Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hilppa's scones

What a delightful surprise for a Thursday!

I was on FaceBook earlier, posting about my bread baking trials, and a friend from Finland posted a scone recipe for me to try.

I've had a few scones in my day, and while I do enjoy them, they have never been a favorite of mine.  Either too heavy, or too dry.

I decided to try my friend's recipe, and I'm so glad I did.  With her permission, I have posted the recipe here, and I can't recommend this one, enough.  Thank you, Hilppa!!  A new favorite around here.  I suspect it will make a regular appearance at the breakfast table.  These are truly special.


250 grams flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
75 grams butter, cubed
2 tablespoons raisins


Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, and stir to distribute.  Add the butter cubes, and cut in with a pastry blender until small crumbs form.

Add the raisins, and stir to distribute.

Add buttermilk, a little at a time, and stir.  Keep up with your additions until a firm, but soft dough forms.  The dough should hold it's shape in the bowl.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Roll into a long, narrow rectangle, about 1" thick.  Working across the length, cut into triangles, transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake until very lightly golden on the outside - do not over bake.  Remove from baking sheet and serve warm with butter, jam and a dollop of whipped cream.

These are delightfully light, without being dry.  A real winner!

Related posts:  Hilppa's scones with a flavor twist! and Scones...again!

If you don't have a metric scale, you can find conversion information here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Leftovers made new again

I'm all about cooking new things, but I'm also all about using up leftovers in a creative way.  Reheated leftovers, as they are, are boring, and when it comes to food, boring just doesn't work around here.

A panini is a great way to bring leftovers together in a new wrapper, especially when the beautiful lemon and herb olive loaf I made is the wrapper.

This one was a three ingredient delight.  Sliced smoked sausage, pan seared for a light caramel crust, thick sliced avocado, and a good dose of my fromage fort.

I think, without question, fromage fort is about the most versatile thing I have made in recent memory.  I have used it to make pasta sauce, eggs benedict, on pizza, in French onion soup, in scrambled eggs, and in/on about 15 other dishes.  I love the stuff.  I would say I have a fromage fort addiction!

This panini was quick, delicious, and made respectable use of my leftovers.

Happy hump day, friends!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Starter did the first loaf turn out?

Bread made from flour, water and salt.  The only yeast was developed from a starter of flour and water, carefully cultivated, and well documented in my starter trials.  No commercial yeast, and the taste and texture would be quite impressive, even with a few mistakes I made during the baking stage, and those leading up to it.

Yesterday was quite an adventure.  It had been a few weeks of developing starter to even get to the baking stage, so my anticipation was understandably high.

The bulk rise went well, with everything coming to pass as I expected, given Chad's photos and tutorial in Tartine Bread. Shaping went well.  Loading the shaped loaf into the floured basket went well.  The final rise went well...just as I understood it to be.

It was at the point of loading the loaf into the combo cooker where things took a slight turn.  The loaf collapsed just a bit as I transferred it to the cooker.  This was my first disappointment.  Onward I pressed, however, committed to finishing what I had started.

My second disappointment was in removing the lid of the cooker after 25 minutes.  The dramatic oven spring I'd come to expect from my artisanal loaves wasn't as dramatic as I know it should be, and can be, and certainly not what Chad's beautiful photos showed.

My third disappointment was in the weight of the loaf after I removed it from the oven, thinking it was done.  It wasn't done.  It was close, but the moisture hadn't baked out of it enough to allow for the light feel and hollow sound I was expecting.  Unfortunately, by the time I realized this, it was too late to put it back into the oven.

None the less, even with my mistakes, I can't complain all that much.  Yes, it was flatter than I wanted, due to the collapse, and it wasn't as light as I'd wanted, due to the retained moisture, but it still had an unexpected  display of holes when I cut into it, and the flavor of the olives, lemon and herbs was wonderful.

Equipped with more information now, and an idea for a better transfer technique from basket to cooker, I'm looking for the home run loaf I know I can make.  Oh, so close...but not quite there!

Space saving idea for a small kitchen

I have a very small kitchen, and I love to cook.  Anyone who loves to cook will make their kitchen work, even if it requires a bit of creativity.

