Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Here it is, Christmas Eve again.  Charlie and I are enjoying a slow paced day together, listening to Christmas music on the radio, baking cookies, wrapping a few gifts, and preparing for my family to arrive tomorrow morning.  What a nice way to spend a day!

I just finished making some Peanut Butter Cookies that are moist and chewy -- and just happen to be gluten free as well.  I thought I'd share the recipe because it is so simple and tasty.  A friend from work brought these cookies to a potluck and they were a smash!  She makes them in her toaster oven and it works out just fine.  I've doubled her recipe and baked them in a 350 degree oven.  
Mix together:
2 cups peanut butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

Stir the ingredients together well.  Form the dough into walnut sized balls and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Use a fork to press down on the ball a little and give the cookie that signature peanut butter cookie look.  Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.  They will still look a bit moist when you take them out.  Let them cool for a few minutes then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.  The cookies are very fragile until they are done cooling -- despite my friend's warnings, I broke the first one I took off the baking sheet.
I also added chocolate kisses to some of the cookies after they came out of the oven.  Who can complain about chocolate on top of their peanut butter?!?

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or "Festivus for the Rest-of-Us".  Whatever you celebrate -- do it well!  Live it up!  Love one another -- spread Peace and Goodwill -- all of the good stuff that we need more of on this earth.  Stay safe if you are traveling.  Oh, and don't eat too many cookies.  :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Chicken Coop in Cold Weather

Living in Michigan, I was concerned about how my chickens would tolerate the cold weather.  First, I specifically chose some breeds that do better in frigid temperatures.  I looked for chickens with small combs (less chance of frostbite) and ones that don't mind confinement (some go crazy not being allowed to free-range year round).

Second, I tried to get a weather resistant coop.  It has insulation on the roof and walls, and I've placed a thick layer of straw down to keep their feet warm.  I've positioned the one window in the coop towards the South to take advantage of what little daylight we have.  

On the day this photo was taken, it was in the upper 20's outside.  Inside the coop, the thermometer read 45 degrees.  I'm still concerned for when it gets really cold outside.  I'll have to check their water a couple times a day to make sure it hasn't frozen over.  My parents gave me a length of heat tape that I have considered rigging up somehow -- or perhaps a lamp.  I guess I am still researching my options.

Anyway, they seem to be doing well so far.  I can already tell they would like to be outside and eating grass and bugs.  I guess we all get cabin fever from this weather.

So, we are one week away from Christmas... yikes!  I've got a lot to do between now and then.  I've got the week off of work (yippee!) and plan to spend a couple of days in Grand Rapids to visit a couple of friends and my family.  Then I've got a bunch of cleaning and baking/cooking to do before my family comes over here for Christmas day.  Oh, and don't forget about wrapping... and decorating... and...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dutch Pancakes

When you start raising chickens for their eggs, eventually you start to look for recipes that make good use of your eggy abundance.  This past week I made a recipe that was both delicious and helped use the eggs that I've been stockpiling -- Dutch Pancakes (a.k.a. German pancake or Souffled pancake).

There are a variety of recipes available on-line, but I took my recipe from a book that I've been adoring lately.  I've omitted the fruit topping recipe that is in the book -- although it looks amazing, I just stuck with maple syrup for the topping.  I also omitted orange zest from the batter because I didn't have any.  I'm going to list the recipe as I made it, then encourage you to buy the book to get the real thing.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Beat together 4 eggs, 2 Tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract with an electric mixer on medium speed.  On low speed, beat in 3/4 cup milk then 3/4 cup bread flour and a few good shakes of cinnamon (who needs measuring spoons?).  The batter is ready -- it is just that simple.

I used a nice sturdy skillet that my Grandmother gave me -- one that she used for years.  You'll want something that can go in the oven and is non-stick.  Heat the pan on the stove top and melt 2 Tbsp butter.  After the butter stops sizzling, pour in the batter and put the pan in the hot oven.  Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Then lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes.

The pancake puffs up because of the eggs and also the gluten in the bread flour.  When you pull it out of the oven, the pancake deflates in the middle, but the edges stay crispy and raised.  Add whichever toppings you prefer and serve (up to 6 servings, but Charlie and I split one for a filling breakfast).  It tastes a lot like french toast -- yum!

Now, as I stated before, this recipe was adapted from a book that I absolutely love!  When I first got my chicks this past Spring, my mother bought this book for me as a gift.  It has lovely photographs (the author is a chef and food stylist) and 125 recipes that use either eggs or chickens as key ingredients.  It is also a memoir about raising chickens on a small scale -- like I am doing.

