Research, Research, Research

My journey with making bread using levain, my own starter made with just whole wheat flour and water, started last summer and this week, my research with adjusting the amount of water and flour to mix, the length of time to let the dough sit before adding the levain, the amount of time to let it rise, how and when to shape the loaves, the amount of time to bake them in dutch ovens with the lids on and then with the lids off finally paid off.

During the week I did more research and was quite pleased with the result of the three loaves that came out of the oven. This morning’s bake for today’s Mt. Vernon Farmers Market came out the way I wanted. All it took was research, research, research. You can rely on recipes only so much. After that it is a matter of your hands learning, and you discovering what your flour, your water, your levain, your oven, your kitchen wants in order for the bread to come out the way you want it.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Blue Sky Returns

The sky is blue again. Sunday’s rain, which left the mimosa blossoms looking like sad, wet feathers, washed all the smoke out of the sky, and pushed it over the mountains. The birds can now see where they are flying. When I head down into the valley, I can see the San Juan islands once more, their forested peaks rising above a shimmering sea.

The one alarming thing about the rain was seeing Satan sliding along the wet pavement. In all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a snail so big. This spring is the first year I’ve even seen a snail in the garden. It was a snail no bigger than a gnat, which I crushed as soon as I saw it. Rest assured, this beast is no longer in the land of the living either. All the more reason to hope that Claire hatches the five duck eggs she is incubating. Once the ducks are grown, I will give them the whole vegetable garden to roam, where they will devour all the slugs and any snails they find.

It’s interesting how hens lay eggs with subtle differences from one day to the next. The chicks below are having a feast with the tofu I gave them. Tofu is high on their list of most desirable things to eat. Perhaps at the top of their list is watermelon. They will pick a watermelon until its rind is paper thin.

Posted in Happiness, Reflections | Leave a comment

Aliens in the Garden

Baby cucumbers look like aliens, their little bodies covered with long spines. It’s almost hard to believe that these tiny, light green aliens will turn into dark, crisp, juicy cucumbers.

The okra are starting to bud. Their little buds look like little hands clasped in prayer. It won’t be long before I’m plucking them for market.

Posted in How Things Grow | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mach Kuchen – From Garden to Oven

I’ve never made Mach Kuchen from scratch this way, by first going into the garden and harvesting poppy seeds. Collecting poppy seeds is so much fun, I’m surprised it’s legal for adults to do it.

Looking at the way poppy seed pods are shaped, somewhere there must an insect that has evolved to live in poppy seed pods. The pods are made of bug-sized chambers with little doors with roofs over the doors, keeping the chambers nice and dry. With the seed pods lifted high above the ground, they’d make great apartments for flying insects to buzz off from in the morning, and return to in the evening.

Mach Kuchen is a simple dish. You start off with poppy seeds, grind them a bit, and make a jam out of them. The usual method is to use sugar, but this time I used honey instead.

You roll out a soft yeast dough into a thin rectangle, spread the poppy seed jam over it, roll it up, let it rise, and bake until it is done. Covering the top with butter and poppy seed is an option.

This may be the first Mach Kuchen made from poppy seed grown in the Skagit Valley. It’s certainly the first one made with poppy seed grown in this neck of the woods. Baking Mach Kuchen may bring good luck. This afternoon, the sky turned a shade of blue, the bluest it has been since the forest fire smoke blew in a week ago.

Posted in Happiness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Salad on My Arm

The benefit of having a vegetable garden is avoiding the supermarket aisles to get produce for your salads. A vegetable garden is a far more pleasant place to do your produce shopping than a supermarket. You don’t find verbena reaching for the sky to spread it’s delightful blue flowers springing out of supermarket floors.

You don’t find charming garlic bulbils clinging to their flowerheads in supermarket aisles. Nor can you smell the freshness of the earth around the basil plants, or see the way the ao-shiso plants smile, or the pride of tall leaks.

In the supermarket aisles you don’t see the glory of kohlrabi plants, their huge leaves sucking in the air and turning it into plump, sweet morsels. And you won’t find clover blossoms hiding among the poppies.

And best of all, when you’ve gathered a salad’s worth of fresh produce out of your garden, your kitchen is just a short walk away. You don’t have to get in your car and deal with traffic all the way home.

Posted in How Things Grow | Leave a comment

Weed Patch Potatoes

One of my potato beds is so full of other plants, some might call them weeds, that it’s hard to see where the potato plants are. Yet, when I dug up the potatoes this morning, the soft dirt yielded a mountain of spuds.

Including this monster which weighed in at 585 grams, over 20 ounces. This one is not leaving the house. We’ll feast on it for a few meals.

I tend to have good luck letting potato beds go feral. There is something about having a diverse set of plants growing with the potatoes. It’s not like the other plants are stealing from the potatoes. It’s more like they are all helping each other, each one contributing something to the soil that the other plants enjoy. It’s how plants evolved, with a large variety of other plants. It may be how they prefer to grow. It could be that potatoes, growing in thousand acre fields, with no other plants in sight, pine for the touch of a different plant’s roots tickling theirs, to feel a different plant’s leaves brushing their leaves.

Plants pump many exudates in the forms of thousands of complex sugars into the soil through their roots, and in the process, nurture a complex ecosystem of micro-organisms which in return provide the plants with an equally complex variety of nutrients. It may be that plant A nurtures micro-organisms that other plants never dreamed of cultivating, but that makes them say, “Wow!” how did you do that Plant A?

Posted in How Things Grow | Tagged | Leave a comment

Open Poppy – Embrace the Unexpected – Keep the Dream Alive

Yesterday our skies turned hazy. The Cascade Mountains became wrapped in gray gauze, the snowy peaks barely visible. Smoke from the forest fires in British Columbia drifted south, dulling the sun, blunting our heat wave. The 90ºF heat forecast for tomorrow will just be 85ºF now.

The garden has taken on its summer look. The ao-shiso 青しそ, Perilla frutescens, is ready to pick. This is a must have condiment for civilized people. If you can find it in a country’s grocery shelves, you know you’ve landed in a civilized land.

I went out into the garden this morning to plant more cabbage and beets, and was interrupted by the sight of poppy pods opening. When the unexpected happens, you need to embrace it. I set aside my cabbage seed planting to harvest poppy pods. Let them go, and they’ll fall to the ground before you know it, dashing your hopes and dreams of poppy seed jam and Mach Kuchen.

Few things delight like harvesting poppy pods. What other plant comes with seed chambers with doors that open when they are ready to harvest? To collect the poppy seeds, all you have to do is tip the pods upside down and tap them. The tiny black seeds pour out with ease. My dreams of poppy seed jam and Mach Kuchen live.

Posted in How Things Grow | Tagged , , | Leave a comment