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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Date Balls

Yesterday, in my blog post about chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, I mentioned that I don't get too into baking for the holidays. Yet, here I am, about to write about another holiday sweet. Today's delight is a bit healthier. It's entirely vegan and raw. I'm writing about date balls!

Medjool dates arrive to our house every year in our CSA box, and often, I don't know what to do with them. They are deliciously sweet and are packed with nutrients (weight for weight more potassium than bananas,  full of fiber, good B-12 complex vitamins...and fat-free), but their caloric make-up is high (65 per one Medjool date). A recipe for Date Balls came with our CSA box this week, and since we're on a running kick in our house, the timing for this recipe seemed perfect. Plus, what a wonderfully healthy addition to the holiday sweet table. Leftovers from there will serve as energy boosts before some big runs or snowshoe adventures in the upcoming weeks.

The recipe couldn't be simpler, and the amount of ingredients is small. Most of the ingredients cannot be bought locally here in Wisconsin, but dates and oranges are in season right now in other places.

1.5 cups of pitted dates
1/4 cup of shredded coconut
3 Tbs. of cocoa powder
optional: 1 tsp. of espresso powder
optional: 1 tsp. of orange zest  

To cover date balls, you could just use one of these or you could make a variety:
coconut flakes
toasted sesame seeds
toasted and finely chopped hazelnuts
toasted and finely chopped pistachios
...and I tried Eden Organic Seaweed Gomasio (Sesame Seeds, Seaweed, & Sea Salt) for some of the balls

1. Pit the dates.

2. Mix the pitted dates, the 1/4 cup of coconut, the cocoa powder, and the optional ingredients (if you're using them) in a food processor. Mix until the mixture forms into a ball. If it is too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time. If it is too wet, add more coconut.

3. Put the date ball coverings into their own bowls.
Form 1-inch or smaller balls of the date mixture in your hand, and then roll them in the desired coverings. I got creative here and did some simple, one-covering balls and some mixed.
4. Refrigerate.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Peanut Butter Balls: A Yummy Tradition

We don't get too into making Christmas cookies here at our house. There is an annual tradition in our extended family for all the ladies to get together a few weeks before Christmas and turn the kitchen into a bakery, so  the family as a whole is plenty stocked come Christmas Eve. However, here at our place, we do create one sweet delectable every December: peanut butter balls. Usually, we give them as gifts at work and save a few for our own holiday festivities; this year, because of two snow days in a row, we have Peanut Butter balls galore.

Other than the rolling-in-chocolate part, these sweet treats are super easy to make.

2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies
...for chocolate sauce...
one 24 oz. bag of chocolate chips
2.5 Tbs of butter

1. Melt peanut butter and 1/2 cup butter over stove top.
2. Mix together powdered sugar and Rice Krispies.
3. Pour peanut butter mixture over powdered sugar mixture. Mix well.
4. Form mixture into 1-inch balls. Freeze.
5. Once the balls are frozen, use a double boiler (or a bowl over a pan of hot water like I did) to melt the chocolate. Dip the frozen balls into the chocolate, using a teaspoon. Place on cookie sheet. Freeze again to set.

Without a double-broiler, I just put hot water in a  pan and  put my other ingredients in a metal bowl.

These are always a crowd-favorite, and they make wonderful gifts. Enjoy!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Squash Curry

Something that I make quite often is Squash Curry. It's so simple, and doubling the recipe makes it great for potlucks or packed lunches. Plus, between our gardens and our CSA box, we usually have squash growing out of not only our ears, but our toes and nostrils too.

