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Anna's Bonne Bouche

Determined to bloom where I am planted, no matter how rocky the soil.

The Impractical Gardener- Spring 2016

Last year’s harvest of our lemon tree resulted in two and a half gallons of lemon juice in our freezer. We use it in daily cooking, desserts and in beverages. It is now August, and there is still about a gallon left of the sweet-tart juice.

We did not end up planting our spring  garden right away in February,  as we thought we might not be staying in this area too much longer. I stopped making compost, because I didn’t want to leave the chore of turning to it to my parents.

The lemon tree started budding again in late February,  which suprised me. We should have pruned it back in early February,  but we didn’t. Soon it was covered in these pretty blossoms and shiny, green leaves. Having only a handful of days where the temperature dropped below freezing for a few hours, the tree just kept growing through winter into spring.

In April we decided to plant tomatoes and peppers.  I had been itching all winter to plant this garden, and had not. We were waiting to see if we were moving north, to a cooler climate and later planting times. I also didn’t want to move a flat of tender, growing plants  across the country.  However, by April I couldn’t wait any longer, and figured I could make room for about 24 pots of seedlings, somewhere.

We also seeded lettuce in April. I figured my parents would enjoy them if we weren’t here, and we did have the extra compost left over winter.

Our pots of lettuce from last fall finally went to seed. Local wild birds ended up using the dried husks as building materials for nests in our storage area. The dirt from the pots was recycled  and compost started again.

By May, the tomatoes and peppers were starting to get too big for their pots.  They would have to be transplanted soon, or risk getting  root bound

Green onions, planted in April ,grow like grass through May and June.

Over the next two months, these plants did nothing but grow upwards. They were covered in blooms by mid June.

June temperatures, along with my greedy hens, eventually killed back the spring lettuce. 

However, not before we saw many tasty leaves for ourselves. The three pots kept us in greens for 3 months.

Herbs seeded in April grew slowly in the Frankenstein planter. April showers washed them out, and May heat with sunny skies cooked them in thier pots. By May’s end  they were moved to a shadier spot on the patio, to ride out the coming blazing temperatures that June brought.

Spring ushered in the perfect recipie for high heat and humidity for summer, with heavy rains interspersed between frequent sunny skies. Temperatures saw  days in the high 80s to 95°F range. With heat index temps over 100°F for most of June, because of the high humidity. We have been fortunate that we have had very little troubles with fungus or pests.  Pruning of the tomatoes,  the pots draining well, and my hens keeping some of the larger pests, like caterpillars and beetles, at bay.

We decided to remain where we are planted, again. No breaking orbit, at least not from the gulf area. So, we gave some thought to the fall garden, and what we would like to enjoy in the fall and winter months. 

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School’s Out and Chicken Math 

I am finally done with my Coding course! Hooray! After six months of intense study and testing, it is finished.

The last several months I have been focused on just getting through it, and trying to avoid distraction.

TRYING  being the operative word there.

It is done though, and all I can do now, in regards to my new education, is wait for my certification to come through in the next few days and polish up my resume. I have to complete a year of internship before I can call myself a full fledged coder, but the hard part is over. Now I can get back to normal life and start paying more attention to some things I have been neglecting, lately.

The Poo-Princesses  turned 1 year old in May.  They have filled out wonderfully,  and seem to be happy with their routine of bug chasing, garden digging and treat begging.

Doodle even enjoyed some shoulder sitting on occasion.

Looking beautiful for pictures has also been a pass- time.

My husband and I were proud of ourselves! We managed to keep the girls happy and healthy for an entire year. In return for all our efforts the girls kept our yard bug free, and also kept our compost pile nicely turned.

The fresh eggs arrived daily. We had many 3 egg days, which were always good days.

Once, we even had a 2 and 1/4 egg day. Fairy eggs are so weird.

June and July brought the intense heat and humidity we always expect here. My husband and I made efforts to keep the Poo-Princesses cool by giving them a pool to splash in, which seemed to help keep them comfortable.

