Tartine Bread Project

Three days later...

Getting chickens saved my starter. I know it sounds weird, but because I chose to start the starter in early spring and because our wood heated house never has a constant ambient temperature above 65-degrees unless the fire is blazing, my homemade starter was in a sate of stasis…no bubbles, no smell, no life. Then we got ten baby chicks. They lived in a large cardboard complex in our living room, and a big red heat lamp hovered above them non-stop. Just like the babies, my starter needed warmth to live. I realized that I could station the bowl of starter in close proximity to the lamp and soon started to see signs of life. The chicks and the native wild yeasts thrived together.

First step: Leaven

I received the Tartine Bread cookbook as a christmas present right after it was released. I had pined away for it and a couple of my loving co-workers had noticed. I’m not sure if I should be thanking them or cursing them, because it is not the simplest of undertakings, at least not in the beginner. By now there are hundreds of blog posts about Tartine bread, if not more. I could probably do a whole post just listing all of those posts. And now I’m one of them. Funny.


I’m definitely not bread baking expert. What I’m writing here is about my first and only attempt at the Basic Country Loaf recipe so far. I had every intention of doing this project on a regular basis. In fact, it was one of my New Year’s resolutions. Making Tartine bread and my own yogurt regularly. I have prevailed, for the most part, on the former. But for the bread, this is it. I’m not going to get into the details much here, like hydration ratios, bench rest or turning technique. If you want the recipe, buy the book. It’s totally worth it, even if you never make any of the recipes. The photos are gorgeous and the story is inspiring.

Hot out of the oven

Despite some minor hiccups, like running out of regular white flour (instead of 10% whole wheat, mine ended up being 40%), the bread turned out amazing. I was glad that I had a three day weekend, because tracking the progress of each step took some time, patience and diligence. I’m sure as you get more familiar with the process and your own climate changes, the recipe becomes second nature. I will keep at it, but at this point I can’t really see how someone could do this on a day to day basis if they work away from home full time. Regardless, I ate bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner last weekend and loved every second of it.


Spring Chickens

Our Cochin named "Salad"

Bellina and Fluffy were my first experience of parental responsibility. I had raised them from eggs in an incubator at school, waiting impatiently for the first cracks to appear on the shells and the little beaks to bust out. My heart was bursting as they blinked up at me for the first time, and my devotion to their safety ran deep as I transferred them home. My parents had agreed to my request for two, one more chick than most of my classmates, and I was proud to be accountable for the extra responsibility. That spring I may have been the luckiest kid on Earth, having two baby chicks and two baby kittens at the same time, hopping around in bliss on a sunny Easter sunday. That single holiday might be the sole reason I continue to like Easter (being Jewish it doesn’t really hold much significance for me besides an excuse to eat candy).

But the joy began to fade as we discovered that Fluffy was a rooster. Instead of snuggling and petting and laying eggs for the family, he tore around the yard, puffing up his wings and charging like a bull at anything that moved. My brother instilled the strategy of going out the door first, distracting Fluffy by running around and waving his arms as I darted to the car, avoiding the violent pecks and gouges that would ensue if my bare little legs were otherwise discovered. My brother’s courage still envokes in me deep gratitude for this valiant and protective daily deed.

"Red" perched for first time.

Things got even worse. Bellina, who consistently displayed a rare mix of patience, sweetness, and prolific egg laying as she grew into a plump hen, was discovered late one night by the neighbor’s dogs. There was no saving her. I still remember a fleeting, teary glimpse of bright red blood on pure white feathers as my dad quickly removed the evidence. Fluffy on the other had, survived with might. Not only did he receive the same treatment from the pack of dogs that delivered Bellina’s demise, but he uncannily displayed little if any residual harm or torment from the literally scarring event. He went on to live an unusually long life, surviving two more attacks, one of which was a coyote bite that left him barely hanging on.

The babies getting used to their new home.

And so it is with a combination of excitement and trepidation that I enter into parenthood once again. Our ten little chicks arrived almost three weeks ago, small, fragile and chirping with need. We have since gone through the scares of pasty butt, the thrills of a first perch, and the pride of aphid eating. All ten are still holding strong, spreading out into their expanded three room cardboard suite. Our living room glows demon red day and night and our electric bill is most likely growing just as rapidly as the chicks are. A deluxe coop, crafted of scavenged wood and repurposed materials from our property, is in the works. And it will be a fortress, double dug and fenced to fend off the array of mountain preditors waiting in the wings. Soon the day will come for the babies to venture out into the wide world, and I am trying my hardest to imagine the task of letting go and accepting what fate will provide for them.

"Red" might be the next Fluffy...we are hoping she's just a really big hen.

Refrigerator Canvas

The original refrigerator that came with the house


This project is something I have been wanting to do for a very long time, but the list of higher priority, critical tasks of building a house took precedent over covering my ugly old refrigerator with chalkboard paint. Since we have finally arrived at a “finished enough” status – drywall, mud, paint, windows, doors, tile, floor, plumbing and electricity (the process of which will be documented in retrospect here soon) – the little aesthetic touches like designing a spice rack or hanging mugs on decorative hooks can now occupy some time. And so, on an unplanned wave of motivation, I pulled out the chalkboard paint I had purchased with great intention long ago, unwrapped a nice new paint brush, and got to work.


Primer coat

First coat of black chalkboard paint



I did a little bit of preliminary research, and after talking with the guy at the paint store (who was really helpful, and REALLY enthusiastic about the project), I decided to take the extra time to do a first coat of primer.  This ensures an even, longer lasting finish since the surface of the refrigerator is textured. We pulled the fridge out and maneuvered a drop cloth underneath to protect our tile floor, this probably being the hardest job of the whole day.





After the primer dried completely, which didn’t take long at all, I applied the first coat of black chalkboard paint.  You can get a variety of colors, but I was going for classic and a hue that matched some of the details in our kitchen. The paint is pretty liquid-y and went on smooth and easy. I waited until the first coat was dry and decided to apply another coat to really feel good about it.




Painting done


I felt so satisfied with myself, and then realized that the work wasn’t done. According to the instructions on the back of the paint can, you must “condition” the paint with chalk before actually using it as a chalkboard.


Conditioning the paint with chalk



To condition the surface, you have to cover the entire surface with chalk and then erase it all.  This process leaves it really smudged and grey, but you then have to wait a few days for it to “cure” before using a damp cloth to wipe it clean. Delayed gratification, but still really worth the effort.










We just started a vineyard.  Or what might become a vineyard, a micro vineyard at best. Closer to reality is that we just dug up eleven dormant Syrah grapevines and transferred them to a small patch of our garden for the next several months, ultimately hoping their roots will develop enough to transplant into a row at the edge of our property. A mountain neighbor and fellow wannabe homesteader contacted me after reading one of my articles on Civil Eats. His garden gets too much shade and he was looking for a good home for these grapevines. Of course, we couldn’t say no to the prospect of home-crushed projects and proceeded to traipse up the road to his place.


Contrary to how most of these manual labor undertakings pan out, the grapes took much less time than expected to give up their hold on the earth and uproot. We rolled them up in burlap and hurried home to soak them down and snuggle them back up into soil at their new, yet temporary, plot.


After lots of recent rain and wind, they remain perky and secure, giving me hope that one day we will harvest their bounty. Year number one may only result in juice running down our faces from fresh picked clusters…the wine might take a bit longer to deliver.

Bonanza Springs Farm

So here it is everyone, a blog to capture the layers of what makes Bonanza Springs Farm a real place in time.  This piece of land, blurred a bit around the actual property lines into about two acres, holds a rich history.  A woman named Margaret moved here in the 1940’s all by herself, working as a sculptor within the art colony on this mountain.  She was a Jane of all trades, building by hand a ten by ten adobe structure in which she lived for eight years before expanding into a “modern” 400 square foot home built a few feet away.  She paid an extra $50 because of the flat and sunny plot down below, now a jungle of an orchard and our little farm.  Her days were spent making stained glass, harvesting, preserving, and tending the natural world around her.  The remnants of her cultivations are seen in the sixty year old Japanese Maple tree, the hundreds of varieties of plants and flowers, and flocks of birds that came to know this piece of land as a welcoming habitat.  She is known on the mountain as a legend, stories told as if she were a myth, all of which infuse this land, our home, with a sense of magic and reverence for what grows and lives here.  The homesteading shoes are big ones to fill, and in our bumbling, aching, and oft ill-tempered way we are trying our hardest to do her proud.  And so, this blog is an attempt to catalog our successes and failures, to document the projects, meals, celebrations, and defeats that continue to transform our lives.