Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sourdough Starter

I pride myself on being able to feed my family in as many ways as possible, so when I am introduced to a new concept I almost always give it a try. Such was the case with Sourdough Bread. I knew what sourdough looked like and even tasted like but I did not know the ins and outs of making sourdough. Needless to say this has been yet another adventure; more like a long, drawn out science experiment really.

To make sourdough bread you have to have a sourdough starter. If you check the Internet you will find a dozen ways to make the starter but for the most part it is either warm water or milk and a whole grain flour like whole wheat or rye. Most people agree that organic flour is better than non-organic. You mix these ingredients in equal parts in a large mouth glass bowl using a wooden spoon and you let it sit uncovered for half and hour to four hours. After that you cover it with cheese cloth and put it someplace warm, 22º-27º C, and let the science experiment commence.

Ideally, within a few hours you should see some serious bubbling going on and a layer of liquid forming. This liquid is alcohol and is the by product of bacteria and wild yeast spores found in the air and in whole grain flour. The bubbling is caused by carbon dioxide which is also a waste product of the yeast and bacteria and is also what causes sourdough bread to rise. Once you get a good bubbling action you allow the starter to work for several days in this warm environment, stirring the liquid back in each day, until you get a very strong beer smell.

Once the beer smell arrives you have successfully made sourdough starter, but now you have to feed it. Like any good experiment it has to be kept fed on a regular schedule and needs to sleep in the perfect environment to allow it to continue to grow without starving itself to death. So, on the fourth day of the experiment you take one cup of this liquid goop and pour it into a clean glass jar and add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. Let it sit uncovered for about an hour until it starts bubbling again, then cover it and refrigerate. You can either throw out the rest of the starter or use it to make pancake batter. Every time you remove starter from the jar you have to replace it with equal parts water and flour. If you don't use it regularly, you have to throw part of it out and replace it with equal parts at least once a week.

Now, as I said in paragraph two, the operative word is ideally when making starter. In reality it is a little more hit and miss than that. I tried for over two weeks to get a starter going using every combination of ingredients I could come up with. The first day would go great but by the end of the day the starter would just be a big goop in the bottom of my bowl, flat and boring. Out of sheer desperation and frustration, I added three pinches of regular yeast to my starter, stirred and hoped for the best. I had already decided after four false starts that if this one didn't work, I was quitting because I was tired of wasting perfectly good and very expensive organic whole wheat and rye flour.

Low and behold, adding that small amount of yeast worked. I now have a perfectly happy and thriving sourdough starter, a lot of it. I can't bring myself to throw half of it away now that I have the silly thing growing. So I have three jars of starter sitting in my refrigerator, and trying hard to get all but a single cup of it used up before I have to feed it again. Because, like the Blob from the old Sci-Fi movie, every time it eats it doubles in size. Soon, I'll be swimming in starter.

Tuesday I made Sourdough Biscuits that turned out more like dinner rolls. Today I am making two loaves of sourdough risen bread. Tomorrow, I will make sourdough waffles for breakfast and maybe some more biscuits for supper. After that I plan on trying muffins, cinnamon rolls, and pizza shells. If I can get all these things made this week I'll be all right and won't get swallowed by the "Thing in My Frige".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Gem of an Idea

Anyone who has ever had a porch roof with no peak over the steps will know what it is like when snow and ice build up on the roof only to slide off unexpectedly. First, there a huge amount of noise, in fact I'm pretty sure the pitter patter of reindeer hooves in the Christmas tales is actually the snow and ice avalanche caused by said reindeer. Second, if the slide is fast enough it can damage the roof especially if you have an old tin roof that isn't quite secured at the corners anymore. Third, it can be dangerous for any unsuspecting soul who is stand under the leading edge. And, finally, if you have just installed a nice new gutter the falling ice can and most likely will damage the gutter and/ or the downspout.

Many of the businesses around here use snow barricades which are essentially long sections of one inch pipe mounted a few inches above the roof. We looked into getting something similar mounted on our porch roof but found the cost and the look just didn't fit with the style of the house. While looking for other options we found a product called Sno-Gem that we thought would do the trick. A polycarbonate pyramid, they came in many colours or clear. For us the clear was the solution. We could mount them on the tin roof and they would blend in and not look so terribly out of place.

