Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Series: The SHED! Part I

I'm very excited to announce that this marks the first in a series of guest posts by my dear husband and resident Doer-Of-Things, Bill. While he's Done Many Things in and around the house since we moved in, this series will focus on The SHED! I've been dying to tell you about it (since it's hard to take a picture of the garden without seeing it under construction), but I think he should do so in his own words. 

So, Kaitlyn asked for a guest post to let her readers know about a rather large project here on our little slice of heaven in Oklahoma. Since last fall, we have been building a workshop/garden shed. I have to admit that on paper it seemed a lot less—both size and effort—than it has ended up being.

The shed is about 25 x 12, with space for our outdoor tools and what-have-you along with some space for me to work in and a large space for Kaitlyn’s garden materials, pots, planters, etc. As of this writing, the floors, walls and roof are up, (most) doors and windows installed and ¾ of the way shingled. We still need to get the siding on, stairs and ramp built, and get the inside shelves and work benches built. So far in labor hours we stand at around 210 hours and probably about 2/3rds of the way through.

So why, oh dear God why, did I want to do this myself rather than go to Lowe’s and buy one of the pre-packed, pre-assembled sheds? Three reasons: Configuration, Cost, and Quality.

Primarily configuration—I wouldn’t be able to get the footprint, layout, spacing, or natural lighting characteristics I wanted from a pre-assembled shed.

Cost: Ok, so this little project is going to end up costing us more than a pre-assembled shed, but that doesn’t take into mind the fact that I am going to be using higher quality materials and finishes than one of those.

Quality: So this last bit is a little dodgy. I’ll be honest, I went and looked at several of the sheds available at some of the stores in the area and I didn’t have a problem with the quality of the workmanship. The quality I am referring to is materials. Many pre-finished sheds are built with 2x3 studs, or only 7’ studs. The windows are usually the lowest quality single pane glass. The doors are wood framed/barn style. The sheathing is the siding, usually using a T1-11 product (or similar). Because of its size and proximity to the house, I wanted our building to be more like the house. That is to say I wanted it to look like the house, residential style doors and windows, real siding, etc. (Editor's note: Part of Bill's actual job is to obsess over building materials. It's a blessing and a curse for household projects.)

Plus, I like to build stuff myself. I am not a ‘formally’ trained carpenter, but I have worked in construction pretty much all of my adult life and some of that time was actually spent in the field doing rather than directing. So, while I’m not a pro, I like to think I know a little about what I am doing. I won’t say that a project like this is outside of the ability of the average weekend warrior, but I will say: don’t fool yourself about the level of time and commitment it takes to get something like this done. I haven’t been outside with a hand saw and a hammer. I have some specialized tools and have had some help in getting things done.

Anyway, the short of it is that after looking at the available options we decided—which is to say, I convinced Kaitlyn—to do it ourselves. (There were ultimatums involved.) We started off long ago—somewhere around the first or second weekend in September—and have put in a lot of effort. We are almost to the point at which the building will be functional, though not finished. I’ll be writing regularly to cover most of the stuff that we have done so far and to update things as we get the finishing touches on.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Success & Second Guessing

I know it's really early in the gardening season to be freaking out about possible mistakes I've made, but I am. With so many variables to weigh about when to plant (which zone I'm in vs. actual weather, FA advice vs. actual weather, etc.) it makes my head spin sometimes. It's a little like parenting, because I feel like if I haven't done things 100% right from the get-go, I'm going to scar my little plants for life, if they even make it past infancy.

Three things are currently bothering me about the garden:

1. I planted my garlic last fall with zero consideration for how the rest of the plot would be planted in the spring. In fact, the row of garlic (A single row? Why didn't I plant them in clusters or widely spread in a few different rows?) is currently running perpendicular to the rows I've planted in Quad 1. I mean, I guess there's no law saying that all of the rows in each quad have to run in the same direction, but I feel like this is something I should have figured out in October instead of randomly planting bulbs (or not randomly enough). The nagging question of the moment is can I move the garlic bulbs now that they've started sending out shoots, or will that kill them?

2. Even though the Farmer's Almanac says that Jan. 15-Feb. 7 is the optimal time for planting peas in our region, I think the peas I planted on 1/20 are going to freeze to death. If they haven't been traumatized enough by the dogs, the weather is expected to be below freezing temps several days this week (Wednesday: 63 degrees, Thursday: 31 degrees and snowing). Surely this can't be good for them if they (miraculously) start to germinate early in the week, right? Should I cover them up with a blanket? I think I will. Granted, I am following the FA this year because last year I planted the cool-weather crops much too late and they died a sunny death, but now I'm afraid they'll never make it past January. Does anyone want to adopt 3 pea-loving mutts?

3. Just after direct-sowing these doomed peas, I did a lot of reading on inoculating peas and legumes to increase yields. I, of course, did not do that and I didn't purchase pre-inoculated seeds. My yield last year was laughably small, so in addition to purchasing A LOT more seeds this year, I'm thinking that I should have inoculated. This is probably the least of my current concerns because while I've already planted 2.5 rows, I still have another several rows to plant, and I can inoculate those. D'oh!

In other news, however, I AM finding early success in the seeds that I started last week. In fact, the cauliflower seeds started germinating an amazing THREE DAYS after I planted them.

Out of 4 cauli planters, 3 germinated and the 4th I'm not sure actually had a seed in it. At least, I can't see one, so I threw in another seed for good measure. I can't wait to get a couple more of these going, but I will probably need to go dumpster diving to get more soda bottles since we don't drink it here.

I have also had action in the broccoli planters outside, but they are moving very slowly (normal for this cultivar, according to the seed packet) so I'll try to get pictures up when there is green. 

There is also 1 sprout each in the petunia and yarrow flats I started last week, so that's all very encouraging. I'll probably still be a wreck until the "wintry mix" has passed us by and I know the peas will make it. I know I'm obsessing, but I can't be the only one, right?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mutt Monday: Trash Crop

Hokie and Boyfriend Dog have moved past their mutual attraction and are developing a deeper relationship by exploring their joint interests. Which is mainly garbage.

Friday is trash collection day in our neighborhood, and it is always inevitably the windiest day of the week. Everyone sets out their cans and bags and then heads off to work. This is where Hokie and BD come in. This Friday they had dragged no less than THREE entire bags of trash to OUR FRONT LAWN and proceeded to delight in the contents as if it were Christmas morning. I do what I can to keep the front cleaned up, but the backyard...well....

I'm all for young love and all, but this plus the heavyweight wrestling matches in my veggie plot has me leaning towards sending Hokie and BD to boarding school and a military academy, respectively.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Silent Sunday: Progeny

Here I was, thinking I was being really great with the semi-regular postings on here this week, when I get the following, albeit subtle, email from my mom:

"We have seen pictures of plants, pots, and puppies.  When do we see pictures of progeny?
Love you

So. Here are some extra shots from recent months that haven't been posted elsewhere.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

And We're Off!

I told you it was a big week here at the Wat Ranch, and here's why. Last Sunday we drove down to Wichita Falls, TX (about an hour south) to pick up a truckload of bulk compost. Why all the effort? Well our own compost pile isn't quite ready and isn't nearly enough for our 2000 sq. foot garden plot. In fact, the truckload we did get was only enough to lightly till into a quarter of the plot, and I ended up making the drive again for another load to top dress the quarter.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What I really want to talk about is the fact that we have been making the most out of the 50+degree weather days (it was 75 yesterday!) to prep and mobilize The Wat Vegetable Garden 2K10. The cover grass and clover I planted in the plot last fall is waking up from being dormant and getting nice and green again, fixing all kinds of nutrients into the soil. To take advantage of the cover for as long as possible, we decided to work the garden in quadrants, only tilling and planting in one quad at a time. That way we will minimize erosion when our early spring gully-washers strike, and so we can spread out the trips to Texas for more compost.

