Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Roundabout Chickens of Suffolk

In our town there is a move for folks to raise chickens, right here in the city. I wrote several months ago about one stray chicken who wandered away from her urban chicken yard and ended up in ours. John found her owner and received a reward of some half dozen delicious free range eggs. She has not returned, unfortunately; no more free eggs for us.

Apparently the notion of urban chicken farming has hit the United Kingdom. This morning on BBC4 radio, there was a whole program devoted to chickens and the Brits who love them. One woman takes her chickens (she only has two) on holiday with her, toting them in a cat carrier. She asked the interviewer if she would like to have a "chicken cuddle," which offer was accepted rather gingerly. The chicken jumped out of her arms, maybe realizing that the person wasn't really into it. No one was offended. There was a serious discussion of the chicken in history, mythology and religion, e.g. the cock that crowed three times while Peter denied Christ as predicted, the use of chickens in voodoo ceremonies, etc. I guess there's even some magical rooster involved in a Harry Potter spell of some sort. One person called chickens Velociraptors with fluffy knickers.

My favorite story, though, was about the feral chickens of the roundabout in Suffolk. No one knows how they ended up there; perhaps they were abandoned at some point by a failed urban chicken farmer. An older man noticed them and would feed them occasionally. One day, while he was there, a lorry accidentally dropped a sack of feed. The old man then got serious feeding them and they began to multiply. Merchants would give him feed for them, and he would walk from his home every morning, five miles each way, and feed what soon became a flock of three to four hundred chickens. He said he fed them to keep them out of the busy road. His legs finally gave out and he couldn't manage the trip any longer. Later he was shocked to discover that the flock had dwindled down to just a few chickens. They are still there, only about 20 now. He assumed some sort of predator got them. It seems that they are still getting fed by passing strangers, but they;ll never again have the services of their benefactor know as The Chicken Man of Bungay.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Noisy Village Pasttime

I heard such good story on the BBC this morning. There's a small village called Broughton (population around 2000+) in Northhanptonshire which has an annual celebration called the "Tin Pan Band." It's gone on for hundreds of years. Some say it was started to scare away the gypsies; some say it's to keep away evil spirits.

It happens in the middle of December; on a Sunday night. When the church bell starts to toll for midnight, the villagers gather together bearing trash can lids, tin cans, pots and pans, pieces of sheet metal, tin horns or flutes, or anything metal, and march through the village, tooting or banging away with all their might. The noisier, the better. One man said that one year "a young lad followed us along, hitting the metal light poles with a hammer." They try to keep some sort of rhythm, not just random noise.

Some years ago, in 1929 to be exact, a few people complained of the noise and the local authorities tried to stop it, but a there were violent protests, so it continues. Normally the village is very, very quiet, since there is no tourist trade or large institutions or businesses of any kind there. Thus it is quite something to have such a loud burst of sound, even once a year.

One of the men interviewed said that at 88 and a half, he thinks that this will be the last one for him. His wife still plays her bugle in the parade, but his marching days are over, he says. He made a comment about old age which I find quite apt. He said, "There.s no practice for old age. You can't have a go at it to see if you like it. You're just IN it."

I say, bring on the tin can bands.

(I can't find an audio of it, but if you go to BBC.co.uk/radio4 and type in Brought Tin Can Band, you might be able to summon it up.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Old Friend

My friend Tom is a really old friend in every sense of the word. We've known each other for over 50 years and we are the same age. Tom is married to Mixie, and she is a tad younger than we are, but not by too much. They are both botanists. Tom taught in the biology department for many years, and Mix managed the Herbarium at the university.

Recently Tom's book of essays was published by the university press, and he gave me an inscribed copy. Now his magnum opus was a huge tome, a comprehensive study of Ohio plants. He worked on that one for years and it was the culminating work of his academic career, a scholarly volume for botanists to study and use as a reference.

This new book is a collection of essays, suitable for the layperson, focusing on the flowering plants and trees just around the Kent community. It relates how certain plants came to this area via the glaciers thousands of years ago, historical vignettes of early cultivation and the appearance and disappearance of certain native and non-native species.

One of the highlights of Tom's research around Kent, was his discovery of a bog full of tamarack trees, the largest stand of those trees in Ohio. They are deciduous fir trees, which shed their needles every fall. They don't really belong here but were brought down from the far north by the last glacier to crawl over Ohio - before it was Ohio. The bog is named for Tom and is a delightful place now, with a fine boardwalk and all kinds of interesting plant life, fortunately labeled for those of us who are botanically challenged. It is is also a great obscure connection to fame for whose of us who know him. I mean, how many people can say that they know the namesake of an eponymous bog?

