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Category Archives: Retirement

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.

Cookbook Club

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In my last post, where I talk about all the ways we experimented with brining turkey, I mentioned the inspiration of the cookbook club. Friday I started cooking from the 10th book, a different one every month, and sharing it on social media with other “club” members. This version of an online community is managed by Food52, a popular web site for people obviously interested in food.

The club, a closed group on Facebook, has thousands of members. A small percentage of us cook and write about it. What is so interesting to me is seeing results, and comments, successes and failures, by cooks from around the world.  Seasonal cooking as well as regional cooking are thrown for a loop when the Aussies and Kiwis from the bottom of the world, and the Asians, the Europeans, the Canadians, South Americans and those of us Stateside all try and cook from the same book with ingredients we can source.

We vote for the books, three months at a time, a few months in advance. This allows us to reserve library books, or to have a book readily available worldwide.

This month? Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore. I am lucky to have a great county library where I can reserve books, and then use online renewals to keep them for up to nine weeks if no one else requests them. I got the book in midNovember and started reading. I like this book quite a bit. Her column on line explores these great recipes in depth, and uses input to make them easy for anyone to tackle. Tweaks to them. Hints. Substitutions.

I needed to make cookies for a cookie party. I spent Friday doing one from this book and one from the latest Ottolenghi book, SWEET. Sweet is the book of the month for the baking version of our little online community. If you have never cooked from Ottolenghi’s books, you should get your hands on any of them and just have fun. I have all of them in eBook versions. The cookbook club in June let us loose on all of his previous books.

What did I bake?

From Genius Recipes I visited an old favorite. Molasses cookies from the Silver Palate. Mine spread too much. I think I didn’t let the dough chill enough. Still, they taste great and they look like lace cookies, which make them perfect tea cookies.

From Sweet, I made these absolutely amazing cranberry, oat, and almond cookies, covered in a white chocolate glaze. These disappeared immediately at our event Saturday. Not sugary at all. There is only a half cup of sugar in the entire batch, which made 48 cookies. The white chocolate is the right touch to make these really good. Perfect with a cup of tea. The online recipe for these cookies is on the Random House UK web page, The Happy Foodie.

I am working on my baking skills this month. In my CSA share, I am getting the flour and grain shares, which will be put to use often, as I work my way through the Genius Recipe book. Jim Lahey’s famous No Knead bread is on my short list, as is an interesting one grain ingredient cracker. More on whether I do these, and if they are successful, later this month.

As for why I am active in this community. I promised myself that I would continue to challenge myself in retirement. Trying new things. Different cuisines. Tackling that fear of baking. Within our little online group, we commiserate. We encourage. We share. Some of us aren’t as good at it as others. Doesn’t matter. We enjoy cooking and by seeing the results, we become determined to try a harder recipe, and expand our knowledge of techniques.

In February, the cooking club celebrates its first anniversary by opening the month to a free-for-all with all the books we used in the first year. I joined the second month, so I didn’t cook from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott. I will be reserving that book and facing that challenge. To me, pie crust is hard to do.  But what the heck! They may end up messy, but taste is what really counts.

My other favorites from this past 10 months? Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Made in India by Meera Sodha. All the Ottolenghi books. I had three of Ottolenghi’s already on eBooks, and have downloaded the others. CSA farm shares tempt me to dig into those books for good vegetable recipes. And, if it wasn’t for Deep Run Roots, I never would have grown okra in my garden.

Or made these.

Or this.

The okra fries are so easy, and so good. Just olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Screaming hot oven or on the grill. Crunchy, salty, spicy. As for that awesome cauliflower cake from Ottolenghi, it will be repeated when we get cauliflower again from the CSA. It is absolutely the best show stopping addition to a pot luck party, and really not that hard to make.

What’s stopping you? Get cooking!

 

Daytrippin’ Again and Again

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It is the season. To get in the car and head out looking for new places, and enjoying the weather.

The red buds are in bloom. So are the Kwanzan cherry trees. I have to head out to Brighton Dam to check on the progress at the azalea gardens. Maybe tomorrow we will do that.

We did get out to a few favorite places, and a new one.

We hit the Hawaiian Shaved Ice place on Liberty Road. Just northeast of where Wards Chapel meets Liberty Road. Had one absolutely awesome egg custard shave ice.

We went looking for Carhartt shorts. To National Harbor, no less. There is a Carhartt store there (go figure, a very traditional work oriented clothing company in a tourist destination). This was our first visit to the evolving tourist spot. We had an excellent lunch at Rosa Mexicano, and then slogged our way home through downtown DC. It made us remember just why we retired, and don’t regret that commute every night. By the way, the fish tacos at the restaurant. Amazing.

Spring is our favorite time to hit the back roads, enjoy the scenery and venture into previously unexplored sections of the tristate area.

Any suggestions for places to go?

Change is Hard

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First of all, Happy New Year! I have been fairly busy with the painting around here, and haven’t kept up the blog. At least I remembered to change the copyright notice date to the current year. Hopefully, I can remember to write the correct year on all these checks we keep writing.

As for the past, current and future, I admit, not sorry to see 2016 go away. To us, 2016 brought Medicare, Social Security and lots of other reminders of getting older. Like realization that bad weather is worse when you aren’t a spring chicken anymore. Last year’s blizzard and tornado proved to be problems for us. In minor ways, but still problems.

We learned that we had to change things. Make things more accessible. Eliminate possible accident sources. Update bathroom, kitchen and other interior spaces. All these things are disruptive. Sometimes I think even more so because we are retired and here most days. We didn’t get to run away to the office and come home to the chaos only at night. Or, have the luxury like those on-HGTV people who could stay elsewhere while their houses were under renovation. I understand why people resist doing renovations. It can literally stress you out to the point of wanting to give it up. Yes, the results are nice, but living in complete disarray gets to me.

Every item from my pantry is in bags and boxes on my family room floor. Cooking is difficult.

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Add to it, the sheer shock factor of going to a bright yellow.

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Let’s just say I really like it. My better half? He’s still adjusting to the major color change.

We at least had New Year’s Eve dinner even while working around it all. I have to say that this recipe is a keeper, and it was a simple meal served with an excellent bubbly.

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Emeril Lagasse’s Oyster Stew. Recipe from online. Oysters from the Jessup Seafood Market. A side salad. Champagne savored from beginning of cooking through to a glass just before we gave up and crashed around 11:30. Yep, we couldn’t make it until midnight.

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Here’s to a better brighter 2017! At least my kitchen will be bright and cheery.

Come Monday

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Peace and quiet. No alarm clock. For the first Monday in about six weeks we haven’t had to set an alarm and wake up ready to go with painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians or other subcontractors.

I realized that six years ago today I set an alarm and got up to go to my last week of work before retiring. My last Monday wake up, for the commute and the stress. Most of the time now, we get up when the sun wakes us. Being on a schedule was almost alien.

I look back on these six years. People told me, you will get bored. You will want to go back to work, if only for the social aspect of it. Interestingly, we have found our social circles in fellow retirees who are active in our hobbies.

Gardening. Ham radio. Volunteering. Cooking and baking. Blogging. Day trips. Wine tastings. We haven’t lacked for things to do.

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What have we done? In 2010, I went through naturalist training and started leading field trips at the Conservancy. I signed up to take the Howard Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment and became part of that community of “senior” volunteers.

I joined my first CSA in 2011, and became very interested in changing what we ate, and how we cooked it.

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In 2012, after surgery, I got back into my garden, and my kitchen, and slowly recovered from spinal fusion. It took a while but now I hardly remember the long road back.

We do so many things with the local amateur radio clubs. Dinners, contests, lunches, picnics, field day weekend.

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In 2013, I became even more active in giving programs at the Conservancy. I got into preserving foods, and totally changing what came into this house. Eliminating most heavily preserved and processed packaged foods.

We have tackled some major renovations here. Making the house a more energy efficient and “senior friendly” place to live.