They also spent time lounging and napping with the dogs on the patio, in front of a big fan during the most hot afternoons.

The only real trouble we had experienced up until this point was keeping the dogs out of the chicken feed. We had been propping the door to the coop slightly open to with a milk crate, trying to block access to greedy dogs, while allowing the girls free access to the coop, their food, water and egg box. This was unsuccessful.  We were going through layer feed at an astounding rate, and the dogs were not eating their dog chow, but still getting fat.

We then started using the egg door for the girls to gain access to the coop, intend of the big doors. They found this confusing at first, but soon got the hang if it. Using the milk crate as a step, they would hop up into the coop, lay eggs, drink and eat, while the greedy, fat dogs were denied the chicken chow. This worked really well, and we were proud of how clever we were.

Then tragedy struck.

One especially hot afternoon, our beloved Easter Egger, Cookie, fell to a  freak accident. She managed to trap herself beneath the milk crate in the sun. It is a terrible  mystery to us how she overturned the crate, got beneath it, and then turned it back over onto herself. I discovered her there while doing my afternoon chicken check. I was too late, however, as she was already suffering the effects of heat stroke. My beautiful girl died in my arms as I desperately tried to cool her.

It was an awful moment. My husband buried her in the yard, as I could not bear the thought of throwing her away or turning her to soup. As one of the original members of the Egg-cellent Egg-speriment,  she deserved better. I spent that entire next weekend terribly sad. Thinking of it still, now a month later,  makes my heart wrench a little. The remaining girls, Jewel and Doodle, seemed lost in the yard, also. They acted like they weren’t sure what to do without bossy Cookie directing the flock.

We almost immediately did away with the cursed milk crate. My husband quickly fashioned a sturdy ladder that hooks securely onto the lip of the egg door, so the girls can access the coop safely. They weren’t quite sure about it at first, but got the gist of it in short order.

We had our first experience with chicken math through subtraction of one. This was such a blow to me that I was content with keeping only my two remaining girls. My husband and family encouraged me to try and find a replacement for Cookie, though.  After a few days of mourning my sweet pet, I set upon the task of finding another princess for my little flock.

It didn’t take long before I found a highly rated chicken farm selling young pullets, about an hour and a half away from us. The knowlegable owner was extremely helpful and friendly in our selection of two new birds. We knew we were pressing our luck with our town codes with the addition of two, but it is not good for a chicken to be a singleton. We couldn’t expect our new girl to live out quarantine alone for 30 days, and then try and blend with our older girls successfuly.

We chose a beautiful 3 month old dark brahma pullet, now named Checkers, and an adorable 9 week old grey splash silkie, whom we named Mokey. I had always wanted a silkie hen. They are just so fluffy and cute with their extra toes, purple skin and tiny, fluffy bodies. Even though they were differnet sizes and ages, the two new princesses got along fabulously, having been together in the baby pens on the farm. So, having made our selections, we brought them home and settled them into a modified giant dog crate for the duration of their quarantine.

Chicken math again, now plus 2.

The resident Poo-Princesses seemed a bit confused and very interested in the new arrivals.  We tried bribery with watermelon slices and meal worms to distract from the new girls sitting on a table on our patio area. For the moment, all seemed well.

Three days into quarantine,  we lost sweet Mokey to a river snake. The offending reptile was  nearly 4-1/2  feet long, but no bigger around than my thumb. He snuck through the bars of the crate in the night and killed my new silkie baby. Hearing the commotion, my father quickly alerted us to something going on outside, but we were too late.  We killed the snake, and quickly secured the crate, and poor, scared Checkers, in our workshop.

Once again, chicken math, minus one.

Traumatized Checkers spent the next day in my  husbands lap, or following us around the patio during her yard time.

We couldn’t let Checkers stay alone, however. The day after losing little Mokey, we made the trip once again to see the friendly chicken farm to select another bird. The wonderful lady farmer was understanding of our situation.  Although we were new to the pitfalls of chicken keeping, she was an old hand at it, and sympathized with our sad situation. 

Somehow we managed to come home with not one but TWO new silkie chicks. I blame this on my mother, who said if we were getting silkie chicks we might as well get two. I, of course, was  not hard to convince that this was a great idea. After all, silkies are so small and so odd looking, do they even count as chickens? As the lady didn’t have any more older silkies to choose from, so we selected some 4 week old babies.

Chicken math, plus 2.

We now have a partridge silkie, named Bella, and a black silkie, named Stormy. We hope they are hens, though it is too early to tell. We also think Stormy may be younger than 4 weeks, but she (?) Is by far the bossiest. She may very well be the new top hen for this new part of the flock. We will see.

Checkers has taken to the new babies very well. She has been a great mom to them, despite being just a baby herself. She has also decided she likes being a lap chicken, often hopping up and making herself comfortable whenever we are sitting outside on the patio during their outside time.

We try and let them outside during the cooler parts of the day for some bug hunting and exercise. They like stretching their wings and legs with what we have been calling the “zoomies”. They dash about, play fighting, hopping and jumping, squeaking and squawking, and just being happy healthy girls, before falling to into a feathery pile for a quick power nap.

Jewel and Doodle are not impressed. We have begun  to call them the evil step sisters. For a week we moved the big coop into the workshop while our temperatures soared over 100°F. The coop and crate facing eachother, so the girls can see one another. The Evil Step Sisters have been very vocal of their disapproval of these new interlopers. Often rushing the babies and trying to peck.

This situation, compounded by the heat, has lead to Jewel being stressed out. She has been laying shell-less and rubber eggs this last week. Despite being on layer feed, having free choice oyster shell, and some additional supplimets, she struggles with her usual laying. She continues to eat, drink and be active, but we keep an eye on her health a little more closely.

We will have to watch this situation, as in another few weeks we will begin to integrate the two flocks.  We hope for the best, and also hope, for the moment, our chicken mathematics lessons are done. 

Theory of Perfect Loaf- Potato Bread

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Ever try Hawaiian bread? Our local grocery  carries a brand that is a family favorite. While I do enjoy the soft, slightly sweet bread, I do not enjoy the price. Being that we are in penny-pinching mode around here, I do try and not inflate our grocery bill with expensive items. This includes bread.

Following is a recipe for my own version of that soft bread we like so much, for a fraction of the price of store bought. Now, I am not saying this is a copy cat of that recipe. However, it is a lovely, soft, white bread that has a rich, slightly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of that commercial brand. This bread goes well with soups, makes tasty sandwiches, and is great with just butter and jam.

My family really enjoys this bread, it disappears quickly, and I don’t have to buy the expensive version. It also makes use of something I usually have on hand, leftover mashed potatoes.

Potato Bread

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Ingredients :

1 (1/4 ounce) package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110-115°F)
1 cup warm milk (110-115°)
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup warm mashed potatoes
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter,  melted

Procedure :

Load bread machine with all ingredients, except butter, according to manufacturers instructions, and allow to process through first rise
OR-
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add milk, shortening,  potatoes,  egg, sugar, salt and 2 cups flour. Beat mixture until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and eliastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

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Punch dough down, then shape into a loaf.

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Place dough loaf in a greased 9×4″ loaf pan, then allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. Then bake risen loaf at 350°F for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Brush melted butter over baked bread and allow to cool on a wire rack.
This recipe can also be made into delicious dinner rolls. Simply take the dough, after first rise and punch down, divide in half, then divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place in a greased baking pan. Allow to rise until doubled, then bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes.
Enjoy!

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Study Time Snacks- Homemade Beef Jerky

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My classes have begun! It has been many years since I have studied anything this intensely. It has been about 14 years since I was in college, so getting back into the habit is a challenge.  This being a subject that is new to me, it is requiring a great deal of concentration on my part to keep the knowledge in my brain and then spill it back out onto exams and assignments. 

