Friday, August 31, 2012

Chicken Weirdness

Our chicken tractor is currently filled to maximum occupancy (plus one.)  Prior to this week, it housed only 4 laying hens.  Then, we added the 5 Dominiques that we got as chicks and raised alongside the meat chickens and 4 Buff Orpington's, which we'd intended to be meat birds.  Maximum occupancy really should be 12, but the last of the Buffs we intended to slaughter Saturday morning was so scrawny that she'd be nearly worthless as meat, so we added her to the pen as well.  (We talked briefly about pulling out one of the other 3 we'd already added to the laying pen, but that just seemed cruel.) 
These are the veteran layers.  Notice how they're all at the door to greet me?  That's because they know what the newbie hens don't know yet:  I almost always come to the pen bearing treats!

These Buffs have been getting picked on, so they stay up on the ladder all day long so as not to get pecked.  In fact, one of the veteran layers laid her egg in the grass yesterday rather than in the nesting box, presumably because these Buffs were blocking entrance to the chicken house.

And, this one just hangs out in the house all day.  Weird.

At night, chickens tend to want to roost, or perch on a limb or bar, like we have available for them inside the chicken house.  This is a natural instinct, but because the meat tractor has no roosting poles, these newbie hens haven't had a chance to hone their roosting skills.  

Here you can see how all 4 of our older chickens are roosting, but the new gals haven't figured it out.  The first night, I picked the Dominiques up and placed them on the roosting pole.  Several of them fell off, though, because they had such poor balance.  Their balance is improving, though, because they can now get up the ladder, a task which proved daunting to them their first day in this tractor.

So, the equilibrium of the flock is definitely off right now.  Hopefully, over the next few days and weeks, the gals can all figure out how to get along with one another, and the newbies can get settled in to their new digs.  It won't be long, and they should begin laying!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lessons from Katrina: Life Is Short!

First, thanks to the many of you who read and commented on yesterday's post.  It's good to know that people are reading what I write; although, I think yesterday's post was cathartic enough for me that I would've written it even if no one were reading it.  Anyway, thank you.  I love my readers!

Now, on to today's post.  How has going through Katrina changed our everyday living?  More pointedly, how has losing all of our "things" affected how we now view "things"?  Because, thankfully, that's really the only way we were affected by Katrina -- we lost ALL our stuff.  I could tell you countless tales of friends of ours who lost far more than just their stuff.  Some of the stories are so horrifying that when I first learned them, I couldn't shake them for days.  So, yes, we lost pretty much everything we owned.  And, in that, we are thankful that that's all we lost to the storm.

Starting over fresh with only the things in our suitcase was lightening.  It's hard to imagine giving up all of our earthly possessions by choice, but I can tell you from experience that when it's all gone, a load is truly lifted. I admit, I still miss my favorite pair of pants that fit just right and I wish that Girl 1 would have her baby book to look back on in years to come.  But, most of the stuff I haven't thought twice about.   

Knowing that, we attempt to keep our house clutter-free.  For an item to stay in our home, it must either be useful or hold sentimental value (hopefully both) and it must have a home

For example, our bed.

The bedspread was my Grandma Smith's.  The Euro shams are made from another bedspread of hers.  The quilt at the end of the bed was a gift from my Mamaw Carroll and was sewn by my great-grandmother Mama Toney.  Are they useful?  Yes.  Do they hold sentimental value?  You bet.  Do they have a home?  You're looking at it! (Also, the bed came in that truckload of furniture mentioned yesterday that was so graciously given to us when we had basically no other furniture to put in this house!)

Living without clutter means that our shelves are pretty much tchotchke-free (yes, that's how you spell tchotchke -- I looked it up ;)   The pictures on our walls are not random prints -- they are family portraits and paintings done by my talented sister-in-law and late mother-in-law.  And, when something new comes in the house, something old usually goes out. 
Here's the donation tub that lives in the bottom of my closet.  When I got new running shoes a few months ago, my old ones went to the basket and then eventually to Goodwill.  In fact, A LOT of stuff goes to Goodwill.  During my spring cleaning a few months back, the ladies at the store got to know me well as I brought in bags from whatever room I'd cleaned out that week . . . 5 weeks in a row!


Living mostly clutter-free means that shelves like this one in Girl 2's room look a bit sparse sometimes.  Though I suspect that she owns fewer toys than most of her peers, she has more than she could ever need and less to have to clean up each day (or week, let's just be honest here ;).

Meet our refrigerator.  Notice how you can see it?  I admit, it isn't always this clean.  Recently, I read an article that suggested that if you wanted to de-clutter and simplify your life, the best place to start was with the refrigerator door.  I'm not sure how much truth there is to it because I do still have the ball schedules, spelling lists, good behavior ribbons, birthday party invitations, lunch menus, and monthly calendars -- I just don't have them on the front of the fridge.  I do think it looks nicer this way, anyway.  ;)

One place that IS cluttered is the wall in the stairway.  On the left are family photos, old and new.

On the right are photos of the kids' activities and teams. 

If there's something worth cluttering your life with, it's photos.  Am I right?  (Speaking of photos, we keep our albums on a shelf right by the front door, so that in case of emergency, we can grab them on our way out the door.) 

Here's the thing.  Life is short.  Hurricanes, fires, floods, unexpected death -- they happen.  And stuff is just stuff.  For me, life is too short to be burdened by things.  It's the memories we make, not the stuff we accumulate that we remember as we look back on our lives, anyway. 

One last anecdote in closing. . . . I don't honestly remember, but I'm pretty sure that I evacuated New Orleans wearing flipflops.  It was August, after all.  So, when I found myself living with my parents in Fort Smith a couple weeks later and had signed up to substitute teach at the local junior high school, I needed some new shoes.  Off I went to the store.  Now, if you're headed out to buy your only pair of shoes other than flipflops, you really ought to buy something sensible.  You know what I came back with?

Yep, those are red, peep-toed, faux-croc heels.  I loved them then.  I love them now.  I never once regretted that they were the only pair of nice shoes I had to wear for awhile.  You know why?  Yep, you guessed it . . . life is short!  It's too short for the only pair of nice shoes you own to be black pumps when you could have these instead that make you smile everytime you see them!

;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Katrina: 7 Years Ago Today . . .

It started late last night and has continued throughout the day today -- a heaviness in my chest, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Even now, 7 years and 500 miles removed from New Orleans, it affects me.  Every year on Katrina's anniversary, I find myself a bit contemplative and quiet and prayerful.  But, this year as Isaac pummels our old hometown and countless other cities along the Gulf Coast, it's much worse. 

Every year on this day, I go back.  . . .  Let me take you with me.

Like everyone else in New Orleans, we'd been watching the news off and on for days as the storm formed and headed toward shore, thankful that Katrina's path would mostly miss us.  Then, that Saturday morning, it changed course and grew sronger.  As the cheerleading coach for the high school where I taught, we had a swimming party at one of the cheerleader's houses that day, so I went.  At the party, everyone was talking about where they'd be evacuating to, and it occurred to me that maybe we ought to be making plans.  By the time I got home from the party, the news stations were all abuzz, and it seemed the entire city was headed out of town.  Once school had been officially canceled for Monday, we packed 3-days-worth of clothes, threw in a couple of photo albums for good measure, and hit the road. 

In our time living in New Orleans, we'd evacuated several times only to come home from our little mini-vacation to no damage and sunny skies.  My students got excited about school being called off for evacuations the same way my kids today get excited about a snow day.  Nothing about this storm seemed any different from ones in the past.  We'd probably be back home and back to work by Wednesday. 

Headed out of town, the interstate was using "contraflow", both sides were headed out of New Orleans.  It was the most bizarre thing to see people coming up the exit ramps onto the interstate.  Traffic was bumper to bumper, but moving.  One-year-old Girl 1 needed a diaper change, and (the only time I ever did this) I actually took her out of her car seat and changed her on the floor of the minivan as we kept on truckin'. 

We went to Plano where we stayed with my brother- and sister-in-law, waiting for the news that it was okay to get back home.  But, the news never came.  I remember falling asleep listening to the radio reports saying that the water just kept rising.  We listened to the mayor explaining that the levees had broken and that the water in the city was rising and falling with the tides.  It wasn't until later in the week, when it was announced that school would hope to resume after Christmas that I truly understood the gravity of the situation.  Google uploaded aerial views of the city, and we were able to zoom in on our neighborhood, our street, our  house.  The water was so high that you couldn't even see my Jeep, which we'd left parked in the drive behind the house.  And, the water just sat there . . . for a couple of weeks. . .  as rescuers traversed the streets by boat attempting to save those who'd either chosen to stay or hadn't the resources to get out.

I remember that when we finally realized that everything we owned was in the suitcases we'd packed, we took a trip to the book store.  The first thing we bought was a Bible (why hadn't we packed ours?), and we read to each other from the Psalms as we drove away from the store. 

We spent that first week in Plano, then moved on to Fort Smith, where we stayed for a month with my parents.  Once we realized we would need a place to be for several months, we moved into John's grandmother's house in Batesville.  She had recently moved out of it and into an assisted living home. 

John and his dad eventually went in to our house in New Orleans once the waters had receded to see what could be salvaged.  The photos from their walk through the sludge-filled house have to be seen to be believed.  I'd left behind my wedding ring, in a jewelry box sitting atop a tall book case.  Because Girl 1 was pulling up on everything, all bookcases had been bolted to the wall, which kept them from falling down and floating around the house like most of the rest of the furniture did in the floodwaters.  And the top of that bookcase was just above the water line.  Amazingly, he was able to find the ring exactly where I'd left it.  He brought back a few other things, most of which we determined were unfit to be kept after all. 

So, from September to December, we lived in that little house in Batesville.  John, who was a graduate student at Tulane, would go to the library at Lyon and work on his thesis.  Little Girl and I mostly stayed home, I think.  In fact, I have very little memory of those months.  I've heard of that happening to people during traumatic times in their lives.  In fact, those months are like a haze in my memory.  I was jolted out of it in December when John's mother died suddenly.  My memories basically pick up there.  Weird, huh?

In light of his mother's death and all that we'd been through, we eventually decided not to go back to New Orleans.  A series of decisions led us to make a life here in Cave City instead.  And, though it's a far cry from the life we were living in NOLA, it's a sweet life -- one that is full and rich.  We are blessed indeed.

In the wake of the storm, we were loved well by our family and friends.  We were given housing and money and clothing and prayers.  My parents' church gave us a shower where they basically restocked us with towels and sheets and cooking items.  John's aunt gave us a truckload full of furniture -- We eat on that kitchen table still today.  We were simply overwhelmed by the generosity of people we knew.  A stranger even brought over a trashbag full of clothes her daughter had outgrown and outfitted Girl 1 for the fall. 

Experiencing Katrina affected us each deeply.  But, the biggest way it's changed us is obvious.  At different points in our lives, John and I had both felt a "calling" toward adoption from another country.  But international adoption was expensive.  Once we'd itemized to the best of our ability the items that had stocked our New Orleans home (quite a daunting task), our insurance agency cut us a check.  It was quite a check.  It was quite possible that we'd never again have that kind of money in the bank again --  I mean, liquid cash.  Sure, we could've gone about buying back all the stuff we'd lost, but, as I remember, that wasn't even discussed.  We had our adoption money.  And before we even had a permanent home, we had found an adoption agency and set about bringing Girl 2 home from Guatemala.

It's good to personally know that even as Issac is reigning down his destruction on the Gulf Coast, that Good can follow in his wake.  Today may bring pain and heartache, but tomorrow is beautiful.  At least it has been for us.  Praise the Lord.

For more on what our Katrina experience taught us and how it affects us still today (even in my housekeeping), check back in tomorrow!  ;)

(By the way, if you read this entire post, I'm very impressed!  Thanks for sticking with me.  :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mozza-freakin'-rella!

Soft cheeses are easy enough to make.  And, I'd read about "30-minute Mozzarella" and got excited because it's probably the cheese we use most around here.  But, the 30-minute recipe doesn't work for goat milk.  The process of making mozzarella from goat milk takes MUCH longer.  After 2 failed mozzarella attempts that took me half a day each, I decided to give up.  I determined never again to complain about the price of cheese and just buy my  mozzarella from the store like sane people do.  I told John about my failed attempts, and he encouraged me, "I'm sure you'll figure it out, just like you did the yogurt."  Ugggghhh!

 So, I asked him to join me one evening in a cheese-making venture so that he could see just how much a waste of my time it was.  It took us about 3 hours and 2 gallons of milk to get about a cup of cheese as a finished product.  (I shredded it and sent some to school in the girls' lunches.  They wanted to build their own pizzas.  Girl 1 came home complaining that the cheese was "tasteless.")  Was it worth all the time and effort?  Was John ready to throw in the towel with me now?  Nope.  He suggested we try another recipe.    Ugggggghhh!   It seems he has more patience than I do.

Anyway, I did.  I abandoned the book I'd been using and found a new recipe online.  And, it worked!  I mean, seriously.  Isn't it beautiful? 

It took all of naptime (which is precious time, as any mother can tell you), but it didn't take 1/2 a day!  And a little over a gallon of milk yielded about 2.5 c. of cheese!  I'm pretty sure that I salted it enough to satisfy Girl 1, but we'll have to see.  She's becoming increasingly picky about "farm foods."  Uggggghhh!

But, today I declare victory!  I CAN make mozzarella!   

Monday, August 27, 2012

DIY: Blended Strawberry Yogurt

It seems that Greek yogurt is really making a name for itself.  And, if your refrigerator is much like mine, Greek yogurt is making itself quite at home among other creamy staples such as sour cream and mayonnaise.
Most recipes I use that contain Greek yogurt call for Plain.  And, for the occasional recipe that calls for Vanilla, I can just mix that up myself with the help of a little vanilla and honey.
My kiddos all 3 love yogurt.  Well, Little Boy and I love homemade Greek yogurt topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with honey.  Girl 1 and Girl 2, however, prefer Go-Gurt.  Yep, you know the stuff:  pre-packaged, blended yogurt in the cute little push-up tubes. 
But, now that we're producing our own milk and yogurt, I'd hate to hurt Razz's feelings and purchase yogurt from the store! 
I think I may have hit upon a solution.  This past week strawberries were on sale at our store for $1.50/lb., which is pretty good, so I stocked up.  (I wish I had thought of this solution when we were working our way through a flat and a half of super-sweet Bald Knob berries, but, oh, well.)

I chunked the berries in the food processor and blended until smooth.  Then, I added honey (which is my go-to sweetener lately) to taste.  You could use pretty much whatever sweetener you prefer, though, I'd think.  Blend again to be sure it's all mixed in.

Then, I poured the mixture into an ice tray to freeze. 

I let Little Boy be the guinea pig and mixed the strawberry mixture with the yogurt, basically 1:1.  He gobbled it up!

I'm thinking that for school lunches, I can just plop a couple of frozen berry cubes into a yogurt-filled container and send it to school.  Maybe by lunch it'll be thawed and the girls can stir it up and enjoy. 

Or, I might invest in some of these super cool squeezable ice pop molds, premix, and send frozen to school.  I don't think I'd have any complaints from the girls if the pops hadn't had time to fully thaw by lunchtime-- frozen yogurt popsicle anyone? 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thoughts from This Morning's Chicken "Harvest"

We'd been planning to empty out the meat chicken tractor this coming Saturday morning.  We'd move the layers into the laying pen and "harvest" the rest (doesn't "harvest" sound much better than "slaughter" or "butcher"?).

But, a couple days ago, cousin and fellow homesteader Lauren texted us to let us know that her hens (sisters of our hens) had laid their first tiny eggs this week.  Yikes!  That's early! 

Anyway, we really didn't want ours to start laying while in the meat tractor (for several reasons that are probably only interesting to me, so I'll spare you.), so we moved them in with the big gals.  (More on how they're adjusting in a later post.)

Then, after carefully analyzing the, shall we say, egg-laying anatomy of the yellow chickens, we selected 4 of them to keep as layers as well. 

The rest of the yellow Buff Orpington's were headed for the restraining cone.

Here are some tidbits from today's harvest:

1.  Our kids watched a chicken lose its head.  Seeing it through their eyes was very interesting.  Little Boy looked on with interest.  Girl 2 had her eyes trained on her knife-wielding dad, as if to say, "How can you be doing this?"  Girl 1 thought it was pretty interdsting.  She even stuck around for the anatomy lesson involved in the rest of the processing, "This is kinda like dissecting a frog on the iPad!"

2.  Hearing a headless chicken's squawk is disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as hearing it's head squawk a reply on its way to the trashcan.

3.  This breed may not work for us in the future.  Here's part of the reason why:
Do those look familiar?  Look a lot like egg yolks, don't they?

Here are some more, in varying sizes, inside the body cavity of the bird I was cleaning out.

Looks even more like an egg yolk now that it's been popped.

This chicken probably would've laid an egg this next week.  When you're raising chickens for meat, you really don't want them coming of laying age before slaughter.  But, this hybrid heritage breed grows so slowly that the hens only just now big enough to slaughter. 

In fact, this particular chicken could've provided us more calories through the eggs she'd lay us in her first month of laying than she will provide us through her meat.  Thinking about that made me pretty sad.

We may have to rethink our breed selection in the future. 

4.  I really like my husband.  I wouldn't rather have anyone else by my side for chicken slaughter. ;)   I loved how he took a minute with the kids before slaughtering that chicken today to explain to them how he always breathes a prayer before making the cut-- a prayer of thankfulness for the chicken's life and the food she will provide us.  Love that sentimental farmer!

And the Soap Goes to . . . .

The winner of this month's giveaway is . . .

Carrianne!

Congratulations!  You've won yourself a bar of Peppermint Shampoo Soap! 

I want to thank those who offered suggestions for how to enjoy our deer meat.  I intend to try out Amy's soup recipe (which sounds very chili-esque, which was Carrianne's suggestion) with the ground beef and use one of the recipes from the cookbook I have on loan from Jessica H. for the roast.  Check back in to see how the deer goes over here.  :)

Carrianne, be looking for your soap in the mail.  (Unless, of course, you'd like to come pick it up in person.  There's a standing invitation, you know, for your family to come visit whenever you'd like.;) 

If anyone else is sulking over not winning, message me, and we'll see if we can't work something out.  ;)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Warning: PG-13 Post!

