Archive for December, 2015

Can You Say Duck?

Author: Meera, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year! What are you planning for your New Year’s Day dinner? Here on our Northern California farmette, we love a New Year’s meal of cracked crab, sourdough bread, and a crisp winter salad, but this year I think we’ll have duck instead.


Crab season in Northern California has been put on hold thanks to an unprecedented algae season. Our local Dungeness crab has become infected with domaic acid, a neurotoxin produced by the microscopic algae that can cause human illness and death. Testing continues until the crab is safe to eat.


In the meantime, crab is being imported to local stores and restaurants, but it is expensive. With other issues with salmon, sardines, shrimp, and tuna, a seafood shopper might turn to Safeway. The store now offers Fair Trade Certified seafood, in an effort to reduce the seafood/fishing industry’s human rights abuses. But if there’s crab, it’s not local.


There are many other options, but I wouldn’t mind a farm-raised (mind you, I don’t mean “factory-farm raised,” which I’m against), free-range duck for dinner. I was raised on a farm and my grandparents (who raised me for a period in my life) kept chickens, cows, pigs, and horses. Meat (like Boone County ham and, yes, pickled pigs feet) was part of our diet along with all the delicious vegetables and fruits my grandmother grew and in her various gardens and preserved in myriad ways.


Maybe the rest of our duck meal could include a winter salad with citrus, pears, goat cheese, and sugared pecans; roast potatoes, green beans, and a chocolate sheet cake. We’ve got sparkling cider and wine. That sounds pretty good, but it isn’t crab, which is really the meal with which we wanted to start 2016. So, I guess duck will have to do.



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Raisin-Walnut Molasses Cookies

Author: Meera, December 27, 2015

I’ve been going through my mom’s old cookbooks, organizing recipes she’d written down on scraps of paper and tucked inside. Finding one for molasses cookies on a holiday card inside her Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, I decided to bake a batch. They turned out lovely so I packed a few in festive boxes along with sugar cookies to give as gifts between Christmas and New Years.



These cookies benefit from a dusting of turbinado or muscovado sugar while still warm

These cookies benefit from a dusting of turbinado or muscovado sugar while still warm


Raisin-Walnut Molasses Cookies





3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (softened)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1 egg

3/4 cup raisins

3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped


Directions for Mixing:


Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a bowl.

Put butter and sugar in a medium bowl of an electric mixer and cream together until fluffy.

Pour molasses and egg into the butter/sugar mixture.

Add 1/3 the flour/spice mixture at a time to the creamed butter and sugar until all has been added and well blended.

Add the nuts and raisins and mix well.


Directions for Baking:


Set oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until ready to sue (at least 1 to 2 hours)

Divide the dough into thirds.

Work with one ball of dough at a time to roll and bake the cookies.

Place dough onto a work surface that has been sifted with flour.

Roll out the dough.

Cut out the cookies with a cookie or biscuit cutter.

Space cookies 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool.


*Optional: dust with turbinado or muscovado sugar while cookies are still warm.

Store in an air-tight container.





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Why Use a Screened Bottom Board in the Hive?

Author: Meera, December 21, 2015

When beekeepers see signs that the population of Varroa destructor mites are increasing in the hive, they will take action to reduce the mite population. One way they can track mite levels is by using a screened bottom board.



A close monitoring of a screened bottom board can give a beekeeper a good idea of whether or not the mite population is increasing or decreasing in the hive.



Queen cell that houses the queen who is feed royal jelly until she emerges

The queen bee in a hive  gets a special house that looks like a thimble on its side



Mites fall through the screen to the ground. A screened bottom board stretches across a platform that the hive box sits on.



When the mites in a hive fall on solid bottoms in a hive box, they can ride back up into the interior of the hive on other bees. A great article for building your own screened bottom board can be found at



The use of a screened bottom board prevents bees returning upwards in the hive. One sign of mites at work in a hive are wings missing from newly emerged baby bees. There are other signs as well.


For lots of interesting bee “stuff” as well as farming tips and delicious recipes, check out my newest novel, A BEELINE TO MURDER.


