Homemade Bread (or How I Ended My Bread-Making Virginity)

dougs breadOn Thanksgiving this year, we all went over to my brother’s house in Durham, and had a wonderful time with family. Doug put on quite the spread: free-range turkey, scrumptious sweet potatoes (with rum!), corn casserole, pies and cake for dessert, and homemade bread and rolls. Lots and lots of homemade bread and rolls. More bread and rolls than you can shake the proverbial stick at. And they were GOOD bread and rolls.

Today, I was sitting at the computer and thinking about the fact that I had never baked fresh bread in my life. Sure, I had cooked lots of meals on the stove and in the oven, and love to cook on my Holland grill, but I had never jumped in and baked a fresh loaf of bread.

The time had come.

I looked through the recipes that I have been saving up, both loaf bread and rolls, for the right recipe to end my decades-old bread-making virginity. I ended up choosing Pennies and Pancakes – Grandma’s Country White Bread for it’s simplicity and the fact that it was listed as costing less than fifty cents a loaf. I did some quick research on the web to answer some questions that I had (How many teaspoons of yeast ARE there in one of those little packets? How do I tell when the dough is ready?) When I had my questions answered, I brought the recipe up on my nook, rolled up my sleeves, and headed for the kitchen.

I knew the first hurdle was going to be the yeast. I had always heard horror stories about the water being too hot or too cold to make the yeast react. Goldilocks I ain’t, but it turned out not to be a problem. It was just right. The yeast bubbled nicely after the water/yeast/honey concoction sat for a few minutes, so I added the required oil. Hurdle one cleared. Go Greg!

Next came the flour. Six whole cups. Now, I’m not saying I’m blonde or anything, but I can lose track in the middle of adding these kind of things easily, especially since Carter picks times like that to come ask questions about movies, video games, and life in general. I got through two cups with the container of flour that was open, ran out, and had to go to the cupboard to get a new bag of flour which, of course, tore on the side of the bag as I was opening it. Flour on the counter. Flour on the floor. Flour on the stove. Flour under the stove burners. In fact, it seemed like there was flour everywhere EXCEPT in the recipe.

Okay, these things happen. I finished adding the correct amount of flour (hushing Carter midway through as he came into the kitchen to comment on the Harry Potter movie he was watching) and the salt. Hurdle two cleared. Yay, Greg!

IMAG0241Let me pause for a moment, and describe one of my new toys. This summer I had found a old Hobart Kitchenaid mixer at a yard sale for five dollars. That’s right. Five dollars. And it ran! The lady at the yard sale was nice enough to plug it in and show me. Of course, it didn’t look as nice as it does in the picture. The picture was taken after Mary cleaned all the kichen grease and grime off of it. Planning to replace the cord with a newer polarized plug, she took it apart to get inside the housing. Upon looking at it, I decided that it would be fine with the cord it has, and put it all back together. I was really looking forward to using my thrifty purchase.

All ingredients in the bowl, I cranked the bowl up to the mixer, and turned it to the “on” position. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I had evidently put something back together wrong.

<Big sigh.>

There are times in life when one has to drop back and punt. This was one of those times. Time to dig in and mix this gloop together by hand. Literally. I was a mess, and called Carter in to add more flour to the bowl since there was no way I was going to be handling any implements at that moment. I ended up with sticky dough up to my wrists and even on the front of my shirt, but I got it done. Hurdle three cleared. I might make it to the end yet.

IMAG0248The rest was a breeze. I set the dough under the stove lights to rise, switched my nook over to the latest novel I’m reading, and went about my business for the next hour. I came back after the timer went off and found that the dough had risen just as planned. I sprayed down a couple of loaf pans, separated the dough, put the filled pans under the light again, and went off to read some more.

Again, the dough rose as planned, and into the oven it went. The smell? The smell was just short of divine. If Yankee Candle could make a candle that smelled like that, they’d put all other candle makers out of business.

At the twenty-five minute mark, I pulled two beautiful loaves of bread from the oven, and at the thirty minute Mark, Carter and I were enjoying the first slices. His eyes got wide, he grinned, and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

So totally worth it. 🙂

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You Thought Thanksgiving Started In New England?

Did you know that the first official English speaking Thanksgiving in the new world didn’t happen in New England? It actually happened in Virginia.

In 1963 President Kennedy recognized Berkeley Plantation as the site of the first official Thanksgiving when the small ship the Margaret landed at Harrison Landing on the James River (upstream from Jamestown) in 1619, carrying 38 men after a perilous journey from England.

berkeley_1stthanksgiving

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

berkeley-hundredThe first Thanksgiving was a religious celebration — an occasion to thank God — that featured only a modest meal. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1621, that Thanksgiving was expanded to include a banquet by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.

The Harrison family bought the property at Berkeley in the 1690s and constructed the first shipyard in the New World. Berkeley, the home of two presidents (William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison), was built in the 1720’s. It’s also known where, during the Civil War, Taps was written and first played on the bugle.

