Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just Built!

No, it's not a wigwam, though I had considered that as an option. My goal was to build a chicken shelter with materials we already had on hand. Thankfully, I managed to find enough scrap lumber around the property to complete the job. So this shelter is made entirely with recycled materials and hand tools. I didn't spend a red cent.

Among my sources for salvaged wood was an old goat shelter that we found in the woods a couple years ago. It looked like it was thrown together with scraps as well. It was covered in vines and brambles and was falling apart, but some of it was still intact. I took it apart, toted it across the field and was able to use a good bit of it, though the ends and edges of the wood were rotted and had to be trimmed, and the pieces of tin roof needed a few minor patches with caulk. I was also able to straighten and reuse some of the nails, though I must admit that I used up Luke's stash of leftovers first.

Other sources of wood were an old shed door, a pallet, and a free standing nesting box Luke had made several years ago. The nesting box was missing a back, so I put a hinged flap on it to allow for easy access (the hinges were also from the old shed door). Now all it needs is a latch for the flap and a paint job. Maybe I'll find some paint to salvage too.

I really had a blast making this, and am so glad my dad took the time to teach me basic carpentry skills when I was a little girl. It brought back many fun memories for me as I recalled everything I learned from him whenever I would "help" him with a project. Especially when Virginia stopped playing for a little while to come and hand me nails as I needed them. She can drive a nail pretty straight herself, and once built a ramp so she could push her bike up into the shed. I'm looking forward to seeing what else she and her sister and brothers come up with.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Best Fresh Bread Hack Ever!

Once in awhile, amidst the meandering wanderings my many interests take me on the internet, I stumble on something really, really awesome, something so useful, easy and delightful, it's almost too good to be true. Thus it happened on a day when I was reading an article about how to make wigwams (more on that later) on the Mother Earth News web archives, I looked to the sidebar and noticed the link entitled, "Five Minutes a Day for Fresh Baked Bread."

The article shows how to mix up a big-ass recipe of dough, store it in the fridge and, voila, fresh bread items on demand.

I've made a few minor adjustments to both the basic recipe and the method. So here's my version, though I would recommend reading the article first to familiarize yourself with the process. There are some great tips to make your oven work like one at a bakery.

6 cups warm water (just above body temp is good)

6 cups all-purpose organic flour

7 cups whole wheat flour

2 T. sea salt

3 T. instant yeast for first recipe, then decrease to 2 or less for subsequent recipes.

Mix all ingredients just until flour is incorporated. Let rise till double. Store in the refrigerator, and whenever you need dough for something, sprinkle the top with flour, flour your hands, and remove enough for your project. Work in a small amount of flour as needed, but do not knead. Just shape and set on a well floured surface to rest for about 40 min. Bake in preheated 450F degree oven on preheated stone, sprinkled with flour, oats, wheat germ, corn meal, or whatever you wish to keep the dough from sticking. In the rack below, place a broiler pan or cookie sheet. When the oven is hot, slide your bread onto the stone and pour 1 cup of water in the pan below to create steam. This will make a wonderful crust.

The dough can be used for artisan bread, such as the French boule pictured, buns, bread sticks, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, dinner rolls, stromboli, etc. When there is only enough dough left for about one loaf of bread, mix up your next batch, mixing in the remaining dough to act as a starter, including scraping the dough off the sides of your container. The more you do this, the less yeast you will need, and the more flavorful your bread will become. It will soon take on sourdough properties. One batch will keep two weeks in the refrigerator (although it gets used up long before that in our house).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Kings Day Celebrations

As Episcopalians, we have always celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Our family tradition has been to make King cake and display the three wise men worshiping the baby Jesus from the nativity set. And we take down the Christmas tree. But this year we decided to add something a little different, something to celebrate the beautiful, ever changing, ever blending, multicultural landscape of our locality. And so we adopted the Latin American tradition of leaving hay and water out the night before for the Wise Men, or rather, their camels. In the morning, the children expect to find a gift left by the venerable Magi. What could be better than homemade play dough? So this morning, each child found a bag of play dough and played to their heart's content, and Mama got to take a long soak in the tub. Then we all made King Cake together. Tonight we will see who finds the hidden treasure inside the cake.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tea in the Beaver's Hideout

We have been enjoying reading aloud together "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis, one of our Christmas gifts from Grandma Wright. This morning we read about how Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and three of the children: Peter, Susan and Lucy, hid from the White Witch in a secret cave. The White Witch had cast a spell over the magical land of Narnia, which Lucy discovered by entering an old wardrobe in an ancient house, making it always winter and never Christmas. When their brother, Edmund, disappeared the night before, the Beavers knew he had gone to the White Witch to betray them. She had lied to him, telling him he could be a prince and eat Turkish Delight all day long if he brought his brother and two sisters to her. But she really meant to kill them, because of a prophecy that said that when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sat on the four thrones at Caer Paravel, her reign would be ended. Yet she was even more afraid when she heard that Aslan, the great lion, was returning to Narnia. It was to him, the true King, that the Beavers were taking the three children, their only hope to stop the witch and save Edmund. While hiding in the cave, they heard sleigh bells and were afraid the witch had come upon them, but their fears were soon quelled when they discovered their visitor was no other than Father Christmas. His coming was proof that the witch's power was crumbling. After bestowing gifts upon them all, "he brought out (I suppose from that big bag on his back, but nobody quite saw him do it) a large tray containing five cups and saucers, a bowl of lump sugar, a jug of cream and a great big teapot, all sizzling and piping hot. Then he cried out, 'Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!' and cracked his whip, and he and the reindeer and the sledge and all were out of sight before anyone realized that they had started.........So down the steep bank they went and back to the cave, and Mr. Beaver cut some of the bread and ham into sandwiches and Mrs. Beaver poured out the tea and everyone enjoyed themselves." (from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")