmers' market, not to someone's house, not anywhere. That's a little tricky for us because we live out in the boonies and are not "on the way" to anywhere. Still, I think a FRESH EGGS sign in the yard might go a long way.

Friday, May 18, 2007


We have a new laser printer.

I have just printed out The Georgia Egg Law and Supporting Regulations, a 25-page document I will need for my egg candling and grading course tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me--I hope to be a legal egg seller in time for Saturday's market!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A ruckus

I was just drawn to the back kitchen window by a loud chattering sound. When I arrived, I saw a small tuxedoed cat--a real elegant little beauty--with a limp squirrel in its mouth. The squirrel was at least a third of the cat's size.

In the pin oak, above, the squirrel's partner was cussing furiously: "CHIT! CHIT!" And our resident pair of mockingbirds flitted from one end of the hammock to the other, joining the indignant chorus.

The little black-and-white cat stood for a moment, indecisive, then took the squirrel under the house.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This is what we call a "teaching moment"

No sooner had I written the last post than the s.o. finished an outdoor pen for the goslings--sharing a fenceline with the duck pen, but not fully open to it. He called me away from my work yesterday evening (which I appreciated, frankly) to help him give the young geese a supervised taste of the outdoors.

We picked up the four geese and set them out on the grass. At first they sat in a corner, huddled together in a downy lump, for about 10 minutes. Then they began to explore, grabbing everything they could find with their bills. (All-time favorites include: the s.o.'s t-shirt, the drawstring of my hoodie, and of course tall grass with crunchy seeds on it.)

I should add at this point that part of the goose pen is made of the same portable electric mesh fence that contains the ducks. It doesn't have a steady current, but rather a periodic electric pulse--a little "zap" every second or so. I've caught it once or twice and it's pretty unpleasant, but nowhere near as bad as the type I grew up with at my dad's place, which would sit you down in the dirt before you knew what had happened.

So anyway, one goose delicately stuck her head through a square of mesh and chomped a piece of grass on the other side. The pulse came through, and all of the sudden there was a jumping, a flapping, and a HONK HONK HONK! The goose ran to the s.o. and did not approach the fence again.

The other three milled around in confusion for a second, then continued to graze in the same area. I saw one look at the fence, consider it for a moment, and then reach out to delicately take a wire in its bill...


And that was the end of the geese's flirtation with the electric fence. What followed was about 45 minutes of happy web-footed exploration, without incident, and then it was bedtime.

Joel Salatin has said that the difference between turkeys and other poultry is that whereas most birds learn about an electric fence the first time (as our geese did--geese are exceedingly smart and don't need to be told twice), turkeys never do figure it out. They persist in sticking their heads through the mesh to grasp good-looking tidbits on the other side. Chomp, zap, chomp, zap, chomp, zap. And this, my friends, is why the geese will soon be free-ranging in a portable electric fence, whereas the turkeys will be in turkey tractors.

I really, really enjoy all four kinds of poultry we have. Their personalities are very different in a way that's hard to explain to people who don't raise birds, but I'll try anyway:

Chickens - Funny, curious, show-offy, possessing the world-conquering instincts of small dogs who don't understand that they are small

Ducks - Operate via "prey animal"-type groupthink rather than individually most of the time (which is a nice way of saying that one-on-one, they aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer); fun-loving and goofy

Turkeys - A little wary and contemplative, yet quite curious and social, even with people; obsessive about shiny objects and new stimuli

Geese - The most social of the bunch; will "flock" on a person rather than avoiding him/her. Clever and able to think on a strategic level, like goats with feathers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A poultry post

Things are pretty good in Chicken House #2. After we lost those 8 chicks to pneumonia in the first 3 days, things calmed down. The medicine took effect, the stress wore off, and everyone else thrived. They've all been busy eating, growing feathers, and quadrupling their size.

This year's Mystery Chick continues to be mysterious. It is black-and-whitish with Egyptian kohl-rimmed eyes. It has greenish-blue legs like our Araucanas, but doesn't otherwise resemble them. It is larger than most of the chicks. Any ideas?

