26 February 2009

whole grain bread

since i can't garden much in the winter (though i DO try...) i've taken to exploring the art of bread baking. i've done some yeast bread baking in the past. a few years ago i discovered that i could make a decent, crusty, sour(ish)dough, baguette with very little effort. it's quite satisfying to pull one of those out of the oven, just in time for dinner. sadly, there's just not much nutritional value in white flour, and my experience with home baked whole grain breads left a lot to be desired. in particular, they seemed to always be too heavy, and too sweet.

some library patron was looking at this book while hanging out with a little one in the playroom at the downtown branch one day, last fall. they must have decided it wasn't for them, because they left it behind, and i picked it up. it was exactly what i was looking for (though i was not actively looking, just vaguely thinking about it now and then): a way to make yummy, crusty, artisan loaves of bread using only whole grain flours. i checked out the book, and started reading it. from the beginning. the famous baker, peter reinhart (well, famous in the artisan bread baking community...), tells the story of his journey to whole grain baking, and my, what a journey it has been.

getting ready to mix the soaker, getting ready to mix the pre-doughs into the final dough

fascinating, in ways i couldn't have imagined, he goes into the chemistry of bread baking, gluten development, enzymatic activity, delayed fermentation, the purpose of a making a soaker, the difference between a wild yeast starter, and a biga, making a sponge, how to mix your pre-doughs into your final dough, the autolyse method, and oh, so much more. to an experienced baker, it must be a completely different read than it was for me. he explains what happens in traditional methods, and then how his method differs, and why. he talks about all the test bakers that he sent recipe after recipe to, and how he incorporated their feedback, to finally come up with the wonderful recipes included in his book. it took me several renewals, returning, then checking out again before i even tried to make one of the breads. carl was starting to wonder if it was JUST a research project, or if he was ever going to get a chance to sink his teeth into some homemade bread.

before and after shots of the bread dough, proofing in the pan

one day in late november, a woman i barely know, showed up at my door with a healthy, whole wheat, wild yeast starter, that she had kept going for 2 years. i decided to work it into reinhart's master formula for whole wheat sandwich bread, treating it as the mother starter he describes. it worked fine, and the bread was delicious. i made two loves: one in a loaf pan, and one on a baking stone. the loaf pan one was higher, a bit lighter, and, i think, a bit better.

whole wheat sandwich loaf

then the book came due again, no renewals. then i went on a trip. then another trip. i neglected the starter, did not refresh it, or even check on it, for weeks and weeks. when i finally took a peek, it was moldy, and destroyed. but, i had received the book as a christmas present, so, i started again, making my own wild yeast starter, from scratch. in fact, i made two. using two different methods(pineapple-juice-based, and mash-based), to compare. i ended up with two separate mother starters in my fridge. since they need to be refreshed regularly, i have been making bread, often as i refresh a starter, and the results have been exciting. i made two more sandwich loaves, a rye metiel, and a straun, incorporating quinoa and cooked brown rice. the straun was a freestanding batard. it spread out considerably on the baking stone, but was fairly light in texture, and so moist and flavorful.

straun, and a close up shot of a free-standing whole wheat loaf

i couldn't distinguish a difference in the two starters i had going in the fridge. the author says they are interchangeable, and since they both seemed healthy, i let one of them go. next i made a straun using rolled oats and cornmeal. carl and i both agreed that this one wasn't as good as the others i'd made. it had a tangy bite to it that neither of us appreciated, and i found it to be too dry, and too heavy.

sandwich loaf, made into sandwiches, and grilled cheese, with yummy tomato soup (carl made the soup)

i had to admit to myself that all of the breads i'd made from this book, were too heavy for my taste, and i wasn't impressed with the quality of the crumb. i wanted to try a more rustic type of bread-- chewy, with big holes. and, i decided i wanted to try one of reinhart's transitional breads, which means they have some white flour mixed in with the whole grain. i figure this is really the only way i am going to get the kind of bread i'm looking for. so, i tried his transitional country hearth bread. the dough was lovely to work with, and satisfying to knead. one of the complaints i have had about the other breads in this book, is that the dough is very wet and sticky. he recommends wetting your hands as you knead the dough, to prevent sticking. i guess it works, but it is so unpleasant. this dough, by contrast, was soft and supple, and felt so good in my hands. this dough also did not require the wild yeast starter i have in my fridge. instead i made a biga, with comercial yeast, and left it in the fridge overnight, for a slow rise. the dough is more that 50% whole wheat, which is still a lot more hearty than most commercial breads that i like.

transitional country hearth bread

i made three mini baguettes, which puffed up in the oven, forming lovely rounded loaves, with crispy crusts and superb flavor. while this bread was not perfect, it is definitely the direction i want to head in with my future bread baking.

i skimmed through the book, picking out breads that i wanted to try, and found that all of them call for the biga instead of the wild yeast starter. i find that maintaining the starter is a pain in the ass, there is a lot of waste (i have to throw out 75% of it, each time i refresh it), and it takes up tons of room in our small fridge. since i do not really prefer the breads that are made with it, i think i am going to let it go.

my bread journal

i've been keeping a bread journal, to keep track of the various schedules for each bread, what kinds of grains i have tried, and my thoughts about each bread. it's a great winter hobby, warms up the house, and, let's face it, homemade bread, fresh, slightly warm, with butter on it...can't be beat.

15 February 2009

a different kind of romance

i spent my valentine's day in bed.

i basically couldn't move. i woke up with a tummy ache, which i thought was a leftover from the night before when i ate a few too many dove chocolates. within an hour, i was ache-y all over, and feverish. i never did throw up, but i had other gastrointestinal symptoms in the morning (and let's just leave it at that...). as the day wore on, i felt worse and worse. i ran a fever as high as 103.5 (according to our unreliable instruments of measure), and every muscle in my body hurt so badly, it was all i could do to lift my head up to sip my orange juice and fizzy water.

carl took cosmo to bryan park in the afternoon, to meet some friends. cosmo fell in the creek, and carl ran home, cosmo in one arm, the bike in the other (why didn't he just ask our friends to bring the bike? don't know. panic, maybe?) and by the time they got here, cosmo was crying, and had VERY cold feet, legs and hands. it is amazing how all the pain left my body for those moments when i was rushing to get cosmo's clothes off, and get him into the warmish tub, dried off, and then snuggled up next to me to warm up. mommy adrenaline must have kicked in. as soon as he was goofing around again, and clearly over it, all my symptoms came flooding back. i finally took some ibuprofen (i like to put it off as long as possible, let my body do what it needs to do to fight the illness) and the pain was dulled enough for me to get a good night's sleep.

not the most romantic valentine's day, i know. but i must say, i fell in love with my sweetie all over again as he took loving care of cosmo, me, and EVERYTHING else while i was down.

woke up this morning feeling miraculously better.

so, we got to make our valentine's day cookies a day late, and i brought most of them to an awesome clothes swap, where i scored the sweater i needed yesterday: a soft, bulky, roomy, cardigan--the kind you wrap the top half of your body in, when the bottom part is covered in a blanket.

13 February 2009

something blue

i'll tell you what, we've got a good thing goin' over here on dixie street. our neighbors are to-die-for. and i dare say, they feel the same way about us. yes, they are talented, funny, warm, smart, politically like-minded, generous, appreciative AND they have a boy close in age to cosmo (they are just now starting to play together really well), PLUS awesome teenage boys, who babysit! we all seem to understand the value of good neighbors. when we make something yummy to eat, we share. when they have a bonfire in the back yard, we're invited. when they need an hour of childcare, on short notice, we're happy to do it. you get the picture.

recently, said neighbors were given a hot tub. yes, i said GIVEN. apparently we are not the only ones fond of this delightful family. once they got it all set up and bubbling (between our houses), they made it clear that we had an open invitation to use it. we take them up on it frequently. the other day, cosmo and i, and their little boy, had a wonderful play date in the tub (with the temp turned way down for the wee ones). but mostly i like to slip into it on cold nights, with steam rising, and gaze up at a star filled sky. thanks neighbors!

something borrowed

continuing with robin's blog carnival (albeit, a day late on all of them), i submit to you something borrowed. i borrowed the idea (and template) from family fun magazine, and the materials are "borrowed" from the trash. it's a coin purse made from an orange juice carton! i like the clever use of the cap to keep the purse closed.

it's quite easy to make, the trickiest part is the accordion folds on the sides, because at certain points, you are scoring and folding against already existing creases. but, it works quite nicely, if you score heavily with a butter knife (or, if you are lucky enough to have a bone folder, use that. mine has sadly disappeared). the instructions say that a craft knife is optional, but i don't know how you'd make this without one. in fact, i am not sure how i'd even live without my trusty exacto knife. not happily, i can assure you.

next i'm making one out of a half gallon half & half carton. given how important half & half is to our everyday lives around here, i have a feeling i'm going to like it best of all. cosmo suggested we keep our bus money in there. great idea.

11 February 2009

some new things


these are valentines for cosmo's classmates, and a few relatives. i'll call the work a collaboration. we spent some time, over the past few weeks, punching out hearts from various papers i'd selected (some valentine-y, some not). i did some, cosmo did some. cosmo practiced his scissor-work on a drawing he'd done on pink construction paper. he assembled all of the collages himself. though i applied most of the glue, he picked out what he wanted from our collection, and he decided where to put it. sure, i orchestrated the whole thing, kept him on task today, until we had 14 new cards to bring to school tomorrow, but mostly, cosmo made these valentines. i am quite impressed with his creations.

some/thing old

i'm a little behind with robin's blog carnival (robin of the other mother). in celebration of freedom to marry week, i'll post.

something old
something new
something borrowed
something blue

today, i'm posting something old. i found this quilt at an antique store in our neighborhood. it cost me $35.

it reminds me of a hand stitched quilt my great grandmother made, which i no longer have. the one my great grandmother made was only two colors: pink and white. this one has, as the petals of the flowers, samples of wonderful patterned fabric (is that flour sack fabric?) i know very little about quilts. but i know what i like in a work of art. the art that i have in my home needs to be something that i can study for years and years, and always find something new--or a new way of looking at it. this quilt fits the bill. we have this on our bed, and i just love looking at it. it makes me think, and it brings me pleasure.

09 February 2009

random select

teresa at life, homesteading and everything had this meme up on her blog:

1. Go to the 4th picture folder on your computer.
2. Post the 4th picture in that folder.
3. Explain the picture.
4. Tag 4 more bloggers.

i'd never seen it before, and like the element of chance, so here's mine:


this is a design cosmo crafted, last summer, on our back step. it is composed of stones we collected on the beach at indiana dunes national lakeshore.

i tag craftknife, the other mother, the womanly art of mommyhood, and bethanyblog.

08 February 2009

muscial genius

i hate to be one of these parents whose all like, "ohmygod! look what my kid can do!"
but...well...oh my god! look what my kid can do!
he's been working on the piano for a while now (about a year), and this week, he made the leap. he had the ah-ha moment, and now he can follow along to music (if the letters are printed above the notes) and play it on the keys, if the letters are on the keys. and, best of all, he loves it. it is all self motivated. he sits down several times a day, on his own, and works on stuff. he's very pleased when he can play songs that he recognizes, but also still enjoys improvising, and just pounding on the keys. i just posted a bunch of videos on youtube, of his process, but here is one from the day he got it: