Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making a souffle

Lots of eggs - chicken and duck
Strange things happen when you have an essentially unlimited supply of eggs, but none stranger than Our sudden infatuation with the souffle.

To me, this concoction suggests a nineteen fifties housewife making post-golf brunch for her hubbie and his boss. When my cousins came over for dinner, they had never made nor eaten a souffle, and were as skeptical of us making one as they might be of us hunting a unicorn. The reputation of souffles as fussy, collapsible, kitchy and anachronistic is overrated. If you have an electric mixer and a working oven, a souffle is within your grasp.And unless your doctor has you on a strict diet, one serving will do fairly minimal damage to you diet.

The one proviso is you really do need to eat it within a few minutes of baking.

This recipe was modified from the Joy of Cooking.  It serves 6 to 8 people as part of a meal.


6 Eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1 Tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350.Butter a souffle dish, or a Pyrex bowl if you don't happen to be set up for souffles.It's a myth that only a straight sided dish works.You may powder the outside of the dish with finely grated dry cheese, such as Parmesan.

white sauce in the blender
Make a white sauce: Melt butter over low heat and stir in flour. Let flour cook till slightly golden. Stir in milk, a bit at a time, breaking up lumps as you go. When it's all stirred in, bring it to a gentle simmer, stirring continually to keep the bottom from burning.

Add pepper to taste and remove from heat.

I don't actually do all that. I place the milk, butter, flour and salt in a high speed blender and run at full power till it heats up and steam starts to come out the lid. Then I drop in the cheese and run another 60 seconds, turn it to low and mix in the pepper.

This makes a perfectly smooth, creamy white sauce, but it does not work in a standard blender, only a fast one like the Vitamix. For such a farmy, DIY person I sure love some electric appliances a lot.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks.

You can do it like my mom taught me to - pour the yolk from one half of the shell to the other,over a bowl.

Or crack the egg into a (clean) hand, cupping the yolk in your palm and letting the white pour through.



Pride goeth before a fall. if you make the arrogant mistake of separating your last egg into a bowl with the other whites, you may ruin them all.

Always always separate each egg over an empty bowl, not over the precious egg whites you've already separated.

 Even a tiny bit of yolk in the whites will cause them not to expand when whipped.

fluffy beaten whites

Place the egg whites in a mixer bowl. Add the optional cream of tartar and whip till they are white and puffy like cumulus clouds.

Bright yellow yolks

Put the egg yolks in a bowl that will hold at least twice their volume.Add about 1/2 cup of the white sauce.

Stir to combine with the yolks, then mix the yolks in with the rest of the white sauce. This sounds fussy but adding the sauce in two installations keeps the heat from cooking the yolks.

If that happened you would get blobs of grainy yellow crud in your souffle, and the magic would be destroyed.

Trust me. My wisdom comes from experience.

Stir in the cheese if you didn't do it during the high speed blending above.

Mixing in part of the whites to lighten the mix
Now it's time to fold the yolk mixture into the whites.

Folding is delicate work. Start by mixing about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the sauce mixture. Stir gently, with a wide spatula or wooden spoon. You are trying to incorporate air into the sauce so it's lighter.

Gently folding

Then scrape all the sauce into the beaten whites, and gently, with a spatula, lift the whites up to mix them in with the sauce. Keep gently lifting whites from the bottom and setting them over the sauce. Don't stir around and around. The more gently you do this, and the more you lift rather than stirring, the puffier your souffle will be. When you only have a few spots of pure whites left, you're done.

Over mixing to the point where it's perfectly uniform will break too many air bubbles in the whites and your souffle will not by as puffy.

Scoop the mixture into the dish and place in the center of the oven rack.

Bake 30 -40 minutes, until dark golden brown on top. It will puff up substantially and have a little 'hat' of golden brown crust over a body of creamy, puffy orange-yellow fluff.

Serve immediately.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Focused dreaming

This post has nothing to do with farming, and it won't have pictures or recipes. But it's something I've always been interested in, and that I realize I do naturally and that others are curious about.

As long as I can remember, I've been able to direct my dreams, gaining control scary ones and asking questions of mysterious situations.

The first time I remember doing it, I was about seven. I had a nightmare about the neighbor's dog. In real life this was a gentle, elderly pooch who let us do all kinds of things to her, but in my dream she turned out to have a demonic face behind a dog mask. I became aware that I was dreaming, and knew "if I roll over to my other side this will get a lot less scary". I turned over and immediately was able to direct the dream so that a cat came out of the sprinkler system and helped me.

If you have scary or helpless dreams, you might want to stop seeing them as inevitable. The same problem solving skills you use during the day will help you in your sleep! If you just want to have more interesting dreams or to enlist new problem solving skills in your brain, you might  want to think about taking a more active view of your dream life.

In writing this blog, I'm not going tospecifically list things you can learn in Lucid Dreaming workshops, because I haven't taken them. But I find that I was naturally doing a lot of the things lucid dreaming recommends, so my story may sound similar to things you hear elsewhere.

It does take some commitment

I hate when you want to lose weight or learn a language or land a job, and you hear that it takes time and commitment. But it's true. Gaining control over dreams is no different. You can't achieve things without wanting to, and working for it. I never minded doing it because it was something I thought of on my own, but I did spend time and energy, which I could have spent on something else, on learning to direct my dreams.

My suggestions:

  1. When you are falling asleep, be aware as you are drifting off and tell yourself you will remember your dreams. It won't always work but this improves your chances.
  2. Learn to review your dreams the instant you wake up. Lie in bed for a few minutes reviewing your dreams as soon as possible after waking. If the dream wakes you up, think about it even if it was scary.
  3. Keep a dream journal. No one else has to see it, so it can be a messy, abbreviated and incoherent as you want. Just get in the habit of  writing impressions from your dreams. I've kept a dream journal off and on my whole life. It helps me find patterns in my thoughts, as well as bringing up vivid memories long after the event. 
  4. Assign yourself a few things to notice while dreaming. Do you dream in color? Are you inside our outside? Who is there with you? Do you recognize people or places? Do they look the same as they do in waking life? 
  5. Also notice yourself. Do you have a body? Can you see your hands or feet? As with remembering your dream, you won't always remember to do all these things but planning in advance will make it more likely.
  6. During the day, when you are awake, notice similar details. This will help you set a background of "normal". When you dream, noticing that stuff isn't normal can help you realize that you aren't awake.

Nudging the process along:

  1. If you are still not remembering dreams, try to go to sleep earlier. Then set your alarm to wake you up an hour or two before normal. As soon as you wake up, make yourself calm and try to go back to sleep with the goal of dreaming. Don't think "I need sleep", instead think "I am going to dream now". 
  2. I have the most vivid dreams and the most control over them at times in my life when I have a break between waking up and work/school/other social activities. Walking, commuting or riding the bus gives me a quiet period to review my dreams.
  3. I had my very most controlled dreams during the year I took an art class and spent a lot of time drawing my hands and feet. There seems to be a connection between looking - intensely studying - ones hands, and recognizing the difference between wake and sleep. Go figure.
  4. If you have a bad dream, do a post-mortem on it the next day. Ask how you would have rescued the dream if you could have. Dream power is really strong stuff. You don't have to obey the rules of physics or anything else. You could fly away, or turn invisible, or who knows what. It's liberating, so go with it. 
  5. Don't worry too much about what a dream "means". I have a few dreams that hit me over the head with their significance. And I have a hand full of dream teachers, enemies, and places that occur often. But I don't think you have to understand a dream to jump in and change thing.
It has not been my experience that having control over dreams has weakened my grasp of reality. If anything, it strengthens it. When I want to control a dream, I have to be able to recognize that it's a dream. So if you're worried about entering a freaky movie plot, I have not found that to be a danger.

It's also really important to know that just because you dream something, doesn't always mean you have a subconscious wish to do that thing - let alone that you're brain is telling you to. Dreams often involve things you wouldn't do in real life. They can involve violence, public nudity, forgetting huge chunks of one's life, intimacy with people one doesn't care for - you don't have to do this stuff just because it happened in a dream. I think of it as the brain playing dress up or make believe, not necessarily asking for wish fulfillment.

