Category Archives: Photography

Don’t Let Your Sweetie Read this Blog Post

Some of you have guessed what I’m up to today, and some haven’t quite yet.  Maybe you don’t care?  After noticing that we were out of bread this morning, I opted to make some and show you how it’s done.  Making bread is the greatest cooking skill you can learn.  It meets all my criteria:

1.  It looks hard but it isn’t.

2.  People are impressed by it.  “Wow!  This is homemade?”  I sort of love that.

3.  My family loves it.

What do you need to have to make bread?  Not much, really.  In most cases, a bread machine is a completely worthless appliance (which I remind myself of every time I think about getting one).  You need a mixer, a spoon, cookie sheets or bread pans and an oven.  Nothing fancy at all.  However, I do have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and it makes things much easier than the days when I did it with a hand mixer.

The ingredients are simple and readily available.  Flour, most recipes call for All Purpose, which is fine.  I use bread flour because it makes me feel smart.  Whole wheat bread calls for whole wheat flour.  Yeast, liquid (water or milk), butter or shortening, and this whole wheat recipe called for brown sugar.

Get yourself a cookbook like this one:

Comprehensive, clear easy-to-follow recipes, well illustrated.  I challenge you to find an omission of a basic dish from this bad boy.  I like the ring-bound, tabbed version because it lays flat on a counter and the tabs make it easy to find the section of the book your desired recipe is in.  I commonly give this book as a wedding gift.

See?  That’s your recipe right there.  Don’t steal it.  Buy the book.    As you can see, it’s 7 ingredients long.  Simple.

Now I’m going to digress for a minute and explain some things.  First, remember yeast is alive.  It’s dormant, but alive.  It is heat-activated, but too much heat will kill it and your bread will become a rock. Second, I believe a common bread making mistake is overdoing the flour.  Be careful.  The amount of flour is listed as a range for a reason.  It depends on humidity among other things.  Your dough should be sticky or again, your bread will be a rock.  Or a brick, if you prefer.

Let’s begin.  I always begin by getting every single ingredient positioned at my fingertips before I start anything!  I’ve learned this the hard way.  Nothing is less fun as a baker than getting 2/3 of the way through a recipe and realizing you’re out of salt or something similar.  Remember cooking is chemistry and every ingredient matters.  Especially in baking.  Salt is another leavening agent as well as a flavoring agent.  So are baking soda and powder.  They cannot be omitted but it is possible to substitute in some cases.

Most recipes have you mix the flour and yeast and set it aside.  When I measure flour, I stir it up with a knife first and lightly fill the cup.  Then tap the top of the measuring cup with the flat side of a butter knife and scrape it off so it’s level.  Be precise and you’ll thank me later.

Next we turn our focus to the liquids.  Pay attention to the recipe when it tells you how hot the liquid should be when you add it to the dry ingredients mixture.  Any hotter and your yeast will die.  Not hot enough, it doesn’t wake up and make your bread rise.  I’d suggest a candy thermometer.  I don’t own one so I use a meat thermometer.  Don’t judge.

 

 

Stir your liquids a little bit to help the butter melt, but understand that your butter isn’t melting all the way in the pan.  Temperature is what you care about here.

Like I said, don’t judge the meat thermometer.  Make sure your thermometer isn’t touching the bottom of the pan.  You’ll get a false reading.  Once you’ve had a little practice, you’ll be able to guesstimate with your finger.  But get some practice first.

Now it’s time for the mixer.  Did I mention how much I love my mixer?  Add the liquid all at once, mix on low for 30 seconds and high for three minutes.

Isn’t it pretty?  Notice I use a paddle here but you can use the dough hook the entire time.  My baker friend says it makes no difference.

This is a dough hook:

Here is the point at which I divert from the directions.  I have a stand mixer and I will add the flour in increments  to the mixer bowl with the dough hook rather than stirring by hand.  It’s just easier.  If you use a hand mixer, I don’t recommend this approach.  Work it in with a spoon about a half cup at a time.  When you’re ready to start hand kneading it will look like this:

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it’s still pretty sticky.  It will stick to your fingers more than you’d like, maybe.  I like getting messy 😉

Throw some flour on your clean countertop. Not a lot.  Quarter cup maybe?  Remember, too much flour = BAD.

 

 

Now it’s time for some therapy kneading the bread.  As you knead, work in the flour a little at a time.  Sprinkle a little flour on your dough sponge if you need to.

But take it easy!  Your dough will still be sticky when it’s been kneaded enough.  It will feel moist, but not stick to your hands.  Once it stops sticking to your fingers, stop adding flour.  Knead it for about six to eight minutes total.  It’s fun.  Trust me.  I kind of use the kneading process to get the flour off the countertop.  As you can see in this picture.

Then drop your sponge in a large bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled.  Cover it with a warm towel and let it rise until it doubles.  Some folks recommend a flat sided vessel so you can easily tell when it’s doubled.  This is a great idea, but I don’t own one large enough.  I should save an ice cream bucket!  Other folks like to rise it inside the oven to keep it warmer.  Put a bowl of water in the oven with it if you choose this option.  It keeps your dough moist.  (I preheat the oven for a few minutes and then shut it off and let it cool most of the way back down because my kitchen tends to be cool).  The oven should be barely warm.  Think warm summer day, not sauna.

Once your dough sponge doubles in size,  punch it down and follow your recipe’s directions for resting and shaping the loaves.  Put them into loaf pans and allow to double again.

When they’re double, pop them in the oven.    Bake them as directed until you tap the top and they sound hollow.  Enjoy the way your house smells while the bread bakes.  Yummy!

Finished bread looks like this:

Cool it on a wire rack hidden from your children or it will disappear in under ten minutes.

Now, don’t tell your sweetie/roommate/spouse know that you’ve had this little lesson or homemade bread will become a need in your house.  Unless you want it to.  Then have them learn too!  Remember, it looks hard.  It’s not.  I did it!

 

Meet My New Nemesis

A little over a month ago, I lost my best friend.  His passing left holes everywhere in our family.  None more deep than in his life partner of nearly 9 years, Maddie.  She was lost.  Stopped eating.  Listless.  We determined that she needed a friend of the c hevariety.

Serendipity showed up, or so we thought, when we spotted this guy at the local animal shelter:

Oh, wait.  That’s his back half.  Let’s try again.

Getting closer.  Turns out the trick to dog photography is spinning in circles in the kitchen.

Meet Bucky,  age indeterminate, Brittany (we think) Spaniel or Spaniel Mix.  His age is somewhere between 2 and 4, we think.  My niece, the vet tech says 1-2 and the vet says 4-5 but he acts like a younger dog.

Some of his endearing qualities:

Chewing socks

Chewing legos and k’nex

Foraging in the litter box

Foraging in the trash

Ditto for the dishwasher

He doesn’t know sit, down, off or his own name.

His best feature is that he “rabbits” which means that if he gets the chance, he will be out the door and off like a rocket!  He is very fast!  Before you know it, he is long gone.  Even the morning after he was neutered, he took a neighborhood run.

Yesterday, Squidward met him for the first time and left the door open a little too long when he left.  AND HE’S OFF!

Cue the routine, hop in the UAV and drive through the neighborhood.  Squidward calls to inform me that Bucky left the neighborhood through a construction gate. F*ck.  We’re surrounded by training areas here.  Heavily wooded training areas.  Hand the Emperor a leash and tell him to keep looking.  I go out and pick up Squidward and he indicates the direction of my wayward dog.  Wonderful.  Training area.   So I drive around in the area I typically walk for training except I take a left into the heart of the training area.  In my UAV which has new tires but is traditionally terrible in snow.  Based on daily trends yesterday, I expect to get stuck and have to go get my truck (without my DH who is out of town visiting the land where hope goes to die) to pull my stupid self out of the snow because of this damn dog.  Then I take a left instead of a right and am fully off-road.  Still. No. Bucky.

Thankfully, when Squidward left, he came across our wayward hound running down the road (yes, I am grateful for a rural environment) and, with help from one of DH’s troops was able to capture and return him to our house.  He is safe and well.  We are working on training and consistency and finding ways to burn off his excess energy so the running stops.  Anyone every use a dog backpack?  The book I am reading says for medium and large dogs it is a must.    I had never heard of such a thing but it makes sense.  The extra weight tires them out more when you walk them and it gives the dog a sense that he has a job so it makes him happier.  It would seem that wearing him out is my new fitness plan.

But check it:

 

I made those tracks through fresh snow.  Because I am a bad ass.  And I love my stupid dog.

 

Sony Cybershot Product Review

I recently felt the need to replace my point-and-shoot with a smaller, more user-friendly model.  I love my DSLR, but the bulk of my old point and shoot made it hard to accomplish my goal of always having a camera handy.  While in Hawaii, I got a chance to see some fantastic photos taken by an older version of the Sony Cybershot 16.1 MP Digital camera.  So, I set out to make this little baby my own.

DH and I skipped Christmas  and Anniversary presents for the most part and he wanted me to treat myself to something from my wishlist after the new year.  We had recently replaced cell phones so when the gift cards came for the rebates, I saw my opportunity (here’s a tip:  Take the Visa gift cards and use them to purchase Amazon.com cards so you won’t have to worry about an unused balance) and placed the order.

In a nutshell, I LOVE this camera.  It’s very small.  Smaller than an iPod and less than an inch thick so it definitely fits in pocket or purse with ease.  I will never miss a photo opportunity again!  Hopefully.  At 16.1 MegaPixels, I can print photos in any size I can foresee wanting or needing to print.  This is my first point-and-shoot with a rechargeable battery which makes me very happy.  I am hopeful that the battery life will get me through the 3Day next year but the charger is super compact (no cord!) so it is packable.  The image stabilization feature is a must for me and the 5x Zoom helps me reach out and touch what I’m photographing.   The iAuto function does a fantastic job adjusting the settings to match the subject and lighting.

I have only had this camera about 24 hours so there is a lot more for me to learn but with the crisp photos I’ve taken so far and the fact that I can also shoot video in HD, this little camera is my new handy sidekick.  The feature I’m playing with the most right now is the option to shoot panoramic photos like this one:

I wish I’d have had this in Hawaii!

 

Disclosure:  I did not receive any payment or product in exchange for this review.  This is simply my opinion on a product I recently purchased.

Deep Breaths…

Yesterday, I promised you “Before” pictures of my house.  Today, I find that I am very hesitant to post them.  But here goes.

I know, right?  Here I am this Lean expert with a house that looks like a war zone.  This is what kids, dogs, a husband with lots of gear, too many hobbies among too many people and depression do to your lean state.  I am thankful that I have hit the tipping point.

This clutter is not healthy so it will not fit in 2012.  As I said yesterday, I’m dedicating 20 minutes a day to clutter-busting.  Because I want my bedroom to be a sanctuary, I am starting in there.

Here are the rules:

Gather your necessary supplies:  Cleaners, rags, trash bags, Goodwill box.

Set the timer for 20 minutes.  No more, no less.  This is focused time spent clutter busting.

Find a  place for everything and put everything in it’s place.

If it does not belong in that room, put it away in the room where it belongs.

If you don’t like it/wear it/ use it then toss it in the garbage or Goodwill box with no regrets.

Stop after 20 minutes and enjoy your success.

That being said, I am off to spend 20 minutes in my bedroom.  After pictures coming soon!

 

Don’t forget about the Gratitude giveaway I’m doing in partnership with Grammarly!  Which of my readers will win a $? Gift Card to spend at Amazon.com?