Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Grandma's Coffee Cake

Working in a school, there are often snacks or treats around at faculty meetings and in our small devotion groups. They are almost always either doughnuts or store bought snack cakes. The doughnuts vary in quality. I hate Krispy Kremes with a passion, but if we're lucky someone will stop by Donut Delight. They make the best doughnuts in St.Louis, especially apple fritters. I refuse to eat the Little Debbie cakes that kids insist on bringing to small group. I find a twisted sense of humor in reading the ingredient list and nutritional information to the kids while they're joyfully cramming swiss cake rolls in their mouths.

This past week I volunteered to bring food to our morning faculty meeting, and I decided to use the opportunity to introduce my coworkers to a long time tradition in my family - home made coffee cake. One of my earliest memories of my Grandma Lorenz is the baked goods that were always at her house. Cookies, rolls, bread, and especially coffee cake. I'm embarrassed to admit that this was the first time that I've ever used her recipe myself. The family cook book has a basic coffee cake dough recipe that can be topped with just about anything. One batch is enough for about 4 coffee cakes at 11x14 inches each. You can also use this dough to make her amazing pineapple cinnamon rolls (which I did). One coffee cake's worth of dough will make 8-10 rolls.

Once the dough has been kneaded, it needs to sit and rise for about an hour (or until it doubles in size). I dusted the counter with flour and covered the dough with a damp towel.

Once it has risen, you need to divide the dough and roll it out. I try to roll it to about 1/4" thickness. I placed it in greased baking pans and pressed around the edges to create a crust. You then let the dough rise again until it has doubled in thickness. This took about 45 minutes. If you are using a fruit topping, then you can put on the fruit and crumb topping after it is done with the second rise. If you are making Peanut Butter coffee cake, then you would poke a bunch of holes with a fork to prevent large air bubbles from forming.

At this point you can put the coffee cakes into the oven. The recipe is rather vague about baking time saying only, "bake until done". Mine were in there for about 30-35 minutes.

The finished product. Peach is on the left and Peanut Butter is on the right. I spread the peanut butter topping on the cake after it had cooled. Cut into 1.5" strips and demolish them with coffee or elderberry tea.

To make pineapple cinnamon rolls, roll the dough out the same way that you would for coffee cake. Brush some melted butter onto the dough and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1.5" strips and roll them up. Pinch the end smooth.

Once the rolls are rolled up, they need to sit and rise for about 45 minutes. I scooted them closer together on the pan, and spooned the pineapple topping over them. Bake them for 35-45 minutes, depending on how thick they are.

It's hard to tell in the picture, but after the rolls come out of the oven and have cooled down, I poured a simple powdered sugar glaze over them. Delicious for breakfast, lunch, supper, snack, in the car, in the shower, middle of the night...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winterizing the garden

The chickens had fun rummaging around in the remains of the tomato beds.

Temps are starting to dip a bit here in St.Louis. October 30 is our average 1st frost date, and last Thursday the 28th Jack Frost showed up right on time. This past weekend was the first time in over a month that we weren't out of town or doing something at school, so I finally had time to clean up around the 'burbstead. I puled out the last of the tomato plants, put the cages and hoses away, and put up a row of hoops over the bed of winter greens. I mowed the grass, leaves and all, and filled the two semi-raised beds with the clippings so it could all compost in place over the winter. Das Cluck Haus is back in the garden where it gets moved around all winter long. It's kinda odd to look out at the space that was so packed full of vegetation just a few weeks ago and see it more or less cut back and bare now. Everything is cyclical though, and my mind has already started planning for the end of winter and the beginning of next spring. Oh the possibilities...

The last haul of tomatoes and peppers from the garden.