Archive for December, 2008

Peace on Earth and in the back hall too

December 31, 2008

The chicks spent Christmas Day in a cage behind bars yet loved every minute of it! It had been a week of severe weather and they’d already been in the house a couple of times. When windchill predictions reach minus 25°F below zero at night, we all sleep better when under the same roof. The chicks are always eager to go outside the next day however, for fresh air and a chance to spread their wings.

Christmas Eve started out relatively warm and sunny and the girls stayed outside during the day protected from the wind but feeling the warmth of the sun. By the time we arrived home after our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and midnight church, the temperature was below zero. It had been a long day and we all wanted nothing more than to go directly to bed.

I really hadn’t expected cold weather that night so had no plans to bring the girls in. As we trudged inside I started debating with myself. I really didn’t want to bring them inside, after all I was all dressed up, it was after midnight and I was exhausted. Plus, we had company coming over the next day. On the other hand, how could I leave them outside in the freezing cold on this night of all nights? I didn’t want to leave the girls outside, but I really didn’t want to have our house smelling like a barn the next day with company coming.

As with children or household pets, chicken owners have a responsibility to provide safe care. So eventually my better side won out and into the house they came. I’ve developed a system for getting them into the house with a minimum of fuss, even when starting the process after midnight. I cover the back entryway with a large piece of heavy-duty plastic then place a large dog kennel on top. The floor of the kennel gets covered with paper grocery sacks. I’ve found through trial and error that grocery bags are much better than newspaper as chickens love to scratch, peck and eat newspapers creating a huge mess. I carry the chicks in one by one and cover the kennel with a large blanket, like you’d do with parakeets. The girls usually drop right off to sleep making soft mumblings that sound warm and very happy.

The chicks hardly made a sound when I brought them in Christmas Eve and they all went immediately to sleep. We slept in a bit in the morning and I awoke expecting to hear a chorus of hungry chicks ready for action. To my surprise, they were quiet all morning. Whether it was the spirit of the day, the warmth of the heat near their kennel or the Christmas carols playing on the stereo, they ate their special Christmas breakfast of fresh corn kernels and softly cooed while listening to the family opening presents in the other room. I waited for the noise and usual bickering to begin—the girls often act just like siblings when forced into too much togetherness—but they stayed quiet. As I readied everything for our Christmas Day celebration I kept waiting for them to give me a sign that they were now ready to go outside. Usually they let me know that they’re tired of being in the small crate but on Christmas they never let out a peep. It was as if they decided “If they don’t hear us maybe we won’t have to go into the cold today.”

We had a lovely Christmas Day party and the chicks seemed to enjoy it. They clucked along with the carols and seemed to love the commotion in the other rooms. A faint aroma of barn lingered in the back hall but no one seemed to mind. The chicks had a warm special Christmas this year and we learned it’s okay to bring a bit of living Nativity stable inside, especially on the most special of nights, Christmas Eve.

Happy Holidays

December 22, 2008

SANTA CHICK


HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM OUR COOP TO YOURS!

Still looking for that last minute present? Consider giving a flock of chickens. For $20.00 you can purchase a flock of chickens through HEIFER INTERNATIONAL. A starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks will be given to a family in need somewhere around the world. The flock can help alleviate hunger and poverty in one family. Your chickens can provide the lifesaving gift of food for the children. The sale of eggs can add to the family income, in fact, many families have managed to send their children to school through the sale of eggs. Even chicken compost has its benefits by building up the poor soil.

Contact www.heifer.org/catalog to donate online or call (800-698-2511). I’ve been donating for years and am impressed by their work. They have received support and testimonials from such noted journalists, actors and politician as Walter Cronkite, Ed Asner, former Presidents Carter and Clinton and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Under the category of “YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE,” I received two white elephants gifts this year from friends who found cast-off gifts in the back of their cupboards they felt I really should have.

The first is an interesting retro gadget called the Egg Cuber. This device takes a peeled hard-cooked egg and compresses it into a square. Why anyone would want square eggs, I’m not sure, but hey, if the Japanese can sell square watermelons at top yen just think of where square eggs will lead me!

The second special gift is called an Eggstractor. This 8-inch plastic accordion-shaped device peels hard-cooked eggs. Apparently you place a hard-cooked egg in the center of the contraption and press. The egg pops out the bottom completely peeled (or should once you get the hang of it. According to the instructions it will take some practice…..)

Intrigued? You can find the Egg Cuber at http://www.thekitchenstore.com/eggcuber.html for $2.99 or get the vintage model for $19.99 on eBay at http://cgi.ebay.com/Vintage-Egg-Cuber_W0QQitemZ380052028637QQcmdZViewItem.

Get the Eggstractor at http://www.eggstractor.net/ for $14.95 before supplies run out!

Or, make me an offer and I may be willing to re-gift as my friends did!

Salted Ginger Crisps

December 14, 2008

I’ve been busy baking our holiday favorites the last few days. Every year I make family classics but always add a few new recipes to the mix. This year I’ve added a couple that I developed using Wisconsin butter: Salted Ginger Crisps and Espresso Chocolate Squares. I hope you enjoy them.

Salted Ginger Crisps
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I developed these ginger cookies for the Wisconsin Butter Board and they’ve now become one of my favorites. The sea salt brings out the spicy ginger flavor. Check out this recipe and other great recipes on their website http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/recipes/article.aspx?rid=2659.

Cookies
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
1¼ cups dark brown sugar, packed
¼ cup mild molasses
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 egg
2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tablespoon butter, melted
½ teaspoon light corn syrup
1 to 1½ tablespoons milk

Cookies:
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, allspice and cloves; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together 3/4 cup butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add molasses and ginger; mix. Add egg; beat until blended. On low speed, slowly add flour and spice mixture, beating until blended. Divide dough in half; shape each half into a flat round. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll 1 dough round to ¼-inch thickness dusting with additional flour, as necessary, so dough does not stick. Cut dough into desired shapes and place on prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle cutouts with salt; press lightly to adhere salt.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly darker in color. Remove to a cooling rack; cool completely (cookies will crisp as they cool). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Icing:
In a medium bowl, whisk powdered sugar, butter, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon milk until smooth. Slowly add additional milk, if necessary, for desired consistency. Drizzle over cookies; let stand until icing is set.

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Espresso Chocolate Squares

December 14, 2008

A chocolate base and coffee filling combine the best of both worlds in this riff on a great cup of mocha java. I developed this recipe for the Wisconsin Butter Board. Check out this recipe and other great recipes on their website http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/recipes/article.aspx?rid=2659.

Espresso Chocolate Squares
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Crust
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, chilled and cut into pieces
½ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Filling
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder
2 (8 ounces) packages cream cheese, softened
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 eggs

Glaze
6 tablespoons miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder

Bars::
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil; butter bottom of foil.

Whisk together 1¼ cups flour, confectioners’ sugar and cocoa together in medium bowl; add ¾ cup butter. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until butter is the size of small peas. Stir in ½ cup chocolate chips; press into bottom of pan. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean; cool slightly.

Meanwhile, stir ¼ cup cream and 1 tablespoon instant espresso together until coffee is dissolved. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and ¼ cup butter together. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and allspice; beat until blended. Slowly beat in cream and coffee mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Pour batter over crust.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are slightly puffed and center is set; set pan on a cooling rack.

Glaze:
Melt 6 tablespoons chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon cream, ½ tablespoon butter and ¼ teaspoon instant espresso in medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Drizzle over bars and refrigerate until set. Cover and store bars in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Makes 24 bars

Northern Chicks

December 04, 2008

After wondering if I’d ever have more than one chick laying eggs this winter, Roxanne laid a perfect latte-tinged egg yesterday. It was cause for celebration! We really missed her eggs. Cleo’s been hanging in there by laying every other day and with Roxanne laying, we’ll now get double the eggs. Hopefully Lulu will get back on schedule shortly.

With the snow, cold and short days, I’m surprised any of them are laying. The first sight of snow stopped all three chicks dead in their tracks as they emerged from their coop a few mornings ago. They’d apparently wiped all memories of last winter out of their minds; it’s probably a good thing. Last winter was harsh, a far cry from the mild winters we had been experiencing. The girls responded by refusing to place their dainty feet anywhere near the snow. I made straw paths for them to walk on, but they rarely left their coop or enclosed run.

This year their reaction to the first snowfall seemed to predict a second year of self-imposed huddling in the run. However, by the second day they became brave and actually frolicked in the snow. They ran in the snow, scratched in it and ate it—Lulu in particular. She’d look up with a mustache of snow on her beak like she was posing for the “Got Milk?” campaign.


Got Snow?

Everyone is always interested in how I keep the chicks warm during the winter. Often they’re surprised to discover the chicks live outside even during a Minnesota winter. Actually, a chicken can adjust to cold weather easier than it can to extreme heat. Chickens don’t have sweat glands so they have no way of cooling their body, especially because most of it is covered with feathers. If the temperature gets above 95°F. they begin to suffer and will pant like a dog.

Chickens rely on each other’s body heat to keep warm by huddling together. While the Beach Boys weren’t singing about chickens, the sentiment still applies “And the Northern girls…. keep their boyfriends warm at night.” My Northern chicks are each other’s best source of heat and keep each other warm at night.

To help them further cope with the cold I rely on technology. This year I purchased a new infrared heater for the coop from Sweeter Heater www.sweeterheater.com/bizweb.asp. Because my coop is small I got the smallest model, and placed it on the ceiling where it radiates heat onto the birds as they roost. The best part about the heater is it will not burn the birds if they accidentally touch it. Roxanne stretches her legs so she can get her head as close as possible to the heater.

The birds also have an Igloo-Style Heated Pad that’s designed for outdoor pets http://www.arcatapet.com/sresult.cfm. The heating pad can be easily cleaned and rises to the animal’s body temperature as they sit on it. Cleo loves this.

I also provide a ceramic heat lamp in a protected shade. It’s the same type of heater that’s used in reptile tanks. It has a rheostat to adjust the heat. The lamp is located over the nest and Lulu has chosen this as her favorite spot. All three heaters work together to keep the coop warm. How warm varies with the temperature and the wind. I also cover the outside of the Eglu coop with heavy wool blankets to provide extra insulation.

The chicks’ run is covered in heavy-duty clear plastic. This acts as a wind break but allows the sun to shine in creating a mini greenhouse effect. Even the water dispenser is protected with its own heater so the water won’t freeze.

I’m able to keep an eye on the entire set-up by monitoring the temperature inside the coop via a wireless thermometer located in my kitchen. I can pour a latte and whip up Roxanne’s precious egg while at the same time making sure the girls are cozy and warm.