Bread Machine Basics: One Good Loaf

Happy Loaf, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Since my first bread machine post I’ve enjoyed the chance to successfully prepare several loaves of bread. I’ve learned a few troubleshooting techniques, and I’ve settled in to a comfortable groove which begins each Monday with bread baking among my other week-starting activities.

My very first loaf tasted nice enough, but it rose high and then fell in the middle. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I remembered that the clear, simple user manual includes a useful table at the back: the Troubleshooting Guide. Listed there are several recommendations for adjustments in ingredients, portions, and techniques in order to correct ill-fated bread loaves. I have since reduced the water in my recipes by a few tablespoons, and my loaves come out perfect every time.

I started with the simple white bread recipe offered in the manual, and quickly found that I prefer a modified version of the Italian Herb Bread recipe for my daily bread. This recipe uses olive oil rather than butter, no dry milk, and less sugar. Take out the herbs and add in garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, and nutmeg – all in tiny quantities – and I find myself with a simple loaf that easily accompanies most meals.

Now that I have an easy confidence with loaves, it’s time to try the next step: dough. The user manual for my bread machine includes simple techniques for dough making so that I can try my first homemade croissant: my goal for next week.

Ahead at AppleJade: cold frames have returned to Jade’s house, vegetables are sprouting on the fridge, and affordable home improvements are being planned. I look forward to sharing more!

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Bread Machine Basics, Take One

Bread Machine Take One, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

For Christmas my mother provided me with an exciting kitchen tool: a bread machine.  (Thanks Mom!)

I’ve been trying to learn how to make breads and pastries for several years.  While I have finally mastered sauces, cookies, and many main course dishes, I seem to fail with most breads.  Perhaps it is because of my casual measuring methods.  Perhaps it’s my lacking upper-arm strength.  Ultimately, I’m inclined to believe that my real trouble with breads is that I haven’t had enough success to a) build confidence and b) understand the real mechanics of bread.

Mom knows I’ve been trying to learn to do things for myself in the kitchen, and most folks know that if there was ever a time to tighten the belt and save money, it’s now.  My goal with this new bread machine is to learn to successfully make homemade breads and other goodies that I would normally pay more to purchase prepared at the grocery store.

Shown here is my new ZOJIRUSHI Home Bake Supreme.  Mom knows her stuff:  this machine also makes jams, cake breads, sourdough starters, and bread doughs for pizza and such.  This morning under a dark 5am sky, I carefully combined the ingredients for a Basic White Bread in the prescribed order, and pushed “Start.”  This might not be the handmade, elbow-greased bread to which I ultimately aspire, but it’s a start.  Plus, my bread is being made while I get to work around the house… not a bad deal!

I’ll follow up to share my successes (or challenges) as I familiarize myself with my new bread machine.  Your comments and experiences are welcome!

Raw Potential

Gardening can benefit from a healthy combination of vision, creativity, and random surprise.  For me, gardening serves the dual purpose of helping me to discover things about myself while I slowly learn about the green world.  This summer I have been extracting my garden from weeds and tree sprouts.  In these pictures you can see what I’ve uncovered so far.  It may not look like much, but all I see is endless potential!

 

 

 

 

 

The strawberry harvest was excellent.  This small patch yielded about 2-3 cups of fruit for 3-4 weeks (making for some delicious, vitamin-packed margaritas!).  In a few more weeks the blackberries will begin to ripen, and I’m confident that I’ll have enough for pies and freezing.  I will relocate a few plants to increase my yields next year.

 

  

The herbs bring back a strong sense of nostalgia as they work their way back into my meals.  Certain herbs and spices remind me of places I have lived (and grown) or visited.  Lemon rosemary reminds me of Kitsap, Washington.  Greek oregano will probably always remind me of Chester County, PA.  I have already taken cuttings of the herbs so that they too can be relocated around the property.  I also found time to plant a couple tomatoes and an Anaheim chili pepper – I’ll show you what they’re doing next week.

 

While the wild plants had to be removed to make room for planted vegetables, I’ve made sure to leave many in place.  These wildflowers are an important attractant for bees and butterflies (and besides that, I like them).  The rest of the garden is slowly being cultivated into soft, open beds like the one you see here.  This is where I will be sowing seeds for cold-hearty plants which will likely survive the temperate Washington winter even outside of the coldframe.

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of cold frames, now that we have completed new gates for the garden, cold frames are the new weekend projects.  Stay tuned for diagrams, pictures, and step-by-step instructions for you to build you own cold frame in time for autumn and winter planting!

Forest Garden

Wild Daisies, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Our garden in Kitsap is a forest garden by nature (no pun intended).  Despite our three year absence in Philadelphia, our vegetable garden nestled in the Kitsap forests has persisted with chives, onions, thyme, mints, rosemary, strawberries, and other assorted flowers and herbs.  Thanks to the temperate Western Washington weather, these plants have patiently grown year-round without any tending from me.

In between my work I take every chance I can find to get out in the garden and extract the “garden plants” from the “weeds.”  Here in the forest, hemlocks and alders seed themselves readily among the vegetables.  I’ve been fortunate to find that several wild herbs I like have incorporated themselves into the beds including sorrel, red clover, and dandelion.

This July I will be sharing the view from my forest garden as I revitalize my own local food source.  I am in the process of reestablishing the beds in order to sow greens, late tomato starts, and herbs.  We will be building new cold frames, which will be a great opportunity for me to show you some step-by-step instructions for how we build ours from what materials we have available.  Finally, time permitting I will be sharing some simple ideas for drying, storing, and using herbs.

Green Blogging from the Evergreen State

Pink Columbine, May 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Greetings from the Emerald City!  I am settling in to the Pacific Northwest after enjoying a most excellent roadtrip from Philadelphia to Seattle.  I will resume blogging in June with a post frequency of 1 – 2 times per week on each blog: AppleJade, Arboreality, and Brainripples.

At AppleJade we will be discussing healthy, happy lifestyle through attitude, gardening, cooking, and simple, green living.

At Arboreality we will be exploring the woods of Western Washington and other localities within reasonable driving distance.

At Brainripples we will be sharing methods of creative exploration, successful approaches to working independently, and unique perspectives from featured artists.

You will also find me blogging at the Pennwriters Area 6 HQ, a new blog created as a resource for writers living in and around southeastern Pennsylvania.  I will be blogging with other Pennwriters about local news, events, information, and of course – writers!

If you are a writer in the Puget Sound Area (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Kitsap Peninsula, Bellingham) and would like to join my newly forming Seattle Pennwriters Critique Groups, please contact me for more information.

More to follow!

PS – Today’s image is of the columbine flowers still growing happily in my Washington gardens.

PPS – Please bear with me as I acclimate to the new WordPress interface, and please let me know when things don’t look *quite right*.

Simplify Your Life: Clean Your Home and Lose the Clutter

Spring Clean and Clear, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterHappy Spring, Northern Hemisphere (and Happy Autumn to the Southern Hemisphere)!  If the season has you looking for new, creative ways to make positive changes in your life and attitude, try a new approach: simplify.  Simplifying your life in small ways can have an enormous impact on your health and happiness.  Today I’d like to talk about how to simplify your life by reducing your wealth of material “stuff.”

Spring cleaning should not be limited to the dusty windows and the ceiling cobwebs.  Cleaning our homes can make us feel better by improving the quality of life in our living space.  Cleaning is also a great excuse to get up out of your chair and move around.  (Anyone who tries to say cleaning isn’t exercise has never properly scrubbed their bathroom.)

When you tackle your spring cleaning this year, I encourage you to get rid of some STUFF.  If you’re a pack rat, it’s easy to forget just how awesome it feels to downsize your materials things.  Take a look around your home: where do you see piles of “stuff” collecting?  What shelves, desks, drawers, corners, even rooms seem to be magnets for all things useless?  If you are in need of a lift, get rid of some stuff:

Donate – donate useable goods that you no longer use!  In the US I recommend The Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation.  You can make an appointment and they’ll bring a truck right to your curb.  Visit their website for more details about items they will accept.

Freecycle – useable goods that cannot be donated are still useful!  I’ve been Freecycling happily for three years.  It’s easy to do, and you can truly make someone’s day by sharing an item you no longer need.

Recycle – items which are no longer useable should first be recycled or composted wherever possible.  Seriously: get in your filing cabinets and decide how much of that old paperwork you really need.  (Remember to properly shred ALL items with personal information).

Trash – do not try to donate or Freecycle your trash: if it’s trash, trash it.  If you’ve got a major load, call 1 800 GOT JUNK.  They’ll come out and give you a no-obligation estimate for your load of “stuff”, and haul it away without you so much as glancing at a transfer station.  (Of course, if you grew up enjoying trips to the dump with Dad, you might want to save the fun for yourself.  It’s incredibly good for the soul to heave items into the dump.  If you think I’m joking, you really need to try it out for yourself).

Once your house has reduced, reused, and recycled, it’s time to rethink: take a breath and feel the difference in your home.  Acknowledge the change in your mindset about what you really NEED in your life, and what really brings you happiness.  Apparently, it was not all that stuff!

Now that you have removed the first layer of stuff, you will be able to see the next layer of things-you-don’t-need cluttering up your living space.  Give yourself a week to bask in the awesomeness of your newly-cleared home, and then if you’re feeling brave: repeat.

Spring Clean and Clear, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Spring Sun Fuels the Cold Frame

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIt may be too cold to sow seeds in the garden, but it’s the perfect time to be sowing the cold frame.  As spring approaches, the sun’s path rises; this gives more warming light which the cold frame is built to capture.

While these pictures may not look pretty, they are actually very exciting (ok, at least for me).  [Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge.]  What you can see here are the lettuce, mustard, onion, chive, and cilantro plants which have grown slowly throughout the winter.  Scattered around them are open patches of earth which I used to sow radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, onions, and cilantro.  As soon as we have another warm day, I’ll open up and take some pictures so you can see how big the radish and spinach sprouts have become!  The carrots seem shy – it may be too cold for them to germinate just now.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIn coming weeks I will remove the small, mature plants and place them out into the main garden where they can grow full-size.  Every time I pull out plants, I create open space in the cold frame.  Those new open spaces are where I sow the next succession of seeds.  This “succession planting” can continue every two weeks well into the summer, allowing me to have small, regularly maturing crops to feed us.

It’s taken me a while to get the hang of “succession planting.”  When I was first learning how to garden, I had no concept of succession planting, and happily unloaded entire seed packets into pots and garden spaces.  The result was a lot of wasted seed, and a whole bunch of plants that all matured at the same time.  Succession planting allows me to grow usable amounts of food that sustain us over the months.

We’ll be using a similar succession approach with the onions to keep a regular crop in stock.  Currently I’m germinating onions in the cold frame.  The seeds were sown close together in a small patch, and I expect to have slender onion sprouts in April or May.  At that point, the onions that overwintered in the garden will start to mature.  As I take out an onion or two for dinner each night, I’ll replace its empty seat with one of the young sprouts from the cold frame.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterAs you can see, life is busy in my garden, and it’s busy on my desk too.  I am the new Pennwriters Area 6 Representative for membership in southeastern Pennsylvania.  I will also be attending the Annual Pennwriters Conference this May in Lancaster, PA.  You will be able to find me blogging at AppleJade about once per week through March and April, and our focus will be in the garden.