Thursday, April 28, 2011

Busy-ness is Good!

People sometimes ask me how many hours a week I spend baking. Now that it's become my main source of income, thanks to Local Roots Market being open four days a week, and now that I'm also exploring other areas for selling baked goods, I think it's safe to say that over 40 hours a week are dedicated to baking. (Not that I actually have to be in the kitchen all that time, but there's always administrative work to do related to the marketing of the baked goods!)


My almond croissants remain very popular at Woo's Brews Coffee House and Cafe, and after a brief respite in late winter, I'm back to baking them almost every week. Leigh Ann is always happy to see me bringing these in the door -- and the Renaissance Man is always happy to eat the scrap ones!


Though I don't make the chocolate croissants quite as often, it's nice to switch things up a little and make some of those for the coffee house, too. And every time I make them, I think they end up looking a little better, especially now that I'm getting the hang of the chocolate drizzle. (I love the tiger-stripe effect!)


This week I went on a cracker-baking binge, making three batches of sesame crackers on Monday, and then one each on Tuesday and Wednesday. The College is starting to buy products from Local Roots to sell at the convenience store in the student center, so I'm hoping that for the last couple weeks of the semester I can sell a little extra in there.


I'm not entirely sure that this particular venture is a sustainable one for me, as I generally get only 4-5 bags out of a batch, and the time spent to make the crackers in large quantities doesn't really match up to what profit I would make on selling them. But for a couple of weeks, I can do it and see if there are ways to make the process a little more efficient. And if not... well, at least I'll be able to say I tried.


In the meantime, I keep churning out the bread and vegetable rolls for Local Roots, which holds my loyalty as my primary market. I love creating new vegetable roll fillings each week, based on what's in season -- this week it's coconut curry with Asian greens (vegan) and chard-cheddar, both using greens from a couple of my favorite fellow producers. And the bread is definitely selling well, thanks to a loyal fan base.

Other opportunities come up from time to time, too: baking filled artisan rolls (with fillings such as chocolate, rhubarb-ginger crunch, raspberry-goat cheese) for the Absent-Minded Professor's business staff meetings; developing gourmet sweet rolls for the Innkeeper's upcoming high season; and donating breads for local fundraising events. The word is spreading, and it's rewarding to find how enthusiastic people are about my baked goods.

When I was locked behind a desk, I wondered if my work really meant anything and craved the opportunity to do something more positive, more helpful to others. I'm not going to claim that baking bread and all these other treats are my contribution to "saving" the world, but I do try to offer some healthy alternatives to people, to support other local businesses, and to make people happy with what they eat.

That's a much more satisfying set of reasons to keep me busy in the kitchen...

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

It's April. Spring has officially been here nearly a month, and while I've been keeping myself very busy, in other ways I feel like I'm just starting to wake from my winter/mental hibernation. But today the sun is shining, I'm watching daffodils dance outside the window, and I think it's time to start shaking myself out of this stupor.

My work life is really focusing on the baking at this point. Three of my fellow bakers have left Local Roots for various reasons, so I've been trying to step up my own baking to help keep shelves full. Fortunately, loyal customers have kept coming back for more of their old favorites as well as new items such as sandwich buns and tea rings, so I'm seeing my business grow in good, gradual steps. I'm also selling bread at Wooster Natural Foods to reach another group of shoppers who might be interested in whole grain breads, so that's a satisfying addition. And I have some upcoming prospects that will definitely keep the mixer mixing and the oven baking.

But all of that wonderful business meant that at the last minute I had to pull out of my farming gig for the year, temporary though it was going to be. I simply didn't have the time or energy to pull away even for one day a week for that work. It's a loss, of course, but I will still be growing produce, just staying closer to home and sharing garden space with old friends and new.


While I haven't done much work in the gardens yet, aside from a planting of peas and radishes in mid-March with the Southern Belle, I have started a few flats of seeds that are stumbling along. This flat is actually considerably further along now, as the chamomile and anise have grown and the cherry tomato seedlings are setting their second sets of leaves. The cole crops are a mixed bag, but then they often are.


I do need to start scheduling time for garden work as I often let the week of baking slide right by without even thinking about getting outside for another kind of work. First up will be cleaning up the Renaissance Man's garden patch. The garlic is coming up nicely, but so are the weeds, so it's time to start clearing out the old and planting the new.


That includes clearing out the mulch to let those overwintered and perennial crops get going, like my strawberry "babies" and the herb patches. Maybe today, if it doesn't rain?


Writing is another area that has seen neglect this winter -- I've spent a lot of time reading (mostly fluff) but not much writing, mainly, I think, because the daily work kept me so busy that my mind was too tired to do anything more. Maybe I needed to let that part of me lie fallow for a while, because I'm thinking that whatever seeds have been planted in the past few months are finally starting to take hold, and maybe something will grow one of these days. The Renaissance Man and I visited Gene and Carol Logsdon earlier this week, finding the perfect warm spring day to wander around their farm, and talking with them may well have watered those seeds.

Spring always brings with it a feeling of hope, a breath of fresh air that clears out the cobwebs of past routine and opens up new windows of ideas and potential. I'm going to try hard not to miss this chance.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eggs-cellent

One of the joys of making friends through Local Roots Market is sharing new things. I enjoy trading leftover goods with other producers, but I also enjoy when they surprise me with something completely out of the blue.

A fellow baker, an older woman from Germany, brought me a bag of duck eggs yesterday -- just a few, not enough to break each other in the sack. And as she handed it to me, she warned me about the big "dinosaur" egg included with the rest. Turns out she not only has ducks but a goose as well!


As you can see, there's a reason for the phrase "big fat goose egg" -- though when you compare it (on the left) with a duck egg and an extra-large chicken egg, you have to wonder why the phrase came to mean "zero." That's not nothing!



She warned me that the goose egg had a very tough shell and would require a little more force to crack it open, but I had no problems with it and was delighted with what I found inside: an enormous orange yolk with lots of clear white around it. (Shown here on the left, with a duck egg.)


I mean, that's no joke -- it's a big yolk! Compare it to these extra-large chicken eggs. It's about the same size!

Though I've had duck eggs before, I'd never had a goose egg, so I was grateful when my friend told me that goose eggs have a more "meaty" taste and would work well in a savory omelet or something similar. That information made it very easy for me to decide on Sunday brunch plans...


Another friend had shared her homegrown greens and garlic "scallions" with me, so I started by sauteeing the garlic and adding the greens. Once those were cooked, I set them aside for the Renaissance Man to work his omelet magic with that one goose egg and one duck egg. (He makes the best omelets, fluffy and well browned and utterly delicious.)

At the appropriate point in cooking, he added the greens back in along with some shreds of pepper jack cheese, folded the omelet, and let it finish cooking. As you can see, just those two large eggs made a huge omelet, one that we split in half and still had more than ample portions to eat! Add to that toast (my bread, of course) and yogurt mixed with oranges and granola and a pot of tea, and you can well imagine that we had a seriously satisfying meal.

Eggs-tremely satisfying.

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