When the weather looked like it might be warm enough for a few days I set about cultivating a new batch of wild yeast sourdough starter. This was four weeks ago. In Hawaii, it took me about 5 days to have a very active starter which we enjoyed using for bread and pizza dough for five years. My friend Nikki now has the starter and is taking good care of it while she bakes for her family. I am thankful that “Henri” has such a great home and is continuing “his” legacy! But back to my starter challenges. It just wasn’t growing. I would peer in every morning, looking for bubbling activity. There was definitely gas emerging, but after the initial release of gases from bacteria, the yeast just didn’t seem to develop. I considered the effects of chlorine on my little buddies and distilled water every day to add to my mix. (You feed the starter every 24 hours with flour and water.) I also considered the type of flour, the hydration level, the temperature of the kitchen, etc. I did everything I could to find a warm spot, even bathing the yeasts in a warm bath when I was home (sinking a glass into another bigger glass with hot water). I ran out of my Hawaii flour and bought new flour. I also finally added some wild blueberries we had harvested at a neighbor’s farm. This particular neighbor is special – Gordon Wilson’s farm has been in his family for generations. Unfortunately he and his wife will need to move and retire in Eastern Washington because it’s too expensive here for them on his pension. So he is selling off his farm, the home he was born in, everything. I was so sad. But I learned later that a young family bought the blueberry farm portion of the land and intend to keep farming it. So…it seemed appropriate as a last resort to add Gordon’s blueberries in hopes that the flora on their surface would kick-start the yeasts in my glass. (I was holding out for just the variety in MY kitchen, but alas, I am happy to add Gordon’s blueberry flora because they have a neat story.) SO – in a day or two I was able to show the boys lots of little gas bubbles distributed throughout the starter! Over the next several days, the bubbles became bigger and more prevalent. Friday morning I was brave enough to try an actual bread, to see if my little “yeasties” were up to the challenge of rising dough. I mixed a wet dough, folded it, checked the gluten window, shaped it and retarded it overnight. Today my schedule did not allow a rigid adherence to proper warming, shaping, etc. so I just went with it and adapted. The oven spring was nevertheless quite impressive! I am ecstatic!!! So happy to have a starter on hand that seems to have adapted to my little ecosystem here, temperature, feeding schedule, hydration, etc. It’s like getting to know your newborn…sort-of.
I know it’s not the same, but exciting nonetheless to nurture a living organism to a point where it can really work for you. The product of my efforts is in the picture. You an click on it to see the crust and crumb structure. Not bad for first effort at a baguette! The bread of a wild yeast starter sourdough is inherently denser (I did not know this until this round of research and experimentation) so I am not going for a light, commercial yeast style bread. Mine is going to be denser. Nice to know that is a distinguishing feature. Looking forward to getting back into making a variety of breads as time allows.
I was so excited to make a soup today using leeks (have never cooked with them before, honestly didn’t even really know what they looked like) so it seemed a perfect time to do Safeway home delivery. You can search for the ingredients using a search bar (no wandering the aisles) and just plunk it right into the virtual cart. Sam was under the weather yesterday anyway and didn’t want to go to the market. So I did my order online and scheduled delivery, so psyched to have dinner in the bag, so to speak. Well, the order came but a couple ingredients did not. So…I had my gorgeous leeks but no cannellini beans. The leeks were too cool to let just sit idly, so I improvised. Sometimes I improvise fabulously, other times it just goes horrendously bad. Seems I don’t improvise well here in WA. In 8 weeks I have had 2 complete misfires with the crock pot. Both involved putting pasta in. I have done well timing rice so that it turns out well with beef, but not pasta. I don’t seem to do well with that. And I am not sure leeks EVER want to be eaten in a pasta. Oh well. The dinner was so bad I walked it out to the trash at the road, ready for pickup tomorrow. It is not welcome on my property. However, I was tempted to see if my farm friend’s hogs would eat it. Probably not. They would know better about leeks and pasta. While the crock pot was going I had chicken in the oven, so thankfully the family did have some edible food.
While all that cooking was going on, Sam and I were working hard on a special project for the harvest fair – creating bread dough to form a decorative sheaf of wheat. The bread dough was made from wild yeast I’ve been nurturing for the past couple weeks. Very very slow to grow here in the cool kitchen. I have tried baby-ing them, distilling my water, feeding regularly, changing the hydration, sitting the container in a warm bath… I really wanted to cultivate the wild yeast from my kitchen but decided, finally, to give them a little boost. I put a few blueberries from the farm nearby in there and got fresh flour (vs the Hawaii flour). Boom…it started to get more active. I am excited! So one small victory in the kitchen today, but it is not for eating 🙂
For more uplifting news, please click on the picture of Big Ben above to see what we’ve been up to. I loaded more photos a day or two ago. Aloha!
We are fortunate that so many people here in the NW really seem genuinely interested in the outdoors, conservation, and teaching the children. We make events of everything here on the island – planting, harvesting – the kids are involved at every turn. The farmers make an effort to connect with schools and allow the kids to really see what is involved in the cycle of agricultural life. So when an opportunity came up to plant a tree, we jumped at it. We brought the wagon and shovels, gloves, and many layers. It hit freezing for the first time last night! When we headed back to the truck a couple hours later, the boys piled into the wagon with all the stuff, and I ran to shouts of “faster! faster!” Right through the leaves, down the hill, through the mud. Everything was going great until a wheel fell off the wagon and everyone came piling out – shovels, mittens, boys, with granola bar held fast in a little paw (Ben). Somehow Ben never messes up his food when he wipes out. We managed to find the wheel, and COUP of all – the little thing that supposedly holds it in place. We fixed the wagon and piled in again. Well, only Sam. Ben insisted on pulling slowly so it wouldn’t happen again. Then off to the farmer’s market to stock up on our friend Betsey’s potatoes for Thanksgiving. We also bumped into our friend Larry who plays uke, guitar and mandolin in a local band. He let Sam play his guitar at the Farmer’s Market – the national anthem, to a round of clapping after the impromptu performance. Larry has a gorgeous guitar he built. We are conspiring on a kanikapila (Hawaiian ‘kine musical jam session) sometime in December. Then home to split wood, but that was cut short by me breaking the axe. I am such a brute! Then to inside play after chasing chickens and biking jumping. We played Hawaiian music on YouTube and Sam played his guitar. It is cold cold here, but our hearts are warm with thanks for all our blessings.
I wasn’t going to post for a few days because I know a few friends and family have actually subscribed, which means they get spammed by me whenever I post, so I want to be sensitive to not throw too many posts up or they’ll block me! 🙂 But tonight was just off the charts…so I must capture it while it’s fresh in my mind and heart.
Our little Friday routine lately has been hit a favorite park and then walk into downtown Poulsbo for dinner. Tonight we went to JJs – the boys’ favorite place for clam chowder! So dinner was great, the boys were well behaved, we actually had somewhat of a conversation, Sam telling me things about school (such as, I think his teacher reads him Little House on the Prairie during lunch!). I was literally just yesterday thinking I’d let Sam watch that show because I remember loving it and I am a big fan of the one-room schoolhouse era. I actually belong to a one-room schoolhouse listserv and dialogue with a couple older country folk who remember what it was like back in the day. I have some long, detailed emails from them that I treasure. Recently I’ve gotten some interesting accounts of what they did for recess because Sam’s school is under construction (new building going up) and they don’t have a playground this year. So anyway…all that is to say I am hearing really really awesome things about school. I just want to fist-pump when I hear, for example, “Mom, my teacher LOVES to teach. She said so. She EVEN said ‘Science rocks!'” Back to JJs for dinner now…so Ben is eating his grilled cheese and the waiter asks how it is all going. Ben says “This tastes like BEAR!” I think that means GOOD so the waiter went off to compliment the kitchen staff and Ben gazed over at them with his mouth wide open in a happy smile, grilled cheese all visible inside the gaping maw. So, we’re wrapping up and I’m paying and a nice older man comes over and says “I just wanted you two boys to know how impressed I was with how you behaved during dinner. I’m in the restaurant business and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone better!” How cool! Wow! Another inner fist-pump and glow. THEN…
