Monday, January 30, 2012

Making Bread

Bread-making is a great way to start a day.  I get up and immediately mix 1 1/3 cup of warm water with 2 teaspoons of "highly active" yeast (you can buy highly active or rapid rising - given the amount of stuff I add to my breads, I want all the rising I can get) and 4 or 5 tablespoons of brown sugar.  I then put the bowl in a warm oven at 80 to 100 degrees F and let the yeast wake up.  After 15 minutes or so there is a thick layer of bubbles indicating the yeast are alive, multiplying, and well.

Next I blend in everything else that goes into the bread, less one cup of flour.  At this point I also blend in all of the things I add to my bread.  The ingredients I add to my bread are the point behind these posts - the things I add to make bread that is even healthier then simple whole wheat bread.  I plan to discuss tomorrow the various ingredients that make my bread so special.

Here is the list of ingredients that make up a conventional whole wheat bread.  I often make two different breads at the same time, so have come up with a check list of ingredients to make sure I get everything in each batch.  If you would like a copy of my checklist send me an e-mail.

  • 1 1/3 cup warm water

  • 4 or 5 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

  • 2 teaspoons yeast


Mix and place in a warm oven (80 to 100 degrees) to let the yeast come to life - this is sometimes called "proofing" the yeast.  I let the yeast proof until there is a thick layer of foam on the mixture.

  • 1 teaspoon vinegar, lemon or lime juice

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour

  • 2 heaping tablespoons of gluten


Add these ingredients to the proofed yeast and mix.  This will result in a fairly thin and sticky bread dough - thin because it is still needs one more cup of flour.  I then cover the bowl and let the bread dough rest in a warm oven (80 to 100) for 15 to 30 minutes.

  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour


Next I blend in the last cup of whole wheat flour and check the consistency of the dough.  The dough at this point should not stick to the walls of the bowl as I mix the dough.  If too dry the dough will be dusty or clumpy.  Add a teaspoon of water and mix again.  If too wet, the dough will smear onto the mixing bowl as you mix.  Add a teaspoon or two of flour and mix again.  Continue until the bread dough doesn’t stick to the walls of the bowl but is not overly dry.  If there is an art to bread making, it is adding just enough flour that the dough quits sticking to the walls of the mixing bowl.

When the consistency is right I put the covered bowl of dough into a warm oven for 45 minutes to an hour - this is the first bread proof - I expect the dough to double in size.

I then take the dough out of the mixing bowl and kneed it on a flour-dusted mixing board.  The goal is to work the dough to drive out the bubbles of carbon dioxide and to work in a bit more flour so that you end up with dough that is not sticking to your hands or to the bread board.  I usually kneed by pressing the dough out into a flattened shape, then fold it and press it out again, adding flour as necessary to get the dough so that it does not stick to things.

When done I shape the dough into a small loaf and put it in a bread pan.  Typically I use non-stick bread pans, but I still lightly coat the inside of the pans with olive oil and then drizzle flour or cornmeal over the oiled insides of the pans to make sure the bread comes out easily.

The quantities I am using will produce two small loaves - so I split the dough in half and put it in the bread pans to rise again.  I also take a sharp knife and score the top of the bread to add some artistic flair to the loaves.

And, back into the warm oven for the final proof.  I cover the loaves with a linen cloth to keep the dough from drying out.

After roughly an hour the dough should have again doubled in size.  Take it out, heat the oven to 375, slip the loaves back into the oven - best if toward the center of the oven, both vertically and horizontally, and 35 minutes later you have bread!

After taking the bread out of the pans it is best to let it cool on a rack so it has a chance to release any excess moisture.  It is while the bread is still very hot, and just out of the pans that I get my first slice.  Gads, does it ever make it all worthwhile.

I let the bread cool until it is room temperature before putting it in a bag for safe keeping.

Tomorrow I will discuss what I add to my breads to make it even healthier than home made whole wheat bread!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bread Ingredients

Bread is pretty much flour and water, with bits of other things thrown in to make it rise.

White bread is made with white bread flour.  That’s simple enough - and white bread flour is a highly refined flour, with just the right amount of protein - gluten - to make bread rise, and less of the fiber and nutrients (healthy stuff) found in whole wheat flour.

Gluten is what gives bread dough the consistency needed to trap the carbon dioxide generated by yeast.  These captured gas bubbles are what makes bread rise.

Think of gluten as the rubber in a balloon - without enough gluten bread will not rise.  Too much gluten and the bread rises a lot, but tends to fall when baked (the baloons burst because they are too full).

Leavened breads (breads that rise) typically have gluten in them.

Flour can be made from a variety of grains - but what we normally consider white flour comes from wheat.  As does whole wheat flour.  Different varieties of wheat have different gluten contents - which means that bread flours are made from varieties of wheat that have enough gluten - around 14 percent - needed to make bread rise.  Whole wheat flours typically have less gluten, making whole wheat bread means we need to add some gluten to increase the protein content so the bread will rise.

Hence my simple rule of thumb.  Each cup of whole wheat flour needs a tablespoon of added gluten.

I find that Bobs Red Mill and King Arthur whole wheat flours produce consistently great breads.  There are several others that just don’t rise as well - likely they need more added gluten.

So, we have flour, and gluten.  I mentioned yeast and carbon dioxide earlier in this post.  Yeast are small bugs (microbes) that consume sugar and generate carbon dioxide.  Yup, making bread is a microbiology experiment!

In fact, each time I make bread I first combine the warm water (in the 80 to 105 degree range), yeast, and sugar and set it aside in a warm oven to make sure the yeast are alive and well.  If they are the water will have a thick layer of bubbles in 10 or 15 minutes!  Interestingly, yeast are very happy with glucose or fructose, or even molasses, but honey (which is mostly glucose and fructose) doesn’t make then quite as active - so give honey 20 or 25 minutes for a good layer of foam.

So far we have flour, water, gluten, sugar and yeast.  That leaves salt, vinegar/lemon/lime juice, and oil.

Salt controls the growth of the yeast, strengthens the gluten structure of the dough and brings out flavors.

Vinegar, lemon or lime juice makes bread rise higher.  It tenderizes the gluten and extends the life of the bread while keeping it soft without changing the breads flavor.

And, lastly oil.  Oil give breads a longer shelf life by keeping them moist and makes the bread more tender and flavorful.  Too much oil inhibits rising.

See - this is not as complex as you may have thought.  Tomorrow we will talk about how I make bread.  In fact, tomorrow morning I will be making two different types of bread!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bread

When Kelly and I were deciding where we would live when we left Oklahoma we considered two areas - the mountains of Utah, and the Pacific northwest.  After narrowing down this far we took two trips, spending 10 days in both Utah and Washington/Oregon, looking at homes, cities, mountains, just generally trying to see where we would next call home.

Being hypoglycemic, I need to eat on a fairly regular basis.  Eating complex carbs gives me the energy I need to keep on keeping on.  So, when traveling I often buy a loaf of a very grainy bread and munch on it pretty much all day.  Every day.

When we were in Utah I had my bread with me while touring homes with a realtor.  This lead to a discussion on making bread ( which she did) and how much she loved her Bosch mixer.

Fast forward 3 days, and I am setting up a clock for a lovely lady in Salt Lake City - one of my dearest customers.  Get done and she invites us to join her and her husband for fruit and, well, you guessed it, home made bread.  Made with a Bosch mixer.

Turns out one of the biggest Bosch kitchen appliance stores in the US is in Salt Lake City.  While we did not have the time to visit the store, I did proceed to order one a couple of weeks later.

And so began the era of bread making.

And please, don’t get me wrong, there are many many nice mixers that do a great job of kneading bread, I just thought it was funny how specifically a Bosch mixer was so much a part of my getting started in bread making.  Oh, and Kelly and I often joke - we will have paid off the mixer and the grain grinder we got with the savings from making our own bread in just another 479 loaves!

The first step in a new venture for an engineer like me is to read up on the how to’s and the why’s behind it.  Three books later and I had the fundamentals all summarized in an Excel spreadsheet and was ready to get started.

What I learned as I went through my research phase was that bread making is really not as complex, or as much of a black art as I had once thought.  In fact, given that yeast is actually alive, and given that I had done a bit of development work in the bio-remediation field, I was right at home talking about feeding bugs and growing bugs (Don’t worry - baking bread kills the little buggers!).

Which brings me to making bread.  My way.  With lots and lots of whole grains and cut grains and other good stuff.

But, before we talk about the stuff to add to bread, we first need to understand what the basic ingredients are and a little about what each ingredient does.  This will be the subject of my posting tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Retirement How To's

Kelly and I discussed where we wanted to retire for many years before we finally believed we were ready for that step. We knew we did not want to retire in Oklahoma - the summers are just plain brutal if you don’t love heat - which we didn’t. After a lot of research we decided we would be happy in someplace in the pacific north west, or perhaps in Utah. So, off we went to visit, look at towns, homes, areas, try to get a better feel for these two areas.

The main reason for this post is to discuss the research phase we went through - looking at a rather wide variety of factors - average temperatures winter and summer, snow falls, rain days, sunny weather, demographics, health care availability, cultural opportunities, and, on a more focused basis, clock-related groups and the presence of a strong traditional music culture.

During this process we got to know a website that offers a wealth of information, and even has a newsletter to help you find information that might well help a great deal in deciding where you want to live. The website is TopRetirements.com - where you can sign up for their newsletter - which is free. I decided to focus this post on their site because their newsletter sent out today brought up some good points to consider when choosing where you want to retire. Check it out Top 10 Misconceptions about Retirment

I found this site a couple of years before we moved to Portland, and especially liked the way the newsletters would periodically remind me of some of the specifics of the decision we needed to make - give me a gentle prod to consider one or two more facets of what is both a rather important decision, and one can be rather complex and overpowering. And, you will likely be surprised at the amount of information you can mine from the sources they provide.

The end result - earlier, over dinner, Kelly looked up and said once again how happy she is that we chose to live here. That is huge.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Something New

I fear I have not been very diligent at posting recently - for which I offer the feeble excuse that my resolution for 2012 was to make a stab at becoming a certified personal trainer.

This decision, made 3 weeks ago, was in part the result of the talk I gave to a great group of older gentlemen back in early December. I discussed this with some of the folk who work out - they thought it would be something good to offer at the gym. So, off to talk to the gym manager - who thought it had merit. But, there was this little issue about employment - their policy is that people who teach at the gym have to be employees. And, it would be a lot better if I was a certified trainer... So, while my goal was not to get a job, it turns out that the exercise routines that I have been developing, and that get a lot of attention at the gym, well, they may end up getting me more involved at the gym.

Back on December 7 I talked about becoming old. As I said then - My theory is that we become old when we quit seeing tomorrow as a chance to improve, as a time to get stronger, as an opportunity to do something new. In short – we get old when tomorrow is no longer a chance to do something, to find satisfaction, and happiness. To grow, to become more than we are now. TO LIVE!

Don’t get me wrong, every time I embark on a new adventure there is doubt, there is trepidation, and all those other words that suggest it would be easier to just keep on keeping on. And, hey, I went through a two day course last weekend and then sat for the certification test yesterday afternoon. I hope I passed, but will only find out in a week or so. But, gads, did I learn a lot! Perhaps I started a little late, but I am amazed at how much I have learned in a pretty short time.

Which is what my concept of retirement is all about - living, learning, looking for more ways to find satisfaction.

So, wish me luck, hopefully in a week or so I will be able to report that I passed!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Joe, my clock bud

One of the really neat things about my clock website, and the articles I write on clocks and their restorations is I get to meet some really fantastic people. One is Joe, a clock guy out in mid-America. He’s a farm guy, grew up doing what people do on farms, fought for our country, has a son fighting for our country, the kind of guy you can be proud to call a friend.

He has a day job doing maintenance in a warehouse. And, he is a self-proclaimed curmudgeon. Recently, well, I will let him tell it in his own words: “I was given a fairly large electric motor to put in storage. I loaded it on to an electric pallet jack and drove to the other end of the building where I have a permanently parked trailer for storing stuff like that. I had to move a couple of big items that were in the way in the trailer. So I put the motor on the floor, out of the way.

While I was working, the assistant general manager walked up to the motor and looked at me. He pointed to it and asked “What’s this?”

I told him I was planning on putting in storage in the trailer and he suggested that I get some help with it. I promptly squatted down and with perfect lifting form curled it up almost to my chest , stood up and said, “I got this" and grinned.

I thought he was gonna have a heart attack. “Joe, be careful. That weighs….”

160 pounds I finished for him and turned and walked into the trailer and put it on the storage rack.

He had to go tell the maintenance manager who (knowing me quite well) just told him: “He does it because he can and he can because he does it.”

Rick, the maintenance manager admonished me later to be careful about scaring the kids. Really fun afternoon.”

Joe is 62, the assistant general manager is 40. Message here? Joe also told me a bit about his workout routine: “I got connected with a physical rehabilitation and fitness center because the franchise joints are full of people I find pretty much annoying. I’m something of a curmudgeon and I really don’t like being around kids in their really pricey workout clothes and all the supplements for body sculpting. I enjoy being able to continue doing things that I have always been able to do.

For me it’s about ability and overall staying power. I do two sets of 40 reps at 240 pounds on my lower back and 60 inclined sit-ups and a series of chest, lat, and shoulder workouts alternating between upper and lower body. I do some on the elliptical for cardio-vascular and free weight curls at 60 pounds. I use the elliptical for the CV stuff because my knees and ankles won’t put up with the pounding on a treadmill or open running (which I ain’t really interested in doing in the dead of winter anyhow!).”

62 years old, with an attitude. But, the take home message here is what Rick the maintenance manager said: “He does it because he can and he can because he does it.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kelly's Second Career

When Kelly and I met 20 some odd years ago, she was starting to think about health, healthy eating, and learning more about all things healthy. At that point I still considered a chicken as two meals, with some veggies thrown in. Or, if rushed, a chicken would suffice. Actually, if there was no chicken, a rack of barbequed ribs would do just fine!

Over the years Kelly made a concerted effort to learn all she could about living a healthy life, and I began picking up bits of knowledge as she her knowledge and awareness grew. Probably 10 years ago she started thinking about her second career, and began to focus on the medical field - with a goal of finding a way to help people understand how they can live a healthier life.

Fast forward 8 years, and Kelly was ready to start doing something new. Her first step, after quitting her day job, was to go back to school to become a nurse. 14 months later, with a freshly minted BS degree she started her new career.

Let’s step back for a second and think about what I just described. When Kelly quit her day job she was a couple or three years shy of 50. And she was starting an entire new career - focused on helping others live a healthier life. Her way of looking at this is that her second career is her reward for the years she spent in the chemical industry. A chance to enhance her knowledge, continue to grow, and find a niche where she can feel she is really contributing to peoples health and well being.

All before she was 50.

Now, with over a year of nursing experience she is applying to Nurse Practitioner programs. Which means that 3 or 4 years from now she will be in a position to do what she really wants to do.

It goes without saying that I am proud of Kelly - she is learning so very much, continuing to challenge me in my own growth in the fitness and wellness fields, and she is bringing home a paycheck. And, just in case you hadn’t thought of this, in as much as she is working in a hospital, we get good medical benefits at a reasonable price.

There are so many disparate elements that have come together for Kelly and I - leading to what we consider a wonderful life. While many think of retirement as a time to sit back, we both believe that sitting back is not living life to the fullest. We often talk of the years ahead, my projections are based on selling my inventory of clocks - I figure 15 to 20 years - and then focusing more on upper-end restorations. Kelly will be a freshly minted Nurse Practitioner in 3 or 4 years, with a new and exciting career ahead of her.

For us, as I hope for you, life is doing things, finding satisfaction, and ultimately finding happiness.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Careers

One of the things people talk to me about is what they will do when they retire. My advice typically focuses on finding something they really enjoy doing that can make a bit of money and provide satisfaction. Funny that, I was talking to a nephew recently, discussing what he planned to do when he grew up - he said pretty much what I just typed - find something that he really enjoys doing. The assumption was that then he would make good money.

Much like people struggling with what to do whey they retire, young folks face a similar conundrum. But, I honestly believe the answers are likely not as similar as I suggest above. When thinking about college today one of the parameters that I feel really deserves consideration is the jobs that will be available when graduation rolls around. And this, of course, depends on what a student decides to major in.

Today, as when I was growing up, high school students are counseled to find careers that they really enjoy. Whilst I think this would be the best of all worlds, what about the kids that find they don’t have a real focus, or those that want to focus on majors where jobs are scarce? Or don’t earn much?

In talking with my nephew I explained my take on jobs - that they are what we do to earn money. So we can do the things we really enjoy doing. See, there was a subtle little switch there - instead of going to college with a focus on what jobs would be the most fun, instead, I am suggesting going to college to get a job that makes enough money that students can then do what they want to have fun. I suspect that part of the reason there are so many young folk looking for jobs is that they did not evaluate the job opportunities that come with the degree they pursued. All too many young folk don’t have the skill sets necessary to get the good-paying jobs that are available.

Yes, there are some high school students who really enjoy maths and go into engineering. Likewise those who have a passion for the health care field. They will likely get good jobs. But what of those that don’t so much like math, or science, or studying? Perhaps the better focus for counselors would be pointing out where there are jobs, especially jobs that make good money. And then pointing out that good grades and a real focus on getting the skills needed to get into an appropriate degree program are how they will get those good jobs.

I suppose I was lucky in my career - I like engineering. I really do. But, hey, I like working on cars more, and, exercising, and working on clocks. These are all things I was able to get into because I had that job thing covered. To me, bottom line, people are paid to do jobs because they are just that: Jobs. Jobs provide the money we need to live, and, hopefully to do things we enjoy doing. In our off hours. And when we retire.

Sound like a bit of a rant - I suppose it is. I talk to young folk at the gym who are clearly bright, articulate, and motivated. And am a bit amazed at how many are going to college with a vague idea that they need to find something they really enjoy doing. When I ask them about placement statistics or starting salary for their chosen field I get blank stares. This is really not a good thing in the real world, where jobs are a little tight.

Retirement can be wonderful reality if we have prepared for it. That preparation starts in high-school, making that big decision on what career to pursue. The hope is that by the time today’s students retire they will have made the big ticket purchases, paid off the house, own their car(s), and generally not need as much to live comfortably after they retire..

At that point they get to think about what they might really enjoy doing. I’ve talked at length about my passion for old clocks, and how I prepared for retirement. Tomorrow I will post on how my wife is transitioning into her second career - in the health-care field.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Relationships

In yesterday’s post I talked about the concept of Wabi Sabi, and its origins in the Japanese tea ceremony. When samurai entered a teahouse they removed their swords, leaving behind their conflicts and pretensions with their weapons. When shed of this baggage they were more receptive to the peace and serenity of the tea ceremony, more open to the beauty of the naturally imperfect world.

The parallels for finding happiness in our relationship are invaluable and inviolate. It is so easy to carry the stresses from our day into our relationships, to continue the charade we put on for the world to emphasize how important we are. I know this - because I am way too good at it.

Seeking guidance from the concept of wabi-sabi - we must deliberately accept our partners in relationships, understanding and celebrating where they are, imperfect, unfinished, and mortal.

Appreciation for imperfections in others, and even in ourselves, is essential to a wabi sabi frame of mind. As Leonard Cohen poetically phrased it “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”


Being fascinated with another person, shedding our innate desire to be the center of attention, but focusing instead on our partners thoughts, sensations, things that happened to them that day, things that went right, and things that didn’t - letting them know they are fascinating - and that we accept them as they are, not viewing them as a project to be fixed... leaves us with time and emotional energy for truly enjoying the relationship and your partner.

Accepting our own and our partners shortcomings - finding joy in our relationships. Perhaps this is a good news years resolution - celebrating the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete in our friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term that embodies finding, and appreciating beauty in a naturally imperfect world. This concept has a number of meanings in my world - one that I discuss on my clock website has to do with the feel of tools in my hand. So much of the equipment I use in my clock hobby is older than I am. Tools that have been held and used for many years develop a feel that makes them comfortable in the hand. Actually, I find that tools from years ago often were designed to fit the hand, while modern tools seem more focused on function. To the point that I bought a very nice pair of Swiss bent-nose needle-nose pliers, figuring they would be better than the pair I had been using which had to be 50 years old. And, while the new pliers have nice sharp edges for picking up small objects, they still live in the drawer because I find the old ones more comfortable to use.

Wabi Sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, and particularly in the tea ceremony. Masters prized hand-made bowls that were handmade, irregularly shaped, with uneven glazes, cracks, but still a beauty in their deliberate imperfections.

Wabi can be translated as “Simplicity”, whether elegant or rustic. Sabi refers to the beauty of age and wear.

Another way of thinking of Wabi-Sabi is that it is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of Beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.

I find my appreciation of wabi-sabi grows as I age. One example is the feeling I get every time I crawl into my 1970 Jag XKE. And, yes, crawling is one way to describe getting over the wide sill and settling into the contoured seat. This is a car that looks quite good from 30 feet, but begins to look a little shabby at 5 feet. The feelings it engenders are akin to the feelings I get when I put on my current pair of well-worn leather work gloves - everything feels like it belongs where it is, my hand knows where to find each switch, knows the feel of the gas pedal, and just how far to let the clutch out for it to begin to engage. On a recent drive through some wonderfully twisty mountain roads (I always thought C.W. McCall’s description of such roads was most apt: “It was hairpin county and switchback city. One of 'em looked like a can full'a worms; another one looked like malaria germs.”) I rediscovered how much I love the response of that car - and its feel. Perhaps in another 30 years I will develop the same appreciation for my BMW Z3 - but somehow I doubt it will be quite the same - BMW’s really are just too perfect - while an old Jag pretty much embodies the concept of wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi - crows feet around your grandmothers eyes, the frayed legs of a favorite pair of jeans, the scars on an old pair of boots. When I see photo’s of models with their overly made up faces, showing only the perfection of a peach, I kind of feel sad - because I truly believe there is beauty below the plastered on layers of color and texture. You won’t find wabi-sabi in Botox, glass-and-steel skyscrapers, smart phones or the relentless drive for self improvement. But you will find it in the simplicity that reveals itself through the daily work of living.

For me, another aspect of my appreciation of wabi-sabi are the tools I inherited from my dad. Don’t have much from him, a lot was lost in a fire. But, there’s the 30's vintage floor jack that I found buried in the mud outside his shop. It had a broken cylinder, but I found a magical machinist that could braze the cast iron and re-bore the cylinder, and I was then able to rebuild it. I also have two screw drivers, a pair of needle nose pliers and a pair of wire cutters that were his. My hand gravitates to them, even though I have nicer, more expensive, better tools, these are the ones my hand wants to use.

Where is all this going? Good question. I suppose one direction is the satisfaction I get when I see myself in a mirror at the gym. Not perfect, ok, not even close. Will never have 6-pack abs, but the definition I have managed to develop please me more than any body-builders physique. Or perhaps it is the letting go of the need for everything to be perfect - to accept that which we can not change.

Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality: This is something like freedom. Life - scratches, scars, laugh lines - is itself perfectly imperfect, and I can find and embrace the beauty in that.

In writing this post I drew inspiration and phrases from a lovely article in “Whole Living”. And, if interested, the lyrics to C.W. McCalls song “Wolf Creek Pass” can be found here: Wolf Creek Pass