Thursday, September 29, 2011

There's a Baker amongst us

If you step out back on a late Friday afternoon, it is the hearty smell of wood smoke and fresh bread that wafts past your willing nose. The magic potion that is flour, water, and wild yeast is again unfolding. A weekly task – treat - that is relished by those of us living here at D Acres.

Homemade bread, it seems, is a member of that indefinable category shared with handwritten letters and quilts patched one stitch at a time: symbols of simplicity, beauty, fine workmanship, and nourishment. Good bread is good; great bread can feed and satisfy something well beyond an appetite alone.

I’m going to be bold for a moment and suggest that here at D Acres we entered that latter category of great bread. You see, we have a Baker amongst us. Scott arrived in May, and with a humble and simple expression of interest in baking bread, quickly took on the weekly task of stocking our pantry shelves with enough gluten goodness to fuel us through each week of work. It became clear rather quickly that we had quite the delicious situation on our hands. Now each week he’s performing some new test…currently it’s baguettes. We’re being teased with musings on croissants.

We’re so convinced that this bread is what everyone, everyone needs that we’re beginning a Bread CSA this fall. And it’s not too late to sign-up!

Here’s how the bread share program works. All bread is made using organic flour, natural fermentation, and is baked in D Acres’ wood-fired cob oven. Members pay up front for ten loaves of bread and receive them, one loaf per week, beginning October 13 and ending December 15. The cost of each share is $65 (you’re welcome to purchase more than one share…). The pick-up dates & location are yet to be finalized, but will be in downtown Plymouth for your convenience. Let us know if you have a preference!

Just to convince you further, here are the loaf options you’ll have to choose from throughout the season: French Country Bread, Whole Wheat Bread, Rye Bread, Semolina Bread, Multi-Grain Bread, and Baguettes.

Seriously. Whether you need to step up your peanut-butter-and-jelly experience, are raising the bar on family dinner, or simply ready for really good bread to hit New Hampshire…well, this is it.

Get in touch with us today to reserve your spot! 603-786-2366 or Just think, next month you could be reading this with a piece of D Acres toast in your hand…local food with your local news.

as published in North Country News

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Join our Bread CSA!

Most people are intimidated by the prospect of baking bread from scratch. I know I was. Like many, I learned much of what I know in the kitchen from my mother who, owing to a combination of lack of patience and one failed bread baking experiment when I was quite young, left bread production up to the local bakery or whomever it is that makes bread for grocery stores.

Earlier this year, however, finding myself without gainful employment for the first time in many years and with an unnerving amount of leisure time, I decided to cloister myself away in my tiny Brooklyn apartment and teach myself the art of artisanal bread baking.

After a few days in the library scribbling down copious notes and a few unsuccessful attempts at the very simple task of dissolving yeast in water, I was able to produce what appeared to be a loaf of bread.
Its outward appearance filled me with a sense of accomplishment and it was only when I cut it in half that I discovered that I still had a ways to go. While it was certainly more chewable and moist than a hockey puck, it was more or less the bread equivalent of the birthday present your daughter, son, niece or nephew gives you that is made out of construction paper, glue, glitter and pine cones – its nice and homemade and clearly a lot of work went into it but the quality of the thing leaves something to be desired.

Not to be deterred, I continued to turn these prairie sod-like loaves out, foisting them upon unfortunate friends with the confidence that, like driving without a map, if you just did it long enough, you would eventually get where you need to go. (Yes, I sometimes find it difficult to locate willing passengers.)

Then I had a bit of good fortune – last Christmas Eve I wandered into a bookstore with my sister and father and happened upon a giant coffee table sized book entitled Tartine Bread with what can only be described as the perfect loaf of bread on the front cover. It was dark brown and glistening – almost black with tiny air bubbles all throughout the crust and a white crumb underneath the looked…well, perfect. It was both a feat of bread baking and of photography. I purchased the book on the spot.

Happily, the book did, in fact, live up to its cover. The baking technique it suggests uses no industrial yeast at all opting instead for a wild fermentation process whereby water and flour are mixed together and left for three or four days to harness airborne yeast and become the “starter” for a loaf of bread.

When I first experimented with this method, I was a bit worried that assiduously monitoring a bowl of bacterial spores in my kitchen might have negative consequences for my social life but the possibility of achieving something close to the loaf on that front cover was too much to resist.

Now, I should say, for those of you with bread baking aspirations, that this bread baking technique requires not only three to four days of fermentation but the bread baking process itself takes about nine hours. The good news (or bad news depending on your personality type) is that the vast majority of this time is spent waiting, checking, gently poking, evaluating and trying to come up with something to do in the 30 minutes before you have to get back to the kitchen to re-check the loaf. But if you are interested in tackling a Russian novel or a graduate degree, this kind of bread baking might be a perfect part-time job for you.

As for me, I was, if recall, in the throws of unemployment and the throws of winter so I had…ahem, nothing but time. It made things a little easier.

But I will say this with all humility – following this book’s instructions resulted in, by far, the best bread I have ever tasted anywhere. I take no credit for this beyond being able to read and follow instructions. But it really was a miraculous thing.

The first time I took a loaf out of the oven, I just stared at it for about 5 minutes not quite believing that I had been responsible for creating this thing. It looked and smelled absolutely amazing. I immediately bundled up and jumped onto the subway to share this creation with my sister and her kids who lived a few blocks away.
After a few minutes, the subway car smelled like the best bakery I’d ever walked into and it is no easy task to make New York City subway cars smell anything other than dreadful.

Upon arrival at my sister’s house, we cut the loaf in half and dug in.
Suffice to say that everyone was very pleased and the non-bread elements of dinner were left untouched.

Following that first loaf, I spent every second or third day baking a different kind of bread – wheat bread, pumpkin seed and rosemary bread, olive bread with hazlenuts, walnut bread, raisin and cardamom bread etc. Each one was better than the last. The only problem was that I began to produce much more bread than my friends and family
could possibly consume. Had I stayed in New York, this could have
become a serious problem. Happily in April, I packed my things and moved to D Acres.

Upon arrival at this community, I quickly came to realize that most of the professional skills that I had acquired over the course of my working life were of very little use here – which absolutely delighted me. But this newly acquired bread-baking skill? Now there was a transferrable skill…sort of.

Baking 30 loaves of bread at once is a different universe entirely from baking two. My first experience at D Acres bread baking saw the employment of just about every single bowl and dish-cloth in the house – numbering in the hundreds, I think. And being unfamiliar with the general kitchen layout and having a tendency to forget a needed spoon or spatula or something resulted in having to rummage through the kitchen drawers with dough caked fingers which, in turn, left a residue that I believe had to be removed with a blow torch and sandpaper. Sigh.

But I am pleased to report that despite a few challenges here and there, reviews of the final product have been incredibly positive - so much so that we have started to sell the bread at the Plymouth farmers market and are starting a bread CSA in the fall. I would like to report that I’ve gotten cleaner and more contained in the kitchen…I would like to report that but just last week I received a inquiry as to just how did I get flour on the CEILING?! So I am still learning to bake in such a way that does not leave the kitchen looking as though it should be cleaned with a fire-hose.

But for those of you who are looking for (deep breath) organic, locally produced, artisanal, wood-fired, whole grain, naturally fermented bread, baked lovingly in a dedicated although somewhat er…free spirited way, let me know. Our bread CSA begins October 8th.
Here is the email:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recent Fun on the Farm...

A Tuesday with Marx

Theater and farming. Each employs a different stage, certainly, and each offers a day’s work comprised of disparate details. And yet I would contend that here upon the hill they are not always so separate. Theater can present a poignant commentary, a provoking portrayal of life’s themes and society’s recurring triumphs & travails. Theater elicits questions, raises doubts, and proffers new perspectives; it reaffirms our humanity. It is a statement come alive.

Farming, too, is a statement. In another form, we here at D Acres are also offering social commentary. Our farming acts grounded in subsistence agriculture and local economics are our philosophies writ through the sweat, dirt, and the beauty of a home-grown meal.

Granted, farming is not as entertaining to watch unless, perhaps, you have a lifetime to dedicate to the intricacies of one’s land. Which I strongly encourage. But that is not the point I wish to make herein.

Theater, is the point.

In particular, a theatrical performance this coming Tuesday, September 20 of Marx in Soho. Sponsored by D Acres is conjunction with Plymouth State University’s Early Childhood Studies Program and PSU’s History Department, the performance will be at Boyd Hall 144 (PSU Campus) at 7pm – free and open to all!

Written by the renowned historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, Marx in Soho is a passionate, funny and moving defense of Karl Marx’s life and political ideas. The play is an excellent introduction to Marx’s person, his family, his analysis of society, and his passion for radical change. The show also uses current news and events to show how his ideas still resonate, and to demand active and engaged citizenry. Zinn’s dialogue doesn’t preach, rather it is full of mischievous humor as Marx confronts institutionalized education, America’s rich ruling class, corporate mergers, prisons, the media, and more during the course of the play.

The performance is a one-hour, one-man show performed by Bob Weick. D Acres has hosted Weick twice previously to fine reviews and enthusiastic attendance. He has spent the last six years traveling throughout the country performing the show for colleges, universities, community groups, and civic organizations, having taken the stage over 200 times. Check out the show's website for more information and reviews:

I hope you are able to join us for this special performance! The intersection of farming ideals, theatrics, and social philosophies: Tuesday, September 20, 7pm at Boyd Hall 144. A Q&A with the actor will follow the performance. Marx is back!

as published in North Country News

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Looking Ahead

During the growing season, seeding salad greens is a weekly task. A mix of greens is a staple of our meal so long as the ground is free of snow: it is presumed that boxes of salad will crowd our fridge, that seed packets will accompany us about the work day, and that the simple act of seeding new blocks of Merlot, Tango, Lollo di Vino, Dark Lollo Rossa, & Revolution lettuces will be an automatic task consuming a portion of our time each week. For such a simple process, the rewards are tasty, healthful, and colorful.

Last week, however, saw a significant change in events.

Last week, you see, we began to seed into coldframes. Coldframes are a simple piece of garden technology. A wooden box with a pane of glass or sheet of plastic covering its top, angled into the sun, a coldframe works like a mini-greenhouse. It creates a microclimate that offers protection to fragile plants like, in this case, lettuce.

Now, sure, the nights are cooling off, but the summer heat is still hanging on to its banker’s hours. We’re not approaching frost weather quite yet. So for now, our coldframes are sitting wide open, the seeds not requiring additional heat beyond what the August sun continues to offer. But in planting these tiny lettuce seeds now, we’re looking ahead to when these greens will reach our plates. I can write with fair certainty that the leaves will have changed, “cool” will be replaced by “cold” in our daily descriptors, and frost will be upon us. Lettuce is no Herculean food – none of the above appeals to such plants in the least.

So with the use of coldframes, we can protect such plants and thereby extend our growing season. It’s a wonderful treat to have the flavors of summer linger into the autumnal months and, equally exciting, coldframes offer a simple, easy, do-it-yourself opportunity for you to do the same.

Salvage an old glass door at the dump, or make use of that old plastic sheeting in your garage. Building a coldframe doesn’t require fancy materials; nothing beyond the above, some wood, and screws to put it all together.

Keep it basic. And light. Because coldframes are useful for more than just fall lettuce, and once you build one (or two, or more), you’ll find you’ll want to move it around season to season, for a host of different garden purposes. For example, come this time of year, you’ll also want to think of fall broccoli plants…or perhaps you’ve got some top-notch swiss chard you’ll want to protect come the first frost. (Not to mention how essential coldframes are for getting an early start in the garden come springtime.)

Don’t wait, jump onto this project while it’s fresh in your mind. A little work now will earn you garden dividends for seasons to come. And your palate will reap the rewards in just a couple of months time.

as published by North Country News