1.5 lbs. of cubed squash
1 14-oz can of coconut milk
A few cups of broccoli or other green vegetable
1 medium onion, cubed
1/2 jar of Thai kitchen red curry paste
3/4 cumin seeds
1/3 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 Tbs plus 2 tsps of sunflower or olive oil

basil leaves
spinach leaves
fish sauce
lime wedges

1. Heat 1 Tbs of oil in skillet and add cumin seeds and cubed squash. Heat for 6 minutes or until squash is browned. Turn off.
2. In another pan, add the remaining oil and saute the onion. Add 1/4 of the coconut milk and the red curry paste. Stir over heat until mixed well.
3. Add the squash, rest of the coconut milk, water, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Once the squash is tender, add the broccoli. Heat. If you're adding spinach, fish sauce, or basil, add now too.
4. Serve over rice or on its own. Squeeze lime on for an extra zing.
5. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Under-the-Weather Thanksgiving Weekend

All of our plans after a family Thanksgiving on Thursday have been thwarted by illnesses. Bright and early Friday morning, we realized we'd have to cancel my family Thanksgiving, and by last night, it became clear any plans of Christmas-tree shopping or friendly gatherings at our place would have to be postponed. So much for our idealized four-day weekend.

So, now we're on a mission to get better by tomorrow's workday. I've personally been out-of-school for meetings and such so often that I can't justify a sick day tomorrow unless I am unable to physically move.

First up: a juicy concoction. Today, I juiced spinach, ginger, oranges, and Granny Smith apples. Not the prettiest juice, but full of the Vitamin C and other cold-fighting goodies that I need.

Next up: Deborah Madison's Sick Person's Soup. Here's the recipe:
Deborah Madison's Soup Cookbook is wonderful, and I turn to this recipe at least once per fall/winter to help me or Andy out with preventing and/or conquering an illness. The ginger, cabbage, and spiciness are all so healthy in combination with the warm broth.

And throughout the weekend, we've been pushing Ginger Tea and Green Tea. Luckily, we usually have both ginger and Green Tea on hand.

What about all of you? How do you push through a cold? How do you prevent one in the first place?

Be well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Garlic Planting

A bed of garlic deliciousness
Today, this year's saved garlic cloves are resting snugly in the ground, covered by chicken litter and leaves.

Looking back, we increase the number of plantings by about 10-20 each year.
In 2008, we planted 8.
In 2009, we planted 26.
In 2010, we planted 45.
In 2011, we planted 64
In 2012, we planted 82.
In 2013, we planted 90....

And today, November 2, we planted 110!  We should probably buy the Co-op out of toothpaste and breath mints!

If you're new to planting garlic, click on the links above. You'll find some pretty good explanations, if I do say so myself.

Happy  Fall!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stuff...and stuff

Over the past week, I've heard a common theme in a variety of non-similar situations from crowds who seemingly have not much in common. Maybe as the holiday season picks up or as I find myself locked into a maddening schedule of commitments, I am just more intune. But the ever-present idea that I heard over and over this week was one of simplicity.

The first, and perhaps least surprising, place this week in which I heard a message of simplicity was at my Wednesday night yoga class. As we stretched out our stress-ridden muscles, our instructor spoke about letting go of internal stress, of avoiding meaningless holiday stress, of just enjoying life, being in the moment, being simple, and --in a sense--being free. On the car ride home, Andy and I talked about ways that we could incorporate the sereneness that presented itself with that discussion, in that moment, throughout our winter.

Days later, we attended our niece's birthday party. A different crowd for sure -- but amidst the bustling children and cake, I overheard a conversation that resonated the same idea with me. A friend of the family is moving to New Mexico. Because of that, a major rummage sale was had, and a major epiphany delivered itself. The couple moving talked about how they realized how pointless stuff was -- how they never considered themselves people who were very into stuff, but how much they had accumulated in such a short amount of time, and then how little it sells for, and how letting go of it really has no negative effect. In fact, to them, it felt a bit cleansing -- freeing.

And then, that evening, at a friend's dinner party, among a group of bicultural folks, who passionately discussed Mexican, South American, and American politics, the same idea emerged. This time, in terms of food, but nonetheless, it was one of simplicity.  One of our friends reminisced about his days in Mexico, before NAFTA and before Wal-mart began its destruction in his hometown, when his mother could go to the market, gather a basket of simple foods, bring it back and cook for his large family for days. We don't need to line our cupboards and shelves with endless cans and boxes of foods which we'll most likely never eat, yet we do.

At the same time, a facebook friend and former classmate started a blog called Naturally Adventurous in which she chronicles her experiences following the principles of a book entitled 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  The first step of this is eating only 7 foods for a month. Why is she doing this? In her words, " Life has gotten so busy and distracting that I find myself with little time to, well, actually live. I feel disconnected and stressed and need to set the reset button...I am hopeful that this experiment will provide the opportunity" 

These four separate instances, all different, but with a similar message has made me take a good, reflective pause.  Why do we as humans feel the need to consume so much? Food. Toys. Trinkets. Gadgets. Clothing. DVDs. Hair products. Lotions and creams. Countless kitchen gadgets that serve only one purpose. And, how many of us make the connection between all of this stuff and the ever-rising power of corporations?  When will we see that with Wal-mart and the other big box shops we lose small-business, mom-and-pop flavor, and we lose the ability to truly keep our money localized?  When will we realize that the food we buy impacts so many facets?  Workers' conditions. The environment. Immigration. Our bodies. Our health.

What we buy and don't buy matters.

Today, I felt a bit inspired. With the rain ruining any chance of outside work, I grabbed some food and began a cooking frenzy.  A dozen pluots from last week's CSA box were looking like a day away from decay. So, I made some jam. I didn't have a few ingredients, but I didn't go buy any. I scavenged through the cupboard to find something suitable to use instead. My husband whipped up a good, fall soup using escarole, onions, carrots, herbs, and beans.  I bagged up clothing that I haven't worn in a while to take it to Goodwill. And I talked to Andy about trying to give Christmas gifts this year that are meaningful and not just more stuff that our family and friends will have to figure out what to do with until the inevitable day this trinket and that one end up getting sold for a nickle at a rummage sale.

And so, these are my reflections today. As the school week winds back up and commitments continue to present themselves and the holiday spirit starts to infect everyone around me (including myself), I hope I can resist the temptation to become unaware and to continue working towards living simply and presently.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sweet Pepper Soup

We grew a lot of peppers this year. A lot. I remember earlier in the season, someone asked me how many peppers we usually received on each plant. Curious myself, I said I thought maybe four.

Mini-sweets getting all nice and sauteed, before blending
Well, I was wrong! Peppers, both sweet and hot, both king-sized and mini, flourished. We made a quart of hot sauce. We pickled some hot peppers. We froze some sweet peppers. And then we made this delicious soup. I got the idea here, but we changed it up quite a bit. I think our recipe is pretty darn good, and I'm sure we'll make it time and time again. 

Most of the peppers we used are called mini-sweets. We saved some seeds from a bag we had in our CSA box this year. If anyone would like a seed or two, let us know. They're as sweet as candy, but a lot better for you.

We made a bit batch....17 cups to be exact. If you don't want that much, cut the recipe in half. We're taking it for lunches all week long. 

5 medium-sized potatoes
9 cups of sweet peppers
3.5 Tbs. of butter
8 cups of vegetable broth
6 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of half and half
4 cups of diced tomatoes

1. Heat butter in the pan. Saute onions, garlic, potatoes, and peppers until the potatoes begin to brown.
2. Add the tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.
3. Blend in a food processor (or with whatever tool you use) until smooth.
4. Return to pan. Add cream. Mix.

Done! To serve tonight, we added a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy! Super easy! Super healthy, as evidenced here:
Nutrition Facts
Sweet Pepper Soup
Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat3.6g
      Saturated Fat1.8g
      Trans Fat0g
      Dietary Fiber3.6g
Vitamin A 65%Vitamin C 285%
Calcium    4%Iron 7%

Lucy in the Sky

Lucy passed on last night, warm in a kitty cage in the house. One week ago, she began acting a bit unlike herself. Twice, she perched in a tree and wouldn't go into roost without some human intervention. Last night,  all the chickens ventured safely inside the coop, but she resting right by the coop door, apparently unable to make the jump. So, we brought her in.

The dazed look she exhibited struck an immediate cord with us. We've lost several hens to Marek's, and this is a common symptom. When she was hatched, she received the Marek's vaccination, but we're wondering if it is not a 100% guarantee.  Recently, she had a terrible molt. We're curious if this stressed her body out so much that she was more vulnerable.

