Thursday, May 28, 2009

more veggie seeds...

I've been so excited by my new little rows of leaf lettuce sprouts and radish sprouts coming up in my small garden plot that I went and bought MORE seeds today and crammed some more things in real tightly wherever there were any bare spots.

I already had the regular red radishes sprouting up nicely from seed from 10 days ago- today I put in some new round pure white radishes and some long "French Breakfast" radishes. Also scallions, some dwarf upright romaine lettuce, and bok choy. Honestly, I'm hoping they can all grow so crammed in, but I did put plenty of organic fertilizer, there's enough sun, and I'm hoping the leaf lettuces and radishes will mature and get pulled and eaten quicker than some of the slower growing items, thus getting out of the way in time for when other plants get big. I am also trying to stagger the seedings so things don't all mature at the same time.

I read that radishes like some shade when summer starts getting hot, so I planted some rows close alongside the tomatoes as well. The tomatoes will get pruned and staked up but they'll still be big and will cast some shade over the radishes in a few weeks.

I had Blue Lake bush stringbeans and a few bush wax beans already planted, but today I bought some beautiful dark purple Italian pole beans and planted them near the fence on the ends and also on the empty trellises near the garage door, not in the garden at all. Last year I actually got good bush stringbeans producing heavily in that miserable hot dry location. I worked a little organic fertilizer in there as I planted the seeds.

In the garden I found quite a few baby earthworms in the dirt as I planted my seeds today- a good sign that they like the organic fertilizer I had hoed in several weeks before. The fertilizer is based on ground chicken poop, chicken feathers, and some added minerals. Yummy! :D The tomato plants seem to be really thriving after their first two weeks with it.

I am now VERY anxious to get my larger garden put in...still trying to get the excavator over here to set up the plan and get started.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sourdough baked in my Dutch iron pot

I found an interesting recipe online that used my sourdough starter and the no-knead artisan bread technique. Had to leave the dough mix out overnight to 'ripen'.
This was the first time I have tried baking the bread in a covered cast iron Dutch oven. They say it traps the dough's moisture as steam and thus produces a wonderful crisp golden crust. Using the covered pot means you don't need to use the baking stone or a steam pan.
Luckily, in my basement I still had an old 6 quart pot I bought for $8 in a garage sale about 15 years ago- perfect size for a round loaf! I love the name on the lid- the "Drip Drop Baster".
I let the 2 round loaves rise for 2 1/2 hours after shaping, each on their own piece of parchment sprinkled with corn meal, sprinkled with more corn meal, and then covered with a kitchen towel.
After heating the oven for a good 30 minutes with the cast iron pot inside to heat up too, I quickly picked up a loaf by the parchment sides and laid it in the pot, parchment and all, and then firmly put the lid on and baked at 450F for a half hour. Then I removed the lid and let it brown and finish for another 15 minutes.
I did one loaf at a time, since there was enough dough for two nice sized loaves.

I must say the crusts turned out better than any bread I've ever made before. Beautiful golden and crispy. The bread has a pleasant medium sourdough tang (my husband does not like it too sour), and inside the texture was perfect as well- lots of stretchy gluten 'chew' and nicely dispersed small air holes.

Fabulous bread, and well worth keeping an active fed sourdough starter in the fridge and also worth mixing the batch of dough the night before- especially if I make the two large loaves which will last about 3 days for us. I will definitely be making this bread regularly.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Little cactus finally blooms

Here is Pearl waiting patiently along with us for this little gymnocalycium cactus to bloom. Yikes, it's had buds for the past six weeks or so, and had been 'threatening' to open its buds for days now! You can see the early appearance of the buds in my April 13th post.

Today we were finally treated to the open blooms! Very pretty pale peachy pink flowers, with a faint sweet scent if you smell them up close. So lovely! The delicate shell-like color is wonderful against the blue-green of the cactus and the red of the spines. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy the coming blooms for at least a week to come. Click on the pictures to enlarge them in full detail...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Four loaves baked today...

Today i baked four small loaves of bread. Tonight we are going to a little potluck dinner with friends, and I'll bring two loaves with me to share. That leaves another two for home eating.

I made one "tiger semolina" (with the black sesame seed stripes), two olive/sundriedtomato/onion loaves, and one plain white boule with sesame seeds on top, slashed in a sun pattern. I'll take one olive loaf and the semolina to the potluck tonight.

I bought a refrigerator thermometer last week and discovered that my fridge and freezer were both set too cold. This actually could be affecting both the ripening and the rise rate of my doughs as they sit in my refrigerator! I have now adjusted the settings to a normal level. It'll be interesting to see if there is any change in my next batch of breads.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My worms are working hard...worm bin 5th week

I checked the bottom tray of worm compost in my worm bin yesterday. I have about 2000 worms working on two trays at the moment- the bottom tray is slowly getting the last of its newspaper and food scrap remnants finished up by the remaining several hundred worms hanging out in there, while the top tray is now the active tray that gets all the new food scraps. The worms are slowly moving up to the top tray through its mesh bottom, migrating to where the new food is being offered.

Here are photos of the top 'working' tray, the one I am putting the new food scraps into:

You can see lots of newspaper strips, coffee filters, and cardboard mixed in with food scraps and worms.

Here are photos of the bottom tray, which is being left alone for the remaining worms to finish processing. All that's left are some raggedly newspaper strips that are now rapidly decomposing. There are no more recognizable food scraps, and it is full of good castings already. Should be ready to harvest in 2 or 3 more weeks and apply to my vegetable garden:
It's so cool. I was surprised to find the bottom tray about 70% 'processed' already and looking like fine black earth (it's really black castings). Everything has a lovely smell like a forest floor. My bin is only 5 weeks old.

At this rate in about 3 more weeks I'll have about two gallons' worth of worm castings to add to my leaf lettuces and tomato plants in the garden...all magically made for FREE from kitchen scraps. My little pets are working hard!

The "Gusanito" worm bin I have has 5 available trays, and I'm currently only using two since my bin is only 5 weeks old. Keeping the spare trays in the basement for now. I imagine I might eventually have 3 or 4 trays going at the same time, in various stages. You only feed the top tray, and you harvest the bottom most tray when it looks done and is about 80 or 90% castings with few visible scrap remnants left. The worms tend to leave it by that time anyway, and move up where there's some better food prospects, but you do have go through the harvested finished compost to rescue remaining worms before you apply the finished vermi-compost to your garden.

The species of composting worm I have, Eisenia Foetida, would not survive our cold winters here, so putting them in the garden would be pointless. There are at least a couple of native earthworms species I've seen in my garden soil that I'm happy to encourage outside instead.

Here is a beensy new baby worm from my bin, saying "Hallo!" to you and waving her teeny weeny little dirt hanky! Notice she is also wearing a dainty dirt tutu...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My 'tiger semolina' bread

I have been enjoying making bread so much lately that I now keep like two different batches of dough 'ripening' in the fridge at any given time, plus some sourdough starter. I happened to have both basic white dough and semolina dough in the fridge today, ready to go.

My loaves always seem to be fairly small, but my husband loves them anyway and they taste so good! So I just solve the issue for now by baking two at a time.

Today I pulled out a portion of my semolina dough, and also the basic white dough. I made a plain white boule (still our favorite) and a semolina loaf. I experimented with the semolina- traditionally, Italian semolina bread is topped with sesame seeds, but this time I used black sesame seeds. I envisioned that after slashing and it puffing up a bit in the oven it might look like tiger stripes, especially since the semolina flour is golden colored. As you can see it did indeed turn out very tiger-looking! So I'm naming that variation my "tiger semolina" bread.
What a pretty pair they make!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Garden's in

I spent some time cleaning up my small garden beds yesterday- weeding, hoeing, adding some organic fertilizer. Today came the fun part- planting things.
This is my tomato patch, which is hmmm... maybe 5 feet wide by 25 feet long maybe? I had to fence it last year due to marauding deer and woodchucks and rabbits. It's a very small garden, but I can get a surprising amount of tomatoes and greens from it in years that it likes the conditions and the weather.

I used to only plant tomatoes, but have been adding a few other vegetables the past couple of years. On the left side are fourteen various tomato plants, my favorite being Prudens Purple heirloom. There are some golden tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and good old Early Girl and Better Boy too. I stuck a couple of leaf lettuces in between them to take advantage of the available spaces while the tomatoes were still small. A sage plant is there too on the far end.On the right side, starting from furthest away is a rosemary plant and then a little cilantro patch, further along is some red leaf lettuce, then bright green leaf lettuce, and five Blue Lake bush stringbean plants. Then starts some vari-colored Swiss chard (tiny right now but will get very robust) which continue on to the right in back of the camera, and lastly behind me is a small strip with new leaf lettuce seeds planted.
I planted several more string bean bush plants and some yellow summer squash in amongst the flower beds as well. Last year, the Blue Lake stringbeans just LOVED it in the crummy sun baked spots on either side of the garage door, so I planted them there again after adding some organic fertilizer to the soil there. I got big bowls full of stringbeans last year from just 6 measley little bean plants.

I found quite a few earthworms while working the ground...a good sign, as I hadn't seen many for the past couple of years. This is my first year in a long time using only organic fertilizer, so I am anxious to see how the plants do on it. It's made mostly from ground up chicken feathers and chicken poop. You can bet that the native earthworms in the ground are going to prefer it to 'Miracle Grow'. That would be good, because then the earthworms will work the soil and contribute their castings- and earthworm castings are a wonderfully rich bonus fertilizer!

If my little tomato garden produces a lot this year on the organic fertilizer, then I think we will likely add a large raised bed in the Fall to grow a larger amount of vegetables next year.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Olive bread

I used the recipe from 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day', using their basic boule dough. In addition to calamata olives, I also added some sliced sundried tomatoes, slivers of browned onion, and a few pinches of finely chopped fresh rosemary. The loaves are small, but quite good! The cured olives give it a robust taste.
I just love the stretchy moist chewiness of their boule dough recipe, with the crisp crust. Butter would be superfluous. This bread has its own olive tapenade built right in.

Nice to know I can make an olive loaf anytime I have some boule dough on hand in the fridge and some olives around. With these Artisan bread recipes, I do like the fact that you can keep your box of moist dough aging nicely for up to 10 days or so in the fridge and make the bread anytime during that period. It even tastes better if it's a few days ripened, sort of like how sourdough gets.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dutch babies

We have been nursing a gravely ill beloved pet cat at home here this weekend. This morning she looked a tiny bit better, so I took a little break and decided to bake something sweet with the fruit I had on hand.
I looked through some of my old bread books from years ago, and found an interesting recipe to try from my old Sunset publishing book on Breads (originally published in 1963, this was the 1996 edition). The recipe was called Strawberry Dutch Baby. What an odd name, and with no explanation!- I can only guess that it might be because they can be baked in cast iron 'Dutch ovens'? It's a sort of crepe that you bake in the oven and it puffs into a bowl shape which you then fill with fruit and fruit syrup.

I had a couple of old cast iron skillets that would work well- the recipe makes two 'babies'. I had some dried apricots and fresh strawberries and blackberries on hand.
I had to run to the neighbors to get some confectioner's sugar in the end though- just wouldn't seem complete without the snowy confectioner's sprinkle.
I was very pleased with the outcome, and I was amazed at how the batter puffed up and formed a bowl all by itself in the hot buttered cast iron skillets while baking in the oven. The batter was easy- only flour, milk, eggs, and a touch of sugar. The 'Dutch babies' certainly do make a beautiful presentation in their skillets.