Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bistro Salad with homemade creamy Italian dressing

Using up garden produce is sometimes a challenge.  When faced with a bountiful harvest of sugar snap peas again, I find myself wondering how to prepare them.  So far we've had them steamed, stir-fried, included in fried rice, as an ingredient in a green salad, tossed in a light chicken soup just before serving, and raw with dip.  Some of those have appeared on the menu more than once -- not so much that I couldn't squeeze another one by the family but often enough I want to try something different.

So I rummaged in the fridge and found some cold roast chicken plus, thanks to a trip to the newly-opened Friendly City Food Co-op, there were a couple of tomatoes, a bell pepper and a cucumber.  Since it's the Year of the Onion here, the garden could provide an onion, too. But our lettuce has started to turn bitter and bolt (go to seed) so if we were going to have a salad it would have to take a slightly different form from the usual lettuce-tomato-cucumber one.  Green sugar snap peas could be the basis instead of lettuce.  And the dressing would have to be homemade as that's one thing I've cut from my grocery list -- homemade dressing tastes better and I control the ingredients.  This is what I came up with -- and we all loved it.  Can't beat that kind of meal.
Bistro Salad with Creamy Italian Dressing

Makes 4 main dish servings

2 cups cooked cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup cooked chicken, chopped
1 small bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small cucumber, diced
1/3 cup diced sweet onion
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup creamy Italian dressing (recipe follows)
12 oz. sugar snap peas, optional
3 small tomatoes, optional

Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.  Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat.  (I start with a 1/4 cup, add more if needed, then serve extra on the side for those who really like to drown a salad.)  Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.  Serve on a bed of raw sugar snap peas and sliced tomatoes.  Crusty bread makes a good partner.

Creamy Italian Dressing
(adapted from Jim Long's excellent book, The Best Dressed Salad: World Famous Salad Dressings & Their Origins)
Makes about 1-1/4 cups

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram
1 teaspoons dry parsley
1/4 teaspoon dry basil
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon liquid lecithin, optional

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.  Recipe may be halved or doubled.  Will keep several weeks in refrigerator.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

1 chick, 2 mama hens

This is a conundrum almost worthy of King Solomon.  We have one chick but two hens who are each sure the chick is hers.  The chick doesn't seem unduly worried either way.

It started a few weeks ago when DS reported that Mrs. Badger, our grey Silkie bantam hen, had gone broody.  Then after a few weeks we realized that E.B., a black hen, herself hatched in the backyard last year, wasn't out-and-about as much as usual -- reason?  She was broody, too!  And seated right beside Mrs. Badger in the corner.  They even seemed to be sharing eggs. When one would take her daily break to eat and drink, the other attempted to cover all the eggs. 

We were busy with other things (mainly garden and end-of-year homeschool activities) and instead of separating them and giving each a clutch of fertile eggs from the pastured girls as is our wont, we left them to it.

Well, late last week, DS went out to check for eggs and discovered there was a tiny chick tucked under a hen in the backyard coop.  Problem was, we couldn't tell just which hen was claiming the chick.  He (tail could indicate a cockerel but not sure yet) would pop out from under first one black wing then another.  (Mrs. Badger, though known as a grey Silkie, is more of a charcoal color -- nearly indistinguishable from E.B.'s coloring except in bright light.)

Snowball and her two-month-old chicks were still in the baby pen so first we had to relocate them and re-situate the pen on fresh ground.  Snowball still isn't happy about that -- she sits right outside the gate apparently waiting to be let back in though she did lead her chicks into the big girls' coop from the first night on.  Since we couldn't tell which hen had hatched the chick, we decided to move both hens with the baby.  We figured once they were in the baby pen, the "real" mama hen would take over and the other would want to be freed to roam again with the other backyard girls, guinea fowl and Badger, the grey Silkie bantam roo.

But that's not the way it was.  Both hens would call the chick and he went to either; they all slept in the little house together.  However, after a few days, E.B. seemed to want out -- she was pacing the pen, eyeing the other chickens in the yard as though she was ready to re-join them.  Mrs. Badger and the chick just watched her from a distance.  We thought "Aha!  It's Mrs. Badger's chick and E.B.'s ready to give up and re-join the rest of the flock!"  So DS let E.B. out yesterday afternoon and all seemed fine. Mrs. Badger called the chick to her when I gave them some treats and E.B., though she hung around the yard near the baby pen, ranged with the other girls.

Until evening, that is.  Mama hens and their little chicks often go in for the night long before the rest of the chickens.  Around 6:30 or 7:00 last night, well before the 9:00 bedtime the other chickens adapt this time of year, E.B. began to terrorize the other hens and Snowball's two chicks.  I'd tossed out some leftover cornbread near the baby pen and the big girls were all enjoying their treat except for E.B.  She would pick up a few crumbs, then charge an unsuspecting hen from the rear -- pulling tail feathers and seeming to ram into them before they could run off.  Then she'd go back to pecking for crumbs.  She's always been a bit of a bully so DS and I, watching from the deck, didn't think too much of it except that there was no cause.  She had access to as many crumbs as any other chicken.  I'd scattered them far and wide over that area of yard.

