The Science of Learning

I was drenched in physics today. And chemistry. And a bit of mathematics. All subjects that normally make my head spin, but today it was delicious learning.

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The Zingerman’s culture teaches its staff and its customers the value of empowering and motivating people.

No, I was not reliving the drudgery I experienced with college science classes, instead I baked my way through the physics of bread, learning where to place cuts so the steam can escape. I learned the art of combining the perfect weights of ingredients so the result is a silken ball of dough gliding through my hands ready for fermenting, rising, cutting and the ultimate braid that defines Challah.

Donning the gloves of both baker and chemist, I bathed twisted dough in a solution of lye and water to create one of the best pretzels I have ever tasted.

Today was my first day of Bake!-cation at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. An Ann Arbor icon, the Zingerman’s family of businesses are a model of the entrepreneurial spirit that built this country. I have known co-founder Ari Weinzweig, a handful of the managing partners of Zingerman’s businesses, and a collection of staffers for nearly two decades now.  I worked with ZingTrain managing partner Maggie Bayless editing columns she wrote for one of the magazines I ran for years in my former life as a trade magazine editor – a role I happily traded in this year to raise chickens, work side-by-side with my partner Chef Danny Mellman and relearn how to write what I truly want to write.

So when Danny and I found our search for a baker leading nowhere this year, and I heard myself utter the strange sentence, “I can learn how to bake bread.”  My first thought was to reach out to Ari and figure out how exactly I should learn. And two months later, here I am in Ann Arbor baking Challah and pita and pretzels and having poolish fun.

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So this is day one, of a two-day intensively-fun workshop. I would love to stay here a month and take all the programs Zingerman’s has to offer, from cheesemaking to seminars on how to truly make your training work for your business. They have so much to share here – and while I love to learn and have so much further to go – today I learned that the simple complexity of measuring, mixing, kneading and fermenting dough brings more joy to my day than I could have imagined.

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Providing food made with real ingredients is central to the mission of Harvest on Main. My Bake!-cation illuminated what this truly means to our business and how I can better define it to my staff and customers.

Learning something new is so much more than simply learning. It revitalizes your soul, renews your spirit, and makes you a better person. Even if the new skill you are acquiring is something you will never perfect, use professionally, or share with another person – the experience alone will lend itself to every facet of your life.

At least that’s what learning does for me. The lesson itself is the science that makes life worth living and reminds me what it means to be human – growing and learning reminds me to truly live and not just walk through life.

I will continue my baking lessons tomorrow, and as I lay my head down tonight I have already baked up some new ideas for our menus, classroom, and our own Harvest on Main staff training back home.

In the meantime, I am resting up for Day 2, eager to learn what Zen inspirations and business insights my sourdough starter will reveal.

 

Coop DeVille

We recently took a drive down to Madison, Georgia for a little R&R. Our pal Bo Chance said we should check out the town for some ideas we might want to introduce to Blue Ridge. What a charming place. And while I have some great ideas for some new online ventures to help local farmers and consumers connect, some of my best ideas came from 100-Acre Farm.

The Center of Madison features a fabulous Town Park, recently developed, which adds to the community charm.

The Farmhouse Inn at 100 Acre Farm.

Our quick two-night adventure brought us through Atlanta to southeast Georgia, a stone’s through from Athens. We found a great farm stay online – The Farmhouse Inn at 100 Acre Farm, packed up Josh and Danny and some snacks and hit the road.

The Inn itself includes five private guestrooms and a five bedroom farmhouse. Plus there are meeting rooms, a great outdoor terrace and beautifully landscaped garden area – perfectly coiffed with rustic charm. Danny and I took back some great garden ideas, along with 17 pounds of blueberries and enough Thai eggplant to feed the whole of Blue Ridge.

It’s a simple and pretty drive once you get past Atlanta with lots of farm country and tiny towns to give you some geographical lessons along the way.

Madison itself is a town preserved in history. We hadn’t done much research when we hit the road other than looking for farms that raise chickens, beef and checking out local cheesemakers. So when we started seeing the beautifully preserved architecture of Madison we were in heaven.

There are fine examples of Antebellum homes in Madison, all due to the fact that during the Civil War Joshua Hill, a Madison attorney, former U.S. Senator and staunch Unionist, travelled through Federal lines and met General Sherman at his headquarters. An agreement was reached and Union forces spared Madison.

Post Civil War architecture also abounds, during the 1880’s and 90’s many Victorian homes were built, enhancing the charm of a town already replete with fine ante-bellum structures. In 1895, the Madison Graded School was completed. The massive neo-Romanesque structure with its central bell tower was the South’s finest small town school building. These structures and more await in Madison.

But what I really wanted to talk to you about is the chicken coop at 100 Acre Farm.

Deluxe digs.

It gave me coop envy.

And if I showed my girls these pictures, they would surely work in flying or walking south.

Josh and Danny Mellman joined Ellis and Crystal Johnson outside the Red Barn at 100 Acre Farm.

Crystal & Ellis Johnson are the hosts at the Inn. Ellis designed the property and works it in his “retirement” with his wife Crystal who moved here from China. Their story is another tale altogether, but suffice to say Crystal’s love of chickens and turkeys and all things farm is a recently acquired

She’s a bit like I am, walking that fine line between pet and barnyard animal.

That might explain this coop.

It’s a renovated old barn that existed pretty much before anything else on the property. It’s equipped with self-waterers, a fabulous wall of nesting boxes, and rows upon rows of rustic ladder-styled roosts.

Add to that the fact the girls have the run of the farm in their coop area, sharing space with cows and turkeys and a couple of ornery goats.

I was guilt-ridden watching their joyful jaunts.

Unlike my space where the girls are under close watch to keep them out of the garden. (Crystal did confide the sometimes has a daring escapee who makes the 300 yard dash toward the vegetable garden, but for the most-part most of their bad scratching can be discovered just behind Crystal and Ellis’ cottage which is why she’s given up growing anything truly chicken-delightful in close proximity).

A birds’ eye view.

I watched for hours as the 300-plus birds – Barred Rocks, Reds and Araucanas, darted about, or strolled slowly, depending on their mood.

Anyway, there’s lots more to do at 100 Acre Farm than simply play with chickens and read a book, although I am not sure why you would want to do anything else but that. Josh did finally catch his first fish on a fly rod in one of the farm’s two fishing ponds (the Apalachee River makes for another fine fishing hole on the property). It was difficult to determine what Dad and son were more excited about when they returned after dusk that second day – Josh’s fishing accomplishment or seeing an actual beaver diving down into its lodge.

And of course Josh was pretty revved up about driving a golf cart about and chauffeuring his Dad for a change that was simply the blueberry preserve topping to a perfect southern day in Georgia.

If you have a really cool chicken coop to show off – share it with us at The Cook’s Farm on Facebook! I was inspired to make some renovations to ours, while we’re also building our Goose Patch and Rabbit Hutch areas…so stay tuned!

The boys after a great day of fly fishing!

The happy driver.

Product Recall: Twist ‘n Sparkle

One of the newly launched  items we’ve liked very much in the past few years was actually just recalled. The recall includes the Twist ‘n Sparkle Starter Set (models 1005, 1005-12, 1005-BJ, 1005-QVC) and the Twist ‘n Sparkle Bottle Set (models 1006-00 and 1006-12.)

While we have had no incidences, it seems the bottles are not up to par and some have burst during use. Chefs we know have actually adpated the product for other carbonated uses with sauces and more…but I digress here.

For the home user, it’s important to know this product has been recalled.

The recall, conducted in cooperation with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC,) was prompted by reports of nine recent incidents in which the Twist ‘n Sparkle plastic bottle, produced by an outside subcontractor, burst during normal use. In a few cases, there were minor injuries to the persons operating the product. Upon immediate investigation, iSi North America identified a potential safety hazard in the bottle design in the initial production run of the plastic bottles used to house the carbonation process of the Twist ‘n Sparkle device. The design of the bottle structure itself may compromise the integrity of the product. Although the design has been changed for subsequent runs, iSi North America considers public safety paramount and therefore is instituting the total recall.For more information regarding the recall, consumers should call (800) 645-3595 -available 24-hours a day, seven days a week – or visit www.twistnsparkle.com.

And for the purposes of soda-making we highly recommend the Soda Stream, a well-priced product with great results.

Launching soon…

We’re finally rolling on many of our programs here in Blue Ridge! We’re starting on product testing so  we’ll have lots of great ideas to equip your kitchen and homes – And some products you may want to skip. Plus great travel ideas and daily posts from The Cook’s Farm.

Here is our latest newsletter in case you want to sign up!

Smokin’ Hot

We’ve been testing out this really cool smoker for a week now. It’s amazing all the product you can create – not just ribs. In fact, we were nearly ready with our new Winter menus when Danny and I found ourselves staring into the mouth of the Ole Hickory Tri Convecture Smoker. Now, my clothes are nearly smokey edible all day long. After the first day of testing, I needed three days of salads and bright green vegetables to make my blood flow again. Now, I have learned moderation. Still, I could go for a smoked chicken salad sandwich…ah, time to head down to the kitchen.

Here’s a video clip of Danny performing the simple task of smoking chickens…definitely made simple with this bad boy…

A Fresh Start

We’ve worked on blogs before, but never focused on getting one done on a daily or weekly basis. This one is finally the real deal. Danny and I have traveled the world – separately and together. And settled in this gorgeous Appalachian mountain town of Blue Ridge, Georgia, where we operate a restaurant. Now, we’re in the midst of opening The Cooks Farm, a farm-to-table cooking school in the heart of town. So stay tuned.