Monday, September 7, 2009
I named this recipe in honor of Marcel, my sweet beloved rooster who had a brief but happy life here at the farm. By now, you probably know I grew up in Brazil. Many Brazilian desserts have eggs as their primary ingredient. Portugal's influence is evident as they are known for their beautiful and tantalizing egg custard desserts.
I grew up eating pasteis de nata (little custard pies). According to Portuguese legend, two nuns invented these lovely little custard tarts and the recipe only became known to the public around 1837 when some entrepreneurial monks decided to open up a bakery shop to help fund the building of a new monastery.
I love those tarts but enjoy just as much the plain variety of just pure custard.I remember my very Texan mother & grandmother making wonderful little cups of egg custard desserts when I was just a toddler. Whenever I see a ramekin, it triggers a strong memory of savoring a little cup of creamy, yellow sweetness while sitting at the kitchen table with my mom or grandmother cooking nearby.
Here is my interpretation of a classic recipe:
Marcel's Maple Egg Custard
5 organic free range eggs
1/3 cup of real maple syrup
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1 tablespoon of organic sugar
dash of sea salt
2 1/2 cups of organic whole milk
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
*Can be added:
(fresh blueberries, peaches, blackberries or any fruit of your choice)
*Can also be used as a filling for pastry tarts
Beat eggs slowly with mixer one at a time until creamy golden. Add syrup, vanilla, sugar and continue to beat. Slowly begin adding milk and blend gently until completely mixed.
Pour egg mixture into oven proof ramekins or small decorative baking dishes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Place them in a deep baking pan that can accommodate all the ramekins. Fill the deep pan with enough water to keep the custard from burning (about halfway up the ramekin).
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes
* If adding fruit, check custard 25 minutes into the cooking cycle and if soft set, add the fruit artfully on top sprinkle with sugar and then continue to bake for remaining time.
Cool before serving
August was a busy month on and off the farm. I took the month off from the blog but here is a quick update to bring all of you up to speed. We have more calves, less roosters (coyote trouble), lost our heirloom garden to a hail storm, learned to make soft and hard cheese at Homestead Heritage, wrote an article for Grit Magazine, stayed at the haunted Faust hotel, graduated from the Mid America Arts Alliance year long program, tubed down the Guadalupe, attended a Town Hall meeting & entered a baking contest.
But there was one event that was more exciting than all the others - we found an EGG in the chicken coop, then one on the ground, then several more in the art studio and now everyday is like an Easter egg hunt.
The first egg finding was touched with happiness and sadness at the same time. I was grieving the disappearance of my absolute favorite rooster, Marcel. I had refrained from naming Marcel for almost 6 months (from the day, the chicks were a day old). I was told not to name the chickens because "chickens are always looking for a way to die" and to not get attached.
Marcel made that very hard. He was different than the rest. From the time he was just a chick, he acted more like a dog than a chicken. He loved to be picked up and petted and would run across the barnyard as soon as he saw me walking up or parking the car at the gate.
Marcel made my morning and afternoon rounds around the farm with me. He watched as we fed the calves, worked in the garden or played with the donkeys. He crowed with happiness when sitting on the swinging bench. He was always at my heels and he made me laugh every day. His freedom was part of his happiness.
I named Marcel after another rooster who became close to my heart. This Marcel happened to reside near downtown Austin. He sort of belonged to my best friend. She adopted him when he showed up in her yard. He had a happy life till a predator ended his too. We think the predator was a UT law student who grew tired of hearing Marcel's beautiful wake up call.
My Marcel and another of our roosters did not show up at the coop for sundown lockdown. I knew something had happened, he was always at the coop first, calling the other chickens and Guineas to settle down for the night. I was distraught, we looked for him in all of his favorite places but to no avail. I held out hope that he and the other rooster might have wondered a bit too far but would find their way back.
The next morning to my surprise, our missing black & white Polish rooster who was MIA with Marcel, was sitting atop the coop. He must have been in hiding after his buddy Marcel got attacked. Marcel never returned, but the coyote who we suspect killed him did. The coyote showed up for two nights straight. My cowboy sat in wait for him with his hunting rifle. He didn't kill him (could not get a decent shot), but scared him enough that he has not come back.
The day after Marcel's life ended, a new surprise was there to greet us in the coop. A perfect white egg still warm from being laid was deposited on the ground. Our chicken adventure had come full circle.
For my birthday, my cowboy took me over to Canton First Monday Trade Days. We thought it would be an adventure to experience this market place that has been setting up under the old oak trees for over 100 years. It started out as a place where people traded their animals and hunting dogs and has grown into 10 miles of open air and covered pavilions selling everything from Mexican folk art to antique doorknobs, candles to cheesy rhinestone flip flops, alpacas to pot bellied pigs. My cowboy had been coming here since he was a little boy, his grandfather spent most of his life raising fox and raccoon hunting dogs and taking them there on occasion to sell or trade them.
We walked through Dog Town where all the animals are sold in Canton and I grew sad as I saw the conditions of how some chickens, Guineas and roosters were raised. It looked like many of them had never experienced one day of freedom. I began to think about my chickens back home, happily running around in the pastures and barn, chasing bugs and each other. I began to realize that Marcel had a wonderful life for a rooster, even if it was brief compared to some of these poor birds.
So it was no surprise then, that for my birthday, I picked out my own present. I am now the proud new owner of a refurbished chicken nesting box. Out of all 10 square miles of everything under the sun, all I really wanted was that nesting box. My cowboy laughed about it but gladly picked it up and stuffed it in the SUV. We even celebrated by ordering some Ameraucana chicks that lay beautiful blue and green eggs naturally. Now everyday next Spring there really will be an Easter egg hunt.
I finally realized that it wasn't just my chickens who had nested on this piece of Texas landscape but also myself...I look forward to every sunrise and sunset here on the farm with all the joys and sometimes sorrows of each and every day. I never want to leave this nest.
And who knows, maybe there is another rooster like Marcel just waiting to be hatched someday, right here at Feed Me Farms.