Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lost Chicken

We've been missing one of the Rhode Island reds since we got home from an overnight visit almost two weeks ago.  After quite a bit of searching, we'd more or less given her up as a lost cause, assuming she jumped the fence and fell victim to one of the many predators out in the woods.

Yesterday, though, manflesh noticed one of the little ornamental trees twitching.  On further investigation, he found a chicken inside, with her clutch of 17 eggs.  Someone else must have been helping her by laying there as well, because she hasn't been gone long enough to lay 17 eggs by herself.

We've moved the fence to include her little nesting area in the general chicken enclosure, and the extra traffic seems to have cured her of her broodiness... at least for the moment.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Caramel Apple Bars

I am an unabashed lover of chocolate.  Still, there are other types of sweets I can appreciate, like a nice salted caramel.  Sadly, caramel IS sugar, so a no-refined-sugar version of most caramel desserts is out of the question.  Lately though, I've come across a few recipes using a date puree as a sort of caramel stand in.  It won't work for every application, but dates are sweet, and they puree up soft and creamy, so I could see how it might work.

These bars were inspired by a caramel craving, and the fact that we had apples in the fridge and a party to go to.  They're soft and gooey, and very sweet without being cloying.  Just the thing for a light dessert or an after school snack.


Shortbread Layer:
1/3 cup (about 6) pitted medjool dates
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups (about 20) pitted medjool dates
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1 tart apple
1 tsp coconut oil
a sprinkle of cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Start by kneading the 1/3 cup of dates into the flour.  Do this by tossing the dates with the flour, then squeezing and smearing date chunks and flour between your fingers until you have a fairly homogenous mix.  You can make this step quicker by mixing a little with your hands and then whizzing the flour and dates in the blender, but it can all be done by hand without too much trouble.  Mix the butter in with the dates and flour, and pat the resulting dough into a 9x9 baking dish.  Prick the dough all over with a fork, and bake in a 300 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until just lightly browned.

While the shortbread is baking, prepare the caramel and apples.

Core the apple and cut into uniform thin slices.  Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, then lay the apple slices in the pan in a single layer.  Sprinkle the apple slices with a light dusting of cinnamon, and place a lid on the pan.  Allow the apples to steam in their own juices for about 8 minutes, then flip the slices and put the lid back on to allow them to steam for about 8 minutes more.  When done, remove from heat and set aside for assembly.

For the caramel, place the remaining dates, butter, and milk in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second increments, stirring each time, until the butter is melted and the milk is steaming.  Puree the date mixture with an immersion blender (or transfer to a conventional blender if that's all you have).  When smooth, stir in the vanilla and salt.

Finally, assemble the bars by spreading a small amount of caramel onto the baked shortbread (this acts as a glue to hold the apples in place).  Cover the bars with an even layer of apple slices, then spread the rest of the caramel.  Top the bars with the chopped walnuts, and press them in firmly to avoid runaways when the bars are cut.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mini Chocolate Pudding Cakes

Sometimes, you just get a craving.  Friday night was one of those nights.  It had been a long work week.  I was tired, my blood sugar was low, and I just wanted a yummy little *something*.  So, I did what you do, and started monkeying around in the kitchen.

The result was exactly what I had in mind.  Rich, dense, decadent.  Hot from the oven, these little cakes were the perfect match for the last of the coconut vanilla ice cream I made for Manflesh's birthday last week.  Tonight, after a couple of days on the counter, they were still almost as good after a 5 minute warmup in the oven.

See that fudgey, pudding-ey middle?

You need:

1/2 cup (one stick) softened buter
a heaping half-cup of Medjool dates (10-12 big dates), pits removed - measure the fruit by packing it into the cup
3 eggs
a dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons cocoa powder
5 tablespoons whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the butter, dates, and eggs in a small bowl.  Attack with the immersion blender until the dates are ground smooth.  You will need to stir the chunks up from the bottom and re-blend a few times.  Add the salt and vanilla and mix thoroughly, then mix in the cocoa, and finally the flour.

Spoon the batter into 8 silicone muffin cups.  I have, and love, these, from Chicago Metallic. You can probably get away with well greased metal pans as well, but release will be trickier.

Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until the middles are not quite set.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool just enough to handle.  Turn the cakes out onto a plate alongside some vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or some other tasty white creamy thing.

To re-heat leftover cakes, try 5 minutes at 350.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pumpkin Lasagna

I love pumpkin, which is good, because we grew a lot of it last year.  They stored fresh for quite a while, lining our dining room like overstock holiday decorations, but when one started to get a little soft around the edges, manflesh took on the task or roasting them all up and freezing bags of puree for later use.

Since that day, it's been my goal to come up with as many ways to work pumpkin into our daily diet as possible, so that we can eat through the backlog before the next crop comes in.

To that end, I give you pumpkin lasagna, a delicious creamy savory dish that hits the spot any time of year.

You need:

2 small or 1.5 large onions
olive oil
9 whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 cup walnuts
shredded mozzarella cheese

For the pumpkin-ricotta filling:
4 cups pumpkin puree (home roasted is preferred, but canned will do in a pinch)
16 oz ricotta
2 eggs
1 tbsp Italian herbs
1 tsp salt

For the creamy garlic sauce:
2.5 cups milk
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic

Start by caramelizing your onions.  Cut them into half-inch slices, and add to a frying pan with a hearty glug of olive oil and a shake of salt over medium heat.  Keep the lid on until the onions are really soft and translucent, then take it off and stir them occasionally to help them caramelize evenly.  They're done when they reach a warm golden brown color.

While the onions are cooking, boil your noodles according to package directions, mix up the pumpkin-ricotta filling ingredients in a large bowl, and mix the garlic sauce ingredients in a large spouted measuring cup or a smaller bowl (a spouted cup will make it easier to pour later).

To assemble, start by pouring just enough of the garlic sauce into the pan to barely cover the bottom.  You'll need to stir the sauce each time before you pour to keep the corn starch mixed evenly.

Layer three noodles over the sauce to completely cover the bottom of the pan.  Follow that with half the pumpkin-ricotta mixture, spread evenly, then scatter half the onions and half the walnuts over the top.  Pour about a half-cup of sauce over the layered ingredients.  Cover everything with three more noodles, and repeat the layers from there with the rest of the ingredients, ending with a third and final noodle layer.

Pour the rest of the sauce over the top noodles, then add a hearty layer of shredded mozzarella.  Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until everything is hot and bubbly all the way through.

Not my finest photographic work, but I swear it tastes better than it looks.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

We might be getting some cows!

Okay, so they wouldn't be ours, they would just come visit us for a while.

A guy showed up at the door today because our neighbor across the creek suggested that we might be willing to let some of his cows come graze our unloved pasture.  Apparently he's got 16 cows ready to calve, and not enough acreage at his house, so he's a little desperate.  We'd love to get all that manure and have some grazers down there getting the land into shape, so it would be a win-win.

No promises yet, but he seems motivated and we're definitely open to it, so my hopes are high. I'd love to have some cattle down there without having to put in the work myself.  Rest assured, if this pans out, cow pictures are in your future.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

There's a chicken in my bathroom

Manflesh came in from his nightly chicken rounds with a friend.  One of the Barred Rocks had been hiding in a nest box instead of roosting with the rest of the flock.  When he opened it up to check on her, she stayed put instead of flapping away in usual chicken fashion, which was not a good sign.

Earlier, one of the Barreds had been very insistent on breaking out of the portable fence where the flock was supposed to be foraging to return to the permanent hen house, to the point that she spent most of the day out in the pouring rain rather than hanging out in the shelter.  Manflesh thought this might be the same chicken, and maybe she was just chilled from getting so wet.  He cuddled her on his lap for a while and offered a little lukewarm water and feed.  She perked up a bit, maybe, but her breathing was really labored, with her whole body rocking with each breath.

Frantic Googling was inconclusive, so we agreed to let her spend the night in the warm and dry and re-evaluate in the morning.  I fitted out a cardboard box with some cozy towels and little dishes of water and feed, and our invalid chicken took up residence in the bath tub.

The next morning, she was still with us, but didn't seem much improved.  Our chickens aren't very tame, so the very fact that she stayed in her box and didn't flutter when we walked around her seemed like a pretty bad sign.  Still, she was awake and alert, so we thought we'd just give her as much peace and quiet as we could muster and hope for recovery.

This went on for a couple of days, until this morning I woke up to the distinct sound of pecking on and around the bathroom door.  She was out of the box!

Our glamorous master bath.

Breathing was still a little labored, but we agreed that if she felt well enough to be up and about, she would probably be more comfortable with the rest of the flock rather than isolated in the house, so manflesh took her out.

So far, so good, but only time will tell.  It's so hard to know what to do in these situations, when the animal can't tell you what she needs, and there's not a lot you can do anyway beyond providing some comfort and hoping for the best.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Oatmeal Fudge Cookies

Sometimes, you just want a cookie.  A crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, yummy, cookie.  There's not really anything else that fits that same snacking niche.

Don't those look good?
These make a great snack.  They're dense and satisfying, and there's really nothing in them to feel guilty about.  Call them "energy nuggets" or something, instead of cookies, and eat them for breakfast with my blessing.

The preparation does rely pretty heavily on a tough blender.  You need something that can reliably grind oats into flour without overheating.  My Vitamix does the job in a few seconds.  If you don't have such a blender, you could try substituting a scant cup of prepared oat flour for the first cup of oats and finely chopping the raisins, then blending them aggressively by hand.  I haven't done this, but it should work okay.  Really though, just get an awesome blender.  I love mine and use it for all sorts of things.

So...  recipe:

1 1/4 cups rolled oats, divided
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.

Put 1 cup oats and the raisins in the blender and grind to a fine, floury texture.  Pour into a small bowl.

Add the cocoa powder, salt, and soda to the oats and raisins, and stir to combine (I like a slight salty aftertaste in this cookie, but if you don't, you can omit the salt).

Blend in the coconut oil, then follow it with the egg and vanilla.  Finally, stir in the reserved 1/4 cup of whole oats.

Place dough on an ungreased cookie sheet in 12 heaping-tablespoon-sized balls.  Flatten slightly, and bake for 10 minutes.  After baking, allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can eat them warm, but be forewarned that they'll be very crumbly.  After cooling, the structure is much more sturdy and they should prove lunchbox-worthy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sad Story

I said that I would share both my successes and my failures here.  This is the story of a failure.  A failure that looks like this:


That's two quarts of delicious homemade pea soup, chock full of our home-grown produce, that now has to go in the trash.  We can't even feed it to the chickens for fear of glass shards.


I thought I was being so clever!  I would freeze in glass, and there would be no danger of holes developing, like when I use ziplocks and they rub against one another in the freezer.  I could thaw in the microwave without worrying about plastic chemicals leaching into the food!  I left plenty of headroom for the freeing soup to expand, and I even used a piece of plastic wrap instead of a metal cap for even more expansion insurance.  THIS WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!

I thought my mistake might have been in putting the soup in the freezer warm, and I planned to try again, but refrigerate first.  Good thing I thought to Google it, because it turns out Michael at Critical MAS had already tried every solution I had thought of, and after a pile of broken jars, finally gone to the source.  Jarden Home Brands, maker of pretty much every canning jar you're likely to use, had this to say:
  1. You should only use straight jars and not those with rounded shoulders. “Jars with rounded shoulders inhibit the expansion of the food, allowing the food to take on the shape of the jar in the freezing process. Foods freezing and taking on the shape of the jar places undo stress on the rounded shoulders and can cause breakage.”
  2. Not every canning jar is ready for the freezer. “Only use Ball Can-or-Freeze regular half-pint and wide-mouth pint jars, Ball and Kerr Quilted Crystal Jelly Jars in 4, 8, and 12 ounce sizes, Kerr regular and wide-mouth half pint, and wide-mouth pint jars. Why? “These jars are designed for freezer use since they are wider at the top than at the bottom and have tapered sides. This shape allows food to expand straight upward as it freezes.”
 It would not have occurred to me in a million years that the freezing food would bind up on the shoulder and crack the jar from there, so thanks for doing the legwork, Chris.

Now, my problem is that those specially shaped freezing jars only come in half-pints and pints, and we're firmly a quarts-of-soup kind of household.  For now, I've frozen my latest batch in big plastic yogurt containers, but if you've got a lead on awesome freezer-safe jars in big sizes, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

We're Baaaaaaack!

I'm going to pretend that I have a wide and devoted audience of regular readers, and apologize to all of you for my absence over the last couple of weeks.  You see, we went on vacation with my family, and there was very little in the way of homestead hijinks going on in our resort condo.

We did try to set up a visit with John of Rancho Relaxzo, but our timing was bad and we got rained out.  He turned us on to a cute little farmer's market though, where a few brave souls sat in the downpour to peddle their wares.  There were only about seven booths, but we bought from four of them, so the concentration of good stuff was high.  We came away with some black raspberries, green beans, dehydrated banana/cacao snacks, homemade chili vinegar, and a couple of nifty found-object pendants.

Anyway, we're home now, and have commenced the work of checking on everything that's happened while we were gone and getting back into the swing of things.

Manflesh was very excited to get back to his chickens, since our house sitters had reported that production was up since we left.  It's hard to find someone who wants to live in the middle of nowhere for two weeks, so they were only coming out here every few days.  As a result, we knew there should be a sizable haul waiting for us.

Still, we weren't quite prepared for this:

That's 32 eggs.  I'll tell you so you don't have to count.

 But then, there was also this:

7 more...

And a couple of jokers opted for something like this:

Sure... just put that anywhere.

Final tally:   Four dozen eggs!  And Manflesh brought in another seven throughout the day today.  I guess the ladies are feeling the effects of our slowly increasing daylight.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Do you know what this is?

Magical deliciousness, that's what.

My birthday present to myself just arrived on Thursday.  After a lot of research and hemming and hawing, I decided on the Cuisinart ICE-21.  The price was right, and we have a chest freezer so I plan to just keep the bowl frozen at all times in case of spontaneous ice cream inspiration.  I splurged and got the turquoise one, because it's only a dollar more, and it's my birthday, damnit!

Ice cream has probably been the hardest part of our no-refined-sugar lifestyle.  Pretty much everything else, I can either make at home or we don't really like anyway, but we DO love our ice cream.  Pre-baby, Manflesh and I would occasionally raid the ice cream aisle for each and every fancy, super-premium, artisanal flavor that caught our fancy.  Post-baby, I don't think either one of us has had a bite of the stuff.

I recently became aware of just how easily dates break down in a warm liquid, and can be reduced to a passably smooth puree after a little simmering.  That quality, plus their natural sweetness without an overwhelming fruitiness, made me think they'd be well suited to act as the sweetener in an ice cream recipe.

For my first attempt, I decided to keep it simple.  I crafted a basic chocolate ice cream, then threw in a peanut butter ribbon when I took the cream out of the machine for its final freeze.  I thought the result was AWESOME, but that may be ice cream deprivation talking, because Manflesh thought the peanut butter ribbon should be sweetened and didn't like the slight gritty texture from the natural peanut butter (he's wrong, though).

I'm already brainstorming my next recipe.  I really want to try home made nut creams.  We have a hazelnut and an almond tree growing, so someday we'll have an ample supply of nuts, and in the mean time, I just... really like them.  What exotic ice cream flavor would you choose, with no limitations?  The options get a little dizzying, when you really start thinking about it.

No-Refined-Sugar Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

1 packed cup medjool dates, pitted
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter

Pit your dates and mix them up with the milk in a microwave-safe bowl (or a small saucepan if you're anti-microwave).  Warm gently - don't boil the milk, but warm enough to help soften the dates.  Mine took about 2 minutes, in 30 second increments, in the microwave.

When the dates are soft, blend them into a smooth puree with the milk using an immersion or conventional blender.  I love my immersion blender, and use it for everything, especially raisin and date purees for baking. This is the one that I have. 

Add the cocoa powder to the puree, and blend a little more to work out any chunks.  Then, gently stir in the vanilla and heavy cream.  Cover, and place in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours or overnight before freezing in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.

After the ice cream maker treatment, pack your frozen cream into an airtight container by alternating layers of ice cream and drizzles of peanut butter.  If your peanut butter is too thick to drizzle, you can loosen it up by warming a little, but avoid letting it get hot or it will melt the ice cream and ruin the texture.  I did four layers of ice cream separated by three layers of peanut butter in a 2 quart container, but I don't think it really matters.  When all the ice cream is packed, slice down through the layers a few times to swirl the peanut butter ribbon, then put a lid on the container and throw it in the freezer to freeze hard.

Here's the finished product:

It looks... just like ice cream you'd buy at a store!

Let's zoom in a little, shall we?

But tastes 10 times better and doesn't leave you feeling gross after eating it.

Yum.  Just, seriously.  Yum!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chicken Tree

We keep our chickens in a portable electric fence so that they can be moved around the property to get access to fresh forage.  Manflesh moved them up the hill the other day, but they've decided they like it better at the bottom of the hill, so they keep busting out.

