March 2011 Chickens in the Road Newsletter

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*Feature: Broken Refrigerator Edition

*Kitchen Extra: Moon Cakes

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: April

*Recent Highlights: The Muck and the Mud, Roasting Coffee, CITR Retreat 2011, and More

*Sneak Peek: The Other Charleston

*Farm Bell Recipes: Homemade Vinegar

*Blast from the Past: Signed, Sealed, Not Yet Delivered

*Feature: Broken Refrigerator Edition

My refrigerator broke down at the beginning of this week. I think it was an emotional breakdown due to the amount of dairy products I stuff into it regularly. Since I have so much going on in the kitchen on a daily basis, any time any major kitchen appliance breaks down, I practically have a breakdown myself. I was without my oven for weeks one time last year. Now the refrigerator. We all know they don’t make things like they used to. Now they put plastic parts in otherwise fairly expensive major (and minor) appliances. My refrigerator is only three years old. It’s too young to die! It took a few days to get a repairman out here, and now I’m waiting on a part to come in, so it’s not truly dead, but it’s somewhat out of commission although the repairman managed to rig it so that it’s cold again. So cold, it freezes stuff. But at least it’s not warm…..

I’m fortunate because I have a backup refrigerator on the back porch that is mainly used for cheese and eggs and excess milk, etc, but I managed to stuff all the essential refrigerator items from the kitchen fridge back there, and other than having to fight off 200 cats every time I walk out to the back porch to get something, it’s okay. Although you wouldn’t know that because I whine a lot about not having my refrigerator in the kitchen. I haven’t felt very pioneer-ish about the whole thing.

It’s still early spring and kind of cold, so coolers would work great and stay cold for a long time set right outside the kitchen door, too, but the refrigerator disaster (yes, it’s a disaster! I told you I felt whiny…) got me thinking about what people did in the past and how they SURVIVED without a refrigerator. They never had refrigerators to begin with, and here I think it’s a DISASTER if I don’t have one for a week. Clearly, I was in need of a historical attitude adjustment.

My parents were both born in the 1920s. Nobody had a refrigerator then–at least, not as we know refrigerators today. Refrigerator “explorers” began experimenting with refrigeration as early as the 18th century, but artificial refrigeration as we know it wasn’t developed until the late 1920s and didn’t achieve any sort of wide household use until the 1930s. Refrigerators were refined over the following decades, becoming truly common after World War II. Oh, how happy those young post-war brides must have been with their amazing new refrigerators! By then, they had refrigerators and freezers together in one unit, and they even had ice cube trays. The only reason most of us touch an ice cube tray today is if we’re making basil cubes.

Still, if their refrigerators broke down, they knew what to do because they grew up without refrigerators. They knew how to cool food with ice and snow or cold streams. They knew how to build ice houses and ice boxes, spring houses, and even how to build homemade ice coolers and cooling cabinets. They were raised with cold cellars and root cellars. They were also in the habit of being more dependent on other means of preservation–smoking, drying, pickling, brining, and canning–than on the refrigerator. I was raised with a backup refrigerator in the garage and phone numbers for repairmen.

Of course, my parents were well versed in all of the alternative methods for cooling and preserving food since they grew up that way, but it wasn’t unusual that in the post-World War II “age of wonder” they simply, and enthusiastically, embraced the new conveniences and moved on–not realizing that in the process, they were creating an environment in which an entire generation had no idea how to function without a refrigerator. I’ve even read news stories about longterm power outages (in the winter!) in which people are so detached from nature that they let hundreds of dollars of food spoil without even thinking of taking it outside where it’s already freezing cold.

I’ve had a spring house and a root cellar in mind ever since we moved to the farm, and this event makes me want to move those up a little higher on the to-do list. I don’t want my children to grow up believing that a backup refrigerator and a repairman are their only options. They may never need or want a spring house or a root cellar, but I want them to know that they exist, for the same reason I like them to see me preserve food, make soap, make cheese, and other things. While it’s not always (or even often) possible to get them excited about these projects, I like to believe that simply growing up in an environment in which they see these things happening around them opens their minds and encourages self-reliance.

And sometimes I have to remind myself that an atmosphere of self-reliance starts with me.

*Kitchen Extra: Moon Cakes

Morgan claims she doesn’t like to cook, but she does make a mess in the kitchen every once in a while when she brings home recipes from school. She brought home this recipe for Chinese moon cakes a few weeks ago and was determined to make them right away. I’m always glad when she actually does want to cook something, so I helped her find everything she needed and she got to work.

Unfortunately, the time involved in chilling the dough was apparently precisely the life of Morgan’s attention span. That dough’s been sitting in my refrigerator for weeks now. Then the fridge broke down and I figured that was one thing I didn’t have to haul out to the back porch fridge and I baked ’em up myself.

From what I could dig up on the internet when I went searching to find out more about this recipe, authentic moon cakes, which are traditionally made at Chinese New Year and during the harvest moon festival, should be filled with red bean paste. They are usually imprinted with a design and they even sell special Chinese moon cake molds. This Americanized version is definitely more kid-friendly and doesn’t require any special baking equipment. They also turned out to be pretty delicious! They taste like a cross between a biscuit and a cookie. You could use any kind of jam for the filling, or even apple (or other fruit) butter. I used strawberry jam. And while it’s not Chinese New Year or harvest moon time, it’s always a good time for a cookie. Or a biscuit. Or whatever this is!

How to make Moon Cakes:

4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup non-fat dry milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 eggs
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
jam for filling

Combine all the ingredients except for the jam and mix well; knead into a dough. (The mixture will be a little dry, but will knead into a ball.) Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Form the chilled dough into small balls. Make a hole with your thumb in the center of each ball and fill with about a 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Close back up into a ball. (It’s okay if a little jam peeks out the top.)

Bake at 375-degrees on a lightly greased cookie sheet for about 20 minutes or until just lightly browned at the edges.

See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes for the handy print page and to save it to your recipe box:

Chinese Moon Cakes

P.S. And apparently the dough stores well in the fridge for weeks!

*My Favorite Thing Right Now: April

I don’t care if it’s bad luck.

I’ve had it with the rain, snow, mud, and morass of March. I’ve turned my calendars over. Let the REAL spring begin!

*Recent Highlights: The Muck and the Mud, Roasting Coffee, CITR Retreat 2011, and More

It’s spring, and spring means The Muck and the Mud is out of control. (Can you pick out whose muddy hooves are whose?) Also see how The Crooked Little Hen Explains and catch up on the The Cast of Sheep. Find all my farm animal stories here.

I’ve been Roasting Coffee in an Iron Skillet, having Fun with Spice Jars, and making my own Cereal Mixes. Don’t miss a thing in my kitchen! Get all my recipes.

We had a visitor to the farm and he solved everything! See how Flat Stanley Cracks the Case then join me for A Slow Weekend in March with the new duck ‘n’ buck yard going up and frog eggs all over the pond. And, this month, registration opened for CITR Retreat 2011. Don’t miss it! See all my country living stories.

Check out the surprises Behind Box #1 then let me show you How to Make Liquid Soap and (for something easier) Spoon Oil. Browse all my posts in house & garden.

*Sneak Peak: The Other Charleston

I’m taking a trip to Charleston!


Not Charleston, West Virginia. Charleston, South Carolina! I’m off to see my sailor for spring break (toward the end of April). I’ll be traveling with approximately 5,682 teenagers. Okay, just Weston, Morgan, and Weston’s girlfriend, but I’m sure once they all get in the car, it will feel like 5,682! I’ll take you with me as we go to the beach, tour Fort Sumter, eat lots of seafood, and do whatever else we can pack into our week with Ross in South Carolina!

*Farm Bell Recipes: Homemade Vinegar

In spite of what people think sometimes, I don’t know how to do everything. In fact, I don’t know how to do much. You can put what I know how to do versus what there is to know on the head of a pin. As an excellent example, I was fascinated by the recent post by Robin of Rurification on the community blog at Farm Bell Recipes about making your own vinegar. I buy vinegar at the store. It’s just one of those things I never imagined that I could make myself. Now I’m going to try it! If you want to try it, too, be sure to read Robin’s post on Farm Bell Recipes:

Homemade Vinegar

There’s also been a lively discussion at the Chickens in the Road forum about it here:

Mother of Vinegar

There is a fantastic new post from community members every day on the Farm Bell Recipes blog. Don’t miss a single one. Read the Farm Bell blog here. Would you like to contribute a post to the community blog at Farm Bell Recipes? You can! See all the information here for submissions. We’d love to hear your voice!

March 2011 Farm Bell Recipes blog contributors:

CindyP — Chippewa Creek ~ Our Life Simplified
Kelly in TX — Sowell Farm
Kerrie — City Girl Farming
Larissa — The Henway
Launi — Gracious Rain
Laurie — Laurie’s Thoughts
Robin — Rurification
Screaming Sardine — Prairie Patch
Sheryl — Providence Acres
Syrup and Biscuits — Syrup and Biscuits

THANK YOU! Please give them a visit!

*Blast from the Past: Signed, Sealed, Not Yet Delivered

See how Ross’s story started.


As we prepare to head south to see Ross, if you missed his story from the beginning, read his journey to joining the Navy in Signed, Sealed, Not Yet Delivered. You can also read his Letters from Boot Camp and see the pictures from his Navy boot camp graduation. Ross is in the two-year Navy nuclear training program and will eventually be manning a submarine. He recently finished A school and will be starting Power school soon. (We will be visiting him during his downtime, just before he starts Power school.)


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What are you fixing for supper tonight? Browse the goodness at Farm Bell Recipes — your cooking community!

*I’m giving away a Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving once a week (sometimes more!) so don’t forget to watch the blog for The Ball Blue Book Project days.

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