Nothing so sour as success

Sourdough bread (c) 2019 Lif StrandI’m flyin’ high and I cannot lie — I finally made a loaf of sourdough bread that not only tastes good, but is actually sour! It’s a kind of miracle!

Oh, it’s not San Francisco sourdough, but then I don’t live in San Francisco, whereas San Francisco sourdough yeast does live there.  And that’s the key, it turns out.  Love the one you’re with.

Yeast, that is.  If I can’t have the San Francisco sourdough I love, I can love the New Mexico sourdough I’m with.

Okay, enough play on song lyrics.

Last week I was poking through a permaculture forum thread that was focused on sourdough bread.  More specifically, on capturing wild yeast for bread.  It’s something I’ve tried before, with poor results.  This time, though, the directions were different.  Way less complicated.

Easy, in fact.

In the past I’ve tried making starter with the yeast off of berries (juniper berries is what I’ve got around here, and trust me, gin flavored bread sucks).  I’ve tried enticing yeast already in my house, using complicated methods of “capturing” it similar to what was being discussed on the forum.  Unfortunately, if successful, that method creates a starter that you’re shackled to for life.  I don’t know about you, but much as I want to keep a 2500 year old starter that came by boat and on foot from the cradle of civilization on the other side of the planet (I made that up) fact is that it’s tedious, wasteful, and before I end up forgetting about the starter and killing it, it never makes a good loaf of bread for me anyway.

This method is so simple it’s scary:  mix a couple tablespoons of rye flour (organic of course!) with enough water to make a thin batter.  Cover with cloth.  Next day add more flour and a bit more water.  The third day clean up the mess because I used too small a container, add more flour and water.  The following day make bread with it.

No retaining a bit of starter back, feeding it, throwing out excess when I don’t bake with it right away, feeding it some more, shoving it into the back of the fridge to make it stop nagging, and then letting it die of neglect.

Better yet, inviting wild yeast (really, I think of it as feral, not wild) that’s been hanging around my kitchen watching me use commercial and alien yeasts from who knows where is like inviting wallflowers to join in with the dancing.  It’s like finally asking my friends to help me with a project.  It’s ultimately making bread that is truly of this place and time.

Yeah, it doesn’t taste like San Francisco.  But you know what?  I haven’t had any legitimate San Francisco sourdough bread in decades.  I don’t even know if my memory of it is real.  I know the bread I baked last night is real.

It’s dense, it’s sour, and it’s really mine.

And as a bonus…

Here are photos of tomatoes from my garden.  Will they ripen before first frost?  Will I get around to covering them at night when there is a first frost (generally mid-September, and it’s darned close to mid-September right now!).  Stay tuned!

unripe cherry tomatoes unripe Early Girl tomatoes

 

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

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

 

 

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

I’m just peachy

Peaches. That’s what’s on my mind. Last week I was given a couple dozen of them by a friend, freshly picked off his tree and handed over in a brown grocery bag where they would ripen. A couple days ago I remembered to check them and they were ready to go.

In the past I’ve made jams and liqueurs, but as yummy as they’ve been I didn’t want to do that again, particularly since I still have over a quart of peach liqueur left from last year. The peaches couldn’t wait for me to decide what to do so I decided to dry them. Easy peasy and I love dried fruit, so that was the way to go.

Ron’s peaches were all at the same perfect stage of ripe, and they all were wonderfully free of bug and bird damage, as well as bruising. Processing them was simple: Clean as needed, remove any damaged spots, cut around the peach equator and twist to break the peach into two, then pry out the pit, and slice the halves. Pop the end pieces in my mouth and place the rest on the dryer trays.

My dryer is the old fashioned kind — its contents are air dried. The drying takes longer than it would with an electric dehydrator but mine doesn’t use any power and I live in a dry climate so there’s no mold. The food being dried is protected from bugs and dust by a fine mesh cover that zips closed. The dryer is advertised as solar powered but I’ve hung mine inside the house, from the ceiling in my kitchen and have even rigged up a rope and pulley system so I don’t have to get on a ladder to check on how things are going.

Things are going nicely, two days later, as you can see. Maybe next week I’ll get to taste test. Yum!

 

Potato Soup

Blessed moisture (c) 2018 Lif Strand

Not potato soup ingredients

Yesterday it rained for the first time in I don’t know how long.  Oh, I could readily find out — I do keep a weather journal.  It didn’t rain much the last time.  As of yesterday morning I had recorded under half an inch since the first of the year and as of last evening I had just 0.2″ more to add.

Last night it snowed.  I woke up to two inches of wet white stuff.  I have to be happy for that, because we so desperately need the moisture.  But I had to cancel a trip into town.  I wanted to pick up a load of alfalfa hay, and get some cat food.  I’m out of bananas, and getting low on peanut butter.  And [gasp!] I’m out of wine.  But more importantly, I had to cancel the appointment for a massage.

Tragedy!

Okay, it’s not a great tragedy but it is a bit of a disappointment.  I’m not in dire need of the massage and I won’t get to hang out in the coffee shop this afternoon with a book, a cup of coffee, and a pastry.   The massage has been rescheduled and the coffee shop will be there next week, so it’s not the end of the world.  It’s just one of those things when you go rural.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere means knowing that there could be days or weeks when going anywhere is not possible.  It means thinking in advance, replenishing supplies before running out, and making do.  If a person isn’t into the mentality of  preparedness and self-sufficiency then this is not the kind of place to live.

In my case, today is more like a schoolkid’s snow day than anything else.  I get to stay home.  Yay!  (That’s the hermit in me talking).  And of course, I have what I need here to make the day even better.  None of the things on my shopping list are things I’m in danger of running out of unless I couldn’t drive out for a good long time.

Except for the wine.  A wine cellar’s on my To Do list, but I’m not there yet.  I rarely have back-up wine.  I’ll tough it out.

It’s a cold, dreary day, today.  The snow has stopped and the melt has begun.  It’ll be a snotty mess out there in a while.  A good excuse to stay inside and snuggle up near the wood stove with a book.  And maybe some comfort food.  I’m thinking potato soup.

Look Ma!  No recipe!

Making do happens when you can’t follow a recipe.  Maybe you don’t have the ingredients, or the time, or that recipe just doesn’t appeal.  In my case it seems to mean being constitutionally incapable of following directions.  Oh, not because I couldn’t if I wanted to, but because it just seems so… um…

Let’s just say that some of us make our own excitement in life.

I’ve always been attracted to stories of people pushing the envelope of their very existence.  Doesn’t matter where or when.  It could be anybody, at any time, on whatever ocean or continent… or planet or galaxy.  Shipwrecked folks, lost folks, explorers, pioneers — people who went where no others had gone before and who made do with what they had and what they could invent.

It takes a special kind of person to do that.  I’ve always wanted to be a member of their ranks.  But you know, I’ve got that hermit thing going, so that has put a crimp on what I might do.  The thought of being stuck on an island or in a spaceship with a bunch of people who are in my face all the time is just too ewwww.  Plus I’d get claustrophobic without wild, open spaces to roam.

So hey — I could be a mountain man, like Grizzly Adams as portrayed by Dan Haggerty (I met him years back, seemed like a nice guy).  Except I don’t live in the mountains and I’m a woman, and no training bears for me, thank you very much.  Anyway those are just details.  The point is a life of doing whatever I can for myself by myself.  Not living by the book.  Not just marching to a different drummer — but to my own drummer: me.  Even if I can’t drum.

It’s a life of choosing to take a different road, maybe one that requires giving certain things up in order to have other things that are more important.  From the outside it might look a lot like living a hard life for no reason, but from the inside what it feels like is playing.

Yes, playing.  By that I mean, having fun doing something I’ve chosen to do the way I want to do it and enjoying what I’m doing just because I can.

So about that soup

Even if I had an excellent potato soup recipe I wouldn’t follow it.  (I do have an excellent book of soup recipes entitled Soup, by Coralie Castle; 101 Productions; distributed by Scribner, New York 1971.  It is out in a second edition published in 1996, too.)  I don’t need to look in the book to know I probably don’t have all the ingredients, or if I do, I won’t want to use the ingredients called for.  More importantly, seems to me that recipes are guidelines to someone else’s idea of what food should taste like.  It’s like making a quilt using the exact fabrics and pattern that someone else has created, or painting-by-numbers.

