A Hot Topic

Last week we here in southern California were waddled tightly in a heavy woolen blanket of stifling heat. The kind of heat that makes it difficult to catch your breath, let alone complete any task at a rate too slow to be counted as productive. Temperatures soared and records crumbled from their decades old pedestals. While it was difficult for us to ride the wave of heat with short brief ventures out from our air-conditioned house, our poor poultry were left to muddle through the intense heat. Even the dogs and cats chose to hide in the cavern of a house as the temps soared close to 110F.

We did what we could think of doing for them. The big windows on the coop were propped open 24 hours a day, our large 12 foot square canopy still stands erect as a barrier against the blazing sun. A mister ran sun-up to sundown, waters were changed daily and cold and frozen treats were given as often as we had them. There is no thermometer inside the coop but I image what an awful week it was for the laying girls to be forced in to the nesting boxes to sit for an hour or more as they laid their eggs.

Worse yet was our broody who tried in vain to maintain her clutch of 2 dozen eggs at a consistent 100F degrees.
The sweltering temps finally took their toll near the end of the week-long stretch. One by one, her eggs rotted, day after day until we were left with 6. By hatch day our broody girl, Beatty, was so spent from the heat and extended sit (we had held her broody for a few weeks before eggs shipped in for this hatch) that she crushed to 2 chicks that did manage to hatch. After the death of the second one, she hollered “Uncle” and was happy to return to the flock, not giving another thought to the weeks of solitary confinement or her desires to be a mom. Relieved to be back to scratching around with the girls and her rooster. The upside, we had a dozen eggs in the incubator and managed to get 6 new fuzzy butts from this hatch, including my friends first in-house Serama baby.
That’s the Serama on the left and a Marans/Barred Rock mix from our flock.

Then there was 8.
Our meat bird flock had the toughest time coping with the suffocating temps. They grow so fast and their little frames hold so much weight it is akin to sporting a sauna suit all day and night. I had heard the Cornish Cross have a hard time with the heat, the made sure the mister was directed at their pen and that they always had fresh water, but alas, we lost one and almost lost another.
It took an evening after work, through the night and day in the air-conditioned house to finally return the little bird back to her former self.

We are only a couple of weeks away from the date set for our meat birds. To lose meat we have worked so hard to raise for 2 families is a hard hit to take. We are all grateful that we live in a time when we are not dependent on growing our own food and that we can easily bounce back from the loss. But the loss of life, no matter the purpose it was to serve, is still a difficult pill to swallow. Knowing there was more we could have done to prevent the loss but not realizing it until it was too late, that has left a bad taste in my mouth that I will not soon forget.

Being in the beginning stages of journey into homesteading and learning to live a more self-sufficient life I am thankful for the opportunity to learn these hard lessons on a smaller scale. With each success and failure we learn something new and with each season we grow wiser for both the highs and lows. We will be able to take this education with us as we continue to grow and branch out farther toward our dreams.


Turkey Math?

If you have chickens you likely know all too well about Chicken Math. If you are not familiar with this numerical conundrum, it looks a little like this 2+2=More. I started with the promise of just small flock of 4-6 birds, a year later and, well, you can read about my lack of math skills over HERE.
The turkey prefers the company of the Cornish X.

Now my friend and I (we really just nurture the chicken crazy in one another) have gone and done it again. It appears chicken math is not specific to chickens. We talked turkey, and the idea of a pasture raised bird appeals to her just as much as it does to my family. So we headed out Saturday afternoon to collect a turkey from the same hatch to be a companion to our Broad Breasted Bronze. Then the guy offers a 5 month old Black Spanish/Eastern Wild cross and talks about the difference in flavor, drops the word heritage and it’s done.
We now have a mini flock of turkeys hanging out till November. The original Bronze, the wild/heritage mix (hopefully the wing clip will keep it around) and a Broad Breasted White. I had better find land fast.