Here is our plan for the first quad (looking at it from west to east):

We're doing a traditional 3-foot row, but companion planting in helper plants here and there. It's sort of hard to make things look "here and there" in Excel, but rest assured that the Nasturtium, Marigolds, and Carrots are supposed to be somewhat randomly scattered along the sides of the rows. The cool-weather plants in this plot will be among the first to succumb to the summer heat which will probably show up in May, so we'll be able to make use of the space again by replanting in warm-weather crops. That's the plan, anyway.

Here's what the quad actually looks like (from east to west):

It makes me happy just looking at this. It was hours of manual labor to unload all of the compost and till it in, which I dutifully noted as my workouts for those days. Our planting schedule this year will follow the suggestions for gardening by the lunar calendar as detailed in the 2010 Farmer's Almanac and according to the FA's "Best Days for Gardening" tips. Peas are the first veggies sown in our area, and the best day this week for planting was Wednesday. That meant that I had to hustle to unload the truck, rake up the rows, and plant the seeds before it started to rain. Yes, I was that crazy person sowing seeds as the sun went down, and eventually had to turn on the headlights of the truck to see by. I planted 2 double rows of Burpeeana Early Garden Peas, and a half row of Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Peas.

One thing I hadn't prepared for was garden pests this early in the season.

It was already a chore to keep them from eating--yes, eating--mouthfuls of fresh compost while we were unloading it. That's why I put up my naive string "visual barrier" around the quad. I woke up Friday morning to find that the herd of mutts had decided to hold a WWF Smackdown event inside the quad. The string was ripped, stakes split, and mounds flattened from body slams. I was pretty livid, but since they were all limping around, obviously sore, I've just resorted to reinstalling the string and screaming like a crazy person everytime one of them gets close to the plot. I think the peas are okay, but we'll see in a few weeks when/if they start germinating if they stayed in the correct rows.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Starting Seeds...You Hear That, Seeds? Start!

For the last week or so, Joe has been very confused. He sees me in the kitchen, mixing stuff in stuff in the brownie bowl and breaking out the cookie sheets. He doesn't understand why we aren't eating what Mama's cooking. Technically, I'm not cooking anything. I'm starting seeds.

Drawing on the model of, the general idea is to create a mini greenhouse out of recycled materials for early cool-weather crops like broccoli, etc., and to stick them outside and let them do their thing until they're big enough to transplant into the garden. The benefits to starting seeds this way is that you don't need any special equipment, you don't have to buy already-started plants in early spring, and you'll have something to feed your obsession in the dead of winter. The benefits to the actual seeds is that they germinate fairly naturally according to the local climate while still receiving some protection from pests, heavy winds, floods, etc.

I'm doing all of this from the comforts of the kitchen, using kitchen utensils for the most part.

I mix up the seed starting mix with some warm water so it's just moist, then add it to rinsed-out milk jugs that I've cut mostly in half. I've also poked a few holes in the bottom so the water can drain out.

Tasty! I planted broccoli in these and taped them back up. I've read that broccoli can germinate at lower temperatures, so I thought they'd do well outside. These bad boys are parked on an old table behind the garage.

I'm hoping that soon I'll see little greenies when I check on them, but for now this is the view from the top:

I'm also doing a hybrid method of starting cauliflower seeds. Using clear soda bottles (for more light), I'm keeping them inside in a super-sunny window until they germinate. My reading suggests that although this is a cool-weather crop, these seeds need temps of over 70 degrees to germinate, and 14-16 hours of light a day.

I wrapped the bottom of each bottle in foil to help draw in and keep the heat, though I don't know if that actually helps or not. I'm really trying to avoid setting up a formal grow light and heating pad system to keep things tropical. At night, I set them up with a lamp for a few extra hours:

Hey, it may not be a fancy tube light, but that bulb IS a compact fluorescent, so that counts for something, right? I'm not too worried about the plants getting leggy as they stretch for the light because as soon as they have true leaves, they're headed outside. The two flanking flats are petunias and yarrow seeds that I wanted to get a start on because they need a looooong growing season. Once they actually sprout, I'll need to adjust the plastic wrap cover.

I keep telling myself that if these experiments don't work, then I can always buy plants later on. If they do work, however, I reserve the right to run around screaming like a mad scientist about them being alive.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mum's the Word

Winter on the prairie is brown. Like, BA-rown. I can't help but remember the vivid colors that we were seeing just 2 months ago when the mums were in bloom, and I just want to fast forward another month to my spring bulbs that will eventually bust out. The weather has been warming up enough (50s-60s) that I can throw on a sweat shirt and my mud shoes and do general cleanup and tinker around in the gardens. Most of the work is about to be concentrated on the vegetable garden.

I decided to conduct a little flower gardening experiment in the meantime, and I'd love it if my more experienced readers could weigh in. In an attempt to save some money next year in the plant-buying department, I moved the mums that previously occupied window boxes and containers to the front flower beds.

Can you even see them? I know it's hard to see the brown on brown contrast. I can't tell if they are just dormant or if they're dead. I mulched them fairly well because we're expected to have a few more hard freezes.

In other news, there is action with my bulbs.

I'm pretty sure this is a hyacinth, but I can't remember. There is a whole row of them poking through and creeping open. Come on, spring!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pics to Come

There's a lot going on the Wat Ranch this week to get ready for spring. So much that I don't have time to upload photos I've been taking of the goings-on. I will, I promise, but for now I'm too busy doing to talk about doing.

Suffice it to say that now that all of my seed orders have arrived (and I've attacked the seed displays in local stores), the Excel spreadsheet plots are being drawn up and I'm marking off sections in the garden. It's not as easy as I thought it would be because I have a posse of 3 dogs trailing along behind me as I mark. Pics to come.

Other than that, I'm attempting to start seeds for the first time ever, without grow lights or fancy heating contraptions. Pics to come.

I'm also taking advantage of the warm weather by moving some dormant (hopefully, though they might be dead) plants around in the front ornamental beds. Pics to come.

Oh right, and I have a little dude running around (literally) who has a first birthday coming up in a few weeks. I guess I should get on planning that, huh? Plus I'm working out more. As in every single day, for the last 3 weeks straight. I'll just assume you're giving me a virtual high five. In the meantime, back to work--paying work--for now. I've gotta finance all of this somehow.

Coming Soon to a Plot Near Me!

I'll show you mine if you show me yours! My seed orders are arriving and packets are showing up in stores--it's go time, people!

The following is a list of what I'll be trying not to kill in the garden this year. I know it will change as I stroll through nurseries and stores and things jump out at me and bed to be taken home.

Snowball Self-Blanching Cauliflower
Flame Lettuce
Little Gem Lettuce
Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea
Red Malabar Spinach
Gotte Jaune D' Or Lettuce
Five Color Silverbeet Chard
Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpea
Danvers 126 Half Long Carrot
Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop Squash
Early Prolific Straightneck Squash
Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin
Table Queen Squash
Butternut Waltham Squash
Garden Pea Burpeeana Early
Garden Pea Wando
Bean - Heavyweight II
Soybean - Green Pearls
Striped Italian Zucchini
Early Golden Bantam Sweet Corn

Basil - Cinnamon
Sweet Italian Basil
Italian Flat-leaf Parsley

Flowers from seed:
Empress of India Nasturtium
Lemon Queen Sunflower
Orange Hawaii Marigold

Transplants still to buy:
sweet potatoes

*I am planning to reserve an order for these plants to be started by a local grower, High Tides & Field Greens, who is a member of the Oklahoma Food Co-op. That way I won't mess up starting them from seed, but I can feel better knowing they are coming from a local farm instead of shipped from who-knows-where and sold on the verge of death at Lowes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mutt Monday: Oklahoma Animal Planet

Friday afternoon was a bit exciting around these parts with some entertainment provided by our local herd of mutts. Yes, Boyfriend Dog is still around. Don't act so shocked.

