Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Spring in Winter

Its snowing,and its cold. But, the days are getting longer, and its time to think about greens, and flowers, and all things that grow, and the smell of the earth, and the sounds of the spring peepers. First things first, we take a seed inventory. Some seeds can be carried from year to year, but others not. Onions, and the allium family don't carry, but peppers and tomatoes do. So we look through all the old seed packets, count seeds, look at expiration dates on packages, and make lists.
We have garden notebooks going back to 1977. Way back then we'd make beautiful colored diagrams. Now we make lists. Still beautiful, but not as colorful .
This afternoon we'll pull out the catalogs. Johnny's seeds in Maine, and Fedco Seeds also in Maine are our main seed suppliers. We'll have to jog our memories. That beautiful red lettuce, Marimba, didn't size up , and bolted too soon. Is there another vibrant red lettuce to use? We'll stick with ace peppers as our tried and true, but should we really put in any yellow peppers ( their yields are always low)? And Leeks... is this the year to just put in a short row for us and skip selling them? Even though we don't sell flowers, we grow hundreds of them both as annuals and perennials. Just thinking about them makes me smile... the annual flax with those impossible blue flowers, the smell of the evening phlox,and the zinnia's, so beautiful!
Today we'll immerse ourselves in all things spring. Tomorrow we'll shovel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Autumnal Bees

remember fall? Those days when we were all working like mad to get the end of our summer work done. Making sure all our veggies were canned,stored in the root cellar, dried or frozen?
I took this movie of our bees working like crazy to get everything done before the cold got here on the last warm day of the year, December 14th( technically still fall). Our bees are wild honey bees and have lived in a Locust tree right outside our house for a number of years. They help pollinate our crops, and we feel blessed that they chose our tree to live in!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last year's growing season

I thought the damages from last year's growing season was over and done with, but it turns out, I was wrong. With all the rains of last summer, the hay was hit hard too. Normally when we open a bale of hay, it's like walking in a summer field. Bright green and full of legumes ( red and white clovers, alfalfa, and the beautiful yellow bird's food trefoil). This year, no legumes, just a barely palatable hay. The cows are not happy. We feed them their hay and they look ( o.k., beg) at us with their beautiful dark, soulful eyes to please, give them something better. And, there is nothing more distressing than unhappy cows, except unhappy cows with a metabolic imbalance, which, it seems is why Hershey couldn't get up today. She was " down" in the barnyard, in the snow, when our wonderful vet, Joe, came and gave her some calcium IV. She was able to get up and walk into the barn where tonight, she's in a pen getting pampered with one of the few bales we had left over from last year.
It has not been an easy winter. I think it's time to start looking at the veggie catalogs.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Warm and Crusty Loaf of Bread

Cheese making and bread making are almost one in the same. Where we use milk , bacteria and heat to make cheese, in bread it's flours and bacteria ( yeast) and heat. Both take time and patience, and both are the most ancient and basic of foods. I'm going to write more about our cheese making process soon. But today on this cold, cold, winter day, I think a nice loaf of bread is just the ticket. Yes, it takes time, but if you start with the "starter" tonight, you can have a wonderful loaf of bread tomorrow with dinner.
Here's the recipe (It looks more intimidating on paper than it actually is in real life) :

Italian Bread

2 cups unbleached white flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup warm( not hot) water

3 cups unbleached white flour, & extra for dusting work surface & hands
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water.
3 teaspoons salt

Flours: substitute no more than 1 cup whole wheat for your first few times.
Parchment paper ( not wax paper!!)
Pizza stone

1. For the Starter:
Combine flour, yeast and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed until it forms a dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temp. until it begins to rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate ( no need to stir it down or anything) at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.

2. For the Dough:
Remove starter from the refrigerator and let stand while making dough. Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook; knead on lowest setting till it forms a dough, about 3 minutes, Turn mixer off and, without removing bowl or hook, cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap; let rest 20 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap, add starter and salt to bowl, and knead on lowest setting until ingredients are incorporated and dough is formed, about 4 minutes. Continue to knead until dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise in a draft free spot until risen, about 1 hour.
Remove plastic, punch down dough ( push it down in the middle, and turn over… you can put some flour on your hand if its too sticky). Let rise 1 more hour, punch down again and let it rise again.

3. To shape the Dough
Dust work surface liberally with flour. Turn dough out of bowl onto surface. Dust dough and hands, and, using minimal pressure, push dough into a rough 8-10 inch square. Fold top left corner diagonally to middle, repeat same with top right corner, Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom. Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log. Roll dough onto its seam, slide hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper. Gently shape dough into 16 inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath. Cover loaf, and let rise about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425. Make sure baking stone is in oven, and you have a pan on the bottom of oven that will hold about 2 cups water

4. To Bake
using a single edged razor, cut 3 or 4 ½ inch deep diagonal slashes. Slide parchment sheet with loaf onto a baker’s peel or upside down baking sheet, then slide onto hot baking stone. Pour 2 cups water into hot pan that’s in the oven . bake 10 minutes, reduce oven temp. to 375, and spin loaf around using edges of the parchment paper. Bake until deep golden brown, about 45-50 minutes longer. It should be a rich, golden color
Cool on rack

To give you an idea of the time involved, I've added a bread making time line:

Day 1 : Make starter, let sit for 3 hours than refrigerate overnight
Day 2:
0:00 Remove starter from fridge and set on counter. Mix the flour, water and yeast for the dough 3 minutes, then let rest 20 minutes.
0:25 add starter & salt. Mix 5 minutes, transfer dough to large bowl and allow to rise
1:25 punch down dough and let rise
2:25 punch down dough and let rise again
3:25 shape the dough, place on parchment paper, and let rise
4:30 slash and bake dough
5:30 cool bread on rack