Saturday, April 30, 2011


I have a special book shelf down stairs holding titles like Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, Living with Chickens, The Joy of Keeping Chickens, and Chickens magazine.

For the past two years I've been interested in having backyard chickens.  I followed the Providence fight to legalize backyard chickens in the city limits of Providence and cheered when the new regulations passed.  And there was the reading.  And more reading.  And then I'd read something crazy and think 'it's too much of an undertaking.'  And then I'd attend a local workshop about backyard chickens and I'd think 'we could totally do this.'

Chris and I bought and moved into a new house last month.  We both figured this summer was not the summer for chickens.  Next year.  That was the plan.

Last month my friend Elizabeth invited me to tag along when she was chicken sitting for friend.  We talked about what I would do next year.

At Elizabeth's b-day party, she told me the chickens I had visited needed a new home, as their owners were moving to Boston where chickens were illegal and their landlord would not allow illegal backyard chickens.  And she said they're moving in May.

In about a week, Chris admitted he was on-board and we agreed that we were less tied down from moving into our first home than expected.  Think we can handle chickens?  Sure.

I spent last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evening moving gravel and digging up a corner of the backyard in preparation.

Thursday night was the scheduled night for the Great Chicken Move of 2011 as well as a night of great generosity.  Despite a delay that put us later into the night, and thus in the dark, and on-and-off rain showers, the entire event was complete in about 4 hours.

A friend of a friend lent a pick-up truck, two amazing friends and the chickens owners helped, and the owners donated everything (the coop, the run, the feeder, food, the waterer, medicine, a wire cage, pine shavings--everything we could possibly need), saving us quite a bit of money.

Four hours later, we had dug the run out of the dirt, disassembled the run from the coop, hauled the run and the coop up over our heads and over two narrow gates, made two trips across town, reassembled the whole thing in our back yard, and were all covered in sweat and dirt and chicken poo.

Excited and nervous that we'd do something wrong, but fully understanding that we had the support of all those involved, we had taken the plunge.  We are now chicken owners.  Friday morning we secured the run, and the two hens popped right out of the coop to say hello and have breakfast.  I  can tell already that they have completely different personalities.  The previous owners named them "Coach" and "Spicy."  We're not sure yet if we'll give them new names...

"Coach" is huge and fluffy, and has dark brown feathers with beautifully detailed stripes.  She's a Cochin (her coloring is "partridge," so she's called a Partridge Cochin).  She's also in a broody stage right now, which means she's  trying to hatch an egg, even though there's no egg to hatch (so she's not laying).  This weekend we're going to try to break her broodiness (more details to come).

"Spicy" is smaller, light brown and orange, friendly and curious about everything.  She's an Araucana or an Americauna, has ear tuffs (little fluffy feathers sticking out of her cheeks like chops), and lays pale blue eggs.
The morning following the move, both seemed happy.  They chattered for about 1/2 hour after eating in the morning, and went to bed on their roost (rod in the coop) an hour before dark, just as the owners had said they would.  They really are amazing creatures--chatty and sweet.  And officially part of the family.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recipe Rursday: Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce)

Shakshuka, 4/18/11

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I've been thinking about trying this for so long.  Saveur published a tasty photo of poached eggs in tomato sauce, I  printed it out back in November, and it's been floating around the house ever since.  Finally we gave it a shot on Tuesday night.  Amazingly simple and very tasty.  Back-of-the-mouth heat, as well.  Loved it.

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce  (Saveur)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 Anaheim chiles or 3 jalapeƱos, stemmed, 
   seeded, and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
1  28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes,
Kosher salt, to taste
8 eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley 
Warm pita, for serving

1. Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.

2. Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Season sauce with salt.
3. Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce's surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pita, for dipping.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Advice from Taylor

(Blogging from work!?)
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Seeds (round #4 - carrots)

30+ Orange and Purple Carrot seeds planted in the deep drawer (left)
Thursday morning 4/14/11.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

seed starting (round #3)

Now that the first batch of seedlings are in the drawers/mini-greenhouses, I have space freed up for new seedlings.

New seeds planted on Sunday (4/10/11):

  • Cauliflower
  • Cilantro
  • crookneck squash
  • Zinnias
  • Cornflowers
  • Morning glories (climbing)

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Raised Beds

These drawers were from Chris' dresser.  The legs on the dresser were broken, but on a fluke, I saved them on the chance that I might find a way to turn them into raised beds.

Raised beds are often open on the bottom, with a mesh or newspaper barrier separating the new soil from the old.  But if I tried to remove the bottom of the bed, I knew I'd ruin the drawer.  So the bottoms are there to stay.  And if the beds were sitting outside, in the rain, the problem is that it would fill up with water like a swimming pool.

