Saturday, March 30, 2013

Heralds of Spring

It's here.  Spring has arrived!  And perhaps best of all, we've had two (count 'em, two) days of sunshine in which to enjoy the blooming bulbs, shrubs and trees.

I have big pots on my deck and each year I plant them with daffodils and tulips.  The daffs are in their full glory right now and the tulips are preparing to take over in a week to ten days or so.  I love the exuberance of these reliable spring bloomers.

Grape hyacinths are another favorite of mine.  They are such a bright, happy blue.

This is the lone tulip that is blooming now.  Many more will follow.

One of the flowering cherry trees in the front yard is blooming now.  It's pretty, but the later bloomer is my favorite.  I don't know why, exactly, but is just seems more, somehow.

This gorgeous pot of primroses was a birthday gift from a dear friend.  It just keeps putting out flowers and color.

My hellebores are still going strong.  They are the first perennial in my garden to bloom each year, usually the second week in January.

And who can resist the vibrancy of flowering quince, made even more astounding by the flowers popping open on (mostly) bare wood stems.  I have a large quince in the mixed hedge that separates my front garden from the property to the west.  It always brightens up the whole front of the yard.

The bridal veil shrub is just beginning to flower.  Soon it will be a solid mass of these teeny tiny white five petaled stars.  It, too, is in the mixed hedge.  In full bloom it is a thing of wonder.

How is spring progressing at your house, Dear Reader?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sour Dough

my home made sourdough starter

I kept reading about a no-knead bread recipe on the web and I finally thought I'd give it a try.  I initially used the recipe I found on the Fabulous Beekman Boys website.  It was pretty good, but not exactly what I was hoping for.

this is what the dough looks like when you mix it up

I decided that I wanted the bread to be a sourdough so I started looking for a recipe on the web for making my own sour dough starter.  I found this one and tried it.  It worked beautifully and now I have a batch of my homemade starter in the refrigerator, waiting to be used.  I used half whole wheat flour and half bread flour when I made the starter.

this is what it looks like when it is starting its second rise
 I use one cup of my sourdough starter and 1/4 tsp. of King Arthur yeast in my bread recipe.  I mix up the flour I use depending on my mood.  Sometimes it's all whole wheat, sometimes all bread flour or sometimes some of each.  I haven't (yet) tried it with rye flour, but I don't think that would be a problem if you wanted to try it.  This recipe is so darn easy and makes a nice, crusty loaf.

I love the Harvest Grains mix that I purchase from King Arthur Flour.  I add a couple of handfuls to the bread when I mix it up, and I put a sprinkling on top of the bread when it is doing its second rise.  I don't even bother with egg wash or water to hold it to the dough.  By going through the second rise the mix of seeds seems to stick well enough to suit me.

It makes a really lovely loaf.  My DH and I love it and since I started making it, we haven't purchased any store-bought bread!  This suits us just fine.

My Recipe for the Lazy, No-Knead Sourdough Bread

1 c. sourdough starter
3 c. bread flour (mix it up if you wish or use all of one kind)
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water
several handfuls of Harvest Grains, if using

Mix all ingredients together  in a large bowl until the all the flour is mixed into the dough.  It will be quite a wet dough.  You do not knead.  You do not fuss.  You just mix it up well and call it good enough.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap, leaving a bit of the wrap open so the bread can breath.  You can put it in the refrigerator over night to rise.  You can leave it on the counter to rise.  What you need is for the bread to rise at least for 6 hours.  It may not double in size, depending on the type of flour you use and the temperature in your kitchen.  Sometimes mine doubles, sometimes not.  But I always let it rise for at least 6 plus hours.  (If it gets too big too soon, put it in the refrigerator until the six hours has passed.  It needs to rise that long.)

Once it has finished the first rise, get a nice piece of parchment paper and sprinkle on some flour and some corn meal.  Have handy a bowl to put the dough in for the second rise.  This bowl should be approximately the same size as the Dutch oven you will use to bake the bread in.

Let the dough fall onto the prepared parchment paper.  Fold the dough over on itself by lifting the parchment paper from each side.  (Lift the left side and fold the dough over about halfway on top of the dough.  Then lift the right side over onto the dough.)  Turn the parchment paper 90 degrees and fold both of the other two sides onto the dough.  Now comes the only tricky part of the whole procedure---pickup the mound of dough and turn it over and sort of pat (squish) it into a roundish mound.  Pick up the parchment paper and place the dough AND the paper into the bowl you have placed near by.  Add the Harvest Grains, if using, to the top of the dough.

