Chicken business

We never thought it would come but spring is truly here. The run-off alone has created flooding down in our valley on a scale we haven’t seen before, so we’re getting about in tall wellies no matter what kind of day it is. Up at the house things are pretty dry in comparison, and our Americauna chickens are making the most of every single day, treating foraging as the Olympic sport they know it to be. No wonder they tuck themselves up in their coop by 5 o’clock when the sun is still high in the sky, they must be plum exhausted.

The evidence of bark stripping by other creatures is everywhere, testament to such a long winter and we’re getting to grips with some potential losses that we hadn’t seen coming. Our beloved manchu cherries, only three years old, really took a hit (they normally do very well in the winter and we just didn’t think to give them extra protection going into this one). We’ve ordered some replacements, but I’m still hoping that they may survive (probably not very realistic, but hope is second nature in growing anything).

I’ll leave you with some photos of our little flock engaging in what Sailors Small Farm so aptly calls ‘chicken business’.

Chickens foraging under the trees

Americauna chickens foraging in early spring

Americauna chickens foraging in early spring

Americauna chickens foraging in early spring

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Spring chicken

Chickens emerging from their coop in early spring

It was a big day round here yesterday. The chickens emerged from their coop for the first time since the winter began, back in late November.

And, one of the hens laid the first egg of the season.

Maybe spring is coming after all!

First egg of the season

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Best Ever Cinnamon Buns (which happen to be gluten-free)

GF cinnamon bun in a pretty bowlI’ve been promising these for a good while, and I can guarantee that they are worth the wait. My older son, who is nearly 16, is a dedicated baker and took our family’s transition to gluten free baking last year very much in his stride. Not wanting to miss out on the good stuff that he likes to whip up, he took the initiative and found a recipe for gluten free cinnamon buns that he set about adapting. He makes them for family, friends and work colleagues, and everyone – regardless of their views on gluten – clamours for more.

Why are these so good in our estimation? The flour mix that he uses (sorghum, almond flour and a small amount of tapioca starch) results in a dough that is full of flavour – much more than traditional cinnamon buns – and has a bit more body to it. These are smaller and more compact than many cinnamon buns, and simply worth indulging in!

Recently this boy has been working two jobs, as well as going to school full time, so getting the time to make another batch has been challenging, but another snow day today cleared the decks for us.

Getting the flour blend to your own taste is what matters most, far more so in gluten-free baking. The blend my son uses is the first deviation from his inspiration recipe, which is from Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

Teen measuring flour into a bowl

He also chooses to melt the butter that is used in both the dough and the filling.

Teen pouring melted butter

It’s a hands-on kind of business, this recipe.

Teen kneading dough

He pointed out to me that he likes to trap the parchment paper between himself and the counter top as a way to keep the dough from slipping around when he’s ready to roll it out. Clever lad!

Teen rolling out dough

For a while our lab Reggie sat next to him on the floor, watching intently. A dog who likes to disguise begging for food as interested observation.

Teen baking with dog in the background

At this stage the business of squaring off and trimming the edges takes place, although I’d say my son approaches these buns with a more relaxed attitude in general (and I thoroughly approve – working in the kitchen should be fun, not a chore).

Trimming cinnamon bun dough

Doubling the cinnamon and sugar for the filling is my son’s other major departure from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. He insists the resulting buns are just not as tasty otherwise!

Spreading filling for cinnamon buns

The only art direction he indulged in was to insist that I get this shot of a cross-section after cutting the individual buns from the cylinder of dough and filling. Rather nice!

Cross section of an unbaked cinnamon bun

Fitting the buns into a muffin tin comes straight from the method used on Gluten Free on a Shoestring, and it’s so sensible.

