Thanks to last year’s fox incident, I’ve had to keep my 6 girls ‘cooped’ up much more than I used to; rather than running free in the yard all day, they are now spending all their time in the screened-over, fenced-in run that extends around their coop. This isn’t the largest area by any means. It’s larger than the recommended outdoor space for 6 chickens and it sure beats the life that battery chickens or even standard ‘free range’ chickens lead, but I of course felt so guilty making them stay in there all day – you try turning a cold shoulder on a gaggle of feathery friends pacing back and forth behind a fence and complaining vocally to you that they can’t get out!

But this all has changed. They now have a new daytime ‘yard’ that is almost as secure as their enclosed coop area, where they can play and scratch all day without fear of attack. It’s once again the size of the original run, so it has essentially doubled their area. While it’s not exactly a huge pasture or even a barnyard’s worth of space, it gives them a lot more room to dust bathe, dig, and stay a little more spread out from each other when they want some space. Best of all, a tough old grapevine that was growing out of the ground right in the middle of the area that became their ‘vacation yard’ has grown up and over it this summer, and is providing lots of excellent shade – and the occasional tasty grape leaf if they can reach it!

Photos coming soon…

Today the temperature reached well over 50 degrees and I felt compelled to tackle some of the daunting winter cleanup in the yard.

Since I was planning to spend a few hours outside, I let the girls out to stretch their wings and legs. They were a great help in the garden.

Well, not so much.

Scramble is by far the most entertaining of my chickens; watching her can be quite a distraction from the task at hand. This is her eyeing a wheelbarrow full of just clipped grasses. Surely there’s something good in there somewhere!

What are you looking at?! Get back to work.

Three onion casserole fresh from the oven.

We decided to spend both Christmas and New Year’s weekends at home this year. We’d traveled for Thanksgiving and that was enough for us. On top of the two long weekends, I also had two personal days at work that I needed to use before the end of the year – so I ended up with two 4-day weekends in a row. For someone who loves to cook, this was pure luxury! Definitely not an opportunity to be wasted – and I tried not to, as I will try to recap in the next couple of posts.

In the spirit of taking a festive approach to this opportunity, I sat down with one of my most appropriately festive cookbooks: The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Doesn’t the name just say it all? This book does not contain heart- or waistline-friendly recipes. But how often do you have an excuse to cook really decadent party food? (As opposed to a beautiful-yet-healthy potluck dish, for example?) For those rare times when you do – this book does not disappoint.

And indeed, it was not long before I was mentally bookmarking various ideas, but I finally found the one. The one I could not imagine NOT making for a long holiday weekend. It had the simple name of Three-Onion Casserole and was billed as an ‘accompaniment.’ But don’t be fooled: this dish’s size (it filled a 9×13″ pan above the brim), cost (almost $50 worth of ingredients, most of them various kinds of cheese) and flavor (wine, garlicky boursin, herb-flecked dill Havarti, and slow-roasted leeks and onions topped off with crusty, deliciously browned Gruyere) are no side show. If you were to bring this beautiful, fragrant and filling casserole to a winter party, your brilliance and generosity would not soon be forgotten. I didn’t; I just made it for the two of us, for New Year’s weekend.

One more note about this dish: it is labor-intensive, perhaps only suited for one of those 3- or 4-day weekends when cold weather has you trapped indoors anyway. There is simply no way to make light work of slicing this many onions, nor do Havarti or Gruyere typically come pre-grated. Just hang in there and get it done; you will be richly rewarded. It may seem completely inconceivable, but Tomas and I ate this whole casserole by ourselves. Eventually. I think it took about a week… but boy, those leftovers made for the best lunches ever. Like extending the holidays right into the work week.

Three-Onion Casserole (adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

4 leeks, tough green ends cut off, well rinsed and thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated Havarti (I used Dill Havarti and enjoyed the extra boost of herbs. I was unsure of how much solid cheese to buy at the store, but found that a smallish 1/2-pound block of Havarti made more than enough)

2 packages (5 oz. each) Boursin, crumbled

1 1/2 cups Gruyere, grated (one 1/2-pound block was enough; I couldn’t tell and bought two, which cost me dearly but gives me an excuse to make fondue soon)

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13″ baking dish with 1 Tbsp of the butter. Layer a third of each of the onions in the bottom of the dish and season with salt and pepper. Top with the grated Havarti. Create another layer of onions, seasoning again with salt and pepper. Top this layer with the crumbled Boursin, distributing it as evenly as possible. Layer the last third of the onions and leeks on top and top with the grated Gruyere. Dot the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter on top and pour the white wine over all. Bake for 1 hour, covering the dish with aluminum foil after 30-45 minutes or when it is sufficiently browned to prevent the top from burning. Serve immediately (but makes fabulous leftovers).

A mound of onions and cheese (way more than I had imagined - I had to switch dishes to try to fit all the food that this recipe generated!)

The Silver Palate cookbook says that this makes 6 servings, but perhaps that was in 1985. I would argue that it could easily feed 12 people if they help themselves to fairly generous portions. This would be a great side dish for any kind of steak or filet, but I enjoyed it with brussel sprouts, good bread and sweet potatoes.

You might only want to make this once a year, but I can imagine it becoming quite an addictive tradition at that time of year…

After our fox attack last week, I decided not to give the remaining two Ameracauna pullets too much time to get used to having the whole coop to themselves, lest they make things as difficult for future newcomers as my older girls did to them. I learned a year ago that when a pecking order is disrupted by the loss of the head bird(s), it’s a great time to introduce new members to the flock. Rather than old residents picking mercilessly on the newcomers, everyone has to negotiate a new relationship with everyone else.

The brief solitude did get Scramble and Omelet going into the coop to sleep rather than perching outside every night, so I am thankful for that little improvement. It’s not so much fun to have to pry two screeching chickens from a high ladder and stuff them into their house every night after dark. (And who would do that for us when we were out of town?). My older girls were effective bullies, so Scramble and Omelet preferred roosting outside over the hostile environment in the henhouse. Now they suddenly had the coop to themselves, and they immediately ‘moved in’ for the night – a good start.

After a flurry of Craig’s list contacts and calls, I drove down to Parker to pick up a very eclectic four-some of hens. One was a Buff Brahma, which is what attracted me to the ad in the first place; Pot Pie and Tandoori  endeared themselves to me in short order and I miss them badly, so I really wanted another Brahma. I knew I wanted a couple of reliable layers, and one of the chickens was a Leghorn; another was a Campine, a beautiful, petite breed known to be excellent layers. The fourth was a Cochin, a breed I’ve wanted since I first thought about getting chickens. They have less than stellar egg production but are beautiful, gentle fluffballs – so this hodgepodge group of chickens really appealed to me as a varied and interesting mix of birds.

They’ve been home with me for almost a week now, and today I let them out of the covered run for the first time. For Scramble and Omelet it was the first excursion since the fox attack, and they launched themselves into my raised beds with gusto, eventually finding their way back to their beloved dust-bathing spot under my potting bench. The 4 new birds stayed closer to home, gradually venturing across the yard but spending 80% of their time in and very near the run. When it was time to take Copper for a walk, it was a cinch to herd everyone back into the run. Whether it will remain that way when they all feel more settled is another question.

Here are photos of ALL the girls, since I didn’t get photos of the Ameracaunas before today (those dark, short winter days just don’t present many opportunities for picture-taking!).

Omelet, one of the two Ameracauna sisters who escaped the fox. They are much more at ease with this new group of chickens than they were with my old four.

Scramble, the other Ameracauna. She is a little bolder and less flighty than her sister, and I'm hoping she will tame eventually; she seems to be quite intelligent and spunky, and I love her cheeky expression.

The Leghorn, whom I've predictably named Foghorn. She's a pretty bird and skittish around humans, but seems to be getting along wonderfully with all the other birds. She neither pecks nor gets pecked and seems to be a great forager who stays busy.

