Accidental Oh-So-Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes

I stumbled upon this “recipe” when I started to make a batch of chocolate cupcakes for my Aunt’s birthday.  I thought I might make them from scratch but was slim on time so I grabbed a boxed mix from the pantry and got started. It seemed like the directions were different and the batter was really gooey but not until I checked the box for the baking time did I realized I had grabbed a Brownie Mix instead of a cake mix!  So, I did what any smart person would do.

  • Divide the batter into the cupcake paper lined tin, filling them about 1/3.
  • Mix up an actual chocolate cake mix or recipe of your choice. (I used Devil’s Food)
  • Pour it atop the brownie batter, bringing them to 3/4 full.  I think I made  at least 24 cupcakes with a few plain chocolate cupcakes since the cake mix yields more batter than the brownie mix)
  • Bake according to the cake mix directions BUT don’t bake it so long the brownie part gets overdone.  It will be gooey but not wet when you test with a toothpick.
  • Top with a dollop of this delicious Chocolate Buttercream Frosting 

You will want to make this one again and again!

 

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Henpecked

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Red

I grew up around chickens so I know that every time you add to the flock, the chickens must re-establish the pecking order (the social hierarchy for chickens).  You know, who’s the boss and who’s definitely not.  It’s like any group situation.

Several weeks ago, we expanded our flock.  First we added a little adopted Banty hen named Chick Chick.  We kept her separate from our lone 3-year-old hen, Helen, while completing appropriate housing.

When the new coop was ready, we purchased a 3-month-old Rhode Island Red pullet (Red).  After giving the 2 new arrivals a night alone in the coop, we added our Helen to the mix.  We saw a little bullying, but no injuries and the bullying was definitely not constant. So far, so good.  Over the next week, we added a 3-month Black Australorp (Cleo) and a 1-year-old Light Sussex (Oreo).  Still calmish.

Yesterday was a lovely day and I was unwillingly Unwired so I took the opportunity to skip about the yard, joyfully inspecting my Queendom and even sowing a few seeds.  Along the way I began to notice a flap in the coop.  It sounded bad.  Miss Oreo was on the war path and this was a new development.   Up until then, I had not seen her bother anyone. Helen had been the only aggressor.  I guess Oreo must have become comfortable in her new home and the poor little girls were catching it good!  A few minutes later, Oreo went off to scratch about and Helen replaced her in tormenting the pullets.

There have been no visible injuries nor has the bullying been constant. The pullets are eating and drinking, though the big girls will run them off the food and water when the mood strikes.  So, I am left questioning.  At what point should we separate them?  Should we add a second feed and water station?  Or should we just let them work it through as long as there are no injuries and the pullets are able to eat and drink? 

What do you think? 

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Oreo (back) and Helen. in the foreground, my oldest Grandson helping me feed the ladies.

Unwired

Today was a real eye-opener, one that was probably long overdue.  Our internet and cellular service were both down.  We have no land line and I sorely missed my connection to the outside world.

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I really accomplished a LOT!

I started by sorting and organizing my seeds, cleaning the garden shed, sprucing up the chicken coop. I washed and folded laundry and ran a load of dishes too.  I optimistically sowed some surplus peas outside and some lettuce and chard in the unheated greenhouse.  I gleaned growing info from my seed catalogs!

I was great!  It was unnerving.  When did I become so dependent on connections outside of home?  I LOVE what the internet offers but I am now a little more aware how much it can stealthily steal.  So, I plan to start blocking out some time to just be unwired.  I expect it to be a sort of detox.  I plan to get a lot done.

I have some posts started for you but this touched me so that I thought I would try a reblog today. Enjoy your weekend!

Awesomely Awake

It’s not easy being a parent. No matter if you work outside the home, inside the home. No matter if you have one, two, three or fifteen children. No matter if you have a small house in a big city or a big house in a small city. No matter if you have money or very little money.

Raising children is hard work — at least it is if you are doing it right.

It’s really no wonder parents are spending more time than ever checking in on Facebook, smart phones, or doing project after project after project. It helps to have something to do rather than sit around and dwell on all the stuff we want to be able to do or used to be able to do but no longer can. This self-medicating with social media is harmful — as Rachel at Hands Free Mama has said so eloquently this…

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Honey, What I really Want for Valentine’s Day Is…

Men, listen up because I am not alone.

I AM a girl. Although I am a blessed to be a grandmother (yay!), I prefer to call myself a girl because it keeps me feeling young.

That said, I must admit I could probably be called a Tomboy.  Sure, I would like jewelry or chocolates for Valentine’s Day. But what I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE is a trailer hitch on the SUV so I can hook up my neglected utility trailer.  Oh, the joy of pulling up to my local garden center with my little chariot trailing behind!   Imagining freely transporting home my treasures… straw, chicken tractors, rocks, soil, lumber, and tools…honestly, it makes me positively giddy!

Or, maybe an orchard ladder, garden chipper, food dehydrator, chest freezer, food processor, pressure canner, solar lights for my garden shed?   (I descend from Oregon pioneers.  Perhaps my desire for the practical is in my genes?)

Wallet feeling a little light?  How about a pair of my favorite Atlas nitrile garden gloves, gift certificate to a favorite nursery, a load of compost or rock, a big old ball of garden twine?   See a trend here?

And, Honey, after you have granted at least one of my heart’s desires, you can take me out to dinner!

Willamette Valley 5 Bean Salad

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Who doesn’t love beans?  Healthy protein in a yummy little package. This is my favorite recipe for bean salad. It is low in fat and sugar but still so tasty!   Pretty too.

1 15 oz can each of black, garbanzo, green, wax, and kidney beans

Drain and rinse all beans.

1 red onion, diced
2 or 3 ribs celery, sliced
1 green bell pepper, diced

Combine veggies and beans in a large glass bowl.

1/4 cup oil (I would usually use olive, but not for this as it solidifies in fridge)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons sugar to taste
Black pepper to taste

Combine and add to bean/veggie mixture. Mix, cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours for flavors to meld.

Makes a nice big bowl and keeps for several weeks.

NO-WASTE TIPS:

Save your veggie trimmings (onion peel and root, pepper core, celery ends and leaves) in your freezer for making stock. 

You may also want to save the liquid from the beans for use in soup or other cooking.

No Failures, Only Opportunities.

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My 3-week fermented sauerkraut went down the drain today.  This was my second unsuccessful attempt at making homemade kraut. I’m not quitting though!  There are no failures, only opportunities for learning so while I was not successfull in the usual sense, I did succeed in learning something valuable. 

1.  The cabbage must be completely covered with brine at all times.  First batch was not covered.  It was not good.

2.  Air is sauerkraut’s enemy. Second batch had something interesting going on. Although I carefully pressed the air out and made sure it was completely covered with brine, I kept finding that air bubbles were rising up each time checked it. I kept packing it down and each time some bubbles would rise.   I thought this weird until last Friday I found the cause.  My crock was not water tight.  The exterior was saturated with brine and beginning to mold. In an attempt to save the batch, I transferred it to a large glass container, packed it in and put it back under a fresh dish towel.  After cleaning the “crock”, I looked closely and found the interior glaze was crazed. I don’t know if it was like that when I started of if it was damaged by the brine. In any case, today my check revealed a nasty smell, murkey brine and mold.  Use glass.

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Yeah. It was pretty gross so down the sink it went. (should have taken it to compost but it was pouring rain and I just wanted it gone).

No worries.  I will get more cabbage and try it again. In glass.  Covered in brine. Perhaps I will eat freshly fermented kraut this time or maybe I will learn another lesson. Either way, its progress!

The End of Winter as We Know It ~ A New Season Begins

Four seasons just aren’t enough. After Christmas has wandered past and the New Year Day bowl games are just a guilty memory of a day spent over eating, I enter a season known to gardeners everywhere. The calendar may say it’s still winter, but we know better.  It’s the time of year when true gardeners begin to immerse themselves in seed catalogues and the pencil meets paper in a flurry of hopeful planning for the still-distant harvest. Time to take stock of seeds and tools and to dream of crisp peas and juicy tomatoes, of tender violet-podded green beans cooked with a slice of bacon, of lovely scalloped Patty Pan Squash, tiny and tender. We’ll jot some lists; have this, need that, and want something never tried before. Perhaps we have squirreled away some snapshots of last summer’s glory or even it’s “failures”. Hopefully, we can find the bookmarks and pins for the neat ideas we found along the way.

If you are like me, it requires quite a few relaxing hours of scheming to acquire the seeds and plants I newly desire and then some more to eke out new places for them to thrive. Last year, two sometimes lovely but more often tatty Butterfly Bushes were unceremoniously evicted to make way for more drenched-in-sun tomato beds. Never for a moment did I regret that decision! This year, I plan to add a small raised bed in a currently wasted sunny corner of the yard. There, I plan to grow a three sisters garden of Calico popcorn supporting Christmas Red Calico heirloom lima beans and underplanted with winter squash (something pumpkiny). Native Americans learned long ago that these three plants are mutually beneficial.

This will be the second year for my Purple Passion asparagus bed. Last year, it grudgingly shared space with an assortment of my grandma’s favorite umbrella-like summer squash plants but this year it will enjoy the more suitable companionship of trellised tomatoes, parsley and basil. Squash will be relocated.
I need tons of tomatoes for fresh eating, sauce and canning so they will be everywhere! I plan to try San Marzano for sauce and canning. I hope it does well. After I purchased the seed, I read somewhere that it does not do well in the Pacific Northwest but local seed producer, Territorial Seed Company sells three varieties so it seems it must do fine here. Matt’s Wild Cherry, is a highly prolific small red candy-like cherry on vines so perfect for trailing out of a container it will grace a galvanized tub planter this year.

"Juane Flamme" Heirloom Tomato

One of my long-time favorites, always dependable and super delicious saladette sweetie Juane Flamme may not get the choicest sunny spot because it doesn’t need it as much as others to perform but it will definitely have a place or two or three. Pink Brandywine earns a spot again for a nice big, juicy slicer. Newbies for this season will include heirlooms Doctor Wyche and Ginny’s Purple, the seeds saved last year from fruit purchased from my local CSA. They ripened before any of mine and were tasty enough to merit a go in my garden. Lastly, I always include a rogue, Pineapple. Yes, Pineapple tomato. It often does not perform very well for me, but when it does, I so enjoy the flavor and beautiful color I give it a try every summer!

One last note on tomatoes. I wintersow in my unheated greenhouse late March (well before outside temperatures become warm enough to germinate here in Zone 8). When conditions are right, they magically awaken and grow. Last year, they far outperformed the couple of plants I bought on a whim. In this way, I don’t need to worry about damping off, legginess, or other issues that often arise when starting seeds in the house.

With that, I will leave you to consider your desires for your edible gardens this year.  I have so much more to say but it needs not all be said now so until next time, dream with whimsy and wishes of a garden fit for your special realm…

Everything Chicken (that is, for today)

Suddenly, I feel like I am immersed in everything chicken.  Chicken housing, chicken poop, chicken feathers, chicken wire and of course yummy chicken eggs!

I never really intended raise chickens in my backyard.  One late August afternoon several years ago, I received a call asking if I could provide refuge for a lone hen.  Predators had decimated the small flock my son had raised from day-olds and Helen was the only girl tough enough to have survived.  I quickly constructed a makeshift home using a large wire dog crate in a concrete dog run.  Hardly ideal but it did the job.

Helen has proven to be a most amazing and giving hen, easily producing a lovely large brown egg virtually every single day for over two years.  We don’t provide anything special like extra light or heat but she does have shelter from rain and wind, a constant supply of good organic layer pellets, various garden and kitchen scraps and free choice oyster shell and grit.  Another sweetly surprising trait (at least, I think so) is that you never have to catch her.  As you approach to pick her up, she kindly crouches down and waits.  Maybe this is not as unusual as I think?  (I think its pretty nifty!)

So, when a relative mentioned a few weeks ago that she wanted to re-home her lone hen…well, you got it.  Chick Chick (Chick for short) entered the mix.  Chick was a rumored egg-eater and had been also been found guilty of pooping on the porch.  My last story, Chicken Changes, details the arrival of Chick and if you follow our adventures on Facebook, you may have seen some posts updating you and promising some photos.

I really intended to post this much sooner, but between all the chicken activity and being away from my little internet-connected homestead several days each week (helping 88-year-old Grandma), it just didn’t happen.  Now, there is just more to say and show.

As I mentioned in my last post, we had to remove (enter Sawzall) the bottom run portion of her chicken tractor in order to fit it into the bed of the borrowed pick up truck leaving us with a coop in need of maintenance and retrofitting.   I will say here that I advise you fellow chicken people to snatch up any useable poultry wire you may find free or cheap.  That stuff is way pricey!  Also, if you intend to apply poultry wire, invest in at least one stapler and plenty of staples.  We used both a hand-powered and a newly purchased electric stapler, plus a few nail in staples to secure this project.  The hand model has more power to drive longer staples into harder wood but the electric is much easier and a whole lot faster.   Since we were using both wood we had on hand and new plywood, we were dealing with various hardnesses, grains, etc.  A few trips to the local building store and “some” dollars later (I stopped keeping track), we were ready to build a new and improved chicken condo…

Arriving home. A good solid structure but in need of a run and some fixing. Chick is standing on the drop down ramp which at this point is the only entrance/exit other than the long side doors, shown here open on the near side and closed on the far side. The wire under shows how we had to cut away the bottom portion.

