Friday, 24 April 2015

Jim Lahey's no knead bread making technique!

I love bread. I love baking bread. I love the way the house fills up with the glorious small of baking bread. I love the anticipation of pulling a golden loaf out of the oven and having to wait until it is cool enough to eat. There is nothing simpler or better than a loaf of homemade bread warm from the oven sitting on the table at breakfast time. Whilst I have a couple of go to white roll and basic loaf recipes that work really well, I haven't had much luck with wholemeal or loaves that you can add things to.

I found this book of Jim Laheys at the library and flicked through it less for the no knead part as I really don't mind kneading dough and feeling it all come together and become soft and silky in my hands, but I was attracted to it because of the long rise time. Since Libraries let ne take home more books than I can possibly read, I thought Id throw that one into the pile and give it a go and see what I thought.

The bread is great! I made the basic white loaf and it came out like a "shop loaf"! I was thrilled!

Here's what I did...

Jim prefers that you weigh everything rather than use volume (cups/tblsp) and so far I have weighed the ingredients each time as its really no hardship to do. So I pop the bowl on the scales and tare it to zero and add the ingredients in the order below.

Bread flour :  400gms (3 cups)
Table salt :  8gms (1 1/4 teaspoon)
Instant Yeast  :  1gm (1/4 teaspoon)
Cool water  : 300gms (1 1/3 cups)

Mix together with a spoon. It should be a tacky dough. If its not, add another tablespoon of water.

Leave it in the bowl and cover for 12- 18 hours and let it rise. I used a plate but you could use a tea towel.

I have been leaving mine for 24 hours and have had no problems with the bread results at all.
After 12-24 hours is up tip the dough onto a well floured bench in one big stringy blob and generously flour your hands. Now shape the bread by bringing the sides up onto the top one quarter at a time.

Then flour a tea towel and place the dough onto the tea towel and leave for another couple of hours - until it retains the indent of your finger when you poke it! if the hole pops out, leave it a bit longer.

Once it has risen again, pop the oven onto 475F or 246C and heat up a cast iron Dutch oven. I simply couldn't lay my hands on one ( I was reluctant to buy one for this experiment) and ended up using a ceramic casserole dish with a lid. Once the dish has been in the oven for about 1/2 an hour, take it out (carefully - its real hot) and upend the dough from the tea towel into the dish. Pop it straight back in the oven.


If you have a Dutch oven, the instructions are to cook it with the lid on for 30 minutes, remove the lid and  bake for another 15-30 minutes until the crust is a dark mahogany. I used a covered casserole dish for the first one and mine never get as dark as his do. Since then I have been using a ceramic loaf shaped dish and you can see the results above. I pop mine in for at least 1/2 and hour - until it looks and feels cooked like a normal loaf. Then I take the dish out of the oven and the bread out of the dish and pout it back into the oven. I usually leave it there for at least another 15 minutes. Until the bottom looks like its cooked. I find the bottoms don't cook very well in the ceramic dishes. I suspect its not hot enough.

This has been working for me for the last few weeks and we have been enjoying really yummy bread each day. I did do a free form loaf in the BBQ when we made pizzas and it too turned out well - flat though rather than a dome. The dough is really wet and doesn't hold its shape like kneaded dough's do.

I have been emptying the bowl of dough and making the new one straight into it unwashed - a sort of yeast and sourdough mix...? I have been washing the bowl every few days but wonder if the left over bits would gain a different flavour like sour dough. I suspect with such a long rise time you would probably have some wild yeasts in it anyway. So far there is no difference between an reused and a washed bowl...

Jim recommends that we wait till its cool before we eat the bread. I have to agree with him. The one we cut open before it was cool was a bit "gummy" inside. Once it was cool, the rest of the loaf was fine.

There is a great video on YouTube with Jim and a journalist that gives you a good idea of how it all goes together, but I think the book is better as it gives you more information on what you are doing and why. There are also step by step instructions and photos to follow. Its a six page recipe as there is so much information about what you are doing and why rather than just a 1/2 page do this that and your done.

If you can lay your hands on the book (and a Dutch oven) it wont be long before you are churning out great bread everyday!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for producing your own simple homemade food!
Frugal-ness: Worked out at something like less than dollar a loaf to make!
Time cost: 24 hours - or about 10 minutes three times.
Skill level: Beginner bakers!
Fun-ness: Really, really good fun to pull out of the oven and cut open!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Clucker Tucker: Pasture in the pen!

If you read the right books you will hear over and over that the best things to feed your animals is what they have been adapted to eat. Cows should be eating grass not grain, dogs should be eating meat not grain and chickens should be eating a bit of everything including a bit of grain! Chickens are omnivores; that means that they eat vegetable matter (leaves, grasses, grains) as well as animal bits in the form of bugs, lizards, frogs and other garden critters (and cat food when they can get at it!)

