Friday, February 29, 2008

Making Bread With Julia

Genesis 18:3-6
  He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant." 
 "Very well," they answered, "do as you say."
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."

Not very long ago I said that I wanted to bring my French bread up a notch. Now I make lots of French bread and everyone loves it. My nephews think I'm an incredibly awesome aunt just for my French bread. But all that aside, I was aware that I could do better. So I was really excited when I saw that for the Daring Baker project this month we were going to make French bread from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs (and others).

First up, I knew I had a copy of the book, but I look high and low ad then high and low several more times and I couldn't find it!!!!! Even though I have a very large cookbook collection I do know (for the most part) what books I own. I'm starting to wonder if I didn't lend that book to someone. But anyway, in the end my dear sweet husband bought me a new old copy. The book is volume two of a two volume set. I originally bought the book at Goodwill for 3.99, but this new one (used) was $20 at Powells.

Then there's reading that huge recipe. The printed out version from the Daring Baker site was 9 pages long in rather small print. Amazing for a recipe with only four ingredients. After perusing the recipe several times I decided that I would make the bread on my birthday to go with my steak, baked potato, asparagus and green salad dinner.

When I came down stairs on my birthday I had a wonderful surprise. Corey, daughter number three, had done a lovely job cleaning up the kitchen late the night before. I had been apprehensive about the fact that I wanted to make bread in a rather messy kitchen and Corey knew this would be a lovely birthday present. And it was! I started making the bread before church (which was at 9). The tricky bit there was getting the temperatures of things just right. I used an electronic thermometer, which seemed quite adequate for the job. And I even weighed the salt. This all seemed rather futile in the end when I realized that the dough was much too wet and I added 3 more ounces of flour and another little pinch of salt to go with the extra flour. But at that the dough felt and sounded just right. The whole process took me exactly one hour - 7:07 - 8:07.

We didn't get back until a little after one, so the dough had had at least 4 hours to rise for the first rising, which is longer than usual for me. The dough was risen with unusual bubbles. Oh, I forgot to mention. I used a different flour than I usually use. Normally I make bread with flour from Bob's Red Mill, buying it at the mill. But this time I used King Arthur bread flour. This change in the flour makes testing this new way for making French bread a little difficult, since I don't know how much of the difference is due to the flour.

I then proceeded to do the special punching down of the bread. I was very confused when reading the recipe, so I got onto the internet and looked at several u-tube videos for making bread. I finally decided that what the recipe was talking about was the fancy sqishing and folding of the dough. I would say that this was the one main difference in how I make French bread (besides the new flour). I then set the dough to rise for the second time. Then it's the next step that I know I cheated just a little bit. The dough rose up nicely and by the time to leave to go to the Art Museum I knew that we might not get back in time if I set the formed loaves to rise. So I squished down the dough again at left it to rise a third time. One thing that I've found in the past is that letting the loaves over-rise makes for rather disappointing loaves of bread.

As soon as we got back from the museum I set to forming the loaves for the final rise. I took my heaviest tea towel and floured it all up.

I decided since we were having a dinner party I would make three loaves all the same, so I divided the dough into three equal lumps. I must confess that I couldn't understand the rolling out directions so I just rolled the dough out like I always to and placed the rolls on the towel with the bad side up.

By this time it was 5:15. I covered them and left them to rise as long as I had time to allow. There was going to be a point when we had to eat dinner as people would eventually need to get home and get to bed as the next day was Monday. It was 6:40 when I decided to put them in the oven. So that meant that the last rising was one hour and 25 minutes. I gently rolled them onto a baking sheet that would fit into my Lacanche. This went well.

And here they are, just coming out of the oven.

I think these loaves look great. I was really worried about making loaves without a form. It seems there's no need for one.

Final Analysis:

Well for starters everyone thought that this bread was wonderful and they all agreed that it was even better than my usual bread. I definitely agree. But unfortunately until I make the bread this way with my regular flour I'll never know how much the flour affected the change. The bread was chewier and the crust was crunchier.

The one thing I could do without is the checking for exact temperatures of the water. That was a real pain, and I can't imagine it's usefulness. If the yeast puffs up everything is going well.

I would like to find out exactly how much water to flour and salt is perfect so that I don't have to add, but probably in the end it doesn't matter.

The big change in what I do is the serious squishing of the dough before putting it to raise the second time (and the third because I had to go out). I think that that method is a keeper.

It seems reasonable that the recipe for French bread came from an American cook because the French don't make bread, they buy it at their neighborhood boulangerie.

It was really great to want to take my bread up a notch and succeed at it. Thanks for a terrific Daring Baker project!

