Archive | November, 2012

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens November Update!

30 Nov

So it seems like it’s been awhile since I talked about the chickens (and ducks) and given everyone an update. I mean hell, the last time I talked about them, I had a hen with a prolapse and it was warm outside and the plants were green. The hen healed up and is an egg laying machine, but the weather has changed and we’re now cold with sporadic bursts of snow, shit is dead or dormant, and the grass is getting a bit sad looking. It would appear that winter is upon us. Blech.

Where to start? Well Thor, that gorgeous rooster of ours decided he wanted to test his fighting skills…on me. While I had my arms full of bags and a weenie dog, that feathered rat bastard. It was a very enthusiastic jump up type of assault, complete with wing flapping and legs kicking. So I kicked at him to get him away from me. And made these really weird AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH gurgling noises in between screaming for the hubs. Hubs came out and they did their little chest puffing (hubs was trying to establish himself and the supreme being in the male population around here) and that seemed to get Thor to back off. I started carrying the broom around with me just in case and I did have to tap him on the ass another day when he puffed at me and got all “I’m gonna get you” on me. I told him that if he kept up that shit his pretty little feathered self was going to become dinner. Perhaps a nice Coq au Vin. I ate a piece of chicken in front of him as well, just to show him I meant business. It seems like he got his cock fight mentality out of his system, but I still carry the broom around when I’m in the yard. I bet that is a sight from the road.

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Ever heard of feather pulling hens? Ya, I’ve got multiple ladies missing feather. Actually, only 1 hen and the rooster have feathers on their bums. At first I thought it was some weird reverse molt, but once the feathers started growing back in and were pin feathers, a couple of days later they were gone. My newest guess? They’ve resorted to being bored with their beauty routines and like having naked chicken butts. Because they don’t have any lice or mites, they get lots of scratch grains, are laying regularly, everyone takes dust baths and is otherwise healthy, and no one can possibly be considered bored since they are out all day long, foraging around the yard for tasty greens and bugs. Lucky me, I got weird birds. I’m at a loss at what else I can do since if there are feather pullers, there is certainly more than 1. And I have never actually caught anyone pulling out any feathers, except for the one hen occasionally pulling on Thor.

Speaking of letting them run free, the hens reminded me that they are not always the smartest animals. They are smart enough to avoid the highway, move out-of-the-way when we pull into the driveway, and come running when they see me because I have scratch or perhaps some other tasty treat – yet somehow, they are not smart enough to stay on OUR side of the fence. Matilda ended up on the business side of the fence once, and I easily lured her fat ass through the gap with some scratch and back to the safety of our yard.

Then one night I came home from work to lock up the ladies for the night and Francine was missing. My heart sank. I figured she either decided she wanted to see WHY a chicken decided to cross the road and met her maker, became a meal for a hawk, fought a cat, or was stuck on the other side of the fence like her sister and had to hang out for the night since it was dark. Hubs and I looked high and low for her and couldn’t see her. He then called me in the morning to tell me he saw her roosted up on the other side of the fence in some Aborvitae trees. Let me tell you, chasing a chicken for 20 minutes is some good cardio first thing in the morning. Francine came to me easily – ran right under the fence and high tailed it to me, but then stopped and wanted to go back in. Well then. I figured she had to be thirsty and hungry, so scratch should have easily lured her to my open arms. No dice. Finally she did what chickens tend to do and cornered herself, where I was able to lunge, almost fall on my face, and grab a strong hold on ONE SINGLE FEATHER to get her to stop so I could carry her back to the safety of the run. As I wiped the sweat from brow that chilly 35 degree morning, complete with snow flurries, I decided the birds were staying in their run for the day. One AWOL hen was enough, and I didn’t want to have to commit to the same chicken chasing cardio the following morning. Hubs thinks she wants to go off and be a wild chicken. I think she was just too dumb to find her way back home and got stuck so she hung out.

