Ingredients: Salt

Two loaves of French bread, made with our own sea salt

Mixed: 6:45 am

Molded: 9 am

Left on counter for 1/2 hour to rise before retarding in fridge for several hours

Baked: 1 pm

Gave to: Mr and Mrs B, and Mrs B’s parents who are visiting from Far Off Canada

When I put together this post a few weeks ago I started thinking further about the four ingredients needed to make a basic loaf of bread. And since I was headed to the beach the following day, I decided to try my hand at making sea salt from scratch. I’ve always been a bit of a “survivalist” (…wondering if that’s really a term). I like to think about what I would do if I lived centuries ago, or if we didn’t have all the resources available to us–resources like grocery stores and electric ovens and super speed computers. Anyway, making salt the old fashioned way seemed like a great way to find out about a very basic resource, and understand better one of the key ingredients in my bread baking.

I live only a little over a mile from the Pacific ocean. It didn’t take much research to convince me that salt making can be done with almost no equipment; all I really needed was a willing soul to wade out past the tide line and fill up some empty jugs with sea water, and a few sunny days for evaporation. In walked my energetic daughter. Perfect!

Making sea salt was easy and fascinating. While the evaporation process was taking place, I read a book titled Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I took some time, too, to browse the web and see what other amateur salt makers had to say. Here’s some of what I learned about this important ingredient in our diet:

  • Salt is derived either from water evaporation or from rock deposits. Chrystaline salt deposits are found on every continent.
  • Ocean water is 2.7 percent salt.
  • Both humans and animals need some sort of salt intake to survive.
  • Bread is icky if you leave out the salt. I know… I’ve done it…
  • If you want a really cool salt box, like the one we bought made of olive wood, then you can find them at Williams Sonoma or other kitchen stores. But if want to make salt in order to save money, it’d probably take you thirty years of monitoring your evaporating pans before you pay for your very cool box… Salt is cheap today, unlike the price it fetched during the Middle Ages. Some called it White Gold back then…
  • There are many resources on the web that speak of the uses and benefits, health risks and origin of salt. One website I found interesting is put together by the “Salt Institute” and this page of facts is packed with all sorts of information. Here’s another website (a commercial one that sells salt) that is filled with well-organized information regarding salt.
  • Just like anything else, salt intake needs to be balanced. Too much, or too little can get you into all sorts of health trouble.
  • Homemade sea salt is moist to the touch. I tried to dry a particularly wet batch in the oven and ended up making something that looked like white coral. I’m thinking that I probably destroyed some of the minerals in the salt when I overheated that batch.
  • One of my very favorite chocolate treats is found here in Santa Barbara, at a local chocolatier. Chocolate Maya sells a truffle with a dark chocolate exterior, a caramel interior, and it is topped with several rough grains of sea salt. Oh, my.
  • Most salt that is mined or made today is not intended for human consumption, but instead used in manufacturing. If you live in the north east, you might know that 16% of salt used in the US is for deicing roads during the winter.
  • Guess what Salzburg means?
  • And back to tasty treats… I recently tried Bequet caramels. They’re made in Montana and one of the varieties mixes the soft caramel with Celtic sea salt. What a great way to get your daily salt intake 🙂
  • Table salt is a simple combination of sodium and chlorine. Refined salts may have other additives, such as iodine and anti-caking agents. Sea salt, like the one I made!!! contains over fifty trace minerals in addition to the all important sodium chloride…

Okay, here is my salt making journey!

Even though it looks sunny and warm, Mad is wading out in ocean water that is about 61 degrees cold. Eek! Before I sent her out, I checked the water quality at this beach–Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara–and it had just received an A+ rating…

My brave and adventurous daughter

We evaporated some salt water in the sun after quickly boiling the water over the stove, wondering if the grade A rating could be trusted. We also evaporated another batch that came straight from the ocean. Here is the salt that was boiled, forming crystals in the bottom of the pan after about five days in the sun.

I learned after a wild wind storm that you need to cover the sea water so that dust and tree debris is minimized. We eventually came up with a method where we would cover our glass pans with a clear thin acrylic cutting board, leaving a corner of the pan uncovered so there was adequate air flow.

Here I am filtering the sea water through a coffee filter after the wild windstorm

Here is another batch of sea water that is just beginning to show signs of something salty. Because I only evaporated a little under two gallons of water, it took just a few sunny days to complete the process in these shallow pans.

This is a picture of the salt that I thought was too moist, so I baked it. It was so hard that I ground some to a fine dust. I wouldn’t recommend doing this–I wouldn’t be surprised if I baked some of the trace minerals out in my hot oven…

Here is my Santa Barbara Sea Salt, looking so important in this beautiful olive wood salt box that my husband found

And here is a French Jaco, made with flour, water, yeast and homemade Santa Barbara sea salt!

So there’s my sea salt story. I enjoyed this process so much that I think I’ll keep it up during the warm months. I’d love to hear your salt facts and stories. Please share!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Not from my favorite chocolate shop, not from the RealSalt website, not from Bequet, who makes the most delicious caramels in all the world. But I suppose there might be some give and takes with Mr. B, whom is right now eating my bread, because he teaches my daughter math, and is just a handy friend to have around. I’m no good at math. If anyone owes anyone anything–then I really must pay some royalties or a bigger allowance to my daughter who dives readily into the sea to scoop up salt water for simple experiments. Okay, this has gone on long enough. Later, and back to the regularly scheduled show– I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

You know what, though? I’m thinking that maybe I should write a children’s book on salt. The bread and the wine are covered… If you have a starting point for me please send that along.

Three Strikes, no Four…

Two loaves of French bread

Mixed: 10:45 am

Molded: 2:15 pm

Baked: 3:15 pm

Gave to… no one…

It’s an unseasonably cold day here in Santa Barbara. The normal temperature for this time of year is 70 degrees, and right now we’re hovering in the low 50’s. Our house sits in a bit of a sheltered hollow, so when the wind is rushing through our yard you know it’s really blowing elsewhere. From the warmth of my desk, I don’t mind watching the trees and plants sway, the colors shifting as the undersides of the leaves are revealed. But my heart goes out to those who are on the streets today.

A woman in our neighborhood hauled some unwanted firewood out to the front of her yard a few days ago and put up a “free” sign. I drove by several times and didn’t pick any up, even though our stack has dwindled to plum wood prunings. I figured it’s almost May and evenings by the fire were long gone.

But a shift in the wind brought an icy chill to our seaside town. Well, not Alaska icy, or Montana or Minnesota icy, but cold enough for me to think about making a batch of hot chai, pull out the knitting, start a fire in the fireplace, and bake some bread.

I started with the tea and the knitting, thenbaked two loaves of bread and lit the fire. That’s when I got the fine idea of sending the second loaf to the folks who set out the wood! Why not?

I pulled up to their home this evening and sped to the front door. The driveway was empty, but a light was on inside, and sure enough, a woman was home. She opened the door, and I thanked her for the firewood and told her that I had some fresh bread for her in return. “My husband’s out of town, and I’m not eating much,” she said apologetically. “But thanks for thinking of me, and take all the firewood you want–there’s even more behind the gate. You can have all you like.”

I hopped back in the car, not feeling terribly rejected; lots of folks don’t eat bread anymore, and many people aren’t terribly comfortable opening their doors to strangers… The adventure of giving had begun. Warm bread. Where to next?

I drove straight to MacKenzie Park, where homeless folks typically hang out. There was still an hour of light, so I figured I might find someone there, huddled behind a wall or shrub to stay out of the wind. No one. So I popped over to the corner grocer, then to the post office, then to the parking lot behind the shopping structures. Everyone was in hideout mode.

On my way home I made one last stop at a house nearby that was recently purchased. I haven’t yet met the owner and figured this would be as good a time as any. His truck was in the driveway. I knocked on all three doors, front, back and side… Where was everyone?

Finally I simply took the bread home and told the kids we’d be having French toast in the morning. So that’s my plan.

Want to join us for breakfast? 🙂 Be here at 7:30 sharp–there will be plenty to share.

The Triplets!

One loaf of sourdough, one loaf of brown beer and buttermilk bread

Mixed: 9:30 pm

Molded: 1 pm next day

Baked: 2: 35 pm

Gave the loaf of sourdough to The Triplets!

I have been trying to get a loaf of bread to the family with the triplets since mid-March when I met the father talking with Bob, his across-the-street neighbor. These families live just a block away from us; the triplets in a sweet little house that has an enormous palm tree out front.

But time and again this past month we have knocked on their door, warm bread in our hands, and they haven’t been home.

Today, I had two loaves of bread coming out of the oven at 3:30 pm. I had a decision to make. Do I take the easy route and give the bread to someone I knew I would bump into? We had a sweet girl over to play–the loaf of sourdough could have easily gone to her family’s table. Or… we were planning to attend a short talk given by a friend –there would be lots of folks there who might appreciate some fresh bread. Or we could wait until we returned, around dinner time, and see if the triplets happened to be home.

As John Ronan and I walked down the block this early evening, we talked about the many cedar trees in our neighborhood, counting them along the way. Then, we noticed the triplet’s van in the driveway (a good sign!), and when we got to the front door, only the screen was closed, the big, heavy wooden door was wide open (a great sign!). We had finally done it! Fresh bread in hand, we tried to knock…

“Hello!” We shouted through the screen door. “Hello…”

No one came, but we could hear shouts in the backyard. We tried to knock again.

“Hello!” John Ronan shouted. “Can we come in?”

Finally a little something zipped by; I saw a short shadow against the living room’s back wall. “Hello, are your parents home?”

A brown-headed boy came into view. And next the dad.

“Hey, its the bread lady!” The mom followed. I introduced myself, and before I knew it we were invited inside, marching single file up a set of steep stairs, and looking at the new room built for the triplets.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone new in just a small slice of time. John Ronan jumped straight into the fray, and asked to play with a colorful set of plastic gears. The triplets showed off their boundless energy, jumping from bed to floor to bed again. The mom told me about their remodel and we talked about homeschooling and kindergarten and working from home…

Getting them bread was worth the wait. I can point to yet another house in my neighborhood and see faces and know the names of the people who live inside. That house will no longer be distinguished by the word triplets… but by the names of each child, plus the mom and dad.

My little cozy community is expanding, thanks to these few loaves of bread.

Sourdough for Debbie

Two round loaves of sourdough

Mixed: 10:15 pm

Molded 12:15 pm next day

Baked: 2:25 pm

Gave to Debbie, who lives in a little yellow house with green trim

What a fun day for baking. I was never pressed. I got to play trains and teach my four year old his third reading lesson. The sun shone. I weeded under the roses. Even hatched a new picture book idea…

But not everything went as planned. Ever since this post I’ve been trying to get a loaf of bread to the family with the triplets; they live just a block away. It seems each time I notice their van in the driveway I kick myself for the fact that I have no bread to give. And we are getting to know the exact sound of the doorknocker when it strikes the wood of their front door and no one is home. Today, John Ronan said, after thumping a few times on the thick wooden door, “Not home again!”

Nope. Not home again.

“Okay, where to now?” I ask.

John Ronan pointed across the street, to the cute yellow house with green trim.

“Can’t go there,” I said. “No cars… No one’s home.”

Just then a car pulled up. I smiled. It was a little Honda and the window was down–and the woman looked friendly. She pulled to the curb directly in front of us. I nudged John Ronan and he grabbed my hand as we crossed the street.

“Hi…” I started my spiel. “I’m a neighbor, and each time I bake I make an extra loaf to give away. It’s sourdough, and it’s warm.” I smile, and we chat for a while. Her name is Debbie and I tell her exactly what house we live in, and that I’ve been trying to get a loaf of bread to the triplets since some time in March.

“They’re at T-ball,” she says.

So, off we walk, back home, after a little more chatting about Bob, her next door neighbor who has the beautiful succulent garden. And I start contemplating my next plan of attack. I should have asked where T-ball practice is–or at least, since Debbie seemed to be up on the triplet’s schedule, when they get home from practice. I’m determined to get them a loaf–or three!

But today was Debbie’s day. And that makes three new neighbors I’ve now met on that block. Three more than I knew just a few months ago. I think this bread giving plan is working…

Recipe–Molasses Bread

From: Soup and Bread by Crescent Dragonwood. They got it from the Rabbit Hill Inn–whose website is here

Time Commitment: Have to be in and out of the house for 4 1/2 hours in order to make these loaves. There’s one hour free time while oats are soaking. Another 1 1/2 hour of free time during first rise. Another 40 minutes during second rise. And another 40 minutes of free time while it’s baking…

I make this recipe often. It’s a hard one not to like…

Tools you need:
  • Two loaf pans
  • Cooking spray
  • an oven 🙂
  • I use an electric mixer for this recipe, but it can be kneaded by hand

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup oats, quick or not so quick–(I’ve even substituted Earth’s Best mixed grain baby cereal here when I didn’t have any oats in the pantry, but I needed to adjust the water content…)
  • optional 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • water–some boiling and some just warm
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 or more cups of unbleached flour (I usually substitute at least one cup of this with whole wheat)
What to do:

Step One: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over your cup of oats. I make this recipe in my Kitchen-Aid mixer. So, in go the oats, in goes the boiling water, and the butter. Let it sit for an hour while you fold laundry or garden or write a new children’s picture book.

Step Two: Put yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water and allow to mostly dissolve. I’m not so particular about this, but if your yeast is old, this will tell you if it’s still active. Meanwhile, add molasses and salt to the oat mixture. Before you dump your yeast mixture into the oats, make sure the mixture is warm, not hot or you’ll kill the yeast, and that will be a big bummer… Molasses flat bread.

Step Three: Begin adding the flour, one cup at a time. I turn my mixer, with the dough hook to the lowest setting, and  add one cup after another. Once the five cups of flour are mixed in I turn the setting to medium and let the dough hook whir in circles for about 8 or 10 minutes. If the dough is extremely batter-like, I’ll add another 1/2 cup of flour. Sometimes more, depending on the type of flour I’m using. You can knead this dough by hand, but it’s rather sticky. Don’t be tempted to add a ton of flour to get that silky, French bread feeling. It just won’t happen.

Step Four: Transfer the dough from the mixer to an oiled bowl. Cover with a dampened towel. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk–about 1 1/2 hours.

Step Five: Divide the dough into 2 pieces and mold into 2 loaves of bread. You can either make the loaves into boules, or bake them in oiled pans like I do. Cover with the dampened towels. Let rise 40 or so minutes–or until doubled in size.

Step Six: Preheat the oven to 375.  Bake for 40 minutes. Remove loaves from the pans as soon as the bake is finished (or else they’ll get too moist if left in the pans to cool). Allow them to cool on a rack.

Step Seven: Fight off the children.

Step Eight: Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I wouldn’t mind a nice stay at the Rabbit Hill Inn, but, you know, they haven’t yet found my blog and proposed any sort of exciting package for baker’s daughters or children’s book writers. Here’s hoping. Nor have I met Steve Davison, who composed the song, “Bayou Bartholomew Blues.” I think his song fits pretty nicely with my molasses bread. If I ever find out more about him, or am in his neighborhood, I’m going to bake him a loaf–or two. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Scones for the Sick

Batch of chocolate chip scones

Mixed and baked: 7:30 am

Ate most of them, gave two to the ailing Gishes

I love making scones. One of these days I’ll post the recipe. It’s too good for words, and you can fiddle with the recipe in all sorts of substituting ways and never ruin it.

So this morning I made a batch of scones as a before-school treat for the munchkins–my second batch in just a few days. The photo above is from an Easter batch I made for the folks at church. Here’s my sweet little one, bedecked in his too-cool blazer that he picked out himself for the special day.

While putting the scones on the cooling rack, the phone rang. I learned that some close friends, carpool friends, were ill. 😦  I packed up a couple of our early morning treats and sent them over to our ailing compatriots.

How fun to share! Get well soon, dear ones…

Hoping for More than Bread…

Two loaves of molasses bread

Oats: noon

Mixed: 1 pm

Molded: 3 pm

Baked: 3:50 pm

Gave to: Homeless man wandering the Whole Foods parking lot

My son was a bit freaked out when I drove across the parking lot and bolted out of the car to chase down this homeless man. I had seen him before, and had wanted to bake for him. He was almost out at the street, though, so I stepped on the gas.

His hair matted, his clothes a jumble of mismatched patterns, my heart breaks for him each time I see him wandering State Street pushing his stroller. I had warm molasses bread in the car and just wanted him to have it.

“I baked an extra loaf of bread today and would love for you to have it,” I mumbled to the man. “My name’s Jane, by the way.”

He stared at me for a very long moment and then took the handles of the bag that held the bread. He looked inside. “You wouldn’t happen to have any juice, would you?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t. Just the bread.”

“A food card?” He pointed to the grocery store across the way.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have a food card, and don’t even have any cash. I just have the bread.”

He looked into the bag again. “Well, thank you, mam.”

And off he went, the bag strung over the handle of the stroller. He headed back up the street, and my son and I zipped back to our cozy home…