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To cap off March is All about Eggs, t! has graciously provided his famous French Toast recipe:

Ingredients

  • Bread. Of course.
  • Eggs. Happy Egg Month! How many eggs you need will depend on the bread’s size and absorbency. Unfortunately, due to inconsistent egg sizes on the part of our girls, and Jan’s pioneer spirit in the adventure of homemade bread making, I haven’t managed to compile any consistent data. For bread slices with the approximate surface area of a CD case, figure 1 egg per 2 slices. Hearty homemade bread absorbs less egg, sad ol’ supermarket white (being mostly empty) absorbs a lot more. Egg bread falls somewhere in between. Try not to use the end slices, since the crusts are not absorbent.
  • Butter. For the pan. I used margarine back when I didn’t know better, but once I discovered the difference I never went back. Oil is not recommended, olive oil actively discouraged.
  • Cinnamon Powder. To taste.
  • Allspice Powder. Kinda like cinnamon, but different enough to be worth adding.
  • Nutmeg Powder. Nice earthy contribution to the flavours.
  • Cardamom Powder. Cools off the sharpness, a perfect complement.

Optional ingredients / variants:

  • Milk. I think recipes only call for milk in the batter so that less eggs will be used, but why on Earth would you want to use less eggs? Plus, it makes the batter thinner, which is not ideal. I use only eggs.
  • Ginger. I’ve found that it’s either not enough or too much, too subtle or jarringly sharp. Unless you’re a big ginger fan, or feeling under the weather, I wouldn’t bother.
  • Goldschlager Cinnamon Schnapps. The result will taste slightly of alcohol, but the advantages are a very nice cinnamon flavour and a bit of caramelising when it cooks. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
  • Fireball Cinnamon-Flavoured Whiskey. A poor substitute for the Goldschlager, this will thin out the batter and not caramelise as nicely.
  • Stone’s Ginger Wine. Combines the thinness of Fireball with the disadvantages of powdered ginger. Instead of putting it in the batter, drink it while you cook; it makes an excellent brunch aperitif.
  • Cocoa Powder. Sprinkle, like the cinnamon powder, rather than adding to batter. Subtle.
  1. GET A BOWL WITH A BIG ENOUGH BOTTOM TO FIT THE BREAD SLICES. Otherwise you wind up having to bend the bread to get it soaked, causing it to crumble into pieces, or leaving certain spots un-battered, grr.
  2. In the bowl, beat the eggs. Make it nice n’ airy.
  3. Heat pan, add butter. While it’s melting…
  4. Add all powdered spices to egg batter, *except* cinnamon. Adjust to your taste. (How do you know what you’ll like? Trial and error, which is awesome because it means you get to eat more French toast!) Stir well. (Cinnamon will not stir properly in, but rather will form sticky balls of attack spice, so we add it later.)
  5. Dip a bread slice in the batter, face down, lift out, allow excess to drain (or not, for a *really* eggy result, as you prefer) and repeat for other face. Place facedown on hot buttered pan. Be careful when you do this, because once the egg hits the pan you don’t really want to move the slice until that side is cooked. You can, but the batter streaks.
  6. Repeat for remaining bread slices. You may want to stir the batter between each slice, because the spices will settle. I just do my battering quickly. And give that extra-yummy last piece to my wife.
  7. Once all bread slices are on pan, powder them with cinnamon. I don’t press them with the spatula at all, because it’s unnecessary and the spatula will lift off the uncooked batter and cinnamon.
  8. After five minutes or so, the edges of the slices will have curled up and away from the pan a bit. Test one of the slices by bumping it sideways with your spatula. If it moves easily, all the batter on that side is cooked. Flip over the slices. You can press them down now if you really want to.
  9. I add more cinnamon here, but it’s up to you. If you do, flip the slices over and press down to cook the cinnamon in before serving.
  10. When the egg on both sides is cooked, you’re done!

Serve with maple syrup. (Not corn syrup. EVER.) You can have jam if you want, but I find the recipe doesn’t really fit well with sweet fruit toppings, personally. I butter the slices on my plate only if I’ve burnt them, but as with most of this recipe, that’s really up to you.

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We lost one.

by t!

Several months ago now, soon after the first significant snowfall of this winter, Janice came in from her morning coop inspection and told me:

“One of the chickens is dead.”

Or words to that effect. I don’t remember the exact phrasing any more, but however it was phrased, the chicken was no longer alive.

This, I quickly learned, was not precisely the case. The chicken was *going* to die, but hadn’t yet. The next few hours would have gone much easier for me and Janice if all we’d had to do was scoop her out and toss her in the composter. Alas.

I wasn’t ready for what I saw when the two of us returned to the coop, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for it anyway. The chicken was sitting down, her head tilted slightly upward due to the pull of a piece of string leading from her mouth to the wall of the coop. The paneling on the inside of the coop was not pure wood; apparently it had a nylon strip running through it (possibly to help bind the wood, I dunno). The strip had been pecked loose, and pulled at, because this is what chickens do.

