On Blueberries, Muffins, and Blueberry Thieves

blueberry muffins

So blueberry season is now upon us in Maine. One of the reasons I love the Maine summer is that we have three berry seasons: We start with strawberry season; then the raspberries come; and we end on blueberries.

We kind of have a fourth season of summer in Maine, but it has nothing to do with berries. I think it’s called the “melancholy that our beautiful summer is almost over” season, but that’s for writing about later. Right now, it’s blueberry time!

I love blueberries. I mean, I don’t have the history with blueberries that I have with strawberries, but I love them so much that, two years ago, for my birthday, my husband bought me six blueberry bushes to plant in our garden.

It was a bit of a rough go at first. There was a bunny who ate both leaves and berries. Then, one of the bushes got sick. Still, last summer, we had a small but delicious crop of blueberries.

But, this year, things were looking great. All six bushes were loaded with berries, and I was so excited!

Until the unthinkable happened…our ducky-ducks ate all the blueberries!

There were like 50 to 70 berries left at the top of the very tallest bush. Our sweet little ducky-ducks (aka blueberry thieves) ate everything else! I am talking about hundreds and hundreds of blueberries. Those stinkers! Still, I can’t be mad at them because they’re cute, and they’re just doing what ducks do.

My husband fenced off most of the garden, but he didn’t fence off the blueberries. We paid for this and learned a hard lesson. Next year, it’s the fence!

But, we still had like 75 to 100 berries left, and I, being the optimist I am, thought this would be just enough to make a good batch of blueberry muffins. I have this amazing blueberry muffin recipe (see below), and I wanted to make a batch with our own blueberries.

Unfortunately, those little ducky-ducks were very persuasive. As I was picking those beautiful blueberries on the tallest bush, a few of our chicky girls came over to “share.” They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist sharing some. But the next thing I know, the ducks are with me.

There they were. Chewing hopefully on the blueberry bush next to me (on one that had already been stripped) and looking at me from the side, as if to say “Oh, mama, we love the blueberries. Please share with us.”

And if you think I’m making up that look, you have to meet our ducks. Believe me, they know what they’re doing.

So what am I supposed to do but share blueberries? So I did.

image of duck
I ask you, is this not the face of a persuasive, blueberry thief?

I think we still have enough for one batch of muffins, but it looks like it’s going to be another year of purchasing and picking blueberries from a local farm. Of course, that’s OK because that’s awesome too.

If you live in Maine, here’s a great blog post from Diane Atwood’s Catching Health offering a list of places you can go to pick blueberries. It’s an awesome resource!

And, once you get your berries, you might want to try them in this delicious bed-and-breakfast-style blueberry muffin recipe.

As an aside, I’ve never been to a bed and breakfast, so I don’t know what kind of muffins you would get at one, but if I had a bed and breakfast, you could get these blueberry muffins there. They’re a hit with my whole family—and our neighbors. Plus, they’re super quick and easy to make.

Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping

*Please note that this recipe was adapted and “remixed” from several recipes years ago, so I have no recipe to credit here.

blueberries from garden
This is all we had left after the thievery and the begging!

Ingredients for Muffins

1 ½ cup of flour

¾ cup of sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ cup canola oil

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

almost ¾ cup of milk

1 ½ cup of blueberries

Ingredients for Topping

½ cup light brown sugar

⅓ cup flour

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup soft or melted butter

Directions

In a large bowl, mix all of your dry ingredients for the muffins together. Add the wet ingredients and be careful on the milk. It really does need to be a little less than ¾ cup of milk. Too much milk seems to really negatively impact the muffins. After you mix the wet and dry ingredients, fold in your blueberries.

Use fresh blueberries your ducks didn’t steal if possible.

Muffin Batter
Be careful not to squish the blueberries too much, or your batter will turn purple, which is kind of pretty, I guess.

For the topping, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. After you have mixed those well, add ¼ cup of the soft or melted butter. The topping should be crumbling just a bit, so if it’s too moist, you can add a dab more of brown sugar or flour.

blueberry muffins
So yummy!

Put into a 12-muffin pan and bake for 15 to 16 minutes at 375 degrees.

It’s a pretty easy recipe and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!

 

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On Learning Truths

early garden

This year’s going to be the fourth summer my husband and I do a big vegetable garden together. Right now, we have only the peas, carrots, potatoes, and onions in the ground, but in Maine, this is to be expected. It was pretty chilly until last week. Sometimes, I forget that growing up in Texas we were wearing shorts by May.

