Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An apology and a recipe!

Oh dear... Another four month radio silence on my part. I have no good excuses. And what's worse, I have to break the promise I made back in June of a tutorial for the hammock chair swing I made. I never got around to perfecting how it's hung, and as it was, it just wasn't right. And now that the back porch is filling up with the winter's firewood, the swing is now in storage for the winter. So sorry to anyone who was hoping for that tutorial.

Despite yet another hiatus, this blog still seems to be getting halfway decent traffic, which surprises me (in a good way!), especially since it's been 4 months since my last post! (Since then it's still gotten several hundred page views!) So welcome to any new readers! Please forgive my trend (which will probably continue, what with Baby Zoe due to arrive in a month and a half or less!) of long periods of time between posts. I have great ambitions to be an awesome blogger, but just haven't been able to put them into practice yet ;)

All that said, with the hopes of making up for the long break between posts and the lack of the promised tutorial, I want to share a recipe I invented today when struck with a craving for donuts. Pregnancy cravings are a bitch, especially when you live so far from town that it's not possible to just go to the store to satisfy them. Case in point- two weeks ago, after having a conversation about favorite Thanksgiving recipes, I caved and spent a Saturday cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal, just for the three (and a half) of us. A pregnant girl's gotta do what a pregnant girl's gotta do. So when a craving for donuts struck while trolling Pinterest, I knew the only way I'd get my fix was to get up off my bum and get in the kitchen. I didn't want to fry anything though, and decided that I wanted something lemony, so I came up with what is really a sweet, lemony challah recipe. Challah, a traditional Jewish bread, is light and fluffy and all around awesome, since it's enriched with lots of egg, and I figured it would lend itself nicely to a little extra sweetness and flavor. I used butter in mine, but if you're keeping kosher, just use veggie or canola oil instead. I decided to do these as rolls, rather than a traditional braided loaf, so that I could play around with toppings, and also so you get the most exposed surface area to get that awesome golden flaky crunchy crust that challah is famous for. You could always do a traditional braided loaf, or even just plop the dough in a greased loaf pan and call it good. The hardest part is waiting (and salivating!) while the dough rises!

Lemon Challah rolls- makes about 12 rolls

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet) and 1/2 cup *minus* 2 Tbsp warm water and let sit until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks. Add eggs to the yeast and water, then add 4 Tbsp salted butter, melted and slightly cooled (so it doesn't cook the egg when you add it), 5 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, and 3 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh will be best, but I used bottled cause it's what I had).  Stir (by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, or on low speed with the dough hook) until well combined. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, mixing by hand or with the dough hook on low speed, until the dough is smooth, firm, and quite elastic (adding about 1/4 cup flour more, if needed).  Cover and let rise until doubled in size, roughly 2 hours.

With lightly floured hands, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times. Break off balls about the size of a lime and roll them into balls, place them on a floured surface or on parchment, cover again and let rest and rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  In a small bowl, whisk 1 large egg with 1 1/2 tsp sugar or honey.  Grease and sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet, or line a sheet with parchment, and place the rolls a couple inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush each roll with the egg wash, and bake until the crusts are a rich, dark, golden brown, and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped, about 20-25 minutes (when in doubt, go a little longer!)

In the last couple minutes of baking, combine 1 Tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp lemon juice. As soon as the completed rolls are cool enough to handle (but still quite warm), brush the crusts with the lemon butter, and roll them in sugar, and allow to cool (or chow down right away, depending on how patient you may or may not be!). Enjoy!

Edit: Now that we've had a chance to enjoy them, I just want to add- these are not as sweet as a donut, but I think that's a good thing! The lemon is subtle, so if you want them to really be lemony, add at least a tablespoon of lemon zest. I would have, had I had an actual lemon, but I just had bottled lemon juice so I went with what I had. If you want something really sweet, try a liquid glaze (like on a glazed donut). Yeast donuts in and of themselves are not very sweet at all, it's all in the topping, so keep that in mind if you're in the mood for something sweeter. Personally, the subtle lemony sweetness of these is perfect, not cloying or heavy. They'll be awesome as a breakfast roll (you can bet that's what I'll be having tomorrow!). They should be stored in an airtight container, either at room temp or in the fridge (that's up to you. I never refrigerate bread, but some do, and that's fine.).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tutorial to come soon!

Well, it's been a couple weeks since my last post, and what a couple weeks it was. We received some scary test results about the baby, but had to wait a couple weeks until I was far enough along to do more conclusive testing, and finally got the results of that test yesterday, and thank God the results are normal. It was a stressful, scary, worrisome couple of weeks, but that's all behind us now! So that was the reason for the radio silence on my part.  However, I just wanted to share a quick update that I am working on a tutorial for a super cool hammock chair I made yesterday, I've got to do some work on the rope lengths and make some cushions for it, but it's an awesome new addition to our back porch, and a lovely place to sit in the shade and ponder.  It might be a bit before I post the tutorial, but it will hopefully be by this time next week! Can't work on it this weekend, we're going on a canoe camping trip! WOOT! My favorite kind of camping, and Wyatt's first real camping trip (non car-camping or backyard camping, that is!)

Anyway, here is a sneak peek of the hammock chair!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One step forward, two steps back

Well, it's been over a week since the Great Chick Massacre.  The bear did indeed return that next night, and tore down the fence in the same place again (that we had just repaired), though he left the big coop (and the unknowing hens) alone, thank goodness.  We put up electric fencing, making two wraps around the outside of the big fence, first at about chest height, the second another 20" or so above that.  The controller box we had been given didn't work, so we bought a new, more powerful one.  It's capable of fencing up to 3 miles, which obviously is far more than we could ever possibly need here, but we'll certainly take it along with us when we finally get around to selling this place and moving on to larger (and hopefully greener) pastures.  Since the hot fence has been up, we haven't seen sign of the bear returning, though that doesn't mean he hasn't been here (he just hasn't tried to break in again, or if he has, he got a nasty zap and moved on).  We haven't had a chance to figure out a new brooder box situation yet, though I think any future chicks would be best off being inside the coop, and the hens will just have to deal with the temporary intruders.  The problem we now run in to of course is the availability of chicks, particularly of the breeds we want.  Buff Orpingtons are common enough, especially around here with our harsher winters, that they're pretty available at local feed stores, but if we want Black Australorps again, our luck may not be so, well, lucky.  The feed stores don't carry them, and most hatcheries I've found don't have them available until late June or even July at the earliest (and they're the same hatcheries the feed stores would order from, so there's no better option).  Bummer.  And frankly, the thought of going through another month of fragile chick stage is just not all that appealing.  At least this time the weather is warm enough for them to be out in the coop from the get-go (instead of spending the first week in the house, stinking up the place), but still... Another month of cleaning butts and twice-or-thrice-daily refills of water and food (as we don't have big waterers or feeders for the wee-uns) and constant turning on or off of light bulbs to try to keep a constant temperature (Ok, so the cleaning butts part only usually lasts the first week, maybe two... but still...).  I know the end result will be wonderful, and we feel obligated (and rightly so) to make it up to those for whom we were raising the chicks, but it's hard to think about starting over from scratch, and so late in the game.

As a result of the damage and fence work that needed to be dealt with, we haven't had the time to do some much-needed work on garden beds and the A-frame greenhouse, and so are late to plant a number of things.  We always buy tomato starts, since we've rarely had luck starting from seed with our short season (even when we start indoors), but it means we'll also have to buy squash starts and maybe even bean starts.  We're planning on rebuilding the bed that runs the length of the front of the house, and I was going to plant calendula in it, but it's probably the lowest on our priority list, and so won't happen for several more weeks I'm sure.  Calendula will bloom into late fall (we had new blooms opening up even after our first significant snowfall in November), but I was hoping to have improved our curb appeal by the busy part of summer, which officially kicks off this weekend.  So unless I get on the ass end of a shovel and do it myself while Red is at work, that probably won't happen for a bit.  Not to say I couldn't do it myself, but I'm not so sure just how long my pregnant body would let me work a shovel before it decides enough is enough, and we're left with a half-torn-up front yard... ;)  So we'll see.

