Archive | March, 2013

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens, One Year Later!

26 Mar

Last week, I was looking through my day planner and realized, holy shit. It’s been a year since we got those first chicks and ducklings. It caused me to pause a moment, and think about all that I’ve learned over this year.

chickens in creek

I’ve learned that raising chicks and ducklings together is a pain in the ass. Why? Because the ducks want to try to bathe in the water, causing the litter to always be wet. Causing me to always have to change it. But I loved watching the ducklings grow into ducks, and interact with all the chicks. Nobody knew they were any different! Would I do it again? Probably not. A pair of Mallards is enough for my little backyard flock. I’m thinking when I get my next round of chicks to raise, it’ll be a little less messy.

I’ve learned that I will always have to sweep mulch back into the flower beds. When chickens are digging for bugs, they don’t really care that they are flinging mulch all over the place and making the sidewalk a mess. They don’t have very good manners.

I’ve learned that dust bathing is essential to a chicken keeping themselves clean, and that they will set up their baths wherever they damn well please.  Like beside the shed ramp, where they dug a hole that is 6 inches deep. Or in the front flower bed, against the house, where they dug a trench. Also 6 inches deep. Screw using that tub that I filled so nicely with composted wood shavings, sand, DE and wood ash.

I’ve learned that I don’t HAVE to get up at the ass crack of dawn to let the chickens out of their coop. They will be just fine if I let them out when I wake up. When we first got them I felt like I HAD to run out before the sun and open up the coop so they could get out into the run and eat, drink, and frolic like chickens do. Then I got sick and couldn’t get up at the ass crack of dawn to let them out. And guess what? They lived! Sure, they were all at the coop windows, popping their heads up peeking out, making a ruckus. And they all stormed out and it seemed like some of them gave me the stink eye. But they lived. So until we get that automatic door opener I’m dreaming about, they’ll have to deal with being let out of the coop when I get there. It’s roomy, and gets a nice supply of fresh air. So they’ll be just fine.

Francine

I’ve learned that chicken poop will be all over my 1 1/4 acre yard. Including the front porch. The cement slab to get into the basement. The deck steps. The driveway. The world is their bathroom. Which means a shoe scraper really IS an essential household tool. So is the hose. But in the garden, yard and the flower beds? It’s a great fertilizer!

I’ve learned that when my chickens (and ducks) see me, they think Hey! That’s the human that gives us food! Let’s run at her at full speed and see what she’s got for us! They also realize real quick where the scratch grains are kept, and that a cup of them being shaken is the sign to come back to the coop for tasty treats – AKA I’ll be gone until after dark and don’t want you guys to become a predator meal, so you need fenced in.

I’ve learned that my rooster, Thor, while beautiful, is a complete and total ass. Sure he protects the ladies, calls them when he finds something yummy to munch on, rounds them up when it’s time for bed. But he’s not smart enough to realize that the humans – specifically the hubs & I – aren’t predators. So he tries to attack us. Randomly of course. So I’ve taken to carrying around the snow shovel or the broom to keep him away and I’ll lunge at him every once in a while, letting him know who is the boss. I never would have guessed that I’d need to establish dominance over a chicken.

chickens

I’ve learned that chickens and ducks are possessive of their piece of land. Any birds who aren’t their coop mates get chased out of the yard, in a very showy way. Lots of wing flapping and yapping.

I’ve learned that the hens I have are super vocal about their egg laying. Announcements are made, which results in kudos calls from the other hens who are out and about.

I’ve learned that nothing beats eating an egg that came from your own back yard, from chickens you feed and care for. The taste is exceptional, and it makes me feel like I’ve done something good. Because I have. I’ve taken another step towards being responsible for my own food source. Is raising backyard chickens cheaper than buying store-bought? Hell no. But the piece of mind I’m given knowing my eggs are fresh, my chickens are healthy and happy, and truly free range? You can’t put a price on that.

eggs!

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German Pancakes with Wine-y Strawberries

18 Mar

Have I ever mentioned that I am a big fan of dessert? No? Well let me clear the air – I am a big fan of dessert. I feel so liberated now. Whew. So, on to the german pancake. I have been eyeballing this treat for some time, but never gotten around to making it.There are SO many recipes out there. Some that are super simple with few ingredients, others that are multi-layered, therefore making something that should be simplistic complicated. It’s called a pancake for goodness sakes! I had a hankering for dessert one day and figured what better time to try one out than right now? But wait. I would totally need a topping of some sort. What a surprise – I had frozen chopped strawberries portioned out into 2 cup servings from when they were fresh and on sale. Ta-da! And I wanted them to be juicy and warm on my warm german pancake. So Wine-y Strawberries were born!

I found the german pancake recipe in one of the old church cookbooks from my Bubba’s collection that were saved and given to me. It was as simple sounding as I was looking for and fairly quick to whip up. I cheated and didn’t sift the flour or really measure out any of the other ingredients. It turned out to be delicous as is. I don’t know the name of the cookbook since the cover has long since been MIA. But it’s got some good old fashioned recipes in it. Along with some weird sounding ones that I wouldn’t feed to an enemy. The recipe makes 2 pancakes, but hubs and split one because I didn’t want to force myself to eat a whole one. He had the other one the next morning for breakfast. Said it tasted great all by itself at room temp and a day old.

This pancake is a nice canvas to add anything you want as a topping, from the sweet to the savory. Just omit the vanilla for a savory dish. It would be good topped with some goat cheese, spinach and artichokes. Mmmm.

German Pancake

Serves 2

adapted from an old church cookbook

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon sugar

2/3 cup milk

2/3 cup flour

2 tablespoons butter, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor or blender, add the eggs, salt and sugar and process/blend until a light yellow color. Add the milk, vanilla and flour and process/blend again until combined.

Grease 2 8 or 9 inch cake pans and divide the batter in between them. Add a tablespoon of butter to the center of the pancake.

Cook for 20 minutes. At 20 minutes, rotate your cake pans and turn down the oven to 350 degrees, cooking another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and plate up, topping with Wine-y Strawberries. You could also top these with some jam or preserves, fresh berries and whipped cream, or just eat them like a pancake and douse it in maple syrup.

Wine-y Strawberry Topping

2 cups frozen strawberries, chopped (if using fresh, see note)

2 tablespoons sweet read wine

1 tablespoon sugar

In a small saucepan, place the berries, wine and sugar, stirring to combine everything together. Over medium-high heat, cook the berries until the are bubbling and the juices & wine start to cook off and thicken a little. Turn off heat and place the hot berries on top of your german pancake. These would also be a good topping for regular pancakes or even a chocolate sheet cake. Yum!

Note: if using fresh berries, chop them and place them in a small bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar, stirring your berries to coat and let sit for 10-15 minutes. This will get the juices in your berries to come out, helping you increase your sauce to berry ratio. Then just add the juicy berries to your pan with your wine and cook as directed above.

Raspberry Almond Breakfast Quinoa – Filling, GF, Vegan – and 4 days worth of breakfast!

13 Mar

Let’s face it. If you are a working stiff Monday – Friday, you can be hard pressed to eat a breakfast that is healthy, filling, and easily prepared the night before. Skipping breakfast is not an option for me, and it shouldn’t be for anyone else either. Breakfast is the meal that gets our motors running, our brains firing on all cylinders. Your body NEEDS fuel.  My fellow working stiffs need me to eat breakfast. Otherwise, by 11 am, hunger has mixed with anger, making me hangry…and things can get ugly. So unless I’m not feeling well, I eat breakfast. I’m trying to lose some weight, tone up, and make some adaptable life changes. Eating healthier. Now, I’m not doing a gluten-free diet. I am trying to cut out white pastas & breads, white rice, “whole wheat” pasta’s & breads that aren’t really all that more nutritious than plain old white bread. I’m working to incorporate more whole grains, more quinoa. I’m lucky in that I don’t HAVE to do GF. That my stomach won’t be in an uproar if I eat a sandwich on wheat bread. But I know so many people out there don’t have a choice but to be GF. And since so many people are having to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle, it makes gluten-free food items more readily available to the general population. A welcome side effect. Now, back to the recipe. I’ve been experimenting with quinoa, using it in place of rice and pasta where I feel it’s a good substitute. But everything I’ve been using it in thus far has been a savory dish. I wanted to try it in a sweeter option, like something for breakfast. I wanted to incorporate fruit, since I know that I’m not eating enough servings of it each day. I wanted the recipe to taste good, be healthy, but not lack flavor. I wanted it to be something I could make a big batch of, and reheat throughout the work week. Raspberry Almond Breakfast Quinoa was born. It’s quick and easy to make, has a small list of ingredients, and is a healthy, portable, filling breakfast option! I get 4 packed pint jars worth.

If you aren’t into using almond milk, you could totally replace it with your regular milk. I think chocolate almond milk would also be a tasty sub. Raspberries aren’t your thing? Try blueberries or strawberries in the same ratio. Or do a mix! Use fresh if you have them. I’m using berries that I froze over the summer. Based on the ingredients I used, this recipe is around 125 calories per serving, with maybe 2 grams of fat. You can also sprinkle on some cinnamon, or unsweetened cocoa powder for an extra flavor boost!

raspberry almond breakfast quinoa

Raspberry Almond Breakfast Quinoa

1 1/2 – 2 cups frozen raspberries

1 cup organic quinoa, rinsed thoroughly

1 1/4 cup organic vanilla almond milk

slivered almonds, about 1/4 cup – optional

Stevia to sweeten

In a medium saucepan, add your almond milk and 1 cup of the raspberries. Cook over medium heat until the raspberries start to soften and break apart. Add your quinoa, letting the mixture come back up to a boil. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 10 more minutes. Once the mixture has cooled slightly and thickened, sweeten with Stevia to taste. I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons Stevia powder for mine to get it to the taste I wanted. Portion your quinoa mixture into pint mason jars, filling right up to the threaded part of the jars. Top each jar with the other cup of raspberries, sprinkling each jar with slivered almonds. Seal jars and store in fridge. You can reheat this on the stove, in the microwave, or enjoy it at room temp. Either way, it’s good!

raspberry almond breakfast quinoa closeup

Sriracha Salt. You’re Welcome.

11 Mar

Nope. You read that right. Sriracha Salt. In the wild world of flavor, this salt is an odd yet flavorful addition to your spice cabinet. I don’t know if Randy Clemens, the author of the Sriracha Cookbook is the originator of the recipe for this tasty salt or not, but I’m just going to go with that.

I don’t have his cookbook. I like sriracha, but not enough to justify giving primo shelf space up for something devoted completely to this one condiment. I don’t know what his exact ratio of ingredients is for his personal mixture, just that it contains kosher salt, sriracha, granulated garlic, and cayenne pepper. I decided to keep it simple and make up my own mixture. I refused to research any further something as simple as a flavored salt. The process is pretty simple. Measure, mix, dehydrate. Boom.

My suggestion would be to use this as a flavor booster on already cooked foods. Sprinkled on eggs – scrambled or over easy. Sprinkled on roasted veggies, chicken, sandwiches. This would be a great replacement for season salt on wings. Anywhere you would season your meal with salt, this would generally be a decent replacement.  Using it in soup would be something I’d avoid. I think you’ll lose the garlic and sriracha flavor with all that liquid. Although the originator does suggest using the salt to rim glasses for adult bevs – this would be fabulous for a bloody mary!

If you make this, let me know what you think! Don’t feel like making it? Lucky for you, you can buy it from Randy Clemens via Etsy. Buying it’s a bit lazy. This is so easy, just do it yourself!

sriracha salt

Sriracha Salt

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sriracha hot sauce

1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix them up. Put a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet and spread the mixture in a thin layer over the parchment. Place in the oven on the lowest setting it will go. Once the oven reaches temperature, turn off the oven and let the mixture sit overnight to dehydrate.

