Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Let's not do that again, shall we?

Just a little update to say I'm still here. Had to sneak one in before the end of the year which is quickly approaching!

We woke up Saturday, the 19th, to over a foot of snow. We knew a storm was coming in over night, but it didn't start snowing until late--after 11 pm. What we didn't expect was the power to go out--for a week!!

We spent seven days at my parents' house because they had heat from a wood-stove, if not power. They also have a gas hot water heater, and my dad hooked an inverter to his car so we could have power to run a few things like the fridge and lamps in the evening. And as the week wore on, (and on...)the dvd player to distract the kids.

The power came back on Friday, the day before my in-laws were flying in for a visit! The house was a state because we'd been up every day to feed and take care of the animals, plus check the pipes. We didn't have any broken pipes but I hate to see our water bill from leaving all the taps dripping for a week. As Paul says, it's cheaper than broken pipes and water damage. We were a bit worried because we'd just put our two pigs in the freezers plus about twenty chickens, and it's the first year we've raised our own meat. We ran the inverter from our cars a couple times and since they were both in unheated buildings, all the meat stayed rock solid. Thanks goodness!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

HBinFive: Whole Grain Challah with Cranberries and Orange Zest

December's bonus recipe for the HBin5 group was picked by Jeff Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of the "Bread in Five Minutes a Day" books. He chose Whole Grain Challah with Cranberries and Orange Zest. Sounded promising and yummy and as a bonus in my book, used three eggs. (We're only getting around 9 eggs a day now--down from 12-15 as the weather has cooled off some. Egg recipes anyone?) I had to pick up some wheat germ, dried cranberries and an orange to zest. After I bought my wheat germ, I read many others seemed to be substituting for it, but I got mine at the bulk foods store for just over under $2/pound. I considered using dried orange peel, but decided to stick with the recipe and bribed Ivy into zesting the orange for me.

I mixed the dough on Monday with the usual help from Finn. I wanted to get it done while he napped, but the opportunity passed too quickly. So as soon as I tied my apron on, he was demanding to assist me. He has named the utensils for stirring things up. He calls the spoon, "Scoop" and the whisk "Dizzy"--references to Bob the Builder. I measure the ingredients and he dumps them into the container. Then he takes the measuring cups and Scoop and Dizzy and plays with mixes the dry ingredients. Ivy had to get in on the fun and make a slope for me to dump the wet ingredients down. This didn't go as planned and wound up with me dumping about a cup of the wet mix on the table instead of the container since I had to try to pour as close to the edge as possible... Finn stirred a bit more, protested when I didn't let him take any dough out to play with, and protested louder when I returned him to the living room.

I decided to try making a loaf that evening before the dough was refrigerated. After about two hours, I had a very nice rise in the container and pulled off a piece about a pound or so and put it in a loaf pan. After it rose again, I brushed it with an egg wash and sprinkled with raw sugar. Finn busied himself distributing leftover dragonberries (cranberries) through the living room. It's great to have a helper, let me tell you! The alarming rate at which the loaf disappeared attested to it's good taste. The orange zest did add a delicious flavor to it. Ivy and I both thought it reminded us of raisin bread and decided it would be good with an addition of cinnamon or perhaps rolled up with a cinnamon sugar mixture.

This morning I took about half the remaining dough and set about to braid it. In preparation, I watched this video on YouTube: (I also learned that I had been pronouncing it wrong from the video. It's not pronouced with a "ch" sound like chicken, but an "h" sound like in the video or "kh" sound according to dictionary.com.)

It looked fairly simple, but I don't think I need to elaborate on how things that look simple can turn out. But lo and behold, it was simple! I worried about how the dough would be to handle, but with a little flour, it was really no problem. I divided my dough into three pieces, rolled/stretched each piece into a long snake, and then braided them like I was braiding hair. I pinched the ends together a bit and covered it with a towel and left it to rise. Before I put it into the oven, I brushed it with an egg wash and gave it a sprinkle of poppy seeds.