And in random but fabulous crafting news, our local Walmart has finally gotten its head somewhat dislodged from its you-know-what and re-expanded its fabric department!  It is nowhere close to its original glory, but it is a big improvement over what it has been.  It really was horrendous timing on their part, when they severely downsized the craft department several years ago, as I think it's pretty evident that during economic downturns, we see a sharp rise in handicrafts and do-it-yourself type stuff.  The most ironic part of it all is that the craft department lost out to a massive expansion of the electronics department, which probably saw a considerable decrease in sales in the past few years (or at least I'd think it would have...), but then again the "average American consumer" does some pretty mind-boggling things (at least in my opinion)(um, hello, Black Friday...), so maybe I'm just totally off base.  But I know where MY money is far more likely to be spent, so that's gotta count for something, right?!?  Anyways, I'm quite pleased that they've expanded their fabric inventory, but it just means I've gotta get my butt in gear and get to work on all the projects I've got lined up already before I can go splurge on some new fabric for my stash ;)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The circle of life, or some sh*t...

Well, last night we lost all our chicks to a bear.  And what a ruthless bear it was.  I discovered the destruction this morning when I went to let the hens out and check on the chicks, and it was like stepping into a war zone.  What we thought was a strong, nice, high fence, was buckled and smooshed, the big sturdy brooder box torn apart (Not just broken in to, but torn apart, and the thing was built like a freakin tank, it was only a 4' cube but weighed several hundred pounds and was made of 2x6's and stout plywood, with construction sturdier than most houses...) and the carnage... Oh, the carnage... 45 chicks must have been quite the meal (I originally thought we had 46, but my math was off), as there really wasn't much left, though little bits and pieces and just a few mostly intact casualties were strewn all over the pens.  I shudder to think what a terrible end they met last night.  I am quite thankful that our hens are all ok, but now we're worried about their safety, as surely the bear will be back for the main course, now that the appetizers are gone.

I'm feeling lucky that the friend who paid for all the chicks (in exchange for us raising them, and him getting about 18 of them once they were grown enough) is very understanding of the situation.  Pissed, I'm sure, as they weren't cheap, but understanding.  If we had paid for them ourselves, I'd be super pissed.  As it is, what upsets me the most is the time that is now gone.  The Buffs were a full month old, and the Australorps were just a few days shy of a month, and with chicks, the first month is the hardest and most involved (and the entire reason why we were doing the dirty work for others, if it weren't a pain, they'd have done it themselves).  We were SO close to having them weaned off of light, and therefore ready to move on to their next homes, but now we have to start over. And more than just over, cause it's not just a matter of ordering more chicks, as we now have to figure out a new brooder box, and install electric fencing.  We should have done the fencing last year, but we couldn't afford a new system at the time, and thankfully we've since been given a used controller box dealie and the wire, but we still need the little transformer clips that you attach the wire to the posts with.  Not a big expense, and really there's no excuse for why we haven't done it sooner, but we just didn't, can't change that, and now we can't change what happened last night.  All we can do is move forward, do our best to protect the hens and any future chicks or livestock, and deal with whatever may happen in the future.  Hakuna Matata, or something...

Monday, May 14, 2012

One more indispensable book for your library!

I can't believe I forgot to include the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving in my list yesterday! Preserving food is a big part of our homesteading life, and it is one of the easier ways to make a difference in your food bill's bottom line.  Whether you grow your own foods to preserve, harvest from the wild, or take advantage of produce sales in season, canning and other preserving methods are staple skills to learn.  While The Encyclopedia of Country Living definitely covers food preservation, the Ball Blue Book is such an easy reference with great and easy to follow instructions for all types of food preservation, and more recipes than you could probably use in your lifetime.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Indispensable resources for your homestead's library

