Happiest Of Hatchdays, Little Girls!

Before we did a short Hatchday celebration this morning, I reminded everyone, “I know you girls want to enjoy your celebration, but before you do, let’s spend a moment remembering Blanche. Her own Hatchday is today too. She gave us all so much in the short time we had with her.”

They remembered Blanche with solemn and sincere silence, and then they enjoyed some worms from the compost pile. It was the perfect treat to start their day.

“These past three years have been wonderful,” I told them, “and I appreciate all of the goodness you have brought into my life. May we always remember our friends (feathered or not) with joyful hearts.”

This evening after I get home from work, they will have their “cool down treats” of cantaloupe and green grapes. Then we will all sit under the camellias, and I will begin reading their Hatchday gift to them. Before sharing with anyone else, each chapter must pass the all-important “read-aloud-to-chickens” test. I think they will like what I read to them, even if it takes the whole weekend. (This creative adventure is over 38,000 words!)

Before I can share any chapters with you, our readers, I must get the approval of Bessie and Gracie, my oldest hens. Bessie will ensure that my writing has been fair to chickens. (You already know how she is very emphatic about treating everyone fairly, especially chickens.) Gracie will ensure that my writing has been as accurate as possible. (She is very good with details and observed many events which I did not.)

More to come tomorrow, particularly about why you are seeing two books rather than one. For now, let the celebrations begin! More earthworms for everyone!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

My Life With Gracie…Snowhens And Snowchicks

Snowhen and Snowchicks

Near the end of the day, I heard soft whispers.

“You ask him.”

“No, you ask him.”

“It was your idea.”

Finally, Bessie spoke up. “When you make our morning breakfast salad…tomorrow morning, that is…would you be able to include grated carrots?”

“I think so. Sure. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason in particular. It’s just we didn’t get any this morning or the morning before. We thought you might be out of them.”

“Oops. Sorry about that!”

“No worries,” she said. Then there was an almost uncomfortable pause. “And before you grate them, can you snap off the tip ends and put them in without grating them?”

“Yes, I guess so.” I was beginning to wonder why there were suddenly so many special requests. Usually my chickens are happy with whatever I give them. “Any reason why?”

There was a soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“Do you think it would be okay if we have a little free range time before going up to roost for the night?” asked Gracie. “I will keep watch over everyone so you don’t have to. You can go in and start making your dinner if you’d like.”

At this point, I knew something was up because they were trying so hard to be nonchalant. “Thanks, Gracie. I think I will. You aren’t trying to get rid of me, are you?”

Gracie just smiled.

From the back window I watched. They were definitely collecting things from under the holly tree and shrubs. But they were being very secretive about it. Gracie and Bessie were trying to block my view, just in case I might be watching from the back window. (They know me very well, don’t they?)

Later, as I made sure they were in their coop securely for the night, Emily asked, “I was just wondering about this. So will there still be snow all night long the way you told us when we woke up this morning?”

“Yes, that’s right. Same forecast as this morning. You did have plenty to eat today, didn’t you? So you can stay extra warm tonight?”

“Oh, yes. I did.”

“Good. You’re the smallest, and I worry about you staying plenty warm, particularly on a cold and snowy night.”

“I will be fine,” she said.

There was another soft chorus of delighted chicken giggles.

“You girls snuggle up closer, and fluff out your feathers for more insulation.”

The next morning started like any other morning except it was colder and there was a blanket of snow in our yard and in part of the chicken run. When I returned home from work, I discovered what all of the secrecy had been about. They had prepared a surprise for me and had a great time doing it.

Much of this had been Bessie’s idea, I guessed, because she is the one I most expect would have said, “If there can be snowmen, why can’t there be ‘snowhens’ and ‘snowchicks’?” She is always concerned about fairness.

Still, it didn’t matter whose idea it was. It didn’t even matter how they had done it. What truly mattered was how they had simply enjoyed the anticipation and the doing. My joy in receiving their surprise was nothing compared to the joy they held in their hearts while preparing it.

I am at a time in my life when I don’t go searching for the delightful or for the extraordinary. Those joyful things come to me like freshly fallen snow. I anticipate them. I keep my eyes open. I look for ways to share them as my own surprises for others.

Even when there are no more chickens in my backyard to build snowhens and snowchicks in February, I know there will somehow be delightful surprises for me right outside my own backdoor. And I also know my chances of discovering those delightful surprises will be greatly increased by my willingness to give delightful surprises to others. This is probably one of the greatest secrets Bessie and my other chickens have shared with me. They give simply for the joy of giving. Love provides them with gifts to give.

My Life With Gracie taught me to look for and to create delightful (if only temporary) surprises.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Bessie’s Best Ever Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Bessie’s Best Ever Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Bessie has been eager to make this cake again. She likes it because there are a lot of bowls an a lot of mixing, but I just like it because it’s seriously delicious with a cup of coffee.

