Friday, May 25, 2012

Fort Mifflin

Tomorrow I'll be heading to Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia to partake in one of my guilty pleasures... ghost hunting.

This will be my third outing with the Ideal Event Management people. Each time I learn a little bit more and become more comfortable with what I'm doing. Each time we go, we also seem to purchase a new piece of equipment. So far, we have a digital voice recorder, K-II and Mel-meter. I just had my laser grid order arrive, but it doesn't seem to be working very well. I don't know if I got a dud or if my batteries are weak.

It's funny... at our first investigation last year (at Fort Mifflin), I was just excited to meet the people from TAPS/Ghost Hunters/Syfy channel. Now I'm more interested in investigating the sites and just see the people there as helpful sounding boards. It's been fun to meet all of the paranormal "celebrities." Turns out they're just people - who knew? One of them was cordial enough, but incredibly arrogant in a Ron Burgundy kind of way. A few turned out to be a lot more likable and funny than they appear on television. Many of them I'd love to sit and have a beer with. Reality TV is like that... you only see a few minutes of each person despite hundreds of hours of footage taken during any episode.

Hopefully we'll get some good evidence tomorrow. I think that we're getting better at asking questions, and I'm doing more research before we go to the places. It helps if you have a clue what went on during the location's history and who might have been present.

More updates and photos to come... I want to post some of our house rehab pictures, so anyone who reads can have a better appreciation for the work that we've put into it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The sad state of DCFD

My amazing husband is a DC Fireman. Ahem, I mean a member of FEMS.

I don't usually post about my husband's job, but the stuff going on there is seriously leaving me scratching my head.

Most recently, "FEMS" was called for a fire. What was burning? Their medical and personnel files containing confidential information:

Ellerbe demoting and transferring officers for using their brain when making a decision:

$70,000 in NFPA certified shirts sitting unused because of the incorrect logo:

Ellerbe had several sexual harassment complaints in Sarasota, DC officials never asked to see his personnel records or do a thorough background check. Not to mention that he defrauded the IRS by claiming the Homestead Tax Credit in DC while living in Florida:

When the rank and file showed civil disobedience, FEMS PIO tweets that they were racist:

Firefighter recently burned doing his job is disciplined for wearing the wrong logo:

A great article summarizing the recent debacle going on:

A few more articles on veiled threats, the proposed shift change, and the myriad orders regarding uniforms:

Sure doesn't sound like a place that I'd like to work. I sure hope that things change soon... morale is in the toilet!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perfect Potatoes au Gratin

I wanted to post this recipe so that I didn't lose it again! I made this a few weekends ago and it was amazing.

Recipe: Perfect Potatoes au Gratin

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  • 4 whole Russet Potatoes, Scrubbed Clean
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • 1-1/2 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Freshly Grated

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Smear softened butter all over the bottom of a baking dish.
Slice potatoes, then cut slices into fourths.
In a separate bowl, whisk together cream, milk, flour, minced garlic, salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Place 1/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour 1/3 of the cream mixture over the potatoes.
Repeat this two more times, ending with the cream mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and really bubbling. Add grated cheese to the top of the potatoes and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Allow to stand for a few minutes before serving by the spoonful. Delicious!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The chicken decision... do clucks save bucks?

Thanks to my dear friend Angela over at Hot Frugal, I've been thinking lately if having chickens might save us money. Having chickens didn't start as a money-saving endeavor for me. I'd been checking out My Pet Chicken for probably a year and thought that they would be fun pets and that having fresh eggs was a nice side benefit, especially since I love to cook.

So back to my question - Does raising your own chickens for eggs save money? Probably not in the short term, but over the long term... perhaps.

We can count on 9 of our chickens to be good layers... anywhere from 4-7 eggs per week. Let's say they end up on the low side of things and lay 4 eggs per week. That's 3 dozen eggs! Fortunately I do eat a fair amount of eggs and do quite a bit of cooking. We are also planning to give eggs away to our friends... we'll consume anywhere from a dozen to 18 eggs a week, depending on how much we cook.

