A Funky Chicken Coop of One's Own

At the beginning of the week, the temperature dipped down to -28 here in chilly VT. Weather like that can get you thinking crazy thoughts, such as "is it possible for your eyeballs to freeze inside your skull?" (I Googled it -- appears this is not possible...emphasis on appears.)

In an effort to stay warm, I checked some important tasks off my "getting-ready for spring" to-do list this week. Most importantly, I ordered my bees. In early May, I will pick up two hives worth of bees -- a total of six pounds or about 20,000 bees. I debated about the expense and time commitment all winter long, but ultimately decided to go for it. No sense living this country life and not trying out all it has to offer.

The next task on my to-do list is to start planning for chickens. So I've been researching coop designs all week, and I've found many that are utterly adorable -- truly funky chicken coops. I'll probably end up building something a bit more austere, to match the barns. But that hasn't stopped me from enjoying all the coop eye-candy on this chilly day. These coops put the CHIC in chicken. Hope these fun photos warm you up, wherever you are...

1. A woodland cottage for chickens, via kaseycorner.typepad.com 2. If chickens had a house in the Hamptons, by HeatherBullard.com, 3. Might be hard to keep the neighbor kids from playing house in this cutie via beachbrights.blogspot.com 4. Hansel and Gretel hen could live in this coop via gardenfowl.com 5. "It's Not a Tudor" from houseforhens.co.uk 6. Succulents on the roof remind me of Rome via digginfood.com 7. Because some chickens are outlaws via backyarchickens.com


You bet your Pierogies I'm Polish

As I kid I never really appreciated my heritage. So much of adolescence is about fitting in, and in the WASPy suburb I called home, my Polish surname stuck out like a sore kielbasa among my Mayflower-descended classmates, who were particulary adept in repeating the ethnic jokes their parents picked up at the country club. In my twenties, an ill-fated marriage temporarily whittled some syllables off the backend of my signature, and for that, I felt thankful. I was white-washed, the way I'd always wanted to be. But then came my thirties, otherwise known as the "decade when I stop giving a shit and start enjoying my life." The quest for "sameness" now felt tired and bland.  I had my name back, and I was learning to appreciate the things that made me different, that made me me. All of a sudden, I was enamored with all things Polish. I regret I didn't embrace it sooner, when more of my Polish-speaking relatives were alive. How foolish I was to take for granted the Christenings and anniversaries and weddings I attended as a child, where lavish spreads of succulent sausage adorned banquet tables at the Knights of Columbus hall, and tone-deaf relatives merrily bellowed the verses of "Stolat!"

As both my Polish father and grandfather would say "too old, too soon. Too wise, too late." (I think it rhymes in Polish.)

But really, it's far from too late. Over the past three years, I've been making up for lost time. It has taken me just as long to perfect my pierogie recipe, but (if I say so myself) it was well-worth it. They're so good, they even managed to silence a room full of beer-drunk football fans at a recent playoffs get-together.  A recipe like this is worth keeping to yourself, but these days I'm all about sharing my heritage. So, will I share it with you?

To quote my dear Polish mother, "you bet your pierogies" I will.

Kosakowski Pierogies
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 doz pierogies (about 12 main dish servings)

Ingredients (Dough)
8 oz all purpose flour
4 eggs
8 oz Cabot sour cream*
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water

1.25 lb potatoes, sliced and boiled
2 (heaping) tbs Cabot sour cream*
1 c grated Cabot cheddar*
1 c Cabot ricotta*
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 c chopped onion
*support our farm, use Cabot products!

Prepare dough:
In large bowl (I use a KitchenAid mixer) beat eggs, sour cream, and salt. Gradually add flour. Add warm water in increments to maintain moist consistency of dough. When dough is soft (similar to pizza dough) roll it out to 1/8' thickness.

Prepare filling:
Boil potatoes (peeled or not, your preference) to mashing consistency. In large bowl (preferably mixer) add potatoes, sour cream, cheddar, ricotta, garlic powder, and onion. Mix until smooth.

Cut dough with 1.5" biscuit cutters (the top of a sturdy mug will also do, you just need to make a circle). Fill each circle with filling, fold shut, and crimp closed with a fork. Boil a large pot of water, and drop pierogies into water. When they float to the surface, remove. Freeze or prepare in skillet by sauteeing with butter and onions until lightly browned. Add salt to taste.



Rant: I am NOT a Bumpkin!

image via thecountrymouseinthecity.com
I knew farm life involved struggle. And in many ways, I was prepared: hard work, long days, harsh weather, unpredictable schedules – these are all challenges I knew we’d wrestle.

The struggle I was unprepared to face is a bit more abstract. It’s a matter of perception, deeply rooted within our culture. It’s a problem with how we judge success, and what we consider achievement. It’s based on stereotypes about class and upbringing and rural living.

My struggle has to do with how people view farmers, and very often, the conclusions they draw about me.

I’ll give you an example. I was recently at a party to celebrate a friend’s engagement. Over cocktails, I was introduced to a woman named Carol, an academic type who serves on several local charitable boards. She and I chatted over a drink and parted ways. I nearly forgot about it, until later that week, when I bumped into a former colleague of mine that now works with Carol (let’s call her Angela). The interaction went something like this…

Me: “Hey Angela. Funny running into you here. I actually just met a coworker of yours over the weekend -- Carol.”
Angela: “You know Carol?”
Me: “Yes, I just met her at a mutual friend’s party.”
Angela: “That’s surprising.”
Me: “What’s surprising?”
Angela: “It’s just hard to imagine a party that both you and Carol would be at.”

How am I supposed to interpret this comment? Perhaps in Angela’s mind, I am too busy picking ticks off the livestock to hob knob with the likes of Carol on a Saturday evening. (Also, reality check: Carol is a nice woman, who’s certainly well educated and philanthropic, but she’s not a Kennedy or a Nobel prize winner. She’s a regular person, just like all of us.)

My ego was bruised, as it often is, by these sorts of comments. It’s the same crummy feeling I get when people are surprised to learn my farmer beau went to college, or when some foodie on a mission decides to take out all their frustration about “Big Ag” on us at happy hour.

I know they don’t mean to be hurtful. Before I came into this farming life, I didn’t really get it either. My concept of what it meant to be a farmer was a mash-up of the bearded dudes who peddled artisanal mushrooms at the Union Square Green Market, Old McDonald, and Green Acres reruns. Perhaps I am extra-sensitive to their remarks, because deep down I know I once felt the same way. But I was wrong then, and they are wrong, too.

R is always kind and patient. As for me, I usually force a fake smile and excuse myself, clenching my teeth and fists as I walk away. But here’s what I really want to say to those people, and to the old, closed-minded, cubicle-dwelling version of me:

We are not bumpkins. We are not a movement. We are regular people who work hard and play hard and try to keep the family business alive. Don’t judge our life or our farm based on urban values or trendy ideology that has very little to do with the realities of agriculture. Farms preserve open land, create jobs, and provide food. Farming is hard, honest work, endeavored by passionate, educated, dedicated people. 

I'm trying my best not to care what anyone else thinks. But some days it's a struggle.


Winter Intermission: Botanical Garden Getaway

I have a confession: for as much as I profess to enjoy winter, sometimes a girl needs a break. I am the sort of person who derives pleasure from watching things grow, and winter offers scarce opportunities (in winter of 2010 I successfully cultivated a pooch below my naval, but that is another topic entirely). So when my mother visited recently, the timing was just right for another visit to that tres chic metropolis to the north, Montreal--this time, to city's botanical gardens. I had a hunch roaming the greenhouses would be perfect way to spend some quality mother-daughter time and also satiate my need for greenery and blossoms.

And let me tell you, I was right. Something inside me woke up the moment we set foot inside the glass ensconced balmy paradise. Lush foliage, blossoms blazing like fireworks, and fragrances that put the Saks perfume counter to shame...the winter doldrums didn't stand a chance.

There's at least two solid months (realistically, three in VT) until the first brave crocus pops an eager crown out amid the melting snow drifts. And frankly, for gardeners like me, it's far too long to wait. So why wait? Get your horticulture fix now.

Many metropolitan areas feature botanical gardens. If you haven't visited yours, you are missing out.
Below are links for some botanic gardens across the US. What are you waiting for? Plan a visit!
Georgia - Atlanta Botanical Garden 
New York City - Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
New York State - Buffalo Gardens
DC Metro Area - US Botanic Garden
Illonois - Chicago Botanic Garden
Pennsylvania - Longwood Gardens
Colorado - Denver Botanic Gardens
Florida - Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
New Mexico - Rio Grande Botanic Garden
Missouri - St. Louis Botanical Garden
Ohio - Kohn Conservatory
Wisconsin - Mitchell Park Conservatory
Michigan - Whitcomb Conservatory
Indiana - Foellinger-Freimann Conservatory
Minnesota - McNeeley Conservatory at Como Park
...and of course, let's not forget Montreal


Beating the Winter Blues

Photo by my farmerman, RMC.

When I moved to Vermont, I was forced to adapt to long, dark, cold winters. If you are easily bored and occasionally inclined to get the blues like me, winter can be daunting. But surprisingly, I've grown to love winter in Vermont (seriously!). It took me a little bit of time and effort to figure out how to enjoy the winter, and in the process, I came up with a few tips. They've been helpful to me, so I thought I'd share them. 

What do you do to cope with the winter blues?

Ten Tips for Beating the Winter Blues 

1) Make a list of indoor projects to tackle by the first day of spring. That's right, start your spring cleaning now! Re-paint a room, organize your closets, bag up old clothes and take them to Good Will.While everyone else is busy with spring cleaning in March and April, you can be outside enjoying the weather and the sense of pride you've gained from crossing those projects off your list.

2) Start a supper club. Find a few like-minded friends or couples and take turns hosting. (In Vermont, Potlucks are very popular. Consider asking everyone to bring a dish to share to cut down on work and and expense for the host). The weeks will fly by as your look forward to socializing with friends and trying new recipes.

3) Try a winter sport. Even if the idea of riding a ski lift gives you nightmares, there's plenty of winter sports you might enjoy. Snow-shoeing, tubing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating (outdoors on a pond or indoors at a rink) are all fun and easy to learn. There's nothing like exercise to make you look and feel great, and winter sports are a great opportunity to have fun while burning calories.

4) Plan a getaway. Check travel sites for inexpensive fares to the beach, or simply book a night at a local hotel for the weekend. A change of scenery, however brief, can do wonders to improve your mood.

5) Set goals. Commit to reading the entire opus of your favorite author or testing every recipe in your favorite cookbook. Having goals, lofty or small, will help you feel productive and mark the passage of time.

6) Research and plan for your favorite warm weather activities. I am a huge gardening fan, so when the seed catalogs arrive in January, I get right to work planning my garden. Even if you can't actually do what you love to do outside at the moment, you can enjoy learning more about it. Passionate about hosting barbecues? Start developing your ideal menu for Memorial Day. Love cycling? Start researching new trails in your area to conquer after the thaw. 

7) Relax! Winter is a great excuse to stay indoors and curl up under a blanket. Take it easy! Enjoy the opportunity to sloth around a bit.

8) Splurge on little domestic luxuries. You're going to be inside a lot, so treat yourself to some new throw pillows or scented candles. A few small, inexpensive additions can transform the way you feel about a room.

9) Unplug from social media. It seems counter-intuitive to unplug when you are cooped up inside, but surfing Facebook or Tweeting the day away can drag down your mood. Real, human connection is so important right now. Make an effort to call friends on the phone, rather than messaging them on Facebook. Make a lunch date, rather than tweeting them back. Take the time to connect in person and build relationships

10) Enjoy all that is quintessentially winter. (Also known as "stop and smell the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.") Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. Buy yourself a cute new pair of mittens. Build a snowman. These are things you only get to enjoy this time of year. Celebrate and enjoy them!