Monthly Archives: April 2013

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A Rough Hatch

The chicks started hatching Wednesday morning, and we got our last one on Saturday evening. All in all, we ended up with 19 chicks out of the 41 eggs we started with, a pretty disappointing hatch rate. But look how cute they are!





The hatch went smoothly for most of the chicks, but four of them required a little assistance. The first rapidly got the top cut off of her shell (known as “zipping”), and was just about to push herself out when the other chicks in the incubator came running by and flipped her egg over. We left her alone, figuring she’d get in the right position again, but hours later she was still struggling to get out. Talk about bad timing. The poor thing was right next to a vent, and was starting to dry out and visibly sticking to the shell.

I pulled her egg out of the incubator and carefully chipped away some of the shell and membrane around her beak, until she could get her head free. Then I wrapped her in a wet paper towel and quickly put her back into the incubator to hatch. She successfully kicked the bottom shell off a little while later, but some trailing pieces of membrane kept it attached to her back. I woke up later that night to find the poor chick still wearing the shell on her back like a turtle, exhausted and unable to stand or get comfortable. I reached in and gently removed it, leaving her with just a couple small pieces of shell and membrane stuck to her down.


After being untangled, the chick quickly settled down and fluffed up, and despite her rough hatch was soon keeping up with the others. And so her resilience earned her the honor of a non-edible name, a first for our flock: Shelly.

The next chick to require help was so eager that she came busting through the opening in the shell before she fully pipped, and ended up with a wing and part of her head stuck in the opening. We waited for hours and she didn’t make any progress, so I carefully broke off the tiny piece of shell that was blocking her head, and she finished hatching a few minutes later.


The third chick I helped had a particularly rough time, ending up “shrink-wrapped” in the egg as she tried to hatch. This was probably my fault, since this one started to unzip while I was helping Shelly and the loss of humidity might have dried out the membrane and made it tough to break through. (This is why they tell you not to open the incubator, even if a chick is in trouble. Easier said than done, that one.) I think she was also a bit sideways in the shell, which couldn’t have helped matters.

So I had to chip away a little shell and wrap this one in a wet paper towel too, and after several agonizingly slow hours she worked her way out of the shell. My mom was visiting for this part of the hatch, and got to name this chick: Crispy Chicken.

Crispy had trouble walking, with her toes crossing over one another and one leg sliding out to the side, probably a consequence of being trapped in the egg for so long. This is known as “spraddle leg,” and can keep the chick from getting to food and water if not corrected. The idea is to hobble the legs so that they can’t move too far apart, and then the chick is able to start learning to walk and quickly builds enough muscle to keep the legs in place. We used a Band-Aid cut in half horizontally to do this — Crispy didn’t like it one bit, but within a few hours she was able to stand up and take a few steps, and her toes stopped crossing. By the time the bandage falls off in about a week, she should be able to walk normally.


Saturday evening, more than 48 hours after the other chicks hatched, we still had 3 eggs in the incubator that started to zip and then stopped at least a full day before. The only chick that appeared to be alive was hopelessly stuck — from the look of things its yolk sack ruptured, and the chick was completely cemented into its shell and in distress. The poor thing couldn’t be helped and I had to make the hard decision to cull it rather than letting it die from exhaustion.

And that’s the bittersweet reality of life, in a nutshell. There’s so much joy in helping new life sprout and grow, but the flip side is inevitable and it never gets any easier.

But incredibly, just then I heard chirping from one of the other eggs that I thought was dead — it zipped but hadn’t progressed in at least 24 hours. But as I stared through the incubator window, I saw a chick turn inside of it — it was having a hard time punching through the membrane, but was still able to move around in there.

I gingerly picked up the egg and started carefully picking off pieces of shell, thinking to myself I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m only making it worse for the poor little guy. And then I lifted back a stiff piece of membrane and a head popped up and looked at me, peeping furiously. I quickly put it back in the incubator, and within 10 seconds a little Easter Egger chick kicked free of its shell and lay exhausted on the incubator floor.

And that was our last chick to hatch. We named her Sesame (actually, Sesame II — after a special chicken from our first flock, who was always a bit behind the others.)


In total, we now have 23 chicks running around: 4 still in the “halfway house” in my office, and the rest already moved out to their room in the coop with the big chickens.


Amazingly, all the chicks that required assistance seem to be doing great — hopefully they continue to thrive.


