Green Promise

Options For Aging Flock Members

Rachel

Chopping Block_1
Cornflake the chicken was not harmed in the shooting of this photograph.

A chicken has a potential lifespan of 10+ years when given proper care, and that should be considered before you add a laying flock to your home, as should what you plan to do with them when they stop laying. It's hard to justify keeping an animal around that only consumes on a homestead where everything must earn it keep. After 2-3 years of laying, a hen is past her prime in egg production. In most cases she will be processed in a canning jar; even though we'd all love to provide a rent-free home for the remainder of their lives, it isn't always in the cards or the budget to do so. But there are some jobs that a veteran flock member can do — even if she isn't producing eggs — that makes keeping her around worthwhile.

Teachers:

Like adolescents in every other species on the planet (humans included), young flock members can be a total pain in the rear end. They sleep in nest boxes and cause poopy eggs; they fight over food and manage to sit inside the feeders to eat and then get stuck; they find new and exciting ways to get out of the run; basically they have no idea how things work in the coop. Having older flock members present who know the routine can help the teenagers figure out when to return to the coop at night, and that they sleep on roosts not in nest boxes. The teachers show them where to take dust baths, where to scratch and peck, and how to eat at the feeder like a decent member of the flock. Flock matriarchs can kick a little butt, too, to teach newbies their place in the world and knock out some of their cockiness. Before long, they will behave and follow the routine just like everyone else in the coop.

Surrogate Moms:

There comes a time when flock expansion is needed, and sometimes heat lamps and brooders aren't ideal. Sometimes certain hens are really bad moms and don't sit on their eggs for the full 21 days. Sometimes hens are homicidal and they kill all their babies as soon as they hatch. Enter the broody hen surrogate mom. They go broody at the mere sight of two eggs nestled in a nesting box and try to hatch them, and they happily adopt any abandoned chicks. Being a momma is their calling, and that's why broodies will always have a home in my flock whether or not they lay eggs.

Broodiness however, can at times be unwanted or become dangerous to the hen if her need to be a mother isn't satisfied. Check out this article from the Chicken Chick that tells you how to safely break a hen of broodiness if the situation calls for it. I love her method, and I have used it many times to break my regular broody mommas if I can't find hatching eggs or freshly hatched chicks for them.

Garden Tending:

Garden tending is the perfect job for your old hens. They eat weeds, scratch up the roots, eliminate pests, and fertilize and aerate the soil as they go! You will have to come up with a way to keep your fowl away from your veggies, though. There are some great, garden-row-sized chicken tractor plans on Pinterest, or you can come up with your own. I am working on plans for my own row tractor to use this gardening season, since it tends to get away from me after a while and it turns into a jungle. I'm also planting my garden lengthwise rather than across this year so that I can move the tractor up and down the rows more efficiently.

And, every now and then, a chicken comes along that has a very special personality that saves her drumsticks. When I was a kid I had this lovely, huge, barred rock hen named Roxy. I wouldn't let her get chopped, and I even painted her toenails red so I could keep her apart from everyone else. Now its my white Cochin, Oatmeal, who has hatched lots of new babies and survived being mauled by a Chihuahua, and of course Kahrl, a blue Cochin who is extraordinarily fluffy and who has raised new babies when other hens abandoned them. My husband's buff Orpington, Cornflake, probably won't be found on the dinner table either, since she is abnormally friendly.

An old hen's working days aren't always over after her laying days are over. She pays her rent in new ways that might even be more productive than before.

Happy clucking!

Perfect Cast Iron Pizza Every Time

RachelEarlier this spring, my well-seasoned and much loved pizza stone broke in half in the oven while I was entertaining, and, after spouting off a fair number of expletives, I started looking for alternatives to my deceased stone. I ended up breaking out the cast-iron, and there is no turning back now. The crust is perfect — crispy on the bottom and soft and fluffy on the top — and everything cooks evenly. This is now the only way we make pizza in our house, but it does require a few tricks to get it right.

cooling

All you need is a cast-iron pan, pizza dough, sauce, and toppings of your choice.

Start with a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in, and wipe it around the bottom and sides of the pan. Do not leave any pools of oil. If you're new to cast-iron, check out this article by another GRIT blogger.

pizza dough

Use your favorite pizza crust recipe, or even one from a box. If you use a deep dish cast-iron pan, you may need to double your recipe to be able to make it up the sides (and have a little left over to do stuffed crust!). Press the pizza dough into the oiled pan. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Then, place the pan on a burner on medium heat while you put the toppings on — about 5-10 minutes. This crisps up the crust and helps the pizza slices come out of the pan flawlessly.

cheese first

Add half the cheese first. This keeps the sauce from making the crust soggy.

sauce second

Add your favorite sauce on top of the cheese.

toppings next

Put your toppings on top of the sauce.

Add more cheese and more toppings.

oven

Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and golden.

Let the pizza cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. I know its hard, but trust me, it goes a long way in making for an easier clean up. If you dig in right away while the pan is still hot from the oven, the melty sauce and cheese will spill over into the pan and it will burn and stick.

gooey cheese

Just look at that gooey, cheesy perfection ...

clean pan

And get a load of that practically spotless pan!

Happy pizza party!

The Best Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie

Rachelwhipped cream

Every year we visit a local farming family a few roads over. They grow all name and number of squash and other wonderful veggies, and they sell them at their roadside stand. They sell fantastic pie pumpkins that we roast, puree, and freeze in recipe-sized portions. This year, we froze 35 pie pumpkins for our family. Now that's a lot of cookies and muffins! It also makes great baby food, and I have a killer pumpkin potato soup recipe, too! (You can find it HERE along with directions on how to preserve your own pie pumpkins.) But our favorite pumpkin recipe by far is Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie, filled to the rim with fresh pie pumpkin. Its spicy, custardy goodness brings warmth to our holiday gatherings.

Pumpkin pies tend to be skinny, with only 1/2 to 1 inch of filling, and that's disappointing to me. When I want pie, I want pie. So, how can you make a deep dish pumpkin pie? It's not like you can heap pie filling on in a huge pile like an apple pie, for instance. You have to have a deep pie pan. I have a wide array of pie pans in my arsenal; typically they come in three depth sizes: 1, 1-1/2, and 2 inches deep.

To be honest, I had a hard time sharing this recipe since its kind of what I'm known for at holiday gatherings, but it is time I pass it along. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does!

deep dish

Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie

*requires 9- or 10-inch round, 2-inch deep pie pan*

For the crust:

• 1-1/2 cup flour
• 2 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoon + teaspoon lard or Crisco
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/4 cup cold water

1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor, pulse a few times, then slowly add water while pulsing. Continue until a crumbly dough is formed.

2. Turn out onto plastic wrap and chill up to 3 hours.

3. Before baking, remove from plastic wrap, roll dough out, and place in pie pan.

For the filling:

• 1 cup sugar (you can substitute honey in the same amount)
• 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon allspice
• 1-1/2 teaspoon ginger
• 1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 4 eggs (beaten)
• 1 can evaporated milk or 12oz heavy whipping cream
• 4 cups pureed pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Add pumpkin to a large bowl, add spices, salt, sugar, and vanilla, and then mix well.

3. Add beaten eggs and evaporated milk. Mix well. Pour filling into prepared crust.

NOTE: Filling will come close to the top of the pie pan, so use care when transferring to oven. I like place the pie pan on a cookie sheet before I pour the filling; it helps when transferring to oven, and also protects your oven in case of any spillovers.

4. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 375 F for 60 minutes. Depending on the humidity on the day you make this pie, you may find that it requires 20-30 more minutes of baking time.

5. Allow to cool and serve with whipped cream.

pie serving

Using Your Clothesline in Winter

Rachelclothesline

My husband came home after getting the mail and said that our electricity bill has been high the last few months. His first thought was that we should start unplugging things after we were done using them (which we should). My first thought was, “The dryer...” It has been cold and wet since the end of October in our area, so I have had to dry our clothes in the dryer.

I only launder our clothes every other week. Thankfully my husband has a uniform service at work, so that cuts down my washing duty significantly. However, we use prefold cloth diapers; currently all three of our little ones are in diapers. I wash diapers three days a week on average, then I dry them in the dryer in winter — sometimes it takes two cycles in the dryer to fully dry the diapers since they retain moisture so well. In the spring, summer, and fall months, all my laundry goes out on our big, 40-foot-long clothesline, barring inclement weather. But I have always had to dry indoors in winter. Not this year! This year, I'm not letting my clothesline hibernate through winter.

Some of you may ask, how on earth can anything ever get dry without heat in freezing temperatures? Its called sublimation, and this is how it works: When you hang damp clothes out on the line, they will freeze. The ice then gets evaporated by the sun, leaving no more moisture in the clothing. Simply put, you are freeze-drying your laundry!

A nice, sun-shiny, snow-covered day with a little bit of breeze is ideal! Especially if you have whites or diapers that need a little bit of stain removal. The snow is key for this, since it reflects the sunlight and maximizes the sun's natural bleaching super powers. It eliminates even blueberry stains on cloth diapers! Can I get a hallelujah from all my cloth-diapering mommas out there? Breast-fed baby poo stains disappear magically, too! Your white T-shirts might even look like they had a spa day. And the smell! If you love the scent of line-dried laundry in the summer ... just wait until you try it in winter! It is the best!

Here are a few tips for using the clothesline in the depths of winter:

WARNING: In winter you cannot line-dry diaper covers with a PUL lining. It can cause the PUL to crack and therefore ruin your covers! Use a drying rack inside for your covers instead and protect your investment.

• Take a little extra time in the laundry room and pre-clip your clothes pins to your laundry. The chill of the air combined with the dampness of the clothing can make for finger-freezing experience.

• I like to wear a mitten on my clothes-grabbing hand and a thin glove on my pinning hand. It really helps to keep your hands warm as you work.

• Work quickly! You will find that some items will start to freeze instantly; the quicker you work, the faster you can get everything hung up before it becomes an ice block in your basket.

• When the time comes to take things down the laundry will be stiff, so take things down gently since some fabric can become brittle. Avoid hanging up dress shirts and things of that nature.

• If your laundry doesn't get totally dry, just pop it in the dryer for a short cycle, or let it finish drying on a drying rack indoors. You may need to go out to your line periodically and wiggle your clothes if you notice ice buildup.

• Get yourself a wicker basket for laundry hauling. Plastic laundry baskets can become brittle and break in these temperatures.

I got a lot of pointers from my grandmother, who used to do this regularly as she grew up, and a friend whose mother used to hang clothes out in the winter. I love to be outside even in the freezing cold. Even if I have to work in it, I still get to enjoy the beauty of the season. Good luck, and happy freeze-drying!

Carrot Cake Fruit Leather

RachelInspired by my mom's famous carrot cake, I came up with this yummy, carrot cake, fruit leather recipe. It's got the sweetness, spice, and textures of a classic carrot cake without all the calories, and it's totally transportable. It's a great snack and a great gift. Your house will smell fantastic, too!

Carrot Cake Fruit Leather Recipe:

Prep: 20 min

Dehydrator Time: 8-12 hours (depending on your machine or if you use your oven instead)

Ingredients:

• 1 20oz can crushed pineapple
• 1 cup steamed and pureed carrots
• 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup raisins
• 1/4 cup maple syrup

Instructions:

1. Combine pineapple, coconut, walnuts, raisins, and maple syrup. Pulse in a food processor about five times. Return to bowl.

2. Stir in pureed carrots.

3. Spread mixture 1/4-inch thick onto the fruit roll-up trays that go with your dehydrator. Dehydrate according to your machine's directions for fruit leather, typically 8 hours, or until fruit leather is no longer shiny or tacky.

*Oven Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 150 F.

2. Spread the mixture onto a silpat on a cookie sheet 1/4-inch thick for up to 12 hours, until fruit leather is no longer shiny or tacky.

3. Cut finished fruit leather with a pizza cutter and roll it up with waxed paper. Enjoy!

carrot cake fleather

5 Ways To Simplify The Holidays

RachelHi, my name is Rachel, and I make the holidays more work than they have to be.

We have all been guilty of it. Ten pies, five hundred cookies, turkey, ham, prime rib, fudge, three different kinds of corn, cleaning cleaning cleaning, and waaaay too much shopping.

It is the season of excess, but it doesn't have to mean excess stress! Here are 5 things I have started doing to make my life (and the lives of those who live with me) easier around the holidays. Plus our recipe for crock pot hot chocolate, which is sure to become a holiday favorite with your family, too!

apple pie_1
Apple pie

1. Make pie dough ahead of time, when you actually have time to do it. I like to make four batches of pie dough, shape them into discs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them in a freezer bag until I need them. Just get them out to thaw in the fridge the night before you need to bake a pie. They are ready to be rolled, filled, and baked, and you don't have to worry about cleaning up extra dishes. The added bonus is that the dough will be chilled to perfection! Another thing you can do to eliminate pie pressure during the holidays is to can your own pie filling during the season; then all you have to do is dump it in and bake it according to your recipes directions.

pie filling dough
Pie filling and frozen pie dough

2. Homemade gifts. You, sir or ma'am, have worked your tail off this year preserving the finest fruit, vegetables, meats, and herbs from your homestead. Why not share the bounty? In the process, you will showcase all of your hard work. I personally love a homemade gift, especially if I can eat it. Think about it — not everyone gets to have homemade apple sauce, preserves, peaches, spaghetti sauce, or canned green beans just like Granny used to make. I also like to attach recipes to my jars; for instance, if I send someone a can of beef, I like to share my recipe for crock-pot vegetable beef soup, or perhaps beef and noodles. If I give a jar of apple pie filling, it's nice to give them the recipe for crumble topping for an easy apple crisp. Maple syrup, honey, and even eggs make lovely gifts, too. Your life is already abundant — share it!