I’ve seen friends from other parts of the country post pictures on social media of food they’ve already grown in their gardens, and I feel confused at first because we just started planting. It’s almost surreal for me to see a fully-grown vegetable in May.

But I digress…

This post is supposed to be about my green thumb I thought I had.

The story goes like this.

Every year, even our first year of vegetable gardening, though we had some failures for sure, my husband I have had some pretty good successes growing food. We always have a good harvest, at least to me, and last year, we grew so much food that we were really able to see a cost savings on our grocery bills from late summer until early winter. That’s pretty good, right?

I post pictures to Facebook of our beautiful garden starting in early summer. The peas are ready to eat; the bean bushes look big and lush; the carrot and potato plants look big and healthy. I’m always so proud of this garden.

I do help my husband a lot. He definitely does the lion’s share of the work–tills by hand, gets the soil ready, fertilizes, waters, hoes weeds. Wait, why do I think I help a lot?

Well, I do plant, pull weeds, pick bugs off one at a time for hours on end, and help harvest. But as I write this down, I am realizing a deeper lesson I learned this week. I think my husband really is making all this good food happen. I thought I was helping more.

He has always had a green thumb and this love of plants that I didn’t understand until we had a garden. He’s got some real skill at making plants grow healthy and strong, and I envy it. I’ve always been horrible at plants. I’ve killed everything from roses to sunflowers to a wide variety of houseplants. I don’t think I’ve ever grown more than a weed successfully, and if I had tried to grow said weed, I probably would have killed said weed.

But, then, there was this beautiful garden. I thought I was helping to grow it. I thought my husband had somehow lifted the “curse” I had with plants. I thought I was becoming a good gardener, too.

early garden

This is a picture of one of our first gardens when it was first getting going. It’s so lovely. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s a gnome guarding the peas. It totally works!
However, I recently learned some truths about my newly-found “green thumb.” I started some seedlings this year in the house—without my husband’s help in any way—and I found out that maybe I still have a long way to go in terms of gardening.

So, I’m guessing you can imagine that things didn’t go so well.

We always do well in our garden starting most of our plants from seed, but I wanted to try to get a few starters going this season of things we sometimes buy as plants from the local nursery–peppers, tomatoes, and such. Unfortunately, pretty much everything I started died!

I planted like 25 broccoli starters and about 20 tomato starters. Not a single one of them made it. I also planted several kinds of peppers, about 30 plants total. I have 6 plants that made it.

I’m not sure what happened. Mostly, between part-time work, homeschooling, and feeding both people and creatures three times a day, I would somehow forget to water the little plants every day. It would seem like I just watered them, and then, sadly, some would die. Apparently, I had not just watered them. <sigh>

But my greatest mistake came when I put the plants out in the sunlight to grow stronger during the day; on the fourth day, I forgot to bring the plants in at night. I lost every tomato plant that night! I woke up at like 4:00 in the morning that chilly, fateful night, realized what I had done, and went back to sleep with sadness and disappointment in my heart.

pepper plant
This is one of my 6 survivors. I have no idea what kind of pepper plant it is, and I don’t even care. I’m just so glad it’s still alive!

So, yeah, now I have 6 plants left, and I’m hanging onto them for dear life!

Ironically, this year, my husband is putting up a fence around our property, and, when I say he’s putting up a fence, I mean he’s digging hundreds of holes through rocky earth with a shovel and putting up a fence the old-fashioned way. It’s pretty epic!

So I’m working to get the garden planted while he puts up the fence. After my little experience with the starters, this is making me really nervous. But, so far, so good. I have battled the black flies and mosquitoes, tilled that garden with a shovel (one slow row at a time), and we have a few things in the ground. The peas look great. Nothing else has had time to grow, but it’s still early.

I’m optimistic, but it’s a cautious optimism. I’ve learned a hard lesson of late.

baby duck in pool
This baby duck loved the new pool, and I loved watching those babies play! I need to do a whole blog on those duckies. They are way more interesting that I imagined they would be.

We still have the kale, red beans, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and corn to plant, but, this afternoon, we took a break from the tilling and the sowing and the fence making and had a late lunch at Jimmie’s, bought a kiddie pool for the baby ducks, and watched them have a blast in the pool. I think my husband and I are both a bit worn out this week, as living the simple life can be a lot of hard word, so taking the afternoon off seemed to be the best medicine.

This weekend, however, is Memorial Day weekend, which is always the weekend we finish planting our garden. After discovering some truths about my gardening skills, I hope you’ll wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

I’ll keep you posted…

On Chicken Shaming

You may have seen the images of the chicken shaming that have been going around social media in the past few weeks, and I hope they made you smile as much as they made me smile. The one about the chicken who ate the mouse whole really made me giggle. I haven’t seen my girls do anything like that, but I have seen them take down some pretty large and pretty gross things, mainly fat grubs.

The images got me to thinking about my own girls’ behavior and how hilarious our chickens are. They make me laugh all the time, though they can also be a real pain sometimes, and those chicken shaming images made me want to share with the world how wonderful, awful, funny, and wild our chickie girls are.

Now, let me tell you, shaming your chickens is not as easy as it seems. I don’t know about other people’s chickens, but my girls are pretty tame. Yet the first time I tried to hang a sign on one’s neck, I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world! My poor sweet girl was so scared and seemed convinced the sign was going to be the death of her. Needless to say, this broke my heart and made me realize that I was going to have to find an easier way to shame my chickens and share their cuteness with the world.

I could only manage a few, as word spread quickly amongst the girls that mama was up to no good, so I could only put the signs I made near the “guilty” chickens in question. It worked pretty well overall, but I have many more stories to tell, like how the chickens have completely dug up our yard or how they moan and groan and squawk and cry to the high heavens until they are let out to free range each day.

But I’ve captured some of what it’s like to live with chickens, I think. I love these stinkers!

chicken with small egg

I don’t even know how this happens, but, a couple of times, one of the girls will lay a mini egg. It’s adorable but not worth much. There’s no yolk–at least there wasn’t a yolk in the first one we found. But, of course, I’m fine with a tiny egg every now and then. It’s just too funny that this happens.

This next one is Guineveve, and she’s one of our newer babies. She’s an ISA Brown, and we found out that this breed originated in France. Unlike our 17 Rhode Island Reds, each of the ISA Browns looks a little differently than the next one, so we’ve been able to name these girls.

Guinevieve is the most beautiful to me, but she’s also the most aloof. She lets us pet her, but she doesn’t come running to us like the other girls. And, most worrisome, she doesn’t seem to like hanging out with her sisters very much. She even roosts by herself at night.

Well, this week, we thought we’d lost her, our first loss. If you read my original post on counting chickens, you know how much I worry about losing one of our girls. Guinevieve seemed to be our first casualty this week.

It was time to put the little girls up for the night, and my husband said he could only find 7 of 8 baby girls. The girls are sleeping in the garage right now, so I was sure our chicken was somewhere in there. But, when I went outside and looked at the baby girls, I realized the missing girl was Guineveve! Considering her loner behavior, I thought maybe she was really gone.

Hiding Chicken

I thought surely she had flown out of the open garage door and had been chased into the woods by one of the bigger chickens, only to be eaten by a fox, hawk, bobcat, or some monstrous, chicken-eating creature in our woods. It was getting late, and we looked for an hour with flashlights, calling for her. I was crying, and my husband seemed to feel so badly. I was trying so hard to tell myself that I had to deal with this kind of thing, that this kind of thing has happened to our neighbors times 10, times 20! I had to be tough.

I kept going back and looking in the garage, just to be safe, but still, just 7 of 8 little girls. But, then, after a little more hunting, my husband said, “I wonder if she’s still in the garage somehow,” and it dawned on me–I had not looked up really high. I just assumed she could not get up to the rafters in our garage.

Guess what! That’s where she was! When I opened the garage door, looked up, and saw her little white tail feathers, I was happy, relieved, and bemused that this little stinker had caused such a commotion. So we still have Guinevieve, but she’s getting shamed this week!

chickens with sign about squirrels

And, though I love our chickie girls more than I can say, I have to admit that the girls can often be stinkers–even a little mean. I have to stay on them and “be the rooster” sometimes, but, when they can, some of them will be little bullies. This spring, several of them have taken to bullying the poor little squirrels in order to take the seeds from the squirrels we feed. Or, perhaps, they do it out of spite because I see how enviously the chickens look at the squirrels when the squirrels are running free in the mornings while the chickens are still waiting to get out of their pen. I’m pretty sure those squirrels are getting the evil chicken eye.

So, this week, my mean girls get shamed as well!

Finally, after spending this morning “chicken shaming” and scaring some of my girls half to death with my little signs, my husband said that I should be shamed myself. I think he’s right. Our little chickie girls are sweet and beautiful and, sometimes, downright ornery, but I never want to make them feel badly. So my final sign is for me.

author shamed

And, since I wasn’t able to tell all of my girls’ ornery stories via pictures, I’ll just have to tell more stories in the weeks to come. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from raising chickens, it’s that those girls are always up to something and always completely entertaining!