Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Blather

Just outside the window is our Chanticleer pear tree. This particular variety of pear tree was chosen for it's practicality rather than productivity. Most pear trees in this area are Bradford Pear, a fruit bearing tree.  That quality is negated by the tree's susceptibility to splitting at inopportune moments such as during high wind conditions or ice storms. Both conditions are known to happen in this corner of Kansas. The Chanticleer Pear is a taller specimen and much hardier in severe weather conditions.
While the tree isn't fruit bearing, inedible- at least inedible to humans, berries or seed pods grow after the tree blossoms in the spring. These berries or pods are becoming more visible now that the tree is shedding its leafs. By the time the branches are bare of leafs, birds will descend upon the tree to feed on the berries. Last year, robins were the prevalent gastronomes and they were here in numbers. Robins aren't known for gathering in large flocks but they did gather here, up to forty at a time on or on the ground below our pear tree. They aggressively chased other types of birds away. Their behavior made us wonder if the robins were drunk. This year's show should start in about ten days or so.

Book Review! "The Big Burn" by Timothy Egan turned out to be an excellent read. The book details one of the largest forest fires in the US in 1910 in the Bitterroot Mountain chain located along the western Montana-Idaho border line, stretching from as far south as Yellowstone National Park and north through Glacier National Park into Canada. The area that burned covered more square miles than the entire state of Connecticut in the eastern US. Even though I've visited both parks by car, I have a hard time grasping how enormous the burn area was. Mr Egan has provided his footnotes and resources from his research for the book. One of Mr Egan's earlier books was "The Worst Hard Time" about the Dust Bowl Era in the Great Plains area of the US during the 1920s and 1930s. That's a book worth reading as well.

"Here's to Life" is an excellent CD by the late Shirley Horn. Besides being a "desert island" worthy disc, the recording provides a thorough test for the quality of your stereo equipment's reproduction ability. Ms Horn is an artist worth listening to.

"Live at Monterey" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience brings a smile to my face each time I hear it. While Jimi Hendrix was known for his spacey guitar playing, the band in this recording had elements of speed metal, thrash guitar, and perhaps even a precursor to the punk music scene. All that happened way back in 1967, just before I graduated from high school. It's hard to find a category that could contain or describe all the artistic creativity of Hendrix. Compare that to the compartmentalized, molded for appearance, and scripted for money groups that currently occupy popular radio. The only guitarist playing these days that I've heard that can play at a similar level is Bill Frisell.

Enough is enough for today. Add your recommendations for books and music whenever the notion strikes you in comments.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

It's a Cupboard Bread

Sooner or later, if you bake bread, you'll come up with a cupboard bread. Others might call it a pantry loaf, or a dump truck loaf but they're always a combination of odds and ends of flours or whatever is handy because you don't want to go down to the supermarket for more flour. This is my second loaf of odds and ends this year, IIRC, and probably won't be the last.

This one turned out to be a halfaway point between Pioneer Bread and Anadama Bread. I used honey as in the Pioneer and used butter as the Anadama calls for. Both call for using corn meal but this time around I had white corn meal instead of yellow. There are other differences, enough to justify a new name but I'll wait on that until I bake this a couple more times. The corn meal lends a pleasant sweetness to the bread, something akin to what corn grits do in the grain bill for a batch of American lager beer. Because the corn meal is coarse in comparison to flour and has no gluten, the oven spring was only fair. I think this formula would be better suited to a pan loaf.

150 g 80% hydration starter

Soaker #1
65 g bolted Turkey Red whole wheat flour
65 g water

Soaker #2
65 g white corn meal
65 g water

Start soakers about 4 hours after the starter is built. Cover with plastic wrap and keep around 70-72F.

Main Dough
270 g Bread flour
136 g water at 85F
30 g unsalted butter, about 2 Tablespoons
8 g kosher salt
15 g honey, 1 tablespoon

I didn't feel the need to use more honey in the loaf even though the Pioneer Bread recipe calls for 2 TBS because of my previous bakes where I thought the corn meal was adequate sweetening. Had I used a hard red winter whole wheat flour, I might have followed the suggestion to use 2 TBS. Susan's Magic Bowl technique was used in the first 15 minutes of baking.

My suspicions are that a bread like this would be too much work to be profitable for a bakery and has too many steps for a classroom bread. It definitely produces a lot of bowls and dishes to be washed. The flavor is definitely good and with more practice on shaping, I might get that better oven spring.

The area has experienced more frosts this week so our flowers are few and fading fast. There is still no relief from the drought we've been experiencing so any transplanting of day lilies and daffodils that I do this weekend will have to be followed up with watering in. So far, I've restrained myself from planting garlic but Halloween is on Monday and that has worked as a date previously. It must be working, there are no vampires near here that I know of.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Killer B's Musically

This afternoon's Beer o'clock tunes were Bach, Buffalo Springfield, and Browne, Jackson. That's enough of the cheap devices for opening today's post.

Today, I noticed that the Rose of Sharon bushes had leafs of gold, indicative of another approaching cleaning chore around the yard. However, during the season that the bush is bare, birds will perch among the branches and swoop over to the feeders on the north side of the house. I've seen a junco in the neighbors' yard recently but it seems a little early for them to arrive. When they do arrive, they'll arrive in numbers since their habit is to be in a flock.

I have a new, unidentified burrowing pest in the backyard. Lately, I've been finding what a golfer would describe as divots of grass around the garden. There are no runs so it's not a mole. I guess I should check with the County Extension agent's office for more information.

My attempt to juice up or strengthen my starter hit a snag yesterday. Usually it thrives on a diet of AP flour and rye at an 85/15% ratio but that didn't do it. Aficionados may disapprove but I switched the rye component to Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo, something that worked before. It appears to be correcting the weakness but now I've got to figure out how to use up the extra starter that will build up in a couple loaves. Whatever I chose, they'll have to be enriched for some shelf life or freezer time. The three likely recipes or formulae are my house loaf which is essentially the same as my psomi formula, Pioneer bread, or Anadama bread. If anyone in the audience has tried these loaves and has an opinion, the phone lines will be open until 7PM CDT, 26 Sept or 0200 GMT, 27 Sept (I think), cast your vote by commenting. All decisions will likely be undemocratic and poorly reasoned but fire away by all means.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Turkey Red on Rye

The top two pictures were taken on Mt Desert Island, ME, home of Acadia National Park. Cadillac Mountain, which is located inside the park, is the first spot in the US to greet each new dawn's light. Mrs PG and I have been there twice and both visits have been fun. During our stay, we were dining dockside in Bar Harbor and listening to the conversations going on around us. First, one, then two, and finally three tables all announced that they were visiting from Ohio and then started talking about where they lived in the Buckeye State.

The loaf didn't start out as a miche or a variation on my psomi recipe. I shaped the loaf as a boule and proofed it with the seam side down. I thought I was doing well because I had gotten such good surface tension during the shaping. The purpose behind proofing seam side down is that when the dough is loadied onto your peel, the seam will be on top. Usually, a boule is slashed to allow for expansion. In this case, the expansion is expected to force out the dough and burst along the seam lines on the top of the boule leaving an irregular and hopefully artistic appearance

My expectations for the appearance weren't met. I can think of two possible reasons; the first being that I had too much surface tension and the second was that the yeast wasn't active enough for the job. The first explanation is more likely. Rather than being disappointed, I'm going to repeat the surface tension method on my next boule and slash accordingly. To eliminate my starter from being suspect in Tuesday's loaf, I'm doing a two stage build to renew the madre. If time permits or I get that wild hair, I could even go to a three stage build if I'm willing to store some of the second stage as a pate fermentee, old dough, in the freezer. I've been guilty of sillier behavior than that before.

The bread itself is just fine. I used just flour, water, salt, and my starter for the loaf so it's not an enriched loaf. It's keeping well enough that I'll run out before the bread dries out.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Imminence of Frost

Some of the counties to the west and northwest of Kansas City experienced their first frost this morning. I can expect to see the annual flowers decimated by tomorrow morning. I've spent some time cleaning up my garden with the good intention of preparing a bed for next years garlic. A trip to the local Home Depot included purchase of some mushroom compost and composted cow manure to revive the soil after this year's less than optimum gardening season. They also have started to display this year's models of snow shovels. That produced a kind of grim desire to upgrade my snow fighting armaments. I know I have to shovel snow and no one can make me enjoy it so there may be a new device to make the misery more brief than years past.

I was surprised to find some jalapeno peppers worth picking on the last hot pepper plant left standing. I had picked the plant before we left for New England and thought that there'd be nothing of note when we returned. Now I have a surplus of the charming little pods. They may not have the layered flavor profiles of New Mexico chile peppers but their exuberant, grassy flavored heat has earned a place in the freezer and in my kitchen for winter consumption.

The rosemary plant is still alive after I dug it up and transplanted it into a flower pot. With a little bit of luck and TLC, it may survive the winter on the table next to this keyboard.

Whether you have romantic notions about New York City or not, I certainly don't- I'll take the Hub of the Universe any day, "The Bridge" by David McCullough is a worthy read. The central character is the Brooklyn Bridge and its story is filled with adventurous engineers, a noble wife, scoundrels, corrupt politicians, a morally confused preacher, and immigrant masses yearning to be free and make a dollar. I couldn't help  myself from enjoying the story.

Fans of baseball and American cinema will find a good story well told in "Moneyball". Brad Pitt has a role that doesn't call for a portrayal of someone heroic or a smoldering hunk for women in the audience. At age 44, it's a little bit difficult to set the hearts of all women a flutter. Anyways, this is a case where he's cast as a regular guy willing to shed his safety net for to innovate a sport that revels in its traditions. "Moneyball" is going to be around for a while because it's about baseball, not the actors.

There's a change in the weather and a change in my starter. It seems to be slowing down so it's time to work on energizing it without a lot of discarded starter. I'm thinking about using a series of 70% hydration builds kept in the cellar to use the cool temperatures to increase some of the flavor bacteria as well. Using chile de arbol peppers may energize me but they won't do much here. I have a recipe proofing as I type that may assume the cheap novelty name of "Turkey on Rye". I'm using both bolted Turkey Red flour and a medium rye flour, hence the deplorable attempt at humor. Bad taste in humor aside, the starter will survive and so will the blogosphere after this post.  There's no guarantee of a glory shot or two of this loaf coming due after this evening's planned bake but there will be an assessment and possibly more feeble humor.

Click on the post and take your chances.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rebooting the Starter or Back in the Kitchen Again

Mrs PG and I are back from our trip to New England to visit my parents and other family members. The expected colorful foliage hadn't occurred by the time we got there and had hardly begun by the time we left. While we were there, we took some short excursions that proved to be fun and loosely connected to my baking.

Orchard Hills Bakery in Alstead, NH was visited on a whim on a damp and rainy day. Alstead is a small New Hampshire town that you'd never guess has a fine bakery hidden away on a gravel road outside of town proper. It's located on a farmstead that was once owned by the proprietor's grand parents.  After tasting Noah Elber's breads you can be sure of two things; first, that his grandparents would be happy with Noah's achievements and second, that you'll recognize how much more practice you'll need to approach the quality level of his breads. My estimation is that I need to bake around 600-700 more loaves before I can realistically say I'm close. Don't let my shortcomings prevent you from visiting the bakery, it's worth the trip over the bumpy roads and do use a GPS to find the address.

We stopped at a Hannafords supermarket in Ellsworth, ME to look for some local foods. I found some Raye's Mustard and some buckwheat flour from the Bouchard Family Farm in Fort Kent, ME. I've never used buckwheat flour before so I no longer have any excuses.

Gilbertville, MA is the home of Rose32 Bakery. The Mitchells, who previously owned the Grace Bakery of San Francisco, have a good thing going on in what was once a gas station. Using a Llopsis oven imported from Spain for their baking, they offer European pastries, breads, breakfast and lunch, coffees, tea, a limited selection of beer and wine, and excellent service. The bakery is another reminder for souls such as I to practice, practice, and practice some more.

Not long after we returned from New England, I rebooted my starter to bake one of my "house" loaves. There are no glamor shots of the loaf and none called for. I like the flavor but the crumb is tight and nondescript looking. I have a couple of loaves planned for next week and hope to have my sense of procedure back in form after they're done. One of them will be an Anadama loaf, probably using ADY rather than my sourdough starter. I found a recipe for buckwheat baguettes on the Farine blogsite so I may try my hand at those or simply use the dough for a boule.

Outside in the yard are the tell tale signs of a rapid autumn. The leafs are falling from the trees but more from dry weather than anything else. Chickadees are the only birds I've seen at the feeders in the past few days but that paucity of guests may have been caused by the birds depleting the food in the feeders while we were on the road. It may take a few days before they realize the cafe is open again. The ground is dry and the clay soil hard from lack of rain. That makes plans of transplanting daffodil bulbs and day lilies seem futile for now. While there's a rumor of rain on Monday, that waits to be seen. Our first frost may arrive by Thursday which will help rid us of insects in the yard but it will also kill the remaining annual flowers that now have their brightest blooms of the year. The quality of the light is changing from the warm tone of autumn to the austere harshness of winter. Maybe that will give me the motivation to try my hand at oatmeal-cranberry cookies. The name does sound good enough to warm up a November afternoon.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.