Archive for May, 2009

Just noticed that something–probably a squirrel–attacked one of my strawberry beds sometime since this morning. It/they chewed off 9 out of 12 plants right at the roots! Most of them had flowered and were actively growing berries…



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Plant a seed in the ground expecting to grow food, and you become connected with the world. The cycle of the seasons suddenly looms large, and new dates like Last Frost and First Harvest appear on your calendar. The weather becomes a relationship, friendly and supportive when sunny or appropriately damp; fraught with danger if the wrong conditions prevail. This natural connection exists whether you plant that seed in Iowa, Chicago, or the Australian Outback. You are part of an ancient dance, partnered with the Earth and God.

That was the perspective I’d read about before planting our garden, and the insight I expected to gain from the experience. I didn’t expect to gain fresh respect for the selfsame industrial food machine that I was, in part, rebelling against.

The American food system is nothing short of miraculous. I’m not talking about the chemists who contrive Go-Gurt and Pop Tarts, I mean simply the produce that fills our stores. When I walk into any grocery store, be it Whole Foods or Jewel, I expect to find tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, celery, carrots, and mushrooms. I’d better see apples and oranges, bananas and kiwi, grapes and mangoes. And not just one variety, either: imagine if Dominick’s had only a single type of apple! The outrage! Furthermore, I expect to be able to buy as much as my budget can afford and my shopping cart can carry, and I expect to be able to do this any hour of the day or night on any day of the year I choose!

I planted carrots on April 4th–absolutely as soon as authority recommended. The greens are now almost 2-1/2 inches tall and the roots are about as thick as a 12-gauge wire. Is it dinner yet? Hardly. The onions are barely wisps of chives, the strawberries are green nascent buds, and the squash and cantaloupe have only a few leaves per stem. Only the lettuce could be potentially harvested at the moment. Yet the produce section at the supermarket brimming with goods.

Obviously, such produce is shipped from around the country and around the world at great cost and a huge carbon footprint. I know that it is produced on huge industrial farms who use every chemical they can think of to increase yield and decrease growing time, and that much of the flavor and nutrition are lost in transit. I even understand that constant access to vegetables and fruits without regard to the cycle of nature disconnects us from the true concept of seasons.

Still, wow. We are so blessed to have such a daily cornucopia at our whim. Remember that, too, as you try to break from the industrial food machine. We are so fortunate to have a choice.

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I think I’ve found the recipe for 100% whole wheat sandwich bread:

1 c. warm water
1/3 c. sugar
2 1/2 t. instant yeast

2 T canola oil
1 1/2 t. lemon juice
3 c (12 3/4 oz) whole wheat flour
3/4 t. salt

Combine the water, sugar and yeast; stir and let it sit a bit until it becomes foamy. Mix the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture. Stir until dough is formed then knead a fair amount: about 15 minutes or more. The dough should be slightly tacky, but not overly sticky, and shouldn’t tear easily when you stretch it. Form it into a boule and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a wet cloth or oiled plastic wrap and let rise 90 min to 2 hrs. To develop the flavor a bit more, you can place the dough in the refrigerator. This will make the rise time longer, perhaps 3 hrs, but will deepen the flavor.

Gently transfer from bowl to shaping surface, and shape a batard loaf, then gently place in an oiled baking pan. Let rise again for an hour or so, until the top of the dough peaks somewhat over the rim of the pan. Just before baking, brush the top with butter and slash in your preferred design.

Bake in a preheated 350-deg over for 40-50 min, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190-200 degrees.

Here’s what my loaf looked like:

I have to say, this is one of the best sandwich loafs I’ve ever made. It is incredibly soft–even more soft than my regular white sandwich bread–and so tasty you can eat a slice without any adornment. The flavor of the whole wheat is wonderful: warm and nutty and delicious.

I’m a happy boy, especially if I can reproduce this loaf week after week.

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Okay, I thought I was a pretty decent bread baker, but now I know I’ve been coddled. Turns out white flour will forgive a lot of inconsistencies, sloppy technique, and errors in timing. With whole wheat flour: not so much.

The first recipe turned out really dense, trencher-like bread. Flavor was good, but not really the kind of stuff you’d use for a sandwich. The second recipe made dough that was really strange. Also resulted in a good taste (Ellie really likes it), but I think i let it overrise and the top collapsed in the oven. Also, the crumb is really moist (good), but more the consistency of banana bread (bad, at least for sandwich bread).

So, I’m sorta back to square one, and casting about for the recipe that fits me and my process the best. Working with whole wheat, you really have to know the feel of dough, and be able to tell with your hands when it’s ready, when it needs more flour or water, etc. Don’t ever START learning with whole wheat flour–it’d be too discouraging.

I’ll keep slogging away. The downside is that while doctors can bury their mistakes, bakers have to EAT theirs…

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So, my 50# bag of wheat arrived this morning–timely because we are nearly out of sandwich bread.

So after work I set up the grinder and got started. The grinder itself works great: took a little less than 15 minutes to grind the 6-1/2 cups of flour I needed. Probably would have gone faster normally, but the girls wanted to help. I decided that since I had no idea if the flour was fine enough, or what would happen with 100% whole wheat flour, now was not the time to try a new recipe.

I chose my standard 4-ingredient sandwich bread recipe, because I have that one completely down. Any aberration in the result would show the difference between white bread flour and whole wheat. A-a-a-nd, like I guessed, I got whole wheat doorstops. Well, not really (I’ve certainly baked worse) but they didn’t rise much and so were overly dense. My standard recipe wasn’t intended for this kind of flour.

Next, I’m trying a 100% whole wheat recipe from KAF (King Arthur Flour). These guys are the ones who mill most of the flour that artisan breadmakers use, so I trust them. The dough includes honey, oil, and dry milk, and it had a really odd consistency. It rose, though, though not quite as much as my white bread flour, and I’m interested to try it.

It’s in the oven now…

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