There you go! Your history lesson for the day!

From our house to yours, have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving day. 🙂

Spelling Nazi Grabs His Soap Box

ImageI’ll be the first to admit that I have a slight problem with the slaughter of the English language on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. I have an even larger problem when I see these same mistakes in professional ads and articles.

Now I’ve come across a situation that has me not just irritated, but plain ol’ pissed off. My son’s seventh grade English teacher (though, to be politically correct, it’s now called Language Arts) is using “your” in place of “you’re” when posting assignments on the board. Not his Math teacher or his Gym teacher. His English teacher.

Is that why it’s called Language Arts now? Art is open to interpretation. Is the correct spelling of words now open to interpretation as well?

Why have I not gone stomping into the school, full of self-righteous anger, to confront this charlatan posing as a middle school Language Arts teacher? Because Carter had already learned the difference between a contraction and a possessive pronoun back around the fifth grade, and knows when to use them correctly.

Heck, he writes better than I do. 🙂

Planning for Next Year’s Garden

Today, trailing from link to link about gardening, I stumbled on Old World Garden Farms, and I love their simple, neat explanations of Raised Row Gardening and Straw Bed Crate Gardening.

all-purpose-garden

The raised bed idea that they list has a couple of pluses for me. No tilling and little or no weeding!

They have a raised row garden plan there that looks perfect for us. It’s a bit larger than last year’s beds and has room for a lot of things I would have liked to have this year, namely onions, potatoes, and carrots. The only thing not in there that will be a must have for next year is cucumbers and green beans. but I’m thinking about a separate small bed with a cattle panel for those.

Time to put a few bucks together and go get me a couple of large tarps to clear the area over the winter! 🙂

crate-planter1I’ve heard of straw bale gardening before, but they added something I had never thought of: build “crates” for the bales out of recycled pallets. What a nifty idea! Hay bales are cheap, and very little soil is used in this method. And the crates give a bit more structure to the whole shebang and give a rustic feel. Reading on other sites led me to discover that not all pallets are created equal though. If you’re going to do this, be sure and use only pallets that are stamped “HT” for heat treated. If they’re not stamped with the HT, chances are they’re chemically treated with insecticides and preservatives, neither of which are healthy to grow your garden against.

Add another cool use for recycled old pallets! I have several projects using them saved on my computer for a winter day when I’m feeling industrious. Guess it’s time for me to go grab some of those free pallets listed on Craigslist! 🙂

If at first you don’t succeed…

garden01This year’s garden was a disaster. I started it too late, I started it too small, I had less than marginal soil, I used the wrong plants, and the beds were too wide to comfortably work. Sigh. Time to drop back and punt.

Mistake number one: Wrong soil. I’ve been unemployed since early spring, and couldn’t afford the good bagged stuff, so I started looking around for an alternate solution. Ouila! We have a wooded area at the back of our lot that had scads of good black dirt just waiting to grow some great veggies! Sounds great, right? Wrong. One word: roots. There were roots EVERYWHERE. Every shovelful I pulled out was a battle between myself and the surrounding trees. And, once I had it in the garden, you should have seen some of the strange weeds that came out of that soil, happy to see full sunlight!

Mistake number two: Wrong plants. My mother, who I consider one of the sweetest people to walk the Earth, called one day to tell me that she had lots of volunteer tomato plants in some compost that she had put around a couple of new trees she had planted and that there were WAY more plants than what she could use. Naturally, I headed over there and partook of the bounty of small healthy tomato plant wannabes! I got them home and into the garden where they thrived. The plants were growing like weeds, and super healthy looking and developed TONS of blooms. Those blooms then turned into small one-inch tomatoes. LOTS of one-inch tomatoes. Well, not what I was expecting, but surely they’d be good in a salad or something, right? Nope. Mary tried them and pronounced them bitter. The moral of the story? Buy heirloom tomato plants or grow them from seed that you know. It turns out that these had probably volunteered from the seeds of some hybridized tomato that she had bought at a store and didn’t  reproduce like the original.

Mistake number three: Wrong sized beds and too few of them. When I was planning these beds, 3’x6′ sounded like a great size. Not so much. Three feet is a bit large for one row and a bit small for two rows. I realize now that I should have looked for eight-foot pickets to cut down to 4’x8′ beds. To top that off, I found an ad on Craigslist for free strawberry plants that someone was clearing out and pounced on it. One of those beds became an overstuffed strawberry bed, leaving only two for tomatoes and peppers.  Oh, and remember me mentioning those strange weeds that hitchhiked along with the soil from the trees? There were LOTS of them. They LOVED being in the sun. They put down DEEP roots. To a person with bad knees (like myself) three feet was a bit of a stretch to pull them all.

Many other mistakes were made, but I think I’ll leave off with those. Lessons learned. And that is what life is all about, right? Lessons learned? 🙂