Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anxiety is not my friend.  It leads to depression.  Feelings of fear.  Self doubt and body hate.  Feelings of acute failure.
It needs to GO AWAY.  Now.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

For those who say, I don't know how you do it. Part 1

This is how we do it. Part 1.—Its all about the food.

People ask, often.  How do we do it?  5 kids.  Small house.  One steady income… and that one is a 10-month income.
Here’s the answer.
I don’t have a freakin’ clue. 
Ok.  No entirely true.  But a lot of the time, I have no idea why we don’t all hate each other.  How we manage eat good food. How come we have so much fun. 
All of that.  I’m just not sure.
Here’s what I do know. We enjoy our food.  And. We cook a lot .  often from scratch.

  Now I know part of our ability to do that is that we have jobs that allow us  flexibility to be home and make food.  That’s pretty great.  We have a huge, ancient and awesome freezer in our basement, courtesy of  our friend Kate, who inherited it when she bought her house.  So we can make batches of things.
Staples in our house include:
Roast chicken, everyone likes it.  Most common prep is sticking it in the crock-pot for a few hours and seasoning it lightly with butter salt lemon, because of the variety of palates in house.  We often eat most of it for a dinner, but there is usually enough for Chris to take to work and we often make stock from it.  We eat with Rice we buy in big burlap bags, or potatoes or cous cous .  Add what ever fresh veggies we can steam.  Maybe applesauce.
Which leads to soups and chilies.  We do a lot of those because we can freeze extra and they are SO yummy with fresh bread and can be very healthy.  Top favs—potatoes, leek and Kale, Moroccan Lentil. 

I’m the chili maker ( Chris is the soup maker), and I mix it up… chicken, pork, veggie.
Quiches, with Chris’ piecrust and whatever we have on hand.  At least two at time so we can freeze one.

Alice having Quiche by the campfire

Plus you know, Mexican, quickie spaghetti dinners, mac and cheese… stuff like that , we aren’t perfect!  J
We have homemade pizza about once a week. 
And crepes!  We love crepes and do them breakfast style for dinner, usually with bacon and sometimes bacon AND sausages if we are feeling indulgent.  I'm the crepe maker.  Yeah, I'm awesome.
But here’s the biggest and most important staple of  our diet.  Chris makes bread.  A Lot  Almost everyday.  You can have the most boring meal in the world and add fresh bread (or biscuits, or cornbread) and man, it turns awesome.

So here’s the way we pull off fresh bread 5-7 times a week.  (By we I mean Chris makes it and we eat it.)

No-knead bread, pretty quick, pretty easy   Leave a comment
I don’t know how much flour we go through in a week in my house, but I think it’s safe to estimate 10-15 pounds. Most of it turns into fresh, tasty, free-form loaves made from the following recipe. This recipe is the result of a combination of information from many cookbooks, friends’ anecdotal information, Internet cooking sites, and a lot of time in the kitchen fiddling around until I found what worked for me. I have passed the recipe around to friends, who have had success with it. Do keep in mind that all of the baking times and temperatures, and even the ratios of the ingredients, may vary somewhat depending upon your environment. Ovens are calibrated differently, cooks use different ingredients and tools, even the particular mix of chemicals in tap or well water from region to region … all of these are variables that can affect one’s cooking. This is the recipe that works for me on an almost-daily basis; I hope that it works for you, too, but be open to making adjustments until you have The Right Recipe for you, your oven, and your family.
7 cups flour
3 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Combine dry ingredients, then add water.
Stir until no dry flour remains.
Cover loosely & let stand for at least 2hrs (or until about doubled in volume).
Put in fridge (for up to almost two weeks) or…MAKE BREAD NOW!
Haul dough out of fridge.
Fill a pie pan / brownie pan with hot water and place on bottom rack of oven.
Grease a cookie sheet & sprinkle with corn meal or flour.
Sprinkle flour over surface of dough and then grab a suitable piece.
Quickly & lightly tuck edges under, turning 1/4 turn or so each time,
until you have formed a ball (15-60 seconds should do it).
Place the ball of dough (wadded-up side face-down) on the cookie sheet.
Let rise for 20 minutes, then turn oven on and set to 450F.
When oven is up to temp, add whatever finishing touches you desire*
Pop in oven, set timer for 25 minutes and go away.
Come back at timer, spin cookie sheet around 180 degrees &
set oven to 350F and timer to 25 minutes again. Go away.
Check for doneness by tapping on bottom of loaf:
-if it sounds hollow, put it on a rack until cooled completely
-otherwise,put it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes and try again
Once it’s at room temperature, ENJOY!
*NOTES (this is where I get long-winded)
FINISHING TOUCHES include (but are NOT limited to):
milk – gives a rich, soft brown finish
egg yolk + a splash of water – gives a shiny, brown finish
salt (particularly kosher)
onion bits, garlic
poppy, sesame, flax seeds
FLOUR: I use cheap, grocery store brand unbleached white, but as long as it’s some kind of white, you’re OK. you can also experiment with mixtures…I often replace 1/2 to 1 cup with whole wheat. I have also used as much as one cup of oatmeal (both quick and not-quick, but quick works better). much more than that and you have to futz around with the amount of liquid). You can use a little more or less flour…7 cups will make a dough that is pretty easy to handle, particularly when you want to make long baguettes or oval loaves instead of round ones. Much less than 7 cups and I’m swearing & flinging dough all over my kitchen, increasingly desperate to escape the sticky stuff that utterly refuses to behave. Much more than 7 cups and it makes a pretty dry loaf that must be eaten the same day or it turns to stone. So I usually use 7 cups of flour, but your mileage may vary.
That said, when you dump in the flour you can be a little bit loose w/measuring. This is not one of those hyper-precise “scrape off the extra with the back of a knife” kind of things. I do take care to make piles in the container, though, so I don’t lose count of how much is in there. An entire cup over or under will ruin your bread-baking day.
WATER: by “warm” they mean roughly 100-105 deg fahrenheit … it should feel almost hot on your wrist, but not quite. I used a thermometer the first ten times or so, now I can adjust the tap and get it close enough.
Too hot & you kill the yeast, too cold and it takes about an eon for the yeast to wake up and bubble (though it will, eventually…I have had dough rise for 12 hours because of having used water that was too cool).
SALT: I use kosher usually, but have used regular ol’ table salt to good effect, too. you can vary the amount a bit, but I almost always use a tablespoon per batch. Too much salt & the yeast dies, too little & the bread lacks some flavor and the yeast goes nuts and tries to take over your house. I’d recommend not going over/under by more than 1/2 tablespoon.
YEAST: I buy the little jars of it…they last a lot longer than the 3-pack envelopes. If you are using the envelopes, one packet is about 2-1/4 teaspoons, which is close enough (3 tea = 1 table, when it comes to spoons). You can use as little as one teaspoon…takes all afternoon to do the initial rise, but it works fine….I do this when I’m short on yeast and/or long on time.
CONTAINER: get a big tupperware or something. by big, I’m talking bigger than you’d take for your lunch. Mine happens to be a 19-cup (4.5 liter, says on the bottom, I checked) square monster (square fits the fridge well) for which we lost the lid long ago. I use foil to cover it. you need to be able to cover it loosely so it won’t dry out and so it won’t build up pressure. If you have something with a lid, just leave a corner or edge popped up & you’re good to go.
MISCELLANEOUS / THE PROCESS IN MORE DETAIL (in other words, still more long-winded):
first, add the yeast & salt, in either order, then mix the dry ingredients together.
then, add the water. stir for a few minutes, until it’s all incorporated. it will become very gooey, dough-y, and look all wrong if you’ve ever made regular, kneaded bread. It’s OK. really.
put the cover on (if you’re using foil, put it on as tightly as you want, it won’t explode. if you’re using a real lid, leave a crack somewhere).
set the whole mess on the counter for about 2 hours…or til it’s about doubled in volume. in the winter it takes longer since the kitchen’s colder. sometimes it’s done in one hour in the summer. no worries, you’ll get the hang of it by about batch # 5. I have left it for 4-5 hours and it still turned out OK in the end, though the entire container was filled and the foil beginning to lift off of the container. it’s all good. mostly, look for about doubling in size.
after the initial rise, you have two options:
stick it in the fridge for as long as about 10 days
tear some off & make bread
the sooner you use it, the lighter & more tender it will be
the longer you wait, the more of a [faint, but nice] sourdough-y flavor you’ll get. Over time, it will get progressively [a little more] chewy. but because it’s no-knead, it will always be pretty tender, never tough-and-chewy.
You will be able to get 2-4 loaves per batch, depending on what you’re after. you might start out using 1/4th of the dough at a time because it’s a little challenging to handle until you get the hang of it.
whenever you decide to make bread, here’s what you do…
grease a baking sheet. I use butter, spray stuff, whatever’s around. olive oil works really well for me.
sprinkle corn meal (or flour, but corn meal works much better) on the cookie sheet and set aside.
haul out the container of dough & set on the counter, lid off.
get a spare cake/brownie/pie pan & fill with screaming hot tap water. put this anywhere in your oven that won’t interfere with your baking sheet.
barely warm your oven. I turn on the light, then set it to the lowest temp (170 on mine), set the timer for 1 minute, then turn off the oven. just trying to get a consistent temp for the rising….your settings may vary, and that’s ok…just get into a habit and stick to it. I leave the light on until I pull the risen dough out.
during the one-minute oven run, I get out my flour and liberally sprinkle it on the section of dough I’m going to pull out. this stuff is sticky!…get the flour all the way to the edges and a little past the line where you’re going to divide it. don’t be shy about it, you don’t want to be able to see any bare dough in your target area. bare dough = sticky goop all over your hands.
AFTER turning off the oven, use your well-floured hands to grab some dough.
form it into a ball (check youtube for how to do this if you’re not sure…some great tutorials there. The less time you handle it the better…you don’t want this stuff to start getting sticky on you, it WILL kick your ass. with [a little] practice, you will be able to make a nice ball out of the stuff in about 15-30 seconds.
plop your ball down in the middle of the cookie sheet (gently), with the wadded-up side down.
put a tea towel / miscellaneous kitchen cloth over the whole works & stick in the oven to rise. double-check that your oven’s TURNED OFF!
set timer for 20-30 mins (less in summer, more in winter), go away and let it rise. at the timer, take the baking sheet out and set on the counter. it won’t rise as much as kneaded bread does, and often spreads out some…not to worry, it will rise like mad in the oven.
preheat oven to 450. leave the pan of water in there.
when the oven beeps to tell you it’s at temp, take the towel off the dough, brush on some milk or egg yolk, sprinkle on some salt / poppy seeds / sesame seeds / whatever you fancy.
egg holds on better to whatever you’re sprinkling. If you use egg yolk, add a teaspoon or two of water to thin it.
slash the dough (or it will split somewhere randomly…which makes for a tasty but less pretty loaf). I have never been able to slash this stuff with a knife well…either my knives suck or the dough’s too soft and goopy…so I use kitchen scissors and snip straight down. 3-4 slashes (or snips, in my case), about 1/2-inch deep will probably do fine. or two slashes in an ‘X’ … that looks pretty, too. Slashes should go to pretty near the edges…within about an inch.
stick the sucker in the oven. be quick, because you’re gonna be hit with a massive amount of steam from the pan of water you put in there. keep your head back and squint.
set timer for 25 mins & go away. don’t open the door! even tho it’s tempting. don’t do it. The steam is what makes the nice crust.
at the bell, you get to see it. open the oven & give the baking sheet a 180 so your bread will cook evenly.
close the oven & set the timer for another 25 mins and turn the heat down to 350. go away again.
at the bell, haul it out, flip it over and tap it on the bottom with your finger: if it sounds hollow, it’s done … if not, stick it back in for 10 mins & repeat. I have accidentally left these loaves in the oven for over an hour AT 450 and they still work fine … a little browner than usual and you gotta eat ‘em in a day because they’re a little dry. point being: don’t worry that you’re going to over-cook it if you guess wrong and have it in there for 10 mins “too long.” once in awhile I have to put a loaf back in 2 or 3 times. S’OK.
when done, put on a rack to cool completely. if you cut it while still really really warm, you’d better eat it all right then and there, or it will dry out by morning. Otherwise … you’ve got fresh bread, possibly in less time than it will take to read all of this!
you can add just about anything to the basic recipe to modify your breads. I often add one egg (no more than 3), or 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, or use some milk + some water as long as total liquid is pretty close to 3 cups.
Egg[s] will add a slightly yellow color + more springy bread + nice flavor. Milk adds flavor & increases tenderness, oil makes for a soft & chewy bread with nice flavor.
Up to 3-4 tablespoons sugar works, too (but beware the rising…it will speed up). Sugar/molasses/honey will give a slightly darker, crunchier crust because of the sugar on the surface carmelizing as it cooks.
If you add eggs / oil in addition to 3 cups of water, you may have to add some flour (1/4 cup or so at a time) to soak up the additional liquid.
I began with Google, looking for advice for novice bakers, and ended up discovering the world of no-knead breads. One of the best references on the topic is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (though their specific method doesn’t work reliably for me (or my oven, perhaps)). The book is filled with gorgeous photographs and tons of helpful information. You will find all sorts of tips, video tutorials, and great pictures on their site.
Also, google “New York Times no-knead bread” and you’ll find some more info about this kind of recipe. Theirs is not as easy, though, IMHO. But still useful.
Fanny Farmer — my edition is about 30 years old; any will do. This is an excellent reference for all sorts of American cooking, and the baking section is filled with useful tips & tricks.
Beard on Bread — another fantastic reference, by a master of bread baking. While a bit off the subject of yeast breads, his baking powder biscuit recipe is unparalleled. They are demanded in my house, and frequently.

making pie dough

green pop overs for St Paddy's day

And well, we try-, try- to enjoy the little things.  Including cheap wine.

You can do Anything.
But not Everything.

-David Allen

Dear Self,
 A reminder.
With love and tolerance,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday Images

“And she finds it difficult to believe -- that a person would love her even when she isn't trying. Trying to figure out what other people need, trying to be worthy.” 
 Margaret Atwood

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I have neglected this blog.  But hey... its SPRING!!  it means this...

treasures on my kitchen sill 

St Patrick's day party that is our special friend, Teagan's birthday, too!

Bare, happy, dirty feet

insane warm weather.  I know, maybe it's wrong.  But I love it.  We are gardening and cooking and major yard work and happy happy.
And Grandma brought over ice cream.

my curious children love finding snails and rolly polys and worms...

and there are girl scout cookies.

and camp fires in the pit

Chris made amazing kale and leek and potato soup.

And to top it all off... 
we have planted three blueberry bushes, 4 evergreens, strawberries, kale, spinich, lettuce, carrots, 
cleaned the basement, shed, and porches...
full of gratitude .