Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chicken in the Crockpot

Admit it, you are expecting a recipe or a review of a delicious dish.
Well, this IS chicken in a crockpot but I hope you won't want to eat it. Let me first provide a brief history of how we got to this place...
We have a largish flock of Buff Orpington chickens and one of the reasons we selected this breed was because they are said to be more broody than some other breeds. We thought it would be nice if our flock could self-propagate. We recently, as in 'for a couple months now', have had a handful of broody hens at any given time. A few weeks ago we hatched the idea of letting a couple of the hens sit a clutch of eggs each. I could go on at some length about how not to go about doing this, which is exactly what we did. It was a whim more than a plan. And we watched as musical chickens took turns sitting the eggs. At all times, someone seemed to be shouldering the responsibility for warming and turning and we just thought we'd see what happened.
Forward to this late morning when I'm checking nest boxes for freshly laid cackleberries and I find a partially hatched chick. With a hen who seemed to think this soggy, weak, completely confused speck of a chicken was some sort of danger, I had to make a decision quickly and, for better or worse, I chose to remove the emerging chicklet and the other eggs to a different location. Like a crockpot on my dining room buffet. Oh, that does sound bad, doesn't it?
I've been cycling the crockpot on and off of the Keep Warm setting to maintain a warm enough but not too warm environment.

I decided to use a wait-and-see approach and let her continue to work her own way out of the shell. A friend arrived and took one look and said, "You DO know you need to keep them moist, right?" Well, if I DID know that, then they would probably have been moist at that point. I asked her to lend her expertise and she helped the chick out of the drying shell and membrane and it captured her heart. I don't know if the chick think's she's her mother, but my friend does.

Here's the newly released bird resting and drying out. My friend acted like a mother hen. Really. She kept fussing and making sure the warmth was at the right level, helping it to sips of electrolyte mix. The whole nine yards.

And it is now a fluffy and lively little chick that gets very excited each time my friend peeks in on it.

As for the other eggs - we're waiting to see if they will hatch as well. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Does "GF" Mean?

Just over six weeks ago I began a challenging dietary change. I took gluten, sugar and dairy right off my menu. I'd been feeling sick, fatigued, and depressed for some time. I needed to change something. I had never thought I had a gluten issue. I mean, I mill my own grains fresh and bake wonderful homemade bread. Real bread. Really good bread. Make your tongue slap your brain good. But I read a book called The Blood Sugar Solution and decided to try a six-week reset for my body. At that point, GF to me just meant gluten-free.
Eating gluten-free has been challenging on many levels. Not the least of which is because my family is not eating gluten-free. My husband and father continue to enjoy their favorites. Many of which I make for them. And darn it, I make some good gluteny food. Soft pretzels, bagels, biscuits, homemade bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies (savory and sweet) - the list goes on and on.
I am faced with changes in taste and texture. Nothing but gluten produces that spongy, elastic dough that is as smooth as silk and stretchy to boot. Things just aren't going to be the same.
And I need to find new recipes and learn a new way of making baked goods. Vinegar or lemon juice are added with soda or baking powder to get a rise out of doughs. I quickly determined that I didn't like the pasty, white GF breads make with flour of potato and tapioca starches. Not enough taste or structure.

And I'm learning to use coconut and almond flours. Very tasty and nutritious. I have finally found a pizza crust I like. And the thing that got me blogging again was this "bagel" recipe. Now if you're going to be hard-nosed, you can say these aren't bagels. But try going without for a month or two and you will likely find your definition and requirements blurring a bit.

I just had to shout from the blog-top when I had one of these! Yippee! It's so hard not to eat the whole batch. This recipe comes from Laura's Gluten-Free Pantry. I did swap out 1 cup of freshly milled millet for 1 cup of the almond flour. I love millet and almond flour is admittedly pricey. Hence the switch. And I used our honey in place of sugar. Then, as you can see, I topped them before baking with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt and dried onion bits. I can't wait to toast my next one!

And you can see that these are not small. The recipe called for making them in a doughnut pan but I don't own one. However, I have lovely large English muffin rings my husband made for me. I buttered them and laid them on buttered parchment. Not a drop leaked out. And I only had six of them although the recipe says it will make seven. These are easily 1 1/2 inches thick and 3+ inches across. I'm just so tickled!!

