Thursday, July 21, 2011

A sick chicken, some happy creative news, and the carbohydrate that changed my life.

I live in the tiny town of Lutz, Florida.   It is a speck on the map just north of Tampa and parts of it still retain that "old Florida" charm---cypress trees and palmettos....Spanish moss and armadillos...dense tropical foliage and sunshine, lakes aplenty and gators, too.  Of course, developers have left their mark and the city's proximity to Tampa means that other parts of Lutz resemble the Florida that  you see on TV --- swimming pools, traffic congestion, mickey mouse, stucco homes, more mickey mouse, and sunburn.  I am lucky to reside in a  semi rural neighborhood that has managed to hold on to the Old Florida Cracker ambiance, newly constructed McMansions only occasionally dotting the landscape.  We have a quirky little house filled with dogs, cats, and chickens.  Lots of chickens.   I made my foray into chicken husbandry about five years ago and it has been a joyful arrangement.  I give them food and shelter, they give me breakfast and giggles. 

...but now one of the little guys is sick. 

It is a young one...I think it might be a rooster.  Three weeks ago I went into the coop and noticed that he was hiding, which is unusual.  I went over to pick him up and he didn't run away.  Uh Oh!  Chickens pass disease amongst the flock very quickly, so I immediately put him in a cage and quarantined him on our back porch.   I have googled his symptoms and come up empty, so I am feeding him and babying him, hoping for the best.  There has been some improvement but he is clearly not ready to go back with his buddies.  He is still bedraggled and struggling.
Poor pathetic thing!  When I give him some "yard time" to stretch his legs he immediately goes over to the coop and stands there looking wistfully at the flock.  Maybe next week, little fella!


On the creative front, I am beyond excited...Carol Cypher will be coming to Urban Stitch Studio from November 11-13, 2011!   Carol is an incredibly talented bead and fiber artist whose work is at its most delightful when she combines the two.  Her books are legendary and I have well thumbed copies of all of them sitting on my shelf.  She is the author of Mastering Beadwork:  A Comprehensive Guide to Off Loom Techniques , How We Felt , and Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads.  Carol is a teacher of international renown and I am 'jump up and down thrilled' to bring her to town.  I have picked out five workshops...some beading, some felting, and some a yummy combination of the two.  More details to follow!

...and now, without further ado, the topic you really want to hear about....

The carbohydrate that changed my life.


I have a recipe that has impacted my life and the lives of those I love in such a way that I simply have to share the joy.  I like to cook and I love to bake, but until recently I have never mastered the art of bread making.  Although I have no difficulty with "cakey" recipes like banana bread, all of  my attempts at real bread fell flat.  Literally.  I longed for the deliciously crunchy, decadently doughy,  mouthwatering bread that one devours at good restaurants. 

I did it!!!  I found a recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and started practicing.  I tweaked the basic recipe a bit and am thrilled with the results.  The totally cool thing is---you make the dough recipe in five minutes, let it sit in a plastic container for a few hours to rise, throw it in the refrigerator and you have enough bread for four meals!  The only caveat:  you MUST have a baking stone and a pizza peel.   You cannot substitute a cookie sheet.  I got mine from William-Sonoma.  You will spend about $75 but it is so worth it.  Your kids will be amazed, your husband will think you are brilliant, and your dinner guests will be dazzled.

Here is my adaptation:

Artisan Bread Recipe

3 cups of hot water (I just use hot water from my tap)
6 1/2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Sea Salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Sugar
Garlic (fresh or powdered)
Extra Sea Salt for sprinkling
Corn meal
Now for the fun part:

Making the Dough:

1.  Pour the yeast into the hot water and stir to dissolve.  Sort of dissolved is OK.
2.  Put the Flour, Salt and Sugar into an electric mixing bowl.  Add the yeast water.  Mix together for a minute...just until combined.
3.  The mixture will be very gooey.  Wet your hands and scoop the sticky dough out and into a large-ish plastic container with a lid.  I use a plastic shoe box that I bought from Target. Put the lid on lightly, and leave the box on the counter for a few hours.  The bread will rise to the top of the box.  Put it in the refrigerator.  It will last up to a week in the refrigerator, although we have never had a problem polishing it off before that point.

Baking the Bread:
1. About an hour before you plan to eat dinner, get out your pizza peel and sprinkle it very liberally with corn meal. 
2.  Go to the refrigerator and take a hunk of dough from your plastic container.  Massage it a bit in your hands by folding the dough in on itself.  I do this for about thirty will feel the dough "tighten up."  
3.  Place the Hunk O' Dough on the pizza peel and put it  on the counter.
4.  Put the baking stone in the oven.  I use the rack in the middle, or one step above.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5.  Go do a load of laundry or read the paper.  The stone needs to heat for 20 to 30 minutes and the bread needs to rise.  There is some latitude here...I have let the bread sit for as long as an hour.
6.  Take a serrated knife and make some cross slits into the  top of the dough.  Sprinkle with garlic and sea salt.  
7.  Slide the bread onto the baking stone.  It will slide very easily if you have used enough corn meal.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Try it!  It will be an epic win!
I will be giving away a copy of the book that inspired the recipe in a random drawing on August 18.  Simply comment on any post between now and then and your name will be entered into the drawing.   

Good luck!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Estate Sale Goodness

Estate sales can be a mixed bag for a whole lot of reasons.  I tend to get a little melancholy as I wander through the bones of  an anonymous life.  It can a bit weird to paw over the books, clothing and knick-knacks of a stranger.  It is almost too intimate --- an oddly voyeuristic peak into the  life of someone who has recently been laid to rest or has taken up residence in a nursing home.

I always try to get a read on the home and its history as I walk through the door.  Some are filled with the loneliness and isolation that can be old age in America---spartan furnishings, a dusty walker in the corner, a new-ish wheelchair folder against a wall,  and a stale and medicinal smell that hangs like a cloud.  This is where the "melancholy" part comes in....these sorts of sales are always sad and poignant-- barren and devoid of personality.  No cosmic footprint, as it were.

Others tell a joyful story of a life well lived and make me wish that I had the opportunity to know the owner.    I hit the jackpot this past week-end!  The house was a tiny little thing in a not so nice neighborhood.  If it had ever seen better days, those days were long gone.  I wasn't sure I even wanted to waste my time going in.  The estate sale had been going on for days and it was set to close in 20 minutes--I figured that anything worth getting would have already "been got".  

I double checked the ad and noticed that it mentioned "sewing supplies."   Decision made. I am a SUCKER for vintage sewing supplies, so I took a chance.  I am so glad!  The house felt happy and I probably would have liked the lady who lived there.   She had cookbooks and craft supplies EVERYWHERE!

There was a pile of vintage baby clothes that tempted me---so very sweet and tiny.  I have boxes of baby/toddler/kid clothes that belonged to my own children, so I felt a connection.  While wandering through the house I found several treasures:  a vintage child's chalkboard, some killer fabric from the 1970's, and an adjustable sewing mannequin (snagged it for only $15!!!).  It was a nice haul and I was not at all surprised to see that the mannequin was already set to my measurements.  Sometimes things happen just the way they are supposed to----the home had wonderful energy.

Once I got home I  snipped off a tiny piece of the brown and turquoise fabric to embellish a cuff bracelet that I am working on---a bit of crafty homage to the owner of that smiling  little house on the sad street.   I like to think that she would appreciate knowing that her stuff  had moved on to happy and creative place.  I hope that she has transitioned to a happy and creative place, as well.