Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Getting ready for Miso Club

The first rule of Miso Club, we talk about Miso
The second rule of Miso Club, we love making miso

Tomorrow will be the inaugural meeting of Miso Club.  I've invited a very good friend over for what I hope will be the start of a long and happy ritual, New Years Day Miso Club.  The idea is that since red miso takes about one year to make, or longer, then we would get together every New Years day and make miso, then when finished, dig out the miso we made the year before and enjoy it.

Also, winter is the best time to make red miso.  Sweet miso like I've made before can be any time of year, but red miso, that's made in winter.

To prepare for miso making, I've been making koji barley.  This is barley grain that has been blessed with koji mold.  Yes, mold.  Mold is awesome.  What it does is it transforms the starches in the grain into sugars which can then be fermented into miso paste.

It takes three days to make the koji barley.

Day one, soak and steam the barley, then incubate it at about 90F for about 24 hours.

barley getting ready to steam

steamed barley is like a giant rubbery lump
and must be separated out before adding koji spores

wrapping up the barley to keep it warm while the mold grows

What I learned is that after 12 hours, the koji grain begins to produce it's own heat and the challenge quickly changes from keeping it warm to keeping it cool enough without getting too cold.  Thankfully koji is a loving teacher and can survive well outside the 'ideal' range.

Day two of koji growing, mixing the grain up every couple of hours, separating any clumps that form, then spreading the grain to abut 1 inch thick (the instructions said two inches, but this was far too hot) then wrapping it up again.

day two, spreading the barley out into an even layer

I should have stopped at the end of day two when the grains were mostly white with mold and a few yellow patches.  But I kept going because the instructions said to.  The morning to day three, all the grains were yellow and starting to spore - which is okay apparently, but not as sweet smelling as day two.  Next time, I'l stop when the grain says to, not when the instructions tell me.

Now I lay the grain out in a thin layer to dry and cool a bit before storing in the fridge.

The barley I'm working with is pot barley, the koji spores came from GEM cultures in the US.  I have tos ay, the koji spores worked like a charm,  I followed the recipe included with the spores.

The next step in preparing for tomorrows miso making is to soak the beans we will cook up tomorrow. Instead of soy beans, we will use chickpeas, sweet delicious chickpeas.  I toyed with the idea of making a lentil miso with local red lentils, but after this week's kitchen failure, I decided to use a bean I know and trust.

Some books about making your own miso at home
The Book of Miso by Shurtleff and Aoyagi
Wild Fermentation by Katz
The Art of Fermentation by Katz
The Miso Book by Belleme

2 gallons of miso will cost me
$14 for the chickpeas
$6 for the barley and koji spores
$2 for the salt
unknown for the electric bill, let's guess $3

Total of about $25 for two gallons of artisan made red chickpea barley miso.  This is totally awesome since the same miso sells for $36 for roughly 1/8th of a gallon in the stores (if I did my math right, that's $576 if I were to buy 2 gallons in the shop).

Next year it is my great hope to grow some if not all of the ingredients for New Year Miso Club, or at the very least, source as many ingredients locally as possible.  Maybe even some local sea salt.

Transitional and Traditional - funny how these two go hand in hand - miso can be made from locally sourced materials, excepting possibly the koji spores.  The Art of Fermentation by Katz has instructions on how to capture your own wild koji and to create koji starter when you already have koji growing.

Soy-Sub:  I'm making a soy free version of red miso.  Any bean can be substituted for some or all of the soy in miso making.  By making miso at home you can have complete control of every single ingredient

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kitchen Failure - where I demonstrate what not to do when making miso paste

I hate to admit this, but sometimes I try something and it is a total disaster.  I suppose it's one of the side effects of being human, but alas, I wish it wasn't.

I also wish I was the kind of person who would quietly hide my failings somewhere dark and dank, where no one would think to look.  Bury failure under a damp pile of leaves, with only worms to whisper its nasty story too.  Maybe, if ignored, the horrible result would decompose into the soil, bettering the dirt so that new, and more successful things could thrive.

However, that's not what I want for this blog.  The goal here is to write about my culinary journey and share it with my four (or is that five now?) readers what I've learned.  Maybe some of it would be useful to someone some day.

This Kitchen Failure is especially embarrassing because I've recently been crowing about how easy and foolproof it is to make miso paste at home.

And it is easy to make miso at home, unless...

...unless you branch out and try some terribly outlandish thing and then it's a gamble.

Growing confidence with how incredibly yummy my standard chickpea miso recipe is getting, I decided to try a 'let's toss all this old stuff from the back of my cupboard miso' recipe.  I went directly against expert advice, but I had to do it.  I had to know if it would work or not.

It's not.

What did I do and what went wrong.

I used 1 pound of each adzuki and black beans (dried). Soaked and cooked them together.  MISTAKE: they cook at different rates, I should have treated them separately then mixed together when cool.  All of the adzuki beans were cooked to mush and some of the black beans were slightly raw inside.

To this I added 1/2 lb of pearly barley (dry weight), soaked and boiled until soft.  MISTAKE: using grain that hasn't been inoculated with koji spores.

The Koji rice and salt were as per usual.  MISTAKE: I didn't add extra salt to account for the additional volume of the barley.

Covered the miso with soaked kombu rather than plastic wrap.  Although this is different than my normal procedure, I don't think we can blame the kombu for this failure because some of the extra batch I fermented in a different jar also turned putrid. Besides, kombu was the pre-industrial clingfilm of Japan.

Fermented for three weeks.  Mistake: in small letters because I really should have waited for four weeks given how cold the house has been.

The results.

When I uncovered the miso a sour rotten smell like sour beer and compost assaulted me.  Miso should be sweet and salty, not sour and certainly not smelling of rotten barley.

Yep, rotten barley.  As in the pearl barley I added without inoculating it with koji first.  I'm feeling this is the main source of my failure, over confidence and ignoring a thousand generations worth of knowledge.  There is a step I could have taken to get the koji growing on the barley - without having to buy koji mold spores - but I was eager to get things done and didn't want to wait an extra day.

What did I learn?

I relearned that grain needs to be altered before fermenting, like malting or using koji, or even soaking in a sourdough sponge.  Without this alteration, the sugars in the grain aren't available and things go sour fast.

I learned that I really should try smaller batches when experimenting with outlandish miso mixes.

I also know that even though I'm down in the dumps about my current failure, I still plan on making miso this New Years.    In fact I'm very excited about it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from us at the farm.

This is what it looks like on the farm today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Travel Mug

Where I talk about coffee to go and the alternatives to plastic travel mugs.

As I read about Plastic, the dangers and how to avoid it in one's life, I see people writing about the alternatives: Stainless steel and glass.

To me stainless steel, though wonderful for cooking, is not the most ecologically friendly alternative.  It lasts a good long time, hard to break, makes excellent cooking pots... however, it has it's draw backs.  Food tastes weird when stored in it, it takes a lot of energy to produce/recycle, and it originally draws from an nonrenewable resources.  Even if we recycle every last scrap of stainless steal, from thumbtack to tractor, there are still is a limited amount of it on the planet, and each time we recycle a pot or a pin, a little bit of the metal would have been lost in the wear and tear.  On top of that, if you use a metal implement in a stainless steal cooking pot, it scratches the surface and removes the virtually non-stick quality a new stainless steel pot has.

More importantly, stainless steel is aesthetically non-pleasing.  Sure, a stainless steel bowl will bounce not break when tossed aside by an angry child, but it is missing that certain something that encourages an arthritic hand to carefully comfort a mug of hot broth to both warm the hands, and sooth the soul.

I have a few stainless steel travel mugs that have been given to me over the years.  Plastic top, but otherwise lovely.  They keep the coffee molten hot for literally hours.  The vacuum insulation makes it so that I can put my piping hot cuppa in the mug in the morning, and it will be almost cool enough to drink that evening.  None of that pesky heat transfer to warm my frozen digits, or that earthy texture that I associate with coffee.

Stainless steel has it's uses, 'though I adore it most for cooking pots and tiffins, not travel mugs.

Glass is the other material the plastic-free communities crow about with great gusto.  They call it less energy intensive alternative to stainless steel.  Which it may be.  Glass has been around for a few thousand years or so, and can be stunning when made by artizan hands.  That's seldom done anymore, but when it is - amazing.

The biggest disadvantage with glass is it breaks.  More than that it shatters into dangerous splinters, or it can unless special (do I hear energy intensive) processes are applied to the manufacturing process.  This takes the art of making glass and transforms it into an industrial science.  But don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without it!

I adore glass, be it mason jars or milk jugs.  Glass makes the best storage sense and (except for special no-break glass that my local recycling centre won't touch) can be infinitely recycled.

But for a travel mug?  There's the breakable issue, which is fine.  Everything breaks eventually.  Glass travel mugs last a darn sight longer than plastic ones.  Besides, beautiful glass cozies made of cork or knitting gladden the eyes.

The biggest problem with glass is that it transfers the heat too quickly.  Pour the coffee into the glass cup, put my coat on, the travel cup is already too hot to hold comfortably.  By the time I can hold it again, the contents are cold!  There is no inbetween period where I can nurse my brew, cradle it in my hands....

Thankfully there is another plastic free alternative.  One that...

a) is from natural materials
b)  is from local materials (just about anywhere in the world)
c) is traditional
d) is renewable (and to a small degree recyclable)
e) is at it's best when created by artisans!

This plastic free material is called clay!  I'm talking pottery.

Right now I am in love with pottery beyond all shadow of a doubt.  If pottery was a bloke, and had enough money to scrounge together a small gold ring and some land, I would jump the broom with it (that's old fashioned talk for marry it).  As it is, a lifelong common law partnership with pottery is not unlikely.

Pottery, ceramics, clay, earthenware, what have you.  It's all just heated mud and mud can be found almost anywhere.  Pottery has this extreme comforting quality that glass and metal can't imagine.  And that's what I love most about it.

A potter chooses which mud to use, shapes it to their will or whim, drys it, bakes it, lavishes lovely colours upon it, bakes it again... amazing!

Sure, pottery also has the potential to break when wielded by angry children, but it doesn't shatter into dangerous shards like glass can.  When the pottery finally looses it's battle with gravity, it has nearly a hundred uses on the farm for growing food.  It can sometimes be recycled into some other kinds of future clay.  It's amazing.

Like glass and metal, cooking with pottery is easy when you know how.  It's actually quite nurturing and is my go to pot for comfort food.

When it comes to travel mugs, I think this it makes the most beautiful alternative.

This mug is created by Ann Coleman at Yunomi Studio, an artizan with great skill and infinite patients for the clay curious individuals who flock to her studio (aka, she doesn't get annoyed when I constantly pester her with questions).

The coffee is poured into the centre hole which is then plugged with a plastic-free stopper (a cork).  You then drink the coffee through the vampire-bite holes on either side.  It comes out just the right speed, thanks to the holes on the opposite side stops a vacuum from forming inside the mug which prevents the coffee from coming out at a consistent rate (like my stainless steel mugs).  Cleaning is a bit tricky, but a quick rinse after each use keeps it happy.  A bottle brush can be employed for more stubborn mess.

I tried to get Ann to write a few words about what inspired her to create such gorgeous functionality, but all she said was "I don't like drinking from plastic".

The beauty of this mug goes far beyond it's function and elegant appearance.  It's in the texture, the balance and heft of it when filled with liquid, What's more, it keeps the coffee warm for just the right amount of  time, the heat slowly oozing out into the clay and to the hands that embrace it.

Clay makes the perfect Transition material because it is everywhere.  In an over simplified point of view, all you need is mud, fire and the will to transform the world.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Fermented Holiday Season starts now

It's that time of year again, time to start thinking about Holiday presents.  This year I've decided that all the adults are getting homemade gifts, mostly food.

It all started with the most recent batch of chickpea miso - best batch so far! - and I thought, this is the type of miso I would be proud to serve my friends (as opposed to my learning batches of miso which were a little taste like practice).  If the miso tastes this good, I wonder what other yummy treats I can make.

So here's a list (because these particular friends don't read this blog) of some of the delicious fermented foods I hope to have ready in time for Christmas.

Sweet Miso takes about one month to ferment, but it can be as fast as 3 weeks if I increase the ratio of koji rice to other ingredients.  I have one batch of Chunky Chickpea Miso ready, and plan to put up a batch of Black Turtle and Adzuke Bean with Barley Miso later today.

Kimchi!  Kimchi is awesome in so many ways.  For starters, it is by far the best way to clean out the crisper drawer in the fridge.  You can put (almost) anything in kimchi.  In this case, I used half a daikon, two su choi cabbages, chilis, excessive amounts of ginger sliced thin, Cauliflower, carrots, and anything else vegi related that needed eating up.  Kimchi takes about one week to ferment.

Cultured Butter is easy to make in advance and keeps for ages.  I'll probably start making this a week or two before the Holiday dinner.  Takes one day to culture the cream and the next day to churn it = two days.

With the leftover buttermilk from churning butter, I will bake some bread.  Sourdough Bread loves buttermilk.  With the added dairy sugars the bread will often rise to be lofty and soft, as opposed to the more dense country loaf I make for every-day purposes.  Takes two days to make a great loaf of sourdough, but can be done in one.

Speaking about dairy. my dream is to eventually make my own hard cheese.  Wouldn't it be lovely to give the gift of Cheese?  Even a soft farmhouse style cheese mixed with dry herbs dressed in a beautiful jar or clay pot would be a good addition to a gift basket.  Soft cheese takes a couple of hours, a hard cheese on the other hand can take years.

Of course, you could always spice up your relationship with some hot sauce.  Fermented hot sauce takes about one week, or this one which is ready in two days.

Last but not least, my personal all time holiday favourite:

Cranberry Mead!

The biggest advantages of fermented vs the baked gift, are that fermented gifts last longer, are generally more affordable to make and are a refreshing change from over-indulgence.  They are also an excellent way to use up the last of the harvest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Going plastic free - or very nearly. A beginning

The goal: to reduce my use of plastic in my life, with a focus on the kitchen and food related plastic.

Why?  I've had a lot of failed attempts at writing why; it all tumbles into long rants about the world going to shit and how we each need to do our part.  My part begins here.

Inspiration:  Began with a book I accidently borrowed from the library called Plastic Free by Beth Terry (a book that the library had kindly coated in plastic to preserve it from the excessive use they anticipated it would get - libraries are funny like that, and apparently not the only ones to plasticize the plastic free book).

Generally, I'm interested in reducing any negative environmental impact I create and moving towards plastic free would be a huge step in this direction.

Another source of inspiration came from digging in the garden last spring.  I noticed when digging that there were hundreds of plastic fruit stickers in my soil.  These are the stickers that grocery stores put on their fruit to make life easier for the till workers.  Always before, these stickers use to disappear into the soil after a few months, but here I was digging in a section of the garden where no new compost had been added for at least 4 years, and there they were, an excess of plastic.  It was such a little, everyday thing this digging in the garden, but it struck home the realization that plastic is forever.

So what am I going to do about it?  

I am starting with simple observation.  I want to know just how much plastic is in my life right now; more specifically, how much plastic do I waste?  I am taking The Plastic Challenge.  For a week I am collecting up all the plastic that I would otherwise toss in the trash or recycling, taking a photo of it, and documenting how much plastic do I waste in a week?

The goal of this week is to develop a baseline for my personal plastic use.  I'm not trying to change anything at this stage, in fact, it may be an overrepresentation of my plastic use as we are going through a major cleaning phase in our life right now.

Here it is, one week worth of plastic:

Week 1 plastic pile
 My theory was correct, almost everything here is food related (or related to raising food), except for the shampoo and mail.  All in all, it weighs in at 3/4 pound.  According to the book Plastic Free by Terry, the average American uses 4 pounds of plastic a week.  

I sorted it into two piles:  Unavoidable and Might Be Able to Do Better.

Things like the envelope with the plastic window in it is necessary.  For starters, I am not convinced that e-communication actually is less eco-damaging than paper letters, but even if it is, I still prefer the paper trail when dealing with official documents.  Apparently this makes me evil - so be it.

This blue string, it's called binder twine.  It is used to bind the bales of hay together so that they are easy to use and transport.  We feed the hay to the animals, so it is a necessity in life.  Unfortunately it's made of a nasty-give-me-blisters plastic (a bit like coarse fentex).  Until relatively recently, binder twine was made of jute or sisal (plant based fibres) which are strong, biodegradable over time, and what's more, supported many third world economies.  Now, short of moving to a tropical climate and growing the jute myself, I don't know where to get natural binder twine.  That's a shame, because each day we cut at least 12 feet of plastic twine off the hay.  The twine goes into a bag where it sits until we can use it for things like tying together hurdles (temporary sheep fencing), which is what this pile of twine was reused as before meeting it's end.  Even though we re-use the twine before sending it to the landfill, we don't use it as fast as it comes in (anyone want an armful of bright blue plastic twine?).

So those are the kinds of plastic waste in my life that are currently unavoidable.  However, there are a few items here that I might be able to do better on.

For example, this tea bag wrapper.  The company brags that the teabag is compostable (which it is, I tried it) and the box is recyclable as well as made from recycled materials.  However, this individual sachet has a plasticized coating on the inside, which I assume is to help keep the tea fresh.  It might not even be a plastic, who knows?  But it feels like plastic and has yet to compost in my worm bin, so it goes in my plastic pile.  The solution, buy another brand of tea, or better still, drink more loose leaf tea.

Plastic bread bags also fall under the 'might do better' title; although, I'm currently stumped as to how.  I'm quite proud of my bread baking abilities, especially the ability to bake a loaf that will last at room temperature for two weeks (or more) before going moldy - using only flour, water, and salt!  One of the elements to this long lasting bread is the bag it's stored in.  Wrap it in a towel and it either goes hard or soggy, but either way only lasts a couple of days before we toss it to the chickens.

I wonder, how can I store bread without plastic bags?  Another question that taunts me is how to freeze bread without plastic?

Re-using plastic bags, even washed ones poses problems.  There are fancy things about chemicals leaching into the food, but more important to me is that the cleanliness of the bag is one of the factors that helps preserve the bread.  It's impossible to get a bag completely clean with home-washing.  Besides, the goal is to keep my bread fresh without plastic, not to re-use plastic.

One of my biggest sources of inspiration for finding solutions to this and similar problems, is to look at history.  What did they use to do before plastic was ubiquitous?  Could I use a bread box or wrap my bread in paper for example?  These are things I'm just going to have to try and discover for myself.  I'm looking forward to the experiment.

For more information on going plastic free, have a look at this blog: My Plastic Free Life, written by the same author that wrote the book I mentioned at the beginning.  I'll also be joining the discussion (I hope) at the Plastic Trash Challenge.

I've also discovered this very interesting Canadian based online store called Life Without Plastic which, as you guessed it, focuses on plastic-free alternatives for everyday items.  I have had a great deal of fun bumming around their site and feel very hopeful that there are possibilities available, if a bit beyond my price range.

  A final thought, this is a great challenge for Transitional groups like Transition Victoria, who dedicate themselves to gathering skills for living in a post-petroleum age.

Recyclable on the left, destined for the landfill on the right :(

The goal of going plastic free brings up a lot of questions, especially regarding food storage, preservation, buying, &c.  I feel that in most areas of my life, I use a darn sight less plastic than my peers, but I really want to cut down my kitchen waste.  That's why I'm writing about this on my food blog and not my (currently sleeping) yarn/life blog.  Let me know if you find this interesting or better yet, inspirational.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Feeding Change Chickpea Miso

I was delighted the other day when I found another company making soy-free miso paste.  Feeding Change makes a Chickpea Miso paste that is "soy-free", "gluten-free" and (most importantly) "GMO-free".   It also claims to be 100% certified organic (awesome!).

Feeding Change's Chickpea Miso paste is smooth, sweet and salty tasting, and very delicious in cup of soup.  It's a sweet miso, meaning that it has a short (less than a year) fermentation period.  The website says it's a 60 day process, which is more than double most sweet miso ferments.  It's packaged in glass, with a plastic label and plastic lined metal lid. (Why the sudden interest in plastic in packaging? More on that later this week).

This miso paste is also Unpasteurized, which has it's advantages, and disadvantage (I'll get to that).  It is also Vegan Friendly.

After trying this paste in a few things, including my favourite breakfast cuppa-miso (I put some miso paste in a cup and pour hot water on it), I've come to the conclusion that there are definitely some aspects of this miso paste that I adore, and some serious room for improvement.

The thing I like best about Feeding Change Miso is the taste.  It's sweet and salty, has a smooth miso flavour, but not overpowering; has a smooth chickpea flavour, but again, not overpowering.  How to describe it?  The flavour is suitably strong, but not so aggressive that it can't be drunk on an empty stomach.

"Miso Happy There's No Soy", a slogan from Feeding Change's website.  With my sensitivity to soy and growing concerns about the sustainability of agriculture, having gmo-free, soy-free alternatives like this make my day.

Their website also claims that this chickpea miso paste is made (or at least hand stirred) in wooden vats - way to go for using traditional and renewable materials in production.  What they mean by double fermented, however, I don't know.  Unless they are referring to the koji growing part of production as a fermentation.  The word fermentation has so many uses these days, it's becoming quite the catch all.  But koji is a vital part of making real miso, so I'm glad they are including it.

Feeding Change Chickpea Miso is also a few dollars less than other chick pea miso(s) on the market right now. Every penny counts these days, and the only way I know to get a more affordable soy-free miso is to make it yourself.

And now for the needs improvement part of the blog post.  As much as I am enjoying this product, there are some areas the company can improve on.

First, the packaging.  Kudos to Feeding Change for using glass jar.  Not only is plastic touching food an increasing health concern, plastic waste (as I'm learning) is a major environmental issue and could doom us all if not dealt with soon.  However, plastic label on the jar indicates to me that they didn't think the plastic-free packaging all the way through.  The plastic on the inside of the lid is (more or less) unavoidable, and it's better than having the metal corrode into the food.

Next, I noticed that when I got the jar home and went to open it, there was an immense amount of internal pressure in the jar.  The lid shot off the top and landed on the far side of the room.  As startling as this is, it's not a health concern (like it would be in pasteurized food), it simply means that the miso paste has continued to ferment in the jar.  Being unpasteurized has major health advantages, however, it also means that the ferment will continue to 'breath' and gas build up is not uncommon.  I'm grateful that the jar was strong enough to contain the pressure, but I wonder how much longer it would have lasted before exploding.  Perhaps the miso paste was subjected to a prolonged period of un-refrigeration (or whatever the proper word is to describe being room temperature) during shipping or storage?  It certainly wasn't out of the fridge long enough on the journey home from the store to explain it.

As it was when first opened fresh from the store.
Not the tidiest presentation.

Another aspect of the packaging they need to improve is the size of the jar.  The jar is far too large for the product size which can lead the customer to feel short changed.  Though, I did check, that the weight of the chickpea miso paste (without jar) is as it states on the label (it is).  Still, having all that open space inside the brand new jar of miso has that negative psychological impact.

Again, as it was when first opened.
Notice the gap in the top and the large air bubble in the bottom right.

But that's not the biggest problem with the packaging.  Like the now defunct Organic Lives Chickpea Miso, another company with good ideas and lots of potential out of Vancouver,  There are a lot of air pockets in the miso.  When miso is packed with air pockets, it leaves it open for the possibility of mold growth.  Considering that koji (an essential ingredient in miso) is mold, the problem isn't one of safety.  The potential problem is two fold.  first, the  perception (so much of selling something relies on perception) that all mold is bad for us - not true - but still a prevailing meme in our society.  The other problem with mold growing in pockets of air is that it causes the miso around that pocket to develop a musty, unpleasant flavour.

These problems in packaging are very amateur and the company should have figured this out with the minimal research.  The Book of Miso talks a lot about this, and that's pretty much the go to English language book for learning how to produce miso both at home and commercially.

I'm confident as the company grows, they will find ways to improve their packaging.

One final thing, and please forgive me, I'm just being nitpicky here, however, the website brags that the Chickpea Miso paste is grain free - yet, the last time I checked (and every time before that), rice, a main ingredient in miso, is a grain.

Am I going to buy this again?  Yes, I think I will, especially if they fix how it is packaged in the jar.  Feeding Change is off to a good start with this product, and I can't wait to see how they evolve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Talking about Craftsy Class, Favorite Asian Dumplings from Scratch with Andrea Nguyen

Today is the day we gave up Television in our house.  With The Ancient (a great fan of Jeopardy) in long term care at hospital, and not likely to return home soon, it didn't make sense to keep the idiot box hooked up.  So we took our cable gadgets down to the company and said - thank you, no thanks.

Aside from my daily dose of Columbo, I don't think I'll miss it.  There are so many other exciting things to do, like cleaning the house (okay, that one's not exciting), trying new recipes, sewing bags, playing with yarn, reading books... and so on.  How do people get bored?

And when it happens that I do miss TV, I can always borrow a film from my local library or better still, watch videos online of people telling us how to cook stuff (which doesn't happen on TV much these days anyway - reality cooking competitions are repetitive).

Not long ago, I signed up for one of Craftsy's promotional deals and decided to take a couple of their classes.  I started with knife skills, and it made a huge difference to my confidence in the kitchen.

The Craftsy classes include in depth videos, usually some sort of instructional document, and a question and answer section where you can discuss what you watch with the instructor and other students.  It's quite clever really, and long over due.  Finally, a place that gathers together some useful expertise and makes it available (for a price) to an Average Jane like me.

They are suppose to look like a nurse's cap

The Favorite Asian Dumpling class by Andrea Nguyen has inspired me greatly.  For some reason, I didn't even imagine that people could make dumplings in their own home.  Why this never occurred to me, I don't know, it's just one of those blind spots I guess.

This class has been so inspiring.  Nguyen has great enthusiasm for her cooking, and lots of little tips to share about how to improve your technique.  What I like best is how easy she makes it look, but what amazing results she creates.

What's even more amazing is that it really is that simple.

This is the shrimp wonton soup.  It took me about an hour the first time I made it, but most of that was getting over my trepidation at trying new techniques.  Second try was considerably faster.

To be honest, I found shrimp dumplings a bit bland on their own, so I decided to add some finely diced pickled ginger to the second batch - much better.

And look, I got a new steamer!  I have a big project coming up where I need to steam a few pounds of barley, so I took a trip to China town and brought home big and little steamer sets.  The little steamer is for practice, and the big one for ... well, big steaming.

Apparently dumplings overcook really quickly in a steamer and get chewy.  Now I know something new.

Is it affordable to make dumplings?  I think it depends on the filling.  4 servings of dumplings took 200g of prawns, which comes to about $10 here.  Plus another $1 for the rest of the ingredients (plus $5 for the soup).  But a different filling (like pork or kimchi - recipes and videos also included in the class) would be a lot more affordable.

On the whole I'm thrilled and am eager to try some of the other recipes included in the class.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An experiment in frustration, or the first and last time I count calories

Lately, I feel as if I've been eating less but am still gaining girth.

I wonder, am I actually eating less, or does it just seem that way?  Am I over eating to compensate during this time of stress?  Is my desire to cook my way back to a happy place actually doing harm?

Food is my joy-path, so I'm not giving up on the kitchen.  However, I can make better choices with what I cook.  I already love cooking vegetables and live culture foods... but there is always room for improvement.

But do I need to improve?  One moment, I think yes, the next I think no.  What marks and measures can I use to see where I am health wise?

How do I feel?  Over-stressed and run down.  I also feel energetic and hopeful that this will end eventually.  I feel motivated to take small, positive actions.  I feel momentum towards self improvement.  My knees hurt a bit which they usually do once I top a certain number of pounds, and my gut feels a bit bloated.

How much do I weigh?  I weigh about smack in the middle of where I should for my height and age.  I don't think I'm over-worried about weight.  I get the scales out four times a year (equinox and solstice).  The doctors on the other hand constantly obsess over it.  The medical community says that I have a narrow range to keep my weight in - too much and I greatly increase my risk of cancer, too little and I won't have enough energy stored up if I get sick again.  Way to give a girl issues, you silly doctor people.

Mostly I just ignore them and eat what I like.

How much do I really eat?  If I am thinking about modifying my eating behaviour, I had best start by figuring out what it is right now.

What I ate today:

rice milk
2 samosa
another samosa
red wine
stir fry
udon noodle

I'm using the calculator at CaloriesKing to guess how many calories I'm consuming.  I'm not fussing or weighing anything, just a rough estimate.  They have a little tool that can tell you the ideal daily calorie consumption depending on your height, weight, age, and activity level.  I choose moderately active since farming does involve at least some heavy lifting every day.

According to their magic formula, if I want to maintain my weight I should consume 1750 to 1950 calories a day.  Sounds easy enough.  To lose about a pound a week, I should limit my caloric consumption to 1450 a day.

Ideally I would like to lose a total of  10 to 12  pounds over the winter, for the sake of my knees if nothing else.  It's difficult for me to lose weight in the winter, as it's the natural time for the body to store energy and guard against the cold.  So why not put the goal for the spring equinox?  Spring is when I generally lose my weight anyway - the weather improves, more time outside growing the garden, less time inside cooking, &c.

Some of these foods were really simple to analyze like half a cup of yoghurt and two teaspoons of honey, but some much harder.  For lunch, I made Baked Samosas with a filling of leftovers - there is apparently no commercial equivalent on CalorieKing of a 'samosa filled with leftovers from my fridge'.  So, how do I guess what the calorie count is for this meal?

I found this Calorie Count tool which let me input the recipe and gave me not just calories, but also their opinion on the healthfulness of my ingredient choices.

The Samosa dough which makes 8 samosas (or servings) turns out to have 66 calories per serving and a 'Nutrition Grade B'.  Each ingredient got a letter grade depending on how healthy the site thought it was... however, I disagree with some of the assumptions.  For example, I used Ghee because butter has some amazing health benefits as well as tasting amazing.  I don't use a lot of ghee to make this dough, but it was enough to change my nutritional grade from a A to a B-

What I do like about this site is that it gives more than simply calories.  There is a lot of nutritional data available, and it's extremely simple to input ingredients.

Samosa Dough = easy, the filling on the other hand... far more challenging to calculate.  I had forgotten I was counting calories when I made the samosas, otherwise I might have measured better.  As it is, the recipe went something like this: All the leftover rice, all the leftover spicy lentil mush, a handful of raisins and a pinch of salt.  Unfortunately, the calorie counting tool doesn't understand these measurements, so I had to make a guess.  Another drawback, was I made enough filling for 10 samosa, not eight like I had dough for.  This was easily fixed by altering the number of servings and calculating the filling and dough separately, then adding them back together.

Best guess at my samosa filling gave me 120 calories per samosa.

One samosa gives us an approximate total of 185 calories (except if it's a small one, or a really big one, or one that didn't get as much filling, or...).  It's difficult and far too fussy to make them all the same size.  So how many calories I actually ate?  I have no idea.

On the whole, what have I learned today?

First, if I ate from a box or processed foods, then counting calories would be a lot easier.  Even if I just followed recipes instead of improvising based on the weird stuff in my fridge, that would make a life of calorie counting simple.

Second, calorie counting is not for me.  It is WAY too stressful.  I would much rather spend my energy growing, cooking and eating delicious food than stressing about how many grams of flour I used to dust the counter when rolling out the samosa dough.

Third:  On the whole, I ate far fewer calories than I expected. Even taking into account that simply observing my consumption has altered it, I'm surprised by how little I felt like eating.  For example, that third samosa was completely unnecessary - I wasn't even hungry by that point, but kept eating it anyway out of habit (and because it was exceptionally yummy - tomorrow's goal, write out new and improved samosa recipe for you guys).

Given what I've learned, what will I change?

I don't think I'm going to change a thing.  This seems to be right on track.

The goal is to keep buying healthy goodies and avoid all junk - much easier now that the burden of stress is shifting.  In fact, this week I've felt nauseous at the idea of eating sweets or processed foods, which makes it easier not to bring them into the house.  (I'm not going into what this big stress in my life is right now, it doesn't belong on a food blog).

Though I think I may keep an eye out for other methods of evaluating my eating habits and see what comes of it.  But counting calories - forget it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Baked Samosas with chickpea and leftover rice filling

My current culinary quest - to learn to cook and love Indian food.  Today's experiment: Samosa!

I found this recipe in Everyday Indian by Bal Arneson.  A very enjoyable author who has a great selection of Indian-Canadian dishes with a Pacific coast twist.  I have a couple of books by her and I like how she isn't afraid to meld indian flavour with West Coast ingredients.  

Some of my modifications were to half the salt, change up the fats, and completely alter the ratio of the filling to match the collection of leftovers in my fridge.  Basically I took some leftover rice, leftover chickpeas, leftover fresh cranberries, replaced some of the whole wheat flour with white... &c. and used her recipe as a guide.  

stuffing the samosa

I'm not going to post my recipe here because it's a book well worth reading.  Your local library should have it, and if they don't have it, they should and you should tell them that they should.

The red sauce is Pataks mango chutney, which turned out to be a bit sweet for this meal.  The dark dot is tamarind chutney (recipe from the same book as the samosa).  Tamarind chutney is extremely flavourful, and impressively spicy.  

I'm very excited to find out what else I can stuff in these triangles.

Affordable Cooking:  The filling today was purely leftovers and spices.  Since the chickpeas I used were cooked from dry (about 1/4 cup when dry), it brings the price down quite a lot.  Even if I was starting with ingredients bought specifically for this meal, I estimate it would be between fifty cents to two dollars for eight samosas.  

Bento:  This looks like the type of food that will travel well.  I'm definitely trying this in bento.

Even though it's my first time eating samosas, I'm filing this under comfort food.  It's just that good.

Allergy friendly:  I don't know how well it would be with different flour, but just about everything else can be changed up, from oils in the dough, to filling.  

Health:  Yes!  Arneson talks about this as the health 'lunch to go' food that she often cooks for her daughter, a highschool student.  Chickpeas, spices,  whole wheat flour, are all good things and in good ratios.  I can't find any fault with the healthy aspect of this recipe... except it's yummy and makes you want to eat a lot of them.

Vegetarian and vegans:  The original recipe looks vegan friendly, but I added some ghee when I made mine (to replace some of the flavour lost from cutting down on the salt).  But even still, it's vegetarian friendly fare.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Comfort pasta: Yaki Udon in a miso sauce

I'm not going to go into what life is like right now, except to say that this last month has been a shit-storm ... and then it got a whole lot worse.

There is a dire need for comfort food in my life right now.  Something comforting, high in energy, but also healthy enough to keep me going.  Unfortunately, there has been zero opportunity to go shopping, so the pantry is getting sparse.  Thankfully I have a garden full of growing things.  

Comfort food for me starts with pasta.  You can have the chocolate and icecream.  I'm keeping the pasta.  

When I saw the udon noodles hidden under the chickpeas, I knew that's what I needed.  Yaki udon (basically meaning fried udon) sprung to mind.  Yaki udon always has cabbage, a protein and a sauce.  Usually a specific kind of sauce... a sauce that got used up weeks ago.  Too hungry to think of a better meal plan, I decided to improvize.

I found a wedge of cabbage at the back of the fridge, cut off the bad bits and shredded up enough for one serving.  The garden donated carrots, cauliflower, and green onions.  But what to use to make the sauce?  I have miso on the mind right now... so why not give it a try?

The results were delicious; albeit not photogenic.

Yaki Udon in a Miso Sauce 

(serves one)

1/2 brick of udon noodles
drizzle sesame oil
1/2 cup of shredded cabbage
1 small carrot, sliced thin
1 floret of cauliflower, sliced thin
1/2 tin tuna, drained
2 Tbs sake
1/4 tsp soy sauce or soy sub
1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp + miso or soy-free miso paste (chickpea miso tastes best in my opinion)
one green onion, chopped into rings

  • Bring a small pot of water to the boil and par-boil the noodles for about one min (this is a good time to chop the veg while you wait).  Strain the noodles and place to one side.
  • In a small fry pan or wok, fry the veg in sesame oil on high, until starts to brown a little around the edges.  Stir in the tuna and cook another minute.
  • Add the noodles and everything else except the green onion.  Stir well and simmer at medium-high until the sauce reduces.  Stir frequently.
  • Just before serving, mix in the green onion.
  • Enjoy!

Fast food:  All in all this took me less than 10 minutes.  That includes digging everything out of the cupboard and garden. 

Healthy treat:  All the ingredients are good for you.  The miso, honey, veg, even the tuna.  Of course, some of these ingredients are not so health in large quantities... the salt in the miso, the sweet in the honey, the whatever-it-is in the tuna... but truthfully, these are not large quantities.  Besides, it's comfort food. Any healthy that happens is purely accidental.

Affordable: 50 cent for the noodles (if you buy the expensive ones), Somewhere between 20 to 50 cents for the rest of the stuff.   Let's round up and call it a dollar per serving.

Cooking with allergies:  This is easily customizable to accommodate allergies.  I mentioned using the soy free miso and sauce, but you can change anything you want.  Gluten free?  Just use other noodles.  Vegan? Replace the honey and tuna with (vegan friendly sweetener) and tofu.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

One pot pasta comfort food or Un-recipe for pasta pottage

I've been in desperate need of comfort food lately, and when it comes to comfort food, there is nothing more soothing than pasta for me.

The trouble with pasta (aside from me eating too much) is that it's fussy.  Pasta wants specific timing, and water and sauce, and draining.  All of which requires my attention and additional dirty dishes.

As soon as I realized that it was possible, I set about finding a way to this recipe my own.  For starters, I cut down on the volume so that it's just enough to feed one hungry farmer.  I even started cooking it in the bowl I would eat it in - a special korean ceramic bowl specifically for cooking on the stove.

The beauty of this is that it's simple, doesn't mind being left cooking for an extra two hours, and of course, it's delicious.

My un-recipe for Pasta Pottage:

  1. Get a small handful of pasta from the cupboard and put it in the pot.  Add water so that all the pasta is covered.
  2. Go to the garden and fetch something that looks yummy.  Beans, tomatoes, whatever.  Chop them up and toss them in.
  3. Go to the cupboard and/or fridge and fetch something that looks yummy.  Sundry tomatoes, capers, olives, pre-cooked chickpeas or lentils, can tuna drained, leftover chicken breasts.  Chop it up and toss it in.
  4. Spice it up.  Salt.  Pepper.  Fresh or dry herbs.  A few drops of Spicy Rooster sauce. All of the above.  Whatever floats your boat.
  5. Put a lid on it.
  6. Cook on medium low for at least 20 minutes, or it comes to a boil and the pasta is tender.
  7. Add cheese.
  8. Mix it all up.
  9. Enjoy.
There you go, nine simple steps to delicious pasta.

It is an awful lot like an old fashioned pottage.  Only, unlike the pottage of old, this cooks up in as little as 20 minutes, not 6 hours.  Although, I have been known to leave it cooking for up to 3 hours.  The pasta is a bit mushy by then, but the flavour is great.

Affordable?  I think so.  Because I cram so much extra veg and stuff in the pot, I don't use much pasta.  Maybe a quarter cup at most.  And as for the additional ingredients, when I do the purely store bought stuff, I use two sundried tomatoes, half a teaspoon of capers, quarter teaspoon of chopped olives, and a few drops of spicy rooster.  Unless I have some other protein in it, I use about two tablespoons of cheese.  Somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar for a hearty meal.  Include leftovers and garden veg, replace some of the pasta with pre-cooked chickpeas, and the price plummets.  

Healthy?  That all depends on what gets tossed in the pot.  I use wholesome and simple ingredients, most of which were living plants just prior to cooking.  Of course I'm sure there is a way to make this unhealthy, but you would probably have to try really hard.  

I think this would be great for camping.  One dish, everything tossed in together: This really should be called pasta pottage.

How about allergy friendly?  A simple un-recipe like this is very simple to modify for dietary needs.  Chances are the pantry is already stocked with things you can eat, and probably also things you like to eat.  It's just a matter of going to the cupboard and finding something good.  By the way, pickles taste great in this for some weird reason - if you can find a pickle you can eat.

I think this is a fantastic dish for making use of local resources and therefore a great transitional food.  Of course when the balloon goes down, or up, or whatever they say, I imagine that dry pasta would be harder to come by as it's manufactured and shipped from far away.  But when that happens we can go back to the more traditional pottages of beans with a smattering of fresh pasta tossed in at serving time.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Saving Seeds

This year I had the great joy to participate in the Victoria Seed Library.  The beginning of the growing season I choose 6 different seed kinds from their lovely list of things to grow, and received tiny envelopes with a pinch of seed in each.  The goal is to plant the seeds in the garden, nurture them, then select and save seeds from the best plants.

I'll save a few seeds for myself and in the case of dried beans and peas, a handful for a meal, then give the remaining seeds back to the library so they can share the seeds with people next year.

It's not only a lot of fun, but it's also a good reminder about how precarious our food future is and the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in our gardens.

The Seed Library is free to participate in, free workshops and free seeds.  The only thing you are obligated to do is to give back some of this years seeds and a record of how the plants grew, conditions, &c.

We have sandy soil that we augment heavily with manure and compost, a long dry summer, and a weak well.   So when I selected the plants worth keeping seeds from, I choose those that were most drought tolerant and good producers.

Here are some observations on the seeds I choose and how they grew on our farm.

Tangerine Marigold (which I suspect are actually Tangerine Gem Marigolds)

Tiny little flowers that smell like apple candy.  Grow in a bush formation about 8 inches high, and make a nice border.  I thought maybe I would use these for dyeing yarn, but given how tiny they are, not much hope of collecting enough for that.  However, they may make a good companion plant, as the insects seem to avoid them.  More research is needed, but yes, I think I'll grow these again next year.

Drought tolerance?  About 1/4 died from drought, but what did survive thrived!

I started these inside then planted them out in the garden when danger of frost had past.

Green Lentils

Moderate drought tolerance, but the number of pods that filled out was lower than I would prefer.  For the pods that did fill out, there was only one lentil per pod instead of the two there should have been.  I hope it was simply the lack of water and not a flaw of the plant that prevented the beans from forming.

Also, as the lower pods dried out, they started to split open and spit out their seeds, so I ended up harvesting the plants much earlier than I would have hoped.

Hutterite Soup Beans

These make really nice snacking beans as well as dry soup beans.  They do have a climbing tendency despite what the internet says.  The beans aren't ready yet, but when they are, I think I'll separate the ones that like to climb from the ones that prefer to bush.

I had a lot of trouble starting these seeds, though I think the soil was warm enough.  In the end, about half survived to reproduce.

Wild Cherry Bush Tomato

This has been an outstanding success.  Every single one of these seeds I planted grew, and my garden is overwhelmed by tiny tomatoes growing on massive bushes.  The most sturdy of tomato cages cannot contain this plant.  I had so many germinate that I started giving the extras away.

Funny thing is, the ones with the richest soil aren't growing as well as the ones with sandy loam.

Darlaine Pea - yellow soup pea

More drought tolerant than regular garden peas, these little gems taste delicious at different stages.  The shoots are delicate and sweet.  The young pods can be consumed whole like you would snow peas, the mature pods make great boiled peas and finally the dried peas... well they are just like yummy dry peas.


Didn't grow :( despite planting the seeds in different environments and time of year.  No seeds left.  Maybe the Library will accept bread poppy seeds instead.

All in all, it's been an enjoyable experience.  It's nice to be reminded that gardening is not a solitary act.

A strange dream about vegan and omnivore long term sustainability

I had a strange dream the other night that has been haunting my waking world.  I was living in this long term experiment where we had a small community and we had to survive with as low an environmental impact, and as self sufficiently as possible.  There were two teams, one who worked with animals and the other team lived a pure vegan life.  I was part of the first team but was for some reason giving lessons and advice to both teams.  It involved all sorts of people, historians, enthusiasts, ecologists, gardeners, and a transient student population.

In my dream, the goal of the study was to discover if it is possible to combine current day knowledge and to some extent technology with traditional methods and wisdom.  The aim is to supply a surplus of necessary resources (food, clothing, shelter, entertainment) while leaving the soil and overall environmental stability in a better state than when we started.

The other part of the experiment was to investigate if a Vegan way of life was actually ecologically friendly when compared with a similar community living the same lifestyle but also using and on occasion consuming animals.  Can a vegan live a nutritionally fulfilling diet on local resources alone?  How would a vegan cloth themselves in the winter if they can't depend on industrial fabrics made from plant pulp and petroleum?  Would the soil deteriorate without the addition of animal manure or would it thrive on compost alone?

The groups would meet weekly, talk about problems, observations, and questions of things that needed more in depth study.  For example testing the fertility of different soil management methods by careful record keeping, or testing the nutritional density of apples grown in a regular orchard, or in an orchard that had a herd of sheep grazing on it.  For those sorts of things, our academic counterparts would arrange lab work or perhaps research methods for solving a problem, or stuff like that.

It was a very precise dream with a strong structure to the experiment.

At one time in the dream, there was a great debate as to whether it was in agreement with vegan principles to use worm composting - the debate spread across the world and many university students and teachers wrote in with their opinions.  In the end, it was decided that worms confined in a bin were not whereas worms in a compost pile were fine.  For some reason undisclosed in my dream.

Originally, my dream memory tells me, it was suppose to last 4 years.  The first three years to build fertility in the soil, and by the end of the third year, be almost completely independent.

There were some interesting differences in the vegan vs the omnivore groups.  The vegan group had to grow extra acres of oil seed crop to use as fuel for their tractor, whereas the omnivore's could use cattle to pull the equipment.  For some reason horses weren't multipurpose enough for us.  The downside with the cattle was that we needed to grow extra feed for them during the winter.  However, something happened and the tractor the vegan group used broke down just at a vital point at some agricultural even - harvest or planting, or something vague.  It wouldn't be a dream worth remembering without obstacles to overcome.

And so the dream went.  The original four years, was expanded to six, then ten.  We built different houses out of local materials.  The vegans yurt was fantastic in the summer, but an utter failure for winter warmth.  However, they had super awesome luck with their cob construction and after a few years made one large house that they all lived in.  The omnivore's eventually had mostly yurt living spaces with wattle and daub communal buildings.  Both living arrangements had their advantages and disadvantages.

Although it was almost a contest between vegan and omnivore living, we did live side by side, and as the years progressed, the two communities came closer together, learning from each other, sharing resources when times were tough (to the chagrin of the professors managing the experiment).  We had become so independent, or perhaps codependent, that there was less and less desire to interact with the outside world.  The tidal influx of students participating in the study was sufficient for us to feel connected to life outside.  By year eight, it was a very pleasant rhythm.

But also, great inspiration to the world at large.  Academics built their reputations talking about our endeavours.  Political decisions were influenced by our accomplishments.  Even corporations took notice and started to make changes to the way they managed their resources.  As we produced so much excess food, other cities started to plan farming communities like ours to provide supplies for emergency situations.

But like I said, it was just a dream I had.

What a strange dream though.

I've been thinking for a while lately about how eco-friendly a vegan diet is.  Compared to the Western Diet, it's very good.  However, compared to my personal situation, I think that a vegan lifestyle would have a devastating impact on the environment.  But maybe I'm wrong.  Academics can make good arguments for both sides; science can confirm the validity of both opinions.  That leaves us with no way to discover the truth - unless we actually try it.

I've been trying it a little bit on the farm here in real life.  One of the gardens I grew flax in this year, I used animal manure on one half of the garden, and compost on the other.  Other than that, both halves received the same treatment.  However, the flax on the manure side grew a good foot and a half taller than the compost side.  One garden is not enough evidence.  That is why more practical research needs doing - not just reading reports, but actually having people living the life on a day to day basis.  I think it's a fantastic idea and I loved participating in the experiment in my dream.

As much as the world needs to know more about this kind of thing, I don't imagine there are enough people in the Western World up for this sort of a challenge.  Though I wish they were because I would jump at the opportunity in a heart beat.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mystery Squash Becomes Pumpkin Bread Recipe - aka, Mystery Squash Bread Recipe

What to do when one's garden has become invaded by squash?  Make squash bread of course.  

There are these three plants, began innocently enough, tiny tender things, needing coaxing and care to begin their life in the soil.  I created pots from old newspaper and filled them with finely sifted soil.  Placed one seed carefully inside each pot and watered it with dedication.  When the moment was right, I dug a hole in the garden, not too big, but not too small, and pressed the tender shoot, pot and all, into the soil.  Covered it with a cold frame made from old windows, and with some words of encouragement, left it to fend for itself.

Well, perhaps I gave it a little too much encouragement.  Each plant sent out, at first one long searching vine, then another and another, until each one had produced over a dozen vines, climbing over fence and pea plant with equal enthusiasm.  June was scary!  The vines would grow over a foot a day, each morning I had to hack my way past over-enthusiastic squash, just to get into the garden.  Finally the vine growth seems to have reached the limit at just shy of 25 feet, the bright yellow blossoms are gone, replaced with splendid orange squash.

you can get an idea of how large these squash are

week old gosling named Chesnut
I'm guessing they are pumpkins.

After bumming around the internet for a few hours, I finally came across a squash recipe I liked: Savory Pumpkin Rosemary Bread.  The flavours in this recipe look really good, so I thought it would translate nicely to sourdough.  I started roasting the squash at midnight - the only time of day when the kitchen is cool enough to cook - and made pumpkin mush the next morning.  

Disaster struck when I got my sourdough starter out of the fridge - BLACK MOLD.  

I'm not hugely squeamish with mold, but when black mold happens I won't touch it.  Even if it isn't real black mold, just black colour mold, it's just not worth the risk.  

So sadness, my sourdough starters are all dead.

I blame myself, because I know during the summer the water in the well kills starters.  Something from one of our neighbours uphill from us seeps into the water table and devastates my cultures.  I suspect it's the time of year when swimming pools are emptied and cleaned.  From June through August, I always try to boil my water before using it in any culture that relies on bacteria.  But this year, we had a new filtration system installed, so I thought I could be lazy... sniffle... oh well.

Good thing I know how to make more starter, but that takes time and doesn't help me with all this squash/pumpkin mush.  So commercial yeast it is.

The recipe linked above looks fantastic, but relies heavily on mechanical devices to mix the dough.  I changed an ingredient or two, the method, the order of adding, timing, and even some of the ratios, so I'm going to post my version of this recipe for those of you who don't have a standing mixer or who enjoy kneading by hand.

mmm, pumpkin bread
sorry about the lighting, late night photos are not my strong suit

Mystery Squash Bread

The night before

at least 1 lb squash or pumpkin (without seeds)
olive oil
flour, whole wheat if you have it

  • Cut up the squash into 3 inch chunks - about that size, don't be fussy unless you want to.  Rub with oil and place on a roasting tray in the oven.  350F for about 30 min, or until it's mushy.  Remove from oven, and cover with a clean towel.  Leave on the counter overnight or until cool enough to handle.
  • In a small dish, make a poolish or biga by combining 2 cups of flour with a pinch of yeast and enough water to make it into a thin batter.  Cover with a cloth and leave on the counter overnight.  

Baking day

The roasted squash (or 2 cups canned squash mush)
The poolish from the night before
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs instant yeast
small drizzle honey
1Tbs sea salt
flour (I used all purpose, but next time I'll use a mix of 1 cup whole grain and the rest all purpose)
about 1 tsp fresh rosemary finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp dry
olive oil

  • Get your big bread bowl out and in it, combine the honey, yeast and warm water.
  • Scrape the squash off it's skin directly into a blender or blitzer.  And blend/blits until mush.  Alternately you could just mush it up with a fork.  I don't think there are any rules as to how lumpy or smooth your squash mush is.  
  • The yeast should be starting to work by now.  If not, leave it 5 min before continuing.
  • Next add the squash mush, poolish, and salt to the yeast water.  Mix together well.  
  • Add about one cup of flour (the whole grain if you are using it) to the mix, and mix.
  • Mix in about 1 handful of flour at a time, until you get the traditional shaggy mess that bread recipes always talk about.
  • Put your shaggy mess on a well floured countertop and take the bowl immediately to the sink and wash it.  Some people think this is an optional step and we should just get another bowl out of the cupboard, but there are good reasons for putting the effort in.  One, it lets your dough rest.  Two, the bowl is easier to clean now than later.  And three, you don't have to hear the person who does the dishes complain about how they love your bread but hate the mess it makes.
  • Dry the bowl with a clean cotton or linen towel (keep the towel to one side for covering the dough later) and pour a generous glug of olive oil in the now dry bowl.
  • Go back to your shaggy mess and knead it till it's smooth and elastic - about 2 to 10 min.  Shape your dough into a ball like shape, put it upside down in the bowl and get the top good and oily.  flip it right way up, and cover it with your cloth.  Leave it to rise until it's about double in size.  Usually under an hour. 
    • If this was sourdough bread, I would shape the loaves immediately after kneading it to give it a more rustic texture with probable air pockets.  But since we are using commercial yeast, I feel the taste isn't very good with a single rise.  Best to do the double rise thing even if it makes a softer bread.
    • Also, a lot of people recommend a damp cloth - I don't quite understand why they think this is a good idea.  It's such a short rise time, and if you were generous with the oil, then the slight dampness left on the towel from drying the bow is plenty.  The dough isn't going to dry out in an hour.  Besides, as the dampness on the cloth evaporates, it cools the dough.  This isn't what you really want when working with commercial yeast.  Long rise sourdoughs on the other hand... they love a cooler clime.  
      • But you know, it's your bread, do what you like.  I'm not going to come to your house and yell at you if you don't do things the way I say.  
  • When it's risen, punch it down.  Divide into two and shape into loaves.  Whatever shape you like - round with a cross on top, loaf pan, braided, pumpkin shape... whatever floats your boat.  Score the top of the loaf (if you like) to make it rise more evenly.  Cover again with the cloth and leave till double in size (about 20 min).  I do round loaves traditionally, so if you are doing something different you may need to adjust your cooking time.
  • I cooked mine at 425F for 45 min.  Next time I'll cook at 400F for about an hour as I didn't like the crust at the higher temp.  It's ready if it sounds hollow when knocked.  
  • Eat anytime after 10 min, or leave to cool 12 hours before putting in plastic bag.

Affordable?  If you wait till squash season, people will almost pay you to take their excess squash off their hands.  I imagine you could use just about any winter squash - maybe even summer squash, but probably have to either grate it or roast it differently.  You can make loads of pumpkin mush and freeze it in 2 cup servings.  You can use more or less pumpkin according to your tastes.  I think it would be really good with leftover lentils or other pulses.  In fact, forget about roasting squash specifically for this bread, use leftover squash from a family feast.

There's a decent nutritional value to this - but I'm going to hesitate pricing out the ingredients as I understand there is yet another bad harvest year for wheat (what's that? 6 years in a row now?) so expect the price to go up again this winter.  8 years ago a huge bag of flour was regularly on sale for $2.40, now it's never lower than $14.  You know things are bad when locally grown organic wheat berries are now cheaper than commercial flour.  

At the time of writing, this recipe is affordable.. but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Vegi or fruit, either way squash is probably a healthy thing.  This is a good way to trick yourself into eating your veg - something I have to do often - by making a slightly sweet flavour bread that goes amazingly well with hummus or goat cheese.

How to make this Vegan Friendly: Replace the honey with a pinch of sugar.

I think this qualifies as a Transitional Food, not just because I'm cutting down on my oil dependence by using locally grown wheat, but also because pumpkins and squashes in general are one of the easiest things to grow.  Get the timing right, give them lots of water, and even the brownest of thumbs can look like they know what they are doing.    When we get back to a stage in society where the Victory Garden replaces the lawn, you need to realize that there are going to be a lot of squash.  Better learn how to cook it.