Thursday, March 28, 2013

SUPER EASY Easter Treat: Bird's Nest

4 Simple Ingredients:

  • 12oz of Butterscotch OR chocolate morsels

  • 1/3 cup of peanut butter

  • 5oz of crunchy chinese noodles

  • M&M's or jelly beans for the eggs

Put morsels and peanut butter in a double boiler, melt, stir until smooth.  Take off heat and stir in crunchy noodles.  Spoon onto wax paper.  Add 3 M&Ms on top of each nest.  Chill in refrigerator until firm.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shelly And The Shell-less Egg

Show-Off Shelly

Shelly was born to be different, and probably a bit of a show off to boot.   

When she layed her daily egg, the other chicken clucked with jealously; as hard as they tried, they couldn't duplicate those lovely light powder blue eggs. 

Smug Shelly basked in her wonderful uniqueness.

However, slowly but surely, the eggs she layed became old hat to the others.  They didn't fuss and fawn over them anymore, and in Shelly's mind, this would not do. 

So, she had to shake it up a bit...

It's very freaky to see a shell-less egg, but it's not always something to panic about.  There are several reasons why a chicken might lay a egg without the shell, some more serious than others:

  • Poor diet/nutrition.  Your chickens may not be getting enough vitamin D3 and/or calcium
  • End or beginning of cycle.  They may just be reaching sexual maturity or reaching the end of their egg laying cycle
  • Recent trauma.  A traumatic event such as a skunk invasion or other animal attack in the coop can give the chickens "shell shock".
  • Defective shell gland. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about that.
  • Other diseases or infections. 
My suggestion?

I'm not a vet, but common sense tells me that if this happens persistently, the chicken is sick and needs medical care, or you need to supplement their diet better.  If it's a rare occurrence (like it was for show-off Shelly, who has layed her blue eggs since), then it's probably a fluke, but something to keep an eye on for sure.

After Shelly layed the shell-less egg, the other scared and concerned chickens did a egg intervention.  With soft, reassuring clucks they convinced her that it wasn't the color of the egg that make Shelly special, but what was inside that counted. 

Inside, all the eggs were special. 

"So Shelly," said Henny Penny, in her no-nonsense tone,  "Get off your high horse and stop being a silly show-off!"

And they all lived eggly ever after.  :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pure Maple Syrup: Yes, Yins Can Tap That.

If you asked the locals 'round here what the most highly anticipated event of Spring is, I bet 9 out of 10 would say, "Why, the Maple Syrup Festival, of course!  Now yins* better not cut in line...I've waited an hour and half for my buckwheat pancakes with syrup...HEY!  I don't care if she is your mom! NO CUTTIN'!  Jagoff!**  She ain't foolin' anyone with that walker, ya know!!"

Oh dear...well, us PA people are certainty passionate about our pancakes with pure maple syrup, that's no joke.  In all kinds of weather, we will wait in line for hours, braving the risk of our stomachs turning and gnawing themselves, all for a huge plate of fluffy pancakes drizzled with one of nature's best treats.

Don't let sleet, snow, bitter cold,  tired legs, or elderly ladies keep us from our pancakes.  (Jagoff.)

Until this year, I never really had the notion to make my own maple syrup.   Then some friends of ours starting tapping their maples in February. 

"'tern't nothing to it," they said (basically).

Hmm, thought I.  Obviously, my interest was piqued, being a hippie, granola-loving, (etc,etc). freak.   Why not harvest some of our maple trees?  So I did a little research and learned if you tap the tree properly, you don't hurt the tree, and you get a sweet, all-natural reward.    Win-Win.

At this point you may be asking:

What kind of trees can you tap?  Any type of maple, but I heard that sugar maples are best.

So when should you start/stop tapping?  The sap starts running around mid to late February and stops around mid to late March, depending on the weather.  After the buds open and/or the sap is cloudy, your season is done. Ideally, you want warm days (40's, low 50's) and cold nights (20's and 30's) for optimum sap flow.  A cold snap will not yield you much and a very warm spell will speed up the process and shorten the sap season.

How many taps should you put in one tree? A healthy tree 10 to 17 inches no more than one tap. A tree 18 to 24 no more that two taps. A tree larger that 25 no more than 3 taps. 

How much syrup will I get? About 1/3 gallon of finished syrup per tap.

First, the tools you will need (most are fairly inexpensive or free)
  • Sugar taps/sprouts (eBay).  You may also need a drill for the sprouts if they are plastic.
  • 3 gallon food grade buckets with lids. Ask at the bakery at your grocery store or local bakery.  They MAY just give them to you, since they will just throw them out anyway.  We had to pay for ours because the bakery got wise and saw a way to make extra dough (har-dee, har, har).  That being said, they only charged us $3.00 each.  My smarty-pants husband drilled a hole in the top for the tube and handy little window to see the sap. (Thanks Hon)

  • Plastic food grade hoses that fit snugly over the sprout and are long enough to reach into the bucket on the ground

  • Oven or outside heat source (our friends use a turkey fryer)
  • HUGE kettle, like a canning or lobster pot.
  • Candy thermometer
  • Cheesecloth
  • Sterile glass jars with lids
  • Time and patience
Common sense and safety first.  For small qualities, inside cooking is ok, but realize you have the oven on for long periods of time to boil down the sap. Also, if you choose to boil inside, you will need good ventilation.  The condensation from the sap will be INSANE.  My wall was oozing brown!  ALSO, you probably want a stove that has high BTU's; we just got a new one with 17,000 BTU's and that boiled much more efficiently. 