Not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing those things, just that it’s not for me.

You know the supposedly ancient Chinese saying about giving a man a fish vs. teaching him how to fish?  Well, teach me not only how to fish, but how to light a fire, and how to clean the fish, and how to fry or broil or stew, and you’ve taught me something truly useful.  Which, by the way, is why the early editions of The Joy of Cooking are so wonderful — Irma Rombauer provided not just recipes but an explanation of the basic principles of cooking.  That’s why that cookbook has been in print continuously since 1936 with over 18 million copies sold.

Teach me the principles of soup and I’ll make my own recipe.

Potato soup ingredients

So in case you want to know what I did, here it is, today’s recipe for potato soup, with annotations.  Next time I won’t make it the same way.  As for trying my recipe?  Do what you will, that is the only advice (apology to Mr. Crowley)

Ingredients

  • 5 potatoes of varying sizes I grabbed some potatoes that I forgot I had.  They hadn’t gone green yet and that didn’t have lots of sprouts.  Most of the rest will get planted when it’s warmer if they don’t go into the compost, darn it
  • 1 onion It needed using before it needed to join the potatoes in the garden
  • 3 large carrots because I like carrots
  • 1 cup chopped kale because I had it, because it doesn’t store well and the horses won’t eat it, and because it would make the soup photo pretty
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 TBS cumin because I love the taste
  • 1 TBS Golden Paste (turmeric) because it’s good for me.  You can use plain turmeric if you don’t have Golden Paste handy, or don’t put any in the soup at all
  • Some veggie oil
  • A big blob of butter
  • Secret ingredient:  Left-over coffee from this morning
  • Water

Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a deep pan or a soup pot.  Melt butter in the oil.  Don’t let it get so hot it smokes!
  • Chop the onions into chunks and saute in the oil/ butter.  While that’s cooking, do the potatoes. Don’t forget to stir every so often so nothing sticks to the pan.
  • Chop the potatoes into chunks and add to the onions.  While that’s cooking, do the carrots.
  • Chop the carrots into smallish pieces and add to the onions/carrots.  While that’s cooking, do the kale.
  • Chop the kale and stir into the rest.
  • Add the pepper, and the other spices if you like them.
  • Add the coffee (it was about 8 oz).  I like coffee in my sauces and soups because it adds a nice dark color and some depth and richness to the taste.  I tend to not bother with meat broths, which would do the same.
  • Add water to cover all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Cover and simmer on low till it’s getting mushy.  Leave the lid cocked a little so the liquid reduces some, but watch that it doesn’t reduce too much and burn your veggies.  My soup was started on the gas stove and finished on the wood stove.

OK, here’s the fun part.  After the soup’s cooked a while but before it’s done you can start adjusting the taste.  Be advised that it’s all subjective.  I like to taste what I’ve got, imagine how it might be better (unless it’s perfect already) then add a few things that call to me.

  • Add salt.  Or maybe soy sauce.  Or not.
  • Try these (they’re in my soup right now):  Tarragon, basil, coriander.
  • Heavy cream, if you’re into cream of potato soup.  I’ve got powdered heavy cream I might add later.   Or not.

My soup’s cooking right now.  It needs a few hours of simmering, but it’s already tasting interesting.  But you know the best part of this?  However it turns out, it doesn’t matter.  It wasn’t only ever about the eating part.

I’ll report later how the soup turns out,  good or bad!

EDITED: same evening.  I had a bowl of my soup straight, with some added salt.  If I make it again I’ll add salt in the beginning  It tasted fine, but it was more like a veggie stew than a soup.

For a second bowl I mashed the veggies and then added plain yogurt.  Oh my, now that’s good.  But also, I felt that the whole dish would have been improved with the addition of lentils early on.  I think more potatoes would have been a good idea.

I’m too full now for a third bowl, so that experiment is for tomorrow.  I’m going to run the soup through a blender and add the heavy cream instead of yogurt.  Actually, I think I’ll add the cream (powdered) tonight so it’ll have a chance to blend in with the other flavors.