That was this weekend's big project. We mounted the Sno-Gems in a double row, alternating higher and lower, to covering a span of approximately ten feet. That worked out to cover a foot on either side of the porch posts bracketing the stairs, and extending past the gutter downspout by a foot.

If this works as well as we hope it will, we will extend the double row along the entire length of the porch roof line next summer. If it turns out that the double row isn't enough, we will do a third row of gems alternating every other panel on the tin but only over the steps. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that this will solve the problem of killer snow and ice slides from the front porch roof.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Goddess Spoon and Penguin

Title: Goddess Spoon and Penguin
Wood Species: Basswood
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

These two carvings were completed this week from scrap basswood. I hate wasting wood, especially when I'm not sure when or if I will be able to replace what I use, so I save larger scraps. The penguin started out as a 1.5" x 1.5" piece of wood. The spoon started out as a 2" x 5" piece of wood and my intention had originally been to carve a kangaroo. Somehow along the way a kangaroo became a spoon with a decidedly more esoteric theme. Maybe I'll get that kangaroo carved over the coming months.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cathedral Spoon

Title: Cathedral Spoon
Wood Species: Birch
Starting Size: 6" x 1"
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

I started this spoon some months ago and finally decided to finish it up and post some pictures. It was carved from a piece of hardwood purchased from Home Depot. I'm almost positive it was Birch. I guess I need to start keeping a diary of what I carve and what it is carved from, especially since I tend to start something and finish it months later.

This wood is far harder than anything else I have carved to date and I found it quite difficult to work with. The outline work was fairly easy, as long as the knife was very sharp. The bowl and heart required a lot of work, concentration, and constant sharpening and honing of my knife blade. I love the look of the finished piece and have already started a more complicated spoon in the same wood.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Home Made Hummus

We love a good hummus but the stuff you find at the grocery stores is neither good, nor good for you. Reading the ingredients list is enough to make you want to give up food period. When the mood hits we make our own hummus, and we believe it is the best hummus in the world.

Home Made Hummus
2 cps Cooked, drained, and mashed chickpeas
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili pepper
1 Tbsp salt
1/8 cp Sesame Oil
1/4 cp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder

Add the Sesame oil first and adjust the amount of olive oil to get the correct consistency.
Add spices and mix well.
Adjust the spices to suit your own tastes.

Serve hummus on warmed flat breads or even crispy tortillas. With the right spices it can also be used as a substitute for peanut butter, though not as thick.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Chores

This weekend has turned out to be fall chore weekend. Actually, it seems like every weekend from the beginning of October until the snow falls is chore weekend. No matter how much time we spend working around the house, there always seems to be more work than time.

There are some chores you forget about, or put off until you get that first negative temperature morning which reminds you that winter is on its way. When you live in an old, and not so insulated house you have to take extra care to preserve your heat in the winter. Not only do we need to stay warm but we need to keep the heating bill down to a minimum. So, this morning we started covering the windows with plastic, after we washed them inside and out. We ran out of plastic before we ran out of windows but we have a decent start and can finish them over the coming week.

The freeze last night also reminded us that we had two rain barrels full of water. If you don't want to replace your barrels every year you have to drain them before the hard freezes start hitting. Along with the rain barrel we drained the hoses and the water pump, and the garden fountain that the chickadees love so much in the summer.

The last chore of the day was putting up the car shelter. Our garage has turned into a garden shed and last year the truck spent the winter in the driveway. The snow and ice weren't terrible but occasionally I wished we could park in the garage. This year we saved our money and bought the car shelter so the truck won't be covered with ice, snow, or frost every morning. We slightly underestimated the length of the truck but for now this will do well enough.

Unfortunately, building the shelter took the rest of the day and we have only just come back inside. The temperature was low enough out that we are both chilled to the bone and weary from working in the cold. Tonight will be a night for hot showers and wrapping up in lap blankets until the tenseness in the muscles release and we can finally go to our warm beds and sleep the night away, to wake up and start the next chore on the list.