Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'Blizzard' of 2012

 It was supposed to be a blizzard ... high winds, heavy snow. It wasn't. At 1 pm I showed 4.5" of snow and the highest wind recorded just five miles away was 23 mph. Hardy a blizzard by any definition. And yet it snowed and for that I'm grateful.

 I had to mail a package early this morning and returning home this is the view I had of S. Clayton Road. There were few cars about and the roads had been little traveled so there were only a few narrow ruts for the tires to fit into.

Arriving home, that's Pinehaven on the left. At this time there was about 2" of snow on the ground.

 Later in the day, the rain/snow gauge seemed half buried. Considering we had no snow last winter - and none so far this year - it was novel seeing the ground white at all.

 The south side of Pinehaven had been blasted by snow. It's a wet, heavy snow and not one that would make good sledding. It doesn't even make for good shoveling ... it sticks to the blade like glue.

 Our woodpile took on a rustic, backwoods appearance by no more than the addition of a meager coat of white.

 By 1 pm, there was 4.5" of snow on the level spots. A blizzard would surely be capable of dropping more than that!

 I went out and got the mail (it was delivered) and found the metal mailbox swung sideways by the plow-thrown snow. I'll have to make a repair when the weather improves. Even with so little snow - and so slight a wind - the snow has begun to drift a little in the driveway. How, though? It's almost too heavy to move with a shovel.

 My weather webcam shows a winter scene, at last!

 Finally, this male downy woodpecker improved upon his time to stock up on fat for the cold nights ahead. It seems brutal to have to peck through ice and snow for a taste of suet and he was complaining mightily ... though it may have been at me watching him.
 So, little snow. Little wind. Little cold. But at least the ground is white and that's novel in itself.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Baking Bread

 As I grow older, I suppose I grow lazier. We have enjoyed the use of a bread maker for many years but it's only recently that we've allowed the bread maker to do all the work, start to finish. That's because I like a traditional horizontal loaf, not the vertical loaf our machine turns out.
 But then, I thought, it's the taste of the final product that counts most. And being able to pour the ingredients into the pan, walk away and come back four hours later to a wonderful loaf of steaming "homemade" bread seems reason enough.

 Does this look other than perfect?
 We modified a basic white loaf and included about 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds to the mix. They add a nice salty crunch to the final product. As I added the regular baker's yeast, I found that I didn't have quite enough. I also had a pack of wine yeast (Montrachet) open in the refrigerator and just topped it off with that. How could it hurt? I suppose all yeast has its own taste but, going on the assumption that "yeast is yeast" I just poured it in and crossed my finger. Perfect!

 Mom also experimented with the baking time. We unplugged the machine five minutes early and cut the +45 minute process by a bit. Mom thinks the crust becomes a little too tough, a little too brown if left in the machine until completion. I don't ... but then I also don't care if it's a little less brown. I don't see that the change made much difference.
 I lifted the hot baking pan out of the machine, dropping a pot holder into the bread maker which immediately began to smolder. Bad idea! I grabbed the nearest knife I could get my hands on and flipped the potholder up and out of the baking area. A few seconds more and it would have burst into flame.
 If there's one thing I don't like about an automatic bread maker it's the mixing tool that extends up into the bottom of the loaf. Separating the loaf from the pan takes some hard raps to get it to come loose. And where the tiny paddle pulls out, there's a hole in the bread.

 The top of the loaf is to the left. Mom uses a paper towel and spreads softened butter across the entire loaf to make the crust more pliable. This certainly adds a nice, rich taste, too.
 The trouble with homemade bread is that it's addictive and lasts such a short time. For the four hours devoted to the project, this is all you get. So as soon as we have one loaf out of the machine, we're thinking about the next. Store-bought bread isn't even a close second to this.
 Mom's already talking about a cherry-infused bread with brown sugar. "Do you think I could use cherry yogurt?" she asked. I don't see why not. So the experiments - with a little help from technology - continue.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


 I am not one for extravagance but I love to eat and I have an annual craving for Springerle's, an anise-flavored German cookie. Though they are available now and then at Christmas-time at one area bakery, it's a rare treat when we have them.

 This year I ordered a couple of dozen from The Springerle Bakery in Marshall, North Carolina and they are both a treat to see and to eat.

 This tiny cookie, less than two inches in length, is an example of the type included in their dozen. Each is carefully made - a work of art, even - and traditional in every sense of the word. They even use hartshorn (Baker's ammonia) in their recipe, an ingredient that goes back to the earliest days.

 While similar-tasting cookies are available for the holidays, they are usually much larger and not quite of the same taste. When Woody's Market in West Carrollton, Ohio, was still in operation, they had a German baker by the name of Hans. We looked forward to bags of his cookies every Christmas. They were simply exceptional on all counts.

 The Springerle Bakery says of the cookie: "This rare type of cookie began life somewhere in Southern Germany as betrothal tokens, tellers of tales, social commentary, and to celebrate daily life." They say that Springerle molds, which impress the detailed pictures upon the cookies, are known since the Middle Ages.

 All of the great Springerle's I've had through the years share three attributes: that taste of licorice, a hard, crunchy exterior and a soft interior.

 We tried to make these one year. We even ordered hartshorn, determined to use an original recipe and make them with the time-honored ingredients. It is a difficult cookie to make, requiring several days to do properly. And our finished product was not nearly so delicious as what we could buy.

 An anise-flavored sugar cookie will give you the taste, of course, but none of the texture or romance.

 Springerle's are one of the few things in life which can't be hurried or duplicated with modern methods. They belong to the distant past. Thank goodness we can still find them today.