As a child, I remember going out to the chicken coop with my grandma when I visited her and my grandpa at their Indiana farm. We'd walk through an area of the farmyard reserved for rambunctious geese as they honked wildly and flapped their strong wings around my legs.
My grandma would protect me as she hurried me along toward the old wooden chicken coop. Always fearful of being pecked by pointy, sharp beaks, I stood to the side and watched with awe as my grandma gently tucked her hand under sitting hens, pulling out large eggs.
The thought of ever having my own chickens never crossed my mind, until a couple of years ago when I began hearing of urban and suburban dwellers having a few chickens so that they could enjoy unbelievably fresh eggs.
It sounded charming and romantic. I pictured myself heading out to a cute little hen house tucked into a corner of my yard, my dog scampering beside me, anxious to visit the chickens. I would gather fresh eggs, make a quick stop to snip fresh herbs from the garden, then head back to the kitchen to create plump, fluffy omelets to eat with whole grain toast and a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee. But those daydreams were just a passing fantasy. I began purchasing eggs and whole, pasture-raised chickens from area farmers instead.
But, oh dear. A couple of weeks ago I got a copy of "Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes by Janice Cole." One look at the charming cover of the book and I started getting all dreamy again with visions of colorful hens strutting their stuff around a darling little chicken coop in my yard.
Cole's book is a combination of her stories about her first year of raising her own few hens in her backyard in a suburb of St. Paul. Minn., and more than 100 recipes she developed using chicken and eggs. As you read of the sometimes humorous and always interesting adventures of Cole's first year owning chickens, you will feel as though you are sitting right across the table from her, sipping coffee and nibbling on a sweet treat that she whipped up with some of her amazingly fresh eggs. Although "Chicken and Egg" is not a how-to-raise-chickens-in-your-yard guidebook, it is filled with tips that can help you decide if you really do want to make the commitment.
As you spend time thinking about the charms and challenges of having your own chickens, you can try some of the down-to-earth, easy-to-follow recipes that Cole shares in the book, using all parts of the chicken. The book is divided seasonally, because chickens are seasonal in their behavior.
Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Peppers is a delicious example of the family-friendly recipes that abound in "Chicken and Egg." High-temperature roasting brings out the best in this cauliflower, red bell pepper and chicken drumstick combo. The vegetables become toasty brown along the edges, developing sweet, nutty flavors. Skin on chicken drumsticks gets slightly crispy, while the meat oozes with juiciness when poked with a fork
After becoming acquainted with Cole and her sweet little hens, each with her own name and unique personality, you will be tempted to become a backyard farmer. You will definitely feel drawn to seek out the freshest eggs and chickens you can find from farmers in your area, farmers markets and natural food co-ops.
I'm wondering how I can turn the storage shed in the woods alongside the driveway into a chicken coop. I can just picture my grandchildren, baskets in hand, going out with me to gather eggs. Of course, my hens would never dream of pecking little hands.
Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Peppers
1 small head cauliflower, (about 1 pound), cut into florets, (4 cups)
2 large red bell peppers, seeded, deveined, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 chicken drumsticks (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a large, rimmed baking sheet or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower and red bell peppers with 2 tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Add 2 of the garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper and toss the vegetables to mix. Arrange on the baking sheet.
Toss the chicken drumsticks in the same bowl with remaining oil, garlic, salt, pepper and the cumin. Nestle the chicken in and around the vegetables.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and the vegetables are tender. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Recipe from: "Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes, by Janice Cole." Chronicle Books. 2011. Available in bookstores and online. Cole also blogs about her suburban homesteading experiences at www.threeswinginchicks.blogspot.com.