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Sometimes, you look up from your desk and see such beauty outside your window that you have to stop what you are doing and just admire it. Admire and be in awe of how beautiful the world around you really is and how small you really are in comparison.
This was today’s sunset. It was breathtaking. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.
Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.
- 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
- 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 t. yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
- 2 t. kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.
Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.
Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.
Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.
Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.
Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.
Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.
Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.
Tonight, we were supposed to be going out for dinner. However, the wood stove was too warm and comfortable and the company was good. We were cozy and Mother Nature wasn’t making leaving the nest too desirable even for an anticipated night out. Not having planned on making dinner tonight, this was a throw-together. Sometimes, honestly, I think the “open the pantry and empty the fridge” meals somehow turn out to be the best meals of all.
The ingredients on hand:
- leftover boiled chicken breast
- fresh basil
- broccoli crowns
- red bell pepper
- chili garlic sauce
- olive oil
- potato gnocchi
I sauteed the vegetables together, added the shredded chicken and a very little olive oil (the special one that Tim brought back from Spain) seasoned it with a little kosher salt and a teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce. Added the gnocchi when it was cooked (which didn’t take long at all) and topped it with a couple grinds of shredded asiago cheese. Served it with some warm homemade bread. We enjoyed it by the fire with some great music playing in the background. Very delicious, indeed.
Here’s an interesting story. A 42-year-old California electrician’s shoulder came into contact with 14,000 volts of electricity. His optic nerve was affected by the burst of electricity. About a month after the incident, the man was complaining of vision problems and his ophthalmologist examined him and found something remarkable. The man had star shaped cataracts in both eyes which were a result of the optic nerve damage. The doctor, an ophthalmology professor at a California university said that the incident is unusual but not unheard of. Evidently, damages from electrical burns in animals show up initially as small bubbles which eventually turn star shaped.
As for the electrician, the cataracts were removed and new lens placed into his eyes however due to the damage to his optic nerve his vision has been detrimentally affected. You can read more about on Livescience or in the January 23rd issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
I don’t think that we need to worry about being struck by an asteroid or aliens invading our planet or becoming zombie food. No, it is quite apparent that humans will be the end of humans. I don’t mean by means of war, although that could be a possibility, no I literally mean we are going to kill ourselves.
In the news you can read about what’s going to kill you today. Everyday (or so it seems) there is something new and different that we are warned to avoid. Most of them are things of our own making – processed, chemically created and/or enhanced items (usually food products) that will surely knock us dead. Today’s product – caramel color. Yes, it’s true, today you can potentially be killed by the color of your soda.
Personally, I am not a soda drinker. When I had issues with allergies and rashes years ago, high fructose corn syrup was among the things that I desperately try to avoid. Trust me, it’s not easy because it seems as if it’s in everything…. and I mean everything. I can make a damn loaf of bread or rolls without either sugar or high fructose corn syrup but evidently commercial bakers cannot. It makes you wonder if it’s some plot to get us all addicted. But….I digress. 4-methyliminazole, or 4-Mel, which can be contained in caramel color – the stuff that gives your cola its brown color. Chances are you won’t find 4-Mel listed on the ingredient label of your favorite soda because it’s usually just referred to as “caramel coloring”.
Consumer Reports stated that the amount of 4-Mel in various cola drinks can exceed acceptable levels (this is a whole other rant, trust me as a law student I took Food and Drug Law just before lunch — a very, very bad idea, we skipped lunch a whole lot that semester). The WHO and State of California both believe that high levels of 4-Mel are dangerous so much so that they have issued warnings and California instituted a warning label on products containing the compound.
The Food and Drug Administration is currently looking into the issue. For those of you interested in learning more about 4-Mel and its possible dangers you can look here. I’ve included some of the highlights from that page below.
1. 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is a chemical compound that is not directly added to food; rather it is formed as a byproduct in some foods and beverages during the normal cooking process. For example, 4-MEI may form when coffee beans are roasted and when meats are roasted or grilled. 4-MEI also forms as a trace impurity during the manufacturing of certain types of caramel coloring (known as Class III and Class IV caramel coloring) that are used to color cola-type beverages and other foods.