The waiter comes up and says “Ma’am, are you a Navy wife?” I say “Uh…yes?” “Well, the man behind you wanted to know.” So I look around and another sweet older man is smiling and motioning that I need to rip up the check – he wants to buy us all dinner! I explained that we’re only sort-of Navy, Dave doesn’t deploy (he stays home and audits my doings which isn’t nearly as much fun!), but that we are so touched and thankful for his gesture – the highest compliment. So I go over to introduce myself and the sweet man is all choked up – even his wife is not sure if he’s swallowed the wrong way, or choked up, and then I nearly got all choked up, so I just said “God bless you” while giving him a few pats on his shoulder. I wanted to hug him, but preserving his dignity is what stopped me. So I finished up paying and then came back with the boys. He’d recovered enough by then to say he was a Korea Veteran (as was my Dad’s dad) and we chatted a little about the difficulties of life at sea, especially in the pre-nuke days. I gave them my email address and joked around with the sweet wife about how the menfolk can just totally mystify us sometimes (she was speechless watching this whole exchange). They literally stupefied me with their generosity. I was absolutely floored. So I told the boys they could find the biggest piece of chocolate in Marina Market that they could find. As big as Sam, if he could find it. (Sam had a smile ear to ear for that mental image!)
So in we go to see Andrea at Marina Market (where we stock up on reward jar treats for the week) and ask for a large hunk of chocolate. She came back with one 200 g bar, and one 250 g bar. So we are well outfitted! On our way (jogging, because Ben just takes off on a run and won’t stop – he jogs a mile without thinking about it) back to the truck I told the boys that they absolutely made my night, my month, likely my year. Sam asked if I would never forget tonight’s dinner, and you know what? I don’t think I will EVER forget it. Andrea at the market said it was really good the boys got to see me being praised, and them being recognized by complete strangers for their behavior. She’s right – it really did make an impression on them, too, that they were so noteworthy that others actually said something to them. I think they got it. We prayed for those sweet people tonight that many blessings would be heaped down upon them because they enriched us so much.
Just yesterday we were totally floored and surprised with another generous surprise from the team of real estate agents that represented us and the previous owners. They are all such good people and were there for us as we dealt with some really disgusting surprises upon moving in. We were grateful for them, and we enjoyed seeing them last night now that we are finally all able to laugh about the creepy crawl space!
It is really hard to get two out of the three men in my family to talk about their day at all. So I try new tactics…Today I asked Sam “What was something that made you think today in school?” So he thought about it for a minute then described how he thought about how to decorate his paper butterfly, making the two sides match. That gave a chance to talk about the word symmetry and how good that was to plan out his decoration just the way a real butterfly is “made.” While Sam was in school, Ben and I went on a bike ride on the SUB (sport utility bike) to the farm stands to get our produce and eggs. I picked up bread and corn from the first farm stand – happy to see corn husks sticking out of the cargo bags like little flags. On our way out of the farm we spied two horses working the land! How cool is that!? So we asked for some information about them. The lady’s name is Betsey and she runs Laughing Crow Farm. She has a blog if you want to Google her (Bainbridge Island) and she owns two draft horses. I reached out to her with an email and really hope to give Sam’s class a chance to come and learn about how she works the land – but knowing Sam’s school, they’ve already set that up years ago. I absolutely love draft horses – they are so kind and big, so reliable and sturdy. Then on to Rolling Bay Farm for eggs (photo above). She also sells soap, bacon, heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. And works full time in Seattle! Wow. People are serious about their microfarms here, but it’s still hard to even get the farm to pay for itself, just like when we were kids living on a small farm. They just don’t, especially if land is costly like it is here. Anyway…the sun was out and we felt so lucky to have time to spend together, thanks to Dave working hard down in Bremerton. I get to chauffeur Ben around the island, soaking in experiences together. After Rolling Bay Farm we went down to Manitou Beach and parked on a bike path for