Lunch and More Bread

Yesterday I had lunch with a girlfriend and spent a lovely four hours or so just reminiscing about past, present and future activities and dreams. We hadn’t seen each other in about one year which is way too long, for I enjoy her company immensely. She makes me laugh and we share similar views on so many things. Plus the camaraderie of nursing binds us together forever as soul sisters if nothing else. Nurses  have a weird sense of humor sometimes which can be difficult for non-nursing or non-medical people to understand so there is a comfortableness among us. I gave her one of the loaves of bread I made the day before and I hope she enjoys it with butter, jam and feels the love baked within its crusty exterior.

This morning I am making another batch of the Tassajara basic yeast bread but as usually will probably tweak the recipe a bit to see what the end result will be, forever in the search for “my” perfect loaf of bread. The recipe I tweaked for the “sponge” is:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 + Tbsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup instant potato flakes(my baker girlfriend’s secret ingredient)
  • 3 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur stone ground white whole wheat flour. Let rise for 45 minutes

I still want to incorporate about 1/2 cup of the 9 grain mixture into the second part of this recipe, but decided to cook it a little prior to folding it into the sponge later. I added 1 cup of water to the 1/2 cup 9 grain mix and cooked it on the stove until all the moisture was absorbed which didn’t take long. The 9 grain mixture sucked up the water like a camel refueling after a long trek across a desert. To the sponge I folded in:

  • 3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups King Arthur stone ground white wheat flour
  • ~1 cup of the 9-grain cooked mixture
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil

The final stages completed and one loaf into the oven. This time I divided the dough in half and baked a round loaf (tried putting this loaf into the woven basket, but once again no luck with getting it to hold the shape of the woven basket, so another boule). The other half of the dough I left to rest in the bowl. I will divide this half in half once again and shape into french baguettes, bake and pray that it all turns out. Onward….

I am very pleased with the final results. A great crust on the outside and the inner crumb is moist, light and tasty. I ripped an end off of one of the baguettes and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. I am anxious to try some cinnamon rolls and perhaps some raisin bread tomorrow.

Bake On!!!

 

 

 

Subculture Vocabulary

When I first went to nursing school, I was overwhelmed with the plethora of medical “words” or terminology that I needed to learn. In the medical world we have fancy words for mundane things…sugar is glucose, a small amount of protein is microalbumin, macrosomia is large baby. You get the idea. I could go on and on but the bottom line is that every subculture has its own jargon whether it is the medical world, the art world, the military, or politics.

Here is a brief update on the new vocabulary that seems to be currently flooding into our conspiracy world/spy novel existence. New terms for a new era — covfefe, nothing burger, cyber warriors, kryptos, encryption, decryption, shadow government, sanctions, “no there,there”, ransom ware, McMinsky Act, Wannacry, botnet attacks, malware, spy, snowflakes, aggressive attacks, “unlikely heros” – nerds who surf the airwaves instead of ocean waves,  SF86, sanctions, cyberware, adversarial government, bots, troll farm.

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I am a bibliophile and one of my favorite genres is mystery thrillers. You know, spy novels, who-dun-it page turners that suck a reader in and make it impossible to stop reading until we discover the answer to the mystery.

That is why I am so absorbed in the politics of the day. And time has a way of answering our questions just as continuous reading in a novel brings the reader to the end and complete relief when the mystery is solved…the jig is up! As each day passes we are closer to the answers of who was involved, what was done, the guilt or innocence of parties involved. We are living history right now and years from now, I believe this story will be one of the most infamous in the history of our country. Questions will be asked…and hopefully a thorough investigation by Robert Mueller’s team of experts will have given us answers.

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But there is one hugggee problem…millions of Americans will remain in denial, in the face of hardcore evidence, that the Russians interfered in our election and sought to throw the election to Trumplethinskin. There will be shouts of conspiracy, lies, fake news and millions will continue to deny that America was attacked by another foreign nation. There are those elected officials in our government who either were complicit or are compromised in such a manner that they are willing to ignore the attack and support policies that eat at the foundations of our democracy. Make no mistake, a cyber-assault is no different from bombs being dropped but because there is no visible damage, it is dismissed.

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I believe it is the duty of every American to educate themselves about what has been happening in America this past year. Ask yourself if America is better off today than it was a year ago. Be honest and try to see the other side of the coin, if for no other reason than to know your opponent. I have made my choice about which side of history I will align with in this incredible battle between right and wrong that is currently being waged in America. Now you must make yours.

