What's a unemployed girl to do when she is starving without a culinary home? She sells off unneeded treasures to thrifty bargain hunters, purchases a former jewelery cabinet from a second-hand store, and calls the manager at the community complex to ask about "fridge space".
The sun (finally) broke through the snow clouds in April and the between the combination of boredom, excitement, frustration, and confidence, I've been doing my best to shake off the under-employed-cabin-fever-blues that sucked away much of my motivation over the past 4 months.
Caster wheels sourced, chrome polished, doors painted - twice. Lawns raked, rubber stamps designed, bread baked - and burnt. Spreadsheets for costing input, tables stained, succulents repotted, bread baked - and devoured. Applications mailed, cheques signed, furniture moved, pantry restocked, croissants baked - and my pants don't fit. My apron strings are long, thank goodness. Need a bubbling drink dispenser? Two years later I finally fixed it. Wanna buy it?
All this is to say - it's the beginning of another localicious season at markets and farms and I am super-motivated. Beginning this weekend, I'm taking my show on the road throughout the county to sell my baked goods & preserves.
First stop: Diva's and Dude's Day Out. Held at the Saxonia Hall in Aylmer on May 3, this show is open from 10-2 with over 40 vendors. Croissants, brioche cinnamon buns, 5 different sourdough breads, whole grain seeded crisps, berry & cream cookies, salted rye brownies, Kamut & walnut jam cookies, and good ol' fashioned tender, flaky pecan buttertarts are all on the menu.
The following week, May 10, Mother's Day weekend, is the opening day of the 2014 season at the Horton Farmers' Market in St. Thomas. You will find me there each and every Saturday morning from 8-noon smiling and sipping coffee (probably cold because I talk so much) until the fall. I look forward to seeing both familiar faces and tempting new ones with my siren pastries.
In case you need reminding - my mission is local, quality, and made from scratch. I don't use premade doughs from the grocers freezer, nor do I use margarine. I bake fresh, using as many locally sourced and/or organic products as possible including grains & flours, eggs, honey, cane sugar, jams, dried fruits, spices, herbs, vegetables, and lard.
I'm a chef by trade it's not a hobby, it's a passionate style of life.
Sometimes I wish I had more hands. That way I could mix dough and take better photos at the same time.
The pics below are a basic tutorial demonstrating a few techniques I use to make a loaf of bread. In this slideshow, I use locally milled Red Fife wheat (thought to be the oldest wheat varietal in Canada) and a natural leaven - otherwise known as a sourdough starter - to bake a loaf of country style hearth bread. The bread doesn't have a strong sour flavour, but does have a slightly sweet and nutty taste from the use of whole grain flour. The interior is very tender and moist with a mix of large and small holes; the crust is crisp and hearty. The dough makes great bread - but also fantastic pizza.
Enjoy the show!
If you follow me on this blog or on Facebook, you know I have a sweet tooth. And a bread tooth. And a cheese tooth. And a vegetable, fruit, and meat tooth. I focus on preserves and baked goods, but I'm also highly skilled (toot toot) in other culinary arts as well (duck legs are currently curing as I type for duck confit). Always having a fondness for pastry (both eating and preparing), the reason I decided to focus on the dessert side of the menu was because our area was/is severely lacking in high-quality desserts.
Restaurants are ordering their frozen cheesecakes and butter tarts from food distributors shipping out of Toronto. They also purchase buckets of ready-to-bake mixes that take the pesky hassle of actually making their desserts with carefully selected ingredients. As a bonus, diners get wonderful doses of unnecessary additives like artificial food dyes, artificial flavourings, three or four different sugars, hydrogenated vegetable fats derived from genetically modified corn or soy, and environmentally damaging products like palm oils. The carbon footprint left behind from the use of mostly imported ingredients (whatever is the cheapest!), and transportation costs are staggering. Often times they just taste awful.
The imported desserts do nothing positive for a local sustainable food system. Using 0% local and the lack of pride taken in preparing and serving high quality food is what really sours my mouth.
Keeping with the thought "be the change you want to see in the world", I've spent several years, and way more money than I can afford, to push the importance of supporting local. Yes, there are local businesses, and they need support, but
I'm talking about the local businesses that actually use local ingredients in their products. Those businesses have more challenges facing them in an already challenging industry. It frequently costs more because farmers' deserve to be paid a fair price for their work, but so do the tradesmen and women who turn them into value added products.
I've attended a few meetings in the past few weeks centered around local foods. Although I was surprised to find see the number of food-related groups and associations within Elgin County, a few gaps were apparent to me from my chef point of view. First, lack of culinary education. Second, kitchens to work from. Third, Elgin culinary history. Fourth, a formal analysis of Elgin's food cultures. Fifth, good bread.
With all the sourdough experiments taking place in the kitchen over the past several months, there always seems to be a partial loaf of bread waiting to be sliced. In the quest for oven spring, crackling crust, and an irregular gelatinized crumb, my recipe books have become dotted with post-it notes and the freezer full of back up loaves. Whereas I once ate porridge or fruit or eggs for breakfast, everyday now starts or ends with toast & jam. High-hydration bread doughs have changed baking for me.
Like many people, I struggle to find my place in the world. I am, at time, my own worst enemy and fiercest critic. But I also am most my loyal comforter, my own soul sister.
As I mature, I learn. That's pretty much what I have always done and I see no reason to ever alter that pattern. Why would I want to go to cheese making school? To learn, of course! There is only so much I can soak in from Youtube, Google, Chapters, and the library and I learn by watching, listening, doing, and most importantly - sharing. We all have our limitations to what looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like good food.
But perhaps it's time to do something different.
Although not religious, I do believe spirituality is an essential element in a healthy life and very personal choice. Kind of like food is. You are what you eat. A healthy gut is a happy gut.
It may be a new year, but 2014 feels very different. Like a door is closing behind me, gently; a well lit, untrampled green lies ahead. There is no defined path, but it is lined with friendly, familiar faces. Faces of those who have taught, inspired, and guided me. Supportive, influential, positive.
I owe it to them as much as to my self to succeed. Whatever that means.
Let's eat, shall we?
My contract working in the west end of the county ended in December which freed up some time to make a long overdue trip to visit one of my older brothers and his family (I think it's safe to say they are my family too). I brought along my sourdough starter and the Tartine Bread cookbook and although my family thought I was odd for traveling with a yeasty-smelling container of bubbling flour and dough, they did appreciate the flaky, buttery croissants it helped leaven. Sourdough doesn't have to be sour.
Still working from Tartine Bread, I was able to bake some English muffins as well. I've made English muffins many times with commercial yeast, but using the starter and fermenting the dough overnight produced an incredible tasting muffin complete with random sized bubbles just waiting to be filled with melted butter or oozing egg yolk. You don't get that kind of flavour with dough that has only been proving for an hour and a half. My only trouble was I didn't bring rice flour which helps prevent the wet dough from sticking to the cloth while it rises.
Now this, this is what I think is the green path that lies before me. In this picture are three cheeses, cabecou (made by moi), le cendrillon (from Montreal), and a soft-ripened cheese from Monforte Dairy in Stratford. The bread is slices of toasted corn & spelt baguette. Using locally milled flours from both HOPE Eco Farms east of Aylmer and Arva Flour Mills north of London, I attempted a recipe from Tartine 3. Tartine 3 is a cookbook written by the same chef as Tartine Bread, but the chef focuses on using whole grains and flours, much of them ancient or heirloom varieties, to produce bread and pastry with more nutritional benefits and most importantly - deeper flavours.
I bought a book. I bought a bag of flour.
I didn't buy a big enough bag of flour.
In the past months I've been tinkering away at a few projects. First, it's harvest season and I've been putting up as much as time permits. Along with fermenting and pickling, Joy from Empire Valley Farms has lent me her food dehydrator and it has been filled several times with tomatoes, chile peppers (I'm trying to make my own chile powder/paprika), and even strawberries.
Second set of projects include cheese making. I can tell you right now unless you own a cow or a goat it isn't any less expensive to make your own versus buying from a cheesemonger or grocery store. What is different is the sense of satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself.
Third project: sourdough bread. I know how to make it awesome, I'm just trying how to figure out how to make it more than one loaf at a time awesome without having to purchase a ten thousand dollar deck oven with steam injection. Follow me...
Challah Bread - Recipe
Makes 2 loaves
1 3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
Put water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a mixer, and mix with a spoon. Add two of the eggs, and the oil, and mix. Using the dough hook, add flour 2 cups at a time, and salt, and mix.
Put dough on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Grease a large bowl with oil, and leave dough in bowl, covered, for at least one hour or until doubled in size.
Punch dough down, knead again on a floured board. Take half the dough and cut into six even pieces, and roll out each piece into a roll about 14 inches long.
Arrange rolls side by side on the board, pinched together at the top, and braid: Move the furthest roll on the right over 2 rolls, then move the 2nd furthest on the left all the way to the far right. Move the furthest roll on the left over 2 rolls, then move the 2nd furthest on the right all the way to the far left. Repeat until the whole loaf is braided. Then either tuck the ends underneath, or twist into a circle to make a round challah. Repeat with the remaining dough to make a second loaf.
Place on parchment paper or silpat on a cookie sheet. Brush loaves with the remaining egg and sprinkle with seeds. Let loaves rise for 30 minutes, then put in a 350°F oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and shiny. Allow to rest 20 minutes before slicing.
Almost as long as we have been consuming grain and cereals there has been bread. Bread is familiar and is the staff of life to which hundreds of generations have used for sustenance. Did you know the words "companion" and "company" are derived from the Italian word companio, which means "one who shares bread"?
Bread is thought to have been part of the human diet for some 12,000 years which makes it one of the oldest subjects in food history. Archaeological evidence from Egypt confirms yeast was used in leavened bread as early as 4000 BCE. A lot has happened in those 12,000 years and there is no way I can elaborate on all of the fascinating details in one day.
In this post I will share with you a basic run-through of the evolution of bread with the intention of revisiting certain topics again in future. And since I am writing a simple overview of bread, it's only fitting that I include a simple recipe for a bread. The simplicity of the recipe is deceiving though; it's taken 6000 years to get here.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.