Sunday, January 29, 2012

Honey Multigrain Bread

Matt and I have been making what we refer to as Down to Earth Bread every week for the last six months (see Brenna's recent post for another adaptation of this bread). It's delicious and easy to make, and having finally gotten confident with that recipe, we decided it was time to branch out. I hunted around on the internet for some recipes, and found this one, which I have adapted quite a bit from its original form. It makes a light, barely sweet bread that is a maybe bit crumbly for sandwiches but ever so delicious for toast. At first I thought it would be more labor intensive than a simpler bread, but really the actual amount of time spent prepping it is very similar.

Honey Multigrain Bread  (makes two loaves)

3/4 cup cornmeal
3 cups cold water
3/4 cup warm water
2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup honey
6 tsp dry yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup wheat bran/wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
7 cups white flour

In a small saucepan, combine the cornmeal and 3 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in salt, olive oil, and honey. Let cool until lukewarm.

As soon as the cornmeal mixture is cooling, combine the yeast, sugar, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl or cup and place in a warm place; by the time the cornmeal has cooled, the yeast should be nice and bubbly. Add the yeast mixture, wheat bran/germ, and 4 cups of flour to the cornmeal mixture. Stir well, then add the remaining flour a cup at a time. Mix with your hands, then pour out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough steadily for 8-10 minutes, until the dough springs back when you push your finger into it. Form into a ball, place in a greased bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let it rise in a warm place until twice its size (approximately 40 minutes).

 In the winter, our best bread-rising spot is the shelf above our stove.

Punch down the dough, knead for another minute or two, then form into two loaves (or rolls) and place in greased 4x9 inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise again until lifted an inch or two. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F/177C for 40 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool on racks, then enjoy!

Anyone have any other good relatively simple bread recipes we should try?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Signs of Life in the Garden

I think it might be possible that we have crested the mountain of winter and are now heading downhill to spring- our garden thinks so, anyway, and I really hope it's right! . On a rare sunny day yesterday, I took a wander through the garden, and found that little growing things are popping up all over the place!
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Garlic sprouts! All that rabbit manure and straw kept them nice and warm until they were brave enough to show their heads. 

I had given up on the miner's lettuce I planted three weeks ago, after its tent was collapsed by wind, rain, and three inches of snow. We took the reemay off last week, and then yesterday I found these lovely little sprouts amid a thick layer of frost!

The rhubarb is putting up new little crumpled leaves. They look amazing up close in the sunlight.

Upstairs under the lights, my little micro greens are coming along very nicely. The potting mix I made using our homemade compost appears to be working wonders!

And finally, with the days getting longer, Mimi has started to lay! She's not very regular about it yet, but we get five eggs at least three days a week. Vivian still hasn't given us any green eggs, and Matt began to lobby again for turning her into soup. I struck a deal with him that we can't butcher her until we butcher our first rabbit (a fairly safe bet, it turns out, as mama rabbit offed her first litter of kits, but that's another story entirely), but now I am wondering if I might go back on that- yesterday Vivian not only broke into the garden twice, but sat on another hen's egg and broke it. She won't be around much longer if she keeps that up. 

Mimi in the sun. 

We've enjoyed two sunny (but cold) days after a week of endless heavy rain and lots of flooding south of here, but tomorrow it's back to the rain. We're going to escape it, though, if only for a day- we're headed up to Mt. Hood tomorrow with a group of friends for a snowshoeing/cross-country ski expedition!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fighting off Winter

Matt and I both spent this week in a winter-induced funk, thus my radio silence over the past week- my apologies. Our mutual blues were primarily due to the fact that once it stopped snowing on Wednesday, it began to rain and hasn't stopped bucketing down since. Last time I checked the rainfall website, we had gotten 5 inches in as many days. We've barely gone outside, gotten bored and not been able to come up with ideas for things to do to keep ourselves busy, and have been eating a lot of popcorn and watching a lot of Doctor Who. Not that popcorn and Doctor Who are necessarily bad things (I love me some Doctor Who), but we both feel better when we're staying busy and accomplishing things, and usually are much better at snapping out of feelings of boredom and stir-craziness. We managed to throw off some of the weight today by getting ourselves out of the house to hike around a nearby state park for an hour or so in the rain. It was so nice to be outside, if in the cold and drippy forest. We made ourselves a delicious dinner tonight, which makes me feel so much more alive, somehow. We cooked up the Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon from Dishing Up Oregon, which turned out to be an unexpectedly simple recipe, and oh so tasty. We ate it alongside steamed carrots dressed with garlic and lemon, and skillet potatoes with lemon, tarragon and thyme. And now we're eating a European-style dessert of apples and brie, feeling much better about life in general.

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Apart from exercise and quality food, I have found that the best antidote to the seemingly endless rain, cold, and fog is listening to reggae and dreaming about where we were a year ago this week: summer.

And also, Hawaii:

Can't you just feel the warm air? I love Portland and my life here, but this time of year, I think a little escapism is healthy! After that nice little dose of sunshine, I am feeling ready to head into another week and do it smiling.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Portland has been getting snow flurries for the last couple days, a pretty rare event around here. Luckily none of it has stuck, or else the whole city would grind to a halt (we get super excited about snow, but the majority of the populous has no idea how to drive in it). However, in the course of 15 minutes yesterday afternoon, we got a beautiful blanket of snow that made everything look like a winter wonderland, if only for a little while- it all melted away in the next half hour.

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Unfortunately, photos couldn't capture the antics of our entirely confused chickens. They've never seen snow before, and while they didn't seem to care when it was coming out of the sky, as soon as it covered the ground they began to freak out. Apparently they didn't want to walk on it, so the few that ventured out of the coop went jumping across the yard with wings flapping, trying not to make contact with this weird white stuff all over the ground, and making all human observers crack up. 

Have a great week, everyone, and may you be cozy wherever you are!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Menu Planning: How and Why We Do It

This week my good friend Alina asked if I could write a post going more in depth about how Matt and I make and use a menu plan, so I'll take a stab at it. We started using a menu plan back when we were traveling in New Zealand and had limited food storage space. By planning our menu for the next week, we could buy just what we needed and no more. Now, we use a menu plan for a variety of reasons:

1) It saves a whole heap of money on groceries- you know exactly what you need, and can buy your non-perishable ingredients in bulk.
2) It keeps us from eating at restaurants, because the obstacle of coming up with an idea for dinner is avoided.
3) It simply makes life easier- come home, look at the menu plan, know what's for dinner, and cook it.
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The conversation about menu planning ties in pretty closely with how we shop for groceries. Since moving into our house, we stock up on bulk staple foods about once every three months, and shop weekly for fresh produce and other perishables. These bulk shopping trips usually cost $200-300. For our stock-up runs, we shop at Costco and WinCo, and occasionally at other local coops for unusual ingredients or smaller amounts of particular ingredients. We always buy flour at Bob's Red Mill, which is marginally more expensive than other stores but much better quality and nutrition, and the Whole Grain Store is just down the road from our house! On our bulk shopping trips we stock up on things like rice, pasta, dry beans, lentils, couscous, flour, other baking ingredients, spices, butter, vinegars and oils, and big bags of potatoes and onions.

We also usually buy large packages of good quality fish at Costco, then divide it into meal portions and freeze those individually. We always have grains, pasta, frozen vegetables and baking supplies on hand, which allows us to limit our weekly shopping to fresh fruit and veggies and milk. We don't buy a lot of meat, usually purchasing several meals' worth at a time from a local farm. We eat meat about once a week. Whenever we do eat meat we make and freeze stock using the leftovers and bones. We also regularly cook up and freeze big batches of beans, and save usable veggie scraps in the freezer until we have enough to make a pot of vegetable stock (a trick I learned from Alina :). In the summer we grow our own vegetables and shop almost exclusively at farmers markets for produce. In the winter, we mostly shop at Trader Joe's for fresh ingredients, as it is the closest to our house (we don't count Safeway) and generally has good quality and prices. Our weekly shopping usually adds up to less than $20.

How We Make a Menu Plan

I've read about several different methods of building a menu plan (links below), but here's ours. We're not consistent about how far out we plan, but it's usually around 3 weeks. Each time our current menu plan gets within a couple days of running out, we sit down and plan out the next few weeks. We take a quick inventory of what we have in the cupboards and fridge, and on the pantry shelves in the basement. Then we pull out all our cookbooks and our recipe box for inspiration, and come up with something that looks like this:
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As you can see, we are fairly specific about the main dish. If it uses a specific recipe, we write that down ("Dishing Up Oregon, p. 70). Things like "stir fry" and "burritos" are things we have been making for years and don't use a recipe for. Side dishes include things like "brown rice," "quinoa pilaf," "roasted potatoes," etc. We don't usually get specific about what kind of vegetable we'll have; as you can see, I've usually scribbled down "Salad/veg" or sometimes "steamed veggies." What these actually become gets decided by the weekly shopping or what is currently growing in the garden. We usually buy enough fresh produce to cover about half the week's meals, and use frozen vegetables for the rest, at least during the winter. We try hard to make all of our meals include servings of protein, grains, and vegetables.

As you can see, the weekly shopping plays into menu planning. Our main dishes are planned so they can be made mostly with ingredients we always have on hand- pasta, eggs, frozen fish, stock. Before shopping for the week, we look at the menu to see if there's anything in particular we need, or if we just need to get some vegetables for side dishes. We try to put down at least one new or more complicated recipe each month or so, to make us try something new or go in search of unusual ingredients. One of the reasons I really love having a menu plan is you can make sure you're getting a variety of meal types. If we didn't have a menu plan, we'd probably have a stir-fry every other night and roasted potatoes on the others. We would also probably eat out a lot more than we do. Because the menu plan tells you what you're having, and you know you have the ingredients, it's really hard to say "actually, we're going to go out for dinner tonight." We also can plan for meals that create leftovers, so we almost always can count on that for lunch the next day. If we end up going to a friend's house for dinner, we just cross that meal off or switch it with another if there are specific ingredients that need using. If we have company, we usually just expand on what we were planning to have ourselves.

Some people plan for lunches as well, but we don't find this necessary. Like I said, we usually have leftovers, and we bake two loaves of bread every week so if we aren't eating leftovers lunch can mean sandwiches, steamed veggies and Parmesan toast, or we'll just whip up some quick rice and veggies. Other people get fancier with their menu plans, making several weeklong ones and rotating them, or mapping it all out in Google Calendars or such. We like just writing it down and sticking it to the fridge.

Hopefully some of you find this helpful and useful- I know I always like seeing how different people come up with different methods for things like this. If you want further reading on the subject, here are some really helpful posts on menu planning from some really great blogs:

Down to Earth
Simple Mom
Organized Home

Happy menu planning, and happy long weekend to those of you in the U.S.!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Small Victories

Sometimes, I get weighed down by worry about little things happening here on our little homestead, and then miraculous-feeling things happen that boost my spirits in a matter of seconds.  Recently, we've been worried and very annoyed because Lady Macbeth, our Australorp pullet, has become increasingly vocal, to the point of waking us all up with her loud and incessant squawking starting as soon as the coop light turns on at 6:30 AM. Not only are we losing sleep simply due to how loud she is, but the chicken coop is about ten feet from the neighbors' house, and if we're being woken up, I can only imagine what it sounds like to them. We have threatened Lady M with the soup pot, to no avail, and are planning to take a dozen eggs to the neighbors as a peace offering (they haven't complained at all, but it would be nice to be pro-active), but the situation remains a little worrisome. She is a great layer (all four of our original chickens are laying daily- no such luck with Vivian and Mimi yet) so we don't want to get rid of her, but loud chickens in the city just don't last. If worse comes to worse, we'll probably sell her to someone who doesn't mind the noise and doesn't have neighbors close by.

However, two seemingly small things occurred tonight that make everything seem better. First, we have determined beyond a doubt that we have a second generation of rabbits on the way! The first time breeding the rabbits, back in November, didn't take, but this time it is very clear that Duchess is "in kit," so we will have new bunnies around the 15th of this month! We're finally on our way producing our own meat.

The second small victory is that we managed to trap the rat that recently decided to take up residence in the garage. Rats are the last thing we want around (besides raccoons), and after the first couple attempts at trapping it with various baits failed, we discovered today that Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese is, in fact, the way to a rat's heart (and death). Not an entirely pleasant experience, but a very satisfying result!

Now if we can just get that chicken to shut up...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Garden Dreaming

It's January, and with everything chilly, wet, and dark, it's the time of year I turn to garden planning to keep the winter blues at bay. Over Christmas break, sitting by the fire at my parents' house, with my mom as consultant, I put together a plan for the next year's garden, made lists of seeds to order, and determined crop rotations and when I will need to start seeds, transplant, etc. Mom and Dad sent us home with a big roll of garden fabric (Reemay) for keeping beds warm and pests off, which will allow us to start growing things like greens much earlier in the year than usual. So a few days ago I tilled up one of the raised beds, added a bunch of compost, planted some miner's lettuce seed from Mom, and built a little tent over the bed (the cloth allows 75% of light through), and am hoping that we'll see sprouts out there sometime soon and that I'm not jumping the gun too much.

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Inside, we set up a light stand for our florescent grow lights, using Matt's surfboard stands from when he had a shaping room at his dad's house. Unlike last time I started seeds inside and the only space available was under my kitchen table, this time we have lots of space at our disposal. We contemplated setting up the lights in the basement, but it gets pretty cold down there, so we ended up putting them at the top of the stairs in the garret.

