Saturday, May 16, 2020

This Bread Recipe is Everything

No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread


1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water, warm bath warm... not hot, but almost hot
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You may use white, whole wheat or a combination of the two.
1-1/2 tsp salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting, or use olive oil

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky.
You can cover the dough with a damp cloth, and place it some place warm.Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (At this point I've made herb bread... adding a heaping tablespoon of dried onion bits, poppy seeds, and dried dill with the flour, and mixing it all in. I am sure any favorite seasonings could work.)

2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Let it rest for about 15 minutes.

3.Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball... or a baguette, or a traditional slicing loaf, or divide it into several smaller balls. It can bake round, or oblong on a baking sheet, or in a loaf pan, or you can let it rise and then flatten it out as a focaccia, or use as pizza dough.
I've baked it on flour or cornmeal, and it does nicely baked on a pan coated in oil. So, decide which you method you want to use, and let your dough have its final, two hour rise, on cornmeal, or flour, or olive oil.
Put the seam side of the dough down on the pan (something with a rim, if you are using olive oil, or in the oiled bread loaf, or on a cookie sheet dusted with flour or cornmeal.)
Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. (I do not have a Dutch oven... I have used a soup pot, but it was a hassle, so I only bake in a dough pan, or on a rimmed cookie sheet, and I do not pre-heat those.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes (check it! baking times and over temperatures vary) until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
Yield: One 1-1/2-pound loaf.

This is how I do it... and the link above is to the original recipe that got me going in the first place. I never did bake it in an actual Dutch oven, and other steps I've altered as well. So, what you see posted on the blog is what I've been doing for the last eight years. I love this recipe, the dough, the breads. It's forgiving and versatile. I've posted about it many times, and since then, I've seen the memes about bloggers that hide recipes at the bottom of ten page narratives. Guilty. So, in the interest of expediency, I opened with the recipe and directions, and you can take that and run off to get baking! Enjoy!

Now, for my ten page narrative! Alex and Bambi planned to make pizzas for Friday's dinner, so I offered to prepare dough. I went with this recipe, because I know it. I started the dough at 9pm, Thursday. The next day, 12 hours later, I should have followed step 2, but I was distracted, thinking about Max's graduation, and what to do about virtual commencement. By the time I remembered I had three bowls of dough rising, it was 1pm, Friday. I jumped directly to step 3., but because we were not going to bake bread, and we would be starting dinner much later, I divided the dough into softball sized rounds, and place them in an oiled baking dish, then covered it with plastic wrap and put all of it in the refrigerator. Last night, about 8pm, we heated the oven, and with our hands, simply smashed the dough into round-ish pies on either olive oiled cookie sheets, or floured cookie sheets... both methods were easy and yielded good results. Everyone topped their own pizzas and dinner was delicious. And! We had five leftover balls of dough. I covered them, and put them back in the refrigerator, hoping they'd be ok to bake the next day.

This morning I warmed up the oven to 450, brought out the cold dough and put it in an oiled pie dish, and let it rise while the oven heated. Then I got busy preparing breakfast, pulling weeds, juicing oranges and lemons... the dough was rising for about an hour. I drizzled a little olive oil over it and sprinkled salt and Italian seasoning, then baked it. We devoured it with our coffee, and juice, some scrambled eggs with chard and peppers. It was so good, with a crunchy crust, and soft inside... it was like we were waking up in a Tuscan villa. And this happy pleasure from leftover dough that I neglect, alter, and misuse. I am so delighted with this one easy recipe that can yield all of these good results.

I love this bread! And the following are links for ideas and tips for making No-Knead bread...

The first time I made No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread.

Dutch bread makes excellent French Toast.

Same recipe, that makes sandwich bread, or a baguette, can be used for a focaccia, pizza dough. It's so versatile!

One time I had MNO friends over and everyone took home the dough from step one, so I posted a tutorial to show them steps 2-5.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

This is Real

A Surrealist Shit Show, but it's real.

