The Holidays and the chickens

How beautiful is the weather...Icy again with iced-up cobwebs in the vegetable patch.

Christmas involved lots of lovely walks in the woods, by several lakes. On Christmas eve and day we watched 250,000 starlings sweep across the sky on the other side of the lake in Cavan, swooping left and right, turning black, then becoming almost invisible, like a big cloud.

I decided to make the most of having a warm house and make lots of bread over the break. This one is from Rachel Allen's book, Bake, which the Fabulous K got me for Christmas. Its just a simple white bread. But here's the recipe.

Basic White Bread
makes 2 loaves

2 tsp caster sugar
425ml warm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
750g white flour (or a mix)
2 tsp salt
4tbsp olive oil

Mix the sugar, yeast and 150ml of water and leave to go frothy for five minutes. Meanwhile sift the flour and salt together and mix in the olive oil. Add the yeasty water and the rest of the water and more if needed. Knead 10 mins or 5 in a mixer. (Hooray for the mixer!) Place in an oiled bowl in a warm place - a house at christmas-time - for an hour or so to double in size. Then knock back and knead for a couple of minutes. Leave to rest for ten mins or so, then cut in two - I shaped one half for an oiled loaf tin and cut the other piece into three. Roll out each piece to 2 or 3cm thickness and then plait, pinching the ends together. Place on a flat oiled tray. Leave to prove for another 30 or 40 minutes, then brush on an egg or milk glaze. Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees celcius or Gas Mark 7 for fifteen minutes, then turn down to 200 (6) for a further 15-20 mins. I wrapped mine in a tea towel to keep the crust soft after baking.

So somehow new years day was the date set for killing Dinner, the black cockerel pictured previously. All went well, except our knot wasn't the best and after killing him, he jumped off across the garden, doing somersaults as he went, bleeding out of his neck, with his head left behind, twitching on the saw horse. Don't worry, he was dead. The Magnetic Fields song kept going through my head - "now my heart's running round like a chicken with its head cut off..."

We caught him though - before he went into the ditch luckily. And then I passed what knowledge I had learned of gutting to the Fabulous K and the Bro (in-law).

Seeing as it all went well, we decided to do the other two cockerels the next day. And after dreaming of intestines, hearts and liver all night, we went out and the Fabulous K and the Bro each tried out the whole process themselves. It got competitive for a while when the gutting began, but soon each of them was lost in their own thoughts, staring into space with a look of concentration on their faces and their hands up their chicken's bum.

Well, obviously the whole experience ended up at the table, and on Sunday I roasted my first chicken, following a recipe out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat. Here it is roughly.

Roast Chicken
Mix 100g butter with a pressed clove of garlic, salt and pepper and a few handfuls of herbs from the garden - I used thyme and rosemary, chopped small.
Massage this all over your chicken.
Then roast at 200 for 18-20 minutes and turn down to 180 for another 20-30 minutes.

He was absolutely amazingly mouthwateringly delicious. Thanks Dinner!
Even my father (who had staunchly resisted the idea of killing any of them until eventually they fought and we had to get rid of them) partook of the feast.
Its been so long since I ate chicken. 19 years? What a nice way to return. The Fabulous K thought he was some of the best chicken he'd had. But even I knew he was amazing quality in meat terms. We resorted to finishing what was left on him off with our fingers to get all the meat off, and his carcass is in the freezer for stock, along with the other two chickens.
I'm not sure if I will be buying meat or just eating my own, but certainly eating my own seems the best way to do it - for the chicken - they've had longer lives with more freedom and more space than any farmed bird, and for me - they taste so much better, and I feel totally connected to the whole process, (I saw Dinner from the day he came out of his tiny shell, until he made it into my belly) and totally aware and responsible for what it meant to kill him by doing it myself. I'm not saying its pleasant to kill an animal - it isn't, but for me once I'd made the decision to do it it felt okay.

So there you go.

I also knited a trachea over the break. All I can do now is small projects because of my back.
For those of you not familiar with tracheas (what is the plural anyway?) this is actually quite a realistic model.