Monday, February 28, 2011


Announcing: Two Blue Houses now has a Facebook page!

Just when you thought life couldn't get better. You found us. You read us. Now you want a better way to keep up with Two Blue Houses. Well we would LOVE that! Please. Seriously. Show us the love.

We welcome and appreciate your time and are forever curious about our readers. You will know when we post and perhaps a bit extra (such as some never seen before pictures, projects and who knows what else) right from YOUR Facebook page. So go ahead. Click on the cute little Facebook button in the far right column. We will be glad that you did. I mean you will be glad you did! **Wink**

The Test of a Fresh Egg

When you have chickens, you always have something to eat. A handful of fresh eggs can quickly become quiche, pasta, pancakes and many other super fast meals. Along with the pure novelty of keeping animals for food come an abundance of new facts about the food you are eating. Raising chickens has changed all my previous beliefs and ideas about food and the word "fresh." I am spoiled by my chickens. Yes, I am one lucky girl.

I have been keeping hens and roosters for four years and in that time I have gathered in my head is a list of odd egg facts. In truth, if you talk to me long enough, I am sure to drop some of my random farm knowledge on you. Thanks for humoring me, but I really do think that this stuff should be familiar to everyone, not simply those with a small flock.

So here is what I have learned about truly fresh eggs...

I am not sure how it goes elsewhere, but at our place we gather eggs frequently, twice if not more a day. They come into the kitchen, are lightly brushed if they are littered with debris of any kind, dated with a pencil and placed in the fridge. What? No, I did not forget to wash them. Eggs actually should not be washed. As long as your eggs are laid in a clean environment from reputable people, there is no need. An egg is laid with a special covering called the bloom. This naturally keeps bacteria from permeating the shell and therefore the egg. Wash the egg, wash off the protection. All commercial eggs are washed and then resealed with mineral oil while most small scale farmers just wash the eggs that are justifiably dirty. After all, who wants to cook with a dirty egg. And always wash your hands before and after handling food.

Jude and Billy gathering eggs last spring

We mark our eggs with a pencil on the wide end with the date they are gathered (month and day). This helps us to rotate our stock. Eggs are then placed in a carton narrow end down. Sometimes we do find the renegade egg in a weird place and do a quick test to see how old it is. Just place the egg is a small cup of water. If the egg lays horizontal on the bottom, it is a fresh egg, up to a week old. When the egg sinks but floats up at an angle, the egg is probably one to two weeks old. At three weeks, the egg will sink but stand up on its narrow end. If the egg floats, it is stale and you probably won't want to eat it, especially now that you know it is old. Ah, ignorance is bliss.


All of this floating and sinking has to do with the air pocket within the egg. When an egg is truly fresh, the air sac is almost non-existent. As the egg ages and air permeates the shell, the gas gathers at the wide end of the egg. The older the egg, the larger the air sac and the more floating.

Fresh eggs from my chickens

Since we have so many fresh eggs, sometimes we let them age in the fridge so we can hard boil them. Only old eggs boil well. A fresh egg when cooked peels terribly. It is horrible. Trust me. It is a mess and it is frustrating. I honestly can't even think of anything more aggravating than peeling those kinds of eggs right now. I'm actually getting fired up just thinking about it. The shell clings to the white so when you attempt to peel it, you end up with a yolk covered in a ragged layer of white. Not so great for deviled eggs but okay for egg salad, that is if you don't pitch them in a fit of anger after peeling very first one.

Another distinguishing feature of egg age is the way a cracked egg spreads while in a frying pan. In a fresh egg, the yolk will sit up high and the white will be a gelatinous tight circle around the yolk. A stale egg, however, will spread itself very thin around the pan.


Can you tell which is fresh? The one on top...

Did you know that the color of the yolk depends on the diet of the bird which laid the egg? A bird that eats a colorless diet produces almost colorless yolks. Our chickens are pastured. Some of our yolks are as vibrant orange as a sunset. They make the most gorgeous pasta and sweet dough you have ever seen!

