Backyard chickens eliminate need for lawn bags

Borden - Chicken eating tomato plants

'Tis the season of lawn bags.

Bags made of paper, emblazoned with the name of the hardware store of choice (or smaller ones from the grocery store) line the curbs of my neighborhood. They are filled to the brim with orange leaves, cucumber vines, yellowed potato leaves or tomato plants. As Ed Vielmetti reminded us, our first frost is imminent and garden preparations are necessary.
According to the A2 City Chickens website, there are 34 chicken permits in the city of Ann Arbor. I believe that as the number of backyard chicken permits increase the number of lawn bags will decrease – because backyard chickens are your lawn bags.

I am a big fan of the Ann Arbor recycling and compost program. It is well organized, comprehensive and a boon to the community, as the EPA tells us: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Hearing that advice my brain immediately qualifies them into first, second, and third levels of importance. Hence, reduce is the top priority. So let us do a list of pros and cons of lawn bags vs. backyard chickens when it comes to garden waste. Lawn bags

  • Paper bags need to be made from trees (or post consumer waste), transported, and purchased.
  • Garden waste is collected.
  • You need two people to effectively cram garden waste into bags.
  • A diesel truck idles around the neighborhood picking up the bags.
  • Garden waste is composted at Recycle Ann Arbor.

Backyard chickens

  • Chickens need to be fed, housed, and watered.
  • Garden waste is hurled over the fence into their run.

Reducing the need to collect and transport garden waste is another boon of having chickens. As an extra bonus you can categorize their favorite treats; so far watermelon and squash rinds are winning over tomato vines in my yard. Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Grandmother's Chocolate Mousse recipe

Borden - chocolate mousse

As always on the lookout for a recipe that will use a lot of eggs, I dug out my grandmother's chocolate mousse recipe. Ten eggs later, it is as decadent as I remember - an easy and delectable treat for you and your guests.

Unlike the plethora of chocolate mousse recipes: from Julia Child to my backyard egg mainstay book, "Eggs" by Michel Roux, this recipe does not call for any sort of dairy or butter. In fact, aside from the eggs, one could consider this vegan.

The recipe is easy and fast. The end result is scrumptious. Imagine eating a luxury dark chocolate bar with a spoon, like it is ice cream.

I procured my baking chocolate from Mindo Chocolates, our bean to bar business in Dexter. The 10 eggs were from our backyard chickens. Water, sugar and vanilla round out the ingredients.

Here is the recipe

1 pound best quality baking chocolate

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup water

10 egg yolks

3 teaspoons vanilla

10 egg whites

Melt together (in a double boiler) the chocolate, sugar and water. Stir. When smooth, cool, stirring occasionally. Add well-beaten yolks and vanilla.

Beat egg whites until able to hold peaks. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Put in a deep crock or individual serving dishes. Refrigerate at least 12 hours.

(Serves 6-8)

This is what I learned from doing the recipe.

Instead of using a double boiler to melt the chocolate, water and sugar - I used a metal bowl on top of a pot. That worked just as well and was much more economical than purchasing a double boiler. The chocolate is the consistency of icing when you add the egg yolks; there is no need to add extra water to make it creamy. I also learned that egg whites treble in volume when beaten, ending up on the floor. Next time I will use a larger bowl from the outset.Borden - bowl of eggs

As for serving 6 to 8, I cannot imagine wanting to have more than ½ cup of this rich chocolate immersion after a full meal. I divided mine into 10 teacups and six espresso cups (making 16 servings) and refrigerated for 36 hours. I removed the cups from the refrigerator two hours before serving to bring out the flavors.

For those at your table who want something lighter and less intense, I would recommend offering at bowl of whipped cream and perhaps some berry jams. Everyone likes making his or her own dessert, and the chocolate mousse is sturdy enough to be the bass note of whatever dessert compilation is orchestrated.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Easter egg dyeing lessons

A couple of years ago I discovered the phenomena of dying Easter eggs with natural dyes: food, flowers, or spices. In honor of the bounty that flows freely from our coop every day - this seemed like a golden opportunity to experiment with using food items to change the color of our eggs. The process is very easy. Take several eggs, cover them with water, add a teaspoon of white vinegar and add whatever colorant you want (turmeric, beets, black cherry juice, spinach, blueberries, chamomile tea, cranberries, red wine, etc.), bring the liquid to a boil and let the eggs cook gently for 10 minutes or so. If a stronger color is desired, then remove the eggs, strain the particles from the liquid and put the eggs back into the pot in the refrigerator overnight.

Borden - Easter Eggs dyed with natural colors

It sounded very reasonable. Yet once I started doing the deed, I experienced a series of both mental and practical hurdles.

Hurdle #1 - Our chickens lay green, blue and brown eggs and I refused on principal to go out and purchase white eggs.

Hurdle #2 - I wanted to experiment with blueberry juice, cranberry juice, carrot juice, chlorophyll and black cherry juice yet our stove has only four burners.

Hurdle #3 - I couldn’t help but wonder as I juiced the carrots down why I was using perfectly edible and delicious food to make dye for eggs. I opened up the freezer and poured out bouncy blueberries and cranberries lovingly harvested and frozen from my Locavorious CSA. I used almost a cup of black cherry juice.

I checked the color of the lightest brown eggs in the carrot juice - “Is that a change? Is it just the light? Are they any different?” - and wondered, why eggs?

When I was growing up, we would dye eggs using the little pellets in the bowls on the counter. On Easter morning my father, a.k.a. the Easter Bunny, would hide them in the back garden for us to find, and then we would head out for brunch at a fancy hotel in honor of my grandmother’s birthday. Then we would head to the Tidal Basin and admire the cherry blossoms in bloom. For the next week we would eat eggs for breakfast and have egg bumper car-esque competitions between the four of us to crack the shells.

Borden - Backyard eggs au natural

The egg is a symbol of rebirth, and thus is a good stand in for the story of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. In Passover, the egg represents the ritual sacrifice at the Temple of Jerusalem. In the pre-Christian world the egg was a fertile symbol of the coming Spring and life about to burst forth from the warming earth. Next year I am going to sidestep such hurdles. I will use food safe pens and draw on my already colorful eggs. I will use the stickers languishing in my wrapping paper box. I will celebrate the season without ending up with a collection of earth colored eggs.

Here is the article on annarbor.com!

Cheese souffle: 45 minutes to lofty perfection

Borden - Cheese souffle

A daily miracle (to me) happens at our house every day. We feed our chickens water and grains and in return they lay eggs. EGGS. A distillation of all that is new and wondrous in our world happens in my back garden on a daily basis.

Miracle, yes. Wondrous, yes. Relentless, yes. Every day we get three or four eggs; with just two people eating, this is a lot of eggs. So we are seeking to expand our egg based dishes - emboldened by our success with Eggs Benedict we decided to hit another French Classic.

Le souffle

To be more specific, a cheese souffle. And once again, debunking the fear of the process and worry about slamming doors when the souffle was rising, I realized a very important thing. A souffle is just a fluffy variant of a baked omelet and is about as complicated.

Perhaps it was 10 minutes from start to finish before the souffle went into the oven.

Preheat oven to 375 and collect ingredients: 6 eggs, hard cheese ends from cheese drawer, anchovy paste (if desired), 1 cup milk, salt and butter.

T-minus 10 minutes - Grate about 1 ½ cups of cheese (we used Manchego, Comte, Sheep Gouda and a bit of cheddar).

T-minus 9 minutes - Butter inside of souffle dish, coat inside with cheese and turn on fire under butter in pan.

Borden - making roux

T-minus 8 minutes - Stir butter as it melts, add 2 tablespoons of flour to the butter and continue to stir (we are making the famous roux).

T-minus 7 minutes - Slowly add the milk to the flour and butter mixture to create bechamel sauce (one of the classic “mother sauces" of French cooking).

I had always been a bit intimidated by the making of such a schmancy sounding sauce. As the cold milk hit the perfectly combined flour and butter to create lumps at supersonic speed, my heart did a small back flip. However, I persevered and, by rapidly continuing to stir the mixture, the lumps disappeared. And they disappeared quickly. (Some recipes recommend scalding the milk prior, and I can see why.)

T-minus 6 minutes - Pour the bechamel sauce into a bowl and add salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon anchovy paste. (We like anchovies). Let sit to cool slightly.

T-minus 5 minutes - Separate eggs.

T-minus 4 minutes - Make sure that the racks in the oven are low enough so that the souffle will have room to grow. Scratch the dog.

T-minus 3 minutes - Whisk in the egg yolks into the bechamel sauce until incorporated.

T-minus 2 minutes - Whip the egg whites until soft peaks are formed.

Borden - Cheese souffle mixing ingredients

T-minus 1 minute - Using a large spoon, incorporate the egg whites and the cheese into the egg yolk bechamel mixture until completely amalgamated.

Pour into the souffle dish, gently carry to the oven and place slowly on the rack!

Now I had 35 minutes while that cooked (filling the house with the most alluring cheese aroma) to wash the dishes, make a salad and sit down with a glass of wine.

The results (for our first souffle) were sublime. Light, airy, full of flavor - superb!

Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!

Eggs Benedict in 6 minutes

I love Eggs Benedict. I can’t pinpoint the beginning of my love affair, because my love has always been there. As Eggs Benedict features prominently in most menus, I don't think I am the only one in love.

Borden - Eggs Benedict

For over 20 years, I resigned myself to eating Eggs Benedict in restaurants because I thought the sauce was too darn hard - the classic recipe for hollandaise sauce involves a double burner, a candy thermometer, and a metal bowl (none of which we own). But last Sunday, my partner, trusting as always in the infallibility of The Joy of Cooking and spurred on by my stated desire of what I wanted for Valentine’s Day brunch, kept reading, and persevered, finding a recipe for hollandaise that doesn’t require anything special but a blender.

And we own a blender, and we have fresh eggs that need to be eaten, and the entire delicious, plate-licking meal took us 6 minutes to make, and it was the easiest at-home most decadent brunch ever.

Here is our two-person recipe for Eggs Benedict, modified with more lemon juice to ensure a big sparkle of citrus to offset the fat. Four poached eggs, turkey bacon from freezer, leftover 8 grain 3 seed bread from Zingerman's, Hollandaise sauce made in the blender: 2 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/3 cup melted ghee (clarified butter), salt and pepper - voila! (Note: This timeline assumes two sets of hands, and we like our eggs runny.)

T-minus 6 minutes: Check coop for fresh eggs, return with 4 fresh new eggs to add to the 2 on the windowsill from yesterday, turn heat on for poaching egg water, melt ghee, slice off 4 chunks of turkey bacon and throw into toaster oven with slices of bread.

T-minus 5 minutes: Separate 2 egg yolks into blender, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, grind in pepper and salt, press toast on toaster oven.

T-minus 4 minutes: Take a sip of coffee, watch the bread turn into toast.

T minus 3 minutes: Set the table, scratch the dog.

T-minus 2 minutes: Break 4 eggs into the poaching egg water

A brief step-out from our countdown. I learned to make poached eggs years ago. The trick was to create little tornadoes in the water with a spoon and then gently pour the egg into the middle of the tornado. The force of the tornado made sure the egg didn’t spread all over the place. If the egg was being difficult, you could add some vinegar to the water. I always liked making water tornadoes with my spoon - so that is what I did.

Or, that was what I did until we started keeping chickens. I don’t need to make a tornado in the water any more. A freshly laid egg has a white that is almost as firm as the yolk. I am able to simply pour it into the warm water. They are so contained unto themselves, they can be literally on top of each other and still be intact when you spoon them out.

Okay, back to the countdown.

T-minus 90 seconds: Turn blender on and start foaming the yolk and lemon juice. After 10 seconds slowly pour in the melted ghee.

T-minus 30 seconds: (This takes some maneuvering to happen all at once). Remove toast and bacon from toaster, place the four pieces onto two plates, stack turkey bacon on top, remove the poached eggs from the water and place on top of bacon, use a spatula to pour the Hollandaise onto the eggs, carry plates to table.

Breakfast! Cut into the perfectly runny eggs, the salty, tangy bacon, the warm dense bread, and spread over it all the incredibly perfect Hollandaise sauce. Smile as your tongue dances with happiness.

Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!