Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I <3 Bacteria (and yeast and mushrooms)

My husband, Ken, turned me on to this great article today about bacteria, Bacteria 'R' Us.

It tells about the bacteria in a certain type of squid. The bacteria use “quorum sensing” and when they know there are enough of them, they become bioluminescent. This makes the squid invisible to predators from above. Each day the squid ejects the colony of bacteria to prevent overpopulation. This is the same thing I end up doing with the three sourdough starters I'm nursing.

The article tells about how we have more types of bacterial cells in our body than we do human cells, how bacteria organize and may even effect our thoughts.

We love bacteria at our house, and anti-bacterial anything is banned – good old-fashioned soap works well enough. Besides the three sourdough starters, I'm working on milk and water kefir, and just decanted my first batch of kombucha. It turned out perfectly. I never thought I'd be converted to kombucha, but now I'm a believer. I'm very sensitive to caffeine but had a cup of kombucha – made of black and green teas – yesterday afternoon (well past my caffeine cut off time) and slept like a baby last night. Perhaps the bacteria processed the caffeine, as well.

I have great hope for the redemption and revival of bacteria, and hope that bacteria and mushrooms will be increasingly used in daily life and for bioremediation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Green Tomato Relish


I'm using up all our green tomatoes today, canning green tomato relish. Here's the kitchen assembly line. In the back is the pressure cooker, working today as a water bath. The stainless pan in front of it holds the cooking relish. Two plastic cutting boards guard against spills and slips from kettle to counter. I fill here and carry them with the jar holder to the water bath in the back.

I ended up with 9 small jars of relish. To be fair, I've found a preserved product tastes completely different popped open at the table served with a meal, than it does at the stove testing from the leftovers.

The day reminded me of a story I read by M.F.K. Fisher The Measure of My Powers 1936-1939. She was living in Switzerland, on a small estate the locals nicknamed Un pƒquis.

I canned often, too. We had three cellars, and I filled one of them with beautiful gleaming jars for the winter. It was simple enough to do it in little bits instead of in great harried rushes as my grandmother used to, and when I went down into the coolness and saw all the things sitting there so richly quiet on the shelves, I had a special feeling of contentment. It was a reassurance of safety against hunger, very primitive and satisfying.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sourdough Buckwheat Monday

This morning we had Alaskan Frontier Sourdough Hotcakes from Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation.

I am completely incapable of following a recipe and so swapped out some of the flour with buckwheat, added vanilla, a little more sugar and salt (helps with rising) and a little less baking soda (tones down the sour). The hotcakes turned out really well and the boy loved them - actually only wants these from now on. =)

His enthusiasm surprised me as the buckwheat made them a slightly unappealing grey. They required a higher heat to brown. Oh, and the dough climbed out of the bowl sometime in the night but didn't make it far. Use a big bowl.

Night before, mix together:
1/2 cup bubbly sourdough starter
1 cup filtered water (LA tap water contains chloramine which may kill the starter)
1-1/4 c flour (part buckwheat, if you please)


Next morning when ready to cook, add:
1 egg
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda

The key to successful pancakes is to heat the skillet for a full five minutes before pouring your batter. I heat mine full blast for a couple of minutes, then turn the gas down to about the 1/4 mark and continue heating.

Flip the hotcakes when they're bubbly all over.

This recipe is a tad on the crêpey side and made about 12 4" pancakes.

An aside: A study at the Canadian University of Guelph suggests that sourdough white bread is easier on your blood sugar than whole wheat bread. The study is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Never more than 6 feet away

This little fellow crawled in through the kitchen window this morning and kept me company. He's sitting on a piece of broken glass that the former residents used to mulch the garden. I had a little talk with the spider. We decided that if I would not kill him he would be on his way. I know spiders are good but I'm still not that comfortable around them.

My son suggested I make a loaf of bread with a Jack O'Lantern face. I took a chance and hydrated the flour with canned pumpkin and water. It turned out very well, though I have not cut it open yet. That's 4 ingredients, mind you: flour, water, salt, and pumpkin. I used the stiff starter that Mark Stambler gave me. Can't wait to taste it.

I still had half a can of pumpkin left so made us smoothies with kefir, frozen bananas, cinnamon, sugar and pumpkin. Delicious. The boy loved it. I'll slowly cut back on the sugar. Getting him to drink 8 ounces of homemade kefir is victory enough for today!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pride cometh before a fall

Yesterday's bread was not my best effort. I forgot to flour my cloth so I could not get it onto the pan in one piece, or score it, AND I forgot to turn the heat down so it cooked too fast at first. It was still much better than store bought but not pretty enough to pass on to my friend.

Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oops, I did it again


White bread this time - like no white bread I've ever had before. Yum.

As the loaf cooled the crust cracked - very rustic.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Success at Last


I've had regular, yeasted bread down cold for a long time, but lately I've been trying to make bread with wild yeast - with homemade starter. I have two starters I'm maintaining: a sourdough starter I began several weeks ago with just flours and water, the second was given to me by Mark Stambler from the starter he uses to make his famous Silver Lake bread.

At one point my sourdough starter, which was originally very bubbley, appeared to have given up the ghost. I fed it anyway, and added about 1/4 cup of Mark's starter. It began to bubble again, but this time with very fine and subtle bubbles, like champagne.

Over the last weeks I've made a half dozen loaves and they've all been spectacular failures - inedible and unsalvagable. Today my luck turned. I used the recipe in Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen's book "The Urban Homestead." I followed it fairly closely, though speeded it up a little being that the weather is so warm. What resulted is the bread above - comprised of sourdough starter, flour, salt, and water. I cannot tell you how pleased I am. The flavor is deep and complex, the texture varied and open, the crumb is moist but light and the crust is hard. It's perfect.

I think I haven't been cooking my bread long enough, and perhaps the ambient temperature was not warm enough for it to ferment properly.

Many thanks to Mark Stambler, Kelly Coyne, Eric Knutzen, and all the little microbes out there that made this bread possible.
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