December 16, 2009

Just A Little Something

I needed a little something for bus driver appreciation day, so I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. The problem is, that's not much of a gift. So I wanted to take it up a notch. I wrapped up a paper plate of cookies with purple cellophane (you can get it at party or crafting stores) and tied it with a pretty fabric ribbon and a homemade card. I have learned using a fabric ribbon makes things look nicer, instead of the regular polyester ribbon. I don't always understand why something looks good unless someone takes the time to explain the design rules behind something. Often, an artistic friend will say, "that's just the way you do it". I need more, I need to have a principle behind it. That's how I learned about fabric ribbon - crazy I know.

December 13, 2009

Racing Birthday

This was a birthday cake I did a few years back before I knew anything about cake decorating (I'm sure you can tell). It was an idea I saw in Family Fun magazine. The reason I share this not so perfect cake is twofold: anyone can make this cake and kids don't really care how beautiful it is, my son was THRILLED about the results.
Bake two cake round layers. Cut a small portion out of one cake so the cake fit together in your 9 shaped racetrack. You could use chocolate or green icing on this. I added the green sprinkles as grass for the infield. Then I used black sugar (you could buy or make) for the track, just follow the outline of the two cakes. I piped a length of white icing around the outside of the track with a plastic bag that I cut a hole in (yes, mine looks terrible). I used the white candies from Goody & Plenty for the middle dashed line. I bought a couple of smaller cars to put on the track which the birthday boy got to keep. Looking back I would have replaced the inside line of the track with dark colored life savers to look like tires.

The invite I made was designed like a ticket to a race. I put our phone number in the RSVP section and our address and phone number in the middle part. I just looked at a real ticket and tried to mimic the look.

December 8, 2009

Elmo Cake - Color Flow

This was the first "decorated" cake I ever made for one of my kids. I used the color flow technique. I printed an Elmo coloring page (we didn't even have any coloring books back then!) to make the design. I used full strength black to do the outlines and filled him in with red, white, orange, and black in the appropriate places. You can see the black outline bled into Elmo's eyes. That's my impatience. I should have waited longer for him to dry. I used mini marshmallows to prop him on top of the cake I had made. I actually took Elmo off and saved him so we could use him to celebrate on Super Bear's "actual" birthday too.

November 21, 2009

Petunia Visits Preschool

Petunia, the most friendly chicken out of the flock, got to come to preschool today. She did not lay any eggs while under the stress, but she did poop. The kids thought that was hilarious. Why is poop so funny to kids?

November 3, 2009

Car Seat Fallout

This is not pretty, not appetizing, but surely I'm not the only one who has experienced this??? I cleaned out the carseats today and when I was finished shaking, banging and dumping, this is what I found. Dried string cheese, raisins, pretzels, Cheerios, the ubiquitous Goldfish, and TONS of hair barrettes. Here I was thinking the barrettes were all being lost at preschool. Noooooo, they had all fallen into the carseat black hole. Tell me I'm not alone.

October 30, 2009

The Three Little Pigs - Family Halloween Costume

Each year, we coordinate our Halloween costume as a family.  This year we went as the Three Little Pigs. My good sport of a husband went as the big bad wolf and I was the "mommy pig". I never knew there was a mommy pig in the story until we got several versions of the book from the library and the kids pointed out the mommy. She, unfortunately is the one who sends them off to their almost demise (guess she was sick of sharing the house with her grown children).

Each kid got to carry around their building materials. The brick is a butter box covered in red paper. I cut the ears out of two colors of felt (light and dark pink) and hot glued to them to headbands. I was going to buy pig noses from a party store, but they are really ugly and scary and way too big for the kids faces. Instead I made them out of a cardboard paper towel tube cut into 2" lengths. I taped a piece of pink paper over the front and side of each one and then drew nostrils. MacGyver (hubbie) poked holes in them and strung stretchy cord around to hold them on. Little Sausage was not very keen on wearing his pig nose, as you can tell from his evil eye in the photo. He kept going cross-eyed to look down at it! Our oldest did vote that next year we all go as the cast of Star Wars. I guess story books aren't going to be cool enough anymore, or maybe he was still upset about the pink shirt part of his costume.

October 16, 2009

Caring for Your Sourdough Starter

The care and feeding of sourdough (wild yeast) starter is really what keeps most people from maintaining one. (As a side note, it's named sourdough, because usually it results in a more "sour" tasting dough, but this can be countered by sugar or using more starter.) Maintaining the starter is actually easy and most established starters are pretty resilient.There are lots of recipes out there for "catching" the wild yeast out of the air (think of it as good mold) or you can purchase a starter from several places. Your other choice is to get starter from someone you know. If you get a "pass-along" starter the donor will most likely give you instructions on how to feed (aka refresh) it. The instructions I got were something like this: every week use or pour off 1/2 your starter, then add 3/4 c sugar, 3 Tbsp potato flakes, 1 c warm water. I had never purchased instant potatoes before, so that part was interesting. But then after reading and learning about wild yeast starters, I learned I could really just feed it with flour and water. Once the micro flora get going in there, flour is the perfect food. I feed my starter usually once a week. I screw the lid on tightly and give it a good shake. Then I use what I need or pour some down the drain ("some" means I don't measure). I measure out about 1/2 c flour and 1 c of warm water. Again with the shaking and then unscrew the lid a little so the pressure doesn't build up. Then I store it (in a glass jar) in the fridge door until next week.

I do love  as a place to learn TONS about sourdough.

Starter can be used in any yeast recipe. A good rule of thumb for converting a store bought yeast recipe is 1 c of starter and replaces 1 packet of yeast (1/4 of an ounce) PLUS one cup of liquid.

I promise to share the most amazing sourdough pancake recipe soon.

October 2, 2009

Indoor Outdoor Coop

It took such a long while for MacGyver to figure out how he wanted the Coop roof to look. Once he finally got it worked out in his head, he began installing it. The girls are gonna be so happy to go somewhere when it's windy. They love the rain (since it brings out the worms) but wind seems to ruffle their feathers!

This covered area will house their four nesting boxes (you don't need one for every chicken, they like to share), perches where they will sleep, and their food and water dishes. It's all going to be covered with cedar plank siding like the garden shed next to it.

September 22, 2009

Sweet {Potato} Face

Deep in the potato bin, we found this lovely "sweetie". With her curly pink hair, she just had to become a plaything. So I drew on a face and presented her to the Banana Girl. It was love at first site.

September 4, 2009

We're In Today's Paper

Photo:Curtis Compton, AJC
The Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted my husband today and also had a great photo of Petunia. The article was about our Girls and the decision we've made to have pet chickens. There is quite the controversy going on about all of this right now. Some folks don't want people having chickens in their backyard (remember I live in a subdivision). It's really amazing all the ruckus about having a few birds, since no one would even know unless they came into our backyard. I can't imagine why we need to change existing laws about noise and pets just to accommodate chickens. It's not as if we are running a commercial operation out there. We won't be eating our chickens because they are our pets and they produce eggs. I'm guessing when they get old, they might stop producing, but they sure won't be worth eating then. The Girls are pets, not "livestock", and we love having them.

This photo was not in the paper, but taken by their photographer and his notes on the photo are below.

090831 Roswell - Alan and Aimee Christian look on as their children, from left to right, Anna, 3, Andrew, 18-months, and Lex, 5, feed the family's pet chickens in the backyard of their Roswell home on Monday, August 31, 2009. The Christians have 10 chickens they consider as pets which also provide a fresh supply of eggs that help cut the family grocery bill. Alan Christian is fighting Roswell's plan to impose a 25 bird limit and require special housing. Curtis Compton,

August 12, 2009

Whole Food's Sonoma Chicken Salad

Since I volunteer at the Whole Foods cooking school nearby, I have gotten to experience many of their yummy recipes firsthand. They even post some of their in-store recipes on their website. I really love the Sonoma Chicken Salad and have made it on numerous occasions. My only problem is I like chicken salad in the summer and who wants to turn on their oven in summertime?  My solution to this problem is to microwave the chicken breasts. They are moist and fully cooked without upping your A/C bill. Don't knock it til you try it.

August 1, 2009

Cherry Pie

Is there anything more summery and delicious than cherry pie? Mom's birthday is in June so we made her a cherry pie complete with lattice top.  I really love Martha Stewart, so I adapted her recipe here...Sweet Cherry Pie.  I buy lots of cherries when they are in season (when I was a kid we had a cherry tree, so I developed my obsession early on) and then pit them and freeze them for winter cobblers too.  You MUST have a good pitter to make this task easier.  I have a great sturdy aluminum one by Westmark Kernex that I love.  You have to pit the cherries in a deep sink, because there is definitely dark red spray that goes everywhere and my fingers are red for a day afterwards, but it is sooooo worth it.  The pitter is so easy, my 5 year old can operate it and the 3 year old takes the stems off.  It's a family event!  Oh, and don't even get me started on how easy it is to dehydrate them and so much cheaper than store bought!!

June 30, 2009

Metal Head

Who needs toys when you have metal bowls. Do you think he was going for the army man look or construction worker?

June 24, 2009

The Girls Bathing

Now, you may already know this, but it was news to me...chickens take baths. It's shocking, but true. Of course, chickens are not ducks and they don't go swimming, so their version of a bath is a little dirtier than ours. They take dirt baths. Much like pigs and cows roll in the mud and dirt, the chickens will dig out a shallow hole and then flip and flit and fling dirt all over themselves (and anything nearby). They all work together to have this lovely spa time. It's the craziest thing to watch - dirt flying, chickens rolling!

May 29, 2009

The Coop Poles are In

My amazing husband is building our new coop from plans "in his head". I'm in awe. He has the posts sunk into the group so I can now see the general shape.  It's going to measure about 12' x 18' and will have an enclosed space for the girls to get out of the rain.

Want more info on our chickens? Search all "backyard poultry" posts.

May 16, 2009

Beginning a New Coop

The boys are building a much larger coop for the hens so there is enough room for the ten of them to have their own space (you know how we females need our own space). They have started by clearing the spot in the yard, moving plants and leveling the ground. 

May 11, 2009

Coffee Filter Flowers

What a lovely Mother's Day present. Banana Girl made these cute flowers from coffee filters and pipe cleaners. The kids just painted with watercolor on the filters and it all bled together perfectly. The pipe cleaner pops through the middle of the flower and then just curled into a knot to keep it in place. I loved it.

To see more in detail how we replicated these at home, check out the Flower Birthday Party we threw.

May 8, 2009

The Chicks Must Go Out

The chicks are getting crowded in their plastic home now. Pretty soon they will be fully feathered (around 8-10 weeks) and we can put them outside in the coop with the big hens. Until then we have moved them to our glassed in porch to get them used to cooler nights and the outside sounds. We even take them outside in the grass and let them run around from time to time. We gave them a worm, but they had no idea what to do with it. A fly, on the other hand was fiercely fought over. They all wanted the dead fly, gross I know.
In this photo, you can see the window screen we used as their top. You can also see how they eat out of your hand, which makes them much easier to round up when you have them outside for playtime. They are still peeping their sweet little sounds, but it seems to have gotten deeper, guess they are going through puberty.
If you have any questions about owning chickens, please don't hesitate to contact me. It's been an adventure I didn't expect to have, but one I wouldn't change. You can also visit to watch Andy, the Chicken Whisperer, (a good friend of ours) show you how to raise and care for chickens. He's a great guy that lives up the road and he has a nationally broadcast radio show all about chickens. I also loved a recent article in USA Today about backyard poultry. Apparently having chickens is becoming a nationwide phenomenon. I still can't believe my husband is trendy - yeesh.

