Thursday, May 31, 2012

Butterfly Bush Blooms

We planted a butterfly bush on the side of our house last year, and so far this year it has grown like crazy. It looks a little funky, though, because some of the branches are longer than others and some stand straight up while others fall to the ground. David decided it was time to cut it back so it would grow more evenly. It was hard to do because there were a lot of beautiful purple blooms at the tops of the branches.

But I had an idea. There was no way I was going to let those gorgeous, fragrant blooms go to waste! I sorted through each branch and threw the ones that didn't have any blooms into the compost. Made a couple friends in the process. :)

I gathered some of my favorite containers, filled them with the blooms, and placed them in as many rooms as I could!

They smell sooooo good. I love having fresh flowers in the house and it's even better when they are gathered from my own back yard!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Berry Overload Part II - Blueberry Bars

After last weekend, it seems like I would have had my fill in picking berries. But I was at it again this weekend! My pioneer women and I went to Iller's Berry Farm to pick blueberries.

We met up at 8:00 in the morning to pick because the forecast called for highs in the 90s. It was actually really nice weather early on with a good breeze. About an hour into picking it did start to get pretty warm, but we were able to finish up in about an hour and a half.

Everyone at Iller's was so friendly! We went up the hill to check in, then they sent us back down to the blueberry bushes were Steve was waiting to get us started. We were armed with buckets and given tips on how to pick the best berries. Steve said, "What you want to do is eat a lot of berries. Find out what the sweetest ones look like and pick those." I thought it was so cool that he said we could just eat right off the bush so we knew what was best to pick! The bushes were pretty full, but he said that later on this week (maybe Weds/Thurs) they will really be ripening like crazy, so heads up if you're in the area and want to pick blueberries!

When we checked out, they had a couple of recipe cut-outs that we could take. I saw one for blueberry bars and knew exactly what I was going to do with my blueberries once I got home (there was no author on their recipe, so not sure of the origin). Let me tell you, this was just about the best dessert I've ever put in my mouth.

Blueberry Bars
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1) Preheat oven to 375. Line a 13x9" baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, set aside.
2) In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Using a pastry blender (or just use your fingers) cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Press half of flour mixture into bottom of prepared pan.
3) In a medium bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch. Stir in blueberries and lemon juice. Spoon blueberry mixture evenly over prepared crust. Crumble remaining flour mixture over blueberry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool in pan completely (if you can wait that long!). Cut into squares to serve.
*The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, but I'm not a big fan of nutmeg so I just used cinnamon and increased it to 1 teaspoon. You could just use the nutmeg, or use nutmeg and cinnamon.

I picked about 6 pounds of blueberries, and even after making these bars I still have a lot of berries left. I'll most likely freeze the rest -- if there's anything left after snacking on them this week!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Feathered Friend Friday

I thought it would be fun to start a new series called "Feathered Friend Friday." The plan is that every Friday I will write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about chickens. I'm a bit obsessed with my girls, so this is a good way to share my love of all things chicken! If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here.

I'm a frequent visitor and poster on BackYard Chickens, and before we got our rooster I read all sorts of posts on the good and bad things about them. I thought it would be so cool to see the dynamic between a rooster and his hens, and I've enjoyed watching that relationship over the past year since we got our rooster, Cam.

The main reason why people keep roosters is to protect the flock. They are very aware of their surroundings and at the slightest hint of danger will make a specific noise to warn the others. I have seen this firsthand many times. When Cam sounds the alarm, all of the hens stop what they're doing and look to him for further instructions. If something is a close threat, he will round them all up and get them inside the coop where they are safe.

Roosters are naturally at the top of the pecking order, and they work to keep things running smoothly. For example, Cam always yells at the girls when he hears wings flapping. He doesn't want them to try to fly out of their fenced in run and he makes a very specific noise if they try to fly too high! He wants them to stay secure in the run where he can keep a close eye on them. He does his best to keep them safe and out of harm's way.

The most endearing thing I've noticed about Cam is how he always puts the hens' needs above his own. If he finds a good treat like a bug or juicy worm, he won't eat it. Instead, he will make a certain call and the girls will come running! He often times will pick up the treat in his beak and walk it over to his hen of choice, dropping it right in front of her so she can enjoy the tasty bite. Whenever I give the flock special treats like bread or pasta, he hardly ever will partake. He just stands by while the girls get their fill, making sure they each get some. It really is the sweetest thing.

I've heard a lot of people say that roosters are mean and horrible and only good for the stock pot. Truth be told, I was pretty nervous when we got Cam because I had these horrible visions of being flogged. Cam has been showing signs of aggression towards me lately, so I am getting a little worried. However, there are many things you can do to calm them down and I'm willing to try them all if I have to. Lots of things I've read online say that after they are about a year old they may start to get a little mean. Cam turned a year old in April, so I guess the timing is just about right (before one year of age males are called cockerels, and after one year of age they are referred to as roosters). I just keep reminding myself he is trying to protect the hens and I do my best to stay out of his way!

Of course roosters to like to get down and dirty with their girls, if you know what I mean. And they really know how to put on the charm. Cam will do a little dance for a hen, basically walking in a circle around her to let her know he's interested. Most of the time the girls just run away and ignore him. Eventually he gets tired of the rejection and just jumps on top of them. He always tries the nice way first, though!

We just had the girls by themselves for nearly two years, but I think we will always have a rooster in the flock from now on. Besides being good protectors, they are also pretty entertaining to watch. Nothing better than settling in for some good chicken TV at the end of a long day!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Berry Overload

I picked a lot of berries this past weekend!

Saturday morning started early - met Heather at 6:45 to pick cherries in Fruitland. The cherries are small, about the size of marbles, with such a sweet taste. I pitted them all and put them in the freezer until I figure out what to do with them. Nothing was wasted - I collected about 1/2 cup of cherry juice in the pitting process! Will probably end up freezing the juice as well until I find a good drink recipe that calls for fresh cherry juice.

Next up, I met my family for some berry picking at Blue Berry Hill Farm in Cobden, IL. We picked strawberries first and I got almost enough to fill a flat! Then we went up the hill to pick blackberries. Next weekend we plan to pick blueberries if they are ready!

We've been gorging on the strawberries and blackberries the past few days. Nothing better than hand-picked fresh berries!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guinea Toast

Since the guineas have been laying for a few months now, we've really been enjoying the eggs. When we can find them, that is!

The guineas free range so they don't lay in nesting boxes like the chickens do. Basically this means every so often we have to search for their eggs. They are getting really good at finding genius hiding spots and keeping the eggs away from us. We have to be careful, because if we mess with the nest and the guineas see us, they will stop laying there and make a new nest elsewhere (this has happened a few times already).

It is fun to go searching for them and when we find a nest like the one above, it feels like we've hit the jackpot! The only thing is, we don't know how long the eggs have been there, so we have to (very discreetly) take a few to test them out first and make sure they are still good. We can't take them all, though, because then the nest would be moved and we'd have to search yet again.

All the fuss is worth it because guinea eggs are the best tasting eggs I've ever had in my life. They are about half the size of a chicken egg; mostly yolk with very little white. The firm yolks are a very bright orange and have such a rich, buttery taste. Lately we've been eating lots of what I have dubbed "guinea toast." Here's the recipe -

Guinea Toast
Serves 1

Butter for cooking eggs (I use dairy-free Earth Balance)
Couple splashes of water or milk (I use Silk unsweetened soy milk)
3 guinea eggs (or 2 chicken eggs)
1 piece of bread, toasted (I like Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted whole grain bread)
Cream cheese or goat cheese (I use dairy-free Tofutti spread)
1 scallion chopped (chives would work really well too)

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium low heat (I set mine on "3" and let it heat for a few minutes). While the skillet is heating up, break the eggs into a small bowl. Add milk, lots of salt & pepper, then scramble the eggs with a fork until the yolks are completely broken up. Put butter in the skillet (about 1T) and wait til it melts and starts to bubble up, but don't let it get brown. Pour in the eggs and don't mess with them! (I have found that instead of traditionally scrambling the eggs into small bits, it works best if I keep it in one big circle then cut to fit my bread. It's a lot easier to eat and looks better on the plate.)

Let the eggs cook about 2-3 minutes until they are set. Then using a spatula, flip over on the other side for just 30 seconds or so to finish cooking completely. Fold or cut the eggs to fit your toast. Spread cream cheese on the toast, then add the eggs and scallions.

Best enjoyed outdoors on a warm spring day with a good magazine, but tastes just as good inside. :)


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Six Years

Six years ago today David and I said our vows in an intimate ceremony performed by my father in my parents' back yard. There were only a handful of relatives there. I didn't wear a traditional wedding dress and there was no processional or great fanfare.

It was perfect.

I'm not one for being the center of attention, so I knew a huge church wedding wasn't what I really wanted, even though my family hoped I'd change my mind. For both David and me, none of the tradition was important. What was important to us was just being married.

We also figured, why spend all our money on the wedding when an awesome honeymoon was what we really wanted? So that's what we did!

This was the last night of our honeymoon.

We stayed at the Ana y Jose resort in Tulum, Mexico and it was magical.

We spent our days on the beach and our nights on the balcony of our ocean front suite. We ate a lot of good food and enjoyed our time together before life as we knew it changed dramatically.

We got married just a few days after we both graduated from college. Right after our honeymoon we moved to St. Louis to start our lives together in the big city.

Fast forward six years and life is totally different. Along the way we discovered our dreams together and had the courage to make them our reality. And life could not be better. I can't wait to see where our dreams take us next!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Feathered Friend Friday

I thought it would be fun to start a new series called "Feathered Friend Friday." The plan is that every Friday I will write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about chickens. I'm a bit obsessed with my girls, so this is a good way to share my love of all things chicken! If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here.

For this week's installment of FFF, I thought I'd give an update on the guineas. If you need to catch up on the guinea saga, check out these posts.

When we first let the guineas out to free range about five months ago, it was utter chaos. They were so loud because everything was new to them. It was nearly unbearable living here because of their constant screaming.

However, I am happy to report that things are now going very smoothly! It took them a while, but they are finally used to everything and seem to only make a lot of noise now when something is awry (which is what we want since they are part of our line of defense against predators trying to snatch up our chickens).

They don't even freak out anymore when David or I come up close to them! In fact, I can be jogging on my backyard trail and if one is laying down right in my path, I just step to the side a bit and they don't even move!

Definite progress. And I've only had one tick on me so far this year, so I think they are holding up that end of the bargain as well. Took what seemed like forever to get here, but I'm so happy our homestead is a peaceful one yet again!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Lemony Seedling Salad

We planted some lettuce seeds last month and they are starting to grow! In order for them to grow their best, the seedlings need to be thinned out so there is about 4-6" in between each plant. We worked on the garden last night and figured it was a good time to thin them out.

They need to be pulled out by the root, not just cut off at the base because you are basically killing the plant so the others have more room to grow better and get bigger.

Took a lot of cutting and washing (they had a lot of dirt on them) but I finally got the seedlings ready for my salad (Jasper was determined to get a bite!).

Lemony Seedling Salad

Cut seedlings
1/2 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 large mushrooms, sliced
Small handful walnuts, chopped
1 small scallion (white and green part)
1-2 tablespoons chia seeds*
*I like to add chia seeds to salads for an extra nutritional boost. Yes, it is the same chia seeds that you'll find growing on chia pets! 

