I haven't mentioned vanilla extract yet, have I? It is ridiculously easy, though it takes a long time. As in three months. I started the first batch in April and it should be ready on the 4th of July. Monday's batch will be ready on my birthday. Happy coincidences! I decided that the hot chocolate and extract combo would be good gifts.
To make vanilla extract, you take 9 plump vanilla beans, split them and scrape the seeds out. Put the seeds and pods into a jar and add 1 1/2 cups of vodka. The cheap kind is fine. After three months, strain through a fine metal sieve and put into dark-colored jars. I discovered that vanilla beans can be found ridiculously cheap online. Spicy World sells 1/2 pound for just under $25. That's about 30 beans for what it would cost me at Safeway currently to buy four, FOUR beans. These mail ordered beans came vacuum sealed and were fat and so fragrant I could smell them through the packaging. I didn't know that vanilla beans didn't normally come shriveled up, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Monday evening, Becca shooed the Americaunas into their coop for the night, and then asked me to hold the lid open so that she could hold Persephone. She hesitated to pick Percy up, because Becca was concerned about Zeus going after her. What is funny is that Bex used to hold Zeus all the time (when he was Athena), because Percy was more active and - in the beginning - aggressive. She hesitated for so long that Percy decided she didn't want to wait any longer. Before we could react, she jumped out of the coop and flew into Becca's face, then landed on the ground. She then started walking away as we started to panic. The last thing we needed was to have a loose chicken at night time! After just two attempts, Becca was able to pick her up, and I was thankful that she didn't panic and start running away from us. I would hate to have to chase a chicken at dusk. After a little bit of cuddling, Becca put Percy back into the coop for the night. Silly chickens.
We found out on Tuesday that Becca received an A+ on her art final, which she had been stressing over and had stayed up until 1am last week to finish. Hurrah!
I decided to try making granola bars on Tuesday. It was another cold, foggy and chilly morning, and the sun didn't break through until 11:00 am. That makes a perfect morning for cranking up the oven. I love the granola in the recipe I'd found in Make the Bread, Not the Butter but wanted to make it into bars. I found a recipe for granola bars that differed slightly in ingredients, so I decided to try combining the two of them. After toasting the dry ingredients, I heated and then mixed in the "glue", then laid the mixture into a baking dish lined with greased wax paper, pressing it down hard. It took a few hours to cool enough to cut. I learned that the recipe (as I modified it) is a bit too sweet for me, and I need to press the granola mixture in HARDer, but they taste good and mostly stick together. I substituted maple syrup for the honey and think that was a mistake (I just love maple syrup, though!). When I have a trial run that makes this recipe work well, I'll post it to the blog so you can try it. The kids (and teachers) love the granola, but unless you're using it as cereal or in yogurt, it's easiest in a brick for snacking.
As I was walking with the dwarf goats to the barn that evening, I was admiring Moonshine's (we call him Mooney) little cowlick in the center of his forehead. It curves forward like the flag on a quail's head, and I sometimes call him "Alfalfa," after the character in Little Rascals. As I was looking at him, I noticed a grey area behind the cowlick, and wondered if he'd gotten something on his head. I reached down to move his fur and discovered that he was growing a horn! In the center of his head! As a kid, he had been disbudded (meaning the growth areas for horns were cauterized to prevent them from growing for his safety as a pet animal), and this horn was growing right in between those two areas. I have a unicorn goat.
The horn is curving back a little, so I doubt it will grow straight forward like the mythological beast, but it is still fascinating. I don't know yet how or why this could have happened.
Wednesday morning was again sooooo cold and overcast! The sun is lazy these days and didn't show up until 11:00 am again. I like to wait until it's sunny to go out and start the sprinklers and do some weeding. Early in the morning, I kept busy by making some cajeta and starting a new chicken salad recipe.
If any of you have had Pacific Market's Sonoma Chicken Salad, you know that it's something special. I had a craving for it the night before, and decided to look and see if there was a recipe available that was anywhere close. I could probably have asked my friend, Tammy, who used to work at Fiesta Market in Sebastopol (before they were bought by Pacific), but I figured I'd try online for something that wouldn't generate 20 pounds or so of salad.
Of all places, Whole Foods Market has a recipe for what I call - and they do, too - Sonoma Chicken Salad. As I made the dressing, I thought that it tasted just a little different, somewhat sweeter, than Fiesta and Pacific Markets' version. The steps to create this recipe were super easy, and I'd never cooked chicken this way before. It was easy, quick clean-up, and left the chicken moist, tender and tasty. I really like this salad (I hate to admit better than Pacific or Fiesta's versions!), so it's definitely going to go into my family cookbook! The recipe says it makes six servings, but I'm finding it is going a lot further than that.
Sonoma Chicken Salad
Whole Foods Recipe
1 cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
5 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
2 cups red seedless grapes
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the chicken breasts in one layer in a baking dish with 1/2 cup water. Cover with foil and bake 25 minutes until completely cooked through. Remove cooked chicken breasts from pan, cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate.
When the chicken is cold, dice into bite-size chunks and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in pecans, grapes, celery and dressing.