Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bovine Backrubs and Chicken Coops

When I first read Omnivore's Dilemma, I know that I was ready to hear about the problems with the US food industry and our eating habits. I was ready to make changes in how I thought about the food that I ate, but I had no idea what I'd discover along the way. Eating grass-fed meats is not so difficult in my area, and the resources for finding good, local products seem to be growing each day. What I didn't know is that I would be saying goodbye to non-pastured meats entirely. Once I'd wrapped my head around where meat comes from, I couldn't look at a restaurant burger in the same way again. The more I think about it all, the less I'm able to eat out, which is a bummer. But the upside is that I have all of this energy that I now focus on how and where to get good food...from animals that were treated well.

My grass-fed obsession has been passed onto my Mom and Dad (thank you, Mr. Pollan) and earlier this week, I took a ride out with my Dad and friend Debbie to visit Hendrick's farm. This is where a lot of my meat comes from during the winter when I do Farm to City, but in the summer we go to the farm to pick it up. Joel Salatin says that you should never trust a farm where you aren't allowed to just walk everywhere and interact with the animals and people. Indeed, on the way to Hendrick's, we passed a large meat facility with high walls and windowless buildings. They clearly don't want the average consumer to know what's going on in there. But at Hendricks, we pet the dairy cows, checked out the pigs and piglets, and peeked into the chicken pens. The best part of the day was watching the diary cows queue up at the automatic back scratcher attached to the wall. They'd bump into it and a roller brush would rotate and they'd walk under it to get a back rub. Those are some happy cows, I tell ya.

Recently, I've stopped eating eggs when I dine out. I just have no idea where they came from or how those chickens were raised. My parents have had their chickens for about a year now so that's where my eggs come from. They are infinitely better than store bought eggs, and if you can manage to get your hands on a fresh, pastured egg, I highly recommend it. I'd wanted chickens prior to reading Omnivore's Dilemma, and now that I finally have three I'm pretty darn happy about it. Like: sit and watch the chickens peck around for worms for hours on end happy about it. And so, as soon as we brought the coop that my Dad built to our house in pieces, I put it together. The next day, I intended to chip away at all of the tasks that needed to be done: prime and paint the coop, seal the unpainted wood, measure, cut and install wire around the base, and apply flashing to the top seam (which didn't work out - we caulked it instead). What ended up happening is that I obsessed about that coop for 12 hours until it was done. Andrew left in the middle to play a tennis match which, of course, ended up being lengthy and with no one to tell me to stop, I finished the whole damn thing by 6 pm. Andrew came back as I was wrapping up and helped me install the final screws and to clean up. He also insisted on taking a photograph, I think mostly to commemorate how insane I can get about things when I obsess. So here I am, 12 hours later, unwashed, sore from head to foot, with not quite enough energy to get all of my smile muscles into gear. But, man. Look at that coop!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Coop Scoop

Here's the chicken coop! My Dad built it, loosely based on the Poulet Chalet from this book. Andrew and I assembled it this afternoon, and managed to do so with only one extra piece left over (a mystery which was solved by a quick phone call to Dad). It's so great. Now we have to decide how to paint it. We're thinking of matching it to our house which has happy, crazy colors. Anyway, I'm so glad to have chickens out of the house and outside where they are about a billion times happier. Whenever one of them gets a worm, they run around with it held high, chirping all over the place. I've been trying to tell them to just shut about it, since it attracts the other chickens who then try to steal it, but so far no one is listening.

I haven't been doing much crafting lately, which is silly since I have a show coming up in a week or so. But I have been cooking a lot, since our CSA is in full swing. We've been picking amazing strawberries, and have already made one batch of fantastic sorbet. But the thing I love the most about being a part of a CSA is finding vegetables that I wouldn't otherwise know what to do with. Take, for instance, the garlic scape.
A beautiful, unruly part of the garlic plant that I never new was edible...or even that it existed, for that matter. But we picked some of these up and so I had to figure out what to do with them.
You'll be shocked to know that this wacky looking thing that you've probably never heard of is sort of a new veggie that people are just getting into. I couldn't even find anything on them at epicurious. I did do some research and found some pesto recipes, frittata recipes, and ways to saute the scapes the looked good. I like this pesto recipe because it uses walnuts. We made a batch with toasted pine nuts since we were out of walnuts and lemon juice. I'll spare you the green goo picture, but suffice it to say, it's yummy and can be spread on lots of things. Here's an interesting frittata recipe (which I'll have to eat all by myself since Andrew won't do the egg thing), and I might try this soup (scroll all the way down) someday - - which was actually the first thing I thought of doing with the scapes when I was trying to figure out what the heck to do with them. Or maybe I'll just keep them in the fridge, because they are so darn cool to look at.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Almost There...

