Pâte à Choux avec la Crème Pâtissière

We’ve been trying to bake exclusively with organic whole wheat flour for the past few months, but the other day the husband wanted to bake some Irish soda bread, so we thought we might as well buy a bag of organic all purpose flour. I must say, it’s been kind of nice to have some in the house! While I find cookies and muffins and cupcakes do taste better with whole wheat flour, there are some things that I long to bake that just will not work with the heaviness of it, such as cakes, croissants, and pâte à choux. Before I go any further, did you know that there’s a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread? I wish I had taken a picture of what the husband made! But I think I was sleeping at the time…

Anyways, I didn’t take pictures of the step by step process or the crème pâtissière since I got the recipe from The Little Teochew and she has gorgeous pictures and clear step by step instructions. It took me awhile to make since it was my first time, but I was surprised by how easy it was despite its impressive sounding name. But then I think anything in french sounds impressive. They puffed up beautifully and tasted wonderful, slightly crispy on the outside, hollow and just the right moistness on the inside, and the crème pâtissière was lovely. I think I made them too big though, they were way bigger than my fist! My mom made them for us a few times when I was younger, and I had a sudden hankering for them the other day, so here it is!

pate a choux

pate a choux

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First Major Storm of Winter 2012-2013

It didn’t stop snowing/ice pelleting from Saturday 0400 to Sunday around 1800. It was the first major storm we’ve had in these parts for two or three winters now, and I so wanted to take some pictures so I could share the scenes with you. With northeast winds gusting up to 80km/hr though, and with the whipping snow and ice, I decided to stay indoors during most of it. We got a total of about 45cm, but the strong winds created snow drifts so that I was wading in the snow up to the top of my knees under the apple tree, and suddely came out and was stepping on green grass, I enjoyed the neat contrast. The husband braved the fury of the elements however, and tried to keep the road to the outside world clear in the old tractor until the blizzard got inside the tractor somehow (he knows the correct lingo, I don’t) and it stopped working.

I did manage to take a picture of one of our apple trees, its branches hanging low, heavy with ice. When the wind blew, the entire apple tree was clincking and jingling like an oversized wind chime. It’s just how I imagined Narnia would look and sound like.

Icy Apple Tree

After the freezing rain started, this was the view from one of the windows…

Icy Window

I read in the news that a small number of people from the States and Canada died in this storm. I’m glad the casualty was not any higher, but even one is too many. I hope you and your loved ones fared through the storm and that your little ones enjoyed playing in the blizzard!

A Medley of Things January

I think January is one of my favourite months. It arrives amidst the hustle, bustle, clamour and joys of the Christmas season, and passes by in hopeful stillness before the busy spring and summer months are upon us. It is a subtle and silent month, bursting with hope for the year to come, and that’s what makes it beautiful to me. Here are a few curios from around our homestead.

Our confused Christmas tree, thinking that it’s spring, has started growing cones.

Balsam Fir Cones

Stacking wood for next winter.

Stacking Wood

The first real snow we’ve had that’s stayed on the ground came on New Year’s Eve day, and ever since then, it’s been around -14C with the windchill.

More snow today!

Snow falling

It’s been fascinating to watch the ice growing over the river in the past few days.

Ice over the river

A clincker built boat from the 50s, upside down with saplings growing through the hull.

Clincker Built Boat

Angelica

Angelica

Angelica

Knitting on cold, silent January days.

Knitting

Hope you’re having a lovely January too!

A Merry Little Christmas

This will be our very first Christmas together as husband and wife, and it will be a quiet and simple fare as we revel in God’s love showered down on us through Jesus.

Add a tree from the homestead, old ornaments from generations past, some new ornaments and a star, and you get a lovely, rustic little first Christmas tree.

The husband scoped out a potential tree the week before. It’s a 10 metre tall balsom fir and since they don’t live too long after they reach a certain height, I didn’t feel bad about cutting it down. The rest of the tree will be turned into firewood. As we were traipsing through the woods to get our tree, I saw a bunch of perfectly sized and perfectly shaped evergreens all along the way and asked why we couldn’t just get one of those instead. The husband explained that they were called Cat Spruce and they’ll make your house smell like cat urine.

Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

The first ornament we bought together.

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An old hand painted ornament.

Hand Painted Ornament

A wooden bell the father in law made many years ago.

Wooden Bell

New ornaments and an old bell in the background.

New & Old Ornaments

Two birds.

Blue Jay Gold Partridge

The star.

Star

Merry Christmas!!

Why I’m Dreaming of Chickens by Day & by Night

The chickens you see in the header are not my chickens, if only they were. No, these chickens belong to the Fortress of Louisbourg, and from what I can tell, they are a Mille Fleur variant of some breed of heritage chicken. Aren’t they beautiful? I snapped their picture three summers ago, little suspecting that my life’s path would lead into the country.

Let’s see if I can condense months of research and prayerful rumination into short concise points:

  • The chicken meat we purchase at the supermarket are all Cornish Crosses which, if they’re actually able to mate can’t reproduce Cornish Cross chicks. The only people that can reproduce Cornish Cross chicks are those who work at Tyson Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, and other large corporations depending on the country. That means anytime a farmer needs more Cornish Crosses, they can’t breed their own but must purchase them, a wholly unsustainable practice, and makes lots of money for those large corporations who carry out so many morally questionable practices.
  • The Cornish Cross were bred for fast growth, and can be processed in 37 days compared to the normal processing time of 126+ days depending on the breed. The Cornish Cross grows more rapidly than its heart, lungs, and other vital organs can handle, thus they frequently die of respiratory and cardiac failure. They also grow too fast and too big (particularly the breast muscle, which is where the money’s at) for their pelvis and short legs and often can’t even walk but waddle or just sit, or their legs are simply broken from its weight.
  • Chicken farms that supply meat for major corporations and thus the supermarkets house the Cornish Crosses at a density of about 25,000 chickens per warehouse. Usually one worker would look after about three of these warehouses. Because of this overcrowding and unnatural environment, the top beak of the chicks are either grounded or melted shorter than the bottom beak, which research has shown to cause acute pain for the chicks, so that the chickens won’t peck each other to death. The overcrowding and poor immune system of the chickens also require vaccinations and medicated feed in order to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • A chicken that lives and dies in 37 painful and distressed days while eating highly processed and medicated feed, which by the way contains genetically modified corn and soy that has numerous known and unknown deleterious effects on the environment and human health, can’t possibly be good for the people who eat it.
  • Even at the local farmer’s market, the only chicken we can buy are Cornish Crosses. They may have lived in better environments out of doors and on green pasture, but they still grow way too fast and can’t walk and breathe right.
  • Eggs we buy at the store come from hens packed into battery cages, each one living on less space than an 8.5×11 piece of paper for 2-2.5 years before their egg production drops and are slaughtered. Due to overcrowding, these hens are required to undergo the same treatments as the meat chickens. All male chicks from the commercial egg production strain are killed en mass as they don’t lay eggs and are not good enough to be meat chickens.
  • If the egg carton advertises its eggs as “organic”, it means the hens were fed non-medicated and non-GM but still highly processed feed, and still kept in battery cages. “Free run” eggs mean they’re not kept in cages but on the warehouse floor, and “free-range” eggs mean the warehouse must have some sort of access to an outside area of a specific size, neither has anything to do with the feed they get. Even if each hen gets more space than in a battery cage, it is still much too overcrowded in my opinion.

It’s not just the poultry industry, the entire food industry and agri-business is off kilter because it is founded on all the wrong motives. Basically, we want things cheap, easy, and fast, regardless of the sanctity of animal life, our all-important role as stewards of the resources we’ve been given, and that healthcare is costing us more every year.

But hey, I’m no purist. I still succumb to the temptations of McDonald’s once in awhile, and right now we still buy meat from the supermarket. I loathe to do these things but I realize that change does take time, so we just do our best one step at a time.

Steps we can take:

  • If you’re permitted to own a few chickens in your backyard for meat or just for eggs, go for it. If you’re not allowed, find like-minded people in your area and speak to local government representatives to change the existing bylaws.
  • Try to buy your meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit from local farmer’s markets. Get to know the farmer, find out how their animals are raised and how their fruits and veggies are grown. Ask lots of questions and support the local farmer.
  • Ask farmers at the local market if they sell heritage chickens instead of Cornish Cross. It’ll likely be very hard to find, but if enough people ask for it, things just might change! Vote with your dollar!
  • Grow your own vegetables in your backyard, or even your front yard, in bins and flower pots, bags and glass jars.
  • Try to buy organic where you can. To be certified organic in Canada, fruits and vegetables must not be genetically modified and must not have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and livestock must be fed organically grown, non-genetically modified and non-medicated feed, as well as no hormones allowed.
  • Try to decrease the number of times you eat out, and find restaurants that support local farmers.

Rather than thinking of yourself as someone who is against all the things that are wrong with our food industry, think of yourself as someone who is for food that is healthy and wholesome because it has been raised and grown by loving stewards whose desire is the health and wellbeing of his livestock, his customers, and the earth.

So which chicken breeds am I dreaming about? That will be the subject of another post!

100% Whole Wheat Baguette (My Attempts)

Yesterday mid-morning I was rummaging through the fridge to see what I could cook for supper and the only meat that we had was half of a frozen snow crab left over from this past Spring. So I decided to make crab chowder with lots of onions, potatos, carrots, and of course, lots of butter and cream too. Then I thought how nice it would be if we had fresh out of the oven baguette to dip the chowder with!

This will be the second time I made whole wheat baguette after tweaking a few things from my first attempt. After much searching online, all the recipes I could find used some amount of white flour, except the recipe of one blogger who also had the same difficulty, so she decided to go it her own way to see if it works. She reported that the first time it did work out wonderfully, but subsequent attempts with the same recipe was not as successful. There were also mixed results from others who tried her recipe in the comments section, though I think most did turn out well, so I decided to give it a try too. I did substantially increase the amount of kneading time and rising time as I thought the low level of gluten in the whole wheat flour, as well as the low house temperature and humidity level required it. Here is the original recipe, it is a lovely blog with lots of wonderful meal ideas!

As a disclaimer, I’m not an expert in baking, I’ve hardly baked a thing my whole life until I got married! And I have read that bread making is affected by altitude, temperature, humidity, and a bunch of other factors so that if I were to bake more baguettes tomorrow from the same recipe, it might come out a little different. So treat what I write here as a general guideline for what has worked ok for me. I’ve never been one to follow recipes anyway, my eyes just glaze over, and besides, with so few ingredients, no matter how badly it turns out, it’ll still taste like bread. The difficult part is tweaking things so you get the texture and consistency you like.

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup very warm water (I don’t know what temperature, I just boiled some water then let it sit for a bit until it has completely stopped giving off steam but still hot)

2 3/4 tsp dry active yeast

2 tbsp turbinado sugar

1 tsp salt

3 cups organic whole wheat flour

Steps

Combine the water, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Let stand about 5min. (The mixture sat there for about 8min as I got busy with something else)

Add salt and 1 1/2 cup of the flour,  stir until everything is mixed well.

Add another 1 1/2 cup flour, use your hands to form a dough.

Knead for 15min.

Let stand for 3 hours, cover top of bowl with towel. (To facilitate better rising than my first attempt, also because the kitchen was hovering around 20C, I sat the bowl on top of a heated oat bag, pictured below)

The dough should be doubled in size, punch it down and knead again for 15min.

Let stand for another 2 hours.

Knead for about 5min, then divide dough in two and form them into baguette looking shapes. Put them on baking sheet that’s lightly oiled or sprinkled with flour.

Cut diagonal slits on top, then brush top with some water.

Let stand for about 20min while you preheat the oven to 400F with a small bowl of water. (The steam from the water is what makes the outside of the baguette crispy)

Bake for about 15min or golden. (I don’t think my oven is all that great and I don’t think the temperature is accurate either!)

Et voila, c’est tout!

After kneading the dough for a total of about 35min, waiting for five and a half hours, cracking the tough and stubborn snow crab legs and claws to get at its tasty morsels, and peeling and cutting out the questionable parts of the home-grown potatoes, supper was served at 7pm, and promptly finished around 7:20pm. Ah well.

This was the dough before I let it rise for the first 3 hours.

whole wheat baguette

This is the oat bag I talked about. Its main purpose was for warmth on cold winter nights, but it was very useful in this application too! I heated it for 3min in the microwave, it needed to be reheated a couple of times throughout the rising time. You can use hot water bottles or whatever, but whimsical skiing cats are a nice touch.

 whole wheat baguette

This is after 3 hours of rising.

whole wheat baguette

After some more kneading and letting it rise for another 2 hours, I kneaded the dough for a few minutes more, then formed them into the desired shape. Can’t wait to pop them in the oven!

whole wheat baguette

Not the prettiest looking things but quite tasty, especially with the crab chowder! The husband enjoyed it very much.

whole wheat baguette whole wheat baguette

I hope you will enjoy making your own 100% whole wheat baguettes as well! Waiting for hours to see what you end up with is half the fun! Do keep in mind that it’s not going to be as light and airy as white flour baguettes, but you’re getting all the healthiness of the wheat, not just the empty carbs. I also just learned that whole white flour is the same as whole wheat flour except it’s made from an albino strain of wheat. Perhaps next time I’ll try it with that, since it has the same benefits of whole wheat but the colouring of the baguette will be more like the pictures in my head of what a baguette should look like.

Two nights of -8C/17F & Still the Vegetables Keep Coming

Last night I decided to make filets de sole en papillote for supper, which is just French fancy talk for fish and veggies and herbs baked in a pouch of tin foil. I put on the husband’s Dunlop rubber boots and clomped out to the garden to see what I could find. It has been quite cold for the past week and a half, with frosty nights and mornings, and for a couple of days it went down to -4C to -6C in the daytime and -8C during the night, with 2-3cm of snow covering the ground. The greens we had planted especially for the winter were doing well in their cold frame, but the Parsley and green onions continue to surprise us with their resiliency. We had enjoyed them for months now, and thought they’d be done in by the first few frosty nights so we didn’t bother protecting them from the cold. Well, there they were, not as tall and bushy as three weeks ago, but the Parsley was still growing new baby leaves even after the freezing temperatures and snow!

Parsley DSCF2139

We’ve left the carrots in the ground to store over winter rather than harvesting and storing them someplace else. We’ll see how they do in the months ahead. I love that little rush and thrill you get in the split second between pulling on the carrot, wondering how this particular carrot will look, and feeling it come loose from the soil as you catch your first glimpse of it! Simple joys and excitements are much more poignant I find, and leaves a deeper and more lasting impression.

DSCF2138

These are mutant but cute looking carrots due to the clay soil being too clumpy. Won’t win any prizes but just as delicious.

DSCF2141