Thursday, December 24, 2009

Story Written on a Linen Dinner Napkin

Wishing everyone Happy Holidays, however you celebrate them!

Today I'm ironing a half-dozen linen dinner napkins in preparation for our traditional Christmas morning breakfast.

I found them for just a few dollars at a tag sale this past summer. Belonged to the mother of a local artist who never used them. And they have a fancy letter "P" embroidered on them. A serendipitous find!

We've been using them for all our special occasions since. No disposables.

I don't mind ironing these.

Have been doing a lot more things by hand this past year in order to reduce my environmental impact: hand washing dishes, hanging laundry up to dry, and continuing to cook more and more from scratch. These activities provide valuable time for reflection. They slow the fast spinning wheel of life.

And I love second hand things. They come with stories.

These napkins were likely a wedding present given with love by a caring relative, used at many festive family gatherings. These are the happy stories I imagine, and hope will join others we write for ourselves in the coming years.

May all your stories be happy ones in 2010 and beyond!

Kay Pere

(c)2009 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Friday, November 13, 2009

ECO ACTION: An American Eco-Radical?

Last month, my friend, Catherine, from New Zealand responded to my blog post about my decision to start air drying more of my clothes by saying:
  • "No criticism of you intended, but I'm always amazed at the things we think are normal in New Zealand that seem eco-radical to Americans!"

I don't think I've ever framed my choices as "eco-radical", but perhaps they're coming across that way. It's taken me a month since my last post to find a reasoned way to explain.

Let me clarify.

I realize that most of the world, by choice or circumstance, lives in a way that has far less environmental impact than the "American" lifestyle. We are the world's largest consumers of resources. We have greatest per-capita responsibility for greenhouse gases, pollution, and waste on the planet. And while I'm proud of my country and it's people for many different reasons, THIS is not one of them.

The ECO ACTION blog posts I write here are simply accounts of my efforts to reverse old habits in my own life--habits shared by most Americans--that unnecessarily consume precious resources and adversely impact our environment without, in my opinion, improving anyone's quality of life in a way that justifies the environmental costs.

That's it.

Personal change. Not eco-radicalism, unless you want to call it that.

I visualize an Eco-Radical as someone who lives entirely off the grid AND actively draws attention to themselves in the manner of Green Peace. These are the mavens of the environmental movement. Mavens provide a nexus for change. At one extreme end of the continuum, they showing us what is possible with extreme commitment and effort. Important, but rare.

I'm radical only in the sense that I'm swimming upstream within my own culture, a culture largely shaped by corporate advertising over the past 60-70 years.

Fortunately, the numbers of those swimming in the same contrary direction is steadily increasing.

My parents came of age in Southern California of the 1940's and 50's when science and capitalism (also incorrectly equated with democracy) promised to solve the problems of generations past--disease, poverty, hunger, long work hours, little opportunity, housing insecurity, over population, tyranny, etc.--along with their own.

Advertising in magazines, on TV, billboards, etc. showed smiling families with shiny new washers and dryers, bigger cars, convenience foods, ... and an ever increasing standard of living for them or their children. More free time, large private homes with big green lawns and shady trees, safe streets where children could play, greater health and longer lives...more possessions and more time to enjoy them, that was the promise. Science would solve any unforeseen negative consequences of all this progress, just as it had everything else.

We believed it. And, largely, that promise was delivered for white middle class America. Not without negative consequences. And not fulfilled equally across racial groups, geographical regions, or economic groups.

I'm all for greater food and housing security, living without fear of violence or disease, and having enough free time to fulfill ones intellectual and spiritual potential--but our American consumer culture doesn't focus on these essentials. It's all about a search for happiness in the stuff.

I heard recently that if everyone on the planet lived the American lifestyle, the one we're trying to sell to them, we would need 6 planet earths to support the current population.

We are a country with a frontier mentality. It's an indelible part of our national identity.

During the first 300 years of our history we learned to expand our borders, expand our manufacturing and agricultural production capacity, expand our population and personal wealth. We came to believe that limitless expansion was a divine right, one granted to us by "our" God as a reward for our form of government and our "Christian" society that pleased the Creator.