I realized after I got the bread into the oven that I didn't let it rise as long as recommended. It still smelled tantalizingly good as it baked and looks pretty good for a first-time braider, I think. I haven't tried it yet--I almost hate to cut into it. I feel so accomplished looking at this loaf. I used to think it required special skills to make such a fancy bread--but obviously it doesn't!!

Check out what others did with this month's recipe at the HBin5 Bread Braid.

With the remaining dough, I want to try making some croissants, but what I really wanted was to tuck a surprise of chocolate into the center of each croissant and I forgot to get chocolate when I went shopping yesterday. I did get some white chocolate chips, though--I bet that would be good, too.

And as a parting hurrah, when I went to check the Bread Braid this morning, I found I had won a prize! I won a copy of this book by Ann Arnold about Chef Alexis Soyer who was a chef in 19th century London. Looking forward to reading this with the kids. I love waking up to surprises like this!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Night-time chicken wrangling, baby showers and other doins'

The temperatures have dropped off here this week. We had one day that was really windy. I didn't think about it until the daylight was fading, and I heard the chickens and guineas making more noise than usual. As anyone who has had guineas knows, they are noisy by nature. So at first it didn't really register, but after a bit I started wondering why they weren't in the coop since they like to head in when it starts getting a bit dusky. I realized the wind must have blown the door of the coop shut and sent Ivy out to open the coop for the chickens. Since it was still fairly light out, I figured they would all go in the coop. However, a little while later, Paul tells me that one of the chickens is out on the porch. So I went to get her and found another chicken perched on the steps to the porch and two on the porch. I grabbed the one from the steps and took her up the hill. The next one put up a bit of a chase, but I eventually nabbed her and her friend. During trips to the coop, I took a roll call of who was in the coop. It seemed there were at least four more not in the coop. I checked the goat barn because they hang out there a bunch during the day, I figured some might have decided to bunk there, but no luck. I walked all around the yard, flashlight in hand since it was all the way dark by now. Finally, I looked under the chicken coop and there were five chickens under there. I managed to get them all out with a bit of coaxing and poking and pulling and crawling on hands and knees. Thought I had them all safely in the coop and closed things up for the night. There is one chicken that likes to follow us around the yard and Finn has claimed her as his and named her Ticklish (don't ask--he is three.) I specifically checked to make sure she was in there, but I guess I mistook another for her in the dim light. She greeted me first thing in the morning when I went to feed the goats. Don't know where she spent the night, but thankfully she was okay and seemed to be fairly pleased with herself for being the only chicken up and about so early. Needless to say, the chicken coop door now gets propped every day to avoid a repeat.

On a completely different note, two friends recently had babies and another friend threw them a combined shower this week. It was kind of last minute for notice, but I managed to throw them together a few items from flannel in my stash. I have such a large collection of flannel because I have such low impulse control when Joann's has it marked down to under $2/yard on their Black Friday sales and through the year on clearance. So happily, I was able to find a couple girl prints and a couple boy prints and make some blankets and burp cloths. I tried following the directions for a receiving blanket that is supposed to be self-binding, but somehow I messed it up. It's still a little frustrating to think about because I wasn't able to figure out what I really did wrong. I just know the corners came out completely wrong, but because I had followed the directions which said to snip the excess fabric away, I had big chunks cut out of the corners when I ripped the wrong stitching out. I managed to fix the blanket in a bit of a different manner than the original blanket was supposed to be arranged. But I have a policy that I don't point out my mistakes. (At least I try not to.) I generally figure that I'm probably the only one who is going to realize that something is off. So I didn't tell anyone at the shower that I goofed and nobody is any the wiser. I'm counting on you guys to keep the trust. For the second gift, I just made two simple receiving blankets serged around the edges. Much quicker and easier and store bought receiving blankets are never really big enough for a decent swaddle.

I also made dolls from a Bit of Whimsy pattern that I've had a while, but not had the chance to make up. This pattern was so simple I could hardly believe it. Those dolls went together as quick as could be! And they were cute, and well received. Holly loved them at home, so I think I'm going to make her one next week when I can get into the sewing room for a few minutes. Thankfully, she slept through almost the whole shower, because I was a bit afraid that she might try to reclaim them when she saw them. Especially as each of the babies had big sisters just a little older than her and they both grabbed the babies and toted them around for quite a while. It was the Little Peanut pattern in case anyone is interested.

Paul has been working on our living room addition and is hoping to have it opened up to the house very soon. It will double the size of our living room area and the extra space will be very much appreciated as our family has grown considerably since we moved in here. It's further along than in these pictures, but I thought I'd share them anyhow. The windows are going to have a window seat in them, and the wall is no longer blank, but filled with floor to ceiling shelving. The pictures aren't great since I took them from inside the current living room window, but they show a bit of the work being done.

And lastly, I watched "Julie & Julia" this afternoon and really liked it. Some of the reviews were a bit hard on the Julie side of the story, but I liked both sides of the story. I haven't read the book, but I think I'll pick it up now and read it over. I actually think it's usually better that way anyhow since movies frequently disappoint if you've read the book first. But honestly, the book I most wanted after reading this was Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I stuck it on my wishlist on Amazon so I can get to it sometime. It's a two volume set and a bit pricey, but I think it would be kind of fun to have. Not that I'm going to cook my way through them in a year or anything. And I learned something from the movie about Julia Child. I always assumed she was French, but she's actually American. When she moved to France, she didn't even know how to speak French.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What I've been up to.

Just a quick note to bring to your attention Sew, Mama, Sew's Giveaway Day. There are zillions of great bloggers out there who have joined forces to all take part in Giveaway Day to offer some great giveaways from their blogs. The giveaways are broken into three categories--handmade items, supplies, and giveaways that have both. All the giveaways opened on December 2 and will be closing on December 6. So there's still plenty of time to enter--thank goodness because it takes a while to visit a zillion blogs and sign up for all these fantastic giveaways!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A ride in the country...

So as I had posted earlier, we had a little snag when I called about getting our pigs processed. Mainly that the butcher shop closest to us and recommended by the folks we bought our pigs from was backed up until January! And I called at the very beginning of November! So I got some more names and did some more calling around. I was ready to drive these pigs across the country if it meant getting rid of them! In reality, I was feeling a bit panicky because we had only planned to have them through the fall and had no set up for the water to prevent freezing and the pen is so far from the house there is no way I wanted to lug water up there every day, aside from the matter of slogging food through snow and mud twice a day up to them. More than one place was booked through January. I guess deer season really gets these places hopping. Who knew that it was necessary to plan things like this so far ahead? Not I...

Happily, I found a place that could take care of the pigs for us at the end of November and only a mere two hour drive from us. So on Friday, Paul borrowed a trailer, built higher sides for it and with my dad's help loaded the pigs up. I had envisioned this going totally wrong with escaped pigs and that sort of thing, but with some prodding from Paul and the promise of a meal on the trailer, they walked right up the ramp. So I didn't get any even mildly funny pictures or stories to tell. Since we had to make an early start Saturday morning, we had the pigs stay in the trailer for the night. I had visions of escaped pigs and trying to round them up in the morning, but thankfully, Paul's construction was up to the task and the pigs were still in the trailer in the morning. With the kiddos at the grandparents', Paul and I took the drive to Weston to get rid of the pigs. Again, I had visions of the pigs escaping when they were unloaded from the trailer, but they went ever so compliantly into the livestock herding gates at the butcher shop. Reading this over, I can see that the one time we dealt with getting an escaped pig back to the pen must have made a traumatic impression on me that I didn't want to repeat in any way, shape or form.

