Egg Series Day 7: Where to Find Fresh Eggs and A GIVEAWAY!

Woo Hoo!

It’s Day Seven of the Egg Series and it’s a fun one!

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Having backyard hens is surprisingly pretty easy. But, what if you don’t have the space? What if you live in a neighborhood with an HOA that wouldn’t be thrilled with your new feathered friends? I grew up where the neighborhood made rules for maximum the number of dogs and cats a family could have (two of each), so I know this is a reality.

Where can you get fresh, pasture raised eggs?

We learned earlier this week that labeling is tricky in the grocery store and “Pasture Raised” isn’t a regulated term.

One of the best places to find eggs from chickens that spend much of their time moving around and feeding on grass is the farmers market. At the market ask the farmer’s about their hens so you can make the most informed egg choice. Likely, they will be proud of how well their hens are treated and the fabulous eggs they create.

Community Supported Agriculture groups or CSA’s are gaining tons of popularity. CSA’s are programs that connect farmers with consumers. They are often weekly deliveries of various farmer’s produce, meats, and eggs. Some are even customizable!

You can check out localharvest.org and eatwild.com to find CSA or Farmer’s Markets near you so you can get some local eggs and a lot more!

Speaking of getting more… Bloom’s having its first GIVEAWAY!

Among Friends, the natural cookie mix company I wrote about yesterday is sending me more cookie mixes to give away to a lucky Bloom fan!

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Interested in these babies?

All the great flavors!

All the great flavors!

You should be.

To enter you have to do two simple things:

1. Hop onto Facebook and “Like” Among Friends, LLC’s page. They are a lot of fun to follow because they post lots of good information, like where you can find their growing brand, and they also post fun things that make you smile like this:

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… And, I think I speak for the masses when I say I need more things in my newsfeed that make me smile.

And 2. Comment on this post below and tell me your favorite thing to cook with eggs!

I will announce a winner on Sunday, February 2 and you have ‘til midnight on February 1st to enter!

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Egg Series Day 6: Health Benefits of Fresh Eggs and Among Friends Cookies

So, yesterday I wrote about the physical and taste differences of fresh eggs versus commercial and if you’re still not convinced that fresh is better, let’s talk about the health differences.

There is a lot of evidence out there that shows that eggs from hens that range in a pasture are much better for you. In fact in 2007 a popular homesteading magazine, Mother Earth News, did a study on flocks of chickens across the nation and found that fresh eggs are much better than conventional eggs.

Fresh eggs have 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, two times more omega-3’s, and 2/3 more vitamin A, three times more vitamin E and seven (… SEVEN!) times more beta carotene than confined eggs.

With all the excellent nutrients I have been getting this week with my egg themed meals, I decided that I deserved some chocolate chip cookies. Not to mention, when it’s as cold and snowy as it has been all week, it’s hard not to bake something.

For Christmas my dad put a cookie mix in my stocking from a company that one of his old colleagues is a part of. The company is called Among Friends and they produce baking mixes that are verified Non-GMO, Whole Grain and Gluten Free.

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I had the pleasure of learning a little bit more about the company this afternoon.

The company was started by two girlfriends, Susie and Lizann, out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their mission was simple: They wanted a good product to feed their children.

They love baking and creating memories with their children through baking. They wanted to create an experience for their children with the aromas of freshly baked cookies as they hopped off the school bus after a long day at school.

… But, they knew that mom’s are busy and have long days too.

So, they made their mixes easy and clean. Containing no starches, no fillers, no gums, and no white flour and requiring moms (… and other consumer’s alike!) to simply add an egg, some butter, and a splash of vanilla extract.

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Among Friends boasts six mixes that pack all the aroma and flavors, but none of the other junk.

Nothing crazy in there...!

Nothing crazy in there…!

Using one of my backyard eggs, I made the Suzie Q’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are whole grain and were a perfect snack. And, even despite the whole grains, my dear manly man gobbled them up.

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I look forward to trying their other flavors like Phil’s Eat ‘Um Up Gluten free Cranberry Chocolate Chip (Umm… sounds like a party in a cookie!) and CJ’s Whole Grain Double Chocolate Chip (This has a hint of espresso… chocolate and coffee? Two of my favorite things!).

Check out their website: http://amongfriendsbakingmixes.com/ to see the other flavors and find the mixes in a store near you!

Egg Series Day 5: Colorful Eggs and Baked Eggs in an Avocado

The first thing I noticed about our backyard eggs after the chickens started laying last October was how different the yolks were in comparison to the commercial eggs I grew up with.

The yolk in our hen’s eggs is an incredibly vibrant golden yellow.

Our egg is on the left.  An egg from the grocery store is on the right.

Our egg is on the left.

Our fresh egg, holding it's shape.

Our fresh egg, holding it’s shape.

A grocery store egg.  The color is faint and the yolk's shape is weak.

A grocery store egg. The color is faint and the yolk’s shape is weak.

They also hold their shape much better than grocery store egg’s yolks.

The color in the yolks is based on the chicken’s diet. Some plants have stronger natural pigments creating the bright orange colors in our pasture raised eggs.

Hens that produce eggs for commercial use do not have access to plants with these color creating pigments, but producers sometimes will add things like marigold petals to their feed to enhance the yolks colors.

Our hens produce brown eggs. The color of the eggs is based on the breed of the chicken. There are actually hundreds of chicken breeds all over the world and they create eggs with a wide, wide range of colors. Blue, green, grey, pink… and more!

There is no change in the taste of the egg based on the color of the shell. However, I have found that there is a taste difference between fresh eggs and commercial eggs. It’s a hard taste to explain, but there is much more flavor, texture and chew to a fresh egg making it incredibly tasty!

In November, I started a new job where I travel to college campuses often, but when I am not traveling I work out of my home.

I love that I have been able to ditch my daily sixty mile commute and don’t have to wear makeup everyday, but I think my favorite thing about working from home is being at home for lunch. It lets me make smart food choices… and save a couple bucks!

This is one of my favorite quick lunches to make at home, but it could be a great breakfast or even a big snack.

Baked Egg in an Avocado

Preheat oven to 425.

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Slice avocado in half, scoop out the pit and a bit of the meat to make room for the egg. This bit of avocado can top the eggs after it’s all cooked.

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Place avocado halves into a baking dish so they are level and secure.

Pour an egg into each avocado.

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Add salt and pepper.

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Cook for twenty five minutes.

I topped on avocado with paprika and the other with srrachia, experimenting with different flavors. I liked the paprika best. Parmesan cheese has been a topping I have tried and liked in the past.

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Okay, okay.

I’ll address it. I get it. Your thinking, “Hey Claire, late blog today. What’s up with that, huh?” (I know you couldn’t possibly have anything more important than Bloom… insert sarcasm here.)

Yes, I have been posting all the other Egg Series posts around the middle of the day. This is because I have proofread my writing from the night before as I eat lunch.

But, today was one of those days where I was traveling for work and got to spend much of the day at my alma mater.

I have done work on the campus for years, which I do love because I love the university and the people affiliated with it… but, because I am there so often I sometimes wonder about what it would be like to drive up to campus and have it feel different or special.

The feeling I am envious that my girlfriends, who make it back once every other year, feel.

Today it was.

Today, campus was different.

My home, my favorite place in the world, saw evil this week.

It has been bruised and its people have been exposed to the cruelty that is in this world.

But also today, as I drove the streets I could drive in my sleep, I saw what makes my university special.

Pride.

Community.

Greatness.

Love.

Despite everything that happened on Tuesday, Purdue University is strong.

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And in that sense, nothing has changed.

Egg Series Day 4: Storing Fresh Eggs and a Spicy Frittata

A few of my friends have reached out to me recently and commented about how “pretty” the brown eggs are in the pictures from this week’s Egg Series.

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This made me smile. They are pretty with their shades of brown. Some have little spots that look like freckles.

They are so fun.

And I am kind of proud of them.

I would love to show them off on the counter. They would look totally cute in my Tuscan, farmhouse inspired, Pottery Barn-ish kitchen. (… Technical interior design terms. Trust me.)

But, to make sure eggs stay fresh and safe I keep them in the refrigerator. It best this way. Plus, if eggs are in the fridge they can keep up to five weeks.

It is also best to keep eggs stored in egg cartons with the pointed side down to ensure they maintain their natural moisture and keep their yolks centered. Smells from other food items in your fridge could potentially enter the eggs due to their pourous shells. Egg cartons also protect the eggs from these smells. In addition to the cartons, freshly laid eggs have a protective coating on the outside of the shell, called the cuticle or bloom. (I didn’t know this when I started this blog. Ironic, right!?)

We have asked friends and family to help us out and save their egg cartons to store all the eggs.

We have asked friends and family to help us out and save their egg cartons to store all the eggs.

The bloom helps to seal the pores, keeping odors and bacteria out. To protect the bloom on our hen’s eggs we do not wash our eggs until we are about to use them. Commercial eggs from the grocery store are washed and then coated with an oil to reseal the pores.

Eggs are most typically thought of as a breakfast food, but Adam and I gave it a try for dinner last night and made a frittata. It was easy, cheap and did not disappoint. It even had Adam asking, “Where has this been all my life?!”

Paleo/Low Carb/Gluten Free friends? This is great for you!

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Spicy Frittata

13 ounces sausage, chopped (We used turkey sausage… I am going for lean meats these days and it was in the fridge. Chorizo would be really good.)
½ Yellow Onion, finely diced
2 jalapenos, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
About two cups sliced plum or roma tomatoes (I used a 14 ounce can of plum tomatoes… because it’s January. Womp. Womp.)
Two cups eggs, whisked together (Took us eleven eggs to get two cups; Egg beaters or just egg whites would work fine.)
4 ounce package of crumbled feta
Chopped Parsley for toppings

Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet or other oven proof skillet. Add chopped sausage and cook until lightly browned over medium heat.

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Add the peppers, garlic, and onions and saute for about three minutes. Stir in spices and salt, cook for one more minute.

Spread sausage and veggie mixture around the bottom of the pan. This will serve as a “crust” for the frittata.

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Add sliced tomatoes to the top of the meat and veggies. It can look as pretty as you want it to.

Pour in whisked eggs. Let cook for thirty seconds then lower heat to low. The warm thirty seconds will set the bottom of the frittata. Then you want it to cook slowly.

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Continue to cook on low for ten minutes. While cooking, turn on broiler to high.

Add feta to the top and cook for another three minutes. The sides should be set, but the top should still be a little runny.

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Carefully place skillet into the broiler. Cook for three minutes. The frittata will puff up and become lightly brown.

Cover with chopped parsley.

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Cut like a pizza and enjoy!

Egg Series Day 3: Eggs for Breakfast

Eggs are great to add to your diet when you are trying to lose weight, especially at breakfast. There are studies that show eating eggs at breakfast can reduce your calorie intake by 400 calories per day. This is because the protein in eggs makes you feel fuller longer and you likely eat less than normal at your next meal.

The protein in eggs also gives you tons on energy in comparison to a carb-ladden breakfast so you are able to take on your day. In the 1960’s there was a campaign by the Egg Marketing Board saying, “Go to work on a egg.” The old adage is true and is something Adam and I have adapted thanks to our continuous supply of eggs.

I love to make omelets for breakfast because they are quick, easy and a great way to get some veggies in the morning as well. (Or, use up left overs from the night before.)

Below is one of my favorite omelette recipes that is super easy to create at home.