With the days being colder and the sun setting earlier, the girls have slowed down on their egg production. We are still getting 4 eggs per day from the chickens, 1 from the duck, so no substantial losses. I am still buried in eggs even after all of my holiday baking so we are not feeling the eggless pinch just yet. I decided I didn’t want to give the hens any artificial light to keep their egg production at it’s peak. I wanted to have my first year of chicken keeping be a complete test run. If they continue to lay with a decline but still give us a couple eggs per day so I don’t have to buy any, then we’ll keep them on natural lighting next year as well. That just means no eggs for anyone else but us. I mean, they are our chickens after all, so we should reap the rewards of our efforts!

And for those of you that have never seen a chicken take a dust bath, I bring you Matilda, the Barred Plymouth Rock hen who is by far the friendliest of my hens and one of the funniest. Till next time….

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A Method to my Madness: Why I Can

26 Nov

I’m not going to lie – it was pretty freaking awesome to have all of last week off. However, having to go to work today? Totally blows. I wish my company was closed in observance of the first day of rifle hunting here in Pa. That would have been super fantastic. Because I’d still be in my pj’s just finishing up the last swig of coffee and getting ready to bring down all the Christmas decor. Sigh. Now, onto the real reason for my post!

Food Preservation – when people think of food preservation they think about their great grandparents and grandparents. They did it because times were tough and it helped to save money. It was a great way to feed their  – at many times – very large families. They did it because it was part of their immigrant heritage – their mothers did it, so they too carried on the tradition.

My bubba was a canner. She’d preserve the fruits and veggies from my pap’s well taken care of, high yielding garden. Sadly, I never got to see this part of her life because when she passed away, I was 7 and she was 92. Her canning days were behind her. My gram never canned or preserved food, therefore my mom never did. Which means I was never introduced to it. But I got into it because I like to think because it is in my blood, part of my DNA. But the real truth it that I got bored with traditional cooking and needed a challenge. I needed something different. I was already creative in the kitchen, trying new recipes and being adventurous. But food preservation? That was something totally different. There was a science to it. And the thought of having shelves full of beautiful mason jars filled with foods I had preserved was very appealing to me. But I wasn’t sure it was something that would stick for me as a hobby so I did a test before I committed to purchasing all the stuff you’d need. I made a batch of strawberry jam. That first batch of jam? It was delicious. It was sweet, it was simple, it was easy to make. And I was in love with the fact that I could recite all of the ingredients that were in it, without having to look at a label. The idea of simple preserved foods made a home in my head, and my heart. The following year, we planted a garden. I gave in, knowing I was hooked and purchased more mason jars, a canning pot, and a pressure canner because hubs wanted to can deer meat. I tried my hand at pickles, pickled peppers, and canned tomatoes. I made a batch of Apple Pie Jam. Tomato Butter. Simple things that could be processed in a water bath canner. Only enough to take up just one shelf in the basement food storage shelves. The pressure canner sat for almost a year, unused while I attempted to get over my irrational fear of it exploding and blasting me in the face with molten hot deer meat and shards of glass. The hubs used it the first time around January 2012 to cold pack a few jars of deer meat. It didn’t explode. I got over my fear and jumped into canning a whole 23qt canner full of jars of deer meat. I survived. I was in deep.

This year, I went balls out on canning – take no prisoners. I canned 100+ jars of stuff, a variety – pasta sauce (tomato basil and spicy tomato), tomato jam, bruschetta mix, strawberry jam, apple pie jam, pinto beans, cannellini beans, greek style butter beans, potatoes, and my very first batch of chicken stock. And I’m not done. I plan on canning another canner full of deer meat with some potatoes and carrots for a kind of hunters stew. I want to do more potatoes because it’s lovely being able to pop open a jar and have almost instant home fries for breakfast. I’m going to can ground beef so we can have quick nachos, or chili. That Thanksgiving turkey carcass will be turned into turkey stock (I’ll have an upcoming post on how to make this soon!) This is just the tip of the iceberg for me.

Now, onto WHY I can and preserve. It’s for a variety of reasons, none of which have to do with the zombie apocalypse. Yes, I’m obsessed with all things zombie, but I’m not preserving mass quantities of food because of some potential viral outbreak that turns us into brain eating undead. I do it because it’s cheaper than purchasing it from the grocery store – I even beat the discount stores. But I’d still can even if doing it myself wasn’t cheaper. Because – onto the second reason I can – canning my own food means I have control over what is going into my body. I can recite the exact ingredients that went into all of those items I listed earlier, because the list of ingredients is small. I am canning veggies from my own garden, as well as local farms. For a little investment of my time, I can fill shelves with food that has no preservatives, except maybe a little salt, vinegar or lemon juice. I can take that surplus from our garden and turn it into pasta sauce that we can eat and share for a whole year. The third reason I can? Because I enjoy it. I love cooking. You have got to love cooking in order to be a food preserver. It is time consuming, and it can get hectic, because you have to process the veggies and fruits when they are ready. They do not wait until it is convenient for you. My August and September each year are now pretty much consumed with canning and freezing. That means the house is a mess, because between work and canning there is certainly no time for things like running the sweeper or dusting. The laundry gets done sporadically. I force myself to clean the bathrooms because well, they’re bathrooms and they get gross. And at times I do get frazzled and feel overwhelmed because I am living and breathing food preservation. After work, on the weekends. Yep, I live and breathe it for those 2 months. This year, when I was all done, I wiped the sweat from my brow and said whew! All done till next year! And then a couple weekends later, I canned potatoes. In the coming weeks I’ll can that deer meat “stew”. Why? Because I had a breather from Canapalooza 2012 and I want my new canning shelf to be FULL of jars, no empty spaces. And because I love to cook. And the last  reason why I can? It’s kind of a side effect, but I want to inspire other  people, both young and old to start canning or to restart canning. To be more mindful of what they are eating. I am only 32, and people are always surprised that someone so young is so deeply interested in something as old fashioned as canning. Hearing people say that makes me smile. My own mom wanted me to teach her to can before she passed away, because she loved the thought of controlling her food. And it would give her a hobby. If I can inspire just one person to take up canning from my talking about, or gifting them something I’ve made, it makes this whole food love/food preservation experience even more worthwhile.

The DIY Life: Candy Cane Sugar Scrub for holiday gift giving!

13 Nov

In the retail world, Christmas has officially arrived. There is Christmas music on the sound system, holiday decorations overflow into the aisles, holiday t-shirts are front and center. And that leaves me a little twitchy and itchy over the thought of gift giving. It’s too soon. We haven’t even made it through Thanksgiving yet. I haven’t yet decided on a home made gift to give!!! Last year it was a canister of this Homemade Laundry Detergent – it went over well and was easy to do. This year, I thought what about something pampering for the ladies? Something the boys can use too if they wanted, but it was pretty for the girls? And then while I was at the local Bath & Body Works it hit me – body scrubs! Sugar scrubs to be specific, because salt dries out the skin, and it’s winter, and we are all already dried out. Wait…maybe that’s why I got twitchy AND itchy about the upcoming holiday – because I’m all dried out!!! I searched the wonderful world of the internet and found a recipe that had a cute photo as well as the directions/ingredient list and adapted it for my use. I wanted a deep moisturizing scrub that would help cure that winter dryness we experience once the furnace is on while exfoliating all those dry flaky skin particles. I think this recipe does the trick. And it yields a nice batch – 6 1/2 pint jars, with about 1/2 a jar of leftovers for me to use myself!

I’ll be jazzing these jars up with some shimmery ribbon and a candy cane. What a cute gift that I hope the ladies will love! It takes very little time – I think I whipped this up in about 15 minutes and it’s easy on the budget.

