Archive for December, 2010

A Little Rant and a Bottle or Two of Cheer

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

The first Christmas after September 11, 2001 I assembled a box full of Christmas goodies to mail to my in-laws. The box I chose to use happened to be a box I got from the grocery store, and it had the word “Clorox” on it. When I took that box to our local U.S. Post Office, the clerk informed me she could not accept that box. When I asked her why she replied “It says ‘Clorox’ on it.”

I must have stared at her blankly for a full minute before saying “Well, there is no Clorox in that box. It’s full of Christmas gifts.”

“But it says ‘Clorox’. I can’t accept it.”

I was completely floored. “Well, if you’ll hand me a black marker I’ll scribble out the word ‘Clorox'”

She looked at me like I just dropped down from mars and said “Well, I already KNOW what it says. I can’t accept it.”

I promptly took the box to our local UPS and they accepted, shipped, and delivered it with no questions asked.

That was a long time ago. I had honestly all but forgotten about that incident. But it all came rushing back to me when I, once again, filled a box full of Christmas gifts to mail to my in-laws this year, and decided to use this box:

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That box contained empty bottles that I ordered over the internet. Just bottles. But see those bottles that are drawn on that box? Well, you guessed it. The local U.S. Post Office refused to accept the box because it “looked” like there was beer being shipped in that box. So do you know what I did? I spray painted over the drawing of the bottles.

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And the U.S. Post office gladly accepted, shipped, and delivered that hideously ugly box with no questions asked.

I understand and appreciate the need to limit some items from being shipped through the postal service. But. It’s. A. Box. Just a box. If I was honestly trying to ship something illegal (not that I would ever do that) I can assure you I danged sure wouldn’t be plastering a picture of it or the name of it all over the dad gum box.

OK, enough of that. Here’s a happier picture for you:

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Those bottles are filled with the hard cider that just finished bubbling. And it’s pretty darned tasty. And I assure you I won’t be shipping that through the U.S. Postal Service 🙂

Buttermilk SourDough

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

It seems each winter I begin a starter for sourdough. I use it to make sourdough bread three or four times, and then it ends up in the back of my refrigerator and I forget to feed it. Bernie is really not a bread eater, so I don’t make bread very often. But I do make pizza every Friday night, and last week I used the dough I froze from when I made Brotchen. It wasn’t a true sourdough, but the texture was very similar and Bernie really loved the crust I made with it.

This morning I saw the buttermilk I had left in my refrigerator from Christmas cooking, and I was struck with the thought of making a buttermilk sourdough starter to use for pizza crusts and the occasional loaf of bread. I had honestly never heard of anyone using buttermilk for sourdough starter, but I figured if anyone had, they likely wrote about it on the internet somewhere. I was pleasantly surprised when I found this Buttermilk Sourdough Bread post – complete with instructions and some recipes.

I mixed 3 cups of buttermilk with 3 cups of all purpose flour, covered it with cheese cloth, and set it on top of our freezer so it will stay relatively warm. With the 3/4 cup of buttermilk I had left over, I started a quart of buttermilk using the proportions described on this page. Well, it wasn’t the exact proportions – I started with 3/4 cup of buttermilk and then just topped off a quart jar with milk. I put a lid on the jar and sat it next to the sourdough starter on the freezer. Once the buttermilk has clabbered, I’ll use when feeding the sourdough starter.

I’m pretty excited about this sourdough starter. I plan to let it sour for about three weeks before using it. I hope it makes pizza dough crust and bread as yummy as I’m anticipating. I’ll be sure to post about how the starter does, and recipes I end up making with it.

If you’ve used buttermilk for a sourdough starter, I’d love to hear about it. And I’d be tickled if you share some of your recipes.

From Our Home to Yours

Friday, December 24th, 2010

For my Christian friends – Merry Christmas. For my non-Christian friends – Happy Holidays. May each of you be blessed with a home full of love, a table full of food, a warm bed to welcome you, and a peaceful soul that rejoices in believing.

From Our Home to Yours,
Penny, Bernie, and all the Homestead Creatures

Lactic Fermentation

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Bernie and I have made sauerkraut and pickles in crocks in the past. And we’ve made sauerkraut in mason jars as well. All with varying and inconsistent results. Last month I splurged and bought a Harsch Lactic Fermentation crock. And today we started our first batch of what I hope will be tasty sauerkraut in the next four to six weeks.

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It’s a 10 liter crock, and we shredded three heads of cabbage for this first batch.

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We added salt as we added the cabbage, and smashed it down really well with our fist as we went. It didn’t produce quite enough liquid, so we added some salt water to it and put the weights in.

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After adding the lid, we filled the rim with water so air can’t get in, but gases can escape.

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I’m really excited about this Harsch crock, and I’m really looking forward to making all sorts of “pickled” foods with vegetables fresh from the garden next year.

Do you use lactic fermentation to make sauerkraut, pickles, or other foods? I’d love to hear what you make.

First Snow of the Season

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

In the grand scheme of things, even though we’ve had some very frigid weather, we’ve been lucky to have escaped the snow so many others have gotten lately. Until today. Fortunately, we didn’t get much – maybe three inches or so. But it was enough to cover the ground and make the pups happy.

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I love this next picture. The pups are running so hard that Diesel’s ears and Dolly’s back legs are in the air.

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I do love these pups.

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Some of the chickens hung out under their lean-to with the new roof.

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Some of them hung out under Bernie’s truck.

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And some of them refused to leave the coop.

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Pretty Boy Floyd has just a touch of frost bite on the tip of the back of his comb.

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And just a little on his waddles.

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That didn’t happen today. That happened when our high for the day was 19 degrees, and the wind blew unmercifully.

The turkey’s coop is tucked under the branches of large pine trees, so they didn’t get a whole lot of snow in their run.

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And the goats really never ventured into their paddock – they preferred hanging out under their lean-to.

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Oh, and remember when I asked about a heated water bucket for goats? Well, if you read the comments on that post you’ll see that my blog buddy CeeCee sent me a link to Pet Vet Supply , and they sell exactly the bucket I was looking for!

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It was a little pricey, but I’ve got to tell you it was worth it. It works wonderfully, and the cord comes out of the bottom and has wire coiled around it so the goats can’t chew it. I love, love, love it! I actually ended up buying it from American Livestock and Pet Supply because it was a little less expensive and came with free shipping. But I wouldn’t even have known what to search for if CeeCee hadn’t tipped me off. So, thank you CeeCee. You rock!

Do-Over

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

You may recall that a little over a year ago we added a lean-to to the chicken coop. We used some old fiberglass panels that we found in the old shed that was here when we bought this place. It seemed rather brittle at the time, and we knew eventually we’d have to replace it. Well, today was “eventually”.

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It was in pretty bad shape. So we rolled back the netting and Bernie pulled off the old roof.

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Did I mention it was in pretty bad shape?

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We bought four panels of tin roofing to replace it. The roof is 10 feet long, and naturally Lowe’s only had them in 8 or 12 foot lengths. We bought the 12 foot lengths and Bernie cut them down to size.

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Then he hammered them in place.

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And now the chickens have a nice roof to stand under and listen to the rain as it falls.

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I don’t think they even noticed the new roof. Spoiled little chickens.

Old Man Winter is a Little Early this Year

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

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When I got up at 5:30 this morning, the temperature was a brisk 20 degrees (F). Three hours later, it had spiked at 23 degrees. It’s gotten pretty darn cold pretty darn early here this year.

I have heater bases for the turkey and chicken waterers, but not for the goats. For them I have a couple buckets I rotate in and out of the house, so as the water in one freezes

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I can replace it with one that is thawed.

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It’s not a great system, but it works ok. And it helps that Bernie times his wood gathering to go with me and carry the waterer when he knows it’s time for it to be changed out.

I wonder if any of you goat people out there has come up with a way to keep the goats’ water from freezing, other than manually changing it out every couple of hours or busting up the ice as it forms? I worry that the goats would chew any type of electrical cord for a heater base. I also know if I don’t hang their water bucket, or secure it, they will knock it over.

And who invited Old Man Winter so early this year anyway?

Getting Back to Usual

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Things are getting back to normal since I returned from Germany. It’s a cold and blustery day here. Bernie and I bundled up and went outside to get the heater bases set up for the chicken and turkey waterers. I actually remembered to take my camera and get a few pictures to share with you.

Mirrie and Georgia were happy to see us. They are getting so big.

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We’re finally fairly convinced we did indeed end up with one tom and two hens – even if the tom ended up being one we thought was a hen, and the hen ended up being one we thought was a tom. As a result, two of them got renamed. Jake is on the left (he used to be called Tanya) and on the right is Loretta (she used to be called Hank).

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That’s Loretta on the left, Jake in the middle, and Sarah on the right:

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It’s hard to believe how much they’ve grown. You may be able to get a good idea from this picture with Bernie’s legs in it:

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This is Pretty Boy Floyd – the cockerel I kept from the hatch in May:

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My poor hens are finally starting to come out of their molt. These two are the last of the molters, and just starting to get feathers in again:

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This is one of the pullets from the May hatch – I love her coloring:

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Bernie got a nice fire going in our new wood burner this afternoon.

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Elvis kept warm by laying in the sun, across from the wood burner.

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And Priscilla staked out her favorite hiding place on top of the curio.

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And Diesel enjoyed relaxing in the warmth of his bed.

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Dolly has always enjoyed chilling in my chair, but since my trip to Germany I think she’s gotten just a little too comfortable in it.

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It’s nice to be home and back with Bernie and all the critters. I missed them.

A Little Taste of Germany

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Being back in Germany was such a wonderful experience. It was so nice to spend time with friends that are more like family to me. And it was also great to spend some time with my parents.

Other than our friends, my favorite memories of living in Germany revolve around the food there. I love German food. And while we were visiting last week, each breakfast included brotchen. Brotchen basically means “little bread” and it is simply the best “roll” I’ve ever eaten.

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I ate them each morning with fresh butter, cheese, and slices of meat. How beautiful is this?

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*sigh* The brotchen in these pictures was bought from a bakery – fresh out of the oven. And I can not tell you how perfect they were. If you’ve ever had these crispy, hard rolls, well you may understand my obsession with making them here at home. I searched the internet for a good long while and finally decided to try this recipe. I’m glad I did – the brotchen turned out very well. Below is my adaptation of that recipe.

The night before, start a sponge by mixing the following:

2 c. white flour
1 1/3 c. cold tap water
1/2 tsp. instant yeast

Whisk this together until it’s smooth. Then cover it with cellophane.

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Put it in a warm place overnight. I put mine on top of our upright freezer. The next morning it should be bubbly.

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This recipe calls for using a stand mixer, although I’m sure you could just mix and knead by hand if you have the time and patience. I didn’t have time or patience, so I pulled out my Kitchen-aide bowl and combined the following:

5 c. flour
1 1/3 c. water
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
all of the sponge

With the dough hook attached, knead for 5 minutes on speed 2. When the dough is pulling away from the sides and is smooth and a little tacky, it’s ready.

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Grease a large bowl and then put the dough in the bottom of it. Turn it over to grease the other side.

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Since I wasn’t sure how these would turn out, I decided to split the dough in half at this point. I froze half of it to make pizza dough out of later, and then covered the other half in the bowl and let it rise until double in size.

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Then I cut off 3 ounce chunks (yes, I weighed them) and let them sit for about 5 minutes. I ended up with 11 chunks. After they had rested a few minutes I formed each into a ball, lightly coated them in flour, and put them on a pan.

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Then I covered the pan in a wet towel and let the brotchen rise. While they were rising, I heated the oven to 450 degrees and placed a pan on the rack beneath the one I planned to bake the brotchen on. Once the dough had doubled in size, I sliced the top of each, put the pan in the oven and quickly added a cup of water to the pan beneath it and closed the oven door. For the next five minutes I sprayed water on the oven walls about 4 times. Then I baked them an additional 10 minutes. They came out hard and crispy on the outside, and soft and yummy on the inside.

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In hindsight, the pan I used wasn’t quite large enough. The brotchen ended up crowded. Also, the bottom of the brotchen didn’t get as hard as I would have liked. The next time I plan to use a larger pan, and heat it in the oven for an hour as the recipe suggests, and then let the brotchen rise on parchment paper so I can slide them onto the hot pan in the oven with an oven peel.

While we were visiting in Germany, Elinor put leftover brotchen in the oven for a few minutes to re-crisp the outside before serving. She told me you should freeze leftover brotchen to keep it fresh and then heat in the oven when you are ready to eat it. This is what I am planning to do with the leftover brotchen we had.

Making brotchen is a little bit of work, but it is so worth the effort. If you have a good brotchen recipe you’d like to share, I’d love to try it.

There’s no place quite like Germany. And there’s no roll quite like a brotchen. They both make my heart happy.