Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I sit at my desk, the sun is shining, the flip-out drawer in front of the kitchen sink is finally installed and working, and I feel meh. I am out of the almond coconut milk I need for a killer smoothie. Maybe I'll just pour some cold press coffee over ice, splash in some creamer, and call it good enough. I have a feeling today's post is going to be a pity party so feel free to skip off somewhere else now.

I knew when we made this move that it would require a lot of work and would take a long time. But somehow I figured it would be done by the first of September and I would have all glorious fall to look forward to working in my studio, weaving, spinning, woodworking, baking, and gardening in addition to my regularly scheduled cleaning, laundry, maintenance chores. Instead, I have what feels like an unending stream of chores and tasks that do little to feed my creativity with no end in sight. I can't even look at a room in this house and says it's done (unpacked, fixed up, and ready for regular maintenance--preferably by someone else).  For the first time in years I am trying to do all the house cleaning myself, and it's not going well. Oddly enough, it's not the bathrooms, kitchen, or laundry that get me down; it's the hardwood floors. I have yet to figure out how to keep them dusted (with three dogs, two cats and a caged bunny all contributing daily fur) much less mopped. Toilets and catbox are the easiest as they are finite and quick. The floors go on forever and by the time I have dusted them from one end to the other, the first end is hairy again so I can't mop it.

If that weren't enough--and trust me, it is--I am not doing as well with the daily solitude as I thought I would. Last Saturday when we went to Dave's office and the comic book store, I would normally have stayed home. That would have been a father/daughter outing. But I just couldn't bear to be alone in the house for another day. Dave encourages me to go out, go to Hill Country Weavers, meet people, get involved in something. But I feel guilty leaving the house in the state it's in. He says it's fine. I think it's a disaster. Any joy I get from going out is wiped away when I get home by the weight of everything I didn't get done because I was out.

Today I am looking at shipping three orders for the studio, putting away a week's worth of laundry, changing the beds, vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen, attempting to dust the floors, thinking about mopping them, cleaning out the vacuum and the two robot vacuums which are all full of pet hair, bathing Baxter, finding an orthodontist for Jessie and making her an appointment, contacting social security about getting my mom's tax forms for 2015, and getting both cars registered in Texas. There is no way on earth I am going to get through that list--especially adding the two fun things I have on tap which are making fresh linguini and pesto and having lunch with Dave. So there is absolutely no chance that I will get any further on unpacking and setting up the utility room (so I can finally see the floor in there to mop it), the sunroom (ditto the mopping), my desk (thank god no mopping), and the greenhouse (really that's just mopping), and the studio (which I will NEVER, EVER MOP!).

That means that when I wake up tomorrow, things will be pretty much the same as they are today with the exception of clean laundry and a clean dog. I still won't have found someone to mow the front grass (we no longer have a mower and I don't have the heavy work boots and long, thick pants to wear doing it to protect me from all the snakes that are probably in it), mopped the floors, or washed the windows. The apartment will still need painting, new floors, and some focused attention to get it ready to rent. And I still won't be comfortable inviting anyone over--for dinner or anything else--because I am so stressed about the state the house is still in three months after I moved in, and almost a year after we bought it.

Okay. Pity party over. Going to crank some music, roll up my metaphorical sleeves, and get working on the laundry.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Red On Yellow...

... Kill a Fellow,
Red On Black,
Leave it the hell alone, you're not a herpatologist!

That's not the way I learned the rhyme, but this is Dave's wisdom for his daughter who took the picture of said Micrurus tener tener, aka the Texas coral snake (we have our own species! Oh joy!), on our driveway as she was walking to get the bus to school. She wanted me to come out and look at it, but clothes were too much trouble, and I didn't think a large, naked woman in the driveway would fly--even in our rural neighborhood. The wildlife in our yard continues to be a source of joy and wonder--even if most of it is lethal in one way or another.

I obviously didn't get a second post out yesterday so today is the day to talk about Jessie's high school experiences to date. I don't get a flood of information every day from her: she's a quiet kid. But at the end of a week and a day she has decided she hates school. Not unexpected as she has only mentioned talking (willingly) to one or two other kids, none of her classes are sparking her (yet), and she dodged the pep rally last week by hanging out in the cafeteria. Apparently there were enough other kids with the same idea that there weren't any places left to sit so she stood in the cafeteria for half an hour until it was time to catch the bus home.