I have some pans that were taking up valuable cabinet space, and I really needed to move them, making room for some other, rather cumbersome items.  I wanted a pot rack, but truth be told, with a vaulted ceiling, and a mini pendant fixture over my table, the pot rack wasn't going to work.

We have an old pine entertainment center in our kitchen which serves as a free-standing pantry.  I added three coat hooks to each top side edge, and hung the pans.  Viola!  More cabinet space!

Quick and easy storage solution.  Would I have preferred the pot rack?  Yes, I would have, but given my constraints, this was the best option.  It also took just a few minutes, and was far less complex.  On a weekend where I have a long list of chores, that was a bonus!

Spice update

Every spice cabinet needs an update from time to time.  The frequency with which some suggest rotation can vary widely. I suspect it varies by the spice, but I think a once yearly rotation is safe without being wasteful.

Lucky for us, we have a very nice spice shop in Bend, just down the highway from where we live, and they sell wonderful, dried spices, cheaper than the local market.  They also sell bottles, either with your purchased spices placed inside, or separately.

Yesterday I bought a dozen bottles for some dried spices I had at home in little resealable bags.  I'm not a big fan of dried herbs and spices, but to be honest, aside from the most common of herbs, it's not always possible to use fresh, and there is a place for dried herbs, provided they haven't been sitting in your pantry since the dawn of man.

I like this option because I can buy as much of each spice as I think I will use before they pass their prime, so it really minimizes waste.

I loved the bottles, and at $1.00 each, I couldn't pass them up.  They have a 'stay fresh' lid liner, and a nice little pouring spout.

I also purchased some removable labels, and used those to identify my spices in the bottles, along with the month of purchase, so I know how fresh they are.

A quick organization project that was long over due.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Starter trials...the baking begins

For several days now, my remaining starters have been rising and falling predictably, and are very robust, with the pineapple starter having just a slight lead in the 'robust' category.

Last night I made my leaven, following Chad Robertson's country bread recipe from Tartine Bread.  This morning I woke to find a billowy leaven that passed the float test, so I went forward with preparing the dough for baking.

There is no question this process is not for the faint of heart, or those lacking in dedication to a task.  It's tedious and lengthy, but if the bread turns out to its potential, it will be worth all the work.

I measured out the leaven, water and flour, and brought it together.  After a 30 minute rest, I added the salt and the last 50 grams of water.  Once fully incorporated, I split my dough into two different containers.  I plan to make a lemon and herb olive loaf with one half, and pizza with the other.  I figured it would be easier to keep each half separate for the purpose of folding in the extra ingredients needed for the olive loaf, hence the split.

The beginning of the bulk rise.

The olive loaf I'm making is the one in Tartine Bread.  It calls for lemon zest, Herbes de Provence and olives.  I chose a combination of green and black olives.  In a small country town, our selection of olives is limited to a small olive bar in the local market, so I didn't have the selection I would have preferred, but you work with what you have available to you.

I had looked for Herbes de Provence in the store, and I couldn't find it.  We have a spice shop in Bend, so I decided to look there.  It was quite a bit more than I wanted to spend, so I looked up a recipe online, and made my own for about $3.00. It made one cup, which will last me quite a while.

The Herbes de Provence recipe I used can be found here.  I had to visit a specialty spice shop for the Chervil and Summer Savory, but it made all the difference in the final spice blend.

The process of baking the loaves covers several hours and is worthy of more than one entry.  To see my results, and final baking notes for this first effort, see my entry starter did the first loaf turn out?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Starter trials...start of day fifteen

I wasn't going to post about the starter trials again until I'd gone into maintenance mode, but something interesting happened with the starters yesterday morning.  More on that in a minute.

First and foremost, and as I'd mentioned before, some followers on another site were having a bit of fun debunking the pineapple juice starter, as well as some of my own techniques.  This set of trials is for me, and anyone who knows nothing about starter, but wants to dink around with it on a casual level, as I did.  Take it or leave it, but the 'tear down' critiques are really not welcome here, so save them for sites that appreciate that kind of debate.

I realize that pineapple juice was not widely available when bread was made from wild yeast, lo those many years ago.  I sort of look at life this way: many things were not available to us hundreds of years ago, but that doesn't mean we throw them out now because people went without them at one point in time.

A purest will argue that pineapple juice is silly to use in starters.  Well, it may or may not be silly, but in my conditions, it was the first starter to become active, and it's been the most consistently robust of my three starters all along.  Of course, the pineapple juice was only used in that one starter, and only from days 1-4.  I switched over to water (sometimes distilled, sometimes tap), as directed by Debra Wink's process, on day 5.

I also got a little flack for my growing temperature of 65 degrees, which I thought was kind of funny.  I followed Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread process, and he doesn't call for many specifics, not in quantities, and not in temperature, when it comes to starting the starter.  He calls for a "cool, dark location" to begin.  "Cool" is a relative term.  For me, "cool" is probably about 40 degrees this time of year, so 65 didn't seem unreasonable, especially as part of a process for growing starter written by a man who makes a living baking the best bread I've ever tasted, and in a very cool location; San Francisco, CA.

When it comes to starter maintenance, Chad calls for 65 degrees.  So, there you have it.  Chad Robertson, who I consider the God father of bread, called out the much mocked 65 degrees.  Have a problem with my temperature?  Give ol' Chad a call, but before you call him out for using the wrong temperature, I might suggest you try his bread.

Now, onto my yeasty boys...

I'm going to shift my thoughts on the starters, and tell you that I am now down to two, and explain to you why I put one of them to rest.  I'd grown tired of maintaining three starters, and until Friday morning, I'd seen no measurable difference in the three once they'd all started to rise and fall predictably.

We had to go out of town, and I'd really vacillated about taking the yeasty boys along so I could keep feeding them. I knew I wouldn't have time to dedicate to the feedings, and I didn't want to schlep them around, so I chose to leave them at home. I thought, "let's see how well they will perform when starved for two days, and asked to bounce back again." What was the worst thing that could happen? I'd have to start over?  I could live with that.

I fed them Friday morning, at the regular interval.  We left on our trip, and returned Sunday, early evening.  At that point, they'd not been fed for about 60 hours, well beyond the 24 hour feeding schedule I'd been following to that point.  I fed all three.

Yesterday morning I woke up to find the distilled water and pineapple juice batches thriving once again, but the tap water batch was floundering.  It was then I decided I would pare down my three to just two, and I disposed of the tap water batch.  It had been the slowest to come alive in the first place, and it was the least robust of the three after their 'fast', and feeding.  I don't know what's in my tap water, and I'd shown myself I could get a starter going using tap water.  I saw no point in keeping the weakest of the three going along.  Would it soon start performing better than the others?  After two weeks, that batch had had enough time to show it was more robust, in my inexperienced opinion, and I wasn't going to give it more time.  Survival of the fittest.

I have read so much about feeding schedules.  The feeding schedule I'm following is the one detailed by Chad in Tartine Bread.  He suggests feeding just once a day, and that's what I do.

I'm now down to just two starters.  My distilled water batch, and my pineapple batch.  I will continue with these two, until it's time to make bread, and do a side-by-side taste and texture test.  At that point, I will likely choose just one starter to keep going.  Time will tell which will be the winner, but at this point, I'm betting on the pineapple batch.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Starter trials...start of day ten

The starter trials have been interesting.  I've enjoyed this process, and enjoyed watching the starters take shape.

This morning all three starters are performing as they should: rising within several hours of the morning feeding, and falling coming into the next morning feeding.  I have met some scientific posters on another site, and they have enjoyed debunking the pineapple starter, stating some very scientific reasons as to their debunking.  I can't say I have enough knowledge to agree or disagree, and I don't know that I really care, on that level.

The starter trials weren't done for the scientific minded.  They were done for me, and others like me, who want to work with starter, but don't feel inclined to invest in learning all the science behind the phenomenon of wild yeast development.

There is no question the pineapple starter was the most pleasing to look at, from day one.  It never separated its liquids from the balance of itself.  It never had a real strong, almost rancid smell.  It was easier to work with, and required less fuss.

The water starters were kind of 'sick' looking for the first several days, and had I not committed myself to this process, I'm not sure I'd have kept them going.  I fully expected one, or both of them, to be a failure.

As it was, none of the starters began developing in the much heralded "2-3 days" I'd read about in books, and on countless sites.  I didn't see much of anything for more than double that amount of time, and even now, at day ten, I would say I'm just beginning to see the desired rising and falling one wants to see in their young starter.

I preferred the pineapple starter for one reason, and one reason only, it gets fed every day, from day one, so it never sits, looking 'sick', like the water starters, which followed the Tartine Bread starter process.  I liked the refreshment of the pineapple starter recipe.  Could that be done with the water starters?  I really don't know.

I would say, at this point in time, other than their individual journeys to reach this point, there is no measurable difference in how the three starters are performing.  I really have no idea what the long-haul will bring, in terms of development, but at this point, on day ten, they have all come to the party.

Does it matter which method you choose?  I would say 'no', at this point, but I reserve the right to change my mind.  What I will tell you is this, 'patience' and 'process' reign supreme when it comes to starters.  If it doesn't begin to develop by day three, it doesn't mean it won't at some point, but keep on keeping on.

I will likely cease posting about the starter trials from here on out, and until I go into starter maintenance.  For now, friends, enjoy your own starter journey.  I have enjoyed mine.

Interested in the starter trials?  You can read about them, from day one, here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Starter trials...start of day nine

Yesterday and today are proving to be very promising days for the starter trials.

I have learned that my best predictions are generally wrong, and yesterday's and today's starters are no exception.

Let's start with yesterday, which was the start of day eight.  Actually, let's go back to the start of day six, because that's really where the day eight story begins.  On day six, I checked the starters, and there was no visible change from the prior update, which was day four.

On day seven, there was no visible expansion of the pineapple batch, but that batch, and the distilled water batch, showed signs of gluten development.  I decided to feed those two, and while I was at it, I fed the tap water batch, even though it still didn't show any real development.  I guess I felt sorry for it, so I broke the process.

I woke on day eight to see expansion of the pineapple batch.  Excellent!!  This was the first expansion I had seen in any of the starters, and the first set of photos below show the development I woke up to on day eight.

First the tap water batch.  Compared to the others, it still looked lifeless, continuing with its separation layer of liquid, which I'd stirred in the prior two days.  While day eight didn't see nearly the same level of liquid separation as all the other days, I was still not holding out a lot of hope for my tap water batch.

Then the distilled water batch.  Still no expansion, but I was seeing some gluten development, and no liquid separation. This one looked a little more promising.  It also looked healthier to me, if that's a word we can even use here.

The pineapple batch, however, looked like it was waking up.  Not only was there some gluten development, there was a lot of surface bubble activity, as well, but most important, it was expanding.  My eyeball estimate put the expansion at about 40%.  The surface bubbles are apparent in the pineapple batch here.

The expansion of the pineapple batch is shown here, with the distilled water batch on the left, and the pineapple batch on the right.

I am using the exact same quantities in each batch, as well as matching containers now, so it's easier to see any expansion that might be occurring.

I went to bed on day eight, which was yesterday, convinced my pineapple batch was going to make it, still hopeful about my distilled water batch, and not so hopeful about the tap water batch.

I woke up on day nine, and it was a whole new ball game, putting an exclamation point on the fact my predictions have yet to hold true.  I feel like the weather man in the middle of winter.  I have yet to nail the forecast!

All three batches were awake, expanding, and looking happy and healthy, and the front runner, in terms of development, would prove a bit of a surprise.

Onto the photos...

The tap water batch on the start of day more water separation, very clear signs of development, and best of all, expansion, even to the point of looking a bit 'pillowy'!

The distilled water batch, even a little better, with more pronounced bubble development.  Clearly expanding, as well!

Last, but not least, the pineapple batch.  Also showing similar development signs.

You may or may not recall, both of the water batches are fed with a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and bread flour.  The pineapple batch is fed with only bread flour now, which is why it's so much lighter in color.

I put the expansion of the water batches at about 100%, with the pineapple batch close, but not quite to that level.

