Archive for the ‘Sourdough’ Category

These are your BMG’s half-wheat sourdough cookies–rolled in cinnamon sugar, and then stamped as “HOME MADE.”

Because apparently, nobody would suspect it if I didn’t tell them in ALL CAPS.

Want yer own overly enthusiastic cookie stamp?  Come and get it, misfits!

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This is pretty much all I got done today.

Some hot sourdough on sourdough action. Can't say this blog isn't tittilating.

That is one happy, spongy lil' sourdough starter.

Let's just pretend that purple manicure is in perfect condition, shall we?

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Hello, Greenie Beanies,

I recently got an email from another satisfied customer.  That is, someone who read and liked my regular column on Urban Homesteading, which runs in every issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine.  Her name is Linda, and she wanted to pick my brain about urban homesteading.

Linda has been living in a rural home in California, and 2 years ago she moved into a city apartment with her adult daughter.  Linda is not used to cramped city apartments.  Linda does not like to feel cramped.

Oh, we can feel that pain, can’t we, sugar dumplings?

In any case, she’s having a hard time adjusting, and she’s finally looking for some ways to bring out her inner farmgirl.  But how to do it in the city?

Oh, sugar pies, YOU JUST KNOW she came to the right place!

Since I get questions like Linda’s fairly often via email or text message or Facebook nudge or secret message (seriously, people, if you have a question, ain’t no shame in postin’ it for all the guacamole-lovin’ world to see!  We won’t tease you!  And I kick jerks off my comments board, which makes “The Alchemist” the fun-lovin’, free spirited, totally tolerant, non-judgmental, warm and fuzzy, rolicking good time encouragin’, dictatorial palace of blogs.  Or something like that.).  Okay, I forgot what I was saying.

Oh, right.  Since I get questions like Linda’s fairy often, I’m going to print a piece of my response to her here.  Benefit from it, add to it, improvise, my sweet pets!

…It sounds like you’ve had to undergo quite the adjustment, you poor dear!  I was born and raised in Chicago, but have lived elsewhere–always in major cities, including Honolulu and New York.  So the crunch for space and land has always been an issue for me, and boy, do I sympathize.  I think one huge perk about city-living and small spaces is that they make you creative.  It is, of course, far easier to homestead on forty acres than it is in a 600 square foot apartment.  So you get plucky.  You get creative.  You become less wasteful and more ingenious.  You will, too!  Embrace it, and give it time, Linda.  But maybe I can help you to hurry things along….

Most of what I grow is in containers.  People have no. Idea. How. Easy. This. Is.  Really, I’m astounded at all the naysayers who will tell you vegetables can’t be grown in pots.  [Readers: remember when I showed you how easy it is?] Listen, you can grow colonnade apple trees in pots!  Almost any plant, given the proper space, soil, water, and nutrition, can be container-friendly.  A great beginner’s book I’d recommend is McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. I’m not sure what kind of balcony space you have, but I say, load it up, girl!  A big part of urban homesteading is seeing what you can get away with.  The answer, in my experience:

a whole lot.

Think lettuce in window boxes that hang over your balcony railings.  Patio tomatoes in pots.  Strawberries in hanging baskets.  Peppers and eggplants are extremely container-friendly–mine are very productive in a mere 8-inch pot.  Zucchini are notorious for a reason–they are practically reproductive machines.  Though I’m a big fan of heirlooms, you might try the Raven Zucchini hybrid–it’s container-friendly and produces loads of fruit very quickly.  Tea gardens are a great offshoot of the herb gardening thing, and mint and chamomile do very well in confined spaces.  Make use of vertical space, too, with plants that climb.  Just be sure that your landlord is okay with all this, and that you’re following the necessary safety precautions for balcony weight limits and such.

The great thing is, I think city neighbors, while they may not know much about what you’re trying to do, are usually pretty receptive and curious.  You may have been no big deal to your far-off rural neighbors, but you’ll probably be a sensation when you cut pumpkins from a vine twirling around your fire escape.  Try to make friends with your new neighbors, if you haven’t already, and let your garden be the icebreaker if need be.  Share your produce, try not to drip water onto your neighbors below (I said “try”…it won’t always be possible), and if you make friends with people who don’t really use their space, go ahead and ask if you can put a box or two on their railing.

Remember, mushrooms are a great edible crop that you can grow indoors in low light–why not try a mushroom kit?  Several issues ago, I wrote about the process in my “Urban Homesteading” column in MaryJanesFarm Mag.  In another piece titled “Bunnies in ‘da Hood,” I wrote about raising indoor angora rabbits for their knitting fiber (they shed it naturally).  My very first article for that column was about community gardens and yard shares.  If your ambitions outstrip your land, you might try to find for-rent gardening plots nearby.  You’re likely to meet new neighbors who share your farm fantasies.  Try to cultivate online relationships, too–I like to do a little seed swapping on the forum at www.gardenweb.com.

Homesteading for me goes beyond gardening.  I cook, I bake, I sew, I knit, I ferment, I pickle (I’ll be teaching pickling and fermenting workshops during MaryJanesFarm Day at this event in St. Paul in September–why not attend?!), I bake my own bread, brew beer and wine, make cheese, and am generally engaged in any nonsense I can lay hands upon.  Now The Boy and I are getting into roasting coffee.  We also subscribe to a local CSA or farm share box, which connects us to great local produce that we can’t or don’t grow ourselves (try www.localharvest.com to find one near you).  It helps to make us feel like part of a community.  We satisfy this urge by visiting our local farmers markets, too.  Perhaps you could start a weekly farmers market habit and hobnob with farmers and foodie neighbors?  These little things can help to put you in touch with a local, land-loving community that you didn’t even know existed.

…Lotsa hugs,

Well, whaddya think, my little custard tarts?  Did I just about cover it?  Did I give you any fresh inspiration?  Can you add anything to help Linda’s transition go a little more smoothly?

Duh, you totally can!  Do so in





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My, that’s a beautiful pie, you’re probably saying to yourself.  Wonder what it’s for, you’re asking yourself.  Wonder what kind it is, you’re musing, also to yourself.

Duh, it’s the birthday kind, dudes and dudettes!  You may remember that The Brother and I were born on Christmas Day.  Oh, the sympathetic choruses that usually erupt when I share that fact.  But in case you’re counting, you’ve noticed that it’s only been 6 months since my last birthday pie.  That’s because we celebrate our birthdays in July, much like furniture stores (Christmas in July sales ring a bell?).  The Mothership insists on birthday cakes on our real birthday, too, though (uh, can you see ulterior motive?) so yes, we get two cakes per year, and two songs.  That’s twice the wishes that you get, misfits.  Don’t feel so sorry for me anymore, now, do you?  Hate me with a passion now, don’t you?  Wish you could be the BMG, don’t you?

Oh, and speaking of passion, it’s a Passionfruit Meringue Pie from the inimitable Hoosier Mama Pie Company right here in Chicago.  Never tried them before?  Whores.

So what else has that CRAZY Alchemist been up to these days?!  is no doubt the other question on your curious minds.  Well… organizing my INSANE seed collection, for one.  I HEART this time of year in the garden, even though it’s all covered in snow and the earth is frozen solid.  Why?  Because it’s far enough away from the blistering heat-filled frenzy of harvest-time that I’ve finally forgotten the ridiculous overenthusiastic messes I got myself into last season.  Hence, I’m once again overenthusiastic and ridiculous.  That, and the seed catalogs are here.  Ooh, pretty!

So like a kid going through a super-secret candy stash in a super-secret treehouse labeled with a sign reading “No Boyz Allowd,”, I’ve been giggling and rifling and sorting and scheming while rubbing my hands together evilly.  The key difference being that now Boyz are Allowd.  At least, The Boy iz.  I mean, is.

Ooh!  Ooh!  Another project!  What you see there is a 5-gallon keg hooked up to a CO2 tank.  Big freaking deal, you’re saying.  Ooh, a freaking keg, you’re saying.  Oh, she thinks she’s so freaking special because she has a keg, you’re saying.

