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…the food I make, the plants I grow, and the items I create.

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6 Things to Consider When Raising Healthy Chicks

We recently received our mail order chicks.

When I say that statement out loud I shake my head a little. “Chicks in the mail?” Really Emily? That does not sound like a good idea.

But at the time the excitement of raising my own meat birds and laying hens blinded me from what I knew. I am often re-taught the things I know, each time with a bit more depth and clarity.

Below are 6 important things I learned from raising chicks. In about a month, I will be doing this again but with birds from a local hatchery. I hope these lessons make me more successful as well as guide you through your experience.

Are there elements of animal husbandry you can share with the community? Please comment below.

6 Things to Consider When Raising Healthy Chicks 

1. Time of Year

When you order your birds, take into consideration the time of year you will be receiving them. At the age of 2 to 3 weeks the meat birds are ready to move outside. Once outside, you can more easily regulate their food intake. This forces them to forage, strengthening their legs and slowing their growth rate, reducing the risk of overall problems.

2. Space

The baby birds need enough space to thermoregulate. Their brood box needs to be large enough so they can either lay underneath the heat lamp if they are cold, or move elsewhere if they are warm. This reduces stress and lowers the chance of dehydration, a surprisingly swift killer.

When constructing your brood box air on the side that bigger is better – providing them with enough space to run around without running over one another.

Minimum space:

  • 0-4 weeks – 1/2 square foot per bird
  • 4 – 8 weeks – 1 square foot per bird

3. Temperature

Purchase a thermometer from your local farm store so that you ALWAYS know the temperature in your brood box. Place the thermometer  in the halo of the heat lamp. If you have a large enough space, you can have the temperature directly under the light be a bit warmer then recommended since the chicks have the ability to move into cooler areas if needed. They can always cool off, but if the box is cold, they cannot warm up.

When the babies are 0-1 week old start with a minimum temperature of 90F. Over the course of the next four weeks, lower the temperature about 5F every week until it is 70F. At this point the birds should no longer need additional heat.

If, however, you started them early or they are being kept in a place with little or no insulation you may need to continue providing additional heat in either the form of a space heater or red heat bulbs.

4. Check their Butts

Pasting up occurs when fecal matter sticks to their vents preventing them from eliminating waste. It occurs often, without any real notice, and can kill them. I pick up my girls once a day and check to make sure their rear ends are clear. If they have a little fecal matter stuck in their feathers I take a warm paper towel and gently clean them. If it is really bad, they get a little bath. Make sure you completely dry them before they go back into their brood box.

5. Diseases

There are diseases and parasites that can kill these little guys fast. Work with a preventative mindset and do what you can to establish healthy baby birds. Keep their brood box dry and clean by removing dirty litter frequently. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to their water to help eliminate parasites and keep it clean of fecal matter.

6. Baby proof the brooder

These are babies. Day old, week old, babies. Similar to real babies they do silly things that can result in death. Avoid drowning by putting marbles in the tray of their water dish. For the first week use an old blanket or larger wood shavings to prevent them from eating something they shouldn’t. After the first week begin to give them grit so they can more easily digest their food. Make sure the walls are high enough that they cannot escape.

Raising your own laying hens can be fun and rewarding. Gardening while my older girls curiously dig beside or get chased around the yard by a butterfly is my favorite form of entertainment. I can’t wait to introduce them to their new sisters in a few short months.

Happy Gardening!


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Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Tarragon Dressing

I have a revolving front door. People come and go regularly. And when they come, they come hungry. To stay ahead of the game, I prepare a few salads that can either be eaten as a side dish or by themselves.

tarragon tomato salad with fields of fire

Preparing these salads in the beginning of the week, gives me versatility when it comes to feeding others as well as myself. As I dash around the house in the morning, it takes only a few additional moments to pack my lunch.

tarragon tomato salad with new jersey blush wine

This salad uses tarragon, an herb that I rarely cook with. Tarragon tastes similar to anise or black licorice with the essence of sweetness. I enjoyed this for lunch and then decided to take it on a picnic – what a hit!

tarragon tomato salad with new jersey blush wine


total time: 30 minutes    yield: 4 servings


  • 2 lbs green beans (mixed colors if you can) trimmed and cut diagonally into bite size pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots
  • 2 tbsp chopped tarragon
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice


  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them on a large baking sheet to cool. Pat dry.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the shallots and tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Place the beans and tomatoes in a large bowl, add the dressing and toss well. Transfer to a platter and serve.

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Marinated Eggplant Sandwich with Mozzarella and Soppressata

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Italy. Everything about Italy was fantastic; the scenery, the wine, the food…and the sandwiches were the best. Freshly-baked bread layered with honest, real ingredients.

Marinated Eggplant Sandwich

Often wrapped in butcher paper and served with a light drizzle of olive oil and vinegar – no soggy bread. These grab-and-go sandwiches became our staple lunch.

Marinated Eggplant Sandwich

Reminiscing about picnic lunches in Italy, I decided to whip up a batch of these at home this weekend. They were simple and flavorful. The perfect combination. I can’t wait for warmer weather and a blanket under a maple tree.


total time ~30 min       yield: 2 sandwiches 


  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sandwich rolls or bread of your choice
  • 1 jar (8 oz) roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry, and halved
  • 1 jar (8 oz) marinated eggplant, drained, patted dry, and halved
  • 6 slices of fresh mozzarella
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced soppressata
  • 1 cup of arugula
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the rolls in half and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted. Let bread cool.
  2. On one half of the roll, layer soppressata, mozzarella, eggplant, roasted red peppers, and arugula.
  3. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on the other half of the roll.
  4. Place sides together and cut roll in half. Enjoy!

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Lamb Moussaka

Lamb Moussaka with quinoa tabbouleh

I have been feeling restless lately, a little stuck. In pursuit of personal development, I have been pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

I learned a new knitting stitch, increased my running speed, and cooked a dish I love but have always been intimidated to prepare.

Lamb Moussaka with a traditional mornay sauce

Learning a new recipe often also means learning a few new culinary or food science tricks and tips. For this recipe I learned:

  1. If you add egg to a Mornay sauce* it allows the sauce to set, making it more like a custard. The trick here is patience. Once cooked, the custard must cool and set before you dig in. Trust me, it is worth the wait. Adding lemon zest brightens the cream or cheese sauce, the acidity balancing the richness.
    *Mornay sauce is a variation on Bechamel, with shredded or grated cheese.
  2. I also re-learned something I thought I knew. Oh knowledge is a funny thing. I thought the purpose behind salting eggplant was to simply extract the bitter water. I don’t mind this taste, so I never bother with this step. The science behind this never actually occurred to me. The extraction of water allows the eggplant to relax, preventing it from soaking up as much oil during cooking.

Pair lamb moussaka with a glass of Unionville Vineyards Syrah

Being a newbie, I let science overshadow my culinary gut instinct and underestimated the amount of oilstill needed to cook thin slices of un-breaded eggplant and prevent it from sticking to the pan.  Sticking can be prevented by being watchful and flipping it, something I neglected to do as I tried to multi-task.

This recipe may look a bit intense and have a fair amount of ingredients. I promise you it is worth the work and the wait. Break it down into it’s three components and it becomes manageable. This is a lesson I take out of the kitchen. By breaking down new tasks into smaller pieces, I am able to  focus one step at a time.

This rich dish can really go a long way. I serve it over white rice and either invite family over or prepare this in two smaller casserole dishes and freeze one. The Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah pairs well with lamb dishes such as this. Enjoy a glass with friends and family as you dig in.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

In what ways do you enjoy pushing yourself? Are there certain hobbies that you enjoy learning more about? Share below.



TOTAL TIME: ~2 HOURS       YIELD: 6 – 8



  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium or 2 large eggplant, sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano/marjoram
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1.5 lbs minced lamb (I found some great lamb at a neighboring farm in Hopewell, Beechtree Farm.)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 16oz can of tomato puree
  • ½ cup Unionville Vineyards Syrah
  • Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

For the Mornay:

  • 16 oz milk
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • ½ cup pecorino cheese, grated
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • the zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Cut the eggplant into quarter inch slices. Layer flat on a cookie sheet, salt each layer. Wait 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, if you are using lamb stew meat, cut the pieces bite sized. Then salt and pepper lamb and coat with ¼ of flour. Set aside.
  3. Rinse the eggplant and place in a colander to dry.
  4. Put eggplant slices on a well oiled baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Watch and flip slices as needed. Bake for about 20 minutes or until soft, golden and floppy.
  5. Meanwhile, put 2 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Cook the onion and garlic until browned and wilted. Cook the lamb. Add the cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan. Stir in the tomato and wine, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook for 30–40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season and stir in the parsley, oregano and thyme.
  6. Meanwhile, make the Mornay sauce. Melt the butter in another saucepan. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce, then stir in the cheese until melted. The feta cheese may take a little longer to melt. Turn the heat down low, and whisk vigorously every few minutes. This will prevent the sauce from burning and speed up the melting.
  7. Take the sauce off the heat and allow to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs, salt, pepper, lemon zest and and nutmeg to taste.
  8. Arrange a third of the eggplant in the base of an oven dish, and top with half the meat. Repeat these layers, then finish off with a layer of eggplant, and top with the sauce. Bake for about 45 minutes until well browned, and then leave to cool for 30 minutes before serving.
  9. Serve with quinoa tabbouleh and a glass of Unionville Vineyards Syrah.


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Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa Tabbouleh

I find eating local seasonal food to be a fun challenge. The summer is filled with fresh ingredients that inspire me to explore new recipes. The winter presents its own obstacle; keeping meals interesting with a limited ingredient list.

These past months, however, have felt long and more difficult than fun.  So, I decided to cheat and sneak a little green into my diet.

Tabbouleh with Fresh Herbs

Tabbouleh with Fresh Herbs

These light salads, filled with complex grains, beans, fresh herbs, and raw vegetables have become my lifeline. I eat heaping mounds on top of simple greens to balance the acorn squash soup or beef stew.

My tabbouleh salad tends to packs a punch. I am pretty heavy handed with the  amount of garlic and lemon juice/zest I use. Modify the recipe if you like a milder or wilder salad.

Use fresh lemon juice and garlic for extra flavor

Use fresh lemon juice and garlic for extra flavor



total time: 30 mins    yield: 6 servings
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 1 cup of dry quinoa
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • ⅔ cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ½ cup of chopped mint
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • cook quinoa – bring quinoa, ¼ tsp salt, and 1 ¼ cup of water to a boil over medium high heat to a boil. Lower heat to low and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil and fluff with a fork. Set aside to cook.
  • Meanwhile chop the vegetables and herbs and add to a medium mixing bowl.
  • When the quinoa is cooled add it to the mixing bowl.
  • Combine lemon juice, zest, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Whisk until the olive oil is fully incorporated.
  • Pour dressing over the salad and mix well.
  • Store in a airtight container in the fridge. The longer the salad sits, the better the flavors will be!



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Honey Roasted Chicken with Cranberry Relish

I always eat my condiments with food, not my food with condiments. Are french fries not merely a vehicle for the ketchup?

My recent obsession- honey mustard. Local honey simmered with fresh whole grain mustard – to die for.

Now honey mustard and chicken are a classic combination, but instead of a dipping sauce, simmer the chicken in the honey mustard with fresh herbs and dry white wine. The house will smell fantastic – drawing your family to the dinner table!

