Monday, February 28, 2011

Cake and Chickens

Ah, my two favorite things.  Both happened today.  So what to start with... cake or chickens?

Lets do chickens.  The day started rather normally, except for one thing.  I apparently forgot to open the little door that connects the coop with the run.  I think I forgot because the chickens usually bust right past me out the bigger door in the morning since they're eager and ready to get their grazing on, so they were already out in the yard.  I opened the run up so they can get into their food and water but just forgot to open the other one.  This afternoon, I went out to clean some poop and refill their food dishes when I noticed there were no eggs.  As I was feeling puzzled by this, I saw that the little door was closed.  As soon as I opened it up, Frannie came running in like she was prairie doggin' an egg.  Pretty funny.

So I left her in peace and went about refilling food troughs.  I opened the "barn" door (we call the shed that houses all the chicken supplies like food, scratch, and straw "the barn") which resulted in Abby and Mabel running in.  For some reason, they LOVE the barn and scratching around for any dropped corn kernels and such.  But this time, Abby hopped up onto the straw bale and sat like she needed to lay an egg.  Feeling bad about being a bad chicken mommy and thinking her egg may also be turtle-heading, I just let her sit.  I came back about 3 minutes later, and there already was an egg under her!  I quickly got my camera so I could report to daddy about the crazy thing that Abby did today.  Luckily, I also got footage of her after-laying-triumph-calls.  I think all chickens do this, squawking like they're really proud of their accomplishments or something.  The video is a little long, but I wanted to include Mabel trying to burrow into the nest as far as she can go... crazy girl.

Soon after this video, Mabel left the nest without laying so I grabbed the egg.  And it was ice cold.  What???  How could that be?  Didn't Abster just lay it?  She must have laid it last time we cleaned the coop... but how could she have creeped by and done that without us noticing?  But then why was she calling like she had just laid?  It's still a mystery.  I opened the egg and it was totally fine, so it hasn't been sitting there that long.  It's a good thing it's been coooold out to keep it chilled.

This leads me to where the egg went: the cake.

It was Shawn's Ma's birthday yesterday, so today I made dinner and a birthday cake for her.  I decided to make a simple yellow cake and top it with some good stuff.  What kinds of good stuff?  You know, the usual, fresh fruit, whipped cream, and to make it extra special, lemon curd.  I grew up eating lemon curd, but I've come to realize that lemon curd is not a staple in many people's diets.  We always ate it on bagels, on top of the cream cheese.  Never done it?  Do it, it's the best way to eat toasted bagels.

Home-made eggs make for a very yellow lemon curd.
Lemon curd is really simple to make.  Take a microwave-safe bowl and mix together a cup of sugar, the juice from 2 lemons, two eggs, 4tbs melted butter, and the zest from those two lemons.  Mix it all up and microwave, stirring every minute to 45 seconds until it thickens.  You can also do it on a double-boiler, but microwaving it is way easier.  Put it in a nice jar, and there you go.  It'll stay good in the 'fridge for about 2 weeks.

The cake I made is a cream cake (you use whipping cream instead of milk) and I found it here.  I whipped up the remaining whipped cream from the recipe and sliced up some strawberries.  I feel a little guilty about buying fresh fruit when it is totally out of season, but sometimes I just want it.  Put it all together, and it looks like this:

Oh yeah, I went to Goodwill today.  As usual, there were some serious finds.  I'm itching to get started on my garden, so I found a watering can and some planting pots and trays for the greenhouse we'll be getting soon.

Cake, chickens, Goodwill.  It's the little things that really make my day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


It's seed catalog season.  This makes me very excited.  I peruse through the catalog, reading about the different crops I could plant, thinking about all the possibilities of delicious fruit and vegetables I will be picking and enjoying, still warm from the sun. 

Last year, I went all out.  In previous years, I have only used half or 2/3 of my planting space, but last year, not only did I use the whole bed I have in the backyard, I also used areas newly open in the front yard.  Even with all that, I felt like I didn't have enough space.  As a refresher for me, I'm gonna list what I planted last year:

* Green Beans (Bush and Pole)
* Cabbage
* Broccoli
* Soybeans (which were a giant fail)
* Sugar Pumpkins
* Yellow zucchini
* Radishes
* Sunflowers
* Carrots
* Cucumbers (also a giant fail)
* Tomatoes (Cherry, which did great, the heirlooms were another fail- damn Seattle summers!)
* Potatoes
* Onions
* Lettuce (chicken love!)
* Green Shiso (aka Beefsteak leaf or Perilla)
* I think that's it... unless you count the pear and apple trees.

Wow, pretty good huh?  Now granted, I couldn't plant too much of anything since I was limited on space. I do green beans every year because the yield is so high without much effort.  The zucchini did not do as well as they usually do, I actually missed having to scramble to hide zucchini in everything I cooked.  Everyone knows about my love affair with my pumpkins and my anger with the soybeans.

The issue I'm having this year is whether to plant less variety but more of each crop or try to experiment with other new crops.  I'm totally planting sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes) in the front bed since for some reason I REALLY want to try them out.  I hope I don't have to wait until fall...  Shawn really wants to do cantaloupe and I would love to do twice as many onions and potatoes.  I'm thinking about using some extra beds I haven't used before and also get a small greenhouse for the tomatoes, cucumbers, and maybe lettuce.  So I should have a little more space than last year.

The big problem I see for this growing season are the three expertly trained bulldozers I now have rampaging through our backyard.  These feathered dinosaurs have expertly dug up any and all moss around the edges of the lawn and do a great job turning the soil and eating anything and everything in the garden bed that is not dirt, and sometimes they eat that too.  I think their presence is going to help the garden a lot though.  They do a great job flipping the compost pile and I'm hoping we have less weeds and aphids this year because of their efforts.  We also now have a vast supply of composted chicken manure, so that saves me some money.  Permaculture, anyone?  Not quite, but wouldn't that be sweet?

Thinking about all this just gets me giddy with the excitement of dirt constantly under my fingernails, the warm sun toasting my shoulders, the little signs of life as dormant seeds shoot out their baby greens, and of course, the wriggly worms that are my gardening companions.  Now to wait until spring.  I guess in the meantime I'll rig up some good fencing and keep daydreaming with my seed catalogs...

Monday, February 21, 2011


You mention that word to any Japanese person and you are sure to get their mouths watering.  Kasutera, or castella is a delicious egg and honey cake that is almost everywhere in Japan.  It actually has Portuguese origin; it was introduced when the first missionaries came to the Islands and the Japanese have adopted it fully into their food culture and made it their own.

Wait, so it's a Portuguese/Japanese cake?  Just like me!  Except I'm not a cake, but that just means I have a special connection with it.

Ok, back to the cake.  Basically, castella is a cake you can buy almost anywhere in Japan.  They come in all different qualities, from slightly crappy versions that you can buy in a super market to super expensive, high quality cakes you can get in special stores.  It's not often that people will make it at home, that's probably why there are so many different brands you can buy.

The cake itself is a super spongy, mildly sweet cake that almost has a bready consistency.  The basic castella is yellow, but there are also variations flavored with chocolate and green tea.  I decided to make the green tea kind and started with a recipe I found on this amazing blog.  (Definitely holds a place up there in my bookmarks list with Dr. Fankhauser.)  There are some things I changed about the recipe so here's what I did:

Ingredients: (Note this are incorrect. Scroll down to bottom of page for link to correct ingredients list.)
* 8 eggs
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 cup flour (all purpose or bread, not cake)
* 1 package instant matcha green tea powder (or you can use 2 tablespoons plain matcha powder)
* 1/2 cup milk
* 4 tablespoons honey

First you want to line the inside of your pan with parchment paper.  If you spray it with cooking oil, the parchment paper will stick to the sides nicely.  Don't worry about it covering it completely, just mostly.  Sprinkle the bottom (so on top of the paper,) with coarse sugar.  Set aside.

Combine the milk and honey.  You may have to microwave it for 30 seconds so the honey melts into the milk.  Don't heat it too much and cook the milk though, then it becomes a curdled baby puke mess. (Though it would still work, it's just kind of gross to look at.)  In a separate bowl, sift the flour and green tea powder together a couple times so that it is nice and fluffy and combined well.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar.  You want to do this in a medium sized bowl that can be rested into  larger bowl with hot water in it.  It's important that the eggs are beaten while they are lukewarm.  (Don't ask me why, I still need to figure out the science behind it.)  This is the part that takes the longest.  You need to beat the egg/sugar mixture until it gets nice and foamy.  The recipe says soft peaks, but after 20 minutes of standing there with a hand mixer, I gave up.  It was pretty thick and foamy so I decided it was good enough.  But like it says in the blog, it does take a loooooong time.  I don't have a KitchenAid, which would make it much easier on the arm, but a hand mixer does the trick, especially if you switch off between two people, like I did.  Thanks Shawn!

Once you finally get to the point where you say "eff it, that's good enough," (or if you get to soft peaks, which I recommend... see comments later,) whisk in the milk and honey mixture.  Then switch to a regular hand whisk and whisk in the flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time.  When it is incorporated enough that it doesn't have any lumps, pour it into the prepared pan and bake at 340 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The top will get dark quickly, don't worry about it, it won't burn, and it's supposed to do that anyway.

The website says this is a cake that's hard to make, which I didn't really believe, but I'm starting to think maybe it is hard.  As far as putting the ingredients together, you need to follow the directions exactly.  Now I've made this cake twice in the last week. I didn't blog about it the first time because it was a big ol' FAIL.  It looked just like this when it came out of the oven, and a toothpick came out clean.  But then it totally collapsed.  My oven is a little weird so I thought maybe the temp wasn't right and that I didn't bake it enough.  This time around, I made sure to bake it for the full time plus 5 minutes.  And guess what?  It still collapsed, worse than last time!  Grrrr!

Nowhere in the blog where I got the recipe mentions this problem so I don't know if it's something I'm doing wrong.  I read through the all the comments to the blog, and there were a handful of people who complained about the same thing.  The blogger's responses are a little confusing and she seems to think that the people just didn't do it right.  This got me thinking about the possible reasons why mine have failed.  Maybe my impatience with beating the eggs to soft peaks is the problem.  Or the fact that I baked it in a loaf pan and not a brownie pan.  Or the fact that I added the matcha powder...

My sister and I were discussing the possible problems and she brought up the point that it could be like angel food cake.  For those of you who've never made that, it's an egg-white based cake that has to hang upside down to cool to prevent it from falling.  Since this cake is also egg-based and has no other leavening it may require some hang time.  You'd think that if that was a requirement, it would have been mentioned in the bog.  She mentions that I have to put the cake in a plastic bag while it's still warm to retain the moisture, but maybe that has something to do with it. 

Oh well, I guess that's just a good reason to make it again.  I am determined to succeed!  I may have to look up other recipes and see what they say.  I'll keep you updated!  In the meantime I will eats lots of really dense, delicious kasutera with hot Japanese green tea.  mmmm...

6/13/2011 UPDATE:  I finally did it!  Turns out I converted the recipe from grams to cups wrong and didn't use enough flour.  So DON'T FOLLOW THE RECIPE ABOVE!  Use this one instead.  The directions will still be the same that are written here. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Results

Well, you can probably look at them yourselves, but the results to the two polls are in.  Voting isn't closed yet, but it has been where it's at for about 5 days, so I think I can safely say that most votes have been cast.  As far as what you fine readers want me to experiment with next, it's almost a dead tie between the 4 choices.  That's cool, it keeps my options open.

As far as the posts that people enjoy the most, the winner is all of them, followed by the cooking ones, and the chicken related ones come in a close third.  I'm happy with these results.  I feel like it's just reassurance to keep doing what I'm doing, and I promise, as soon as I have more time, I will do so.  A big thanks to all who voted!

And now for something completely different:

I've been meaning to introduce you all to this awesome knitting pattern for a head band.  I stumbled upon this when I was asked to knit something like this for a friend last year.  It's really great.  The pattern is written out perfectly and it's really easy to follow... kind of.  I often knit while watching tv so sometimes I look up just for a second, then find myself wondering whether I just knit line 28 or 29.  And when finished, it looks really good and makes the knitter look really good too because it has some really nice intricate patterns and cable designs.  AND, it only takes about 4 hours to knit one.  Sweet huh? 

The only problem that I have with this is that I can't really wear them.  My hair is just too slippery so it doesn't stay put on my head, and I think it helps to have more voluminous hair in general, or a smaller forehead.  I think I also have a funny-shaped flat head that doesn't allow the head band to grasp onto or something...  Oh well, at least I can make them for others.

Here are a couple pictures.

Next on Urban Hobby Homesteader:
I'm planning on making a special cake this weekend.  I made one last week, but it was a minor fail so I didn't mention it.  But I'll make it again tomorrow or something and do it right this time so it's more photogenic.

Until then, happy homesteading!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let's hear it!

Hey friends, loyal readers, or anyone who is stopping by...

As you may have noticed, grad school is slowly taking over my life.  I'm not complaining, I actually really like all the stuff I currently have on my plate, and a lot of it is stuff I've volunteered to do.  However, this is not good for the ol' bloggy.  I apologize for my lack of posts, but I want to make sure that they all rock, and unless I have something remotely interesting to blog about, I'm not going to waste anyone's time with it. 

But I wanna know what you all want.  I've made two new polls to the left so that you can voice your opinions and I know what everyone wants to see and read about.  (And thanks to those who answered the last one.)  This will be fun.  I really appreciate all you people who take the time to read my ramblings.  I wouldn't ramble unless I wanted people to read them, so thanks.  If there is more you wanna request or ask that the polls don't cover, just leave a comment in this post.  I'm looking forward to your answers!

P.S.  The polls are totally anonymous for you people who are embarrassed about your answers.  (Not that you should be.)

P.P.S.  Here is Nikolai in one of his favorite places: inside a bag.
In case you didn't know, bags are really fun to be in.
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