Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just stuff

Got some more done on the chicken coop this week. Paint, window hardware, caulking, hardware cloth, systems for keeping the windows open (ropes, wood constructs, whatever worked). Still need to lay down the laminate floor and do the decorating, but it'll be ready for chickens soon. Woot!

Chris has been working on his bass case in between doing landscaping stuff. We're leveling the future garden site by removing earth berms and moving the dirt to low areas around the yard. We've also got piled up soil down by the road that we're relocating. The fun part is finding bottles, broken pottery, and metal tools in the dirt. Most of the stuff is broken but occasionally we find whole pieces - bottles marked as tuberculosis cures, liniments, and mineral oils are the most common. Great shapes and interesting colors (mainly clear but some blues and browns). Not sure what I'll do with all of them yet, but I'm thinking a display on the porch would be fun.

Temperatures have been cooler than typical and we've been so dry that the soil was just powder. Not now! A week of rain has everything looking green and fresh. The trees have popped and my perennial plants are starting to poke out of the ground.

I've been really working on kitchen design ideas. Chris will be tackling the cabinetry soon and I wanted to have firm answers when he asked me what I wanted. It'll be mainly drawers with just a few cupboard sections. Can't wait to unpack all my boxes!

Monday, May 9, 2016

This week's recipe: Spinach and Egg-Drop Pasta Soup

This week's recipe came out of the Food & Wine annual cookbook 2008. I have so many recipes bookmarked in this book! A great compilation of gorgeous food from many excellent cooks. In fact my all time favorite breadstick recipe is from this book. They're crunchy, not soft, and taste great. And the best thing about them? No yeast means no waiting for a rise which means no need to plan ahead. I've tweaked it a bit from the original so here's mine:

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp poppy seeds
3 Tbl cold butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbl ice water

Preheat oven to 375*.
In food processor, pulse flour with baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and poppy seeds. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles small peas. Leave machine on and pour in the water - process until just forms a dough.
Turn out onto lightly floured surface and gently combine. Pat into a rectangle and then roll to a thin 1/4". Cut into strips a generous 1/4" wide and about 4 inches or so long.
Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Place strips on prepared pans, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, until golden. Let cool before serving.

Anyway, breadsticks are not what I made this week. I made soup. That recipe (page 12) was good. Not great, but solidly good. Basically it's chicken broth, garlic, pasta, spinach, and egg. No intense flavors but enjoyable. The only thing that threw us was the texture - it was mildly weird to have pasta in egg-drop soup. I think it would actually help to make it a bit more Italian - maybe add some fresh basil next time? And stronger greens might help too - arugula maybe.

Friday, May 6, 2016

River Rock

Our covered front porch/carport is 64 feet long. Love it. It's got about a 12 inch overhang with gutters that gives lots of shade and added drip protection. We wanted the grass to grow up to the edge of that porch - easy maintenance because you just mow or weed-whack right up to the concrete. 

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans, right? Yeah - they often fail. In this case the ground simply didn't get enough rain to support the grass well. If we watered directly onto that strip the grass was lush and green. Let Mother Nature take over and it died out in patches. I guess the drainage under the concrete porch just sucks down all the moisture. Good for the porch, bad for greenery.

So we decided to do a stone border. I didn't want #2 stone (gravel to most folks but not to the rock guys) as that's jagged and it hurts to step on it. So, river rock! But we didn't want to pay for rock (yes, we're cheap). Craig's List to the rescue! A very pleasant woman had a river rock walkway all the way around her house and she hated it. We could have as much as we wanted as long as we did the work. Cool.

So we took our yard cart, several 5-gallon bucks, a hoe/rake, and a transfer shovel and got to work. I moved stone to bucket with the flat transfer shovel (we didn't want to create holes in her pathway since she was going to have to fill that area back in with something) and Chris moved and emptied the buckets. We filled the bed of the truck and there was so much pathway left! We felt a bit bad that we weren't taking more, but that was going to be plenty for our needs.

As is typically the case when you get something free there was work to be done with it. The rocks were full of dirt and debris. So we raked, washed, raked, and finally hand picked to fill a shallow trench in front of the porch. 