Sweet dreams.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Buttermilk: a love story

I knew a lovely woman whom a mutual friend described as having a voice like buttermilk. The sound was husky, scratchy, and raw. I thought he was comparing those qualities to the flavor of buttermilk, but he later explained that the parallel was "you don't like it at first, but it's addictive, and soon nothing else will do."

He might have added that her earthy voice, like buttermilk, is one of those old fashions due for a revival.

Originally buttermilk was related to butter. The farmer would save up cream until she had enough to churn. She would agitate it until the fats formed a golden buttery mass, and the liquid separated out. It might take days to accumulate enough, and the cream would sour. The butter had a "cultured" flavor, the liquid was downright sour.

The sour, low-fat liquid was buttermilk. The farmer might give it to a very thirsty child,or mix it with slops for the pigs, take advantage of its acidity as a souring or leavening agent. It was not considered a gourmet treat on its own.
As time passed, fewer people made their own butter, and those who did used well refrigerated cream  so the resulting liquid was no longer sour. And then, as people do, they started craving that tangy, refreshing beverage they had scorned as waste food when it was abundant. 

Nowadays the buttermilk you buy, and the buttermilk I make at home are made from whole or reduced fat milk. It is inoculated with beneficial cultures to create the sour taste. The butter making process has been left out. 



1 Quart Milk
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk or 1/4 t buttermilk culture or mesophilic culture

Warm the milk to 30 degrees C (about 90 F)
If using buttermilk, add 1/4 cup milk to the buttermilk, mix them together, then mix the mixture into the milk.
If using culture, sprinkle it over the milk and wait 10 minutes for it to hydrate
Mix the milk thoroughly to incorporate the culture
Cover and let sit at room temperature. The time it takes to thicken will vary with temperature. We keep a cold house in the winter, and it often takes 24 hours or longer. Check. When the milk is thick, tangy and sour, it is buttermilk. Refrigerate until needed.


Buttermilk Pancakes

The acids in buttermilk make it very special for baking. It combines with baking soda to act as a leavener without needing to use baking powder - a flavor I deeply dislike. Its acids act as a tenderizer, so pancakes or other baked goods have a very pleasing mouth feel, as though you'd used extra butter.

Done to a golden brown

1 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
2 T melted butter

Mix together dry ingredients.

Mix together butter, buttermilk and egg until well blended

Lightly mix wet and dry ingredients. A few lumps are better than an over mixed batter.

Heat a frying pan or griddle on medium high heat. Grease lightly.

Pour out 1/2 cup batter per pancake. Let them cook until they form bubbles that pop leaving holes in the surface. 

Not ready to flip
Big holes that don't close - ready to flip

Flip. Count to thirty and the other side is done. Check the pan often. Too hot and you will burn your pancakes, too cool and they will stick.

I assume you already know how to serve and eat pancakes.

Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

2 Cups buttermilk
2 Cups peeled and seeded cucumbers, finely shredded
1 Clove garlic, finely crushed and chopped and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 t olive oil
Borage flowers to garnish

Mix it all but the last two ingredients together. Chill. Serve garnished with borage flowers and drizzled with a tiny bit of good olive oil.

Buttermilk Fruit Smoothie

1 Cup Buttermilk
1 Cup Frozen Strawberries or Blueberries
1 Cup cut up frozen peaches
Sugar or honey to taste

Add to blender in listed order. Blend until smooth. Drink

A smoothie of buttermilk, peaches and blueberries rivals anything you can buy, make or even imagine. 

It tastes like something woodland faeries might eat.

Buttermilk Spoonbread

1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2  cups boiling water
2 T butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 t salt
1 t baking soda

Heat oven to 375. Grease a 2 quart baking pan or better yet, grease a cast iron skillet.

Cut up butter and toss with cornmeal. Stir in baking soda.

Pour boiling water over cornmeal mixture and stir to break up lumps. Cool for 15 minutes

Beat together eggs, buttermilk and salt.

Gradually add wet ingredients to cornmeal mixture, stirring well to break up lumps.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes. You may drizzle milk or cream over the surface to keep it from getting crispy (but why would you? I love a crispy surface). Spoon it out onto the plate; the texture is between a souffle and cornbread. Serve hot.


Buttermilk Mac n Cheese

Substitute buttermilk for regular milk next time you make home made mac n cheese. You will love it. You can use cheap, not very sharp cheddar and it will still be really sharp.

Buttermilk on its own curdles when heated. Use a starch (cornstarch, a flour roux, tapioca) to thicken. Don't freak when the sauce separates - wait, stir, and soon it will come together again.

Buttermilk also does wonders for mashed potatoes. Substitute it for some or all of the milk and some of the butter. It adds a hint of tanginess and a punch of richness without adding extra fat.

You can just drink buttermilk, too. But I don't think anyone does.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blossom by Blossom, Spring Begins

Late January and the dark is getting to us. The days are getting longer, but we are locked in shadow. The ducks ponds freeze at night. Goats really appreciate warm water to drink. They drink more of it, which is important for their urinary health and of course for milk production.

In the Pacific Northwest, the dominant season of the year is this winter/spring hybrid- endless, rainy, hinting at hopeful. Sometimes I think it starts in January with the first openings of midwinter flowers and ends in June when it finally stops raining for three glorious months.

All around Several Gardens Farm, in tiny ways, Spring is waking up.

The very first blossoming is the catkins of the filbert hedge. Filberts are wind pollinated, so they don't need to flower when the bees are active. Instead, their bare winter branches are suddenly alive with fuzzy, dangly "boy things". The female flowers are extremely subtle, but they are the part that will ripen into nuts later.

I could not get a good picture of the tiny, hot fuchsia female blossom, but here are the catkins.

Next comes the cornelian cherry dogwood. This brilliant yellow seems to be a special color - a way to start the season. Here are the fat, swelling flower buds against a grey sky.

The imposing camellias are getting ready to flower (later this month).

A single branch, with its waxy dark leaves and tissue paper flowers, is a centerpiece.

If you cut a branch while it's still in bud, the flowers that open inside are much paler pink than the ones that open outdoors.

You can make a very pretty arrangement by mixing the two of them.

But what about the edibles?

The artichoke is alive but beaten down by rain and freezing. When we get to our last frost date, I'll pull back all the tattered leaves. Strawberries are also looking pretty bad but in reality, gearing up for a comeback.

A stray habenero in the greenhouse. Pepper bushes love heat, and don't take off until the hottest part of summer. But once up, I find them remarkably tough, often surviving the mild freezes in our unheated greenhouse and limping into the next year still alive.

Any forgotten onions will provide tasty greens through our mild winters.

Cabbage gets sweeter with frost. So do Jerusalem artichokes. I dig up a few of them whenever I feel like it (which given how much work they are and how indifferent I am to them, is pretty rare).

 Arugula just keeps giving. This plant is the offspring of our summer crop. A few leaves at a time, it spices up salads all winter.

Miners' lettuce sprouts
The miners' lettuce and nasturtiums are not perennials, but they come back from seed every year.

Fava bean blossoms
These little miners' lettuce sprouts will self-thin to a couple of hardy plants. I think I'll do a story just for them when they're in season. They are pretty, tasty and easy to grow; winners in every way.

And ah, those pretty fava beans. I did not expect to find them in flower mid-January. Here's to pleasant surprises. They are usually grown as cover crops or as food, but they are semi-attractive ornamentals, and also have a lovely, waxy fragrance on warm evenings.

The oyster mushroom log has stopped putting out new growth but the old ones are still edible in soups and as flavoring, though too tough to enjoy on their own.

Of all the bee hives, the healthiest and most active is the Warre. If it stays this prosperous, expect to hear more about it in the coming year. But - it is the only hive with the full south facing exit and a wall behind it, so there may be extenuating circumstances.

 Winter is a good time to see the underlying structure of things.

The fat clusters of buds that stick out on fruit trees are the future blossoms. Thin buds that cling tightly to the stem hold leaves. You need both, so careful not to winter prune away all of your next year's fruit!

Winter or early Spring is when you check your espaliers for shape.I apologize for the clutter in this picture, but hopefully you can see that the tree is growing nicely - balanced branches starting to put out little side spurs where apples will form.

 And who isn't grateful for the Bergenia and the Beauty Berry for giving color at this time of year. I ask nothing else of them, but simply give thanks.