The Half-Assed Homesteader

This is what it looks like. June 1, 2012

Filed under: baking,fruit,Growing,Uncategorized,vegetables — halfasshomesteader @ 5:38 am
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Nine months ago I wrote here that I would keep you all informed about what it looks like to be a grad student, mom of a 4 year old, good friend, wife, half-assed homesteader and blogger.  Well apparently what it looks like is nine months of silence.  The truth is that for the last nine months I have not made all my own bread.  I have not made any bread.  I didn’t run out to my garden and pick fresh kale for a salad from under a cover of snow.  I did not once make toothpaste.

What did I do instead?  I taught kids where their food comes and how to grow their own.

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I taught my daughter how to write her name.  I went on dates with my husband, and went out dancing until really late at night with friends.

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I spent Christmas in Arkansas with my grandmother and Spring Break in Palm Springs, laying in the sun drinking mojitos.

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I got a tattoo of a hazelnut.  I wrote a thesis proposal.  Obviously, I got an iPhone and got addicted to Hipstamatic.

What else did I do?  I ate that failed strawberry balsamic jam on toast every other day or so, and a couple of months ago I started eating eggs in the morning from my chicken friends.  I watched with pride and wonder as my apple trees bloomed profusely for the first time since I planted them four years ago, and as those beautiful flowers swelled into the delicate tiny green apples out there now, just tinged with rose. I also watched as the peach tree I planted last year withered and nearly died, and as my quince tree developed a rust that will almost certainly pass over to the apple trees that I am so proud of.  A month ago I planted an entire vegetable garden in one day, a week ago I freed my strawberry plants from the clutches of those evil creeping buttercups again (just like last year), and just today I looked outside and noticed the teeniest hints of green all in a row – the carrots that my daughter helped me sow are coming up, finally.

What didn’t I do?  I didn’t write about it. Mainly, because I was writing a thesis proposal and extra writing suddenly seemed a lot less fun than it normally does.  I suppose I am the half-assed blogger as well, which I was well-prepared for.  But I love that today is the day that I finally decided to devote a few minutes to writing.  Today, I used my first harvest of this spring – rhubarb.  A rhubarb crumble is cooling on the stove right now, of course with  one quarter rhubarb from my garden and three quarters from the market.  Who would I be if I grew enough of any one thing to do anything with it?  The crumble is to be shared tomorrow at a potluck, with all the friends and colleagues I’ve developed relationships with during the last year – a celebration of having come so far together.  And a celebration of it being over!  I have one more week of classes, a final, and then I’m done with my first year of grad school.  Three weeks later, I start the second part of my program.  Not much of a break.

I am absolutely certain that over the summer, and over the next year, my half-assed homesteading will continue.  Soon I’ll be harvesting snap peas and strawberries, then will come the inevitable deluge of zucchini, and with any luck in a few months I’ll have more apples than I’ll know what to do with.  I’m sure I’ll make some cheese here and there, and I have been thinking I really miss sewing lately and I’d love to try to make a dress for my daughter.  My fingers are crossed that I’ll have the time and the inclination to share those adventures here, but if the airwaves go silent for awhile again, it’s probably because I’m too busy sitting outside in the sun with my friends and family, trying to figure out how to use up all that zucchini.

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you win some, you lose some August 11, 2011

Filed under: baking — halfasshomesteader @ 5:35 am
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That’s really what this whole endeavor is about for me, actually.  My successes keep me from being too disheartened from my failures.  And amazingly, one of my consistent successes lately has been bread. Until today.

I have always been intrigued by this idea of baking all of one’s own bread.  I’m not sure why but there is a whole lot of emotion tied up in homemade bread for me.  It just seems so rustic, and lovely, and…unattainable.  Only fancy people bake bread at all, I thought.  And only REALLY fancy people bake all their own bread, every week.  The concept seemed truly laughable.

People:  I now bake all my own bread.

I know that I am late to the table on this whole No-Knead phenomenon.  Everyone’s been doing it for ages.  Well, I haven’t.  I’ve been doing it for a month and I am ecstatic.  I, in all my half-assedness, am capable of baking bread for my family every week.  And, oooohhh, this bread.  Not only is it easy, even fun, to make, but it truly rivals a five dollar loaf from a fancy bakery.  I won’t give you the directions, because it’s not my recipe, but I advise you, if you have any bread-making aspirations at all to follow the link and give it a go.

For me, I tend to mix up the dough on a Sunday night.  It literally takes all of two minutes, and you get this nice shaggy dough.  Everyone says shaggy…the recipe says shaggy, blogs all say shaggy.  You know why?  Because the dough is shaggy.  I just can’t think how else to describe it.

I leave it overnight, go off to school in the morning, come home for lunch and do the rest.  This is where I’m probably losing some of you, because you have full time jobs and are not home all afternoon on a Monday.  Do it on Saturday night, then.  In three weeks I’ll be back to my regular life and that’s what I’ll be doing and it will be fine.  I promise.

When I get home for lunch, my dough looks like this:

Yes.  These are two different bowls.  They are two different batches.

Dump the sticky mess out, move it around, let it rest, move it around some more, let it rest for two hours, preheat your oven and dutch oven, dump it in.  That’s it.  It actually even sounds more complicated that it is.  I would say it’s a total active time of maybe five minutes.  And here is the glorious part…it emerges looking like this:

The crust shatters as you bite into it. The crumb is perfect, with big airy holes just right for butter to ooze into.  And I have never, not once, screwed this up.  It must be foolproof.

I made a batch today.  When it was done, I made pita bread.  It did not go as well.  Not a surprise.

It’s yet another victim of my “I can make that better for cheaper” problem.  To be fair, we really do not have access to good pita around here.  So it was worth a go.  The only problem is that…they didn’t rise.  The recipe I was going off of included pictures of giant ballooning pitas in the oven.  I thought it would be really fun for my kid to watch them swell up in a matter of minutes, but as we stood there, staring into a 400 degree oven and sweating, she started asking, “What are they supposed to be doing?” Because, they were basically doing nothing.  Out of the eight I made, two had pathetic tiny bubbles off to the side, but certainly none of them expanded to the extent that I was expecting.

Those are some flaccid pita breads.

Happily, although they were limp, they were also fluffy and moist and flavorful,  words I would never apply to the stale, dry cardboard we get from the store.  So ultimately, it was worth it, if not a total success.  And I’m not disheartened because tomorrow morning we’ll have that beautiful loaf of fresh bread and I will remember that I am capable of magic sometimes.  The magic didn’t happen right away this time, but it doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.