I prefer to cook this in a cast iron skillet, as a one pot meal. If you do not have a cast iron skillet, simply saute the onions and garlic in a standard skillet; then use a baking dish to cook your chicken.


total time: 45 minutes   yield: 4 servings


  • 3 tablespoons of dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of whole grain mustard or honey mustard of your choice
  • ½ tsp of fresh grated ginger
  • 2 sprigs of thyme and marjoram
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of Marsanne Roussanne
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced



  • 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste



  • Preheat your oven to 400F.
  • Mustard Rub: Combine mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Using your fingers or a brush work the rub into both sides of the chicken. Set aside
  • For the Sauce: Whisk together the mustards, honey, ginger, and olive oil into a small bowl and set aside
  • For the Chicken: Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in your cast iron skillet, or standard skillet, over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add your onions and garlic. Cook until golden brown or about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and sear for 2-3 minutes on both sides. Add the ¼ cup of wine and honey mustard sauce. Nestle in a few sprigs of fresh herbs and place in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until chicken has reached the internal cooking temperature.
  • Serve along side rice to soak up the honey mustard sauce. Enjoy with cranberry relish to brighten the dish and pair with Unionville Vineyards’ Marsanne Roussane!

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How to Make the Perfect Bechamel Sauce

Dress your favorite veggies in a bechamel sauce for added flavor and fun!

Dress your favorite veggies in a bechamel sauce for added flavor and fun!

A bechamel sauce, or white sauce, is the base to a fair number of delectable creamy dishes and once mastered, there is no stopping you! Add freshly grated cheese and turn your bechamel sauce into a mornay sauce, which can be used in a homemade macaroni and cheese or drizzle on top of broccoli for a kid friendly parent approved side dish.

Learning how to make a bechamel sauce was one of my greatest culinary feats.

At first I was so intimidated. While frantically stirring and juggling the flour, the pan, the whisk, the… I felt as if I either needed a third arm or for the whole process to slow down. To top it off, the recipes were all so precise, which can be challenging when you are a cook and not a baker. What is a measuring cup?

But with a little bit of practice, I mastered my own rhythm and you can too – I promise it is not that hard!  Below I will share with you a few of my secrets on how to make a perfect bechamel sauce every time.

I love making and eating this sauce almost as much as I love saying it. BEH shah mell Cooking is about feeding the body and the soul. It has to be fun.



Total Time: ~15 minutes   Yield: 1 cup


  • 1 tablespoon of all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • A dash of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp of mustard powder
  • 1 tsp of horseradish
  • 1 cup of milk at room temperature
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Required Cooking Tools:  1 medium sauce pan, a whisk, a fine mesh colander

As you play around with the methods and the recipe you may find you prefer using different tools.


  • To make a bechamel sauce, you begin by making a roux. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Melt butter of medium heat.

Melt butter of medium heat.

  • While the butter is melting, over a bowl to minimize mess, place one tablespoon of flour  into the fine mesh colander. You will lose some to the bowl, but that is okay.
  • Once the butter is melted, bring the colander to the pan and tap it a few times – try and cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer of flour. This method evenly distributes the flour and breaks apart clumps.
Use a fine-mesh colander to sift flour.

Use a fine-mesh colander to sift flour.

  • Return the colander back in the bowl and whisk the flour and butter together . Repeat this until there is no more flour in the colander and the flour butter mixture in the pan has created a solid mass. If you need to add more or less flour.
Allow the roux to toast - creating a nutty flavor.

Allow the roux to toast – creating a nutty flavor.

  • Let the roux toast for a minute or until golden brown.  Now it is time to make the bechamel sauce.
  • Add two tablespoons of milk to the pan and whisk. The flour will initially absorb the milk and do the opposite of what you are expecting – that is okay. Add another two tablespoons and whisk again.
Slowly add the milk and whisk!

Slowly add the milk and whisk!

  • You should begin to see the roux thinning. Continue to do this until the roux has been dissolved into the milk. Now you can add the rest of the milk.
  • Let it simmer for a minute, stir.
  • Add in the mustard powder, horseradish, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • If you want to make a mornay, or cheese sauce, now is when you can add the cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Enjoy!