Origin Stories: Where Flour Comes From

When I was back in my hometown of Bluffton, Ohio over the Christmas holiday, I asked some friends about where I might get some local flour.  The answer: Tim King.  I've recently enjoyed making homemade pasta, and was starting to think about baking bread.  I drove out to Tim's place and while I was there, got a great in-person education on how wheat becomes flour.

Watch the video below to see how flour was made for me, then read on for info about Tim's farm, more photos, and to find out where you can buy his product.

Tim stopped using chemicals in 1988 and has been certified organic for the past 12 years.  Like many farmers/producers I've spoken with, the process of getting formally certified as organic has become a hindrance, so he's likely not to continue certification, but plans to remain what some have called "beyond organic."  He told me a bit about the challenges of finding a consistent source and price to sell his product - from dumping his wheat at the local elevator with all the non-organic wheat in the area to 2007 when global freezes, flooding, and drought caused prices to rise substantially. After selling over a million pounds of wheat to the McComb, Ohio Consolidated Biscuit Factory (CBF), CBF's relationship with Wal-Mart put the little guy out of luck.  Now, he's working to sell as much product as possible directly.

There are 6 major kinds of wheat.  The most common is hard red winter wheat, and Ohio - particularly Northwest Ohio - is famous for soft red winter wheat.  Watch the slideshow and read the captions for more on how the process works.

If you'd like to buy flour from Tim King, call him at 419.303.3144 or email at timmyflour@yahoo.com.

Thanks for the tutorial, Tim!

This Week on Our Table (2.21-27)

We're still getting used to keeping track of and photographing everything we're eating - but here's a start for some things from this past week.  Anytime you want a full recipe, comment and we'll post.


Bread @ Home (!!!)

If you couldn't tell from the title, I'm pretty excited about the fact that I made bread!  At home!  Not in a breadmaker appliance!

Now, the secret: it's really, really easy.  I did it using the "Lahey Method." If he named the method himself, does that put Lahey into the same boat as superstar athletes who talk of themselves in the 3rd person?  Gavin thinks so.  Here are some photos before the recipe and story...

In sum, to make bread this way you:
1) mix flour, yeast, table salt, and water for 30 seconds
2) cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours
3) remove from bowl and shape into ball, set on cornmeal in a towel
4) let rise for 1-2 hours
5) cook in a dutch oven for 35 minutes - the 1st 25 with the lid on, the last 10 with it off.

That's right, the most complicated thing is waiting/timing.  My sister is in South Africa right now, and 2 good friends have spent much of the year in India - figuring out what time it is where they are is somehow very hard for me.  So, figuring out when to make this bread can be complicated.  Making the bread - not complicated.

So, how did I decide to make bread?  A while back we tried making homemade pasta for the first time - its a blast and scrumptious too.  I liked the tactile process of kneading dough.  So, I wanted to try making bread.  I started looking at some bread cookbooks and found that the process was fairly intimidating - there are concepts and words that are not used in any other cooking that I've tried yet.  I stumbled upon this Lahey book at the bookstore, and I was pleasantly surprised by all the other authors/chefs who endorsed his method - Mark Bittman, Martha Stewart, etc.  Like when I'm looking for good non-fiction, and trust the endorsers on the back, I have been finding the same with cookbooks.  Best example: every single cookbook mentions On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and indeed, it is fantastic.

Anyhow, it was the only bread book that I'd picked up that didn't seem to be promising a challenging and frustrating process.  I am all for mastering difficult arts, but at this point, I wanted the easy version as an entry point and the "Lahey Method" was just that.  In fact, it requires no kneading at all.

I've now baked the bread 5 or 6 times, and I'd say it comes out quite good.  Is it baguette in Paris good - no.  Is it as good as what you'd find in the "artisan" section at Kroger's - yes.  We'll keep tweaking it and make it even better, and I'm confident that people will be impressed with it at our next dinner party or holiday.

Finally, I've now been bitten by the bread making bug a bit, buddy boy (threw the last 2 in for fun).  I'm 30 pages in to Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I've taken a break the last 2 days from reading, because frankly, it's overwhelming.  Lots of science, and that's not my strong suit.  With the Lahey recipe I made one loaf that was about 45% whole wheat and another at 25%.  The 45% version was not so good, and my sense from the research I've done is that Lahey is nice, but if I want to really have some bread game, it's Reinhart I need to learn from.

If and when I bake a loaf the old-fashioned way, I'll post about it.  In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy this simple bread making and I encourage you to try it too.


Tasty Links #1

Whenever I gather 5 or so links that I think are worth a look, I'll post them - may be once a week, maybe more, maybe less.

1) Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods - seeing how bad Whole Foods' politics and policies are, and the infamy of Wal-Mart, this creates an interesting existential question.
2) Cool Maps re: Soda, Diabetes, and More - health care reform without reform to our food system will only get us so far.
3) Learn to Cook from a Cookbook? - if you like books, and you like cooking, the photo alone is worth a peek.
4) TasteSpotting via StumbleUpon - "a community-driven visual potluck" via a cool way to find new stuff on them internets.
5) Does anyone remember the guy who made noodles at Shanghai Mama's? - here's a video resembling what I was always very, very excited about.

Kinda weird, yet very cool (hat tip - Ezra Klein):


Dinner Out @ Senate - OTR

We ate at Senate on Saturday night - the day after the opening.  Apologies off the bat - we didn't take any photos inside the joint. But, with no menu online, you'll be happy to find it below.

The Story & Setting: Senate is one of the new restaurants in town that has done a great job of harnessing social media and the blogosphere to get its name out. They had over 1,000 Facebook friends before they even opened. Getting a liquor license was apparently a problem, but the wait seemed to increase the hype. I liked the owner's idea of a place where politics get done, and am always interested in what will happen in OTR, my home for nearly 10 years and where my office is still located.

Several friends from the night before said the kitchen had run out of food after the CAC Shepard Fairey opening (not the worst problem to have on opening night), so we went "early" at 6:30. It was full when we got there, and there was a 30 minute wait for 2. By the time we were seated though, there were plenty of spots open. Because the bar is so big, it felt more packed than it was.

Funny how Ikea has taken over our lives since it opened in Westchester - our friends and Senate have the same coasters. Overall, the design is solid. While the kitchen seems small and the bar seems large, it'll probably help keep things cozy in a good way. The blank brick wall and hardwood decor give the place a sturdy, old feel, but not in a stodgy way - more like you're in gentrified, hip Brooklyn. It would probably warm the place up just a bit to let some coats hang at the end of the bench seating, and I assume they'll get some art on that brick at some point.

A quick mention on the service: not notably good or bad - the wait time was on point, our food came quickly enough, our water bottle got filled up consistently.

The Food: First off, it was refreshing to look over a whole menu and feel like it was strong from top to bottom - interesting, thoughtful, fun. We pretty quickly narrowed in on our choices (after learning they were out of falafel and lobster blt sliders): poutine from "bites," grilled cheese from "street & savory," and hello kitty from "hot dogs."

The poutine was wonderfully flavorful. As is always the problem with putting things on top of french fries, the fries get soggy - and this was no exception. But, the braised shortrib was delectable and the cheese was tasty.

As for our other 2 dishes, it was a split decision - Sarah liked the hot dog and I liked the grilled cheese the best. Momofuku pork buns are all I can think about whenever I see pork belly on a menu any more. I can't help it. We made them, they were very good. So, pork belly on a grilled cheese sandwich, also very good. Unfortunately, when you use fat + fat + fat (pork belly, cheese (which we couldn't taste), and avocado) it shouldn't be a surprise that we had to strip the bottom bread off the sandwich it was so caked in oil. I asked for some sriracha on the side and I think it would be a nice kick on the regular. The hot dog had a nice crunch, and the coleslaw on top gave it good texture. We both could have gone for more wasabi, and the bun was so big we couldn't get our mouths around for a bite. After tearing off half of the husky side of the bun, it was balanced just right.

No drinks, no desserts - we were on a budiet (budget/diet - pronounced BOO-dee-ay).

The Ingredients: Lots of interesting stuff going on, but no mention of local or seasonal ingredients that we noticed. The beer list (see below) does sport some local options though, so that's a start.

We're looking forward to going back every now and then - at $9 for a hot dog, its not cheap eats, and its hard to imagine how much politicking will go on (even if Pat DeWine was in attendance) due to the tightness of the spot. But, if we want some interesting options in a hip city setting, Senate will be high on the list.

Senate on Urbanspoon


The Challenges of Being a Small Producer - Ice Cream Edition

Michael Christner is the owner of Dojo Gelato at Findlay Market, and recently posted about some of the systemic challenges of trying to make the best product possible at his shop on Cincinnati Locavore's Yahoo group (if you're interested in local food issues, and aren't a member, you're missing out). Michael's also a neighbor of mine, and I responded to his post and asked for some more information. I think the compiled info is worth sharing:
"I'm the owner of Dojo Gelato at Findlay Market and I'm in love with making Italian ice cream.

My insight on creating ice cream from scratch is that due to very strict dairy regulations if you formulate an ice cream base (milk + cream + sugar, natural stabilizers, etc.) in an ice cream shop, it has to be re-pasteurized at your location. When I opened in August I had a dream of creating my own ice cream base from scratch. Although this is legal to do in Ohio, the Department of Agriculture makes it near impossible for a small producer as myself to do so. A small commercial grade pasteurizer, on the average, is $20,000, and has to be located in an enclosed and segregated area within the shop, away from retail space. Furthermore, you cannot produce/make ANY other food items in this location if you make an ice cream base from scratch due to possible cross contamination from other foods.

Although this is not the ideal situation for me (having to purchase my base) it is my only fiscal and legal option at this point. At Dojo, we do our best. We source our base that we use to make our gelati from a local dairy in Cincinnati that uses rBGH free milk. You would be amazed how many popular and well established ice cream stores across America have their ice cream base and ice cream trucked in from other states! Last summer I sourced various fruits from local growers and as we become more established we will source even more local ingredients. I would love to use Snowville cream in making my gelato. But for me it's not a question of affording Snowville, it's a question of affording the proper equipment and production space.

I've enjoyed reading the informative insights the last six months on CinciLocavore, especially the last few weeks in regard to the formation of a buyers collective with farmers and restaurants. Although it is painfully obvious why small businesses should be buying as local as possible, there are usually many intricate reasons tied to purchasing decisions.

From what I've found, the more I try to make ice cream the "right" way, the more difficult the states make it for me. It's nuts. One thing I've learned, just like tobacco or the meat industry, the dairy lobby in the United States is a very powerful force.

My small agricultural inspector basically admitted the entire "pasteurization at my store" thing wasn't all that much about safety (because the milk I would be using is already pasteurized), it's because statewide the dairy lobby saw a bit of a threat and didn't want the thousands of $s their backers had invested in processing equipment to be jeopardized by small to mid-size dairy processors (cheese people, yogurt people, ice cream people). They make you earn the right to make a craft product. And earning it doesn't come cheap. All I want to do is add milk to cream to sugar. But to do that legally I have to re-pasteurize. Crazy."
I'm so glad Michael was willing to share this insight. As a consumer, I want to know what I can do to take us from "crazy" to sane. Next up - researching where one would go to make a complaint about this or to voice frustration.  Is there anyone in the Ohio Statehouse that takes up these kinds of issues that would be worth getting to know?  I think sharing this kind of information and getting people thinking about the systemic problems is when the locavore “movement” is going to really gain power that it can use for good.

Dojo Gelato on Urbanspoon


Hot Dogs @ Home

The Ingredients & Story: We're soon to start the 2nd round of the "Local Meat CSA" with Jerry and Elizabeth Eaton (the next time around it'll be called the "Good Eaton Club" - but I digress). We posted info on the Cincinnati Locavore list, and Cedar Lane Farm reached out to offer themselves as a backup meat provider. They shared that they had hot dogs for sale - that piqued our interest! Hot dogs are a guilty pleasure that has certainly become en vogue (i.e. Senate in OTR, Mayday in Northside, many more), and since the Eaton's don't offer them, we thought we'd give them a try. They've got regular dogs, dogs with cheese and chili seasoning, and smoked sausages with cheese.

They're not the bastion of local/healthy/additive-free that we'd like in a perfect world - but I feel better about a hand off in person from a local producer and processor than buying from Oscar Mayer (even though that was my first elementary school).

Oh, and we added some sweet potato fries (organic, Trader Joe's) with sweet chili sauce (conventional, Kroger) on the side.

The Process:
We did some quick googling (that's beyond capitalization, right?), and decided upon the steam then saute with butter method. It was about that simple - boil just a bit of water in a pan, put the dogs in until the water evaporates, then add a bit of butter to finish with a char.
And yes, even though I am originally from Chicago, I do add ketchup (organic, Trader Joe's). What.

For the sweet potatoes - we mandolined into 1/4" slices, then hand tossed them in a bowl with brown sugar (organic, Kroger), cayenne (organic, Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice), and kosher salt (conventional, HSEN). They went on a cookie sheet into the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, flipping about halfway when they were browning.

The Results:   The hot dogs were great!  They were juicy on the inside, with a nice snap/crackle/crunch through the casing.  By the time we got to the cheese and chili seasoned dogs, the cheese wasn't oozing out the way we would have liked - but that's our fault!  Sweet potatoes are hard to get crispy, and these were about halfway there on most bites, but the ones that were damn near burnt were perfect!