Friday, October 30, 2009

Chicken pictures

The chicken coop. 

the run.

their first day in their new home!

inside the coop.

the ramp between the coop and the yard.

the nesting boxes!

chickens in the run.

I try not to play favorites, but if I did it would be this hen.



We finally got the chickens! It took a while but it was worth the wait. I had wanted to get chickens last year, but my roommate Lauren thought it would be a bad idea. Imagine my surprise when I returned from India this summer and one of the first things she said was, "Let's get chickens!".

Plans: I spent most of August looking at plans for chicken coops and researching chicken breeds. My parents came to visit in early September and my dad was kind enough to bring me a bunch of tools that I don't have here in Massachusetts. We were able to get some of the wood and all of the chicken wire from freecycle and additional wood from a fencing company in Northampton that gives away scraps. We did have to buy some sheets of plywood, the insulation, screws, staples, insulation glue, and hinges.

Costs: The total cost for the whole project was $175.68. That's $10 each for the chickens, $11 for feed (which should last for 3+ months), hay for bedding and food, and building supplies. The eggs we usually buy from the store are $2.99 a dozen, which is $.25 per egg. That means the hens will have to lay 702 eggs for us to recover our costs. They can lay up to 3 eggs a day (one egg each) and have been averaging 2 eggs a day. So if they continue to lay 2 eggs a day, we should hit 700 eggs in just under a year. The hens will lay for 2-3 years, so in the end we should get back at least twice the cost we put in.

Food: We really didn't do this to save money though. I am increasingly invested in understanding where all of the food we eat comes from and knowing exactly what it is we're putting in our bodies. We've had a farm share for the past two years, which is really great for June through October. The winter months are harder, but we might get a winter farm share this year. Winter farm shares are primarily root vegetables and greens (lots of kale!). That's all an aside. I am a vegetarian and rely on eggs as a near daily source of protein. I hate standing in front of the egg case at the store and debating over organic feed, free range, hormone free, etc eggs. The fact that these labels aren't regulated by the FDA pisses me off. Anyone can put "free range" on their egg carton. "Cage free" eggs might just mean that the chickens get a few more inches of cage space than some of their less fortunate counterparts. Additionally, free range doesn't necessarily mean that the chickens are eating any better than if they were in cages.

The fact is that what the chicken eats, I eat. If the chickens are cramped into a tiny space eating manure and sawdust along with their hormone laced feed, then that's what's being transferred to the eggs I eat. I'm lucky enough to live in an area in which local eggs from farmers I can talk to are readily available. I could go see how the hens live and what they're eating before I decide to purchase their eggs. I'm incredibly fortunate to have that. However, those eggs come with an increased price tag, sometimes upwards of $5 a dozen (which is the case at our farm share). That's incredibly expensive to me! Even though I am an advocate of spending more money for quality whole foods and probably spend a larger percentage of my income on food than your average 24 year old, I'm not willing to drop $5 for a dozen eggs. Keeping my own hens requires a little bit of labor on my part and ensures that I know exactly what's going into my chickens, and thus into their eggs. I also know if they're healthy, happy, and being treated well. That and they're pretty fun to have around. So it seemed like a win win situation.

Work?: So how much work is it to take care of hens? Not a lot really. Building the coop took a while. We did it piecemeal, an hour here and there after work before the sun set. In the end, the coop we have may not look as fancy as some of the ones you can buy, but it was a lot of fun to build! And it works just fine. Comparable coops available online or from farm supply stores in this area start at about $1000 if you can believe it, with most in the $1500-$1700 range and some even more. That's insane. Insane. Day to day care for the chickens involves raising and lowering the ramp to their coop (optional really until cold weather sets in), collecting the eggs, refilling their water dish daily, refilling their food dish when it's empty, and cleaning out the manure/putting in clean hay. All in all, maybe 5 minutes a day and another 15 minutes every few weeks. Not much in the grand scheme of things. Way easier than having a dog or a cat. Also, cats don't lay eggs. Too bad.

Pictures to follow. The end.

P.S. Now I just need to work on convincing Lauren to move to a house where I can have goats!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

an orange + chipotle powder = surprisingly delicious.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple Onion Cheddar Thyme Bread

 This might be my new favorite bread.

I've been working on variations of this recipe for a while and I think that I might have finally figured it out. I wanted to put all of my favorite things into one loaf of bread. I've done onions and cheese, apples and cheese, thyme and onions, etc. but they often didn't rise well enough or I would put too much stuff into the dough. My most recent loaf turned out well and I think I'm going to stick with this combination in the future.

First I made a basic sourdough bread at 67% hydration. Then I kneaded the apples, onions, cheese, thyme, and salt into the dough.

After about two hours (with folds every hour) I shaped the loaf and let the dough rise overnight in the fridge. The next morning I pulled the dough out of the fridge and turned the stove onto 500 to preheat with a stone. I baked the bread for about 40 minutes.

The apple slices I put on top unfortunately burned on the edges. I think I'll skip that step next time. But the loaf turned out okay and the inside was really light and soft.

It was yummy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

delicious sandwich

I posted about the Apple Walnut Sourdough bread I made the other day so I thought I'd post about the delicious sandwich I made for dinner after the loaf came out of the oven.

