Saturday, August 10, 2013

Delicious Zucchini Muffins

For as long as I can remember, each summer when the zucchini squash my parents planted got to an unbelievable size, my mom baked zucchini bread. Usually there would be a squash hidden beneath the large leaves of the plants, growing by the inch each day until it was so big it had to be discovered! When that happened it was bread time!!
I asked her the other day where she acquired the original recipe. When I was a year old we moved into a house rented out by one of the sweetest most gentle women I've ever had the pleasure to know. We called her Grandma. Grandma Ross. Well mom had more zucchini than she knew what to do with and Grandma Ross offered up her recipe for the quick bread. It was the only way my parents were going to get their six kids to eat that vegetable!
The original recipe is fantastic, I shall not lie. Moist and full of flavor! But as I've learned through a few years experience (I shall not calculate just trust me on the few) there are many heavy ingredients that go into making the old fashioned quick breads, this recipe was no exception.
This year I decided to try my hand at altering the recipe. Make it a little healthier. I wasn't wanting too healthy, it is considered a treat around here and I wanted to stay true to the flavor of the original bread. Grabbing the first zucchini off my plants the other day I got to work.
After a friend tried a muffin from the first test batch and posted a positive review about it on facebook I knew I'd done well. So for those of you that have requested my recipe here it is! I hope you all love it as much as my family does.
By the way, Mom approved the altered recipe, said it tastes very much like the orginal and wondered why I didn't share more of the batch with her and Dad <grin>.
Pepper's Zucchini Muffins
Cream together:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
3 Tbsp vanilla
In a seperate bowl sift together:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tsp ground cinnamon
Stir flour mixture into creamed sugar mixture until well incorporated. 
Fold in 2 cups grated zucchini (grate, squeeze out excess moisture and pack into measuring cup).
Spray muffin tin with non stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 mins or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn out on to rack to cool.
Makes approx 18 muffins.
(I do not have a bake time for a bread loaf as we prefer it as muffins. I also do not have the nutrition info.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Sweet Triumph

Today was a wonderful glorious kind of day for me. I accomplished something that almost four years ago I never thought I would. I made it to the top of Multnomah Falls. For many people that live in the Pacific Northwest this is no big deal but for me it was huge!

Four years ago we took our son to what is known as the tallest waterfall in Oregon. You can read a short post about that trip here July 2009. Ever since then he's wanted to go forward almost 4 years to now.

Today was the day. Banning had the day off and the weather was holding out so on a whim this morning we decided we'd go. I was ready! I have gotten many jabs from Cameron over the last several years about how I didn't make it to the top yet he and Daddy did. Many times when we go for a walk/run he asks when we're going back and if I'm going to try to walk all the way up. Today I was ready, or so I thought.

Multnomah Falls is located in the scenic & historic Columbia River Gorge, which is gorgeous in it's own right. It's a tiered falls and has two drops; the lowest falls is a drop of 69 feet while the upper falls is an impressive 542 foot fall. Many photographs have been taken of this beauty by professional and amateur photographers from around the world and a simple Google search will turn up more than enough for you understand it's beauty. Growing up in the area I'd never been and I didn't figure to go taking a bunch of photographs of something that is a hot tourist spot. For me it's like taking a photo of Mt. St. Helen's. I don't photograph much that is in my own back yard.

The end of March is much earlier than the last time we went and we dressed fairly appropriate. The wind that the falls kicks up is pretty spectacular and I have some freaked out hair that is testament to what wind and spray can do. But it was perfect. Not cold, not too hot, just right for a hike in my book.

After you cross the bridge that is located at the tier you start up the hill located to the left of the falls. There are 11 switchbacks that lead up to the top of the approx 620 feet. If you read my previous trip post you'll know I didn't make it very far at all. This time I was so dang determined though.

My guys were ready and so was I. This photo was taken just before we started up the trail. The second switchback I thought was the hardest, that was until I reached 5, or maybe it was #6. I actually had to tell myself to stop counting because I was getting frustrated that I was fatigued walking uphill. At home when we walk our 3 miles it starts with a pretty good uphill climb. I kept having to tell myself that there was no reason to push it and to take breaks. Of course Cameron, being only 9, couldn't understand why mom had to stop at all. I finally snapped at him to shut it! Okay, probably not the nicest way to handle it but I promise I was nicer when I told him in 'real life'.

