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 >

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But is it fun?

Keyboard  2019 Lif Strand photoThe day after my birthday earlier this year, I complained that I spent it working.  I just looked back at that day in my journal — what I recorded was “wrote, made soup, called Mom”.  Not what I’d call a fun birthday, but it was an okay birthday.

Still, it seemed to me that other people do fun stuff on their birthdays.  So the day after my birthday I declared that the next month on that day and every month thereafter I would have a Lif Day, a regularly scheduled day when I would do only the absolutely necessary chores and I would stay offline so the rest of that day could be for myself.  To have fun.

Right.

Every Lif Day since has been pretty much the same story.  I’m a kind of workaholic.  The To Do list is long and I’m always trying to get one more thing in.  That tends to eat up a Lif Day.  I’m not very good at taking a day off to have fun.

Last evening my friend Laura and I were chatting via email, as we do, and I reported to her that I had spent the day writing a story draft of almost 4000 words.

Me:  I guess I had a lot of word pressure built up in me. I’ll let it sit for a few days then look at it again. I was offline most of the day because I was writing. It was heavenly.

Laura:  A Lif Day in mid-month — what a concept!

Me:  A Lif Day is supposed to be a day when I just relax and have fun. While I love to write, I want my Lif Days to be goof-off, do whatever days.

Laura:  Writing isn’t fun?

Me:  I love to write.  It’s not necessarily fun.  It is satisfying, it is necessary, it is what I love to do.  But fun?  Only occasionally — when the writing is going very, very well.

Laura:  I have trouble matching “love to do” with “only occasionally fun”, but OK.

Me:  Hmmm. It seems clear to me that there’s a difference, but how to articulate it? I’ll give that some thought.

So along with the 4000 word story, I let the difference between “love to do” and “fun” ferment in my brain till it was ready to come out.  It didn’t take long.  This evening I Googled “fun”, and that told the story.

Fun is something that’s “amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable”.

Reading is fun. I enjoy doing it, it’s entertaining, sometimes amusing enough to make me chuckle or even laugh out loud.  So yeah, definitely fun.

Writing is not fun. It is not amusing.  I rarely laugh when I’m writing, even when I’m trying to be funny. Writing isn’t amusing or entertaining to me, it’s work. It takes mental effort, and focus, and it’s something I do because I feel a powerful need to do it.

I could say that writing is enjoyable, in that it’s pleasing to come up with sequences of words that sound good to me, to come up with story twists that add to the richness of what I’m writing, and it’s so very satisfying to be done writing and have the feeling that I’ve written well that day.

The enjoyment factor is important — if I wasn’t able to write at least as well as I now do, I would be frustrated and unhappy, especially if I kept writing anyway and never got better. The reward for writing is when I read something I’m done with and I really like it. As for anybody else liking it — that’s pretty far from a given. Never knowing if my writing’s any better than only good in my own eyes is definitely NOT fun.

What writing is to me has little to do with fun, though it fills a deep need in me.  I have to write.  How different is that from, say, being addicted to heroin? I don’t know.

At least writing probably won’t make my teeth fall out or my veins collapse.  That wouldn’t be fun at all.

 

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Website renovation

Raven in Flight 2019 Lif Strand photoI can’t believe it took me the better part of two days to renovate my website.  I did it because of advice on what an author’s website should include in order to get literary agents and/or publishers to bite the hook.

Oh whoops, that sounds so crass.

Except it’s the truth, the whole truth, and I’m sticking to it.  An author’s website is supposed to be professional.  I confess I’m having a hard time toeing that line.

What an arduous task, but it needed doing and I did it.  Now I’ve got a static home page — meaning it doesn’t change each time I post something to the blog (what you’re reading now).  That alone took a bit of reconfiguring of the website.

Most of the work went into the About page, the one that literary agents and/or publishers will go to to learn about me and my fiction writing without having to actually read any of that writing.  The About page includes a link to my resume, which had to be updated, and a link to a bibliography of my writing.  I had to figure out how to upload the PDFs to my domain via WordPress and a few other tricks.

Now that this task is done, it’s time for me to get back to the literary agent/publisher hunt.

Oh, and the raven photo?  Because I love the ravens that live in my valley.  Thought I’d share the love.

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Wildlife worker exposes truth about rotted Mexican wolf program

Dexter K Oliver reveals some shocking truths about the Mexican wolf program in a recent editorial, Wolves Behind The Scene.  He exposes the rotten program as “a complete breach of public trust and scientific rigor”.  Over 21 years time the program has sucked up tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Oliver, a wildlife naturalist, works with federal and state agencies and organizations.  He trained for four days in a Mexican wolf inter-agency team training session while working for the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s wildlife division.  Oliver witnessed the  program’s inner machinations first hand.   He got an eye-opening, behind the scenes look at how Mexican wolves are handled.  He saw the wolves being treated like pet dogs even though the program is supposed to be preparing them to be released to the wild.

Wolves kill anything they can eat.  Unsurprisingly, in the first ninety days of 2019 forty-five domestic animals were taken down by wolves.  That’s an average of one dog or cat, calf or horse, or other not-wild animal every other day.  Federal agencies say it will take 25-35 years — and more than $178 million — to save Mexican wolves.

As Oliver says, “something smells, for sure”.

NOTE:  Sorry for the clickbait-type of headline and writing.  But the Mexican wolf program really is a farce.

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Wild vs prescribed: Your lungs don’t care

Smoke from AZ prescribed burn impacts NM

Here in the Southwest we usually have very low humidity, which means our air is extraordinarily clear.  Being able to see mountains 50 and more miles away is common.  This also means that visibility can be used to assess air quality by anyone, as long as you have an idea how far away things are.

According to NM Environmental Public Health, if your know your distances and the objects aren’t easy to see in the specific ranges, then you should adjust your activities to protect your heart and lungs.  No mention of sending complaints to the agencies responsible for the smoke, but I do recommend you do that.

Visibility distance Recommendation
5 miles If you can see less than 5 miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness; they should minimize outdoor activity. These people should reschedule outdoor recreational activities for a day with better air quality. It is okay for adults in good health to be out and about but they should periodically check visibility especially when fires are nearby.
3 miles Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities. These people should stay indoors. All outdoor activities should be avoided, including running errands. Everyone else should try to stay indoors as much as possible. All outdoor recreational activities should be rescheduled for a day with better air quality.
1 mile If you can see less than 1 mile that means the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. People should remain indoors and avoid all outdoor activities including running errands. Unless an evacuation has been issued, stay inside your home, indoor workplace, or in a safe shelter.

Unfortunately, our public resource management agencies are not very interested in the impacts of their actions on human beings, even though the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions.

The agencies are good at spinning NEPA requirements.  So sure, they evaluate (more or less), but that’s about it.  Somehow evaluation never pans out into modifying their actions so as to minimize negative impact on humans or the environment itself.  Resource management agencies decide in advance what they’re going to do, and compliance with NEPA is just a burden.  Thus there’s a lot of paperwork but little positive and lasting effect from agency actions.  What are the results of the actions supposed to be?  Healthy forests, not burnt stumps, for starters.   Clean air, too.

When I have contacted USFS and asked how much smoke particulate and CO2 a specific fire is dumping into the air the most common response is they don’t know but they are in compliance with the law.  An actual quote from one such response from the Gila National Forest:  “We do not have predicted measurements for anticipated CO2 and particulate matter.  But, every prescribed burn must have a burn plan, and we must ensure that we are in compliance with New Mexico Environmental Department’s Air Quality Bureau.”

Well, gee, that’s reassuring.  NOT.

They’re killing us with the letter of the law

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Wildland fires produce air pollution that impacts people’s health and other aspects of daily life… putting more people at a health risk from exposure to smoke.”

Wait, wait. Something doesn’t make sense here.  >> On the one hand government agencies are telling us to protect ourselves from smoke because a) it could kill us directly, and b) it could kill us indirectly (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, contributing to global warming).  >> Yet on the other hand government agencies that are supposed to be in charge of keeping our forests and wildlands healthy don’t have to even estimate and disclose to the public how much those fires contribute to the particulates that destroy lungs, the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that are destroying our environment?

Huh?

It boils down to this:  Plants soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and branches.  Plants trap carbonBurning plants — trees, brush, flowers, grass –releases carbon into the atmosphere Not to mention the crap that goes into our lungs.

I can tell you that my lungs don’t know the difference between the smoke that comes from from prescribed vs wildfires, and I doubt the lungs of the people, wildlife, and livestock downwind from fires know the difference, either.

Isn’t it time for resource management agencies to get on board with protecting our planet?’

Seems to me it’s simply common sense to do whatever possible to avoid wildland fires, whether prescribed or “natural”?  I don’t just mean you and me, either.  I’m pretty sure Smokey Bear also meant resource management agencies.

 

 

 

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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

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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

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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

 

 

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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

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