I’m ready for spring. I’m ready for warmth. I want to start poking seeds in the ground and get dirt under my fingernails, to start tromping in the woods, to see green, to start shedding my winter insulation. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, and desperately need to catch it. I feel like I want something, but don’t know what it is. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s weird, not bad, just strange. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I always do. Thanks for humoring me… I needed to get that out. The picture above is of one of my sons and I tromping in the woods two springs ago. My other son was the photographer.
Archive for the ‘General’ Category
My husband and I used to be beekeepers. About 5 years ago we decided to hang it up for a while. As a two business household, we found ourselves increasingly busy, and knew we were going to have to choose to let a few things go. A man made us a good offer for all of our equipment, so we decided to take him up on it and sold it all except for a bee suit and a smoker. For some reason, my husband couldn’t part with the suit and smoker.
This spring a colony of bees set up housekeeping in a burn pile on the edge of our property. Because of the drought this summer, we haven’t been able to burn the pile. My husband figured he would get into it this winter and remove the honey before we burned the pile in the spring. It’s one of those locations that doesn’t offer a way to save the hive.
Today we were treated to a sight that had us yearning for our beekeeping days. The colony in the burn pile decided to swarm and settled on a branch in a nearby mulberry tree.
Normally, swarm season here in Indiana is during May and June. We were a little surprised to see a young, newly formed colony swarming in July, especially considering the drought and how little forage has been available. I called another beekeeper I know to see if he wanted to come catch the swarm, but he wasn’t available, so the swarm is most likely going to fly away over the next few days and set up housekeeping elsewhere.
I guess this is going to make my husband’s job of removing the honey from the burn pile a little easier. Swarming is basically a part of bee sex, and one of the ways they propagate. For a number of reasons a hive will decide it needs to form a new colony, so it will raise a few new queens. Prior to swarming, a bunch of worker bees will gorge themselves on honey to take with them to their new home. Once gorged on honey they will leave the hive, usually settling somewhere nearby while they wait for scouts to direct them to their new location.
This swarm may leave right away, they may stay on this branch for a couple of days, and in rare cases they may even begin building comb right there on the branch. One of the reasons it was so easy to get in close to take these pictures is due to the bees being gorged on honey. In this gorged state, their flight is slow and lazy, and they are very mild mannered. They are incredibly intent on the task at hand, very non-aggressive, and not inclined to sting.
You’re going to need these croutons for the next recipe I post. I suppose you could use store-bought, but these are better…. at least I think so!
Sometimes I’ll whip up a batch of my Honey Whole Wheat Bread just so I can let it go stale for making croutons. My family loves croutons. We throw ‘em in soups and salads. Of course they go into French onion soup. I’ve even caught my 17 year old munching on them like popcorn.
Croutons are a snap. Coat stale bread cubes in flavor bombed oil, toast in the oven, and viola! Croutons! I just throw it all together (not the bread cubes) in my food processor, and taste as I go. I use tomatoes I’ve dried myself, which don’t have as much moisture as store-bought sun dried tomatoes. I have to soak them in a little water before I get started, or they won’t pulverize properly in the food processor. This recipe makes up a batch of flavored oil which is more than needed to make a batch of croutons. It can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks, and can be used in a variety of ways: croutons, tossed with pasta, or spread on sandwiches for an extra punch of flavor.
Zesty Tomato Garlic Croutons
Cubed stale bread
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 or 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients (except cubed bread) into a food processor and let ‘er rip. Process until the mixture is relatively smooth.
Toss until the bread is completely coated with the tomato mixture, adding more if needed.
Spread the croutons on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven. Check the croutons about every 5 minutes and give them a quick stir. Because of the sugar content of the tomatoes, the croutons will tend to caramelize, and you want to be careful not to burn them. My croutons took approximately 15 minutes.
Before I get on with this, I’m warning you my motivation is on its way back, and I was a little camera happy this morning.
