Our quest for four, feathered friends(part 2)

So we had our red sex link chicks in a brooder box, but all too quickly grew from chicks to pullets. They were outgrowing the brooder box, so it was time to make a decision on the coop. We looked for coops online, but we couldn’t find an affordable coop that looked like it could withstand Siberian-like winters.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, everything I read leaned towards building your own, but I could tell the hubby wasn’t very excited about constructing a coop. So to make it a bit more enticing, I allowed him to pick out the plans. We searched endlessly but finally agreed on the “The Daisy.”  The plan originated from, Clean Coops and the cost was $35.00 to download.  It was $35.00 well spent since my hubby is not a woodworker or a tinkerer(and I’m more comfortable in the kitchen).  I printed out all 41 pages and handed the “stack” to him. Oh dear, what did I get him into?

We knew there was no time to waste; we had to get started on that coop in a hurry.  But the weather wasn’t cooperating–where’s spring?  It was a cold and rainy spring so hubby started the frame-work in the garage.

He was able to construct this in two hours. The equipment needed is minimal: power saw and drill, a level, tape measure, t-square, and hammer.
On the first decent spring day, we carried out the framing into the yard. Here he has added the plywood floor and the beginning of the first nesting box.
Looking more like a coop here. The other three walls were framed-in before placement of the front wall and the frame of the roof.  You can see the coop is elevated onto timbers, but we found out later, the height made for difficult egg collection. 
Roof is raised.
Rest of the walls go up and here is the finished nesting box. Inside the box there are dividers forming three equal nests with a hinged lid. We made sure we had quick and easy access to eggs in the am. Differing from the plans, we made only one active nesting box and made the other a storage area. Remember, this coop was designed for 8-12 hens; we are allowed four. 
We kind of jump to the finished coop but here it is(it was a busy spring). . I refer to the coop as the Taj Mahal of coops! It’s equipped with two screened windows, two roosts, a heated water dish, a fan and a convective heater. Notice the sand box on the left; for the girls to take dust-baths.  We purchased an old dog kennel from Craigslist for $250.00 for the chicken run. Between the enclosed foundation of the coop and the run, the chickens have 100 square feet of their own. We keep them in the enclosure while we are gone, and then let them out to roam the fenced-in yard when we are home.  We’ve clipped their wings only once, and had to adjust the fence in certain spots to prevent them from flying over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard.  
My adorable girls. 
Like I said earlier, it was NOT a nice spring.  He was working on that coop in 38 degree weather, so it took longer than it should have; He started building the end of March and finished in early May.  He touched-up and made adjustments here and there until the winter.  I’m not sure I’d recommend doing it this way, but I have to be honest, the quick-growing hens were definitely great motivation. 
The start-up costs for these gals is on the high-end, $650.00 for the coop and run and that doesn’t include extras like the heater, and the heated water bowls(two of them-one inside the coop and one for outside). My hubby used odds and ends from the garage like extra shingles and paint so that helped keep costs in check.  But to be honest, we don’t have these girls only for the eggs. I had read how delightful these girls can be for pets, and I was intrigued. We have had the girls for 10 months, and we have become big chicken enthusiasts.  They each have such a distinct personality, and whoever said chickens are dumb, didn’t know chickens very well.  They are smart and interesting birds with always a lot to say. There’s a youtube clip of a gal going on about how chickens are the gateway farm animal.  Oh, how ridiculous.  
Next blog entry: Raising goats in the city. Not really. 

Our quest for four, feathered friends

It began around this time last year: the want of the sound of little feet scurrying around the house and the joyful sounds baby…chicks make.  I talked the toughest party into it(my hubby) now I have to talk my neighbors into it.  The backyard chicken law just went into effect on 07/28/2011, so this ordinance is relatively new. I read through all of the requirements necessary to obtain a permit for a mere four chickens, and I was discouraged. The list was long, and I wasn’t confident we could comply.  The space was the first concern: It had to be 25 feet from any habitable structure(eeked by-barely, and we have a double lot). And then there was approval from any neighbor who abuts our property.  I needed to contact and get the blessings from SIX of our neighbors. This was a huge challenge since it was January, and three out of the six I had waved to but never had spoken to. Oh, and did I mention, one of the neighbors was a renter?  I contacted all in person and delivered the form they needed to sign for the city, an informational pamphlet and a personal letter(below).

We received a lot of questions and a few of the neighbors were pretty excited. With the aid of my wonderful husband and a tenacity rarely seen in me, we finally collected all of the signatures by mid February.  My chicks were pre-ordered by February 13th and the permit issued March 1st. I may have put the chicken before the egg just a little bit. We picked up the girls March 15th!

So darn cute at a few days old.

If you are thinking about adopting a few chickens, here are a few things to consider.

