Christmas Citrus Garland | DIY

I’ve been keeping my daughter busy with small activities this winter since the cold weather has set in and we’re not spending much time outdoors.  I love that most of these activities take place around the kitchen table and they add excitement to the upcoming holiday for her.

Dried citrus can make a festive tree or window garland or even a potpourri satchel with a few spices added.

I read a couple different methods for drying citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons):  placing slices on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and drying in the oven at 250 degrees for 3-4 hours, or placing slices in a food dehydrator for 8-10 hours.

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I decided the food dehydrator was the way to go!  I cut an orange into thin 1/4 inch slices and placed them on two stacked drying racks and flipped the switch on just before I went to bed.  Nine hours later I had perfectly dried orange slices.  I wanted zero moisture left so I made sure they didn’t bend at all.  If they are leathery, it means there’s still moisture remaining.

You want these to be Legally Blonde bend and snappable.  Except, don’t actually snap them; that wouldn’t be pretty.

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I stacked my slices in a mason jar for a couple hours to make sure no moisture appeared on the glass, just to be safe.  I want my garland to last for months so it’s important they are fully dried out to prevent mold from growing.  You don’t have to do this extra step unless you want to.
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Another option is holiday potpourri.  You can add the orange slices along with cinnamon and star anise to a small burlap bag, slap a tag on it and turn it into a Christmas gift.
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Maybe add some fresh rosemary for the scent and the greenery.
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If you have jute twine or fishing line, you can make holes in the center of the orange slices and make a string of garland.

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The citrus looks lovely on a string of twine wrapped around a Christmas tree or on fishing line hanging in a window.  The sunlight catches in the slices and reminds me of stained glass!

You can mix orange/blood orange, tangerine, and lemon slices for variety.

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Here’s my lovely window at the kitchen sink that obviously needs dusting on the inside and scrubbed down on the outside.  We spent so many evenings in the summer running through the sprinkler right outside this window and even though it’s December I’m not prepared to wash away that last piece of summer.
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Winter Madeleines | Recipe

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Madeleines are probably my favorite treat to bake.  All it takes is a few basic baking ingredients and a $10-ish madeleine pan to make a lovely cake-like cookie.

I regularly make lemon (my personal favorite), pumpkin spice, blueberry and honey madeleines but I was looking for something a bit more festive for Christmas when I found an image of deep red madeleines while scrolling on Pinterest.  Swoon.

Looks like winter, tastes like summer.
(I started thinking of the song Drops of Jupiter after I typed that because of the line “She acts like summer and walks like rain” and so I had to look up who did it.  It was a band called Train.  I didn’t realize they’re still making music.  Do you guys remember that show Behind the Music on VH1?  Hmm, this makes two posts in a row where I’ve mentioned something VH1 related.  Weird.  I don’t even think they play music anymore.)

Wait, where was I?
Rosemary and strawberry blended together in the middle of winter?  
Yes, please!

Living in the deep South means I can wear shorts on a Monday in December and have a forecast for snow on Friday because we’re ridiculous like that.  Since Georgia actually received some snow fall this week (not my area, thankfully) and I’m puttering around the kitchen in wool socks now, it felt like a great time to use up some strawberries we froze this summer and remember the scorching 90+ degree heat and humidity.

These cookies are beautiful, delicious with a unique flavor thanks to the rosemary simmered in butter, and you can dress them up several different ways!

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Rosemary & Strawberry Madeleines
from A CupCake For Love

(makes 24)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10-15 drops of red food coloring (optional, just add if you want the dark red)

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Add rosemary and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn off stove and remove pan from heat, letting rosemary butter rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Using a blender, puree the frozen strawberries until thick.
  5. In the bowl of your mixer, add the eggs and sugar; blend on low until foamy.
  6. In a separate bowl, stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  7. Add strawberry puree to the egg mix.
  8. Add the flour mix to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
  9. Pour your melted butter through a strainer into the mixing bowl.  (You want the strainer to catch all of the chopped rosemary so it doesn’t get in your batter.)
  10. Optional:  Add food coloring a few drops at a time, stirring between for your desired red.
  11. Put your batter into the fridge for 20 minutes and preheat your oven to 350 degrees while you’re waiting.
  12. Fill each madeleine mold 3/4 full and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
  13. Cool for a few minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack.
  14. Once madeleines are cool, you can add icing/glaze and/or powdered sugar to dress them up.

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Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies | Recipe

As Andy Williams croons, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
I had to look up who sings that song because I just assume every Christmas song on the radio is sung by Bing Crosby.  Or that one Mariah Carey did in the early 90’s that will apparently never go away.

There was also that time Bing Crosby and David Bowie sang Little Drummer Boy together.  I have the VH1 channel of my childhood to thank for introducing me to that gem.

So, Christmas= lots of baking.  We usually make sugar cookies and lather them in icing and sprinkles but this year I thought it’d be fun to try gingerbread cookies.

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The biggest issue folks seem to have is finding cookie recipes that won’t spread out when they bake.  If I’m making cookies without a shape then I don’t really mind; if one cookie comes out the size of three, I can still say I only ate one cookie so there’s less guilt.  That’s my pro baking tip of the month.
But when you’re working with cute cookie cutters the worst thing is pulling your cookies from the oven only to discover they have oozed into some unidentifiable shape.

I tested three recipes and did some tweaking to create this recipe and I can assure you that these cookies will hold their shape beautifully!  The only problem you’ll have is making sure the legs don’t snap off when you remove them from the cookie sheet or while decorating…  which is how I came up with the name Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies.

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Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies
(you’ll get about 24  gingerbread folks but that’ll change depending on size/shape of your cutter choices)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and whisk the first five ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Using a mixer, cream together the butter and and brown sugar in a separate bowl.
  3. Add the egg and mix.
  4. Add molasses, vanilla, and lemon extract (the extract is just an extra flavor touch but not necessary).  Mix until incorporated.
  5. Pour your flour mixture from step 1 slowly into the mixing bowl until dough forms.
  6. Roll dough out on wax paper (or a floured surface) to 1/4″ or 1/2″ thickness.
  7. Use your cookie cutters to create the desired shapes; carefully peeling and placing them on greased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake 9 minutes at 375 degrees.
  9. Transfer cookies (carefully, unless you’re going for the snapped limbs on your gingerbread people) to a wire rack to cool before decorating.
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I love a golden brown cookie.
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Some cookies did not make it off the cookie sheet with all limbs intact.

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Any time I photograph food there’s guaranteed to be a photo on the memory card of my daughter’s blurry hand darting into the frame.
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Here’s my decorated Oh Snap Gingerbread Dude.  I’m a minimalist when it comes to cookie decorating.  Maybe one day I’ll get fancy.
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My favorite Christmas cookie tin of Norman Rockwell’s “The Discovery.”  It gave me the idea to recreate the scene with my daughter this year!
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My painterly photo of Haven, inspired by Norman Rockwell.

 

Pumpkin Latte Streusel Muffins | Recipe

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I guess it was around five years ago that the pumpkin spice craze began.  Fall came and with it that year (and every year since):  leggings, oversized sweaters and every food and drink item known to man suddenly flavored with pumpkin.  Each fall the world suddenly has a sixth Spice Girl.

While pumpkin pie is a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, my husband won’t eat pie.  Any kind of pie.
The weirdo.
Just kidding.
(But seriously, what a weirdo.)

What I’m trying to say is that if I make a pumpkin pie and I’m the only one in the house who will eat it, then I will eat it.
All of it.
In one sitting.

Since this is the season of pumpkin flavored everything, I have plenty of options to include it in our Thanksgiving meal.
My brainstorming led me to remember some amazing blueberry muffins with a streusel topping a friend of mine gave me the recipe for last summer after Haven and I picked a ridiculous amount of blueberries, then while looking at waffle recipes (because we finally added a waffle iron to our kitchen appliances!) I found a recipe for pumpkin chai waffles and that made me think of a chai latte.
Then it hit me:  why not put pumpkin and a chai latte into a muffin and top it with streusel?

I  used the base for my sweet friend’s muffin recipe, added pumpkin puree with chai spices and topped it with a traditional streusel to create a Thanksgiving breakfast or after dinner dessert.

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Pumpkin Latte Streusel Muffins
makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable/canola oil will be just fine also!)

Chai spice mix:

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • tiny pinch of black pepper

Streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups all purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray your muffin pan with cooking spray before adding the muffin liners.
  2. In your mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the pumpkin puree, egg, milk, vanilla, and oil.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the spices for your chai spice mix, then add the flour, brown sugar and baking soda and stir together.
  4. Add your bowl of dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of wet ingredients.  Set your mixer to stir (or the lowest setting) until just combined.
  5. Using a teaspoon, scoop the batter into the muffin liners, filling each about half full.
  6. Make your streusel topping by mixing together the butter, sugars, and cinnamon until sugar begins to dissolve.  Add flour a cup at a time and stir until you get a dry paste (like the consistency of wet sand).
  7. Add streusel topping to the top of each muffin.  Make sure you get lots of crumbs to cover the batter of each completely.
  8. Place muffin pan in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes.
  9. Muffins are done when you stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean.
  10. I chose to pop mine back in the oven under the broiler for 1 minute to give the tops a nice golden/dark brown coloring.  Totally up to you if you want to do that.  If you choose to, make sure it goes no longer than a minute or you will have some burned muffins!

Store leftovers in an airtight container and re-heat muffins for 10 – 12 seconds in the microwave.

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This tea towel is amazing, right?  I started collecting them and now they don’t fit in the tiny kitchen drawer designated for kitchen cloths/towels and my husband may think I have a problem.  He’ll probably still build me a special cubby for them because he’s an enabler though.

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Do you like my well-loved muffin pan?  I bought 2 muffin pans about 9 years ago and I still have them.  Some people don’t like how dirty/stained they get over time…
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but it makes me feel legit, like I bake lot and know what I’m doing.
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Can you really trust someone whose muffin pans are spotless?

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Licking spoons.

I was just 18 when my husband and I started dating.  There were road trips to concerts, talking until the sun was up and then long distance phone calls and handwritten letters until he finally moved back to Georgia.
I’d decided at an early age that I would never marry.  That didn’t mean I was swearing off love, just marriage.  In my short life I’d seen far too many people ruin a seemingly good thing by getting married and letting it change everything.  It seemed I’d save myself a lot of time (Have you ever sat in the social security office?  Time moves backward there!) and heartache by skipping the nuptials.

I was barely 19 years old when I accepted his proposal as a head-over-heels, butt-crazy-in-love (didja catch my Clueless movie reference there?!) silly girl.  After 3 years of engagement, the longest engagement in the history of ever according to some *eye roll*, we were married in front of our families, both of us just 22 years old.
(Now at 31 I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “Ohmygawd, we were babies!  We thought we knew everything and really we knew nothing!”)

I have a photo of my dad walking me down the aisle that I still laugh at.  I look like a deer in headlights; like a woman-child, unsure of what I’m getting myself into.  I lost control of my facial muscles; they twitched as if I’d had a mini-stroke while I fought back tears.  My dress seemed to weigh me down with each step as I clutched my dad’s arm and I was thinking of a story I’d just been told in my dressing room.  I don’t remember who, but someone had come in to see me before the ceremony and told me this story about a husband and wife who wore their wedding attire each anniversary to see if it still fit.  This sweet story then turned in to a sad tale as the bride died in a head-on collision and was found with her fingers still clutching the steering wheel.  This was what I was thinking about as my own fingers clutched at my dad before we rounded the corner and I saw my future husband.  Luckily I lost the deer caught in headlights look before too many people noticed and the sad tale of the dead woman was forgotten once I noticed Joe begin to cry.  I still joke that I made it down the aisle by imagining the car accident and deciding that there are things worse than marriage.  That is my dark sense of humor for you.

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See that terrified baby face?  And that’s my dad in his “special occasion” outfit.  If he’s attended a wedding, funeral, or any other event that expects more than jeans and a t-shirt in the past 10 years, he has worn this outfit here.

