Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

On the Eve of 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011

What a beautiful day!  65 degrees and sunny on the last day of the year is hard to believe, particularly since last year we had snow on the ground and it was only 3 degrees!  As I write this, the wind is whipping around the corners of the house and the noticeable chill in the air tells me that the front has finally arrived.  Our high tomorrow is supposed to be half of what it was today.

I suppose it's natural for us homo sapiens to see the end of the calendar year as a time for reflection on what was and what is to come.  2011 was an interesting year as J. and I started our journey toward building this little mini-farm in the city and long-term planning for our move to our larger farm.  That seems a long way off, since we probably won't make it there permanently until retirement.  But, you know, time seems to speed past me even faster as I get older.  We have been blessed in 2011, though, in that we haven't been impacted by job loss, or serious health issues, or anything major.  And, yes, I am knockin on wood that it stays that way.  It is definitely not something that I take for granted.

If anything, 2011 has been one long learning experience.  And perhaps the most important lesson I learned is what I don't know.  There is definitely so much more.  But we did make great strides this year:
  • Built a beautiful chicken coop
  • Raised 9 chicks from the time they were 2 days old and they're happily supplying us with eggs and entertainment on a daily basis
  • Cleaned out the fence lines and re-fenced the entire back lot\farm
  • Planted an organic raised bed garden full of several varieties of tomatoes, jalapenos, pumpkins and watermelons
  • Started a small orchard of dwarf apple trees and planted blackberries and strawberries
  • I attended an 8-week long canning\preserving class and, not only did I put away some tasty salsa, but I also roasted my own pumpkins and used them to make pumpkin bread.
  • Got our water issues taken care of with the purchase of a Big Berkey from Ebay 
  • Continued to add to our food stockpile and cleaned the basement out so that we could better organize everything
  • Procured a 1988 Terry Taurus travel trailer that we'll be taking up to the real farm next year after we finish renovating it.  That will give us a place to sleep if we want to spend the weekend up there, as well as a much-anticipated bathroom!
Here's our coop and two of our raised beds - new in 2011!
There were some sad moments this year as well.  My boss lost his wife of 40+ years right before the holidays.  And J. and I said goodbye to the first puppy that we raised together.  Chase, a beautiful black lab mix with soulful golden eyes, left us early in the year.  The ground was frozen solid but it didn't matter to either of us - we both shed more than a couple of tears as we labored to bury him in the backyard.  He was a rescue puppy and not much past weaned when we got him.  J. always described him as "sober as a judge" because the odd thing about Chase is that he never wanted to play.  But he loved being near people and was smart as a tack.  Even now, it's bringing tears to my eyes to think of him, and I hope he is somewhere chasing rabbits in the warm sunshine.

Well, the new year begins in just one short hour.  I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring us here at Cranky Puppy Farm and to you as well, my dear readers.

Wishing all of you a good night and nothing but happiness in 2012,

Now We're Cooking: Cast Iron

Monday, December 26, 2011

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year?  A 12" Lodge cast iron skillet.  Made in the good ol' USA, yes sir.  Just seeing a cast iron skillet stirs up memories of heavenly smells emanating from the kitchen as my grandfather fried up sliced potatoes for dinner. 

The skillet came pre-seasoned and J. also gave me some cute stocking stuffers to go with it - some silicone scrapers and a handle cover.  I questioned the pre-seasoning, though.  If you're familiar with cast iron, it has to be properly seasoned and that means it gets better the more you use it.  It's practically non-stick once it's seasoned and it heats so evently that it's very easy to cook with (unlike some of my cheap non-stick pans).  So we got to work on the seasoning by making...you guess it....fried potatoes!

I had been looking for used cast iron all over the place last year - at auctions, estate sales, etc.  I saw one Lodge skillet at an auction but we didn't stick around long enough to see what it sold for.  It was the middle of summer and we had gardening to tend to.  People hold onto these things, because they will last a life time.  But if you do find one used, you can bring it back to life even if it's been let go to rust.  Just take some steel wool to it to remove the rust and the start the seasoning process again.  
So how do you season cast iron?  It's easy:
  1. Rub the entire skillet with oil.  Canola, vegetable oil, or lard is fine, but I'd stay away from olive oil.  If your skillet has a lid, cover the lid as well.  Don't soak it so that it's dripping- just rub the oil in so it's uniformly covered.
  2. Put the skillet (and lid) in the oven and at 300 degrees and leave it for an hour.
  3. Remove the excess oil, either with a paper towel or rag.  Some folks say to rub it with coarse salt, but I don't do that every time. 
So what interesting things did you give or get for Christmas?  Any I the only one that got cookware?  (LOL)  And if you have any favorite cast iron recipes and are willing to share, I'd love to hear them.  Please share!