Free range eggs from a local company in the area sell for $2.50 for small, up to $4.50 for jumbo eggs. By everything I've read, our chickens will lay large to extra large eggs, which sell for $3.50 to $4 a dozen. We'll use the conservative estimate... $3.50 per dozen eggs, times 3... $10.50 a week. That's $546 a year! Of course, we won't be selling them, but that is what they are worth.

I'm also not expecting to get as many eggs during the winter and molting times, so we'll cut that down to 35 weeks of 3 dozen eggs instead of 52. Still, that is $367.50 worth of savings.

Now, how much did all of this *actually* cost?

That is a more complicated question. The initial set-up involved about $50 worth of supplies... brooder bulb and light, feeders, chick starter, bedding, etc.

The chicks themselves - cost $5 a piece for the black stars, $2.75 for the red pullets and $1.99 a piece for our straight run bantams (silkies). So we ended up paying $39.98 for our 11 chickens.

Materials for the coop building (including paint) came to about $150. We also bought some wire fencing to build the run and some plastic fencing and u-posts for a temporary run, which ended up totaling around $50. We are constructing their run out of pallets, which we snagged for free in the industrial park. We were able to save some money as well by using some items that we already had on hand, or inexpensive hardware that we bought at the local ReStore (the Habitat for Humanity store) for a steal - $1 hardware that could cost $5-$10 elsewhere.

Feed costs anywhere from $16-$20 for a 50 lb bag, which I'm guessing will last about a month. Chickens can also have table scraps and will forage for greens and bugs. They go crazy for anything creepy crawly. Once we let them out to forage more, we will probably save on our food costs.

I'm sure that I'm missing a few things, but that is the bulk of it. So right now, we're looking at an initial investment of just under $300.

However, this would cost other people an awful lot more if they didn't build their own coop - to answer this question properly also involves your experience and knowledge of power tools.

During the last week, our nail gun started malfunctioning and the trigger fell off the reciprocating saw while Jay was using it, locking it into the ON position. This can be quite dangerous!

Yesterday, I cut my wrist on a nail in a pallet. If it had been slightly lower or if the nail had been sharper, that would have been an interesting trip to the ER. Not to mention that I was covered in red paint, so it might have been a bit alarming to the staff. At least I knew that my boss was working the afternoon shift, and he also knows that I'm building a chicken coop. If he hadn't known, they might have shipped me off to the looney bin for trying to slit my wrist with a rusty nail. Don't worry, I'm up to date on my tetanus shot!

So if you're not a savvy builder or have to take a trip to the ED, that obviously will make the cost of owning chickens much higher. Most coops that you can buy online for 12 chickens will run over $800. Building it yourself will definitely save a lot of money.

Next year I may try hatching out some chicks. My boss's wife has an incubator that he's volunteered to let me borrow, so I'm thinking of ordering some fertilized eggs online and hatching out some other breeds... Easter Eggers or Ameracauna type chickens that will produce funky colored eggs, more specifically. So depending on how many hatch, we will probably sell some chicks and then keep a few, depending on how many chickens we have to replace. Hopefully all of my 11 will survive the next year, but I have to be realistic... there are a lot of feral cats in the neighborhood and I'm sure that we'll lose a couple.

With all of that said, we will probably be breaking even, or maybe even saving a little bit of money with our chickens. If we keep them for a few years, we will be saving money for sure.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons to keep chickens... fertilizer, pest control (they love to eat fleas and ticks), plus they are just plain fun to watch. They all have different personalities and can keep me entertained for hours with their antics.

I'm very happy that we have them and I'm sure I'll be even happier once they start rewarding me with fresh eggs! :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Recipe - Mushroom-Shallot Quiche from Epicurious

I made quiche last weekend using the crust recipe from this website... the crust turned out fantastic and with my leftover dough, I made a little apple turnover. Yummy.

My own filling from last weekend - saute mushrooms, spinach, onions, and ham with olive oil. Place ingredients in bottom of pie crust. Top with shredded cheese (I use sharp cheddar). Beat 6 eggs with 1-2T milk, salt, pepper & cayenne. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake as suggested.

We're thinking of getting a couple pygmy dairy goats. I can't wait to make a quiche using all fresh ingredients... I'm also thinking of planting some wheat and grinding my own flour. How awesome would it be to make a quiche out of my own garden vegetables, fresh eggs from my own chicken, pie crust made from my own flour and butter from my goats! Oh, and goat cheese too. 

Yeah, we're pretty much going to have our own farm.

Mushroom-Shallot Quiche

Bon Appétit  | October 2006
by Dorie Greenspan

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94% would make it again
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Mushroom-Shallot Quiche4 forks

at a glance

main ingredientsMushroom,  OnionEgg,  ThymeMilk/Cream,  Shallot
yield: Makes 6 servings
Quiche is cool again, and it tastes as delicious now as it did back then.
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon cold water

  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 5 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 green onions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Gruyère cheese
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For crust:
Blend flour, salt, and sugar in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, process until coarse meal forms. Whisk 1 egg and 1 teaspoon cold water in small bowl; add to flour mixture. Using on/off turns, process just until moist clumps form. Transfer to work surface and knead gently until dough comes together, about 4 turns. Form into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour. Do ahead Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
Butter 9 1/2-inch round fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer dough to pan, pressing onto bottom and up sides of pan; trim any excess dough. Chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter large square of foil and press, butter side down, onto crust. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Using fork, pierce bottom of crust all over (about 10 times). Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Brush lightly with egg white. Cool. Do ahead Can be baked 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
For filling:
Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and sauté until liquid is absorbed and mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 1/2 teaspoons thyme and cook 1 minute. Transfer mixture to plate. Cool mushrooms completely.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cooled crust in pan on baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons thyme. Drain mushrooms, if needed. Scatter mushrooms over thyme. Whisk cream, eggs, salt, and pepper in medium bowl. Pour egg mixture over mushrooms. Sprinkle with green onions and cheese.
Bake quiche until custard is set, about 25 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Oops, has it been a month already?

Well it appears that I’m not keeping up with this blog as much as I had intended… I’ve been too busy DOING things!

Since my last post, we picked up 6 MORE chicks from Tractor Supply Company… 4 were from the “red pullet” bin… at least 2 of them are red stars, and 2 of them might be new Hampshire or Rhode Island reds. More than likely all 4 are red stars. The two other chicks that we got from TSC were out of the straight run (male and female) bantam bin. We still don’t know if we have a rooster and a hen, 2 hens or 2 roos. These chicks turned out to be silkies, which are the coolest chickens ever. Their feathers look more like the fur you would see on a rabbit. I’m really excited that they turned out to be silkies. The only thing is that silkies are supposed to have feathered feet and five toes. Only one of ours does… the other one has bare legs with 4 toes on one foot and 5 on the other. We named him Mouse… I don’t know, he just seems like a boy chicken to me. J

In the time since I started this blog, we have primed and painted the upstairs & downstairs foyer and hallway as well as the master bathroom. We installed tile in the bathroom upstairs, grouted and sealed the tile, reinstalled the toilet and sink, installed a mirror and vanity lighting, sanded and painted the banister and stair railings, installed a new section of railing at the top of the stairs (which required my husband cutting down a 6x6 post to match our other 4.5” square posts), installed laminate flooring in our upstairs reading nook, and trimmed out the windows.  And that’s just the inside. One of our weekends was spent preparing our raised bed. That was a nightmare! We had some issues with the roto-tiller that we rented for starters… after we finally got that taken care of, we dug up the dirt that had been tilled and moved it to low spots in the ground. Turns out that I dug up a little too much, because we needed to fill in what we dug up. Unfortunately, Choptank Supply’s version of “topsoil” was full of grass clumps, rocks and other stuff. It looked more like fill dirt to us. So by that time it was too late and we’d already shoveled 2 tons of dirt. It was brutal work… my husband constructed a raised bed that was about 4’ x 24’ out of landscaping timbers and later that week ordered more dirt from Choptank supply. I finished off the top of our bed by buying 800 lbs of real bagged topsoil from Lowes. I have a feeling that our garden won’t do as well because of the fill dirt underneath the topsoil, but it’s a learning process. Next year, we’ll have great compost to put down and I’m going to put the chickens to work in the garden as well. My plan is to build up our garden each year by adding a few more landscaping timbers.

So now we have the following planted in our raised bed:  onions, shallots, garlic, horseradish, asparagus, tomatoes, corn, green beans, cucumbers, green & jalapeno peppers, eggplant, zucchini, dill, basil, parsley, chives, and catnip. Yeah, catnip. I also have a little pallet garden planted in the front… I spray-painted a pallet purple and then filled it with potting soil. I planted more chives, strawberries and bibb lettuce. It actually looks pretty awesome. In our front yard, I have impatiens, vinca, petunias, day lilies and gladiolus. We also have a rosemary plant, more like a bush… it is totally out of control. I also planted some lavender and mint out front.

So that’s it on our garden. The chicks started to make a huge mess a few weeks ago when they began flying out of their kiddie pool. Last week we’d had enough of them and I begged Jay to start working on their coop. I am so lucky to have a husband who is SO AWESOME. I called him last Friday around lunchtime and he hadn’t started on the coop. By the time I got home from work, he had it framed and was working on the roof. I helped him attach a few walls and we quit for the day. On Saturday we didn’t have as much time to work on the coop, but we got it more or less constructed that day. Sunday, my mom came over, I installed peel & stick vinyl tiles, we primed the walls and Jay put the metal roofing on. It rained on Monday, so there wasn’t much that we could do. He installed the chicken and human door on Tuesday and we painted the inside with spray paint. Wednesday (yesterday), Jay built the nesting boxes and some of the roosts. I painted when I got home from work last night and we put all of the hardware on. It was finished enough to put the chickypoos inside… what a relief! We still have to put some pieces of trim on to make it look nice, and I’m putting a flower box on their window, which I’ll be making out of wood pallets. We’ll also be building their permanent run out of pallets… so I’ll be working on getting those painted and ready to go this week and weekend.

Apart from the pallet run, we have to get the laminate flooring down in the hallway and 3rd guest bedroom. My sister-by-love (sounds much better than sister in law!) is coming to visit from AZ in a few weeks and I’d like to have things looking nice by the time she arrives. Plus then she’ll have two finished bedrooms to choose from.

We are planning to have a big party later this summer, probably in August once most of our work is complete. It’s going to be our green carpet unveiling party, where we take the ugly green carpet off of the stairs and see what’s underneath. We’ll be encouraging people to wear their best Bob Villa attire – or dress as their favorite home improvement person… maybe Tim the Toolman?

It’s hard to say what our biggest obstacle is… we have to get the siding up, clean out my dad’s workroom and install drywall, paint & flooring in that bedroom… plus that room needs a closet and so does another bedroom. We still need to install our heat pump for downstairs. Jay’s aunt and uncle are giving us their kitchen. They have a gorgeous home in Long Island and are re-doing their already very nice kitchen, and we get to have their cabinets and appliances, hurray! So sometime this summer we’ll go up there with a u-Haul and make their trash our treasure. Eventually we need to put up a new fence in our backyard, but that will probably be our final project. Oh and we also need a real driveway. One day we’ll get to it!

All things considered, we are pretty far down the home renovation road. Hoping to put up some house photos soon... for now, here are some photos that my mom took during her visit last weekend, as well as a few I took with my smartphone camera. Some of these photos should show what we've been up to. Oh, and we also went ghost hunting in Rhode Island at the Rose Island Lighthouse the weekend before last. We've been busy!

My favorite part of the upstairs bathroom... now all we need to do is clean out the tub and find where we put the faucet.

The coop be ready for chickens! We built the whole thing (including paint) for about $150.

Mom took these... our peeps in their little peep daycare enclosure

Hubby attaching the metal roof on the coop

Strawberry plant in my pallet garden

Bibb lettuce in my pallet garden

Petunia in our front flower bed

Me and Jay installing the peel & stick vinyl flooring

Our red star peeps

Our black star peeps... I took this pic on our way home from the lady who sold them to me

Our TSC peeps on their way home

Mouse as a baby... at this time I had an idea that he would grow up to be a silkie, but I wasn't sure

Princess Kitty whore aka Kitty whore aka Piper aka Trouble wondering who will be tastiest

Mouse, our misfit silkie at about 3.5 weeks old

Basil, Posh, Queen Mab, Mouse, and Ginger last weekend having a wild rumpus outside