Matt is a genius with knots, and hung the lights on twine tied in a way that works like a pulley system so that they can easily be raised and lowered. The lights are plugged into a timer that gives the starts 16 hours of light per day. First thing when the lights were set up, I put together potting mix using some of our best garden soil and compost, and planted several kinds of winter greens and leeks in a tray, put it under the lights, and egged it on. Three days later, I have sprouts of mizuna, mibuna, arugula, red kale, and pak choy!

Just knowing that there are little green growing things in my attic makes me feel better, as does knowing that the days will only get longer from here. We even had to change the timer for the light on the chicken coop, because we're getting 30 more minutes of daylight now than when we first set it!

My seed order from Nichols Garden Nursery arrived yesterday, which was like another little Christmas, and I just got an email that my order from Territorial is on its way! I always get the majority of my seeds from these two seed companies, which are family-owned businesses here in Oregon. We went with mostly heirlooms this year, with a goal of beginning to save our own seeds. I'm really excited about some of the varieties in particular- Tall Telephone (Alderman) peas, Aci Sivri hot peppers (a Turkish heirloom brought to Oregon by a returning Peace Corps volunteer), and also several kinds of flowers that we hope will make our yard more attractive to bees and other pollinators.

I am trying a new approach to garden planning this year. Instead of just using a plain notebook where I jot down notes about when I plant, harvest, etc, I am using a little planner/calendar where I can use the monthly-planner pages to jot down what needs to happen when, and the daily-planner pages to note exactly which day I actually do something. I think having everything in a planner will make it much easier to go back and find the exact date of a certain planting than looking through a book full of scribbled notes.

My garden planner, drawings of our garden beds and crop rotations, and my new garden bible, The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, published by Seattle Tilth. I highly recommend it if you live in this area!

With all these visions of big heirloom tomatoes, fences and trellises covered in peas and beans, and bushes of multi-colored peppers dancing in my head, I can almost believe that spring is right around the corner. With that, I'm back to school tomorrow (where, exactly, did my month-long break go?!), and after this past week of cleaning, grocery shopping and organizing, with much help from Matt, I am feeling ready to take on another term of grad school, even if it includes a much-dreaded course in Biostatistics. If ever I need a break from all of those standard deviations and p-values, I can just open up my garden planner, see what needs to be done, and go get my hands in the dirt for awhile, right? 

Have a great week, everyone! I hope your new year is going splendidly so far!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Two Christmases, One Wedding, and a Happy New Year!

Happy 2012, everyone! We have had a fantastically wonderful holiday season, but I have to say, I am really glad the new year is here and the holidaying is over- I'm exhausted! Now I have one more week before I start classes again, and it will likely be full of baking, re-filling the freezer, cleaning and organizing in an attempt to feel prepared for the next bout of school.

On the solstice, Matt and I drove up to my hometown of Newport, Washington, where we spent five days at my parents' home, enjoying the cold, snowy woods (it didn't get up to freezing until Christmas Day), the delight of wood heat, and lots of time spent with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and lots of old friends. We went for lots of walks through the snow, played lots of music together, ate lots and lots of good food, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. It felt like a luxury to be there for so long. Here are some pictures from our first round of Christmas celebrations:

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 Matt setting the table for Christmas Eve dinner (shish kababs). Photo credit to Lisia.

 (Photo below by Lisia)
 Lisia took this photo of Matt, Tighe and I washing dishes from the upstairs trapdoor.

Our quarters, the sauna/guesthouse.

The kitchen table set for Christmas breakfast (Dad made pancakes for everyone).

 Snow falling on Christmas Day (note my parents' outdoor Christmas tree in the center of the photo)

On boxing day evening, Matt and I drove to Spokane, where we gathered with friends for a party that night, and then again the next evening at my brother's home to watch the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends, whose wedding ceremony was streamed live on the internet from Thailand! We projected it onto a blank wall and watched it large-scale! It was an amazing experience to be included in a wedding from so far away. All the best wishes to S and L for a long and happy marriage!

We drove back to Portland on Wednesday, I went straight back to work at my internship for Thursday and Friday, and then we spent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day at Matt's father's house here in Portland to partake in his family's Christmas Eve and Christmas traditions. They had all waited for us to be there before having their traditional meals (clam chowder on Christmas Eve and eggs benedict for Christmas breakfast!) and opening gifts. We had a wonderful time, celebrating Christmas and New Year's all at the same time.

 Matt and his dad enjoying their presents yesterday morning.

Stockings and croissants for early breakfast.

With that, it's time to go take down our own Christmas decorations and get my seed-starting lights set up. We came home from my parents' with some new seeds and some surplus garden gear as extra Christmas gifts, and I am going to embrace the new year by getting things growing just as soon as possible!
Happy New Year!