To say I'm pleased with all three batches would be a bit of an understatement.  Where my pineapple batch has typically been the front runner, I would say day nine's winner is the distilled water batch, but I have to give the 'most improved' award to the tap water batch!  At this point, I'm beginning to feel all three will be successful, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Onto part four.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Porchetta with a leftover friend

I made my first porchetta, and I don't think it will be my last.  I got the recipe from my new favorite 'go-to' cookbook, Tartine Bread.

The herb stuffing was exactly what the pork needed, and 10 hours at low heat made the meat fork tender.  I'm so impressed with how beautifully this came together.

Prior to serving, the porchetta is sliced, and pan seared.

I had some leftover French onion soup (just broth and onions), which I pureed into a sauce.  I also made some herb onion rings using Hermiston sweets.  I used the onion rings to top the porchetta.  It was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat. A truly wonderful, early dinner for a Sunday afternoon.

I think I'm ready for my restaurant now.  Happy Sunday, friends.  May the week ahead bring you joy.

A loan from God

I ran across this poem on FaceBook yesterday.  I thought it was so beautiful, and especially meaningful in light of our loss of our beautiful Ty...perhaps it will help others who have lost a beloved dog, or other furry friend.

I wish I knew who the author was.  I do not.

A loan from God

God promised at the birth of time,
a special friend to give.
His time on earth is short, he said,
so love him while he lives.

It may be six or seven years,
or twelve or then sixteen.
But will you, 'til I call him back,
take care of him for me?

A wagging tail and cold wet nose,
and silken velvet ears.
A heart as big as all outdoors,
to love you through the years.

His puppy ways will gladden you,
his antics bring a smile.
As guardian or friend, he will,
be loyal all the while.

He'll bring his charms and grace your life,
and though his stay be brief.
When he's gone, the memories,
are solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay,
since all from earth return.
But lessons only a dog can teach,
I want you each to learn.

Whatever love you give to him,
returns in triple measure.
Follow his lead and gain a life,
brim full of simple pleasure.

Enjoy each day, as it comes,
allow your heart to guide.
Be loyal and steadfast in love,
as the dog there by your side.

Now, will you give him all your love,
nor think the labor vain,
nor hate me when I come to call,
to take him back again?

I fancy each of us would say,
"dear Lord, thy will be done.
For all the joy this dog shall bring,
the risk of grief we'll run."

"We'll shelter him with tenderness,
we'll love him while we may.
And for the happiness we've known,
forever grateful stay."

"But shall the angels call for him,
much sooner than we've planned,
we'll brave the bitter grief that comes,
and try to understand."

-- Unknown

Saturday, January 12, 2013

French onion soup

Prior to today, I had never made French onion soup, and I had never had it, either.  I didn't know what all the fuss was about.  I can now say I completely understand the fuss.

What a richly flavored, beautiful soup, with a subtly sweet broth, and beautiful texture.  I'm so impressed with it, I'm sorry I let 48 years slip by without trying it.

I did not come up with this recipe.  It's on page 230 of Chad Robertson's beautiful Tartine Bread cookbook.  I've referenced this book a lot lately.  It's so beautifully written, like a great story, populated with gorgeous photographs, and, at least with those I've tried thus far, very special recipes.

This one is no exception.

I can't publish the recipe, because it's not mine, and I don't have permission to do so.  If I did, I certainly would.  This soup is so good, I'm tempted to say it's worth the cost of the cookbook to get the recipe.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Missing you, Bun...

Every day without you is still so strange.  Christmas without you was hard.  The turning over of the new year without you was hard.  Thinking about breeding Kindle, and raising puppies without you is hard.

You were the best puppy raiser.

I have struggled to find the right dog for Kindle's first litter.  With every dog I considered, I thought of you, and the promises I had made to you, and your memory.  I found a dog I believe is the right one.  I hope I am right.  I hope and pray that any resulting puppies will be healthy, strong and live long, happy lives, loved and adored as every puppy should be.

At several points along my journey to find the right dog, I considered giving up, afraid to make the wrong choice, afraid of the mines that litter the breeder's playing field.  It is such a difficult, and frightening field to navigate through, but for whatever reason, I choose to march on.  Call me crazy...I think every breeder has a drop of two of crazy in their blood. Why else would we put ourselves on this path?

I pray that I have made the right choice.  There is nothing sweeter for me, and more life affirming, than the joy of puppies.

Creamy cheesy shells - use up that fromage fort!

My posts lately have had a 'fromage fort' spin to them.  I made quite a bit of the cheesy stuff, and I've had fun using it. Today I needed to make up a quick lunch for Cliff.  I had dry pasta shells in the pantry, and some fromage fort in the fridge.  I got an idea.

With whipping cream and fromage fort, I made a cheese sauce, and tossed it with the cooked shells.  It was delicious, and really quick.


8 ounces dried pasta shells
1/2 cup fromage fort
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream


In a large pot, bring water to a boil, and cook pasta according to package directions.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, bring fromage fort and whipping cream to just below a simmer, stirring until smooth and creamy.  Do not boil.  When sauce is smooth, and fromage fort is melted, remove from heat.

When pasta is cooked to desired tenderness, drain the water.  Return pasta to the pan, toss with sauce, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove lid, toss to re-distribute sauce, and serve.

I'm sorry that I don't have a photo to share with you.  This was a 'throw it together quick' meal, and there wasn't time for photos.  If you have fromage fort in your refrigerator, I encourage you to give it a go.  This one is easy, cheesy, and full of flavor.

Starter trials...start of day four

It's been two days since my first starter trials post.  At that time, my starters had been 'cooking' for 24 hours.  Today is the start of day four.  Tuesday was day one, and I'm counting days from Tuesday, making Wednesday day two, Thursday day three, and today is day four.  Yesterday there was so little progress, I decided to pass on posting an update.

Yesterday the distilled water batch resembled the tap water batch from the day before, and my thought was the distilled water batch might follow the same pattern as the tap water batch, but just do so more slowly.

Yesterday the layer of water on both the tap water and distilled water batches was so pronounced, I decided to stir it back in.  This morning I woke up to a tap water batch that had a layer of liquid on the surface once again, but the distilled water batch had not yet developed the liquid surface layer, and had expanded in bulk by about 20%.  This is a significant difference between the tap water and distilled water batches.  With those two batches, I'm following the exact same process, down to the ingredients, and amounts.  The only difference between the two is the tap vs. distilled water.

In looking at the distilled water batch, it appears the bacteria might be coming together, starting to play nice.  The tap water batch looks like it's at odds with itself, not organized at all, still struggling to find some balance.  Kind of like two children fighting, who have not yet figured out that compromise will benefit both sides.

The third batch, my pineapple juice and whole wheat flour batch, shows no significant change, and now on day four, I have switched it over to bread flour and water.  No more pineapple juice, as per the recipe.  I will be looking for some development in the next 2-3 days.  This batch requires additions every day, from day one.  The other two batches require nothing until they begin to expand.  My distilled water batch is now doing that.

Onto the photos...

The tap water batch, day four:

The distilled water batch, day four - notice the surface bubbles:

The pineapple juice batch, day four:

What I have learned from the pineapple juice batch is that I really don't need as much as Chad Robertson suggests, so when it's time to feed the first two batches, following his process, I will reduce the volume significantly.  When it's time to dispose of a portion of the starter, I won't feel so bad about the waste.

I have moved the pineapple juice batch into a clear container, and will move the other two batches into the same style of container when it's time to feed them.  I'd like to watch them, and compare them, in similar containers.  I think the changes in each will be more obvious.

I did feed the distilled water batch this morning after I took these photos.

Onto part three.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New faucet and a clean vacuum

There is no doubt that any home improvement project can be rewarding, but it can also be frustrating, and, without question, one improvement leads to several others.  It never fails.

Our old kitchen faucet was nearing the end of its life.  Difficult to raise and lower the handle, and tricky to control the water flow, it was time to say farewell, and replace it with something a little more 'up with the times'.

We chose a goose neck faucet, with integrated spray it!

Replacing a faucet should not be a complex or difficult process.  It shouldn't take more than about 30 minutes, but this assumes the prior installer followed directions installing the faucet you are about to replace, and didn't use any unnecessary adhesives, or putties.  Unfortunately for us, such would not be the case.

The first plastic screw cap came off easily, but the second screw cap didn't want to budge.  It was stuck, and it was stuck because of some kind of plumber's adhesive that was holding it in place.  Why the adhesive?  Who knows.

When we do home improvement projects, I'm always amazed at how difficult the prior 'do it yourselfer' made things for him/herself, as well as the 'do it yourselfers' that would follow.  Home improvements and/or repairs don't have to be difficult. Follow instructions, don't assume you know better than the experts, watch a video, or two if you have to, and you will reach a decent result.  If you can't do that, leave it to the experts.  The home owner that follows you will appreciate it very much.

Back to our efforts to free the old faucet...

After watching Cliff struggle with that second screw cap for quite a while, I suggested we take out the entire sink.  He'd already reached that conclusion, but had wanted to give 'brute strength' another shot.  It didn't work, so out the sink came.

Once the sink was out, and with better access, it wasn't long before the screw cap was loose, and the old faucet was free. wasn't what I would call 'easy', but it was less difficult with better access.

Removing the sink exposed the counter lip under the sink edge, and the 'need it clean freak' that I am, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to scrub that up.  The accumulated mold had to go!  With the sink propped up precariously on the front facing ledge, which was about 3" wide, we managed to clean the counter lip.

Sink back down in place, it was time to install the new faucet.  The only problem?  The access for screwing the caps in place was limited again, making it very difficult to get everything tightened down.  So now the question: get a special tool we might only use a couple of times, or lift the sink again so we could access the screws and get everything properly tightened?

After almost three hours trying to release the old screw cap, Cliff was hurting from his position in the cramped space underneath the sink.  He tightened everything as best he could from under the sink, checked for leaks (there were none), and we called it a night.  It looked great, and I was happy.  Even though we had more tightening of the faucet and base plate left to do, it was functional.

Love my soap dispenser.

This morning we woke to standing water under the sink.  Joy.  The old supply line to the hot water is bad, and needs to be replaced, and while we're at it, we'll lift the sink again, and gain the access we need to properly tighten everything down...

So, time for a little coffee?  Not so fast.  While Cliff was finishing up with the leak, I decided to sit myself down on the floor in the hall, and trim dog nails.  Kindle first.  When I finished with her, I noticed the last vacuuming of the carpet hadn't done a great job.  Hum.  I proceeded to trim Jet's nail, one eye on the evidence of my vacuum's apparent failure to do its job, and I wondered, "is it losing its sucking mojo?"

I finished Jet's nails, put the clippers away, and I got on the Dyson website.  I looked through their troubleshooting pages. Everything seemed to be functioning as it should, but what's this mention of cleaning the filter that's advertised as 'never needs cleaning'?  Hum.  Six years with this vacuum, and we'd never cleaned the 'never needs cleaning' filter.  "Gee, I wonder why?"

I watched a few videos on the Dyson site related to vacuum maintenance, and realized we'd missed several suggested 'up keep' steps along the way.  Yikes!

While Cliff finished up with the sink, at least until we get the new supply lines, I started to clean the vacuum, discovering nooks and crannies to clean I didn't know I had access to!

As I said earlier, one project leads to another.  I have a new faucet, and a clean vacuum, and now I'm equipped to clean my carpets again.

Can we finish installing the mini pendant lights in the kitchen now, or will that project lead to a new roof?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


My beloved Jet...enjoy your nap, my beautiful boy.

Starter trials...0-24 hours

After working with artisanal style bread doughs, with very high hydration levels, and studying Tartine Bread, the beautiful, natural leavened bread book by Chad Robertson, I began developing a starter.

Naturally leavened bread is not made with commercial yeast.  The yeast is wild, and is grown as a culture, or, as it's more commonly known, a starter.  At a basic level, it's the process of fermentation of water and flour.  The microorganisms present in the flour and water eventually begin to ferment into a wildly active yeast culture that can be used to make beautifully textured breads with complex and well developed flavors, from the mild, to the strong and sharp.

Before commercial yeast was developed, this is how bread was made.  Bread bakers of old made bread using this long process, and taught their apprentices how to do so, as well.

There is no question bread baking is an art form, and when you use naturally developed leavens, it takes on a whole other dimension.  I'm fascinated by how things work.  I always have been, and researching the process of naturally leavened bread was fascinating to me.  How does it work?  It wasn't enough to know that it would work, I wanted to know how and why it worked.

I stumbled upon several articles about starter, and a long line of people who reported difficulties, marginal results, and many, many failures.  Why?  It's water and flour.  How hard can it be?

Yesterday I decided to do a little starter experiment.  Chad's starter is simple, and it's the one I have followed.  With some mixed results, I became obsessed with finding out what made this process so variable.

In my research, I came across an article, written by a microbiologist, who had gone on her own starter journey, and she took it to a whole new level, making the process of developing starter much more clear, with a well articulated explanation of the bacteria required for a yeast culture, how those bacteria play together, and why they work.  I'm grateful for her teachings.

Equipped with some new information, I decided to run my own trials.  I used three combinations, and two different processes.

Batch one was equal parts bread and whole wheat flours, with enough tap water mixed in to make a thick batter. In batch two, I used the same flour blend, but I used distilled water vs. tap water.  Where we live, tap water tastes great, and fresh.  My starter experiments would change my opinion, but more on that in a minute.

The third batch was pineapple juice and whole wheat flour.

In the first two batches, nothing is done to the starter, aside from letting it sit, until it becomes active on its own, reportedly, in 2-7 days.  In the third batch, the blend is fed every day, starting from day two.

I took photos this morning, after a full 24 hours.  The results were interesting.

Batch one (tap water and the bread flour/whole wheat flour blend):

This batch of tap water starter does not look particularly appetizing, and after looking at the batch with distilled water (below), I began to see my 'mountain fresh' tap water a bit differently.

Batch two (distilled water and the bread flour/whole wheat flour blend):

I found the distilled batch far more appealing after 24 hours.

Batch three (pineapple juice and whole wheat flour, using a much smaller amount to begin with):

This batch looks far more palatable at this point, and even though I expect it to begin to ferment, as well, after 24 hours, it's far easier to look at.

The difference in results, in just 24 hours, from tap water to distilled water, were eye opening.  I have not given up on the tap water batch, and I won't, but its unappealing appearance gives me pause.  Prior to reading Debra Wink's article, I would have wondered about the tap water batch, but with her findings etched in my mind, I'm not worried at all.  As a matter of fact, all three batches are following her findings, to the letter.

I am fermenting my starters at approximately 65 degrees.  Onto part two.

Foccacia turned pizza

Last night I decided to try a variation of Chad Robertson's foccacia.  I had most everything I needed, but the only dough I had ready was a very young no-knead dough I'd made that morning, and which was sitting in the fridge.

I like to leave the no-knead bread dough in the fridge for several days before I make it, because, unlike the natural leavened breads in Chad's Tartine Bread book, the no-knead bread is made with commercial yeast, and it lacks the complexity and development of natural leavened bread.  However, with several days in the fridge, it can develop a pleasant flavor and texture.

My foccacia would be more of a pizza, but that turned out to be a valuable mistake.  The no-knead bread dough actually made an acceptable crust with no fuss.  It was a little heavier than I like my pizza crust to be, but for a quick, go-to dough, something sitting in the fridge, ready and waiting, is very nice.

For foccacia, I should have stretched the dough into a thicker, more free-form shape, and given it a longer rest before I topped it, and baked it.  I didn't.  For pizza, a rest would have helped, as well, but I didn't do that, either.  I rolled a very thin crust, immediately topped it, and into the preheated oven it went.

It was pretty darn good, and I smiled, thinking I could easily make foccacia or pizza, any time, as long as I had some dough retarding in the fridge.

I topped my wannabe foccacia (yes, I really *did* want foccacia, not pizza, though I'm not complaining!) with thin potato slices I'd tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and coarse chopped sage.  I then added a few dollops of fromage fort.

When I pulled it from the oven, I added more sage, and some shaved parmesan.  I served it with some steamed asparagus on the side, and it was delicious.