Cooking, Field Notes

Mill and Churn with Avery Ruzicka

photo: Aubrie Pick

With both a culinary and bread degree from the French Culinary Institute as well as having worked a staging stint under Per Se restaurant’s master baker Ben Hershberger, Avery Ruzicka knew that she wanted to devote her career to the miracle of grains and yeast and ovens.

But she had to take an unusual route to get there. Which is how she ended up working the front of the house running food at Los Gato’s famed Manresa in 2012. After six months of delivering chef David Kinch’s three-Michelin-star dishes to diners, she made her way into the kitchen, where she had been headed all along.

There, she founded the Manresa Bread Project, an endeavor that began in the restaurant with an official bread course included in prix-fixe dinners, moved to serve a rabid farmers’ market fanbase, and now includes bakeries in Palo Alto and Los Gatos with a new one set to open in Campbell.

Ruzicka comes to SHED on May 12 to demonstrate some of what makes her bread so acclaimed. And of course, it starts with the grain. As do we, Ruzicka mills her own grain for making bread and even oatmeal.

For her class, she’ll tote along her favorite tabletop mill, a KoMo Mockmill that she adores for its price and durability. The similar hand-cranked Country Living Grain Mill is a staple of our kitchen.

“My vision is to show people that this simple piece of equipment can open up so many avenues of creativity,” Ruzicka told us by phone recently.

“I want to show people that what we do is possible. The Mockmill especially is not a huge financial investment. It’s a couple hundred dollars and will last a lifetime. Instead of grabbing a bag of old flour from your cupboard, you can make fresh ingredients that are a million times better.”

Supporting local grain growers is a passion for us. We’re so excited to see young chefs like Ruzicka embracing real grains for taste and good health.

“We use all organic grains,” Ruzicka explains, adding that she purchases pre-milled flour from Central Milling Co. out of Petaluma and buys grain from Coke Farm, an organic produce farm in San Juan Bautista.

“Owner Dale Coke is a passionate bread baker and, as a farmer, decided to start selling some grain,” she says. “He grows some rye, a variety of bread wheat called Patron and a white wheat called Blanco Grande.”

Ruzicka explains that you don’t have to own a bakery to purchase whole grains to mill yourself, listing more of the producers she uses that sell to the public as well.

“We get einkorn and spelt from a farm in Oregon called Bluebird Grain Farms. I have also purchased a lot of wheat from Camas Country in Washington, also family-run, and they mill as well. When you’re buying direct from farmers, you have to contend with the fact that they don’t have a shipping system. It’s pushed us to find even more California grain. It’s around, but it’s in smaller volume.”

Ruzicka’s sourdough breads rise for up to 36 hours. Allowing for such a long fermentation period makes the loaves easier to digest and makes them palatable to those who are typically bothered by gluten (celiac sufferers still can’t consume it). It also creates airy pockets inside the loaves that make the bread tender and perhaps even more addictive.

It’s all a product of patience and science, but mostly patience. Ruzicka stresses that any one who is interested can get learn how to source and make good food. “If you eat a delicious meal, ask where it came from,” she says simply.

Avery Ruzicka comes to our Healdsburg store on Saturday, May 12, at 11am for a two-hour workshop on simple bread and butter. We’ll learn to churn our own fresh cream into butter and how to make sourdough flatbreads. Students will receive recipes and a 10% SHED discount on all purchases that day. Join us!

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Farming, Field Notes

How the OAEC Cookbook Also Teaches about Life

oaec cookbook

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) folks have lived peacefully in an intentional community for nearly 25 years, co-owning some 80 acres of pristine growing grounds near the ocean. From this place of centering, they teach thousands of people how to farm and how to honor and preserve biodiversity.

They maintain, enlarge, and propagate a “mother garden” that contains a wild amount of biodiversity and offers a continuous food production cycle amid West County’s wild weather. They paint and hold Chauttauqua and even produced a cookbook.

All of which is to say that the OAEC community is pretty amazing. But there are some things that they do that you might be able to do, too. Like grow a garden. Like buy what you can’t grow from those who can. Like cook at home. Like remembering to smile.

These and other simple lessons are among the pleasures of the OAEC’s eponymous Cookbook (Chelsea Green; $40), a richly illustrated photo-heavy 416-page declaration of intent, process, and good ways to eat from the land — whatever your land might be.

Founded by seven friends in 1994 as the Sowing Circle intentional community and soon incorporated as a 501(c)3, the OAEC exemplifies the human interdependence that their innovative permaculture design work encourages in the plants and trees that surround them.

Hosting workshops and classes, retreats and day visits, the OAEC has a robust seasonal schedule, so the recipes in its cookbook are cleverly calibrated for either four to six people or 30 to 40 hungry folks.

They’re used to feeding a crowd, and an enduring and crowd-pleasing dish that visitors have come to expect is one of their epic salads.

Called the “biodiversity salad mix,” this collection of propagated and foraged foods changes with the seasons, as the cookbook deftly illustrates. Mother Garden biodiversity director Doug Gosling, in charge of the collective’s nightly salad, has such a wealth of options available that he sometimes picks solely for color palette.

In spring, it might contain tulip petals and broccoli leaves amid the myriad; in the summer, rose petals and celery flowers. While his salads always feature a lettuce or green of some type, the point being celebrated is that “salad” isn’t solely Romaine or iceberg glopped up with something from a bottle but rather, a living expression of what’s happening on the earth the very day you sit down to eat it — and that said eating should be fearless in its wandering and appetite for taste.

As pleasurable to simply read as it is to cook from, the OAEC Cookbook, primarily written by Olivia Rathbone but naturally contributed to by all members of the community, offers such wisdom as that chamomile will get bitter if boiled (and make you sleepy!); how best to cook cactus; that seed saving is a radical act; how to start your own sourdough; what the role of rosemary is in transforming whipped cream; that carnations taste of cloves; why lemon verbena is good with steamed rice; and how sometimes in the winter you are simply so very glad that all visitors have gone home and you’ve got the whole 80 acres to yourselves.

Join us on Thursday, March 15, when members of the OAEC are honored at a special Taste of Place dinner featuring recipes in their cookbook.

Chefs, Cooking, Craftsmanship, Field Notes, Modern Grange, Supper series

The Unforgettable Paula Wolfert

Paula Wolfert
“Good food is memory.” —Paula Wolfert

 

“Paula Wolfert,” says her editor and food biographer Emily Thelin, “is the most influential food writer you’ve never heard of.”

Yet, if you’ve ever enjoyed a cassoulet or confit, delighted at a preserved lemon tucked into a dish, fluffed couscous with a fork or cooked in a tangine, you owe a culinary debt to Paula Wolfert — even if you’ve never heard of her.

Paula is the intrepid food journalist and chef who brought such delicacies as cassoulet and preserved lemons to American palates via her nine cookbooks, beginning with Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, published in 1973.

Following her first husband to Morocco in the ’60s, Paula became restless with the ennui of the bohemian expat crowd and instead turned her fine intelligence to the sights and smells of the souk, and finally to the kitchens and tables of the Moroccan people who frequented its food stalls.

Famous for nearly moving in with her subjects, Paula eventually found ease with seven languages, allowing her to move into the kitchens and homes of people across western Europe. An expert on Mediterranean cooking, including our favorite Clay Pot Cooking, Paula introduced French country cooking to an avid audience.

Now 78, Paula is a longtime resident of the town of Sonoma, where she shares a home with her husband, the writer William Bayer. She’s still on a mission, but its aim has altered. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013, Paula can no longer differentiate tastes but she can still enjoy the kitchen.

Rather than examine the traditions of a particular geographical area, her focus today is on brain-healthy foods that she hopes will forestall the worst of her disease as long as possible.

Paula’s editor Emily Thelin (pictured above) realized that now is the time to capture Paula’s food memories and best recipes in a new collection and set about trying to sell the proposal through regular New York publishing channels. No one committed.

So she did what we do these days, she took it to Kickstarter, where 1,112 people donated to the cause, raising $91,000 and catching  the interest of both famed food photographer Eric Wolfinger and acclaimed food writer Andrea Nguyen, who agreed to edit the text.

The resulting book, Unforgettable, gathers together some of Paula’s favorite and most iconic recipes along with a lively biography peppered with intelligent asides by Thelin throughout.

A loving and alacritive recent article by New York Times food writer Kim Severson looks at Paula’s current life, after the book’s publication, where she is still active in the kitchen and able to surprise both her biographer and her assistants.

Accompanied by photographer Wolfinger, Thelin and Paula come to SHED on Sunday, June 4, for a special celebration dinner. Each diner will receive a copy of Unforgettable as part of the night. Our chef Perry Hoffman has created a splendid Middle Eastern-themed dinner in Paula’s honor.

“I don’t remember yesterday,” Paula says plainly to the camera in her Kickstarter film. “Tomorrow, I could get hit by a car. So I live in the now and I make it work for me.”

It appears that there’s more to learn from Paula after all.

The Unforgettable dinner honoring Paula Wolfert is slated for Sunday, June 4, from 5pm. $115 per person; includes the book. RSVP today.

Cooking, Craftsmanship

Sourdough Starter Is a Living Thing

“Sourdough starter is a living thing,” author Stephen Yafa told us on a warm Saturday afternoon in August. “Think of it as being the union of lovers. Yeast falls in love with lactobacillus and together, they’re perfectly harmonious.”

Yafa had a bowl full of love with him when he joined us in our upstairs Grange to demonstrate his sourdough starter recipe and support his new book, Grain of Truth: The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten.

Turns out, your main job with starter is simply to provide what Yafa calls a “honeymoon suite.” Yeast and lactobacillus, he says, “like to be left alone, fed, and to be safe in a warm, hospitable place.”

An award-winning North Bay journalist and screenwriter, Yafa fell upon the topic of starters and yeast and gluten and wheat and lovers when his wife came home from a spa day announcing that she had “gluten neck.” Whatever that is.

And indeed, what the heck is it? Yafa was intrigued.

Grain of Truth follows wheat from the good old days when it harmed only those with true celiac disease through to today, where the majority of the wheat consumed in the U.S. has been disastrously stripped of its nutrition and vitality and is quite literally making us all sick.

Like Tartine’s Chad Robertson — who also became interested in heirloom wheat and ancient grains in an effort to help his gluten-intolerant wife  — Yafa bakes whole wheat bread that has an extraordinarily long rising time, usually 16 to 18 hours. This extended fermentation produces loaves that those who are ordinarily gluten intolerant can consume with pleasure. (It is still not edible for those with celiac disease.)

But none of this yummy goodness can happen without the starter — a mix of whole flour, water, wild yeast, and bacteria that takes about two weeks to mature and, when properly maintained, can last a lifetime.

“The starter is the engine that drives the sourdough,” Yafa said. “It can be a legacy that you can pass to other generations.”

SHED’s pastry chef Lorrette Patzwald understands Yafa’s point of view.

“For me, the process of building a new starter is akin to bringing home a new baby,” she says. “You can glean advice from professionals and read about how to take care of it in books, but it’s entirely up to you to figure out what it takes to help it thrive.”

Patzwald has been so successful at keeping her starter thriving that she’s named it “Shirley.” Of course we’re not kidding.

SHED_NEWSLETTER_82516_18

“Once I was able to get consistently good results with my new starter it was time to give her a name,” Patzwald explains. “Shirley is not just used for bread. She gives additional depth of flavor to the Little Shirley cookies sold at our coffee bar. She has also made appearances in pancakes, shortcakes, and waffles. Shirley has traveled to the Gold Coast of Long Island and to Greenwich Village for a bread baker’s competition.

“I often offer some Shirley to my baking students,” she says. “Hence there is little bit of her here and there around the Bay Area.”

Once you have a stable starter — regardless of its name — you have the basis for your bread. Using some of the starter, you add flour to create a levain basis for your loaves.

SHED_NEWSLETTER_82516_25

“You’re doing a ‘build,'” Yafa explained. “The levain reduces the vinegary quality of the starter. You want to balance sour and sweetness.”

By taking some of the starter and mixing it with flour to make a dough, you’re also ensuring that there is enough starter to continue on to its next iteration. You want a wet dough, Yafa assured, and you want to slap it about to wake it up.

Several audience members gamely stood with Yafa slapping dough to awaken its gluten. He appeared to be delighted.

“You will screw it up,” he assured the audience happily. “Everyone screws up. So what. Throw it out and start again.”

Stephen Yafa’s Sourdough Starter Tips

  • Use non-chlorinated filtered water for both your starter and your levain to nurture the growth of good bacteria.
  • Use organic whole grain wheat or rye flours, not all-purpose. They’re more nutritious and offer more fuel to the microorganisms that will build your starter.
  • An electric plant propagation bed used to help sprout seeds is a nice way to keep your starter warm during its first few weeks. Place your bowl on it and leave it.
  • Buy a digital kitchen scale and use it. It takes the element of volume out of your recipe and reduces everything to weight. (Be certain, however, that you measure water and flour in the same signature. Yafa once tried to make bread with the water in ounces and the flour in grams. He needed a bathing suit, he says, to handle the ensuing tsunami.)
  • Try to use your clean, freshly washed and carefully dried hands to handle the dough, not a mixer’s dough hook. You can feel the gluten strands hardening and you can transfer more natural bacteria to your starter if you use your hands. Plus, it just feels good!
  • Need help, direction, or inspiration? The King Arthur Flour website is Yafa’s go-to site.

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Foodshed, Healdsburg

Spring Foraging

On March 19, SHED’s Culinary Director Perry Hoffman and chef de cuisine Bryan Oliver led a group of 30 or so on a spring foraging foray looking for miner’s lettuce, mustard flowers, wild fennel, Douglas fir shoots, and more through Dry Creek Valley.

(more…)

Artisan Producers, Chefs, Cooking, Eat Good Food, Healdsburg

SHED Olive Oil

Chef Franco Dunn sits at the SHED coffee bar intently engaged not with an espresso drink but rather, with a small plastic cup filled with olive oil. SHED pantry lead Debra Conti watches Franco carefully as he lifts the lid on the plastic cup and inhales deeply. He closes the lid and his eyes, thinking of what he’s just smelled. Then he removes the lid entirely and simply drinks the oil right down.

(more…)