How To Make Christmas Fruit Cake

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It has definitely been a while since I have hit “publish”.  To my blogging friends, I say “hello again”.  To those that are “new followers”, I say “welcome”.  The blog has definitely been on the “back-burner” for the last 7 months and I have not given it the attention that I set out with a few years back.

Anyways, last weekend I decided to make Christmas fruit cake for the second year, but this Christmas I wanted to make some smaller cakes as gifts for family and friends who enjoy this yuletide treat.  So I tripled the recipe in the link below and adjusted the bake time for the smaller cakes.

If you like Christmas cake, I urge you to give this one a try.  It’s really easy and tastes just like those childhood memories.

Click here

Warm regards,

CB

Making A Water Source For Your Honeybees

020 - CopyOver the last few months, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading about making a water source for my bees.  I’ve read about folks using bird baths, slow dripping faucets and garden ponds.  I’ve also learnt that bees have an uncanny ability to find water and once they “lock” onto a source, it’s pretty hard (if not impossible) to make them change their pattern.

Being a consciences urban homeowner, I do my best to respect the rights of my neighbors and fully understand that my bees will not be a welcomed addition to anyone’s backyard space.  For those beekeepers that have neighbors with pools, the  aforementioned is even more apparent, considering that bees really like chlorine and salt.

So…….I began to think about how to make a water source for my bees.  I had 5 criteria that had to be met:

1)  It had to look good.  I’ll be looking at my apiary most days and I want it to tie in with the appearance of my backyard.

2)  I don’t want to replenish the water source every day.  If I decide to go on  vacation, I don’t want to rely on a neighbor to “top up” my water source during my absence.

3)  I don’t want my chickens to be able to get into the water source while they are free ranging.

4)  I don’t want my bees to drown while they are using the source.

5)  I don’t want my water source to become a breeding ground for mosquitos.

So………I constructed a tall box that would not have a top or bottom.  Inside the box will be a 16″ cinderblock (standing on its end) and a 5 gallon (food grade) plastic pail resting on the block. Floating at the top of the water will be a landing pad for the bees to safely access the water.

The  front & back of the box are  3/4″ thick x 15″ wide x 30″ high.  The sides are 3/4″ thick x 13 1/2″ wide x 30″ high.  All material is pine and assembled with a simple butt joint and glued and screwed together.  If you  want to get a bit more fancy, you can:

A) Use a scroll saw to cut out a design in the front006 - Copy

B) Counter-sink the screw hole locations and (once assembled) fill the hole with a wood plug which will be trimmed off and sanded.003

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C)  Add some mitered trim to the top of the box.014 - Copy

 

In order to make the “landing pad”, I cut a circle out of some 1/2″ thick cedar and drilled lots of 1/4″ holes in the circle.  Because the bucket has a slight taper, I made the circumference of the landing pad to be the same as the bottom of the pail.  This will allow for the “landing pad”  to descend as the volume diminishes in the bucket.  I didn’t have a wide enough board to make the entire circle, so I screwed (not glued) two pieces together with a few  cleats.

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This landing pad will work well because  the cedar floats and the water wicks up from the holes making for safe and easy access for the bees.

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After a quick search, I discovered that a mosquito takes around 7-10 days to develop from egg to adult.  By replacing the water every week, I will not be “helping” mosquitos to further populate in this water.

So….there you have it……….my water source for my bees.  I just hope it works and my neighbor Vito doesn’t come traipsing over to my house in July dressed only in his 1978 Speedo bathing suite complaining about some bees in his pool!!!!!!!!!!!!!026 - Copy

 

Spring Spa Day At City Boy Hens

Well…Spring has FINALLY sprung at City Boy Hens.  After almost 6 months of Old Man Winter’s wrath, we are finally being treated to some warmer temps and with that comes……….some major free ranging for the “girls”.  Having 2 women in our house, I do my best to remember to “pamper” them from time to time and occasionally remember to bring home flowers or gift certificates for manicures, pedicures or foot messages.  So glad I am a guy!  What a lunch bag let down those would be to get as  gifts!

Anyways, as the chickens free ranged in the backyard last week, it kinda’ reminded me of a “pampered day” for Endearing Daughter and Beloved Wife.  And………no……… I’M NOT COMPARING MY DAUGHTER & WIFE TO CHICKENS!

