Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Kitchen Creations for the Week

I was rather impressed with myself one evening when I decided we’d have breakfast for supper, and I used what we had on hand to prepare a meal that turned out to be absolutely delicious!  I didn’t measure (except in one instance), so I can’t share an exact recipe, and I was so excited to eat the food that I neglected taking pictures.

If you’ve been following my blog or know me, you know I’m an engineer by training, so “creative cooking” is not something I typically do.  I’m good at following specifications (for the most part – I’ve been sharing my bloopers with you, but they’re not as common as it sounds.), and I’m definitely more comfortable following someone else’s tried-and-true methods.

But, I also worked as a development engineer/compounder, who worked to come up with new “recipes” for rubber products, and as a researcher who needed to develop something new for the world of applied statistics to graduate with my Ph.D., so maybe there is some potential…

I decided to make pancakes and something with eggs.   I’ve been supplementing our eggs supply with some eggs from the store since the girls are only producing enough for our breakfast each day right now.  We had enough eggs to cover supper.  I also had some spinach left over from a plan for salads last week.  I had purchased and thawed some Italian sausage with the dream of making pizza for dinner one night (It’s not hubby’s favorite, and he had gone out with friends for lunch to eat pizza already, so I knew I needed to come up with another idea.).  I had a can of mushrooms on hand for the pizza as well as some mozzarella cheese.

Here is what I came up with, based on something I liked at IHOP the week before and my handy ingredients:

Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Egg Bake

Yields: 4 servings

6 eggs
~1/3 c. milk
Seasonings to taste
~ 1/2 lb. sausage, browned
~ 1/2 cup fresh spinach
~ 1/2 can (4 oz.?) mushrooms (or 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms)
~1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
 
Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish.  Beat eggs with milk.  Add seasonings to taste.  (I used Adobo and garlic salt.  Adobo is something my Puerto Rican roommate in graduate school introduced me to.  Salt and pepper would also be fine.)  Pour about half of the egg mixture into the baking dish.  Layer the browned sausage next, followed by a layer of spinach.  Sprinkle the mushrooms and cheese over the mixture.  Finally, add the remainder of the egg mixture.  Bake at 350° for about 20-30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  (I didn’t think to keep track of the time.)
 

I thought this turned out to be amazing, but when coupled with the pancakes, it really made a fantastic meal!

I used the buttermilk pancakes recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and added 1 c. of blueberries since I had some I wanted to use up.  With the remaining blueberries, I put them in a pan, added 3 Tablespoons of sugar and a heaping soup spoon of apricot preserves.  I cooked these, stirring occasionally, until I had the consistency I wanted for a type of blueberry compote.

Little Clara likes pancakes, and I was so proud to see her going after her last bites of spinach (even if she picked out the mushrooms).  My husband enjoyed the meal very much, and I was so delighted by the tastes that I was even happy to do the dishes afterward.  🙂

What creations have you developed for your family this month?  I’d love to hear about them!

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – Making New Friends

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Winter came and went with our two white chickens, Wilhelmina and Stacy, providing us with eggs.  The coop and yard seemed somewhat empty now, though, with just the two of them.

Spring came.  It was a busy time for us as we traveled out-of-state for my Ph.D. defense, I continued to teach at the university, and Chad began work to expand the chickens’ quarters (I’ll provide more pictures in the last segment of this series.)  We didn’t think it was the best time to get new baby chicks, but we were hoping to find more adult hens.

Stacy and Wilhelmina

Summer came.  We celebrated our daughter’s birthday and mine.  A couple of weeks later, we decided that our beloved dog, Maxine, was suffering so much that we should say goodbye to her.  It was a very sad day for us.

Saying goodbye to Maxine

We were glad she didn’t have to suffer through the brutal, dry heat that came that summer, but after so many years as a faithful companion to my husband (They’d been together about twice as long as hubby and I had.), there is still a loneliness without her.

