In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.


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It’s the little things…

photo-16This post is really about tempeh. I promise.

Our household is in that place where when we feel like spending a little extra beyond our monthly bills, we do a 3-4 month budget projection. Inevitably, it turns out there isn’t any extra, and that is clear when the mortgage is due 3 months into the future.

I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. I am not suffering in any real way. Chinese takeout once or twice a month, yoga class once a week, a beer or two every so often. Plus, we are paying our mortgage! It’s fine. But how I covet things. Don’t let the fact that I only have 5 pairs of shoes* (3 of which are 8 years old) fool you. I covet shoes. And other apparel. Kitchen towels. Appliances. Organic sheets. Things.

When I was little, my family didn’t have much. I think it must have been pretty hard on my folks having three young kids always asking for stuff, but never really being able to provide. Instead of saying no, they got in the habit of saying, “someday.” We’d plan on these half promises so much that our parents would actually take us to the store to look at and pick out the things that they would buy us someday. I have very fond memories of a three story Victorian doll house, the polished miniature dining set, intricate curtains, iron bed, rotary telephone, and patterned rugs that I adored, examined, obsessed over, and never owned. I went to Hobby Lobby every week one summer just to look at the doll house that I would own someday.

photo-15So, yes, I will admit it, I get depressed when there isn’t any extra, because I like to think that someday I’ll be able to buy stuff. This cycle is in my blood. True to my upbringing, the best cure I have found for this gloom is Home Goods, the discount home goods store. Everything at Home Goods is either a factory second or an over stock. I always enjoy myself the most at Home Goods when I go in resolved not to buy anything. That’s always when  I find a gem, like I did on Sunday evening. I was walking around, scrutinizing every slightly rejected item on the shelf, as usual. I was in the kitchen section, where I always begin, when I spied a three tiered cooling rack.

For about 3-4 months, I have been making tempeh. The problem is, the incubator, an old mini-fridge outfitted with a light bulb and a thermostat, only has two tiny shelves, and therefore I can only fit 2 batches of tempeh in at a time. The bottom shelf is plexiglass, and there is no circulation. To remedy this, Sam placed our turkey roasting rack, which we no longer have a need for roasting turkey, on top of the plexiglass shelf to help with air flow, but it makes the tempeh wonky, and sometimes the tempeh incubated on these shelves has patches that haven’t “tempehed.”

This post really is about tempeh!

So, there I am in Home Goods, looking at what normally I would think is a worthless piece of crap, that I spied for no reason at all on the bottom shelf, and all I can think of is how this three tiered cooling rack might solve my tempeh problems. I show it to Sam, thinking he is going to tell me its way too big, since I have terrible judgement when it comes to that sort of thing, and he nods his head pensively. There is hope.

I shell out the $9.99, which might take its toll in March, and the entire ride home all I can think of is that this rack is going to be way too big, and we are going to have a three tiered cooling rack that I am going to have to store it in the basement.

When we get home, I grab the rack, open it, pull the incubating tempeh off the shelves, and slide the rack in. It fits perfectly. This thing has made me so happy.photo-14

*OKAY. Yes. 5 pairs of shoes is a ridiculously silly way of proving my point. I know. But I still want new ones.


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A Day in this Year

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Chocolate stout cake with brown sugar frosting. The frosting wasn't perfect, but I suffered through it anyway.

I start this song-birdy Sunday off unlike any other day in recent memory. Out of bed at 7:00 am (I usually wake up at 4:45 during the week and reserve weekends to lounge around in bed until 8 or 9), not coffee but tea, making several weekend plans for March, April, May and June (unheard of in the past four years), and thinking about the work I will do in the small garden plot I am installing at work.

My mind doesn’t quite know how to wrap itself around the fact that I am not planning, worrying, plotting and thinking about the farm that is no longer in my care. I checked a non-farmy book out from the library a month and a half ago and never opened it before I returned it over-due. I still plan on attempting to read a work of fiction, however I have already started reading a book about growing winter greens.