So, for drainage, I drilled six to seven holes in the bottom of each drawer.  Each I lined with plastic -- pieces a white plastic tarp that our home's previous owners left behind -- using staples to secure the plastic to the inside of the drawers.  And then cut through the plastic around where I had drilled holes.
After an amazing weekend of warm weather, working in Elizabeth's garden, and tilling my first little plot in the backyard, today I transplanted a few seedlings I had started indoors.  They should be larger before going outside, but I couldn't wait.

To protect the seedlings from the shock of the outdoors, I created make-shift "row" covers with the white plastic.  Until the seedlings are larger, I'm hoping the drawers work work like mini-greenhouses.  Of course, everything might die on the first night.  We'll just have to see...

Kale, Spinach, Green Bibb Lettuce, Red Oak Bowl lettuce, and Arugula - 4/10/11

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recipe Rursday: Celebration Lentil Loaf & Mushroom Gravy

I haven't posted a recipe in a while.  Actually, I haven't posted much lately.  Too many big moves going on.  But this one definitely inspired a post.  My co-worker Michele had just tried this recipe, which she found on the Whole Foods website.  My advice is to get the lentils and bulgur wheat (or you could use rice, or other grains) going before prepping the other ingredients. And do NOT skip the gravy.  While the lentil loaf was not dry, the gravy was a highlight:

Celebration Lentil Loaf & Mushroom Gravy

1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed 
3/4 cup bulgur wheat 
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced 
1 large onion, chopped 
1/2 cup apple cider (non-alcoholic) 
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (we used Bell seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 
1/2 cup rolled oats 
1 red bell pepper, finely diced 
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Put lentils in a small saucepan with 2 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer until lentils are very tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside. 

Put bulgur in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer until bulgur is tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside. 

In a medium skillet, combine mushrooms, onion, cider poultry seasoning and salt. Cover and simmer over medium heat until vegetables are very tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until just chopped. Scrape into a bowl and fold in lentils, bulgur, oats, bell pepper and parsley. 

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. Pack lentil mixture into pan and smooth the top. Bake until edges brown slightly, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 25 minutes, then invert it onto a serving plate. Remove parchment and use a serrated knife to cut the loaf into 1-inch-thick slices. 

Mushroom Gravy (Vegan)

3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided (we use cubes)
1 cup chopped white onion 
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
8 ounces
wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and chopped 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme 
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary 
1/4 cup merlot, or other spicy red wine 
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari  (we have this, but you could substitute light soy sauce or something lighter)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (I used 1T of dry yeast)
2 tablespoons whole wheat or spelt flour (I used 2T of white flour)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring 1/2 cup broth to a simmer. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes or until onion is translucent. Stir in mushrooms, rosemary and thyme and continue to cook about 2 minutes or until mushrooms release their liquid and start to become tender. Add merlot and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 3 cups broth and bring to a simmer. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together tamari, yeast and flour to form a thick paste. Add mixture to skillet about 1 teaspoon at a time, whisking constantly to make sure paste dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add pepper. If gravy is too thin for your taste, add a tablespoon or two of flour to thicken it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Seed Starting (Round #2)

Only a week later -- 3/25/11 -- I planted another small set of seeds.  This time, I used some of the new seeds that I ordered from Johnny's Seeds.

New seeds planted:
  • Green Bibb Lettuce
  • Red Cherokee Lettuce
  • Red Oakleaf Bowl Lettuce (left)
  • Arugula
  • Sungella Tomato seeds (saved from two years back)
  • Eggplant seeds (package from two years back)
  • Marigolds
3/26/11 - The kale planted 6 days earlier looks great.

3/31/11 - And only 5 days later we've got a little batch of lettuce and arugula.  So fun.
Green Bibb Lettuce

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Setting Up Grow Lights

My grow light set up is far from slick.  I've got lights that are supposed to screw into a wall, with no proper attachment to my wire shelving unit.  I've used bungie chords to raise and lower the lights to the wire unit, but the hooks I've precariously rigged up, continually slip out.   One of these days I'll figure out a better way.
Since reading about winter sowing (on Get Busy Gardening), I have not bought seed starting trays this year.  Instead, take-out tupperware containers, and clear-lidded plastic containers, are my mini-green houses of choice. 

Upon assemblage, it was clear that two lights weren't going to cut it for my monstrous garden plans; so I picked up two more lights to expand the system.  When I got them home, I realized one was the wrong type of lamp, so it's on its way back to the store.  A third light, however, allows for a few more seedling trays.

This may be geeky, but with snow on the ground and spring frustratingly flirting only on Mondays through Fridays, planning the garden is a real mood lifter.  ...Even if there are only a few hours a week to spare...the plan is big this year.  We'll see how it goes.

Right now the garden will include 1) containers from last year, 2) Mini-garden #1 in the ground, and 3) raised lettuce and arugula beds in these drawers (above).  If there's time...I'll go for Mini-garden #2.