Wednesday 16 February 2011

I saw two news items today confirming the continued popularity of chickens across the world. The first came from Sunset Magazine proclaiming backyard chicken coops as one of the Top 100 Cultural Trends in the West. It's part of "The ideas, people, places, and things that are making life out here better right now."

The second news item came from Dorset, England, where they're experiencing a rise in chicken thefts. The reason? The price of a purebred chicken has risen because of the popularity of raising chickens. "The Domestic Fowl Trust says chicken thefts, driven by rising prices, are happening more regularly across the country. When you could get a bird for £5, no-one cared. But now that keeping poultry is more popular and prices are higher, we are seeing these thefts increase. It is a really popular hobby – it is the fastest growing pet market there is at the moment.”  Shouldn't we have a "Domestic Fowl Trust" in this country too?

I think that one under-appreciated reason for the chicken craze is because chickens brighten your day and make you laugh. Take this morning for instance. My day started out with six knobby chicken knees peering through the window at me. I was late with the girls' warm breakfast mash and as I entered the run I looked up to find a line of scaly legs as the only thing visible through the coop window. Kinda' looked like the Rockettes - if the Rockettes were made up of chickens.

Everyday it's something new. Yesterday Roxanne didn't want to touch the snow but she was also tired of being held by me. So, off she flew from my arms, bounced twice on the snow-covered path like a deflated basketball and finally landed up to her neck in the snowbank. She haughtily scrambled out of the snow attempting to keep her matronly dignity intact.

Then there's Ruby, who wears as much food as she eats. As her beak gets coated with a mustache of yogurt she swings her head causing it all to land on her head. Yesterday she wandered about with a cape of arugula perched on her back.

Chickens are pets that provide many diverse dividends. Yes, they give us eggs, but they'll also give you something to smile and laugh at. In spite of yourself.
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Thursday 03 February 2011

It's been a fun week. Everyday something new comes out about the book (Chicken and Egg) and I hear from people who've bought it, such as this lovely note I received from reader Lisa H:  "I purchased your book "Chicken and Egg" at Crate and Barrel. Every aspect shines-writing photographs and recipes. I read it cover-to-cover. As a fellow Suburban Homesteader, and flock owner of 12 hens, I was drawn to your personal story of poultry ownership, and we are always looking for new egg recipes. Thank you for sharing your story and recipes."The chicks appear to be totally unfazed by their emerging publicity. Their attitude seems to be that fame is probably fleeting, and what's really important in life is that the food bowl is full and treats come often. But, if there are fans out there with time of their hands, I'm sure the girls would each love a pair of hand-knit leg warmers, as our cold weather continues!

I'm excited to share one of my favorite recipes from the book, I hope you like it! It's a great recipe for Super Bowl week because it's perfect to serve during the game. The recipe calls for the wings to be grilled, but if you're one of the many readers who have suffered through the storm of the century this week, I've also adapted it so that you can cook the chicken in the oven. I think you'll like it either way. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Smoked Wings with Cilantro Dip Print this Recipe
These wings are addictive. The smoked paprika, cumin, and chipotle chile powder are key to their smoky, bold flavor. Don't be put off by the length of the ingredient list; it's a very quick and easy recipe. Simply measure and dump, then marinate the wings for up to a day before grilling.
Wings:2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings (about 16 wings) separated at the joint, or 32 chicken drumettes3 tablespoons smoked paprika2 tablespoons red wine vinegar1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Greek1 tablespoon ground cumin3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder3/4 teaspoon garlic powder3/4 teaspoon kosher salt1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper14 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cilantro Dip:3/4 cup lightly packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil1/3 cup water1/4 cup chopped pecans3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint2 garlic cloves1/2 teaspoon ground cumin1/4 teaspoon kosher salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place the wings in a large resealable plastic bag, Stir together the remaining wing ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Add the olive oil and stir until smooth. Add the seasoning mixture to the chicken wings, seal the bag, and squish the bag to coat the wings with the seasoning. Put in a shallow pan and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours. (I just tried it without marinating and there's still a lot of flavor, so don't worry if you can't let it sit overnight.)
Blend all of the dip ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Heat the grill.* Remove the wings from the rub and discard any remaining seasoning mixture. Grill over medium heat, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes or until no longer pink in center, turning every 3 to 4 minutes to brown on all sides. Serve the chicken wings with the dip.
*Alternate Oven Directions: Heat oven to 425ºF. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat foil with nonstick spray. Arrange marinated wings over baking sheet in one layer. Bake 25 minutes or until no longer pink in center, turning about every 10 minutes.

Sunday 30 January 2011

My book Chicken and Egg; A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes is officially out! I kept hearing reports from friends and family across the country from Boston to Bethesda to Kansas City that they'd seen it at their local Crate & Barrel store and they'd send me photos as proof. But it still didn't seem real to me until I made the journey this week to our local C&B to see it on the shelves.