I wonder, how I am coping with this new space in my brain? I am trying to fill it with niceties, but something else is creeping in. It is clear that this limbotic, seemingly still moment in my life, the year I turn 30, has made it clear that there is some major stirring within, a stirring I cannot even fathom, a stirring that is quite scary, ancient, dark, and necessary. Farm work took up those happy little spaces in my brain that had tortured me so long, and now, well, now there is room. Nature abhors a vacuum.

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I guess writing is the key coping mechanism. Perhaps urge is more apt. This writing, just this writing, so far. I ordered a book called “Writing Down the Bones,” a sort of workbook I guess. Another urge. Gravitate towards the things you thought might heal you way back when, when the wounds were almost certainly fatal.

Ah. And I realize the other elephant in the room of coping is running. Yes running. Nothing else quite like the bone shaking addiction of running. As I write, I am resisting the urge to run today since I know my body can’t handle it 7 days a week. Yes, I know. I don’t quite cope, I beat myself into submission. Here’s to trying!

So, I have also made a lot of cakes, eaten a lot of cakes, and run, a lot, eaten more cake. And written once.

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Mexican Hot Chocolate Birthday Cake: Cinnamon scented four layer chocolate cake with chile ganache between the layers and whipped coconut cream frosting on top.


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A dress, a dress, a dress

I am planning a wedding, my wedding to be exact, and it’s not as easy as thought it would be. I was in denial about the whole thing for a while. Not about being with Sam, no! I have been in denial of how difficult making something exactly what I want it to be is. And this something is a big celebration with lots of somethings needed to make it perfect. I always picture things perfectly but nothing is ever as perfect as pictured.

Right now the something I am working on is the dress. What fun is a wedding without getting all gussied up? Okay, there’s the friends, the music, the food, but if ever there were an excuse to dress up, your own wedding is the place. I have never been one to plan much ahead, or do anything in advance, so when I was looking at dresses every so often on the web 8 months before our wedding, I thought I was on top of the ball. When I was thinking about when to go dress shopping 6 months before our wedding date, I thought I was golden. I thought, why not wait until I am at my “farming weight” to buy a dress so it won’t need to be altered so much? That would put me in July, 3-4 months before our wedding. Apparently not a good idea. So after a few gasps at this news from friends and acquaintances, I made some appointments and am going dress shopping in 4 days.

The whole commercial-cultural-bridal-craze notwithstanding, I can understand where the custom of finding a dress 6-8 months prior to the wedding day comes from. A quality, handmade garment takes time. On top of that, I would like my dress to be made of ethically sourced, sustainably manufactured materials, which, when you pair that with style, is rare. Is this my form of being a “bridezilla?” Asking people, “Who made this? How much do they get paid? Where is the material from? What’s it made of? Does it contain toxic chemicals?” Or rather, shouldn’t this be my attitude every single time I spend a dime? I admit to falling off the wagon when necessity outweighs price or availability, but perhaps it should take 6 months to shop for anything?

Plus, there’s the white thing to boot. Here’s the thing, I don’t really want to wear white. I am not pure, I am not a virgin, why misrepresent? Turns out, a white wedding dress is actually a quite arbitrary wedding tradition. While most people think it’s a symbol of purity (ahem) it’s not. Or at least, that’s not why the tradition started. Which, you would think would make it okay with me. So, I admit it, the five-year-old inside of me who was raised to think that her only value in life would be to serve god, get a husband and have children always pictured a white dress. And while I sometimes coo (silently) at some of these dresses I am seeing, I really am trying to rebel against that little five-year-old me, even though I am fulfilling her “happily ever after” fantasy, after many promises not to.

Besides, what’s the point of buying a beautiful dress that fits perfectly if you will never wear it again? I was recently told that it used to be custom to wear your wedding dress to a dinner party soon after being wed. Because your wedding dress was just a dress. What happened to that custom? Well, I could tell you my theory, but this has gone on long enough.

I decided that I need a place for this wedding stuff, and for a while, this is going to be it. For about 3 months I haven’t spoken about it to any one. But we are planning some really amazing stuff! An awesome band (or maybe two!)! Practically handmade invitations by local artisans! Kegs of home brew for the big day! Home-grown vegetables for the food! Home-grown flowers too! Vintage table cloths! Paper lanterns every where! Pies, oh my, pies!

