Archive for April, 2012

“The Chicken Chronicles” Book Review

Alice Walker brings her gifts of language poetry and wisdom to her newest publication.  Instead of reading this particular title, I listened to an audio version narrated by the author.  I’m glad I did; it added to the rich prose and meditative quality of the work.  As she peacefully observes her backyard flock or writes letters to them from her many travels, Walker grapples with larger issues of justice, innocence, hurt, and other real and metaphorical observations in the overlapping world between humans and chickens.  I found myself inspired to pause from the hectic daily schedule and be mindful of my time spent with my flock, my mini farm, my family, and my world.  Perhaps in time I may acquire the wisdom that Walker projects.  Highly recommended!


The Chicken Chronicles: 
Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir
by Alice Walker
The New Press
2012
Cover Image from Barnes and Noble

“Free-Range Chickens” Book Review

I picked up this book soley because of its endearing title.  While I understood it to be a collection of “humorous” stories from the synopsis, I did not anticipate the laugh out loud humor.  Seriously:  Eruptions of loud laughter that caused my curious husband to come running from the other room to investage.  While not really about backyard poultry, it is certainly well written, clever, witty, and to be enjoyed by everyone, not just us free-range fanciers.  I’m going to order Simon Rich’s other books right now!


Free-Range Chickens
by Simon Rich
Random House
2008
Cover Image from Barnes and Noble

“The Feast Nearby” Book Review

Sadness and hope in heartfelt writing pervade Robin Mather’s writing.  She hooked me with empathy within the first sentences.  What a tragedy to lose both spouse and career within a week!  The book then continues into how she spends the next year picking up the pieces.  The essays flow, the ideas about local and sustainable food are thought-provoking, and the recipes fun and usually seasonal.  I say usually because I associate recipes such as toffee bars (butter, sugar, flour, chocolate, etc.) with long-term pantry stock irrelevant of season rather than only cold weather.  I mean, isn’t chocolate always in season?!  Instead I’d rather see more options for things like the winter storage cabbage still lurking in my February larders.  However, it’s a silly minor point for an overall lovely read.

As a reader, I felt very connected to the author and was sad to see the book finish.  Hope was temporarily restored when I read I could find out more on Mather’s blog, http://thefeastnearby.com/, but then dashed again when I saw it had not been updated since July of 2011.  I do hope she takes up her blog once more as I enjoyed reading her book.


The Feast Nearby
by Robin Mather
Ten Speed Press
2011
Image from Barnes and Noble

Asparagus Bread Pudding

This recipe was adapted from The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week) by Robin Mather.

I like the idea of local on a budget. After two years in the ground, my asparagus are finally up and ready for a light harvest. They need to be harvested daily because they grow so fast. Either snap them off by hand or cut them with a knife.

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Of course, the eggs are from my flock. The bread would have been tossed to the chickens today if I hadn’t stumbled upon this recipe whilst reading last night. They don’t seem to like old bread much so it’s up to us to “waste not, want not.”

Asparagus Bread Pudding

  • a bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 loaf stale baguette, crusts removed and cut into 1/2″ slices
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup grated romano cheese

Arrange the slices of baguette in one layer in a casserole dish. Top with asparagus.

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Whisk together the eggs, milk, and cheese and pour over top. Cover and refrigerate for 6-24 hours. When you are ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator allow to sit on the counter while the oven preheats to 350F. Bake for about an hour or until the middle is set and top golden brown.

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A Nudge From the Universe

Dear Chickens,

I’m writing today as a follow up to our discussion in the garden this afternoon.  It was rather complicated and one-sided; I know your chicken brains were too busy eating unearthed grubs and other delicious bugs as I pulled weeds to pay much attention.  If you do remember, our family was considering raising an endangered heritage breed to help preserve these disappearing and dear animals.  “Good idea,” I wanted to hear you bok-bok while following me for more weedy roots, but you were silent.  So I told you about the catch.  “The catch?” you must have thought.  Then I told you how with raising a self-perpetuating flock, comes the need for culling.  After all, too many roosters will hurt each other and isn’t the point to save your kin hurt in factory farms?  Yet, could I purposely take the life of another living creature that comes to me for nourishment and protection?  Especially one that my child chases among the grass and herbs and apple trees?  Could I?  We’ve been agonizing about this for months and you’ve haven’t offered much advice, allowing us to make this important decision in our own time.

