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Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Happy Saturday everyone. It’s been a rough week at Smyth Family Farm. I cut the palm of my hand while juicing oranges last night and spent an hour and a half in the emergency room getting stitches. The worst part of the week was waking up to feathers everywhere on Thursday morning. Four of my chickens were eaten by a neighborhood bobcat when the door to the coop didn’t automatically close.

I’ve been feeling extra sad and guilty for not checking the camera on Wednesday evening before bed. My husband would usually do a quick check on his phone so see if they had all gone to bed. It’s been freezing cold here at night, so I never imagined them not wanting to be inside the coop. It wasn’t a normal evening, because both of my son’s came over for a family dinner. They are my everything.

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Me and Burtha
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Babe. My Mother’s chicken

I know in my heart that I gave those chickens the best life they could ever have while they lived. I had them delivered to me from Mc Murray Hatchery in Iowa a year and four months ago. I ordered them while my Mother in law Nilda was still with us, and they came a few days before she died. It was cathartic to have baby chicks to care for and manage while grieving. I had many of my family name them. We had Burtha, who Michelle named. Dolly was named by my niece Laura. They were the first visitors after we got them. Caramel Corn was named by my great niece Tamara who is only 6 years old. Babe was named by my Mother Diane who loved going for a ride one day in the car to visit her. My Mother has had a cancer called multiple myeloma for the past 9 years and suffers from anxiety. Babe always comforted her and brought her joy. 

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Silly Dolly. The only white chicken I had.

All of these four chickens are GONE. I can’t believe it. They have given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning while going through Covid times. Many months of isolation were met with laughs and cuddles when I was not able to see my friends or relatives. I’m crying while I write this, but I know it’s best to feel my emotions and express myself as I feel fit. I’m pretty much a mess right now. 

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My cuddles with Caramel Corn

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My bandaged hand from my accident last night
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My injured hand with three stitches

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

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Sammie and Billie having story time after visiting the chickens

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

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Arthur and Babe.Sisters of the Ancona breed

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. It was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

It’s hilarious that Keri named Arthur a boy’s name. She didn’t know they were girls. But that’s what makes her extra special. And Keri is a special niece since she and her sister Jamie grew up in my neighborhood. We would spend time with them more than the other family, even though most of our family from both sides live fairly close by.

My older sister Susan named Mabel, who is also one of the sweetest and coolest chickens. Mabel has another name. My sweet niece Josie who is only six named her Violet when visiting the farm one day. Josie loved collecting the feathers and eggs from my girls when she would visit. It’s crazy because we haven’t seen much of anybody during the pandemic. It’s been so different from the way we lived our life before Covid. Has it been this way for you? Josie goes to school, so we haven’t felt comfortable having her here even though my husband and I have both been vaccinated and boosted. 

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Here is the art my niece Josie made while visiting the farm in December 2020.

I think I will sign off for now. It has been quite a week. And it’s not over. All I can do is heal from my hand injury and enjoy the chickens I have left. My eyes are swollen from all the crying. I can remember when I had to give Scooby Doobie Doo my rooster away to a farm in Auburn, I cried and cried. It’s like that. Only one other time did I cry so much that my eyes were swollen. It was when my friend Sherri and her son Danny moved away back to Florida. I cried and cried. She was my neighbor and a true friend. I was sad to see her leave, but she left an abusive relationship after our Avon 3 Day walk over 20 years ago. I was happy she left this guy and lived closer to her family where she was needed.  I was inspired to go back to college and get my Bachelors Degree after the Avon walk. We walked 60 miles in three days and raised money for breast cancer. It was a challenging experience, but I am grateful for the time I had with Sherri, and Heidi who also walked.

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Scooby Doo at the new farm in Auburn. I cried all the way to Auburn, but know he is in good hands

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and at a social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. She told me that it was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

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My sweet Nice Marie

What’s extra special about his week has been the wave of love and support from my family and friends. My son Andrew brought me flowers and chocolate yesterday. It was right after I cut my hand, so we had to run to Kaiser, but I was surprised he did this for me. So thoughtful. My other son Curtis called and left me a message. When I called him back he was super sweet and caring. I felt all the love. And in the morning, my niece Marie surprised me with my favorite donuts from Johnny’s in Lafayette. OMG, I was floored. Marie has the biggest heart and empathy. She is a gift to this family.

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Lucky girl getting flowers and chocolate to cheer me up

If you want to learn more, follow me on Instagram or this blog. I will share my trip to Petaluma with my friend Kathi on the next blog.

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Me and Josie my niece
 

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Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Here’s the latest on what’s going on in my life lately, and I will share a delicious Millionaire Shortbread Bar recipe. My husband is still working from home. It has been a year and a month since the pandemic hit and the world changed. I will attempt to describe how things have been during this challenging time and how life has changed, maybe for the better.

Here are my girlfriends waiting for me to come say hi.

First of all, I have chickens. They are five months old now and quite a handful. I’ve enjoyed spending mornings and evenings with them just hanging out with them in their chicken run. They like to be cuddled and love it when I’m around bringing them treats. They have been my saving grace while stuck at home.

Last week’s hike up Bollinger Canyon “Devils Hole” Part of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in California

As far as the community goes, I hike occasionally with friends, and love every minute of it. In fact, I should be out there on Las Trampas with them now, but decided to hang back and write a blog instead. We don’t entertain as much, but when we do, we really love having people over. I love to cook and bake, so sharing meals has been a passion and a gift I love to give to others. 

Some people are more careful than others as far as Covid 19 goes. One friend wouldn’t hike until she was fully vaccinated, yet others are more comfortable getting together in groups. When my hiking friends celebrate birthdays, we meet at a park, bring our own food and visit. It is lovely to interact and see people more. 

Yesterday, I met two hiking friends in Benicia for lunch. Suzette initiated it and also invited Marianne to join us. We ate inside in a large dining room and I felt fairly comfortable. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my second Pfizer vaccination. My husband gets his second Moderna vaccination today. Lunch at Ciao Bella was lovely and I’m grateful for days spent outside my house. 

Mostly, I’ve been working in my garden the last year. I experimented with growing corn, composting, vermiculture, and growing seeds and cover crops.  I chose not to hike today because I have about 20 more tomato and vegetable plants that I need to get into the raised beds. It stresses me out to have them waiting for me. I know. It sounds crazy, but these plants are like my babies. My hikes can wait.

After lunch yesterday, I drove to REI to buy new hiking shoes. I have so many holes in my current ones, that I have no choice but to get new ones. The whole experience was anxiety provoking. First, you are met at the door and asked to use hand sanitizer. Then there are arrows on the floor showing where you are allowed to walk. The nice greeter told me the shoes were located up the stairs, so I headed in that direction. Instead of picking up a shoe and choosing which one I wanted to try on, the whole area was roped off. An employee was guarding the shoes and asked me qualifying questions to see what kind of shoe I was looking for. 

Seriously, this guy was trying to visit with me and ask me personal questions while I was trying on shoes. So awkward. I just wanted to get the damn shoes and get out of there. It was strange to have this guy watching me try on every shoe. I kind of wanted a little privacy, you know? Maybe that’s weird. But anyway, I have bad feet and having the correct shoe is important, so it’s a serious matter for me. And I really didn’t want to tell the guy my kids ages. It always freaks people out when I tell them that I have a 36 year old son and a 28 year old son. Then I feel old because they are grown men now. Ugh. In any case, of course they never have my size, blah blah blah. Eventually, the two of them, yes now there was another salesman, brought me a pair that fit. Of course, they tried to get me to sign up for the club, so I could get a 10% discount and be able to return my shoes if there is a problem. No thank you. I hate sharing my email, so they can send me spam.

Of course, I had to check to see if Krispy Kreme Donuts drive through had any warm out of the fryer yummies. Nope. So I passed on that. 

So maybe it wasn’t that unusual of a shoe buying experience, but it feels weird getting out and leaving the house. Other than shopping for food, and getting my hair done, I rarely go anywhere. My husband Ken and I like to hike or go on bike rides into Danville. Sometimes we get food to go, but I usually cook. Last night, I heated up leftover beef pot roast, roasted carrots and potatoes for dinner. We watched a little TV and called it a night.

This morning, I will get the rest of the tomato plants into the ground before it gets too hot. It’s only mid April, but Northern California weather can change quickly and become hot and dry. In case you wondered where I buy my plants from, I go to the Contra Costa Master Gardeners website and buy from The Great Tomato Sale. Each plant is $4.00 each and they have a wide variety of peppers, herbs, squash and tomatoes. I always get extra, since they don’t all survive. I bought 17 tomato plants, lemon cucumber, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, basil, 3 types of kale, two types of lettuce, 6 pepper plants. We have critters that eat everything around here. My husband routinely traps moles, gophers, rats and mice. The owls and frogs sing to us at night. It truly is a magical place. Here’s a post about a farm in Tuscany

Here is one of my favorite treats that you can make ahead. They are rich and decadent and you only need a small piece to satisfy your sweet tooth. This recipe makes a lot, so you can share with neighbors and friends.

Millionaire Caramel Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

1C. Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

¼ C (32g) Cornstarch

1 ¾ C (219g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour (could substitute rice flour to make gluten free)

1/3C (73g) Granulated Sugar 

⅓ C Light Brown Sugar

1 Lg egg yolk

¾ t vanilla extract

½ t Maldon Salt

Caramel Ingredients:

2 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)

14T (198g) Unsalted butter cut into chunks

1 C (200g) Light Brown Sugar (Packed)

⅓ C (80ml) Light Corn Syrup

1 t vanilla extract

¼ t Maldon Salt

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:

2 C (340g) SemiSweet Chocolate Chips

½ C Heavy Cream

1 t Vanilla extract

½ t Sea Salt (to sprinkle over bars)

Shortbread Crust Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degreesF (180degreesC).

Line a 17X11.5 Pampered Chef Bar Pan or Sheet pan with parchment paper. Can use a square baking pan. Bars will be thicker.

In a Cuisinart or large bowl Mix sugar, flour,cornstarch, butter, egg yolk, vanilla and salt until combined.

Press into the pan until even. 

Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until light brown.

Set aside to cool.

Caramel Directions:

In a medium size heavy pot, place 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and whisk continuously on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until caramel reaches 230 degrees with a candy thermometer. This process takes time. Don’t walk away or stop stirring. Add vanilla and salt and pour onto the shortbread crust. Spread evenly. Place in the fridge or let cool a bit before topping with ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

Heat heavy cream in a heavy small to medium size pot until almost boiling. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.

Pour onto caramel shortbread and spread evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt and cool in the fridge.

Cut the bars into squares and serve. This recipe can be made ahead and the bars will freeze for up to 3 months, but they won’t last that long. 

Enjoy!

Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback. How has this last year been for you? Have you had a similar shopping experience that you want to share? 

Teri

 

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