Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why I was late to the market AGAIN!

Jerry told me about these wonderful pickles his mother made called mustard pickles. They were made in a crock, fermented for ten days, and then could be kept in a cool dark place without refrigeration for up to a year. My kind of pickle!

My one and only invention is my Easy Peasy Fermenting Jar. I originally called it my Suze Goldberg Pickling Jar, since one of my nicknames is Suze, and I put it together from odds and ends in my kitchen. But given the history of Rube Goldberg inventions, it may have given the impression that it would be unnecessarily complex. My jar is simple and it works! So I renamed it to reflect how easy it makes what was kind of a messy job.

I had several crocks and used them to make my own pickles. But even with a weighted plate on the pickles, skimming of mold was required. It was messy. There was a fermenting jar for sale on the internet - $30 plus shipping and no mold to deal with. It had a unique jar that, if broken, cost $20 (and shipping) to replace. I could do better than that. I am a frugal person.

I rooted through my cupboards and found a half gallon wide mouth canning jar, big enough to hold large head of cabbage if fermenting sauerkraut. Two of them would hold a half peck of pickling cukes. Perfect!

The trick to stopping mold is to keep the oxygen out of the process. The on-line pickling jar had a looped straw in the lid to allow any gasses to escape, and the lid screwed on tight to keep out air. So how would I keep the air out of my jar? No matter how full I filled it with my salt water, there was sure to be a small amount of air trapped in the top when I screwed the lid on. And a tight lid plus a build up of gases could actually cause the jar to explode.

I did some more rooting and found the perfect insert - a very small soufflé cup that we had used in my restaurant. It fit firmly into the neck of the jar and had straight sides. I filled the jar with pickles, spices, oak leaves for tannin, and salt water, making sure that the insert fit completely into the neck. When I inserted it, with the jar in a shallow bowl, a little of the saltwater spilled out. This meant that there was no air in that jar! The insert was heavy enough to keep the pickles under the salt water, and light enough that if gases accumulated, it would allow them to escape. You can always add a bit more saltwater if there are too many burps, which could allow a little air into the jar.

Suze's Easy Peasy Fermenting Jar at work
In five days, you will have tremendous dill pickles. In a week, you will have mighty fine sauerkraut. In ten days you will have mustard pickles. However I can't attest to how good they will taste because the reason I was late today is because I was making my first ever batch of Mustard Pickles. We will see. (Update: August 11, 2017 - decanted the pickles. They are fantastic!)

Today's Mustard Pickles. Will be ready August 11, 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The rose garden

I got a couple of buds from the plant that the company is replacing before it bites the dust. Appears to have been damaged in shipping. The stems were misshapen, and they were not suitable for a bud vase.

Tonight, I clipped my first rose for a bud vase. It is sitting beside me. Wonderful fragrance! The company tells me the buds will be bigger as the plant matures, but I am quite happy right now. The color is all I expected, and the scent -- oh, the scent!

Here is English Miss, the first proper rose from my new rose garden. I am very happy indeed!

July 13, 2017 - English Miss

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wilma and Estelle

I was wandering the halls of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, a.k.a. the GA, when I heard a couple of women in a conversation with someone about where to eat in the center. I caught up with them to ask them if they had learned anything useful, and I had the privilege of meeting Wilma and Estelle - two delightful ladies who belong to a UU church right here in New Orleans. They asked if I would like to join them while they tried to find the food court.

Wilma bragged about being 81 (and if I do say so myself, she looked pretty youthful, wouldn't have guessed it). She whispered to me that Estelle is 95 but didn't want people to know, then added, "I don't know why I'm whispering. She is deaf as a post." Estelle certainly didn't look 95. Both were decked out, definitely not the typical Midwestern women I am used to being around. Jewelry, makeup, coifed hair, although how they managed the hair in this climate is beyond me! Every morning, I fix my hair in the hotel room, think it looks great, and by the time I have arrived at the restroom at the Convention Center, I all but scream when I look in the mirror! What happened?

So anyway, Estelle, Wilma and I meandered towards this hypothetical food court, which seemed ever out of reach. Estelle walked over to a table where a man sat alone. She yelled, "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!" Then she and the gentleman started talking at the top of their lungs to one another. Wilma suggested we have a seat, because she knew this was going to take a while. She said the guy is deaf, too, so it would take them a bit to get through their conversation.

