Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let the games begin!

On the way to Thanksgiving day, there's a lot of things that happen in advance.

One of those things is making bread.
I like to use cornbread and day old french bread in my dressing (loaf bread or day old biscuits work too).
So today, I baked a round of french baguettes.

Now, I know better than to think that there will be any left for dressing, but that is why I started today.
Two days, consecutively, making 4 baguettes each time, and I'll surely have a few little hunks tossed into the fridge by Wednesday.

This is the recipe I use.  Easy and not much trouble, as far as homemade breads go, it's nice and hard on the outside and wonderfully chewy on the inside.  This is not a traditional French bread recipe that begins with a poolish and takes several days.  This is simplified, get it done today version that works well for me.

French Bread

Makes 1 boule, 2 batards, 4 baguettes or 8 petite pains

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
2/3 cup of warm water (I use hot tap water)
4 cups of flour (I use a combination of bread flour, semolina and white wheat, heavily loaded toward bread)
1 cup of cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

In a large bowl, pour the warm water over the yeast and sugar.  Stir it and let it sit about 10 minutes.  It should become foamy and bubbly.

Alternating a cup full of the flour mixture and the cool water, make additions while stirring.  Keep adding until you get a dough ball formed which is soft and elastic.  Adjust water and flour to gain the proper 'feel' of elasticity.  When you get a good texture, knead this dough for 8 to 10 minutes.

Oil the dough on all sides, lightly, and set it to rise in a large container until it triples in size.  This should take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on temperature and humidity.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface. Divide the dough equally. ( I eyeball it, it's bread, for goodness sakes, not rocket science!)  Make which ever shape your little heart desires.  We love baguettes and the four of them look like so much 'more' bread than one large round boule.  I also don't get crazy forming baguettes (which explains a lot about how they look).  I grab a ball of dough, and 'playdough' roll it to form a long skinny 'stick', then stretch the stick to the length desired.  You see in the photo above, that I got 4 different lengths (even if you discount the one with a small hunk missing).

I bake the french bread on a baking sheet, with a silicone baking mat, onto which I toss a tablespoon or so of cornmeal.  Lay your bread (which ever shape) on the mat, and cover it.  Let it rise again, between 1 and 2 hours, till it more than doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  You can brush the bread with an egg glaze (one egg white, one Tablespoon of water, whisked thoroughly) or not.  I didn't.  I kind of prefer it with a brushing of butter when it comes out of the oven.  Either way, I get a nice crispy crust.

You also need to take a nice sharp razor blade or knife (note in the photos that I need to get a new razor blade, as mine is getting dull and drags through the dough) and cut diagonal slices in the bread at intervals. This allows for oven rise and keeps the bread from becoming misshapen while baking.

For one round boule, you bake it about 35 minutes.
For batards, and baguettes, about 22 minutes.
For buns, about 18 to 20 minutes.
When done, the bread, when tapped, should sound hollow.

French bread is best eaten the day that it's cooked.
This is never a problem here.
If I do happen to bake it on a day when everyone suddenly develops dinner plans elsewhere, I simply a baguette or two to the neighbors.
This makes for happy neighbors and less enticement every time I walk back through the kitchen.

Printable version of the recipe:  French Bread

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Frosty morning wake up call

First this disclaimer.  If you are not inclined toward harvest of wild game, then this post is not for you.
Move along and come back another day.
It's part of what we do here... what surely has been done since the Native Americans lived on the banks of the river and every generation since. Venison is a part of our diet. We know where it comes from.  It is hunted for that purpose.  None of it goes to waste.

This morning, about 6 am, I was sitting in my chair having my morning cup of coffee, warm pup at my feet.
As usual, the house was quiet, the tv news was on, but nothing was really stirring around.
The oldest boy* was in the woods hunting, like many mornings this time of year.

* The oldest boy is a grown man, in every respect.  Definitely not a child, but he is my boy, a child of my heart, my first son.  He'll always be my 'boy'.  For the rest of this story, he'll be referred to as my boy.

A solid hard frost was still lingering after our first good freeze.

Suddenly, my cell phone rang. 

What did we do in the world before cell phones?  
I do remember those days, but will admit to 'needing' my connections through that phone.

Anyway, I answer and it's my boy.  He's hit a doe, she went down and then got up and ran.  He'll wait a few minutes then track her.  In just a few minutes, I get the call that she is maybe in the gully.

Now, for the uninitiated, let me explain the gully.  In the early part of the last century, this property was farmed in cotton.  Not a big plantation, mind you... but the kind of cotton you'd grow and harvest with your family members, to sell and pay for the very few things that you didn't raise or grow yourself.  Horticulture wasn't then what it is now.  Very few soil amendments went into the large fields and the topsoil and ecology of the land suffered.  Rains came and erosion began and huge, gigantic gullies,,, great chasms of dense red soil, deep enough to sit a large house in... grew.  And they grew all over the south... not just on this place.  With many years of consistent hard work, we have managed to stop the erosion and now the steep hillsides began to grow pines and brush.

So, we have a deep, steep brush and pine filled gully.  The perfect place for a deer to hide.
The boy knew that he'd delivered a kill shot... so we have to find the deer.

