January Favorites + Final Egg Count

January 31, 2014

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First, I just want to say thank you to all of you for your support on my last post. I wasn't initially sure if I should share the emotional impact Olive's death has had over us, but after giving it some thought, I realized it might be useful to write about it for folks who are thinking of raising chickens in their own backyard someday. It's a rewarding experience, but it isn't without its occasional stresses and heartbreaks. Someday in the future, when Matt and I can afford to live in a home with more land, we may consider raising chickens for both meat and eggs, but for now our daily interactions with the birds make them docile and friendly, so we treat them like pets.

Speaking of the girls, here's the final lay count for January:

Seven of Nine: 24 eggs (started 12/31)
Olive Snook: 7 eggs (started 1/13)
Starbuck: 4 eggs (started 1/21)
Amelia Pond: 4 eggs (started 1/26)

Total: 40 eggs. Not bad!

And here's my list of favorite links for the month:
Have a good weekend, everyone! See you next month.

Olive Snook: Rest in Peace

January 29, 2014

Starbuck and Olive

Okay. Here goes.

On Monday, when we went outside to lock the girls up for the night, we noticed Olive Snook was missing. The other three were roosting, safe and sound, but Olive was nowhere to be found. We searched for hours with flashlights in the dark, and enlisted our neighbors to search their yards for any sign of her, but we were forced to go to bed that night, worried and unsatisfied.

The next morning, we woke up early, hoping she would magically appear for breakfast with the rest of the flock, but it wasn't long before our neighbor - the one with an adjacent backyard - came to the door to give us the sad news. As it turns out, Miss Olive was unsatisfied with the nesting options in our yard (I assume this because she seemed incredibly stressed during laying times, and kept moving her nest), so she decided to hop the 6ft. fence to see what was on the other side. Unfortunately, within the confines of that fence resides our neighbor's large husky, and dogs being dogs, Miss Olive didn't make it back out again.

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Even before we decided to raise chickens last year, I knew there would be chicken casualties, and that they would be more commonplace than your typical household pet. I knew about chicken diseases and injuries, and that some tend to live longer than others. I also knew these losses would be hard on me. I grew up in a home where injured raccoons and opossums and even skunks were taken in and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild, so I was very much raised to value animal life. And Miss Olive? She's our first real pet loss, and we are mourning her.

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If you follow my chicken posts, you'll know that Olive stole our hearts after her leg injury last summer. I would have considered her aloof before that, but after spending some quality time together while caring for her injury, she warmed right up, displaying a curiosity about us humans that she hadn't had before. She would follow us around in the yard, and didn't seem to mind if we felt like carrying her around in our arms. She would even hop up on the railing of our deck and peek in to see what we were up to.

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I think the hardest part for me is the timing. Unlike our other three girls who started laying late last summer, Miss Olive didn't lay her first egg until two and a half weeks ago. Before then, she was scrawny and awkward, but toward the end of December was when she really started to mature. Her body seemed fuller and more healthy, her comb and wattles were red and plump, and her leg showed no sign of a limp. She was a pretty bird, and she was at her peak.

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As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and mine is the relationships we've built with our neighbors in the past year and a half of living here. Matt and I tend to be on the shy side, so although we make efforts when we can, we have to give credit to our chickens for sparking conversations we might've never had otherwise.

Although the circumstances were bad, this whole ordeal with Olive has connected us with a neighbor we hadn't met before, and despite the fact that our animals met with an unfortunate clashing, we were able to support each other through it. We even made a deal with them for a trade of goods: our fresh eggs for their homemade wine (and it's good stuff - we opened a bottle and gave a toast to Olive last night).

So there you have it, the conclusion of the story of Olive Snook (the Chicken). She will be missed.

Gluten-Free Banana Pancakes

January 24, 2014

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As I mentioned in my last post, I found a recipe this weekend for gluten-free pancakes that makes me not miss the traditional wheat pancakes I've eaten all my life. Not only are they delicious, but they won't make you feel like you've eaten a brick either. If you're someone who doesn't have a problem digesting gluten, and you eat wheat products on a regular basis, you might not like these as much, but for someone who has been off gluten for awhile, these could be a godsend on days where all you're craving is a giant plate of traditional Sunday breakfast pancakes.