The Buff Brahma. So far she has been the most approachable of the current group, though I'm giving them all a few days before I try to grab anyone for forced attention. Her former owner's boys called her Buffy, and I haven't had the heart to change her name; it's stuck already.

My two nutty Ameracaunas with the new Cochin, who doesn't have a name yet. She's huge and has gorgeous plumage. This chicken is definitely the new boss hen; nobody is disputing her authority. Would you?

The Cochin having a drink. Her shape is rather like a basketball. If nothing else, she'll be useful for keeping the other hens warm on cold nights. Though I should give her credit for laying two eggs this week, while everyone else is still on strike while they get acclimated.

This little sweetheart is a Golden Campine. They top out at 4 pounds, and since she was hatched in 2009 I doubt she's even that big yet. She's as flighty as they come, but not stupid - just chicken. Hopefully she'll settle down just a little with time. I've named her Henny Penny.

Everyone exploring the immediate vicinity of the run. You can barely make out Scramble in the raised bed on the right. In the summer, a grapevine grows over the right side of the run and provides welcome shade and tasty, edible leaves for the girls.

A view of the inside of the run, showing the space our girls are confined to most days. I'll be able to let them free range only when I'm in the garden, or put them in the mobile coop. This, though, is their permanent home and they don't seem to mind its small size all that much. Here, they're all inside even though the gate is wide open for them to roam about the rest of the yard.

The Fabulous Mr. Fox

I’m going to have to interrupt my regularly scheduled programming to bring you a very sad story. I lost 4 of my 6 chickens today- basically, my flock was wiped out, since the two remaining are young, not yet settled in, and laying about one egg every other day between them. All my good layers, and two of the girls I’d raised from day-old chicks almost two years ago, are gone. It’s been a heartbreaking day, but I committed to chronicling the good, the bad and the ugly parts of chicken-keeping on my blog – and there are some highlights and morals to the day that I don’t want to forget. Ones that might help others in the same boat prevent this from happening to them or at least take some comfort if it does.

This may or may not have anything to do with this morning’s events, but I awoke this morning to the sound of squirrels scrambling around on the roof and scolding loudly. They scold a lot (they’re not fans of my dog Copper, who chases them relentlessly) but the scurrying noise was a little unusual. Unfortunately not unusual enough for me to think much of it, especially since Copper was lounging on the bed with me and not reacting much. Fast forward to half an hour later or so… I’m in the kitchen getting ready to sit down with my tea and book as I’ve been doing these last few lazy days off. Tomas suddenly calls out from the living room, “hey, there’s a fox in the yard! He’s getting away with one of your chickens!” “What?! No!!” I yell and run to the patio door. Tomas is already outside, and as I’m trying to find shoes to throw on, he calls back to me: “he killed them all, honey, they’re all dead.” I want to freak out. This is so much worse than my first thought! I rush outside, half not wanting to see at all, and my only memory is of sort of going to look and sort of not looking at the same time. Through the chain link fence between me and the vegetable garden, I glimpse two or three chicken corpses lying on the ground. Tomas is over there so I start asking him for the details I’m too freaked out to see in person. “How many are there? Are they all dead? Do you see either of the new girls?” (they were conspicuously absent and we thought the fox must have made off with them first). I think I did end up in the garden for a quick survey before turning my back on the scene in disbelief to let the awfulness sink in a bit. They were dead, and not only that, they were all beheaded. 4 headless chickens sprawled in my raised beds and in the snow around the coop.

To clarify a couple of things, we have been letting the girls out every morning to free-range in the garden now that the raised beds are cleaned out, and locking them up at dusk. This has been going nicely since October, and when we added two Ameracauna pullets a few weeks ago, the extra space and distractions really helped smooth over what was a very difficult transition for them into the new flock.

