Chinese Chicken Salad with Bitter Greens

In the summer heat, we opt for cold meals and barbecue as much as possible. This salad has been one of our go-to’s in rotation, ready to be grabbed out of the fridge and tossed with a bit of the delectable dressing. It’s a simple use for a small amount of leftover chicken, which in our house usually means white meat, since the dark gets eaten first.

It’s an old classic, but with a few twists to the dressing, it gains the umami and punch to stand up perfectly to bitter greens. Of course, for me, that means heading to the hillside for dandelion, plantain, and other wild greens. I still like to include napa cabbage for the refreshing crunch, although that could be sourced from other cabbages or thinly sliced kale. I mix it up.

This dressing is extremely versatile, and the salad can easily be assembled ahead for a nice picnic at the lake, or just to keep the kitchen cool on one of these blistering days.

Oh and one last thing: I don’t miss the chicken when I go without. I usually just throw in a few extra veggies.

Chinese Chicken Salad with Bitter Greens

Note: If preparing chicken for this salad, rather than simply using leftovers, I marinate the raw breasts or thighs in soy sauce and the ginger peel for one hour before grilling.

1/2 cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or avocado

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

2 T ginger, peeled and minced (see note above)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 T cilantro minced, plus 1/2 cup loosely chopped

2 T sesame seeds, toasted and divided

2 T brown sugar

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded into bite-sized pieces (see note above)

1 small napa cabbage, sliced cross-wise 1/3-inch-wide strips

2 big handfuls of dandelion greens, tough ends removed, sliced into 1-inch-wide strips

3 radishes, slivered

1/2 cup snow peas, sliced into bite-sized pieces

1/3 cup scallions, sliced

1/3 cup chow mein

1/4 cup sliced almonds

At least an hour before the meal, combine the oil, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, minced cilantro, 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds, and the sugar in a small bowl and whisk briskly for 15 seconds. Set aside, stirring occasionally as you prepare the rest of the meal.

Grill the chicken according to the note above, if desired.

Layer the remaining ingredients in a large serving bowl, sprinkling the sesame seeds over the top. To allow for crisp, enjoyable leftovers, allow each person to dress their own salad. Otherwise, toss well and serve.

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The May Garden

As May concludes, here finally is an update on the garden. We’ve been here two weeks, and it’s finally starting to feel real. The garden project is one of my most gratifying, although much of it seems to be two steps forward; one step back.

I’m continuing to plant, in the interest of a passing season, yet the fence has yet to be completed. (I won’t mention the oversight of the deer or roaming cows, lest I jinx myself, but…) The chickens have been persistently destructive, just as they were at our last place, so I will be attempting to wrangle and coop them. Meanwhile, for as long as the hose and grass occupy my toddler, I’ve been hanging wire one post at a time.

What have been spared so far by the villainous poultry are a row of peas; a pell-mell patch of radishes and leaf lettuce; a dozen heirloom tomatoes; and small plots of beets, kale, basil, cilantro, squash, cucumbers, and melons. Until the fence is up and the chicken issue is resolved, I’m trying not to get too attached as I continue planting.

Two rows of fingerling, gold, and purple potatoes are thriving. The first row we planted in a trench months ago has been mounded with layers of mulch and soil to about a foot over ground-level; the other has spud leaves just emerging from the trench.

Beside the potatoes surrounded by nasturtium is the compost heap, onto which I layer kitchen waste, manure, and grass clippings with immense satisfaction.

Our wonderful next-door neighbors shared runners from their bountiful raspberry patch, most of which have taken to their new plot perfectly. The raspberries neighbor the two blueberry plants, which are too straggly to be called bushes. Evidently I should have pinched off this year’s berries to encourage plant growth, but now they are so close to ripeness, I can’t bear to do so, nor am I sure it would help at this point.

Two of the four apple trees we planted last month have apples; the other two do not. I’m not terribly surprised given the time of their planting, and I have plenty of hope for future years. Also, the old apple tree I cut from a tomb of blackberry brambles and ivy earlier in the year is thriving. Someone said it was a crabapple, but I was pretty sure its fruit were previously hindered by the tree’s neglect. That appears to be true, and I look forward to finding out what type of apples it yields.

The concord grape arbor I pruned for its first time in what must have been decades has likewise come to glorious life. Soon we’ll have the Adirondack chairs or a new bench beneath to enjoy on these warm, breezy spring afternoons. The beauty here is boundless and, thankfully, energizing.

Moving 50 Animals 600 Miles

We made it! We are officially here permanently. I can’t say that it feels so final in my mind– rather, the days are rushing by as if again approaching the long return trip to California. Without a set routine and with such a seemingly insurmountable to-do list, the past week has been a blur.

The process of packing and loading, of corralling the animals and worrying about how in the world we’d be able to move them all at once, is still haunting my dreams.

The two sheep, two goats, three rabbits, four geese, and dozens of chickens all rode in one trailer, neatly packed into cages and a makeshift livestock area. As stressful and challenging as the experience was, the actual trip was successful and undoubtedly quite the amusing scene for passers-by. We did try to track down a professional livestock mover or at least rent a proper trailer, for the record, but in the end, this was it. And it worked!

The animals seemed to travel quite comfortably, and their release onto acres of lush mixed grass was a happy one. The goats have managed to clear most of the blackberry brambles from under the hay barn. As soon as it’s cleaned out we can fence the area off to contain the sheep for shearing next week.