When the cornbread crumbs were mostly gone, E.B. began pacing, then practically loping around the chick pen.  And the chick was trying to keep up with her on the inside.  Mrs. Badger just sat quietly by the door to the little house and watched.  Finally DS and I got the idea -- E.B. wanted in the chick pen.  (We can be pretty dense sometimes.)  So DS opened the gate and shooed her around the pen till she could see it was open.  That's all it took.  E.B. ran into the pen and almost immediately she and the chick were inside the little house settling down for the night.  Mrs. Badger joined them in a few minutes and scooted right up to E.B. with the chick sort of in between them at the rear.
I tried to get a clear picture but only the hens were visible.  DS suggested he take off the house's roof in order to spot the chick but that just stirred everyone up and they all hopped over the side walls fussing up a storm.  Or maybe that was due to me using the flash -- hard to spot a little black fluffball between to big black fluffballs without proper lighting...
So for now, we have a chick who has two mamas.  Perhaps one hen will get tired of the process and give up but no sign of that yet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yield: 1 pullet, 1 cockerel

Snowball, the white Silkie bantam hen, hatched three eggs (gathered from the pastured hens) in late April. They were all Turken chicks. One was lost to an unknown cause about a week after hatching. The survivors have grown and are 10 weeks old now.

They're taller than Snowball now thanks to their long legs and probably weigh a little more, too. One is definitely a cockerel and, I'm pretty sure, the other is a pullet.
I love how her black-and-white patterning makes it look like she's wearing a cool cap. Sometimes Turkens just look like Woody Woodpecker to me so I like to see one that appears almost fashionable.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's a jungle out there...

Hollyhocks and spiny bear's breeches gone wild. Where will it end?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring, no, better make that early summer garden update

A few days last week seemed to herald the end of spring -- the daytime temperatures shot up above 90ºF., nighttime lows (71ºF. one night) were not really low and everything seemed to shimmer with heat waves, especially me! But by the weekend it leveled off and Sunday was a gorgeous day. We went to a graduation party at a nearby lake in the afternoon and it was warm enough to swim yet comfortable enough in the shade to be, well, comfortable. I still think it's more summer than spring but, by the calendar, it's at least two more weeks till summer's official.
Jericho and Rouge d'Hiver lettuces are keepers for next year's garden list.
Savoy "Ace" cabbage proves it was worth searching out the seeds again this year.
Ruby red cabbage
Cool weather plants like lettuce and cabbage are still looking good.  I really wanted to try row covers for the cabbage this year but the time came and went for covering them and I still hadn't decided which type to order.  Maybe next year.  So far they're not showing much, if any, damage so perhaps this won't be a bad year for cabbage loopers.  One type of kale has gone to seed but I managed to fill the dehydrator with kale chips early last week using the other varieties that are hanging in there for now. 

Various tomatoes
I made a crock of kimchi with the last of the Michihili cabbage which is billed as a "Chinese" cabbage.  I like it but so do the bugs.  A lot.  Every year I say we won't plant it again because of how bug-eaten the leafy part becomes but the crisp stalk part more than makes up for what I have to trim away.  And the sheep and chickens seem to like the leafy part -- bugs aren't an issue for them, I guess.

Caged cucumbers
The tomatoes are set out and, in some cases, staked plus green beans are up.  If only the rabbits and birds would leave them alone.  DH had to do a second planting for beans and some squash and cucumbers thanks to those rascally rabbits.  He cages them till they're of a size that's no longer quite so tasty but I think the birds must nip off more than just beans because the rabbits I see in the late evening are too big to get through the cages...
Potatoes in bloom

Three types of potatoes (kennebec, pontiac red, and yukon gold) are blooming so I'm looking forward to scrabbling along the edges for new potatoes in a week or two when the flowers die back.  DH always acts irritated when I do that but the one year I managed to hold off, he came in carrying a bunch of golf ball-size potatoes in his shirttail asking if I would fix them for dinner.

Steamed, stir fried, pickled and straight from the vine -- that's how we've had sugar snap peas so far.  I picked a couple of pounds right after taking this photo on Saturday and we should have another picking ready today or tomorrow.  They will keep blooming if I keep them picked and the temperature doesn't soar again (and stay that way).

Blooming herbs and sugar snap vines loaded with peas
I really need to pick some of the herbs in the surrounding beds and dry them or, in a few cases, use to flavor vinegar.  They could all be used like that, really, but I've found that lovage, chive, and tarragon vinegars are the ones I use the most.  One of the cold frames has a few Swiss chard stragglers that DH never got around to transplanting out and I plan to dry that and some of the kale to serve as a vegetable base I want to try.  I dried kale and powdered it on its own last year and really enjoyed the little burst of "green" flavor it could add to soup and broth.

Other than herbs, the other more-or-less permanent plantings like berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries), rhubarb, garlic,etc. are not planted in the regular garden beds area.  But a little over a year ago, my mother needed to relocate a gooseberry bush so DH said he'd just "heel it in" one of the garden beds.  Well, after a brief discussion of where it should go "for good" -- I wanted to put it near the little one he constantly mows down in hopes he'd quit doing that, we promptly forgot about it and so it's stayed in it's temporary spot and, apparently, is thriving.  DH took the headboard from an old maple bed frame I intended to use in a flower bed and set it as a support for the gooseberry.  I guess I'll have to figure out how to prune this one but I kind of like the way it looks leaning on it's frame.

Watching the mist burn away as the day warms up - 6:30am on the first Saturday in June