I asked her why she drew herself five times in her recipe illustration. “That’s because it took that many pictures of me to show how excited I am about this recipe,” she said in her most matter-of-fact way.

We will make it again this weekend which will be the start of Shelter Week at St. John’s Church. That’s when we open our doors to feed and provide a nighttime home for our guests who have no home. While visiting, they will also receive gifts of personal items and brand new cold weather gear including items like boots and long johns. We always strive to give our best, and each night a different group provides the evening meal. My girls and I are in charge of the cakes for our group Sunday night because our cakes are the best. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, our cakes are the best because we use only the very best eggs!

Bessie likes to call this a “One Big Bowl” recipe because everything ends up in “One Big Bowl” before it goes into the cake pan. She was sorry she ran out of space and wasn’t able to fit everything into just one picture. Even so, her drawing should help you get everything set up correctly before the last bit of mixing, and then pouring, and finally baking.

Ingredients for Bowl One

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Bowl Two

1 bag toffee bits (8 ounces)
1 cup chopped pecans

Ingredient for Measuring Cup

1 cup whole milk

Ingredients for the One Big Bowl

1 and 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs

Directions For The First Part In The Picture

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and lightly flour the inside of your 12-Cup Tube Cake Pan and set aside. Be sure to “bang out” the loose flour that doesn’t stick to the butter. Bessie likes this part even though it is a little noisy because it means we are going to bake a cake!

Bowl One Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix with spatula. Set aside.

Measuring Cup Add milk. Set aside.

Bowl Two Add toffee chips and pecan pieces. Mix with spatula. Set aside. (We use Heath’s English Toffee Bits in the 8 oz. bag.)

One Big Bowl Beat butter until creamy. Add brown sugar and white sugar, beating until fluffy. Stop and admire your work! What a beautiful color, right? This is called “creaming butter and sugar.” Bessie has a natural talent for this. If you have never creamed butter and sugar before there are excellent videos online that will help you. Now it’s time to add your “secret ingredients.” Add first egg. Beat until blended. Add second egg. Beat until blended. Add third egg. Beat until blended. Bessie insists that these must be done one at a time and not all together, and I trust her on this. She is much more of an egg expert than I am!

Now that you have Bowl One, Bowl Two, Measuring Cup, and One Big Bowl prepared using Bessie’s picture, you’re ready! You can finally put it all together into what may be the most amazingly delicious cake you have ever tasted! It’s practically guaranteed if you are using the very best eggs from well-loved chickens, of course!

The Last Mixing, And Then Pouring, and Finally Baking!

Begin beating your ingredients in your One Big Bowl again but this time on a low speed and gradually add about 1/3 of flour mixture in Bowl One to the butter and sugar mixture in your One Big Bowl.

Continue beating on a low speed and add 1/2 of milk from the Measuring Cup.

Continue beating on a low speed and gradually add about another 1/3 of flour mixture from Bowl One.

Continue beating on a low speed and add the last 1/2 of milk from the Measuring Cup.

Continue beating on a low speed and add the last 1/3 of flour mixture from Bowl One. Beat until just combined.

Use a spatula to fold in toffee bits and pecans from Bowl Two. Try not to get distracted by why it is called “folding.” This totally confused Bessie the first time she made this cake and it almost did not get into the oven. I can still remember her exact words. “How can you fold it if it is not paper? This makes no sense at all.” Just remember, sometimes “why” questions are best saved for after the cake is baked…because they are often forgotten by then!

Directions For Getting Your Cake In The Oven

Spoon batter into prepared tube pan. Bang it firmly on your countertop a time or two to release any bubbles. Bessie also likes this part because it’s the last thing to do before putting it in the preheated oven!

Bake 1 hour and 10 to 15 minutes (depending on your oven) and test to see if a wood pick inserted near the center of your cake comes out clean. You can add a few more minutes if needed. Cover with foil to prevent extra browning if necessary.

Let your cake cool in pan for 30 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Special Note: If some of the cake looks imperfect, don’t get crazy the way Bessie did the first time she made this cake. Once the cake is cooled, we get to cover all the imperfections with a Yummy Brown Sugar Blanket! 

Warm And Yummy Brown Sugar Blanket!

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar into a sauce pan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Lower heat and continue to boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in butter and vanilla extract.

Drizzle over the cake while it is still warm from the pan. It will be difficult to work with once cooled. Spatulas, fingers, and even very careful chicken feet can’t spread it very well once it has cooled. (Trust me on this.) There will be plenty of it, and you may want to put the extra into the center hole of the tube cake so it will ooze out when you cut the cake. A little vanilla ice cream on the side is nice too!

Bessie and I hope you will enjoy making this cake and sharing it with those who are special to you! And even if you don’t bake this cake, please remember what Bessie has so wisely said.

“Chickens don’t need blankets, but people do. Make sure you blanket people with a love that warms every part of them. And don’t forget that love covers imperfections.”

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!