Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Chickens Are (Finally!) Laying

Our older chickens molted early, and our younger ones finally figured out the whole egg-laying thing, so we are flush with eggs of many colors and sizes:

Despite the short hours of daylight, we've been able to turn the light on for the girls, and now they're averaging about three eggs per day. We suddenly find ourselves with two dozen eggs in the fridge. This comes at a great time: Wednesday is Pie Day, and holiday baking will be in full force immediately thereafter. 

In the meantime, quiche is one of the quickest ways to blow through a bunch of eggs, so that's what Kirk made for dinner. This was a Cheddar Bacon Broccoli Quiche, and it was outstanding:

Cheddar Bacon Broccoli Quiche

For the pastry:
6 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. shortening
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup vodka

For the filling:
4 strips of bacon
1 medium onion
1 cup chopped broccoli
4 eggs
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar
a pinch of thyme
a pinch of mace
salt and pepper to taste

1. Put flour in a food processor and add bits of cold butter and shortening. Pulse the food processor until you have a coarse meal.

2. Slowly add vodka until the dough sticks together. This will be wetter than your average pie dough, but the alcohol evaporates and leaves behind perfect pastry. Just ask America's Test Kitchen.

3. You can chill the pastry if you want, but it's not necessary if your vodka was already in the fridge or freezer.

4. Chop the bacon and fry it, then drain, reserving 1 Tbs. of bacon fat

5. Chop the onion and sauté it in the reserved bacon fat. 

6. Steam broccoli for 3 minutes in the microwave, then squeeze excess liquid into onions as they cook down.

7. Blind bake the crust for 10 minutes at 425 degrees.

8. Whisk together eggs, half and half, and milk, then stir in remaining spices. 

9. When the crust is ready, layer half the cheddar cheese, bacon, onions, broccoli. Repeat the layers with the remainder. 

10. Pour the custard mixture over the filling and bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

11. Allow to cool 20 minutes before serving.

The kids liked this so much that they each had two pieces, which means they are officially eating us out of house and home. I had to hide it away to save some for my lunch tomorrow. Looks like we'll be having this again soon. Despite the length of the directions, it's actually easy to make (thanks in so small part to the foolproof pastry), and you can switch up the filling based on available ingredients.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Curried Butternut Soup

We still aren't done with the kitchen renovation, but Kirk has been managing to put together some healthy garden meals anyway (even though washing the dishes in the upstairs bathtub is no fun). Last night we had a new Curried Butternut Soup:

Photo credit: Tiegan Trach
(who could not resist eating most of it first)

Curried Butternut Soup
2 medium red onions, finely diced 
4 Tbs. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
4 cups chicken stock
8 cups water
1 Tbs. ginger garlic paste
1 Tbs. curry powder
1/2 cup half and half

1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions on medium heat until soft. Generously season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the butternut squash to the pot with the onions and stir, then add chicken stock and water. Cover the pot and allow to simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until butternut squash is cooked through.

3. Add the ginger garlic paste and curry powder, then use an immersion blender to puree the soup until very smooth.

4. Stir in the half and half and adjust seasoning — a pinch or two of cayenne is also a good addition. Serve hot.

This was a quick and easy dish that didn't take a lot of dishes (something that's pretty important when you're working without a dishwasher!). It's great with some good, crusty bread and butter on the side — definitely a good, warming dish for the fall!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Get Involved: Protect Our Pollinators

Remember my poor, probably pesticide-poisoned honeybee?

The fact that she died with her tongue sticking out is a classic sign that pesticides were involved.

Well, it just so happens that this week there's a hearing scheduled on Beacon Hill about limiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in Massachusetts. This bill is supported by Massachusetts beekeepers, who are working to keep decisions that affect honeybees and other pollinators out of the hands of the pesticide manufacturers. 

If you live in Massachusetts, take a moment to write your state rep and senator in support of H.655, An Act Protecting Massachusetts Pollinators. Send an email in support of the bill to committee co-chairs Sen. Anne Gobi and Rep. Paul Schmid. While you're at it, copy your own reps. In Newburyport, that's Sen. Kathleen Connor-Ives and Rep. James Kelcourse. If you live in another part of the state, you can find your reps here

It only takes a few minutes to make a difference, so rattle off that email right now. Next spring's honeybee colony will thank you!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Beehive Postmortem

As I alluded to ever-so-briefly in my previous post, our bee colony has collapsed. Through October they seemed to be doing fine, but when I checked in on a warm day earlier this month, it was eerily quiet. No bees at all at the entrance, and no humming of activity. 

I opened the hive to find lots of gorgeous combs of capped honey, but no bees at all. No living ones, anyway. There were a few dead ones on the floor of the hive, and that was it. Thousands of bees had simply vanished into thin air. 

Later we went through the hive to take some photos to send to our bee mentor for some insight on what could have happened to the colony. Here's what we found:

Lots of comb that should have brood cells (baby bees in the comb) had nothing at all. The cells at the top are capped honey for winter, but the ones at the bottom have only a very spotty brood pattern (the parts that look like closed dots in the honeycomb). There are no eggs in the comb either, a sign that our queen "failed," meaning that she died and wasn't replaced. 

It's also possible that are bees were robbed by meaner, non-honeybees from another hive. If they were weakened, they may have given up and flown away. The damage above is more likely from from a mouse, though, which got in and ate a lot of beeswax between the time I noticed the bees were gone and when we took the photos. We can tell because the entrance was definitely rodent-chewed in that time:

Though many of the dead bees we saw looked completely normal, some of them looked more like this guy:

His blackened body suggests disease, but his little tongue sticking out is a classic sign of pesticide poisoning. Though we don't use any pesticides, we (alas) can't control everyone around us. Bees fly far and wide to forage, and if a percentage of them succumbed to pesticides, it could weaken the group going into winter. Worse, they can bring the pesticides back in pollen for the otters, making the problem much bigger.

We're hoping for more information from someone far more expert than we are, but it the meantime, we've brought the honey combs indoors to keep from losing them to critters who've been emboldened now that there's no risk of being stung. We also boarded up the entrances to protect the existing comb. This will allow our bee mentor to look it over, and if it can be salvaged, we'll save some comb to get a new group of bees off to a good start next spring. I'll post more information if we ever get a cause of death. 

This is all incredibly disappointing, and this year's losses continue to pile up around us. It does seems to be a calculated risk to keep bees these days, so all we can do is try again next year.