And All Through The House

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is this Prancer permanently preserved in ice? 

I confess...I cannot resist Victorian ornaments.

Happy Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!

Visions of Sugarplums

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our annual tradition (if you can call it that) has been to make hot cocoa and decorate the Christmas tree while we listen to some beautiful classical Christmas renditions.  J. hauled the tree up from the basement for me and, while it's been much too warm outside to stir up the cocoa cravings, we still had a good time decorating.  My other tradition has been to buy or create one new ornament every year and I think this is the first year that I haven't gone out on my annual ornament hunt.  I am having a hard time getting in the holiday spirit - possibly because of the weather or maybe it's the economy that has everybody down.  But the tree always helps my mood and I think it is beautiful.  Someday, *crossing my fingers*,  we will throw away this fake tree and replace it with one grown on our farm.

Giggles on Aisle 9

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sometimes in life you encounter those little things that just make the corners of your mouth turn up into a little smile. You know what I'm talking about - those random little funnies that are completely unexpected unserious acts in an otherwise serious world.

I had one of those moments in front of the meat counter at Hyvee today and ended up giggling like some demented crazy woman. And this is why....

Yep, no need to check your glasses.  That's a pig's head made entirely out of ground pork sausage.  I guess it was a slow day in the meat department.

Lovin' This Weather!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's almost 60 degrees today with less than a week to go before Christmas.  It certainly seemed odd to be out shopping today in short sleeves and no jacket. But I'm certainly not complaining - in fact, sorry to disappoint all you snow lovers, but I'd be perfectly happy if it stayed this way all winter.

J. and I spent the day shopping and fixing the gutter on the girls' coop.  We had never finished the downspouts and, with all the rain and snow forecasted for next week, we thought we had better get it done while the weather was cooperating.

Then it was off to organize for our Secret Santa giveaway next week and start wrapping.  Looking at the pile of stuff to be wrapped, I think we might just get done by Christmas if we start now.  I'm worn out already!

Merrily yours,

Today is National Poinsettia Day

Monday, December 12, 2011

We've always enjoyed having poinsettias grace our mantel, so I was looking for a great deal on these.  I can't believe some places want anywhere from $7 to $13.99 (Hen House Market!)  This year, we lucked out and found some coupons for $2.00 off any holiday flowers so I snagged two beautiful poinsettias for just $1.99 each.  One will go on our mantel and I'll take the other to work to brighten up the office.  And now how about some fun facts about this Christmas plant? 

Did you know.....
  • They are native to Mexico and the Aztecs used them to produce a red dye?
  • Poinsettias were introduced to the U.S. in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, hence the modern-day name.  Poinsett was an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico who sent cuttings of the plant he'd discovered in souther Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • 90% of all poinsettias are exported from the United States?  They are commercially grown in all 50 states and contribute $250 million to the U.S. economy.
  • There are over 100 varieties?  My favorite is the peaches and cream.
  • December 12th (today!) is National Poinsettia Day.  The day was established in July 2002 to honor the Poinsett's death.
  • It is completely untrue that they are poisonous to pets and children?  In fact, according to the American Society of Florists, no consumer plant has been tested for toxicity more than the poinsettia.
Wow, I certainly didn't know all that.  Did you?  Does the poinsettia have a place in your home for the holidays?

I Guess It's Official

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Oops...the Farmer's Almanac said our first snow wouldn't be until the week of the 17th!

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Remember this from Sesame Street? That's the the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this egg.  And then I thought, "Well, that had to hurt!"  Something like the equivalent of us humans squeezing out a football.  Eeeeyikes.....

In all seriousness, this is the second humongous egg that someone has laid this week and it's caused me to ultra-curious as to what causes it.  Is it normal?  Do I need to be concerned?  Is this the return of the double yolks or even triple yolks?  A newbie chicken farmer has lots of questions.