After I thought I wasn't going to be able to pull through, and we'd passed dozens of people that were on their way down and I was just sure even that two year old that I just passed had made it to the top (I don't know if every one of those people actually did make it) I told myself to stop whining and get my butt moving. Along came switchback 7...or was it 8? (see I stopped counting lol), and all of the sudden my step picked up and I was cruising up that hill. Finally I'd gotten my second wind! There was no stopping me now. I didn't care what number we were on, get out of my way people, mad woman who was proud of herself was coming through!

I wanted my husband to take a photo of me with the green switchback marker that said "11 of 11" but it had been vandalized and was illegible. I was a tad bummed but I was okay with it because I got this photo instead:

This one was taken standing on the platform at the top of the falls. Behind us is a small waterfall that precedes the big 542 drop. This one is taken looking down from the platform to the bridge where we started:
After some looking around at other trails we decided we were hungry and not going to venture any further than we had today. It was time to head back down to the lodge and the lunch I had packed. Of course the walk down was a piece of cake, I even stopped long enough to share some, what I hope was encouraging, words with a young lady that really wasn't sure she wanted to do 8 or 9 more "of these" switchbacks.

I was flying high and feeling great but about 3/4 of the way down I almost lost myself. Maybe it was the endorphins or something, I'm not quite sure, but the feeling I had was of incredible happiness and peace. So much so that I almost broke down and started crying. Four years ago I couldn't do it. Maybe I physically could have, but I just didn't want to. I didn't want to pant my way up feeling my lungs burn and my legs ache. I didn't want to be uncomfortable. After losing weight and getting in better shape I knew this time it was so much more important for me to make it, do it, prove to myself that the panting and the pain are worth the view from the top.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My commitment to me

A year ago, almost to the day, I started a journey. This is a road that many people before me have taken, and many after will too. But this was about me, not and my family.

A good friend and I had been having many conversations about food, regarding additives, chemicals and artificial sweeteners, just to name a few things. One day it clicked with me...I wanted to be healthy! I wanted more control over what was put into my families bodies. If there is an ingredient on a label that I need to Google to find out more about it then chances are I really don't want to consume it. Now that doesn't mean everything, I know there are a lot of scientific names used for natural foods too that are okay, but I wanted simple back.

I will also mention here that I was over-weight, tired all the time and very unhappy with myself in the outward appearance department. I know we're not suppose to care what others think, we get that drilled into us from all different sources yet society also makes it very hard for individuals to really truly put that into practice. I would say most of us, not all but a good majority, judge each other on looks alone. I admit I'm one of those people. There are scientific reasons for why we are attracted to beautiful/good looking people, man or woman, but that's another post all together. I had fat rolls, I had a tummy that I despised, a muffin top and fat arms. My back side was spreading like bread dough rising and my legs contained more cottage cheese than the local dairy and I was barely squeezing into the largest pair of jeans that I had. (Anyone catch on to those food references? There was a subconscious reason behind that I'm almost certain!)

Now, I also had people tell me, after I lost the weight, "I didn't think you needed to" but in another breath they'd tell me how great I looked at my new weight. I just think it's funny, no one will tell you look great when you're even slightly over weight but as soon as the weight is dropped you look FANTASTIC! Again, I'm guilty of this towards others too. I'm not judging anyone now or then, it's just how we are as a society.

Anyway, back on to the reason I'm writing this. I KNEW I WAS UNHEALTHY!! That is my point. I knew I was overweight too, but the catalyst for me was getting away from chemical laden processed foods.

My friend teaches health and nutrition. BINGO, I had the help I needed. She helped me in the fall of 2010 when I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at age 35 and I knew that I should listen to her now. Enter in the low glycemic index way of living. She guided me along, all the while making the positive changes for herself too. We were in this together. She provided me with the materials and knowledge I needed to get started.

I had a book/journal that she had given me a year earlier. It was sitting on the counter that evening when my husband came home from work. He asked if it was the 'new diet' that I'd be on. NOPE! I told him, I was tired of us not being healthy. Our eating was horrible and as the wife, mother and resident grocery shopper I was going to dramatically change what foods were brought into our house. No chips, crackers, boxed foods, heavy casseroles, creamed condensed soups, etc. OUT! No more! This book Transitions Lifestyle System, was my new tool that included a food list for me to follow. I informed him that he could be with me on this ride or not, it was up to him and I couldn't control what he ate outside of the house, but that things were going to be very different in our kitchen from now on. I did ask him to give it 60 days (or maybe 90 I don't recall exactly) to see how we'd do. I've got tears in my eyes right now remembering how in agreement my husband was.

