Tuesday, April 26, 2011

sourdough french bread

All you really need for great tasting bread is flour, water and salt.  Sourdough starter is made out of flour and water and captures the wild yeast, it gives rise and flavor to the best breads in the world.  The bread I'm making is getting better and better with all the practise I've been getting.  I think my favorite everyday bread so far is sourdough french bread, the added flavor of the sourdough brings out tangy notes, and makes all the difference in a bland bread or a flavorful one.  To make french bread crust taste authentic, brush cold water on just before putting in the oven, also add a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack for the first 10 minutes, then remove.  When the loaves come out of the oven brush them again with cold water.  This is what gives a good french bread crust the texture we all love.

I actually love kneading bread, and pour spirit, soul and song into my loaves as I knead them, I believe this makes all the difference in the heart and soul of good home-made bread... the love it's made with.

Sourdough has it's particulars, like not using metal, stainless steel is said to be fine, but I still use only wooden spoons, and ceramic bowls for all my sourdough.  I also store it in glass quart jars, and keep everything very clean and sanitary with hot water.  You learn to be clean and sanitary when making all ferments, like sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, yogurt, and sourdough.  All vessels and spoons should be washed and rinsed in hot water before use.  Most ferments like warmth to get going, and then you can slow down the growth with cool refrigerator temperatures.

In my bread making adventures, I've learned how valuable quick breads like cornbread, muffins, biscuits, scones, and coffee cake can be, they fill the need for bread in a hurry.  You can even use sourdough to make all of these quick breads using the sourdough's natural leavening action, rather than the usual baking soda and baking powder.  All you need for sourdough to work with quick breads is a half hour rise time.  So while it takes an extra half hour, the final quick bread has a much better flavor.

Bread making is something of a ritual, it doesn't take a lot of time, just steps that need to be followed.  The first rule with sourdough is to get a sponge going the night before, then it likes warmth, 85 degrees to rise the dough is very important.  I was rising the bread by the fire, but had to fiddle with the fire so much to keep it at an even temperature, so now I let it rise in the oven, and just warm it lightly every half hour.  I keep the door closed, and check on it frequently.  I do this because we heat solely with a wood stove, so temperatures on my kitchen counters have been too cold for sourdough, and the woodstove is fickle.  I still love the woodstove though, and use it for rising bread, rolls, and setting the sourdough by it at night.

I haven't let my sourdough starter go in to the refrigerator for weeks now, I simply use it almost everyday.  Yesterday morning we had the most delicious sourdough waffles, melt in your mouth, made with eggs still warm from the hens, separated and whipped the egg whites effortlessly because of the freshness. 

Sometimes sourdough bread is variable in the results for different people because of  chlorine in water, iodine in salt, sourdough breads should be made with sea salt, or another non iodized salt, you need the freshest flour.  If sourdough starter is not going strong enough, the dough will not rise, if the temperature is too cold, bread will not rise, and on and on.  It can be finicky, but when you learn the idiosyncrasies of sourdough, and what it needs to be  happy, and you use is regularly.  You will be sold, and never look back.

Did you know sourdough is made from the wild yeasts in the air, made from your environment, from the very air you breath, and the environment of your home?  I believe it makes a biodynamic bread, that is one of the best suited carbohydrate foods to feed our bodies.   Especially with grains milled right before use, I have a grain mill that is manual, and I need to use it more than I do.  The ultimate in healthy bread, is using just  milled grains, I may look into an electric mill to use while we have power, and the manual as a back up.
My favorite sourdough french bread recipe to be coming soon.

a cozy bunch

The kittens are now 6 weeks old, and are being raised by their 2 mom's, Tigger and Zora, sisters who gave birth 12 hours apart in the same big nest.  The kitten below is the one that we will probably keep, this will be the first kitten ever born at Applegarth.  Plus the mom's would be devastated if we didn't keep at least one of their babies, I doubt we'll need another cat now for 10 years or more.