Instead of using butter and maple syrup to top mine off, I had frozen raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries in the freezer (picked and frozen last summer), so I poured a handful of each into a saucepan, and warmed them with a little honey, cinnamon, and a tiny pinch of salt. I topped my pancakes with a tablespoon of this stuff, and it was truly delicious.

Banana Pancakes
Serves two to three people.

2 large bananas
3 eggs
3 tablespoons coconut flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
ghee or coconut oil

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Peel the bananas and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients (an immersion blender would also work here). Pulse until the ingredients are well incorporated and smooth.

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with a tablespoon or two of ghee or coconut oil. Reduce heat to medium, and pour the batter onto the skillet so that each pancake measures only 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. You don't want to make your pancakes much bigger than that or they'll be impossible to flip.

Once your pancakes develop bubbles on the surface, they're ready to be flipped. Cook for another minute or two, or until golden brown, and place on a plate until ready to serve.

Serve warm with maple syrup or warmed and lightly honey-sweetened berries.

Recipe adapted from Paleomg.

Weekend Snapshots

January 20, 2014

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This weekend was surprisingly fun. Not only was it sunny outside, but on Saturday we had friends over for dinner, after which we all hunkered down in the living room with blankets and hard cider to watch half of Homeland season 3. I haven't done a TV marathon with friends in a long, long time. Too long. It very much reminded me of my early 20's when I'd get together with the same two friends once or twice per week to watch Sex and the City and other fun shows marathon-style. I don't usually think fondly upon my early 20's, but I do miss that portion of it. Too bad we didn't have Netflix streaming back then. (Or maybe it's best we didn't.)

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I can't remember if this happened on Friday or Saturday, but I managed to catch miss Olive in her nest, and because it's out in the open, I was able to watch her lay her egg. It was a neat thing to witness, and something I don't get to see very often because most of our other birds lay in the enclosed nest boxes in the hen house. Olive has given us five eggs as of now, and they seem more and more speckled and beautiful each time she lays.

Finally, Sunday came around, and I had a hankering for traditional Sunday breakfast, so I did a little searching and found a recipe for banana pancakes that were out of this world. I'll be sharing that with you a little later this week - mark my words. And as if that weren't enough, we decided to treat ourselves to sushi (from Fuji's) for dinner, which we haven't done in months, and it was divine.

How was your weekend?

On the Needles

January 15, 2014

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First, for a (belated) Christmas gift to Matt, I made a pair of wooly socks inspired by Jane Richmond's Climb pattern. I still haven't purchased her pattern, or constructed socks using the toe-up method, but I will eventually. For now, I base most of my socks on a free pattern called Simple Ankle Socks by Heidi Braacx. I've used this pattern to personalize several pairs of socks now, mostly by adding length or playing with design. It's simple and easy to memorize, and super customizable, which makes it the perfect on-the-go project when I don't have the time or brain power for something more complicated.

After casting off Matt's socks, I immediately started another pair for me while watching Return of the King this weekend. In fact, from this point on, I'll probably always have a pair of socks on the needles, even if they're super simple because they're so incredibly cozy and warm. I want as many pairs as possible.

Finally, I was also able to make some progress on my Shapely Boyfriend cardigan this week. I had to set this thing down over the holidays because I had so much going on, but it's nice to pick it up again. I'm now somewhere in the middle of waist shaping, and so far, so good. I'm loving the tweed.

Weekend Snapshots: Olive's First Egg

January 13, 2014

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Finally, at nine months of age, Olive Snook laid her first egg. On Saturday afternoon, she built herself a nest on top of the isolation cage where we usually store our fresh hay, and that's where we found her, sitting on her beautiful, dark brown, speckled egg. You can see the difference in color from our other brown egg layer, Seven, in the photo above.

Thanks to contributions from both Seven and Olive, we're up to a dozen eggs this month, and we're expecting Amy and Starbuck to start back up any day now. From what I've read, this spring will be their most productive egg laying season, ever, so I'll be keeping track of the numbers as best I can for reference.

Baked Apples

January 8, 2014

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For Christmas, I was given a bag full of giant Honeycrisp apples (my favorite), and after snacking on a few in the usual way with sunflower seed butter, I thought it would be fun to fill and bake a couple for Matt and I to eat for breakfast. They were delicious.

Here's how we made them:

Baked Apples
Serves Two

2 large apples
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts and pecans)
1-2 tablespoons dried raisins, currants, or dates (chopped)
1 tablespoon butter or ghee, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground ginger, cloves, and/or nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of salt

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Preheat oven to 375°F.

Rinse the apples, and pat dry. Core the with an apple corer or paring knife, and cover the bottom of both apples with a piece of foil. Place in a small baking dish (I used a bread loaf pan), and set aside.

Combine the nuts, dried fruit, butter/ghee, ground spices and the salt together in a small bowl. Using a small spoon, scoop the mixture into the cores of both apples.

Place the baking dish with the filled apples in a preheated oven for 40-60 minutes, or until the apples are soft. Remove from oven, and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.

Weekend Snapshots + New Year's Resolutions

January 6, 2014

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1. Chickens in the sun.
2. Amelia Pond and Olive Snook
3/4. A delicious gift of quince paste, cheese and crackers for Sunday lunch.

We had a cheerful, sunny break this weekend, so I spent some time outside doing yard work in the company of hens. They like to flock around us humans whenever we're out and about, and if we stand still long enough, one of them will inevitably fly up onto our shoulders.

On New Year's Eve, Seven of Nine laid her first winter egg, and we've collected four more since then. Also, Olive Snook is finally showing signs of eggs to come. Not only are her comb and wattles big and bright red, but she started squatting a week ago. Olive was the only chicken to not lay an egg for us last summer and fall, so I'm looking forward to discovering her first, especially because Welsummer's are known for their dark, reddish-brown egg color.

Anyway, as of today, our holiday break is officially over. We had a lovely Christmas with family, and a quiet New Year's Eve at home, and now we're ready to get back into the swing of things. To stay focused, I've jotted down a few New Year's Resolutions for the year:

1. Continue building wardrobe based on Slow Fashion.

Last year, I decided I needed to beef up my wardrobe a little, which I've done, but not nearly to the degree that I was hoping for. When it comes down to it, I have a hard time spending money on myself, but I know it's worth it because I feel a lot better when I'm wearing clothes I like rather than any old thing that fits. I also find that my clothing Pinterest board, I'd Wear It, has been immensely helpful in understanding the types of clothes I'm drawn to. Some of it, like neutral colors, textures, and natural materials, I already knew, but I'm also quite fond of quirky patterns, big pockets, and pretty color combinations.

This year, I'm going to focus on making, tailoring, and mending my own clothes. I was able to knit a couple garments, and alter some old pieces from my existing wardrobe with my sewing machine to make them fit a little better, so my confidence is growing in that department.

2. Write

Two hours every weekday, minimum. I'd also like to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

3. Read

30 books, minimum (last year was 25, and I just barely made it in time). I'd also like to keep up with my blog list a little better than I have been.

4. Mind

Silence: No more television, texting, or music in the background while writing.

Be Positive: Lately, I find myself drawn to folks who are supportive, inspiring, and full of life - people who embrace differences, and are respectful and understanding of others. I used to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past, and over-analyzing every interaction, and at some point it became too exhausting to continue. I think that was the first step in letting go.

Nowadays I find myself less and less interested in negative people, and less interested in harboring my own tendencies toward judgment and cynicism. I find that I actually have a choice when it comes to my state of mind, and the more I choose to think positively, the more I am able to reprogram myself on a fundamental level. It's pretty cool.

I think, this year, my big obstacle will be in remaining focused on myself and my goals, and not letting people's judgments of my life choices get me down. I know where my path is heading, and I know what I want for the future, and that's all I need to know. Everything else is just other people's problems.

Unplug: I'm going to make a huge effort to keep my phone in my pocket whenever I'm with people, and I'm also going to spend a lot less time on Facebook and other social media sites unless I'm on for a specific purpose. It's just too much of a time sink for me, and there's always so much else to do.

5. Body

Through last year's Whole 30 Challenge, I discovered my body reacts really well to the Paleo diet. My inflammation decreased, I lost 30 lbs (and kept the weight off after), I felt energetic and happy, and slept better than ever. The only problem? I couldn't adhere to it for any length of time because eating away from home was a nightmare.

This year, to make things more sustainable, I've decided to alter my diet to 100% gluten free and 75% paleo so it's a little easier to go out with friends and eat at other people's houses.

Wish me luck. :)