See, my husband took a desk job several years ago and gradually gained weight. It doesn't happen over night (just like losing it doesn't) and he was the heaviest he'd ever been. I could sense he was unhappy with himself. He was also so tired all the time, no energy whatsoever. He saw the potential in what I was telling him and he agreed to give it a try.

Now, I could tell you that it was easy and the weight just dropped off yada yada...ya know, infomercial type gibberish. Well, actually it was easy and the weight dropped off much easier than either one of us expected. But the best part was the energy increase. We both had so much more energy than we'd ever thought we'd have from eating our fruits and vegetables.  It does help that all three of us (son included) love fresh fruits and vegetables. It happened gradually and pretty soon there was a point where we actually had to stop and realize what was happening. We were doing this! It was working! We felt wonderful and we felt that way because we made healthy changes and those changes were oh so good!

I wanted to start running so I'd go for walk/runs in the evening or just whenever the mood hit. Our son has always been one to want to be outside and take walks and he was usually with me. Pretty soon my husband joined us and it was a family affair. Then we'd do small runs, breaking ourself into running. Walk to a mailbox and start running, run to the next mailbox then walk. Pretty soon we were running more and more. By the end of the summer into the early fall we were feeling great. Not full out long runs but feeling the itch to do so each time we went for a walk. We would walk/run 3 miles and try to do that at least 3 times a week. We also did yard work and I push mow our yard. That takes 4.5 hours to do so I broke it up into 2 days once a week. We were feeling absolutely wonderful!

By the end of 5 months I had lost 25 pounds. Now, my husband has never told me his start weight, and I don't know his current weight. I'm okay with that and respect it completely. I do know that I gained approximately 10 pounds over the winter while he maintained his weight (I'm a very proud wife if you couldn't tell). The 10 pounds are completely my fault and I recognize that. I wasn't back where I started at the beginning but I wasn't where I wanted to be and was very unhappy and felt I completely failed myself. I'm over that. What's done is done and only I can undo it. I will not continue to beat myself up for it. Again, I've come to realize it's not really about my weight, it's about my health. I gained those extra pounds back by eating unhealthy foods again. Not watching my portions and pigging out on holiday baked goods. Yep, I did it to myself and in a very unhealthy fashion.

I came to that conclusion a few weeks ago and I'm so happy I did. I'm recommitting to my health. It makes me happy to say it but so much happier to actually be doing it!!

Again enter my friend/mentor who has helped me every step of the way. She was looking to 'up her game' and do some workouts and started researching on the internet. Now several years ago I'd done some research also but apparently didn't look hard enough. I'm pretty sure most of us have seen the commercials for the P90X system by Tony Horton. When I was looking I had read up on it but it looked too extreme, and knowing myself as well as I do I knew I wouldn't stick with it. I mean we have a weight system and elliptical machine in our basement that is better at gathering dust then any other item in this house. But my friend dug deeper and found Power 90. It's the precursor to P90X and it's what is considered by many (including myself) to be the beginner workout. I could never even imagine trying P90X without going the full 90 days of Power 90 first.

My husband and I are now in our second week of Power 90 and actually looking forward to it each time. Yes, even through what I consider the grueling power yoga. And I also want to point out that including commute time my husband works 13 hour days but he's making time, no excuses!

I want to be strong. I want to be fit. But most of all I want to be healthy. I am back to eating cleaner low glycemic foods and working out. My energy levels are elevated again and I'm feeling great. I am so happy to recommit to myself!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Chicken Plan Part III - Building The Hen House Finale

Looking back now I realize this was a big project. A few things could have been done differently. For the most part though I am extremely happy with how this all turned out.

Let's get this done!

The outside was coming along nicely, the roof was on and the inside walls up. See it? There's our wedding dance floor! Not many people would find it nice that their wedding dance floor was being turned into one that chicken poop would gather on but I was/am okay with it. It's being put to good use instead of being burned.

The roofing was almost finished too.

With the roof on and no siding materials collected as of yet it was time to get started on the inside. Grabbing a couple gallons of left over paint from home projects Cameron and I got started.

On to the siding. Like I had said before, we tore siding of an area of an old barn on the property and used that so we could keep in the rustic rough look of our house.

Here things seemed to be progressing faster. From the point I started to paint to the point I had the inside dividing wall up and the inner door (that dad built) installed to when this photo was taken was 6 days. Siding had to be done on the weekend. I had my dad's help with the studs, inner walls and the roofing, the rest was up to my husband and I. That meant that we had to build around his work schedule. But it was all coming together.
In the photo above it looks like there is a white box on stilts. There is. I built the nesting box into the dividing wall. There is a divider in the box also so it's a double nesting box. I used a leather belt cut into short lengths and nailed on as hinges. Keeping it rustic I guess, plus as any builder or home owner knows hardware gets expensive!