Resist!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Success!!!

Beautiful loaves of bread at Central Market. I only wish I could produce such beauties!

When I first began gathering the ingredients for my first foray into bread making 101, I just visited my usual HEB and the flour choices were limited. I knew that the protein content of the flour should be around 13% so using my label reading skills, I thought I could determine which flour was the best. So many choices…stone ground, bleached, unbleached, all-purpose, whole wheat, white whole wheat (what????) and then a slew of other types of flours, oat flour, rice flour. Frustrated by my inability to figure out the protein content, I noticed a 1-800 number on the back of the King Arthur flour package for calling the “baker hotline” so I whipped out my cell phone and right there in the baking aisle of the grocery store I punched up the number and was immediately connected to a very friendly, knowledgable lady who was able to answer all of my questions about the King Arthur flour. How cool was that! I just love this high-tech world we live in! I envisioned a little old lady (much like myself) sipping tea in her kitchen with yummy aromas emanating from her oven as she fields questions from novice bakers across the United States.

Well today, I switched to the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown and made another run to the grocery store to get more ingredients but this time I went to Central Market. Oh my! I struck pay dirt there….Millet meal, Barley flour, Buckwheat flour and in the bulk section a nine grain mixture that will be perfect for my first loaf from the Tassajara cookbook.

With the basic yeast bread recipe from this book, there was a whole lot more mixing, kneading, pushing, pulling and punching. I did alter the recipe a little but this book encourages experimentation. I have to say that I very much enjoyed the more prolonged sequence of mixing, waiting for a rise, punching down, another rise and finally a shaping into loaves and popped into the oven. It was relaxing and invigorating!

The first loaf is out and I am super happy with it. Great rise, pretty appearance and I am waiting for it to cool so I can give it the ultimate taste test.

Success!!!!

The old saying goes that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Holds true for a nice complete loaf of bread and the Tassajara Bread Book has delivered . Great outside crust, tremendous soft moist inner crumb, satisfying taste with interesting crunches from the 9 grains incorporated within the dough. With these loaves I definitely got the “oven spring” that was lacking with the whole wheat flour breads.

Nice to have a success story. Both loaves were well risen and I am ready to bake my way through the Tassajara Bread Book. Yum, Yum!!!

Happy baking!!!

 

Bread Making Progress?????

The Broa Portuguese Cornbread experiment was a disaster. Very dense, coarse “corn” bread and I’ll try it one more time, but definitely prefer my grandmother’s cornbread recipe at this point. Baked the last of the Broa dough and the second batch was better. Definitely edible, but not what I envision cornbread to be. More of a peasant loaf, coarse-grained, chewy and probably good for sopping up soup or stew juices.

Portuguese Cornbread – Broa

Having received a “snow” day pass from work (in Texas we are ice and snow challenged), I am experimenting once again. Following the same recipe and using 100% whole wheat flour (even though I know whole wheat makes a heavier bread!…stubborn and persistent I am) I tripled the yeast in this batch to see if I could get more rise.

First loaf of this batch into oven after Broa loaf out. Confessions are good for the soul so here goes. I turned off the oven for a few minutes and apparently forgot to turn it back on so for 30 minutes this loaf “baked” in a cooling oven. When the timer went off (see I do remember to set a timer), this is when I discovered the oven was off. So, I returned this literally half-baked loaf to the oven for another 12 minutes and it is cooling now. Preheated the oven again and placed the second Boule loaf into the proper temperature oven.

100% Whole Wheat Boule

In the meantime, I mixed another batch of Boule dough using white all-purpose flour. I’m exhausted right now, so when the second whole wheat comes out, it is nap time for this experimental baker! Tonight I will bake the all-purpose loaves and reevaluate my progress then.

Half baked loaf wasn’t bad but tossed it anyway. The second whole wheat loaf was excellent and I enjoyed a slice to sop up the au jus from the braised short ribs I cooked yesterday in my crock pot. I did get a little better rise by increasing the yeast content.