2. Foods containing added colors must list them either by name or as “artificial colors” in the ingredients statement on the food label. Because there are other artificial colors, the presence of “artificial colors” on a food label does not necessarily mean that caramel coloring is contained in the food. Also, the presence of “caramel coloring” on a food label does not necessarily mean that the food contains 4-MEI, because the term “caramel coloring” also may be used to describe Class I and Class II caramel coloring. Class I and Class II caramel coloring do not contain 4-MEI.
3. Eliminating 4-MEI in food is virtually impossible. However, in the case of caramel coloring, companies can take steps to reduce its formation during the manufacturing process. In fact, several companies have already reduced the amount.
4. To ensure that the use of caramel coloring in food continues to be safe, FDA is currently reviewing all available data on the safety of 4-MEI and is reassessing potential consumer exposure to 4-MEI from the use of Class III and Class IV caramel coloring in food products. This safety analysis will help FDA determine what, if any, regulatory action needs to be taken. Such actions could include setting a limit on the amount of 4-MEI that can be present in caramel coloring. However, in the interim, FDA is not recommending that consumers change their diets because of concerns about 4-MEI.
So, that’s what may kill you today. Perhaps we might want to think before we grab that can of soda.
I thought I’d share some photos of tonight’s dinner – a fish dinner since Tim is not home and making fish when he can’t eat it (and can really die from eating it) is just downright mean. So, tonight’s meal was haddock with a miso-mayo seasoned glaze and oriental style green beans with chili garlic sauce, soy sauce and garlic.
We try to compost our food scraps around here, although I will tell you that it’s a lot easier to get psyched about composting when it’s nice and sunny and warm out. When a trip to the compost pile is a welcome walk in the summer breeze, taking time to literally smell the flowers along the way. During winter and particularly of late, with our sub-zero temperatures and dangerous wind chill, composting is a whole lot less desirable. There is something about the thought of bundling yourself up and walking across the wind swept tundra that we call our yard to the compost pile that just doesn’t make it all that appealing.
So, what’s one supposed to do when you are saddled with the guilt of not composting and the real fear of freezing to death while doing it?
Recycle your food scraps! Okay, I know you are going to say that composting your food scraps is recycling and perhaps this woman’s brain has already been affected by those sub zero temperatures she was talking about just now. No really, there are different food scraps that you can recycle by re-growing them. Scallions, leeks, fennel, garlic (for scapes), lemongrass, bok choy, romaine lettuce, ginger, potatoes, onions and cabbage.
The last time I bought bok choy from the supermarket (for sadly the farmer’s market had none) I decided to take the bottom that I cut off and place it in a shallow container with a little water. I added to it two leek bottoms that I had used for potato leek soup later in the week.
The bok choy started to show green growth pretty much the next day which surprised me a little since it was from the grocery store and God only knows how old it was when I bought it. The leeks took longer, in fact, I was pretty sure that they were going to rot and was ready to remove them from the bowl when I noticed that one had a little green stalk poking up from the center. The second one has yet to show any green growth but it has roots that are now about 1/4 inch long almost all around the base.
They will remain in the water for a while longer and then when there are real roots, I will plant them in some soil and see what happens. In the dead of winter with frigid temperatures it is very nice to see some green growing around the house.
This year, as most years, the guys celebrate their birthday together. It has affectionately come to be known as the “I have a dream weekend” because the guys’ birthday usually falls on or very close to MLK Day. This year was no exception to the celebration.
Here are some of the photos and yes, the cake had a lot of candles on it — 100 to be exact, courtesy of our very patient children who placed and lit each and every one.
Yesterday, we celebrated Tom’s 50th birthday. Usually, the birthday person picks his or her dinner of choice. Tom didn’t disappoint and I could have guessed his choice without even asking him. I have never, ever, seen a guy so happy for a salad. Throw some jerk chicken on top of it and I think he was in heaven.
It was a simple chocolate bundt cake with a chocolate glaze and one candle….we are waiting for the weekend when our friend Lou comes up (the guys’ birthdays are the same day and they always try to celebrate together over the “I have a dream” weekend. We figure 50 + 50 makes for way more fun and challenge on the cake.
Since I am usually behind the camera for the birthdays… here’s a change of pace.
Someone is missing from this picture…..and it isn’t me.
Tim steps in the for the photobomb…..
Just in case you didn’t see exactly how delicious this cake looked because you were pondering the single candle….
Post wish ………..
The way every birthday celebration should end…
It’s a very rainy day here. The weather is just plain old WRONG. It is the middle of January and while I don’t necessarily like the idea of a January thaw – I can accept it. What I cannot accept is the fact that it is pouring outside. Normally, the sound of rain tapping on the roof of my office is comforting but today it is just plain annoying. The day has been dreary and dark, the rain has been falling, the radar looks all green and gross. As you can see, I have nothing particularly uplifting to say, so I thought I would share some photos of our house that were very kindly given to us by a woman who lived here for a summer while she was a nursing student in the 1970s.
It was very nice of her to lend me her photo album to scan these pictures. We have a little bit of the history of the house, which always intrigues us. Who lived here before us? What parts of the house existed at that time and what did they look like?
The view from the front of the house is pretty much the same.
I love the sign that says “Sugar Hill” on the front of the house……
This is a picture of the “facilities” surprisingly, they were out of doors still in the 1970s.
For those of you familiar with our house now, this is how it looked before the addition of the den and garage which were put on sometime between this picture and when we purchased it.
Vermont is no slacker. Although it is a small state, with an entire state population that is less than the county where I grew up in New Jersey, it basically takes no crap from anyone. Vermont protects its “brand” with a tenacity and protectiveness that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Let’s face it, when one thinks of Vermont one’s thoughts generally go to the “concept” of Vermont — the great outdoors, the snow, the leaves, au natural. There is no great industry in Vermont, our industry is in fact our people, our surroundings, our welcoming arms that take in the skiers, snowboards, naturalists, hippie wannabes and those looking for some oneness with nature. So, you see, Vermont is its own brand. One that needs protection. Skiing, snowboarding, leaf peeping and maple syrup are all synonymous with Vermont.
From a 2003 report by the O’Neal Strategy Group on the Vermont brand, which can be found here are the following excerpts:
Vermont’s image for visitors remains unchanged from the 1998 study. “Beautiful” and “peaceful” remain the
dominant attributes, while “respectful of the environment,” “authentic” and “friendly” are seen as the dominant
personality traits. “Surprisingly sophisticated” is barely on visitors’ radar screens, and “skilled professionals” and
“high tech” are off the screen altogether.
This brand image is similar to the one held by visitors. “Beautiful” and “peaceful” are the strongest attributes, but
in this case, product-type associations such as ”authentic/genuine” and “natural/pure” are a stronger part of the
image (not surprising since these are people whose primary connection to Vermont is the purchase of products).
If you may remember, a while ago, Vermont took on McDonalds. Turns out that McDonalds was not providing Vermont maple syrup with its breakfast selection of oatmeal. No way, not in Vermont. Not too long after the media hoopla, there was word of a settlement. Turns out that in Vermont, you have the right to request McDonalds to provide you with real Vermont maple syrup when you order your oatmeal. It’s a fact.
So, the latest action by the Vermont Attorney General’s office comes as no surprise. There is a product called “VerMints” which are tins of mints that make one think of…..Vermont? According to the advertising from 2006 through 2011 they were advertised on the tin as “Vermont’s all natural mints” which claims have gradually been replaced over the years by the word “Vermint’s all natural mints”. You would be led to believe, or at least the Attorney General’s office states that you would be led to believe that this is a Vermont product. In fact, VerMints are manufactured in Canada by a Massachusetts-based company and contain no substantial Vermont ingredients. The only thing Vermont about VerMints is evidently that you can buy them in the state.
Today, a settlement was reached whereby VerMints will pay $35,000 to the Vermont Foodbank and $30,000 to the State of Vermont for violations of state consumer protection laws. It will also see that its packages contain corrected and accurate labeling which is not misguided.