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Archive for November, 2010

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year for our little family.  The Spouse and I each have a long history of preparing feasts open to any and all friends in need of a cozy place to go.  Long before we dated, we were friends on opposite ends of the state consulting each other on menus, recipes, and cooking methods.  Once engaged, and finally in the same city, Vagabond Turkey Day was born.  For ten years, it has been about opening our home to an array of interesting people and watching them all connect.  Nothing fussy or fancy, just old friends and new sharing food, drink, games, and conversation well into the evening and often through the next day as well.

Day Two has, in fact, become an event unto itself.  Traditionally, the stock simmers all night while stragglers stay playing games through the wee hours of the morning.  As guests raid the fridge, bones are added to the bubbling cauldron on the stove.  Then on Friday, we make Jacques Pépin’s recipe for French Onion Soup (from his book The Apprentice).  Typically a few folks crash for the night, and a few decide to return the next day.

We added experimental doughnuts to the mix this year.  It was quite a draw.  Throughout Friday we had a constant full house.  French Onion Soup quickly became a ‘deconstructed’ stockpot of stock and onions while getting a few friends to pot luck lasagna and salad.  We were low on savory items, but were overrun with desserts.  The onslaught of sweetness muscled in on counter space – squeezing out most of the traditional game play.  But we will have to rejigger and perfect our strategy in years to come because the doughnuts were an unmitigated success.

There will be doughnuts again.

Oh yes, there will be doughnuts again.

The Spouse attempted these once before, after watching Chris Cosentino recommend Dynamo Donuts on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The Second Try was better still, and The Spouse has already posted the recipe.  But they were so good they merit repeating here.

The Child punted on helping out this time.  There were friends over with bikes and games outside.  So her dad brought out a fresh plate of warm doughnuts for all the kids.

Best.  Dad.  Evar.

Maple-Glazed, Apple Bacon Doughnuts – The Second Try

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Yeast Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts
•    1 1/4 cup milk
•    2 tablespoons apple juice
•    2.5 oz shortening
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water
•    2 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 oz all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
•    2 medium apples (gala or fuji)
•    1 lb bacon
•    1/2 – 1 gallons peanut oil

For the glaze
•    3 cups powdered sugar
•    4 tablespoons of maple syrup
•    2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

(Will make approximately 50 doughnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon a rack inside a foil-lined half sheet pan. Cook bacon for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Reserve rendered bacon fat. When bacon has cooled a bit, dice bacon and split in half.
Warm milk in sauce pan until hot enough to melt shortening. Pour milk over shortening and stir until combined.
Place yeast in warm water for 5 minutes.

Peel and finely dice apples. Place 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a frying pan and saute apples over medium heat. Keep diced apples moving constantly until they give up some liquid and pick up a hint of color, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and any remaining bacon fat from pan and add to milk/shortening mixture along with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat.

Lightly beat eggs.

Combine water/yeast, apple juice, eggs, nutmeg, milk/shortening/apple mixture, nutmeg, sugar, salt, half the bacon, and half the flower in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on slow speed until flour is incorporated, then increase speed to medium. When well mixed, stop mixer and add remaining flour. Again, slowly increase speed until well mixed. It will be very sticky.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball.

Move the sticky, elastic dough to a bowl and allow it to rise for one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Dump dough out onto well floured surface. Flour your hand and gently flatten dough until 3/4″ thick. Flour a 2″ and 1″ biscuit cutter. Carefully cut out 2″ disks and move to wax paper, the use the smaller cutter to cut out the holes. When done, cover with more wax paper and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

In a heavy stock pot, add enough peanut oil to fill to 2-3″ deep and heat to 365 degrees.

Prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat.

Working in batches of 4-6 doughnuts, fry doughnuts until golden brown and delicious on both sides, about 1 minute per side, using chop sticks to gently flip the doughnuts. When done, transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about a minute before dipping in glaze. Return to cooling rack and sprinkle with bacon from the other half you reserved.

(This works best with two people, one frying, one glazing.)

The most difficult bit will be giving the glaze about 5 minutes to set up. Doughnuts will still be warm and delicious!

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Farm Day

There was much anticipation of farm day around here.  I’ve written about our monthly community supported agriculture (CSA) meat share before, but this was the first time we visited the farm.  When asked if she would like to help butcher our Thanksgiving turkey at Godfrey Family Farms, The Child’s first question was, “Will I get to help take the feathers off?”  Each time a parent at school innocently asked if she was looking forward to the holiday, she swelled with pride and explained that she would be meeting her Thanksgiving dinner up close and personal.

*insert Lamorinda-mom cringe here*

Meanwhile I was awash with suburban hyperconsciousness myself:  are the alarms set, where are the work gloves, oh #$%*, it’s going to be 51°F and raining.  We packed enough spare clothes and shoes to enjoy farming to it’s fullest and not need the car detailed afterward.  You would have thought we were leaving for a month.

Enjoying a cinnamon roll with a mason jar of fresh milk from their Jersey cow, Mocha.

We were instantly put at ease upon arrival.  The Godfreys are a remarkably welcoming large family.  Kids far outnumber adults.  While taking in the comforting coordinated chaos, we warmed up with coffee in the kitchen (coffee with real cream from their cow).  The Child dove into the throng of many kids rolling, filling and cutting cinnamon rolls with Rose’s guidance.

That morning she got a full tour of the farm.  She watched Rose milk their Jersey cow.  She learned how to collect eggs from the Godfrey’s genius henhouse set up.  She met cows, chickens, turkeys, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, sheep, pigs, and quail.  She met the livestock guard-dog puppy.  (It turns out when you cross an Anatolian Shepherd with a Great Pyrenees, you get something akin to a horse.)  In a matter of minutes The Child was off and running with the kids, on the best tour possible… a view of farm life from farm kids.  Every once in a while I would peek around and make sure I could spot her, and it was clear from a distance that she was thrilled and having a ball.

The Child, baby chickens, and many giggles!

The farm didn’t smell like a farm.

I don’t smell very well anymore (anosmia… but that’s another post), so when I could not smell any of the, eh hem, traditional farm smells I assumed it was just my deficient olfactory receptors.  But then I started asking around to the other participants, and no one else smelled anything either.  It makes sense given that every creature has room to be healthy, and nothing goes to waste.  From the bits discarded during processing of birds to the potato peelings left over after making lunch for a crowd.  No resource was squandered.

Then I asked the real finicky nose.  My kid.

“Nope,” she said matter-of-factly. “I didn’t smell anything gross.  Brian said that’s his test.  When he can smell an animal he has too many of them.”

And it seems to be working.  The farm didn’t smell like a farm.  It smelled like being outside in the dirt, cold, rain, and fresh air.  The ewww-factor simply was not there.

Hands on Learning

When it came time to start processing birds, the Godfrey’s were smart and did a practice run.  There were some old laying hens which, while not the best eating, word on the street was they make a superior stock having given their all.  It was a great way to learn a process I’d never seen before.  Learning how to do it properly is daunting;  catching, killing humanely, scalding, plucking and dressing.  There is so much to learn… which organs you probably don’t want to break, how to get entrails out without making a giant mess, all the while keeping the work area clean and the bird safe to eat.

Rose homeschools her children on the farm, clearly a skill set useful when handling a dozen awestruck suburbanites out to pat themselves on the back for their purchasing choices.

Photo Credit: Colleen Cummins/Appeal-Democrat -- Click on the thumbnail for the article

They made the day about relaxed learning.  Assiduous with keeping workspaces clean, tools in good repair, and coolers of ice water at the ready, the backyard classroom had a relaxed, pitch-in-where-you-feel-comfortable attitude with avid discussion amidst shivering smiles.  The Spouse did most of the hands-on work, while I preferred to watch with frozen fingers stuffed in pockets.  The Appeal-Democrat story the following Sunday did a great job covering the actual processing of birds.

Good Teachers Share Mistakes

Brian and Rose are extremely modest given what they have achieved in a mere two years of farming.  The day was full of learning-on-the-job stories from natural born storytellers.

Photo Credit: Godfrey Family Farms

The “chicken mansion” is a source of well-earned pride, giving visiting kids a chance to collect eggs without the daunting prospect of reaching under the actual chicken.  Brian laughed as he admitted the crows got the better of him for a while, as they would wait patiently for lunch to roll down the chute.  Now some fabric covers the treasure until kids come to collect it.  Next to visiting the baby chickens inside their pen, collecting eggs with the other kids was The Child’s favorite part of the day.

Another achievement is their plucker.  Brian beamed when he recounts Rose discovering the online design for the Whizbang Plucker, and chuckled while sharing his own pride having built a tool himself which works so well.  This contraption was remarkably quick, and speed is essential when getting a bird from slaughter to the cooler to ensure food safety.

Our Bird

Our day at the farm is what community supported agriculture (CSA) is all about.  Brian and Rose Godfrey thoughtfully shared a bit of themselves with the curious and engaged community they are fostering throughout the Bay Area.  It was a day of embracing the ideal that everyone always has something to learn.  The experience reinforced that buying our monthly CSA-share of meat helps ensure the safety and quality of what our family consumes and serves.  And we all in turn brought our well-cared-for, tasty birds home to share with our friends and family to spread the love.  Delicious love.

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