When I went to pick up the book at their home, we had a great conversation about our younger days, when we were part of a lively group of social animals. Tom said that we were the Bright Young Things of the university community. I don't know about that, but I do know that we had such a good time with a group of such good people. Unfortunately, Tom and Mixie and I are pretty much the only ones left, and we are hardly the social butterflies of yesteryear. We miss our old friends a lot, but we revived some fine memories the other day. One of the disadvantages of getting old is losing people, so that you know more dead people than live people, and you don't get to spend so much time with the live ones still around.

And on that cheerful note, I close this post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Irish Soda Bread Creates Dental Emergency

Well, it was very, very good, that Irish soda bread, tasty and expeditious and all. The day after I made it, I decided to toast it. That newspaper article from which I got the recipe declared that it was simply delicious toasted.

The toaster accepted it easily. It popped up done just right, not to pale, not too dark. I slathered on some butter, which soaked into it perfectly. Smelled great, too. Toasty and all.

The first couple of bites went well. The third bit, however, contained something sharp and hard. Not just hard like the crust, but a different sort of hard like, perhaps a piece of - dear God in heaven, a piece of tooth! Specifically a piece of the last molar on my left lower jaw. It was the back of the molar, which had sort of kind of sheared off. Of course I called the dentist right away. It didn't hurt, so I was able to wait until the next day.

My fear was that he would look at it and say, "That tooth's gonna have to go." To my relief, but not to the relief of my bank account, he decided to put a very expensive crown on it. I have dental insurance, but it sucks big time. He said that everyone's dental insurance sucks. I don't have much choice here, because a person needs teeth if a person is to live on something besides gruel (whatever that is) for the rest of a person's life.

It used to be you could buy a car or a house for what it costs to have major dental work done. In the olden days people used to have all their teeth pulled when they were about 50 years old and wear choppers, and thank goodness we don't have to do that, but geez!

If you make soda bread be very, very careful, especially if you toast it, because most dental insurance sucks and I have my dentist's word on that. And all you dental insurance providers out there, shame on you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bad Onions and Other Non-News

I have neglected this blog for a couple of weeks for no particular reason. I've been trying to get through a book that is driving me crazy. It's a really bad novel and I probably should just toss it, but there's a mystery involved and my OCD will not let me just skip to the end. The protagonist is a kid with Asberger's and the author must have caught it from him, because she just goes on and on and on and it's like being trapped by someone afflicted by the disorder. She digresses occasionally, but even her digressions are full of information you don't need. I feel like sticking sticky notes for future readers, like, "Didn't she just write the same thing back on page 135 and again on page 215?" "Don't you wish she'd just shut the hell up and get on with the story?" "Did anyone actually edit this goddam book?" So I decided to let it go and get back to my blog.

Onions. For some reason, I can't keep onions from going bad. I use a lot of onions when I cook.
Lately I find that they go soft and ugly - almost mushy and rank. I usually just get those net bags of yellow onions at the supermarket and they last forever - until recently. Is there some sort of onion blight happening? Is this an evil plot to get me to shop at Whole Foods? I try to be kind to onions. I store them in a cool, dry place. Since I use them pretty quickly, they shouldn't get all yucky on me. And now that Spring looms, they are sprouting - in the dark, like some science fiction life form ready to take over the kitchen, if not the world. I guess if I were starving I could use them in that condition, but being an American, I just throw them out. And I feel bad about that.

I'll be chopping onions, if I can find a few sound ones, as soon as I finish writing this post. I'm fixing an ethnically confused dinner tonight: Portuguese kale soup (only with spinach instead of kale because Ir's easier that way. You don't have to strip the spinach off the stems.) and Irish soda bread from a recipe in this morning's Beacon Journal Food page. The bread was easy to make and smells and looks delicious. According to the directions, you're supposed to let i sit, wrapped in a tea towel (a "tea" towel?) for five (5) hours after you take it out of the oven before you eat it. That would make us eating dinner around 9 o'clock and I can't wait that long. Besides, I'd miss "Modern Family." which isn't an option. So we'll eat it prematurely and hope for the best.

I realized too late that I should have drawn a picture of the soda bread, but when I did the onion drawing, I had not planned to make soda bread, So it will have to wait for its portrait for another time.