Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chickens: Hard-to-Diagnose Balance Problems

Monday will mark our fall batch of chicks' third week of existence (time in the egg notwithstanding), and all seventeen are still alive and kicking.  And flapping and scratching and pooping.  Sixteen of the seventeen are in good spirits, but starting on Monday, one of the rangers started having balance problems.  Assuming he wasn't drunk, we started looking for other culprits.

There are no discharges from the eyes or beak, and the chick is still eating and drinking (and pooping) well.  It's smaller than the other rangers, but is alert and peeps.  Not the shrill 'I'm-very-uncomfortable-right-now' peep, or the 'Help! I've-been-caught-by-a-human!' squawk, but normally the 'I'm-a-chicken-and-I'm-ok' peep. It seems a little front-heavy, and has an easier time moving backwards than forwards.  It can sit on its haunches and stand up tall just fine.  Half the time it can walk ok, but it limps.  After a a few minutes walking around, it will fall over as if its shoelaces were tied together.  Then it can't get up.  It kicks and kind of flaps, but can't right itself unless there's a wall or helping hand nearby to nudge its body back over its feet a little.  It's definitely not spaddle-legged, and the feet actually seem to be aligned pretty well.  There are no cuts or bruises or anything.  It's just sometimes one foot doesn't take a step when it's supposed to.  The problem also just showed up this week.  We concluded, therefore, that it doesn't seem to be a disease or a birth defect, but rather a muscle, tendon, or joint problem, and must have happened during an acrobatic maneuver malfunction involving the trough feeder.  (That's the chickens' only toy, other than an occasional bug with the misfortune to wander by.)

Fortunately, muscles, tendons and joints are Katie's specialty.  She normally works with humans, but how much different could a chicken be?  Katie eval'd the chick, but couldn't discern any differences between the chick's two legs, or between the legs of this chick and other (healthy) chicks.  Remaining puzzled, we turned to the internets.  It seems that many fowl experts suggest keeping birds with such problems off of their feet for a few days to a few weeks, usually with some kind of sling or hammock thing.  The Poultry Podiatry sites here and here were the most comprehensive we could find, although our chicks' symptoms didn't quite match up with anything there (except for maybe toxoplasmosis, but we haven't seen any cats--the only natural carriers--around here since we moved in, and we're not willing to spend a visit to the vet and/or drug store for a bird that won't see its eleven-week anniversary, anyway).  A couple sites specializing in other types of fowl (here and here)were also helpful in some aspects.

We tried a variety of slings (hence the missed post on Thursday), but failed to construct anything that the little guy couldn't wriggle out of (remember that he can do most standard chicken maneuvers fine a good fraction of the time).  The poultry podiatry site noted that an alternative to a sling is a chicken donut, or a chicken cup type thing.  We also noticed that the chick was comfortable supporting its own weight and didn't make a stink (figuratively, anyway) if stabilized on the sides.  Although we didn't get to the point of making a 'kick stand' shown in the second-to-last link above, we found that if we had a tall-enough pail with a wide-enough base, that the chick would stay fairly relaxed and vertical.  It made many fewer escape attempts.  And so, our solution for the short term is this:

The container is a trimmed-down plant pot from the grocery store with an old sock coiled in the bottom.  (Yes, we caved in and bought a live, full-grown basil plant that we planted in the ground.  We know it's kind of cheating, but we were desperate for fresh herbs from our garden and it was already August when we moved in!)  And since we kept asking the chick what his symptoms all mean, it made sense to name it Basil.  It's the only ranger with a name, and guess what it will also be seasoned with when we cook it in a few months!
The thing most driving Basil's attempts to escape from his donut is his desire to range with the other rangers.  We also only have one heat lamp, so we set him up in the brooder box with a sort of sky box thing so at least he can see the other chicks and stay warm, or survey his minions from his donut-throne.  Perhaps his full name should be King Basil the Gimpy.  Hopefully he's not a hen.  That would be awkward.
On a side note, Saturday was the chicks' first day outside.  We set up a few pallet-type things for free from a mattress company (via Craigslist) as a fence to expand the coldframe, and let them go for a few hours in the afternoon.  Final tally (that we saw): six slugs, two worms, eight dandelion leaf bits, and a grasshopper.

Have your chickens had similar symptoms?  Do you know what caused them?  How did you treat them?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ohh, Die Schöne Schnitzelbank

Not many folks have heard of the German word 'schnitzelbank,' which, despite its obscurity, is actually a very versatile word.  Traditionally, 'schnitzelbank' refers to an old-timey woodworking bench used to clamp a piece of wood into position in order to shave it down into an axe handle or something similar (bank = bench, and schnitzeln = to cut into small pieces).  Later on, the schnitzelbank became the focus point in the chorus of a short humorous song.  Since the song had (has) an accompanying poster that was frequently displayed in bars, singing the song was presumably accompanied by imbibing copious amounts of alcohol.  More recently, the schnitzelbank song was reprised by one of the most talented music groups of the 1990s, the Animaniacs (which is how we learned of it).

We would like to suggest another meaning for 'schnitzelbank.'  When learning German, before we learned the verb 'schnitzeln,' we learned the noun 'Schnitzel,' which means, 'breaded and fried cutlet of meat' (of which there are many kinds).  Also, before we learned that 'bank' means 'bench,' we learned that 'bank' means 'bank,' as in, 'a place for storing pecuniary deposits'.  Thus, our first inclination would be to translate 'schnitzelbank' as, 'a place for storing breaded and fried meat cutlets.'  (This interpretation was in part based on the main character in the Animaniacs' sketch, Otto, who looked as if he could be storing many schnitzels in his gut.)

As part of our waste reduction efforts, we began saving bread crumbs and stale bread in jars in the freezer, which we affectionately referred to as our 'schnitzel savings account,' since we were saving them up to make a big batch of schnitzel when we had enough.  From there, it only took a couple weeks of singing the schnitzelbank song in the shower to realize that we had a new way of translating this wonderful German word.  And finally, this weekend, we decided it was time to break open our breaded piggy bank and make some schnitzel.

Crumbs on the counter from slicing bread for sandwiches?  Add them to the...
...schnitzelbank!  Looks like we might have enough here.  Not all of these crumbs were from small deposits like the one above--some stale bread and hot dog buns that didn't turn out very well are also in there.
Time to turn the big crumbles into little crumbs.  By far the fastest and easiest tool we know of for this task is the blender.
Ooh!  Look at that uniform particle size distribution.
Now we need three containers: one with flour, one with beaten eggs, and one with the bread crumbs, to which we add the seasonings.  We used about three-quarters of a cup of bread crumbs, seasoned with two teaspoons each of garlic powder and pepper, one teaspoon salt, and some chives.  Katie says, "the chives would probably work better if you chopped them up."
Now we just need some meat!  This is about a one-pound pork loin roast, which we'll trim up and slice.  First take off the thick layer of fat, if there is one (front left).  If there's a layer of connective tissue underneath the fat, we've found it pretty easy to remove with the following technique:
Flip the roast upside-down so that the layer you want to trim is on the bottom.  Then press down on the roast while using the knife to shave off the bottom sixteenth of an inch or so, using the flat cutting board surface as a guide.  Just like removing the skin from a fish fillet.
Clean up any spots you didn't catch, and you'll have a nice clean roast to slice!  Also, don't throw out the fat you trimmed off--we'll make soap with it next weekend!
Slice up the roast as thin as you can (about a quarter inch or so)--often times the slices are pounded to make them even thinner, but we've got a nice tender pork loin to start with, so we'll just leave it unpounded.  Then dredge each slice in the flour...
...then the egg, which will stick to the flour better than just the meat...
...then the seasoned bread crumbs.  Use a pair of tongs for these steps, or your fingers will accumulate several layers of breading.  As tasty as your fingers would be if you fried them (Katie says, "Don't try that."), your dexterity will be considerably less.
For us, it really whets our appetite to collect the cutlets on a plate.  Doesn't that look nice?
Meanwhile, get some oil heating in a frying pan (or butter if you're feeling really naughty), about a quarter to a half inch in the bottom.  It will still work if your stove isn't level.  (We'll prove it below!)  We put it on medium heat, and it turned out to be about right.  We're not sure what the actual temperature was, but since it worked, we'll say it was probably around 370 °F.
When the oil is hot enough, add some of the cutlets to the pan.  If the stove isn't level, make sure to swish the oil around once the cutlets are in.  Also, make sure to include the littlest pieces left over at the end of the slicing operation (schnitzelettes?) in the first batch, so you can sample right away after the first batch.  When cooked meat starts to show through the top around the edges as the first side is cooking (3-4 minutes), flip the pieces and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Collect the finished pieces on a plate.  If plates could feel emotion, this one would probably be a happy plate.
Meanwhile, slice and saute a pound of mushrooms, and make a white sauce.  For the white sauce, we melted a half-stick (four tablespoons) of butter and stirred in two heaping teaspoons of flour to make kind of a light roux, then added a cup and a half of milk, a quarter teaspoon salt, and a teaspoon each of pepper, garlic powder, and Katie's Fox Point seasoning (see below).
Top the schnizel with the mushroom sauce and serve with steamed broccoli, roasted root veggies, and pineapple juice left over from making egg grog.  Is that caprice salad on the back plate?  Ooh, that would go good with this, too.  Ist das nicht ein tasty pile?  Ja, das ist ein tasty pile!  Does it nicht make Katie smile?  Ja, it does make Katie smile!  Ohh, die schöne Schnitzelbank!
If there's any of the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs left after breading all the cutlets, mix 'em together and fry 'em up!  They make pretty good croutons, or seasonings for sprinkling on macaroni and cheese, or lots of other things, too!

The Recipe:
0.25 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
0.75 cups bread crumbs, seasoned with:
   2 teaspoons pepper
   2 teaspoons garlic powder
   1 teaspoon salt
   1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 lb pork loin roast, trimmed and sliced thin
oil for frying

4 tablespoons butter
2 heaping teaspoons flour
1.5 cups milk
1 lb mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Katie's fox point seasoning (1 part salt, 2 parts each garlic powder and pepper, 3 parts green onion powder)
0.25 teaspoon salt

Add oil to frying pan to give 0.25" thick layer and heat to frying temperature (370 °F or so).  While oil is heating, arrange flour, beaten eggs, and seasoned bread crumbs in separate containers, and dredge slices of pork loin first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs.  When oil is heated, fry cutlets in oil until meat begins to change color on top side around edges, then flip and cook opposite side for roughly the same amount of time.  To make sauce, slice and saute mushrooms in oil, set aside.  In small saucepan, melt butter.  When butter is boiling, add flour, stir until mixture is brown and aromatic.  Add milk and seasonings, cook until thick, and stir in mushrooms.  Serve sauce over schnitzel, along with roasted root veggies, steamed broccoli, caprice salad, and pineapple juice.  May substitute broccoli, caprice salad, and pineapple juice with veggies and beverage of your choice.

What's your favorite kind of schnitzel?  How do you prepare your bread crumbs?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Egg Grog

NOTE: This entire post must be read with gruff, vaguely old-English pronunciation.

Ahoy, ye scallywags!  If ye been payin' yer dues 'n readin' our tales o' gold-bellied egg drinks strong enough to rot yer chompers, ye know that we hafta set a holiday in this, the first fall month o' September, to honor with a new flavor o' eggnog.  And ye may have also noticed that today be the perfect day fer it, what with it bein' International Talk Like A Pirate day 'n all.  Now every good pirate knows that the best bit about bein' a pirate isn't the lootin' or the cutlasses, but is instead Ham Nite.  Ye may have noticed in the clips that afore the cap'n settled on Ham Nite, grog was in the runnin' to be the best bit o' the pirate life.

A normal grog is mix o' hot water, citrus juice (to keep the scurvy away), cinnamon, and honey.  And o' course, lots o' rum.  What the recipes above be missin', though, is the egg.  With the recipe below, ye can be sure that the best bit o' bein' a pirate would o' been the egg grog.  Should ye see fit, ye can follow the treasure map below to find some egg grog right in yer own kitchen.

Ye best start as afore, with six cackle-fruits, separatin' the yolks from their shells and whites, beatin' 'em like a bilge rat 'til they be thick and light gold, and mixin' in a pint and a half o' milk, or thereabouts.  If ye be from the Royal Navy, heat it up to 160 °F to kill any salmonella that might be lurkin' in yer eggs.  Real pirates with no fear o' Davy Jones' locker skip to the next step.
Add in a few pinches o' cinnamon, a quarter pint o' honey, an eighth pint o' frozen pineapple juice concentrate, and as much rum as ye see fit.  The exact measurements aren't important, lads--we're makin' a pirate brew here.  Mix it all together as if it were a giant whirlpool ready to swallow a ship whole.
When ye add the pineapple and rum, there's a good chance that some o' the milk and egg will take to separatin' from the mixture.  Should that occur, pull out yer electric trident and blend it back together.  Some scurvy landlubbers have come to call their electric tridents 'stick blenders,' but named them The Kraken for the purposes o' this post.
When yer grog has an acceptable disposition, pour it into yer steins and throw some shredded coconut on the top.  Ye can think of it as white seaweed or calamari if ye like.  'Tis a grand booty.
The Recipe:
6 cackle-fruits, just the yolks
1.5 pints (3 c.) milk
0.5 teaspoons cinnamon
0.25 pints (0.5 c.) honey
0.125 pints (0.25 c.) pineapple juice concentrate
Shredded coconut

Beat the yolks 'til they be thick and bright gold, then mix in the milk.  Heat to 160 °F if ye see fit.  Mix in honey, cinnamon, pineapple juice concentrate and rum.  Beat until it's frothy as flotsam.  Top with coconut and take a hearty swig, mates!  Shiver me timbers, that's good!

Be ye ready to take to a life at sea for the egg grog alone?  What be yer favorite pirate brew?  Don't swing the lead, mates--let us know in the comments section asunder!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

New Chick Antics

Our new batch of chicks is now almost a week old, and we've been having a good time watching them.  It's much more entertaining than TV, and better acting, too.  There are seventeen of them, so there are always a few active ones, even if most of them are passed out with their beaks in the wood chips.  Of the seventeen, sixteen are red ranger broilers, which have down in various shades of yellow and red.  The other is a mystery chick, which has gray down, and is smaller than the rangers.  (The rationale, in case you're interested, is that the minimum order from McMurray was fifteen chicks, there was a discount price per chick at sixteen, and they throw in a free rare-breed chick if you like.  The idea is probably to encourage folks to keep the genetics of the rare breeds going, although our rare breed mystery chick is liable to be well-done long before it gets the chance to pass on its genes.  We just wanted to get the most potential meat for our buck.  Don't tell Murray!)

Here's all seventeen milling around.  At one week old, they are bite-size.  The brooder box is kind of like a dynamic game of Where's Waldo, except it's Where's the Gray One?  (Where's Gandalf?)  As a side note, the chips seem to be working well as a replacement for pine shavings.
The gray one is also faster than the rangers.  Yesterday, we dropped a worm into the brooder box, and the gray one picked it up and started running around, as chickens are wont to do when they have bitten off more than they can chew.  The idea is (apparently) that another chicken will try to catch whatever is sticking out of the first chicken's beak, which cuts the big bite into smaller bites.  The problem in this instance is that the gray one with the worm was too good at this game.  It was running around the box ducking and weaving in between the other chicks, hopping across the feeder, flapping and chirping and making a scene, but none of the other chicks could catch it!  They were trying, but it was like a tiny, feathered Barry Sanders cutting through the Cowboys defense in a Thanksgiving Day football game.  Eventually it realized no one was going to catch it and stopped to peck at the worm itself.  Sort of like a touchdown dance.

This picture is to show the contrast between the gray one and the rest of them.  The feeder is never this crowded--they must have decided they all wanted to be in the picture, but then not really since most of them turned away.  Where's Gandalf?  Oh, there he is, to the left, standing on one of the other chicks.  Any ideas what kind it might be?

Today, we also had a first: chicken farts.  We hadn't seen (or heard) it before, so we googled it.  Sure enough, it's a fairly common phenomenon.  As long as the chicks aren't showing other signs of distress (which ours aren't), it seems like it's not a problem if they learn to chirp from both ends.  (The link has plenty of entertaining anecdotes about other livestock with similar talents.)

As long as we're on the topic of chicken digestive health, we wanted to pass along a couple helpful links related to the subject:

The famous illustrated (photographed?) guide to chicken poop.  (Someone should probably organize those photos into a periodic table-type thing.  Who wouldn't hang one of those on their living room wall?)

Chicken digestive system explained.

Do you have any chickens with unique digestive skills?  Do you have any other favored links related to chicken digestion?  Tell us about them in the comments section below!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Streamlining the Search for Free Materials

One of the best things the Internet has done for modern homesteaders (and the Earth in general) is to facilitate the exchange of materials between the people who have them and the people who want them (rather than the people who have them and the landfills).  This type of materials exchange could be said to be the benevolent twin of peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted music and movies, in a way.  A specific example on our homestead comes from the fact that building materials always seem to be in especially high demand.  (Almost as high demand as time!)  It turns out that purchasing wood new from the hardware store becomes costly rather quickly, and consequently, that much better deals can be found by exploring what one's neighbors are already looking to discard on Craigslist, Freecycle, or any number of other similar websites.

The challenge is finding good deals or worthwhile free stuff in a timely manner.  The best deals often have a window of availability shorter than an hour, with posters receiving a truly amazing number of responses as soon as the post goes live.  How do so many people find the post so quickly?  Do they spend all their time sitting on Craigslist hitting the refresh button on their search results?  The answer is, "probably not", and to compete with them, you don't have to, either.  In the long run, you will save a lot of searching time by doing the same thing they do: setting up automatic notifications on the items for which you have a chronic need (like lumber) or an acute but not completely urgent need (like a couch).

There are probably many ways to do that (including the RSS button hidden at the bottom of Craigslist search pages), but we recently found one that seems quite robust (thanks to a tip from the comments section here) and we're excited to tell everyone about it.  It's called IFTTT, which stands for, "If This Then That", like a logical statement.  There are actually hundreds of things IFTTT can do for you, but we basically use it to send us an e-mail when a new post fits our search criteria on Craigslist.  It works kind of like this:

The e-mail contains the information in the new posting.  There's also an IFTTT app for i-phones (apparently not for other types), but if you can check e-mail on your phone (i.e. if your phone can handle apps at all), there's really no benefit for the app that we can see.  (Maybe we're missing something--we're definitely not experts on the subject.)

This type of updating is obviously most valuable in highly populated areas with a lot of posting and a high demand for used stuff, but can still save time (and moolah) in more rural locations if projects are planned ahead of time so a 'materials checklist' can be programmed into IFTTT.

This is getting a little off-track, but the channels on IFTTT allow one to become part of his very own Rube Goldberg-like machine.  Consider the following example:

*Assembling hamburgers and juicing oranges have previously been tasks required in the national Rube Goldberg Machine contest.

In any case, we're excited to have found a way to automatically notify us of updates to our most common Craigslist searches, and thought you might be interested, too.

Are there any other ways you automate notifications of good deals on homestead essentials?  How else has the internet helped your homesteading efforts?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Fancy New Brooder Box

Once we knew where we were going to be moving, and that it had a big yard, and that our landlords and neighbors were super cool about livestock, we had the easy decision to raise a batch of meat chickens this fall.  At an elevation of around 5600 feet, however, we decided not to risk raising the traditional cornish cross broilers, which can tend to have some trouble at high elevations.   We went instead with red ranger broilers from McMurray, and we'll see how they do.  We're planning to butcher before Thanksgiving, which will give them a maximum of ten weeks, a little less than they usually get, because they're coming this week.  This week?!  That means we better get a brooder box ready!

We were going to build it out of free pallet wood, but didn't collect enough in time.  So, a quick trip to Home Depot later, and we had the wood we needed--two sheets of 15/32 plywood and three 8-foot 2 x 4s.  We read a good tip (can't find the link now) to get 2 x 4s and rip them in half instead of getting 2 x 2s.  The wood is less warped, and it doesn't take much effort to rip them in half, even with a circle saw (which is what we did).  Note that we cut the plywood so the grain pattern is consistent all around the box--because when you're buying 15/32 plywood for $18/sheet, the aesthetics of the project are a primary concern.

A word on the design:  we decided to break it into three sections so we could move the chicks to another section while cleaning out the first (if the bedding gets too deep), or take out a barrier to give more space as the chicks grow.  We were already committed to two sheets of plywood anyway, so why not?  We're getting 17 chicks--15 minimum order, discount pricing at 16, plus a free rare breed, which will probably look very out of place with the rest of our rangers--so we probably won't need all three sections before we move them outside, but who knows.  The hardware cloth on top is half-inch mesh because we couldn't think of any predators that can squeeze through a half inch-square hole.  Except maybe a snake.  Dangit!  Well, Katie will just have to sit up in the garage all night until they can defend themselves.

The tarp is there for easy cleanup, but we're going to use wood chips as our bedding.  It's not the pine shavings that folks normally use, but we have the wood chips on hand, and we wouldn't be the first to use chips instead of shavings as bedding.  If all the chicks get sick for some reason, we'll replace the chips with shavings and see if the birds get better.

For the first day, the chicks need some other kind of surface since they don't know what food looks like yet, and they will be hungry when they arrive.  They might accidentally eat the bedding.  Can't really blame them--we would probably also be hungry enough to try eating wood chips after a day or two in the mail.

On top goes a heat lamp.  The chicks need the temp at about 90-95 °F for the first week or so.  They'll probably be ok during the day, but it drops down to 60 °F or less at night.  We'll have to play around with the height a little to make sure the chicks aren't too hot or too cold.

What have you used as a brooder box? What are your favorite features that made things easier?  Let us know in the comments section below!

EDIT: The chicks couldn't grip the cardboard very well, so we replaced it with paper towels.  We also ended up suspending the lamp by a rope from the ceiling so we could get it closer to the chicks.  Now when we open up the cover, the lamp rope slides through the hardware cloth. Good job, Katie!  (and thanks, Mom!)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pantry Cabinet

When we moved into our old place, one thing sorely lacking was storage space in the kitchen.  Then, when we moved into our new place, one thing sorely lacking was storage space in the kitchen.  We are leaning toward the conclusion, therefore, that many kitchens do not have adequate storage space for foodstuffs and cookware.  Fortunately, in our old place we pieced together some dimensional lumber and made a functional pantry cabinet.  We had the foresight to dismantle it and move it with us to our new place, and we're glad we did.  Even though we built it to fit a specific space, it's found use again, and seems to be of a size that might actually be useful in a number of households.  It is therefore with a small sense of pride that we share the plans and construction with you, dear readers.

We began with some 1 x 12"s and 1 x 2"s, cut to length as shown.  The 1 x 2"s are cut either to the width of two 1 x 12"s or to the width of one 1 x 12".  The bottom cross piece is 3/4" square, but could easily be another 1 x 2".  The 35-5/16" height of the front board was what we needed for the top of the main shelf piece to be even with the top of our counter.  Note that a six-foot 1 x 12" is actually a little longer than six feet.  The lumber companies are kind enough to leave some room for squaring the ends.
Once we had one side complete, we made another one!
Then we connected them with more pieces of 1 x 12".  The width here is 23" across the top two (21.5" for the other two), but could be whatever fits where you need it.  Screw them in from the bottom of the 1 x 2"s to keep the thing looking pretty.
Then we added more 1 x 2"s as trim around the front side.  They also give a sturdy piece to support the hinges.
Making the doors is the only place we had to do some serious ripping (lengthwise cutting) of boards.  We took 1 x 12"s and cut a half inch or so off.  These smaller pieces were actually what we used for the bottom cross pieces in the first picture.  I guess that makes the dimensions of the bottom cross pieces incorrect.  Good thing it's not that important!
If we left the doors closed, we might have forgotten that there's no shelves in there yet!  Fortunately, we remembered to open the doors and add shelves (21.5" long).  For these, we actually didn't screw them into place, they just rest on the 1 x 2"s.
One design feature Katie thought of (and that has proved incredibly useful) is to put vertical pieces a few inches from the side to hold up cutting boards, cookie sheets, cooling racks, special ribbed plates for cooking bacon in the microwave, or whatever.  Anything that makes it easier for Katie to bake cookies is a worthwhile addition.  We left a gap of about 6" from the left wall in ours.
At this point, we called it done.  It was right up against a wall in the back, so we didn't see the need to put a solid back on it.  If you wanted to enclose yours, two 1 x 12"s would leave a half-inch gap in the 23" span.  Sometimes a little circulation is good!  It's pretty sturdy without the back, but side-to-side pressure can make it sway a little, and adding a back would help mitigate that.  We found that if it's supported between a counter and a window sill, it'll be rock solid, even when practicing kung fu in the kitchen.
The next step is to fill it with goodies!  Well, OK, you could finish it with a nice stain or some paint first.  We prefer the natural wood look.  (Or at least, that's how we help justify filling it right away because we needed the space pronto!)

If you'd like to download the Google Sketchup model, you can get it here.

Have you built similar storage devices in your kitchen?  What other design features could we have included in the pantry to make it even easier for Katie to bake cookies?  Let us know in the comments section below!