Around 90% of the time, Boston practices her life passion of being a speed bump, but every once in a while there will be an occasion (ahem, rodent) that catches her attention and gets her moving. Boyfriend Dog shares her passion for rooting out critters, and I was lucky enough to catch much of their bonding session on video.
(The narration is provided by me, our babysitter, and Joe. You'll see background shots of our under-construction garden shed, but I'm waiting for Bill to guest-blog about that.)

Don't worry, the lawnmower made it. As for the critter, it remains a mystery.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Herb Update

I am going to go ahead and call our kitchen herb experiment a good omen for the spring ahead. As you recall, Joe and I planted the herbs on the 7th, and a mere 6 days later, we saw this:

Life! Why hello there, you tiny little basil baby! Is that a thyme tot I see?

It looks like my mirror-on-the-kitchen-table set up is working! I've filled an old stain spray bottle to keep things nice and moist. We're now on Day 10, and things are looking pretty exciting:

The parsley is a little slower than the rest, but I can see it just starting to poke through the surface. Now if only we can get rid of the foggy, cloudy weather we've had the last 2 days...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Does Your Farmer's Market Take Food Stamps?

Last night Bill and I watched a film called Food, Inc. which I had never heard of until it landed on our counter. Generally speaking, it's one of your typical run-of-the-mill liberal documentaries in the same vein as Bowling for Columbine and Supersize Me. Now, I've already openly admitted my bleeding heart tendencies to you, so it's not a huge surprise that this film struck a major chord with me, especially given the very context in which I write most of the entries for this blog.

A striking statistic discussed in the film is that 1 out of every 5 health care dollars spent in this country today goes to treat diabetes, which is largely preventable. We've ALL seen this commercial:

Now, I've known for years that there is something ridiculously unnecessary about high fructose corn syrup nutritionally, but Food, Inc. explains the relationship between corn and industrial food production in this country and EVERYTHING ELSE. Public health, money, the environment, corporations, labor, immigration, regulatory agencies, and our legislation.

The wonderful thing about this problem is not necessarily political. We don't have to draw battle lines based on political parties or religious beliefs. Voting with your wallet in the checkout line for organic, local, and sustainable foods benefits your family, your neighbor's family, and your planet with no strings attached. It may cost a few extra dollars today, but by increasing the demand for these products in the marketplace, supply will go up and cost will go down. There is a point in the above trailer where a family is discussing having to choose between buying a few vegetables or a few hamburgers for the same price to feed their family. I'm immediately reminded of the trip I took to my local farmer's market this past summer where I asked a farmer what his price was for a head of garlic and he literally pressed an entire handful into my hands and told me to enjoy.

I like to think that he did that because he had an innate sense that I'd mention it here in this blog, which you are reading right now, to encourage YOU to think more about where your food comes from. That and farmer's markets are notorious for generous vendors and nutritionally superior products. It's an unfortunate reality that genetically engineered foods are not engineered to be made more nutritious, they're engineered to be cheaper. This applies to industrial breeding of cattle, pork, and poultry which has far-reaching impacts on our public health, environment, and global economy. I'm not arguing against eating meat. My family loves meat and animal products, but, as a farmer argues in the film, there is something to be said for respecting "the pigness of the pig."

At the end of the film there was a series of call-to-action suggestions which included one that I'd never thought about before: making sure your local farmer's market accepts food stamps. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Why not cut out the all of the middle men (Walmart, etc.) and connect two groups of people in the community that desperately need each other. I have no idea what would be involved legislatively to ensure that the vendors at my farmer's market are able to accept food stamps, but I am planning to ask the next time I'm there.

"A culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structures to be manipulated by whatever creative design a human can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within it's community and other cultures within the community of nations with the same type of disdain and disrespect and controlling-type mentality."
--Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

As If My Opinion On Late Night Programing Mattered.

Kitchen Herbs or Meet Joe Dirt

Folks, I don't know if I'll make it to spring. I'm kind of an impatient mess right now. I had such high hopes of being able to start seeds for the garden soon, but I'm just not certain that the coldest winter weather on record is going to bear out my hopes for an early frost-free harvest. This past weekend, I convinced myself that 40-degree weather wasn't really that bad and did some clean up and worked on the compost pile for a little bit. Not that I was very successful as it was pretty much a frozen-solid block of kitchen scraps.

Thankfully, my dear friend across the way gifted me with a kitchen herb kit. (I am seriously considering changing the name of this blog to "Thanks Again, One Acre Homestead.") I decided it would be a fun, tactile activity for Joe and I to undertake to try to chase away the cabin fever and to distract him from the pesky cold he had last week. It was an excuse for me to exercise my green thumb and an excuse for Joe to throw dirt all over the kitchen floor--good times.

In the end, we planted 5 pots of thyme, parsley, basil, chives, and cilantro. Whether these actually sprout or not, only time will tell. The directions merely say to position them "near a sunny window," but in my current research about seed starting for the outdoor garden, I'm quickly becoming convinced that nothing will grow without significant investments in grow lights and heating mat contraptions.

This arrangement will have to do for now: sunny window+frequent repositioning throughout the day+cosmetic mirror. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mutt Monday: Boyfriend Dog

Around here we get a lot of doggie visitors because of our split-rail fence. Our dogs are pretty good hostesses, but this week, they fell in love. Well, Hokie fell in love anyway; Boston is pretty much a cynic when it comes to canine relationships.

ANYWAYS, we were joined by a very sweet young Lab that we called "BD" for "Boyfriend Dog," "Brown Dog," and "Big Dog" because they all apply.

We've seen him here and there for the last several weeks, and every once in a while he'd raid a can on trash day and share some of his scraps with our girls. This week, I guess, he decided to take the relationship to the next level by breaking out the big guns...or big bones, as it were:

Only the best, giantest bones for BD's lady loves. We found out later that he'd pilfered them from the One Acre Homestead. I guess all's fair in love and bone theft, but we'll do our best to replace them somehow. This one reminds me of a married couple sharing the remote:

As I've mentioned several times lately, the weather in our neck of the woods has been ridiculously cold. Like, in the single and negative digits with the wind chill. So being the giant pushover that I am, I couldn't help but let BD stay over night with us when he made it clear that he wasn't leaving his women, despite the weather. Some women are destined to be crazy cat ladies; I'll be the woman with 40 dogs. Besides, he was quite the charmer, what with his advanced ability to sit, stay, and infectious tail-wagging whenever he saw me coming.

Over the course of his 3-day stay, there was lots of lover's turmoil out in the yard. At first Boston turned a cold shoulder to the flirtfest.

But in the end, she couldn't refuse a man bearing cattle-bone shards, even if it meant sharing him with a younger woman. So scandalous.

We were content to let BD stick around until warmer temps prevailed and we could start the search for his people in earnest (because it was very clear that he was a beloved pet) but he struck out on the morning of the 4th day and we haven't seen him since. I guess he was born a rambling man. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him.

EDIT: Sure enough, he was back first thing this morning to play. I'm sure he came right over as soon as his people left for work.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's My Birthday and I'll Post What I Want To

The scene: A basket of freshly shredded papers left over from a freelance project intended for the compost pile. I had just discovered that there were no clean cloth diapers and we were out of all spare disposables except for a few swim diapers left over from the summer. New toys from Christmas strewn throughout the house, completely ignored. Late afternoon, general restlessness afoot.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Yeast Also Rises

If you've been involved in the cooking/self-sufficient/money-saving blogosphere at all, then you've heard of the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. If you haven't, then you probably won't find my post to be too redundant, because this bread-making method has become HUGELY popular amongst home bakers. Why? It's so easy. Like, you'll-never-buy-bread-again-because-this-is-stupid-easy.

The general premise is that you mix all of the ingredients together, let it rise for 2 hours, then dump the whole bowl in the fridge. You break off hunks of dough when you feel like having fresh bread. No kneading. Let me repeat: NO KNEADING. No drawn out marathons of rising and punching down bread, and it is even faster than bread machines. And the taste? Comparable to Panera Bread or Atlanta Breads, except at a tiny fraction of the cost. The only special equipment you'll need is a bread stone and a pizza peel, but the recipe I'll discuss here doesn't require either.

I started experimenting with the recipes (summary found here) just before Christmas so I could serve fresh crusty breads with soups and pasta for our guests. I got a very favorable response (what? you're saying my grandmother was biased? pshhhh.) and then I tried my hand at rosemary herb rolls--SO tasty! All using the base recipe.

For the last 2 weeks, we've been eating homemade whole wheat sandwich bread. The basic ingredients are:

1 1⁄2 tbsp granulated yeast (1 1⁄2 packets)
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp salt
1/2 cup honey
5 tbsp neutral-flavored oil, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1⁄2 cups lukewarm milk
1 1⁄2 cups lukewarm water
6 2⁄3 cups whole wheat flour

I dump all of this into my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and let 'er rip for a minute or two. I will say that the one real trick is to microwave the milk and water for 1 minute, just to take the chill off. The little yeasties need a warm environment to wake up in, but if it's too hot, they'll die.

And that's it! Let it sit covered with a towel for 2 hours to rise, and stick it in the fridge until you're ready to bake. I've been mixing up the dough after Joe goes to bed and popping it in the fridge just before I go to bed myself.

I like to transfer the dough to another bowl, mainly because I use my stand mixer pretty frequently. My aunt gave me this large ceramic bowl a few years ago for Christmas because it belonged to my grandmother. She used it to make eggnog in, but since I don't really go for the nog, I figure it would get more use as my dough bowl.

The dough can stay in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, and you can even freeze it in chunks. I haven't tried that yet, but I'll let you know how it goes if I do. When you're ready to bake, break off a chunk and shape it into a loaf. As I mentioned before, at this point you can shape the loaf on a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal and then toss it into a hot oven directly onto a bread stone, but for uniform sandwich slices, I use a loaf pan:

Because I'm a health dork, I like to sprinkle wheat germ on top of the loaf for some added Vitamin E and fiber.

Let the dough sit in the pan for an hour and 40 minutes to rest (may or may not rise some more). I like to set out a loaf just after breakfast, that way it's rested, baked, and cooled just in time for sandwiches at lunch.

Another trick for the perfect crust is to set an empty pan on the lowest rack in the oven and pour a cup (I use a cup and a half) of hot water into it just as you're putting the bread in. The steam gives a nice crunchy crust and keeps everything moist and yummy. Then sit back and enjoy the awesome smell for the next 50-60 minutes while the loaf bakes (at 350).

And there you have it. Simple, tasty, cheap homemade bread. It literally takes less effort to make this every few days than it does to pack up and head off to the store. There are probably a few tweaks to make this even healthier, but I haven't read the sequel Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day yet. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my from-scratch sandwiches and toast (tastes awesome with my pumpkin butter) and I'm trying to see how long I can hold out before breaking down and heading to the grocery store. When that finally happens, it will be for more flour, trust me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I started this blog to discuss topics that I found interesting, like gardening, cooking, and kids. I understand that these topics automatically turn off a large portion of my potential readership (including most of my close friends) because they can be considered "boring." I think this post might make my posts about grass look downright thrilling to that demographic.

We're talking closets today, folks. As part of my New Year's resolutions, I swore to get organized because we've lived in this house for over a year and a half and still had unpacked boxes stashed in the closets. Now that Joe is getting older (read: has more stuff) and I'm exploring this whole homemaking arena, we need to actually use our closets for closety purposes.

I hit up 2 separate Bed, Bath & Beyonds and 2 Targets (otherwise known as The Greatest Store Ever) and stocked up on coated wire "organizers," plastic storage bins, and some cute canvas box-like thingies. I want to point out that while we actually have a lot of storage space in our house (the master closet is bigger than my office), the builder didn't really consider usage while designing the house. For example, all of our cabinet shelves are SUPER tall and really deep, which makes it impossible to access stuff that isn't right up front on the lower shelves without monkeying up on the counters. What's the point of that? But that's for another post.

Anyway, I know that I'm a giant dork for being so happy about this, but I FINALLY organized our master closet, previously known as The Pile With a Door:

Now, this is a big deal because we are currently living without dressers (we've picked them out, but are financing other home projects first. Plus, hello, our master closet is gigantic, why buy furniture?). You can't see around the corner where all of Bill's stuff is, but the point of the pic is to show that we've finally found a use for the upper 2 shelves (the many boxes of holiday gear). You see those 2 big tubs on the floor? One of those was OVERFILLED with my clothes that I packed up in MD and HADN'T TOUCHED until last week. Needless to say, there are many bags of stuff sitting in my car waiting to be dropped off at the women's shelter.

Ah. Cathartic.

Now, as a response to this post from my partner-in-gardening-crime, I'd like to share my cleaned-up pantry:

Look at all the organizers! Again, this pantry is poorly designed for a myriad of reasons, but we've found a configuration that will work for now. It's actually looking downright bare at the moment, thanks to a frenzy of holiday baking and tossing out ingredients that were way past their prime. I'm excited about the home-canned jars on the middle shelf and I hope that next year I can dedicate a whole shelf to homegrown, home-canned goodies.

In my dream kitchen, I'd have one of those appliance garages, but this hall closet across from the pantry is the next best thing, considering my growing collection of bulky kitchen gear:

I know, I know. BOOOOOORING!! But look, it's literally 0 degrees outside, the holidays are over, my stuff is rarely organized, and this blog is supposed document how I spend my days, regardless of how mind-numbingly uninteresting they may be.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mutt Monday: Double Post

To make up for missing last week's Mutt Monday post, you're getting a double feature this week. We wouldn't want you think that the dogs weren't busy over the holidays, because they DEFINITELY were.

Last week, on the day before much of our holiday company was to arrive, the mutts decided to spend their evening making friends with the locals. Especially the black-and-white striped locals. It turns out the locals didn't want to be friends. In fact, the locals, being of the skunk variety, decided to make it clear that they wanted to be left alone. Did I mention that all of this happened at 9pm on a freezing cold night? The good news is that we have a foolproof recipe for skunk shampoo, but the bad news is that we had to run to the store for more peroxide and the hose water was just barely above freezing. Usually we'd let the girls sleep under the stars after a skunk tango, but it seemed a bit cruel to leave them soaking wet in below freezing temps.

This kept them warm. Nothing like bunking in the garage for the night while they dried off. Actually, I think Hokie quite enjoyed the cuddle time.

Boston, not so much.

It's a good thing we already had the kennel set up, because we ended up using it a few days later when we had to rescue a neighbor's dog from the blizzard. His poor family had been caught unexpectedly by the storm and couldn't make it home, so he spent a few days with us. It was pretty chaotic so we didn't get a picture of our guest, but he made sure to wake us up early on Christmas morning to let us know that Santa had come, and that he had to pee.

And now for the past week. In normal weather, this is the view from my kitchen at about 5pm every night:

The dinner stare. No matter what I happen to be doing, I can feel 4 mutty eyes burning into me, until they hear the inevitable crash of kibble hitting bowl. Then tails wag, bodies are thrown against the glass...I'll be sure to catch it on video one of these days.

In snowy weather, however, everything changes.

While sleet nor snow nor nuclear holocaust will distract Hokie from a meal, Boston on the other hand was too busy frolicking and snow-bunnying around to be bothered with dinner. She tends to live up to her name and truly comes alive in the snow. If we are blessed with the THIRD SNOWSTORM OF THE SEASON this week as predicted, I'll try to get pictures of this rare event.

Boston frolicking, not the snow. Contrary to what I was told when we moved to this state, snow hasn't exactly been rare this winter.