One of the first things she talked about (in amazement and with disgust) was the lack of respect the students show the teachers in many of her classes. They wear earbuds during class, talk loudly, and blatantly, repeatedly, ignore teacher instructions. This kind of behavior was not tolerated in Mr. Smith's class at the Waldorf School of Atlanta, and the one student who tried to pull it (a late-grade transferee from a public school) didn't last long in the class. McCallum is a different world. It's Austin's version of an older, inner-city high school with a fine arts program open to students across the district. With that designation comes diversity. Diversity, while good, doesn't mean good. Diverse is just lots of different. Exposure to different is good in that it expands one's world view and experience. But diversity in manners, diversity in politeness and kindness and honesty... those are just different, not good. J has been alienated, affronted, and appalled by some her fellow students' diverse behavior. At the end of her second or third day she mused that it might have been better if she'd gone to the Waldorf high school here because at least then she'd know what to expect.  But I have no doubts that, long term, this high school will provide a more meaningful experience for her and enable her to successfully interact with a more diverse group of people in the real world.

On a more positive note she seems to be confident in her knowledge of the materials being covered in her classes. She doesn't feel behind the other students, she's keeping up on her homework, and she seems to like her teachers. Expectations of the students are a bit lower than they were at Waldorf: They can use calculators on their algebra tests, and when taking quizzes on mapping in world geography they can use their books and the big map on the wall.

Of course Jessie wouldn't be Jessie if she wasn't practicing her super power. She is convinced that she has the power to make people overlook her--mostly teachers looking for someone to read aloud. However she said that she does raise her hand in class, and she does participate. Participation is good because a portion of her grade in every one of her classes is based on participation. She is already looking ahead to what film school she wants to go to after high school. But she is convinced that if she tries really hard she can make people ignore her. Heck, it works on me half the time.

So while the lunchroom has yet to be conquered, and friends have yet to be made, high school is turning out okay.

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Have a Desk!

Sitting at my new "desk", drinking the morning smoothie and munching on more of the sesame bread. It didn't cause any digestive distress yesterday so I figure it's safe to eat. However it reminds me a lot of lembas bread: I can see it being very nutritional and filling (especially in conjunction with the aforementioned smoothie), but it's already getting old. So far this morning I have tidied, practiced piano, and cleaned the cat box.

Now it's time to post and I have a couple of driving subjects for the day: the desk, and Jessie's first week at school. I may have to post twice today (gasp!). I don't think I have ever done that before. But before I go on, the dogs are jumping around like jacks so I think I need to take them for a quick walk down the street. They can look for lizards, and I can look for Pokemon. Back in a few...

So about the "desk"... Got it set up this past weekend. It's a "desk" instead of a desk as it's really just a 3X6 sheet of plywood on sawhorses, but it's better than the dining room table. Dave and Jessie think so too as we might now be able to eat without having to shift mounds of papers out of the way! It's especially nice because it comes with a great view (out of the bedroom window into the backyard). Part of the view this morning included what looks to me like a juvenile hawk or eagle. It's definitley not a vulture which is what am used to seeing. (The turkey vultures are enormous and soar on the thermals looking for, I don't know, dead things.

The desk even has its own cat tree already occupied with cats! Though the
cat tree this morning is going against the natural order as Pavlova is on the top and Kaiju is on the bottom. Even after winning the top spot she still can't resist coming down to annoy him... I can tell it's going to be hard to get things done at this spiffy new desk--too many distractions!

You might wonder why I didn't just buy a desk. I'm afraid I am lost in a new project space: Furniture. And everywhere I look, I see a potential building/redoing project. This new artisanal space was introduced to me back in the spring of 2015 when I did an inlay project for Jessie's class auction project for school. I have wanted to do more of that type of work ever since, but haven't had time. Arguably I still don't have time, but the idea stayed in my head and now it's expanded to include glass and lighting. And Dr. Who. In fact for the desk project, I may not do any wood inlay at all. Instead I may focus entirely on straight lines and common geometric shapes (circles, triangles, etc.) and if I do, I won't inlay. Instead I'll route out narrow grooves for all the lines, stain the wood on either side of the lines different colors (oak, ebony, walnut, ash, e.g.,) and then fill in the routed lines with black something-or-other. I'll still do glass inlay, however.

