Three of our beautiful egg-laying chickens were stolen from our coop by some nefarious wildlife type critter within 24 hours. So while my husband and I went to work shoring up the defenses of our chicken coop with barbed wire, chicken wire, boards and nails, our five sons launched a large-scale paramilitary operation on our backwoods 20 acres.
Upon discovering that the third hen had been stolen, the boys descended into a huddle. With occasional furtive glances toward the coop, they spent a solid five minutes whispering, planning and gesticulating wildly. They came up with smooth, round, little jaws firmly set and a fire in their big innocent brown, hazel and grey-blue and bright-blue eyes, respectively. Being the eldest, and self-appointed spokesman for the brothers, Liam strode forward and commanded our attention.
"We have a plan. With barbed wire and a few dangerous touches from us" -- here he gestured expansively toward his younger brothers who stood around with arms crossed looking fierce -- "that fox is going to wish he'd never seen our chickens."
He went on to inform us dramatically while waving an imaginary sword in the air, "I am the bane of all chicken-thieving foxes!" (Let me tell you, folks, if that fox ever runs into the point of Liam's imaginary sword, it's done for!)
Aidan strained and puffed and lifted a large cinder block to waist level and said, "I can wait over there," jerking his head toward the feather-strewn scene of the crime, "and drop this on that mean old fox if he comes back!"
Ty, who was having an incredibly hard time looking terrifying due to his recent loss of his top front teeth, adopted a serious expression and explained, "We're forming 'The First Royal Chicken Guard.' Aidan and I will wear our bike helmets and fill a bucket with heavy rocks, two badminton rackets, some brambly sticks and Aidan's club weapon," and here Ty brandished a stubby piece of spare two-by-four he found next to the shed. "We'll stand guard all day long. And when we see that fox? Whoa boy! We'll whack it good!"
I looked around at my young men and found that they were all slapping their palms menacingly with little twigs (or a large plantain leaf in Rowan's case) and looking at me meaningfully. When it became clear they were awaiting my reaction I tried to think of something appropriately martial to say and the only thing I could choke out was, "Dismissed!"
They set to work filling a plastic sled with large pebbles and our yard-wagon with bramble vines, gathering badminton rackets and baseball bats, donning their bike helmets and pulling the whole works toward the chicken coop.
The effectiveness of our spirited and indomitable The First Royal Chicken Guard remains to be tested, but one thing is for certain, if that fox has a lick of sense it'll stay well and clear away from our coop.
Or maybe, just maybe, after such an indulgent night, the fox will have met its end in the way so fervently wished for by Liam, "I hope that dumb fox died of heartburn!"
As for me, I disappeared into the kitchen to make some lemonade and bread for The First Royal Chicken Guard. Each of these recipes is free of eggs, since our supply has recently been most cruelly reduced.
Our Old-Fashioned Lemonade is simply the best lemonade ever. It's so easy to make and so delicious that you'll never switch back to the canned or reconstituted-powdered stuff! Do you have an abundance of strawberries laying around? You can boost the beauty and flavor of the already refreshing beverage to stratospheric levels with the simple additon of one cup of sliced strawberries.
Old-Fashioned Lemonade (or Strawberry Lemonade!)
3 lemons, preferably organic since you're using the skins, but carefully washed either way
3/4 c. granulated sugar
11/2 qts. water
1 c. fresh or frozen hulled and sliced strawberries, optional
Thinly slice the lemons on a surface that can contain any juice that escapes the lemons. Place one layer of lemons on the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle lightly with sugar (if using strawberries, add several berry slices at this point.) Repeat layers until all lemons (and berries, if using) are added to the bowl. If there is any remaining sugar, sprinkle it over the top.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for 25 minutes. When time is up, remove the cover and use a potato masher or large, heavy can (washed and covered with plastic wrap, of course!) to squash the contents of the bowl until juice runs very freely.
Transfer the contents of a bowl to a large pitcher, add 11/2 quarts of water and stir well until all sugar is dissolved. Add ice and serve well chilled.
A tall glass of this looks especially beautiful garnished with a sprig of mint, a slice of lemon and a strawberry!
... Have you heard the saying, "An army marches on its stomach"? That is especially true of The First Royal Chicken Guard. A quickly made batch of this amazing and fast yeast bread keeps my determined protectors fighting fit. Yes! It is a quick yeast bread. This unbelievably delicious crusty bread is redolent with melted cheddar cheese and studded with fragrant tiny bits of onion. You will not believe you turned out such gorgeous bread in 1&1/2 hours from start to finish.
The First Royal Chicken Guard's Cheddar and Onion Herb Bread
51/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (preferably extra sharp)
2 T. instant dry yeast (also known as bread machine yeast)
2 T. granulated sugar
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
3 T. minced fresh chives
1 t. onion powder
2 c. hot tap water (around 120 degrees)
Melted butter for brushing the bread before and after cooking.
Canola oil for drizzling
Whisk the flour with the cheddar, yeast, sugar, salt, minced chives and onion powder. (If using a food processor, simply add those dry ingredients to the food processor bowl and pulse 5 times.)
Pour in the hot water and add the minced onions, then stir 100 times (That is equal to 3 minutes with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. If using the food processor, drizzle the water in while the machine is running until the dough forms a ball.)
Knead the dough for 8 minutes (If using stand mixer with a dough hook, allow to mix on low for 4 minutes. If using the food processor, allow the ball to spin 20 times.) Form the dough into a tight round. Drizzle some vegetable or canola oil into a bowl. Place dough into the bowl and flip over, so both sides are lightly coated with oil. Cover with a damp tea towel (or paper towel) and allow to rise for 15 minutes.
Punch down dough and divide into two equal pieces. Form the dough into rounds.
To make a nice tight ball, pull the top of the dough over and down the side, rotate the ball a bit in your hands and repeat until you've gone all the way around the ball.
Tuck the excess under. Voila! Tight dough balls! Place about 6 inches apart on an ungreased, rimmed baking sheet. Gently pat the dough rounds down so they are relatively flat on top. Use a sharp knife to slash an "X" about 1/4 inch deep over the tops of the loaves.
Brush each loaf generously with melted butter.
Place baking sheet in a cold oven over a cake or loaf pan filled with hot tap water. Set oven to 400 degrees. As soon as you turn the oven on, set your timer for 40 minutes. Begin checking the bread when the timer goes off.
If bread is a gorgeous deep golden brown, remove it. If it is still light colored, pop it back in the oven. You may need as much as 10 more minutes.
Remove the bread and serve hot, warm or room temperature.
This is one bread that tastes great any way you slice it!