Choosing Flours (and how your choice will affect your recipe)

I realize what you probably want is a sourdough bread recipe.  I promise to finish that for you by next week!  However, before we get to that recipe, I think it’s important to understand the different kinds of flour you can use in your baking and how each flour can affect your recipe.

001 (800x533)My three kinds of flour (I recently found a 10-pound bag of our good flour buried in our freezer so I’ve been using that this past week.  It’s lovely to have it back!)

Whole Wheat Flour:  I usually use whole wheat flour that we get from a local mill.  The miller mills the wheat and then immediately freezes it.  After we buy it, we keep it in our freezer.  So although not technically fresh-ground, it’s pretty close.  Recently I ran out of that, and haven’t had a chance to get any more.  Instead, I have been using whole wheat flour from the grocery store.  It behaves quite differently, particularly by absorbing much more water.  As it turns out, freshly ground flour absorbs less water and so you need to use more of it in a recipe in order to achieve the same results.  I have all my recipes fairly finely calibrated for my kind of flour.  I’ve had to scale back the amount of flour (usually by around 50-75 grams) when using the grocery store stuff.  In the recipes to come, I’ll try to give you a range of weights to use.  Start with the lower amount if you are using non-freshly-ground flour and add extra if you need it.

White All-Purpose Flour: I use all-purpose flour for making biscuits, waffles, cookies, and generally everything except for bread.

White Bread Flour: For years, I considered it too much trouble to keep two kinds of white flour around.  My sister-in-law, Meggan, convinced me that it was worth it to also have white bread flour in the house for baking with whole wheat flour.  She’s right!  Bread flour has a higher gluten percentage so it compensates for whole wheat’s lower gluten and allows you to use less white in a recipe.  If you want to bake with whole wheat, you should definitely keep bread flour in your pantry.  Just make sure not to use it in waffles or biscuits.  They’ll turn out really tough! (I’m speaking from experience here.)  Even Ellie knows that “blue flour” is only for bread!

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See my KIOS post about grains/legumes for more about the flour we buy.

Here’s a nice discussion about the properties of freshly-milled flour.

Another comparison of freshly-milled vs. store-bought whole wheat.

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Ellie’s Sewing: Her First Two Independent Projects

Ellie’s recent interest in sewing has culminated in two completed projects!

First, she decided to sew her own manger scene, after watching me sew ours.  I had everything out and was taking pictures for the tutorial.  So she used my templates, chose the felt and thread colors, and sewed it herself!  I helped with threading the needle, and starting/finishing off the thread (plus a little creative guidance).  Other than that, this is Ellie’s own creation (and her first with a sharp needle)!

003 (800x800)displayed on her fabric scissors

010 (800x800)She insisted on taking the final picture next to the candle, “Like you, mama!”

The other project she finished this week is one that we started just after Christmas.  Yiayia gave her a “My First Sewing Kit” for Christmas.  I’m not even going to link to what it is because it has so many flaws.  The idea is great and Ellie has had a lot of fun sewing with it.  I’ve been annoyed by the lack of sewing knowledge evident in its design (i.e. giving us buttons for the eyes that the needles don’t go through, embellishments that you need a sharp needle for, etc.). Putting that aside, though, Ellie did sew an elephant! Again, other than help with threading the needle and tying off the thread, Ellie did basically all the work on this one!

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Here’s my darling girl, who would wear dresses and tights all the time if I would let her.  Meanie that I am, I insisted on leggings (with her dress) yesterday morning because it was so wet.  The instant we got home though, she changed into tights and so, in the afternoon, she got to go out in her XtraTufs and tights!

006 (800x800)just like a good little Alaskan fisherwoman! :)

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Puffins Are Actually Mammals (you didn’t know that?)

IMG_0729 (800x533)Mark’s puffin is inside his shirt, nursing!

This morning, there was a whole lot of inter-class nursing going on.  At our house, evidently, puffins are mammals.  And don’t try to tell Ellie they’re not.