Fluffy Butts

Remember last week when I broke down the crazy numbers of poultry happening at our little homestead in The Power of Poultry? Well, we’ve had a hatch over the weekend! We candled 12 eggs and set 9 in lockdown on day 18.
I am excited to announce, we had 8 of the 9 hatch!
The first to bust out of it’s shell was the backyard mix of Blue Copper Marans and Barred Rock.
Staying true to the forward nature of Rocks, this chick made it’s appearance on Friday, while the others waited until Saturday. It is a cute little grey (blue) chick with feathered legs and feet. There was only one in this go ’round, but we set a few more for the final, big hatch set for next weekend.
I am anxious to see this mix grow out, what color will the eggs be, will we get any barred babies? It should be a good dual purpose bird since Marans and Rocks are good sized birds.

We are all the most enthusiastic about 6 of the 8 chicks.
They are the Langshans. Last time we (and by we I mean my crazy chicken friend and I) tried hatching Langshan eggs the hatch rate was miserable. Of 18 eggs, only 3 hatched out. Of the 3, only 1 was a girl. We sold off the pullet and later we sold one of the 2 boys, keeping, who we felt was the best of the 2 for breeding. This go round we only purchased 8 eggs and of the 8, we had 6 hatch.
Of the 6 we got a 50/50 split of blue and black and they are all so uniquely colored, even at this point. Their little legs are heavily feathered with white feathers, making them look like little Clydesdale horses (ok, that might be a stretch) Maybe fancy, feathered leg warmers?? You tell me…
Fingers crossed there are at least a couple girls in there!

The 8th little fluff ball came from my friends flock, the hen lays the prettiest spearmint green eggs while the two roosters who could be the father are both of blue egg genes.
So we shall see what this little round baby grows up to be, hopefully a pullet so we can see what the egg color combination will create.

An update on our broody who we gave 24 eggs to,
unfortunately that proved to be too many eggs and we suffered a lose of 5 under her. What an AWFUL stench that was! We lost 2 of the 5 Welsummers, 2 of the 6 Olive Eggers and 1 Super Blue Egg Layer. Aw well, you live and you learn, Beatty will get no more than 18 eggs for any future hatches.

I just love day old chicks and their adorable little fluffy butts. It is a short lived stage that just doesn’t get old.

Creamy Chilled Cucumber Soup

This soup is perfect for using up those sneak cucumbers that missed being picked in time for pickling. I have not always been a fan of cold soups, but this really is delicious. One note, make sure you keep the salt to a minimum until after chilling. The first time I made this, I used canned broth and salted butter, the soup turned out so over salted it was like licking a salt lick. Even for folks like me who LOVE salt, it was a total loss. Now I use my homemade bone broth and I don’t salt that very much.
When it comes to the yogurt, you can substitute sour cream or probably even crème fraiche. You can also swap the mint for dill, but I just love the bright flavor of the mint with the cucumber.

2 pounds cucumber – peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons Unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons flour
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I use my homemade bone broth)
1 cup Greek yogurt (I use nonfat)
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Toss cucumbers with 1 tsp. salt in a colander over a bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Rinse cucumbers with cold water and drain well.

2. In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, stir constantly, cook for about 2 minutes, this cooks the raw flour taste out a bit.

3. Stir in the cucumbers and broth. Turn heat up to high and bring to a boil, stirring frequently, making sure it doesn’t stick on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, to gently simmer, covered partially, until the cucumbers are very soft, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let cool till a bit.

4. Using your immersion blender, carefully blend the soup smooth. Of course you can use a counter top blender, working in small batches puree the soup.

5. Once your soup is blended, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

6. When ready to serve, whisk in the yogurt and mint. Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper to your liking.

7. To make things pretty, after ladling into the bowls, add a little dollop of yogurt and spring of mint.

It’s just that simple.


The Power of Poultry

Go big or go home, right? Not quite sure how things have gotten so blown up on the bird front, but, here we are, a laying flock of 10 with 1 rooster and 1 cockerel, 9 meat birds, 9 fluffy chicks in the brooder, 49 eggs incubating and 1 turkey. Oh man, that looks more than a little nuts in writing.

Let’s break this down a bit. See if we can’t smooth out the crazy some. Our laying flock, it really consists of 6 hens, one of which seems to be constantly broody (as she currently is) another is molting and has stopped laying. we have a pullet who began laying, only to stop after 11 eggs. We have 3 pullets yet to start laying as they hatched on Easter. One pain in the a$$ rooster and one sweet, docile and quiet cockerel.