My carnivorous roommates frequently cook bacon in our house, for breakfast or dinner, and although it's been many many years now since I've eaten bacon, the smell always makes me crave that certain salty flavor that I've never found replicated in vegetarian fare. I've had the kind of vegetarian fake bacon that you can get at the store, usually by Morningstar or one of those brands, but they always have a strange plasticy texture and smell that reminds me of dog treats. Not appetizing. However, I once went to a vegan brunch my current roommate Liz's former apartment for which she made "vegan bacon" from tempeh. It was really delicious. It was crispy and salty and a little bit smoky, and while it was definitely NOT bacon, I loved it and immediately asked for the recipe. Well, that was nearly a year ago now and I've forgotten whatever it was Liz told me, but while the Apple Walnut Sourdough was rising and baking and the sweet nutty aroma filled the house, I began to think about how well apples, cheese, and bacon go together. Thinking back to Liz's brunch, I began to search for recipes that might replicate that smoky salty flavor I've long missed.

I came across several variations on what seemed to be the core ingredients: soy sauce and liquid smoke. Several recipes added nutritional yeast and a few threw in some heat by means of chili powder or hot sauce. I decided to start simple and complicate things from there. I sliced a package of Bridge Tofu (the best available around here, in my opinion) into inch wide, quarter inch thick slices, that I spread out on paper towels to dry off. I heated some vegetable oil up in my cast iron skillet. I used enough to coat the bottom, but not so much that it would cover the tofu. You want to brown it, not deep fry it. Once the oil was hot I laid the tofu strips in, cooked until brown and crispy on one side, then flipped and did the same for the other.

Once the oil has cooked off and the tofu is crispy, pour a mixture of soy sauce and liquid smoke over it while it's in the pan. Proportions differ, so do it to taste. I mixed 2T soy sauce, 1T liquid smoke, and 1/4c water. The water turned out to be a bad idea, but I had trouble seeing how 3T of liquid would evenly coat all of the tofu in the pan. The soy sauce/liquid smoke mixture should be absorbed into the tofu while the water cooks off (as I learned, if you use too much water, the tofu gets a little spongy and wet on the inside, which definitely isn't a bacon texture). Once the liquid is gone, pull the tofu out of the pan and voila!

For the sandwich, I sliced up some of the Apple Walnut bread, some Vermont cheddar, and put it all together with the tofu "bacon". I grilled it a little to brown the bread (the heat of the tofu mostly melted the cheese before I even put the sandwich in the skillet). I ended up adding mustard after I'd grilled it, which was tasty. I had also roasted some beets and cauliflower with garlic (all from the farm share!) while the oven was hot from the bread. Put it all together and my roommate and I had a really great dinner!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

World Bread Day 2009

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of sumbission october 17)

Okay, so I'm going to bake something for World Bread Day. Thoughts? Suggestions? Favorite breads that I've made in the past?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apple Walnut Bread

This weekend I decided that the weather had cooled down enough that I could start baking bread again without driving my roommates crazy with 500 degree ovens. I pulled my starter from the fridge, where it had laid much neglected over the summer, and ramped it up with frequent feedings from last Friday until Tuesday, when I deemed it ready to use (more out of impatience than actual evidence from the starter). It took a bit longer than I expected, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since I used it so little (no feedings at all in fact for 2 months!).

I had been eying two recipes from the Wild Yeast Blog for a couple of weeks because they seemed like the perfect breads for saying “Hello Fall!” I didn’t have everything to make either bread, but I did have walnuts so I opted for the Apple Walnut Sourdough instead the Apple Cider Sour Rye, which I may have to make next weekend.

With my starter ready to go, I did a final feed Tuesday morning and then set to making the bread Tuesday in the early evening. I halved the recipe to make one loaf and altered some of the ingredients. I didn’t have buckwheat flour, cider, or dried apples. I did have fresh apples though and rye.

Here's the recipe I ended up following looked like:




Flour (KABF)



Rye flour












Apples (fresh)






I followed Susan's directions, aside from rehydrating the apples. I was mixing everything by hand, which was tricky. Using fresh apples made the dough very wet and sticky and I began to wish that I had chopped them smaller. I had hoped for the bread to be finished by dinner, but I didn't end up pulling it out of the oven until 11pm. I probably should have let it rise even longer; Susan's directions call for a total of about 5 hours fermentation/rising time, but I suspect her starter was a bit more active than mine and that the dough wasn't as weighed down by the heavy apples.

I also wasn't quite as good at the apple stencil and ended up over-flouring the surface. Nonetheless, I think it turned out quite good! I cut into it today and made a delicious sandwich (post to follow). I had been worried that the crumb would be too dense/that it hadn't risen enough, but when I cut into it I was surprised to find that the crumb was just fine! This was also the first time I had used such large chunks of nuts in a bread and was worried about them being hard, thus making the bread difficult to bite into, but my fears were unfounded!

All in all, this was a delicious bread, perfect for a fall afternoon. Just what I was hoping for. Another excellent recipe from Wild Yeast!

Upon request, I'm submitting this post to Yeast Spotting over at the Wild Yeast blog!