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I’m a horrible chicken mom.

photoI have a favorite.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all my hens. But, Susanna “Sookie” Henningsleigh has a bigger piece of my heart.

First of all – she’s a hen of substance. Sookie is the largest of our hens. Lulu, the Buff Orpington is a close second and sometimes can even appear to be larger when she’s puffed up. But all you have to do is pick them up to know who is not just big for show. Sookie lives up to her full Brahma potential. I’m sure she weighs at least 9 pounds, if not more. Maybe, I love her more because there’s more to love.

Secondly, she’s just plain goofy. I think she’s has the broadest range of expression of all of our hens. She’s not loud (Lulu wins in that category with her bizarre dinosaur screams) but has this way of conveying wonder, pride, curiosity industriousness, mischief and a vast plethora of other hen-ly “emotions” simply by adjusting the pace of her walk, the carriage of her tail or the tilt of her head. She is also the most joyful dust bather I have ever witnessed. Boy can she make the dust fly.

Lastly, she loves me back and she doles out the love to everyone. The other night, I was closing up the coop and I noticed that Sookie had her wing draped over one of the Pantpecker twins (Bunny the smaller, I believe) to keep the draft away. She’s also the most docile of all of our hens and loves hugs.

Unseasonably early spring update

arborIt’s only mid March and we’ve already started tearing up the yard again. Part of it has been driven by the insistence of the plants. They aren’t waiting.

Last weekend we HAD to put at least the start of an arbor over the main foot path from the front of the house to the back/side yard, because the rose was insisting that it needed to vine in that direction. The resulting arbor is a bit of overkill though – which will probably force me to plant a companion rose. I just need to decide between orange, coral or white.

The weekend before that, we leveled out a section of the backyard and planted two varieties of raspberries – one ever bearing and one early summer fruiting. And, currants – one black and one red. They seem pretty happy in their new home. The rest of the level area is hosting a couple of experimental straw bales. We’re attempting to grow some strawberries and maybe some lettuce in them.

9730cc18016bbb7d374425865f5aec40_viewWe also have radishes, butter lettuce, spinach and carrots planted in the raised beds and the cold frame. The asparagus is starting to poke out of the ground and the parsley is acting like there never was a winter. I’m putting parsley in everything – white bean salad, tabouleh, pasta, omelets …it’s endless but probably good after a relatively low-greens winter.

The chickens are also back to laying 3-4 eggs per day and the refrigerator is overflowing even when I’m giving eggs away. They’re also really enjoying ranging in the yard right now and are amazingly efficient at eating grubs. I’m hoping it helps cut down on the fly problem later in the year.

Cooking like crazy…

Lemon Curd

Houston, we have eggs. Even when I’m giving them away to my mother, by the dozen, we’re awash in lots of delicious eggs. Our girls don’t seem to have any intention of slowing down anytime soon, which is much to our amazement, since we’re having reports from other fellow poultry keepers that their young chickens are going into molt and/or slowing down quite a bit.

I can always find more things to do with eggs, though. We’ve been eating lemon curd for breakfast pretty regularly. That will probably stop when the lemons start coming from South America or Florida, instead of California. But, there’s always boiled and poached eggs for salads, mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, souffles, omelets, and frittatas.

Making lemon curd is actually really easy, and I usually make it in double batches. It just requires patience to avoid making lemon flavoured scrambled eggs. Here’s the proportions I use:

3/4 cup sugar (or evaporated cane juice)
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
3 whole eggs plus one egg yolk
3/4 cup melted butter

In a heavy bottomed 2 qt saucepan, combine sugar and lemon juice and stir until dissolved. Add lemon zest and eggs and stir until eggs are completely broken up and the color and texture is homogeneous. Slowly stir in melted butter. Cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently/constantly until the mixture begins to set and just starts to bubble. It should hold a whisk mark in the top when it’s ready.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Transfer to a tightly sealing jar or container. Curd will keep up to one week, refrigerated.

Weekend prep
It’s also fall, and I’ve been making soups and squash-based dishes for our week-night meals. I generally prep things ahead, so I can throw things together pretty quickly during the week. Every other week or so, I make a vegetable soup base and a potato-leek soup base that also works well for chowders. I’ve been making split pea soup pretty regularly, and there’s a few meals worth of beef stew in our freezer. Yesterday, I made a pumpkin curry with shrimp and jicama; and I also threw together a turkey and pumpkin picadillo. Today, I’m working on another batch of pea soup, and I roasted some delicata squash that I will be stuffing with rice and ground pork – then freezing for a meal later in the week.

We ate some of the curry for dinner yesterday, and probably need to pace ourselves on the squash intake. So, tonight, for dinner, I’m going to make some bouillabaisse, even though all I have is cod, shrimp and some store-bought fish stock. Portland really needs a decent retail fish market.

Salade Lyonnaise

lyonnaisseThose of you that follow me on Twitter or Facebook know, I recently spent a week in Austin, TX and Tuesday night, I dined at one of the “institutions” of the area just off 6th street, which is a unpretentious French cafe called Chez Nous. There was a pretty tempting prix fixe menu and they even had veal sweetbreads on the menu, but the temperature had worn me down a little and I opted just to order a salad and save room for dessert.

I ordered the salade lyonnaise, which is a french bistro staple. I forgot how much I enjoy having a fresh, hot poached egg perched atop my salad with a crusty piece of bread to dip in the yolk. And, now that we have 3 to 4 eggs a day rolling in here at the homestead, adding it to our house menu seemed like a no-brainer. So, I picked up some oak leaf lettuce and pancetta at the store, added a good portion of garden tomatoes and a red wine-dijon vinaigrette, grabbed a couple of eggs out of the nesting box and voila!

Too bad I don’t have any mousse chocolat just laying around for dessert.

No-knead bread

No-Knead BreadThere’s an ongoing debate in our house about crust – specifically rustic crust. I’m all for a good crunch and a chewy crumb. My better half is more of a connoisseur of “soft caramelization”. No-knead bread is definitely more my style. But, his protests aren’t enough to deter him from eating it.

Slow progress…

herb spiralThings are progressing a little slower in the yard because I was in a car accident last week and am not up to digging just yet. But, we did manage to finish the herb spiral and Steve has been weed whacking the yard back into order. The weather is clearing up and we’re well on our way to summer now, so the napping pavilion will probably be decked out and reactivated soon. I’m also looking forward to smoking some meat.

The nice weather also means I get to take the scooter out and about to run errands. This has dual benefits: it is a lot of fun to ride and the storage/trunk is really tiny so it cuts down on those impulse buys.

chickens love grass!The chickens are also growing up fast! They’re finally to the point that they really look more like chickens than chicks and they’re starting to cluck like hens too, rather than peeping. They should be laying eggs by mid July.

Crow’s Nest

crow's nestYesterday’s hailstorm knocked a big crow’s nest out of the Douglas Fir tree in our neighbor’s yard. It landed neatly on our side of the hedge. We’re going to have to move it, or run it over with the truck. I just hate to smash it up. It’s sculptural. Of course, we can’t really bring it inside or anywhere in the yard because that’s just asking for a case of mites, either on us, the dog, the cat…or the chickens, which are the most likely candidates. So, in our driveway it sits.

I also started on an herb spiral, but ran out of stones. So, it’s all carved out and planted, but needs the stones for the edges. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

herb spiral in progressThe two photos are interesting juxtaposed. They’re both sort of natural and swirling, but one is very structured, and the other more organic. I bet if I ran over the herb spiral and the crow’s nest with the truck, the crow’s nest would suffer less overall damage. All that interlocking craziness makes for a strong structure. Heck, it already fell at least 20 ft to the ground and survived.

Raised Beds

dscf1004The amount of “structure” in our yard is increasing daily, it seems. This weekend we erected two raised beds on the site of two mounds of soil that we’ve been tucking plants into, here and there, for the last two years.

The beds are constructed of 2×6 lumber, two high. Each bed is 4 feet by 8 feet. Each board is secured to eight (4 on each side) pieces of rebar that are driven about 1 ft into the ground with 1 ft above ground, by zip ties, which also holds the pvc hoops in place. Essentially, we just drilled holes in the boards and attached them to the hoop structure. It all went together pretty quickly.

In the background, you can also see the new back “wall” of the nap cabana. We had reedcloth up before, but the raccoons or scrub jays or some other pesky creature kept tearing it down. So, we covered the back with a repurposed museum banner. The image is a glass sculpture.

Twilight Chickens

Chicks in a row The girls are all very good at putting themselves to bed now. This is what I saw when I went out to close the coop door. The cuteness is overwhelming.

We spent most of the day waging war against the dandelions in the back yard and preparing for truckloads of mulch. We’re going to be building some raised beds with bird net covered hoops for our gardens this year. The idea came from Renee over at hipchickdigs. This way we can have a system that allows us to let the chickens free range occasionally, without fearing for the safety of our tender vegetables, and also keep them contained within a bed when we want them to help us clear it out and turn the soil.

Fried Rice After the epic dandelion battle, I whipped up some fried rice with the various bits of meat in our refrigerator that were thawed and needed to be cooked. This time it ended up being chicken and halibut, and was delicious.

Yet another Frittata

frittata

This one has bacon, potato, green onion and fennel – no cheese! It was delicious. Also featured in this photo, my well abused and loved Le Creuset omelet pan.

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