This morning as I looked at our bookshelves, I wondered how much we could have accomplished without the aid of some pretty fabulous books we own.  I have a feeling that without them, we'd have muddled things up pretty badly.  So I thought it would be a good idea to share the books and resources that we think are indispensable, ones we return to regularly and not just ones we read once and call it good.  I should add that I am in no way being compensated or bribed to mention any of these, and though I'll provide Amazon links to them, I'm not getting any commission or anything whatsoever.  These books are just that good.  And though I call it your homestead's library, you don't have to have a big garden or livestock or even a back yard to learn valuable and useful information from any of these books that you can then apply to your day to day life.  Your homestead could be anything from an apartment to a sprawling ranch.  If you are able to incorporate homemade/handmade/homegrown/DIY anything into your life, I consider that homesteading.  It's a way of life rather than a type of dwelling.  So, that said (and keeping in mind there are hundreds of books out there that I'm sure are great but that we haven't read or don't own), here are the books that have helped us immensely along the way!

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery- If your library had room for only one book, this would be it.  It has a wealth of in-depth information on everything from buying land to growing food and raising livestock to recipes for that food and livestock to how to birth a baby in an emergency.  Many other encyclopedia type books give general and short descriptions or information, but The Encyclopedia of Country Living is where to go to find out the details.  (I'd say look no further, but then you wouldn't need any of the other books I'm about to recommend, and this would be a pretty short blog post. Even though you probably could look no further...)

Mother Earth News Magazine- Ok, not a book, but just as important to us as The Encyclopedia of Country Living, and it is the one and only magazine that we regularly re-read old issues of.  Also, it is one of the most read magazines in the country, not in overall readership numbers, but in that its readership literally reads the whole magazine, cover to cover, every issue.  Also, every article ever printed is available for free online on their website (along with countless online-only articles and blogs), and if you prefer to own the information but don't have room for every back-issue, they offer a collection of cd-rom disks with every article from every issue since the magazine began in 1970.  Seriously, if you care about self-sufficiency, raising quality food (flora and/or fauna), or being good stewards of our land, get a subscription. You won't regret it!

Back to Basics by Abigail Gehring- Consider this one a less in-depth but more visual version of The Encyclopedia of Country Living.  Most topics are covered in a single page or two, so it's by no means exhaustive, but it's fun to read through and has great diagrams and photos of lots of different DIY ideas for all around the home and farm.

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening- Though growing your own food is a big part of modern homesteading, I'm only going to include one book on gardening, and this is it.  It's much more about technique than specific information about individual plants.  If you're looking for a guide with info on individual plants, there are zillions of books out there like that, all good in their own ways, and if you can find one that is specific to your region, the better (for example, Sunset's Western Garden Book is great if you live in or west of the Rockies).  But if you want to learn HOW to garden organically (the best way, and what should be the only way), then Rodale's is the place to go.  It's one thing to look up that a certain plant likes a rich, well drained, loamy soil, but those books don't usually tell you how to make your soil rich, well draining, and loamy (or even what loam is). Rodale's does, and then some.

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier- This is an absolutely excellent resource if you wish to reduce your dependence on conventional medicines.  Whether you grow your own herbs, or buy supplements from a store, this will tell you what to look for to help with all sorts of ailments.  I've successfully fought off multiple ear infections that otherwise would have needed full courses of antibiotics, with information from this book.  (Disclaimer- I'm not saying you should ditch going to the doctor in favor if this book, but it is very helpful, especially in a pinch if you can't get to the doc quickly enough, or in conjunction with conventional meds from your doc.)

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois- We haven't bought storebought bread in nearly two years thanks to this book (which we learned about thanks to Mother Earth News).  This book was an excellent stepping stone to getting creative on our own with our breadmaking, which is totally doable and not scary once you've mastered the techniques and understand the processes in this book.  There is another similar version of this book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (same authors), that is essentially many of the same recipes, but with more whole grains used, and less salt (though once you are comfortable with the basic recipes and techniques, those are modifications you can make without a specific recipe, so adding one or the other book to your library would probably be sufficient, unless you're uncomfortable with baking without a specific recipe, which is totally understandable).

