Me & Rosie

photo of a person and a dog

Me & Rosie

This first week of me and Rosie has been full of ups and downs.  I lost my temper with her yesterday.  It didn’t involve hitting, but it involved anger and Rosie knew it.  My day wasn’t going well and Rosie was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I apologized for my outburst immediately.  But I felt like a shit for doing it.  She forgave me, but I’m not sure I can forgive myself.

What did she do?  I wanted to go for a walk.  She was reluctant, mostly because she’s unhappy on a leash.  She’ll come along but not enthusiastically.  I needed her to go on leash for the first part of the walk because we had to thread our way through cows.  I needed her to keep up and didn’t want a 40 lb dead weight on the end of that leash.

I yanked.  She cringed.  I yanked again and demanded that she come.  She cringed some more.  And then when I caught myself — when I realized I was the one being the jerk, not her — I had to make it right.  She watched closely as I reached into my pocket for a doggie treat, but when I bent over her to offer it she flattened herself to the ground.

She expected to be hit.

I don’t hit dogs, but how would she know that?  It was my fault, dammit.  I was in such a bad temper, though, that I could not continue on the walk with Rosie.  So I took the leash off, told her we were going back to the house, and she followed just fine.  She licked me when I sat down on the porch stairs to apologize.  I felt like an even bigger shit.

I have to remind myself that she’s had five years or so being treated one way, and I’ve had a week of my way.  There are no instant results when training critters of any kind, not unless there’s fear or pain involved.  I know that.  I just have to keep remembering that the memory of pain and fear is a very loud one.

Meanwhile, Tux and Lili and Rosie are working out a kind of detente.  I still don’t trust them alone with each other, but I’m talking to them a lot, asking them to get along.  Tux is still the king of outside, but inside he’s not in his own jurisdiction.  Lili and Rosie seem to be getting along okay — no love there yet, but they’re well into toleration.  Neither of them has any desire to share the house with Tux, but if Rosie is going to have access to the yard then everybody knows Tux will come inside.

Always the challenges.  But there are successes, too, or at least signs of progress.

Rosie occasionally chews on the dental bone (gotta deal with that tartar, don’t you know) but is flummoxed by the ball.  I bounce it and she watches it, but that’s all.  She’s still wary of the horses — and rightfully so — but is now willing to go near the horse pens.  She doesn’t pee in the house, doesn’t go in the garbage, and after being told only twice that the slippers were mine and not hers to chew, she left them alone.  In the evenings when it cools down, she gets a sudden burst of energy.  She drives me crazy pestering me for attention, licking whatever body parts of mine she can reach.  She does a kind of little dance when she sees Tux at the door.

And she barked yesterday.  I had run the neighbor’s cows off my property (I really need to fix the fence but that’s so low on the To Do list) but missed two calves that decided maybe they’d come into my yard instead of following the grownups.  Rosie barked at them, twice, before skedaddling back into the house.  The calves weren’t impressed with that bit of noise, but I was.

Rosie is claiming her space.  I like that very much because it means she’s feeling like she’s home.  Rosie is finding herself, but she won’t be able to leave her past behind just like that [snaps fingers].  Part of it is just time but mostly it’s on me.  Human-animal relationships aren’t about making the animal do things as much as the human controlling her own thoughts, feelings, and actions so that the animal can respond willingly.

The good news is that I’m trainable.  The better news is that I think Rosie has faith in me.

 

< Rosie, day 4 (visit to the vet)

Rosie update – day 4

sleeping dog

Rosie napping after a visit to the vet
2019 Lif Strand photo

Just a quick report on Rosie’s veterinary visit today.

She was such a good girl!  She had to be helped up and down stairs — she seems to not have had to deal with them before in her life — but did not squirm or object to being lifted.  She spent a lot of time giving me, the vet, and his assistant kisses, and cooperated so nicely that Rosie earned a treat for her efforts.

Dr. Duncan said that most of her scabs are from fly irritation, and as he poked at them some scabs fell off so they are about healed.  The lump under her chin is a scar from an abscess, now healed, probably several months old.  She has several other old scars.  None of them appear to be from fighting.  What I thought was a hot spot on her foot is also an older scar, but she has been licking it and irritating it.  I’ve got to watch that so she doesn’t make it worse.

She got vaccinations including rabies.  Her heartworm test (done right there at Dr. Duncan’s mobile clinic) was negative (yay!).  He gave her a dewormer for regular worms, too.

Dr. Duncan looked at her teeth and said they’re in good shape other than a little tartar.  There’s some wearing of the incisors indicating she’s around 5 years old.  He could find no evidence of Rosie’s having been spayed, and in fact it looks like she’s coming into or going out of heat right now.  He thought she’s had at least one litter, possibly more.  I got the number of SNAP in Silver City, a place that helps out with the cost of spaying, so I’m going to give them a call.

As for what she is, breed-wise:  No guarantees, but she is more like an American Staffordshire Terrier than an American pit bull.  She’s more delicately built than a pit bull, with a less broad head and jaw.  Which is not to say that she couldn’t be pure pit bull, or a pit bull cross.  But I’m going to tell people she’s a Staffie and avoid the stigma attached to pit bull.

Rosie is sacked out now after such a stimulating day.  She deserves the rest, and when she wakes up there’s another yummy treat waiting for her.

[Edited to add info about SNAP:  They help low income people with spay and neutering, but the dog has to be brought to Silver City.  The participating vets there do surgery before they open in the a.m. so that would mean a 3 1/2 hour drive one way plus an overnight.  The cost for that would equal the savings in the cost of spay.  So much for that!]

< Rosie, day 2            Me & Rosie, one week >

Rosie Day 2

Rosie the dog sitting and looking at the camera 2019 Lif Strand photo

Just look – where is the big pit bull smile?  Rosie is too uncertain still, though she has smiled for me once or twice.

Yesterday was Rosie’s first full day with me. She was, of course, on her best behavior. Rescue/rehome dogs are like that – they tiptoe around, not knowing the rules and not wanting to get busted for breaking one.

Then they start getting more relaxed as they figure out that the new digs are safe. That’s when they start testing the boundaries, which is a way of zeroing in on the rules of the new place. Or sometimes it’s not so must testing as being clueless.  Today, day two of Rosie, is the day of clueless.

I’m pretty sure Rosie is not house-trained. If she lived in a backyard all the time, why would she be? Yesterday she was still too intimidated to test any rules or do much of anything at all except lay on her bed and look around. In the evening she tentatively checked out a radius of maybe twenty feet from her bed but hesitated to do more.

Knowing she might not tell me when she needed to go potty, yesterday I took her on walks every few hours. The last one was pretty late in the evening.  Didn’t matter.  This morning I woke up to find two pee puddles on the floor. One was right next to Lili Kitty’s litter box, so Rosie gets points for that. The other was near the kitchen door that she’d been in and out of, so she gets points for that, too.  She wasn’t sure it was okay but hey, the cat did it there, and the door she had gone out to pee was there…. I sprayed the spots thoroughly with enzyme spray (if you’ve got cats – especially males — you need that stuff) while she watched. But I didn’t say a word to her about it. I just did it and moved on to the next thing that needed doing in my house.

The thing about living with animals is that you have to learn to communicate. For most people communicate seems to mean that the critters have to learn to understand English. For me it doesn’t. For me it’s about body language, intent, and maybe a little bit of ESP.

Animals are masters at reading body language, which makes sense given that their verbal abilities are limited by physiology, if nothing else. Horses are so good at reading body language that some of them have become money-earners for their owners. A hundred years ago Clever Hans could do math problems, and a couple decades after him, Lady Wonder could not only type messages but read minds.

Read minds?

Except that it turned out both horses were just experts at reading human body language. When they were asked questions, the horses could give correct responses nearly 90% of the time when the questioner already knew the answers, but less than 10% of the time when the questioner had no idea — which is not to say that what the horses were doing was any less incredible. They could read body language whether or not the questioner intended them to, including when other human beings could perceive no cues at all.

Dogs can howl, bark, groan, whine, whimper, yip, grunt – but they don’t have spoken language like humans do. Humans can make the same noises dogs do, but humans don’t really know what the sounds mean. They’re just noises to us, not words.

A dog that hasn’t been asked to learn words, that is, a dog that hasn’t been trained, isn’t going to understand the meaning of any words at all. But they can get by just fine without it. They can read body language as well as a horse can.  Better than a human, too.

A rescue dog has way more incentive to be accurate in that reading than a dog that’s comfortable in its own home. I didn’t tell Rosie she was bad for peeing in the house because she would have no clue what the words mean.  While she might not be Border Collie smart, though, she’s smart enough to understand my tone of voice and my body language. I wasn’t happy when I sprayed the pee spots but I didn’t tell her that – I was careful to say nothing at all.  I didn’t have to. Just my having paid attention to her pee made her so nervous that for the next couple hours she cowered anytime I walked near her.

I ignored that, too.  I didn’t want to make a huge deal, I just wanted to make it as clear as I could that yes, there was something about peeing in the house that was different than eating, sleeping, and all the other things that go on in a house — but no more than that.  It was not a punishable offense.  Rosie was not a bad dog.

It was the same with how I wanted her to know that looking too intently at a cat in the house was a thing in itself, and that licking the hot spots on her paws is another  thing. There will eventually be a whole bunch of things that will be differentiated over time, but we’ve started with just these few.  These will become the words in the language that both Rosie and I understand.

Once she learns to differentiate between actions — to identify that there are differences — then those actions become units of understanding.  Meaningfulness, if you will.  After meaning comes learning whether actions are permissible or not.  And from that comes understanding of the rules.

So has Rosie become house-trained, just like that? Not likely!  At best Rosie knows that that there’s something going on.  If I’m lucky she’s already made the connection between peeing in those spots and me being unhappy. She doesn’t know what or why, not yet.  She’s still learning to trust that I won’t hurt her, that I will behave in predictable ways, and that I expect her to behave in certain ways, too.  She doesn’t know the ways, mind you. Heck, she doesn’t really know her name yet.

We don’t have communication established, not yet — but we’re getting there.  It’s early days still.

Oh, and about that ESP?  Next time.

< Rosie, day 1              Rosie visits the vet >

Here I go again

I just picked up — and by ‘just’ I mean a few hours ago — a rescue dog. I know nothing about her except she was abandoned by renters who skipped out on her, another dog, and the rent, too.

Nobody knows the dog’s name.  I call her Rosie, because she looks sweet.  She appears to be a pit bull cross, on the smallish side. She’s adult but more than that I can’t tell.  Her rescuers picked her up yesterday from the back yard where she had been left, took her on a three hour drive — possibly the first in her life, as she had no idea how to get into a vehicle — treated her for fleas, fed her and kept her overnight, then handed her over to me today to deal with.

She’s not starved, but she shows indicators of poor nutrition. She’s got scabs in her ears, hot spots on her paws, a few sores that look like infected bug bites on various parts of her body. She’s got a soft lump under her jaw. She’s got a big pot belly, soft poop, and she farts — though the soft poop and farts might be due to the change in food, and/or the stress of being taken from her yard by strangers and handed off to yet another stranger. I assume that belly does not indicate pregnancy (I pray she’s not pregnant!) because there’s no sign of teat/mammary gland development.

Mostly I’m concerned because she has such labored breathing. She sounds like she’s snoring even when she’s awake.  That could be a symptom of late stage heartworms, but then again, the collar she was wearing was so tight it had to be cut off — it’s possible Rosie’s windpipe is damaged.  It’s possible that the lump under her jaw is doing something.  It’s possible she’s got a respiratory infection or maybe that’s just the way she breathes. I have no clue.

Needless to say, Rosie is going to go to the vet soon as I can snag an appointment.

My tomcat, Tux, took one look at her and it was all-out attack:  furred out like he’d stuck his paw in an electric outlet, fangs, claws, and the Kitteh Voice of Doom.  I have no idea why.  Tux wasn’t like that when I came home with the last dog, Bella.

Rosie, sweetie that she is, just hunkered down and tried to get away.  I got her inside, and shut the screen door (and baby gate) between the two.  I thought Rosie was going to have a heart attack.  Tux spent the next half an hour yowling and snarling and growling before finally, reluctantly, slinking away because it had started to rain.

Tuxedo kitty looking through the screen doorRosie is currently sleeping on a little bed I made for her.  Before I brought her home I was all stressed about needing to bring in a crate for her to sleep in, about her chasing cats, about you name it.  Then I got her home and stressed out about Tux hunting her down and attacking her if I put her out in the dog run, or her going after Lili (my 17 year old inside cat) if I wasn’t watching Rosie every minute.

I forgot that some dogs react to this rescue business by being afraid to do anything lest it is the wrong thing.  Rosie is that dog.  I am not petting her or even talking to her very much.  Reaching for her makes her shrink away and drop her head.  I only pet dogs that want to be petted and she’s not ready for that yet.

She does take treats, though.  A good start.

 

—–

Later:  I took Rosie out for a walk to my property gate and Tux followed partway.  He sat down and watched us.  When we came back and Rosie saw him, she stopped.  Tux hadn’t moved.  So I asked him to be nice to Rosie.  I asked him to let her go back into the house.  He meowed a few times, then turned and walked through the compound gate.  We followed.  Tux settled under the truck and watched us walk by.  There’s hope!

Rosie, day 2 >

Eat and be eaten

Bread loafOne of the components of dough is yeast, and yeast is a living being. It has been dormant but wakes to its potential when given food and water.  Food and water — along with a few other things — are what all living things on this planet need to survive.

Because they are living things I think of yeast as little beasties that I’ve given the opportunity to make whoopee in wet flour. They live, they eat, they digest, they multiply to eat some more, and in the act of doing so they transform flour + water into bread dough.