After you get all your equipment, you can start tapping!  Check your trees and check your buckets daily, especially on warm days.  If you let your sap set too long, it will spoil. 

You will be sad.  :(

Boil your sap in the kettle until the candy thermometer reads 218, it has an light amber color, and is slightly thickened.    Now, go grab a copy of Anna Karenina, or plan a True Blood marathon; this may take a REALLY long time, like ALL DAY if you have big batch of sap.  I suggest you boil some, add more, boil, add more again.  Don't worry if you can't boil it all down in one day; you can turn the pot off for the evening, cover it, and start again in the morning.  (To CMA, I have to say: Never leave it attended!  DUH!)

Once you get it reduced down enough, you can transfer it to a smaller pot so it will boil faster.  Take care that your sap doesn't boil down so much that it scorches or becomes pure sugar (unless that's what you want).

WHEW.  Ok, finally...time to pour!  Take your sterilized glass jar and cheesecloth, secure piece of cheesecloth on the mouth of the jar and pour the syrup into the jar.  This will filler out any "stuff" in your sap.
After the syrup is cool, you can put it in another container, like this one with the fancy label:

I store it in the fridge, however, I'm not sure that's necessary? I've heard several things about the shelf life of maple lasts forever, or it only lasts for a year, definitely put it in the fridge, or would just refridgerate it.  Freezing is also a great way to preserve it.

So, now you can enjoy your own pure maple syrup....without making any old ladies cry.

*Yins=you guys
**Jagoff=not sure I need to translate that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring dawns at 3 Fates Farm

The mucky ground shoots up green fingers of new life.  The maple buckets sound with sweet nectar.  In the yard, proud red robins strut.   "Work it,"  I tell them.  And they do.

New bee boxes with fresh green paint await the hum of their future occupants. 

Strangely not a foreboding sight, the turkey vultures have returned to roost in the conifers.

The six "Ladies", (three named "Moria", "Nona", & "Decima" and other three with the simpler names of "Shelly", "Henny Penny", and "Heather") dream of fat grubs that will come in with the tide of spring.

In short, all the residents of 3 Fates Farm are ripe with anticipation; more than ready for the rebirth of the Mother Earth!

Sorry, I'm as sappy as a maple when it comes to Spring.  And yes, I'm a bit of a hippie, compost-stirring', granola-eating, tree-hugging, rabid, organic freak.   For this, I refuse to apologise.   

So, what is 3 Fates Farm?  It's a small time hobby farm with a big passion.  It's me, trying to reconnect with the way we lived for hundreds of years.  It's about creating harmony between humans and nature.  

Yes, it's "Om", "cum-bi-ya", and all that.   

Ok, show of hands: how many people would be lost without Walmart and all the processed food within?    In a very short span of time, humans have become HUGELY dependent on grocery stores for all their food needs. If all the grocery stores were wiped off the face of the planet, most of us would starve, simply because we have no idea how to grow a garden, or can, or even bake a loaf of bread.   

In other words, if a Revolution scenario happens, the Amish will inherit the Earth.  We all be answering to Merlin or Lebanon Levi, once they sort out their turf war.

And most alarmingly, we are rapidly losing our connection to the land, becoming more like robots and less like living creatures caring for and sharing a planet.  "Getting your hands dirty" is less about working the soil and more about disinfecting the i-pod after you sneezed on it. 

However, I'm not writing this blog to preach...much.  I really just want to share the things I know.  Sharing is caring.  Cum-bi-ya.   

Besides, I don't know about you, but going to Wal-mart is killing me....softly.  I leave little pieces of my soul in the clearance aisle.   (I hear they put them on the shelf and red tagged them for $1.50).

My next post will be about our new venture: maple syrup making.  In the meantime, here are some interesting facts about PURE (not the fake high fructose corn syrup crap) maple syrup for your sweet tooth to chew on:

  • Pure maple syrup will not freeze, due to the high concentration of sugar.  Therefore you can keep maple syrup in your freezer indefinitely and it will still be yummy.

  • Pure maple syrup has Phenolics, which is basically an antioxidant.  So in moderation (guzzling a jug a day is not recommended), it's good for ya! 

  • Pure Maple Syrup has more calcium than milk by volume and more potassium than bananas by weight

  • All-natural, no gmos, and great in coffee.

  • If you have a maple tree, you can have your own pure maple syrup!  It's not rocket science; if I can do it, any crazy hippie chick can!