Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Bread Recipe

I still love the bread recipe I started using last winter (found here), but for a few reasons I needed something new.

Since Christmas I've been milling my own wheat and it does not behave the same as whole wheat from the store. Not at all.

  • I've wanted to cut down on the yeast a bit. That's one reason I was trying sourdough earlier in the year too.

  • I've been reading about soaking grains to eliminate or neutralize phytic acids in the grain. Even Alice agrees that I'm just a "scintst a little bit", so I don't claim to understand it all but it sounds like good sense to me. I'm not going to be fanatical about it or anything, but if it's easy enough to do and tastes good, I'd like to try it more often.

So this new recipe turns out a bread that reminds me a bit of bagels. It's steamed in the oven, giving it a really chewy crust and the bread itself is quite dense. But not so terribly dense that no one will eat it. And it does actually rise, which hasn't always been the case with my milled wheat. It isn't 100% whole wheat, but maybe that's okay. It's satisfying that it doesn't take a lot of kneading and I'm actually doing it by hand instead of using the stand mixer.

I'm not going to do conversions for people who don't mill their wheat because I don't know how to do that. I do know that the fresh milled wheat is fluffier (so maybe 8 cups of mine = 6 cups of store whole wheat?). I should start using a scale and weigh my ingredients, but I'm not quite there yet.
Whole wheat bread
6 cups liquid (combination of milk, buttermilk, whey, water - whatever you
have on hand)
1 tsp yeast
8 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp salt
2-3 Tbsp oil (lard, butter, canola, olive, whatever
you've got)
4-5 cups of white flour
1 egg, beater for a wash

Mix the milk and warm water together. Whisk in 3 cups of flour. Then
whisk in the yeast and molasses. Whisk in 3 more cups of flour, salt and
oil. (It sounds like a lot of salt, but it doesn't taste salty to
me). Whisk in the rest of the whole wheat flour. At some point
you'll want to switch to a wooden spoon.

Mix in white flour 1-2 cups at a time, kneading with your hands directly in
the bowl when it's dry enough. Knead until smooth and forms a
ball. Cover and let sit for 8-12 hours. It rises quite a lot.
Make sure you have room!
Don't punch it down, but remove it from the bowl and make three equal
balls. Pat into a rectangle and roll into loaf shapes. I've been
told that the rolling makes it rise higher and you want to encourage that with
anything whole wheat.
While I was rolling anyway, I spread one loaf with pesto, but you could use
cinnamon and sugar, or cheese and ham or whatever if you
liked. Let rise until doubled. Brush with egg.
Preheat oven to 400 with a pan on a bottom rack. Put the
loaves in and pour water into the bottom pan. Close the door
and let them steam/bake for 10 minutes. Turn it down to 375
and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate pans and bake another 20 minutes.

I have another recipe for Flaxseed Bread that uses a whole cup of chopped/ground flax. We bought some roasted flax and replaced a cup of whole wheat in this recipe with flax and that was awesome. Roasted flax has a nutty flavor that I don't find in regular flax. That was just a recent Costco find and I heartily recommend it.
We still like our fluffy white bread too, so I still make that about half the time. The yeasty smell is awesome and we definitely scarf it down faster. It's good to love your food, but also good to moderate it with some healthier food as our staples.

I still haven't found the perfect bread, but maybe there isn't one. Or there isn't just one.

She's 11!

I'm sure I'll never quite get over how big my babies are getting. Beth turned 11 today, and we barely had time to acknowledge it because of all of the other birthdays this weekend. Earlier this week she said she didn't mind if her own birthday was postponed, because it's always a bit disappointing anyway. Ouch!

Well, I hope this year isn't a disappointment.

Alice worked on her gift in January already. Christmas was done and she wanted to get right back into making gifts, even if the recipient wouldn't see if for a while.

Chocolate dipped mints in a beautifully wrapped box. I don't know how that kid would function without the inspiration found within Chickadee and Chirp and the help of her older sister, Laura.

And Laura worked on her gift as soon as we received a boatload of new beads from a friend. Beth's ears will look so pretty and they will match a lot of outfits.

And I worked on my gift on Wednesday. Not quite as much time went into it, but the idea was in my head much earlier, just not the time. Nothing like a deadline to kick my butt into gear. Her new bag looks nice and will replace the Safeway bag she uses for piano lessons now.

This weekend was the "Raise a Reader" book sale which is huge. Every book is $1, many virtually brand new. We filled her new bag last night with most of the Unfortunate Events series (still missing 11-13) and two Gordon Korman series and a beautiful soft leather Bible. The idea for today was that she could return to the sale and fill her bag once more with as many books of her choice. For $15, that wasn't a bad deal and she had fun looking through them all. Now she needs another bookshelf!

Last year I took her out for lunch to a Greek restaurant so that she could have baklava. This year she's 11. No more baby-ing for you, girly. Make your own baklava!

It turned out really good, sticky and sweet and full of nuts, but it's hard to put candles into.

I hope today wasn't disappointing, Beth. Happy 11th birthday, sweetheart!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


So, I've had this can in my cupboard for about a year.

On a trip to Little Italy last spring, I picked up this can as if I would not see poppy seed filling again for a long time. Not until I could afford another trip all the way to Little Italy. It may only be across town, but it's a tourist destination for me because it truly feels like another city or country. I'm very suburban. Or I like to think I'm almost rural, in my thinking at least. In fact, when I grow up I want to be a farmer. But not a poppy seed farmer. I think they are probably watched closely by the authorities.

But I didn't really know what to do with it. I love poppy seed cakes from bakeries, and I was secretly hoping that there would be a recipe on the inside of the label for the traditional Polish cake that they show.

No such luck, so I just thought about it a lot when I'd spy it in the back of my cupboard.

Not being very Polish, I picked up another book that I thought might have some use for poppy seed filling. I'm not Mennonite either, but there are a lot of references to Pennsylvania Dutch in these books, and that's getting a little closer to my roots. It has one word right anyway.

I have too of her cookbooks. "Food that Really Schmecks" and "More Food that Really Schmecks" and everything I've made from them are lip-schmecking good. Especially any baked goods with buttermilk or sour cream. The Mennonites known by Edna must have all had a milk cow in the front yard.

Anyway, Yvon suggested making a jelly roll. I've never made a jelly roll before, but he said "My mom used to do it all the time. They're easy." Does he think I can do everything his mother can do? I definitely cannot, but it's nice that he has that confidence in me.

So I made a jelly roll. And it worked! It wasn't even hard, probably because of the silicon mat that helped me to roll it up.

Notice the dark end of the roll. That's where the silicon mat doesn't totally cover my pan. It got crusty and cracked as I rolled it, so I was forced to eat it while it was warm. Life's rough.

So, this used up about 1/3 of the big tin of poppy seed filling. Now I have to think of two more things, or just make more jelly rolls. Beth wants baklava for her birthday this weekend so I have to buy phyllo pastry for that. Maybe I can make a layered poppyseed thingy too.

Or I could almost eat it straight out of the tin. It's like honey, a field of poppy seeds and raisins. Smaczegno!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A weekend in pictures

A game of "Jewels in the Attic".

Defeating the Elf with such "gifts" as pet snakes, the gift of gab, blue potions and bad breath. It's a neat game we found at a garage sale last year.

A spring concert.

Handbell choir practice. I love the girl standing on the box. Whatever works!

Watching some great international dancing (also some classical piano and jazz/tap). I don't know what nationality they were but I loved them all, especially watching the strength and control of their feet.

Their costumes were beautiful. I particularly love the bells on their ankles. This girl was coloring (henna-ing) her fingertips and feet with a Sharpie before performing. I imagine that lasts longer than henna!

And I got confirmation on two gardening sites. One is building raised beds for me (small, but close to home and nice and sunny) and the other will be having a huge truckload of soil delivered this week that will mean lots and lots and lots of levelling before the May long weekend. Lots of work ahead, but Rosa and I did our happy dances anyway!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A look at our Alice

Alice is a complex character.

She's not just a pretty face, although she is that.

She's not just the Easter Bunny in disguise, although she is that too.

Sometimes she is the commonly sited angry ballerina-farmer. You don't want to mess with her then. Sometimes that's a pitchfork she wields.

And she is also a scientist. Her bedroom doubles as a lab and only scientists are allowed in.

At first glance that worried me a bit. What if my scientist needs someone to pray with her at night? And even hard core scientists must have the need to cuddle sometimes, right?

What a relief! Mom and Dad are scientists a little bit and can still enter when needed.

In her newly aquired role, she spent some time organizing her room and labeling her drawers this weekend. This is a good sign I hope of neat rooms in the future and fewer tantrums when she can't find stuff. "Stuff" can now be found in the "stuff drawer". That should even out the emotions a bit.

And science stuff has it's own place, at the top of the hierarchy where it should be.

In it, she has her book with all things scientific (4000 Things You Should Know), a notebook and pen to record her observations during experiments, and her pager. It's a busy life and she must be available at all times in cases of scientific emergencies.

She may have one of those emergencies in a few hours when she discovers her belly rumbling at lunchtime after having refused most good things on offer for her lunch box. Unfortunately nutrition is not her chosen area of study. Perhaps she will write her observations in her notebook anyway.

