Salted Chocolate & Caramel Shortbread  

Most years, I make chocolate covered caramel apples for gift baskets at Christmas time. So around Halloween & Thanksgiving, when caramel apple wraps show up in the supermarkets, I stock up. These flattened rounds of caramel are simply wrapped around the apple and are so much easier, faster, and less messy than dipping in melted caramel.

This year I was looking at the wraps and wondering what else I could do with them. I got the idea to spruce up some store-bought cookies for a holiday treat. This is what I came up with. Not genius, but still yummy. :9

I bought some shortbread cookies and the kids and I cut the wraps into squares and mashed them onto the cookies. You can use two of the triangular pieces to cover a cookie so there's no wasted caramel.

Then I melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips with a smidge of bees' wax and shmeared a thin layer on the bottom of each cookie and waited for the chocolate to harden up.

Next I used a fork to hold each cookie over the pot while I covered the top with chocolate. Tap the handle of the fork on the edge of the pot to get rid of excess chocolate. (I never in my life, thought I would use the words "excess" and "chocolate" together.)

And lastly, I sprinkled each cookie with Celtic Sea Salt.

Again with the waiting. But once the chocolate was hard.....

Cup O' Chocolate Comfort  

I spotted THIS over on Heavenly Homemakers and decided to try it out this morning. I made a slightly bigger batch because my two oldest can eat a lot of breakfast. It was warm, smooth, and filling -just like she said. I bet it would even be good cold. But after we had all had a cup and there was quite a lot left in the pot, I got a wild urge to try it as hot chocolate.

So I dumped in a handfull of semi-sweet chocolate chips, a pinch of salt, a few sprinkles of cinnamon, a dollop of blackstrap molasses (if molasses can be said to dollop) and some more milk because it was pretty thick from these additions.

 The result was creamy, chocolatey and yummy!


Nest Boxes Made From Buckets  

This is our little coop. Bull built it. He used clear corrugated siding for one wall and the door. This is to let in light and so we only have to stand on the back porch with a flashlight to see that the chickens are OK if we hear a commotion. Smart man!

These photos were taken last year when we first got our chickens. We have more chickens now, plus two turkeys, and three guineas. They will all be roosting in there this winter. Bull may have to build an addition... a wing?

But what I wanted to talk about today, was the free (or cheap) and EASY nest boxes.

I got the idea from my wonderful Uncle Whit. (Uncle Whit is not his real name. I chose it because I remember being amazed at all the amazing things he used to whittle from wood when I was a kid.) He just screwed five gallon buckets to fenceposts around his farm for his chickens to lay in. So that's what we did on the inside of our coop. Then we cut the lids so that there was an opening big enough of the chickens to get in and out, but we left a lip to keep the hay (and eggs) from falling out.

The hens like them and they were so much easier than building something out of wood. They are easy to clean too. Just pop off the lid, rake out the hay, hose them out if you see the need, and pop the lid back on.

I think we actually bought these buckets, but I have since learned to ask the nice folks in the bakery section of our local grocery stores for their empty frosting and bread mix buckets. They are usually already washed out for me and they come with air-tight lids (which will be important for the next project I will post about).

So there ya' go! The easiest, cheapest, coolest nest boxes I have seen. :D


Farm Life... and Death  

It's been a bad few weeks for animals on the farm. Our Rooster died. Roo was a good rooster. I liked him a lot. He was good to his girls and I could trust him around my little guy. He was never aggressive toward us.

He wandered into the road and got hit by a car. We also lost three hens that way. Yes, we need a fence. Yes, they shouldn't be in the road. But seriously, we don't live at a sharp curve, or on a hill. You can see what's in the road in front of our house for a good long way before you get there. It's not a busy road by almost any standard. It is a country road, lined with farms and more than one with free-roaming, road-wandering chickens (and dogs, and cats, and horses). All the chickens who were killed were bright white, like most of the flock. And they do try to get out of the way of cars. So how hard is it to avoid them? I know the guy we actually saw hit one, didn't even try. He didn't even slow down. In fact he hit the gas after the deed was done. Guilty much?


