Chickens were my Gateway Farm Animal. It started innocently enough about fifteen years ago --- I envisioned bucolic yard ornaments that clucked, with breakfast fringe benefits. I bought a starter coop and six chicks from my local feed store, put the coop together where I could see it from my suburban kitchen window and waited impatiently for eggs.
Unfortunately, the entire first batch was killed within weeks and I learned My First Important Farm Lesson.....Animals count on their Farmer for Competent Stewardship. The starter coop was clearly inadequate on many levels but I did not know enough to know what I didn't know. It is no fun to discover tiny dismembered chicken bodies inside a small faux coop and it was a lesson that stayed with me to this day. I immediately set upon building a chicken fortress...my oldest son dubbed it Cluckingham Palace and it was, indeed, over the top. Regardless, my new chickens were safe and I was happy, even if the eggs averaged out at about $150 a dozen.
It wasn't long before Chickens were not enough...I needed more. I soon had five goats frolicking in the back yard. My home was on a small lake and boaters would point and laugh, not sure that they were actually seeing what they thought they were seeing....young Nubian Goats munching happily on mango trees. My beautiful tropical yard quickly turned into a sandy, desiccated wasteland, but I learned to milk and I made goat cheese. This farming thing was a blast!
|Ruby pranced in the front of a tropical Trumpet Tree while chickens foraged in the backyard.|
Years have passed and I have morphed from Suburban Hobby Farmer to full on Homesteader. The Farmer and I work the land using minimal outside inputs....the farm provides much of what we feed our animals, we use no chemicals or herbicides and we employ limited fossil fuels, preferring to farm the old fashioned way. We heat with a wood stove and muddle through hot summers without air conditioning. We don't have a television but we do have internet. In many ways it feels as though I have stepped back in time!
This year we raised Meat Hens--a first for us--- and it was a real learning process. Our Laying Hens free range...they sleep in a coop at night but are free to roam about the pastures throughout the day. The Meat Hens were a different story. Our first batch lived out their entire 8 week life span in a barn dedicated to meat hen production. Cornish Cross Meat Hens are far and away the most popular breed of Meat Hen and have been bred to reach maturity very quickly. They are eating and pooping machines...messy and smelly. The Meat Hen Barn was a source of stress to The Farmer and me. It was upsetting to see our hens sitting Sloth-Like in the stinky barn doing nothing but eating. Seriously...they wouldn't move....food had to be literally placed in front of them because they wouldn't muster the energy to walk. Other farmers warned that it would be like that with Meat Hens but we wondered if we couldn't be Stewards of a different sort...to do better by the birds during their short time with us.
|The white Cornish Cross Meat Hens enjoy romping with the Laying Hens.|
We raise Large Black Hogs, a docile endangered breed of Hog that forage on pasture rather than being confined to a pen eating grain. It is really something to see a 450 pound sow walking happily with the dogs and the chickens and the goats and the sheep!
We do things a little bit differently than most...all of our animals have the opportunity to walk freely together throughout our entire sixty five acres and it makes for a peaceful, happy community.
|A Laying Hen Watches The Farmer strolling with a few of our Sheep, Goats, Chickens and Dogs.|
Fresh and Happy Tastes Better!
Chickens are not born in shrink wrapped packages under the fluorescent bulbs of grocery store display cases. They are raised --some lovingly and some in Factory Prison Barns--and when the time comes they are butchered--"processed" is the Farm Vernacular and THEN they make their way to shrink wrapped packages. The end result is the same but the journey is significantly different. Know where your food comes from and consider supporting your local Farmer.
...and now, in what might be considered poor timing but certainly not poor taste...let's talk about Chicken Tikka Masala!
Rosie Belle's Chicken Tikka Masala with Quinoa & Spinach
(serves 6 - 8)
I am a big fan of Indian Cuisine and Chicken Tikka Masala is year round comfort food for me. I always served it with Basmati rice until I had it with quinoa at Savory Jack's, an adorable neighborhood restaurant in Pulaski, Tennessee. The proprietor, Jack White, is a great chef but is probably best known for his work as a Hollywood Food Stylist ... if you saw Hunger Games, you saw his work. Anywhoo, he makes a great Quinoa Tikka Masala and it inspired me to recreate a version in the farm kitchen.
Tikka Masala is not a difficult dish, but it does have several steps...including an overnight marinade....as well as ingredients that may not be a staple in your kitchen.
WAIT! DON'T BE AFRAID!
You probably have most of what you need to get a dish that is evocative of Tikka Masala and that will be hearty and delicious. For example, if you do not have fresh Ginger Root or Garlic, substitute powdered. No red pepper? Skip it. A Recipe should serve as a guideline, not an unyielding Absolute. Simply read through the recipe and make substitutions as needed. Work with what you have on hand to make the best dish possible.
Here is my version:
3 pounds of chicken, skinned, boned, and cubed. I used thigh meat because I had it in the freezer and dark meat is more forgiving--less likely to dry out in a stew.
Combine the following:
1 cup yogurt
Generous Tablespoon grated fresh Ginger root (don't have fresh? Use powdered!)
2 garlic cloves, minced (don't have fresh? use powdered!)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice
Add the chicken and marinate overnight. Once you have the marinade out of the way, the dish comes together fairly quickly.
I used 2 cups of white quinoa, which makes 6 cups when cooked. Head over to The Kitchn for tips on making perfect Quinoa.
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 onions, chopped in 1/4 inch dice
1 1/2 - 2 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger Root
1 Tablespoon Garam Masala
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
2 teaspoons Ground Coriander
6-8 Roma Tomatoes, Chopped
Roasted Red Pepper, Chopped (sub raw red pepper and let it cook in the sauce)
1-3 Teaspoons Brown Sugar (optional)
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Water
1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
Generous handful chopped mint/cilantro, reserving some for garnish
Salt to Taste