Las Vegas to Glenwood Springs

Leg One took us to Las Vegas. On Leg One I discovered that I had earnestly packed all (nine skeins of) my new yarn,

but had forgotten the crochet hooks. Hmmm.

It wasn’t much later, when I peeked back at my sweet youngest boy, and realized that there was no cure for his bare feet. Yes, I forgot his shoes.

Brownie points to my husband who took my forgetting in stride. He’s a good man, that Douglas.

So, I wound the skeins into balls, that took some time. And we rocked out to Andrew’s emo music as we approached Barstow. And we marveled at all the space inside our rented SUV, having random pillow fights and tossing snacks to the back seat. And we tried to count Joshua trees but had to stop when we got to 4,567. We designated Andrew as the trash man. And we ate a whole box of Trader Joe’s chocolate chip chewy granola bars. Six hours–it took–Santa Barbara to Las Vegas. A shortish driving day.

There was no bread baking to do in Las Vegas. Sheesh. If I had opened my bag of starter in that hotel I’m sure it would have died on the spot. I am just not a Las Vegas type of girl.

Between the binging of the slot machines, and the smoke, and the flashing lights (even the STOP lights in the parking lot had flashing lights around the edges, I’m not kidding) and the folks who at 7am are gambling and looking desperate… well, it just doesn’t put me in a happy place. But we made it through. Slept well enough, rose at 6am, left at 7am, bidding Josh, the bell guy, good bye.

And I can’t say there was any bread baking to do on Leg Two either. On the road for ten hours, crossing some of Nevada, all of Utah, and half of Colorado. But, guess what? We found shoes for the little one, and a crochet hook for me. Again, my sweet Douglas steered us straight to a Michaels in Saint George, Utah, and not only did they have hooks and needles and scissors… they had a 5mm rosewood hook that I just had to have!

So, I’m 14 rows into my bag. I found this pattern on Attic 24 and, once I saw the stripes, just couldn’t resist. I’m a sucker for stripes.

Lunch at Mom’s Cafe in Salina, Utah! A BLT on sourdough, no mayo. Yum. And… they had books on every table. Funny books–all by Ben Goode. We giggled through some wise thoughts from this book, Understanding Women: A Guidebook for Guys Who Are Often Confused.

What else? Dust storms, rain storms, wind storms, lightning storms–all that was Utah. Having lived in Santa Barbara for these last eleven years, I forget what a real character the weather can be. In California our sun and fog provide a sweet little backdrop to days that vary little from season to season. But in these vast states of the West–Nevada, Utah, Colorado, places of rock and sky, the weather is oftentimes the hero or villain, not the setting. Fun to experience this all anew.

And even though there have been storms swirling around us outside the Chevy Traverse, inside we’ve enjoyed a blissfully peaceful ride. (!!!!!) Already we’ve logged 16 hours of close quarters, and not one fight, not one struggle, not one tantrum.

Just me, forgetting the shoes.

To the Interior

The plums have been dried, and jammed, and jarred. The house is clean for the guests who will be staying there. My starter is packed, currently cozied in a bag next to the dried apricots and chewing gum.

Southern California is finally bathed in summer sun, and we are off. Off on a mighty tour of our vast American interior to see farming cousins in Nebraska, friends in Montana, nuns in Washington, and colleges in Oregon.
I’ll be knitting in the car, and rooting on my husband as he drives. And maybe I’ll even have a chance to do a bit of baking! Who knows?

Hope you don’t mind if I share my adventures. Typing on my phone will be a welcome distraction once we hit the wide road heading across the West! The ocean is on my right–big and blue and calming, but not for long. Las Vegas here we come…

Summer 2011 :: The State of Things

6:30 am

Summer mornings mean writing time. I rise early, stumble out to my office, brew a cup of tea while my eyes adjust, say my prayers to help wake my heart and mind, and then sit in front of words, fiddling, rearranging, composing, and sometimes even rejoicing! Oftentimes the little one stumbles in, and slides onto my lap. Then I have to coax an older sibling awake, and pour corn flakes into a bowl, and ask for help. The help usually comes and the writing recommences… Right now I’m wading through a sailing scene, but don’t know how to sail. That sort of road block is just that. A Word Halter. A Story Buster! Another hurdle to overcome. Any sailors out there just hoping for an interview?