100% Whole Wheat sliced – dense, coarse but edible – Wheat berry seeds mostly fell off and too hard to eat. Still learning! Next time I’ll grind them a little.
100% all-purpose white flour boule

Now it’s time to switch to a different book, Bread Alone by Daniel Leader & Judith Blahnik. This time I plan on following the instructions to a “T” (hard to do but I’ll try) since this book’s bread making process seems to be a lot more complicated than the previous book. Once I find my way to a decent looking and tasting loaf of bread, my plan is to start at the beginning of a book and bake my way to the end. I have always loved making bread so the term “work” never enters my thoughts. The whole adventure is exciting, rewarding and fun.

100% all-purpose white flour boule and loaf

Get out the butter and jam!!!

Bread Baking Experiment #2

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Boos Block and dough knife

Frustrated by my first bread making attempt and added to my Christmas dinner biscuit failure, I am having serious doubts about my baker skills. So…tossed the first batch and chalked it up as a total failure and started my second batch but this time resorted to using plain old all-purpose white flour in an attempt to give me a small success to encourage me to keep trying. My kitchen looks like a mega flour bomb exploded, but pushing aside any impediments, I began again…

Recipe: From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day;

  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 3 cups warm water (100 degree temperature)

This second batch doubled and quickly tripled in size within the first hour after mixing. I then let my instincts kick in and tossed the book instructions. Flouring up my Boos butcher block table in my kitchen, I dumped the now risen second batch of dough onto it and dusting with flour as needed, I proceeded to knead, punch, and pull the bread dough until it “felt” right to me. Then I halved the mixture and took one half and placed it in the woven basket that is lined with a linen cloth that I heavily rubbed with flour. This (hopefully) will be my first successful round boule that will have a woven texture on the outside crust (see I am still optimistic even after a catastrophic failure!).

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Second batch, first loaf into the oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. When I turned it out of the basket form onto the pizza peel to put it in the oven on the preheated baking stone, it collapsed a little but undeterred, I let it bake. After 20 minutes I reduced the oven temp to 400 degrees for the last 20 minutes. When I removed it from the oven it had a great “thump” sound when I knocked on the bottom of the loaf. I waited until it had cooled for about 30-45 minutes and unable to hold myself back, I sliced a piece. This loaf had a very nice crust (even though I forgot to egg wash it!)  and a chewy moist crumb. I buttered it and tasted. I toasted a piece, buttered and tasted and then tried some sugar-plum jam on a piece. All in all a nice effort, but wish I had gotten a little more rise. The supposed “oven spring” hasn’t sprung for me yet.

The next loaf in was a baguette which I also forgot to egg wash or butter the crust. Trying to do it after second rising was disastrous as it deflated some but I baked it anyway. This time in a 400 degree oven for the entire 40 minutes. Still waiting for the “oven spring”! HA!!!

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The third loaf is now in the oven and I don’t have high expectations for the “oven spring”. Just hasn’t happened yet, but I am learning each time, so onward I go. So in summation, my loaves today will not win any awards for beauty, but they will pass the taste test.

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Boule and Baguette with my mixing container in the background. Do not wash it, just mix new batch in same container to jumpstart the fermentation process. Lots of yeast bubbling action left over.

Since I am making chili for my evening meal tonight, I am going to switch to a Broa or Portuguese Corn Bread to accompany it. Any learning process is sometimes slow, frustrating and painful. To produce a handsome loaf that tastes scrumptious is my ultimate goal.

I seem to be concentrating on texture and rise in my bread-making saga. The “pretty” can come later. To be continued….

 

 

So Much To Learn – Bread Baking Experiment #1

Woven baskets for the proofing step and a couple of my favorite books so far.

Back in the late 60’s and 70’s when I was a young woman and tackled the task of bread making, things were simplified. Find a recipe in a book, follow it, bake it, and enjoy the results of your labor. So when I decided to begin again my bread baking adventures in these winter years of my life, I began reading several books to refresh my memory on the whole process. Little did I realize how very different 40-50 years can make in the simple process of baking bread.

I was overwhelmed with new terminology that I either never knew when I was young or has come into popular use in the years since. Words like couche (French for couch or resting place), or baskets in which the dough can rest and ultimately take on the shape of the basket before being popped into the oven, pizza peel, brioche pans, panettone molds, dough scraper, poolish, oven spring, the crumb (inner portion of the loaf), crust (outer portion of the loaf) and a plethora of equipment like dough hooks, electric mixers, metal measuring cups, scales, oven thermometer, baking stone, loaf pans, bread knifes, cooling racks, silicone mats, measuring spoons and pastry brushes. And I am sure there are probably dozens more. All of this “new” knowledge for me made me glad that as a young woman I just blithely “made bread” without any special equipment and put homemade bread on the table for many years.

So today I purchased a few items at a restaurant supply store and with a trip to the grocery store I was ready to make my first batch of 21st century dough after a 40 year drought. I carefully checked the temperature of the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot for fear of killing the yeast. I measured my flour with dip, level pour precision. I carefully measured the salt and yeast. I followed the recipe for an artisan free-form Boule exactly (well almost!). Recipe used from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:

  • 6 1/2 cups flour (4 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% Whole Grain Whole Wheat Flour and 2 cups of King Arthur Stone Ground White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 pkgs of yeast,
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 3 cups of water, a quick mix and my dough was ready to begin brewing, growing…the yeast seeking, searching and gobbling up the sugar within the flour.

Two hours later, the dough has approximately doubled in size and there is a decisive yeast smell when I lift the lid. The recipe I am following tells me to refrigerator the dough overnight and whenever I am ready, to cut off a grapefruit size chunk to bake. It makes four one-pound loaves and I plan to continue the baking process manana. So now I wait….

Batch #1 – Lots of bubbles approximately 2 hours after mixing

Up late and putting my first loaf into the oven. Smells good, but when I removed it from the oven, it was heavy and definitely not my idea of success. I let it cool for about 15 minutes and sliced it for a taste. Very disappointed…flat taste, texture too dense which I attributed to the whole wheat flour.

80% whole grain, whole wheat with 20% stone ground white whole wheat -Little rise, coarse dense texture

Tomorrow I’ll try again!!

Flour, Water and Yeast

Bread..the staff of life…Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses is my love of bread! I would have made an excellent French or Italian woman for I think I could live happily ever after with just bread, cheese and fruit.

Lately I have been toying with an idea, stolen from one of my favorite movies Julie & Julia, where two timelines tell a superior story about the joy of cooking.  Julie decides to cook her way, in one year’s time, through Julia Child’s famous cookbook and blog her progress, trials, errors, travails, successes, disappointments. I am thinking I may try to bake my way through the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown and document my adventure through my blog. Other helpful books I have acquired are Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois and Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik.

I think this endeavor was meant to be for various reasons…this past weekend I made a quick visit to my sister’s home in Burton. While I was there, an old friend of hers dropped by to visit. During our conversation we somehow started talking about bread and her friend mentioned the name of a bread book that was popular in the 70’s and that she had used as a young home cook. And then a friend of my sister’s son who was visiting on his way home to San Diego walked in and gave my sister a loaf of bread…bread that we would later enjoy as part of french dip sandwiches for our evening meal. Or perhaps I am being spurred on due to my recent failure in biscuit making (see previous post).

My sister immediately went to her bookcase and extracted two books on bread baking for me to peruse. We left her home and went to a delightful local bookshop to see if we could find other bread baking books. The quest had begun. With the bookstore stop behind us, we visited another local shop and did find a nice copy of the Great Big Cookie Cookbook. Should my adventure be baking my way through a book of cookie recipes? I knew my fellow workers would love the cookie option, but my heart was set on bread. I think my desire harkened back to when I was a young hippie-like Mother of two beautiful daughters and was following my desire to be a good steward of our planet, feed wholesome food to my children and baking bread was part of my twice weekly routine. The pushing, pulling, punching of the dough was a highly therapeutic and rewarding activity.  And the smell of baking bread titillated my senses as I awaited the hollow thump that verified it was ready. Slathering fresh butter on a slice of homemade bread fresh out of the oven is second to no culinary experience.

So my bread baking adventure is on. I will try to describe my adventures as they progress and document the finished product with my camera even if the end result is disastrous. As Julia would say….Bon Appetit!!!

Fur Babies – Part 2

Bernie at 10 weeks

Maine Coon cats are regular cats on steroids. Enter my sweet, sweet Bernie. He has stolen my heart and each day fulfills my need for a cat I can pet, hold, cuddle and he apparently shares the enjoyment of these mutual interactions. He was so very small when I got him and the long drive home wasn’t without its own adventures.

An overnight stay in a hotel room that had an adjoining sitting room almost led to a catastrophic accident. There was a sofa bed in that sitting room and somehow this tiny kitten managed to get himself caught inside the sofa bed workings. My sister accompanied me on my kitten mission and between the two of us we managed to extricate him from his potential death trap without any injuries.

Bernie sleeping on top of a bed pillow

His daily antics make me smile and laugh. Our mornings usually begin with him walking and bouncing on and off my body accompanied by some very loud cries in an attempt to get me moving in the direction of the kitchen. He wants food!!  As I open the canned sliced beef, he stands on his hind legs and stretches his front feet up onto the counter top reaching for his food container. He means to hurry the process along. He is a big cat and can polish off a bowl of food faster than any cat I have ever had. After feeding time, he begins the patrol of his cat trees and toys rushing here and there with great speed and purpose attacking real and imaginary movements and shadows. He uses his paws and head to lift a coverlet off of my bed so he can crawl under it and then proceeds to wriggle around for what purpose only he knows. All I see is an undulating rise and fall of the coverlet as he progresses. Eventually he wears himself out and slips into kitty slumberland.

He loves his cat trees and only the highest perch or inside the tight box satisfies him. He has already destroyed one cat tree by aggressively scratching the jute posts to sharpen his big claws. Last week he jumped to the top-level of his new cat tree, stood on his hind legs and reached to the top of a bookcase and with the ease of a gazelle leaped up to explore this even higher perch. Silly me, I worried that he might not be able to get down!

There is no doubt that he has stolen my heart and I am always delighted by his antics. I think he is still growing and I hope that his personality continues to grow along with his beautiful furry self.

Bernie- 1 year

Fur Babies are the BEST!!!!

Best Buds

 

 

Fur Babies – Part 1

Buster & Bernie

A little over a year ago, I fulfilled a desire by traveling a ridiculous distance to pick up my new Maine Coon kitten. My heart was set on a “yellow tabby” color and I was driven by the desire to have a cat that would cuddle with me and allow me to be a hands-on pet owner. Let me explain the “hands on” part of that last sentence.

My other cat, a Turkish Van rescue from a shelter, must have suffered terribly at the hands of his previous owner, because it literally took two years before I was allowed to pet him. And forget trying to clip his nails or brush this hairy beast. It just isn’t happening. A trip to the vet is a traumatic event for both of us. This traumatic event consists of 3 parts…the trap, the catch and the delivery.

Buster

First the “trap”…This consists of cornering him in my walk-in closet and closing the door before advancing on him. Now this doesn’t sound so difficult, but let me tell you that this cat has superior, supercat ESP skills. Somehow, some way, he “knows” when this event is beginning. Perhaps he senses my anxiety or gets his cue from the appearance of the cat carrier even though it is secreted until the last moment, but when the jig is up and he confirms my intentions, he usually runs to hide in some vastly inaccessible place making it extremely difficult for me to catch him. Under the sofa is a favorite which requires a broom to coax him from beneath its dark recesses only to have him bolt to another place.

Next is the “catch”. Once Buster is cornered in the closet, it requires extreme courage for me to reach out and grab him. I am risking teeth and very sharp nails because if this cat doesn’t like to be touched, he certainly goes ballistic if I try to pick him up. Armed with a towel and oven mitts, I make the grab and stuff him quickly into the pet carrier, zipping the top as quickly as possible.

The “delivery” is next. Buster is not a small cat. Carrying him to my car is no easy feat and once there he assails me with pitiful wails all the way to the vet and back home. Back in the safe confines of our condo, he jumps from his mini prison and gives me the cold shoulder for a length of time that only his cat brain knows is considered adequate for the abuse I have inflicted on him.

Richard (the shelter’s name for him), AKA Mr. Big, AKA Big Dick (my grandchildren unanimously rejected this one which I found to be hilarious) and finally Buster (so hard finding the right name for him) has slowly grown to accept that maybe this human who feeds and shelters him and demands little else may be worthy of a little more affection. Now, 7 years later, he is glued to my side as I settle into my fetal position prior to sleeping. And there he stays the entire night. Slowly over time and moving at a snail’s pace, Buster and I have reached a mutual agreement. His close encounters with me are generally initiated by him. He actually climbs onto my chest for brief moments, allows me to pet him when he wants it and seems to have begun to accept me as a “tolerable” human.

His stand-offish temperament left me lacking the sweet connection that I craved from the many felines that have shared their lives with me over my lifetime. Which brings me back to my ridiculously long trip to bring my sweet Bernie home.

Stay tuned for Fur Babies Part 2 – my Maine Coon delight! To be continued…

A cluster of cats