Archive for February, 2015

Gyrfalcon!

A rare visitor from the north

A rare visitor from the north

Yesterday we went with a friend to try and see the Gyrfalcon that had been frequenting the open fields in Wallkill, NY, a distance of about 70 miles from us.   We drove through snow blanketed fields on country roads, an area full of horse farms.  We had the approximate location where the bird had been seen most often, a spot that became obvious when we came upon about 20 cars with eager birders scanning the sky with binoculars and scopes.   We soon saw the reason for this spot’s popularity with the Gyrfalcon as a flock of Mallard ducks waddled across the farm road in front of us.   “Lunch is served,” I thought.   Soon one of the birders received a phone call reporting that the bird had been sighted a couple of miles away.  [How cell phone have revolutionized birding!]  All but three of the birders tore off in that direction but we hung on at the first site for a few more minutes, thinking that the sure thing for a lunch of  lovely plump Mallard would lure it back.   We eventually gave in and drove over to the other site and there it was, tearing apart some hapless bird, right in front of us on a pristine snow covered field.  After about 20 minutes, it lifted off, circling overhead and heading east, giving us breathtaking view of it powerful wings.

Gyrfalcons nest on cliff ledges above the treeline as far north as Ellsmere Island.  They are the largest of the Falcon family, nearly 2 feet long with a wingspan of 47 inches and weighing about 3 pounds.  My only view before now had been a fleeting glimpse of a tail disappearing behind Airy Kamen Island in the Bering Sea.  I never “owned” the bird enough to list it as one I had seen for my life list.  This experience changed all that with wonderful close looks over a 20 minute period.  What a day!

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Pizza from Leftover Sourdough Starter

Even Charlo loved it!

Even Charlo loved it!

I have always hated having to discard some of my sourdough starter when I give it its weekly feeding.  It offends my Yankee sensibilities, but if I didn’t discard some I’d end up with a bathtub full of starter in a few months.  I try hard to plan it so I don’t have to discard any by baking bread or English muffins but every so often it is unavoidable.    Such was the case last week when I had an extra cup of starter after its weekly feed.  I had seen an article by the King Arthur Flour people about using it for pizza crust but their recipe used some of their “Pizza Dough Flavor” and added regular yeast, which I thought unnecessary.  It also used starter that was liquid, whereas I had long ago converted mine to an easier (for me) to manage “Biga” form, similar to bread dough.

A word about my starter.  I visited friends in Montana in 2002 and the husband had created his own starter using grapes. This yeast is less sour than the typical starter which I think is made from the type of yeast used in beer.  I begged him and he promised to send me some.  The first package arrived foaming furiously through the seams in the box and our mailman expressed his doubts as to whether or not it was safe to leave with us.  I wasn’t able to salvage that batch but the second arrived without mishap and my sourdough experience began.  It’s like having another pet.

I tried adapting the King Arthur recipe to my Biga and made the most fabulous pizza dough we have ever eaten.  The link is to the original recipe.  I left out the pizza dough flavor and the yeast and I changed the water to 1  1/4 C (+/-) cool water.  I used bread flour because that is what I use to feed my starter.  Other than these changes to accommodate my Biga, follow the link.  If you have liquid starter, just follow the King Arthur recipe link and you will be amazed.  (Not to mention you’ll be happy not to throw any of your hard-working starter away.)

This is the prebaked crust.  I made it on a cookie sheet.  It's a little tricky to stretch out, but if you proceed a little at a time and let it rest for five or ten minutes between stretchings, it will reach the edges of the cookie sheet (or whatever) in three or four tries.  I prebaked the crust for about 8 minutes because I hate soggy crust.

This is the prebaked crust. I made it on a cookie sheet. It’s a little tricky to stretch out, but if you proceed a little at a time and let it rest for five or ten minutes between stretchings, it will reach the edges of the cookie sheet (or whatever) in three or four tries. I prebaked the crust for about 8 minutes because I hate soggy crust.  I then brushed the top with olive oil and the topped it.  I took it off the cookie sheet for the second baking and just set it on the oven rack.

When it came out of the over after the second bake, the bottom looked like this; lovely, brown and crisp.

When it came out of the over after the second bake, the bottom looked like this; lovely, brown and crisp.

After the olive oil I spread pizza sauce over all, sprinkling it liberally with red pepper flakes.  I then added a layer of mozzarella, then thinly sliced pepperoni sausage and topped it with shredded Parmesan.  I baked it at 450º until the top was browned and bubbly.

After the olive oil I spread pizza sauce over all, sprinkling it liberally with red pepper flakes. I then added a layer of mozzarella, then thinly sliced pepperoni sausage and topped it with shredded Parmesan. I baked it at 450º until the top was browned and bubbly.

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