At some point, this chicken had tried to swallow the string. All she’d managed to do was pull it further out of the wall; it was still attached to the paneling, and now so was the chicken, her jaw slack, a line of blood coating the strip just before it reached her beak and all the way down until it disappeared into her mouth.

The sight was horrifying. The strip must have been pulled out of the panel, almost all the way to the ceiling, through repeated swallows, and when that didn’t work, frenzied and painful jerking. Imagining all that was even more horrifying.

And this was *our* fault. Jan and I had purchased these materials, and these materials had all but killed our chicken, leaving us only the final blow. We’d had no idea this might happen – how could we? But still, there’s no denying this was the wood we had bought, for the chickens we had committed to raising, to caring for. To protecting.

We cut the string from the wall and carried the chicken out. I don’t remember her making any noise; I know she didn’t struggle. She was in shock, I supposed. Outside we took a closer look, the string dangling from the jaw still hanging slack. Not as horrifying now, but still terrible. I couldn’t tell where her tongue was, if it was fine or cut up or stuck to the string. The mass of red could be just blood, or muscle. Or anything else I didn’t want to consider.

Looking at the poor creature, I realised that I had begun to feel an emotional attachment to our chickens. Still not like a pet, but these were the survivors, the ones we were not going to have to kill, so although I didn’t know it I had relaxed the wall of indifference I had needed during the slaughter. I had expected this chicken to live.

Neither of us wanted to kill her. I suggested to Janice that I tug on the string, hoping maybe it would come out easily, without damaging anything internal. Nothing to lose from the chicken’s point of view, right? I gave it a gentle tug, and it moved only a couple of millimeters, taking with it the mass of red which may have been just clotted blood. If that was the tongue, it was stuck.

People asked us afterward, when we related the story, if there was anything else we could have done. “LIKE WHAT?” I wanted to shout at them. Neither of us are bird doctors; tugging on the string had been the only hope of people who are pretty sure they know the outcome, and it’s not the one they want.

The string was stuck. How far, we didn’t know. The extent of the chicken’s suffering, we didn’t know. Best get it over with quickly.

The ground was covered in snow. This included the flat rock I’d been using for all the other executions. I didn’t want to waste time brushing snow away trying to find it, so we went behind the car, where some gravel was visible, the vehicle having provided wind shielding. Janice tied the chicken’s legs, as we usually do, and we placed her under the broomstick as usual, still with no sound, no resistance, and I didn’t want the added guilt of a botched kill, so I took no chances and yanked, making certain of decapitation.

The chicken went into its death throes, flapping its wings furiously – and propelled itself right under the car.

For a few seconds we just looked at the car helplessly, no chicken in sight, the rattling sound of beating feathers and tossed gravel smacking the undercarriage of a Toyota the only sound in the winter morning.

And then I burst out laughing. It was all just perfect black humour, so grisly. Such an amateur chicken-killing mistake, to lose it under a car! The laughter did us good; we needed the release.

Janice caught a glimpse of leg poking out around the back tire and yanked, retrieving the chicken. She let it fall into a snow bank, where it couldn’t go anywhere. It flapped for a bit longer, making a snow angel while its open neck sent a fine red spray into the snow. (The dog loved *that* when it was time for his walk, let me tell you!) In my giddy state, I found that funny, too.

When it was all over, I looked down at the head. The fatal string was there, entering the mouth and disappearing into the head, but then continuing on past where the neck ended for quite a length.

Could we have saved the chicken? I don’t know. But I found it reassuring that the string had penetrated so deeply; it helped me believe we’d made the right call. Considering I’d not expected to do any more slaughtering for ten whole months, for the next few hours my rattled nerves needed all the reassurance they could get.

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by t!

When you raise chickens for meat, the logical endpoint of the raising is, of course, the slaughtering and butchering. And you have two choices about how this will be done: (A) by you, or (B) by someone else. We have decided to kill our chickens ourselves, and the several books we own which describe raising chickens all assume that this is what the reader will be doing. So far, so good.

However, the authors of these books have been raising chickens for quite some time. They enjoy it, they are good at it, and their books are designed to make chicken raising seem both fun and easy enough for anyone to do. The same goes for the slaughtering. It is easy enough, but there are a handful of tiny things that came up which I think deserve a mention, and these books did not quite warn us about.

– We use the broomstick method. What this is, is you lay the head of the chicken on a flat rock, place a broom handle across the back of its skull, place your feet on the handle, one on each side of the head, and yank up on the chicken’s legs. This breaks the chicken’s neck instantly, killing it. If you do it right. If you don’t, you will just damage the chicken horribly, probably paralysing it, but it will still be alive and frightened. Then you will have to pick up the injured terrified animal and kill it a second time. The key word here is to be *decisive.* Kill the chicken, with certainty, on the first try. This isn’t cruel; in fact *failing* is cruel.

– Also, some indication of how hard you should pull on the legs would be nice. If you pull too hard, the head stays behind.

– If you can keep the chicken’s head on when you kill it, afterward while you’re butchering you don’t have to worry about the gizzard spilling its contents out the top of the neck.