So….with that said……here’s a Spring Spa Day at City Boy Hens:

First:  A Glorious Dust Bath In CB’s Garden!

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Second:  A Light Lunch Of Delicious Mixed Greens!

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Third: Soakin’ Up Some Rays On The Deck!

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Fourth:  Work In A Relaxing Neck Massage!

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Fifth:  Catch An Afternoon Nap!

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Welcome Spring.  I hope you’re here to stay!   You have surely been missed.  We’re all glad to have you back!

 

The Best Backyard Chicken Dog EVER!

003Man oh man…….I had The Best EVER Backyard Chicken Dog.  How can I safely say that he was the best?  Simply because he did his job with excellence.  Never once did he take a run at the hens.  Never once did he shirk his responsibility as protector of the backyard.  Never once did a raccoon, fox, hawk or anything enter the backyard when Stanley was out on patrol.  Never once!

Many a night, he exhausted himself running along the backyard perimeter making sure that those raccoons stayed high up in the trees on the other side of the fence.  Many a day, he sun bathed on the grass or patrolled along worn down snowy paths; always surveying the landscape with eyes and ears on full alert.  Through it all, he was my champ.009

In the beginning, it was a challenge to train this retriever to accept these new “additions” to our “urban farm”, but after one weekend of intensive backyard schooling, this “bird dog” recognized his role as protector and did it with excellence.  Through it all, he always did his job.  But, best of all, he gave us more laughs than I  could have ever imagined.  I never dreamt that a dog could be so funny!  Whether it was his howling accompaniment when Endearing Daughter played the harmonica, or his desperate cries for rescue from the cottage swim raft when  Dutiful Son had to “paddle” him back in the canoe, Stanley kept us all in “stitches”.

This past week, we said so long to our champion protector.  Stanley was the best!  Man’s best friend?  That title is just not fitting enough.  He was more than our “best friend”.  He was, and will always remain an integral member of our wonderful family.  I hope that you, the reader, are just as fortunate as we have been to have an incredible dog like Stanley.  He was the best!

So………so long my good friend.  Long may you run.  Welcome to your new role as the backyard chicken protector in the sky!  You, my champ, are terribly missed.  Thank you for doing your job so well, but more importantly, thanks for making us laugh!

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If you need to brighten your day or just get a “chuckle”, I encourage you to CLICK HERE and read some of our great “laughs” with Stanley.

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Crescia: The Easter Bread From Le Marche, Italy

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My Family came to Canada in 1913 from the town of Pesaro in the Province of Le Marche, Italy. Over the years, traditions were lost or no longer practiced as my ancestors blended more into the Canadian fabric. But, Crescia has always survive the test of time and it has now been alive and well for 4 generations in our Canadian family. I’m sure it’s not the same as the one my great-grandmother (Bisnonna Laura) made, but I hope it’s a close second.

Crescia is a vastly different bread, depending on the region of its origins. It can be as thin as focaccia or as high as the crescia that originated in Pesaro. The later is the one that my Family has made for generations, though it was denser and did not rise as high as the one that I make. But, it is similar in its signature ingredients of eggs, black pepper and cheese.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Easter breads are so laden with eggs. As you backyard chicken owners know, heritage breed hens take a break from laying eggs during the Winter and resume their production in the Spring which happens to coincide with Easter. As well, eggs, cheese, meat and olive oil were historically omitted from the diet in Italy during the period of Lent so everyone must have been “chompin’ at the bit” to return to these foods after those 40 extremely bland days!

As I write this post, the scent of baking crescia fills the air! It reminds me of my ancestors who came to this great country over 100 years ago. Times were a lot harden then, but they were also flavoured with great traditions which always revolved around food. Unfortunately, a lot of those great traditions have been lost or misplaced in our progression to a busier life.

I’m not sure if we have made a good trade. Perhaps, it’s worth “stepping back” now and then and carrying on some of those great traditions that remind us of our roots and the journey that has brought us to this today!

I hope I “did you proud” Bisnonna Laura!

If you would like to make crescia, please CLICK HERE for my family’s recipe.

Happy Easter / Buona Pasqua to all!

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Raising Backyard Chickens -Italian Style!

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What started out as a short video about raising backyard chickens really grew into an elaborate production from its inception 18 long months ago.  In the fall of 2012, I asked my cugino Davide (cousin Dave)  if he wanted to make a short video on raising backyard chickens. He not only accepted, but took the project to a level that I had never imagined.  What follows is a 9 minute video on how to raise backyard chickens – Italian Style.  Why Italian style?????????????  Well…….I’ve got Italian blood runnin’ through my veins; though it has been thinned out over the generations and I thought that some humor would bring a bit of flavor to the topic.

If you are just starting out with backyard chickens………… than I hope I can help you along the way.  If you’re a seasoned veteran…….well……… I hope I can bring a laugh to you day!

Thanks to cugino Davide for making this video.  You did a fantastic job!  Thanks also to cugino Dino for playing the mandolin, accordion and drums in the opening number.  You are a multi-talented musician.   Thanks to cugino Damiano for his rendition of an old family folk song at the close of the video.  That song still cracks me up!  But most of all, thanks Nono for the memory of those backyard hens you kept when I was a small boy.  Who would have thought that this childhood memory would have grown into City Boy Hens!!

I hope you all enjoy!

City Boy Cartoon

CB

How To Make Biscotti

009 - CopyBiscotti originates from the Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-baked”. Its origins date back to the Roman times when certain foods needed to be completely dried so that they could be stored for long periods of time.

Today, biscotti are made using many different ingredients. Almonds, pistachios, raisins, cranberries, and lemon & orange zest make for great flavors for this cookie. I really like this cookie because it is not terribly sweet, you won’t find an ingredient in this recipe that you can’t pronounce, and best of all………. it is sooooooooooo easy to make. Those 3 reasons are enough for me to make this my “sweet treat” of choice after our evening meal.  I hope you give it a try!

Ingredients

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1/3 cup butter (room temp.)

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2 farm fresh eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups All Purpose Flour

Zest of 1 orange

1 cup raisins

Directions:

Beat 1/3 cup of room temperature butter for 30 seconds.

Combine sugar, baking powder & salt with the butter.

Beat in 2 eggs and vanilla extract.

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Stir in flour, 1/3 at a time until completely mixed.Chickens2 042

Add zest, raisins & form into a ball.Chickens2 040

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Divide dough in half on lightly floured surface and flatten down into shape (about 1/2″ thick).Chickens2 045

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Transfer on to cookie sheet and bake for 22 minutes at 375 F. or until golden brown.chickens2-051[1]

Cool on rack for 20 minutes and then cut into pieces using a serrated knife.Chickens2 055

Transfer back on to the cookie sheet and bake at 325 F for another 8 minutes/ side.Chickens2 056

* Substitute anise for vanilla, lemon for orange, cranberries or dried cherries for raisins or add 1 cup of chopped almonds or pistachios to make your own biscotti.  Better still…….drop me a line and share your favorite biscotti recipe.

And The Chicken DREAMS of SPRING.

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It’s 5am IN THE DARK CITY BOY COOP……….

Rosie:  Swifer……you awake?

Swifer:  Ya…..I’m up. 

Rosie:  Hey Honda….where you at?

Honda: I’m…..up…….in the damn……..nest box……….pushin’ out this thing………that CB (City Boy) calls…….UHHHHHHHH………an …….egg!  Holy $#*!….that freakin’ kills!!!!

RosieHey, you guys want to hear about my dream?”   Last night I dreamt that all that white stuff out there disappeared and there was this tasty green stuff  growin’ everywhere and CB let us out to eat it.  It was amazing!  Man…I wish we could live in a place like that!”

Honda We do Rosie, it’s just that this has been the longest and coldest winter in the last 20 years!  Don’t you remember last year when CB use to let us out every day when he got home from work?001 

And don’t you remember gettin’ those tasty bugs and those delicious worms when he was makin’ that garden last spring?013 - Copy

And don’t you remember when the days got longer and a whole lot hotter and CB would give us watermelon to cool us down? 

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But, best of all, don’t you remember when CB would load us up in the van and take us up to the cottage with the Family?

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Don’t you remember goin’ down to the beach and searchin’ for stuff to eat in the sand?  Man those were good times.

Running Down To The Beach.