These past two weeks have been a flurry of activity - most of which has left me feeling a bit schizophrenic. There was the wrapping up of the school year (I finished my last comment today and could literally feel the burden lifted from my shoulders), and graduating the senior class (my advisees!). I managed to miss the Renegade Craft Fair (total and complete bummer!), but enjoyed another fantastic COOP meeting (that group is getting bigger and better by the month). I finished teaching the son of the lovely folks that own this shop, and they gave me such a fantabulous gift of this fabric: So amazingly fantastic, did I mention that? There's some sort of very fine cotton gauzy fabric in there (the white and pink print), an eyelet fabric that will be the cutest flippin' skirt someday, a crinkly-striped rayony fabric that is my Dad's favorite and has me intimidated (but will be a good challenge), and a great yellow knit.

Being given the knit made me finally take this book off of my Amazon wish list and into my greedy paws. It's such a serendipitous event - girl gets knit fabric that she doesn't know how to sew, girl buys sewing with knits book she's been coveting but could really justify buying, girl doesn't realize it, but said sewing with knits book is also a major tutorial in using a serger. I was lucky lucky lucky and got a serger for Christmas and it's been staring me down in my craft room ever since. I even got it a special table to perch on, and still it sneers at me with its crazy 4-spool arrogance. I never thought about how sewing with knits means you want a stretch seam, so either it's the zig-zag on a regular machine or....drumroll, please...a serger. I'd been looking for a good, basic how-to-figure-out-the-monster-that-is-called-the-serger book, but hadn't stumbled upon anything I love. I already have the first Built By Wendy book and love it, so when I realized that the knits book was going to help me get started on the serger, well...let's just say I've had my nose in that book for the past few days now.

So, to recap: I now have a fantastic knit to play with, a book full of patterns for the knit, and a reason to finally introduce myself to my serger. Hello serger, my name is Kristina.

Somewhere in there, I did manage to make something. I think it was last weekend when I still had a stack of exams to grade and I was a little panicky about all of the work that lay before me (which always gets done, but part of my process is getting panicky about it), and so I whipped out these little needle novellas. Bookish felty goodness to keep your sewing needles tidy.I took a good, long while deciding whether to call them needle novels or novellas, and I opted for the latter because I feel that I might one day make slightly larger books that have a mechanism for holding darning needles as well. In any event, I had a lot of fun up in the craft room saying "needle novella" over and over.

Lastly, I need to make a note of the fact that I am really, truly going to miss Tim Russert. I know, major gear shift here, but it actually has to do with crafting. I like to get up on Sunday mornings and play hooky from yoga class (so not om), then go up to my craft room and hang out with Charles Osgood for an hour and a half (I ♥ Sunday Morning). Then I change to Meet the Press and keep crafting. I really can't imagine my Sunday mornings without either of these boys. Sigh.

OK, OK. I'll leave on a more positive note. There's a new baby in the family! Her name is Natasha, and she's just about as lovely as it gets.

Uncle Andrew says hello:

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Ooo, I hate that word....or at least our misuse of it. For the past 11 years I've been telling kids that individuals can't adapt in their lifetime- you're born with what you're born with and that's that. But at the moment, I'm trying to adapt. In the most perfect mishandling of the concept.

It's really, really hot here right now. And I really, really hate the heat. Really. Truthfully, I really hate the cold as well. Ask Andrew and he'll tell you that the only time I'm not complaining about the weather is when it's 72 degrees outside. But alas, it is so far from 72 degrees in Philadelphia right now and it's going to be that way for a few days. Which will be perfect when I give final exams in my classroom with no AC, but I digress.

The point of all of this complaining is to say that I'm going on a fantastic trip this summer. My Dad and I are going to China for three whole weeks. In the summer. When it's really, really hot i in China. So my plan of attack now is to survive the heat waves at home as they come so that by the time I'm in China, I've adapted to it. See? Individuals can adapt...or at least, that's what I'm banking on. I made it the whole day without using AC in the car and I haven't pestered Andrew about lugging the AC unit into the bedroom. It's only the first day of the heatwave, but still.

Anyway, I didn't do much today except lie around and read. All I really have to show for myself in the way of photographs are these latest Kateski portraits and a video. She was furiously picking at her new feathers and her pouf was wobbling like mad...it's almost like it has a life of it's own. I made a short, sometimes focused video...Francis Ford Coppola I am not, but you'll get the idea.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

T Shirt Challenge

Believe it or not, there are some annoying things about working with teenagers. Yuppers, I could name a few. There are times when I want to run screaming from my job and everything adolescent. But then there are times when I'm hanging out with kids and it feels like the most natural thing in the world and I wonder why on Earth someone pays me to do this job. In those moments, it doesn't take long until I remember how much I get in my paycheck and, well....the point is that there are definitely days when I love my job, even when kids are being total poo-heads.
One thing that I love about where I work is that we're a small school, so everyone knows everyone's business. Kids know what teachers like to do just as much as teachers understand what makes their kids tick. So my kids know that I knit, make some of my own clothes, sing (some even come to see me in shows), and have a very real life outside of the biology classroom. One day, I came into class wearing something I'd made and one of the girls (who totally is into designing her own fashions and can always peg when I'm wearing something that I've made) made a big deal about whatever it was I was wearing. Quite matter-of-factly, one of my male students challenged me to make him a t-shirt. It was funny....like this half-dare/half-demand that I design and make a shirt that he'd wear. If he'd just asked me to, I probably would have declined, but the fact that he made it into a bit of game had me hooked. So I told him to bring me a shirt and I'd do it.

