Wednesday, March 13, 2013

what was I thinking?!?

This sourdough is feeling like just another mouth to feed. It's hungry! And not only that, but I have to keep finding ways to use it that people will eat. It's exhausting.

Also, on the day I finally got around to planting celeriac seeds, I calculated how much space they take up verses the size of the plots in the community garden, and decided what I really need is 32 celeriac seeds waiting to germinate. The seeds are tiny and need light and warmth to germinate, apparently, so I just sprinkled them on the surface of the grow mix. But you have to keep these suckers moist, which is difficult when there's no soil on top of them to hold the moisture. I try to mist them with a spray bottle a few times a day, but today I forgot and they totally dried out. I will be so sad if not even one germinates. And it could take anywhere from 10 days to three weeks before that happens, so I have a lot of misting ahead of me.

I thought I was making things that will serve me, but it seems I just created more lives that need my daily care and attention. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

more sourdough, two Edna's and a giveaway

It's been more than a week, and my sourdough starter is still alive! On Thursday, it was looking really sad. Almost no bubbles and a whole lot of hooch (alcohol sitting on top, which I have since learned is usually a sign that your starter needs more to eat). So that night, I took some out for sourdough pancakes the next morning, and fed the starter more like a cup and a half of flour instead of the regular cup, and the next morning it was all fluffy and happy again. The sourdough pancakes were not great, but I had suspicions about the recipe so I had another recipe to try next time (Next time was actually this morning, and the second recipe was WAY better. I will definitely make it again.)

I made a different loaf of sourdough bread on Saturday, this one with chickpea flour. It's a bit softer than the first one and not gummy at all, but I don't think the chickpea flavour is doing it for me.

In the meantime, this starter continues to eat and grow and I have to keep finding ways to use it. I *could* just throw some out, but I am stubborn and cheap and that seems a terrible waste. Of course, I don't seem to have a problem with throwing away lousy, gluten-free sourdough bread. Actually, I do. I know I will finish off the chickpea bread toasted and covered in almond butter and jam, and it will be edible.

And the first sourdough loaf I made into gluten-free, dairy-free bread pudding. There's still a teensy bit left in my fridge, if you can get here before I finish it. Bread pudding is one of the top five things I have really missed with our diet restrictions. Maybe even THE top thing. But this bread pudding is even a hit with the gluten-eaters in my house.

* * *

In The Marriage of the Sun and Moon, Dr. Andrew Weil recounts the social context in which coca usage occurs in a South American indigenous culture. They use it if they have to go on a long hike, if they have a lot of work to do, and for celebrations. Weil proposes that a strict social context prevents addiction, and that the problem with drugs in North America is not so much the drugs themselves as it is the lack of social context for their usage.

One of the first vintage of cookbooks I found was The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. Although I haven't actually cooked much from it, it's really my favourite. Because it's not just a book of recipes. It's organized by season and occasion. She starts with a menu, writes about the context of the food and meal, and then gives you the recipes. This, to me, seems like how cookbooks should really be done, especially in North America where we've become so divorced not just from seasonality but from the cultural context of eating.

My second-favourite cookbook is probably Food That Really Schmecks for reasons I've already gone into (although, again, I haven't actually cooked a lot from it. The time will come, I am sure). I love that the recipes are all local, and also that my Grandma Ruth owned a copy.

So to make my bread pudding I used Edna Lewis's method but Edna Staebler's ingredients (with substitutions, obviously).

Bread Pudding
1 1/2 cups (almond) milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups diced bread cubes (I didn't measure them, just used all I had)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
a handful or two of raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
sprinkling of cinnamon

I beat the eggs, add in the sugar, mix well. Pour in the milk, stirring as you pour. Add the butter and vanilla. Mix in the bread and let sit. Stir in some raisins if you want. Pour it into a buttered 8x8 baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon. I let it sit in the fridge overnight before baking it in a roasting pan with some hot water for 40-50 minutes at 300F. I think mine took more like an hour and 20 minutes but I was worried about the pyrex dish breaking so it would have taken a long time for the water to heat up.

Here is what Edna Lewis has to say about bread pudding:

"Bread pudding and other custard dishes were popular in the early spring because of new calves and new green grass producing extra pails of milk, and a good way to use some of the stale bread was to make bread pudding. I can still remember entering the kitchen, which was detached from the main house, and there, cooling on a table near the door, would be a big pan of delicious-looking bread pudding, filling the air with the rich smell of butter and nutmeg rising from the layers of bread that were submerged in a custard of rich milk, fresh country eggs, and plump raisins."

* * *
So I have this problem with thrift stores. I love going to them, at least weekly. One of my problems is a strange sense of loyalty. If I see a plate or a bowl in the same pattern as one I already own, I just can't leave them behind, even if I have no need for more. I feel like I'm reuniting family. And when I saw a copy of Food That Really Schmecks and then More Food That Really Schmecks, well, I had to take them home too. I had an idea to host a giveaway on my blog, because I see those a lot, although they're usually sponsored by the people who sell the thing being given away. So I thought it would be neat to do kind of an anti-giveaway.

I just had one problem: no readers. So I figured I'd wait until I developed a bit of an audience. But someone else had a similar idea, and I just won that awesome book. So now I'm all inspired to just go ahead with the giveaway. Surely someone will drop in by accident and want to play?

Ok. So if you want either Food That Really Schmecks or More Food That Really Schmecks, tell me something about yourself and why you want them. Let me know whether you want one or both. These books are probably best for omnivores, although there are lots of baking recipes and vegetable recipes so maybe I'm just being negative. So who's going to play?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

maple moon

It's about the right time to start tapping maple trees, I think. The days are creeping slightly above freezing and the nights dip back below. But I don't think we're going to tap our Norways this year. There are so many other things I want to learn and do, I just don't know if it's worth my time this year, especially since I have now developed such a taste for maple syrup, we're consuming about a litre of the stuff every month. (It's not just for pancakes here. Yogurt with homemade granola and maple syrup is my very favourite afternoon snack - especially with Saugeen Country Yogurt - and maple syrup is my favourite topping for oatmeal too.) I'm quite certain the trees in our yard couldn't even make enough for us to last a month.

I have been stuck on quite the farm fantasy lately, although it's lessened a bit recently. But every time I engage in my usual Friday night MLS fantasizing (pathetic, I know), I discover that a couple of acres and a barn is not enough to satisfy my fantasy. I want acres of pasture and hay, a big old barn and other old outbuildings, and a good woodlot and maple bush. And a house with a root cellar AND a pantry with a window. You get the idea.

Maple syrup is rather expensive, especially compared to refined sugar, but it's local and possibly uses less resources than shipping and refining sugar. That said, it uses a lot of energy to boil the sap down. A book I picked up in my thrift store obsession, The Sugar Bush Connection, says it takes a pile of wood that's 8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet to boil 250 gallons of sap into 5 gallons of syrup. Another pile half as big is used to turn the syrup into hard brown sugar.

I would love to eventually cut out refined sugar and use only maple syrup and honey. Obviously, that would be expensive. Unless we could supply all of our own. If I had enough maple trees and the space to cook it down outside, I would be totally motivated. I think. But I don't have that, and I'm not right now.

Eldest really wants to throw a party or festival. So we're thinking of having some kind of maple celebration. I suspect this will be yet another idea that never makes it to fruition, but wouldn't it be fun to make a bunch of maple yummies and have some friends over to taste them? Or better yet, maybe we could make it a potluck and people could choose what mapley goodness to bring.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the bread

I got a little overexcited by the poofiness of the sourdough starter yesterday and dove into trying a loaf of bread, using this recipe. I didn't really want a loaf that big or that shape (I mostly eat toast these days) but it was the only gluten-free sourdough recipe I could find that I had all the ingredients for.

I quickly realized I was way more clueless than I thought. For example, was I supposed to use the starter before or after feeding it? The way my day was yesterday meant that the only time I could make the dough with enough time to let it rise before baking was to mix the dough right after I fed it. I suspect i should have given it some time to get happy but not enough to get desperately hungry again before using it. As it was the small amount of starter left in the bowl seemed flat and unhappy all day. The loaf didn't really seem to rise but I baked it anyways because what was the alternative? I had no idea. 

The bread is very sour and a little bit gummy when it's not toasted. Maybe I didn't quite bake it enough. There's one part at the bottom of the loaf that doesn't have bubbles but most of it has lots of small holes. Toasted, it has the nicest, chewy, not crumbly texture I've had in a gluten-free bread. To me (and keep in mind I haven't had 'real' bread in a year), it seems like real bread (except for the gumminess). 

I was a bit nervous about eating it, because if it didn't bake enough maybe the yeast would still be alive and make me sick. (My brother once told me a harrowing story of drinking wine that still had living yeast in it.) But I had a whole piece of toast this morning and so far no ill effects. I will say it was A LOT more filling than any other toast I've had. I was all set to declare it a failure when it came out of the oven, but maybe it's not. After all, it was quite tasty toasted with almond butter and jam.

I'm realizing that I've never actually had real sourdough bread before. The sourdough I remember was made with white flour and was very fluffy (and delicious), but this is a very dense bread. Or at least the bread that my starter made is very dense. I think maybe I could have waited another day to let the starter build up strength, but who knows? 

Apparently starters have individuality. And to care for them optimally, you need to be able to read their signs. I'm feeling like I dove in a bit too recklessly because now I have this starter I have to care for and  I don't know how and any move I make could prove fatal. It does seem to have perked up since yesterday but there's been nothing like that big poofiness. There's an ebook I think I will buy tonight and hope it has more info about understanding and nurturing a starter.

Apart from the angst of dealing with the starter, making the bread was SUPER easy. Because there's no gluten to work, I didn't even have to knead the dough. I just mixed it in the mixer, set it to rise, then baked it. Simple. So I'm definitely going to do my best to keep the starter alive and really try to get the hang of this. I love the idea of not having to buy commercial yeast to bake bread, and having to use the starter will serve as good motivation to keep baking.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I decided to trying making my own gluten-free sourdough starter yesterday. Given that I haven't actually made any kind of bread before, either gluten-free or otherwise, this was probably pure folly. Actually, I did make yeasted cinnamon buns last year, but I'm not counting that, because it was one-off, and not actually a loaf of bread.) But I'm discovering that I don't like learning things in logical sequences.

Last spring, a seed seller recommended 'easy' plants like radishes to start with and she specifically discouraged me from growing carrots. I grew both but the radishes rotted because we didn't like them. I was pretty sure the promise of free food would keep me motivated, even through challenges, and it did.

Likewise, someone else recommended I start learning to sew with pajama pants and a pattern but that doesn't excite me at all. If I'm going to go to the trouble and discomfort of learning new things, it has to excite me, even if it's something difficult. Even if I fail and I'm disappointed with the results.

So anyways, the sourdough starter. I used this recipe and was prepared to wait 3 to 5 days for bubbles, but this afternoon I lifted the tea towel and there were bubbles! And the stuff had definitely risen. A couple of hours later and there were mini-volcanoes! So I guess tomorrow or the next day, I'll be trying my hand at making gluten-free, sourdough bread.

It's ALIVE! (And those are red cabbage leaves sticking out. They provide wild yeast, apparently.)