Young man holding tray of cinnamon buns

Best Ever Gluten Free Cinnamon Buns

(Inspired by Gluten Free on a Shoestring)

Ingredients
4 ¼ cups gluten free flour blend (we use: 2 ¾ cups sorghum flour, 1 cup almond meal, ½ cup tapioca starch)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups brown sugar
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Method
Step 1 - Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a standard twelve-cup muffin tin.
Step 2 – In a large bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and the granulated sugar. Stir until combined. Add half of the melted butter, the eggs, and the milk, and combine until the dough comes together. The dough should be smooth and relatively easy to handle. (The original recipe calls for between 3 ½ to 4 cups of flour, but my son says he always needs 4 ¼ cups.)
Step 3 – Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and roll the dough into a 10 by 15-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.
Step 4 – In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and the remaining melted butter. Set the bowl aside.
Step 5 – With a spatula or whatever feels comfortable, spread the cinnamon mixture in a reasonably even layer over the top of the dough, leaving about 1/4 inch clear around the edges. Starting at a long side, roll the dough away from you into a tightly formed roll. Slice the roll in cross-section into twelve equal pieces, each about 1 inch thick. Place each roll in the well of the prepared muffin tin.
Step 6 - Place the tin in the center of the preheated oven, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the rolls are turning golden brown and the filling is bubbling out.
Step 7 – Remove from the oven and cool until the rolls are firm enough to handle, and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Be sure to remove the rolls from the muffin tin before they are completely cool, or they will begin to stick to the baking pan.
Step 8 - While the rolls are cooling, make the icing (optional). In a separate small bowl, mix together whatever icing you prefer and then drizzle or spread the icing on the rolls before serving.

These are equally good with or without the extra hit of sugar from the icing. Enjoy!

Gluten free cinnamon bun

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Enduring winter

black dog prancing over snowy bridge

Our first big snow was in November and it’s been winter ever since. It’s been a long season full of more days of deep cold and biting winds than I feel is natural. Or fair. My husband says it’s the first year he’s seen me give up on winter. All I know is that I’m grateful to have this delightful dog who makes every day in the snow seem like the best fun he has ever had in all his live-long days. Does this young canine not embody the very notion of having a spring in your step? In deep winter, no less?

With snow of a ridiculous depth that makes walking through our woods a little hazardous due to branches now at eye level, there is no denying that winter has overstayed its welcome.

wood walk in deep snow

For Reggie, winter is a season that never seems to lose its charm. Spotting my husband out for a quick ski around the property, he looked at me (in snowshoes) as if asking my permission, then bounded across the frozen pond to meet him. Not caring that this was the umpteenth day of winter.

black dog racing over a snowy pond

We’ve all been grateful for the milder days that have come our way just recently, meaning that we can actually look forward to going outside. Our youngest has spent many fine afternoons on our hill, sledding with friends, only to suddenly make the transition to his bicycle yesterday (and trust me, you’d think he was mad if you were here). Dry roads are all you need, who cares if it’s barely above freezing!

Being cooped up inside is always the perfect excuse for tending to the house, which lately feels as though it has fallen apart at the seams as my husband and I have been swamped with work (we’re self employed, so you will not hear any complaining). This past weekend we took every last item – save the budgies and the gerbil – out of our mudroom and companion bathroom, and washed the whole space down, acting as though we had spring on our hands. There is nothing like a spring clean to restore my faith in the universe. We used the day to finally put some decorative touches to the little powder room that has been looking unloved and untouched since we moved into our new house over three years ago.

old medicine chest with bottles

Even after a lick of paint, this old medicine chest – found in a ramshackle barn a couple of years ago – has that warm, slightly dusty ‘old’ smell. Which frankly, I find very reassuring.

clay pots, bottles and an etched tree

I was thrilled to finally find a place on top of the cabinet for a few much loved objects, including a tree etched in clay made by my older son at a family pottery class a good few years ago.

old-fashioned-light-mirror

A little mirror that we picked up in a local antiques shop last winter finally found the right home over the sink with a little picture that our youngest drew while we were engaged in this spring clean.

child's drawing of a tree in springtime

That picture is the perfect promise of spring and daily visits to look at it are part of my plan for getting through to the real thing.

stack of books and a basket

That, and visiting our stack of gardening and related books which also found a rather perfect new home on the empty shelf in this little room. I can almost believe that preparing seeds for spring planting may not be an entirely blind act of faith at this point. I think I see seed trays in my future. Next weekend, in fact.

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Chasing the sun

Dog and woman on ski hill

Sunshine and temperatures just below zero enticed us to spend large chunks of our day outside today, a welcome development after far too many deeply cold and unfriendly days this winter. We strapped on our skis (cross-country) for a little downhill action behind the house and to play ball with Reggie.

Black lab looking at setting sun

Our youngest carefully created a small jump partway down the hill, inspired by previous winter fun on this same hill and by the Olympic events that we’ve been viewing in our downtime.

Young boy travelling over small ski jump

We even managed to get our teenager out for a few runs after he had put in a long shift at work.

Teenager flying over small ski jump

Trying to make the fun last as long as possible, my husband grilled our supper outside on the barbecue – lamb chops, fries and onions, followed by s’mores, of course!

Supper on the barbecue in winter

Wishing everyone fair weather, wherever you are – goodness knows everyone needs it.

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Winter morning

soft morning light in winter on wall with keys

morning light on apple trees in winter through a window

a soft morning light in winter on the hills

long shadows in a winter field

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Winterbound

Boy and dog in snow squall

Today we’re very happy to be able to just stay home; fierce winds are whipping up snow already on the ground and creating temporary white out conditions. Petkid has a great series of photos that he shared earlier this morning of our walk with Reggie, you can check them out here. It’s a great day to be winterbound.

Picnic table deep in snow

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Winter dog

Dog scratching at ball in deep snow

Black dog running in snow with a ball

Black lab with red ball covered in snow

Dog looking woefully at ball stuck in snow

Black lab covered in snow

Black lab with snowy snout

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Winter light

Winter sunset through window

Valley in snow

Black lab looking out window in winter

Blue shadows on snow

Dog looking out window into winter valley

Pale January sunset

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How long is your woodstove’s burn time?

Hot embers in Ironheart woodstove after 17 hours burn time

Long winter nights mean that keeping the fire going in your woodstove is essential; being able to stir up still hot embers in the morning means it’s easy to relight or rekindle a fire for a new day’s burn.

How about a burn time of 17 hours or longer? We haven’t been in the habit of timing our woodstove, though I have written before about just how efficient our Esse Ironheart woodstove is and how very little wood we need to burn to keep our ICF house warm during the winter (photo below). The other day, at around minus 15 Celsius (that’s 5 Fahrenheit), my husband noticed at 5.30pm that our firebox was full of red hot embers some 17.5 hours after last adding a log at 10pm the night before. Being able to forget about tending the fire for that long is a common occurrence around here, but we just hadn’t taken note fully before. It is worth saying here that we have the wood burning insert for the Ironheart and that we had a lot of ash banked up at the time of feeding the fire that last time.

Four logs of wood in front of Ironheart woodstove

There are a number of factors that will affect burn time, including the kind of wood burned, how well stacked the wood is within the firebox, air flow/control, and so on – all of which my husband works to optimize regularly – but what we think we’ve been able to demonstrate here is just how incredibly efficient the Esse Ironheart woodstove is, particularly when combined with ICF (insulated concrete forms) house construction. Getting a long burn time is one thing, but having a house envelope that can hold that heat in is naturally going to extend that time. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with other Ironheart owners here over the past few years, some of whom are having to feed their Ironhearts much more than we do, largely because they have a house that requires more continual heat input.

There are great pleasures in tending to and feeding a fire in a woodstove, as my husband will attest. Is burn time important for you? (I bet it is if you chop and haul your own wood.) What woodstove routines do you relish?

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