Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Sunday, September 22, 2013

baking bread in the Big Green Egg...

Baking bread used to be a huge mystery for me.  Sometimes it worked out just fine.  Sometimes the bread was dense and heavy and not very appealing.  Sometimes the crust was far too dark for me, particularly on the bottom.  Sometimes the dough just wouldn't rise.  *sigh*

But this Spring I attended a wonderfully welcoming and informative bread making class offered by the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League.  The class was presented by a most patient and skillful bread baker who just happened to have her very own WOOD-FIRED OVEN in her backyard! 
The wood-fired oven at the bread class I attended

What a treat!  This lovely woman gave us the basics, the hands-on, the extra tips, the entire process... all while we enjoyed the fragrance of the bread baking in that amazing oven. 

Later in the Spring (and after many months of discussion and visits to dealers) we purchased a Big Green Egg for our backyard.  It's a wonderful invention!  The website has this to say, "Widely acclaimed as the original American-designed ceramic cooker, the Big Green Egg was derived from an ancient clay cooking device known as a 'kamado'. Originally a clay vessel with a lid, today’s EGG® is a modern ceramic marvel known for producing amazing culinary results for novice and experts alike for over thirty years!"  It's the perfect way to grill, smoke, roast, or even... be still my heart... BAKE! 

Ok, so the Big Green Egg (aka: BGE) is NOT a wood-fired oven, built lovingly in my backyard, but it's close enough for me!  Armed with the instructions and recipe from the bread class, all the necessary ingredients, and the BGE, I decided to give it a try.

The morning started with mixing the bread dough, letting it rise, kneading it gently, letting it rise, kneading it gently and shaping it into 3 loaves, and leaving it to rise once more. 

Now to get the fire going!  I began by adding natural hardwood charcoal to the BGE (not briquets or any man-made, pre-formed nonsense).  I used the husband's Looftlighter to quickly light the fire.  Next I put the plate setter in place with the legs pointing up over the fire inside the BGE.  The grill was placed on the upright legs of the plate setter, and then the baking stone was place on top of the grill.  I closed the lid and watched the temperature on the guage rise.  When it got to 500 degrees, I was ready!

The beautifully risen loaves were waiting.  I cut a slit on the top of two of the loaves and brought them out to the BGE.  I opened the lid and placed the loaves side-by-side atop parchment paper circles on the hot baking stone.  When I closed the lid, the temperature had dropped to about 350 degrees.  As it started to rise, I incrementally closed the sliding door over the screen near the bottom of the BGE.  Adjusting this door controls the air flow through the coals and out the top vent of the BGE, thus controlling the temperature.  Keeping a close eye, I continued to adjust as needed to maintain a steady temperature of 375 - 400 degrees.  I took a peek inside at the 30 minute mark (mostly because I had to see what was creating the heavenly aroma in my backyard) and the loaves were almost done.  Minutes later I pulled the loaves out and inserted an instant read thermometer.  A perfect internal temperature of 180 degrees had been reached in each of the loaves! 

While the third loaf was baking in the BGE, I took a look at the bottom and top crusts of the first two loaves.  They were just how I like them!  I don't prefer a dark crust, but I do like it nicely golden brown. 

This bread was the perfect toasting bread, sandwich bread, and "snacking" bread.  We ate the first loaf almost immediately, continued to consume the second loaf through the week, and froze the third loaf for the days to come. 

Here's the recipe I used, baking it in the BGE, of course, instead of the oven.  As advised in the bread class, I weighed the ingredients on a kitchen scale.  I also use King Arthur flour, Celtic grey sea salt, and raw, local honey.


Honey Oatmeal Bread
     makes 2 large or 3 small loaves

6 cups (1 lb. 9 oz.) flour
2 cups (10 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 - 3/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tblspn. instant yeast (NOT active dry yeast)
4 tsp. (21 grams) fine sea salt
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup honey
3 - 3 1/2 cups warm water

Mix all ingredients in a dough bucket.  The dough should be shaggy and sticky.  If the dough is too dry, add water by the tablespoon until it feels right.  Let the dough rise with the lid loosely on top of the dough bucket until double in bulk.  Pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead quite gently for a few minutes to firm up the dough (a floured dough scraper helps with this process).   Try not to add too much flour.  You  need just enough to be able to work the dough without it being sticky.  Put the dough back in the dough bucket, cover loosely, and let rise for about an hour.  Repeat the kneading process.  Let it rise for another hour.  Knead and separate into 2 large or 3 small loaves.  (If using pans, let loaves rise until they are just above the edge of the pans.)  Use a sharp knife and make a slit down the center of the top loaf surface.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 35 minutes for smaller loaves, 45 minutes for larger loaves.  Loaves are ready when the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees or they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom crust.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

pancakes for breakfast...

Sometimes you just want pancakes for breakfast.  Especially when it's mid-September and the air suddenly turns crisp and you fling open every window to greet the morning breeze.

But not just any pancakes.  Buckwheat pancakes.  With buttermilk.  And applesauce.  Yes.

So here it is... our breakfast recipe for happy mornings on the (suburban) farm...  with commentary...

Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes

1 cup buckwheat flour 
     (why not grind your own?)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tblspn. sugar 
     (local raw honey would be a sweet substitute)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
     (hopefully a lovely, farm-fresh egg from a happy hen)
1 cup buttermilk
     (from an ice cold glass bottle would be nice)
3 - 4 Tblspn. applesauce
     (homemade with only a kiss of honey and no sugar
     from delicious Virginia apples and canned in vintage blue Ball jars)
1 Tblspn. melted butter, cooled
     (homemade butter is luscious)

Preheat the griddle or large skillet to medium - medium high, or about 375 degrees if electric.  Lightly grease the pan.  When you think the pan is preheated, add a few droplets of water onto the hot pan... if the droplets sizzle and then fade away, your pan is ready! 

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large (4-cup) measuring cup.  Add in the egg, buttermilk, applesauce, and butter; mix until well incorporated.  Pour desired amount of batter onto preheated pan.  Let cook over medium heat until the edges appear dry and bubbles start to form and pop on the surface.  Turn the pancake and continue cooking until done.  (Should take a minute or two per side, depending on the thickness of your pancake.)

Yield (here at Flannel Jammies Farm, where we like 'em big and fat): 6 - 7 pancakes

Serve with butter, maple syrup or honey, and maybe a light sprinkling of cinnamon, alongside a nice cup of tea.

Sit down with family, give thanks, and enjoy!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello

Each year as Summer seems never-ending and unbearable, my thoughts turn toward Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's dear home here in Virginia, and the annual Heritage Harvest Festival.  It's a weekend filled with all things sustainable agriculture and homesteading.  Classes are offered by truly gifted presenters on everything from vinegar making to permaculture to pole barn building to pig plowing.  The knowledge, the sights, the fragrances, the vendors, and the splendor of Monticello's gardens... let's get going, shall we?

We arrived at Monticello on Friday and spent a day in classes.  My classes included:

Small Scale Cheese Making in the Home Kitchen
presented by Backyard Revolution's Anne Buteau

Creating the Family Homestead
presented by a panel including
Backyard Revolution's founder Adrienne Young-Ramsey

Native Medicinals: 
Making Medicine & Creating Sanctuaries
presented by Kathleen Maier,
Director of Sacred Plant Traditions
and Physicians Assistant, American Herbalist Guild

Maintaining a Bee Yard during Times of Adversity
presented by Paul Legrand,
beekeeper for Monticello and Tufton Farm

The hubs and I decided on different Friday classes.  His included:

Creating Abundance with Permaculture
presented by Blue Ridge Permaculture's Christine Gyovai

The New Victory Garden:
Harmonizing Vegetables & Flowers
presented by Joe Brunetti & Erin Clark, 
Horticulturists at the Smithsonian 
National Museum of American History

Chicken Whispering:
Discovering the Chicken You Never Knew
presented by Patricia Foreman,
author of City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Laying Hens 
as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, 
Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers

Notebooks filled with notes, minds filled with new and exciting ideas, it was time to rest up for tomorrow's festivities. 

Saturday morning was glorious, filled with sunshine and just the right chill in the air.  We boarded the shuttle bus that would transport us up the mountain to Monticello with friends from the Virginia Urban Homesteader's League.  First stop:  the Seed Swap!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange hosts this old-timey seed exchange each year.  Their growers bring some seeds to start things off, but lots of festival friends join in, bringing seeds lovingly saved from their home gardens.  Our friends brought seeds of lemon balm and icicle radish and so much more.  These were traded for false indigo and calendula and others.  Rodger Winn, certified organic seed grower of many heirloom varieties was on hand to answer questions and share his enthusiasm for seed saving.  (In 2011, he received the “Conservationist of the Year” award for Newberry County, South Carolina, and he is a past recipient of the Southern Seed Legacy “Seed Saver of the Year” award.)
Rodger Winn
Next, we gazed at Monticello in all her glory.  The home is stunning.  No other description is needed.

From the house we strolled through the vegetable garden and orchards.  The garden is amazing, situated perfectly on the mountaintop, green and productive.  Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Etienne Lemaire, "I am constantly in my garden or farm, as exclusively employed out of doors as I was within doors when at Washington, and I find myself infinitely happier in my new mode of life."

After the refreshment of the garden, we wandered through the display tents and tasting tents.  So much to see and taste!  The tomatoes... oh! the tomatoes!... bowl after bowl of varieties unknown to most, each with their own distinct flavor.
Roasted cocoa beans
Tomato tasting

Chef demo of Tomato Watermelon Salad

We visited the vendor tents, stopping for hugs and the fragrance of handcrafted soaps from our friends at Roses Ridge Farm.  There were so many vendors with such wonderful offerings!
Roses Ridge Farm

On to visit one of the workshop tents to meet farmer, scientist, author and editor, Hank Will.  He's the editor of GRIT and Capper's Farmer, and a warm, engaging conversationalist.  It was a highlight of our trip to spend time chatting with him.  (Yes, he is a tall man, but I am a mere 5' tall.)
Meeting Hank Will
Ok, by this time, I was hungry!  We visited the food area where the offerings included lovely grass-feed beef, made to order crepes with local tomatoes, old-fashioned barbeque, and veggie offerings alike.  We had a delicious lunch and then enjoyed cold beer in our commemorative Heritage Harvest Festival tumblers from Kleen Kanteen.  

We spent the rest of the festival visiting the demonstration areas, exploring domestic arts, field arts, and homestead-y goodness:  blacksmithing, beekeeping, bricklaying, log splitting, spinning, weaving, knitting, preserving, dyeing, music making, and on and on.  

Sacks filled with seeds, books, and memories, we made our way back to the shuttle, stopping one last time for laughs and hugs with friends from the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League.  

Already planning next September's Heritage Harvest Festival.  Keep it in mind... it's worth the trip!