Spinach and Feta Omelette

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When I was twenty my family went on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate my parent’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Everyday was jam packed with sightseeing and beach-ing so this was my go-to at the make your own omelette station on the boat. It was light, yet gave me tons of energy for our busy days. Feta and spinach are often in our fridge (Or garden, if it’s summer!) so not a lot of thought goes into recreating this one.

Omelettes can be intimidating and a little tricky. The way I see it is, if it looses it’s shape and becomes more of a egg scamble, who cares? It all taste the same in the end!

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Crack three eggs in a bowl, add a little S&P, a tablespoon of water and whisk with a fork.

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Melt a tablespoon of butter (Olive or grapseed oil works great too) in a skillet. Add Onions to cook, add spinach after onions begin to become golden. Stir to combine as spinach begins to slightly wilt.

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Add egg mixture to coat bottom of skillet.

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Cook together, peal back sides with a spatula. Once nearly all the egg is cooked and pulls from sides of skillet add cheese.

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Fold over and serve!

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There are so many great combinations of flavors that are great in omelettes. A close second favorite for me? Mexican style with lots of pepper, spice and salsa!

Breakfast of Champions!

Breakfast of Champions!

Egg Series Day 2: Egg Labels and How To Hard Boil

Navigating the wonderful world of eggs these days can be a little crazy. “Cage-Free.” “Free Range.” “Organic.” “Hormone Free.”

Crazy.

Here’s what it all means:

Cage Free– Term established by the USDA meaning the chickens have been raised without cages. They can walk around and flap their wings. But, don’t be fooled: This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have access to the outdoors. They can be “cage-free” in a barn and never see the light of day.

Free Range– Term established by the USDA. Means the birds are cage free, with access to the outdoors but there are no regulations on how long they are outside, the conditions of the outdoors, or what the chickens eat.

Pasture Raised– This is not a term regulated by the USDA. It means the chickens feed in a pasture and eat a diet of bugs and grasses in addition to feed. It might also means that the hens are possibly fenced in or kept in a pen.

Natural– Sounds nice… but this really doesn’t mean anything. All chickens and eggs are natural because they are not a processed food. There are no regulations surrounding this term.

Organic– This is regulated by the USDA and means that the chickens were fed feed that had no contact with pesticides and fertilizers. There are no regulations for the conditions the hens live in. Keep in mind that all egg laying chickens are hormone free. This is based on a USDA regulation. They are given antibiotics if they are ill, but that is all that is permitted.

The eggs from our backyard hens are, by definition, Pasture Range and Organic. They have their coop, but we let them roam throughout the yard everyday. They have feed in the coop but also eat grass and bugs.

Exploring the yard last September.

Exploring the yard last September.

We have five hens and get about four eggs each day. I have gotten in the habit of hard boiling ten to twelve eggs each week. They are so great to have in the fridge for a quick snack or an on-the-go breakfast.

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There is a little bit of a fine science when it comes to hard boiling eggs. If they don’t boil long enough the yolks are runny. If they boil too long the yolks turn green.

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And it may seem super basic, hard boiled eggs… easy, right? But, many of my friends have admitted to not knowing where to begin when making hard boiled eggs. I even had to Google it when I lived in my first apartment.

Older eggs make peeling the shells off easier.  I had to learn this the hard way...

Older eggs make peeling the shells off easier. I had to learn this the hard way…

Thanks to a lot of practice, I think I finally have it down.

I used a dozen eggs we had stocked up in the fridge.

I used a dozen eggs we had stocked up in the fridge.

Place eggs in the bottom of a sauce pan. Cover with about one inch of water and bring to a boil.

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Once boiling, remove from heat, place lid on pan. Let sit for twelve minutes.

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Run eggs under cold water.

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Enjoy right away or place in the fridge. They last about a week in their shells… but ours never make it that long!

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Egg-cellent Egg Series: Day 1

I started 2014 with a cleanse where I eliminated sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains and starches. I lost six pounds in ten days.

The strong skeptic in me assumes it was because I was saving my daily booze calories… and yes, okay, it was a little drastic. It’s not the best idea to go cold turkey with anything.

But, it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me. I kicked my soda addiction and hopped on the H2O train a few years ago saving myself from sugary beverages. (I was a major Diet Coke lady and this was actually easier than you would think.) Bread has never really been a staple in our house, unless I make my- now famous- Rosemary Focaccia. But, getting out the mixer is a workout in itself so it doesn’t happen often. And Adam and I obviously love, love, love any and every veggie, so incorporating even more into our meals is no problemo at our house.

However, in the spirit of being honest, wine and dark chocolate have been missed.

I actually finally caved and had two glasses of red wine last night. But, in my defense, it’s been nearly three weeks. GO ME! And I have read enough about the heart benefits of drinking red wine that I would basically call it a health food. Basically.

But, what the cleanse really did was make me much more aware of what I am putting in my body when I eat. Yes, I try to eat organic, local and clean. I have for quite sometime now, but I now know so much more about the science behind these and other choices I make.

Sugar has been a big one that I plan to continue to watch. When consuming sugar I want to find it from more natural sources, like fruit and agave. Too much sugar is linked to inflammation and significant signs of aging. Not to mention, many sources of sugar are full of unnecessary calories.

I also plan to put focus on getting a majority of my calories from vegetables and good sources of protein. Fortunately, both of these are found right in my back yard thanks to the garden and chicken’s eggs!

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Over the years, eggs have battled a bad reputation due to their link to high cholesterol and heart disease. I remember “experts” talking about avoiding eggs all together throughout my childhood. But, here’s the deal: Your body needs a good balance with fat and cholesterol. Good fat, like the fat in eggs helps maintain that balance. Fat from fried food? Not so much.

Thanks to the good fats found in eggs it allows for the better absorption of the many other vitamins found in the little spheres, including Vitamin A, B Vitamins, protein and potassium. These nutrients aid in muscle, brain and nerve development. In fact, there are few foods out there that have as many nutrients as a single egg!

The chickens have been major troopers with all the snow and freezing temperatures in Indiana this winter. So, I have decided to showcase them on my little soapbox for the next week to express my “thanks” for their daily gifts: their fresh, nutrient packed, brown eggs.

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Everyday this week there will be a post on Bloom featuring an egg-cellent recipe and some egg-citing facts!

It’s going to be egg-straordinary!

… I crack myself up.

Tough Old Birds

Cue Destiny’s Child, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m a survivor.

While Adam was enjoying himself in Tennessee at a bachelor party, I survived the crazy blizzard and bitter cold… Alone. (PS- Trost? Be prepared for our children to hear about this… oh… just about every time it snows.)

And, not only did I survive, but so did our five little hens.

Although, I did have my doubts.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

Thanks to the research we did about a year ago, I knew that chickens don’t mind the cold. In fact, they prefer it over the summer’s heat.

But, wind chill’s of fifty below? Actual temperatures in the negative teens?

I wasn’t so sure.

On Sunday night, before the Polar Vortex hit, I hopped on the internet. I was looking for the actual temperature that chickens could handle… and some peace of mind.

The first thing I learned was that people in this country don’t know what real cold is. A woman in North Carolina was concerned that the temperature was going to be “pretty cold!” and go below freezing.

That’s Indiana half the year. (… Or so it seems.)

I had visions of all the sad pictures of puppies in the snow saying “This is abuse” all over Facebook. I needed the actual temperature they could handle. I was not going to be responsible for chicken abuse.

Then on Mother Earth New’s website, I read that hens do not “really start suffering until the temperature inside their coops falls to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit.”

Adam built a great coop for the hens. It protects them from the rain, wind and snow. But, still… minus twenty was too close for comfort.

After about an hour on the web, and nothing in black and white saying, “It will be fine;” I was officially stressed.

Then my mom called. I explained my current predicament and with a little laugh she said, “Oh, my. You are a Momma!”

… Great. So, apparently parenthood is going to be just one big, giant anxiety attack…?

I considered bringing the birds into the house but I had no way to contain them. We don’t have a dog so we don’t own any cages. And they would get into too much that could hurt them in the garage or unfinished basement.

So that was it. There wasn’t anything I could do. I felt helpless.

Adam called to say goodnight and I told him I tried to do everything I could, but I was prepared for them to not make it through the freezing, snowy, blustery night.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The wind was loud and strong, just driving that wind-chill lower and lower. I kept looking out to the coop, imagining the birds turning into little chickcicles. I was so worried.

… Man, I really do have that mothering gene.

The next morning I sprung out of bed before I even knew what I was doing. I threw on a ton of Adam’s hunting gear and ran out to the coop, in the minus thirty-seven degree wind-chill, looking like a fat camo Eskimo.

I opened the door and there they were, roosting together with their feathers fluffed out… alive!

I could tell they didn’t really enjoy the weather, but I had four eggs in the hen boxes so I knew they weren’t suffering. I told them to hang in there and assured them it wouldn’t be much longer.

By Tuesday morning, they were moving around and each laying an egg. I was beyond relieved and texted Adam saying, “I think we are going to make it!”

Here are a few things I did to ensure they did:

Home is Where the Heat Is:

Shelter for the chickens anytime of year is important.

Adam built a fabulous home for our chickens. Before he did this, he really did his homework.

The coop in the summer... It's hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

The coop in the summer… It’s hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

He knew to make boxes for the hens to lay eggs in and a roost. The roost is similar to a little ladder and the chickens sleep on it at night. The roost is very important in cold weather because it keeps the hens off the ground and they are able to huddle together to keep each other warm. In really cold temps, hens will puff up their feathers on the roost to maintain their heat.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Adam also made sure the coop has good ventilation. He added windows, which are great to add extra air in the summer. But, he also made ventilation slots where the coop meets the roof.

Ventilation Slots.

Ventilation Slots.

Chickens excrete a lot of hot air through breathing and pooping. This can make their coop humid. If it gets cold and the coop does not have proper ventilation, that moist, humid air will freeze causing frostbite on the hen’s combs, waddles, or toes.

To add a little extra heat, knowing that the temperatures would be well below zero, I hung a heating lamp right above the roost so that it could warm the hens as they huddle together at night. Some people view heating lamps as a luxury in chicken coops, but in our case this week, I felt like it was a necessity. (I know chicken’s survived just fine well before electricity… but, cut me a little slack. I am a first-time hen mother.)

As I said "Goodnight" on Sunday night... fearing the worst for the morning!

As I said “Goodnight” on Sunday night… fearing the worst for the morning!

Stay Hydrated

Chickens need water and in freezing temperatures this can be a challenge because it doesn’t take too long before their waterer is a solid chunk of ice. During the day, I took water out to the coop every couple of hours.

I noticed that in my quick ten minute runs out to the coop I became very thirsty in the biting wind-chill. The chickens were no exception. They eagerly hopped off the roost and guzzled up the water every time I came in with a replacement.

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

Fight Cabin Fever

Our chickens are used to running around and exploring the yard. With fifteen inches of snow, this wasn’t possible. So, in addition to their normal feed, I brought some broccoli stalks into the coop for the hens to pick at. I read online to use a head of cabbage, but I was snowed in and broccoli was all I had.

I feel so much more confident about our chickies for the winters to come. Although, I am going to hope this Polar Vortex is a once in a lifetime kind of thing…

Snowy Day Reads

Much like the rest of the Midwest, I am currently under winter storm warnings and could potentially get a foot of snow today.

Last night's chilly sunset...

Last night’s chilly sunset…

... To this morning's snow!

… To this morning’s snow!

I love a good snowstorm. (So long as I don’t have anywhere I need to be.) I love to cozy up with a blanket and a cup of coffee or red wine. Maybe bake something warm and delicious like cookies or bread to pair with a soup. Just relax and watch the snow fall Or a Sex and the City Marathon. Perfection.

