Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Don't Count Your Chickens

Ever since I was little, I have entertained the idea of owning chickens.  I dreamed of the rustic romance of being able to look out my kitchen window and see hens peacefully grazing on my back lawn and longed to collect their fresh, warm eggs in the mornings to make into fresh, warm omelettes for my breakfast.

Years passed and for various reasons I remained henless, although my partner, Giuseppe, and I often talked about acquiring three or so chickens. Our luck changed a fortnight ago, however, when our neighbour came knocking at our door one afternoon when I was out. She explained to Giuseppe that she was desperately seeking some adoptive parents for her mum’s three hens since her elderly mother had suddenly decided to return to her birthplace in Europe to live out her days. Neither my neighbour nor any of her siblings had either the space or the inclination to maintain these birds. Thrilled with this offer, which so serendipitously aligned with our little dream, my partner promptly accepted and immediately went to collect the chickens.

When I came home, Giuseppe was not inside the house but this did not surprise me as he often retreats to the backyard to tend to his vegetable patch and to hide from me. What I didn’t know was that what he was actually doing in the backyard was rounding up three newly acquired chickens into their new home in our garden shed. I glanced up from the kitchen window and observed the most extraordinary sight: there was Giuseppe hurdling over the vegetable patch at breakneck speed, brandishing a broom in one hand. I had not glanced up in time to see that there was a chicken about a metre in front of the broom. I went outside to assess his sanity just as he was successfully putting the last hen into the shed.

‘What a fantastic surprise!’ I squealed. ‘Not only are you not insane, but we’ve finally got our chickens!’ 

‘It’s great, isn’t it?’ he replied. ‘Now you’ll be able to have your warm eggs for breakfast like you’ve always dreamed of!’

Ah, the sweet words of optimism of the inexperienced …

During the week following our great Avian Acquisition, the pandemonium of parenthood took over our lives and we more or less forgot what the main purpose for our procuring the chickens had actually been.  That was until one afternoon when my son came in from playing outside and announced: 

‘Mummy, I think those chickens are just pretending to be chickens’.

‘Why’s that?’ I asked.

‘Because they don’t lay any eggs’, he said, a look of bewilderment and disappointment clouding his face.
 I considered this for a moment and realised it was true. They did not lay any eggs. But how could this be?

‘They must be hiding somewhere’, I concluded, ‘Let’s go and have a really good look’.

So off we went looking high and low, under the eggplants, the gooseberry bush and the weeds near the back fence, a bit like an Easter egg hunt without the chocolate. And , as it turned out, without the eggs. 

That night, I whinged about the situation to Giuseppe:

‘We’ve been tricked’, I moaned. ‘These chickens are too old to lay eggs; they’re menopausal’.

‘They’re not menopausal’, he laughed. ‘It’s just that it’s too cold at the moment. When it warms up again they’ll start laying’.

‘How has that got anything to do with anything?’ I griped. ‘I still manage to ovulate in winter!’

‘Yes, but you don’t sleep in the garden shed’, he replied.

I pursued the argument no further for fear that it might finish with him stating that he wished that I did.

Several more days went by and although I coaxed them lovingly and cajoled them with organic vegetable treats and the crème de la crème of chicken grain and despite Giuseppe spoiling them Italian-style by cooking them vast quantities of pasta to warm their bellies, they stubbornly stuck fast to their resolution to not provide one single warm egg. I thought back to this time last year when, unbeknown to me, I was several weeks pregnant and frantically trying to finish over one hundred school reports, refining the fine art of communicating to a rather large percentage of my students’ parents, in sugar-coated code, that their offspring were lazy or insolent or both. For example, ‘restless’ was code for ‘she can’t sit still for more than 30 whole seconds together’; ‘his overall results do not reflect his ability’ was code for ‘he hardly picked up a pen all semester’, while ‘somewhat disorganised’ was teacher-speak for ‘he never even brought a pen to class’.

So in the spirit of this time of year, I mentally composed appropriate report comments for the three newest members of our family:

I left the above-posted photographs (comments attached) open on the computer yesterday afternoon and my son came home from school and saw it. He studied it in silence for about a minute then, drawing on his extensive experience of eavesdropping on my conversations, said:

‘Mummy, are you going expel the chickens?’

‘Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary’, I smiled. ‘I’m just going to whisper to them that I know a really, really good recipe for roast chook’.

P.S for anyone else who has chickens who have difficulty following instructions, here is the recipe:

Lime Stuffed Chicken


50g butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
¼ cup chopped coriander
¼ cup of roasted cashews, chopped
Grated zest of two limes
Juice of one lime, plus two limes, halved
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg
1 whole chicken
1 tbsp olive oil


     1.  Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat

     2.   Cook shallots for 2 minutes until soft. Transfer to bowl

     3.   Add rice, parsley, coriander, cashew, lime zest and juice, spice powder, ginger and egg. Mix   
         well. Season to taste

     4.   Preheat oven to 200°C or 180°C fan forced

     5.   Wash and pat dry chicken inside and out

     6.   Spoon stuffing into cavity and tie bird’s legs together to secure. Place in a roasting pan and drizzle with 
         olive oil. Season well

     7.   Roast chicken for thirty minutes. Reduce oven to 180°C or 160°C fan and roast for another hour

     8.   Scatter around lime halves and roast for another ten minutes or until juices run clear when a skewer 
         is inserted into the thickest part

     9.   Cover loosely with foil and let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving

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