Now, we've only three hens and one rooster left. Something that is stressing both of us is the question of whether or not to get more hens. Neither of us grew up with any sort of farm animal, so we're curious if this much loss is normal. In our three-year stint with chickens, we've had 13, and now we have 4. Is this much loss expected? Rocky, the rooster is a big guy, and I'm concerned three hens (one of them a Bantam) are not enough. Thoughts? Experience? Any help or advice is appreciated (except to cull the other birds; two are vaccinated, and two are just carriers).

For now...enjoy the biography I wrote 1.5 weeks ago for our wonderful pet-sitter, who wanted to know everything about all of the pets, including the pet birds.

Name: Lucy
Nicknames: Lucy-Poo, Lucy in the sky
Hatch Date: 23 March 2011
Breed: Easter Egger
Eggs: Pinkish-white, medium
Second hen in the pecking order

          Lucy arrived in the same box as Rocky, the rooster, and Sadie, the hen.  If you close your eyes and think of a baby chick, she looked exactly like the picture you most likely conjured up in your head. Fluffy, yellow, and peeping.  Like this . . .
Lucy’s always been a bit standoffish, not into being held for long. When she was a pullet, she’d wonder away from her flock. She’s her own lady. Unfortunately for her, she is one of Rocky’s favorite ladies. For a while, she was losing feathers like mad, and we’re still not entirely certain if it was a molt, damage from Rocky’s spurs and beak, or a combination of the two. She looked pretty ragged.
          Lucy had a bit of a raggedy situation as a little chick, too. She pasted up, which happens to chicks when too much of their doo is sticking to their rumps. It can be deadly if their humans aren’t taking care to look at their tuckuses.  Luckily for Lucy, her humans were paying attention. One night we found ourselves in the bathroom, under dim light, wiping our little chick’s butt. Never would have imagined that scene when I was 18…
          Lucy is impossible to catch…probably because of her sort of anti-human sentiments. I’ve watched Andy chase her around the same tree for 15 minutes, and I’ve done the same. Solely because of her, I wouldn’t recommend free-ranging the hens until you’ve had some experience handling them. The skill of Lucy=catching might take some time to develop!
          You’ll observe Lucy to this day sort of doing her own thing. Yell out, “Chickie, chickies, chickies,’ offer a treat, and she’ll come a-waddling to greet you. She’s pretty darn cute.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Heat, Part Two: Melting Honey Combs

The drought continues. The Madison area received only 7% of its normal rainfall in June, and so far in July, it rained only a trace at our place for about 10 minutes. And it's hot. I've never been one to complain about summer weather, but our birds and our bees  are suffering.

On June 19th, during one of the first heat spells, most of our bees swarmed. Until then, they had been fervently setting up their complex system of combs and eggs and drones and making honey.
Before the swarm

  It was shocking to find nearly all of the bees in a pear tree early that Tuesday evening.
After the swarm
Nearly 3 lbs of bees in our pear tree
  Frantically, we solicited facebook advice. Andy called several beekeepers in the area. We learned a lot that evening. One: the bees might have overheated, hence the need to escape. Two: A new queen established herself, and the first queen took her posse with her. Three: Most beekeepers have more than one hive, so that if/when this happens they can put the swarm into a new home.

Apparently, two important women can't survive together in the bee kingdom...

Well, we found a new hive. On Wednesday morning, the swarm still hung in the tree, so we were hopeful that we'd catch it and get it into the second home. Upon Andy's return with the new hive, to his disappointment, the swarm had fled. He set up the second hive, and we put our attention to the remaining queen and her attendees.

These remaining bees are role models. They got right to work - no off-task behavior for them. It seemed that despite the hive's setback, combs would soon be dripping with honey.

But then we had a 5-day spell of 100+ degree weather with humidity taking the heat index into the 100-110 degree range. To our surprise, the combs literally melted. A slushy pile of honey covered the bottom of the hive. One might think this would be enough to discourage this assmebly of workers.

A sweet, slushy setback

Nope. Tonight, we went to check the bees, and they're rebuilding. So many less of them are here than the 3 pounds that buzzed inside before the swarm, but those that remain are amazing. Driven by instinct maybe, but how much could we learn from these little buzzers?  Keep working. Keep fighting. Don't give up.Rebuild. After a struggle, it will always be that much sweeter in the end. Viva la lucha!