It is important to keep my concentration high, and having a growling stomach definitely distracts me from that. Hunger is bad for the brain, so having some snacks during study time is my way of keeping my mind on track.

This Homemade Beef Jerky is a great treat for my bookworm time. It is seasoned with a savory dry rub, which has wonderful flavor. The texture is slightly chewy, as you would expect in a jerky, but not brittle or hard enough to wear out your jaw while you eat it.

I don’t usually get to enjoy jerky, unless I make it myself. That pesky black pepper allergy keeps me from eating most commercial versions and many of other’s homemade ones.  I found this version online, and like most recipes I find, altered it to suit my tolerance.  Most people who have tried it don’t miss that black pepper flavor, as it is suitably spicy from the substitution of a small amount of cayenne.

One note.of importance is that the most lean cuts of beef (or venison, if you prefer) are used. Fatty meat just makes the jerky oily, overly chewy, go rancid quickly, and it doesn’t really absorb that savory rub that makes this jerky so tasty. I try and buy sirloin steaks or other lean roasts when they are on sale for this recipe. You may use fatter cuts, but you must make sure they are well trimmed before you season them.

HOMEMADE BEEF JERKY
Ingredients :

5 pounds lean beef or venison
3 tablespoons  course sea salt
3 tablespoons  Dry Rub Seasoning blend (recipe below)

Dry Rub Seasoning Blend-

2-1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons  course sea salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

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I used a beef eye of round roast for this particular recipe. You will also need a sharp knife, cutting surface, plastic wrap and a shallow pan for these steps in the process.

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I first sliced the roast into 1/2 inch slices, then trimmed those of fat

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I then sliced those trimmed pieces so they became 1/2 inch thick and 1 inch wide.

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Mix up your dry rub. Your dry Rub seasoning can be stored in a little, airtight jar for later use. It will make enough for about 3 batches of jerky.

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Mix your Dry Rub Seasoning with the sea salt in a container that makes it easy to sprinkle evenly over your meat pieces.

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Lay your meat slices in your pan over plastic wrap in a single layer. Sprinkle with seasoning, flip over and season again on the other side. Layer plastic over seasoned slices, and repeat until all your meat is seasoned.

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Wrap the seasoned pieces well, and then refrigerate 12 hours.

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Place the meat slices evenly on your dehydrator racks. You want enough room between the slices that the air can circulate well.

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Follow factory instructions of your dehydrator for meat. Mine was set to 160°F. Allow to dry for 6-8 hours,  or until pieces are dried uniformly.

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Dried pieces will be dark in color and have very little “squish” factor. I check my jerky after the first five or six hours  to remove the smaller dried pieces, so that they do not become hard and brittle.

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Once done, these delicious beef snacks should be stored in airtight containers. I keep mine in the refigerator for long term storage, though I have never had a batch spoil at room temperature.

I hope you enjoy this savory snack as much as I do. Now it’s time for me to grab a handful of jerky and  to hit the books again!

Until next time, dear readers!

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Deciding About December

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December has finally drawn to a close, and with it 2015.  The month started with more setbacks, as my husbands job became subject to a “Last in , First Out” thing when business took a downturn.  It is a bit of a rough way to start out the month, much less the new year.  We keep making our plans, though.

The month’s weather kept with the theme it had all year, rain and more rain.  The unseasonably warm temperatures gave rise to a some nasty storms. Those storms left us with downed branches and bog over the entire property.

We were lucky enough to avoid the tornados that plagued the rest of the state, but we are still slogging in the mud. Those vehicles not parked on our paved driveway have been sinking into it, making for some muddy adventures as we try and pull them free of the muck and move them to drier ground.

Oh yes, so much adventure.

I am grateful for my mud boots, or I would have ruined a few pairs of shoes already.

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The warm weather has allowed my pepper plants to continue to bloom and set fruit. My plants  , that have survived this long, are covered in peppers of green and purple. Some are getting quite large. I do believe the lack of sun has kept them from ripening to red and yellow, but they are still tasty.  I am content to let them keep going until they are ready to keel over on their own, or the squirrels rob me again.