Pop door cut out and bats being added to finish the siding.

An inside look at the pop door. I have since attached some hardware & cable so that I'm able to open and close it without stepping foot in the hens living quarters. To the left is the roost and the white corner in the lower left is part of the nesting box.

Pen fence being built. Hand held auger helped with the hole digging, whew! Sunk rail road ties as the corner posts and cedar posts for the center.

And after all that I leave you with the finished product's outside look.

There have been a few touch ups and changes since this photo was taken almost four years ago. My goal in the near future is to take more photos, showing the finished inside (soon I hope since I just cleaned it) and give a bit more detail on how we fenced the pen.

I apologize for it not being a more detailed process with photos. Like I said, there was so much work to be done, and me doing a lot of that work left little time or thought for taking decent photos along the way. I hope you found at least one thing in my series that was usable for your situation. Thanks again for stopping by.

 "What you talkin' 'bout Willis?"

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Chicken Plan Part II - Building The Hen House

On with the plan! I called around to different feed stores and found some Black Sexlink Pullets. I purchased them without having the house built. My plan, stick them in the unused dog house until the new house and pen were built. It was a good plan and worked wonderfully:

I just knew that these little girls weren't going to be staying little for very long! On a side note, looking back, neither was that little boy going to stay little.

So it was time to put all my research to work. I knew that I was going to have to buy some new materials but I also had already been collecting a few things to re-purpose. Our house siding is rough cut old growth fir and I wanted the Hen House to match as best I could. The solution? Use siding from an old barn on the family property that my husband's grandfather had built many years back. We'd also had a saw mill cut lumber not too long before all this and there were some extra bats for siding that I was able to use.
I needed windows! I wanted to make sure that I'd be able to open the windows any time I needed to vent the house or in the summer just too get some fresh air blowing through when we had some substantial heat. Solution: One friend's parents had an old aluminum framed one sitting around. That same friend also demolished an extra unused storage room on their home in a renovation project, I got a small window from that. The third I purchased at a building supply surplus yard. The front door was also from the friends with the renovation project. An old farm house door! SCORE!!
But before I got ahead of myself I needed a foundation for this house to sit on. Solution: rail road ties and cedar boards from a deck that my dad had built especially for our wedding reception dance floor. I love that I was able to reuse that material.
Okay, let's get started! (You'll have to excuse the horrible photography here. All of these photos came from my cell phone. I was so busy helping cut lumber, hold walls and pound nails that I really wasn't thinking of taking pictures and when I did the cell phone was the only thing handy. )

My dad is such a fantastic man. What a trooper! I told him what I wanted, asked him if he'd help me (husband was short on time due to long hours at work) and he said, "No problem." (Our neighbor has nicknamed him Mr. No Problem lol). And the first few days we worked the temperatures soared into the upper 90's and over 100 degrees. It was brutal. We persevered,
and finally had a day that dad didn't have to take off his shirt. I'm telling ya, what a trooper!
So, on with the show, I'll just leave you with a few more photos.

Front and west side:

Front and east side (where the run/pen will be):

Rear, facing north:
Stay tuned for Part III, the finishing touches and the finale!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Chicken Plan

I was raised on a small farm. Our family had horses, pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, ducks and a myriad of cats and dogs at any given time. I want that. All of it. But we live on less than 2 acres (not including surrounding family land) and although I know there are many people that do it I just can't see us cramming all of that into such a small space.

Several years ago, in 2009 to be exact, my husband was in Pennsylvania for work. When he came home I had news for him; we were getting chickens. To my surprise he didn't have a whole lot to say about it one way or the other. Of course there way the 'why' question. Which, those of you close to us will know that is the man's motto. There had been many cases in the past of me forgetting to buy eggs and him waking up on a Saturday morning wanting to whip up a bacon and egg breakfast with none to be found in the refrigerator. So, I pointed out the plus of having hens producing eggs year round. I think I was able to finally seal the deal when I promised no rooster. I figured the first time the bugger crowed and woke my husband up on his day off he'd be in the stew pot that evening! Plans were under way.

I did plenty of research online, I even went out and bought the book Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. I found that, with the internet at my fingertips, I really didn't have a use for the book although it gets great reviews. I have since passed on my copy to someone else in need of it.

One of the first things I did was start making a list of things I wanted in a hen house. The list was long but fairly thorough the more I read through the forums at Backyard Chickens. I find that website and the people there more helpful than anything else.

