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Sunday, February 28, 2016

What's Happening Around Here

The month of February just flew by, didn't it?  After a freezing cold spell over Valentine's Day, we have had temperatures in the sixties the past two Sundays, necessitating several hikes through the woods.  Last weekend, our woods looked like this with the snow turning slushy and the ice starting to thaw.

The children were actually sliding around on ice patches while wearing t-shirts.

Over the past week, we received a lot of rain and wind, and everything melted completely.  

Today no snow remains anywhere, just mushy grass and lots of mud.

The only downside to this is that the melting snow and heavy rain meant lots of water rushing down the mountain...and into our basement.  So our rustic farmhouse cellar is now covered in water yet again.

 Along with getting more exercise now that everything has thawed, I have also been on a quest to lose a few pounds this year.  This has proven to be way harder than I ever would have imagined.  I am trying to eat more healthy foods and cut back on desserts, but I'm not sure if the above combination of Nutella and dried banana chips counts as a healthy snack or a dessert.  All I know is that I was looking for something sweet to eat one day and there was not a cookie or dark chocolate in the house, so I dipped a banana chip into the jar of Nutella when no one was looking, and I thought I had just discovered the greatest thing ever.  This is now one of my favorite treats, and I've decided to include it in my healthy foods category.

While I'm on the subject of sweet treats, our teen daughter spent Sunday afternoon baking and decorating fudge marble cupcakes for a poetry reading party her English class is having Monday.  We won't be getting any of those, but I suppose I should be thankful.  I'd love to go to a poetry party and eat cupcakes though; how about you?

Friday night our youngest daughter and her daddy went to a Father/Daughter Dance at her school.  She returned from it late that night all hyped up on sugar, chocolate, and excitement about dancing for hours and doing the Hokey Pokey with her dad.  I think Hubby was just relieved he didn't get dragged onto the karaoke floor to sing a duet of some song from the Descendants movie.

Now that we are in Lent, I have finally put away my snowmen and any remaining winter decorations.   I have also given up checking my blog stats until Easter.  Since I'm trying temporarily to not look at them, I've realized just how often each day I had been studying them.  This is not a good use of my time, and as you can see, Google Analytics reveals a rather small number of users, sessions, and page views---much lower than what Blogger stats show.  This just depresses me, but I'll save that monologue for another time.  For the next four weeks, I will be fighting the urge to check out how popular or unpopular Preppy Mountain Farmhouse actually is and turn my attention elsewhere...

...Like starting a new cross-stitch project.  This time instead of a Christmas ornament, it will be a baby bib.  And you know what that means!

And while I am working on my own projects, my husband and eldest two sons have been working on finally installing a new shower in our cabin.  God willing, it will be up and working and not leaking for our next round of out-of-town guests.

This morning after returning from Church, I noticed these snow drops blooming in the flower bed next to our driveway.  They let me know that we are definitely coming to the end of another winter, and spring will soon be here.  Yeah!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What It's Like to Raise a Few Chickens on a Preppy Farm

Who can resist the little fluffy chicks peeping at you at your local Tractor Supply store a few weeks before Easter?  They're soft, clean, fluffy balls that you can hold in the palm of your hand.  I know.  We're about to order another batch of chicks through the mail for the fourth time.  We've taken a few years off, but I'm now finally excited to get a new flock of spring peeps so we'll have our own jumbo brown eggs again by early fall.  Chickens seem to be the trendy animal to have in your own backyard if your neighborhood doesn't prohibit them.  They not only give you eggs, but they eat up bugs and food scraps, and they give your gardens great fertilizer.  Everything is not picture perfect with poultry, however.  I'll share with you our personal experiences with chickens over the past six years.

About a year after our last child was born, I finally conceded to getting a dozen chicks. I was hesitant for so long because I had a feeling that once we started with chickens, there would be more livestock to come.  I was right. We chose golden sex links because they were supposed to be dual egg layers and meat birds.  We figured we'd keep the hens and butcher the roosters.  The neat thing about sex links is that you can determine the sex of them right away by their color.  The girls are brown, and the boys are white.  As they grow, the differences are even more noticeable.  We knew the day the freshly hatched chicks were to arrive at the post office, and my little ones were bouncing off the walls waiting for the postmaster to call and let us know they had arrived.  We could hear them peeping over the phone.

The thing about chicks in March is that they are nowhere near ready to live outside, especially if you live in the northern part of the U.S.  We kept them in our basement under a heat lamp for many weeks until I couldn't stand the smell of them wafting upstairs into the main part of the house any longer.  The employees at Tractor Supply keep those metal washtubs meticulously clean, and you'll notice the chicks aren't very big there either.  The truth is that chicks grow quickly, and they fill their container before you know it.  Oh, and they poop a lot.  You'll end up cleaning out their shavings often or you end up with a smelly mess, and then the chicks and their feed and water containers are messy too.  That first year, we only had a dozen chicks, but they still outgrew their initial storage bin within a few weeks.  By late May, they were finally big enough to move outside to the portable chicken tractor my husband and children built and painted.  Once outside, all we had to do was fill their water containers once a day and toss in some feed and scraps in the morning and in the evening.  My husband moved the chicken tractor every other day so they would have fresh pasture to scratch in, and by four months of age, there were eggs to collect up in the nesting boxes.

One of the first things we learned about egg layers and dual-purpose chickens is that they don't have much meat on them.  If you hope to eat your chickens, don't waste your time on any type of poultry except meat birds.  When we butchered the cockerels, they were only about 1 1/2 pounds after they'd been cleaned and were ready to be cooked.  We also realized that butchering chickens is a gruesome, time-consuming, messy job.  Even after we became experienced and rather efficient at doing so, we still came to the conclusion that it just wasn't worth our time.  Although we loved knowing that the meat we were eating was natural, healthy, and fresh, it was hours of our day spent on only a few pounds of meat for dinner.  We haven't butchered any subsequent chickens in years.  They now either start free-ranging and migrate to our Amish neighbors' farms or they live out their old age here long after they've stopped laying eggs.

Although none of our hens or roosters have ever been aggressive toward us, we were enlightened to the horrific fact that they will be aggressive toward each other.  Once you have a flock of chickens, especially if they are confined in any sized pen, you understand where the term "hen pecked" comes from.  Our second batch of chicks began cannibalizing each other from the start.  We probably made the mistake of buying too many, but their home was still bigger than the recommendations laid out in any of the livestock books we had.  The children were shocked when they would go out to the garage to feed these little chicks in the morning (by the second year, new chicks no longer started out in my house,) only to find one or two of them dead with their eyes plucked out and pieces of them nibbled on.  No matter how much food we gave them, how spacious of a pen we put them in, nor how small the flock gradually became, the remaining birds would single out one and peck it to death within a few days.  If we removed a few, they would still repeat the same behavior.  We still aren't sure if it was the breed (Golden-laced Wyandottes) or the fact that there were 50 of them initially, and once they began this horrible practice, it became a habit.  Regardless, we never purchased such a large quantity or this breed again.  We eventually let the few survivors free-range to spare their lives.  It was a morbid learning experience for us all.

While I am on the subject of free-range birds, let me state right now that I love the idea of it.  To see the chickens roam free, happily scratching and pecking away does my heart good.  The above four year old rooster is still alive and well; although, he has moved uphill to our Amish neighbor's farmstead to hang with their hens.  He makes an appearance at our place once every few months and struts around the farmhouse as he crows under the windows.  But free-range birds come with a price.  Our chickens have always migrated to our porches.  They have acres of ground they could cover throughout the day, but they end up on our porches, patio, and flower beds to steal the cat food, children's snacks, newly planted seeds, and ripe strawberries from the strawberry patch.  Not only are they thieves, but they peck the cats' noses and leave unwanted chicken "fertilizer" everywhere, including the welcome mats in front of the doors.  I have no idea how people entertain friends outdoors in the summertime with chickens free-ranging because they come right up to the picnic or cookout to eat the food and drop their chicken splat.  As long as the chickens are free-ranging out in the pastures and barnyard, I am fine.  But that's not what our chickens do, which is why we end up putting them in chicken tractors most of the year and the barn or hoophouse in the winter. 

The other problem with loose hens is that you literally need to go on egg hunts daily to find their eggs unless your hens go to their nesting boxes to lay.  Ours do not.  We have found clutches of eggs in all kinds of high grassy patches, under bushes and porches, out in the woods, and numerous other places.  That's fine if it's spring or fall and temperatures are mild, but if it's in the heat of summer, I don't feel comfortable eating eggs that might have been sitting in 90 degree days for who knows how long.  I like our chickens and eggs as long as they are in their designated chicken-friendly areas.

Aside from the hassles which we have learned from, chickens are a neat species to have around---even on a potentially preppy property.  This spring we'll only purchase about a half dozen chicks since we don't need over a dozen eggs per day.  Once they start laying, you quickly fill up your refrigerator with lots of cartons of large, fresh eggs.  You'll start digging out every egg recipe you can find, and you'll still be giving them away.  One thing I did try one spring when we had an overabundance of eggs was freezing them for the winter.  You just crack them and stir them up, then freeze them in plastic containers.  These work great for scrambled eggs or for baking in the winter when your hens won't lay again until the sunlight increases past twelve hours a day or so.

Since it's been four years since we've had chicks, I have a feeling there will be growing anticipation around here for that box of peeps to arrive at the post office next month.  Can't wait for spring!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

100th Blog Post!

Today I sit and write post #100 for the Preppy Mountain Farmhouse blog.  I came across the above book Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton when I was at Barnes & Noble one day last month.  How I wish I had read this before I started blogging.  Most of what I learned was through trial and error and researching on the Internet as I encountered problems or tried to understand the tech jargon.  Much of the blogging information I found online was really directed at business owners or people trying to make money in some way from their blog.  For me, I just wanted a creative outlet, a place to write, and a way to share with the world our life on a preppy mountain farm.  Blogging for Writers is geared for people like me and the more serious writers who might be trying to promote their newly published books.  By the time I discovered this book, I had already established my blog and found solutions to most of my issues, but it was reassuring to see I had done most things right.  The one part that really hit home, however, was to avoid giving too much attention to my stats.  I am a person who likes looking at statistics, numbers, demographics, but getting caught up in page views, unique visitors, subscribers, followers, fans, etc. can easily make me obsessed with them.  If my stats look great, I feel good about my blog, but if the page views are down one day, I wonder why people didn't like my last post.  The numbers can easily set the tone for my day.  This Lenten season, I am seriously trying to cut way back on the amount of time I spend looking at statistics or numbers of likes on social media.  It's a hard habit to break.

So to celebrate this milestone of 100 posts, I thought I would share what the Blogger stats reveal were the top 5 viewed posts for Preppy Mountain Farmhouse.  These are the rankings as of this morning.  Each post has a link to it, so if you missed the original, you can easily go right to it and check it out.

Top 5 Viewed Posts

1. Pink Zebra Birthday Bash.  This featured the decorations and food used for our daughter's 13th birthday party last June.  Pink and zebra print were her requests, and these types of items were in abundance at a number of stores.  The Nutella ice cream cake was a super easy creation that was Pinterest-inspired.  The rest of the ideas were thought up by our daughter or myself.  This was such a fun party/sleepover, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

2. My Pinterest-Inspired Successes & Flops.  I've had so much fun with Pinterest over the past year since I first started pinning.  Many things turned out great; some were so-so; and others were complete disasters.  I continue to be inspired by what I find on Pinterest, but I find it a humbling experience as well.  On my personal boards, I have beautiful images of what I would like our house and farm to look like.  These pins motivate me to try harder to create what my heart yearns for, but these pictures can also stress me out when I don't have the time, talent, or money to do or have what I really want.  This is a post I could easily update seasonally since I go to Pinterest quite a bit for new ideas and then adapt them to fit our life and budget.

3. A Primitive Preppy Christmas Farmhouse Tour.  I must admit this is one of my favorite posts too.  I love decorating for Christmas, and I had so many ideas this year to go with this theme.  I did end up spending a little more money than I usually do, mainly for burlap or plaid materials, but I'll use them again other years, I'm sure.  That is, if my family isn't totally tired of rustic preppy.  I actually still have a few winter-related items out and all of my snowmen are still sitting around the house.  I guess I'll give them another week before I move on to spring decorating.

4. Fall Porch Makeover.  I was surprised by the amount of traffic and comments on here and Facebook that this post received.  I really thought people would be bored by our painting and decorating project.  The completion of the porch makeover heralded in fall for me, my second favorite season of the year.  I love the autumn colors.

5. Casual Summer Attire for a Middle-Aged Farm Mom.  OK, this one perplexes me.  I was actually really apprehensive to publish this post, and I almost deleted it because I am definitely no fashion blogger.  When my hubby read it, he said he would never post pictures of himself modeling clothes on the Internet.  Sometimes I wonder if it's still a fluke that this received the fifth highest page views.  Or maybe there are a lot of middle-aged farm moms out there looking for casual outfits?  I don't buy new clothes all that often, so there won't be many of these types of posts, I can assure you.

So that wraps up this 100th post on a gray slushy February morning here in the Alleghenies.  I'll save my thoughts on blogging for when Preppy Mountain Farmhouse hits its one year anniversary, which will be in about two months.  If you want to cast your vote for your favorite blog post, I'd love to hear about it here, in an email, or over on Facebook or Instagram.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I Don't Know the Muffin Man, but I Have his Recipes

Do you know the Muffin Man?  Neither do I, but after this week, I'm fairly certain I have all of his recipes.  Due to the fact that we got snowed in, and I was out of cereal, bagels, and all ready-made breakfast foods, I spent several afternoons/evenings mixing up muffin batter so there would be something for breakfast each morning.  The Raspberry Muffins pictured above were made from wild red and black raspberries we picked last summer on our mountain and stored in the freezer.  I'm so glad we still had them.

Raspberry Muffins
Mix 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Make a "well" in the center and add 1 beaten egg, 1 cup milk, and 3 Tablespoons oil.  Mix until moist.  Then add 1 cup berries and gently fold in.  Fill greased muffin pans and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.  Makes a dozen.

OK, we didn't have the chili for breakfast, but these Corn Muffins I've blogged about before are also great in the morning for breakfast, especially when warmed with some butter.  The recipe can be found here in one of my September posts.

These little Breakfast Muffins are filled with all kinds of good things and are more filling than they look.  Made with peanut butter, oats, and chocolate chips, they're not only good for you, but they taste delicious too.

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Muffins
Slightly beat 1 egg; beat in 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil.  Blend in 1 cup oats, 1 cup chocolate chips, and 1/3 cup peanut butter.
Combine 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Add to wet mixture and stir until just blended.  It will be lumpy.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 16 minutes.

I know I've blogged about these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins at least once before, but they remain the all-time favorite in my house.  I mean it when I say they have turned pumpkin haters into lovers time and time again, and this recipe makes a lot of muffins.  You can even freeze them for later use.  This recipe can be found within my blog here in a post from October, of course.

