The Awesome Australorp.

The dead of winter, even in California, is not exactly baby chick season. It is a time for hens and their keepers to hunker down and dream hopefully of the coming time of daffodils. But I needed chicks and I needed them now, so we grabbed our coats and scarves and headed up the road one chilly day in mid-January to Dare2Dream Farms. Farmer Jeremy led us into a room where a few hundred newly-hatched chicks peeped away, huddled on stacked trays like cupcakes in a bakery.

It being January, the breed choices were limited. I knew I wanted a Buff Orpington, so that was easy, like choosing a vanilla cupcake. From there I decided to just try new flavors – I’d never had a Rhode Island Red. And, from the name, alone, an Australorp sounded interesting. Farmer Jeremy scooped three little peepers from the trays and home with us they came. Nothing exotic, just basic standard-fowl chickens.

Yet Ava the Australorp stole my heart from the get-go. While Bella, the Buff Orpington,  coolly regarded her new surroundings (cardboard brooder on the bathroom counter – she was not terribly impressed) and Nugget the RIR murderously pecked at her siblings, Ava cocked her little head upwards and looked right at me with her kohl-lined eyes. She seemed more trusting than the other two; if anyone was going to run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, it wouldn’t be her.

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Three days old; Nugget the RIR, Bella the BO and Ava the Australorp.

Australorps are as bumptious a concoction as their name. Black Orpingtons from England were imported to Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century, where they were bred with Minorca, White Leghorn, and Langshan chickens to create an optimal production chicken. Indeed, a storied Australorp hen set a world record when she laid an amazing 364 eggs in 365 days.

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A woman minds her flock in 1900’s Queensland, Australia. I wonder if the dark birds might be Australorp pullets. (Pinterest image)

As they gained popularity, these highly-valued production birds crossed the ocean again, imported back into Britain and into the United States in the 1920’s. Breeders sought a name that would distinguish the breed from Orpingtons and finally settled on the Australorp, honoring both their breed and geographical heritage.

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Ava at one week.

I knew that Australorps had a reputation for being docile. I didn’t know that Ava would be so calm as to make Bella, the Buff Orpington, a breed known for its stateliness, seem skittish. Or that Ava’s feathers would be so irresistibly soft. She’s like a feather duster with feet! And then there is that “beetle-green” sheen which is the breed standard for Australorps – who knew she would be so pretty?

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See the green sheen to Ava’s feathers?

At three months of age, the “three graces” as I think of them, are officially pullets, gaining size and confidence as they grow into hens. They are about half-way to their point of lay, so come end of July we should be awash with eggs.

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Is this what they mean by a chicken in every pot?


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Ruling the roost this morning.

While broodiness has largely been eliminated from most breeds by commercial breeders (a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs) the Australorps have a reputation for occasional broodiness, as do the Buff Orpingtons. I’m hoping that Ava or Bella will eventually go broody and perhaps raise a few more exotic chicks for me by and by. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these girls, especially the sweet, soft, well-mannered Ava. Australorps are awesome!

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I see the moon.

Has the moon ever shone more beautifully than this past week?  Couple of nights ago we indulged in our favorite two-hour vacation. Left the dogs behind (sorry, dogs) and drove over to Hendry’s Beach for a sunset dinner at the Boathouse perched right there at the edge of the sand. And what luck we had!

First, we caught a glimpse of a gray whale lumbering through the Santa Barbara Channel, so close to shore you could have swum out and given it a pat on its mottled back. And then, as we left (had to get back to those dogs) we were treated to the beginning of a most beautiful moonrise.

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It was rising in the east, peeking over the rise of the Mesa, where it is supposed to be, right?But as I watched it, I remembered an evening a few years ago when I looked out the window and saw what appeareda spectacular moonrise in the western sky.

We’ve all seen a pale moon here and there in the daytime sky, staying out after curfew. But rising in the west? It was either the beginning of the apocalypse or I’d been carrying around some major misinformation all my life. Doesn’t the moon rise in the east and set in the west like the sun?

So I finally looked it up and yes, order is restored. The moon rises due east and sets due west twice a year at the fall and spring equinoxes. It wanders about from there depending on the time of year, rising north or south of east and setting north or south of west.

But then, how did I see it rise in the west?

It was a new moon. According to earthsky.org “On the day of new moon, the moon rises when the sun rises. It sets when the sun sets.” As the new moon was setting, it was apparently illuminated by the setting sun. A different way to say “Goodnight, Moon”.

Not sure why it took me sixty-some trips around the sun to notice the moon, but better late than never. I see the moon and the moon sees me – from wherever it happens to be that night.

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A much better photographer than me got this beautiful moonrise shot (edhat image):

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25 Seconds in New York City.

It always comes down to the moments in New York: anything can happen and something usually does. There are the usual pleasures – family and friends, and the quotidian annoyances – tourists lagging on the sidewalk; holding your breath in the subway elevator because who even knows what happened in there to cause that smell.

And then there is the weird and the wonderful. A hearty embrace from a complete stranger, just because. A cluster of onlookers on Central Park South, all eyes upward – what could be happening? Something up above. It’s…it’s…oh my gosh, it’s a pair of raccoons mating in a tree in Central Park. You don’t see that every day. Or maybe you do. It’s the city. Be prepared for anything. A wayward pigeon might need to be rescued from a storefront display window. Yup. That happened, too.

It’s the moments you remember. Here are twenty-five of them that I loved:

Watching spring unfold in Central Park was a highlight of this trip. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course. Willowdell Arch.

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We visited Daniel and his kitties at his new apartment. Daniel and Sandro here. “He’s mine,” says Sandro, “you can’t have him!”

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The CE and Daniel outside Diner in Williamsburg, dreaming about those coffee-cream-filled doughnuts. Mmmmm.

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After brunch, we took a walk on the High Line. Some guy brought his tortoise out for a sun bath. Of course.

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Easter Sunday at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.  A gorgeous welcoming church. According to Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston,”Jesus is on the loose!”

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It was a little cold that day for Daniel to smile. “Just.Take.The.Picture.Please.

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All smiles now, though. The Plaza. Brunch at the Palm Court.

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Jamesy.

James Easter 2016

The weather was all over the place. Some days were wintry, but these flags brightened the front of Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Some days the sun came out. Makes you feel ten feet tall.
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But no mistake about it. Spring is here! The mallards in Central Park can’t be wrong.

mallards central park april 2016

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We always walk across the Park to have lunch at Beyoglu. Oh, that bread. And the cacík. The best.

beyoglu lunch

We also enjoyed a swanky lunch at The Modern with Angie.

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Taylor looks handsome and happy. He got new shoes (oh, not that he needed them…) and a steak dinner at Landmarc.

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We finally got to Peter Luger with Daniel and Christina. Wow! Steak. And schlag. Lots and lots of schlag.

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Sometimes the evening light is so beautiful in the city you just have to stop and appreciate it. Ninth and 47th.

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Thanks to our friend, Ashley, we got to go backstage after the play. Sadly, the pies, we discovered, are not real. But I can report that Jesse Mueller is even prettier in person!

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This dessert is totally real. And so are the calories:-( Vanilla Meringue at Cafe Fiorello.

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As long as we’re on the subject, full disclosure. A Pavlova at Balthazar.  In my defense, I did walk eight miles that day…

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Many thanks for Sunday and Josh for the invite to the reception at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. A special evening with such special people!

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It’s always so hard to say goodbye to the city. One last walk to say farewell to the fountain at Lincoln Center.

Until next time, NYC. xoxo

lincoln center fountain april 2016

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Smack Dab in the Middle: Columbus Circle

Of the fifty four million people who visit New York City each year, I’m guessing that  fifty three million and some change would tell you that the center of the city is Times Square. They would be wrong. By a mile. (Almost exactly).

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The center of the center of the universe (yes, I’m ethnocentric) is actually Columbus Circle. It is the point from which all official distances in New York City are measured. Times Square may arguably be considered the heartbeat of the city, but Columbus Circle is its belly button. And my ‘hood. Completed in 1905, it fulfilled Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for a “grand circle” at the Eighth Avenue Merchant’s Gate entrance to Central Park.

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Wikipedia view of Columbus Circle from the Time-Warner center.

After laying awake most of last night unsuccessfully counting imagined sheep in Sheep Meadow across the street, it occurred to me that there is some powerful synchronicity in being a die-hard insomniac in the absolute center of city that never sleeps. Why fight it? As soon as the sun came up I decided to take a tourist’s walk around Columbus Circle.

