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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chicken Sweaters

A couple of weeks ago while blogging about the cold and Cleo’s mid-winter feather fray in A Pile of Feathers, I jokingly mentioned she had so few feathers she may need an adapted dog sweater to keep her warm. I shouldn’t have laughed. To my amazement British chickens are keeping warm and fashionable this winter in special hand-knit chicken sweaters—no joke!

The great UK site Blagger has the story. Little Hen Rescue, a non-profit organization located in Norwich, northeast of London, is dedicated to rescuing battery commercial hens that have been abused. The chickens arrive in very poor condition, often with few feathers. Little Hen Rescue sent a plea to their supporters in December for handmade sweaters (or jumpers as the British call them) to keep their hens warm. People willingly responded.

Check out the video to see the rescue hens enjoying the out-of-doors in their colorful knitted garb. My favorite is the Santa Chick, complete with hat!

Wondering who actually knits chicken sweaters? This next video lets you in on a marvelous group of women as they knit. Watch the chicken modeling her outfit at the end, it’s a stitch (pun intended)!

For all my knitting friends who can't wait to get started, here's the pattern. If you're ambitious give the Deluxe Tux a try. I know Cleo or some chilly chick near you would dearly welcome a fuzzy warm sweater to get her through this bleak wintry time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Chicken Sitter

Roxanne at Dusk

Someone willing to watch a small flock of backyard chickens. Must be prepared to rise early, feed chickens, muck out chicken coop, and watch for predators while chickens are free-ranging. Candidate must be responsible, have a sense of humor, and be eager to learn. No prior experience is necessary; the chickens and I will train. Pay is highly competitive.

Going on vacation or away for the weekend becomes a little more complicated when you have chickens. The chicks are fine on their own in the summer for a few days, but winter is a different matter.

Recently my under-employed college student nephew agreed to take the job. When we leave, he stays at the house and, to his mother’s amazement, he dutifully gets up early to feed the chicks and let them out to range. I think he rather enjoys the strange reactions he gets when he tells his friends “Yeah, I’m chicken sitting this weekend.” He said they actually find it amusing with reactions such as “What an odd profession, you should put it on your resume!” To “How many eggs do you get and what colors did you say they were?”

Last year a wonderful neighbor boy would bike over in the dark before school just to take care of the chickens. It’s great to have caring relatives and friends but just in case, I’ve tucked away an ad I found in our local newspaper: Pet care, including livestock, reasonable rates. I only hope this livestock sitter is available when the neighbor boy leaves for college and my nephew gets a real job!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brown-Buttered Eggs

With cooking, simpler is often better. It’s especially true with freshly laid eggs. Lulu is my prize-winning egg layer. In spite of her cranky disposition, she lays more eggs than either of the other two. Right now, she’s the only one laying in this cold spell we’re having.

With fewer eggs, every single egg is precious. We eat the eggs with little embellishment to truly appreciate their fresh flavor. This recipe is a great example: A simple fried egg topped with nutty-flavored brown butter and a splash of lemon over toasted artisan bread. Delightful!

Brown-Buttered Eggs
Print This Recipe

2 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 slices artisan bread, toasted and lightly brushed with extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat just until the pan becomes warm. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the butter to the pan, letting it slowly melt while swirling the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Add the eggs and cover, lowering the heat to medium-low when the butter and eggs begin to bubble—a sign they’re cooking too fast. Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until the whites are just set but the yolks are still runny.

Arrange the eggs over the toasted bread. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter. Melt the butter while swirling the pan and cook briefly, about 10 to 20 seconds, until the butter begins to smell toasted and turns a nutty-brown color. Watch carefully as the butter can over-brown very quickly. Pour in the lemon juice but stand back as it sizzles and spits. Immediately pour over the eggs and toast and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Serves 2

The Flood

I am fast losing my patience and good humor. Due to record-low temperatures in Icicleland, the chicks are staying at Camp Tropical Coop, an all-inclusive resort where the temperature hovers around 70 degrees F. They’re having a grand time.

Apparently they decided it would be nice to be closer to the water’s edge. The cleaning crew (that would be me) had just finished cleaning their condo when they tipped the water bowl over, creating a lake! They merrily cheeped, “It’s perfect for wading in” as they splashed and sipped the water. The cleaning crew had other words…..

They may be fluttering back to their snow-covered coop sooner than they were expecting.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Pile of Feathers

Life is good when you’re a pampered backyard chick. Except when you molt in January in Minnesota. The coldest month of the year. The coldest state in the nation. Poor Cleo. She squawks “What’s up and why me?”

I don’t have a clue. She was fine up until a few days ago when I noticed several feathers on the floor during one of the girls’ habitual overnights inside. I didn’t think much of it. After a few days however feathers began piling up everywhere. The coop has a nest of feathers every morning, the run has flying feathers from top to bottom and the chicks’ favorite evergreen tree is lined with feathers. The poor girl seems to be losing a feather a minute. At this rate she’ll be bald by weeks end! I’m worried.

Last Night’s Feathers

I sent a message to my virtual local chicken group and found, interestingly, Cleo’s not the only rare bird in this shivering landscape. Several other chickens are going through the same problem. Is it a full moon, the tides or hot flashes? I’ve read if they lose their feathers quickly they’ll grow back quickly. I hope so. If not, I’ll have to start knitting a chicken coat. Anyone have a dog coat pattern that can be easily adapted?

White Bean and Hominy Chicken Chili

My large enormously heavy flame-orange enameled cast-iron Le Creuset pot is getting a workout these days. I’ve entered huddle mode. That is, I’m not doing much beyond huddling around steaming pots of soup, stew and chili. January in Minnesota will do that to you.

I’ve made three pots of soup in the last 2 ½ days with more on the way. Soups and chilies are my way of fighting the cold weather, the bad economic news and the latest world crisis. Tensions fade when you tuck into a warming bowl. Plus, having a stockpile of soup in the freezer may soon end up being worth more than stock certificates, if the latest Wall Street news is any indication.

Last night we sunk our spoons into White Bean and Hominy Chicken Chili. It’s a simple chili, basic but stick-to-the-ribs hearty. Best of all for those of us trying to take off holiday pounds, it’s low in calories—only 190 calories per serving. Perfect!

White Bean and Hominy Chicken Chili
Print This Recipe

Adding toppings is half the fun of eating chili. So pile on the chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, chopped serrano chiles and diced tomatoes. (For those of you lucky enough not to be counting calories go for the cheese, sour cream, avocados and chips—just don’t let the rest of us see you.)

If you’ve never used hominy before you’re in for a pleasant surprise. You can find it in the canned bean or vegetable section of the grocery store. It’s made from dried corn kernels from which the hull and germ have been removed. The canned version is ready to use. You’ll find the flavor of the chewy tender kernels reminiscent of corn tortillas.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 (15.6 oz.) can Great Northern or navy beans, undrained
1 (15.5 oz.) can white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed
1 (14 oz.) can lower-sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups chopped cooked chicken breast

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and swirl to lightly film the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes or until they are just starting to soften. Stir in the shallots and cook for 1 minute then add the garlic and cook for about 15 to 30 seconds or until the garlic just starts to smell great.

At this point, stir in the rest of the ingredients except for the chicken and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low or low and gently simmer, stirring every now and then, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken and cook another 15 minutes or until the flavors have blended.

5 (generous 1 ½ cup) servings
About 190 calories/serving

Copyright Janice Cole 2009

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from the Three Swingin’ Chicks.

I’m normally not very good at making New Year’s resolutions, let alone following through on them. But after watching the chicks this past year, I’m inspired to take some of the lessons I’ve learned and apply them to my own life.

Resolutions from the Chicks:

1. Stay busy from sun up to sun down.
2. Take some time to run your toes through the grass every day.
3. Lounge in the sun at least once every afternoon.
4. Disregard occasional squabbles and enjoy your flock of friends.
5. Keep laughing; chicks provide nonstop entertainment.
6. Pause and give thanks to the birds that provide eggs and meat for the table. They’re curious, loving and intelligent animals that deserve our respect and love.

I’m interested in hearing your resolutions, chicken inspired or otherwise. All the best to you and yours in the new year.


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