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





Thursday, April 13, 2017

NEW RECIPE - Low Carb Tuscan Kale Soup

This is adapted from a recipe I found for a soup with kale and white beans, which is a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, those white beans make it impossible for me to eat it.

To make it my own, I left out the beans, changed some proportions, added some hot pepper flakes, changed the method here and there, and came up with something that I hope is just as good, without the carb overload. Recipe called for grated Parmesan cheese, but I had some nice artisan cheese in the fridge. I grated it using the grater with large holes, needed only a tablespoon or so on the soup to add a real kick of flavor.

I didn't run this through my program, but eye-balling it, there shouldn't be more than six or seven grams of carbs in a BIG bowl of soup. It's a meal!

Tuscan Kale Soup

1 tbsp. EVOO
1 lb. pork sausage (I used mild Italian, not in casings)
½ pound sliced mushrooms
2 cloves peeled and minced garlic
4 cups (or 2 – 14 oz. cans) chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 or 2 bunches kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt – depends on how salty the chicken broth is. Taste first!
Grated cheese – I used some good artisan cheese, grated through large holed grater

Brown the sausage and mushroom in olive oil until sausage is broken up and browned. Add the garlic, then stir and cook for three more minutes. Add broth, bay leaf and kale. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Serve in large bowls with grated cheese on top.

Serves 4

By Susan Siemers, from Devonshire House Low Carb Delights©
(If you want to reprint recipe, please ask me first. I'd be delighted to share!)

Soup's on!



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bread Baking Class

I offer a bread baking class for a service auction event at the First Unitarian Church of South Bend each fall, and the bidders who won were at my place this weekend learning to make a true French baguette.

So how do I know it's a "true French baguette?" Because I learned to make it last April, in Paris. And now the five people who attended know how to make one as well, without having to go across the pond. I refer to it as my $6,500 baguette - you know, round trip air fare, renting an apartment in Paris, museums, concerts and more -- much, much more. It was the vacation of a lifetime. I'm feeling a bit melancholy now, remembering that a year ago I was packing and anticipating. Now it is just a memory, but one I love to share with my friends.

Here are pics from my own bread baking class last Sunday. We had a wonderful time! I am pretty sure that at least two of the people in the class are very serious about baking bread in the future. We cut two loaves and had a repast of five-meat terrine, smoked salmon, sliced meats and French cheese. I am very much enjoying the leftovers.

The finished terrine, centerpiece of our lunch - see my blog Always read the bad reviews first!



The terrine, unwrapped and sliced

Andrea cutting and weighing

Chuck forming dough

Jim forming loaf

Joseph putting dough on sheet to rise


The spread

340 grams per loaf

Willow making poolish

I'm demonstrating first cut for loaf

What is French bread without meat?

French cheese disappearing

The students' loaves - GOOD JOB!

Students did a great job. Two loaves disappeared during our repast.
Here is a picture of my cousin Ruth and me, with our instructor Chef Alex, showing off the many breads we learned to bake last April in Paris.







Monday, March 27, 2017

Always read the bad reviews first!

When I am shopping on line or trying a new recipe, I gravitate to the least favorable reviews first. If there are any show stoppers there, why go any further? In the case of recipes, I am less concerned, because often the reviewers have some great suggestions, and the recipe ends up being quite tasty.

I am teaching a bread baking class this Sunday. As part of the class, my five students get to partake of a charcuterie board, quite elegant if I do say so myself, with slices of freshly baked baguette and glasses of wine in hand. The highlight of the repast is my three meat terrine.

When I was in Paris, I ate a terrine that made my knees shake. It was fantastic! I have searched recipes but haven't found anything like it. I found a pretty good one on Epicurious.com, and I make one each spring for my bread baking students.

Even though it isn't as good as that memorable terrine in Paris, it is still pretty impressive, and I have never had a complaint when I bring it out, surrounded by cornichons, homemade dill pickles, mustard and Cumberland sauce.

I start it several days in advance. It starts with a trip to the store for ingredients not on hand. After much chopping, weighing and mixing, I put the meat and spices into the bacon lined terrine (yes, the product and the pan are both called "terrine"), wrapped it and then read through the comments at the bottom of the page. One cook wrote that it was good, but not nearly as good as one she had in Paris, so she only gave it two forks. In fact, the reviewer said, she had a spice mix from a famous restaurant in Chicago called The Bakery and said she was going to try to kick up the flavor by adding some of Chef Szathmary's magic pâté spice the next time she made it.

I was excited! I had some of his spice on my shelf and thought, it's not too late to spoon out the meat and add some spice. What a great idea! Then I noticed that the reviewer was SusanVey from Indiana. That's me, folks. I was reading my own review. That was my laugh for the day!

And by the way, I brought it up from my basement fridge where it will marinate for a day before baking, spooned it out of the bacon lining, added the magic spices and put it back to rest. Then after a slow bake, it is weighted and left in fridge for a day or so. Tasting is still a good way off. 

We will see if the suggestion from "SusanVey, Indiana" gets it closer to the wonderful Parisian terrine of my memory.


Terrine marinating for a day before baking


Baked terrine, sitting with weights for a day


After weighting for a day



Wrapped and ready to chill - look for my bread baking class blog to see it sliced and served!





Monday, March 6, 2017

Tashi - what a scare!

Wherever I go, Tashi goes. I trip over her a hundred times a day! She seems to sense where I am going next and moves to a spot where I will run into her. When I go to the bathroom, she always comes along. No sense in shutting the door - she will scratch at it, and I like my woodwork almost as much as I like my pets.

I got up at 4 am yesterday and Tashi didn't follow me to the loo. When I went back to bed, she was in exactly the same spot. She was stretched out, not in her usual sleeping position. I called to her, and she didn't move. Her eyes were open and not moving. I couldn't see her chest rise and fall in a breathing pattern. I knelt on the floor beside her, ruffled her hair, called her name. There was no response. I felt for a heartbeat and felt nothing, but then, I don't really know exactly where to look for it. No evidence of breathing when I laid my hand on her side. Two phrases that ALWAYS get a response are, "Do you want to go for a walk?" and "Treats!" Nothing. Eyes open, motionless.

With a heavy heart, I went downstairs to email my family and close friends that Tashi had passed. Right before I hit the send button, I heard a noise upstairs. When I went around the corner, there she was, standing at the top of the stairs. She came down two flights of stairs to get outside and do her morning thing. I saw no evidence of limping. She was perfectly fine. She ate a good breakfast, minimal coaxing.

We had a big event at church, and I had to be there early. I was there by 8:30, and didn't get home until after 2:00. I was very nervous about what I would find when I got home. There she was at the door, greeting me with tail wagging and big grin on her face.

What was it? All I know is that I still have my girl. She is on the floor beside me, snoring gently. I rewarded her with the full mile walk yesterday, and she was still going strong when we got back. I am wondering if she had a small stroke. If that was it, there is certainly no lasting evidence that anything serious happened. I love that girl! Each dog I have, especially as they reach their end time, I think, "This is the best. This one is the very, very best." Yes, Tashi is the very, very best!

Tashi taking her morning nap



Sunday, February 26, 2017

RECIPE - Deviled eggs

I cannot take credit for this recipe. I use it with one teeny tiny change (which certainly doesn't make it my recipe) from a recipe on allrecipes.com. I only include it here because I know I have some regular followers of my blog who do not follow me on Facebook. So use the link and be prepared to make this a favorite of yours as well.

There are a gazillion recipes for deviled eggs out there, and I have made a million of them (yes, I do exaggerate!); however, this is hands down my go-to recipe now. If I want to get really fancy, I use my stick blender to get the filling nice and smooth, then put in a plastic bag and cut a corner off to fill the whites, but it's not necessary when I'm making a batch for myself. And as a low carber, I make them often. A few lumps in the filling make them no less tasty!

