You might recall that I've given the squirrels credit for planting these as atonement for their having eaten all the tulip bulbs. Actually, I think the squirrels might be responsible. When these first started showing up in the spring, they were only in one of our five whiskey barrels. Last year, they were in two of the whiskey barrels. This spring, they've appeared in four out of five. Clearly, someone is moving them around, and none of the human occupants of The Cats Ranch is claiming responsibility. Certainly cats are not doing it.
As long as we're talking about gardening, the little tomato seedlings are about four inches tall now. They're also painfully spindly on their little stems, and so I've taken to propping them up on toothpicks and bamboo skewers.
Most are getting their true leaves now, and so within the next day or two, I'll start thinning the herd to just one plant per pot.
Next, I need to update you on the Knock Out Martini mixture that I started concocting a couple of weeks ago. You can read the beginning of this process right here. Basically, I chunked up some fresh pineapple and then soaked it in a bottle of vodka for ten days. When I got home from Vancouver on Sunday, only nine days had gone by, but I was in the mood for drinking. So I strained out the pineapple chunks, popping one in my mouth...it was kind of nasty. After pouring it into the bottle, you can see that the vodka is pale yellow in color...kind of the color of, um...well, let's just not talk about that, okay?
Then I tasted the vodka, and it was really good! I'm not a hard core drinker, and so generally things like vodka have to be mixed with something sugary before my tender palate can tolerate it. After being infused with fresh pineapple, the bite of the vodka was significantly toned down. We drank it over ice, but I can imagine it would also be good mixed up with orange juice.
After unpacking and putting things away and then doing a little housework, I figured I'd earned some sewing time, and so I went back to work on my brother's quilt. This quilt is going to be called "Snips and Snails."
My fondest desire is to start sewing together the face and hair, but also the hands and the snake. The face and hair won out in that contest. They are mostly contained in the section I've denoted as "F". When labeling the parts of the quilt for their sewing order, it's important to look at what can be most easily sewn together. The first piece is generally going to be the smallest piece, and the sections are most easily divided where one long line bisects the larger section. (I hope that makes sense.) Anyway...
This is where your color-coded copy comes in very handy because it's hard to look at the line drawing and remember what pieces correspond with what parts of the original image.
For this section, I started with that tiny triangle I've indicated in blue in the image below. Here, I really learned to make better "tick" marks in the future because some of mine were missing, and I really needed to put them closer together so that I had plenty to work with. This piece was sewn to the next and taken apart no less than four times before I had it oriented correctly.
Eventually, I had sections F-1 through F-13 sewn together and I could begin with the hair and the forehead. Those pieces are numbered F-14 through F-27, and that comprises all of section "F".
It took several hours, but when it was all finished, it looked like this:
Not bad, eh? The ear on the left is a part of Section "G" and I'll probably work on that next. If I'm remembering correctly, it will include a section of the arm, and it will lead me to the snake. At that point, I needed to stop and do something in the kitchen; namely, getting the "levain" started for my next loaf of bread. This time around, I'm making a Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread from the King Arthur website. A "levain" is a mixture of sourdough starter, plus flour, plus water that is then left to proof somewhere between 4 and 24 hours typically, and then mixed into more flour, water and salt to make a whole loaf.
This loaf was chosen because it gave me a chance to use my whole wheat starter. It was made the same time my white sourdough starter was made, but I've yet to use it in anything. It was looking so sad and lonely that I decided to pull it out and give it a chance to shine. On Sunday, I fed both starters and used the portion I poured off from the whole wheat starter to begin the process of creating the levain. It was fed Sunday evening and again yesterday morning. When I fed it Monday morning it was at the level of the rubber band. By late Monday afternoon, you can see how much it had risen. I think it's ready!
So I mixed it with 1/4 cup of white whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup of bread flour, and 1/4 cup of water. When it was mixed up it looked like this. From there it was left to proof overnight.
When I got up this morning, it looked like this:
Look closely and you can see how bubbly it is. Also, you can see the various grains mixed in there.
The next step was to mix up the flours and water. This bread uses white whole wheat, bread flour, and pumpernickel flour. This is an autolyze (pronounced otto-lize) method. I've read different explanations for the purpose of the autolyze step, why its important, etc., but the best (and most believable) one I've found came from the "A Bread a Day" blog. You can read the entire post right here. Here's a quote explaining the reason for autolyzing:
"Etymologically speaking, it’s the French word for the biological term “autolysis”, which is from the Greek words meaning “self” and “splitting”."[A]utolysis refers to the destruction of a cell by its own enzymes, or 'self-splitting.' In baking, this means that enzymes in flour (amylase and protease...) begin to break down the starch and protein in the flour. The starch gets converted to sugar, and the protein gets reformed as gluten."Why would you want to do this? When you knead the dough, aren’t you just trying to ... form gluten? Well, yes, ultimately; but when you knead dough, you also oxidize it (expose it to oxygen). Over-oxidized (or, over-kneaded) dough results in color and flavor loss in a finished bread, which means it’s pale and tasteless. By giving the mixed flour and water time to go through autolysis on their own, you achieve the same result, but without any of the unpleasant effects of oxidation. Additionally, an autolyze period gives the flour time to soak up all the moisture, resulting in more orderly gluten formation...."What this all means for your bread is that your dough will be easier to handle before it’s baked, and the end product will taste better, have better texture, look better, and have better keeping qualities."
So, while it was tempting to skip this step, I went ahead and mixed up the flours and the water this morning, and then I let it rest for one hour (vs. the two hours suggested in the recipe). A girl's gotta get on with things, you know?
After that, I mixed in the levain and the salt. As I'm writing this, I've stretched and folded it three times (video demonstration of this right here), and now it's going to have another two hours to rise before I shape it into loaves. It has to be refrigerated overnight, and so I won't be doing any baking until tomorrow.
Also tomorrow, I'm going to start the process of some bagels. They also take two days to bake, and so I'll get those mixed up and shaped up tomorrow for baking on Thursday. We're planning to take them along on our camping trip Friday.
Can you tell I'm learning a lot about bread baking? I've learned quite a bit about different properties of flours and grains and some new fancy-sounding vocabulary words. Even if you don't know what they mean, you can impress all your friends by just tossing them into ordinary conversation. Also, bread-baking isn't just an art; it's also a science. I'm beginning to appreciate why someone would want to become a baker as a life-long profession. Finally, I've learned that it isn't possible to bake bread without getting flour f*cking EVERYWHERE! If you are inspired to try this at home, mark my words: You will cover virtually everything in flour with every loaf of bread you bake. I'm talking the countertops, the floor, the cupboards, the cat, yourself...really. It's worth it though. Sometimes you just have to suck it up if you want to eat something delicious.
So there you have it...a little of everything accomplished in about 24 hours. Today I'm grocery shopping once the bread dough reaches a good stopping place, and then I'll get back to sewing.