Blooming Things

April 30, 2013

tulips
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More blooming things from our yard, and...

Blooming Peas

At last, little white pea flowers.

Horchata Cupcakes

April 29, 2013

Horchata Cupcakes

I wrote about these cupcakes over on My Own Labels recently (thus the awesome labels), but I had to share them with you here, too, in case you want to bake something sweet for Cinco de Mayo this Sunday. These might be my favorite cupcakes of all time. They're so good, and so worth the effort. Enjoy!

Unsweetened Horchata
Makes around 1 quart

1 cup long grain rice (I used brown basmati)
2 cups slivered almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups water

HorchataHorchata

1. Wash and drain the rice.
2. Pour ingredients together into a large jar or pitcher and let soak overnight.
3. Pour half of the mixture into a blender, and blend well.
4. Strain with a metal strainer.
5. Strain again using a double layer of cheesecloth.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 with the second half of the mixture.

Horchata

Once you’ve made your Horchata, you’ll need to reserve 1 cup for the cupcakes, and another ½ cup for the frosting. Sweeten whatever you have leftover with a little simple syrup for a tasty cold beverage.

Horchata Cupcakes

Horchata Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

1 stick butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh Horchata
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 350◦F.

1. Soften butter in the mixer on high speed.
2. Drizzle the sugar in with the butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together.
4. Mix the Horchata and vanilla together.
5. Add the flour mixture and Horchata mixture to the butter/sugar in three parts, alternating between the flour and Horchata.
6. Set aside incorporated mixture.
7. In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
8. Fold egg whites into the cake batter until fully incorporated.
9. Scoop batter into the prepared cupcake pans until they are 3/4 ‘s full.
10. Bake in a 350◦F oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of your cupcakes comes out clean.

Horchata Cupcakes

Frosting

2 sticks butter, softened
½ cup fresh horchata
½ teaspoon vanilla
7-8 cups confectioner’s sugar

1. Soften butter in the mixer on high speed.
2. Sift confectioner’s sugar.
3. Add horchata, vanilla, and 4 cups of confectioner’s sugar, and beat until combined.
4. Add remainder sugar 1 cup at a time until desired consistency/sweetness is reached.

Assembly

1. Wait until the cupcakes are completely cool before frosting.
2. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
3. Serve and enjoy!

Adapted from Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop.

Week Four

April 26, 2013

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Last Monday, little Olive looked like this, and then literally grew up overnight. I'm not kidding. I went in to check on their food and water before going to bed, and I thought to myself, "Why are you still so tiny?" The next day, she wasn't so tiny anymore.

Don't get me wrong. She's still the little one, and definitely the cutest, but I'm glad to see that she's feathering out. I know I say this every week, but I think we're finally ready to move the chicks to their big brooder in the basement this weekend where they'll stay until their coop is ready, and the weather is nice and warm.

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To supplement their medicated chick feed, I've been experimenting with various treats. At first, they seemed to shy away from anything too wet or sticky, but now they're a lot less picky. So far, they'll eat (with enthusiasm):

-hard boiled egg
-greens (lettuce, radish greens, spinach) - they love their greens
-oatmeal
-yogurt
-bread crumbs
-bits of corn tortilla

I usually try to chop or crumble their food for their tiny beaks, and almost always mix whatever I feed them with a spoonful of yogurt to make a mash. I read somewhere that the bacteria in yogurt is supposed to help their digestives, and they seem to really like it.

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If I haven't mentioned this before, backyardchickens.com is an incredible resource for chicken owners. I refer to the site for almost everything nowadays, from chicks to coops. Here are just a few things I've found myself typing into the search bar this month:

"Chick with lopsided chest."
"Chicks panting."
"Chicks collapsing to one side under heat lamp."
"Chick poo, clear liquid."
"Are my chicks going to die?!"

Above are a couple pictures of said chicks collapsing sideways under the heat lamp. At first, I panicked, and thought they were dying from heat exhaustion. Luckily, I found a few posts from people who had the same question in the forums, but were told they just like to sunbathe. Now I just think it's funny to watch, and use it as an opportunity to examine how their feathers are growing in under their wings.

Oh, and the lopsided chest thing? That really freaked me out until I read it was just their crop where they store food until it has a chance to digest. I knew they stored food in their crop, but I had no idea a full crop would make them look so crooked.

Honestly, for the first week or two, every little strange thing I witnessed about my chicks had me convinced they were going to die, so I'm really grateful for the resource.

Nest box for the chicken coop.

As for the coop, we're making progress. Over the weekend, Matt hacked, sawed, and hammered away at scraps from our ugly bathroom remodel, and was able repurpose some of the material for a new nest box for the girls.

Trench for the chicken coop. Matt: 1, Stump: 0

Also, to help make our coop as safe from predators as possible, we've dug a trench in the yard for the hen house and chicken run. We're hoping to protect the perimeter with about a foot of underground hardware cloth to deter unwelcome diggers. Unfortunately, we had to deal with an old tree stump that was right smack-dab in the way of our trench, which, as you can see, was quite an accomplishment to remove.

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Dog house to hen house.

Then hen house is almost done. We've actually got all the windows and doors installed, and are in the process of priming, painting, re-roofing, and lining the floor with vinyl. Once that's finished, we'll pop it up on a stand and stick it in the ground. Hopefully I can show you that process in next week's post, and we'll be well on our way to constructing the chicken run. So far, we've spent less than $200 ($100 was Amazon gift cards) on materials, but I'll give you a total once the whole thing is finished.

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Here are a few more shots of the girls. Anyone else notice how difficult it is to photograph a chicken? Sigh.

Have a great weekend!

Garden Progress

April 19, 2013

Peas Peas
Peas

While today is overcast with wind and rain, the weather is supposed to pick up tomorrow and continue on through for the next 5-10 days. I'm hoping this means my peas will start blossoming soon. I've been checking them every day for the past week for signs of tiny purple flowers, but so far, so green.

Radishes and Turnips Radishes
Sprouts

It's been a little over a month now since I planted my radishes, turnips, carrots, and salad greens, and they're growing well. Yesterday I decided to thin my radish and arugula seedlings to make more space for the rest to grow, so I gathered them up on a plate to wash and store in the refrigerator for salad and things. I guess I could've transplanted them into a different pot or something, but it seems to me like we've got plenty left in the ground to keep us busy. I've never grown any of these types of vegetables before, so I think it's probably best to play it safe rather than set myself up to waste food.

Sprouts

One thing I learned about radishes recently (and turnips) is that you can eat the greens, so I'm looking forward to radish green pesto, and radish green soup. For now, I'm just snacking on these sprouts as-is. They're delicious.

Week Three

April 17, 2013

Last week, I mentioned we were almost ready to move the chickens to the basement. Matt even built a big brooder over the weekend for them to stay in until they’re big enough for their coop, but when the time came to relocate them, we just weren’t ready. Thing is, little Olive is still really little, and the rest of them aren’t that big yet either, so we decided to wait another week.

In the meantime, we’ve upgraded their accommodations yet again (this is the 4th time) by taping together two very large boxes to form a 5’-x-2’ megabox, and the chickens seem to really love all the extra space. The walls are only 2’ tall, so we have to screen the top with bits of hardware cloth and cardboard to keep them in, but the whole thing is working out really well. The best thing about the added space is that we have enough room to section off the far end with a brick for their food and water. This brick has done wonders for keeping things clean and level, and prevents the water dispenser from falling over like it would before.

As for the chicks…

Amelia Pond Amelia Pond

It looks like Miss Amelia Pond may not be the Ameraucana we thought she was. After doing a little reading about the breed, I discovered that despite the name most feed stores and hatcheries use, true Ameraucanas are rare, and can usually only be found through specialized breeders. Amy still has Ameraucana or Aracauna blood in her veins, but she’s likely a mixed breed (aka an ‘Easter Egger'). She’ll still lay colorful eggs, but her bloodlines are a mystery to me, so if anybody has any guesses regarding her breeding, I’d love to know.

As for her personality, she’s still the most active and brave of the lot. In fact, you can see her standing on the edge of the brooder box in the photo above because she jumped out while I was taking pictures. She likes to run around, flap her wings, and rile up the others. She’s really fun.

Seven Seven

Seven of Nine is starting to fluff out a bit now, too. Her white down is slowly being replaced by black pinfeathers, and she’s starting to develop a decent comb on her forehead. She’s still a little timid around people, but she’s getting more personable every day. I also think she’s got a really pretty face, which I guess is a characteristic of the breed.

Starbuck Starbuck
Okay. So, I’ve done lots and lots of research about Buff Orpingtons, and now I’m almost 90% positive that Starbuck is a girl. Hooray!

Thing is, she’s feathering out so much that she’s starting to look like a real chicken. And she’s huge! Not to mention, her comb is small, and has remained a nice, neutral yellowish color. All of these are good signs that she’s a female, and from what I’ve read, Orpington cockerels use most of their nutrition toward growth rather than feathering, have shorter tails (until they grow their plumage), and have more conspicuous combs that redden up at an earlier age than pullets.

Olive Olive

And last, but not least, is little Olive. These pictures were taken on Monday, just two days ago, and as of this morning, little Olive is not so little anymore. Seriously. I went to bed last night and she was teeny tiny, but when I woke up this morning, she grew an inch! She’s also starting to feather out now, so she looks pretty awkward. It’s all very exciting.

Little Olive is probably the funniest chicken to watch. She’s not the biggest, or the fastest, and she’s definitely not the most sociable, but she’s really awesome at Chicken Football (the highly competitive sport of eating). Whenever she gets in possession of a piece of food that the other girls have been fighting over, she chirps as loud as she possibly can, and starts running around in circles, even if none of the other chickens are paying attention to her. And when they are paying attention, she’s really effective at keeping them away because she’s so much smaller than they are. Or she was, at least.

Just so you can compare, here’s Starbuck and Olive side-by-side…

chicken butt
Starbuck and Olive Starbuck and Olive

In other chicken news, Matt and I have started work on the coop. If all goes as planned, the whole thing should be finished by May 1st. The date is a little ambitious, I know, but it’ll be really nice to get the whole project out of the way as soon as we possibly can. I’ll post photos of our progress in next week’s chicken update.

Until then!

Spiced Applesauce Muffins

April 11, 2013

Spiced Applesauce Muffins

I was snagging something from down in the basement a few weeks ago when the pantry section caught my eye. On my shelves were quarts upon quarts of homemade applesauce from last summer’s canning session. Quarts I promised myself I’d put to use in all sorts of kitchen endeavors this year. Quarts I miserably failed.

Lucky for me, we’ve still got a few months before this summer’s apple season kicks in, so I still have plenty of time to put a dent in my pantry stores. So along with using applesauce over my breads and breakfast oatmeal, I’ve found an awesome applesauce-based muffin recipe that serves as a quick, on-the-go meal option.

Once the muffins have baked and cooled, I like to store them in the freezer in an airtight container. To eat, I just grab one from the freezer, cut it in half, and pop it in the toaster until it's heated through and slightly crispy. I even like to top my halves with more applesauce to make the flavor extra moist and apple-y. It's super delicious.

Spiced Applesauce Muffins

Spiced Applesauce Muffins
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the wells of a jumbo muffin tin with butter.

In a large bowl, combine the applesauce, sugar, butter, eggs and milk. Beat until well combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients, and mix until combined. Fold in the nuts.

Spoon the batter into the muffin wells until 3/4 full. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of your muffins comes out clean. Remove from oven, and cool for ten to fifteen minutes. Remove muffins from tin, and place on a wire rack until room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.

Week Two

April 9, 2013

Olive
Starbuck Amelia
Seven
Olive, Starbuck, Amy, and Seven

It's true, chicks grow up fast. I estimate ours are around two weeks of age now, and although they're still really small, they've got loads of energy and require a lot less sleep than they did last week. As of now, they're staying in a 2'x2' brooder box in our spare bedroom upstairs, and while it's been fun having them in the house, I can tell it's almost time to transfer them outside, so Matt is building a giant brooder in the basement where they'll live until we finish their coop.

Starbuck

Starbuck, who is definitely the largest and most developed, has replaced almost all of her juvenile down with pinfeathers. I'll admit, the initial sight of them was disconcerting. Gone are our fuzzy, almost cuddly chicks, and in their place are these strange dinosaur-like creatures. Now that the pinfeathers have grown out a little, I find them fascinating, but I feel bad for the girls. It seems to make them really itchy and uncomfortable.

As for Starbuck's gender, the issue is still up in the air. I think perhaps she's just half a week older than the rest of them, or so I hope. I've become quite fond of her. Sometimes I hear her crying in the box by herself while the others are asleep because she's so uncomfortable, so I'll go in and hold her until she passes out in my hand. If she does end up being a roo, I think it'd be very hard for me to eat her, or to sell her to someone as food. Despite my best efforts, her friendly disposition has thoroughly won me over.

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As for the coop, we've been developing plans for the last few days, and we're hoping to get started on it this weekend. To cut costs, we're going to use the old dog house that the previous residents left behind. We'll give it a new roof, a nest box, some windows and doors, and a new paint job. We'll also attach a nice, roomy run for them to play in. Hopefully it'll be large enough for them until we can finish enclosing our backyard with a 6ft. privacy fence. We can't allow them to properly free-range until we feel the yard is secure. See what I mean by feeling like we're scrambling to catch up?

A few more chick related notes:

-I was a little unsure about keeping the chicks in the house for the first week or two, but I'm glad we have. I've been able to keep a close eye on their food, water, and overall health this way. One thing I'm learning is if they're being noisy, there's generally a reason for it. For example, I think our water dispenser is a little faulty. We've gone in to check on them three or four times over the last week to find damp pine shavings near the water and surrounding area. Not just the top layer of shavings either, but all the way to the bottom of the box. We probably wouldn't have caught the water issue so quickly had they been out of earshot in the basement.

-I'd like to feed the girls treats to supplement their medicated starter feed. I hear yogurt is good, and although it sounds weird, I guess they like a nice hardboiled egg... Any other suggestions?

-It was suggested that we keep the brooder at 90°F, but that seems too hot for the girls. They're much more comfortable with temperatures in the mid 70's. Little Olive may be the exception. She's the youngest after all, but she snuggles up to the other girls most of the time and seems content.