You'll have to excuse the photography as I did my best with the less than perfect lighting available in the store, but there it was, beautifully displayed! The excited sales staff I talked with told me that, "It's our favorite cookbook right now!" and "We all want to get one." They all loved the photography and artwork. I agree, it really makes the book!

If you're still waiting for the book to come to your area or your favorite store, don't worry. The official release date was 1/26, which means the books should have left the warehouse on that date but it may take weeks before they're actually on the shelves. You'll have plenty of choices from Crate & Barrel, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Williams Sonoma, and Anthropologie and possibly more. Let me know when and where you see the book in your area and send me a photo if you'd like. I'll do a shout out on Facebook and Twitter for you!

In honor of the book's official release, next time I'll share one of my favorite recipes from the Late Winter chapter in the book.

Friday 21 January 2011

The chickens were not happy with me yesterday. Roxanne was particularly vocal with her complaints. It's because I decided to put Vaseline on their combs and wattles to protect against frostbite. This "little dab'll do ya" business has put us all in a bad mood.

The girls didn't see the point. What they did see was me being mean and nasty as I smeared sticky goo over their crowns while they flapped and squirmed. Have you ever tried putting Vaseline on a chicken? It gets everywhere. I now have Vaseline on my coat and my gloves as well as their entire heads not just the intended parts. Of course the girls immediately tried to rub it off and I saw Ruby eating a glob off Roxanne. They'll eat anything once.

If you're wondering why I was doing this, it's a matter of guilt. With the overnight temperatures predicted to be -15ºF to -20ºF I knew that even with additional heat the coop temperature would drop below freezing and I wanted to add as much extra protection as I could. Gail Damerow, the nation's foremost chicken expert, advises "Coat combs and wattles with petroleum jelly as insulation against frozen moisture in the air." Who am I to disagree?

Well, the chickens weren't buying it and just looked at me accusingly with their sticky heads covered in bits of straw and food.  I could almost hear them thinking "If you're so worried about us, why can't we spend the night in your warm cozy house?" I didn't let them guilt me quite that much. I just put another layer of Vaseline on each one when I put them to bed last night.

As of this morning, the girls seemed to have survived the night frostbite-free. Thank goodness. However, they're filthy dirty. Everything sticks to their heads and their feathers are black. I now have four grease balls bobbing around still looking at me accusingly.

This weekend? I'll probably have to bring them inside for a shampoo, blow dry, and "comb out". Life with chickens is never dull.

Monday 17 January 2011

The new poultry catalogs started arriving in the mail this week and the chatter online has turned to baby chick orders. As I page through the catalogs I find I have a bad case of chick envy.

Aren't they just the cutest?

 I'm not planning on ordering any chicklets this spring, but as I look at all the cute pictures I'm really tempted. The more you learn about chickens and read about the marvelous varieties available, the more you want to try them all.  Chicken owners are much like gardeners with their new garden catalogs: each variety seems more promising and, like kids in a candy shop, we want them all!

The trouble with raising chickens in a suburban backyard is there's only so much room, so you're limited in how many chicks you can manage. I'm aware that plenty of backyard chicken owners start a whole new flock every year or two, but in order to do that you have to be willing to dispose of the original flock either by processing them (read: butchering) or giving them away. I'm not willing to go there with my girls. Hence, my options are limited.

Right now I've got four chickens who are laying like crazy in spite of the frigid weather. In fact, I can hardly keep up with all the eggs they're giving us, so I really don't need any more chickens. But I still can dream.  Someday I'd love to have Marans for their dark chocolate-colored eggs, striped Barred Rock for their plumage, or Silver Spangled Hamburgs for their regal look.  And of course I'd like to have Silkies just because they're so cute. These tiny bantam chickens with black skin and feathers as soft as fur don't take up much room at all. (Maybe......just maybe.....I could get a couple this year?)

If you're wondering which breeds of chickens would be best for you, they all have their own qualities. While I love the elegance and the unique blue and green colored eggs laid by the Easter Egg chicks, my plain brown egg-laying Rhode Island Red hen Ruby has laid more eggs than any hen I've ever owned. And my Silver Wyandotte Coco is not far behind.

Good luck on your own chick hunt and let me know what you're ordering. (I'll be jealous, but it's okay.)
-----------------As I mentioned, lately we've had almost more eggs than we can eat, so I've been eating an egg every day for lunch just to make room for the next day's collection. I usually throw together a salad and top it with a 4-minute cooked egg. The combination is perfect and oh so satisfying, especially when you know the hen that laid your egg.

Warm Winter Salad with Backyard Eggs and Sherry-Walnut DressingI vary the ingredients in the salad with whatever I happened to have in the refridgerator. I usually blanch any of the firm vegetables like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc. and toss them warm into the salad. I also try to keep the eggs warm until I place them on the salad. Print This Recipe
Dressing:1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard1/4 teaspoon kosher salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper1/4 cup walnut oil
Salad4 eggs 6 cups mixed salad greens2 cups cut-up vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, blanched2 tomatoes, chopped1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or crumbled blue or feta cheese1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
Whisk sherry vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper together in small bowl; slowly whisk in walnut oil.
Place eggs in small saucepan; cover with hot water. Bring to a bare simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and simmer 4 minutes (eggs should not bounce or rattle and the water should lazily bubble). Place in ice water until just cool enough to handle; peel.
Arrange salad ingredients except cheese and walnuts on plates; top with halved eggs; sprinkle with cheese and walnuts. Bring dressing to a bare simmer by heating in the microwave or in a saucepan. Drizzle the warm dressing over the salad. Sprinkle with additional pepper.
Serves 4

Wednesday 12 January 2011

@font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } @font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } It's hard to convince people this time of the year that keeping chickens can be fun when the weather fluctuates from freezing cold to nose-biting frostbite, gentle snow to blizzard whiteouts, and bone-chilling wind to hurricane-force gales.  All in one day!  No one wants to be outside--for any reason--let alone take care of chickens.
  In spite of the weather, there is a certain sense of magic whenever I head outside to the coop, especially late at night. I must admit I'm not eager to take time away from what I'm doing to pull on my heavy winter jacket, Sorel boots, ear muffs, neck scarf and ski gloves and tromp outside into the cold. But once I'm outside I often linger. The backyard has a different quality in the winter darkness.  The snow and ice luminously glisten in the pale light, making the snow look so fluffy, so precise, and so perfect it looks fake. The crunch and squeak as my boots cut through the path, however, quickly prove that it's real as I head out to tend to the chicks.  Chickens put themselves to bed when the sun goes down (something most parents wish their children could learn), but I add extra light during the winter months so they'll continue to lay eggs. I therefore head out around 9 pm to tuck them onto their roost and turn off the light (the light's on a switch, so there's no timer). They know the routine and are waiting for me. They've had their suppertime snack and are usually on the roost although flighty Ruby has a hard time settling down and keeps thinking I'm bringing her more treats at bedtime. But, eventually they snuggle down and I switch off their light then head back to the house. The short walk is quiet and peaceful. Yes, it's cold and yes it's hard to leave the warm house, but the stillness and gentle cooing of the chickens more than makes up for it.  It's often the best part of the day.
Bedtime snuggling right before lights out.

Monday 10 January 2011

Latest Book News: My book Chicken and Egg has been spotted on the shelf in Crate & Barrel and is featured on page 60 of their latest catalog!  I can't wait to get over to the store to see it in person. Let me know if you catch sight of it.

I grew up in a family of three sisters. I was recently reminded of my teenage years and the hours spent battling over use of the bathroom with my two sisters as I watched three of my hens last week trying to use one nest at the same time.  Watch the video below and you can almost hear their mutterings translated as "It's my turn now--you've been in there forever!" and "I can't hold it, I have to come in now!"

Ruby, the red chicken on the left, was the first one in the nest. She's then joined by Cleo on the right, while Coco, the black and white hen, demands to be let in too. The video starts with Coco's attempts to barge her way in. Listen to the gutteral cooing Ruby makes as she's laying her egg (which sounds like growling in the video). Ruby finally manages to lay her egg through it all but watch carefully as Cleo seems to claim the egg as her own and even pushes poor Ruby out of the nest.

 I must admit, chickens are a lot calmer than teenage girls, with no shrieking, shouting or crying. All three hens eventually laid their eggs that day and they've taken turns ever since.

Wednesday 05 January 2011

Snow BirdsThe tension is building in the coop tonight. It's cold and the girls are tired of being literally cooped up in the coop and the run. They're used to having the entire backyard to roam in and this winter cold and snow is cramping their style. So they're starting to take it out on each other.

Tonight when I brought the girls their suppertime snack they crowded around me as usual, each wanting to be petted while at the same time getting to the treat first. They started eating and I was tidying up the coop when I began to hear short little barks coming from below. As I looked down I saw Cleo giving a bark-like warning cluck while simultaneously nipping at the head of whoever got near her. There was no way she wanted to share her treat tonight and this grand dame was going to make sure that everyone else stayed away.

I think I understand how she feels. I'm getting a little crabby and feeling cramped having to constantly be inside too. We all need a break from this year's vicious cold. Tomorrow I'll give the girls some special sprouts to eat and something new to play in. I've saved some bags of dry fall leaves and they'll have a fun time digging in those, at least for a day. I don't think dry fall leaves will cure my cabin fever, however; if only it were that easy. 

This is my perfect antidote to the winter blues. Julia Child's French Onion SoupPrint this Recipe
3 tablespoons butter1 tablespoon olive oil1 1/2 lbs.thinly sliced onions (6 cups)2 teaspoons salt1/2 teaspoon sugar3 tablespoons all-purpose flour2 (32 oz.) containers lower-sodium beef broth1 1/2 cups red wine2 teaspoons dried sage1/2 teaspoon peppersliced baguetteshredded Gruyere cheese
Melt the butter and oil in a large heavy pot and toss the onions until coated with the butter mixture. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and translucent. 
Uncover the pan, increase the heat to medium and sprinkle the onions with salt and sugar. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are deep golden brown.  Sprinkle with flour and stir until coated; cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the broth, wine, sage and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a nice simmer and cook 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 425ºF. Brush the baguette slices lightly with olive oil and bake on a baking sheet for 6 minutes, turn and continue baking 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF. 
Ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls and top with toasted croutons and Gruyere cheese. Bake at 350ºF. 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Serves 6 to 8

Friday 24 December 2010

@font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman";}@font-face { font-family: "Lucida Calligraphy";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } @font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman";}@font-face { font-family: "Lucida Calligraphy";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Merry Christmas from the Three Swingin' Chicks (plus one)!

The chicks have presented us with wonderful Christmas presents: eggs, LOTS of eggs. After not laying since March 27th, Roxanne started laying a few weeks ago and now she and other three chicks haven't stopped. I've been getting 3 to 4 eggs a day on a regular basis for the last three weeks. It must be something about the spirit of the season. Or it could be the beautiful snow, the Christmas carols playing on the coop radio, or the warm mash I've been feeding them each morning. Either way we feel lucky to have such generous girls.
I hope you all enjoy your holiday times with friends and family. If you're not too overloaded with cookies, you might try one of our favorites, chewy Almond Drops. Simple cookies of almond paste and egg white, these gems are perfect. Plus they're gluten-free! I've altered the recipe only slightly from the original version posted by King Arthur.

Almond DropsPrint this Recipe 10 oz. almond paste (look for the kind in the can not the tube)1 cup sugar2 egg whites, lightly beaten1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon almond extractpowdered sugar for sprinkling 
Heat the oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the almonod paste and sugar in an electric mixture on medium speed until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the egg whites gradually until a smooth paste is formed. Beat in the almond extract.Spoon 1 teaspoon amounts onto baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.
Bake 20 minutes or until pale golden brown. (do not over bake.) Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.  

Saturday 11 December 2010

Sometimes taking care of chickens is hard. Like today. We're in the middle of a blizzard. This is the view as I stepped out back this afternoon: waist high drifts on the way to the coop.

  The snow has been falling since midnight last night. We've already got 18-inches on the ground with more on the way.  
Everything in town has been called off, the airport's closed, buses aren't running and Christmas concerts and plays are canceled. But chickens need care no matter how much snow we get, so out I trudge.  I'll be back out later in the evening to bring them lots of cracked corn and scratch feed. The corn and goodies in the scratch digest slower in their tummies keeping them warm through the night. Kind of like covering them with an extra blanket. With the wind howling and temperatures plummeting to below zero tonight, keeping them warm and protected is crucial.
We plan to warm up our own tummies tonight with my family's special holiday drink: Tom and Jerry's.  My grandfather's neighborhood bar was known for this drink and customers came from miles around to warm themselves up during the cold holiday season. Keep warm everyone and cheers to all!

Wednesday 24 November 2010

The kitchen's getting steamy and overheated--the food marathon has begun. First up: Pumpkin-Toffee-Pecan Cookies. It's a variation of a recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Victory Garden Cookbook. I hadn't planned to make cookies as we're already having an over-abundance of desserts in the way of pies tomorrow, but I had an extra cup of pumpkin puree leftover so decided to put it to good use. I'm glad I did, yum!

These puffy cake-like cookies are very special with a strong hint of orange combined with toasted pecans and bits of crushed toffee. They're almost like mini cakes with a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on the top. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. I just have to remember to put some aside for our Thanksgiving guests or we may just nibble them all away.
 Pumpkin-Toffee-Pecan Cookies Print this Recipe2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder1 teaspoon baking soda1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt1 cup sugar1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 egg1 cup canned pure pumpkin1 tablespoon grated orange peel  1 teaspoon vanilla extract  1 cup English toffee bits1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans, toasted
Cream Cheese Frosting:2 oz. cream cheese, softened2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar
Heat oven to 375ºF. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Beat the sugar and butter together on medium speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Beat in the pumpkin, orange peel and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed until blended. Stir in the toffee and pecans. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely. 
To make frosting, beat cream cheese, butter and cream together at medium-low speed until smooth. Reduce speed to low and beat in enough powdered sugar for spreadable consistency. Frost cooled cookies. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
------------------------------------------ If you're like me. one of the main problems with preparing the Thanksgiving meal is that so much of it needs to be done at the last minute, from mashing the potatoes to making the gravy to carving the turkey.So I thought I'd share one of my favorite do-ahead recipes: Caramelized Onion Gravy. It's perfect for the time-stressed cook because it can be made the day before. It's rich dark color with a hint of sweetness comes from the browned onions and it's silky texture makes it the perfect topping for mashed potatoes and turkey. The recipe was featured in the Cooking Club magazine. I'll be making it this afternoon and I thought you might enjoy having the recipe also.

