Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Egg Sale

It's a week full of "firsts":

  • My first apple pie
  • My first immersion blender
  • My first chicken pot pie
  • My first egg sale

    One of Jim's customers bought a dozen of my girls' brown eggs tonight for the tidy sum of $2.00. He was happy to have brown eggs! Jim's offered them to all of our customers and they usually say they'll get some the next time they come out. It would be so nice if the chooks would pay for their own feed! I am getting 9 eggs on average a day now. They don't seem to be affected by the shorter days and the colder weather...yet. It remains to be seen what they will think of November and December weather.

This year has been full of other "firsts" as well.

It feels good to sell those eggs. We have all the eggs we can use and we also share them with family members. It's not my goal to get rich selling eggs, not by any means. I'd be happy if the egg money would pay for the corn and layer ration. It will be fun to see if we get any regular egg customers. I'm just enjoying the fact that there are others out there who appreciate brown eggs for their goodness and are willing to pay a couple dollars for some.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Chicken Pot Pie

Now that I've learned how to make a good pie crust, I decided to put my culinary skills to the test and see if I could make a good chicken pot pie. I got the pie crust recipe from Children In The Corn.

My goal was to find a chicken pot pie recipe that used fresh ingredients. I didn't want any condensed soup in it. Not that I have anything against condensed soup but I wanted this pie to be completely from scratch. This recipe fit my requirements.

This was a two day recipe for me. I wanted to have the chicken cooked and ready to go before I put the pie together the next day. I stewed one of my former roosters in the crock pot last night until the meat fell off the bones. After cutting it up I put it in a container in the fridge to save until I was ready to use it in the pot pie today.

When I got started in the kitchen at 11 today I made the crust first then wrapped it in plastic wrap and chilled it in the fridge while I cut up the vegetables. If I had it to do over again I would have either left the salt out of the recipe or used unsalted butter. With a savory dish like chicken pot pie a slightly salty crust is OK, but I wouldn't want to use it with something sweet without eliminating some of the salt.

One of the side dishes was acorn squash puree. I prepared the acorn squash and put it in the crock pot (my crock pot is getting a lot of use lately) with two apples and some crushed pineapple and spices. The squash was ready to puree at 4 and I used my new immersion blender to do the job. I spooned it into some small custard cups and froze what remained for another day. I had pulled a container of my homemade applesauce out of the freezer last night for another side dish. It was thawed and ready to serve.

Without a doubt this was the best chicken pot pie I've ever had. The chicken was tender and flavorful, the blend of vegetables was perfect and the broth from the stewed chicken made it all come together in a wonderfully tasty way. Now that I've had homemade pot pie I'll never be the same.

Cooking from scratch takes a lot of time and effort. It's worth it to have wholesome, nutritious food at a lower cost though. Prepared foods are handy, but for the best flavor nothing beats homemade!

Monday, October 27, 2008

100 Words or Less

Here's the deal: I want a bread machine and you're going to sell me one. There are so many out there on the market today that I don't even know where to begin. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to recommend a bread machine for me in 100 words or less.

Alright, it doesn't have to be 100 words, but I do want to know the pros and cons of the particular machine you chose. It needs to fit into my budget as well--I'd prefer to spend less than $100.

The only feature I'm certain that I want is the ability to make just dough without the machine baking it. If I want to make rolls, for example, I'd want the machine to do the mixing and kneading for me, but allow me to do the baking part in my oven.

Size is also important to me. I don't want one that will take up much more room than my toaster oven or Kitchen Aid stand mixer. (I know, tough criteria!)

Ok, I'm ready. Lay it on me!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Immersion Blender

I'm finding excuses to use my new immersion blender. I originally bought it to make my own homemade mayonnaise. I used a hand mixer the first time I made it and I had to stand at the kitchen counter for eternity to get the consistency I wanted. The immersion blender did it, and did a better job too, in 45 seconds! The day after I got it I made Crock Pot Applesauce. The blender turned it into a silky dessert.

Today I am making chili in the slow cooker. I had a bag of frozen tomatoes from my mother-in-law's garden but I also had a huge tomato on the counter--the last of this year's tomatoes from my own plant. I didn't have any plans to use it and it was just sitting there threatening to rot. So I got the idea I'd use it in the chili. After blanching and peeling it I chopped it into chunks and put it in my 4 cup glass measuring cup.

