Monday, March 29, 2010

Doin' it in the dark*

Earth Hour, March 27, 2010, 8:30-9:30 EST.

Earth Hour 2010

Earth Hour 2010 (2)

Though I have to say that this actually isn't too different from many Saturday nights (and others), when we dim the lights and light some candles. We ate steak (done on the BBQ), mashed potatoes, green beans, and spinach salad, with a bit of wine.

* I totally stole that title from my mom, who posted this about her activities during last year's Earth Hour, on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why I am too busy to blog (Part 1 of many)

Last year, I decided to start baking bread. My attempts have thus far been few and far between, because it was kinda hard work.[1]

But after reading a good review of Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett[2], I decided to take the book out from the public library. About 15 pages in[3], I decided: I. Must. Own. This. Book. So I picked it up from Chapters.

After a couple of weeks of planning, prepping, and procrastinating, I took the plunge this weekend and made an easy-peasy white loaf. It was so frickin' easy, I could cry. The hardest parts, in fact, were:

  1. realizing I had the wrong kind of yeast for the breads in the book, and having to explain to Randal (who was headed to the grocery store anyway) what the heck dry, active, fast-acting yeast was and why it would not fill the same niche as dry, active yeast (which I had in the cupboard aplenty - not that Randal was reticent to buy yeast, just that he was curious); and,

  2. trying to keep my social life adequately in tune with my baking life for 36 hours.[4]

Not wanting to incur the wrath of the copyright gods, I am loathe to reproduce the whole recipe here. But if any of you are interested, I will send it to you directly. In the meantime, here is my paraphrased version of events.

First, you take a bit of yeast, a whole whack of flour[5], salt (I used sea salt), sugar (I used organic), and, um, some other things, and you mix it in a very large bowl with oil and water, getting a small lump perhaps the size of 3 fists, if such a thing exists. Then, for best flavour and convenience, you put it in the fridge for 3-10 hours. If you are like me, your fridge is so jam-packed that there's no way you can fit the bowl in it, so you instead put it in a small cooler with some ice packs, except the bowl is slightly wider than the cooler so you have to put the cooler on its side and then consequently tape the cooler shut.[6]

Raw dough, anyone? It's cool and refreshing!

That evening, before bed, at about 10:30, I rescued the bowl from the cooler and put it out on the counter.

I'm freeeeee!!!!

Then I promptly forgot about it (on purpose!) until the following evening. You are supposed to let it rise 15-20 hours. I came back to it at 6:30 Monday evening after getting home from work. Thankfully, I had left the plastic wrap on, so it had not yet had a chance to expand past the bowl, onto the floor and gradually into the living room, backing the dog into the furthest corner of the room. (Actually, I probably should have taken the plastic off, because I think the rising was impeded at the end.

All growed up.

At this point, I took the dough and split it into two chunks (not as easy as one might think, I should add), then put them into bread loaf pans. However, as this following picture will attest, not all bread loaf pans are equal.

Trying to make a break for it.

I have made bread numerous times in my silicone bread pan with no problems; however, I have never dealt with such springy, happy-to-rise dough. Which I guess is a good quality in dough, but it disagrees with silicone pans. So I must go buy a second regular loaf pan.

Here is where things got a bit off the rails. When I originally planned this, I had no plans Monday night. But that afternoon, a friend of mine emailed to see if Randal and I were available for dinner. "I'm baking bread" seemed worse than "I'm washing my hair", so I said sure. So I transferred the dough to the pans at 6:30, as I mentioned, and the recipe said to let it rise 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours until it is just 1/2 an inch past the top of the pan. Well, as the picture above attests, mine over-rose (about a full inch), as I was out to dinner until past 9:30. Oops.

Then you bake for about 35-40 minutes, plus some extra. I got tripped up on the "plus some extra". In the book, Baggett works it out to about 15-25 minutes extra. I didn't even do that much extra, and it was a bit too long. I think 40 minutes TOPS will do it for my bread next time.

Bread loaves, complete with Lady Gaga-esque not-so-subtle product placement in the background.

As you can see, the loaf baked in the silicone pan also looks like a boule on top, but is definitely loaf-shaped on the bottom, like a distorted mushroom. And I tried some today as an after-work snack, and other than slightly dry edges (overbaked a bit), it is quite dee-lish!

"Feed me, Seymour, I'm HUNGRY!" ...Oh, no, wait - I'm the one who ate the bread, not the monster plant in the background.

[1] For those near and dear to me, it will come as no surprise that I can be a bit of a lazy git, and am fond of taking the path of least resistance whenever possible. For the rest of you, sorry for shattering the Hard-Working Julie Illusion.

[2] I think the original review I read was in the New York Times online, but a quick 30-second Google search failed to turn the review up again, and please see the above footnote for why I am not going to look longer for it.

[3] Similar to my blog postings that ramble a lot before getting to the point, there's a lot of introductory information before the actual recipes, though in Baggett's case, it's actually useful and interesting information.

[4] Normally this would not be a problem. But, you know, once I figured out the perfect schedule for all the steps, well, life happened. But no one died, nor was any collateral damage incurred, and heck, one's bread still managed to rise.

[5] A "whack" corresponds to a "frickload", if you prefer imperial measurements.

[6] That last bit might be optional. I may just need a slightly larger cooler (a smaller bowl is not recommended, since this puppy expands a huge amount); however, since I actually already own a very large double cooler, odds are I am not going to buy a third cooler (how many coolers does a girl need?[6a]), so I think the masking tape is here to stay.

[6a] That's a rhetorical question.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bloggy Doggy

So I received the following string of emails, forwarded to me from Randal, a few weeks ago.

From: Randal Kowalchuk
Sent: Mon 22/02/2010 11:54
To: Julie Lavigne
Subject: Monday morning

Inbox (128 new messages)

From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:05 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk
Subject: I SAD

Where are you? Can I come?

From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:15 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk
Subject: COME HOME

I have a stuffy for you.

From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:22 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk

It looks nice outside. Just thought you should know.

From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:37 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk

You weren't here so I barked for you.

From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:53 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk


From: Kowalchuk-Lavigne.Rion []
Sent: February 22, 2010 9:57 AM
To: Randal Kowalchuk
Subject: I SAD

I howled. You missed it. COME HOME.


I think I am going to put that dog to work on my blog; it might actually then have a chance of being updated semi-regularly.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful