Saturday, February 28, 2009

Adventures in Sourdough

A few weeks ago I decided to try and revive my sourdough starter that had been sitting, sadly neglected, in the back of my refrigerator. The sides of the glass dish were moldy, so I threw most of it out, but saved a couple spoonfuls of the contents, which still smelled good. After feeding it and setting it out at room temperature for awhile to make sure it was still alive and forming bubbles, I made pizza crust with it. This is a loaf I baked today, using the famous no knead method published last year in the New York Times and Mother Earth News. It was delicious. Home grown sourdough from a true starter, unlike the vinegar soured impostors you buy at the grocery store, is only slightly sour, and sweet, like mild cheese. The sourness is caused by lactobacilli, the same type of bacteria that is used to make yogurt and cheese, and, incidentally, must be present in our digestive tracts in order to process the food we eat. But that's not all. The beneficial work of these bacteria in the bread dough also help to predigest some of the more indigestable elements of whole grain. For example, their acidic environment breaks down the nutrient binding chemical, phytic acid, thus increasing the bioavailabilty of iron and other nutrients. Of course, this beneficial activity ends once the bread has been baked, but the good work has already been done. Here is more about how it works.

My adventures with sourdough began sometime last spring, I think. I found this site to be the best instructions for starting a starter. The author warned that if you had no experience with sourdough, it was best not to begin with making your own, but to order a culture from a commercial source. Ha, that was all the encouragement I needed! I used organic rye and wheat berries, which I ground in my grain mill, and fresh tap water from our well. I think that is why I had so much success. The wild yeasts that cause the dough to rise reside on pesticide free grains. And the antibiotic property of chlorine in city tap water systems can pose a possible problem if you're trying to grow a good culture, though this will evaporate if you let it sit long enough in a wide enough container.

So here is my recipe:
3 cups whole grain flour (at least half wheat)
3 tsp. wheat gluten
About 3/4 cup sourdough starter
1 1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/4 cups warm water

Mix all ingredients and let rise in a draft free place at least 8 hours. Be sure to also feed your starter. To shape loaf, sprinkle a generous amount of flour and oats, if you like, onto a clean cloth. Place dough on top and sprinkle on more flour. Fold the dough onto itself a couple times, sprinkling more flour as needed. Cover with a second cloth and let rise in a warm place at least 1 hour. I like to warm a pizza stone slightly in the oven, not to hot to touch, and let the loaf rise on this inside the oven. When it is almost time to bake, take it out of the oven and place your covered baking dish of choice inside (this can be a cloche, lidded dutch oven, stone baking dish, or large pyrex dish). Preheat at 500 degrees. When the oven is hot, quickly remove the lid, dump the dough inside by placing hand under the bottom cloth and inverting, replace lid and bake 30 min. at 475 degrees. After this time, remove the lid and allow to brown for another 5-10 min. if desired. This method of baking produces a lovely, artisan crust and soft, sponge-like interior.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Frugal Meal Tips

I thought I'd respond to the post on Hannah's (Jamie's friend) blog entitled, Finding Meatless Recipes

We've been eating primarily vegetarian meals for the past two years, but lately I've been trying to really organize our menus to keep the cost down, so that I buy only what we need. Although my reasons for vegetarianism are not financial, going meatless can really save you money, without compromising your health. Your body has to break down animal proteins into separate amino acids, which it uses to create new proteins, and all these aminos are available from plants anyway. And meat itself would be pretty tasteless if it were not for all the fat it contains, and all the salt and seasonings we add to it. Ever try eating boiled, lean chicken breast by itself? Bleah! But you don't have to agree with me to enjoy trying something new!

Here is our basic menu plan. Most of the dishes are traditionally meat ones, with different beans and other legumes as the protein substitute.

Monday: Mexican day! Black beans or smashed pinto beans, seasoned with salt, chili powder and cumin and combined with either homemade, whole grain tortillas or brown rice, sauted in a little oil and salsa before the water is added. Toppings include home grown alfalfa sprouts (or lettuce when we have it in the garden) salsa, hot sauce and a little shredded organic cheddar cheese. Tip: dry beans are a whole lot cheaper than canned. I get ours in bulk, along with our grain, from a natural foods co-op I joined. Monday is also baking day. I try to make enough whole grain bread and granola to last the week days, which is quite a challenge because it seems the more I make, the more gets eaten!

Tuesday: Italian day! Either whole wheat spaghetti, topped with homemade sauce, shredded organic mozzarella and sunflower seeds or pasta fagioli (fa'zhul). Here is a lovely video recipe for this versatile dish. Rita is right. Fresh garlic cooked in olive oil smells heavenly!

Wednesday: Asian! Well, stir fried rice is about it so far. First, two cage free eggs are beaten and poured into a heated skillet with a little oil. When the egg mass is congealed, I usually flip it over, cook it a few more seconds, then remove it and slice it into narrow strips. Then a little more oil is added to the skillet along with unhulled sesame seeds, peppers, onions, and other veggies of choice and cooked till done. The egg strips are added and soy sauce is drizzled over the top. The dish is then served over cooked brown rice with more soy sauce or salt if desired.

Thursday: Either macaroni and cheese served with baked beans and salad or grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup. Every other Thursday is our grocery shopping trip. I usually allow the kids to pick out a treat, like ice cream or ingredients for favorite cookies. We don't eat desserts that often, but I try and have lots of fresh fruit available, which the kids love. For instance, I'll buy those bags of reduced bananas and peel and freeze them when we get home. They make great popsicles and smoothies! Tip: There are some helpful lists online of which fruits and vegetables are good to buy organic, because they are high in pesticides, and which foods are okay to buy conventional. Off the top of my head: peaches, apples, strawberries, leafy greens, coffee and dairy are all loaded with chemicals or artificial hormones, but bananas, pineapple, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are much less contaminated.