10 am

Laundry, baking, saying hellos to the late risers. Planning for the day. Jumping up and down because I sold a picture book (A Book of Questions to Blue Apple Books)! Jumping up and down because I might even sell another picture book! (on a saint, to Conciliar Press), if I can just get the words right… 10 am is a great time for jumping up and down. Gets the heart moving.

Noon

Lunch! Plums from the tree. Fresh bread and a piece of cheese. A tomato. Hopes that the sun will peek through the gloom. Hopes that the sun will dry my laundry. Hopes that the sun will dehydrate my fruit leather but not get me sunburned. Lots of hopes!

Afternoon

Library for books. Beach for negative ions and sand between the toes. Or, a train set up. Or, shopping for gifts–so many birthdays! Derek’s, Jack’s, Mom’s, Andrew’s, Lucy’s, Miles’s, Asher’s, and little babies being born–like Greyson. He got a blue and green hat ūüôā Logging the yarn projects onto ravelry. Have to find someone to eat that extra bread.¬†The mail comes and lots of sorting happens. And after the news of two potential picture book sales are processed by my meek brain, I am humbled by ¬†yet another rejection. Ah, the joys of being a writer.

Early Evening

Fiddling with yarn. Checking email. Watching Douglas be the mighty chef that he is… Sipping sparkling water, or wine, or nibbling on chips and salsa. Talking about our upcoming fundraising dinners for church–and the trial biscotti I’ve been baking–so we can BUILD our church! (Can’t wait to build our church!!!) Setting the table. I love setting the table. Collecting the crew to pray, eat, laugh, eat, and read from our past travel journals. Allowing the little one to eat his dinner off the pizza peel.

Late Evening

Could be a movie. Or walking the neighborhood with flashlights. We always brew a hot pot of ¬†herbal tea. I dream about the day that is almost gone. Reading, reading, reading (just finished the third Penderwicks–and a Philokalia collection…) Maybe I’ll mix up some dough for the next day, or update my to-do list, or choose a new picture book for bedtime. Brushing teeth, PJ’s. Bugging the big kids to get to bed. Talking about our time with cousins in Santa Ynez, or about the week in LA and the great dinner with the Dimpfls, and the birthday dinner of paella.¬†Still bugging the big kids to get to bed.

Still bugging the big kids to get to bed.

And the lights go out

What about you? What is your State of Things these days. I’d love to know…

Family Giving :: Episode Three

My littlest is, undoubtedly, my best and most willing baking apprentice, and giver.

John Ronan is now five and a half,¬†and he likes to move his body, and have guests over, and sing all the songs the big kids are singing (like U2 and Taylor Swift, and The Script, oh, my…). I’d say his very favorite activity is either filling and throwing water balloons, or building water pipeways with the set of PVC irrigation pipes we purchased for him from the hardware store.

So here’s how Episode Three played out.

Who:

We didn’t get to this question first. I asked, but there was no answer. Then I asked again, and he said he didn’t want to give the loaves to ANYONE. That he could easily eat both loaves of pumpkin bread.¬†There was a lot of haggling and prompting and prying and even sermonizing at that point from yours truly… But we did negotiate a recipient: Mia and Noe, two of the cutest girls on the block.

Good thinking, my little man…

What:

PUMPKIN BREAD! (My kids are certainly enthusiastic about what they like.)

Where:

Around the corner to our cute neighbors… who have chickens, and guinea pigs and clown fish and figs, and little meandering pathways that take you under trees hung with glass lanterns.

When:

I want to bake the pumpkin bread, NOW!

Why:

What’s not to like about Mia and Noe? Plus, when they’re away, we get to walk over to their house at night with flashlights and lock the chickens in their coop. That is so cool–not to mention so fun! Who wouldn’t want to give the owners of these chickens pumpkin bread?!!!

How:

John Ronan likes to get all the ingredients out and measure. He only likes to crack the eggs, though, then I get to split them and put them into the bowl.¬†¬†He likes to stir things around, for approximately three nano seconds, and then I do the rest. It’s a pretty fair partnership.

Pumpkin bread is so easy. We whipped it all together in no time, though I realized I had very little canola oil, so had to replace it with grapeseed oil. Did you know that grapeseed oil is a beautiful green color?

While the bread was baking, John Ronan and Madeleine wrestled.

And then we set off to Mia, and Noe’s house. I already told you about their sweet yard. They also have quince, and an enormous avocado tree, and grapes growing from an arbor. It’s like a mini wonderland.

But John Ronan was grumpy because I made him wear his rainboots instead of going barefoot.

Love that face, grumpy and all. He is so very smoochable!

I coaxed the grumps out of him by the time we got around the corner,

and then he set off at a run.

We visited for a few moments, even went back and said hello to the chickens, and John Ronan made the amazing discovery that they like to eat grass! Oh, the simple discoveries!!! He was thrilled. We ended up heading home with two fresh eggs…

That’s Episode Three. One installment to go–and it’ll be my husband, who has been working on his baking and giving plan for two weeks now.

More soon!


Jane’s No Knead Recipe–Simplified, and with a Gazillion Photos

Once Upon a Time

The discovery of Jim Lahey’s recipe of a “no knead” bread has brought, oh, so much deliciousness into our home. I’m used to good hearth bread, having grown up as a baker’s daughter, and to find something that I can make, that resembles the French and sourdough of my youth, is…..yum!

My older brother first alerted me, about two years ago, to this method of baking that was gaining in popularity.¬†Since I like to experiment when I bake, I’ve played and fiddled with Mr. Lahey’s¬†original recipe. Even he has. You can see how the recipe has evolved from the initial NY Times article to his actual measurements and techniques that he then published in his book, My Bread. Others have fiddled and played, too, but I’ve received so many questions about this technique that you now have my simplified version–with gads of photos to help you see the process.

Why You Should Try This Recipe

If you eat wheat, if you like a little bread in your diet, if you own a cast iron or enamel pot (if you don’t, think about tracking one down), then try making this bread. The process is a bit messy–that’s the downside, but the effort is minimum, and the result is, as my five-year-old would say, delish!

Because the mix of this dough is so moist, you need very little yeast, one of the most costly ingredients in making bread. Also because of the high water content, the loaves stay good for days and days. And…because the first rise is so long, there’s a ton of flexibility schedule-wise, as to when you need to be in the kitchen. Oh, another added bonus–the loaves are beautiful. I love beautiful bread.

Let’s Bake

Time Commitment: Ten minutes to measure and mix the dough. 8-15 hours of just waiting. Fifteen minutes to shape loaf for second rise. Another 1-2 hours of waiting. And an hour to bake. Time. You need lots of time to let the dough really develop, but it’s really only about 20-30 minutes of hands-on work for the baker.

Tools you need:
  • Cast iron or enamel pot with lid
  • Large mixing bowl (glass or ceramic) with cover
  • an oven¬†:)
  • thick cloth for second rising
  • wooden spoon
  • plastic spatula
  • dough scraper for clean up (optional)

Ingredients: (Basic mix)

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (I use Trader Joe‚Äôs unbleached flour in the blue bag)
  • 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast (can use cake yeast, just need to double it)
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • bran or corn meal or whole wheat flour for dusting
What to do:

Step One:¬†Combine flour, salt and yeast in a large glass or ceramic bowl–mix with wooden spoon. Add water. Stir some more, until all the ingredients are wet and gloppy. (I usually do this step in the evening before heading to bed.)

Step Two:¬†Scrape the dough off the wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a plate, or a pot lid, (you can use plastic wrap, but I like to use something that you don’t throw away) so that very little air is seeping into the bowl. Let the dough rise for at least 8 hours–or up to 15.

Much of this can be done in your PJ’s

Step Three:¬†Check the dough after the first, very long rise. It should have climbed up the sides of the bowl and you will see bubbles in its surface. (This batch has fresh rosemary mixed in, thus the green flecks in the dough…)

Step Four: Prepare the towels. I typically rub flour into a large corner of the towel, then sprinkle it with bran. You can also use corn meal, or whole wheat flour.) This provides a barrier so that the wet dough does not adhere to the towel later, when you need to dump the dough into the hot pot. Be generous with this layer of flour on the towel.

Step Five:¬†Flour, flour, everywhere. Flour your countertop. Scrape the gooey dough onto the counter with a plastic dough scraper or a plastic spatula, and sprinkle with flour. Flour your hands and fold the dough in half, or thirds, incorporating the new flour. Fold again. Then, tuck the edges under, while spinning the dough slowly in circles to shape it into a round. Keep tucking, and shifting in a circle, flouring your hands if the dough sticks. Do this until you have a smooth top. The underside should be all wrinkled and tucked, and that’s great. That will create the patterned top crust later when it gets flipped into the pot.

Step Six: Sprinkle flour and bran on the dough, making sure you get some onto the sides since the dough will rise and spread. Fold the towel over the dough and cover with yet another towel and let rise up to two hours, but not longer.

Step Seven: Allow the dough to rise in the towels for an hour, but no more than two. A half hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, heating the pot in the oven as well.

Step Eight: Make sure your area is clear. You’re going to be working with super hot, heavy pots and my biggest worry with this method is being burned. Please be careful… Using oven mitts, take the hot pot out of the oven and place it on a non-burning surface. I place it directly on my granite counter top, removing the lid, placing that on my stovetop. Unwrap the dough from the towels, slide your hand under the towel with the dough, and tip it upside down into the hot pot. Flour and bran will likely spill all around. Remember, the pot is hot. Use oven mitts to hold the pot, and shake it, distributing the dough evenly in the pot, then place the lid on, and put the whole thing into the oven.

Step Nine: Bake at 450 with the top on for 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake another 25-30 minutes.

Step Ten: Remove the hot pot from the oven, dumping the loaf onto a cooling rack. Allow the bread to cool for at least an hour.

Step Eleven: Clean up. I use my metal dough scraper to clean up in a snap. For the counter, I simply scrape all the excess flour into a pile and transfer it into the trash. With only a bit of dusting left, I then wipe the counter down with a sponge.

For the towels, I use the same dough scraper and, with the towel flat and taut, scrape any excess dough and flour off the towel. If there is a lot of extra dough, then I let it dry first, then simply peel it off. Once I have most of the flour scraped off the towel, I take it out into the back yard and flap it in the wind or bang it against the trunk of our huge pine. I rarely wash my towels, and keep them in a separate drawer so they don’t get used for something else…

Step Twelve: Share. Either cut your loaf in half and share with a friend, or bake two at a time–like I do.

Notes…

  • You can easily double this recipe–just make sure you have a pot big enough to bake in.
  • Adding cheese into this mix is delicious! Just grate your favorite cheese, any amount, but probably not more than a cup, and mix it in right at the beginning.
  • Another version I love making– is by doubling the recipe (6 cups of flour), reducing the water by 1/4 quarter of a cup, and adding in a whole jar of olive tapenade.
  • You don’t always have to make this dough into a big boule. After the first rise, if you mix a fair amount of flour into the wet dough, you can then make any shape you like. But… if you want to bake in the pot, then you are constrained by the shape of the pot you want to bake in, so unless you have an enormously long pot–baguettes are out!
  • However, you don’t have to bake in a pot! You can flour up that dough, shape an elegant baguette or two, give it a short second rise, and slide it onto your baking stone for 30 minutes or so. Voila!
  • If you have a sourdough starter in your home, you can add starter to the mix for flavor, or just leave out the instant yeast all together and use your starter to rise the dough…
  • Cheers ūüôā