Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's for Sale?

There's always something cooking at mothercluck. We use the freshest seasonal produce to make our award-winning jams and preserves. They make great gifts and will be most appreciated by the food lovers you know -- that is, everyone.

Here's what we have in stock:

  • Meyer Lemon & Myers Rum Marmalade (3M). The peel is almost candied. A beautiful marm with a hint of vanilla. $10
  • Sweet Pickled Oranges. A perfect side dish for Christmas morning. $12
  • Pomegranate & Cranberry Marmalade. Yes, we hand-selected and juiced the pomegranates ourselves. This one is my favorite. $10
  • Traditional Cranberry & Orange Marmalade. Delicious and seasonal. $10
  • Pickled Shallots. For the onion lover. This is really good stuff. 'Nuf said. $12
  • Chestnut & Vanilla Jam.  For breakfast, dessert or right now! $6
Interested? please contact me through my etsy site at http://www.etsy.com/shop/mothercluck. Local delivery for a minimal charge is available for Los Angeles residents. 

And don't forget to try some Smoked Cheese Crack. It's addicting, but in a good way.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Mothercluck?

I haven't posted for a while because I've been busy getting my crew ready for the Artisanal LA Holiday Pop-Up Shop. Mothercluck is one of 30-plus vendors that were fortunate to be selected to participate in this winter event. I'll be sharing my pop-up space with the fabulous kitchen soap artisan PLU (People Like Us). They have marvelous soaps (I particularly love their clean-smelling tobacco and vanilla scent).
Because it's December, mothercluck has prepared a number of small-batch jams, jellies and preserves using wholesome ingredients that are perfect for the season: pomegranates, apples, cranberries, quinces, Meyer lemons (you've got to try our variation of 3M -- Myer and Meyer Marmalade -- it's to die for), and glorious oranges. With mothercluck products, we use the simplest and purest of ingredients, often grown within miles of home. Our philosophy is simple: honor the true taste of a fresh fruit or vegetable and you'll be rewarded with the best in flavor and texture. We never use juices from concentrate (yup, the juice for our pomegranate products were all seeded and juiced by hand), and, if we can help it, pectin.
For those who are visiting the mothercluck site for the first time, welcome. We hope you enjoy the stories published here, which tell the tales of my humble homestead. In addition to being an award-winning canner and preserver (I won best of division and several ribbons for my jams at the 2010 L.A. County Fair), I do give a cluck about food safety. I have taken a number of Los Angeles-area courses on the safety of food preservation and canning. All of these courses were taught by certified Master Preservers of Los Angeles County. When in doubt, I also follow the guidelines set by Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Mothercluck's jams are heat processed in sealed containers that can be kept in your pantry for up to one year. Once opened, the jams should be refrigerated.
I want to give a special shout-out to Christine Moore, owner of Little Flower Candy Company, for the use of her facilities (you really need to try her caramels), and my terrific network of friends, Rebecca, Heide (friends for 35-plus years!), Maureen, Karen, Sherri, Lisa, Kate, Angela, Meghan, Rose, my friends and co-workers from that extraordinary independent day school I used to work for, and my two Pams for all their support. And to my son Joe and my husband who reluctantly does farm chores: my heart warms whenever I think of you two.

I think that's enough. 

So if you are in the 'hood this weekend, stop by and give me a cluck at Artisanal LA!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today's Work

Our day began like this -- cookbooks stacked on top of cookbooks. And then there was a recipe pulled from someone's blog.

The day ended with a full stomach.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was filled with love, beautiful people, and much gratitude. What a perfect day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Diet of a Chicken

  • Cantaloupe seeds
  • Lettuce
  • Weeds
  • Worms
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Goldfish crackers (my son is happy to share)
  • Maggots
  • Scratch
  • Leftover pasta, preferably spaghetti -- (chickens aren't bright. They think they're worms)
  • Honeydew seeds
  • Scum from my jams
  • Saltines (my chickens love these)
  • Grubs
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Crumble
  • Chicken feed
  • Apple cores
  • Leaves off my pomegranate tree
  • Leaves off my parsley
  • Just about anything in my garden except pepper plants. Damn chickens.
  • Pita bread
  • Ears of corn (because I'm nice)
  • White rice
  • Brown rice
  • Spiders
  • Earwigs
  • Snails
  • And of course, plenty of love. Ahhhh. Corny, I know.

Chicken owners, how about you? What do you feed your chickens?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's that Smell?

There's that smell again.

For the past week, whenever I've walked into our living room, I've smelled something rancid.

Was it rotting fruit? Nope. Everything looked fresh.

Was it the fridge or the garbage? All clear.

Did something die in the other room and I haven't found it, amongst some old bills and papers? Doubt it.

But then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me.

My Kombucha.

The smell was coming from the fermentation of Kombucha, a centuries-old fermented tea that some people drink for its purported medicinal benefits.

A few weeks ago I took a local class that showed me how to nurture what my instructor called the  Kombucha "mother" -- basically its starter -- by concocting a warm environment of bacteria and yeast using black tea. After the class, I brought home a beautiful mother in a jar, and brewed some tea to make my own Kombucha. I placed the mixture in a warm window and simply forgot.

Until today.

My Kombucha has another week or so of fermentation, and, for now, the smell is a little off-putting. Until it's ready, I just might have to open a window.

I'll let you know if it's worth the stink.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Slovak Chop Suey

My mother's simple, Eastern-European recipe of Kolačky (pronounced Ko-lach-kee) is tucked away in her relic edition of "Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book" published by the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Union in 1952.

In this well-preserved book you'll find some amazing recipes, among other things.  There are recipes for pirohy (dumplings), pickles (10+ pages!), crackling biscuits, homemade pork sausage and, my personal favorite, Slovak chop suey.

Why Eastern-European cooks would want to tackle chop suey is beyond me. It must have been all the rage back in 1952.

My mother wasn't much of a cook or a baker. The Kolačky recipe is actually my grandmother's. My mother would make these occasionally, but my grandmother's were legendary -- as was her Poppyseed Cake. Unfortunately the Poppyseed Cake recipe went with her when she died in 1963.

My brother, who lives in Chicago, continues to bake these cookies every Christmas, and as homage to my mother, I have too. Appropriately, the Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book is dedicated to "our mothers and grandmothers, in grateful remembrance."

I cannot think of a better way to do just that.

Ann Straka's Kolačky

1/2 pound of cream cheese
1/2 pound of butter
Two cups of flour

Prune, apricot, and/or poppyseed filling

Combine the cream cheese, butter and flour until creamy and the batter is fluffy. Roll the dough in a ball and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, cut the ball into four sections to make the dough a bit more manageable. Roll out each of the sections so they are about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into strips, then squares and fill each one with your choice of prune, poppyseed or apricot filling. Fold the left corner of the square with the lower right one and pinch or twist the edges. Sometimes a little water is helpful in making sure the edges stick together.

Bake for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar on top.

Please note: In honor of my mother, I have entered the above recipe in this year's Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-off. Could you take a few minutes of your time to vote for me? Just follow this link.

They'll ask you for some not-too-invasive personal information (sorry about that) but if I win, I promise to post the recipe for Slovak chop suey. Now who can resist any offer like that?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sleeping Broody

This morning, the spell was finally lifted.

Like Sleeping Beauty who came to life after a long sleep, our Black Silkie, also affectionately known as Black Broody, is done being all cooped up.

It’s awfully late in the season for chickens to be broody. Broodiness usually occurs in the spring when something goes haywire in a bird’s small brain and says, “I need to be a mother, damn it!” She stays in the coop basically all day, believing that she's going to hatch a chick any day now. It doesn't matter there's no rooster around. That hen believes she's going to have a chick.

And that will be the hen's commitment for the next five weeks or more until she wakes up one morning and thinks, “Well, that’s stupid. Screw motherhood. I need a maggot!”

In the meantime, everyone suffers. The other hens can’t get into the coop because Black Broody is crazy, and she’s totally egg-less during her false motherhood.

This is the second time that Black Broody has gone, well, broody. The first time happened a few months back when the only time I saw her out of the coop was when I shooed her out and told her to stop making a honest hen of herself.When I suspected she had gone broody, I consulted my Keeping Chickens book where it said that the Black Silkie will produce an average of “105 eggs before going broody.”

Oh, that’s what happened.

But now I know and, more importantly, know what to expect. Broodiness is no fun for the, um, brood and certainly no fun for the hen who cannot hatch chicks. It seems awfully cruel.

But that’s all behind us know. Black Broody is back. And in a good way.

Now lay me some eggs!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Do You Like Them Apples?

A really interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the history of Heirloom apples. What's your favorite?

Pictured above are Sebastopol Gravenstein heirloom apples harvested in July. Read more about this extinct fruit from Slow Food USA.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Pomaceous Wonder

My guess is that the apple in the garden of Eden was an Heirloom variety.

In the story of Adam and Eve, the apple was a symbol for knowledge, immortality, and temptation. For me, much of that holds true. I am always allured by the gorgeous unknown apple. Forget Macintosh, Jonathan, Granny Smith, or the Red Delicious. They're fine but aren't interesting. I'm more inclined to taste, observe the texture and smell the brilliance of a Roxbury Russett, Arkansas Black, or a Winesap. 

