As I’ve said before, these nature-loving heels of mine are stubbornly stuck in the concrete sidewalks of Brooklyn. But if there was one thing, just one thing, that could seduce me away to country life, it might be a small, sassy flock of laying hens.
It must be the farm women in my family tree who have sprinkled my genes with a deep desire for fresh eggs still warm from the roost. Or maybe it’s just the “gifts from heaven” mentality of walking out into the morning landscape to discover what the clucking, scratching gods have left each day. Whatever the pull is, I was thrilled to recently discover that I don’t actually have to leave the city to get eggs straight from the source. How did I not know that? How had I missed that according to the City of New York Health Code Article 161.01c, hens are allowed as pets?!
This I found out while browsing the Just Food Web site for some local farm information. This awesome group is a non-profit organization that works to develop a sustainable food system in the New York City region, and they had the brilliant insight to start The City Chicken Project and to publish the City Chicken Guide: Raising Hens for Eggs in NYC. Bless them. This invaluable booklet lays it all for the novice city chicken keeper. And as I turned each page, my eyes filled with stars and feathers as I imagined the sweet tender cooing of my chickens in the garden.
But alas. It looks like I won’t be getting warm morning eggs anytime soon. Although my small co-op building has an ample garden, which to my eye looks to be absolutely yearning for some hens, my small co-op building also contains my neighbors. Those neighbors include a landscape architect, a horticulturalist, a professional gardener, and a green space urban planner. The garden has been declared a “passive space”—and apparently a bossy rabble of bawking chickens doesn’t quite qualify as passive. So it’s off to the greenmarket for my weekly dozen eggs, and I really shouldn’t complain. Okay, they’re not warm and I didn’t get the I’m-a-kid-on-Easter-morning satisfaction of the hunt, but at least the farm eggs are organic, fresh and came from chickens who get to enjoy the company of a cheeky rooster or two. (Demure hens in the city? Yes. Their boisterous mates? No.)
So the hen-tending part of the farm-girl-in-Brooklyn fantasy will have to be packed away for a while. On to the next chapter. I wonder if honey bees are considered passive?
Obviously, I love eggs. Beyond the romance of keeping chickens (am I alone in thinking hens are romantic?), eggs are powerful little nutrition bombs loaded with culinary possibilities. My taste for eggs transcends breakfast and I have become addicted to topping any number of things with a poached egg: steamed asparagus, sautéed greens, polenta, pasta with olive oil, and on and on. I will leave you with this delicious recipe that I have adapted from the New York Times (Sept. 14, 2005) from farm-forward NYC chef Colin Alevras.
Poached Eggs With Wild Mushrooms and Hazelnuts
1 pound meaty wild mushrooms
1 tsp. salt, more to taste
4 large organic eggs
Vegetable stock (optional)
1 tbs. butter
1/3 cup crushed hazelnuts
2 tbs. minced chives
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Wash mushrooms with your fingers or a brush to wipe away dirt and remove woody parts. Break into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
2. Fill a deep skillet with 2 or 3 inches of water, add salt, and place over high heat. Crack eggs into small, separate cups, then cook mushrooms while waiting for water to boil.
3. Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add mushrooms and stir until their color deepens, about two minutes. Add a pinch of salt and remove from heat, still stirring. After a minute, mushrooms should release some liquid; if not, add a tablespoon or two of water or stock. Return pan to heat, add butter and stir for about two minutes. Remove from heat and divide between four plates.
4. Return to boiling water, reduce heat to a low simmer and carefully pour in eggs one at a time. Cook until whites are firmly set, about three minutes. Strain eggs with a slotted spoon and transfer each to a plate atop mushrooms. Sprinkle with hazelnuts, chives and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Find out if you can raise hens in your city at The City Chicken Web site.