I put the blades all the way at the bottom of the cup then angled them slightly to allow the chunks to get under them. The whole process took less than a minute!

That huge tomato made just over 2 cups of puree which I promptly poured into the slow cooker.

I'd recommend an immersion blenderto every cook I know. This is one of the most versatile tools I've had in the kitchen in a long time. It's about as useful as a full set of kitchen knives but it's faster!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

First Apple Pie

I have a confession to make: I am 39 years old and have never baked an apple pie from scratch...until today. What possessed me? Probably all those free apples just sitting out there in the orchard. I've always been intimidated by the thought of making my own pie crust. Sure I'll make a pie if I have refrigerated pie crust on hand. But I didn't have any today. What I did have was about 10 pounds of those darn apples just sitting there on the counter staring me in the face. I used half of them to make another batch of Crock Pot Applesauce. I couldn't just throw the rest of them to the chooks--after all, these were good quality apples! So I bit the proverbial bullet and got out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook to find a pie crust recipe.

The directions for deep dish apple pie seemed simple enough. And wouldn't you know it, I had just the right number of apples left after making the applesauce! I enlisted the help of Derek to peel them while I set about making my first pie crust. You know what? It was really easy and it didn't require cooking skills to rival Martha Stewart's! The process was so simple that I won't be intimidated by pie crusts anymore. Here's how the final product looked. I made the cutouts using the apple corer and a paring knife. That lovely yellow pie pan was my grandmother's. It was just the right size for a deep dish pie.

I peeled and cored so many apples today that I had enough scraps for the chickens and the ducks. During dinner I glanced out the glass doors and noticed a very small, cute female wild mallard swimming with our gang of ducks. They seemed to be enjoying each other's company and neither party was hostile toward the other. It was fun to watch them staring at each other as if to say, "Boy, don't you look different!"

After all the work in the kitchen today I am definitely ready to put my feet up and relax. It smells wonderful in the house. The applesauce is cooling and when it's ready I'll put it in the freezer. Jim isn't a big fan of applesauce but after two helpings of mine tonight he ordered me to make more! It feels good to have made so many homemade goodies today, but I am beat!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Crock Pot Applesauce

This weekend promises to be cool and rainy, and by the looks of things the weatherman wasn't lying. Before the rain arrived, I went out into the orchard this morning and filled my 2.5 gallon bucket with dropped apples to make applesauce in the crock pot.Kim over at Achorn Farm gave me the idea. I picked up a mix of Yellow Delicious and Gala apples. After peeling and coring, I cut the apples into chunks and put them in the crock pot along with 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 cinnamon sticks. I let it cook on "High" for 3 hours then used my new immersion blender to puree the applesauce to a fine texture. If you don't have an immersion blender get one. You'll throw your countertop blender away!

While the applesauce simmered I took a nap. The house smelled wonderful when I woke up with apple and cinnamon smells throughout the whole house!

The peels and cores from four pounds of apples filled a large Cool Whip container which went out to the chickens. I think they appreciated it. I keep this plastic container in the small section of the kitchen sink. Egg shells, peels, fat trimmings and any other "waste" generated in the kitchen ends up in the container which gets emptied each afternoon when I call the chickens in.

They've been eating a lot of apples this month. I go out into the orchard regularly to fill the bucket with bruised fruit left on the ground after the apples were picked. I love the whole "I feed you, you feed me" principle. I feed my chickens all of my kitchen "waste"...

...and in return they feed me the best eggs I've ever had.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Captive Audience

Derek brought the bass clarinet home from school Friday. He's going to play it in the school band and since he already plays the clarinet it is easy for him. He practiced his scales in front of a captive audience. They stop quacking and float and listen to the sounds. I think they like it!


I have been patiently waiting for my first dozen eggs from the chooks. I knew I was getting close this week because they have been consistently laying 8 - 10 eggs each day. Last week they laid 11 on Saturday! Well guess what? They laid 13 yesterday! They skipped right over the first dozen and instead laid a baker's dozen! That makes 61 eggs so far this week, not counting what they'll lay this weekend. I've got Derek on egg gathering duties today with strict instructions to keep track of how many he collects. If that stubborn Ollie would lay I could get 14 in one day!

