Storm drops cow on farm? Feeling a bit at Oz.

Squinting, I picked up my phone to check the time: 5:15AM. Why was I awake? Then I remembered last night’s storm: lightning, rolling thunder and walls of rain driven by high winds – gusts that tore tree branches ripped up my tomato plants.
The little bull calf must have been frightened. He’d been left in the field after I moved the rest of the herd across the driveway and to a fresh paddock. Darn calf. It just wouldn’t stay by its moma. It kept running around me and double-backing to the old field. Crazy kid.
5:15AM. Sunday morning and the cows were mooing like crazy. The unhappy moma bellowed the lead, and the rest of the cows provided boistrous backup.
I pulled on my patched jeans, a tattered black t-shirt and an over-sized white shirt (to keep off bugs), and headed out to find the calf and coax it in with the rest of the herd. Correction: I would try to coax it back to its mom.
(Herding a calf and herding cats have a lot in common.)
Wearing my shin-high Muck boots, I was half-way across the wet field when I noticed a strange white patch moving within a shadowy stand of poplars. It bobbed about five feet above the grass. What was that? The little bull calf only reaches my waist, so it wasn’t him. Not only that, but all my cattle – BueLingos – have either black or red faces.

BueLingo calves

BueLingo calves


The white patch kept approaching.
I stopped cold. Was that a man in our field? The white patch loomed closer. When it stepped out of the trees, I saw it for what it was – a white-faced Hereford cow. What in the world? Where did this thing come from? And how did it get into our fenced-off field?
As I was mulling this over, I also spotted our errant calf. Both he and the hiefer (young female) were standing across the driveway from the rest of the herd. They were separated by 30 feet of gravel driveway and two lines of electric fence. So all this noise wasn’t just about the calf, it was also about the strange cow.
I yelled at Dave (he was on the deck enjoying a first cup of coffee), to let him know about the visitor left by last night’s storm.
Dave responded with his usual, “What in the world?”
Visiting Hereford heifer

Visiting Hereford heifer

We guessed this young Hereford was spooked by last night’s pyrotechnics, wandered over from the neighboring farm, and found (or made) a breach in our perimeter fence.
We took a breath. Seeing that both the Hereford and our little Buelingo were safe, the first order of business was finding the hole in our fence line.
I searched for an hour before church services. Nothing. Dave and I resumed our inspection after brunch. Nada. Our theory: the heifer is a jumper.
If you’ve never seen it, it’s a sight that stops you in your tracks – a 1000-lb bovine easily clearing a 5-ft fence. Breath-taking.
OK. The heifer is safe. The little bull is safe, if temporarily separated from its dam. Our fence line is intact.
Next step: knock on a few doors and find out if any of our neighbors is missing a heifer wearing an ear-tag marked #1.
It took us just a couple of tries. The worried owner lives just across a main road from our farm. She’d been frantic when she discovered her pretty red heifer missing this morning. Mystery solved, but the issue’s far from resolved.
Getting the Hereford back to her farm may take a bit of time even though her pasture is just 1/4-mile from us. It could take two days or two weeks to have her join with our herd, calmly move through rotational paddock changes, and finally make it back up to our corral. Once in the corral, we would get her into a hauler, and make the minute-long drive back to her home farm.
BREAKING NEWS: Just got a call from the Hereford’s owner. Seems the heifer jumped fences, trotted along the busy county road, turned into her home driveway and jumped back into her own field.
Theory proven. Issue resolved.
Just checked my phone. Storms forecast for Thursday.

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Ya gotta have heart!!

Americans love their flame grilled steaks, simmering pot roasts, and juicy burgers. But what about the rest of that 100% grass-fed steer? What do you do with the heart, liver, tongue, oxtail, shank bones and other lesser known cuts? Today, we’ll focus on the heart because it can become a favorite.
The heart of a full-grown beef steer can weight four or five pounds.It’s the most lean cut of meat in the cow. It’s also a muscle that’s worked constantly since conception. Lack of fat and constant use can make any muscle tough if not cooked correctly. Fortunately, there’s a great recipe and approach that makes for a luscious stew of tender morsals.
I adapted this recipe from Jennifer McLagan’s “Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal.” I’ve tapped the unique cooking powers of a stove-top pressure cooker to yield tender beef and a savory sauce. It’s a hearty meal when served over hot rice and with a side of steamed carrots. I washed my dinner down with home-brewed kombucha.

Moroccan beef heart stew with brown rice and home-fermented kimchi.

Moroccan beef heart stew with brown rice and home-fermented kimchi.