One of the easiest ways you can incorporate homesteading into your daily life is by making your meals from scratch and not eating out, and two great cookbooks to help you do that are How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and The All New Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, et. al. (these are both links to the editions I have, though there are newer editions of both cookbooks).  Both books are very similar, so you could easily get away with just one (and of the recipes I've tried out of both books, Mark Bittman's versions tend to involve less butter, so make of that what you will, teehee), but they are great for learning the basics as well as more complex recipes, and they both include techniques that are important tools, not just recipes.

Homemade by Reader's Digest- Consider this a cookbook not only for edible goods but also many household goods.  I'm a big fan of many Reader's Digest books, and this one doesn't disappoint.

Crafts and Hobbies by Reader's Digest- This is an older book, but is a lot of fun and great inspiration if you want to try your hand at traditional and useful handicrafts for the home.  Reader's Digest makes a lot of great craft type books, and I'm also a fan of their Complete Guide to Needlework and their New Complete Guide to Sewing, though keep in mind the latter should really be called the Complete Guide to Garment Sewing, as it is almost exclusively garment related techniques, and though it is a new edition, the projects included are, well, dated. (This version has a sticker on the cover that says the projects are new, so maybe they are, but my edition has some pretty special looking projects despite having the same cover, though without that sticker.)

Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook by Peggy Layton- Self-sustainability is not just about making your own food or clothing or what have you, but also your ability to sustain yourself should the worst happen.  Food storage didn't used to be a 'weird' or 'survivalist' thing, it was absolutely necessary from a day to day life standpoint (and not so long ago, I might add).  Just because most Americans have easy access to well-stocked supermarkets now doesn't mean you should become complacent.  We by no means believe in silly Doomsday prophecies or anything like that, but disasters (both natural and man-made, widespread or personal (like an injury that keeps you from being able to work) can occur anywhere at any time, and can affect your ability to aquire food for days or even weeks at a time, and so being able to feed yourself and your family and keep them safe and healthy until things return to normal is a responsibility that many of us would struggle with today without a little forethought.  This book will help you become self-reliant should the worst happen (God forbid), and will help you determine the best foods for long-term storage and how to prepare them if you need them.  (Also, many long-term storage capable foods are foods we use on a regular basis as our staple foods, such as wheat berries and dried beans, so you don't have to stock up your pantry with stuff you'll never use, and they're much more affordable than their ready-to-eat counterparts.)

And that is my list for you today.  I'm sure there are many other wonderful books out there that are deserving to be on this list, but these are the ones we have found to be truly useful to us, and I hope that they might be useful to you as well!  Happy reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This much is true- I am a terribly infrequent blogger. Not for lack of want, I have big aspirations to be an awesome blogger with dozens of sweet crafty tutorials and all that, but the bottom line is tutorials are time consuming, and I usually don't think of making one until I'm done with the project that I think would be cool to do a tutorial on. It's also not for lack of time, as I waste plenty of time on facebook and whatnot, though the opportunity to sit and write uninterrupted for an extended period of time does not happen all too frequently.  It is what it is.  Perhaps I should just lower my expectations, and maybe I'd be more prone to blog the little things more often?  Maybe I'll give that a try. In the meantime, a springtime catch-up:

Things are moving and shaking in the Hefner household as of late.  We had a mercifully mild winter, and as a result we've had a mercifully early spring (or at least we've been able to dig in the dirt earlier than normal, which is as good a sign as any of spring for us).  Wyatt turned 4 in April, which is nuts, and the BIG news is we're expecting another little Hefner come November! (And the first ultrasound seems to indicate little Hefner is a girl (!), though we'll hopefully officially confirm or deny that with the next ultrasound in about two months.) With Wyatt, I was pregnant throughout the colder months, so I'm actually excited to enjoy a summer barefoot and pregnant (and yes, I know that term has negative connotations, but not to me, I love the image it conjures).

