Thursday, April 18, 2019

Meet the Chicks

We've talked about getting chickens for awhile now. Finally, last spring we decided the time had come. I did a LOT of research and began constructing a chicken coop (post on that to come). The weather was less cooperative than we would have liked, as is typical of Pacific Northwest springtime, thus building the coop took longer than anticipated. Before we had quite finished it, the local supply of chicks had dried up and my motivation to continue the work right along with it.

Fast forward to this spring. Looking at the 85% finished coop every time I went outside got me thinking about chickens again. I resumed my research and tried to find some older pullets (hens that are less than a year old) that would be ready to lay this summer, but getting pullets is hard and expensive. Finally, I accepted that if I wanted to pick specific breeds and varieties, I was going to have to get chicks. So, I placed an order online to be delivered in June (that was the soonest I could get the ones I wanted). The timing wasn't ideal, but it was the best I could manage.

With chicks on the way, I was going to need a brooder, so I built one of those (post on that to come, as well). The brooder project actually went pretty quickly. After it was finished, I took a short road trip to visit a friend at a chicken show not too far away, just to get myself into the chicken mood. While there, I popped into a local farm store that just happened to have chicks for sale ... including most of the types I wanted. Before I knew it, I had purchased a dozen of the adorable little fluff-butts. I took them home and deposited them into the brooder. Just like that, I was officially a chicken owner. (Note: I did cancel the online order so I wouldn't end up with more chickens than I could comfortably house.)

For the first of what may well be many chicken-related posts, I decided to show off my new little girls (and one likely boy). I spent way too much of my day trying to get a decent pic of each of them. I mostly succeeded. So, without further ado, here are our new little chicks (Disclaimer - all names are being tested and may be subject to change as the chicks get older and their final appearances and personalities become more developed.):

This is Cayenne. She is one of two Gold-laced Wyandottes. She will develop into a lovely brown hen with golden, laced feathers.

Cayenne got her name from her bright red head and her feisty personality. She is bossy and active, but so far hasn't been mean. She is the largest of all the chicks, which might partly explain her bossiness. She will lay brown eggs as an adult (assuming she doesn't turn out to be a rooster, which given some of the bossy behavior I've witnessed is certainly a possibility).

Paprika, the dark chick on the right, is the other Gold-laced Wyandotte. I'm fairly certain that she actually is a pullet. She is quiet and gentle. As you can see, Paprika also has a red head, but a much lighter face. The blue chick next to her is Lavender, a Blue-laced Red Wyandotte. I was unable to get this variety online and was very excited to see them at the farm store. Their presence is what triggered my purchase.

Marjoram is another Blue-laced Wyandotte. She has much darker down and a lot more color in her wing feathers. She also has red splashes on her head.

Rosemary is my third Blue-laced Wyandotte. She has a light down like Lavender and red splashes like Marjoram. I am looking forward to seeing how these slightly different girls develop as they get older. It was very sweet of her to show off her wing for me.

This is Peppercorn. She is a Dominant Copper, which is a cross between a Barred Rock and a Copper Maran. She is much tinier than the Wyandottes and looks like a chubby little penguin. I couldn't get a good view of her face, but I will keep trying. It is truly adorable. Peppercorn will lay dark copper to chocolate brown eggs when she matures.

The little black chick on the right is a second Dominant Copper. (The larger chick on the left is Paprika.) She is even tinier than Peppercorn. I'm having a tough time settling on a name for this bitty girl. She developed a case of pasty-butt the first night home and I started referring to her as Little Miss Poopy Butt, but my husband insists that is not an appropriate (or particularly nice) name. Besides, it doesn't fit in with the herb & spice theme I have going. I'm currently bouncing back and forth between Parsley and Anise. I may have to wait for her to get a bit older before I can settle on one or the other (or something else entirely).

This little gal is Ginger. She started out all yellow, then developed this adorable ginger head. Unless her coloring changes drastically, her name is settled. Ginger is one of three Easter Egger Colorpack chicks. These chicks are a cross of Cream Legbars with at least two other standard breeds. They will lay green to blue eggs as adults.

Ginger is a silly girl who spends her time either hiding or trying to boss the bigger birds around. She has a lot of personality packed into a tiny package. It will be interesting to see just where she ends up in the pecking order as an adult.

Cinnamon is another Easter Egger Colorpack chick. Very sweet and lovely, she has quickly become one of my favorites. Like Ginger, she will lay eggs somewhere in the green to blue range.

Here is Cinnamon again with Coriander, my third Colorpack chick. Note the spot on his head. Unlike many breeds, Colorpacks can be sexed by the presence or absence of this spot. Because Coriander has a spot, he is almost certainly a cockerel (rooster less than a year old). We picked him for that reason as we had decided we wanted to try having a rooster to protect the hens. Time will tell if this was a good decision or not.

Nutmeg is an Easter Egger, but not a Colorpack. Easter Eggers are usually Ameraucanas crossed with something else. They often lay bluish eggs, but can also lay green, pink, brown or cream. We won't know what color she will lay until she actually starts laying. That is the fun of Easter Eggs. Their feathers and eggs come in all different colors and it's a surprise what you end up with. It's difficult to see in these pictures, but Nutmeg has buff colored cheek muffs.

Nutmeg is bold and spunky. She is usually the first chick to examine and explore anything new in the brooder. She happily climbs up into my hand even when I am not offering treats. If I had to name a favorite at this stage, Meg would be it. She has such a joyful personality and a really adorable face.

Clove is our second Easter Egger. She is a sweet, timid, little thing. As you can see, she looks totally different from Nutmeg. Overall, she is much darker and her cheek muffs are grey, which makes them much easier to see.

This is Clove from the side. She has beautiful wing feathers already. If it weren't for the tufts, I'd swear this girl was another Gold-laced Wyandotte. She looks so much like them. I can hardly wait to see how she turns out when all grown up. 

And that's all of them. Colonel Coriander and his eleven herbs and spices. Yeah, I went there. Stay tuned for more posts and pics as these little chicks grow up. In the meantime, I need to finish getting that coop ready!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Recipe: Pulled Pork

Another recipe requested by a friend. Enjoy, Lenny.

Pulled pork is probably the easiest barbecue to make, especially for beginners. It is very forgiving of technique and can even be made in a crock pot, if you are desperate, though purists probably wouldn't consider that barbecue. (I usually resort to this in late January/early February, when the world outside is starting to dream of spring but it isn't quite warm enough to really run the smoker yet.) I strongly encourage you to smoke this, if at all possible, or even cook it on a regular grill, using two-zone heating. (That's a whole other post, for another day. If you really want to know, Google is your friend.) You can even roast it in the oven at a low temp, but if the crock pot is your only option, go for it. I've included crock instructions where they might vary from the smoker method, but most of it will be the same except for the actual cooking part. As for the oven, it's pretty much the same as the smoker only you are doing it inside.

First, you will need a pork butt, or pork shoulder as it is sometimes called. If you are cooking in a crock pot, I suggest a partial butt if you can find one. Even my largest crock would have trouble accommodating a full butt. Um, that just sounds wrong, but you get what I mean. Anyway ... if you can't find a partial butt, no worries. You can cut a full one into smaller pieces. I usually do that anyway, even when using the smoker, as it allows it to cook faster and gives me more bark (more on that later.)

This is a pork butt. Or pork shoulder. Call it what you like, it is delicious when cooked low and slow until it becomes fall-apart tender. My local butcher trimmed this up pretty well, so it is ready to go, but if your butt has excess fat on it (ahem) then you might want to get rid of some of it. CROCK TIP: This is especially important when cooking in a crock pot, as every bit of that fat stays in the pot. Trim it down to a 1/4-inch (about 6 mm) thick or less.

If you are working with a full butt, you may want to cut it in half. I usually do. It cooks faster and gives me more bark, that tasty, crunchy crust that forms around the meat when you smoke it. A half butt takes 10-12 hours to smoke, whereas a full butt will need 16 hours or more. I don't like to get up before dawn to start making dinner, so I cut it in half. CROCK TIP: Bark, alas, is not going to form in the crock pot, so that is not a factor for you, but size might be. You may need to cut your butt just to get it to fit inside the pot.

To cut a full butt, look for the bone, as knives and bones don't get along very well. Cut the butt in half just to the side of said bone. You should get two almost equal pieces which will cook at close to the same rate. CROCK TIP: You can freeze half your butt for another day or use the other half to make sausage. Your call.