Now available online and from brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. See,




The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series




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Making Holiday Mandelbrot

Author: Meera, December 20, 2015

Before my husband passed away at 46 from complications after a heart transplant, he used to accompany our son and his boy scout troop to Dodge Ridge for an annual ski trip (depending on the snow levels). The mandelbrot (twice-baked biscotti) I packed for them was always a hit, and each year the scouts would request it.


Making this biscotti has become an annual tradition for me at this time of year. I usually make several batches, dividing the dough into equal size balls first and then molding them into logs for baking. Mandelbrot is a Yiddish word, meaning almond bread (“mandel” for almond, “brot” for bread).



Mandelbrot in a festive holiday box on on a pretty plate makes gift-giving easy

Mandelbrot served on a festive holiday plate or in a tissue-lined box makes a welcome gift




The pieces should be stored in an airtight container for gift-giving or for parsing out over the holidays with a hot cup of tea or mulled wine (my favorite mulled wine recipe relies on a ratio of 6-2-1 of claret, cider, and orange juice, plus honey and spices and citrus peel).


Our Family Favorite Mandelbrot





1 cup sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

dash of salt

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (alternatively: pecans or walnuts)




The logs should be evenly spaced on the oiled cookie sheet

The logs should be evenly spaced on the oiled cookie sheet





Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Spray oil over a baking sheet.

Cream together sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla, and almond flavoring in the large bowl of an electric mixer.

Add flour, baking powder, salt, poppy seeds, and nuts and blend well.

Divide the dough into three equal balls.

Roll each ball in your hands to make a long roll, the length of the cookie sheet.

Repeat the process with the remaining two balls.

Place the three rolls at least 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet (they’ll expand and flatten slightly during the baking).

Bake for 20 minutes (the rolls will appear golden brown)

Remove from heat and let cool while you make the topping.



Cinnamon sugar topping will give the biscotti its sweetness

Cinnamon sugar topping will give the biscotti its sweetness




Whisk together 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon until thoroughly blended.

Sprinkle the rolls with the cinnamon-sugar topping.

Return the biscotti to the oven for approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove and let cool.

Make 2-inch wide slashes on the diagonal.

Store the biscotti in an airtight container.




For more delicious recipes, farming tips, and a cozy whodunnit, check out my newest novel, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online and brick-and-mortar stores.



The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series
The first cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series by Meera Lester, from Kensington Books


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Peanut Butter Cookies

Author: Meera, December 11, 2015

I sometimes have to resort to bribes to get a helping hand with farmette chores. A bribe that nearly always works is the promise of freshly baked , homemade cookies.



These cookies are characterized by a golden brown color and lovely texture

These cookies are characterized by a golden brown color and lovely texture



The old standard peanut butter cookie is a family favorite. These cookies are easy-peasy to make and bake. Best of all, they’re delicious. If they aren’t devoured the same day they’re made, they tend to get a little crisper with time.


Peanut Butter Cookies




8 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup chunky peanut butter

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (or foil)




Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Cream the butter and peanut butter with the sugars until smooth.

Add one egg at a time to the mix, beating after each addition.

Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixture of wet ingredients.

Make each cookie by rolling 1 teaspoon of the dough at a time.

Place cookies about 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Flatten with  the tines of a fork or bottom of a jar.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes.

Slide paper from pans to racks and let cool.

Store in a cookie tin or a container with a tight-fitting lid (place wax paper between cookie layers).




For more recipes, farming tips, and craft ideas, check out my newest book, A BEELINE TO MURDER. This hardcover book makes gift-giving easy. Available online and a brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. See,




The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series





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While others worry about getting sand bags in the event of rising storm water, my hubby and I went to the DIY store to buy some drywall early today. We are working hard on the small bedroom in our little house. Getting the drywall inside before the rain arrives was a priority. I’ll be so disappointed if the storm doesn’t bring rain to the Bay Area.



Last year, rain pooled in places because we hadn't finished putting the gravel down

Last year, rain pooled in places around our property (among them, the driveway) because we hadn’t finished putting loads of gravel down



We have a decent gravel driveway that we finally put in. Flooding hasn’t been a problem. Our chickens don’t mind the rain either. Instead of huddling together in their dry little designer chicken house, they prefer looking for the worms and bugs that show up during and after a storm.