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Honda Spring is comin’ Rosie.  We just got to wait a bit more.  CB said that there’s only 8 more days until it arrives!  In the mean time, we’ll just have to settle for walkin’ in the snow!  That is…if you’re not too chicken!063

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RosieHey…. Swifer……..what’s that over there….underneath that tree?????????? Is that the green stuff????????? 

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Swifer It’s comin’ Rosie……….it’s comin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How To Make A Ventilated Gabled Beehive Roof

I spent a lot of time deciding on what type of cover I would build for my beehives.  I can’t say that I am too impressed with the look of a standard telescoping cover.  I guess that’s because it is designed to be functional and esthetics do not play a role in the business of professional beekeeping.  After searching for ideas, I came across an informative post at Honey Bee Suite on The Best Ventilated Gabled Roof.  This roof had the right combination of purpose and esthetics.  I liked the idea of incorporating ventilation into the roof and the look of a gabled roof on top of a hive looked great.  Now… I just had to give it a few City Boy extras in order to personalize my hive.

Safety

Make sure that you read and understand how to SAFELY operate your power equipment.  In  some of the pictures below, the safety guard has been removed so that you can get a better understanding of the photo.  NEVER operate your equipment without a guard in place!

End Gables

004 - CopyDress 2 pieces of pine to 3/4″ thick x 7-1/4″ wide x 18 1/8″ long.

Now layout the lines for the end gables by a) making a mark 1-1/2″ up from the sides of each gable and b)   making a mark at the peak of the roof.  Now connect these points and cut the gabled ends with a band saw or jig saw.

Now, draw out the design for your ventilation access.  I made a star because it ties in with the design on my chicken coop door, but you could give it your own personal touch.  A scroll saw makes for accurate work in cutting out the design.

Next, cut the sides of the roof to 3/4″ thick x 2″ wide x 20-1/4″ long.  Now set your table saw or bandsaw to 22-1/2 degrees and rip these 2 pieces to 1-1/2″ in width.( This will allow the plywood roof to rest perfectly on the sides).002 - Copy

Next, cut the 4 structural supports.  These supports will tie both gabled ends together and provide a nailing surface for your plywood top and shingles.  You don’t have to be too fussy about the width of this material because it won’t be seen.  Just make sure that they are at least 1-1/4″ wide and 20-1/4″ long.008 - Copy

Next drill (using a countersink bit) the screw locations into each gable end in order to attach the side pieces and structural supports.  A drill press works great, but a hand-held drill will work as well.  Use exterior glue and 1-1/2″ deck screws for assembly.  Now, fill each screwed hole with a wood plug and trim the plug with a japanese flush cutting saw.  This would be a good time to staple  screening over the inside of the ventilation star.  I saved this step until I made the entire project and it was a bit more challenging later  on.  004 - Copy

Roof

I made the roof from some scrap pieces of 1/2″ plywood.  One side will be 1/2″ x 12-1/2″ x 24″ and the other side will be 1/2″ x 12″ x 24″.  The reason for the difference in the width is for the overlap at the peak of the roof.  Now, rip  the length (edge) of each board at 22-1/2 degrees. 006 - Copy This will make for a tight peak.  Now flip the plywood over if it’s one solid piece and rip the other edge (bottom of the roof) at 22-1/2 degrees. If you are using 2 pieces for each side of the roof (like I did) than just rip the second board at the same degree.  The table saw or band saw works good for this step.  This is a good time to paint the exterior or the entire project.010 - Copy

Shingles

I used cedar shingles because I like the look and the hives will tie in nicely with my shed/chicken coop which is also shingled in cedar.  You can also use asphalt if you prefer.  Either way, just make sure to double your bottom course and not to have the gaps between shingles identical on all courses.  I used a pneumatic stapler to secure the shingles to the roof and marked my location in order to drive the staple into the plywood and structural supports.  * Note:  The shingles overhang the roof sides and bottom by 1″.

First start by stapling the first course and trim the shingles at the top of the peak with a fine tooth saw.002 - Copy

Now secure the next course right on top of the entire first course, making sure to not align this course over the sides of the previous course. This will help keep moisture from penetrating to the plywood.  Next, put your third course of shingles on, making sure to start them further up the roof.  Follow up by trimming the shingles at the roof peak.006 - Copy

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Peak Cap

I cut some repurposed coated metal roofing for a cap.  The measurements were 7-1/2″ wide x 26″ long.  I bent the metal on a sharp edge and attached it with 8 roofing nails.  Make sure to pre-drill each location first with a metal bit that is 1/16″ less than the diameter of the nail.024 - Copy

And there you have it.  I think the gabled roof is a great addition to my hives.  I hope you give it a try!  If you would like to learn how I built my hive boxes CLICK HEREIf you would like to learn how to build the elevated hive stand CLICK HERE.014 - Copy

Are Chickens Really Stupid?

Rosie (L) Honda (R) Swiifer (Back)

I never thought too much about chickens before I started into the hobby of raising a few hens in my backyard a couple of years ago.  In fact, if you had asked me to describe a chicken before that time, I would have said that they were dirty, noisy and down-right stupid.   But, could you blame me?  That was what I learned as a child.

As a kid, I heard about Henny- Penny who was a paranoid chicken with delusional thoughts that “the sky was falling”.  I also recall the not remotely funny joke about the chicken crossing the road and the lunch bag let down punch line that had  no punch at all. Even my sister’s “knock- knock” jokes got better laughs than that tired chestnut!

As I grew older, I learned the hard way that a game called “chicken” had to do with my brother throwing his scout knife at my spread bare feet with the goal of making me flinch and be labeled a “chicken” for the rest of the day by our street hockey gang of kids.   Later on, I heard sayings like “running around like a chicken with your head cut off”,  “scarce as hen’s teeth” and “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”.  Even Fonzie, on Happy Days taught me that pretty girls were called “chicks” and I discovered that my friend, Giancarlo,  had an overprotective mom that my Dad referred to as a “Mother Hen”.  The list can go on and on, but has ANYONE ever taken the time to REALLY examine the exceptional qualities of the poor old chicken???????

Now, those of us who have gotten to know a chicken or two understand that these birds are anything but stupid.  They live in a social hierarchy where everyone knows their place.  Order is generally  the norm of the day and those that decide to step out of line are generally consequenced.   Now…that’s not a bad thing ….is it?

Chickens also look out for the welfare of the entire flock.  No better example of this is when a rooster or dominant hen will vocally   alert the entire flock of  impending danger.  In the chicken world, it’s never “every man/woman for themselves”.  If that was the case,  than the chicken would just run for cover and forget about the rest.  Instead, a rooster will make the call of alarm to alert his ladies of the danger and then stand his ground to take-on or sacrifice himself to the impending danger for his flock.    Hey……..now that’s a novel idea….looking out for your fellow-man!

As for memory, they have incredible capacity, given that their brain is the size of a cashew nut.  They can come when called (provided that food is offered), they have the ability to distinguish between strangers and owners (they act pretty “chicken” if they don’t know you), they know when to return to the coop at night  and understand what bugs and greens are safe to eat. I’ve seen many a dog who couldn’t get a passing grade on some of these “brain teasers”. I recall many nights that our Lab dove into the garbage buffet, only to hurl it all back up  an hour later.(My apologies if you are reading this post at Breakfast!)

But, the greatest feat of all…………is that the chicken creates delicious eggs!  Have you ever stopped to think about this astounding feat?  I’m not aware of any other creature in the world that can produce a 2 oz. (or more) egg almost EVERY SINGE DAY.   It doesn’t matter if it’s 85 degrees in August or well below freezing in January, my hens continue to lay.  And, to make it even more impressive, these birds have managed to wrap this delicious offering in a strong calcium package which preserves this tasty treat for weeks!

From a nutritional perspective, the chicken egg contains  all essential amino acids for humans and an extensive list of vitamins and minerals as well! Because of this, nutrition scientists have given the egg the esteemed title as the best food in the entire world for complete proteins.   But what’s most impressive is that this egg equates to around 3% of a chicken’s body weight.  In other words, these “stupid” creatures manage to produce their ENTIRE body weight in eggs within 30 odd days and continue to do so for several years! Now…that’s truly incredible!

So, the next time that you tuck into those eggs for breakfast or crack a few in a bowl for baking or cooking, give thanks to the stupid chicken.  Maybe then, we’ll stop giving these incredible creatures the bum rap that they definitely don’t deserve and hold them in a higher regard.

4 days of work!