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Strawberry Shortbread Cookies

 Strawberry Shorbread Cookies 

I've always wanted a food dehydrator ever since I began to garden. Sometimes produce comes so fast there isn't any room left in the fridge, freezer, pantry, underneath the house, in the bathroom to the point where I have have to foist it on my husbands co-workers. Last year I didn't preserve at all which was a big mistake. It meant I was making tons of food for the right now..not for later. This year I'll be freezing, canning, and dehydrating.
Excalibur 4 Tray Dehydrator 
The people at Excalibur were kind enough to send me their 4 Tray Starter Dehydrator (2400 Model).
 
The very first thing I made was Buffalo chicken jerky with left over raw chicken from the prior night.. The smell of the chicken as it was drying...unf....it drove everyone crazy. It was gone so quickly I wasn't able to take a picture of it. The second thing I dehydrated were strawberries on the verge of going bad. I figured at the very least my husband could use them in his oatmeal. The strawberries had a chewy/crunchy consistency. The taste was this unreal strawberry flavor with a huge burst of tartness. I could imagine them in muffins, pancakes, waffles, anything really. As it turned out today I wanted to make some cookies because Cupcake Bandit Madeline had been pestering asking me for cookies for a few days. I was going to just make some shortbread when an idea popped into my head. Why not Strawberry Shortbread? Shortbread by itself is amazing. But Strawberry Shortbread? Forgetaboutit. It's like summer in your mouth..with this buttery, crunchy, and intense strawberry flavor. If you don't have a dehydrator don't worry as you can buy this stuff in your bulk foods section. 
 
I have plans for my dehydrator.  I'm going to make homemade yogurt. I'm so excited about it! I've wanted to make homemade yogurt for years. And Alan can't wait till the hot peppers grow so I can make dry rubs and mixes for cooking. The dehydrator comes with a booklet that tells you what temps you need for say beef vs. fish or veggies vs. fruit. They have recipes for brines but also for AFTER you dehydrate. Over all I'm very impressed. 
 
I really want to thank the people at Excalibur for letting me try out their awesome product.
 
Do you have a dehydrator?
Delicious and Easy Strawberry Shortbread 
Strawberry Shortbread   
by Christine E. Mack 
 
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3 stick unsalted butter. cubed
1 cup of dried sliced strawberries
1/2 cup strawberry preserves
 
Preheat oven at 350 F. Butter a rectangular pan and set aside. In stand mixer, add flour, dried strawberries and salt. Pulse for 30 seconds. Next add strawberry preserves and mix on low until flour becomes pink. With mixer still on low add in butter a few cubes at a time. Once all in turn up mixer to medium and beat until it comes together to form a firm dough into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. While hot cut shortbread into squares. Let cool for 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy! 

Raising Ducks For The First Time

Baby Ducklings 

I'm new to raising ducks. A lot of it is just plain common sense. Clean water, plenty of food, clean bedding right? Well there is more to it than that. For most intents and purposes ducks aren't raised as pets. They are raised for meat and eggs for personal consumption. With ducks you have to be one part parent, one part companion, one part vet, and one part zoo keeper. With that I have to say.....

God Bless the Interwebs! 

Without the internet I'd be lost. Books are all fine and good but they don't connect you to real people with real life situations. It's through them I've learned tips and tricks to handle most any situation. It's through them I learned about the terminology. In particular, Facebook has been the most useful of tools. Not everyone who raises poultry has a blog. A lot more use Facebook though. It's brings together a mixture of vetted poultry raisers and newbies alike. When I log onto Facebook I learn something new all the time. Just type "ducks" in the search bar and you get a slew of people who are passionate about the topic. The other resource I have found super useful are the forums on www.backyardchickens.com. BYC has a very large crowd from all over the world with a concentration from the U.S. I particularly love one section where they connect you by state. This way you can find local people to swap fertilized eggs, get local advice, local based suggestions and other goodies. BYC isn't just for people raising chickens. They also talk about all other poultry, gardening, and other farm animals. I want to share some of the some of the things I've learned that were most helpful.

Chilling Out In The Grass
1.) Ducks are the biggest slobs on the faces of this earth but they are also among some of the cleanest. Ducks aren't messy on purpose. They just have needs. That need is water. Think about it. They are water fowl. Ducks consume much more water that chickens for a few reasons. Consumption would be the first. Second would be to clean out their bill due to it's shape. Have you ever had peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth? It's kind of like that. Now imagine your nostrils are on the roof of the mouth. Third would be for bathing. They like to keep clean. Cleanliness helps keep up their health. Fourth would be happiness. The little critters just love to swim.

2.)  I've seen a lot of different people say a lot of different things in regards to letting ducklings swim. It takes a little bit for ducks (and chickens) to become water proof. The ducky's down can become waterlogged and make them tired. Subsequently they drown. The other problem would be body temp can go down quickly. Momma duck naturally waterproofs the duckies with her own oils. HOWEVER, I have seen many instances where ducks drown anyway because they get tired even if they are waterproofed. You know what I say? Forgettaboutit. As human beings we are born with a bigger brain and two hands. Most times. For the record the six ducklings I bought are grown up for the most part. So here is what I did. I drew a bath as I would for a human baby and turned up the heat in the house so the bathroom was toasty. (translation: I was sweating) Let me tell you...there is nothing sweeter than seeing little fluffy ducklings swim around in the water for the first time. Beware because the very first thing they will do is poop. All you have to do after that is read body language to know if they are tired. They'll just sit there. If they are cold they'll huddle in a group. Either way it's time for them to get dried off in a big fluffy towel. Be careful of their vent (where they poop) but make sure you get the majority of the down dry. Immediately transfer them to the brooder.

