Saturday, December 31, 2011


Friendships are funny things, aren't they? 
Over the last year, I've given the subject of friendship a great deal of thought, not only while watching the relationships here on Critter Farm develop and grow but also through experiencing them in my own life with (gasp!) other humans.

Often, friendships begin slowly:
A little bit of curiosity and a friendly face can usually get the ball rolling:
Some friendships seem effortless:
Like those that are clearly built on a common interest:
...or those that share common personalities:
Sometimes friendships develop in the most unlikely of places:
...and these are the ones that often turn into something truly special:
Some relationships thrive on the "opposites attract" principle:
Occasionally relationships come into your life completely by chance:
and then delight you daily with their perfection, making you wonder how you ever lived without them:
Then there are those friendships that grow ever-so-slowly but, one day, take a huge leap forward in trust, taking the relationship to a whole new level:
There are others, still, that may always need to work hard to prevent misunderstandings and work out the kinks:
Bottom line, you just never know where a friendship is going to develop:
As long as there is trust, the possibilities are limitless:
So never rule out the chance that a friendship might form:
... for you might miss out on something amazing:
And so, in a bit of a sentimental summary, as fortunate as I have been to witness the relationships that have grown here on Critter Farm over the last year, I have been equally blessed with the friendships (online, in person, long-standing, new and rekindled) that have grown in my own personal life over this last year. 

If I had to choose one adage to best express my experiences these last twelve months, I would choose "when one door shuts, many others open".  I have truly lived this lesson this year.  As 2011 ends, I am very thankful for the people who call me their friend.  My life has been enriched because of you. 

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Behind the scenes: What didn't make the holiday card this year

A good portion of my December was spent in one of my three pastures trying to get the perfect holiday photo of each of my critters.  Looking back, I realize now that "perfect" is a relative term.  It's also an incredibly elusive achievement.  In my head, I can picture precisely what I want, but to actually obtain it?  As near as I can tell, I would have been more effective teaching them all to dance. 

Below are a few of the photos from this month that did not make it onto this year's holiday card.  They did, however, make me laugh and I thought they might you, too.
And can I just say that I am very relieved that this particular exercise is now complete for the next eleven months? :-)

Beau (left) really had a ball wearing his various hats, while Chester was pretty much p.o.'d the entire time:
Chester acted out at every opportunity.  Take the next photo, for example.  This did not go well:
Kai most certainly did not want to go for a walk with Chester the elf:
Have you ever tried to get two donkeys and a llama in holiday attire to stand close enough together (and have pleasant looks on their faces) to get a picture?   This is the one and only non-blurry shot I got of the three of them together with holiday garb.  Nobody was happy about it:
For the goat boys, though, it was business as usual:
They didn't care what they had on their heads as long as posturing and head-butting could continue as normal:
The head-butting, however, made hat placement very challenging:
And Pete just couldn't keep his mouth to himself:
And because of this, if you look closely below, you will see something quite rare.  My farm pup, Roxy, is revving up for a really good snarl at Pete.  In her defense, though, he was invading her personal space.  A girl's gotta draw the line somewhere:
George, meanwhile, was completely enthralled with Honey, the elf-chicken:
 He kept edging closer and closer until I was laughing so hard I couldn't even focus the camera anymore:Back in the donkey pasture, Beau continued to proudly display his holiday ear warmers:
...while Chester spent a lot of time pouting:
Being his buddy, Beau tried hard to cajole Chester out of his mood:
But about the time Chet flung the elf hat from his head and threatened to stomp it to death...:
Beau realized it was time to give up and kindly returned to me the hat that Chester refused to wear:
Chester may not be talking to me anymore, but Beau has informed me that he would like every day to be hat day:
How in the world do I say "no" to this face?

Merry Christmas from all of us on Critter Farm:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A perfect pie crust

Back in November, I waxed poetic about learning how to make a crumbly, beautiful pie crust.

Many of you asked me to share the recipe for this wonderful crust and so, without further ado (and despite a month-long delay)...

No, wait.  I need to disclose something important before I share this recipe.
Prior to this recipe, I was a complete Crisco snob.  I didn't believe Crisco had a place in "true" cooking. Over the years, I have overlooked many, many recipes solely because they called for Crisco in the list of ingredients instead of butter.  I'm not sure when or how I developed this bias, however, it was a very strong one and it wasn't until a wonderful, new friend introduced me to the recipe below that I was finally able to let this bias go.  After having had less than stellar results with numerous (more than five) pie crust recipes that used butter as the primary fat over the last couple years, I have to say, the difference between using butter in a crust recipe and using Crisco is significant. The light and flaky simplicity of this crust using Crisco is quite impressive:
So.  There it is.  A short explanation for my new-found appreciation of Crisco.  With that explained, here - finally - is the pie crust recipe:

Basic pie crust
Source: Margaret Whitacre Kruse
Makes enough crust for two single-crust pies or one double-crust pie

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco shortening
1/2 cup ice cold water

Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, mix well. Add Crisco and work quickly into flour using the pastry blender until all floured pieces of Crisco are the size of a blueberry or smaller:
When done, put bowl in freezer for 10 minutes to keep Crisco from melting:
Remove bowl from freezer. Add ice water to chilled flour mixture all at once. Using a fork, quickly stir the water into the flour mixture:
...then use your hands to gently form the dough into a ragged ball:
Don't overwork or knead too much as this creates a tough dough. This step should not take more than 30 seconds.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, including all remaining pieces of flour/Crisco from the bowl. Using your hands, gently push the dough into a thick disc, incorporating all scraps of flour/Crisco from the bowl:
Turn the disc over to make sure the top and bottom sides are floured. Roll the dough into a thin sheet using a rolling pin, working from the center of the disc outward:
For single-crust pies you want the dough to be about 1/8" thick. (A fast way to tell is to "pat" the dough with your opened hand. If you see an indentation that is more that 1/8" deep, you need to roll the dough more.) If the dough is to be used for a lattice crust top, then make it 1/4" thick for ease of handling.

Roll dough onto rolling pin and transfer to pie plate, unrolling into place. Make sure the dough is settled into pie plate bottom and up the sides so that it doesn't tear when you add the filling. Fix any tears in the dough with scraps and a bit of water if needed. Trim the dough along the edge of the pie plate, leaving more dough if needed for sealing a top crust or for adding a scalloped edge.  (Repeat with the scraps for the 2nd pie or for a lattice top.)

In the example below, I was going to use my crust for a chocolate mousse pie, which required I bake my shell prior to filling it.  I, therefore, lined my crust with parchment paper and filled with dried beans (for weight) to prevent the bottom of the crust from bubbling and cracking:
Please note: This is not a sweet crust.  If you like a bit of "sweet" in your crust, you may wish to add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.  However, if your pie is especially sweet, like the chocolate pecan pie shown at the top of this post, this sugarless crust is a perfect complement.

And speaking of the chocolate pecan pie at the top of this post, a few people expressed an interest in the recipe I used for that:
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Source: Betty Crocker Recipes


Pastry for 9-inch one-crust pie (recipe above)
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted together with chocolate
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup pecan halves or broken pieces

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare pastry. Beat eggs, sugar, salt, margarine/butter with chocolate and syrup with a mixer until thoroughly combined. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate.

Bake until set, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or refrigerate.

It's pie season.  Tell me what kind of pies you are baking....

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Grumpy Cat Holiday Card Collection

I can just see them now...

Can't you?