Sunday, January 30, 2011

At ease, ladies, at ease...

I learned something new about my chickies today.  It all started when Abby stopped laying 3 days ago.  She's laid an egg almost every day since she started laying so this is pretty weird.  Otherwise she's acting fine so I wasn't super worried, but Shawn did some research anyway, to get some answers.  It turns out that chickens reach peak laying at 35 weeks and that lasts for 10 weeks.  After that, production drops off a little.  Considering she started laying on November 22nd, 10 weeks since that date will be tomorrow.  Makes complete sense, right?  Honestly, laying an egg once a day must take a ton of energy out of a little hen like her.  Can you imagine laying something full of protein and calcium the size of your head everyday?  Seriously.  So, since I was a little worried that she was over-exerting herself, I'm ok with her taking it easy from now on.  Frannie also seems to be slowing down, and Mabel still lays everyday, but she started late so in a week's time she should start to take it easy too.  It'll take me a few days to get used to not getting three eggs a day but I'll get used to it.

12/1/2011 Update: This is totally wrong.  After I started giving the ladies snacks to supplement their regular feed, they picked right back up.


Oh yeah... I'd like to give a shout out to Oreo, my friend's black australorp rooster.  He had a short but fulfilling life, being the only male on a farm, surrounded by his harem of hens.  I kind of wanted to adopt him since I thought he would make a nice boyfriend to our three ladies, but of course, that could not be possible with neighbors so near.  He passed this week, from natural causes.  Rest in peace, Oreo.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gingery Goodness

I was bored this weekend (well, bored from homework...) so I decided to make ginger beer.  For those of you of said to yourselves, "is that the same thing as ginger ale?", no, it's not.  It's BETTER.  (Although some use the terms interchangeably, I think there's a distinction.)  Ginger beer actually tastes like ginger, and has the spicy bite that all ginger flavored things should have.  Now, I realize that I am a little biased when it comes to ginger because I love it so much.  Whenever I make myself ginger tea, I put so much ginger in it, it burns.  I even put cayenne pepper in it if I'm in the mood for two kinds of burn.  mmmm...

Ok, back to ginger beer.  I started to search for an easy make it yourself recipe and I came across a familiar site.  This one!  Yep, it's Dr. Fankhauser, my cheese friend!  I love this guy.  I bet he's really cool, like Clancy.  He explains things so well and makes the most complicated tasks seem easy.  Once I found this website, I was finished searching so I started gratin' my ginger.

I put a gallon of water and a cup and a half of white sugar to boil in my stainless steel pot I bought at Goodwill for 10 bucks.  I think I ended up using about 1/2 cup of grated ginger... I think.  I started with a piece of ginger the size of maybe my palm, but kept adding more and tasting it until I felt there was enough bite.  I also added a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and let it get to a boil.  Then I turned the burner off and let it cool for a couple hours.  Once it cooled down to the point where it was just pleasantly warm, I added 1/2 tsp. of regular baker's yeast that had proofed in a bit of warm water for 10 minutes.  Then I poured the whole mixture into a gallon jug that I found at Goodwill for a buck.  I put some cheese cloth over the opening to catch all the pulp.  Make sure to squeeze out all the juice form the pulp because that's where a lot of the flavor is.  Then I just placed the cap on the jug to make sure nothing got in.  (Don't screw it down, there needs to be room for gas to escape.)  At this point I let it sit overnight at room temp so that the yeast could do its job. 

The next morning, there were bubbles on the walls of the jug (tell-tale signs of happy yeasties feasting on sugar,) and it was ready to bottle.  There was some stuff that had settled on the bottom so I mixed it up a bit.  As for the bottles, I just reused cleaned water bottles that I got from a certain friend who cannot seem to break the habit of buying bottled water.  (Thanks for the bottles! :D)   I filled them up to about an inch from the top, squeezed the air out so the liquid came up to the tip top and screwed the lids on.  I ended up with eight 16oz water bottles filled. 

Then it was waiting time again.  They sat on my dining table for the rest of the day, and spent the hours being harassed by me as I squeeze-checked them every time I walked by.  After several hours, the yeast was clearly working because the air I had initially kept out was replaced and the bottles were feeling pretty bloated.  I opened them several times throughout the day to release the pressure so they wouldn't explode.  I don't think I was supposed to do that, but the bottles weren't that sturdy and I didn't feel like dealing with sugary ginger explosions in my kitchen.

At the end of the day, I tossed them into my 'fridge.  I think they're still fermenting a tiny bit, but cooling them down pretty much stops the process.  And that's it, we've been enjoying them ever since.  Shawn has an addiction to sugary drinks so he loves them, and I love them because they are bottled in used bottles and are probably way better for him than the regular juice he buys.  Oh, and they're delicious.
This bottle of ginger beer is made much more interesting by the presence of Nikolai.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review Time

In the pile of souvenirs my parents brought back from New Zealand, one of them as this book:  A Home Companion: My Year of Living Like my Grandmother by Wendyl Nissen.  It's VERY similar to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, since she documents her year month by month and each chapter ends with a list of recipes.  It's not nearly as well written though.  (Which is a given, because no one can write as beautifully as Barbara.)  There are some similar themes too: the benefits of growing your own produce, the fun that can be had with a flock of chickens, and in general, living a cleaner, simpler lifestyle.  But, this book mainly centers around something that Barbara never touched on in her book:  Home made cleaning and beauty products.  More on that later.

Apparently this lady, Wendyl, is some big shot magazine editor, radio personality, and columnist in NZ, but of course, up here on my high horse in the US of A, I don't know who she is.  Lots of pictures of her with a chicken or two pop up if you google her name.  Anyway, so she decided to go from this crazy busy, corporate lifestyle to "living like her nana."  She decided to use and eat only what her Nana would recognize.  This change definitely left out Cheetos and high fructose corn syrup.  Pretty cool huh?

But the part I found most fascinating is all the home made cleaning products and stuff.  She makes it all, from bug spray to laundry detergent, from toothpaste (or toothpowder in her case,) to sunscreen.  It's pretty crazy stuff.  As far as cleaning goes, I've heard that you can clean anything with baking soda and vinegar, which is pretty much what she does.  She included Dr. Bronner's castile soap in some of her recipes, but that's pretty much it.  I really wanna start doing this.

There's just one problem.  Some of her ingredients are super expensive or hard to find.  She uses a lot of essential oils, which are pretty darn expensive, and rose water!  Where do you get rose water?  Sheesh.  There were a lot of ingredients I had never heard of either, maybe because they have it in NZ and not here or they just call it something else over there.  Did you know there was such a thing called "washing soda"?  I didn't.  Apparently it's made by Arm and Hammer and is sold right next to baking soda.  It's similar, just more caustic, so you have to be careful handling large quantities of it.

Overall, I'd give the book 4 stars out of 5, there were moments when her previous elite, corporate attitude would shine through, like when she said she hated her chickens for messing up her yard.  Hello lady!  That's what chickens do!  Appreciate them for what they give you!  She also talks about taking a nice long relaxing bath everyday, which I don't have the luxury, nor want to waste that much water.  She even has a little getaway trailer parked on the beach where she can escape and write her books.  Yeah, well we would all love that too...

I'm gonna make me some cleaning products.  ...once I find the ingredients.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hilarious.

Abby is an in-your-face kind of gal.
I may have mentioned this before, but my chickies are hilarious.  Before I got them, I knew that I would love them, mainly because I love all creatures, no matter how large, small, fluffy, slimy, feathered, stinky, cute, cuddly, mean, spiky, useful, not useful... you get the picture.  (This list, however, has one exception.  Ants.  I hate them.  They were in my house two summers ago, and they are NOT my friends.)  Anyway, I tend to get very emotionally attached to all living creatures, and I knew that my chickens would be no exception. 

HOWEVER.  I had no idea how much I would enjoy them.  They are the funniest little creatures ever!  Everyday, they do something that is so funny I laugh out loud.  Take, for instance, what they did yesterday.  I went out to their coop to check on them before going to school and to give them some whey oatmeal.  I walked into the coop to find Abby and Mabel both trying to squeeze into the nesting box. Now, they have two boxes, but have only ever use one.  I wish I had a picture.  Take my word, they looked pretty silly.  Anyway, they were both trying to squeeze into this one box, which already had an egg in it.  And what were they doing?  Fighting over the egg.  Abby would scoot it over under her, just to have Mabel steal it back.  Abby would look down, notice that she wasn't sitting in the egg anymore, and move it back.  This went back and forth for several minutes until both decided that oatmeal was way cooler than a stupid egg.  Upon closer inspection, it was Mabel's egg so she had rights to it. 

Watching them eat oatmeal and cream of wheat is pretty hilarious too.  I usually "accidentally" make too much oatmeal and cream of wheat just so I can give it to them and watch them eat it.  I also usually add raisins (a snack favorite) and maybe some crushed up egg shells to make sure they're getting enough calcium.  They've learned (quite early on) that generally we have treats for them, so when they're roaming about the yard and see one of us with something in hand, they drop whatever they're doing and dash over to us.  Watching chickens run is hilarious too, by the way.  Here's a video of today's oatmeal feeding:

video
What's even funnier about them eating oatmeal and cream of wheat is the fact that they get it all over their faces.  When they look at each other, they see food on their sister's faces and start pecking at each other.  When all three hens get into it trying to eat the food off of each other's faces, all chaos ensues.  What's the word of the day?  Hilarious.

Egg update: Two days ago, we hit 100 eggs!  The egg count board is looking quite impressive huh? 

Whey update: I'm down to 1 cup!  Yessss.  I have onion olive bread rising at the moment, which, of course, was made with whey.  I'm pretty tired of figuring out what to do with it.  BUT, no more whey means I get to make more cheese!  This is exciting.  But then I'll have more whey to deal with.  Sigh...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shop at Goodwill, it's fun and good for...

When I moved back into my house after my stint on Bainbridge for a year, I needed to do some home improvement work as well as general nesting to make the home feel more homey.  Being a starving (though not anymore thanks to food stamps,) grad student, I couldn't just drive down to Ikea whenever I needed something, I needed to be creative and improvise.  This is when I discovered the wonders of Goodwill.

One fine summer day, I was unpacking the rest of my random junk boxes and was feeling particularly organized.  As with any other person, I have a fair amount of stuff that doesn't get used regularly, so these things needed to be packed away in a way that allowed easy access to them, while at the same time utilizing space efficiently.  After several hours of moving this here and that there, a few items of organizational necessity sprang into my brain; a bookcase, extra hangers, a shower rack, another clothes organizing device (of some sort,) a bucket... you know, pretty boring yet necessary things.

With my list in pocket, I decided to head over to the Goodwill around the corner to see what they had.  Guess what?  They had it ALL.  Yep, everything on my list I found for, of course, much discounted prices than buying new.  Sweet huh?  There were some items that may have needed a little cleaning and some easy repairs, but I'm willing to put some effort into something that costs literally a fraction of what it would if it were bought new.  The place is like Ikea but cheaper... well, see list below for more details.

Ever since then, whenever I need something random for the house I don't drive 50 miles to Ikea, I walk 9 blocks to Goodwill.  Lets discuss why this is awesome:

Awesome:
  • Cheap stuff!  Everyone likes cheap stuff.
  • Stuff with character!  Does character mean ugly?  Sometimes, but to each their own right?
  • Job training!  Goodwill is also a job training center, teaching people how to get and keep good jobs.
  • It's sustainable!  Buying something used prevents resources from being used to create something new.
  • You don't feel bad for taking something apart.  You know, if you're looking for materials to create something, look around Goodwill and I'll bet you find something that you can take apart and use.
Not so Awesome:
  • Stinky, dirty clothes.  Good clothes are the hardest to find (though very possible with patience and time,) and usually they stink of dust.  I came across a shirt with blood on it once.  Ew.
  • Lots of junk.  Shopping at Goodwill is like a treasure hunt.  You gotta look through all the worthless garbage to find the real gems.
I think the list is in Awesome's favor.  Some of the other cool things I've found at this store include:  a heavy-duty stainless steel pot for cheese-making, a one gallon jug to use when I get around to making gingerbeer, a dining table, and tons of canning jars.  I've also gotten quite a bit of entertainment out of just perusing the aisles and just looking at all the kooky stuff someone out there used to own.

P.S.  Oatmeal made with whey is NOT delicious.  Luckily the chickens think it is.

P.P.S  I have a poll.  Look at the top left of my page.  Fill it out will ya?  Thanks.

Now for a random picture:

Shawn with our volunteer elephant garlic.  Nice Shawn, nice.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I heart carbs.

Since my cheese-making jaunt, I've been cookin' like a crazy lady trying to use up all the whey that was leftover.  So far, I've made baguettes, pizza crust, butternut squash soup, cream of wheat, pancakes, and now... Cheesy Jalapeno Bread!!!!  I got the recipe from my homesteading "bible" that I wrote about a couple months ago.

What's in it:
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup butter (softened)
1 egg
1 cup whey
1 cup shredded cheese (I used colby jack and mozzarella.)
1/2 cup chopped jalapenos (not fresh, the kind in the jar.)

What to do with this stuff:
Sift together the flour, corn meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Cut in the half stick of butter until well combined.  Add the shredded cheese and toss together.  Beat the egg slightly and add to the whey and pour mixture into the dry ingredients.  Mix till just combined and fold in jalapenos.  Pour the batter into a loaf pan and toss into a 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let it sit in the pan for about 10 minutes then let cool on a wire rack.  Be prepared to be blown away!  Drizzle some honey on your slice and oh boy!!!  It's like southwestern cornbread but whey better!!!

Yum yum yummy-o.
8 cups of whey down, 4 more to go.  I'll probably make this bread again.  mmmmm...
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