I realize bread making is a little time consuming, but I think it’s worth the effort. You’re probably wondering how I manage to bake bread several times a week when I work a full time job. Here’s the beauty of working from a shop located on the same property where I live. I can head to my kitchen on my lunch break, and mix up a batch of dough and knead it. It’s not uncommon to find a batch of dough rising in my office. At the end of the work day, I take it back to my kitchen, ready to pop in the oven.
I don’t know why I haven’t blogged my bread recipe before. I make it so often I could do it in my sleep. I’ve fiddled around with different ways of making bread over the years. The resulting conclusion of all this fiddling….. the books, famous chefs, food network, etc….. they’ve made it WAY too complicated. No wonder so many people are intimidated by homemade bread. Seriously folks, bread has been the staff of life, successfully feeding and nourishing mankind for thousands of years….. it can’t be that complicated! Of course, in the last 100 years, we’ve managed to corrupt the stuff beyond what our ancestors would recognize as bread. However, that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation. Anyway, I’ll show you how I make bread, and I’m warning you…. I break a lot of rules.
I don’t have a convenient local source for bulk organic grains and flours, so I have them shipped from Heartland Mill out of Kansas. You can shop online, but I tend to phone my orders so I can have them ship on my business’ UPS shipper account. I’ve got a negotiated volume discount with UPS. Heartland’s prices are fantastic, and even with shipping I’m paying less than if I bought 5 pound bags of organic Bobs Red Mill from the local grocery. I purchase in 25 or 50 pound quantities, depending on the type of flour. I tend to use about twice as much all-purpose flour as I do whole wheat flour. I’m still working on that. I keep my flours and grains in 6 gallon buckets stored under some of my canning shelves in the basement.
Yes, I’m a little OCD. Yes, I know the shelves are bowing a little. Drives me nuts! I’ve got a bunch more shelving on the opposite facing wall. Everything in the buckets is organic: durum semolina for pasta, rye flakes, steel cut oats, arborio rice, wild rice, green coffee beans, whole wheat flour, unbleached all-purpose flour. The wooden crates are where onions, squash, and sweet potatoes are stored. The large jars on the shelves are dried herbs, spices, dried fruit, and other things of that sort. I have an arsenal of herbal witch doctory on that shelf. Top shelf is elderberry juice, jams, salsa, and assorted pickled veggies and relishes. If you’ve ever received a food gift from me, it’s a good bet it came from the top shelf.
So, on to bread making. This is my base recipe for bread, and I vary it depending on what I’m making. If I’m making raisin bread I’ll add more honey, a little cinnamon and some raisins. I’ll form it into focaccia and slather it with olive oil and olives, artichokes, or roasted red peppers. I’ll form it into bagels, boil, then bake them. This recipe produces one average sized loaf. I don’t like to make 2 loaves at a time, since I prefer fresh bread and there are only 3 of us in the house these days.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Up to 1/4 cup honey
1 to 1 1/2 cup warm water
I usually just throw my ingredients into the bowl without measuring: one part each of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour, about 1/2 palm full kosher salt, a scant palm full active dry yeast, and a palm full vital wheat gluten. I decided to be kind and give you some measurements. I warned you I break rules. No messing with extra containers, softening yeast in water ahead of time. I just dump all the dry ingredients together and give them a quick stir with my spoon.
A little bunny trail here with some information on ingredients. Bread does not taste good without salt. (period). Most recipes don’t call for enough. I use more salt. Salt does tend to slow down the activity of yeast, yeast feeds on sugar, and this recipe includes plenty of honey. See where I’m going with this? I’ve never had a problem with the salt preventing the yeast from doing its job.
I include vital wheat gluten when using whole grain flours because I get a better rise from the dough as well as a lighter crumb in the finished bread. You can choose to leave it out, but you’ll probably end up with a heavier more dense loaf of bread.
Next, combine the honey, egg, and warm water. A quick aside on water amounts. The amount can vary depending on your flour. My current batch of flour needs about a cup, but I’ve needed to use as much a 1 1/2 before. If your dough is a little too wet, just work a little more all-purpose flour into it when you knead the dough. I’ve developed a sense for how the dough should feel, and know when I need to use more or less water.