Now, if there's one thing I've learned in 11 years of teaching, it's that the best way to get a kid to forget about something is to ask them to remember to do it. I left class that day knowing that I hadn't lost face - - hell, yeah I'd make a kick ass shirt! - - and that I'd never have to prove myself because he never would actually bring a shirt.

The next day, he came in with a plain, white shirt.

This was maybe at the midpoint of the year. I've hung out with this shirt quite a bit since then. Or I should say, it's sat on my dresser and mocked me. Why don't you take me up to the craft room, it's said. Are you afraid I'll get up there and you won't know what the frick to do with me??
The challenge for me was that I'm not so good at designing stuff for boys. I've made Andrew sweaters from patterns, but only on the rare occasions that I come across a really good boy pattern. I've made him ties and a bracelet once. He has some specific ideas for a necklace, though, and I don't want to touch that with a 10 foot pole. Andrew will wear just about anything, but I'd hate to make something really lame looking and then he'd wear it because, well, Andrew will wear just about anything, especially if I've made it for him. So I was worried that not only would I be making a shirt for a boy, but this boy would be a finicky teenager. The kind of boy who wears lots of intentionally-faded graphic tees. My one saving grace is that this is also a kid who has a tattoo artist for a father, so he's got to have more of a sense of art and design then most kids his age. Right?
Well, after much deliberation (ie, moving the shirt from here to there on my dresser whenever I put laundry away), here's the shirt:
The main images were gocco-printed, and the lines connecting the pencils with the central design were embroidered. I broke the embroidered lines up a bit so that they captured the faded look a bit, and then had them run into the design, as if the pencil had been coloring it.
I chose to stick some Decemberist's art on there, hoping that I'd get him to like the shirt because it's a band that he loves. Maybe I'm cheating, but whatever...I really want him to wear this shirt and not think it's totally idiotic, after all. And I was NOT going to be wasting a gocco screen to print something like "A & F". I used my old screen of my hand drawing with a pencil, but took out the doodles that the pencil is usually scribbling. It took a while to futz with that screen because it didn't want to print clearly, but I did know all along that I wanted to go for the old faded look, since I know that's what this student wears every day. So in it's own imperfect way, an old gocco screen worked out for me.

So I'm not sure what my student will think of this shirt. He's been asking a lot about it (mostly saying that he didn't ever think he'd get his shirt back). I'll give it to him tomorrow during his exam time and we'll see. Whether he likes it or not, I'm going to reburn a screen of the hand and find other things to put in the middle design because I really love the embroidered part of the shirt...maybe eventually they will pop up in the shop:) That is, if this one passes the teenage boy test!

Monday, June 2, 2008

You're older than you ever were, and now you're even older...

A few things in this frenzied, end-of-the school year whirlwind during which I should do nothing but grading, yet I currently find myself lurking on the computer (sigh).

I'm trying not to be one of those people who is worried about her age. Really, I am. I don't want to fritter my 30s away stressing about how I'll turn around one day and be in my 40s, or that even sooner, I'll be dating a 40-year old (dear god). I try to forgive my body for not being able to deal with more than 2 drinks at a party, or for hoarding fat cells like it's nobody's business, or for protesting when I try to be as graceful as I once was when I danced regularly. But, for the first time since graduating from college, I've received a donation request - not for my spare change, or an annual donation - but for the money I'll leave when I die. Is there some computer model somewhere that has shot out the statistic that schools better get this request out after X years of graduation because that's when many graduates start dropping dead?? What are they trying to tell me? And when is my first AARP magazine coming?? OK, going back to not thinking about ageing.

In more youthful news, I finished the little trio of stuffies to give to the new baby and his/her siblings. The last to be made was the snail. The original design calls for braiding strips of fabric, which I tried but ended up with something too bulky and with lots of frayed ends that didn't want to cooperate. So I yanked out my knitting machine and some lavender yarn that I picked up at a yard sale (the same one that gave me the loom!) and made a tube that I coiled into the shell. I love the process of making something...the problem-solving when it's not working out, the diving into a new way to accomplish the goal, the worry that all of the energy you are putting in won't yield an acceptable result, and then the satisfaction when it all comes together. Whew. I also made up some cutie-pie (thank you gocco) buddha belly onesies, two of which I think will go to etsy (as soon as I can get some better photos going) and the other to new baby.And one last thing - in chicken news, whenever I open up the netting on the top of their brooder, they automatically fly up to roost on the edge. They've even gotten good at flying from one edge to the next. It's clumsy, but they make it work. They are too, too funny.

made. by k.d.