Eggs and honey and rebuilding
No serious cooling in our future. No probable rain in our 7-day forecast. Hopefully these rockstar bees won't give up.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Our Visit to the Seed Savers Heritage Farm

What a wonderful weekend we had in Decorah, Iowa!  Our good friend, Gretchen, grew up there, and we've enjoyed her enthusiasm and love for her hometown in dozens of conversations throughout the years. Since Andy and I began gardening in 2007, we have purchased our seeds from a non-profit organization called Seed Savers Exchange,which is also located in Decorah. Each January, the new seed catalog arrives and invites viewers to buy seeds (of course) and come visit Heritage Farm. Biannually in July, Greg Brown visits for a Benefit Concert for the farm. The event's advertisement pictures always look ideal, and wow- ideal it is!

Decorah itself is a little bubble of bliss, and we shopped around on its downtown streets, ate a delicious meal at Rubaiyat, devoured breakfast burritos and iced coffees at Magpies, visited the Wildberry Winery and frequented the Oneota Co-op several times. For the purpose of this post though, Seed Savers gets all the attention. My expectations for experiences seem to always exceed reality -- but not in this case. I fell in love upon pulling into the driveway. Like kids in the middle of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, Andy and I rushed around Seed Savers Heritage Farm with no direction, gawking at flowers and vegetables and trellises and farm animals. It took us a good solid hour before we could explore anything with any sort of organization or direction.

In the front lawn, a variety of  flowers and vegetables reside. If you're a gardener, it's difficult to pry yourself away. Any idealism I had lost with Madison's lack of rain was rejuvenated by the bursting colors and buzzing bees in which I delighted during this visit. I made several trips into the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center to purchase flower seeds for next year. I also got a bit camera happy.

Love-in-a-Mist "Oxford Blue" (bought some seeds!)

Love Lies Bleeding

Spider Flower

A bed of delectables

In the back, you can visit Diane's garden. Diane Ott Whealy is a co-founder of SSE, and she designed a magical garden of flowers and vegetables.

Amaranth, corn, and flowers...hoping to do something similar in our yard
Behind that is the children's garden with willow huts and fences.

And the Heritage Farm even has rare breeds of farm animals. The Ancient White Park Cattle are a sight to behold. Through conversations with some of the Seed Savers staff and from information on the website, I learned that these white cattle traversed on the English Isles since before Christ was born. Now, there are only 800 left, and about 80 of those reside at Seed Saver's Heritage Farm.

Other farm animal sightings included heritage breed ducks, geese, chickens, and turkey. We're told that in the Historic Orchard, there are also pigs, but we didn't have the chance to check the orchard out.

The best thing about Seed Savers Exchange is that the 37-year-old organization's mission is to protect and share the diversity of heirloom seeds and plants.With Seed Saver's leadership, gardeners around the world are able to partake in nature's wide variety of food and flowers and make sure that such variety is here to stay. With large corporations controlling much of what we eat and grow, Seed Savers Exchange and organizations like it are essential to protecting all that the world has to offer.

Greg Brown, accompanied by Bo Ramsey, took time in between songs to discuss the importance of local food and seed diversity. For foodies/gardeners such as us, the setting couldn't have been more ideal: folk music (some of it about food), sunsets and hills, colorful gardens, kind/like-minded was truly wonderful.

And my garden dreams are restored! Look for future posts regarding obtaining ducks (I think I have Andy convinced!), weaving willow fences and shade structures for the chickens, growing flowers and more flowers, saving seeds, and doing more edible landscaping.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Heat, part one: R.I.P. Prudence

Prudence, during last year's heat wave
Wisconsin is known for its blizzardy winters, and those that have lived here before also know that the summers can be quite hot and humid. Having lived in both Central and Southern Wisconsin, I've come to further appreciate the stark difference - our summers are often a tad warmer than those where I grew up. This last week though, Southern Wisconsin (and maybe the whole state!?) faced unprecedented heat. We were under a heat warning for six days, with temperatures over 100 for five of them. The humidity didn't help. We knew our pets, specifically our chickens would need a lot of care. We looked up last year's blog past regarding heat and did what we needed to do: water baths, lots of water, free-ranging and leading the hens to the shade, and frozen treats. It didn't matter. On Wednesday, Prudence went into her coop to lay an egg, emerged a few hours later, and fell over -- dead.