And then we lost all three of our keets (baby guinea fowl). It turned cold and rainy this week and they couldn't keep warm. We lost two of them in one day, before we realized that they were in trouble. The three older guineas and the lame rooster that shared their run and coop had been doing a beautiful job of keep them tucked under a wing, so we hadn't been worried. After that, I moved the last keet inside with a guinea hen to keep it company, while I spent the day moving and setting up their coop to be dry, warm and out of the wind. Then I put them all back out there and they did fine that night. But last night they didn't go into their coop (they like to sleep in the run, for some reason) and the last keet died.

So, it's been a rough few weeks.



Just wanted to let y'all know that Pear Honey goes wonderfully with cinnamon-ginger pancakes! Yum!

Fast, Slow-Cooked Beef Stew  

I saw a recipe for slow-cooker beef stew. The concept was not new to to me but the recipe sounded so good that I decided to make it tonight. Poor planning, on my part caused me to have to "adapt" it, just a tad. =)  I didn't have all the ingredients and I didn't have enough time.

The missing ingredients weren't that hard to get around, actually. We didn't have stew meat, but we did have fajita strips. I went out to the garden and dug up some potatoes. I replaced some of the beef broth with wine and some with water. Also, I changed a few things to suit our preferences - less tomato paste and upped the amount of veggies.

The time issue was solved buy using a technique I often use when making stew on the stovetop. And that is, I roast the veggies in the oven, before adding them to the rest. Not only does this speed things up, but it adds color and flavor to the veggies.

So now I will try to get this into a recipe format so you can try it out and see your family enjoys it as much as mine did.

Fast, Slow-Cooked Beef Stew

1 lb stew meat (or fajita strips)
2 Tbs steak seasoning (recipe below)
All-purpose flour, as needed (about a cup)
6 or 7 medium potatoes (or as many as you care to dig)
6 or 7 carrots
1 large onion, chopped
~3.5 oz of tomato paste (I buy this paste because it comes in a jar so I don't have to use it all at once)
2 cups of red wine
3 to 4 cups  of water
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste

Spread out the beef and pat it dry with a paper towel (it doesn't have to be bone-dry). Season with steak seasoning and toss in flour to coat. Heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the meat, a few pieces at a time, adding more oil if needed. As you remove the browned meat, put it in the crockpot.

Once all the beef has been browned and removed, put the chopped onions in the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and the wine and scrape up any browned bits. Simmer for couple minutes and then into the crockpot that goes too. Add about 3 cups of water, thyme, and bay leaf. Turn crockpot on low.

Meanwhile dig some potatoes, or just retrieve them from your pantry. Wash and cut them into about 2 inch cubes (peel or don't peel - it's up to you), and peel and slice the carrots. Put the potatoes and carrots into a large baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Bake at 400ยบ until they are just tender and have begun to brown (do not overcook).

Stir the potatoes and carrots into the meat mixture in the crockpot. Add more salt, pepper, or water, if needed, and cook on low for about 3 hours, or until veggies are cooked through. Serve with buttered bread.

Steak Seasoning

2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp (that's a good sized pinch) coriander

This is the best steak seasoning I have ever had anywhere. I make up a large batch of this to have on hand. Besides using it on steak, roasts, and beef for stew, get some extra thin-sliced steak from your butcher and season with this mix before pan frying, for the best cheese steak sandwich you'll ever make at home. Yum!


I saw a set of cheater chopsticks that are hinged like a clothespin and I thought, "I can do that!" So I did. And you can too. Easy. Maybe not as easy as the rubberband trick, but a lot cooler. =D

So here's how you hack a set of chopsticks in five easy steps:

1. Get some to-go chopsticks and a clothespin.

2. Take them both apart.

3. Slip the end of the chopstick in the hinge from the clothespin, like this. Decide where you want the crossbar to go and mark it. Mark the other chopstick in the same place.

4. Make a small groove for the crossbar to fit into. Yep, I just used a butterknife.

5. Assemble. This may take a little maneuvering, but it's not *that* hard. You'll figure it out.

And there ya' go! Easy!

And here, Pickle is trying them out. If I did it again I would place the hinge a bit closer to the end and turn the sticks so that the crossbars went across the widest sides of the sticks, instead of the narrowest... and that is my advice to you. Have at it!