This side note about our dog isn’t a complete tangent that’s unrelated to the chickens, though.  While talking to the vet that day, my husband found that she would be willing to part with some of her older hens.  They worked out some kind of arrangement (I don’t recall if it was payment or some kind of trade for something useful.), and soon, we had three new girls in the yard, all big, brown, and beautiful.

One was noticeably older than the others.  Chad called her “The Old Lady.”  I started calling her Ethyl.  Another hen was a beautiful lighter reddish color.  I named her Ginger.  The third had darker feathers on her head and neck, and the first name that came to me somehow stuck with her.  It had more to do with her attitude, for now SHE had taken on the most aggressive behavior, seemingly unaware that the white chickens had seniority on her here.  Big Red Mama thought she was the new leader, and somehow, Wilhelmina let her assume that role.

Now, the two younger red hens seemed to hang out together.  The white hens kept close to each other, and Ethyl, well, she just seemed glad to be by herself.  Some of her feathers were missing, indicating the others may have been pecking on her a bit.  She seemed resigned to her place at the bottom of the “pecking order.”

The dynamics of our brood would continue to change in the weeks ahead, though…

~Dana

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Here He Comes to Save the Day – Again!

My weekend did not go as planned.

First, my dear husband came home from work early on Friday due to a back injury.  He was unable to see the chiropractor until the following morning, and he was really hurting.  Chad had also invited a friend from work and his wife over for supper the next day, with the plan of grilling tri-tip.   When Chad grills, I’m usually only responsible for the really easy side dishes: heating up some baked beans, maybe baking some crescent rolls, and preparing some potatoes of some sort.

With the cold weather in the forecast for that day and Chad’s pain, I thought it would be nice for me to volunteer to cook the supper.  Not being the grill master that Chad is, I decided I’d make barbecue meatballs (one of Chad’s favorites), scalloped potatoes, some vegetables, and some kind of bread.

I waited for Chad’s okay to take over the plans.

He wanted to talk to his friend first, to confirm that he’d be coming.

The morning passed.  The afternoon began.  I still didn’t have groceries…  I started to stress.

I got our daughter down for her nap and finally headed to the store.  While there, I didn’t get a can of evaporated milk, sure that I still had one in my cupboard.  I purchased the items on my grocery list and headed for home.

I went straight to work, preparing cornbread muffins (from a Jiffy mix, don’t be too impressed) that called for a higher oven temperature, then peeling potatoes while the muffins baked.  I made the sauce needed for the non-dairy scalloped potatoes we like so they would have close to the two hours of baking time the recipe called for.

Without a break, I moved on to the meatballs.  Seeing my can of evaporated milk was 12 oz. instead of 5 oz., I decided to make a double batch that we could then freeze part of.  I put the ground beef and oatmeal into a bowl before opening the can of milk.

Strange.  I don’t remember ever seeing little chunks like that in a can of evaporated milk.  Maybe I just didn’t shake it well enough?  (I hoped.)  I poured it in, or I should say, I tried to pour it in.  The milk wasn’t flowing.  I opened the can more completely, only to have a bad-smelling glob go into my meat mixture.

Ever the optimist, I hoped that it might be alright still, but to be safe, I asked Chad to smell it.  He agreed with me that it smelled like the milk had gone bad.

By now, it’s 4:15, and the guests are due to come at 5:30.  I don’t know whether to cry or to go to the store to start over.  I’m definitely leaning toward the crying!   Chad gave me a big hug and became my hero (again) as he calmly said he’d go to the store and get a tri-tip.

He fired up the grill, went to the store, returned in fifteen minutes, seasoned the meat, and began grilling.  Not only did he save the dinner, but he intervened to save my sanity, and he introduced our guests to something special.  (Tri-tip is well-known in California, it seems, but not as well-known in Kansas yet.)

While he was gone, I continued an internal dialog with my frustration at having ruined the meat, having not been more sensible about the milk when I first noticed the chunks, and probably a million other shortcomings that came to mind.

I am so thankful to have such a wonderful husband who loves me, who works so hard to support our family, who sacrifices for us in so many ways, and who is always there when I need him!  God definitely knew what He was doing when He introduced us over seven years ago!

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – Thelma and Louise’s Last Adventure

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September 12, 2010.

We had waited months for our chicks to begin laying, and now one of the two Rhode Island Reds was providing us with an egg daily!  We were excited to have our own small production going on and enjoyed seeing the hens’ different personalities and behaviors.

We were returning from some place that evening (probably eating out), pulling into our driveway, when our neighbor ran out to us holding something white in her arms.  She was clearly upset, crying as she tried to explain that the chickens were dead, but this one was still alive – for now.

I must have needed to get our infant daughter inside because I don’t remember most of what happened except from the stories I heard later.

Our Rhode Island Red girls, Thelma and Louise, had never seemed to be the brightest chickens in the yard.  Chad had clipped their wings when they were chicks to keep them safely inside the fence, but they had grown now, and we didn’t realize how high they could jump or fly.  I guess that day, they decided they needed something different, that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.  Stacy, one of the Leghorns, was always more of a follower than independent Wilhelmina, so she must have gone along with the plan.

My husband wrote the following on his Facebook status:  “Three Chickens went on a mission today and crossed enemy lines into (neighbor) territory. Their mission was a complete failure, bodies were recovered but funeral services will not be held. And then there was one…”

Our neighbor (who dearly loves animals) told us she had heard their dogs barking outside and had seen something brown being tossed in the air as a toy.  She thought perhaps it was a brown sack of sorts.  Feathers were everywhere.  She disposed of the lifeless bodies of our brown chickens, and rescued Stacy, though she wasn’t looking too well.

Chad tried to console our teenage neighbor girl.  We knew the potential danger for the chickens if they went over the fence and did not hold any ill feelings toward them for what had happened.  It just happened.  We deliberated as to if we should put an end to Stacy’s pain, but decided to give her the night to see if she might recover.  Chad gently placed her in the chicken house with water within reach.

Amazingly, Stacy did recover.  She always walked with a limp after that and seemed a little more timid.  Wilhelmina seemed unchanged by the event, as if she knew it was a stupid idea to jump that fence to play with the dogs.
So, our brown chickens turned out to be aptly named, and their first big adventure outside the fence turned out to be their last.

And now we were down to two chickens…

~Dana

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Dish Discipline – Ugh

Developing new habits is not easy.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d bought Dana White’s e-book, 28 Days to Hope for Your Home.  You may remember my excitement as I shared the hope I was experiencing in just three days (One Step at a Time – Looking for Hope for My Homemaking)!   Even last week, I shared with a friend how much I was enjoying going through this book.  “I’m good with homework,” I told her, meaning that {usually} if I’m assigned a task from someone else, I am more committed to complete it.

It slipped my mind to tell her the frustration I felt over that first weekend when my selfish, lazy self was whining LOUDLY from inside, “I don’t WANT to do the dishes!”  I think that weekend, I won over that voice one day, and the other day, I gave in.

And, that’s okay.  Nony leaves some room for grace in the book.  She tells you where to pick up and get going again if you get off track.  She encourages me by speaking my language, by letting me know I’m not the only slob out there, by helping me believe I can change and make my home a more comfortable place for my family and guests, and by taking control of a part of my life that overwhelmed me.

Now, I’m on Day 17 of the 28.  I feel like I’m making some real, permanent changes to my, what Nony calls, “Slob Vision.”  I don’t think I like doing the dishes any more than I did a few weeks ago, but I’m more accepting of them.  They’re just something that must be done, like laundry (which has never offended me as much as the dishes).   And I must say, with all the getting up I’m doing at 36-weeks pregnant each night, I do feel refreshed each time I go into my clean kitchen for yet another drink of water.  In the mornings, I don’t start out feeling behind with yesterday’s mess yet to deal with!

