I have dear friends that are avid homesteaders and consequently have sheep that need to be shorn every year. While they try thier best to make use of as much of the wool as possible, that much each year is more than they can process. As a quintisential starving artist, free material is always welcome. The bulk of my work has been crafted from concrete with styrofoam cores and I have to admit hitting my mid-forties, I have tired of hauling 90lb. bags, inhaling cement dust, burning lime holes into my skin and watching little escaping styrofoam pebbles pollute our lovely valley. So when I found myself staring at three raw piles of sheeps wool, I was overwhelmed and elated. I had never worked with this material prior to this past year and then only in small craftsy curiosities. The idea of it being a medium for my art was intriguing. This stuff is lightweight, environmentally friendly, and endlessly maluable. It can be soft, rigid, raw, dyed, solid, hollow, wet or needle felted. I have discovered a great new material for the next phase of my work (the I’m getting too old for this shit phase) and the most appreciated aspect of this wool is that in the deep winter when my studio is too cold, I can sit on my couch under a cozy blanket with my latest project in my lap! To view more of the woolen creations, here’s the link to my etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/darcytozier?ref=seller_info
Poor girls are cold! They are not big fans of the snow, this bunch. Normally, I open the coop door and a loud commotion ensues, all wanting to be the first to run off into the green grasses. But with these first few snow falls(which came very late this year) one, maybe two heads poke out to check the status of that nasty white stuff. Then it’s a very dainty promenade from their coop to my doorstep. If they had hands they would be hiking up their skirts, and bonnets or parasols would be a must. The last one out is our very own little Napoleon. He’s a little bantam boy. The only bantam amongst a dozen big girls. We ordered six bantams this year and all were roosters! That is far too much attitude and the girls were exhausted from all the harassment. So our kind friends who had a couple hundred hens and but one very busy bloke agreed to take the remaining five. Plenty of fish in that sea! Turns out that one of the adopted roosters fancied himself an ass and spends his days on the shoulders their donkey. But back to Napoleon. He is certainly a little cock with a big attitude. However, it is all attitude. As I said before, he is the last one out of the coop in any foul weather and only after all the girls are well on their way, to which he finds himself alone. This he does not like. He tip-toes down the ramp and when he reached the snowy edge he squawks and ruffles his feather as if mustering up some courage. Then he leaps and flaps, half flying, half running, like a puddle jumper, trying his best to avoid touching that nasty wet stuff until he catches up to the girls. Once back with his harem, he fluffs himself up big, belts out a song and side steps his way to the girls attempting a covert mount. I have yet to see him succeed. They are much bigger and as a group seem to have made a pact with one another to keep the little guy in his place. I am convinced the girls devise many a conspiratorial ruse just to ruffle his tenuous role as master of the coop. I have observed the group running to a freshly scattered patch of scratch, little Napoleon of course the last to know and the last to arrive. As they cluck and buck contentedly the girls have been witnessed slowly migrating away from the scratch, around the corner and out os sight of poor Napoleon. When he comes up from his eager pecking and finds himself alone, panic ensues. He paces in circles, bobbing his head this way and that as he calls out to the girls a sad whimper. “Cock-a-doodle-doo?” I can only imagine them around the corner of the barn giggling!
I did not think when we started chickens five years ago that they would be so entertaining nor become such a part of our family. Their personalities are undeniable. They have been the inspiration for much creativity from holiday cards, painting, home movies(we had one rooster named marble who crowed on command), and even my son has begun writing a cartoon series about them in the style of Spy vs. Spy. He calls it Chicken Vs. Chicken in which two enemy chickens are continually planting bombs in one another’s nests, eggs, etc. Not to mention that free range, organically raised fresh eggs from the back yard are not to be beat!
Monday was a field trip for my boy. His class was going to the Amherst College Neurobiology Lab to learn about brains. There was some talk of my possibly being a driver for the trip (no buses at his school), but in the end I was not needed. I washed with a combination of relief and disappointment. I am always reluctant to commit to driving for many reasons. Number one, I can’t be sure with my illness if I will feel well enough. Number two, my truck is an old girl, runs well but… Number three, the truck only fits two kids, a waste of gas. Number four, I am far too anxious about getting lost, breaking down, getting in an accident, etc. My disappointment was that I love all things to do with the human body. His class is going to be touching brains and drawing from specimens. I wanted to do that!
So, Monday morning rudely arrives and the boy is in tears. He didn’t know that I was not driving and he really wanted me to go. We have a romantic history of spending entire days at museums with our journals and drawing together(yes, it is possible for a nine-year old boy to be a hopeless romantic and my boy certainly is) . Remarkably, he has been drawing in a journal since he was about three when he grew curious of mine. Even more remarkable is that he truly will sit for hours in a museum and draw. My partner refuses to go with us as an hour or two is too much already. So the museum trips have become our special thing. We even play hooky occasionally which makes me way cool. I like to be the cool mamma. Who doesn’t? Anyway, he assumed I was coming and we would get to draw together. So, I caved. Gleefully, he ran about the house gathering our usual museum bundle; two journals, and a pencil box. Not just any pencil box. This was filled with premium equipment; three erasers(white, kneadable and stick), many pencil sharpeners(robot-shaped, lava-filled, dog-shaped, double, and standard) endless pencils ranging from 6h to 6b as well as mechanical, shading sticks, some charcoal and a few colored pencils.
Loaded up, we arrived at his school hoping it would be okay if I tagged along. It turned out to be one of those fate confirming moments as one of the parents was stranded with a broken down car. I swallowed my irrational anxiety and slid in line with the caravan of cars heading off to Amherst College with two boys in stow. I had my eyes burned onto the back of the grey Subaru knowing I would not get lost if I kept them in view. Just as I was thinking to myself “This isn’t too bad.” and began to relax, I heard a strange whistling noise every time we came to a stop. My blood rushed. Here it comes! The dreaded breakdown! I stared hard at the hood of my truck at every stoplight as if the hood was going to explode. And it was at one of these lights that I lost sight of that damn grey Subaru. My palms were now sweaty. Outside I am laughing at jokes that make sense only to nine-year old boys, trying to sustain my cool mom status while inside a code three melt down is on the cusp. Only then did I remember the sheet of paper his teacher handed me. It had phone numbers and directions. Whew! Just let me get to the college before the truck falls apart. Finally there, I turn off the main road and the whistling noise passes behind me. It was a different car. Whew, again.
My shirt now reeked of sweat. Yes, I used deodorant but no deodorant can defend against nervous sweat. So while we listened to the neurobiologist talk about brains, I kept my distance and my arms crossed, making a mental note to relegate this shirt to the pajama pile. The professor (a white-haired, fully bearded, skinny santa type with round spectacles) tossed the brain of a fifty-four year old who died in a nearby town back and forth in his hands as he explained the different sections and there functions. Now, I am not squeamish about these things but I would rather have not known the history of its previous owner. As he squished and wiggled and turned this brain about, I noticed that most of the girls in the class were in far corner, closest to the door. In fact a small posse of girls suddenly had to go to the bathroom. While most of the boys, instead, were sitting at the same table as the professor frantically raising their hands to volunteer, question and comment. The gender gap seems most firmly established by this age. According to my son, all but maybe two girls are definitely gross!
After our talk with the professor and an optional chance to touch the brain, which of course I did (felt like a loaf of lunch meat), we moved on to a lab where we were supplied with sheep’s brains to draw. My boy and I pulled out our supplies and got busy. He lost me at the word go. The lab, the teachers, the kids, I heard none of it. All I saw and thought about was the brain until the teacher poked me and said it was time to clean up. I looked up to find I was the only one left to put things away. It was a great day and I was feeling confident so I swerved off the established route home to take a back road. Immediately, I regretted it realizing that I probably broke some carpool rule and what if the truck died? What if I take longer to get back to the school and they think something has happened? The sweat soaked through my armpits and the shirt ,by the end of the trip, was no longer pajama worthy and down graded to a rag.
Doughnuts are a traditional New Years Day delight. Of course, that does not stop us from having doughnuts any other time of the year, however we did have our New Years Day doughnuts and this time we tried out our new jelly tip for making jelly doughnuts. Warm little puffs of yeasted heaven with a crunchy granulated sugar-coating and sweet raspberry jelly oozing out the side. Yum! I use Alton Brown’s recipe which has a touch of freshly grated nutmeg in the dough and makes perfect doughnuts every time. A deep fryer is handy but a heavy pot will do. It’s a wet dough and I try not to work it too much. Don’t want chewy doughnuts. I also learned after the first few rounds to cut the recipe in half. It makes a lot of doughnuts for a family of three and we had to call our neighbors(a family of five) up the road and alert them that warm doughnuts were on the way. They didn’t seem to mind. Even with half the recipe, we have a tree of friends we text “Donuts!” to. One of those friends dropped her shopping from twenty minutes away, raced over, scarfed down a faceful and drove back to the store. It would be terribly easy to eat these doughnuts every weekend so I am thankful that they are a bit of an ordeal and require some time to rise. It also allows our homemade doughnuts to be a special occasion that always brings my nine-year old son to my side in the kitchen. That alone is worth all the effort.
Here’s the path to Alton Brown’s recipe:http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/yeast-doughnuts-recipe/index.html