Decide whether to build a coop and a run or to buy a kit off of the internet. We looked at all the coops available, and we decided we needed to build ours. The coops we could buy looked unstable and not frozen tundra ready. And after reading several comments on the internet, by the time you put-together an expensive kit, you may as well have built your own.  Get plans!!!  Building a chicken coop is nothing like a dog house; chicken coops are “special.”  For example, the coop plans we purchased had a box underneath the roost to catch the droppings(and occasional eggs). It looks like a big tool box you just lift out and dump. Cool, little features like that can make chicken maintenance a breeze. We ordered our plans from: http://www.backyardchickens.com/

Do you have somewhere to keep the chicks warm and safe?  They need a brooder box with a light to keep them safe and warm until they are ready for the coop. We kept them upstairs and away from any inquisitive felines with a 16 cubic feet  brooder box made of plywood. It took a few hours to make and held the chicks for nearly eight weeks. Plan on securing the top of the box with rabbit fencing or something like it to keep the girls from flying up and out. They start testing their wings pretty quickly. Be prepared for dust from shavings(no cedar use pine) and an occasional accident from the girls.

Here are the girls perched on the brooder box. They are about five weeks here.
Do your research on the breed.  Some are bred for quick maturity, high-production and others for their friendly dispositions.  We opted for the former with red sex-link(guaranteed to be all hens), and we are not disappointed.  The girls started laying in July and are still laying an egg each a day.  I haven’t bought eggs in six months.  You can order chicks from the internet but the minimum order is prohibitive.  Some require 15 or more. I could only have four, so we ended up purchasing our chicks from a feed and tractor store in an outlying area. They required we buy six, so I gave two of them away to a friend. 
Remember what mature chickens do: In between laying eggs and looking adorable, they will hunt and peck and scratch your yard.  We like to let them out of their run when they can be supervised(we have a hawk who regularly visits the yard), and they tear-up a lot looking for bugs. On the other hand, our grass has never looked greener from all of their “deposits.”  We’ve been composting their poo all winter long and that’s going to be dumped into our vegetable garden come spring. You wouldn’t think four chickens would have a lot to give but they do.
We received some dubious reaction when we said we were getting chickens as pets, but they have turned out to have pecked their way into our hearts. Corny but true.
Next post will be about cost and the fun involved with building a coop in early spring.

Tapenade: A taste of the Mediterranean in the Midwest

I don’t know when or where I discovered this delicious spread or what motivated me to make it, but I can’t seem to keep it around the house lately. I go through food stages, but I think this one is healthy enough to keep in the regular food-prep rotation. It has lots of good fats(mono-unsaturated)due to the olives, anchovies and olive oil, and it adds many layers of flavor to whatever I add it to. I use it in place of anything I spread mayonnaise on, or I top my eggs or pasta with it.

While olives, capers and anchovies(if using) are salty, and I don’t like salt, Cook’s Illustrated(no, I do not work for them, but I would like to) to the rescue again. A recipe, in the November and December issue, had a method for reducing the saltiness with the surprising addition of pine nuts.  The recipe calls for un-roasted pine nuts but guess what I had in the freezer?  And let me warn you about the price of organic pine nuts; gulp, expect to pay $20.00/lb. Thankfully we only need a 1/3 of a Cup. Traditionally the tapenade has high-quality olives, capers and anchovies.  I adjusted the Cook’s recipe and left out the anchovies in order to make it vegetarian but feel free to add them back in–it’s good with them in. I also either leave the olive oil out completely or just add in a tablespoon.  Experiment and tweak to taste

I recently made olive tapenade for a food day at work.  I topped some of my Lavash Crackers(check earlier blog)with the tapenade and some with my homemade mozzarella(future blog entry), and I was surprised by how many people were not familiar with this flavorful, French spread.  Well, I am here to introduce this Mediterranean taste-bud treat to you. This is a very bold flavor and you better like olives, but promise me, you’ll try it.  We all need a taste of  Southern France at various times in our lives, and I need it now to get through this bone-chillin’ Midwest deep-freeze. And who knows, maybe this will become your new comfort food too.

Take a 1/3 Cup pine nuts, un-roasted and grind to a paste.

Add the rest of  the ingredients to the food processor: kalamata olives, salt-cured black olives, capers, 2 anchovy fillets(not pictured), Dijon mustard and garlic.

Pulse 15 times until finely chopped.

After resting in the fridge for 18 hours, I can barely wait the full 18 hours, but here it is spread on bagel chips. It tastes better than it looks–really.

Black Olive Tapenade

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

The tapenade must be refrigerated for at least 18 hours before serving. It’s important to use untoasted pine nuts in this recipe so that they provide creaminess but little flavor of their own. We prefer the rich flavor of kalamata olives, but any high-quality brine-cured black olive, such as niçoise, Sicilian, or Greek, can be substituted. Do not substitute brine-cured olives for the salt-cured olives. Serve the tapenade as a spread with sliced crusty bread or as a dip with raw vegetables.



In food processor fitted with metal blade, process pine nuts until reduced to paste that clings to walls and avoids blade, about 20 seconds. Scrape down bowl to redistribute paste and process until paste again clings to walls and avoids blade, about 5 seconds. Repeat scraping and processing once more (pine nuts should form mostly smooth, tahini-like paste).

2. Scrape down bowl to redistribute paste and add olives, capers, anchovies, mustard, and garlic. Pulse until finely chopped, about 15 pulses, scraping down bowl halfway through pulsing. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in oil until well combined.