If I don't like cheese or yoghurt or pudding or fruit or juice or cake
or meat, I am hungry and grumpy in the afternoons. Tomorrow I
must experiment with foods and see if that solves the problem.

I'm confident that her studies will help her in life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I'll be a little less wordy than usual today. Go ahead - breathe your collective sigh of relief. I won't take it personally because I can't hear it from here.

I just signed up for a day of learning about Permaculture and I'm very excited. I'll be spending a day with friends listening and learning about sustainability on May 1, in time to make some garden plan changes if that's what results. It should be a great way to spend a day and I'm sure I'll learn a lot and start my season of hands-in-the-dirt with new enthusiasm.

This is the day as it is planned so far.

A Taste of Permaculture

Permaculture is a practical and scientific approach to designing sustainable human habitats by following nature's patterns to yield an abundance of food, fibre and energy.

WHO? Permaculture is for anyone! Especially if you are interested in: gardening, growing food, organics, environmental sustainability, community building, food security, alternative energy / transportation, resilience, green architecture / design, rehabilitating damaged land, reducing dependence on oil, transition communities etc.

WHAT?" A Taste of Permaculture" is a full day of workshops, lectures and community building, including:

- "The Big Picture" keynote by Ron Berezan (The Urban Farmer)
- Urban animal husbandry (chickens & bees!)
- Permaculture & youth- Edible plants/trees for urban lots
- plus 'Pecha Kucha' style presentations on garden design, farming and community building!

You can check it out here. If you're in my area, come with me! If you're not, feel free to travel. I'd love to see you there.

Smooth goodness

I wanted to steal Julie vanRosendaal's title "Live, Love, Lard", but that just wouldn't be right. She's the one who got me interested in trying this though.

I've been saving bacon fat for a while now, but we don't actually eat a lot of bacon. When we do, I let the fat solidify and scoop the creamy white stuff into a tiny mason jar in the fridge. Then I use it to fry meat and onions. Bacon and bacon fat make everything better.

I've also started using TenderFlake shortening a lot more lately because the price of butter is getting to be so high. I've been steering away from margarines for a while now and lard seemed like a good way to do it. Although the ingredients of Tenderflake seem pure (pork lard being the first on the short list), there must be something done to it to make it shelf stable without refridgeration. I'm not sure what they do to it.

Anyway, I went into a small butchershop that Rosa has found recently. Well, I always knew it was there but had never gone in - oh, how my grocery shopping days have changed lately! Anywho, I went it and asked out of curiousity if they had pork fat. He knew exactly what my plans were and recommended ordering 4 pounds of it (to make about 2 pounds of lard) and he would coarsely chop it for me. It costs me $2 for locally raised pork fat. After telling Rosa about it (I thought she would be grossed out), she ordered the same amount.

It did not look or smell very appetising when I first put it into the cast iron pan on a very low setting. I thought it would smell like bacon, but it hasn't been cured in salt or anything, so there is little resemblance. After it started to render and melt down, I put it in the oven on 200 degrees and went to bed.

We woke up to find this.

The fat had all rendered and just needed to be strained through a cheesecloth. It smelled better in the morning than it had at night.

After straining it, I was left with 5 cups of melted lard. I poured it into mason jars to cool and then will put them into the freezer until I want to do some baking. I think I'll start using it in my bread recipes.

Patting his round belly, the butcher also told me that I'd end up with crispy bacon-y bits for tossing on baked potatoes, perogies and salad. Not wanting a matching belly, I'll have to be careful with that. I did fry these up a bit because they weren't as crispy as I wanted and I added some salt too. Without being a cured piece of pork, they don't actually taste very much like bacon, but yummy all the same. The salt helps.

It looks yummy and crunchy and we're going to try it on perogies today. Then I'll resist temptation to sprinkle it on everything by freezing it and hope it doesn't freeze in one solid clump.

After cooling on the counter all day, the lard now looks like this. It's not quite as white as I thought it would be, but the texture looks perfect.

Minimal work (most is done by the oven while I sleep), so I'll do it again when I run out. You certainly can't buy much butter for $2 and this is always soft and workable.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Helping out

I love it when helping each other seems to come so naturally. It's not a forced thing and everyone benefits. Sometimes I think I benefit the most. Like with this exchange of goods.

Over the last month a neighbour and I have been trading bread. She makes lovely uniform rolls for me with mixed grains. And one day her daughter ran over with warm pan bread flavoured lightly with curry and tumeric and cumin. It was so good.

