Farmette Life

A Thanksgiving Story

 Genevieve "Neve" Sophia Lawlor, born October 25th, 2016 to her adoring Mum, Dad, and big brother Life

Genevieve "Neve" Sophia Lawlor, born October 25th, 2016 to her adoring Mum, Dad, and big brother Life

So much can happen in just 3 years. 3 years ago, I summoned my extended family to our Thanksgiving table, filled not with a brined and roasted turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and bacon glazed brussel sprouts...but with cases upon cases of the inaugural Girl Meets Dirt jams - handmade by me, with local fruit handpicked by me, in a borrowed kitchen, with all the love I could muster - with all the love I couldn't expend on a little baby, which I so desperately wanted. This little company that could, was launched in the midst of loss- in between miscarriages number 4 and 5 - in between bouts of grief and intense moments of longing - but after a bountiful fruit season that taught me to have faith in renewal, and rebirth - and to await the blossoms of spring.

Around my Thanksgiving table that year, piled with rolls of our original labels (they seem vintage now!), we made something real together, and gave each other hope (husband, mom, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law, friends). Jar by jar, each by hand, picking up one single jar, affixing a crooked label, removing a crooked label, trying again with steadier hands, passing them to my mother who ended up being quite adept at affixing a straight label in just the right position, we launched Girl Meets Dirt into the world. It was a small gesture, a small launch, but it meant something big.

Sitting here today, 3 years later, with a toddler sleeping in his big boy bed, a 4-week old napping in my arms, and my mother baking Thanksgiving pies and wondering what cheese to serve with the Fig with Bay preserves I've brought her - this business is life as usual around here, in the best of ways.  Things change. Sometimes in very big ways. We often don't know why, or how. And yet we can and do adapt. We make do. We love even more deeply. We squeeze harder, lean longer. We give thanks for the things going right. We give thanks to those who've stood by us in the worst of days (label by label), and in the best.

And around here, we eat jam, together. My son, who I doubted would ever come, had it in his yogurt this morning- a recipe I'd made yearning badly for him, spilling love into hot sugar, a copper pot, and hand chopped pears. And now, he has a sister, and I feel like I have no words anymore. And that's a very, very beautiful thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.     

xo Audra

 Genevieve & big brother Life

Genevieve & big brother Life

A Bittersweet Conference...

I had thought to jam this out quickly, snap a few photos, lick the plate, jot down a recipe and send it off into the abyss.  But for those who know me well, thinking, and thinking some more, and then thinking a little bit more, is more my speed.  I've been thinking even more than usual this week, after hearing some news that's been hard to process.  Today, New Year's Eve, keeping busy putting the final touches on an extra special batch of jam, I'm thinking back, and ahead, and about what it means to celebrate, all at the same time. 

I've celebrated a few times already with this recipe for Brie en Croute (Brie in a pastry crust), with our Bittersweet Chocolate Conference Pear preserves.  Made with Conference pears from one lone Orcas tree, we exuberantly celebrate them with a generous amount of 70% bittersweet chocolate and an extra squeeze of organic lemon.  It's sweet, yet not too much, just enough bitter, and balanced with a tart finish like a good orange stick (ala orangettes).  Spooned between a crosswise halved wedge of Brie, wrapped in puff pastry (the store-bought frozen stuff is genius and phyllo dough also works in a pinch), baked and dusted with Salish sea salt, it says celebrate, like only certain foods can.   I made it last on Christmas Eve, and we merrily ate every last morsel. 

You should make this.  You should make this now.  You have until midnight tonight to savor this year past with the revelers, or to bite slowly into the new year, and quietly step forward with a loved one.  That’s what I’ll be doing, sharing an intimate evening together with my husband and one-year old son, thinking back, and wishing forward to more celebrations, more living, more morsels of deliciousness that make us realize the good life stands right before us.

Celebrating.  For the past several years, we had the joy of celebrating with a much older and much wiser friend named Gary, who came to our little island every October with his beautiful and regal wife to celebrate the month away in a tiny cabin with a view.  Gary never missed a chance to celebrate, most memorably with food, which he prepared with gusto.  Together at his table, we celebrated a fresh catch of Dungeness, an extra special bottle of bourbon, homemade pates, shrimp flown in from the gulf, lobster fedexed from Maine, a perfect stir-less risotto, and one extra delicious mess of ice cream, home cured Rainier maraschino cherries, & bittersweet chocolate layered into one magnificent ball called “Jasper’s Tartufo”. 

I found out this week that he left this world on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles from me, as I was licking clean my plate.  Both circumstances seem fitting - that a man larger than life left his on Christmas Eve, and that I was deep in chocolate and cheese, butter & flour.  

I’m stirring this 'Belle Helene' inspired preserve, thick as the most indulgent chocolate sauce, rich with chunks of pears, and I keep thinking about Gary, a modern Escoffier in his own right.  As I dollop it over a triple crème (because why stop at double crème?), I see him smile.  He never settled, gave the world’s biggest hugs, and always found a reason to celebrate. 

Some people celebrate better than others, but let’s give this a shot together tonight.  Perhaps it is a bittersweet conference – the meeting of one year with the next, passing along its duties and baggage – but we all know how delicious bittersweet can be.  Happy New Year friends.  I’ll be at home, eating Brie en Croute, chocolate on my lips, toasting to Gary.   

Brie en Croute with Girl Meets Dirt Bittersweet Chocolate Conference Pear Preserves

Ingredients
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, pre-packaged

1/2 jar pear preserves (we recommend our Bittersweet Conference or Orcas Pear with Bay)
1 (8-ounce) wheel Brie or wedge of triple creme
1 egg, beaten
Crackers & extra jam, for serving

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Defrost puff pastry or phyllo dough for approximately 15 to 20 minutes and unfold.

If you're using a wheel of brie, cut it crosswise and spoon in half a jar of pear preserves (this is also wonderful with our Orcas Pear with Bay), and place the remaining piece of brie on top like a sandwich.  If you're using a triple creme like St. Andre or Delice de Bougogne, cut it crosswise and lay each piece side by side- spoon the jam on top without sandwiching.  Lay the puff pastry out on a flat surface. Place the brie in the center of the pastry. Gather up the edges of the pastry, pressing around the brie and gather at the top. Gently squeeze together the excess dough.  Tie together with a piece of kitchen twine if necessary, but I usually just bring it together with my hands.. Brush the beaten egg over top and side of pastry.  Dust with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  Place the pastry wrapped brie on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes until pastry is golden brown.

Serve with crackers, and extra jam.

 

The Circle called Life

My son is here.  

That deserved its own line.  And lots of space to exhale.  And inhale.  And exhale again. 

My son is here.  In fact he's been here for 6 months, & 10 days already.  This post is long overdue - after a very long (and wonderful, and crazy-good) ellipsis - but I felt I needed to pencil in the arc on this particular circle of life-- our son, Life Aloysius Lawlor, born on December 22nd, 2014, at 9:36pm, a few days before his Christmas due date.   

  Satya Curcio Photography

Satya Curcio Photography

He arrived with little fanfare, other than a strange dream involving a mouse and the waking gush of my waters breaking, early on the Winter Solstice.  After a slow, drudging labor of over 40 hours, after I said mercy, at 38 hours in, numb me, induce me, he arrived.  I don't know what his plans would have been otherwise.  He wanted to come on his own time, slowly but surely, backwards or forwards with intense back labor, with the greatest pain I have ever experienced.  After an encounter with Pitocin, an epidural, and even a brief nap (modern medicine is truly something to behold) the joy of our lives alas, came quickly after 20 minutes of pushing, with the cord wrapped snug around his neck, three times.  As the doctor unwound, once, and then twice, winced, and then the third time - and laid him against my breast, we cried, and cried as he suckled.

  Satya Curcio Photography

Satya Curcio Photography

Life -- named for a string of long-ago ancestors on his maternal grandfather's side, with initials honoring his paternal grandfather -- was surrounded by loved ones:  Daddy, my mother, father, a dear friend and acting doula.  We ate Chinese and welcomed a late night visit from special friends passing through en route to the island from California.  I posed for pictures with the doctor, baby tucked in - so ecstatic I didn't realize till I processed them that my bosom was also completely on display - the widest of possible grins across my face.  The pain, the work, the bending, the arcing, the panting, the showering, the bathing, the squatting, bouncing, hoisting -- the endurance of the past 40 hours was somewhere far, far away.  

  Satya Curcio Photography

Satya Curcio Photography

I summon it occasionally, in remembrance, in honor really, of all the women.  All the women.  I have cycled for over 11 hours over three mountain ranges in the Pyrenees, racing the clock and exhausting every last bit of my energy - legs, arms, back, body, mind, seething.  That had nothing on laboring to bring a child into this world.  Nothing.  Women are infinitely strong creatures.  Labor, is just one manifestation of this.  But my laboring, which began so many years ago, which built this business, manifested in this one perfect, smiling muse, and birthed a love I have never felt before.  It was infinitely painful; and infinitely worthwhile.  

It's hard to say more.  I am grateful to have joined the legions of my sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, ancestors who have brought life into this world, or nurtured it.  I am also deeply mindful of the women wanting to do so, struggling to do so, or who have decided it is no longer in their best interest to do so.  This could have gone so many other ways for us.  But for whatever reason, it went this way.  This beautiful, mysterious, challenging way we call motherhood. 

On his first ferry ride home, we were greeted by a rare courting of Orca whales just off Shaw Island.  I have thought for months this was a good omen for Life- being greeted by these stunning creatures, just hours after his encounter with the outside world.  But it's dawning on me as I write this, that these matriarchal creatures may have also been welcoming me as I immersed myself in this new journey --another arc in this beautiful circle we call Life.  My son bears witness to this.  To the seasons changing - to barren branches, to buds, to blossoms, to fruit - to the harvest, that I thought would never come.  

My son is here.  

  Satya Curcio Photography

Satya Curcio Photography

Becoming Mrs. Lawlor

I spent the better part of the morning lingering over words.  Old words.  Words I’d written over the past three years; words that dripped occasionally, like an abandoned leaky faucet, but coursed through my veins like a waterfall.  It’s difficult to take a walk down memory lane, when the memories can be so intense and painful.  I’ve read a bit about traumatic experiences lately, and learned that walking down memory lane, summoning old feelings, dousing oneself with old expired flames, can be just as traumatic as the original experience.  But yet I can’t help the urge to analyze, and ponder over the state I was once in.  Pain can give birth to things, beautiful and raw-- or terrible and stale.  My pain birthed new life, in me, and in my relationship with my husband.  Our pain, I should say.  

I read back to something I wrote after my first miscarriage.  I irrationally feared "an endless string of miscarriages".  And the most heartening, the fear that I was not successfully achieving pregnancy because "there was something else I was supposed to be doing" - like fate pressing down on my soul.  And then I think of that seemingly endless string of losses, that I am sorry to say, I did walk through.  And I think of all that I ended up ‘getting done’.  I think of Girl Meets Dirt, once just a little notion in my head, a cheeky little phrase to accompany my writing.  I stand in my storage room and marvel at the endless boxes, labeled and ready to be tucked into, all made by my hands, conceived in my mind, during a time where pain was my most intimate friend.  I gave birth to something while struggling to stay pregnant all these years: I gave birth to a new vision of myself, someone who was finally rooted, engaged in an enterprise that enlivened the soul, rather than deflated it. 

My second loss paralyzed me.  The words I scribbled down back then were laced with confusion, sadness, and the threat of depression:

"so much can happen in one week. they tell you your baby has not progressed. a deep moan wells up inside of you. a little piece of your heart cracks. you see fissures everywhere; this cannot be. again. you waited 8 long months for the hope of a January baby, snow bunny, beacon in the dark, and then the light went out. you grappled, scrounged, clawed your way up and 7 more long months later, over analyzing your eating habits, running habits, sexual intercourse habits, fell pregnant once a wonderful time again. but so much can happen in one week. for 7 months, nothing, and then a brief sojourn with warm summer trade winds makes everything even keeled again.

you are losing this baby too..it is deafeningly still. you hear the rumble of each ferry, shuffling people forward or backwards, returning to something, someone...or leaving... I cannot tell any longer whether they are coming or whether they are going. long stretches of silence, and then a rumble. the enormity of winter aches in my bones."

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I stopped writing for a long time after that.  I couldn’t be authentic without expressing what was so deeply burrowed under my skin, and threatening to define me.  And then we had a third loss, and somehow I found a sliver of my voice again, cracking amidst the weeds.  I threw myself into the garden, into springtime and seedlings and baby chickens and promise.  I cleansed in Mountain Lake, after running furiously around it, sweating out my demons.  I thought optimism was the goal, the magic pill for a better outcome.  I thought: just get through this, things will look up.  And I almost believed it.  Until our 4th loss two days before my little sister’s wedding.  How does one describe what it feels like to be crushed under the weight of your own anxiety?  We had no choice but to step away.  The doctors could give us no answers and we were not prepared to forge on.  We were no longer strong.  It was time to heal, or try to.  We spent 6 months actively preventing pregnancy, which, if you’ve ever grappled with infertility or pregnancy loss, is an almost inconceivable predicament.  But we knew that we couldn’t get pregnant again.  At least not yet.  We had work to do.

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It was during this time that I launched Girl Meets Dirt Archipelago Preserves.  I put my head down and my chin up and built a business from scratch - hand picked fruit, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon.  I finally DID what I said I was going to do, after quitting my Wall Street job and moving across the country to an island in the middle of nowhere.  Gerry and I ran a 25k together up Mt. Constitution.  We planned a belated honeymoon trip to Baja.  We did everything we could to make our lives full, without that maternal & paternal longing for fullness we hadn’t been able to conquer.  I started doing regular acupuncture, and even began to enjoy my morning tonic of Chinese herbs.  Swimming where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific, I let the waves lull me into oblivion, imagining myself a fish, floating, floating, floating.  I tried desperately not to care.  Gerry and I started smiling at one another again.  We made love just because.  

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I didn’t know then that I was nourishing an egg, with salt water and sand.  We came home with something like hope.  Something like peace, but not quite.  We felt ready for one more go with our demons and decided to try to make a baby once again.  We were shocked to find ourselves immediately pregnant.  And even more shocked to have encouraging initial blood results.  We thought it was fate -- that elusive notion we couldn’t yet dispose of.  I held on to that baby, or that thought of a baby, until I was 7 weeks pregnant.  And then I bled.  Furiously.  

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This is when we gave up.  We had foolishly believed that perseverance would yield a miracle and that our stubborn belief that our bodies could do this naturally was rooted in some twisted, yet cosmic destiny.  We crumbled.  We started taking a hard look at advanced reproductive technologies like IVF with pre-genetic screening (PGS) with the hope that screening our embryos would prevent us from implanting genetically compromised ones.  We felt conflicted.  We weren’t sure.  We didn’t know if we could pursue an invasive path with the risk we’d lose it in the end anyway.  Our doctors gave us no promises.  They had suggestions, and alternatives, but none dared to offer answers.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  The same advice we’d received about our multiple losses and trying again.  Despite our grim history, the fuzzy statistics still insisted that we could deliver to term a healthy baby with a chance of somewhere between 50-60% on a subsequent, non-assisted pregnancy.  But after 5 losses, we felt like outliers.  We decided to take an assisted step with fertility drugs, give that a month or two, and then proceed to IVF with PGS.  We were waiting for my next period to come after the miscarriage so that we could start. 

But it never came. 

When you have five losses, you think you might start to lose count, to blur the memory of loss.  But I have retained every last detail, every date, where I was, how it happened, how my husband held me, how my friends came to my side, how my mother nursed me -- and how my community embraced me.  I have been open about our journey because I can’t imagine keeping it in.  I can’t imagine having walked this road alone, without a network of love to cradle us.  

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And this is why I owed it to you, to not tell you glibly, but to offer you our story, fraught with heaviness, but laced with light -- and even goodness.  We are pregnant with our miracle baby.  We are pregnant with the baby that we so stubbornly committed ourselves to and nearly gave up on.  We are pregnant with a child that will never be able to comprehend how very much he or she was wanted, and longed for, and thought about in the making.  We are pregnant with a child who has already expanded and enriched our lives, our capacity for love, and our capacity for forgiveness and healing. 

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This journey has left me numerous times questioning my faith -- and I hesitate to say it has crushed it.  But there is another kind of faith it has bolstered: my faith in humankind, in the capacity of love to assuage the challenges we all share, defined by different circumstances.  I don’t have a message to offer you - those struggling still with infertility, with loss, with depression, with addiction, with any battle that seems uncontrollable.  But I will offer this:  our baby is due to enter this world on Christmas Day, of all the 365 possible days.  There are gifts out there for all of us; sometimes it takes a painful road of searching to unwrap them.  We are deeply grateful, for this gift, and for all of you, who’ve loved us and squeezed us and kept us in your thoughts. 

And now, maybe-- just maybe-- we can celebrate.  We expect a very, Merry Christmas. 


Home to Spawn: Spring Herb Slow Poached Wild Coho Salmon

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She was never very good with details -- how thinly the onions should be sliced, how long to squeeze the out of season lemon for; the dribble of most meals inevitably on her just cleaned shirt.  She peppered a recipe with unanswered questions, prompting me always to ask -- what about the butter, mom?  "Oh yes, I forgot the butter.  You know about the butter, just add the butter!"  Like coming home with a straight-A report card, she'd say, matter of fact: "Good job Audra.  Did you make your bed this morning?"

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None of that was crucial.  Bootstrapping.  My mother taught me to pull myself up by my own britches.  To know when to add that butter-- or to figure it out myself.  To get straight A's for me, and no one else.  And so it is with her recipes:  filet of salmon, a lemon or two, an onion, & wine (white, of course).  Oh, and that butter too.  Reading her instructions is like coming home to spawn -- the work has just begun.  

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The salmon should be firm, with shiny scales, the salt from the open sea washed off by a long run up one of our formerly raging Northwest rivers.  They're still a little angry, like mom, on a good day, when three kids and a traveling husband didn't seem quite so overwhelming.  She'd walk in the door and greet our after school faces with Skittles, or a trifecta of Charleston Chews -- one double chocolate, one vanilla, and one strawberry.  If she was feeling particularly generous, a Mamba bar for each, to goad us into silence with sugar. 

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I never had a birthday without salmon, rich hollandaise pooled atop, asparagus on the side.  Mom would draw out the sweetness of the fish with citrus rounds, and cut it with onion, sliced and sprinkled haphazardly around.  Those few nubs of butter would be scattered around atop the fish, and wine poured generously over it -- like the thick crumb of her buttery coffee cake.  A final seasoning with salt and pepper and into a preheated oven it went.  She'd spend what seemed like just a moment at the stove, cracking eggs, melting butter, squeezing more lemon, and that luscious perfectly viscous hollandaise would be ready for me to spoon over the top.  I still marvel at the ease at which she made it; I suppose she has me to credit for the practice.  

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And I have her to credit for so much else.  For giving me the courage to carve my life as I like, not as she, or anyone else wished it to be.  To look at a recipe, take notes, add, improvise, question, and take it in an entirely different direction.  But also to appreciate the simple things - like baked or poached salmon.  The good, solid recipes - or simply someone's technique, sharpened by time and good tasters.  For good, wild ingredients.  Beautiful, hook and line caught salmon, fished by someone whose care for the fish at sea and aboard shows the utmost respect- for the fish, for the sea, and for the lives of all the people and fisherman who will follow him, also hungry for fish.  

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So bake on, fry on, sear on, & poach.  Like my mother, every night avoiding boxes and mixes, reaching for clippings from the garden, salmon caught by my father, to give us a hot, nourishing, & simple, scratch cooked meal.  And when you sit down to eat, pick up your fork, and come home.  Even for a little bit, and let yourself be nourished.  Cheers to yourself, even if sometimes it seems that no one appreciates you -- they do indeed.  The evidence is on their plate- quite empty by now.  You'll be ready to pull yourself up again in no time -- just as mom intended.

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Spring Herb Slow Poached Wild Coho Salmon

This is the first of three salmon inspired recipes, perfect for spring and all the buds of green in the garden and the market.  We're blessed with easy access to world-class seafood, caught sustainably with hook and line in Alaska by Troller Point Fisheries, a family run company based on Orcas.  They flash freeze all their seafood within an hour of bringing it aboard- after tediously cleaning and carefully pressure bleeding the fish for the best quality (a method unrivaled by inferior net caught fish and farms).  They host dock sales around the region - so if you're Washington local, check them out.  If not, they'll happily ship the highest quality 10lb boxes of individually packed filets you can find anywhere, to your doorstep.  

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These recipes use the more economical Coho 'sides'.  These are whole sides of fish filet, perfect for a family or creating an impressive meal for guests.  Don't get me wrong, I have a freezer full of perfectly portioned amazing King and Coho filets, great for weeknights, but the sides are my go-to for entertaining.  You can leave them whole, or portion them out yourself into filets and use the 'extras' for other recipes (like the Coho Salmon & Chive Farm Egg Quiche I'll show you later this week).  You can also substitute wild King salmon if you like, but these are tailored for the slightly more flavorful, less fatty Coho (which means I'm shameless with the butter sauce).    

I love this recipe for its flexibility and simplicity.  It's also the perfect showcase for flawless, high quality fish.  There are no bells & whistles.  It's simple, fresh, and can be made ahead of time - making it great for entertaining.  You can be flexible with the herbs -- I used what's fresh and growing in my garden, but feel free to play around. 

Serves 4-5

3 cups water

2 bay laurel leaves (dried or fresh)

1 rib celery (preferably an inner rib with leaves)

8 sprigs mixed spring herbs (I used chervil, lemon thyme, and tarragon -- parsley is a nice substitute for the chervil if you have a hard time finding it but it does add a nice anise scent)

1 1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 lemon (juice and zest)

3/4 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning salmon

1 1/2 lbs wild Coho salmon side, skin-on (you can substitute filets)

Extra herbs for garnish.

Herbed Butter Sauce for serving (optional, recipe below)

If you have a long gratin dish that is stovetop safe, use it.  Otherwise a large dutch oven or deep fry pan will also work.  Bring water and aromatics/herbs to a boil in the pan just mentioned.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover with foil or a lid and let steep for 10 minutes.  After steeping, add wine, lemon juice, zest and salt.  Allow to cool at least another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, season the salmon with about 1/2 teaspoon flaked or semi-coarse salt and a grind of fresh pepper.  If needed, trim the salmon slightly to fit in your pan.  If you're using a side, you can shave off or trim the sinewy layer over the belly fat (or leave as is).  Any trimmings you can cook later or set it aside for a salmon scramble the next morning.

At this stage you can either proceed with cooking the fish, or refrigerate the herb stock until you're ready.  Either way, start with the stock at room temperature.  Slide the fish into the pan, skin side down, making sure it is completely covered with liquid.  If not, add additional water or wine.  If you add more than a 1/2 cup, add an extra 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  

Place the pan with stock and fish over a medium low burner (low if your stove is hot) and very slowly cook the fish - spooning liquid over the top if it becomes unsubmerged.  If you start to see white fat right off the bat, turn down the heat.  The skin helps to insulate the fish from cooking too quickly -- therefore if you are using fish without the skin, be extra careful to make sure the heat is low and cook for less time.  From the time you start the heat to the time the fish is done should be no more than 8-10 minutes (with skin) - but be careful not to overcook if your heat is strong.  Do not let the mixture boil - it should be just below a simmer by the time the fish is ready.  Keep in mind your fish will continue cooking after you turn off the heat so err on the side of undercooking.  

While the fish is resting make the butter sauce using the herb stock.  Garnish with a small handful of roughly torn herbs.  Serve with cous cous, farro salad, or roasted potatoes, and the veloute sauce on the side .   

*Fish can be made several hours or a day ahead and stored in its broth in the refrigerator.  Warm gently in the broth over the stovetop prior to serving. 

Herbed Butter Sauce    

This simple butter sauce, known as a veloute, is as easy as it gets for pan sauce.  You're making a simple butter/flour roux and whisking in the leftover stock from cooking the fish.  I figure you've already done the work making a gorgeous stock, why not max out the benefits with a sauce.  Either way, don't discard the broth -freeze it or refrigerate for a risotto or fish chowder.  

1 1/2 cup poaching liquid

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

Lemon

Reduce the poaching liquid by about half by boiling it over high heat.  Meanwhile, warm butter over medium heat in a small, separate pan, then add flour and whisk until smooth.  Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.  Slowly add the reduced stock, whisking constantly.  The sauce will thicken.  Keep adding until desired consistency is reached.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little additional stock.  Finish with a large squeeze of lemon juice and additional salt and pepper if needed (keep in mind the stock was pre-salted).  If plating the fish, serve poured atop each piece.  Otherwise I prefer to present the whole fish in its liquid and serve family style.  Put the sauce in a warmed saucer so each person can add as much or as little as they like.

 

Next up: Pan Seared Coho with Chervil Butter Sauce and Sorrel Herb Salad over Creamy Leeks

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Alchemy of the Simple: Sourdough Hearth Bread

 Chocolate Sourdough Boule before baking

Chocolate Sourdough Boule before baking

Culture.  Starter.  Wild yeast.  Fermented flour.  I've wanted to write about sourdough for some time now.  But each time I reached to the back of my fridge, pulled out my crusty Le Parfait jar with a few tablespoons of milky paste in it, I hesitated.  There is magic in sourdough; alchemy in flour, water, & salt.  I learn a little more of it with each 'stretch and fold', but there is always more to learn, to smell, to taste.  Who am I to profess to know how to teach it?  

 My starter

My starter

Maybe we all have a little magic to teach.  We may not be masters; perhaps only beginners.  But we share what little is revealed to us, and in another's hands, the mystery expands.  The unknown bubbles over -- and the seekers put it to good use, leaving a little for learning (and a little for sharing).  And so it is with my sourdough starter, gifted to me, and freely gifted out, built up and taken down, wiser and older than I'll ever profess to be. 

