Duck egg?

***Updated at bottom*** plus a new update: 9/2/09***

Today, when S. was raking the litter in the chicken coop, he found another chicken egg. He also found this:

Unknown egg on left, chicken egg on right

It's bigger than the chicken eggs, and a color that we haven't seen before. It's cream colored with light brown speckles. He found it under the roosts (the chicken eggs have really been very reliably in the nestboxes.) Could this be a duck egg? I wasn't expecting them to start laying until spring, but this is pretty different from the chicken eggs. Plus, it's consistent with where a duck might choose to lay it---in a sheltered area (the coop, under the roosts). Then again, it COULD be a weird looking chicken egg...but for now I don't think I'll add it to the chicken egg counter.

***Today, there was another brown egg, and another one of these weird speckled the same place as the other one....Now, I'm pretty sure--not positive, mind you--but pretty sure that two out of our three ducks are drakes...which makes it a little bit harder to believe that it's a duck egg since they were laid so close in time to each other and they would be duck-pullet eggs...although we don't know how long that first one was there before we found that....sooo...for now they stay in the "other" counter. But I may move them a bit later...who knows. They could be chicken eggs after all...

***Newer update: 9/2/09*** Today there were two more eggs, a brown one and a lighter, speckled, one. Only this time, the speckled one was the same size as the brown one. Aha. That taken together with three in a row (even if we had two hens and one drake, the newly laying ducks wouldn't be laying 3 eggs in such a close time period since they would have just started laying) kind of rules out the duck egg theory. They're probably eggs from the White Rocks. So I've moved them all to the same egg counter. Wow--that means we're up to 23 already.

Just another Saturday

Over the week, S. put a door on the duck house (thanks, S!) so we cut some vent holes in the sides and tonight will be the ducks' first night out there.

We also (ok, mostly S. again) finally got the roof on the chicken coop. Here you can see the edge of it (that's the rest of the roll in the middle)--we used white roll roofing--which is basically shingle-type-material, but in a roll. It took three stripes of it to cover the entire roof. Just in time, too, with all the rain we've been having the seam between pieces of plywood was beginning to leach water onto one of the rafters inside (caulked that, too).

And, lastly, one of the ducks found a crazy looking bug. Any thoughts? I haven't looked it up yet, but I'm thinking maybe some weird type of dung beetle? I dunno. It was almost two inches long, so pretty big.

Pizza Friday

Hawaiian pizza--pepperoni and pineapple.

For You: A Lemur (or two)

About May or June, S. and I went to a local (small) zoo. I just thought these guys were so cute. This one would reach out as far as he could, grab some of the tasty clover from outside his enclosure, and bring it back in to stuff his face with it :-) Enterprising little guy.

But seriously, it's pretty cool to see a lemur. Apparently these two were a mated pair, and the female gave birth to a little baby lemur just a few weeks ago. Lemurs are primates, native to Madagascar, and many of the lemur species are listed as either threatened or it's kind of a cool thing to see a happy enough pair that they're having young.

Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima

For the following reasons:
- we have a LOT of it
- it stinks...I mean STINKS as in smells awful
- there are tiny saplings sprouting all over our yard---in the between the boards of the deck...this thing grows anywhere and everywhere
- it's invasive and chokes out the good, native, trees
- we're both wildly allergic to the pollen

We have decided to take out the trees whenever possible, in order to replace them with native species. Not sure what we'll replace them with, but it'll take a while to take them all down. S. started a few weeks ago.

Here are some close-ups. It's easy to recognize, once you know what to look for.

The bark is very smooth, and grey.

The leaves contain multiple leaflets:

Stems between the leaflets appear rather red.

Here's one of the trees we took down.
No joke, there were no leaves at all on this 2 days later thanks to the voracious deer population.

Descriptions cited in the photos are from the VT Forestry I.D. website.

A quick note

Unfortunately, a spam bot got my last Pizza Friday post (hope you didn't click on that free coupon offer in the comments) :-) so I've turned comment moderation on...didn't want to, but y'know...Sorry for any inconvenience!
Today we brought in our thirteenth egg from the chickens. What's really cool, is that this one is bigger than the storebought eggs....and doesn't look like a double-yolker, either. It's just big. They've been getting gradually bigger and I think this one has finally topped out.

Left to right, the biggest egg that we had gotten before today, today's egg is in the middle, and that storebought comparison egg is on the far right.

Pizza Friday

Eggplant (not ours, unfortunately)...yum

So here's the story (other then the awesome and obvious fact that we've got one coat of paint on the chicken coop...) when Ruby duck disappeared (and both Dorian and Napoleon began exhibiting curled tails) we thought we definitely had an issue. You see, after looking into it, we learned that optimal female to male ratio for ducks is 3 to one (or so the experts say) otherwise they could be more likely to fight. Since we thought we had2 males and onefemale...this was an issue. (Of course, since then, it looks like Dorian's curled tail may have just been a new feather coming in's um...kind of...gone. Napoleon there's no question about, however.) Beyond that, we'd like our garage back :-) and we're pretty worn out from building things so we thought we'd cheat....that little orange (for now....) building is a purchased dog house.

It needs modification, but that shouldn't be too hard. We need to put a locking door on it (note the plywood blocking the doorway right now...there was a chicken that apparently wandered in and spent the night in solitary confinement the day we got the blockade is necessary) and a few vents. Also, I'm thinking a window for a vent like the chickens have---it might get too warm in there for them otherwise. It looks like it could hold maybe up to 6 ducks. (Popular knowledge recommends 3 square feet per duck...but since they range all day long and apparently all ducks ignore that measurement rule...this is probably ok... we just need to make sure they don't get too warm in the summer.)

Garden/Harvest Update

On Sunday we brought in lots more tomatoes (it's definitely been an ongoing thing). We'll have to remember to augment with compost and lime this winter, though, as we're getting a lot of them with blossom end rot too. Several varieties seem to be more resistant to it than others: the Early Girls and Romas are doing pretty well, and the Sungold doesn't seem effected by it either.

We also pulled in our first pepper (there were two on the plant, but the other one was devoured by bugs...) There are a few bells ripening, and eggplants too. The cucmbers appear adversly affected by the fluctuating rain levels (they're weird shapes...) but we've brought a few of them in. One of the two scalloped squash has unfortunately dveeloped some rotten-looking brown spots, but the other seems to be developing ok. No zukes set (why?), and quite a surprise but there were more purple beans too!

Eggs for breakfast

On Friday we got our seventh egg from the chickens (then, this afternoon we got an eighth).

Here are the first 7 eggs. (That's still that same store-bought egg in the lower left)

So we decided to have fried eggs for breakfast...
(and yes, that very first egg was a double-yolk)

This is the first egg we found...a double-yolk

They're still on the small side since the hens just started laying, and we noticed a few things right away. The yolks are dark orange, nothing like the eggs from the grocery store. The yolks were on the small side, too, but very round and they seemed to sit up higher in the whites. The shells were all thicker than the standard grocery store fare, too.

Here they are in the pan. These are our first 3 eggs (4 yolks due to the double)
--there's some butter in that pan, too.

And here's breakfast...

They were absolutely delicious...I've never tasted an egg so good before (not that I'm biased or anything) :-) They were really rich and almost yolky....hard to describe, but I thought they tasted healthier. And they should, since our chickens have free range of the yard (and munch on greens all day) and get scratch grains (mostly corn and oats) every morning.

Pizza Friday

Just look at those homegrown tomatoes....

Yesterday, when we came home, Ruby duck was missing. Coyote? Fox? Bobcat? Wanderlust or a walkabout? We're not sure. We looked all over, and couldn't find any signs of a struggle--no feathers or anything. The other ducks didn't seem worried or alarmed (which is saying something since they all follow each other around in a pack...)

They've all been flying (about 2 feet off the ground) after me to get to the chicken coop in the morning, and they are mallard it's entirely possible that she just flew off. Especially, I think, in light of the other ducks not acting scared or worried. Then again, if they never saw the beasty that got her...they wouldn't necessarily be acting strangely.

In other news, two of the remaining ducks seem to have tail curls now: it looks like Napoleon and Dorian were both aptly named. Of course that means we now have what looks like 2 males and 1 female and that's not good. I think we're going to have to look into getting a few more female ducks in order to keep the peace around here, 'specially with Ruby gone.

6 Eggs

On Monday we found another egg in the nestboxes. It's from one of the Red Stars. That's a half dozen so far, and much earlier than I thought we would get that many....but I do wish the White Rocks would keep up! :-)

Our 6 eggs -- the other row has a store-bought egg for size comparison.

Oh--and a gratuitous duck picture...aren't they getting big? Napoleon is getting a little curled feather on his he might be a male. No other tail curls so far...

Left to right, it's Dorian (wandering out of the picture), Napoleon, Ruby, and Neptune.

Tomatoes in Muffins

I love making muffins. They're so forgiving. You start with a sweet base or a savory base and just add what you like---the only thing you need to remember is to keep the correct wet/dry balance...then you just lump them in the muffin tins and cook them for 20 or so minutes and there you have it. Pretty hard to miss your mark with simplicity like that.