Our coop was and is fully predator-proof, as described in great detail here… but we’d opened the gate so the girls could roam freely. We are fully aware of the MANY predators that frequent our neck of the woods here in the western suburbs, and we take a lot of precautions to keep our birds safe. But this was broad daylight, 9 a.m. or so. So, just as we did every other day, we assumed they were happily waddling around the yard in the sunshine, kicking up dirt and chirping at each other. And on a much less conscious level, I guess we assumed any predators were snoozing in a burrow or nest somewhere until dusk. The large fox disappearing over the fence – and the carnage he left in his wake – was a full-on nasty surprise of the first order.

Reasoning that there was nothing we could do with 4 dead chickens, and that the fox had already made off with the other 2, we decided to let him come back for the other bodies. Better let them feed some hungry fox pups somewhere than go to complete waste. He returned quite soon, and proceeded to try to launch himself back over our 6-foot wood fence with a 6-pound chicken in his mouth. That didn’t go so well. After a few tries, something spooked him and he vanished. We watched him come back and try again to gather the birds in a corner of the garden and take one away with him – but I finally gave up and let Copper out, who was growling and barking at him through the window. We had to bag up and throw out the bodies ourselves.

In the meantime, Copper was REALLY interested in something over on the south side of the yard – far away from the fox and chicken action. In my fog, I didn’t pay much attention to this either, until Tomas shouted “I found two of them!” The Ameracauna pullets were behind the wood fence in our neighbor’s yard and apparently hurrying back and forth over there and wondering how to get back home. By some miracle, the neighbor had not yet let his two large dogs outside. Tomas went over to tell him what was going on, make sure his dogs stayed locked up, and enlist his help. I grabbed the small dog crate that I use for chicken transport and followed close behind. To add to the circus atmosphere of it all, at that exact moment, Tomas’ mother pulled up in her minivan with his 18-month-old nephew. I found out later that she was bringing us loaves of leftover bread… for the chickens.

Catching these two frightened, still maladjusted and mistrusting birds was quite a caper. Three of us with a tarp, cardboard box and crate were put to shame by these nimble girls who, after all, had just escaped a seasoned, wily predator. When one of them, Scramble, darted through the gate that I had foolishly not quite shut behind me, I thought it was all over; we’d never catch her out in the neighborhood. Luckily she headed toward our backyard fence, and we realized we could open our back gate and try to herd her in that way. It worked! Maybe she knew this was the way home; in any case, she chose to run through the narrow opening rather than split in another direction. We slammed the gate behind her – at least she was in the correct yard – and decided to try to do the same with the other girl, Omelet. As we herded her towards the open gate, she caught sight of the dog crate sitting open nearby, decided it was a safe haven, and dove inside. Success! The remaining task of cornering Scramble inside our own yard and actually catching her was no small matter. I feared she would fly back over into the neighbor’s yard, where he had just released his dogs, and then to my horror Tomas’ mother opened our sliding door and almost released Copper (who would gladly grab a chicken and make it into her latest tug toy). Finally, we caught her and returned both to their enclosed, locked run.

I still had two chickens! It was a silver lining on a really rough day; I still had to pick up a mass of feathers, down and bloody debris in the garden but I felt somewhat better than hopeless. When I brought them some leftover bread as a treat, it was comforting to hear their soft warbling sounds in the space that only recently had been the scene of so much fear and death. Still, the loss of my 4 favorite birds – true personalities, all of them, and wonderful layers – was a hard one.

But I want to end this post with some thoughts on the lessons I mentioned above. To start with, none of this would have happened if we had left our girls safe inside their enclosed run instead of letting them free-range around the garden. There may be some places where unsupervised free ranging is ok for a bunch of plump hens, but a suburb of Denver along a riparian corridor with coyotes, foxes, hawks, eagles, owls, snakes, raccoons and skunks is probably not one of them. I will have to take this experience to heart and keep the hens more restricted. We can still alternate between their little enclosed yard and the covered chicken tractor that we built to pasture them in the greener seasons. Letting them out into the garden and turning my back on them is just not an option, not now that Mr. Fox has found us.

