Category Archives: Crafting the “Home” in Homemade

potatoes

The Importance of Kneading

potatoesOften, I rush the kneading part of making bread.  If the recipe calls for 10 minutes…I blast out an elastic shiny ball of dough in 4 minutes and consider the job done.  But today, I decided to push my forearms through all 10 minutes.  The kneading, you see, is actually a very important part of the bread making.  The kneading is what gives bread its texture.

Mr. beard-pants and I are learning to make bread together.  The goal, to start providing more and more of our food by our own hands.  And in the same line of lessons, we have also greatly expanded our garden this year.  This, in fact, wasn’t so much our expansion as a delightful surprise of available  garden space.  Last year we managed to scratch out some potatoes and very tiny onions from the small woodsy plot at the back of our cabin.  Plus we grew tomatoes and herbs in pots on the balcony of our old apartment.  Our landlord also graciously allowed us to dig out a small green onionsgarden patch in the backyard which we planted with some rather unsuccessful crops that were mostly enjoyed by the neighbourhood thug rabbits.  This year, our new home (and also where we work) has 5 large garden plots that we were given free reign to plant as we please.  What we’ve got growing this year is a huge leap from last year and a great lesson in weed management.  Plants this year:  kale, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, rhubarb, asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, beets, red onions, spring green onions, cauliflower, salad greens, butternut squash, pickling cucumbers, zuchinni, carrots, accorn squash, peas, and a smattering of random herbs.  What we’ve picked or started to pick has included: asparagus (we’ve made ourselves sick of it), rhubarb, spring green onions, salad greens and kale.

The greatest lesson I think I will gather from all of this is ‘patience’.  I’m sometimes very short on patience.  Okay, not sometimes…almost all the time.  Hence, rushing the kneading of the bread.  And I also don’t like things out of my control.  (I know, what a delight I must be to live with).  And yet, although we’ve had great success with our bread making and gardens so far, the entire thing lies just at an arms reach from our control.  The little black beetles that are sharing delight in the collard greens and salad…they giggle when I try to shoo them away with home-made eco-sprays.  The bread…even when we aim for perfection…seems to have a mind of its own.  One week, for no reason that we could understand, every loaf of bread we tried…utterly failed.  And I’ve decided that all these things have a rhythm of their own.  Some things in the garden will not survive.  Others will garden plotsflourish. (The kale is gorgeous…the beets refuse to shine).  And bread…perhaps bread is sensitive to moods, to weather, to changing from this bowl to that.  I will simply have to learn to accept that some truths are not only beyond my control, but also without explanation.

I know I’m not the only one who can strive fruitlessly for perfection in a beautiful imperfect world.  Yes, it’s Sunday June 24th, 2012…and I am just now starting to see the beauty in having things go whatever way they will go.

Dear Beetles…if you do, perhaps…maybe want to consider attacking the asparagus patch instead…by all means, go ahead.  But if you choose to continue eating the collards, just leave us a little bit of kale please.

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Multigrain braided bread

A Marathon of Baking

Multigrain braided breadRight around the time I decided that I wanted to try training for a sprint level triathlon (500 m swim, 20 km bike and a 5 km run), I simultaneously dove right into a marathon of sunday baking.  We are still pushing along with making all of our breads and baked goodies.  So while the loaves and muffins and pitas baked away, I sketched out a rough plan for my new 10 week training program.  The first step will be to have my bike fixed.   It had two tune ups last year and somehow still woke up this spring in the worst shape ever.  In reality…I kinda need a new bike, but that’s for another budget year.  Right after I pear upside down muffinsput the pear upside-down muffins in the oven, I also gathered all the information I will need in order to plan my weekly swimming sessions at the local pool.  Unfortunately, the schedule at the pool here is less than ideal and most of the lane swimming times happen during my work day.  However, there are a few times throughout the week where I can catch a swim before work or later in the evening.  So this week I will get my bike off to the shop and start off with a mix of swim and run training.

Perhaps thinking about a triathlon is what spurred the excessive baking this sunday.   My lovely took care of making our bread for the week (one loaf of multigrain and a beautiful braided loaf that looks so so wonderful).  But while I was thinking of extra runs, long distance bike rides and swimming laps…I also thought about all that my body has to do in a week.  I have a very physically demanding job which should make all this training an extra challenge.

pita breadI’m finding it really hard these days to stay motivated with work-outs, crafting, creating and writing.  I think in part due to isolation…a lack of community to share and grow with.  Yesterday we went to Toronto for the day and it was so refreshing (for a rural girl) to spend the day surrounded by so many people.  Although I hate to admit it, some part of me is still a city girl.  I was raised in both settings and always feel like I hover somewhere in the middle.  Loving the silence and beauty of where I am, but craving the hustle of a more active social life.  So far my weekend has been in both worlds.  Saturday we visited the Royal Ontario Museum, ate delicious vietnamese food on Spadina and snooped around the second hand delights of Kensington Market.   Sunday, nestled in our country life, I’ve been baking, running and digging up wild leeks out on the trails.

What we baked this week:  2 loaves multigrain bread, Rosemary and Parmesan Foccacia (a gift for our rosemary parmesan foccacianeighbour), Pear Upside Down Muffins and a dozen pita breads.   What I picked up in Kensington Market:  a fantastic red floral vintage smock apron and a cotton batik wrap skirt for summer.  What I loved at the ROM:  beautiful displays of butterflies from their specimen collection and inspiration perhaps for a future embroidery project.

Rye

Our Daily Bread

Oatmeal Wheat and RyeWe are now making all of the bread that we consume.  This was a recent decision, spurred by our shared desire to one day grow, bake and create as much of our food as possible.  It can seem like such a daunting thing, especially when there is so much other work to do.  So instead of diving right in and getting completely overwhelmed, we decided to chip away at it one piece at a time.  Our new home has blessed us with more garden space than we have had in previous years.  The potatoes are planted, the seedlings in waiting and the seed packets lined up anxiously. Already there is a bounty of asparagus spears sticking up out of the ground and rhubarb coming out of our ears.

The first piece of our food plan was to learn how to bake bread and to completely Ryeeliminate all store bought bread from our shopping list.  We looked up a few recipes, grabbed up a jumbo bag of flour and some yeast…and away we went.  In hindsight, with only one loaf pan and one tiny wee little cookie sheet…we likely should have stocked up on some extra bakeware.  And almost as if it heard us discuss this plan…the breadmachine that I got second hand…finally decided to call it quits.

The results so far have been great.  The first Sunday we made a small loaf of rye and a large loaf of Oatmeal Wheat Bread.  This Sunday we decided to go all the way Rye Bread and PB&J Cookieswith the rye and made a small free form loaf and one loaf in the bread pan.  Check out my Pinterest “Bread” board for recipes and notes on the loafs we have tried so far and recipes we have lined up for our next Sunday Bread Adventures.  I’m studying up now on sourdough and will share the results of our first starter soon.

Oh and the cookies next to the Rye Bread were a little extra treat I whipped together:  Peanut Butter & Jam Drop Cookies!

Crafting the “Home” in Homemade (Part 2: Bread)

Flax and Sunflower Seed BreadBread making ain’t what it used to be.  And that could be a good thing.  I’ll be the first to admit that I simply don’t have time or the inclination to make enough bread every week to keep up with our consumption.  So the last time I went to visit my parents I inquired about the bread maker and took it home.  I’ve done a search for bread makers and they seem to be fairly inexpensive (although you can’t get much cheaper than borrowing one!).  I’ve seen quite a number of them listed on sites like Kijiji for only $20-$30.  But I’ve also seen them new or caught them on sale for anywhere between $30 to $60.

Is making your own bread economical?  Seriously, is it cheaper?  I could take the time to add up the cost of the ingredients I’ve purchased and average out what it costs per loaf.  I’d also have to factor in the cost of the electricity, wear and tear on the bread maker and my own labour (which by the way isn’t much…with a bread maker you really just add the ingredients in the order listed in the recipe, close the lid and hit a few buttons).  Really I think the answer is a matter of preferences and perspectives.  I could find at any time a really cheap loaf of bread at the grocery store for less than $2.  And the range is all over the place…from cheap white bread to bargain whole wheat to expensive artisan breads.  It all depends on what you want to eat.  But if I factor in the health costs of eating commercially produced bread I could easily say that making bread at home is definitely cheaper.  Plus if you purchase your ingredients in bulk you can easily make a simple loaf for under $2.00.  And it’s free aromatherapy for everyone!

Ingredient comparison. Here are the ingredients listed on the bag of rye bread that we usually buy.  Keep in mind I go for the healthiest bread I can find in the store:  unbleached wheat flour, natural spring water, rye flour, sour dough (rye flour, natural spring water, bacterial culture), yeast, salt, skim milk, powder, buttermilk powder, cultured whey powder (whey and bacterial culture), sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate.

I mean…it’s not bad…I’ve seen much scarier ingredient lists before.

But compare that to the ingredients list for a loaf of (insert name of company name I’ve omitted).  Caraway Country Rye: Enriched wheat flour, water, light rye flour, cornmeal, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), caraway seeds, modified milk ingredients, oat fibre, yeast*, wheat gluten, sugar/glucose-fructose, salt, vinegar, bacterial culture, calcium propionate, sorbic acid. *order may change. May contain sesame seeds, soybean, egg and sulphites.

I’m okay til we get to the modified milk ingredients, sugar/glucose-fructose and the may contain….  I mean, does it or does it not contain these things?

Now compare that to the ingredients list for the Caraway Rye bread I made in my breadmaker last week:  water, oil, caraway seeds, brown sugar, salt, unbleached bread flour, medium rye flour, yeast.

Yep, that list is short, sweet and contains nothing except common pantry ingredients.

Flax and Sunflower Seed Bread

With a bread maker you aren’t stuck baking the bread in the machine every time.  The dough setting allows you to make doughs for everything ranging from pita pockets, pizza dough, rolls and buns.  Once the dough is ready you bake in the oven like normal. You can even prepare dough in advance and freeze to bake later.

Some bread making tips: Buy in bulk.  If you’re looking to make bread that isn’t simply white or whole wheat you will likely have to go to a bulk food or natural food store to find flour.  Bulk or natural food stores are also a great source for other additions like cranberries, raisins, spices, seeds and nuts.  There are more recipes out there than you could ever possibly try in a lifetime.  Most bread machines will come with a manual that contains some basic recipes.  Do a google search for ‘bread machine recipes” and you’ll also come up with plenty. I also found these great recipes at Canadian Living.  From the Canadian Living site I made Molasses Oat Bread .  Listed below are the recipes I tried this week from AllRecipes.com

The Breads I’ve been Baking

Okay, so my grade school had a motto which was “through sharing and caring we learn”.  And normally I would advocate that homemade yummies are meant to be shared and enjoyed with friends…but the minute I took the Cranberry Wheat Bread out of the bread maker I instantly thought “mine”.  It would be flat out gluttonous not to share this loaf or I could simply hide it away and sneak in some extra visits to the gym!  This is a really nice loaf.  It’s moist, like a raisin bread, and the spices are just perfect.  I didn’t have any ground nutmeg in my cupboard so I added a little ground cardamom instead.

Cranberry Wheat BreadI also made this week a loaf of Flax and Sunflower Seed Bread.  When I was a kid I wasn’t a fan of any bread that had “seeds” in it.  I can remember sitting at the table picking out each and every seed out of the slice before I’ve even consider bringing it to my mouth.  Thankfully I’ve grown up, because this bread is delicious, nutty and perfect for sandwiches.

Oh and for those of you who are opposed to the use of a bread machine or simply want to delve in to the dough with your own hands…here is a link to some great traditional bread recipes.

If you have some favourite recipes or tips you’d like to share please post them in the comments.

Happy Baking!

Crafting the “Home” in Homemade: Part 3: Winter/Spring Canning and Preserving

February 23, 2011-  Anxious to start Canning or Preserving?  Looking to gain some preserving skills before the height of the fruit and veggie season hits?  Thinking that there is no hope while you gaze out the window at a snow covered driveway…I mean, if you’re in the northern part of anywhere right now odds are there is nothing local or fresh about the fruit and veggies at the store. Here are a few ideas for getting in the groove of preserving and filling your pantry with new delights (even before the snow melts):

1)  Give mustard a try.  There are many condiments that don’t require fresh ingredients, but are rather made out of simple items found year round at the grocery or bulk food store.  I made my first batch of mustard in December and all it took was vinegar, mustard powder, mustard seeds, sugar and some frozen cranberries.  I stumbled on the site for the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission and found recipes for cooking with mustard, making your own whole grain mustard…along with info on the health benefits of mustard.  Seriously, there is a development commission for mustard..who knew!Yellow and Brown Mustard Seeds

2)  Even in the winter months there are still some good sources of fruit that haven’t travelled too far.  Any fruit or vegetable that stores well in a cold room can generally be found from a local or nearby source throughout the winter months.  It’s not likely that you’ll want to pickle potatoes (you could can them…but why?).  Apples can be used in a variety of ways to make jams, jellies, chutneys, barbecue sauces, etc.  Rule of thumb:  stay clear of anything that is not going to taste as fresh or as good as it would in peak season.  So ignore the imported strawberries or blueberries that are on sale.  They’ve travelled really far, have been sprayed with a lot of unmentionables and are known to really absorb chemicals.  How about canned apple pie filling or apple preserves.

3) And well, if you do find a tasty orange or pear that has travelled from away but is too delicious to be resisted..go ahead and take a stab at making an orange marmalade or a pear jam.  I found not too long ago a bunch of pears on the reduced rack (but not overripe…because you should never make any preserve with fruit that is too ripe) and made a delicious cinnamon pear jam that was tested in less than 48 hours…I can confirm, it tastes amazing on pancakes.

4) Back to the roots.  Dilled carrot pickles…need I say more!

For more tips and tricks check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  This site is full of useful information for everything from making jams and jellies, canning, freezing, drying, smoking, curing, pickling and fermenting.  They’ve also got some additional tips and guidelines for seasonal selections.

Crafting the “Home” in Homemade (Part 1: Canning and Preserving)

February 23, 2011:   I wonder sometimes why it took me so long to start making more of my own food.  I love food.  I eat food.  And certainly for the last decade at least I have been highly aware of the many many many issues related to how we grow, produce, package, commercialize and generally taint our own food supply.  I say “we” and I say “our”, but in reality most of us don’t have much of a say when it comes to what gets stocked on the grocery store shelves.  Or do we?

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me, and I’m sure many others, that packaged foods, a lack of whole foods and an abundance of highly refined, overly preserved, and extremely modified foods is having a detrimental effect on our own personal health and the health of our communities.

Let me clarify…by “making my own food”..I mean really making my food.  A return to making from scratch and being able to see each and every ingredient that goes into the process.  I mean avoiding the middle aisles of the grocery store and sticking to what’s fresh.  And I mean, ultimately, food that is produced in a manner that is all at once creative, healthy, good tasting and begging to be shared.

So what is the average person to do?  Well, for years I felt I really couldn’t have much control.  I moved too much.  No matter where I was living I always knew the next ‘moving’ date.  From seasonal accommodations to staff accommodations to house sitting…I’ve been everywhere!  While this lifestyle was very exciting and interesting at times…at other times it was frustrating.  Like try moving your favourite three sewing machines time and time again.  (Granted I probably don’t need all three of them).  I also felt I never really had a space where I could truly give in to creating and ultimately experimenting with different ways to craft my own home.

Last summer on the advice of a friend I picked up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle‘.  (If you’re from the States, the website provides some resources for finding local food…there are also lots of yummy recipes).  For anyone interested in growing your own food or simply being inspired to take an extra yield from your backyard garden plot…this book is truly magnificent.  At first I felt a little despondent…I mean, here I was living in a cabin provided by my work with no garden, no money to go towards my big dream of a farm and no idea where I’d be moving next…except yet again I knew the ‘moving’ date.  So how does the average renter take control of their food?  Well, for starters…if you can’t grow your own food you can always rely on the bounty of goodness produced by nearby farms.  If you live in Ontario, try Farmers Markets Ontario which has a listing of almost every farmers market across the province with open/close dates, etc.  And what about winter?  What I was truly inspired to do this summer is something I’ve meant to do for a long time:  Canning and Preserving.

Canning and PreservingI by no means have the capacity to can and preserve enough food for an entire winter…nor do I have the storage or space.  But I figure the least I can do is start small and think big.  One jar of yummy at a time.  I went to my local hardware store and picked up the basic canning supplies for under $30.  This included a canner (a larger metal pot with a built in rack for supporting the jars which is made thin in order to reach a boil faster), a box set of canning tools (tongs, funnels, lid lifter, etc.) and a box of jars.  Once you’ve purchased the basic supplies you can use them for years and years…including re-using the jars.  The next step was to find some inspiration.  Luckily, living rurally and nowhere near a book store, I had thought ahead and pre-ordered the Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving (you can find another review of this book here). If you’re an absolute beginner this is a great book.  It covers all the basic steps and has over 400 recipes to try.  The recipes range from sweet, savoury, pickles, etc. and also offer a variety from using traditional powdered pectin, liquid pectin or natural pectin.  One warning…as far as jam recipes go…most of these contain a very large amount of sugar.

So far I’ve made:

  • Blueberry Thyme Jam
  • Blueberry Lime Jam
  • Peach Jam
  • Ginger Peach Jam
  • Cinnamon Pear Jam
  • Cranberry Mustard
  • Vanilla Cherry Jam

Helpful tip: Get to know when things come in season and what is local or at least produced in your province/state.  This is when fruits and vegetables are the tastiest, most nutritious, plentiful and cheapest!

It seems odd right now to be writing this up while looking out over winter…but another tip:  I found things came in season faster than I could peel, core, bag and prepare them for preserving.  So I focused on picking up lots and lots and lots of in-season fruits, preparing them and putting them in the freezer.  My cabin at the time was entirely too small and too hot for me to even fathom turning on the stove.  So I saved the ‘standing over the hot stove’ part for late fall and over the course of the winter. This is the modern advantage of having a freezer.  When you’re just starting out..start small.  Every year you’ll gain new knowledge, a better understanding of your local produce and get quicker at getting things into jars.