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Good morning! Like me, Christopher Columbus is an early riser. (polloplayer photo)

Like me, Christopher Columbus never sleeps. Since 1892 he has stood vigil atop his seventy-six foot pedestal, which was spit-shined up a few years ago with a $1 million restoration. Translated, the rousing inscription at the base of his statue declares:

JOY AND GLORY / NEVER UTTERED A MORE THRILLING CALL / THAT THAT WHICH RESOUNDED / FROM THE CONQUERED OCEAN / IN SIGHT OF THE FIRST AMERICAN ISLAND /LAND! LAND! /

In the summer he is cooled by the fountain sprays designed by the WET Company of Bellagio Las Vegas fame. If you don’t mind dodging the skateboarders who careen off the stone benches surrounding the statue, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a cup of gelato from the Turin, Italy-based Grom shop across the street.

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The Columbus Circle fountain cools down summer in the city. (polloplayer photo)

Some of the best views of the Circle are from the surrounding restaurants. If you can afford it, a perch at Thomas Keller’s Per Se is the perfect spot for a salute to Christopher Columbus. For us mere mortals, Mr. Keller’s Bouchon Café is easier on the wallet and affords a splendid view of the Circle from the third floor of the Time-Warner Center. Another option is to plead, cajole and shamelessly abase yourself (yes, I’ve done it), in hopes of scoring a window table for a special lunch or dinner at Robert Restaurant atop The Museum of Arts and Design. Drink tabs at the Lobby Lounge of the Mandarin Oriental are stratospheric, but the view of the Circle from there is priceless. Another way to enjoy the view is to attend a Jazz at Lincoln Center performance where the Circle provides a spectacular backdrop to Dizzy’s Club and Appel Room performers.

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View of Columbus Circle from Per Se restaurant (image from Town & Country magazine)

Sometimes late at night when the window is open, I will hear a last-call horse carriage clop around the circle and wonder what it must have been like back in the days before taxi cabs whipped around Columbus Circle blaring their horns. The West Side Rag has published some historical photos of the Circle, including this one below from the early 20th century, when things were distinctly quieter than they are now.

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Wherever the center of your universe is today, I hope, like Christopher Columbus, you are discovering exciting new worlds. As for me, with this whole great city at my feet, I think I’m going to…take a nap.

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The globe at Columbus Circle: the whole world is at your feet here! (polloplayer photo)

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Signs of Spring, Central Park.

No surprise, I suppose. The minute I start bragging about California, New York has to start showing off.

I’ve been in the city for heaving snowstorms, 100+ degree scorchers and even for Hurricane Sandy, during which we nervously contemplated that unhinged crane dangling high in the sky over son Taylor’s apartment. But this is the first time I’ve been here to see the branches in Central Park go from bare to embroidered with green, all within a few days in the latter part of March. What a great time to be in the city!

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Within just a few days of our arrival, the beginnings of green could be seen.

I have a favorite route through the Park. I walk north on Central Park West past Tavern on the Green and enter the Park at 67th Street. Then, onward past Sheep Meadow, a left turn to walk along The Mall, and then a pause, always, to appreciate the angel statue at Bethesda Terrace. Then I continue downhill past the Boathouse, salute a squirrel or two along the paths and then pop out at 79th Street on the Upper East Side. It is one of the most exquisite mile-long strolls one could imagine and, of course, there is always a joyful parade of dogs to greet along the way. And sometimes even a celebrity – yesterday I passed actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and his lady love strolling hand in hand in the Park.

But the true luminaries in the Park this season are the blazingly yellow forsythia, the thousands of perky daffodils and the glorious flowering pear trees. Yes, the temperatures are supposed to plummet back down into the 20’s next week, but still, we’ve had a taste of spring:

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What a difference a few days makes – all the branches are greening up.

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One happy little sparrow and the forsythia beyond.

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All that forsythia is the star of the show in the Park right now!

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Punters abounded on the lake around Bethesda Terrace yesterday as the temperatures edged into the high 70’s.

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A redbud tree near Bethesda Terrace begins to unfurl its blossoms.

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Thousands of daffodils are currently abloom.

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And tulips!

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These gorgeous flowering pears are everywhere.

There is no bad time to be in the city. But the end of March may be one of the best times. Just keep the puffer coat handy…

“It was a day in March, and the sky was a faint green with the first hint of spring. In Central Park, five hundred feet below, the earth caught the tone of the sky in a shade of brown that promised to become green, and the lakes lay like splinters of glass under the cobwebs of bare branches.” — Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

 

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Walk With Me.

Dateline, NYC, but I am thinking this morning about California. Met a woman on my flight – polo shirt, pearls, Connecticut, of course – who literally had never heard of Santa Barbara and who was none too impressed with the first-ever weekend she had just spent in Los Angeles. I suspect she will not return.

I understood. One of my early memories of California back in the 1970’s was of caustically bright purple ice plant blooming in February. February. It was weed-like, creeping in vast volunteer patches across roadway berms, so corrosively saturated in color as to be ridiculous. C’mon, California, tone it down a notch, I thought.

Fortunately, California didn’t attend to my directive. Fast-forwarding several decades, she is in the grip of a perilous drought, but still somehow managed to show off all this winter. The mornings have been brilliant, crystalline. Bunnies darting in and out of the brush, lizards setting up shop on rocks for all-day sunbathing. Just a few sprinklings of rain and everything turned lush green – well, at least temporarily. The ornamental pears have never bloomed more spectacularly than they did this year. The wisteria and the camellias and the plum trees have burst into bloom.  What lies ahead after a non-starter El Niño, I’m not sure, but I can tell you that Chloe and I cherished our walks this winter.

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magnolias feb 2016

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plum blossoms

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chloe green march 2016

Don’t change a thing, California. Let’s just pray for rain!

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Drumstick Please: It’s National Poultry Day

It’s your clucky day! Whether it’s shrink-wrapped in your refrigerator, a tub of extra-crispy at the drive-through or, as in my case, cackling in the coop, today, March 19, is National Poultry Day, declared by someone at some point (no one really knows who or when) and set aside for you to hug the chicken nearest and dearest to you.

Or you could read about them. Thanks to my thoughtful friend, Nancy, who gifted me Andrew Lawler’s book Why Did the Chicken Cross the World, I can now shine in the chicken trivia category. And so can you:

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Did you know?

  • More than 20 billion chickens live on the planet at any given moment.
  • Red Jungle Fowl are the source of all the world’s chickens. They are suicidally skittish; there is a 5% chance every time you hold one that it will die.
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The bird that started it all: the Red Jungle fowl from Southeast Asia is the progenitor of every chicken on the planet today. (Photo by Jan Harteman from gbwf.com)

 

  • The chicken was a rare and royal bird in ancient Egypt. Pottery dated between 1300 and 1100 B.C.,depicting a Red Jungle Fowl rooster, was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb

 

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This shard from Tutankhamen’s tomb is now the property of The British Museum.

  • Grandmother really does know best: all that fuss about chicken soup may have a scientific base. Chicken meat contains cysteine, an amino acid related to a drug used to treat bronchitis, and possibly possesses anti-inflammatory properties.

 

  • The first documented chickens in New World arrived in 1493 en route from Canary Islands with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to Hispaniola.

 

  • Fun fact: for all that crowing, roosters don’t have penises.

 

  • A chicken in every pot: the average American eats close to 100 lbs of chicken a year.
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image from etsy.com

 

  • More medicinal qualities: rooster combs are a rich source of hyaluronan, which reduces inflammation and has been used on racehorses for decades.

 

  • Thanks to Queen Victoria’s infatuation with Cochins, from 1845-55 Britain and America were gripped by an obsession with exotic chickens.” In 1849, the price for a pair of Cochin fowl could range from $150 to $700.
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They do say we start to resemble our pets: Queen Victoria and a cochin hen. (pinterest image)

 

 

 

  • The word auspice comes from Latin and means “observer of birds”.

 

  • Also in the sadness department: poultry grown for food is exempted from all U.S. government rules regulating animal welfare. The words “free-range” and “organic” are  meaningless. “Grass-fed” and vegetarian” are ridiculous – chickens are not vegetarians! You can look for the word “pastured” on meat and eggs but apparently even that appellation is questionable – there is no official certification for these terms.

 

  • But the French, who know a good fricassee when they see it, have figured it out: the famed French Bresse chickens feast on a diet of corn, wheat and skimmed milk and forage on their own for tasty worms and bugs. They wander at least 30 square feet of open field for four months and are then fattened up for an additional two weeks.
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Yet another reason to fly to France for dinner: the fabled Bresse chicken (image from frenchentree.com)

 

  • I’ll have the dinosaur tenders: in 2007,  scientists extracted a protein from a Tyrannosaurus Rex that proved to be identical to the chicken.
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(image from 2oceansvibe.com)

 

So today’s the day to cockle-doodle-doo.  Spread your wings, do the funky chicken, feather your nest and cackle to your heart’s content. As for me, I’m headed out to the coop with a celebratory treat – mealworms all around!

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“Did someone mention mealworms?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments