Thursday, April 30, 2009

Homemade Granola Bars

One of the favorite snacks around here are chewy granola bars. I usually buy Cascadian Farms Chewy Granola Bars as they are organic and do not have nuts or peanut butter in them (Evan has a peanut allergy). They are great and we love them but they are expensive and I can't always find them... even at the same store I bought them last time... it is always hit or miss.

So, I am in search of a recipe for homemade granola bars that are like the Cascadian Farms ones, chewy, with oats and rice puffs and not too sweet. It has not been easy to even find a recipe to start tinkering with that doesn't have peanut butter as a main ingredient. But, after much searching online and reading reviews I came up with this recipe today... this is a first trial run and I am sure I will make alterations after I taste them.

3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups puffed rice
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1 cup honey
1 cup butter, melted
1 t vanilla
2 cups of mix-ins of choice (today was 1 cup raisins and 1 cup mini chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt butter in a medium bowl and add honey and vanilla. Mix wet into dry ingredients and stir well. Add in mix-ins of choice and again mix thoroughly. Press mixture into pan firmly and bake for 20-25 minutes or until light brown. Remove from oven and press bars down firmly into pan again. Let cool for 10 minutes and cut bars. Allow to cool completely before removing bars from pan to avoid bars crumbling apart.

Since I had out most of the ingredients I figured I might as well make some granola at the same time. Last month I read a recipe for homemade granola over at Rabbit Hill Farm. Her recipe used ripe bananas in it, which I always seem to have around, and I have been wanting to try it ever since. The original recipe is a bit loose on measurements so if you are the type of cook that needs exact amounts here is what I did:

3 cups rolled oats
2 1/2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 stick of melted butter
1 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup banana chips, broken up small
Salt to taste

I mixed all the ingredients together and cooked at 325F (since that is what the oven was already on) for what ended up being 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The end results look and taste great but even after it cooled off there is still moisture in some of the pieces so I am not sure if I will be able to store this outside the fridge or not. I would have continued to cook it more but it was getting a bit too dark already. It has a great "tropical" taste to it. Next time I will try it with either less honey or less banana to make the mixture drier to start with.

Other farm news:
There were two more ducklings in the barn this morning and two of the four turkey eggs that one of my buff orpington chickens has been incubating for me hatched out last night as well. All four are in brooder together today. I will add them to the others in a day or two after they get their legs under them. This brings the count to ducklings 5, turkeys 9.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quick update...

Two more ducklings hatched out in the barn today... a smokey grey one and one marked like a mallard duckling (those markings don't stay when the adult feathers come in). They have joined the turkeys and yesterday's duckling in the brooder. I will have to set up the third brooder soon as with the onslaught of ducklings to come the second brooder is going to get crowded soon.

I have looked around the farm, unsuccessfully, the past two days to see if I could locate the turkey hen that I left the 2-3 biddies with. I don't know where she is hiding... I guess she didn't like that I took her babies away from her. But, what I did discover was my fourth turkey hen is setting on a nest of about 20 eggs down in the woods inside one of the old corrugated steel pig shelters from the previous owners. It seems like a nice dry safe nest so I let her be. I will keep checking on her every few days though.

I got my Homestead tomatoes planted in the garden today. Which means that the kids and I had to first remove all the crab grass from that raised bed, fluff up the soil, give it a good heavy drink of water and then plant the tomato starts, install the supports, cover the rest of the bed with wet newspapers and top it all off with old straw/chicken manure raked up from the barn floor. It wouldn't have been that bad of a task, as it was a comfortable 83F outside today, but little 4 month old Taylor, who was sitting in the stroller the whole time ran out patience after I only planting the 3rd tomato plant. Still she was happy watching all the action up to that point so I really can't complain. The kids pushed her around the garden in the stroller while I finished up as quick as I could.

Taylor's debut photo on the blog.

I have three alpacas that I am expecting crias from anytime between May 1st and June 1st: GeeGee, Celtie and Joy. They were all living with our stud Novio out in the second pasture last spring/summer so I am not exactly sure of the breed dates. Celtie and Joy both have noticeably swollen bellies and I can see the cria moving in Celtie's abdomen quite often now. It will be the first crias for both of these females so I am a bit nervous about it... and Celtie happens to be my favorite as well. I will report in when the time comes!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

First duckling of the season

McKayla holding the 1st duckling of the season.

I discovered the first Muscovy duckling of the season in the barn this morning. It was hatched out by our game hen that adopted us the Fall of 2007 after a neighbor moved. She is the best (aka meanest) mother hen we have. She is fiercely protective of her nest and her hatchlings. I was suspicious that one of the duck eggs she was sitting on had hatched after seeing some shell fragments outside the nest. She was not happy to be lifted and I have several red spots on my arm to remind me not to do it again. But, under her was a little yellow duckling. She was even more unhappy when I took it away from her! I have found that I loose a lot of young birds if I let them be raised by the hens... there are just too many dangers out there.

So, our duckling is now happily living with the 7 turkey keets in the brooder pen... which, I was happy to find, did just fine overnight.

The game hen setting on about 10 Muscovy duck eggs and 1 Americana chicken egg.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Turkey Poults!

I was thrilled to discover one of my four Narragansett turkey hens leading her newly hatched poults through the flower bed in front of the house. It is such a sight to behold... the hen chirping to the poults and tiny little babies racing through the tall plants trying to keep up with mom.

Then a sadness overcame me as I knew that I needed to take them from their mom and raise them in the brooder pen if I had any hope of them surviving to maturity. I would much prefer to raise all our animals naturally with the moms but I have learned that the free roaming birds just don't fair well with young hatchlings. Last year I lost every turkey poult that I didn't raise in the brooder myself. Hard lesson learned well.

So, I grabbed the closest box and started scooping up the poults. After 7 poults in the box I could see that there was at least 2 pouts still skittering about and the hen was quite stressed. Against anyone's better judgement I left the last of the pouts with the hen so she would be rewarded for all her hard work in setting and hatching the pouts out for me. I just hope they do ok.

The pouts in the box got moved into the brooder next to the 16 chicken chicks with food, water and heat lamp. They seemed to calm down fairly quickly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Time for alpaca breeding... or not?

Fellow alpaca farmer David St.Laurent brought over two of his alpaca breeding males this morning. The intent was to breed one to our female Noodle and the other to Abby. But, to my surprise both girls (that should have been open, ie. not pregnant) spit at the boys and wanted nothing to do with them.

The only explanation is that our ten month old male cria, Seamus, that was weaned from his dam, Gritona, only about 10 days ago must have been breeding or at least attempting to breed these only two open girls in the pasture. It has been documented that crias this young can be fertile but normally in the alpaca world the males need to be closer to two years old before they are able to breed successfully. It is possible that as induced ovulators that the girls might not be pregnant but are experiencing a false pregnancy do to hormones released during the attempted breeding by Seamus.

So, David and I decided to just let the boys run with my girls for a few days to see if time would change things. Once we let them all out together is was clear to see that all the girls were testing positive for pregnancy as everyone was spitting and running from the boys. The other girls were supposed to be all breed so that was comforting to witness.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Farm Update

Let's see...

The 16 chicken chicks are growing well. They are feathering out nicely and are even starting to fly up onto the roost in the brooding pen. I still can't tell the sex of the chicks so I am keeping my fingers crossed that more then 50% will be hens.

The rabbit kits are also growing well. I pulled them out of the nest boxes a few days ago to put clean bedding material in so I got a head count on them finally. Purslane's litter has 7 kits while Camomile's litter has a whopping 10 kits!

The goose is finally sitting on her eggs in the ground level nest box that Neil built for me last year. I have counted 7 eggs in the nest. I hope she successfully hatches out more than one gosling this year.

The alpacas are looking skinny after their shearing earlier this week. I moved our 10 month old male, Seamus, out of the females pasture and put him in with the young boys out in the back pasture. He is mildly stressed by the move, I always hate weaning time, but he seems to be getting along fine with the other boys so I am happy with that. I also moved our llama into the cow pasture. There is more grass there right now and she can't be in either of the back alpaca pastures since I have intact males in both of them. She seems to enjoy having new pasture to explore.

I got the lawn mowed again today... I need to start mowing sections of the pasture soon to keep the thistle and wild dill from taking hold again.

Neil and his Dad started framing in the rear wall of the garage this weekend. It will be nice when the building of the garage is done and Neil can spend his weekends using the garage instead. I have lots of projects for him. :)

Evan picked these buttercups for me today... they sure brighten up the kitchen!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Homemade Croutons

I hate wasting food... especially food that I have taken time to make from scratch. I make a lot of bread here on the farm; white bread, wheat bread, bagels, hamburger buns, sourdough, etc.. As with most homemade bread it doesn't remain soft and fresh like it's store bought counterparts since it lacks the preservatives used in commercial baking.

More often then not there is stale bread in the house. My standard use for my stale breads is to toss them in the freezer until I get a good supply. When I feel I have enough I take it all out and dry it in the oven and then put them in the food processor to turn them into bread crumbs. These then go back into the freezer until I need to use them in my recipes. No waste.. I love it!

But, one can only have or use so much bread crumbs. I needed an additional purpose for our stale bread. As I was making my salad for dinner tonight it hit me... croutons! What an obvious use easpecially for all the wonderful sourdough breads I have been cooking recently.

I set right to it and cut up the 1/2 loaf of sourdough in the bread box into 1/2 inch cubes. I spread them out onto my sheet pan. I drizzled olive oil over them and tossed to coat them evenly. I then sprinkled them with my homemade italian seasoning blend to give them a little zip. I put them in the oven for 20 minutes until they were crunchy.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alpaca Shearing

Today was the day... the annual shearing of the alpacas. Three farms, 46 animals and two professional shearers... done for another year!

Our stud Novio having his blanket removed.

The last to be shorn was our llama Neffi.

Three of our girls post shearing.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Preserved Lemons

Last weekend I had made a dinner for the in-laws of chicken Schnitzel. We enjoy copious amounts of fresh squeezed lemon juice over our schnitzel and at the end of the meal there still remained a large bowl of cut up lemons still unused. We put the leftover lemons in a zip-lock and they have been sitting in my fridge all week. I kept thinking I would make some lemon-aide with them but never got around to that. I decided I needed to find something else to do with them and a quick Internet search found the solution.... Preserved Lemons!

Many Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes call for using preserved lemons, lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices. They are very easy to make, though it takes at least three weeks before the lemons are ready to use. Here is the recipe I found:

How to Make Preserved Lemons


8-10 lemons, scrubbed very clean
1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Sterilized quart canning jar


1 Place 2 Tbsp of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar.

2 One by one, prepare the lemons in the following way. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons, and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwise, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but again, attached at the base.

3 Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons.

4 Pack the lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.

5 Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.

6 To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Discard the pulp before using, if desired.

7 Store in refrigerator for up to 12 months.

Since my lemons were already cut into small sections I improvised and just salted each piece before packing into the jar. They are so pretty to look at in the jar. I am looking forward to using them and have already started collecting recipes that utilize them.

Happy Easter!

The kids stayed last night over at the grandparents house so they returned home this morning to find that the Easter Bunny had not forgotten them!

Easter morning aftermath.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt

Our local Volunteer Fire Department (who's fire house sits on the far side of our pasture) hosted an Easter event at Mayo Park today. Mayo Park is a campground only about 1/2 mile from the farm set on Mayo Lake. They were having games, food, bounce houses, the Easter Bunny and an Easter Egg Hunt.

Myself, Neil and my MIL spent about 3 hours enjoying the kids at the event. They spent a lot of time in the bounce houses (which are always a huge hit with my kids), did the egg hunt, had hot dogs for lunch, played some more... it was a fun day!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day on the farm.

It was a pretty typical day here at the farm.

Our new chicks are doing well as are the new rabbit kits. I always worry about new babies while it is still getting cold at night. I tend to check in with the little ones first thing when I go out to do chores. The chicks are under their heat lamp and the kits are snug in their rabbit fur lined nest box so hopefully all will be well with them as they grow.

I had started mowing the lawn yesterday and managed to get that finished up today just before lunch so I felt pretty productive. The lawn looks tidy as usual once it is mowed. I can tell already that this year our lawn/former neglected pasture it going to be even more full and green. It is amazing what routine mowing can do for a weed covered area... no weed killers, fertilizer or other chemicals have ever been used just mowing. That simple act keeps the weeds from maturing and setting seed and allows the grasses the room and resources to grow.

I do have a bit of exciting news to report. We sold our Irish Dexter heifer calf today. A very nice gentleman from south of us in NC is just starting up a herd and is starting out with about 6 heifers. He came out to the farm this afternoon to look at our small herd and at the little heifer we had for sale. He is an experienced livestock man so I am happy to have her go to his farm. She will be well cared for... which is always my worry when selling our animals. She will stay here for a while yet until she is weaned at six months old... about the middle of June. We still have our bull calf available for sale. If we don't sell him he will become our freezer beef for Fall of 2010.

I started a new batch of sourdough bread tonight. It is a recipe I use that has a long (12-18 hours) first rise so it will sit out all night doing its thing. This long rise time allows for a more sour tasting finished loaf.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bunnies for Easter?

This morning during chores I discovered that both of our American Chinchilla rabbit does were pulling fur. I have to admit I have been so busy that I haven't been counting the days since I put the buck in with the does. I thought I had another week before they were due to kindle.... I guess not! I put nesting boxes in both of their hutches and filled them with fresh straw. Both does immediately started gathering straw to nest build with. They both seemed agitated and would often stretch out and pant and then jump up to arrange the nest box some more.

As much as I would have liked to stick around to see how things progress I know that my presence only causes the does stress. I did all that I could do and planned to come back in a few hours.

