Friday, August 26, 2011

A little country in the city

Fisherman Bob and his Salmon sidekick
When we moved to the island, I had a hard time with the extreme rural and remote conditions. I missed take-out. Driving over 45 miles per hour. And ambient light.

I missed being warm. Other people. Noise. Stores that stay open past five. And the energy of the city.

At the same time, I loved living among farms and farm stores. Chickens and eagles. Cows and sheep. Our request to "live in nature" had been answered by the universe. We'd been longing for this. Green all around. Fresh air. Surrounded by water. Simplicity. Peace. Quiet.

The room to just.... aaaaaaahhhhhh....

My Farm Life Fantasy
I had grand visions of us eating fish that we caught ourselves, raising chickens and growing our own food.

We didn't have a boat or fishing poles. Or friends with boats or fishing gear. Or the money to buy/rent anything required to catch your own fish. So that didn't happen.

Though there was a small chicken coop on the property, raising chickens also required money. And time. And a lot of clean up. And there was the matter of the two eagles that made the two evergreens next to the house their hunting perch. And the fact that I was pregnant and couldn't conceive of carrying a baby and raising chickens at the same time. So that was out.

What about the vegetable garden? Well, I blame that one on laziness on my part. In my defense, I was pregnant. And I had a lot of yard work that challenged me without the task of maintaining a vegetable garden. It would have been all on me since Bob was commuting to San Francisco for work. So... no home grown veggies.

City Mouse/Country Mouse
When we moved back to Chicago... well, it didn't take long for me to start missing the country. Am I never happy? Always wanting what I don't have?! I actually missed the quiet, the darkness, the lack of conveniences. I missed the mountains, hiking trails, farms and country lifestyle. And the people. Of course. We had finally started making friends just before we left.

My complicated relationship with the island is well-documented on both my blogs. Here and here. Loving it and hating it. Craving nature, missing the city. I am at once both the city mouse and the country mouse.

But back to the chickens, fish and garden.

Wednesday night, all three of these things came to fruition in Chicago.

In the big city.

I grilled a big ol salmon that Bob caught fresh that very morning. I served the salmon with tomatoes from our community vegetable garden. And six baby chicks arrived in our backyard.

I'll explain.

The Landlord
First... we have an amazing landlord.

His name is Andrew Gardner and he is a high school friend of our dear friend Cece Tio. And he's an amazing guy. We adore him. He's been so helpful and understanding from the very beginning.

Just like any landlord, Andrew asked for a credit check when we applied for the apartment. Well, I knew we wouldn't pass. So I told him. I explained the situation. I directed him to the blog hoping he might read it and choose to take a chance on us. And he did. And we've been so grateful ever since.

The Garden
Malcolm enjoys a fresh tomato
Andrew is living up to his last name. This garden is unbelievable. I planted a variety of cherry tomatoes, arugula, butter lettuce and rosemary. The rest is Andrew. Here's what's growing in the garden:

Tomatoes
Lettuce
Kale
Kohlrabi
Eggplant
Onions
Red Cabbage
Green Beans
Ghost Peppers
Cantelope
Cucumber
Tomatillos
Cauliflower
Corn

As if that weren't enough, every day I'm surprised to discover something else that Andrew planted that has just started to grow.

Malcolm loves eating tomatoes right out of the garden. As soon as I pick one, he opens his mouth wide and leans in for a bite. He eats them like apples.

The Chickens
Malcolm meets the baby chicks for the first time!
One day I was talking to Andrew and the subject of backyard chickens came up. I don't remember how. Andrew said something about how we should do that. We talked about how cool it would be to have fresh eggs and Andrew mentioned that the fertilizer would do wonders for the garden.

I thought it was a cool idea. But just that. An idea. Nothing more.

Then Andrew ordered a book. Backyard Chickens for Dummies... or something like that. And I thought, hmmm... maybe he's actually going to do this.

Then he started to construct the chicken coop and I thought, "Yeah. He really seems to be going through with this."

Emily, the barista and former owner of the coffee shop down the street asked me one morning, "How do you feel about Andrew having chickens in your back yard? Are you excited?"  And I said something like, "Yeah. But it doesn't seem real."

Then Andrew told us that Malcolm could name one of the chicks. Of course, that meant that Bob and I were naming the chick. We turned to Facebook for suggestions. Bob came up with Terri Hatcher. My grade school friend, Nate, came up with a popular one- Yolko Ono. But it was my Aunt Marlene who suggested the winner: Chick Norris. (We then considered the variation Cluck Norris.)

But it wasn't until the baby chicks actually arrived (in a container slightly larger than a Happy Meal box) that it became real. Andrew really is raising chickens in our backyard! And they are here!

And yes. It is legal to raise chickens in your backyard in Chicago. Here's a Sun Times article on that subject: Raising chickens legal in Chicago, and people are crowing about it.

The Fish
On Wednesday Bob woke up at 2 AM, drove up to Kenosha, Wisconsin with some friends, got in a boat and caught us some dinner. A big Lake Michigan salmon. The trip was arranged by his pal John and they couldn't have ordered up a more perfect day to spend on Lake Michigan fishing. Apparently Bob had the first catch of the day and it took him twenty minutes to reel it in.

I was relieved that the fish arrived home already gutted, scaled and filleted. All I had to do was figure out how to use the charcoal grill. Yes. Figure it out. I'm not kidding. I've never done it before.

I'd seen our neighbors using the chimney to light it. So I just went online and found myself some easy to follow instructions about the chimney and how to use indirect heat on a charcoal grill. It was so easy. I don't know why I make these things out to be such a hassle.

My mom and Tom gave us some cedar planks and our landlord, Andrew gave us his dad's marinade recipe. The recipe involved brown sugar, honey, butter, soy sauce, olive oil and ginger. I normally just prepare salmon with lemon in the oven. Really simple. But I thought we'd try something new. And it was delicious.

There's truly something about catching your own dinner. Or having a husband who catches it for you. It tasted so good.

As we sat in the back yard enjoying the fish that was caught that day by Bob, tomatoes grown in our garden and listening to the baby chicks chirping away, I thought about how fortunate we are. And how funny life is. I guess this is my way of having a little country in the city. The best of both worlds.

It's so easy (if you have a landlord like Andrew.)

P.S. He prefers to be called "slumlord".

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