We ran errands yesterday and came home to find about half the flock roosted in the little cedar:

After taking the picture, he dragged the ladder out there in the dark and lovingly took each one down and put them to bed on their proper roost.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Our squash crop was a little troubled this year. We all had spring fever and were ready to get things in the ground as soon as the first stretch of warm, sunny weather hit. Alas, we were fooled, and the weather went back to its usual wintry cold-and-wet for another few weeks. All of our squash seeds rotted in the mud instead of germinating.

In late June, with a strip of unplanted ground still available in the garden, the Manflesh decided to give the squash a second try, even though it was a little late for our short growing season. He lost track of what he planted where (oops!) but they did okay! We got a nice carving pumpkin for Halloween, three or four cute acorns, some weird oblong things, a couple of buttercups, a pretty Lakota squash and... TEN sugar pie pumpkins.

The sugar pies have been roasted and frozen for a winter's worth of pumpkin treats, so I've been trying to find innovative ways to use them in my cooking, which led to the idea of incorporating some into a cinnamon roll recipe.

The result is decadent and delicious. I guarantee you won't miss the sugar.


4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/4 cup powdered milk
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt


2 cups raisins
1 cup walnuts
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
pinch clove


4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
4 dates
1 tsp vanilla

For the dough, mix the maple syrup into the water, and add the yeast to proof.  Combine dry ingredients. Mix the pumpkin into the wet ingredients, and add the wet mix to the dry. Knead for a few minutes, until a very soft dough forms. It should be sticky, but able to be formed into a soft ball. You may need a little more flour, depending on the moisture of your pumpkin. Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with cling wrap or a damp towel to rise for about an hour, or until doubled.

While the dough rises, make the filling by combining all the ingredients in a blender, or chopping finely and mixing by hand.

When the dough has risen, punch it down, then roll it out on a greased surface into a rectangle about 12" by 16" and 1/2" thick. Spread with an even layer of the filling, which will be thick. The most effective way to do this is to use your hands to press small chunks of filling into thin sheets and use them to cover the dough as evenly as possible. Roll the rectangle up into a log, shaping with your hands a little if necessary to achieve an even cylinder. Cut the log into 12 slices, and place the slices cut side up in a greased 9" by 13" pan. Cover the pan, and allow the rolls to rise again. You can work up to this point in an evening, then place the risen rolls in the fridge to bake the next morning, or just keep rolling from here.

Bake the risen rolls in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. While the rolls bake, prepare the icing by microwaving the cream cheese, milk, and dates for 30-60 seconds, until warm. Add the vanilla, and blend with an immersion blender (or a conventional blender if that's all you have) until you have a smooth, creamy icing. When the rolls come out of the oven, spread the icing evenly over the top, then serve warm.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


We bought our chickens back in October as 3-4 month old pullets, which meant they'd come of laying age in January or February.  We had been wondering if they would actually start laying in winter, with the short daylight, or if they would just wait until spring.

Today, Manflesh found the answer:

Isn't it beautiful?

There were actually two more, once he started looking, but they were a little flimsy and cracked on the way in.  We'll be supplementing the girls' calcium now that we know they're going to be making a lot of use of it.

Now I'm excited for our easter eggers to start laying so that we'll have a whole egg rainbow.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Welcome to Bigleaf Hill, home of innovative real food cooking with occasional doses of country hijinks.

I work from home on our 15 acre homestead (it's a work in progress) with the Manflesh, a stay-at-home dad/farmhand/handyman, and our offspring, baby Tippytoe.

We've always preferred to eat healthy, whole foods, but adding Tippytoe to our family has strengthened our resolve to cut refined flours and sugars out of our diet.  We don't want to feed that stuff to him, and you can't really eat anything in front of a toddler that you don't want to share, so I've become a bit of an expert at revamping our favorite recipes to meet our dietary aspirations.

At the same time, as our homestead becomes more and more productive, I have a wealth of produce to work with.  We're starting to explore new methods of storing our bounty for use throughout the year.  So far, we mostly freeze things, but we're working on adding dehydrating and root cellaring to our bag of tricks, which will open up even more culinary options.

In the coming months, I'll be posting some of my tried and true recipes - all whole grain with no refined sugar, as well as experiments: both the successes and the failures.  I'll also be posting periodic glimpses into our country life, whenever it seems like there's something worth sharing.  If any of that sounds interesting to you, please subscribe, so you'll never miss a post.