Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Food Systems

Exploded bread - I'm still scared of burning the f*ck out of my hands as I lower the bread into the Dutch oven

The new dog has put a dent in our dining out adventures, mostly because Jaco doesn't like to be alone. While we are building up his crate endurance with minimal stress (to both us and our neighbors who can probably hear him crying through our walls), we've been eating in more. This isn't a bad thing, especially now that the boy and I have more time.

In order to feed ourselves 2.5 meals a day (breakfast is a tricky meal for those of us who snooze our alarms 12 times before getting up), I've had to apply some food systems (I don't know if that's the right term, but I'm going to roll with it) to make sure there is always something ready to make and eat with minimal fuss.  It would be a lie for me to say that this doesn't take up a chunk of time, but I do try to make things in parallel and split tasks with the boy so we can run efficiently. Yes, that sounds disgustingly functional, but what else can you expect from two engineers?

First system: bread. Although I had a run where I was cooking bread often, I stopped because we couldn't eat as much bread as I was cooking on a weekly basis. Baking only 1 loaf at a time, although the tastiest way to go about it, seemed wasteful. But then, fast forward 9 years later, and we are both around the house for more meals. The boy became interested in baking bread while I was away at work. At first, I pointed him towards my old methods and recipes, but I was interested in delving deeper into no knead bread. My first attempt were tasteless, and I came to the conclusion that no knead bread had lots of promise, but the flavor wasn't there. Kenji at Serious Eats solved this problem by a 3-5 day ferment. Nope, not for me. I thought about using a starter, and after a quick search, found that many people have tackled this issue already. My favorite method is from Chez Pim. She mixes her dough in the evening, lets it rest overnight, and then does the final proofing and baking in the morning. Easy enough. My only issue is that since we bake maybe 1-2 times a week, I didn't want to continually feed the starter. My solution is to take the starter out of the refrigerator the morning I want to make dough, let it sit out and perhaps feed it if it's been awhile since its last meal, and then make the dough. This wakes up the yeast. Feeding a starter daily was becoming a chore, and since I'm cheap, it pained me to dump some of the starter every time it needed to be fed. Sure, you can make crackers or pancakes out of it, but I was forcing myself to make it. I find that feeding the starter the day of bread making still gives me good results. After I use the starter, I feed it and immediately stick it in the refrigerator for a nap. Some other tips I gleaned along the way: use an instant read thermometer to see if the bread is done (temperature should be between 200-210 degF) and use rice flour to dust the banneton (brotform). Now, I just need to find a reliable way to drop the bread into the  Dutch oven. I always end up hesitating because the Dutch oven is the temperature of the sun, and my bread comes out deformed because I couldn't drop in the dough straight.

Root vegetables ready to load up into the oven as it preheats

While the Dutch oven is heating up in the oven, I toss a pan of vegetables in the oven. If those vegetables don't become dinner that evening, I use it the next day as a vegetable soup, that is also symbiotic with bread. Sometimes I make a fancy soup where I sauté onions and garlic, but other times I just put it into my Vitamix with chicken broth and let it whiz around for 7 minutes or so. Both versions taste good, but be sure to add an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, as well as enough salt, so the soup doesn't taste too sweet. 

Roasted broccoli soup
And that chicken broth? The broth comes from bones leftover from chicken dinners and vegetable scraps (my favorites are leek tops and celery middles) from previous meals. I saw both the vegetable scraps and the bones in the freezer until they hit critical mass, meaning I really need some freezer space. Sometimes the bones are raw, but most of the time the bones were roasted into some sort of chicken bake, but cut away and stored into the bone jar before I plate my food. I can't think of the last time I had to buy chicken broth. If you have an electric pressure cooker, this is really easy. I put everything into my Instant Pot and cook it on manual high for an hour. Meanwhile, I can do whatever else needs some attention because I don't have to babysit the stock.

Figs! And smoked gorgonzola!
As far as food collecting goes, I joined Urban Tilth's CSA. I used to be a part of Full Belly's CSA, but Urban Tilth has many advantages for us. First, they have a biweekly subscription, perfect for us without drowning us in produce every week. Second, I pick up the produce from the farm, conveniently a few miles away from my house. I get to check out the farm and see plants that I can grow at home. Third, my money goes towards a good cause, especially since I can have a "pay it forward" subscription that donates a portion of my subscription fees to a local family that needs a little help. Also, Urban Tilth is about community. They have volunteer days where I can work alongside the people growing my food and my other neighbors. I ended up looking for another CSA when trying to figure out what I could do at the local level to make improvements and build community. I don't know if this is the case with you, but the constant barrage of stupid politics in inescapable and I needed proof that there are groups out there trying to do the right thing.

Monday, August 28, 2017

And then there were 3...

Unbeknownst to me, but not at all surprising, the boy had been looking for another dog to call his very own. I argued that Sesame was enough dog for the two of us, but the heart wants what the heart wants and that same argument didn't work for me when it was just us and Mingus. So... Here's Jaco! 

Jaco's name rhymes with "taco," and he is loosely named after Jaco Pastorius. My hope is that Jaco won't get kicked out of a club by Santana, although that would be one hell of a bar story. If you can spot the relationship between the name Mingus and Jaco, congratulations! It wasn't something I would have known if it weren't for the boy. We floated so many names for this dog, bad names like Brozo ("bro" plus Bozo the Clown), Hoodoo, and Goose, but name fatigue set in. So, when we finally found a name the other person didn't hate, the deed was done. Dog tags were ordered, license and obedience class forms were filled out, and Jaco it is! Also, for the record, Brozo was not a name I came up with. I don't ever want to be associated with the creation of that horrible, horrible name.

Yes, he looks a lot like Mingus. This was very disturbing to me when we first met him at the Hayward Animal Shelter. I didn't want a Mingus replacement. However, once we got to know him, the similarities stop at his looks.

The boy is smitten. He sewed (yes, sewed!) Jaco a custom collar and leash. He made Jaco a 2 inch wide martingale collar that looks quite smashing on Jaco. I especially love the checkered pattern, making him either a racing dog or a dog who likes ska.

Isn't that collar great? I keep on thinking that a side gig making dog collars and knitting patterns would be a nice alternative income stream, but then the work involved always makes me reconsider. 

Now, we're are back to wearing dog treat bags in public and Greaseball and Sesame are helping us train an untrained, 1.5-year-old malamute. The new twist is that since Jaco needs so much exercise and the boy is his primary caretaker, Jaco and the boy have walked to at least 6 breweries. Yes, they get their exercise by walking to breweries! This doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that we've only had Jaco for 2 weeks.  This is the first dog we've had who is good with random people and dogs approaching him and who has no trouble settling down in a public space, so my husband's excuse is that he wants to keep this dog socialized. My GSDs have always been the manners police, and Mingus, while good with people and dogs, wouldn't settle. So, this is a new thing for us. Brewery dog, it is! If you have a lead on good breweries in the Bay Area (the closer to Berkeley, the better), please don't be shy about letting me know in the comments.

Monday, February 27, 2017

As the Garden Grows

Rain, rain, rain. That has been my garden's theme this rather mild winter in Northern California. While this makes me want to hoard even more rain barrels just in case this summer is a dry one, it also has convinced me that I never want to live in a climate where this much rain is normal. Don't get me wrong - we needed this rain. But, the earlier rains in January and December I blame for making me restless. And, since I hate being out in the rain, I also blame the rain for making me and Sesame out of shape. I'd be a sloth if I lived in Portland or Seattle. Well, at least now I know that I'm meant for a climate with more sun.

If anyone wants to see more garden photos, my current obsession, you can find them at  @foggyveggiegarden on Instagram. I'm cramming by brain with books on high-yield gardening, permaculture (fascinating!), and dreaming of a south-facing garden. My current garden gets 6 hours of direct sunlight, at most, and it's bumming me out. However, I have managed to grow a fair amount of greens (and purples and reds) for us to eat this winter. 

The beauty of our mild climate is that I can grow food all year round, even though our lack of light makes the vegetables somewhat stunted compared to a sunnier local. Our neighbor across the street has the perfect vegetable-growing space, and I covet it daily. Yet, I can't really complain. Other parts of this country are buried in snow.

My other obsession, still, is my Instant Pot, the kitchen appliance I never thought I'd want yet now can't imagine living without. I haven't been without homemade stock since getting this device. I've also made Vietnamese yogurt multiple times, pho ga, countless Indian dishes, and amazake (much maltier than I expected in comparison to the amazake I buy from the store). My Instant Pot has replaced my slow cooker, and surprisingly, my fancy pants rice cooker. I can make perfect jasmine rice in 20 minutes, no lie! My fancy rice cooker will probably go to a relative soon.

Sesame and Greaseball are doing well. Greaseball is as grumpy as ever, and Sesame continues to become a better dog, although I'm resigned that she loves the boy more than me. I feed her, train her, and walk her, but all the boy needs to do is exist to be the apple of her eye. If he's watching television, she's watching him. If he's working at home, she's by his feet. When he plays the bass, she's his biggest fan. Can you tell I'm annoyed by this? I reason that because of this, I get to pick out our second dog, too. So far, he's not buying it.


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