Sunday, July 26, 2009

Other People's Babies

Over the past month, I received news that two of my friends (ok...four, two couples) were expecting. They're all wonderful people and great parents. Both couples already have sons of about the same age, though they don't know each other, and both boys would make great big brothers. Both couples very much wanted their pregnancies, although one hadn't been sure it was possible after a bout with cancer, and everyone was excited for them.

Then, within the span of about three days, I received news that both couples had lost their babies. I am now much closer to understanding what the word "heartbroken" really means. It's shocking how something so absolutely and energetically good can just vanish. And it's frustrating not only because I have no idea what they need right now, but because even if I did, both couples (one of whom I'm very close friends with) are in Texas. There's only so much comfort that can be sent over the internet, just doesn't seem a gift-sending occasion, so for now, I'll stay my knitting needles. I am, I think, going to mark the passings by lighting a candle...or my own fumblingly pseudo-religious way. I don't believe that life begins at conception, and I certainly don't believe you have to be loved to have a soul, but...I think perhaps it may speed things along. These little people were very loved during their brief time in the world, and they still are.

In considerably happier news, my boyfriend (who will remain nameless) and I will be picking up his son from the airport next Saturday! He'll be with us all month, and we've decided to spend most of our time at my place, with a detour down south to the family farm (his family, not mine, but they're great). This has meant kitting out the "guest room" in the basement into something a little more kid friendly and less, well...basement-like, which has been a lot of fun! It's also involved a couple of new projects. Last summer, the incredible blond lightening bolt was quite attached to his army of stuffed animals. This summer, my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, speculates that he may not have room in his luggage for any, as he's flying alone for the first time. Thus, currently, there is a pile of knitted, unstuffed rabbit parts. Soon there will be a rabbit. I figure if he thinks it's lame, I can foist it on my 8-month-old roommate. :-)

There is also (very nearly) a quilt (pictured above with my baby, Harlot)! I must admit, I'm making this quilt for myself because I absolutely hate my comforter. But it's occured to me that when my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, and I finally get around to shacking up, it'll probably wind up on the incredible blond lightening bolt's bed. The overachiever who lives in my rian thinks I can have this done in time to put on his bed in the basement. The sane person who cohabitates with the overachiever in my brain is not so sure, but isn't worrying since there's more than enough bedding to go's just not quite as snappy and hand-made. At any rate, it's coming along really nicely, and we'll just see when and for whom it comes out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Best Bread

Here's the bread recipe I've been promising you. Since discovering the idea of no-knead bread, I literally have not bought bread from the store. For months, I have enjoyed a steady supply of fresh, healthy, home-made bread. The secret is making a large quantity of dough that keeps for up to two weeks in your fridge. When you need more bread, you break off a hunk of dough, let it sit for an hour and a half, and then pop it in the oven. That's it. No kneading, no carefully timed rises. It's brainless, and involves about 5 minutes of actual work per loaf.

And it's GOOD! Crusty with a nice, moist crumb, this bread has the tiniest hint of tang, reminiscent of sourdough (though it's not a sourdough). The addition of wheat bran and germ round off that tang and make it a little bit rustic. I've looked and not found a recipe that works like this that involves whole wheat flour, so for now the bran and germ make it healthier than white bread. Well, that and the complete lack of additives of any kind. Unless to add them...for some reason...then you could.

Here is the recipe. Try it and marvel at how insanely easy (and cheap!) it is to have fresh, crusty artisan bread on hand at all times.
Makes dough for three loaves
1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
3.5 cups warm water
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
6 cups all purpose flour