The kittens have their home inside the 100 gallon stock tank, it's kind of like a big play pen. We put it in the back corner of the shop, to give them safety and privacy.  The nest box is like a big cave, they like to climb to the top of the box and nap during the day, and at night they go inside to sleep.  They are still nursing, and will be ready in a couple weeks for their new homes, we have 4 homes waiting for them to get old enough.  They are at such a cute and playful age and we've all been having so much fun watching them and playing with them, it's been a delightful experience to come up and say hi to 11 little kittens, give them a pet and talk to them sweetly while they're all snuggled together. 
 Tigger surrounded by her babies.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April days in the garden ~ sun, rain, snow and hail

A picture of a rhododendron at the nursery where I work on the weekends, the rhododendron is the Washington state flower, we have them wild all over the coast of Washington, mostly the lavender ones.

The weather has been cold and springlike, it was 35 degrees and snowing this morning, and the last couple mornings have been 36 degrees, then warm up to around 50 degrees during the day.  We've  had weather all over the place this last week, from sun and rain to hail and snow.  I remember over the years we've had hail on Easter during our egg hunts, so this is somewhat typical weather.  I think it may be a little colder than normal, as the dandelions are just beginning to bloom.  Speaking of dandelions, the bees are covering every one they find open, collecting loads of pollen to bring back to the hive.  The fruit trees have yet to bloom, and the sap is slowly beginning to flow in most of the trees.  The cherry buds are getting larger by the day, and will be spectacular when in bloom. 

My muscles are getting a work out again on a daily basis,  pulling weeds, digging beds, pitch forking and maneuvering a heavy wheelbarrow.  Muscles that lay dormant through much of the winter are happily felt once again.  Now is the time I'm moving and  planting, flowers, shrubs and trees. I have seedlings started on a warm radiator by the Southern windows.  They look out on the cold and are happy to have their roots all toasty and warm. 

Over the last few days I've been working on the perennial and vegetable beds, weeding and amending everywhere.  In the spring most of the things I do in the garden requires muscle and strength.  I know my muscles are getting a good work out by how they feel, by how much I groan when moving, and how soundly I sleep. 

I don't know if I've shared my philosophy for my garden before, but in a nutshell it's an organic test garden.  I call it a test garden because I experiment and test things and see what works.  This is why sometimes I plant things earlier than normal to test and see when the ideal time is to start things in my ecosystem.  I also test propagating with cuttings and creating rootstock.  Over the last couple days I've worked on the grafted fruit tree rootstocks I started 2 years ago, I labeled and identified them, cut back the rootstocks, weeded, and still need to amend and mulch the bed.  I also took 130 cuttings from 7 different berry bushes I have, 3 different types of gooseberry (Jahn's prairie, hinnomaki red and poorman), 2 types of serviceberry (autumn brilliance and smoky serviceberry), an aronia berry, and a high bush cranberry.  My cuttings don't always take, but my success has been pretty good.  I'm a little late in taking them, March is probably better, but we'll test and see.  Last year I started a few new bushes of each berry plant, and almost every cutting worked.

I'm happy to report I have nicely rooted kiwi plants 6 of them from last year that I started.  They are all hardy kiwis.  I have both hardy kiwis and one fuzzy kiwi, the kind you buy in the grocery store.  The hardy kiwis are the ones I'm counting on for a harvest.  They are small for a kiwi, they are the size of an extra large grape, with a sweet taste of kiwi.  The varieties I have are Kolomitka kiwi and Ananasnaya "Anna" Kiwi, I have a male and female of each variety, if you want fruit you have to have both a male and female.  They are planted along the back of my garden, with plans for a large arbor this summer.  I planted them about 3 years ago, so this will be the year they really take off.  I am looking forward to having an abundance of hardy kiwis.  I've read they are good for storing through much of the winter, so this is a real plus.

I am a big fan of berry bushes, and think they should be one of the first things you get started in your garden, strawberries are the most faithful fruit I have they will produce fruit the first year, and every year more and more, consistently giving you quality fruit.  Raspberry and blueberry bushes can be fit in most backyards and produce some fruit the first year and much more the second year.   On a new homestead, you will want to get your fruit trees planted right away, they will take from 3-5 years to begin to really produce.  If you plan to stay in a place, plant nut trees, they say when you plant nut trees, you plant them for your grandchildren.  I planted seedlings of  5 chestnut trees , 5 black walnut trees  and 4 filbert trees (3 filberts died the first winter).  I planted the trees 2 springs ago, this will be their 3rd spring year here.  I also have an almond tree, but I'm not sure if we're warm enough for it to produce fruit, we'll see it's still growing. Plus I planted a heartnut  tree to pollinate the butternut tree that is about 12 years old. 

I hope you're  having fun this spring and are getting outside.  A nice yearly spring ritual is planting a tree, make it an edible tree, shrub or berry bush.  Do you have a favorite edible berry bush or fruit tree?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

does coming in June

We will be getting 2 or 3 Nigerian Dwarf does from the Boyd's Farm in mid to late June, I'm not sure which one of these we're getting yet, but don't they all have beautiful markings.   This last week the Boyd's and I touched base about when kidding will take place, because she knows I want to be there shortly afterwards to see the mom's and babies and take some pictures.  I am so excited and can hardly wait till I can bring them home.  We are getting their area all ready, and still need to prepare their paddock, and build a goat milking stand.  I have been wanting goats to milk for years, ever since I had a Nubian for about 9 months that I milked.  We all loved the taste and flavor of the milk, and she gave about a gallon a day. 

With the milk, in addition to drinking I am planning to make goats milk soap, and as many dairy products as I can, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, cottage cheese, sour cream etc.   Nigerian Dwarfs are smaller than Nubians, and I'm not sure exactly how much milk they produce, but I thought 3 does in milk would be perfect to start this year.  In the late Fall, we'll breed them for next Springs kids, Nigerian Dwarfs typically have twins or triplets.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Home Made Laundry Soap ~ A Big Savings!

The most exciting thing I've discovered this last week is home made laundry soap.  How easy it is to make and how incredibly clean and bright our clothes are.  I haven't done the calculations on the savings myself but have read others say that it is pennies per load for the cost.  My cost is kept real low because I make all my own bars of soap now. 

This is a very simple recipe for home made laundry soap, all you need is;  Borax, washing soda, A bar of soap (any bar will probably do, however if I had to buy soap I'd use Dr. Bronner's pure castile soap, I've also read in other home recipes they call for Fels Naptha, or Sunrise soap), and water.  You can find all of these ingredients in the laundry isle of most grocery stores.
Here's the recipe for the smaller size batch, for the extra large family size batch look at recipe below this one.

Home made laundry soap recipe;
You will need a large pot to mix everything on the stove.  First put 4 quarts of water on to boil, then grate 1/3 to 1/2  bar of soap, pour into the water to melt. Heat on medium until the soap is fully dissolved.  Then add 1/2  cup each of washing soda and borax and stir until those are dissolved.  Turn off the heat and add 2 more quart jars of water.  Stir real good, your pot should be quite full.  You still need to add 2 more quarts for a total of 8 quarts (32 cups) of water.  This makes enough to do 64 loads of laundry using 1/2 cup per load. It will thicken up as it cools and you will have a gel like soap that dissolves nicely when you do your laundry, even on the cold cycle.   If you have old laundry detergent bottles these would be great to reuse, or any easily pourable plastic container would work great for you to store your laundry detergent in. 


Large Recipe (makes enough for 160 loads of laundry)
You will need an extra large pot to mix the ingredients on the stove.  First put 10 quarts of water on to boil, then grate 1 1/2 bars of soap, pour into water to melt. Heat on medium until the soap is fully dissolved.  I then add 1 1/4  cup each of washing soda and borax and stir until those are dissolved.  Turn off heat and add 5 more quart jars of water.  Stir real good, your pot should be quite full.   You will then add 5 more quarts of water (I did the last 2 steps in a bucket, because my pot wasn't big enough) for a total of  20 quarts (80 cups), I actually made mine a little more concentrated and didn't add the last 5 quarts of water.  This makes enough to do 160 loads of laundry using 1/2 cup per load. It will thicken up as it cools, and is a gel like soap that dissolves nicely when doing laundry.   

I just made this extra large batch of home made laundry soap and am thrilled with the results.  I am so excited because of the full realization since I began making soap, of just how much money I can save our family overall with making bars of soap, dishwashing soap, and now laundry soap.  Just think how important soap is in our day to day lives, we bathe with it, wash dishes, do laundry, clean our houses, along with many other things.  Now imagine you can make it all, simply and inexpensively.

Next on my desire to learn list is making shampoo's, lotions and lip balms.  One thing leads to another you know.  I also need things to do indoors on the cold wet days, which I hope will be getting warmer and sunnier.  Do you make any of your own home products that add up to big savings?  I'd love to hear about them. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April showers bring May flowers

I keep telling myself this as we've had so much rain over the last month and a half, and today it rained most of the day.  We actually had a couple of nice dry days yesterday, and the day before was our first nice sunny day in over a month.  I worked outside in the garden both days, weeding and pruning, Spring is a busy time I have so much to do.  I truly enjoy the time outdoors working hard, and the instant gratification of seeing the beds look good as soon as I'm done.  This is one of my perennial beds around the cabin, I took the picture above around the middle of June last year.  The picture below I took this morning, what a difference a couple of months makes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the coop ~ new stairs and the chicken run

This picture is the back side of the coop, already finished, except for the windows, notice it's 2 story, the chickens go through the bottom door when we let them out to pasture.  The picture of the stairs below is the front of the coop still unfinished. 
We are still working on our chicken coop, it has been a work in progress, to see the process go here.  Back in February over several nice weekends J built the simple rectangular forms and poured the concrete stairs.  We let them cure for a couple weeks then assembled each stair with drilled rocks in between (just for looks) we also put special smaller rocks embedded into the ends of each stair.  If you wondering why we do so much concrete, ie decks, fence posts, stairs, etc,  it's because we live in the rainy NW and wood rots quickly here.  This way the stairs won't get slippery and will last for years with no maintenance,  concrete is an easy medium to work with, and lasts for a lifetime.   He also found a rooster mold at Goodwill and cast that into one of the posts for fun.

The chicken run is the safe zone for the chickens, this is their yard that we built to give them some freedom, but still keep them safe.  We dug down almost a foot to lay the wire and prevent dig ins, and then filled in with gravel.  All the posts are metal t-posts, and the corners are several posts forming strong corners.  We put wood around the top to staple the top chicken wire onto.  The top is fenced with chicken wire that I sewed together 4 long pieces of the wire and is held in place with several long cables pulled tight and metal posts pushing the middle up (kind of like a circus tent).  It's rugged and doesn't look the prettiest, but it works.  Someday I envision climbing roses and plantings around it to add some beauty.  For now I'm just happy that no racoons can climb in to get them, and no owls or hawks can make air raids.  One thing if I had to do the chicken run over would be not putting gravel on the inside around the base, only big rocks they can't move with their scratching.  I have been raking small rocks and gravel that they spread everywhere with their scratching, looking for bugs.  I am slowly gathering big rocks from around the property and putting them around the inside and outside of the base of the chicken coop.  We also made sure to situate the run to have morning sun, and to be able to drain off excess water, it is on a slight hill, with all the rain we've had so far this spring, we could have ended up with giant mud puddles.  They're all running along beside me in this picture asking to come out and play, so they can run around.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