The meat birds, we have only just begun our adventure into raising meat birds with a small batch of Cornish Cross that are about 1 month away from processing. The commitment to time and space for meat birds is brief, 8 to 10 weeks. Raising meat won’t be a full-time activity for us but something will be taking on intermittently throughout the year.

The nine fluffy butts in the brooder? Well that is kind of cool, 8 of the 9 are the very first offspring hatched from our flock. We set 8 eggs in total, 7 Blue/Black Copper Marans and 1 Blue Copper Marans/Blue Easter Egger cross and they all hatched! The blue to black and the boy to girl ratios for the Marans is better than I expected. We have 3 Blue’s – 1 girl, 2 boys and 4 Black’s 3 girls and 1 boy. The cross is an Olive Egger boy. All the girls have a home already. We will keep both Blue Copper boys to see how they grow out, one shows promise of better features than his father and most likely will be his successor. The other boys will need to find a home or we will likely raise them to market weight and process them for the freezer. This hatch is a big step for our little homestead as we strive for more self-sufficiency.

Then there is the CRAZY – the 49 eggs incubating. We have placed 2 dozen under our broody girl as we hope to keep a few off this hatch to build our laying flock up a bit with some more variety. I really am a colored egg snob. But I am not alone in this. I have a wonderful friend who is just as big a chicken fanatic as I am. We team up on all the hatches, I do the in-house care, she supplies eggs, feed and vaccines. It is a beautiful working friendship. Of the 49 eggs currently incubating, we have 8 Croad Langshan with the hopes of at least a couple of girls to raise up for our Croad Langshan cockerel to call his own. He is too pretty.
The hope would be to get a small-scale breeding program together for these incredible birds. They are docile, curious, large birds. Rumor has it they are supposed to lay a plum-colored egg, but I am finding that more fiction than fact. No matter, what they lack in egg color they surely make up in every other way.

also incubating are some of our barred rock eggs. Remember, our only active rooster is the Blue Copper Marans. We have set only 6 to see what comes out. We also set 6 more of the Easter Egger’s in hopes there will be some keep-able girls. My friend threw in some Serama eggs, Super Blue Egg Layer’s and the prettiest spearmint green eggs. She has 2 active roosters, both blue egg gene. We finished things off with some ordered in Welsummer and Lavender Orpington eggs from Chicken Scratch Poultry I only plan to keep maybe 6 plus the Langshans from this entire hatch. Then my friend will take what she wants and we will hopefully sell off everything else.

And then we have the turkey…
We have only just gotten our toes wet in the big pond of raising our own meat with the Cornish Cross and now we have gone and accepted this most generous gift of a turkey poult. A Broad Breasted Bronze hatched on July 1, it will be ready to harvest in time for Thanksgiving.
For some, this is too much to think about when it comes to their food and would much rather remain disconnected from the meat they eat. As a family, our need to reconnect with our food continues to grow. The joy and gratitude we have received from the bounty of our small garden encouraged us to take a big step closer toward our goal of a more self-sufficient life as well as an eyes wide open approach to that which we consume. Raising the meat birds and now a turkey, we will do so with a kind heart and gentle hand, our animals, no matter the role they play, will be raised with respect and a grateful heart.

I will admit, there are some serious nerves about handling a bird as large as this turkey will hopefully grow to. It is already as tall as and heavier than our roosters and strong, oh my I was not prepared for the strength it would have for its size. I am definitely more than a little intimidated by this new venture. I have already been advised I will need to help it out of any bad weather as it won’t have the sense to get in out of the rain. I have fashioned a feeder and water specifically for a bird of this magnitude. But what is to come November? I can already feel that I will have a harder time, emotionally, preparing the turkey for eating than I will the chickens. NO matter, I will face it as I do every other one, with a heart heavy with gratitude and with a hand guided by respect and love.