In my last post I noted that chickens are very fond of trying out any plant in your garden or digging it up to get at the juicy earthworms that reside there. Its hard to keep chickens out of the garden but they do need their greens. I had heard about pasturing chickens but wasn't sure that he-what-enjoys-his-lawn would say if I started planting out the lawn with all sorts of chicken goodies!

I wasn't sure how I was going to stop them from digging it up either - and then I had an idea - I would bring the pasture to the chickens!

Here's what I did...

I bought a piece of galvanised mesh from the local steel suppliers for $35. They cut in half, longways for me (so that it would fit in the back of the hatchback) and so I got two chicken pasture protectors for the price of one.

I put a series of bricks around the edges to raise it off the ground and then put some reasonable dirt into the area to grow my "clucker tucker" on. Since I have photographed this, I have put the bricks end on rather than face down like in the photo and I have put them along each side with no gaps. The answer to the question, "Can the chickens get their heads through the gaps in the bricks?" is YES! And they can scratch a fair way under the mesh through the gaps in the side. Close up the side gaps and put the mesh up high.

When I first made this (and photographed it) I had the bricks in the middle face down. They need to be there to stop the weight of five chickens at once pushing the mesh onto the ground and then the chickens just devastating the plot. But they need to be end on so there is enough height as well. If I did this again, I'd also get smaller mesh holes as I think they will soon be sticking their necks all the way in and ripping out the wee seedlings when they grow.

After I had put in some decent dirt, I watered the patch and then put in whatever seeds I could find. Wheat and sunflower were the first to go in. Then I found a packet of "Finch Treat" a mixed seed for finches that was lying around. So they got sprinkled on as well.

I have two pens so I put a pasture in each. In these photos I hadn't filled in the gaps in the bricks nor turned them on end. That took a day or so until I realised the chooks had no trouble getting the seed out through the holes in the side!

I put both "pastures" on the side of the pens, slightly out of the way so that anybody throwing food in there wasn't likely to throw it into the pasture. It also leaves room in the sun for dust bathing and stops them digging under the fence.

 For the first few days the chookies pretty much ignored it after I put the bricks closer together and raised the height of it a few inches. They couldn't get at any more seeds and weren't up to walking on the top yet.

A week later: Now that the seed is growing you can see how far in they could reach between the bricks. They have eaten or disturbed all the seed that was near the edges. The wheat and sunflowers are the first ones to sprout.

I would have though that the chooks would have nipped the tops off this young wheat especially as it is through the top of the wire now - but so far they haven't been game to walk on the top of it.

I'm sure that any day soon the lure of young green shoots is going to tempt the chickens on to the mesh and we shall see if I have got it up high enough or not. Its a bit of a work in progress...

Another advantage that I didn't see straight away is that it will become a "bug sanctuary". The bugs will be able to live, hide and reproduce under the mesh without getting eaten - until they over populate or miscalculate the speed of the chicken - so this chook pasture area will increase the flora and fauna biodiversity of their pens!

I figure that if we feed the chickens the seeds, the plant is probably a good one for them to eat. My goal is to have a fair diversity of plants growing under mesh in these pens so as to give the chookies the greatest variety of greens to pick from.

I was reading this article on the Green Harvest seed website about growing forage for chickens and was impressed with the amount of greens that chickens are known to like.

"Bok choy, buckwheat, barrel medic, forage chicory, clover, cocksfoot, linseed, lucerne, millet, forage plantain, silverbeet, subclover and sunflower. Most have vigorous root systems that will quickly regrow leaves that are cut or eaten." - From the Green Harvest website.

I'm also reasoning that they will have access to greens each day even if I don't manage to let them out in the afternoons for some reason or we go away for a few days - although bored chookies will probably figure out how to devastate the area under the mesh after a day or two of being cooped up! Even though I can bring food scraps home from work as a weekly treat for the chooks, I think this is also a good way to reduce your feed costs for the chickens and to increase the variety of foods that they eat. And if they are eating direct from the growing plant, it cant get any fresher than that!

I'm also wondering if it will make the pens (feel?) cooler in the heat of the summer as the area under mesh wont dry out so quickly with its green covering.... Although I realise I will have to water it every single day in our unrelenting Brisbane summers.

Greens are good for chooks and increase the golden-ness of the yolk due to the chlorophyll in the green leaves. The greater variety of green the chooks get, the more access to vitamins and minerals they are going to have, it follows, the healthier and less susceptible to disease they will be.

Some Clucker Tucker links to check out: 

This is a great article about chooks in the garden with another list of the greens that they like and are good for them by Ecobotanica.

Organic Motion has Salad Bar ideas for your chickens culinary delight!