EDITED: next day.  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  YUMMY!  I can’t decide whether I like the yogurt version or the cream version better.  I’ll have to make this soup again to find out because it’s all gone now!

I’m giving this soup 4 of 5 stars!  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ☆

Loser!

Weight.  Too much, too little — it seems to be a problem almost everyone has to deal with.   For some it’s a matter of looking good.  For some it’s because they want to achieve a goal that the weight issue gets in the way of.  For others it’s about health.

John Ordover holding a photo of himself before he lost weight

John Ordover before & after

Whatever the reason, it ain’t easy to do what you’ve decided to do.  I know from personal experience that when it comes to losing weight it’s damn hard to take it off and keep it off.  And worse, the older you get, the harder it is.

I have a few friends who were significantly overweight and who decided to lose the excess pounds– and they did it.  Not only did they lose those pounds, they shed lots of them.  Each of them did it differently.  None of them found it easy, but they did it.  Because it can be done.

I’ve decided that no one method is right for every person, but that with enough effort and by finding what really fits for you and sticking with it, the excess weight can be a thing of the past.  Finding that method can be tough, though.  For one thing, if you try something and it doesn’t work, you can become discouraged enough to give up.  And if you lose the weight you had in mind and it comes back and you have to do it all over again…

But let’s keep positive here.

My friend John Ordover has not only lost weight — a chunk of it — but he wrote a book about doing it (Lie There and Lose Weight, pre-order now for March 25 publication).  You might find the answers you’re looking for by doing next to nothing.

LIE THERE AND LOSE WEIGHT
How I Lost 100 Pounds By Doing Next to Nothing
John J. Ordover

In the Fight to Lose Weight, Exercise is the Enemy…

…or so John Ordover discovered as he set out to lose one hundred pounds and recover his health. In this insightful, endearing and surprisingly funny look at weight-loss, Ordover takes us inside his struggle to stick with his diet, lays out the constantly changing strategies that kept him on target, and details how he coped when working out made everything that much harder.

Ordover’s week-by-week notes on his struggle, combined with his clever commentary and good-hearted grouching show how a sense of humor, focus and old-fashioned stubbornness kept him going week after week, month after month. Delightful and inspiring, in Lie There and Lose Weight: How I Lost 100 Pounds By Doing Next to Nothing, Ordover explains how he avoided the traps and temptations that threatened to knock him off track, and details how he lost over one hundred pounds while hating every minute of doing it.

These included:

  • Facing Hunger Straight On.
  • Avoiding Food Pushers, Food Pornographers and Diet Saboteurs
  • Telling Good Health Care from Bad

Praise for Lie There and Lose Weight: How I Lost 100 Pounds By Doing Next to Nothing by John J. Ordover

“Losing weight is hard for everyone, but few can write about it with as much warmth, humor and honesty as John Ordover does in this remarkable book. He takes us along as he loses more than a hundred pounds, relating every step of his journey with refreshing candor and insight. His experience should serve as an inspiration to anyone looking to lose weight and keep it off.”
– David K. Randall, New York Times Bestselling author of Dreamland.

About John J. Ordover
John J. Ordover is a noted editor, writer and activist, well-known for his expertise in the publishing community, work on the Star Trek franchise, for autism advocacy, and now for his personal account of losing the bodyweight of an adult human being. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his beautiful wife, special needs education advocate and political activist Carol Greenburg, and his handsome and athletic son Arren.

Ordover has written television episodes and commercials, comic books and short-stories, and developed new marketing concepts while advising political campaigns and running fundraisers. Most days he can be found on Facebook, on twitter as
@quotableordover and answering reader questions on liethereloseweight.com.

National Media Tour
John Ordover regularly appears on local and national radio discussing a topics including special education, community activism, and genre fiction, and will now also be discussing both his personal weight loss experience, and strategies for losing weight and keeping it off. Wilder Publications will be expanding his presence to local and national morning and afternoon television.

National Author Tour
Wilder Publications will be supporting the book with a 20 city cross-country media and signing tour including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas City, Lawrence, Kansas, Boulder, Denver, Phoenix, Tuscon, Portland, Seattle , San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Virginia Beach, Raleigh-Durham, Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, and Houston.

For all information, questions, media inquiries, or bookstore appearances, contact Eleanor Lang, Vice President of Communications, 917-553-6658, email Eleanorlang@wilderpub.com

 

Great Expectations. Not.

Today was the winter solstice, that is, the first day of winter.  Here in my part of New Mexico it was all gale force winds and, well, wintery.  I was chilly all day long.  So naturally my thoughts turned to warmth:  Warm layers, cozy fire, and a nice hot toddy.

Accordingly, on the way home from town I stopped in Western Drug and General Store, which really is an amazing place that sells just about anything a human being could want.  My pretense was that I needed to pick up a birthday card (and I did do that, got a nice one) but I also wanted to get some whiskey because it seemed to me whiskey would make a proper hot toddy.

Now here’s the thing:  While I don’t like the stuff, I feel like I should.  Every damn mystery and science fiction book these days seems to have characters who drink single malt and double malt and hey — I love chocolate malts so shouldn’t I like whiskey?

So far, I never have.  It tastes like paint thinner.  Nasty, nasty stuff, no matter how aged it is and how many malts it is.  Whatever that means anyway.  But I had noticed a while back that Western had whiskey in little metal flasks (375 ml to be precise, but as a die-hard non-metricentric, it is little to me) and it was labeled Apple Crisp Whiskey.

Oh wow!  I like apples!  I like apple crisp (that is a dessert, isn’t it?).  How bad could whiskey be if it was Apple Crisp Whiskey?  And on top of that, the label also said America’s Finest.  And a cute, candy-apple red metal flask!

Well, I had to have it.  I had visions of an incredible hot toddy after the evening’s chores were done, the cozy fire blazing in the wood stove, me bundled up in my jammies and bathrobe. But no.

You knew that, right?

First hint:  I could have sworn on the way home I smelled whiskey in the cab of the truck.  And, well, yes, when I picked that flask up in the store, it did stick to the shelf it was on.  But such a cute, candy-apple red metal flask it was, I had to have it!  Probably some other flask had leaked, right?

The seal was still intact on the little tiny cap (so cute!).  And maybe there were some kind of sticky droplets on the side of the pretty candy-apple red side of the flask, but that could have come from anywhere.  At home I gave a moment’s thought to returning the flask unopened, since it seemed that maybe the flask wasn’t quite as full as it might have been but… no.  I was determined to have that damn toddy.  Tonight.  The fire was roaring, I was warming on the outside and I wanted that hot comforting drink to warm my innards.

I opened it.  I sniffed it.  Kind of.. ewww.  Paint thinner with a hint of rotten apple, overlaid with the tang of metal.  I poured some hot water into a cup, added a big tablespoon of honey, and a slug or two of Apple Crisp Whiskey.  Stirred well.  Tasted.

Have I said ewww yet?  I thought maybe I was mistaken.  I mean, I never have liked whiskey or any of its relatives.  So I took another sip to be fair.

But that metal taste.  Really.  Bad.  In the lingering aftertaste I was sure it was less apple and more compost that coated my tongue, compost liberally tainted with steel.  Was this the normal taste for something that claimed to be America’s Finest?

OK time to read the fine print.  Proprietary all-natural recipe.  Estate-grown corn.

Corn?  Where are the apples?

Traditional copper still.  I sipped a bit more.  No, definitely not pennies I was tasting, but steel.  Remarkably mellow flavor and smooth finish… wait, what about the apples?  I read the other side.  Aha!  Corn whiskey infused with apple crisp liqueur.  Whatever that is.

Maybe I’m too picky.  Or maybe I simply have an uneducated palate.  But I think that maybe somebody accidentally put some kind of solvent in that flask and it’s dissolving the welds.  Because I swear, I rinsed the outside off and dried it and there are sticky droplets along the seam again.

So… happy solstice.  Winter has come.  Meanwhile, I’m drinking Merlot, the fire is cozy, and after I recover from the toddy I’ll get my jammies on.