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Archive for July, 2008

Basil is beyond bountiful again in my garden. Last time (just a few weeks ago) I managed to chop up and freeze a good-sized load of it in ice cube trays. I found out that if I really pack the cubes, I get a tablespoon of basil into each square. Perfect quantities for soups or sauces, when the occasion arises. I also made a batch of the incredible maple-basil balsamic vinaigrette that I can’t stop eating. Stuff like that seems too good to also be good for you.

Here’s something else that’s good for you. I decided to whip up a batch of pesto this time, since it’s the only way to reliably use up decent quantities of basil. In my eagerness to harvest the best of my herbs, however, I picked far too many and as a result I made two batches – it worked out to 3 generous cups, or one for the week and two for the freezer. Naturally, the first has already been polished off tidily. This recipe – which substitutes easier-to-find, superfood walnuts for the expensive pine nuts – is adapted from Biba’s Italian Kitchen – perhaps a sign of my renewed obsession with all things Italian, at least culinarily speaking. (I made her recipe for potato gnocchi the other day too, but that’s another, very lumpy, story). In terms of ratios of ingredients, pesto recipes run the gamut. This one seems to me to have the right balance of basil, oil, nuts, garlic and cheese. I did omit the salt on the second round though – there was plenty of it in the parmesan cheese.

Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I went for a little less to keep the consistency thicker)

1/3 cup shelled, chopped walnuts (since I was using a food processor, I sort of skipped the chopping part and just filled the cup a bit more to compensate for the size of the nuts)

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl in between as needed. Set aside or refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

I found that “sealing” the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge or freezer helps prevent the rapid discoloration that happens once basil is cut and exposed to light. My batches came out a bit more than a cup each. Not that I’m complaining about ending up with more pesto than predicted.

Mangia!

 

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Tipsy

Tipsy has a drinking problem. It’s getting better now, but when we first noticed it (at about 2 days of age), we were a little concerned. Would she survive with such a severe behavioral defect? Would it compromise her ability to function like a normal chicken, especially in stressful situations where quick reflexes are needed?

I’m not giving my chickens beer, I promise… Tipsy just appears to be a little bit “special.” While all the other chicks quickly learned to sip a bit of water and tilt their heads back just a smidge to swallow, Tipsy would take a sip, sit back on her haunches (do chickens have haunches?), tip her head WAAAAY back over her back until she was looking backwards, and swallow that way. Except that half the time she lost her balance and fell over onto her back, causing a big commotion because she’d have to scramble and flap wildly to get herself upright again, inevitably disturbing some other chick’s peaceful moment.

At first we laughed heartily at this, thinking she’d figure it out in an hour or two. Then a day or two. She didn’t. This went on for days, and when I tried to gauge the normalcy of this behavior by asking more experienced “chicken people” about it, they frowned and said “that doesn’t sound right.” Great. It so happened that Tipsy was also significantly smaller than the other chicks. I decided she was a runt, and instantly felt something between despair for her and anger at the hatchery that would pick out a runt and ship it to me. Conventional wisdom dictates that runts won’t make it, and it’s better to put them out of their misery right away than let them suffer the overwhelming cruelties of life.

But after a bit of thought, I realized that if someone had to inherit a runt, it may as well be me. Here in her spacious run, with only 4 other chickens to contend with and plenty of daily personal attention (not to mention food), she could be as special as she wanted or needed to be, truthfully. And she is just too cute. Besides, I was a runt of sorts when I was younger. I know what it means to be smaller and skinnier than the other kids, and to be picked on endlessly because of it. I turned out ok. So I resigned myself to the fact that I have a runt, and resolved to pay special attention to her.

Well, she doesn’t really need it. Tipsy is tipping less, though I still catch her doing it once in a while. She’s still smaller than the others, with lots of fluff left and not much of a tail while the others are practically 100% feathered out by now. But this is one quick, tenacious little chicken. She chases down bugs with total precision, and often is the first to jump up and snatch a treat out of my fingers and take off with it (though her ensuing high-decibel, excited cheeping gets her in trouble immediately and she usually loses the prize). She protests vocally when pushed around, so I can’t be convinced that she’s on the bottom of any emerging pecking order. I think this girl is a survivor.

Tipsy is a Buckeye, a ‘critically endangered’ rare breed of chicken developed in Ohio (where else) long ago by an enterprising woman who wanted a docile, cold tolerant egg laying breed. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy describes Buckeyes as having “a personality all their own. They are a very active fowl and are noted for being especially vigilant in the pursuit of mice, some breeders comparing them to cats in regard to this ability. They tend to have very little fear of humans and are possibly too friendly.” Well, little Tipsy is quite fearful at this stage in her life. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it, but she screams bloody murder when I try to turn the light out, so the girls are still sleeping with a lamp on at night which I guess is normal for now. She’s flighty and the least easy to handle, screaming bloody murder (again) when caught. But as with all chicks, her personality is evolving quickly. She is eyeing my lap more curiously, and she steps readily into an open hand – just fights like a banshee when grabbed. It’s truly impossible to contain her and I end up carrying her perched on my hand and flapping rather than ensconced in any secure way. Her agility when chasing bugs makes me think that the bit about catching mice may yet turn out to be true, and quite handy too because we have those now, after the resident cats moved out a few months ago. The only thing I doubt is that she will be six and a half pounds. But we shall see. She’s certainly proved herself to be a unique and uniquely keep-able girl.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

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Here’s a quick run-down of what’s growing in my garden right now. I’m doing this largely to keep a record, for next year, of what comes around when; perhaps it will also be of some use to others gardening in high and dry places around 5000+ feet, wherever you are. If you live at high altitude, drop a comment and tell me what you’re getting out of your garden in mid-July!

Ready for the eating:

Rainbow chard

Collard greens

a few last heads of Romaine

Zucchini – still enjoying them grilled with olive oil and Penzey’s special seasoned salt; eventually I expect we’ll tire of that and start looking for other ideas, but for now I can’t keep them on the plate.

A mystery hybrid squash that volunteered in last year’s old squash bed; it’s producing small yellow rounded fruit, kind of like a patty-pan crossed with a yellow crookneck (could be exactly that, but who knows? I’ll try to eat one and see what it does…)

Red onions – I just yanked the whole batch and used them in the chard and onion quiche I made last weekend; had I not done so I’d still have several good ones.

Sorrel

Parsley, basil, tarragon, thyme, oregano, lots of mint, sage, chives

ripening: currants, gooseberries, apples!

On the vine, looking pretty green: lots of heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. I’m expecting cherry tomatoes to overwhelm us soon: we have black cherry, Sungold, Galina’s (a yellow cherry tomato) and one called Matt’s Wild Cherry that I think will be red. It will make for pretty salads no doubt! The other tomatoes that are looking very promising are an Old Ivory Egg and Grandma Mary’s Paste. A few, like the Carbon, Brandywine and German Heirloom Striped, are setting fruit but look a long way from edible – these are supposed to be BIG tomatoes and so far aren’t, so those will be a longer wait.

That’s it for now; I’d almost call it a lull in the garden, if it weren’t for the zucchini that has gone from nothing to rampant in just a few days. I’m glad for the chard to give us at least a little variety in our diets!

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Popcorn is the chicken in the bottom of the picture. Check out her

So about four weeks ago, June 9 to be precise, I got a small package in the mail with five loudly peeping chicks in it. I should have blogged about it immediately, but it was all I could do get a few lousy blurry photos that whole week – I was consumed with chicken care and worry, their box was lit with a red lamp that is horrible for shooting photos, and they were at all times moving WAY too fast for snapshots, especially snapshots in a dim red light. That’s my excuse. In case you’re curious, I got 5 different breeds, and I got them at My Pet Chicken – a great website for browsing fun photos and descriptions of dozens of crazy heritage breeds.

In the meantime, they are growing by the minute and changing every day. It’s high time I got them up on this blog, since they will be an integral part of my kitchen garden, after all. So instead of trying to tackle a summary of the whole lot of them in one post, I am going to go the route of posting profiles for each of them. While this may seem extreme, I think that they are developing enough personality by now to justify the attention… and according to the amount of chicken activity out there on the web, I am NOT alone in thinking that this is one cool pet. Worth writing about. So here goes; first up is:

Popcorn

Popcorn is a Polish Crested chicken, a Bearded Gold Laced Polish to be precise, and she is really just here for fun. Polish aren’t supposed to be great layers, and they’re apparently not even all that hardy in the cold – two criteria I had set for all the other girls in the lot (the third criteria was a calm personality, which all 5 breeds were described as having, though it’s all relative I guess… I ended up with a couple of slightly bizarre characters). But for pure entertainment value, you can’t beat this chicken.

From the beginning Popcorn was both the most mellow and the most curious chick in the lot. In the first couple of days, when I picked her up, she instantly fell asleep in my hands. That’s pretty cute stuff, but it turns out that all day-old chicks will do that if you hold them a few minutes – it’s the warmth of your hands I guess. They need lots of sleep – and Popcorn was getting more of it than the rest. This chick was always sleeping. She was always getting rudely awakened by other chicks trampling over her, and we worried that she was a little too lazy and maybe something was wrong with her, but I think it’s just her personality. In the following weeks, while two of our other chicks quickly began flying up to the rim of their cardboard box and perching, Popcorn slept on – she had all the feathers and wingspan and no motivation. I don’t think she even really tried until about a week ago. Now she’s flying just fine. Some chickens just need a little more time, I guess.

Popcorn’s curiosity also stood out – she was always the one to crane her neck up and cock her head to look at us when we approached the box. Everyone adores her – between her fancy headdress and this adorable head-cocking behavior, she gets all the oohs and aahs. While she doesn’t hop onto my hand or into my lap as readily as my Ameracauna, Sesame, she is quite tame and when I set her on my leg, she’ll often just settle down and stay put. She also doesn’t squawk and run around in fear when I get too close; I can stroke her feathers when she’s passing by my hand without setting off alarms. She’s often a bit of a loner, doing her own thing while all the others cluster around a new object or head off as a group to check out a new area of the coop (where they are spending just a few hours a day at the moment). And she doesn’t say much. Some of these chicks just will not shut up, and one (Tipsy) cries loudly in the most vaguely stressful of situations, but Popcorn is a pretty quiet chicken. She’s basically a sweet, gentle and slightly eccentric girl with really silly hair.

I’m including a few photos of her at different ages along the way. The best is definitely yet to come; these birds feather out into a truly dramatic topknot and I just dare you to keep a straight face when looking at one. You can see one here – though it’s a different color than Popcorn, it’s a gorgeous picture of what I have to look forward to.

Popcorn at one week old. Still sitting calmly in my hand.

Popcorn at one week old. Still sitting calmly in my hand.

3 weeks old. This gives a slight idea of her cute

3 weeks. Trying to be tall for the camera.

4 weeks. That’s Sesame on the right: “Whoa! Get a load of her hair!!”
Blurry, but the only decent side shot I have. That is a mullet!

Blurry, but the only decent side shot I have. That, my friends, is a mullet!!

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We had a little party for our 5 new baby chicks last night – they are one month old and getting ready to move out to their new digs in the garden, so we called it a “coop-warming party” and invited all our friends. Everyone was quite entertained by the idea – one couple, who it turns out also has 3 chickens of their own, thought it was the coolest party they’d ever been to: proof that other “normal” people have chickens too. 

In addition to tours of the just completed chicken coop and plenty of time for everyone to pet and play with the chicks, we served up a buffet of summer patio fare: in addition to the obligatory brats and whole grain rolls, we had salad of watermelon, feta cheese and red onions, grilled tricolor bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, grilled polenta cakes, orange cream cheese frosted brownies, a white balsamic custard tart with fresh fruit that went over very well indeed, and cream cheese with fresh chives and garlic from the garden stirred in. The most popular item of the evening, though, appeared to be the chard and onion quiche (I’d made two in the hopes that we’d have generous leftovers to enjoy this week – both were polished off in their entirety, so we will have to cook again tonight – too bad).

1 pie crust

large bunch chard, stems trimmed off and chopped separately, leaves roughly chopped

red onions, sliced – I used several small ones, but I’d say 1-2 large ones would work

grated Pecorino-Romano cheese (again guesstimating, I grated about a saucer full)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk (I used 1%)

1 cup cream (I used table cream that was left over in the fridge)

 a few toasted pine nuts

salt, fresh ground pepper, dash nutmeg and dash cayenne pepper

Directions:

preheat oven to 400 degrees

Saute chard stems in olive oil until softened; set aside

Saute chard leaves in olive oil, seasoning occasionally with salt and pepper, until wilted and tender; set aside

put onion slices in pan with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a generous dash of sugar; over medium heat let them cook until well softened and beginning to caramelize; try not to stir much to allow the caramelization to begin to take effect

line a pie plate with pie crust and fold over edges

fill bottom of pie with onions

layer chard stems and leaves on top of onions

sprinkle most of the grated cheese over the chard

mix together cream, milk, eggs and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg

pour egg mixture into pie crust

top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with pine nuts

bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes

lower heat to 325 and bake for 35 more minutes, until golden brown and slightly crusty

let sit for a while before serving – at least 30 minutes, but quiche will taste fabulous hours later or the next day

I was paid the highest compliment on this quiche when a native French woman had some and pronounced it truly excellent; she commented on people’s tendency to overbake theirs until the eggs turned runny, and on the excellent flavor of the vegetables. You might as well just call it “garden quiche,” because it could just as well have had any other combination of greens and veggies in it; this is just what was ready for the taking yesterday. I can see by my fast-growing vines that we will soon have the opportunity to try cherry tomato and zucchini quiche, for example. Any good cheese and any tasty combination of vegggies, sausage or other kinds of meat would surely be just as wonderful. Let your imagination run on this one – as long as you have the basic base down, you can’t mess up a quiche!

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