Fall Garden Plan

Wow, spring and summer have flown by. Though the weather here in So. California is anything but fall like I am still planning and prepping for the fall/winter garden. Last year was my first attempt at a full-fledged fall/winter garden and I definitely learned a few things, like, potatoes may like cool weather but a hard frost will kill them off. I also learned that in the limited space of our garden I need to look beyond the upcoming growing season to the one beyond. I have to keep in mind things like garlic, Brussels sprouts and cabbage will grow well into the spring. If I want to grow these things I need to plan my Spring/Summer garden accordingly. Which in turn means I need to take the lessons learned from this current garden and better apply them to next years spring garden.

I am a visual learner, a hands on kind of girl. When it comes to making a plan for the garden beds I like to draw up a diagram to keep things in order. Here is a link to my Fall Garden Planner.


Here is my Spring Garden Planner for 2015


When you compare the 2 you will see I have made accommodations for some of the longer growing veggies and bulbs. Yes there are a lot of potatoes being planted, easier to grow than rice and homemade pasta is a chore so potatoes will be a go to starch for us.

I have been saving rinsed and dried egg shells from my flock to use for seed starting. I use donated Styrofoam egg cartons to hold the little seed starters as they won’t break down when wet, the only good thing to use the nasty things for and at least they are serving a purpose and not in the landfill. Before planting I uses a screw to carefully pop a hole in the bottom of each shell for drainage, then filled with a lightweight, organic seed starting mix. I uses a squirt bottle to water until the seedlings got a bit bigger and stronger.

I started some of the crops mid August and spent this past weekend transplanting into peat pots and recycled plastic containers that Trav cut down to size and then I drilled a hole in the bottom for drainage.

My plan is to get the garden cleared weekend after next, difficult as it will be to tear out tomato and pepper plants that could likely hold out another month. This is the hardest struggle for me. I wish I had the space to plant half at a time so things could hold out as they wanted and I wouldn’t have to rip out those that are still producing. On the bright side, I discovered THE BEST pickled green tomato recipe and will gladly can up gobs of those tasty pickles.

Keep in mind, I am only starting my 2nd fall garden here. I have gardened for years, but each move means learning to do things a little differently. Admittedly, I had never grown anything successfully in a fall/winter garden before last year and I managed to harvest quite a bounty for my first year. So here’s looking up for year 2!

How Not to Grow Potatoes

My bright idea this past season was to grow potatoes in potato towers that I would fill with straw as the plants grew taller until ultimately the tower would be filled to the top with straw and visions of beautiful potato tubers developing throughout the straw.
tater towers
This method was great for keeping the chickens out of the plants, well, except for the chicks from my Easter hatch. Those little buggers jumped on top of the full towers and demolished 2 of the planters. Silly birds, don’t they know potato plants are not good for them? Yeah, not my flock of city chickens.
On top of that destruction, some pest thoroughly enjoyed the greens on the other 2 planters. Of the 4 planters, 1 really thrived, the tower was topped with a large mound of blooming potato plant. So I had great hope for the pounds and pounds of potatoes coming out at harvest. Of the first 2 planters that were destroyed, the Klondike Rose, I managed to harvest a couple handfuls of potatoes total, not the sustaining kind of harvest I was hoping for, but they were still organically grown and in our garden. A handful of potatoes is better than nothing, and they were delicious.
The other 2 towers were planted with Yukon Gold potatoes, the first of these 2 towers yielded about 6 pounds.
Now we were talking. This wasn’t even the most vigorous tower and this was good harvest! When it finally came time to harvest the final, fullest tower, I was chomping at the bit to see the masses of golden potatoes that were no doubt coming out of this tower. What I discovered when I pulled up the plants was the largest family of slugs!!! Right smack in the middle of the potato roots and tubers was a softball sized mound pile of the largest, fattest slugs I have seen in So. Cal. It was just gross and disappointing since the reason they were so fat and happy was the all you can eat buffet of fresh, organic potatoes, my potatoes!!
So here is what I have learned. The towers are a great idea, I am not giving up on growing my taters in towers. Here is what I did – When starting the planters I laid straw in the base and up the sides a bit, like a nest. Then I filled in about 6 inches deep with organic garden soil and planted the seed potatoes. As the potatoes grew I filled in with just straw, leaving the top 4 inches of plant exposed. I did this until the towers were completely filled to the top. The straw was not very decomposed which I think caused the problem, aside from the chick demolition crew, the fresh straw was too lofty, it allowed the movement of the slugs and did not retain even moisture throughout the tower. I found the potatoes growing in or just above, the soil in the bottom.

How I am going about this next round. I am going to try for a fall harvest of spuds, this time I am going to use the straw as the “walls” of the towers to hold in the soil that I will use to fill in around the plant as it grows. I will use a single plant in the center instead of 4 or 5 plants per tower. My thinking is that the moisture will have a better balance throughout the soil giving the plants more nutrient rich area to hopefully fill with more potatoes. I’ll keep you posted on round 2, well 3 really since my fist attempt was a late fall planting that was destroyed by a week of hard frost last November.

Flour Tortillas

I have been making corn and flour tortillas for my family for years. The recipes are both really straight forward, in fact, the corn tortilla recipe I use comes straight off the corn flour package. But, in the early years I always struggled with getting the tortillas to be soft and flexible. They were delicious but would always crack and fall apart when we’d try to wrap them around whatever tasty filling we were trying to crane into our mouths. I think the secret to success is really more in what you do with the tortillas still hot off the griddle.
Flour Tortillas

6 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup shortening (or lard)
1 3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons warm water

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Using your hands, a couple forks or a pastry knife, cut shortening into the flour mixture until crumbly. Mix in the water until a dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
2. Decide how large you want your tortillas, I usually make several larger ones for burrito wrapping and a bunch of smaller ones for tacos and quick quesadillas. For the larger ones you need to make dough balls about the size of a racquet ball. For the smaller ones use about aim somewhere between a ping-pong ball and a golf ball sized dough ball. I portion the dough all out, return the balls to the bowl and cover to prevent drying.
3. Heat a large griddle, cast iron skillet or comal over medium-high heat. Do not add grease. Working quickly, roll out a dough ball as thin as you can get it, It can be tricky to get the elastic dough to retain its shape. I have found rolling them out on a NON-floured, smooth surface works wonders. The tortillas stick just enough to prevent the elastic snap back but peel off easily to transfer to the pan.
4. Cooking one tortillas at a time, place on hot pan. Leave in place until bubbles start to form, turn and cook the other side. Cooking each side for maybe a minute. Make sure you keep an eye on them, they cook quickly and can burn easily.
5. This last step is the secret. Immediately transfer your hot tortillas to an awaiting pot or bowl with good fitting lid. Cover and continue cooking until you have all your tortillas cooked. It is just that simple. The tortillas need to steam a bit after cooking to make them soft and pliable.

Once you try these homemade tortillas you will be forever ruined for those grocery store buys

Summer Bounty


Until now, spring and fall had been my favorite seasons of the year. How could I have overlooked summer? The days are longer which means I have more daylight to get out and enjoy the bounty that the warmer days brings with them. The hens are in full production mode, gifting us with their delightful eggs each day. The sunflowers are in full bloom, and the garden is ramping up production.

The pumpkin vines

A beautiful tangle of textures.

With hidden gems tucked away among the leaves.

More zucchini

Bell Peppers

Black (I think) Bell Pepper

Lilac Bell Pepper

The promise of what’s to come.

With a little taste each day.

The first of 2 Yukon Gold potato harvests (6.5 pounds) Photo Credit: Amanda G.

The haul of one day. The potatoes, a few bells, zucchini, tomatoes, a couple small red cabbage, the last of the broccoli and kale and of course the wonderful fresh eggs.

Can you guess what this flower is?

Autumn Beauty Sunflower Photo Credit: The Handsome Hubs

My Hats

We all wear many hats when it comes to the things we do/juggle in our lives. A few of the hats I wear are mom, wife, DogVacay host, Grandma-sitter, gardener, blogger, chicken-wrangler…. ok, maybe more than a few. From time to time I get to put on a few more hats, event-planner, cake-baker and caterer. This month, in the same weekend, I had two fantastic projects to add to my mini portfolio. I had such fun with both events that I really want to share the story with you and introduce you to the me who wears the caterer/cake-baker/party-planner hat.