I am not in a "good" mood. Perhaps this is nothing to do with mood, perhaps what I am feeling and thinking, trying to comprehend, can exist in parallel with good moods, with hope, optimism, idealism. Also, I am scared to say anything. I am uncomfortable with standing out, being labeled, being laughed at, dismissed. I am afraid of hate and denial, of trolls, of armed men, and racist terrorists, of offending a neighbor or disappointing a friend. My state of being is frustration and an achey-ness of the brain. Even more so than back in February, when we began discussing what was coming, a pandemic, a shut down of familiar, daily life, I feel my brain, now, debating with itself, about the inordinate unrealness of reality. In the briefest bursts of synapses firing, I go from incredulity, doubt that we have lost 65,000 people to COVID-19, that we don't have enough tests to track the virus in the general population, that armed citizens can march and confront law enforcement, without penalty, because they want haircuts, happy hours, but a jogger is hunted down and murdered, a woman is killed in her own bed by police officers... from doubt to the sickening awareness that it's true, real. How can this be? How could we have dismantled so much of our infrastructure and safety nets that basic services are failing? Why are we debasing intelligence, education, research, the integrity of our sons and daughters, bothers and sister, who are learned and tested, and listening to a troll, radio personalities, the highest bidders? Our own money, paid in taxes, is being handed out to corporations, to line shareholder pockets, and here at home we are trying to make and supply hospitals and clinics with essential protective equipment... unreal. One football player, to protest injustice, kneeled during the anthem, and people lost their shit over his "audacity" but now we live with open terrorism, white men threatening and raging, even killing because they object to wearing a mask, and the outcry, the indignation over their audacity? The silence is ringing in our ears, but I think we are worn thin, over-exposed to a daily shit show, endorsed and promoted by the so-called "conservative" government, by the President of the United States, by elected officials, appointed, anointed men and women who have no moral compass, no sense of decency. Everyone is losing.

After the 2016 election, people I know told me "he was elected, respect the office, he's not that bad, he has some pretty good ideas, he's a Christian, buck up buttercup, you libtards have it coming, I had to suffer Obama, and now you get what's coming to you." Is this it? Is this what they, those conservative friends, die-hard republicans, never Hilary voters were after? I wouldn't know, because they've gone quiet. Sure, some of them fume, "Well, I didn't vote for him!" But they still post rants upholding the party line, the memes and conspiratorial garbage, they still make divisive remarks, and lol over "libtards." There are plenty of democrats, libertarians that dismay me, too. I am far less concerned with left and right, than the fundamental destruction of our society, a country that was flawed, but capable, imperfect but functioning, and with the potential to progress. Progress, operating in practical, serviceable ways, is daily eroding on a scale that could be irrevocable, and not just for libtards, and buttercups. Now, instead of working to make better systems of healthcare coverage, to feed, educate and support children, to improve roads, bridges, and infrastructure, to shine lights on injustice and raise standards of living for all... now we are just trying to get through this, and we are all losing.

This isn't the new normal, this is a fall, a crashing collapse. We aren't going to be saved by corporations swooping in with ventilators, or by Betsy DeVos making up new protections for sexual predators. The federal government, our government, is withholding personal protective equipment from the states, picking and choosing who can have favor, and protection, supplies and funding... by rights, by law, by reason? No, by who has not hurt the President's feelings, been contrary, had a different opinion. When our governor asks me to wear a mask, because it's been shown, empirically, to reduce the spread of viruses, I do not feel my civil rights imposed; I feel a civic duty to be kind to my neighbors, to reduce the number of patients in Intensive Care Units, dying at home, suffering. The oppression I see, the alarming concerns I have are when the President shuts down discourse, stifles journalists, scientists, nurses, experts, dissenters, citizens. We are living in his television program, and when he's not happy with the ratings, or the cast, or the gaffers and lighting crew, he fires them, he throws a tantrum, shuts the mic, changes the script. One minute he's a "very stable genius" addressing the nation, but if that speech doesn't get him the results his precious ego lusts for, then he tweets, "Plot twist! I was joking, kidding, being sarcastic. You are liars, fakes." Pardon the guilty, cage children, exchange love letters with dictators, cheat, mock, hoard, crave, defile, and keep twisting the truth, distorting reality... it's all he does, and we are all suffering for it. Why? Why are we tolerating this? Why is this the New Normal?

