Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

i guess i was punk once


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There’s a first time for everything…

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I love roast chicken (who deosn’t, right?) It has always been one of my favorite foods. True confession time: up until this point, I had roasted one chicken in my life and it was a miserable failure. When I tell people this, they are shocked. I get a lot of “But roast chicken is so easy…” and “I don’t even cook, and I can make a roast chicken.” For many of the years when I was first learning to cook, I was a vegetarian. As a result, I am really comfortable cooking vegetarian meals but I am kind of intimidated by meat and poultry.

Now, I haven’t been a vegetarian for over a decade, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started cooking meat and poultry at home. One of the first things I tried to make was (you guessed it) a roast chicken and it was too soon. I had a hard time getting past handling the raw chicken, I didn’t have a meat thermometer and was worried about under-cooking the chicken (so I over-cooked it) and I had no idea how to carve so I pretty much decimated the poor chicken. It was pretty awful but I hoped that someday I would be able to do it right.

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Getting out of ruts (culinary and otherwise…)

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I have been in a couple of ruts lately. I haven’t been posting here as much as I would like, and we have been eating a lot of the same things for dinner. To kill a couple of proverbial birds*, I decided to spend some time looking through my cookbooks to find something interesting and post about one of my meals. Yay for setting and meeting goals, because I have three new recipes in the dinner rotation for this week and I am going to write about one of them right now.

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale
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Chickens in Lowell?

I don’t normally write about political issues on my little patch of the internet, preferring to use this space to talk about and explore my interests. So generally the topics here are pretty much kept in the cooking/eating/beer drinking/biking/dog owning/knitting/frittering/vacationing sphere. Strangely enough, one of my interests – allowing Lowellians to keep backyard hens for eggs – has become the hot political topic right here in Lowell (I know what you are thinking, “Marianne, you must live in an urban paradise where issues such as crime, the economy, and unemployment don’t need to be addressed, but instead the big debate is over eggs…”)

Way back in October, I was interviewed by our local, online arts magazine, Howl in Lowell, about why I supported an ordinance that would allow my neighbors to own back yard hens.

When I blogged about the video, I mentioned that my interest in this issue is purely selfish: I want all my neighbors to raise hens and share their delicious eggs with me. While that is obviously true, it was also a bit flip and didn’t really address why exactly, especially as someone who has no interest in owning chickens of my own, I think that my neighbors should have the freedom (with limits) to raise hens.

I first learned about the issue of backyard hens through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition (LFSC.) In conduction the Community Food Assessment, we learned that many residents want more options to produce their own food, including chickens. Through my work with the LFSC, I got involved with the Lowell Backyard Chicken Group. The Backyard Chicken Group has been researching chicken ordinances throughout the country, and has put together a suggestion for an ordinance that makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense because it addresses many of the issues that have come up throughout this chicken kerfuffle (as I’m calling it.)

The suggestions proposed by the group are based on over a year’s worth of research, and include limiting the number of hens that can be kept based on yard size, banning roosters because they are noisy and unnecessary for egg production, and creating a peer-support and resource network to help residents learn about the pros and cons of raising their own hens and to provide education and support to each other. That makes sense to me.

Another thing that makes sense to me? Promoting opportunities to empower residents, increase their self-sufficiency, and make our community more sustainable. Backyard chickens do that. In closing, I am posting a copy of the letter that I sent to all of the members of the Lowell City Council (and I promise that my next post will be back to the usual biking/cooking/eating/knitting/beer drinking/dog walking/home improving shenanigans ;-) )

Dear Councilors,

I am writing to support the ordinance that would allow Lowell residents to keep backyard hens for personal use. I first learned of the issue of raising hens in Lowell through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition. As a member of the Lowell FSC, I worked with local organizations and community members to complete the Lowell Community Food Assessment, a community wide study of the food resources and needs in the City of Lowell which can be found online here: http://lowellfoodsecurity.wordpress.com/lowell-community-food-assessment/the-lowell-community-food-assessment-report/. In talking to Lowell residents, the Lowell FSC learned that people want more options for producing their own food, which includes raising chickens.

I think that the ordinance that the Backyard Chicken Group is proposing makes a lot of sense for Lowell. It addresses issues like yard size and overcrowding, noise (roosters are banned,) and the group is planning to set up a resource network for residents interested in raising hens for eggs to help ensure that everything is done in a safe and sanitary manner. The group has done a lot of research on the issue and has looked at ordinances in similarly dense areas like Somerville, MA and Brooklyn, NY.

Chickens help reduce city waste – they eat food scraps and their manure can be composted and used to fertilize soil. Chickens also eat nuisance insects like ticks and slugs. There is no evidence that backyard hens reduce property values, in fact some of the urban areas with the highest property values in the nation allow backyard hens. Backyard hens also give people the ability to produce their own food, and the eggs pack a higher nutritional punch than supermarket eggs, even organic ones. Chickens pose less of a risk for the spread of salmonella then reptiles, which are currently legal in Lowell, and they do not attract any more types of wildlife than those that are attracted by backyard bird feeders, also not against the law.

I am in support of this ordinance because it gives homeowners more choices as to what they do on their land, because it increases self-sufficiency among our residents, because it increases sustainability, and because it can be used as a tool to educate our children as to where food comes from. Also, the eggs just plain taste better.

Sincerely yours,

Marianne Gries


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Chicken Stew with Cider, Butternut Squash, and Shallots (or, the perfect fall meal.)

Chicken Stew with Cider, Butternut Squash, and Shallots

I am really surprised I’ve never posted this recipe as it is one of our absolute favorites. It’s one of those recipes that is just so perfectly fall, and preparing – and eating – it is one of the things I anticipate every September.

The stew has layers of flavors, starting with some lightly curried shallots…

Chicken Stew with Cider, Butternut Squash, and Shallots

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Farmers Market Recipes

Lowell Farmers Market bounty: eggs, tomatoes, onions, garlic, peaches, cucumbers, bread, potatoes, MAPLE COTTON CANDY, cheese, basil, corn, Grade B syrup. I was basically hemorrhaging money dollahs while I was there!
Last week’s Lowell Farmers Market haul – I love eating at this time of year!

It’s Friday, which means it’s Lowell Farmers Market Day! I love the farmers market and try to visit every week during the season. This summer, I have been making the same two dishes each and every weekend that the required produce has been available: Panzanella and Vegetarian (or not) Red Flannel Hash.

Lowell’s fantastic online arts and entertainment magazine, Howl, is currently sponsoring an Eat Local Challenge and so, of course, I had to submit my two favorite farmers market recipes. Here’s a link to the piece which (obviously) includes recipes!

Do you have any favorite farmers market recipes? I’d love to see them! Better yet, if you’re local, you should submit them to Howl – the prize is a Fuse gift certificate – YUM!


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Lowell is obsessed with FroYo (and apparently so am I!)

A strange thing has happened in Lowell this summer, five new frozen yogurt places have opened up. Those five plus the two that opened up within the past year brings our grand total up to seven. That’s a lot of froyo for one mid-sized city to have (and I’m not even counting the froyo places that have recently opened up in neighboring towns.)

What is up with all this froyo? I have no idea. Why is there a sudden explosion of froyo in Lowell right now? Still no idea. What I do know is that Gist and I made it our mission to try all of them to pick the best, no our favorite, no the one we’ll be visiting the most often. Here are our totally unscientific and subjective results:

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