Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Hummingbird Sighting

The first hummingbird of the year showed up yesterday. The birds still amaze me with the way they hover in place while feeding. I guess that means I'll have to search the rubble and debris in the garage for a feeder and the feed. Barring success with that, it'll mean "Off to Wally World!". Two other birds have been hanging around outside the window, a downy woodpecker and a red bellied woodpecker. I expect that as soon as there are more insects in the trees that the woodpeckers will be after the bugs. OTOH, they're always welcome here in my book and corner of the world.
My forensic research loaf using Golden Buffalo flour turned out very well. I kept the same basic ingredients but this time I remembered to start soaking the GB about three hours before starting the dough. I needed an extra 30g of water due to the GB's needs to get the right level in the dough. My rough baker's math shows that dough ended up at a suspicious 75% hydration. That could be wrong. Necessity dictated that I simply proof the dough rather than use a retarded proof but the end product isn't bad at all.
I took a brief, one hour, class in using Excel spreadsheets to help keep track of my loaves. I have the Open Office 3.3 installed on this computer but so far, there aren't many great differences between the two programs. the major difference so far is price with the Open Office being free. Once I've got enough time in learning the ropes, I should be able to use the program to give me better, as in more exact, quantities and there should be no problem in just using the program to adjust for the different size loaves.
I should simply remember what Woody Allen said as I work through this project, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tornado Season in Kansas

It's tornado season in Kansas but despite the numbers being reported, I haven't seen one. I haven't seen one since 1972 when I first arrived in the Sunflower State. I did move around for about 14 months but I ended up back here on the premise that in those days it was easier to live here with little money coming in than somewhere where there would never be enough money coming in.
There were tornadoes less than 25 miles away today in KC, MO but if it weren't for TV and radio, I'd never have known. It looks like the rains are almost over and the threats of severe weather are diminished to almost nil. Hopefully, Sunday will bring about an anticipated change for the better with temps around 80F and everything green growing ferociously to make up for lost time.
I managed to find more room for more seeds in the garden. After finding some packets of beans, cucumbers, and lettuce that date back to 2008 and 2009, I figured I had nothing to lose. A new square bale of straw went into the garden as a mulch but it didn't go far enough for me. As soon as the summer heat arrives, maybe in two weeks or less, the straw will break down quickly. there is still some straw available but the expected poor wheat crop means that if I don't buy early enough, there won't be any for next year. The bales are already $5 due to corn for ethanol being more profitable in this area than wheat. I won't be surprised if straw goes up to $8 a bale for next year.
The peonies are almost all gone but for the late varieties that just started blooming. Roses aren't cooperative due to less than optimal conditions. We have one poppy plant that has finally produced lots of blooms. Besides being colorful, the plant isn't all that desirable to deer. Who knows what the deer won't eat when they're hungry? I could try cactus if I want to be extravagant with my money.
Today's pictures are of my last loaf, a learning loaf. I hadn't used my Golden Buffalo flour lately so I thought I'd use that in a 1/3 WW-2/3 BF loaf. I soaked the GB for about 45 minutes before mixing but I still ended up with some really firm dough for a 70% hydration loaf.There's a new starter cooling its jets in the fridge to slow down its ripening for use tomorrow. I plan on using the same basic formula to see if I can adjust details for success. First thing I'll change is to have a longer soak for the GB to see if a little more water will do the trick. I've also got a slightly larger starter for tomorrow and it's at 100% so that will raise the hydration by a fraction. If you look at the uncut loaf picture, you'll notice I did an incomplete job on shaping the dough before proofing. It didn't make a difference in flavor but I want the appearance aspect of my breads to improve. The County Fair comes up in August and I want two blue ribbons this year. Winning the bread class overall would be even nicer. Where was all this competitiveness when I was slacking off in school?
This loaf was good but I'm intrigued by the forensic search of how and why it didn't turn out as expected. There are worse and more self indulgent things to do than this little exercise in curiosity.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flour, Garlic, and Peonies

Mrs PG and I hit the road for Colorado about ten days ago. We were anxious to get out of town and see something and somewhere new. On our first night we stayed in Georgetown, CO, at over 9000 ft ASL. The locals told us the trick is to drink lots of water to help get acclimated to their altitude. The local beer, Tommyknockers, is quite tasty but doesn't work as well. I-70 west of Denver is a great drive. The Honda doesn't respond quickly at altitude and I was really jealous of the folks with turbocharged engines in their cars. We were both glad that we didn't have a tight schedule.

The next day we continued west going past ski resort towns that are expensive and not built for real people. I decided that we needed a little bit of off the beaten track and we headed up to Leadville, CO, home of the fabled "Baby Doe Mine", the original WW2 training grounds for the US Army's 10th Mountain Div., and the National Mining Museum. Don't miss the museum if you find yourself in the area. It's worth the detour. The mountain pass road to Aspen was still snowed under so that will have to wait for another day. That night we stayed in Grand Junction after a day of scenic view overload. The I-70 scenery is made possible by some great civil engineering work that has to be seen to be appreciated.

On Sunday, we took the long way to Durango, stopping for lunch in Telluride, whose charm eluded me due to the once again high dollar atmosphere. It's nice but it has to sell itself as an exclusive little town to survive. So I've been there, done that, won't likely ever go back. Well, maybe I might for the roads to and from there. They go way up high, over 10,000 ft ASL in one pass, and when I wasn't keeping my head on a swivel for road dangers, I could only wonder just what would have driven so many miners in the late 1800s to take their chances on prospecting for minerals or working the mines of the area. It's stunning scenery in many places and the towns all seem to have a story or two behind them. Many of the stories have something to do with the brothels in the towns.
While in Durango, we took the opportunity to go out to the Four Corners site and do the cliched photo thing of having my legs in two states and arms in two more. For those of you who are familiar with the Firesign Theater, this is additional complication to the question of how can you be two places at once when your not anywhere at all.

From Durango, we ambled down US 160 for quite a while on Tuesday, doing a lot of slow climbing up and down mountain roads until we got into south central CO where there's more farming and ranching than mining. I can't express fully how different this is with the open spaces, sparsely populated counties where the cattle outnumber the people, and occasionally, no utility lines to remind you of civilization that you hope to find along with a restroom at your next stop. You have to respect and sometimes envy the people who live there by choice but just shake your head about the people who live there because they are trapped there due to misfortune. It's not Kansas and it sure isn't Massachusetts either.
We spent Tuesday night in Colorado Springs and rolled out in the morning just before the snow came in from the mountains to the west. Our destination was Marienthal, KS, home of Heartland Mills, with whom I had placed an order for some flour before we left. Now, that drive on the High Plains was just as much fun for me though it lacked the grandeur of the mountains. It was 284 miles of two lane going from the almost desert conditions of eastern Colorado into the great wheat growing areas of Kansas, hammering down the road, grateful that I had brought some CDs because the radio was either farm reports, C&W music, or "classic rock". It wasn't NPR country soon after we left the Springs.

Marienthal is a little bump in the road these days. It's one of the towns that are desperately trying to hold on as the population shrinks due to lack of opportunity for their children. Farming is mechanized, ranching requires a LOT of acreage, and when your town can't support a convenience store, bar, or church, the sidewalks will have more tumbleweeds than people after 5PM. That's if sidewalks are even built.
The Heartland Mills operation is just great. They had my order ready and waiting at their warehouse. While I was paying my bill, I saw invoices for businesses in Lewiston, ME and Marietta, GA. FedEx and UPS help keep the orders going out and the business in operation. As we started on our way home, we passed a couple of feed lots. If you've never seen one, you'll won't ever think of your hamburger or steak in quite the same way after the experience. The rest of our trip wasn't too eventful. I didn't get a speeding ticket and the most notable things we saw were two billboards just off of the Ft Reilly Army post. The first one read, "Obama is a fraud! Demand his resignation now!" while the other one had a picture of the President and read, "Wannabe, Marxist Dictator". Ah, the beauty of Freedom of Speech is that it enables people to make fools of themselve in public if they can pay for it and they're not yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater.
When we arrived home that night, we had enough light to see that several peonies had started blooming. I counted eight different varieties today and I know there are three more that haven't bloomed yet. The peppers and tomatoes I planted hadn't died which doesn't necessarily have any justification for neglect as a gardening style. The picture of the chaotic mass of green stems is my mini-plantation of garlic. There are 7 or 8 types of garlic there, mostly hardneck and one softneck. If you won't grow your own garlic, you'll just never know just how good garlic can be.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Playing in the Dirt

I've been playing in the dirt lately. Yesterday, I decided to take the plunge and plant my peppers and tomatoes. For peppers there are Chile de Arbol, Goliath Jalopeno, Big Jim, and  Giant Marconi plants. The tomatoes include two San Marzano, an Early Goliath, and a Park's Whopper. All the plants looked a healthier shade of green this afternoon so the transplanting didn't hurt. I checked my garlic and so far, even though the moles have been burrowing underneath, I haven't lost any yet. Just to show them some love, I spread an organic fertilizer on the plot today. Our lettuce is almost at the stage where I can start thinning it out. Next week I'll add some herbs to the mix but not many. My oregano wintered over but it isn't very pungent yet. Of course, there will be rosemary, parsley, lots of basil, and a bulb of fennel for the monarch butterflies during their migration.
Speaking of migrations, I've yet to see any migratory birds. Between the cool weather and so many days with northerly winds, I shouldn't be surprised.
The great pre-summer flour stock up goes on. While in Omaha this past weekend, I scarfed up 20# of DM bread flour and 10# of DM AP. That should last me through August. Next week, we'll be passing through Marienthal, KS, home of the fabulous and famous Heartland Mills. I've placed an order for 2# spelt, 2# rye, 5# bolted Turkey Red-the same strain that started winter wheat production in Kansas, and 5# of whole white wheat. That stuff will take up some room in the downstairs freezer. I've worked up to a nice 30% WW/70% BF loaf so moving to 33%/67% should pose no problems. I may try a 50/50 loaf soon after re-reading Rinehart's  "Whole Grain Breads".
I'll have the flour and I need a new lesson in bread construction.