Sometimes, when I am feel grumpy, I remember to pick up the camera and look around through new eyes to find something good. It works really well – there is almost always something, once I open my eyes anew. Here are a few good things from this week: hops drying, tomato harvests, homemade taco dinner, an almost-finished squirrel sweater, and a new dress-up corner. Blessings on your week. And if you didn’t see it yet, we share our absolute favorite pancake recipes (one is gluten free) over at localgrain.org
This is our first week of second grade here at home. I like to ease into the year a bit, and we’re starting with Native American creation stories, form drawing, and gardening. On Mondays, we do baking & French. The week started a bit ominously, with the toddler waking up for several hours (wide awake!) in the middle of the night on Sunday, and being quite a crabby pants on Monday. I had a minor health scare (turned out to be nothing, thankfully), and had a few hours with an ugly nagging wondering, What if I have 6 months to live? A young mother died in our neighborhood two years ago, and that definitely haunts me sometimes, really knowing that any one of us could suddenly be gone. Despite the odd day Monday, we’ve had a lot of fun with school, which is just what I’d hoped.
The farm has been quiet(er) this year. We sold our two ewes over a year ago to another small farm, and without sheep, pigs, chickens, or horse, life has been a lot quieter (and calmer). Mostly, it was a quiet we really needed. We’ve talked about getting ducks for years, and about possibly raising pigs or chickens again for meat. This week, while going over our budgets, it was very clear to us that if we wanted to keep eating a moderate amount of meat, we had better start raising it ourselves again (eggs, too). So, voila, suddenly it wasn’t a question of whether we wanted ducks right now or not, it was time. Ducklings will be here in October, and baby chicks will be here by next week! The chickens will be processed before the really cold weather gets here, and I think we’re going to build a little pen for the ducks in the basement until the harshest winter months pass, then we’ll move them out to the old chicken coop.
I feel rather excited, and invigorated, to have farm animals on the way. The kids will be thrilled, of course, and I must say I sometimes miss my daily farm chores of hauling hay or grain, and checking water. It is refreshing, sometimes, to be forced to go outside no matter what the weather is – vegetables can be ignored, but live animals cannot.
Blessings on your week, friends.
(Joining Ginny for Yarn Along).
We start homeschooling next week, with the start of September. After a stretch of very cool days, and the wonderful earlier nightfalls, I’m really feeling it. The urge to organize, to clean the nooks & crannies, to get started on the next phase.
We’re starting our second grade year with Native American creation stories & animal stories, including ones from On the Trail Made of Dawn, and Native American Games & Stories. It’s also a great month for many beautiful children’s books, including Rough-Face Girl, All the Colors of the Earth, and My Granny Went to Market: A Round the World Counting Rhyme.
I’m also really excited about, and going to be using a lot from, the two books Games for Reading and Games for Math. how did I not know about these gems before? I don’t know, but I’m happy to have them now.
In other news, our tomatoes have been a little slow to get cranking, but I put up the first batch of salsa today. Very satisfying. I also pruned the raspberries this week – the first time EVER that I’ve actually done it in the fall, when you’re supposed to.
Last week, in a brief respite from toddler mania, I finished this quilt. It took me a year and a half (most of that time spent folded up sitting idly on a shelf), but I did it. I used up a lot of scraps – to keep it simple, I cut them in long strips using the width of my ruler as my template. When I started piecing those strips together, and joining them into panels, I realized that an entire quilt of all small long strips would be very, very busy, so I added the larger panels (fat quarters sewn together – again, keeping it simple). I also thought I would tie this quilt at first, but after doing two squares I realized it was a ton of work and not what I wanted visually, so I ripped them out and machine quilted it. This was a scary, new project for me, and I am quite pleased to have finished it. Not to mention that the nights are getting cooler and our old quilt was completely falling apart, so it’s a good thing it’s done.
Like many, we’ve been grieving this week for Robin Williams. Personally, I’m heartbroken not just by his death, but by how much suffering he must have felt during his life, amidst all that joy and laughter he was bringing. I think for any of us who are touched by depression and mental illness – either ourselves, or someone we love – it’s a shocking reminder of the abyss, of how powerful illness can be, how little we can know about another’s life. To me, it’s also a powerful call to remember to find something good in the day, to love something right here and now. To keep stepping into the light, and sharing it whenever possible.
We got a lot of rain earlier this week, and cool weather followed. We had our first bowls of tomato soup, which was a treat.
