Sunday, December 30, 2007

Winter Squash Wonderland

Thanks to some wonderful starts from the the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center's plant sale we had an incredible bounty of big beautiful Winter squash. There were blue and green Hubbards, Red Kuri, a Big Max pumpkin growing out into the street, Butternuts under every squash leaf and hanging over the fence, and the spectacular Musque de Provence of which the largest weighed 65 pounds and had to have a party thrown in its honor.

As we watched the Musque de Provence growing all Summer we kept thinking "How are we going to store that thing once we cut into it?" When we finally harvested it the only option was to do as the French do at their farmer's markets and part it out. We invited all of our squash-loving friends over for dinner and didn't let them leave without a piece of the squash.

Musque de Provence Soiree

Back to the Musque de Provence....

Borrowing a copy of PATRICIA WELLS AT HOME IN PROVENCE the inspired chef of the ol' homestead got cooking. On the menu for the evening was a Winter Pistou containing a few pounds of Hubbard Squash, garlic, onions, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes. parsley and thyme all grown here in the garden. It is a wonderful soup including white and red beans, leeks, parsnips and topped with grated Gruyere cheese. From the same cookbook he prepared a Turnip and Cumin Puree and a Celery Root Lasagna. Off the top of his head he came up with a quinoa dish with fresh rosemary, a kitchen-concocted Moroccan style herb blend and sausage made of duck, figs and brandy (found at the Marin Farmer's Market and made in Hayward, probably from Liberty Ducks of Petaluma). Whew!

When people arrived they were invited to sample family-made wines, homestead-made hard ciders and local cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery, Cypress Grove and Vella. Along with bread from Petaluma's own Della Fattoria Bakery.

For dessert we served Persimmon Pudding from locally gleaned persimmons and our own ducks' eggs, pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins for the kids and Sebastopol's own Taylormaid Coffee with cream from Petaluma's own Clover Dairy.

Everyone went home with a wedge of Musque de Provence which smelled like a Honeydew melon!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Duck Season! Chicken Season!

We just found out why the salad bed looks like it has had ducks foraging in it. It's because ducks have been foraging in it! They found a way to squeeze through the remesh pea trellis and have their way with the chard and the lettuces. Everything else they leave alone- collards, romanesco, broccoli, kales, onions, mustards, tatsoi, arugula, mizuna, cilantro, cabbages, sugar snap peas.... What a quacking commenced when they realized they'd been found out! It clearly translated to "It wasn't me! I swear!". They were then put back to work on the outside of the drift fence surrounding the 'off limits' bed to gobble up sow bugs, earwigs, slugs and snails.

With the exception of this incursion we have throughly enjoyed this breed of backyard duck. Khaki Campbells seem to be a perfect size for the urban homestead. They are happy with a tub of fresh water to bathe in, a pan of chicken mash and scratch with crushed oyster shell to nibble on and free range of the entire backyard. They put themselves to bed at night in an old dog house outfitted with nest boxes and dry hay for bedding. We lock the dog house door each night for their safety. They are a whole lot less work than the chickens who have to be confined (bunch of teenagers that they are) because they'll trash the place otherwise.

I came out to the yard the other day to find the chickens had been let out. "Oh Great!" I thought, "What have they destroyed now?". I found that my neighbor had enlisted the chickens and the ducks to work the compost into the garden bed he had just amended for winter. The chickens were scratching and the ducks were dabbling. They were just doing what they do naturally.

Even though the days are getting shorter the ducks keep laying their eggs right on schedule. The chicken eggs are petering out slowly. The two Araucanas and the Barred Rock are taking turns slacking off. One day it will be two blue eggs (Araucana) and no brown (Barred Rock ). Then, the next day it will be one brown and no blues. With the abundance of wonderful 'weeds' now growing everywhere we've been able to provide the chickens with lots and lots of greens in addition to their grain and alfalfa hay. The color of their egg yolks has been spectacular lately. A boost in nutrition for all of us. Soon, the neighbors will start bringing snails over and we'll step it up another level. We have a neighborhood e-mail list on which I recently sent out a request for snails. Since we got the ducks we are virtually snail-free. Now, if we can teach them to eat voles and gophers....

Don't get me wrong we love the chickens and their eggs. We're just trying to simplify the system around here.