Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Chicks Have Arrived - OR - All The Ladies in the House (the ladies...the ladies...the ladies!!!!)

(THis post can also be read at


I got a voicemail from the post office first thing Monday

"Uhh, hi, Mr. Knauer, uhh... [long pause] ...your chicks are

Great, I thought, just in time for Easter.

A few months ago I was cleaning out a section of the barn
that no one had set foot in for generations. Digging around,
I found a wooden cage tucked in the corner. The cage was
wrapped with chicken wire and was clearly designed to
raise baby chicks. I was inspired. Fortunately, there is
also an old chicken coop on the farm--a building built
precisely for raising chickens, something that no one in
my family has done for 50 years.

It also happens that I eat a lot of eggs. I have them most
mornings for breakfast. I eat them for lunch, which this
time of year means hard-boiled and crumbled over
asparagus. I fry them and place them on top of pizza
for dinner.

Given these facts, raising hens seemed like an easy thing
to justify. I went online and ordered 20 laying hen
chicks of various breeds for about $2 each. And when I
picked up the box at the post office, I almost giggled.
They were the cutest things, maybe ever.

At the moment they are camped out near the heater
in the living room of the farmhouse. In a few weeks
they'll be able to wander around outside. (It will take
2-3 months before I see any eggs from them.) And
that will bring on its own set of challenges. One of
those challenges, perhaps the biggest, will be the fox.


There is a fox that lives in the old hay field, just above
the grape vines. She's raising four cubs. Every morning,
she and I stare at each other from a distance as her cubs
frolic and tumble in the spring grass. And, because I
know I can't out-smart the fox, I'm trying to make friends
with her. Just after sunrise, I bring her and her cubs some
food. It might be a leftover burger or some pork. So far,
I haven't fed her any chicken with the hopes that I might
foster a mutual understanding.

I am hopeful that she won't eat my chickens, and to that
end I'm fixing up the coop to give them a safe place to
roost at night. During the day, they'll be protected by
my dogs. Again, I am hopeful. I am also naive. If I'm
lucky, I'll be able to stave her off long enough to eat
some of my chicken's eggs this summer.


In the meantime, here's a recipe for my take on
asparagus vinaigrette, using purchased eggs:

Asparagus Vinaigrette
Active time: 15 minutes Total time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

1 1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt plus more for seasoning
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1 hard-boiled egg

Blanch asparagus in a large pot of boiling salted water
until bright green and crisp-tender, 4-6 minutes
(depending on the thickness of the asparagus).
Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking;
let cool completely. Drain and pat dry.

Place shallot in a small saucepan with vinegar, sugar,
and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer, then remove from
heat and let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 1 Tbsp. of vinegar
mixture, then drain shallot.

Whisk together oil, capers, Dijon mustard, reserved
vinegar mixture, and shallot in a small bowl. Season to
taste with salt and pepper. Toss asparagus with the
dressing, then transfer to serving platter. Force egg
through a sieve and sprinkle over the asparagus.

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