And my final egg fact is how to tell the difference between a hard boiled and raw egg. More than once I have reached into a carton, chosen an egg and cracked it only to find that it is hard boiled. Never again. The way to tell them apart is to give them a quick spin. The raw egg will wobble while the boiled one will twirl. Since the contents of the boiled egg are solid, the egg will rotate. The liquid ones, eh, not so much.

Eden loves her chickens and I'm pretty sure they think she's swell

Just how you wanted to start your week, huh, with useless facts about eggs. But I know someday you are going to test those grocery store eggs in your fridge. Yep, life is never going to be the same. That may be a stretch, but you know what I mean...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

No Tomato Pizza Sauce

Did I ever tell you that I make and package a product called Pizza Topper. I know, the name is lame but the stuff inside the jar is good. It is a blend of nine organic herbs and spices that replace normal tomato sauce on your pizza. While the seasoning is specifically for those who follow the Blood Type Diet and can not eat tomatoes, just about everyone likes it. In our house, it serves as the all-purpose seasoning.

Friday's supper is always pizza at my house. Homemade. There is nothing like it. My youngest son will eat pizza no other way than with this seasoning. His pizza is also gluten free.

This started as a small favor I was doing for the family natural foods store but recently took a fun turn. The local Oven Fresh Pizza shop will be offering pizza with my Pizza Topper, upon request, or with a 24 hr notice for spelt pizza. I know its silly but it makes me feel a little bit special. So now if you live in the area and follow the blood type diet, there is a hot cheesy pizza just a phone call away.

I have also started offering larger sizes. Hmmm... those jars look exactly like my what I use for my drinking glasses? Yes, I know, very classy. I'm in the process of working on some new packaging... better labels.... and that name. Any ideas?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Good Food Friday: Broccoli Cheese Soup

I have been on the hunt for a respectable broccoli cheese soup for a couple years now. Specifically one that did not call for processed cheese food, you know, Velveta. I go through all the trouble of making darn near everything from scratch but I was getting so desperate for that creamy cheesy soup that I was tempted almost enough to cheat. This was to be my final attempt before I shamelessly caved and I must say it was a huge success.

The super rich texture of this soup comes from beginning with a roux (pronounced roo), which is a mixture of fat and flour. That is combined with milk, broth and a bunch of vegetables and sprinkled with cheese at the end. It made its first public appearance at a girls night in and is sure to be a comfort food favorite.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken/vegetable broth (or bouillon equivalent)
  • 2 cups half and half (or milk)
  • 1/2 pound broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sprinkle of nutmeg (optional)
  • Saute onion until translucent. Set aside.
  • In a medium pot over medium - low heat, melt butter. Add flour. Whisk together. Let it cook and bubble but not burn, about 1-3 minutes. Add milk and whisk. Then add broth. Whisk and simmer until soup begins to thicken, about 5 - 10 minutes.
  • Add vegetables and simmer for about 20 minutes, until vegetable are very tender. Do not allow to boil. Whisk every now and then. Hope your arm isn't tired from all this whisking.
  • This step is optional. Transfer half of soup to a blender and puree for a couple seconds. Put blended soup back into the pot.
  • Add cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg and .... you got it, whisk. Enjoy it hot.

I will tell you that the worst part of making this soup is the chopping of veggies. I was totally done before I realized I could have put my Pampered Chef chopper to good use on this one. Either way, this meal is completely worth it. Try to stay true to the vegetable measurements because adding too much broccoli will give you a greenish soup.

And in case you were wondering, girls night was topped off with a movie, pedicure...

and this indulgence.

The dessert was so decadent that not one of us girls could even get through half of it. Yes, this was a splurge evening and I look forward to it every month.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One man's trash....

You have heard it before that one person's trash is another's treasure. Here is what that looks like at our house. It was as simple as two small bags given to a grandparent from a friend. We acquire a lot of stuff this way.

Who could have guessed that this seemingly unimpressive bag would provide a distraction to three boys who upon arriving home just minutes before were already begging for video games.

The surprise package included blow pens, stencils, a gross science kit, plenty of educational books to occupy the coffee table, and a gallon bag full of mini bubbles.

A few coloring books that probably date back from when I was a kid and a glitter gun (no idea what that is?) were kind of pushed to the side but I'm sure they will soon have their time in the spotlight.