In the other half of Chicken House #2, the geese and turkeys have been coexisting much more happily than you'd expect. The geese are (and have always been) several times larger than the turkeys, so the group looks like 4 Gullivers and 11 Lilliputians. We watched them carefully at first to make sure the geese weren't picking on the turkeys, and we were pleased to note that they all seemed to get along quite well. The only real downside is that the turks have a sort of spiky look to them, because the geese get them wet and sticky by grooming them and otherwise drooling water on them.

Now the geese are large enough that they could theoretically go outdoors--maybe with the ducks, we're still ironing that part out. But it seems a shame to separate the geese from the turkeys, since the turks seem to have gotten the idea that the geese are their parents. They imitate the geese, extending their necks to "honk" irritatedly when we visit:

And they sleep curled up on, under, and against their larger, downier friends. It's heart-meltingly adorable. I wish I could show you, but the geese always wake up and honk at the camera.

I suppose eventually they will have to be separated, because turkeys really don't enjoy splashing around in a kiddie pool. The geese are going to want to, pronto, when they get more feathers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don't tell anyone, but...

...our dogs are hippies.

Inspired by my copy of Dr. Pitcairn, I have taken decades of vegetarian and carnivorous cooking lore and blended them together to create a seriously communal canine concoction: Dogaroni and Cheeze. Note the spelling, which indicates that it is not actually cheese-with-an-S. However, unlike most "cheezes," (see The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, Laurel's Kitchen, et. al.), it does include dairy.

The dish is made of the meat from a pound of chemical-free chicken thighs, a cup of mixed carrots and peas, some leftover mustard greens, and a pound of whole-wheat pasta. It is sauced with a bechamel made primarily of goat milk, whole-wheat flour, and a quarter-cup of nutritional yeast.

Cheezy. It's actually not bad, although it has the characteristic unsalty blandness of dog dinners.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Paging Terry Pratchett

This is maybe even better than the Cthulhu carrot I got last year.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I love melodic, 1970s FM radio-style pop

The song "Sewn" by The Feeling is absolutely slaying me right now. Which is cool, because it's been since sometime in mid-2006 since I last liked a song this much.

And you know what I really like? The damn thing is almost 6 minutes long. Usually I want a songwriter to get in, get the point made, get out. Haiku-like. Three minutes and done. But in special circumstances like these, I want the song to last forever. I wouldn't have blinked at 12 minutes.

*hits repeat*

Thursday, May 03, 2007

There is no photo because we destroyed the evidence

Yesterday, in baking for the farmers' market, I knocked two recipes off the list for the Nana Project: A batch of date-nut tartlets (which Nana called Chess Pies, even though they aren't; and which the s.o. calls Nutjobs) and a batch of no-bake peanut butter bars.

The recipe for date-nut tartlets is one of my favorites, ever. They are basically muffin-sized pecan pies, only made with walnuts and dates. They are positively decadent. And mine are actually better than Nana's, I have to say, because I use real butter instead of margarine and put them in a sour cream pastry crust. I split one with L2 and, when she said it was her favorite of all my baked goods, sent her home with the two that didn't sell, too. Why don't I make these more often? They're easy.

The no-bake peanut butter bars are really good--they're candies along the lines of Reese's Cups, except they're padded out with a little graham cracker, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the peanut butter part. They remind me of Christmas because they used to appear seasonally, like clockwork. They are not, however, ideal for farmers' market sales. For one thing, any size that's big enough to charge money for is big enough to be really cloying. They ought to be cut into the tiny bite-size morsels we always used to snack on over the holidays. And for another thing, the coating of melted semi-sweet chocolate (Ghirardelli, in this case) melts at a temperature remarkably similar to yesterday's ambient one. I had to keep the bars in the cooler with the radishes and baby bok choy, and even then, they turned to goo as soon as they came out into the open air.

26 recipes to go!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Was it just me, or was the Bon Jovi-mentored episode of American Idol one of the best ever?


I totally expected Lakisha and Blake to crash and burn, but they so didn't. They took risks. They owned those songs. I love surprises.
I'd say something about Melinda's excellent performance too, but it wasn't a surprise to me. She can do pretty much anything she sets her mind to, and she seems especially good at visualizing (auralizing?) which songs are going to work well with her voice.