Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last minute nest boxes: what should have been an easy project

Making a nest box from an old crate
What I've learned about chickens is they are happy anywhere. They need no special accommodations, they don't care if their roosts are the exact 24 inches off the ground, they don't care if they are laying eggs in a corner with hay or in an old milk crate. They want food, water and to run around the backyard when you let them. When building our first coop I took months planning all the details. The roosts were to exact specification, the nest boxes exactly 12 inch squares and exactly 12 inches off the coop floor. Only to find out they prefer to be on the branch outside of the beautiful house we built them and go in only on the coldest of nights. For our second set of chickens I stuck to the basics.

Our second set of chickens were supposed to be the 'eating kind' with exception of maybe 2-3 I was going to move in with my laying hens so I only had to maintain one coop. It turns out it is mentally harder to process a hen than a rooster, especially after they have started laying eggs. With the roosters we processed them according to their character; the pushiest was the first to go and in a way we always felt like we were doing the flock a favor. But the hens are so pretty and petite and are just starting to provide eggs. Maybe it's women's rights, who knows, but I have 10 hens now. 10 hens do not all fit in one coop so I had to make some modifications to accommodate the now laying hens in the second coop. I was using a milk crate filled with straw, but they kept knocking it over. I really needed some permanent nest boxes. The husband has been busy so I took this task on myself. Hear me roar.

I knew the old wooden crates I had would work perfect and save me a bunch of time. I cut a strip of plywood to screw along the front to keep the straw and eggs in as the hens are going in and out. Easy. So far, so good. I even pre-drilled the holes I was going to use to screw the crate to the coop wall so I didn't split the old wood on the crates and was feeling very accomplished early on. Camera in hand to document this great achievement, I grabbed my supplies and crawled in the coop. I held the crate against the wall where I wanted it to hang; the bottom of the crate was about 6 inches from the top of the pine bedding. It was an awkward position to be in - I didn't really want to sit right down and get comfortable since I was squatting in chicken poop, but my noodle arms were already strained from the few seconds of holding the crate in place. I got the screw out of my pocket, dropped it in the shavings, dug around, gave up and got another one out. Holding the crate to the wall, I placed the screw in my pre-drilled hole, put the drill up to it and gave it all I had. Nothing. The drill bit spun and the screw turned but the screw wasn't really going anywhere. I figured it must be really dense wood and I had to put some weight in it. Still feeling good about my accomplishments thus far my language and attitude were still in high spirits "golly, this construction stuff is tough." I set the crate down to give my shaking arm a quick break and tried the screw driver again; it sounded like it should be working and yet, when I let go of the crate it was not attached to the wall and my screw dropped and disappeared forever into the poopy shavings. Feelings of appreciation for my husband overcame me, his big strong arms specifically designed for holding crates and successfully screw driving (see, I don't even know proper terminology) at the same time. But I am woman, and I will complete this small construction task without asking for help. Pretty much forgetting about the fact that the shavings I was now completely kneeling in were laced with poop, I held everything in place, got out another screw and became aware of my language starting to turn on me a little, "dammit you better work this time." Same thing. There was a small hole developing in the wall of the coop where I was drilling, but nothing significant and the crate is definitely not holding. "M*%#$ *#&%*#." Hat's off, gloves are off, sweat breaking on my forehead at this point. "Son of a *#$%#%#$%." It's just a nest box! A NEST BOX! How will I ever succeed in life if I can't even screw a crate to a wall?! And then I realized I had the screw driver going the wrong way. It was set to take screws out, instead of screw them in. The project was done with ease after that little issue was settled. And making 2 nest boxes out of old crates is a fun and easy project.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Easy Crock Pot Pozole

Pork and hominy stew. As I like to call it a hot pork salad.

Nothing is as beautiful on your table as the fixings for an authentic Mexican dish. The condiments alone provide the colors of a warm summer day; red radishes cut so the center looks like a flower, bright green cilantro, the baby grass yellow/green of a ripe avocado, my palette is about to be transported to a better place than this cold cold Michigan winter that finally settled upon us.

I have not had this dish in so long mostly because I refuse to eat pork that was not raised humanely. Well watch out omnivores, I'm back! (well, 10% of the time anyway) I have a freezer stocked with the most delicious pork this earth can provide: my mothers pampered and spoiled Duroc/Hampshire hogs fed a steady diet of pineapple, cantaloupe, apples, acorns and tomatoes. You are what you eat, and in this case these hogs are a sweet, luscious, fat layered goodness most will only ever imagine. Anyway, I have this pork now and I can make pork dishes without as much guilt. That was my point.

Pozole is a word not often heard in southern Michigan, and that's a damn shame. This stuff is so easy and good. I'll give you the recipe for how I made mine and I'm sure those who are lucky enough to have a recipe passed down from generations would beg to differ, but its such a simple recipe you can add in your own pieces of flair as you like. It's pretty much broth, hominy and pork. And you top it as you like.

This pan looks better than my crock pot, so I put it in
this one to serve it. LOVE the enameled dutch oven.
So, my parents were coming into town and I wanted to make something special and different and my mind has had the hamsters running full time to power all the brain cells that have been drooling over the craving for Pozole lately. Perfect. I un-thawed a shoulder roast about the size of both of my fists put together kinda like I was playing 'here is the church and here is the steeple, open the door to see all the people' - do this away from others, your sanity may be questioned. We had an Ann Arbor day planned so I put the roast in the crock pot with a large can of hominy, I used Juanitas Hominy because their hominy isn't bleached and they don't add sulfites, added 2 bay leaves, a few loosely chopped garlic cloves and about a quart of chicken broth and a quart of water, just enough to make sure the entire roast is covered. My broth had salt and pepper in it, if yours doesn't you should consider adding some. Crock pot turned on high and we were off for the day.

Six hours later we were back and I considered the Pozole done. No one was really hungry because we stopped at Zingerman's Roadhouse for lunch, but I was force feeding them anyway because I made this great dinner and they were going to eat it dammit. I set the table with sliced radishes, shredded white cabbage, chopped cilantro, avocado chunks, lime wedges, sour cream, hot sauce, yellow corn tortillas warmed in the pan and tortilla chips. No cheese. This is not a cheese dish. I actually refused to put it on the table when it was requested. Not all Mexican food is smothered in cheese.

A well seasoned cast iron always
works best for warming tortillas
I served each bowl with a small piece of pork, a ladle of hominy and a enough broth to make it all float around. Each person was to top their Pozole with whatever condiments they chose, but the lime was required. Pozole isn't Pozole in my mind if you didn't squeeze lime on it. Everyone at the table was skeptical and they didn't have to say it for me to see it in their eyes. This meal was being forced upon them and they had no other options. Don't fight it people, you'll thank me later.

And thank me they did. Everyone had at least two servings, and the second helping wasn't even being forced. My mom couldn't believe how light the meal felt with the citrus of the lime and fresh taste of cilantro, yet filling at the same time. The skepticism in their eyes soon turned to satisfaction. The husband even had leftovers later it was so damn good. You're welcome.

Easy crock pot pozole - apparently with camera string soaking up juices

Ingredients list and a brief how-to:
  • small pork shoulder roast
  • large can of hominy
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-3 bay leaves
Combine all of these ingredients into either a crock pot or stock pot. Cook until pork is very tender. Serve in soup bowls with any/all of the following condiments - but lime is required and traditionally so is shredded white cabbage and cilantro.
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro
  • sliced radishes
  • sour cream or Mexican crema
  • avocado
  • diced white onion
  • diced tomatos
  • jalapenos 
  • hot sauce
  • corn tortillas
  • tortilla chips
No cheese.