Old Petunia

When I go into the coop in the morning, all of the hens are on the floor, waiting at the pop door, eager to go out. All except Petunia. She is still on the top roost, fluffed up. Hopping up the roosts to her sleeping spot isn’t too hard, but getting down is difficult for this old hen. I pick her up and gently put her on the coop’s floor. She doesn’t hurry outside with the others. I worry.

Her eyes are bright. Her wattles red and flexible. Her feathers luxurious. She’s eating. But, her body language tells me that she is uncomfortable. Possibly not here for much longer.

See how she holds her shoulders hunched? And how her bottom is low to the ground? And, she is facing out, with her back to the other hens. That’s a protective stance. Old hens get arthritis and tumors, cancer and liver disease. Their ovaries become enlarged. I don’t know what’s going on inside of Petunia. She doesn’t have a fearful look in her eye that animals in pain have. Eleanor, the barred rock in the big barn, has been walking around like this, old and creaky and slow, for over a year. Somehow, though, I think that Petunia is not going to be able to keep going.

Petunia is one of twenty-five chicks that a friend got in a shipment from Murray McMurray Hatchery. They hatched on October 6, 2004. I got five chicks from her a few weeks later. Amazingly, three remain. Ginger, who laid beautiful blue eggs, died two years ago. Cause unknown. Petunia’s sister New Hampshire Red, Marge, died this past summer  after a week of internal laying. Maybe that’s Petunia’s problem, too.

Six is old, really old, for a hen. I’ll do my best to keep Petunia and the other elderly residents comfortable. But, I expect losses this winter. I’ll miss these old birds that I’ve gotten to know so well, but it’s okay. It’s what happens. I’m planning on getting chicks in the spring. I’m looking forward to that. And, who knows, maybe these old hens will keep on going. Eleanor and Buffy have certainly surprised me. I was sure that neither would make it through last winter and here they are!

It’s a lovely day. I think I’ll let the old girls out for a walk around a sun bath in the leaves.

Pie Party Before and After

The table was set.

The pies were set out. (Twelve varieties. Six different crusts.)

Thirty-four people came and ate. And ate. And visited. It was the perfect evening.

Then they went home.

The clean-up isn’t as bad as it looks. Anyway, that’s Steve’s job. The baker is resting!

Pie Party Pie List

For most people, the day of eating and eating and gathering at the table, and sitting and talking, and eating some more, is over. You’re on to leftovers. My Thanksgiving food tradition is still two days away. This year, I’ll have just under 30 people to my pie party. Each person eats a half pie each. I kid you not. Well, that’s an average, taking into account a few teenage boys. Do the math. I need fifteen pies.

All year long I keep an eye out for pie recipes. I collect pie cookbooks, and I have a folder filled with clippings from magazines and newspapers. Each year I craft a menu that’s different from the previous years’. I like a variety and I like some of the pies to be ones that my guests haven’t had before. But, I also need to have classic apple pie (my specialty.) I never have pumpkin pie. I figure that everyone has had enough of that. My menu is balanced between custard and fruit, chocolate and nuts. In recent years, due to requests, I’ve added savory pies. Some of the pies are complicated. Very. Some pies can be made ahead. I have eight in the freezer right now. Some crusts can be made ahead. Here I’m rolling out a savory, peppery crust for a butternut squash galette.

This crust can be frozen, but the pie itself can’t be put together until the last minute. Other recipes have to be constructed at the last minute. A detailed to-do list is essential. I have a master list, and a schedule of when to prep what.

I fume and fuss, and yesterday I had a snit over a poorly written recipe for a ground peanut crust that was too heavy on the sugar, but I do love all of this baking. And I really love eating the pies.

Here is the pie list for 2010. It might change. You never know what will need tweaking as those last pies are made.

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Orange Marmalade
Cashew and Chocolate Cream Pie
Apple Pie with Crystallized Ginger
Orange Creme Brulee Pie
Cherry Clafouti Pie
Peanut Tart with Maple Syrup and Chocolate Moussse
Lemon Pie (straight off the frozen Minute Maid lemon juice box – perfect!)
Brown Sugar Pear Pie
Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust
Toll House Pie
Toll House Pie with Mint Chips and White Chocolate
Butternut Squash Galette
Shepherd’s Pie Made With Local Lamb and Beef

Did you have a special pie yesterday? Tell me about it! I might be able to find the time to make another.

Leftover Pie Crust Cookies

I’m elbow-deep in pie crust for my annual pie party. I’ve already frozen 10 all-butter crusts and two sweet orange crusts. Today I’ll be making four savory crusts for the butternut squash and pomegranate free-form tart. I take great pride in my flaky, soft butter crusts. Thank goodness I’ve learned how to freeze them so I don’t have to make all 20+ crusts on the day of the party!

Making crusts really is easy, but it does take experience to get a perfect result. The ingredients are basic, it’s how you handle them that makes all the difference. I make crusts using very cold, almost frozen, butter, and ice water. I work it as little as possible in the processor to form a ball. It’s exactly the right temperature to roll right then. Many books advise letting the dough chill before rolling. Don’t.

I pat the dough into a flattened ball. I roll it out 1/4 inch thick. I prefer to roll on a flour-dusted surface, not between parchment as is often recommended. But, I have a light touch and my crusts don’t dry out fro the addition of too much flour. If you’re new to pie-making, you might want to roll between  parchment. I then use a large pie plate as a template and cut the crust into a perfect circle. I put the circles between sheets of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Wrap the whole thing in layers of plastic wrap, label and freeze. When I need a crust, I take it out of the freezer and let it sit at room temperature until it becomes flexible – about 10 minutes. Then the crust is ready to use.

Crusts become tough when overworked. After I cut that perfect circle I have scraps of dough. Good, expensive, butter-dough. I could save them and make one more crust, but, rolling it again will ruin that perfect pie crust texture. What to do? I make pie crust cookies. I form the scraps into a ball and roll it out, this time in something like a rectangle. Then, I dust with sugar and cinnamon. Then I put a single-layer of something, pecans, or chocolate chips, or chopped apples – whatever I have leftover from pie baking, on the dough (leaving the edges empty.) Roll it up. Slice it like you would a sugar cookie log. It’ll look like rugelach. Place on a non-stick baking sheet (I always use parchment paper.) Bake in a 375 degree oven until lightly browning on the edges.

A baker’s well-deserved treat!

These are pecan pie-crust cookies.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

(Just a reminder that if you haven’t yet seen my Goat Notes, to go to my Etsy.com store!)

Winter Warmth

It’s been a beautiful November – hard frosts in the morning and sunny skies in the afternoon. It’s been so cold that the pumpkin in the chicken run is frozen. Most of the animals take it in stride, but there are two that are already showing full-winter cold weather coping behavior.

Candy has been spending the morning sunbathing at the door of her hutch. It’s her winter place. (Note that we lowered the hutch by a half foot. She’s getting old and I noticed her having a bit of trouble with the steep ramp. Now it’s easier.)

Scooter does his sunbathing inside. We’ll be tripping over him all winter.