31 December 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

The sunrise and sunsets on the farm have been particularly beautiful lately.  Perhaps there is some special alignment of atmospheric conditions.  Or maybe the time in which I go outside to photograph them are the few very still moments of my day; the farm is noticeably still when blanketed in snow.  Or perhaps I'm just reaching an age in which I suddenly admire sunsets, watch squirrels, and hand feed recovering hens in the chicken coop.  Regardless, they've been beautiful, and it seemed a very appropriate post as the sun sets on 2013 and rises in 2014.






"Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn"
– Ralph Waldo Emerson


06 December 2013

Chicken in the Kitchen

December doesn't leave much to do outdoors other than daily chicken chores and the last few garden activities that we've put off, such as planting and mulching the garlic, tulips, and daffodils.  The action concentrated in the garden during the warmer months shifts to the kitchen after the first few frosts. 

chipotle roasted squash

We're easing out of pumpkin season. I've taken the last sip of pumpkin spice latte and eaten the last cube of roasted squash spiced with chipotle and ancho chilis.  I particularly like this Dutch Crookneck variety not only because it is terribly obscene, but also because It has a good amount of flesh that is easily peeled and diced for roasting.  One 2013 pumpkin highlight is Pumpkin Butter Ice Cream from The Preservation Kitchen Cookbook.  I served it for dessert at our family Thanksgiving along with this mandatory Salted Caramel Pie and this Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon

Dutch Crookneck

pumpkin butter ice cream
That would be the peak pumpkin experience of the season had my husband and I not been bored one evening and decided to make pumpkin tortellini out of one of these Long Island Cheese heirloom squash sitting on the porch.  I've made pasta and ravioli, but it's not one of my favorite activities due to my lack of patience and finesse necessary to making them pretty.  Even if I could rectify my poor patience, it would take lots of time and practice to beautifully assemble any small sculptural item such as a tortellini.  Luckily my husband, after years of art tutorial from a certain teacher who emphasized "craftsmanship, craftsmanship, craftsmanship", a college degree in art, and an inherently careful and patient disposition, makes beautiful, almost sensual tortellini. 

assembling tortellini

OK, my kitchen isn't quite as Like Water for Chocolate as the previous description suggests, but he does make a gorgeous tortellini.  It could take days, even weeks, of practice for me to craft one as lovely as his first.  This is the reference he used.   The filling was a very simple blend of roasted, pureed pumpkin, ricotta, parmigiano, salt and pepper.  The day after Thanksgiving we enjoyed them in a rosemary brown butter.

pumpkin tortellini in rosemary brown butter

Unfortunately, the most exciting thing happening in my kitchen isn't pumpkin delicacies.  All the excitement is happening next to the stove, where the chicken has taken residence.  We have a chicken in the kitchen--not the trussed type with its cavity filled with stuffing and herbs, but the live variety with feathers that poops (and farts, who knew?) a lot.  One of our Rhode Island Reds from the original flock wandered out of the run.  We used to let them range out of the run often, that is until the spawn of satan, aka Cinco, took residence next door.  My Father-In-Law's new Blue Heeler has already been the demise of one hen, and I caught her seconds before she was about to make her bones with her second. 

Cinco sitting ON my bistro table
After chasing the dog away and calling her many worse things than that aforementioned, I scooped up the injured hen to bring her back in the coop and found that although she was alive and alert, she had several wounds, the most severe of which was a gaping hole on her back.  She immediately hid when I put her down, which I assumed was a bad sign.  I proceeded to read on many chicken websites that injured chickens must be removed from the flock.  She was hiding from her friends because they would peck at her wounds.  Gross. 
I wrapped her in a towel and began wandering around looking for a happy place to isolate her.  As I was cradling my bleeding, dirty hen I had a mild out-of-body experience, like a previous version of myself was watching the current version and wondering how I became such a foreign individual.  This was further confirmed moments later when I was applying antiseptic to her open wounds.  Just to put this in perspective, it was only a handful of years ago that I lived in downtown Chicago and didn't even trim my own toenails. 
So we have a December house guest.  Other than the pooping and farting, she's kind of good company.  She's quite obedient and hasn't yet strayed from her little apartment box by the window.  She watches me cook, and responds to my singing, and looks at me in wonderment when I talk to her.  I realize I'm dangerously close to becoming like a crazy cat lady.  As a side note, aluminum foil is the most frightening thing in the chicken world.

chicken in the kitchen

Out of respect for Henrietta (she lives with us now; she needed a name), I haven't prepared any chicken.  A few nights ago we had a notable duck dish.  She didn't seem bothered by the similarity.

keeping me company while I cook

Rigatoni with Braised Wild Duck Ragu
We were gifted two small ducks from a local hunter last winter.  They don't have much meat on them which made them suitable for a good ragu.  This is a rustic dish and can easily be adapted to ingredients you have on hand.  I made it based on what was in my pantry at the time.  If you don't have wine or stock, water can be used in place. 
2 small ducks
2 bay leaves
small onion or leek, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 carrots, diced
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups stock or water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Heat oil and butter in a braising dish.  Salt and pepper ducks and brown on all sides.  Remove to separate dish.  Cook onions till soft and add garlic, but do not brown.  Deglaze with wine and reduce by half.  Stir in tomato paste. Place ducks in dish, add bay leaves and water or stock and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low simmer and cover (or place in oven preheated to 325).  Add carrots after 30 minutes.  You can add them earlier--I just don't like them too soft.  Cook ducks until tender--60-90 minutes.  Remove ducks and let cool on a separate plate until cool enough to remove meat and shred.  Reduce sauce on stove top to desired consistency and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in shredded duck and serve over a hearty pasta such as rigatoni. 
rigatoni with braised wild duck ragu