And then I said to myself - it wouldn't be hard to make a GF cornbread. In fact, I just swapped GF flour for regular flour and again used our honey instead of sugar. It will be so nice to have some baked goods from time to time.

I'll try and share the coconut cookies recipe and multi-grain pizza crust recipe soon. Both gluten-free, of course!

So what does GF mean to me now? How about Good Foods or Great Feelings? Because that's what I'm eating and how I'm regaining my health!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gobble Up Those Apples

Everybody likes apples, right? I know we do. And so do the woodchucks. And the rabbits. And the other morning I saw that wild turkeys do, too! I looked out the kitchen window (hence the less than stellar photos through the window screen) and saw what appeared to be a "family" flock. Multiple large turkeys as well as half-grown and in-between sized. I believe I counted 18.

I mentioned that the woodchucks and bunnies like the apples, too. Actually, I think the rabbits are just eating the grass under the apple tree. But the whistle pigs are stuffing apples in as fast as they can. And getting plumper by the day. It turns out that turkeys are similar to chickens. You see, in the picture below there is a bunny in the upper right corner. The turkeys were more than content to graze with said rabbit. But when the woodchuck came out, they chased it right back home.

My chickens will squawk and scream like they are being eaten by bears if they so much as see a woodchuck in the yard. And with all those apples around, you can well imagine that my backyard is frequently filled with the sounds of panicked chickens while the offending chucks eat their apples seemingly oblivious to the chaos they cause.

Isn't a wild turkey just a magnificent bird? There seems to be a very healthy population in the woods and fields around here. I enjoy seeing them pass through our yard and pasture from time to time. Last spring we enjoyed watching a mama turkey with her little brood. Maybe I should consider getting my license?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When the Cows Come Home

Which is about when both my readers thought I'd make another post. I will make no promises here - just consider this a random, semi-annual post. If more follow, then you and I will both be surprised.
The cows did come home. Several times. One of the last times was after a two day absence in which we recieved several reports of sightings and shenanigans. There were the neighbors we know who knocked on the door to say, "I think I just saw your cows all the way down by the next road." The neighbors we'd never met who knocked on the door to say, "Do you have two big black cows?! They are in our garden. Eating." I felt so bad. After reassuring her that they weren't dangerous and would flee if she approached them, I went and hung my head in shame. Eventually, after a multi-hour attempt at roping and leading them home failed, another neighbor saw them in the field next to our property and offered to help chase them back into their own pasture. Bless you JB. So the cows came home. I baked fresh blueberry muffins for both the neighbor with the egarden damage and JB. I wrote a note of thanks and one of apology. I offered to make it up to them... somehow.
And then I called my husband (who was at work during the cows return) and said, "Stop on your way home and buy these pastured bovines some cow crack! I want them to be dependent upon you as their drug dealer until the butcher can fit them in his schedule. There will be no more wayward steers!" He, much relieved to hear that they were, indeed, confined to their own pasture once again, stopped and bought them some corn. It didn't take much to get them hooked and they would stand at the fence all day looking for someone to bring them a scoop. (Insert sigh of relief.)
I called the processor and made an appointment. I called family and let them know, "Your beef will be on it's way soon - make room in your freezers."  And then I took my own advice.
I know my husband's penchant for cranberries with his turkey. You know, that pasture-raised turkey we put in our freezer and can? And he won't eat that jellied storebought stuff. No way. Turned out I had a lot of cranberries stashed in the freezer. Since you can't buy them year-round, in season I'm always snagging them when I see good berries for a good price. There must have been a lot of good prices. I believe I uncovered (between two large chest freezers) about 20 bags. Including a couple of monster-sized Costco bags.

I got inspired and decided to make up the cranberry conserve he liked and can it. Ready-to-eat. After studying the recipe I found it to be even more acidic than the recipe for basic cranberry relish in the Ball canning book so I didn't make any changes. Lots of fresh lemons, fresh oranges, fresh Granny Smiths and frozen cranberries later, we had significantly more room in the freezer. And 50 pints of Cranberry Conserve in the pantry. I won't encourage anybody to can something that isn't an official canning recipe but it is a very tasty dish. I will encourage you to try it with your next turkey. Or pork roast. Or roast chicken. Or come help us eat some. I left out the nuts from the recipe to add fresh and toasted on the day of use.

ANYWAY, I also canned frozen peach filling. Talk about making work for yourself. Freeze it and then can it. I was desperate for space. And I dehydrated frozen peas. And canned a couple of frozen turkeys.

