Good neighbors are a wonderful thing to have, and we’re lucky to have quite a few of them. But our friends across the street are the absolute best. They care for our animals when we’re away, they let us borrow their hatchet, and they even drop by with surprise deliveries of spring flowers and little custard tarts. And did I mention the rhubarb?
Early on the morning of Memorial Day, our brave rooster General Tso crowed his last.
The General was a Speckled Sussex rooster, and he was not altogether a bad guy. He always let the ladies eat first, and he was very protective of his flock — especially Kung Pao, who hatched and raised him from a chick. But as the General’s testosterone surged, things got to a point where we couldn’t take food out to the chicks or change their water without fending off an attack. Everything was a threat: The big plastic waterer, the bucket we carry feed in, the reflective stripes on my sister’s running pants.
Clearly, we were headed for another Colonel Sanders. Though he hadn’t actually drawn blood from any visitors yet, the prospect of having friends bring their kids over to meet the chickens made me shudder. And the poor hens, much fewer than he should have had, lost most of their back feathers and ran from his advances. The flock dynamic was all wrong.
And so with heavy hearts, we decided it was time to butcher our rooster.
This was my first time killing a chicken, at least directly. Over my lifetime, without really acknowledging it, I’ve commanded the deaths of thousands of chickens. Ordering it in restaurants, buying pullets from a feed store; it’s not really any different when you slaughter your own bird. It just seems that way, because it’s right there in front of you.
We helped some good friends with a few of their chickens last year, so we knew what to do and how to process the General afterward. But I’ve never personally taken the life of a creature in its prime, looking it in the eye and breathing the same air. It was a heavy prospect for me, and I shed a few tears in the days leading up to it as we made preparations. As I’m sure I will this fall, when it’s time to process the roosters from the chicks we hatched last month. But I knew I could handle it, because I realized long ago that if I’m going to keep eating meat I should be okay with where it comes from.
In the end, it was not an easy morning but it went exactly as we hoped. The General went to sleep on his roost and woke up in a dog crate, with no stressful chase and capture. His last morning was a beautiful one, with birds singing and the scent of lilacs on the breeze. And then, in the space of a few seconds, it was over. A dignified end for a rooster who meant well, but whose time had come.
The General is relaxing in the fridge for a couple days, so that he’ll be nice and tender. Last night, I cooked his liver and made it into a little pâté, just enough for two. It was a perfect way to celebrate a fine rooster with a bit of a mean streak.
The past couple days have been spent almost entirely in the garden, and we’re finally almost done getting all the plants and soaker hoses in place. So I’m celebrating with a little macro tour.
First, the new peony:
And the foxgloves, and the dahlias:
Then, the patches of self-seeding Violas and Larkspur that get bigger every year:
And Four O’Clocks: Another self-seeder that keeps popping up everywhere — I’ve pulled dozens out of the bean patch already. As my grandmother said, “A weed is just a flower out of place.” We love these particular weeds so much that we planted a second row this year.
And speaking of self-seeding: A few random beans popped up around the garden, too (the ones we planted last week are just starting to show up.)
We’re growing lots of small eggplants, including my favorite, “Little Prince.”
And the basil. So much basil. I’ll be making ice cream with it tonight, if I can manage to stay awake past sunset.
And no garden is complete without tomatoes or peppers. Or tomatillos.
Also squash, melons, and all the other delicious plants that are just about to break through the soil. I can’t wait.
For Mother’s Day this year, Mom had a special request: A cake she recently tasted at a friend’s birthday party, which they special ordered from a bakery in the Bay Area. I’d never thought to put the combination together, but I make all the components regularly:
Yellow cake, filled and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and the key ingredient: Honeycomb candy.
I make honeycomb (also known as seafoam, angel food, sponge candy, and hundreds of other names), every year for part of my Dad’s Christmas present. It’s essentially a hard caramel that has a little bit of baking soda whisked in at the end, so that it foams up and hardens into a spongy, crunchy, almost-too-sweet candy.
Honeycomb is simple, in the sense that it has only 4 ingredients and a few steps, but it’s easy to screw up. A little extra humidity or barometric pressure, a bit too much stirring, and you’ve just wasted a bunch of sugar. Recipes like this cake are a good way to use honeycomb that’s a little too dense, since you’re crushing it anyway. Good thing, since I was prepping the cake in the middle of the night and wasn’t about to make another batch. Sorry, Mom.
I’m still trying to find the perfect recipe that doesn’t involve corn syrup, but unfortunately it seems to produce the most consistent results. I once made a perfect batch using honey instead, but all my other attempts burned — maybe I’ll revisit that again someday in another post.
I did a quick search for “honeycomb cake” and found a few similar recipes — some that used buttercream frosting, and one that included a hefty dose of ground up candy in the cake batter, too. I suspected those would be too complicated and way, WAY too rich based on my experience with the stuff. I think I was right.
I spent almost the entire weekend outside with my sister — weeding and tilling, planting flowers, and laying down plastic to keep the weeds at bay. There’s still a long list of things to be done yesterday, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a train (but in a good way.) I think we’re off to a solid start on our best garden yet, and I can’t wait to get back out there.
We took a break yesterday for a visit from our Mom, who is the source of our green thumbs. So of course we celebrated Mother’s Day with a trip to our neighborhood garden store. And also a special cake that my mom requested, which turned out even better than expected. That one will be making an appearance on the blog later this week.
But for now, I bring you something that only takes a little bit of effort: Tamari roasted almonds.
I got hooked on tamari almonds working at a health food store in college, and for years paid way too much to buy them already roasted. I attempted to make my own a few times, back when I was first learning to cook, and always ended up with almonds that were either chewy or burned (usually both.) After you’ve ruined a few pounds of raw almonds, the pre-roasted ones start to look like a bargain.
But last year, I revisited the idea and finally figured out how to make my own. And not only is it really simple, but much less expensive. Only I eat more of them than ever now, so I suppose it all balances out.
Spread almonds in a single layer in a large baking dish.
Set oven to 325 and put almonds in, don't bother preheating. Set a timer to check them in 8 minutes.
Stir and check the almonds every 2-5 minutes, gradually they will start to get a little more color and give off a toasty aroma.
Sprinkle soy sauce over almonds and stir to coat; they should be a little wet but not swimming in it.
Place almonds back in the oven for a couple minutes with the door cracked, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is almost all absorbed, transfer almonds to a dish to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Just as I was starting to regret my decision to take my camera on a rainy stroll through the yard, my sister Anne spotted something that made it totally worthwhile:
I love frogs. And lucky for me, there are some huge ones living in the small pond out by the chicken coop, so I get to hear them often and occasionally catch a glimpse of one splashing into the water as I walk by. But it’s rare that one stops by for a photo op.
It’s been a hectic couple weeks, with all my spare time spent getting ready to plant the garden. And true to form, digging out all our garden tools prompted a whole-house organization project, the likes of which my sister and I haven’t achieved in the 3 years we’ve been living here. Sorry for the long lag between posts, but I assure you there will be a lot coming out of the garden (and freshly organized kitchen!) in the coming weeks.
The chicks are getting huge already! As of yesterday, we no longer have house chickens — everyone is out in the coop and having a great time testing out their new wings, which are feathering out like crazy.
So far we’ve had no losses, and all the chicks I had to assist are doing great. Two of them had to wear little Band-Aid splints for a while, but as I hoped all the legs and toes are in the right position now and they’re running around with the others.
Most of the chicks don’t really have names yet, because a lot of them look alike and it’ll be hard to keep track until they get their adult feathers. But this one is Sesame, the last chick to hatch (and one I was sure wouldn’t survive):
And this is Shelly, the pathetic-looking wet chick with the shell pieces stuck to her back. She’s one of the biggest in the bunch now!
Except for the Light Brahmas, which really look more like turkeys. But we didn’t hatch those.
But another of our chickens isn’t doing so great. General Tso, the Speckled Sussex rooster, started coming unhinged about the same time we moved the chicks out to their little room in the coop. He hasn’t tried to harm them, but started showing random aggression toward humans.
And so though it pains me to say it, the General’s lease is up as soon as we finish getting the garden planted and have time for another “outdoor project.” He’s officially crossed the line into mean, delicious rooster. I just need to think of a recipe.