Here is the link. Thanks, Jeff Sikes, for a wonderful recipe! Oh, I do make one small change - I use zero carb Pompeian white wine vinegar in place of the rice vinegar called for in the recipe, because that's what I have in my pantry.

Classic Savory Deviled Eggs, by Jeff Sikes

Bon appétit.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

RECIPE - Hard boiled eggs

I hate it when it is nearly impossible to neatly peel a hard boiled egg. So every time I read an article with someone's magic recipe for how to have perfect hard boiled eggs that peel easily, I try it. I am always disappointed. That is because they don't tell you the most important thing - a very fresh egg will NOT peel easily no matter what method you use.

Eggs are one of nature's most perfect foods. And they are encased in great natural packaging. If an egg is not washed, you can safely leave it sit on your counter for a month. There is a natural film on the shell that creates a barrier to keep your eggs safe.

A commercial egg is washed, and that film / barrier has been removed. So you might want to refrigerate them. Mine are on the counter in this great little red ceramic egg carton that I bought. (Just for fun I keep my chicken salt and pepper shakers next to it - a gift from my daughter-in-law Julie, who always seemed to know what I would like.)

Eggs ready for action!
I know, they have been washed, and even if fresh from the farmer at the South Bend Farmers Market, by law they must be washed. But they are gone from my countertop quickly, and I'm still alive. They are never out there more than two weeks. And when the recipe calls for an "egg brought to room temperature," I'm good to go immediately. (One caveat -- if you need to separate whites from yolks, a cold egg separates more easily.)

So back to that egg's natural packaging. In spite of it, an egg begins to shrink inside that shell from day #1. And that shrinkage will be the difference between an egg that gets mutilated when trying to peel it and one from which the shell is easily removed. After just one week of aging on the counter, eggs will peel better because the albumin is shrinking away from the interior of the shell. When refrigerating, give them two weeks. When I was bringing in fresh eggs from the chickens on the farm, I would set a bowl of eggs into the back of the fridge for at least two weeks just for hard boiling. Once your eggs are at least two weeks old, some of those egg peeling pointers may actually make a difference. And three weeks should be guaranteed success, no matter what method you use.

I love Ina Garten's show, the Barefoot Contessa. And I love her method of hard boiling eggs. It is a little different from any I have seen, and I do recommend it. Most supermarket eggs will be well over a week or two old by the time you get them home. If you want guaranteed success, try keeping them for at least another week before hard boiling. If they are straight from the farm, don't use them for hard boiling until they have aged at least two weeks. So here goes, this is Ina's recipe with a couple of small tweaks:
  1. Put your eggs into a deep pan and cover completely with cold water.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil. Immediately turn off heat. (If electric stove, remove from burner. On my gas stove, I just let them sit there in the pan of hot water on the turned-off burner.)
  3. Here's where Ina's recipe is different. Leave them sit in the water for only FIVE MINUTES!
  4. Remove the eggs from the water. Don't rinse with cold water. Just let the warm eggs sit on the counter on a paper towel.
  5. Here's where Ina and I differ. She says to wait only two minutes before peeling. I recommend waiting about five minutes. The first egg I tried to peel at two minutes didn't do too well. At five minutes, they peeled beautifully.
  6. Now roll the eggs on the counter top with the palm of your hand. The shells will crack into a myriad of small bits.
  7. CAREFULLY peel. They should come off pretty well.
  8. If you are still having trouble, hold the egg under running water while you peel, my second tweak to Ina's wonderful method.
Great thing about this is that the yolks are still a beautiful yellow color, no green around the edges. They are on the very edge of still being soft in the middle, but they aren't.  They are just perfect!

Thanks, Ina.

Now I'm going to have another deviled egg for breakfast. Recipe for my favorite deviled eggs coming soon.