How often in advertising do we hear phrases reinforcing the "right" to "buy the best" because we "deserve it." The premise is that we "work hard" and we are "good people," so we deserve all the things we can buy.

There are those who continue to believe that science will save us in the end from all the negative consequences of our limitless consumption, that we can continue on this same path without worry.

Or that environmental conditions really aren't so bad; the concept of global warming and irreversible depletion of resources is a conspiracy concocted by a atheistic scientists to frighten us.

Or that this earth is only our temporary home before we're taken up to heaven, so we shouldn't concern ourselves with its problems.

While I don't consider myself an "eco-radical", my experiences of this culture are somewhat that of an outsider.

When I was growing up my parents subscribed to "Organic Gardening" magazine. I read it from cover to cover. They grew and preserved most of the fruits and vegetables we ate in a garden and orchard irrigated in part with "gray water" from the washing machine where my mother used biodegradable soaps, and fertilized with our own composted food scraps and yard waste. They did this not so much for environmental reasons, but because they were both children during the Great Depression. For the same reason they bought nothing on credit including their house and car, they saved a large portion of my father's income for retirement, and most of our clothes were homemade.

But this was far from the norm in suburban Southern California.

My own environmental awareness began when, in 1970's Southern California, there were many days I couldn't go outside to play. The smog generated by suburban sprawl, power plants and manufacturing was so bad that my lungs ached when I did more than sit quietly on the floor. And I was a healthy child, not one with asthma or allergies. I learned from our monthly National Geographic magazines that this sort of thing was happening all around the world, and had been for decades.

I remember when they outlawed leaded gas and worked to make stricter auto emissions standards. And the air began to clear. I remember hearing about "Love Canal", and "Silent Spring", and the clean-up of Boston Harbor. At that time, when the movement to start recycling our bottles and cans was in it's infancy, manufacturers complained that it would cost too much and they'd have to pass the increased costs along to consumers. The usual threat. Voters had the courage to pass the recycling bill in California anyway.

And I remember the first Earth Day. And the hope I felt for the future.

So, yes, our family has a washer and dryer, a dishwasher and other modern "conveniences"; two cars (though both about 10 years old); a house with a big green lawn and shady trees; safe streets where our children played; more free time, better health care and longer lives than my great-grandparents could expect...more possessions and more time to enjoy them.

But what shall I do with all this? Shall I continue to buy and waste and consume because that's what my culture says is OK, because they say it is my "right" to do so? Should I feel guilty about all this.

Or should I begin to change what I can. Use less. Consume less. Buy less. Enjoy the simple things and relationships with people more.

The things things we have are blessings, not rights. When the founders of this country were talking about our rights the pursuit of unlimited consumer goods is not what they meant by "the pursuit of happiness". But that's another discussion.

If this sort of thinking makes me an eco-radical, then go ahead and label me as such. But only within the context of my own culture. A culture that is desperately in need of change, for the good of all.

And to my New Zealand friend, though you "certainly don't worry about whether [your] undergarments are 'suitable' for drying outside", I will continue to hide mine away from view. Would you hang out your undergarments where your boss or customers could see them? This is not only my home, but also my place of business. I'm not eager to subject my students, their parents, or my recording clients to such a sight. And I'm certain they would agree.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ECO ACTION: Air Drying Clothes

I've decided to take the challenge over at Fake Plastic Fish to air dry at least one load of laundry each week. Have been doing this occasionally, but not in any methodical way. The idea is to use the electric dryer less, thereby consuming less electricity and contributing in this small way to reducing global warming.

This week, already, I've air dried two full loads of laundry with very little extra effort.

This is the week each fall when I get out my winter clothes and put away my summer things until the following May. Always a bitter-sweet exercise, marking the passing of one season into the next. This morning I washed and hung out the following in the sun on a large wooden rack:
  • 12 sweaters [mostly purchased from second-hand stores last fall, still good as new]
  • 3 long-sleeve tops
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 6 pair of heavy socks
  • 1 polar fleece vest
I just checked and found that these are nearly dry after just 5 hours of letting the sun and air do all the work.

The wooden rack came from a crafters store near my house, Cape Cod Crafters, that unfortunately no longer carries them. I asked when I bought it several years go and was told it was handmade by a craftsman in the Ozarks. I wish now that I'd kept his information. With another rack like this one I could dry several loads of laundry at once. Fully expanded, it's 4 feet long, 2 feet wide and about 5 1/2 feet tall. Folded it's 4 ft x 2 1/2 ft x 6 inches thick, and will stand on its short end against a wall, out of the way.

Yesterday was cloudy, so I used a smaller wire rack set up in the bathtub, plus several hangers on the shower curtain rod, to dry a small load of laundry in about 24 hours. The few things that were still damp this morning got a 10 minute touch-up in the dryer. This brief touch-up also softened the items that had a stiff, crunchy air-dried feeling. That load included:
  • 2 polar fleece jackets
  • 2 tops and 2 bottoms of silk long underwear [To be worn indoors as a layer under other warm clothes, so we can keep the heat set at 65F during the winter, saving $ and heating oil.]
  • 10 cotton handkerchiefs [Started using these back in May to replace disposable Kleenex tissues, reducing my use of disposables and the energy consumed to make them.]
  • 2 long-sleave shirts
  • undergarments not suitable for air drying in publicly visible areas of the house or outside
All very easy to do. I just have to plan ahead so I'm not rushing to get clean clothes to wear for the same day, washed and dried in a hurry.

In the process, I feel more connected with what I'm doing. Ironically, returning to the old ways of doing things brings me more firmly back into the present moment.

The freedom promised by mechanized, electrified 20th century technology is frequently squandered on mindless worries and shallow distractions. If I know I can hurry around getting things done at the last minute, I often do. The freedom I truly enjoy is freedom from worry, freedom from distraction that comes when I'm fully engaged in what I'm doing--and when I plan ahead for tomorrow's needs.

We should make sure that the impact we're having on the environment through our uses technology is, at the very least, being traded for something of lasting value. If not, then returning to more traditional, low-tech ways might be a better answer.

(c)2009 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Monday, July 27, 2009

SACRED SHARDS: Work Play Work Play

I've been working at play, playing at work, working and playing at clay for the past several weeks. Putting in many 9-10 hour days doing something I love to prepare for two artisan shows coming up:
  • Stonington Village Fair: Saturday 8/1/09, 10 AM-4PM, Stonington Village Green, CT
  • Mystic Outdoor Art Festival: Saturday 8/8 10AM-6PM & Sunday 8/9/09 10AM-5PM. Look for my SACRED SHARDS booth in the parking lot of "You've Got to Be Beading" near the Mystic Post Office, Mystic, CT.
These are TOUCH STONES from my WORD WISE collection, ready to go into the kiln for a first firing (bisque). Then they'll be glazed, high fired and packaged for the shows.

Each is a little mantra to hold in your hand, wear around your neck, put in your pocket, hang from your rearview mirror or use to create something of your own. There will be dozens of words to choose from. Or you can combine several to make a unique statement.

Each comes with a length of colored cotton cord, a small organza bag, and a tiny card with quotes inside.

In the photo above are prototypes at several new items: hand built bowls available with Om symbol, chai (hebrew not tea), or hearts; spiral-design napkin rings; and tiny nests to wear as pendants or display close at hand. The nests can be customized with initials on the eggs to represent those who share your home nest and a small inscription on the back.

After working out tricks and details for putting these items together smoothly and consistently, I've made more. Each item is hand built and individually signed. No two are exactly alike.

The first wave can be seen ready to bisque fire in the photo below.

The photo above shows the bottom shelf of the kiln loaded for bisque firing.

Two more layers of greenware (dry unfired ceramics) to bisque fire in the same load.