If you're taking a stroll on Drury Lane this week, maybe you can see if the Muffin Man has any new recipes and send them my way.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Good Day for Chocolate Lovers

We had a very cold Valentine's Day weekend up here in the Allegheny Mountains.  It was the perfect time to stay indoors in front of a warm fire, watch some movies, and consume chocolate.  The bags of Dutch Pantry chocolates above were a gift from my boys and husband.  These are locally made and are some of the best dark chocolates I've ever had.  The hazelnut truffles are one of the recent additions, and the dark chocolate amaretto cordials are my all time favorites.  Go to to see the selections and to shop.

The high on Saturday was 12 degrees with a windchill of -7.  It got even colder that night with dangerously low windchills.  I am so glad that we don't have any goat kids or lambs due right now.

 Even our beagle spent the weekend inside with us...after a bath with lavender shampoo, that is.

Saturday afternoon I decided to make the kiddos some Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.  Swiss Miss has come out with a dark chocolate variety that we've found to be really good.  One of my best friends gave us some homemade salted caramel sauce as a Christmas gift that is fantastic.  Along with using it as dip for apple slices, we have also loved it on top of vanilla ice cream.  We decided to drizzle it on top of cocoa with whipped cream and see how that tasted.

Oh my gosh, it was delicious!  If I can convince my friend to share the recipe, I'll write it in a future blog post.  We're brainstorming all kinds of ways to use this caramel sauce.  The only problem is that we're getting near the bottom of the jar.

I also pulled out an old recipe for Cocoa Pudding Cake and whipped that up in the afternoon as well.  Since it's chocolate, gooey, and warm, it seemed perfect for this cold weekend.

Cocoa Pudding Cake

First, sift together 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Next, add 1/2 cup milk, 2 Tablespoons oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Mix by hand until smooth.

Pour this batter into an 8 inch square greased cake pan.

Now combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, and 1 3/4 cup water.

Pour this over the cake batter in the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Warning: it may bubble up in spots and drip into the bottom of your oven.  It's a lot like lava cake.

But you'll end up with this.  It's like a brownie/chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate inside.  This serves 8-9 and is only about 250 calories/slice with 4 grams of fat.  So it's really not too bad for you.

It's looking like our President's Day is also going to be cold and quite a bit of snow is likely.  I was all ready to start decorating for spring once Valentine's Day was over, especially since Punxutawny Phil  did not see his shadow this year.  But it looks like our winter isn't over yet and my snowmen decorations will stay out a little bit longer.

Have a great week, Friends!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How to Make Your Own Baking Mix & What to Do With It

For years, I purchased pancake mixes or Bisquick from the grocery store until I rediscovered this recipe for baking mix.  This is easy to make and will store in your refrigerator for a long time even without the artificial preservatives you see in the ready-made mixes.  I've adapted this recipe from the original found in La Leche League's Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook, which can be found at LLLI or at any of the major bookstores.  I'm also including a few of my family's favorite recipes incorporating the baking mix.

Baking Mix

Combine 4 cups flour (white or whole wheat or a combo) with 3 Tablespoons baking powder, 1/2 Tablespoon salt, and 1 cup dry milk powder.  Cut in 3/4 cup vegetable oil or softened butter until the mix is crumbly.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Recipe 1: Drop Biscuits

Stir 1 cup milk or water into 3 cups Baking Mix until moistened.  Add some shredded cheddar cheese and Italian herbs and mix together.  Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Recipe 2: Waffles 

Beat together 3 cups Baking Mix with 2 cups milk or water and 2 eggs.  I use an old-fashioned hand mixer, but you could also use a blender.  Pour into waffle iron.  Makes 8 or 9 large waffles.  This recipe also works for making pancakes.

Recipe 3: Crustless Quiche

In a blender combine 1 1/2 cups milk, 1/2 cup Baking Mix, 3 eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter, and a dash of pepper.  Blend for 15 seconds.  Pour into a greased pie pan.  Sprinkle crumbled cooked bacon or leftover chopped ham or shredded imitation crab meat on top of egg mixture.  Add 1 cup of shredded cheese (either cheddar or Swiss) and gently press the meat and cheese below the surface with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean (sometimes it takes longer than this.)  Let stand for 10 minutes.

Recipe 4: Coffee Cake

Beat together 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 2/3 cup milk or water, and 3 Tablespoons melted butter.  Stir into 2 cups Baking Mix just until moistened.  Spread batter into greased 8" square pan.  In a small bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, 1/4 cup Baking Mix, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 Tablespoon butter until crumbly.  Sprinkle over batter.  Bake at 400 degrees 20 minutes.

Since I am not a morning person until I've had a cup or two of coffee, I usually mix up the coffee cake the night before and put it in the refrigerator until the next morning.  Likewise, I either do the same for the other recipes or I make them for lunch or dinner instead.  I use the crustless quiche recipe quite a bit this time of year since I need a number of meatless recipes during Lent.  After using this baking mix faithfully over the past few years, I can honestly say I've had no need to return to the commercial boxed mixes in the store.  Just keep it replenished and in the refrigerator at all times, and you'll have it on hand whenever you need it.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Simple Valentine Treats to Make With Your Peeps

I know this sounds un-American, but while most of the country was preparing for the Super Bowl, my children and I spent Saturday creating Valentine treats.  Some things were inspired by Pinterest, but others were my traditional sweets.  Everything is super simple to make and requires little time and few ingredients.  All of it was well-received.

Valentine Pretzel Treats

This is one I did find on Pinterest and was a huge success because it is colorful, bitesized, and only requires 3 ingredients.  Simply put square pretzels (I used the butter flavored ones) on a cookie sheet, and top each one with a Hershey's Hugs chocolate.  Place in a 300 degree oven for about 2 or 3 minutes until the Hugs have softened, but not completely melted.

As soon as they come out of the oven, place a dark chocolate Valentine colored M&M in the center.  I couldn't find a good way to do this without getting messy.  It was a bit too tedious for my smaller children.  Maybe using a pair of tweezers would be a good idea.

Just look how cute these turned out.  The Hugs eventually firm up once cooled and the treat is no longer gooey.  Perfect for classroom parties or just to have at home.

Raspberry Filled Sugar Cookies

These heart shaped cookies are something I've been making for years.  Sometimes I fill them with creme frosting, but this time I used Smuckers Natural Raspberry Fruit Spread.  Simply roll out your favorite sugar cookie dough and cut out with heart shaped cookie cutters.  For the top cookie, cut a smaller heart out of the center and bake everything in the oven according to the directions.  I used refrigerated Pillsbury sugar cookie dough and baked them in a 350 degree oven for 11 minutes.  After they come out of the oven, let cool for a minute.  Then spread the jam on the solid hearts and sprinkle powdered sugar on the cookies with the center cut out.  Place the tiny heart shaped cookies aside.

Then, place them together like a sandwich, and you've got pseudo healthy Valentine sugar cookies.  Yummy!

All those little heart shapes you cut out of the cookies above can be covered in frosting and decorated by the kiddos.  Our favorite butter cream frosting can be found here at my blog post from last July.

Some easy treats that aren't sweet are these Town House heart shaped pretzel thins with a piece of cooper cheese on top---in the shape of a heart, of course.  Cucumbers are also easy to slice and push a small metal heart shaped cookie cutter through.  Somehow even raw veggies are more appealing to children if they're in a different shape.

Valentine Floats

To make some pink non-alcoholic beverages, I used some vanilla ice cream, cranberry Sierra Mist, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries to create Cranberry Floats.

Just put a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream in the bottom of each glass, add the soda, and top with whipped cream and a cherry and straw.

The only problem was that the whipped cream and maraschino cherries kept sinking into the foam before I could get a good picture taken.  Didn't change the flavor though.  The kids definitely want me to make these more often.

Finally, since I've gotten into seasonal chalkboard art on my front porch, the snowman was erased, and a Valentine theme was created.  Although, it's looking like we might get more snow here in a few days.

Now doesn't this look like more fun than watching a football game?