This is a piece of the plywood that was covering the ends. Not only was it so deteriorated that I was able to easily remove it with my hands, but it had no doors and no vents.

Here is the frame for the run. It is made entirely of on-hand reclaimed materials. It will sit directly under the original coop.

And here is in the nearly finished form. We were short a hook to secure the back left corner so we used a piece of bailing twine for now. It is a full panel door, hinged at the top, for access to the entire run area. The small door at the front is great for quick access to the girls. Measurements are footprint 4x7 feet, run height 2 feet. Front run door 2x2 feet. The lower 18 inches or so of the coop sides are now secured with poultry wire under the tarp and still open up for access but now I also have multiple access doors for ventilating, looking, collecting eggs, feeding and watering etc. When weather permits, we will be painting and roofing.

Here is the other end with the main access door to the upstairs. The nest boxes are to the left when you open the door. Food and water hang straight ahead from center beam. The ramp is at the far end sloping to the center of the run.

Helen enjoying the new digs after one last night in her old home. When we finished the new condo, we installed Chick and picked up an 11 week old Rhode Island Red. We wanted to let them get a little comfy before bringing in the Queen Bee.

And (drumroll...) the old digs. Helen in the converted dog run and Chick in the temp housing up front, under the lovely Castrol sign tarp. The shelter for her is actually hard to see back behind the tree trunk. The little house you see is filled with dirt for her to scratch and dust. I guess the new home is a bit of an improvement.

Recap of lessons learned:

  • Buy any cheap or snatch up any free poultry wire you can find!
  • 1/4 inch plywood is nice and light but if you want to attach hardware, you will need to deal with the screws being too long.
  • A stapler is a must.  Better yet, both a hand and electric stapler.  An air nailer would be awesome!
  • When lifting or lowering the ramp, be sure no chickens are hiding where they can get pinched. (SQUAWK!)
  • You can’t make too many accesses to your hen house.

Lately, I’ve been pretty busy with chickens but I really am a dabbler at heart.  I feel some gardening posts brewing.

Chicken Changes (Chick Chick joins Helen to make a flock of two.)

For those of you who know me from my Facebook Page, Willamette Valley Homesteader, you may have read about my upcoming adoption of an allegedly egg-eating banty hen.  Yesterday, hubby and I made the journey in a borrowed pick up truck (that’s right, we currently only own an SUV and a bicycle) to pick up hen and tractor.

When we arrived, we realized the tractor base was far too wide to fit into the truck.  The tractor really wasn’t in great shape anyway but the plan had been to keep her in her own housing until I was able to break her of her bad habit (fingers crossed).  After some hemming and hawing, the men did what men do, got out some tools and made ‘er fit by cutting off the bottom run, leaving only the coop portion and loaded it, hen and all, into the truck bed.

Arriving back at the homestead, I was confronted with a dilemma.  No run.  No way to get her in and out, to clean the coop, feed and water, or collect eggs without letting her run free.  So I let her out (more about that in a bit).  Found in her nest three intact eggs and zero broken eggs.  I think her egg eating may have been just an occasional thing!  She was getting inexpensive layer crumble and free-ranging plus foraging the cat’s dry food but no shell was available so I am hopeful that she just needed some shell and was being resourceful (an admirable trait).   I cleaned her nest and marked the three who-knows-how-old eggs with a sharpie X, replenished food and water and set out to get her in for the night.

I should say here, that she MAY have gone in on her own after sunset but I knew her wings were NOT clipped and I was afraid she might either fly over into the neighbor yards.  This would not be good.  So, I rallied the troops and set out to catch the little speed demon.  Did I mention she was a Banty?  I don’t know if they are actually faster than other chickens but they are certainly quick and agile not to mention a very small target.   I had not caught a chicken since I was a kid.  When you walk up to Helen, she  just crouches down and waits for you to pick her up.  After much giggling and some slipping and sliding, we finally nabbed her and clipped some feathers on one wing, then put her to bed.

I really didn’t sleep very well, fretting about how to deal with the situation. This morning, I donned my favorite Hee Haws and flannel shirt and headed out to check on her.  Still no way to access the coop without letting her free so what could I do?  Let her out.  The more I considered, the more I felt that I should just bring the girls together in the larger area of the backyard and let them share the existing coop and run.  (Acting on my gut here.)  I hope it’s not a mistake but who gets through life without making those?  As I post, the girls are happily hunting insects and seeds.  Mostly they seem to be ignoring each other.  I’m sure putting them in the same coop will bring another flurry of “excitement” as they establish their pecking order but for this moment, all is tranquil.  More later…