This past Sunday, I spent time working with the mysteries of heirloom apples. I love exploring the Pomaceous part of the apple tree for many reasons: it’s high in pectin so most successful cooking will result in a crystal clear, beautiful jell set, plus there’s very little waste. With a large batch of apples, you can whip up three types of uncomplicated preserved foods in little time: apple jelly, apple syrup, and with the pulp, a tasty batch of like-my-mother-used-to-make applesauce. I also like apple season because there are so many wonderful, not-found-in-the-supermarket varieties to choose from, such as Ashmead’s Kernel, Elstar, Liberty, and Sierra Beauty apples. Those are the apples I used Sunday, all of which were purchased from Windrose Farm in California’s central coast.

As I was about to venture on to my next task – applesauce -- I decided to take stock of my apple jelly. It was near perfect. A batch I made a month earlier with Heirloom Sebastopol Gravenstein apples was a bit richer in color and prettier, but this group has a much more delicate flavor. And as regular readers of this blog know, I never use pectin in any of my jams and preserves.

So as I embark on my next cooking endeavor, anybody care for some pancakes with apple syrup? You’ll never be tempted to use maple syrup again.

Beginning this month, you'll find some of my favorite batches of Joe's Jams, Jellies, and More for sale on my etsy site at http://www.etsy.com/shop/mothercluck. 

Speaking from experience, they make wonderful gifts!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


That's what I always think of when slicing pomegranates.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deep Roots

I’ve come to believe that the root of all evil are roots themselves.

Yesterday, my husband-who-hates-farm-chores and I tackled and culled the roots from one of our two raised gardening beds that sit inconveniently under a giant sycamore tree. There were roots big and small, long and short, and stubborn and easy. It was back-wrenching work, and today, I’m clearly paying for it.

The raised gardening bed is about two years old, and I really haven’t dug deep in the dirt since it was built. Every planting season (there are two, sometimes three in Southern California), I would just add our homemade chicken manure/compost mixture to the heap and mix it in as best as I could.

It’s been a good garden bed – not great since anything that grows there in the summer is only blessed with afternoon sun. But nonetheless, it’s been home to some showy herbs, a few successful tomato plants, the occasional zucchini, not-so-great peppers, and gorgeous coneflowers.

This year, after about five hours of prepping the garden bed, I took stock of what plants would do best in such limited conditions. The solution? Strawberries. They are hardy beasts which require very little maintenance. Hopefully my little strawberry field will prosper and take root under its now root-less ground. Plus, as an extra bonus, the plants could serve as an educational tool to the young children who live on our street. Strawberries can be irresistible to the young mind.

There’s no question I hate digging up tree roots but hopefully I won’t have to do it again. Besides, isn’t that the whole point? Strawberry fields forever?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A few of you may remember my post about our backyard coffin. With all the rain we've had the past few days, I decided to give my chickens a bit of exercise. My Araucana headed straight to the coffin and decided to dig deep.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Today is the first day of a new beginning.

For the first time in many months, I have nowhere to go, no one to report to, nothing pressing on my calendar, not even lunch with a friend. Since my boy is in school, I have seven hours of uninterrupted time. It feels strange, uncertain, a bit empty, but yet I have no choice other than get used to and embrace this feeling of change.

As many of you know, I worked for a nonprofit organization for 10 years before calling it a day, wanting to spend more time with my son before he started kindergarten. A few months later, I was offered and accepted a position with an Internet company that provided me with flexible hours and allowed me to spend a few days at Disneyland just because I could. It was a good match for me personally and professionally until early September: the company decided to go in a different direction.

It’s so hard to let go of something that you truly enjoyed doing, especially when it’s not on your own terms. I loved being able to accomplish many things in such a short period of time. I harbor no ill feelings toward the company. It was simply time for change.

So here I am. Last Friday was my last day of employment, and then having family in town helped me quell those feelings of emptiness and anxiety. They’ve gone and now I’m back to a new routine of listening to birds sing, walking the dog more, and enjoying my chickens bring in the morning.

There are a few projects on the horizon, one of which involves going back to school to learn an entirely new skill set. Why not? I’ve got time, talent, ambition, and a network of new friends to cultivate. I’m looking forward to embracing this sort of change.

Anything to get rid of feeling so empty.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Organic Eggs?

Hats off to the Homegrown Evolution blog that posted a link to The Cornucopia Institute's newly released Organic Egg Scorecard. It's definitely worth a look if you aren't raising your own hens.