Pretty mix of shapes and colors
I think it looks great and will be much better than the scraggly dirt and grass we had previously.
Rock in place. Grass slowly recovering from winter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This week's recipe (actually the last three weeks): Spiced Almonds; Stuffed French Toast; Corn Muffins

All of these recipes come from the Cook's Country Cookbook. As much as I like Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen, I find the recipes there can be overly complex sometimes. Actually, no, I find the food overly complex. There's a lot to be said for good old-fashioned food and that's what you get in Cook's Country. 

The first recipe was for Spiced Almonds (page 3) and wow! were they excellent. A much easier technique than the sugared almonds I've made in the past (the ones where you boil sugar, water, and spices then add the nuts and cook until the liquid evaporates) and the nuts have stayed fresh much longer.

They "sing" as they cool
It made 2 pounds of spiced nuts and we're almost through them already (please note that we have given some of them away for taste-testing). They've lasted over a week so far and they're still crunchy and wonderful.
Huge Ball jar full of yumminess
The next recipe was for Stuffed French Toast. You season cream cheese with sugar and cinnamon, spread it on some bread, make a sandwich, dip it in light batter, and pan fry as usual. Good flavor and I loved how crisp the batter made the toast (as opposed to the normal sogginess that is French Toast). In fact, I'll use that batter from now on (one egg, half cup of flour, one cup of cold water, 1 tsp vanilla), but I won't bother with the stuffing.  Simply too rich.

Finally, I made their Corn Muffins (page 184). I haven't had a lot of luck with corn muffins; they always seem to come out so heavy. But these! oh my stars. Perfect. Not light exactly - after all, they are corn muffins - but definitely not dense. And a nice bit of sweetness to them.
Perfect texture, flavor, and craggy appearance
So far this whole New Year's Resolution thing is going well. I'm enjoying my cookbooks and I'm loving the cooking.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Chicken Coop

Yes, I have finally succumbed to the lure of chickens. The gateway animal is coming to the homestead. Am I nervous? Yes. Why? Because everyone says once you have chickens, it's nearly inevitable that you get other critters. And Chris already wants goats. Goats! We waited a long time to add a livestock type animal to our property. First we traveled too much - being gone every weekend pretty much excludes having animals that require daily care yet can't travel with you; then we were just too busy concentrating on getting the house built; then we made lots of other excuses; and now we're ready.

I looked at Backyard ChickensCobble Hill Farm, and The Hen Cam for inspiration and requirements for the coop. Got some ideas and guidelines for making a coop that would help keep the chickens healthy and comfortable. Then I started having fun with the design work.

Oddly, it was pretty easy to take care of the birds requirements. After that, I could concentrate on making something that I'd like to look at everyday. I wanted a cute building shaped like a traditional bird house (or corn crib). And I wanted fun paint. And of course I wanted it to be large enough that I could stand inside it for easy cleaning.

Just the first version of the paint job 
I figured out the dimensions, shape, and materials. I colored several mockups to pick a paint scheme. Then I broke out the Lego's to make sure the platform made sense. I love lego's - we used them to design the Nest and the house. Amazing what a 3-D rendering can help you decide.

Almost fully designed
Then we priced out the materials and I went "what???". $1,000 to build a coop? Okay, actually that makes sense. That's about how much we spent to build our storage shed which was about the same size. Except, what if I hated having chickens? Did I really want to invest a grand up front? No.

So we looked around the property at what we already owned and realized that we had a gateway coop for our gateway animals. When we built the Nest we had to set up a latrine (NOT an outhouse - there was no pit dug). Basically we used the bucket method of waste collection (see this if you really want to know). No ickiness ever touched the wood. Honest. Anyway, when we built the house and graduated to an honest-to-goodness septic system, the latrine became my garden shed (see, no ickiness!).  And now it will have a new life as a chicken coop. If it turns out I love having chickens, then I'll build a better coop. 

First we emptied it out and moved it up to the garage so we could work on coop adaptations.
Taking measurements
Ultimately we needed to remove the ill-fitting door, clean out the interior, add nest boxes, a pop door, another window, roosts, and lots of hardware cloth.
Making room for the new door
Putting it back together
Lots of progress has been made - the new door is on and the coop is actually in its final resting place. I've got to paint, add more hardware cloth, attach a covered area off the pop door, and figure out fencing, but it's coming along and we'll be ready for chickens in early summer. I'm planning to purchase pullets since I don't have a setup for baby chicks. More pictures to follow when it's all ready!