Thursday, 25 March 2010

chocolate! or, lifestyle choices

The farmer and I are making slow gradual changes in a way I like. The changes are to do with our eating habits, over the last year we have become somewhat complacent and indulgent with our food. The farmer is an excellent cook and appreciates encouragement and so meals have been getting more lavish. Recently we have become aware of changes associated with a year plus of rich food and plenty of it. It's time to cut back.

We've switched to cooking with coconut oil. There's plenty of information on the web about the benefits of using coconut oil, suffice to say here that it improves metabolic rate, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure. Plus it's delicious. I have been making the oil myself - a time consuming process, but rewarding as the oil we use is completely organic, fresh and unbelievably rich and wonderful. There are two ways to make oil from coconuts in the kitchen (at least for food grade oil): cold pressed and stove-top. For cold pressed oil you need an oil expeller. We have the loan of a PITEBA oil mill. I like it, but it could do with some improvements, it's not the cleanest or easiest way to work. The other way is by grating the coconut, squeezing the milk out (easier with the addition of a little water), and then simmering the milk until it magically becomes oil. I prefer using the PITEBA, but it's easier using the stove.

I'm also making my own yoghurt and cream cheese. We had been buying 1/2 fat cream cheese, but I don't like the sound of the emulsifiers and gums and enhancers on the ingredients list, making one's own is very simple. (I will write up methods for yoghurt and cream cheese in another post.) It doesn't really take any time at all, and I know exactly what I'm eating. And of course it makes me so much happier to be making our food from scratch. If only we had a goat.

The sourdough starter is back on track and I've been making wholewheat sourdough biscuits daily for our lunch sandwiches. Served with cream cheese and greens from the garden.

And the chocolate? We've been researching cacao again and have read that cacao has a positive effect on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, plus it balances moods and emotions, creates a sense of well being and suppresses appetite! We've been enjoying lightly toasted cacao beans with meals for the past few days. I really like it: anything that brings me closer to the land, the seasons and home scale food production fills me with such contentment and feelings of ease, yes, life is good.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Sourdough biscuits

So the book I picked up is 'Lonesome Dove' by Larry McMurtry, seemingly a classic and definitely a good read. One of the main characters, Gus, takes much pleasure in making his sourdough biscuits before sunrise each morning. I was inspired to try myself, plus I needed to revive my sourdough starter. I'm really pleased with the biscuit; soft, light, tasty and very simple.

Sourdough is fabulous. Living in the Bay Area I was never impressed with it, that sour white bread in the hard brown crust just didn't do it for me. I began to work with it myself not because of the taste but out of a desire to play with wild yeasts. Just as people are different culturally, so are bacterias: Lactobacillis talamancais is very different from the Lactobacillus sanfranciscois! and I prefer the softer talamanca bacteria. I love the process, I love that these yeasts and bacterias are in the air, filling us as we breath, moving with us as we walk. Louis Pastuer said in the end that "microbes will win out". Thank goodness, who wants to live in a sterile environment?

Sourdough is easy. To begin a sourdough starter add a cup of flour to a cup of water (white flour works better than brown for this first stage). Stir thoroughly and leave in a glass jar in a warm place (75-85F) with a tea towel on top (to allow air in and air out). Stir twice or thrice a day for the next two to five days until you see bubbles form. This means the yeast is active. If you don't see bubbles you can cheat a little by putting in a pinch or two of store-bought yeast to get it started. Once you have bubbles you can begin to feed your starter, simply add two tablespoons of flour each day and enough water to keep your starter from becoming too thick / solid. At this point you can use your starter, or you can put her in the fridge to slow her down. Feed her whenever you use her, or every other day, or twice a week if she's in the fridge.

To make the biscuits, begin by making a sponge. Take 1/2 cup of the starter and add 1 cup flour and 1 cup milk (I also use soy milk, soy yogurt or regular buttermilk or yogurt). I throw a pinch of sugar in there to help the yeast. Mix and leave in a warm place overnight. Next day add 1 tablespoon of honey, beat, then add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, a good pinch of salt and about a cup to cup and a half of flour. Add the first cup all all once and the rest little by little until you get a dough you can work with. Turn out on flour board, knead lightly for 5 minutes adding flour to stop stickiness. Roll out about a half inch thick, cut into 6cm rounds and dip in olive oil mixed with sunflower oil and black pepper (or other herbs) and place on a cooking tray. Cover with towel and allow to rise in warm place for 30 minutes. Cook at 375F for 18-20 minutes. Allow to rest for a few minutes before enjoying slathered with unsalted butter, Gus enjoyed his with honey.

tip: when cutting out the biscuits, don't twist the press, it seals the edges and creates an uneven rise!


I felt back at home on Thursday and Friday, which is great as I've been feeling oddly unmotivated and out of sorts recently. Plus our internet has been having issues, which has kept me away from the computer and looking for books to read. But I think I'm coming back to myself.

Could be something to do with having fruit again. And getting my sourdough back together. The kitchen seems a little busier: instead of making one or two things a day I can keep busy with four or five.

On a recent trip to San Jose we stopped in at the Ark Herb Farm and picked up two more edible leaf plants: the zorillo and the divided leaf chaya. Both looked a little worse for wear in the nursey, and both were the only specimens for sale, but back on the farm under shade cloth and damp they have perked up and are looking good. We'll keep them in our nursery for a while, long enough at least to propagate more specimens and then we'll start planting out. Our edible leaf collection is growing - slowly - but it is growing. I feel a strange blend of nostalgia and wishing when I read northern gardening blogs and their morning coffee breaks pouring over seed catalogs, or pictures of gardens full of great heads of romaine or arugula. Sigh.

Yet I feel here a sense of pioneer pride in the slow acquisition of edibles: enforced self-sufficiency, trial and error, seed saving and worry mixed with the thrill of the hunt. It's not unusual for me to be chewing on things walking around the farm trying to find a new leaf for the salad mixes. I really must take a picture of the salad: full of green and purple leaves, pink, red and yellow flowers, shiny sprouts, succulent malabar spinach and tangy herbs, it's a beautiful thing.

I've left mung bean sprouts for a while, I like them but the weather is very hot just now and they seem to bolt and rot quickly. I'm sprouting lentils instead. I like sprouted lentils, they are much calmer and more docile than the mung, not as crisp or crunchy, but subtle and slightly chalky. And they fare better with the heat.