After lunch I snuck back out to the barn. I discovered big fluffy wiggly piles of rabbit fur in both nest boxes. I pulled back the top layer of fur to confirm the presence of kits (and snapped the photo above). I replaced the fur and let them be for now. I find it is best not to handle the kits too much the first few days. I will wait 3-4 days before I pull them out of the nest box to count them.

I got a bit into the Easter mood by making Rice Crispie Eggs for the kids to decorate. I made the eggs up while the kids were outside playing.

When they came in all I had to do was melt some chocolate and pour the sprinkles into a bowl. A very quick and easy Easter treat... if they last until Easter that is!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sourdough Ciabatta

So, my new sourdough starter has been doing well so far. I have been using it to make my standard sourdough loaf, pizza dough a few times and pancakes. But, I have been looking for another interesting style of bread to make with my starter.

I headed to my favorite place online to find bread recipes... King Arthur Flour... they had quite a few sourdough recipes to choose from but I was intrigued by the Sourdough Ciabatta. I had never made a ciabatta loaf before but always wanted to try it.

This recipe came together easily. I used my KitchenAide mixer to bring the ingredients to a slack dough and then let it rest and rise for 2 hours. Formed it into three loaves and let them rise once more for 30 minutes before putting them in the oven.

The kids and I ate one loaf for dinner with a Pot Roast I had in the crock pot all day. The remaining two went into the freezer for later use. I will defiantly be making these again.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This and That

I was happy to see this morning that all sixteen chicks survived the night out in the chicken coop. They were all piled up on each other when I opened the coop door and popped up at the sound.

I found another turkey egg on the floor of the coop and slide it under one of my broody Buff Orpington hens that is sitting on two other turkey eggs for me. So now she has three and seems quite happy with her post... pecking at my hand when I check for any chicken eggs under her.

One of our Muscovy ducks has laid her eggs in the hollow tree stump out by my raised beds. She is sitting on about twenty eggs. I also have two nests of duck eggs in the barn and one in the chicken coop. If they all hatch out I will have plenty of ducklings this season!

I managed to get my hands on our rabbit buck at feeding time today and removed him from the does. He has been with them for about three weeks now. I have been so busy that I haven't had the time to catch him before now. You see he is wise to my presence when he is with the girls and will stay out of reach in their pen. This morning though he made the mistake of eating with his back to me. A swift move on my part and I scooped him up and returned him to his adjoining pen. All went well until he jumped into his pen and ripped three holes in my shirt with his back feet. It was a nice t-shirt too!

This afternoon, Neil and I took the kid's out to lunch at a restaurant and then visited with friends (classmates of Neil's from HS) in Durham, NC. One of Neil's friends was here visiting from "up North" and it was great for Neil to see her and for me to meet her for the first time. We had a wonderful visit and the kids played while we had some adult time. What a relaxing afternoon!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

New chicks!

With the recent sale of 11 of my crossbreed laying hens along with the loss of two of my purebreed hens this winter to the cow's watering trough I am significantly down on laying hens. Our local Southern States feed store was selling chicks this weekend so I headed to town to pick up a "few" purebreed chicks to add to the flock.

I returned with 16 baby chicks! Four Rhode Island Reds, four Barred Rocks, and eight Americanas (I think). They are straight run... which means that they are unsexed. I am hoping for at least 50% of them to be hens but more would be better.

I got them settled into the brooder with a heat lamp, waterer and some chick starter. Baby chicks are so cute...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Asparagus... yummm

The kids and I cut the first asparagus crop of the season from the garden this afternoon. Not a huge haul but enough for dinner. We like our asparagus cooked simply. A little olive oil, salt and pepper and oven roasted for 10-15 minutes. It was so sweet and tender crisp... it was hard to share with Neil.

Earlier today the couple that purchased our Nigerian Dwarf goat, Mary Jane, twin bucklings in January came to pick them up. They were staying here until they were old enough not stop nursing as the new owner's didn't want to bottle feed them and so I could wether them at three months old for them. Also, the new owner's needed to build a suitable goat enclosure before bringing them home.

I had kept them penned up from their breakfast this morning so we didn't have to go chasing them all over the pastures when it came time for them to go. I always get a little sad when we sell an animal that we have raised. I know that we can't keep them all so I just try to find the best homes I can for them.

Soon after the goats left we had more visitors arrive. I had listed some of the kid's books and puzzles that we never used on our local Freecycle site. A nice family came and got them and will put them to good use and will keep the items out of a landfill somewhere. If you don't know about Freecycle I encourage you to sign up with your local chapter and start finding new homes for your unused items around the house.