Caroline Cummins is the managing editor of Culinate. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and their two daughters.
We invite people with noteworthy ideas about food to blog on Culinate.
We’ve been living with our new kitchen for nearly two months now. Here’s what what works well, what doesn’t, and what surprised us.
Continue reading The field test »
When we decided to rip out our old kitchen and replace it with an entirely new one, my husband and I knew that we’d be spending a lot of money. But we wanted that money to make sense.
So here’s a list: the major components of a kitchen (referred to in industry jargon as “finishes”), with the choices we made for each one and why.
We prioritized durability and ease of use, which made some selections pricier (appliances, countertops, faucet) and others less so (flooring, tile, sink). Overall, though, this was a middle-of-the-road kitchen — not budget, not luxe.
Continue reading Choices, choices »
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I took several months to decide whether we really wanted to remodel our kitchen. During that time, we interviewed several different contractors — a very instructive experience.
Sure, you can flip through magazines for design ideas (and we did plenty of that), but honestly, having a variety of actual experts troop through your house is the best way to figure out what’s possible.
Or not, as the case may be. The first contractor we called came and checked out our little kitchen, promised to get us a bid, and then never got back to us, even after a few follow-up calls and emails. The second sent us a pro-forma bid in the mail that seemed like it had been put together for a different client entirely. And the third basically told us that we would have no say in the process whatsoever; the design was up to the designer, not the client.
Continue reading Choosing a contractor »
When I was a teenager, my parents decided to remodel their kitchen.
This kitchen was the core of the Seattle house I grew up in. When it was built, in 1903, the Craftsman-style house was probably a looker. By the time my parents moved in, in the late 1970s, nobody had looked at it very much except perhaps in horror.
We’ll skip the purple asbestos shingling on the outside and move straight into the kitchen, which was basically a 1960s acid trip. Fluorescent yellow was the dominant color, tinting the linoleum floor, the creaky cabinetry, the ancient electric stove, and the cracked and peeling laminate countertops. This color choice was not enhanced by the fluorescent ring light in the middle of the ceiling that provided the room’s only illumination. But no amount of better lighting could’ve saved the wallpaper, which featured an oversized daisy print in hot pink, lime green, and more of that yellow.
Continue reading Temporary cooking »
In my initial post about my family’s recent kitchen remodel, I described the derelict state of our old kitchen. My husband and I knew that our house needed a new kitchen. But it took us many months of discussion before we committed to the project.
Originally we thought we might just replace the crumbling cabinetry and peeling vinyl tiles on the floor. But when we realized that tackling just those two items necessitated shutting down the entire kitchen for a few weeks, we decided, heck, let’s just do the whole thing — and do it right.
Continue reading Kitchen homework »
My husband and I moved into our current home more than seven years ago. It is an old house, built in the mid-1920s. We like old houses, but, you know, they’re old. Which means that in seven years we have spent thousands of dollars on infrastructure: pipes, wiring, heating, ducting, insulation, cracked windows. We operated on the principle that whatever was most broken got fixed first.
By 2012, the kitchen — with its crumbling 1970s-era cabinetry and peeling vinyl floor tiles — had moved to the top of the waiting list. We had shored it up over the years with little fix-ups here and there: installing a dishwasher (amen!) and a vent hood (thank you, Jesus!) and some extra lighting (let there be light!) over the stove.
Continue reading Starting afresh »
When my husband and I decided to get chickens, back in the spring of 2008, we thought we’d get a few good years of egg-laying out of them. If we were lucky, that is, because not that many birds make it past their third birthdays.
Why not? Well, for one, they frequently get sick and die. They get killed and eaten (or just killed and mauled) by such predators as hawks, raccoons, and opossums. They fly away because you forget to clip their flight feathers and they simply don’t come back. (See predators, above.) And we’re just talking about hens here, not roosters, which in the sadly sexist world of chicken-keeping seldom make it past two months of age.
Continue reading Slaughterhouse three »
Honestly, I don’t know much about pet food. Yes, we’ve run articles on Culinate about it, including an interview with pet-food expert Kymythy Schultze and an essay about making homemade dog food, not to mention taking note of nutritionist and food activist Marion Nestle’s most recent book, Pet Food Politics, about the 2007 melamine-contamination scandal in pet food. But, frankly, I’ve always been a mainstream American pet owner: I buy bagged and canned food for my pets, and they eat it.
