Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ravings of a Mad Woman or (Thanksgiving. Is it becoming a lost art?)

Turkeys on Lopez Island
     I like Thanksgiving. My kids like Thanksgiving. It means many things to us. Its a time to share our home with friends and extended family. It's a time to have a lot of people that we care about all in the same place at the same time and to reconnect with old memories and traditions. A time for playing games, watching the Macy's parade in your PJ's and dressing up in something special but comfortable. It's a time to pig out on traditional dishes like cranberries, yams and pumpkin pie (and of course turkey) and the one time of the year where you can wear black olives on all your fingers at once eating them one at a time without anyone yelling at you and being thankful for the freedom to do so. And we all look forward to it.
     So I am getting ready to cook a feast for 14 (maybe more) people this Thanksgiving. It is the first time in 5 years that I have hosted a gathering and I am really looking forward to it. I use to host it every year when I lived closer to my sister and my parents were still alive. So I am cooking, cleaning, and just plain polishing up the house for the big event. I have some people that will be staying the whole weekend and some that have to go home that night. But I am going to have a house full. I just got home from shopping in town for the things I know I can't get here on the island. Most of them are things like new plates because I got rid of my old plates when I moved. They were old and marked up and I knew I would want something else. An area rug, new coffee pot, (mine was ancient and ugly), a new lamp shade, etc. Like I said. Stuff I knew I couldn't get on the island.
     The feast will be filled with the traditional dishes. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, two veggies, corn pudding, fresh baked rolls, fruit salad, cranberry relish and/or sauce, yams, and an assortment of appetizers, relishes, pies and desserts. All made from scratch and fresh. Oh ya, the Turkey too. All 22 pounds of him.
     I went to a grocery store the other day and walked by a display of seasonal fare. Standing there and looking at it I realized most everything that a lot of people buy for Thanksgiving is out of a box or can. Of all the meals you can cook in a year this one shouldn't come out of a can. Standing there and looking at it I realized that the whole meal could possibly be made in an hour or less depending on what you did for a bird. Where's the fun in that! There was stove top stuffing, Potato buds, gravy mix, yams in a can with the obligatory marshmallow cream to go on top. Canned cranberry sauce, brown and serve rolls. And don't forget that "traditional" dish that advertising has brain washed most everyone into believing is mandatory. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE! Thanks so much Campbells! YUCK! This is my pet peeve of the season. Since when did the pilgrims even see a green bean let alone cream of mushroom soup and onion rings. At the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown I have to have a rant here.
     We the people of the United States already have very few food customs. Why do we let corporations take away what we do have? Throw away those cans of green beans. Grab a bag of real cranberries, throw some sugar and a little orange zest on them and cook them for a few minutes until they resemble the real thing. Do we still own a potato peeler? Toss the marshmallow cream and roast a few yams in the oven with a little olive oil and garlic. Guaranteed to taste better than anything out of a can. And a turkey? Someone told me the other day that they had a tofurkey for Thanksgiving one year. (Turkey shaped tofu) Apparently it was very disappointing.
 I  bought a Foster Farms fresh turkey at Costco. I really wanted a heritage bird this year but the man was afraid I would turn it into a pet before we had a chance to butcher it. (yes I was going to grow my own). I have wanted to raise my own turkey ever since I saw the wild turkeys on Lopez Island wandering through our field. I think they are magnificent. Anyway I wasn't going to get a turkey off island because I didn't want to haul it home but I have never seen a Foster Farms turkey before and I like to support companies that use more humane  ways to raise and slaughter animals. If you can't find or can't afford a heritage bird from a local farmer Foster Farms is the next best thing. They have local plants that an acquaintance of mine has actually toured and given her stamp of approval and that's saying something. So much for this commercial.
     Something else just recently was brought to my attention that threatens the very fabric of our life style. (OK so I am a drama queen.). A friend of mine has a child in basket ball this year and they have practice on Thanksgiving! Is nothing sacred? Are we teaching our kids that being thankful for all that we have is unimportant? That family time can take a back seat to sports? Good grief! And when I told one of my own kids about it she tried to explain to me that her school basketball team also has practice that day and it is because they have to have so many hours of practice in before they get to play a real game. (or something equally as stupid). Fortunately my friend shares my feelings about the sanctity of certain days and she is blowing off the practice but I really think we are losing something important in our culture.

Clone of a cinnabon, unbaked 
     Some one always ask me for a recipe and here is one of my recent favorites. I made these cinnamon rolls and put them in the freezer to take out for breakfast during Thanksgiving weekend. (I also made a few for a test run this morning) You can find this recipe at

Ready for freezing
It is a bread machine recipe however I did it in my mix master instead because my bread machine couldn't handle the stiffer dough. Then I let it rise in a greased bowl just like bread. After rising I followed the directions for rolling it out, rising, and baking adding raisins and pecans. For make
ahead Thanksgiving fare I placed the sliced raw rolls on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and froze them. Then I placed them in zip lock bags and put them back in the freezer for later use. To use them take out the night before the morning you want to bake them. Place them in a greased baking pan loosely covered with plastic wrap.Let them rise in a warm spot overnight and bake in the morning. Adding frosting should be optional since they are just as good without it. Yum!