Here’s a recipe for a 4 lb. heart. If you have a cut of heart that’s smaller, simply reduce the other ingredients proportionally. Or, you can make the full recipe for the sauce – it’s delicious on eggs, polenta, rice or baked potatoes. Here’s the recipe:
Braised Heart

Image

Light showers

I hadn’t expected it. After all, the forecast had been for rain yesterday afternoon, and when it didn’t materialize, I thought, “oh, well,” and “darn.” [When your business is converting grass to beef, as our’s is, we can always use an inch or two of rain every week.]
Believing the rain had either veered by us or that the system had disintegrated at the county line, I then did the usual farm-mental-gymnastics and planned for today’s early activities.
And so, now it’s raining, but lightly. The weatherman says the showers will be brief. I can see the edge of the clouds to the north. From solid grey cover they break up to brighter, puffier islands in the blue.
One more cup of tea, and it’s outside I go.
SylviaReceeding showers - May 5, 2016

The Prince.

imagesI’m surprised by how much the passing of Prince has hit me.
He belonged to the world, but first he was Minnesota’s.
RIP.

Baking French sourdough without $$$ artsy extras. Some alternatives.

I’ve been baking bread a long time, and I’ll admit it – I love the equipment and gadgets that come with artisan baking. Thing is, those extras can add up to some serious change. Can you bake great French sourdough without a $35 willow banneton, a $15 lame, or pricy organic rice flour for dusting a linen couche? Can you get a high, lofty loaf without the aid of a steam-capturing dutch oven. And what about those large plastic buckets used for the first (bulk) fermentation? Nobody gives those away.

Lovely crispy crust

Lovely crispy crust

I didn’t have any of these things when I first started baking bread. Now, I’ve got all of them. I was brought up short recently when one of my baking students said she was “disenchanted by the expensive extras” needed to produce the deep brown crust and open crumb of French sourdough.

And so, this challenge to myself: to share lower-cost alternatives.

Here we go!

Options for the first rise aka bulk fermentation

Options for the first rise aka bulk fermentation


The first rise (bulk fermentation). I use plastic buckets, and if you’ve got one, great. If not, use whatever you have on hand that’s big enough to contain your dough as it rises, and that’ll let you see its progress. Any large bowl or metal pot will do. Caution: make sure whatever you use is food grade. Don’t use a container that once held toxic substances.
To keep dough surface moist. You want to make sure the dough’s surface stays moist and pliable. I use elasticized plastic caps purchased at my local grocery store. I like them because they’re sturdy enough to reuse 4-6 months. That said, you don’t need them. Use plastic wrap. Re-use the food-grade plastic bags your veggies/fruits came in. Be sure to lightly oil the surface facing the dough so that it won’t stick to it.
Bannetons and towel-lined colander

Bannetons and towel-lined colander


For the second rise. I just love willow and wicker baskets for raising the shaped loaf. (They’re called bannetons or brotforms.) But are they required? No. Instead, line a colander or bowl with a really well-floured towel (sack or other close-weave, not terry). Don’t have an extra towel? A clean old cotton shirt or sheet will work. Cut it to a generous size, and flour it like crazy.
Knife, commercial lame, and a DIY version

Knife, commercial lame, and a DIY version


Scoring your loaf. We score, or slash, a loaf so that the crusts rises without tearing the loaf. Lots of bakers use this step to cut a signature design into each loaf. A lame is the professional baker’s choice, but you don’t need to spend big bucks. This short video demonstrates how you can assemble your own in about 10 seconds.
I’ve also gotten good results with sharp knives, especially those with very small serrations. The objective is to create clean slashes; you don’t want to drag your knife or razor through the dough. Have fun!
Parchment paper. You need some way to get your risen loaf from the form (banneton or towel-lined colandar/bowl) to your hot oven. Some people sprinkle coarse cornmeal on a peel or cooking sheet. I don’t because any cornmeal sticking to the loaf burns during the bake, and I don’t like the char taste. Parchment paper is a “must have” for me.
Metal peel, a curl of parchment paper and some old sack towels

Metal peel, a curl of parchment paper and some old sack towels


A peel. – I use a metal peel to transfer my scored loaf into the oven. I used to use a wooden one but found it a bit clumsy. A cookie sheet works.

Baking. Baking bread in a dutch oven has become wildly popular because the enclosure captures steam rising from the bread during the first 20 minutes, an environment that encourages fast expansion, and thereby, a loftier loaf. It’s a home-baker’s way of approximating the steam-injected space in professional ovens. Does it work? Yes. Is it required? No.
(If you do decide a dutch oven’s the way to go, however, use whatever’s in you kitchen now. Or hunt down an inexpensive buy at your local thrift store or garage sale.)


This non-dutch oven alternative has two components: the surface you’ll bake on, and a way to add steam to the hot oven.
1) Before you turn on your oven:
Place an old, beat up cake or pie tin on the oven floor. You’ll use this tin to add steam to the oven. This will corrode the tin, so consider it for this use only.
Place a pizza stone, old cast iron griddle (smooth side up) or cookie sheet in the oven.
2) Pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees F.
3) Put your peel (or an extra cookie sheet) on a flat surface. Cut a sheet of parchment paper larger than your risen loaf. Place the parchment over the dough while it’s still resting in your form. Invert your risen loaf,, with the parchment, onto the peel.
4) score the loaf and spray with water
5) Open the oven door and pour 1/2 c of water into the pan sitting on the oven floor. BE CAREFUL of the very hot steam.
6) Spritz the oven walls with water, quickly.
7) Slide your love(s) onto the pizza stone, griddle or cookie sheet.
8) Close the oven door. Wait 30 seconds, then spritz the oven walls again. BE CAREFUL not to drip water on the glass of your oven door or to spray water on oven bulbs.
9) Bake as directed.

Interested in baking sourdough? Drop me a line, sylvia@bullbrookkeep.com. I hold hands-on classes for small groups of 4-6.
Sylvia

The good, the bad, the absolutely ugly, and hope. US Senate Ag Committee approves DARK Act

It was interesting. This morning’s US Senate Ag Committee hearing was carried live on the Internet, and watching it was an education in and of itself. I, along with thousands of others (I hope) looked on as 20 committee members (Senators all) considered a proposal to amend the “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946” that would establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.
Transparency – that’s good.
Why the amendment? Because some businesses and elected officials want to make it illegal for any state to require GMO labeling on our food. So much for truth-in-labeling. It’s why this legislation has been dubbed the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act). That’s bad. Very bad.
Over the course of the hour-long hearing, I heard committee chair Sen. Pat Roberts say that about 625 organizations submitted letters supporting the amendment. No surprise. What he didn’t say is that over 4 million people have signed petitions demanding GMO labeling, and that poll after poll indicate 90% of those asked want GMO labeling.
That’s an absolutely ugly aspect of this issue: 625 organizations/corporations trump over 1.4 million individuals’ signatures. The amendment also seems to step all over state rights.
When Senator Roberts put the amendment to a voice vote, it was approved 14 to 6. Now titled Senate bill S-2609, will go to a vote by the full Senate as the companion to House bill HR-1599 which passed last year.
The fight’s not over. There’s another opportunity to demand transparency in food labeling. That’s hopeful.
Stay alert for next steps.
Sylvia

We have the right to know what's in our food.

We have the right to know what’s in our food.

Baking French Sourdough – Class March 20, 9:00AM-1:00PM

SOLD OUT
By request, another sourdough bread baking class is scheduled for
March 20th, 9:00AM-1:00PM.
Where? The teaching kitchen at Bull Brook Keep, an easy ride from Minneapolis/St.Paul

Yes, you can made hearth bread -a French sourdough, and variations – in your home oven to fit your schedule.
Click here for more information and to register.
Class is hands-on and limited to 6 students.


Questions? Sylvia Burgos Toftness, 651-238-8525, sylvia@bullbrookkeep.com

Hearth breads made with poolish. Say, what?

Why is it that the hearth breads taste so good? Why do they have those wonderful brown crusts that crunch and shatter when you bite into them? And those holes! When you slice or tear them, their interiors are filled with large glossy holes perfect for holding butter and olive oil and tapenades. Why can’t you make them at home? Do you really need a wood-fired oven?

Hold on…let’s get rid of the myth first. You can bake hearth breads in your home oven. It’s not rocket science, but like anything worthwhile, hearth baking takes a bit of planning and time. Fortunately, however, you’re not chained to your kitchen. On the contrary; you use time, temperature and wet doughs to bend the bread-making process to fit into your schedule.
One strategy is using a pre-ferment – a portion of the total dough that’s mixed hours ahead of the bake. Why? Because a long contact between the water and flour helps free up more of the starches, sugars and proteins that help create great flavor. A pre-ferment also gives the loaf a longer shelf life.
One type of pre-ferment is called a poolish. (Some bread experts believe the term is of Polish origin, hence the name.)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

It’s an easy-to-make batter made with flour, water and a tiny bit of yeast. You make it 4-16 hours before making the final dough. During those hours, it ferments on your kitchen counter or in your frig, a cold closet or in a chilly root cellar. The colder you keep it, the longer you can extend this process. You can tell it’s ready to use when the thick batter’s filled with bubbles and smells sweet.
When you’re ready to bake, you combine the poolish with the rest of your flour, additional water, sometimes a smidge of yeast, and salt to make up the final dough.
Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Loaves made with poolish include ciabatta, pizza, focaccia and other rustic breads.

Learn to make hearth breads using poolish at my hands-on class Tuesday, February 16 at Bull Brook Keep. I’m also holding a class on sourdough breads February 20. Classes are limited to 5 students. For details and to sign up, click here.
Sylvia

Where to get garden seeds not owned by Monsanto

This is a quick dash, but here are a couple of sources to start:
– Mother Earth News has a few posts that list sustainable seed companies. This is just one of them.
– The Seed Savers Exchange is a national network devoted to growing out and sharing (for a small cost) open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and flower seeds

Here are three of my faves:
High Mowing Seeds
Prairie Road Organic
Johnny’s Seeds

Sylvia