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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

Sample Size Egg

P1150777Sesame’s unusually small egg this week.

This is one of the eggs that my one-year old Ameracauna, Sesame, laid for us this week. It could be a complete fluke of course; I think we may have gotten one miniature egg last year when the girls were just starting to lay. However, given the fact that we just brought two new chickens into our fold – a pair of one-year-old Brahma sisters – things have been a little unsettled for poor Sesame, who was already the last in the pecking order. I noticed her getting picked on a bit more severely than usual by the Buckeye, Tipsy (who was perhaps trying to establish herself as the boss to all other parties, since the newcomers probably pose a legitimate challenge – they’re not small chickens!), and I also noticed her avoiding the new girls almost in a panic, rushing out of their way whenever they came near her for any reason. And to top off her erratic new behavior, she started laying eggs under the coop and on the floor inside the coop instead of in the nest box she usually uses. And one of them looked like this. Tomas called it a “sample size egg;” that’s one of her regular ones next to it.

Sesame and her endlessly cute cheek muffs.

Sesame and her endlessly cute cheek muffs.

All things considered, though, the Brahma sisters are settling in well and everyone seems to be getting along splendidly; I haven’t heard a single altercation and only seen a little bit of posturing between Tipsy and Sesame. It will take me a while to figure out the new pecking order, but I think Tipsy has positioned herself near the top. And Sesame is laying normal eggs again, though still frequently far out of reach under the coop. I tried to get one out with a pitchfork the other day – not a good idea – but the girls enjoyed the surprise egg-yolk snack while I hastily removed any shells from their reach.

Finally, here are couple of photos of the new Brahma sisters, named Tandoori and Pot Pie. And their lovely eggs. Happy chicken-keeping!

Pot Pie scratching at something yummy. Note the feathered feet, characteristic of the Brahma breed.

Pot Pie scratching at something yummy. Note the feathered feet, characteristic of the Brahma breed.

The Brahma sisters, Tandoori and Pot Pie. Tandoori has more dark markings on her back, a really pretty girl. Pot Pie (right) is quite the little renegade; she refuses to go into the pen in the evening and always gives us a run for our money. Perhaps a better name would have been Houdini...

The Brahma sisters, Tandoori and Pot Pie. Tandoori has more dark markings on her back, a really pretty girl. Pot Pie (right) is quite the little renegade; she refuses to go into the pen in the evening and always gives us a run for our money. Perhaps a better name would have been Houdini...

New eggs in the collection. The speckled one and the pinkish colored one on the right are the new colors; interesting to me that two birds of the same breed can lay such different looking eggs, but it turns out we don't get speckles all the time! The large buff colored ones on the left are from Curry, our Australorp; still the most consistently large, beautiful eggs of the lot, but these new Brahma eggs are quite wonderful as well!

New eggs in the collection. The speckled one and the pinkish colored one on the right are the new colors; interesting that two birds of the same breed can lay such different looking eggs, but it turns out we don't get speckles all the time. The large buff colored ones on the left are from Curry, our Australorp; still the most consistently large, beautiful eggs of the lot, but these new Brahma eggs are quite wonderful as well.

Sesame looking at me from her vantage point on the rim of her open coop.

Sesame looking at me from her vantage point on the rim of her open coop.

It’s June and this is when I got my batch of peeps in the mail last year. They’re one year old! (ok, next week). It’s gotten me to thinking that there are probably a lot of folks out there looking to build their first hen shelter, and I thought I would share what we did for ours, because it was cheap, easy and is working out really darned well for our girls; they seem to be warm, safe and pretty happy. Before you shell out big bucks for a custom coop, check out this list of basic needs that you need to cover, and see if it’s not something you can scrounge up some materials for and do yourself!

Our 6-bird coop (currently inhabited by 4).

Our 6-bird coop (currently inhabited by 4).

First of all, we live in the 21st century and there is no way that we will be here every morning to let the chickens out, and every evening (right at dusk!) to lock them up. We have jobs, and sometimes we even go out of town for a long weekend. So our first consideration was simply to enclose their actual coop (the little house they sleep in) inside a larger, completely enclosed and secured run. Here, with a small hinged door that can be propped open and stay that way for days at a time, they can come and go from their house morning and night, and still be safe from predators. And we can leave the property for more than 12 hours.

Another detail to point out in the above photo is that you don’t want to be stooped over all the time while you are in the run with your birds (hanging out with them, cleaning, collecting eggs, whatever). So we built it to be higher than my head, even if it does seem like more vertical space than a couple of plump, mostly earthbound birds would need.

Flaws: since we salvaged an old dog house to use as the coop, we couldn’t have a nest box attached to the outside fence with a flap to get eggs through, so we have to actually enter the enclosure and step in chicken poo every single day. But all in all, a small trade-off for not having to build the actual henhouse part of this project.

Two kinds of wire used to fence in the chicken run.

Two kinds of wire used to fence in the chicken run.

Next, I want to point out that we had to use two different types of wire to enclose this run. One is poultry netting a.k.a. chicken wire, which we enthusiastically bought a million yards of, thinking it was all we’d need. Turns out that a raccoon can bend the stuff and create a hole big enough to walk right in, which I was fortunate enough to read about rather than experience. But the larger, stronger wire (hardware wire, with about 2″ x 4″ openings) is of course too large for 8-week old chicks and they themselves will walk right through it. Not to mention any number of other critters. So we ended up with a combination – and I believe I am not the first one to do it this way.

Another important detail: The top of the run is also covered in wire, necessary if you have hawks or owls (and who doesn’t?). Or raccoons, and I hear that foxes climb as well.

Hardware cloth 'raccoon guard' around the base of the run.

Hardware cloth 'raccoon guard' around the base of the run.

There is one more kind of wire on this run: it’s called hardware cloth (though where the word cloth comes in, I sure don’t know) and it’s really expensive. We paid $30 for a piece just big enough to do the gate. However, because those crafty raccoons will also reach through chicken wire and pull bits of chicken through the fence with potentially gory results (’nuff said?), you need something with really small openings around the bottom of the run. We used some leftover pieces to add some just to chicken height, reasoning that the raccoons would not be able to reach down and grab a bird from any higher than this. It might at least buy the girls enough time to get away from the sides of the coop.

Jungle gym for chickens: lots to climb and perch on.

Jungle gym for chickens: lots to climb and perch on.

Because we live around a lot of predators (owls, hawks, eagles, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, possums, snakes and dogs, to name a few) we only let the girls free-range when we’re home and can keep an eye on them, ie. evenings and weekends. The rest of the time they are “cooped up” in this run. So we built in plenty of things for them to do so they could stay in shape and not resort to picking at each other out of boredom. Here you can see stumps and logs, a ladder, and a roost; behind the camera there is also a dust-bathing corner which I resupply periodically with a fresh bag of sand. Plus, their house itself is both short enough to fly on top of and set high enough on concrete blocks for them to crawl underneath for extra entertainment, shade or shelter.

Sesame on the perch inside the run.

Sesame on the perch inside the run.

Here Sesame, my Ameracauna, is demonstrating the use of their outdoor roost. She is smaller bodied and the most nimble of my girls, and easily hops and flies around to various perches. The twiggy thing in the picture is a grapevine, which is greening up as I write this and will soon provide the girls with tantalizing snack food as well as shade.

Predator-proof lock? We hope so...

Predator-proof lock? We hope so...

They say – back to those darned raccoons – that if a 4-year-old child can open a lock, a raccoon can figure it out. I have not kid-tested this carabiner system yet, but figure it requires enough dexterity that it’s a good deterrent. The latch won’t slide unless you remove the ‘biners, and they’re pretty tricky. Whatever you do, make sure it’s not just a simple latch! We had a padlock for a while, but soon gave up on it when it started seizing up in the cold and wet and we almost couldn’t get in a few times to let the girls out of their coop or feed them.

Inside view of gate closing mechanism.

Inside view of gate closing mechanism.

When I go inside to feed the girls or collect eggs, this is what I do with the ‘biners. It keeps the gate shut behind me, because it doesn’t stay shut on its own – which results in runaway chickens and lots of wasted time before work.

Hanging chicken feeder

Hanging chicken feeder

You’ve probably seen these over-priced beauties in the feed store, but they really are the best way to feed your birds without feeding the rest of the neighborhood. It helps keep a lot of litter out of the feed, too.

Galvanized steel poultry waterer.

Galvanized steel poultry waterer.

And put your watering thing on top of at least a couple of good level pavers; this will keep a lot of dirt and junk out of their water. In winter, I keep it on top of a heated base which we have to run power to with an extension cord. It beats the heck out of breaking ice every couple of hours.

The very shoddy-looking but functional coop.

The shoddy-looking but functional coop.

A quick note on coop construction: whatever you do, you need a window (for light) and ventilation. On this reclaimed doghouse, we just removed the roof and replaced it with a new plywood roof that is hinged in the back. I can prop it open it a little or a lot for ventilation on warm nights or during the day (see picture below); the rest of the time it’s quite snug.

Java sitting on the rim of her ventilated coop.

Java sitting on the rim of her ventilated coop.

Hinged coop door. A second set of 'biners holds it open during the day.

Hinged coop door. A second set of 'biners holds it open during the day.

Java was in the mood to do some modeling, so here are a few more shots of the more functional components of our coop. Since the dog-sized door was letting in way too much cold air, we boarded most of it up and left a small chicken-sized opening with a hinged flap. We can use the carabiners to hang it open during the day or for several days if we’re out of town. The flap provides yet another perch for the girls to play on when it’s open.

Inside the coop: Java modeling the use of the roost.

Inside the coop: Java modeling the use of the roost.

Believe it or not, this pint-sized coop has enough space inside for 6 chickens to snuggle up to each other and still have a little space on each side. All chickens want to sleep on a roost, so you must provide one. They settle down with their down feathers covering their bare feet and stay nice and warm (I do provide a lamp on the coldest nights). This roost is only about 6 inches off the floor of the coop, but the important thing is that it’s off the floor so they can hop up to sleep.

4 eggs and a golf ball (left there as a deterrent to egg-pecking).

4 eggs and a golf ball (left there as a deterrent to egg-pecking).

Finally, a quick view of a nest box. We have two inside the coop, and installed them such that the coop roof, when closed, is the lid on the nest boxes so all I have to do to collect eggs is lift up the roof and reach in from above. Pretty clever if I say so myself. All 4 girls use the same nest box; the other appears to be untouched 99% of the time. But it’s having the choice that matters, I suppose.

Parting shot: Sesame and Curry using the open chicken coop for recreation.

Parting shot: Sesame and Curry using the open chicken coop for recreation.

Despite this long post and the many exhaustive photos, I want to emphasize that chickens have few needs – but they are concrete needs and must be fulfilled. However, as you can see, it’s perfectly easy to meet those needs in a wide variety of ways, using all sorts of salvaged and found materials, and without having to spend a fortune (or a lifetime) on a chicken Taj Majal. My next project is to paint the coop – but I am sure only I will care about the results. The girls are safe, busy, have a sheltered place to sleep and lay their eggs, and I even have a little space to spare… in case I want to expand my little flock. (It’s always a good idea to build for more chickens than you actually want to get).

I hope this helps someone out there come up with their own creative solutions to chicken housing. Good luck with your coops and most especially with your peeps!!

Garden Reds

I see that I did not have the foresight to capture a photo of my asparagus quiche when it came out of the oven, and it’s a shame to let the day go by without some kind of image to add to the blog. Here are some of the gorgeous flowers that have decided to bloom (this year and last at this time) at the same time that I was wrestling with the bounty of asparagus to make the quiche listed in today’s post.

Claret cup cactus, a Colorado native

Claret cup cactus, a Colorado native

One glorious poppy.

One glorious poppy.

Here I go with the quiche again. It must have something to do with the spring vegetables, fresh eggs sitting on the kitchen counter, and occasions constantly arising where I need to feed a bunch of people easily (i.e. potlucks, people visiting for brunch, a busy week needing several meals prepped at once). Perhaps quiche is the spring garden version of the ever-utilitarian casserole: a vehicle for quickly tossing together a medley of fresh produce that’s easy but looks and tastes like it was a serious effort.

In any case, this is basically a variation on the theme that I started with the very popular Swiss Chard and Onion Quiche last year. It’s so easy to just substitute any other tasty pairing of vegetables and other garnishes, but this one came out well enough that it merited writing up.

Essentially, use the same recipe as for the Swiss Chard quiche (use this ratio of eggs, milk and cream for any quiche actually) but instead of the onions, chard, cheese and nutmeg, add instead:

  • two good-sized handfuls fresh-picked asparagus (washed, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and sauteed for several minutes in olive oil until bright green and just beginning to be tender with slightly browned edges)
  • several forkfuls of honey goat cheese (I found this beautifully flavored goat cheese at Costco, but you can also use regular goat cheese or, if you’re enterprising enough, mash in some honey with a fork before dropping it into the quiche in small clumps)
  • a handful (I’d say about 2 Tbsp) sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Prepare a single crust and chill for at least 30 minutes or more. Once you’ve taken it out, rolled it flat and arranged it in your pie plate, assemble your quiche. Pour the sauteed asparagus into the bottom of the crust and season liberally with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.  Sprinkle most of the almonds over the asparagus, reserving one small portion for the final garnish. Dot the honey goat cheese on top of this until well distributed. Pour the egg and cream mixture (explained here) over it all carefully. Dot a few more bits of goat cheese on top, sprinkle with the last few almonds, and bake as directed here.

This will, as all quiches do, keep very nicely in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks throughout the week. The honey goat cheese really makes it – it’s worth either tracking it down or improvising some of your own!