Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chicken Coop Inspiration

Doesn't it just seems too daunting to make chickens, with all their dust, feathers, and droppings, lovely? I mean, we all want our gardens to look pretty and inviting; the walk up to the front porch, the sitting area on the back patio, the drive up to the garage... but then we get to the vegetable garden and coop and somehow all our inspiration seems to evaporate.

I think a little motivation is in order, don't you? Even with the Hen Hilton going in, right now it seems to just be four walls with some doors and windows (well made, mind you, but still a box at this point). Here are a few favorite inspirational chicken coops that excite me...

The first four pictures are from Bonnie Manion at VintageGardenGal. I just love how she has incorporated her flowers around the runs!

Is that foxglove? And chrysanthemums? Why, I do think those girls are happy layers because their view is so fabulous!

And these must be early spring lilies. Some thing different for each season. What a great idea!

Two views of the coop itself show this wonderful vine growing with pink flowers up and over the top. Certainly softens the hard lines on an otherwise plain side of a hen house.

The next two photos I found ages ago and saved them for my own coop plans. I adore this "lean to" style run on the side of this pale yellow chicken house. The Hen Hilton will get one of these on the right side for new chicks each spring and for all the girls once they are old enough and acquainted. (I tried for an hour to locate the source of this photo and the next two, but finally gave up. If any of these should be your coop, please let me know and I'll certainly give credit and post a link!)

What do you think of the red and white school house look? Cheery! That front door was inspiration for the Hen Hilton as well. And those tall runs. A must have. I'm so tired of bending over in the smaller runs. How am I suppose to do that years from now when I'm an old lady and all the kids are grown and gone? Think long term, gals! Build for the future!

The copula is lovely, yes? Mmmm... I'm thinking about that one. Might add that as a finishing touch in a year or two - after a few other projects are completed!

Wow! What a great idea to add a trellis to one end. It looks lovely even without anything growing on it. And it doesn't hurt that it opens up right into the garden area. Nice.

Okay, before you even look at the next picture, I have to tell you that THIS one was my dream. I wanted a rustic little home for my girls with all this lovely finery (but my wonderful man just couldn't bring himself to build anything but what he thought was best). Simple and elegant. That's what I say. But truthfully, it's really the roses that say it all...

Country Home Magazine/ March 2008, pg. 72

Did it take your breath away like it did mine? And aren't the chickens so pretty up against those flowers? Makes me swoon a bit.

Here's how I see it. Unless you're using an old rusted out vehicle or an old washer as your chicken coop (which I did see when surfing the net), you can make just about anything look great if you add some paint and 'get your green on' by planting a little garden around it. My own will have light sage green siding with a light tan trim (due to CC & R's I have to abide by). Then I bought two bridal veil spirea plants and some boxwoods to place around the edge somewhere. I'm thinking a white lady banks rose bush on one side. And since some of the coop is in the shade, I'll probably add some hosta and maybe a silver lace vine. Along the fence behind it, I want to add some iceberg roses. Kind of a white and green theme. Simple, but hopefully beautiful.

Want to share your chicken coop? Add a comment with a link to your post and photo. We'd love to see!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chicken Coop Update

I know most everyone else finished their summer projects at least two months ago, but we're still working on our big project at River Rock Cottage. The Hen Hilton now has the roof on and all but two boards of the siding! Yahoo!

As you can see from the pictures, the girls have already moved in and are making themselves at home. The run is very small right now and not really adequate for the long haul. But we should be able to start painting this next weekend if the weather cooperates. Then the work on the runs can finally begin. Last will come the permanent windows. In the meantime we've covered the openings with chicken wire and heavy gauge plastic sheeting. Believe me, it's very toasty in there and they are happy hens. Almost everyone is laying daily (keyword being almost!).

Since the weather will turn on us soon, we may not get it all done this fall. But, I can assure you there are plenty of indoor projects waiting for my dear husband should that happen. It's never all done and thus I keep telling my girls to learn to enjoy the journey of the work itself.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Basic Whole Wheat Bread

As promised, I'm posting a Whole Wheat Bread Recipe for making a loaf of sandwich bread that I like to use. I believe I got this from Sue Becker's Cookbook, so I want to be sure to give her credit. She has several very informative articles on her website, Bread Beckers, that you might wish to read sometime! As I go through the recipe I will be highlighting tips that will really make a difference. Be sure to read through these a couple of times before you begin. Also, I've added as many pictures as I could so that you could see what it should look like.

Whole Wheat Bread
2 C. warm water (110 - 115 degrees)
1/3 C. olive oil
1/4 C. honey (I like to use raw honey)
1 egg
3 1/2 tsp. yeast
5-6 C. whole wheat flour (I like to use Prairie Gold freshly milled)
2 tsp. sea salt

Tools Needed:
mixer with dough hook
bowl or container for proofing
two loaf pans 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2"
basic measuring spoons, cups, etc.

tipbring all ingredients to room temperature so that a cold ingredient doesn't deactivate your yeast. I keep my yeast in the freezer to keep it fresh and so this is very important.

tipgrease your mixing bowl generously with olive oil as well as the dough hook. This will keep the dough from climbing the hook while you are kneading it! It may get near the top, but it shouldn't go over and into the mechanism.

Combine water, oil, honey, and egg in mixing bowl.

Add yeast and then three cups of flour and salt.

tipif your mixing bowl is stainless steel and the temperature in your room is causing the bowl to be very cold, either heat the bowl with warm water before beginning, or be sure that your water is right at 115 degrees because the cold bowl can bring down the temperature.

tipmeasure your oil first and then honey using the same measuring cup. This will help the honey come out easily and completely.

tipalways add the salt with the flour so as not to kill the yeast. I usually add it to the third cup of flour.

Continue adding two more cups of flour. On the sixth cup, add only as needed. Starting timing your kneading process with a timer for 10 minutes. Watch the dough as it kneads and add just a bit more flour here and there as you see it getting too sticky and leaving too much on the sides of the bowl.

tipseveral factors will determine how much flour you must add at this point. Try not to add any more than necessary as it will make your bread heavy. It should be a bit sticky, but not so sticky as to leave dough on your hands when you touch it. Eventually, the bowl sides should be fairly clean by the kneading process.
Transfer dough to a well greased container for proofing (rising). Roll the dough over to coat it with oil. Cover and place in a warm location. Proof until doubled in size.

tipI like to use a food grade commercial tub with a matching lid. These come in various sizes with quart and liter markings on the side. You can purchase these through King Arthur Flour or at Smart 'N Final or at a restaurant supply store.
Note: my oven has a special proofing feature on it that sets the temperature at just the right amount for rising bread. Most ovens do NOT have this feature and do not attempt to use your oven for this if you don't have this setting unless your oven is gas and you use ONLY the pilot light. If you get your oven too hot, it will kill your yeast. Some options for warm locations include, above a refrigerator, dryer, or in an Excalibur dehydrator. If none of these work for you, I use to put a cooling rack over my sink that was filled with very hot water. I placed the dough in a shallow bowl on the cooling rack and covered the entire sink with a large light weight kitchen towel. This worked just fine before I was blessed with this new oven.
After the bread has doubled in size, turn out, punch down, and shape into two loaves.

tipcut the dough into two loaves that are close to the same size as possible. Don't worry about a lot of kneading at this point, but you need to get the air pockets out. I like to roll the bread out into a rectangle and then start on the narrow end and roll tightly keeping it from growing longer than my loaf pan.

Place into loaf pans and brush with melted butter.

