Summer’s arrived, scorching and sweltering, and as much as I longed for it in winter, I find myself now wondering, why? There’s one big bonus, though, for the vegetable gardener– I can see my eggplant, okra, tomatoes, beets, and spinach growing almost daily. If I watched long enough and hard enough, I might just see the zucchini grow!
I made raised vegetable beds this year, instead of just mixing new soil into the existing one on the ground, as I did in past years. This was followed by multiple trips to the store to buy enough topsoil and humus to fill them up. I have Desi to thank in big part, because who do you think put the veggie beds together and then hauled all that soil?
I learned a thing or two about raised vegetable beds that I thought I’d share.
One, be sure that the wood you buy is not treated with chemicals (as a lot of wood meant for the outdoors is), because they will leach into your soil and get into your veggies. After walking through Home Depot twice and finding that they did not carry untreated wood that was also long-lasting, like oak or cedar, I settled for reasonably priced oak beds from a local nursery. They were sold precut and notched and all, and all Desi had to do was nail them together, which took him just a few minutes.
Second, you need a 50-50 proportion of topsoil to humus (or soil conditioner) to get a decent vegetable bed going. And, of course, try to buy organic if possible.
Soon after I planted the veggies in their homes and they were all cozy, a colony of ants descended on them. I am all for sharing my produce with the ants and the birds and such, but the plants need a chance to grow first. So on Desi’s advise (he had seen his mum do it) I sprinkled some turmeric powder around the bed and what do you know? The ants just disappeared. I don’t believe the turmeric kills them (I wouldn’t want that), but it does seem to repel them. Another great use for this invaluable kitchen spice.
My dad also recommends compost tea, that rich, stinky, brown liquid that leaches from your compost bin (if you have one with holes on the sides, like I do– I’ve slapped a wide plastic tub under the bin to collect the tea) as a great, organic bug repellant. Just put some in a spray bottle and spritz it on your plants.
Now on to today’s recipe, Saffron Buns. It’s a weird irony, but summer makes me want to bake. Yes, the idea of starting up the oven in an already 90-degree kitchen may be odd, but there are other advantages to baking in summer. To cite just one, I feel more like actually doing something, instead of snuggling under the covers in front of the television set. Besides, the bananas ripen easily making it a perfect time to make some banana cake, the zucchinis just call out to be baked into some deliciously healthy zucchini bread, and even the yeast multiplies rambunctiously, sending breads mushrooming into big, fat, happy loaves.
I’d been wanting to make a vegan Saffron Bun for the longest time, and although the kitchen was unbearably hot while they baked, I’m sure glad I did. And now I can share them with you.
Whole-Wheat Saffron Buns
1-2 cups of whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 tsp vital wheat gluten (if you’re not using this, flip the proportions of all-purpose and whole-wheat flours and you should be fine)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup soymilk
2 tbsp vegetable oil, like canola
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp flaxmeal + 3 tbsp water, mixed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp saffron threads (use more if you want more color and flavor. I used 1/4 tsp and the flavor was very exquisitely mild)
Mix together the yeast, water and saffron and let stand about 10 minutes. Make sure the yeast has started multiplying, or flowering, before you move on with the recipe.
Add the all-purpose flour and one cup of the whole-wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, soymilk, oil, sugar, salt, and flaxmeal mixture, and knead by hand or in a stand mixer until well-incorporated. Add the remaining whole-wheat flour slowly, until you have added enough to make a smooth dough. (I needed two and a half cups of flour altogether)
Continue to knead another 10-12 minutes until you have a smooth dough.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let it rise for two hours until doubled.
Now turn the dough onto your work surface and punch it down. Cover and let it stand for about 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll them into balls or rectangular loaves.
Place in an oiled 9 X 12-inch baking sheet, close but not touching each other. Cover the baking dish and let the rolls rise for another two hours.
Brush the tops of the rolls with a mixture of 1 tsp soymilk + 1 tsp oil for some added gloss. Sprinkle some sugar on top.
Preheat an oven to 370 degrees. Bake the breads for about 20-22 minutes until the tops are all richly golden.
Cool for at least 10 minutes on a rack before you pull the rolls apart and eat ‘em!