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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Joys of Spring

The trio has been busy this week. Running from one end of the yard to the other as if they're training for the 100-yard dash. They love the feel of the soft squishy ground beneath their toes instead of the ice pellet snow. The more mud and water the harder they splash. Yesterday, Roxanne ran up to me with her feet muddy, legs dirty and a blackened beak begging to be picked up. Chickens don't jump on you like dogs, they're far more subtle but just as insistent. They stop in your path, crouch, and quiver in a passive stance waiting to be scooped up into your arms. Mud wrestling with a hen, however, is not my idea of amusement. Roxanne was miffed.

Their days now are taken up with nibbling the few available blades of grass, digging up the garden and chasing every blowing leaf. You never know where you're going to find them. Indeed, this afternoon we couldn't find them. They had escaped.

No, they hadn't learned the Fosbury flop. Instead, they shimmied to the fat hen squeeze. The winter winds had loosened one of the sections under the deck and the wide-planked hens squeezed their bodies into the tiny space to freedom on the side of the house. They were found at the side fence running to and fro frantic to get back into the yard. Freedom without boundaries can be very frightening.

Later, Roxanne and Cleo happily snuggled together on my lap. Relaxed and feeling safe, their eyelids lazily closed. A little taste of adventure is fine, as long as it's followed by a warm canoodle at home with someone you love.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Egg Plant or Eggplant?

I'm still on the path of trying to find the chicken that lays the golden egg. In the meantime however, my friend Barbara has found the egg that sprouts flowers. It's called an Egg Plant -- well of course it is!

Roxanne's Egg with Egg Plant

The Egg Plant is produced by a garden accessory company with the venomous name of Cobra. (What were they thinking of with that company name?) It's a cute little ceramic egg that contains soil and pre-planted flower seeds. You crack the ceramic shell with a spoon to expose the dirt and seeds. The seeds should sprout in 7 to 10 days.

The instructions are taped onto the bottom of the egg under the plastic wrapping. My favorite is step #1. It tells you to place the plastic-wrapped egg on a counter and tap it with a spoon. Uh......but you have to unwrap the egg to get the instructions!

Well, I improvised and wrapped it back up in Glad Wrap. It's a good thing because ceramic chips and dirt went everywhere. I only hope my flower seeds weren't in the dirt that spilled when I cracked the egg. I guess I'll know in a week.

Now that I've brought up Egg Plants, it seems I should provide a recipe using real eggplants. Enjoy!

Grilled Eggplant with Feta Cheese, Tomatoes and Basil
Print This Recipe
Grilled eggplant has a wonderful smoky quality to it. This versatile dish can be served as an appetizer, a vegetarian main course or as a side dish to chicken or pork. It can even be used as a sandwich filling for pita bread.

3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small eggplant, unpeeled, sliced 1/2-inch thick
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon
coarse sea salt
freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Heat the grill. Rub the garlic over the eggplant slices then brush the eggplant with olive oil. Grill the eggplant over medium to medium-low heat 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly charred and tender when pierced with a fork, turning once.

Place the eggplant slices on a large platter and drizzle with additional olive oil. Squeeze the lemon half over the eggplant slices and season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter the cheese and tomatoes over the eggplant and top with basil.

Serves 4 to 6

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Girls!

The girls celebrated their 2nd birthday yesterday. I made them a chick-cake filled with their favorite treats--cracked corn, oats, raisins, dried cranberries, peanuts and oatmeal--tossed with a little peanut butter and yogurt. They devoured it before I could get a picture of them with the whole cake.

Actually, Roxanne first snatched the candles (not lit), before I could remove them. She zigzagged crazily towards the back of the run fighting off the other two who also now wanted those candles. I was laughing hysterically while yelling "DON'T EAT THE CANDLES ROXANNE". The photos I tried to snap turned out blurry I was laughing so hard--sorry--it was quite a sight.

Remnants of the Birthday Cake

I got the girls as day-old chicks, tiny little balls of fluff:
Week Old Chicks

They've grown into quite the swingin' chicks.

(Card courtesy of my friend Pegi who loves the chicken dance.)

Spring is Here

Even though we've just had another snowstorm and the calendar indicates the equinox is over a week away, the girls have declared spring is officially here. They marked the occasion Saturday by each laying an egg! It's the first time in months we've had all three girls laying. Whoopee!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Perfect Egg

The value of eggs is rising like a soufflé.

The pair of cardinals that mate every spring in our yard are back singing love songs. I know this because the lusty singing starts
very early in the morning and wakes up the chicks before it's barely light. By the time I trudge out to the coop the girls already are cackling at top volume telling me the day is half gone.

The girls must also feel spring is on its way because they've been nesting. Not sitting over eggs in their nest, but rather creating nests wherever they feel like it. Lulu is developing quite a skill. In spite of having a clean nest box every morning, she has lately decided to play "Find the Egg" with me. She's laid eggs in the straw at the end of the run where I can't reach them. She's laid eggs under the evergreen tree next to the coop and she's laid eggs in the snow to create a frozen variation. I almost stepped on one the other night because it was dark and I had no idea it was there.

Nesting Under the Evergreen

Maybe the girls are trying to hide their precious eggs. The latest news shows that the value of eggs is rising like a soufflé. New studies point to evidence that eggs not only lower blood pressure but are good for the heart. Even dieticians are recommending one egg a day as a great way to add protein to your diet at little cost. (On a side note, with the economy sinking, the value of backyard chickens appears to be rising. There was a local theft of five hens this past weekend causing all of us to rethink our coop security.)

When I want to truly savor the fresh taste of these precious eggs I opt for something simple. Lately I've been on a quest to find the best soft-cooked eggs. Perfecting the soft-cooked egg is a bit of an art form. The whites should be firm but still very tender. The yolk should be creamy on the outside and soft and runny in the center. Unlike other egg dishes, there is no way to tell if you've got it right until you slice off the top and slide your spoon in--then it's too late to make any changes.

I've tested numerous methods by chefs and home cooks alike and have had success with two very different methods. Choose your favorite.


Perfect Soft-Cooked Eggs
Print This Recipe
Tips: Start with cold large eggs.
Choose the smallest saucepan that will fit the number of eggs in one layer.
Use gentle heat, never boil the eggs rapidly.

Method #1: Gentle Simmer

  • Bring a small saucepan of water to a full boil over high heat.
  • Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water and immediately turn the heat down to medium-low keeping the eggs at a very soft gentle simmer.
  • Cook the eggs for 5 1/2 to 6 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.
  • Run the eggs under cold water for about 30 seconds to stop the cooking and serve.
Method #2: Off the Heat

  • Place the eggs in a small saucepan and barely cover with cold water.
  • Bring the water to a full rapid boil over high heat.
  • Immediately remove the pan from the heat and let stand, uncovered, 4 minutes.
  • Run the eggs under cold water for about 30 seconds to stop the cooking and serve.


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