As part of the work I do with Todd, I drill circles out of my finished pieces with a core drill and a drill press. Till now the glass circles were a by-product which occasionally got used in pieces by Todd, or which I thought might make interesting jewelry. They come in diameters from 1/2" to 4", but most of them are about 1.25", and they are 1/4" to 3/8" thick. After they have been cut out, I grind the sides with my lap grinder and then fire polish them so they are all nice and shiny but still have straight sides and crisp edges.

Now I want to inlay them in wood with the hole they are in going all the way through the wood so light shines up from underneath/behind. Because the glass is thick and the colors can be dark, if there is no light the glass will look meh. That's where the lighting comes in. I am working with our electrician here to create some led rings that can be mounted with the glass so that it's lit up. The wiring will be channeled through the wood and come out in a standard plug. We might even (at some point) make the lighting work with a rechargeable battery pack so furniture like tables and chairs won't have to be placed near an outlet. The other pieces of furniture I want to do this way are a headboard for our bed (built from scratch) and our dining room table refinished, inlaid and retrofitted with lights). The dining room table will definitely be inlaid with wood and the glass circles as I want to do organic, meandering cracks (like the one in the original games cabinet). I'll post pics as I go.

Now it's time to head out to the studio to put a slump load in the kiln, finish a wall panel with a Hang Your Glass system, and wait for USPS to deliver my grinding pads so I can polish up an 8"x13"x1" slab that I am supposed to ship to New Jersey today...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Oculus Rift

I woke this morning with the urge to post. The urge increased as I went through my (late--it's Sunday so I didn't get up early) morning routine. I had things to say. Things about the second taste of the sesame bread (which Dave liked and which hasn't caused either of us distress...yet), things about making another batch of killer smoothie. Things about practicing piano, the beauty of the sound of the alto Japanese scale windchimes in the light breeze. Just things. But I felt I needed to get my kiln load in before luxuriating in a post. So now the kiln is firing, and my earlier inspirations have gone away. The lesson learned is to take time to write when the fire of creativity strikes.

However there is one subject worth covering and that is our experience playing on the Oculus Rift (the gameplaying thingie referenced in yesterday's post) at Dave's office yesterday.  Wow. Just, wow. It is to playing video games what IMAX is to small movie theatre screens. Think of the first time you saw the undersea movie at teh IMAX and were sure you were going to eaten by the shark.

J and I both took turns on the OR and some of the things you can do/watch are very disorienting--like the Valkyrie game. Some of it is flat-out stunning (the intro to VR) and some of it is just so cool--the "home screen" which isn't a screen at all, it's a luxury home surrounding you with furnishings, art--and no dustbunnies or dirty dishes. Of course you have no body either so it's a bit disconcerting to look down. At least in Valkyrie you have a body--which totally creeped Jessie out when she looked down while playing. Apparently with just the right angle you see a headless body and that was just too much for her. I had to strain to get to see the top of the neck where the head should be--I mostly just saw my very cool, thin, black-leather-spacesuit-clad body.

As I played some mountain goat game I harkened back to hanging out at Keith and Mike's and watching Keith play Super Mario Brothers. It was an addictive game, and I'm glad I never had it as I could see myself playing for hours. The Oculus Rift is a similar toy. If we had one at home, Dave and Jessie would leave for the day and I would just sit and play in my own little world all day. Dave did not try it out, though you can hear him snorting in the background in one of the videos as Jessie tried to take the controller away from me. When I think of some of the visually stunning (and disturbing), intense (and disturbing), and dark (did I mention disturbing?) video games he likes to play, like the Bioshock series and Batman Arkham I can't imagine them for the OR. Those were creepy enough on the big screen tv being surrounded by those worlds would drive me insane. Now back to Conman and Pokemon Go. Need to give my sensory input a rest.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Getting ready to head to Dave's office with him and the J so she (okay, let's be honest, WE) can play Minecraft and other games with their ocular gameplaying thingy*. Sorry for the lack of technical jargon, but I can't remember what it's really called. Before we go, however, I wanted to get out a quick review of last week's Tassajara sesame wheat bread.

Right up front I'm going to have reserve final judgement on this bread as the oven went on the fritz right in the middle of baking it, and I think I over-processed the sesame seeds when I ground them. But the bread felt wonderful during the kneading--if very dense and stiff. It rose very well during the sponge stage and the first two rising, it didn't rise as much as I thought it would when shaped into loaves.

