It hasn’t really been the most exciting week here on Quiet Farm, dear readers. We’ve been busy with boring but grown-up things like obtaining contractor quotes for electrical refits and game fencing (tedious), comparison shopping for auto insurance (horrible), changing oil in the cars (chilly), and taxes (the new 1040 is rather streamlined!). While necessary, none of those tasks make for very interesting tales.
Like a real farmer!
Winter continues its slog. After another six inches of fresh powder we did finally see our bluebird sky again, which was a welcome change. N borrowed our neighbor’s tractor to do some plowing; we’ve also been out shopping for our own tractor and ATV, since our current Snow Management Plan – i.e. ignore it and hope it melts – is definitely not panning out.
All this just to protect some vegetables!
This uninspiring pile of materials is the beginning of our game fence. We can’t install it until the ground is a little more workable, and the hungry deer are taking full advantage of their current unrestricted freedom. We thought seriously about installing the fence ourselves, but once we realized we’d need to rent heavy equipment (skid-steer, auger and probably some other complicated, expensive, possibly dangerous things) we decided to hire it out. It’s going to cost us many thousands of dollars, but some jobs should be left to the professionals. We hope the deer will learn to respect our boundaries.
Looks pretty. Tastes mediocre.
Speaking of uninspiring, I do like to share both my successes and not-successes in the kitchen, especially when it comes to the trickiness of baking. Although my new mashed potato focaccia is terrific, this ciabatta was most certainly not. Friends asked if I had a tried-and-true ciabatta recipe, and although I hadn’t made it before I wanted to give it a shot. Ciabatta (the word means ‘slipper’ in Italian) should be both crusty and light, with a large, open crumb and a texture perfect for loaded sandwiches. My results were so disappointing – bland and undersalted with a tight, dense crumb – that I’ve set ciabatta aside for the moment.
Still looks pretty. Still tastes mediocre.
I also made my first babka, a traditional rolled Jewish bread. Babka is made from an enriched yeasted dough, meaning that it includes some sort of fat – either butter or eggs or both. The filling is typically sweet, perhaps with dried fruit or nuts, and it often includes kind of a crunchy, streuselly topping, too. I’m a little late to the pumpkin spice party but I’m trying to use up frozen winter squash, so here we are with a Pumpkin Spice Babka. My review? Decidedly meh.
Although the dough rose and baked nicely, the sweetened pumpkin filling was oddly both underseasoned and strangely salty. The interior definitely needed some sort of textural contrast – pumpkin seeds and raisins would have been lovely – and overall, I felt as though the bread couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be sweet or savory. Truly a disappointing result for the amount of work involved. We didn’t throw either of these breads away, of course; just about every baked good can be redeemed by toasting and then generously slathering with salted butter. Turning that ciabatta into peppery, cheesy garlic bread didn’t hurt, either.
Looks pretty! Tastes good, too!
How about something I made that I was pleased with? Enter plum jam with chia seeds and cardamom. Again using up freezer inventory, I simmered frozen, pitted Italian prune plums (I picked these last fall across the street from our local library) with honey, ground cardamom, black pepper, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Once thickened and off the heat, I added chia seeds for both texture and nutrition, since chia seeds are rich in fiber and healthy fat (and I have about ten million pounds of them). The resulting jam is a gorgeous ruby color, tart and not too sweet with an intriguing whisper of mystery from the cardamom and pepper. This tangy jam will revive even the most boring of breads, thankfully.
The lesson here is that not every single thing you cook or bake will be amazing; sometimes even professional chefs make food that is just okay. And that’s fine. You’ll get better with more practice, and your not-successes will be less and less frequent, but please don’t ever let mediocre results in the kitchen turn you away from cooking and baking. Cooking fresh, nutritious, wholesome food at home isn’t an all-or-nothing game, and some days will definitively be better than others. You do your very best, you involve your family and hopefully don’t treat it like too much of a chore, and you sit down together to enjoy the results. And that is what cooking at home is all about.
Cook something nice for yourselves this week, friends!