Thursday, August 30

Thursday Farm Photo: Donkey Doodle Dandy Up Close and Personal

And a Not So Quiet Moment

For all of you who have been so kindly asking about Donkey Doodle Dandy, he's doing, well, just dandy. I admit he's been a little neglected blogwise lately, but as you can clearly see it's impossible to ignore him in real life.

I've mentioned before that when Dan is braying, which he was doing in my face when I snapped this un-zoomed photo, he always sounds the same—very very loud. I don't find his hee-hawing (yes, it really does sound like that) bothersome or unpleasant in the least even if it is right next to my ear, but it's difficult to know if Dan is trying to tell you he's excited or hungry or upset about something or simply so happy to be a donkey that he just can't keep it to himself.

His coat is so slicked out for summer that he looks positively shiny. He also managed to bulk up his chest and front legs in such a way that if I didn't know better, I'd swear he'd been working out at the gym, though the in-your-face angle of this photo clearly doesn't show him at his best.

At the still very young age of five (donkeys can live 30 years or longer), Dan has clearly moved from adorable to dashingly handsome. Maybe that's what he's been trying to tell me with all that braying.

I have more news about Dan I've been wanting to share for a while now, and there's a Cary update in the works, too. I know some of you are also waiting for more photos of Whitey and her baby chicks, who are almost as big as she is. Summer with all of its glorious bounty has inspired me to emphasize the food part of this food and farm blog lately, but the animal tales have been piling up faster than the dirty dishes from all the cooking and baking I've been doing. Heck, there are still stories leftover from spring lambing season I want to share. I just realized you haven't even met Dee Dee and Buddy Rabbit, and they're practically grown up.

I always have the best intentions, but around here you never know what's going to happen next, so I constantly find myself wondering how I can be behind with absolutely everything.

Soon. Hopefully I'll get to it all soon. In the meantime, there's a handsome young donkey I'd better go pay some attention to.

Just getting to know Dan? Start here.

Want to see more of Dan?
7/04/05: He's A Donkey Doodle Dan-Dy!

8/11/05: Dinky Donkey Doodle Dandy

9/06/05: Anyone for spam?

9/21/05: Dan Loves To Hang Out In Corners

10/4/05: Do You Think Dan Misses Me?

10/14/05: Dan & His New Charges

10/15/05: The Tail Of Uncle Dan

10/15/05: Dan's Opinion Of His New Charges

11/19/05: Weekend Donkey Blogging #1

12/11/05: Weekend Dog & Donkey Blogging

12/19/05: Fluffing Up For Winter

1/31/06: Being Adorable Is Thirsty Work

2/11/06: That's Not Fat, That's Fluff

2/18/06: He Could Have Slept In His Hut

3/13/06: I Need More Than Spun Gold For Breakfast

3/14/06: A Whole New Way To Start The Day

3/24/06: Uncle Dan Is Back On The Job!

4/20/06: Sometimes There Simply Aren't Words

5/12/06: Who's Sog-gy Now?

6/26/06: Who needs TV With Cary & DDD?

7/12/06: Donkey Daycare?!

7/27/06: An Organic Carrot For Breakfast

8/5/06: Dan's A Dirt Roller

8/10/06: There's Nothing Subtle About Our Dan

9/6/06: Putting Up With The Cary Treat Thief

9/13/06: Did I Mention Dan Adores Cary?

9/21/06: Clip Clop Swish! Clip Clop Swish!

10/27/06: Starting To Fluff Up For Winter

11/8/06: Dan Is Quite The Dainty Eater

12/20/06: Goodbye Autumn

12/28/06: Warning Guard Donkey On Duty
1/2/07: Donkey Brings Morning Traffic To A Standstill
5/6/07: Dan Meets Baby Cary

5/31/07: The Ratty Blue Halter Finally Fell Off

Wow. That's a lot of donkey photos. Do you have a favorite?

© 2007, the longear loving foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Sunday, August 26

Farm Photo: 8/26/07

Capturing A Quiet Moment

More Chick Pics:
6/17/07: Whitey & Her Baby Chicks
6/19/07: Caution Foodie Forming
8/2/07: Inspection Time
8/3/07: Baby's First Perch
8/4/07: Baby's First Dustbath
8/5/07: Mother As Landing Pad
8/9/07: Showin' Some Style

Saturday, August 25

Tomato Pesto Pizza, My Favorite Basil Pesto Recipe, & The Simplest Tomato Salad

Tomatoes & Homemade Pesto Are
A Match Made In Summer Eating Heaven

Homemade basil pesto & tomato pizza (my easy dough recipe is here)

When we're young and naive and clueless in the kitchen, we naturally look to those who are older and more knowledgeable for guidance and advice. And like certain traumatic experiences on the childhood playground or the junior high school dance floor, some of what we're told ends up sticking with us for life.

Garlic salt is a waste of money because half of what you're paying for is plain old salt; buy pure garlic powder instead.

Bad water makes bad coffee.

Overripe bananas will always give you the best tasting banana bread.

And fresh tomatoes should never, ever be put on a pizza because they'll make it soggy.

To this day I wonder why anyone would purchase garlic salt instead of garlic powder or granulated garlic. When it comes to coffee, I'm borderline obsessive regarding every aspect of its preparation, and most people would probably run away screaming if they saw the scary black bananas I often use when baking.

But it took many years of deprivation before I realized that whole thing about not putting fresh tomatoes on pizza was positively flat out wrong.

A freshly picked, vine-ripened tomato from the garden is, for many people, the epitome of summer eating. For me, it's a tie between tomatoes and fresh basil pesto. When combined, these two symbols of summer become much more than the sum of their parts, and never more so than on a homemade pizza.

Like a hunk of old-fashioned devil's food cake, a salad of freshly picked lettuce, or a perfectly grilled steak, a pizza topped with basil pesto and big slices of orange tomatoes is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see on a plate. And of course leftover pizza of any kind is one of life's truly great inventions.

For the 8-inch pizza pictured above, I spread a thick layer of pesto on the dough, covered it with slices of fresh mozzarella, added slices (not halves) of sweet, fat cherry tomatoes, then sprinkled on some coarsely grated pecorino romano.

For a second pizza, I completely covered the pesto with a layer of chopped Roma tomatoes and then added the cheese. I cooked them both at 500 degrees on a hot baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven until the crust was golden and the cheese was bubbly and starting to brown. You'll find my simple and straightforward pizza dough recipe here.

If your chopped tomatoes are really juicy, you can put them in a colander or strainer and let some of the water drain out before putting them on your pizza. I did this with the Romas as an experiment, but they were so meaty it didn't make much of a difference.

If you don't have the patience to make yourself a mid-summer pizza (or the desire to turn your kitchen into a blazing inferno in the process), the next best thing to do with your pesto and tomatoes is to combine them into a pie. I created this easy and popular Savory Tomato Pesto Pie recipe last summer, and it really is worth turning on the oven for.*

But if neither pizza nor pie are an option, toss a pile of chopped tomatoes with some pesto, stir in a can of garbanzo beans (rinse them first)**, sprinkle on some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano, and in less than two minutes you'll not only be digging into a scrumptious and healthy salad, but you'll also have saved yourself from simply gobbling up all of your precious homemade pesto with a spoon.

Basil has proven to be one of the few no-fail crops in my Missouri kitchen garden, and despite making and freezing enough pesto each summer to last me through the rest of the year, I still always end up with more basil than I can use.

This spring, however, I somehow forgot to start any basil seeds. I also forgot to order any. And then I forgot to plant the partial packets of old seeds I found after a frantic, late June search through my highly unorganized seed stash.

I've become so absentminded lately that I'm starting to wonder if my body has been taken over by a pod person who only lets my real mind out maybe once or twice a week.

Thanks to the generosity of a couple of fellow gardeners—including a city friend whose tiny garden I usually supply with seedlings—and an agonizing several minutes during which I eventually talked myself into plunking down four bucks for a potted basil plant at the supermarket, I now have a small but respectable patch of basil flourishing in the garden.

I made my first batch of pesto last week, and there's already enough basil for another one. A dozen kinds of ripe tomatoes cover every flat surface in the kitchen. Things are getting back to normal in my culinary universe.

So what's your favorite way to enjoy pesto and tomatoes? And what's the best—or worst—kitchen or cooking tip you've been given? I need to know if I've been missing out on anything else as good as fresh tomatoes on homemade pizza.

Update: This was the first year I grew purple basil, which makes fantastic, albeit slightly odd looking pesto. For other ideas for using purple basil, along with a super easy white bean pesto spread recipe, check out this post. And Farmgirl Fare readers offer up more wonderful ways to enjoy purple basil here.

At last! Beautiful basil in my kitchen garden.

Farmgirl Susan's Lower Fat, Full Flavor Basil Pesto
Basil pesto recipes abound, but this one is different than most: it calls for almonds and tomatoes, and a relatively small amount of olive oil. I love olive oil as much as the next person, but some pesto recipes call for 2 cups of basil and 1 cup of olive oil. They taste sublime (how could they not?), but personally I'd rather consume all those extra calories in a piece of pie, and my recipe lets you do just that.

The idea of using almonds came from a pesto recipe I found in The Sonoma Diet, a delicious cookbook for anyone who loves good food, even if you aren't trying to lose weight. I don't care for pine nuts, but I'd never thought to use almonds in pesto, and I was thrilled with the results. I like using roasted and salted almonds.

The tomatoes are my own addition. They give the pesto a subtle new flavor while thinning it out. I love the strong, salty taste (and lower price) of pecorino romano and always keep some around, but real parmigiano reggiano can of course be substituted.

