Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy, delicious sourdough baguettes

I've tried a number of sourdough bread recipes over the past year or so since I got my starter started. Country loaves, baguettes, other things. Most were either too time-consuming or too much of a pain in the neck, without offering up the delicious, robust breads I had in mind.

In recent weeks I tried a couple of new recipes for baguettes, but neither of those really delivered the results I wanted, either. What to do?

I put my thinking cap on, looked carefully at both recipes and techniques, and thought I could combine what I liked about each of them and discard the parts I didn't like.

Made my first effort last week, with small round loaves, and while I didn't bake them long enough for some weird reason, they had a good sourdough flavor and were easy to do. So I tried again this week.

Last week's under-baked round loaves.

One of the recipes was super-simple. The dough was sticky, had to be mixed and kneaded by hand, but used a small proportion of sourdough and a short fermentation period. But there were no tricks to the baking process. Just put it in the oven and bake.

The other recipe, the one from Paris, was a good bit more complex, which was fine. The nice part was it used a large stand mixer to knead the dough, which I really liked. Did a great job, no work on my part. But after that the recipe was much more complex, more like some earlier country loaves I'd tried. Much larger percentage of starter was used in the dough, and it fermented overnight in the refrigerator, then had a rather complex baking procedure involving a baking stone and a pan for adding water to create steam. I found that this one didn't rise as well as I expected, though it tasted good. Much better flavor.

One thing I didn't like about either dough was they they were both soft, spread out on cooking rather than rising into nice loaves. So I used my own proportions and ended up with a thicker, more workable dough that gives super results.

Please check out the Paris instructions and compare my recipe to her recipe. She has great step-by-step photos and I followed them up until the fermentation/baking point.

Here's my recipe:

8 ounces very ripe starter
22 ounces white flour (I use Bob's Red Mill, unbleached all-purpose)
13-14 ounces bottled water (chlorine keeps the natural sourdough yeasts from multiplying)
2 tsp salt

I let my starter get riper than she seemed to suggest, timed it so it would be ready to mix into dough in the evening, so it could sit overnight and be ready to bake in the morning. I like the flavor this gives.

These steps are essentially the ones she shows: Combine the flour, water and starter in your mixer bowl. You can mix by hand or 20 seconds or so with the dough hook on the mixer. Mix until all the flour is incorporated. I've not used the full 14 ounces of water yet, but close to it. Sorry -- best direction I can give here. I suspect that using the full 14 ounces would work fine, keeping the dough the way I want it.

Then, let it sit for 20-40 minutes in the bowl. This is the autolyse step, which lets the flour absorb all the water. At the end of this period, add the salt, knead with the mixer on low speed for 5 minutes. Cover bowl with a towel and let it sit for an hour.

At the end of the hour, fold the dough from the bottom over itself on the top, about 12 times. Re-cover with the cloth and let sit another hour. Repeat the folding process. Here's where I diverge from the Paris methods. Rather than putting the dough into the refrigerator, I put it into a lightly-oiled glass bowl, cover tightly with press & seal plastic wrap to keep air out, and leave it on the counter overnight. In my cool kitchen this takes at least 10 hours, could probably go longer. Clearly, the olive oil is not traditional with french loaves, but it's common with other yeasted breads and theoretically makes it easier for the dough to expand up the slippery sides of the bowl. If you want to be a purist, don't use it.

This is what it looks like in the morning. Not a lot of sourdough-looking bubbles on top and while those might increase with time, I tend to use it this way so it doesn't overferment, while it still has lots of spring to it. It has more than doubled in size.

Doesn't show too well here, but there are lots of bubbles on the side of the bowl and on the bottom. It's well-fermented.

Form into loaves -- either baguette or round, as you prefer. If you don't have a good method for forming baguettes that works for you, I recommend viewing the video on the Paris blog. While today's loaves were on the sloppy side for me, the methodology he shows is terrific and easy. And to be totally correct, they were more batards than baguettes. Partly because I was too lazy to keep them long and skinny, and partly because I actually like larger slices of bread. Make any shape you like.

I put the loaves directly onto the sheet pan they'll bake on. Let them sit for 25-30 minutes while the oven heats to 425F.

When ready, use the tool of your choice (a single-edge razor blade works for me) and slash the loaves in a way that works for you. As I've been trying these recipes, I've finally learned that when they say 'slash', they mean deep slashes. Much deeper than the timid efforts I made the first time around. The deeper you slash the more the bread can expand and puff up. As you can see, the dough was already expanding here, moments after I slashed the last loaf. Note: the two loaves on the right were not formed well and were too close together, so during baking time I had to separate them. Be more careful than I was.

After about 20 minutes of baking, I removed the loaves from the pan and put them directly on the oven rack. This seems to give them stronger, better heat. Then I left them until they were well-browned, a total of just over 30 minutes.

Beautiful! Nice crumb, well-risen. Exterior is crisp, interior is moist and chewy and very reminiscent of San Francisco sourdough. Strong flavors, great texture.  This is a winner and a keeper. I ate the loaf I cut, put the others in the freezer. Now I need to find somebody to give them to!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pumpkin and sourdough

So, there were rumors of a new member of the household -- a feline critter. Right? So you ask, where are the photos? The proof? Well, she's finally managed to hold still and stay out of hiding enough for me to actually take one.

Not the best of photos, but with such a wily critter, you take what you can get. This is the first morning that she's actually decided that it's safe to stay out in the open. Doesn't hurt that she was lobbying for a little more breakfast. But -- no more hiding under the bed or sofa during the day, or digging into the dark depths of a closet at night. She began emerging more and more yesterday, seemed to happily discover that sitting in my lap all on her own was not such a bad thing. Last night was the first night I've left the entire house available to her, and she only kept me awake for an hour or so after I went to bed, playing.

This morning I looked for her in her cozy bed in the closet but she wasn't there. Or under the bed. Found her on the sofa looking perfectly happy. Big milestones, people! Now she's playing with one of her little mousies. She's sassy as the day is long, now that she's decided this place isn't so bad after all and that I'm not out to get her. Has systematically chewed the tops off the newly-planted lemongrass in the living room over the past two nights, when she seems to know I don't know she's doing it. But the good news is that it's grass, and grass is meant to be mown or cut back and by nature, will regrow. The pot is large and heavy, much larger and heavier than the cat, so it seems unlikely she'll do more harm than that. I've found a water bottle with a long spray works wonders when she does something I don't like.

Name? Officially, it's Pumpkin. On her tags, her microchip, all records, etc. So I'm not inclined to make a formal change. The name that seems to be sticking is Stinky, because this cat at times has the worst halitosis I've ever, ever, encountered in a cat!

I have to say, for the first couple of days I was seriously thinking I'd made a big mistake. She's too young, too scared, etc. But then she started to mellow out, after exploring every inch of the place enough to feel safe, apparently. And now, she thinks she's boss -- and she probably is. She's made me laugh, and not much does that these days. And she's sweet, when not getting into something or other. She'll mature, with any luck.

My other project for today is some sourdough bread. I've been experimenting with a recipe from a baker/blogger in Paris for awhile, have forged it into something that seems to work better for me, though we'll know for sure later today. This will be the third time with it, and last week, when I first started toying with the recipe/proportions, I got a really yummy, deeply sour result. I didn't cook it long enough, for some reason. So this week I'm going to form different loaves and let it bake until very brown. It's been fermenting/rising since 7:30pm yesterday, is about ready to bake. Not a lot of bubbles on top, but there are plenty on the sides and bottom. What I love about the changes I've made to the recipe is the thickness of the dough -- alive and buoyant and holds a shape much better. Plus, it's made and kneaded with the mixer so it's easy. And no crazy efforts with the oven to create steam, or bake at really high heat as some recipes I've tried have required. Easy peasy. I'll try to remember to post a 'finished' photo later. And maybe the recipe along with it, for anyone who might stumble upon it and want to try it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Are we getting tired of herons yet?

Made it out to the ponds around 8am today, just as the sun was starting to clear the trees on the eastern horizon. Made for some interesting colors out there, and it was wonderful to walk around and back as the sun continued to rise and the lighting changed from moment to moment. This guy is sitting on the log at the pond nearest the house. And yes, in a way I'm getting tired of herons but in another way I cannot resist taking photos when I see them. They are so beautiful.

This was such a huge heron! Sitting in the pond where I saw the first big one, the first day I was out here. Same one? Very likely this is his spot, though I saw other big ones today, so who knows. One of them was on an opposite bank in the full sun and the photos didn't work at all for some reason.

This fella wasn't so huge, but he was in motion, looking for breakfast, unlike most of the others I saw.

Cormorants, I believe, taking advantage of the morning sun as they seem wont to do. Interesting birds.

Pretty sure this is the same bird from the first photo. The big guy. Just from a different angle as I was returning along the path.

Enjoyed watching the geese through the autumn leaves when I got back to the street side of the ponds. They didn't cooperate too well when it comes to posing or sitting still.

Lovely walk. Tomorrow it's back to rain and then it looks like a few more days of sunshine before a cold front arrives and brings....... SNOW! Or, so they say. It's a week away, and will likely change a dozen times before then. But still.

Brought the new cat home today. She is so sweet, but really freaked out by being in a strange place with strange things and strange sounds. Just wants to hide, and for the most part, I let her. Only bring her out every now and then to cuddle and try to give her a better sense of security, and she always stays awhile then wants to go back into hiding. Have been trying to 'build' a little nest for her where she can feel safe.  She went into it voluntarily, but I don't know if she's still there. Keeping her confined to the bath/dressing area for now, so she doesn't hide under the bed. She'll adjust.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Eagles and Pumpkin

Finally saw this guy today -- been hearing that he hangs around these ponds, but this is my first sighting. He was kind enough to wait until I'd walked all the way around to the other side of the ponds and got closer to him before flying away, too. Not the best photo, but it's the absolute limit of the camera I have. Full zoom, hand held, etc. But recognizable, with that white head.

There was a good bit of water coming in from the direction of the river this morning, making lots of motion and wavelets out there. Combined with a bird and some interesting lighting, it was fun to watch and photograph.

This is near home, the beaver's nest and such. Incoming water just starting to hit these far reaches and not totally obvious, but there.

It was a beautiful morning for a walk, especially after a couple of days of being cooped up inside because of rain. Went out around 8am, walked a little over an hour. Only one more person out there -- a man with a serious camera/tripod/lens setup. I'm so glad I got over my fear of walking the somewhat hidden paths on that side of the road. Never knew what I might find down there, as there are plenty of homeless people who inhabit these wilder areas. But now, after discovering the 'far side' that was intriguing enough to overcome those fears, and after walking them many times, I'm so glad they've become like home and I know that I'm most likely going to encounter other photogs or nature lovers. No bad guys.

Been a draining day today already, emotionally. It's all good -- just a deep meditation this morning looking at a lot of things that have come to the surface in past days. It's a necessary part of the process, and more good than bad.

On a totally different subject, I've found myself longing more and more for furry companionship of late, so yesterday I went to the local shelter and found this sweetie. I'd have brought her home on the spot, but there are hurdles here to get past, first. And then the hurdle of qualifying to adopt her (old age, low income). Her name is Pumpkin, tho I imagine I'd change that should I bring her home. Hopefully, she will still be there on Tuesday, when I may have a better idea about those darned hurdles.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Herons galore

Can I just start off by saying, I hate Verizon? There is no way to speak or chat online with a live person anymore. Ask questions of a robot who never answers the question. Period. Or go down to the Verizon store and have them do it. They can actually reach a human. Ridiculous!

Went for a long walk all around the ponds yesterday in the late morning, before rain was due to arrive. I spent around 90 minutes exploring and taking photos. The effort was rewarded with lots of herons, including this guy.

When I walked the path the other day, I saw this undeveloped, but clearly well-used, trail taking off where the developed path ends. Naturally, I had to know where it went, although I suspected I knew and suspected it would lead me back home without retracing my steps.

Yesterday, with plenty of time and a fully-charged camera, I opted to explore this path, which led to a wide green field and on to the embankment of the freeway exit which is on the right, and on to a stoplight at the main drag.

I've passed that intersection many times, on foot and in the car, have noticed the pedestrian walkway and lights that lead to absolutely nothing on the other side, other than some undeveloped land. No sidewalk. No nothing. So, I tied this path together with that one, in my mind. And I was right.

The trail led to the end of this pond, to the green fields and on to the intersection in the distance. Since the sunshine had gone away, and since I was so close to home, I opted to walk up there to get home. Not easy walking, as there's no flat place to walk. Just the rough, graded side of the ramp. Easy place to twist and ankle and I found myself wondering as I walked it just how I'd explain to the 911 people how to find me if I somehow broke an ankle. Fortunately, that didn't happen. What did happen is that just about the time I crossed the road and started walking toward home, the sun popped out again. And there were clearly no more big clouds coming our way. So - - I crossed back over the intersection and retraced my steps. At least I know I can do it.

There were lots of geese at the end of the pond, though they were on the shy side and quickly swam away from me.

The darned place is just so pretty! And so peaceful. While I'm there, I have no sense that I'm alongside a busy highway, or surrounded by civilization. All of that is forgotten.

One of several herons along the way. I think this is the big guy I saw the first day. In the same pond anyway, though not as near the shore.

Then there was this one. These are all different birds in different parts of the park.

And this one, just below the observation deck nearest home. And more, but you get the idea...

One final look -- sun and clouds and the bike bridge. A great place to spend some time, anytime.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sunshine, on a cloudy day

On to a happier subject and yes, it is about time! We had a little sun-break in the days of rain this afternoon and I went for a walk without my camera. Big mistake! I know better, of course. For some reason I opted to explore the trails along the ponds on the other side of the street, and found a bounty that I never expected. First of all, there is a trail that I didn't know was there that goes deep into those ponds and around the other side. I remember that when I lived in this neighborhood in 2005 I walked out a deer trail of a path out into some wilderness out there that was a little spooky. That was before all this was developed. It's still there, though not visible from the road. Looks like just another observation deck from the sidewalk. 

My day was brightened by two friendly fellas I met along the way. First, a neighbor in this building showed me where the beaver nest is, then on the walk to the other side of the pond there was a cyclist who showed me a couple of heron nests in a big tree across the highway.  Both old folks, like me, but happy and active and engaged, certainly. So, on with the rest of this tale.

The lighting was perfect, there was the most beautiful Great Blue Heron I've ever seen resting just off the path. I wanted my camera so bad I could scream. Instead, I went back home and chilled for awhile, wanting to get back out there around sunset to see if I could see the beavers that have taken up residence just down the block. I went too early, it started to rain, and of course when I got back on that wonderful trail the lighting was different and the heron was gone. None of that was unexpected. Lighting changes quickly. Birds fly away. But there was still a lot to see, and I found another heron (above) just off the trail almost back at the deck near home.

I always like reflections and patterns on the water, so I couldn't resist this one.

Looking back at the bike bridge that crosses over. White egret in the far distance.

There were lots of mallards out there, but these were the only ones I managed to catch before they scuttled out of reach.

Back along the main road, looking off at a secluded observation deck near home.

Same guy as above, different view. Don't know why he shows so brown. Juvenile? But his beak and head give him away.

He really was quite patient with this human creeping around the bank nearby.

Some furry water mammal crossing the pond from the general area of the beaver residence. But a woman with a fancy camera at the observation deck had caught the animal and thought it was a muskrat, maybe. Not a beaver. Said she has seen the beavers, the otters, and even something she thought was a mink recently.

They are out there, and clearly this is the area for wildlife watching, unlike the paths I've been taking. So, you can be sure I'll be back. Probably tomorrow earlier in the day hoping for more perfect lighting and that first gorgeous heron posing again.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I'm still here....

In case any of you out there were worried after my last post, I am still among the living. It's been a few rough days, though none as bad as the first day. There are even some moments of feeling pretty darned good, so I can work with that. Underlying all of it is a deep sense of despondency, though, and I don't seem willing to try and do anything about that. Meditation is the only answer, I think, and I've been meditating again for a few days, or a week. Skipped the last couple of days, but felt the need to get back on the cushion again this morning. My back still hurts so I have to be very careful how I get down there, but once there, all is comfortable. And calming. And peaceful.

And really, it may just be an unexpected resurgence of the old 'holiday blues' that have snuck up on me around this time of year for decades. Just because I haven't seen them for a couple of years doesn't mean they are gone forever. If that's the case, then they will disappear right after Christmas like snow in July.

Like everything else in life, this will pass. It may get better, it may get worse, but it'll change soon enough and I will continue to adapt as those changes happen. What other choice is there, really?

Friday, November 18, 2016

The joys of aging.

With just over a month to go before my 74th birthday, I can say that I've finally experienced what it feels like to push the body beyond it's comfort zone, and I'm not talking about exercise. I'm talking about over-indulging in food and really setting off some unpleasant reactions inside the body, within one or more organs. Things I could have done/have done often in the past are apparently not things I need to do now.

Specifically, I ate a couple of dozen (probably) small oatmeal/choc chip/walnut/coconut cookies that I'd baked for a Thanksgiving potluck here in the old folks home. Some were eaten there, but I brought the rest back home and promptly ate them.  My body really reacted, in an unpleasant way. Discomfort and general feeling of malaise, what I think was a bit of chill (could not get warm even in my bed with the electric blanket on), almost-nausea. This went on until around 1:00am, finally eased enough that I got a little sleep. Still feeling it all this morning, to a lesser degree.

Needless to say, it got my attention. Today I plan to eat lightly, including a little detox tea. Maybe for several days. This is not fun and I don't plan to return here again, if I can help it.

My body has been a strong ally all these years, even as I have abused it. I've tried to take care of it along the way, but maybe it's time I do a little better job of that!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A nice sourdough French loaf

In a world that is anything but normal, life goes on. My sourdough starter still needs replenishing every week, and I find myself more and more unwilling to throw away a large portion of it that isn't needed for the replenishment. Plus, there is something cathartic about baking, to me. So yesterday I tried a new recipe for sourdough, French style. Actually, started it day before yesterday, finished it yesterday. It takes awhile to do it right.  And while it's not perfect, it's certainly the most successful batch of artisan-style French loaves I've made thus far. I learn more each time.

The crumb is not perfect and the rise was not as rounded as I'd like, but the taste is wonderful. Very strong sourdough flavor (which I like). Part whole wheat -- not sure of the percentage, but less than half.  Takes a very hot oven, which tends to set off the very-sensitive smoke detectors we have in these apartments. Even a bit of flour browning on a pan can set it off! There was no real smoke, but then there never is when the alarm goes off. Least of my worries.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Newport -- a day of escape

As an antidote to finally having the tension and nastiness of the election behind us, my friend and I drove to the coast yesterday, to feed our souls with nature. Fortunately, we were met with a lovely day -- nice combinations of wispy fogs and sunshine, mild temps, no wind.

Our destination was Newport, about a two hour drive from Eugene but well worth it. Northwest across country, through Corvallis, across the Coast mountain range, to this. We sat on a bench right here for awhile just to soak it all in. The photo does not do justice to the rows of white breakers as far as the eye could see, from left to right.

After soaking this all end, we went on to Nye Beach, home of the Sylvia Beach Hotel, among other things, and a wonderful Irish Pub called Nana's. True Irish food, and while I was tempted to try the bangers & mash, since I've never had that, I have a hard time resisting fish & chips. Made with local cod, beer-battered and fried to a perfect crispness outside and perfect moistness inside, I stuffed my face! Even had a nice Rogue beer to go with it.  We ended the visit with the Sylvia Beach, just to be able to 'touch home' as my friend said. Unfortunately, there was some kind of private event happening and we were unable to walk through and look at the rooms, but we did visit the gift shop. The rooms, by the way, are fantastical interpretations of various authors and almost all of them have changed since I was last there, in 2009.  Google it, and you'll see what I mean.

Then, still not ready to leave, we drove down to the harbor area and 'old town'. Newport was actually the very first place I ever stayed overnight in Oregon, way back in 1996 when I meandered up the coast from California and fell in love with this state. On that visit I stayed at a cheap motel on the highway, but was pointed down to old town as a place to eat and sightsee. I had beer and some forgotten food at a great old tavern/saloon/pub. Old town to me is a fabulous mix of working fisheries along the water side, old waterside-type bars and restaurants, and newer restaurants and other commercial spots that attract tourists.  I had a field day with the camera along the harbor, as you will see. The lighting was interesting and I wanted that beautiful bridge in the background. These photos are all mostly black and white, even though shot in full color. As usual, the photos are not manipulated by me in any way. They appear just as the camera captured them, for better or worse.

From here, we returned to Eugene down the coast to Florence, then headed inland once again, our moods lightened, our hearts fuller our souls filled.