May 30, 2008

Step #1 - Make your own bread

I'm starting to think about this adventure in becoming more sustainable as a journey down a really long road. I've been walking much slower than I would like so far, but I know that if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll get there. Corny analogy? Maybe, but it's working for me right now, and I'm sticking to it. That makes this the first post in a very long series to come that will chronicle each small step (including the occasional backward one) down the road.

On Wednesday night, I started my very first batch of homemade bread. I chose the no-knead variety, mostly because I'd heard it was easy and thought that would make me more likely to continue baking bread. I found the recipe in the New York Times, of all places. I made it exactly as instructed the first time, and plan variations in future iterations.

Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I used half white, half wheat)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (I used Fleischmann's Rapid Rise Yeast)
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed. (I skipped this for now)

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I started my bread at 11:30 pm, in the hopes that it would be ready when I got home the next day. This seems to have been a fairly successful strategy.)

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. (I didn't get to this step until 20 hours after I started the dough. In retrospect, this may have resulted in too many air bubbles, which could be why the texture was a bit odd.)

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. (Here's where I started thinking the recipe had gone horribly wrong. My dough was much too gooey to form into a ball, and no amount of flour on my hands or the dough was going to prevent sticking. But I perservered. After the two hours, my dough had not
doubled. It did not even grow by 50%. It also continued to spring back at this point, but I refused to give in and chuck this batch.)

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. (I used our Le Creuset baking dish, which seems to have worked very well. This loaf needed just 15 minutes with the lid off to look and smell delicious.)

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Here's a picture of the resulting loaf.

As you can see, the bread didn't rise nearly as much as anticipated. The texture is also a bit spongy, perhaps because I let it rise for too long in the first stage. But the flavor is good, and it has a great crust on it, so I'm thinking this was a fairly good first effort.

If anyone out there has more information on what I might want to do differently next time, including maybe changing the kind of yeast I used???, please let me know. For my next loaf, Rob has requested a full-on kneaded bread, so please also pass along any great recipes of that variety.

Hmm. Now I'm looking forward to spreading a bit of locally produced goat cheese on a couple of slices of yummy fresh bread....

May 29, 2008

Our Fair Share - CSA Week #3

I haven't posted the contents of the first two weeks of our Fair Share, but I've had a couple of questions as to what comes with our share from our CCSA, so I will try to do so from now on. In case you don't know, CCSA stands for Combined Community Supported Agriculture. According to Wikipedia, Community Supported Agriculture:

...generally is the practice of focusing on the production of high quality foods using ecological, organic or biodynamic farming methods. This kind of farming operates with a much greater-than-usual degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders—resulting in a stronger than usual consumer-producer relationship. The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole season’s budget in order to get quality foods. The system has many variations on how the farm budget is supported by the consumers and how the producers then deliver the foods. By CSA theory, the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste or financial loss.

In its most formal and structured European and North American form, CSAs focus on having:

  • a transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year;
  • a common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and
  • a ‘shared risk and reward’ agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing.

Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers—and on serving the customers. There is little to no loss (i.e. waste) in this system, since the producers know in advance who they are growing for and how much to grow, etc.

Fair Shares is a CSA that combines produce and products from multiple sources, including meat, grains, preserves, coffee, produce, and lots of other stuff. I like the excitement of not knowing what we'll have to work with for our meals over the next week...until we pick up our share on Wednesday nights...

Right. Enough background. Without further ado, week three's bags included:

It's looking like this week we may have hummus on toasted tortillas, fresh pasta (Mangia Italia spaghetti) with tomato sauce and pork meatballs, blue cheeseburgers, pizza, and maybe a frittata with spinach and broccoli. We're also planning to roast the Pilgrim's Acres whole chicken we got from week one - tonight, if we get home from work in time to roast it and eat at a reasonable hour.

For us, the tricky ingredient here will likely be the Match "ground pork," which I gather is a vegetarian pork substitute. Not sure what to do with that one, but we're definitely open to suggestions!

May 28, 2008

Chile Chews' Quit Now Challenge

Okay, I've gone and joined another challenge to keep me moving. I love perusing other blogs on sustainable living and gardening, and one of my favorites is Chile Chews. For the month of June, Chile is sponsoring a challenge that requires participants to quit one of their "addictions." She's cleverly called it the Quit Now Challenge. Here's an excerpt of her post announcing the challenge.

When money, resources, time, and energy are in short supply, addictions will become far more of a hindrance than just something to be tolerated. So, for the month of June, I'm going to ask you to give up at least one of your addictions, preferably the one that is the most harmful to you and that could most complicate your life in the future...

Perhaps your addiction is more behavior-oriented. Do you spend mindless hours in front of the television or surfing nonsense websites? Do you talk on the phone to your friends for hours, as an escape from work you need to do, rather than because you are building a relationship? Do you spend hours browsing catalogs or shopping at thrift stores when you actually have everything you need already?

As you can see, these are not necessarily addictions in the traditional sense, but could be a less-than-sustainable behavior you'd like to stop (e.g. excessive tv watching or shopping), a food or beverage you should really cut back on (e.g. coffee, chocolate, cookies or tea), or just about anything think you will need to eliminate or cut back on as we approach a peak oil scenario.

Now, I'm nowhere as far down the road to sustainability as all the other folks who have already signed up for this challenge. But I know I need to start somewhere, so I'm willing to start small and work my way up to something more significant. The first thing that came to mind is the fact that I eat lunch out nearly every day. I know, not particularly sustainable, but suddenly switching to bringing my lunches from home may not be a simple shift, and I'm not ready to start that change right when I'm also trying to work on lots of other things. So, without further ado, I'd like to announce that I'll be eating vegetarian lunches for the month of June. I know it seems insignificant, but it's a small enough step that I should be able to keep it going after the challenge is up...then I'll move onto the next challenge of figuring out how to bring my own lunch...

May 26, 2008

If you've wanted to subscribe but couldn't...

I've heard that some folks have had trouble subscribing to this blog, so Rob did some hunting around and came up with a fix. I now have a new widget at the bottom of the sidebar that should actually work. Thanks for letting me know that it was broken - I certainly wouldn't want you to miss a thing. (No, really!)


May 21, 2008

Raised bed...fully loaded

Everything's hurry up and grow!

Can you tell we have abundant bunnies and squirrels in our neighborhood?

Before....and after

We planted two iris bulbs the first fall we moved in, and haven't had more than greenery to show for it until now. One decided to bloom this year, and looked like this on Sunday.

When I came home from work on Monday, it had transformed into this.

I love little surprises!

Other blooming things from our garden are a tiny lilac we planted last year...

...and a wiegela.

May 16, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #3

Okay, I'm officially on a roll here - three posts in one week. As promised, this post will be an update on my planting plan and how the garden is growing.

Rob was kind enough to take a picture of my planting diagram, which is shown here. It may seem strange to note that I am an architect by profession, which means that I have the access and the ability to draw this up in AutoCAD or REVIT, but I still drew my planting plan by hand. My reasoning is that as an inherently imprecise adventure, gardening shouldn't necessarily be subjected to straight lines and dimensions. Besides, I like to bring the drawing out into the garden with me, exercising my right to change my mind by revising things as I go along whenever I'm out there working on things. As this is my first year with veggie gardening, we'll see how that goes as things progress.
Now, for the progress I've made on the plants themselves. I initially planted two 72-cell seedling trays, using coconut coir for seeding medium and placing the trays on a cart in the basement. I used artificial lighting with daylight CFL bulbs, three 1-bulb shop lights per tray. Just about everything came up right on schedule, and I quickly found that I'd planted WAY too many seeds in each cell. But, after five weeks and lots of thinning, things were growing like crazy.

Except the tomatoes, which still staunchly refuse to grow beyond 1/2" tall. I asked my sister, who is studying to be a Master Gardener, and apparently the poor little things had developed powdery mildew from being over-watered. Oops - something to note for next year.

Thinking it may have something to do with the light they were given, I moved everything upstairs to the guest bedroom window for some true sunlight.

Everything except the tomatoes kept growing and growing, until the beans started to bloom indoors.

It was definitely time to plant things outside. Which I did last weekend.

It turned out to be a nice enough day for Jack to come out and "help."

I broke down and bought three tomato plants and splurged on two pepper plants from our local farmer's market - organic and locally started, so I didn't feel too bad. I also direct-sowed some of my plants, such as marigolds, daisies, alyssum, onions, radishes, carrots, lettuce and mesclun mix. As you can see, I had lots of seeds to choose from.
After an afternoon of planting, most of the seedlings were in the ground. I don't have a picture of the final product right now, but I will be out there planting the final three tomatoes, nasturtium seeds, and a few more squares of lettuce. Be on the lookout for shots of my fully loaded planter, coming soon!

May 13, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #2

Today, there's another small break in the madness that is my life, so here is a modest installment in my long-overdue Growing Challenge Update...

What am I growing for the challenge?
My seed list for the Growing Challenge includes:

beans: Henderson's Black Valentine, Royalty Purple Pod
carrots: Atomic Red, Amarillo
cucumber: Lemon Cucumber (freebie)
greens: Mesclun & Lettuce Mix (Southern Exposure), Tom Thumb
herbs: Chives, Parsley, Sweet Basil
onions: Dry Bulb, White Bunching (both from Southern Exposure)
squash, summer: Odessa, Early Prolific Straightneck
squash, winter: Table Bush Queen
radish: Long Scarlet, Early Scarlet Globe
tomato: Sub-Arctic Plenty, Marmande, Moneymaker (freebie)

All of the seeds came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds unless noted above. Even though they're not included in the challenge, I'm also planting Sunflowers, Dianthus, Nasturtiums, Marigolds, Midwest Wildflower Mix, and Sweet Alyssum from seed as well. Most of these are companion plants to attract good insects or repel pests. The sunflowers are a part of The Great Sunflower Project, so I'll be keeping an eye on those to see if we have any apian visitors. The wildflower mix is intended to fill a large bare patch in the back yard we're not ready to deal with yet. I'm also hoping that planting tender yummy wildflowers at the east end of the yard will distract the many marauding bunnies from the vegetable garden at the west end of the yard. I'm not keeping my fingers crossed about that one, and I have a small roll of 24" high fencing I think I may install shortly after I plant the raised bed.

For My Next Post: What's the Plan? How is it Going? (and yes, I will include pictures...)

May 12, 2008


I know I owe everyone an update on the garden, and it's coming soon. But something exciting just popped up today that I thought I'd share.

Rob sent me an email at work this morning to let me know that a local CSA we've heard about now has 8 shares available for this year, on a first-come, first-served basis. We quickly checked out their website and found out that
Fair Shares is actually a CCSA (Combined Community Supported Agriculture) co-op that combines items from various local, sustainable growers and bakers. Then we looked into what comes with a share, which is:

  • for $8/week: 1 lb of humanely raised, hormone-free meat (this could be trout, a whole chicken, beef, pork, ground bison, various sausages, or lamb - we've already arranged for a friend to buy lamb from us, since I despise the stuff)
  • for $22/week: 6-8 varieties of produce & herbs (again, the same friend has graciously agreed to buy any extra tomatoes and squash we may have when our garden starts to bear fruit)
  • for $5/week: fresh goat or cow milk cheese, whichever is available from the co-op that week
  • for $3.75/week: one dozen free-range eggs
  • for $4/week: 1 lb of local pasta or a loaf of local bread
  • for $8/week: other stuff (coffee, chocolate, peanut butter, honey, or other sundry items)

So, for a grand total of $50/week, we'd get nearly everything we need to eat yummy and healthy meals. I'd guess we'll need to supplement with milk, yogurt, fruit, chocolate, and some bulk grains (for making home-made granola and bread).

I just signed us up, and our fingers are crossed that we'll be accepted to receive a share. Wish us luck - I'll keep you updated!