Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicken Salad

We love chicken salad! In fact, Kyra and I make fresh, yummy chicken salad nearly every day… but ours is a little different than the recipe in your favorite cookbook. In fact, we should probably call our concoction “Salade Pour Des Poulets” instead, since it’s not about us eating chickens, but rather about our chickens eating salad.

For years, we have taken in hens that a neighboring egg farmer has classified as “past their prime” (i.e. headed for slaughter).  While these feisty hens don’t lay as regularly or vigorously as their youthful counterparts, it is enough to supply us, our neighbors, our friends, and our extended family with plenty of bright, fresh, free-range eggs.

And, Kyra and I have found that supplementing our hens’ diet with our special Chicken Salad improves the health of the chicken as well as the taste of the egg.  So, what is this Chicken Salad recipe?  In a word (or rather two) “veggie scraps".

We prepare lots and lots of fresh veggies for our family meals every day.  This means that we have lots and lots of ends, peels, and not-so-fresh vegetable pieces to dispose of every day, particularly at the end of the gardening season in Iowa.  Since I abhor wasting nutrient-rich foods, what could we do with those scraps?  Feed our chickens!

The first time Kyra and I tossed veggie-scrap “Chicken Salad” toward our flock, we were met with suspicion and fear.  The chickens dispersed quickly, afraid of Kyra’s wheelchair and my checkerboard garden boots.  But Kyra and I persisted, collecting our veggie scraps and tossing them to our hens, day after day after day.

Slowly, our hens began to accept us as allies in the pursuit of good nutrition.  They began to take notice, cluck happily, and scurry toward us when the wheelchair and checkerboard boots came strolling their way.

Today, we have 30-something “post-prime” hens that follow us around the yard, waiting expectantly for their daily ration of Chicken Salad, helping us harvest over-due veggies,  scritching and scratching to prepare our garden for next spring, and generally being under-foot and amusing.

Caring for my chickens reminds me of bringing up small children.  I wouldn’t trade either experience for the world.

If you don’t have chickens available to eat your own veggie-scrap Chicken Salad, I recommend you thoroughly wash all vegetables before preparing them.  Then freeze the ends, peels, pieces, and scraps in zippered baggies or air-tight containers.  When the freezer container is full, empty it into a simmering kettle of water, along with a bit of basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper (or your favorite herb combo).  An hour or two later, strain the mixture into jars or other containers, and refrigerate or freeze to use in broth or vegetable stock recipes.

  • Feeding somebody with a g-tube? Check out our G-Tube Minute Meals for a quick & healthy recipe that uses whatever you have in your 'fridge.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Run Your Own Race

This week, Kyra and I attended our first cross-country meet to watch my 7th grade niece, Mali, run (and run, and run, and run).  We had a bit of a cross-country workout ourselves getting to the course, pushing Kyra’s wheelchair down the soggy ISU dairy barn driveway (Yes! We finally had enough rain to make mud!), dodging traffic to cross Mortensen Drive, popping wheelies over street curbs, and jarring our way across the course and up a hill to the finish line.

About 20 minutes later, we clapped and cheered for nearly 250 young ladies running, jogging, walking, and stumbling over that finish line. Then we made the return trip, trudging across the wheelchair-jarring course, over the street curbs, through the mud, and finally, slogging our way down the gravel driveway to our van.

As I consider the challenges we all face every day, I realize it’s not the difficulty of the course that’s important: It’s being there for the whole race.

Because Kyra and I made the effort to be there, I saw the joy on my niece’s face when she saw us at the course before her race began. Because I was there, I could hug her sweaty body and tell her how proud I was after her run. Because she was there, Kyra could offer a high-five to her cousin, and meet some of her friends.

Because we’ve been there, supporting and loving her, Mali chose to expend some of her valuable energy during the race to encourage another runner from an opposing team as they struggled up a difficult hill.

Because she’s still learning to run the course of life, we still need to be there. We’re all still learning. So please, wherever your course may take you, run with patience the race. It will be worth it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


How was your August?  August didn’t go, or for that matter, grow, so well for us.  This summer’s heat and drought seemed to dry up my energy as well as my garden.  The leaves on crops and trees alike are either brown and crispy, or dull and drooping with dust.  And my Kyra quit smiling.

When someone is non-verbal and cannot write or sign or point or use other conventional communication methods, body language and facial expressions become your only true glimpse into their thoughts, hopes, fears, hurts, and joys.

So, when my Kyra doesn't smile, it's a big deal around here.

Come to find out, her lack of expression and frequent coughing episodes, which I attributed to exposure to new allergens during a several-state road trip, were caused instead by pneumonia.  And when we returned from our adventure, we discovered that our dog Anya was not lethargic due to the record-breaking heat, but Lyme disease.

With her antibiotic treatments completed, and Anya's antibiotic treatments underway, Kyra and I ventured back outside this week to care for our sadly neglected gardens.  As I listlessly swung the garden hose to and fro across a parched and cracked flower bed, a bit of white caught my eye.  One of our shallow-rooted strawberry plants had survived, and was blooming.  Now, if this plant had done the smart thing, it would have hunkered down and conserved its energy for next spring.  Instead, it had chosen to expend its meager August energy to bloom for us.  While that single bloom will never produce a luscious red strawberry, it did produce a smile on my face, giving us an unexpected bit of hope amid the heat.

Today, Kyra is smiling ear to ear, happy to be back at school.  Anya has started to play with her toys and chase the cats again, and I found a 3-foot long zucchini and a 20-pound pumpkin happily defying the drought.  Life is good again.  For now.

Undoubtedly, life will bring hot, dry, and listless days that zap your energy and cloud your purpose.  May I suggest that when those days occur, instead of hunkering down, you think of that strawberry plant and bloom wherever you are, in any way you can.

p.s. “Bloomability”, a young-adult novel by Sharon Creech, tells the story of growing and blooming wherever you’re planted.  It is highly recommended by all of my daughters and me.  Check it out at your local library, or check out www.sharoncreech.com for more information.