Friday, July 30, 2010

Chicken Run (part three)

It's crunch time. Got to get serious. It was slow at the yarn shop so I left Errol in charge and headed home to put up some fence. First I had to unroll it and get it all ready to hang.

Yes, it was a mess. Whoever took down the pen, instead of rolling the chain link nicely, had piled and tangled it into a heap. Thanks, unknown dude. My husband thought we should just toss it and buy new. Hell no! I paid $25 for this....and I'm gonna use it. All I need to do is remove the edge wire and straighten out the edges a bit. No problemo. Yep. They're a mess.

This is a job for wire cutters and pliers.

I'll cut the wire and remove it from the edge, then I'll straighten and reattach the edges on the fencing. Good thing I like puzzles.

Aw. Look how pretty it is, all straight and tidy. Let's roll it up and get ready to hang it.

See, unknown dude? This is how it SHOULD look.

The tension rod is in place and it's ready to attach to our frame.

Looking good, so far. Let's get it pulled around the corner and get those wire wraps attached to the tops and bottoms. I put a LOT more wraps than the video said. I put them every other diamond, top and bottom. I don't want raccoons getting in....or chickens getting out. I'm not sure if I put the wire wraps on correctly, but the chickens won't care.

I had some speed parts. Here are the wire bits I removed from the top and bottom edges, as well as the chain link I didn't use.

Now all I have to do is hang the gate. Only one problem. I want it to swing to the right. Which means I have to remove it from that last pole, and place it on the first corner pole. Husband would've just left it to swing to the left. Not on my watch.

There. All better. Now to install that last pole.

Husband had bought 2 new bolts to replace the stripped out one, and one that was missing completely. The other bolts holding the clamps were 10mm. So I pulled out the socket wrench, and no dice. The bolts were too large. Great. Now I get to rummage around in the toolbox and try to find the right sized socket. Of course it was the last one I tried. Seems these new bolts are 7/16. We're back in business.

All done. So far, this pen is 100% girl made. And a clueless girl, at that.

Did my husband tell me how to do it? Not one bit, other than showing me how the socket wrench works. Any assembly help I had came from that video on the Petco web site. That's a damn good video, BTW. I gave him the list of parts I needed, and he picked them up for me. But I will need him to install the hardware cloth on that last panel, behind the coop. And his other job is to rig a door for the coop, and predator proof the egg hatch. Another female in the family had a big accomplishment today, too. Joanie laid her first "really big" egg. It looks like a double yoker. Here is today's egg next to the size she usually lays.

Good job, Joanie. Willoughby girls rock!

Chicken Run (part two)

Last night I set about putting the rest of the frame together. I got the first vertical pole and the corner clamps ready. Clamp around bottom frame, at the corner? Check. Vertical pole in the top of clamp? Check. Pick up a socket wrench, for the first time in my life (and I'm old) and start ratcheting. What the...!??!! The damn bolt would not tighten. I reversed the direction of the ratchet, and the bolt came off. That meant I had it going right the first time. Reversed it back and ratcheted some more. Didn't get tight. Gave the hubby, who was at work, a call to see what I was doing wrong. He promises to help me in the morning. Now I'm terribly frustrated and disappointed with myself. What if it was the end of the world, I'm all alone, and I need to build a kennel? It could happen. I need to get this stupid frame together, dammit. I fiddle around with the bolt a bit more before realizing the darn thing is stripped. I swear it was that way before I ever touched it. I get out a different clamp/bolt combo, and success!!! It took me a while to get the hang of how the ratchet works, but eventually I had all 4 poles in place. Now to assemble the top of the frame. The PetSafe video was correct. That part certainly would be easier with a buddy. But Reggie refused to help, so I was on my own. After some bad words and multiple attempts I finally had it together. And I thought it might even be assembled correctly.

When hubby arrived home he confirmed that it was, indeed, correct. I'm so proud of myself. Now to get some chain link on that puppy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Apple Butter Time

Come along with me as I make a batch of crock pot apple butter. It doesn't get much easier than this. You start by making a big batch of apple sauce. Get your largest saucepan. Fill it 1/4 to 1/5 full of water. I think I filled mine about 1/5 this time, since apple butter needs to be quite a bit thicker than applesauce. Stir in 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Pick a whole lot of apples. I don't count them. I just quit once the pot is full. Wash the apples, cut them into quarters and remove the stems and most of the seeds. Don't worry if you miss some seeds, as they will be removed by the food mill. Add the prepared apples to the pot. Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir the pot full of apples (and you want it very full) until the apples are cooked and falling apart.