If you've followed our blog for any length of time, you'll know that we see our chickens how many people see their pet birds, cats, or dogs. We truly love them, and it was shocking to witness one of our ladies literally drop dead from the heat. We buried her, and then went into emergency mode with the other hens. We brought Sadie into the house where it was a little cooler and put her in the bathtub with some frozen berries.

She perked up after about 10 minutes in the water. (Don't mind our rusty tub!)
We filled up a kiddie pool and took turns setting each of the hens in the water (Rocky, the rooster, was not appreciative of this experience). Janis didn't mind it at all...

My little hen princess eventually laid down in the water.
And, for the rest of the week, we took hens that were laying eggs out of the coop occasionally to put their feet in cool water.

Then, we asked the questions: Were we negligent in some way? Did we do something wrong? Could we have done more? And, painfully, we decided that yes - there were a few things we could have done better.

For starters, when we got our coop two summers ago, we put it next to the house, which is right in the sun.

 We did this because we wanted to be in close proximity to the coop to listen for predators and to interact with our flock frequently. We also did this because we thought our winters would be the real issue and that our house would serve as a barrier to the wind and that the sun would be a nice warmer in our sub-zero temps. Plus, we ordered winter hardy birds...because after all ,we do live in Wisconsin. But it turns out the winters have been easy. The real trick has turned out to be the summer. Around the run, we always plant vine beans and other crawling foilage to serve as shade...but with the drought this summer, well - nothing is growing enough to provide shade.

Additionally, there are a few tips I've read online since Prudence's passing. We will keep these in mind for all future hot days.
1. Hang wet curtains over screens and fans in the coop.
2. Mix electrolyte powder into the water. If the chickens are so hot that they are unable to drink, give it to them with a syringe.
3. Lay hay or another material on the top of the roof to deflect the sun.

Prudence died instantly, and for that, we are thankful. She, as all our birds, was special and unique. She was an independent thinker, and she had the cutest and quickest waddle/run I've ever seen. The jet-black feathers around her neck were beautiful, and she loved being held. We hope we gave her a good life and that  she didn't experience any pain laying that last egg. We'll be sure we don't let that one go to waste.

One day old
With her "litter mates" and the cat

First time outside

Last summer's heat wave

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Summer Solstice!

Little Bear, all decked out
 Bonfires. Singing and dancing. Drum circles. Trekking to Stonehenge to join in chants of "All Hail the Sun!" All common ways to celebrate the summer solstice, but slush and dogs? 

Slush and dogs is exactly how our newly-made dog park family decided to celebrate the day of birth, sunlight, growth, and joy: the summer solstice. Our dogs played fetch, while we sipped slush, conversed, and even sang a few tunes.

Dogs enjoying dog slush

The slush was really the star of the show. People got creative. The slush menu included brandy slush, watermelon slush, a banana-berry mix slush, a slush for the doggies (made of Braunschweiger and milk), and our rhubarb-strawberry slush. Turns out making slush is pretty easy, and when we returned from the festivities, we made a peach-pluot slush.

Peach-pluot slush



To make this summer slush concoction for yourself, you need the following:

  •  8 cups water
  • 4 cups fruit (or to taste)
  • 2 packages of gelatin
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1.5 cups of sugar (or to taste)
  • vodka to taste
  • 7-up to taste

1. Boil water with fruit until fruit turns to mush. Lower heat.

2. Scoop out mush (and save it for breakfast fruit, to add to yogurt, or to give to your chickens!)
3. Return water to boil.  Add sugar and gelatin.  Boil until sugar and gelatin are dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.
4. Add vodka and freeze. We started with 2 cups of vodka, but you could easily add more or less, if desired.
To serve: scoop out desired amount into cup. Top off with 7-up or like soda.