And if you’re wondering how we ended up with 23 chicks when only 19 hatched, well, that’s chicken math for you. We were at the feed store and some chicks followed us home (2 Light Brahmas and 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes.)




Chicken Hatch Day 21: Brooder Buddies


The first 3 hatchlings: Easter Egger x Speckled Sussex in the center, flanked by Easter Egger x Rhode Island Reds.

We’ve got 15 chicks now, with more still hatching in the incubator. The early birds spent most of their first day sleeping, eating, and stretching. Must feel great to be free after spending 21 days in an egg.brooder_buddies



Most of the chicks had no trouble whatsoever, but so far we’ve had three that got stuck in the shell and needed a little help.


This little one was having a hard time last night, but finally got out of the shell this morning with some help. It’s still in the incubator, and recognizable by the piece of shell still stuck to its back. We normally name all our chicks after food, but this one earned a special non-edible name: Shelly (or Sheldon, as the case may be)



Chicken Hatch Day 20: First Chick!


The first chick hatched about 7:30 this morning. It’s a Rhode Island Red x Easter Egger from our friend Claudia, and I really hope it’s a girl.

We’re starting to see a lot more action in our eggs! I think this little one will have company soon. You can view the hatch live here.



Chicken Hatch Day 20: First Pip!

We’re heading into day 20 of our incubator hatch, and we just got our first pip!


We’ve been hearing muffled peeps from the eggs all day, so at least some of the chicks have broken through the aircell and are breathing through the shell now. And one is getting ready to make an appearance in the next 24 hours. View the live stream here.

Tiny Cheese Crackers

I avoid processed junk food as a general rule, preferring to make my own from scratch. This doesn’t mean there aren’t processed foods I find delicious; it just means I avoid buying them, because I know it’s hard to overcome the hard-wired human instinct to consume as much fat, salt, and sugar as possible. Or in my case, an entire box of Cheez-Its.


So I never buy Cheez-Its anymore (but I am still guilty of the occasional box of Cheddar Bunnies.) To compensate, I developed an obsession with making my own from scratch. After several test batches over the years, I’ve finally tweaked the recipe enough to capture my favorite things about Cheez-Its. And then make them even better.


Of course, that means they’re just as fatty and salt-laden as the store-bought kind (probably even more so.) But at least you know what’s in them.


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Chicken Hatch Day 18: Lockdown


(photo by Anne Dirkse)

Tonight the eggs reached another big milestone: Lockdown. This means we’re in the home stretch, and we took the eggs out of the automatic turner and laid them down on their sides so the embryos can get in position for hatch. We may even see them start rolling around a bit in the next day or two as the chicks move inside. So, we’ve started up our live stream (via Ustream) to keep an eye on the incubator.


The main thing about lockdown is that the humidity requirements are higher, especially at high altitude. I’ve been weighing a few of the eggs to track how much liquid they’ve lost (chicken eggs should lose about 13% during the course of incubation.)


They seem to be pretty much on track in terms of weight loss and air cell size, so we’ll increase humidity to around 70% from now on. (We’ve been keeping it around 50%, but it should be higher during lockdown so the shell membranes don’t dry out and “shrink-wrap” the chick.)


(photo by Anne Dirkse)


(photo by Anne Dirkse)

The other thing about lockdown is that we’re not supposed to open the incubator from now until the chicks dry off, so it’s going to be a long (and possibly anxious) few days.


And just to keep things interesting, it looks like we might get yet another late season snowstorm tomorrow. That’s 3 Mondays in a row now, and I’m convinced it’s because I have eggs in the incubator (Colorado, you can thank me later.) But the generator’s ready, so bring on the snow. I might even wash my car tomorrow.


How to Cook (and eat) an Artichoke

Today, I bring you a post about my very favorite vegetable: The humble artichoke.


I’ve loved artichokes for as long as I can remember. They’re a family favorite, and I suspect I got a taste for them before I even learned to walk.


So I’ve never not known how to eat an artichoke. Pulling the meat off the leaves with my teeth and scraping out the fuzzy choke is second nature to me. But to the uninitiated, the artichoke can be a confusing vegetable.


According to family legend, my grandpa was visiting my parents in the Bay Area, and dinner that night included his first artichoke. Amid the lively dinner conversation, he didn’t notice that everyone else was discarding the choke before they started eating the heart. Someone asked him how he was enjoying the artichoke, and through a mouthful of fluff he said “it’s a little hairy.”


So if you’re among the uninitiated, fear not. This handy guide will help you figure out which parts are delicious, and which are not. And hurry; artichoke season won’t be with us much longer.


While I generally like anything containing artichokes, I’m a purist when it comes to cooking them. I’ve never stuffed them, or deep fried them, or braised them. I always make them exactly the way my mom does: steamed, with lemon butter for dipping.


This is my tried-and-true method for cooking a perfect artichoke, every time. For me, nothing but lemon butter will do. But I know people who feel just as passionately about mayonnaise (blech) — so feel free to use whatever dipping sauce you like, I guess. Just don’t tell me about it.

Artichokes with Lemon Butter

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Artichokes with Lemon Butter


  • 2 large artichokes (look for artichokes that are heavy and without much browning on the stem)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • salt


  1. Fill a large pot with about 2" of water and set it to boil (Ideally, use one with a built in steamer/colander basket to keep the artichokes up off the burner.)
  2. Rinse artichokes with warm water, turning over several times to flush out any dirt between the leaves.
  3. Cut stems to about 1-1/2 inches in length. Some people also cut the thorns off the ends of the leaves; I don't.
  4. When water boils, reduce heat to low and add artichokes along with a squeeze of lemon. Cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes.
  5. Turn artichokes over using tongs, and try to pull out one of the outer leaves. If it holds firm, check it again in 8-10 minutes.
  6. As the artichoke gets close to being done you'll be able to pull out a leaf with a little pressure, test it by using your teeth to scrape the meat off the bottom of the leaf. Initially it will be a little chewy, at this point start checking every 2-3 minutes. Be warned: Artichokes can go from done to overcooked very quickly, and there's nothing sadder than a mushy artichoke. Set a timer.
  7. The artichoke is perfectly cooked when a leaf comes out easily, and the meat on the end of the leaves is al dente.
  8. Remove artichokes immediately using tongs, carefully turning each upside down over the pot first to drain it.
  9. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine butter the juice of 1/2 lemon, and a few dashes of salt. Melt in the microwave (~25 seconds) and stir, you'll want to taste it on a leaf and then add more lemon and salt until it's just right. (Since "just right" is different for everyone, I divide the butter into individual bowls and put lemons and salt on the table.)
  10. To eat:
  11. Place a big bowl in the middle of the table for discards. Everyone will need a knife, a fork, and a spoon.
  12. Discard the small outer leaves at the base of the artichoke, these will be stringy and not very tasty. Cut off the stem, for the same reason.
  13. As you work your way up the outer leaves, dip these in lemon butter and use your teeth to scrape off the little piece of heart at the base. Toss the rest of the leaf, hopefully into the discard bowl and not the laps of your dinner companions (it happens.)
  14. Keep eating until you get to the small purplish leaves, then use a spoon to carefully scrape those out and discard them (they will be very hot.)
  15. Underneath, you'll see the fuzzy choke, use your spoon to scrape this out and discard it.
  16. Now you're left with the heart -- the best part. Cut it into pieces and devour.


Chicken Hatch Day 14: Candling #2

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already 2/3 of the way done with our incubation. In just about a week the chicks should be getting ready to make their appearance!

We candled the eggs again tonight, and the chicks are big enough now that it’s hard to see anything going on inside. Especially with the darker shelled eggs, there’s not much to see besides a few veins:



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A hot toddy on a cold night


I’m a firm believer in the curative powers of a good hot toddy when I’m chilled to the bone, or starting to come down with a cold. And on this snowy April evening, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

There are a lot of different recipes out there, and if you ask me, there’s no wrong way to make a hot toddy. But here’s how I do it:

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Lentil Soup with Kale

As they say, “It sure is a lovely Winter we’re having this Spring.”

I’m a sucker for snowstorms.  Maybe I’m alone in this, but I love waking up in the middle of the night to hear a Winter Storm Warning crackling over the weather radio. Especially when I don’t have to drive anywhere, and I can just stay home and enjoy the snow.


We’re in an active weather pattern — finally — after a couple years of horrible drought and wildfires. So I’m celebrating each snowflake that much more. We got about 15″ yesterday, much of it melting right into the ground (and undoubtedly making the rows of seeds I planted last week almost as happy as it made me.)


But after venturing out to the coop to collect eggs, I was chilled to the bone. So I warmed myself up the best way I know how:



To me, this lentil soup is comfort in a pot. I based it (loosely) on a recipe in the yellow book that called for italian sausage and escarole — and it’ll probably be delicious with whatever you have on hand, too.

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