Monthly Archives: April 2013

SourdoughN’T – A Baker I Am Not… (How NOT to make sourdough bread)

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Here is my baby, the sourdough starter.

So I’ve had this sourdough starter hanging out in my fridge for a few weeks. I have been feeding it, keeping it alive, staring at it blankly, shuffling it around so I can fit other things in my fridge, all while mentally preparing for the upcoming challenge… Well today I decided to do something with it and tried my hand at making sourdough bread. After all, I consider myself to be a San Francisco native (close enough anyway), so why wouldn’t I be able to produce the sourdough bread our lovely city is famed for? I pride myself on being a pretty good cook. I’m no Thomas Keller, but I know my way around a kitchen, with one caveat… I can’t bake.

I really CAN’T bake bake for shit. I try, in fact I participate in an annual cookie exchange with some girlfriends every year and have been doing this for roughly 18 years. You would think, I would pick up a trick or two during this time, but no. Year after year, I bake 12 dozen “whatevers,” and enter them into our cute little contest that I never win. Wait I take that back, I did win one year, but only because there was a category for best display. I made these atrocious gingerbread chew things that were barely palatable, but my display was a gingerbread man sitting on a toilet, pooping them out onto an assembly line. Not only was this hilarious, it was proportionate to the quality of cookie you bit into as well. SCORE! Now if only there were a category for most alcohol consumed, I’d win or place in the top three every time!

My first foray into the world of baking my own sourdough bread was no different than my attempts at baking cookies, sadly. I have pulled off yummy dinner rolls here and there, and one decent loaf of rustic italian, but I was really excited about sourdough! Not only does it feed my belly, it feeds my obsession with cultured and fermented foods as well.

If you like to experiment with food as I do, you have come to notice that recipes, especially ones for foods you aren’t that familiar with, can be a bit tricky when it comes to interpretation. For instance, when it says to “stir in just enough flour so that the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl” it might mean to stir in enough flour so it pulls away from the sides of the bowl completely. Another thing that might be misinterpreted is when you are looking for a dough that is “sticky and elastic.” This particular stage of dough making can be quite vast. Add too much flour and you end up with a dense, hockey puck bread. Add too little and you end up with what I made… Freddy Krueger bread. The Freddy Krueger looking top happened because my dough was so sticky that the well oiled plastic wrap it was covered with while it was on its second rise, pulled the entire top layer off of what otherwise would have been a beautifully raised loaf of bread. I felt my spirit deflate right along with that loaf (sigh). I took a deep breath and shoved it into the oven anyway. I am glad I did, because despite the odd appearance of the loaf, it is actually pretty tasty and has a good texture inside. It just goes to show you, you should NEVER JUDGE A BREAD BY ITS CRUST!

I will attempt this recipe again, and post it as soon as I get it right. I will make sure to take pictures of the dough pulling away from the sides of the bowl, as well as the appropriate “sticky and elastic” texture. Here are some pictures, descriptions included… After all, sometimes the most helpful advice is hearing what NOT to do, right? This is not over sourdough!!! We will meet again soon and I will make you my bitch…

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That big dent in the side is from my having to pry the loaf out of the greased pan with a spatula.

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This is the Freddy Krueger top of my bread

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This is a slice of the bread. Doesn’t look too bad on the inside…

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We Got the BEET – Learning to love the unlovable

If your childhood was anything like mine, you also developed a healthy dislike for this much maligned root vegetable. For me, the road to loving beets has been a long one. My first exposure to them was less than positive. My mother used to serve these earthen tasting dark red disks directly from the can. They weren’t quite firm, but they weren’t quite soft either and they tasted like the bottom of a shoe. I protested loudly each time they appeared on my dinner plate. Just to prove my point I resorted to pushing them onto the floor and letting everyone see for themselves that even the dog wouldn’t eat them. For future reference to anybody considering this mode of communication using visual aids, I want you to know that the outcome was not good. If I remember correctly I went to bed early and with a sore bottom that evening.

Since I joined a CSA program about 15 years ago, beets were re-introduced to my life. I spent the first several years pretending like they didn’t really exist; often times giving them away, or leaving them in my refrigerator only to be found months later in a shriveled, moldy heap in the bottom of the crisper. About 10 years ago I decided that I would no longer waste these nutritious earth apples, and find a way to make them palatable. My first attempt was Beet Brownies. Looking back I am not sure what my motivation was here, because I don’t even like brownies! Maybe I was testing the math rule of two negatives make a positive, but I don’t even like math! Before the math geeks start to send hate mail, let me say this… I understand that math is necessary and all of the wonderful things that exist today, exist because of it, but math and I just don’t see eye to π. With that said, the brownie experiment was a huge fail.

My second attempt happened after I bought my first juicer. This was a HUGE success, as I could pretty much slip beets into all of my juice concoctions and enjoy it. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I went on to roasting them and eating them with a little bit of goat cheese and some vinegarette; sometimes on top of a salad made with beet greens, sometimes not, but I found that even this was too limiting for my tastes. I needed more options.

Shortly after I discovered the world of fermented foods through books like “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon and “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and added Beet Kvass to the list. This became my preferred method of consuming beets and will likely remain so. Beet Kvass is considered a cleansing tonic by many people. Being a skeptic doesn’t allow me to subscribe to this idea, but what I can suscribe to is this; it is packed with vitamins and gives me energy and that’s enough of an endorsement for me. If you haven’t tried Beet Kvass, I highly recommend that you do and you can see for yourself. Please do read up on it before jumping straight in to drinking two glasses daily, as there are some who report varying ill effects associated with too much too soon. I myself never had any problems and started with two glasses a day out of the gate. Now I look forward to getting beets in my CSA box, and have been known to buy them at the farmers market, just so I can make a batch of Kvass to drink. I have been experimenting using raw apple cider vinegar instead of whey to inoculate my kvass, but haven’t quite perfected the recipe. When I do, I will post it. Until then enjoy a few other recipes I like to prepare when I have these sweet little beauties available to me. They can’t be BEET! IMG_0344

Pickled Beets, enjoy alone, or on top of salads and sandwiches.

Beet Pickled Eggs, these are tasty all by themselves, as well as on salads, or a yummy twist on egg salad.IMG_0345

Things just ain’t the same in Reno unless you’re sh*tfaced

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: Slot Sluts

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: Slot Sluts

Recently the zombie and I headed to Reno for a little girls trip. One thing this mamma hasn’t given up is her need to have some time to herself, and time spent with her besties. We try and get away at least once a year and this time there were just four of us. With this group, Vegas is definitely a bigger draw. We still managed to have a really good time, which is no surprise. I mean Reno sober is still fun and all and I seem to be pretty consistent with making poor choices drunk or sober, but the lack of alcohol intake ups the guilt factor exponentially.

Among the general debauchery, we went to a comedy show at the Silver Legacy. I think this decision was made mainly because everybody felt sorry for me due to the fact that I could not drink. This was something we could all do to be entertained, that still served alcohol of course. The headliner was Rich Aronovich, and he had three people perform ahead of us in order to warm us up.

The first guy was great. He played the piano, guitar and fiddle and kept us relatively engaged, while everybody was coming in and getting settled. In response to something he said, one of my girlfriends, we’ll call her Boozeanne, shouted something out to him. He promptly says, “oh yea, there’s the group of hot chicks over there.” I nearly fell out of my chair. By no means do I think that we are hard on the eyes and to be fair one of my MILF girlfriends is pretty damn hot, but really?!? “The group of hot chicks?!” This is why Reno is so great!!! Comparatively, we WERE the group of hot chicks! If a slightly above average group of forty somethings in Reno can still be considered hot, I am all in!

The second guy made us all a little nervous. I think it may have been his first stand up attempt, so for that I applaud his efforts, but he was bad! If you find yourself in Reno at a comedy show and you see somebody approach the stage with a heavily waxed, old timey barber shop mustache, with a fear the beard sort of goatee thing hanging down, that is a good indication that it is time to use the restroom or leave.

The third guy was pretty funny, but I mostly felt bad because he was a self-deprecating fat guy. Most of his routine was about him and his fat girlfriend and their sex life. I have to admit the joke he made about her resembling a fighter pilot while wearing her sleep apnea mask during sex was hilarious. When he said “talk to me Goose!” I nearly spat my water clear across the table. Had he not referred to himself as a fat piece of sh*t, I might have enjoyed his set more, but joking or not, it makes me feel sad to hear people be so hard on themselves.

Rich came on and the show got significantly better. He was smart and funny and the best part is that half of the crowd probably didn’t understand half of his jokes. This was evident, because of the loud group next to us that decided it was time to have a loud conversation while he was performing. I don’t care whether or not you find this person funny, don’t be a total ass hat while somebody is up there trying to entertain you. Whatever you have to say isn’t nearly as hilarious as what he has to say, so shut the f*ck up! Anyhow, after the show Rich stopped by and hung out with us for a bit. We tried to fix him up with the only single girl in the group, but I think the 70s porn part of his act, which was probably my favorite part, was stuck in her mind and every time she looked at his hair she thought of vaginas. The rest of us would have tested his declaration of being “good in bed,” but our sweet friend was unable to see this opportunity as a good chance to have some fun with no strings attached. Sadly on the way home we had to ask her to turn in her lady parts due to misuse… Oh well, maybe next time.

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: Hangin' with Rich

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: Hangin’ with Rich

The Zombie Apocalypse Starts With Me… And a few other individuals.

I am convinced that my family is the catalyst to the end of the world via Zombie Apocalypse, and let me tell you why. For the last year and a half, my husband and I have been attempting to conceive a second child. I am just going to throw this out there, I am of what “they” consider “advanced maternal age.”  I am pretty sure this particular pejorative was created as an attempt to be polite when calling me an OLD LADY, but I don’t think it is any easier to hear. Hearing that you are of advanced maternal age still conjures up visions of ovaries resembling dried prunes, support hose and rows upon rows of various face creams.

I finally decided to go get checked out to see what the heck was taking so long. My midwife suggested we do a post coital analysis to start. Yes, this is as gross as it sounds. Nothing like somebody shining a light on your vagene right after you’ve been soundly shagged. “Welcome to infertility, please check your dignity at the door and don’t forget to tip your speculum.” The results of this test were not positive, in fact my midwife called me over to take a peek at what was under the microscope. “See how they’re all dead?” she said. “Well that explains things, doesn’t it?” I said. She passed along some information on a clinic that does sperm analysis and I packed up my hostile vagina and headed home to share the news and take the next step in the process.

The next day we packed up and headed to Costa Rica for 7 days. We drank like fishes, while our son swam like a fish, and we had a terrific time. When we got home we went to visit some friends and there was a little accident with my son that resulted in an ER visit and a CT scan. Before going in to the room with him the tech said “are you pregnant?” I laughed and said, no. What I was thinking was “not with his dead sperm.” I didn’t feel like it was the right time to make jokes. My baby wasn’t doing to well right then and I wanted to get the hell out of there.

Fast-forward two weeks and something was definitely afoot at the circle K. I knew it wasn’t possible, but I had to check it off the list, so I peed on a stick. No shit, that dead sperm produced a pregnancy! And this is how the Zombie apocalypse begins. I am now gestating the undead. Not only that, but the “zombie” as we now lovingly refer to our little fetus, has had a small dose of radiation to boot! Our radioactive little bundle of joy is due in October. I’ll keep you posted on necessary preparation for end times as the date grow nearer.

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: MUST EAT BRAINS!!!

Picture by Skepclectic Mom: MUST EAT BRAINS!!!

A Secular Easter – Eggs for equality

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My son turned 3 this past January and this year is the first year that coloring eggs has held any interest for him. Being that my husband and I are both atheists, you might think it is weird that we would even entertain the idea of following any of the rituals associated with a religious holiday. To that I say, why not? Does coloring eggs that are to be hidden by a make believe bunny, only to be found the next morning along with candy and other yummy delights teach my son to believe in something that is not real? Does it teach him to follow its doctrine without question or any critical thought? Ahem, well, I suppose it does… Temporarily. We try to keep things secular around here, but just can’t resist some of the rituals we group up with.

I justify these things by taking the position of promoting creativity and fueling that creativity with some fantasy. I personally love fantasy. I’ll take a heaping spoonful of Star Wars, with a side of Harry Potter and a light sprinkling of Twilight any day!  I believe that being able to enjoy fantasy is one of the amazing perks of having these big beautiful brains of ours. Another perk is having the ability to separate fantasy from reality. This is a perk that very few of us enjoy when it comes to religion. Many people cherry pick what works for them and toss out the rest, but many people also stick rigidly to ideals that were doled out centuries ago by people who believed the world was flat among other ridiculous notions.

One of these notions currently making headlines across the United States and the world is marriage equality. I truly believe that this should be a non-issue. All human beings deserve to be treated equally in every way, unless you are a criminal and even they are allowed to marry! These protest signs pretty much sum up my feelings on the matter http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/gaymarriage/ig/Gay-Marriage-Signs/What-Jesus-Said-About-Gay-People.htm

So in support of marriage equality, and equality everywhere I give you “Eggs for Equality.” These were lovingly dyed by my 3 year old, who I am trying to raise as a humanist. These eggs are a symbol of my hope to succeed in this endeavor. These eggs are also a symbol of my support to the LGBTQ community. I hope that before I die, I see the world turn a corner on these issues. Lastly these eggs are a symbol of what we will be eating over the next few weeks. Beet pickled eggs, come to mamma!

Olive You – Turning enemies into friends… Edible friends

WARNING: this story contains puns that are not funny, or even remotely helpful. If you get them, great! If you get them and laugh, you are my hero.

Let me start by saying that I am severely allergic to olive trees & their pollen, but not olives. My feelings about olives were fairly neutral until about 7 years ago, when we moved into our current house and started a tiny backyard garden. This is when my relationship with olives turned bitter (rim shot). You see, our neighbor has an olive tree in their backyard. It didn’t occur to me to mind until I discovered that between the months of March and May (depending on the weather) I wanted to dig my eyeballs out of my skull and run the high pressure hose through my nose cavity so I could breath a little better. No big deal, right? Many people suffer from allergies, so why be a big crybaby about it? That’s why wonderful companies like Aventis and Alcon created pharmaceutical solutions to these everyday problems. Yay for science!

One solution I am still looking for is an easier, faster way to remove the hundreds of olives that drop into my garden every year. These little fruits, in the long run are probably beneficial in the way of soil nutrients, but they are messy and a total pain in the ass to clean up and if I don’t, the part that doesn’t immediately decompose screws with the structure of my soil. Now, some of you may be saying “what a pity,” (rim shot) but this year my husband brought in a mound of branches with ripe olives and said, “think you could do something with these?”

After I ran through some pretty creative ways to ensure that these little beauties came to a swift and violent end, I started my search on ways to home cure olives. I was surprised at how little information is out there on the subject, but ran across a tremendously helpful publication out of UC Davis on safe methods for home pickling. After all, could it be much worse than raking and hand picking them out of the raised beds?

While I haven’t tried and won’t try all of the curing methods in this document, because I tend to be a bit picky (rim shot) I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to try curing their own olives. I am too nervous about bacteria to try the water-cured method. I don’t even use soap with lye in it, so there is no way I would use it in my food preparation. I won’t try the salt-cured method because raisiny olives don’t sound appealing to me at all. Maybe that’s because I hate raisins, but that’s another story for another time.

What I can do is vouch for the brine-cured olives. It took about 6 months with nearly monthly refreshes on the brine, but now I have some delightfully flavored olives to snack on whenever my little heart desires. I used a couple of bay leaves and some garlic in my brine, and cured the olives in a one gallon glass jar, right on my kitchen counter. Feel free to get creative when using spices, but keep in mind the time investment when experimenting. Nothing will kill a blossoming interest (rim shot) in home curing olives like throwing an entire batch of olives away because the cumin, rosemary, chipotle spice mix didn’t taste as good as it sounded.

And that my friends, is how you turn a negative into a positive! So go out there and get the cure for what ails you (rim shot)!!!

Image by Skepclectic Mom

Image by Skepclectic Mom: The fruits of my labor!