Drying shelves hold 9 vessels and a stack of napkin rings awaiting their turn in the kiln. 75% humidity has slowed drying to nearly a standstill. I'll probably not be able to have these ready by the first show, the smaller of the two. With luck by the second.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, a small representation of the work and play that's part of making things I care about to share with others.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SACRED SHARDS: Documenting Recent Work

Too long I've been making things and selling them or giving them as gifts without taking pictures or making sketches for future work.

Today I set up a make-shift photo booth in a well illuminated part of the house, got out my "good-enough" cheap digital camera, and started documenting my work.

This heart shaped bowl and matching ladle will be a gift for a family member and his bride, getting married this weekend.

I'll be making more in the coming weeks for sale on Etsy, in local shops, at LUNCH shows and in my art show booth.  Wanted to make sure I could remember what these looked like since I won't have them on hand as samples.

Taking and editing these photos was also a useful practice run for the things I need to do for my Etsy online store and for my own website.  They will go into my file of potential work samples to use when approaching retail outlets and and artisan shows.

A bowl made for a baby girl, now a two-year-old and feeding herself.   Took me a while to finish it and photograph it before giving it to her.  Bad Auntie Kay.  Still, it's great for finger foods and reheating little portions. 
A couple of adults have told me they wanted one for themselves--customized with their own name or a special word--so I'll probably be making them in a variety of sizes and colors.
This one is about 5 inches across and 2 inches high.

A similar bowl was made for a baby boy family member, but I didn't take a picture of it before giving.

I also made sketches and took measurements today so the next go around will be easier.  I jotted down notes on glazes, processes, and where the JPGs of these images can be found on my computer.
All this was time consuming, but I'm hopeful that by honoring past effort in this way--by documenting it--the process of making many more will go more smoothly, and perhaps lead to new ideas that otherwise might have been lost.

(c)2009 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

SACRED SHARDS: Completely Glazed Over

Look what the kiln elves did overnight!  Pretty colors!

Some sale-able items for this summer's craft shows.  A few gifts.  Lots of experimental stuff (mugs, etc.).  And a couple of keepers.

Batter bowl (upper right), Peace Dove ornaments, Word Wise bowl with hearts (peeking from under shelf), ... and hiding on the bottom shelf where I can't see them, surprises!

Going now to unload the kiln and see what I've got!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The little kiln that could.  She's an L&L kiln.  Needs a name.  I'll call her Lana, as in Lana Lang.  Powered by meteor rocks.
Finished glazing and loading this afternoon.  Firing initiated at about 3:45 PM.
Here's what's inside.  There's another layer below the one visible at on the lower right.

And here's what it looked like just a little while ago, glowing amiably in the darkness of the basement.  Alien Power Source at work.
Temperature read-out on its way up, with the glow under the kiln lid showing through.

The glow  under the lid and between the kiln's sections projects onto the basement walls in stripes of yellowish orange, but my camera's shutter speed doesn't go slow enough to capture this.

The picture above was taken over an hour ago.  By now, it's probably reached Cone 5 and is on it's way back down. 

I'll be able to open it tomorrow.  It's always like opening a surprise package.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SONGWRITING: Awakened by the Muse

I was awakened by the Muse at 5:00 this morning (after getting to sleep past midnight last night.)

Grabbed bedside pencil and paper, diligently wrote down the stanzas in my head. But the Muse insisted I get up and go to the piano.

Now I'm online researching Greek mythology for lyric content at her request.  

Ignore her and she goes away to pout. Don't want that.

UPDATE: 20090615
This was one of those rare songs that essentially wrote itself. Two double verses plus a chorus (AAB AAB form), multiple layers of meaning, literary references, chords and melody, all came together within a very short time.

As soon as I'm able to play this song fluently enough, I'll post a rough recording and put up the lyrics.

I want to shorten the distance between song creation and proliferation, not worrying so much about having "radio ready" recordings before letting songs leave the nest for the first time. Trying to short circuit perfectionism and keep it real. I want to open a window into the process as it happens.

Heed the the Muse!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

BOOKS: Library Sale Re-Re-Revisited

Bibliophile's Bounty: For $5 and a Brown Paper Bag

I'm 'fessin' up.  I've been to the library book sale four times this week.