The flavor was distinctly sesame, but also had a bitter note at the end due to my grinding raw, unhulled sesame seeds instead of hulled ones. I bought what was available at Whole Foods (unhulled), and when I got home and reread the recipe for sesame meal (from the InterWeb), it called for hulled. So I looked up the difference between them, and Cook's Illustrated informed me that unhulled are much higher in calcium and also a bit more flavorful, but that the flavor is tinged with a bitterness absent in the hulled seeds. I figured I'd go ahead and try the unhulled to see how the bitterness would play out, and I am not a fan. Of course the problem may have been the recipe (or my making of it) for the sesame meal. The instructions were to cook the seeds in a heavy, unoiled pan until they turned a darker color and started popping, and then to grind them in a blender until they were crumbly but not a paste. My first batch was half crumbly, half pastey. The second batch was better.

The bread recipe called for three cups of sesame meal, "more if you can stand it". I used about three, but it was hard to measure exactly as the recipe was expecting a meal which is not nearly as dense as the somewhat-paste I had so I may have used more. It definitely took more wheat flour at the end than the recipe called for in order to balance it out and get it to stop sticking.

After the oven pooped out (low temps then high temps), and the bread got a bit burned on top, I didn't taste it till the next day. The loaves weren't as high as I thought they would be, and the bread was really dense. The flavor was interesting--more bitter and less sweet than I like in a dark bread, but maybe I just need to pair it with an appropriate food for the flavors to shine. Bread by itself is like wine by itself: Some stand alone fine, but others need to be paired with just the right food to engender an out-of-body experience in the consumer.

The other thing I need to say about this bread is that it seems that I had significant colonic difficulty digesting it. It reminded me of the time that Dave made huckleberry cobbler with mesquite flour when we were visiting my uncle and aunt in Phoenix with my mom. We all like to have died that night as we apparently don't have the bacteria, enzymes, whatever, in our systems to digest that much of that kind of grain. It wasn't like food poisoning, it was definitely a too-much-of-something-you-can't-digest-all-at-once problem.

The final verdict: Not yet a keeper, need to try again.

*I have been informed it's an oculus rift.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Rural Housewife

Listening to "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone" as Juan fixes one of our pull-out pantry doors. He will probably finish about the time the Invisible Fence guy shows up to put the transmitters in the kitchen and train the dogs to stay out of it. Gallifrey has discovered that good things live on the top of the counters and he has begun to surf obsessively. With him on the high road and Baxter on the low road the kitchen has become... fraught. I don't think June Cleaver ever yelled at the dogs to get out of the kitchen. Actually, I don't remember if the Cleavers even had a dog, but if they did it would have been a silky golden retriever, not a cranky spaniel, or a pony-sized wolfhound. Anyway, I need to distance myself from June. She didn't work out so well for me yesterday.

I'm sure there are those who are curious as to how yesterday's adventures in the kitchen turned out. The results were mixed. The ravioli turned out as it was supposed to which was too thin for all of us (go figure, homemade pasta that is too thin and still holds together), too much parsley for the J, and too bland for me. The chipotle cream sauce was amazing. The Vitamix simultaneously blends and cooks, well, heats up. The friction of the blades through the mass is sufficient to generate considerable heat and finish a sauce--no stove required! I never got to the pesto--ran out of time. I'll make it today and save it for next week. The salad was promising, but would have been better with a different spring mix: The one I got was too much bland/sweet with no spicy (arugula) or lightly bitter (frisee), and I just whacked up the grapefruit. But Dave's avocado/jalapeño sauce from the Vitamix the other day was genius. Finally there was the bread. The bread went from difficult to disaster--thanks to our new Thermador range. First it wasn't cooking enough, then it burned. Oh well. More about the recipe in another post.

Thermador is two for four with us right now. Getting the dishwasher (which was damaged and non-functional before it ever went in) replaced took a month and a half, and now the main oven for sure and possibly the smaller oven are not working on the range. At least it's smart enough to know it's broken: There is an error message on the temperature panel with a phone number to call. We were already suspicious that there was a problem as the big oven didn't seem to be heating so we put in a free-standing thermometer to check the temperature. Sure enough, busted. So I have a service call scheduled for next Friday.

While I'm on the appliance rant, our new (replacement) Everpure Exubera is not only not dispensing sparkling water, it's not dispensing cold water either! At least the last (defective) one we had would dispense cold water. I have been shuffled around on the phone all morning only to find out there doesn't seem to be a distributor contact in Texas anymore... I now have a call in to the sales person for the region. We'll see how that goes.

For now, a little time in the studio till the Invisible Fence guy shows up. Speaking of the studio, in case I forgot to update the status, the studio is now a MUCH more pleasant place to be. Let There Be Light! A quick visit from the electrician and the plumber and I can actually work now.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Learning My Pace

I am beginning to get used to the new rhythm of the weekday. It's quiet. This morning there is only the faint hum of one of the ac units and a low ringing from the windchimes. I can even hear the dogs breathing. I'm glad I have the dogs, cats, and bunny for company--it would be eerily empty here without them.

The morning I woke Jessie up at 6:30 with a 15 minute warning, then called her again at 6;45 to tell her it was time to get up. Yep, that's right, I called her. On the phone. I call her every morning twice--once to wake her up and give her 15 more minutes in bed to collect herself, and then again make sure she is awake enough to get up and get ready for school. 

In the evening, I call her down from her room to set the table for dinner. On the phone. In our old house I just called out loud (or bellowed, as the rest of the family called it). But this house is too spread out for that, and even the loudest of my bellows from the bedroom won't penetrate upstairs. I could walk up the stairs, get some exercise, and talk to her in person. But, I have to say, I'm pretty tired these days. And she's a teenager: she is glued to her phone. So the phone is the best way to reach her. Part of me is appalled at this style of parenting and communication. (The June Cleaver part, who wants to prance around in an apron and pearls baking all day. Really. I have that part.) Another part just shrugs and says go with the flow, whatever works and doesn't cause stress. (Which both bellowing and going up the stairs do to one family member or another).  I'm hoping to wean her onto an alarm clock next week. They haven't worked in the past, but, really, I have got to let go being responsible for her getting out of bed in the morning. It would be easier if I were a morning person. Then I would be up, and if I noticed she wasn't up, then I could get her up. But I can happily sleep until 10:00 and getting up regularly at 7:00 is just not going to happen anytime soon. I make myself get up at 8:00, but she would already have missed the bus if I didn't find out she was still asleep till 8:00. Of course, most days her father's already up by 7:00. Maybe he can be the back-up for awhile.

This morning, after making sure J was awake and up, I went back to sleep. I woke to the front door shutting (it's heavy). Apparently I was so soundly asleep (and snoring so loudly) that J didn't want to wake me before heading off to catch the bus. But the phone saved me a day of angst at not getting to say 'I love you and have a great day' as I quickly texted her that message and ended the text with a little emoji heart ❤️. This was a better option than running naked out the door and down the drive to do it in person. I know, June Cleaver would have woken her with a chirpy "Time to get up sleepy head!", and then made breakfast and lunch for her, ruffled her hair as she kissed her goodbye and tenderly sent her out for the day. I called her on the phone, and then I snored. Operatically. *sigh*

When I did finally rise for the day, shower, and get presentable, I practiced piano, poured myself a Killer Smoothie, and warmed a butter-slathered piece of the banana bread Dave and Jessie made over the weekend for breakfast. It felt like a good time to get a post in so I sat down to write, and there was a knock at the door... Unless it's UPS, USPS, FedEx, or a scheduled tradesman, we NEVER get knocks at the door. I thought it might be Zaga from next door come to set a time to go out for a drink with a couple of other women from the neighborhood, but no--there were two female silhouettes outside the door. We have been found by the Watchtower people. Inconceivable!!! Those girls are getting a lot of exercise for four houses worth of word-spreading. Interestingly they have savvied-up their publications. This one was entitled "How To Harness Your Habits" and showed a black woman smiling, and jogging with earbuds in on the cover. They waited until page seven to tell me that homosexuality is a sin and promptly lost me.

Now I'm off to the studio to put two kiln loads in (with the size of the kilns I currently have here, this isn't as impressive as it sounds), then a delivery of Secret Pall gifts to two teachers at J's school, and then I will let June Cleaver out to play for the rest of the day. I'll do a little house cleaning, and a little cooking/baking. On the menu are a sesame wheat bread from The Tassajara Bread Book (grinding my own sesame meal with the Vitamix for it), fresh pasta dough for four-cheese ravioli, and a chipotle cream sauce (with tofu and cream cheese, among other ingredients) and a pesto sauce, the last two made in the Vitamix. When Dave gets home he will grill salmon to accompany the ravioli, and I will make a salad with spring greens, fresh grapefruit, crumbled feta, pine nuts, and a dollop of the avocado/jalapeño/garlic/lime/yoghurt sauce Dave made the other night (also with the Vitamix--Best Kitchen Appliance Ever). 

If we were empty nesters, I might even serve dinner in the apron and pearls...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Killer Smoothie

Today I finally got to make Alison Mayer's killer smoothie recipe! I first had this smoothie after a week of flat-out work when I was run-down, just getting over being horribly sick, stressed out, and at my physical, mental, and emotional limit. I was dropping Jessie off at Alison and Nick's--their son Mitch was in Jessie's Waldorf class from 1st through 8th grade--as they were hosting an end-of-the-year camping trip over Memorial Day up at their mountain property for J's entire class (kids and parents). I was getting our house ready to sell and could not go, and Dave was already moved to Austin, so they offered to take Jessie up with them. Alison took one look at me when we drove up and said I looked like I needed a smoothie. I had two. They were AMAAAAAZING! They will pump you up and enable you to take on the world (or, in may case that day: just stay awake and cognizant till the end of the day).

The reason it took so long to make is that we were a couple of pieces of hardware short (we needed a cold press coffee maker and a working blender), and I also needed to get all the ingredients (turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cocoa powder, and cayenne were the only ones we regularly stock). Last week I froze up the spinach and kale cubes and the banana, and last night I made the coffee (12 oz of coarse ground coffee and six cups of water), so I was finally ready to smoothie today. I hope Alison doesn't mind my sharing, 'cause this is just too great to keep to myself. Here's the recipe as I got it:

12 oz almond/coco milk
teaspoon coco oil
scant teaspoon coco crystals
slug of cold brew (go by color, not too dark)
dash of turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper (all optional to taste)
Tbs cocoa powder, tbs maca powder

pulse together, then add
3 kale/spinach cubes*
1/4 frozen banana (half fine, just not a big banana person)

blend really well til all cubes broken up - serve over ice and feel like a new woman!! Although the old woman is fantastic - don't go changing!

*blend a shit ton of kale (usually a bag) and a little water then add a regular ton of spinach just adding enough water to keep it moving, then freeze in ice cube trays that will be permanently green after that - buy some at the thrift or dollar store for dedicated use. Store cubes in baggie in freezer.

Wow did it not disappoint! I kicked butt and took names today, and a lot of it was thanks to Alison's concoction. And I not only made some for today, but I saved some in the fridge for tomorrow so I can have one as I take Jessie to school for her First Day of High School. Woot!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hot Glass, Cool Weather

Things are heating up in the studio, and it's in a good way! I am now officially busy and behind enough that the electrician is going to come in tomorrow to hook up one of the smaller kilns just so I can produce more work. The weather is supposed to stay cool-ish (in the mid 80's) for the next week so I hope to be able to knock all my orders out. He's also coming back on Monday to put up more lighting and install outlets for the rest of the non-kiln equipment, and my fingers are crossed that the plumber will also come out next week to hook up the wet-belt sander and the flat lap grinder. Primitive pioneer conditions... Now I'm off to get some work done. The post tomorrow will be longer and in depth (with photos even!).

Once More Into the Studio

Another day is coming to a close, and while I did a lot today, I don't really feel any closer to moved in. I meant to spend the day in the studio, but we had piano lessons this morning, and then the child asked if I would take her to the comic book store as she only has three weekdays of summer left. By the time we got home (we had to stop for lunch too) it was almost 4:00, and I ran out of steam for the day. I caught up on a little email, created a Google calendar for Jessie's school schedule and set us all up on it, and puttered with other administrative things. And then Dave was home and it was time for dinner.

But back to the studio. Last night I did my first firing in my new used KL-50 Denver kiln, and it was like Laurel and Hardy meet the glass studio. The way that it is right now, this might be the worst studio I have had in I don't know how long. Our electrician is still futzing with the City of Austin to get our service upgraded for the additional kiln load. Until he succeeds, we are limping along in Austin high summer (temps upwards of a 100 degrees in the shade most days) with no AC in the studio, only one kiln hooked up (no room in the breaker box for more), a few fluorescent light fixtures--none of them placed over any of my work spaces or kilns, one electrical outlet for mechanical tools, and none of the coldworking equipment hooked up (or even placed in position). Additionally, on the plumbing side, I have a grungy, nasty, little sink that I haven't been able to bring myself to turn on (the big studio sink is still in Austin).

