Sunday, May 31, 2009

BREAD: Project Sourdough Day 2~Sandwich Rolls

I began the process of reactivating my long-slumbering sourdough starter yesterday.

The instructions I have say to whisk 2 cups of water and 3 cups of flour into 1 cup of starter in a large bowl, then cover.  This is then left for at least 12 hours at room temperature or slightly warmer.

When the starter is fully active it will double in size, becoming bubbly, aromatic, and viscous.

If activity is minimal, one cup of the mixture is saved to undergo the same steps until in begins to double.  Sometimes this can take several days.  The instructions say to discard the extra flour/water mixture each time.

Discard?!  Perfectly good flour and water lightly tasting of sourdough?  That's just silly.

I decided to do some freestyle baking.  I called on my two years of bread baking experience to combine techniques, quantities, and various recipes so we could make good use of this surplus.

After reserving 1 cup of the restarting starter, to the remainder I added the following:

2 1/2 tsp Instant (aka Rapid Rise) Yeast Powder*
1 tsp Salt
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs Sugar
Approx. 3 1/2 cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour

The additional yeast was necessary because the sourdough yeast was still in the process of re-colonizing the starter and wouldn't be able to provide enough leavening to make the dough rise.

*"Instant" Yeast is OK to add directly to liquid mixtures vs. "Active Dry" which has a coating that needs to be dissolved before combining and is slower acting.

The soft dough was kneaded for 8-10 minutes on a floured board, working in the last half cup of flour.  This was formed then into a ball, placed and turned over in a greased bowl to coat, covered with a damp towel and kept in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 2 hours).

After the dough had doubled, it was punched down the dough, turned onto the floured board and cut it into 8 equal pieces.  These were formed into balls and placed on a greased baking sheet.

I brushed the top of each roll with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tbs of water) and sprinkled variously with: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes and crumbled rosemary.  These were then allowed to rise again until doubled.

Baked until lightly browned at 375F for about 18 minutes, then cooled them on a wire rack.

All this was improvisation.  And they turned out just the way I'd hoped.  We shared a roll with rosemary and onion flakes right out of the oven.  The rest will be for sandwiches this week.

We'll be enjoying a lot of fresh baked bread this week as I continue to feed and reactivate the starter, and find new ways to use up the surplus.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

ECO ACTION: WK3 Farm Share & Project Sourdough

Aren't they pretty?  Four kinds of lettuce, endive, colorful chard, and eggplant starts.  I opted for the eggplant plants in place of rhubarb this week when given the choice.

Six glorious eggs, voluminous Asian greens (tat soi, bak choi? ... now I'm all confused about which is which) mustard greens, and kale.

Used this past weeks supply in much the same way as the week before: stir fry; steamed greens; salads; eggs in tapioca pudding, baking and hard boiled.  Had some Asian greens left over at the end of the week that I'll process for freezing by blanching, if that's possible.   I think they'd be good in soups this fall and winter.

I'm looking forward to finding some new recipes for the Asian greens.  Found one recipe for a fresh salad with a homemade dressing, raspberries, pears (out of season right now so I'll probably substitute something else) and toasted walnuts that sounded really good.

My yard sale mojo wasn't as good this week, but that's OK.

I came home with a brand new set of 3 stainless steel springform cake pans in graduated sizes for only $3, still in their original packaging.  I think I have two of each size now so I can do layer cakes.  All hypothetical at this point.  I have yet to bake a cake from scratch.  That's one of my goals for this year, to begin to learn scratch cake baking.

I restarted "Project Sourdough" this evening.  I took the jar of starter out of the fridge, poured it into a large glass bowl, fed it the designated flour and water mixture, covered the bowl with an inverted dinner plate (no plastic wrap), then placed the bowl in the oven (off) with the light on to keep it warm.

This sourdough starter was given to my uncle (my father's brother) and his wife by an old homesteader they lived with in Idaho back in the 1940s.  When my parents and brothers visited them back in the 1950s they brought some of the starter back to California with them so they could make the same wonderful sourdough pancakes they'd enjoyed there.

It's been propagated and passed along ever since.  I got this batch from my oldest brother, Paul.  Flew across the country from California to Connecticut in my suitcase, wrapped in multiple layers of Ziploc bags and bubble wrap, carefully labeled for the benefit of wary TSA inspectors.

It's been in hibernation in the refrigerator for a while.  Tonight's feeding will begin the process of reawakening the yeast.  With any luck they'll be some tasty bread baking ahead.

The idea is to take one more item off the grid by producing my own yeast for baking just like our great-grandparent probably did.  No impact from manufacturing, distribution and preserving like jar or cake yeast. For only the cost of water and flour.  Continually renewable and always available.

I'll probably still use regular yeast for some bread baking, but this will provide another low-impact option.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ECO ACTION: Lines in the Sand

Over at the No Impact Man Blog today, Colin Beavan asked: "Do you have any eco-living lines in the sand?"

Here's my reply.

LINES IN SAND: If something passes through my hands once or for a short period of time and is then thrown away, don't use it. Eat locally grown or make my own as much as possible. If we're not using it turn it off. Walk or bus if possible.

Changes I've made just in the past three months (on top of many others in the past) include:

  • Got my first ever bus pass a few weeks ago ( I live in a suburban area)
  • Using cloth handkerchiefs instead of tissues (found at a yard sale, lacy antique cotton, not noticeably used)
  • Using cloth napkins for meals at home instead of paper (another yard sale purchase)
  • Refusing plastic straws when eating out
  • Trying to take food from home with me in reusable containers when I'm traveling, so I don't have to purchase fast food in disposables
  • Joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) and started getting my half-share pick-ups of very fresh locally grown produce.
  • Carrying a large purse with room for purchases in case I've forgotten my cloth bags
  • Bought (dollar store) and started using reusable mesh bags for fruits, veggies and bagels from the grocery store, instead of plastic produce bags (though I reuse those, too, when I can)
  • Making the switch to pre-owned cast-iron cookware (yard sale) to phase out my battered non-stick pans (non-stick coating lasts only a few years and may be dangerous, cast-iron is practically forever)
  • Phasing out my use of my #7 plastic Nalgene water bottles, will keep them for occasional use, not throw them out. Instead, at home I'm using a drinking glass for water (duh!), and a pint canning jar with a lid for when I'm out and about.

This looks like a lot for just three months, but it really hasn't been a big deal. It's just happening naturally a little at a time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

ECO ACTION: Cast-Iron Skillet

Yesterday, I scored a sturdy 10-inch cast-iron skillet at a yard sale for only $2.

I'm planning to replace all my current non-stick pans (the coating is a kind of plastic) with well seasoned, previously own cast-iron ones.  Non-stick coatings have been shown end up in the food we cook, then stored in the body where they potentially can have undesirable health effects.  You can read more here and also here.

When I got the new-to-me skillet home yesterday, B commented that it still had a crusty layer of 20-year-old eggs cooked onto the bottom.  I think he's right.  Someone probably got frustrated with the necessity of hand washing the pan, gave up and put it away unwashed.

For a savings of $16 over the cost of a new cast-iron skillet, I could put the time into reclaiming this one.  So this morning I set about cleaning and re-seasoning it.

First, I used a forbidden Brillo pad and some scouring powder to remove the offending eggs and who knows what else.  Followed this with a paste of baking soda and dish soap allowed to sit for a while, then much rinsing, wiping, scraping, and rewashing.  Maybe 30 minutes total, hands on.  By the time I was done no trace of the original funky smells or sticky, greasy scum layer remained.

Once the pan is seasoned again I'll wash it much more gently, using only hot water to rinse and a towel to wipe, scraping if necessary, but no abrasives and no soap.

Next, I used the skillet to cooked some bacon.  Bacon grease is supposed to be the best for seasoning a cast-iron pan.  I rarely cook bacon, but when I do used a teflon coated, non-stick pan.  And I always burn the bacon.  This was the first time I'd cooked with cast-iron.  What a difference!  It heated very evenly.  The bacon turned out just like in the picture books.

I used the bacon drippings, as instructed, to rub over the surface of the skillet before placing it in a 300F oven (for 2 hours).  The goal is to form a naturally baked on non-stick black coating.

The skillet is in the oven now.

I think it's time to assemble some BLTs.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

ECO ACTION: 2nd Farm Share & More Tag Saling

I'm a big fan of abundance on a shoestring.
Another armload of gorgeous vegetables today from Studio Farm.

I didn't make it to the farmers market to pick them up.  I thought the market was 10-1 today as it had been during the winter.  Spring and summer hours are actually 9-Noon.  Also, I'd stopped at every tag sale along the way between home and the market.  When I arrived the park was empty.

So, I arranged to go out to the Stonyledge Farm this afternoon to pick them up instead.  I was greeted by several happy free-range chickens as I got out of the car.  Belinda and Ed were very accommodating.

This week's CSA half-share included (photo above, clockwise from top left): a very large head of tatsoi, a generous helping of mustard greens, 2 heads of kale (I think), chard, 3 small heads of loose-leaf lettuce (red and green), spinach, a bunch of fragrant mint, chives, mixed greens with flowers, half-dozen very large eggs, and several long rhubarb stalks.

And the fate of last week's veggies was as follows:
  • Tatsoi stir fry with garlic scapes, onions, sesame oil, brown basmati rice, scrambled egg, and 5 chinese seasoning.
  • Eggs: used 2 in stir fry, 2 in tapioca pudding, and 2 hard boiled.  They turned the tapioca pudding a wonderful shade of yellow that just can't be matched by grocery store eggs.
  • Spinach, kale (or was that mustard greens?), and broccoli rabe all steamed and eaten.
  • Lettuce used for several salads, shredded for black bean burritos, and in sandwiches
All delicious!

As of this morning, I only had a little lettuce, a few garlic scapes, the 2 hard boiled eggs, and some rhubarb remaining.  Because it was so fresh when brought home last Saturday the lettuce is none the worse for a spending a week in the refrigerator.  Much, much better than store bought.  The remaining lettuce and eggs will become a salad for dinner this evening, with rhubarb crisp for dessert.

In spite of the doubts I expressed last Saturday we ate our way through the vegetables quite easily. If I hadn't gotten involved in a project, lost track of time, and ended up skipping lunch a couple of times this week we would have completely emptied the vegetable drawer in time for today's pick up.

One of the reasons I signed up for this CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share was to learn.

I wanted to learn about new foods, new ways of cooking familiar foods, new insights for my own garden, and to experience the feeling of enjoying an abundance of fresh healthy food on a regular basis.

I wouldn't have chosen to put all these greens in my grocery cart if I'd been buying them at the super market, but I've learned that what looked like a lot of fresh spinach and kale turned out to be just enough to accompany several meals when steamed.

Just right, not too much.

Tatsoi stir fry was also a first for me and it turned out great.  I wouldn't have taken a chance on this at the grocery store, not knowing in advance what it would taste like or how to cook it.  At the farmer's market, though, Dot Wingate gave me simple verbal instructions for cooking it when I picked up my share.  It couldn't have been easier or tastier.

I figure that nature has a wisdom of its own.  The abundance of fresh greens available in spring is probably just what our bodies need to restore themselves at the end of winter and get ready for summer's active season.  These greens were loaded with flavor and probably lots of good healthy stuff never find on a food label.

I know that I can't remember ever feeling healthier.  Looking forward to more.

Here are this weekend's fabulous tag sale finds (photo above, clockwise from top left):

For a GRAND TOTAL of $27
  • 3 variagated solomon's seal plants
  • 7 antique hand-painted china dessert plates, signed by a (locally) well-known local artist
  • 8 Books: "Lectures and Biographical Sketches" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier," "Little Songs of Long Ago", "Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain," "A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative" by Roger von Oech, "Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook" (to give), "The Food-Lover's Garden," "Neal's Yard Natural Remedies"
  • A small, 1 page-per-day diary for writing down little daily happy things
  • 2 pocket charts (teaching tools)
  • Kitchen Stuff: a pastry knife, a blue-green resealable glass jar, a garlic press (actually I'll use this for extruding clay, not garlic), a cookie press, AND a sturdy 10 inch cast-iron skillet--I'd been looking for one for a long time (favorite find of the day).
  • Misc: 1 new package of binder tabs, 2 new plastic pocket folders, an awl, a very basic digital camera with cable and software (tested and works on PC), two pair small sharp scissors (I keep losing my nail scissor, not good for one who plays piano and works with clay), an artist's paintbrush, a small hot plate, two colorful coin purses, a set of magnetic words (for songwriting play), and 9 new tennis balls (to turn into teaching toys).
Here's close-up of the hand-painted china plates.
Do I really need any of this?  Probably not.  Is it truly frugal to buy things I don't need?  Again, no.

On the other hand, these things will be used and enjoyed.  No additional resources were consumed to make them.  Each piece has a story and a connection to others.  I'm giving a good home to things that others no longer wanted, like bringing home abandoned puppies.

And I had a good time in the process.  I like the experiencing of happening upon things unexpectedly.  I like the feeling of discovery.

Now, I probably need to go through our house and liberate a few of my unused possessions so they can move on to homes where they'll be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

RECIPE: Apple Crisp

If you're worried about the health effects of butter and sugar, then this isn't the recipe for you.  Personally, I consider them to be essential parts of a well balanced diet.

The apples that provided the impetus to creating this recipe were the last of our locally grown apples from the farmers market, kept in storage in their basement since last fall.  Not great for fresh eating, but perfect for baking.