3. Transfer to container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 18 hours or up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature and stir thoroughly before serving.

*Recipe copied from the Cook’s Illustrated website: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/7413-black-olive-tapenade

Fresh Tofu?

I had read about barrels of fresh tofu in a deli…somewhere.  I hadn’t been lucky enough to stumble over one in any deli I had happened upon.  Lamenting I did not have access to the delicious blocks of fresh tofu, which this was only imagined since I had never had anything but store-bought, I was determined to end this dilemma. If this fictional deli with the unknown name was not opening in a neighborhood near me, I will make my own!! The motivation to do this DIY project was once again, influenced by, America’s Test Kitchen. I must have read the directions a dozen times while I waited for the dried soybeans and nigari to arrive. This was definitely a new frontier for me. I did not grow up in a house where my Mother made tofu on the weekends, nor had I worked in an Asian restaurant and had witnessed it being made. No, no, I had nothing to compare it to and no history to draw from.  I was excited to think I could do this at home and have fresh blocks of tofu.  This is where I confess:  It isn’t easy or quick but the results are pretty tasty.

Tools and ingredients: Molds, nigari(a type of salt) and soy beans.  Not pictured but also needed: Cheese-cloth or food- grade muslin. The mold on the left is the plastic container with holes punched out of the bottom and other is a mold I recently purchased.

Start out by soaking 8 ozs beans for 12-18 hours. The beans here have been soaked for 18 hours.

Take 1 cup beans, 3 cups water and process in blender.  Repeat this twice and pour into Dutch oven.

Bring beans and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often.  Once boiling, reduce heat and cook 10 more minutes until slightly thickened.

Prepare a colander with triple layer of food-grade muslin or cheesecloth and place the colander over a bowl or pot. Pour the soy liquid into the muslin.  The cloth will catch the soy curds and the bowl beneath the colander should be smooth, soy milk. Gather up the ends of the muslin and squeeze out the excess liquid.  Put the curds aside for another use(I feed it to chickens, but I am guessing there are other uses). Pour the liquid back into a clean dutch oven and bring back to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add a 1/4 Cup of the diluted nigari while stirring. Let rest for two minutes, covered.  Uncover dutch oven and add remaining nigari. Wait 20 minutes, undisturbed.

Gently scoop out the curd and place in a cheese-cloth lined mold.

Cover curds with extra cheese-cloth and weight it with a two-lb anything. Keep the weight on until desired firmness.

The finished product.  It ended up in a curry stew.

Taken from America’s Test Kitchen DIY

8 ounces(1 1/4 cups)dried soybeans, picked over and rinsed
9 1/2 cups water, plus extra for soaking beans
2 teaspoons liquid nigari

1. Place beans in large bowl or container and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Soak until beans are pale yellow and split apart when rubbed between fingertips, 12 to 18 hours.

2. Drain and rinse beans(you should have about 3 cups beans). Working in batches, process 1 cup soaked soybeans and 3 cups water in blender until mostly smooth, about 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to Dutch oven and repeat twice more with remaining 2 cups soybeans and 6 cups water.

3. Line colander with butter muslin or triple layer of cheesecloth and set over large bowl. Bring soy milk mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with rubber spatula to prevent scorching and boiling over. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

4. Pour soybean mixture into prepared colander to strain. Being careful of hot soy milk, pull edges of muslin together to form pouch, and twist edges of muslin together. Using tongs, firmly squeeze soybean pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. You should have about 8 cups of soy milk; discard soybean pulp or reserve for other use. Transfer soy milk back to clean Dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove pot from heat. Combine remaining 1/2 cup water and nigari in measuring cup.

5. Begin stirring soy milk in fast, figure-eight motion with rubber spatula. fast, about 6 stirs. While still stirring, add 1/4 cup prepared nigari mixture. Stop stirring and wait until soy milk stops moving. Cover pot and let sit undisturbed for 2 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup nigari mixture on surface of milk, and gently stir using figure-eight motion, about 6 stirs. Cover pot and let sit undisturbed until curds form and why is pooling on top and around sides of pot, about 20 minutes.

6. Line tofu mold with butter muslin or triple layer of cheesecloth and place in colander set over large bowl or sink. Using skimmer or large slotted spoon, gently transfer soy milk curds to prepared mold, trying not to break up too much of their natural structure. Cover top of curds with excess muslin and place top of press in place. Weight with 2-pound weight. Press tofu until desired firmness is reached: 20 minutes for soft; 30 minutes for medium; 40 to 50 minutes for firm. Gently remove tofu from mold and place in pie plate or baking dish. Fill with cold water to cover and let sit until tofu is slightly firmer, about 10 minutes. Tofu can be refrigerated in airtight container filled with water for up to 1 week; change water daily.

Notes:  I had a tough time finding liquid nigari, so I bought flakes. Here is a link to Nigari. I add two teaspoons flakes to the 1/2 cup of water and stir until dissolved..

These are the beans I ordered, Bob’s Red Mill Organic Soy Beans; one bag will make 3 squares of tofu.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a mold, I fashioned one a plastic container with holes punched out of the bottom.