Madison: Mid-Winter

I am sitting in a coffee shop in Madison, WI waiting for an email chain to close up for work. There is a fresh layer of snow and the sun is shining gloriously. Oh, yea, and it is 1 degree out there. Brr! Good thing I found a great latte.

This thin skinned Washington girl got quite the shock with the temperature drop when landing here last night. It was 55 or so when I left Seattle yesterday mid-morning, and things are blooming everywhere in an early Spring. Madison is still in the dead of winter. And it is a treat!

What prompted a mid-winter trip in freezing temps? My best girlfriend Jenny! We were LONG overdue for a reunion and decided to just make it happen. Today we are both working, but tomorrow starts a long weekend of catching up, cooking, eating out, adventuring and more catching up. Jenny and I lived together for two years in college and have already seamlessly fallen back into routine. We have the exact same bath towels, the same basket for our hair dryers, and keep comparing notes on how similar our husband’s quirks are. I sure have missed this girl!

Farm Weekend: Fry Jack and Chicken Surgery

While the rest of the country is getting pounded with cold weather, here in the PNW we are basking in a very early Spring! 55 degrees, sunshine and everything is popping up in the garden. Our hens are laying much faster…today was our second three egg day! One dark brown, one light brown and a very pretty pale blue. We are so curious what color Mary (our youngest, not yet laying) will add to the collection.

This weekend we made another batch of fry jack. Wow, this Belize breakfast is going to be added to our normal weekend rotation of special feasts. The goal for this batch was to taste our honey. We brought back 3 different types of honey from Belize, and added one from a past trip to Grenada to round out the Caribbean taste test. Each one was so unique! Not at all like what you find in a traditional American grocery store. And all really good. The fry jack was beyond amazing.

How could we top that morning! Surgery!

This poor adopted flock of chickens has had it’s share of challenges. I keep trying to tell Matt that raising chickens is not usually this challenging. They were just not well taken care of at their past home and we are dealing with the consequences. This time around it was our head hen, Helen. We noticed a lump on the side of her toe, and did the obvious: Google search. We came to two conclusions: it was bumblefoot (worst case) or just an infection (possibly better). Either way, it needed to be taken out. I will spare you the details, but the rest of our Sunday involved watching YouTube videos of chicken foot surgery, sanitizing a bunch of tools, and team Frugé getting the job done. Matt was the official doctor while I was on patient holding duty. Good thing…I nearly passed out mid-surgery. Lukily I knew it was coming and lay on the floor to recover before it getting bad.

I am happy to report that Helen is back with her flock, looking happy as always, and cleanly re-bandaged with clean dressings as of this afternoon. She has even laid an egg! What a trooper.

It was a long, exhausting day, but we feel really good about how we are caring for our chickens. It has been quite the learning curve, and we have had to really test our comfort zones, but in the end it is all worth it.

Those 3 eggs we collected today were like thank you prizes.

Our New Roo

Coming home from vacation in an ideal world has everything is as you left it, animals happy, bed made, with a little time to unwind before heading back to real life. This was not our reentry scenario from Belize. We arrived back in Seattle late on Saturday night and crashed at an airport hotel. The next morning I headed off to help host a baby shower for a dear friend (even though all I really wanted to do was go home!) and Matt ferried back to Vashon. What greeted him were two happy, buffet fat cats mewing for love, 4 clucking hens…and a rooster on his last breath.

Not a fun situation to find. Poor Matt called me and we both agreed that Cesar needed to be put down since he was clearly not in a state to recover. We suspect that he (like our other gal Holly) was nursing some injury from before we adopted them. His wing was not very functional and towards the end of January was losing his balance. Poor guy.

The ladies looked lost without their leader, and honestly we like having a rooster around to protect the flock when they are ranging. So we set out on a quest to find our new roo. Luckily roosters seem to be in plentiful supply…even nice ones.

There were at least 6 offered up to us on the island and this weekend we picked up our new dude. He was the first one we visited, and were really impressed by his size (he is HUGE!) with a beautiful bright red comb and waddle, and was happily eating snacks out of little kids hands. Niceness is key (although this could change, we do know that) so the interaction with kids was a good sign. We saw a few other roosters but they were all bantams…although cute, they were not well socialized and we like the size of the first guy.

That evening we returned after dusk to pick him up. He spent the night in a cage in the lower part of the coop, and in the morning we were greeted by a very confused guy calling out his new home location to the world. We let him out and the ladies all trooped down the stairs.

We were prepared for a fight, or fear, or pretty much anything…what we saw was Helen (our head hen) immediately run up to the rooster, bow down, and then follow him everywhere! All the ladies are smitten. It is too funny.

We spent all of Sunday out in the yard (heck yea, 55 degree February!) and he loves to follow us around. During lunch (in the yard) he was constantly begging for handouts. He likes Fritos. No name yet, but I think Matt is leaning towards, Goliath.

