Chicken and Butternut Squash Orzo

My friend emailed a few of us this week describing her recent and devastating occurrence.  She and her partner have chickens.  They've only just gotten off the ground.  Her partner B went all out with the coop and the chickens have this lovely area under the trees where they love to roost  when they're out and about.  For the most part, the chickens have been getting on with life - enjoying the roam and adding to C and B's egg collection.
More recently C and B added a rooster to their family.  Roosters are always difficult.  If there's more than one, they fight.  Nasty fighting.  Sometimes they just randomly start pecking away at another chicken until it's raw and bleeding.  Once that begins it's very hard to stop it and it the other chickens start picking up the behaviour as well.  They're also pretty loud compared to the chickens.  In this case though, Harry (yes - they named the rooster) has been exceptional.  Harry has gotten along well with his harem and things have been relatively peaceful.
Until one morning earlier this week when C went out to the coop only to find poor Harry lying on the floor of the coop, his comb turning blue and breathing shallow, laborious breaths.  C rushed Harry to the vet (yup - she did) where Harry later died.  The vet thinks that Harry succombed to heart failure and that it might be something congenital, ie. something the breed itself is susceptible to.
My poor friend C is bereft and confused.  She is a vegetarian and has trouble with any kind of suffering whatsoever.  So in the midst of working hard to create more awareness around growing food, saving seeds, keeping animals for the sake of the soil and all of that she is asking herself how ethical it is to entertain breeding animals that are susceptible to such severe congenital problems.  She has asked us all to respond with our thoughts about the whole thing.
So I'm thinking here on this blog.  I'm thinking that if we expect that there will be no 'setback' in our pursuit of a better planet then we're fooling ourselves.  One of the reasons that we've allowed ourselves to be so overwhelmed with industry created food is because it's damn hard doing it yourself.  The breed used for industrial chicken farms is one that grows fast, so fast that after 12 weeks of life it can't stand anymore.  The meat tastes like fluff because it's got no muscle tone but it grows fast and is hearty enough that with some (lots) antibiotics it can survive long enough to die fat.  Doing things any other way is a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and there is a lot of loss.  Loss is present everywhere whether we like it or not.  Animals die, plants die (they do), people die.  The real question for me is what kind of life was had by the animal, plant or person.  Harry probably had a much better life than most chickens do and I would hope that his death would be able to continue life in something else.  An animal could be fed, a human could be fed, the soil could be fed.  I hope that Harry's death doesn't become the most wasted thing about his life.

I've become so much more appreciative of what animals give us.  I understand so much more that we are all connected and when we abuse one we are abusing all including ourselves.  I don't buy chicken parts anymore.  I buy the whole chicken and I buy it from someone who let the chickens wander around and peck around and roost in the bottom branches of their favourite tree... because that's what being a chicken is all about.  When I use that chicken for food I'm thankful for every part of that bird - the feet, the neck, the organs especially and the fat off the skin.  Nothing gets wasted.

The end of my last chicken roast along with the neck and organs and skin and feet became fantastic chicken stock and yielded about 2 - 3 cups of meaty cooked chicken.  I used it with some roasted butternut squash, some cream, some cheese and some sage.  It's been one of the best things I've made this fall bar none.  I savoured each bite with heartfelt gratitude.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Orzo
serves 6 - 8

1 med/sm butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
5 - 6 cups chicken broth
3 - 4 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups orzo
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 - 2 tsp salt
2 - 3 tbsp honey
3 - 4 tbsp fresh sage, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a bowl toss the butternut squash cubes with some oil or lard that's been warmed up.  Place the sqaush cubes on the baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and roast in the oven for about 30 - 35 min. The squash should be nicely browned on the outside and squishy on the inside.
In a heavy bottomed pan heat the broth over med/hi heat until the broth is simmering. Add in the orzo and turn the heat down to medium/low.  Continue to simmer for about 10 - 15 min or until the orzo is becoming soft.  As the orzo is almost ready add in the salt, honey, sage and nutmeg.  Check e taste and adjust if necessary. Add in the cooked chicken and the roasted squash. Mix well.
Turn the heat down to very low and add in the cream and parmesan cheese.  Let the cheese melt and serve.

