Here it is, the world’s most dramatic December Menu Challenge ever! I think this one is going to be super fun, even allowing for the failures that are bound to happen when we consider holiday festivities.
Consumed for the rest of the November Menu Challenge (bold = things that complied with the rules, italics = failures):
November 20: Pumpkin Soup (recipe) (This is still one of my favorite foods of all time.)
November 21: frozen pizza (Oops, but Ben had a test that day (he’s taking a math class, which is super great if by “super great” I mean terrible) and didn’t feel like making tacos.)
November 22: tempeh reubens (recipe) (more details about what I did) (This is one of the best things I’ve ever had.)
November 23: vegetarian pepperoni pizza (pepperoni recipe here)
November 24: Greek salad
November 25: Cumin Lime Quinoa Black Bean Salad (recipe) (We liked this so much we made it again to take to Friendsgiving.)
November 26: Rigatoni with Black Bean Chipotle Sauce (recipe)
November 27: Roasted Tomato Soup (recipe) (Very good, very rich. A nice way to use tomatoes that aren’t beautiful, and the Vitamix really does obliterate the tomato skin and seeds. Ben wanted to serve it over pasta.)
November 28: Friendsgiving (We brought Cumin Lime Quinoa Black Bean Salad, stuffing (recipe), and cinnamon ice cream (recipe) (So good, even for my first attempt at custard-based ice cream).)
November 29: Okay, we had our family Thanksgiving feast, featuring stuffing (we made enough for Friendsgiving and this), Tofurky, Quorn Turk’y Roast, gravy, some roasted veggies, and leftover ice cream. I still owe Ben a pumpkin pie.
November 30: sausage, pepper, and onion pizza (We use Upton’s Naturals Italian Seitan, which is so good we’re going to open a pizza place and put it on our sausage pizzas and even meat eaters will be like holy shit this is amazing.)
So this was super fun! In fact, we liked the menu challenge so much we’re doing it again in December! Details soon!
Check out this gross forecast, which has been making me spend 90% of my waking minutes worrying about the chickens. So I’ve been doing a lot of research about how to take care of chickens when it’s really cold out.
The good news is that assuming you have cold-hardy breeds (there’s a selection of these here), your chickens should be okay without heat. All of our chickens are cold hardy (in fact, Josephine, the red star, hates the heat of summer).Here are my tips (and please remember that I’m no expert on this — I haven’t cared for chickens in winter yet):
- Make sure your coop has ventilation but no drafts. Ventilation is super important because without it, humidity will build up and this can lead to frostbite.
- Do what you need to do to make sure their water doesn’t freeze. (We use a water heater — this one, no affiliate link.)
- Add extra bedding to the coop.
- Feed chickens cracked corn right before they go to sleep.
- Apply petroleum jelly to combs and wattles, especially if they’re big. (I think our Delaware will need this for sure.)
- If you really, really want to add a little heat, fill a bucket with hot water, cover (so you don’t create humidity), and put in the coop or consider a microwavable pet warmer. (I think Sadie might need one of these.)
- Finally, remember that if you have a nice, insulated chicken coop, your chickens should be fine even if it gets really, really cold. They are wearing down coats, after all.
- Also! Collect eggs frequently so they don’t freeze and crack.
Ben and I aren’t big shoppers and we’re certainly not people who shop on Black Friday. But we did shop today. We went to an awesome little homebrewing shop out in Lakewood (Tom’s Brew Shop) to get our mutual Christmas gift: a homebrewing equipment starter kit and a kit to make a batch of double IPA. We decided that our Christmas gift to each other would be homebrewing. Now that the chickens are all settled in, we need a new project and homebrewing seems like a good one.
Because we were out west in the suburbs, where we rarely venture, we figured it was a good time to hit up some breweries in Golden. We went to Mountain Toad Brewing and Golden City Brewery. They were both awesome. Mountain Toad has the usual Denver brewery vibe, with an awesome outdoor area where food trucks pull in and people were hanging out with kids and dogs (today there was a barbecue truck that had, in addition to the usual meat stuff, tofu tacos and awesome homemade potato chips with super-yummy dipping sauce). Golden City also has an awesome outdoor area where people were hanging out with kids and dogs. It’s a super-chill and fantastic atmosphere. The brewery is behind the owners’ house and the beer garden is their backyard. (How cool is that? Would you come to a brewery in our backyard because that seems like it could be possible.) Their Evolution IPA is one of the best beers I’ve had in a while.
It was so nice to see all the people hanging out with their babies and little kids at breweries in Golden. Golden is awesome because it’s a suburb but it has more of a mountain town kind of vibe, with a super-cute downtown area and the benefit of being surrounded by mountains, which means every time you look around, you see something really pretty (although FYI the way they try to pass it off in Coors commercials is a total lie). I’d almost live there.