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We put up a radio tower, no, two of them.

So, I have to say it hasn’t been boring. I have never even once considered working again. Don’t have time for it. On April 1st, I will raise a toast to commemorate that last day of working. And the beginning of my journey, which thankfully almost never needs alarm clocks.

Aging In Place

In an aging place.

Had quite a bit of thought about the whole aging process. Aging of us. Aging of our home. I don’t consider 30 to be old, but around here, it’s almost ancient. Not quite as bad as being 50, which is what many of the original homes in Columbia MD are soon to celebrate.

I worked in the UK, where 600 years old wasn’t out of the question. We are spoiled. Living in a relatively newly developed area. Still, I watched people turn up their noses at our townhouses (gasp) without garages. Ours, built in the early 80s were too old and dated for the crowd who wanted those brand new places in River Hill.

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Columbia is pretty much built out now. The county is expanding, or tearing down and rebuilding. I loved our old townhouse, right in the center of town. Too bad for us, we really wanted to follow our dreams of a big garden, and a couple of radio towers. Bucket list items. Not allowable under covenants.

That house is now 35 years old. Still looks great. Why? Because we took care of it. I see so many places now that are pretty much devastated due to lack of basic maintenance.

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What is this? A pile of the cedar we were replacing in this house. Our “new” house. Built in 1987. At 24 years, we replaced almost 50% of the wood. Not fun. Not cheap. Not sexy.

But, it was the bones of the house. The basics of maintenance. I can’t figure out why collectively we don’t take care of the biggest investments most of us will make in our lives.

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We took care of our infrastructure the first 10 years. New roof. New doors. New heat pumps and appliances. Making our home a warmer, safer, more energy efficient place to live.

Now, we are working on those aesthetic things. Painting, carpeting. Keeping our house new looking, while not shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy something else.

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I think I can deal with six weeks of mess to get painted walls, new bathrooms and carpet in all but those high dollar areas. We still will have to tackle the master suite and the kitchen.

At the end of this road, a house that accommodates an aging couple. But won’t look old.

Underachievers

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That would be us. In the energy world. At least according to our latest and not so greatest report from our “Smart” meter. I have a hate-hate relationship with that meter. It only gives us bad news. Like this.

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Basically telling me to stop making home cooked meals for us.

My peak load on electricity. Dinner time. I suppose to become an overachiever we need to hop in the car nightly and head out 20-30 miles round trip to buy a dinner at a chain restaurant that would feed a family of six in a developing country.

In other words, we don’t do as well in energy consumption as 70 of our closest “neighbors”. We ranked 71st in the latest mailing, out of 100 people around us. It does NOT include any of the local McMansions. Since they heat with natural gas, they aren’t compared to us. Only the older homes that are cursed with heat pumps.

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We have two of the beasts. They work well, since we can tailor the output for bedrooms versus first floor, but still they consume beaucoup energy. Particularly when you are retired and home all day. Yes, we could crank that temp high and swelter in the house, since we no longer head off to government jobs in ice boxes that are set low to keep the computers cool.

All of those energy saving suggestions are tailored to those who leave their homes every day to go to work. Not to those of us who are here when the temps hit the high nineties.

But really. How is it more energy “efficient” to not use our stove or oven. Or to get rid of the chest freezer with all our home processed fruit and vegetables in it. Should we be buying all those quick fix meals that can be nuked or heated quickly? What about all the energy waste in the packaging and the transport?

None of that is counted for those of us who cook from scratch nightly. Who don’t do the carry out or fast food or restaurant hopping that keeps our kitchens clean and spotless. That minimizes those loads in the dishwasher. That lowers that “bump” from 5-7 pm in our energy curve.

Really. I want to believe that buying local food and making it myself is better for us. But is it? How much do we really save? Honestly, I think we are doing a better job in many ways, but it certainly isn’t reflected in the reports we get monthly.

How do we measure what our real carbon footprint is? I can’t easily answer that, but it is a good question.

Something to ponder on a Monday night.