Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bread Pudding

            Bread pudding is an old recipe that deserves to be revived. It’s comfort food, inexpensive, flexible, and tasty, all at once. Made with canned peaches, or sliced bananas, or maybe some apples and walnuts, it becomes Sunday morning breakfast or Wednesday evening desert. With onions, mushrooms, and thyme, it is dinner after a visit to the Winter Market.
            Bread Pudding starts with the bread. I store bread scraps in the freezer for a few weeks until I have several ends, but you can also use up the iffy heel on the counter, the  loaf you forgot to salt, or the one that was left in the oven too long. Whole wheat and white bread work equally well; we often have a mix. You need enough bread, cubed,  to fill your baking dish two thirds of the way up.
            Once I have the bread prepped, I add the cooked vegetables or fruit. One sautéed onion with a clove or two of garlic and a large handful of mushrooms is about right. You could also add roast veggies, or some pureed squash….or tomatoes and basil and a bit of cheese…asparagus might be nice…For breakfast, I use the home-canned fruit from summer or fresh blueberries and cherries. Toss it all in with the bread.
            The filling is flexible. If you head sweet, add a little sugar and vanilla to the milk and eggs and sprinkle cinnamon on top. The left-over eggnog from Christmas works wonderfully well. If savory, some pepper and salt. I usually whisk together three backyard eggs and about a cup and a half of milk. If I miscalculate, I add a little more milk, sometimes with another egg beaten in. You want the bread to poke out from the filling a bit for textural interest. Then it pops into the oven at 350 until the filling is set. Easy. And it warms the kitchen while it bakes. You could toss in a couple of apples along side for desert.
             We love bread pudding. The bread soaks up the flavors of the herbs and mushrooms and spreads them throughout the meal. When it’s canned peaches, the warm, soft fruit contrasts with the crunch of the bread and squish of the filling in an amazing way. After dinner, you know you have eaten well. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pre Spring

                     It is Pre-Spring here in the Willamette Valley. The clouds are higher and break more often. There is sun on greening grass. It’s been hailing pretty regularly. The English Department all stood outside on Monday afternoon, looking at the bare fig tree. It’s coming, we agreed. There may still be snow—the hope for a snow day never fades until May—but Spring is coming.

Signs of Pre-Spring—one of the Willamette Valley’s many seasons:
  1. Snowdrops and primroses
  2. Hail and sun, hail and sun
  3. Green grass, growing fast
  4. Eggs, both brown and white
  5. Mud
  6. Very thick moss on the trees
  7. “For rent”  signs
  8. Long, slow steady days in the classroom
  9. Seeds sprouting in my classroom—broccoli, leeks, tomatoes
  10. The Book Frenzy is this weekend.
  11. Witch Hazel and Forsythia bloom
  12. High skies, huge puffy clouds.
  13. Mushrooms are growing on the storm windows.

A Winter Pizza

Pizza is an easy dinner if you are making the bread dough ahead and keeping it in the fridge full time. You just need to make sure it isn’t oatmeal raisin dough.

Take half of the dough from the bowl and spread it round on a pizza pan. Let is rise for 45 minutes.

Slice an onion thinly. Chop up some good olives and garlic. Sprinkle both on the dough and cover with grated cheese—cheddar and mozzarella are best.  Add about a teaspoon of thyme to the surface.

Bake in 400 degree oven until almost done. About four minutes before it is finished, cover with chopped arugula and slide back in. The last few minutes cooks the greens as well.

Let rest for a moment before slicing. Eat.

Seeds begun

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Soil Maintenance in Raised Beds

Waiting for chickens
             Being a serious gardener is not about growing the purple-podded peas and heirloom tomatoes, searching the catalogs for new and exciting varieties of potatoes. It’s not about new and fancy gadgets, or garden art and colored flower cages. It’s not even about planting your own starts on a rainy day, slipping them into the ground under the cloche just before the hail sets in. Being a serious gardener is about maintaining the soil. And it is not easy, nor for the faint of heart.
            A few years ago, veggie boxes were all the rage in Corvallis. I’d see them out on my evening walks—a raised bed, four by six feet, filled with Fertile Mix and one tomato, a six-pack of lettuce, two types of basil, and some strawberry plants. Nothing wrong with that—it is how we all start out. All summer, the gardeners watered and harvested and bragged. “We have so many tomatoes we can’t eat them all!”  The neighbors benefited and were inspired to plant their own boxes. And so it went down the street. But, there is a small snag in the process; one I discovered myself my second year of gardening. Fertile Mix is fertile…for the first year. The second year, all of the soil nitrogen is bound up breaking down the woody debris and plants don’t grow. They sit there in the bed, tiny and yellow.  I saw this pattern everywhere. Discouraged gardeners stopped watering. Strawberry plants shriveled. The soil compacted. By year three, the frame sat, half empty and full of dust.  People renewed their CSA subscriptions and returned to the grocery and farmer’s markets.
Chicken Tractor
            We hit the same snag and bought chickens. The chicken coop sat on the garden beds and I tossed the soiled straw down from the perch and nest box, a perfect blend of nitrogen and organic matter. It was Transformative.  Sunflowers grew eight feet high. No more yellow plants! Fewer slugs and pill bugs!  The next year, I began hauling in the leaves off the street in the fall and piling them onto the beds as well. Over the winter, they slowly rotted down, adding to the organic matter in the soil. The next year, I realized that, if I gave the bed a light turning right after the chickens moved on, the soil biology came into contact with the fresh organic matter more quickly and facilitated aerobic decomposition, which was much faster. So, now, this is the system, starting in early October:

·        Pile leaves on every bed.
·        Place the chicken tractor on  the first empty bed.
·        Toss down straw and poop every week.
·        Move the coop about every three weeks.
·        Turn the bed lightly after the coop has been moved.
·        Add ash from the fireplace whenever possible.
·        Plant in the rough bed, usually under a cold frame in the spring.
·         Toss a handful of Bio-fish in with every plant.
·        Mulch with straw or more leaves in the summer, after the hoses are down.

Post Chicken Tractor
If I did not have chickens, I’d still use leaves in the Sunbow system, where we pile them around young plants right after weeding, as summer mulch. But chickens do make the system work better.

Black Bean Chili—the perfect potluck food

Starting in the morning, toss about six cups of black beans (ours are locally raised), and adobe pepper, and several garlic cloves into the crockpot. Cover with water and cook all day.  The long slow cooking is essential to the flavor of the beans!

About an hour before guests arrive, sauté a large onion, a red pepper, and some carrots in a frying pan. Add salt, basil, oregano, and chili powder—and some more garlic to the mix. When the onion is soft, add to the beans.  You can add other veggies too, like frozen corn, but purity can be lovely.

Serve with warm cornbread. Everyone else can bring the salad!
Lightly turned