...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


cooped up

The girls are NOT excited about the descent of winter weather.

Even the little girls 
who just encountered snow for the first time
are like "WTF is this?!"
They quickly decided it wasn't worth getting off the perch for.
So they're all cooped up.

The Littles are still not quite big enough to add to the big girls coop,
and the winter is too competitive for prime perch space anyway...
So in the interest of minimal bloodshed and stress,
we're going to wait to join the flocks in the early spring.

 The coop for the Littles is so little...
 Luckily Boo had the foresight to expand their roosting area and their run
which soon we will be enclosing to protect from the elements.

The walls of their made-in-China coop are really thin,
so naturally we were starting to fret about their comfort and health.
We ended up getting them two 150 watt wall heaters to take the edge off of any deep chill.
They turn on right around freezing temperatures
and that keeps their water in a drinkable state,
and makes them comfy. 
The heaters turn off quickly after they've warmed the small area up,
so it seems pretty efficient...
 but we'll see what it does to our utility bill!
***Check out Emmaline's swooping tail feathers above... 
looking more and more like a Roo every day!***

 Meanwhile all of the original hens are going through their molting process,
which just seems absolutely nuts to me!
Specky finished her molt in the early fall...  
somehow her internal body clock 
had more foresight about the weather change,
 and did the job more quickly. 

But Jersey and Lorpy and Commie and Brahmie 
are all at different stages of feather replacement
and egads, 
some mornings the coop is a real wreckage!
Feathers everywhere...

Poor Brahmie is the worst off of all.
Thank goodness some of her neck and chest feathers are finally starting to come back in
... she's been looking like a plucked chicken for a couple of weeks!
Good thing they have their little comfort heaters, too!


Rachmaninoff: vocalise op. 34 n. 14

While I was listening to this piece 
this Saturday morning 
in front of the fire
with my eyes closed
sipping on some coffee 
(my latest favorite:  House of Good by Blue Bottle)...

I decided, shit.
This is IT.

This is the penultimate.

I thought:
If I was dying and I was still coherent enough to listen,
or if someone ever decides to come and shoot me...
if I had a second to even get a word in with them 
before they pulled the trigger,
I would say to them, 
"Fine.  Just let me listen to Rachmaninoff's Vocalise first."

 Let it be the last thing I hear.

But then I'd ask for more things, of course.
A pen and paper so I could write my last words to my sweet love,
which I really should have asked for first
if I could only be granted one wish.
I'd kiss my dogs on the forehead for the millionth tender time.
I'd ask to go throw some scratch feed out for our hens
and watch them enjoy it so happily.
I'd ask to sit in the sunlight.

I'd probably also ask for one last chocolate from Oliver Kita.
Cognac creme brulee comes to mind. 
Or the marzipan.

And of course, the more I would think about it,
I'd start asking for more of my favorite things,
because that's just who I am.

I'm the more-more-more girl. 

And maybe after all of that
my potential shooter would decide 
to just sit back and listen
and enjoy a chocolate with me 
and soak up the sunlight
and forget about the gun.

Anyway.  I won't indulge too much 
in my "last wish" thoughts,
because I'd much rather go about the business of living,
because oh how special it feels 
to be alive, and free.
  and to know it.
yes, to know it.

Just close your eyes and listen to this.
Turn it up.
It's that feeling you get when something is so damn wonderful,
and Rachmaninoff's Vocalise 
makes me feel like I'm lifting up out of my body.

Some sopranos I have seen singing this 
put their hand
near their clavicle
almost as if to keep their bodies on the ground
to keep from being lifted up by their own voices
because the momentum is so powerful.

It's just one vowel, sung over and over and over.
The music soars and comes back 
and soars again. 

I can't imagine any better piece of music
to leave the body
or to leave this world for another,
if one had to go.

I grip the arms of my chair
to keep from flying away.


le tombeau de couperin

A really enchanting piece by Maurice Ravel.

I had never heard of Le Tombeau de Couperin
until my sweetie told me that it's one of her favorites.

Apparently, even before the outbreak of the first World War,
Ravel was planning to write a "French suite" for piano, using 18th century models.
What started out as an homage to musical predecessors (namely Francois Couperin)
evolved into a tribute to friends who had died while serving in the war.

Le Tombeau (the tomb) is actually a musical term popular in the 17th century
 and means "a piece written as a memorial."

The piano version is in six movements.
There is also an orchestral version, which Ravel completed at a later date.

I prefer the piano version,
though the orchestral version naturally has different dimensions
with all of the added instruments.

Here's a link to the orchestral version if you'd like to hear it:

The pieces don't strike me as full of grief or somber,
though they are  moments of very tender sadness,
there are many more moments that are reeling with joy
and some that make me feel like I'm running through a field on a beautiful day.

They have a certain light-heartedness,
which makes me think they are more about remembering
with love and joy
his dear friends
than they are about missing them.

Or maybe both are existing at the same time.

If you have twenty-five minutes to spare in your busy life,
both versions are worth your full attention.

Angela Hewitt is most know for her Bach interpretations,
but she does a very fine job with Ravel here.

I like watching her play,
you can see how she deeply feels and connects with the music.



Kalinda's eggs

 Remember the three chicks Commie adopted in May?
Well, they're big girls now and Kalinda was the first one to prove it!

 She surprised us and laid her first egg this week!
And she's been laying every day since...  woweeee!  What a girl!

Her very first egg.
Covered in pigment blotches...

Her first couple of eggs were covered in pigment blotches
but now the pigment is evening out.
Kind of like the magic paint mixer inside of her 
worked out some kinks,
and now, voila!
a beautiful blended color shell...!

Shown next to a square of chocolate for comparison...
Cuckoo marans are nicknamed the "chocolate eggers"
and I can see why!

Here's Kalinda's most recent egg on the right,
shown next to a standard brown egg for comparison.

Hot diggity!

Supposedly Cuckoo Marans eggs 
get darker with time.
She's only on her fourth egg
 and they're already looking so dark and lovely!

Aw shucks, Kalinda.
Thank you for making our egg cartons even more colorful!

Kalinda's eggs are growing in size every day -- she may have even laid a double yolker!
Check out that tall one on the front right...


Kalinda is so proud of herself
that she wanted a special spotlight on the blog.
It's sort of like her quinceanera,
or bat mitzvah...
her coming of age!
I'm very happy to oblige her.
It's the least I can do for those beautiful eggs.
So without further ado,
here is 
the one, the only 
Kalinda the Cuckoo Maran:

her close-up

 with some greenery framing her

 a profile shot
(she said her left side is best, but I told her she's beautiful every which way)

 showing off her foraging skills

and here she is confidently doing the chicken walk through a path of leaves

Three cheers for Kalinda!

Felicitaciones, Kalinda!
Mazel Tov, Kalinda!


dried fruit mania

 I've never really been that much into dried fruit.
It's so lackluster compared to the real, juicy thing.

But you can't have the real, juicy thing all year long.
Every fruit has a season. 
(Except bananas.  They seem to always be in season.
What's up with that, anyway?)


So, what's my "beef" with dried fruit?

For starters, I don't like the sensation of chewing on tough, leathery strips.
Especially things I have to push straight back to my molars
and chew a long time before I can even think about swallowing. 
It makes me feel like a neanderthal
AND it aggravates my TMJ in the process.

And the flavor... meh...not worth the effort most of the time.
Unless of course I was seriously hungry
(in which case I would gladly chomp away on virtually anything!)

Besides texture and lack of flavor,..
If you're not careful with your label-reading,
dried fruits can have added sulfites.
Sulfites are used as preservatives both for shelf life and for appearances .
Sulfites, for example, will keep an apricot from turning brownish.

Some folks are sensitive to sulfites (sulphur dioxide).
and while I don't think I'm one of them, I prefer to avoid them anyway.
Seriously, it's a petroleum byproduct -- why would I want to swallow it?

If you stick to ORGANIC dried fruit, you should be safe.
 Sulfites are classified as a synthetic food additive,
and they're not permitted in organic food products.
So there.

I've changed my tune about dried fruit, though.
 Turns out I simply hadn't been exposed to very good dried fruit.
Now I can see the value in having it around,
and I've dedicated two precious shelves in the basement to it:

 What you can get at your local co-op is not the best, folks.
No offense to co-ops.  They're great for lots of things.
But if you want really prime, freshly dried fruit, with full flavor...
You need to dry your own, or get in touch with a farmer
who takes their dried fruit seriously.

 Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any locally sourced dried fruits,
so next year we'll have to buy some bulk local fruit and try to make our own.

I actually hope to build a solar dehydrator next summer,
and also try just laying some fruit out on screens in the sun for some old-fashioned sun drying.

But upstate New York is a far cry from Italy or California,
where they can count on several hot, sunny, dry days in a row.

 I'll be prepared for typical weather fluctations,
and use our electric dehydrator as a back-up
 if I need to bring fruits in.


While homegrown or local would be best,
stocking up on organic dried fruits from farmers around the country
still reduces my carbon imprint from years past,
when I used to just mindlessly buy fruit any time of year
without thinking about where it came from
or what environmental toll it took to get it to my shopping basket.

This way, I make fewer trips to the grocery store.
And dried fruit shipped once in bulk is significantly better for the environment
 than fresh fruit shipped out of season continuously
from some warmer climate 3,000 miles away
to meet consumer demand.


It's nice to have some bulk dried goods in the basement.
You never know when we might have a zombie apocalypse.
Or even just an extended snow storm.
In any event, we'll be noshing on some good stuff.

Just remember -- you can't compare dried fruits to their fresh counterparts.
They're their own thing.
Delicious in their own right.

Most dried fruits are great for light snacking out of hand
or adding to trail mixes or granola or your morning muesli.
I love them in hot cereals, cookies, scones, muffins, etc.

They can be great to add a little sweetness to
favorite savory dishes, too.

These are sun-dried California Blenheim apricots from Bella Viva.
Fabulous in our favorite brussel sprout recipe
(brussel sprouts, bacon, apricots and pecans).
They're lovely in hot cereal or muesli or scones
or as a crostini topping with goat cheese and pistachio...

Organic dried apples from nuts.com
At first it seemed silly to me to get dried apples,
because apples store well in our region, if they're kept in a cool spot.
But apples also have a lot of moisture and so dehydrated ones
are useful for adding apple without all the wet...

Perfect in a cabbage dish that you want to retain a little crunch to the cabbage
or to a squash soup.
And of course, oatmeal.
Apple-cinnamon oatmeal with a dash of sea salt,
brings out all the flavors.

These wild blueberries from Nuts.com are expensive.
The price per pound made me almost not buy them,
but I decided to try them anyway, and I'm glad I did.

There are actually a ton of them per pound, and they're so teeny tiny:

and absolutely packed with flavor.
So much flavor that it almost seems like they're artificially flavored,
but these are the real deal, yo.

A easy way to make blueberry pancakes or muffins
without worrying about your batter getting too wet.
Great in homemade granola!

I love a good dried cherry.

I can't eat raw cherries because they make my mouth itch -
all stone fruits do that to me for some reason, even organic.
It really sucks.

I have to peel my raw peaches to enjoy them,
but there's no point in peeling a cherry unless
you want a tedious exercise in frustration.
So this is the only way I get to eat them unless they're cooked.

Makes me cherish these cherries all the more.

I got these beauties from North Star Organics.
A family farm in Michigan.

Their credit card system wasn't working for my online order,
so they actually send me my 10 pounds of organic cherries on the honor system!
Transactions like that in our modern world just make me feel good.
There are a lot of nice people out there.
It's nice to be reminded of that.

We used dried organic cranberries in absolutely everything.
Tossed in salads.
In trail mix.
Or for just plain eating.
These are very lightly sweetened with organic cane sugar.

gorgeous, right?

I love when holding a handful of fruit makes me feel like
I'm holding a handful of jewels.

Zante currants are not technically currants.
They're not related to the tart and tannic type that make your mouth pucker.
These do no such thing.

They're actually from a tiny seedless grape.
They would be more accurately called Corinthian raisins, and they are,
from what I have read, the "original" raisin.

They're very very small, and intensely flavored.
Fantastic in scones.
These are from Bella Viva also.

I couldn't resist getting a little silly with some of my labels.
These medjool dates are from Tierra Farms,
but if you want to try a variety of different dates,
you should check out Sun Organic Farms.
They have deglet noor, halawi, khadrawi and zahidi dates.
You can buy as little as 1 lb each, or get a sampler of all of the varieties.

We don't use dates for much other than simple eating,
but they're so sweet that they can be used as an alternative sweetener for desserts.
Unlike sugar, dates actually have some nutritive value.

Every other fig I've tried before these simply did not do it for me.
The over the top crunchy super-seedy almost-gritty insides were like the equivalent of
chalk screeching on a chalkboard inside my mouth.
Or like getting a tiny bit of eggshell in something.
Blek.  A little grit can ruin a good thing.

These black mission figs are from Tierra Farms.
They're everything I remember fondly
about the inside of a Fig Newton - only so much better.
Pure fig flavor, and the seeds are actually pleasant.

(FYI - "Real" Nabisco Fig Newtons are not even a real food at all these days--
they're chock full of GMO's, trans fats, and chemicals.)

I'm very happy with these -- now I can bite into nostalgia and feel good about it!

Dried organic peaches
(I got tired of writing "organic" on my labels and
since like 97% of what we buy is organic,
it'd be more useful for me to write when it's not!)

Anyway, dried peaches were one of the things I used to dislike.
Leathery neanderthal fruit, for sure,
and nothing at all reminiscent of the real thing,
they just left me feeling sad because they were so absolutely unpeachlike.

These are from Bella Viva and they're loads and loads better!
I actually want to eat them.

Great added into oatmeal or a cream of rice cereal
along with some raw milk and sweetener...
I looooooooove hot peaches and cream flavor!

I have never EVER had such good dried organic pears.
Bella Viva, yet again, baby!

So good I have a bag of them stashed inside my emergency sweet tooth drawer at work.
They're seriously that good!

Still moist and chewy and really concentrated pear flavor.

I had no clue that dried pomegranate arils were even available.
Well, they are.
Bella Viva to the rescue yet again.

And these pomegranate arils are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

I actually prefer them in some ways to fresh pomegranate seeds because
even though fresh ones have that wonderful burst of ruby liquid,
they have that fibrous bit that goes along with it...
Every bit is intact here, but somehow the fibrous bit is much more palatable --
more nutty.

Perhaps my favorite dried fruit of all time.

The prune.
The countess of all dried fruits.
Like Lady Violet Crawley.
A grand dame, indeed.

Prunella Deville.

Prune la la!

Wrinkly, krinkly,
chewy, sticky,
gummy, yummy...

I ordered from  both Tierra Farms and Bella Viva
and I've got to say, Bella Viva's are way more moist and plump.
Just like I like 'em.
Comparable to the kind with sulfites, but without them.

So, favorite uses for prunes:

Well, besides stuffing my face with them
the hands-down-best savory recipe is
Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate cookbook.
prunes and olive and chicken all 
having a good time together in a tagine.

And of course, the dear raisin, an old faithful friend.

Probably the first dried fruit I ever had.
 Those little Sunmaid raisin boxes frequented my lunchbox as a kid.

Raisins are kind of like the robin of the bird world.
Really a wonderful bird, but so often overlooked and overshadowed by others.

The most available varieties are
the standard Thompson, of course.

But there are lots others.
Any grape can be dehydrated.

Other varieties usually available at retail with some searching:
monukka raisins.
There's also sultana, or golden raisins
and our very favorite
 flame raisins.

Raisins are way cheaper per pound than most other dried fruits,
And oatmeal raisin cookies just wouldn't be the same without them, now would they?

Dried blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are very hard to find.
You can usually get them at www.nuts.com
Very expensive per pound so I don't buy  more than one pound of these, just like the blueberries...
but a fun treat in winter to toss into hot cereal or pancakes!