Candy Cane Sugar Scrub

adapted from here 

Yield: 6 1/2 pint mason jars

5 cups granulated white sugar

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups coconut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the coconut oil until melted, in 30 second bursts. Once melted, add the olive oil and peppermint extract, stirring to combine. Add your sugar and mix until no dry sugar remains. Add to jars up the 1 inch head space mark. Wipe rims, add bands and voila!

If you want to do the layering effect to make it look like a candy cane, take half of your sugar mixture and add it to another bowl. Use food grade GEL food coloring – this works the best. Mix until you have a nice consistent color and then layer it in your mason jars – one layer red, one layer white, and keep going till your jars are full up to the 1 inch head space. The red layers may leave some red coloring on your skin, but it easily rinses off with some soap.

Note: Since this is an oil based scrub, you’ll want to be careful after using it in the shower since it will leave a slick film on your tub. I usually just rub the slippery areas with my foot and it’s all good.

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Scaling back – how I’m doing my part to stop being a fat bastard consumer of goods!

9 Nov
A hoarding hell from TLC series Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Image courtesy of CBS News

Brace yourselves….Christmas is right around the corner. Ouch. I know, it hurts, but it’s true. And the retailers? They’re already celebrating it. Halloween wasn’t even out the door and they were already getting the shelves set up for Christmas goods. Thanksgiving is just coming onto the horizon and the stores are filled with Christmas related goods – gift baskets, decorations, pj’s and tableware. Christmas music is being pumped through the store sound system. It’s speaking to our need to have THINGS, to fill our homes with STUFF. Christmas themed dishes that I’ll only use once per year? Why yes I DO need those! Christmas colored Ziploc containers? YES!!! I MUST have these! I can’t store leftovers in those plain old containers I already own. These are just a couple of examples of our need to feed the consumerism monster. And then I watch episodes of Hoarders: Buried Alive and think, OH.MY.GAWD!!! That could be ME someday! And then I see the dead animals that the homeowners somehow forgot about, the bugs, the dirty diapers, the old food –  and I feel grossed out but calm. My house is not like that at all. My dog is alive and well and usually napping somewhere nearby. We do get bugs in the house, but it’s spiders – gag – or fruit flies. There are no dirty diapers thrown into any corners, piling up. There isn’t any OLD food in the house, but we do have a plethora of home canned and frozen foods from the garden (which we will consume over the next year until preservation time 2013) Whew.

But then I think about the amount of time it occasionally takes me to sort through things to find THE thing I’m looking for and I’m like duuuuuude, we need to get rid of shit. So I’ve made an end of year resolution. To go through the house a little at a time, and pick through the things we don’t need, the things we don’t use, the stuff that is broken and we planned on fixing years ago but now has a layer of dust an inch thick – and donate, sell or toss it. The stuff that we can make a quick buck on we will try to sell – things like tools, electronics, miscellaneous car parts. Things like clothes, books, shoes and household items will be donated, so that someone in need can get use out of them. Bonus – we get to write them off on our taxes! And it means that the stuff that I sort through doesn’t have to sit around for long waiting to be sold or picked up.

My hurdle? Parting with clothing and shoes, in mass quantities. Don’t get me wrong – I give clothing away all the time. Big human body sized garbage bags FULL. Yet somehow, I still have too much stuff. Are my closets breeding? I doubt it. I think the part of the problem is that I end up back at the store, buying a new top, or a new pair of pants because I have more closet space for them. I need to stop that. I’m a girl, and I love new stuff. Especially clothes and shoes. But do I NEED any new stuff? Not really. A few items a year to freshen up the wardrobe or replace something that’s worn out, sure. But not a bunch of stuff. And shoes….sigh. I don’t buy expensive shoes like I’m on an episode of Sex & the City, pretending I’m Carrie in my Manolo’s. But I certainly dig a pair of stiletto sandals, cute ballet flats, or knee-high boots. But I have shoes I’ve only worn once. Some shoes I don’t wear at all because they are uncomfortable. Should I be keeping them? Nope. Someone, somewhere, is going to love the hell out of those ballet flats that cut into the tops of my feet. Someone is going to totally rock a pair of my hot pink stiletto sandals. But it’s not going to be me.

When the hubs said we need a bigger house for all our stuff, that was a wake up call for me. No, we don’t need a bigger house for the 2 humans, 1 small dog, 7 hens, 1 rooster and 2 ducks. What we need is less stuff. And the time for getting to the less stuff portion of our lives is now. Moving forward, if I purchase or receive as a gift a replacement for an item that is broken or worn out, I am going to toss the broken worn out item. If I donate or give away a bag full of clothes, that does not mean that I need to go out and get 5 new outfits to take up the space they created in my closet. If I haven’t worn it or used it (and it’s not a holiday item, like say, Christmas ornaments) in 6 months, it’s gotta go.

And for the holidays or birthdays when people insist on getting me a gift I’m going to ask them to only (well, mostly – homemade gifts are thoughtful and generally useful! As are replacements for worn out items) get me things our home needs. My gram asked me the other day what I wanted for Christmas, and I told her bathroom stuff! Like a toilet! We are getting ready to gut and remodel it, and those are things we will need to complete that, so a gift card for a home improvement store would be lovely, and greatly appreciated. I am selling my Wii and all it’s various extras(interested in purchasing it????) so to replace the Netflix function it provided I asked hubs for a Roku – something much smaller than the Wii, and portable for all the tv’s in our home.

I’m still sorting through the house, and no doubt will have more after the Christmas decorations come down from the attic, but I already feel like a weight has been lifted. Like I’m dodging the bullet of hubs calling the Hoarders show producers saying they have to come do an intervention with me. Hope for a clutter free life is on the horizon. And I don’t miss all that stuff that I gave away. So I didn’t really need it in the first place.

How are you trying to scale back?

And for fun, here’s some Grinch!

Pumpkin Pie….Smoothie!

5 Nov

Ah pumpkin. And my new addiction to smoothies. Because they offer a sweet treat, without all those pesky calories that usually convert to fat that goes right to my ass, hips and thighs.

I love pumpkin pie, but let’s be honest – that crust is a killer when it comes to calories. And I just can’t bring myself to eat just the filling on a pumpkin pie, leaving behind the crust to be tossed or fed to birds. I blame my childhood. I was raised to clean my plate, and wasn’t permitted to leave the table until my plate was clean of all food. So, ya.

Since the fall starts the pumpkin food obsession in my house, I figured I needed a smoothie option. Hubs and I aren’t the only ones eating pumpkin. The chickens and ducks are enjoying a whole pumpkin. It’s helps keep them from getting bored when they are in their run, and it’s a great nutrient booster to their eggs! It will also supposedly help fend off intestinal parasites, which is always a good thing if you are a chicken. Plus, we’ll get nice orange yolks from all that pumpkin ingestion! Yay!

For us humans, pumpkin is also super beneficial. It’s loaded with fiber, so it’ helps you feel fuller longer, which in turns helps aid in weight loss. It contains beta-carotene, which helps our body prevent cancer, as well as help to keep us looking wrinkle free. 1 cup of pumpkin contains 564 milligrams of potassium, which is a great way to refuel after a workout. They also contain vitamin c, which can help ward off colds. Oh ya, and pumpkin tastes great, sweet and savory!

This recipe tastes decadent. The key is blending it for a longer period of time to get that creamy ice cream like richness without all the fat. Don’t get lazy and only blend it for a minute. Go for 2-3. It makes ALL the difference! For those calorie conscious folks, this recipe is only 114 calories per serving. If you were to drink the whole recipe, that’s still only 228 calories – and you will be so full I don’t think you’ll be ABLE to finish it!

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

1/2 cup organic pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon molasses

1 gram of Stevia sweetener

1tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup non fat milk

1 cup ice

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until about double in size. You want to blend it for about 2-3 minutes. This will create lots of air bubbles and make the smoothie taste rich and creamy like a milkshake! Serve immediately and enjoy!