We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.
The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.
Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.
It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.
A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.
I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.
Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.
Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.
I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.
Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.
As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.
This old fashioned gingerbread is easy to make, and even easier to eat.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup molasses (mild is best)
- 2/3 cup hot water
- 9x9 baking pan
- Put rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt into a bowl.
- Beat butter and sugar using an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition.
- Reduce speed and beat in molasses. Mixture will look lumpy and separated; don't worry.
- Sift flour mixture over the top and mix on lowest speed in a stand mixer (or stir with a wooden spoon) until combined, then add water and mix until smooth (about 1 minute more).
- Pour batter into baking pan. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for about 20 minutes and serve warm.
Adapted from Gourmet.