Friday: Pizza! I try to mix up the whole grain dough from my sourdough starter in the morning, then we all have fun shaping the crust and adding our favorite toppings.

Saturday: Lentils! An exciting meat substitute. I like to make either a stew with potatoes and carrots and all (a dash of Worcestershire sauce really enhances this hearty dish) or my favorite, bobotie, a South African curry dish. Curry, ginger, onions, salt and pepper are cooked in butter, then tomato paste, raisins, apricots, bread cubes, with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and vinegar are simmered in an iron skillet. Cooked lentils are added, then all is topped with a little eggs and milk beaten together. It is then baked for 45 min in a 350 degree oven, then served on top of cooked brown rice, and topped with sliced bananas and shredded coconut. It's to die for!

Sunday: Waffles! Whole grain with pecans (we get everyone cracking!) and blueberries (or blackberries when the wild ones are ripe). I like to make plenty of extra to be toasted for the next week's breakfasts. These are served with butter (if it hasn't run out yet) and maple syrup. I sometimes make a syrup by boiling a cup of organic sugar and a half cup water with a little cinnamon and grated orange peel for a few minutes (in order to get the most out the organic oranges we occassionaly buy, I freeze the peels in ziplock bags. I wouldn't recommend saving the peels from pesticide sprayed fruit, however.) Then I remove it from heat and add a bit of vanilla. The kids love it!

Any Day:
It's not on your calendar, but we all have them. Either clean out the leftovers or pancakes....Or switch meals with another day if your not in the mood to follow the menu...

Let's hear your favorite frugal meal tips and recipes!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nutrition Chart

We had fun today making this nutrition chart. It is divided into 3 groups: Colors (i.e. fruits and veggies), Whole Grains and Proteins. We cut out pictures of healthy foods from grocery store circulars and cardboard food packages to glue onto each section. It is a lot bigger than our old one, which has seen better days. But this simple model has really been a great tool to teach nutritious eating habits. The kids will refer to the pictures to help them decide what to eat for a snack, and mealtimes are great opportunities to have them guess which group each food belongs to and talk about why they are important. We try to eat at least one thing from the Protein and Whole Grain categories at each meal, and preferably at least two from the Colors group.

Activity! Make your own charts with your favorite nutritious foods, then send me your pictures. Next week I will post a gallery of your projects. Have fun!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Processing acorns

Processing Acorns:

Step 1: After spending hours of splitting the nuts with your pocket knife and checking for bad spots and grubs, put them in the blender and blend them on low speed until they are nice and chunky.

Step 2: Pour nuts through strainer and rinse them.

Step 3: Boil nuts in a pot with more water for 15 minutes and remove foam from the top. Drain and rinse again then taste them. If they do not taste good then boil them for 15 minutes again in water and remove foam from the top. Repeat this step until they meet the needs of your taste buds. Well, we only did it one or two times so it's not recommended to do it more than that.

Step 4: Eat them, if you do not want to eat them all at once then bag them and put them in the freezer. If you do not like eating them all by themselves then bake them in cookies, banana bread, or pancakes.

Step 5: If you do not like them at all then you have a nice bit of bird feeder. If they do not like them then just throw it to the squirrels. If they do not like them then... oh well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Foraging Adventures Part 1:

Acorns: More Than Squirrel Food

Last night, we finished up the acorns my brothers and I gathered and processed when they visited last fall. I made some whole grain pancakes with the ground up nuts, which I had been saving in the freezer. Reuben (my youngest, age 22 months), was so hungry (big surprise) he kept holding up his plate and grunting while I was cooking them. "No," I explained, "let's wait till they're all done." Suddenly, he burst out with "Pease, pease!" Needless to say, I couldn't resist the magic word, especially since it was the first time he ever said it! And he ate a bunch!

Since acorns are very bitter when you gather them, they require a little extra work to leach out the tannins. But since our yard gets drowned in acorns each year, gathering them is easy and free. There are many varieties of oaks, but they all generally fall into one of two basic groups. The black oaks, whose acorns mature every two years, have pointy-edged leaves, and typically have more tannin. The white oaks have smooth lobed leaves and bear nuts every year. They are usually less bitter, so those are the ones we gather. These acorns are also more oblong and have softer shells than those of the black oaks, which are like hard marbles.

Now I could tell you how to process them right now, but I think I will hand the baton to Alan (Strake) and see if he can take a break from designing 3d animated computer games and share what he remembers from our foraging adventure last fall. Your turn, bro!

Stay tuned for the next in the series, which should hopefully be more i
n keeping with the season.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Construction paper placemat weaving

Kaitlin and I had fun the other day with some construction paper crafts! We started with the chain links and that was a big hit! Then I remembered how we used to weave placemats with the same kind of strips cut for links. I found a quick link for instructions and our only variation is that we used a whole piece of paper as a base to glue the woven strips on for a firmer placemat. Kaitlin got a little carried away with adding extra strips. :D

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yummy 'Nanas


2 bananas
4 tsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
4 tsp. toasted wheat germ

I made this nice recipe and it's so yummy. First I sliced up the bananas and put them in a bowl. And then I put coconut and wheat germ in it. And I mixed it up with a spoon.

by Virginia Harding (age 5)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Matching Games

There are some great resources on the web for flash cards, matching games and lots of other cool tools for teaching. Here is the pdf for alphabet matching cards. We printed, colored and cut them out, then pasted them onto card stock and covered them with clear contact paper. (cheap laminate option) :). We also made some animal matching vocabulary cards with this domino maker site.
Check out the main page for more customizable printable activities. And here is a link to more free printables! As I figure out this blog thing, I'll try and have a section to list these links and others we find more conveniently.