December 28, 2015

Did a robin get in the chicken coop?

The tiniest egg!

This weekend we found the tiniest little ameraucana egg imaginable. It was only about an inch tall!  When I saw it, I thought: Did a robin get in with the chickens?? There's no way that's a chicken egg!

A normal Rhode Island egg next to the baby egg.

It was in a nesting box with a couple other eggs. Probably it was the first effort of a chicken just starting to lay - a tinier than usual pullet egg. The other option is that something weird happened with a chicken and two eggs formed at the same time, one coming out normal sized and the other teeny. I read online about unusual eggs of all shapes and sizes; there are many variations in nature!  On there is a "shrine" to multi-yolked eggs, which even shows an egg that was cracked open to find another fully formed egg inside!

The day's bounty - including the tiny egg, front left.

December 27, 2015

Better than a water park

We just had the winter solstice but you'd never guess it from looking outside!  It has been raining and raining and raining for days on end. Everything is saturated, spongy and muddy. 

The boys have been locked inside for days because of the weather and we reached a breaking point today. They needed to run and let some energy out so we put on our boots and our raincoats and set out into the rain. 

First stop was the chicken coop, which is surrounded by ponding water. We made some ramps for the birds to get in and out without wading through water. 

Baxter preferred to go through the puddles though, splashing as much as possible as he went!

We also put lots of logs and perches in the run for the girls so they have places to hang out, up off the soggy ground. 

Then we went down to see the pond, which is way full. 

The water is rushing down the hill from the school.  Early this morning, I went out and leaves were starting to clog the pipes that flow into the pond. By the time we went out this afternoon, the water was flowing over the pipes, which were 100% clogged.

This is where the fun began for the boys. The gushing stream was like a water park!  

They waded through it, splashed all about, and performed all kinds of experiments to see what floated faster or slower on the water. 

On the other side of the pond, the water was "making a waterfall" (Oliver's description), flowing freely over the dam and down the hill. 

On the other side of the road, the river that flows out of east fork lake is also full to the max. 

The pond has an overflow pipe, which is not clogged, but it can't handle the volume of water. 

Oliver got a new camera for Christmas and was eager to record the "flood" going on in the yard. 

Meanwhile, the ducks are continuing on with their normal routine as if nothing big were happening... 

I sure hope this rain stops soon and maybe we can get a taste of winter before we hit spring. If it continues like this much longer, we'll be seeing trees budding and flowers popping up! 

December 24, 2015

Learning to make baklava

Rita invited me over to make baklava with her earlier this week.  I eagerly agreed because I love baklava but I've never made it before.  What a great chance to learn something new and to get to eat something delicious!

First, we took five sheets of filo dough and buttered them down one at a time.  Rita told me to "cover them pretty well but don't drown them."  I did my best but those sheets of filo are like thin pieces of tracing paper and they want to rip every time you touch them!

Next we covered the filo with nuts.  Rita had already prepared a mix of ground up walnuts, pistachios and almonds.  We left about 1" around the edges to help with rolling it up.

Filling Recipe:

  • 4 C coarsely ground walnuts (each roll will take a generous cup of nuts) or a combination of walnuts, almonds, and/or pistachios
  • 1 tsp cinnamon or more to taste
  • ¼ C sugar
Grind the nuts. In a medium bowl, mix together by hand nuts, cinnamon, and sugar.

Once it was rolled, I cut it into two long pieces and put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Then Rita showed me how to slice the rolls into smaller pieces, without cutting all the way through so they'd stay together while baking but bake all the way through.

Then they went into the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  When they came out, we let them cool for a few minutes then cut them all the way through into slices.  Rita had prepared a syrup to dunk the rolls in, which smelled amazing.  

Syrup Recipe:

  • ½ C sugar
  • ½ C honey
  • ¼ C water
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp orange flower water or less to taste (optional)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
Bring everything to a gentle boil and then lower to a simmer – mixture will foam up so use a larger saucepan. Let cook until water has evaporated somewhat and mixture is thicker, about 20 minutes or so. This can be done several days ahead and reheated. Let cool a bit before dipping baklava into syrup.

We used tongs to dip the baklava rolls into the syrup then laid them on a rack to absorb the sauce and cool.  Rita said to leave them uncovered until morning so they'd get crispy then store, covered, either in the fridge or on the counter.

Here was the final product.  I ate three on my way home; they were so good!  What a treat!

December 21, 2015

"Kitchen Gift Guide: Homemade Bread Recipe, Cookie Mixes and More"

Check out my newest article on Countryside Magazine's website: "Kitchen Gift Guide: Homemade Bread Recipe, Cookie Mixes and More"  

It details how to make my grandmother's pumpkin bread in a coffee can as well as giving lots of ideas on recipe-in-a-jar gifts.  


December 20, 2015

Frozen water everywhere

My lovely handy husband created a large watering system for our girls that we usually only have to fill twice/week or so. We have a tank that collects rainwater and he put a pump on this so we can hook the hose directly to it to fill the waterer. In anticipation of cold temperatures, he moved the water tank and pump inside his workshop so we could throw the hose inside and continue to use the system through winter. This morning i went out to check on everyone and found the nipples on the chicken waterer were frozen solid. 

As a backup we had gotten some heated water bowls as well so I went to get those. I ran an extension cord out, plugged them in, and threw the hose into the workshop to fill them up. I turned the pump on but nothing happened.  I checked all the switches and plugs - everything was connected properly. Then I realized it was the hose, frozen solid!  All that planning and it looks like I'm still hauling water from the house. 

So in I went to get a bucket of water from the kitchen. 

I filled the bowls but it took a while for one chicken to get brave enough to stick her head in and give it a try. They did their usual standing around, starring...

If you could hear their thoughts I think it would sound something like:
"What do you think it is?"
"I don't know. Should we try it?"
"I don't know, looks scary."
"Let me just get a little closer. Hmm, smells funny."
"Don't get too close!"
"I think it might be something we can drink."
"Don't risk it!"
"But I'm so thirsty!"
"Who knows what it could be."
"I'm gonna try it."
"Oh dear!"
"Mmmmm water!"
"Ohh let me try!"

Soon there were lots of birds enjoying a morning drink. 

I went down to check on the ducks and found the pond is starting to freeze over too. 

The ducks are mostly staying on the far side, which is still open. I have them some more hay in their house, in case they want to nestle in for warmth but so far they seem fine with the cold. They are so well insulated; it's truly amazing!

December 19, 2015

Decorating the Chicken Coop: Cranberry Garlands

I hung a wreath for the chickens last week but I decided the girls needed some more festiveness.  I wanted to make something that could also be a little  treat for them. 

I started with a bowl of fresh cranberries, some plastic thread and a tapestry needle. 

I put the cranberries on one at a time, which took a while but was kind of meditative.

One bag of cranberries made about 7 feet of garland. 

I used some ribbon to tie it up around the edges of the run at a height where the birds can reach the berries. 

You could also add in some popcorn to your garland if you wanted - that's a treat our girls love!

December 18, 2015

Rita's Peppermint Bark

Many of you know we are lucky enough to live across from local celebrity chef and herbalist Rita Heikenfeld.  She gives me lots of inspiration in the kitchen.  Today I was perusing her blog ( and came across a holiday treat I had to try: 5-Minute Peppermint Bark.

See her blog for the actual recipe.  Here's a photo journey of my experience making it...

I stopped at Jungle Jim's on my way home from work to pick up white chocolate and candy canes. 

I broke the chocolate into chunks and put it on the stovetop on very low heat.

When it was melty and smooth, I took it off the heat.

Then I added peppermint extract, which smells SO strong!

To crush my candy canes, I put them in a big zip lock bag.

The meat tenderizer has so many uses...

This is what my broken up pieces looked like.

I added a little of the candy cane pieces to the chocolate, along with this rice cereal.

Finally, I spread the mixture on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

And the cookie sheet went into the fridge to set up.

It smelled fabulous in my kitchen while I was making this: a mix of the bright peppermint flavor with the sweetness of the chocolate.  It didn't take long for my supervisors to show up underfoot, starring longingly up at the counter!

I can't wait for the bark to set up so I can break it into chunks and give it a try!  This will make a nice gift as well, in pretty baggies - that is, if any makes it past my family...

Thanks for the inspiration and the recipe, Rita!

December 14, 2015

More Christmas cheer

We did the tree yesterday but today I finished up the rest of the decorating.

This tiny little tree came from my family.  I remember making it with my mom when I was a little kid.  We got tiny little ornaments and presents to decorate it with and even found a little star for the top.  It's been out in my house just about every year since.

My mom got me this handmade nativity scene in Mexico.

The mantel is lined with stockings.  Even the dogs have one to share.  The first year I hung it up my dog saw me put toys inside one evening and each night afterwards she sat and starred up at it.  The anticipation was almost too much to handle!

The mantel in the dining room has a natural garland across it.  The little farm scene we got for our wedding in intermixed with the greenery.

Josh made this wreath last year from pieces of a birch tree we cut on our property up in Michigan.

Even the dinner bell outside the door got some bling for Christmas!

Our two reindeer took turns wearing their antlers.

Even the chickens got some holiday cheer!  We hung this wreath up high on the coop.  I also plan to make them some garlands of cranberries and popcorn to enjoy in the coming weeks.  Even chickens love Christmas.