Monday, December 30, 2019

Sourdough Bread

Baking bread is my favorite thing to do in the kitchen.  I’ve been baking sourdough for years, and I’ve perfected the crackly crust, moist crumb and taste.  But, I’ve struggled with getting those beautiful holes in the interior.  My bread rises nicely, but the interior looks like a loaf of regular white bread and not like hearth sourdough — which is what I’m after.

So, I did some research.  I’m pretty sure that my problem has been that my dough isn’t wet enough — the hydration ratio is too low, in technical terms.  A wet, sticky dough is harder to work with but the results are those elusive holes.
Sourdough starter
So, I fed my  sourdough starter and planned for a grand experiment.  I baked four loaves using different flours and different levels of hydration (wetness).

First, I mixed up a dough that was 77% hydrated (ration of 77% water to the flour).  To keep the math simple, I used 1000 g of flour (a mix of stone-milled local flour, rye flour, and bread flour) and 770 grams of water.  I weigh everything — measuring cups aren’t very accurate for this as different flours weigh different amounts and I need to be precise.  I mixed them together and then let it sit for 45 minutes.  That rest allows the gluten to start forming, which gives the dough its stretchy quality.

After 45 minutes, I added 150 g of sourdough starter and 20 grams of salt.  I also added about a tablespoon of malt syrup to add flavor and color.  For the first two hours, I stretched and folded the dough every 30 minutes.  This dough is way too wet and sticky to knead.  I baked one loaf that afternoon and the other the next morning, after it had spent the night in the refrigerator.  Success!

The second two loaves were simply bread flour == no fancy addition of other flours for taste or texture.  It also came out beautifully.  We ate all the bread over the Christmas holiday; not a crumb is left.  And, each time I cut into a loaf, I danced a jig and gave a major fist pump.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas from Oak Creek Ranch

Wishing you all the magic of Christmas.

All the blessings it brings.

Family.  Feasts.

And cookies.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Dark and Stormy Day

A storm moved in while we did the morning chores.  The sky was half clear, bright morning and half steel blue clouds.

The wind sent leaves skidding across the ground and then tumbling in the air.  ...more fun than the leaf blower and that’s hard to beat.

A good day for baking and books and staying close to the wood stove.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tuesday Hike: Deer Creek Tribute Trail

Today’s hike was about 60 miles north of us, at an elevation slightly lower than ours, in the town of Nevada City which was also a gold rush mining town.  The temperature was a degree below freezing when we climbed out of the car to join the rest of the group.  There were restrooms at the trailhead so we used those before starting out — it took almost two hours to get there and I had had my coffee before leaving home.  The restroom doors were standing open, so it was as cold inside as outside.  It is really hard to pee when you are sitting on a ice cold toilet.  Just sayin’.

The trail, though, was beautiful.  It followed Deer Creek which was busily singing its way along next to us.  When it came time to cross the creek, the group was very excited to see that there was a brand new extension bridge across the ravine.  The bridge was very narrow, very long, and VERY high up.  The photo doesn’t give the proper perspective but if you look at the stream you can get a sense of how far down it was.  The first two to cross the bridge enjoyed jumping and making it sway.

Meanwhile, Brett was trying to control the anxiety building inside of him.  You may remember that he was really uncomfortable in the Alps.  He is petrified of heights.  He gets panicky, he gets vertigo, he does not do well.

I took one look at the bridge and offered to turn around.  We had already come a good distance so I would have been fine with going back and exploring the town.  But Brett was determined to do it.  He did not want to be a wimp.  I went first, and Brett followed with each hand gripping the cables on either side.   He watched my feet and my backside, and every few steps said, “slow down.”  But he made it.  Fortunately, we went back a different way that did not involve that bridge.

There were choke cherries everywhere.

And a swimming hole that must be wonderful in the summer but was not at all inviting today.

After the hike, we grabbed lunch in town.  There’s nothing like a burger or a pulled pork sandwich after a long hike on a frigid day.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Winter Steam

This morning, as I knelt in front of the hearth and stacked wood in the stove, I heard Lucy and Pistol running outside.  I watched through the French door window as they thundered past.  It was very cold, and they knew breakfast was on the way, the steam of their anticipation hung in the air as they stamped, snorted and pranced.  I love watching Lucy.  She came down the fence line again, but this time at a trot and not a gallop.  She had her neck arched, her back lifted, and was pushing her self forward, her front legs reaching, reaching, as she floated past in perfect balance.

A few hours later, the sun was high enough to thaw the ice that covered everything once the rain had moved out, sometime during the night.  Steam rose from the pastures, the fallen oak, and the trees.

Flash and Tex stood, unmoving, and let the sun soak into their thick winter coats.  Even the goats were motionless, drinking in the warmth.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday Hike: Georgetown Nature Trail

This week’s hike was through a nature preserve in Georgetown.  We were fortunate to have the long-time caretaker of the reserve lead us on our hike; he has been been the caretaker since its founding — and much of the work on the trails was done by his Boy Scout troops over the years.  It was a chilly 38F when we started down the trail, and it was deeply shaded by towering pines and cedar, but we were dressed warmly and it was one of those crystal clear and cold brilliant days so we didn’t mind at all.

The nature trail is on land owned by the school district.  Students involved in fighting bullying at school created this space. 

Himalayan blackberry was introduced to the Sierras by early settlers because it does well in the cold mountain climate.  ...too well, it is taking over and can be found everywhere.  Our ranch is surrounded by it as well.  I thought it was native, but it isn’t.  

The trail leads past an abandoned gold mine dating back to the gold rush.  It goes back about 800 feet into the hillside.  You had to stoop and crawl in the entrance.

But, once inside you could stand all the way up.  We walked on some metal laying in the water that was all through the base of the tunnel.  It was way cool in there.  And dark.  The light in the photo is from the flashlights on our phones.
The area was originally inhabited by Native Americans who moved between Georgetown  and Lake Tahoe, depending on the season.  A Boy Scout troop built this replica of their teepees, made from cedar bark.  The tribe no longer exists.  They suffered the same fate as the Cherokee — they were driven out of the area and sent to Oregon.  Some perished there, and some on the journey and others  trying to journey back home.  California’s own trail of tears.  So sad.  So wrong.

This is Scotch Brush.  It’s an invasive non-native as well.  It started out as an ornamental plant, used to landscape suburban backyards.  And, it escaped.  It is everywhere and just about impossible to kill.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Mandarin Marmalade

Gather a mix of oranges and lemons.  I use a ratio of 3-4 oranges to one lemon.  In this case I had a truckload of mandarins and so I used a two handfuls of mandarins to each lemon.  Most of the mandarins were half the size of the ones in this picture.

Quarter the fruit and put it in a big pot.  Cover it with water by an inch or so.  Bring it to a boil, simmer for five minutes, and then let is sit overnight in the fridge so the skins get nice and soft.

Then slice the fruit into thin strips (this is the tedious part).  Put them back in the pot with all the reserved liquid and boil for an hour.

Add sugar to taste.  Mandarins are very sweet so I didn’t need to add much to this batch.  Continue to boil until thick and syrupy.  Pour into sterilized jars and you’re done.  I love marmalade on English muffins or on a good croissant.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sage is One Today

Today is Sage’s birthday — and here are some of my favorite photos of her from her first year of life, here at Oak Creek Ranch.  She’s learned a lot about ranch life, about confidence, about working and playing hard, about snow and rain and falling leaves.  I adore her.

First meeting — Love at first Sight

It was snowing when she arrived here from sunny San Diego.

Sage loves weather; nothing slows her down.  Of course, once she’s drenched, she likes to come in and warm up by the wood stove.

Sage loves her toys.  She started with plush toys and her current favorite is a tennis ball.  She can dribble and toss the ball just like a soccer player. 

In the evenings, she’s tired from running around all day.  She’s mellow, chewing on a nylabone or sleeping on her bed.

Sage has a number of “looks” — this one is to shame me into playing with her.

Ranch dog; no doubt about that.  She herds the chickens, the goats and tries to herd the horses as well.

And here we are, back to winter and she’s growing up to be a beautiful dog.

Friday, December 6, 2019

A Few Hours of Sunshine

We had a few hours of sunshine this morning, before clouds rolled in and the next wet storm descended on us.

This storm is not from Alaska but from the Pacific Ocean so it will bring a lot of rain, and wind, but no snow.  The horses are back in the barn, standing in their straw or in their run-out, under the barn eaves, watching the rain fall.  Tex and Flash prefer to stand outside, Lucy and Pistol prefer to be in their stalls with their noses poked out the door.

This yellow willow tree is native to our area and was most likely planted by a bird.  When we moved in, it was a bushy, formless shrub.  It has grown, and I have pruned the shrubbiness away, and now I love the tree.  In the fall, the leaves are a bright yellow against the drab dusty ground.

And we have three or four massive oaks (and countless smaller ones).  There is this one, and a couple back by the dressage court and in the back pasture.  We lost the largest oak on the property a few years ago.  We still mourn its loss.  This one is around 300 years old; according to the best guess of a local arborist.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Ah, Freedom

As I mentioned in my last post, the horses were in the barn during the Thanksgiving week storm.  By the time we returned home Saturday, they were getting restless but the storm continued with heavy rain and wind through the weekend.  We decided to put the horses back out in their pastures on Monday, when the rain let up.  Moving Lucy in bad weather is a bad idea.  Walking 1500 pounds of levitating horse isn’t my idea of fun.  Monday afternoon, the rain finally stopped and I started moving the horses.

First, Lucy.  I move Lucy first so she doesn’t get excited watching the others race around in the pastures, which is what they all do when first turned out after a long stint in the barn.  I hope for a calm horse and prepare for an animated one...  As it turned out, she was pretty mellow on our walk to her pasture.  Once inside the gate, I took off her halter, gave her a cookie and she trotted away.  She took two steps of trot and then exploded, hoofs thundering, and mud flying down the length of the pasture.  She slid to a stop, blew like a freight train, and took off again.  Sage immediately joined in the fun, racing alongside the fence, barking and jumping in circles.

Second, Pistol.  When I approached the back of her run-out with her halter, Pistol came flying out of her stall at a canter and slid to a stop at the gate.  She had her head up and a bit of spring in her step as we walked but she behaved.  She’s always a good girl.  Once she was in, and had her cookie, she gave a huge yee-haw buck and took off at a lope to join Lucy.

Third, Tex.  I take Tex before Flash because it I take Flash first he hangs by the pasture gate and tries to bite Tex on the butt as I bring him in.  Tex was an angel on our walk over.  Sage followed us but kept her distance; I think she remembered Tex and I herding her around.  Tex politely took his cookie, walked over to a smooth, wet, muddy area and dropped to his knees and then rolled.  He rolled on one side, then flipped to the other, then balanced on his back and ground the mud into his butt and back.  He flipped back to his front, got halfway up and then changed his mind and rolled six or seven more times.  Once he finished rolling, he stood, shook, bucked and took a lap around the pasture.  The goats scattered.

Last, Flash.  Normally, I can count on Flash to be a gentleman when walking him.  He’s 23 and has a “been there, done that” attitude about things.  Sage was following us, as she had done with the other horses, and Flash took exception to her presence.  Or maybe it was anticipation of being in the pasture with Tex.  Whatever the reason, he decided to rear and buck.  Fortunately, it was more thought than execution and some stern words from me kept all four of his feet on the ground.  Barely.  Once in the pasture, he jumped, kicked back while airborne, and then hobbled a bit when he landed.  He didn’t stop though.  He started squealing like a pig (honest, he squeals) and running around, still a bit gimpy on his hind.

Eventually, they all settled down and ate their dinner.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Leaving the Animals

It is difficult for us to leave the ranch.  I know we aren’t alone in that space.  We wouldn’t trade our life here, with the animals, for anything but it does make it very difficult to travel.  Unlike some of our other retired friends, we can’t take off at the drop of a hat and go hither and yon.

Fortunately, we have two very good people who take care of our animals when we do leave.  They both are experienced with horses and we trust them.  Of course, we still look for the daily text telling us everything is okay, but we don’t worry too much.  Laura also sent us photos which was really nice.

For Thanksgiving, we traveled to my father’s home — about six hours away by car.  Laura stayed at the house and took care of everyone, in the snow and cold.  We had the horses in their stalls in the barn so she didn’t have to slog out to the pastures.  The first day that Laura was here, Lucy got a bit impatient while waiting for dinner and was demonstrating all her athletic moves.  Of course, all the bucking and leaping about didn’t make Laura want to go into the stall but Lucy did, eventually, chill.

Lucy is also a pig.  She poops and pees in her bedding, unlike the other three who do their business outside in their run-outs.  Flash takes big mouthfuls of his hay and dunks it in his water.  As a result, the area around his water is always wet and the water in the bucket is a lovely shade of green.  Unless the weather is really bad, or the snow is deep, it’s easier for us if they are in their pastures and they are happier there too.

Laura stayed at our place, but she had additional places where she was feeding pets and livestock.  She had asked us about taking the dogs with her and I said that Sage hates the car and it isn’t fair to leave her behind and just take Kersey so we expected that they didn’t go with her.

Kersey loves the car.

She took them both.  And, Sage was fine.

Not thrilled, but not unhappy either.