Makes about 1½ cups

1/2 cup (about 2½ ounces) raw or roasted and salted whole almonds
4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 4 cups packed, but it's best if you weigh it; I love my Oxo 11-pound digital scale)
3 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (or parmesan)
10 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 3 smallish) any kind, quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if desired

If using raw almonds, spread them on a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes; a toaster oven works great for this, especially in summer (I adore my Oster Toaster Convection Oven and use it daily all year round).

Process the almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the basil, pecorino romano, tomatoes, and salt and process until thoroughly combined and the consistency you like. Alternatively, you can use a gigantic mortar and pestle if you're trying to build up your arm muscles.

With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the chute. Add more salt to taste if necessary and more olive oil if desired.
This pesto will keep several days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. Cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to keep it from discoloring if that sort of thing bothers you.

*Last week I was surprised to discover that my Savory Tomato Pesto Pie post, which I had completely forgotten I'd begun by saying "Sometimes it's good to be alone in the kitchen," was published almost one year to the day before my recent review of Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant. By the way, have you divulged what you eat when you find yourself alone in the kitchen yet? The ever growing list we're compiling is truly fascinating. So do tell!

©, the pesto slathered foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Thursday, August 23

Breakdowns & Onion Rye Beer Bread Recipe

This is the newest version of my Beyond Easy Beer Bread, which is my most popular recipe. Five minutes of work reward you with a heavenly aroma wafting through the house and a warm, crusty loaf in under an hour. There are endless flavor variations possible, and you can even use it for sandwiches. You might also enjoy my Whole Wheat Beer Bread Recipe.

Onion rye beer bread with caraway seeds—sort of (baked in this awesome pan).

It's been one of those weeks. You know, the kind where just when you're sure nothing else can break or go wrong—and it certainly can't get any hotter than 103 degrees in the shade—one of the enormous ancient chest freezers on the kitchen porch, that's naturally crammed to capacity with all kinds of frozen food, appears to be in. . .distress.

Then you pick up the mail and find a Safety Recall Notice informing you that The One Reliable Vehicle you own—as opposed to the others you own, the newest of which is from 1993, and all of which, if they're even capable of being driven off the farm, usually require a call to AAA in order to make it back home—apparently has a small defect that may cause the vehicle to suddenly catch on fire "when parked or being operated."

Fortunately a simple repair by the dealer can fix the problem, but until this is performed, the letter advised us to, I kid you not, "park your vehicle away from structures to prevent a potential underhood fire from spreading."

Given how things have been going, Joe, my hunky farmguy who was out in the 90-degree shop alternately trying to figure out why the '86 pickup wouldn't start and why the wiring on the flatbed trailer wouldn't work, wasn't surprised to see my glum-looking, sweat-drenched face peering around the big sliding door yesterday afternoon.

"What happened?" was all he said, but you could tell that numerous scenarios, none of them good, were rapidly flipping through his brain.

"Okay, you know I'm making this new beer bread. So I get the exploded beer all cleaned up off the counter and the floor, add enough water to the batter to make up for the beer I lost, put the pan in the oven, and am halfway done washing the dishes when I realize I forgot to put any rye flour in the rye beer bread."

Given that this was an incredibly small disaster in the grand scheme of things, he not only displayed plenty of sympathy and understanding, but also managed not to laugh in my face at my stupidity. This motivated me enough to trudge back into the 90-degree kitchen and start the whole baking process all over again. But the un-rye version ended up tasting great.

Just cross your fingers that between now and our appointment next week The One Reliable Vehicle doesn't spontaneously burst into flames.

Farmgirl Susan's Beyond Easy Beer Bread
Makes one 8-inch loaf

The optional egg glaze gives the top a beautiful, dark golden color. As always, I encourage you to use local and organic ingredients; they really do make a difference.

Basic Beer Bread Mix (Onion Rye instructions are below):

Organic all-purpose flour 3 cups / 750 ml / 15-1/8 oz / 430 g
Granulated sugar 1 tbsp / 15 ml / 5/8 oz / 16 g
Salt 1 tsp / 5 ml / 1/4 oz / 6 g
Baking powder 1 tbsp / 15 ml / 5/8 oz / 16 g

Beer 1½ cups / 355 ml / 12 oz / 338 g

Optional glaze: 1 egg & 2 tsp (10 ml) water, beaten

Heat oven to 375°F/190°C. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in beer and mix just until combined. Batter will be thick.

Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan (I love these Chicago Metallic commercial loaf pans), brush with egg glaze if desired, and bake until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 10 more minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Will keep for 1 to 2 days stored in a plastic bag or airtight container. May be frozen.

For the Onion Rye or Un-Rye version:
Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet. Add 1 cup finely chopped onion and 1 Tablespoon caraway seeds. Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and beginning to brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. (This step may be done ahead of time; let onion mixture sit at room temperature up to two hours or refrigerate.)

If desired, replace the 3 cups of all-purpose flour with 1½ cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup rye flour, and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. Stir onion mixture into batter along with 2 more Tablespoons of beer or water.

©, the always tasty and sometimes rye foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Tuesday, August 21

Local Breads Does Good
And We're Giving Away Two Signed Copies!

Parisian Daily Bread from Local Breads: A Four Hour Baguette

It seems I'm not the only baker willing to crank up the oven in midsummer in the name of fabulous homemade bread. My new favorite bread book, Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers, by Daniel Leader (world renowned baker, owner of Bread Alone Bakery in New York's Catskill Mountains, and author of my previously favorite bread book, Bread Alone), is receiving rave reviews and selling like crazy. A big thanks to Karen at the Union of Concerned Scientists (check out their wonderful new Green Cuisine feature here) for letting me know that Daniel Leader was the guest on last week's edition of "The Food Chain" radio program on Metrofarm. I really enjoyed it. You can listen to a recording of the show (#554) here.

Do you have a bread question for Daniel? I'll be interviewing him in the next week or two and invite you to email me your questions: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

No Canvas Needed

So far I've made the Parisian Daily Bread, the Italian Black Olive Cheeks, and the Rosemary Filone from Local Breads. All were easy to make and tasted wonderful, though the filone wasn't full of those nice big airholes like in the mouthwatering photo. Advanced bread bakers are going to glom onto this book, but beginning bakers definitely shouldn't shy away from it. The first 60 pages are packed with detailed information on equipment, ingredients, and techniques, all of it clearly written and easy to understand. The book also contains dozens of frequently asked bread baking questions and simple yet invaluable tips, such as how to fashion a couche out of a piece of parchment paper, as shown above (brilliant!).

I can't wait to try out more of the 80 recipes over the next couple of months, including some of the authentic German sourdough ryes. Part travelogue, part bread making class, and part gastronomic history lesson, if the gorgeous photos in Local Breads don't have you running to the store in search of stoneground organic flours, the descriptions--or even simply the names--of these European Old World breads, many of which have never been shared before, most certainly will.

Of the Soulful German Farmhouse Rye, Daniel says:
Rye breads this deep, dark, and sour can be found only in places like Oberseifersdorf, Germany, where Gert Kolbe, a fifth-generation baker, has his shop. Canals still flow through the town, and a waterwheel works the mill where Gert gets his coarse whole rye flour. The grain is grown in the surrounding fields. The rolled rye flakes Gert uses as a topping make his loaves resemble the local thatched-roof houses. This hearty traditional bread in particular is why I made the trip to the bakery; I left not only with the recipe but with a long-keeping loaf that I snacked on with smoked sausages and spicy mustard on the five-hour drive back to Wiesbaden.

I'm hoping some of you will bake along with me as I delve further into Local Breads. I'll let you know in the next couple of weeks which breads I'll be baking, so you can get your sourdough(s) mixed up in plenty of time. For years I've been baking beautiful sourdough breads using two starters I made following the simple instructions in Bread Alone, a French levain and a rye sourdough. After the successes I've had with these, I'm really looking forward to branching out and experimenting with some new sourdoughs.

Meanwhile, over at A Year In Bread, we're giving away two signed copies of Local Breads. You'll find all the details here. Wondering what A Year In Bread is all about? Read more about this joint blog project between myself and two other passionate bread bakers here.

More links for bread lovers:

Parisian Daily Bread from Local Breads
Small Scale Marketing & Italian Black Olive Cheeks from Local Breads

Grape Harvest Focaccia from Local Breads
Rosemary Filone from Local Breads
My Ten Tips For Better Breads
My Oatmeal Toasting Bread
My Italiano No-Knead Bread
The Pita Project & My Best Pita Bread Recipe
My Favorite Straightforward Pizza Dough Recipe

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Tuesday, August 14

Farm Photo 8/14/07: Echinacea Visitors

Joint Pollination Task Force

It turns out my camera has more zoom than I thought. Who knew?

More pollinator pics:
Farm Photo 4/10/06: Look What Landed At My Feet
Farm Photo 5/11/06: Butterfly Conference
Farm Photo 6/22/06: Farms Depend On Pollinators
Farm Photo 6/23/06: You Can't Have Too Many Pollinators Around
Farm Photo 6/28/06: Butterfly Paradise
Farm Photo 7/08/06: The Stuff Of Life
Farm Photo 7/16/06: Butterfly Bonanza
Farm Photo 8/18/06: A Most Extraordinary Hug
What's Growin' On 6/24/06: Pollinators & Sheep & I Love Spiderwort
What's Growin' On 6/29/06: Obsessed With Bunnies & Butterflies
What's Growin' On 8/26/06: Butterfly Photos Are Better Than Nothing
5/11/06: My Good Deed For The Day

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Saturday, August 11

Book Review: Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant

"Excuse me," Joe said as he tried to get by me. I was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, holding an open book.

When he passed back by a little while later I was leaning against the door frame and several pages further along in the book.

"You'd probably be a lot more comfortable if you sat down and read that."

"Oh, I'm not reading it. I'm just glancing through it."

Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant, published last month by Riverhead Books, is not the kind of book you want to sit down to read because if you do, you'll probably find yourself unable to stop reading. And a couple of hours later you'll probably find yourself wishing you hadn't just devoured the entire thing in one large gulp.

No, this is the kind of book that should be consumed in small bites, over as long a period of time as humanly possible. Reading while standing up, and lying about it, are perfectly acceptable ways to help you do this.

Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant is a wonderful collection of "confessions of cooking for one and dining alone." Editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler came up with the concept for the book—which she discusses in the introduction that doubles as a bonus essay—and then convinced a talented list of writers and foodies to divulge "the secret meals they make for themselves when no one else is looking."

A few of the essays even include recipes, and a handy section at the end of the book offers a one-paragraph biography of each of the 26 contributors, which include Nora Ephron, Steve Almond, Ann Patchett, Paula Wolfert, and M.F.K. Fisher.

Dinner alone is one of life's pleasures, writes novelist and beloved food writer Laurie Colwinin her essay, "Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant," which inspired both the title and the book itself. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.

Standing in the kitchen doorway reading this book while convincing myself I wasn't actually reading it was really quite appropriate, for when I'm feeding only myself it isn't so much what I eat as how I eat it. And that would be standing up. In the kitchen. While convincing myself that I'm not yet actually eating.

You see, I'm a professional nibbler. I rarely sit down to a home-cooked meal hungry, and I feel that appetizers should never be served unless they are followed immediately by dessert.

When Joe was away from the farm recently, he called about nine o'clock one night to check on me. After describing a rather fancy restaurant dinner he'd just been treated to, he said, "So what did you have for dinner?"

There was a long pause as I tried to figure out how I should respond, realizing all the while that this wasn't the sort of question one usually has to think about.

"You did eat something, didn't you?"

"Yes, of course." Cream cheese frosting. With my fingers. While I was supposed to be spreading it on a cake. "I had some of that cabbage salad stuff."

Then I stared down at the small bowl of that cabbage salad stuff I'd been dishing up for a late night snack when the phone had rung. The truth was, I'd made the salad--a several ingredient concoction that calls for gentle stirring and careful sampling after each addition--hours earlier, but once it was finally finished I'd had that oh-so-familiar realization. Uh oh. I'm full.

If you're the type of person who always asks your friends and loved ones what they had for dinner, likes to spy on what other people in line at the supermarket are buying, and wonders why characters in novels don't spend a lot more time eating and talking about food, Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant is for you.

I'm not going to give you details about the various essays or offer comments,
because in my opinion, this is the kind of book where the less you know going into it the better. Besides, I haven't finished it yet. If you feel you simply must know more and aren't afraid of spoiling your appetite, you can click here to read a detailed description and Publisher's Weekly's review.

And if you're one of those people who needs to flip through a book before buying it, I suggest you head to your favorite local bookstore just before closing time. Otherwise you'll probably be surprised to find yourself several hours later, leaning against a shelf with the open book in your hand and suddenly realizing Uh oh. I'm done.

The good news is that unlike a wonderful meal, once you've consumed this entire delicious read you can simply turn right back to the front and enjoy the whole thing all over again.

So what do you eat when you find yourself alone in the kitchen? Come on, 'fess up. I won't tell anyone.


Thursday, August 9

Farm Photo: 8/9/07

Showin' Some Style

I keep picturing this chicken in itty bitty cowboy boots.

Unfortunately it's been showing more than style since this photo was taken back on June 24th. Specifically, it's been showing signs of being a rooster. Roosters don't lay eggs. Instead they spend their time strutting around and making lots of noise. The real tough ones go around picking fights.

The last time we mail-ordered baby chicks from a hatchery, we paid extra so they would all be pullets (females). But out of the 27 baby chicks that arrived in a small peeping box at the post office, nine of them turned into roosters. I'm convinced the chick sexer (how's that for a job title?) was on a break when our order was packed. There are varieties of chickens called 'sex-links,' and when these come
crashing out of their eggs
the girls already look different from the boys, but I didn't learn about them until after the roosters had arrived.

It was sort of fun at first, hearing that distinctive rooster crow. Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! It made the farm feel more like a farm. But contrary to popular belief, roosters do not only crow at the break of dawn. At least not our nine roosters.

They crowed at all hours of the day and night, and boy, does that sound carry. We'd be heading up the driveway on a morning or afternoon walk, at least a quarter mile away from the farmyard, and suddenly you'd hear this Cock-a-doodle-doo! floating across the fields and into the woods.

"Wow," I said, the first time it happened. "You can really hear those roosters a long ways away." Joe simply shook his head in agreement. He's had more experience with roosters than he cares to remember.

"So how do I know if these chicks are hens or roosters?" I asked him a few weeks ago after returning from feeding Whitey and her rapidly growing brood yet another gourmet meal. They were putting on feathers, turning different colors, and taking on individual characteristics.

"We'll know soon enough," he replied, then hitched his deep voice up a few notches and said, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

There's nothing like a hunky farmguy crowing like a rooster. Now if I could just convince him that we need to keep one of these new boys around so he can fertilize some eggs. How else will Whitey be able to
raise another batch of chicks?


Many thanks to the nearly 200 of you who so kindly completed my five second survey (and for all those kind words -- wow). Your responses have been extremely helpful, and I'll be making some changes around here based on what you've told me. If you haven't yet taken part, I'd still love to have your input. Just click
here -- it really does only take a few seconds.

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Monday, August 6

Which Text Reads Best? A Five Second Survey

I need a little help. I write this blog for you, but I have no idea how it looks on your computer. Please take a few seconds to compare the text samples below and let me know which one you think looks the best. Then simply leave a comment with your choice: A, B, C, or D. A & B are the same font, Verdana, in different sizes. C is Georgia.

8/7/07 Update: Many thanks to all of you who have already taken the time to respond. I really appreciate it, and the extra info you've offered is very helpful. I personally like Choice A the best (obviously, since I've been using it), but lately I've been thinking that this type might be too small for some people to comfortably read. So far it's looking like I may be right, and that Choice B might be the better way to go. Legibility over looks! Now if I could only figure out a way to please all of the people all of the time. : )

Any other feedback regarding the visual and technical aspects of Farmgirl Fare, both positive and negative, is welcome and greatly appreciated. Feel free to leave an anonymous comment if you wish. Thanks so much!

Choice A:

Cooling Off With A Look Back At Winter
Journal entry -- December 8, 1995

It was snowing when I got up this morning, and everything was already covered in white. I could see the dogs curled up in each side of their duplex doghouse, but the only cat to be found was Buster.* He was crouching on the patio in front of the house, about to pounce on a lone brown bird pecking at the ground beneath the bird feeder. He wiggled that way cats do when they're ready to attack, but before he could lunge the bird fluttered away.

There were two bright red cardinals in a nearby bush, but Buster's attentions had moved on to the snow. He was busy chasing invisible creatures, leaping with his paws out in front of him, splashing through the powder. He went back and forth, back and forth all over the patio. Within seconds the entire blanket of pristine snow had been torn up by little cat feet.

Choice B:

Cooling Off With A Look Back At Winter
Journal entry -- December 8, 1995

It was snowing this morning, and everything was covered in white. I could see the dogs curled up in each side of their duplex doghouse, but the only cat to be found was Buster.* He was crouching on the patio in front of the house, about to pounce at a lone brown bird pecking at the ground beneath the bird feeder. He wiggled that way cats do when they're ready to attack, but before he could lunge, the bird fluttered away.

There were two bright red cardinals in a nearby bush, but Buster's attentions had moved on to the snow. He was busy chasing invisible creatures, leaping with his paws out in front of him, splashing through the powder. He went back and forth, back and forth all over the patio. Within seconds the entire blanket of pristine snow had been torn up by little cat feet.

Choice C:

Cooling Off With A Look Back At Winter
Journal entry -- December 8, 1995

It was snowing this morning, and everything was covered in white. I could see the dogs curled up in each side of their duplex doghouse, but the only cat to be found was Buster.* He was crouching on the patio in front of the house, about to pounce at a lone brown bird pecking at the ground beneath the bird feeder. He wiggled that way cats do when they're ready to attack, but before he could lunge, the bird fluttered away.

There were two bright red cardinals in a nearby bush, but Buster's attentions had moved on to the snow. He was busy chasing invisible creatures, leaping with his paws out in front of him, splashing through the powder. He went back and forth, back and forth all over the patio. Within seconds the entire blanket of pristine snow had been torn up by little cat feet.

Choice D:
You mean people read all this stuff? I only stop by for the photos.

*Buster was Molly Doodlebug's dad. She looks like a miniature version of him and even struts around trying to look tough like he used to, though of course it doesn't work since she only weighs 4-1/2 pounds.

Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars Recipe & The Ups and Downs of My Blueberry Connection

Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars with an oat crust and streusel topping


"Hi, this is Susan, your blueberry customer who raises sheep."

"Of course. How are you? How many lambs did you have this year?"

My local blueberry supplier recently acquired a small flock of his own, and he loves to talk sheep, but eventually I was able to steer him back to the matter at hand.

"I was calling to see how the blueberries are doing this year."

"You remember that bad freeze we had back in April?" Oh yes.

"Well, things aren't looking too good." Oh no.

"I can put you on The List." I could hear paper fluttering in the background. "I've got pages and pages of people here. You wouldn't believe how many customers have been calling about blueberries. Everybody calls when they open up their last bag from the freezer." Yep, that would be me.

"Um, I think I should already be on The List. I ordered five gallons when I picked up my five gallons last year."

"Oh, then you're probably on it."

"So how many blueberries do you think you'll get?"

"Maybe 50 or 60 gallons if I'm lucky." This was not sounding good.

"And how many do you normally get?"

"I should be getting 400. Last year I got 250, though the smaller harvest meant the berries were all large and juicy." I remember. "During the year I barter. When I buy something from someone or have them do work for me, they say, 'Just pay me in blueberries.' At this point I'm not even sure I'll have enough to pay them all." This was just getting better and better.

"If you find somebody else selling blueberries, I'd buy them." Great. Like who?

Then we went back to talking about sheep, and the conversation ended with him extending an invitation to come over one day soon for a lunch of homegrown lamb enchiladas made with chiles from last year's garden and corn tortillas from his own corn, served up with a salad of freshly picked lettuce.

"This isn't just one of those off-the-cuff invitations," he assured me. "This is real. I can't find anybody around here to eat this stuff with me." Okay, so maybe all was not lost—just my year's supply of berries.

The first summer I spent in Missouri, I planted a giant garden that provided me with, among other things, an enormous number of cucumbers, and I was determined that not a single one should go to waste. (This was before I kept ravenous, veggie loving chickens, which allows me to be a lot lazier and not feel guilty about it.)

I remember asking a friend if she thought I should go ahead and put up more than the 36 jars of dill pickles I already had stashed in a cupboard in my studio/office.

"You might as well. You may not get any cucumbers next year."

"Really? Why?" Was there some big fatal cucumber blight predicted that I didn't know about? "What's going to happen next year?"

"I have no idea. Anything could happen. You never know what could go wrong."

To a newish gardener who was still glowing from recent success and hadn't yet had many natural disasters befall her bounty, total crop failure seemed impossible, not to mention totally unfair.

Twelve Missouri farm years later, I understand completely.

Blueberries are in season in many places right now. If you find someone selling them, buy them. Just be sure to buy enough for next year, too.

One of the nicest things about blueberries is that they freeze beautifully, so you can easily enjoy them, and these bars, all year long. You don't even have to spread them out in a single layer on baking sheets like you do for raspberries or blackberries. To freeze blueberries, just fill up a zipper freezer bag or plastic container and toss them into the freezer.

An outing to a pick-your-own farm is a wonderful way to spend the day with kids and take home some delicious bounty. is a great resource for finding pick-your-own farms in your area and even includes listings in other countries.

Farmgirl Susan's Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars
Makes on 9"x13" pan — 12 to 16 large bars

**Click here to print this recipe**

Some of you will recognize these as a variation of the Blueberry Bonanza Breakfast Bars I created last summer, when I did get my five gallons of fresh blueberries. In September I made a peachy blueberry version, and a friend I shared some with has been raving and hinting about them ever since.

A few months ago I wangled her into leaving the craziness on her farm to come spend the day giving wormer shots to the 91 sheep on mine, bribing her with the promise of large quantities of kitchen garden bounty and homemade baked goods. I even sent her home with frozen pizza. (I was the one who ended up with the best present of all that day, though, as this was the friend who brought Whitey the fertilized eggs.)

"Did you make any of those blueberry peach things?" she asked when she called to say she was on her way.

"I couldn't. I didn't have any peaches. But I made you some with apples and blueberries instead."

"That sounds. . . interesting." I took this to be nice talk for Yuck.

When she arrived I offered her one of the experimental apple blueberry bars as an energy boost before we got to work, and after two thoughtfully chewed bites she turned to me and said, "I do believe these taste better than the ones with peaches."

Of course the best thing about these bars is that adding the apples makes my now precious blueberries go a lot further.

Don't let the three separate layers in this recipe scare you away; they come together quickly and you only need to dirty up two mixing bowls. With the oatmeal crust and streusel topping, these bars remind me of an eat-with-your-hands cross between apple blueberry pie and apple blueberry crisp.

They can be enjoyed any time of day: put one in a lunchbox, pack some on a picnic, or munch on one in the car on your way to pick up the kids at school. You can cut them into squares, wrap them up individually, and freeze them for an instant snack.

For a comfort food dessert of the highest order, cut into the pan while they're still warm and gooey and serve them up in bowls alongside scoops of vanilla ice cream and topped with a handful of fresh blueberries.

My blueberries are large and not super sweet. If yours are the smaller and sweeter wild variety, you may want to use a little less sugar in the middle layer. Choose your favorite kind of apple; a combination of tart and sweet is very nice.

Feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for some or all of the white flour in the crust and/or the streusel topping. To give them another healthy boost, you could mix some chopped walnuts or almonds or pecans into the topping.

As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients; they really do make a difference. Even organic sugars are becoming mainstream.

Bottom Layer
2 cups organic old-fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1½ sticks/6 ounces) organic butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Top Layer
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) organic butter or natural vegetable oil sticks such as Earth Balance

Middle Layer
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
3 generous cups unpeeled chopped apples (about 5 small/19 oz)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon if pre-ground)

For the Bottom Layer:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" pan. (I love my  Chicago Metallic commercial bake and roast pans and these heavy duty USA Pans are really nice too.)

In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. I also use the bottom of a stainless steel measuring cup to help make the crust flat and even.

For the top layer:
Place the flour, brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl and use a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers to combine until the mixture resembles large crumbs (some pea-sized clumps are okay). Set aside.

For the middle layer:
Place the blueberries and apples in the bowl you mixed the bottom layer in. Add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss until well combined.

Sprinkle the top layer evenly over the fruit mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the top is golden and looks "dry," but the edges aren't too brown, about 25 to 35 minutes.

Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream if desired. Store leftover bars in a cool place or refrigerate. They may also be individually wrapped in plastic and frozen.

Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the fruit filled foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Sunday, August 5

Farm Photo 8/5/07: Mama Whitey and Her Brood

Mother as landing pad - Whitey and her 7 chicks on 6-14-07 -
Mother as landing pad

This gives a whole new meaning to 'letting your children walk all over you.' I took this photo back on June 14th, when Whitey's seven baby chicks were ten days old and beginning to figure out that if you flapped your wings, you could lift off the ground.

But the only place to set down once you were airborne was on mom's back, where the landing was soft but the terrain was uneven and slippery. This prime spot was highly coveted, and there were times when Whitey had two chicks wobbling on top of her while two or three others prepared to launch an invasion and claim the territory.

Whitey didn't seem to mind all this, apparently accepting it as simply one more thing that comes with being a mother.

I hadn't planned on putting up any more baby chick photos for a while, lest some of you who are more sheep/donkey/food/cat/whatever fans start to complain. But I changed my mind this morning when I brought Whitey and her little flock their first gourmet meal of the day.

The chicks go into a feathered frenzy every time I show up with food, chirping frantically while scurrying into the screened-in area where their wooden feed trough resides. As usual, I stood in the narrow doorway between the main chicken house and the dining room, bent over at the waist so I could empty the bowl of treats into the trough. I didn't do a head count first.

I heard flap! flap! flap! and felt a soft thunk.

There's a chicken on my back, I thought. Which was immediately followed by And I can't get a picture of it.

The feeling of having something jump onto my back while bent over wasn't completely unfamiliar, as the 4-1/2 pound Doodle Monster often uses me as a landing pad, though she usually swoops down from some higher perch rather than flying up from the ground. (Life with Molly Doodlebug is sort of what I imagine living with a demanding flying squirrel would be like.)

I contemplated the situation for a couple of seconds and then wiggled my back a little. The chick didn't budge. I turned my head around so I could look at it, wondering at the same time how long I could stay in this position and what in the world this chicken was thinking.

After a few more seconds it flapped back onto the ground behind me, then raced toward the treats as soon as I unblocked the doorway.

I didn't mind any of this. It was simply one more thing that comes with being a farmgirl. But I do wish I'd managed to get a picture.

Just tuning in to Whitey Watch? Click here and scroll to the bottom to begin at the beginning.

©, the always full of surprises foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Saturday, August 4

Farm Photo: 8/4/07

Baby's First Dustbath
(Taken June 15th)

Wondering what's with all the chick pics? Click here, then scroll down to the bottom to begin at the beginning of this whole Whitey Watch business.

A year of chicken photos and stories ago:
--7/19/06: Cats Aren't The Only Curious Critters
--7/20/06: A Tree Goes Down & Lindy Goes Missing
--7/21/06: And Sheeeeeeee's SAFE!
--7/28/06: Lindy & Whitey Offer Help To Donkey Doodle Dandy
--8/01/06: Chickens Love Company
--8/13/06: Everybody Gets Tomatoes This Time Of Year

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Friday, August 3

Farm Photo: 8/3/07

Baby's First Perch

This photo of two of Whitey's chicks was taken back on June 18th. The baby on the left is the one in yesterday's photo. Look how much smaller its wings and tail feathers are here, just six days earlier.

When I set up this training perch a few inches off the ground, several of the chicks immediately hopped over and flapped their way up onto it. They obviously loved it, but most of them would sit facing the wrong direction, staring into the corner of the coop. It looked so funny. Then one by one they figured out that if you turned the other way, you could see all the action without having to spin your head around like an owl.

Just tuning in to Whitey Watch? Click
here, then scroll down to the bottom to begin back at the beginning.

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Thursday, August 2

Farm Photo: 8/2/07

Wall Inspection

Farmgirl Inspection

It's hard to believe that Whitey's not-so-little-anymore chicks will already be two months old on Saturday. It's been so much fun watching them grow up, especially since I've never had a mother hen raise a flock of chicks before.

I've been taking lots of photos, but I seem to have gotten a little behind sharing them (so what else is new?). I've been sorting through them all and figured I'd just randomly post some of my favorites, like these two, which were taken back on June 24th. This is the chick that started out pale yellow. They sure don't stay small and fluffy--or even the same color--for long. Feathers simply appear out of nowhere.

All seven chicks are doing just fine, but a lot of the photos aren't very good. Baby chickens do not like to stand still.

Just tuning in to Whitey Watch? Click
here, then scroll down to the bottom to begin back at the beginning.

©, the rapidly growing foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares photos & stories of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.