Hello There, Spring!

Strawberry CrostiniI love springtime — the changeable moods of the weather, how amazing everything smells, all the new growth — even with the pounding my immune system gets due to allergies. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Food seems to reflect the pastel wonder of the awakening world as well. It’s a time for roasted asparagus, tender greens, and new cheese. Plus, strawberries. I really love strawberries! The crostini shown above is super simple, and could almost be used as a dessert, it’s so creamy and decadent. We had it for dinner with a side salad. Serve it with a lovely glass of rosé, and celebrate spring.

Spring Crostini

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

half a loaf of a crusty sourdough baguette sliced into thin pieces
extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. fresh soft sheep cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm‘s sheep milk Laychee)
12 strawberries, sliced
balsamic vinegar

Place sliced bread onto a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Turn on broiler and set bread underneath. Cook for a couple minutes, or until the bread begins to turn golden.
Remove from oven and allow bread to cool.
Smear a bit of cheese onto each piece of bread. Arrange strawberries on top and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

(For even more savory, green flavors, try sprinkling the crostinis with some chopped basil.)

Hello Sourdough My Old Friend

sourdough starter

The air section of “Cooked” covered bread baking. I love bread, and used to love making it, but when I began having what appeared to be immune system reactions to wheat, I thought my days of eating real bread were over.

But then Michael Pollan’s passage discussed sourdough fermentation. Introducing fermentation changes the characteristics of the wheat in the bread. I won’t go into detail. He, of course, did tons of research and explains it thoroughly in the book. Read it.

Again, I don’t have celiac, so using myself as a human guinea pig wasn’t that risky. While I might experience joint pain and inflammation, I most likely wasn’t going to do damage to my gut. I really wanted to find out how sourdough would react with my body, and the easiest way to do that was to indulge in some fluffy, baked goodness.

Over the next three weeks, I ate sourdough and didn’t have any reaction. I could eat a sandwich and not only enjoy the flavor, I would be pain-free while it was digesting! It’s a wonderful discovery, and it’s all thanks to “Cooked.”

I plan on baking my own sourdough bread soon — you know, when the 100 degree heat is at an end. While Pollan “captured” his wild yeasts to create his starter, I’m going to begin with a packaged version, something that I can regulate a bit more at the start. Until I walk you through the process of creating a complex loaf of sourdough bread (it’s really not that difficult), I thought it would be nice to at least share my recent experiences with all of you. Who knows? Maybe sourdough will be an option for you, too.

Nika the Breadnik

There are few things homier than the smell of baking bread. Nika Franchi, also known as Breadnik, seems to carry a whiff of fresh bread around her like a peaceful aura.

“There’s something very nurturing and something very mothering about working with dough,” Franchi said.

That care and attention comes out in her work. Her bread became an instant hit at BriarPatch, but she wasn’t always a baker. Her professional life began as a classically trained musician. After that, she was a globetrotting translator.

“Four years ago, I didn’t know anything – the word yeast would throw me into a panic,” she laughed.

One day, she decided to try her hand at bread making. The first attempt was successful, as was a second, and then she failed. Franchi didn’t let that failure stop her. She kept working at it until she figured out the process and was happy with her creations.

Soon after, fate stepped in. She brought a loaf of her bread to her local farmers market in Ohio to give to a friend. The friend didn’t meet her, so Franchi decided to leave it with the market manager. The manager tried it and wanted more, and Breadnik was born.

When the economy turned south, Franchi became a full time bread baker, selling 150 loaves a week as well as selling soups and preserved foods.

As popular as her bread was in Ohio, her Nevada County friends said, “We want you here.” Originally from Moscow, Russia, Franchi had lived in many places, but Nevada County was home. She, her husband, and her youngest daughter decided to pack up their equipment and move. They now live outside of Grass Valley.

Currently, Breadnik produces around 150 loaves a week. All of the recipes are Franchi’s creations, based on the memories of breads consumed during vacations in Italy. The business is expanding sustainably, though that requires her to work a baker’s schedule – six days a week. “I’m always either mixing or baking,” she said.

Living locally and sustainably is one of Franchi’s main focuses. She’s working with local farmers and selling to the local markets. She’s also using available ingredients to create a bread of the month as well as her staple loaves, including the low gluten Russian Coriander Rye.

“With my bread, I reflect the … seasons,” she explained. “It’s a lot more meaningful to do something that’s local. It’s a lot better for my soul, too.”

More information on Breadnik can be found at her blog, her Facebook page, or by calling (530) 913-9673.

Celebrating Scapes

One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about the local produce season getting under way is the challenge of the hunt. Since I discovered garlic scapes a couple of years ago, I eagerly anticipate their addition to the produce shelves. They’re only around for a short time, so the scapes have to be celebrated and savored while they’re here.

My favorite recipe for garlic scapes is from Dorie Greenspan’s blog. It’s a lovely, vibrant pesto made with scapes, parmesan, and almonds.

I toss the pesto with some al dente fettuccine, sprinkled some extra parmesan on top, and Kablam – it’s a taste sensation. The intense flavors of garlic and greenness dance upon the taste buds in a very pleasing samba.  We love pairing the pasta with a Viognier. The garlic amazingness brings out pear flavors in the wine that are lovely counterpoints, while the acidity helps the wine hold its own against the strength of the garlic.

One of our local bread bakers is also using scapes right now, in an amazing creation she calls “Armenian Spring Bread.” It’s quite tasty on its own and is an awesome side to pasta.