Archive for September, 2008

Italian Chicks

September 28, 2008

When chickens are molting it’s important to feed them well to keep up their energy. Protein is especially good for them. I don’t feed my chicks meat so I give them protein by way of cooked beans, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, cottage cheese, yogurt and cooked eggs.

My chicks eat a little too well sometimes. I feed them layer feed because it’s nutritionally balanced for laying hens. When I’m home the chicks have free-range of the garden, lawn and overgrown woods. On top of that, they often get leftovers from a day of cooking when I’m creating recipes for an article.

They love their treats, but I don’t think they realize how lucky they are. I kept track of their menu for a few days this week:

Saturday: Linguine with Tomatoes and Beans
Sunday: Scrambled Egg, Squishy Raspberries and Yogurt
Monday: Mascarpone Polenta
Tuesday: Leftover Bits of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Extra Ripe Tomatoes From the Farmer’s Market
Wednesday: A Cheese Plate of Leftover Fontina Cheese Accompanied by Apples and Pears

I’ll probably hear from my two sons that they didn’t eat this well growing up!

As you can see, it’s been Italian week at our house because I’m working on an article on Italian cooking. The chicks do a lot of running when they free-range or I’m afraid they’d start to gain a lot of weight. Not that they’d mind. I’m sure they’d bustle around like stereotypical Italian grandmothers, a little overweight but with a very happy smile on their face.

If you’re getting a little hungry reading about all this wonderful food, I’ve included a recipe for my favorite no-effort pasta dish.

Tomato-Basil Pasta with Goat Cheese

September 28, 2008

Print This Recipe

This is the perfect pasta to make in September when the farmer’s markets are overflowing with ripe red tomatoes. Look for a sunny warm day to serve this dish, the sauce requires no cooking and it will feel like summer is still here.

3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ cup slightly packed chopped fresh basil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
8 oz. linguine, fettuccine or your choice of pasta

Toss together the tomatoes, basil, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. If you have the time, do this about an hour before you want to eat and let it sit at room temperature. The tomatoes will infuse with the flavor of the basil and the garlic.

Gently stir in the goat cheese. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain and immediately toss the hot pasta with the tomatoes. The heat of the pasta will warm the sauce and melt the cheese to a creamy consistency. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Flying Feathers

September 24, 2008

Roxanne is in the full throes of her first molt and everywhere she walks there’s a cloud of golden feathers floating around her like the dust around Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen. It’s fall, we expect to rake leaves but not feathers!

Unfortunately the molting seems to be making her crabby. I wonder if it’s hormones? Chickens have natural hormones, just like people, that control their bodies. Roxanne is acting like she has PMS. She pecks the other two on their heads if they get anywhere near her food. She won’t let me near her to touch her or hold her. She walks around jabbering with an annoyed tone. Poor thing, I’m sure she’s wondering what’s happening to her.

On a side note, don’t be fooled by factory raised packaged chicken in your market that proudly announces “No added hormones.” It’s illegal to add hormones to chickens so not adding hormones doesn’t make a chicken more “natural.” Look at the USDA requirements if you’re interested: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp

Chickens molt once a year starting in their second year. They shed their old worn out feathers and grow new feathers. It can start anywhere from mid to late summer but usually it happens in the fall. Some chicks molt quickly in a couple of weeks then bounce back to normal. Others go slowly and take several months. They usually don’t lay any eggs during this time. Sometimes it’s so gradual that you don’t know it’s happening, other times they walk around looking very ragged. Poor Roxanne is looking rather mangy, like she ended up on the wrong end of a fight.

Parade of Coops!

September 16, 2008

The Twin Cities had its first very own Parade of Coops! this weekend. It’s the perfect alternative to the parade of McMansions that takes place this time of year. It was a huge success in spite of the gloomy rainy weather. I had to miss it due to a prior commitment but I sent a proxy who scooped out the latest on the backyard chicken revolution.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has a vibrant arts and creative community along with an established grassroots movement of eating local through farmer’s markets, co-ops and community supported agriculture programs. The Parade of Coops! showcased our area at its best with backyard eggs, home gardens and creatively designed coops.

The first coop hosted at least 200 people during the first hour alone. Chicken fanciers, those who already had coops and those interested in getting started surrounded Stephen and Stephanie’s new coop. The large red coop was a hit but their 7 hens seemed oblivious to the fuss. The coop is built off the ground with a large hinged front opening reminiscent of an old-fashioned root beer stand. In spite of having over half a dozen hens and a few problems along the way with mice and even lice (the chickens), they’d love to double their flock if they had the room.

The second stop on the tour was a coop built from the “Playhouse” design by Isthmus Handyman of Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, due to a malfunction, the photos didn’t turn out for the next two stops but catch the link to check out this great coop (http://www.isthmushandyman.com). A perfect design for the backyard, it’s been tested in cold weather but also works for those in the warmer climes.

We didn’t make it to the coop Peat, the organizer of the tour, and his neighbor’s share. But we visited it last year after his class on City Chickens. It’s a quaint coop that houses their menagerie of chickens, ducks and geese. Their run is an interesting combination of two large dog kennels providing a large open walk-in space that’s secure on all four sides.

Audrey’s charming coop in St. Paul was the last stop on our limited portion of the tour before the downpour started and we apologize that the great photos we took didn’t turn out. They normally keep 3 hens and are on their second year. Unfortunately, they’ve had a patch of bad luck. Last year one of their birds died and just last week one of their girls disappeared (literally into thin air)! A hawk is suspected. I guess we’ve been lucky—no near misses or large problems—yet. Perhaps the large oak trees in our backyard provide cover from flying predators.

In a discussion of chicken coops Audrey’s theory that “small is better” is the perfect justification for backyard chicks. Her view, with winter on the way, is chickens huddle closer together in small coops and the combined body heat helps keep the flock warm. Her flock has never suffered the frostbite others have had to contend with. I agree. Our chicks have always huddled together at night, it started when they were a few days old and has continued to today. Even with a small coop they don’t use the entire space; in fact, our girls use only about half of the available space so it’s clearly a choice they’re making.

We weren’t able to be part of the tour this year but we’re happy to have everyone view the coop. It’s much smaller than most on the tour but it suits our three chicks just fine. If we’re home they free-range all day in the backyard, otherwise they’re in the attached run. The Eglu coop (made by the Omlet company) is insulated for heat and cold but I add extra warmth in the winter by way of a pet heating pad and heat lamp. We’ve never had any problems with pests or predators. The coop can be easily disassembled and cleaned in minutes and has a slide-out tray for droppings that I empty every morning so the coop stays very clean. It can also be moved to different parts of the backyard or garden

Omlet is coming out with the bigger Eglu Cube next year. It’s already sold in Great Britain but we’ve been told they’ll start selling it over here in 2009. I can’t wait! My girls will love the extra room in the run and their old Eglu will go to our lake cabin so I’ll be able to take them with. We haul our cats, so why not the chickens? The chickens have ridden in the car several times as they’ve vacationed across town when we went away. (The coop can be disassembled and taken in the car.) They’re quiet well-behaved travelers in their dog cage.

I hope the Parade of Coops! becomes an annual event as it is in many cities across the country. I promise not to miss it next time. In the meantime, I’d love to hear of other coop tours as they happen across the country.

Swingin’ Chickens

September 08, 2008

Welcome to the Swingin’ Chicks: Three backyard chickens and their starring act on the outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve decided to write this to let everyone know how easy it is to raise a couple of chickens in a suburban backyard. I’ll write about the many joys but also let you in on a few of the problems that have come up. I knew nothing about chickens before I brought home my 1-day-old chicks, but I’ve learned along the way. They’re warm incredible pets with amazing personalities who lay gifts of eggs almost every day. I’m also passionate about simple good food and decided to raise chickens because of the incredible taste of fresh eggs. I’ll therefore pass along a few original recipes now and then that I feel are worth making. (See the post below for my favorite pancakes.)

To introduce you to the chicks, Roxanne, a buff Orpington, is the leader of the trio. Her fluffy golden feathers should evoke images of Las Vegas showgirls. Instead, her wide hips give her a matronly look not dissimilar from a certain “pantsuit brigade” I admire. She uses those hips to push the others aside and is a born leader keeping the other girls in line.

Cleo is an Araucana/Ameraucana, a mixed breed otherwise known as Easter egg chickens because of the colored eggs they lay. She is the sweet chick. She runs over to join me when I sit on the stairs of the deck and climbs onto my lap snuggling in. She loves to be petted and hugged.

Crazy Lulu is my other Easter egg chick but she has the opposite temperament. I’ve never held her; in fact I’ve never been within an arms reach of her unless she’s in the coop and half asleep. Nevertheless, she lays beautiful blue eggs and she’s prolific.

The girls live in a royal blue Eglu made by the Omlet Company of Great Britain. I love it and the chicks love it. It’s a thoroughly modern practical coop that looks great in the backyard and comes with everything you need to raise 3 to 4 chickens including a fox-proof run. It’s also portable—not convenient to transport mind you—but doable if you’re going away for a couple weeks and need someone elsewhere to watch them. Check out the link.

This is the second year that I’ve had my chickens and they’re now heading into their second fall and winter, which is certainly the most difficult time for all of us here in Minnesota. I’ll be writing periodically through the year about the chicks’ health and lifestyle, and sharing some photos of them as well. I hope this blog will entertain but perhaps more importantly inspire some of you to join in the backyard chicken “revolution.” So for now, welcome.

The Best Fresh Raspberry Pancakes

September 08, 2008

In walking out to the coop these past couple of mornings my thoughts turned to pancakes. I don’t make pancakes often, but on the first weekend of fall they’re exactly what I crave. Fall raspberries are in abundance at the farmer’s market so I decided to make my favorite cornmeal pancakes sweetened with berries.

What makes these cornmeal cakes special, beyond adding a couple of freshly laid eggs to the batter, is the extra step of slightly cooking the cornmeal first. I’ve never been a fan of baked goods where the cornmeal adds particles of grit, like something the chickens would like. Instead, these cakes are thin, delicate and light, almost a cross between crepes and pancakes. For even smoother pancakes you can let the batter rest overnight, making them easier to make in the morning.

These cakes are perfect with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar and extra berries or better yet a light drizzle of superb real maple syrup like the Pure New York Maple Syrup made by the family of my friend Kathy.

FRESH RASPBERRY CORNMEAL PANCAKES
Print This Recipe

½ cup cornmeal, finely stone-ground if available
2 cups milk, low fat or skim milk is fine
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut up
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
dash of salt
2 eggs
canola oil for frying
2 cups fresh raspberries

Dump the cornmeal into a large glass measuring cup and slowly whisk in 1½ cups of the milk. Add the butter and heat in the microwave on high until the milk comes to a boil. This will take 1 to 2 minutes or more depending on your microwave; but watch carefully so it doesn’t boil over. Once the milk is hot, the cornmeal will begin to cook and thicken so immediately whisk until the butter is melted. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup milk and pour into a large bowl. Let the mixture cool slightly, stirring often.

Quickly whisk in the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until the batter is smooth. The pancakes can be made immediately or the batter can be covered and refrigerated overnight for smoother pancakes. Either way is fine.

Heat a griddle to 350°F. or a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush generously with oil. (No nonstick spray please, while perfect for many things, with pancakes it will bake onto your griddle or nonstick pan and you’ll never be able to get them clean.) Pour a scant ¼ cup of batter on the griddle and scatter a few raspberries over each pancake. Cook until the bubbles have formed and popped and the underside is golden brown. Carefully turn; the pancakes are delicate so use a large spatula to get underneath the entire cake. Cook until the underside is golden. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied by maple syrup.

Makes about 20 pancakes

Copyright Janice Cole 2008