And this Back Yard Poultry forum thread has lots of innovative ideas for smaller clucker tucker pastures!

If you do something similar - link to us in the comment section. We'd love to see how you feed your chooks!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for growing your own chook food! 
Frugal-ness: 4/5 as it has a high initial outlay for the steel but being galvanised, it should be a long term investment.
Time cost: About 15 minutes each pen
Skill level: Mainly chicken wrangling skills and some basic gardening knowledge.
Fun-ness: Awesome fun for you and the chooks when it starts to work!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bromeliads stop chickens from scratching up gardens!

We have been keen gardeners for many, many years - longer than we have had chickens. So when the chickens arrived there was a bit of a battle for the gardens. My husband is of English bloodstock and has a preference for grand sweeping lawns, parklike vista's and castles. (Our "Castle" is a 50 year old turret-less wooden house... mores the shame) and that was our gardening inspiration for many years - until we got real and decided we had better things to do than fight Mother Nature every summer and went for a more natural and native garden.

Chickens seem to love digging up all that grass to make dust baths and know that lush wet garden beds hold the greatest amount of bug life and spend a great deal of time digging those over as well to the disgust and frustration of the "Lord of the Manor".

We have discovered a number of ways of keeping chickens out the garden without resorting to deer fencing or roasting dishes...

Here's what I did...

This is a reasonably effective way of keeping chickens out of a patch of garden. Fill it with sticks. We have some fan palms that need pruning back a few times a year and so we pop the sticks into loose cross hatching over particularly vulnerable parts of the garden and let the cover plants grow through them.

This works well around trees where you might want a lower plant to grow around the trees base or something cover the dirt so the chickens aren't attracted to it. I have found our chickens like to scratch and dig under trees and that this method works well as long as there is a reasonably thick layer of branches. It also works with less regular branch pruning's - just not as neatly.

Huglekulture is a type of garden bed where you make up great piles of logs, branches and other sticks and organic matter, cover it with dirt and plant it out. (Here is a link to a 60 second clip explaining huglekulture) and I have found that after throwing the fan palm pruning's in the same spot now for a couple of years that the soil is better, the chickens don't dig it up and the annuals that grow here come back stronger each time. So I'm a fan of the huglekulture gardening method - albeit on a much smaller scale!

I use this method all over the place and the chickens find it too hard to get through all the branches and give up after a while. Once they leave it alone - everything can get on with growing.

However - we have discovered that an plant that is working well for us is the bromeliad. It seems chickens don't like them at all and stay well away from them. I know that when I handle these plants I often get welts on my arms from the tiny spikes that they have along the edges of their leaves. I don't know if this is what happens to the chickens but I do know that whereever I plant them the chickens stop digging up that part of the garden!

Here I have them under a tree where a log retaining wall has rotted out and was a favourite "excavation pit" for the chookies. Once I popped in the bromeliads, They simply stopped and haven't been back. I didn't have to protect the Bromeliads with wire or sticks or anything until they had got established - I simply planted them and the chickens went to the compost heap to practice their excavation techniques!

Another favourite shady summer digging spot for the chickens was under this arbour path at the bottom of the garden. I put some stick in here but it was particularly attractive and I didn't have enough pruning's to make it impenetrable. This spot was quite a battle zone for a fair few years but after I planted out the bromeliads - they stopped digging it all up! The upturned hanging basket was some extra protection for a nice wee fern - just in case the broms didn't work - but they did!

I have also found that if I start with a base of bromeliads and then interplant with ferns, annuals and other more picturesque (or even English garden like) plants I can keep the chookies out of the garden. I haven't figured out what it is about the Bromeliads that they don't like but they seem to work.

 The edges of these steps were a real drawcard for the chookies and one afternoon many years ago I filled the whole space with big branches and gave up on the spring crocus's. The chooks were still attracted to the pile on occasion and while I could go for months without them going near it, every so often they would dive in and managed to move not only the mulch but sometimes a decent size stick. (They must be organised just like Mr Tweedy says in the movie "Chicken Run") And again - once I put the Bromeliads in, they haven't touched the area. Now I could probably put the crocus back in or even a cute wee native that would keep our bees happy and I think they will be safe from the marauding horde of excavating chickens we own!

I don't have just bromeliads in the garden. I have used them as the backbone in many areas to give protection to the plants I actually want to grow. In this bed is mainly ferns of many types growing in the shade of a couple of native trees. The chickens were attracted to the shade and the moisture of the ferns and within a few months had started to destroy the lush ferny ambiance we were aiming for and turned it into a few struggling hardy ferns and lots of bare chicken paths in between. I planted out quite a number of attractive Bromeliads in the paths and this is the result! They barely go into this area these days.

A lot of the ferns have flourished with the protection of the bromeliads and you have to search through the ferns to find them! I think the broms are helping with the humidity that ferns like as they store the water as well as stopping the chickens from scratching everything up.

 I would imagine that the local critter population is happier too with many hidey holes to use to hide from both the chickens and the unrelenting heat of the summer. And some of the more spectacular broms seem to like this area too!

This area was a major battle field and was the topic of my last post on keeping chickens out of the garden. Between a pile of sticks, planting of bromeliads as well as some plants that can tolerate the heat of this previously open and sun baked patch and some wire over the most attractive to chicken parts of this garden bed - its now looking quite lush!
Again - a backbone of bromeliads that keep the chickens away and then planting in between them of the "desirable plants" and I have a lush garden that isn't just bromeliads. I love the broms, don't get me wrong, but I was beginning to think it was all we were going to be able to grow if we let the chickens out to roam in the afternoon. Being able to under plant or over plant with other plants and have them all survive has been the answer to keeping the chickens out of the garden and having some nice plants growing well. Chickens need stimulation, routine, plenty of greens to eat and sort through and a place to dust bath. Providing these things in their pens will stop your garden from being so attractive.
We live in the subtropical heat of the Brisbane city area and basic bromeliads are a dime a dozen and grow astonishingly well with the most basic attention. If you can access even a few of these and put them in the most vulnerable parts of the garden it will probably make an oasis of calm in the rest of the destruction that can be built upon as time and funds permit. Bromeliads also sprout new plants quite easily and quite quickly and you can cut these off and replant them in another spot and just keep planting and propagating. After a certain point you wont need to buy new bromeliads as your "pups" will be enough to fill any gaps that appear from time to time.
If you know of another plant that seems to keep the chookies out of your gardens - please share it with us in the comments section. And if you try this your self - let me know how you go and link to your results! 

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 to use a native natural solution!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using one of the easiest plats to propagate
Time cost: General planting a plant time
Skill level: Total beginner! I am amazed at how much neglect and ignorance a bromeliad can handle and just keep growing!
Fun-ness: Great fun to have a lush and productive garden instead of chicken soup!!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Adding ribbon markers to a notebook...

I have a note book that I carry everywhere with me. Along with my daily diary, its one of my most useful possessions. Known in our house as "The Book of Lists", I write my perpetual to do list in it, crossing off each item as I do it (or realise I am never going to do it...) I also track my spending in it, write up my monthly menu plan, have a master shopping list in it, a books to read list, up to date work rosters, Christmas present list, when to expect bills calendar... I think you get the idea! I don't have the greatest memory and I find this invaluable for remembering things I needed to do, things I buy regularly and what's for dinner tonight!

The Book itself is very unprepossessing this time, sometimes I get excited and decorate the cover but this time I was in a hurry to replace it as the last one was really on its last legs and about to fall completely apart - so when a friend offered this one from her stash of note books - I took it and transferred everything I needed into it and continued on my merry way.

However, the last book of lists had five separate inserts separating the book into sections and this one had a single ribbon marker. I've been using this book for a couple of months (that's why is still looks in good condition) but I am getting frustrated by having to flick back and forth looking for the section I want so I decided that I needed to add a few markers to it...

Here's what I did...

I found a couple of  pieces of ribbon of different colours and using standard sticky tape, lifted the cover and stuck it down along the spine.

I stuck the second colour over the top of the first and flattened them as much as I could.

The original cream ribbon seems to be part of the binding of the pages and then the book was put into a cover so these ones are a little bulky along the spine at the moment.

Then I turned the book over and pulled the ribbons to where I wanted them to be.

I waited until I had them in the right place before I cut them to length. Much easier to make them shorter than to make them longer!

 And there you have it! Two new markers so I can flip straight to the three pages I use the most - the Perpetual to do list, the Menu plan and the "What I've spent today list".

I considered putting in cardboard tags or even whole pages to divide to the book up but decided that this was quicker and simpler. Having just learnt about Occam's razor, I decided to go with the simplest solution!

From Wikipedia:  The principle states that among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of differences in predictive ability—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better. (or in my case, the easier and quicker it is to make, with the least parts, the better!)

I saw these paper clip book marks and thought they were wonderful but possibly a bit much for a book I carry everywhere, and I also found these lovely ribbon book marks on Pintrest that are I am coveting big time right now! Mine was a simple solution for a practical problem - I'll make crafty ones like these for presents for people who love reading books.

If you have seen a solution to marking pages in book (Cook books spring to mind) pop a link to it in the comments section below!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for finding a solution that used materials I already had 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not having to spend a cent!
Time cost: Maybe two minutes - including putting everything away!
Skill level: Cutting and sticking (my favourite!)
Fun-ness: So much less stressful to be able to find the page I want when I want it!
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