Through the end of February, Nony is offering her book for half price ($4 instead of $8)!  Click here to view more details and to purchase the e-book!  I encourage you to give it a try if you, like me, struggle with some of the daily tasks that can quickly overwhelm us.

In the last three days, I’ve had two guests rather spontaneously stop by.  I’ve had the blessing of feeding them lunches I was proud of – in a home I wasn’t embarrassed of – with NO ADDED STRESS!  🙂  Granted, I’m rather shamelessly unembarrassed when my home is messy, but this is kind of a big deal.  Inviting people to stop by whenever, and meaning it, it really, really fun!

With just over 10 more days to go in this book, I’m still excited that I can make some life-changes that will make us all happier at home, just in time for things to be put to the test when Baby comes!  If that’s not enough motivation for me, did I tell you how many more kisses I was getting from my hubby that first week when I started focusing on having a cleaner kitchen?  ♥♥♥

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Eviction

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Yes, we had five roosters, somewhat unwanted roosters.  We hated to break up our little family of chickens; they seemed so happy together as a large family of seven and then nine (Though the Leghorns kept to themselves still.).  But about the time we thought those boys would start crowing any day, we decided it was time for them to move on to a better home.

This was an end to the innocence for our little Rhode Island Reds.

Chad spent what seemed like a long time chasing the chickens around the yard to capture the little roosters.  He knew a woman south of town who had the space and an interest in the roosters, so Chad drove away with the caged birds in the back of the pickup, to take them to their new home in the country.

In my every-chicken-story-should-have-a-happy-ending mind, they live there still, crowing at dawn, strutting around with beautiful feathers, and living a happy life of freedom.

It was my hope that, if that wasn’t going to be the case for them, someone who could handle the butchering process better than we could would enjoy a blessing of free, fresh chicken to eat.

It was a real possibility that wild animals may have enjoyed the meat first, but I don’t dwell on that.

So, the boys were gone – and now our brown little hens were rather terrified!  They wouldn’t come near us like they used to.  They seemed traumatized by the chasing and then the loss of their brothers.  I can’t blame them, but it made us a little sad.  They no longer seemed as happy and were plagued with worry, despite our diligent care and their fine accommodations.

They seemed to keep close together and away from the Leghorns, especially Wilhelmina.   Chad named them Thelma and Louise…

More to come!

~Dana

P.S. If you’re interested in the possibility of having your own chickens, check out this post from Soulsby Farm that describes the benefits and what you need to get started.   http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/why-everyone-should-own-chickens/

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The Chicken Chronicles – The New Kids on the Block

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Again, as novice chicken raisers, we didn’t realize how long it would be until the chicks would grow mature enough to produce eggs.  We were a little impatient, and when Chad found an opportunity to buy some mature Leghorns at the local university for $6 each, he brought two home to join our brood.

Two Leghorns joined our brood.

Immediately, they let the young ones know they were in charge!  One was by far the most assertive, and she had such a bold personality!  We had been thinking of baby names over the past weeks, and, in an attempt to make sure my suggestion of Wilhelmina was not chosen for our daughter, Chad moved that we should give that name to this chicken.  I agreed, knowing his objections, but my nickname for the chicken was Willa, when it would have been Mina for a little girl.  🙂  He named the other white one Stacy.  (I don’t remember any particular reason for that name.)

These girls were both laying daily now, and we enjoyed our own supply of fresh eggs!

Now our brood was up to nine, but that wouldn’t last…

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Surprise

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So, I told you about buying our seven Rhode Island Red chicks out of the “straight run” bin.  We didn’t know what that meant, but as time went on, some of the chicks began to look different from the others.  Five seemed to be taking on different characteristics than the other two.  We had bought the chicks so they would produce eggs for us, so naturally, we wanted hens.