In the process of firing one piece last night I realized my kiln wash is still in Atlanta. My funnel (for refilling the 1 lb frit jars I use to make my pieces) is packed God-knows-where--along with my cutting oil, pencils, Sharpie, and measuring tape. I was barely able to get the piece done--and 24 hours after firing it is still cooling. Tomorrow I hope to make more progress and if I don't end up with a totally functional studio, at least I'll have a complete list for the electrician, the plumber, and the carpenter of what needs to be done.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tassajara Bread

Can I cook? Many who have met me since I married Dave would be surprised to find out that I can, in fact, produce delectable foodstuffs. Just because I don't cook regularly (or almost ever) doesn't mean I can't. I like to cook, and I love to bake. If it has flour in it, I'm all about it. In fact I have long wanted to make bread and fresh pasta regularly but never could fit it into my schedule. But now with Dave and Jessie both heading out into the world for work and school all day, every day, starting next Monday, I'll have more time and fewer distractions.

Last week I made my first foray back into bread-from-scratch, and it was a memorable effort--though not in a good way. I couldn't find my old, dog-eared copy of the Tassajara Bread Book so I looked on the web for a likely recipe. Neither the experience nor the bread lived up to my memories of baking from the TBB so I went on Amazon and ordered another copy to work from until mine shows up again. When it arrived, I spent a lovely evening reading through it and was so inspired by all the yummy looking recipes that I decided to commence a Julia and Julia-esque project of working my way through all the recipes in it and documenting the experience here.

Today I opened it up, dusted it with flour, and started with the basic yeasted bread recipe. Right off the bat it was better than the web-recipe experience. Instead of measuring the temperature of the water with a thermometer, I used my wrist (and followed with a thermometer as back-up because I was wound a little tight). I also followed the process described in the book--not just the recipe. Edward Espe Brown, the author, goes into great detail about just how to stir the sponge and later, the dough. He lists the merits and qualities of each particular flour and expounds upon their effects on the final bread. He explains why to use milk powder as opposed to whole milk, what egg does to the crust, and exactly what yeast does in warm water with a sweetener.

Then there's the whole zen aspect of kneading the bread. I have always loved the illustrations in this book and the eloquent verbal sketches of how your hands--fingers to palms--interact with the dough. To knead is to go for the stretch, not the tear. Done correctly it creates an elastic structure in the bread that supports the airy loft provided by the yeast. And unlike my previous experience, it wasn't done for a number of minutes, but for a number of actions, lending a more relaxed pace to the process.

So my bread today contained 57% organic whole wheat flour and 43% organic unbleached white flour. A 1/4 cup of brown sugar was the sweetener for 2 tablespoons of yeast. Canola was my oil choice, I did add a cup of powdered non-fat milk, and I didn't either add an egg or wash the crust with egg before baking. The process for making this bread includes a rising for the sponge, two risings of the dough, and a final short rising of the loaves. The sponge rising and the second dough rising are optional, but I went ahead and did them all. Our new stove has a proofing setting for bread in the small oven so I used it for all the risings but the loaf rising. Unfortunately, we only have one metal loaf pan (I do NOT like silicon bread pans because the bread swells the sides of the pan way out) so I did a country loaf on a cookie sheet and a loaf in the loaf pan. Because the cookie sheet is too big to fit in the small proofing oven I had to use the large oven and I got the temperature too high for the last raise (the loaf raise). As a result, the bread was a bit more dense than I intended, and the country style loaf was pretty flat (the yeast started cooking and dying before it finished rising). But it was tasty!

The crust never got to the shiny dark brown described in the book, but maybe that's because I didn't do the egg wash. By the end of the day I had learned a couple of important lessons. First, a large glass bowl (of the kind in a stacking set of glass bowls) is not a good bread bowl. You need a bowl that is tall so you can cover it with a damp towel and the dough will still have room to rise. Second, if you want to have fresh bread for dinner you really need to start making it about noon as it still needs an hour to cool after it has finished baking before you can cut it.

Tonight's country loaf, better than last week's paltry effort but still needing some tweaks, was served slathered with butter, drizzled with honey, and alongside a delicious beef barley stew that Dave made. It was a perfect meal as our temps never got out of the 70's throughout our grey, rainy day--it almost felt like fall. Tomorrow I will cut into the loaf from the loaf pan and see if it is any different in texture or density.

Next up: Sourdough starter!