Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cozy Coop Update: The Interior

 As hard as it is to believe, three months have passed and our chicks have grown by leaps and bounds.  Regardless, I still refer to them as the "chicks" and we still enjoy them just as much today as we did when they were so little. 

 Although not nearly as clean as it was a few months ago (smile), the coop has been a great home.  The hens spend the majority of their time outdoors, but they love their house too.

 They're big enough now to spend some time ranging free in the yard.  They love vegetable scraps and oatmeal... when they see me walking towards them, they come running because they know I usually have a treat for them. (I have to try to remember to give them scraps when Justus is at work... otherwise he persuades me to let him take them out so that he is their "favorite"!)

Except for two Rhode Island Reds, each hen has her own look... it's kind of fun (especially for the girls) to be able to tell them apart so easily. 

 I named this hen Marigold.  She is the friendliest... and the most inquisitive.  Just look at her trying to figure out my camera! 

 Poor Huck... he always wants to play. 

We left the interior in its natural state... not only was it easier, but it also gives a nice fresh woodsy smell.  Although Justus used some 2x4s for framing, most of the interior is made up of pine planks.  I like how Justus built a little roof over the nesting boxes with some of the weathered boards. 

Ever since we moved out to the country we've been looking forward to the day we could have chickens.  It brings back so many memories of my own childhood when I helped take care of our family laying hens.  They haven't even started laying eggs yet and we already consider them a wonderful addition to our family! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blackberry Preserves (Pectin-Free and With Honey)

 After my attempt earlier this summer of substituting some honey for sugar in strawberry preserves, I was so encouraged by all your comments that I knew I would try my next batch without any sugar at all.  Being a complete novice, I hadn't really planned on blogging about it, but I was so happy with the results I couldn't wait to share with you!  

It's blackberry season here and these local blackberries are honestly some of the best I have ever had.  This is the second gallon I've bought from a local farmer's market, but this time I wanted to try making some preserves with them (saving a little extra for snacking, of course!). 

I really haven't found a lot of information out there about making jam without pectin and using honey instead of sugar, but I did find this article very helpful.  A lot of what I have read has mentioned you can use honey as an equal substitute for sugar, so I went that route to be on the safe side. 

I only used two ingredients: blackberries and honey.  I found that I had to let the mixture cook about twice as long.  After about half an hour, I did a sheet test and really couldn't tell if it was thick enough or not.  Then I read in the article linked above about taking a spoonful of the mixture with a cold spoon and letting it sit and cool to room temperature to see if it jells.  It jelled almost right away and I could hardly believe it.  I knew it wouldn't set like jam with pectin, but I was so surprised that it really had a jell-like texture. 

I had a little extra that wasn't quite enough for another jar, so I placed it in the refrigerator.  (I save cute store-bought jars that don't have any writing on them for leftovers and this purpose.)  It set perfectly, but still has a spreadable consistency. This picture was even taken before it cooled completely... if I turn the jars upside down, the preserves don't even move. 

I also found that the honey taste wasn't strong at all.  A reader (Sarah) had commented on my strawberry preserves that with honey, the jam is sweeter and tastes more natural like fresh berries off the vine.  I definitely found that to be true.  I'm still learning, but I think the key is cooking it to exactly the right consistency and using the right proportions.  I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to pectin jams now and maybe one day I'll get it just right (smile)!  

Pectin-Free Blackberry Preserves Made with Honey
Makes about 3 half-pint jars
  • A heaping 4 cups fresh blackberries (I packed these tightly down when measuring and probably used a little more)
  • 2 cups honey
  1. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine berries and honey.  Stir and set aside for a few minutes while you gather your canning supplies.
  2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.  (For more details, see Ball's canning guide here)
  3. Bring berries to a boil over medium heat.  Boil hard, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens (I found it to take about 30 minutes, but I kept a close eye on the mixture).  Test the gel and when it's at the right consistency, remove from heat.
  4. Spoon preserves into prepared, hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space.  Wipe rim, center lid on jar and screw band down.
  5. Place jars in your canner, completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove lid, wait 5 minutes and remove jars to cool and store. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Calling All Recipes!

 Thank you so much for reading my blog.  I may have mentioned this before, but when I started writing my blog, I had no idea that anybody would actually be interested in reading.  In fact, I still feel that way today.  And although having readers was not a reason for starting my blog, it really has become the best part.  Taking the time to leave a comment, send an email, or just visit means so much to me.

For a while now I've wanted to do something that would be a little more interactive with readers (whether you have a blog or not) and have had an idea floating around that I finally got up the nerve to share!  (Feel free to tell me how silly I am!)   

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to highlight a reader recipe every now and then.  More than the recipe though, I'd love to share a little about you and the reason the particular recipe means so much to you or inspires memories, etc.  I guess it kind of makes me think about us sitting down for a meal and visiting like old friends.  

Now, I have absolutely no idea what the response to this will be... who knows, I may not receive any recipes (please have pity on me!)... but I'd love to do this at least once or twice a month.  I will randomly select a reader/recipe, try the recipe, take photos, and share anything you'd like to include in a blog post.  You do NOT need to have a blog, but if you do, I'll also include a link in my post to your website.

The Details:

Send the following in an email to me at and put in the subject line: Reader Recipe Submission
  • Your name
  • Your recipe
  • The reason this recipe means something to you/the story behind it/memories it inspires/etc (you can include as much or as little as you'd like)
  • A link to your blog/website (completely optional)
  • Anything else you'd like to share
I think this will be so much fun and I hope you are excited as I am!  I can't wait to hear from you and learn a little more about you.  (Oh, and try some delicious new recipes!) 

Have a wonderful weekend.

P.S.  I made the blueberry scones pictures above this morning for breakfast.  They were simple to throw together and tasted delicious... especially with fresh blueberries picked yesterday.

Blueberry Scones

1 1/2 cup self-rising flour
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup blueberries
 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix together self-rising flour and sugar.  Cut cold, unsalted butter into small pieces and using a pastry blender combine with the flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (similar to the biscuit recipe I posted here).  Add blueberries and gently stir.  In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and lemon juice.  Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until combined.  Pour dough onto a floured surface and gently knead a few times until your dough is soft and silky (adding more flour if you need to).  Pat mixture until about 1 1/4" thick.  Cut into desired shapes.  Place on a parchment-lined baking pan.  Brush the tops of the scones with a little bit of buttermilk and sprinkle coarse sugar on top.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Birthday

 Last week our Rosetta turned two years old, so we had a little birthday party for her yesterday evening. I thought I'd share some of the pictures! 

 How two years has flown by already, I'm not sure.  Our sweet little girl is growing up!

Rosetta's birthday has been a lot of fun the past two years... since it's the middle of summer, it feels more like a big family picnic! 

I set up in the side yard where it's shady... despite a few rain showers during the day, the weather was just perfect in the late afternoon.   I very quickly painted a few little signs last week with some weathered pine planks I found behind our shed... Justus placed them casually around our huge shade tree, which I thought was fun. 

 My favorite part were the mason jars we used as drinking glasses.  My mom drilled holes through the lids and I bought some fun striped straws (here).  We used half-pint jars for the little ones (smile). 

 I had these gingham cloth napkins from several years ago that I thought would be perfect for our "country" theme.  Jillian and I dressed them up a little one evening by making little pockets for the silverware and tying them with jute twine. 

 I went with summery salads and BBQ chicken... most of it I was able to make beforehand and my mom and mother-in-law thoughtfully chipped in with a few dishes.  I love to cook for large gatherings, but I do try to select dishes that can be made ahead of time and keep the party as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.  

I made potato salad (recipe here) and coleslaw early in the morning... I love that they are two dishes that taste even better after they've sat for awhile.  And I used this great recipe by Pamela Salzman for the BBQ pulled chicken, which goes in the crock-pot hours before.  It was delicious.  (I did leave a lot of the sauce off at the end and omitted the cayenne pepper because I was afraid it would be a little spicy for the kids... instead I placed additional sauce on the side for everyone to add.)

 This is my cute mom... I loved this picture and asked for her permission to include it (smile). 

 For dessert I made hand pies again.  I love this recipe from Country Living and it's just perfect for summertime when cake feels a little too heavy.  I bought some fresh blackberries at the farmer's market for the filling and they were so good.  I did bake these a couple hours before the party so they were nice and fresh. 

My mom made the darling matching skirts (yes, I even wore one!)... they were so fun.  

It was such a nice summer evening.

I hope you had a great weekend too!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the Dining Room Hutch

If I had to choose one original feature to our home that was my favorite, it would probably be the built-in hutch in our dining room.  I love the huge cabinet doors and the original wavy glass.  Half the time it doesn't shut properly, but I never mind. 

 The only change I've made was giving it a fresh coat of white paint when we did our dining room remodel.  I did paint the interior planks a soft blue to give a little contrast... the color reminded me of the southern tradition of painting a porch ceiling "haint blue".  

While we have two hutches in our dining room, I tend to keep our vintage dishes in this one, including my favorite set by Homer Laughlin.  This pattern is called Shakespeare Country and may have been my best find ever.  I went into a local antique shop one day with some friends of ours mentioning that I was "only looking", only to discover this eight-piece set plus serving pieces buried under a table in a cardboard box with the price tag of $40 for everything.  I grabbed the box as fast as I could!

 I love the charming scenes depicted on each dish.  I'm really not sure how old they are, but periodically I see a piece sold here and there (although always at a much higher price than I paid!). 

 I use the dishes often when we have guests over for a meal... they're special enough to me to save for a fun occasion, and yet not too valuable to use.   

Beside the hutch is a little telephone nook.  I've never really known what to display there, but vintage Ball jars have found a home there for some time now. 

As with anything old, I love to think of its history and imagine what it would have looked like one day.  Maybe that's why the hutch is my favorite... I can almost picture these doors opening and closing and holding another family's dishes long ago... I'm glad it's still here for us to use today.

Thank you, friends, for reading.  It means so much to me!  Hope you have a great week.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Picnic on the Porch


 I hope you had a great July 4th!  For the first time in a very long time, we relaxed and did absolutely nothing.  I did put together a little picnic lunch for fun... during the week, the girls beg to go outside and eat lunch under our big shade tree.  We have a "picnic" most weekdays, although on a very simple scale!

 Yesterday it rained most of the day, so we had to move our little picnic to the porch.  It was the first time we had really used our coffee table since our porch remodel for this purpose, and it worked great.  

 We were running errands in the morning so I put together lunch in jars before we left.  It was an adaptation of a recipe (minus the dairy) from the most recent Southern Living magazine (you can find it here) and what my husband refers to as "girl food"!   

 Early in the morning, I went out in the garden and finally clipped some of the zinnias and sunflowers to put together a bouquet.  I am clueless when it comes to arranging flowers, but I enjoyed every minute of putting it together, from the gathering to bringing a little of the garden indoors.  I'm having dreams in my head of expanding from a few rows of flowers to an entire cutting garden (smile). (I think the bees would agree with me!)

Without a doubt though, I think the highlight of the girls' little picnic lunch was having their Daddy home to enjoy it with us (smile).  

Happy Weekend! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sun is Shining

 The sun is shining and the sunflowers are blooming... could there be a more perfectly suited combination in the summer?

 It has been amazing to watch the sunflowers (an heirloom Tiger Eye Mix Sunflower) grow from tiny little seeds placed in the ground to buds that are beginning to form on tall stalks.

Almost overnight it seemed, vibrant blooms in assortments of reds, oranges and yellows emerged.  

The colors have been such a beautiful addition to the garden (not to mention the bees that have been enjoying them so much) that I haven't quite wanted to cut them yet.  

But blooms are popping up all over now, so soon I think a few cut will hardly make a dent (smile).  

Unfortunately, anthills are also a part of summer, which is exactly where I ended up standing while taking these pictures... ouch!  I could probably write a book of all the funny (or maybe not so funny) things that have happened to me while I'm taking photos! 

Hope you are having a wonderful day!

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