Baking my way through the snow & cold

toasty brown oatcakes cooling on parchment paper

I hate being cold. Hate-hate-hate-hate-HATE it. But I also hate heating a whole house full of rooms to a comfortable temperature when I can only occupy one at a time. It isn’t a rational objection, nor–thanks to circumstances I am daily thankful to live in–is it a financial problem. It’s strictly a philosophical reluctance of the “NOOOOOO, THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” kind.

In practice, this philosophical struggle results in me turning the house thermostat way down & finding ways to heat small parts of it to toasty, tropical levels. Some methods are straightforward. For example, due to the way the house is ducted, closing my office door will keep it 10º to 15º warmer than the rest of the second floor. And the gas insert in the living room fireplace makes it the world’s most decorative, highly-efficient space heater.

But when the outside temperature drops into negative numbers (negative in Fahrenheit, yikes!) I have to get really creative to keep things warm without cranking up the heater. Keeping the oven going is my go-to method for raising the temp in several neighboring rooms.

Warm rooms AND hot food. It’s a win-win.

Below, is a list of my favorite foods for cold, snowy days, chosen as much for their cooking requirements as for their tastiness. Listed in no particular order, most with links to past blog posts where I did recipes & suchlike. Looks like I should blog my soup & baked apple experiences and make this a complete list of Greatest Recipe Hits. Something for the future.

  1. Kitchen Sink Biscotti. These require TWO bakes at moderately low temps. Twice the baking, twice the warm. They’re fantastic for dipping into hot drinks too, so it’s a triple win.
  2. Ham & bean soup. From scratch with dry beans. It cooks in a dutch oven at 250º for hours & hours. The house will fill with mouth-watering smells. This year I tested out a BBQ baked bean variant too. It is delicious.
  3. Oven Eggs. Like scrambled eggs with cheese & veggies, only poured into a baking dish & cooked in the oven for a long time.
  4. Oatcakes. Add milk, oil, salt, baking powder & a little flour to oatmeal to make a smooth batter, spoon it onto baking sheets, and bake until the rounds are dry and crisp. It takes an hour per sheet or more. And they’re yummy.
  5. Breads. All kinds, any kind, but no-bake loaves with an overnight cool rise and second proof after shaping is the BEST kind. First, there’s the no-fuss “just let it rise” part, then the “proof in a warm oven” part, AND the hour of baking part. My fancy new oven even has a proof setting, which makes it all delightfully easy & indulgent.
  6. Pantry casseroles. Vegetarian-style shepherd’s pie & chicken-rice pan-bakes are super easy to whip together from on-hand frozen & shelf-stable ingredients in less than 15 minutes. But they COOK for an hour or more.
  7. Swedish butter cookies. Another sliced bar cookie like biscotti, only even simpler.
  8. Baked apples. SO EASY. Peel. Quarter. Core. toss with cinnamon & cook in a covered dish at 300-325 for an hour-ish. This fall I had too many apples to cook or process, so I threw a bunch of peeled & quartered ones into the freezer. Turns out that they bake up EVEN BETTER after being frozen first. Kinda like an apple version of casseroles or soupos being better the second night, after cooling & reheating.

That’s it for the main post.

In Other News, I’m implementing proof corrections on my manuscript this week, then files go up to Ingram & Amazon, and then pre-orders go live!

FINALLY The First-Ever Official Dawnrigger Email Newsletter will be going out soon. Once pre-orders are live, in fact. Newsletter subscribers will be extra-special spiffy exclusives like early peeks at character art, so you’ll definitely want to sign up for it, if you haven’t already.

That’s all for now. Until later!

Accomplished: first convention of 2021!

Capricon 41 took place over the weekend. I was going to pass on it this year. I’ve been running on fumes for ages and saving my small energies for Finishing The Book. The deadlines for submitting panel ideas and for interest in programming came & went while I was still fully mired in the midwinter mental mire. I planned to buy a membership to support the incredible, generous, hard-working people who were making the con happen despite stick-in-the-muds like me, but I was going to steer VERY clear of the chaos created in my brain by attempting online interaction over multiple, simultaneous channels.

Meh, I thought, and blergh. I don’t have it in me to deal with All The Virtual Things.

Then I found out at the last minute that Michi Trota was going to be one of the Guests of Honor. C’mon, self, you canNOT miss out on that, I told myself, and I asked myself in my most persuasive inner voice, How hard could it be to simply attend the virtual con? No responsibilities. Zero expectations. Nothing to panic over.

My argument was simple but convincing. I boxed up all my freakout fears & scraped up all my post-hibernation energy and registered, bullied my tech into cooperating, and got online.

…nd promptly freaked out and panicked and had a Really Bad Day over the ordeal of dealing, but! BUT! I collected some support (THANK YOU ALL MY SUPPORTIVE ONLINE FRENZ) applied warm fuzzies to the anxiety prickle wounds, and in the end it was an amazing good time.

I learned a ton of new things. How one person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia, what makes space opera space opera, the need for shaping society with hopeful, inclusive, personal narratives that go beyond reflecting and amplifying existing systems, and much more. My TBR list has exploded with new titles both fiction & research-related. The affirmation of hearing Real Experts validate the importance of stories like the ones I write–ones with complex, flawed characters, with resolutions based on cooperation & collective action, where erasing a villain doesn’t fix systemic ills, but determination and hope make improvements that are framed as worthy, achievable goals–well! That alone was worth the emotional price of admission. (and that was just the start!)

It’s post-con now, so of course I’m wrestling with residual weasel-whispers of, “You weren’t really freaking out, you just want attention, you’re a weak, whiny, lazy little coward who has all the privileges in the world but can’t be bothered to work hard, so you’re making excuses and posturing and claiming victimhood, you should be ashamed of yourself, other people who have it much worse than you do and manage to do so much more.” Stupid weasels. Good thing I have on my big, spiky weasel-stomping boots.

One extra-grand thing about the con being virtual was that I could bake bread, make oatcakes, and also get a lot of words written in the same weekend I was attending panels and engaging in inspiring discussions. I streamed the filk circles & performances while I was working on Ghost Town more than once, and that was particularly enjoyable.

And now, have pictures of the bread I baked. Because stress baking is a thing in this house.

gooey bread dough in steel mixing bowl
apricot toaster bread is not pretty when it’s in the process of becoming.
sliced loaf of apricot bread on a wooden bread board.
it looks much more appetizing after baking
toasted apricot bread on a blue-patterned Calamityware china plate with gratuitous bacon.
Glamour shot of the final result with gratuitous bacon
A small red dragon guarding a paperback copy of The Sharp Edge of Yesterday in a wooden yarn dish filled with glass beads.
Still here? Here’s a peek at my office dragon’s current hoard.

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: