Many voices

I love that I am now a Lector in my church, Emmanuel Episcopal. I love it because I have experience in public speaking and it is one way I can serve my fellow parishioners. I am told I am very good at it. I hope so. But I also enjoy the other unique voices that read our lectionary week to week. One of my favorites is a soft spoken retired nurse whose sing song delivery brings to mind lullabyes and bedside hand holding. Very soothing! Another is an attorney whose years before judges and juries have made his langorous Southern drawl particularly powerful … especially so since I know that he struggles for air when reading from his wheelchair.

This post is a way to acknowledge the many voices we hear … that we should hear … that we do hear … every day. They may not be OUR voice or even one we feel comfortable with, but they are nonetheless powerful and important to our daily lives, and our daily walk with God. Some are voices we want to turn away from, but which the Lord compels us to listen to. And, when called, to reprove. Or forgive. Or enjoin. Or share. But, always, to listen and love. Blessings.

Bell Pepper Lovers …

Know them by their fruits! I think it is cute that the number of bumps on the bottom of a sweet bell pepper correspond to its gender … if you think about it, it corresponds to people’s gender parts (sort of) lol!

But actually, it is not true. Check this out.

Makes you kind of wonder about the person at AWM Food who was sitting around contemplating peppers and sex enough to create this false pix haha!

 

Autolyse to the rescue

No, its not a contract for car rental, and is actually pronounced as it if were an automatic bug infestation (lice), but AUTOLYSE is a remarkable, innovative, dare I say … “miraculous” way to achieve the kind of flavor, lift, crust and really open chewy crumb, sourdough bakers all strive for.

Autolyse Sourdough Loaf

It does require time and attention. Want to get that out front at the get go. Not a method you can use quickly, or leave and forget it. But not a lot of “hands on” time. In fact, this is perfect for bakers who do not have the upper body strength or energy for vigorous kneading, nor the ability to safely use heavy dutch ovens required for previous “no knead” recipes.

Autolyse is an ancient term meaning “self digestion.” The term was applied to baking by Raymond Calvel (1913-2005) who taught Julia Child, among others, and developed a profound body of research on various flours and in the process developed the autolyse method of baking. In sourdough baking, it translates to a wet, shaggy dough that is allowed to begin the flour hydration process before the sourdough starter is even added, thereby relaxing the gluten.

In the autolyse method I have adopted, this is followed by several short periods of bulk fermention “bf” punctuated by gentle folding of the dough, not kneading (which incorporates oxygen but dulls flavor), and returning for another bf period. After several such sessions, the dough becomes more manageable, builds flavor, and eventually can be shaped, though it will still be soft and appear to not have much lift at all. That is deceiving. The actual baking method is also critical, because it is here that the lift, crumb and crust all develop. You will be astonished. I am every time I do this.

To begin, you will need a mixer with open paddle attachment (not bread hook), a bench knife, a good ceramic bowl, a clean kitchen towel, unbleached baking parchment, and baking trays (not flat cookie sheets). I have my preferences on all these things but I don’t do ads on my blog so no brand names mentioned here.

First Steps:

  • Start your dough by heating 3 Cups water to 85F-90F (I put in my microwave for 1 minute on high) and to that add 3 Cups White Bread Flour and 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (this is suggested ratio, you can play around with amounts and types all you want) and work vigorously in the mixer until you have a shaggy wet dough. Use a spatula to push all the dough down and toward the center, then cover with towel and let rest for 40 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of dough you want to achieve. This is your Autolyse.
  • Activate your starter in a clean glass bowl. So easy! Microwave a cup of filtered non-chlorinated water in your bowl for 30 seconds on High. Then add your wild caught sourdough starter (which is usually about a cup if you bake regularly) and a cup of bread flour and use a wire whisk to give it a thorough talking to. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in proofing box (I use my microwave — turned off of course). It is ready to use when it develops a top layer of micro-foam. (You will know it when you see it.)
  • Add to the Autolyse: 1 Cup of activated starter (put remainder in clean glass jar in fridge for future use), 4 t salt, 1/4 C water (again, unchlorinated and 85F-90F) and any other additions your recipe calls for such as oils, sugars, honey, citric zests, olives, herbs, nuts, cheese, etc). [The reason you hold off on adding salt until now is that hydrating the flour first in the Autolyse allows enzymes to free up more sugar for the yeast to eat, whereas salt tightens gluten strands.]

Bulk Fermentations / Folds

  • Begin by removing your dough (a wet shaggy mess at this point) to a floured board) and using your floured bench knife to slide under an edge of the dough, lifting and folding it over toward center. Do this all around several times until the dough is more cohesive but still very soft. You do NOT want to achieve a stiff dough at any point.
  • Put in large ceramic bowl, cover with clean towel and move to the proofing box (i.e. microwave) for the first Bulk Fermentation (bf) of about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the folding / fermentations up to six times, until dough is still soft, but ready to take shape. At this point you can divide and shape, placing onto unbleached parchment (doesn’t burn at high temps like bleached) on trays. Cover with towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • While your loaves are resting, heat oven to 500F.
  • When oven is ready, put the trays at center.
  • Add 1/4 C filtered water to bottom of oven to produce steam (or in pan at bottom of oven) BE CAREFUL as this will produce a hot cloud of steam so you must remove your hand and shut the door very quickly lest you be burned. TURN OVEN DOWN TO 450F and set timer for 30 minutes. [Please note: pouring directly into your oven bottom can risk your oven’s electronics if it doesn’t have a steam clean function, hence use a pan instead.]
  • Repeat the “steam shots” at least once during bake. This is how you achieve the wonderful dark golden crisp crust.
  • Baking times will depend on your recipe and mostly importantly your additives. An olive bread, for example will require up to an hour. A simple ungarnished dough only 35-45 minutes.
  • Your bread is done when the crust color is right and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Using a good sharp serrated bread knife will preserve your loaf. Reserving the heel end to cover the open end will keep your loaf fresh. Use a piece of baker’s twine to keep in place. You do not need to cover if kept in this manner, but you can put in a bread bag or poly bag once it is completely cool though the crisp crust will soften a bit. As with all wild-caught sourdough breads, flavor continues to develop so that your last slice is more flavorful even than the first (which is awesome).

This may seem like an extremely complicated way to bake! It is — the first time you do it. After that, I promise, you will see the simplicity and ease of it and you may find yourself baking bread much more often than you ever have before. Enjoy!

 

 

Gardeners…Start Your Seeds!

Depending on what you plan to grow and where you live, it is not too early to at least be thinking about, if not actually preparing to, plant seeds for your Spring/Summer Garden.

You can re-purpose many containers for seed starting, just be sure they are clean.

Customers ask me all the time what the best method for seed germination is and I always tell them, “it depends!” The basics:

  • clean containers with drainage and tray
  • sterile seed starting medium (not soil)
  • cover for maintaining humidity in the first period with ventilation holes pricked
  • non-chlorinated water
  • some method of labeling … this can be a simple grid labeling system with A-Z taped on one side and sequential numbers on the other, then keeping a chart that corresponds (i.e., A1 = Brandywine, etc.)

This doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition and is wonderful for repurposing! You can use styrafoam egg cartons cutting the tops to use as trays and poking holes in the sides at the bottoms of the “cups” for draining. I have also used saved cardboard toilet paper rolls, pushing one end in to create a bottom to hold the seed starting mix and seeds, etc. Use your imagination but be sure the containers are clean. Farmer’s Almanac has a great general guide.

Temperature is so important, and providing the right temp can greatly increase your germination rates. (BTW, I always advise investing in a soil thermometer for direct sowing outdoors.) For example, tomatoes will germinate at the optimum rate at 68F, or your average home temp in the winter. Whereas peppers need 77F for optimal germination so providing some kind of bottom heat will help tremendously. You can use this excellent chart showing varying germination rates/temps and optimal temps for each variety.

Timing is critical … plan your seed starts counting backwards in weeks from your last frost date for the variety you are planting. For example, tomatoes generally need to be started 6 weeks before the last frost date for your area (and new gardeners note that the number of days listed for seeds like tomatoes are days to mature from date of transplant, not germination), but some herbs require 10 weeks or more. This site provides great general map, but if you are on a zone line, check with your local weather or ag extension office.

Variety specifics matter! Not all seeds are good candidates for starting indoors. Seeds with taproots are problematic because you may disturb or break that root in transplanting. Some seeds require pre-treatment such as scarification, soaking or extended chilling to break their dormancy. And some seeds require light to germinate, so need to be planted in the open with little or no cover but maintaining moisture.

Once your seeds are germinated and reached the “true leaves” stage, light becomes very important. Perhaps the most important investment a gardener can make is some sort of grow light because growing on a windowsill is fraught with problems and will often result in spindly weakened starts. Place your grow light above the seeds and within a few inches to start, moving the light or seeds farther apart as they progress. As the seedling begin to mature, provide some hardening — brushing them lightly with your hand and/or turning on an overhead fan, to replicate conditions they will soon need to endure. When they are big enough and strong enough for garden placement, and when soil and air temps are acceptable, you will need to first expose them to sunlight in small time increments, lengthening the exposure until they can withstand the bright light of day. To be on the safe side, transplant on a cloudy day, especially if a gentle rain is in the offing. You can even cloche special seedlings to protect from the vagaries of Spring weather.

If you have questions about your seed starting efforts, I would love to help. Just leave a comment and I will reply!

Happy Gardening!

The Garden Chick

 

 

Sourdough Heaven … Mediterranean Style

 

My Sourdough Olive … a first!

Well, that caption should truthfully say, “my second,” because it took a previous try before I got the recipe right. My first attempt utilized 50-50 white to whole wheat and was just too dense. My chickens loved it though!

This batch utilized a 75-25 ratio of white to whole wheat with a very wet dough that was gently “turned,” not kneaded, multiple times over the course of its bulk fermentation. And to achieve the wonderful crust (which often eludes me) I started with a 500F oven, added the loaves and immediately turned the temp down to 450F and added a half cup of water to the bottom of the oven. I did this periodically throughout its bake. (A word of caution about that … my oven has a steam cleaning option so this can be done. But some oven electronics might suffer with this step. Even a great loaf is not worth ruining your oven.)

Finally!

And the FLAVOR! My first loaf used a different brand of Kalamata olives that were chopped. This time I used a really good salt-brined sliced brand that added tremendous rich flavor. So in addition to the usual health benefits of sourdough, the olives add even more! This is as good as any professional loaf I have ever tasted (so good I had two thick slices slathered in butter), and it is sourdough, so I do feel like I’ve just won the Pulitzer or something … having finally achieved an excellent crusty, open crumb, chewy tasty Sourdough Olive loaf!

Thank you Audrey II!

The End Of The World …

I have come to the conclusion that the “End of the World” will come with a whimper, not with a bang. I base this on the many signposts we are all witnessing —

  • Weather Pattern Changes — Let’s set aside the controversial issue of “climate change” and its causes for the moment, we ARE seeing severe changes to weather patterns that are disruptive to our lives, and in certain parts of the world, destructive to the food supply. Up to this point, wars have usually been the major cause of starvation in troubled parts of the world, but now the drastic changes in climate are producing profound bands of drought across Africa and elsewhere that may be difficult to overcome. And starvation isn’t limited to the human family — many species are being adversely affected and experiencing die offs.
  • Poisoning of the environment — This one IS unquestionably human generated and nothing gets me as mad. Species die-offs as a result of adverse climate change is one thing — it has happened for billions of years — but species die-offs because of  the poisons we subject them to, whether in the soil, plants or waterways, is inexcusable and it would seem, also difficult to stop. With the bees alone, once they are gone, we starve.
  • Wars and Rumors of Wars — Another one that is preventable. Wars over territory, wars of aggression, wars because of dwindling resources … all preventable if we have the will to beat our swords into plowshares.

I am just wondering how long we can hold on as a planet. I remember the first smog alert my family experienced in our bucolic countryside home. It was in the early 1960’s. It was followed by Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking research in “Silent Spring” about the poisoning of our environment. Then came the Thalidomide story and Love Canal … and on and on and on. It is no better today, despite regulations and bureaucracies for every type of grievance. Why? Because greed will always find a way around rules if there is money to made doing it. And greed today is so much more powerful and monied, the only way to fight it is on a personal level.

Instead of looking out … Look IN. What can you personally do in your own little world to change the way YOU interact with the environment. Don’t say, oh it won’t make a difference … because that is, in the lexicon of the 60s, a “cop out.”  Here are a few suggestions, but I’m sure you have many more, and I’d like you to share them here.

  • Garden or farm organically and sustainably. There are a ton of resources now to help you. It’s not hard and it actually will save you money in the long run.
  • Stop throwing things away! Re-purposing and re-using and composting are all the rage. Again, there are a million resources out there with such creative ideas!
  • Know the purveyors of this violence to our world … know the companies they own and refuse to be a part of them. For example, Monsanto / Bayer / Syngenta are busily buying up Organic Seed producers. What is their ultimate goal? I don’t know, but I want no part of it. You can google an extensive list of these companies. Don’t support them.
  • Become or remain an active voter and participant in the process. I don’t know your politics, and I don’t want to know. I only want to know that you are involved. If you are not, you are contributing to the debacle.

Forgive me for this diatribe. It came to me as I laid in bed last night contemplating our current weather of 1F which will become 70F in just a few days. Never seen anything like this. I did a mental inventory of my garden, wondering which plants might succumb – not necessarily to the cold, but just the whiplash weather we have experienced for the past few years. I wondered if somewhere in our planet’s future would aliens need to reclaim and terraform our Earth, in the same way we are hoping to do on Mars. And I got mad. Really mad. I hope you get mad too.

 

North Carolina Native Heirloom Varieties

There are many heirloom varieties of garden seeds that originated here in North Carolina (or thereabouts) but I offer some of my favorites on CherryGal.com which I’d like to recommend to you:

A very rare find is The African Queen Tomato which hails from Western NC, but probably was brought here by Caribbean slaves. It dates here to the mid-18th Century. Many fine qualities!

Another NC heirloom tomato is the German Johnson Pink, notable for being one of the four parents of the venerable Mortgage Lifter tomato.

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A heritage variety claimed by many Southern areas, the Sieva Carolina Pole Lima Bean is noted for its ability to bear even in extreme heat. Grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson.

These are just three — but if you know of other heritage or heirloom varieties that are claimed by North Carolina, I’d love to hear about it!

 

The Sourdough Schedule

Since I began my Sourdough Life, I have noticed that bakers love to complicate their recipes. Whether it is tweaking the ingredients, measurements, schedule, or interventions, a new Sourdough Baker can get lost in the complexity. So here is a basic schedule for baking Sourdough Bread — once you get the yeast under your wings and can trust your baker’s instincts, this is a handy schedule to print and put on your fridge. Enjoy!

Baking with Wild Caught Sourdough is …

  • MAGICAL because you are capturing these invisible creatures, feeding and caring for them, and then asking them to work for you to make something delicious
  • INSPIRING because it allows your imagination to take flight, creating new and different breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pizzas, tamales, noodles, hush puppies, cakes, crackers, pancakes and pie crust
  • HEALTHY because Wild Caught Sourdough Starter is made from natural yeast which requires a long fermentation to rise and this is what creates the immune enhancing, macro-biome promoting, and nutrient rich properties
  • ECONOMICAL because of its long shelf life … it has natural preservative qualities so you don’t waste and don’t need to refrigerate
  • MUCH MORE FLAVORFUL — compared to commercial yeast breads which taste like kleenex tissue, natural sourdough is tangy, rich, deeply delicious and actually becomes more so the longer it sits out
  • MOOD ALTERING — not only because of the different kind of candida that it produces, but also just the slow, rhythmic kneading, the waiting, anticipation and reward that baking with sourdough provides. It can enrich your life!

Each time I bake with my wonderful Sourdough Starter which I named Audrey II (after the insatiable plant in Little Shop of Horrors) it is an adventure. There are so many things I can do with it. This past week I made a delicious pizza. This weekend I will be baking Challah for my Church’s Fellowship Hour. I’ll be baking two loaves — just as is done for Shabbat, representing the double portion of mannah given to the Israelites in the wilderness so they would not have to forage on Shabbat. The braided form which we now associate with Challah, was not used until Medievil Times. Challah made with Wild Caught Sourdough Starter seems to me somehow more traditional, as it is natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, which wasn’t available until the 20th Century. The recipes and form vary, but always incorporate eggs, giving the bread full flavor, fine grain and a golden hue.

New Year’s Challah with 6 Braids

Why Organic Seeds? It really IS so important!

Is it really important to buy organic seeds, rather than non-organic? Are non-GMO seeds also organic? And what about organic hybrid varieties? And can an organic seed be treated? Is that so bad? These questions confound even experienced gardeners these days.

Conventional commercial seed propagation methods utilize chemicals and other treatments that can leech into the soil, migrate to other plants, drain off into the ground water and eventually water supply, affect pollinators in a very profound way and, affect your health as well.

Using conventional non-organic seed, even if it is non-GMO or untreated, is a poor start to an organic garden and can have lasting effects. This is why organic certification takes so long and is so expensive — the soil has to be redeemed from conventional assaults, and that typically takes 3-5 years, depending on the history of the growing area, surrounding areas, and type of soil and rainfall.

More and more, people are recognizing that organic produce not only tastes better … it is better — healthier, with more vitamins, nutrients and protein than conventional produce. But it is also important to grow your herbs and flowers organically, and for that you also need organic seed.

Hybrids, by the way, are not genetically modified. They are simply produced using natural methods. Many heirloom varieties began as hybrids that have been “stabilized” so that they are now “open-pollinated” — in other words seed gathered from them will grow true to the parent as long as no cross-pollination has occurred. So hybrids are not wrong, they just are not yet of the stability that you can save the seed. Also, most modern hybrid varieties are created for the convenience of growers and grocers, not for superior flavor or other characteristics that home gardeners value.

Certified organic seed cannot be genetically modified, so anytime you purchase certified organic seed you are also purchasing non-GMO seed. But that seed might be treated to ward off fungal diseases when sown in cold wet soils. The “fungicides” most commonly used by such commercial growers are Thiram, which has been around for decades, and Apron and Maxim, newer brands. You should know a seed has been treated if it is brightly and unnaturally colored — hot pink, for example. You should not handle such seed with bare hands. These chemical coatings can cause kidney and liver damage when used over time, and they are acutely toxic to fish, so runoff can be poisonous to the environment. And since their purpose is to protect vast growing fields, a home gardener does not need them, and an organic gardener should never use them.

But more recently, systemic pesticides have become common among commercial growers. Known by their scientific name as Neonicotinoids, they are pushed by Bayer, Sygenta and Monsanto and have now unquestionably been linked to bee death. You see, this type of systemic poison not only affects the plant it produces, it leaches and migrates in the soil to surrounding plants. So importing just one beautiful flower from your local nursery can create a toxic zone in your otherwise organic garden. Some commercial nurseries have pledged to, or stopped altogether, offering plants that are grown with neonicotinoids. We encourage you to ask your local nurseries what their practice is.

So, that brings us full circle as to why Organics matter. They are healthier and safer for you and the planet and all God’s creatures. This is why CherryGal Heirloom Seeds has gone ALL ORGANIC for the 2017 season, and we never offer treated seeds. In fact, we are signatories of The Safe Seed Pledge. Happy Gardening!