Second, my two least tame birds are the ones that survived this terrifying experience and are now the entirety of my flock. While the loss of my ‘pet’ birds, which I raised from day-old chicks, is heartbreaking, I have real respect for the instincts that got these girls over not one, but two tall fences to safety. These don’t necessarily pair well with my pastoral idea of a happy clutch of chickens scratching around garden and stopping to take some cuddle time in my lap. But they proved appropriate today in a dangerous situation. I’ll give more consideration in the future to smaller, flightier breeds – maybe a Hamburg or a Campine, gorgeous birds that lay lovely eggs and just aren’t known for being docile or cuddly. They might be better cut out for life on the edge of the wilderness than some of the slower-moving, gentler breeds that I have been so biased toward.

A new project I see coming our way in the spring is to extend the chicken run. A larger space will make it easier for me to leave the girls ‘cooped up’ all day when I’m at work, without the guilt that caused me to give them too much freedom in the first place.

I also need to employ a few more predator-deterring tricks. Coyote urine was discussed at length on Facebook today after I posted about our incident. Giving Copper more access to the side yard so she can patrol it and leave her own marks might not be a bad idea either. And I’m reminded to go out and do a thorough inspection of the run in the next few days. Two summers and two winters may well have caused wires to loosen or rust, wooden framework to split or warp, or nails to come loose. Just because you build something to be predator-proof doesn’t mean it’s predator-proof forever. It’s imperative to keep an eye on the condition of your coop, and to repair it as needed to ensure it continues to keep your precious charges safe from intruders.

Last but not least: don’t give away all your eggs just because you have a couple cartons too many and the chickens are laying more eggs than you can keep up with. Our two dozen extra eggs should tide us over until I can get some new girls, but we’ll have to be sparing with them. You can go from plenty to poverty in just a few minutes! 

Mr. Fox (or Mrs) was a gorgeous, impressively large creature. I had the wherewithall to snap a photo of him on his return trip into our yard. It reminds me of the wilder side of this suburban life, and the harsh beauty of the natural world. For better or worse, we share our lives with nature and all her creatures.  I like to think it’s for the better most of the time.

This incredible recipe is apparently originally from Food & Wine Magazine, though I am sure that I first  found it somewhere else – another take-off, no doubt, but I can see why. I made this for Thanksgiving two years ago and promptly made it again for Christmas. Last year, I made something different (still sweet potatoes, but with ginger and coconut) – and I missed the heck out of this recipe and wished I’d made it instead. This recipe produces a super-smooth, lusciously creamy, sweetly fragrant sweet potato puree that has a most tantalizing vanilla aroma. I admit I am a real vanillaholic, but I just can’t find any other sweet potato dish that comes anywhere close to this one.

It’s amusing to me, now that I have this online recipe journal, how often I look up a recipe here when I can’t remember where else I’ve got it written down. So, in the spirit of archiving my favorite cooking experiences digitally, and of adding my voice to the many out there who have already enthusiastically endorsed this recipe – here it is, with credit to the various versions floating in cyberspace.

I should note that the two versions I’ve seen use either heavy cream (Food and Wine) or half and half. I’ve made it with half-and-half both times so that is what I am posting here, but I have no doubt that the original version is even more decadent and wonderful, and frankly I can’t wait to try it that way too.

4 lbs sweet potatoes

1 cup half-and-half or whipping cream

4 Tbsp butter

1/2 vanilla bean

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and bake for 35-45 minutes, until tender. Let cool, then peel and transfer to a food processor. Puree until fairly smooth. (I had to stop several times and dig around in the Cuisinart to dislodge stubborn chunks of sweet potato; I finally just went on to the next step and added the cream, which loosened things up nicely). 

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the cream or half-and-half in a small saucepan with the butter. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape the seeds into the cream mixture; drop the bean pod in as well. Stir well and heat just until it simmers. Remove from heat and let it steep until the potatoes are done. 

Remove the vanilla bean from the cream mixture. With the food processor on, carefully pour the vanilla cream into the sweet potatoes and process until smooth. Season the sweet potato puree with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and serve.

