Random Monday musings, mostly TV-related

1. Schitt’s Creek. I succumbed to curiosity at last, after I dunno how long since it seemed like all my friends were recommending it. Just in time for the series to end its regular run. It even sucked in Spouseman, which is a high compliment for any TV show, but especially one with no action and WITH lots of awkward situational humor. Now we just have a wait for the last season to post to Netflix.

2. I haven’t had much energy or focus after supper lately, so I’ve been re-watching NCIS episodes. And it has occurred to me that it isn’t a police procedural at all. Hasn’t been one for at least 5 seasons, maybe as many as 10. It’s an hour-long family sitcom dressed up in a worn-out, comfy old police procedural bathrobe.

3. Landscaping barrier cloth is horrible stuff. Maybe it’s good in high-erosion zones where there’s no soil, but laying it down over heavy clay soil is just…what a WASTE. It doesn’t stop weeds, weeds grow right on top of any mulch atop of the landscape cloth. All the cloth does is block helpful worms n other critters from traveling up into the mulch to loosen & improve the topsoil by mixing things up, and traps the poor plant roots down in solid clay away from all those nice nutirients.

I mention this mainly because I’ve spent the last three days ripping out multiple layers of landscape cloth hiding under the mulch & weeds in most of the planting beds. No wonder the soil in those beds was dead, and no wonder the few salvageable perennials were struggling so much. I’m still mostly going to be growing dirt in this yard for the next couple of years, but the horticultural foundation is,not nearly as bad as I first feared. So. Happy times in the garden.

That’s it for now. Until later!

Writer Reading Report: Smoke Bitten

Thanks to NetGalley, I received two ARCs (advanced reader copies) of upcoming novels by two of my favorite authors. Here be my short but heartfelt reviews of the first one I finished. It’s out now, so you don’t even have to wait!

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs.

I expect most people interested in Smoke Bitten have read some or all of the preceding books. Smoke Bitten is the twelfth in an urban fantasy series about Mercy Thompson,  part-time coyote, full-time auto mechanic, Volkswagon owner, seer of ghosts, and neighbor to a werewolf alpha.

So if you’re checking reviews because this book looks interesting, you’re right! It is!

I always recommend starting at the beginning of any series as well=established as this one–or at least with a book closer to the beginning.  That said, if this is the only Mercy Thompson book you can find, it’s a great chapter in the ongoing saga, and a decent introduction to the complex, entertaining dynamics between members of an ever-increasing cast.

Honestly, any plot summary without spoilers would be either redundant or too vague to be useful. The important points. First, as with most other books in the series, the events in Smoke Bitten take place over a very short time frame.  Second, the action is local, and the stakes more personal than world-changing.

The plot shines brightest when Mercy is dealing with her friends and family. Often she’s making hard choices between people and rules, between principle and practicality. In this book, a problem arises from the solutions to problems resolved in previous books.

It’s a tangle of big personalities, old grudges, and buried mysteries, with all the emotionally satisfying, complicated I’ve come to expect from this author.

 

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 it with the liquid.

SCIENCE TIP 3: In one of those little heads-cratchers 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 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 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: