Thursday, April 3, 2014

Notes From The Country - Out of Hibernation

Early spring has arrived. The drab brown pastures are giving over to spring green, the buds on the tree branches are fattening up, and the clouds in the sky appear to have more volume and shape.

The transition from winter to spring is fraught with indecision here. It's like waking up after a long, dream laden sleep. You're somewhat drowsy, you stretch and test your limbs, you try to sit up. If the room is chilly and the day ahead busy, you just want to dive back under the covers for a few more stolen moments. You may sit on the edge of the bed for a bit before yawning, thinking of the next few steps you will take to prepare for your day. If you are a morning person with abundant energy, you may throw off the covers as soon as you are conscious and jump up to start your day.
Spring is not a morning person here. It is hesitant, slow to start, often moody. Sometimes it's downright grumpy.

Some days there is a still pause as if to recover from the night before taking on a new day.

And sometimes the effort is subtle and gradual.

Early Spring is cautious like the new horses in the neighboring pasture when the alpacas went to check them out on a particularly calm and warm day last week

This week's chilly mornings brought relationships a bit closer

Well, maybe too close. They eventually shared a meal of fresh spring grass and all was well.
The chickens are happy to just have some dry, unfrozen ground to pick about on - even happier with the emerging weeds and insects.  

Wanting nothing to do with the windy, cold, snowy, chaotic days of early spring, the cats embrace the generous bursts of warm hours on those days where you can almost feel summer days ahead.

The white chicken is still drawn to my cat. Still trying to convince him they are kindred spirits of a sort. My cat is still having none of it

As the signs become visibly louder each day, this spring has nudged the lax, nearly absent gardener in me. I LOVE gardening - from seed planting to harvesting. In fact, I have dusted off my seed starting shelves downstairs, opened a new bag of peat-y goodness, and with new and years old seed packets have begun the early planting process.  I  have also indulged in these excellent new garden clogs! Our summers have been chopped up the last few years with our Miami travel, and going through this effort only to know all the hard work and potential food will succumb to the overpowering weeds of summer during my absence is just not worth it. I have hopes to be around more this summer, and intend to get into the rhythm of the season around here. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

I have been baking bread lately. I used to bake bread every week and somehow as kids grew up and out and my focus changed I let this go by the wayside. I love baking bread. I love eating homemade bread. This is my basic whole wheat version. It's actually half whole wheat and half white. I used to make bread the old fashioned way. Stirring ingredients with a wooden spoon in an antique yellowware bowl, then kneading the dough by hand. It builds good arm muscles, although not easy on the back. I appreciate the process - and as with anything you put effort and good intent into, the end result is rewarding. These days I have given over half the task to my trusty powerful Kitchen Aid mixer and dough hook, but I always finish the kneading by hand. It makes all the difference. I think dough responds better to warm, living hands. It is also very therapeutic - kneading and throwing dough around.

Someone smells fresh baked bread? Actually my cat likes to eat crunchy things. We put left over vegetable matter and bread, etc in a bowl for the chickens on the counter. And my cat with occasionally jump up and drag out a crust of bread to chew on.

Speaking of chickens, they are in full laying form so we are using eggs every which way right now. I decided to make some ravioli. This is something else I love making from scratch. Making pasta is really quite easy. Eggs and flour. That's it. I have upgraded a few things to make life a little more streamlined for myself. And have upgraded my ingredients. I order Italian 00 flour specifically for making a lighter pasta. Paired with my fresh eggs, I think it is worth it.

One of the things I have to make the process quicker are these pasta attachments I received for Christmas a few years ago. They are amazing.

I also bought this ravioli form recently. I still like to make free form round or square ravioli but this was fun and easy. You put the dough sheets over the form, pipe the filling, cover with the top sheet and use a rolling pin to seal. I made a 5 cheese filling with herbs. There are so many varieties of pasta and filling. My favorite has been butternut squash filled ravioli, and I'm going to try beet ravioli with goat cheese this weekend. Can't wait. 

This is what I love about cooking. Starting  with some simple ingredients like eggs and flour and cheese, and with some time and love, you end up with a simple but rewarding meal that everyone appreciates more for the effort. 

Like everything around me right now, I feel like spring is drawing me out of my winter hibernation. It's why I love living in a place with four distinct seasons. The 
 changing seasons energize me, especially winter to spring. As in nature, winter is more of a dormant, reflective time for me, and now is when I naturally become more active. This spring is about revisiting things I have always loved doing but finding new intent and new purpose to them. It's about learning new things and applying them. And about looking forward. 

Simple Whole Wheat Bread
3 cups warm water
3 pkgs. active dry yeast ( or 6 3/4 tbls instant yeast)
1/4 cup honey
5 cups whole wheat flour
5 tsp. salt
4 to 5 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons oil (this time I used half canola oil and half olive oil. I think olive oil makes for a lighter baked good)

Mix together water, yeast and honey. (If using instant yeast which is pretty much all I use you  just mix the yeast with the dry ingredients. It doesn't have to proof) Add whole wheat flour and salt. Mix well. Add 4 cups of the all purpose flour alternately with the oil and mix and knead until a very soft - just past sticky dough is formed. Add more flour as needed, but the downfall of good bread is too much flour and a stiff dough. Cover and let rise until double in size, about an hour. Form into 2 loaves and place in greased 5 in by 9 in loaf pans. Let double in size again. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes then cover the tops loosely with foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool slightly before slicing and putting fresh butter on. ;)

For a detailed explanation of how to make homemade pasta for ravioli and recipe for 5 cheese ravioli or "Honeymoon" ravioli, here is the link to my favorite Italian cooking blog. My ravioli recipe was adapted from this
The Italian Dish Blog - Honeymoon Ravioli

And one more thing. Because every so often I just need to listen to this kind of music. Well quite often actually.
But it is spring!

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