They slapped some big tags on the pigs to mark them as ours, and then we went into the office to fill out our cut sheets. It's how you tell what cuts of meat you'd like from your animals. Since it was the first time we'd ever done it, I felt like we were just calling shots in the dark. We figured next time it'd be easier to know what to ask for because we'd figure it out and go from what we get this time around. I get the idea we're going to be eating lots of pork this coming year, and that's fine with us. It's just hard deciding whether to turn shoulders into roasts or sausage and if you don't turn them into sausage, how much sausage will you come out with. Conversely, if you decide to turn the shoulders into sausage, how much sausage are you going to have to put away during the next year? And will the kids be willing to eat the hot sausage or complain about it being "too hot"? Plus add in the factor that half of one of the pigs was for my parents and trying to figure out what they'd like... You get the idea, I think.

Anyhow, the meat is supposed to be ready for picking up sometime this week ready for pickup now. (While I was writing this all out, they called to say we could pickup anytime.) All except for the bacon and hams that they have to send out for curing and really couldn't give us an idea of how quickly they'd be back because it depended on how busy the place that cures is. So that's a total of three trips to get rid of these pigs. That converts to roughly 12 hours of driving--but it feels so great not have to hike up the hill for feedings twice a day now. In fact, I think one of us still comments on it every time feeding time rolls around. Will we do this again? I think so, especially with the time and effort put into building the pig pen and shelter. We do have a bit of fixing up to do with the pen before more can go in because we didn't put electric fencing into their house area, so they rooted big holes under the back of it. They were too big to get out by the time they figured that out, but it wouldn't hold little piggies as is. The solar charger on the electric fencing worked very well at keeping them from tearing up the edges of the pen, except for the week that Paul turned it off and they went to town along the back edge. The final jury is still out until we can actually count (and taste) the dividends.

And to finish the post up, here's a couple pictures of the old Weston State Hospital which was constructed in the 1800's to house the mentally ill. It is the largest cut stone building in the United States, and might be the second largest in the world. Closed in 1994, the grounds of the buildings are impressive, and old pictures show a rather attractive setting. The building is huge and there are two similar sized buildings of brick also on the grounds.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday #15

"High Steppin' Kitty"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Garden Stragglers

Found a few stragglers in the garden this morning. Our carrots were slow growing, and we'd pretty much figured the garden was done before they really started shooting up. Then the deer and rabbits found the garden and ate most of the tops off the carrots, so we only got a few. This morning I stepped into the garden to see if I could spy anything of interest. Some of the carrot tops had sprouted again.

And I learned a couple more things about gardening-
1. It's really hard to pull carrots out of the ground without the benefit of their big bushy tops.
2. Your fingernails probably won't thank you for scrabbling them out of the dirt with your bare hands...But your kids might.

Monday, November 16, 2009

We have a winner!

Email me if you see this because there isn't an email address with your profile that I could see!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just a note to say...

Tomorrow I'll announce the winner of my giveaway! Today was sort of busy and I didn't get a chance to pull a name, but the comments are closed as of early this morning.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

HBinFive: Pumpkin Pie Brioche

I'd been wanting to get the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day co-authored by Zoe Fran├žois and Jeff Hertzberg for a while. Then I noticed that a new book was coming also, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Recently, I got a great deal on both of them from a book club I belong to. You know how sometimes you want something for a while and finally get around to getting it for yourself, and then it is sort of anti-climatic because you spent so long building it up and you're let down and wish you hadn't spent the money on it? Well, I certainly know that feeling, but I'm happy to say that wasn't the case at all with these books. I'm so happy with them! I look through them and want to try nearly every recipe. Then I came across a group called HBinFive that has been organized to cook its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Every two weeks they are going to pick a recipe to try out, and everyone can share their yummy creations. So what else was there to do but join in? Although the group isn't officially starting baking until January, there are going to be recipes posted for November and December. I figured I'd give this a test run along with the others who are getting their feet wet early. As usual, I had an eager helper for my bread-making efforts. He liked the picture on the front of the "Healthy Breads" book because he saw that the lady on the front also has a "helper" but said, "It's not Finn."

The Pumpkin Pie Brioche recipe has been posted as a bonus recipe on the Big Black Dog blog (where the HBinFive group is originating from). This recipe had caught my eye in the book, and I was going to make it as one of my first recipes anyhow. So this worked out well for me. Unfortunately, Paul doesn't like pumpkin! So he'll have to suffer through this one, but I'm sure he'll be completely on board by the time we get around to the chocolate espresso whole wheat bread.

I was able to get some white wheat flour from Kroger's yesterday when we took a little shopping trip out of town--can't get it locally. I've been wanting to try this white wheat flour since I heard about it, but lack of local availability had hindered me. I was pleased to find Kroger had several brands to choose from and even has their own store label of it. That and some canned pumpkin were the only ingredients I didn't already have on hand.

Yesterday, my parents picked up some 6 quart covered tubs for me from Sam's Club that I can mix and store my dough in. They were a steal compared to what some of the baking supply sites charge. Amazon is offering a set of two for $16.95, but they are a pre-order, and the page says they may not ship for 7-10 weeks. I saw several posts on different boards from folks who said they found containers at Sam's Club. So I was more than happy when my parents picked these up for me at the incredible deal of 3 tubs with covers for $12! Now I just need a bigger fridge, so I can get multiple batches of dough going at the same time.

Before I could get my pumpkin pie brioche groove on, I had to bake the dough that I put in the fridge the other day--Soft whole wheat sandwich bread. The recipe makes enough dough for two loaves and considering the way my family can tear through a loaf of fresh bread, I just put them both in the oven today to free up the space in my fridge so I could get the other dough going. The only problem I'm having so far with the book is that you are supposed to wait until the bread has completely cooled before slicing--so not happening! I like that the wheat bread is made using honey instead of sugar, and it's got a lovely crust for cutting up for sandwiches. And the taste? Delicious! Tested and approved by each member of the quality control team family.

I haven't baked the pumpkin pie brioche dough yet, but I'm really looking forward to trying it. The dough is finishing its rise right now and then I will stick it in the fridge overnight and hopefully make a loaf tomorrow. The recipe is supposed to make two 2lb loaves.

Ps. Don't forget that my one year blogiversary giveaway ends tonight. Enter here if you haven't already!

Edited to add:
I got up before everyone else today to make a loaf of the pumpkin pie brioche. I didn't have any raw sugar like it called for as a topping, so I just used sugar and some pumpkin pie spice and sprinkled it liberally over the top of the bread. It smelled delicious as it was baking. As usual, I couldn't wait for it to cool and had to cut myself off a slice while it was toasty warm and slap some butter on it. Yummy! The sugar and spice topping made a crunchy sweet crust on the top of the bread that is my favorite part. Would anyone miss the top if I just cut it off to eat first? As several others had mentioned the pumpkin flavor not coming through very strongly, I talked Paul into trying it. He said it was good tasting, but I think the thought of eating pumpkin still bothered him because he didn't tuck into it like he would have another loaf of bread.

And because I got a lot of comments about the containers I got from Sam's Club, here's a better picture of the container showing the dough right before it went into the fridge. Don't count on the employees at Sam's to know what you are looking for because my parents asked about them and couldn't get any help. Eventually they located them in the restaurant supplies area. Made by Rubbermaid in three sizes--the six quart size happens to be the medium size. There are markings on the side showing the quarts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday #14

About This Blogger

I am a thirty-something mother of two girls and a boy ranging from preschool to middle school. My husband and I keep working and reworking on our goal of raising our family healthier. Our house is a constant work under construction--adding on and remodeling. We're happy to have bought our property a few years ago, but as any homeowners know, owning a home just adds to your list of projects and chores because there's always improvements to be made and maintenance to be done. On our burgeoning homestead, we have chickens, guineas, a few goats, and our most recent additions-rabbits.
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About This Blog

I picked the name Petalz and Finz a couple years ago when I decided to try Etsy out. I wanted to custom make some baby related items and have things for girls and boys. I felt the name incorporated both my kids (at the time) into it--petalz for Ivy and finz for Finn.

I haven't had time to do much of anything with my Etsy for a while, but it's still my in my long term goals. In the mean time, I'm having fun with this blog thing. I've found some creative inspiration through my own posting, but also through many other wonderful blogs out there.
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