• Stargate Pie


    I've got a bit of a meringue obsession going this year, since I've had so many eggs coming in from the new hens. Organic eggs around here easily cost $6 a dozen, and at first I hoarded my eggs like gold, but after they piled up and took over the refrigerator last fall, I found lots of ways to play with them. We don't eat a lot of sweets in this house, but we do like chocolate pie. There is only one cup of sugar in the whole pie, and meringue is really good for protein, so why not? About once a month I have a little fun with it.
    This post isn't about chocolate pie itself, but in case it makes you hungry for one, here's the recipe I use. I just buy premade piecrust, cook and cool it ahead of time. The pie part is a very thick pudding, for which I use a stainless steel saucepan and a wooden spoon. It's quick and easy, but you can mess it up. I've thrown out puddings and started over a few times because I'm so easy to distract, but it's a cinch to start over.
    First thing you do after you bake the crust is separate your eggs, yolks into a small bowl, whites into a bigger bowl to use with a mixer. Be prepared to waste a few eggs if you're not very good at separating eggs, perhaps keep a third bowl nearby for scrambled eggs later. I like using my hands, and it's messy, so put paper towel down on the counter to set the shells on and hold the drippies at bay, scoops up so easy when you're done. Cream pie recipes call for different amounts of eggs, this one originally only called for 3, but I find it holds better with 5, and also bumps up the protein value in your pie. Try not to get any yolk in the whites bowl, and keep the yolk bowl as free of whites as possible. If a yolk breaks and everything goes wrong, that's what your third bowl is for if you can't bear to throw away eggs, you can use those later for breakfast.
    In your saucepan put 1 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of flour, 4 T of cocoa, and 1/4 t salt, stir all that up till it looks sifted. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk, doesn't have to be perfect, just make sure it's all wet and there aren't any big dry lumps lurking at the bottom. Turn the heat on medium. This bit is important. Don't go higher than medium (tempting if you feel impatient) because milk scalds so easily. Stir, keep stirring, keep the bottom from turning into a super thick sludge while the top stays runny. The key is to keep it all the same consistency while it cooks, keep the thickening up as homogenized as possible.
    It really doesn't take long for that to thicken up and start to 'glop' in a weird thick 'boil', at which point remove it from the heat and keep stirring for another 30 seconds till it settles down so it doesn't burn at the bottom. I'm right handed, so with a fork over my yolk bowl on my right and the spoon over the pudding pan on my left, I drizzle little bits of pudding into the yolks while I quickly whisk them with the fork. It's like walking and chewing gum at the same time, you get the hang of it. You have to keep the yolks moving so they don't have a chance to 'cook' and lump up like scrambled eggs. Heat denatures protein, breaks the molecular bonds and makes them change shape and get stiffer, so to keep the yolks more liquidy, keep them moving. All the chefs on the food channels will tell you this is tempering the yolks, and that only means bringing up the heat slowly so you can control their texture, so next time you hear that word, you'll know what it means. Whisk in several spoonfuls of the pudding till the yolks are all chocolaty looking, then pour the bowl of eggs into the pudding pan while stirring quickly with the wooden spoon. If you get egg lumps, either get them out or throw this all away and start over. Cream pie with scrambled egg lump texture is kinda gross.
    Put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring. The gloppy boil will happen a lot faster this time, and you don't want it happening very long at all, just make sure it gets good and hot for about a minute or so while you stir, then take it back off the heat and stir in a T of butter and a splash of vanilla. Pour it all into the baked pie crust and set aside.
    All this just to get to the meringue.  
    Meringue is very temperamental, especially if you live in an area that is the least bit humid, but so what, it's still fun to eat and pretty on a pie. They say meringue works best if the whites are room temperature to start, but I haven't found any difference. Most recipes call for 1/4 t of cream of tartar in the whites before you start mixing, some use a dash of vinegar, some don't use either, but if you want to delve into experimentation-  How to make the perfect meringue | Life and style | But back to having fun! I use cream of tartar, I think it's more reliable and doesn't make it taste funny. Also I splash in a little vanilla, yum! So 5 egg whites, 1/4 t cream of tarter, 1 t vanilla, and set your mixer on a pretty decent speed. You'll be standing there a few minutes, and it will seem like forever because you're not doing anything else, but it still goes fairly quickly. Since I've been playing with meringue so much, I also add food coloring gel at the start, this time I squirted a gob of blue gel in. For those of you who have never made meringue, the rest is in pictures so you'll know you're not epic failing if you don't get that pretty fluff right away. Most recipes don't mention the nerves you get wondering if you're doing it right when it doesn't look at all like a picture in a book.
    Starting out it looks kinda like jello, doesn't it? When you don't put food coloring in, you still get this pretty froth going, that that is what you watch, the froth. It changes as you go, and once you've done this a few times, you can get pretty good at gauging how far into the whipping process you are as the froth changes. Right here it's very liquidy. 

     It doesn't take long to look very bubbly, the way coke does when you first pour it into a glass over ice. As you work more air into the froth, the color will lighten up. 

    This has become almost pure foam, but will quickly fall apart and melt back into a more liquidy form if you stop and leave it alone. 

    Notice how we're getting 'waves' now that have the illusion of looking thicker. 

    And thicker. When the waves start holding their shape, you've almost reached the 'soft peak' stage. 

    Which looks like this, soft peaks that hold their shape when you stop. You'll see why they're called soft when you reach the stiff peak stage. At this point stop and get your sugar and then stir whipping it in a tablespoon at a time. You don't need to add extra sugar when you use a couple more whites.  

    The sugar helps the froth smooth out into a glossy fluff. Keep going for a bit. 

    These are stiff peaks. When your froth has finally turned into something that looks like marshmallow creme and holds a really good shape when you stop whipping, you've finally made meringue.  

    There are many things you can do with meringue, but this one is going onto a pie.
    I get so bored with the same old meringue, I started playing with shapes and colors this year. Maybe in a few months I can make something really super cool. But for now, I've got the basics down well enough to play with shaping waves. This seems to be turning into an activated Stargate portal.

    Bake your meringue in a preheated 350 degree oven for *about* 15 minutes, you really need to keep an eye on it because once it starts to brown, it can go black kinda fast, just like a marshmallow over a campfire.  

    Sometimes your meringue will 'weep' back into the pie. Not to fear. It's liquid sugar and doesn't spoil a thing. 


  • in which I thought T'Pol was a goner

    So spring has sprung and it's a lovely time to be a chicken with all the spiders sneaking around, baby grasshoppers showing up, snails lurking around the rocks, and piles of little earthworms under the old leaves, besides all the fresh salad spread out for the grazing. (Imagine walking around in your food because there is just so much of it...) Sometimes you get lucky and find a little patch of wild strawberries or tiny little baby snakes as skinny and fun to slurp down as spaghetti! But we live in a scary neighborhood full of big dogs, plus being on the edge of Mirkwood is actually quite dangerous. We've lost several chickens and two ducks in broad daylight within feet of us in the backyard to foxes and hawks (what I'd give for a slo-mo recording from a webcam!), so we don't dare stay out more than 20 minutes at a time. Especially when the woods suddenly get really quiet...

    I've got mine trained to come in for special treats. Today it was a can of corn and a piece of bread, yummy!

    Still, it's really hard to stop stuffing your face and move along when you're surrounded by paradise after such a long dull boring winter.

    Oopsie, T'Pol doesn't seem to be around anywhere. Well, when one goes missing, you get the others put up and then go looking. I went back to where I saw them last before I came in the house and looked for feathers. Nothing.

    She could just be out there in a happy bubble gobbling up a motherlode of worms, right? Not the first time I've had to trench into the deeper woods and brave the chiggers, ticks, copperheads, tree spiders (big webs you walk into face first- yeah, Mirkwood), and poison ivy and poison oak. I'd almost rather sacrifice a chicken back to nature than go round another tick disease (I'm a Lymie) or wind up on prednisone and extra benadryl. I can handle snakes, but I really hate spiders, and we have some as big as your hand around here.

    In woods like these, you keep your eyes peeled for color changes and movement (especially as T'Pol has excellent camo!), and listen for someone kicking leaves around. Chickens have a distinctive kick pattern. Usually you also hear squirrels or rabbits making a racket bounding through the old leaves embedding the forest floor, but at the moment it was so very quiet, I could only imagine a hawk must have stealth bombed my poor chicken and all the critters and birds froze till the coast was clear. That's happened before without the other chickens even noticing. The crunchy sounds you hear are me walking, and I didn't call out because I was listening. Halfway through you can see the other chickens really watching me from the pen.

    I finally gave up and went back to the pen, where all the other chickens were still gathered at the pen door wondering what in the world I was doing. I told them it was too bad they couldn't tell me where they saw her last, and suddenly I was all face palm going OH, she's on a nest! (This is where I have to wonder sometimes if animals are much more aware than we think and could probably communicate in visuals telepathically if we just knew how to shut up our minds and let them, because the timing was incredible.) T'Pol isn't the most reliable layer in the world, being a heritage breed (Speckled Sussex), and since it had been so long since we'd gotten an egg from her (she lays the smallest ones, easy to spot), I assumed she'd stopped laying altogether like a Sussex we'd had previously that laid only one month and stopped forever. And sure enough, there she was.

    The only experience I have with Speckled Sussex are Bean (former flock) and T'Pol (I've otherwise been around chickens all my life), and they both seem to be the most intelligent I've had as far as interspecies interaction goes. Kinda dumb for chicken survival because they're so laid back and the opposite of my flightier hens that you sometimes wish something would pounce on and carry off because they're so aggravating when their nerves go off. But they literally walk around our feet like cats to the point where we nearly stumble over them, and you can see T'Pol was fine with eating out of my hand. She is also my talker, the first one to come get me and complain that she's bored or to tell on someone or ask me what I'm doing or look all around me for snacks. If you are thinking about getting chickens and don't have any experience, toss a Speckled Sussex into the mix and make a pet of it. Other people claim their Sussex are pretty good layers, but their average ranges from 180-240 eggs a year, depending on environment, health, and stress levels. I think Bean suffered a shock from jumping right on top of a 6 foot black snake when she flew up to a nest one day, because she stopped laying cold turkey, laid one egg inside out a week later, and then literally went hermaphrodite on us. Her comb suddenly poofed up bigger, her tail feathers got longer and curved more, and then she started trying to crow, so she became truly transgendered. This isn't terribly uncommon in the chicken world, so we found it pretty amusing. Here is the snake.

  • campfire scrambled eggs


    I first ate this years ago during a big camping trip one weekend with probably over 50 girls plus a number of counselors. I was asked to go to be an extra supervisor for activities, which was fun. Smelling this breakfast cooking outside after sleeping in a tent is a gorgeous experience.
    Start by frying up some bacon, set it aside. (If you prefer chopped up ham, by all means saute some ham at this step! Set it aside like you would the bacon.)

    Drain the fat out of the pan, and I use 2 T of butter to every 2-3 eggs, so for this batch I used 4 T of butter. Let that melt on low heat in the pan while you chop up some veggies. I like green onions and orange bell peppers, very colorful in the eggs. My dad likes to steam broccoli florets in the microwave to add to his eggs (ew!), plus he sautes lots of chopped up jalapenos, other people like chopped tomatoes, pretty much anything your heart desires. The main thing is to get the harder veggies a little soft first before you scramble them in the eggs, so saute whatever you chop up in the butter (or whatever other fat you like to use, I think real butter has a nice flavor). I also like to add mushrooms, these are baby bellas.

    When the veggies reach the softness you prefer (try to keep some color, don't cook them to death), crumble the bacon up into the pan with the veggies and give it a good stir, then move all of it to the sides to make room for eggs. I grow my own eggs which are much more tasty than regular store eggs, and the yolks are darker.

    Pop the yolks with your spoon and stir the eggs up real good to scramble them, then pull the veggies and bacon into the scrambled eggs and make sure they're all scrambled together evenly.

    The rest is easy, just keep stirring every few seconds until the eggs cook and dry out a little. 

    I turn the heat off when the eggs are just done and sprinkle cheese on. I like mixing several cheeses together, but mostly I like Swiss with a little parmesan. If you like a more Mexican style of eggs, the colby/jack is really good, and a little parmesan perks it up even more.

    Looks great on the plate! Some restaurants offer options like hollandaise sauce or a dollop of sour cream or Tabasco sauce and maybe other goodies on the side, like sliced avocados and maybe more fresh chopped tomatoes or a separate mushroom sauce. This is the part where you play around with different flavors and styles. Me, I like digging in as soon as I can.

    I like to make a big batch so I can save some for later. These scrambled eggs keep very well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, and Scott likes to take them to work, because he leaves so early in the morning.

    One very nice perk about this ~basic~ egg recipe is that it's very low carb and won't spike your blood sugar, if you're having to watch out for that. If you add toast, juice, milk, sauce, fruit, and other stuff like that you will, but not if you just stick to these eggs. Also please notice there is no added salt. You get plenty from the bacon (or ham) and cheese.


  • killing time in between thunderstorms

    Killing a little time before the next crazy thunderstorm hits. The last lightning storm lasted nearly 5 hours. We're under a tornado watch, so I'm watching the weather maps.

    This is the kind of pictures I think would make good 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles. 

    I like how driving through the Ozarks feels like the bones of the earth are showing. Don't drive with a camera in your hand just because I do sometimes.

    This is only one set of towers within 5 miles of my house. You'd think I'd get way better broadband, but I don't, despite having the best. We live in a weird pocket, my street is like the Bermuda Triangle.

    I'm not terribly fond of driving through junky little towns, but this one feels like there is something special about it. I think it's all the trees hiding the town...

    I love the shockingly brilliant red maples standing out before all the others turn orange and yellow. In a few more days half the county will seem like it's bright red.

    I feel like I'm on the top of the world at this point because you can see so much horizon all around. That's one thing about living in woods that I miss, I grew up with lots of horizon in a desert.

    My street feels magical because of all the trees. When the leaves fall it's like driving through a movie, and when it snows you feel like you're way far away in a magical wood, in a different world.

    I love the way the world looks from my yard.

    Looking out the window in between thunderstorms.

    Kinda having a little trouble trying to keep up with a half dozen eggs every day. Those girls are machines.

  • cackleberry factory

       Morgana has taken over as lead hen since she started laying.  Very bossy!


    All six hens are laying now, bringing in about five eggs a day, just in time to start mixing up cookie doughs and other good stuff to put up into the freezer for holidays.



  • blueberry buttermilk applejacks


    After last weekend's stupid food reaction fiasco, I decided we're having extra special *good* stuff at home, yay! I'm always making new stuff that beats restaurant food so I don't feel so depressed that I can't enjoy eating out any more.
    My fave pancakes growing up were apple jacks, Scott loves blueberries, and who doesn't love buttermilk? So here you go, slaver over this easy awesome do-it-yourself gourmet pancake. To a cup of your fave pancake mix (I used Bisquick) add a half teaspoon of cinnamon and whisk in. Add a little lunchbox sized container of applesauce, one egg, and a couple splashes of buttermilk, whisk thoroughly. If it's too thick, splash a little more buttermilk, if it's too thin, add a little more mix. Pour a little onto a hot lightly oiled griddle, sprinkle on some blubes (frozen is fine, mine were homegrown at my sister's house), and cook like for regular pancakes.

    These are particularly moist but still manage to fluff up a little bit, and they smell like a holiday breakfast.


    These are the cutest tiny little eggs from my new hens, started laying just this last week. Organic free range at home *always* tastes so much better than restaurant eggs.


    Scott doubles up on the blubes with homemade blueberry jam that my sister made. I've experimented with all kinds of bacon, the best for getting crispy (for me) seems to be Farmland lower sodium, no idea why.


    This is the best way to squelch that 'poor me I have multiple food allergies and can't eat in restaurants without major weird cross contamination' depression, and you can do nearly anything you want with other flavors for all kinds of pancakes. Might seem simple to foodies, but when we get busy it's easy to forget how easy it is to enjoy something really good.


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