February 2012 Chickens in the Road Newsletter

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*Feature: My Favorite Books

*Kitchen Extra: Freezer Biscuits

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: This Dog

*Recent Highlights: A Miracle, Cinnamon Bun Cookies, Two Pipes to Nowhere, and More

*Sneak Peek: The Studio at Sassafras Farm

*Farm Bell Recipes: Not Pie! Apple Slices!

*Blast from the Past: Winter Cancellation

*Feature: My Favorite Books

I recently wrote a column for the Charleston Daily Mail including some of my favorite farm and country life memoirs, and I want to write an expanded version here to list more of my favorite along with some of your favorites you’ve shared with me.

I love “farm memoirs” and apparently so do a lot of other people because they are of perennial popularity on bookstore shelves. These are sometimes “fish out of water” or “city girl goes country” stories, or other times more focused on personal adventure and discovery through rural or self-sustainable living. Recently, I worked on a book of my own, which I hope to see in print soon, but in the meantime, I want to share some of my favorite back-to-the-land stories you can read today. (If you’re a Kindle lover like me, you can find many of these also available in e-book format.)

Coop: A Family, A Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg, by Michael Perry. The author grew up on a ramshackle dairy farm with parents who took in over 100 foster children. Returning to the land as an adult with a pregnant wife, Perry reminisces about his unorthodox childhood as he faces 37 acres of fallen fences and overgrown fields of his own. The wild stories about his childhood foster siblings are almost the best part of the book, but it’s all surprisingly riveting. I loved this book.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, by Kristin Kimball. A Manhattan journalist walks away from life in the city to start a cooperative farm in upstate New York with a farmer she interviewed for a story. Poignant and gritty, it focuses on the personal reality of adjusting to farm life. This one was incredibly dark in some places, but true to farm life, and I came to love it for its bare honesty and the beautiful writing.

The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald. When Betty MacDonald marries and moves to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State to start a chicken farm, she is unprepared for the challenges of her new country life. The Egg and I is a both cozy and hilarious adventure that is a classic in the genre, first published in 1945. You might have to search around a bit to find a copy of this one, but it’s worth it.

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl, by Susan McCorkindale. This is the story of a suburban mom and New York career woman who agrees to give up her six-figure job for her husband’s dream of a 500-acre cattle farm. I first attempted to read this book a few years ago and was put off by the writer’s seeming disdain for country life—-and country people. I think I just wasn’t ready at the time to “get” her sense of humor. I came back to the book recently and tried again, and this time I enjoyed it. In the meantime, she released a sequel called 500 Acres and No Place to Hide. Both books are fun reads if you’re willing to accept her high heels in the barnyard. Just remember she doesn’t mean half of what she says.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. The bestselling author and her family take a journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. This is the opposite of the McCorkindale book. It’s so earnest at its task, it’s almost overwrought, but it’s a bestseller for a reason. It’s very well-researched, and spiked with humor when you least expect it. I had to read it in short sittings, though, because it’s a little heavy going at times.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot. No book list of memoirs about rural living would be complete without this classic multi-million copy bestseller about the challenges of veterinary practice in the English countryside. His compassion for people and love for animals makes for a funny and dramatic story that is timeless. First published in the 1970s and followed by several sequels, it will be in print forever and no one will ever do it better. If you haven’t thought of this one in a while, it’s a good one to re-read, too.

Hit By A Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn, by Catherine Friend. This is another more recent memoir that has become a favorite of mine. Friend dives into a crash course in living off the land when she agrees to her partner’s dream of owning a sheep farm. They take a very organized approach to their preparations, yet find over the course of their adventures what everyone who buys a farm finds out: You can’t prepare for a farm! The sequel, Sheepish, is just as much fun.

A Country Year: Living the Questions, by Sue Hubbell When her thirty-year marriage breaks up, Sue Hubbell finds herself alone and broke on a small Ozarks farm. She challenges herself to tell the absolute truth about her life on the land and finding her way as a woman. This one, I haven’t read yet, but it’s been highly recommended by a number of you, so it’s on my list!

The Book of Stillmeadow, by Gladys Taber. Another classic in this genre that continues to be popular today. Taber tells of the day to day living at her country home, Stillmeadow–the animals, the visitors, the conversations, the simple life that strikes an eternal chord with readers. There is a whole series of Stillmeadow books that all sound upbeat and downright delicious. Published in the 1980s, they aren’t easy to find, but you might strike gold at a yard sale so keep them in mind.

And, of course, I can’t possibly leave out The Legend of Mammy Jane. (Subtitle: An uneducated girl becomes the lady of the manor in Appalachia.) The book was written by Sibyl Jarvis Pischke about her grandmother, Jane Jarvis, and is set in the pre-Civil War and Civil War period in what would eventually become West Virginia. It’s not actually a memoir, but rather a heavily fictionalized biography, and it’s not even a very well-written book from a technical standpoint–yet it is amazingly captivating just the same, so bears mentioning on this list along the same general theme. I have an extensive review of the book here. It’s a bit hard to find, but surprisingly worth the trouble.

It’s not quite spring yet, so if you’ve still got time to curl up in a chair in front of the fire, you can’t go wrong with any of these. Have some favorites of your own? Let me know. I’m always looking for a good farm memoir!

*Kitchen Extra: Freezer Biscuits

Short-order breakfast!

Morgan gets on the bus early, and on weekdays, often eats her breakfast at school. That leaves me home alone to cook for myself if I want a hot breakfast. Mornings are busy here between feeding and watering the animals and writing. I like to write in the mornings. Afternoon is when I’m in the mood for playtime in the kitchen. But I’m hungry in the morning! I found myself grabbing too many unplanned and less than healthy breakfasts lately. I do like my homemade cereal, but not every day. Lately, I’ve been making up big batches of biscuits. I prepare the biscuit dough, cut them out, then freeze them on pans. After they’re frozen, I can handle them easily. I tuck two biscuits per sandwich-sized baggie, then place multiple baggies inside a large freezer baggie. I can take out one baggie of two biscuits in the morning, place the frozen biscuits on a small greased cookie sheet to thaw for an hour, then all I have to do is bake the biscuits and fry up an egg. Hot breakfast–and fast!

You can find my biscuit recipe using my Quick Mix here. (You can also do this with any of the biscuit variations you find on that page.)

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: This Dog

Need I say more?

I miss her as we wait for her to be healed enough to come home, but at least we know where she is!

*Recent Highlights: A Miracle, Cinnamon Bun Cookies, Two Pipes to Nowhere, and More

Barn: This was a dramatic month with Coco’s accident and disappearance in A Crushing Event followed by the overwhelming joy of her return in A Miracle. While she’s still recuperating at the animal hospital, she will be fine, and I’ve got a surprise waiting for her at home with A Companion for Coco.‎ Find all my farm animal stories here.

Cooking: How about Cinnamon Bun Cookies or Caramelized Banana Crumble? I’m also back at it with BBB alternatives showcasing some of the other great canning and preserving literature that is available with all-new giveaways. Don’t miss a thing in my kitchen! Get all my recipes.

Country Living: I had a Problem, with Ramble and uncovered a surprising mystery (and solution) in Two Pipes to Nowhere. Living on An Old Place, there are discoveries to be made all the time! See all my country living stories.

House & Garden: I Launched my studio project and in three amazing weeks, it was Funded! THANK YOU!!!!! Meanwhile, I’ve been making discoveries inside the house in The Short and Incomplete History of the Stairs. Browse all my posts in house & garden.

*Sneak Peak: The Studio at Sassafras Farm

I can’t wait to get started!

So many of you commented or emailed me about Kickstarter that I launched my own Studio at Sassafras Farm project in early February to renovate the studio building here into a health department-approved kitchen for cooking/cheesemaking and other workshops as well as to serve meals for agritourism and other farm activities and events. I can’t ever thank you enough for all of your support for this project. You are an awesome force! Work will start the third week of March, after the project funding is released, and I can’t wait to show you all the details of the transformation as the studio goes from zero to health department-approved kitchen in just a few weeks! It’s going to be exciting! Come with me!

*Farm Bell Recipes: Not Pie! Apple Slices!

This community member contribution really caught my eye this month–a different sort of apple recipe, by community member murphala. As she says, “They masquerade as pie, but pie is good right out of the oven. So are these, but where pie gets all soggy the next day, these improve with age.” She hunted down a remembered childhood recipe through other members of the Chickens in the Road Forum, and found the one she was looking for. See the post with the whole story on Farm Bell Recipes here: Not Pie! Apple Slices!. Get the printable recipe here: Apple Slices.

To submit a blog post and enter to win the latest contributor giveaway, go here. The prize for the March contributor giveaway will be a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The February contributor giveaway winner for a Sunbeam Donut Maker was Robin from Rurification.

February 2012 Farm Bell Recipes blog contributors:

ButterbeanAdventures In Country Living
Canner JoannThe Skinny on Like with Bypass, Band or Sleeve
Jayme PayneDreaming of Poultry
Kathi NGranddad’s Corner
Miss HomeEcs Daughter
RachelThe Henway
Robin from RurificationRurification

THANK YOU! Please give them a visit!

*Blast from the Past: Winter Cancellation

I’ve been trying to cancel Winter for years.

With our mostly mild weather this season still in swing, I think I finally did it! “According to an industry insider, Winter’s North American tour has been cancelled due to slow ticket sales. With shows only selling at 40 to 60 percent capacity, Winter needs a real hit to reboost her fan base.” Let’s hope she doesn’t get it. See the whole report: In My Dreams.


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