The day came When the Cows Came Home. I had to laugh when my husband noted that he wouldn't have thought we could fit a steer in the Subaru. But we did and we hurried home to tuck all that frozen, vacuum-sealed, pasture-raised deliciousness in the freezer. We had managed to free up almost one entire chest freezer for this purpose. We organized, we applied our best Tetris skills, we used up every square inch we could. And it all fit!!

All except 63 pounds of ground meat. So I started canning. Are you starting to see what it is I do when food storage is in doubt? I can. I can all I can.

You can brown 10-12 pounds at a go when you use a roaster over two burners. Win!

And we chopped veggies, we browned meat, we formed meatballs, we cheated and used store-bought red sauce because, frankly, the kitchen was already a disaster site with the beef preservation. And we chipped away at 63 pounds of beef slowly defrosting in a large chest cooler in the dining room. If that isn't motivation to keep working, I don't know what is.

And when the dust settled, we had beef vegetable soup, meatballs in sauce, and ground beef for super-speedy dinners! Here are some of the jars of wonderfulness waiting to cool and head to the pantry.

I'm especially excited because for me, each of these jars represents a day with extra sewing time this late fall-winter-early spring. Yay! Dinners nearly done before I even get started. I see me finishing a quilt!

No promises but I think I may have another post or two in me at the moment...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Half the Work, Double the Results

Why didn't I start doing this years ago? In preparation for a busy time I have known was coming, I began to consider what I could put in the freezer for meal times.

Initially I felt like I was in for a lot more work so that I could be prepared. I'll be helping my husband with a project that will keep me in his shop for 8-10 hours a day. Since we try to cook from scratch, I regularly spend time in the kitchen preparing ingredients and healthy recipes. Time I won't have for awhile.

I steeled myself to fill the freezer even if it meant more time in the kitchen and more work. And then it occurred to me... my family of four already likes to eat. Every. Single. Day. What if I just make two of some things I'm already preparing and put them by? So I made two pans of cabbage rolls. The tools were out, I was already separating leaves for one batch. It wasn't much more effort at all to make enough for two meals. The next thing I knew, I had homemade cabbage rolls in the freezer.

Making one meatloaf? Why not two? It took a few extra seconds to shape a second loaf and wrap it for the freezer. Sometimes I grab two same sized pans and cook two of the same recipe side by side. Truly, for a few more minutes effort, I get twice the return. One for dinner (with leftovers for packing lunches) and one for the freezer.

And in short order (like two weeks) I have 12 complete meals: Meatloaf and scalloped potatoes, cheesy lasagna soup, cabbage rolls, sweet and sour pork, chicken enchiladas, vegetable and ham quiches, country bean casserole, chili and cornbread, scalloped potatoes and ham, ham and bean soup, along with various single serve items like individual pot pies, stew, and macaroni and cheese, personal pizza crusts, soft pretzels, and homemade bread. And thanks to my FoodSaver, I have it packaged in non-leaky, no-freezer-burn packages.

When I think of how I could have been doing this all winter and had a few extra hours every week to work on quilting or other projects. Sigh. But I am reclaiming my time from now on. In fact, I'm nearly giddy with excitement when I think of putting these meals on the dinner table with minimum fuss. My new motto is: If one if good, two is better!

Would you like to free up some time by cooking two dinners at once? Do you already use this method? Do you have additional tips to add? I'd love to hear from you.


 There are so many lovely ladies out there with great ideas and encouragement to offer. Today is link-up day for two sites I regularly frequent - I'm sure you'll find something there to make you smile or think... You can visit them at:

Friday, March 15, 2013

I Miss My Body

During this year's flu season, we opted to stay home from church to help protect Dad from getting ill. We are part of a friendly body and I didn't think he'd make it through the hugs and handshakes without succumbing. I also didn't want to see him getting that sick. So we opted, for a time, to have church at home. And that is the upside of flu season.


It's been many years since I had the privilege of sitting under my father's teaching in a "formal" way. He pastored Wilkins Church for many years and I got kind of spoiled by good preaching and teaching.

I suppose you could say that it's been my yardstick ever since. We followed the Standard Lesson Commentary,  just like our Sunday school classes and the sermons at our hometown church were using. That helped us feel connected even when we were apart.
Our services lasted a bit longer than some might be accustomed to. We were able to ask questions, too, which by necessity isn't typically part of Sunday morning services.
We had sweet communion together as well. It was a very special time for us as a family and I'm glad we had the opportunity to do this.