Baby Ducklings In Large Brooder
3.) You will wind up changing duck bedding a few times a day. Not only are they messy with water but their poop is very wet. And stinky. At a certain point (4 weeks) I wound up giving the ducks a dog dish vs. a chick/duckling waterer. Not only could the splash in it but it also prevented a HUGE puddle of water on the floor and soaking most of their bedding in the process. The bedding was still wet in a certain area but no water damage on the floor was great too. I used pine shaving for their bedding. After a couple hours it was matted down. I wasn't so much concerned about cleaning it as I was concerned about the ducks getting sick from being in wet bedding as they were getting super playful with the water. I decided at 5 weeks to not use bedding. The poop & water would fall through the mesh wire in the brooder. I really wish I had done that sooner.
 

4.) At six weeks the ducklings were feathered out. At this point you can start determining who is a boy and who is a girl merely by listening to their voice. With Peking ducks there is not visual way to tell. I certainly didn't feel comfortable trying to sex them. I'm not trained to do that and I didn't want to hurt their organs. Plus I mean I wouldn't want someone poking around down there if I were a duck. Apparently, the ducks with the louder voices are female. Most men will not be surprised by this. The males will have a weaker voice. As the ducks mature the male ducks will develop a curled feather on their tail called the drake feather. That will be the only visual difference until the ducks sexually mature (around 6 months). When the ducks sexually mature the female ducks will often have feathers missing as the male duck grabs the female duck with his mouth hence pulling out her feathers. This is why women aren't surprised that female ducks are the loudest.
Peking Ducklings Almost Grown Up
5.) They waddle. It's hysterical. It's even more hysterical when your 3 & 5 year olds chase them for fun. Ducks aren't the most graceful things on land. Neither are 3 & 5 year olds. Both will often trip and fall down. Mother and fathers will enjoy the hilarity.

Do you have any ducky wisdom to share?

How to transplant a Southerner into Hardiness Zone 5B

thistle 

Christine E. Mack head 

shotMy father was an Air Force officer. This meant we moved a lot. But in the summer that I turned 8 I left Cheyenne, Wyoming All my friends, my little white parakeet that I named Julie, and the never ending winter. A past tense. We were headed for the land of sunshine, oranges, and Disney World. My father was leaving the military and the transient lifestyle that the military shoves on you. I was told we would never move again. I was told we wouldn't have to deal with blizzards and the terrible flash flood we had endured there known as the August 1st Flood. I embraced this idea. At the frail age of 8 I was ready to take root somewhere.
 

Keuka Lake 

We made the long journey down with my three brothers in a big white station wagon with a trailer on the back towards Florida. We baked and sat on this long road through cornfields then went on forever. I was never so excited as when I first saw the ocean. The salty air was bliss. I never before held a sea shell and it stunned me see shells in the very soil! I was enchanted from the very first moment. Our neighbors were very southern and took to me right away. I took to them as well. My life was filled with strawberry festivals, boiled peanuts, and the much anticipated visits to the sea shore. My backyard was filled with a plethora of flowers that just happened to grow like Birds of Paradise, honeysuckle, roses upon roses. We had orange trees, persimmons, a Chinese Plum Tree and of course and in ground swimming pool. I felt like I lived in the garden of Eden. I barely remembered the north.

garden 

The years between 8-12 are very formative. When I was told we were to leave Florida I was beyond upset. With the addition of another sibling totally us to a family of 7 life was very expensive and had taken its toll. The pool shut down and turn green within weeks. The air conditioning remained unfixed. Clothes came from goodwill and yard sales. Cupboards were almost bares most days. For Christmas I had received a pair of used roller skates and our Christmas tree was barely two feet tall. Since we had moved down here so had my favorite Aunt and my Grandma. We were leaving everything I could remember and love for some place up in NY where one of my father's friends from his boyhood lived. And as beloved as this place was to me when we hit the state line of Georgia I was the only one crying. I remember turning around looking at the sign on the other side saying Welcome To Florida.

fruit cocktail 

It's 19 years later. I still live in NY. Even though I left Florida, Florida never left me. I am and always will be a southerner in my heart. The hospitality. The food. The warm sunshine and emerald green waters are in my memory and can't be taken away. By rights I shouldn't even call myself southern. My parents are from NJ. I was born in Arizona. But a military brat never has a place to call their own except if they choose to. I choose to be southern with every breath I take. What my neighbors taught me. What the south gave me. Every time I make fried chicken or whip up a red velvet cake. Every time I dig in our rocky soil  I think of the amazing amount of tiny seashells laying in clay. Being southern isn't determined by geography. It's a way of life.

kids drinking water 

I take life slow. I live each moment. I use photography and words to freeze that moment in time. I cherish the little things and harvest much just as I was taught 19 years ago by the southern women of Plant City, Florida.