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We could not save the radishes and most of the lettuce from my scratching hens obsessive habit of destruction  of all things garden. Only two pots remain of mixed lettuce,  saved only by a half baked idea of using a tomato cage in the pots. It keeps the girls off the pot. They lost interest in the lettuces once they couldn’t get their big backsides up there to scratch up the dirt.

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Mostly, my garden has been pulled up, the pots empty and set aside for a few weeks. Not for long,  though.  It will be time to start planting my spring garden soon.

I am excited about this year’s garden and have been pouring over seed catalogs, making lists  of seeds and sets I want to order for my spring planting. I also have been taking inventory or what pots I have here and need to look into storage for more, and also gather up my seed trays.

Being limited on budget, I am having to be frugal and creative. The big expense will probably be the actual seeds and sets. The rest will be using what we have on hand and can dig from random items laying about.

So far, a baby swimming pool and a few cloth shopping bags have pulled as possible planters. Some old rolled wire fencing has been pulled for chicken barrier. Planting does no good if my hens destroy what I have put out. Little greedy things that they are.

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One thing I don’t have to purchase is good dirt. My compost pile, started in May of this last year, has grown large on a steady diet of kitchen vegetable  scraps, leaves, grass , chicken egg shells and poo. The compost is dark , rich and there is enough to make a big, healthy garden this year.

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My dear husband, and my father made one of two potato boxes I want for this year, from scrap lumber we have on property.  They only made one, just to see if this was what I wanted and was describing as I waved my printed Pinterest potato box plan around. It was, and now just needs to have the bottom plastic bag ring stapled in.

Another box is under construction as I write, then they will be filled in with dirt, potatoes planted, then boarded up as the plants grow. This will be my first year with potatoes.  I am excited to try it.

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My Poo-Princesses are still toddling about the yard, getting big off a steady diet of bugs, greens and layer ration.  I am glad I took the leap last year and went ahead and got them.  They have eliminated our spider problem, I hardly ever see snakes in the yard, they turn my compost for me,  and are sweet girls and fun to watch. 

My having hens  as ‘pets’ this year has  led to my being dubbed, “The Crazy Chicken Lady” amongst friends, family and neighbors.  This led to a ‘theme’ appearing in my social media accounts  in the form of pictures and articles people tag me in, that have anything to do with chickens.  It also was the theme of many gifts I received this year for the holiday.

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Maybe they are right.  I am crazy about my hens. They get good, nutritious feed, a solid house to rest in,  tasty treats, and even get warm oatmeal  every evening on cold nights before they roost up for the evening. I love talking about my girls, and most people who come to visit usually are taken outside to observe my feathered beauties. I even convinced the big dog, who hates birds, to watch over them while they roam out in the yard all day.

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There is danger everywhere when you are a chicken.  Death from above is a very real possibility here.

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So , it was easy to train the big dog to keep the bad birds out of the yard. It was not so easy to convince him to not chase the “good birds” a.k.a. MY HENS, in the yard. In the end, bribery won the day. The big dog takes payment for his services in the form of extra treats and/or extra love.

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Our reward for this devotion to my fluffy ladies is fresh eggs every day.

An incredibly useful gift for this chicken lady, this year, was an egg skelter. I have wanted one so badly, but was unable to find one at a price I could justify. I have one now! I am so glad my daily trip back from the coop no longer includes finding a sharpie and writing dates on the eggs. My mother gave me this for a holiday gift, along with a few other fun kitchen items.  One of those fun items was a Rooster Kitchen Timer that crows a loud, “Cock-a-doodle-do!”, or its own rendition of “The Chicken Dance” with a flip of a switch.
Probably a very appropriate gift for a Crazy Chicken Lady.

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The lack of sun has made for a slow ripening of all the lemons on our lemon tree. They have been ripening, though. Where we had been picking off a lemon every once in a while, we had a day where we had half a tree of ripe lemons all at once.