Thank goodness for Google because I was able to find lots of great information on this odd phenomena.  Prepare yourself, because you are about to learn more about chicken ovaries and egg laying than you probably want to know.

Hens are alot like us human women in that hormones dictate the development of an egg.  In good layers, a yolk is released approximately every 23 hours and the ovum travels through the reproductive system until a complete egg is formed.  The majority of the egg's time is spent in what's called the "Shell Gland" where the outer shell is added - in fact, it will spend about 20 hours in that gland.  And then, as the egg is laid, the protecting coating or "bloom" is added.  What's happening when we get a double-yolked or triple-yolked egg is that two yolks are relased at the same time or in rapid succession or, for some reason, the first yolk gets stuck in the oviduct.  Apparently, it's pretty common in new layers as they get the hang of it.  And, althought there are some breeds that are more generically predispositioned to laying  multi-yolked eggs than others, there is a still a probability of just 1 in 1000 that an egg will have multiple yolks.  Fascinating, no?  If you really want more info with helpful (gross) pictures, go check out this site.

I'm not sure which of the girls laid these as they are different colors - it may very well be that one is from one of the Austrolorps and the other from a Barred Rock.  I thought I might be able to tell by which hen was walking funny.  (Just kidding.)    Maybe I should start referring to the Austrolorp's as Aus-triches.  (*giggle*)

Okay, enough with the corny jokes.  Hope you're enjoying your day,

Update: Coop is Toasty Warm

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's 27 degrees outside right now.  It's 48.2 degrees in the coop right now, so the girls stayed toasty warm last night!   And that's a good thing, because I don't knit and North Face doesn't make jackets that small.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Despite my ardent wishing for the 70 degree weather to stay around until March, it looks like Old Man Winter is finally here for a visit.  He's a most unwelcome guest in my book.  The mercury is dipping all the way down into the 30's at night and tonight it's even supposed to go to 23 degrees. 

The coop seems to be about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than the the outside temp without any kind of intervention.  I certainly don't want the girls to suffer from any frozen feet or combs and I'd rather avoid having their water freeze up, so I hit Target and found this little mini heater that I setup for them. It's got a fan and a thermostat which I set at 60 degrees, the lowest setting.  I just stuck it in one of built-in nesting boxes that they refuse to use right now.  I hate doing this at the last minute after they've already roosted for the night, and I hope they're not disturbed by the fan (it seems to be pretty darn quiet.)  That'll have to work until the weekend when I can get a timer on it rather than using the thermostat.  

Wishing for warmer weather,

This is Madness

Friday, November 25, 2011

Just a quick note before I go snooze.  And, yes, I realize it's 2:00 p.m.  I wasn't planning on going out for Black Friday today until J. saw the Cabela's ad where they're selling a Ruger 10/22 for just $169 as a doorbuster.  That and the opportunity to win a gun, free sweatshirt or up to a $100 gift card if you're one of the first 800 people in line.

We headed over there at midnight and ended up 328 and 329 in line.  The weather was actually pretty nice compared to this time last year.  It was 48 degrees at midnight but that darn Cabelas is in the middle of a wind tunnel, so it felt more like 32!  We thought we were smart in taking our camp chairs with us but you couldn't sit down or your butt would freeze off.  And the guy in front of us had shorts and a light jacket on.  He was hatin' life by 5 a.m. when they opened.

I do have to say, however, that Cabelas had the most orderly Black Friday event of any retailer I have been to.  No pushing, no shoving.  The store wouldn't even let you get close to the doors and, since they were handing out envelopes with your "prize" in them, you had to go single file.  Kudos to Cabelas!

J. ended up getting his 10/22 and we were out of there very quickly, owing to the fact that they did all the paperwork outside before the store even opened.  Used a $10 off $50 and the $40 he got for selling the Kindle that he won, so we got a pretty good deal (especially since we are seeing these going for well over $200 at auction for used guns!)  Then it was off to Tractor Supply to pick up a cheapie air compressor for the farm.  The one we have out there is just way too small.  Especially since J. is known for having flat tires on everything he owns. 

Hope you had a nice, uneventful day after Thanksgiving.  I'm out!

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's finally arrived the - the big day of eating too much, afternoon naps, the Macy's parade and football.  J. and I will be feasting on ham and turkey today - in fact, I need to get downstairs and get the bird all fluffed and buffed and put in the oven.  We're trying the Boar's Head brown sugar and spice glaze on the ham this year and I can't wait to see how it turns out.  I can't wait for the smell of turkey and trimmings to fill the house.  And I can't wait to get out and get a paper so that I can flip through all the ads.

But, in all seriousness, Thanksgiving Day is time when we should all pause (if even for just 5 minutes) to reflect on what we have even if we don't "have" everything we think we need or want.  When we were at dinner Tuesday night, I mentioned to J. that I thought we were very blessed.  We have each other, our health, a nice home, good jobs and wondeful friends and family.  There are many people right now that don't have one or all of those things, especially in our current economy.  My boss just lost his wife of 40 years which, to me, is unimaginable.  I certainly don't take these things for granted and never will.  So, please, take a minute somewhere in between the mashed potatoes and the football game to be thankful for what you have.

J. and I hope your Thanksgiving finds you surrounded by family, friends and feast.  Happy Thanksgiving!

The Coop Goes Hi-Tech

Monday, November 21, 2011

How could a bunch of nerds have a chicken coop and NOT put technology in it?  The answer is "they can't".  I've been debating about whether or not to heat the chicken coop and extend their daylight hours.  It has been basically impossible to find a remote dimmer that's also a timer, and I'm not an electrical engineer so I won't be cobbling together my own.   But that's a problem that will have to be tackled another day.

J. surprised me today with this Ambient Weather WS-0101 wireless thermohygrometer with optional humidity calibration remote weather monitor that he installed in the coop.  So now I can at least see what the temperature is in the chicken's bedroom without leaving the comfort of our home office!  That's pretty darn cool, if you ask me.  And, with one of the windows still slightly open in the coop, it's staying about 4 degrees above outside temp.  This morning when it was 34 degrees outside, the girls were a cozy 38.  (Hey, they have the equivalent of a down comforter on - they're not cold, trust me.  How do I know this? Because they run around like a bunch of maniacs when I let them out.)

Now we just have to tackle the light and heat issue.  And plan where to put the Christmas lights.  :-)

Roadtrip for Warm Cider Donuts

Saturday, November 19, 2011

If you live anywhere near Kansas City, you probably have heard of or even been to Louisburg Cider Mill.  Ask anyone and they'll probably say "Ohhh, their warm cider donuts are to die for!"  Well, believe it or not, J. and I have never been there...at least not until today. I had wanted to go for Ciderfest, which is in October and somehow totally missed it.  They have all kinds of crafts, a gigantic pumpkin patch, a corn maze, and you can watch them make the cider and the donuts.  The place is absolutely packed, and the fields surrounding the mill are filled with parked cars.  Can't say I feel like I missed that crowd.

So J. and I headed down there this afternoon with friend Paula and her daught Amanda.  It's about a 20 mile ride south from the KC area.  On a beautiful 70-degree day in late November, I don't think any of us much minded being out and about.

The mill is actually a collection of old barns (some of them over 120 years old!) set on 80 acres.  The one in the picture above is where they actually make the cider.  It wasn't open today, but the store was and we had alot of fun looking at all the stuff they had for sale (cider, of course, but also teas, root beer, sarsparilla, farm cheeses, homemade candy, gift sets).  J. grabbed a jar of apple butter and four 1/2 gallons of honeycrisp apple cider to bring back with us.  I couldn't resist the rooster cookie cutter.  And then we all ordered some of their fresh cider donuts and cider slushies.  Mmmmmm....

Served up warm in a white paper sack by the half dozen or dozen.  Everything I've heard previously was right...these are incredibly good.  Kind of like a cake donut - soft and moist with a slight hint of apple cider.  The only thing I would change would be to add some chocolate.

Droolingly yours,

What's Old is New Again

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Here's what we've been up to the past couple of days:  A couple of weekends ago, J. and I hit an auction (which is where we usually are on the weekends) and I picked up these old oil lamps for $12 each.  They didn't look like that picture, though.  They were dirty, the brass was dull, and the wicks were old. 

J. put gas in the reservoirs to remove all the old, sticky residue - you just let it sit for a day or two and it comes right off.  We cleaned the burners with steel wool (or a stiff brass brush works also) and the chimneys with soap and water.  New wicks and clear oil lamp from Ace Hardware and they're just like new again!