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the yeast and salt.
  2. Add the water.
  3. Mix in the wheat bran and germ.
  4. Add the flour, mixing thoroughly until all lumps are gone. This is most easily done 2 cups at a time, stirring between each addition. The dough will be quite wet and sticky, and not entirely smooth, but there should be no pockets of dry flour when the mixing is done.
  5. Cover, but not with an airtight lid, and let sit for at least 2 hours and as many as five.
  6. Bake now, or store dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  7. When ready to bake, break off 1/3 of the dough (per loaf), and place in a greased and floured bowl (a cereal bowl will do fine).
  8. Sprinkle liberally with flour, and let sit for about an hour (up to two, if dough has been refrigerated). It's ok to be very approximate with this time.
  9. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Let bread stone warm to temperature as oven preheats.
  11. Carefully transfer the dough from the bowl to the hot stone. The dough will still be very loose, but arrange in a nice, round mound. Slash the top three times with a sharp knife (this will be easier the more flour you dusted it with earlier).
  12. Bake for 35 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when thumped.
  13. Cool on a wire rack until it's just cool enough not to burn you.
  14. Slather with butter and devour while still warm.
Hints and Variations:
  • This is a great recipe to add stuff into. Nuts, seeds, garlic, olives, mushrooms, cheese, dried fruit, diamonds...mix it in before you start adding the flour, maybe a handful per loaf.
  • This bread can also be baked on a cookie sheet or in a greased loaf pan, but the baking stone really enhances the crust and the shape of the loaf.
  • On a related note, these would probably make great dinner rolls. One slash on the top, maybe brushed with an egg wash. They'd need to be baked for a shorter time than a full loaf. I shall experiment and report back!
  • When you're done stuffing your face, wrap the still-warm loaf in a cloth napkin until fully cool, then store in a zip bag. The warm bread will not become stale as it cools, even overnight, but it will become soggy if it cools in anything airtight.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vive la France!

And now, a few useful formulae:

scone + strawberry jam + whipped cream + strawberries = strawberry shortcake

scone + blueberry jam + whipped cream + blueberries = blueberry shortcake

scone + strawberry jam + whipped cream + blueberries = BASTILLE DAY SHORTCAKE!!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

And the winner is....

...Mailophobic!!! Congratulations! Drop me an email letting me know to what email address you'd like me to send your copy of Bluebonnets.

That was kinda fun. I think mayhap I shall have another of those at some point. :-) In the meantime...

This is coming right up! We're in the testing stages, and then in a week or so the pattern for these mitts and their matching hat will be up for sale! So stay tuned.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Time For a Giveaway!!!

Win this! The headband pattern, not the girl. Sicko. :-P

One of the strange things about blogging is that you really can't tell who's subscribed to your RSS feed. So, although there are various ways of telling who comes and visits your site, anyone who reads your blog via your feed is essentially invisible to you. This makes it sort of hard to gauge how many regular readers you have. Some services like Google Reader make it possible to see who's following you through that particular service, but I know I usually just subscribe directly to the feed, and I think most people like to do that too.

So here's my idea: If you are subscribed to my blog (or if you're just now subscribing) in any way, through any service, comment to this post and let me know! Everyone who comments will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Bluebonnets, which is, you know...not usually free. And, just because I think it's fun to actually see my "followers," anyone who follows my blog via Google Reader will be entered twice!

A winner will be chosen on Saturday, July 11 via random number generator, so subscribe and submit your comments or subscribe through Google before then (see the "subscribe" and "follow" links to the left). I'll post the name of the winner that day, then it will be up to that person to email me and let me know at what email address they'd like to receive the PDF pattern.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Tastiest Palindrome

(In the interest of full disclosure, I normally spell it "challah." That's when I'm not trying to capitalize on its being a palindrome, of course).

Today, I am drowning in grainy goodness (I should go get a nice Heffeweisen and round things off). I've finished a hat (matching mitts to come) named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture. Doesn't it remind you of woven grass? It reminds me of woven grass. Anyway. It's being tested now, and in celebration, I've decided to bake challah, and share the recipe with the masses!

Challah is rather more involved than most bread, and certainly more involved than the delightfully simple no-knead bread that I've very nearly perfected (about which more later). It has more than your typical 2 rises, it must rise in a warm oven and bake at a gradually increasing temperature.

Although I've had great luck baking Challah in a variety of shapes, it is traditionally baked in a nice, braided loaf. Furthermore, my recipe makes four loaves. That's a lotta baking! My understanding is that this is traditionally baked in quantity before the sun sets on Friday, so that there's plenty of challah to break off (not cut) and eat during the period of work-restriction during Shabbat. I could be wrong - I'm not Jewish. I just really like challah!

Today I'm quartering the recipe, and the recipe I'll share with you includes both measurements - numbers not in parentheses are for one loaf, numbers in parentheses are for four. I'll let you figure out the twos and threes and eights as you see fit. :-)

  • 2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, more for dusting and adding in if the dough is too wet (10 cups)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt (2 Tbsp.)
  • 1/8 cup sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 2 level Tbsp. yeast (2 heaping Tbsp.)
  • 1/8 lb. butter, melted (1/2 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. warm water (2-1/2 cups)
  • 2 eggs at room temperature (6 eggs)
  • optional: seeds or dried fruit, about 1 handful total per loaf

1. Preheat oven to warm -- 140 deg. F.

2. Mix the flour and salt in a large nonmetal bowl, making a well in the center. (I tried it once in a metal bowl. The bread started to bake prematurely along the bottom during the rise. This may have been due to a sketchy Russian oven, or it may have been due to an overly conductive bowl. I'm not taking any more chances!)

3. Many people add seeds or dried fruit to their challah. I usually make mine plain, but on special occasions, I'll mix in sunflower seeds and golden raisins. Mix about a handful of your chosen stuff in with the dry ingredients now, if desired.

4. Add 1 Tbsp. (1/4 cup) sugar to the well, cover with the yeast, and top with remaining sugar.

5. Mix the yeast with the sugar in the well.

6. Combine the melted butter and warm water, mixing as best you can.

7. Add the butter mixture to the yeast mixture and work in well with your hands.

8. Separate 1 egg.

9. Add the remaining 1 egg (5 eggs) and white of the separated egg individually to the bread dough, kneading well afer each addition, until all the flour is absorbed, about 10 minutes. As you knead, you may have to add more flour, so have some handy. The dough will be sticky - add flour gradually until it doesn't stick hopelessly to your fingers.

10. Cover the bowl first with waxed paper smeared with butter, then with a towel, and put in the warm oven for 1/2 hour.

11. When the dough has almost doubled in size, punch it down and knead thoroughly and briskly for about 10 minutes. You will soon find that kneading warm bread dough is one of the more pleasurable activities life has to offer.

12. Cover with the greased paper and towel and let rise for 15-20 minutes more in the warm oven, until it is almost doubled again.

13. Remove once more, punch down, knead again for 5-10 minutes. Re-cover and let rise once more for 15-20 minutes in the warm oven.

14. Turn the dough onto a pastry board and knead thoroughly. (If baking 4 loaves, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces using a sharp knife.) Divide each loaf further into 6 pieces. Add a little flour, and knead each portion, and shape it into a ball. Cover the pieces not being worked on with a moist paper towel.

15. With the palm of your hand, roll out the balls into long ropes about 9 inches in length. Continue until all 6 balls are shaped into ropes.

16. Place 6 ropes side by side, touching at one end. Pinch that end to seal well. Bring the extreme right rope over the next three; then bring the extreme left over three. Continue until the bread is completely braided. when no more can be braided, pinch the ends to seal together. Place on a greased and floured cookie sheet. Repeat for as many loaves as you are making.

17. Brush with the remaining egg yolk, making sure you get into all the cracks.

18. Place in warm oven for 20 minutes.

19. Raise the oven temperature to 200 deg. F for 15 minutes.

20. Raise it to 275 deg F for 15 minutes.

21. Finally, raise the oven temperature to 375 deg. F for 10-15 minutes, until the bread is golden brown.

22. Let cool completely before slicing. If you really can't wait and want warm bread, let it cool enough to handle without burning yourself, and break chunks off. Bread really does slice better when it's cooled a bit, but this bread lends itself well to not being sliced.

23. The baked challah freezes well.

A Quick Plug

The folks over at Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm have come up with a wonderful way to destash for a good cause: Yarn Storming. These days, many knitters have had to cut yarn out of their budget to get by - and we all know how sanity-saving a good knit can be during a stressful time. Yarn Storm's secret agents collect extra stash yarn, and then send it out anonymously to people who could use it. Read more at the website linked above, and if you're on Ravelry, check out their group! You can contribute by sending in stash yarn or by nominating a recipient.

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I already know where there's a box of yarn I keep not using in my basement that I'll send in once I'm back in Madison. Makes me wish more of my down-and-out friends were knitters. :-)

There will be another post today as well - more of the usual fare involving recipes and pictures of bread and knitting and whatnot. Stay tuned!