A couple weeks back, this poor Aracauna was trying so hard to lay her egg.  She just sat in the nesting box and worked on it . . . all . . day . . .long.  Poor gal.  She was really huffing, and I was pretty worried about her, so we did some reading that evening and learned that she may be "egg bound."  A condition more common in pullets, it basically means that for whatever reason she just can't seem to get her egg out.  She's definitely our smallest chicken, and we've had some really large eggs lately, so I was concerned that she wasn't going to be able to get it out . . . without help.
That's when we read that it sometimes helps to apply some KY jelly to her "vent" (the opening where it all comes out down there) and feel for an egg with your finger.  That's when we decided to give her another 30 minutes to try to work things out on her own.   And then another 30 minutes. 
And, then . . . yep, I donned those gloves and took care of business.  John was very impressed.

We gave her another hour or so, and she still seemed to be in distress, in fact, maybe more distressed than she'd been before the whole "procedure."  (Can you blame her?)

So, we decided it was time to give her a bath, which is supposed to help her relax so that things can progress.  So, we held her in a warm bubble bath for 30 minutes.  Actually, "we" is not exactly accurate.  Those are actually John's hands in those purple gloves, holding the chicken still for 30 very-long minutes.  He even let me take his picture as he was doing it.  It was my turn to be impressed.  I was there for moral encouragement, of course.  In fact, MeeMee (John's grandmother) popped in and kept us company on the backporch, too.  As I was walking her to the porch, I said, "MeeMee, you've had chickens.  Did you ever have to give one a bath?"  She just stopped walking, looked at me with dismay and exclaimed, "Heavens, no!"  I decided not to tell her about the KY.  ;)
It seems that bubble-bathing chickens is not exactly common practice.  But, we were down to 4 laying hens at the time, and I was determined not to lose this one.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.

Is it just me, or does she look pretty much the opposite of relaxed? 

This all took place a couple of weeks ago.  She never did lay that egg.  In fact, she took a break.  Until yesterday.  And, she laid again today, so she may be back in business.  According to our go-to chicken book, there are myriad reasons she may have taken her little laying hiatus. 

Anyway, it seems she's recovered from whatever was ailing her and the shock of being so horribly violated. 

In hindsight, we may have jumped the gun with the KY and bubbles, but it all turned out alright. We are, of course, novice farmers, just figuring this stuff out as we go.  But, the journey is lots of fun, and this episode has provided us with lots of laughs already!

Playing God


"Playing God" -- I've never been very comfortable with the phrase, let alone the concept.  Yet, it seems we now find ourselves faced with a decision that feels an awful lot like "playing God."

Here's the deal.  The gals in the "meat tractor" are now basically adults.  That means that it's time to move the layers into the laying tractor with our other four layers and slaughter the rest. 


The black and white Dominques were always destined to be layers.  Meanwhile, we'd planned on the yellow Buff Orpingtons being meat birds.  But, over the course of the summer, we lost a few hens from the laying tractor and would like to fill it back up.  That means that besides the five Dominiques, we have room for 3 or 4 Buffs.  Yep.  We're faced with the decision of which yellow hens will live to feed us and which will die to feed us. 

How to choose? 

According to Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, the best indicators of a good layer are a large, moist vent and wide-spread, flexible pelvic bones.  For those unfamiliar with the term "vent," it is the hole where the egg comes out.  Interestingly (to me, anyway), it's actually the only hole where anything comes out down there.  And, yes, Storey's Guide has illustrations to show us the difference between the vent of a good layer and the vent of a poor layer.  Thanks for that, Storey's Guide.

So, we are either going to have to just go with our guts on this one or do the more responsible, "farmer-y" thing and give the gals a thorough gynocological exam.  Stay tuned!  Something tells me I'll be donning my gloves.

Oh, and don't forget , you have until tomorrow to comment on Sunday's post and be entered to win the Peppermint Shampoo Soap.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers


Let's not beat around the bush here.  Go ahead and copy and paste the ingredients and directions below right into Microsoft Word.  Then, add those ingredients to your shopping list because you want to add this to next week's menu.  Heck, you may even want to forego Thursday night's meatloaf and just make this.  Yes, it's that yummy!
Just in case you're wondering, no, I do not always pile up all my ingredients before I begin cooking dinner.  I do that especially for you.  Do you feel special?  Because you should.  I love my readers!  :)

Ingredients:
1/2 c. long-grain white rice
1/2 Tbs. olive oil
3 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1-2 c. cooked, shredded chicken
1 ear's-worth of corn kernels
1/2 of a 4.5 oz. can of chopped green chilies
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 c. grated Monterrey Jack
Kosher salt and pepper
2 large bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed
1/4 c. yogurt
1/4 c. salsa


Directions:
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Cook rice according to package directions, or, better yet, the way Mamaw taught you. 
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, scallion whites, chicken, corn, chilies, cumin, cooked rice, 1/4 c. Monterrey Jack, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper.
3. Arrangew the bell peppers, cut-side up, in a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Divide the chicken mixture among the bell peppers, add 1/2 c. water to the dish, tightly cover the dish with foil, and bake until the bell peppers are soft, 30-40 minutes.
4. Uncover, sprinkle with the remainings 1/4 c. cheese, and bake until browned, 5-7n minutes.
If you're using regular yogurt, you're probably good to go. If you're using Greek yogurt, mix it with a little water until it's easily spreadable.  Drizzle it over the peppers and top with the salsa and scallion greens.
5.  Enjoy!

This recipe was (heavily) adapted from Real Simple's Stuffed Pepper recipe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hazards of Local Running


Recently, a friend and I were discussing how much we enjoy time spent in nature on our respective farms when she remarked to me, "It's hard to imagine living anywhere else, huh?"  That got me thinking.  I do love my life here, and my little backyard farm.  But, the truth is that John and I are very adaptable people.  We lived in New Orleans when we were first married and dove headfirst into a culture that allowed us to walk to the grocery store and celebrate Mardi Gras.  We lost all of our earthly belongings to Hurricane Katrina and decided to start over in small town Arkansas (which is much different from the NWA that I grew up in) and have found our niche here as well.  My guess is that we could find ourselves just about anywhere, and as long as we had each other, make a fun go of it.

That said, there are still some parts of our local culture that I haven't come around to.  And, I came face to face with one of them last night.  Here's the story . . .

I was out for an evening run through town when I passed a house where two middle-school-aged boys were out in the sideyard.  One of them had some type of gun in his hands and was aiming at something on or near the ground in front of him.  I ran on past them, then wondered whether I'd be able to see what they were aiming at, if I turned to look back.  That's when I saw that the gun was now pointed at me.  In distress, I kept running, but yelled and pointed at them:  "NOT FUNNY!"  He didn't lower the gun.  I yelled it again, louder, and kept running.    "You're funny!"  the gunman yelled back as he lowered the gun.  At this point, I was more mad than scared, so I stopped running, turned toward them, marching myself up to the front door:  "You're not going to think I'm funny for long!  Do you have a parent home with you?"

As it turned out, the gunman didn't live there and the boy who did stood sobbing in the background as his mother agreed with me that it was unacceptable behavior and that the guest (who she "didn't really know")  would be shooed away.  Once I'd stuck around long enough to see that the boys were being adequately reprimanded, I high-tailed it on home, running at a pretty good clip. ;)

Now, of course, one of the first questions John asked me when I relayed the story to him was what type of gun it was.  Pellet?  BB?  Air soft?  Actual rifle?  I have no knowledge of guns whatsoever, so I had, of course, no idea. 

Guns.   Ahhh.  Guns.  They are very much a part of this culture that surrounds me.  But, I haven't bought into that part of it.  My dad didn't hunt.  John doesn't hunt.  I am completely uncomfortable around guns.  Honestly, they terrify me. 

I won't get on my soapbox here.  But, as I've replayed what happened last night, I keep asking myself whether I should've done something differently.  What if I'd been able to identify the gun?
Let's say I'd been able to tell the gun was a toy of some sort, should I have just kept on running, "boys will be boys" and all that?  Or, had I been able to identify that they were shooting actual bullets, should I have notified the police? 

Why didn't I get their names?  Why didn't I find out what type of gun it was?  Should I have followed the gunman home and knocked on his door?  If I had a gunsafe full of guns and a deer head mounted in my living room, would I have reacted differently to those boys' antics?

I'm left with lots of questions.  But, here's what I know. 
1.  Guns scare me.  I don't like them.   I don't want them around my children.  I don't want one pointed at me. 
2.  I will not be running that route again anytime soon!

Monday, August 20, 2012

School Is Back in Session!

Take a look at these little hams!

Aren't they cute in their back-to-school gear?

Yep, today began a new school year for us.  Girls 1 & 2 are now in Grades 3 and 1, respectively.  You know, as a teacher, I can't remember a time in my life when the passage of time wasn't measured by a school calendar.  In that sense, today is like New Year's.  Everything starts fresh today.  It's all so very exciting!  It makes me want to go sharpen all my pencils.  :)

While I have loved having the whole gang home this summer, it has definitely made keeping up with this blog difficult.  As explanation, my three kiddos are very different.  It seemed no one activity could entertain them all.  So, while I would be trying to concentrate for a few minutes and churn out a quick blog post on, say, tomato canning, Girl 1 would be asking me if we can work on her sewing project together, Girl 2 would like a snack, and Little Boy couldn't decide whether he wants to be wrestling with Girl 2 in the floor or squirming around on my lap.  

I figured out pretty early on in the summer that swimming was the common denominator.  They are all three little fish.  But, poolside is not a good place to churn out a blog post.  

While I did manage to publish a post per day throughout the summer, I felt a bit like I was treading water.  It just felt like there was not much new going on around here.  But, things are looking up.  The quieter pace now that the girls are off to school should provide some time (during Little Boy's naptime) when I can write.  And, upcoming goat breeding season, fall gardening, and new recipes that I hope to try out promise some new blog-ground to cover.   

Here's to the New Year!

For  more pics from the First Day, check out our family blog at www.thebellerbrood.blogspot.com
:)


Sunday, August 19, 2012

This Month's Giveaway: Peppermint Shampoo Soap


Yep, it's giveaway time again! 

This month's winner will receive a bar of all-natural, homemade Peppermint Shampoo Soap. 
This soap would make a great gift for that man in your life (maybe even for his Christmas stocking). 

Why shouldn't you keep it for yourself? 

1.  It's best for short-hair because you can scrub it directly on your hair to work it into a lather (longer hair would tangle terribly if you tried this). 
2.  It's a bit harsh for color-treated hair.  I used it, and I think it stripped my color (oh, don't act surprised, you aleady knew I color my hair!)
3.  The peppermint scent is great for men as well as women.

That said, if you have short, non-color-treated hair, go for it!  It's a great soap -- you won't be disappointed!

So, how do you get entered to win?  Comment on this post by Friday in answer to this:

We've recently been given some venison, specifically a roast and some ground meat.  Since John doesn't hunt, venison has never before found its way to my kitchen, but I am eager to try it (as it was free to us and, in its way, local).  Help!  Recommendations?  Do you have a good recipe for either the roast or the hamburger?
 (Oh, and since I love my CrockPot, if you can give me a recipe for the deer meat that uses the CrockPot, I'll put your name in the drawing twice!)

Thanks in advance for your responses!  I'll plan to post the winner Saturday.  :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our Prized Goat

Goats run in a herd.  That's just part of their genetic makeup.  Our goats apparently think that WE are part of their herd.  So, though they have a great, big field to enjoy all day long, they often choose to pile up right by the fence, like this, so that they can see us when we come outside and beg for scratches behind the ears!
Yesterday on the phone, I was talking to the farmer we bought our goats from back in April.  She was telling me how fortunate we are to have Razz, our sweet milker.  She hails from Pruittville Farms, which is one of the really big names in the National Dairy Goat Association.  Apparently, a yearling from Razz's bloodlines won some pretty prestigious awards this year in show, and Mr. Pruitt called our breeder and asked to purchase Razz back from her because of her excellent bloodlines.

Luckily for us, she'd already been sold to us, and we have no intentions of letting her go!  As novice goat owners, we're much more interested, though, in her sweet personality than in her bloodlines.  Still, it's kind of cool to own a goat the Mr. Pruitt is a little envious of.  :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

10 Reasons to Eat Local

I came across this list in some recent research I was doing, and was so encouraged by it that I wanted to jump in my car and head to the nearest farmer's market!  Read on, and maybe you'll want to do the same. . .

10 Reasons to Eat Local

1) Locally grown food tastes and looks better because crops are picked at their peak.
2) Local food is healthier. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food.
3) Local food preserves genetic diversity. Smaller local farms often grow many different varieties to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.
4) Local food is safe. Considering the recent e.coli. contamination, this issue is becoming more of a concern to consumers. When consumers support a local grower they know the source of their food and can look the farmer in the eye.
5) Local food supports local families. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food – which helps farm families stay on the land.
6) Local food builds community. Consumers gain insight into the seasons and the land on which the food grew. Local food systems provide an opportunity for education because they allow access to a place where people can go to learn about nature and agriculture.
7) Local food preserves open space. When farmers get paid more for their products by marketing locally, they’re less likely to sell farmland for development.
8) Local food keeps taxes down. Farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas most development contributes less in taxes than the cost of required services.
9) Local food benefits the environment and wildlife. Well-managed farms conserve fertile soil and clean water in our communities. The farm environment is a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife.
10) Local food is an investment in the future. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Skip the Blue Box: Homemade Mac-n-Cheese

Why go to the blue box for macaroni and cheese when making it yourself is this easy?  I have another homemade mac-n-cheese recipe that is delicious, but it is much more involved.  This one was easy enough that I could throw it all together for lunch yesterday with the kiddos.
Ingredients:
3/4 c. uncooked macaroni pasta
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 c. milk
1 1/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I actually used 1/2 cheddar, 1/2 goat milk mozzarella)
1/2 tsp. ground mustard (I've never seen this used in mac-n-chz, but it made a great addition!)
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 dashes hot sauce
bread crumbs (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease bottom of a small casserole dish or the bottom of 4 oven-safe soup bowls.
2.  Cook pasta to al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
3.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and cook this roux for a couple minutes, stirring constantly.  Whisk in the salt, pepper, onion powder, and milk.  Cook and stir for another 2 minutes. 
4.  Reduce heat to low and add the cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.  Stir in the macaroni.
5.  Spoon into baking dish(es), sprinkle with bread crumbs (if using -- I didn't), and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly.

Mmmm.  Luckily, the kids were turned off by the browned part, so I got it all to myself.  (Little do they know, it's the best part!) 

This recipe made just enough for the 3 kiddos and myself for lunch, but our portions weren't huge.  If serving the entire family, I will probably double it. 

I really think the little zings of mustard, Worcestershire, and hot sauce added great flavor to this recipe.  But, how did it go over with the kiddos?  Well . . . the two youngest ate it up, but Girl 1 said, "Mom, you know I prefer the 'real' macaroni and cheese!"  Of course, she's referring to the blue box.  While I'm sure they've not had their last servings of the blue box business, I plan to continue to serve this as an alternative.  Yes, it does have a heaping helping of butter, but at least I know what butter is.  I can't say the same for "sodium tripolyphosphate" and "Yellow 5 and Yellow 6," which are part of the powdered cheese sauce packet in the traditional blue box mix

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DIY: Turn Yoplait into Oikos

Thick, creamy Greek yogurt is all the rage right now.  It can be used in lots of ways.  Sub some for the mayo in your salad dressing.  Top it with fruit and honey for breakfast.  Use it as a base for a creamy dip.   I could go on and on. 
At about $1 per single serving, though, it's pretty expensive as yogurt goes.  But, you could save some serious cash by turning a cheaper yogurt version (such as Yoplait or the store brand or homemade from your own goat milk) into Greek-style yogurt.  After all, do you know how they get that Greek stuff so thick?  Lean in close . . . it's a big secret that the marketers would rather you not know . . . Ready for it?    . . .   They strain it.  Yep, that's it.  Doesn't sound too tough, huh?

All you need to make your own Greek-style yogurt is a tub of a plain yogurt that you like and a piece of butter muslin (it's a tighter weave than cheesecloth.)  Don't chicken out just because you don't have a piece of butter muslin.  You could order it from good 'ole Amazon.com or from a cheese supplier such as Cultures for Health, which sells it for $3.49.  You only need one because you just launder it and use it over and over again.  At $3.49, you could have it paid for in a week if you eat as much yogurt as I do!
Directions:
1.  Line a colander with your butter muslin then pour your yogurt into the muslin-lined colander.
2.  Gather opposite corners and tie them together to suspend.  In the above pic, you can see how I suspend my yogurt/cheeses over my kitchen sink.  I've installed a hook over the sink for this purpose. 

I have seen others who strain like this, though, using kitchen cabinet doorknobs and a kitchen utensil to rig up a way to strain.  Just be sure to set a bowl directly underneath to catch all the excess liquid.

3.  Allow to strain until the desired thickness is achieved, up to 12 hours. 
4.  Transfer to a bowl, refrigerate, enjoy!

Now, in cheesemaking circles, this finished product is actually referred to as Yogurt Cheese.  Left plain, it's basically Greek-style yogurt, but you can salt it a bit to make an excellent spreadable cheese.

Here, I added chopped green onion, parsley, minced garlic, and a dash of lemon juice to create this flavorful cracker spread.

It really is delicious! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2 Good Reasons to Get Your Hands Dirty


This month's issue of World  Ark, Heifer International's magazine, featured a great article on farmers of the world, "Sorry to Eat and Run, But . . ." by J. Malcolm Garcia.  In it, he compares American farmers to farmers in the rest of the world. 

"Subsisitence agriculture, where small farmers grow their own food to feed their families, remains common in developing countries.  The typical subsistence farm includes a variety of crops and animals the family needs to feed and clothe themselves during the year.  Planting decisions are made with an eye toward family needs for the coming year rather than market prices. 

"Roughly 65 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's population relies on subsistence farming.  For instance, 86 percent of Ugandans earn a living through subsistence farming; 85 percent of Angolians also rely on subsistence farming.  Most of the economies of Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, and Rwanda are also based on subsistence farming."