My friend Jennie and I also made dog treats for our best friends.
Za tries to take his treats early

Jennie received the recipes from a friend, and the dogs LOVED them. Here they are:

Cheese And Garlic Dog Cookies :
• 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
• 1 1/4 cups cheddar cheese --grated
• 1/4 pound margarine -- corn oil
• 1 clove garlic --crushed
• 1 Pinch salt
Cream the cheese with the softened margarine, garlic, salt, and flour. Add enough milk to form into a ball. Chill for 1/2 hour. Roll onto floured board. Cut into shapes and bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until slightly brown, and firm.
MAKES 2 to 3 dozen, depending on size.

Peanut Butter Puppy Poppers :
• 2 cups whole-wheat flour
• 1 tbsp. baking powder
•1 cup peanut butter
• 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk, and then add to dry ingredients and mix well. Place dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes (actually we just made them into balls and pressed them with a fork, like peanut butter cookies). Bake for 20 minutes on a greased baking sheet until lightly brown. Cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Eggs for a Later Date

I'm sitting on my living room floor, eating frozen grapes, drinking iced tea, and enjoying the breeze of a fan. I love heat, so I am not complaining, but when the cooking muse visited me tonight, I had to ponder what I could do in the kitchen without turning on the oven or stove. After all, I didn't want Franklin, the dog, or Carmencita, my kitty-cat to decide to pack his/her bags and hit the road for a house with air conditioning.

I looked in the fridge and realized it was holding 10 dozen eggs. Granted, we'll be making ice cream soon, and we do enjoy the occasional egg scramble, but 10 DOZEN EGGS! I decided that tonight was the night that I would freeze some for later use. In the winter, despite having five hens, I usually have to run to the store for eggs because my ladies are molting. A goal of mine is to never hardly buy eggs from the store. This should help me on my way.

I did some research and found that freezing eggs is really quite simple. I chose to use Ball jars to freeze four or six eggs per jar. All you need to do is:
1. Crack the desired number of eggs into a bowl.
2. Mix until the yolks and whites are indistinguishalbe from one another.
3. Pour into jars. Be sure there is a 1" or more head space. I tended to go with more head space just to be safe and because I like the 4-6 egg quantity per jar.
4. Label jars with the number of eggs and date.
5. Put in the freezer for up to one year.

In total, I froze 40 eggs tonight. I would have kept going, but I ran out of small jars.

The chickens will be excited to get all of those shells in the morning, too!

Easy Peasy!!! Jars of eggs for the winter. Hallelujah!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cocky Rocky, the Rooster

Rocky and Spinderella (pic from last fall)
Rocky, the rooster, is exhibiting his cockiness a little too frequently. The moment one of us opens the coop door for the hens in the morning, Rocky hops out and waits to say hello to his hens. Each lady peeks out and ponders whether or not the joy of the outdoors is worth risking being Rocky's favorite gal of the A.M. Eventually, each of our lovelies decides she'll face the danger, but what a way to start the day...every day.

Lucy-poo has never fully gotten her feathers back from last fall's molting. Unfortunately, I don't see her feathers growing back anytime soon. Rocky's feet grab onto her sides, exactly where her bare skin is already showing. Her neck is also nearly featherless. And I think her skin is getting sun-burned.

Check our her  neck too.

Up close. Poor Lucy!
What to do?  I called our chicken doctor, and she assured me this is all natural. I guess so, but I wonder if this is really too much. Do I need more hens? Should I separate the hens from Rocky for a while? I've hesitated in doing that because it is summertime, and there is not a lot of shade on either parts of our run.And after all, despite Rocky's exploits, I really do love the guy.

Chicken people and non-chicken people, help! Am I being too sensitive, or should I protect my ladies from their overzealous roo? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gardening: Good for the Soul

I'm not going to lie. I had a hard week. Those that know me personally know that I had invested a lot of time and energy in a little Wisconsin election held recently. My side didn't win, and it hit me hard. The first few days afterward, I walked around aimlessly, trying to fight back a sense of hopelessness. Today, I bounced back. I attribute it to the black dirt underneath my fingernails and the farmer's tan I'm currently (proudly) sporting. Today, I realized just how good gardening is for the soul. And as the saying goes, "Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes."

