Monday, January 30, 2012

On Tomatoes and Planning to do Nothing

You know.. I was thinking the other day. Every year, I have some volunteer tomato plants pop up here and there, and I rarely deter them from doing so. Every year I've been pleasantly surprised by the tasty results of said volunteers... and so this year...

I think I'm going to lay off the tomato planting.

At the end of 2011 I gave up on trying to keep up with the ripe tomatoes. I had planned poorly, staked wimpily and decided pretty much that the slugs could have the tomato plants. There were plenty of heirloom tomatoes out there, rotting on the ground. Thus, the tomato kingdom fell prey to various nasties (though I was incredibly surprised to only find two hornworms the entire season!)

This winter, I've been reading up on winter sowing as well as do-nothing farming, as conceived by Masanobu Fukuoka. I've posted about this before (though I can't find the post to link to it) and I'm thinking this year I'm going to put my faith in the seeds of last year's laziness. :) I was late planting my tomatoes last year and because of that and the terrible lack of fruit-setting heat, I got very few tomatoes before the slugs were strong enough to chase me out of the garden with their slimy sluginess. Ew. Because of all of this, I'm feeling a little pre-defeated... I don't want to deal with it again. Not like last year.

So. Theoretically if I let the tomatoes do their own thing this year I should get fruit similar to the open-pollinated and heirloom varieties I planted last year, right? On vines that sprout when they think it's best to sprout, grow straight from the ground and never know the restricting walls of a cellpack or a seeding tray... right?

If it doesn't work... well, I'll see that early enough that I can probably purchase some more mature plants and catch up more conventionally. I just can't help but feel my anxiety levels begin to creep up as soon as I open the seed catalogues to the entire chapter of tomato varieties that they offer. Hundreds of varieties, people. It's overwhelming. I don't want to plan tomato patches. I want to plan neat little rows of things like lettuce and beets... and long-term projects like the blackberry and gooseberry patches.

So that's my plan. I'll amend the soil a bit with some composted manure in the spring, and I'll till the pathways, weed and thin seedlings... but apart from that, Mr. Tomato, You are on your own for 2012.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hero's First Arena Turn Out

Today was the day I'd both been looking forward to and dreading; This was the day I had planned to let Hero loose in the indoor riding arena to really see her progress. 

It's a scary thing to do because since her ligament injury she has had very little change to walk around, let alone run. Horses with a lot of energy can do stupid things, injuring themselves with a wrong turn or twist, and if she re-injures that ligament she's toast... I'd hate to retire her at seven years old!

So here is the video of her strutting her stuff in the indoor. She only bolted a few times up and down the long side of the arena, and each time she did some fancy turns and stops that made my stomach do flips, but she didn't re-injure herself and she managed to wear herself out after a few short minutes.

What a good day!

O Hai Winter! There You Are!

Brighid found winter, and so did I! That snow storm was such a nice polite reminder that we're actually in the winter months. I had just been talking to Jeremy about how I wasn't feeling ready to start planning garden stuff and how I was feeling overwhelmed and underenthusiastic. 

Then, overnight, we got 5 inches of snow and my attitude changed completely. The snow has covered up everything that had me stressed. I can't see the piles of rubbish waiting to be hauled to the compost pile. I can't see the garden hose in the north garden that I forgot to drain and coil. 

All I can see are the gardens in my mind's eye and those gardens look fantastic!

Are you planning your gardens yet? If so, what are you planning?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hero's Day Out

Yesterday was a good day, despite some difficult twists and turns. The biggest highlight of my day, and probably my week, was that I got to sit on the back of my horse, Hero, who is recovering from a bad ligament strain (possibly even a tear; we're not sure.)

This Sunday will mark the tenth consecutive week that Hero has spent in a box stall. She originally had an abscessed hoof, and unfortunately the ligament injury was compensatory for that. Poor Hero. The first week or two was really rough. She wouldn't stand on her abscessed hoof and she couldn't stand on her injured leg, so she literally spent more than a week standing on two legs, only setting the tips of her toes down to balance occasionally. She already has leg issues, as she as malnourished as a foal, and her front legs are two different lengths, her right foot being somewhat clubby. The vet, and my own trainer whom I really look up to, told me that she'd be a good school horse but she'd probably never excel at anything. Before her injury, however, she was working on second level movements in dressage including half pass and she was really starting to collect, and she had jumped 3'9" with beautiful form and ease... psh... That's excelling in my book!

I kept a pressure wrap on her leg for more than eight weeks straight, changing it several times a week and dealing with poor Hero's irritated antics (kicking, biting, shoving, head waggling..) because the poor thing is so bored in that stall. She is used to being turned out 24/7, and she took her playing in the field very seriously before this. For the first month, I kept her in her stall in the middle of the barn and she was outright MEAN to anybody or any horse that came by. She would lunge through the opening by the grain bin and try to bite, she would spin and kick if you came into the stall... it was scary. She has been one of the most sweet, albeit expressive horses I've ever known, and this is where she started to make her opinion very clear.

After a month or so I moved her to the very last stall in the barn so that she could see her friends in the field and so they could stick their heads over the gate to visit when they come up for water. There was an instant change in Hero. She became friendly again and stopped some of the neurotic behaviour she'd had before I moved her.

So, flash forward to this week: Hero's pressure wrap has been off for more than a week now and she has been working in hand at both the walk and trot soundly. At one point the other day I went to introduce her to a new friend that she'd be recovering with in the small paddock eventually. When she saw him, she pulled free from me and bolted around the muddy paddock for five minutes, galloping, twisting, spinning and kicking up... all the while this was happening I kept having flashes of her leg, ballooned up, and myself signing her over to a retirement home. Blech. I finally caught her, thanks to a fantastic student who ran out with a bucket of grain, and shoved her in a stall for a few hours while I taught, trying not to think about what she'd just done to her leg.

When I came back to her after teaching, her leg was fine, and she was asking for more! So I gave her a few more days of relaxed hand walking and trotting and then I came to yesterday when I decided I would finally sit on her again.

She has been antsy and slightly unpredictable, since she's such a bored horse, but as my butt sat on her back she immediately put on her game face and went to work. It was amazing! She obviously remembers that working in the arena is her job and it doesn't matter if she's been cooped up for months, if she's doing her job, she does it right. What a fantastic work ethic! I rode her for almost ten minutes, just walking her in large figures while asking her to soften and stretch down so her back muscles would get a good work out. It was fantastic.

I'm hoping this is the start to her coming back into real work. For now I'll be hand walking her 3-4 times a week and riding her bareback another 2-3 times a week. Hopefully after she builds some muscle she'll be ready to go back to work! Before her injury, Hero was a fantastic dressage horse and a very promising jumper. When she was jumping 3'-3'9" with me it was with very little effort, but she really never had the forward drive of a competitive jumper. I always assumed it would come with time, but maybe this is a sign that she shouldn't jump. My plan for now is to keep babying her until the end of February, when I'll make the decision to keep her on as a school horse or to sell her to someone who will use her more lightly to prevent further injury, something I don't particularly want to think about.

Still, that's a decision for down the road. Yesterday was a huge triumph for both of us, and I'm so happy to see that she's ready and willing to go back to work. Horses are really amazing creatures...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tanglewood Bakery: The Flour (and it's rich historical origins)

The De Zwaan (meaning the Swan), now standing in the city of Holland, Michigan, has a rich and exciting past. It was first built in 1761 in Krommenie, near Amsterdam, and was moved in 1889 to Noord Brabant. The inspiringly beautiful structure survived wars and natural decay, albeit just barely. In 1964, the windmill was transferred to Holland, Michigan in sore shape. It had been the source of frustration and controversy for the Dutch government much in part due to it's poor condition, and when it left the Netherlands it became the very last Dutch windmill to leave before the government there decided to ban the sale of their precious historical windmills. It is now the only operating Dutch Windmill in the United States.

There have been changes made to the mill over the years. It's original state would've been atop a hill, and it would've been a bit shorter simply because it was placed in an area with excellent winds, as opposed to Holland's Michigan's intermittent mini-gales off of Lake Michigan. Still, the history literally oozes out of it when you step inside. The rich smell of ground wheat permeates the air, even on a crisp autumn afternoon. The interior is a fortified and complicated structure that upon first glance is incredibly overwhelming. Still, as you start to run your eyes across gears and pulleys and levers, you can start to grasp the amazing mechanics of this large beautiful beast of a machine. 

I was so lucky to get a full tour from Alisa Crawford, the miller, and her assistant, Dick. They are both so obviously passionate about the mill that it's no wonder it is so well cared for. Ms Crawford is an inspiration herself. She has worked very hard to become the only certified Dutch miller in the Americas, not to mention the only female member of the Dutch miller's guild. Of course in order to do this, she had to learn to speak Dutch, which is no mean feat. She has been working with various historical mills for much of her life, and the De Zwaan seems to have become her baby. You can feel the very strong bond between the miller and her mill simply by listening to her speak. 

Did you know that the entire cap of a dutch windmill rotates to accommodate changing wind direction? This spoked wheel is how they do it! They walk along the spokes and turn the monsterous cap to face the wind... amazing!

I was so lucky to be able to buy flour ground on this amazing mill for my blossoming bakery business. It's exciting to know that the flour I bake with comes from technology and mechanisms designed 250 years ago. Even more exciting was the "hook up" that Alisa offered me when she discovered I was interested in historical agriculture and modern sustainability. 

De Zwaan actually had taken in some wheat earlier in the year from Primrose Farm in Illinois to grind and return to the farm. Now, I know Illinois isn't as local as Michigan grown wheat, but Primrose Farm is an historical living farm that plants and harvests using their powerful draft horses, and threshes using equipment and technology from the late 19th century. They aren't certified organic, but because they use methods of farming from before the introduction of synthetic chemicals to agriculture, their grains are grown naturally and without sprays. 


I borrowed these photos from the Primrose Farm facebook page where there is all sorts of information on their seasonal educational programs and their beautiful produce stand.

When Alisa offered me this amazing flour, which is not only from high quality grain but beautifully ground and sieved, I couldn't say no. I snatched it up and immediately began adjusting my recipes to accommodate the finicky nature of whole grain hard red wheat, laden with high levels of healthy proteins (as opposed to soft red wheat, which is higher in starches). I am happy to sacrifice the simplicity and ease of baking with soft wheat to know that I am using a sustainable and natural product farmed using methods from before my grandparents were born. 

Using such amazing flour has really inspired me to examine the concept of modern Craft as opposed to craft. When something is made by a person so intimately involved, you can feel it, see it and in this case you can even taste it. The products that I bake with this flour are often very hardy and tend to want to be heavy, but through careful recipe balancing (and rebalancing, and rebalancing - heh) I've worked hard and produced delicate and delicious results. 

(Of course, you know now I'm researching planting one of the back strips in wheat this year... I'd love to be even more involved with the flour I use!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tanglewood Bakery: First Market Recap

Jeremy and I set up the Bakery booth at MIX Marketplace in Ypsilanti, Michigan yesterday. I was running late (when am I not?) but we managed to get there and get set up before anybody approached the table so that was nice. 

The overall aesthetic of the table was a huge success. We got some fabulous compliments, many people remarking on how they loved the set up and that they'd never seen such beautiful baked goods. I can't tell you how nice it was to hear that, especially after so much last-minute work!

We had TONS of samples for people, and we even had two people stop by, obviously disinterested, shove a sample in their mouths and after walking a few steps, stop in their tracks, spin on their heels and rush back to buy something... A look of desperate sweet-tooth-dom on their faces. I can't tell you how good that made me feel. I've had that moment at a market, and I love that I can give it to others. Nomnomnom. 

The bundt cakes didn't sell much, but we didn't have any samples out and I'm confident they would've sold more if they'd either been available to sample or topped with a more visible frosting (people love frosting... I learned that one quick).

The biggest seller was definitely whoopie pies. I'm a little bummed I didn't get my adorable "Gobby Hand Cake" labels on them, but they sold well all the same. 

Another item that received very high praise was the dark chocolate shortbread with pink peppercorn and fleur de sel. Chocolate lovers definitely enjoyed this one, and I got tons of compliments on the presentation. One particularly interesting individual told me that they tasted like pizza, fruit cake and Dessert, and went on to say Dessert differed from the usual usage of the word because he didn't just mean dessert, like sweets. He meant Dessert in the sense that it comes after a very good meal and intermingles with the flavors from that meal to create a perfect finish. It was both the most unique and inspiring compliment I received all day! He had some really great things to say about all of the samples, and really taught me a thing or two about my own prejudices against first impressions... I kinda hope he comes back next time!

One thing that people were drawn to more than I expected were the fig caramel and chocolate tarts. I really just made these for myself since I'm a huge fan of figs, but they were received well and with open arms and mouths... :)

So... I can't begin to explain how exhausted I am right now. I'll be at the MIX marketplace again on the 28th. For now, in the slow season, I'll stick to every other week so I can continue to build new recipes on the off weeks. Yesterday morning I was convinced that I'd be burned out and never want to bake again, and this morning I woke up inspired to balance new recipes and learn new techniques, ASAP!

Operation Market Debut: Success!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Prepping for Market: The Display

It seems like 2012 got here a lot faster than anticipated. I feel ready. Right?

This Saturday Tanglewood Bakery will be setting up at the first market of 2012. It's called MIX marketplace and it's a new indoor farmer's market in Ypsilanti, MI. They had great response from the holiday crowd, so hopefully people will be equally thrilled to visit weekly now that the holidays have passed us.

I've been doing lots of things, both necessary and unnecessary, to prep for the market. First of all, I want a super fleshed out aesthetic for my booth. I want everything to look like it belongs there. To do this, I've been making my own displays (yay basic carpentry!) and I've chosen to stick with my ever-favorite teal, oatmeal and salmon color-scheme. I've been making list upon list of things to do, places to go, things to prep, things to stage and things to bake. It should be fun! (right?)

Here is a quick photo of the cupcake case I made yesterday, in it's salmon and teal glory. I have such a soft spot for victorian kitsch it's ridiculous. I can't wait to photograph the whole booth to show you, when it's actually set up!

So now that I have the bulk of my booth display complete, it's time to get into the kitchen! This is the first time I've prepped for market, so I'm sure I'll be an insane whirlwind of madness, despair and mania. Bwahaha. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dark Days: Potato Leek with Bacon and Carrots

The farmer's markets have really slowed to a crawl here in Michigan, as I suspect they have done all over the northern regions. There are still the staples though, like potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, leeks... I feel like we've almost collapsed into soup season. I find myself craving warm soup almost constantly and I've honestly never been much of a soup maker, so I figured for my latest Dark Days meal I would pull together some Potato Leek soup, flavored with Bacon. We are lucky to have local dairy and I try to keep fresh cream and butter in the fridge at all times, so this was a piece of cake.

Apart from using a recipe to tell me that I should cook my bacon and leeks in a skillet beforehand, I went at this completely recipe-free. I'm never shy about using fats in cooking, and Jeremy and I seem to maintain healthy weights simply by eating in moderation, so please forgive the amount of cream, butter and bacon fat that went into this. You'd certainly forgive it if you'd tasted it yourself!

Basically I boiled potatoes to the mashing point (skin-on) and then took 2/3rds of them and tossed them in a food processor. I then took my potato slop and added enough cream (and a little melted butter) to make them easy to stir and heated them on medium heat while I cooked my bacon and sliced leek in a cast iron skillet. When I finished the bacon and leeks, I tossed them into the pot, adding some of the bacon grease as well (uh, yum...) I then sliced the last of this season's carrots and tossed them in as well. I left this on the stove at low heat for a few hours while I went off to muck horse stalls and teach a lesson, and I assigned my husband to stirring every 20 minutes or so which he did diligently as soon as he learned there was bacon at stake. (Who wouldn't?)

When I returned home from work, I sliced the remaining cooked potatoes, tossed them in and heated the soup so that they would warm. I salted the soup just a bit (not locally sourced, but purchased from a small mom-and-pop spice merchant known for sourcing ethically grown spices) and added some of my own organic thyme and rosemary.

I can honestly say this is a soup hearty enough for giants. I had originally planned to bake up a quick lump of unleavened bread to accompany it (we are also lucky enough to have local flour here in Michigan) but honestly it didn't need it. We quickly scarfed down our single bowls of soup and lay around like gorged sheep for an hour afterwards. Super. Duper. Hearty. and sooo delicious.

This has really inspired me to get cracking on soups. I'd really love to make a sweet parsnip soup and - Woah. It just occurred to me that it's Saturday and the winter market is open! I'm going to go buy some parsnips! :)

Picking it back up again

In case you hadn't heard via my twitter/facebook selves, I was lucky enough to lose my entire hard drive right before the holidays (note sarcasm). Apart from a few photographs still on my phone, I lost every photograph I have taken digitally in the past six years (the span of my relationship with my now husband, the span of my bakery, the span of many things...) I also lost passwords, programs, financial records, business contacts (like the 100+ addresses we mail camp flyers to each year!) ... oh geez.

It has been really discouraging, and I've hard a hard time coming back to the blog to do anything other than open a blank window and stare, realizing I have no pretty pictures to accompany my posts.

Still, this morning I found myself inspired to pick everything back up and get into it again. I transferred my photos from my phone, and while I'm left without much in the way of garden photos, I can still type your little ears (eyes?) off in a meandering deluge of scatterbrained thoughts and notions. Voila!

The weather has been bizarre lately, and from what I hear it's been strange everywhere in the country. Yesterday we had sun and it was a fair 56ยบ F. It's January, for chrissake. I found myself digging the thawed mess out of the chicken and duck coops with a vengeance, and realized that this means I'll only have half a winter's worth of mucking when it thaws again in spring! Of course, this is assuming it ever truly freezes.

I also spent my morning putting up some new step-in electronet fencing for the sheep to graze in. Step-in. In January. I shouldn't be able to so much as bend a blade of grass, let alone shove fence posts into the ground! Very strange. It feels like I should be planting bareroot plants and setting seedlings out to harden off. It feels like I should be sitting beside the firepit out back, dodging waves of steam as they roll off the maple sap vats.

Obviously this is pre-thaw. I wouldn't be able to put in fencing when there is snow on the ground like this!

That's another thing; what are the maple trees doing in all of this? If we don't get a true deep-freeze when we need it and the trees are forced to lose more moisture, are we going to have a sugaring season at all? I can't imagine much sap will rise if the trees have spent half their winter in a groggy daze. Hm.

The weather is supposed to linger in the low and high 40's for the rest of the week and I suppose I'll make the best of it. This warm snap has reminded me that I need to order my bareroot fruits asap to make sure I get them before the nurseries run out this year. Did I mention I've decided to focus on fruit this year? I love to grow vegetables, and Jeremy and I are teaching ourselves to enjoy them more and more, but my true love of eating fresh fruits reigns supreme and I've decided to give in to my urges and turn our entire south garden into fruits this year by adding another 10-15 blackberries, 12 gooseberries and 10 currants (not to mention a variety of dew berries, boysenberries, and any other bizarre cultivar I can find). I was even considering putting in an in-ground, lined bog to grow cranberries in... Hmm...

I feel like I have to have things all planned and ready to go asap, but honestly I still have approximately 140 days until last frost so.... Wah wah.