Don’t worry if the warm water causes the egg white to get a little hazy, because you’re just going to mix it up like this.
And then dump the wet into the dry.
Stir it until it forms a rough dough.
Dump it onto the lightly floured counter top and knead for about 5 minutes. At this point I walk away from it, and let it rest for 5 minutes while I do something else. I took the time to refill the nearly empty flour canisters I keep on my counter. Knead the dough for a few more minutes, until it feels smooth and elastic. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to coat it.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it in a warm draft free place to rise until doubled in size. Rising time will vary depending on too many factors to list. Expect anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for the first rising. This batch took 2 hours because the house was cool this morning. This is one of my favorite vintage tea towels. It’s too pretty to use for any messy kitchen work, so I use it as a proofing cloth.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it a few times, and place it back in the bowl with a drizzle of oil to rise a second time. The dough will rise more quickly the second time.
After the dough has doubled a second time, punch it down, knead it a few times, form it into a loaf, and set it aside to rise for the last time. I love crusty free form loaves, but my guys don’t care for crust, so I bake the bread in loaf pans. I do whatever it takes to keep them from requesting that soft, tasteless, chemical laden, plastic wrapped stuff that passes for bread these days. This last raising will take as little as 30 minutes.
Once it has doubled, place the loaf in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes. Yet another bunny trail….. baking time and temperature. 350 for 30 minutes is what works for me. My oven is not properly calibrated, so I bought an oven thermometer to make sure my oven is properly preheated. As I mentioned before, my family likes a less crusty, soft crumbed bread. If I had it my way, I’d make a crusty free from loaf baked at about 400 or 425 for about 20 minutes, on a stone, and with steam for the first few minutes of baking. My point being, do what works for your quirky oven and personal taste.
I know you’re supposed to let the bread cool before cutting if you don’t want to mangle your loaf. Mangling be damned! I wanted a piece so I cut it right away, slathered it with some homemade strawberry vanilla jam, and made myself very happy.
I thought I had better put in a quick appearance. Thanks to a mild case of the winter blues, my motivation level has been almost non-existent. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a legitimate case of the blues, and I hope it’s the last for long time to come. I’m dreaming of sunshine, warmer temperatures, green things, and dirt under my fingernails.
I’ve been getting organized, and all of my seed starting paraphernalia is ready to go. Egg production in the chicken coop is on the rise…. a sign of days lengthening into spring. Speaking of chickens, I was cheered a little by a sight outside my window. Not exactly the kind of bird I was hoping to attract to the feeder, but a bathing beauty all the same!
Do you remember this yarn from a previous post? I said I was going to make a hat for my niece for Christmas, and I did. It ended up being a big hit with my mom and sister. I think my niece tried it on when she opened it at Christmas, and then again when this picture was taken. Apparently, my sister has stolen the hat and wears it a lot. My mom put in a request for her own.
The pattern is not my own. The yarn I used was wool hand spun and hand dyed by my friend, Maggie. I used size 13 double-pointed needles, and stuck to the pattern. I hate circular needles, and avoid them whenever possible. I was able to complete the hat in about 2 hours. The original hat is neat, but I love the crazy nubby texture I got using Maggie’s yarn a lot more. This was the first time I had worked with a single ply yarn. I’m hooked on it now, and have put in an order for more. It just so happens Maggie has been spinning up a storm, and listed a bunch of her single ply yarns this week. I’m going to shamelessly plug her Etsy store, because a little bird told me she’s renovating her kitchen right now, and is trying to raise some funds to pay for new flooring. Maybe I should have titled this post “Fundraising for Flooring”. So, go now! Buy some yarn from Girl With A Sword at Etsy. Make this hat. Or, something else.
