Not surprisingly, Gayla has some awesome info on making your own rain barrel over at You Grow Girl as well as links to municipal rain barrel programs.
Two years ago when we bought our house, I took one look at our stove and thought: I should learn to make bread. A stove like that practically screams out "bake bread in me" what with all the 50s kitsch and the fact that is has a warming oven perfect for raising dough/warming yeast sponges in.
So, like the foolheardy overachiever I aspire to be, I went and took out several tomes on bread making from the library. And after redoing all the floors in the house and reading everything I could about the mysteries and wonders of breadmaking I became totally overwhelmed. And I put that hobby aside. But, I'm currently in need of some kind of meditative/relaxing hobby and bread making seems like it might be a good fit. I've read and heard endless accounts of those who love the task waxing about the quite joy of kneading bread in the morning before the house wakes, or the comforting smell of fresh bread enveloping a home, and that sounds about as close to paradise as I'm likely to get in the next few months.
I nearly hopped on the whole "no-knead bread" train a few months ago, but I don't have the right size of dutch oven and frankly it seems silly to me that with all the bowls, spoons and pans in my kitchen I couldn't make something as simple as bread without buying a new tool. And, really, at this juncture I need the ritual. I want to be forced to slow down a bit and "get a feel" for something rather than rush through life ticking tasks of a never ending list. So. I'm going to dive in. This weekend I think.
I've found a multigrain recipe in one of my existing cookbooks that seems straightforward enough. And I've been given a few pieces of sage advice from bread making mentors in my life. Now I just need to let go of any expectations that my first loaf will be the most awesome loaf of bread ever. My mother once told me that you should never make pastry when you're stressed out. And she's right, whenever I'm rushed or peeved my pastry turns to sheetrock. I'm guessing that even if I reach the point of bread mastery, there will similar times. I need to really try to get comfortable with the idea that it may take me months to make a decent loaf of multigrain bread and years to feel any kind of mastery of this skill. And really, that's where the challenge lies isn't it? In being willing to make bad, or even failed attempts, but still go back to it again and again.
Before I get started though, if any of you have any advice out there on the best pans for baking bread, ideal approaches to yeast, the best bowls to mix in, certain music you play while you make bread etc. bring'em on. I'm all ears. And of course, I'll let you know how it goes.
I'm on day 5 of a brutal summer cold and desperately trying to emerge from a very fuzzy head. In spite of serious couch time, we've actually been getting a remarkable amount of stuff done around the house and while I can barely taste I thing, I can not stay out of my kitchen. So, updates on all of that to come. In the meantime, some links Megan style:
While I certainly enjoy my garden in its natural outdoorsy state, one of my favourite things about having an abundance of plants outside my door is being able to bring some inside. The last two weeks the house has been full of lilacs, but alas the season seemed short this year and mine are all now past prime. This morning I tossed the wilting lilacs from the kitchen table into the compost and went about gathering something new. To my delight, my anemones, which didn't do as well as I had hoped this year, with one entire cluster of bulbs never coming up at all, were in bloom. I love the kinky stems of anemones and they're candy colours. When I bought the vase you see there at Peek Keep back in the winter, I imagined just such an arrangement of brightly coloured petals would find a home in it one day.
I always find that I wish that the season for each flower in my garden was a bit longer than it is, but each time I toss away the last of one variety something new always seems to have sprung up in its place. Now I just need to figure out something to tide me through the winter.
We're three strips of quarter round away from finishing the kitchen now. (With the exception of our Ikea drawer fronts which still have not arrived, but that's out of my hands and so off my to-do list). Last week, while I ran out of any sort of steam on this project and instead focused on making use of the kitchen and just ignoring the unpainted bits here and there, Martin managed to grab some more resolve from somewhere down deep to start and finish a built-in bench and table combo.
Part of our inspiration, however round-about, for our kitchen reno was the combined kitchens of Martin's cousins in Denmark. Between their city flat and their gorgeous country cabin they had managed to create very efficient kitchens with little in the way of fuss or clutter. Those Danes I tell ya, they're the masters of simple efficiency. Their city flat had a very small kitchen but one that was very usable for four adults to prepare meals in and share a meal or drink in. Part of what made the room work as a very simple built in table/bench system that created a layout that had the table tucked in a corner and required no room on one side for chairs to move in and out (due to the bench set up). While our kitchen had room for our 50s table, it kind of "just fit" and when we added the leaf into it for guests it meant we could seat 4 adult comfortably and squeeze in 6 for a dinner party with little breathing room. Given that we don't have a diningroom and won't be getting one without some major renos, this has left us a bit cramped for entertaining which is a shame as I love to have folks over for dinner. And so, we began to draw up plans for a built in system of our own.
And, Martin, fabulous and fearless woodworker that he is, made it all happen in short order. The best part? The table, which is attached the wall on one side and uses some bent plywood legs we picked up at Ikea on the other end, can still accommodate a leaf to expand it for dinner guests. Without the leaf it's 4.5" long (longer than our old table) and being tucked against the wall it leaves much more room for moving through the kitchen. With the leaf (which still needs to be milled) it will be 6 ft long allowing for hopefully a dinner party of 7. Only one more than we could seat before, but hopefully it will be a bit more comfortable and less elbow to elbow to wall as it were. The way that Martin came up with the leaf system is simple genius, and will write up a little "how-to" with his help this week for those who are interested in doing this as well. It's deceptively simple.
Oh, and did I say the leaf was the best part? It is definitely a contender. But for a kitchen gadget whore like myself the storage in the bench could win out. The bench will be holding things like my extra stock pots, juicer and appliances that don't get used every day allowing me to use the regular kitchen drawers and shelving for more everyday items. With all this storage I'm able to keep the counter tops quite clutter free which pleases me to no end.
We've yet to have much time to sit at this table to enjoy it together, but we're now close enough to being done that I think some kind of small celebration is in order to Christen the new kitchen.
I've been trying to think of what to say about Heidi Swanson's fabulous new cookbook Super Natural Cooking for over a week now and I kept coming back to the feeling that overwhelmed me when I first thumbed through its pages on a chair in a downtown Mega-Bookstore: it brought me to tears. Now, granted unless you find yourself in the following situation you may not have the same overly dramatic response. I was just reaching the end of two weeks of kitchen renos, aside from one evening when I stood with the toaster in my arms next to the wall outlet, I hadn't made anything but toast during that period of time. Vancouver has been particularly unrelenting and nasty weather wise with Spring taking its sweet time to arrive giving us endless days of rain instead. And I had just worked a 50 hour + week at work, while renovating the kitchen. I was bone weary, emotionally drained and likely honestly a bit low on some essential nutrients like Vitamin D (hello sunshine?) and the plethora of goodness that homecooking brings. And so, it was in this state that I found myself carefully turning the gorgeous pages of Heidi's book. Heidi's own stunning photography is included in the cookbook creating pages that are brimming with the luscious colours of fresh veggies and the pearly sheen of cracked grains. If you're familiar with Heidi's 101cookbooks.com site then you'll know that her food photography, while rich in depth and tone is not perfect. You get the sense that the slightly battered silver spoon sitting in the bowl of avocado soup is one that she picked up at a garage sale and if you look closely you may even see a chip in the side of a plate or two. For me, the reality that comes through in her photos helps me feel like I'm looking at recipes that I will actually make. Living recipes that my own slightly tarnished thrifted silver will dip into. And in that moment in the bookstore the sense of possibility was everything I needed.
I've had the cookbook for just over a week now and I've managed to make three recipes out of it (each of which was repeated as leftovers a few times). Each was an almost understated success. Easy, full of flavour and already worked into my mental repertoire of things to make on an everyday basis. And, each bringing a few new ingredients -- kamut, buckwheat and smoked paprika so far -- into my kitchen than the ones I had got into a bit of a rut with. This week I'm hoping to make the Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers (a recipe also available on her site), as they seem like they would make great weekday lunches.
This cookbook is a star in many other ways. Use of fresh ingredients. Seasonally inspired recipes. Plenty of education about different grains, flours, sweeteners etc. For me its primary strength is in its approachability and simplicity, none of the recipes feel like a challenge, though they do feel inspired. I've already promised to loan it out to a few friends, though I'm a bit loathe to part with it for too long, and I'll likely buy a number of copies as gifts. Now if I can just locate some teff flour in this town, I'll be thrilled.
One could easily argue that I am the kind of person for whom "getting a hobby" should really not be a priority. Between renovating, flamenco, my book club, gardening, co-authoring a book, culinary arts and sewing even I sometimes marvel that I manage to work fulltime and have any semblance of a relationship. Nevertheless, I am possibly exactly the audience likely to be interested in Tina Barseghian's new book Get a Hobby!: 101 All-Consuming Diversions for Any Lifestyle. Afterall, I'm the kind of person who harbours a not so secret desire to build a backyard apiary and I've more than once thought that if I had the time, building a custom dollhouse for Miss P would make for an awesome birthday gift.
Fellicia sent me a copy of Get A Hobby a few weeks ago, and I finally picked it up mid kitchen renos and began thumbing through it on my bus rides to and from work. The format of the book is pretty simple, it contains 101 different hobbies -- from bee keeping to beer brewing -- with two pages devoted to each. As the kind of person who isn't afraid to try out a something new (as long as it doesn't involve singing in public) I'll admit my curiosity was piqued by a number of the suggestions in the book and I can see the book acting as a guide of overview guide for DIY junkies like myself. I do wish that there was a bit more info for each hobby -- though as an author myself I shudder at how much more work that would have been -- maybe even instructions for a project under each task that would let you get your feet wet. Many of the hobbies did have this treatment, but I would have liked to see a bit more. That said, the concise format does make it very easy to flip through and daydream about new ways to fill your precious spare hours. So, if you're pretty sure you haven't completed your personal hobby collection or know a DIY enthusiast give it a read. I can see this title coming in handy over the next few years as a source of rainy day activities to pick up with Miss P.
The trouble with working full time (and sometimes a bit more than full time) and renovating is that it leaves no time for blogging. Perhaps I just need to get my priorities straight.
So, where is our reno at?
We're over the hump.
I'd say that we got over that hump on Friday in fact as Friday evening we had running water hooked up to our new sink, gas running safely through our stove, and 2/3 of our cupboards installed and waiting, empty, to be filled. Martin spent that night out having dinner with a friend and I came home after what felt like the world's longest week and threw myself a little party.
On the party menu: one individual bottle of champagne (one should really always keep one of these chilled in the fridge as I swear you will never know just when you'll need it), a roasted veggie cheeseless pizza (have you had one of these from Amy's Kitchen? I'm not one who can usually abide frozen pizza but that stuff is good) and the DVD player set to Marie Antoinette. A recipe for goodness I tell you. I then proceeded to have a domestic geek-out evening of champions putting stuff away in my lovely nice new deep kitchen drawers. I will admit to you that there was dancing, singing along aloud (something I only ever do alone) and much arranging and rearranging of cupboard contents. It felt like Christmas.
There is still plenty to do kitchen wise, but we're mostly down to the details now and I've had the distinct joy of cooking every night since Sunday. I'll catch y'all up on the rest over the next few days but for now, if you're curious, there are photos.