Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cooking up a storm today

Free from study at last, I have spent most of today cooking.  While studying I became keenly aware of what I missed most: cooking, gardening, sewing. All creative pursuits rather than analytic.

The sun has just come out, but earlier it was raining so I opted for cooking not gardening. I like cooking on a Sunday as it makes the working week so much easier when good food is ready to eat on the run.

After eating nothing but store bought bread for months I set the bread machine to dough to make plaited herb bread. I cut the dough into four proportions, rolled each flat and spread a mix of dried thyme, chilli and olive oil, and then rolled into a long sausage.  It was very easy to twist two long rolls together. I left the plaits on top of the warm stove until more than doubled in size, then into the oven.  They smell wonderful. 

A couple of months ago I bought a cute pan to make 8 small loaves.  At first I didn't know what I'd use it for, but I bought it anyway ;)  Since then I have been making individual serves of zucchini slice: today's version includes zucchini, carrot and potato, a little grated cheese and slivered almonds on top.

I experimented with pumpkin and corn muffins too. Starting with a basic, unsweetened muffin recipe I added corn scraped straight off the cob and mashed pumpkin.  They look good don't you think?
These savoury loaves will be great for lunch with salad, or with a poached egg for breakfast.  I swapped ordinary flour for gluten-free, high protein besan (chick pea) flour to lessen my reliance on wheat and add nutrition. Add baking powder to make it self-raising and you can use it any recipe.  You'll find chickpea flour in health food stores or Indian grocery suppliers.

I haven't been eating cakes and biscuits so I miss baking them. I have baked some tiny muffins using honey, blueberries, strawberries, and buckwheat flour. These muffins are not very sweet and so tiny even eating 2 is significantly smaller than an ordinary muffin. A nice little treat! Besides I am taking these to work tomorrow to share.

Friday, February 1, 2013

One of our chickens died this week

We lost our Scarlet on Thursday. We are very sad. Taking on animals you know little about is a challenge and a risk. It involves a steep learning curve, lots of love and fun and a few heartbreaks. The heartbreaks are so wrenching: for me they involve so many feelings of failure, inadequacy and guilt. I keep on keeping on though. After indulgent wallowing for a while I usually pick up, decide its worth it and plunge in again. That's not to say I'm reckless, not when an animal is depending on me, I just have never entirely given in to the 'it's not worth it" feelings.

When I discovered Scarlet was sick my neighbour kindly offered to put her down for me as I clearly couldn't do it.  I declined though as I needed to make sure I tried everything to save her. The next morning I did take her to the vet and she was put down humanely. I am glad I went down this path because I now know it wasn't my fault she was sick and I learnt a lot which I will share here in the hope that it may help others.

But firstly a little about Scarlet. She was a lovely little white hen, although ended up a sort of dirty orangey colour because we have red soil here that stains everything. She, along with Scully and Kate came to live with us just a year ago at 20 weeks old, point of lay. She lay little white eggs - always easy to tell from the others'.  She was a very quiet, even tempered little thing, never one to make a fuss. And she loved green leaves of any sort. She would sneak into the vegie garden and eat still growing celery leaves or come running at full tilt when I hung a bunch of leaves in the coop. The other girls ate them but not ever with the passionate enjoyment of Scarlet. Aah sorry, making myself teary again. You know at the end of the day, for us, backyard chickens are pets. They give us eggs, convert scraps into fertiliser but also keep us entertained with  their clucking, their dashing around and derring do. Just the other day Kate, who is quite tall, had had enough of Benny the dog sniffing around her, lifted herself up, spread her wings and chased him right across the yard.    
Scully has an amazing set of lungs and always something to say.

So, what happened to Scarlet.

On Wednesday evening I went to lock them up for the evening and Scarlet wouldn't go into the coop with the others. She dashed all over and just refused vehemently. Not like her. As I was chasing her I noticed she had a prolapsed vent, not good. I won't go into gruesome detail, if you are concerned and want to know more check this link. Essentially the inner part of her bottom popped out. I brought her inside, cleaned her up, followed instructions to pop the prolapse back in and kept her in a box in the bathroom all night. The next morning the prolapse was visible again and her tummy was red hot. Vet time.

Sometimes prolapses can be fixed but not for Scarlet. The verdict was a systemic health issue, most probably cancer. Poor little thing, there was no saving her.

So what did I learn: birds don't show they are sick until the situation is dire.
Modern commercial breeds are often developing cancers as they are bred to produce lots of eggs and be culled at a young age.
I hadn't gone for heirloom breeds because I don't want a rooster or to breed my own chicks but apparently there are lots of older breeds that are not classified as heirloom, are hardy and long-lived, better for pets and for sooks like me who love them. So one day I will find a breeder and bring a different type of chook home to live with us.

Meanwhile I will look after Scully and Kate as best I can.

Goodbye Scarlet and thanks!


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