Boom


The garden exploded this weekend.  Some rain and a couple of 90ish degree days were just what we needed to push past spring seedling-hood into early summer growth spurts. The tomato plants are bigger every time I go outside, and the raspberries and grapes are wildly taking over their parts of the backyard.

One of my tactics of gardening is to plant a large variety of plants knowing that not everything will turn out in a given year. Weather and pest pressure can make big differences and a crop that normally performs great may have a lackluster year, or a novelty item you grow for fun may turn out to be your best harvest.  There's a few standbys I need to do well every season (tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions) but the supporting roles help mix things up. This year I had terrible germination on spinach and peas.  I had a few small patches do okay in the hoop house, but it wasn't the spring of planning every meal around spinach.  I did have a fantastic bok choy crop, which was an afterthought planting in a little bed where my eggplants would eventually fill in.  This led to lots of fun experimental side dishes and a nice batch of kimchi.  I replanted my pea patch with Christmas Lima beans to cut my losses, and we'll just snack on what we do get (if the pea-loving hound does not find them all first).



I'm trying a 3-sisters bed this season: we haven't grown corn in years as it takes up a lot of room and oftentimes gets eaten by squirrels--plus fantastic sweet corn is readily available from local folks.  But, I thought I'd try a rainbow dent corn this year, so I'm imitating a raised bed design I found online with four blocks of corn inter-planted with bush delicata squash and cranberry pole beans.  We'll see how it goes!


Yesterday the late evening sun hit the yard after a long day and everything was bathed in a cornball golden and flattering light.  I had a mini-revelation: Oh yeah, this is what the hard work is for.  We take on a lot, we tackle big projects and do a ton of things ourselves from scratch, and the rewards, usually (hopefully?), are proportionate to all that effort.  Sometimes when you're focusing on a long to-do list you forget to step back and look at the big picture!

the bagel habit


I made bagel dough this morning before work. 


This week (this month, really) I'm struggling with finding balance with my workload at home.  Last year's kitchen remodel caused some garden neglect, and we really thought that this year would be all about maintenance and refinement in the backyard.  But the reality is that the kitchen project has spilled over into this year--not in nearly as much of an intensive way as last spring--but in little ways that get in the way and make you put off weeding that perennial bed (again).

I've wondered here before how many DIY habits a person can fit into their routine.  Bagel dough takes all of 15 minutes, but how many quarter hours does a person have?  Enough apparently to check on twitter (a lot) and watch junk-food TV shows (once in a while).  Like everyone I juggle work and home and family and dog, and some weeks it works better than others. 

And I keep making bagels, because while I may whimper a little when I remember at 6:30 am that I made the sponge last night and I need to make dough, when I form those little rounds and smell the tang when I drop them into a water bath...they give me joy.  Every damn time.

Sourdough Bagels:  
Adapted from The Baking Notes of Scratch Baking Co

Sourdough sponge:

6 ounces of well-fed, liquid-style levain, I do a build of 2 ounces starter, water, and wheat flour, 8-12 hours before making the dough.

Dough:

6 ounces sourdough sponge
24 ounces flour (I generally use 12 ounces of  Lonesome Stone wheat bread flour, and 12 ounces all purpose)
14 ounces water, room temperature (this works perfect for my 50/50 wheat mix, but you might need to adjust slightly if using different flours that absorb more or less water)
1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup of baking soda for boiling
Misc. toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc).

Process:
Scrape the developed starter into your mixer bowl and pour the water on top.  Measure out your flour and salt, and add all at once.  Mix on low speed until the water is absorbed and continue on medium until a stiff dough forms, 4 or 5 minutes.  Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes, then knead again on medium speed for 4-5 more minutes.  Turn out onto your counter and knead a few more times, the dough should form a firm, elastic ball.  Place in a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours (I've left it as long as a couple of days).

The next day, pull the dough out of the refrigerator--it may not look like it has risen much, but that's fine. Divide into 12 equal pieces, usually about 3 1/2 to 4 ounces each.  Form each into a tight round ball, and let rest, covered.   After 30 minutes, turn on your oven to 450 degrees, and form each round into a bagel shape--I poke a hole through the center with my thumb, and gently pull outward on all sides.  Let rest on a lightly floured work-space and cover: set your timer for another 30 minutes.  Fill up a large pot about halfway with water (~ 2 quarts), and bring to a boil.  I find it works out if I start mine up about 10-15 minutes before the bagel rest is over, but on my old stove it took closer to 25.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

When the oven is hot and the bagels have rested and the water is boiling, gradually add the baking soda to the pot--it will foam up at first. Adjust to a simmer. 3 or 4 at a time, depending on your pot's size, slide the bagels gently into the water bath, top side down, nudging gently to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan as they sink (a chopstick works well for this).  In 15-30 seconds or so they should rise to the surface, (don't worry if it takes a little longer, as long as they are not sticking to the bottom). Once they float, set a timer for 30 seconds, then flip over, and simmer another 30. Fish out of the water with a slotted spoon, and transfer to the sheet pan.  While the next batch simmers, sprinkle your desired toppings on the damp bagels.

Bake for 20-30 minutes--I reduce the temp slightly to 425 and use my convection for these, which also works well. You are looking for a firm, dark golden crust. I often check the interior hole to make sure that they have fully cooked--sometimes that area takes longer to finish baking.

Cool on a rack and store--I find these keep well for 4-5 days at room temperature, but I usually freeze half of our batch and pull them out mid-week.

Additional notes:

Stand mixer:  Note this is a stiff dough, and can be hard on a smaller Kitchenaid mixer. I can get away with a double batch in my Electrolux mixer, but I wouldn't try it in my aging Artisan. Just go slow, and it's fine to take a break and let the dough and your mixer rest a few times if you're getting that overheating smell.

Mixing by hand:  I tried this last week to see if it's do-able, and it was not much trouble at all.  I added the flour a bit more gradually, but with patience it all comes together fine.  It is a firm, stiff dough, so I would knead for a few minutes, let the dough rest, and then knead some more, 3 or 4 sessions in all.  The rest, or autolyse, really helps the gluten develop, you'll be surprised how soft and elastic the dough feels when you start kneading again.

Timing: I've tried different options, but a long rising time and dividing the cold dough straight out of the refrigerator works the best for me. If I let it warm up more (or it's a hot summer day), the bagels can become softer and harder to work with (but will still turn out fine).  If I let the dough go an extra day before baking, they can also sometimes get a little soft, but they also have a nice additional tanginess.  Having a good, stiff dough at the beginning makes the bagels easiest to work with.

If I do a double batch, I will stick half the dough back in the fridge for the first 30 minute stage so that I can stagger the baking schedule.


gifts from the freezer

Well look at that, I did a little website cleanup! 

I've been in the mood to post here lately, after a long break.  Maybe it's the as-always frustration of early spring, when I'd like to be outside but it's raining/snowing/sleeting/blowing 40 mph winds.  Maybe it's the excellent posts I've been reading elsewhere lately. That's how I got started writing here, inspired by other folks.

So it's been a while!  I could go into all sorts of reasons, like a huge (ongoing) kitchen remodel for one, but I thought I'd just start back here with a recipe. This is the time of year of pulling hopefully awesome stuff out of the pantry and freezer that I put away last fall.  I got in the habit of writing on my freezer bags suggested uses besides just quantities, and when my spouse was rooting around to make a batch of wine last month we found a bunch of bags of cherries marked "2 cups, for clafoutis"  Oh yeah, I had almost forgotten!

Clafoutis has become a go-to treat for us the last couple of years.  It started with our first harvest of tart cherries, but I now use it for all sorts of fruit.  It's faster than a pie or cake, uses one bowl and the the simplest of ingredients you always have around, and is relatively low in sweetness which to me makes it a perfect breakfast with a cup of coffee. 

 

Cherry Clafoutis

There are a lot of versions of this, Julia Child uses even less flour, but while I like the custardy-ness of the texture I wanted a little more density.  My version, after noodling around online, was originally found here). 

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sour cherries
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp almond extract (or more to taste, see notes)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 1-2 Tbsp. cherry or almond liquor

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. Melt the butter and let cool slightly while you get started. Beat the sugar and the eggs with a whisk until they turn light in color and increase in volume.  I like a stand mixer for this, but it's not required.  Slowly add the butter, beating to incorporate. Tip the salt into your cup of flour and add all at once, continuing to whisk until incorporated. Slowly pour in the milk a little at a time. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, and the liquor if you are using it, mixing well. The batter should be very smooth and shiny.

Place the cherries in a 9 or 10 inch buttered dish (a cake or pie pan, or even a skillet will work). Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 40 minutes, until puffed, moderately browned and almost completely set in the middle.  Once it's close, I gently jiggle the pan every five minutes until the center no longer moves--this is a very moist dessert so it's unlikely to hurt if you go a little longer here; under-cooked can be a bit runny, especially in warm weather.

Allow to set up for 15 minutes or so before serving, it will collapse slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature. I store in the refrigerator for several days, but it doesn't last long around here.

Notes

Last summer I made my own lazy cherry "almond" extract by covering a jar's worth of cherry pits with vodka and steeping them for several weeks before straining.  The result is a rosy-colored concoction which is lovely in baked goods. I use this in place of the liquor here, using a tablespoon or two--I have had this turn my batter a wee bit grainy, I suppose from the alcohol, but it didn't seem to affect the outcome at all.

As mentioned any fruit (fresh, or from the freezer) works fine here. I've used apples, rhubarb, raspberries/blueberries.  Frozen fruit tends to stay at the bottom, while fresh will sometimes float up a bit, but either way tastes delicious. While in-season or home preserved fruit is great, this would work equally (well, almost) as well with a pint of berries from the grocery, or from a bag of frozen (unsweetened) store-bought fruit. 