The scorecard identifies a number of excellent egg producers and, not so surprisingly, many household names that are "ethically deficient egg producers." 

Bottom of the list? Eggs from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods (365 Organic), and Costco (Kirkland Signature). The Institute noted that these eggs are "produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access."

The top egg producers included farms in Wisconsin, New York State, and Michigan. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My li'l farmer

We'll see you tomorrow at the California Baby Family Festival!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hey LA Fans!

Come meet my Black Silkie and Buff Orpington this Sunday at the California Baby Family Festival Fair. I will be there hoping my chickens don't get too stressed out and sharing my love for all things fowl. Even my husband who hates farm chores will show -- so he says.

Should be a great time and who knows...You might win a $1,000 vertical gardening system from woollypocket. Proceeds benefit the Garden School Foundation.

So please, stop by and see what all the noise is about! My chickens would love to see you! For further info, check out California Baby Family Festival.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seeds and Scum

The remnants of today's canning of almost seedless raspberry jam. 

Delicious scum is on the left. 

Scoop it up and pour it on vanilla ice cream. Divine!

The seeds will be breakfast for the chickens.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Butter Cow

My first experience with a fair was the Illinois State Fair.  I was just barely 20, working in a press office, writing stilted press releases on an old IBM typewriter and reading the latest news of the day which, if I remember correctly, featured Vanessa Williams' naked pictures in Penthouse. 

It was easy work. Decent pay for a summer  job where I chased politicians, wrote stories about the annual butter cow, and interviewed singer, songwriter Willie Nelson.  It was good experience and life altering, since I would come to live in Central Illinois later in life, and meet my husband. One of our first dates? Why yes, the Illinois State Fair.

It’s been 20 years since we had that first encounter -- complete with lemon shake-ups and vinegar fries. I liked the Illinois fair because of what it stood for in the agricultural Midwest -- 4-H clubs showcasing their best in animal husbandry, bad 80s concert bands, and my favorite activity: City kids could actually milk a cow with their hands for 25 cents. No liability issues there! 

Now we live in Southern California, and I’m not sure why we don’t frequent the LA County Fair more since I like fairs in general.  But this year was different. For I, on a whim, submitted some of my canned jams for competition. And you know what? I won.

The only prize I received for something I made was when I was 10, winning second place in a sewing contest. I won a book. This time they brought out the big guns: ribbons. I won two first-place blue ribbons, one third-place white, and the kicker, a purple ribbon touting my greatest accomplishment: Best of Division.

I’m excited as all get-out to have my name among the other winners – especially the ones who don’t even live in Los Angeles County.

The LA County Fair is no means a fair that comes straight out of the Midwest. For one, there is no 4-H competition (it's my understanding that those competitions will happen after the fair), and you also can't milk a cow unless you mean holding a metal contraption that milks a cow. But it is still a lot of fun -- especially if you suck up the high cost of parking, food and rides, lower your expectations on how many different kinds of animals you'll see, and, of course, win a competition or two.

My husband, who hates farm chores, never cared too much for Central Illinois and things like county and state fairs.

I, on the other hand, always have loved the vast flat land of green and dairy, and of course, a good fair.

Thanks LA. You may not be the best fair I’ve ever attended, but you're a winner in my eyes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Baby, It's Hot Outside

Hens normally like to keep their pretty little feet dry, dirty and dusty. Not today. I made a puddle of water and mud, and they were happy pretending to be ducks, wading, scratching and drinking to keep cool.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So What's in Your Compost Bin?

I opened our handy kitchen pot that holds our daily compost scraps and I thought to myself, "Damn, it's been nearly a year since I've last posted something on Mothercluck.com. I've got to do something about that."

And so here I am.

A lot of things have happened since my last post, The Big Molt. I was offered an unexpected job, and, unfortunately, I lost that job unexpectedly nearly a year later.

Chicken and Pox, the poster children of Mothercluck.com have both died. Our homestead also lost Gracie, The Ugly One, this past April when she no longer could walk because of an unfortunate neurological ailment. I still miss them all, especially Chicken and Grace. I'm sure there will be a post about them in the near future.

But there have been some blessings, too. My son entered kindergarten this year and is thriving. We have added three new chickens to our flock,  and they produce some exceptionally brilliant and beautiful blue, taupe, and cocoa-colored eggs. We've had a bumper crop of tomatoes and other vegetables because of our chicken poop/compost pile.

Oh, and I can now add that I'm an award-winning canner and preserver. Again, more about that later.

So, welcome back and enjoy. My husband still hates farm chores, so I've got to go empty the compost scraps. There's some serious mold growing in there!