Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy New Year!

At some point today I looked outside and the wind was toying with the leaves in a very Octobery fashion. The morning started out chilly, but before you know it, the temperatures rose and reminded me that even if we are officially in fall now, Texas is still purty warm.

But what was it that made the breeze and the leaves look like October? The color of the sky behind them? I don't know, but whatever it is, I like it. Fall is my very favorite season.

My grain shipment, all 2,500 lbs of it, was supposed to arrive yesterday so I could bake today.

It did not.

I had just enough spelt berries left to fulfill an order of apple raisin challah for a farmer's market customer. Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A time to think about new beginnings, cast aside those regrets, say our sorries, and be thankful for forgiveness. A time to hope for sweetness to temper the inevitable bitterness that seems to seep into peoples' lives.

I have eaten challah, but never made it. My customer was thrilled to imagine challah made with freshly milled spelt, even if it wasn't kosher.

After a diligent search of several recipes, I felt very inspired. Almost in awe that bread has such an important part of our spiritual life: daily bread, the eucharist, a sweet hopeful symbol.

It was a joy to bake that bread. Unique, because instead of the usual list of different breads, the challah was the one and only star of the show (seeing as I was completely out of more grain). As it came together, I thought of the thousands of other women and men kneading and forming their challah, offering the gift of their hands to their loved ones, hoping for sweetness and joy.

The best reward for me was the review given by children, hungry after school, happy to demolish two loaves, regardless of the fact that it is not quite the right day! How in the world could we wait one more day??? And regardless of the fact that we are gentile thru and thru. "Great!" "Can I have some more?" Will you please make this bread every week?" "Mom, this is my new favorite!"

I guess I had better share the recipe with you. I hope some of you will give it a try. And to everyone, as we enter into a new season, may we all enjoy much sweetness.

Spelt Apple Raisin Challah

1 TBSP yeast

3 1/2 c. freshly milled spelt flour (or whatever you prefer to use)

1/4-1/2c warm water

3 lg eggs, plus 1 for glaze

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4c oil

1/4c honey

Mix the warm water, yeast and 1/4 c of flour. Let yeast dissolve. You can do this in a bowl, by hand, but I used my Bosch mixer. Add eggs, salt, honey and oil and the 3 1/4 cups of flour. Mix together well. Continue to add flour, but tablespoon by tablespoon, so you don't make the dough too dense and dry. Knead until dough is satiny, bouncy and very stretchy.

Set dough aside, cover well with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for at least two hours or until double or triple. Punch down and let rise again. Divide dough into two or four pieces. Roll the dough out into a rectangular shape, nice and thin, aproximately 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. The dough should be flexible and pliable. At this point, scatter chopped apples and raisins across the top of the dough, then fold it up lengthwise. Twist the long rope of fruity dough like a snake. I felt kind of like I was back at Kindergarten! Coil the dough into a spiral, starting in the center, then round and round to make a beautiful round loaf, tucking the end under and pinching to seal.

Cover the loaves and let rise until double. Brush an egg glaze over the loaves (egg, sucanat or sugar and a spoonful of water). Sprinkle raw sugar over the loaves and bake in a 325 degree oven until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when thumped. I had to cover mine with a bit of aluminum foil so the top wouldn't over-brown.

Even though the bread was made with 100% whole spelt, not even one little bit of white flour, it was tender, light, with an incredible crumb. I think we will have to make challah a Friday tradition in our house. YUM!

PS for you bakers out there, I know this is a rather brief, off the top of my head recipe. If it doesn't make sense, email me for more info and I will edit this post later. But there are several online sources to help you in your challah adventures and I hope you will give them a try!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Chicken Juice and Crispy Skin is the Best Part. If it is a grass-fed, non-chemical laden bird, that is...

After a bit of cajoling and boundary making, we managed, all six of us, to sit down to table this evening.

I can't tell you what a relief it is to me to have all the kids sitting around the table with me.

Even though the weekend is ahead and we are all going separate directions, everything felt better with chattering kids sitting around the table with me.

Tomorrow is baking day, so we may eat nothing more than sliced bread with butter, but today I pulled a chicken out of the freezer, one we brought from the farm. I sliced up some sweet potatoes, grown by my dear dad, and opened a jar of canned green beans from friends in Virginia. I can remember the windy September day I canned them, just before coming on a getaway trip to Texas with my mom and sister last year.

