Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Best Key Lime Pie in Arizona

Have you ever gotten a thought in your head that just gets stuck there? To the point that it becomes a quest, an obsession? Like one time when I visited my friend Marty in Houston, and we heard somebody mention the phrase "Rueben sandwich". It became an obsession for us that we just had to find the best Rueben sandwich in the city. We drove 30 minutes, paid way more than we were willing to pay, and the obsession was quenched. 

It happened more recently to me. About a year ago somebody started talking about key lime pie. Key lime pie has always been one of my favorites, but that conversation began a nearly year-long quest to find the best key lime pie in the state. 

What makes a great key lime pie? It takes a lot. It needs to have a good balance between the key lime custard and the whipped cream. It needs to have a good balance of tartness and sweetness (in my opinion too many key lime pies err on the side of sweetness, which ruins the key lime pie), with the best key lime pies having a tartness that gets you in your jaw. It needs to have a strong lime flavor, and it must have a great graham cracker crust. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Backyard Chickens in Arizona

I've had several readers reach out to me asking about a chicken update. Initially I was waiting for our chickens to all be laying, but then I got wrapped up in making sure my chickens are not dying with the heat we're experiencing in Phoenix. I had no idea how much work it is to keep chickens alive in the midst of a 30-days-above-110-degrees-in-a-row streak. But it's a lot of work. 

We got our first egg in May. We were having dinner on our patio with some friends, and a chicken started squawking like it was being murdered. We eventually found a soft shelled egg, and we were excited. Then I got impatient that one of our chickens was laying, but the others were not. Over the next four weeks or so, our Ameraucanas all got into line. It was fun finding these blue eggs around. 

Side note. I built a chicken coop with nesting boxes. Guess what. None of our Ameraucanas wanted to lay in the nesting boxes. I know there are ways to force them to lay there (mainly locking them in the coop for a couple of days until they're in the habit of laying in there), but 1) it was too hot to keep them in the coop, 2) I didn't want them not to have access to all of the grass and bugs they were in the habit of eating, and 3) my family and I kind of enjoy looking around the yard for the chicken eggs. It's like an Easter egg hunt, but every day. Plus, the chickens all tend to lay in the same place every day, so we have our four spots to check out daily as we look for eggs. 

The Australorps were a different story. We got our first brown egg from one of them almost a month after we got our first blue egg. I was pretty impatient, but a friend of mine reminded me that people all develop at different speeds, and chickens are the same. But by the time we had a brown eggs, all three Ameraucanas were laying. We started getting three to four eggs per day, which meant that we were now ready to start substituting store bought eggs with our backyard eggs. 

And then the heat came in like a fiery demon dragon. We are currently in a record breaking heatwave, and keeping chickens alive is no joke. I've got the entire coop open up, with fans blowing air throughout the night (which makes it like a convection oven rather than a regular oven). I set up a misting system around our trees which we turn on each afternoon. This gives the chickens some coolness and really seems to help. We have umbrellas set up around the areas in which they lay, since the bird brains can't seem to stay out of the sun when they're laying eggs. And we give them frozen treats when we can. They love frozen watermelon set in water. So far, all of these things seem to be working, and we haven't lost a chicken. Fingers crossed that things will cool off and our chickens will survive. 

So where are we now with things? Chickens are supposed to slow down their laying in the summer, but we're getting 3-5 eggs per day. We are moving umbrellas around the yard 23 times per day to keep our chickens in the shade while they're laying. We have exactly 14 water containers around the yard so they will stay hydrated. And two of my three kids love the chickens and cuddle them as often as they can (the other one is terrified of their dinosaur feet and their beady eyes). I had no idea how pet-like they would be. 

And they all have names. They are: 

- Goldilocks (the first one to lay an egg)
- Chikera
- Kylee Henner
- Hei Hei (this one may or may not have had brain damage as a chick - very quirky)
- Not Hei Hie
- Ha Ha

Are chickens a lot of work? Kind of. I guess it really depends on the weather and how close to dying they are. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Aside from the wonderful eggs that we get from them, their poop is like garden gold. When my son cleans out the chicken coop and dumps the chicken poop into the compost, we all get excited for the high levels of nitrogen it's adding (okay, maybe I'm the only one in our house that gets excited about chicken poop). 

So if you're contemplating backyard chickens, you would get a hearty Renaissance Dad thumbs up! 

Happy chickening! 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Easy Homemade Pickles

As an avid gardener, I don't always make the best decisions when I am planting my biannual garden (in Arizona we have two planting seasons, spring and fall - double the fun!). Sometimes I see something at the nursery that I think I would like to try out, but it comes in a six pack of transplants. And instead of using what I want and composting the rest, I tend to find a place to plant everything. 
So this summer we ended up with six Armenian cucumber plants. If you don't know what an Armenian cucumber is, think of a normal cucumber and then multiply it by 11. Some of our cucumbers have been more than two feet long, and all of our cucumber plants have been abundant. At the prime picking a few weeks ago we were pulling off four or five cucumbers per day. That's a lot of cucumber! 

When I took one to my neighbor, he sent me a great recipe for homemade pickles. I have since modified it and added a key upgrade. This is great for Armenian cucumbers. Here's how to make it. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Beautiful Accent Wall in a Teen Room Makeover

I started writing Renaissance Dad in 2014. My kids were one, three, and five at the time. Now, 9 years later, they are 10, 12, and 14 (see how quickly I did that math!). My girls were little girls, and now they are young women. My son couldn't walk, and now he's jumping off of the trampoline and breaking bones. And my beard. Not a single gray hair back then... 

How we all feel at Ikea...
So when my girls recently said that they wanted to change their room, painting over the little-girl yellow and green walls and replacing the butterfly ceiling fan, my inner Renaissance Dad shed a tear. And then I shed a few

Monday, April 17, 2023

Gazpacho: An Authentic Spanish Soup

The idea of cold tomato soup never quite appealed to me. I pictured in my mind a frosty can of condensed, gelatinous sludge. Gross.

But when I studied in Spain, my host family made gazpacho. Being the courteous young man that I was, I went to Spain planning on trying everything at least once (this only backfired one time when I ate a slice of pickled pigs cheek, which was as disgusting as it sounds. No offense to anybody who likes pickled pigs cheek). So as I took the first bite of gazpacho, I had low expectations. But boy was it delicious. I was sold, and upon returning to the States, I started making gazpacho for anybody I could convince to try it.