Tomato, Shallot, and Morel Omelette

If you want to make an omelette…

Though there was a small mountain of peas to shell, and a bowl of pecans to crack, nothing can stand in the way of MJ and myself enjoying a nice Sunday breakfast. As usual, we just went with the ingredients we had.

The Raw and the Cooked

Ingredients

3 medium Eggs

2 small Tomatoes, chopped

5 small dried Morels, reconstituted in hot water, chopped

1 medium Shallot

Morel soaking liquid

Grated or soft Cheese

Chopped Parsley

Salt and Pepper

This is an easy recipe, but we scored some authentic long shallots (Echalote traditionnelle longue) from France, and nothing goes together like morels, shallots and eggs.

First cook the shallots and morels together in olive oil. (It helps to have a really heavy cast iron skillet.) Add the chopped tomatoes, and simmer until softened.

Combine the eggs, cheese, and some of the morel juice, with salt and pepper.. When the veg and fungus is cooked, add the eggs to the mix. Cook on the stove top until the eggs begin to set firmly, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and pop the whole thing into a 400 degree F oven. That’s the entire whang dang doodle.

Thank you, Birds

This can also be made with some fried new potatoes as the base, in which instance it becomes a massive breakfast. The key is quality ingredients, as with all things.

The eggs were donated by our ISA Brown chicks, and the chopped parsley was harvested from a pot on our countertop. We grew one of the maters, and the other came from the Festhalle. Which reminds me that I have maters to get ready for canning.

I turned Italian, and have begun straining out my leftover morel juice for use elsewhere. There will be no flavor left behind.

The Chicken Run

Things to do

Our chicken run is 16′ by 24,’ or 384 square feet, which is the size of an apartment in some cities. It houses eight hens, and they make sure to inspect every inch of it daily.

I just completely cleaned out both coops this weekend, and added ten gallons of pine shavings to various places. MJ was mowing with our electric mower, and added three bags of grass clippings and dried leaves. Those birds will be busy for days.

We have four sections to the run, the junkyard/compost bin, the run itself, and the large and small coop. I’ll describe each in turn.

Junk Yard/ Compost Bin

Junk in the Run

By far the favorite place for the birds to hang is the compost bin and junkyard combination. It’s small and shady, and the compost draws in bugs and worms. I did upgrade the mailbox nest by putting a scrap 2×4 in front of where the door once was, to keep the birds from scratching out all of the shavings as soon as I put them in there. It worked, as I found three eggs in there this morning.

Junkyard Chicks

The Run

Chicken Run with Running Chicken

The run itself takes up about two thirds of the enclosure. It has three watering stations, and the ground is usually covered in shavings and clippings at this time of year. There’s room here for the birds to run, flap their wings, and scratch for hours. In dry weather I also dump out various food for them to scrounge around and find. If I want to start a real chicken riot, I’ll stand on the outside, and throw small chunks of various goodies in there, one after another. To the fastest bird goes the spoils.

The Big Coop

Snack Time at the Big Coop

This decent sized pre-fab coop easily houses six grown chickens at night, and we fill it with four Barred Rocks and two ISA Browns. The browns have taken over the top part of the coop, which leaves three quarters of it to the Rocks. This coop is also right next to the junkyard, so the birds can pop in for a quick bite at any time. My two additions are a homemade PVC feeder, and a one gallon watering jug made from a Sterilite container, which has been drilled and fitted with five little automatic, spring loaded watering devices. The foundation is 4×4’s, another addition of mine, so this thing is not going anywhere.

The Small Coop

Cozy for Two Birds

The small coop is a snug fit for two grown birds, but they have food, water, and a comfy perching area in the top section. This doubles a rabbit hutch, so it didn’t come with a nesting and perching area in the top section. I made both out of wood from my scrap pile. the next step is to double the 4×4 foundation, which will give an extra 3 1/2″ of head room in the lower section.

Any future plans? No more layers in the near future, unless a dog breaks in again, and kills a few. Plans for next spring are tentative, but the idea is to have another pen, with a door into this one, to raise that famous meat bird that originated in Bresse, France, that has blue legs. I would also like a breeding population of those. so I can hatch out my own. Fortunately, a farmer in Mississippi has a good genetics line from birds he imported from France. It may be time for road trip next spring.

Hoya! Don’t use Sawdust in a Chicken Coop

Once again, the chicken experts on the interwebs have struck Hoya! I have now been told that sawdust is deadly to chickens. Tell that to the more than 100,000 chickens that we had while I was growing up. Admittedly, they all now are dead, but blame that on the soup company they were sent to, to be beheaded.

I shoveled untold truck loads of sawdust for our nest boxes, and the birds didn’t have a problem with it, as they turned out far more than a million hatching eggs. I personally filled up the nesting boxes, and gathered most of the eggs.

For those who are not familiar with Hoya!, it’s the stuff you don’t want to step in when you’re in the horse’s stable. The interwebs is et up with Hoya.

Mailing It In

Egg Tsunami is Here

The two eggs on the left are from ISA Browns, the other three are from Barred Rocks. The Browns lay slightly longer eggs that are a little lighter, whereas the Rocks lay the slightly darker shorter eggs.

We had three eggs by nine this morning, and one was the first to be laid in the mailbox nest. The Browns are only beginning to lay, and according to the interwebs, they are egg layers supreme.

Here’s the mailbox again, for all the people who have worn out old farm stuff lying around. The size is XL.

Chickens like junk just as much as the flock of sheep in Shaun the Sheep.

The Chicken’s New Address

So Much Depends on a Mailbox and a Red Wheelbarrow

To go along with our Shaun the Sheep themed chicken pen, we have added another addition to the junkyard. MJ had the genius idea of turning our old defunct mailbox into a chicken nesting box. One Bosch drill, and three deck screws later, and it was a reality.

No Envelope for this Bird

I just added some pine shavings, and five minutes later, the Barred Rock chicken we have named Broody Bird was in there. She got comfy in a hurry.

Our flock of eight has five nest boxes now, and I suspect at least one of the young ISA Browns has begun laying. We’re not going to have an egg avalanche–it will be more like an egg tsunami. I need to get them to raise the red flag when they lay an egg.

Five Easy Pieces–PVC Chicken Feeder

Apologies to Jaaaack Nichooooolson

If you have a chop saw or a mitre saw, this is a thirty second project. I have what is probably a lifetime supply of 4″ pvc pipe, left over from the idiots who did our plumbing (they had our main drain running uphill). All I bought was this 4″ wye joint, and some test caps, instead of the more expensive plug ends. It’s only going to hold some chicken feed.

Total cost for this project was less than $15. It cost $250 to get my uphill drain fixed. This can be made in any size, but this one is small, to be fitted into our small coop. Next years project–a pen extension, another coop, and some Bresse chickens. Also an incubator, which I intend to build myself.

I had to include a gratuitous set of my old German tools in the picture, and my new 2″ bowl gouge, from PA. That thing can do some serious damage.

ISA Browns at Three Months

Prima Ballerinas

I knew that ISA Brown chickens grew fast, but these have gotten so big in such a short time that it’s almost scary. As stated before, this variety was the brain child of the French Minister of Agriculture in 1975. It is now apparent that he was bent on world chicken domination by the French (think of Volaille de Bresse, the famous blue legged meat chicken from Bresse, which a few years ago sold for forty dollars a bird in London).

So the French wanted the best eggs, to go along with the finest chicken meat, and they wanted mass quantities. Though the heritage of these birds is considered a corporate secret, it is apparent that a large part of the genetic line is the Rhode Island Red chicken. Apparently the Rhode Island White is also involved, as the roosters of these birds are always white.

And talk about hyper! The big fat Barred Rocks we have don’t even try to chase them anymore, as they can lap those big birds in one circuit around the big coop. They are also great at thieving the food out of the Rock’s giant feeder. Today’s project is making them a feeder of comparable size, out of PVC pipe. Film at eleven.

Spinach Quiche, and Hoya!

Stop Making so much Noise in the Bedroom

Siegfried the dog up there is as tired of Hoya! as I am. Don’t inject yourself with Lysol, eat Tide Pods, drink bleach, or try to pour Clorox into your butt. Clorox won’t run uphill anyway. There is this thing called gravity, that Sir Isaac explained to us all.

Hoya! is the term popularized by the great congress person Mo Udall from Arizona, who allegedly had it yelled at him every time he made a promise to his Native American constituents. Then he learned that Hoya! was the stuff you didn’t want to step in inside the horse pen. At least they didn’t call him Walking Eagle, which is a bird so full of stuff that it can’t fly. Only it’s not stuff. It’s more like Hoya!

So I will bore you with another quiche recipe, after that rant, just because I read someone on the interwebs who described herself as a “classically trained chef,” making a Spinach Quiche with a frozen supermarket crust, and a package of frozen spinach. My classical training came from my grandmother Lily, and she would have beaten the Hoya! out of me if I had suggested such a thing. Her specialties were wild rabbit and dumplings, fried rabbit with gravy, fried chicken, any greens (collards, turnip, mustard), and cinnamon rolls. She also made pancakes without a pan.

The last one was the money shot. She would crank up her potbellied coal stove, and wipe off the top with one of her flour sack towels (which she made with her foot powered Singer sewing machine). Then the butter went on, directly on the top, and then the batter she kept in her 1940’s era GE fridge, which she had painted multiple times. The pancakes were always superb, served with Alaga syrup, on Blue Ridge plates. She never bought anything she couldn’t make herself. Old school reigns supreme.

At any rate, here is my completely homemade Spinach Quiche. It’s a springtime thing around here.

Crust that isn’t full of Hoya!

Ingredients

Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed, plus some Pecorino Romano

1 cup cooked local FRESH Spinach

4 Eggs, grown by yours truly (actually, my chickens)

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the crust)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

The spinach is cooked in butter. I could only find King Arthur bread flour, and Gazunga, it made the best crust I have ever eaten. Lily would have been quite proud. And one of my uncles once ate an entire pan of her cinnamon rolls, in one sitting. They were that good. He had to take a nap afterward.

By the way, I bought all of her Blue Ridge plates, made in Tennessee, after she died. I have added to the collection. Here’s my latest addition.

That divided bowl is a beauty. It’s Stanhome Ivy pattern. I made the candlesticks, and the students at Berea College in Kentucky hand wove the placemats. Now it’s time to crack some nuts. Literally.

ISA Brown Chicks

At about Two to Three Weeks Old

I went to my local chicken purveyor with the intent of buying four Rhode Island Red chicks to add to my flock. They had a grand total of one Rhode Island Red chick. Therefore, I went with a descendant of theirs, the hybrid ISA Brown. Et Mon Dieu, the chicken turned out to have been developed in la belle France.

Technically, all chickens are hybrids anyway, though many breeds have been established for many years, and one generation looks much like the previous one. Apparently that is not true with these birds, though that could easily be just Monsanto like agit-prop disseminated by the company that owns the patent on this bird. Considering that it has been around since 1978, someone has obviously bred some of these fowl, and it would be interesting to find some stories based on first hand experience.

At any rate, the story began in 1975 with the French Ministry of Agriculture, the head of which was determined to produce a first rate bird for commercial Big Chicken. The project was headed by the firm Institut de Sélection Animale, which is where the name ISA comes from. Three years later, these birds were the result, a hybrid of many varieties, though which ones are considered a trade secret; but the most notable one is the Rhode Island Red.

As a bird designed for Big Chicken, these chicks mature quickly and lay eggs at a fast and furious rate. They are variously said to be short lived, or disease prone, but it is hard to believe that Big Chicken would fall in love with a sickly bird: disposable, yes, but sickly, no. A few small owners say they can live as long as eight years, if given proper care, instead of stuck in a battery cage. As it turns out, this variety has become a favorite with backyard chicken growers, though my chickens are actually in my front yard.

One of the best things about this bird is that it is a sex-link chicken, which means the sexes are different colors. Therefore, if the chick is brown, it is a hen; if it is white, it is a rooster. Thus, these four are definitely hens.

After a week here, they are already flying around the brooder, though there isn’t much runway space in that plastic container. I still put a lid on the insulated contraption to keep them from flying around our basement, or getting burned by the heat lamp.

The Heat is On

I have already found them on the top perch, or just cold chilling, sitting on top of the water or feed jars. This morning all four were practicing flying at the same time, which resulted in some spectacular crashes.

Chances are good that my in-laws are in line for some free eggs, as we already regularly have three dozen sitting around our kitchen. Eggs, that is, not in-laws.

Chickens and Brooder Design

Ready for Birds–Almost

Even though we are down to four hens, after two of ours were killed by the neighborhood Bloodhound, we still can’t eat all the eggs they produce. At last count we had 27 eggs, and the number expands daily. So naturally, we are going to buy more baby chicks, four Rhode Island Reds, as an insurance policy against any more dog attacks. Excess is the American way.

My brooder design is the product of some research. It consists of a plastic storage container, a lid made of scrap wood and chicken wire, a couple of commercial feeder/waterer devices, some perches, and a heat lamp. Each was chosen for a reason.

After I stopped laughing at all the experts on the internet who said that plastic boxes were more of a fire hazard than cardboard boxes, I quickly decided the real fire hazard was the heat source, which is usually an infrared heat lamp bulb. I went instead with a ceramic “lizard light,” which is a standby for reptile owners. Mine has both a heat control and a digital thermometer, and it emits no light, so the chickens do not lose their ever important circadian rhythm. The ceramic socket on the lamp is also a must, as those lamps get roasting hot, and melted plastic socket is a disaster. The chicks stay plenty warm with this lamp.

Warm and Safe

The waterer and feeder are both Little Giant brand, made by Miller in the US. They are superb, and all you need are some mason jars to go with them.

The last part of the chick’s crib are the two perches. The long one is some drift wood of Mountain Laurel. The big practice one I made from scrap trim. Waste not, want not.

The bottom will be lined with newsprint, then paper towels, then pine shavings. The chicks will be able to scratch, perch, eat, and drink. Kind of like me. And then I had a McGyver moment.

Extra Insulation

If it gets really cold, I just pull out this old countertop piece to keep the heat in. Now Melanie Jane and I can sit in the basement and watch Law and Order, while the chicks grow up next to books such as History and Class Consciousness, A Southern Renaissance, and The Savage Mind. That last one was written in French, and the title is possibly the greatest pun in history. La Pensée Sauvage can mean either The Savage Mind, or Pansies for Thought.

So we will have chicks chirping behind us, while we are entertained by the semi-fictional mayhem of NYC. Another favorite book of mine is The Country and the City. I’ll take the country, and the city can remain an image on the TV.