Gettin' Ready for Strawberries

Sunday, November 13, 2011

J. is a strawberry lover. I have to confess that I've never grown strawberries before, but I'm willing to try. We had some parts and pieces left over from the two big raised beds that we put in this Spring, so we spent the beautiful day today (65 degrees in mid-November!) cobbling together a Franken-bed.

First, the pieces. These are part of a vinyl fence that was cut up as part of our initial raised bed project. Since we only had 4 pieces, this one was going to be 1/2 the size of the others at about 4' x 4'.

Next we took the 4" x 4" vinyl fence post and cut it into 17 3/4" pieces and then cut out a slot for the panels to fit into.  These panels just happened to be 3/4" thick and 12" tall.  This is pretty easy to do with a Sonicrafter, which is what we used, or you could use a drill and a jigsaw.  Here's J. cleaning up the plastic burrs with a pocket knife.  He would make a great hand model, don'tcha think?

Next, put everything together and square it up.  Two panels should run long all the way through the corner posts and the other two side panels will butt up against them (see the pic below to see what I'm talking about).  Our yard has a slight slope to it, so we had to dig down one side to get everything level.  Once it's where you want it, cut some rebar and hammer it into the inside corner.  This will keep everything together.

When you're done, it will look like this:

And then all that's left is to fill it with dirt. 

It took 3/4 of a pallet of 40 lb bags of top soil and 15 bags of MooNure to fill this bed.  We mixed it all in together, so it should be a great place to transplant my strawberry plants to.  Right now, they're living where the watermelons were.

By the way, I had to giggle over the MooNure bags.   Not only does it prominently features a cow's *ss, but it also states "We are Number 1 in the Number 2 business".  I've known some people in my life that might challenge them for the title of "King of Bullshit".  LOL. 

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop.  Click on the button below to check out what other homesteadin' folks are up to!


Remembering our Veterans

Friday, November 11, 2011

This is a beautiful poem that a friend emailed to me.  It's made its rounds on the Internet so , unfortunately, I'm not sure who to attribute it to.  I found myself thinking of my grandfather, who fought in World War II and is long since gone, as I read this.  There are so many families whose loved ones didn't return from the battlefield and so I count myself lucky that I was able to know him.

We can't begin to repay the debt that is owed to our veterans.  But we can spend today and every day honoring the sacrifices that they and their families have made since the birth of this great country.   Freedom is not free - don't waste it.

A Soldier's Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear..
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.."

" So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

Happy Birthday to the Devil Dogs!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And a second happy birthday to my honey, who served in the first Gulf War.

New Composters

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Another auction this weekend and this one was a score!  We met the owner and he had a 5,000 square foot house that he and his wife had turned into a nursery\landscaping business and they were selling everything including a 14' x 18' greenhouse.  I wish I had a place to put that, because it only went for $1600.

J and I. picked up a ton of stuff for rock bottom prices at this sale but the reason I went was these Earth Machine composting bins.  I'd been debating whether to build some out of the pallets we had from all the bagged dirt and manure we'd been hauling.  But, ultimately, that wouldn't be very pretty.  Of course, it's very important that your urban farm be pretty.  (Oh, gosh, I can hear the snickering now.) Okay, it doesn't have to be pretty but does it hurt that it's aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  (Same thing. *snicker*)

I did alot of research on these before we went to the sale.  These are pretty cool, actually, and there are tons of rave reviews.  You can control the amount of air going into them, you can keep mice and other rodents out of them, they're made from heavy duty and durable plastic, and you can move them around if needed.  We got two of them for $20 each.  Probably would have gotten them cheaper if I hadn't been so enthusiastic and let the auctioneer drop the opening bid down.  Despite alot of people looking at them, nobody bid against me. 

The only problem is that I'm going to have to resist decorating these things.  For some reason, they remind me of the Daleks on the Dr. Who show.  Anybody else see the resemblance?

Trick or Treat?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hen House and their World Record Apple Pie

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I'm not sure if I mentioned on thsi blog that I'm an extreme couponer - yes, one of those crazy people that you see on that show "Extreme Couponing" on TLC.  One of my favorite stores (and one of the only ones here in Kansas City that doubles coupons) is Hen House.  So I couldn't pass up the chance to go to their annual Holiday Celebration.  They were handing out coupon books for a free grocery item every week + some other great manufacturer coupons.  So J, my friend Paula and I headed out to check out all the excitement.

Before we even got in the door, we saw this adorable little guy from Good Natured Family Farms.  He's just 3 days old!  And he didn't seem to mind all the folks wanting to get their picture taken with him.  By the way, if you're not familiar with Good Natured, they're a local consortium of small family farmers that are bringing their organic milk and other products to the Kansas City market.  They had several samples of their products, including their white and chocolate milk, at the Celebration and they are all delish! 

I'm really glad they had dessert ready for me when I got there:

You're looking at an attempt at the world's largest French Apple Crumb Pie by the chefs at Tippins (now owned by Hen House).   They're not quite done in this picture - in fact, they're putting the crumb topping on with a squeegee!   Couldn't you just dive right in?  But seriously, this is one monster pie.  Check out these stats:
  • The Pie—8’ round by 2’ deep (752 gallons) weighing a total of 5,787 lbs
    (not including the pan)
  • Graham Cracker Shell—300 gallons or 1650 lbs
  • Apple Pie Filling—400 gallons or 3600 lbs
  • French Crumb Topping—52 gallons or 312 lbs
  • Vanilla Whipped Topping—225 lbs
The really cool thing about this is that they said they were going to donate the entire thing to Harvesters once the record was confirmed. 

The Celebration is setup like your traditional home show or IT vendor show in that there are booths and you can visit the ones you're interested in and pick up free food samples, coupons, and information.  The $5 ticket was more than worth it because we all left their stuffed to the gills, with a free rose bush, and reusable bags stuffed with fresh fruit and food.  Oh, and we got to see the Purina Incredible Dog Team in action and posed in front of the 25 foot tall Roberts Dairy milk cow.   If we could have gotten that out of the convention center, it would be gracing my backyard right now.  ;-)

But  THE best part of the entire thing?  The Louisburg Cider Mill had slushes made from their apple cider.  Paula and I kept going back for more of those, stomach ache be darned.  Ohhhhh, so good!

Pumpkins: To Eat or Decorate?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This was my first year growing pumpkins and, even with a late start in the garden, I was still blessed with 6 beautiful pie pumpkins.  The seed that I used was from Gurney's and they're called "Spooky" pumpkins.  With a name like that, and with Halloween just around the corner, I thought it was fitting that they go on the front porch railing.  They're way too small to carve at around 5 lbs each, but I still think they look good there.

Seriously, though...I'm drooling over the thought of homemade pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie.  Each one of these should give me about 1 1/2 cups of mashed pumpkin, which is almost enough for the recipe I use.  I always love to try everyone's recipes, so here's mine if you want to try it:

Pumpkin Pie Bread
Makes 2 loaves (1 for you and 1 for a friend!)

Prep Time: 15 minutes   Cook Time:  1 hour
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce (or 1 cup vegetable oil)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. If you are using fresh pumpkin, it will need to be prepared and cooked.  See the instructions below.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together sugar, oil, eggs, and pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture alternately with water. Divide batter evenly into two 9x5 inch loaf pans.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For best flavor, store wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for a full day before serving.

Preparing Fresh Pumpkins

  1. Wash the exterior of the pumpkin (do not use soap!)
  2. Cut the pumpking in half.  A serrated knife with a sawing motion works best.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and scrape the insides until the stringy stuff is cleaned out.  I recommend saving the seeds to either roast or to plant pumpkins next year! Just place them in a bowl or water and rub them between your fingers until clean.  Then spread them out on a clean paper towel to dry.
  4. Cook the pumpkin.  There are several ways to do this:  stove, microwave, pressure cooker or oven.  I like to use a double steamer on the stove because it's quicker.  You may need to cut it into smaller pieces to get it to fit in the steamer.  It's ready when it's soft enough to scoop the insides out (about 20 to 30 minutes).
  5. Use a tablespoon to gently scoop the cooked pumpkin out of its skin. Mix it gently (I use a hand blender affectionately known as the "boat motor") and you should have pumpkin puree.  It's that simple! 
  • If it seems to watery, you can use a coffee filter to strain out the water before using the puree for baking. 
  • You can freeze the puree and use it later.  It should last a year or more in the freezer.  However, do NOT can it!   Click here for reasons why you shouldn't can pumpkin puree.

Girl's Night Out

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The girls had a great time tonight playing in the leaves and gobbling up mealworms from my hand.   Fiona even decided to hop up on my knee to say hello.

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