I went the first time last Saturday, on the initial day of the sale and came home with an armload of books.  Then again on Monday because I thought everything was half-off, but it wasn't.  And again yesterday, Friday, because everything really was half-off.

Finally, I stopped in today for the final day $5 fill-a-paper-grocery-bag-full-of-books sale.

I fit all of the following (plus some books to give not listed here) inside the brown paper grocery bag I was given a the door.  In no particular order:

MISC Non-Fiction and Reference
Not bad for $5.

The books I bought half-price yesterday will mostly end up as gifts for other people, but for my studio library I found "American Folk Songs for Children," by Ruth Crawford Seeger 1948.  It's The original hardcover edition, filled with traditional songs and accompanying activities.  I sat at the piano yesterday evening for quite a while playing and singing my way through it.

Thanks to my four trips to the book sale this week the "Friends of the Mystic & Noank Library" are about $50 richer.  With cutbacks to the CT State budget funding for libraries this year, I'm sure it will be put to good use.

And I have a wealth of reading material, some 60 or more new-to-me volumes to savour and share.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PREPARATION: Clearing Clutter

Clearing away clutter provides the physical and mental space to spark the next creative explosion.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

BOOKS: Library Sale Revisited

Thinking that everything was half price all week at the library's used book sale, I went again yesterday and loaded my arms with an interesting assortment of volumes.

When I reached the front table to pay and discovered that the 50% off prices wouldn't kick in until Thursday and Friday, I didn't have the strength to return my selections to the jumbled piles where I might never see them again.  Once in my arms I couldn't release them.

"It's for a good cause," the volunteer at the check-out table assured me, smiling.

So here's what followed me home yesterday:
Not saying how much I spend.  It was less than $20, but still I'm a little embarrassed.

I suppose I shouldn't be--it was far less even than if I'd purchased them used on Amazon.  I stayed within the budget I'd set for myself in anticipation of this annual opportunity to stock up on reading material.

I'll admit it.  I'm a book addict.  I'll probably go back for the $5 bag-full-o-books sale on Saturday.

In the meantime I've got to find space on our shelves.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

BREAD: Project Sourdough Day 4~Garlic Oregano Breadsticks

The house smells like an Italian bakery today.

But I'm beginning to feel a little like Seymour Krelborn in "Little Shop of Horrors."

Every day I give the sourdough starter a little water to drink and a little flour to eat ...

... and it grows.  

Because I decided four days ago not to throw away the surplus every time I feed the starter, our kitchen is now being overrun by baked goods.

First eight large sandwich rolls.  Then two loaves of cinnamon bread.  Now a dozen 14-inch garlic oregano breadsticks.

Or is that Bread Schticks!

Tomorrow I'm forming the extra into a ball and putting it in a bowl in the refrigerator for 24 hours to rise very, very slowly.  I need a break!

I'm beginning to remember why I got stir crazy the last time I worked to wake the sleeping the sourdough starter.

Here's what I added to the basic sponge today:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
2 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled and pressed

The  starter seems to be taking over the leavening process.  Tomorrow's loaves will be made without any added powdered yeast.

I have no energy for a detailed explanation of the process this time.

Just: mix it, knead it, put it in a greased bowl, let it rise, punch it down, let it rest, cut it into 12ths, roll these into logs then twist and stretch, place them on two baking sheets  sprinkled with cornmeal, let them rise, bake at 400F for about 15 minutes switching top and bottom sheets midway through, cool on a rack.  Eat!

This turned out really well.  As have the other improvised bread recipes.

Tomorrow I'll post about the book, "Ratio," that's provided the knowledge and therefore the courage to become an experimental baker.

Monday, June 01, 2009

BREAD: Project Sourdough Day 3~Cinnamon Loaves

I inhale deeply.  The house smells of cinnamon and bread.

Sourdough Cinnamon Loaves were today's use for the surplus flour/water/yeast mixture produced as I continue to reactivate my long-dormant Idaho sourdough starter.

