Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April ... meet our new Peeps!

Hello. My name is Sandii. {Hi Sandii!} I'm a chook-a-holic!

Here we go again ... I couldn't resist these 6 little peeps at Tractor Supply store ... 1 Buff Orpington (Agnes), 3 Red Sexlinks (Margot, Edith & Lucy), and 2 Tetra Tints (Thing 1 & Thing 2) ...

Our rule of not naming new additions to the flock (in case we want to eventually eat them!) was definitely broken! Oh well. In the meantime, we're enjoying the extreme cuteness :)

Agnes                                  Edith

   Lucy                                   Margot

Thing 2                                    Thing 1

They grow & change so quickly! Check them out below at two weeks (Margot, Edith, Agnes & Lucy) & three weeks (Things 1&2) old ...

And within a couple weeks their true colors are starting to show.

Pecking Order

Things 1 & 2 rule the roost, and rightly so as they are a week older than the rest. Thing two has a small dark smudge on her back feathers that sets her apart from Thing 1. Margot likes to face off with the Things and holds her own for the most part. Edith is very skittish and is always ready to defend herself if needed. Agnes is a little shy and keeps away from conflict by finding refuge in a corner or roost bar. She'll tolerate a cuddle. And dear Lucy, she is the sweetheart of the bunch, most petite, and friendliest. She responds to her name and doesn't mind a cuddle.

With the onset of warmer weather (finally!) the girls have had some outside time ... we have an old crib that makes a great play pen for them. Lucy, being a little petite, discovered that she could fit between the bars, but she didn't wander far, and even squeezed back in to join her sisters again!


We have to get to work next week and build their coop over at the other house. They are ready for some space to run & test their wings! And they may yet be joined by more ... K & T are studying embryology in their third grade classes, and hatching eggs :) We hope to adopt some of the chicks (White Leghorns). And I put some "feelers" out for interest in organic eggs ... lets just say we would need at least 40 chickens to meet the requests so far! Yikes! I'm game, just not sure dear hubby is as far on board as I am!

K-man is enduring his annual swim lessons ... I got him a full rash guard suit to help him deal with the cold water — the kid does not have any "insulation" on his body — and he seems to be doing great so far. His hip-hop dance recital is in about eight weeks, and we just got the costume ... check him out ... how cool is this kid?! Can't wait to see him dance!
Oh, we have made our first improvement to the new house. 4 hrs + 2 parents = a 14x16ft trampoline! Happy Easter kids!

Have trampoline, have happy kids & friends :)
April is living up to its reputation for showers ... the month is coming to an end with a huge storm system parked on top of us promising 3-5 inches of rain. These April showers better bring the May flowers promised :)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

For many years I was scared to make bread. I have crafted many "bricks" ... both hand made and even with a bread machine! So I gave up,  I stopped trying, for a long time. Then, inspired by bread (among many other things) -making foodie friends, and a huge book called "Bread Machine" I started trying again. After some reasonable, even edible, attempts, I decided to give away my bread machine (it always undermixed and overbaked my breads, no matter the settings) and only make hand-made. I am learning, experimenting really, how to adapt bread machine recipes to hand-made (that book is full of so many amazing recipes!) and this recipe is my first real success.

Hot Cross Buns
I love fruit bread ... pretty much any fruit bread, though it has to have real fruit in it, not that candied 'fruit stuff.' My faves include raisins, dried cranberries, currants, orange peel, lemon peel, lime peel ... mmm. Oh, and (for me at least) the cross needs to be baked on, not frosted.

In Australia we always got Hot Cross Buns at Easter time ... I think I looked forward to them more than the Easter eggs. It was the only time of year we got them and it was a real treat ... toasted ... with butter ...

Flicking through the pages of "Bread Machine" the first recipe that jumped from the pages was Hot Cross Buns, with the cross baked in/on! I made them using the bread machine (as a mixer) a couple times, following the recipe to the letter — they were a little tough. So during one attempt I timed the cycles on the bread machine and then soon after, I boldly pulled out my stand mixer and — after a few more attempts and some minor adjustments — I think I have it nailed ... though is any recipe ever really final?

So here it is:

1/3 cup dried currants
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup soft butter
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp apple pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
2 tsp rapid rise active dry yeast
1 tbsp grated lemon or orange peel (optional)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp sugar

Soak dried fruit in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Heat milk to steaming but not boiling. Put all the wet ingredients into the bowl of your mixer (milk, butter, lightly beaten egg). Add salt & sugar. Mix until butter melts. Drain & rinse dried fruit* and add to bowl. Put all the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, spices, peel) into bowl and mix at low speed for 10 minutes with a dough hook until ingredients are incorporated to form a sticky dough.

Preheat oven 5 mins to 200­°F (warm) then turn oven off. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a lint-free tea towel. Place in oven and allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs, until dough doubles in size.

Remove dough and lightly knead for one minute by hand. Use a sharp knife to divide dough into 12 equal size pieces. Tuck dough into balls and place in a 9"x15" glass baking dish — they might touch. Cover again and allow to rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hr.

Make the paste for the crosses by mixing the flour & butter (I use a small chopper/blender) to a fine crumbly mixture. Add enough water to bind together into a paste that you can pipe. (In a pinch you can use a small zipper plastic bag with the corner cut out.) Pipe a cross onto each bun.

Place buns in the oven on the middle shelf and set the temperature to 375°F (electric oven) — do not pre-heat! Set the timer for 20 minutes. Check buns when the timer goes off - they should be a light golden brown. Use a skewer to test that they are cooked through. Add a minute or two baking time if not.

While they are baking, mix milk and sugar and heat in the microwave or small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. When you remove the buns from the oven, turn them onto a rack or tea towel and immediately brush the glaze over them while they are still piping hot.

Serve hot, warm, or cool. They toast beautifully (cut in half) the next day or two — if there are any left!