But, thanks to a December full of decadent Holiday meals and the ever so popular New Years ambition, I have challenged myself to go the next twenty-five days sans caffeine, alcohol and sugar. So, that means no coffee, no wine, and no baked goodies for this snow storm.

For the record… This challenge to myself sounded a lot better two weeks ago… with a cookie in one hand and Merlot in the other.

And even Sex and the City has sounded better. E! has been playing reruns all afternoon all winter break so I have had my fill of witty puns, shoes I can’t afford and “fabulous!”

For a quick moment today, I thought, “Oh no… What am I going to do?”

Then my dear mother’s voice popped into my head (… Happens more than I care to admit): I could pick up a book and read it.

I do love to read and it’s one of those things I always find myself wishing I had more time for. On the flight to Denver I started Comfort Me with Apples a memoir of a food writer in the 1970’s in California. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book based on the author, Ruth’s, restaurant reviews and travels. I enjoyed it on the flight, but since we have been home it’s been pushed onto the back burner.

Until now. I have a funny feeling I won’t be going anywhere for the next forty eight hours, plenty of time to finish the book, get some work done… and maybe even clean the kitchen.

… But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

At least it's pretty!

At least it’s pretty!

If you are snowed in and looking for something to download here are a few of my “Bloom” themed favorites:

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Career and Life Inspiration:

The Adversity Advantage Written by Paul G. Stoliz and Eric Weihenmayer-

I received this at a conference in San Diego in 2008. The conference was for graduating hospitality students across the nation who had made it through the first two rounds of interviews with a major hotel company. They actually ended up not hiring any new grads that year due to the recession.

Now that I am a bit older, I understand why they gave us this book. It follows Eric, a young man who went blind in his teens but inspired many by continuing to mountain climb. The biggest lesson that I took away from this is that setbacks are inevitable and adversity isn’t something that brings your down; it’s fuel.

I reread this book when my company cut my position across the nation in 2011 and I found myself without a job. In what could have been a really depressing time, I made an effort to try new things, focus on my passions and learn more about my strengths. It ended up being a time in my life that I am very thankful to have had. It helped shape who I am today and taught me that I am so much more than a job.

Bossypants Written by Tina Fey-

I have never really gotten into SNL or 30 Rock so I didn’t know much about Tina Fey, but her book was on a list of books that all women in their twenties should read. So, I picked it up at the library. I loved it. And, the list was spot on: It’s a great message for twenty-something women.

It chronicles Tina’s childhood to college years at UVA to Chicago where she was part of the Second City, a comedy tour that has been the start of many other SNL stars, and to where she is today. Tina fought her way through the male dominated profession. At one point, she was told that for every woman on the stage there needed to be two men and that no one would watch two women comedians. Well, she went on to prove all them wrong when she rocked SNL alongside Amy Poehler with the Sarah Palin skits. (And, they will also be side by side at this Sunday’s Golden Globes!)

She convinces you to never accept “no” for an answer, to not let gender stereotypes stop you, and to work your butt off to get what you know is your destiny. All while having a good sense of humor and not taking yourself too seriously, of course.

PS- I got this as a book on CD and listened to it in the car. (I love listening to books while driving… it’s incredibly refreshing compared to Top 40 Radio.) It is read by Tina so you are able to hear all the inflections in her comments and sarcasm… the way she intended. It’s hilarious. I literally didn’t want to get out of my car whenever I arrived to my destination… even home!

Homesteading Inspiration and Tips:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver-

I reference this book often in “Bloom” and that’s because it’s quite possibly the inspiration for the garden, the chickens, the changes Adam and I have made to our way of life, and this blog.

Barbara challenges her family to eat only local food for one full year. So, that’s food from their garden, Farmer’s Markets, and other local growers. Barbara’s family didn’t start totally from scratch. They had backyard hens, raised meat chickens, and had a garden for years so they had the knowledge and experience before they began this challenge. But, it was still incredibly eye opening, informative and inspiring.

I listened to this one in the car just over a year ago and would often come home rattling off my new found knowledge or tidbits to Adam. This opened up the conversations that led to us getting the hens and planting our garden. And the Kingsolver family’s challenge is something we have entertained. (We’re not there yet. Maybe someday!)

I feel the most important lesson I learned from this was not what chickens need to lay great eggs, how to plant garlic, or the impact of shipping food around the country everyday, but was a simple line that I carry with me every day: “We cannot be expected to know what we haven’t been taught.”

This line struck me so much that I actually had to stop the car and write that one down.

It’s true. I had no idea that corn grew with only two ears per stalk. But, how would I? I didn’t grow up around agriculture in any way. My high school didn’t offer one horticulture or agriculture class. I didn’t even know FFA was a thing. I only knew what 4-H was thanks to a sample resume in a Sophomore year English class where the teacher had to explain it to us.

I know people in rural communities who probably think people like me (… or who I used to be) are “idiots.” “Yuppies.” “Oblivious.” And I know people in cities who think agriculture is “totally backwards.” But, what both groups are is uninformed. We have so much to teach each other. So much to learn.

Chicken and Egg Written by Janice Cole

This is a memoir of Janice’s first year raising three backyard hens in suburban Minnesota. She tells her stories throughout the seasons with her hens and includes seasonal recipes, showcasing just how versitle eggs really are.

She add lots of facts that have been incredibly helpful as a hen owner, but also make you think about the chicken and eggs at the store. She doesn’t try to convince you to raise your own chickens, but encourages you to make informed decisions about the eggs and chicken you put on your plate.

I hate to use the word “cute” to describe this book, but it is really cute. The photography is beautiful and simple. Her stories are fun and real. And she named her hens Lulu, Cleo and Roxanne.

I mean, come on. How cute is that!?

Cooking Inspiration:

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics Written by Ina Garten

Ina is the Queen. She has tons of great books that I adore, but this one takes the cake. I rented this from the library and had eight post-it notes, highlighting what I wanted to cook, on the first ten pages. So, to Amazon I went and now it’s mine.

I love Ina’s simplistic, fresh style of cooking. The recipes don’t call for anything too crazy that would have you running to specialty stores or scouring the internet. A lot of the time, they are items already in the house.

There are tips and tricks throughout the book from “What to serve with drinks” to “Top Flavor Boosters.” She also adds cooking tricks like “Different ways to puree soup” and brands that she likes to use when preparing specific dishes, making it easy to create her, seemingly, impressive dishes.

This is one book I know will be a reference for me for a long time.

The Real Girls Kitchen Written by Haylie Duff

I want to live in this book. Haylie has such a fresh, southern California, beachy-boho vibe to her recipes and the styling of her book. It’s totally right up my alley. Many people think of Hollywood or L.A. when they think of southern California, but this book is the SoCal, thanks to a summer internship there in 2008, that I know and love.

I wouldn’t consider this a diet book by any means, but it is full of healthy recipes. However, Haylie takes healthy and turns it from “What I shouldn’t eat” to “What I should eat.” She uses tons of great power foods like kale and beets in her recipes and makes them look divine. She is not a huge fan of heavy creams and mayo, so she has recipes featuring protein packed Greek yogurt to cut the calories but keep the flavors.

The stories throughout the book are also really fun. I read it cover to cover in one night and have made a handful of the recipes since then. Adam’s favorite is the “Spicy Chicken Noodle ‘Sick’ Soup.” Ever put chili flakes or jalapenos in your chicken noodle soup? Try it and you will from here on out!

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Stay warm out there! I will be in here, wrapped up in a fleece blanket, with my book and… water.

Not quite perfection… wine would get me there. But, I will be strong. ‘Cause it’s still pretty darn good.

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