This letter, dear chickens, is to tell you we’ve come to a decision. I think it may have been a small nudge from the universe (although I’m not sure I believe in such things); circumstances coming together and wistful me finding meaning and purpose.  Knowing my interest, a teacher at a local school asked if I could adopt their chicks and even choose their eggs, but I needed to let him know by today.  Then another little nudge:  Being torn between, Dorking, Faverolles, and Java breeds, a search of reputable breeders I know yielded only Faverolles hatching eggs ready in the given time frame.  I had already been leaning towards that breed since its roosters are reputedly the gentlest and quietest.  That is, if roosters are ever quiet.  The choice was made for me.

Now the order has been placed.  Two dozen fertile eggs arrive next week.  They hatch three weeks after that.  Modern markets slaughter their Cornish Crosses at 6 weeks old.  These new additions will not receive names as you have because how could I then do what has been required of farmwives throughout time?  I hope you will be nice to them and integrate them with love, but I suppose that would be asking too much of your chicken hardwiring.  So within three months we engage in what Barbara Kingsolver called a real game of Survivor were only the chickens that meet the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s criteria will make it to breed another year.  So in the words of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, “May the odds be ever in your favor” because the nicest, quietest rooster will win.

I hope it will not upset you, my omnivorous chickens, that we did not choose the vegetarian option.  I will do everything in my power to be compassionate and humane.  You deserve such dignity and more for all your kin have done for us.   You and I have have a special bond, my trusty laying flock.  A reader commented that every egg is a little miracle and I have to agree.  Thank you for all that you have given and taught our family.

Now the scary part… has anyone done this before?  I know, I know:  People have done this throughout time, but just not in my sanitized suburban setting.  Ahh!  I really need help!

Love,

Mommy

Ps.  I really think Alice Walker was onto something with this whole writing to chickens.

Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Codfish Cakes)

These alone may be a reason to marry into a Portuguese family. When I was first offered these “fishcakes” during a traditional Christmas Eve dinner, I had unpleasant visions of breaded and fried fish mush. Fortunately these are nothing the like. Now that I have the knack for them, I usually make them in large quantities (quintuple the recipe) and freeze the raw dough in sandwich bags for later use. My mother-in-law has one of those handy food saver systems where she actually makes the individual codfish cakes, freezes them on a cookie sheet, and then stores them in vacuum packed bags where they keep their unique shape perfectly.

Bolinhos de Bacalhau

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless salt cod
  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • olive oil for frying

Rehydrate the salt cod by soaking in cold water for 1-3 days, changing the water twice daily. Many times the thin boneless, skinless salt cod pieces can take only a day whereas the thick cuts may take a full three days. If you are impatient, you can always try changing the water more frequently. I wish I could give you an exact soak time, but it depends on the thickness of the cod. Unfortunately, you just need to taste it to test the flavor: You are looking for flavorfully salty. It’s a careful balance. Although over-soaking can leave to bland yuck, remember that you can always add more salt to the recipe, but there is little that can be done with too much salt once the recipe is prepared.

Once the salt cod is ready, boil it in fresh water with the potatoes until the potatoes are fork tender, which is about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain. Allow to cool for easier handling. Mash the potatoes. Flake the codfish by aggressively rubbing with a clean dish towel (or several towels depending on how much you cod you are using). Not only are you looking to pull the fish into flakes, but you want to rub apart the flakes into thread-like strands. Mix the potatoes, codfish, eggs, and parsley together until a dough forms.

Heat a skillet on medium. Add the olive oil enough to come up halfway on the codfish cakes, less than 1/2″. When the olive oil is hot and a test piece sizzles, it is ready. Prepare the codfish cakes in the traditional form using two soup spoons, passing the dough between the two spoons to form a three-sided mini-football shape. Fry until golden brown on each of the three sides. Drain on paper towels.

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Arroz no Forno (Baked Rice)

Simple. Easy. Flavorful. While you can make this in any baking dish, there are Portuguese dishes specifically made for baked rice. In Portuguese markets, I most often see this type of stoneware made from glazed terra cotta. What I haven’t seen in the US is the unglazed, black clay from Vila Real, which is located in Northern Portugal. I was lucky enough to carry one home from my last visit. I think the unglazed stoneware’s texture and dark color gives the rice a unique flavor and texture.

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Mother-in-law’s Authentic Arroz no Forno

  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups water
  • sprig or two of parsley
In a skillet, saute the onion, salt, and olive oil until translucent and just beginning to develop some color. Add water and bring to a boil. Add rice to baking dish and pour over the hot liquid. Bake at 350F for an hour. This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or until it can feed a Portuguese soccer team.
Daughter-in-law’s Lazy Arroz no Forno
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • dash of garlic and/or onion powder (optional)
  • sprig or two or parsley (optional)

Throw it all together and bake at 350F for 1 hour.

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