Growing up, when I would arrive home from school my mom would often have a few loaves of bread on the cooling rack or be well into making a batch of dough. Fresh bread with butter and honey makes the best after-school snack imaginable. I used to love to watch and sometimes help my mom knead the dough. I loved to see her silver rings covered in flour, feel the cool, beautiful marble bread slab and rolling-pin, punch down the airy dough after the first rise and finally smell the loaves when they emerged from the oven. I loved the ritual that I was lucky enough to share with my mom.
I’ve made bread over the years, though sporadically; I had a bread machine for a while, but I found the process of making bread kind of boring when it just involved throwing everything into a machine and pushing a few buttons. I don’t even eat much bread (though I suspect this will change) so the most enjoyable part for me is the process. I knead bread when I’m feeling tense or anxious and sometimes I bake it just for the smell.
I recently purchased a bag of locally grown and milled whole wheat flour from the Saanich farm stand where I buy my vegetables in the winter and early spring. This flour inspired me to finally start learning bread making earnestly. I want to make bread often enough that I will actually learn from my mistakes and perfect techniques and recipes. So far, my efforts have been consistently rewarding and the resulting loaves have definitely tasted better than the average store or even bakery purchased loaf but not as good as my favourite artisan bakery loaves (I’m looking at you Wildfire and Fol Epi). I’m working on it. Last week I made a recipe from Happiness is a Kitchen in Maine with honey, egg and almond milk; the week before, I tried this baguette recipe, which I am attempting again tonight.*
If you have a recipe or even a special trick or technique to kneading, rising, baking, cooling, etc that you would care to share, I would love to hear about it!
whole wheat honey loaf
my cute little mishapen French baguettes
* My baguettes tonight turned out completely differently than my first attempt. Here is what I did differently: I kneaded the dough and put it through its first rise on Friday, then put the dough in the fridge for two days; I really improved my shaping technique, thanks to these videos, which made for a cleaner crease; I used unbleached flour from Millstream Natural Foods; I placed the baguettes by the fireplace for a second rise; I made tiny slashes instead of larger ones. I am really pleased with the results – can’t wait to test them with the homemade pasta sauce simmering on the stove!
baguettes: attempt number two
One evening a few weeks ago when Mat’s parents were staying with us, Mat and I decided to go for a walk after dinner. We made it only three blocks before I was lured toward a collection of free items at the end of someone’s driveway (this is a common scene with us). I stood there, torn between a newish BBQ and an IKEA coffee table, until I realized that we had stumbled upon a great IKEA hack item! Mat carried the glass top, because he is less likely to drop things, and I carried the awkward frame. When we arrived home we announced that this free find would soon be…a cold frame for our salad greens! And (because we have to name everything dear to us & my baby loves his jazz) it would be called John Coldframe.
The following Saturday, while Mat’s mom baked pies & I planted seeds, Mat and his Dad brought out the power tools, picked up some wood and got to work on our newest project. I couldn’t resist getting in there to help with a few finishing touches with the drill. Just last weekend, Mat and I prepared the bed and planted our first salad greens of the year. There has been a wee bit of frost, but hopefully our little seeds will germinate and we will soon have a living green coffee table for our back deck living space.
You can make a cold frame using old windows, plastic or any collection of items creatively repurposed, like this milk crate covered with a duvet bag. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, it just has to get the job done! Happy growing. :)
The beans and peas I planted on the 17th have simply exploded out of their seeds – what incredible energy! I love checking on my little ones several times a day and literally watching them grow. I took these photos only a few days ago and the seedlings are already twice as big as you see here. I also planted three trays of tomato plants – three different varieties. They are still in their little plastic wrap hothouses, but the others are ready for more exposure. The zucchini, not really shown here, are still emerging, so they are still mostly under their little budget greenhouse. I read that tomato plants like heat to germinate, so they are not set up on their own little electric heating pad for a few hours a day. It seems to be working – I’ll let you know how they fare! If they all come up that means I will have 36 tomato plants – a few others on Twitter are interested in a seedling exchange, so I hope that the toms make it!
Aren’t they pretty?
Beans and peas coming up and new tomato seeds planted
Bush beans seedlings in the sunny window
pretty peas sprouted
This post is dedicated to the wonderful and wise women in my life – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and friends – who have inspired me to nurture a creative life and ensure that their skills are passed on.
My Grandmother and my Neice
I grew up with a very creative and talented mother who grew every imaginable vegetable for our family of five, sewed our clothes when we were young, and made all kinds of our food from scratch, from loaves of bread to ice cream. As a child, I took these skills somewhat for granted, though I did often note while visiting friends that this type of lifestyle was somewhat exceptional. In recent years, I have lamented that I did not make more of an effort to learn these skills. While I spent a lot of time doing my own crafting on the floor while watching my mothers foot press down on the sewing machine’s pedal; hovering over (while, really below) her marble slab while she kneaded bread; and weeding upon request, I never really asked for lessons. I certainly picked up a lot through osmosis but I was never exactly an apprentice.
Our gardening season has begun! The motivating force of the Freedom Project along with the peer support of local gardeners on Twitter have inspired me to give it a lot of energy this year.
My attempts in the past have included very successful container tomatoes, a few flowers, herbs, strawberries, lettuce, catnip and a bed of organic veggies that was cursed by shade and then abandoned for a 6 week summer road trip. (Apparently the peas were good, though I wasn’t around to enjoy them.) We took one cherry tomato plant on the road with us to Nova Scotia – I needed to prove to myself that I could grow food and eat the fruits of my labour, though this feat was attempted under ideal or even normal conditions. The trip was hard on Tiny Tim and we left him to retire in Nova Scotia.
This year I resolve to grow more of the food that I eat – and eat more of the food that I grow!
Everyone has a food weakness; mine is potatoes. Potatoes make me weak in the knees, especially when they are fried in oil, and all the better if smothered in cheese and gravy. I first tasted authentic poutine when I visited Montreal for the first time at age 16. The tiny hole-in-the-wall franchise I visited, called “Frites Alors!” served dozens of varieties, from pink peppercorn to smoked meat. If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you know that everything tastes better there, especially bagels and smoked meat, and definitely poutine. Real poutine is made from hand-cut fries deep fried in oil, fresh cheese curds and homemade beef or duck gravy. I’ve had both good and bad poutine since. I was very excited when a couple of Quebeqois guys opened La Belle Patate here in Esquimalt (reviews here & here), where they serve authentic “Smoke Meat” sandwiches, great poutine and spruce beer. My boyfriend is from Quebec and he says their hamburgers remind him of the ones he enjoyed as a kid. Fortunately (or not) La Belle Patate is located opposite the pool, so I am usually confronted by temptation right after I’ve happily swam a dozen or more lengths and don’t want to set myself back. Poutine is so delicious, but I find it usually isn’t worth the fat and calorie hangover and it takes a lot for me to part with my hard-earned money (A writer on a budget you say?!).
In my last Holga post I mentioned that you could step up the DIY by scanning your own negatives without investing in an expensive film scanner. GoHolga has a brief tutorial on how to do this with b&w negatives. Last weekend for Mathieu‘s 30th birthday we rented a little studio on Hornby Island and, as usual, we took a lot of photos. I experimented with my Holga and took two rolls of 120 colour film. When we got home, I was eager to see the results, so I tried the flatbed trick with my colour film just for fun. The results were interesting, though not nearly high-quality enough. It is a great way to preview shots to decide which to digitize. I will be processing the colour slides to do the photos justice, but for now I will share the process and the resulting nostalgic b&w images.
Transition Shuffle Bus
A few weeks ago I attended an inspirational event, Working Groups: Cultivating Action, hosted by Transitions Victoria. I was enjoying my Saturday morning coffee while reading FOCUS magazine, and looking forward to a day of leisure with my sweetheart. That was, until I read an article about Transitions Victoria. Within an hour I was on a bus downtown to make the 11:45 registration. I was motivated to connect with other people about something I am very passionate about. As a somewhat introverted perfectionist with a few lingering social anxieties, I am not often motivated by an opportunity that involves public speaking, group work and crowds. However, it my strong belief that what we need more than anything else is community collaboration around issues of sustainability, and this belief is beginning to overshadow self-centered insecurities. My cause is becoming larger than myself, yet the ironic surprise is that I am perhaps benefited by this most of all.
This project is partly about making as much of our food as possible from scratch, living on less, reducing waste and being more self-reliant in general. It’s also about taking pride in what we make and having fun being creative. And hey, I won’t deny that it’s also about EATING. I love food and I love sharing recipes.
On Saturday night, I got together with a few friends to join in a book club discussion and potlock. The book was How to be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson (and there will be a blog post to follow on our inspiring and open discussion) and the potluck included homemade dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. Our lovely host Jackie, inspired by the book, made delicious bread loaves to go with hearty winter soups and stews. The downstairs neighbours brought up pecan encrusted baked brie and cinnamon apples (after having just finished a post-holiday dairy-free cleanse, I truly savoured this treat). I decided to pioneer a new culinary invention, Beet and Greens Barley Risotto.
I’m really happy with my first two test rolls from my little Holga – Now that I know what it can do, I’m really looking forward to experimenting with more film! You can see all of the results in my Holga set on Flickr, but here is a sneak peak:
The lovely Mat Henley at Point Hope Shipyards, Vic West
A Holga 120CFN
Last August, I picked up a Holga 120S camera on a day of garage sale cruising by bicycle. It cost me the grand sum of 50 cents. The guy a bought it from said it had very few light leaks, but he hadn’t used it in a while. I couldn’t believe my luck – I was delighted!
[<— image by kat…]
I first became aware of toy cameras when I met my photographer boyfriend, Mat Henley, back in the summer of 2008. Not long after that, I noticed that local small business owner and photographer Ken Gordon has made his tiny café, street level espresso, a shrine to toy cameras – he even has cameras, accessories and books for sale in the tiny 400 square foot space. Ken teaches workshops on photography and was recently behind an exhibit showcasing local toy camera photography at Luz gallery. While waiting for ken to make my Americano one afternoon, I overheard a woman telling him that an elementary school aged friend of hers had submitted her photos. I really perked up when I heard that kids were producing art with these cheap, plastic cameras!
Now, I realize the Holga and toy cameras in general may seem an unlikely subject for TFP. After all, these plastic cameras are manufactured in China on an assembly line from the cheapest materials available. Still, I hope you will hear me out when I explain why I think Holgas are fantastic and liberating and do belong here.
I have to admit, I’ve been a little anxious about publishing my first Freedom Project post. For the last week, my thoughts have circled in my mind like hungry-birds, diving recklessly and greedily, hovering over the one question: How to start? Says the teeming flock: “I don’t want to set a precedent that this blog is frivolous/extreme/self-righteous/unserious/too serious.” They cry, fearfully: “I’ve built this all up too much; maybe I should give up; what if I’m NOT serious enough?; What if my friends/family/colleagues/potential employers read the blog and think that I am crazy?”
Then, I realized: this project is supposed to be about freedom, not anxiety. I thought about the reason I wanted to begin this project, which was to commit my self and my soul to a personal quest based in everyday action. I want this project to stem organically from my daily living, and my hope is that the blog and the project will fuel one another through the inspiration of individual action and sharing those actions with like-minded people. I do not want it to be an obligation, a source of stress or any sort of yoke on my already precarious attempts at balancing the personal and public aspects of my life.
While the project may sound like a huge philosophical and spiritual quest, it is essentially about two things: food and community. The real inspiration for this blog is my childhood, where I first learned the significance of these values.