Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So You Think You Can Make Bread

I first started making bread while in high school. The first yeast bread that I can recall making was a Challah, a traditional jewish braided bread which was eaten at any time, but especially on the sabbath and holidays. I was so proud of myself that I took a picture of me with the bread. Of course I cropped myself out of this picture and just show the challah. I still remember that it was a wonderful tasting bread and I was quite proud of myself.

Years later I got a bread machine along with everyone else and I made single loaves. Something was missing using this machine. The breads were boring. After doing some limited detective work, I became the proud owner of a bosch food processing system which gave me the ability to make real bread - grind the flour; roll oat, rye and spelt flakes and using a large mixing bowl with a bread paddle, make about four loaves at a time. The varieties of bread that I could make and did were limitless. The challenge was in using this system, what did you do with four loaves at one time. How much bread can you freeze? How much bread can you eat?

Several food writers have written about a no-knead artisanal bread which I believe originated in New York. Mark Bittman has written about it in the New York Times and it also appears in his recent book "Food Matters". As a side note, this is a great book and I will talk about in a future posting. I have also read about this bread in a cookbook by Bonnie Stern "Friday Night Dinners". I recommend this cookbook as it has wonderful recipes, none of which are complicated and take an afternoon to prepare. All are simple and healthy recipes. Plus Bonnie Stern gives a wonderful commentary to all of the recipes along with many pictures. This artisanal bread is easy to make, no kneading or special oven is required. All you need is a heavy, medium-sized cast iron pot with a lid. I have made this bread twice already and plan to make this bread on a regular basis. The first time I made it I did not add anything to it, the second time I added one cup of chopped black olives and a tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary. Other variations are 3/4 cup each of chopped toasted walnuts and raisins, 3/4 cup each of chopped dark chocolate and dried cherries, or one cup of raisins. What makes this bread so good is the texture and the crust - hard and chewy. It also tastes wonderful toasted.

Here is Bonnie Stern's recipe:
3 cups of all purpose flour (or part whole wheat)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cups water plus 1 tbsp at room temperature
Extra flour, wheat bran, cornmeal, sesame seeds etc.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and yeast. Stir in the water. the dough will be a sticky mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then place a tea towel over it. Put it aside and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The dough needs to double in size and have bubbles on the surface.
2. Lay a clean tea towel on the counter and flour heavily. Scoop out the dough (it is messy) and pat into a rough rectangle. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
3. Place another tea towel on the counter and rub with flour. You need to flour it enough so that the dough doesn't stick. You can sprinkle the flour with bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds.
4. Take the dough off of the first tea towel and place on to the second tea towel. If you are going to add any nuts, olives, raisins or other things, now is time to sprinkle it over the dough. Fold dough into thirds and brush off any extra flour. Fold into thirds again to form a rough cube. Place seam side down on the second tea towel and dust the top with flour, bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. Fold the ends of the tea towel over the top of the dough so that it is covered. Let rise for 2 hours.
5. After 1 1/2 hours, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. I have a convection oven so I went to 425 degrees F. Place the empty medium-sized heavy cast iron pot with the lid into the oven when you turn the oven on and heat for 30 minutes.
6. Take the pot out of the oven and very gently remove the excess flour off of the bread and flip the bread into the HOT pot. Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees F. With my convection oven I bake it for 22 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer or until browned. I bake it for about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. One way to tell if the bread is baked is by tapping it with a wooden spoon. If it sounds hollow, it is good to take out of the oven.

Making this recipe, you can think that you can make bread and share your creation with family and friends. Until next time....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Many Tee-Shirts should one own?

For those that shop for clothes, one tends to gravitate to certain items. I tend to look for shoes, purses, coats/jackets, zippered sweatshirts or hoodies and tee-shirts (long and short sleeve). In fact I have a number of drawers (more than one bureau) devoted to tee-shirts (aka tees). There are sleeve-less, short and long sleeved tees for the casual days, dress-up tees for work, tees for exercising, tees for walking the dog, tees that are old but can't be parted with yet and tees for doing major jobs around the house and yard. This last category is most interesting considering I haven't done renovations or house painting in years. So the question to ponder is how many tees should one own?

One of my favorite stores was having its annual summer sale yesterday and it was a must attend event. I got there just after the start of the sale along with 60 other people. The temptation to buy was too much. Who needed to try on things when you know your size so well. It did not help me that the sample sizes they bring in fit me perfectly. After cruising the racks and seeing that the window of selection was closing with all of the women snapping up the tee-shirts, jackets and hoodies, I started to pick out what I wanted but didn't really need. After justifying to myself why I needed these clothes I got into line. The speed of the line was slow - one cash operating but it gave me time to look at the racks while passing them in line and do some swapping with what was still on the racks and what I had in my arms. My arms were starting to get tired from holding the clothes but a good deal and a bargain can never be underestimated. After a 35 minute wait in line and knowing I saved $$, I walked out of the store proud of my great buys.

The next challenge I faced is a rule that I have instituted - what is new that goes into a drawer must equal an old/tired piece of clothing that goes out. Now came the hard choices. I carefully looked at all my tees and made some hard decisions. The most interesting ones were those tees that I have been saving for the "major renos and painting jobs". Some of these tees were purchased on trips, some hadn't been worn for five plus years, some were from my old running days, and some were there because it was easier to stash them there instead of throwing them out. I had a chuckle looking at the tees from some of the trips I had taken. I thought to myself, "what was I thinking when I bought this; did I purchase this as a memento of the trip - likely so"... It felt liberating to put two arm loads of tees into a large garbage bag. These tees were not going to the community boxes. If they are not good enough for me to wear, why would someone else wear them.

I have realized that my obsession with tees is bad when I can colour code my tees and stack them in piles in the drawers bases on whites, blacks, greens and other colours. I also have to ponder when does a tee bought to wear for work be used for casual? Why do we save our good clothes for work and not wear them on other outings? I haven't yet come to terms with how many tees I should own but realize we all have our weaknesses. Until next time......

Monday, July 27, 2009



I subscribe to a daily email newsletter called The Science Daily ( There are a number of different themed newsletters available and I receive two of them: the health and science headlines. These newsletters provide one page summaries of research that has been published or will be published/presented at academic/scientific conferences. The stories are written in a reader friendly manner and also have links to other similar stories. The breadth of material covered is quite large and interesting.

In today's health newsletter, there were a number of interesting stories including one on cardiovascular disease. The information presented is not new to us, just an affirmation on what is known based on continued studies and research. In a nutshell, based on U.S. data from studies involving 80,000 female nurses and 20,900 male doctors, cardiovascular disease is preventable if you follow a healthy lifestyle. The studies identified a number of risk factors that they followed including exercise, alcohol intake, diet, smoking, etc. What is scary is that they stated the mortality rates after the onset of heart failure remains high, ranging from 20 to 50% despite improvements in medical and surgical management. So what I take home from this is that it is better to make changes before the heart attack happens versus afterwards. In a separate study done at McMaster University, 90% of first heart attacks were attributable to nine risk factors all related to lifestyle. What the McMaster study concluded was that it is never to too late to start making changes. The changes are no smoking, daily physical activity for 30 minutes and maintenance of normal BMI (body mass index) through exercise and appropriate caloric intake.

If we know what we need to do - consume drink and food in moderation, eat the right things, reduce stress in our lives and get our butts moving, how does one make changes? Will we only make changes based on fear and the what if? How do you stay motivated to make changes and stay the course? Motivation is an interesting concept. The diet and exercise industries are built on keeping people motivated or lack there of. I have a large collection of internet sites related to diets and some are great sites. I also have my own library collection of diet books. One fun site is called Three Fat Chicks ( I can spend hours browsing diet/lifestyle books at the bookstores searching for the holy grail of taking off these 10 or so pounds that I want to lose. Based on my successes and failures I have accepted the following: calories matter; if you eat more calories that what you burned (exercise and maintaining normal body functions) you will gain the unwanted pounds; tracking what you eat works - it keeps you honest; weigh yourself every few days; walk the dog at least three miles a day, more is better; lift weights; allow some treats on a weekly basis as this is a life long journey; treats should be your favorites (mine are ice cream and good chocolate), eat good food versus junk; a disasterous day doesn't mean you have the liberty of destroying the whole week in food choices, and be good to yourself. It is all about one day at a time to make those changes you want.
Until next time..................

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Welcome to My World

Hi, as my profile indicates, this blog will cover a lot of things. I have been visiting a number of blog sites on a regular basis and admire these people who are willing to share thoughts and ideas and let you into their lives. In some ways it is like reading an ongoing non-fiction novel. I view these blogs a bit like a diary and a way to connect with people and provide some inspiration to those seeking some new ideas or motivation to improve one's self.
Today being Sunday always has the mindset for me to be cooking, washing and getting organized for the week. So in fact that is what is going on. I like to review the NY Times internet site and have found some very interesting recipes from the column by Mark Bittman. Two recipes are being created today in my kitchen - Spicy, Citrusy Black Beans and a cherry/peach dessert. I have a sour cherry tree in my backyard that has been very productive. I have already made jam with these cherries and will freeze those cherries that I am not going to use in the dessert.
Besides cooking, another passion is walking and you will hear some of my funny stories walking my lab retriever. My lab is a bit like the dog from "Marley and Me". I have been reading Cesar Millan's books and of course watch his show. I have been incorporating his suggestions and advice on being a calm and assertive leader with your dog. It does work!
My last comment for now before the cherries beckon me to be pitted is this: I read the article in the globe and mail today about the problems going on in California with the economy and the lack of water sources. We rely much on the produce that comes from California and further south. I expect that we will see high prices this fall for select produce from there. Maybe we should think about how we have created markets for our demands in fruit and vegetables that are not sustainable. Maybe we can live with less melons and fruit that can't be grown locally. I agree with the concept of buying locally or growing it yourself.