So I ask, "Shall I bring the dog?"  Here I am referring to the soft warm pup at my feet, not quite a year old, one week out of surgery to spay her, but very smart, very trainable and very willing to do work.
I put on my bathrobe... my purple polarfleece bathrobe. and some tennis shoes.  Otherwise, I'm wearing my pajamas.
I leash up the pup and we head off to the site of the initial hit.
My boy meets us.  Flushed with warmth, he looks like an advertisement for country living.
Tall and striking, gun slung over his shoulder, he points to where we need to start the trail.
The pup takes the hint and nose down, starts to track.

I hand over the leash... thinking that I'm going back in to finish my coffee.

There's a fire in the fireplace, all cozy and warm. 
I want to sit beside it.

And for about 15 seconds, things are fine.  She's tracking off in the right direction......
... then I turn to leave.  

And she looks back. 

And then she sits down and refuses to budge.

She begins to whine and fuss and try to run to me.

NOOOOooooooo.... I think.... No. No. No.
I do not want to take a hike about the back 90 acres... I do NOT.

And there they stand... beautiful boy... beautiful dog... beautiful frosty, clear, clear cold field, dense, thick woods...
... deer down somewhere in the woods close by that needs to be prepped and on the way to the freezer.


 So, looking very much like someone's mother in a purple bathrobe, I join the search party.
Through brambles and bushes, up hill and down vale, we track.

At some point, I realize that she's tracking where the boy has gone looking for the deer.

We go back to the last point on the tracking trail where there was blood, and give her her nose...
and were suddenly off in a new direction.  Less than 20 feet away, we found the deer.
In a very short time, the doe was off to the processor and the very excited puppy and I were sitting by the fire... 

... thinking how invigorating that it was to start the day, in the freezing cold, hiking about the place...

                                               ... picking out the thorns and twigs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

River adventure

I have lived on the river for the majority of my life.
I learned to swim in it.
I have fished in it.
I have canoed and kayaked upon it.
I have played in it.
I have put my children in it from their infant days.
I have slept beside it and I have sat and contemplated life from it's banks.

It is, for me, peace and tranquility and a centering force.  When all the world around me is nuts,
the river is there , yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

Several months ago, I attended a class to learn how to monitor streams and rivers for quality of the environment.
I recently got my 'kit' for water testing from a 'friends of the river' group.  Kits were paid for by grant money and were instrumental in many of us being able to volunteer our time to begin to record and monitor on a regular basis.

The requirement is to routinely and regularly test the water according to the specifications of the Izaak Walton League of America Save our Streams Quality Survey.  Using standard scientific method, you sample several different areas (the same area each quarter) and do a count of macroinvertebrates. Having records over time may be invaluable if and when changes occur or the river economy is threatened.

Macroinvertebrates are sorted into Taxa Groups and the water quality is rated depending upon the quantity and variety of 'little critters'.  Group One organisms are not tolerant of pollution and their presence generally signified good water qualities. Group Two organisms can exist in a wide variety of water quality conditions and Group Three organisms are tolerant of pollution thereby signifying by their presence that the water quality is poor.

Group One macroinvertebrates were largely what was found in the class that I took, roughly 1/2 mile downstream from my own property river edge.  We found only a few individuals from Group 2 and no individuals from Group 3.

The last Sunday of October, I talked my main sidekick on the weekends into accompanying me to the river to do my first official volunteer testing.  He volunteered to drive me and while interested, at first was sort of "'ho-hum'  what are you up to now?"

First and foremost, I learned that it was VERY cold for October to go barefoot into the river.

It was achingly cold... and there's really no way around it, unless I had the forethought to have brought some waders with me. (Bet your bottom dollar that I'll do that in January!)

So, I start the sampling and right away, I get a number of very lively specimens.

Now, we aren't exactly going after the tiny fish, but this one was in the net. All counted creatures were released unharmed back to their home location after the count.

And there were numerous macroinvertebrates so small that I had to use the magnifying glass AND my reading glasses.

 A take away tidbit is that if you find snails, you can easily determine if they're indicators of clean water, or poor quality.  By holding the snail oriented up and down, if the operculum opens 'right facing', then it is a 'clean water' indicator.

A bit of an amusing observation is that as the organisms were sorted into the trays as they sat in the sunshine, and the water became warmer than the temperature of the river, they became much more active.

Overall, I was happy to determine that my little stretch of the river had excellent indications of being healthy and clean. Wetland conservation and sustainability is important now and for our future.

And by the time I was done, I had not only a willing participant sidekick, but an excited one who wants to see how the future surveys go.  I had also determined that 4 hands were necessary and 6 would have been ideal!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Renewed intentions

So, I intend to get back to visiting with you regularly.

I've actually intended before but so many things have taken the spotlight.

Seasonal employment has come and gone.  When added to the heat and humidity of summer, it zapped my desire to do anything more than really necessary and not even all of the necessary things.

I find myself headed into the holiday season with a serious backlog of household chores and an intense desire to sit on the porch rocker and watch the leaves turn their beautiful autumnal tones...
... and to pick up the pecans before the squirrels get to them...

... or to lunch with friends whom I have missed during all of this.

The knitting group at church goes on, and really merits a post of it's own.  It's a small group ministry and it's become so very meaningful to me, and I believe, to others.  We have taught beginners and brought together experienced knitters and crocheters of all ages to make items with our hands to bless others.  And on the way, we've discovered the blessings that always abound when folks of like-spirits get together and share their lives regularly.  You find yourself thinking of them on other days and other times, and praying for the concerns of their hearts and lives.

I love the cooler, crisp mornings, but kind of miss the longer daylight hours of summer. 
I enjoy planning a holiday meal and look forward to a time when kith and kin draw near.