"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hosting (Thanksgiving Menu)

It's my turn to host Thanksgiving. The job revolves between my mom, my sister, and I, with my mom usually taking two years out of three. Just these past couple of years she has unckenched a little, and been a little bit more willing  to cede the hostess role.  Even as a guest, however, she still commands the menu by the simple method of bringing every single dish she would cook if she were hosting herself. 

However, it is indisputably my job to furnish the turkey. After all, I do raise the silly things. This year is a little awkward. I made a mistake about the date of thanksgiving (I thought it was the LAST Thursday in November when it's actually the FOURTH Thursday in November. Normally one and the same, but not this year) and so Homero will not be here. He was planning a trip to Oaxaca, and I blithely told him "just make sure you're home by the thirtieth!" 

That means he isn't available to butcher the birds. Aside from the one I will be serving, there are three others, already sold to neighbors. I could, theoretically, kill and clean a turkey, but it would look like a coyote did it. Not the nice, presentable, ready to cook carcasses my customers are expecting. So I went begging on Facebook, and found someone willing to do the job tomorrow, just in time to provide a fresh bird that won't need to be frozen. I'm paying ten dollars a bird plus some grass fed beef. Another day I will write about the difficulty of getting poultry butchered around here - it's a perennial problem. 

I have a couple of unique challenges this year, and it really isn't very convienent for me to host. Since Homero is gone for two weeks, I am handling the farm and the girls on my own. Both girls have demanding sports schedules, even over the break (Hope has wrestling practice even on thanksgiving day itself). I have my own interpreting work. And my knee, alas, has decided to go on an absolute binge of pain and weakness. For the first time ever, I've had to resort to a cane, in addition to a brace. I'm about as crippled up as I've ever been, and it's really very annoying.

The girls have been wonderful, though. Today, they helped me round up the turkeys, tie their feet together, and lay them under a blanket in the trunk of the car. There's small chance I would have been able to do that alone. And this afternoon, Rowan came over to help me clean the house. Well, she helped me pick up around the house, so that the cleaning lady I engaged for tomorrow will be able to actually clean. 

All in all, I am feeling rather hopeful. Supposedly, my
Mom is bringing desserts (my siblings and I have a betting pool going - my bet is six pies, a pan of brownies, a cheesecake, and a platter of cookies). My sister always does the mashed potatoes. That leaves, for me:

- one heritage breed pastured turkey, roasted with
- bread and herb stuffing
- mushroom gravy (for the vegetarians)
- wild rice salad with fennel and hazelnuts 
- plain baked garnet yams
- green beans with balsamic dressing
- mixed green salad

I feel a bit of a slacker opting for plain baked yams rather than something fancy like yam soufflé with pecan streusel or the "festive yam confetti" I've made years past. But enough is enough. And the wild rice salad is a great family favorite that I enjoy making every year. 

Wild Rice Salad with fennel and hazelnuts

-1 lb pure wild rice, cooked according to package directions
-1 large or two small bulbs fennel, thinly sliced, and feathery fronds reserved for garnish
-1cup dried tart cherries, or zante currants 
- 1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup roasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed
- good quality olive oil
- good quality balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
- salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients. Toss well and let sit at least 4 hours before serving. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Predator Problems Redux (Coyote Edition)

We always lose chickens over the winter. Always. Some years are worse than others, but on average I'd say we have about a 30% chicken attrition situation over any given winter. And some years are just terrible. This year has been a bad one so far. 

We started the fall with eleven hens. Now we have five. It's especially annoying because these hens were youthful and excellent layers. Golden sex-links that I bought in spring as pullets. This was their first laying year, and they provided us with a surfeit of delicious eggs. The second year of a hen's life is generally her most prolific, and the third and fourth years are also excellent. I was looking forward to several seasons of eggy abundance. 

We've known for some time that we have a coyote problem here.  I have seen them, in broad daylight, in the neighbor's field, and we hear them  singing on moonlight summer nights. In general, I appreciate coyotes as a savvy, adaptable animal. They are handsome too, no matter what their detractors say, with their sandy brown coats and their sly, intelligent faces. Losing a chicken here and there is the price we pay for living in this lovely rural area. I'd be sad indeed to never hear coyote song again. 

But I do draw the line at the loss of more than half our flock, and it's barely November yet. And yesterday they took a turkey - a well grown hen, who was already sold at $4/lb. Now I have to call a customer and tell  them their family will be eating store-bought turkey this thanksgiving, and that makes me mad. 

So it was with mixed emotions at best that I regarded the dead coyote that my husband brought me last week. As he was driving home in the dusky evening, he saw a coyote lying on the side of the highway just off our property; the same place that our dog Haku was hit last summer. The coyote was perfect, intact. So much so that Homero approached it cautiously in case it might actually be still alive. It wasn't, but it wasn't long dead either. Still warm. 

Homero dragged it off the verge of the highway and well into our property, for no particularly good reason. "I didn't want it to get run over into mush," he said. "Come look." 

Not having ever been close enough to a coyote to touch one before, I didn't have much of a frame of reference. Local farmers tend to greatly exaggerate the size and menace of coyotes, claiming they are larger than dogs and can drag off full grown sheep. I know that is bull-puckey. Coyotes seldom weigh more than forty pounds, and are quite a bit smaller than your average German Shepherd. This one seemed to weigh about thirty-five pounds, and was female. 

There wasn't a mark on her, apart from a little blood around her muzzle. It's been a cold fall, and her coat was thick and soft. I felt quite sorry for her. I imagined her as one of the pups I'd heard singing earlier, in summer, and that her dan had taught her where to go hunting. She probably knew us as "easy pickings farm." Nice fat chickens, if you can get across the road, look out, it's a bitch. 

Another nice thing about living in a rural area in the age of the internet: it was quite easy to find somebody who wanted to pick her up for her hide. I mean, why not, might as well salvage something beautiful from this disaster. We've lost good poultry and an intelligent animal list her life in her prime, but why shouldn't somebody salvage a nice fur? 

Homero tells me he's absolutely positively guaranteed going to patch up the chicken coop before it gets much colder. I say - as I say every year - that we won't get any more birds of any sort until he does. I know what will happen- the earth will turn and spring will come. Chicks will show up for sale under heat lamps in the farm store. We will look at our sad skinny chickens who survived winter and decide they need an infusion of new blood. We will think we have all summer long to fix the chicken coop.