May 25, 2011

How to make patriotic garland

It's so fun to decorate for the holidays...
but I don't love to spend the money!
What I do love is creating decorations using materials I already have on hand! Since I'm a scrapbooker from way back when, I have plenty of red and blue paper scrapbook paper on hand.

Here's a tutorial on how to make a patriotic garland perfect for Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I used standard 12 inch by 12 inch scrapbook paper...various patterns of reds and blue. For the white paper, I had to be a little more creative and used plain white printer paper. I created simple designs with red and blue crayons.

Materials needed: decorative paper, scissors, clear tape, stapler and string

After cutting 12 x 12 paper in half, I cut about 1 inch off the top of each half leaving 2 pieces of paper approx. the size of 11 x 6. You can make 2 stars from this.

Position patterned side of paper facing toward your right hand when cutting angle 1 inch down from top, cutting up to the top left corner. Depending which way you have the folds facing when you cut will determine the shape of the star. You can do it either way. But be consistent with all the stars. After you cut one end, turn the other end upright and do the same thing.

This gummy blue stuff that you use to hang posters on a wall works perfect for surfaces like brick. Make sure you remove any dust on the surface or the gummy blue stuff won't stick.

I am so delighted how this turned out!! It is perfect for my Memorial Day picnic and Blue Ribbon pie competition I am hosting at my house this Saturday. It just adds that finishing touch to my mantel.

Out takes:

As I was hanging up the garland on the mantel, one of our hens flew up and perched on the window sill outside. It scared me half to death because there's not much room for her to perch and she was flapping her wings and scratching and trying to clutch the window sill. It was pretty comical. She finally got a good hold and stayed there for a while. I chickens are the NOSIEST things ever! They make me laugh!

May 20, 2011

Butchering Chickens

Well, we did it. We butchered our first meat chickens. There were 3 of them. They were given to us about 6 weeks ago from friends who could no longer keep chickens. The chicks were 2 weeks old when we got them and they were huge already. They are bred to be that way... grow fast, bulk up quick and ready to be butchered at 8 weeks old. They won't live much longer after that anyway, so if you feel bad about it, it may help to realize they don't live much past 10 weeks and are then susceptible to a heart attack because of their size.

It was a little nerve racking for my husband and I, for this was our very first time to process chickens. Process sounds a little better than butcher, and butcher sounds a little better than slaughter...what can I say. It was one of those had to be was time...and there was no turning back. We took the whole process very seriously, researched the process on the Internet and watched tutorial videos on YouTube prior to the big day.

We did everything as respectful and humanely as we thought we could. It is not as if we take pleasure in killing a chicken, but this is how our forefathers lived and we have a lot of respect for learning how to live without Mr. Grocery Store. It is definitely an interesting process and I have much respect for people who lived off the land...and there, of course, are still people who live off the land. There's something to be said for learning basic survival skills. I love it.

This photo makes me laugh because the little 8 week old egg layers came over for a look at the pot of steaming water over the fire. If they only knew what this pot of water was going to be used for, they wouldn't be hanging around. For some reason, this makes me think of Bugs Bunny and the episode where he is about to be made into "Hossenfeffer". I don't know how that is spelled. But does anyone remember that. The cook lures Bugs Bunny into the pot of hot water and Bugs doesn't realize he is about to be cooked. Do you remember "Bring me my Hossenfeffer!"

The photos I am about to show you are not meant to offend and be cruel. Also, I kept the more graphic photos away. Like, there are no photos of the chicken getting it's head cut off, so don't worry! I wanted to share with you the process of butchering a chicken. There is one part that was not photographed and that was the part where we gutted the chicken. Mostly the reason for this is our photographer which was our 13 year old neighbor took off with our boys to go ride bicycles. I was the one taking photos in the beginning, and then once I started to help with pulling the feathers, he took over.

In the photo above, the chicken is placed through a plastic milk jug. The bottom of the milk jug is cut off and the neck of the milk jugs is cut wider for the chicken's head to fit through. Putting the chicken into the plastic milk jug helps to keep his wings from flapping around like crazy after you cut the main artery in his neck to bleed him out. Also the handle on the milk jug is very helpful. You can have one hand on the handle of the jug and the other hand is holding the chickens legs just above the feet.

In the photo below, you can see my husband trying to feel for the pulse in the chicken's neck. This was a tip we found on the Internet. He never could feel it and had to go with gut instinct. As I mentioned, this was our very first time doing this and everything was a learning process.

I'm not going to show photos of the chicken hanging upside down and bleeding'm not going to do that. So, I moved on to the next step. Once the chicken is pretty well bled out and completely dead, you dunk them in very hot water for about 8 seconds making sure to get all of their feathers wet. This process will insure that the feathers will come out very easily.

Here's me plucking feathers which, to my surprise, came out very easily. Notice the look on my face. That's pretty much how I looked from beginning to end of the whole experience.

Out of respect for the chicken, I blurred out his face and cut neck. I feel like this chicken is on an episode of "Cops". We hadn't cut off his head at this point, but we could have.

You can see behind me is a garbage can where we threw all of the feathers.

My husband hosed off the chicken after we felt we felt we got all of the feathers off.

In the photo below, we had started on our second chicken. This time I was the one holding the chicken in the milk jug instead of my son. I wanted to be part of the experience and I wanted to learn. However, I did not do any of the cutting. I could have if I wanted to. I kinda wanted to because like I said, I want to learn and have the experience of doing the whole process. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so all of that was up to my husband.

Here you can see we threw the chickens in an ice bath in a cooler. There were completely plucked of all feathers and their head cut off.

By the time we got to the third chicken, we realized we should have cut the bottom half of the legs off before we put them in the ice bath. My reasoning for this was because of the dirt on the chickens feet. I just think it would be cleaner. So we pulled the other chickens out and cut the bottom of their legs off and then put them back in the cooler.

The only other thing we didn't do, which isn't a big deal is...we didn't singe off the tiny little hairs that are on the skin of the chicken. You can do this with an outdoor gas burner. You just quickly and briefly hold the chicken over the fire and singe off any tiny hairs. We decided that since we would be cooking our chickens on the grill, we didn't need to do this step.

At this point, the chickens had not been gutted. We decided this would be a good time for us to take a break, throw away the gloves, go in and wash our hands, and get something to drink.

We had no idea how well it would go with the gutting process, but it went just fine. There are no photos of this process, but that's ok, I have photos in my mind. It was a little gross and freaky pulling out the intestines and stomach and the heart and lungs and kidneys...etc. Basically you cut a slit in the anterior of the chicken at his bum big enough for you to put your hand in there. You have to be very careful to not cut into the intestines. If you do, it's not a bad thing, you just want to make sure you rinse the chicken very well. Anyhow, my husband did good and never cut the intestines.

As strange as it may seem...all you do is put your hand inside the chicken and start pulling everything out. It comes out fairly easily, but there is some suction working against you. Once everything comes out, and you look inside, it looks just like you would think....just like the chickens or turkeys you buy at the store that have already been cleaned for you. The very last thing to come out of the chickens were the lungs. My husband had me check each chicken to see if I could feel anything left. I did, but I could barely tell, I kinda had to dig my fingers down into the rib cage far up inside of the bird. There I found the lungs and kinda had to dig each one out with my fingers. I only knew this from watching the video I saw on YouTube. I am so glad we watched that video. It was very helpful.

In the photo below, you can see the finished product. What a beautiful bird! Once inside, at the kitchen sink, I rinsed the bird well and dabbed it dry with a towel. I then double bagged it in two one gallon freezer bags and placed them in the freezer.

I was very proud of us when it was all over. We researched how to do this and actually did it! It was a good feeling. I felt like an Ole' farm wife! Well, you've read my profile...I'm a wanna be farm girl! Now I'm one step closer!

May 8, 2011

Vitamin D and the view from down here

So far this Spring, we have had about 3 days of sun.
Pittsburgh and it's surrounding area is known for it's gray skies and rain...all year round. It's unfortunate, but true. And the end of winter, beginning of Spring..I am feeling the lack of Vitamin D we get from the sun. Last week, we had our first day of sun in a long while. A sunny day that was warm enough to sit outside.

I was feeling rather sluggish and extremely lazy and depressed. I don't think I had any good reason for it...but that was my mood. I picked myself up off the couch, opened the front door, and sat on the front step of our house. Here's exactly what I remember.

The sun was on my face. I closed my eyes and pulled the elastic band from my pony tail and let my hair fall into the warmth of the sun. I took a deep breath and inhaled the smell of everything Spring: fresh cut grass and damp earth. I put my hands on the top of my head and felt the warmth. Hanging my head down, I rubbed my neck with my hands, opened my eyes and looked at my feet in my son's flip flops. I wondered if the concrete walkway was warm from the morning sun. I kicked off the flip flops and was pleasantly surprised to feel the warm, rough texture under my feet.

I lifted my face to the sky, my eyes still closed. Orange light permeated my eye lids. It felt kind of uncomfortable, the feeling you get when your eyes are closed, but you're facing right into the sun...but I didn't budge.

I could take it.

Ahhhh, the heat was dry and warm...almost hot. It felt so good, like heaven on earth.

The stagnant, unwelcome chill of winter slowly left my body. It's been hiding in me, in my bones, stiffening my joints...infiltrating my psyche. Be gone winter chill...leave me alone...I don't want you anymore! Summer sun is my new best friend.

While the front of my body was in the sun, my back was in the shade of the roof over my front step. Looking down at the concrete walkway, it was more than I could resist. I shifted my body and sat on the walkway, turned around, and faced my chilled back to the sun. Ahh, the heat from the sun slowly permeated my sweater right through to my skin. It felt so good!

Ok, didn't need the sweater anymore. Shed the sweater. Felt the soft warm breeze with just a light undertone of cool. The sun was on my shoulders. Hadn't felt that in a long time!

I sat awhile, taking in everything...dandelions and fresh, newly grown grass to my right, flat landscape rocks and a bush to my left. Teeny tiny ants zigging and zagging across the concrete. I was relaxed and warm and it felt good. The kids were at school and the husband at was peaceful. I thought to myself, I wish I could just lay down on this sidewalk here, it would be so comfortable, laying in the sun, right here.

But, if someone saw me laying here on the ground in front of my house, what would they think? Look at that weird woman. Is she hurt? Is she dead? What is she doing?

I said to myself..why can't I just have this simple pleasurable moment right on my own property...who cares what they think and so what if there are teeny tiny ants, what could they possibly do to me anyway.

And so, I layed back on the warm concrete.
It was wonderful!
It felt good!
I was relaxed.
I looked up and I thought, what a pretty picture, I should take a picture.

Do I have to take a picture of everything?


The sky was so tremendously blue.
The clouds were so tremendously white.
The sun was so tremendously beautiful and warm.

Beautiful in that way, that you can't really see...because you can't really look at the sun even though you really want to.

And so I did.
As best I could.
For a split second.

About 20 feet from where I was laying, I could hear the water from the creek trickling and flowing over rocks...winding it's way past our house. I love that sound...just about one of the most soothing sounds in nature.

I looked across the yard, just over the creek to the field beyond...a massive spray of dandelions peppered one particular area.

How pretty, I thought. That's pretty.

All was right with the world...
at that spot...
at that moment...
well, even more than just one moment.

moments {as in plural}
many moments

And so these were the photos I took to share with you.
to good it feels to sit in the sun
on the first warm day of Spring.

I hope you enjoy my photos.
It is what I saw
from where I was
a different perspective
from down there
laying on my back
on the concrete walkway

with people driving by
and my neighbors wondering if I was ok
or just plum crazy.

They probably never even saw me.

May 3, 2011

white garlic broccoli pizza

Oh man, I love a garlic and olive oil pizza! Well, this time I decided to add some broccoli. I like to use an inexpensive pizza crust mix, Wal Mart brand, 49 cents a packet.

It's quick and easy! Follow the directions on the back of the packet to make the crust. Basically, you par bake the crust first. Don't burn it like I did!! I heard the timer go off and then I went on to do something else...and forgot about it!!

So, anyhow, after the crust par bakes, in my case...completely bakes..overbakes..brush the crust with extra virgin olive oil. Smear crust with a very thin layer of ricotta cheese.

Season ricotta with salt and pepper and a tiny bit of oregano. Next add minced garlic. I cooked my garlic in a little olive oil first to soften. Then sprinkle with chopped cooked broccoli bits.

Next, cut thin slices of fresh mozzarella and place all over pizza.

Finally, brush the mozzarella slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake pizza for about 10 minutes under cheese is bubbling and slightly browned.

Oh my gosh! This pizza was sooooo good! If you like a white pizza, give it a try! Next time I'm going to add slivers of sun dried tomatoes! Mmmmm!