We made good this evening on a November vow between Courtney Willis and myself to get our respective selves and husbands together for dinner at some point over the winter.
Though the farm figured far more important in my life last year than I could ever have imagined, Derek had not yet been there. Various factors prevented us from going to the spring and fall potlucks at the farm.
The drive to the farm was a nice relaxing sojourn from the last couple of hours spent on the Interstate heading into and out of Louisville. The smell of the fields - the sweet, earthy scent of dried grass and hay - seeped into the truck through slightly open windows. We arrived at the farm just before 7, with enough light left for Derek to see the place I've come to know and love. He was captured, as I was the first time, the moment we went up the driveway. And to think - nothing is green yet.
Courtney greeted us from the hoop house, and invited us up to take a look at the newest members fo the farm - some chicks that are, I believe, about a month old. In a relatively adolescent stage for chickens, the chicks were in what I dubbed the "adorably ugly" stage. It's a fitting description really, as the poor things are rather awkward looking - midway between baby down and adult feathers, and gangly legged, but still chattering in the sweet peeping sound that only chicks make. They're cute in the weirdest of ways.
Back in the house, we prepared for dinner - roasted chicken and roasted winter vegetables. My contribution was homemade chocolate chip muffins baked in a cast iron pan. They hadn't turned out quite as lovely as I'd hoped - I didn't allow enough time for making them - but they were tasty just the same.
Dinner was an adventure, as we laughed through the, ahem, "carving" of the dinner bird - a task that proved more amusingly difficult than anyone imagined. I'm getting used to the task of carving up a raw chicken for making stock or dinner, but a cooked chicken is, well, a different bird. Later, we decided that the difficulty helped to break the ice a little, as Derek and Carden got several giggles out of our combined efforts.
But the effort was well worth it. It's been a very long time since I've had a REAL chicken. The Harvestland whole chickens I get in the stores are a better alternative than Tyson, but it's still ... different. You see, a chicken raised on a farm and nurtured into laying eggs lives a longer life than one that winds up in a grocery store cooler.
Chances are it's had more of an opportunity to run around - and on a time table according to the bird's instincts. Chances are it's lived longer, and has found its way to the dinner table because its egg production has diminished. Chances are it has eaten what chickens are supposed to eat.
The first thing you're likely to notice is that the dark meat is truly dark. The drumsticks were a little tough, yes, but still very tasty and had a stronger flavor than a commercial chicken. The white meat of the breast was tender and juicy, and too had a stronger flavor than the palid meat that passes for chicken breast in a grocery store.
I wondered briefly which one of the chickens I had photographed over the summer was sitting naked on the table, cooked to a golden brown, drumsticks in the air, waiting to give us sustenance. Internally, I said a little thank you to the chicken. It gives you a different perspective on dinner when you know you've met the animal that you're about to eat.
The dinner conversation, as lunch conversations were throughout the summer, was relaxed and full of laughter. I could tell that Derek was quite comfortable, as he was already telling stories and asking questions, where otherwise he might be quietly observing. "They're good people," he said on the drive home. "Really, really good people."
And they are. It was wonderful to see good friends again, and we hope to make dinner with them a more regular affair. It's our turn next, and I suspect Indian food will be on the menu.
Chocolate Chip Muffins
Heat oven to 350
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips (I recommend DARK)
1. Blend dry ingredients well in medium/large bowl
2. Add milk & butter and blend well. Batter may be lumpy.
3. Add chocolate and blend.
4. Fill muffin pan (lined or not, it's up to you) cups to at least 2/3 full.
5. Bake 15-20 minutes, maybe longer depending on your oven.
6. Remove as soon as you can handle the muffins, and cool on a wire rack.
* If you have the pleasure of owning a cast iron muffin pan, lube up the cups with melted butter (but don't overdo it - a dab'll do ya, too much will give you soggy muffins), and heat the pan while you're mixing the batter.
These suckers are nommalicious while still warm and melty. :)