A Monday List

In no particular order, what’s going on in my head:

  1. I’m through Late Eclipses in my reread of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, and I need to say (once again, this isn’t the first time) this author is a genius and if you love fae stories or urban fantasy or both, you really, REALLY should give this series a try. It’s immensely complex but totally accessible, and there are rich layers of story and history that build and build, but the hints and foreshadoing are all there from the very beginning. Absofucklutely amazing.
  2. My Twitter feed now provides me with a cat, a bird, a possum, a wholesome meme, and a fox every hour, plus one Aziraphale meme and a silly gender description per day. This makes the rest of my online life in 2020 more bearable.
  3. Black lives matter, trans lives matter, the United States Postal Service deserves to be freed from its obscenely punitive business restrictions, the US presidential election is 77 days away, and Covid-19 is running rampant through the American population.
  4. #3 is the reason I need my hourly fox fix and visit from BirdBot. Yeah. I should add a few more happybots to dilute the doom.
  5. 2020 is the kind of year when Iowa can essentially get hit by a hurricane and not make the headlines anywhere else.
  6. I am 1/3 of the way through the final revisions on Sharp Edge of Yesterday by chapter count, but it’s closer to halfway through by pages. (87 of ~210 pages) I should probably take a closer look at that. The shit has hit the fan (AKA I’ve hit the first rising action) and the plot complications are piling up. Good times.
  7. Our new old house is getting a shiny new skin REALLY soon now. Fingers crossed the last 3 windows to get finished & the weather holds. Then it will take 2 weeks(ish) to replace the upstairs windows, add eaves & adequate ventilation to the roof, do a redesign on the gutter & downspout system, and button it up with pretty new siding. ALSO VERY EXCITING. YES.

That’s all for now. More when I think of it. Until later!

Say buh-bye to the worn black shingles and faded yellow metal siding. Riviera Dusk vinyl coming in, with a nice Barkwood shingle roof.

My go-to slow&easy bread recipe

Imma start with a disclaimer:  I reviewed  “no-knead bread” recipes from my cookbook collection & the interwebs, noted the elements they had in common, and came up with this recipe designed for minimum work. There are MANY similar recipes with lots of excellent pictures & far more interesting backstories, and they’re all adaptable. I encourage you to explore them like I did.

(This wouldn’t be my blog if it didn’t immediately wander into a digression, right?)

I’ll put a couple of my favorite recipe variations at the bottom of the post.

NECESSARY INGREDIENTS

Dry components:

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon or more instant/bread machine yeast.
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet components:

1 1/2 cups liquid

-The liquid can be water, milk, honey, fats like oil or melted butter or any combination of them…be as creative as you like. As long as the total liquid component is 1.5 cups, the recipe ALWAYS works out for me.
-Yes, that’s the same as 12 oz for those of you thinking, “Beer bread?”

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Mix or sift together dry ingredients in a Big Bowl
  2. Add the liquid, stir until it’s fully combined into a dough.
    How do you know it’s combined? It’s not sticking to the bowl & there’s no dry flour sitting in the bottom.  I see the word “shaggy” used in a lot of recipes. Whatever.
  3. Let rest 12-24 hrs. I usually go a full day, because my house is cool & the rise is slow.
    AFTER THE RISE
  4. Shape into rolls or into a round loaf or whatever combo of rolls & loaves you want.
  5. Grease appropriate baking dishes or line with parchment.  I like oil spray. It’s easy.
  6. Let dough rise again in the baking dish(es) 1 to 4 hours.
    Using the fancy proofer setting on my fancy new oven, they’re usually re-inflated & ready to rock after an hour.
  7. PREHEAT oven to 400 degrees. Yes, pre-heating matters for this.
  8. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-45 minutes depending on loaf/roll size.
    I use a thermometer to test doneness because I always overcook if I do it by eye.
    Internal temp of 200+ degrees F = done.

That’s it. Mix, wait, shape, wait, bake. One bowl, no mess on the counter, no “proving” the yeast, no specific kneading steps, no fuss.

AND NOW THE RANDOM EXTRA REMARKS

SCIENCE TIP 1: temperature of the liquid isn’t critical–BUT NOT OVER 115 degrees F, that will kill the yeast. The dough will take longer to rise if it starts cold. As long as the room is over 68-70 degrees, it will rise overnight. The warmer the room is, the faster it will rise. The more yeast you use, the faster it’ll rise. Want quicker yeast bread?  put in 2-3 tsp of yeast instead of 1/2 tsp. Be warned, though, the dough may not be as easy to handle.

SCIENCE TIP 2: Of COURSE you can use regular dried yeast instead of instant/bread machine — but do get it bubbling in a bit of warm water first unless you want to wait even LONGER for the rising, and obviously add that liquid to the liquid part.

SCIENCE TIP 3: In one of those little heads-scratchers of baking science, the more sugar you add to a recipe, the longer/more unpredictable the rise time. (the phenomenon is well known to watchers of the Great British Bake off, where it was the bane of many a baker.)

SCIENCE TIP 4: Less/zero fat = crustier bread with chewier texture & more open bubbly structure. More fat = softer bread & longer before it goes hard & stale.  I almost always end up using a couple of tbsps of fat in my liquid component. But I never make the liquid all fat. Because ye gobs, that would be greasy bread.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 1: Toss a bit of flour on top of the dough in the bowl before you start to shape it into things to make it easier to handle. Or keep your hands wet. Either works.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 2:  to get a batch of exactly same-sized rolls, first divide the dough in THIRDS, then divide each third in half, then each of those halves in half. You end up with 12 nice, even pieces.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 3: I’m not getting into details of how to “properly” shape bread or what kind of pan makes the “best” bread. It’s too dependent on what result you want, and this dough is super-forgiving. Squish, pull, roll, tug, whatever makes you happy, until it’s in the & sizes shapes you want. And cook it in whatever you have handy.
I use an 13×9 pan for rolls or a casserole/dutch oven for large loaves, but it’s baker’s choice.  I will note that if I use the dutch oven for a big loaf, I cook w/lid on for half the time, then off for the rest. Experiment to your heart’s content.

TWO VARIATIONS

Cider cinnamon bread: add 1/2 c. brown sugar & 1+ tsp cinnamon to the dry ingredients, Liquid component:  2 tbsp butter plus even amounts of milk & apple cider to get to 12 oz, nuke until the butter melts.

Herbed bread: add an extra 1/2 tsp of salt plus 2 TABLEspoons of mixed herbs to the dry ingredients. Liquid component:  1 c. water & 1/4 c. olive oil. Spray tops of rolls/loaf w/oil  or egg wash & sprinkle on kosher salt for extra yumminess.

And that’s all the all there is until later. Keep on keeping on, and have more bread pics:

Latest in New House Adventures

crocus bud

I promised a more cheerful post. This is as close as it gets.

The header photo comes from my yard, where spring is springing on.  Happy little crocus flower, reminding me the world keeps turning and the best thing to do is keep on keeping on. (Which for a crocus means fighting frost and dodging bunny teeth. In my case it means practicing kindness, taking ALL the precautions, & looking for new ways to help others.)

Working on fiction is hard when the real timeline is doing the whole “truth stranger than fiction” thing. Not much to share on that front.

But!  There was progress on the basement renovation before things slowed to a cautious COVID-19 related crawl. Let’s peek in on that, shall we?

First, the whatnot room. I don’t have “before” pics of this zone from the real estate listing or from move-in. It’s hard to take a good pic of an unlighted room filled with paint-splashed chunky workbenches, low-hanging pipery, gnarly wiring, and beadboard walls enclosing some sealed plumbing leftover from a 1930’s vintage throne-style toilet.

Yeah. So the first image I had of this area was taken after extensive demo & cleanup, and it was none too appealing even then.

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And now

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Look, new floors! And lighting!

The window has a deep frame just begging me to put plants there, and there are LIGHTS, and VENTILATION, and in the background on the right? That’s going to be a half bath soon. We’ll go from 1 toilet to 3 when it’s complete, and let me tell you, I am giddy about that.

See, the 1st floor bathroom has also been out of commission during the construction–to get the drains & pipes upgraded. Well worth it, and I don’t regret the decision, but…um…let’s just say that now that Spouseman & I are both home all day long every day, I am really looking forward to having multiple toilets again.

Anyway. Onward to the mechanicals area.

This was another hard zone to get “before” pics of, due to lack of lighting and general ick factor. Now it’s all brightly lit and open, with a window that works, and an upgraded circuit breaker box behind that swank wood panel.  Washer & dryer are scheduled to arrive Tuesday, so I’m hoping things stay below the Dire Catastrophe level & delivery goes as planned.

(Small digression to point out this hope is grounded in wanting PEOPLE TO NOT BE DYING, not about me not being inconvenienced by a deadly fucking pandemic. Does that sound grumpy? Well, I might be a little bit raw from CONSTANTLY seeing my name associated with a zillion tweets & memes about being insensitive, selfish, pushy, whiny, entitled, tone-deaf, arrogant, clueless, nasty, and generally awful. Maybe. But I’ll rant about that in another post. THIS MY HAPPY POST.)

ANYway. Back from digression to take a look at the main hall. The part of the basement people see first, coming downstairs. It kinda sets the whole tone.

outer basement 1
Yeah. That sets a tone.

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Now. Lights! Doors! Window frames!

The floors here are under protective covers right now while the trim & moldings go in, but it’s fresh & bright and so easy to see how comfy & cozy it will be when it’s done.

And it SMELLS good. (happy, happy sigh.)

Okay. that’s more than enough for one update. As usual, I’m now questioning whether I should even post it, (see above re:self-doubts on the topics of selfishness & tone-deaf bragging etc)  But I AM gonna post it, and here’s why: when I get scared & overwhelmed, being reminded of good things happening anywhere lifts my spirits.

Things are hard right now for so many people, in so many ways, and this a big happy in my life. So if even one other person feels the way I do about collecting other-happies, that makes sharing (inflicting?) this on the world worthwhile. Right?

I’ll just have to hope so.

Until later, friends.