It is only after nine years of marriage and being a little wiser (while also a little less sane) that I can say with assurance that I was afraid of marriage because I thought it would somehow become my identity; that I’d lose myself.  I grew up in an oddly traditional-but-not-really home where my mom worked in the home and raised me while my dad worked constantly outside the home to provide for us.  By the time I was able to take care of myself, I feel my mom was more than a little lost and struggling to figure out who she was or who she could become at that point.
After becoming a mom four years ago, I realized that my mom sacrificed so much to focus entirely on raising me.  I am forever grateful that she did that for me and sad that it took all these years for me to understand the enormity of what she did, choosing me before herself.  I didn’t understand how lonely it would be sitting home alone with an infant who demands your full and constant attention.
Without realizing it at the time, marriage and motherhood went hand in hand and after what I witnessed growing up, I subconsciously believed I’d lose myself becoming someone’s wife and a mother.
My marriage has changed my perception on partnership and having a child healed a lot of hurt in my relationship with my own mom.

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Forget about the fact that it looks like I may be naked here, that look on my face is pure adoration for him.

At 22, I survived the social security office and name change, the new awesomely bad driver’s license photo and I settled in to living with a boy.  I spent the first year rolling my eyes at Little Debbie snack cake wrappers strewn precariously around the house and a pile of dirty socks and wet towels tossed on the bathroom floor next to (not inside of) the hamper.
There were seldom arguments but the few we had I handled by licking every spoon we had in our utensil drawer and placing them back in with smug satisfaction.  I learned early on that Joe wouldn’t share a utensil with me.  Would he kiss me every day?  Absolutely!  Would he take a bite of food off a spoon that I had seconds before used for the same purpose?  Certainly not!  So when all of his snack cake wrappers and towels piled up, I licked those spoons for my own amusement and as a free therapy session.

Another amusing kitchen game for the early years of marriage is something I called marital chicken.  It’s where one of you uses the cast iron skillet and hopes the other will clean it so you say you’re placing it in the sink “to soak” and really you’re not fooling anyone, it’s going to set in that sink until one of you breaks.

My sense of humor was mostly lost in translation with Joe in the early years.  I remember saying something about the French language to him and because he was only half listening, assumed I’d just told him that I spoke French.  I playfully acted astonished that we’d been together so many years without this piece of knowledge coming to light.  I began making sounds in a French accent (remember the episode of Friends where Phoebe tries to teach Joey some French for an audition?) and before I knew it, Joe thought he was telling our dog Riley to sit in French.  I promptly forgot about the entire thing until months later Joe asked me how to say something else in French and I spent a while laughing before explaining the best I could do was sing Lady Marmalade.

I think we began to get the hang of things after a couple years.  We learned to rely on one another, make decisions together and how to tell when the other was joking.  Little Debbie wrappers began making it to the trash can, towels and socks found their way into the hamper.  I stopped licking the spoons because there was no longer reason to do so; we’d learned to talk about things.  There was truly a sense of bliss as we realized we were as happy together as we’d hoped we’d be when we said our vows in 2008.
Mignon Mclaughlin wrote:  “A successful marriage requires falling in love over & over again, always with the same person.”
I’ve fallen in love with Joe several times as we’ve grown up and become many different people already in our lifetimes.  He reminds me each day why I fell in love with him to begin with.  There is no other man who would accept me as completely as Joe.  He encourages me to do the things that inspire me and to be my own person; he is my greatest supporter and fiercest defender.  He looked at me in awe while carrying our giant baby inside my body for 41 weeks and treated me as if I had super powers after giving birth and breastfeeding our daughter.

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We didn’t know anything then but we’ve had each other since this moment and that has been everything.

It isn’t always easy but here’s the important stuff I’ve learned:

You can’t both be crazy at the same time.  One of us has to be clear and level headed at all times so we take turns being strong for one another.

Talk.  About anything and everything.  Bottling up things makes them fester and before you know it, you’ll be licking spoons and whispering “Justice!” like that chick Flo on the car insurance commercials.  (Remember her?  Where is she now?)

Choose your battles wisely.  Snack cake wrappers and dirty clothes should be the least of your concerns and not cause for marital discord.

Laugh.  A lot.  I still run in and wrap the shower curtain around Joe while he’s showering.  It keeps him on his toes.  There are always good days and bad days so laugh as much as you can: it gets you through the bad days.

Love wholeheartedly.  You don’t dip your toes into marriage testing the waters.  You dive right in once you’ve decided to take your vows, otherwise, what’s the point?

Forgive.  And when you forgive, really forgive.  Don’t say you did and then continue to bring it up.

Work at it, every day.  Marriage is work.  You invest your time, love and effort.  Of course you have to work to maintain your investment.

Remind yourself your marriage is your own.  It is not your parent’s marriage or anyone else’s.  Regardless of what you grew up believing marriage to be or how you watched it unfold for others, you don’t have to follow what you saw or were taught.  You get to decide together what you want it to be.

It’s okay if instead of having an idea of what you want your marriage to be you just know what you don’t want it to be.  ‘Nough said.

And last:  If the skillet has been “soaking” in the sink for more than 3 days, just clean the damn thing already!

The honest truth of the matter is that you go into marriage wide eyed and hopeful.  You hope for the best, pray about it, work at it …and lick a lot of spoons in the beginning.

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A photo taken last year, inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

Happening in the Holler (with price breakdown for our 2nd meat flock)

Our garden flourished this year.  The tomatoes managed to thrive even through the heat, our green beans were epic once again (I lost count of how many pounds went into the freezer), our first try at okra, tomatillos, and cow peas (purple hull and black eyed peas) was a major success; and as fall settles in, we still have an abundance of carrots and green peppers.

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We processed our second flock of meat birds as the garden was winding down.  This time we decided to try a hybrid chicken, the Jumbo Cornish X Rock.  These birds are specially mated to produce maximum meat in a shorter period of time than a heritage bird.  Because these birds are hybrids, they aren’t meant for breeding (the next generation will be inferior and due to their extreme growth rate, they are usually too large to breed at time of maturity anyway).

We’ve read horror stories of these hybrid birds: growing so quickly their legs break under their weight, they eat so much they literally kill themselves, they are sedentary and lay down when not eating/drinking causing a high rate of being trampled.
However, the numbers kept us curious.
A bird raised for 6-8 weeks producing an average of 4 pounds of meat?  It just sounds too good to be true!

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Preparing the brooder for the chicks arrival.
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Early morning post office visit to pick up our box of chicks!
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The yellow chicks are the cornish x.  We also purchased some Americauna and Rhode Island Red pullets for eggs next spring.

Here’s the breakdown of our meat flock costs the second time around:

  • 28 Jumbo Cornish X Rock males arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery in August (we ordered 26 and they sent 2 extra chicks because it is common to lose a chick or two in transit) $80 (including shipping)

  • We purchased 12 bags (50 lbs each) of chick starter feed $170.00
    (The only other cost incurred was the pine shavings for the 3 weeks they were in the brooder and I didn’t include it because it was less than $10)

  • We lost 3 chicks during the first week in the brooder (a combination of the summer heat and being smothered while piling on top of each other)

  • 2 chickens broke their legs at 6 weeks and were unable to walk to food or water so we processed them earlier than planned.  (At 6 weeks they were both dressed out at 3 pounds each.)

  • 23 chickens were processed at 8 weeks and averaged 6.5 pounds per bird.

  • We put approximately 160 lbs of chicken in our freezer and spent $250.00 on the chickens and their feed for 8 weeks.

  • Approximate cost of our homegrown chicken meat:  $1.56 per pound

To read about why we chose to raise our own chickens for meat, click here.
To read about how we process chickens (with photos), click here.

Pros of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • Only 3 weeks in brooder (compared to 6-7 for heritage birds)
  • 8 weeks total (compared to 16-20 weeks for heritage birds)
  • More meat in a shorter time period (2.5 lb difference from our first heritage breed flock)

 

Cons of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • The Cornish X birds growth rate is because of their appetite.  They want to eat 24/7 and most certainly will if you allow them to.  We had to feed the birds on 12 hour on / 12 hour off schedule and actually tracked how many pounds per week to feed them based on other homesteader’s experiences.
  • Despite a strict feeding schedule, two birds did break a leg because of their abnormal growth rate.   Their legs simply could not support their weight and they were unable to walk to food and water.  Both had to be butchered at 6 weeks.
  • They are very sedentary birds.  If they were not walking to food or water, they were lying down even though they had a large, open pen.  For this reason, we had to be even more vigilant than usual about cleaning the pen so that they weren’t lying in mud and manure for extended periods of time.

 

If I’m being honest, these birds were pitiful.  I am all for cost effective meat production but these are not your average chickens.
Non-hybrid chickens (at least the heritage birds we’ve raised) do not over eat so we don’t have to monitor them for over eating.  They are usually walking around and pecking when they are not dust bathing and they sleep off the ground on roosts.  These hybrid birds were too large to roost; they had no choice but to sleep on the ground.

While we are very pleased with the amount of meat we have in our freezer thanks to these birds, we are not happy with their quality of life.  We raised them humanely and to the very best of our ability knowing some the issues that are common in this breed but it was awful to see the abnormal growth rate and the pressure it placed on their bodies.  8 weeks is a short life span but I was honestly so relieved to see them go because I don’t think they had a great quality of life (through no fault of our own).

We plan on sticking to heritage breed meat flocks, like our first flock of Australorps, in the future.  Their growth rate is steady, they don’t have to be monitored for overeating, and injuries are rare.
We began October with processing the meat flock and canning a huge amount of chicken stock and we ended the month with a Foo Fighters concert for our wedding anniversary and our annual trip to Clyde’s Fresh Produce.
You may remember I posted about our visit last year here.
Clyde’s provides us with honey and the majority of our lettuce, corn, onions, and potatoes each year.  We appreciate what they do for our community and that they open their home to us each fall to celebrate the growing season.
Here’s a couple photos I snapped while we were there.

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Hocus Pocus | Spellbook Brownies Recipe

Halloween is a two month long celebration around here!  We start in September to get the maximum enjoyment out of it.  Halloween movies are in heavy rotation around the house:  Monster House and The Adventures of Ichabod for the kiddo; Rear Window and Beetlejuice for me.  Also, did you know Once Bitten is on Hulu?  That made my week when I noticed it in the line up recently!

My daughter Haven discovered how amazing Hocus Pocus is last year so we had fun working on a craft for it this year.  While scouring the internet for crafty ideas, I came across Half Baked Harvest’s recipe for Spellbook Brownies and I knew immediately they had to be made.

We ended up making this silhouette of the Sanderson sisters on card stock and using a frame from Dollar Tree.  These are plastic frames but I love the shape/design so much I bought up all they had in the store that day (because you can feel rich when shopping in Dollar Tree; make it rain with those dollar bills!) and I may have went back and purchased more when they restocked.  Don’t judge me.  Please.

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Twist the bones
and bend the back
Itch-it-a-cop-it-a
Mel-a-ka-mys-tic-a
Trim him of
his baby fat
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Mel-a-ka-mys-tic-a
Give him fur,
black as black
Just. Like. This…

So it took about 10 minutes to complete our Hocus Pocus silhouette.  I have to keep crafts short and sweet since Haven’s attention span is still lacking and everything becomes “sooooo boring” after 5 minutes.

One thing she will be somewhat patient for is sweet stuff.  Especially chocolate.  And when I told her this brownie recipe called for chocolate brownies dipped in melted chocolate, I had her undivided attention.

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The candy eyes are what make these brownies!  I found the candy eyes and a 2 pack of black food writer markers (for drawing eyelashes) at Wal-Mart and I’m pretty sure I spent under $4 total.

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  • If you don’t have black food dye or activated charcoal on hand for the frosting, you can use 10 drops each of blue, red, and yellow food dye mixed together (though it will dry to more of a gray color).  It would work in a pinch if you’re not patient enough to wait for a trip to the store.

  • If you don’t have coconut oil, vegetable or canola oil would work just as well!

  • I skipped the instant coffee granules and the taste was still incredible, so just know you can choose to skip that ingredient if you’re not into coffee (I’m not going to judge you) or don’t have any available.

  • I found a 16 ounce microwavable tray of semi sweet chocolate in the baking aisle of Wal-Mart that was perfect for melting.  One less dirty dish in the kitchen and what you don’t use on the recipe can be placed in the refrigerator for later!

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I let my daughter help make the icing and decorate the brownies with it so mine aren’t quite as lovely as those created by Half Baked Harvest but the taste is phenomenal and the theme is still obvious.
This is truly an excellent recipe with straightforward directions that even people unsure about their baking skills can pull off without a hitch.
You can find the link to this Half Baked Harvest recipe at the bottom of this post!

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Come little children,
I’ll take thee away,
Into a land of enchantment.

Come little children,
The time’s come to play,
Here in my garden of magic.

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Oh look,
another glorious morning.
Makes me sick!

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I put a spell on you
and now you’re mine…

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You can find the recipe here at the Half Baked Harvest blog!

And while we’re discussing Halloween, here’s the annual Halloween photo I created for my daughter, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s books The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

“And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bed-sheets around corners.”

-Ray Bradbury

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Apple Butter Spice Loaves | Recipe

Since I posted this apple butter recipe I’ve used the last couple years, I’ve had several friends ask:  “The apple butter sounds great… but what can I do with it?”

I’m the type of person that’s happy to to eat apple butter straight out of the jar with a spoon or spread it on a piece of toast as a quick snack, though I have found several other awesome ways to use it in the last few years!

  1. Apple Butter Pancakes.  You can add apple butter into your pancake batter OR you can put the apple butter on top of your pancakes in place of (or in addition to!) syrup.  I’ve tried it both ways and they both rock.
  2. Apple Butter Pork Chops.  Sounds crazy, right?  I beg to differ!  Follow that link to see what I did.  (Shocker:  My hubby actually ate it and liked it!)
  3. Apple Butter Snickerdoodles!  You can add about 1/2 cup of apple butter to any snicker doodle recipe to give it some extra “umph”.  You know what I’m talking about!  …Right?
  4. Apple Butter BBQ Meatballs or Ribs.  Sounds crazy just like the pork chops.  Honestly though, apple butter is excellent mixed with your favorite BBQ sauces.  It adds a subtle additional flavor to mix things up a bit.
  5. Apple Butter Spice Cake/Bread.  I found a recipe last year for a spice cake that included apple butter and made a mental note to try to create a new recipe using my mini loaf pan.

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Apple Butter Spice Loaves
(makes 8 mini loaves or 1- 9×5 loaf)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (*see my note below if you don’t have buttermilk)
  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1.5 cups apple butter

    *Note:  If you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 tsp white vinegar to 1/2 cup of whole milk and let it set for 5 minutes.  Works like a charm!

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray your mini loaf or 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Add eggs and buttermilk  and stir until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices.
  5. Add half the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until it begins to come together.  Add the rest of the flour mixture and the apple butter, mixing until combined.
  6. Pour batter into your loaf pan.  (If using mini loaf pan, fill each about half to 3/4 full.)
  7. Bake 40 minutes if using a mini loaf pan.  Bake 60 minutes if using a 9×5 loaf pan.

 

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A friend told me she plans to can apple butter and give out jars as part of Christmas gifts this year and I love the idea!  I think these mini loaves would also be a wonderful gift idea; you can package them in a variety of ways and include a jar of apple butter to smother on top!

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Jack Skellington Blueberry Pie | Recipe

I love all things Halloween, including Jack Skellington.  I also like pie.  A lot.

So when I saw this photo floating around the web, I thought it was worth risking a Pinterest fail to recreate.

Using my favorite double pie crust recipe (it’s crazy easy), I created my own version of Jack Skellington pie using this blueberry pie filling from Dinner with Julie.

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I’m one of those people who forget to pre-heat the oven so I took this photo while I waited.

Double pie crust recipe

You’ll need an 8 inch pie pan and some wax paper

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

Directions

  1. Whisk flour and salt together in a bowl and create a well in the center.
  2. Pour the vegetable oil and milk in the well, stirring everything together.
  3. Once dough comes together, knead gently on a sheet of wax paper.
  4. Divide dough in to two parts.
  5. Roll one piece of dough out between two sheets of wax paper.  Since we’re using an 8 inch pie pan in this recipe, roll the dough out about 10 inches (always give an extra 2 inches so it can climb the sides of the pan).
  6. Remove top sheet of wax paper and flip the dough in to your pie pan using the bottom sheet of wax paper.
  7. Pour in the pie filling (seeing filling recipe below).
  8. Roll out the second piece of dough between two sheets of wax paper then remove top piece.
  9. Use a knife to cut out your Jack Skellington face.
  10. Pick up using the wax paper and flip on top of the pie filling.
  11. Trim excess edges around the pie pan and seal gently using the tines of a fork.
  12. Bake in the pre-heated 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes (until the crust is a nice golden brown).