Surprise!  We didn’t have seven pullets…

We’d already realized our folly with the “straight run” choice.  That simply means the chicks aren’t sorted by gender.  Since we wanted layers, we should have bought birds out of the “pullets” bin instead.

Being novices in chicken rearing, we didn’t know if the five were roosters or hens for what seemed like a long time.  We looked on the internet.  We asked people we knew.  We tried to figure out what to do since roosters are not allowed inside the city limits.

We had five cockerels (that would grow to be roosters) and two pullets (that would grow to be hens).  Our chicks continued to grow up together, enjoying the freedom of the yard by day and the safety of their house at night.  They were unaware of the discrimination that was coming…

Stay tuned…

~Dana 

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Beginning

I’ve visited with a couple of friends lately that were surprised when I mentioned our fresh eggs.  Yes, we live in town.  Yes, we have chickens in the backyard.  And, yes, our hens are legal here.

In addition to the eggs, though, our chickens have provided some good entertainment and fun stories (some tragic, though – be warned).  I’m not the best story-teller, but I’ll try to share our humorous moments as well as some lessons learned in case some of you may be considering getting chickens some day.

The story begins about two years ago…

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March 2010.

I was pregnant with our first child, so I wasn’t overly excited when Chad started discussing the idea of getting some baby chicks.

With our first child expected in a couple of months, I was NOT going to take on more animals...

We agreed that he would care for them and be fully responsible for them.  We went to Orscheln together and picked out Rhode Island Red chicks, cute, brown, little birds that captured our hearts.  Not knowing the difference between “straight run” and “pullets,” we chose the cheaper option of straight run.  (I had this lingering feeling that we should at least ask, but we didn’t.)  We came home with seven chicks.

Our new babies, two years ago.

Chad doesn’t disappoint.  He took wonderful care of the little chicks and started to work to build them a home for when they grew too large for the box.  This was our chicken “starter home.”  He used primarily materials we had on hand.

The chicken's first "house"

They seemed happy there and continued to grow well.

It wasn’t until later that we started noticing some differences between the chickens…

Stay tuned!

~Dana

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Flashback Friday – Remembering Family

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my hometown for a few days to attend a cousin’s funeral and to visit my parents.

My cousin Brian was 36, and his death was unexpected.  Though I hadn’t seen him in years, the loss seems unreal and tragic.

For I remember family reunions, held at the Calvary Baptist Church most of the time, where I’d see and hug all my great aunts and uncles.  (Granddad once told me that I shouldn’t be hugging everyone so much.)  They all lived in the area where I grew up – as in within 15 miles – and I knew them well.  Their children were there, my dad’s cousins.  And, their children were there.  My sister and I are in this generation, as was my cousin who died.  With he and his brother being a few years older than us and there being some other boys for them to play with, we were often rather alone, but when we were a little older, they taught us how to play “War” with cards, and I think they taught us that game on paper where you shoot from a tank by flicking the pencil with your finger to try to hit your opponent’s equipment.  In later years, we entertained ourselves by playing with the “little kids” of the next generation, who were 7-10 years my junior.

Those annual gatherings on Sunday afternoons are so different now, some 20 years later.  My Granddad’s generation is gone.  Dad’s living cousins are fewer, and they are aging, which seems very strange to me.  And now, even my generation is shrinking in number.  Those once-lively family reunions are slowing down and aren’t as well attended as the new generations come and people move farther away from the area my great-grandfather homesteaded in.

As I spend time searching my heart for how the Lord would have me use my time in this season of focusing on our family at home, I find a great desire to restore our connections with family members that we don’t see often, to get to know some of my husband’s family that we haven’t really had much opportunity to visit with, to be the one that reaches out.  I want to sit and listen to their stories, to better understand the special people that we are blessed to call our family.

I hope our children will know and run to hug their great aunts and uncles as they get older and that our family ties will grow even stronger as time goes on, though distance separates and the older generations pass away.

~Dana 

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