My farm-to-table shakshouka journey
Having your own chickens – complete with a fresh, daily supply of eggs – is perfect for making this classic Israeli breakfast.
The circadian rhythm of my daily routine begins and ends with a chicken. Seven of them, to be exact.
Each morning, I walk out to our coop and let out the flock, whom we've lovingly dubbed the Co-Hens. As they stretch and squawk and scurry around the property, my wife Elizabeth and I attend to their every need, as if we're waitstaff offering them five-star room service. What's that? You want some dried meal worms? Coming right up!
We pick up after them and clean their coop each morning. We bucket in fresh food and water. On special occasions, we even open the spa if somebody's feathers look like they could use a little fluffing. Who knew chickens enjoyed a warm bath? During work, I keep a tab open on my computer to the five web cameras we have live-streaming every angle of the chicken yard. I feel like an avian mall cop. They follow me, Pied Piper style, back to the coop as the sun sets and I put them up for the evening. It's a tough, but fulfilling gig. At the end of the day, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope they give us a decent Yelp review.
Life was a lot different 10 years ago. At the dawn of the decade, I was living in a bustling metropolis commuting to work through one of America's most congested cities. My idea of interacting with animals was lying on the couch with my two dogs. And our repertoire of egg recipes didn't go much further than scrambled and, well, more scrambled.
Today, as the 2010s come to a close, I'm living a life I could never have imagined. I moved into the woods in the mountains of Appalachia, next to a 200-acre farm. Larry the llama sometimes gets loose and can be seen walking down our gravel road. Now working from home in my pajamas, the most social interaction I get each day is when the UPS driver makes a delivery. I rush outside as I hear his truck barreling down the driveway like a Pavlovian dog in search of his next dopamine hit.
Perhaps one of the biggest lifestyle changes is that we now have our own flock of chickens. They were born on my birthday in April, and shipped to us overnight. Early the next day, we went to the post office to pick them up, hearing their chirps for the first time through the tiny holes in the cardboard box. We named them after our favorite female NPR newscasters: Cokie Roberts, Audie Cornish, Lakshmi Singh, Melissa Block, Yuki Noguchi, and, of course, Nina Toten-bird. Terry Gross, a first-class interviewer of celebrity subjects in human form, was the overachiever in our bunch and the first to lay an egg.
The egg production has not stopped ever since. We now have so many eggs that we don't know what to do with them. It's hard to give them to neighbors, when most people around here have their own chickens. We've already plowed through the usual dishes: quiche, deviled eggs, omelettes of varying kinds, soft-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, frittatas, eggs Benedict, eggs Florentine. Heck, we even tried to make our own egg nog.
I suggested to Elizabeth that we try shakshouka, a breakfast staple of modern Israeli cuisine and one I had enjoyed on my various trips to the Mediterranean country. While it can look complicated, it really doesn't take that many ingredients. All you need is your favorite marinara sauce, some vegetables, a little cheese and a handful of eggs. (We have plenty of eggs if you need.) There are a multitude of recipes online, including a bunch in our Israeli Kitchen channel here, here, here and here.
For ours, we simply poured the marinara sauce into a skillet on medium heat. Once it started bubbling, we dug out a little space for the eggs to nest and dropped them in. Then you cook it some more on the stove, tossing in whatever vegetables you want. In our case, we added in some cilantro, eggplants, onions, tomatoes and some mozzarella cheese.
We served ours with some warm pita, but you can use whatever kind of bread you want to mop up the liquid deliciousness that is shakshouka. My guess is it's been a while since someone made farm-to-table shakshouka in rural West Virginia.
After dinner, we cleaned up the dishes and then headed outside to check on the chickens. It was time to put them to bed. Tomorrow, the routine would start all over again.
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