This was my expression when Derek brought in the last 3 eggs of the day.

Tonight for supper I'm making my pepper, onion and sausage scramble with sausage patties on the side. Everyone loves it and it's a great way to use up a lot of eggs. And of course the crumbled egg shells go right back out to the chickens.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moulting Ducks

Rosanna's jumbo egg turned out to be a double yolker just as I thought it would. I scrambled it along with 10 others, some salt and pepper and a dash of curry (thanks for the suggestion Ruth!) I served the eggs with some bacon and toast and sent the guys off with fully bellies this morning. Then I went back to bed and crashed till 10.

We got some good rain last night as a cold front moved through. The temperature is much cooler today and once again I have to wear a jacket when I go outside. Bummer.

I was sitting in the office typing up yesterday's blog entry when the ducks began taking their mid-day bath. They are moulting right now and they get pretty vigorous with their splashing. I think it's an attempt to knock off the baby feathers. I think it must make a bird itchy to moult. Lots of diving and splashing going on here!

They flap their wings against the water just the way the chickens flap their wings against the dirt when they dust bathe. Here you can see some more diving action too.

Jumbo Egg Surprise

If you have chickens, you're bound to get a jumbo egg sooner or later. When I gathered the morning's eggs I found this gargantuan orb beneath our Australorp pullet, Rosanna. I was so stunned I actually exclaimed, "Wow! Rosanna!" I didn't know she had it in her! I can't wait to show it to the boys. They won't believe their eyes. I'm sure it's a double yolker but won't know until I crack it tomorrow morning. I'm planning to get up at 5 a.m. (*gasp, wheeze*) like I did last week to make breakfast for everyone.

I tried to weigh this egg on our digital UPS scale but it was too light to register. I had to use my kitchen scale and near as I can figure this egg weighs around 2.6 ounces. The USDA says that a large egg weighs 2 oz, an extra large weighs 2.25 oz, and a jumbo egg weighs 2.5 oz. It's so big I can't keep it in the egg carton with the other eggs because I can't close the lid!

Rosanna is a sweet girl and a bit of an airhead. She's Derek's pullet and she was the first one to be named because she was the first chick in the brooder box to run out to greet us. Here she is as a baby.

And here she is today with the flock (far right black bird) grazing in the grass. Don't the neighbor's woods make a lovely background?

I got another surprise today. I noticed a hint of pink amongst the cattails on the opposite side of the pond. Earlier in the spring I received a free packet of cosmos seeds that I sprinkled along the edge of the pond. I was hoping for a wildflower patch there. And wouldn't you know it? A few of those cosmos grew to maturity. How pretty!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Harvest Moon

The sunset this evening was just beautiful. Look at those colors! I can't even do them justice with my camera. Sunsets like these remind me of the opening scene in "Gone With The Wind" when the camera pulls back and you can see Scarlet and Mr. O'Hara silhouetted against the setting sun. "Ah, but you're just a child. It will come to you in time, this love of the land."

The moon is huge tonight and since there is no breeze its reflection in the pond is undisturbed. The ducks are using it for a night light and are refusing to go to bed. I can hear them outside the window whispering secrets to each other. Part of their evening routine includes waddling from their daytime area to the yard next to the house. As they do, they walk along the beach in a Pass and Review formation. We try to get out there in time to watch the parade, but usually we aren't fast enough. No matter, they make several passes before deciding it really is time to settle in for the night. They nibble the grass as they go and chase after any bugs they stir up. Occasionally one will salute with a long wing flap.

They have done such a good job of cleaning up the coon tail in the pond we can now see the gravel in the bottom of the shallow end where before we could only see green goop and coon tail! Amazing! They work like little underwater vacuum cleaners, sucking up all the bottom material and filtering it through their specialized bills. Have you ever seen the inside edge of a duck's bill? It is very similar to whale baleen. All the mud and silt slips through the tiny ridges while the crustaceans and pond weeds remain trapped inside. What a brilliant design! I've done an unofficial head count and it looks like I have 3 hens and 5 drakes.