So Thanksgiving also kicks off the Christmas season. My next blog will have pictures of the coup and more recipes and maybe pictures of the silkies wearing little coats.(This weather does not agree with them.) If anyone has a question about this recipe or any other just drop me a line. I will try to answer your question. Have a fun filled Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Pie To Remember

Alas! The apple pie recipe. Read through the recipe and assemble all your ingredients before starting. This sounds harder than it is and it is real easy if you do it over two days. Try before doing this for Thanksgiving. Eating it will convince you it is worth the effort. I am afraid I can't take credit for this recipe. I found it in one of my favorite magazines that I get from Canada. However I have tweaked it to make it a little easier to read and added my own tips to make it easier to make. Especially for the novice pie maker. Hope you try this. It gets easier each time you do it and it is well worth it.  

2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup very cold water

Filling (a two step process)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup real maple syrup
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. water

3 lbs. apples peeled cored and sliced.  (recommended apples: Braeburn)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (I use a little more spice)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

Pastry wash
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp milk, cream, or half & half

Chill your shortening the night before or just leave it in the frig all the time to be ready at the drop of a hat. 
You can make the pastry a day ahead and keep in the fridge. (Tip: Keeping your shortening refrigerated keeps it from going rancid and it is ready for making any pie crust at any time.)

Make the pastry
Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large two quart bowl. Stir until combined. Using a pastry blender blend the shortening and butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Do not over blend. 

Mix the lemon juice and egg yolk in a measuring cup. Add the cold water and mix well. Pour over the flour mixture and blend with a fork until the dough holds together well. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (Tip: Over night is better.)

Make the filling
Place the butter and maple syrup together in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add the water stirring to make a paste. Add it to the maple syrup mixture. Stirring constantly slowly bring the mixture to a boil. Stirring occasionally, reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Cool to lukewarm. (Tip:You can do the pastry and this part of the filling a day ahead but if you put the syrup in the frig over night set it out in the morning to bring to room temp).

While mixture is cooling (or next day) peel core and slice the apples and place in a large bowl with the lemon juice and toss to coat. Mix the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the apples and toss until the apples are coated with the mixture. Pour the cooled syrup mixture over the apples and toss well to coat.

Take out your pastry and place on a well floured counter top. Dust the pastry with flour and roll out into approximately a 20 inch disk using more flour as needed to keep from sticking. Transfer to a waiting 9 or 10 inch deep dish pie pan allowing the pastry to hang over the edges. (I use a heavy pottery type but glass works too). Don't worry too much if the pastry comes apart a little when moving it. Just get it into the pan and stick it back together again. Don't be too fussy. It's a rustic apple pie.  (Another tip: Roll the pastry up onto the rolling pin like a roller shade to move it.)

Spoon the apple mixture into the dough and fold the overhanging pastry up and over the apples (kind of like a diaper). Mix egg yolk and milk/cream/half&half in a small bowl and brush the pastry all over. Sprinkle with a course sugar. (One packet of raw sugar from your favorite restaurant is perfect) Place in an unheated oven and turn oven on to 375 degrees.(Tip: Putting the pie on a metal pizza pan or cookie sheet keeps it from dripping into your oven) Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set. Approximately 75 minutes. If the crust browns too fast place a little tin foil loosely over the pie. Cool before serving.

Serves 10
Prep time 45 minutes (once you have it down)
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Eggs Eggs Every Where

My girls have been laying eggs like crazy. I was getting 14 to 20 eggs a day. I now have about 20 dozen in the frig and because I don't have established customers for them I am trying to use them as fast as I can. So to slow down the production line I have had to shut off the light that usually comes on for 2 hours in the morning in the coop. Production is now down to 5 to 9 per day. So if any of you live on South Whidbey and would like to buy some eggs, I will give you a dollar off per dozen your first order. (Regularly $4) or I can fashion a Thanksgiving turkey out of them!

This is why I have poo on the back porch
I have a new addition to the flock. Another black Silkie that I named Baby after the character in Dirty Dancing because as we all know "no one puts Baby in a corner". Although I was told she is a hen I am not completely convinced. She doesn't crow though so that is a good sign. I found baby on craigs list and sucker that I am I made the call. A nice lady rescued baby from a flock of bigger birds when she was at deaths door. Feeding and housing her separately from her own chickens became a problem when the husband became a little irritated at all the chicken poo in his work shop. Imagine that. I thought poo was a way of life.

Baby was pretty ugly when I first met her. She was lacking several patches of feathers including all the feathers on her head and she was really dirty and kind of sticky from having "no pick" on her wounds. Baby quickly won my heart but every lady (and the rooster) that approached her was met with flying talons. Self defense learned from necessity I suspect but I don't give up easy. I noticed that she was very interested in watching the other chickens so during the day I would take the ducks out of the adjoining pen and put Baby in there. She was able to see the others through the wire and feel secure enough to do chicken like things like take a dust bath or peck for bugs. I noticed that she wanted to be near the others. Just not with them. Being in the same run with the other girls caused her to fly into a panic. Even landing in the ducks wading pool once. At night I put her in a large dog crate on the table in the coop where she could watch the other chickens through the wire of the door. She was very happy with this arrangement. She had her own private condo.
I started adding chickens to her pen during the day starting with the other silkies. Every day I would add one more until there were about 10 chickens in with her. I can now let her out in the yard with the other hens and she is holding her own when it comes to competing for the treats I toss out for them. But still not in the run. Too confining I guess. In the yard there is room to get away from any of the bitchy ladies and I have one or two of those. In the evening I toss organic scratch in the pen and when the chickens run in to get it I close their gate. Baby waits outside the gate for her share and if she doesn't get it she stands in front of me looking imploringly up into my face as if to say "where's mine?" Cute. Kind of dog like too. When she is finished with her treat she hops up the two steps into my gardening half of the coop and waits for me to pick her up and put her in her condo.

Since this is getting rather lengthy I will sign off with some photos of Baby and of a friend of the big girls that
decided to visit us while we were picking apples in the yard. Speaking of apples I promised a recipe for an apple pie this time. However this post is getting too long so I will make the next post recipes and pictures and I will do it in the next day or two. Here is a picture of the featured recipe just to give you a hint.

Rustic Apple Pie

So tune in before Monday. This pie is the best apple pie I have ever tasted and it is made with (real) maple syrup instead of sugar. Should be called maple caramel apple pie. YUM!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sorry! Where does the time go?

It is the first week of November already and I haven't posted since August. YIKES! I got a couple nudges from people that I think I don't know or at least didn't recognize on comments. I didn't think anyone was actually reading this (except my brother whom I force to read my blog) and as a result it is really really easy to find an excuse to forget about updating. But alas I guess I have a fan or two so let me see if I can come up with something somewhat entertaining.

Our walker on the left.
 Our walker stalker is on the right. 
My oldest teen did the Susan G. Komen 3day walk for the cure in September. 60 miles and a terrific experience for her and the rest of the family. We managed to pull together the required $2300 dollars thanks to donations and a rummage sale that helped to empty out our garage. Funny thing about that garage. It seems to have filled up again. Hmmmm......

The clean up crew
The garden surprised me. Just when I thought it was finished it started producing. I got ripe tomatoes, a few acorn squash, about 30lbs. of potatoes, eggplant, corn, string beans, lettuce, and a few other odds and ends. Seems like summer decided to wait until fall to do something. I planted some autumn broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts and then let the ducks come in for a while to help with clean up of the summer stuff. They weren't much help though. I really need to teach them how to pull weeds.

Some one requested a recipe so here is a quickie that most gardener's probably already know for acorn squash. My kids love this one.

You will need a half acorn squash per person.
Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Place in a baking dish.
In each half place a pat of butter and some brown sugar in the cavity. Lay a half piece of bacon across the cavity and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. You can test by poking with a fork to see if the squash is done but don't poke through the skin or all that yummy, sweet, fattening goodness leaks out onto the pan.
This is really good with a meat loaf and a salad on a cool fall day because you can cook the squash and meat loaf at the same time and it warms up the house while you are making a salad! Dinner with benefits!

Sadie on my lap
So I bet you are wondering how the girls (chickens) are doing. Well they are in full production. I am getting somewhere between 15 and 19 eggs a day. I have to get busy and make a sign to sell some eggs cuz with all that production it is costing me a fortune to feed them. Even though they free range all over the yard. Free range comes with a cost. Such as having demanding chickens looking through the glass door on the porch

demanding their kitchen scraps and bread. (their favorite) It also means that sitting on the porch having a nice quiet moment is a thing of the past. Sadie thinks she is a lap dog and hops up every chance she gets. You might remember Sadie (originally named Squeaky) as the chicken that got an injured toe just before we were to leave on spring break. She got use to watching TV with the man very quickly and now has no fear.

The snake eater
Speaking of no fear. I noticed one of the Black chickens out in the yard with a rather large piece of trash in her mouth so because I am a mom and don't want my children or my chickens eating things they aren't suppose to I went to investigate. She had a garden snake in her mouth and was shaking it to death trying to break it into edible pieces. Yuk! I watched in awe for a couple of minutes before snagging the camera. By that time some of the other chickens saw what was going on and came over to see what tasty thing this lady had. The snake was still in one piece and to keep the other ladies from taking it from her this girl ate the whole thing from tail to head gulping an inch at a time until it was gone. I couldn't believe it! She had a very full crop when she was done but she kept her prize. I think she was full for at least two days.

My crowning achievement this summer and something I didn't think I would get done was painting the coop. (with the help of the man) I like it so much I think I am going to decorate it for Christmas. I like to decorate something out in the yard where I can see it as opposed to putting lights on my own house (that no one can see anyway because we are off the main road). Stay tuned for pictures of that. Also coming up in the next blog will be a recipe for a rustic apple pie. Just in time for Thanksgiving! I love this pie. Takes time  to make but oh so yummy.