One thing I’ve noticed about living in a hipster (or becoming hipster) neighborhood is that things aren’t always so child friendly. My guess is that our neighborhood, if it continues to go in the direction it’s been going, will be very child friendly in about 10 years, when we won’t really care about that kind of thing any more because our kid will be a teenager doing teenager things. It’ll be like the second coming of the Highlands. And then we’ll hate it and have to move.
You have to listen to this (it’s a Soundcloud thing and I hope you can see it).
A long time — maybe two years? — ago, Ben, Soren, and I had dinner at the Vine Street Pub. One of the items on the menu intrigued me — it was a tempeh Reuben. I’d never had a Reuben in my life and honestly the idea of it terrified me, if it’s okay for me to admit I’m such a delicate flower I can be terrified by the thought of a sandwich. I don’t like 1000 island (except on the rare vegetarian Big Mac) (When I was a kid, my mom always put 1000 island on her salads. It was typically the only dressing we had in the house. I thought it was gross and, as a result, thought I didn’t like salad. Then I went to college and discovered ranch.) I don’t like sauerkraut and in fact hadn’t touched the stuff since my mom made me as a kid (although to its credit, sauerkraut was never as bad as the times my mom made me eat smoked butt and cabbage; I am traumatized forever). But somehow, the idea of combining all the weird-ass shit you combine to make a Reuben intrigued me. I almost ordered it but then didn’t, and the thought of a Reuben dissipated in the ether of my brain.
Until earlier this month, when I was thinking about sandwiches, what with sandwich Friday and all. At first I was going to make samosa sandwiches but then I was all hm, I love carbs but there’s a chance a combination of bread and potatoes is going to piss me off. Hey wait what about Reubens? So I put Reubens on the calendar for today and I shit you not I looked forward to it all week, which is solid verification of the fact that my life is not very exciting. (My latest thing is thinking about how, because I arguably could do my job anywhere, we should move to Uruguay. I am very serious about this.)
I figured that, because Ben and I have never even had a Reuben, we should follow a recipe. I found one that looked decent (here) and we pretty much followed it. Instead of 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, I used one tablespoon of tamari and 1 tablespoon of Bragg’s liquid aminos (this turned out to be too salty, even for me; this might be because our sauerkraut was on the salty side). Ben made his own 1000 island (mayo, ketchup, relish).
I made this rye bread (I just throw all the stuff in the bread machine in the morning before leaving for work and set the timer so the bread will be done when we need it) and we used some super-fancy sauerkraut we got with our organic produce delivery (the “classic caraway” variety from here), Organic Valley baby Swiss, and the called-for Lightlife smoky tempeh (one thing to know if you make this — the tempeh will break into a million pieces while you cook it but this doesn’t matter).
Now comes more bad food photography but I don’t even care. These are so good I want to eat them every day for the next month, at least. It’s so weird that you can take a bunch of stuff I don’t particularly like and combine it into the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever had. It’s like magic sandwich physics or something.
Here’s part of a paragraph from the book I’m reading (Drop City by T.C. Boyle):
She’d always believed in the kind of probity that comes of sparseness and the ascetic lifestyle, and she’d kept her Anchorage apartment free of the clutter and kitsch that dominated her friends’ places — the soapstone and walrus tusk carvings, the polished caribou racks, taxidermy displays and native scenes in birchbark frames, not to mention the stereos and Crock-Pots and closets full of shoes, handbags, cableknit sweaters and beaded mukluks. Things oppressed her. Man-made things, trinkets and gizmos and the newest and the latest, all the incalculable piles of junk every good red-blooded American needed to survive. She wasn’t buying into it, and she never had. What she admired was the kind of self-sufficiency of the early prospectors who thought nothing of going out for a month at a time with little more than a gun, a length of fishing line, a sack of rice, six ounces of salt and some loose tea in a tin. Strip it down to the basics. Live off what the land gives you.
Traditionally, I’ve been the person stocking up on handbags and the current-day equivalent of beaded mukluks. I’m the daughter and granddaughter of shoppers.
But I want to be more like this woman from the novel (except for the gun and fishing line part, of course). I’m working on it, in two parts: (1) declining to obtain more stuff; and (2) getting rid of some stuff I’ve already obtained.
Stripping it down to the basics seems to go against the very nature of our society these days, but that’s what makes it more appealing to me. Declining to partake in stuff-oriented culture is, like organic gardening, almost a subversive act. I dig that.
One thing to know about chickens is that when it gets dark, they don’t go anywhere. If it’s dark and you put a chicken somewhere, that’s where she’ll stay until it’s light enough for her to see in the morning.
Another thing to know about chickens is that they go to bed on their own. When it’s time — which is when it’s almost dark but still just light enough for them to see — they’ll go to their roost and snuggle in for the night.