The  next day, check the mixture. If it’s still moist, stir it, spreading it into a thin layer again. Put it back in the oven to dehydrate for an hour or two, until totally dry. Once the mixture has cooled, add it to a food processor and pulse until chunks are broken down, and it looks like orange red kosher salt again. Store in an airtight container and use on what you want whenever you want!

Lighter Snack & Lunch Idea – Lightly Pickled Shrimp!

4 Mar

Every time a new year arrives, the gyms flood with people trying to set new goals with their brand new good intentions. The produce aisle and whole grain sections at the grocery stores are cleared of all things healthy as people embark on a quest for better eating habits. Then it dies off, at the latest, in early February and most people go back to their bad food choices and lazy ways. I never make healthy eating or fitness a new years resolution because it’s like setting yourself up for failure. Healthy eating, fitness, lifestyle changes – you can’t give them deadlines. You’ve got to be mentally ready for the challenge. YOU have to want to do it. I think I’m mentally ready to start getting back into shape again after too much good food & beer. I’m cutting back on the good beer, but not cutting it out. Cutting things out leads to binging on those things because you feel deprived. I need REAL life changes and choices, not a quick fix to drop some weight right now, just to gain it back when I get back to normal.

So for the first week I started getting a little more creative with my lunch choices. I wanted meals that would keep me full and give me the most bang for my buck calorie and nutrition wise. That’s why I started eating Spinach & Cheese Toasts – and I wanted to add in something that had some more protein than the mushrooms I was eating with it and it to be light, healthy & flavorful. So I decided to do a quick, light pickling of some medium sized shrimp. Don’t turn your nose up at the thought of “pickled” shrimp. These aren’t anything like eating a kosher dill pickle. These are brightly flavored without being too “pickled” tasting. They have zing from the apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon juice. There is a hint of spice from the red pepper flakes and garlic. They are just layered with flavor and I love it! I think these will be a great snack and lunch addition, as well as be a great option to take to a summertime picnic or BBQ as an appetizer to share! And the brine? Don’t let it go to waste. It’s lovely smeared on some crusty, whole grain french bread with a couple of the shrimp on top. I think it would also be great as a pasta salad, brining the shrimp overnight and then tossing the jar of ingredients into some pasta. Or quinoa. Next time I make this, I’m going to add in a couple extra shakes of the pepper flakes for a little more zing!

Feel free to double this recipe if you are making it for a group. I made this small batch because I wanted to only have what I would consume over a few days for lunches.

pickled shrimp

Lightly Pickled Shrimp

1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp, raw, tails off

1 tbsp old bay seasoning

1/2 tsp mustard seed

1/4 tsp celery seed

1/2 – 1 tsp kosher salt

1 whole lemon, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil

2-3 tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar

couple shakes of red pepper flakes

2 pinches parsley flakes

2 cloves garlic, mashed and minced

1/2 medium sweet onion, cut into half moons

Fill a small pot halfway with tap water and add the old bay seasoning. Bring to a boil and add shrimp, cooking until pink – about 2 minutes. Dump your shrimp into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water until no longer hot. (you are using the mesh strainer so that you don’t lose much of the old bay seasoning!)

Take your mustard seed, celery seed & the couple shakes of red pepper flakes and pulse them through a food mill or grinder  a couple of times just to break them up a bit and release their flavors. Add your salt, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and garlic, stirring well to combine. Give it a taste and add more salt or vinegar to get the desired tang and flavor you are looking for.

In a mason jar, put a layer of shrimp, then a layer of onions, and keep layering until you run out of shrimp and onions. Pour the marinade mixture over your shrimp and onions, top with a lid, and put in the fridge overnight to let all the flavors melt together.

Before serving, let the jar sit out for at least 30 minutes. This will let the olive oil easily mix back in with the vinegar and lemon juices. Right before eating, give the jar a good shake to get everything mixed back together. Enjoy as an appetizer, alongside a sandwich, add to pasta, quinoa, rice – whatever your heart desires! Consume within a few days.