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; 
and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Birthday is on Sunday

Psalm 62:5-6

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;

       my hope comes from Him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation; 

       He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

I was born on Sunday, and it always seems a bit special to have my birthday land on Sunday.  It doesn't happen very often.  So we were sitting in church and after the sermon, as we are getting ready for communion, they start singing Be Thou My Vision.  Now this is my favorite hymn, and it feels like a birthday present from the Lord, and then I remembered that it happened once before - the church singing Be Thou My Vision on my birthday.  At that I felt certain that the song was a birthday present from the Lord and I started to get very teary-eyed and shaky.  Not only did we sing Be Thou My Vision, but we sang all of the verses, which is not at all common.  So for me that was a real delight and it felt so special.  Even if nothing else went right for my birthday that made up for anything.

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

But I had a lovely birthday.  We all went for coffee and pastries at the Fleur de Lis after church.  Then Riley and I stopped at the store and bought things for dinner and went home and relaxed for a while.  I was working on my daring baker project, but I can't say anything about it until the 29th.  Then at 2:00 we went down town to go to the art museum and see the exhibit on Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec entitled The Dancers.

When we went to pick up our tickets to the exhibit Riley informed me that one of my birthday presents was a years pass to the museum for the two of us. I am also allowed to bring with me for free anyone under the age of 18, so that means that I can bring Christian and Emily. Christian has never been to the museum and I'm pretty sure he's interested in going, once at least. This exhibition on the dancers was very informative and focussed on the paintings relating to their way of life rather than the actual performances. One often sees in the pictures rich men dressed in fancy dress. It turns out that they are what was known as abonnes. That's a polite term for men who sponsor dancers in return for having them as mistresses. The really shocking thing is that the the arrangements for the sponsorship was typically made with the mothers of the dancers, who were usually girls from the country. These kinds of pictures are typically seen in museums rather than as prints for sale.

We got home and guests began to arrive or were already there. Heidi was there having set the table for dinner and she was working on straightening up the living room, which was very nice because it is her daughter who made the mess. Annie was working on the pavlova, which did prove to be a very difficult dessert to make. I did some more work on my daring baker project and then sat down in the living room. Ken and Marilyn arrived and while sitting with guests in the living room it suddenly dawned on me that if I didn't get working on the dinner it probably wouldn't come together. It's not easy being the Mom. The only way I'll ever get a completely work free birthday dinner is to eat at restaurant. But I love a family dinner at home.

So Marilyn and I went into the kitchen to get the salad together. It turned out to be a wonderful salad.

Fruity Green Salad

green leaf lettuce, washed and torn up
2 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced up
2 yellow tomatoes, diced up
2 green onions, diced up
two small containers of mandarin oranges, juice reserved
(these are the kind that you take in you lunch)
2 avacados, diced


the reserved orange liquid, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoon hunk of red onion

Put the dressing ingredients into the blender and put on full wack for several seconds. Place in a small pitcher with a ladle.

Somehow in all of the kitchen work Riley is also working on his steak and then, out of the blue, clam dip. He's a dear sweet husband but he feels like a bull in a china shop in the kitchen. It's like he's too big for the space. But eventually the steak was done and resting, the potatoes were finally just about done, and we all sat down for salad and bread for the first course.

Zac was very anxious for me to open his present, so I did ... during the salad course. He gave me a lovely deck of see-through cards. And during the course of the meal I opened my presents. Annie and Heidi gave me a gift certificate to Dosha for a facial. Sarah and Zac gave me the movie Miss Potter, Ken and Marilyn gave me a package of sweet peas seeds, Riley gave me (among other things) an iPod case, and Corey gave me a lovely Toile de Jouy gardening apron with many pockets. Riley also, earlier in the day, let me order Jamie Oliver's book Jamie at Home from Amazon UK. I love his cooking show by the same name.

Then after dinner I went in to help Annie with the pavlova. The meringue was very soggy, and very hard to get off of the parchment paper, and instead of having two pavlovas, we piled one meringue on top of the other. At that I went back to the dining room. Then it was finally ready, the candles were lit, and the cake was brought in. It looked gorgeous! Never mind all the problems. We ate it all up save one tiny bit that was left. Everyone enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spring is on it's way!

Genesis 2:8-9

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This is the time of year when I start looking around for what flowers are starting to bloom.  In my garden there is a snapdragon, but I think it is still blooming from last summer.  And then we have a crocus blooming in a rock pile.  But better yet, where the rocks came from there are lots and lots of crocus shoots.  And in two places I have English daisies blooming from last year's plants.  The camellias have been blooming all winter, and even when the weather was very very cold the camellia just kept putting out beautiful pale pink blossoms. 

And of course all sorts of plants are starting to put out shoots and buds, especially the roses.  But one thing is distressing - I have got a warm weather garden, and for the most part my garden, especially the back yard, is dead dead dead in the winter.  I need to do something about that.  So here is a picture of my dead garden at it's north end.

And here is a view towards the south. The two pictures overlap of course, as the backyard is only 50 feet wide.

Saturday, February 23rd

So this morning, after I got my bangs cut at the hairdresser's, we went to coffee and stuff with Ken and Marilyn at the Pearl Bakery. Marilyn loves to talk about gardens so I brought up the idea of the winter garden, which got her thinking. She particularly wanted me to consider seedum, which is what I call rock plants for some reason. As a child I always found them amusing, but not beautiful in any way. But then she came up with the idea of heather. Now that idea I liked. After we were done with coffee we went to Powells, which is only one block from the Pearl. I headed straight for the garden section. I came away with three garden books, all at reduced price - two used and one on sale. It turned out that I already had one of them, which I thought would be the case. It's call "The Englishwoman's Garden". I thought that the one I had was "The Englishman's Garden", but of course it was vice versa. But not problem, Powells will take back the extra.

After that we headed for Portland Nursery, a wonderful place to be on a sunny winter Saturday morning. It wasn't actually winter by normal standards, as I think that the temperature got almost to 60 degrees, and the sky was clear. Marilyn promptly found an expert to help us, a very short garden expert a little older than me. She was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that Marilyn said it was like having our own private tutorial. She even wrote down the plants she was recommending. The problem area that I really want to address is the space against the wall. I don't want to look out into the garden in the winter and see only the wall. The best plant we came up with was a Japanese red-barked maple - acer palmatum Sango Kaku . It is slow growing, of course, and has beautiful read branches. She said that each year you can prune 1/3 of the tree to keep it in line.

She also said that I should put a handful of lime on the ground around my clematis twice a year, and keep rocks of broken pottery on the ground around it. It's so funny about the name "clematis", the English pronounce it CLAmetis, and we say cleMAtis. In my opinion, and given the spelling of the word, I think that the Americans have got it right. But Riley and I are amused by the British way of saying it, so we say it their way sometimes.

For myself I am an optimist - 
it does not seem to be much use being anything else.
Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Things are on the up side

Psalm 145:8-10 

The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all;
He has compassion on all He has made.
All You have made will praise You, O LORD;
Your saints will extol You.

Well it's so nice to have things looking up even if they aren't tippy top yet. I woke up this morning not feeling too bad, though I was coughing bad enough for Riley to make an appointment for me at the doctor at 10:30. Then Emily showed up still sick. Now this was upsetting, as she had spent most of the last three days with her Dad and I'm not too sure about how well he can handle a sick 1 1/2 year old. But on the other hand, it was sure good that she didn't have her usual compliment of energy, I don't think I would have handled it as well. Whatever I have it's the same thing Emily has.

The next good thing is that Heidi has decided to call off her relationship with the young man she's been dating. He is a nice guy, but just not the right person for Heidi. That sounds harsh, but it's true. I had thought that it would come to this sometime. Heidi came to realize that she mustn't hold herself responsible for other peoples feelings. She was trying too hard not to hurt him. But better sooner than later.

And then there's what's happening with Sarah. She was really stressed about a written exam she has to do for her Ph.D. But after a week of working on it she's gotten a long ways towards getting it done, and she does have six weeks to do it. Her big stress is that she can't turn in rough drafts to professors and get feed back. But she's getting a good handle on everything and feeling quite positive about it. So that was nice to hear.  I've always felt pangs of jealously when she talks about the good feedback she gets from her professors, because when I was doing my second master's degree I got NO feed back, no matter how often I asked for it.  And then in the end I was slammed mercilessly and the oral exam.  I headed into a den of wolves with no warning.  But I know that the PhD level wants to know that you can do the writing all on your own.  But even then, one has editors.  Maybe that's what I should do, send my thesis to an editor.  I could easily bump it u to more than it's 171 pages since I cut three chapters as it was.

Something that's not going so well is daughter number 2's complexion. She has trouble with her complexion for years, but since she moved away from home and in with her older sister it has gotten much much worse. So I told her that we would pay for the doctor and she MUST make an appointment IMMEDIATELY. So tomorrow Riley's going to call our doctor and make and appointment. I think that life in the twenties is so much harder than people admit to. You're not covered under your parents insurance and it's likely that you don't have you own insurance and doctors these day s don't like to take people when they don't have insurance. it's criminal and I think that the biggest criminals in this situation are lawyers. When I was in my twenties a doctor's appointment did not require insurance and the price was $4. And dentists were costlier, but affordable.

"The high destiny of the individual 
is to serve rather than to rule."
 Albert Einstein

Saturday, February 16, 2008

All the baked custard I could eat!

Proverbs 14: 26 

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, 

and for his children it will be a refuge.

Yesterday I was cold all day long. Nothing could warm me up until I got into my electrically heated bed. So it was no surprise when I woke up this morning feeling like I was coming down with something. It's actually achyness and a persistent cough. We were supposed to baby-sit the kids, but Tom took them again. This makes me very nervous, especially since Emily was so sick on Thursday, but Heidi insists that everything is okay. Anyway .... I was glad to have the whole day off.

We started out by having breakfast with the Kingsleys. They had called the day before to invite us over. They are a most amazing family. They have an old school air about them, or maybe it's because they are from "back east." Blake and Linda are very consciencious parents and have very intelligent children - five of them. Last spring or summer, after years of trying to figure out how to remodel their very unusual house which had a huge foresty back yard, they simply tore down the house and started over! Today was our first time to see the new house all finished. It was so disconcerting to go to a place you've been to many times before and it's a completely different place except that the front door was in the same place. The house was quite lovely. Their new dining room is huge, just the size I would love to have. It was actually quite similar to our dining room, particularly the large beams on the ceiling. They even painted the ceiling in between the beams light blue like ours. You could have a table to seat 18 in that room.

The table was set ever so elegantly for breakfast. Lace table cloth, lovely dishes, goblets for the fresh squeezed orange. Linda made a really terrific egg dish, a frittata I'd say, and a delightful coffee cake. When we left Linda gave me the recipe for the cake.

Linda's Cinnamon Apple Coffee Cake

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup butter (that would be a stick and some)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
1 cup peeled, cored, and chopped green apples


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2-3/4 cup nuts, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9x13 baking dish.
Combine the first 5 ingredients.
Cream the butter, sugars, and egg.
Mix in the dry mixture alternately with the buttermilk into the creamed mixture.
Fold in the chopped apple.
Put into the baking dish.
Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the batter.
Bake for 35-40 minutes.

* You make sour milk by combining 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 1 cup of milk and letting it stand for 5 minutes.

The Kingsleys left in a great hurry at 10:45 to attend their middle sons basketball game. We headed out right behind them and went to Powells. Riley wanted to buy me a cookbook that I have lost. He figures now that a have another copy I'll soon find the old one. It's Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking volume II. I'm quite sure that I had had both volume I and II, purchased at Goodwill for $3.99 each. Actually, even though I own a great many cookbooks I know that some of them are missing. I expect to find them all together someday in a box in the depths of our basement. I also bought two books that are memoires of women who moved permanently to Paris from other parts of the world.

We then went and wondered around Anthropolgie . I love idly wandering around that store. Riley sat in a big armchair reading a book for quite a while. They have stuff in that store that no one else has. After having stayed almost until our meter was up we headed home. And there we stayed for the rest of the day. We ate pie, watched Jeapardy, played scrabble, dinked on our computers. But around 8:30 a daughter called with a cooking question. She was making an Irish pudding. The idea of pudding sounded great, and not long after that I hit on the idea a make a huge batch of baked custards. I head for the kitchen, found Betty Crocker, found 11 custard cups from IKEA, then found a baking pan that held exactly 11 IKEA custard cups. Though as it turned out my recipe that I devised made 13, so I got out a very little baking dish and placed two custard cups of a different variety. You can use any kind of cup you want, even tea cups.

Baked Custard

5 eggs
1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups of heated milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Many recipes call for a higher temperature, but it's been my experience that this will cause the custards to curdle, and you don't want that. Now if you were to use 8 egg yolks instead of 5 eggs you would have less chance of curdling. Or maybe even if you used half and half instead of the 1% milk I used. But mine did turn out wonderfully smooth and silky feeling.
Put the eggs and the sugar and the vanilla in a bowl and whip thoroughly.
Put the milk in a glass pitcher and heat in the microwave until just a bit warmer than lukewarm. That's a temperature you can stick you finger into but it's not so hot as to be uncomfortable. Maybe it's the temperature of a hot bath.
While whisking the eggs, slowly pour in the milk.
Ladle the custard mixture into the custard cups. I used a 1/2 cup ladle.
Put some nutmeg on top of each custard. I used whole nutmeg and a nutmeg grater, but pre-grated works.
Place the pan of filled custard cups into the heated oven and then carefully pour in hot water to come about half way up the cups. Then carefully slide the pan all the way into the oven.
Bake for about 55 minutes.
Eat as soon as your mouth can handle the heat.

I ate three custards. I love hot baked custard!

Update Sunday February 17th: today I am really sick and I have a temperature of 102 degrees. I feel really crummy, my coughing is terrible, but the good side is that Tom is taking the kids tomorrow. Frankly I think that he has lost his job. He told Heidi that he has Presidents Day off. He manages a shoe store and they usually have sales on Presidents Day not days off! But no the less I am so glad I won't watch the children tomorrow. But I sure hope that just once, when I won't be having the children for three day, they would tell me ahead of time so that Riley and I could go some where. I sure hope I get better tomorrow.

"The ultimate test of a moral society 
is the kind of world that it leaves to its children."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer