Their Eggs and Our Eggs

With the mind-blowingly huge egg recall happening, there’s some interesting information getting into the press about the difference between the health of backyard hens and their eggs, and those from factory farms. I learned something in this piece about how eggs stay microbe-free (at least they do when the chickens are healthy and the eggs are handled properly!)

I subscribe to a poultry industry newsletter, which claims that the salmonella at the factory farm came from poor-quality animal-based feed (one reason “vegetarian fed” eggs are a step better than the cheapest eggs at the market.) The same newsletter had an item that claimed that the salmonella outbreak could have been prevented if the hens had been vaccinated, which is yet another example of how factory farming would like to rely on drugs and not good husbandry. Even federal health inspectors admit that one possible reason that the eggs were bad is that the housing was unsanitary (to put it mildly – the hens lived in rodent infested, manure-packed chicken houses.)

At a time when communities are trying to change regulations to allow for the urban and village hennery, it’s very important that the distinction between what we do and what the factory farms do is made clear. Eggs themselves are not bad for you, in fact they’re one of the healthiest foods out there. Fresh eggs from healthy, well-fed hens are nutrient-rich and a very low risk for spreading disease. The general public needs to see that in order to have a healthful egg supply, that it makes sense to encourage the small producer. The consumer shouldn’t fear all eggs! Nor should they fear living near chickens.

As keepers of backyard flocks, it matters how we care for our hens. It’s essential that we keep our coops clean, rodent-free, and manage the manure so that it composts without undue odors. If we give away or sell eggs, they should be clean, fresh, and kept refrigerated. We are the counterpoint to the horrors of the factory farm. Imagine that a news team is about to step into your yard and film your flock. It should be immediately obvious to the viewer who knows nothing about chickens that yours are a source of good food. What we do matters.

How Candy Stays Busy

While I was on vacation, Candy started a project. Perhaps the rain and the newly softened dirt inspired her. Maybe it was simply boredom. In any case, she has been excavating. There’s the beginning of a cave, a runway, and a relaxing pit.

Here she is at work. She’s kicked up a lot of dirt. The chickens appreciate her efforts. They follow after her to see if she uncovers any delicious bugs.

Doesn’t Candy look satisfied?

Guess Where I Was!

I saw some chickens, but that’s not why I went on the trip.

The scenery was spectacular.

There’s not many places on earth that you can stand on an ice cap.

Have you guessed yet? Here’s a hint: that snow looks dirty from volcanic ash.

At lower elevations there are bubbling mud pots, geysers and hot springs.

If you haven’t figured out where I went on vacation yet, this next picture will give the location away. The sheep have four horns!

And the horses are as cute as can be. I’d like to bring her home, but I think she’d miss the open fields and the clean, blowing winds of Iceland.

Easy Summer Tomato Sauce

It’s a conundrum of summer – just when the harvest is at it’s peak, with vegetables ripe and ready to be stewed and jellied, sauced and preserved, it’s too hot to turn the stove on. I have a solution. I make slow cooker tomato sauce, and I have a few tricks beyond using a crockpot to keep things cool and easy in the kitchen.

The first thing to do is to turn the crockpot on high and pour in some good olive oil. Chop up some onion and toss it in. Let it cook while you’re dealing with the other vegetables. It doesn’t actually saute, but left in long enough (and in a newer pot that has a “high” setting,) you’ll get some browning and depth of flavor.

You can make a classic tomato sauce, with just the onions and tomatoes, but at this point in the summer, I want to use up some squash and maybe a carrot or two. Hopefully, a bell pepper will be ripe. Dice these vegetables as uniformly as you can. Stir them into the onions and keep cooking. Don’t add any liquid, but you can pour in a bit more olive oil if needed.

As much as I love homemade tomato sauce, I hate the task of peeling the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water. There’s all of that steam, and the ice baths to cool things, and the overall mess and heat of it. This year, I’ve discovered the soft vegetable peeler. I got it for the peaches, and it works beautifully on tomatoes!

It’s got a serrated blade and peels quickly and without waste. I am in love.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Set aside in a bowl. Go out to the garden and pick herbs. I have sage, oregano, basil and rosemary growing, which is a lovely combination for a sauce. I wish that I had parsley, but my seedlings wilted and disappeared this summer. One of the reasons that people don’t bother with fresh herbs is the hassle of stripping the leaves from the tough stems and mincing. Well, in slow cooker, easy-peasey tomato sauce you don’t have to! Simply wash well and tie up with a string.

Here are the tomatoes (note that I’ve added unpeeled cherry tomatoes) and the herbs and a …. tea ball! I’ve put unpeeled garlic cloves into the tea ball. No mincing, no prep! Since the sauce simmers in the pot for hours, I’ll get plenty of garlic flavor with NO WORK.

Put everything in the slow cooker. Add a generous amount of good sea salt. Put the lid on, Reduce the temperature to low and leave it be for five or so hours.

When it’s finished, I freeze in plastic containers.The next day, I pop them out, and repackage in my very favorite summer tool, the FoodSaver vacuum packer.

Here I have a summer vegetable sauce, which this winter will find it’s way into a lasagna, or maybe pureed into a soup.

I’ve used the FoodSaver to preserve blanched greens, diced vegetables of all sorts, and minced scallions. During the height of berry season, I freeze the berries on a baking sheet, and then repackage in the FoodSaver – voila! – individually frozen berries, perfect for anything from desserts to smoothies to snacking. Because the FoodSaver sucks out oxygen, there is no freezer burn. Everything tastes perfectly fresh when used later in the year.

All I need now is a second freezer.

I’m going to be away from my computer and phone for about a week –  I’ll catch up with you next weekend!