Friday, October 30, 2009

Being Still

I am the kind of person who always has to be doing something. I find it very difficult to just sit. Yet sometimes I think the simplest restorative measure to take in a life that is busy and full is just to be still. Today I sat with my children and we listened to the autumn rain falling on the leaves. We watched the raindrops trickle down the glass of our patio door in interesting patterns. It was peaceful.

What helps you to slow down and savor the world around you?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Organic Cooking: Making Bone Broth

I try to keep four types of broth in the freezer so that no matter what I want to make I have the right stock. For the less nerdy of us, beef and veal broth are great to have on hand because veal broth can be used for chicken and lamb. Veal broth is the most nutritious of all stocks because of the higher amounts of collagen which add tons of gelatin and makes the most wonderfully rich stock. If you don't believe me check out this blog for a humorous take on veal stock (also the pictures of stock making are great).

Well back to stock making. Here is the basic recipe:

Organic Cooking: Bone Broth

1. Bones -- raw bones, with or without skin and meat, from poultry, beef, lamb or veal - use a whole carcass or just parts (good choices include feet, ribs, necks and knuckles)

2. Water -- start with enough cold water to just cover the bones or 2 cups water per 1 pound bones

3. Vinegar -- 2 tablespoons apple cider, red or white wine, rice or balsamic vinegar per 1 quart water or 2 pounds bones - lemon juice may be substituted for vinegar (citric acid instead of acetic acid)

4. Vegetables (optional) -- peelings and scraps like ends, tops and skins or entire vegetable
celery, carrots, onions, garlic and parsley are the most traditionally used, but any will do
(if added towards the end of cooking, mineral content will be higher)


Combine bones, water and vinegar in a pot, let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour, bring to a simmer, remove any scum that has risen to the top, reduce heat and simmer (6-48 hrs for chicken, 12-72 hrs for beef). To reduce cooking time, you may smash or cut bones into small pieces first. If desired, add vegetables in last 1/2 hour of cooking (or at any point as convenience dictates).

Strain through a colander or sieve, lined with cheesecloth for a clearer broth. Discard the bones. If uncooked meat was used to start with, reserve the meat for soup or salads.

An easy way to cook broth is to use a crockpot on low setting. After putting the ingredients into the pot and turning it on, you can just walk away. If you forget to skim the impurities off, it's ok, it just tastes better if you do. If you wish to remove the fat for use in gravy, use a gravy separator while the broth is warm, or skim the fat off the top once refrigerated. Cold broth will gel when sufficient gelatin is present. Broth may be frozen for months or kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Traditional Bone Broth - Food or Medicine?

When the cold weather creeps in it is time for me to make broth.  The warmth and nourishment seem to fit well with my quest toward natural and seasonal living.  I used my last quart of beef broth last week for the sensational, crowd pleasing Shepherds Pie (recipe forthcoming). Something in me just doesn't feel right when there is no stock in the freezer. I have had the severe misfortune some years ago of depleting my stock of stock and being forced to resort to store bought "stock". What an ordeal! What salty, tasteless, flat squalor!

I normally put up at least 52 quarts of bone both broth throughout the winter, one for each week but after reading the article by Traditional bone broth in modern health and disease by Allison Siebecker I may have to double that amount. Her article describes in detail the benefits of bone broth as well as explaining each component of bone broth and its benefits. Here is her list of ailments that are benefited by broth: aging skin, allergies, anemia, anxiety, asthma, atherosclerosis, attention deficit, bean maldigestion, brittle nails, carbohydrate maldigestion, Celiac Disease, colic, confusion, constipation, dairy maldigestion, delusions, dental degeneration, depression, detoxification, Diabetes, diarrhea, fatigue, food sensitivities, fractures, Gastritis, grain maldigestion, heart attack, high cholesterol, hyperactivity, hyperchlorhydria (reflux, ulcer), hyperparathyroidism (primary), hypertension, hypochlorhydria, hypoglycemia, immunodepression, increased urination, infectious disease, inflammation, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), insomnia, intestinal bacterial infections, irritability, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Jaundice, joint injury, Kidney stones, leaky gut, loss of appetite, meat maldigestion, memory, muscle cramps, muscle spasms, muscle wasting, muscle weakness, Muscular Dystrophy, nausea, nervousness, Osteoarthritis, Osteomalacia, Osteoporosis, pain, palpitations, Periodontal Disease, pregnancy, rapid growth, restlessness, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rickets, seizure, shallow breathing, stupor, virility, vomiting, weakness, weight loss due to illness, wound healing.