And then I kill them.

All things eat, all things are eaten

The above phrase is either a quote or, more likely given my faulty memory, a paraphrase from a science fiction book I read years and years ago. I don’t remember the author’s name, the book’s title, or much of the plot – but I remember that phrase because it is a truth that I remind myself of often.

I feed the yeast and the yeast feeds me. The little beasties perform an everyday kind of act that is easy to let pass by without acknowledging the miracle of transformation and the sacrifice involved. The living beings that are yeast will ultimately be given to the heat of the oven, where they will die. What is left is the structure they’ve built for me, a loaf of bread.

Keeping this in mind as I mix flour, salt, yeast, and water, then let it rise, fold it to give the yeast more to eat, and eventually bake the dough in the oven, makes it easier for me to remember to be grateful for my bread and all the food that I eat.  Gratitude is the only way to survive the harsh reality of eat and be eaten that describes life on this plane of existence.

No-knead bread recipe

More bread

Selfie with yucca crownBefore I say anything about bread I want to say something about the image posted here.  This is my version of a selfie.  I take photos of my shadows and mess with them.

This one particularly pleases me.  It’s called Self-portrait with yucca crown.  It would make a great album cover if I ever recorded an album (don’t hold your breath on that one — the world is not ready for my ukulele playing).  I have put it on the back cover of my limited edition chapbooks, though, and it looks pretty cool there I think.

So about that bread

I like making bread.  It’s not hard using the recipe I’ve shared with you and I like not buying bread from the store.  But I also like that making bread is such a great metaphor for the writing process.

Making bread and writing?  Well, yes — my writing process at least.

Bread dough is amazing stuff.  There are only three ingredients needed:  flour, yeast, and water.  And writing is an amazing process, too, if you’re crazy enough to be serious about it.  There are only three “ingredients” to writing:  writer, ideas, and writing implements.

Oh wait, there’s a fourth and fifth ingredient for each:  time and peace.

Bread dough ingredients get mixed together and then the yeast needs to be left alone.  No poking at it.  No jiggling it around.  No interruptions and no hurrying it along.  I’m convinced bread rises better and ends up tasting better when the rising is done in an emotionally peaceful environment, too, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

So yeah, it does seem to me that making bread is just like writing.  A writer needs the time to write and the peace to write — at least this writer does.  I can’t happily write if I feel the psychological equivalent of poking, jiggling, interruption, or hurrying.  I am in awe of those writers who can create novels by stealing a few minutes here and there from their busy lives, but I need time and peace.  Blocks of time and the peace of no interactions with the outside world.

That’s why I’ve designated the month of April as a writing month (I already take November for participating in NaNoWriMo). This is my time and peace month, when I’ve myself permission to just say no to everybody. No I can’t go anywhere, no I can’t take the time to __(whatever)__.  For a hermit like me it’s a relief to be antisocial anyway, but to be creative I have to get aggressive about guarding my time and peace.

It truly is more than just luxury to be able to settle into the world I’m writing about and just hang out there. Time and peace allow the yeast of my imagination to give form, breadth (oooh, see what I did there), and depth to my ideas.  Immersion in the world I’m building protects the dough of creativity that’s rising in me from the poking finger of collapse.

Well, enough of metaphor.  I better get to work.  But first — I think a slice of last night’s baked bread is in order.

Back cover of self-published chapbook

Bread

This.  THIS.  This is the bread I’ve been looking for.

You might recall that I’ve been trying to make the perfect loaf of bread for some time.  I started out decades ago wanting to duplicate the San Francisco sourdough I had gorged on for so many years.  It was a quest doomed for failure.  I didn’t have a clue about bread making, much less sourdough, and – as is usual for me – had no desire to read instructions first.  (If you are like me, then just jump to the recipe!)

I’m like that.  I like to learn by doing.  Jump right in.  This approach to life only works because I’m okay with failure.  It’s a reasonable price, in my opinion, to pay for not having to slog through reading (or worse, watching videos of) how to do things the way somebody else thinks is the way I should do whatever it is.  I get right into the doing.

Especially with bread.  I mean, come on. Humans have been making the stuff for thirty thousand years, give or take a few centuries.  Bakers on the go, running from lions and tigers and bears, oh my, didn’t have the luxury of messing around with measuring cups and gram scales.  Bakers in medieval kitchens had to churn out dozens and dozens of loaves a day to keep up with the needs of court for trenchers to eat off of.  They didn’t have the time to be kneading gallons and gallons of bread dough all day long.  Pioneers and prospectors wanted bread to take care of itself while they dealt with the realities of their dreams.

So I concluded that most of today’s bread recipes are modern inventions full of unnecessary and complicated steps that just get in the way of making a simple, ancient food.

Plus kneading bread is boring.  I never have figured out how much is too much or too little.  My dough has never ever felt or looked like what the fancy recipes describe.

Phase One: Sourdough

After moving to New Mexico  and a few years of bread failure, I searched online for a sourdough starter.  I had no basis whatsoever for my sole criterion, which was that it was old.  Why?  I can’t tell you because I don’t really know.  It just seemed like a good idea.  The starter I settled on supposedly came from the Klondike a hundred or more years ago and ended up on eBay, and what a long distance that was.  I read the ecstatic reports from various bakers and of course I had to order it.

It came, a small cellophane package of tan granules that looked suspiciously like commercial yeast.  But the package also came with charming instructions, which I glanced through and tossed aside so I could get on with the project

Two problems with sourdough.

First:  keeping the starter alive.  I reconstituted my eBay find.  That involved adding flour to the starter and throwing out some of it.  Or maybe the other way around – I forget.  But it doesn’t matter which because it was just plain wrong.  Innocent yeast was being sent out to the wilderness of my compost pile to die.  What a waste.  I did not like that at all, but I gritted my teeth and tried my best to make the survivors happy, ignoring the fact that baking was going to kill yeast anyway.

I told myself that regular bread-making would reduce the waste once the starter was up to strength.  Regular.  That word.  It’s the knell of death for anything I am interested in.  Keeping sourdough starter alive involves regular attention, which for me is like keeping a prisoner in Guantanamo.  It’s ugly.  I forgot the regular feeding all the time.  I had jars of icky grey liquid floating over water-boarded starter.  I became a yeast abuser and that was even worse than throwing starter out.

And then, when I figured the surviving starter was strong enough to make bread, the second problem arose: kneading.  Just because this was supposed to be sourdough didn’t mean I miraculously enjoyed kneading, no matter how many other people think it’s wonderful.  So what if the yeast was old and supposedly visited San Francisco at some point — that didn’t mean my wrists were happy with slapping dough around.  Okay, I know there’s no slapping involved.  It wasn’t Guantanamo, after all, but you get the picture.

I kneaded anyway.  I baked the first loaf of sourdough and got… yucky, boring bread that had no memory of San Francisco in it.  Not a bit of New Mexico or any other sour, either.

Back to Google.  Not to carefully read instructions, mind you, but to pick up a few tips that I could experiment with. [Note: the info I used when I started this project was not always the same as what baking experts say today.  I’m not the only one who learns more as time goes by]

I’m not going to go through all my attempts at duplicating the tang I remembered.  I’ll just say that it was never meant to be.  Yeast is not merely a leavening agent.  It’s not a chemical like baking soda or baking powder.  It is a living organism with its own needs and goals independent of mine.  Each of the one-celled life-forms, along with a whole bunch of like-minded friends, eats the sugars in flour and releases carbon dioxide.  Um.  Farts it out, so to speak.  The solid stuff of the flour – gluten – confines the gas, stretching as more gas is produced, and that’s how bread rises.

Don’t ask me how it works with gluten-free bread, I haven’t got a clue.

That said, it’s not the yeast that gives the sourdough its sour, it is the ambient bacteria, or rather the lactic and acetic acids produced by the bacteria that lives in the environment that the dough is made in.

Oh sure, I occasionally made a loaf that approximated the sourdough, but there came the day when I had to face the music.  Imagine my shock and dismay to finally realize that I was never going to make San Francisco sourdough unless I made it in San Francisco!  Plus it seems that the New Mexico bacteria that live in my house are not into sour.

Phase Two: no-knead

Seven years or so ago my friend Laura sent me an email telling me about an alternative that might appeal to me:  no-knead bread.  I glanced at the recipe and stored it for later.  I was at that time focused on baking bread on top of my wood stove.  As if somehow that would improve the sourdough flavor.  Mostly I just made hockey pucks for the next two years.  Even my dogs wouldn’t eat the stuff, though I tried to convince myself that I liked it.  Kinda sorta.

I gave up bread making for a while.  I didn’t kill off my yeast, but I did dehydrate it, figuring someday I’d want to use it again.

But the call of bread-making was too much, so a few years after Laura sent that first recipe I Googled no-knead bread.  It seemed easy enough, especially since the recipe was illustrated by photos of an eight year old kid making it.  And yet… what I produced was boring.

I kept making the bread, tweaking the recipes I used, adding rye, whole wheat, more salt, less salt, more yeast, less yeast.

In my poking around the web, trying to figure out how to make the absolute best, yummiest, sourest no-knead bread possible, I discovered a book by the guru of no-knead bread making, Jim Lahey.  My library got it for me and I studied it and tweaked my methods even more.

I finessed my technique till I could make the stuff in my sleep.  And I made loaf after loaf of beautiful bread.

But oh, so boring.

Then… THIS LOAF!  This lovely, crusty, slightly tangy perfect loaf of no-knead bread!

Fast forward to a couple days ago, when out of desperation I Googled “my no-knead bread is boring”.  I love Google.  You can find out just about anything you can imagine.  I was not disappointed in this search, either.

It turns out I was not truly understanding how yeast works.  I though more was better, but this is not true for no-knead bread.

Kneading strengthens gluten in flour like doing push-ups strengthens muscles in a human body (not in my body, mind you).  But no-knead bread means flabby gluten.  You can’t fix it by adding more yeast because that means means more carbon dioxide gets produced all at once.  Flabby gluten isn’t up to it.  The carbon dioxide leaks out.  The dough becomes a flat tire.

The solution is strengthening the gluten slowly – not by kneading, heaven forbid, but by folding.  Folding the dough after it has risen a few hours gently stretches and thus strengthens the gluten.  Folding 2-3 times during the raising phase instead of kneading is like doing lots of reps with light weights in the gym instead of power lifting 500 lbs.

Yeast also needs to breathe, not just to eat.  Just like us, oxygen goes in, carbon dioxide goes out.  During long fermentation (long rising time) the oxygen supply gets short and the poor yeast starts suffocating.  Yeast abuse!  Folding the no-knead dough several times during the rising releases some carbon dioxide and introduces oxygen into the mix and makes for happy yeast.

So folding the dough benefits the yeast and makes for better bread.  The gluten strengthens; the yeasts are happy campers because they get to eat and breathe more and longer, and so a loaf develops a nice rise and a beautiful texture, not to mention a perfect, chewy crust.

But wait!  There’s more!  Let’s not forget flavor!

Remember, my most recent Google search was about boring no-knead bread.  The answer wasn’t about yeast and gluten, but enzymes, which break down starches into sugar (yeast food).  You’d think it would be the yeast bringing enzymes to the table since they’re the critters eating the sugar, but no.  Enzymes come from the flour.  Wheat uses enzymes to break down the starch in kernels for energy to germinate.  Thrifty world that we have — yeast benefits from that same enzymatic action after the kernels have been ground to flour.

So finally we come down to the heart of the matter:  Flavor, lack of.  Why, after all this time, after all the experiments, the Googling, and the hockey pucks, was my bread so boring?

Sure, I had proven to myself I could make bread that rises nicely, that has nice texture, and that is oh, so pretty — but what’s the point if the bread doesn’t fulfill that yearning for something to replace San Francisco sourdough?

So here is my final and huge discovery: Less is more.  Boring bread happens when the greedy yeast eats more of the sugar than the enzymes can produce.

I did not believe it.  I had to try it.  So two afternoons ago I started another batch of no-knead bread, but this time I used a laughably tiny amount of yeast.  1/8 tsp.  My measuring spoons don’t even come in 1/8 tsp.  I had to eyeball it.

A tiny amount of yeast takes a while to get up to speed.  It took till the next day for the dough to get half again larger, and then I folded it.  It took hours for a second fold and more hours for the third.  But by the time the oven was hot and the dough went in to bake, I knew I had discovered something good.  It was clear by the texture and the yeasty smell that this was going to be a different bread.

The baking was done at midnight.  No-knead bread tastes best cool – talk about frustration, but there it is.  I had to wait till morning to try it.

This morning..

The first morning of the rest of my bread making years to come.  A perfect loaf of tangy, tasty bread.  Not sourdough, but way-outback-New-Mexico bread.  My bread.

I can’t believe it.  I think I had better have another slice to be sure.  Hey, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.


No-knead bread Recipe

2 3/4 c unbleached flour
1/4 c whole rye flour
1/8 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 c water, room temp

  1. Mix dry ingredients, then add water and mix.
  2. Ferment the dough at room temp 12-16 hours covered with plastic (amount of time depends on how your bread is rising).  Fold three times during the fermenting (to fold use a wet spatula, scrape from sides, lift & stretch dough to center, rotating around bowl for 8 scrapes each session)
  3. After 12-16 hours,scrape onto floured work surface, fold 8-10 times, rest 15 minutes.
  4. Shape dough into a round, place on parchment paper, proof for 2 1/2 hours more.
  5. PREHEAT oven 450° 30 minutes before baking, including Dutch oven
  6. Lift dough with the parchment paper, CAREFULLY put it in the VERY HOT Dutch oven and put the lid on.
  7. Bake 30 minutes covered, bake 20-30 minutes uncovered.  Tap the bread — when it sounds hollow it’s done.
  8. Cool before slicing.