news from the farm

The biggest news I have since I last wrote in here is that I got a part time job at a plant nursery,  I'll be working on Saturdays and some Sundays from 10 to 5pm as a salesperson, helping people decide on how to landscape their yards and pick out plants.  I worked last weekend and today, and am having so much fun learning and apprenticing under the very knowledgeable owner Sharon.  The nursery specializes in Northwest Japanese style landscaping, with all different types of Maples, Evergreens, Rhodedendrons, Azaleas, Hydrangeas, and many different plants, shrubs, and bamboo.  It has 25 acres of landscaping stock, with 32 full greenhouses.  I am in heaven actually and can't believe I got this great opportunity to make some extra money, and learn at the same time.  I didn't even go looking for this job, a friend told me her friend who owns the nursery was looking for help on Saturdays, I called her and got the job.

One of my passions throughout my life has been gardening and plants.  To be able to help people beautify their yards and homes is a worthy job that makes me happy.  I will also be doing a few hours during the week at home on the computer for her, and will trade those hours for plants! Can you imagine getting paid in plants for something I already enjoy doing taking pictures and writing?

Weather news for early April, we had about an inch of snow Wednesday night, and it stuck around all day Thursday.  That night we had a freeze, because it was clear Thursday night, so we had sun for part of the day Friday, I just wanted to put my face up to the sun and soak up the rays.  The fruit trees are all near blooming, and I'm hoping it will warm up, I did hear this next week they're predicting snow one more time.  It has been so wet here day after day it rains, someone today said we've had around 42 days since we had a nice sunny day.

The kittens are growing, and starting to get to a real cute playful age.  We cleaned and moved the 100 gallon stock tank in to the shop to move their home into it, so they could run around in clean shavings in a controlled area for the mom's peace of mind.  The 7 baby rabbits were ready for me to take in to our local farm store, they buy them from me for $10 a piece, so I had some money to buy more rabbit and chicken feed.  The farm store was happy to have me show up again for the 3rd season with cute babies.  I spent time trimming and filing all their nails, and gave them the final hugs and looked into their eyes and told them I hope they find a nice home and can be a good pet.  I may create a tri-fold brochure about rabbits and their care, along with the name and number of my rabbitry in case they can't keep them or a child loses interest.  I worry about my baby rabbits getting good homes.  As far as the mom's go, I let them loose with the buck in a portion of the chicken run so they could all be together and run and play for a couple days. I just put them all out together yesterday.  So in another 30 days we should have 2 more litters of new baby rabbits. 

We're getting around 8 or 9 eggs per day, and have been enjoying them all different ways.  I've still kept my commitment to making all our own bread.  It has been a challenge at times, like this morning I needed some bread quick, I made cinnamon apple scones, they cook in 15 to 20 minutes, we loved them, they were delicious.  I have an everyday sourdough bread I've been making that everyone likes, and I also make different grain loaves with oatmeal, sunflowers, corn, rye, etc.  This last week I made home made pizza, dinner rolls, muffins and still need to try bagels and crackers.  One of my favorite quick breads is corn bread, I love it hot out of the oven with a generous dollop of butter.  When you make all your own bread, quick breads are a good standby.

This last week was Spring Break for my kids, we had family in town visiting for part of the time, and I took a spring break from the Internet.  This month some of my goals are to keep working on the vegetable garden, build compost, weed and ammend with compost all the vegetable and flower beds, work on the goat pasture getting it fenced and their area all ready, and I plan to continue making soap.  By the way, the soap is exquisite, I love using the lemon grass bar in the shower, and make excuses to wash my hands at the sink with the lavender soap. The bars are not all the way cured and need a couple more weeks, but since I'm the soapmaker I decided to try them early.  I am planning to have a drawing in a few weeks for some of my home made soap when it's cured.

There's never a dull moment around here.  I hope Spring has sprung where you live, and that you're enjoying the longer days.  I've been wishing for the warmth of the sun to return so it can bring forth new life and fruit, we're all ready for warm sunny days again.