Proof again, letting the loaves rise to just above the top of the loaf pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and then turn out of the pans.

tip: don't allow bread to rise too high or it will start to collapse over the sides of your loaf pan and become difficult to remove. 

bread will be done when you tap on it and it sounds hollow.
To remove bread from pan, slip a flat edge tool around the sides to loosen. When you turn out the bread, lay it on a cooling rack on its side to prevent it from collapsing while it is hot.


resist all temptation to slice hot bread! It will cause it to be gummy! Allow it to cool completely before slicing. (Unless you like gummy bread of course and you're not using it for sandwiches or toast.)

I hope you will find all these tips helpful. I can't think of anything more frustrating than spending all that time making bread only to have it come out so-so or poorly. I know, because it's happened to me. And sometimes, for strange and unknown reasons, a loaf will have a "bad day" and just won't be what I expected. But over time, my breads have come out consistently nice and with just the texture I need for making sandwiches. If you still have a problem, check out the Baking911 troubleshooting page. It is very informative and should help you determine what went wrong.

In the future, I will be posting additional articles that contain more information for making homemade breads. I hope to explore sour doughs, artisan breads, and more! After all, bread is the staff of life, right?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

All Flours Are Not Created Equal

Today is Part 2 of a series on Whole Wheat Bread Baking. If you missed yesterday's post, you may wish to read it first (See Below or click here).
It's true. Flours are very different. Obviously there is a difference between bleached and unbleached, whole wheat and white. But what? Aren't they all flours that one can use to make bread? Yes, but they can't be used interchangeably. Adjustments have to be made. Bread is one of the most finicky things I've ever made. It's a lot of science and a lot of art combined into one product. And while most of us find the "art" part easy, we want to skip over the "science" aspect. But if you want to make bread successfully, it helps to know at least a little bit of grain knowledge. Also, if you want to make a healthier product, you'll need to know what's in each flour you are considering.

Backing up to the beginning, a kernel of wheat has three main parts: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.

bran: The bran is the dietary fiber we are all familiar with in our cereals. This portion of the wheat kernel also has a small amount of protein and a lot of vitamin E as well as B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

germ: The germ is the embryo part of the seed which contains some protein and a larger portion of B vitamins and trace minerals. This is the part that is removed from flour that is packaged to go to the stores because it will quickly go rancid and limits the flour's shelf life.
endosperm: This makes up the bulk of the wheat kernel and what is ground for white flour. The endosperm contains the largest portion of protein, carbohydrates and iron, as well as the four major B-vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin and thiamin and folic acid.

So, when you buy white flour at the store, you are purchasing a product that has all the germ and bran removed. You can check out this chart to see what happens from grain to final product when they are creating white flour. If you have trouble viewing it on this blog, click here.

Approximately ninety-five percent of white flour is enriched. This means they've added nutrients back in, namely three of the vitamin B's, iron, and folic acid. But what about these smaller nutrients that are naturally occurring in the wheat kernel when left unrefined? According to Sue Becker's article, Exposing the Deception of Enrichment, 25-30 nutrients have been drastically or completely eliminated!

Back to the making of bread. The type of flour you use greatly changes the final outcome of the bread based on the amount of protein left in it and whether it has the bran and germ. The protein (in the form of glutenin and gliadin), when mixed with liquid creates the gluten which is what gives the bread structure and elasticity. All that will vary if the amount of protein is different. If you use a hard red winter wheat flour as opposed to a soft white spring wheat flour, the outcome of your loaf will be different because the protein content varies between the two. (NOTE: Soft white wheat is typically used for cakes and cookies, not bread).

I hope I'm not boring you, but it boils down to this... pick one kind of flour and stick with it when making bread until you get it down pretty well. Then you can start trying other flours. But, again, if you are a beginner, pick a brand and type and don't deviate until you like your final product and you are getting the results you want consistently. This single tip can make a big difference.

Let me encourage you to try using whole wheat flour. In another post I will talk about the benefits of milling your own, but for now, consider making the switch to whole wheat if you haven't already. And now there are lighter whole wheat flours if you don't want a strong nutty flavor. King Arthur Flour makes one of the best out there. If you can't find it at your local store, you can have it shipped directly to you from their website. Another alternative would be to go to your local health food store and purchase some Bob's Red Mill Stone Ground Whole Wheat or Arrowhead Mills Stone Ground Whole Wheat. Just don't buy pastry flour for bread.

Tomorrow, I will be posting a recipe I like to use when making whole wheat flour along with some additional tips.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Introduction to Whole Wheat Bread Baking

Have you really read the ingredients on the bag of your favorite bread recently? Do you have any clue what's in that loaf of "goodness"? Good luck finding one without high fructose corn syrup or some other sinister item that has fallen out of favor. For example, store bought bread must be preserved to some degree or it wouldn't last long enough on the store shelves to get it home before going rancid or moldy.

Perhaps you aren't concerned about preservatives or unnatural sweeteners. Or you'd rather not know. Isn't ignorance bliss, you say? I really believe we have tampered with our food so much that it doesn't even really resemble food anymore. Okay, it looks like food, but it's what I call "fake food", a term my girls hear from me often.

For those interested, I'm going to attempt to do a series of posts for making homemade bread. I know there are a ton of recipes out there, and even some YouTube videos. But few tell you in one place all the little tips that make it work. Most people quit after their first or second loaf because it isn't even close to what a store bought loaf looks like. While they will never be identical due to ingredients (and that is a good thing!), you can achieve something that is not only good, but desirable.

I need to warn you, I'm not an expert. I'm just a mom who decided that the stuff at the store just wasn't something I wanted my family ingesting on a regular basis. I've gone through spurts where I made it for a while and then quit, only to start making it again. Honestly, when I was teaching at my daughter's school, I was usually too tired when I came home to make bread. So I understand that it isn't for everyone. However, part of the reason I didn't do it was because I wasn't proficient at it and didn't consider making a couple of extra loaves at a time and freezing them.

About 6 months ago, my younger girls had some friends over and I hadn't made any bread. We needed a loaf for sandwiches and some milk. Quickly, I ran into the store, grabbed the milk and bread, forking over nearly $10 for the two items. Mind you, this was a small loaf of bread and only half a gallon of milk (not raw milk, but organic - we only drink raw milk, but for friends, I bought the pasteurized version). I think I pouted for two days over that pricy purchase, ranting about what the world is coming to when it cost nearly $10 for two basic items! I decided that I would not be buying bread again (with the exception of an occasional specialty bread).

That decision led me to step it up a bit in the kitchen. I'd have to be proactive and make enough to keep my family fed and happy. So we've basically fallen into a routine where once a week we make at least two loaves for sandwiches. One is ready to eat, the other goes into the freezer for mid week. Obviously, some families need more bread to get by during a 7 day stretch. We have actually cut back a bit on our consumption. Instead of sandwiches nearly every day, we look for alternatives. Left overs have always been welcome at our home, but even these won't feed a growing family every day at lunch. Somehow, it's all worked out and everyone is happy. For evening meals, we occasionally make a quick bread such as cornbread or drop biscuits, but not at every meal. Only if it completes a meal in a special way - such as cornbread with chili. You got to have cornbread if you're having chili, right?

It would be easy to increase your bread intake, rather than reducing it, because homemade bread tastes so good! And at first, you probably will eat more, but if it is a regular staple in your diet, your family will come to expect it and not go wild every time it comes out of the oven (but they'll still be tickled pink). Also, homemade bread is more filling. I find that I don't want as much because it is so satisfying. Remember, this is the good stuff with whole grains. That means all of the wheat kernel.

In several posts, I will cover grains, milling, my standard recipe, and tips. And if I think of something else, I'll cover that, too. My daughter is doing a great job now making most of our bread. If I can teach her, perhaps I can teach you, too. And for those who already know how, be sure to add your tips in the comment section as well, because the more we know, the better will be at this bread making thing!


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