This is my grandma. She’ll be 93 next month and she’s one of the feistiest girls I know. This past week has been rough for Grandma. She and Grandpa had to move from their condo into an assisted living apartment at the “Big House” (as Grandma calls it). Grandpa has been fighting cancer for a couple of years, and came out of remission this past fall. Just before Thanksgiving things were a little touch and go, but he’s doing much better now. However, they and my family realized it wasn’t a good idea for them to continue to live completely independently. So, this past week my parents, aunt, and uncle have been helping Grandma and Grandpa go through all of their belongings, choosing some things to go in the new apartment, some into storage, and some to get rid of.
Apparently, Grandma has been hoarding linens for about the last 70 years. My parents had loaded up most of her linens, and although it was tearing her up, Grandma agreed that it would go to Goodwill. I’m so glad my mom called to give me an update, and I was able to stop the train! I wonder if there is a gene for fabric/fiber junkies? Everyone (except Grandma) thought I was nuts for wanting a bunch of ”junk”, but they happily agreed to give it to me. Do you have any idea what 70 years of collecting household linens looks like? I can tell you that Grandma had to buy one or two sheets a year to explain what I got. I found almost a couple dozen vintage sheets that appear to never have been used. Can you say gorgeous!
There were also some small retro, card table sized tablecloths with floral patterns.
There were a few random pieces of lace Grandma had tatted. There were four of these. I’m not 100% sure what they are, but I think she may have used them on the arm rests of a couple of upholstered chairs.
Aside from the vintage sheets, I think some of my favorites are these striped tea towels. I already own a few, and I’m always on the lookout for more. I now have a lifetime supply of vintage tea towels that look like they are brand new. The scary part of all of this….. there’s more to come. My mom told me they found some more sheets and another whole box full of tea towels. I’m really glad that I’m going to have some of my Grandma’s favorite things. There is so much here, that I’ve decided to share some of it with my very creative friend, Maggie. It would just be sinful to keep all this fabric-y beautiful-ness to myself.
I’ve got anther seasoning blend for you already. It’s just that time of year. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been grabbing as much as possible from the herb garden before the first hard frost arrived. A freeze was predicted last night, so about an hour before sunset I went out to the garden and picked the last of the green tomatoes. I also covered the peas, greens, and a few herbs with some sheets. Sure enough, there was heavy frost on the ground this morning and the bird bath was covered with ice.
With a glut of freshly dried herbs and seeds, I decided to replenish one of my favorite spice blends for seasoning sweet potatoes and other winter root vegetables today. I’m honestly not sure where I came up with this particular blend, but I’m glad I did. You can use pre-ground coriander and fennel, but I highly recommend using the whole spices and toasting and grinding them yourself. Your taste buds will thank you. I heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and dry roast the coriander and fennel until the seeds begin to pop and smoke. I always keep the pan moving, and remove the seeds to a big plate at the first sign of smoking.
Sweet Potato & Root Vegetable Seasoning
2 parts ground coriander seed
2 parts salt
1 part ground fennel seed
1 part crushed dried basil
1/2 part ground cayenne pepper
Blend together and store in a jar. Toss your favorite root vegetables with a little olive oil and this seasoning blend, and then roast in a hot oven.
These guys are VERY skittish, and I’m not able to get very close to take pictures. I had to crop the pictures very close to give you a good view. I’m not sure if this is aggression, or if this peacock thinks he’s courting. We think these pretty birds have wandered from one of our neighboring Amish farms, and will probably start trying to find the owners this weekend.
Isn’t my husband a funny man? See what he left on the nest boxes out in the chicken coop? Just after dark last night he reminded me to go out and shut the chickens in for the night. I always grab a flashlight before I head out to any of our barns after dark. I’ve run into far too many skunks over the years. Imagine my reaction as I was reaching for the handle of the coop door, and the beam of my flashlight swept over this. The door handle is about 8 inches from this little guy’s position. It’s a good thing I’m not a screamer, or the neighbors would be deaf this morning, judging by the way my heart almost leapt out of my chest. Any suggestions as to how I should even the score?