The book is arranged seasonally -- which is a unique approach that I really like.  For instance, it starts in early Spring -- with the arrival of young chicks in the memoir, and seasonal recipes like "Herb-Buttered Chicken with Spring Vegetables".  It moves through the seasons making good use of fresh fruit and vegetables.  As a vegetarian (not vegan, obviously) I really like the egg recipes.  My husband eats meat though so I will make use of the chicken recipes as well.  I'm looking forward to trying "Baked Eggs with Basil-Mint Pesto", "Cinnamon Breakfast Popovers", and "Rhubarb Ginger Custard Bars".

I highly recommend this book and think it would make a great gift for the chicken lover in your life.  Even if you don't have chickens, the recipes are great -- and not too complicated.  This is one that you will return to over and over.  Lovely!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you and your loved ones have had a pleasant Thanksgiving Day -- I know I did.  I have so much to be thankful for in my life!
Yesterday was spent with my family a couple of hours away.  We went out for pizza to celebrate my Dad's upcoming birthday.  Today we spent with Charlie's side of the family having a more traditional Thanksgiving meal.  I brought the green bean casserole -- my favorite food on this holiday (besides pumpkin pie).
We are so blessed -- with freedom, plentiful food and clean water, work with decent wages, etc compared to the rest of the world.  Still, I find myself most thankful for my husband and our families and friends.  It is so nice to share the holiday with them and give thanks together.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat

Last week, Charlie and I went to a nearby farmer to buy a couple large bags of corn.  My husband used to work at the local grain elevator (before I ever knew him) so he knows most of the farmers -- that can come in handy sometimes.  Anyway, the farmer was working on getting his harvest into his grain dryers when we showed up.  He said he would have the corn ready within a couple of hours and to stop back and pick it up.  We went off to see "The Rum Diary" (I LOVE both Johnny Depp and Hunter Thompson!  I've been waiting for this movie for years!!!) then returned to get the corn.  I grinned when I saw the bags he packed it into.  Simple things make me smile -- including rabbits on the front of a 100 lb. sack of Michigan navy beans.

Anyway, on Monday of this week, I got a phone call from a dear friend of mine who was trying to help another friend find a home for a pet rabbit.  I had been considering raising angora rabbits for their fur -- even got a book on the subject last year.  I hadn't been considering a pet though.  Well, the rabbit needed a good home and the gal was also giving away everything I would need to take care of it (cage, hutch, water bottle, a bag of food, etc.) so I decided to adopt the rabbit.  He is a cutie pie -- don't you agree?

So, I have another animal that I can spoil rotten.  Here he is helping me dispose of some lettuce -- he also gets carrots to gnaw on.  He is a mini-rex and as soft as can be.  Oh, and he is litter trained.  Bonus!
His name is "Kee kee" (the gal tells me she got it from a school teacher -- I'm wondering if the class room kids named him?).  I've started to call him "Kinker" since it sounds like his real name but it has more meaning to me.  You see, whenever we play cards with my friends, Charlie calls a pair of kings "a pair of kinkers".  
I'm looking for advice from those of you who have experience raising rabbits.  What should I feed him?  What should I avoid?  Any advice about any aspect of rabbit ownership is welcome.

To wrap things up, I just had to throw this video in-- since Bullwinkle always tried so hard to pull a rabbit out of his hat (but never succeeded).  You might enjoy this -- depending on your age.  : )  Have a great remainder of your week and an amazing weekend!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The New Coop and the Quiche Factory

This is the new 4'X6' chicken coop that the chickens are going to call home this winter.  In the photo above, you can see that it has a row of nesting boxes that are accessible from the outside.  On one end there is a window and a door for the chickens to enter and exit (with a ramp).  On the opposite sides are the door that I can enter through and as you can see in the photo below (left), a vent for warm weather.
I've placed their water on a crate and hung their food from one of the rafters to keep the bedding from getting kicked into them.  I may get a heated water dispenser for the cold -- but I'm not sure.  Does anyone have any experience with those?

The interior has a couple of roosts and plenty of room for the chickens to run around.  It has 6 nesting boxes -- many more than 7 chickens actually need.  Here, the chickens are excited about the pile of treats I gave them this weekend (apple slices and the last of the garden squash).  I call the chickens a "Quiche Factory".  They are putting out a couple of eggs a day -- brown, fresh, and so tasty!

This is Ruby.  She is my most aggressive chicken at this point.  She comes right up to me to try to grab any treats I might have in my hands -- and she often ends up chomping on my fingers instead.  She is at the top of the pecking order from what I can tell.  She is a pretty chicken though and as long as she lays eggs and doesn't hurt the other ladies she can stick around.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Michigan International Alpaca Fest

Alpacas!!!  Lots and lots of alpacas!!!  Last weekend my mother and I went to the Michigan International Alpaca Fest in Grand Rapids and had the chance to learn more about them.  I knew I loved the feel of their fur and... well... they are just so dang cute!  

Being able to get up close to the alpacas was a really neat experience.  Did you know they hum?  They don't kick and are pretty mellow, but not exactly tame.  The only one we saw that really craved his owner's attention had been bottle-fed after it's mother refused to take care of it.  They do need to be around other alpacas but they don't really cuddle.

We watched the alpacas compete for ribbons.  Well, their owners competed -- the alpacas just tolerated it.  The judge would check them all over and pull out tufts of their coats and lay them on his sleeve.  It was fun to watch.
The owners proudly displayed various ribbons from prior shows in their stalls -- along with information about breeding or buying their alpacas.

A gal I work with raises alpacas and was there with three of her own (shown above).  They won several ribbons the day after this photo was taken.  Way to go!

There were also numerous booths with socks, mittens, yarn, etc. for sale.  The only thing I really wanted was a drop spindle and some fiber to try making my own yarn.  I've been messing around with the one I ended up getting, but I can see this is going to take a little practice.  Once I get the hang of it, I'll have to post a bit of a how-to on this blog.
What a fun experience we had at the Alpaca Fest!  Can you believe it was a free event?  Oh, and I was invited to a farm open-house in December by one of the breeders at the show.  I'm not looking at owning alpacas at this point -- but I definitely enjoyed learning more about them and being able to start crafting yarn with their fluffy coats.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Broomcorn and Chickens

I saw broom corn in a seed catalogue last winter and decided to take a stab at growing it.  No - I don't intend to construct a broom -- but I could if I wanted to.  I knew that broom corn is decorative and I pictured a large cluster of broom corn, pumpkins and mums on my front step.  That hasn't come together yet, but the corn looks nice leaning against the house.  I read somewhere that chickens enjoy broom corn after you take down your Fall decorations.  That convinced me to try it!
The broom corn did much better than my sweet corn did.  It was quick to shoot up and grew quite tall.  Bugs seemed to leave it alone and it was basically carefree.  Just plant it and a few months later, harvest it.  Now that is my kind of gardening!
Oh, and the chickens LOVE it!  I will stick one of the stalks in to the coop and they'll have the corn picked off within a couple of hours -- leaving the broom bristles behind.  I give them one stalk every few days as part of a steady rotation of treats.
They get chicken feed and fresh water every day, but that must get boring.  They get fresh grass when we move the chicken tractor around to a new patch of grass -- but that doesn't happen often enough because of how much it weighs.  So, every afternoon I try to give them something special to switch things up.  Today they got 2 pieces of stale bread and some leftovers from a baby shower I attended today (an oriental style salad with baby corn, peppers, chow mein noodles, etc. and some fruit).  Oh, and they got a couple of cherry tomatoes too.  That little bit of variety makes them very happy.

Aren't the girls beautiful?  And they are quite large now too!  My little chicks have grown up it to lovely young hens.  Oh, and they finally started laying eggs to earn their keep.  I'm steadily getting one or two eggs a day between the seven of them.  I'm sure production will increase as they mature.  The eggs are small, but beautiful.  They are different shades of browns, and different sizes and shapes as well. 

This week we ended up purchasing a new coop.  This is the last one, darn it!  Charlie had bought me one for Christmas last year -- but it ended up being too small and I had some security concerns (it didn't look predator-proof).  Then, we built a nice summer home for them.  It worked out very well, but I'm concerned it is not going to keep the cold of winter out and that it is still too small for seven full grown birds.  So, we broke down and did it.  We bought an Amish coop.  It was not cheap.  I hate spending that kind of money on some chickens, but the coop will last for many years to come.  Let me tell you -- keeping chickens is an expensive hobby.  I know we could do it for a lot less money than we have so far, but I guess it is part of the learning curve.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So, I'm wondering what you think of this new layout that has offered.  I like how you can choose different ways to browse through the various blog posts and the emphasis on the photography on several of those views.  I don't like the fact that I can't have my listing of favorite blogs on the side.  
So, what do you think?  Should I keep the new style or go back to the older version?
Also, what kind of content would you like to see more of in the future?  (garden, chicken, crafts, recipes, photography, etc)
I can't guarantee anything -- but I'd love to hear what you think.  Please, please comment.  Thanks y'all.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tetons, Yellowstone, and Little Bighorn -- the Last Batch of Vacation Photos

This is the last batch of vacation photos that I am going to post.  Enjoy...

Just east of the Grand Tetons

View of a Glacier

A view just north of the southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful

The effects of fire

Wyoming was a beautiful state -- this was shot as we were leaving and entering Montana

Wide open spaces, awesome wildlife!

We took a back road -- desolate and beautiful

Buzzards - catching some rays

Finally, we visited Little Bighorn.  So full of history you can almost hear an echo of the battle.

Native American encampment area at Little Bighorn.

You can click on any of the photos to get a larger view of the details.  I know a lot of people compress their images or add watermarks to their images to prevent theft.  I don't compress mine very much.  Perhaps I should, but I tend to trust most people not to steal my photography.  If you want to use one for something, just ask me.
Anyway, we've been back from vacation for a couple of weeks now.  I'm getting used to my new position at my company.  It is VERY fast paced and the day just flies by.  Things are still new to me and I can't wait to feel comfortable with my daily tasks.  
It is almost 9:30 PM and I am thinking about going to bed.  4:30 AM comes quickly and I need to be well-rested.  I have some nice Autumn photos to post this week and I want to show you how I am putting up the harvest.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad

I'm taking a break from all the nature photography to offer up a recipe I made from my last good haul of tomatoes from my garden (a few weeks ago).  It's called Panzanella salad -- it is easy to make and you can add or subtract from this recipe as you please:

Gather heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil from the garden, red onion, garlic, green olives, and fresh mozzarella -- chop, chop, chop.  Blend olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper.  Mix it all up.  Use day old crusty bread and chunk it up.  Mix the bread in a few minutes before serving.  It soaks up all the juices and softens up.  This salad doesn't really keep more than a day because the bread gets too soft -- but don't worry -- it disappears quickly.  Healthy and delicious!!!

See, I told you it is easy!  You could also use cucumber or bell pepper and feta cheese instead of mozzarella.  It is really up to you.  Look around the internet for other recipes to see the variations or if you are the kind of person who wants to know specific measurements.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vacation Photos - Part 2. Some of my favorites

The day we spent exploring the Grand Tetons, smoke was thick in the air.  The smoke came from control fires that had been lit nearby.  I'm really happy with the resulting photographs though.  We kept running into photographers with their tri-pods and huge lenses that were complaining about the smoke, but you gotta roll with it -- use it to your advantage, ya know?  The mountains were breathtaking!  These photos hardly do them justice... 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vacation Photos, Part 1

As promised, I have some photos to share from our vacation "Out West".  I'll be posting them over the next several days.  I hope you enjoy them.  This first batch is heading from East to West through Nebraska and Wyoming.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I am still alive folks -- I know it has been a long time since I have posted anything on here.  I am on vacation (with plenty of photos coming soon).  It has been a very busy month for me with starting a new job and then taking a long vacation.  Please don't give up on me....  I really will post something on here soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

They keep growing, and growing, and growing...

The raised bed garden is still in full swing, although I can tell the end of the season is very near.  The sunflowers finally decided to show their beautiful colors.  I tried growing a giant variety and they seriously are huge!  I'm talking 12 feet tall!  I've also got broom corn that towers 9 feet tall as well.  The green beans have grown up an 8 foot teepee and are finally producing a large quantity of beans.

This was the first time I've ever tried growing okra before and I will continue to grow it in the future.  It is a unique and decorative plant that is absolutely carefree.  I planted the seeds and then next thing I knew I was frying up okra.  They show no signs of disease, mildew, pests, etc.  The unique foliage helped choke out weeds too.  If you've never tried growing them before - I would highly recommend it.

This is also my first time growing sweet potatoes in my garden.  I want to dig them up to see how big they are, but it isn't time yet.  Both the okra and the sweet potato would make an excellent addition to any edible landscaping project.  They are pretty and carefree.

The stray kitty keeps growing too.  He is a very handsome cat and he has a lot of energy!  He is always running around the yard, climbing up trees, jumping on top of the chicken coop, or attacking my leg.  Yes, he likes to play - but sometimes he gets carried away and starts getting too aggressive with me.  I'm hoping he calms down with age.

And finally, here is a photo of the chickens in their chicken tractor.  I think they are just about done growing and they are bound to start laying eggs soon.  They are turning into gorgeous birds, don't you think?