27 December 2010

Scenes from a frozen pond

Our unlikely little pond has surprised us once again by becoming a perfect outdoor skating pond. The dry winter so far has allowed great ice to form without much snow-clearing required. We're not really a big skating family, but this is a pretty great way to spend a sunny winter afternoon.

Monday forest photo: December 27, 2010

10:30am -10C clear
It's a very windy day, which makes it feel much colder than it is.  Our neighbour has gone over all the trails with his snowmobile, which makes walking very easy, though we still haven't had all that much snow.

23 December 2010

Not your run-of-the-mill mill

I'm really excited about my new KoMo Fidibus Medium grain mill.  KoMo is a German/Austrian company which manufactures synthetic  stone mills and flakers. This mill is obviously designed to last for decades. Not only does it grind stuff really well, but it's a very handsome object.

I used a Family Grain Mill attachment for my KitchenAid mixer for years, which certainly does a decent job, but makes a lot of noise and a certain amount of mess in the process. Also, it wreaks havoc on mixer gears, which makes it kind of pricey to operate over time.

But back to the Fidubus... I've had it for almost a week now and I've milled quite a lot of wheat and some oats. The mill is capable of grinding from a very fine to very coarse texture. I baked muffins, bread and cornbread, and cooked cracked oat porridge. Everything turned out wonderfully except for my easiest, tastiest, 100% whole wheat, no knead bread ever recipe. Several loaves of that came out as complete bricks. I made some basic whole wheat bread from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book to check that my wheat wasn't the problem and it turned out perfectly. I did observe that the dough made from freshly ground wheat seemed to ferment way more than the commercial flour did. It was more like a sourdough starter than bread dough. My theory is that the flour from the mill is so fresh and contains all of the germ and bran as well as no additional conditioners, so it is just a little too lively to let to its own devices overnight. The resulting loaves were tasty but dense (I think I detected a small gravitational pull from one). I am not blaming the Fidibus, nor have I completely given up experimenting with the recipe.

Here it is in action:

21 December 2010

Axial tilt: the reason for the season

Today is the shortest day once again. I don't have any dramatic sunrise photographs like last year, or even the great sense of relief at reaching the darkest day I've expressed in previous years. It's not that I'm insensitive to the light this year, but things just didn't seem quite so dark this fall. And it's not that this fall has been less stressful than usual - quite the contrary. Perhaps it's my St. John's Wort tincture, or maybe it's the daily forest bathing. I've been deliberate about appreciating my moments and trying not to worry about the zillions of things that aren't going the way I'd like. Somehow, life just seems a little brighter than other years at this dark time, even though the days are still ridiculously short (8 hours, 42 minutes and 50 seconds).

I sort of managed to see the lunar eclipse this morning. It was one of those quite bright nights because of light reflecting off the snow and thin overcast and you could see the red glow of the moon behind the cloud, but not the moon itself. An hour or so later, there was a very spooky blackness - almost like a fog - that contrasted with the previous brightness. It creeped me out, so I went back to bed rather than watch anymore.

20 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 20, 2010

3:15 pm -3C overcast
This close to the solstice, it gets dark pretty early in our part of the world. At late afternoon on an overcast day in late December, it's not very bright outside.

13 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 13, 2010

3:30 pm 0C light rain
This photo is a bit of a cheat because it was taken Sunday, as I won't be home on Monday to take the picture. We've had freezing rain and rain, but still not a lot of snow. I did manage to capture Meg's butt this week.

12 December 2010

A deer slept here

A couple of days ago I saw an area of melted snow on the trail, which looked a little out of place. When I looked closer, it was apparent that a deer had bedded down for the night here, and its body heat had melted the snow. I don't know why she would have chosen this particular spot, rather than a more sheltered spot under the trees, but she did, and I'm glad I noticed it.

Somehow, we've still not had very much snow, in contrast to areas to the west and east and south of us, which are buried under the stuff. It's still easy to wander on the trails and now that everything is frozen, it's even possible to walk in the swampy area at the back of our property which is normally quite impassable.

08 December 2010

Slow Rise Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (easiest, tastiest, 100% whole wheat, no knead bread ever)

You really shouldn't cut into the bread when it is still warm and eat it with jam and butter. That's what I tell my family, anyway.

For some reason, I haven't blogged much on bread, even though I am quite a bread nerd. I grind my own flour, though not so much recently, as I have ground through two sets of gears on my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and I decided to stop before I did the same to my mother's. I am currently waiting by the mailbox for my brand new German Komo Fidibus Medium grain mill, which I have every expectation will outlast me, but more on the new mill later.

