Friday, April 18, 2014

Frank's Rye Bread

 Mom and I enjoy an automatic bread maker though we've been known to use it to simply produce the dough and then bake the bread manually in our oven. I prefer a horizontal loaf (our bread maker produces a vertical loaf) and I enjoy working with the warm, raw dough. But sometimes (most times) we're lazy and just pour all the ingredients in the machine and come back four hours later.

When my weather buddy in Wisconsin talked of taking his homemade rye bread to work, Mom told me to ask him for the recipe. He also makes his bread in an automatic bread maker.

 Rye has been a bit of a sticking point with us. In the past, we've had problem loaves - those that seemed to inflate normally and the deflate at the last moment like a stuck balloon (I later found out that this is due to adding too much yeast). So we tried Frank's recipe.

Just sliced - steamy hot - ready for butter

 Frank said he once forgot to add the stirring blade when he made rye bread. "I had loaded everything but the blade was not there," he said. "Disaster!"
 "The recipe is from Toastmaster," Frank said, "and asks me to use the Basic program which takes three hours."
 Our basic loaf takes an hour longer.

Frank's Rye Bread (for Bread Machine)

1-1/2 cups bread flour
3/4 cup medium rye flour
3/4 cup water
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

 Even with this "known good" recipe, the rye bread seems much more dense, much less inflated than a white loaf. That's normal, though.

Frank makes a large loaf where our machine will hold only a one pound loaf. The recipe above is modified for a one pound loaf. "With my larger recipe I can simply use an entire 1/4 ounce package of yeast," Frank said. I needed to cut back.

Finished loaf, just out of the bread maker, and not yet sliced

 "Usually, my loaf of bread lasts for a week and makes good sandwiches for work. Rye bread does crumble more and I'm going to switch to white bread which rises higher, stretches better and will allow me to put more on the sandwich," Frank added.
 I'm going to add caraway seed next time. This recipe doesn't taste strongly rye so something is needed to ramp up the flavor. It is quite brown, however. I may also experiment with slightly more sugar and salt.
 But that will come another day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


 It wasn't unexpected. And yet it was.
 When I crawled into bed last night (about 9 pm) is was raining heavily. In fact, the sound was so pretty on the shingles above my head that I turned my radio off and contented myself listening to the brief deluge.
 Later, after midnight, I awoke to silence. I got up and looked out the bathroom window since a total  eclipse of the moon was about to begin. While it wasn't raining - at least not hard enough to hear - it was heavily clouded and there wasn't any chance of seeing the moon hide in Earth's shadow. So back to bed went I.
 I woke about 7 am and climbed out of bed to an unusual light. As predicted, it snowed overnight. On grassy surfaces I measured a full two inches. On our concrete bench I found less than an inch. And on our concrete porch (still warm from yesterday's sun) I found nothing.

 This was my first view of the snow, out the north-facing window at the top of the steps.

 The maple outside the kitchen window has its branches lacy-white with the new snow. This is the tree that we tapped for maple syrup. That was March 9 last year (read about it here).

 Looking east from the same spot, the yard is patchy white. Some spots have a full two inches of snow. Other spots have already melted clear, probably due to last evening's warm rain. By the way, there was 0.72" of precipitation in the gauge (both rain and snow, of course).

 The remainder of last year's onions stand snow-covered in the garden. Bare soil, as you can see, did not hold the snow; in the distance, the straw-covered soil held it just fine.

 Beside the kitchen maple, we leaned a couple of mill stones many years ago. They betrayed the snow falling from the south.
 Yesterday our temperature reached 71°; the day before (Sunday) we reached 79° and some spots touched 80°. What a difference a mere day makes this time of year, when air masses collide.
 How long will it last? Well, some of the snow should make it through today. It's 32° at 8:45 am as I type this. We'll rise into the upper 30's. Tomorrow we'll return to more spring-like weather with a high into the low 50's. And then back into the 60's.
 By then, today's snow will be but a bad memory.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pinehaven in Early Spring

 It's not a perfect day. It's sunny but it's also a little chilly (48° as I gave the yard a first mow of the season) and there's a breeze from the north that brings up goose bumps. It's one of those deceptive days ... too pretty to stay inside and too cool once you're outside to comfortably stay there.
 And yet after this brutal winter, what other choice is there?
 A cloudy morning gave way to sunshine, at least, and I feel the need to knock the rough edges off the lawn. I didn't manage to finish but I've done more than half of what I planned. My feet are wet from the soggy ground, my socks are sodden about the toes and when I unroll my jeans, great amounts of cut grass fall back to the ground. A shower was needed - and quickly - and it has made a quick difference in my mood.
 But back outside I go. Clean body, clean clothes and smartphone in hand to share the joy of this day.

 I have mowed this section of lawn behind the garage. It always seems to grow more quickly than the rest though I seldom give it fertilizer. The septic system is buried here. Is that the reason?

  Farther back and looking east, the sky is full of small cumulus clouds and contrails. The sky is as brilliant and pure a blue as is possible hereabouts. The air could not be clearer.

 From the back of our driveway looking north, the edge of the area I mow is shown. Another acre is north of that row of trees and we allow it to grow naturally, with as little pruning as possible. It's a wonderful nature habitat and I figure the less I change it, the better. It has been growing wild for over 27 years.

 And from that treeline looking ESE back towards the house, this shot demonstrates how much I have to mow. I'd be happy if it were all wild, except right around the house.
 Isn't the scenery particularly beautiful just before the trees leaf out? Our view is less blocked now and unlike winter we can stop and enjoy the view long enough for it to sink in.

 I told a friend in Las Vegas that I'd be mowing this afternoon and that she might catch me on our weather webcam if it happened to upload a frame at the right time. Oddly enough, it did. This view is westward from the garage.
 And speaking of mowing, tomorrow I finish.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Finally ... daffodils

 They're late this year. Maybe it was because the winter just past was the third snowiest on record (~54") or maybe it was because we got so cold so often. The coldest was -12° (01/28/14) but I recorded 11 days at zero or below. It was brutal.

 You've got to expect nature is going to slow down spring blooms, just out of fear if nothing else.

 But recent days have been warm (72° on 04/01/14) and above average every day this month. And last night's rain didn't hurt, either: 1.79 in just the last 24 hours, 2.35" so far this month.

 Conditions are now right. The daffodils took notice.

 These daffodils grow in our meadow, beneath the summer weeds. I can count on them surviving - and I can count on them multiplying. Each year the vivid yellows blaze a little brighter, a little more extensive, a little bolder. It is a carpet of canary-yellow, stretched by nature's own hand, weaving its way down one weedy hallway, now carpeting new rooms.

 It is magic, isn't it, to afford no more than a cheap carpet in the living room and then to find the bedrooms carpeted, too?

 In 2012, the daffodils were in full bloom on March 12. They are a full three weeks later this year.

 So far there are only clumps of yellow. The white ones are ready to bloom but the yellow ones have beat them to the finish line.
 A few weeks ago, on a sunny, pleasant day, I walked to the meadow to see if I might find some shoots of green. There were none. I kicked the leaves aside and found no more than frozen ground. Yet one week later the daffodils had begun upending the dried fall leaves, green spires reaching for the sun.
 Today they are in their glory.

Later (04/10/14): The white daffodils have added their bright faces to the mix. With this morning's brilliant sunshine, this otherwise-weedy  area is awash in bright colors ...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


 While Mom and I continue to process the plethora of black walnuts I collected last fall, I happened across a hickory I had picked up and thrown into the basket with the others. I never thought to try one. But when I pulled it out of the basket the other day, it had split open naturally and was just asking to be sampled.

 Is there an easier-to-open nut? Just lay it aside and keep it dry and wait for it to open itself.
 The nut splits into perfect quadrants.

 I'm not sure where I found this one but I remember picking it up, thinking it was too pretty to leave behind. It's a big nut, heavy and armored, but an easy one to get at the meat if you just wait a few months. Winter's deep cold probably helped, too (I keep the nuts I find in the garage in wicker baskets).

 This, I believe, is a shagbark hickory and I never checked to see whether it was edible. It is - certainly - and the flavor is strong and walnut-like (it even looks similar). Since I had collected but this one nut, I opened the inner shell and Mom and I shared the heart-shaped meat. Perfect!
 Next year I'll keep and eye out and purposely collect these. It'll be nice to have some variety in the nuts we freeze for our many baked goods. No sense in letting the squirrels make off with all of these.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rice Pudding

"Happiness weighs more."
                - Anne Lamott

A week or so ago, Mom and I were grocery shopping. Her prime focus is on deals and a clearance cart makes her move a little faster down the aisle, probably raises her blood pressure a few points. Well, alright, I feel about the same (but don't tell her). Dumpster diving is in our blood.

What, then, might we do with a bag of rice that was certainly in the multi-pound range? It wasn't "minute rice" (our favorite) but it was still too good of a deal to pass. So we didn't.

"What am I going to do with all of this rice?" Mom asked as she divided the large bag into storage containers. For starers, she cooked rice today and we had white rice with vegetarian gravy. I suppose we made a dent in the rice but it wasn't really very noticeable.

"How about I make rice pudding?" I asked. I used to love a rice pudding at the Carillon Cafeteria in Dayton (long ago closed). I was just a kid then and didn't really consider what they might have done special. I seem to remember it being baked in individual ramekins (or maybe it was merely served that way) and dusted with cinnamon. It was creamy and spicy and I'd scrape the tiny bowl clean.

Rice Pudding - still warm and fragrant with cinnamon

Could we duplicate that simple dessert?

If the recipes posted on the Internet are any indication, no. Each recipe seemed unusually complicated for something that seemed so exquisitely simple. We finally turned to a Better Homes & Garden recipe which is in one of the books we keep in the kitchen. While it is undated, I expect it is from the 1960's.

Here's the recipe with my own notes:

Rice Pudding

3 beaten eggs
2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups cooked white rice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
  ground cinnamon (for topping)

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients (except for the cinnamon). Mix well.
Bake in a 10 x 6 x 2" glass baking dish at 325° for 25 minutes
Stir. Sprinkle top with cinnamon to taste
Bake another 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean

Can be served warm or chilled.

I removed the baking dish from the oven at the half-way point to stir and add the cinnamon. Mom thought it would have been better to just move it to the open oven door and work there, not allowing the pudding any chance to cool.

Half-way done - Rice Pudding coming right up!

Since I was worried it might overflow the pan (neither of us have made this recipe before), I placed a pie drip pan beneath it. Bad idea. That increased the baking time considerably. And though I used a 8 x 8" glass baking dish, that's substantially the same number of square inches as the recipe calls for. Because of the drip pan, I think, my baking time was much longer than they note (about 45 minutes). Don't do it!

Bottom line: how does it taste? Well, it's not the Carillon Cafeteria's type of rice pudding. I would call this more of a "Rice Custard". It has the very nice aroma of warm cinnamon and I'm enjoying a  slice (yes, it can be sliced into squares) with a cup of hot, black coffee.

So, as the last of the season's snowflakes fall, I'm enjoying a warm dessert right out of the oven. What could be better?

Finished and ready to cut

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cherry Winks

Will Rogers famously said, "I never met a man I didn't like." That's about how I feel about cookies. But like men, some cookies are better than others. I rate Cherry Winks tops.

Mom has always kept a recipe that she cut out of a magazine (or so it seems). The reverse of the recipe (which I'll post below) was clearly written for the holidays in 1954. One line says, "May 1955 bring us closer to peace on earth".

Clearly this recipe is a Pillsbury "Bake Off" winner. A winner, indeed!

 "That's about the year I began baking," Mom said. I was just five years old - not yet in first grade - and these cookies were certainly a great treat. Mom early on modified the recipe to use raisins instead of dates. When I made this batch today, I used margarine (Blue Bonnet) instead of Crisco and I only had half a cup of pecans on hand.
 Otherwise, I used the ingredients and quantities as noted. I almost never follow directions, though. I melted the margarine, added the sugar and eggs and stirred it well. I then added all the other ingredients at the top of the list, lastly the flour. I added the nuts and raisins near the end. And I added the maraschino cherries last so that they wouldn't bleed and color the dough red.

 The final cookie count was 28. That's far below the 60 the recipe calls for. I like larger cookies. I baked these about 17 minutes and they were perfectly done.

 Here is the original clipping from 1954: