Bread, yarn, German cuisine…and Nutella.

It does not seem like I last posted only two weeks ago. It seems like maybe six weeks ago. Staying at home…working from home…not leaving the house…all this seems to be playing with my sense of time. Which might not be a bad thing? I like routine, to be sure, and schedules are important so that I actually get things done, so I am so grateful to be able to work from home. But not having the same routine I’ve had for years is making me pay more attention to the detail of the overall shape of my day. It’s interesting.

In any case, I’m still on the Bread Experiment. Guys, I have baked some really awful bread. The first couple loaves were okay. The third loaf was pretty good. The fourth loaf had holes so large, not even cheese stayed on. There was more empty space than bread in that one. The fifth loaf was so bad, I think I’ve eaten maybe two slices from it, and it’s still on the counter and no one else has touched it. (It’s going out for the birds tomorrow.) And then….!

Yesterday, after a few days of No Bread and Extreme Frustration at Baking, I decided to try again. I had mixed some leaven the night before and I left it until late morning to use any of it for a new loaf. This time, I replaced 50g of AP flour with some coarse ground rye, because…I dunno. I’ve heard that rye is good at promoting starter growth, it’s got good microbial stuff. So, okay. I thought maybe this would help my dough and the finished crumb. The result was a very, very wet dough, because, I suspect, the rye didn’t absorb as much moisture as the AP flour, and I didn’t know this would happen because I am a Bread Baking Newbie. I stretched and folded, but not really according to any set schedule, just as I thought of it. And when about 7:00pm rolled around, I decided it was time to bake it. I very gently folded and shaped the loaf. OMG so carefully and gently. And because it was so very soft, I put it in a Dutch oven and ended up having to snip the dough with shears rather than score it. A razor blade won’t even do it. This dough was so wet, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to amount to an edible loaf at all.

BEHOLD! Pretty liquid-like dough. And the resulting loaf was not at all what I had expected. This time, the holes are small enough to not let much Nutella or brie drip through!

I tell you, I was so surprised. My housemates have practically showered me with compliments.

This is today’s loaf. So, because the last one was so wet and I have not been able to score any of the loaves properly even with a razor blade, I thought about adding more flour or reducing the water. For this one, I reduced the water by 50g, and boy was it dry. But this one was started last night with leaven I had started yesterday morning. I think I managed to stretch and fold once before bed (so. dry.), and then I just put it in the fridge until this morning. Miraculously, the dough was so much nicer and Not Dry. (Not sopping wet either, though.) Then, sometime this morning late, I started stretching and folding, again without any set schedule. I think there might have been an hour or so in between S&Fs, and after four times, I just stopped. About 4:30ish, I shaped it very gently, preheated the oven, and put it in the Dutch oven. Still unable to score it – argh! I wanted a firmer loaf so I could score it! Why is it not firm enough? – I snipped with kitchen shears and put it in to bake. Today’s loaf is on the left in the picture above, compared with yesterday’s loaf on the right. It’s a little lighter, but still looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? I suspect it’ll also be tangier due to the longer proofing time (overnight). The dough certainly smelled tangy when I put it in the oven.

The moral of the story is: neglected sourdough probably results in pretty good bread.

In other news, I am still spinning that grey fleece.

I plied those two bobbins I talked about last time. I have no idea how many yards I have – I still need to measure – but there’s a lot. I’m okay with how this turned out, except there’s a lot of energy in one of the skeins, which I think means I put too much twist in the singles. Sigh. Probably it’ll be fine, but the next two bobbins I’m spinning with slightly less twist in the hopes that the resulting yarn will be a bit fluffier – maybe not too fluffy because I want to weave with it. I think. (I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m mostly considering this fleece to be practice yarn. But we’ll see.)

The spinning guild is going up to the farm in Northfield where I got this fleece to get more fleeces in May, so I need to make ROOM.

I’ve been cooking, too! I don’t know why, but I wanted Spätzle so badly, and I wanted to share it with the house. I ate Käsespätzle so often when I lived in Germany. The noodles are available for basically pennies there, but the last time I looked, the same bag of noodles is sold here for $8 at the grocery store. The sad part is that it’s dead easy to make from scratch. SO EASY.

When I was in Germany last visiting my dear friends Eva and Martin, I asked Eva if she had a good recipe for Spätzle as I hadn’t made it before, and she ended up pressing a whole book of Spätzle recipes into my hands with the promise that I’d use it. I picked up a Spätzle press at the grocery store there, too.

Yup. So easy. So delicious. I cooked up a huge amount, and it was enjoyed by all. Of course, to be more authentic to my college days, I also opened a bottle of cheap red wine, and we all had a little with supper. (It was really awful wine – I mulled it later and it’s much improved as well as being without alcohol now. Woo!) Anyone who wants to know how to make Spätzle from scratch, let me know. I can send you a recipe, and if you’re nearby, we can get together and I’ll show you how it’s done (when we’re not all under quarantine, of course). These noodles were made with AP flour and duck eggs. I think I want to try it with a little semolina flour and put some fresh herbs in too. YUM.

And of course, I am making masks so that my housemates and I are as safe as we can be when we are out shopping for groceries. The New York Times had an article on which fabrics have been shown to be adequate. The suggestion was good quality quilter’s flannel and heavy quilting cotton. I chose batik – it’s a fairly high thread count, and it seemed to be the only cotton I had that (gulp, I hate to admit it) I felt I could sacrifice. (Yes, much of my cotton is earmarked for projects.)

Flannel on the left, batik and some other quilter’s cotton on the right.

I haven’t quite finished them yet. I still have a couple with the swirly green fabric and blue flannel to sew up. I did cut elastic for them, but I’m thinking I’ll just make bias strips and make ties.

But I’m trying not to think about making masks and why too much right now. The news as well as the certain level of ignorance and not-critical thinking in people online right now have made me angry, so I’m trying hard to spend a little while concentrating on crafty stuff. Stuff that makes me happier. And Nutella. There’s not a lot that chocolate + hazelnuts cannot help.

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I am prepared for so much bread in my life.

(I understand there are people who dislike hazelnuts and/or chocolate. I am not one of those people. Not even a little.)

How are you? What have you been making?

Definitely not bored.

So the seams of the world are starting to come apart. Things are weird, everyone agrees. We’re all living in a dystopian science fiction novel, and very probably, nothing will ever be the same. I am hoping there will be a silver lining for the United States when the worst is over: universal healthcare, better welfare, less emphasis on capitalism, more emphasis on helping everyone. We are all human and we are all in this together; this life on this planet.

But. That is not the topic for right now. Right now, I want to blather on about all the things I am doooooing! (Or trying to do.)

When it looked like the proverbial sh*t was going to hit the fan and the BossMan declared we should all work from home for the foreseeable future, I drove over to my friendly baker and asked for a cup of sourdough starter. The bakery is LOVELY and they want to encourage people to bake bread, because they’re makers and makers want to encourage other people to make. I also got 12 pounds of bread flour. I figured while I was working from home, I could also wait for bread dough to rise, and learn the ways of baking sourdough bread. (The crew at the bakery agreed this was a most noble cause.)

I’ve been eating a LOT of bread.

Behold the leaven made from the starter!

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This sat on the counter all night – 100g of it will be used to make the bread dough. IT’S ALIVE!!

My first loaf looked so promising right up until it came out of the oven…

So weirdly crooked. I have no idea why it does that – I’m still learning how to do this and what it all means.

Loaf #1 compared with loaf #2. The second loaf was baked at a slightly cooler temperature. I cut the first loaf right open as soon as it was cool. Lots of holes!

But, as oddly as I thought this bread looked, it tasted WONDERFUL. So, success! Of course, I kept going:

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Loaf #3. So. Tasty. And slightly denser, which holds in the Nutella more easily.

Today’s bread:

Which I had high hopes for! But, the oven was slightly too high, and it’s a lot darker than I wanted, and very tall. (No picture yet…) I’m positive it will taste wonderful. Positive.

I’m going to need more flour soon. This is very compatible with working from home. The schedule isn’t strict – I can get up and have a five minute break to go stretch and fold or shape a loaf.

So, a friend gave me the basic recipe, but she got it from the book Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, which was recommended to me by the baker at Henion Bakery in Amherst, MA. (Where you should totally go for all your bread and pastry needs!) I failed to get the book, and up until now, didn’t have the time/circumstance to learn about baking bread. My friend did – she was frustrated, so amassed knowledge and then practiced for a year. I will totally buy that book when I have the opportunity!

A few weeks ago, I was working on another project. It was cold, still below freezing at night and above freezing in the day. I have a bucket and spile, and there is a line of totally tappable maple trees in the front yard. Of course I tapped one. Of course, I totally forgot to take pictures of the bucket on the tree – it’s a big bucket.

It was bit complicated. For a week, I got a lot of sap – about 5 gallons – which I did not expect, and at the weekend, I started boiling. Twelve hours of boiling later, it was almost there, and I sat down to supper. Unfortunately, I should have stayed by the pot because I missed it by about 3 minutes. Smoke rose from the pot, it had cooked to just about the hard crack stage. People, if you’re boiling sap and you get down the the end, for goodness’ sake, stay by the pot and watch it. I had to throw it all out. But! I left the spile and bucket on the tree for another week, and amazingly got another two and a half gallons of sap. At the weekend, I boiled again.

I did stop short of actual syrup. It’s more like maple juice, and still in the fridge. I think this weekend, I’ll pour it back in a (smaller) pot and cook it down some more. Watching it very closely.

I also had supper with my dear neighbours from when I lived in Hatfield!! I miss them so, they are such kind people. And they have the most beautiful fish!! I got to see them in their huge tanks – they’re so beautiful, I’m awfully tempted to plan my own tank one day.

They’re discus fish, about 4″ across. Sooo beautiful.

Aaand, on with projects.

It’s spring, and my spinning guild has plans to visit at least two farms this year for fleeces. I still don’t have a single whole fleece spun up. So I’m determined to try to get as much of the two Shetland fleeces spun up as I can. The tendonitis is so much better and I can wield the combs again and spin.

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Lovely hand-combed Shetland top! Sooo soft!

Combing is slow because this fleece has some dandruff, and I’m having to brush it out first. Some bits are faster than others, but it’s mostly slow. However, the results are so wonderful to spin.

This is as of this morning! I’m planning on plying this weekend. Other crafty friends of mine and I were planning another Crafternoon – people show up at one of our houses, sit around with crafty projects to work on, eat snacks, and chat. Or just work on projects, sitting quietly working and not talking like a room full of cats. Well, in light of the corona virus, we can’t do that. But we can get together virtually, so a bunch of us are going to try it out with video chatting and see how that goes. I’m really looking forward to it.

I have been in the house for two weeks – my brother came down with something that was suspiciously like the symptoms of the corona virus about a week ago, and I had hung out with him a week before that, so I stayed home. It turned out that his oldest daughter had been sick with a different virus at college a couple of weeks before, but hadn’t said anything until just recently. So. I’m safe. And today was the last day of the two week quarantine anyway. Tomorrow, I am going to venture out for a few groceries and maybe try to get some stamps at the post office. Maybe not. Things are weird out there.

And finally, I realized that my ‘home office’ right now is pretty great. Here’s the view:

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Yep, it’s messy. But it’s full of sunlight and craftiness! The only thing that’s missing is the pot of tea. I had drunk that earlier.

I have heard many people say that they are bored in their self-isolation at home. This is not a thing I can relate to. If anything, I no longer have to commute anywhere, so I have nearly a whole extra two hours in the day that I can devote to practicing cello or gamba, or I can work on weaving, spinning, drawing, baking, sewing, etc etc. It’s wonderful!

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Part of this month’s practicing for cello!

I hope you all are well and that you stay well.

Stay home! Knitting/spinning/weaving/baking/reading can help save lives.