We finally started getting some of our winter snow. It started yesterday morning, and it’s been snowing pretty hard ever since then. By midnight yesterday we’d gotten an inch and a half, according to the Weather Service, and I’d guess we now have four to five inches on the ground.
Earlier in the year we went to a garage sale and scored a snow thrower for cheap. Today was my first opportunity to see if it actually worked. As promised, it started right up, and did a great job moving snow around. Unfortunately, the snow isn’t packed down much at all, and so it was perfectly happy to pick up and fling frozen dirt and gravel from the driveway. I think it might be a good idea to drive on top of the snow for awhile, and start using the snow thrower once there’s a better base underneath it.
The water delivery guy said that he used to “plow” his two mile long driveway by running his snow thrower out on one tire track, and then back on the other track. Driving over the cleared areas caused the berm in the middle to get spread out evenly over the driveway, resulting in a nice flat surface. I doubt if I’m going to go the 1.2 miles from our house to the nearest plowed road, but I might try this on the worst section of it. Or the worst section of it that’s close to our house, since there are so many bad areas…
Nika enjoys hanging out in the snow, and since she’s black, she’s really good at demonstrating how hard it’s snowing outside. This isn’t the greatest photograph, since I took it through the sliding glass door, but after I let her in, I was just about to snap a photo when she shook all the snow off on my slippers. Thanks Nika!
Earlier Nika was out in the dog yard with Deuce, barking up a storm near the dog shed. It was starting to get dark, so I couldn’t really see what she was barking at. I wanted a beer anyway, so I got my boots on for a walk out to the red cabin. About a quarter of the way out there I heard a strange screeching noise. At first I thought maybe it was moose antlers rubbing on metal behind the dog shed, but when I looked where the sound came from I saw a great big bird in the birch tree behind the sheds. Raven? Then it turned it’s head, looked at me and started moving it’s head up and down, back and forth, probably trying to figure out what I was.
The photo is pretty bad, but it’s a great horned owl. Honest! The camera has an ISO adjustment feature, which might have helped a bit, but I didn’t want to mess around with the settings too much in case it flew away. I snapped a couple photos and then watched it through my binoculars. After a couple minutes of looking around, it saw something over by the red cabin and flew over there.
I’d heard great horned owls calling at our old house, and thought I heard one here a week ago, but seeing one so close to the house was a real treat.
Meanwhile, Piper wanted out to see what Nika had been barking at. When I came back in to listen to the Rockies game (the wheels seem to be coming off for the Diamondbacks), you can see her petition to go outside in the photo. She can be very cute.
Not getting tired of cooking food on the wood stove yet, and I’m not tired of showing you how cool it is either…
In addition to baking some bread from Reinhart’s whole grain bread book (see my review here), I finally got around to dealing with the cabbage we grew in our garden at the old house. We planted ten plants and all of them produced, but the cabbages weren’t all that large (“bigger than a softball, smaller than a bowling ball”). Today I chopped them up, salted and pressed them into what will become sauerkraut in a couple months. Last year’s sauerkraut was a little mild, so I’ll let it go longer this year. The glass container holds a gallon, and it’s about 80% full with this year’s production. Not bad, and probably as much sauerkraut as I’ll be able to eat this year. If it comes out OK, I may need to investigate corning the brisket from our side of Delta beef.
Thinking of Reuben sandwiches on homemade whole grain rye bread. Mmm…
For the past couple weekends I’ve been taking Nika out on the trails around our house. We did this a lot when she was a puppy, but our previous house was in too much of a neighborhood and there weren’t any trails to speak of for us to walk on. But now that we’re in the middle of nowhere, she can run around like a crazy dog again. Concerns include her running off (obviously), but also the possibility that she’d encounter a trapline and get herself stuck in a trap. But she’s always been very good, staying close by, and coming when she’s called. Unless there’s a moose to chase…
Today I tried taking Piper out with us to see how she did. Nika was her usual good self, and I was pleasantly surprised at how close Piper stuck to me. There was one point when she disappeared for longer than I would have liked, but she came back and stayed close since. There were snowshoe hare and red fox tracks all over the place, so she probably got caught up following a scent or chasing one of the around. Next trip out I’ll probably keep a pocketful of treats and try to reinforce the idea that being near me is a good thing.
All that running around did Piper some good too, as you can see from the second, after photo:
A couple weeks ago I finished reading Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, and baked my first loaf. I chose the whole wheat sandwich loaf even though I much prefer hearth breads because it was the teaching recipe that all the other recipes are based on. The bread was fantastic; sweet, not too dry, and with a lot of wheat flavor. And, best of all for a homemade sandwich bread, it lasted until Friday without losing any of it’s flavor or character.
I have also made the whole wheat pizza dough twice, and it’s equally good. Our previous dough recipe was Cook Illustrated’s 75-minute pizza dough, which tastes pretty good, and has sufficient gluten development to form a pizza crust, but once it’s baked with sauce, toppings and cheese, it’s not really strong enough to handle picking up the slices. The whole wheat dough was sturdy enough, and again, it had the same sweet wheat flavor and nice texture as the sandwich loaf. The recipe in the book makes five individual pizzas, which was more dough that I needed for a single large pizza (I reduced the recipe by 25% the second time around and it was perfect) so I used the leftover dough the next day to bake a small loaf in the wood stove oven. The oven was around 425°F, which is a little hotter than the baking temperatures in the book, and I should have rotated the loaf half-way through because the oven heat isn’t very even, but the loaf came out great.
Since then I’ve made whole wheat hearth bread, which was tasty, but lost some of it’s height when I transferred it to the baking stone (I’ve got a Super Peel coming, which should help with this problem), and oat bran broom bread. Both came out great tasting with excellent crumb, and still had great texture and flavors when I finished the loaf.
The method used in almost all the breads in the book is different than any of the techniques I’ve seen in other books. Most quality breads have a long pre-ferment, either using sourdough or a lightly yeasted dough that rises slowly overnight and is mixed in on baking day, and usually feature low amounts of yeast which require long several-stage fermentation on baking day to develop gluten and the yeast. Reinhart’s method for developing the dough is to use a lightly yeasted pre-ferment as in the other recipes, plus an soaker that rests overnight at room temperature. These two doughs form the majority of the final dough. They’re mixed on baking day with the rest of the ingredients, and a relatively large amount of yeast. Since the flavors and structure has already been developed in the two overnight doughs, there’s no reason for a long fermentation on baking day. The technique also works wonders on whole grain flours, which can result in dense loaves in traditional recipes.
The result is bread with all the flavor and keeping potential of traditional recipes but you can use much higher percentages (like 100%) of whole grain flours with greater confidence that the bread will turn out, and best of all, baking day becomes a two hour process, rather than a four to six hour, multiple stage, slow fermentation procedure. I’m not going to abandon my other bread books, but it’s great to have more techniques at my disposal when deciding what kind of bread to make. And Reinhart can be commended for all the research and testing he did to develop the methods in this book.
I highly recommend Whole Grain Breads to anyone who is really interested in bread baking, especially if you’re ready to jump onto the whole grain bandwagon.