In the U.S., however, most farms are growing one or two crops, and they're doing it LARGE scale.  "Today, fewer American farmers feed more people than ever before in the history of food production.   . . . And, virtually none of these farmers feeds his or her own family with homegrown crops."

So, even the most successful farmers in the U.S. are not growing to feed their own families.  They have to head to the store to do that.  "Nearly 80 cents of each dollar Americans spend for food goes to pay for marketing services -- processing, packaging, transportation, storage and advertising.  . . . All of these costs are associated with getting food into the most convenient form and packaging, sending it to the most convenient location at the most convenient time, and then convincing us to buy it.  As consumers, we pay far more for the conveniance of our food than for the food itself."

I don't know about you, but I like the idea of being a citizen of the world, connected even to those who are 1/2 a world away.  It's difficult as Americans who have every modern convenience at our fingertips to relate to those in developing countries.  What do we have in common?  What do we share?  Well, lots of things, but one is this:  the land.  We forget that we depend on the land, and most Americans don't act like we need it.  But, the simple act of digging a hole and planting a seed serves to connect us more with the world at large. 

The article encourages, "Gardens are a teacher.  . . . Gardens reconnect us to where food comes from.  People do it to get their hands dirty.  We've taken the tactile experience out of our environment [here in the U.S.].  Convenience has replaced feeling.  We garden because it feels great.  It's very natural."

And, isn't it true?  It seems that we Americans are always conjuring ways to get back to nature:  camping, hunting, fishing, kayaking, gardening.  There's something in us that wants to be there.  And why not?  We were created there.  God didn't speak forth a high-rise apartment building and then create Adam on the 58th floor.  He formed him out of the earth itself and brought him to life in a garden.


What my garden looks like today -- some things are still kickin' despite the drought!

So, this post may seem rambling, but here's what I take from this article -- two good reasons to get your hands dirty and grow something in your own backyard.
1.  It's what most people on this earth that we call home do.  Everyday.  Do it to be in tune with the rest of humanity and to better understand those who seem so distant.
2.  It's what we're meant to do.  It's not a coincidence that you feel more alive floating the river than you do in an office building.  You can create your own nature and "get back" to it in your own yard, everyday.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Curbside Compost


Composting is really catching on.  In fact, though it's hard to imagine here in a town where I still have to haul my own recycling items to the plant myself, many big cities are moving to a three-bin trash pick-up system:  trash, recycling, and compost.  This allows those who don't have the space to compost for themselves a way to reduce landfill trash and help the environment by turning yesterday's orange peel into tomorrow's fertilizer for the local park.

While great for apartment dwellers who may not have a way to benefit from their own compost pile, compost pick-up is not really necessary for most of us.  With the commitment of a little space and time, most house dwellers can make use of rich compost in their own lawns and gardens.

If you've got the space to set up a simple system, get started! 

Of course, anything that grows is fit for the compost, but here's a list of some things you may not have thought of that can also go on the pile:

1. Coffee grounds and filters
2. Tea bags
3. Used paper napkins
4. Pizza boxes, ripped into smaller pieces
5. Paper bags, either ripped or balled up
6. The crumbs you sweep off of the counters and floors
7. Plain cooked pasta
8. Plain cooked rice
9.  Stale bread (of course, if you've got chickens, give items 7-9 to them -- they'll thank you!)
10. Old herbs and spices
11. Wine corks
12. Paper egg cartons
13. Toothpicks
14. Nail clippings
15. 100% Cotton cotton balls
16. Dryer lint
17. Pencil shavings
18. Contents of your vacuum cleaner bag or canister
19. Newspapers (shredded or torn into smaller pieces)
20. Leaves trimmed from houseplants
21. Dead houseplants and their soil
22. Flowers from floral arrangements
23. Used matches
24. Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pit
25. Jack o' Lanterns  (it'll be that time before we know it!)

For a more complete list of things you may be surpised can go to the pile, check here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Let's Get One Thing Straight

I put forth great effort to feed my family well.  I feed and milk a dairy goat daily to be able to provide us fresh milk, cheese, and yogurt. I scramble up antobiotic-free backyard eggs for breakfast and serve them with fresh-squeezed juices.  I try to avoid super-processed foods and grow what I can in the backyard. 
That said . . . when there's a funnel cake within sniffing distance, all bets are off!
Apparently, it runs in our family.  Here, Girl 1 is wolfing down the remaining powdered sugar. 

Anyway, this funnel cake weakness actually got me thinking about something.  We moms a lot of time suffer from something I call "Mom Guilt."  We all want to be the best moms we can be, but we all have different gifts.  I may do lots of things really well, but when I see other moms doing something "better," I suffer a twinge of guilt as I think, "why can't I be more like that?"  Admit it, you know what I'm talking about.  For you it may be that mom friend who possesses more patience than you think is humanly possible or the one who always squats down and speaks to her children on their level in a calm, even tone, or the one who's taught her 2-year-old to recognize all her letters and numbers, or the one who  . . . I could go on and on. 

I don't want to cause anyone any mom guilt.  So, let it be known that while I post a lot about my successes when it comes to feeding my family better and eating locally produced food, there are maybe just as many failures that I'm not broadcasting for all to see. 

In fact, learning to be more mindful about our food and where its coming from is a journey.  I doubt anyone has ever just woken up one day and thrown out all their Doritos and frozen chicken nuggets before heading to the sale barn to purchase their own goats and chickens, completely trading in one lifestyle for another.  It's a process.  I may be further along the journey than some, but I still have days when I backslide . . . I just don't normally blog about them.

Just so that you don't think we're all wearing organic cotton clothing all the time and eating only foods generated in our own backyard for every meal, let me just recount today for you.

Our small town is celebrating its Watermelon Festival today, so we headed out to Main Street for the parade, at which my children caught approximately 5 pounds of candy that is now sitting on my kitchen counter.  It will, of course, magically disappear overnight, but today, they all indulged.

Following the parade, we discovered that we'd parked in such a bad spot that there was no way in the world we were going to be moving our car anytime soon, and my kids bellies were telling them it was time to eat.  Sonic was within walking distance.  Yep, we did.  We ate Sonic for lunch.  Wait . . . it gets worse.  Girl 2 took a big 'ole bite of her hot dog (made of who knows what), let out a big sigh, and proclaimed "Sonic makes the best food!"   Ahhh!

Following Sonic, we headed to the park, where the festivities were taking place and the kiddos had icecream (not the homemade goats milk frozen yogurt from our freezer at home, but the lard-based soft-serve swirl).

I brought the two youngest kids home (they apparently came down off their sugar highs in the car and both fell asleep in the 2 miles we traveled to get home) where they had naps and dinner before we headed back to the park where the aforementioned funnel cake inhalation went down.

Yep, file this day under parental failure on the food front.  So, go ahead and cross me off that list of moms who cause you Mom Guilt.  It's not a list I'd want to be on anyway!

Whew!  It feels good to get that off my chest.  Now, tune back in later this week when I'll be posting, hopefully, about a food success rather than a failure!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Farmer's Market Guidelines

Unfortunately, our small town farmer's market didn't get its start this year.  I am hopeful, though, that next year will be our year.  In the meantime, I have been intrigued by the Arkansas' Farmer's Market information that John has brought home during this whole planning process.

Specifically, I've been interested in how/if I can sell my goat's milk products in the market.  Here are some interesting things I've discovered as I've researched:

1.  Farm fresh eggs may be sold in the farmer's market IF they meet certain guidelines, the most interesting of which are that the producer must own fewer than 200 hens and that the eggs must be constantly refrigerated at a temperature of 45 degrees or below.  "Ice, dry ice, or other non-powered refrigerated containers are not acceptable." 

So, I guess you have to be able to run a power cord to a small dorm-style refrigerator at your market stand?

2.  "People who sell or label a product 'organic' when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation."  Yikes!  You know that label gets misused a lot, too!

3.  "Potentially Hazardous Commercially Pre-Packaged Food" such as "dairy products, cheeses, juices, non-frozen meats, bakery items containing cream fillings or cream cheese based icings" can only be sold or served from an Arkansas Department of Health permitted and inspected facility.  "This is to ensure that the proper refrigeration and monitoring is present to maintain food safety."

So, I could possibly sell my cheeses, but I'd have to have my kitchen inspected by the ADH first.  That sounds intimidating!

4.  "The sale of raw goat's milk for human consumption is not allowed at a farmer's market.  An Arkansas farmer can sell up to 100 gallons of goat's milk each year directly from their farm only."

I find this a bit incomplete.  What if the milk is not raw,  but pasteurized?  Can it then be sold at market?  Or can goat milk only be sold directly from the farm, whether raw or pasteurized?

5.  There is absolutely no mention of soaps and lotions in the Vendor Guide.  I assume that they are fair game for the market. 

Anyway, the guide has lots of additional information on other items that can/cannot be sold at market here in Arkansas, but these were the highlights for me.  If you're wondering about the guidelines for any other market product, leave a comment, and I'll do my best to answer your questions based on my reading.  :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pondering Chicken

After reading this section of The Accidental Farmers by Tim Young, I felt a little naive because I'd never considered this:
"Most people are quite unaware that for every laying hen, which by definition is female, a male was hatched out.  The male, having the misfortune of belonging to a laying breed, has neither the ability to lay eggs nor the ability to gain weight quickly and efficiently as meat birds do.  Thus, his life concludes on the day it begins as more often than not he is ground up alive."

Surely, I think, he could at least serve as a meat chicken, commonly referred to as a broiler.  But no commercial farmer is interested in filling a chicken house full of a laying breed when they could be growing the genetically engineered hulk of a chicken that reach maturity in half the time:

"His body has been re-programmed by humans to do very unnatural things.  Like for instance to grow so remarkably fast that his legs would fail, by design, before he reached fifty days of age.  Not that he will live that long, as most broilers are bred to grow from that yellow fuzzy cotton ball of a chick to almost five pounds in about thirty-nine days, at which time they are 'harvested' for our chicken sandwiches.  That's if an industrial breed chicken lives to thirty-nine days.  Up to thirty percent of them do not, as heart attacks and respiratory problem from the rate of growth run rampant."

It's feels good to know that the chicken I ate last night was a heritage breed, not altered to grow at an abnormal rate, who lived out its life pecking away at bugs and grass and taking dust baths in my backyard.  He must have been "happy," in so much as chickens are happy.  And, that makes me happy.

Not keen on slaughtering your own chicken in your backyard?  Look for "pastured" and "organic" labels on the chicken you buy at the grocery store.  While other labels are out there, it's the "organic" label that is actually managed by the USDA and means that the processor is held to pretty rigorous standards regarding humane treatment of the chicken, how it's fed, and how it's slaughtered.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

CrockPot Italian Chicken

Okay, this picture doesn't do this dish justice, so maybe just ignore the photo.  This great-tasting recipe is super easy for two reasons:
1. it's made in the CrockPot
2. It has 4 ingredients total

I have Rachael, a friend and fellow mom in the local mom social group that Little Boy and I attend, to thank for inspiring this great dinner.  Many thanks, Rachael!

Start with a chicken.  Don't be afraid.  Embarrassingly, I didn't know how to properly cut up a whole chicken into the 8 principle cuts: 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 breasts.  I turned to Google and found this great video.  If you, too, are ill-equipped, no one has to know.  Just check out the link and consider yourself educated.  If you just aren't sure about dealing with the whole bird, you can always just throw in a few chicken breasts, (you weenie!).

Plop your 8 chicken pieces into the CrockPot and cover it with a bottle of your favorite Italian dressing.  If you've got all day to let it cook, cook on low.  If you only have 4 hours or so, cook on high. 
An hour before dinnertime, pick your bones out (there should just be 6, if you've cut it up right) and throw in a block of cream cheese.  I actually used 8 oz. of my homemade goat cheese which easily subs in for ricotta and cream cheese in recipes.

Cook up some rice on the stovetop. 

**For perfect rice everytime, make it Mamaw Carroll style:
Bring water, a dab of oil, and a dab of vinegar to a boil (use plenty of water, you'll be draining it off).  Add rice, bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Drain.  Rinse.  Drain again. Voila!  Perfect rice!  Everytime!

Serve chicken mixture atop the rice.  Yummmmm!