But no matter how much we enjoyed our times of home church, we really missed everyone at our hometown church. Since it would appear that the worst of flu season has run its course, we are excited now to return to worship with our regular church body - we can hardly wait until Sunday!

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Love You This Much

It's been several years  now that I've been making this cake for my daughter's birthday. The first time I made it was for a St. Patrick's Day dinner for our neighbors. I was in the mood to cook something new and I'd found several recipes to try. We're not Irish. We don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day as a general rule. But it made a good excuse at the time.
Said birthday girl was working that evening and came home in time to enjoy a slice of the cake and by some strange (at least to me) decision she opted to have one of the imported Irish beers we'd served with dinner - with her cake. She swooned and declared that they were a fabulous pairing. The next declaration was that she wanted this for her next birthday dinner. Thus was born the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake with Smithwick (silent "w") beer tradition.
So, she knows that I love her THIS much.
First comes the coffee sponge cake. Fairly straightforward. Whip eggs, sugar and whatnot together until the Kitchenaide smells hot. Then painstakingly sift flour over it and fold in, little by little until you think there's no way to get it all folded in before the batter deflates. Definitely use the sifter for this portion or you'll end up with little flour ball bombs all through the cake.
While that is in the oven remember that you probably should have made the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse filling the night before. It's only the element for which the cake is named, how important can it be? Just whisk together the sugar and eggs, warm over steam and then beat them for 10 minutes. While that's going, shave the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Oh, and don't forget to whip Irish cream and whipping cream into stiff peaks in another mixer. Now fold the chocolate into the whipped egg mixture and then fold in the beaten cream. You end up with this heavenly, rich, chocolate mousse! Resist the temptation to grab a spoon and start eating.
By now you are glad that the cake needs to cool while the mousse chills. Blot the perspiration from your brow. Wash dirty bowls, beaters, spoons, and counters down. Now mix up the Irish whiskey syrup for the cake assembly later.
Ok, so everything is chilled? Now you cut that single layer of sponge cake into 3 layers. All it takes is a steady hand, a very long serrated knife, your makeshift spacers stolen from the scrap wood bin in your husbands shop and, in my case, some growling. I think the growling intimidates it into sitting still while I'm awkwardly sawing on it.
Place your first layer on a cheesy, something-mart cake tray (because you need a tight fitting lid when you put it out on the front porch to keep cold). Soak the cake layer (good thing it's sponge cake) with some of that whiskey syrup. (The whiskey is added to the cooled syrup so it's not cooked off in this case).
Then spread a cup or two of chocolate mousse over the whole thing. Another layer of cake, more whiskey syrup, more mousse... I assume you see a pattern.
Eventually you run out of cake layers and you then spread all the remaining mousse over and around the cake. This will not go as smoothly as spreading frosting. It's not frosting. It's heavy. It's very moist. Don't overwork it or it won't be mousse-y. Just get it on there as best you can. It may look something like this:


You aren't done. Put that puppy out on the porch to keep cold. (Good thing it's winter, my fridge is full of eggs!)

Get that double boiler back out. In my case I have this beautiful little pan. It's 60 or so years old. The story I heard was that my father bought it when he and my mother were still kids, married a year or less, and he wanted to make her a cake that required a double-boiler.

I still use it but in this case I opted for the much less attractive but smooth sided "let's stack the copper bottom pan in the little sauce pan if they fit" set-up. And because I use a propane stove, I like a simmer mat to help keep the heat mellow for this. Why all these gyrations? Why, it's time to make the chocolate bands and chocolate curls. No skipping these for the birthday girl.

Get out two large sheets of foil and some waxed paper. Now I'm about to reveal a secret that cake shops don't want you to know. It's actually really easy to make bands of chocolate for wrapping a cake. The strips need to be long enough to wrap around the cake with a little bit of overlap. Lay them on one piece of foil. Somewhere you don't mind making a real mess. Put the other sheet of foil on a tray so you can hustle it out to the front porch with the cake.

Grab a pastry brush and start spreading chocolate over the wax and off the sides. It's going to be messy, like finger painting only tastier. Give them just a moment to cool ever so slightly and then use all four of your hands to grab the corners and lift it onto the clean sheet of foil.

