Monday, March 29, 2010

MMmmmmm... what's that smell?

Arguably one of the nicest (and most homely!) smells that can waft from the kitchen is that of fresh-baked bread. And ours is no exception. (Okay, vanilla or shortbread cookies come pretty close!)

And one of our dearest goals is to become as self-sufficient as possible, especially when it comes to our food. Obviously I doubt we will ever get to the point of raising our own pigs or cattle; but with the vegetable garden and fruit trees going in this year, and the chicken coop (yes, I did say chicken coop!) going in either next year or the year after that, we will be making small steps to mostly eating only what we produce ourselves.

One of the key steps of this way of eating is to get away as much as possible from pre-packaged and pre-processed food. At Christmas, part of the gifts we gave were packages of raspberry jam (from our own raspberry bush!) and homemade bread. I have tried several recipes, all to varying degrees of success, and have finally settled on a modified whole wheat recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. I still have yet to find a white bread recipe that works for me, but to be honest we enjoy the taste of whole wheat (or rye!) much better.

The recipe states that it makes 3 loaves of bread, but I found them to be quite small, and instead make 2 larger loaves. One thing to remember with home-made bread is (and it took me a while to realize I wasn't doing anything wrong!) that it is much more dense than store-bought. But that allows for smaller, thinner slices, which is just as pleasant.

  • 1/2 cup warm (but not hot!) water
  • 2 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or honey/maple syrup)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (Plus some extra when kneading to get the right consistancy. You want the dough firm, but not sticky.)
Mix together the yeast and warm water in a large bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gradually add the next 5 ingredients until well combined. I usually add the 4 cups of all-pupose flour all at once, then stir until well combined. Then I add the whole wheat, a cup at a time, untill it is almost impossible to stir. Then I dump the bowl onto a floured (with whole wheat) surface, and knead for 10-15 minutes, constantly adding more flour (by the handful) as I need it.
Once you have the right consistancy (which IS trial and error - let me assure you!), form the dough into a ball and cover with a thin coating of olive oil. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a clean cloth. You need to let it rise in a warm, non-drafty place until it doubles in size (about 1 hour - you can tell it's doubled in bulk when the dough retains the imprint of your finger), then you punch it in the centre, turn it over, and let it rise again another hour. The you can divide the ball into two loaves, place in greased (very important!) bread pans, and let rise another 45- 50 minutes. Then bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it. Let cool completely before you cut it, though we usually cut the loaves as we need them.
I try to make at least one batch of bread a week, though time doesn't always permit that. What is nice though is that we havn't bought a loaf of bread since Christmas; now I just have to learn how to make nice hamburger/dinner rolls and we wont ever buy those either! In addition to the bread, I also try to make one goody/snack a week too, sometimes cookies, sometimes muffins, depending on what we have lying around my pantry. Today I tried my hand at bisccotti for the second time ever (I made some yesterday that I was not entirely happy with - though I think I've worked out the kinks!), and it turned out wonderful. Chris still isn't entirely convinced (apparently he's never has bisccotti before) and thinks they taste like stale cookies, but that just leaves more for Lucien and I!
My next baking-goal for myself is to learn how to bake bread using starters (yeast mixes that you continue to add to and then use, you can potentially have the same starter batch for months!), which would allow me to make sourdough rye bread. Dimpflmeier Bakery in Toronto makes an amazing sourdough rye - one of my all-time favourite breads. If I could reproduce that at home, I'd be a VERY happy woman!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Archaic posts...

As I was going through my computer today, I came across what I was hoping to be the start of this blog back in March of last year. Oh how much has changed! Though they are just short little blurbs, I thought they'd be fun to post anyways. Even when we were still at our apartment we tried to bring a little "homesteading" into our lives; and now, we can finally realise that true dream!

March 7, 2009:

Now that spring will be here within a month, it is time for us to start planning for all that must be done for this season and also the coming summer. Though the summers are beautiful here and draw visitors from all over the province and beyond; I still find the warmer season much shorter than I remember in Toronto. Not only does this mean less time to bask in the sun’s warm rays in only shorts and a t-shirt, but less time to use our electric bikes (or any bicycle for that matter), and less of a growing season for our gardens (though I have just recently discovered the idea of winter gardening, and cannot wait until I have a house to try some of the techniques on—but more on that later).

The season of the bike approaches:

So the first order of business for us (other than to start my seeds indoors) is to get our bikes in shape. Both have to be taken in to the shop for a tune-up, and I want to get my back breaks looked at again, so I can avoid any unpleasant surprises like those I had to deal with last fall. I also have to order a new adaptor for my bicycle, and unfortunately, it looks like we may need to order two new batteries as well. But we shall see. If the snow keeps melting the way it has the past few days, it probably won’t be long before Chris starts riding to work; I want to wait until I know there is no chance of ice or snow build up along the highway, but that may take until April.

No garden for me...

With the excitement that comes in buying a house this summer; also comes the disappointment that I will not be able to have a full herb and vegetable garden this year. Though I am determined to still have some fresh food growing, so I have decided to start herbs indoors this year, and then once the fear of frost has passed, grab some tomato sprouts from Chris’ uncle and plant two bushes in pots on either side of the front door. I am thinking to leave as a present to our landlord some nice annuals in the garden instead.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring is almost here, and with it, new life!

So much time has past (almost 10 months!) since I started this blog that I was beginning to fear never looking at it again! The Summer and Autumn passed in a whirlwind of work and getting used to having a house to call our own, with all the small challenges and extra work that is associated with that. We were pretty much settled in just before Winter, and with such a beautiful and warm September and October as we had, we spent lots of time just enjoying the outside. Needless to say, after the initial burst of improvements when we first moved in, things slowed down to a crawl.

Winter passed by somewhat uneventfully, though it was amazing to finally celebrate the Holiday Season in our own house! We ended up having quite a few people over for Christmas dinner, and it was wonderful to share in the love and warmth that it brought to our home. I even managed to convince the dear husband that getting a real tree was the only way to go; you just cannot replace the wonderful aroma of a fir tree!

Once the new year started, we made the effort to begin working again on improving the house. The first thing we began was Lucien's room, and instead of simply doing one basic colour, or even an accent wall or two, no; we decided to have a mural on all FOUR walls, AND the ceiling! It is done to look as if you are in the jungle, looking up at the night sky (complete with accurate Milky Way and constellations!), with the ocean and full moon rising on one side. I can safely say that we did not realise just how involved this process would be (we have probably already clocked more than 50 hours painting it, with about another 20 more to finish!), though if I had to go back, I would still do it again. The effect is will be just amazing!

In other exciting news, we have started painting the third bedroom, as a nursery! We are soon to welcome baby boy number two in only a matter of weeks! This room was a much quicker job, with only one more final coat of paint on the trim to go! The change has been dramatic (as you can see below), and will make for a bright and cheery first room for our new little one. We have also decided to introduce new baseboards, quarter-round and trim to both boys rooms (and eventually throughout the rest of the house) to try and bring back the feel reminiscent of the age of the house. Just the act of putting trim around the windows, then painting the casements white evokes a much older feel, and one we are quite pleased with.

For both rooms, we were lucky enough to find that the previous owners left us much of the remaining cans of paint that was used throughout the house. This meant that we were able to match the white trim paint exactly with what was painted already, and saved us a lot of headache. However, we were able to buy VOC-free paint for the wall colours, which eventually will be all we use inside and outside the house. Not only is this paint safer for the environment (and us by default!), but is amazing to work with - imagine no paint fumes whatsoever! And for rooms that will be used by our children, that is very important.

As for the outside, once Chris is off for a few weeks with me and the new baby, we will be building in the raised beds of the vegetable garden. Initially this was supposed to happen in Autumn, but between working and other engagements, it just wasn't meant to be. Though we did level and clear out the side yard, and Chris cleaned up and built a bed just for our raspberry bushes, which ended up providing us with over 10 cups of raspberries, of which I made some yummy Christmas jam.

Hopefully we'll get a decent yeild this year from the gardens, and though it will mostly be a learning experience, I am hoping we will have enough fresh produce to last us at least a couple months through the Winter. I know we are still due for at least one more good snowstorm, but I cannot wait to get outside and enjoy some beautiful Spring weather with my sons!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...