Out of the blue, The Baroness has turned into a maniac. She won’t leave her nest and growls and bites when you try to dislodge her. She is no longer the docile chicken who follows me like a puppy making happy chicken noises.
This new creature has gone broody. Her biological clock has flipped some weird switch and she has stopped laying and is desperately protecting one of Maria’s infertile eggs. When that’s removed she is as hell bent on protecting absolutely nothing and is a fowl in a foul mood.
I now use gloves as I lift her from the nest dodging henpecks. Once out she screams and flaps her feathers indicating her frustration at being ousted from her invisible eggs with their invisible chicks forming in them. She clucks worriedly.
Since a setting hen only takes short breaks to eat and drink a bit and stretch her legs, most broodies get skinny. She is not herself when she is hungry. She is also making life difficult for Maria by hogging the prime egg laying box. Maria waits patiently for her turn and then finally squeezes in and awkwardly gives the Baroness another potential chick to hatch. Oh and I’m down to one egg layer now as broodies don’t offer up poached, fried, scrambled or egg salad. The broodiness is also catching and sweet-tempered Maria may fall prey.
If not for the growling and biting I might feel sorry for her.
The cure includes:
Gloves and courage and picking her up out of the nesting box
Remove Maria’s egg out from under the Baroness pronto
Locking them both out of the coop after Maria has had her morning egg
Inserting a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes under her tummy
Pen the offender in a cage — solitary confinement – with no nesting material
She sees me coming with the gloves and we go at it until she is removed from the box…literally kicking and screaming.
Baroness doesn’t really care if she is laying on an actual egg or not. She has a vivid imagination.
She finds a suitable “nest” pretty much anywhere, fluffs up her feathers and sits ALL DAY in that spot.
The peas melt and are canabalistically and joyfully eaten by Maria. The ice cubes happily turn into nice warm water in a ziplock.
Last resort… solitary… coming up
“I find that gently removing the broody hen from the nest, taking any eggs she is sitting on, and then releasing her at the far end of the run where I have some special treats for everyone, generally works in just a few days,” says Lisa Steele in Fresh Eggs Daily. Clearly she has not encountered The Baroness. We are on day eight of the battle. She has taken to sharpening her beak on any solid object.
So much for “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The Baroness is haunting my dreams. My Rent the Chicken farmer says I can send her packing and get a replacement if she doesn’t get her act together and give me eggs to make fluffy cakes again. Mmmm…would you do that to a friend with Henopause who becomes ill tempered as she copes with a hormonal issue? Maybe if the friend bites…
Harvesting lavender…those words together sound pretty idyllic. Even in the heat and smoke from Okanagan fires it is a pretty amazing way to spend a morning. It is the only farm work I’ve done where you come home hot, dirty and sore but smelling better than when you started.
In movie speak It’s The Colour of Purple, Scent of a Woman and Attack of the Killer Bees all rolled into one. The glorious purpleness of the fields, the clean, stringent and all encompassing lavender aroma and the buzzing of a zillion bees make the time spent at Forest Greenman Lavender Farm in Naramata an intense sensory experience. This photo essay captures the sights of the morning…your imagination will have to fill in the rest.
Our raspberries are summer captured in juicy jewel bites. When they hang out with Legend Distilling‘s craft vodka along with some BC blueberry and cranberry pals summer is but a pour away, anytime of the year.
A good portion of our Naramata Carpe Diem berry farm’s raspberries end up at Legend Distilling, a short walk from us. They use them as a cocktail garnish and in their Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka.
Distiller and Legend owner Doug Lennie was pressing off the fruit that had been infusing into his craft vodka for a secret amount of time when I dropped off this morning’s harvest.
The girlies would tell you this tale if they could but their typing is hunt and peck at best and would take far too long. I think the whole event confuses them as well. An aside… Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between more than 100 human or animal faces. They love to play, they dream (about eating millions of bugs?), they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great moms — they talk to their chicks while still in the egg and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.
A week into chicken husbandry I am still getting up at 6 a.m. to check on them. In my pjs, no coffee on board, I duck into their coop to change the water and hear the run latch gently click shut with me inside.
The run is some distance from the house and the sleeping Handyman who decidedly does not wake up at 6 a.m.
The old weird song lyrics start going through my head…
Oh, dear, what can the matter be Three old ladies locked in the lavatory They were there from Monday to Saturday Nobody knew they were there
I try using a stick to poke through the hardware cloth and lift the latch up.
The first one’s name was Elizabeth Porter She went in to be rid of some overdue water And she stayed there far more than she ought to And nobody knew she was there.
Maria and The Baroness are watching me curiously. (Re side note…they are smarter than you think.) I then try pushing the hardware cloth out, with a fair bit of force, in several spots. The Handyman is really good at building things and the coop is racoon-proof, or so we thought.
The second one’s name was Elizabeth Pomphrey She went in and made herself comfy Then she said: “Girls, I can’t get my bum free.” And nobody knew she was there
After only a week with my new pals we aren’t super comfortable with each other. They are eyeing me suspiciously and making low murmuring sounds. Another aside…Researchers have shown that there are at least 24 different sounds chickens make and maybe as many as 30. While chickens don’t have nearly the vocabulary that us humans have, and their chicken brains don’t allow for abstract and deep conversations, they are still a very vocal and conversational critter.
I finally hit on the solution and break a few zip ties that are securing a set of overlapping panels of the hardware cloth and make my great escape. Coffee!
The last one’s name was Elizabeth Carter She was known as a world renowned farter She went in and played a sonata And nobody knew she was there.
Later that day The Handyman installed a rope gizmo allowing the latch to be opened from the inside as well.
The day after the escape from the coop I woke at 6 to find the nesting box door hanging open. I ran to the coop expecting it to be empty or a scene of indescribable carnage but found the girlies milling about in the run, all feathers accounted for. The new bungee addition makes the coop really racoon proof.
Because chickens are clever creatures, each occupying a different role in the pecking order, keeping them in your backyard gives you a chance to see the individual personalities and quirks. Maria is fascinated by holes of any kind. She is also the boss.
Here she is sorting out the perfect spot for a dustbath. Distracted momentarily, The Baroness steals her spot… not for long. After a dust up Maria reclaims her throne.
The girls and The Handyman
Despite being told I am the chicken lady and in sole charge, I catch The Handyman letting the girls out when he is working on the farm…and he talks to them and makes a special clucking noise. The exercise king, here he is taking them on a little jog…which is funny itself. Something about chickens running cracks me up.
A taste of country life
I love our chickens. Who would have thought it. They are curious, interesting, sweet creatures who demand little and give us eggs daily. I feel good about giving them great food, room to roam and a nice, cruelty-free life.
Hens with Benefits
They give us breakfast in return and lovely fluffy cakes.
It has to be tasted to be believed. This rustic-looking cake belies its simple appearance. It is a toothsome combination of ingredients such as cocoa, cinnamon, fresh-ground nutmeg made light and moist with fresh eggs, butter, grapeseed oil and buttermilk. The smell from the oven is as enticing as it gets. Take it up a notch by soaking the cakes in a glaze made with peach jam and spices. Blow it into orbit with a fluffy caramel cream cheese frosting and give it some delicious crunch with rosemary toasted pine nuts and fresh summer flavours with dynamite organic peaches from Naramata’s T NT Farmand you have something worth the afternoon it will take you to bake it and a run-on sentence worth running on about.
This amazing creation, which I Naramatified, is from British Columbian Tessa Huff and her spectacular Layered cookbook. In a Julie and Julia type scenario I’ve been baking my way through her cake cookbook, adding a few custom touches here and there and sourcing my ingredients locally. This recipe gets a 12 out 10. Enough hyperbole…let’s get cracking. There are six separate recipes to tackle…none of them hard: Spice cake, peach glaze, rosemary pine nuts, salted caramel sauce and Swiss meringue buttercream. You will need a two 8-inch cake pans for this beauty that serves 12 to 15 peeps.
Spice Cake ingredients
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cut grapeseed oil
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
4 large eggs (I walk out to my yard, and get them from my chickens Maria and The Baroness…bragging a little)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (from the store…I don’t have a cow yet)
Preheat the oven to 350F, grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment rounds.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cloves and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter on medium. Add the oil and sugar. Turn the mixer to medium high and mix for 3 minutes. Turn mixer to low, add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl.
Turn mixer to low and add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk in three batches. Only mix for 30 seconds or until just combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. While the cakes are baking work on the peach glaze as you will need to spread it over the cakes as soon as they come out of the oven.
Peach glaze ingredients
1 cup peach jam
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Combine the jam, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a saucepan. Heat over medium until the jam melts…five minutes or so. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl to remove any solids. Evenly pour the warm peach glaze over the top of the two cakes just after they come out of the oven. Let them cool completely on a wire rack before removing the cakes from their pans. Do not turn the cakes upside down to remove as the tops will be sticky. Rather pry them up with the parchment or a lifter.
Rosemary pine nuts ingredients
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon Okanagan honey
1 teaspoon rosemary (you can use dried)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and dry-roast the nuts for about three minutes. Add the honey, rosemary and salt and stir until nuts are evenly coated. Cook, stirring for another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and spread on piece of parchment paper to cool and dry … about 10 minutes.
Salted caramel sauce ingredients
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup of heavy cream at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste which I use exclusively as it’s better…Nielsen-Massey is great.)
Place the sugar, corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan. Stir. Heat over high heat, stirring occasionally swirling the pan, until in turns a medium golden amber colour…8 to 10 minutes. The sugar mixture will begin to rapidly boil before slowing down and darkening in colour. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Be careful as it will foam up and sputter. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the salt and vanilla and stir. Pour into heat-safe container and let if cool or refrigerate. It will thicken as it cools.
Vanilla swiss meringue buttercream
1/2 cup plus egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (very important that it be at room temperature or it won’t combine properly) cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Make a double boiler by filling a medium pot filled with water over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the pot. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water.
Whisk intermittently and heat the egg mixture to 160F (candy thermometer) or until it is hot to the touch. Carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer and whip with the wire attachment on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. The bowl should be back to room temperature at this point. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.
With the mixer on low, add the cubed butter, a few tablespoons at a time then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.
Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting ingredients
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups vanilla swiss meringue buttercream
1/4 cup salted caramel sauce
In the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle, beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth, add the buttercream and caramel sauce and mix until combined.
Some assembly required
Level the layers. Place a layer on a cake plate and spread half of the frosting over it. Top with the next layer of cake and frost the top with the remaining frosting. Arrange peach slices from one or two peaches on top (I resorted to frozen peaches from T NT as it will be August before nice new fresh ones are ready) and garnish with a generous handful of the rosemary pine nuts.