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 app├ętit.




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





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.