Lemon vinaigrette:
Juice of 1/2 lemon freshly squeezed (or 1 whole lemon depending on juiciness)
Large pinch of salt & pepper
Olive oil whisked together with lemon juice and S&P to taste (I like my dressing pretty lemony, so I usually end up with about half lemon juice and half olive oil)

Place seedlings in large bowl and top with remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat.

The salad was yummy and it is always fulfilling to eat something that you grew from a seed! That is truly the only way to know exactly what is in your food. No pesticides here, baby!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

David's Birthday Extravaganza

On Monday David turned 29! We both took off work so we could go to St. Louis for the day and spend some time together. You only turn 29 once, after all.

First up was his "surprise." I wanted to plan something that would be a surprise to him to create some birthday excitement, but he totally called it.

Yeah, we totally geeked out. David has been a life-long Star Trek fan so I knew this would be fun for him. I'm not as much of a fan as he is, but having been forced to sit through many episodes, I have developed an appreciation. :)

Of course no cameras are allowed inside the exhibit, so we had to pay out the wazoo for these shots taken while walking through. They are good souvenirs, though, so it was worth it.

Before entering the exhibit, we were offered a ride in the space shuttle simulation. David said sure, and the next thing I know I'm being strapped in and told that it goes upside down and there's a giant red button on the inside that I can push if it's too much. Oh boy. It was David's birthday, so if he wanted to go upside down we were going upside down. It didn't end up being quite as bad as I thought, but I still got a little queasy! Birthday spontaneity at its finest.

We also explored the rest of the Science Center and saw some really cool stuff in the gift shop. This section was calling my name.

This next one was the best by far. 

"Overflowing with information about pee, poo, and farts!" Amazingness.

After the science center we went to Chesterfield mall for some retail therapy. David had saved up his fun money for a while and wanted to buy some new clothes. He bought me some stuff too so I was happy. :) Then he dropped me off at the salon I used to go to in Chesterfield when we lived up here after college. It had been over a year and a half since my last hair cut and I was in dire need. My stylist up here was the only one who could ever cut my hair the way I liked it, so I wanted to go back to her. It turned out great!

If you know David, you know we had to hit up the casino on the way home. His new favorite is River City Casino. I lost $5 on the penny slots on a machine called "Milkin' It" with cows, chickens, and barns. It was perfect! David had a roller coaster of a ride with the Roulette wheel, but in the end came out $60 ahead!

Nicest bathroom ever.

Our good friends, Jamie and Holly, invited us to go to the Cards game with them on Wednesday night, so we said that was an extension of the birthday extravaganza. :)

We had great seats!

I am a huge fan of birthdays. My philosophy is that your birthday is your one day of the year that you can do whatever you want and everyone has to go along with it. It's the one day that can be shamelessly all about you. What could be better? :)


Friday, May 4, 2012

Feathered Friend Friday

I thought it would be fun to start a new series called "Feathered Friend Friday." The plan is that every Friday I will write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about chickens. I'm a bit obsessed with my girls, so this is a good way to share my love of all things chicken! If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here.

 The weather in Missouri is notorious for changing wildly from one day to the next. There's a saying that if you don't like the weather in Missouri, just stick around; it will change in 15 minutes. We had the warmest March on record this year, much of April was actually cooler than normal, and now May is hitting us hard already with heat. Today my car said it was 93 degrees outside!

One of the chickens' favorite ways to stay cool in the heat is to play in water puddles. I pull the hose out to their run and just let it go for ten minutes or so.

When they cool their feet in the water it helps bring their body temperature down slightly. Most of the time they stand in a big puddle and drink a lot of the cool water. They love to drink any water that isn't in their waterer! Crazy chickens.

Fortunately the chicken run is under a lot of trees and is very shady so that helps to keep it cool.

We don't have a pool, but if we did apparently that would be a good way for them to cool off!

via Our Country Chronicles

We also have some new feathered friends. I'm sure they won't be around for much longer, but we've enjoyed seeing the mother build the nest and sit on it til her eggs hatched.