He is settling in with the hens and we are so happy have him on our homestead. The girls are much more organized, and we feel better about them being safe free ranging during the day. Pre-dawn alarm clock crows are becoming normal, and we just really like our dude.

And eggs…man oh man are the girls happy to have more daylight hours! Yesterday was our first 3 egg day…3/4 are laying now. Rita lays beautiful blue eggs, Helen a dark brown (sometimes spotted) and Belle a light brown. Beautiful and so so yummy!

Tales from Belize: Snorkeling

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Snorkeling was a priority for this trip, which was really the driving reason we selected Belize as a travel destination. Many of our vacations revolve around surfing these days, but for now, we just wanted to see cool underwater stuff. The Barrier Reef of Belize did not disappoint. Crystal clear visibility, tons of fish, rays, sharks, and coral…and did I mention rays and sharks?! So awesome.

We started the trip on Tobacco Caye, and found a huge host of marine life to explore by taking a long snorkel around the outside of the reef. Not a “spot” exactly but beautiful none the less. We saw our first eagle rays and a HUGE (*what we call) Dinner table ray. The underwater scene was like miniature mountain ranges formed by underwater rivers. It was beautiful.

Once on Ambergis Caye we checked out a snorkel destination, Mexican Rocks, as a shore trip. You usually pay $40+ to take a boat tour out there, but we drove our golf cart north (that is a whole other story!) and then swam out to the reef. (note: What was waiting for us was epic: sharks and rays EVERYWHERE! Not to mention fish, coral and beautiful underwater topography. It was great.

We also took a boat trip out to Hol Chan (marine reserve), Shark/Ray Alley and Coral Gardens. All where super unique, beautiful and totally worth the trip. More sharks, rays and turtles! Some of the best snorkeling I have had in a long time, and so heartwarming to see such healthy reefs.

Matt did a lot of snorkeling off the beach and from boat piers while I sunned and relaxed. It was such a treat to see so many ocean critters, and healthy looking reefs. I admit I am a snorkel snob. I have been fortunate enough to dive and snorkel in some pretty pristine and amazing places, and so it takes a good site to really keep me interested. Belize was some of the best I have seen in a long time. The only thing that drove me out of the water was getting too cold. We are already excited to go back!

Tales from Belize: B’s Deli

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Our first drive through San Pedro was in the back of a taxi. We worked our way through the maze of one way streets, past the main round about and proceeded north out of town. There were many things to take in, but one detail stuck out in my memory: a little red food stand that was upgrading it’s front waiting area with fresh, white gravel. And then I forgot about it.

A few days later, Matt and I were on a quest for fry jack.  If anything sums up our trip it is the discovery of this delectable food: Cheap, delicious, filling and uniquely flavored to Belize (at least in my mind). What is it, you ask? Picture a cross between Indian fry bread and an elephant ear. Sometimes plain (dipped in honey or sugar) and sometimes stuffed, with exciting combinations like egg and ham or beans with chicken. Sometimes the stuffed jacks are filled then fried, other times just folded over the filling after the dough is golden brown. All are good.

We had sampled fry jack at other places but were in search of the San Pedro version. We were walking along and saw a small red food stand with a handwritten butcher paper sign indicating that our desired breakfast was made fresh inside. B’s Deli. We stepped up, ordered one, and had a seat. Only after we were sitting there playing peek-a-boo with an adorable 2 year old did we realize this was the same place that had only that week added the gravel floor.

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The fry jack did not disappoint. Fluffy and golden and stuffed with chicken and beans. What a breakfast. When we asked how much, $2.50 came as a surprise…Belize dollars. $1.25 for that delicious plate of fried fresh goodness. We were coming back.

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The next day we brought mom and dad. Four fry jacks all around (this time two of ham and egg and two of chicken), more peek-a-boo and full tummies afterwards.

Now the next morning was our final day on Ambergis, so of course we had to make one last trip. You can never have too many fry jacks! We walked up and the woman at the counter was happy to see her repeat customers. We told her that her fry jack was THE best and she asked us if we wanted the secret. She wrote down her recipe and invited us inside to learn how to make them.

We found space in the back of her tiny deli…the whole building was not more than 8×12, and learned the secret to her golden puffy dough. It was only then that we learned how lucky out timing was to eat her fry jack…she had only been open 5 days!

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If your adventures take you to San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, go visit B’s Deli. It is located on the North side of town, across the street from a bicycle shop almost at the bridge. Look for a red building with white gravel. The bubbly woman cooking there is great to talk to, her adorable “hurricane” daughter will bring a smile to your face, and the fry jack is delicious. I cannot wait to have another.

Tales from Belize: How to Get Around

On most vacations we rent a car. It give you flexibility, the ability to grocery shop easily, and see more the place than just walking distance from the hotel. On this trip, there was no car involved. Instead we took almost every mode of transportation you can imagine: busses, planes, small planes, water taxi, fishing boats, walking, hitchhiking, taxi, kayak and golf cart.

From Belize City to Dangriga (where we would head off to Tobacco Caye) we took the public bus. At $5 US per person for a 2+ hour trip it was a steal of a deal. Complete with blasting reggae music, vendors selling plantain chips and bags of juice, and crowded with locals. This was seeing the country.

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After a night in Dangriga we found our boat to Tobacco Caye. Captian Doggy (we later found out that his real name is Clifford and kids gave his that nickname after the big red dog cartoon!) expertly navigated us and all our luggage in an open fishing boat out to the Caye. We saw dolphins and many many birds.

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After a return trip (this time much rougher, wetter and cloudier) with Doggy we bussed back to Belize City, taxied to the water taxi terminal and took the water route to Ambergis Caye.

On Ambergis we had a golf cart that was fun, but not very reliable. Our first full day we drove the car north. Pavement only goes the first 2 miles or so past town, and from there it is a combination of dirt, rock, puddles, sand, beaches, potholes and mile signs. After a beautiful snorkel out to Mexican Rocks, we headed another mile north and then turned around. At mile 7 ¼, the cart died. Wheels would not turn. So we locked up the cart and started walking.

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This could have really been bad. Mosquitoes were out, the sun was going down and we were 7+ miles from town on a not well traveled road.

But it was just fine. Along came another golf cart and we hitched a ride (6 people total) on a golf cart until that couple was home, and from there we hitchhiked again and were picked up by a taxi driver headed to town with his family for the weekend. They were very friendly and dropped us off at our condo. Phew.

The next day they rescued our cart, “fixed” it, and we were able to drive south to explore that end of the island. It stalled a few times but got us home in one piece. Then the next day died as we headed over the bridge. That morning we got our exercise running to catch the water taxi.

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Again, the cart was rescued, but our week was winding down. We managed to get in some more driving, but also did a lot of walking. The last day, we had a totally flat tire. Walking earns you more fry jack right?!

To get back to the mainland we flew on small 12 seater planes with Maya Island Air. A quick 15 minute flight, followed by a 5 minute flight and a 25 minute taxi ride and we were back at the International Airport. Why two flights you ask? The first stop actually IS at the international airport, but the municipal airport has MUCH cheaper airport fees. It was worth it to say on the plane, land at the muni airport and taxi over.

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For me, transportation was a huge part of our experience in Belize, not just for how we got around. We met interesting people, saw very real parts of Belizean life, and enjoyed the ride.

Pastry Triangles

Friday night was supposed to be a dinner party with good friends. After a rough, long week it was something Matt and I were looking forward to. Then our guest cancelled. We pressed on and made it a great evening for two. And to be honest, we needed that anyway.

We had a huge vat of chili simmering all day on the stove to go with yogurt cheddar cornbread. To stick with the southwest theme Matt wanted to make fried dough for dessert. Fried dough? I guess you could say I was skeptical. I guess I should learn to ignore that default response. His experiments are usually amazing.

This one was the best yet.

I love how well Matt understands ingredients. He understands ratios and ingredient properties to a degree that I don’t even consider when cooking. Interested in learning that yourself? He credits most of his knowledge and insight to two book series. He claims that if you want to truly become a high caliber kitchen stud, these two book series are the only references you need. He has collected these classic collections from thrift stores and garage sales over the past 10 years.

  1. Foods of the World series
  2. The Good Cook series

Both are from TimeLife in the 1970s.

Last night’s epic dessert was not a recipe, but rather a creation based on technique and insight from these books. They look like beignets, but don’t have yeast. Ingredients like pie dough but added eggs, less fat ratio and are kneaded to develop gluten. They really are just a fried dough of Matt’s own creation. And they were EPIC. Light and clean, with flaky layers and caverns of air pockets perfect for scooping up whipped cream. The simple dough paired perfectly with the honey glaze, especially when the glaze itself was elevated with an unexpected (and utterly exquisite) pop of flavor from rice vinegar.

We served them on our blue china plates with a side of fresh whipped cream.

Pastry Triangles with Honey Glaze

Serves 4-6

Dough
1 cup flour
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs to ¼ cup water

Powdered sugar

Cinnamon

Honey glaze

Cut butter into ¾ cup flour. After dough starts to stick together, add additional ¼ cup and incorporate. Add salt and egg yolks until incorporated. Add 2 Tbs water and incorporate, kneading in additional flour and water until dough does not crack around edges (like and pie dough would). Kneed well (5-8 minutes by hand) and make dough into a ball and chill for at least an hour. While chilling, make the honey glaze.

Roll chilled dough flat, folding over on itself at least 15 times (think puff pastry), final rollout flat very thin (just under 1/8 inch) and cut into random triangles.

Fry dough in oil heated to 375 degrees until dough puffs and is golden brown.

Dust pastry with powdered sugar, honey glaze and fresh cinnamon. Serve hot with fresh whipped cream for dipping.

Honey glaze
¼ cup water
1/2 sugar
2 tbs honey
1 tsp rice vinegar

Dissolve ingredients in small saucepan until sugar fully dissolves. Cool before glazing pastry.