Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Clean nesting boxes = clean eggs

I'll take the egg on the left, please!
Look, chickens are dirty animals. They poop everywhere and on everything. That said, it doesn't take a whole lot to minimize interaction with the copious amounts of poop (aka Amazing Garden Fertilizer). For one thing, I use a deep litter method in the coop, I rake and add clean straw to the run weekly, and the overall smell is pleasantly barnlike. 

Occasionally, I'll get an egg laid on the floor of the coop, or even outside in the run, but it's rare, and if the eggs are dirty (like on the right, above), I just feed them to the dog. Yes, you can wash them, but it happens so rarely, I figure "what's the point?"

For the last few weeks, though, I've noticed more dirty eggs in the nesting boxes, and I realized it's been about a year since I completely replaced the bedding! I use these nifty nesting pads, which I like because (1) the hens can scratch up a nice nest without kicking the material out of the box, (2) they stay dry even if my boxes get a bit damp in heavy rain, (3) I can shake them out/re-fluff them, (4) they're fully biodegradable/compostable, and (5) they last a long I said, it's been a year!

I've been playing around a little with some video tutorials (easier to share/watch), so let me know what you think!

Clean nesting boxes on Biteable.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Better Homemade: Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate milk is one of life's most wonderfully extravagant pleasures. 

If you are already convinced, and want to skip straight to the recipe, click here.

My mom never bought chocolate syrup. "It's full of nothing but junk!" she said. We did make hot cocoa on snow days, mixing cocoa and sugar and milk and vanilla in a saucepan on the stove. As we got older, she started buying the cocoa packets, and they were nice (and a lot faster, especially because we now had a microwave), but the flavor didn't compare.

My kids also prefer stovetop cocoa to anything out of a packet. On a really cold day, I'll add a tiny dash of pleasantly warming with the chocolate. Cinnamon is nice too!

Chocolate milk made a regular appearance in our lives when my kids started school five years ago. My son remarked early on that he generally preferred the "regular" milk, but the chocolate and strawberry-flavored milks had all the fun cartoon characters on the containers, which he thought wasn't right (and I agreed). He bought his lunch occasionally, and my daughter did the same when she started school, but she made an argument that a weekly chocolate milk was a good "sometimes treat." I thought this was a fair argument, and my son by this time had developed an appreciation for it, so we agreed they could do it once a week, whether they brought or bought their lunch.

Shortly after this, I went to school and bought my own school lunch with the kids, and I looked at the carton of chocolate milk. High fructose corn syrup was the second ingredient in a long list of unpronounceable items, and it had 26 grams of sugar! What?? That's almost as much as a bowl of chocolate ice cream!

"I can do better than this," I said, and the tinkering commenced.

First, most recipes called for a mix of granulated white and brown sugars. I quit storing brown sugar a few years ago, since I already stock both molasses and sugar, and it's easy to mix up brown sugar on the few occasions I need it. 

Interestingly, a teaspoon of molasses contains more sugar than a teaspoon of granulated sugar (4 g to about 4.6 g). However, the molasses has a little magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium, and its rich, deep flavor really complements the cocoa. I mixed up brown sugar once for this, then decided to just substitute straight molasses for it, which is easier and tastier!

My recipe makes the most deliciously-rich, intensely-chocolaty hot cocoa, chocolate milk (and occasional an iced mocha) I've ever had. It uses only six common pantry ingredients, though I could make a good case for adding a dash of cinnamon!  

My "Deliciously Rich Chocolate Syrup" has about 4 grams of sugar per Tablespoon versus Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, which has 10 grams of sugar per Tablespoon. Cocoa is the fourth ingredient on the Hershey's label (the first is HFCS, then corn syrup, then water...finally some cocoa). Besides water, my recipe has more cocoa than anything else (and some of that water disappears when you reduce it, so we could argue it comes out as the top ingredient).

A printable recipe is below.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Better Homemade: Bloody Mary Mix

A few years ago, I discovered that "The Best Bloody Mary Grows in the Garden," and I think you should give it a try! I still don't have an exact recipe, but what you see above should give you an idea of proportions. I did end up adding another hot pepper because my flaming-hot serrano lost almost all of its heat when I seeded it.

If you can make a smoothie, you can make the most delicious tomato juice and/or Bloody Mary mix you've ever tasted. You can blanch and peel the tomatoes, but I put everything in a blender and strain it through a sieve, which I think is superior because (1) it requires no heat, (2) less mess, and (3) it's actually faster overall.

You can click the link above for the recipe, or just look at the picture. I use tomatoes, sweet onion, cucumber, hot pepper, juice from 1-2 limes, fresh horseradish, worcestershire, salt, and pepper. Throw it all in the blender and let it rip, then strain through a sieve. Fresh and delicious!


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