Notes:

  • I measured the dry ingredients by dipping the measuring cup and then leveling with a knife.
  • I could find no info on when to do the folds — I just did them when it seemed the dough had risen as much as it was planning to rise.
  • This bread is meant to be baked in a Dutch oven inside your kitchen oven.  The Dutch oven and its lid need to be preheated along with the stove oven.
  • When you take the bread out of the Dutch oven to cool on a rack, put your ear close enough to listen to it crackle and pop.  I don’t know why it does it, but it does make those noises.

 

Past blog posts on my quest for the perfect bread

 

 

So Happy I Could Cry

♪ I’m So Glad (Skip James, ca 1931) YouTube

What is it about joy that has such power to make me teary-eyed? How can I be grinning like a maniac as I’m hauling wood from the woodpile in a wind so cold it freezes my snot?

I want to ask how I ever got to this place, this happy place I am in this moment, but I don’t need to ask – I know the answer: Even though it seems like a miracle bursting into my life it’s actually the result of decades of work of purposefully changing who I am.

Purposefully creating a life as opposed to being tumbled through the stream of time willy-nilly. Making my own choices even though they often pit me against the flow. Risking drowning in order to save my life.

No – to create it.

We each have our own life story and we each are the sole author of that story. The question is how the story will be written: by chance or on purpose?

I’ve known my answer since I was a kid — but knowing isn’t implementing.

The problem is I keep forgetting to choose in spite of the fact that it feels so good when I do. It’s not my fault. It’s simply the nature of living as a human being. We have epiphanies but we are bound to lose them. We spend more time seeking than basking in enlightenment. It’s not our fault! We’re human!

Thank the gods for art, what we humans do to memorialize our connections with enlightenment and to remind us to remember them again. Doesn’t matter what kind of art: writing, music, dance, painting, sculpture – and yes, the art of being ourselves, too, if we allow it. Art stretches our inner selves, makes us high. What’s not to love about that?

But enlightenment is an impermanent state of being. We don’t live in the Zone, we aspire to it. While we bask in instances of great art our souls are hauled up to a higher level – but we don’t get to stay there.

We have to choose it over and over again. On purpose.

Enlightenment for human beings is not a state of being but moments of bliss. The trick, it turns out, is not to try to grab those moments and hold on to them, for they are ephemeral in nature and will slip away. The trick is rather to choose have lots of those moments, one right after the other, until miraculously it feels like they are all the moments there are.

Chop wood, carry water. That’s said to be the way of the path. Most people take it as a metaphor. Much to my surprise, in doing the wood and water thing in real life I discovered that those tasks have kept redirecting my feet back onto the path. The path is not to enlightenment but of enlightenment.

So, hey, make your choices. Choose to have a blissful moment or a million! Here, have a tissue.

♪ I’m So Glad (Cream, 1966) YouTube

This post was originally published on my Patreon site.  You can be my patron for a buck a month!

Let it blow

partly plastered straw bale wall 2019 Lif Strand

Plastering doesn’t happen by itself…  2019 Lif Strand photo

Today is one of those blustery winter days that remind me yeah, it’s still winter. Blast it.

Which is what it’s doing out there — blasting frigid winter wind that shoots down the barrel of my valley and through the walls of my straw bale house. Making me vow, yet once more, to finish plastering the place.

But wait! Before I plaster I’ve got to move the stuff of my daily life out of the house. I’ve made big inroads into that, but every time something gets shuttled to the barn I find I want it back in here. Too late, though, because once it’s piled in the barn it’s lost to the ages. I made a big attempt in the beginning to segregate by use, but that went by the wayside. Now it’s all wherever and so I can only find things that are on the top of the stacks.

I don’t like not having my stuff around me. I’m a person of impulse. If I get the urge to mess with fabric I want to do it now, not some day after I’ve plastered and can set up my sewing area again. If I want to reread a favorite book I want to be able to go to the shelf and grab it and settle in with it, not ask the library for it and if I’m lucky get to hold that book in my hands next week when I’m in town.

So much — too much, it feels like — gets put off because I need to plaster. Even writing.

On days like today, when my valley is creating its own polar vortex right through my house, my fingers get stiff with cold. It’s frustrating to try to type or write with stiff fingers, as time-honored a tradition it might be. Yeah, I’ve got a big fire in the wood stove and the eco-fan is spinning. My desk, unfortunately, is just far away enough that the the heat barely makes it. One of the drawbacks of wood heat in these circumstances is that sitting next to the fire is too close for comfort, and anywhere else is uncomfortably chilly.

So what am I going to do about it? Get up, move around. Make bread and let the bubbles rise in my brain. Or (oh ewwww) wash the dishes. Or tackle any number of tasks that leave my mind free to identify thoughts, test phrasing, compose sentences. When my fingers are warm enough, sit down and write until I can’t move my fingers anymore.

It’s actually a good practice for me. Otherwise I tend to sit obsessively at the computer and never get up — bad for my body plus it allows sludge to build up in my head. If only I could remember to do this when the wind’s not blowing.

Meanwhile, about the bread

I started a no-knead bread dough four days ago. I wanted to try fermenting the flour/water mix in my never-ending quest for making the perfect loaf of sourdough. Fermenting might not be the correct word for what I was doing but I’m too lazy to look it up. Anyway, the ferment was — how to put it?  Ugly.  It was ugly and it was alive. Well, yeah, yeast has to be alive to do its thing but… that alive?  By the way, the brew in that brief video clip is NOT boiling.  That’s just the action of the yeast in room temp flour/water!

Hoping for the best, I added small amounts of flour over the next couple of days and then yesterday a.m. added some more yeast, some salt, and enough flour to make the proper consistency dough. Sorry, I can’t share my quantities because I totally winged it, but I used a bit of rye, and some whole wheat, and mostly white flour (organic, of course!), plus a wee bit of salt and some bread yeast.

This morning the risen dough had started to slump so I decided it was time to bake it. I didn’t have high hopes for this experiment but boy, was I wrong.  It was still not sour, which is my goal.  But you know… it’s kind of … mmmmmm…..

Sure beats plastering.

No-knead bread 2019 Lif Strand

Isabelle the Traveler

Dede and Isabelle NM January 2019

Dede and Isabelle on a hilltop in New Mexico

Update on Isabelle.  She doesn’t live with me anymore.  Aha — bet that comes as a surprise.  But there’s a story to it (of course there is) and when you know it I think you’ll agree that not only is Izzy a traveler but that it’s right that she’s now called Bella.  I believe she’s going to be very happy in New York instead of New Mexico.

If you read about my anxieties prior to going to Grand Canyon, you’ll remember that one of them was about Izzy, who by that point I’d only had for three weeks.  I was concerned she’d feel abandoned by me.  In the Grand Canyon post, though,  I did acknowledge that my sister and brother-in-law love dogs and were looking forward to spending time with Izzy.  That she would be loved on. That she’d get to go in the truck with them, go on walks with them, and would sleep near them at night.

Hah!  Little did I know how right on I was!  Rather than feel abandoned, Izzy decided Dede and Jeff were the best thing since cats’ kibble.

My sister and brother-in-law own property south of Pie Town and they love to visit it and hike all over it whenever they are in New Mexico.  While they were here they kept Izzy with them all the time.  They took her back to my place to feed horses and cats, she went with them into town, and her bed was set up next to their bed.  Not only that, but they took her on long hikes on their property.

Izzy knew a good deal when she met one.  In this case, two good deals:  two people who loved on her and fussed over her and who made her forget all about wondering where I might be.

I was keeping in touch with Dede & Jeff from Grand Canyon and didn’t pay that much attention when Jeff mentioned having fallen in love with Izzy.  I thought, well of course, she’s a lovable dog.  But then Jeff casually mentioned he was thinking about not flying back home to NY with Dede, but instead driving back with Izzy.

Ha ha.  I thought he was joking.  But he was not.

Isabelle, navigator in Jeff's truck

Isabelle in the navigator’s seat, with Jeff on their way to New York

Laura and I got home on Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning Jeff took off with Isabelle.  He said he needed to get back to work on Monday but I think he really wanted to leave right away in case I changed my mind.

I don’t think they believed I’d let her go, not when I loved her so much.  Fact is, I love her so much that I would let two people I love have her because they love her, too.  And because Isabelle said she wanted to go with them.

So having traveled from Oklahoma to me in New Mexico, Jeff and Isabelle took of from New Mexico headed for New York.  She started out in the back seat, but you can see from the photo how long that lasted.

So now the traveler dog has a new home, a new life, and a new nickname, Bella.  Izzy is a kind of sharp sounding name, but Isabelle is such a lovely and sweet dog that a lovely and sweet name seems to fit her better.  So Bella is what everyone is calling her now.

I am happy for Dede and Jeff and, their family, including their older dog, Yuna.  I don’t feel that Bella has been lost to me, but that she gained more of me.  She gained family that I love.

And of course, Bella’s biggest gift to me is still with me.  She got me over the hump of thinking I could never open my heart to another dog again.