Another Kay's Kreative Kitchen original.*

  • 6 c apples**, cored and sliced with skin on (variety of your choosing)
  • 1/2 c sugar (I used 1 cup per another recipe and it seemed a bit too sweet)
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Wisk together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Toss with apples to coat and pour into a 2-quart glass baking dish. [I used my "new" 10-inch round pyrex pie plate ] Sprinkle lemon juice over apple mixture.

Optional: sprinkle mini-chocolate chips over the apples in the dish.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 3/4 c quick or old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
In the same large bowl used above, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon.  Mix with hands until coarse crumbs form.  Spread over apple filling in baking dish.

If you anticipate that the crisp may bubble over while baking, place the baking dish in the middle of a large cookie sheet before placing in the oven.  Bake about 40 minutes at 400F, rack in middle position, until filling bubbly and topping is golden brown.  Allow to cool slightly before eating.

*Ingredients and methods were re-combined from recipes found in: "The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book", 1943; "Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book", 1962; "Good Housekeeping: 100 Best Dessert Recipes", 2004.  The addition of chocolate chips and lemon juice were entirely my own idea.

(c)2009 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Sunday, May 17, 2009

ECO ACTION: First CSA Share & Tag Sale Finds

I got to pick up my first ever CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share at the Stonington Farmers Market yesterday morning.  Garden Girl and Eco Action Girl (two of my secret super hero identities) have both been extremely happy with anticipation all week, looking forward to the prospect of bringing home an armload of fresh, locally grown, certified organic spring veggies.

In my first spring half-share from Studio Farm I received:

PHOTO ABOVE: (clockwise from top left) spinach, half-dozen eggs, kale, butter crunch lettuce, broccoli rabe, red oakleaf lettuce, and another butter crunch.

PHOTO BELOW: (left to right) tatsoi, garlic scapes, rhubarb

Aren't they gorgeous?!

Thank you, Belinda, for the care you put into growing them.  They will be savored.

As a point of reference for size, for these photos the produce was spread over two regular-size kitchen towels placed side-by-side.

It's certain that in the week ahead I'll be abiding by Michael Pollan's admonition--from his book, "In Defense of Food"--to:

"Eat food.* Not too much.  Mostly plants."

*[as opposed to manufactured foodlike substances]

Though I'm not so sure about the "not too much" part.  That's a lot of greens for two people to consume in one week, especially when  the other in this house would gladly choose frozen peas from the grocery store over all other vegetables.

If next week's share arrives before they've made their way to the table, the spinach and kale will  be blanched and frozen.   That's the plan.  I like the idea that a bit of spring greenery can be saved up in the freezer to combat next winter's doldrums.

Not only is this the season for the first fresh locally grown veggies , it's also Tag Sale Season!

Here's this week's haul:
This week's treasures include: (counter clockwise from top left) a cranberry colored pyrex pie plate (for rhubarb crisp?), a 4-quart cast iron and enamel dutch oven, 3 blue stripped cotton dinner napkins, a glass citrus juicer, and a compact cassette player/recorder.

All were in new or nearly new condition.  Total for all: $25, which will go toward the community work of a local church.  

The price of the dutch oven was the majority of this total at $20, though it would have cost $70 or more even in a store like Target or Walmart.  I've been eyeing them for months now, but holding off for a special occasion.  Happy Birthday to me!

The cloth dinner napkins are part of my effort to reduce the use of disposables in our household.  I keep a stack handy near the kitchen table.  I've been air drying them after washing in cold water to minimize the energy consumed for keeping them clean.

The $1 cassette player/recorder is a gift for one of my student's who has no way to play back recordings of her voice lessons for practice at home.  It would have cost about $22 at Walmart, if you can still find them there.

I'm looking forward to next weekend already.  More fresh veggies and eggs, and Memorial Day weekend is always the biggest tag sale weekend of the entire year around here.  You never know what you'll find.

Looking forward to all the good cooking and eating in the week ahead.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

RECIPE: Chicken Garam Masala Salad

I'm posting this recipe in response to a request from an old friend/extended family member.  Here it is, Mary Beth:

(All quantities are approximate.  This was made up on-the-spot yesterday with the food on hand.)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken breast meat*, chopped
  • 1 cup crisp red apple with skin, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/4 cup pinenuts
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp garam masala seasoning** (or curry powder)
  • 1/4 cup Miracle Whip or mayo (I would have used plain yogurt if I'd had any)
  • juice of one small keylime
Very tasty between pieces of fresh baked bread with sprouts instead of lettuce, but feel free to improvise.  I sure did!

This recipe is "Husband Approved" by one who prefers plain and simple, not exotic foods.  I was careful to prepare expectations by saying just before the first bite, "Think Disney World African Buffet," (aka Boma) which he had enjoyed on our recent vacation.  No sprouts on his sandwich, though.  And the "it was good" response was quickly  followed by a qualifier that the fresh-baked bread was the best part.  Still, not a scrap remained on the plate.

*Chicken leftovers cooked earlier in the week, marinated before cooking in:  balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic powder, lemon juice and zest, ground black pepper and who-knows-what else.

**Mine came from a bulk bin at our neighborhood health food store.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ECO ACTION: First Bus Pass

Eco-Action Girl got her first bus pass this week!

Went for a ride today on the new SEAT (Southeast Area Transit) Pawcatuck/Mystic Run #10 to gather info about stops and services.  I caught it just a short walk from our street and rode it round trip, chatting with the driver along the way.

This was the first time I'd used a public bus in about 20 years!  Only the third time in my life, I'm ashamed to say.  

My previous experiences had not been good ones.  This time was entirely different.
Here's the stop at Olde Mistick Village shopping center, located in the back parking lot near this landmark, right across from the Mystic Aquarium.

Around here, people have the perception that riding the bus is just for seniors, the disabled or those who can't afford to own a car.

Using public transportation is for anyone.  Especially those who want to live more simply and sustainably.  That's why it's called "public" transportation.  We are the public.

Until today, I had the notion that the bus would be noisy, dirty, crowded, time-consuming and uncomfortable.

It was anything but.

I got where I was going in about the same amount of time as if I'd driven, and I got to chat along the way with a very friendly and helpful driver in her brand-new bus (similar to the buses used as airport shuttles, except with all the seats facing forward).

The cost for a one way ticket ($1.25) was  comparable to what I would have spent on gas going the same distance.  And I got to sit back and relax.

I took notes on all the stops and picked up a pile of brochures to spread around.  Also got info on connecting routes so I can use them going to adjacent towns.

I want to get the word out about this new run.

Many people can benefit from its availability, but it's not widely known.  I just happened to stumble upon a brochure at the grocery store customer service counter or I wouldn't have been aware of its existence.

Ridership will need to go up if SEAT is to see that it's worthwhile to keep it going.  A similar run existed about 5 years ago, but was eliminated because of under-use.

This time, perhaps economic realities and environmental awareness will be just the nudge people need to stand up and take a SEAT.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GAIA LUNA: Garden Girl

I'm Garden Girl again today.  

Going out into the sunshine to get the soil ready for planting, dig up weeds that didn't get removed last fall (like goldenrod roots), and move around some perennials that are in the way.

Garden Girl's Superpowers:
  • cultivating growth and sustainability
  • transforming dirt and seeds into food and flowers
  • turning yard waste and kitchen scraps into rich compost
Superpowers require sunshine, rain, and a variety of microscopic helpers in order to operate.

[NOTE:  I've been posting brief status updates on my Facebook profile nearly every day for the past several months, but not much here.  Decided this morning that I would use some of those as a jumping off point for this space.]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Rule: The Ordinary Rules

Haven't posted here for a very long time.

Most of my useful computer time for the past month or so has been focused on getting my recording studio rearranged, up and functional again, then getting work done for a very patient client.

Or I've been distracting myself from the frustration of the studio rearrange by endlessly checking email or Facebook, or reading news online, or reading other peoples blogs, or indulging in random websurfing.

For some reason I'd gotten all self-conscious about always needing to say something here that would be super meaningful, which sort of misses the point of living the Quiet Little Life--that meaning is found in the ordinary.

So I'm back, to resume writing about the ordinary stuff of daily life.

And I resolve to post here even if it feels vacuous to do so.

I hereby give myself permission to be banal, insipid, stilted, awkward, or . . . whatever else it is I'm afraid of being.

I absolve myself of guilt if I write but don't include illustrating photographs.  Similarly, I intend to remain guilt free when photos appear without annotation.

Whose blog is this anyway?

Who made up all these rules about how it's supposed to be done?

Oops. I did.  Or at least I bought into them.

I'm an artist, darn it! I live the creative life, right?  Why can't I uncreate rules--especially the ones saying that things always have to be fancy-pants, intensely interesting or . . . (gasp) creative?

Today, I rip away the ratty old cardboard rule-box, step beyond its stale confines, and begin again.

New Rule: The Ordinary Rules.