Friday, March 5, 2010

The Great White North

A friend of mine says she's going hunting. She's cleaning her rifle. She's loaded for...groundhog. Yeah. That's right. Groundhog. Particularly the one who lives in the climate-controlled environment enjoying all of the amenities of life while the rest of us are slogging out the dregs of winter. Keep your head down, Phil. That's all I'm sayin'.

I can't say that our week began with the most auspicious preparations. A power outage the previous week had revealed that our generator, serviced over the summer, wasn't actually as ready as we had hoped. Fortunately, it had only been of a short duration and since we'd had no other outages this winter, there probably wasn't anything to be concerned over. The utility company had been ruthless in their pruning efforts this past summer, as the misshapen and mutilated trees lining the local rural roads could attest. Trees intrepid enough to grow within the easement parameters were hacked, hewn, and even hawed to almost shrub-like proportions. Yep. The power people were set. Right? Riiiight. And so we hoped that their readiness would compensate for our own rather shakiness in that department. I mean, you try finding service for a generator this time of year. Pick a number and stand in line.

I spent the first of the week in a flurry of activity, because before the end of Tuesday afternoon, there were goosefeather snowflakes wafting their way down to settle on the solidified masses of previous snowfalls. We had planned a winter outing that morning, but I canceled so that way I wouldn't have to pick up Tool Guy from work. I had no intentions of making anymore uphill hikes in heavy snowfall to collect him. Been there, done that, bought the sweatshirt. And, indeed, when Tool Guy came home, stomping in out of the snow, he affirmed that, like the Princess on the Glass Hill, it was possible to come down, but impossible to go up. Then the power went out. With a futzy generator. Greeeeeeat. Just great. Fortunately, dinner was five minutes away from hitting the table and so we had a warm meal for dinner. Given how the week would go, this was being thankful for large favors.

The Hobbits were all troupers. Nay, they were excited. They always celebrate occasions that are marked by lighting the hurricane lamp that has followed us from Louisiana. Something romantic and adventurous about the soft, warm glow. And smoking wick. Yeah, I'm still working on the knack of trimming it properly. Where's Jane Austen when you need her? Nonetheless, we circled around the table after dinner and resumed work on lessons and reading. Everyone was feeling quite Little House on the Prairie-ish. We had to flip a coin to see who had the honor of blowing out the lamp. Yeah. I know. Gotta get these kids out more often.

When I woke up at 4 am and the staring red light on our smoke detector wasn't glaring down at me, I knew that we were in for more than just an inconvenience. I looked out the window and saw the relentlessly gentle parade of flakes continue to come down. Buckle your seatbelts, passengers...

In the morning, Tool Guy decided that it was worthwhile to argue further with the generator and he was able to persuade it to be of his way of thinking. Happy day! Heat. Hot showers. Sanitary sanitation opportunities. Hot food. Cold refrigerators. A man who can coax a generator to start is a man of inestimable charm. Think I'll keep him around a while. I immediately filled up several storage buckets full of water in case his persuasive powers didn't hold. I've decided that among the canning activities in which I will indulge this summer, not the least of these shall include canning water. Yep. That's right. Water. If I'm going to have extra jars taking up space down in the basement, the least they can do is haul their weight by keeping us stocked with water in the future event that the choke on our generator decides to resume its recalcitrance. Besides, I want to be able to flush, okay?

Did I mention that I had a co-op order to coordinate during this week? Yeah. No stress there. Because even with power from the generator, when cable is down, cable is down. Needless to say, when, thirty-six hours later, the power came back on, I flew into action. I spent the morning catching up on phone calls, ordering, email, as well as grinding flour, setting up bread, and anticipating whatever else we might need. The forecast was predicting another front of snow. As it turned out, I had exactly twelve hours to get everything that I needed done done and then, like clockwork, the power went down again. Tool Guy turned to me and inquired about the prospects of relocating South. I asked him if that meant that I wouldn't be able to go grocery shopping in the morning. Nope. My week certainly wasn't going according to plan.

It's nice to know that there are some things that can come together even in sticky spots. We might have been low on coffee and cream--which might be characterized as a state of emergency in its own right--but we had plenty of everything else, despite an inability to get to the grocery store. Our storage shelves had a sufficiency of whatever we needed to get us through the tight places. Even bread baking went on as usual. Speaking of which, I've been playing around with making my bread egg-free. A few people asked me if it was possible. And I'll be honest...I'd never considered it, throwing as many eggs as was rational at the bread recipe in a desperate bid to have it succeed the first time. Which it did. And, for one who claims to cook dangerously, I had never worked up the nerve to leave them out and have it potentially flop. But when our egg supply disappeared, I had a greater incentive to see if it was possible. Guess what? It is. So for those who asked, here's the egg-free bread. My baking pans hold about four cups of dough, so the recipe is sized accordingly. Your needs may vary.

Everything (Including Egg) Free Sourdough Bread

These days, I'm making my starter with a blend that looks roughly like this:

1/3 cup adzuki bean flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup red quinoa flour
1 cup millet flour
2/3 cup rice flour

I measure heaping cups of these, because I want there to be a little starter left over to help feed the next generation. As I've mentioned before, teff or fenugreek makes a great lactobacilli magnet if your starter needs to be perked up or restarted.

4 cups sourdough starter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup flax seed meal (opt.)
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. guar gum

Mix ingredients together, bringing up to high speed once the batter and dry ingredients are incorporated. "Knead" for about five minutes. The consistency needs to be something between toothpaste and cake batter, so add water or a couple of tablespoons of flour as necessary to achieve this. Pour batter into pans lined with baking parchment. I've gotten quite addicted to the ability to pop the bread pans into the refrigerator and let them rise until I feel like baking them. To prevent a skin from forming on the surface of the breads, I lay a sheet of plastic wrap or baking parchment over the top before storing in the fridge and then peel off when I'm ready to put them in the oven. Bake at 350* for approximately 1.5 hours or until done. When baked, pop out of pan and onto cooling rack, waiting until completely cooled to cut.

The Hobbits have pronounced this to be my best bread ever. Yeah, I know. You've unearthed my secret. I keep them on such a short leash that anything new I do feels like an improvement. I have to say that I'm pretty fond of it, too, though. Prolly 'cause I keep myself on the same short leash. At any rate, when I let it rise sufficiently--and therein lies the art of much is high enough without the bread collapsing--I get this towering loaf of bread that doesn't need the lift from eggs to make it lofty. For the egg-free folk, enjoy!

Bread in hand, we were well-provided for. In spite of twenty-four hours without government snow removal and an inability to achieve the roads to go anywhere, our widow's cruse of gasoline held out--with a bit of judicious rationing--until the power came back on almost forty-eight hours later. Which was two days before some of our other neighbors regained grid connectivity, Lord love 'em.

Secure provisions are reassuring when you have snow encroaching on your window sashes. Or the handrail on your entry stairs. This isn't for the faint of heart. The propane delivery person announced himself "too old for this" and refused to return until there was a cleared path to the backyard. Yeah...that's gonna happen... My die-hard neighbor, who has relationships with his walk-behind snowblowers that looks like other men's relationships with their classic cars, threw in the scarf and hired a back-hoe to clear his driveways.

The blizzard of 2010 will be something that the Hobbits will talk about when they are our age. They'll tell about the "roughing it" and the igloos they constructed--Princess has quite an architectural bent--and the tunnels they burrowed through the yard. When I was her age, we had two inches of snow and, in Louisiana, it left the same kind of impression as the footage does now.

Meanwhile, as I'm digging out from under, I'm also digging around for groundhog recipes.

They're gluten-free, right?


Zenseer said...

Looks nice but can you be more specific as to how you prepare the starter please?
Also regarding the azuki bean flour, it is made from freshly ground azuki beans or do your pre-soak & dry/dehydrate your beans prior to grinding?


Loztnausten said...

The "quick and dirty" starter is molasses water fermented with water kefir grains or fruit juice with well-rinsed dairy grains. Take the fermented liquid and soak flour in it on the counter overnight. Et voila. Starter. It should puff up nicely. Or you can take teff flour and water, creating a "rye" sourdough starter, since teff and rye possess the same powers for making starter.

Since I'm making a sourdough with the adzuki beans, I don't do anything with them ahead of time. Just grind and add to the starter. If I'm going to use unfermented beans for anything, I prefer to sprout them before using.


Christy said...

Stumbled on your blog. I'm kinda nutty about food and we home school as well so I guess I better add you to my blog reading list. :)

Loztnausten said...

Thanks for stopping by, Christie!