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.