After splitting your butt, you need to coat it with mustard. (Stop laughing, I'm being serious here!) The mustard helps the rub adhere to the meat and also helps develop that amazing crust. Traditionally, plain yellow mustard is used. I prefer Dijon mustard with a little of my homemade chili sauce mixed in, but any mustard will work. If you are not a fan of mustard, don't worry. The mustard flavor pretty much disappears during the cooking process. Even so, if you honestly cannot handle putting mustard on your meat, then you can substitute olive oil. I prefer the mustard as I find it easier to work with and think it makes a better crust; however, there are many cooks out there who would disagree with me.

Just use your hands and slather a thin coat all over the meat. Don't be afraid to get messy. If you really must, you can use a silicone brush to apply it, but it will take longer and your coverage won't be as even. CROCK TIP: Since you cannot form bark in a crock pot because it holds all the moisture inside the pot, you may skip the mustard if you like. It won't hurt to add it, but it won't hurt to leave it out either. Just skip ahead and sprinkle the rub directly on the meat, if you prefer.

Next comes the rub, the true secret to great pulled pork. Most pit masters have their own secret blend and I'm no exception. I won't share my specific recipe, but I'll give you a basic one to get started. Just mix all the ingredients together and sprinkle liberally on your butt. (Seriously, stop laughing.)

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) coarse sugar. I use turbinado sugar. Brown sugar also works. Granulated only if that is all you can get.
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) coarse salt. I prefer kosher, but coarse sea salt also works. Table salt in a pinch. (haha -- pun!) IMPORTANT: If your butt has been injected with saline solution, omit any additional salt!
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) paprika. I prefer smoked, sweet paprika for this recipe, but any will work.
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) ground cumin
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon (2-5 ml) pepper flakes. The more you use, the spicier it gets.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different spices in your rub. That's how you get your super-secret, signature recipe. Just remember to start with a sugar/salt base with a ratio of about 3 parts sugar to 1 part salt. Again, omit the salt if your meat has been injected with a saline solution.


Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C). This is your target temp, where you want to keep your smoker at, but as I said earlier, butts are very forgiving. If your setup strays a bit from this, don't fret. As long as you keep it between 200°-300°F (95°-150°C), you should be fine. Since there are a ton of different smokers and grills out there, I'm not even going to attempt to instruct you on temperature regulation here. Just follow the instructions that came with your smoker or grill and you should be good. NOTE: I use a pellet smoker myself. I find it easy to use and love how it regulates the temp for me. I've used charcoal, wood and propane smokers in the past as well, but greatly prefer my pellet smoker. I just fill the hopper, set the temp, toss in the meat when it's ready and forget about it until dinner. Can't get much easier than that.

As I mentioned earlier, a full butt can take 16 hours or longer to cook. Half butts like these generally take 10 hours, maybe 12, depending on the size. Use a good meat thermometer and start checking full butts at about the 12 hour mark, half butts at about 8 hours. Don't check too often though, as all your heat escapes every time you open the smoker. (NOTE: I recommend inserting a digital cooking thermometer into the butt when you place it in the smoker. This will allow you to monitor the internal temp without having to open up the smoker.) When the internal temp hits 195°F (90°C) stick it with a barbecue fork and twist gently. If the fork turns easily, it is ready. If not, keep cooking until the internal temp hits 203°F (95°C). Cooking beyond this temp will just dry out the meat, so it's time to take it out of the smoker. If the fork still won't twist at this point, you may just have a tough butt (Stop it!) and may have to slice it instead of pulling it. No worries, it will still taste good. 

Smoked pork butt, ready for pulling.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT put sauce on your butt while it is smoking! I mean it. You have to wait until after it is pulled. Sauce will ruin all that lovely bark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Not My President

(Zoo At Home is NOT a political blog. It is a place to share my thoughts. 
Right now, these are my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth to you.)

Yes, Donald Trump is now president. I know this. We ALL know this. Many of his supporters seem to think we need to be reminded of this fact. Trust me, we don’t. We are painfully aware of the situation. If you voted for Trump, I ask you to think back on how you felt when Obama took office. How long did it take you to get over it? Still working on that, I’d bet.

Yet, many who voted for Trump seem to think the rest of us should simply fall in line. I repeatedly see calls from his supporters to "accept it" and "give him a chance." To "respect and support him” simply because he now holds the title of President of the United States. This befuddles me. The notion that a person, any person, should automatically deserve respect regardless of actions, behavior or attitude is ludicrous. To suggest this of a person in power is downright dangerous. One might even call it un-American. Where would we be today if our forefathers had taken that stance?

Respect must be earned, yet many would have me blindly offer it to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. These demands often come from the same people who are still ridiculing Barack Obama, even though he has now completed his TWO TERMS of office. If eight years of dignified service to this country were not enough to warrant their respect, why on earth would a few days of whining and spinning falsehoods be enough to gain mine? In short, they aren’t.

Trump was not elected president on a trial basis. He does not get a preliminary period to prove himself. He is president NOW, which means he is accountable NOW. Like many, I am not inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to civil rights and the future of our nation. Early decisions and actions matter just as much as later ones. Perhaps even more, as they may very well be a portent of things to come. To be painfully honest, I’m not comforted by what I have seen so far. His first acts as president reflect the polar opposite of what I envision for this nation, thus I am not inclined to support any of them. Why would I?

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that Donald Trump does NOT represent me. His ideals are not my ideals. His agenda is not my agenda. His vision for America is most definitely not my vision. After months of listening to him speak, watching his rallies and reading his interviews, I have found exactly zero issues which we agree on and none of his actions since taking office give me any hope that this will change. Therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, support the man or his policies.

In fact, I feel it is my civic duty to do exactly the opposite. I must challenge every decision I disagree with. I must call out every action I feel is harmful. I must shine a spotlight on every incidence of deceit and chicanery that I witness. I cannot, will not, be silent while this administration works to tear apart a country I love. America IS great and can be even greater, but this man, this president, will not get us there.

Many of you disagree. I get that. It is certainly within your rights to do so. You seem to share Trump’s vision for America and, thus, you support him. Perhaps you even respect him as well. It is not for me to say, just as it is not for others to determine where MY loyalties should lie. That responsibility lies with me and me alone. I take that responsibility very seriously. I have never supported ANY president unconditionally. I am not about to start now.

As long as Trump continues to pull my country in this dangerous and oppressive direction, I will fight him. I will not call him names or belittle him on a personal level, but I WILL stand against him. I will join with others who seek to do the same. Together, I hope we will have the strength to prevail, but even if we don’t, I will not simply capitulate. This great country is worthy of my support. Donald Trump is not.

Trump will have my respect and support when and if he earns it – and not one minute sooner. Until then, I will resist him and all he currently stands for. As a citizen of the United States of America, it is my right – no, my duty – to speak out against a government I disagree with.

So, speak I shall. While I still can.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Building the Perfect Beast

(NOTE: This is a long post with lots of images, so it may take awhile to load.)

We've had this project in the works for awhile now, saving up our pennies (okay, more than pennies but not enough to buy our own island) for a much needed technology refresh. We had access to some major discounts on some "bleeding" edge tech and we really, really wanted to try it out.

It took months to collect the funds and then all the parts, but the final piece finally arrived Saturday evening. The time had come to build the beast!

First, we needed the case, to put everything in. I hunted for weeks and had almost given up on finding one I liked. On a last moment shopping trip, I finally came across the Enermax Ostrog -- in blue! I love this case. Stick with me and you'll see why. 

See? Lots of space and everything is so easy to work with. Did I mention it was blue? Not as good as purple, but I've yet to see a decent purple tower, so blue is my go to color. You can secure drives with just a twist and the front panels just pop out. Quick and easy!

A case is useless without power. We went with the EVGA SuperNOVA 850 G2. It hit the sweet spot for quality, voltage and price. We didn't realize until we opened it up at home how fancy the packaging was. I have to say, I was a little impressed.

Once we were done ogling the pretty packaging, we settled it in place and started running wires. You can see here that we also removed the back panel of the case for access and took out some of the bays to make room for our graphics card, which we will see later.

Whoa, that's a lot of wires!

Next we installed the front panel components. Top is the Kinwin Multi-funcion Fan Controller Panel. It includes temperature monitoring and card readers. 

Under that is the VR panel that came with the graphics card. No, I don't have a VR headset yet, but I hope to get one in the near future. Meanwhile, the extra USB ports will come in handy.

Bottom is my optical drive, the only part of this build that was not purchased new. I pulled it from my old box, since it still works fine and won't see a lot of use. Optical drives aren't often included these days, but I have some software and games that install from disks, so I needed it in there.

Of course, a fan controller isn't much fun without fans to, well, control ... so we added a couple more in the top. Now I can make them spin slower or faster at my whim!

With the front panel bling all wired up, it was time for a power test.

Everything that was supposed to light up, lit. Things that should spin, spun. Good to go!

Now it's time to get down to serious business. 
That means a motherboard, specifically the Gigabyte X99 Designare EX. So pretty!

There was more underneath. I'm sure we can figure out what to do will all that stuff, right? Ooh, stickers!

Um, okay ... back to work. Nine screws and the motherboard was secured in place. Looks good in there, don't you think?

Next up, the first SSD, a 1.0 TB Intel SSD6. OMG, it is so tiny and cute!

Just popped it in place. Easy-peasy.

FYI, the light blue wrap on his wrist is to prevent static discharge that might damage these nifty electronic dowhatsits. (The dark blue one is his Fitbit.)

Once it was covered back up, you could barely even tell it was in there!

This SSD will be my boot drive and primary drive for my non-game software.

Now for the big moment. Drum roll, please!

Yep, there she is. Our lovely CPU. The brain of our beast. An Intel Extreme Core i7 6950X. 10 core, 20 thread, LGA 2011-v3, 4 Channels DDR4, up to 40 Lanes PCIe 3.0. Yeah, I don't know what half of that means either. It's shiny, it's fast and it's ours (at a sweet discount!). Let's put that baby in place!

There it is, all cozy and happy in its new home. Just have to secure it so that it stays put. Perfect!

Now, CPUs get hot and need a thermal solution to keep them cool. We actually had a little surprise here. Last time we bought our CPU from Intel, it came with a thermal solution. Not so much this time, which left us scrambling for one at the last minute. We briefly considered liquid cooling, but I really didn't want to deal with the maintenance. Since I am not planning to overclock, we decided a traditional heat sink would suffice. All those thin metal fins are what helps dissipate all the heat that tiny little brain generates.

A view from the bottom, where it actually contacts the CPU. It looks a bit like an alien spider to me, but as long as it keeps things cool, I'm okay with that. It's also huge.

We quickly figured out that we were going to want to need to install the memory before we put this in place, because it is so big it blocked the RAM slots.

One note about the RAM. When we placed our order, my husband kept saying that I probably wanted to get two packs. Now, somehow here, I got a little confused. I thought he meant two 16 Gb packs, for a total of 32 Gb. Turns out each PACK had 32 Gb, so I ended up with whopping 64 Gb! Seemed like overkill to me, but I'm not complaining.

The memory sticks just snap in place, so they didn't take very long to install. I have to say, having 8 sticks gives it some lovely symmetry. Then we added the framework support for the thermal solution.

I made sure to order the version that was offset to one side, to leave room for the graphics card, which will snug in next to it. Gods, that thing is big!

Once we had the heat sink in place, we had to clip the fan back on to it. This was possibly the most difficult part of the whole build. I had to remove one of the top fans to give me access to the clips to secure it, but after a few failed attempts we got it done.

Finally, we got to put in my beloved Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080. I've actually been test-driving this baby for the past month or so in my old box. I adore it!

I have to say, though, that the card looked a LOT bigger when it wasn't sitting next to that monster of a heat sink.

Last, but certainly not least, our second SSD, an Intel 1.2 TB 750 series. It is larger and faster than the SSD6 we put in earlier. We got the 750 during Intel's Cyber Monday sale, but they limited us to one. This SSD will hold my games, which should benefit nicely from the increased performance and storage space.

Finally, we finished connecting all those wires. It was hard to get pics of that as it was mostly weaving them around to the appropriate connectors and plugging them in. Then it was time to close the case back up.

There she is, all done!

Moved her into her new home, below my desk and spent two days loading the OS (Ugh, Windows 10) then downloading and installing all my software and games. My Intuos Pro plays nice with the new rig, working as a huge touch pad as well as a magnificent drawing tablet. The gaming monitor (which wasn't featured in this build blog because I'd already set it up) is sweet and also serves as the monitor for my PS4 Pro, which sits just to the left of my second monitor. I can switch between the two machines with just a couple presses of a button.

Here is a short video showing the case lights and fans in action. Pretty!

And a closer look at the graphics card bling.
This is why I got a case with a clear side cover.

Ooh, it's shiny!