I’ve been working a lot of hours recently and I think the chickens are busy scheming. They’ve been in their run more than usual because I’m not home. By the time I do get home it’s soon dark so they haven’t been doing much running in the backyard. Today I came home early to discover the chicks had been up to something. I think they’re trying to escape.
They’d been digging in their run all day and there were three big holes. A deep hole under the water bowl, another one halfway down the run and a third one near the coop. It looked like they were enacting The Great Escape or maybe Chicken Run. (I think Crazy Lulu would love the Steve McQueen role, she seems the motorcycle type!)
Chickens love digging in the dirt. They spend all day scratching for food, grubs and other goodies. They also lay on their sides and kick dirt onto themselves forming shallow holes in the process. The dirt actually keeps them clean. As the hens kick, the fine dirt settles on their feathers and filters through to their skin. They’ll usually roll around rubbing the dirt into their pores before shaking like a wet dog scattering the dirt and debris away. It’s their way of keeping parasites from attaching to their skin. When they’re done, they walk away looking as clean as if they’d bathed in water. (Aren’t you dog owners jealous?)
If chickens don’t have a place to dust-bathe they’ll create one. My chicks usually love the scrubby part of the garden behind the garage and I’ll often find them there when they seem to have disappeared. For those who have or want an immaculate backyard, it’s best to provide an area for the chicks to roll around in or they’ll create one themselves. I’ve heard they’ll even bathe in a flowerpot or large pan of sand but mine seem to prefer the dirt by the garage. When they’re denied access to it I guess they start digging tunnels.
I now have two chicks swingin’ their hips with feathers flying in the wind. Lulu has joined Roxanne and started molting. Casting off a coat of feathers and growing new ones takes a tremendous amount of energy leaving nothing additional for egg laying. With Roxanne still littering the yard with her own feathers, it means Cleo is the only one laying. She’s been trying to do her part but the weather is cool and she’s also slowing down.
We’re eating fewer eggs as a result. While longing for an egg dish, albeit one that needs only a few eggs, I came upon this wonderful recipe which uses only two eggs. It’s filled with Mediterranean vegetables and crowned with feta cheese and nuts.
Israeli Vegetable Tart
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I adapted this recipe from a beautiful new book on Israeli cooking The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur. The tart is called a pashtida, which is Hebrew for any dish (with or without a crust) baked with eggs and cheese and filled with vegetables, meat or fish.
Dough for 1 (9-inch) single pie crust
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small eggplant, chopped ½-inch (about 3 cups)
1 medium onion, halved, sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small zucchini, chopped (1 cup)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup half and half
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¾ cup halved cherry tomatoes
¾ cup coarsely chopped feta cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts or chopped walnuts
Place an oven rack on the bottom setting. Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with the pie dough, extending the sides slightly above the top of the tart pan. Cover and refrigerate while preparing the filling.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the eggplant and toss in a medium bowl. Spread the eggplant in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the eggplant is lightly browned. Cool completely.
Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the zucchini to the onion and continue sautéing 2 to 3 minutes or until the zucchini is lightly browned. Stir in the garlic and cook 30 seconds or until the garlic becomes fragrant. Cool completely.
Whisk together the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper. Scatter the eggplant over the bottom of the tart and top with the onion and zucchini mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables then float the tomatoes, cut side up, in the cream. Arrange the cheese and nuts over the vegetables. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the tart pan in the center.
Bake the tart with the baking sheet on the bottom oven rack 35 to 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned and a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.
The chickens are terrified this week. Chilling sounds are emanating from beyond the arborvitae wall: The high-pitched whine of an industrial-size dentist’s drill, rapid-fire popping of metal interspersed with rhythmic clangs and banging doors opening and closing without end. The cacophony is brought to a crescendo by the high-volume blast of Classic Rock. Our neighbor’s house is being re-sided.
The chicks cannot see the workers, they can only hear the noise. With each new sound I watch the chickens as they visibly shrink, hoping to disappear. Their nerves are shattered and they’re not laying.
Yesterday gunshots entered the fray! A 3-shot gun salute blasted from the nearby cemetery. The chicks acted like they’d each been shot. With heads turning wildly and eyes bulging crazily, they darted for cover shrieking a chorus of high A’s.
Chicken Little times three.
Take a look at a couple of creative coops and a proud chicken owner in the Twin Cities. We visited them last month as part of the Parade of Coops! tour (see the September 16, 2008 post Parade of Coops!). We recently found the photos after they’d been lost and we’re thrilled to bring them to you.
A backyard chicken coop is more than just a place to house hens. It’s a landscape feature in your garden. Whether it’s store bought, a kit or homemade think about how the color and design will go with your surroundings. Check out the Her Patch of Green feature in the current issue (October 2008) of This Old House magazine http://www.thisoldhouse.com for inspiration. The artistic coop located in a Seattle backyard will interest you. For other interesting coop designs look at http://www.winecountrycoops.com.
Crazy Lulu’s at it again. A few days ago while letting the chicks out to free-range I noticed her back area looked wet. With much concern, I tried to get a closer look. The Wild One didn’t let me get close. We were a funny sight as doubled over I almost tripped trying to sneak up on her. As she scurried away she suddenly began to waddle strangely and I became more worried.
All of a sudden in the middle a waddle out pops an egg! But it’s no ordinary egg—it’s a pre-peeled egg. The normal-sized egg was fully formed with a yolk, white and membrane. The only thing lacking was the beautiful pale blue shell. Because the membrane was surprisingly strong, I was able to pick the egg up and gently clean it before cooking it in lightly simmering water. It was delightful.
Egg Without Shell Before Cooking
We’ve had a few problems with Lulu laying soft eggs recently and we’re not sure why. Her diet is balanced and she eats oyster shells daily to add calcium for strong shells. She’s not sick and the other chicks are fine. I’ve discussed her situation with a vet who specializes in chickens and she’s stumped. I’ve also asked a local group of chicken enthusiasts but no one seems to have any answers. Maybe she’s starting to molt and it’s a symptom. I hope it stops soon.
I’ve never seen one of my chicks lay an egg in 1½ years. I know some people have put mini-cams in their coops but I don’t have a voyeuristic streak so I’ve avoided that route. Lulu’s recent egg drop was my first time. Even though it wasn’t a normal egg, it was still exciting.
I’ve created a dish in honor of Crazy Lulu’s egg. Even if you don’t have your own pre-peeled eggs, you’ll love the following recipe featuring softly cooked eggs.
I love the taste of softly cooked eggs in salads. In this salad the tender white of the eggs combined with the soft yolks create the perfect contrast to the crisp tangy apple and the smoky bacon. Use the famous applewood-smoked Neuske’s Bacon www.neuskesbacon.com for the best flavor.
I’ve recently been introduced to Northern Lights Blue cheese and its creamy sweet peppery flavor is the perfect match for this salad. It’s made at the University of Minnesota and can be found in many Twin Cities cheese shops. For those of you out of state, try Maytag Blue from Iowa. It’s readily available across the country or check out their website at www.maytagdairyfarms.com.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or a generous ¼ teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Greek oregano)
Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups mixed greens
1 apple, unpeeled, sliced (use a crisp sweet-tart apple such as Honeycrisp)
4 strips bacon, cooked, coarsely crumbled
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese
Blend the all of the dressing ingredients together in a small blender, hand blender or mini food processor until combined and slightly thickened. Or make the dressing by hand. Whisk all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil until combined.
Cover the eggs with about 1-inch of water in a small saucepan. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium heat and boil 4 minutes, adjusting the heat when needed to keep the water at a gentle boil. Run the eggs under cold running water about 30 seconds or until they are warm, but not hot. Carefully peel the eggs, the whites will be firm but the yolks will still be slightly soft.
Meanwhile, place the greens in the center of two plates. Arrange the apples over the greens and scatter the bacon over the apples. Sprinkle the olives around the salads and top each salad with the blue cheese. Drizzle the dressing over the salads.
Place 2 eggs around each salad and cut each in half. (Because the yolks are soft you need to cut the eggs while on the salad plate so the yolks can gently ooze into the salad.) Lightly sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper.
Serves 2 (this recipe can be easily doubled)