Broth is one of those foods that have been around for centuries and due to our overly busy schedules we have let fall by the wayside, imagining hours of straining and stirring. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stock making can be an easy and enjoyable part of natural and seasonal living, if you remember a few key tips.

1. Always use bones from healthy animals
2. The longer you simmer, the more you will pull from the bones
3. Don't boil the stock - just let it gently simmer - don't let it go over 200-220 F
4. Don't leave the lid on the pot
5. Use only organic vegetables
6. Try to use a variety of bones for their different properties

Monday, October 26, 2009

Homemade Bread Baking 101

I have been grinding grain and making whole wheat bread for 15 years and throughout the years I have learned many, many lessons. I believe these tips will work for bread no matter whether you use freshly ground flour or store bought flour but the comment I get over and over is "how do I make my whole wheat bread less of a brick" so the emphasis will be on helping with whole wheat breads.

A few beginning pointers to help you no matter which recipe you use:

1. Allow the yeast to grow with 1/3 - 1/2 of the flour before adding other ingredients
2. Don't add the other ingredients until the sponge has fallen
3. Don't add the oil, honey and salt directly to the yeast mixture - buffer with more flour
4. Use the window test to determine if the dough has been kneaded sufficiently
5. Use the log method to shape the loaf
6. Use a thermometer to test for doneness

4 Loaves of Whole Wheat Bread
(Note: If you are using anything other than a Bosch Universal to knead your bread cut the amounts in half to make 2 loaves instead of 4.)

Put 6 cups of flour, 5 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of instant yeast in a mixing bowl. Mix for a couple of minutes to incorporate. Shut the mixer off and let the yeast grow in the flour and water mixture (sponge) for at least 30 minutes but I have found that if you leave it until it begins to "fall" then the yeast is ready to jump into action and you will get a lighter loaf. Here you can see the dough at full rise in the bowl
In the second picture, hopefully you can see that once the yeast has expired the sponge will deflate.

Once this occurs I add another 6 cups of flour and make sure that all the sponge is covered by the flour to buffer the yeast from the rest of the ingredients. Salt, oil and honey mixed directly with the yeast can cause the barrier of the yeast cells to break and the yeast dehydrates and dies.

I then add 2/3 up honey, 2/3 cup olive oil and 4 ts Celtic sea salt and mix just to incorporate. Add more flour and mix very briefly until you can see that the sides of the bowl are being cleaned up. I usually use around 14 cups of flour total but that will change with the weather. If it is raining I use more. Also the type of flour you use will make a big difference. This takes practice to know just when the dough had had enough flour added but the more you make bread, the keener your intuition will become.

Once I have the correct amount of flour in the mix I knead on med for a full 10 minutes. I then take out a small amount of dough, about the size of walnut, and work it a bit to stretch it out. This is called "making a window" and you should be able to see the strands of gluten developed and the dough will not break. This is your sign that the bread has been sufficiently kneaded. If you try to stretch the dough and it breaks, continue to knead for a couple minutes and try again.Oil a straight sided container with oil and place your dough into the container to rise. A container with marking is best so that you can tell when it has doubled in size. When the dough has doubled punch it down a let it rest for approximately 10 minutes. This makes shaping the dough easier. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and cover with a towel.

When shaping a bread loaf I like to flatten the dough with my hand into a long rectangle and roll the dough into a log. I think this makes for the lightest loaf. It is important to seal the edges by pinching the seams. Place seam side down in an oiled pan.

Allow the bread to rise to about 1 1/2 times its size or until the top of the bread is even with the top of the pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes. The best way to know if your bread is done is to insert a thermometer. The bread is ready when you get a reading of 190-200 F.

Turn the loaf out onto a rack and allow to cool. Cutting the bread while it is hot is not recommended as it ruins the texture of the bread and is not good for the tummy either!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Putting things up

I did not grow up with the concept of preserving food, although my mother canned jams and applesauce with her grandmother. The idea of preserving food while it's in season appeals to me not just because of tradition but because of health and stewardship.