Wow! You would have thought they won the lottery with all of their hoots and hollers.

It is such a thrill to watch kids open some well loved things and go crazy all over again. Kids don't care that the magazines are dated or the supplies are half gone. The excitement of something new is all it takes. Instant creativity. Immediate interest. Something to do on what would have been an uneventful Thursday evening.

Math 24

This cheerful boy is crazy nervous today. He got up super early and caught a high school bus to the JVS to compete in a Math 24 contest. Pretty soon he will be crunching numbers against all fourth graders in the county. Needless to say, I am a super proud mom today. Please say a quick prayer for him and those silly 4th grade nerves of his. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

His & Her Mugs

Saw these mugs for .69 cents each and I couldn't pass them up. I may go back and buy the whole shelf because I love the shape! In honor of Gary and myself, I made a "His" & "Her" version. My hubby loves his tractor and I am all about the fresh veggies soon to be growing. I might fill in the outlines if I get out to the craft store tomorrow, but I really like them as is...

Scrap Fabric Rosettes

Yellow things make me happy. Wouldn't this small yellow flower make your day? Sometimes all it takes is one sunny accessory to make you feel good. I started making these and now I just can't stop. If you know me, you have probably gotten one. It is one of those projects that provide almost instant gratification with a lovely result each time. In only five minutes, you can have a cheerful little rosette of your own.

Snip about 3/4 of a inch from the edge of your fabric and tear the material so you have messy raw edges. For a medium rosette, the strips need to be about 2 feet long. You can use two of the same fabric, or two different fabrics. For the second strip, I used this lace. I'm positive it is from the 80's. I think it can officially be labeled as vintage. Thanks Mom.

Tie the two together with a loose knot.

Pinch the tail of the know between your thumb and forefinger. Trust me this works and you won't burn your fingers with hot glue too much. Grab your hot glue gun and dab glue around the edge of the knot. Twist the fabric (it doesn't matter which way) and stick it to the glue. You can twist it tight or loose.

When you get the size you want, clip the ends and tuck them under the flower with a bit of glue.

Cut two leaf shapes out of something like wool or felt and glue them to the back of your rosette.

Cut a circle to cover the back of your flower and attach the alligator clip. Open the alligator clip and place the circle inside. This is the one tricky part.

Glue the circle and clip to the back of the rosette so that the angled part of the clip is facing the back of your flower and the flat part is facing you.

And here is your finished product ready to be clipped onto a headband, a pony tail, a purse, a neckline, a pocket, a shoe... really, anywhere.

I also experimented a bit with a poppy-ish design with felt and wool...

Four layers of a simple figure eight shape, three a larger size and one smaller, a quick gather in the middle...

Layer them staggered. Stitch together and secure a couple of beads.

These have a felt circle and alligator clip too. I also made a few from the gray wool with some cool turquoise beads.

I think they may be my new favorite thing!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vegetables: The List

My seeds come from all kinds of places and several are years old now. While I try to choose organic and heirloom varieties I will be honest that I also buy what is on sale. These are for sure what are in my seed box right now to be planted this gardening season.

The List:
Old Favorites:
Radish (Watermelon, Cherry Belle, Icicle)
Lettuce (Iceberg, Romaine, and several other kinds)
Beet (Chioggia, Detroit Dark Red)
Peas (Sugar Snap)
Carrots (Long Imperator #58)
Beans (Bush several varieties)
Tomatoes (Roma)
Winter Squash (Early Acorn)
Squash (Summer)
Bell Peppers (mixed)
Corn (multiple kinds)

New for 2011:
Butternut Squash (Waltham)
Mustard (Southern Giant Curled)
Tomato (Cherokee Purple)
Watermelons (my stepson's request)
Swiss Chard (Rainbow Mix)

I am sure there are more to be added to this list. I would like to try a snow pea or shelling pea. Perhaps some new varieties of eggplant and in the fall garlic. Perhaps add to my current berry bushes with strawberries, blueberries, and a variety of cranberry bushes. Of course there will be my herb garden and with any luck I may have a few asparagus spears to enjoy. I am brainstorming ways to try the Indian Three Sisters planting method to save space, improve the soil, and give Gary what he loves: CORN.