Here I go with the coconut milk again. It’s just such a versatile ingredient; the more I use it in new and creative ways, the more I realize how many ideas I haven’t tried. Before the year is up, I definitely want to try it as the main ‘cream’ ingredient in a pumpkin pie as well – I’ll hopefully report back on that very soon.

But I digress. Today I want to report on a dish that is so simple and yet so scrumptious that I have been craving it nearly every day since making it at least a couple of weeks ago. It was devoured so quickly that there are no pictures to show this time – but I hope to recreate it soon (seeing as I can’t stop thinking about it) and then update this post accordingly. It’s a baked rice pudding made with a purple jasmine rice blend – gorgeous, white and purple-streaked grains of long sweet rice. I found a box of it in my pantry that had been patiently waiting for literally over a year for me to come up with some fancy-pants way of incorporating it into a trendy Thai or fusion-inspired dish – another one of many shi-shi ingredients that I cart home with me from Whole Paycheck in a moment of inspiration and then stash in the cupboard for months on end until true inspiration strikes (coupled with energy and an actual recipe, preferably) and I dig it out and use it. Just as often, I have to report that such ingredients languish even longer, and in some cases even go totally stale. I am not great at shopping for only the items I need for the coming week or month; something like purple jasmine rice pops out at me from a store shelf and I can’t just LEAVE it there. It’s way too gorgeous, and novel, and exciting. I simply must bring it home where I can look at it every time I open the cupboard door and feel that tingle of anticipation (ooh, right, I have purple rice! Maybe next week/month/year I’ll think of something to make with that…). This box of purple rice was part of my scenery for entirely too long. But THIS recipe has guaranteed that it will now be a regular staple in my home – complete with an actual recipe and the strong inclination to use it!

Inspiration struck at a potluck party I went to in honor of a Will Allen Growing Power weekend that I was volunteering with in Denver last month, put on by Feed Denver and hosted by The Urban Farm – two wonderful and innovative urban farming education and training organizations. The weekend was a creative and inspirational gathering of committed activists, educators, farmers, permaculturists and more. I met amazing people and took part in the construction of a hoophouse from scratch; it was an empowering experience to see it rise from bare dirt and mud on a snowy weekend, going from a pile of fencing and lumber materials to a finished structure in just a few short hours. Anyway… the potluck. One of our volunteers brought along two pie plates filled with a lusciously dark purple, dense, chewy, creamy confection topped off with slices of apple. It looked like rice, but I couldn’t be sure of anything with that crazy color going on. No idea if it was sweet or savory until I put it in my mouth. And what a sweet surprise it was! It was all I could do to keep from gobbling way more than my fair share of the dish; I had to settle for pointing and rolling my eyes and gushing about how fabulous it was. Clearly I was not the only one who felt this way about the dish; both pie plates full of purple rice surprise were vaporized in short order and we were left staring wistfully at the crumbs, wondering what it was we’d just eaten and loved so much.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago  when for some reason I came across a recipe for a savory coconut rice on 101 Cookbooks (which I will definitely have to try sometime soon) that used the same exact brand of purple jasmine rice blend that I have. As the lightbulb went off in my head, I started Googling more recipes for purple rice, and it hit me that THAT’S WHAT I HAD at that party! If I just add some eggs, and sugar, and bake it all in a pie dish… I scrambled to crank open my last two cans of coconut milk, mix up some eggs, and get this thing in the oven. And boy, was it worth it. Chewy, creamy, sweet, dense, sugary goodness. I CANNOT WAIT to make this again.

Now mind you, I did not have pure purple rice, and the photos and recipes you will find online are for real purple rice. I had this lovely blend. I don’t know how much that affected the outcome of my particular experiment – but I do know that the color was not quite the deep, rich purple-black that you may see featured in other recipes. Suffice it to say that this works great with this blend, and quite likely with all manner of other rice blends or varieties. The purple just makes it extra exotic, if you ask me. But it may well make a difference in taste, so one of these days I will try it with the REAL purple rice. This, however, is damn good.

