Thursday, February 28, 2013

tulip or magnolia or both

Pippin with Liriodendron
Yesterday I talked with the dental hygienist Joan about hikes and trees and flowers. She asked, "Are you a plant person? Did you see the saucer magnolia trees across the street?" Oh, yes, I had seen those lovelies, smallish ones with their flowers opening so brightly pink.

"I have my camera and want to take their picture when I leave," I said. But later with all my strolling about and photo-shooting I never got a good one of those Chinese Magnolias that people often mistakenly call Tulip Trees.

Chinese Magnolia

I told my friend when she took the pointy tools out of my mouth, "I had a real Tulip Tree in my yard once so I know that those are not really that." She misunderstood, and said, "Oh, but tulip trees are magnolias."

I explained that what I was talking about was nothing like what she was talking about, and promised to send her information when I got home. I also sent her this photo of Pippin as a young girl enjoying the blossoms and leaves of our tree, which we had planted a few years previous.

It was a fast grower and a joy to have around, shading the play fort and adding grace to the landscape. Here it is in the 80's on the right behind the children.

Yard with Tulip Tree

But in researching the botanical name of our Tulip Tree, I discovered that is IS a member of the magnolia family (but it is not what Joan thought). Oh, my -- crazy how confusing things get when humans try to classify the world formally and informally all at the same time.

In 2011 I planted tulip bulbs in the front yard (here where we have no trees with that name), and had a glorious display last spring. It looked as though they weren't going to come up a second time; often tulips don't last, in our climate, because it's too warm and wet. This winter was cold and drier, and what do you know, there are little tulip leaves bravely poking through now. Perhaps in a month or so I'll have another kind of tulip flower to write about.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I am helped to be glad of Spring.

Normally it takes 15 miles and a half-hour to get back from the dentist, but today I added considerably to the length of the trip what with all the U-flipping I did along the country roads, trying to find a place where I could safely pull over and park, near a good view of the mustard fields.

Mustard is ubiquitous right now, I kept telling myself, so why bother? You should be home pruning your own roses. Acacia trees are also appearing like so many suns along every block and mile, but I like the mustard better, especially when it crowds in among the rows of black and twisty grapevines.

Before I'd started home from Dentist Town I walked around being nostalgic. In times past our family would on Sundays drive down the highway to church, through a valley that in springtime was scattered with old trees in pink or white blooms. We made a game of counting those trees - especially the white ones.

When Mr. Glad and I moved to this area 40 years ago I learned what a quince was, and after that, about this time of year the coral-colored bushes always came out and introduced themselves again, dressed exactly like this one that I found today. And look! Even the bee was with me in my blossom reverie. He is just left of center intent on his business.

Rosemary was in flower (photo near top), and in another shape climbed up the wall alongside juniper. I found an old white tree with Miner's Lettuce at his foot, looking very like the ones we used to tally up as treasures. The hope that my photos of trees and shrubs might be o.k. comforted me when all the mustard views seemed flat and distant.

But it turned out I had a couple of pictures on the camera worthy of snipping and cropping to show you my loves. Until I saw them in two dimensions on my monitor, I hadn't lifted my eyes to the hills at all, being so obsessed with the lower stretches of terrain. Now I can glean a little comfort from my pictures on another level.

Privet Berries

It's been a dry winter since Christmas, and as a farmer's daughter I find it a challenge to respond wholeheartedly to the greetings I hear daily now, along the lines of "Isn't it nice to have this beautiful weather?" and "Don't you just love that Spring is finally here?!" It feels a little scary to leave what is usually our rainiest season behind without getting soaked.

But just because I'm writing on the topic, I did some research and found an encouraging map that gives me some good news: Some of California's reservoirs are fuller than average right now; a third of them are full to 80% or more of their capacity. Another chart, though, shows that the water content of the Sierra snow is low. Not the lowest ever, but....

Things have always been iffy this way for mankind, since The Flood. Sometimes enough water, sometimes flooding, sometimes drought. At least this year the trees and fields are drawing enough moisture from the soil that they can make flowers. The hills are green now...perhaps we'll even get rain in March and they won't turn gold and parched too early. I will thank the Good Lord that by His mercy and faithfulness Spring has come again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

More or less of what?

My thoughts about children's books and Lent converge on this excerpt from Richard Wilbur's More Opposites, which I think one of The Most Fun collections of poems and drawings. I don't even require another person to read Wilbur's humorous poems to -- they often make me chuckle contentedly or muse to myself. I see that I already posted this particular one, but it was years ago, and I for one can use it often.

The illustrations of this question in the book include a simple drawing of people with distressed faces holding their tummies. I think the cartoon at bottom makes a similar companion to the poem.

It's #15 in the More Opposites book:
The opposite of less is more.
What's better? Which one are you for?
My question may seem simple, but
The catch is -- more or less of what?

"Let's have more of everything!" you cry.
Well, after we have had more pie,
More pickles, and more layer cake,
I think we'll want less stomach-ache.

The best thing's to avoid excess.
Try to be temperate, more or less.

There is a Mennonite cookbook titled More With Less, from which I gleaned many good cooking ideas in the early days of my homemaking career. But more valuable than the actual recipes was the refreshing concept that one might have more health and more enjoyment of eating and probably more money to spend on other things if you ate less.

Of course this is something we need to keep in mind all the time, not just during Lent. The church fathers caution us not to eat so much food that we aren't able to pray after eating it; an overfull stomach hinders prayer. If it's possible that Less Food = More Prayer....
     Let's just pause and think on that.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are toddlers lonely? -- Blue Chameleon

A chameleon is the protagonist of Emily Gravett's simple-plotted story with minimalist illustrations and text. He enters the story in a blue state and with the lament "I'm lonely," after which he proceeds to change his colors and even shape as he goes about trying to make friends with a banana, a boot, a spotted ball, a sock, a fish, etc. until he gives up and becomes white and nearly invisible.

A colorful fellow chameleon eventually comes along and is the first to answer the lonely guy's minimal queries such as "Hello" and "Can we hang out together?"

I wouldn't read Blue Chameleon to my children or grandchildren because the social dynamics of the story are so unrealistic and foreign to the world of this age child.

Why introduce someone so young as to not know his colors to the concept of loneliness? If there is a deeper message to the book, it might be that if you are a Colorful Character you might make friends more easily -- yes, why not get the kids started early on, stressing over their self-image. It could be seen as a cautionary tale as well, a heads-up that inanimate objects or fish won't be likely to answer your greetings.

These messages are beyond the concerns of children I have known in my own family and in my day-care business. I haven't seen a child who was worried about friends until at least Kindergarten, and at that time I would rather teach them how to be a friend rather than start them off with the example of discontent and self-focus.

If a child has someone there to read this book to him, he is not alone and already has at least one other human in his life. But if friendlessness is truly a problem for a very young child, I can't see that this story would do anything to help.   

I'd prefer to teach colors with a book like The Color Kittens -- not that anyone is in dire need of a book to learn about this aspect of every single item in his environment.
The animal in this story is not a good representative of his species; real chameleons use their color-changing abilities in order to make themselves unseen, not the opposite. To hide from enemies, not to make friends. And I'm pretty sure they don't change their shape, or take on more than one color at a time, unlike these storybook creatures -- or the stuffed toy in my living room -- who go about with all their colors shining brilliantly at once.

I suppose the biggest problem with this book is that I find it boring, so I am annoyed with it and try to figure out what bothers me. Too many books for the very young aren't any fun for the adults and I suspect that that is one reason they don't read to the children as much as might be profitable. Next time I should write about a book I love to read to children. But you probably already know about all of those!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sourdough Chronicles

Today is Friday, which earlier in the week I designated as Baking Day. In anticipation, Wednesday evening I put two sourdough sponges to ferment. I am still experimenting with both the pineapple starter and Manuel's starter. Last time I made bread with the pineapple one and forgot the salt. This time my focus was on following through with the salt, and on making a slightly smaller amount of dough with each type of starter, so that I would end up with two loaves of each.

The Manuel's Rye Sour starter already has a darker color owing to its beginnings, though I haven't fed it with rye flour yet. I might yet do that, if I buy some more rye flour; so far I've only fed it with unbleached white flour and water. Anyway, to go along with its flecks of whole grain I found a bag of teff flour in the freezer and put two cups of that into the sponge along with water and white (wheat) flour.

I added instant potato flakes along with flour and water into the pineapple starter.
Of course after I had taken a cupful out of each jar of starter, those soupy messes needed replenishing. I left them on the counter, too, when I went to bed.

The yeasts that grow in the pineapple sponge seem to work more slowly than the other - but its replenished starter was already highly active when I took this photo at right. It takes all my powers of restraint to not put up even more pics of bubbly gruels - must be the farmer in me that thrills at living and growing things .

I should have stuck that one back in the fridge! As I was about to drop off to sleep (while reading from the beginning of The Moonflower Vine a second time this month) I heard something like a balloon pop somewhere in the house. Out of my warm bed I popped to go looking around...but I didn't discover until the next morning that it was the pineapple starter that had shot its lid off by super exhalations.

sourdough sponge with teff
The plan was to let the sponges sit around all day Thursday to get more sour. First thing I took some pictures. The pineapple sponge wasn't very bubbly, but Manuel's looked like it might be a pudding named Chocolate Foam. It has teff flour in it, remember.

Eritreans in my church often make their himbasha bread with some teff flour. They almost always make injera bread with at least part teff. It's the smallest grain, and has more bran and germ than any other grain, too, giving it that warm hue. I found a fascinating page that clearly shows the relative kernel size of various grains.

tiny teff grains
By Thursday evening the pineapple sponge was similarly bubbly, while the teff mixture had separated into that thin porridge that isn't very pretty. Usually when a jar of starter has sat in the refrigerator for a week or two it also looks like this (below), and sometimes also has some black oxidation in the mix. You're supposed to just stir everything ugly back in.

This morning I used the Kitchen Aid with dough hook to do most of the kneading of my dough. I added gluten flour to both batches, and a tablespoon of salt and sugar to each, but no fat.

sponge after separation

The dough didn't take all day to rise in the pans, as I'd expected -- it took less than two hours. Jody at Gumbo Lily had told me about using a Dutch oven to bake a crusty "artisan" type of loaf, so I did that with one of the teff loaves, letting it rise and bake on a round of parchment paper.

Just before putting the potato dough into the pans I wondered if it might be a little boring as it was, so I scattered a total of three tablespoonfuls of poppy seeds on to the dough and kneaded them in as best I could.

The Dutch oven was supposed to bake at 500°, and many sourdough recipes called for a 450° oven, so I pre-heated the oven and the cast iron at the higher temperature and then dropped it to 475° after putting all the pans in at the same time.

Halfway through I took the lid off of the pot, and this was the state of things:

For the last 15-20 minutes of baking I reduced the temperature further, to 400°, I don't know why. All the loaves were fully baked by 45-50 minutes.

As soon as I could I sliced into what might be called the Potato-Poppyseed Loaf (There is no pineapple flavor remaining from that original start weeks ago). It has a nice crumb, and the poppy seed flavor comes through just right. I didn't expect the poppyseeds to be evenly distributed, since they went in so late -- and they weren't. Its sourdough flavor is mild.

Later Mr. Glad shared some of the Teff Loaf with me. It also is very tasty, only mildly tangy compared to my sourdough bread of antiquity, and compared to the Potato equally chewy and moist with a good texture.

What have I learned from my experiments?
1) In my sourdough bread I like the flavor of potato more than that of teff.
2) I like salt in my bread.
3) Fat is probably not necessary in sourdough.
4) The quantities of flour and water and salt I used in this batch were just about right.
5) Both of these starters work fine without the addition of commercial yeast.
6) So far the bread is not as dense in texture or as sour as what I used to make. 

These loaves are more worthy to be given away than my last boring salt-free bread, so perhaps I can get them out of the house soon and be ready to do some more Sourdough Research. One thing I wonder is, will either of the starters change over time and make bread that is more sour? What was it that gave that old-style bread coming from my kitchen its character? Was it some feature of the climate we lived in at the time, a mini-climate just 15 miles away over the hills and farther from the ocean?

Perhaps I will try making the identical dough with both of the starters, to find out if I like the flavor or action of one better. Then I could dispense with having two containers crowding my already stuffed refrigerator.

I won't likely find all the answers to my questions, and I will be content if I can eventually settle on a form of sourdough that is well-liked by our household and at least a couple of others. Then we'll see if I can remember to feed the starter.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

If I cannot repair it I beg you to repair it. (poem)

A Short Testament

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

                                  --Anne Porter

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I go nuts with sweet and sour.

The sourdough experiment continued, through Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day. It felt a little hectic and chaotic (and nostalgic) to make cookies, pancakes, and bread, and eat candy, all in one week's time. The chaotic part came from me being the only cleaner-upper of the kitchen. I always cook as though I have at least two of those following behind.

On Monday I put another sourdough sponge to ferment. This time I used the one made with pineapple juice, that took so long to get going. I had added a little buttermilk after a week or so and that seemed to give it a boost. At this point I added some flour and water and instant mashed potato flakes.

The next day was Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday, and for the first time ever I intentionally made pancakes for the day. I have never been in a church other than the Orthodox Church that had a liturgical calendar, and we don't have Ash Wednesday. But Mr. Glad is Anglican now and I did it for the sake of that church's tradition, even though there isn't any need to use up all the eggs and butter in this era when Anglicans normally go on eating as they did before. All the while, the sponge sat nearby and got more sour and yeasty with those wild and local yeasts.