As you may have figured out, I love whole wheat bread. And by whole wheat, I mean 100% whole wheat, no white flour and no added gluten flour. I have practically memorized The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, and have made hundreds of loaves following her recipes. I've mostly had great success by paying attention to the dough: temperature, texture, proofing, kneading and shaping as she describes. For a treat, I also like baking the white New York Times No Knead Bread in a dutch oven. It makes the best crusty loaf you'll find anywhere - and it's pretty simple.

I didn't think it was possible to make a simple, no knead 100% whole wheat bread. I was wrong, and it's even simpler than the NYT bread. I have to give inspiration credit to Real Whole Wheat Bread by Mark Bittman in The Food Matters Cookbook, but in a 4 ingredient recipe, when you change 3 quantities and the baking instructions, I think you can claim a bit of credit for yourself. I've been baking this with commercial whole wheat flour (Canadian, which I believe is made from harder wheat on average than American. I think you're ok if you use whole wheat bread flour in the US, but what do I know - Mark Bittman doesn't specify in his recipe) and the results are very good. I can't wait to try it out with my home ground organic hard wheat. This loaf is not a super-light high wonderbread-wannabe, but it has a moist, not too dense crumb and chewy crust, which is perfect for substantial sandwiches and toast. The long rise gives it a great depth of flavour that not even my Laurel's Kitchen loaves match.

Slow Rise Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

3 cups (450 grams) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups water

1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and stir. Dough should resemble a muffin batter: add more water if necessary.

2. Cover bowl and let sit for 12 - 18 hours. This is pretty flexible. You should see some bubbles on the surface and these will appear earlier if the room is warmer, later if the room is colder.

The loaf, ready to bake.

3. Oil an 8 x 4 loaf pan and scoop the dough in with a spatula. Smooth the top. Cover with a damp tea towel and let rise for 1 - 2 hours until the dough almost reaches the top of the pan.

4. About half an hour before the dough is completely risen, preheat the oven to 375F.

5. Bake the loaf for 50 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when thumped. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Notes: This differs from Mark Bittman's version in that I use less yeast and salt, but I haven't found any difference in the dough development. His calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, which is way more than most bread recipes. I use a bit more water than he calls for, though the consistency of the dough is batter-like as he describes. Mark Bittman calls for a 9 x 5 loaf pan but I use the smaller 8 x 4. I've always used the smaller loaf pan for whole wheat bread. I bake mine at a slightly higher temperature and for 5 minutes longer than he does, maybe because I've got more water, but at the internal temperature he recommends (200F), it wasn't baked enough.

06 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 6, 2010

9:05am -7C very light snow
After all the rain we had last week, this cooler weather and snow is most welcome. Winter has arrived.

04 December 2010

"Progress" report

It's a quiet Saturday here. We really appreciate our quiet weekends because during the week, we are subjected to the sounds of heavy machinery digging and hammering as water and sewer are run up our road to the new subdivision development just past our house. The current residents along the road will not be able to hook into the water and sewer lines, though there will be fire hydrants.   Lower fire insurance rates will be our compensation for the noise and disruption we've experienced for the last several months.

The work is proceeding slowly, due to the bedrock that starts pretty much at the surface, and water that is determined to fill the trench as it is created. We've been told that they are making 80 to 100 ft. per day, but they've had several days when they quite obviously didn't come close. The edge of the hole is now at our property line and I expect they will be in front of our property for the next two weeks.

The rock requires hammering with a giant hydraulic hammer. It's broken into smaller pieces then trucked down the road to a giant pile at the construction site. Truckloads of fill are brought back from the construction site to fill the hole once the pipe is laid. The gas company will run the gas line (something else we can't connect to) after the water and sewer work is complete.

I try not to think too much about what is going on here. During the week, when the digging and hammering are ongoing, I try not to let the noise aggravate my anger about the energy being consumed to allow McMansions to be built, thus ensuring that even more energy is consumed by folks who want to reproduce a little bit of suburbia in the countryside.

02 December 2010

Oh crap, I'm melting.

Well, the UN has said that 2010 is shaping up to be the warmest on record in Canada. So far, we are 4C above normal. Quite frankly, much of the year was rather pleasant - a short, dry winter and a nice warm spring followed by a hot summer and a wet fall. Oh, there were some floods and tornadoes and forest fires, but they didn't affect me, so no big deal, right?

The Canadian Senate (unelected) just killed a Climate Change bill that had been passed by the House of Commons without any debate or hearings. The bill would have legislated modest but firm greenhouse gas reduction targets. I'm sure it wouldn't have been nearly enough to actually make any difference. And we've already blown off our Kyoto commitments so what were the odds we would have actually done anything positive even if the bill had passed, but still.

The climate change talks in Cancun don't look like they'll accomplish anything. I guess we'll just have to get used to a warmer climate and hope that peak oil and peak coal will do what governments won't.


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