Lately, though, I’ve started to feel guilty about the foodie double standard in our household. The humans? Well, the fridge and pantry in our house are stocked with plenty of local/organic/homegrown/holier-than-thou goodies. The cat and the chickens? Not so much.
Continue reading Chicken meal »
Sure, Culinate is a food website. But sometimes we just find ourselves scratching our collective heads about the press releases that come our way. Take the recent announcement from the National Chicken Council (NCC) that they’ve launched a consumer food website of their own, EatChicken.com.
EatChicken.com looks like a pretty ordinary site, with such innocuous-sounding sections as “Cookbook Reviews” and “Cooking Tips” and the amusingly titled “Show a Little Leg,” which encourages chicken eaters to try — gasp! — the dark meat on chicken thighs and legs instead of sticking with boring old chicken breast. But as the press release proudly points out, the website is also deep in the fryer with McDonald’s, EatChicken.com’s next “Showcase of Chicken” partner.
Continue reading Chicken McNuggets »
It doesn’t usually get very cold west of the Cascade Mountains. Damp and dreary, certainly, but freezing? Not often.
So while our three chickens weren’t exactly thrilled about the slow, sloggy arrival of winter (and neither were we, since less light and cooler temperatures mean fewer eggs), they were still content to snooze in their coop by night and peck around their increasingly muddy run by day.
When it does snow here, it’s generally a light, wet smearing of white stuff that typically melts in a few hours. Every few years, we get A Big Snowstorm, which usually means several gloppy inches, inspiring panic in civilians and glee in weather forecasters.
Continue reading Chilly chickens »
Watching chickens roam the range, it’s easy to see the origins of such terms as “bird brains” and “dumb clucks.” They’re small birds, after all, and they basically do the same things over and over: eat, drink, peck, fluff their feathers, harass each other, roll around in the dirt, lay eggs (yes, all three of our birds are finally laying eggs), and faithfully go to sleep on their roost when darkness falls.
If you keep chickens and you read the New Yorker bit last summer about animal behavior, you probably snickered in recognition at the imaginary dialogue between two free-range chickens:
Continue reading Bird behavior »
I admit, it’s been a while since my last chicken post — nearly two months, in fact. Frankly, all was quiet on the chicken front, and there wasn’t much to report.
Our three remaining chickens — Stevie the former invalid, Tuffy the bossy bird, and Snoop the tiebreaker, ganging up with Tuffy or Stevie as the chicken clique seemed to demand — were all just fine. They lived ordinary chicken lives, roosting in their coop by night and wandering in their run by day. They ate. They drank. They snacked on kitchen scraps, oyster shell, grit, and scratch (a grain blend that’s basically like healthy candy for birds). And that was about it. Not very exciting.
Continue reading The egg and I »
Every July, the city of Portland, Oregon, offers a tour of its chicken coops. That is, local chicken-keepers agree to open their yards to the public for a few hours (in this case, on Saturday, July 26) and yak about their birds. The tour costs $5 and benefits Growing Gardens, a Portland urban-farming nonprofit.
Officially titled the Tour de Coops (Why French? Because the bantam rooster is the symbol of France, much like the bald eagle is the symbol of the U.S.?), the tour this year roamed between 18 properties in the eastern and northern districts of Portland. All of these coop locations were, as the media likes to say, in “gentrifying neighborhoods.” Which I guess explains why not a single coop on the posher west side of the Willamette River made it into this year’s tour.
Continue reading Urban birdkeepers »
Back in May, the Seattle Times caught wind of the fact that urban hipsters like to raise chickens in their back yards. (Apparently, according to the Times, avant-garde Seattleites are also raising miniature goats. Until we decide to make our own goat cheese, I doubt this will happen on our property.) The Times quoted a chicken expert as saying that “chickens are sexy right now.” True, that. But the paper also published the following paragraph:
Like more and more folks, Wanerstrand originally wanted chickens for the environmentally friendly purpose of raising food in the city, decreasing the amount of fuel required for eggs by raising chickens instead of buying eggs trucked to a grocery store.
Continue reading Chicken dinner »
By the second week of July, our rawrking Black Australorps had matured into fully crowing birds. At 5 p.m. and again at 5 a.m., they would crow in a round, a trio of black birds taking turns announcing their manliness. This could last 10 minutes or an hour, depending on how musical the guys were feeling. The smaller Araucanas, meanwhile, were totally silent.