After they cool and are set but still flexible, you wrap one of them around half the cake. Snug it up and tack it on. Stick that out to get colder. When the band is firm you can just pull the wax off the outside. Repeat with second strip.
Time to melt more chocolate if you didn't have the foresight to do enough when you did the bands. Smear it on the back of a baking sheet and... guess where you put it? Yep. Another trip to the porch. Did I mention it's the front porch? And the kitchen is in the back of the house? Through the dining room, living room and office? Yeah.
This is much trickier than the bands but still a supremely better technique than any other I've tried. The trick is to find the moment when the chocolate is soft enough to curl but not yet tacky. Slide a sharp spatula under it and it will curl right up.
Then stick a skewer in and lift it off to a plate while you make more. This was a bit of fun. I felt like a professional once I got the feel for it. I picked this technique up from this website. There are many different chocolate techniques demonstrated there. (And their pictures are nicer than mine.)
Next thing you know, you've got this lovely cake. And don't forget the Smithwick's. (Silent "w", which you would know if you had ever, like someone I know, asked an Irish bartender for smith wicks and been severely reprimanded.)

Ready to dash to the kitchen and whip one up? Here's where I got the recipe.
She's totally worth it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Guide to American Federal Debt

If only Washington could see how ridiculous we look.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Leftovers Right

Do you get tired of finding perfectly good food has gone to waste simply because it was forgotten?
Do you ever find a family member meditating in front of an open refrigerator?
Do leftovers ever perish in your fridge because they are "out of sight and out of mind"?
Here are a couple of things we do at our house to make the most of leftovers. And we find fewer fuzzy blue things developing their own culture in the recesses of the fridge.
First, we keep freezer tape and a marker conveniently located so that we can mark every container of leftovers before they are placed in the refrigerator. We write the name of the item and the date (a simple "3/6" will do). We reuse containers, so it's extra important to know that it's not cottage cheese or sour cream you're looking at.

The next thing we do is note it on a small dry-erase board on the front of the fridge. When they get used, you erase them. It's better than having a glass door. You can also see which ones need used first.

Best of all, this system is so simple that everyone in the house can use it.

What do you do to manage your leftovers?

If you're looking for more homemaking helps and thoughts, why not visit Raising Homemakers for their Wednesday Link-up:

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Sweet It Is!

Do you remember this post?

Well last fall we got our first honey harvest! It was a very exciting day! Here are supers filled with frames of honey capped by the bees. Kent worked outdoors to brush bees from the frames and then handed them quickly through the kitchen door to me where I loaded the supers back up with the frames. We managed to get the honey laden frames into the house without bringing in any bees.

The caps have to be removed to extract the honey, so first Kent used a special tool - like a tiny rake with needle sharp points. The idea is to just slide it under the wax and lift if off of the honey filled cells.
It takes a light but firm touch to capture the beeswax while leaving the honey behind. The wax will be saved and used for other applications.

We borrowed an extractor from a friend and set up shop in the kitchen.

Here is a frame filled with honey and ready for the extractor.

They are placed in the extractor on end, two at a time. The honey cells are on both sides of the frames so you spin some honey out of one side, flip them, spin some from that side, and go back to the first side, etc. That way you don't put too much stress on the foundation wax in the center of the frame.

I look ridiculously happy to be cranking the extractor. Like I said, it was a very exciting day for us.


After the centrifugal force has extracted the honey from the frames, we drained the honey out the spigot at the bottom and into containers. At this point there some small bits of wax and whatnot in the honey.

We did a coarse filtering through a stainless steel seive to remove the largest of the debris but we are not interested in any serious filtration. This is the real thing and it doesn't get much better than this!

It was a very sticky process, I couldn't believe the places we seemed to find honey when we were done. Every surface in the kitchen seemed to be a bit tacky. Including ourselves. We have plans for the near future construction of an all-purpose building that will serve as a honey extraction, syrup making, etc. facility. For now, we'll do it indoors because the bees see us as thieves and go all out to "retrieve" their honey.

Which actually comes in really handy when you are ready to clean up. We found that all we had to do was take the sticky containers and tools out near the hives and leave them for a day. The bees reclaimed every last drop that would have been washed down the sink and left everything practically sparkling clean.

Here's a link to an interesting article my brother found about the state of honey available for purchase in stores. Give it a read and then give your local beekeeper a hug!

I think I'll go hug mine right now.