Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Urban Homesteading Update

I keep looking through photos today and wishing that I could step outside and see these gorgeous flowers in my yard, not just staring back at me on my computer. I am ready for spring. I am ready to get my hands in the dirt. I have been trying to keep myself busy around the house getting ready for spring by doing a lot of homesteading preparations as well as trying new recipes and doing a lot of baking and yogurt making. In the middle of January I noticed that I only had two quarts out of 46 of my canned vegetable broth left that were canned back in Aug./Sept. I decided I better take care of that and can some more since we use at least one quart a week. I ended up canning 20 more and I hope that will get me through until the weather breaks and I can go down to the market and get local veggies to make some more. I am thinking that this summer I better put away 70-80 quarts and that should be plenty to get us through the fall and winter.

I have started making my own yogurt with local milk which tastes great, costs less and is so easy. I can't believe how easy this is and I don't think I can go back to buying yogurt. We go through a lot of yogurt in our house, we all love it plain or with just a hint of maple syrup, flax seed oil, toasted wheat germ and some fresh fruit. So when my sister-in-law started making this I decided to give it a try as well.

For those who are interested you can get starting cultures at a local health food store or Whole Foods, or you can use a couple of tablespoons of store-bought yogurt if you can't find cultures. Once you start making it you can then just save a couple of tablespoons of your yogurt to make your next batch. I find that it is easier for me to do a 1/2 gallon at a time since we use it so fast. So I have been making it in the evenings or early mornings and letting it "set up" for at least 8 hours before I strain the liquid off of it and put it in the fridge. We love thick, greek style so I continue to strain it in the fridge for a couple of hours to thicken it up. It is good for at least 10 days, usually will keep for 14 days.

Now that I got this down I think I am going to order some cheese cultures and try making my own cheese again; I tried last summer to make fresh mozzarella and I think my thermometer was way off and it was quite a messy experiment. But now I have a nice candy thermometer and I think I am ready to give it another try.

I have also been making a lot of homemade artisan breads. We LOVE fresh bread in our house and we love supporting the local organic bakery (Avalon), but paying $6 dollars or more for a loaf of bread that I can make for a fraction of the cost just seems a little crazy to me these days. So with the help of the wonderful book Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day I have almost mastered the wonderful art of baking a gorgeous loaf of bread. I highly recommend this book if you love a good loaf of bread and you don't have the time to do all of the kneading/rising. So far I have only tried three types of many in the book, and every one has been divine; especially the brioche (one recipe makes about 6 loafs which can be frozen)! Check out the link to their website, if you search around enough, you can get some of the recipes on the site. This is how I do my dough, in a tupperware container that has a lid and it will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Here is another recipe for a good no-knead bread that I also make a lot. I mix the dough right before I go to bed and let it rest and rise overnight and finish it the next afternoon.

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 1/2 c. warm water

3 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You can use white, wheat or a combination of both or any other flour combination that you might like. The less white flour that you use will result in less of a crackled top.

1 1/2 tsp. salt

Wheatbran or cornmeal for dusting

  • Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the flour and salt until blended. The dough will be sticky.

  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 8 hours, preferably 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees). The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

  • Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Fold over on itself a couple of times, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

  • Liberally dust a clean dish towel with flour or cornmeal. Put the seam side down on towel, dust again. Cover with another towel and let rest 1-2 more hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

  • At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat oven to 475 degrees and put a 6-8 quart covered pot (dutch oven, Pyrex, cast iron pot) in the oven as it heats. I use my retro dutch oven and it works like a charm.

  • When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven, lift the lid. Slide the bread off the towel and turn it over into the pot. Give the pot a firm shake to settle the dough.

  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake 15 minutes more until the loaf is browned. I always check the bottom of my loaf after the lid has been removed and cooked for 10 minutes so that the bottom doesn't burn; sometimes the bread is done at this point.

  • Remove the bread from the dutch oven and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.

  • ENJOY!!

These last couple of weeks I also have been cleaning out the nook built under the basement steps that I am pretty sure was built as a root cellar (house was built in 1931) and that is what I intend to start using it for this fall. I am planting four types of potatoes, tons of onions, beets, carrots, squash, and pumpkins, so I definitely will need a place to store all of this produce for the fall and winter. Last year I managed having it in different places around the house, but it would be easier having it all in one place; not to mention out of my way in my tiny kitchen and nook. I wanted to post a picture, but we are having camera issues so once we get it straightened out I will post a picture for you all to see what I talking about.

I also have ordered all of my seeds for this year, most of them I bought from Fedco a wonderful seed co-op out of Maine. I also bought some from Territorial Seeds and the rest I will be getting from the Garden Resource Program. And it appears that I lied last year when I said that I wasn't going to be adding any more garden beds in the next two years. I can't help myself...looking through seed catalogs for me is like a kid in a candy store...I want one of everything! My garden right now consists of 6- 5x5 beds and 6- 4x10 beds as well as 2 old wood ladders that I use for all of my herbs and 2 whiskey barrels that I shove edible flowers and greens in. I also have a massive garden bed that was established before we bought the house and was the previous owner's flower/vegetable garden. Up until last year I used that bed for flowers, now it is a mix of flowers, veggies and herbs as well as my new fig tree that I planted last spring. So after ordering 7.5 lbs. of potatoes, 100 onion plants and somewhere around 23 types of seeds to go with the other 30 types that I already have not to mention all of the seeds and transplants I will be getting from GRP I think I just might need some more space! In the middle of the flower/veggie/herb/fig bed is a massive rose bush that we were told was planted when the house was built, but I am thinking it might be pulled this spring. I am not big on roses anyway; anyone want to come get a rose bush? I will keep you posted on how I plan to remedy this situation.

The sun is shining today and I am contemplating starting my seeds...but I think I might sit in the rocker and read in the sun. Spring is not too far away.

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