Now, I'm going to share my list with you. These are/were my wants and needs. If you're looking into raising chickens your list will be quite different I'm sure. I have a big back yard and was able to make a fairly large hen house and run. I know there are also benefits of using a chicken tractor but at this time I've chosen not to, maybe in the future.

Hen House

~ Big enough to hold 10 chickens maximum.
~ 2 rooms - one side for hens living quarters and the other side for food storage and egg gathering.
~Ventilation! Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen that turns into amonia so a lot of ventilation is needed. High wall vents and windows that open.
~A pop door (the door the girls use to go from the house to the outside). One that can be closed at night to prevent predators entering the house.
~Linoleum flooring for ease of cleaning.
~Painted walls to seal the wood and brighten up the inside.
~Nesting box mounted inside divider wall so eggs are gathered inside, keeping laying hens warmer in the winter. At least 18" off the floor and painted dark brown inside (I recall reading that they like a darker nesting area).
~Roost. They will roost ANYWHERE. (That's almost another post in itself lol.) I believe standard is at last 24" off the ground but would have to double check that info.
~Feeder inside the house to keep feed dry and critters out at night.
~Light, on a timer in the winter months for prolonged egg production. Also mounted a heat lamp from the ceiling shining on the roost area for cold winter day/nights.

~2x4" welded wire.
~Bottom half of fence down in chicken wire laid out approx 1 foot along ground. Pinned down by cutting off the shoulder curves of wire coat hangers and using them as pins for the into the ground. Grass grows through and you never know the wire is there and can mow over it. (It's said that dogs and other critters will dig as deep as needed to get into something but if there is wire mesh over the ground they don't figure out how to move back to find the edge to dig under!)
~Whole pen covered in chicken wire (wire roof). Needs good cross support for snow load.
~Mounted roost sticks (2x2's) through the fence in the corners for the girls to roost in the sun.

Feed & Water
~Gravity feeder
~Galvanized waterer used in non freezing months, plastic bucket in winter (filled from house due to no water hook up at hen house).
~Feed layer pellets. I prefer pellets to messy wasteful crumbs (have used both).
~Oyster shell. I mix this in with the feed instead of putting it in a separate dish. Seems to work just fine this way.
~Scratch. Fed more in the winter months due to its "fattening" properties. Not needed in summer, use as an occasional treat then.
~No meat scraps. This is just a personal preference of mine and I'm not up for debating it. Occasionally the girls will get ground beef with spaghetti left-overs tossed to them but that is about all.
~No peppers or onions, again personal preference. Plus I need to have something left to put in my compost bin lol.
~I have found that food NOT consumed by them will rot in the pen and add additional stench. (i.e. pumpkin rind, watermelon rind, some non-cooked root vegetables) so you might want to be diligent in cleaning up what your flock doesn't eat within a couple of days.

I hope someone finds my list helpful. And to those of you looking to start raising chickens I hope you end up enjoying it as much as I do. I'll be writing up another post soon to include photos of the hen house project!

Monday, February 25, 2013

So much to do

Well I'm finally back. After four weeks of fighting an illness off and on I think I've finally broken through to the other side. All three of us had it and it was very hard to get rid of.

On the upside, I'm now fighting an itch. An itch so incredibly persistant and deep that there is no cure, as of yet anyway and it can't be scratched. The Spring Fever Itch has taken hold of me! Luckily there is enough days of rain here in the PNW to keep me from going too crazy and giving me an opportunity to get a few things done inside the house before the weather turns nice and I only want to be outside.

So many plans and a tight budget to work with has me looking for different ideas online. My computer is slow and doesn't like to load much from Pinterest which is really ok, too addicting. But I find I can spend too much time browsing But the good thing about that site is that most of the house ideas are far above my means so it keeps me from hanging out too long. DIY blogs are a great source for how to get things done 'on a dime' and my husband and I have started watching home renovation shows on HGTV. Hoping to get going on some things, taking a few photos along the way to show you all the before and after. Plans this week: start knocking down the textured ceiling in Cameron's bathroom and sanding/staining base board trim to finish off the kitchen, finally. Here's hoping I am as ambitious later as I sound right now.

On a side note there has been talk lately between family and friends who want to raise chickens. Oh I do adore my hens. I was requested to post some photos of my hen house on facebook and that got me thinking that maybe I'll do a blog post about the process too, so stay tuned for that.

So, looking forward to spring but wanting to get a few in-house chores done before it gets here. Guess I better close for the evening and get busy, these things may take a while!