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Big  ole fist-sized lemons. Hundreds of them. Some were given away, the others were squeezed into juice.

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It took a while, but I managed to squeeze out about 10 quarts of juice from that one basket full. Most of it was jarred and then frozen. We still have another basket full waiting on the tree.

I see plenty of lemonade and lemon-flavored food in our future.

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Another great gift was this shelf my husband built for me to store my things in.  He built it from left over 3/4″ plywood we bought for building the coop. It is a wonderful use of the scrap wood, and it turned out great.  I was excited to get it in the room and start putting things in it.

It even makes a great spot for another gift for the chicken lady. A cute black hen, that heats scented wax and makes the room smell heavenly, sits on top.

This shelf is the first of a few projects we have planned for the next few months.. We need to  build out and repair bedroom furniture for ourselves.  We gave away our entire bedroom set when we moved. What we have now is either borrowed, or something that was used for something else, but is now bedroom furniture. 

We will get there, one piece at a time.

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My books have arrived for my course. Class starts this week. I am excited to start, but I am more excited to finish. If there ever was a time we needed me making good money, now would be it. First to get my training, then the job. I am just glad it is a course I can do at my own pace, so I can get through it as fast as I can absorb the material. 

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The rain continues on into the new year. We are making an effort not to get as bogged down and gloomy personally as the weather has been outside.  Our situations,  like the weather, can change anytime. Some days are more rain than sun, but the sun does come.

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My parents have left again on their travels. My husband and I are alone. Well, except for a moody big dog. He is  lonely because my parents dog left on the trip with them.  Poor Big Dog. Extra loves are the only remedy.

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Also a small cat, who suddenly realized he need not hide under the bed, plotting against us in secret, anymore. He can now plot in the open, without fear of seeing “The Man”. “The Man” a.k.a. My Father, has never hurt the small cat, but the small cat still thinks he is terrifying.  No amount of love remedies being a small, scaredy cat.

I have made no resolution this year. Just plans. Having a bigger container garden, caring for my animals,  making and refinishing a new bedroom for us, going back to school, and hopefully getting a good paying job are plenty to keep me busy for the next few months.  Maybe we will get thrown a bone and my husband will find good work soon.

Until then, we just keep on keeping on.

Now I leave this long post with a reward! A short Tale From the Broken Cookie Jar- Doggie Edition
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DON’T EAT MY CHICKENS, CHICKEN FLAVORED DOG BISCUITS

Ingredients :

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

Preparation :

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, chicken stock and butter. Knead dough until well combined, about 3 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a thickness of 1/4″. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Place cut biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Beat egg and milk together in and small bowl. Brush egg mixture over biscuits.

Bake in an oven preheated to 325° for 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container.

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More Tales From the Broken Cookie Jar: Pistachio Bars

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Today I wanted to share another of the treats I sent in the holiday gifts this year. This cookie bar is my most requested cookie during the holidays.

These bars have a wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavors, and a chewy, sticky texture that people find irresistible. The only complaint I have ever heard about them is that I never send enough of them in the boxes.  Well, for those people, I post THE RECIPE, so that you may have these delectable cookies anytime your heart desires.

PISTACHIO BARS

Ingredients :

Crust-

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter

Topping-

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup flaked coconut

Preparation :

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In a medium bowl, combine flour and 1/2 cup sugar, mix well. Cut in 1 cup cold butter with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles course crumbs.

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Press mixture into the bottom of a greased 13×9 baking pan. I like to line my pan with foil to ease removal of the bars from the pan for cutting. Try to press the crust in as evenly as possible.

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Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until light golden brown.

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Meanwhile,  in large mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs.

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Add sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla to eggs and mix well.

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Add pistachios and coconut to mixture and mix until throughly combined.

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Cool crust on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Above, you can see the reason why the crust needs to be evenly pressed. Don’t worry of you do get some darker spots. As long as it isnt burnt, no one will notice once the topping is on it.

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Spread pistachio topping over warm crust as evenly as possible. Be careful as you spread it over, that you do not pull up the crust.

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Return pan to oven (350°F) for another 15-20 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 1-1/2 hours or until completely cooled. Cut into bars.

I truly enjoy these cookies, and look forward to making them every year. Though I will admit I have a love for all things pistachio.  Cookies, pudding,  ice cream, even raw eating, those little green wonders really make my palate happy.

Now that I have given away my secret I will have to come up with some new recipes for goodies in next year’s boxes. That’s part of the fun, though, because it requires experimentation.  Experiments mean we will be tasting many goodies to see if they make the cut for special gifts.

It will be hard, I am sure, forcing down all those new cookies and candy.  I am willing to make that sacrifice for my friends and family, so that they may enjoy a little something special during the holidays.

Enjoy!

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More Tales From the Broken Cookie Jar: Frosted Molasses Cookies

I made treat gifts for our holiday family gathering this year.
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Most years I do a pretty varied assortment of cookies and candy. I have some tried and true recipes I have made for years. Most every year I try to do something new.

This year’s gifts offered (Presented clockwise from the top left)  :

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies- My Blog post with that recipe is on this link  http://wp.me/p6BnLk-4N

‘Salted Chocolate Caramel Cookies’, a recipe I got from Pinterest.

Strawberry “Fruit Magic”. Basically, it is some homemade strawberry jam, applesauce and cinnamon, then dehydrated into a fruit roll-up.

Dry Rub Beef Jerky, My favorite way to make beef jerky and another gift from the dehydrator.

Pistachio Bars- This is one of the old standbys and the most requested of the Holiday cookies. I will share this recipe in the next post.

Rounding out the boxes were Frosted Molasses Cookies, a childhood favorite of mine, and the subject of today’s recipe. They have a great molasses flavor, and a chewy texture. The frosting is a sweet vanilla glaze, that really is a great compliment to the spicy cookie.

FROSTED MOLASSES COOKIES

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
Frosting:
1-1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter,  softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk

Procedure:
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In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar
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Add eggs and molasses, and mix throughly
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Combine dry ingredients, and blend into the wet mixure.
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On a greased baking sheet,  or one lined in parchment paper (as above),  roll dough into balls about the size of walnuts.  I like bigger cookies, so I went with a little more cookie dough.
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Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes in an oven preheated to 350°F.
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Meanwhile mix together all frosting ingredients  and beat until smooth and creamy.
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Remove baked cookies from oven to racks to cool. Frost while warm. I like to let my frosted  cookies air dry for a few hours. It helps to harden the frosting enough to not be sticky and hold its shape when touched gently.  I then stored in airtight bags until ready to use.

Yeild: 2-3 dozen

These cookies always remind me of family time from my childhood. Not so much holidays as fishing trips with my father, when i usually would get them as a snack on the boat. Good times, though.
These cookies do have that combination of spices that smell so warm and wonderful coming from the oven, this time of year. It put me in the holiday mood  to bake them.

I hope you enjoy them, too.

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Say Cheese!- Cream Cheese Making

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Photo credit- Memegenerator.com

Not that long ago I decided to try my hand at cheese making. I have made cheese before, but it was while I was in Culinary school, and about 15 years ago. I remember it being a fun process, but time consuming. Living in the city, working full time, and having children cut the amount of expendable hours I had for such a project. Also, I was close enough to specialty markets that I could buy cheeses anytime I liked.  Now that my children are out of the nest, and my free time has become more plentiful,  I decided to try my hand at cheese making,  once again.

I can still go to a specialty market and get any type of cheese I want, but this is another of those homestead skills I wanted to add to my mental toolbox. That, and we love cheese here. We eat it in meals, as snacks, spread it on bagels, and put it in sandwiches, desserts, appetizers… the list goes on and on. We love cheese here, I have the skill set to make it, so why not make it at home? So, I bought some cheese making books on Amazon, ordered some cultures and equipment, and then set to making some yummy cheese.

I decided to start with some quick, fresh cheeses. Cream cheese is a staple in my kitchen.  I use it often in recipes, and my family frequently enjoys on their morning bagels. I decided to start with an uncooked curd method, just to get a feel for the process again.

CREAM CHEESE (UNCOOKED CURD METHOD)

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Equipment –
Non reactive,  stainless steel pot
Stirring spoon
Accurate thermometer
butter muslin
colander
large bowl
I had my curd ladle ready, but didn’t use it.
Make sure you equipment is clean, clean, clean before you start. You don’t want to contaminate your cheese as it sets up. That would be very bad for you and the cheese.
Ingredients
2 quarts pasturized half and half (low heat pasturized, if possible. Ultra pasturized has less yeild )
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
cheese salt
fresh herbs (if desired)

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I ordered my culture online from Amazon.  It came with 5 packets of starter, which I store in the freezer.

Preparation-

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Warm milk to  room temperature,  72°F.
As my milk was cold from the refrigerator,  I warmed it gently in my stockpot on the stove.

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Add one packet of starter…

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… and mix throughly.

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Cover and let stand at room temperature…

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… For 12 hours

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Place your colander inside a large bowl. Line colander with a double thickness of butter muslin. Transfer the contents of the stockpot into the lined colander. The curd will be like pudding. Tie the muslin around the cheese securely. “SECURELY” IS THE KEY WORD HERE. You will be making a potential cheese bomb when you do the next step if your knots come loose.

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I used short bungee cords with hooks to hang it to drain over colander…

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…for another 12 hours

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Change the muslin once or twice during the hanging to speed the process along.

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Remove the cream cheese to a bowl and beat in salt (and herbs, if desired ) to taste.

You can transfer into smaller cheese molds and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Then unmold the cheese and wrap individually in cheese wrap. Store in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks

Yeild: 1 pound cream cheese

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Ok, this is the ugliest picture of a bagel ever, but my husband was impatient to try my experiment right away. It was delicious. The cheese comes out softer than with a cooked curd method, but it cooks and bakes well in recipes, and is great for fresh eating.

I am anxious to try my hand with more cheeses soon. I am eyeballing a cheese press right now, but it will most likely wait until after we move and I can set up and proper cheese cave for aging. In the meantime, I see many more fresh cheeses in our future… yum!

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Fall Food: Oven BBQ Pork Ribs

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I know that ribs are thought of as more of a summer meal. Grilling and summer go hand in hand, after all. When the hot summer months are here I do not enjoy being stuck in a steamy kitchen with the oven going. However, it is fall now. Our weather is a bit unpredictable as of late, and we have not been grilling as often as we had done previously. We still want to enjoy BBQribs, though. Especially when I find them on sale at our local market!

This recipe is actually a shorter version (time wise) of pork ribs that are done on the grill. The grill version has a long and low oven cook time, a marination time, and then they hit the grill for a bit of finishing and grill marks.  They result in a melt-in-your-mouth rib that has a great BBQ tang to it. This version is faster to the table, but also makes a tasty and tender rib my family really enjoys, without sacrificing the refrigerator space for 8 hours, or me running in and out the door to watch the ribs and finish the rest of the meal.

OVEN BBQ PORK RIBS
Ingredients :
4 lbs pork baby back ribs, cut into serving sized pieces
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons dry ground mustard
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preparation :

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Place ribs in a foil-lined roasting pan

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Combine garlic, sugar, paprika, seasoned salt, chili powder and cumin in a small bowl, then rub all over the ribs.

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Cover pan with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 325°F for about 2 hours.

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Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, Sautee onion in butter until onion is tender and translucent.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened, aboit 10 minutes. Remove from heat and no reserve 3/4 cup sauce.

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Brush ribs with remaining sauce, then bake, uncovered at 375°F for another 30 minutes.

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Serve with reserved sauce on the side.

Serves 4

We had these last night with roasted onion potatoes and a nice green salad. I hope you and yours enjoy them as much as we did!

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