Seeds are a weakness for me. The prospect of what they will become... I am not tempted to buy a CD or movie or even clothing but a seed packet?!? Every time...

Progress on the greenhouse has been halted by a freak snow storm. I guess it is still February...

sNOw day

After a four day weekend, the kids have another day off , so we started it right.

French toast, with homemade bread, covered with berries and whipped cream.

This is the real stuff folks. Let me tell you. Don't try it because you won't go back.
Makes me remember how much I want a dairy cow. Can you imagine all that butter and cheese and ice cream...

After breakfast I took a walk outside. Its not often its both snowy and sunny where we live. Everything, EVERYTHING, is covered with a layer of ice. Its beautiful.

(I took this picture through a window, sorry about the screen)

Swing set. My kids miss you!

My pulley clothesline. I miss you.

Its kind of hard having to wear boots and winter coats again considering just a couple hours ago there was grass visible, but at least we had a few good days. It gave me enough motivation to finalize my seed order. Here is the list of what we will be growing, weeding, sharing, enjoying and preserving...

French filet green beans
snap peas
green peppers
paste tomato
cherry tomato
hot wax peppers
pie pumpkins
butternut squash
snow peas
cucumber (salad)
espanola peppers
cayenne peppers
bok choy
banana peppers
pumpkins on a stick (ornamental)
oriental poppies (so pretty)
I'd like to find some quinoa and great northern dry beans to grow too.
-- not to mention our fruit and nut trees and berries
(I did not purchase all these seeds. I had most left over from previous years.)

Ah, feels good to scratch that one off my list. Of course, ordering is the easy part.

What do you plan on growing this year?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Great Way to Start a Monday

Say hello to our first seedling...


Memberships: A Good Investment

May I introduce the Great Lakes Science Center's newest members...

We are!

Our family was gifted some cash this past Christmas and we have been holding on to it for the perfect opportunity. I didn't want this money to be mindlessly spent on dining out and DVD's, which is incredibly easy to do. The idea of gifting experiences like concerts, park visits or mini-vacations, has been on my mind for years and I try to give stuff with lasting meaning. It has taken a while, but I'm finally realizing when you invest a little more up front, it is worth it.

The entire experience was awesome! Each child was engaged during the visit. We split up for a bit while the little girls played in the polymer playroom (picture a spacious room full of all things plastic: slides, pulleys, cannons and thousands of balls). The boys were able to test the speed of their pitches and defy gravity with mirrors. A bunch of our time was spent in a darkened corner watching our shadows get caught on a special photosensitive wall. A packed lunch saved us a ton of money, too. We ran around like crazies, but happy ones. After a short stop at the always overpriced gift shop and a visit to Mars, we departed at closing. I'm pretty sure three of the kids were snoozing before we even left the parking garage. As we pulled into our driveway, Eden woke up yawning and said, "I had fun." Sigh. That is all I could have ever hoped at the end of the day: that she had fun and that she (and her siblings) feel loved.

After the initial investment ($85 for a basic family membership), we have a year of unlimited visits. Not just to this science center but to over 200 centers and museums across the nation. There are already plans in the making for a visit to the Carnegie Science Museum in Pittsburgh. Even select children's museums are included. Now I've got a nice list of possible experiences to whisk my kids away for the day - prepaid! For six bucks (parking) we can head out to the city and have a blast at the drop of a hat.

This is an investment in our family. It is something we would not normally be able to afford on a visit by visit basis, but when purchased as a membership it is sure to be a major form of our entertainment. We even asked for a zoo membership as a Christmas gift. With these two purchases there will be plenty to do this summer that doesn't necessarily involve weeding the garden or other super fun farm chores. How about a free trip to the zoo of your own? Did you know there are days when zoos and museums give free admission to people who live in the same county. Do a little research and see what you can come up with. People who live in the city have such great opportunity for culture, with museums, parks and zoos right around the corner. Country people have culture too, just a whole different kind of culture.

What other places are you members?

** The money for the membership was gifted to the parents, not the children.

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