It’s been an exciting sort of week in the world of chickens around these parts.
First, we started getting eggs last weekend. I might have mentioned in our first chicken post that we weren’t exactly sure how old our hens were, but breath was baited, fingers were crossed, wood was touched, and, more practically, I purchased a couple of small plastic eggs from Amazon and set them in the nesting boxes, as if to say, “Look. You see that? That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The days are getting shorter. My research suggested that hens need about 14 hours of daylight to lay, so I had also run a light into the coop and set a daily timer to come on at 4.30 every morning. (I’ve since relented a little and given them a little lie-in; it now comes on at 5.30 every morning. I’m not a monster.)
Whether any of the above helped, or whether it was just their time, our first small, brown, speckled egg appeared on the morning of Saturday 12th October, exactly six weeks after we first settled the chickens into their new home. The next day, one more, and the next day, two. That day I also found one of the hens crouching at the corner of the garden, and when I investigated, found it had created something with a soft shell.
I like to tell people that growing up in England, and particularly in the Garden of England™ that is the Kent countryside, you naturally absorb, as if by osmosis, an understanding of the ways of nature. You find yourself in easy harmony with the plants, and the trees, and gardening and horticulture come as easily to you as walking, or talking. (But not walking AND talking together, let’s not fly too close to the sun, Icarus.)
It’s all bollocks, of course. My Nan loved to garden, my Mum loves to garden, I had a Big Book of British Trees (“Number 4: The Larch. The Larch.”), but other than that, the very few nuggets of natural lore that still rattle around my skull are things I remember from Scouts. (For example, did you know you can tell compass directions by looking at the moss growing on the side of a tree? I’m pretty sure it’s the north side, unless it isn’t.)
Moving back to the countryside after so long, we’re forced to cram a lot of greenery know-how into our increasingly osssified crania. For example, we have two large black walnut trees, laden each summer with green, perfumed globules, which, come the autumn, are released from their arboreal prison and sent careening into the ground. Or into a face.
A long, long time ago, on my first “grown-up” trip, I was at a tiny little restaurant in Florence, Italy, when a waiter asked me if I was a fan of “Farrah”. “Um, huh?” I asked, eloquent as always. “Farrah, you like?”. “She’s… ok, I guess”. I was very confused as to what a 70’s sex symbol had to do with Italian food but was too embarrassed to ask. The waiter, befuddled by my response, wandered away, I’m sure annoyed that he ended up with the table of weird Americans.
Later I noticed a special on the menu, “Farro con Pomodori Arrostiti” (Farro with roasted tomatoes). Aha! Farro, not Farrah! Farro, of course. Farro… I had no idea what Farro was. I didn’t order it.
Now, many years later, Farro is one of my favorite grains. It has great texture and cooks as easily as pasta (salty water, boiled for about 20 minutes). It’s a kind of wheat grain that has the bran intact (here’s a great guide to all kinds of grains). I had a big bunch of grapes in the fridge so, inspired by this Martha Stewart recipe, I got to work. I changed her recipe a bit, adding thyme and almonds. I also adjusted the temperature and cooking time, since I found the grapes were done quite a bit before the onions. Oven-roasted grapes may seem odd but they’re so, so good. And this is coming from someone who thinks raisins are satan’s sun spots.
What’s cool about this salad is that it’s perfect for the end of summer but also for fall since grapes, onions and kale are pretty much always available. Matt liked it so much that he thinks it should be added to our thanksgiving line-up. High praise, indeed.
I mean, come on. Look at this drink! Is that not just the prettiest cocktail you could imagine drinking on a crisp, early fall day? Luckily, Concord grapes are in season right now. Our farmer’s market was full of them but they’ll only last another week or so, so make it now while there’s still time. No pressure or anything.
This dish is basically autumn in a pot. It’s orange, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and you can serve it for Thanksgiving or as a side for any meal.
Now that I live in the boonies and have to drive to the grocery store like a normal, I have a bad habit of buying way too many vegetables at once. I have such optimism in the produce aisle, thinking of all the tasty things I’ll make, but time gets away from me and eventually, with great shame in my heart, I end up with a bin full of bendable carrots and fuzzy broccoli rabe.
But I never, ever regret buying too much winter squash (like acorn, delicata, kabocha and butternut). Those things last for-fricking-ever. I mean, I don’t just adore them because of shelf-life. That would be silly. “Hey, you lazy bastards. Wanna make something that won’t rot?” Damn, I should have gone into advertising. I think I have a knack.
Anyway, I’ve had this butternut squash sitting on my counter for at least 3 weeks (lie, 5 weeks) and look; still perfect! Butternut squash is packed with fiber, vitamins A and C so it’s a great, healthy alternative to mashed potatoes and look at that color. It’s like being punched in the face by fall!
We had it with Baked Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Garlic. It’s a great combination.