Who minds wet feathers when there are worms to be found after a rainstorm?

Who minds wet feathers when there are worms to be found after a rainstorm?



Also, I’ve been tapping away on my computer keyboard, pounding out my latest mystery-in-progress. I had a pretty good idea come to me after I woke up this morning. That means my mind is working creatively even when I’m not typing words. I’m plotting and visualizing scenes and scenarios, making linkage and associations. This novel will be number three in my Henny Penny Farmette series, and I’m pretty excited about it.



While the work continues on the house and on my book, I’m also getting ready make up holiday baskets for family and friends, searching for lovely boxes, baskets, and cookie tins.



But I think that if this big storm that’s been forecast to arrive in the wee hours of the morning does arrive on schedule, I’ll spend an extra hour in bed tomorrow. I love sleeping in when a storm is howling outside my window. Sleep and rest nourish my little gray cells, too, meaning I might be more prolific at writing, carpentry, and crafting.  So bring on the storm.


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Family and friends may love the hustle and bustle of holiday activities but often are too tired at the end of the day to cook. There’s a simple solution. Before leaving the house, someone needs to assemble a stew or meal that simmers all day in a slow cooker.





A hearty bean and beef stew is garnished with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and fresh Italian parsley

A hearty bean and beef stew is garnished with a dash of extra virgin olive oil, Italian parsley, and coarsely ground black pepper



The process is simple. Choose your meal, put the ingredients in a slow cooker, turn it on, and forget about it until you are ready to feed your gang at the end of the day.



Slow cookers are terrific tools for making tasty stews like apple chicken, Mexican pork and hominy, and red beans with Cajun  sausages. Or, make a corned beef and cabbage dish with carrots and potatoes. Beef stroganoff, pepper steak, and even clam chowder or a fish stew taste sublime when cooked slowly for several hours.


Serve your hot meal alongside a simple salad. Choose perhaps broccoli slaw with chopped apples and pears, segments of seedless tangerines, and a handful of sliced almonds. Drizzle or spritz with Asian Sesame Ginger dressing. Put out slices of French bread and possibly a platter of cheese.



Right before serving the meal, sprinkle the hot food with some fresh herbs, a dash of olive oil, some shaved cheese, or coarsely ground black pepper. What could be easier?




For more delicious farmhouse recipes, tips for keeping honeybees and chickens, growing heirloom vegetables, and tending fruit trees, check out my latest book, A BEELINE TO MURDER.




Released in hardcover, the book makes a great gift for holidays, birthdays, and other celebratory events. Available online and a brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. See,




The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series

The first cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series by Meera Lester, from Kensington Books







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My farmette looks like some kind of ghostly haunt after sunset. That’s because of all the bed linen I’ve draped over citrus trees and frost-sensitive plants. On moonless nights, the backyard looks like a gathering of ghosts illuminated by the warming lamp in hanging in the hen house.



Orange and tangerine trees draped against freezing temperatures

Orange and tangerine trees draped with bed linen to protect them against freezing temperatures



That heat lamp splays light across the back of the property. I didn’t realize right away that the claw marks in the dirt near the chicken run are from a large raccoon who, thanks to the light, now knows exactly where to find the chickens and has come prowling over the last few nights. My locks and the buried wire fencing of the chicken run are keeping the hens safe.



For the last few mornings, the water in the Italian fountain (the motor is turned off now) has been frozen and doesn’t thaw until mid-morning. Still, I see wild birds bathing in it. And we have plenty of wild birds now, thanks to twenty pounds of bird seed we’ve poured into feeders around the property.



I’m looking forward to the weather changing again in a couple of days–rain is on the way. The last storm brought a new blooms to the roses and caused the daffodils and some summer tulips to push up green shoots.



Since some of my trees perform better with a good winter chilling, I feel obliged to appreciate the cold. Besides, I can stay inside and bake, read books and seed catalogs, and write on my third cozy mystery novel.



Book and its author

Book (left) and its author (right)

If you enjoy reading about farmette life, you might like the farmette milieu featured in A Beeline to Murder, the first book in my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries. See,



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