Archive for February, 2009

Today’s Bounty

I’m generally home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, since I watch the girls while Melissa works (although I’ve picked up an ongoing Tuesday morning job, so it’s more like a half day). Anyway, today was a fairly productive whole foods day.

In preparation for my backpacking trip this weekend, I dehydrated some apples and bananas, and I made cranberry-raisin granola bars that are really good–it’s a simple recipe that I’ll definitely use again. Since I’m supplying the bread for the camping trip (surprise, surprise), I baked up four sourdough boules (pictured below). Oh yeah, I also tried my hand at English muffins, which came out fairly nicely and taste great, although I’d like to see more holes (or “nooks and crannies”) in the crumb:

The sourdough didn’t exhibit much oven spring, and I was sorely tempted to cut one open to check its texture, but I resisted. The loaves will be what they will be, and I doubt that hungry hikers in the snow 10 miles from anywhere will much care if the bread isn’t as airy as I would like it.

Time will tell.


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I’m trying to eat nonprocessed foods, and I’m going backpacking this weekend. Given my past experiences, these two facts seem to be in conflict. My standard camping fare includes a lot of instant potatoes, freeze-dried entrees, Ramen noodles, and store-bought granola bars.

This time, I’m trying to emulate the food choices of John Muir, Kit Carson, or maybe Commodore Perry. It’s a bit challenging, because fresh, whole food is heavy, more bulky, and takes longer to prepare. Some things can be dried, of course (and I will). Lewis and Clark did a lot of hunting on the way, which I can’t but shouldn’t need to for 2-1/2 days.

However, it does make me respect those who have gone before, those without nylon, Gore-Tex, aluminum cookware, and (gasp!) Even without Ziplocs. THOSE were explorers. They were tough. I am a poor copy, but I do given my forbears full props for their efforts.

My menu for the trip? Well, for Friday night I’m packing fresh Cornish hens for the group, to be roasted on a spit complete with stuffing from the homemade bread loaves I’m also taking. Of course, I’m taking some cheese, dried fruit, and making some granola bars for lunches. The other guys are taking stuff for group dinner Saturday night and for breakfasts.

Hey, maybe THAT’S how Daniel Boone did it: convince the *other* guys to carry the grub!

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The Power of Community

Since posting the Facebook note about this blog, I’ve received lots of support from friends who are also taking steps to eat locally. Some also make bread, some craft yogurt and cheese, some make beer, many have gardens. Living in the city can ironically lead to isolation, especially when one follows pursuits that seem more…agrarian. It’s good to be tangibly reminded how we live in community.

Which brings me to a crazy thought: Urban Supported Agriculture (USA?). Here in Chicago, none of us have the land area, barns, root cellars, etc. to be self supporting food producers. But if I make bread and you make yogurt, and he brews beer or has a ton of extra zucchini, what about some informal bartering? I’ll concentrate on bread, and trade you 2 or 3 loaves for a couple blocks of cheese or a dozen tomatoes. No money changes hands, we still know where our food comes from, and we all don’t have to do everything.

A community supporting itself; a farm collective in a major city.

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A New Wrinkle

I just discovered (while making lunch) that our chest freezer has stopped working. Evidently, this happened a bit ago since things were starting to significantly thaw. The lights indicate that the unit is getting power, but the motor doesn’t seem to be running.


News Flash: Feb 22nd

I think I found a way to reset the freezer. I cleaned it out, and it seems to be running. I’m giving it a couple of days to see if it keeps running.

We’re praying that it does, because our month’s supply of meat (chicken, lamb, beef, pork) is due to arrive from our CSA next Thursday…

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So It Begins!

I’ve just received notice that part of my order from Henry Field’s Seeds has shipped. My garden will soon start indoors, then migrate outside once the conditions are right. On the way are:

  • Tendersweet carrots
  • Honey ‘N Pearl hybrid corn
  • First Edition hybrid onion
  • Bon Vivant mixed lettuce (romaine, buttercrisp, iceberg)

There’s more to go, of course. One of the reasons I like Field’s is that they are responsible with shipping dates. In the next two months, as appropriate, they will also send us:

  • 6 Early Girl tomato plants
  • 12 everbearing strawberry
  • 2 blueberry bushes

Those additions will finish off our garden for this year. Last year, we tried raspberries, carrots, zucchini, and pumpkin. The raspberries were great. The carrots tasted good, but we didn’t thin them enough and so our crop was about the size of baby carrots! The zucchini plant didn’t pollinate well, and we only got one fruit. The pumpkin plant damped off at the roots and never produced. We’re hoping for better luck this year.

Soon, I’ll set up seed tray and florescent lights in my basement and start growing seedlings! Pictures of my babies will follow, of course….

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Breadmaking 101

So, I’ve started baking all of our family’s bread.

I used to bake a great deal when Melissa and I were first married, but I stopped somewhere along the way. A few years ago, I tried bread a couple of times with dismal results–I had lost “the touch.”

Then I read a cookbook written by the people that operate Panera Bread Company. It went into depth about the science of bread, and explained in great detail what each of the four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt) do and how they interact. I tried their Country White recipe, and meticulously followed their instructions. The ingredients turned into dough, rose nicely, and baked into really tasty loaves. I was hooked again.

So far, I’ve also tried their Honey Wheat and classic Sourdough (using a made-from scratch starter–which reminds me: I need to feed it). My latest loaf was a Honey Buttermilk recipe, taken from an artisan breadmaking website:

Not bad, and it tasted great, but I need to improve my dough handling skills. I’m still not stretching the gluten enough to get a really light, airy crumb. Same problem trumped my first sourdough attempt. After 25 hours of fermentation (really!) I had a beautiful gluten matrix in the bowl, and the subsequent loaves proofed up nicely, but I proofed them on the counter rather than the baking sheet, and transferring them deflated them somewhat. An amateur mistake.

My girls love the homemade bread, but I know I have a lot left to learn. Maybe that’s why bakers used to be guilded craftsmen…

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After reading the book In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, our family has decided to eat whole foods. No, we’re not deciding to exclusively shop at high-end yuppie supermarkets–we are following Pollan’s simple dietary rules: 1) Eat food, 2) Not too much, 3) Mostly plants. What do I mean by “food?” Anything your great-grandmother would recognize, not what the American food system tries to force-feed us (Go-Gurt? Velveeta? Vitamin C-enriched Froot Loops?). A few corollaries guide us as well: a) if it lists health claims, it’s probably not healthy, b) if it has ingredients you can’t pronounce or can’t find in your cupboards, it’s probably not healthy, c) always eat at a table, preferably with others, d) no, your desk is not a table.

For the complete (and very convincing) details and research supporting this philosophy, you should you read the book yourself. Here’s a few of the ways our lifestyle has changed in the last month:

  • We’re really cutting down on processed foods and cooking from scratch with real ingredients, including making things like tomato sauces, soup, and the occasional batch of French fries.
  • I now bake all of our family’s bread. Have you seen what they put in an average supermarket loaf, including the “whole wheat” varieties? Many more posts will be devoted to this, as it is quickly becoming something of a hobby for me.
  • We have joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). many of these supply fresh vegetables, but we will go to any number of farmer’s markets for that. This CSA supplies us with a monthly share of chicken, lamb, beef, and pork. All the animals are grass-fed and finished (meaning no feed lots) and are humanely cared for without growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • We are greatly expanding our garden from last year. Many more blog entries will be devoted to our efforts in this area, too.

Our switch (which happened in late January) has had at least one additional effect: I’ve lost 4 1/2 pounds! Cutting out most soda and mindless snacks has probably been the reason, but that also ties in with Pollan’s sociocultural principles of responsible eating as well. And have I been hungry? No way! I’m eating homemade sourdough bread, lots more fresh vegetables, drinking whole milk, etc., etc.

I’m loving this.

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