Wednesday morning I went to my first Ash Wednesday service with my husband. I didn't take the ashes on my forehead, because I am not starting Lent yet, and when that time comes it will last just long enough.

In the evening I put together shortbread dough so that on Valentine's Day I could cut out heart sweets for my honey. I used the Hearst Castle Shortbread recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Have you seen Hearst Castle? I went there and other places with my 8th Grade class on our Spring outing and don't remember a thing.

All day I had thought about whether any minute I should finish up the bread dough and put it into pans to rise...I planned to make this batch without adding any commercial yeast, the way I used to do at the beginning of my sourdough career. In those days it was the usual thing for the dough to proof in the pans for several hours before it had risen enough to put into the oven. A couple of times I'd let it go all night.

As it happened, it just didn't happen until the evening, that I could manage to get to it, and add the rest of the ingredients, i.e. some olive oil and mostly white flour. I forgot to add any sweetening, and I wrote down to put in 1 tablespoon of salt. But did I do it?

I shaped loaves and put them into three medium loaf pans on the counter. It was late by then, so I didn't linger in the kitchen, but even in those few minutes before heading upstairs I saw that the dough was rising. Uh-oh. I was so tired, the clever idea of letting them rise in the refrigerator or in the cold garage never occurred to me. I went upstairs to crash.

Next soon as I woke up I ran down in my nightgown to find this:

So there was nothing for it but to do this:

And get those loaves into the oven as fast as possible. The little loaf was made of the trimmed-off pieces of dough.

We were expecting our out-of-town friend Crafty for lunch, but I had plenty of time to make the cookies I'd planned, or so I thought. But the slabs of buttery dough were too firm to roll out right away, so while they softened up on the counter I searched upstairs and down and all over for the pink and red baking decorations I had recently bought. Nope. Not to be found.

Finally I cut out hearts, and sprinkled on the remainder of a bottle of pink crystals left from some long-ago Valentine project. The cookies took much longer to bake than the recipe said, perhaps because my cookies were larger and my cookie sheet was insulated. All through lunch with our good friend I jumped up and down from the table to check the cookies and slide a few more on to the racks.

Meanwhile, the bread baked 50 minutes, cooled a little, and was soon tasted. The tops were rough and ugly where I had peeled off the plastic wrap, but the crust was just the right crunchiness and the crumb was lovely -- chewy and moist. My first thought, though, was that I hadn't added enough salt to the dough. After eating several slices I've concluded that I completely forgot to put in any salt at all. No wonder the dough rose so fast!

Crafty and Mr. Glad said they didn't notice anything wrong with the sandwiches I made with the bread -- they thought it was good. I'm eager to try doing pretty much the same method on a day when I have my wits about me. What to do with the Super Bland Sourdough? It's perfect with Super Tangy and Salty Marmite spread on it.

Crafty brought some Crockpot Peanut Clusters that she and her daughters had made. They call for dry-roasted peanuts and the saltiness with the chocolate was addictive. The shortbread was heavenly. We ate plenty of both, no doubt out of salt-deprivation. The fact is, the flavor of sourdough does not come through without a little salt and maybe even a little sugar in the mix.

I didn't think of taking the cookies' photograph until I had put most of them into the freezer to have handy when Mr. Glad wants just one cookie, so I took out the container again so you can see them all piled up in it.

Am I not the maddest sourdough scientist you ever heard of? I should be embarrassed to tell this story, but instead it makes me laugh. I am strangely unflappable -- I even considered starting another sponge today, but I got a grip on myself and even cleaned the kitchen before writing my tale.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Accustomed to Tepidity

In the West, Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. In the Orthodox Church, we don't begin until March 17 this year! Pascha is May 5th, more than a month after Western Easter. It seems to me this would make it convenient for you who celebrate The Resurrection of Christ the last day of March to visit an Orthodox church near you on May 5th to experience the Feast of Feasts in its glory, in a way you won't find elsewhere. But I'll remind you when we get closer to that date.

For now, I want to re-post from almost three years ago a long quote that seems appropriate for Lent, or for any day or hour when needed. 

 From Father Moses of the Holy Mount of Athos:

An offspring of [the sin of] pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self. 
Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that “we are better” than those advertised.
Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximos the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others’ sins, or judges his brothers based on suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.

Thanks to the rector of our parish for posting this passage in the church bulletin.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Homebodiness was the reason...

Pineapple Juice Starter Start
...Homebodiness was the reason I spent so much time stirring and sniffing my sourdough over the last weeks, instead of making dolls. I keep telling everyone that I want to make dolls, but I end up doing a little of this and a little of that.

In this case I was researching sourdough and baking. I could have made several dolls during the time it took me to do all this baking-related stuff, including a huge Pizza Project as it became known in my mind. We had invited friend Tim the Sailor for lunch, and I said brightly and optimistically to my husband, "I could make pizza!"

But that's a side story. It's the fact of me being a Homebody that got me into the baking, because I lack a dollmaker's needle at the least, to begin on my dolls, which I have been reading up about, by the way. Reading about projects is also easy to do at home. But I can't seem to kick myself out the door to drive five minutes to the craft store for the needle.

Two Starters in Three Containers
And for old time's sake I did want to make some sourdough bread. For a few years at least -- maybe even a dozen? -- my kitchen would churn out several loaves a month of the most sour bread you can imagine. The children liked it that way, as dense as pumpernickel but light colored and tasting almost vinegary if you were not in the right mood. I was always trying to get the crumb of a sourdough French such as our San Francisco Bay Area is famous for, but then I would lose the intense flavor.

Later we lost all the biggest bread-eaters, and then I let the starter die. It had never been my own baby -- the starter always had its beginning in someone else's kitchen. In about 1975 I had been given my first batch by a church friend, and I used it for a few years until it was neglected (notice the passive and guilt-free voice) into oblivion. My neighbor Linda gave me my next sourdough, and I began using that in earnest.

We'd eat sourdough pancakes for breakfast, sourdough biscuits for dinner, and slices of the tangy bread in the car on extended trips into town. One time a couple of slices were forgotten in the glove compartment for several weeks and when discovered they were not even dried out or moldy.

Sourdough Sponge
I gave a jar of my starter to my neighbor Sarah, and when mine was forgotten for a time and died she gave me some back. But when I moved over the mountains to my present town my starter changed its personality and never was much fun again. I hadn't really missed it until last month, when Jody's fiddling with sourdough inspired me. I put together the recipes for two different versions on the same day, just to have a better chance of ending up with at least one active starter after a few days.

The Ancient and Convoluted Instructions
The one I was most confident in is called Manuel's Rye Sour, a recipe I had seen decades ago in my Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. I happened to have more of that pumpernickel rye flour around so it was a natural to use it. The second recipe I found online uses some pineapple juice along with the flour and water. That one is only now after about 10 days starting to have a good sour smell, so I'm glad I didn't have to twiddle my thumbs waiting for it.

Sourdough Sponge after several hours
Manuel's starter was usable after about five days. I used it as I had my old starters: to get the strong flavor I'd add six or eight cups of flour and some water to a cup or two of the starter and let that sponge sit on the kitchen counter for 24 -72 hours until the whole big bowl was busy growing the desired yeasts.

It didn't take long for Manuel's Sour to get to working. The sponge rose with the activity of the sour bugs, and then fell again, but it kept developing flavor for another day until I could get to it. This whole description is beyond anyone's ability and probably desire to duplicate, so I won't give you a recipe, but I will say that to this sponge I added a small amount of yeast, sugar, salt and oil, and enough flour to make a smooth dough.

Many years ago after a couple of friends asked me about my method of making sourdough bread, I wrote a long description of the process that is so complicated and variable, "sometimes this" and "sometimes that," I can hardly plough through it today. But I referred to it when baking this time. 

After kneading my dough I didn't let it rise in the bowl again. I just formed the loaves, which weighed just over a pound each, and set them to rise. In the distant past the proofing would often take all day, whether or not I added commercial yeast to assist the wild. This time, Mr. Glad and I took a 40-minute walk around the neighborhood, and when we got back they were ready to put in the oven.

My pizza stone was still around from the pizza lunch, so I baked some rounds on it, and the remainder of dough in a loaf pan. I used parchment paper to slide them on to the stone. They took an hour at 375°F to bake. I was pleased enough with the bread....It wasn't as sour as I might have liked, and the addition of rye flour made it less chewy than my ideal -- I had intended to add some gluten flour for chewiness but forgot.

So now I've begun my series of experiments, as I'll think of these cooking adventures. I managed to give away the prettiest round loaf today, and if I can find enough gluten-tolerant people around to give bread to I'll be happy. Tomorrow, tomorrow -- "I love you, Tomorrow!" -- it's off to the craft store for a needle. Then next time my Homebody Self can sit stitching at my doll while the bread bakes and the house fills with its good and toasty smells.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blessed Feast of Christ the Light

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation!