Friday, May 20, 2011

My Brother was a Hobo

My brother was a Hobo when Mom and Dad first met him. It was over at Grandma Toots' house and he had been walking around the neighborhood for a few days. Daddy pulled up in his lemon colored caddie and Mac took notice. I don't know if it was the color of the car or the smell of the leather...but Mac sat across the street and watched Daddy putting some oil in the car's engine.
   Mother was there to care for Grandma Toot;s that was before she came here to live for a while. Mom decided right away there was something wrong-- a pretty small dog was not suppose to be wandering. She watched Mac come closer and closer to the car to watch Daddy. So, mom took a few treats and went down to the driveway.
   She looked Mac in the eye and asked him if he was lost. He just stared at her. She told him it was time to come in and get some food and water. She put down the treats like a trail and he followed her in the house munching all the way.
  Grandma Toots lived up a very high hill from the railroad tracks and when Mac got in Grandma's house he started to tell mother all bout his trips around the country on the train. He was a Hobo and he would stay with mommy and be a good inside dog, but he was a Hobo and at any time he would have to get out his stick with the red bandanna attached to it and move on.
   I wasn't born yet, but mommy knew how to care for a lost doggie. She did a search of the Humane Society, the papers and walked him around Grandma Toots' neighborhood with no luck. She thought for sure a family would be missing him and did a poster...but after two weeks she decided he would have to stay with her.
   He was wild...part Westie and part Schnauzer meant his terrier genes were boiling. He dug up her lawn and chewed her flowers, he chewed Daddy's slippers and Mom's fancy purse. He went potty on furniture and barked way to loud at the front door.
   Thank goodness my Mommy knows how to tame Hobo's. Slowly he learned to have an inside voice and not to destroy things. He learned to to fetch a ball and play with his toys. He learned how to walk on a lead without pulling too hard and he learned how to sit nice and quiet to take treats.
   By the time Mommy adopted me; Mac was very new man. His Hobo days were long behind him...but he still showed me his backpack and bandanna stick in the closet. Mac taught me about Hobo stew and how to chase away anything bad from our yard. Mac taught me about how to sit in just the right spot in the sunshine to get warm but not to hot. He also shared how to drop a treat and lose it so mom gave him another treat and then he would find the first one...brilliant.
   Mac and I spent everyday in front of the window by the front door just checking out the other dudes in the neighborhood. Every once in a while Mac would escape the back yard...and he would run like the wind...but Daddy would just get in the old yellow caddie and drive down the street and Mac would come running to go for a ride. He was a cool guy and even though he thought PINK was the color of dirt...he loved me and kept care of me. He was always my big brother...he lived with mom for 15 years and she thought he was about 2 when he had arrived.
   Mac has been sick for quite some time he took his Hobo stick and bandanna from the closet and went over the Rainbow Bridge. He wasn't sad; he said he missed the guys that he used to ride the rails with and he was going to join them on the road again.
   I am still sitting by the front window watching for Mac to return...I think I could see the red bandanna from far off..but I have seen nothing yet. Mommy and Daddy are sad but Mac knows his way around. He will get tired of traveling and come back one day...ready for a ride in Daddy's yellow caddie. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sourdough Summer and Stress Reliever

Auntie Bess and how to make her sourdough starter by francy Dickinson

Auntie Bess - Alaska Sourdough Starter

   Auntie Bess was just twenty in 1910 when she decided to leave her Washington State home and travel to Alaska. She was recovering from a personal loss and she wanted adventure. Well she picked the right place to have adventures; Alaska was still a wild and crazy place in those days. When she hit Anchorage, there were no jobs for a “lady” in the small town. So, she signed up to be the cook in a big logging camp!

   From a life of ruffles and privilege, she snapped her fingers and starting wearing pants and flannel shirts. She traveled 2 days by boat and horseback to the logging camp. She was the only cook for dozens of hard working lumberjacks and that meant learning how to use Sourdough. It was a flavor that they liked and it would lighten up biscuits, flapjacks, cobblers and the daily staple of bread. Suddenly she had to be an expert in how to keep men’s tummies full and tempers mild.

   Her stories of her time in the bounty and beauty of Alaska are the stuff that I have filled my mystery book series with the last couple of years. It was fifty years later that I came into my great aunt’s life and she started to share her recipes from “the old days” with me. Sourdough is something that is easy to do and a no brainer.  No matter how busy I am, I often need to break away to just do something trivial. So lately, I remembered sourdough and I started up a batch. Now each weekend I get it “cooking-up” with bubbles and add it to another delight.

   The sourdough starter takes a week to make. You stir it up and the bubbles and smells will bring Alaska or San Francisco memories into your mind. It’s smell is sour/sweet and it’s taste is rib sticking good. I don’t think a lot of people know about sourdough any more. Or maybe they just buy the bread and forget the flavor can come from your own home cooking. It only takes a bit of your time to make the starter and then you can enjoy it’s bounty for the rest of the summer.  Camping, boating or just the porch off your kitchen…the smells and rich tastes will be a treat.

   Sourdough does not have to be just bread. Bread takes a few hours to make and you have to want to learn that process. But you can still enjoy it in small ways in your normal baking…by just adding a dollop of sourdough. It will transform the normal biscuit into heaven for you and your family. You can drop it in biscuits, pancakes or waffles. You can use your recipes from scratch or put it into an easy baking mix (like Bisquick). Simply add a bit of sourdough and give it a few minutes to “cook” -- before you use it as you always do. The results are a wonderful aroma and yummy flavor.

   I will give you the tips to an easy sourdough starter…so you can try it. As you read this take note; I have a very high stress - busy life, I do this type of project to relax my mind and reconnect with my wonderful memories of love and family through food. Even if you are new to baking or cooking…think about trying this process as something to do just for yourself…for fun. No one is grading you…it will add a kick to your usual weekend breakfast. It will take your mind back to our great grandmothers and aunties and how they lived their lives baking the staples of life, every day. We will be doing it for a fun but they did it for necessity.

   You will need something to keep the sourdough in and I use a Tupperware measuring bowl with lid. You can see it in the above picture. Look around, this can be a fun tag sale hunt. You can find a Tupperware or glass container with pouring spout and lid out there or use a smaller crock. You do not want to use anything with metal; it will impair the sourdough starter. So even when you stir it; use a plastic or wooden spoon.

   Once you have your container you need to boil up some potato water. Take three regular potatoes- peel and cut them into cubes. Then put them in about 1quart of water with about 1tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes like you would when making mashed potatoes…but you are going to use the water, not the potatoes. Once the potatoes are done and falling apart…strain them off and keep the liquid. Do not be worried if some potato bits are still in the water…that’s ok they will be “eaten” by the starter.

   Now, in a large mixing bowl add in 1 ¾  cups of all-purpose flour (Yes some use whole wheat or rye flour, but we use regular flour) Follow that with 2 Tbsp of sugar, ½ Tbsp salt and the potato water. Stir using wooden (or plastic) spoon. Do not over stir just get it incorporated, the starter will eat the flour. The starter should look like thick pancake batter, if you have to add more flour do it slowly. Then pour the it into your “starter pot” to ferment.

   Remember it takes 7 days for it to “cook” just sitting out on your counter. You can cover the top with a paper towel or cheese cloth. It has to breathe with the yeast in the air, but you do not want fruit flies enjoying your work so keep it covered lightly. Every day for a week you are going to stir it and let it bubble. It will start to smell sour soon and it’s fun to watch it work. After three days add ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of water and stir and let it just bubble on for another few days. By the 7th day you have a very sour smelling starter ready for you to use…so on this day…do something odd. Stir and incorporate the liquid and solids and then pour out ½ the starter. Now add in 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water and a tsp. of sugar and let it stand once again over night. That is called refreshing the pot. The next morning it will have big bubbles in it and smell so good…now-- it is ready to use.

   Using your favorite recipe or a baking mix (like Bisquick) measure out the dry ingredients and stir the sourdough and measure out  ¼ cup of the starter and then add the liquids. Add the liquids slowly; you might need to use less since the sourdough has softened up the dough. Let the dough stand for about 10 minutes for the sourdough to start to work on the batter. It will have small bubbles in it and it’s ready to use. Now you go ahead and make your biscuits, pancakes or waffles like you have done before. But when you bake or fry them up…they will have a heavenly aroma and wonderful flavor. (If you want a stronger flavor use ½ cup of starter)

Sourdough bread fresh from the oven for Georgie
   Every time you take starter out of the “starter pot” add in equal flour and water with a pinch of sugar back to the pot to replenish the fermentation. You can put it away in the refrigerator until you want to use it again.  Get the starter pot out the night before you use it…or early in the morning and let it come to room temp. Remember when it comes out of the refrigerator you need to pour out a bit and re-stoke the pot with equal parts flour and water and let it sit for a couple hours or overnight to bubble up. (Caution you do not want to cover the starter pot and not let it slightly air…closed tight it will build up and explode with starter all over your counter or fridge)

   It is easier than you think and a big surprise for your family. The smell of sourdough pancakes will get your family up earlier on the weekends. I know you can do it. Auntie Bess was a young woman with no cooking history when she arrived in that lumber camp. She looked at over 100 hungry faces and knew that she would have to “just get to it” and she did- a true Pioneer woman. I think there is still a pioneer inside of you, too. Just get to it. 

Happy Sourdough Summer…francy
  *Francy Dickinson, is the author of The Crescent Island Mystery Series – coming, Summer 2011
  *Member of BookPubMeetUp, a support group for writers- if you’re interested in joining us send a tweet to @MysteryCozy