When the apples are ready, place your food mill over a large bowl, ladle in some cooked apples, and crank for all you're worth.

When you've cranked out all the apple sauce, empty the peelings and other yucky stuff remaining in the mill, into another large bowl.

When your bowl of apple sauce gets full, empty it into your largest crock pot (I think mine holds 6 or 7 quarts) and start over. When all the apples have been milled your crock pot should look like this.

At this point all you'd need to do is add a couple cups of sugar, and you'd have applesauce. But we are going a step beyond that. You'll still add the 2 cups of sugar. But you'll also add 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice.

Mix it all together well. Before you cover it to cook you'll want to put a couple of spacers between the pot and the lid, so the moisture can evaporate and the apple butter cooks down and gets thick. I use chopsticks.

Now cover it with the lid, set it on low, and leave it for a long, long time. I started mine early in the morning, and let it cook until late at night.

I took the lid off and stirred it every few hours, but that's not really necessary. You want it to be very dark and thick, not runny. Some recipes say it's done when a wooden spoon stands up in it, by itself....but I can get a wooden spoon to stand up in my applesauce, so I don't think that's a good indicator. You want it to be thick enough to spread on a biscuit or toast, and not run off or soak right in. This is what the finished product should look like.

My apple butter was actually finished last night but I was too tired to can it up. So I set the crock pot on warm, removed the spacers, replaced the lid and let it remain plugged in until this morning. Then I turned the heat up to high to make sure it was hot when I canned it. I then ladled it into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space. I tightened the rings well and inverted the jars for 15 minutes then flipped them back over. They all sealed just fine. I now have 12 half pints of apple butter to add to my pantry.

I also have a partial jar to enjoy now. To celebrate, I baked a couple of loaves of fresh whole wheat bread.

How does some buttered toast with apple butter sound?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chicken Run (part one)

I need to "get 'er done". I have a bantam couple lined up to arrive Sunday afternoon. But the chicken run is not anywhere near finished. The husband has been very busy this week so I really don't want to bug him too much. I decided to see how much of this project I can do, myself. No, I don't know anything about putting together a fence...chain link or otherwise. And what I know about tools you can fit on the head of a....well...actually you wouldn't need to put it anywhere. I am clueless. But that's never stopped me. How hard can it be? Guys do it all the time. When I bought the dog run, all I had to go by was the fellow's word, because the run was dismantled and in a little heap on the side of his house. He did provide this lovely picture of what the run was supposed to look like when assembled.
To get some kind of an idea how these things go together, I located this nifty video. "Hey, that looks easy", I thought. So this morning I proudly announce to my hubby that I'm going to put my pen together. I just need a 1/2" socket wrench and pliers, like the video said. Well, that would be fine and dandy, if I were putting together the same pen as in the video. But I'm not. Husband set me up with the correct smaller sized socket wrench. OK, I'm ready to proceed. This afternoon, after I got home from work, I set about my task. Here is where the run needs to go. In order to accomplish this, I need to remove that scruffy looking rhodie, located directly behind the little red coop.

I also need to relocate the worm bin (lower righthand corner) and put one of the compost bins down in its place.

The rhodie is now stripped bare. I was going to leave the branches intact, for the chickens to climb on, but it seems rhodies are toxic for birds. I'll have to find a saw and chop it all the way down.

The next step was to flatten out the ground where the run will go. The ground was very uneven. The next picture shows the bottom frame of the pen laid out and the coop turned around the right way, with the door leading into the pen. One of the compost bins has been moved to make room for the frame.

Another view showing how I plan for the ramp to lead down from the coop into the chicken yard.

That's as far as I got, today. I need to consult with the husband because I can't see any way that the gate can swing open. There are no hinges. This, after the seller (who was a pastor, BTW) assured me that all the parts were there and the gate opened and shut. Hmmmm...I don't think so. Looks like I'll have to invest in some hinges for it. Good thing I talked him down from $40 to $25. I'll also need to pick up some more c-clamps and a bunch of wire ties. And, who knows, maybe it does open, and I'm just too dumb to figure out how. It could happen.

Stay tuned for my progress (or lack of it).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Homemade Apple Sauce

Or "happy sauce" as we used to call it when the kids were little. Canning has never been my favorite thing. Yes, I like being able to look into the pantry and admire my colorful handiwork. But you have to do it at the hottest damn time of the year. Boiling a huge pot of water on the stove, when it's over 80 degrees, is not pleasant. But these apples aren't gonna can themselves. And I have a tree full of them, this year.

I canned 9 pints of applesauce and I haven't even made a dent in the amount of apples I have. There will be lots more apple sauce canning in this girl's future. Here is the way that I make it:

(the easy way)

Take the biggest saucepan you have and fill it 1/4 full of water. Add 1 Tbs. of lemon juice. Now fill the rest of the pan up with apples, chopped into quarters with the stems and seeds removed, along with any blemishes. The apple skin is very nutritious so we are not going to peel the apples. Now heat the pot full of apples until the water boils. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook and stir until all the apples are soft and are falling apart. Remove from heat. Now for the fun part. Take your food mill and place it over a bowl. Ladle in some of the cooked apple mixture and crank away. What ends up inside the bowl is your apple sauce. Discard the skin that remains inside the mill. I saved mine to feed to the chickens. You're going to have LOTS of sauce, so have a few bowls ready. Once you've processed all the cooked apples, return the sauce to the pan and heat. Stir in enough sugar to sweeten. I used 2 cups. I also added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Ladle the hot apple sauce into your hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" head room. Process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes.

Just like most things, homemade apple sauce is far superior to that which you buy at the grocery store. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Got Lovage?

I'm bringing lovage back. What the heck is lovage? The short answer is, it is an Old English sweet herb, once used widely, but now quite out of fashion. You can find out more about it here. I have a robust lovage plant in my garden and I'm bound and determined to use it. That's kind of my thing. If I'm going to take care of a plant or animal, it's gonna give me something, in return. Usually food. Or undying devotion. I'm thinking lovage is only good for the former. Meet my happy little lovage plant.

You may find yourself asking, "What does lovage taste like"? Well, it has a very strong celery type flavor. Which means you can use it in many recipes where you would normally use celery. Like stuffing. Or I like to use it in egg salad. I bet it would be nice in potato salad, as well. I'll have to give that a try very soon. But today I was in the mood for some potato lovage soup. Not that I'd ever had any before. But I had been meaning to try it. Being of Irish decent, I am quite fond of potatoes. And you can't get much easier than potato soup. This is my own recipe. I started with this one, but decided I wanted to do things a bit differently. I wanted less liquid, less onion, some garlic (I adore garlic) and I wanted the lovage added much sooner in the process. So here is the Roxi version. It was quite good:

1 1/2 TBS. olive oil
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 green onions, chopped (or 1/4 yellow onion, minced)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 C. water
1/3 C. chopped lovage (leaves and small stems)
1 C. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat the oil in a medium sized sauce pan. Add the potatoes, onion and garlic, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are browned and the onions and garlic are cooked. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, stir in the lovage and simmer until the potatoes are done. Use a masher or ricer and mash the potatoes well. I don't use a food processor because I like my soup chunky. And I don't want to have to cool it, either. You can use the masher right in the pan on the stove. Once the potatoes are mashed, stir in the milk and seasonings. Reheat if needed and serve.

I hope you enjoy lovage as much as I do. It's very easy to grow and is a perennial so once you have it, you always have it. I love plants that cooperate.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poo Stew

This is my first year going 100% natural in the garden. No pesticides or non-organic fertilizers. The fertilizer part has posed a bit of a problem, as I do not have my soil in good condition. I have a couple of compost bins going, but that end product won't be ready until next year. I have a Can-O-Worms worm bin with a pretty good colony established. They aren't really fast eaters but they do eventually produce some lovely rich castings. I also bought a gallon of Alaskan fish fertilizer and located a couple of local folks who raise rabbits but don't need their byproduct. I have a limited amount of worm castings. Instead of digging it into the garden I've been making worm tea and pouring it on the plants. I had been spreading the rabbit manure on top of the garden but my little dog thinks it's treats. Yesterday I got the bright(?) idea to combine all 3, the castings, manure, and fish emulsion, to make one super duper liquid fertilizer. I got 2 of my large buckets. To each I added 1 cup castings, a goodly amount of rabbit stuff, and a couple glugs of fish fertilizer. I filled the buckets with water and let them steep all day. Last night I stirred the buckets well and poured about 4 cups of the mixture into a watering can. Then filled the can with water and commenced to watering all of the garden's residents. I swear, this stuff worked immediately. The plants seem to love it. And my little dog leaves it alone. The only drawback is the horrendous smell. Fish fertilizer is some nasty stuff.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Little Red Chicken Coop

My poor, poor husband. Just when he thought he could sleep in. I found a small chicken house, just the right size for a bantam rooster and 3 hens. I made an offer, which was accepted, and this morning we were off to Orting to collect the coop. The hubby's Subaru is turning out to be quite the chicken house hauler. First it was the tractor for the 3 big girls, and now this.

And here it is, safely tucked away in my backyard. The seller was a really nice lady who also threw in some linoleum she had laying around. I can put some of that down in the tractor's coop, making it much easier to clean.

Now to find an inexpensive chain link dog run and I'll be ready to add more chickens to the family. Tuesday afternoon I was supposed to go pick up some spaghetti squash starts that I found on Craigslist. When I got to the home at the agreed upon time, no one was there. They later emailed that they had run errands which took longer than expected, but would I please try again. I did, this afternoon, and they were so lovely. Not only did I get 3 squash plants for me, and 6 for my friend, Kristine, but the couple also gave me a bunch more plants. There are a couple of types of basil, some kale, lettuce, and a few things that I'm not sure what they are. It'll be a surprise.

Now, if I could just find a food mill, things would be fabulous. Not having much luck with that, yet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chard, Chard, Everywhere

Can one have too much Swiss chard? It seems to be growing faster than I can eat it. And I'm eating quite a bit. This is the chard that's ready.

And I have about the same amount of rainbow chard that isn't yet mature. But once it gets out. I may have to start dehydrating some, to add to soups this fall and winter. Today's recipe was supposed to make a dent in the chard population but the above picture was taken AFTER I picked the 6 large leaves used in the quiche. So much for that plan.


4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
6 large leaves of Swiss chard, roughly chopped
1/4 large sweet onion, minced
1/2 Tbs. olive oil
Additional olive oil for greasing quiche pan

In large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Beat in milk, salt and pepper. Stir in cheese. Heat oil in skillet and saute chard and onions until chard is wilted. Don't overcook. Stir the chard and onions into the egg and cheese mixture. Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut, serve and enjoy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Step Towards Giving Up Plastic

I have way too much plastic in my kitchen. And not all of it is useful. I have a bunch of those Glad type storage containers. The kind you buy at the grocery store to put leftovers in. Often I will cook a large batch of soup or a casserole, and freeze the leftovers to have in my lunch. But many times the plastic containers don't hold up well. I've had them crack open and waste whatever was in them. Another problem is that you really shouldn't heat food up in the microwave when it's in plastic. I know we've all done it, but we shouldn't. Plastic also absorbs oils. You can never get it really clean. It's OK for storing dry goods, but glass is much better for storing most food. Today I visited Costco, to stock up on all my basics, like butter, flour, sugar, etc...and look what I found. An 18 piece set of Snapware Glasslock storage containers, for $29.99. You can see that they usually sell for quite a bit more. You can freeze in them and also microwave in them (minus the lids). The only drawback is you cannot use them in the oven, like you can with Pyrex. I'm so happy, I just Freecycled all my old plastic containers. Well, not all of them. Hubby wanted to keep a few for sandwiches.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kayaking On The Duwamish