Well, you’re right!  Because…

It’s full of…homemade ginger ale!  Yesterday The Boy and I adjusted and reworked this recipe to just about fill a 5-gallon keg, with the lime juice tossed right in with it all.  Yep–that’s right.  Almost 5 gallons of homemade, REAL GINGER ginger ale.  Now that we can force carbonate massive quantities of stuff ‘n things, we thought we’d do it up right and at least enable our booze-o-holism.

You see, lately we’ve gotten into the habit of relaxing on the couch with a whiskey sour.  Mmm…whiskey sours.  How I love you.  But we wondered–could we do this less expensively at home, especially considering the fact that we only buy natural sodas?  Could we use, like, evaporated cane juice?  And super high quality ginger?  Could we up the pungency to make this a digestive aid?  Could we BLOW OUR OWN FUCKING MINDS WITH WHISKEY SOUR EXCELLENCE?

The answer: an easy yes.  In two days it’ll be fully carbonated, and then you won’t hear from me for a while, because I’ll be in a whiskey-induced stupor complete with ginger trips and whimsical hallucinations.

And what in TARNATION is that?!  Was the next question on your lips.  Why, it’s a pearl oyster mushroom farm, materials purchased from these mushroom-crazy people.  Seriously.  They own the domain “fungi.com”.  You know they’re not screwing around.  I’m starting a shiitake mushroom farm, too, but that one is in the process of being “shocked” in the refrigerator.  For now, my little farm is happy.  Y’know how I know?

A baby mushroom!  Oh, glory be, it worked!  Let’s have a closer look, sans my manicure:

Aww, it’s so cute!  I think we should name it.  Please deposit your name suggestions in my comment box.  Then I will bestow the best name upon it, and then when I eat it I can feel like I’m losing a friend HOW QUAINT.  The best part of this is, it keeps going for a while (the shiitake one is a bit more productive than the oyster farm).  When it stops producing indoors I’m going to break it up, soak it for a day, and use it to inoculate a fresh bale of straw.  Then it’s all getting spread into a layer in the spot under the tree WHERE NOTHING WILL GROW.  But you know what?  Mushrooms want to go to there.  Mushrooms like growing in dark, clammy spaces.  Mushrooms aren’t too good for the shade.  What, you think you’re too good for the shade or something?  Mushrooms aren’t too good for the shade.  Your mom is too good for the shade.  Mushrooms will never be too good for the shade.


My apologies.

And now for something completely different!  (Name that reference.)  The Boy purchased this for moi for Christmas–a 5 lb. bag of the best gummy bears on the face of planet earth–Haribo (the gold bag).  I have no idea where he got this.  Truth be told, I’m not in a questionin’ sort of mood.  I’m just going to accept this gift along with the knowledge that I will soon be morbidly obese and extremely jolly.  Then I’ll be breakin’ and entering on all y’all next year and depositing presents whilst wearing a furry red suit and scarfing your cookies.  ‘Cause that’s how I do.  Thanks, The Boy.

Aaaand sorting my recipes.  Something about this season puts me into a major nesting/housecleaning frenzy.  I want to get rid of things I  never use, sort the things I do, make lists of things I want, cry because I can’t have the things I want, and frolic through IKEA.  And I do mean frolic.  I also take my paleness to new heights (THIS YEAR I’M GOING FOR TRANSPARENCY!), and get in the mood to watch a lot of historical/period flicks, like “The Young Victoria,” “Emma,” “Pride and Prejudice,” or “Anne of Green Friggin’ Gables.”

I really, really love Anne of Green Friggin’ Gables.  I saw a picture of the actual Green Gables on The Internets Place once, and I actually cried.

Yeah, that’s right–I have feelings.  Don’t act so surprised.  Even though I was.

Could’ve been the gummy bears.

Anyhoo, my physical recipes are being sorted down, clipped out, and I guess organized into boxes.  Anyone out there have a great system for keeping that straight?  I’m also planning to organize my online recipes, back them up onto discs, and then make cards for them so I have a physical copy of every recipe, just in case.  Then I want all my physical recipes to be stored digitally as well.  Am I making too big a thing of this?  I have nightmares where my house burns down and all I can think about is all of my treasured recipes, lost forever.  Oh, yeah, and like, my home and memories and stuff.  But you know.  That stuff can be replaced with judicious purchases made on the black market.  My recipes?  Not so much.

Ah, my sourdough starter.  Sweet, sweet sourdough starter (sour, sour sourdough starter?).  This is the second time now that I’ve let it sit for an eternity, neglected to scrape down the sides, and ended up with mold.  If you’re experienced with souring, you know that mold isn’t a big deal–no need to start over or anything.  You just try to salvage a small quantity of starter that hasn’t been touched by any mold and feed it for a few days.  Most likely the yeast will be strong enough to take over once again.  But the whole process is a pain in the neck.  And a reminder to bake more bread.  And really, who DOESN’T need a reminder to bake more bread?

I see some sluggish bubbling.  That means all hope is not lost.  In fact, bubbles are pretty much the universal sign for “All hope is not lost.”

And sprouting!  (Our fermentation room, she is busy.)  These are Fenugreek seeds–supposedly, they’re great for people with allergies/asthma and digestive issues.  They also smell amazing while they sprout–just like fennel.  I’m thinking these would be great over a sausage and vegetable soup, or on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Not much activity so far, but there are a few seed coats starting to burst open.

Aside from that, we’re just working out the plans for a big batch of kimchi–my first, actually.  I’ve come into some bok choy.  (How come I always “come into” things like bok choy or fennel, and not, you know, like, money?)  Naturally, when you’ve come into bok choy, the next logical step is making kim chi.  Any tips?  I’ve found about eight billion recipes that look pretty good to me.  Also, will you promise not to think I’m insane if I like what I taste and then plant a kim chi bok choy and radish garden?

So what’s going on in your little homesteads?  Any projects?  What did The Santa bring you?  Or if you’re Jewish, how was the Chinese food?

I’m so GOOD at asking the questions that matter.

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Yeah, that’s right.  I’m talking.  Me.  The pretzel.

So how’s it going?

That’s nice.

Enough small talk.  This is just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t made your own soft pretzels yet this year…

What could you possibly be waiting for?  Everyone knows the Germans actually celebrate Oktoberfest in September.

But you can have a free pass this time.  I give you until mid-October.  Frankly, there’s no bad time for pretzels and beer.  (What’s that, Atkins people?  You don’t like carbs?  What are you even DOING at this blog?)

First, the beer.  Whip up a batch of delicious home brew, a la The Boy.  Or find some local brew pubs that may be selling growlers of malty, hoppy, autumnal carryout craft beer near you.

If you’re in the Chicago area, you might try Half Acre, Piece, or the fine offerings on tap for sampling at Brew & Grow.

Well that was easy enough.  Now onto those pretzels.  Here’s one nice recipe I found for your classic, white, soft pretzel.  Craving something different that’ll pass for dinner so you can soothe your conscience?  (” A conscience?  What’s that?”) How do chicken stuffed soft pretzels with homemade honey mustard sound?

Somewhere, Keanu Reeves just went, “Whoah.”

Or, OOOooooooh, Garlic Soft Pretzels.

And if you’re a fan of those big ‘ol pretzels ye can procure from ye olde chaine shoppe in the mall, this should intrigue you: Mall Pretzels. (Because sometimes we just gotta calls ’em as we sees ’em.)

Or, gaaaaaaa, cannot speak because sweet tooth is enlarging, ENLARGING: Cinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels.

What’s that, you say?  You want the recipe for mine?  The ones in the picture?  The ones that look like…


Well, you can’t have it.  Not because I don’t want to give it to you.  But because there isn’t one.

I couldn’t give you measurements on this one if I tried.  But I can tell you roughly what I did, and those of you who are accustomed to baking bread and working with sourdough and work by feel and instinct, as I do, will be able to follow along.

By feel and instinct.  You can do a lot of things that way. Including making love, raising children, and killing a man.

But I digress.

The FEEL AND INSTINCT METHOD for soft sourdough pretzels is:

Proof some sourdough starter.  A little for a few pretzels.  A lot for lots.  (Told you this would be vague.)  Once it’s ready, toss in some flour.  Some whole wheat.  Some white.  Mix it in.  Add some kosher salt, and some melted butter.  I’m going to say I made a large batch, somewhere around 3 lbs. of dough, and I used about 8 Tablespoons, or 1/2 cup, of melted butter.  Oh, relax.

Now stir that all in, and add more flour.  You know what I’m talking about.  Until it’s…not needing any more flour.  Don’t worry about getting it quite as dry as regular bread dough.  And it doesn’t need to be elastic either.  Just knead in enough flour and work the dough until it could hold a decent shape.  Now stick it in that trusty, oiled bowl and cover it with your favorite heirloom tea towel until it’s doubled…2 hours, wouldja say?

Actually, guys, I don’t feel as if I’ve been honest with you.  I didn’t let it rise for a few hours.  Instead I stuck it in the fridge overnight to rise in there.  What?  You didn’t know you could do that?  Well, you can.  Just let your dough sit at room temp a little while before you work with it.  I know, I know.  I’m brilliant.  I should really charge for all the fascinating things you learn here.  Like how to kill a man by instinct.  Anyway.  Moving on.

Divide the dough into balls and roll ’em into ropes.  I’ll say mine were about 18-20 inches long.  I like my soft pretzels on the small-ish side.  You know that annoying person who always takes, like, two bites of something, and then puts it back in the container for later?  That would be me.  Anyway, small foods give you options, man.  And that’s what I’m all about, dude.  Options.

Do a cool twisty thing where you make a pretzel.  The Girl says some of my pretzels have an extra twist in them.  I say they have just the right number/amount of twist(s).  Decide for yourself, man.  You gotta do what’s right for you, dude.  That’s what it’s all about, bros.  Doing what’s right for you.

Crud, this is going to take all day.

‘Kay, so now you’ve got a bunch of baby pretzels all lined up on some buttered parchment.  Oh, yeah, go back in time and butter some parchment.  Now set a pot of water to boil.  I used 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baking soda.  Once it’s boiling, slowly tong each pretzel into the water, let it cook for 30 seconds, and take it back out.  Repeat.  As many times as you need.  Until you’re out of pretzels.

Now go back in time again, and preheat the oven to 450.  Thanks.  Take some coarse sea salt and sprinkle it over the pretzels.  Be sorta liberal about it.  Pretzel making is no time for conservatism.  Or limited sodium consumption.  I’m not making a political statement here.  I’m just saying, I think even the GOP could agree that pretzels should be salted liberally.

You know, pretzels are really the thing that could bring our nation together.

Wait, didn’t George Dubya Bush aspirate on a pretzel or something?

Forget it.  Peace and Harmony plan busted.

Once they’re all salted, bop ’em into the oven.  Now watch ’em.  That’s right, I said “watch ’em.”  I’ll be honest, friends…I don’t use recommended baking times that much.  I find that most of the time, they’re not accurate.  I just know when bread is done.  And if you’re actually able to follow this recipe up to this point, you probably do, too.  But it’s maybe around 15 minutes.  When they’re nice and golden.  My darker batch was more to my liking than my lighter batch.  What can I say?  I like my pretzels like I like my….

Not going there.

Now this is optional.  After you’ve pulled them out of the oven and oohed and aahed over how amazing you find yourself to be and how you don’t know why someone hasn’t made you Princess Pretzel yet, brush them with melted butter.  Oh.  Yeah.  Now stick ’em on a cooling rack to, you know, cool and stuff.

But eat ’em while they’re still warm.

I’m only gonna say this once: pretzels do not keep well.

Actually, this is important, so twice: Pretzels do not keep well.  Only make what you think you’ll eat today.  I hear you whining, being all, “wah wah wah, I don’t wanna do all this again tomorrow.”  Well, tough, Cupcake!

Just kidding, Cupcake.  Please don’t be mad, Cupcake.  I don’t know what’s come over me lately, Cupcake.

You could do what I did.  Just go back in time, now, and don’t boil all your pretzels.  Freeze them after the shaping, and make a solemn promise to pick up where you left off the next time you want pretzels, adding just a few seconds to boiling and a few minutes to baking.  You could also continue to do as I did, and break that solemn promise and end up with an emergency bag of emergency soft pretzels for when you have a soft pretzel emergency…for emergencies.

Totally awesome.

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