Good Times and Garlic

In mid-October, my aunt Annie came to visit from North Carolina. She is my mom’s only living sister and the oldest of the four remaining siblings. She’s 72, has almost died twice, and is the happiest person I think I’ve ever met in my life. She’s also the simplest person I think I’ve ever met in my life – which says a lot coming from someone who considers herself pretty simple. (And by simple, I am in no way referring to intelligence. My aunt has read at least 5 books since she’s been here and when she’s not reading, she’s working a dot-to-dot puzzle!)

Since she arrived, Angie and I have had a new partner in crime. Annie loves garage sales, thrift stores, orchards and farms, and food. My mom likes to tease that she loves food too much because (like us) she might sometimes start talking about plans for dinner while eating breakfast. And she’s a fabulous cook! When we visited her last year, my mom and I were treated to all sorts of good country cooking. This time, we tried returning the favor by making a few of our specialties, like homemade soup and pizzas, but she has still managed to out-cook us. Pasta one night, pork chops another, and a hashbrown casserole last night that even Angie loved (and she doesn’t like hashbrowns). I still contend that her spaghetti sauce is one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Angie and I are going to miss my aunt when she goes home this weekend. It’s been a real joy to have her here and believe it or not, she showed us places we didn’t even know existed in our own neighborhood – like a new thrift store. We had a delicious lunch at an Amish deli we’d never tried before (which you can read all about here). We even made it to Breeden’s Orchard to get an apple cider doughnut, something that has been on our list of things to do since this time last year.

And that doughnut, led to another check on our “garden bucket list”. While shopping for apples and apple cider doughnuts, Angie stumbled upon a couple of bags of various heirloom garlic bulbs. Though they weren’t actually for sale, the owner parted with a few bulbs when we told him we wanted to plant them. We got a couple of hardneck and softneck varieties, including Inchelium Red and German White, and on Saturday afternoon we planted them in one of our garden beds. In total, we planted 62 bulbs of garlic. If all goes well, we’ll have plenty of garlic next June.

Now, about those apples…

Breeden’s has a variety of apple called Arkansas Black. We had never heard of it (and my aunt was fascinated by it) so that was our primary reason for making the drive to Mount Juliet on Saturday morning. The Arkansas Black is a good apple, but not what I was expecting. It’s somewhat sweet and a bit mellow, not crisp and tart, like it was described. But not to worry, we’ll still eat it.

The best apple that we got though didn’t come from the orchard. It came from the dumpster. Angie found a dozen loose Envy apples in a box, just sitting on top of the dumpster. These apples were sad looking on the outside – kind of withered – but on the inside, they were amazing! We made our 3rd batch of crock pot apple cider with them this morning.

In case you’re interested, crock pot apple cider simply consists of simmering cored and quartered apples of any variety with one quartered orange, 1 cinnamon stick, and any other spices of your choosing in enough water to cover them for 12-15 hours and then mashing and straining the juice. We used pumpkin pie spice on two batches and it was good. I would advise though – go lightly on the cinnamon sticks. We used 3 on the first batch and it was like drinking Fireball Whiskey (or so my niece tells me).

Before my aunt leaves on Sunday, I plan to “interview” her for a post on simple living. I think you’ll be as captivated as I was by her story, so stay tuned.

A STARter is Born

When I was a kid, one of my favorite sandwiches was the crispy chicken on sourdough from Cracker Barrel. I always thought it was the mayo that gave the sandwich it’s tangy taste. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned it was the bread  itself.

I love sourdough and after getting Angie to try it at the Fall Festival, she fell in love with it too. But sourdough at the produce stand (or Farmer’s Market) is a bit too pricey for our new budget (at $6 for a small loaf) so we decided we’d try to make our own.

A couple of Youtube how-to videos later, we mixed 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup of filtered room temperature water in a quart jar and sat it on the counter with the lid slightly loosened. The next day – not much was going on inside the jar. No bubbles, no liquid, no growth of any kind. We thought maybe we were failing from the start but as it turns out, not much happens to sourdough babies in their first 24 hours of life.

Just like a real baby, sourdough starters have to be fed regularly. For the first few days, we had to feed it every 12 hours. In the mornings, Angie would discard half of the starter (into our compost) and feed it 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water. I had the evening shift, which was the exact same process.

By the third day, we started to see life. There were bubbles in our starter and it was growing! Then one day, this happened:

We thought this was a disaster too, but again, it’s all part of the process. Sometimes good starters go wild and try to escape.

It was around this time that our starter got a name too. Angie had hurriedly written on the chalkboard the night before – don’t forget to feed sour doug. And so, the bubbly goo that was starting to smell distinctly sourdough-ish became known Doug from that point on.

It took 8 full days for Doug to reach perfection, at which point, we fed him and put him in the fridge. My aunt had just arrived from North Carolina and we had no time to try making anything sourdough related until late last week. When we took Doug out, he still smelled great and was ready to be fed again. This time though, we saved the discarded starter and used it to make a Rustic Sourdough Bread (actually 2 of them).

We used our cast iron Dutch oven for one of the breads and a regular loaf pan for the other. Both turned out phenomenal!

Doug is back in the fridge now and he’s on a once-a-week feeding schedule. If all goes well, Doug will be with us for a long, long time, since each time we use him, he grows back. (By the way, The Zero Waste Chef has had her starter, Eleanor, for 5 years now).

If you’re interested in making your own sourdough starter, I encourage you to check out King Arthur’s Flour for their starter instructions and this video from Andrea at VW Family Farm, which shows how to make the same bread we made.