Maybe there is no better comfort food than a roast chicken, served with homegrown veggies on the side along with some good bread.

All my problems are not solved, I still miss my friends and wonder when the farm will sell. But things don't feel quite so bleak after some sweet family time.

I am thinking that if all families made a point to sit down at the table on a regular basis, roast chicken or stir fried tofu or macaroni and cheese, we might be a few steps closer to world peace.

Thank you, God, for supper. (And most of all, for my kids.)

Showers of Blessing

Crashing thunder, cracking lightning woke me in the wee hours this morning. Oppressive heat of the afternoon was replaced with cool wind and the smell of high desert rain, perhaps my favorite smell of all time.

Thunder continues and the rain pours down this morning and my skin soaks up the moisture. The trees in the yard are gently waving their uppermost branches, as if in a grateful dance of praise and worship, drinking in the gift. Water accumulates in low spots of the yard and I can't help but imagine the ducks from the farm and how they would love to splash and play. Perhaps the human duckies will want to splash and play once they get home from school. That is, if the water doesn't all evaporate by that time!

Can't wait to see all the high desert blooms that miraculously appear once they get a little drink. Phenomenal, really, the ability to hold on to life in a drought, yet summon up enough energy to bloom with the slightest of showers. Cenizo, the silvery barometer bush blooms a lovely lavender flower. Ocotillo, a crazy stick that reaches 8 feet tall, throws out green leaves and a gorgeous red flower on the top. The creosote casts her perfume for miles!

I think there is a message here for me, somewhere. Am feeling rather dry and bloomless right now. Tired of trying to figure out how to get the bakery going, how to be a good single mom, how to juggle two properties. How to navigate new relationships, missing my friends and all the old ways. I believe I will pray that God would give my soul a good watering. That he would show me what would cause me to feel refreshed so I could muster up a bloom. Perhaps sitting still and enjoying the smell, feel and sight of this rain is a good start.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Morning

Today I will try a new tactic.

It is a chilly morning, so I have wrapped myself up in the cozy prayer shawl Suzy made me and have sat myself out in the back to look at the pink western mountains, the clear blue sky and the solitary sunflower who is flashing a smile from her corner of the yard.

Busy town noises serenade me, the tap, rat-a-tat-tat of a jackhammer somewhere on the road project downtown. Cars pulling in to the doctor's office across the street. Beep, beep, beep, a big truck backing up somewhere, maybe near the jackhammer. Any minute now I expect to hear a train sound off as it enters the station.

Threaded throughout all those small town noises, a dog barks, several birds sing, at least 5 or 6 that I can distinguish. They are happy to hang out in our backyard in the pecan trees, the oak, and especially the figs. When the Turners built this home, there was no hospital nearby. No golf course. No doctor's office. No neighbors. At least no neighbors right next door. He was a professor at the University three blocks or so up the hill. She was an artist. He is now deceased, and has an animal science complex named after him. She is in a retirement home. I have never met them, but I can tell why they chose this spot for their home. Things have built up over the last almost sixty years; even so, I still have a lovely view of the mountains that surround our little town.

I have felt blocked in my blog writing. I used to love to get the kids to bed and then sit down with the computer to wrap up my day. Either sitting on the deck or in my room, windows open, nighttime sounds permeating our little world. Nowadays, Maggie and Patrick have cross country training, every evening of the week. They leave at 6:45, bike over the the highschool, then head to the hills with Coach and the team. Sweaty, flushed, exclaiming over the four miles or the six miles or the ice baths, they get in close to 9:00. We are having a hard time getting supper done together and figuring out how to read our book out loud at the end of the day.

Consequently blog writing, or any writing for the matter, falls to the wayside as we try to make bedtime happen in such a busy household.

Someone asked me if I missed the farm or regretted our move.

Without hesitation, I said, no, not one bit. Of course I miss our friends, but, no, not the farm.

Well. I have no regrets. I love our new home and the view and our town. It amazes me that the bakery is getting such a great reception and I am beyond grateful for our new customers and especially grateful to have a business that provides for our family that allows me to do what I love to do. Living in town in a smaller house with a big backyard, near enough to schools to walk is such a relief I can't begin to tell you. We can manage here. I am thrilled to be near family. This Friday we will head to Austin to celebrate my sister's birthday with her and her son and Mom and Daddy.

But maybe I miss the farm more than I wish to admit to myself. Maybe I am afraid that if I admit that I miss the farm, I will think that I made a mistake. Or maybe if I admit that I miss the farm it will open my heart up to yet another wave of grief.

Alright, already.

I do miss the farm.

I watched the full moon rise through the notch in the mountains as my friend and I enjoyed our Sunday night picnic at the Post park in Marathon. We ate (yet again!) stuffed patty pan squash served on a bed of spaghetti squash, everything covered with a fresh tomato sauce with peppers and onions and garlic and eggplant and herbs. All locally grown, purchased at the farmers market from new friends. Plenty of freshly milled whole grain italian peasant bread. A glass of red wine. Mason jars of cool water. Ducks splashed in the creek, evening birdsong echoed through the pecan trees, rustling cottonwood leaves made an overhead canopy. The evening sky metamorphosed, changing from clear blue to pink and orange and then black velvet. Warm dry air felt fresh.

I didn't miss the farm so much at that moment. We were surrounded by lovely nature, peaceful noises.

But when the days get busy and I forget to sit outside and listen to the whispering leaves there is an ache in my heart and I realize how easy it was to experience my world when I had to go outside and milk Coco every morning and every evening. I don't want to go back. I love it here. My heart has been in this region since I was around 12 years old. So even though I have no regrets and am very happy to be back home, I might as well be honest with myself and admit that I miss the farm so much it hurts. I miss the willow tree and how she changes throughout the seasons. I miss the sound of the wind barreling down our valley along the top of the ridge, just like a train rushing down the tracks. I miss watching the sheep make their way to the barn in the evening light, lambs skipping and leaping. I miss mucking the barn and homeschooling and family all together, planting and harvesting.

And if Philip were still alive, I guess we would probably still be there, somehow figuring out how to work things out on the farm. I miss him.

A monarch butterfly just flew past me and headed to the fig tree. Or maybe over the the pink and yellow lantana bush directly beyond. Tabby is sprawled on a warm spot on the patio, seemingly relaxed, but I know she is keeping her eyes open for lizards. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves and the sun makes her way up the sky, reminding me that I won't need the prayer shawl for too much longer. I have to get up and get to work anyway. Bills await my attention. I am still trying to find new distributors to provide my quality ingredients for the bakery.

PS Later today someone is bring me a load of manure from her farm down the road. I made a request via Freecycle. We have several other offers, I just have to go and get it. Some waste hay as well!!! Thomas and Patrick have laid out cardboard from moving boxes and compost we started a month ago to make a couple of garden beds. We might not get a fall garden growing, but at least we will be ready for spring. Lasagna gardening, here we come!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bakery-Still Trying to Find Our New Normal

Last Friday morning the electrician finished wiring in my equipment in the sunroom and I got to work milling spelt and wheat and rye and making all the usual breads in my new bakery. My muscles felt so relieved to be back to work rolling out pizza crusts and kneading dough.

So much of life is about being afraid, but doing it anyway.

I was afraid that I was a fool for thinking that I could pick up my bakery and move it to Texas and start up the business again. Afraid that if I baked a bunch of bread, people might taste it and say,"Gross, I am never going to buy her stuff."

Interestingly enough, on September 1, last week, Texas passed the Cottage Food bill, HB81. Home bakeries became a legal enterprise in the state of Texas.

I looked into other jobs, am still keeping my eyes open for the time being, but felt like I had to give the bakery a go. I have enough inventory for the time being. The know-how, the pots and pans and now the nice wiring. Everytime we went to the farmer's market I felt off, being a consumer instead of producer.

So, in faith, with hope and a healthy bit of fear, I got up at 4am, started the coffee, turned on the mill and got to grinding.

A new friend found out I was opening the bakery, and sent out an email to her local friends, who emailed their friends. The week before I had been placing business cards and flyers out and about. Before the afternoon was over, I had several customers come to our door who were excited about our breads, had several samples of fresh out of the oven loaves, and walked out with purchases. The next morning, Mom and Daddy went with me to set up at the farmer's market, and pretty much everything was sold out by noon. Except for one loaf of Milk and Honey bread I saved for the kids. Who were pretty darn happy to see real bread happening in our house again.

I was tired. But very thankful. And excited to be able to give my business a decent try here in our new town.

I am now baking on Tuesdays and Fridays for customer pickup at our house, and then market on most Saturdays.

