Green Pea Risotto

Sometimes when I plant pea seeds in the garden, I can feel my impatience to see them sprout and feel there is a small child inside of me avidly watching the ground for the first sign of lime green to poke through deep brown.  That child is practically dancing around the pea bed, with barely contained restraint.  While outside, of course, I’m an adult and wait patiently for each new delight, savoring the waiting and the manifestation with my hands folded nicely in my lap.  NOT.

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The peas have come really well under the cold frame where I can control the amount of water they receive and avoid both drying out from spring winds and rotting from spring rains.  I think I may have found my system!

This week’s column also has Snap Pea, Almond and Feta Salad; Lemony Peas, Pea Shoots and Tomatoes; Pea Shoots with Red Peppers and Red Onion.

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Green Pea Risotto
1 1/2 cups fresh peas
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup diced onions, about 1 onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of fresh white pepper
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil.  Meanwhile add the half the peas to a blender.  When the broth is hot, add gradually to the peas in amounts just enough to achieve a smooth paste or a little looser.  Reserve the remaining broth in the pan off the heat.  Puree the peas until they are very smooth.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and salt and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  If the onions begin to brown, reduce heat.  When the onions are done add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon for one minute.  Add the white wine and stir.  Bring the wine to a simmer stirring occasionally.  When the liquid has mostly evaporated, which you can tell by sight of course, but you can also hear it as the rice begins to get a little noisier and crackle just a little, add 1 cup of the chicken broth and stir.  Continue to add the stock, one cup at a time, until it is all incorporated, stirring frequently and listening for changes in the sounds of the rice.  When the rice is almost done and needs maybe only a minute or two more, add the pea purée, the rest of the fresh peas and the white pepper.  The rice is done when the liquid is completely incorporated but everything is still creamy and the grains are just the tiniest bit al dente in the center.  Add the Parmesan cheese, stir and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Annie
Tickled Green

Baby Chicks Arrive

The chicks are here!  The chicks are here!

Buff Orpington chicks

They came by mail, packed in a box no bigger than a shoe box. Seven downy Buff Orpington female chicks are now safely ensconced in a lobster crate in our bathroom with the door firmly shut to keep out Charlie, the cat.  My initial plan, one that decidedly did NOT include having them spend any time in the house, was to sneak them under a broody hen in the middle of the night, removing the eggs she was nesting on and introducing the baby chicks. Anyone who has ever had cute, tiny baby chicks in their house who have then grown into unruly, ungainly, dust- and chicken-poop-flinging teenagers can feel my pain when I say I’m determined that the chicks will not be in the house for long.

Irresistible to pick up

The intsy flaw in this plan is that, for the first year ever, I don’t have a broody hen.  I can’t tell you if it’s the cooler weather or the lack of a rooster (Fluffy the rooster died this winter) but none of these hens are feeling the mama urge.

I put my problem out to Twitter and a few people suggested either fake eggs or ping pong balls as an encouragement, thinking that someone is bound to think they are hers.  Having one child who saves, hoards and parses her holiday candy, I had some pastel, plastic Easter eggs still in the house into which I added some flour for weight.  I then taped them shut and put them in a nest.  This is what they thought of that idea…

Kicked 'em right out!

However, Plan b is now in place.  I have a lobster crate, a heat light, chick starter and reams of newspaper.  They will be protected from the other hens in the coop by the lobster crate while they stay warm under the heat lamp.  Once they have feathers and are eating regular feed, I’ll turn them loose with the rest of the flock.

Annie
Brooding about my chicks

Roosters and the Mama Bear

Rooster_2 There have been a few issues with having chickens other that the sorry state of the hen house.  Not the least of which has been that at some point, the hormones kicked in for the 13 roosters and they started to become a little aggressive, flapping their wings and running toward the girls, but not pecking or using their claws, when the girls would go out to get the eggs or to visit with the hens.

I should interject here that the roosters had always been destined for the freezer.  When they are little it’s a hard to stomach that you are diligently and lovingly raising these beings and then will summarily dismiss them at some point to eventually place them on your dinner table. 

But as the roosters’ aggression increased, this ambivalent feeling wanned and was replaced by a sort of pushing back on my part – as in "Hey, buddy, let’s not forget who’s in charge here."  They began to charge out of the hen house whenever I would walk into the coop area and this made me uncomfortable for my girls especially because the roosters, when they stretched out and flapped their wings could get almost eye to eye with my youngest daughter. 

Then, one day, the feeling snapped straight into true aggression – as in, "It can be too soon for you buggers to leave."  My girls were outside in the coop area playing with the hens and getting upset that the roosters were jumping on the backs of the hens.  In other words, mating.  When this first happened the hens were a mess.  They ran away, they squawked and basically sounded as if they were under deadly attack.  And I have to say, I don’t really blame them.  Woman’s rights hasn’t really filtered down into the chicken world and the hens didn’t seem to think this was a mutual good time.

My girls were in the pen when this happened and one got pecked right next to the eye.  Then I walked into the pen and the rooster charged directly at me.  The mama bear in me was so strong that the only thing that kept me from swinging that rooster from it’s feet was the fact that my girlies were right there watching.  From that point on, the girls weren’t allowed in the pen until after the roosters had joined the steaks in the freezer.

And I have to admit that even though I was past ready for them to leave, it took months before I could actually cook one. 

Annie
This year someone else is raising our meat birds

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing

Baby Chicks Arrive

Fluffy1a Modern Living vs. the Good Old Days. I’m not sure that if we could really compare both ways of living that we would really choose the "good old days" when life was "simple" and our food didn’t come in a box.  Grandma made fruit pies with light, flaky crusts, canned everything that came from the garden which was then savored all winter long and everyone was intimately connected to their food because they raised it all themselves – chickens, a cow and a pig.  It sounds so rich, with tradition and respect for the land and the food it provides and … like a ton of work.   

There are pieces of this lifestyle that have always fascinated me, however.  How do you make vinegar?  Fresh bread for my family, maybe it’s not so hard.  Jams and jellies?  I’ll always say "yes," at least to eating it slathered on my toast.  And chickens, I’ve always been mesmerized by the whole idea of raising my own chickens and having gorgeous, orange-yolked, full flavored eggs with whites that stay together and don’t run all over the pan.

I finally took the leap last spring and bought what is called a "straight run" of chickens which I now know means that you get both male and female chickens.  You can mix and match and let me tell you, buying chickens from a catalog is just like any other catalog shopping – I’ll take 2 of these, 4 of those …  I ended up with 5 different breeds and because you have to order 25 or more chicks, plus the free rare breed that I said "sure" to because what the heck, my new flock totaled 28 chicks.  I might have had a little buyers regret at that moment, but quickly rationalized it.

The phone rang at 6am one morning and of course I picked it up right away, a little anxious, because who calls that early unless something is wrong.  The carpool, mom-scheduling phone calls don’t start until everyone has had their first cup of coffee, about 7am.  My accelerated heart beat became a leap when the postal man on the other line said my chicks were at the post office ready to be picked up.  I hopped into the car to get them and when I got home was greeted by two more bigger "baby chicks," my girls, just itching to get their hands on the tiny, cute, furry bundles.  (I had to use the word "cute."  There really isn’t another that fits them better.)

I would like to insert here that my parents were visiting.  I love them, they love me and while they would never say so, they think that this sailing, living in rural Maine, owning a small business life that we lead is just a little …. not them.  I sometimes get from them what I call the Golden Retriever look, which is when they look at me with their heads cocked to one side and with a puzzled look on their face.  I know they wonder sometimes from who’s loins did I come.

So now we have chickens, in the house, while my parents are visiting.  They don’t take up that much space when they are little.  Just a cardboard box.  They need to be inside when you first get them because they are pretty fragile beings just like most baby animals and it’s too cold and windy for them outside at the start.  At first they are adorable pooping machines.  But they grow quickly.  And so does the size and amount of their poop.  At first it doesn’t smell.  And then it does.  My friend who’s raised several batches of chicks was right.  You are ready for them to be outside about a week or two before it’s warm enough for them to go outside.

This picture is of Fluffy, our Buff Laced Polish rare breed rooster.

Annie
Still not so sure about the good old days, I really like my gas stove.

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing