Monday, February 23, 2009

Planting the Seed

Spring is just a tiny bit in the air around here. Sure, it's still below 30 every day. Yes, everyone is hopeful that there are at least two more months of good skiing left. And yes, there was beautiful, prickly looking frost on every little branch two days ago. But look at that cottonwood bud! It is waiting to burst. That plant is working so hard on the inside to be ready when the time comes. And it's coming. It'll be here before we know it. This is exactly what it feels like to watch the construction of the cafe.

I talked with my mother-in-law, Leilani Kingsbury today. She and "Grandpa Al" (his name has evolved recently from the more commonly known "Farmer Al") own and operate Birch Creek Ranch. They are the hardest working retired people I have ever met. Anyway, we discussed herbs and vegetables and berries that I hope to procure for use at the Flying Squirrel beginning this summer. She's pulling out her seeds and making her lists and preparing the greenhouses and organizing tags and within a few weeks we'll go over there and step out of the cold and into a mini oasis of little green growing things.

I am planting seeds as well. Little seeds in the minds of friends, family, acquaintances, and hopefully total strangers...can't wait for the seeds to sprout and reach out for their nourishment in the form of bread, pastries, yummy deli salads, casseroles, and a tall, cool, summery glass of home grown rhubarb-ade...

Please spread the word. Here is a link to the new website I posted today for Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe. I will give a free cup of coffee to the first person who finds a typo (even if it is my mother)!

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Much has been going on inside and outside the bakery in the last couple of weeks. Finally we've had some great weather (anything between 5 and 25 degrees above zero is considered great). I get pretty darned excited when there is a lot of activity going on, despite the fact that lots of activity also means lots of check writing.

Windows are in. Insulation and vapor barrier are 3/4 of the way completed (more on that in a moment). Dave and Murray have been working on soffits and fascia outside along the eaves. The electricians have begun some of the wiring that needs to get buried in the walls. The plumber came and marked out the drain waste lines on the dirt floor which has been thawing out now that we can keep the place somewhat warm inside with a temporary heater. Big trenches are being dug where the drain waste plumbing will get installed. Brian is picking up the siding on Tuesday.

Of course, nothing feels finished. Bits and pieces of so many different parts of the project are going on at once that my head spins just thinking about it.

Yesterday, a quiet Saturday, I walked down to the cafe to check the heater. As I walked in through the doorway that is covered with a big plastic sheet, I almost tripped over three giant bags of fiberglass insulation scraps. I have known Brian, my husband and conductor of the construction of this crazy project for almost 10 years. I've worked with him on many construction endeavors including our cabin which later became our house, and a sauna, the "bunkhouse", and his shop all at his parent's farm. This bakery building is the first project in those 10 years where I wasn't the one actually picking up all those bits and pieces of scrap insulation and putting them in bags. I once even donned a tyvek insulation suit while eight months pregnant with Oliver. I looked and felt like a giant marshmallow, but at least I was doing something! This is the first time I haven't been a major contributor to the "cheap labor" part of the equation (not that it's really that cheap). I've been consumed with watching Oliver, doing graphic design work when it comes along, and chasing bakery details of the telephone and e-mail variety. My bits and pieces are spread all over my desk.

I guess I should be thankful. Fiberglass insulation work is really not much fun. So just a quick hats off...or hoods, dust masks, and safety glasses Kris Perry. He has been a huge help this winter and did the majority of the insulation work these last few weeks. He's headed to some even colder, darker place down in Antarctica pretty soon, crazy guy. It was likely this project that drove him to it. He was probably starting to feel like he was living in a padded cell here at the Flying Squirrel. That's what it looks like right now! Anyway, thanks Kris, for sparing me the insulation job this round. I'm sure I'll be called on to help with many other bits and pieces of the actual labor on this project before it's all said and done...especially now that you're gone. Drywall screws and paint rollers, here I come.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

No Brainer

Here's something easy and light-hearted - for a change! Simply click this link to sign a petition which will be sent to the White House in support of creating an organic victory garden on a portion of the White House lawn. Some of the food produced would be consumed by the first family and the rest would be donated to local food banks. There has even been an effort on a different site to help choose a White House Farmer (just like there's a White House Chef). What better way to show the world that locally produced food is one simple and obvious answer to many of our health, fuel, food, agricultural, and economic issues.

Sign the Petition - Eat the View:
The White House Organic Garden Campaign

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A Bowl of Roses

Ups and downs are an expected part of everyone's life. "Life is not a bowl of roses," my mother would say. I have always loved that she mixes that one up. Life is not a bowl of cherries. Every rose has it's thorn. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses. Something like that. But "life is not a bowl of roses" is appropriate for Valentine's Day and somehow fits my mood.

Of course, even more dramatic ups and downs are an expected part of any sizable construction project. And any new business venture. And all the excitement that comes with trying to understand two year old logic. We are doing all of those at once. And there most certainly are plenty of ups and downs. Some more steep and jagged than others.

The ups and downs this week really seem quite curvy though (again somewhat appropriate for Valentine's Day).

Many moods, including mine, have curved upward a little as the temperatures have risen into the twenties and mere existence has gotten much more comfortable. I find it encouraging to see work on the bakery moving faster. The literal and figurative fog seems to have lifted as we no longer freeze our eyelashes with our own exhalations.

The curve dropped down pretty significantly a few days ago with the news of Talkeetna's iconic 74 year old bicycle riding airplane mechanic health nut world traveler Mike Fisher slipped away after a several month decline from prostate cancer. He was my friend and a most adamant supporter of this dream to build a bakery cafe outside of town. He was always looking forward to riding his bike for a cup of coffee and a loaf of good bread. I did get to say a small goodbye and thank you in my way, but am deeply saddened that he will never sit at the cafe counter, reading the newspaper and talking my ear off for hours on end.

I had one evening with an upward curve this week, enjoying good company, good libations, and great music when I went (sans my family for a change) to hear Natalia Zuckerman and Willie Porter at the Latitude 62. A memorable and touching evening.

Back down again with the realization that this experimenting bread and pastry baker will be cutting out all the good stuff to try to eliminate possible allergens in Oliver's diet that may be causing a rash on his face. After some ridiculous $500 spent on special groceries and the inability to find palatable looking gluten/wheat free, egg free, dairy free, nut free bread or a recipe for one, I am in disbelief that we may have to continue this diet for a month or more to include Oliver's birthday next month.

But Grandma Leilani and Grandpa Al are back from three months outside. So maybe they will enjoy some Oliver time and I can get a few more things done. That's good news.

But the just as iconic, extremely talented Talkeetna painter and patriarch Bob Durr unexpectedly passed away two days ago. Very sad.

I made some pretty tasty everything-free brownies tonight. Considering they have no butter, no wheat flour, and no eggs, they're really pretty good. Don't think I'll make them at the Flying Squirrel, but at least Oliver (and the rest of us living here) get to have some treats. (Believe it or not, these things were home made with "flour" from chickpeas, "eggs" from tapioca, and "butter" from prunes!)

Lately, I see this all as less of a roller coaster (though I think I will reserve the right to use the roller coaster analogy again in the future) and more of a see-saw...just trying to keep my balance and not let my butt slam down on the ground too hard.

Up and down.
Up and down.
Up and down.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

25 degrees below zero

Early last week we awoke to 25 degrees below zero, and it never got above zero all day. Not much happened on the bakery construction site that day. Instead of going outside, I worked on Experiment #137 of this winter's Flying Squirrel trial baking efforts.

Lately I hear a lot about ciabatta or rustic Italian which is usually a very wet, yeasted sourdough that produces a crunchy crust on the outside and a moist inside with large irregular holes. I have never made it. And I have NEVER seen it made with anything but white flour. Until now! Oliver loved it and so did I. Might be something to look for once we can get back to building and opening the Flying Squirrel. Here's hoping for warmer weather...anything above 10 would be just grand.
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Monday, February 2, 2009

Passing On

Alan Scott died a few days ago on January 27. I am so disappointed that I never met him. I only exchanged one e-mail with him in November before communicating with his daughter, Lila only to find out that he was very ill. Who was Alan Scott? He was an artisan baker, a master oven builder, a teacher, an advocate of do-it-yourself community-oriented small business, and, from everything I have read, much more...

We will be building an Alan Scott style wood fired brick oven at Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe. It has been a dream of mine to make amazing bread in a brick oven since I bought Scott's book (co-written with Daniel Wing), The Bread Builders, when it was published in 1999 during my last year working as a baker at Burlington, Vermont's Stone Soup. I always loved the idea that Mr. Scott would be available to answer all of our questions and encourage our project along the way. He has now passed on that task to his children. Here is a brief description from Scott's website, Ovencrafters, about his goals to spreading the word, the philosophy and the actual hands on techniques for ovenbuilding all around the world.

These ovens constitute a radical departure in building technique and use that has made it possible for the first time for small rural based home and village bakeries to be viable and competitive with the industry at any level. With the ongoing loss of middle class occupations throughout western societies, many with even moderate skills and capital can create an invaluable small business in their communities that will find ready support from them in return. Many are finding for the first time the joy of meaningful work in the bosom of their communities and free from the distant hidden grip of the corporate world at last. Ovencrafters' purpose is to earn a right livelihood for its staff guided by Gandhian principles, particularly; "Policy with principles, commerce with morality, wealth through work, and science with humanity". Ovencrafters' truly revolutionary oven designs and self building processes are inspiring a return to nourishing, handmade bread in the family home, and at a local level.
Alan Scott has passed on. But much more importantly, in his life and now surely after his death he and his children will continue the other kind of passing on: passing on of these meaningful skills, techniques, and philosophies. And from Scott's generous spirit, determined bakers around the world will nourish and nurture our communities making wonderful bread and building ovens that make wonderful bread. I can't wait to begin!

P.S. More on Alan Scott: New York Times obituary, a Blog Post from North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project from two days ago and an article from the Point Reyes Light from 2006.

photos from, (Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, AK was lucky enough to have Scott come to Alaska in 2004 to assist in the building of their oven), and

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