 

Blueberry Pie Filling recipe from Dinner with Julie

Ingredients

  • 4 cups frozen blueberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and stir often, cooking until mixture thickens and blueberries start to bubble.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
  4. Place in 8 inch prepared pie pan.

 

 

I took these random photos with my phone while making the pie because it didn’t occur to me until afterward that this could be a fun blog post to share.

 

 

 

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Autumn Apple Picking | Apple Butter Recipe

You may remember our visit last year to Justus Orchard.  We picked apples, gorged on apple cider donuts, and I gave you an apple crisp recipe!

This year was our third annual visit to Justus Orchard in Hendersonville, North Carolina and it was a foggy morning on the mountain.  We picked a couple baskets of Mutsu and Gala apples, had an awesome BBQ lunch from the Good to the Bone food truck on site, purchased a 7 lb mountain cabbage, two dozen apple cider donuts (yep, they are THAT good), a gallon of apple cider, and a fried apple hand pie for the road!

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I made apple butter for the first time last year and it was a huge success thanks to Ronni Lundy’s suggestions in her cookbook, Victuals.

I plan on keeping my pantry stocked with apple butter again this year (we’re on the last jar of our 2016 batch so we visited just in time!) so I thought I’d share how I make it!

We’ll start by peeling, coring, and slicing up 5-6 lbs of apples.  That’s enough to fill a 6 qt slow cooker to the top!  (I used Galas with a few Mutsu apples tossed in)

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This is a quick process if you’ve got an apple peeler.  Trust me when I say it’s worth the $20!

 

Once you have your apple slices in the slow cooker, cook on high uncovered for one hour.

After the hour is up, place the lid on your slow cooker and turn to low for 10 hours.

I do this at night so my apples will cook while I sleep.

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When I wake up, my apples have cooked down to this brown mush.

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Now it’s time to add our fixins (as we say in the South).  I add two and half cups sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.  I stir it up, crank the slow cooker back up to high and cook covered for one more hour.

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Now I add 3 tablespoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”) and stir it in before I use a potato masher to blend everything into a velvety butter.

If you don’t want to can your apple butter for the pantry, you can put the butter in sterilized jars and store them in the fridge up to 8 weeks.

Since mine will be going in the pantry, I sterilized mason jars and filled them up.  I placed the jars in my pressure canner and filled with water up to the jar rings.

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I processed the jars for 20 minutes.

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Pardon the dirrrrty stove top.  We fried catfish before canning (’cause we needed our strength, of course) and it was delicious.

I removed them from the canner, let the jars cool and waited for the sweet music of the lids popping (that lets me know they sealed) before writing the process date on the lid and adding them to the pantry.

There’s not much better at the beginning of October than a plate of scrambled eggs and a side of toast smothered in apple butter.

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Here’s the recipe:

Apple Butter
(adapted from Ronni Lundy’s The Art of Apple Butter)
makes 5 pints

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 lbs apples (enough to fill a 6 qt slow cooker slap full); peeled, cored, sliced
  • 2 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”)

Directions:

  1. Peel, core, and slice your apples to fill a 6 qt slow cooker (allllll the way to the top because they will lose about a 1/3 of their volume after step 2).  Turn slow cooker on high and cook uncovered for 1 hour.
  2. Place lid on slow cooker and turn temp to low.  Let the apples cook down for 10 hours.
  3. Add sugar, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt.  Give everything a good stir and then place lid back on and turn slow cooker back on high for 1 hour.
  4. Add the apple cider vinegar and stir it in before using a potato masher to blend the butter into a velvety texture.
  5. Now you have two options:  You can choose to skip canning the butter and simply place it in sterilized jars in your refrigerator for up to 8 weeks, or you can process your sterilized jars of butter in a pressure canner for 20 minutes and keep them in your pantry to enjoy over time.

Feel free to play with the ingredient amounts to suit your taste!

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