cookie dough_1
Frozen cookie dough

3. Make double batches of cookies. If you make cookies occasionally throughout the year, you may want to consider doubling the batch. (You're already making a mess; why not go the extra mile?) I like to make double batches when I make any kind of drop cookie or cookie you roll into a ball. I bake one batch, and the second batch I scoop with a medium sized melon baller onto a lined baking sheet and pop into the freezer. Peanut butter blossom or molasses cookies can be rolled into balls and rolled in sugar before placing on the sheet to be frozen. I then put the frozen cookie dough into freezer bags with the type of cookie, bake temp, and time written on it. If you have an unexpected party (or one you forgot), you can bake up a batch of homemade cookies quicker than quick, and you wont have any mess to contend with other than the cookie sheet! They also make great gifts around the holidays when people get lots of goodies. Frozen cookie dough allows folks to enjoy your treats well after the sugar surge of the holidays is over.

4. Chop peel and prepare … check! One thing I have found that eliminates stress at crunch time is to have all of the little things taken care of. The night before, I chop and peel my veggies. While that seems pretty straightforward, it is a time saver. As I go along, I check things off of the list I have created to make sure I don't forget anything. I also like to measure all my spices and other dry ingredients for each dish and combine in small glass bowls. All I have to do is grab a bowl and dump it in as I go.

5. Simplify. Do we really need to have three meats? Six different kinds of pie? Maybe settle on brunch this year! And don't let your guests slack off, either; have them bring one of their favorite dishes. Since we will be running around trying to hit every Christmas party like crazy people in the time leading up to Christmas, our plan for Christmas Day consists of waking up, watching our boys open their gifts, sipping some coffee, and enjoying a potluck brunch with our family (and maybe some mimosas!), all from the comfort of our cozy flannel jammies! This means that there will be a crock pot full of our most favorite winter time treat ... crock pot hot chocolate!!

Here is the recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do.

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate

Cook time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 quarts whole milk (if you have your own it's even better!)
• 12 oz. whipping cream
• 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below, or use canned)
• Vanilla to taste (I never ever measure vanilla)
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup milk chocolate chips
• Cinnamon to taste (optional)

Instructions:

1. Turn crock pot on low and combine whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. Add vanilla and chocolate chips, stir in whole milk.

2. Place the lid on and let cook for 2 hours, stir with whisk occasionally, until all chocolate is melted.

3. Ladle into mugs and enjoy with a marshmallow or a shot of whipped cream! This stuff is dessert in and of itself!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk:

Yield: 2 cups

• 1 cup whole milk
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1/3 cup boiling water
• pinch of salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a medium pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Stir constantly with whisk.

Jake with a mug

Quick "Mitten Keepers"

RachelOur family is going to see the lights at the Toledo Zoo tomorrow night! We can't wait to begin this new tradition! Full disclosure: I'm probably way more excited about this than my kids. The lights are breathtakingly beautiful, and it just so happens to be the location of my husband and I's first date! The only thing that could make it better would be snow, and that wish is coming true — the first snow storm of the season is underway as we speak. While I love the cold and snow, I have to make sure my little ones are toasty warm outside. So, I gave their muddy little coats and snow pants a good wash, along with their Elmer Fudd hats, and I realized I didn't have a way to make sure they didn't lose their mittens on our grand adventure.

finished mitten keepers
Two pairs of mitten keepers!

So, I whipped these little "mitten keepers" up! I already had everything I needed in my sewing basket; all I had to do was take some measurements... ha! In case you didn't know, trying to measure a toddler's wingspan is pretty near impossible. I held arms out; my husband measured.

We got close enough. And they are absolutely perfect!

Materials_1
Materials

Project Time: 5 minutes

What you will need:

• Twill tape or ribbon, cut to the desired length (for my two year old's, I used 34 inches. To measure, hold arms out and measure wrist to wrist, this will give you the appropriate length.)
• A two-pack of suspender clips. (These run around $3 a pair. I purchased a bulk lot from Amazon.com)
• Straight pins
• Sewing machine

pinned clips
Clips pinned on

Begin by cutting the twill tape or ribbon to your desired length. Then, run the tape through the loop on the suspender clip and pin it in place. Give yourself about an inch of overlap to sew.

sewing
Sewing on the clips

Sew a straight line, and then back-stitch it. Move over about a 1/4 inch and sew another straight line and back-stitch once more. Repeat on the other side. Trim your strings.

safe
Mittens safe and sound

Now, run them through your little one's coat sleeves and clip their mittens on! I think I might even make myself some, because nothing is worse than having to take off your glove when working outside, thinking you stuck it in your pocket, but finding instead that it fell into the mud or, even worse, the manure! Next time I make these for my boys, I plan to make the length adjustable so that they can grow with them. These ones will last quite a long time, though; it wont be long until our youngest can use them, and I have a new niece or nephew on the way, too!

Enjoy!