PS Just a strange aside. Grief pops up at the weirdest moments. I wasn't going to mention this, but thought that maybe someone out there needs to know that they are not alone. I was typing labels in the late night. Needed to change address and name, as we are Taste and See Bakery, instead of Full Circle Farm-Taste and See. And now our location is Alpine, Texas instead of Troutville, Virginia.

Everytime I typed in Alpine, I felt a twinge of pain. As if my fingers were telling me, over and over again that we had moved on from one chapter of our life. I wanted to sob, but didn't because I thought that I was being overly sentimental. But I missed my friends deeply, and felt very alone at that moment.

But as we met new friends and customers that evening and next morning, I felt hope surge sweetly and was even more confident that we were in the right place. Funny how it can be so mixed together: sad, happy, confidence and fear, grief and hope.

There are so many things I wish I could share with you. Like how we joined some new friends and an old one on Labor Day and went to our favorite National Park, Big Bend, and swam in the Rio Grande, and bathed in mud, and climbed up a giant sand dune. And how the mornings tint the mountains pink, and the moon in the evenings is bright and tonight almost full. And how I rode bikes with kids to the Homecoming Parade last night and watched cheerleaders cheer and saw Patrick win a spirit award for the best camoflauge outfit (does that surprise you?). And how the evenings have been downright cold and the days mild and dry and little by little we are recognizing new friends in the stores and on the streets. And how there are people here who are thrilled about the idea of freshly milled spelt and whole wheat and for now I have a job, doing what I love.

But I still have bread to wrap up and I promised Nora I would help her with something. So more later. I am trying to figure out the new normal and my new blog posting slot in the day. My fingers miss typing.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

Patty pan squash are those funky little summer squash that are occasionally white, sometimes green and gold, scalloped edges, sort of like alien spaceships.

They are available at our farmer's market.

Tonight the kids asked if I really like those squash since we have eaten them once a week for dinner. I told them that indeed I do, as it is especially wonderful to eat vegetables grown by yourself, friends or acquaintances and that is one of the vegetables that grows around here.

It was so pleasant sitting outside with Mom and Daddy this evening, sun setting beyond the mountains. Mom exclaiming and grabbing her camera. Daddy remembering old Yankees baseball games. Nora swinging on the big swing since she is not much into steak. Or patty pan squash. Or broccoli.

The other night I prepared the squash as a main dish with ground lamb from the farm. Tonight the squash was the side and a wonderful side at that.

Here is how I fixed it: Slice off a teeny portion of the bottom so it will sit flat in the pan. Then cut the top part of the squash off, like a lid. Scoop out the insides, leaving a nice shell. While I am slicing and scooping, I saute a minced onion in a fry pan with a little oil or butter or bacon grease. Then when the onion is tender, I add the chopped squash innards, a minced red pepper, garlic, some cilantro and cook until just tender. I preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Tonight when the veggies were just done, I added a beaten egg and some leftover bread crumbs. Mounded the stuffing in the hollowed out squash, added a piece of pepper jack cheese, made by Mennonite people who live in Mexico on the other side of the border (purchased on a quick trip to Ojinaga, Coahuila, Mexico the other day.) After the cheese, I put the squash lids back on, sprinkled everything with a bit of Redmond's Real Salt, then poured green salsa, just a bit, over everything, along with a bit of Mr. Roberts' cows' heavy cream, since I love cream so much. Gilding the lily squash?

I threw the squash in a medium hot oven and bicycled over to the park for Rose's Girl Scout meeting.

When the squash is tender and the sauce is bubbly, it is done. Ours got a little crispy around the edges because I visited with the ladies for a few extra minutes, but it still tasted GREAT!

Even the kids liked it. Except for Nora. But she doesn't count. When we made it as a main dish, I sauteed lamb with the onions. Added rice instead of bread crumbs. A couple of tomatoes. It was divine.

And the best part of that kind of meal is almost every ingredient was locally grown, or brought to Texas from our farm.

I hope you will try patty pan squash. It is such a fun meal. Looks beautiful on the platter and adapts to any ethnic cuisine. Basil, rosemary and oregano with tomatoes would be italian. Lamb with oregano, a pinch of cinnamon would be a nod to the middle east. Curry powder, raisins, almonds. Yum. Imaginative cooking sure is fun.

Seiko, my patty pan squash source, told me she would have a half dozen more waiting for me this Saturday. Look out kids! No telling what Mom will try next! But Nora, don't worry. I promise I won't fix any for your birthday supper tomorrow night.