Let the dough rise for 2 hours, uncovered.  At the 90 minute mark, turn your oven to 450 degrees F. and heat the Dutch oven, with the lid, in the oven for the full 30 minutes.  Once the oven is blisteringly hot and the dough has had a two hour rise, CAREFULLY* place the dough, parchment paper and all, into the Dutch oven and put the lid on.  Place the Dutch oven CAREFULLY in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove the lid CAREFULLY and bake the bread for another 7 to 12 minutes, until it turns a nice deep golden brown color.  CAREFULLY remove the Dutch oven from the oven and CAREFULLY remove the bread from the Dutch oven.  Check by tapping on the bottom of the loaf to see if it sounds hollow.  If so, it's done.  Cool completely on a rack.

Everyone tells you not to cut into a hot loaf of bread.  I am telling you not to cut into a hot loaf of bread.  But you will, anyway.  I do.  It just smells so gooooood.  And it tastes so good and butter melts into it so beautifully.  Anyway, store it in a ziplock bag with all the air squished out.  The loaf makes great toast.  It keeps well.


*Trust me.  Be careful---I have the burn to show for being careless.  Please don't burn yourself!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Indigo Journal

detail of front cover
 I attended the Artful Journey retreat at the beginning of March in Los Gatos, California.  It was held at the Preservation Center and the class I took was taught by D. J. Pettitt.

D.J. makes the most beautiful journals of paper and fabric in a method she devised.  She led us in making a journal of our own over the three days of class.  I had a wonderful time and was very pleased with the result, a journal made with some of my (many!!!) Japanese indigo fabrics and other bits and pieces I had picked up here and there.

front cover with photo I took in Japan
The book is small, only measuring about 5 by 7 inches.  It has three signatures, each containing  5 pages.
 The little journal has an open spine, which allowed me to show the signature "wraps" I did, featuring more of the Japanese indigo that I love.

signature wraps 
I use several indigo dyed moons that I purchased from Shibori Girl.  Glennis does some truly stunning indigo dying and I was very happy to finally have a place to show off several of the moons I have collected from her.  If you, too, like these indigo moons, be sure to check out Shibori Girl's shop.  She sometimes has them for sale there, if they haven't sold out the instant she lists them!

full "moon" page

detail of back inside cover
I created the moon for the inside back cover from a method I learned from one of Jude Hill's online classes.  Jude does beautiful hand stitching and her online classes are great.

page detail
I had fun using my little $50 sewing machine to stitch the pages together to their "hinge" and to do a little decorating of the paper.

back cover
The back cover technique was also something I learned in one of Jude Hill's online classes.  It's a woven patchwork of indigo and other fabrics.  I think there is a sky dyed fabric there that is also from Shibori Girl.

I am very happy with the outcome.  This little book is just what I'd hoped for and D. J. made it easy.  If you ever get a chance to take a class from D. J. Pettitt, be sure to do so!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Great Big Sea Kicks Off My Birthday

My favorite Canadian band rolled into Seattle for my birthday eve.  I've had tickets forever.  You know, they were well worth the wait!  I just love Great Big Sea.  Love, love, love 'em.

GBS is celebrating their twentieth anniversary with a tour and Seattle was the second stop.  It was a grand night with lots of my favorites played, including Charlie Horse, which I didn't expect.

Alan Doyle
Sean McCann
Bob Hallett
Oh those dear lads sang their hearts out.  They told funny stories.  They had the house up on their feet, singing, dancing and begging for more.  And all, she said modestly, to start off my birthday celebration!
"Oh," you say, "really?  Just for you?  They came to town to entertain just for you???"

Well, yes.  I do believe that they did.  I mean, honestly, I can't think of anything better to start my birthday season than a GBS concert.  (Okay, I can think of one other person who could adequately entertain for my birthday, but that's another post....initials BS!)  So, YES, they came just to give the start of my natal day anniversary a big send off.  And they did, they really did.

It was a great show.  And a great birthday.

Thanks, lads.