April 12, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

I will forever have a special place in my heart for Cherry Blossoms. The ring of them around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC is beautiful. What an incredible gift from Japan in 1912. If you can ever time a visit to DC in the spring, check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is educational and fun (like DC in general). I'm thrilled we have our very own Cherry Blossom tree in our backyard. It's really wonderful when it starts "snowing" petals.  Such a fleeting and fabulous show of nature.

April 10, 2009

Seder Plate - My Version

I wanted to talk with the kids about Passover and what it meant since we have read about it in our Bibles. (They are really shocked about the blood over the doors part.) We are busy celebrating Easter and thought maybe we could incorporate Passover into our celebrations. A good friend of mine who was Jewish and is now a Christian, retains her Jewish traditions. I thought about it and decided what better way to make history and Jesus' life come alive, then celebrate like He did?

Knowing that I have not seen a Passover plate, this is what I came up with. We researched each part of the traditional foods.  That's when I learned it's just for tasting - not really eating. Well, that wasn't going to work in my house. If I'm cooking it, we're eating it! I made a wonderful braised lamb shanks for Z'roa, which represents the sacrificial lamb who's blood went over the doors. We had parsley for Maror, because I knew none of my family would eat anything bitter, but it was important to taste the "bitter tears" that were shed while in slavery. The hardboiled egg (yes, contributed by one of our chickens) is Beitzah, symbolizing the never ending cycle of life. My favorite was Haroset, which I had never heard of or tasted, but we all loved. It's an amped up applesauce and it's delicious. It represents the mortar of the many bricks the Jewish slaves had to lay in Egypt (can we say pyramids). The kids thought eating mortar was great fun. I also, included smashed new potatoes, since we needed more to make it a meal. Eating the meal, made history and culture come alive for all of us.


4 large apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1/2 c finely chopped pecans
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c red wine
Mix all together and let sit in fridge until dinnertime or could be served heated, which is what I did, since I was serving it to the kids and didn't really want them to have the alcohol.

April 9, 2009

They are Growing Up - The Chicks that Is

The chicks are getting bigger and replacing their down with feathers. This means they attempting to fly, really "fly-hopping" up to the rim of their plastic home (and practicing their balance, which is hilarious to watch). That also means chick poop is sometimes landing on my laundry room floor! We don't have to keep it as hot in there as we did when we first got them, so the laundry room is not sweltering anymore. Each week you can decrease the heat by five degrees. Thankfully it's not July!

April 6, 2009

Lamb Tracing Cake

This was my first time tracing a pattern onto a cake to create the design. It's really not hard.  You just cut the shape about, lay it on the cake and trace around it with a toothpick. Then if you are really artistically challenged like me, you poke the holes in the inside lines to give you guides for drawing the interior (in this case, the lamb's legs and facial features.

I made this cake for Easter. My daughter found me the lamb out of her Strawberry Shortcake coloring book. You could really make any coloring book page or clipart into a cake design very easily. I think looking back I wouldn't have blown the image up, becuase it was really too big for the cake, so be careful of your sizing.

April 5, 2009

Beautiful Easter Eggs

Aren't these lovely? They are my imitation of a Martha Stewart layout. I just used one color to dye them and left some natural. The hues came from using different amounts of green in two cups and the streaking/ blotching came from not stirring the dye to mix it well - a happy accident.

April 3, 2009

Baseball, Soccer and Roses - Oh My!

I made cupcakes for Super Bear's class and he really wanted soccer and baseballs.  I figured there might be some girls who would like something else. Since I actually took the Wilton cake decorating class recently (I figured I should actually learn how to officially use those metal tip thingys that I was playing with), I thought I'd put my "Wilton rose" to the test. They turned out pretty cute.

March 30, 2009

Mother Hen

Okay, so there is no way around it now...I am the owner of a flock! Saturday we brought home six, count 'em, six baby chicks, to add to our four young hens, making this a bonafide flock! They are so small and fuzzy and really cute, but I MUST have lost my mind to agree to this. We more than doubled our numbers. As to be expected, I am their primary caretaker. Of course my husband said he would take care of them, as did the kids, but really, who else is going to wipe a chick's bottom when it has poop all over it? Yes, you really have to do this for them or they can get sick and die.

It all started when we were helping our local chicken meetup group (don't laugh, there is a group for everything) have a big publicity event to raise awareness for backyard poultry. We did get great press coverage for the event, in fact the kids and I were on the news that night. Unfortunately, we had more chicks than chick takers. My husband signed us up right away to take some chicks off their hands.
We took them home and made a bed out of shavings in a cardboard box and then a plastic tub with a screen on top. They have a heat lamp and heating pad because they need 95 degree weather in my laundry room. They are so soft and they peep just like you imagine.

I worried about one of the Americana's (they are the brown striped ones in the photo) at first, but she just needed to be taught how to drink out of the water dispenser, which I solved by dunking her beak into the water. She figured it out after that and I became a Mother Hen in the true sense of the words. I'm in...all the way now, my heart has been given to these tiny peeping balls of down. They love me too. They peep VERY loudly when I came in the laundry room and they are thrilled to be held by me. I am a Mother of Multiples.

March 25, 2009

Teddy Bear Cookies

These are very cute for a baby shower or birthday party. I love making little hearts on them and the tiny touch of icing inside their ears and even little claw marks on the feet really make them come alive. Notice the icing flooded off the cookie onto the wax paper?  No big deal when you pick it up, just break that part off and no one will even notice.

The key to getting a nice shiny finish is using corn syrup in the icing.

Sugar Cookie Decorator Icing
4 c powdered sugar
2 Tbsp meringue powder
2 tsp milk
2 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp vanille extract (or any other flavor you like)
paste food coloring

Combine all but powdered sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat slowly until smooth. Slowly add the sugar until you have a smooth consistency. Have patience and do not raise mixer speed above low or you'll end up with blooming like these green bears where the icing has blotches. You can add paste food coloring at this time if you want colored icing. This consistency is perfect for outlining your cookies. You will need to thin it a bit for flooding the interior of the cookie. This will dry to firm in about an hour and then you can store in a plastic container with wax or parchment paper in between layers.

March 14, 2009

St Patty's Day Fun

Need a fun idea for St Patrick's Day? This cake was one of the easiest I've ever made. A sheet cake frosted green, lucky charms clovers in the left hand corner, Skittles ("taste the rainbow") for the arc, a hollowed out mini cupcake for the pot and chocolate coins for the gold. The hardest part was not eating all of the Skittles!

We also celebrated Saint Patrick's Day with a leprechaun catcher. The kids raided the recycling box and came up with the plan of using a cereal box. Then they made a trap door from another box. Some hard earned money was added to the back to intice the little fellow into the trap. The kids said the leprechaun would think the pipe cleaner was a light switch and pull the door down to close the trap! It's incredible to me what kids can do with the a little trash and their imagination!

March 11, 2009

Breakfast Found - Eggs from the Backyard

This is where we find the eggs, inside the nesting boxes. It's obvious the Girls take their time making the nests from the swirled pattern of the pinestraw. Sometimes I forget they are actually birds, duh!

I usually ask one of the kids to go check for eggs. They really love doing this, although I'm not sure why a fancy dog carrier purse is required for the job.
One of the most common questions we get about the chickens has to do with roosters. So here's the answer, no you don't need a rooster to get eggs. Hens lay eggs no matter what. If you have a rooster around, you will get some fertilized eggs and maybe some baby chicks. Personally I have nooo desire to have a rooster, because there is enough noise in our house at the crack of dawn for me!

March 8, 2009

Burn Stuff - the Best

Okay, sometimes I cause myself harm in the kitchen.  You know, cut the end of your finger off and what-not.  Course as moms, "it's just a flesh wound" and we move on.  Well for me, burns are a whole nother story.  I can't just get over a burn because everytime I put my hand in warm water (about 100 times a day) it hurts.  Or one of the kids grabs me to get my attention - yowie! Then I discovered Burn Stuff. This stuff is amazing, really. I'm not a huge medicine person but this stuff is worth it. Immediately, the burn feels better, although as you can tell from the photo it isn't pretty. The paste dries out after a while, but then you just put a little more one. I really did a number on myself pulling these cupcakes out of the oven, but in two days, the burn didn't hurt and it was 2nd degree. It's a hard product to find, but so worth it and you only need a little.Inside the box are 8 little packets of the ointment, so the rest stay fresh until you need them. I HIGHLY recommend having some of this on hand in case you need it.

March 6, 2009

Caramel Apple Cupcakes & Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes

I figured no one else would want birthday cake on Sausage Boy's first birthday after he was done with it, so I made cupcakes for everyone else. I made chocolate cupcakes and created a peanut butter frosting for them.  Then I made apple cupcakes and piped a caramel frosting on top. They were incredible!
The chocolate peanut butter cupcakes recipe was from Epicurious.  Course you could use a box mix for the chocolate cupcake and then just make the frosting.
The apple cupcake were my own creation.  I started with a vanilla cake mix and added 2 c of peeled and diced apples before baking. They were so moist! I'm sure you could use applesauce too. The caramel frosting is a time consuming recipe but REALLY REALLY delicious. Perfect for a special occasion.

Caramel Frosting
1 lb light brown sugar
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c butter
In a medium, heavy saucepan, bring the sugar and cream to a rolling boil. Boil one minute. Add soda, and boil one more minute. Remove from heat. Add butter, but do not stir yet. Let the mixture cool (really you could make it the night before and put it in the fridge). The mix must be cool as this is the key to getting frosting and not caramel glaze. Beat well...forever. Okay, not forever, but close to it. I think it took me about 6 minutes, so if you have a stand mixer, that would be the way to go.

March 1, 2009

First Birthday Cake

Okay folks, I know I'm going to offend some of you out there, but I just have to say it. Make your baby's first birthday cake! First, it doesn't have to be fancy because come on, the kid is just going to wreck it. Second, it doesn't even have to taste really good, because the kid doesn't know any difference! Make the can do it.
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February 25, 2009

Sourdough Whole Wheat Grain Bread

I have always enjoyed baking bread but recently my neighbor shared her sourdough starter with me. Before this experience I had only thought of sourdough starter as used in, well, sourdough bread, which I do love, but come on how many loaves of sourdough bread can one eat? So I figured I would use it for sourdough pancakes and sourdough bread occasionally. To learn more about starter, go here.
Boy oh boy, do I have a lot to learn about starter! A quick search on the Internet let me know there were waaaay more options than I realized. Starter is really just another way of saying yeast, albeit wild yeast in this case. Once you realize that, the sky is the limit. I really love to learn about the basics and some wonderful recipes. The yummy whole wheat recipe above is adapted from the one my neighbor and her daughter-in-law came up with.

Whole Wheat Bread

4 c white bread flour
2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c wheat germ
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp flaxseed meal
1c starter
1 1/2 c warm water
1/2 c oil
1/3 c sugar
2 Tbsp sunflower seeds

Combine flours, wheat germ, salt, flaxseed in large bowl and whisk together. Add starter, water, oil and sugar and knead bread well either by hand on lightly floured surface or with a large stand mixer and bread hook until smooth and elastic. Let rise in oiled bowl (just spray well with cooking spray) covered with plastic wrap overnight (or around 12 hours) in a warm draft free place. The inside of your oven with the light turned on works well. Then gently deflate and shape into two oiled loaf pans. Lightly press sunflower seeds on top and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let those rise for 6-8 hours and bake at 350 degrees for 30 mins. Let cool in the pan for 5 mins and then tap out on a cooling rack. When cool cut with serrated knife and enjoy. 

Any bread made with starter will keep longer than a loaf made with commercial yeast. That's why the settlers and homesteaders like using sourdough!


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