Archive for July, 2011

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I am forever grateful that my girlfriend Kate would rather have a garden composter than a Gucci bag. So last December, after a few months of not-so-subtle prodding to join the urban farming movement, I caved and surprised her with a chicken coop for Christmas.

Buying a chicken coop, I quickly discovered, is a lot like buying a fish bowl—it’s the easy part. After it was assembled and ensconced in the backyard, the real work began. Picture a full-size bale of hay strapped precariously to the tiny roof of a Honda Del Sol as it navigates the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills, and you will get a sense of what I’m talking about. Then there was the extensive reinforcing to make the shoddy made-in-China hen house predator-proof, the feed sourcing, the extension to the yet-to-be inhabited coop, and finally the procurement of the actual chickens (four 2-month-olds, three breeds in all).

One of the Girls

Kate, it turns out, is a natural chicken whisperer. She swears they have unique personalities, and named them accordingly. Over time she began to recognize their individual grooming habits and routines. As Yolko, Lucinda, Josephine and Mimi grew bigger, I built a second bedroom and an atrium to accommodate their burgeoning girth. And then just as life in the hen house was finding its groove, Kate left me. To put a finer point on it, we didn’t split up, but she returned to Toronto, as was always the plan, to continue work on her PhD. And now I am the single parent of four rambunctious adolescent girls.

In my entire adult life, I have never had a single pet. In fact, I don’t even own a houseplant. I blame it on my busy travel schedule, but it also has a lot to do with my minimalist sensibilities. My life 2.0—the one with four pre-pubescent hens—began to resemble a sitcom starring Jim Belushi as a bumbling single dad trying to cope with his new responsibilities. There’s me reading up on the two pages of “dos” and “don’ts” that Kate left behind. That’s me hitting my head on the roof of the coop as I clean it, then stepping in the shit as I recoil (cue the laugh track). Piss yourself as I try to chase down the chicken that escapes when I open the door to throw in the feed.

Every day, I dutifully chop up my veggie cuttings and add a few handfuls of greens that I forage from the waste bins at the farmers market. Then I feed the girls, replenish the water and do a quick clean-up of their prodigious poop. When my day allows it, I take my lunch on my deck and scan the horizon for wily coyotes as the girls free range in the back yard. At first, corralling them back into the coop was a comical exercise in futility. But then I accidentally discovered that a cob of fresh corn is like crack to a chicken, and I instantly became the pied piper of poultry. After a couple of months on our own, the girls and I bonded. Now they follow me around and even allow me to pick them up without flapping their wings in protest. Come to think of it, why shouldn’t they be content? They have a personal chef, room service, and a lavish condo with a bird’s eye view of the Hollywood sign.

Despite the girls’ acceptance of my single parenting skills, I eventually began to lose interest in the whole Farmer Bob charade. Then a funny thing happened as I opened up the nesting box to tighten a loose screw. There in the hay, sitting like a glistening pearl in an oyster, was a perfect light brown egg. I picked it up and cradled it in the palm of my hand in amazement—it was still warm to the touch. Then I poached it.

Proud Father

When I cracked the egg open, the yolk was a startlingly bright orange. When cooked, it had a silky texture and a rich, intensely eggy flavor. To say it was the best egg I’ve ever tasted is a bit like thinking your child is the smartest kid in the class. But knowing its provenance and being nature’s accomplice certainly makes one appreciate every morsel. A week after the first egg, my second hen started laying, and a week after that all four were in full production, dropping 3 – 4 eggs in total per day. The Rhode Island Red lays a conventionally brown egg, while the Plymouth Barred Rock lays brown eggs with a slight rose tinge. Despite the fact that the remaining two girls were both purportedly blue egg-laying Ameraucanas, their shells differ significantly: One has a faint blue hue, while the other is decidedly putty-colored. They are all equally delicious—after all, a parent should never play favorites. So far, they’ve laid a fluffy omelet, several stupendous scrambled egg mash-ups, a creamy Caesar salad and a rich pasta carbonara.

As is often the case with presents, my surprise for Kate ended up being a gift for both of us. I gained a deeper appreciation for the humble egg, and learned to see beyond its traditional functions, recognizing it as a thing of great beauty and economy. Keeping hens forms a perfect loop in the ecological cycle of my kitchen: a gift that keeps on laying—four eggs a day.

egg-iliscious mash-up
8 eggs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch strips
6 green onions, finely chopped
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 handful fresh Italian parsley, or other herbs, chopped finely
2 roasted red bell peppers: fresh, canned or jarred, skinned and sliced thinly

In a bowl, beat eggs, salt, pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Reserve.
In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add oil and cook pancetta, stirring occasionally until it starts getting crispy.
To the pan add green onions and garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until garlic shows the first sign of turning golden.
Add herbs and red bell pepper. Stir for 1 minute.
Reduce heat to medium, add egg mixture to pan, and stir until eggs are cooked to your liking.
Serves 4

The Blumer Coop

Whole Berry Bar

Berry Blast

Whole berry blast, pro bar. Part of my power bar tasting for Dandyhorse magazine, a Toronto-based urban cycling magazine that i am guest editing.