The chickens are laying 8-11 eggs each day now. Only one pullet isn't laying...Ollie. I was at the store today before I picked Derek up from football practice and noticed that they had overripe bananas on sale. I got six for 48 cents! I used them to make two loaves of banana bread which I will share with my mom and in-laws. Having all these eggs on hand has made it easy for me to do a lot of baking lately. Yesterday I made a carrot cake. I've also discovered that all the male-types in the house love egg salad sandwiches. The first time I made it last week I used 8 eggs and it was gone that night! I'll have to use a dozen this week! It's such a great feeling to be able to gather these wonderful eggs each day and use them to feed my family. The icing on the cake is that the chickens aren't eating much feed right now, so the eggs are essentially free! And those organic, free-range eggs are wonderful.

A friend at work gave me three pheasants from a batch of his birds that he butchered last week. I will roast them this week and give him an evaluation this weekend. He's so proud of his birds. I love my birds too and it's nice to have other "bird people" at work to swap stories with. I never realized how much I would enjoy having the chickens and ducks on the property.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Harvest Moon & Bonfire

It's that time of year again. Time to burn the brush pile in the windbreak. This year's pile was the remaining branches and twigs from the huge black willow that was blown down by a strong storm in June. The fire was huge and was so hot that I had to back up about 20 feet! I was planning to sit out by the fire and enjoy a cup of coffee but it burned out too quickly so I headed back home.

My cousin was harvesting his bean field on the other side of the road. I enjoy the sight of combines in the field this time of year.

When I got back to the house I turned to look up at the moon and saw this picture. I love those huge Austrian Pines in the front yard. They look so sturdy, so beautiful.

Tomorrow is the Oak Harbor Apple Festival in town. We go every year to enjoy the food and the parade. A friend of my mom's lives along the parade route and she invites everyone in to enjoy the huge spread she cooks up each year. Then we all sit in her lawn and watch the parade at noon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Changing Seasons

It was 37 degrees outside when I got home this morning. I am not mentally prepared for winter yet; I haven't even embraced the idea. I don't cope with change very well but once it is upon me, and I have no choice, I face the change and adapt to it. And so now I must face the fact that I can't come home from work on a humid summer morning and sit on the lawn to watch the chooks catch bugs. Now I have to don an extra jacket and hurry through the morning chores of feeding the birds and letting them out before scurrying inside to shower and curl up in my cocoon of blankets to sleep my day away. My consolation is that winter will pass and be followed by spring, glorious spring!

I wonder how the chooks will cope with their first winter. I deliberately chose breeds that could stand a harsh winter. There are no frou-frou chickies in my gang who will have to have heated coops to survive cold weather. I watch them eating their soup can full of sunflower seeds in the mornings and wonder, do they even feel the cold with all those feathers? I've learned that feathers have better insulating properties than hair so it stands to reason that my birds don't even care. And the ducks...they are happily feeding in the pond each morning! Don't those silly ducks feel that bone chilling water? The ducks have even more feathers than the chickens, so obviously they don't get cold in the water. I envy them. If only I were insulated so well!

This weekend is the Oak Harbor Apple Festival. We are going to have some good food there and then sit in a friend's lawn to watch the parade at noon. I love small town festivals. Marching bands, fire engines and food vendors make for a pleasant distraction from the chill in the air. I'm not a huge fan of apples though. My grandpa ran the family apple orchard along with his brother Richard. I guess I got burned out on apples when I was growing up. I can still eat apples but I prefer them when they're right off the tree and have never been refrigerated. It affects their flavor just like tomatoes. Baking with apples is different; it doesn't seem to matter as much if the apple was refrigerated beforehand. One of my favorite desserts is my homemade apple crisp! While I'm out in the orchard gathering apples for the kitchen I fill a 2 gallon bucket with bruised apples for the chickens. They nibble on the fruits over a few days until there's nothing left of them but the peels.

Farmers in our area are busy harvesting their fields. Everywhere I go I see them out driving their harvesters at all hours of the day. I really like it when my cousin harvests at night and has the lights on the combine turned on. It looks like a gigantic mechanical locust lumbering through the field, devouring everything in its path.

I checked saplings this week to assess my losses after this summer's drought. I've lost about 10%, which is what I figured last month. The ones that survived seem healthy and strong. Perhaps this is for the best. The drought weeded out the weak ones that may have been problem trees 20 years from now. I have a nice looking Scarlet oak and the little Sweet Gum is turning red. I'm so glad to see those two alive--I really want them on the property years from now. Their vibrant fall colors will be breathtaking! I planted a large variety of trees for color, food for wildlife (oaks, cherries, service berries, hazelnuts) and windbreak properties. It's a good feeling to seem them growing and sinking their roots into the ground.

The chickens set a new egg laying record today: 11 eggs!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Headless Ducks and Football Games

Just in time for Halloween: headless ducks!

Our 8th grade football team beat our longtime rivals 28-21 tonight! My voice is a bit hoarse from all the yelling I did. Derek was thrilled by the victory, even if he only got to play one play. My butt was a bit chapped by that, but I'll keep my mouth shut. Two more games and the season is over.

It was very chilly and windy at the game. Mom and I bundled up and shared a fleece blanket and I gave her a spare pair of chenille gloves. The only thing I was missing was my sheerling slippers. At one point I got a little over-excited and shoved her a *bit*. She got me back later on in the game with a slap on the arm. Yeah, we're brutal like that.

Only six eggs today and seven yesterday. I think I got spoiled to getting 10 a day last week. Perhaps the girls have noticed the shorter days and the cool, cloudy weather. The number of bugs has declined as well although there is still plenty of green grass for them to eat. I gave mom a dozen eggs today when she came over to go to the football game with me. I can't complain really. I've had more than enough eggs to do all of my cooking and baking. And, get this, I even had Derek wake me up at 5 a.m. (*gasp, wheeze*) this morning to make breakfast for everyone before they all headed off in their different directions. They enjoyed a hot breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and toast and thanked me. They know that, normally, the only reason I'm up at 5 a.m. is because I've worked the whole night anyway. So for me to get up at 5 a.m. (and even ask them to wake me *gasp, wheeze*) is truly a monumental effort on my part. It wasn't that bad really. I went back to bed when they all left the house. Honestly it felt really good to send them all off with a hot breakfast in their bellies. I think I'll try to do this once a week during my weeks off. Why do we women feel the need to feed everyone?

This evening I baked some chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. I like to bake on cool evenings like this. I refuse to turn the furnace on just yet so baking helps take the chill out of the air and the lingering scent of fresh baked goodies makes the house smell so nice. The boys will find freshly baked muffins waiting for them in the morning. I have some big apples that I picked up from the ground in the orchard this afternoon that I will use for an apple crisp. Of course I picked up some bruised apples for the chooks to eat while I was out there. I've also got several gigantic tomatoes still on the vine that are ready for slicing. I'll use one on the burgers I'm grilling for supper tomorrow. I used one in a salad yesterday and it was wonderful! I'm thinking next year will be the year I start a garden. I like having fresh veggies on hand and they're even better when they've come from the family land.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Autumn Day

Autumn arrived with a vengeance today. It's cool, brisk and downright chilly out there with a strong wind blowing from the northwest. I can so relate to the lady who writes "It Blows Here".

This blustery day gave me the opportunity to check the coop for drafty areas and get it ready for winter. I spent an hour or so sealing drafty spots and covering the vents. I left only one vent open and it faces south. It was difficult to work without feeling like I was interrupting the chooks' egg laying. I tried to work quickly and get out of their way.

Out of 14 pullets only two are not yet laying at 6 months of age. Ollie and Poppy (Orp and Australorp) are refusing to participate. I had a talk with Poppy yesterday and she said she'd get started soon. Ollie is another story. Ollie only does things on her terms. She told me to stuff it. Even though she's stubborn, Ollie is a pleasure to hold. She is tightly feathered, like a duck, and feels like a big poofy pillow.

Betty bit my lower lip last night. She's a mean little wench, that ornery little Barred Rock! Yes, I am the one who requires supervision when in close proximity to the chooks. You'd think I'd have learned by now. Surely I should know better than to get my "sure-looks-like-a-fat-and-juicy-worm" lower lip within reach of Betty, but NOOOOOOO! Anyway, I've still got a sore and somewhat split lower lip tonight. That girl's got the fastest beak in the midwest I tell ya!

In a nut shell, it blows here and Betty bites!

Tomorrow the 8th grade football team takes on our longtime rivals. Derek is psyched and said he's going to give their linemen a run for the money! It's going to be fun but cold. I'll take along a blanket and a warm jacket. Dontcha just love football weather?