So now we had three noisy boys (have a listen to their warbling, below) and three quiet birds of indeterminate gender. My husband had been considering taking a day off work to slaughter the two Australorps that had been the noisiest, but when we realized that we now had three certified roosters, he lost heart.
Continue reading Bye bye birdies »
It’s been nearly three months since we brought six chicks home from the store in a box. In addition to the handfuls of dandelions and veggie scraps we toss into their chicken run, they can plow through a 25-pound bag of chicken feed in less than three weeks. Stevie the runt has definitely caught up in size with his five boxmates. But they all still only weigh about four pounds each.
I know, birds have hollow bones — but sheesh, where is all that food going? (And no, you potty-minded types, we aren’t spending that much time cleaning out their coop.)
Continue reading Cock a doodle doo »
Stevie the runt still hasn’t caught up with the Big Five, and because he/she has been living in isolation so much, the rest of the chicken gang isn’t thrilled to have Stevie around. They flock together in a clique. If Stevie tries to burrow underneath one of them for shelter, or walk through their posse, they peck mercilessly in retaliation.
So Stevie (let’s call him a he for now, OK?) tends to sulk in a corner by himself, sticking his head down as far as he can get it. Or he flies up onto the roosting bar in the chicken run, brooding out of reach of the other, bigger birds. If I come out and stand near the run, he’ll dash to the side of the cage nearest to me, squawking angrily, and then flutter back and forth along the run, demanding to be let out.
Continue reading Pecking order »
On Thursday, May 15, summer arrived. What had felt, for the first four months of 2008, like endless winter — cold days, drizzly skies — abruptly died, chased out with sunshine and temperatures in the 90s.
I grumbled a bit — weren’t we supposed to have spring before crashing into summer? — but I wasn’t suffering as much as the chickens. Because their starter home (cardboard boxes atop straw and newspaper) was basically inside a greenhouse, the poor birds were quickly turning into broiler chickens.
Did you know that chickens, when hot, open their beaks and pant like dogs? Well, now you do.
Continue reading Mobile home »
When my parents were kids, they were occasionally given live baby chicks as Easter presents. Apparently in the 1950s it was considered OK to dip these little fluffies in vats of dye, so that you could then give your daughter, for example, a living bird that had been dyed a bright pink, or your son a baby-blue bird.
These holiday presents usually didn’t last very long, keeling over and peeping out their last within a few days. You’ve got to wonder about the chemicals, exactly, that went into those dyes — and the youthful trauma my parents and other baby-boomer kids went through when their living Marshmallow Peeps gave out on them. Sad.
Continue reading Fine feathers »
My good friend Margot de Messières, a painter who divides her time between the East Coast and Bulgaria, grew up on a hobby farm in rural Maryland. Her parents, in fact, served as inspiration for my husband and me when we decided to get chickens, because they were city slickers who had taught themselves how to farm by reading books on animal husbandry. Heck, we thought, if Susan and Olivier can swing it with library books, so can we. (And now you know: If you’ve tried to check out such sexy titles as Poultry House Construction from the Multnomah County Library lately and been stumped, it’s because we’ve got ‘em all.)
Continue reading Chicken runt »
As most poultry books and fowl lovers will tell you, you can keep chickens for all sorts of reasons. Third on the list is usually “fun,” since chickens make social, goofy pets. Second on the list is typically “your garden,” because chickens will both eat your annoying weeds and bugs and provide you with plenty of fresh, compostable manure.
Tops on the list, of course, is eggs. Raising city chickens a few at a time for meat costs money, effort, and time, and doesn’t produce much meat in the end. But raising a few hens as pets, gardeners, and egg providers is a nice trifecta of chicken-keeping. The eggs are the freshest possible, and since your birds presumably spend at least part of their lives outdoors eating green stuff, worms, and insects, the eggs are also the healthiest possible.
Continue reading Birds of a feather »
The basic principle of mimetic desire is this: You notice your friends and neighbors doing something intriguing, which makes you want to do it, too. In my urban, food-focused little universe, the latest mimetic desire is chickens.
First on the scene was Jes Burns, who bravely raised three chickens in a postage-stamp yard (and wrote about it on Culinate). Then it was our neighbors three blocks away, who also have three large hens. And editorial director Kim Carlson’s next-door neighbors, who have chickens. And Health+Food columnist Catherine Bennett-Dunster, who tends fowl. And Culinate blogger Sarah Gilbert, who keeps her own. And — well, you get the idea.
Continue reading Cheep thrill »
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