lessons learned: country girls and laying hens

This morning, I trudged out in the dark to the chicken coop. I was up earlier than usual so I could get my daughter to school, and I was not yet coherent.  (Believe me, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t lift up thanks for her having a car and a driver’s license.)

I did remember, however, that we’d had such a busy evening last night that I had forgotten to check the egg drawer.  After feeding the girls, I turned the corner and pulled open the drawer to find 2 eggs!

eggsExcitedly, I ran up the driveway, into the house, and over to my daughter’s room.  “We have green eggs!  Daisy is laying green eggs!”  With a half-smile dripping with sarcasm, my aspiring urbanite halfheartedly said, “Yay.” No matter, I embraced my little gift with tenderness and ran upstairs to text Brie.

Brie is the younger sister of my daughter’s boyfriend.  Unlike her brother and my daughter, Brie is all things country–cowboy boots, horses, and nature.  So last winter when she asked if I’d teacher her to raise chicks, I gave it some intentional thought and prayer.

You see, the first round of chickens we had a few years ago were very dear to me.  In many ways they symbolized a noteworthy transition in my life, not only from “gardens” to “farm” but also from dream to reality.  I loved those three girls dearly.

Then the October of their first year with us, I came home to find a raccoon scurrying up the drive.  Needless to say, they had not met a peaceful ending, and I mourned that loss for quite some time.  While the coop sat in our side yard inviting me to consider others for its home, I couldn’t bear the thought of going through that experience again.

Then Brie came along.  A young girl teetering on the edge of tweendom, and she wanted to raise chicks.  The minute she planted the seed, many excuses filled my head and heart. Did I have time?  Did I want another responsibility?  How could we do it this time with dogs in our home?

In the end though, I realized that all the reasons I gave myself were just means of protecting myself from the possibility of sadness and loss again. What I came to appreciate in this self-reflection was that I had grown in my awareness of the circle of life and of myself.

And so, by April 3, we had baby chicks.

The last several months have been delightful as I’ve observed not only Brie, but also my daughter and her boyfriend take ownership of these new feathered friends.  In turn, the hens have come to trust us, in spite of two yapping dogs, and they will follow us around the yard or allow strangers to feed them close at hand.

But there is something about the first egg from Scout and the first egg from Daisy that have stopped me in my tracks to lift up a bit of thanksgiving–not only for being a part of this little bit of creation but also for a tween “country girl” who dared to dream.

tomatoes: dehydrating or drying for summer year ’round

There is nothing I like more than throwing a handful of sundried tomatoes into a dish to add a bit of tangy punch and a little bit of summer.  Tonight, I wandered out to the tomato and pepper bed, rounded the corner, and ta-dah!  The sundrying tomatoes are ripening!  Start your (dehydrating) engines and sterilize the Mason jars–it’s time to start drying.

A couple of years ago, I got fed up paying so much money for dehydrated tomatoes in the store when I knew I could do it myself.  I will admit, I do not actually “sun dry” mine.  I bought a relatively affordable and effective dehydrator and started making my own dried tomatoes.  I like to slice them thinly so they almost become crunchy.  No worries though–once I bake, saute, or cook them, they soak up moisture and taste just like they did in July.

produce.yellow roma tomatoes

Some quick tips for dehydrating/drying tomatoes:

  • Using a tomato grown for drying makes the process much easier.  I have been using Amish Paste and Principe Borghese from my favorite seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com).    They are both very flavorful and are great for other recipes that require a tomato with less juice and more “meat.”  They are also a great size for slicing and drying–small enough to stay together to make beautiful circles which look lovely baked in an omelet or stirred into pasta.
  • Tomatoes will shrink.  If you want a decent amount of dried tomatoes to get you through fall and winter, make sure you plan for several visits to the garden/market and even more trips to the dehydrator.
  • I prefer a dehydrator because you can control the temperature and air circulation so that the tomatoes dry evenly.  My dehydrator with four trays usually dries thinly sliced tomatoes overnight (8-12 hours); the thicker the tomato slice, the longer the dry time.
  • Seeding the tomatoes will help them dry more quickly.
  • Since I slice mine thinly, I don’t remove the skins.  Some people prefer to, but I find that they cook just fine and the texture and flavor are fine with me.
  • Do spray the dehydrator trays with a thin coat of oil or coking spray.  It will make removal much, much easier.  Believe me and my fingernails–dried tomatoes can be a bit like bamboo shoots if you end up scraping them off the trays.
  • Let the tomatoes cool all the way before packaging.

There are several methods for packing and storing dehydrated tomatoes.  The primary goal is to keep them dry until you are ready to rehydrate–the last thing you want to find is mold or some other creature taking over your delicious goodies.  Some suggested packaging:  zip-top bags, stuff and seal bags, containers with lids, and my personal favorite–Mason jars.  As a precaution, I sterilize my jars, either in a boiling water bath or in the dishwasher, then let them air dry.


Now that you’ve dried and stored your tomatoes, what to do with them?   Some of my favorites:

  • For breakfast, I make an omelet or egg souffle with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
  • I throw a cup into marinara sauce and soup (homemade or store bought) to add texture and flavor.
  • I bake them in bread dough with basil and parmesan cheese for gift-giving.
  • I add some into a crock pot with chicken, garlic, onion, and herbs for a quick dinner on an autumn eve.
  • I add to dips for color and flavor.

So now that you know the ins and outs of drying tomatoes, give it a try–your wallet and your recipes will thank you!

lessons learned: tomato cages and friendship

The past couple of months, I have experienced the unconditional care and support of friends.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find people who take you as you are. I consider it “grace” when they experience it all, love on you, and accept you in all your brokenness anyway.

I am reminded of this meditation from 3 summers ago and wanted to repost it as an expression of gratitude.  ~cameron

Last night, a handful of us headed over to the community garden at our church. You see, our woman’s group decided to become the seed planters, literally and figuratively speaking, for a new ministry with and in the community.  It is a “baby step” project with commitment, faith, and dreams that will carry it beyond this first year of poor soil, weeds and groundhogs.

My goal last night was to create chicken wire cages to prop up the tomato plants heavy with fruit.  You see, we’ve had rain the last few days, and if you know anything about tomatoes, all that water creates food filled with juice.  Between Saturday and yesterday, the plants appeared to be heavy in mind, body and spirit calling out to me, “Help!”tomatoes SUMC

I was the first to arrive and began working on the project on my own, and not so effectively I might add.  If you’ve never unrolled chicken wire, it can be a doozie to keep straight without the help of another person.  That statement doesn’t even capture what it’s like to cut it in pieces.  They snap off, flying every whicha way so that my legs this morning look as if our cat used my body for her scratching post.

After a bit, however, a friend arrived.  Yay!  In no time, we were working together to unroll, cut, and place the cages then tie up the tomatoes with twine.  With the help of two other women and two budding little farmer girls, we steadied 32 plants by the end of the evening.

Before we left, I stood at the edge of the garden.  I thought about those tomato cages and how they are like friendship.

Sometimes, life showers us with situations that leave us heavy in mind, body and spirit.  We become droopy and fatigued, wondering if we can bear the weight of it all.  Then come our friends.  They can’t take away the burden, but they gather around us and prop us up–through kind words, gentle hugs, quiet reassurance, and mindful prayer, helping us to grow and blossom and lighten our load.