In return, this plaid bag goes back to her house with heavier whole wheat loaves. I can't make uniform buns, and she likes my homeground flour and wants to move in a healthier direction with her breads. She seems to think I know what I'm doing with grains.

Frankly, I have gotten tired of trying to work with 100% whole wheat flour. The stuff from my mill is so totally different from whole wheat from the grocery store. I've been fooling around with it a bit too much -- soaking the flour, including some sourdough starter, even sprouting some of the grain. Doing that makes me understand the grain a bit more, but it has also meant some erratic success and failure in the actual loaves.

I had even run out of white flour finally and I realize now that I'll probably never be have a totally whole wheat household. I love the crackers and other baked goods that don't require a lot of gluten, but I was pretty happy to buy some white flour again and make some fluffy white bread this week. I brought a loaf to my inlaws today, but together we made it disappear over two meals. I'll have to remember to bring some on our next visit. I didn't mean to eat my gift.

Last week I was also gifted with a lot of food from my mother, couriered to us by my sister. Just a few things, she had said. It turned out to be about 70 pounds of wheat berries, potatoes from her garden to last a few weeks, and tons of peppers and cucumbers. All grown fairly locally for my mom, so I appreciate the freshness of that. And the taste is awesome. I have wheat to last a long time now, and I will be stretching it by adding refined white flour for it's gluten content. Thanks, Mom!

The white flour is once again from southern Alberta too and that makes me happy. Thanks for the Ellison Mill tip, Apple Jack Creek. The price was a bit cheaper than from Costco for the same product, and I hope the mill itself ends up with more more in it's hands than if I went the Costco route.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Changing times

I saw three members of my family over the Easter weekend and it was awesome. Sometimes I feel very isolated up here in the north. I'm not big on phone calls, so the geographic distance between me and my siblings is a barrier to feeling close to family. This is also not a city that attracts tourists easily, I think. If you only get one or two short vacations in a year, well, let's just say that my home isn't often chosen. And then sometimes it is and there is great rejoicing.

In spite of our lack of closeness, we seem to be moving down some similar routes in our thinking. It was great to discuss things like excessive consumption and wasteful lifestyles, gardening and simple living.

Sometimes I read environmental blogs and peak oil articles and it can be kind of depressing. My sister left a small stack of magazines for the girls to read. One included an article about garbage.

Did you know that a plastic container will last somewhere between 1 million years and forever?? I use cloth bags for shopping and reuse as much as I can, but even if I feel good about reusing my Tupperware for 10 years, it will still last forever after I'm done with it. And what about the plastic that only gets used once? And there is plastic in every room in my house. All will eventually get brittle, crack and be un-useable and then last forever in a landfill somewhere or in the big floating garbage island in the ocean.

Just because plastic (and other garbage) is easily accessible, cheap and convenient, we should be thinking of it as an extreme luxury when we use it. "Just because we can" is not a good excuse for doing something and it bothers me that I continue to contribute to the problem.

Having said that, I look at what I do today that I didn't do five years ago and don't get too bummed out about it. One forum that I contribute to had a helpful discussion where we listed all of the things we used to buy and don't anymore. This means that we are either using less, doing without, re-using or upcycling, or have found alternatives that use less fossil fuels, less packaging. Less is the new More. :-)

Here was my list of what I almost never buy in the stores and it makes me feel better:
  • kleenex
  • paper towels
  • plastic wrap (although I can't find a plastic-less solution for everything yet)
  • Ziplock bags
  • yoghurt
  • bread
  • mayonaise
  • cookies (except mandatory Girl Guide cookies!)
  • crackers
  • menstrual supplies
  • new fabric
  • most vegetables
  • eggs
  • most herbs (I saved rosemary, parsley, poppy seeds, chives)
  • packaged mixes (soups, gravy, chili, taco, etc.)
  • instant oatmeal
  • cereal
  • relish, chutney, jam, canned fruit
  • canned tomatoes
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • hair spray (although I think I'll go back to that - I can't find an alternative)
  • deoderant
  • hair gel
  • household cleaners (floor, window and bathroom cleaners)
  • laundry detergeant

This wasn't at all the case a few years ago, so I'm happy that I'm making a difference in my small way. I still read the depressing blogs sometimes, but if I just keep taking baby steps I don't let them get me down.

This year I'm getting more gardening space, so I'm hoping to grow a few more things that I didn't have room for. I'd like to try corn again, and we've been living off of the potatoes of other people's gardens this year. I'd like to either grow my own or be able to grow excessive amounts of other things so that I too can contribute to someone else's pantry. It would be great to trade veggies for local meat or dairy because that's what our commercial packaged products seem to be. Any meat "growers" out there?

It's a pity you can't trade veggies for natural gas...