Between the numerous projects and good hard work, I’ve been voraciously foraging and experimenting with preserving the wild harvests. Posts and recipes will follow this week, along with an update on the beautifully expanding garden.

Home sweet home!

The Rabbit & Chicken House

We currently have about twenty chickens including two roosters and two broody hens that cannot be deterred from setting. Since for the past several years we’ve had the unique circumstance of urban acreage, there have been no predators aside from the occasional raptor from which to protect them. They simply roam free and roost in the rafters of the barn.

The new property will expose them to numerous hungry hunters, so at least at night, they’ll need to be cooped. With numerous outbuildings in various states of disrepair, I intended to fix one up to house the chickens and rabbits in the style of Joel Salatin’s “Racken House.” My favorite building seemed well suited, if a bit large, so we set to work cleaning it out.

After a few hours and a dump run, we had the place ready to litter and roosts. There was only one problem: everyone liked the place too much to give it to the chickens. It’s an early twentieth century cabin with true two-by-four construction and attractive siding on all but the front. (We will salvage the siding from a fallen building on the property to reside the front.)

So I changed course and located a concrete-floored shed at the back of what we call the Workshop. It needs to have a window installed, but it is otherwise perfect. We’ll mount the rabbit cages on the wall and the chickens will run below, eating their dropped food and aerating the litter to prevent ammonia build-up. For litter we raked dried grass from the field around the garden into piles, which we used also for mulch.

We removed the heavy door and replaced it with wire gate and a small chicken entry at the bottom, which with any luck, will keep the goats at bay. Add a few roosts and a window, and I think we’ll have a perfect little bunny-bird abode.

Three Geese A-Laying

The season has arrived. The African and Chinese geese are all sharing a nest. I’m not sure if the two Chinese geese are a pair or both gals, so I don’t know if all of the eggs are fertile (or if there are only two geese a-laying). No one is yet setting on them while they accumulate. One of the eggs is especially monstrous– probably from the African. Her spouse stands guard at her side while she lays. After depositing her egg, each goose carefully covers the nest over with straw to disguise their trove.

Once someone begins to set, the eggs should hatch in 30 to 32 days, which means we’ll have even more critters to move to Oregon.  Meanwhile I’m policing the hens to try to prevent any broodiness, although they tend to simply appear with a parade of peeping chicks unannounced from hidden nests. One such egg stash, we recently discovered, was under the tractor mower in the barn, fortunately with no hen atop. We pulled the tractor out over the weekend for the first time in a long while, and found this odorous surprise:

Trouble with Free-Range Chickens (A Comedy of Errors)

When we moved to our home in California, it was our first place with land. I had grown up with chickens and even showed bantam Brahmas and Buff Orpingtons in 4-H, so a nice little laying flock was our first purchase. We chose Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Sex Links– all fairly standard selections.

We were situated with the unusual “luxury” of a farm in the midst of a city that had grown up around it. All drawbacks aside, this meant the only predators are dogs and hawks, and neither are a threat at night when the birds are roosting. Therefore, the chickens sleep in the rafters of the barn and browse the entire three acres throughout the day.

Once the hens were laying, a few months later, we thought it would be swell to add a rooster, mainly for the novelty as well as flock management. We had chatted lightly about harvesting chickens for meat down the road but didn’t dedicate much serious discussion to the plans.

So with total disregard for practicality, this is the rooster we got:

A white-crested black Polish. We named him Kowolski.

Kowolski was a charming fellow who did his jobs well. And before we knew it, we had cute little fluff balls running around. Their puffy feather hats were amusing. We kept the mother hens and chicks confined until they were larger, then they joined the roaming flock.

This next generation was wilder than the first, since they were never handled, and with an odd mix of  features. They laid consistently, though the eggs were small.

The trouble was, these hens brooded on rogue nests in the tall grass in what seemed like all seasons. One clutch that appeared unannounced was 17 motley chicks strong!

And even after we got a second rooster, a rescued Old English Game cock once used for fighting, and still after Kowolski’s untimely demise, several generations later the birds continue to boast tufts of varying magnitude.

Now, with a flock growing to epic proportions, and with our increasing interest in self-sufficiency, we began harvesting the roosters, which seemed to comprise a disproportionate number of each batch of offspring. Mixed breeds that they were, and ornamental lineage at that,  the birds were gangly, the feathers dense and difficult to pluck, and the meat sparse and tough.

The only way to capture them– and I consider myself a more-than-competant chicken-catcher– was the go into the barn at night and climb onto tractors and fences to try to select them from among the hens in the dark.

Chickens are practically comatose at night, hence the reason foxes and the like can pluck bird after bird from their coop without disturbing the lot. Yet after only one attempt at this method, the roosters already extremely wary of me for the numerous attempts to snare them in daylight, began sleeping on edge and would fly squawking into the night the moment I appeared within reach.

It took me months– many, many months– to catch the populous group of roosters as it continued to expand.

But finally, there is one. And as the weather warms and the hens grow inclined to find a nice place in the grass to hide a pile of eggs, there will have to be none.

When the chickens are moved to the new property, the myriad predators will require that they be cooped. We’ll keep these hens for laying, mismatched as they are, and start a second flock from scratch (no pun intended) for meat. And they’ll all be the same breed. Lesson painfully learned.