Monthly Archives: September 2015

5 Reasons to Try Making Bread

Bread

One of my attempts from the book ‘Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast’ by Ken Forkish

  1. YOUR HANDS WILL THANK YOU

    Your hands did not evolve so that you could peck away at  a keyboard all day. No, no. Your hands are the conduit of your curiosity and creativity. When you knead a loaf of bread, you’re letting your hands be hands, and they will thank you for that.

  2. YEAST DOES THE HEAVY LIFTING

    Unlike a lot of weekend-warrior projects where you still have to go to [insert name of store here] and buy [insert supplies here] and then go home and [insert action words for project here] to see it through, when you make bread, the yeast does all of that heavy lifting. Like a simple innkeeper, all you have to do is make sure the little yeasties are warm and well fed, and they’ll take care of the rest.

  3. YOUR FLOUR NEEDS TO GO, ANYWAYS

    As everlasting as flour may seem, it still has a shelf life like any other pantry staple. King Arthur Flour advises that the typical shelf life for flour is between 9 and 12 months. Because I eat carbs like it’s my day job, I doubt I’ll ever encounter spoiled flour. But! If you’re the type to let your flour languish, what better reason to go through a pound or two than in the pursuit of fresh bread.

  4. LESS EXPENSIVE THAN MOST DIY PROJECTS ON PINTEREST

    Do-it-yourself projects tend to follow the rule of three in that a project will typically cost three times as much and take three times as long as originally planned. On the other hand, a 5 lb bag of flour costs $4.95, and a packet of yeast is about $1.00, and that’ll get you a loaf of bread, some pizza dough, and leftovers for french toast the next day. Need I say more?

  5. EVEN IF YOU COMPLETELY SCREW IT UP, IT’S STILL BREAD!

    Even the most fantastic failures in bread making will still be delicious because bread, in and of itself, is delicious. The key is that you don’t name the bread until it’s done! Bread demands that you stay in the present and, quite frankly, nobody needs to know that your delicious dinner rolls began as a rustic hearth bread that didn’t rise.

    Of all of the reasons for giving bread making a try, I think this one reigns supreme. Everyone should experience the pleasure of slicing open a freshly baked loaf that they made with their own two hands, and even if it doesn’t turn out like the picture in the book, it’s still the same flour, salt, water and yeast that have been nourishing our souls for centuries. Unless you’ve burned the dough beyond recognition, you’ll still have something to enjoy at the end of the day.

Thoughts on Going Solar

For most Vermonters, the obstruction of beautiful mountain views with wind turbines is sacrilege. Thus, solar energy reins supreme as the choice eco-friendly energy.

The affordable installation of panels is supported by the Federal Investment Tax Credit, which lets homeowners write off 30% of the costs of the solar installation.  For example, if the cost of a 5-kW system is about $22,000, then we could write off $6,225 of that on our income taxes.

Unfortunately, the solar tax credit only extends through December 2016 and with the current political climate, there’s a good chance it won’t be extended again. For us that means take the credit or leave it!

Fortunately, there’s a lot of options for us if we decide to install solar panels. In fact, Vermont has more than 75 solar companies to choose from! One of the biggest challenges will be placement of the panels. The woods behind our house shades out the morning sun.  We might be able to clear some trees (firewood is always good!) but that’s not a guarantee for southern exposure. We could also try to install them on the roof, though that will likely require replacing the shingles which are 20+ years old.

The other challenge is cost. Even with the tax credits and other local rebates and incentives, we would still be looking down the barrel of financing a $15,000 investment.  Companies like SunCommon help to arrange financing so the cost is spread out over monthly payments in lieu of an electric bill, but at the end of the day, it’s still a sizable investment.

Solar power is also a big commitment. In the long run, it can even be a burden if we have to sell the house and try to convince prospective buyers to assume the loan on the panels if we haven’t paid them off. On the positive side, a solar power installation could mitigate potentially significant changes in the cost of electricity, like a pizza stone in the oven.

We’ve got a lot of things to consider! What are your thoughts on going solar?

Cooking Pear-Shaped Puffballs

I’ve always been a fan of the fungi. When I was younger I loved the way they looked, with their whimsical shapes and kaleidoscope of colors. Unfortunately though, there was never much mycological activity at the horse farm I grew up on other than the occasional package of white or brown button mushrooms from the grocery store, or running over a fairy circle with the tractor while mowing the horse fields.

However, in the woods behind our little house on the hillside, there is an abundance of mushrooms to be found and foraged. Armed with the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Mushrooms, I have discovered great joy in walking through our woods with a purpose.

Pear Shaped PuffballsThis week’s foraging included pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon Pyriforme), which are charming little mushrooms that remind me of toasted marshmallows. Feather-light with a soft, springy interior that’s a bright, creamy white, these puffballs are edible and tasty, both raw and cooked.

For those who might go out and look for these little gems after reading this post, please make yourself aware that there are poisonous impostors known as pigskin poison puffballs, which can be easily distinguished with the help of a field guide. The critical element in identifying edible puffballs is cutting them half and confirming that the interior is a clean, solid white with no evidence of gills.

Inspired by the fantastic ideas of the Forager Chef, I sliced my newly-acquired puffballs and mixed them with some sliced portabella mushrooms from the fridge to round out a mushroom sauté that would accompany the day’s purchase of sweet country sausage. The next day we used them to boost a jar of store-bought pasta sauce. Both meals were a genuine success. If not for the rule of thumb that you should always leave behind more mushrooms than you take, I would snip off the whole swathe of puffballs and make soup.

Slicing pear shaped puffballs

Have you ever cooked with puffballs?

The Case Against Tomato Cages

My very first tomato plant was a hybrid variety that I bought on impulse at a flower fair in the last few weeks of my senior year in college. I named it Mater, and it lived quite happily in a large container on the back porch of our house, safely ensconced in a shiny new tomato cage.

The next year, there was Mater the Second and a few squash plants. The year after that, there was Mater the Third, and even more vegetable plants. What began as an impulsive little purchase had grown into a steadfast interest in gardening. I think the tipping point was the year I realized that if I bought seeds instead of plants I could get so many more plants for a fraction of the cost!

Because my Mater and its back-porch progeny did well with a tomato cage,  I assumed that the legion of tomato plants I was starting from seed would also do well in tomato cages.

Naturally, then, I thought I was so clever when I bought 20 used tomato cages off of Craig’s List for $20. What a deal, right? They sell for anywhere from $2.00 – $8.00 per cage, depending on where you’re purchasing them, and here I was buying them for a dollar a pop. I was sure I had scored a brilliant bargain, until this happened:

tomatofail

The tomato cages started falling like dominoes under the weight of my ripening tomato bounty and some were straining so hard against the weight of the plants that they had split apart at the seams.

Evidently, even determinate tomatoes can out-grow a tomato cage, and when paired with loose, sandy soil like what I had in my raised garden beds, the plants will literally pop the cages right out of the dirt! Rebar reinforcements help, but after this summer of #tomatofails  I plan on relinquishing the tomato cages, too.

 

Beginnings

26146_528287647258_2462164_nMy single digit years were full of fanciful stories and sagas that unfolded in loopy pencil script across pages and pages of paper purloined from my parents’ office. Teen years bespoke of journaling about everything and nothing, and dark, brooding poetry full of teenage angst. College years still included courses in creative writing and great literature.

Yet, somewhere along the way I lost my way. I stopped writing for the love of writing and only wrote for the toils of law school and work. Legal writing in particular, with its precedent and polemic, is like an over-baked cake. No matter how much spice or icing you smother it with, it’s still dry and unappetizing. Law in real life in not nearly as good looking as it is on television.

So my hopes for this blog are twofold. In addition to rekindling my writing, I hope to inspire others who (like me) are teetering on the fence of making a great change in their life.

In my case, my fiancé and I moved to Vermont, where we have no family, no relatives, no friends, and no appreciable ties to the community. Heck, I don’t even own snow tires! But my compass was pointing me in the direction of slower, more simple living and so here I am. Cooking up a new story for myself from my little house on the hillside. I hope you’ll join me at the table.