The recipe that I usually use came originally from Joy of Cooking, but I've modified it slightly to suit my purposes. I made some delicious muffins this past weekend using some of our garden-grown tomatoes as add-ins (this of course adjusted my liquid amount a little bit, as they were rather juicy). The original recipe is great with any sort of savory seasonings. A regular of mine is cheddar cheese and chives, I've also made sun-dried tomato muffins a few times...whatever suits your fancy. (I'll include the changes to my usual recipe in blue--since I had to change the liquid amount a little bit for this particular variation.)

Tomato Muffins
I have super-large muffin tins that are about twice as big as regular ones--this recipe made two big tins and one my guess is that it would make about 30 regular-sized muffins.

7 cups flour
4 tbsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt (I usually use about half to three-quarters of this amount)
4 eggs
4 cups milk (this tomato recipe added liquid from the tomatoes, so I only used 3 and a half cups of milk)
12 tbsp melted butter (that's 1 and a half sticks)
several tbsp mixed italian seasoning (I didn't measure, I just sprinkled it in until I saw lots of green flecks in the flour mix...)
1 tsp oregano
1/3 cup grated romano cheese
(also a healthy dash of grated parmesan)
4 med-small tomatoes, diced -- and their juice (about a half cup of liquid)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix dry ingredients together (I rarely sift, but feel free if you prefer)--that's the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and any dry herbs/seasonings or cheese (in this case, add the orgeano, italian seasoning, and two types of cheese here).

Dry ingredients

Melt the butter over low heat, being careful not to cook it too l0ng or solids will develop. Break eggs into separate bowl (break the yolks) and combine them with the other wet ingredients---that's the butter, milk, and any wet flavorings (this is where I added the tomatoes).

Wet ingredients

Then, combine wet and dry ingredients (stir as little as possible as more stirring causes the muffins to be too glutinous..) It's supposed to be lumpy---just make sure you get any pockets of the dry ingredients or flour lumps out.

Combined wet and dry ingredients--note the jagged lumps.
(This dough is a little overly moist, but it came out great.

Fill well-greased muffin tins 3/4 full with batter (I don't use liners since I find that the muffins really rarely stick when you grease the tins well enough), and place in oven.

Muffins in the oven

Bake 20-30 minutes (at 20 minutes take them out and use a clean knife or toothpick to check for doneness...) They should only get very slightly brown on top---not very much at all. If they are starting to brown a lot they're probably done! (For these muffins, the recipe made two large tins and one regular. The regular-sized muffins --conincidentally on the baking stone that we left in the oven...oops... and one tin of large ones that were on the bottom rack, were done in 20 minutes. The other large tin on the bottom rack needed another 7 minutes.)

Here are the two sizes of muffin tin--on top is regular-sized, on the bottom are the huge ones. I love the huge muffin can you not like something that gives you more home-baked muffin goodness?

Ice Cream

Yesterday we made ice cream. Why? Well, why not? You see, we have this water filter owing to our well water. Part of it is a water softener and uses salt pellets (they're big when you put them in, the size of 2 peanuts next to each other). When the salt gets used up, and it's time to add more, it looks like rock salt.

Used up salt from water filter

Doesn't that just beg for an ice cream maker? What could be more perfect than a supply of rock salt in your basement?

We didn't want to go get cream or half and half or any of that, so we used a simple milk-sugar-vanilla recipe. That means it isn't as creamy as some recipes, or as the custard-based ones (although the third Red Star laid its first egg, so now we have 4 of our own eggs that we could have used for that...hmmm...)

First you mix your ingredients together in the canister of your ice cream maker.

Ingredients, mixed in canister.

The recipe claims to make 1 gallon, which is just how much our ice cream maker says it can hold. Then you just put your ice cream maker together, add salt and ice, and let 'er rip. (This is when we moved it outside, just in case it got messy...)

Ice cream maker, assembled and loaded up with ice and rock salt

Done churning, about the consistency of light whipped potatoes--and fluffy. Feel free to taste :-)

Once it's done churning, it'll need to harden up in the freezer for another hour or so, then--voila.

Easy 4-ingredient Vanilla Ice Cream

8 cups milk (we used whole milk)
2 cups white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in the canister of your ice cream maker and stir. Then just follow the directions for your individual ice cream maker to freeze/churn, since they're all different. We assembled the canister into the center of our mixer, and added layers of ice and "rock" salt until it reached the top of the canister. Then we just turned it on to churn for the specified time in the manual (in this case 20-40 minutes). After that, we took the lid off to check on consistency. It had thickened nicely, so we just removed the canister and stuck it in the freezer to harden for another few hours. Yum.

Notes: Next time we'll add double the vanilla flavor--and while delicious, I'm sure it would have been creamier had we used some cream.
Happy Birthday, S!

Pizza Thursday

Yes, Thursday, since this is the start of our weekend. We took Friday off for S's birthday so today is pizza....umm...Thursday. :-)

This was terrific! I think it was the Cherokee Purple tomato that made it so amazing. We definitely are going to have to grow those next year. Yum.
Yesterday we pulled in a bunch of tomatoes from the garden: Early Girls, Viva Italias, Romas, Patios and a Purple Cherokee. This picture doesn't have the Purple Cherokee in it--it had blossom end rot so isn't very photogenic....

Here are the potatoes we dug up last weekend (mental note: just in case the weeds from outer space take over your potato patch and the plants die down to the ground from some disease--DO remember to mark where the hills are next year...) We found roughly 20...and aren't quite sure how many we missed. They did set potatoes, but not very well.
Tuesday evening, we found another egg in the nestboxes. This one was from one of the Red Stars, we know since S. saw it laying.

Here's the egg--look how different the color is

A line-up for comparison purposes. The egg on the left was the first one, laid by a White Rock. The one in the middle was the first one we got from one of the Red Stars, and the one on the far right came from the grocery store.


Our new freezer, not-quite-yet fully loaded

Saturday afternoon we finally bit the bullet and got a freezer. It had a rebate, it's 5 cubic feet since we want to make sure it's not too big for us: a pretty good deal, and we were just plain running out of space in our kitchen freezer. I'm glad for the extra space, since I'm hoping to be able to freeze some dough (or baked goods--biscuits maybe?) as well as maybe some soups. We made gnocchi a few years ago, and made some ravioli last winterand froze it for later (it's so nice to have something in the freezer that's like "convenience food" but isn't 'cause you made it yourself. I just love that.) so maybe we'll do that again this year.

I just don't know what I'll title my veggie freezing posts since 'why we need a freezer' no longer applies....


First Egg

Saturday morning when we were letting the chickens out of their coop for the morning, I noticed one acting strangely. One of them was sitting in a nest box (not unusual since some of them still insist on roosting there for the night) looking down at the bottom of the nestbox. I went inside to look--it was looking at an egg. Our first egg! Amazingly, for such a young chicken, it had an intact shell. Actually, the shell felt rather thick, and the egg was an even oval shape, not tapered at one end like the ones you get in the grocery store.

Our chickens' first egg (laid by one of the White Rocks)

I stuck it in the fridge, intending to crack it open to take a look at it later in the week.

Our egg is on the right, a grocery store egg (also brown) is on the left.

Then, later in the day, we found this in the garage.

Egg that we found on the floor of the garage.

It looks like it splattered, but actually the white part was soft like gelatin. It does look like this one definitely had a small yolk, though---I spotted a yellow bit of the liquid (I'm sure there's a name for that). So thats more of what we expected for a first egg :-)

Dilly Beans

Friday we finally got around to making Dilly Beans. Here's the recipe, ala Ball Blue Book, as translated by moi.

Dilly Beans
(as stated in the recipe)
Yield: about 4 pints or 2 quarts

2 pounds green beans
1/4 cup canning salt
2 1/2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp cayenne pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic
4 heads dill

We sextupled the recipe, so we used:
12 pounds green beans
1 1/2 cups salt
15 cups vinegar (we used white vinegar so that the vinegar wouldn't color the beans)
15 cups water
6 teaspoons cayenne pepper, divided
30 cloves garlic (2 per quart)
1/4 and 1/8 tsp dried dill per jar (We also divided a package of fresh dill--can never get that stuff to grow!-- amongst the 15 quart jars)

The recipe is as follows:
Trim ends off green beans. Combine salt, vinegar, and water in large pot. Bring to a boil. Pack beans lengthwise into [hot] jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic and 1 head dill to each pint jar. Add 1/2 tsp cayenne (we used a scant 1/4tsp per quart since I'm not a big spicy food person), 2 cloves garlic, and 2 heads dill per quart jar. Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes for both pints and quarts.

Here are the jars, packed with dry ingredients.

Our batch was about 12 pounds of green beans. The recipe of sextupled vinegar mix filled enough for 12 cans (unfortunately our batch of beans filled 15 we had to remake the vinegar mix in order to fill our jars)

The sealed jars (except for one, which remained unsealed, even after reprocessing...)

All of the jars 'popped' but one--so we stuck that one in the fridge. I'm not sure how long it'll keep for. Pickles don't really taste right until they've had a week or two to sit, I'm hoping they'll be ok for that long!

We flipped the jars over to make sure the vinegar got to the tops of the beans.

The next day, we inverted the jars to make sure that even the beans poking out the top of the vinegar solution would get well-covered and pickled. Later that day I flipped them back over to upright.

I can't wait to taste the jar in the fridge--they look pretty good...
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