I finally did it. I went kayaking on a river. And it wasn't as scary as I feared. The Duwamish is a very slow moving river. The most difficult part was putting in. We were able to find an access, near a parking lot, that wasn't too bad. I forgot my camera but don't worry. You didn't miss much. It's not that picturesque. The above photo, from the linked web site, shows what the prettiest areas looked like. In other spots the river is flanked by Boeing plants and freeways. But the kayaking was free, the river was easy to paddle, and there were no other boats out on it, other than 2 that were moored outside their owners' homes. Yes, there are even some homes along the Duwamish. I think we were out there for a good 2 hours. A lovely way to start the day. After we finished we stopped by Starbucks for a Caramel Macchiato and smoked a Padron 2000. Then we stopped at Subway for some lunch because we'd both worked up an appetite.
Not much else happening around here, today. I'm taking it easy and trying to catch my breath after the week long sale at the yarn shop. You wouldn't think selling yarn could be so exhausting.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Veggie Pizza

This has been a very busy week. We are having our 11th Anniversary Sale at the yarn shop and it was also Pipe Club week. Needless to say, I'm a tired girl. Last night I had a hankering for pizza. But not that nasty, store bought, cardboard crusted stuff. I wanted a pizza using the fresh goodies from my garden. Here is the recipe I used with the substitutions noted in italics:

Spinach Feta Pizza

Makes one pizza.

Prepared pizza dough (see below)
5 oz. of Alfredo sauce (quality sauce from the refrigerated section)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh spinach (I used chard)
1/4 cup sliced red onion (I used Walla Walla)
2 large mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp. dried basil (I used 1 Tbs. of chopped fresh)
Grated Parmesan, optional

Mix garlic into Alfredo sauce and spread over unbaked crust. Top with spinach, onion, mushrooms, cheeses and basil.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until crust is browned and cheese is melted and bubbly. Let stand for a few minutes before slicing. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

2 packages or 4 1/2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 C. all purpose flour
1 1/2 C. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup warm water
More all purpose flour for kneading the dough.
More olive oil for greasing the bowl and pizza pan

Mix first 3 ingredients together, in a medium sized bowl, and let sit about 5 minutes until frothy. If the yeast doesn't bubble, it's no good. Mix next 3 dry ingredients together in a larger bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the olive oil and remaining warm water to the yeast and mix well. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well with your hands until all flour is Incorporated. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly greased medium sized bowl. Turn the dough once to make sure it is coated with oil on all sides. Cover and place in a warm spot (I use my oven with the light on) until doubled in volume. Turn out onto floured surface and punch down. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. This recipe makes 2 crusts. I usually place the second piece in a freezer bag to use in the future. Let the crust you are going to use rest for 5 minutes. Use a rolling pin to roll dough out, in a circle, to slightly larger than your pizza pan. Make sure the dough is lightly floured on both sides and fold the dough in quarters. Place onto your lightly greased pizza pan and unfold. Tuck under the edges to form your crust. Now you are ready to add your toppings.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Relaxing Sunday

No slug pictures today, I promise.
Today I just kicked back and took it easy. The hubby took me out for lunch, to the Rosewood Cafe. This is one of our favorite Sunday hangouts. They now have outdoor seating and I enjoyed eating my barbecue chicken salad out in the fresh air. Husband had to go to work (again!) so I decided to head over to Fred Meyers to pick up a few things. On the way to the store I got sidetracked by, you guessed it, a yard sale. BINGO! I found this box of jars.

It looked like there were some regular jars mixed in but they only wanted $2 for the dozen, and I figured I could always use the non-canning jars for other storage. When I got home and investigated further I found that they were ALL canning jars. Some just had regular jar lids on them. These jars all have twins.

And these 4 jars are singletons. Some of the jars are from the 80's and some appear to be as much as 50-60 years old. I know Presto jars haven't been produced in quite awhile, and I have never heard of Magic canning jars.

I did eventually make it to the store. I picked up some steak and baked potato fixings, but what I was REALLY after was some organic, non-pasteurized apple cider vinegar to add to the chicken's water. It's supposed to be very good for them. I want to make sure my girls are healthy.

When I got home I puttered around in the yard a bit. I picked my strawberries and raspberries. I think the raspberries are slowing down but the strawberries are still going strong.

Another important task I accomplished was a partial water change on the fish pond. I estimate the pond holds 20 gallons. I replaced 5 gallons, and also used a gravel vacuum to tidy things up.

You can't see the fish in the picture, but trust me, they are still alive and are thriving. I think they've doubled in size.