Caramelized Onion GravyPrint this Recipe
1 (32 oz.) carton lower-sodium chicken broth
Giblets from turkey (without the liver)
1/4 cup butter
3 large onions, quartered, thinly sliced crosswise (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Simmer the broth and giblets in medium saucepan over medium-low to low heat 30 minutes. Strain broth and reserve; discard giblets.

Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, stir to coat. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until wilted. Sprinkle with sugar. Increase heat to medium-high; cook, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes or until onions are golden-brown, stirring frequently and adjusting heat as necessary. Stir in flour, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; boil 8 to 10 minutes or until of desired consistency. Stir in sage, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Reheat until warm; stir in any drippings from the roasted bird or meat before serving, if desired.
Makes about 3 cups.-----------------------------------------
Don't worry, the chicks haven't been forgotten in the flurry of holiday baking. In fact, I created some special treats just for the girls: Cranberry-Raisin-Peanut Butter Cakes. The name sounds enticing and yes, they actually look good, but I've had to remind everyone they are for the chickens only. While they're filled with goodies such as raisins, dried cranberries, peanuts and peanut butter, they also contain nutritious (for chickens) scratch feed, cracked dried corn, and mealworms. The girls are loving them and scarfing them up. I got the idea from my friend Andi at General Mills She created cupcakes for her wild birds and I thought my chicks deserved no less.

Cranberry-Raisin-Peanut Butter Cakes (for chickens)Print this Recipe 1/2 cup chunky all-natural salt-free peanut butter1/2 cup chicken scratch feed or regular chicken feed6 tablespoons old-fashioned oats1/4 cup dried mealworms2 tablespoons raisins2 tablespoons dried cranberries
Microwave peanut butter until soft. Stir in chicken feed, oats, mealworms, raisins and cranberries. Spoon about 1/4 cup into 6 cupcake liners. Top with additional cranberries and oats if desired for garnish. Freeze until firm. Remove from cupcake liners and give to chickens. Store covered in the freezer; thaw slightly at room temperature before giving to chicks.

Makes 6 chicken treats.
(You can substitute raw pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried coarse corn and chopped peanuts for the oats, mealworms, raisins and cranberries.)

I tried to give a treat cake to the girls in a suet feeder thinking they could easily peck at it. Wrong. They had no idea what to do and basically ignored it. It wasn't until I placed it in their regular treat bowl that they went crazy.

Cold weather has come early this year but the chicks have a lot to be thankful for. My new Sweeter Heater infrared flat panel heater just arrived yesterday. It'll go next to the original Sweeter Heater that warms the coop all season. The new one will give extra warmth on those days when the temps get below zero. Last year I used a red heat lamp for extra warmth, but the red glow coming from the coop at night made it look like the coop was on fire. I kept waiting for the neighbors to call the fire department. Flat panel heaters emit no light so the chicks now will be toasty warm and dark. Lights are on in the coop, but only during the day and early evening hours to give the girls their required 14 hours of light necessary for egg production. It's working, I'm getting almost two eggs a day from the new girls.

I've also ordered a small portable Am/Fm radio for the girls. On the days when they are literally cooped up inside, public radio classical music soothes them and keeps them happy. The radio I used last year was large and fell after one of the girls tried to roost on it. It never worked quite right after that with its antenna bent and chicken droppings on it. The new one will hang on the wall hopefully away from inquisitive chicken claws and rear ends.

Wishing you and all your chicks a Happy and Delicious Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Great news: My book, Chicken and Egg is available for pre-order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books. It's also available from the Good Cook Book Club and Home Style Book Club. It looks like the earliest you'll be able to get it will be January 26th. The official release date of January 15th that I mentioned in my last post is apparently the date the book ships to all of the stores. (I'm slowly learning about the publishing world.)

For anyone who wants to pre-order the book and give it as a delayed Christmas present, I have good news as well. Chronicle Books, my publisher, will be printing up cards with an image of the book on the front and a recipe from the book on the back. You'll be able to wrap up the card with a note that the book will be coming soon. Just drop me a line or give me a call and I'll be happy to send you as many cards as you need.  Also a big thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered!

The chickens are worrying about the ominous weather report for this weekend. A possibility of a foot of snow in some areas.  Hard to believe it was 70ºF on Monday! The chicks are trying to figure out a way to follow the 3 trumpeter swans I saw flying overhead this morning. Beautiful graceful birds running before the storm.

We're ready for whatever happens this weekend as the last of the deck furniture got put away yesterday and all the leaves have been swept aside. A big pot of soup is cooking and I'm planning to make my favorite Buttery Giant Biscuits. (Recipe below.)

Buttery Giant Biscuits
Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, if you're looking for great pie recipes, check out Nancie McDermott's book Southern Pies. It's common knowledge that Southerners have the perfect touch when it comes to pies and Nancie's book is filled with great recipes and tips. She's posting a pie on her blog almost every day to celebrate the release of her new book. You're bound to find something wonderful to try and I'm honored she included my 20-Minute Apple Pie recipe with the great Southern tip of baking it in a cast-iron pan.

Buttery Giant Biscuits This dough is very moist and the reason these biscuits are so tender and light. Use a large spoon to drop the dough onto the baking sheet creating free-form biscuits.
2 cups all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder1/4 teaspoon baking soda1/4 teaspoon salt1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut-up1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Heat the oven to 425ºF. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or fingertips until butter is the size of small peas. Stir in buttermilk with fork until flour mixture is moistened. Drop the biscuit dough into 6 mounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with plenty of butter.    Makes 6 biscuits

Thursday 04 November 2010

I'm so excited! My book Chicken and Egg, A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes is over in China being printed as I write and will be officially released on January 15, 2011.
What a New Year's present! It's strange to think that after all the cooking, testing, writing and hard work that went into putting this project together, that I'll soon have the actual book to hold in my hands.    

 I'm a little nervous, although I know it's going to be beautiful. My publisher, Chronicle Books, has done a fantastic job of melding my recipes together with stories of my first year of raising backyard chickens to create this unique cookbook memoir. I hope you're going to love it.

As more details become clear, I'll let you know where you can purchase it, if you can pre-order, whether I'll be signing books and all sorts of other fun things.

In the meantime, the chickens are oblivious to their upcoming fame. Cleo's in a terrible mood as molting has given her a bad hair day for a month now. She's only 3 but acts 13 and truly embarrassed. Roxanne, who molted in June, is beautiful but bossy. She hasn't laid an egg since summer causing me to wonder why we put up with her. 
The two little ones make up for the quirkiness of the older two. They laid their first eggs 2 weeks ago and haven't stopped. Ruby has laid 14 eggs in a row! I think it's a record. The older girls always take a break every couple of days, that is when they're laying at all, but not Ruby our tiny runt of a girl. Hens are born carrying the entire number of ova that will develop into eggs in their lifetime. I hope she's not using up her stash too quickly.  Coco has laid 8 out of 10 days so she's also doing her part. It's great fun to be back in the egg business. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it.
Look at the posts below for some of the new recipes I've been making. I don't have room to post them here so thought I would share them in individual posts. Also, I've finally updated the tabs About Me and Recipes. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Zucchini is one of the few vegetables that's not good for me. Which is surprising considering it's extremely low in calories (13 calories in a half cup), has a considerable amount of vitamin C along with good amounts of folate, potassium, and vitamin A. My problem is, when I see zucchini I think of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and zucchini bars. I do not think of steamed zucchini, stir-fried zucchini, or raw zucchini.

So, the other day when I had a couple of zucchini to use up, I immediately thought of the Zucchini Bars my mother made when I was growing up. They're moist, fragrant, filled with spices and raisins for extra sweetness.

The girls ate the leftover shredded zucchini thereby getting all of the good vitamins without the added fat and calories. But I know I enjoyed the bars more than they enjoyed the raw zucchini.

Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Print This Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup raisins

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon milk
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar, or enough for desired consistency

Heat oven to 350ºF. Spray 13x9-inch pan with nonstick spray. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla on medium speed 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Stir in the zucchini and raisins. Spread batter in baking pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make icing, beat cream cheese, lemon juice and milk on medium speed until blended and smooth. Reduce speed to low and slowly beat in 2 cups of the powdered sugar, adding additional sugar for desired consistency. Spread icing over bars. Let stand 30 minutes or until set.

Makes 24 bars

Wednesday 03 November 2010

Our backyard is currently like a Norman Rockwell painting with the chickens rooting through the gold and red leaves, pumpkins stacked and hay bales ready. The sun is out and the weather's mild; we know winter's coming, but today we don't care. 

I'm using the grill a lot while I still don't have to put a jacket and gloves on to turn the food, and I recently made a fabulous dish using steelhead trout. In an effort to eat more fish, as well as a variety of fish, I bought the special of the day, steelhead trout. It's related to rainbow trout but is an ocean fish that returns to freshwater after 2 to 3 years to spawn. Its color and size is more reminiscent of salmon than rainbow trout but its flavor is mild and delicate. I grilled it simply with salt and pepper then served it with a maple-cider glaze. Simple yet perfect for this perfect time of year.

Trout with Maple-Cider Glaze
Print this Recipe

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. steelhead trout, arctic char, salmon, or other fish
salt and pepper to taste 

Combine maple syrup, apple cider, and balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until it's reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

Heat grill. Brush the oil over the trout and season with salt and pepper. Grill, skin-side down, over medium heat or coals 7 to 9 minutes or until fish just begins to flake. (I found the trout to be quite fragile and difficult to turn to I suggest cooking it on the skin side only. The skin will slightly burn and may stick to the grill but don't worry about it.) Serve drizzle with the maple-cider glaze.

Serves 4

I was congratulating myself the other day on having homemade jelly tucked away for winter.  I felt like a real homesteader using the backyard grapes my friend Joni the gardener had supplied. But as I reached for the jar I realized my stock was dwindling - fast. The problem with homemade preserves is they are too good. It's hard to keep them around to sustain you through the winter. If you're in the mood for real grape jelly, and believe me this is nothing like Welch's, try this recipe. Trust me, it won't last long.
If you're wondering where I got the unique custom labels, click over to Lelo's site on Etsy.
Spiced Grape JellyPrint This Recipe
About 4 1/2 lbs. grapes 1 (1.75 oz.) pkg. powdered fruit pectin6 cups sugar
Remove grapes from their stems and place in a large pot. Add just enough water to keep the grapes from scorching (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring and mashing the grapes with a potato masher or spoon to crush. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or the grapes are soft, crushed and the juices are flowing.
Spoon the grape mixture and liquid into a jelly bag fitted over a large bowl or into a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl and let stand 4 hours or refrigerate overnight. (I let mine go overnight to all the juice drain.)
Measure out 5 cups of the grape juice into a large pot. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and bring back to a full boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam.
Pour jelly into sterilized jars and immediately place lids and rings on jars. Process jars in boiling water 10 minutes or according to canning directions. OR, if you don't want to further process the jelly, store the cooled jars in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.
Please consult a canning book, Fresh Preserving, or the USDA for sterilizing and processing information.
Makes about 8 (1-cup) jars

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Our plans for a stay-at-home get-a-little-caught-up weekend disappeared as the
the cats and chickens took over our lives yet again. Well, actually, it was one cat and all of the chickens, or rather the chicken run, but with everything we had planned to do it was the animals who once again took preference.

It started with our not-yet-two year old cat Bella, climbing 30 feet up into our neighbor's oak tree before realizing she was scared of heights. We, along with our neighbors, tried to coax, cajole, and bribe her down throughout the day but there she sat, four feet beyond the reach of a ladder, crying pitifully but too scared to move.  She stayed up there for two full nights. It was painful to walk away at midnight and leave her there on a cold windy night. By Sunday morning she was finally brave enough, or tired and hungry enough, to crawl down the last few feet to the top of the ladder and into my arms. She and I moved slowly down to safety.

For future reference, those of you with cats should know that the fire department will not come out to rescue cats. There are several tree services, however, who do rescue cats and they're identified on a national website Cat in a Tree Emergency Rescue. The one closest to us was going to be our next call.

Once Bella was rescued, the chickens took up the rest of our time. They're getting a new chicken run, or I should say a new screened in porch or solarium, as it'll be much nicer than a simple chicken run. My husband turned master carpenter this weekend and has taken on this project as his own in order to build me a beautiful extension to the coop. It will keep out the rain and won't cave in under the weight of the snow, plus it will still let in light and keep things nice during the winter. He had to dismantle the original run and put up the new one. It's going to be beautiful when it's finished, and he's doing a fantastic job.

Checking out the unfinished run.

So, you're wondering what all of this has to do with apple pie? Well, because the weekend was so crazy and because I was stressed out from cats in trees and everything else, I really wanted a special dessert by Sunday night, but I didn't have lots of time to make one. I pulled together this super quick when-you-really-need-a-treat-but-don't-have-much-time apple pie. It's a cinch to make. The 20-minutes refers to hands on time, not baking time, but once it's in the oven you can actually sit down and put your feet up while waiting.

 20 Minute Apple PiePrint This Recipe
This pie is topped with a puff pastry crust over an apple crisp-style filling made with tart apples, raisins, brown sugar, and spices. Serve it topped with cinnamon ice cream or with plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon.

4 medium to large tart apples, peeled, sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus additional for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 sheet puff pastry (from 17.3 oz. pkg.) thawed according to package directions
milk to brush over crust
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Heat oven to 425ºF. Spray a 9x2-inch deep dish casserole or pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. Toss the apples, raisins, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in a large bowl. Pile the apple mixture into the casserole.

Lay the puff pastry over the top of the casserole and trim away the excess pastry with a small knife or scissors. Brush the pastry with milk, sprinkle with granulated sugar and lightly dust with cinnamon. Lightly score pastry with knife to decorate, if desired, and make a small vent hole in the center.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the apples are tender. Cool 30 minutes on wire rack to serve warm, or cool completely.

Serves 6

Sunday 26 September 2010

According to local meteorologist Paul Douglas, Minnesota has one of the most extreme climates on earth. A couple of days ago it was close to 90ºF, yesterday our rain gauge registered 4.5 inches of rain for the day, and this afternoon it's 54ºF with gale-force winds. My 4-month old babes are confused and suffering. I just looked out the window and saw all four girls huddling together under an evergreen tree. The older hens have dealt with our temperature fluctuations before, but today even they're looking a little crazed. Happily for them, they've discovered a way not only to deal with the weather but also their otherwise annoying young companions: use the little ones as windbreaks.

Roxanne and Cleo position themselves near the center of the evergreen tree, forcing Coco and Ruby to cover their rears. Coco Chanel, third in the pecking order, has squeezed herself to the inside, leaving poor Ruby on the outside. My tiny girl sits in the wind hunched in a round ball with her head buried under her wing. As I glance out my kitchen window she looks up, but quickly nuzzles her face back into her down coat. I don't have the heart to tell her this is only the start. And it's not even winter....

Why don't the chicks go into their protected run or the warm, draft-free coop? God only knows. Their question to me would probably be "Why do we live in Minnesota?" or better yet, "Why does anyone live in Minnesota?"

Well, before I ended up posting this blog the weather changed again. It's now sunny, calm and gorgeous. In fact we grilled outside enjoying the last of the summer corn and tomatoes!  That's why we live in Minnesota.

Grilled Herb Pork Tenderloin with Toasted Corn RelishPrint this Recipe

1 (1 lb.) pork tenderloin1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1 large garlic clove, finely minced3 to 4 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (I used marjoram, oregano, sage, and parsley)kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toasted Corn Relish1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil2 ears corn, kernels removed (generous 1 cup)1 small onion, halved, sliced 1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup)1 teaspoon fresh lemon juiceKosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Brush pork tenderloin with olive oil and rub minced garlic over pork. Pat herbs over both sides of pork and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill pork over medium heat or coals 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 145ºF to 150ºF (pork will be pale pink in the center).

While the pork is grilling, make the corn relish. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil and heat until hot. Cook the onion and corn 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to scrape up the browned bits, reducing the heat to medium if necessary to avoid burning. Stir in the tomato, lemon juice, salt and pepper and heat until warm. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 3 to 4

Wednesday 15 September 2010

I had a great time touring several of the St. Paul coops on Saturday at the Twin Cities Parade of Coops. Judging by the online chatter this week, there was a great turnout across the cities. In fact, hundreds of people strolled through the 28 coops on display during a beautiful fall day.



              SILKIE BABES


                 GENTLE BARRED ROCK LADY



If you missed the tour this time, watch for announcements next spring, a perfect time to introduce yourself to the joys of backyard chickens.

Sunday 05 September 2010

Grab some friends and head out to the Twin Cities Coop Tour next Saturday, September 11th from 10 AM to 4 PM.  It's the largest tour ever with 28 coops on the tour!!! Visit all of the coops or just a couple in your area and find out how easy and fun it is to keep backyard chickens. 

Click on Twin Cities Coop Tour to find a Google map with all the locations listed. Printed maps will also be available the day of the tour at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave. in St. Paul, starting at 10 am. Centrally located for easy access from Minneapolis and St. Paul, Egg|Plant also carries chicken feed and supplies, books on coop-building and chicken-keeping, as well as coop and chicken tractor kits.

New this year, Coop Tour T-Shirts!

To order call 612-751-5478 or email

BedtimeOn the home front, my four girls are finally getting along and bunking together in the Pleasure Palace Coop. It took awhile, and Cleo did not adapt easily, but she's finally realized the babes are here to stay and there's nothing she can do about it. Come nighttime I find all four chicks in the coop with the two babies on the window sill or roost, Roxanne on the chicken door and Cleo pacing the floor or in the nest box. Not quite Kumbaya but we're on the way.

Fried Eggs over Buttered Leeks and CroutonsYou have to love a friend who calls and asks if you want some freshly picked grapes and then delivers home-grown leeks and Siberian garlic too. My friend Joni recently dropped off these goodies and I was blown away. I once helped plant leeks at the Eastside Children's Garden, it's a backbreaking endeavor as you try to separate the teeny tiny plants and tuck each one upright into the soil. Then you have to mound them as they grow to keep the root end tender and white.  I once tried to grow garlic and ended up with small bulbs that weren't worth the effort. I admire real gardeners.Garden Fresh Leeks
This was a precious gift that called for a special recipe.  I wanted to serve the leeks in a simple way so I could taste their unique flavor. So this morning I decided to saute the leeks in Hope Creamery butter and serve them over toasted bread topped with Cleo's eggs. Perfection!

Fried Eggs over Buttered Leeks and CroutonsPrint This Recipe
3 tablespoons butter1 1/2 cups halved and sliced leeks*salt and pepper to taste 4 eggs 4 slices artisan bread, toasted and buttered
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in leeks until coated with butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. 
Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Crack eggs into individual cups and gently pour into skillet. Cover and cook 3 minutes or until the whites are firm and the yolks are soft or until desired doneness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. To serve, place toasted bread on plates, top with leeks and place one egg over each slice of toast.
Serves 4
* To trim leeks, cut away the dark green tops and root ends leaving the white and light green tender stalks. Half the leeks lengthwise and wash well under water making sure all of the dirt is removed. Pat dry and slice.

Omlet Cartoon