blackberry snacks. Ben is quite the picker – he knows to check for musty-moldy-muckiness first. Or bird poop. Then he just plows them into his mouth like a bear. He has a big blackberry grin afterwards! Then up to Bay Hay and Feed for a check on the small chicks (the “peeps”) as they grow into little pullets. Found out from Shelly, who has worked there for 20 years, that the mystery plant in our garden is Brussel sprouts! SO gratifying to figure out what in the world it is. Then coffee and a little muffin for late second breakfast/early lunch and meeting up with locals, gradually making friends. We’re planning an open house so we can thank those who have so warmly welcomed us here to the island. We absolutely love it. We are blessed. I look forward to reading a book called In Praise of Island Stewards to learn more about the farmers here on the island. And Sam continues to plan our chicken coop…he reads a book on chickens every night for bedtime. We are really going to do it…soon. As soon as Richard can come up and help us build it! 🙂
We’ve been exploring our island this weekend and finding little spots with sand. Inevitably we get to talking about Hawaii with strangers because we mention we’ve just moved here and how lovely it is, etc. and they always ask from where. So anyway, it’s been wonderful to meet new people, finding many who enjoy traveling to Hawaii themselves, and taking in all the sun we can before winter sets in. It was quite frankly warm today. There are no real breezes like we’re used to, so when it’s hot, it is hot indeed. But the water is cold! I broke some more trails today and worked up a good sweat swinging my machete, so we decided to get milkshakes and head to the beach. The boys had a fantastic time, and I really enjoyed seeing them relax by the water. If you click the picture above you’ll get to see where we’ve been this weekend and perhaps enjoy a laugh or two about their acclimation to the colder water. I caught some funny faces 🙂
And I’ve been thinking about my own acclimating, making new friends, etc. We moved a lot before kids and I made friends easily because I had time to spend with them after work, etc. Then this last stint in Hawaii was quite a long one, and with kids around my time was limited to those with whom I could hike or beach-it. I was blessed to be surrounded by both friends of many years (my “A team”) as well as treasured new friends. I had more friends in my quiver than I could really invest the time I wanted in – that is a good blessing, to always want more time with friends. But it just wasn’t the season in life to indulge that much in me, which is also totally fine. So now we’re here, and I’m missing my dear friends but enjoying seeing who is brought into my path. And last night I was reminded just how lucky I am that I’m not the One fully in charge of that mission. The right people are invariably chosen for me, and it is so gratifying to be warmly welcomed by such truly neat people.
We were invited to a bbq with a group of new friends whom I met through Sam’s school. When I meet new people, I tend to try to act very normal, and I have been inadvertently sanitizing my memory a bit of all the things that truly make me, “ME.” I am not sure that makes sense. But when you’re around people who have known you a long time, it is easy to be very comfortable – to be the wide range of things and interests that truly represent you. When you’re meeting new people, you end up hiding most of the facets because there’s just not enough time to give them a full briefing on all your pertinent characteristics. They don’t have any history or context. So they don’t know that I consider a headlamp to be an accessory item, and enjoy parties to which I can carry a flask in my pocket. Or that I treasure the machete given to me by a Samoan chief. Or that I’m into cultivating wild yeast starter and actually name my starter (and further to that point, I am so thankful for a new friend on O’ahu who I met just weeks before moving and who adopted my “Henri” – I just heard from her that he is growing nicely and proudly making sourdough breads, biscuits and even pancakes!) I don’t know where my flask is just yet, and I forgot the headlamp because it isn’t in my usual travel patterns. So they’re not getting the full “Alli” yet, and when they do, will they still like me? Fortunately, I can tell already that these folks are totally welcoming. They are all very unique and interesting people and I look forward to getting to know them. Not sure yet about the mosstache and other initiation rites…but we’ll get there.
All that is to say I am richly blessed with new friends, but I sure miss Hawaii and my friends there. I am thinking of you often, and am hoping you drop in on us here on this northerly island. It’s a warm place, regardless of the thermometer! Hogmanay anyone? Grilled SPAM is oh so shockingly good!!!