First, fruits and vegetables at the height of their season in your area will be freshest and the vitamins and nutrients in them will be most available to your body. If you buy a food out of season, you can bet it didn't come from close by and that it lost quite a lot along the way getting to you. Preserving foods when they are at their nutritional height is the smart way to be able to enjoy those foods longer than their brief season.

Second, I find that when a food is in season, it is also at it's lowest price. This is the time of year for apples and squashes and pumpkins. You can get quite a lot of food for not much money, especially if you're willing to buy in bulk, as you would certainly want to do to preserve it. Of course apples and pumpkins can be found in one form or another year round, but you'll pay a premium for them six months from now and they won't be promoting sustainable farming in your area.

I may have mentioned before that I don't can (I have very little pantry space and an extreme fear of botulism!), but I do have a stand alone chest freezer that I've been filling up with applesauce (there would be more if we didn't eat it almost as fast as I can make it!), and this week I'm aiming to roast and puree an enormous pumpkin and a huge assortment of squashes of various types. I plan to freeze the puree in one and two cup amounts as that is what most recipes call for. We will love eating the pumpkin and squash in savory soups, baked goods and desserts throughout the winter.

Lots of produce can be frozen or canned or stored in one way or another. It's another way to live by the seasons while also extending them somewhat!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another homemade bread baking reference

I recently found the Half-Baked Beauties blog, which is written by a group of women who are baking their way through a bread cookbook. We're hoping to have some posts soon with lots of pictures about bread baking steps, but you might also enjoy learning from other people's experiences!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grinding Grain: Is it economical?

If you've considered the health benefits of grinding your own grain into flour, but haven't been sure if it would be worth the extra cost of investing in a grinder, be sure to read this interesting analysis of how one family saved as much in six months as they spent on the mill, and continues to save significant amounts every year.

Did you know you can purchase NutriMill Grain Mills from the farm shop? Talk to Debbie or leave us a comment if you think you might be interested. Christmas is just around the corner and a grain mill would make a fabulous present that would be a gift to your family year 'round.

HT: Money Saving Mom for the link!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links

Monday, October 12, 2009

Autumn Comfort Foods

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is make applesauce. I wash and slice enough apples to fit in my stock pot, add a little water and a cinnamon stick, and simmer it until the apples are falling apart. I then stir it together and, depending on if it's intended as a snack or dessert, I might add a little bit of sugar. Many people can applesauce (if you do that you'll want to make sure you consult a canning resource to make sure you process it long enough to safely preserve it) but I don't have much pantry space so I freeze mine instead. The benefit to freezing is that I have a chest freezer that fits plenty of gallon bags of applesauce stored flat, and also that I don't have to remove the peels. I think the peel in homemade applesauce is the best part!

If you enjoy cooking and preserving apples in one way or another, you might check to see if your local orchards offer price breaks for seconds or drops - those apples are sometimes smaller or not as pretty as the rest, but they are an economical alternative when you're planning to cook them anyway. I have also found local apples for sale in supermarkets this time of year, often quite inexpensively. Once I even found organic local apples for the same price as the ones that were conventionally grown. In those cases I think it is sometimes worthwhile to vote with your dollars and let the supermarkets know that consumers are looking for more local and organic options. You can also make a comment to the produce manager at a store, and perhaps help encourage the store to make small steps toward fresher, local options. In general though I do think it's better to buy straight from an orchard and not bother with the middleman!

Most people think of apples as a dessert fruit for pies and crumbles and brown betties and the like, and those are certainly delicious uses for apples, but apples are also delicious additions to savory dishes like curries. Curried apples and pumpkin is a wonderfully filling and tasty meal for a cold autumn night.

What are your favorite autumn comfort foods?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Organic Cooking: Fresh Raw Milk Bread

Of the several yeast bread recipes I've tried out over the past two weeks, this recipe from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book has been the biggest success. It's not as time intensive as some of the other recipes out there, and the results are wonderful. Best of all, it's designed around fresh raw milk, and you know where you can get that!

Fresh Raw Milk Bread

2 cups fresh whole milk, preferably raw milk
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
6 cups fresh ground whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup more water
2 tablespoons cool butter

1. Scald the milk and cool to lukewarm. Stir the honey into the milk.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
3. Measure the flour and salt into a large bowl and stir lightly. Make a well in the flour and pour the milk and the dissolved yeast into it. Stir from the center outward until all the flour is mixed in.
4. Knead vigorously for about 15 minutes. Use the extra water if necessary to keep your hands from sticking to the dough or directly to the dough until you have a soft, elastic dough.
5. Knead in the butter in bits, continuing to work the dough until it is silky.
6. Form the dough into a ball and place it smooth side up in the bowl. Cover and keep in a warm draft-free place for about an hour and a half. After the time is up, gently poke your finger about half an inch into the dough. If the hole doesn't fill in at all or the dough sighs, go on to the next step.
7. Press the dough flat, form into a smooth round, and let the dough rise once more as before, but this time only for half as long.
8. After the second rising, press the dough flat and divide it in two. Round each piece and let the dough relax, covered, for about 10 minutes (this keeps the gluten from breaking down too much).
9. Deflate the rounds and press flat to about one inch, then fold over slowly, pressing gently to remove air bubbles, and fold over again twice gradually shaping a loaf (the book has detailed drawings showing how to shape a loaf - we may need some pictures of this step for a future post!).
10. Place the loaves in greased loaf pans and let rise in a wam place until dough slowly returns a gently made fingerprint. The loaves should arch up over the pans, but not be falling out of the pan.
11. Place the loaves in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and continue to cook another 35 to 45 minutes.
12. Allow the bread to cool before you slice it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Baking Homemade Bread

There's something about Autumn that turns the hearts of bakers to bread. In the past week I've heard from three people that they unaccountably feel like baking bread now, after taking time off from it over the summer. As Debbie pointed out in her post on living by the seasons, there are some thing that just fit the rhythm of Fall - root vegetables, apples, hearty stews, pulling out heavier clothes and blankets and baking homemade bread.

As you may know, the Farm produces certified organic grain (which you can purchase from the Farm Shop of course!) and Debbie is something of an expert in the art of grinding grain into flour and transforming it into delicious loaves of nutritious whole grain bread. Next time you're in the shop, be sure to ask her for some tips!

For the novice, baking yeast bread can be an overwhelming task. You might want to start small and build up some confidence before jumping in to a more complicated recipe. On the other hand there is something to be said for naivete if it keeps you from being intimidated by what other bakers might see as a daunting recipe!

The health benefits of using whole grains in bread are well documented and doubtless familiar to you. By baking your own whole grain bread rather that buying it in the store, you can get the added bonus of eliminating preservatives and additives. For families with wheat allergies or for those who just have a taste for variety, baking your own bread gives you the freedom to experiment with different grains or alternative flours.

Aside from purely nutritional benefits, I'm convinced that baking bread is good for the soul. Fitting the timetable of mixing, kneading, rising and baking bread into your day forces you to think about your schedule and maybe simplify your day a little. The rhythm of baking days helps set a productive but not frantic pace. Kneading dough, as even the newest baker can attest, is a marvelous stress reducer and a good upper body workout. And nothing beats the feeling of serving your family a slice of warm buttered bread fresh from the oven!

We're planning to do a few posts on grain grinding, different bread recipes, and general tips about bread. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and we'll be happy to address them!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Comfort of Fall

I have been in a serious bread groove all summer. I think because sourdough seems like a light, summery bread it has been my bread of choice since spring. So while I sat under the maple tree in the front yard with my bread, cheese and wine, all those single-celled organisms (yeast) sat ignored in the freezer.

I am a big believer in living by the seasons and each fall I bring out all the feather comforters and get them ready for snuggling and cuddling my babies (18 and 12) during the cold, blustery nights. As I get older and hopefully wiser, I am "being attentive to thyself" more than ever and that introspeciont has me seeing some interesting patterns.

Right now I am noticing how my spinning wheel, the comforters and the yeast find their way back into my life in the autumn. I believe that there is an innate "knowing" that has come to be buried under the weight of sitcoms that find their way in to our lives. Isn't it time to shake off the unwanted burdens that are weighing us down and keeping us from doing what we really desire? It can, and possibly should, begin slowly. One step at a time.

In this next series of posts we will explore activities that just belong to the fall. It will warm and comfort you to live closer to the seasons. Try to think of the activities you most think about as the weather begins to change, foods you crave or activities you wish you had time for. Send us a comment for ideas you may have for future posts and let us know how you desire to live closer to the seasons. If you have conquered the pressing-in to live a homogeneous life please drop us a comment to let us in your secrets to living life to its fullest.