Wilma gave me her history while we waited for Estelle to return. She was originally from New York City (I detected the accent), then moved to Urbana, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois, where she and the man she married were both educated. Her husband became a college professor, had taught at Indiana University in Bloomington at one time, then DePaul University in Chicago. He retired from there and they moved to New Orleans for their golden years, a place she obviously dearly loves. Her husband passed several years ago.

Finally Estelle was done with her conversation, then brought her friend over to our table to meet both of us, and after much shouting, introductions were complete.

The three of us continued our wandering towards the food court. It became obvious that it was too long a walk for Estelle, so my new friends headed back, while I went on towards the court. We parted, said we hoped to run into one another at the Sunday morning service, and we were on our way. I do so regret that I didn't get a picture of my new friends. Maybe I will run into them today, in the midst of the 4,000 people who will be attending the service this morning. If I do, I will get a picture if they will allow - and something tells me they would LOVE to have their picture taken.

I enjoyed meeting them, and I think the feeling was mutual.

Prologue: I didn't see them Sunday morning. Since Wilma, obviously a sharp shopper, told me there would be bargains in the bookstore right before the convention closed, I went there in the hopes of running into them. But alas, they were not to be found. But I got a few good bargains. :)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Greenhouse - Part 2

Sometimes my enthusiasm outstrips realty. This greenhouse - would it be just one more example of something that wasn't nearly as much fun nor as useful as I dreamed? Oh, no, this time I was right on!

Everything is a bit late - contractors who put it up and installed electricity never seemed to hit a due date. But finally it is up and running. I'm eating radishes - at least a dozen a day, French breakfast, my favorite. The butter lettuce is wonderful. It's a little crowded, but it is working out well, a fresh salad ever couple of days.

The day before yesterday, I put in 12 kale plants, in the spaces left as I harvest radishes. They were started in the seedling tray, and once they were removed from those tiny cells, they exploded in size!

I planted two tomato seeds in every cell, except for a couple of things that my experience taught me never germinated extraordinarily well. Except this year! Wow! Germination has approached 100%. I'm giving away plants - was sure that I would have requests for a couple hundred at least. Not so much. They are late, and a lot of people already have their plants in. (Fools, I say. I've lived through killing frosts during Memorial Day Weekend.)

My kids made me promise not to turn this into a business. I didn't expect this many extra plants, though, so unless they are willing to plow up their yards, I will be selling plants here at market. The other vendors would not be happy with me giving away plants while they are trying to sell the fruits of their hard labor, so there will be a price tag on each tomato plant.

I had a commercial greenhouse on the farm, raised between 4,000 and 6,000 plants a year. Raising 300 is definitely in the "hobby" vein, and I am having a great deal of fun. It's still not too late to get some freebies, so if you want a few plants, respond to this blog and tell me how to get in touch with you so that you can get your plants.

Here are pictures from the new greenhouse in town, and from harvests at the farm. We planted around 200 plants at the farm each summer, and I just loved the old heirlooms - weird shapes, all different sizes, beautiful colors - and every one of them very tasty indeed.

Seedling tray in the hobby greenhouse in town

Seedlings potted up, going to their new owners in a couple of weeks.

Harvest from the farm. 

Offering tastes at the market

A Brandywine from the farm

Canning the market leftovers

Aren't they beautiful?

Bumper crop of yellow tomatoes

Getting ready to can

Tomato plate - tasty treat!

Seedling trays at the farm - thousands, not hundreds!

A lot of plants  were grown in the 18' x 24' greenhouse! I miss it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The greenhouse!

At last, my new hobby greenhouse is up and running. I thought this day would never come. So many things went wrong, so many delays, terrible instructions, installers who didn't keep their promised dates, who had to do things twice because they misinterpreted the pictures (the only instructions).

This greenhouse is pretty much a mini version of the one I had at the farm - 6' x 8' instead of an 18' x 24' commercial greenhouse in which I grew several thousand plants each season. So I knew what I needed here. No sense putting up a greenhouse if you do not follow some basic principles that will get you lovely home-grown plants.

I looked at a $200 (sale price) hobby greenhouse at Harbor Freight. After doing a good bit of research, I decided on one a little heavier, with more features. I got it at Home Depot. The one I chose had some pretty good reviews, and some pretty horrible ones. Since I always read the bad ones first, I decided I could get around the problems many purchasers had with this model by doing a more robust installation.

I hired two men to put it together for me, me being a single 75 year old woman. In spite of lifting weights three days a week, I am pretty sure it was beyond the scope of my capabilities, even with a little help. Since I wanted much more than the "normal" greenhouse, it cost a pretty penny. There is electricity run to it (how to plug in heat mats, radios, lights and fans?), and after looking at pictures of these greenhouses lying in pieces on the ground after a strong wind, I bought the tie-down kit. The installers set the anchors into concrete instead of just screwing them into the ground. They also built a 4' x 8' frame made of 4" x 4" untreated lumber (still doing that organic thing, so no treated lumber) and set it on corner posts, also set in concrete.  In addition, I bought the automatic vent opener and a shade cloth. So many people think that you want all of the sun and heat you can get, but the sun will scald your precious plants if they get direct sunlight, and the heat will cook them.

Here are a whole bunch of pictures of the project, from start (parts all over the ground) to finish (heat mat plugged in and bringing the temp up to 80℉ to optimize tomato seed germination). I have no idea what I am going to do with 300 plants. I have room for maybe 50 of them here, including the flowers I am growing. Tomatoes? I can plant about 10 of them in pots on my deck, and I'm going to try growing a few in the greenhouse. They are organic heirloom plants, indeterminate, and I'm going to try to grow them on twine in the greenhouse, where I can control heat and light. I can dream, right?

I'm happy.

The puzzle laid out on the ground

Getting there

Electricity done

Note guy wires - the anchors are in concrete!

A place for indoor growing - I'm dreaming of fresh organic kale in January.

Shelving had to be jury-rigged to get 8' of continuous shelf. Bad design! But we made it work.

French Breakfast adishes and butter lettuce coming along

Seedling tray - finally arrived and filled with organic seedling mix

Note the split door. This means I can get a cross breeze without having to keep the door open. Too many geese in this neighborhood! I can imagine them going in and having butter lettuce and French Breakfast radishes for lunch. If not geese, then the rabbits. Or perhaps Fred will go on a digging expedition.

Hoping to get a crop before it gets too hot. Blistering yesterday! 

Erin and Tim came over, and Tim got the end shelves level. I still need to add wire cable in the corner, but I'm ready to roll!

Thermostat to control heat mat. It's working on getting temp up to 80℉

At last! Growing things!!

Vent still closed this morning, but it will open as the temperature rises.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My new best friend - Ankarsrum!

Okay, if you are not an avid bread baker, you will probably find this blog pretty boring. However, if you like to bake bread, read on. Or maybe even if you just like to eat bread, read on.

When I found out quickly that even a Kitchen Aid "Professional" mixer wasn't going to work for me, instead of falling back on my 20 year old Kenwood that was getting a little cranky I looked into getting a mixer that was up to the task at hand.

I don't make enough bread (and my oven will only do six baguettes at a time anyway) to justify getting a big honking mixer, but there had to be something to replace my Kenwood. I knew the Kenwood would only do the dough for six loaves at a time. I tried doing nine, but it really worked hard, and besides, I do 12 loaves for a standard order, so the extra three loaves were meaningless.

While researching mixers for bread dough, I looked at an Ankarsrum, a weird looking Swedish machine. The dough hook stays stationary and the bowl turns. The motor is in the bottom, which means it is more stable while mixing. No sense having a mixer that you have to stand over to keep it from walking off the counter. I well know that! Did it twice with my Kenwood, and the second time I even figured out how to put it together on my own, didn't have to call in Allen to put it together for me. That 20 year old Kenwood is one mighty machine, let me tell you, but as I said, only six loaves at a time, and this walking problem.

I did a lot of research on the Ankarsum - finally learned how to pronounce it. It's "anchor shroom," in case you want to know. I talked to people who had used them. One person said it could do up to 15 pounds of dough, which would be 18 baguettes. I didn't count on that, and it's a good thing I didn't. Its max is the 12 baguettes worth of dough that I was looking for. There is no bowl cover, so there is a little problem with flour flying all over when I start a batch, but I am finding some ways to work around that. Unless you are a bread baker, this is all meaningless, but I start the poolish in the mixer bowl, let it sit for 12 hours right in the bowl, then put in the flour, and then pour in the water over the flour, which helps to keep the flying flour problem down. I wish it would go just a tad slower when starting up. That too would help to reduce flying flour.

I bought the slicer/shredder attachment, and it is fabulous! I slice and dehydrate organic sweet potatoes for one of my trail mixes, and it made short work of the slicing. I also bought the blender. I used it this morning, and it too is fantastic. This means I could sell my Cuisinart food processor, since there is nothing that I was doing with it that I can't do as well (or better!) with the Ankarsrum.

The only attachment I still want is the meat grinder, which has five different sized holes for rough grind to fine, attachments for making spaghetti and linguini, and even a cookie press. I cannot imagine how that works, but it comes with the package. So why not? Here is a picture of the basic machine. It is sitting with the poolish in it for the 12 baguettes I will make for Garden Patch, to be delivered at 10 am on my way to market every Thursday.

Isn't she beautiful?

I have been playing with it now for several months, and I have found that switching to a different kneading attachment after the first 8 minutes of kneading with the big dough hook produces an even finer dough. The big discovery is that the better the kneading, the less yeast I have to use. I am down to using only a teaspoon and a half of yeast for 12 loaves. Before I discovered poolishes and slow cold rises, I was using about a teaspoon per loaf! Since yeast is a very expensive component of a baguette, this is significant. In fact, I am going to try to cut it down just a little more, since I am having trouble with the dough rising too much during the cold rise period in the fridge. I have to knock it down at least twice a day. I do believe the extra effort I am getting from the yeast is from using that second kneading implement instead of just the dough hook. It is working miracles on that bowl of dough!

Well, if I haven't put you to sleep with this blog, stop by the Garden Patch market on Thursdays for a beautiful and tasty true French baguette, or stop by my booth at the South Bend Farmers Market on Saturdays. Every other week, the Farmers Market baguettes are made from ancient grain flour (Einkorn), which my customers who are sensitive to gluten tell me they can eat. Sorry, no dice if you have celiac disease, but if it is just gluten sensitivity, the ancient grains have a genetically different gluten in them, and they are tolerable for many who can't eat bread made with today's hybridized wheat flours.

Fresh baked bread with a nice slab of good cheese or a slice of a meaty French terrine. Mmmmmm! Bon appétit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fred, my forgotten friend

Tashi demands so much of my time! The coaxing to eat continues more days than not. I am so grateful on a day when she goes to the bowl and eats without coaxing, without an appetizer of pepperoni (I know, she shouldn't eat it) to get her salivating and ready to eat.

Fred is so easy to feed. One day I found half a wine cork in the dining room. If he can chew it, he will eat it. One dog who is underweight, another who is overweight.

Fred is a loyal little fellow who only gets attention after Tashi has been cared for. Of course, he always goes on our walks. I feel guilty that I probably wouldn't walk him except that when Tashi is walked before a meal, she eats better, so Fred gets to come along. Always, it is Tashi first.

I want to tell a Fred story today, a story that made me realize it is time to put Fred first more often! The other night, I came home from a six hour round trip to my home town for my aunt's 100th birthday party. I was so tired! Phyllis had texted me to let me know that there were still two unsold loaves of bread at market, so I swung by there on my way into town. Good! I would have two loaves to take to my son's house the next day. He was hosting Easter dinner, and I knew the bread would be a welcome addition to the meal.

I got home with the bread, pretty exhausted. I booted up my Surface tablet and realized the cord was still at the market. I had just put the dog food down on the floor, so that meant as much as 30 minutes of coaxing with Tashi. I just wanted to go to bed! I decided I would take Fred with me (his bowl was already empty) to go back to the market for the cord. It would be interesting to see if Tashi would eat when she was left alone with her food.

Fred and I headed out, he on my lap with his head on my shoulder, enjoying the extra attention. As we got farther from home, he got agitated. I had to lock him in the car alone while I unlocked the heavy gate and went into the market for the cord. When I got everything locked up and got back in the car, Fred was shaking! I held him tight, the shaking got a little better, but he had started panting.

Fred was dumped on the streets of South Bend a little over a year ago. Someone took him on a ride in a car, shoved him out and left him. I may be wrong, but I think the little guy was reliving that event. I kept petting him, telling him how much I loved him and that we were going home. "Home, Fred. I would never dump you, Fred!" As we got closer to home, he got calmer. Once the house was in sight, the panting quit.

I am mad at the person who dumped him - how can people be so unfeeling to helpless creatures when they become an inconvenience? But I am glad he is in my life. All I have to say to the person who left him with fear of a midnight car ride is, "You lost a great dog. Fred and I won! We've got each other!"

Fred, my much loved friend