Sunday, October 21, 2007

cornmeal harvest time at the park

As a shopper at many farmers' markets, I've developed a certain eye for particular foodstuffs. Grains for example. They seem to be lacking in selection at most markets, so when I find a good source I make sure to remember when and where, how much and how good. But this too has limits, since although grains store well, the storage bins tend to empty out before harvest time, leaving folks like me just DYING for a month or so before the new crop is ready. Take corn for instance. I just lurv the stuff. Corn on the cob, frozen corn, popcorn, with a special emphasis this year in cornmeal. I can't get enough apparently. With the pickings slim at the markets lately, I was very happy to find that the East Bay Regional Park District can occasionally be a source for fresh, delicious local grains.

This past weekend we went down to Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont to enjoy their Harvest Festival with our good friends. We had read about various activities including corn husking and doll making, cider pressing and ice cream making. Also, that grains would be milled on-site, including wheat. And corn. My heart did a little flutter: could it be? please lord let their be some for me......

Luckily, there were even some genuine old-timers around to do the grinding, using a few tractors as power for the belts involved to run the things. It was mesmerizing to stand at a safe distance and watch the spinning and listen to the spittysandygrindy noises as the flour was milled. Another team of folks took the large trays of fresh, warm flour and scooped it into cloth bags, tossing them on a nearby table for another team to sell. We checked it all out and then bought a still slighlty warm bag for the road. I did a little happy dance, and started thinking of cornbread variations and the possibilities of ingesting to much and getting corn bloat.

Come Monday, with the sourdough fed and looking like it's contemplating some sort of alien flight, it was only natural I'd add some cornflour and start with pizza dough. A touch of whole wheat made it in as well, resulting in it being a third whole grain. We went out and picked some rosemary and thyme and added this with the salt near the end of kneading. After a few hours it had poofed up nicely so I put the stone in the oven for a pre-heat.

Our cherry tomatoes out front are continuing to supply us with fruit so we picked a few cups worth and halved them for a topping. Out back the basil is still hanging on, especially the purple stuff. On Sunday, I finally turned some of our roma harvest into a sauce, so we used this as a base, pressed in basil leaves, finished with cheese and oodles of carmelized onions and we're in business. Then it hit me. All the water I use for my gardening needs at home are from Eb-Mud as we affectionately call it around here, so this pizza is really:
EBRPD Grain + EBMUD watered garden = YUM

Fine with me. I love it when two governmental agencies can get together on something for the betterment of the people. Even when they don't know it. With any luck, someone working for one of these will have some staff member who occasionally trolls about looking for who's saying what about them. On the off chance they are I like you guys. A lot. Please keep up the good work!

Ok, ass-kissing aside, I had to fold some of this dough up, especially since I spotted the calzone fiend out in my tomato patch the hour before and knew he must be on the prowl for a freebie. I tossed in some cheese at the last moment (we didn't have much left) hoping the smell would deter my supertaster quasi-vegan cousin from barging in and mooching on my dinner. Apparently it worked. There's still half in the fridge.

Wednesday found us hitting GTK for more corn meal experiments. I had plenty of buttermilk, eggs and cheese, and the jalapeños I had needed using. But who needs excuses to make cornbread? The weather has started turning crappy round these parts and I've been wanting warm things at all meals. Warm bread in particular.

So how lucky was I, when I pulled the bread from the oven and then remembered my ma saying she had some slow cooked pork roast and veggies in the fridge. I got these out and got some heat into them quick. I unmolded the muffins, having eaten one already since I accidently mangled the top. I pulled another two and a slice off the round to consume with the pork. Together, the flavors danced. The peppers were sweet with just a touch of heat. The freshness of the corn really rang. Damn. I ate until I could hardly breathe. The elder monkey was off with the grandparents and the younger was asleep. The entire scene was too much. I thought, I'm super-hella-lucky. I love my life.

The next day, I'm not sure why exactly, but I just had to make more corn bread. Well, kinda. This stuff was a sandwich loaf of sorts, with about a third of a whole grain component, most of which was corn meal. Because I failed to give my starter any notice of my intent to bake, I cheated and used a packet of commercial yeast. That's right folks. Even the Monkey Wrangler occasionally cheats and uses a form of yeast that will go from pure ingredients to baked loaf in under four hours. But, I did feel a bit silly and was thinking of my friend Chilebrown (who's bacon gift I was about to cook) and his deadly good sourdough jalapeño cheddar bread. Failing in the sourdough department, but still feeling inspired, I added some horseradish jack and a few jalapeños to the dough. The loaf came out beautiful, with all the flavor I had imagined in it coming through. I was proud, as it would allow me yet more cornmeal gluttony.

With the ingredients sliced, baked, fried and ready, it was time for some BAT sandwiches with roasted garlic rosemary potatoes. I'd like to take a moment here and thank Chilebrown for the bacon (it was the pork shoulder bacon from Gene's Market. Did that make it Chandler bacon then CB?) as it was most wonderful and satisfying. I'd also like to apologize to my friend Leena who will read this and want to kill me out of jealousy for having such fine bacon at hand. The poor thing. I guess down under you just can't get good bacon. Well, feast your eyes on this girl. I know the picture doesn't highlight the bacon well, but let me tell you: it was extra crispy.

I've toned it down on the corn madness in the last few days and have been concentrating on the cider. I mean, ciders. So far, so good. If all keeps going like it is, it will be cider not vinegar. So happy. Life is good. Busy, but good.


K & S said...

After reading this delicious post, I am now going to hunt out some bacon (though I know it won't be cripy and delicious as yours!!) and make some corn bread!! :)

leena! said...

So I was reading this post and came up the bacon porn and was just thinking "OMG, this is so unfair, I just want some baconnnnnnnnnnnnnn!" when I saw your little note. You do know me well!

Question about the loaf corn bread...did it come out soft, like a white bread, or sort of coarse and crumbly like traditional corn bread? I am assuming it was softer since you toasted it for the BAT, but I've never seen a recipe for anything like that. I wish I was a ninja baker like you.

Busy all the time. said...

yum! all that bread sounds really good.

Mimi said...

Score! How awesome that you got some locally milled grains. Nice! All of the baked goodies look so yummy.

Callipygia said...

Corn bloat? Too funny and delicious!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Hunt some down! Use night-vision goggles if you have too. Or just buy it when you find some. Good luck!

Leena: Ha! Got you! No really though, I was hoping the bacon would help you through your dark times.

As for the loaf, it came out somewhere between sandwich bread and crumbly cornbread. It held together enough for toasting, but if you scrape too hard while buttering it tends to come apart.

BATT: Is me using the acronym ok? Does it seem like I'm shortening Batty? Maybe I should stump my readers and refer to you as Cake? Anyway, thanks for dropping by.

Mimi: Score is right! Local grains really make my day, er uh........week I mean.

Calli: Yup, corn bloat. It's like acidosis that cows can get, only it's self inflicted. Take care and thanks for the burdock root tips.

Schweitz said...

I am jealous of the freshly ground local grains - I was blessed once to taste two loaves of bread - identical except that one was made with freshly ground flour and the other wasn't - the difference was definitely noticeable.

Also, that corn meal bread looks awesome!

Dagny said...

Now I must go forage in the fridge because for some reason, I am suddenly starving.

The photo of the grinder looks all nice and clean. Not like my memory of grinding corn for hog feed on my grandfather's farm. Dust flew off of that thing and stuck to everything.

Chilebrown said...

We must have been on the same page about cornbread. I made a recipe called Hi-Rise's Cornbread from 'What did you eat'.

I used your starter. It was perfect for some pulled pork I made. I am glad you liked the bacon.
Ms. Goofy and I went on the 'Ultimate Meat Adventure'. We brought back 3 ice chests full of Meat products. We had a bacon tasting the other week. Hopefully someday Dr. Biggles will post the results and the Adventure. I have some flour for you so we need to rendevous. Peace, Paul

Monkey Wrangler said...

Schweitz: Thanks bro. Hey post something again soon huh?

Dagny: The picture is a bit misleading as my camera sucks and doesn't portray the dusty reality. Also, they had only fired up the grinders not long ago.

Chile: Same page, same bacon channel. Love to get together soon. You coming to one of the Berkeley markets anytime soon? I've got a frozen hunk of tocino for you.