Not only are we adding to our human flock, we've also added quite significantly to our avian flock this spring.  We've been brooding and raising a total of 51 chicks the past four weeks, though 6 have already left us for their new home with friends, and another 25 or so will go on to other homes as well once they're a bit bigger.  The remaining birds will be ours, though we'll probably only add a maximum of four to our laying flock. The rest are destined for the freezer (both ours and others), which we're really excited about (in what hopefully doesn't come across as a creepy way).  I could say a LOT about factory poultry farming practices (as frankly, I think those chickens have it the worst of any factory raised livestock), but I won't, cause we still buy conventional chicken at the grocery store, and can't afford to buy locally raised meat, though I'm very happy to be able to reduce the amount of conventional meat we have to buy.  Anyways- We started out with 25 Buff Orpingtons (same breed as our laying flock), and 26 Black Australorps, which is also a heritage breed that was bred in Australia from Orpington stock, so in all a very similar bird though potentially a bit smaller, and of course black, not buff.  The Australorp chicks were super cool looking, a mix of black and whitish yellow, with interesting markings especially on the face, and once they're full grown they'll be all black with an almost greenish iridescence.  The Buffs are a week older than the Australorps, and already we can tell we've got one confirmed rooster among the Buffs.  We'll hopefully be able to tell soon if any of the Australorps are roosters as well (even though the chicks were sexed before we got them, there is about a 10% chance of getting a rooster, so if we only end up with one out of 50, I'll be somewhat surprised).  We'll see how it is raising roosters, but if we do end up with an Australorp rooster (and he's not an ass), we might add him to our permanent flock just for fun.  (And the four hens that we'll add to our flock will be Australorps, so we have some variety, and also so we can tell who's who as far as age in our flock)

As if 59 hens and chicks wasn't enough, we're hopefully going to be getting some pigs this summer as well.  Whether we build a new pen for them, or wait till the chicks are all off to their perspective homes (be them coops or freezers), is yet to be seen, but we're hoping to raise two pigs for meat.  And if we do it right, by selling quarters or halves, we'll get the weaners (weaned piglets) and also hopefully some of the feed at no cost to us (This is also how we've done the chicks).  We've switched our regular feed store, and are much happier with the new one, as they are much friendlier and more helpful and don't give you dirty looks if you dare ask a question that indicates you weren't born and raised on a ranch or farm and should know this stuff you city slicker idiot... (I digress...)  Anyway, the new feed store has excellent connections for affordable weaner pigs (which has been our problem for over a year now, we wanted pigs last summer but couldn't find affordable weaners), and the owner's parents own a well established rabbitry, should we decide to also do rabbits (which we've also been thinking about for a long time).  So it is pretty cool that we're able to raise all this livestock on little over a half an acre.  Too bad we also can't raise all their food too ;)  But at the very least, we're able to ensure they live a happy and healthy life, and that's the best part.

And yes, of course we're getting the garden going too.  We've already got a bunch of kale, swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, chives, and a plethora of onions coming up from last year (maybe this time we'll be able to enjoy all those greens before the deer do)(plus strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and asparagus, which is finally on its third year, which is the first year you can harvest from, so we're anxious to see what we get).  We've got lettuces coming up both in and out of the greenhouse, and have been working on a new bed for the herb garden.  We've decided not to do potatoes this year, as they take up a huge amount of garden space and are so cheap at the store anyways, but we've been struggling to figure out what to fill their old beds with!  Also, we're not doing tomatoes in the greenhouse, instead we're making a new greenhouse out of an old A-frame metal swingset that we got for free from our neighbor, and that will be for the tomatoes, and we're going to try our luck at summer squash and maybe even melon in the greenhouse.  The cherry trees are blooming right now, and we're going to redo the bed along the front of the house, and will plant calendula all along it, as it did amazingly last year, bloomed sheer into November, and it's a wonderful medicinal herb (we're making calendula oil with last year's flowers).  Still to come to the garden- garlic, comfrey, more chives, lemon thyme, oregano, beans and peas, and who knows what else!

Ok, now that we're marginally caught up on the springtime goings on, I'll call it good and we'll just have to wait and see how long it takes me to make another post... ;)