I usually use a glass pie pan, because you can see the pretty fruit better. I'll set it on a sheet pan just for ease of loading it into the oven without sloshing.


Fall garden cleanup pep talk

This is the lecture I've been giving myself the past week, and I figured I'm not the only one who needs it:


It's okay to pull the plug on your garden, even if it's not dead/frozen/finished yet.  I took out my tomatoes last week (all but those in the hoop house).  Sure, it there was a forecast of possible patchy frost, and it's better to pick green fruit before vines are damaged by a freeze.  But the truth is, it was just diminishing returns at this point.  One or two fruits were ripening up outside, but mostly they were just sitting there.  Another week, even of 60 degree weather (unlikely) was not going to help.  The plants were succumbing to late-season fungal diseases, and ripe fruit had issues anyway.  I picked only perfect fruit and brought them inside, where they will may not be as good as high-summer toms, but they will keep me in sauce for a few more weeks.  It's really hard to abandon that tiny eggplant or pepper, but the reality is there's just not enough time/heat/daylight for things to mature.

BUT

It is also okay to string a pet plant along, if you're inclined. If  you have a full fridge and can't deal with processing the last picking of green beans, or if the forecast has a rogue hot spell after one cold night and you think you might get a few more jalapenos, go for it.  Cover plants with remay, sheets, or tarps, and most things can survive the first couple of light frosts.  My summer squash is miraculously healthy and plugging away at fruit (and I'm not tired of them yet!) and I think I"ll let that baby drag on until the final freeze.



Don't try to do everything at once.  Just like in the spring, tackle a section or two at a time.  I picked most of the remaining harvest last week, and tackled the aformentioned tomato vines; this afternoon I'm working on peppers and beans.  Prioritize by what is the least cold hardy (BASIL) and what can stay standing long into winter (kale, broccoli, leeks). 

BUT

Don't leave everything until next spring either! Leaving mildewy or diseased plants over the winter is just creating issues for the following season.  Non-beneficial insects will overwinter there as well.  Besides, cleanup and preparation makes getting started in the spring SO MUCH easier.  Everybody hates weeding, especially with the rationale that the coming freeze will kill plants anyway, but a last pass in your gardens and paths will really pay dividends later on.



It's okay to not compost everything.  Our city collects yard waste, and while I try and recycle most of my weeds and garden byproducts within my own property, some things just aren't worth it (for me).  I send sickly tomato and potato vines to the curb for pickup, as well as woody stems and root balls that will have a hard time breaking down.  This reduces the time it takes my compost to be ready to use, and also cuts back on introducing disease or weeds. While definitely having volunteers like dill or celery is the norm in my garden, unfriendlies such as stinging nettle are not welcome.  Even plants I like that are aggressive (cleome!) will often get send to the city, whose composting volume is large and hot enough that they do a better job of killing seeds and fully composting woody stuff.

If you don't have this option but you have the space you might want to separate out the more difficult waste products and give them their own pile.  As woodier bits break down you can introduce them to a future turn of the compost. 

Speaking of which, fall is a great time to turn that big pile of compost.  I mostly feed my beds in the fall.  One reason for me is that I have chicken manure going into my bins, and depending on the timing or my skill at building a great compost pile--this may not be broken down thoroughly when it goes into my garden.  Too-fresh manure can burn plants, and has the potential to transmit pathogens. While I don't have a lot of worries about catching anything nasty from my girls, the generally accepted practice is to wait 90 days after spreading fresh manure before harvesting (longer if the food is in contact with the soil).  So for us Northern gardeners, this works out well for feeding beds in the fall anyway.  If my compost isn't fully finished, a last sit in the garden over the winter helps break the remainder down, all the while sending nutrients into the soil below.

Putting gardens to bed:  The last fall task for me is mulching with leaves and grass clippings.  The final mows of the season are great for creating a lovely brown/green mix of mulch that can cover sleeping gardens and feed them all winter long, as well as protecting the soil from harsh conditions.  If you're a planner and know where your earliest crops will be next season (onions, lettuces, peas etc) you can prep those beds thoroughly now, so they are ready to plant as soon as the ground is warm enough.  No digging required, I often plant my onions right through the mulch.  Actually the first planting will be this fall's garlic:  so I clean up and feed that bed first so I can plant around Halloween, and mulch it super well with leaves/grass (and straw, if I have it).

Makes notes for next year.  I definitely struggle with this,but it's the perfect time to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and what your goals are for next season.  I think the hardest part of this is the natural let-down of the end of the season.  As I work in my overgrown and weedy beds, I tend to only see the failures (how did I make so little pesto this year? Why were my peppers so non-prolific?) but sitting down with your spring notes/plans can help you gain a little perspective and remind you of what did work (what a great year for cauliflower, I had almost forgotten).

While most of this week I have just wished for it all to be done already, making plans to spend the last brisk sunny days putting my garden to bed for the winter is not the worse chore I can imagine.  I can't wait to see the (mostly) neat beds ready to sleep away until spring.



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