Incubation Update

You guys! Things are going swimmingly well with our duck incubation. Out of 7 eggs that made it to lockdown, we now have 6 happy, healthy ducklings making a mess in the brooder. I love them already.

Java_and_Sumatra

That’s a pretty fantastic hatch rate, especially considering it’s my first time hatching ducks (in a styrofoam incubator, in a dry climate). And I’m not giving up on egg #7 yet! Runner ducks can take a while, and when I candled it a couple hours ago I saw an internal pip (through the membrane) that I don’t think was there before.

And that’s not all.

Remember those orphaned eggs from my good friend that we added to the incubator just after the first pip? After I got the last duckling out of the incubator I candled the eggs, and all but one of them are still alive! I saw internal pips in 3 of her eggs as well, so they’re grouped with egg #7 in plain view where we can watch for pips. I can’t even express how happy this makes me. Some of her eggs are due around the 8th, and others are a couple weeks behind. I’ll be keeping an eye on them and will get the hatch cam rolling again as soon as there’s some action.

duckling6

Finally, if I may say a few words about the Eco-Glo brooder that the chicks are sleeping under, made by Brinsea*: This thing is fantastic. I bought it back when I hatched chicks a couple years ago, and have used it multiple times and loaned it out to friends (the parents of these ducklings slept under it too!). It is basically an adjustable table that keeps its underside heated at just the right temperature, and both chicks and ducks love to huddle under it as they do a mother hen. Chicks also like to roost on it, so fortunately it’s very easy to clean. But here’s the best part: it totally removes the heat lamp from the equation, which eliminates a big fire hazard and saves quite a bit of energy. You don’t have to raise the heat lamp every few days and worry if your hatchlings are too hot or too cold. And if you happen to be brooding ducks in the height of summer, it’ll save your sanity too. No more heat lamps here!

*This post is in no way sponsored by Brinsea, my opinions are my own. 

 

 

Ducks are Due

The runner duck eggs are due tomorrow, and we already have our first two pips in the incubator! You can view their progress on the hatch cam here.*

We also had some last-minute additions to the duck incubator this morning. We got the first eggs from friends in our old neighborhood after their duck hen went missing, and then they found the missing duck sitting on a huge clutch of eggs. Soon they had both of their duck hens sitting, so we made plans to build a duck shelter and keep a few of the hopeful hatchlings here.

Sadly, this morning my friends woke up to find both their duck hens were killed by a predator overnight. With no way of knowing exactly how long the eggs were without their mother, we figured we had to at least try to save the ducklings inside. So she nestled them in a big basket filled with pine shavings and immediately drove them up here to join the other ducklings in the incubator.

In my 5 years of keeping chickens, the predator losses have been the hardest part. There’s a lot of guilt that comes with not having been able to prevent the attack, but the fact is that protecting your animals from predators and keeping them happy can sometimes be mutually exclusive. Sometimes foxes happen by later than usual. But does that mean you should keep your chickens in the coop all day? Both are devastating. But I’d rather my birds have one free day than a lifetime of captivity.

The good news is that where there’s pain, there’s usually a silver lining.

The day I lost my first flock to the fox, that silver lining was getting to know my wonderful neighbors. I went over to give them a heads up about the late-morning predator attack, and later that day I opened my door to find their sweet daughter holding a plate of lemon bars and a vase of sweet peas. We became fast friends, and in the years since I’ve learned so much about life, death, joy, and generosity. These are the people who taught us how to butcher chickens and press apple cider on crisp fall afternoons. They helped save our birds when the coop flooded, despite the flooding on their own farm.

I’m so sad at the loss of their ducks, but it gives me a measure of joy that we were in a position to put the eggs right in the incubator. Some are due on the 8th, and others are a couple weeks behind, so we’ll know pretty soon if any survived.

On a similar note, we also have an incubator full of chicken eggs growing for another friend that lost her whole flock overnight (the predators in that neighborhood are motivated, to say the least). So the hatch cam might be pretty busy during the month of July! Stay tuned.

*I haven’t hatched ducks before, and apparently runner duck eggs take a LONG time to hatch (24-36 hours from the time they pip), so we might be waiting a while. The first pip happened about 10 AM today (Friday) so we’re expecting to see hatching starting tomorrow. You can also search for “HatchCam” on the Ustream app for iOS and Android if you want to check in on the ducks from your BBQ. Happy Independence Day!!

 

 

Back to Brooding

I’ve been on a long hiatus from hatching (and blogging, sorry about that). The move from the old flood-damaged farm quite literally put a damper on things, and it’s been a long process of getting back to where we were. But this summer the chickens have a proper coop AND a fence to keep them out of the veggie and flower gardens, which are finally planted. There’s still a lot of work to do here, but so much potential. I’m excited to share the process here on the blog, and finally start getting back to the recipe and chicken posts too!welsummerXfaverolles_just_hatched

And I can’t think of a better way to revitalize the old blog than the way we started. A couple weeks ago, our sweet little hen Rotisserie, one from the August 2013 hatch, forced the issue by going broody. She settled on a nest full of eggs and refused to budge, even at night. So we moved her into an old doghouse overnight, to keep the other hens away from her nest (and also make sure she was really on board). She stuck with her nest of unfertilized eggs and golf balls, signaling that we were either in for chicks or weeks of trying to convince her otherwise.

broody_hen_rotisserie

My sister and I decided to go the easiest (and cutest) route, by picking up some fertile eggs for Rotisserie to sit on. The eggs came from my friend’s flock, including a few hens that were fathered by Rotisserie’s late brother Pecker — so she’s even got a chance to keep the family lineage going. Only problem is, the eggs wouldn’t all fit under her. I put the rest in the incubator, so we can all have some fun watching them hatch. Chicks are due around Sunday, June 14th (though they’re sometimes a bit early!) and the live stream will start once the eggs start pipping. Check back soon, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates and behind-the-scenes photos.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

pumpkin creme brulee

Happy Halloween!

Last weekend my sister and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park to get some photos before they shut down Trail Ridge Road for the winter. Heading home, we drove by the Stanley Hotel and found it all dressed up in orange floodlights for Halloween. You may know the Stanley as the inspiration for The Shining, but it’s also home to an amazing continental breakfast featuring some of the best little pastries I’ve ever tried. Their parmesan haystacks have been on my “things to make immediately” list for almost 3 years now, but I digress.

stanley hotel dressed up for halloween

Our photo mission also served another purpose: A distraction from the pumpkin custards I made that afternoon, which needed several hours to chill in the fridge. These custards are one of my favorite fall desserts — rich, creamy, and not too sweet. This year, I tried adding a crispy shell of melted cinnamon sugar to the top, and they were better than ever (though maybe not so easy to justify eating for breakfast).

custard ingredients

whisk pumpkin with cream milk and maple syrup

pumpkin custards in baking dish

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Apple Cider Pressing

My good friends (and former neighbors) have an old cider press and a big apple orchard, and during the fall they often invite friends who also have a lot of apples over when they’ve got the press out. A few weekends ago, my sister and I grabbed a couple of boxes of apples from the big old tree in the front yard and headed over for the afternoon.

apples in bushel baskets

Tradition at the farm is to mix all the different types of apples (and crabapples too!) so you get a little of the flavor from each. Our two boxes of bug-bitten apples paled in comparison to the 10 or so bushels of huge, unblemished apples that greeted us when we arrived, but I like to think that our tart little Macintosh-type apples added a special flavor to the mix.

We worked outside on picnic tables, first mixing and washing the apples. Then they were cut into big chunks, cutting out any blemishes but leaving the cores. I got to be the “mix master,” plucking apples from each basket and throwing them into the washtubs, then carrying big bowls of clean apples over to the cutting table. I happily volunteered for some apple washing, having already processed way too many apples from our trees (but we’ll leave that for another post).

washing apples before cider pressing

When we cut enough apples to fill the press, the real fun started. One person turned the wheel on the grinder as another threw apples into its maw. The smashed apples dropped into a cloth bag inside the press, and when it was full we turned the big screw on the press until it could turn no more, as the rich brown cider poured out into a pitcher at its base.

grinding apples in cider press

grinding apples in a cider press

apple cider pouring from cider press

When all the apples were finally pressed into cider, we delivered the scraps to some very excited cows.

cows enjoying leftover apple mash

And then we reminisced about the last time I was here for a cider pressing, and one of the cows (impatiently waiting for apples by the gate) bumped the electrical pole and sent a shower of sparks raining down from the power lines above. In a split second I was all the way across the yard, still clutching my butcher knife. “Oh good,” my neighbor laughed, still calmly seated at the picnic table. “You’ll be able to call 911 if we need it.”

This time, the cows left the power lines alone and we had an uneventful cider pressing (unless you count waving off a few dozen hungry hornets, and the bite I received from a large wolf spider that was lurking in one of the bushel baskets). Afterward, we spent some time hanging out at the farm and visiting all the animals.

mother hen and chicks

The highlight of my day was seeing one of the hens I hatched for my friends back in February, who is now raising chicks of her own. This hen is the granddaughter of Kung Pao and General Tso, and she’s an excellent mother.

She led her five chicks all around the barnyard while we were there, pointing out good things to eat and giving a reproachful side-eye to the “feral” barn cat (actually friendlier than most house cats). The cat kept her distance, casually licking a paw whenever the hen looked at her. Clearly, she’s already learned a lesson or two from Mother Hen about messing with the chicks.

mother cat vs mother hen

not-so-feral barn cat

The not-so-feral barn cat, affectionately known as Mama Kitty

We headed home that afternoon with three big jugs of cider (more than our fair share, to be sure). Apple cider still contains all the sediment that’s normally filtered out of apple juice, so it’s dark and rich and cloudy. I’ve been drinking it cold, hot, and sometimes spiked with a bit of rum — just the thing for a crisp fall night.

Plum Butter

There’s an old abandoned house on the bike path not far from where I live, with half its windows boarded up and the rest broken out. The roof is beginning to cave in, and every time I pass by I feel a twinge of sadness as I wonder about the people who built the house and planted the fruit trees lining the property. But for a while this summer, the sadness was trumped by joy and anticipation as the fragrant blossoms of spring swelled into thousands of prune plums, weighing down the ancient trees along the bike path.

abandoned house with plum trees

Last year, I lamented the fact that there were no plums at the farmer’s market due to a late frost (and had to console myself with this mushroom tart). This year was the exact opposite.

prune plums on tree

The plums started turning ripe in mid-August, and they were everywhere I looked. I returned to the trees several weekends in a row, plastic bags bulging and cutting into my fingers as I trotted back down the bike path. My sister and I picked until we couldn’t carry any more, and we still didn’t even come close to making a dent in the crop. Runners and bike commuters stopped to gorge themselves on plums, and some of the old locals pulled their cars onto the property and loaded up boxes from the opposite side of the fence. All in all, we ended up processing just over 100 pounds, and there were still plums dropping off the tree when we finally cried uncle.

tree full of prune plums

big bowl of ripe italian prune plums

First on the to-make list was plum butter. I made it once a couple years ago, and it’s one of the best preserves I’ve ever tried. Tart and sweet, with complex notes of vanilla bean just below the surface. I love to spread it on toast, swirl it into plain yogurt, and put it in ebelskivers.

Plum butter doesn’t use pectin; it’s cooked down until very thick and then canned. I made several batches of varying thickness, and can tell you firsthand that they are all delicious — some are more like thin preserves, and others are so thick that I have a hard time spreading them. It’s tricky to get a very thick plum butter as you’ll need to stir it constantly at the end to keep it from scorching, but it’s well worth the effort. Even if you end up with syrup, I promise it will be delicious.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce

flourless_chocolate_cake

This is one of those recipes that is so well-loved I have a hard time putting it into words. Except to say I’m sorry for keeping it from you for so long. It’s one of the first successful cakes I ever made when I started cooking, using my Granny’s old springform pan (which is still in use, by the way).

cool_in_pan_10_min

Many flourless chocolate cakes contain ground nuts, but this cake gets its structure from cocoa powder and lots of eggs. So if you happen to be entertaining dinner guests who are allergic to nuts AND on the gluten-free bandwagon, look no further. And also, you might want to steer clear of these crackers.

ingredients

The flourless chocolate cake is amazing all on its own or just dusted with cocoa powder, but I like it best with a tart raspberry sauce drizzled across the top. It creates a beautiful pop of color and flavor that is perfect for Valentine’s day, or any day.

It’s also ridiculously easy to make, but you don’t have to share that with your guests.

flourless_chocolate_cake_with_raspberry_sauce

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Comfort on a cold day: Toasted Anise Cake

frozen_fennel

During the coldest days of the year, I make frequent trips out to the chicken coop. The hens are fine of course, they’re rated to about -20F (-30 if you speak Celsius), and a few of them will happily wade around in snow up to their egg-holes as long as the sun is shining — but the eggs freeze solid and explode if left in the nests for too long.

frozen_chicken_coop

no_skating

I’m nowhere near as cold-hardy as the chickens, but once I’m outside I marvel at the stark beauty of the icy yard and almost manage to forget about the cold.

ice_on_the_pond

ice_designs

In the end I’m always glad to be forced out into the elements, because it makes the house seem that much warmer when I come in.

bake_in_loaf_pan

Especially when I have a batch of these toasted anise cake slices fresh out of the oven. They make the house smell heavenly, and the crunchy texture (similar to biscotti) is perfect alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a bowl of sorbet, when the days get warmer again.

enjoy_with_coffee_or_tea

Toasted Anise Cake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 12 cookies

Toasted Anise Cake

These toasty cake slices are similar to biscotti, and are delicious with a hot cup of coffee or a bowl of lemon sorbet.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely crushed
  • Special equipment:
  • mortar & pestle
  • stand mixer
  • 8 1/2 by 4 1/2" loaf pan

Instructions

  1. Put rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter and flour loaf pan.
  2. Crush anise seeds using mortar and pestle.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, anise, and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar in a mixer bowl at high speed until tripled in volume, and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to fall apart when beater is lifted (about 12-18 minutes)
  5. Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in 3 batches, folding in each batch.
  6. Gently stir in butter, and immediately pour batter into loaf pan and smooth top.
  7. Bake until loaf is golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cutting board (right side up) and cool for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400F.
  9. Trim ends and cut loaf into 1/2-inch-thick slides. Arrange slices on a baking sheet and bake until undersides are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip and bake until the other side browns, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

Adapted from Gourmet.

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/toasted-anise-cake/

Empanadas de Pino (y Pollo)

empanadas_de_pino

Every culture has its own version of empanadas, and for good reason — what could be better than a portable, sturdy crust stuffed with any number of sweet and/or savory fillings?

Unfortunately, most of the empanadas I’ve had here in the US are deep-fried, oozing affairs that require the use of a knife and fork. My sister, on the other hand, spent a considerable amount of time bicycling in South America and as a result is something of an empanada connoisseur/fanatic. And so I was a little intimidated when she challenged me to make her favorite, “empanadas de pino.”