– You’ve heard that chickens flap around after they’re dead; everybody hears this. But it needs to be stressed: Chickens really *really* flap around. A lot. Enough such that we were glad the legs were tied so the corpse couldn’t run off down the road.

– The books play down how difficult it is for a caring human being to kill a chicken. One expects that the authors have become used to it, or that they don’t want the readers to think they can’t do it, which is all fair enough. But there should be some warning about the eyes. Once the chicken is dead, do *not* dwell on its eyes.

– Also the books do not warn you about the *feel* of that first chicken. You catch him, pick him up, and hold him steady, ready for the end. Since you rarely get this close to a chicken, you look him over. You’ve done well as a homesteader; he’s a good-looking animal. His chest is warm. You can feel it moving in and out as he breathes. He feels just like a kitty. You want to stroke his belly. Hang on – this is *not* the proper mood for poultricide! You’ll need a few sharp moments to rearrange your perspective and remember that this creature is food. It’s not too difficult to do, but I would have preferred it if I’d been prepared for that moment.

– If you read about killing chickens, you will be told that holding a chicken upside-down by its legs will cause the blood to rush to the chicken’s head, knocking it unconscious and making things easier on you and the chicken. Everybody agrees this will happen. Nobody will tell you how much time it takes for this marvelous passing out to occur. We’ve suspended the chicken and waited patiently; out of 11 chickens not one has ever passed out. But each of us has had a chicken try to escape by bending itself upward and pecking our hands.

– When you are cutting the legs off a chicken, the blade presses into its tendons. This causes the toes to curl. Therefore, when you cut into a chicken’s leg, the dead claws will grab your finger. This is rather startling the first time it happens. The second time, it’s still pretty creepy. I don’t know about the third time. I’ve changed the way I hold the leg.

– You hang chickens upside-down with their carotids cut (or heads missing, depending on how you killed them), to allow the blood to drain out of their bodies. This is better for the meat, and means less mess during innards removal and other butchering. The books all recommend you hang the chicken upside-down for a half hour, but they don’t tell you how much blood should drain out. We had one chicken that looked like it had clotted after two minutes, there was so little blood. But it did not bleed during the butchering. Our last chicken dumped a lot of blood into the pail for its half hour, and then bled some more in our garage, and then bled all over the counter during the butchering. Maybe the books don’t tell you how much blood is normal because it always varies? Perhaps this last chicken bled so much because it was one-third heavier than most of our others. Or maybe it had been taking Aspirin.

– With practice, one gets better at catching chickens. However, it does not get easier. The first ones you catch are the small and slow ones – the losers. The later ones are faster and more clever, plus there are fewer bodies remaining to get in their way when you chase after them. We were down to our last three roosters: The alpha, the second biggest, and the smallest. We decided, naturally, that the smallest should be killed, so that should anything happen to the alpha his replacement would still be a large bird. Well, it turned out the smallest one was also the fastest ever. After five minutes – a very long time when you’re trying to catch one specific chicken and all around you the other dozen are running flapping and shrieking – we gave up on him, and nabbed the second largest. He was *much* slower. Darwin has spoken; the one best able to avoid predators (or farmers) has prevailed.

We call him Speedy.

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Needle and thread

On Tuesday I came home from my regular visit to my father in the nursing home with a half-dozen of his shirts. He hardly has any mobility left, so the nurses/aides have to dress and undress him. I’ve been asked to modify his shirts to make this easier on everyone involved. So I spent a good part of this afternoon slitting the shirts (long-sleeved cotton sweatshirts and polo-style shirts) up the back, stitching a couple of rows of zigzag stitch to reinforce the newly cut edge, and fixing velcro fasteners to the new opening. I also zigzag across the top of the slit, to stop it ripping further. The result looks like this:

shirt

The back opening makes it much easier to feed my father’s long arms into the shirt first, before they pull it over his head. I hope my alterations survive the wash, for a while at least.

I also had some adventures with my window quilts today, and learned a couple of new ways not to accomplish what I was trying to do. Further updates soon.

In other news, t! took this gorgeous picture of the sunrise yesterday morning:

sunrise

And in still other news, we’re meeting another rescue dog this weekend, on Saturday after market. He’s currently being fostered by a couple in Ottawa who have very kindly offered to bring out to our place, so that we can see how he reacts to our cats, and how they react to him. Fingers crossed.

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Some words from The Husband

I go to bed with the sound of coyotes off in the distance, calling.

Morning, dawn, drive to the city through the fog, thick fog, Nature’s version of the 3-second rule is when you can only see 3 seconds in front of you.

This morning I slowed down to watch the wild turkeys cross the road, wondering if it was bad luck they were black, figuring it wasn’t.

Especially when I rounded the corner very slowly, and as a result did not spook the doe and her offspring. She pondered my car for a few moments, then ran off the road into the trees, her fawn following.

I look out the window of the building I’ve been working in for the last seven months, the concrete and steel and glass, and everything looks familiar to me but it no longer means anything. None of it is real.

I live with the coyotes now.

t!

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