The first was a dinner that consisted of a first course with a salad of tender greens, orange supremes, toasted walnuts, red onion and gorgonzola cheese, dressed in a fresh orange juice vinaigrette and served with fresh-baked baguette. Dinner was grilled rack of lamb, roasted red potatoes and grilled zucchini (my homegrown) and yellow squash. Dessert was a simple dessert the hostess remembers from her childhood with fresh whipped cream and chocolate wafers, I added some fresh berries for a pop of color and bright flavor. This dinner was for 14 people at the studio, really a nice home in the local foothills, of the hostess. The living and dining rooms are one large area with a high ceiling that has hardly a free space on any of the walls. It is just filled to the max with the beautiful paintings and sculptures of the evening’s hostess. It was a last-minute booking for me, and smack in the midst of party preparations for a surprise party for my friend of 25 years.

I wasn’t able to snap even a single image of the first dinner as it was just myself running the kitchen, slicing, plating, serving, clearing and cleaning. That was Saturday night. It was a fast paced few hours that will go down as one of my favorite catering memories. Later in the week when I ran back for the one item I inevitably forget every time I cater an event, I received the best gift, the hostess had not been expecting the lamb to be seasoned and prepared like it was. See, she’s not the best listener, though she is one of the best clients. She is fun to work with, a little quirky but we manage to work rather well together. Any who, she asked for lamb, I immediately went to my favorite marinade and the best cut. Rack of lamb with a marinade of lemon, garlic, rosemary and mustard. She thought, roasted leg of lamb, even after we agreed to my version, I still found mint jelly waiting to be served alongside the lamb. I assured the hostess we would not be needing mint jelly (I really am not a fan). So when we met up later in the week and were chatting about how well received the dinner was and how she was still getting compliments on the food, she told me that the lamb I served was now her FAVORITE way to eat lamb!!!! That is a compliment that will stick with a girl.

No time to rest, I still had a surprise 40th birthday party to put the finishing touches on. My mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. There is just too much life to be lived. Many a late night was had the week prior to this party. It was so much fun putting all the details together and really a dream gig. The Bestie’s mom wanted to throw a big bash for her daughter so she funded the shindig and green-lighted every idea I offered for the event. So to say I got carried away would be an understatement. But I really couldn’t help myself. This friend is SO worth every last bit of hard work and late night. The party was a Bastille Day themed bash. Pretty easy to put together since the French flag is blue, white and red. Here is a little peek into the event
(Click on the picture to enlarge)
I will post more pictures on my catering Facebook page Your Family Affair Cakes & Catering
I cooked up Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, green beans, mashed Yukon gold potatoes and baked more baguettes. There was a dessert table with assorted chocolates, candies, gourmet popcorn and French macarons. I am obsessed with the macarons now. I made raspberry with dark chocolate ganache filling and lemon with vanilla butter cream filling. The lemon ones were divine, like a lemon meringue pie in two bites.

The cake? Oh just a simple 5 layer chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate butter cream icing.

Midge and I made tissue paper blooms that we strung from the open beams on the patio cover. We also made coffee filter flowers by dying individual coffee filters in yellow food color and then dipped the centers in green after the yellow dried. I glued those onto twine to make a garland. The colors of the day were red, white and blue with pops of yellow to brighten it all up. If only the day hadn’t been the hottest day of our summer thus far, the day would have been absolutely perfect. The smartest thing I did was bring in 2 staff to run the kitchen, set up food and clear dishes. The guys have worked with me on several other events in the past and are my go to helpers. Having them in the kitchen freed me up to be a properly involved hostess and unchained me from the kitchen duties, absolute genius I tell you.

I couldn’t have pulled this all off without the help of Midge and my Handsome Hubs. Midge is my right hand, when I have an over-flowing plate I know I can depend on this kid to pick up the extra workload and handle whatever I put on her to-do list. The Hubs too, he put in his full-time work hours, picked up an electrical emergency side job and still managed to get his party to-do list accomplished on time. I am a lucky girl to have a family that allows me to continually bite off more than I can chew and help me get everything accomplished all while smiling. (at least to my face).

How many hats do you wear?