 Starter, flour, water, & salt.  Before its first rest, right after mixing

Starter, flour, water, & salt.  Before its first rest, right after mixing

My starter came to me around the same time I was learning to preserve fruit.  I had received an unctuous, gently spiced and sweet handmade gift of apple butter around Christmas from an island mama and I was mesmerized.  Island apples, sugar, & spice.  Alchemy.  And then the starter, in an 8oz mason jar with holes poked through the lid, gifted from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from a friend --as it is with the best kind of starters.  I could instantly smell the crackled crust, smeared with grass-fed butter, and delicate plum preserves. 

 Stretching- use the windowpane test - stretch it until you can see light through but not so much that it tears

Stretching- use the windowpane test - stretch it until you can see light through but not so much that it tears

 ...and fold it back onto itself, working around the bowl in a circular motion.

...and fold it back onto itself, working around the bowl in a circular motion.

 After a few 'stretch and folds'

After a few 'stretch and folds'

But this starter was particularly special.  Not only because of the care attended to it by each successive friend, but by the care attended to it for more than a century. This was the oldest starter on the island, that made the very best bread, served at the exceptional Inn at Ship Bay Restaurant, owned by Chef Geddes and his wife Mary Anna.  The starter has been passed down in Mary Anna's family since the Yukon Gold Rush days -- having married into her mother's side of the family via her Auntie 'Gret's husband Uncle Morris.  I get goosebumps when I think of that tiny jar, passed down from so many hands, rolled up in bedrolls and stoked with body heat to stay warm, having warmed prosperers with countless meals of Yukon flapjacks and fresh hot bread in dismal, frozen conditions.  

 Ready for the final proof in the refrigerator or unheated area

Ready for the final proof in the refrigerator or unheated area

I've got a thing for old stuff, I'll admit.  I love thinking of the lives a thing (a living thing - the fruit tree, this starter) has touched.  Tucked in the back of my fridge, I lovingly restore it when fresh bread calls -- but it's been in so many other kitchens, on so many other tables.  One simple, simple thing, has shared so much.  Mary Anna jokes that the starter was part of her dowry upon marrying Geddes, who enlivens it each day to make the best sourdough loaf around (the perfect companion for soaking up the layered pan jus and garden fresh drizzles and sauces Geddes artfully creates for his dishes).  I think a lot about terroir these days - in fruit, family, and rootedness -- this starter has a deeply rooted place and history here.  I am grateful to be part of its ritual.  

 Inverted - after a long 8+ hour cold fermentation/proof

Inverted - after a long 8+ hour cold fermentation/proof

If you haven't guessed by now, starter is just flour and water activated by a little warmth, time, and all the beautiful little organisms that make a home in it, and multiply.  Before coming to me, I'd only baked quick breads and soda breads.  But the starter intrigued me.  Having set on a path to eat intensely local, and make as much of our food as possible from scratch, the notion that three ingredients could make artisanal bread, floored me.  No commercial yeast.  Nothing fancy.  Just time, technique, and intuition.  

 Score your loaves with a knife or lame to aid the bread's expansion

Score your loaves with a knife or lame to aid the bread's expansion

 Artisan Sourdough Hearth Bread

Artisan Sourdough Hearth Bread

I didn't start with intuition, and neither will some of you.  Intuition can be learned.  And you will learn it if you bake bread enough.  I set on a course to make beautiful, delicious bread.  And I eventually got there - with many a flat pancake loaf, bloated boule with balloon size holes, and burnt crust, in between.  But if you need inspiration- I've never made anything that didn't taste good.  If not, fully delicious, toasted with butter and handmade preserves.  

 Chocolate Sourdough Hearth Bread

Chocolate Sourdough Hearth Bread

I've fallen in love with the rhythm of making sourdough - the feel of it before it's fully developed between my fingertips as I stretch and fold, stretch and fold - the earthy smell of starter fed several hours before, the kneading against my palms -- the unexpected delights of pancakes, muffins, quick cakes, and flat breads made on the fly with spent or unused starter.  

When I need balance, comfort, or a reassurance that the impossible can and does happen, I pull out my sourdough starter and I bake.  I add water and flour and I wait.  I mix in more water and flour, and then a pinch of salt and I stir.  I knead a little.  I let it rest.  And then I stretch and fold, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, until it's pillowy with newly found lightness.  Patience is what good bread requires.  If it's ready, then I gently shape, rounding the curves so the skin holds firm.  Then I leave it alone, somewhere cool, until the next morning, when I slide it on a blistering hot stone and bake.  I wait again, watching for the 'oven spring', listen as the crust edges crackle above the lip I scored into it, and inhale deeply -- each time more mesmerized, that these basic ingredients, and time worn techniques, yield something so astonishing.

And so I hope it is with you.  That you find something to bake, or mix, or stir, that reminds you of the alchemy of the simple.  The transformations that are possible from what seems like nothing.    Like the fruit, soaked in sugar, and preserved to become something more powerful than when plucked from the tree.  Like flour, water, and time.  Magic happens. 

Sourdough Hearth Bread

It is difficult to give you a recipe for sourdough bread.  Here is a template for a beginning.  It may work for you perfectly,  But more likely it will need to change, based on the starter, your needs, your schedule, your flour, & home environment.  Do it over and over again, and note your changes as you go.  I promise, you'll have it down soon enough.  Don't forget to share.   

Tools:

  1. Digital scale (if you want to bake good bread, invest in a scale)
  2. Non-reactive bowl
  3. Shower cap or plastic wrap (really, the shower cap is genius - reusable, fits perfectly)
  4. Dough scraper
  5. Seasoned proofing basket (well rubbed with flour) or colander lined with tea towel and dusted heavily with flour

Basic Artisan Hearth Bread  (72% hydration)*

Yields 1 large ~950 g loaf or two smaller loaves

Refreshed Starter, 133% hydration**:  150 grams
Total Flour***:  485 grams (50 grams whole wheat flour + 435 grams white bread flour)
Water:  300 grams
Sea Salt:  11 grams

Sourdough-2784.jpg

Timeline:

This is very flexible.  I generally pull out my starter the evening before I want to mix my dough - and that usually means it's two days before I will actually bake.  Here's two options. 

Day 1 Evening: Pull our starter & refresh.

Day 2 Mid-morning: Start making dough. Stretch and fold leisurely throughout the day. 

Day 2 Evening: Shape and do final cold proof overnight in the refrigerator.

Day 3 Morning: Preheat oven and bake.

OR

Day 1 Evening: Pull our starter & refresh.

Day 2 Morning: Start making dough. Stretch and fold during the morning keeping to schedule below (45 minute rest time in between, but no more).

Day 2 Early afternoon: Shape and final proof at room temperature for 2-4 hours.

Day 2 Early evening: Preheat oven and bake.


Refreshing your starter:

1 part starter : 2 parts water : 1.5 parts flour

 Frothing with yeasty pleasure !

Frothing with yeasty pleasure !

Alright! We're ready to get started.  First step, pull out your starter from the refrigerator.  I don't recommend keeping your starter on the counter.  Doing so requires daily "feedings" and if you ask me, is high maintenance for someone who might bake once a week, or once a month.  I keep my starter in the fridge in between bakings (though sometimes I'll bake a few days in a row or make pancakes, but I always return it to the fridge).  I like to give it a good 12-24 hours to freshen up (overnight is great).  For this recipe, pull it out the night before you want to start.  Let it warm to room temperature and feed it.  

For a 133% hydration starter you will "feed" it in these proportions: 1 part starter : 2 parts water : 1.5 parts flour.  (2/1.5 = 133%).  Measure your starter.  I keep my starter in the same vessel and I know how much that vessel weighs so it's easier to plop the starter on the scale and weigh it without removing it from the jar.  I'm lazy.  But it saves me from dirtying another dish.  For first-timers, you may have to remove the starter from the jar to find out how much you have.  If you have 50 grams of starter, you'll feed it 100 grams of water and 75 grams of flour.  If you have less starter, you may need to feed it twice (space feedings at least 8 hours apart) to get it up to the volume required for the recipe (150 grams).  If you are refreshing a starter that has sat in the fridge for more than two weeks without being used, I would allow an extra day and pour off about 75% of the refreshed starter before feeding again, to properly balance the pH.  ALWAYS KEEP A SMALL AMOUNT OF STARTER LEFTOVER TO REFRESH THE NEXT TIME YOU BAKE. 

Starter is refreshed. What now?

Is your starter ready?  Okay, let's move. 

  1. Mix together all ingredients except salt in a large non-reactive bowl.  This doesn't need to be perfect.  The idea is to make sure all the flour particles have been moistened so they can fully absorb the water.
  2. Cover and rest 15-30 minutes.  This is where the shower cap is super handy.
  3. Add salt and knead for 5 minutes.  (I choose a bowl big enough and knead directly in it). Alternatively you can move the dough to a floured surface and knead liberally.  If I know I'm going to do a lot of stretch and folds and a long final cold proof, sometimes I barely knead at all.  Do what works for you.  Learn to knead though, it's fun, and a great workout.  
  4. (Optional).  If you have add-in's, work them in now.  I find it's easiest to remove the dough from the bowl and spread it out in a rough rectangle and add half the toppings on the top side, flip is over, and spread the rest around.  Knead gently to work them in. 
  5. Bulk Fermentation (steps 4-8).  Return to bowl (or keep in bowl).  Cover and rest 15-30 minutes.
  6. Stretch and fold at least one full rotation.  Check out the photos above for the stretch and fold technique.
  7. Cover and rest at least 45 minutes.
  8. Stretch and fold at least one full rotation.  Come on, do a couple!
  9. Cover and rest at least 45 minutes (you can repeat this cycle a few more times if you have the time)
  10. Shape to a freestanding boule(s) and place in a banneton (a colander lined with a heavily floured towel is a good substitute).  This is when you split the dough into loaves (1 large one or 2 small ones for this recipe) and shape them in preparation for the final proof.  You can find several tutorials on bread shaping via a google search but the basic method is to pull one side over the other, and then pull that side back over the one you just closed.  Rotate around doing this a few times until the dough starts to form a 'package' - with the skin tension on the bottom of the dough.  Move the dough and place on rising surface such that the side with the tension is facing downwards.  This is important to ensure the bread had good oven rise as the part exposed to air while proofing can get a little dry and crust over.  I really like proofing the dough in the bannetons - it makes less of a mess and helps the dough keep it's shape.  I've also used a colander lined with a linen towel dusted with flour- works nearly as well but it's a little harder to invert it when the bread is ready to bake.  You can also nestle the loaf between a few floured towels if you have nothing else.  
  11. Final Proof.  Cover with plastic wrap (with room to double) or a shower cap.  Put in a cold room or refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.  You don't have to do this cold.  Alternatively you can leave it at room temperature for a much shorter period of time, but you'll need to watch it to make sure it doesn't overproof.  You're going for no more than a double in size.  I like to let it rise less to avoid the risk of deflating in the oven.   I use the poke test- poke it in with your finger- if it pops back quickly, it's not ready.  If it takes about a minute, it's ready.  If you do a long, slow, cold final proof, you don't have to fuss as much.  It should have good oven spring (the rise you can watch during the first 10 minutes of baking) even if it doesn't look like it doubled.  And the flavor will be more complex from the long, slow, ferment. 
  12. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a baking stone if available. I like to place a cookie tray or cast iron pan at the bottom of the oven to pour water on in step 13 (for steam!).  I have also busted the glass in both of my ovens by doing this so - proceed at your own risk!  You'll get awesome crust though. 
  13. Invert your banneton onto a bread board/cookie sheet and gently coax out the bread so that the tight rounded side faces up.  I use a bread board dusted with semolina flour for the transfer, you could use a cutting board or a cookie tray.  Regular flour works fine too, but use lots of it.  Oats are great, so is coarse cornmeal.  Semolina, if you have it, works perfectly.  
  14. Score your loaf.  Give it a nice little slash (or several) with a very sharp knife or lame (I got one for $2).  Slashing the bread is not just decorative - it helps control the rise. 
  15. Slide the loaf into the oven onto the stone.  If you don't have a stone, use a cookie tray.
  16. Pour 3/4 cup water onto the cookie tray at the bottom of the oven (optional). Close the door quickly to trap as much steam as possible  
  17. Turn temperature down to 450 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. 
  18. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes (until internal temp reaches 200 degrees or if you knock on the bottom of the bread and it sounds hollow).  Smaller loaves will cook faster.  If you make one large loaf it'll probably need the full 25 minutes.  
  19. Attempt to allow to cool before you bust into it (to allow the crumb to set).  Or not.  Eat lustily and make some more.

This seems like a lot of steps, but you'll get the hang of it, I promise.  The bonus is that this recipe is just a canvas.  You can switch up flours, add nuts, dried fruit, herbs, go nuts.  But try to get the feel for a plain (most magical) loaf first.  This will allow you to 'feel' when the dough may need extra water - for example if you use a higher proportion of whole wheat, it likely will, or if you add certain add-ins that absorb lots of liquid.  Or try leaving your starter out on the counter for a week or weekend - make pancakes! Muffins!  Deviate.  Life is too short. 

Details/Notes:

*A note about hydration: I've noted above this recipe is 72% hydration.  Bakers talk like this- you don't have to, but if you're technically minded, it might help you get started.  It will absolutely help you understand how your starter reacts with the rest of the ingredients however.  You'll also need to understand it if you want to veer from this recipe to others and adapt.  72% hydration means that water comprises 72% of the total flour.  Ignore the salt or other add-ins.  This is easy to calculate if your starter is 100% hydration (meaning that to refresh it you add equal amounts of water and flour by weight NOT volume - i.e. to 50 grams of starter you add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour, and hence).  If your starter is 100% hydration, you would calculate the dough's hydration by taking 50% of the starter in grams to represent water, adding the 300 grams in the recipe and dividing that total by the 485 grams of the flour plus 50% of the starter.  That calculation looks like this:  (75+300)/(75+485) = 67%.  You're probably confused now since I said above this recipe is 72% hydration.  It is.  I keep my starter at 133% hydration, meaning it's a wetter, more liquidy starter.  I do this because I find it expands and grows better in my house this way, as opposed to being stiffer (i.e. more flour).  It's your call.  But if you're just starting out, I advise you feed your starter based on my proportions below to achieve 133% hydration and follow the recipe above.  If you insist on using a 100% hydration starter, no problem, just amend the water in the recipe to maintain a 72% hydration dough:

Refreshed Starter, 100% hydration*:  150 grams
Total Flour**:  485 grams 
Water:  330 grams
Sea Salt:  11 grams

**My best recommendation on how to acquire starter is to ask around -- someone is bound to have one and would be happy to give you a tablespoon to get started (seriously that's way more than you need).  There are also many reputable sources online where you can buy them.  If you're feeling adventurous- make your own! I could write an entire post about this but instead I will direct you to an excellent method here.  

***Flour:  10% whole wheat flour gives the bread optimal texture.  That would be 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 435 grams of unbleached white bread flour.  If you don't have wheat flour, don't sweat it, do without, just note your dough will be softer.  The better your flour, the better your bread.  I highly recommend Fairhaven Mills, based in the Skagit Valley.  Their organic flour is predominantly from wheat grown in Washington.  I dig that! When you get into it you can try grinding your own flour from Bluebird Grain Farms Organic Wheat Berries (or sprouting them!).

 Clockwise from left: Walnut Wheat Levain, Basic Sourdough Boule, Chocolate Sourdough

Clockwise from left: Walnut Wheat Levain, Basic Sourdough Boule, Chocolate Sourdough