Monday, June 15, 2009

Furry Friends

The Gopher Wars still continue, though I think the gophers are winning right now. They have gotten several roses, geraniums, gazania clusters... We have not gotten a single gopher. Meanwhile, there are other battles with other critters: the little furry something chewing through the walls of Oak House in the back where the McCs live; the deer sisters who are coming into the pasture now that the horses are gone (more about that in a moment); the Terrible Seven chicken thugs tearing up the vegetable gardens, compost heap and anything else that catches their attention, the blue jays that eat the handful of cherries before we can get to them... We don't do anything about the big cats in heat, obviously (though it is one of the worst sounds ever -- like children being killed!) nor do I do anything about the lizards that keep eating my strawberries. Spiders and snakes, we like and leave alone. Best of all, the bats have found a new home, it seems.

Win some, lose some. Nature has a way of keeping you grounded. (No pun intended.)

Speaking of losing... We are losing some good friends from our valley.

Horse Girl (and her mom) who used to live on this ranch moved deeper into the valley last year, but they had kept their horses here. Now, Horse Girl's graduated from high school, spending the summer in Iceland with her father's family, then off to college in San Francisco in the fall. With all these changes, Mom decided to move to Lassen County. Her animals have already been sent to their new ranch, while Girl's horse, Miracle, is up for sale.

"It's not a good time to sell any horse," Mom complained several weeks ago when Miracle was still here. She was penned up in a tiny corral and we had been wondering what was up. "But that one has an eating disorder! She can't stop eating and now she's five hundred pounds overweight!"
"Yeah, so we have her on a special diet of nasty pellets."
"Must be torture to be surrounded by all that yummy looking grass. If it were me, I'd risk possible electrocution on the fence to get at it." What's a little shock for a tasty treat?

But then, again, I'm BAD Dog. Good Girl Miracle hung in there and a few weeks later, she was back down to her old hefty self. But as of last week, still no takers.

"We found a farm for her. It's a farm for Haflingers," Mom mentioned to us the other day. "Guess it's our last resort if we can't sell her. She'll be happy there, surrounded by other Haflingers..."

We imagined something between a retirement farm and a half-way house for Overeaters Anonymous types.

Horse Girl and Mom still have a couple of weeks before they leave this valley for good, but they've taken Miracle to their place until then. I miss her and the way she'd nudge into me for another apple. I miss Mom's brown horse, the goofy Tanzer who would dance with me in the pasture, Pooka the Chihuahua who got eaten by a Big Cat, butt-wagging Magique, big fluffy (and sometimes dreadlocked) Patches and the rather scruffy Scruffy. And I'll miss Horse Girl who is off to a Big World with Big Adventures and Mom, the Natural Born Caregiver.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Magic Show

Life's mysteries and miracles are often deceptively simple.

A sperm and an egg.
A seed and a bit of water.

I am fascinated by what you can create out of the most basic ingredients. Take the lowly soybean for example. The Japanese have been able to take that bean and turn it into completely new products, with the addition of only one or two other elements. Soy sauce and miso (which are completely different) only have soy and salt. Tofu and all of its variants all come from soy and nigari.

In the West, we have the Magic of Bread.

My Great Bread Making Challenge began last summer, during my Hooked on Fermentation days. I wanted to recreate those beautiful baguettes and rolls and batards from the streets of Paris. I wanted to delve into the mysteries of the levain batard. But last year was kindergarten compared to this year. I attempted a sourdough starter that never really started up and all of my breads were made with commercial baker's yeast. Then, I found Nancy Silverton's "Breads From the La Brea Bakery" book at a thrift shop.

This is serious magic. If you follow her instructions for a 14-day sourdough starter, you will be using a truckload of flour, most of which you throw out. I have never been able to throw out food ("Yeah. I know. I've eaten stuff that's gone bad more than once," grumbles Big Dog.) Nor can I ever follow instructions to a T. I read her instructions and then, with her instructions in mind, did what I wanted to.

While waiting on my starter, I tried my friend J's No-Knead Bread. It uses commercial yeast, but you mix up the yeast and water and flour, then let it rest overnight. I let mine sleep all night and then most of the next day, waking it up to bake as boules in the evening. They came out better than any bread I had ever made!

Was that it for my Challenge? No way! I wanted to see how my sourdough starter breads would turn out and I've been baking every other day since then. Maybe if I followed Ms. Silverton's instructions, I would have awesome bread without all of this experimenting, but that's just not me. (I would also make a terrible cookbook author because I never measure and never write anything down.) I just take some starter, add water, flour and salt. Sometimes I'd knead it, sometimes not. Sometimes the dough sits in the fridge overnight, other times not. Lately, I'm able to get pretty consistently good results no matter what I do. In fact, I think it's better than any bread you can buy in our area. (Even the DogFather, who stayed with us for a while, was disappointed in the farmer's market bread after days of eating mine!)

Tasting the end product is only part of the appeal for me. In fact, wanting decent bread to eat was merely the launching point. What's really gotten under my skin is the magic of it all. It's not the "Presto!" magic of magic tricks, but the Very Real Magic of nature and it holds me captive every time.

Maybe when I master this, I'll take on the Cheese Making Challenge. Let's see, I'll need a couple of goats and...

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