Thursday, April 30, 2009

First sourdough bread

I made my first sourdough bread today. (well, the first since about 25 years ago when i was a young mother, anyway!)
I got some things from the King Arthur Flour company. Yesterday I 'fed' the sourdough starter several times as per instructions, and used it today for the first time. I would have liked it more sour, but I made it mild the first time on purpose so my husband wouldn't dislike it. I've decided it was a bit 'too' mild, so I will follow the 'stronger flavor instructions' next time.
I also used part whole wheat flour- 2 cups whole wheat to 3 cups unbleached white. I think this made it a little too dense for my taste, so next time I will do 1 cup whole wheat to 4 cups white instead.
The fresh bag of Red Star yeast worked quite nicely.
The recipe using 5 cups of flour and 1 cup of starter made two modest sized loaves, as you can see.

They look lovely, and they were fluffy and taste fine, but I think next time the two changes will improve it.
My next project will be an olive, onion, & sun-dried tomato loaf using the Artisan bread dough which is now mellowing in the fridge. Now that will be fun! Guess I'll have to try making foccacia at some point too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kissing boules

I made another couple of loaves of white crusty boule bread from the Artisan Bread book basic dough recipe today. Since they were a nice petite 8" round size, I made two at once and placed them side by side to rest/rise and bake together.
They wound up 'kissing' each other in the middle- it was so sweet! My husband and I agreed that they reflected us accurately. So romantic!
We ate one boule this afternoon in our lunch sandwiches plus snacking on the irresistible heels, and we'll eat the other one tomorrow. I get three of this size round boules from each basic dough batch (made with 6 cups flour).
As the book said, when the dough ages a few days in the fridge before shaping and baking, it has a nicer flavor, nicer crust, and is more chewy/stretchy. This proved true today as these boules were made from 5 day old dough and they really tasted great, with perfect texture. I've started a new dough batch in the fridge.

My new peel and the parchment paper make handling and transferring the dough much easier than before. I think I ham finally getting the hang of it, though I don't really feel confident yet at all- I am still getting uneven results sometimes.

I tried making some baking powder type bread the other day (no yeast) just for fun, and I think my husband and I have become spoiled by this artisan chewy crunchy yeasty bread. The old baking powder bread I used to like ok just didn't float our boats this time.

I have ordered a few interesting additional bread baking goodies to try out...some sourdough starter, some 'white' whole wheat flour from King Arthur Flours, a lame, and I want to try making some bread with semolina/durham flour. I also need to get some black sesame seeds, poppy seed, sun-dried tomatoes, nuts, fresh rosemary, and olives to begin experimenting with other interesting breads.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stop! Poop Thief!

Ok, so what is the lowest of the low one can sink to? Stealing poop, maybe?
Well that's what I 'almost' sunk to today, for the sake of my little eisenia foetida composting worms.

I was riding my bike this beautiful Spring morning, and I passed by a large field where black angus beef are kept. There is a very sturdy fence around this field. I gazed longingly at the wonderful cow flops dappling the field, day dreaming about how much my compost bin worms would enjoy a treat of aged manure...
Then, I spied a nice cow patty that had been deposited right next to the fence wire! =8-D I could easily get my hand through and flip it right into the handy plastic bag I always carry in my saddle bag! Technically I would be stealing the poop, but I couldn't quite see myself winding up on the police blotter if I got caught, right?

But I was just at the beginning of my 13 mile ride, and I would be coming home the same way, so I decided to do the poo heist on my way home so I wouldn't have to haul it around for miles.
I got my come-uppence, though, because on the way back I slowed down there and searched for the poo pile with my name written all over it...and I couldn't find it again! I had to go home empty handed. :(

But as fate would have it, interesting developments were yet to come!

This afternoon I had to take one of my cats to the vet. As I pulled into the vet's parking lot, it dawned on me that the vet used to have some sheep she kept in back of her house! When she finished with my cat, I asked if I could have some sheep doo doo, and she said "Sure, take all you want!"

So I loaded up my bag and now I have some nice sheep doo treats to try out on my worms! Should add some good nutrients to their diet- for free, too!

Thank goodness I didn't have to stoop to poop looting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ruby discovers the worms

Well I should have known it would not be long before Ruby discovered my new vermicomposting bin. Sure enough, this morning (on Earth Day no less), the lid was off the worm bin, and I found Ruby sitting right in the worm bedding, 'calling' to the worms hidden under the compost. Fascinated, I watched as the compost worms actually surfaced and came to her and began to crawl into her lap. Ruby and the Eisenia Foetida worms seems to have an amazing natural affinity for each other. She pleaded with me to let her help with the feeding of kitchen scraps to the worms twice a week, and of course I agreed.
I think it's wonderful that Ruby is showing an interest in 'green' composting! Ruby will now be helping with the feedings, and is also in charge of 'reading' the worms for any signs of distress due to conditions in the bin.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My first worm cocoons!

After our enjoyable 25 mile bike ride this morning, I came home and of course I just had to check in on my worm bin.

I was terribly excited to find a little worm cocoon! (really an egg, but they're called cocoons)
Then I started poking around some more in the bedding and found more of them! Once I had a little bunch of them, I took some pictures to show just how small they are before 'tucking them back into bed'. I'm sure there must be lots more in the bin because it didn't take very long to find these. I didn't notice them a few days ago when I was looking around in the bedding.

Babies!! Baby worms coming!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Food waste

Now that I am getting so into my worm composting thing....
Today my husband and had to go into 'Scary Material World' where the strip malls reign, to pick up my car from repairs. We stopped to have a bagel at one of those coffee/bagel/soup types know, where hip young people work on their laptops at almost every table and the aroma of hazelnut is in the air.
The lady making my bagel took a huge beautiful leaf of dark green ruffly romaine lettuce and simply yanked off about 1/4 of it that included the end of the stem and tossed it in the garbage. Oh! It pained me to see that lovely piece of worm food go to waste, with such a nice section of fresh dark green ruffles still attached to it...only to wind up rotting in a nasty toxic landfill!
It was all I could do not to ask to rummage in their garbage can, which I knew would probably not go over very well. My husband was amused by my pathetic worm angst.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good boule

Well, I think I am beginning to get the hang of the basic recipe from the 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day' book thing. The book finally arrived and I was able to study it more closely. Plus, I picked up some helpful much needed tools at the big kitchen shop that would make my baking procedure a bit smoother- things like parchment paper, a new sharp bread knife, a cooling rack, dough cutter, a large wooden peel, and also I'm ordering a better oven stone to bake the bread on. Good tools do making cooking more of a pleasure.

My third batch of dough seemed to come out nicer than the first two tries- more elastic and rising better. I read about how to properly 'cloak' the loaf before baking it- I think this made a big difference. I also used a steaming pan in the lower rack of the oven to help get a good crust, and I used my new parchment paper to move the loaf smoothly from the peel onto the baking stone with minimal jarring. I am pleased with the results this time:
The little boule was lovely, had a crisp crust, and was good and moist and chewy.
B. said he just loved it with our chicken soup this evening. It'll be gone by tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Looking in on the worms-1st week

Well here is what I saw when I quickly lifted off the top of my worm bin to take a quick photo today. You have to work fast to take a picture, because about 10 seconds after the light hits them, the worms have zipped back into the bedding have mostly disappeared! Lively little rascals.
When I gently pulled back the corners of the bedding where I had buried kitchen scraps yesterday, I saw LOTS of them happily working away. Looks like they are doing well so far, and that is pretty thrilling for me. :)
About 8 worms had wandered up the interior sides of the next upper empty tray to hang out inside the roof/lid, but they don't seem to want to actually leave the bin, and they are not drying out, so I am letting them explore as long as they don't escape or get lost. They can freely go back down to the bedding when they want, it's easy enough for them to return through the open mesh tray bottoms.

Group portrait with goats

It's been a while since I've documented the adventures of Ruby and her little friends, but I thought I'd share their latest group portrait, especially since the arrival of the goats which are the girls' new 4H project, in keeping with the 'green' concept of producing more food locally. They are all very excited to raise them, even the neighbor children like to help.
(If you click on the picture it will get large and you can see it in better detail)

Monday, April 13, 2009

flower buds on my cactus

Must really be Spring...I have some flower buds on one of my cactus that has been inside for the winter:I have no idea what the flowers will look like, but I certainly will take pictures when they open! I've had this cactus for two years now and this will be its first time blooming.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

B&B....Breakfast and Bikes

B. and I have our favorite little ritual... having breakfast in town every Saturday and Sunday morning. We either walk the half mile down into town or bike there, and we like having breakfast at Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe. Afterwards, we usually either go for a few miles' walk or a couple hours' bike ride. Here is a lovely picture showing a typical breakfast selection at Ralph's.
Yesterday we went for a 20 mile/two hour bike ride after breakfast- it was a beautiful sunny day and we started out at 40F degrees and ended up at 55F. It was good.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The arrival of the Canadians....

Ok, my worms ordered from Bentley Christie in Ontario, Canada arrived safely this afternoon! :D
I must say I am totally bowled over by how many worms there were, and by how big, lively, and healthy they were. I think the pictures tell the story. I should add that the worms I put in the bowl in the photos were only half of the pile that arrived, since I divided them in two for my two trays already set up and running in my worm bin 'ranch'. The whole pile is shown lying in a heap on the table.
Here is where I ordered them from, in case anyone else in the Northeastern US or somewhere relatively near Ontario gets inspired to start their own worm composting system:

Again, Pearl was fascinated by the worm shipment arrival, and I had to keep tossing her off the table over and over during the proceedings... My friend Kelly came over to see the worms get unpacked. She is enthusiastic about them too, even though she doesn't have any worms...yet.

This is a lot of worms.

I think I have gotten over my initial hesitation about holding a pile of wriggling worms in my hands now.

First peek at how the worms are settling...

I put my first 1 pound of eisenia fetida 'red wriggler' composting worms from Vermont into the new Gusanito tiered tray bin just yesterday. I had to split the bedding and worms into two trays though, it was more good bedding than one tray could hold comfortably, and the worms were already mixed up in it.

This morning I was worrying about how my first worms were doing...were they too wet, too dry? They were not trying to escape the bin, but I had to look!...

I pulled back the upper loose shredded newspaper layer on both trays, poked around a bit in the darker damp peat moss/cardboard bedding, and was really THRILLED to see that my worms were actively working their way all throughout the material in both trays. They were wonderfully evenly distributed everywhere, tunneling their way around in the material, and they quickly retreated in a healthy active way when they got exposed. I took it as a good sign that they were not huddling in one area and did not seem to be avoiding any spots. Nor were any climbing up the sides of the trays.

They all look very happy and active, and seemed to be enthusiastically doing what worms should do!
I'm so excited and happy! :D

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Lazy 'S' Worm Ranch

I received my 5-tier Gusanito worm bin today. Seems nicely designed. I had no problems setting it up. I bought it from here: WormsWrangler
I had too much nice damp bedding with worms already happily roaming throughout it to fit in just one tray, so I had to start with two stacked trays of bedding and worms.
I guess I'll start putting food in the lower tray only to encourage the worms down into it to work on that material first.
Everything seems fine so far, and I still have a light on the bin and no one has tried to escape since yesterday when I first got my worms.

I think it fits in rather unobtrusively in the corner of the breakfast nook there. Looks fine to me. The 'Lazy S' ranch is up and running!I should get my second pound of worms either today or tomorrow, coming from Canada, and I'll add them in the bottom tray too. International romance is in the air this Spring!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

First WORMS are here!!

Here is our wonderful mailman 'Jim', who made a special extra trip to our house this morning just to make sure my worms did not get too chilled in the 40F weather. Jim said he kept the box of worms tucked under his jacket to keep them cozy on their way here, despite being mercilessly laughed at by his buddies at the Post Office! Good ol' Jim!...

Our kitty Pearl was rather suspicious of the mystery box from Vermont, then got worried and made scarce so she wouldn't get blamed for anything bad happening...

The open bag looked innocent enough....just some dry leaves....?

A G G G G H H H H H H !!!!!!

They were happy healthy Eisenia Fetida, red wriggler compost worms, and lots of them, all different sizes. They smelled nice, like a forest floor in Spring. Kind of cute! They felt smooth and cool in my hand, not slimy or gross. The ball of worms just sort of moved slowly en masse, like a little kitten breathing in my hand. An odd sensation.

Here is their temporary box, all prepared with fresh bedding and a handful of aged kitchen scraps buried in one corner. The bedding is mostly shredded cardboard and newspaper mixed up with some peat moss and wet down pretty well. Their 'official' home, a stacked worm bin 'ranch' should arrive tomorrow or the next day, perhaps along with my other pound of worms coming from Canada. Once I get the worm 'hive' set up I'll officially christen it "The Lazy 'S' Worm Ranch"

As soon as I laid the worms gently over the surface of their bedding, they began to start working their way down to escape the light. They all looked active and healthy.

Wormies are now safely tucked in their open bed in the kitchen with a light overhead and a thick loose layer of dry shredded newspaper over the top surface to keep them from 'wandering' until they are used to their new bedding. They'll prefer to stay in their damp dark compost soil bedding as opposed to wandering up into the dry layer with the light. Worms avoid going towards light, so they'll stay put until they get their bearings, after which I'll be able to put a lid on the bin and dispense with the light.
I'm now officially a worm rancher!


I had to dump the first couple of batches of dough, they were having trouble rising. I think the yeast was not great. I bought new yeast, a different brand, and new King Arthur flour, and the first loaf came out yummy if not quite as tall as I'd like, here it is....I just have to keep experimenting to get it right. It was nice and chewy and delicious, though!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

waiting for the worms

I'm going crazy with anticipation waiting for my two worm shipments to arrive. I've had the temporary bin ready with damp bedding for a couple of days now. The worms should be arriving within the next four days- 1 lb from Canada, and 1 lb from Vermont. Same species, but nothing like a little genetic diversity, right? Last time I was so excited about getting some creepy crawlies was 11 years ago when I got a pet tarantula!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bread and worms

Well, I must have Spring Fever.
I've started two new projects to make my life more thoughtful and healthy.
First, I've ordered the book that so many have been raving about: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. I got the missing stuff I'll need at the health food store and supermarket today...unbleached white flour, coarse salt, yeast, a new oven thermometer. And i actually found our pizza/baking stone right where I first looked for it. That thing hasn't been used in YEARS! Perfect for baking loaves on in the oven. Now all I have to do it wait for the book to arrive!
Second, I ordered a 'vermiculture' compost bin especially designed for worm composting- in essence a little earthworm farm that will be self-contained and the 1000+ worms will digest and compost all your kitchen scraps (even paper towels!) and eventually yield high quality worm castings as garden fertilizer. I can't wait! It takes up surprisingly little space (16"x16" x30" high) and seems fairly simple to do.
It's rather exciting to anticipate running a little 'worm farm' and receiving my red wriggler 'livestock' in the mail. I think I'm going to name it "The Lazy 'S' Worm Ranch".