This time I used the ingredients from a recipe for basic sweetbread dough, though in slightly different proportions.  I cut all of the additions by about half from the original recipe.  I don't like a cinnamon bread that's too sweet or too buttery because I can't eat as much of it at one sitting.

All this week I've got a schedule that looks like Swiss cheese.  I can't work on anything that requires focus for many hours at a stretch.  I can't get covered with dirt in my garden or clay in the pottery studio because I'd soon have to get cleaned up for some obligation where I have to be presentable.

Baking bread as a creative activity works well around such a schedule.  Hands on time comes in small increments of 15-20 minutes and rising time can be controlled somewhat by placing the dough in a comparatively warmer or cooler environment.

I know a busy mom from an Italian family who mixes up a ball of dough first thing in the morning each day, places it in the refrigerator to rise very slowly all day, takes it out when she gets home and makes it into pizzas, or plain Italian loaves, or bread sticks, or herbed rolls.  Quicker than a trip to the grocery store.

So here was the process for today.

After reserving a cup of starter for the next cycle, I added the following to the remainder with a whisk:

1 cup Milk
2 1/4 tsp Rapid Rise yeast
4 Tbs Melted Butter
1/2 c sugar
1 Egg

To this batter, I gradually mixed in approximately 5 1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour.  I didn't realize that I'd have to add so much more flour than I had yesterday (only 3 1/2 cups) to compensate for the extra liquid from eggs and milk.

The first two cups of flour were mixed in by hand with a whisk, one cup at a time until no lumps remained, working air into the batter.  The next cup and a half was mixed in first with a wooden spoon, then kneading by hand in the bowl.  Transfered to a floured wooden board for kneading about 10 minutes, where addition flour was worked in.  The dough was very soft and sticky.

The ball of dough was placed in a large greased bowl, turning to coat, then allowed to rise until doubled.

I had a lot going on today, so I purposely left the dough to rise in a cool place to slow it down.  It went into the bowl at about 8:00  this morning and wasn't ready to punch down and form into loaves until about 2:00 this afternoon.  Even then it hadn't quite doubled.  In a warm (80-105F) place this would have taken probably 2 hours or less, instead of 6, though the low percentage of yeast to flour probably slowed things farther.

[If I'd really wanted to delay the rise, I could have put the bowl in the refrigerator, as I did when I had to go out on Sunday with the sandwich rolls formed and sitting on a baking sheet.  They went into the fridge covered with a damp dishcloth until I got home, then they were taken out to finish rising.]

At that point, I divided the dough into four equal portions, pressed each out by hand into 8x12 inch rectangles.  Laid two of these next to each other on the kneading board and sprinkled them generously with cinnamon-sugar mixture, then placed the other two on top of the first two, sprinkled again.   The two separate stacks were rolled up into 8 inch oval loaves and placed in 5x9 inch greased loaf pans.  Tops were sliced with a knife about 1/2 inch deep and more cinnamon-sugar sprinkled on top.  

I warmed the oven slightly then turned it off and placed the pans inside for a quicker rise before baking.  After doubling (about 2 hours later while I taught lessons), I baked the cinnamon bread for about 25 minutes at 400F, covering the tops loosely with foil part way through to prevent over browning.

Turned out onto a wire rack to cool.  Probably should have greased the pans more thoroughly.  The sugar in the loaves caused the to stick in places.

INSIGHTS about the sourdough starter:
  • Tap water contains chlorine.
  • Chlorine kills micro-organisms (including bacteria, fungi, single celled organisms, etc).
  • Yeast is a kind of micro-organism (a fungi).
  • Sourdough starter is a symbiotic relationship between yeast and bacteria
  • Using tap water in my sourdough starter may kill off some of the yeast and bacteria, making it harder to activate.
SOLUTION: use filtered water or water that's been left out uncovered for several hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

BREAD: Project Sourdough Day 2~Sandwich Rolls

I began the process of reactivating my long-slumbering sourdough starter yesterday.

The instructions I have say to whisk 2 cups of water and 3 cups of flour into 1 cup of starter in a large bowl, then cover.  This is then left for at least 12 hours at room temperature or slightly warmer.

When the starter is fully active it will double in size, becoming bubbly, aromatic, and viscous.

If activity is minimal, one cup of the mixture is saved to undergo the same steps until in begins to double.  Sometimes this can take several days.  The instructions say to discard the extra flour/water mixture each time.

Discard?!  Perfectly good flour and water lightly tasting of sourdough?  That's just silly.

I decided to do some freestyle baking.  I called on my two years of bread baking experience to combine techniques, quantities, and various recipes so we could make good use of this surplus.

After reserving 1 cup of the restarting starter, to the remainder I added the following:

2 1/2 tsp Instant (aka Rapid Rise) Yeast Powder*
1 tsp Salt
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs Sugar
Approx. 3 1/2 cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour

The additional yeast was necessary because the sourdough yeast was still in the process of re-colonizing the starter and wouldn't be able to provide enough leavening to make the dough rise.

*"Instant" Yeast is OK to add directly to liquid mixtures vs. "Active Dry" which has a coating that needs to be dissolved before combining and is slower acting.

The soft dough was kneaded for 8-10 minutes on a floured board, working in the last half cup of flour.  This was formed then into a ball, placed and turned over in a greased bowl to coat, covered with a damp towel and kept in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 2 hours).

After the dough had doubled, it was punched down the dough, turned onto the floured board and cut it into 8 equal pieces.  These were formed into balls and placed on a greased baking sheet.

I brushed the top of each roll with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tbs of water) and sprinkled variously with: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes and crumbled rosemary.  These were then allowed to rise again until doubled.

Baked until lightly browned at 375F for about 18 minutes, then cooled them on a wire rack.

All this was improvisation.  And they turned out just the way I'd hoped.  We shared a roll with rosemary and onion flakes right out of the oven.  The rest will be for sandwiches this week.

We'll be enjoying a lot of fresh baked bread this week as I continue to feed and reactivate the starter, and find new ways to use up the surplus.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

ECO ACTION: WK3 Farm Share & Project Sourdough

Aren't they pretty?  Four kinds of lettuce, endive, colorful chard, and eggplant starts.  I opted for the eggplant plants in place of rhubarb this week when given the choice.

Six glorious eggs, voluminous Asian greens (tat soi, bak choi? ... now I'm all confused about which is which) mustard greens, and kale.

Used this past weeks supply in much the same way as the week before: stir fry; steamed greens; salads; eggs in tapioca pudding, baking and hard boiled.  Had some Asian greens left over at the end of the week that I'll process for freezing by blanching, if that's possible.   I think they'd be good in soups this fall and winter.

I'm looking forward to finding some new recipes for the Asian greens.  Found one recipe for a fresh salad with a homemade dressing, raspberries, pears (out of season right now so I'll probably substitute something else) and toasted walnuts that sounded really good.

My yard sale mojo wasn't as good this week, but that's OK.

I came home with a brand new set of 3 stainless steel springform cake pans in graduated sizes for only $3, still in their original packaging.  I think I have two of each size now so I can do layer cakes.  All hypothetical at this point.  I have yet to bake a cake from scratch.  That's one of my goals for this year, to begin to learn scratch cake baking.

I restarted "Project Sourdough" this evening.  I took the jar of starter out of the fridge, poured it into a large glass bowl, fed it the designated flour and water mixture, covered the bowl with an inverted dinner plate (no plastic wrap), then placed the bowl in the oven (off) with the light on to keep it warm.

This sourdough starter was given to my uncle (my father's brother) and his wife by an old homesteader they lived with in Idaho back in the 1940s.  When my parents and brothers visited them back in the 1950s they brought some of the starter back to California with them so they could make the same wonderful sourdough pancakes they'd enjoyed there.

It's been propagated and passed along ever since.  I got this batch from my oldest brother, Paul.  Flew across the country from California to Connecticut in my suitcase, wrapped in multiple layers of Ziploc bags and bubble wrap, carefully labeled for the benefit of wary TSA inspectors.

It's been in hibernation in the refrigerator for a while.  Tonight's feeding will begin the process of reawakening the yeast.  With any luck they'll be some tasty bread baking ahead.

The idea is to take one more item off the grid by producing my own yeast for baking just like our great-grandparent probably did.  No impact from manufacturing, distribution and preserving like jar or cake yeast. For only the cost of water and flour.  Continually renewable and always available.

I'll probably still use regular yeast for some bread baking, but this will provide another low-impact option.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ECO ACTION: Lines in the Sand

Over at the No Impact Man Blog today, Colin Beavan asked: "Do you have any eco-living lines in the sand?"

Here's my reply.

LINES IN SAND: If something passes through my hands once or for a short period of time and is then thrown away, don't use it. Eat locally grown or make my own as much as possible. If we're not using it turn it off. Walk or bus if possible.

Changes I've made just in the past three months (on top of many others in the past) include:

  • Got my first ever bus pass a few weeks ago ( I live in a suburban area)
  • Using cloth handkerchiefs instead of tissues (found at a yard sale, lacy antique cotton, not noticeably used)
  • Using cloth napkins for meals at home instead of paper (another yard sale purchase)
  • Refusing plastic straws when eating out
  • Trying to take food from home with me in reusable containers when I'm traveling, so I don't have to purchase fast food in disposables
  • Joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) and started getting my half-share pick-ups of very fresh locally grown produce.
  • Carrying a large purse with room for purchases in case I've forgotten my cloth bags
  • Bought (dollar store) and started using reusable mesh bags for fruits, veggies and bagels from the grocery store, instead of plastic produce bags (though I reuse those, too, when I can)
  • Making the switch to pre-owned cast-iron cookware (yard sale) to phase out my battered non-stick pans (non-stick coating lasts only a few years and may be dangerous, cast-iron is practically forever)
  • Phasing out my use of my #7 plastic Nalgene water bottles, will keep them for occasional use, not throw them out. Instead, at home I'm using a drinking glass for water (duh!), and a pint canning jar with a lid for when I'm out and about.

This looks like a lot for just three months, but it really hasn't been a big deal. It's just happening naturally a little at a time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

ECO ACTION: Cast-Iron Skillet

Yesterday, I scored a sturdy 10-inch cast-iron skillet at a yard sale for only $2.

I'm planning to replace all my current non-stick pans (the coating is a kind of plastic) with well seasoned, previously own cast-iron ones.  Non-stick coatings have been shown end up in the food we cook, then stored in the body where they potentially can have undesirable health effects.  You can read more here and also here.

When I got the new-to-me skillet home yesterday, B commented that it still had a crusty layer of 20-year-old eggs cooked onto the bottom.  I think he's right.  Someone probably got frustrated with the necessity of hand washing the pan, gave up and put it away unwashed.

For a savings of $16 over the cost of a new cast-iron skillet, I could put the time into reclaiming this one.  So this morning I set about cleaning and re-seasoning it.

First, I used a forbidden Brillo pad and some scouring powder to remove the offending eggs and who knows what else.  Followed this with a paste of baking soda and dish soap allowed to sit for a while, then much rinsing, wiping, scraping, and rewashing.  Maybe 30 minutes total, hands on.  By the time I was done no trace of the original funky smells or sticky, greasy scum layer remained.

Once the pan is seasoned again I'll wash it much more gently, using only hot water to rinse and a towel to wipe, scraping if necessary, but no abrasives and no soap.

Next, I used the skillet to cooked some bacon.  Bacon grease is supposed to be the best for seasoning a cast-iron pan.  I rarely cook bacon, but when I do used a teflon coated, non-stick pan.  And I always burn the bacon.  This was the first time I'd cooked with cast-iron.  What a difference!  It heated very evenly.  The bacon turned out just like in the picture books.

I used the bacon drippings, as instructed, to rub over the surface of the skillet before placing it in a 300F oven (for 2 hours).  The goal is to form a naturally baked on non-stick black coating.

The skillet is in the oven now.

I think it's time to assemble some BLTs.