“Why” questions are still incomprehensible to Marko! :)

IMG_0734 (800x600) IMG_0736 (800x600)IMG_0739 (800x533)I promise I do NOT nurse with Mark by shoving him inside my shirt!

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For more puffin love on the blog, check out: Ellie’s nap with both of our puffins, some inter-species tandem nursing, a tiny wooden puffin! (the one that started Ellie’s love for puffins), and even a puffin cookie cutter (we’re clearly obsessed).

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Favorite Books of 2014: Fiction

I read almost 100 books in 2014.  Here are my favorites (and yes, I realize I’m about 2 months late with this list). I track my reading on Goodreads.  So if we’re not friends there, you should join me!

Here are my favorite fictional books of 2014.
(with apologies for the repetitiveness to my Goodreads friends as these are my edited reviews from what I posted there through the year)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: This was simply a great, enjoyable read and one that I should have counted for the Classics Club.

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear: So far, I’ve read #1-6.  I love this mystery series but not so much for the mysteries themselves.  Rather, the WWI history, the contrast between the classes in pre-WWI England, the thoughts on education, on death, on life, on healing, on hurt are all thought-provoking and stay with me long after I finish the books. And, inevitably, I’m in tears by the end of each one.  Not too bad for a mystery!

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce #2) by Alan Bradley: I read the first and second books n this series this year and particularly enjoyed the second one. I really like Flavia and her obsession with chemistry!

Knit One Pearl One: A Beach Street Knitting Society Novel by Gil McNeil: I especially liked this third installment in this series because it has one of the best descriptions of modern, natural, unmedicated childbirth that I’ve read in modern chick-lit.  It didn’t have much to do with the main plot but I loved that chapter the best anyway!

The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion: This was a really funny, enjoyable read. It was like The Journal of Best Practices but in fictionalized form.

Longbourn by Jo Baker: This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view.  Having just read P&P in January, this book opened up a whole different line of thinking about that novel. In and of itself though, it’s a great read. I am SO thankful for my washing machine!

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin: Along with the lovely story itself, I enjoyed how so many other books were woven all the way through the book.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (Mitford Years #10) by Jan Karon: I sobbed while reading this, more than once. I even brought it up at our church small group and was crying there too – over a fictional person! Hopefully, this tells you that this is masterful, strong fiction because a story that is seemingly light and insignificant had me pondering many big weighty issues for days. Like all the Mitford novels, this is also full of all the funny, well-drawn characters you know and love with all the usual silly situations, heartfelt words, and perfectly appropriate quotations.

I also read through many classics this year and enjoyed most of them, including North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (see my review here) and Persuasion (my review), Sense and Sensibility (my review), and Pride and Prejudice (my review) all by Jane Austen.

For the younger crowd:

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Penderwicks, Book 2) by Jeanne Birdsall:  I do love this series. I’m proud to say that I figured out the literary allusion right away, although it’s not revealed until the end of the book. I also could see the the solution to the “Save-Daddy” plan from practically the very first chapter but that didn’t make this book any less enjoyable.  The undercurrent of sadness throughout (perhaps felt more keenly by myself because I am a mother) only deepened my enjoyment of the rest of the really enjoyable book. I really can’t wait to read these to Ellie and Mark!

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan: This series is often recommended as a way to pull young reluctant (usually male) readers into reading and so I read this first one because I wanted to know what they were like. And now I’m hooked myself! The writing is surprisingly sophisticated. I liked the Greek mythology references and the slightly twisted “bring it into the present” writing approach. The book was surprising violent so keep that in mind when recommending it. I’ve read through book #4 now.  I probably enjoyed the first one the most but do want to read them all.

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech:  I loved this little book, particularly the angel’s “English” mistakes. Also, I loved how the girl, and the town, rallied around those kids!

I also enjoyed:

Do you have any favorites on this list?  Any more to recommend to me?

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Finish Up Friday: 2015 Edition, Update #2 – FIVE Shades of Grey (gray?)!

In an effort to redeem a lovely color from the exploitation and awfulness being perpetuated under its banner, this week, I present to you, “Five Shades of Grey.” (As, always, my debate is “gray” or “grey”?)

What I accomplished this week:

008 (800x533)Look at all that grey!

1. I fixed and then embellished my grey skirt.  I started out by affixing one hexagon to patch the tear in the fabric right at the top of the kick split and then decided that looked a bit funny by itself.

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So I got a bit carried away and added six more.  Then I decided they needed to be sewn on but I couldn’t sew the top one by machine because of the split in the skirt.  So I zigzagged them all by  hand, which was a luxurious waste of time during yesterday morning’s snow day. (This one counts for two shades of gray – the original skirt and the embellishment).

003 (800x800)And yes, I know, it felt a bit silly to do all this work for the back of my skirt but I did have a lot of fun doing the embellishment. It makes me want to do it to more of my clothes. 

2. I hemmed Nik’s dark gray pants, using his light gray pants as a length guide.

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3. I altered Nik’s UnderArmour shirt so that it fit him better.  Although he bought what should have been the correct size, it was super baggy on him.  I took out about 2.5 inches on both sides from the sleeve and body of the shirt and now it fits him great!

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[The rest of these projects aren’t grey but we’ll let them in anyway.]

4. I finished the base for the hair on Mark’s doll.  Somehow, the circle got off center so I had to do some annoying sewing to get it to look right.  (Can you tell I’ll be glad when this project is finally over?)

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5. I fixed the office shade.  I wish those little rings would stop breaking!

6. Finally, I sewed a button back on Ellie’s little doll wallet that Yiayia made for her.  She’s been carrying it around, stuffed with a diaper and calling it her “tissue”! :)

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The List (as of 2/27/2015) – It’s short now, although all the projects that are left are longer, trickier ones.

  1. Add the “hair” to the hair base of Mark’s doll and the feet too.
  2. Quilt the table runner that I almost finished last spring
  3. Finish the dining room shades that I have been avoiding for 3 YEARS SIX years! SIX!! I recently came across this post (from January 2010) in  which I wrote that I needed to work on sewing my dining room curtains, with fabric that we had had for over a year.  Translation: We’ve had the fabric since sometime in 2008!  In my defense, just one week after I posted that “start the dining rooms curtains” post, we found out that we were pregnant with our first child, who ended up being Ellie.  So I’ve been a bit busy since then.  NOT in my defense, I’ve managed to sew plenty of other projects since then.  Anyway, I am determined NOT to have to write about the shades for too many more weeks!

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And on a complete unrelated note, happy birthday to my dear sister, Rachel!  I love you!

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Seven Essential Tools for Making Bread

Over the next few weeks, I have several bread/baking recipes to share with you, including 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, soaked bagels, and sourdough rolls.  In order to make those recipes, you’ll need a few tools.  Because recently I’ve been asked to recommend what tools/items a home baker should own in order to successfully bake bread, I figured I should share this list with you!

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Loaf pans (if you want to make sandwich bread): I love these loaf pans.  I have three because I consider it a waste of my time to make less than 3 loaves of bread at a time. I also love these mini loaf pans.  Ellie regularly uses one to make her own loaf of bread and it’s so cute!

A scale: Technically not required, but you’ll need one if you want to follow my bread recipes!  If you’re going to start making bread consistently, then it’s totally worth it to buy a scale.  Many, if not most, bread recipes (including mine) will give you measurements in weights (rather than volume) and I can’t even describe how much much easier it is.  I am constantly saying to Nik how much I love baking by weight. I guess a scale is optional but it’s totally worth the investment in my opinion.  The OXO scale is the one I have and I see it recommended everywhere.  I’ve been using it constantly for close to five years and have no complaints.

A rolling pin: I have this solid maple rolling pin and I love it.  It’s much easier to use than the kind with handles.  If you want one slightly lighter, then go for this one with tapered ends. Plus, they’re hand-made in Vermont!

Cooling rack: This cooling rack is nice because it can fit inside of a half-sheet pan.

A big cutting board: I use a large cutting board for rolling out my bread dough (when making sandwich bread and bagels) as well as for portioning dough into rolls.  You can also just flour your table but I like having a surface that I know is clean! It’s also useful for slicing your bread once it’s cooled.  The two that I have are great.  One is a gorgeous one from an Etsy shop that is sadly now closed and the other was a wedding present.  Not being able to link to mine, here are a couple options that should be good (as recommended by Cooks Illustrated): one plastic and one wood.

A scraper/chopper:  This OXO scraper is an inexpensive tool that is really helpful for portioning dough into rolls and for scraping off sticky dough.

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A stand mixer: It is certainly possible to knead your bread by hand but having a stand mixer makes life infinitely easier.  I have a KitchenAid – the six quart professional series.  I used an Artisan KitchenAid for several years.  Around 18 months ago, I finally admitted that I had outgrown that one and needed a stronger motor and a larger capacity mixing bowl.  I’m grateful for my bigger KA every time I make bread.  The price difference between the two is often less than $100 so if you’re going to buy a new one, it’s certainly worth buying the larger professional series.  Haunt Craigslist and yard sales too – you might get lucky. And put it on your Christmas wish list!

Now go make some bread!

This post contains  affiliate links, meaning any purchases you make with them support our blog.  See the full disclosure here.
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“My Go Pee!” (he does! on the potty!)

(If you don’t like reading about pee and poop, you should stop reading right here.)

One week before Mark turned two, we decided that it was finally time for him to learn how to pee on the potty.  We’d been pretty sure for a couple months that he was ready but a variety of things (primarily our trip to Alaska and Christmas holidays) kept us from starting until the Monday after Christmas.

The first day was amazing.  By the end of the day, he was running into the bathroom when he needed to pee and although certainly not perfect, we were super optimistic. I had even composed the blog post exulting in his successes in my mind already.  (Bad idea.)

The next four days were torture.  He didn’t show any interest in peeing on the potty and basically it looked as if it was all going to be a big disaster.  We had rolled up our rugs so cleanup was easy but it was still really disheartening.  Ellie went from diapers to accident-free in six days.  So this felt like FOREVER.  As it turns out, we were “op-too-much-itstic” (in the words of Miss Penelope Lumley, the plucky governess from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, a great series, particularly to be read aloud.)

Nik and I had nightly conferences, “Should we keep going?  Should we put him back in diapers? Are we crazy? Is he too young? Everyone says boys are harder!” My mom encouraged me to stay the course, saying that she’s seem many kids take longer than others and that given time, he would figure it out.  We finally decided to just stick it out for a few more days

So we kept up the kind words, non-angry responses to accidents, and on Saturday (six days after we started), Mark had his first real success!  And after that, slowly but surely, we started to see him figure out how to listen to his body, how to get to the little potty in time.  By  the end of two weeks, hurrah! Mark had taught himself how to use the toilet!

116 (800x800)orange is his favorite color of underwear!

It’s certainly been a longer process that with Ellie.  For one thing, the pee flies around more erratically with a boy!  So even when he does successfully get himself to the bathroom (basically 100% of the time) we still have more pee mopping-up to do.  Other than that, almost entirely, he’s good during the daytime.

He still wears diapers at night (even though he doesn’t like to put them on) because he’s still nursing at night and I told him, “We’ll make a deal.  You want no diapers?  You get no nursing!”  So far, he’s sticking with nursing!  He does wake up dry one or two mornings out of the week so I think soon some night weaning is in his future and then it seems that no diapers at all will be in his future as well.

118 (800x800)No diapers also means that his sister can dress him up in newborn pants! :)

For a far more in-depth description of our potty-training process, see my post about Ellie and her potty-training.  Basically, we used no stickers/candy/charts or any other incentives other than “yay! pee!” He just went bare on his bottom half for two weeks and eventually taught himself what to do.

119 (800x800)silly kids! (and look – she wore the skirt! Of her own free will!)

This post contains at least one affiliate link, meaning any purchases you make with it supports our blog.  See the full disclosure here.
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