S'mores Cookies and getting back on the wagon

I'm mostly pretty sure that it's probably kinda wrong for me to admit this but *gulp* I find myself wishing more often than I'm even comfortable with that we could all hibernate for a couple of months a year.  I'm not talking the oh-it's-summer-let's-take-time-off kind of hibernate.  That's more like just playing hooky or something.  I'm talking about the oh-it's-bloody-freezing-and-dark-let's-just-stay-in-bed-until-it's-light-for-more-hours-in-the-day-than-it's-dark kind of hibernate.  I wish for it.
D told me the other day that when it gets to this time of year for him the hardest thing he has to do in a day happens in the first few minutes of waking up.... getting his ass out of bed.  My first response was to tell him that on the bright side, once you were up you could find consolation in knowing that when it comes to sheer will and effort you'd already reached the summit.  It's all downhill from there so to speak.  I've mentioned here before just how hard D has worked to cope with Season Affective Disorder and that now he is more functional during the winter months than he's ever been before.  I don't deal with anything close to that kind of seriousness or severity but I still feel it.
Getting up in the dark, biking downtown (in the rain this past week - jeez), working like a mad-woman, biking home and collapsing at some point in the evening.  It's around this time every year that it starts to catch up to me.  I don't feel myself.  I feel disconnected from everyone and even from my own thoughts if that's even possible.  Throw in an upcoming memorial service for my father-in-law, learning that my Mom just had a melanoma removed and losing one of my closest, bestest and longest friendships to a city 3 1/2 hrs down the highway and I'm at my tipping point.

FYI: When cutting marshmallow's buttering the knife or scissors is absolutely necessary.
All of that to tell you that this has not been the best week for me and my sugar reduction diet.  It's not like it's over or anything.  Far from it.  My hearts still in it and I'll be back on the bandwagon - I will.  I just really needed sugar.  I know that's bad.  I know that the mere fact that I'm craving sugar at 10:45 a.m. almost everyday is an indication of how terrible the stuff is.  I can practically feel it rotting my teeth and my gut as I eat it - savouring each and every morsel mind you.  It's just that this week I needed sugar.  One too many phone calls, texts, emails, work emergencies and soaked clothing wardrobe malfunctions (which I will not detail here) drove me back to my beloved enemy.  We looked at each other with uneasy longing.  I could already feel the texture in my mouth.  I knew what it would be like to have that sweet thing on my tongue and the little bitty rush that would come after.  I knew I needed it and my enemy knew it too.

I made cookies - I'm bringing some to work because if I'm going down then we all might as well go.  My kids will eat most of it here at home but I won't lie to you, I'll be helping them.  The moral of this story for me is two fold:
1.  Never give up.  I'm going to get back on the wagon.  I might not stay there but I'll always get back up.
2.  Maybe pulling into the dark, cold days of winter isn't exactly the best time to start big time scale backs on little indulgences.

S'Mores Cookies adapted from The Globe and Mail
makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/3 cup sugar
2 lg eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup graham cracker (about 11 halves or so), broken into 'dime' and 'quarter' sized pieces (I used a ziploc bag and broke them up but honestly it doesn't even need to be that complicated)
100g bar of milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
100g bar of dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
about 6 - 7 lg marshmallows (or the equivalent in mini's), cut into thirds

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicon liner and set aside.
Combine the flour, salt and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the butter and both sugars.  Cream together (using a mixer or by hand) until the mixture is creamy and well mixed.  Add in the eggs and vanilla and whisk until the mixture is kind of fluffy and creamy.
Add in the flour mixture and stir in slowly at first - once incorporated, the dough will feel quite stiff at first but it loosens up after a few minutes.  Mix until the flour has disappeared and you can't see any chunks of anything.
Add in the chocolate and stir to mix.  Add in the graham crackers and stir just until mixed (the pieces will keep breaking up if you mix too much).
Drop by large tbsp (about 1 1/2 tbsp altogether) onto the cookie sheet and press a marshmallow piece into the top.
Bake for about 8 - 10 minutes (mine came in at about 9 minutes) - the marshmallow should look a little toasted.
Remove the cookies to a cooling rack and store in an airtight container.

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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