Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happiness in a Loaf of Bread

Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help,
with imagination streaming through you,
with dough under hand,
you are breadmaking itself,
which is why breadmaking is so fulfilling and rewarding.
-Edward Espe Brown, the Tassajara Bread Book

I took piano lessons from a woman named Fran when I was in elementary school. Fran lived in a really beautiful log house on top of a mountain, designed handmade jewelry, saved her kids' bathwater for watering her plants, and was a great piano player. But the thing I remember the most about Fran is that she baked bread. I remember being absolutely floored by the smell of bread baking in her home. I suppose that's where my romantic ideas about baking bread all began. (by the way, I still know Fran even though I'm talking about her in the past tense...)

During the past few years, my desire to be "a woman who bakes her own bread" really kicked into high gear. I gave it some serious effort...including doing a lot of research about what to do about baking bread at high altitudes (this appears to seriously complicate matters...)

I might have had one successful loaf out of a dozen during the past few years. The problem for me, in most cases, was that the center of the loaf would collapse and WOULD NOT bake through, no matter how long you baked the loaf for. I've since learned that reducing the amount of sugar and yeast in your bread recipe can help with this problem.

I recently learned about the Tassajara Bread Book on Soule Mama's wonderful blog. I had a Barnes & Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket, and treated myself to a copy after getting the impression that this is the bible of bread baking. Ooh, and it's totally one of those books you just want to slowly savor. The recipes, pictures, and philosophy of bread baking are presented in such a beautiful way.

The past two Saturdays I have spent the first four (!) hours of the day baking bread. It's such a nice, slow, drawn out process, and a perfect way to start the weekend. Two weekends ago it was the standard Tassajara wheat bread.

And it worked! Hallelujah! No sunken center! And what a joy it was to wrap up a loaf in a pretty kitchen towel and ribbon and gift it to a dear friend as a thank you. What better way to show your love than through a loaf of bread? Seriously!

This past Saturday I was at it again, only this time it was the Oatmeal Rye bread. And it was even better! Prettier, moister, and more delicious in every way. Again, the recipe made two loaves...perfect for dinner Sunday night with a pot of sausage lentil soup, and one for gifting/thanking (in this case to my mom).

I truly cannot describe the extreme happiness that I feel when wrapping up a warm loaf of bread for someone I love, or the joy I feel knowing that my honey is having a sandwich for lunch made on thick slices of my bread, or the absolute contentedness I feel when buttering a slice of bread I've worked hard to make, or the utter peace that comes over me when I walk down the stairs of my home to the smell of bread in the oven.

First Taste of Spring

Sadie and I took advantage of the beautiful (and deceiving) warm weather this past weekend to visit the park a few blocks from our house. It's a great park that I can tell she'll be enjoying as long as we live in this neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Small Change: March 2010

For February's One Small Change challenge, I made a commitment to make small changes to the energy usage in our home.

I continued to keep our thermostat at a reasonable 67 degrees, and although I was FREEZING in my home a lot of the time, it made me feel good that I was making a difference in my energy consumption (and possibly my utility bill). I'd pile on a few more layers, warm up my rice pad, and curl up under a blanket. Sadie doesn't seem to mind, so I figure I should get over being a bit chilly.

Actually, as I looked over the past few month's natural gas bills, I found that my average daily usage decreased about 14% during the month of January (when we first turned the thermostat down) from the same period during December. Yeah!!!

I also found myself becoming much more conscious about turning off lights that weren't being used. I've always liked having lots of light in a home as the sun sets and into the evening. It has always made things seem a bit more cozy to me. This month though, every time I left a room, I'd turn its light off. I lit candles if I was needing that cozy vibe.

I also worked on addressing the "vampire" power use in our home. Vampire power is the energy that small appliances use when they are plugged in, even if they are turned off. This month I always unplugged the coffee maker, coffee grinder, two cell phone chargers, and overhead cabinet lighting when not in use.

Good habits to continue to work on and to teach Sadie as she gets older!

For March's One Small Change, I've finally gotten around to purchasing a retractable clothesline for our backyard. It should be arriving soon, and as the days get longer, lighter, and warmer, I'm so excited to start air-drying some clothes and Sadie's cloth diapers. Drying cloth diapers in the sun is better for them anyway...it removes stains and keeps them soft. Hope I don't have to fight with the Homeowners Association here in my suburban neighborhood too much!