Please vote in November. Heck, I hope we can vote in November. Please see that there is a difference between the candidates... not that one is flawless, or blameless, but that one is not deliberately mean, purposely destructive, greedy, stupid, vain, a liar. An actual liar... this isn't okay. We can try for better, for imperfect yet earnest. I can live with that. I can live with a candidate that means to surround themselves with intelligent people, caring people, capable people. Vote for a candidate that at least would like to try to make the world better, work with constructive purpose, listen, reason, engage.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sentimental and Silly

We have reached a milestone in SIP (Stay In Place. Another tag for this thing we are trying to accomplish in the time of COVID19. Stay home, and stay safe.)... you see, all of this time at home combined with a necessary preoccupation with procuring food, means that I visit the chickens, often, frequently, a whole hecking lot. Eggs, ladies? I pip, as nonchalantly as I can manage, every hour. You see, they're laying, which is really fortunate, but one of these egg-heads has a nasty habit of breaking eggs... ok, yeah, and she eats them. Gross. I know. And frustrating. Well, with all my visits, casual as I try to keep them, the milestone is... they're not all that interested in seeing me. Funny thing, in the eight years we've had our goats, I have never seen them asleep, because they would always be alert to the sound of my approach. Goats would greet me, chickens would purr and come curiously, even run, to meet me. Not any more. Tasha will sleep straight through any of my visits. The hens stop mid-sentence, look at me sideways, then circle closer, turn away from me. Like I can't tell they were talking about me? Like they wonder how long these drop in visits will go on for. Even the goats have settled down, and will glance indifferently in my direction when I come around, say good morning, pat their heads.

*sigh* The perils of SIP... familiarity.

Sunday morning, I stumbled on something that made me a little more interesting to the goats than I have been in recent months. I was a bit startled by the wide-eyed and fixed gazes from Tasha and especially Ada. I almost blushed, and flattered myself, They do love me. Ahhh... Then it dawned on me that their focus was about three inches above my eyes, and on the crown of flowers I was wearing. I was not the beloved mother and caretaker, I was simply a peculiar vessel for food. Their adoring eyes were fixed on me, but those looks and affection were for tasty snacks. They came closer, looking like fond children, alas, not to dote on their mom, but with peckish notions.

When I was a girl the women in our family received corsages on special occasions. I remember all of the extra attentions my mother paid when it was Easter or Mother's day, when we were going to visit family, meet at church, or celebrate with aunts, grandparents. It meant having my hair brushed and plaited, finding nice shoes for my brothers or their best shirts, possibly there would be pies loaded in the back of the car, and always happy anticipation of the specialness in store for us, like visiting cousins, getting treats, seeing decorations. I remember feelings akin to pride, admiration when my Mom would wear a prettier dress, or arrange her hair a new way. She stood at the bureau mirror, with the top drawer open, where she kept her lipsticks, tiny, white tubes... Avon samples. I loved to watch her apply her make-up, fix her hair, get ready. And many times, en route, we would stop at a market, and she would pick corsages. They came in clear, clamshell boxes. Most were orchids, and all of them had florist ribbon, maybe some greenery or a spray of baby's breath. Sometimes she would ask my opinion about colors, or flower types. If we were seeing all the aunts, and grandmother, she'd have to pick many, and I admit, I would hold my breath, hope... maybe she'd get one extra, maybe it was my turn to wear a corsage, too. The ones for Christmas! They were so extra! with tinsel, and glitter, maybe small ornaments, extra ribbon. Women wore them with long pins struck through their dresses, over their heart, beneath their shoulder. In an era, the 1970s, when formality and old traditions were falling away, when I was more often in jeans and a Hang Ten T than party dresses, that kind of refinement and glamour was rare. It was so uncommon, in fact, that for me it became both distinctly and secretly appealing, and something to resolutely eschew. There was never an accidental extra corsage, and I was never old enough for my own. I wore a wrist corsage, when Geoff took me to prom, and I still have the dried roses, and crumbling baby's breath in a box somewhere. But, I can't deny, I would love to be in a room with familiar women, pinning large orchid corsages, on each other, putting out platters on a side table, tying on aprons, steaming tamales in a small and crowded kitchen.

I think of corsages, and aunts in nice dresses, every Mother's Day, and how beautiful my mother is, and was, how much care she gave to make occasions special, and the many ways she would honor traditions, add extraordinary measures to holidays, and family gatherings. Her means and resources were limited. We counted pennies together, and did a lot to make do. Still, she would show us that it mattered... it mattered to dress our best, to iron a skirt, or bake pies, to shake hands, hold doors open, put flowers on the table, make presents pretty with bows and neatly folded wrapping. She gave us a romantic glimpse of her own childhood, when even tablecloths were pressed, and women had cooking aprons and serving aprons. I have the lace mantilla she wore to church, and I would so love to see her and my Grandmother dress for a family gathering, matching earrings to dresses, purses to shoes, applying lipstick with that practiced gesture that looked simply instinctive. I woke up with these instincts and recollections, and I longed to go back, to connect to those ways and traditions, so I made a flower crown to match a favorite dress. I made space for picking flowers and gathering supplies to make the day special, to look my best. I can't say that it was entirely successful, I mean besides the admiration of my goats. It was not easy to be away from Moms and Aunts, cousins, and Grandmothers, from old traditions, and romantic memories. Maybe I have spent too much time eschewing lipsticks and new hairdos, and I am not comfortable with my reflection. Maybe, during a quarantine, feeling sentimental and wistful sets a course toward more bitter than sweet nostalgia. We may Stay in Place, but my heart wanders.

When I showed Maria the pictures of our goats, and their yearning expressions, she laughed with me, then we agreed the goats would look darling in wreaths of their own. It would be a shame to deny them the pleasure, though we knew full well what would become of flower crowns made for goats. Just for fun, I made a sturdy ring of lemon geranium branches, and filled it with sprigs of lavender and two red roses. And we presented this to the goats. First, we tried to crown Tasha, and that was impossible. She twisted and butted and couldn't stand still. Ada was pushing and shoving, too, and we tried to put the crown on her, and that was not successful, either. The flowers were bursting apart, the goats wild eyed, and champing eagerly. I picked up the largest rose, and Maria declared, "It's such a pretty flower," just at the moment that Tasha inhaled it with satisfaction. We had hoped for just one adorable picture of a goat in a pretty crown of flowers, but I am glad I got a picture of my beautiful daughter laughing at the spectacle of us feeling sentimental, and trying to be be glamorous with silly goats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Garden & Kitchen

Butterfly Bush...Buddleja.

Brown onion, flowering... Allium.

I think the recipe for Dutch Oven Bread may be the most versatile in the world. Or, it's that Dutch Oven/No-Knead is the only recipe I am familiar with and I have no clue that most bread recipes are versatile. I've baked this bread in a stoneware pan, on a cookie sheet, round, loaf, baguette, in multiple mini rounds, and as a flat bread. The current favorite is the flat bread with crushed garlic, Italian seasonings, salt, and olive oil. It's ridiculously delicious. How does that happen, from flour and salt, a scant bit of yeast, and time, to something that brings seven people to the kitchen, where we eat lunch standing next to the oven? Bread is miraculous. Kitchens are essential, and gardens... gardens are a whole wide world of wonder, and possibility.

Penelope, 7 weeks old Ameraucana.

Flowering cilantro... Coriander.

Neo Cairo Nepenthes and RP Feynman

A special guest to the garden! Mr Wright came to meet the goats, and see what we've done to shelter Ada and Tasha. We shared tips and suggestions for caring for the pair of wethers they'll be adopting. We are so excited for this family and the fun they will be having, when a pair of kids come to their wonderful home. Mr Wright is one of the great teachers at the high school... Suki had him, Alex knows him, Bambi is still in touch with him, Max was a tech-wheel student, and he's Maria's art teacher now. In fact, I should say he's my art teacher, too, because it's thanks to him that I am making mosaics. He even brought me a box of art supplies, and great, practical advice for the next step ahead: Grouting. Which reminds me, I need to get my hands on some charcoal gray grout.

Imagine coming downstairs, and walking into the kitchen to this! Not only was Bambi cleaning the counters, and watching pasta dough rise, but she'd already baked a peach cobbler, as well. After one bite, I added "jarred peaches" to our grocery list. Bambi reminded me, "We still have two jars in the pantry, though." I know! That's not enough!

Here is the set up for the Chiclets as they grow accustomed to life in the big run. They have their familiar and cozy cage to retreat to, and at night I can secure it and cover them. Besides assuring they have places to take cover, and their own chick starter to eat, we haven't had to make any other accommodations. They are wary of the big hens, and there's room for the two flocks, young and old, to separate. But some of the little ones are already choosing to roost with the big Chicas. Integration continues to go as well as I could have hoped... it's a relief.

I planted these gold flowers last year, and I cannot remember what they are called, nor the pink ones. Do you see the tiny lavender spikes? I thought that plant perished. If I dared to go to the nursery, I would bring home the strawflowers they keep sharing on IG. And more blueberry bushes, squash, sage, thyme...

Look! Look! Treasure from Mr Wright's stash. This was such a generous and eagerly anticipated offer. The bin is chock full of great odds and ends. I keep turning it over, and pulling out the best bits, and then another, and another. I'm going to grout the first wall before I reward myself with the next project. And also, I need to find the right spot. It might be a table top. More than ever, I am glad to enjoy anticipation.

From the start of quarantine, social isolation, social distancing... whatever we want to call this, I had my intentions, and ideals and they were good and lofty, ambitious, noble. Two months later, and I am coming to terms with some truths, and self-knowledge. Simply put... The world is changed, but I am the same person. I keep things, I am scattered, I am a starter. I am older, slower, injured, recovering, coping with anxiety and leftover bits of post-collision trauma. I struggle to maintain order, and have little experience with staying in one place for long. It's almost 11 years we are here, happily, and by the patterns I am familiar and practiced with, we should have moved twice by now. Moving is a good opportunity to start again, purge, a do-over, fresh start. When the roof leaks, or a room succumbs to entropy, my instincts kick in and I think ah, well, time to pack and head out! No one is packing or heading out these days, not even for a road trip, or to the movies. Daily, I am face to face with Me. Me and my messes, me and my fears, me and my absolute failure with routine, or disciplined habits.

Fortunately, I have advantages... my humor, for one. Fortunately, there is more to Me than shortcomings, and I shouldn't discount that there is more than me, here at the Bird House. Am I a hoarder? Or have I simply come into quarantine prepared, well supplied? Am I messy, disorganized, or have I a highly developed coping mechanism for living with chaos? When home is doubling as a manufacturing center for the production of Personal Protective Equipment, a tolerance for disorder, other order, is good, even necessary. My decorating skills, are euphemistically "ecclectic," which fits nicely with having a dining table covered in medical face shields, and hosting twice-weekly Dungeons and Dragons events, remotely, from three separate rooms. It's hectic, here. Lots going on. The seven of us are keeping this together, more harmoniously than not. I see where I am going with this... two months ago, I had a vision for what needed to be done, and how it could be done, and it included high ideals and good intentions, and now it's time to adjust my sails. And why would it be any different than it's ever been? The world is different, and we are, paradoxically, the same and different, too. Fine. We keep moving forward. And yes, I have a lot of random stuff, but it's coming in oh so handy... I thought I was erring, but it turns out I was preparing.

Grandmother's flowers... Geranium... Pelargonium.

The red ones are Eunice's flowers. And the little blue, would-be- usurpers? Can anyone tell me what they are? They're pretty, but I cannot will not let anything take over my Grandmother's flowers.

Yes, I see... my gardening is as haphazard as my housekeeping. Yet, it provides... joy, comfort, sustenance, something to share, plenty to engage, amusement.

And in the kitchen... lunch is being prepared. It smells so good!

All day, I go between the kitchen and garden, to check on the chickens, to sit with the goats. I take pictures. I am looking for beauty, for comfort. I am communicating with my ideals, with my hopes. All day long I try to make sense of the new way we are in the world. I cannot always make sense of it, and I am struggling to feel comfortable... yet, there is beauty, we have what is essential, and our sense of wonder.

Bambi is joined by Alex and Maria, to cook, and for lunch we are being served okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style, with layered ingredients. The ramen is perfection, and I love the grilled cabbage, the fruit sauce topping.