(Although, I must say, I find it awesome that my fermentation posts are getting so many hits. Keep fermenting!)

Lastly, here is Sam’s vegan chocolate birthday cake. His favorite foods? Chocolate cake and pizza. Oh, that guy.


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Greens, Roots and Eating

I feel like starting off by saying, “I’m back folks”, although I think that would be silly and out of place.  I am back, from farming, from the 2010 season and from my other blog.  I have a ton of food posts I am dying to write, although some of them might be a bit out of season since I have been saving them up since June.  Oh well.  I always knew I’d be one of those “promising to write” bloggers.

Frosted Cold Frames

We did a stellar job making sure we have some good greens and roots this winter.  Three cold frames full of greens; 100 feet of kale, 25 feet of raab, and 10 feet of chard in the field; and some spinach, cabbage and mustard scattered about.  Not to mention the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, radishes and parsnips.  There’s more, but you should just wait for the post titled “My Winter Pantry.”  I might not have made money this year, but I sure am going to eat well.

Sam is working two jobs now, and comes home at 8 every night.  I, on the other hand, work the total of half a job, and have been home all day.  So I have taken up the task of obsessing over dinner.

Here’s my stellar menu plan for this week:

Linguine with Vodka Sauce and Garlic Greens*

Mole Poblano Enchiladas (homegrown black beans!)

Cabbage Gratin with Potato Galette

Braised Tofu Soup with Buckwheat Soba and Seaweed Salad*

Leek Quiche with Potato Crust

Mushroom Stroganoff with Roasted Parsnips

(*already eaten)

I always make enough to serve for lunch the next day, which has made life considerably less stressful.  Sam and I both hate waking up in the morning and making lunch before heading off to work.  Sam will just eat bagel chips all day, which is a sin, and I will go hungry, so skimming lunch portions from dinner is really the best solution for everyone involved.

Since I have had a very tiring day of sleeping in, watching sleeping kitties, browsing seed catalogs and facebooking, I have only the energy to post a very simple parsnip recipe.  I won’t even put it in proper recipe form.  But oh my is it delicious.

Roasted Parsnips with Maple and Lemon

4 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel and cut 2 pounds of parsnips into chunks.  Toss with 3 TBS grapeseed oil, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, 2 TBS maple syrup, salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until golden on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 30 minutes.  Turn them at least once during the roasting process and do not burn!

 

 


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No Time Season.

(Yeah, no time at all which is why I am writing this post!  All photos were taken specifically for posts I never wrote.)

I wish I had some sort of recording device hooked up to my brain so that my thoughts could be transcribed in this here blog while I am working.  Okay, not all of them.  A lot of the time I am just worrying, giving myself an ulcer and all that.  But sometimes, my mind mulls over quite interesting topics, such as the theory of special relativity (fellow Johnnies will appreciate that), the ethics of eating locally, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Plato, modern feminism and herbal salves.

But alas, at the end of the day, I come home, realize that I will be back at work in eight hours, feel the need to eat dinner even though I am falling asleep, and go to bed.  All thought save the farm one flee.  I have three books on the nightstand: Breads from La Brea Bakery, Heavenly Bodies, Earthly Hair, and Healing with Whole Foods.  I wish I could say I have made progress with any of them, however, I fall asleep after reading one page these days.  (The bread book is, so far, awesome, in that the breads I have made from it have turned out well.  I keep it by my nightstand because the two times I have used it I have had to set an alarm for 3:00 AM in order to ready the dough for its second rise.  You got to understand, these recipes must be followed to the letter!)

I have spoken to other laborers about this, and we all agree, work begets thought.  My mind is hungry for topics, but I can’t muster the energy to give it any new stuff (hence the constant worrying).  I can say this though, I do have these moments when I feel one with my work, when there seem to be no thoughts in my brain, just observance of the task at hand.  It doesn’t last long, but it’s quite refreshing, akin to jumping into the pond.