Normal chickens (if there is such a thing) sleep inside their chicken coops. Ours did this at first. But for a while now they’ve been sleeping on their outdoor roost (seen in the above picture). Of course, the “outdoor roost” wasn’t intended as a roost at all — it was just supposed to be a nice high place for them to hang out and see what’s going on in the yard (and now that the foliage is gone for the fall, the neighbors’ yard). And it turns out a nice high place for them to hang out is a super-awesome roost.
This used to freak me out and the first night they tried to go to sleep outside we ran out there, wielding the camping lantern, and rounded them up and deposited them into the coop before shutting the door behind them. But then I consulted backyardchickens.com and found out that, as long as your chickens are in a predator-proof run (ours are), there’s really no reason to worry about them sleeping outside.
One night it rained and Ben and I put some sort of tarp over the top of the run to keep the ladies dry. Other than that, sleeping under the stars has been delightful, as far as we can tell.
But tonight it’s supposed to get cold (temperatures in the 20s!) and rain and then snow. So I spent the day at the office being exceptionally productive editing a 37-page article while also worrying about making it home in time to put the chickens to bed indoors. (I haven’t complained about standard time yet this year, even though I have a new reason to hate it: the chickens go to bed too early!)
It’s easy enough to get chickens to do what you want them to do. They’re like dogs and respond to the loving sound of your voice and, as you might have guessed, food. So I took a little scratch (we’re almost out so it wasn’t much), opened the chicken coop door, talked to the chickens, and poured the scratch into their food dispenser.
They all came running into the coop and were super excited until they saw that there wasn’t all that much scratch in the food dispenser. Before I was able to lower the chicken door, they all ran back out to the run. (Our chicken door is raised and lowered with a retired extension cord and it takes a minute to get it going. You obviously have to be careful not to squish anybody with the door.)
I went back to the coop and jiggled the food dispenser until they all came running in again and then sped back to close the chicken door before they could escape again. This time it worked.
And then I sat around feeling bad about trapping them in there. Not that they care — it’s dark and they can’t go anywhere anyway. And I’m sure I feel less bad than I’d feel seeing them outside, covered with snow, late at night.
Consumed so far this month of the November Menu Challenge (bold = things that complied with the rules, italics = failures):
November 1: nachos (What else can you eat after a Day of the Dead thing?)
November 2: pasta (We had dinner with friends who brought pasta and figured that was a good excuse.)
November 3: breakfast burritos (Planned cheat day.)
November 4: Tempeh Chimichurri (recipe) (You should make this now.)
November 5: Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese (recipe) (Very good!)
November 6: Beer Cheese Soup (recipe) (Without the bacon, of course. This recipe isn’t a keeper — flavor was good but texture was not and I followed the directions exactly but for the bacon.)
November 7: faux chicken tacos with roasted tomatillo salsa (salsa recipe)
November 8: veggie cheesesteak sandwiches (made with Tofurky roast beef style deli slices, onion, mild green chiles from the garden, veggie bouillon, and Swiss because that’s what we had, on homemade French bread)
November 9: pizza with cheddar and fresh oregano
November 10: salad with ranch and buffalo faux chicken (ranch recipe here, but I’ll have to post a new recipe for this soon because Ben has improved it)
November 11: frozen pizza (We had good intentions but after drinking all afternoon, nobody wanted to cook.)
November 12: the fajitas we were supposed to have yesterday (Didn’t want the veggies to go bad. Not sure whether to call this a success or failure so it’s neutral.)
November 13: Potato Leek Soup (recipe from Totally Vegetarian, added Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, tamari, and — this is key — smoked sea salt; next time would add veggie bacon)
November 14: Curry Tofu Tacos (recipe) (OMG make these now — they are so good. I would’ve never thought to combine any of these things/flavors and it’s honestly mindblowingly awesome. Your house will smell like curry for days and you won’t even care.)
November 15: grilled cheese sandwiches (low-tech, with American singles (granted the fancy organic kind) on homemade French bread)
November 16: 3-pepper pizza (mozzarella, cheddar, green pepper, jalapeno, green chile)
November 17: salad with ranch and no faux chicken, plus arugula (Was supposed to be Greek salad but the ranch was still good — better to use than waste. This was slightly different from the salad with ranch we had a week earlier so I say it counts.)
November 18: Red Lentil Thai Chili (recipe) (Very good but kind of missing something? My guess is tamari??)
November 19: baked mostaccioli with ricotta and mozzarella
I’d give us, what, a B if I were grading this, which I’m not because grading yourself is totally weird. We’ve done pretty well and, this is super dorky, but the challenge has made me more excited about cooking and has made us try a lot of new stuff, including the soups and the tofu tacos, which are so good. And we’ve only had one frozen pizza so far this month.
The glaring omission from this menu challenge is: egg-related dishes. We’ve been eating frittatas and omelets every Sunday for lunch and are nowhere near keeping up with the ladies’ production. If I can talk Ben into doing this again next month, one day will be for breakfast/egg dishes.