101 Uses for a Dead Chicken
For a number of years now I’ve been working on a cookbook that contains only recipes for chicken. Chicken that’s roasted and chicken that’s stewed. Chicken that’s braised and chicken that’s fried. Chicken in salads, in sandwiches, in soups, on pizzas …. You get the drift.
And then it struck: chef/writer’s block. I was out of recipes; and no amount of urging and cajoling from my friends and loved ones could do anything to help. I disdained all of their suggestions: ‘Borrow one recipe from some other cookbook.’ ‘Change the name of the book to 100 Uses for a Dead Chicken.’ ‘Ask Jeeves.’
No. This was my book, and it was up to me to provide the solution. Well, it took me a while; but here it is.
A Dead Chicken Story
There I stood, up to my ankles in chicken feathers, when across the road with a shotgun in his hands raced old Harold Grant, my next-door neighbor.
“Your dog has been killing my chickens!” screamed Mr. Grant.
Sparky, the dog in question, having seen an enraged man with a gun coming at us, had made himself scarce. My Golden Retriever, Parsley, for her part, had raced to greet our visitor, and even now was happily peeing on Harold Grant’s boot as a gesture of welcome.
“Hold on, Harold,” I said. “What makes you think my dog is killing your chickens?”
Harold pointed excitedly at the dead chicken that I had unsuccessfully tried to conceal under a pile of leaves. “There’s your proof. Now where is that wolf? I’m going to blow his head off.”
There was no denying it. Sparky had developed a taste for chicken, which, in a farming community, is a death warrant. I implored Harold to spare him, promising to pay for the dead bird in question and the fourteen brothers and sisters (I think this figure was a bit inflated) that Harold insisted had perished in like manner.
Three hundred and seventy-five dollars later, we had a deal. I also promised that I would, in future, keep Sparky tied up.
This was a promise that I proved unable to keep, as Sparky’s thirst for chicken blood turned out to be superior to my knot-tying skills. The very next day another three birds bit the dust.
Back came Harold Grant, but this time without the shotgun. In fact, he was downright pleasant. “That’ll be seventy-five dollars,” he said with a glint in his eye, depositing a bag on my doorstep. “And don’t worry about tying up the dog. He’s more than welcome.” Harold had found himself a cottage industry.
Eventually Sparky devoured the balance of Harold’s inventory but, as it was now winter, Harold was unable to get any new chicks until spring. By then we had moved away, taking Harold’s meal ticket with us.
“That’s an unusual question,” our new realtor had said when I asked her how far away the nearest house was where chickens were kept. “I’ll have to do some digging.”
We managed to find a lovely home in a chicken-free zone, and settled into a bucolic and peaceful existence. Other than making off with our Thanksgiving turkey, Sparky contented himself with chipmunks and squirrels and the occasional rabbit.
I think it was in the late spring of the following year that the dog officer appeared at our door, come to investigate a complaint that lambs had been disappearing from the sheep farm down the road.
“You’re welcome to search the freezer,” I kidded with the humorless functionary.
“People say there’s been a dog who looks a lot like your Shepherd seen up by the farm.”
“I’m sure they’re mistaken.”
“All the same, I’m going to have to ask you to keep your dog tied up.”
Well, we all know how well that works.
I decided to pay a visit to the sheep farmer, but chose not to intimate that I was the owner of the dog who was the key suspect in the recent slayings of his sheep. We chatted about this and that and I asked in passing, very casually, what the going price was for the average member of his flock.
Staggering. And quite a good-sized flock it was.
I went to bed early that night; but I couldn’t sleep. I was up all night - counting sheep.