Empanadas are basically a sturdy pie crust made with plenty of lard*, and a savory filling. They can be baked or fried, but I see no need to involve a deep fryer in this recipe (or in most recipes, if I’m being honest). Empanadas de pino are the standard Chilean version, filled with a mixture of beef, olives, raisins, and hard-boiled egg — and they are more delicious than any description could possibly convey.

empanada_assembly

*I used lard that I rendered myself from a piece of whey-fed pork fat I got from Windsor Dairy; you can find sources for responsibly raised lard here

I also made a version with chicken, since we had leftovers from one of our boys that I roasted earlier in the week. I went all savory with the chicken-and-egg empanadas, leaving out the raisins and adding some chopped jalapeño-and-garlic stuffed green olives. These were also extremely tasty, and I can’t think of a better use for those last shreds of meat I pull off a chicken before it goes in the stock pot.

assembling_chicken_empanadas

Virtually every food is more delicious empanada, but anything saucy/cheesy/greasy tends to soak through the dough and make a mess. So it’s best to stick with fillings that are on the dry side.

crimp_the_edges

And the best thing about empanadas? Apparently, you can make a whole bunch of them, and then put some in the freezer instead of the oven. I had every intention of trying that with this batch, but they all disappeared. Maybe next time.

brush_with_egg_and_milk

Empanadas de Pino

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 8-10 large empanadas

Empanadas de Pino

This is the most traditional empanada filling used in Chile, and it is delicious. It's best when allowed to rest in the fridge overnight before being made into empanadas.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed works best)
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup beef glace or good-quality stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped black olives
  • 3 eggs, hard-boiled (if using fresh eggs, make sure they're at least a week old)
  • Empanada dough (recipe follows, this amount of filling uses roughly 1/2 batch.)

Instructions

    Hard-boil the eggs:
  1. Put eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches cold water. Partially cover pot and set over moderate heat, occasionally rolling the eggs with a wooden spoon to keep the yolk centered. When the pot boils, cover and set a timer for 30 seconds. Then, remove the pot from heat and let stand covered for 15 minutes. Remove eggs and immediately put under cold running water for 5 minutes (this keeps the yolk from turning green). Dry and refrigerate for 30 minutes before peeling.
  2. Make the beef filling:
  3. Brown beef with onions in a large heavy skillet. Add flour and cook another 5-10 minutes longer.
  4. Let cool, and refrigerate overnight if possible (or up to 2 days).
  5. For each golf-ball-sized bit of dough, use about 3 tablespoons beef filling and top with a few raisins, sliced olives, and a slice of hard-boiled egg.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/empanadas-de-pino-y-pollo/

Empanada Dough

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: Makes about 12 large empanadas

This all-purpose dough is perfect for wrapping around your favorite savory (and sweet) fillings.

Ingredients

    For dough
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 12 tablespoons good quality lard, chilled (I used whey-fed pork fat from a local dairy, which I rendered myself)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup cold water
  • 2 egg yolks
  • For egg wash:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  1. Sift flour, salt, and sugar together into a bowl.
  2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend the butter and lard into the flour mixture until well-combined and the largest lumps are pea-sized.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks with 3/4 cups water. Gradually stir in the water/egg mixture with a fork, adding a bit at a time, and add more water if necessary to make the dough come together. It should look a bit shaggy until it's thoroughly chilled. Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to a couple days.
  4. Roll dough into balls about the size of golf balls, and roll out with a rolling pin into a 6-7" round. Place about 3 tablespoons of filling in the center and wet 1/2 of the edge with a finger dipped in water, then carefully fold the dry edge up and over the filling, pressing it against the other edge to seal the empanada. Use your fingers to roll and crimp any excess dough to reinforce the seam. Use a fork to gently poke a few holes across the top.
  5. The empanadas can be frozen at this point and baked later, if you wish.
  6. Beat egg yolk in 2 tablespoons milk, and lightly brush on finished empanadas before baking. Bake at 350F for about 35-45 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. NOTE: Lard is wonderful, in part, because your pastry will get nice and brown and crisp but will take forever to burn. However, the egg wash on these can make them appear browner than they actually are. Don't be too quick to pull your empanadas out of the oven, and be sure to take a peek at the underside when you check them.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/empanadas-de-pino-y-pollo/

Unruly Hens and Old Fashioned Gingerbread

frozen_sunset

We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.

The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.

Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.

beeline_for_the_birdfeeder

It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.

A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.

I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.

Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.

Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.

oh_shelly

I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.

sunset_stream

Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.

morning_tea

As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.

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