I will be spending time now writing posts ion my CSA blog, since the season begins June 1.  There will be recipes galore and farm news and so on every Sunday.  So I think I will probably just be posting goofy pictures of my culinary exploits on this blog.  Or maybe writing haiku poetry.   Or perhaps that device will materialize and I will start writing a novel while toiling in the field.  You never know.


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Frugal Fridays

When I was admiring the strong beet seedlings last week, I began fantasizing about the full grown, first late-spring beets: medium sized, sweet, with delicious leafy greens.  Then I realized that I still have beets stored in our basement.  I have been eating beets for months now.  That really took all the fun out of spring beets.

Add this to the fact that we still have butternut squashes and a freezer full of preserved food, and I decided to take action in the form of a challenge:  To not purchase any food for as long as we can take it, a minimum of two weeks.

We are officially on day 5.  Normally, we would have gone to the store on Sunday, but we have been trudging right along.  Our meals have been a mixed bag.  For instance, I would not wish tonight’s dinner on my worst enemy.  Weird frozen udon noodles with frozen (over ripe) green beans topped with hot dried chilies (the best part) and a strange sauce made with an even stranger fermented black bean sauce (that basically came in a jar, why did I ever buy that?) .  Most of the foods in our house that are still in the freezer or condiments that we still have after months are items that flabbergast me now.  Like frozen (over-ripe) greens beans.  I know now that I enjoy pickled dilly beans so much more than frozen green beans.  The proof is in the pudding, we have been out of dilly beans for months and still have 5 or 6 bags of frozen green beans to go.

On the plus side, I found a bag of frozen, sauteed fennel (score).  One last bag of roasted, diced eggplant (very nice).  We now have enough room in our freezer for the six gallon-sized bags full of tomatoes that have been housed in a friend’s freezer.  I am putting tomatoes in everything.

Some meals feel like cheating, like when we had black beans and rice for dinner.  Others are glorious:  kale and seaweed over soba noodles.  I am actually looking forward to getting down to the wire, when we really are almost out of food, and have to be really creative.  After all, we won’t have a good supply of spring greens until the very end of May.  This challenge has already forced me to rethink feeding my food cravings at all times.

Update:  Since I wrote this on Friday and am posting it on Sunday, I can add that Sam was excited that he might be able to buy cereal at the store today, since our challenge has lasted a week.  “Cereal?” I replied, “Cereal?  This challenge is not over!  You do not need cereal!”  I must be firm.


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The Day We Picked Dandelions: A Prelude to Wine

Now that last week is over, and the rain is watering in seeds, seedlings and onion plants today, I can relax a bit.  Sam and I had quite the stormy affair last week, not the romantic kind.  Last year, we had all kinds of blow-outs that all stemmed from broken expectations, full schedules and the stress of the season.  This year, starting in the winter, we planned certain perimeters and schedules that we thought might help the tension caused by running a small farming business together.  It’s actually funny to me, looking back on all that planning, and all the planning we always do.  We are like two busy little relationship bees, building a hive of security.  We are so eager to fix our issues that sometimes we miss the whole point, and it inevitably comes in a thunderstorm and knocks the whole hive over.  Every time.  And still we never see it coming.

We have been planning on making dandelion wine for months now, ever since we had a vintage bottle of Jay and Polly’s dandelion wine that blew us away with deliciousness.  Yesterday was the day we had planned on the arduous task of picking 5 gallons of dandelion petals for the wine.  Yesterday also began with a nice little argue fest, the forth argue fest day in a row.  After an hour or so of tense arguing, I told Sam to go pick dandelion flowers by himself.  It’s funny how fast feelings of anger and urgency diffuse once the setting changes.  It took me 10 minutes to recompose myself once alone, and I spent the next couple of hours running errands around town and taking in the beautiful spring day.  I held the awareness of our rocky week together in the background of my mind, not quite sure what to think of it, but not quite uncomfortable with it either.  I pulled up the farm when all my errands were complete, singing, “I’m a man-man-man eater” loudly along with Neko Case, and spotted Sam sitting silently in a patch of dandelion.  (Sam later told me he was a little worried for his safety by my song choice, I told him I had been listening to it on repeat.)

I joined him with my yellow pot and he showed me his seasoned technique for de-petaling the dandelions.  After all, he had been doing it for two hours.  We moved from spot to spot around the farm, chatting every so often, but mostly silent.  At one point, we were in a nice patch and I noticed that the dandelions were big, fat, and had full, pollen filled manes.

“I read somewhere that dandelions were brought here by settlers for their beauty,” I said.

“Yeah, I read that too,” Sam replied.

“I feel like I am seeing these dandelions for the first time today, as I am ripping out their petals.  They really are beautiful.”

“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.”


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Ouch…Again

Holy smokes, my life it out of wack!  I keep saying out loud “everything that can go wrong is going wrong.”  Seriously.  And I think I just might even be jinxing myself even further by stating this new saying over and over again.  I won’t go into all the gritty details (hint: its mostly farm related) but I will say that I have injured my knee, my left thumb and and left wrist.  Then yesterday I stabbed a toe on my right foot, through my shoes, with a pitch fork.  Seriously, I think there is something wrong with me, I am not quite sure if it is emotional, karmic, dietary or what.  Someone said to me today, “This is a sign that you need to slow down…but you can’t right now.”  Nope, certainly not, but this new found clumsiness just might do me in if I don’t reign it in fast.

Which reminds me, I am beginning to wonder if I just might start my own health care co-op.  Probably not, but it sure would be nice.  A group plan run collectively by like minded individuals.  What the heart of health care should be…I would really like my very own specialist, you know, liberal-hippie-farmer-style–someone who can use their expertise in healing herbs, remedies and food to guide me a bit when I am feeling out of wack.  And if there were ever something really wrong, well, they could help guide me through that too.  So, who is this specialist and when I am forced to purchase a health care plan, will they be on the list?  Just some considerations I have been having quite a bit.

In good news, spring is here.  When I look out at the gorgeous views around here my heart fills with warmth and gladness.  I am making a spring greens ferment–a sort of wild kimchi–and I will certainly report when it’s done.   This year I discovered garlic mustard, a petite wild brassica that has garlic notes to start followed by a strong, bitter flavor.  It will be the main ingredient.

The fermenting season has definitely begun.  It’s time for kombucha drinking, which means mad kombucha brewing (beware the teeny fruit fly infestations…).  I am starting to make yogurt again, and with the warm weather comes the desire to use the outdoor oven at the farm, which means I have got to keep my sourdough starter fresh and fed every week.  With all this weekly fermenting,  am actually going to make a fermenting schedule.  I have decided that fermented foods are important enough to my well-being that they deserve top priority.  Last summer, I often put off my fermenting projects at the end of the day, only to regret it later. Perhaps for all the readers out there who might not understand this love of mine for fermented foods, I will make an effort to expound upon the benefits of these foods when I get around to writing about them.

On the writing topic, I started another blog a couple of months ago for the CSA.  It’s funny, having the new blog has made me feel more open in this one.  Come June, the CSA blog will start filling up with recipes and interesting farm news.


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Watercress and Quinoa Salad

It has been hot, and I mean hot.  Last summer it was 85 degrees out for like, a week.  This spring, we’ve already had two 85 degree days and counting.  Plus, I have newly damaged, red skin and a true farmer’s tan.  My body is positively flummoxed.  I should be picking arugula and radishes and cucumbers and fresh herbs (and I won’t mention the one veggie I am hoping has a stellar year this year) and eating them at 85 degrees, no?  No.  I’ve got a ton of itty seedlings, seeds, and last year’s potatoes.  (After all, our frost-free date isn’t until May 15!)  My body is in shock.  To top it off, this in-need-of-vegetable-body-shock caused me to commit the sin of all my sins, supermarket produce.  Yes, that’s right, I bought fossil fuel produce, shipped from who knows where.   I hate to break it to everyone out there, but it certainly is not as wonderful as home-grown produce by a million miles.  Seriously, buy local, in season produce this summer or grow your own.  Do it for selfish reasons first, think about the wholesome ones later.  You won’t regret it.

I was riding home for my lunch break the other day, actually dreading making lunch for all the reasons above, when I remembered the watercress patch in the stream beside our apartment.  So excited was I that I leaped off my bike, ran down the steep mucky slope, submerged my sneaker clad feet in water and rushed to the patch.  Lo and behold, the enormous patch had a wonderful salad sized handful of just big enough watercress for my greedy little hands to pick.  I’ve been eating some everyday since.  It’s amazing what one vegetable can do.

I have no pictures to share, but maybe will post some soon, just in case some readers out there have unidentified watercress patches of their own to discover and enjoy.

Watercress and Quinoa Salad

I made this for Sam and myself the other day and couldn’t even focus on our non-food conversation.  It’s that good.

Serves 2

2 cups cooked quinoa

2-4 generous handfuls watercress, roughly stemmed

2 TBS salt-brine capers

1/2 ripe avocado

sprinkling of chopped scallions, green onions, or chives (also all in season!!!)

Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)

Mix the first 3 ingredients together with Mustard Vinaigrette.  Divide between two plates, serve with diced avocado and a sprinkling of chopped scallions.

Mustard Vinaigrette

1-2 tsp agave nectar, maple syrup or honey

1 TBS fine Dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

splash of white wine vinegar

3-4 TBS extra virgin olive oil

pinch or two dill, dried or fresh (We have our own home-dried dill, which is great, but I hear that store bought dried dill usually lacks flavor.)

fresh milled pepper

You can just mix it all up, but if you want to be fancy, you can easily emulsify it: mix the agave nectar, oil and mustard together first until well blended, then add the lemon, vinegar and dill.  (All dressing made with a liquid sweetener, oil and acid can be made this way and they will not separate.)


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Beginner’s Bread

I am currently on day 5 of a 21 day detox.  Can you guess one of the foods I have chosen not to eat for three+ weeks?  Bread, lovely bread.  (I haven’t given up carbohydrates though!  Make no mistake about that!)  So, while I am in the midst of detoxing my entire life, I thought I could unload this post, which I started weeks ago after I got my hands on a much much appreciated sourdough starter from a friend.

I love reading cookbooks, so I know that sourdough bread is not seen in the real world as the easiest bread ever.  There are actual, conflicting schools of thought on the subject of making the “perfect loaf” of sourdough bread.  Not to mention the insanely precise bread baking books, that insist everyone weigh every ingredient and follow their instructions TO THE LETTER.

Well, let me just say that the first wild yeast bread was probably an accident, so how hard can it be?  Besides, precision is meaningless to the inexperienced baker who has never felt a good dough in their hands, or seen what nicely risen dough looks like.  Just so you know, all those inexperienced bakers out there, sourdough bread is much easier to make than commercial yeast bread.  Yes I said it!  Much easier, and much tastier.

Sourdough cultures are natural yeast and bacterial colonies that thrive in a wet flour mixture.  As long as they are treated right these colonies can live hundreds of years.  Every starter has its own unique characteristics that show themselves in the flavor, texture and crumb of the bread.

So why doesn’t everyone make sourdough bread?   Despite the ease of making bread with a sourdough culture, the time factor is a major issue.  For example, when I make sourdough bread, I schedule my life around the dough’s needs for three days.  It’s like tending to children, pets, or any other living organism.  Bad things could happen if the dough is left unattended.  Well, one bad thing, over-proofing.

I have a very simple method for making a very splendid bread.  This method is not scientific, it’s not really detailed, and it doesn’t even explain all the know-how that I actually do know-how.  (Because in reality, I think that there is real value in precision.  Weighing ingredients in bread making is actually extremely important, but we all have to start somewhere, right?)

I use a liquid starter.  A liquid starter has a pretty much equal ratio of flour to water.  Some people prefer a stiff starter, which is more like bread dough in consistency.

Here is my beginner’s method for sourdough bread.  This is my version of pecan raisin bread.  There’s nothing in it but flour, water, salt, starter, pecans and raisins.  The water that is used to soak the raisins is also used as the water in the dough.  This gives the bread a wonderful tan color and also adds a sweet tang that compliments the sourdough flavor.

It has taken me a while to truly appreciate simple recipes, but this one makes it easy.  A truly decadent, simple bread.

Tools:

A standing mixer (always optional when making bread); baking stone; baking sheet; parchment paper; spray bottle; cloth, or banneton or colander lined with a floured cloth

Ingredients:

1 scant cup “proofed” liquid starter (see below)

3 1/2 cups flour (2 1/2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat)

1-1 1/3 cups water

2 tsp sea salt

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Begin “proofing” the starter 6-8 hour before mixing the dough:

Start with the sourdough culture.  Take it from the refrigerator, or where ever it is, and “proof” it.  Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water into about 1 cup of starter.  When the starter has risen and is bubbly and foamy on top, about 6-8 hours later, it is ready to be mixed into the dough.  Remove one cup for the dough and set aside.  Place the remainder in a clean container and refrigerate.  This is the starter for future use.

6-8 hour prior to mixing the dough soak the raisins in hot water.  The soaking water will be used as the liquid in the dough as well.

Mix the dough:

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid.  Place the liquid in a measuring cup.  If it measures less than 1 cup, add a sufficient amount of water to equal 1 cup.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a food processor fitted with a dough blade) measure the flour.  Add the salt, starter and most of the 1 cup of water.  Stir with a wooden spoon.  If it is dry or has lots of flour that cannot mix in, gradually add more water, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough is hydrated.  Turn the mixer on low for about 1 minute, then increase the speed to medium for five to ten minutes.  The dough should come together, be wet but not too sticky, and mix quite easily.  It should stick to the sides of the bowl a bit at first, yet hold together and come off the sides of the bowl as the mixer turns. (Side note: You can see the strands of gluten forming too.  They are visible as the dough is moving through the mixer, as it sticks and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.)

When the dough has been adequately mixed, it should be soft and smooth and not too sticky.  You should be able to handle it easily with a light dusting of flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Form it into a rectangle.  Sprinkle the raisins and pecans on top.

Fold the edges on one side to a point and fold the dough over onto itself, taking care not to lose many raisins or pecans.  Continue to work the dough until it begins to stick to itself.  (The moist raisins will make keep the dough from sticking to itself, just work with it and it will come together.)  Once the dough has come together, shape it into a ball and place it into an oiled bowl to rise.  Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm spot.

Let the dough rise for 6-8 hours, until doubled.

Shape the dough and let it rise. Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into two loaves.  Split the dough in half.  Working with one piece at a time, form the dough into a rectangle, fold the corners like an envelope, and roll the dough tightly on itself, sealing the seam at the bottom with your fingertips.  Place the shaped loaves in a place to rise* for 3-5 hours.

*Okay, there are some pretty great things you can buy to let your shaped dough rise in. I highly recommend most of them, but don't own any of them (yet). So I improvise with a seriously well floured, heavy cotton cloth, with objects at the ends to allow the dough to hold its nice shape.

Towards the end of the rising period, about one-hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone situated on the bottom rack.

Once the it has almost doubled, slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor blade down the center.  Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet lined with a mat or a piece of parchment paper.  Place in the oven, spritz water into the oven several times, and close the door.  Bake at 450 for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 400.  Bake for about 25 more minutes, spraying with water one or two times if you feel like it.

When the loaves are brown, crusty and dark all over, they are most likely done.  You can also tap the bottom of the dough (Pick it up with an oven mitt!), if it sounds hollow, it is done.

Now for the hardest part.  Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

Some notes:

The biggest problem area is over-proofing the dough.  That’s when the dough rises for too long or has been placed in a spot that is too warm and thus makes the yeast go crazy.  When dough has over-proofed, it not only has too much air in it but is also very difficult to handle. It will absolutely deflate when placed in the oven, which is not a desirable effect to say the least.  I always just reshape the dough and see if it has enough umph to rise again.

The other issue is getting the dough into the oven.  Even if the dough has not over-proofed, it can still deflate, so take care when placing the finished dough into the oven and wait for my next bread post that will address some of the issues with a more structured approach.