Purple Coconut Rice Pudding

2/3 cups purple rice or purple Jasmine rice, soaked for 2 hours and drained

2 cans full-fat coconut milk

6 Tbsp butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1/2 cup sugar (I found an organic, Fair Trade sugar at Costco that has made me feel SO much better about baking lately!)

3 eggs

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the drained rice and 2 cans of coconut milk to a pot on the stovetop, and bring to a boil with a dash of salt. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring to keep from sticking. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, cream the white sugar and butter together and add the eggs one at a time, beating as you go. Run the beater for 5 minutes, then stir the egg/sugar mixture into the cooled rice/milk mixture and mix well to combine.

Coat a 9-inch deep dish pie plate (or other suitable baking dish) with cooking spray or butter and pour in the rice mixture. Sprinkle the top of the pudding evenly with the brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until done. For me, the pudding looked obviously done when the brown sugar on top had caramelized to a nice, sticky dark brown, and the pudding itself had set quite solidly.

This dish ages very nicely overnight and makes for an immensely tasty breakfast, snack, or dessert the next day. Try to save some for at least that long.

I did not in my case add any sliced apples, but it sounds like a perfectly lovely idea and I’ll try to think of it next time.

A final note on my own version of this dessert is that my backyard eggs, wth their super-orange yolks, have a tendency to turn things really weird colors. The brownish-purple hue that this pudding took on just after I mixed the coconut milk/rice mixture with the egg/sugar mixture was not, shall we say, appetizing or particularly photogenic. Never you mind about this, if it happens to happen to you. You won’t give a damn when you are shoving the end result in your face late at night in the privacy of your own home.  I imagine that using REAL purple rice, instead of a partially white blend, might also cover up this eggy color and make it a non-issue. This is the ultimate in comfort food though – not much to look at, but unforgettably delicious in that warm, filling, god-I-hope-there’s-more kind of way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and buy more purple rice and coconut milk.

It was well past the first or even the second frost when I dug up 5 pounds of fresh carrots from my garden. I forked them out of the ground on a warm day when the soil in my raised beds was nice and soft, and they came out juicy and plump, ready to be eaten straight up or added to something wonderful in the kitchen.

5 pounds is a lot of carrots. There are even more out there in the ground; when I had filled a bowl, I had to stop and hope the rest would hold for another day. We did what we could to polish them off: sliced them into a tangy Asian sauce with water chestnuts, corn, peas and other veggies; ate them straight up; chopped and roasted them with potatoes and brussel sprouts; diced them into a hearty lentil soup; and at least 2 pounds of them ended up in this creamy, sweet, tropical soup.

Most carrot soups are either a simple, ginger-carrot puree (a delicious combination), or a less exciting, but incredibly comforting, cream and carrot soup (vaguely French, I suppose). Something or other had gotten me thinking about making a carrot soup with coconut milk instead of cream. I wasn’t sure where to start so I fished around for ideas on the internet, got a general picture of where I was going with this, and went to work.

The earthy, garden-fresh carrots were to die for, of course. Fresh ginger added the spicy counterpoint that is so beloved in most carrot soups, and 2 generous cans of rich, creamy coconut milk gave it a luxurious texture and a tropical note that delivered an element of sweet surprise to the palate. I wish I could have made even more (though I was able to use a LOT of carrots) – it’s all gone now, and I would give anything to have a container stashed in the freezer someplace. I’m already craving it again.

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as I was boxing up the last morsel of this soup for lunch, it finally occurred to me to take a picture!

Creamy Carrot & Coconut Soup

At least 6 large carrots, scrubbed and roughly sliced

2 large onions, peeled and diced

2 tsp fresh ginger, minced

3 tsp curry powder (I don’t actually keep curry powder around because most true curries are mixed from scratch, so I used a saffron-based spice mix with whole cumin seeds that is quite tasty – but anything in the general curry powder family should do nicely)

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or water with a good bouillon, like Better Than Bouillon which I have found at Whole Foods Market)

2 14 oz cans coconut milk (I use the ‘full fat’ kind, it’s got much better body)

Saute the onions, carrots and ginger with the curry powder until the vegetables are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the vegetable broth and cook for at least 25 minutes, until carrots are soft.

Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a food processor or blender, working in batches. Better yet, if you have a handheld immersion blender, you can puree it in the pot. Return soup to pot and turn the heat back on.

Stir in 2 cans of coconut milk until the soup has completely reheated and is well combined.

Season to taste with salt.

This soup could be served hot or cold. It was deliciously warming in winter, but I suspect the bright notes of ginger and the tropical hint of coconut would make it a fine, light summer soup as well, even chilled. As a bonus, this recipe is fully vegan, yet lusciously creamy. It’s hard to stop after just one bowl.

Peas and Carrots

When your garden gives you something this tender and sweet… no recipe is needed.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.



To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!




Any questions?

Sorrel Soup

Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Sorrel is one of those herbs that I put in my garden because someone described it to me and it sounded good, although I couldn’t remember ever having eaten it. I figured eventually I’d try it and be glad I added it to my collection.

In the last two years, I’ve added small fresh leaves to my garden salads and loved the lemony taste that they added to the mix. I’ve also discovered that my chickens LOVE sorrel and will decimate it in short order if given the chance! I’m hoping to add a few more plants just for that reason – I’ll bet it’s splendidly good for them, and it will give me a chance to snip off more than just the most bedraggled of the leaves to share with them. However, I’ve cooked with it or explored any other possible uses until somehow, for some reason, I came across the idea for sorrel soup.

I modeled my experiment after this recipe for one basic reason: I had all the ingredients on hand. Most of the lovely-sounding recipes out there called for a potato (and often cream) and I just didn’t have a potato (or cream) at the moment. And I don’t know about you, but I just don’t want to go to the store for a potato! I end up spending $30-40 and bringing home all sorts of other things I don’t need like bread, ice cream, or some kind of funky condiment – when all I wanted to do is try a new fresh treat from the garden.

After searching high and low for a recipe that was even easier than those calling for cream and potatoes, I found what I was looking for. I’ve adapted mine from the Gastronomer’s Guide version to be vegetarian and to accomodate the fact that for now, I just have one good sorrel plant – I cut the entire plant for this recipe and it gave me about half what I figured the original recipe needed (and I’m amazed at how rapidly it’s growing back!). This recipe is so basic, all you need is olive oil and some eggs. And the way I ended up making it, it makes a really small serving – just enough for two people to enjoy it as a refreshing lunch, an appetizer, or a light summer supper with some crusty bread and a salad.

 Sorrel Soup

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) sorrel leaves, washed and trimmed of stems
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
3 teaspoons sugar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small eggs, beaten
several dollops plain yogurt

Heat oil in a medium pot or saucepan. Add shallots and saute over medium heat until translucent and beginning to turn golden. Tear sorrel leaves into large pieces and toss into pot a handful at a time. Cook, stirring often, until sorrel breaks down into a soft “sauce” and turns greenish-brown (this goes quite quickly!). Add broth, bring to a boil, and simmer 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor (working carefully so as not to burn yourself!). Return to pot and add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, then slowly stir in the beaten eggs and stir until fully cooked and dispersed into soup. Cook soup for a couple more minutes. Ladle into bowls and top off with 1-2 Tbsp plain yogurt for each serving.


This lovely soup is very light and lemony (which is probably why it pairs so well with the egg and – in my opinion – with the tangy yogurt; it reminds me of the recipes for the Greek soup Avgolomeno). We polished it off in no time and I wished I had more for the next day, but the speed of the sorrel’s regrowth in the garden is promising many more opportunities to enjoy this simple and healthy soup throughout the growing season. Next test: will it freeze well? (I bet yes, as long as you freeze it just after pureeing it and add the eggs later!).

Check out these other great-sounding and easy sorrel soup recipes:
Terra Brockman in the Chicago Food Examiner

Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, in New York Magazine