Because of the aforementioned election, I've gotten a bit behind in the garden (and on this blog). Despite our wonderfully early spring, tasks were not getting completed. Nature did not make this any easier: our new soil quickly filled with weeds, transplants got eaten by our resident ground squirrels, and wind gusts knocked out several of our stronger plants. Today, we started many projects anew. 

The silver lining of having some of our planned gardens end up with only withered transplants is that we have FREEDOM to plant whatever we want. I took our large bag of seeds outside and sort of randomly picked what to plant. A lot of my favorites are currently happily germinating. Dry bean plants will soon be crawling up our chicken run netting, and I'll be making kale chips galore.

I recently read a book about the experience of "flow" ~ a state of complete immersion in an experience -- time passes quickly, and despite being tired, you happily persist. I experienced this state today. Pulling weeds, watering, hoeing the soil, planting seeds, pulling, watering, planting, pulling, watering, planting. Finally, twelve garden beds later, I looked up, saw Andy immersed in his own work, and I went in for a glass of iced tea. Content. Free. Peaceful. 

This post is not to over-dramatize this day or experience; rather, I believe quite often harmony comes to us when we simply sit back and do what nature intended. Could another activity bring me so close to the earth? My undergraduate class which involved reading only Thoreau and Emerson is soaring back to me...I think those transcendentalists really were onto something.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First Weeks of Beekeeping

Three weeks into beekeeping
We got bees! Finally! After 1.5 years of a  vacant top-bar beehive, perfectly situated among apple, pear, and mulberry trees, our hive is full of active, working, and -we hope- happy honeybees. Fearful that bees would be swarming our yard, making it unsafe for our puppy or chickens to frolic without getting stung, I am happily surprised that my worst-case scenario beekeeping anxieties have been put to rest. Instead, I find our honeybees working earnestly, going to and fro from fruit trees and flowers to their hive and back again. It is memorizing and inspiring. So focused are these bees. So peaceful is it to sit among them and watch.

Our bees arrived three weeks ago, and like any new venture in life, starting to keep bees required that we did some research. The morsels of knowledge that we gained that we'd like to share are all, in our opinions, important and useful for those wishing to possibly take the bee plunge too.

  • First, we decided to get a top-bar beehive. Though there will not be as much honey to extract using this type, it is a model that resembles the natural way a colony of bees would build a hive. In this way, it is said to be a more humane model. 
  • Second, your hive should be placed where it will be in the sun in the morning and early afternoon, but in  the shade in the afternoon and evening. Many people place their hives where there are flowers and trees to pollinate. Be sure your hive is not too close to the road. Bees can get hit by cars too! 
  • Make sure your bees have access to water. We are currently using a Tupperware lid. Place sticks in the water so that the bees have something to land on.
  • Once your bees arrive, check that the queen is still alive. Ours came in a screened box with a candy plug. While the colony adjusts to her scent and accepts her as their queen, they will eat the candy and release her. The hope is that by the time that they eat through the candy, the queen will be accepted and the bees will begin laying eggs and building a comb. 
    • Do not release the queen early. She could die. The other bees may kill her. They should let her out within five days.
  • Many of our bees were dead when we opened the box. Try to order from the most local place possible. Check with local honey producers. They may have swarms to sell.
  • Feed the bees a honey and water mixture twice a week for the first few weeks. You can stop when the bees have established themselves, and there are enough flowers and trees to keep the bees happy and satisfied. 
    • NOTE: it has recently been in the news that the chemicals used in corn production could be the cause for some colonies dying. Some beekeepers use corn syrup instead of honey to feed the bees. Because most corn syrup comes from corn that has been hit with loads of pesticides, this is not a good idea for the health of your buzzing little friends. Thank you, Monsanto!
One week into beekeeping

Check out our video of bees, three weeks in!

Just like our venture into chicken keeping, this adventure has broadened our perspectives and put us one step closer to being in tune with all things good . .  and sweet.  Cliche, yes, but sometimes, lying back in the grass on a sunny day, listening to the slight buzzing of the bees, the coos of the chickens, and the dreams of our dog, I can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of thankfulness.