Monthly Archives: February 2014

Baking Tuesday (and new series)

I’ve always liked that old adage, Ma Ingles said in Little House in the Big Woods:
“Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.”

I wish I could follow a schedule like that—maybe my house would be cleaner and more organized. But, a career and extracurriculars limit what I can do. Plus, I have a natural inclination toward household chaos. I am not an instinctively good housekeeper.

But, Tuesdays have become my baking day. Tuesday is the one day of the week I am home all day focusing on little 3 children in my home and getting some house work done. I (usually) have time to bake! We go through a lot of bread in our house. I don’t like grocery store bread, and Asheville is rich with great bakeries, but at the rate we go through bread, it gets far too expensive to buy.

bread

I try to make a 4-loaf batch of bread—3 regular loaves and one with I shape into buns, rolls, or cinnamon swirl bread. I sometimes also make tortillas or granola—some standard foods our family eats a lot of.

making swirl bread

My grandmother baked bread at least once a week when I was growing up. She made a sweet sourdough bread that my grandfather loved. She brought the starter from Oregon, from her family, and kept it going for something like 40 years. I remember her bread—sweet, white, soft, with a slight sourness to it. It was such a special treat to have warm fresh slice shortly after the bread came out of the oven. I tried to make bread for a few years with her starter when I was in college, but I was not a regular-enough baker to keep it alive.

rising bread

My grandmother, and her mother, and her grandmothers, were excellent bakers. Their recipes have been handed down for generations, and a few years ago I transcribed all my great-grandmother’s recipes. I am going to try a series here on this blog, baking each Tuesday from one of the recipes. I will post pictures and the recipe. It should be fun. I have always wanted to try them all, and this will give me a goal.

I feel good about Baking Day. I am accomplishing something domestic and making healthy food for my family—a good feeling indeed.

bread ready for oven

I’ll start the great-grandmother recipe series next week. This week, the bread recipe I use:

Large batch of Bread (adapted from Ken Haedrich’s Country Baking)

1 ½ quarts warm water
1 ½ cup old-fashioned oats (but I used millet or oat bran or other whole grains for part of all of this. I think you could use leftover oatmeal, cooked brown rice, etc.)
1/3 cup honey
1 ½ T yeast (or 2 packets).
Mix all this together and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add 6-7 cups whole wheat flour and stir vigorously for 1 minute.

Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.

Stir in 1/3 cup oil or melted butter and 2 T of salt

Then, stir in a cup or 2 of whole wheat flour. Keep stirring in flour till you can’t anymore, and turn out on counter and knead—adding more flour as needed. I start using white bread flour (unbleached) at this point, but you can use whole wheat. In total add about 11 cups of flour. I like King Arthur. Knead for 10 minutes, if you can last that long!

Shape into a large ball and put into the bowl you turned it out of. Most bread making recipes say to oil the bowl first, but I just sprinkle flour into the bowl that it came out of. No problems with sticking and no extra bowls or oily hands to clean.

Let rise for about 1 hour. Shape into loaves or buns/rolls, put into oiled pans/trays. Let rise for about 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees till done (about 30-45 minutes depending on size of bread and shape of pan). Bread is done when browned a little and it sounds hollow when taken out the pan and tapped on the bottom. I usually bake them in 2 batches because of limited room in the oven and that seems fine.

Homemade gift exchange

Around here, this is the time of year, I start to get worried spring will take too long to get here. I start looking forward to, even longing for, warm days, new green leaves and blossoms, and getting into the garden. I don’t want it to come too soon–out of the natural order–but I am in anticipation (and am a little bored with cold and brown). This past weekend was a little taste of spring–warm temps and the first flowers of spring–but I know we still have some winter waiting for us.

During this time of year, it is good for me to be busy creating things—-beautiful things, useful things. I have made some clothes for my children, sewn a very summery top for myself, and am working on a quilt for Anne and a knitting project for myself. I also got to participate in a blog exchange. This idea is from Amanda at Sweet Potato Claire, and originally from an article she wrote for Grounded. Over 60 bloggers agreed to make homemade items and mail those items to the blogger they drew (actually Amanda drew them for us). It has been a neat way to get to know some other souls out there with great ideas and interesting lives.

I won’t give away who I “have” until later, but I finally got a package together for her. I put in some of my goat milk soap (Citrus Ginger, Lemongrass Sage, and Peppermint Pumice) and some hand salve (TLC or teatree, lavender, and clary sage). I also included four napkins and a jar of garlic herb salt.

The napkins are made with a lawn I found at my mother-in-law’s house and muslin I had on hand. I cut all the fabric 17”x17”, put right sides together, and sewed a ½ inch seam, saving a small area to turn the napkins right side out. I did a running stitch around the edge with floss from my great-grandmother’s embroidery kit, which my grandmother gave me last year when I was visiting. Inspiration (and better instructions) for this came from Purlbee.

cutting

napkins

The garlic herb salt is made with garlic and herbs from my garden (my exchange person is an avid gardener) and a wonderful grey sea salt I always use. The recipe is from The Splendid Table. I made it before and loved it. I used a little over a cup of sage, thyme, and rosemary (you are supposed to use 2 cups, but this was all I could reasonable pick from my winter garden), and a little lemon zest. I chopped up 5 cloves of garlic from my stored garlic (we’ve been able to grow and store garlic from our garden for the whole year) with 1/2 cup course sea salt. I love the salt we can get locally (though it comes from France). Add the herbs and keep chopping until everything is finely cut. Let it dry on a cookie sheet overnight and put it in a jar to keep on the counter to season everything from popcorn to steamed vegetables to meat.

garlic and herbs

garlic herb salt

This project was fun and really gives me something to look forward to this month—giving and receiving these sweet little gifts.

Indoor moments

Winter means lots of indoor moments at our house as we try to stay warm and dry–also getting homework, music practice, and dishes done. We have our outdoor fun, but with short day light hours and winter weather, we tend to be inside more than outside.

The week, Anne started chess club and really enjoyed it. She and Evva and William play together often.

chess

Steven is at that age where he loves to play in water–for now that is sink water (from the faucet and in pots down in the sink) or the dog’s water bowl. This guy does not like bath water, however. Why is that?

water play

He has also developed a food obsession: pistachios and apple cider.

snack

Hythe has been helping me cook (and sometimes clean). Sweet boy!

helping

Soapmaking on a snow day

One of my jobs is soapmaking. This is actually a paying gig, and it also gives me another outlet for creativity. I can come up with new fragrances, colors, designs, types—I made a shampoo bar for myself a few weeks ago that I am looking forward to trying. I make soap to sell (on-line and at local farmers markets), but also for myself. I love an all-natural bar of soap that I can use and give as a gift.

During one of the recent snow days, the children were all playing at a cousin’s house, so I took a few hours to go make soap. The “soap shed” is at the top of a long steep drive, so I parked the truck at the bottom and walked up.

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Here’s what I did:
Measure and melt the solid oils. Add olive oil.
oils
olive oil

Measure the lye and mix into water. Let that lye mix cool out in the snow.
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Measure goat milk and mix lye into the milk.
Mix lye/milk with oils. I use a stick blender to make this process go much faster.
mixed

Once this mixture traces, or is thick enough, I pour it into molds. The soap will harden in the molds for a few days. Then out they come to dry for a few more days.
molds

Then, we cut them into bars and set them on a shelf to dry (or cure) for 4 to 6 weeks.
Aren’t they pretty? They smell great too!
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The really fun part about that day was getting back to the truck. I brought a sled up with me, so I had a long, fast sled down to the bottom.

sled run

truck

Snow day sewing

Snow days mean days where I can’t get my paid work done because all my children are at home. However, I cherish the time with them at home roaming the house and playing outside. On snow days, I also tend to pack in the domestic work that I often don’t have time to do. So, I might try out a new complicated recipe, start some sewing projects, cast on a knitting project, start a few loads of laundry, and set up a craft project for the little ones. You notice I used the word “start” a lot. Often these projects (including the laundry) get neglected as I roam from one child to another helping with whatever project they are into: building blocks, dress up, painting, sewing project, reading books, making cookies, playing a game. And, of course, all is interrupted by going outside to play for a hours at a time.

I actually finished a few projects this time (we did have 3 full snow days). A pair of pants for Anne because she loves comfortable pants in knit fabrics. A skirt for Evva from the same fabric, which I sketched some fiddleheads on.  I have not sewn with knit fabrics before, but I loved it.

pants

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I also made soap and a hand salve, which I will post about tomorrow!

The snow is still sticking around in all the shady places and where it piled up a little thicker. But, temperatures are getting warmer and I am looking forward to spring!

Our snow moments

We got about 7 inches of snow over 48 hours this week, and had so much fun sledding, skiing, and playing in it. Snow in the South is a special thing, not too common–I vacillate between loving and hating it (it does put a massive wrench in all work/school schedules), but mostly love it, especially this year when all but baby Steven gloried in the snow fun.

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snow ball fight

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The Meadows at Cataloochee

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Making lard

My grandfather had a hog farm when I was growing up, and my husband raised a few pigs every year when he was growing up, so hogs are part of our history (and legacy?). Luckily, pork is one of my favorite meats. My brother-in-law raised some experimental pigs this past year, for home consumption. They were some kind of dwarf heirloom pig, and he cared for them well while they were at the farm. He was severely disappointed, however, when he got them back from the butcher to find that their body mass was mostly fat. The hams were grapefruit-sized, surrounded by 2 to 3 inches of fat, the sausages were inedible. The up-side to these pigs, for me, is that I have been rendering lard from them. I have been rendering the ground fat, as well as the fat I’ve cut from roasts. It is really easy and the lard is great to use for sautéing, browning meat, and making tortillas, tamales, pie crusts, and cookies.

Here’s what I do:
Put the fat in a heavy bottom pot. I cook 1 to 2 pounds at a time. The ground fat is easier to cook because it comes in smaller pieces and renders evenly. But, if you are cutting fat off a piece of meat, try to chop it to small pieces.

ground fat

Add 1/2 cup of water, and turn heat on low. You can pretty much walk away from it for a while because it takes about an hour for the fat to melt down and the water to evaporate.

rendering lard

Check on it, though. When the fat has melted, and the cracklings (pieces of fat and meat that do not melt) have fallen to the bottom of the pot and are getting a little golden, it is ready to strain.

rendering lard
This is ready to strain.

Turn the heat off, and pour everything through a cheesecloth covered strainer over a bowl or pot.

straining

Then pour the liquid fat from that bowl/pot into a jar. It will look a little yellow, but if it is not overcooked, it will turn white when cooled.

hot lard

cooled lard

Let it cool and store it in the refrigerator.

I overcooked my first batch and it is slightly brown with a smoke-y flavor, but is still good to use to make tortillas and tamales.

The other fun thing about making lard is having cracklings to eat. That is what is left in the cheesecloth after you’ve poured it through. Put them back in the pan and cook till they are well browned. Then, salt them and sprinkle on salads, casseroles, beans and rice, in your cornbread, or eat them out of your hand. The smaller the fat is cut or ground, the better they are. They also store well in the refrigerator.

cracklingsCracklings are delicious!

Winter wonderland

Weather in our area is always a bit (or a lot) unpredictable.  It also makes a great conversation topic with people you don’t know very well (i.e. the person in line at the grocery store) and with people who really care (farmers and people with children!). My grandmother wrote me frequently when I was in college or away for the summer and she always had a paragraph about the weather.

Yesterday we had beautiful early spring weather–sunny, warm (low 50s)–and spent the whole afternoon outside gardening and playing. We even found the first early spring flowers.

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But, we woke up this morning to grey skies. It started snowing at 10 a.m. and snowed all day, despite the weather reports all day on the radio which said snow would start on Tuesday. It was a very wet snow and piled up beautifully on all the trees and plants. The kids enjoyed a fun afternoon playing in the snow–snowball fights, slipping and sliding, and making snow angels.

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By evening, the snow had nearly stopped and the light changed in a way that everything became more clear and it truly looked like a winter wonderland.

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Southern Corn

My grandfather grew corn every year on the farm for at least as long as I have been around. It was part of the crop rotation of corn, wheat, and soybeans, which he sold to elevators and fed to his hogs. This corn he grew is called field corn, and is very starchy, harvested when the kernels are dry and hard, and is usually fed to livestock or ground into meal.

I’ve grown field corn in my garden for the past few years. My children far prefer me to grow sweet corn, but I get discouraged about how much room it takes in the garden to get a few measly ears. If I am going to grow corn in my garden, I want tall field corn stalks with long, full ears. Field corn also seems hardier and more resistant to insect pests, not to mention the product has a better shelf life.

024William cleaned out the barn the other day and came in the house with a bushel of corn from the garden that I had stored in there months ago and forgotten about–white and yellow varieties. I had left the husks on so the ears were mostly in good shape. I shucked the corn, and had some little fingers help me shell it. [Hythe kept asking if he could eat the corn while we were shelling, but I had to explain a few times that this was not sweet corn and might break his teeth if he tried to eat if off the cob.]  In years past I have made hominy, so I thought I would do that again.  We like it in soups and I can make a lot and freeze it.

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I cook the washed kernels in 2 tablespoons of slaked lime for about 15 minutes, then let them soak for another hour. Then I wash the kernels in water, rubbing off all the outer coating. At that point the corn is ready to be cooked into hominy, or ground into masa.

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This time, instead of cooking it all into hominy, I used some to make masa tamal, or corn flour for making tamales. My girls love tamales so I thought I would try it. It was very easy–just a few minutes of whirring in the food processor. Then, I mixed the flour with lard and chicken broth. I had some great pulled smoked pork, so I used that and some frozen corn for the filling. Tamales are pretty easy to make, but can take some time.  It did not seem as time consuming this time–maybe I was mentally prepared for a marathon cooking session and it was not that.

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Southerners are known for corn (not pasta or bread) and their corn products like grits, cornbread, and corn pone. I thought of these tamales as a metaphor for the convergence of the Southern agricultural tradition and recent Hispanic influence. They were delicious.

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