Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just a moment...

This morning, early, early, while I was sitting and having my coffee and contemplating the day before me, I watched the kitty play with a straw. He tossed and chased and stalked the straw.
Eventually, the straw got under the rug. For a few minutes, my living room rug tossed and bounced and fallumped about the floor as though it were possessed.

What a ridiculous cat!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sourdough Bread

I make a lot of homemade bread. For a number of reasons, I make the time for it.

1. It's super stress relieving to knead dough. Can we all say 'ahhhhhhmmmm'.....?
2. The house smells like... well, baking bread. There is nothing like the fragrance, to get up to, to come home to, or go to bed with the aroma wafting on the breeze.
3. Many recipes are far more healthy for you. No preservatives, use the grains you want and that your family likes and you can alter things to suit your fancy.
4. There's that decidedly 'connected' to your food factor when you spend a bit of time with your hands in it. It's a nurturing thing, at the very least.

We could go on all day.

I recently made a new sourdough starter. You use a jar and wash it well and add equal parts water and flour. I add a pinch of sugar to help move things along. Left with an open top on the counter for a day or two, it 'captures' wild yeast from the environment. Winter starters are a bit harder for me to get up and running. I also can use my tap water, as I have a well. If you try to do this with chlorinated water, it prevents the 'yeasties' from getting up and having a party.

About two days out, you have a bubbly concoction that should smell like a yeasty beer. It will have a piquant type odor but shouldn't be foul or unpleasant. It's not pretty, but it's a work in progress. That's it you see in the first photo!

To keep a starter alive, you have to 'feed it'. Every other day or so, I toss in 1/2 cup of warm water, a 1/2 cup of flour (sometimes I use different types) and give it a stir. The next morning, I use what I need to start my bread.

I mix up my recipe, in this case Italian Sourdough bread, which includes some Parmesan cheese and a nice bit of large grind black pepper.

You end up with a pretty sponge, like this:
and after allowing this to sit a bit ( during this time it sets up a nice sourdough flavor) you add the remaining ingredients and knead your bread and set it aside to rise.

During all of this time, you're not spending hours on this project, but you're coming and going, spending a few minutes here and there. You actually spend about 6 to 7 minutes kneading.

The fun part comes next.

You shape your dough into whatever you want. I've made this particular dough into hamburger buns and loaves mainly.

The dough shaping process scares some folk, but is a lot like when you were little and liked to play with playdough. I mean, come on, it's an experiment and it's fun. You can usually still eat the end results even if they're not magnificent and you can always feed the rejects to the chickens... that is, if you have chickens...

This shows the progression from dough to shaped bread. If you ever played with playdough, this is the 'big girl' or 'big boy' version with edible results. With this particular recipe, I love the look of the braided loaf, but find it particularly more challenging to slice for sandwiches or toast. It certainly makes an impression as a gift as folks think that you've gone to some sort of amazing trouble or that you're a genius of some sort. Little do they know...
what a simple, easy thing it is to do.

Shaped loaves need to sit and rise until they're doubled. The recipe calls for an hour, but it all depends upon the temperature in your kitchen and other random factors. When I first made this recipe, I walked through the kitchen 30 minutes after shaping and lo and behold! the loaves were already solidly 2 inches above the loaf pans.

Now for the magic part: Forty minutes later you pull these from the oven.

You need some butter and maybe some jam, but plain butter works well, a knife and
a loved one or two...

This recipe keeps well for me. I never have to worry about it getting too old to use. If I'm lucky and can keep some for the next day or two, it makes an excellent sandwich or toast . With the pepper and the cheese in the flavor mix, it is a nice complement to any Italian inspired dish.

If you can't use two loaves, you can freeze one or do what I do and wrap one and head out to visit neighbors, relatives or friends. I've never had a single one not smile when they see the bread coming.

This bread is also simply amazing with a little Extra Virgin Olive oil and some spices for dipping.
And if you take if for lunch in a sandwich, you'd better not put it down and leave it alone.

* I use bread flour. Sometimes I throw in a cup or so of whole wheat, either regular or white whole wheat. It has also worked well when I only had plain flour.

Sourdough Italian Bread

1 1/4 cup starter
1 t salt
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups flour *

4 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t salt
1 t course ground pepper (I sometimes double this amount)
4 to 5 cups of flour

Early in the day, mix the first 4 ingredients. Combine them thoroughly. This is the 'sponge' and this step adds much flavor. Cover it with a clean towel and set it aside for 4 to 5 hours.
To get the recipe to work for me and be ready for oh, say, dinner, I count backwards in the time frame. If I need to cut off some time, to have the bread ready on time, this is where I do that. If I need to run errands and it means the time will run over, I likewise, don't get upset. Left 6 hours, it still works well. You're gonna want to put this in a large glass or plastic (non-reactive) bowl as it's gonna grow!

Stir the sponge down. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and add to the sponge. Stir in the next 4 ingredients, using 4 cups of flour, until you see if you need the other. I usually like the feel of the dough with just 4 cups added at this point. I use a generous amount during kneading and shaping without worrying about it getting too stiff. When a workable ball has formed, turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it for between 5 and 10 minutes (depending on how tense you are!). You will feel it become elastic and smooth. Return the dough to an oiled or buttered bowl, cover it again and set it aside to rise until doubled, or about an hour.

When it has doubled, punch the dough down and let is sit covered for another 1/2 hour. (I have skipped this step in the interest of starving teenage boys standing in the doorway saying "I'm starving". You sacrifice a small amount of sourdough 'flavor' but not much).

Turn the dough out again and shape. If you wish to braid two loaves, divide into 6 equal pieces of dough.. Roll and stretch the dough pieces into long ropes. Braid three pieces together. You will tuck the ends underneath and place each braid into a glass loaf pan that's been buttered. I lightly brush the tops with some melted butter as well. Cover and set them aside until they have doubled, about an hour. They should rise an inch or more above the side of the loaf pan. I brush them again, lightly, with butter before popping them into a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

They can cool in the pan, or you can place them on a rack on their sides to cool.
Hide them or camouflage them if you really need them at a later time.
Otherwise, stand out of the way of the teenagers or spouses with knives.

Here's a printable version of the recipe:  Sourdough Italian Bread

And if you accidentally devour the better part of an entire loaf before dinner, blame it on the dog.


Keeping chickens

I've 'kept' chickens for nearly 26 years now.
For all of those years, the eggs were all 'brown'.
Varying shades of cream to mid-tone brown are the specialty of several breeds of dual-purpose birds that we've enjoyed having here on the farm.
It's safe to say that the primary reason why I keep chickens, other than the insane enjoyment of it, is for the eggs. Homegrown egg lecture saved for another day.

Last year, I posted to a bartering bulletin board in an effort to find some guinnea fowl hatching eggs and like many good barters things took an unexpected turn. A person who answered my post offered up hatching eggs from Americauna chickens and Welsummer chickens for a 'made to suit' apron. His desire was for a 'sexy apron' for his wife for their anniversary. Now, folks, you hafta love a man who finds an apron sexy, and many men do, indeed, find that to be true, but aprons are another topic. As I'd never even seen one of the elusive blue eggs, much less the 'blue egg laying chicken', I was very excited. After a very rough and tumble start, which we'll not go into here, I put some very seriously compromised eggs into my incubator... I'm ever the optimist. Let's just say that the eggs that arrived from a distant state gave new meaning to the term 'drop shipped'... though their initial packaging was above reproach. Anyway, I got a beautiful pair of Welsummers, who lay 'dark chocolate' colored eggs, and a few Americaunas, some black and some white from the resulting hatch, which was, I believe on June 18th. They hatched on day 19, which is a little early. The babies were healthy and beautiful and grew well.


Isnt' that a cheeky little attitude by the black one on the right? Cute, personable chickens!

Last Sunday, when I tended the hens, there in the nest was a single light blue egg. I did a little happy-dance. I was breathless (ok, so I had been running) with delight at the beautiful colorful addition to my daily take of eggs.

Some chicken owners get bent out of shape when the hens take a 'break' from laying. I believe that it's natural and as it should be and am glad to give them their time for a little R & R. My older laying flock had been on Sabbattical since late in December. I had to resort to using 'store bought' eggs for cooking which I do not like to do. I had gotten a sporadic egg or two during this time, but a couple of months is about average for a break. So, a couple of weeks ago, I rearranged things down in the chicken kingdom. I have three coops, which are actually repurposed mule stalls, circa 1900 or a little earlier. The chickens had previously been grouped roughly by age and breed. So, I began the spring 'sort', placing the younger pullets (this years up and coming 'girls') in with the venerable 'King" of the barnyard so that they could begin their 'training'.

My primary layer flocks for many years now have been Barred Rock chickens. They're a good sturdy dual purpose bird that is hearty and lays well. For the unitiated, dual purpose means that the breed provides both an efficient number of eggs and is a good 'table' bird. We'll get to that 'table bird' thing on another day...

Anyway, with no disrepect at all intended to the guy who's now the President of the US, but truly as a 'take' on his name, my big rooster's named Barrock...
Bar red Rock.... .. (get it? *big grin*). Barrock is an amazing rooster... gentle with humans, thoughtful of his flocks, he's the best rooster of 25 years of my being in charge of the chickens on this homestead.

Meet Barrock:


He presides over the girls, and will be joined in his duties by BJ, his son, later in the year.

Coop 2 contains the young Americaunas and at this point, it also contains the Welsummer pair which will be getting their own digs soon.

Welsummer rooster:

Coop 3, for now, contains the Bachelor Bullpen... the roosters... the 'table' birds.

What with the shake-up in the social clique (that story and the one about chicken personality is for another day as well), and the fact that the nesting boxes were cleaned and prepped and ready to go, including a few 'cheaters' (weighted down Easter leftovers), the girls have all decided to have an 'off to the races' 'I can lay eggs faster than you can' sort of start to the season.

My next door neighbor called me yesterday to say "Those chickens of yours are either laying or lieing about it." From quite some distance (you can't see her house), she was able to ascertain that the girls were in production mode. This makes her happy too, as she benefits from getting eggs, mainly because she's one of the world's best next door neighbors.

I enjoy the chickens, their company, their by-products. I like to know where my food comes from. I love to pick up eggs, still very warm in my hand and take them in. I love to crack one in a frying pan early in the morning and see the yolk, deep in color and standing high above the albumen. More than anything reasonable, I love to see chicken 'fluffbutts' turned up as the flock ranges through the grass in the pasture and orchard. I love to hear their crows and their cackles as they go about their day. They're one of the real 'quality of life' things on this farm.

And now, every morning and every evening, it's a lot like an Easter Egg hunt in my chicken coops... by grannies, there are blue eggs in there... and I can hardly wait.

With special thanks to Brian and Liz~! whose generosity and willingness to barter makes this happiness possible.

Thursday, February 5, 2009



A reminder to all ladies of a certain experience level...

Call to make your appointment for your mamogram!

Yesterday, I went for mine and really, as I have more of them, I find them not so big a deal.
I was in and out in 20 minutes. A short amount of time, a small amount of discomfort.
I've had female relatives and friends for whom a mamogram saved their lives.

In talking to friends this week, I spoke with NOONE who was not 'running behind' in getting those appointments scheduled. I, myself, tend to run behind, so I understand the excuses.

Go ahead and make the call. Make the time for yourself. You're worth it~!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Simple food

There are plenty of amazingly good food blogs out there. I'll admit to reading more than a few.
While I will probably share the occasional recipe, I find that I fly more by the seat of my pants when cooking than anything else. And my earliest life experiences with food were those of simple foods. Fresh food, simply prepared, very close from the origin of the food to the table. I find that suits me well, even now. Sometimes, I think that folks make things far too complicated. Okay... I'll admit to really enjoying a complicated recipe/menu, but for everyday, simple works for me. And I will admit to having an outrageous number of cookbooks, both newer ones and vintage ones.

Everyone who has ever been associated with the high school marching bands of the land (let's hear it for the band parents!) will recognize the remains of the ever present band citrus fundraiser.
Sometime ago, when I was unfortunately held captive by illness and incarcerated on my couch for a number of months, I watched a lot of PBS. There was an amazing demonstration of filleting an orange. There's not another way to put it, the man simply filleted the fruit. With an amazing speed and turn of knife, he flipped perfect sections of citrus , leaving behind very little waste.
So, one day, I tried it... and must admit the first orange or two didn't look pretty... not even close. But as all things do with practice, I was soon filleting fruit~! And I discovered something... my family, in it's entirety, eats FAR MORE fruit, when they find it, all beautiful and translucent in a jar in the fridge than when they have to tackle it into submission themselves.

It looks similar to the pricier 'fruit salads' that one finds in the refridgerated section of the grocers, but without any preservatives or any extended periods of time between it's processing plant and your table. I recommend it. Even if you don't have any band fruit on hand. Pick up some oranges and grapefruit and give it a shot.


Get a good knife, folks... it saves time and frustration and often it saves your fingers. This wonderfun knife was a gift from the son, who is so very much a knife freak. He was as a tiny little boy... and now his love of knives extends to me, in the form of gifts.


Another tip... to keep the cutting board from slipping, place a kitchen towel on the table first. A slightly damp towel works even better. Slippage is one of the things that assists in accidents.

To this amount of fruit, 1 pink grapefruit and two or three oranges, I put a teaspoon of demerara sugar. Shake it up to melt the sugar and pop that pretty jar of wholesome goodness into the fridge. Instant snacks... simple food.

You know you'd sooo get a spoon and go for it!~