At home, I’m deep in the thick of planning lessons for homeschool this year. I suppose it’s time I fessed up that while we started with the Christopherus 1st grade curriculum (and mostly loved the first half of it), we stopped doing “lessons” in January. Or rather, lessons (we were on math at the time) started feeling really forced and gross. At first, I tried changing up my approach (changed from the squirrel math story in Christopherus to math gnomes), which was a little better, but it still just felt like me forcing material on her. We were also in the midst of deciding to close our cafe at the same time, so I’m sure that was part of it.
But in the end, we finished the year in a completely open unschooled style. I have a lot of respect for unschoolers, and agree with them in a lot of ways – I think learning happens naturally (hello, walking, talking, etc), and that given a rich environment most children will thrive. But I also love the way Waldorf presents a lot of the materials, and think they offer a depth that wouldn’t happen by accident.
So this year, I am planning my own Waldorf curriculum for second grade. I’m using the fabulous outlines given by Mrs. M of the yahoo waldorfhomeeducators group (available free!), and also using a lot of ideas pulled from Pinterest, plus some of my own. Usually second grade is centered around using animal fables and also stories of saints – personally, I feel our culture is already inundated with enough Christian stories (which is helpful if you’re Christian), so the main difference in our second grade is that I’ll be using secular heroes.
That’s what’s happening here. Blessings on your week. I’ll leave you with this poem, which keeps tugging at my sleeve, and even more so this week.
Shekinah, grant me
this grace: let these hands
shape dough once more,
let me be the one to light
the morning fire, to stir the pot of soup
with the big silver ladle.
Let me seek the blessings
you have hidden all around us
in plain sight.
Let me bend down once more
to lift the snowy cover
and grasp the crisp lettuce
heads, let me feel that cold
shock, saying You
are alive – now kneel down
and give thanks.
(c) Adrie Lester 2011
We all find ourselves, sometimes, longing for somewhere other than here. A different stage in our life, a different place, different people, different job, different culture surrounding us. After feeling pulled away, it is a relief to feel the pull back to here. To move from trying to figure out how to get there, to instead figuring out how to make right here a little more beautiful, or peaceful, or joyful. Today, I really enjoyed being here. I hope you find the same.
High Summer. The toddler is as crazy as the sun is hot, and if he wasn’t so gosh darn cute, I would have left him on someone else’s doorstep by now. We had an amazing harvest of black raspberries, more kale than we know what to do with, and a trip to the ocean with family.
Basically we are lucky, lucky, lucky. I know it, really I do, but the little one has been so nutty that I am plain worn out, and mostly my brain feels like a pile of mush. I am walking through fog, faithful that somewhere under my feet is solid earth to walk on. It will pass – I remember this well from my daughter, this was the age where I stopped working at the cafe entirely (For 6 months? A year?) because I simply could not do it.
So, I’m setting down any expectations I have had about what I might accomplish in these next months. Finishing the book? Someday. Finishing the so-close-quilt? Someday, maybe soon, maybe not. Finishing our painting projects? Someday. When I have spare moments, I do yoga, I knit a few stitches, I read light books. I get a little peek through the fog, and then back in I go.
Blessings on your summer days, friends.
The popular food blog The Kitchn did a sweet little spotlight on us and what it’s like to store a grain share in your kitchen! Check it out here:
And if you think you can’t get a share because it won’t fit in your apartment, be sure to also see the tour of our shareholder’s cozy kitchen: http://www.thekitchn.com/where-i-cook-lyn-huckabees-colorful-abundant-kitchen-kitchen-tour-205421
A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a cake recipe on our Localgrain Facebook page, and one of the comments asked why I’d posted it, since surely it would have to be made with white flour. It was a really good reminder for me that the 70s stigma of whole-grain brick bread and gross pastries lives on, and that many cooks hesitate to use whole grain flours because they don’t want a “healthy” but inedible creation.
I’ve baked many, many cakes, cookies, scones, muffins, breads, etc with 100% whole grains and freshly milled whole meal flours both in my home kitchen and in a commercial bakery. I can assure you they did not suck. In fact, many people who try a muffin or bread made with 100% whole meal flour light up and start asking lots of questions about what’s in it and why it tastes so good. The answer is pretty simple – all of the goodness is still there, and your body and taste buds can tell.
What’s whole meal? “Whole wheat” or “whole grain” flours sold in the store are, in fact, not whole. They have been partly sifted, to take out the germ (which would go rancid sitting on the shelf) and to remove some of the bran. Whole meal flour is what you get when you mill a grain and don’t sift it at all. Some of the nutrients in grains are also sensitive to oxygen, so if you mill grains and don’t use them quickly, you lose some of the nutrients simply by exposure to air. For folks who are concerned about phytates and grains binding up nutrients in your digestive system, soaking grains or using sourdough in your batter can neutralize those. Freshly milled flour also has significantly lower amounts of phytates present, and is more digestible (which just makes plain sense, too).
Baking bread with fresh whole meal flour deserves its own discussion, so today I’m just focusing on pastries. Whole meal flours are ideal for pastries, because the tiny flecks of bran “shorten” the gluten strands, making your pastry tender. You don’t need to worry so much about “overworking” your dough and developing gluten. White flour has tons of gluten, which can make it rise higher but also taste tougher (And as you can see from the photos, my cake is far from flat – I estimate you only lose 15-20% of volume when you use all whole meal, and if you want you can always mix white and whole meal flours, of course.) Freshly milled flours are usually moister, so you may need to hold back a bit of your liquid, but I don’t usually find this to be an issue with pastries. So, no fancy tricks are required here – just substitute freshly milled flour for the flour called for in your recipe, and enjoy!
Enough of the nitty gritty and more of the yummies. Last week, we celebrated our daughter’s seventh birthday. She asked for a Boston Creme Pie, which I made with 100% freshly ground local wheat – I’m going to share the recipe and photos so you can see how lovely whole meal baking can be (and I can tell you that cake disappeared so fast I only got to eat half a tiny piece!). At the last minute, we had a bunch of wheat-free guests show up, so I’ll tell you how I magically made dessert for them appear a la minute, as well.
Boston Creme Pie
As always with my baking recipes, please please for the love of the gods, please use a scale and weigh your ingredients.
3/4 cup half & half
1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(plus 1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping, for gluten free bonus if desired)
2 1/2 cups (250 g) freshly milled flour (wheat, spelt, barley, emmer, or a mixture would all be delicious here)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs, room temperature (warm in a bowl of water if need be -temp is important!)
1 cup (8 oz) milk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
6 oz good quality dark chocolate (I prefer Callebaut), in chunks
3 oz (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
(make double if you want the gluten-free bonus)
I recommend making your custard first, and while it’s cooling in your fridge, making your cake and glaze.
Custard: Pour the half and half into a saucepan, add first 1/4 cup of sugar, and stir. In a bowl, whisk the egg and remaining sugar together.
Heat the half & half over med-high heat until small bubbles appear around the edges but don’t boil. Remove from heat, and slowly whisk half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking to combine. Pour the yolk mixture back into the pan (this is called tempering the eggs), and bring it to a simmer, stirring gently but constantly.
When it is smooth and thick (5-10 minutes), removee it from the heat, pour into a glass bowl and put into the fridge to cool. Good job!
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease two 8 inch spring-form cake pans with butter.
Sift together into a large bowl your flour, baking powder, and salt. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk together just to combine the yolks and whites. Add the vanilla to the milk.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a bowl and hand held mixer). Beat the butter until it gets satiny and clings to the sides of the bowl (about 30 secs).
With the mixer on, add the sugar in a steady stream. When it’s all added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to cream for 4-5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
With the mixer on, pour in the eggs, very slowly at first like you’re making mayonnaise. Continue to cream until the mixture is white, fluffy, and increased in volume. Remove from the mixer – stir in the flour by hand.
Add 1/4 of the flour mixture, stir it in, then add 1/3 of the vanilla milk and stir to combine. Continue until you’ve used all ingredients (ending with the flour). Mix until smooth after each addition.
Spoon half of the batter into each pan, and smooth with spatula. To get a flat cake round, make a slight indent in the center of the cake and push extra batter towards the edges.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until springy and it measures 190 on a digital thermometer. Cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and release from pans. Cool before assembling.
Place the butter, then the chocolate into a double boiler, or right into a saucepan if you’re staying nearby and being careful. Put over very low heat and stir occasionally, until mixture is smooth, shiny, and liquid.
Once you have all your pieces prepared, it’s time to assemble! Place down one cake half, spread custard evenly all over it. Gently place second cake round on top, and spoon on the glaze, gently pushing it towards the edges with a spatula or butter knife. Bon Appetit!
Gluten Free Bonus: As I mentioned, I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday and suddenly a lot of wheat-free guests showed up. First, I panicked, then I did this: I remembered that the recipe I was following had recommended folding whipped cream into the custard. I hadn’t assembled the cake yet, so I quickly whipped a bunch of cream, folded it into the custard (thereby doubling it), and made another batch of chocolate glaze. I used half the custard in the cake, and served the rest with the extra chocolate glaze (and bowls were licked clean, I can tell you). You can do the same, and then you’ll have a delicious cake, and a delicious gluten-free option.