Homemade Bread: Busy Mom Style

As you know, I like baking bread. I can make bread frugally, it’s delicious because it’s fresh, and Liesbeth really really loves it. Like, loves it so much that she’s always “reminding” me that it’s time for me to make more bread because she’s running out. She eats a sandwich for lunch every day and she frowns upon store-bought bread now. It’s sweet. The only problem with making my own bread is that sometimes it’s damned near impossible to find time for all of the mixing, resting, kneading, rising, and baking. It pretty much takes all day to make two loaves of bread, and as it turns out, I’m not typically home all day.

Soooo… I was really excited when my friend handed me a copy of the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Of course, I wasn’t really quite sure how that was going to work, but I was very interested to try a new and faster method of baking bread. It turns out that the idea behind this bread is you mix up all the ingredients and then let it chill in your refrigerator overnight. The next day, you can just cut off a piece of dough, mold it into a loaf, let it rise and bake it. No kneading necessary. I wasn’t quite so sure about that idea, but I was excited to try. I started out with the basic white boule recipe: the master recipe for the book upon which all the variations are based. Normally we prefer a whole grain bread, but this first batch was for the sake of experiementation. It wasn’t the best bread I’ve ever tasted. In retrospect, I think the dough was not moist enough and it ended up being dry, dense, and very chewy. My mistake

For the round two, I studied a few other recipes in the book and decided to create my own. It is loosely based on the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, but I changed a few things in order to customize the bread to the ingredients we had on hand. Luckily for us, round two turned out really yummy! Liesbeth and I both think it is a great sandwich bread- soft and moist but not too sweet. Without further ado, here is my recipe:

Melissa’s Five-Minutes-Per-Day Flaxseed Wheat Bread

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk (I used soy this time)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (or two packets)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
1/3 cup warm water
5 tablespoons canola or other neutral-flavored oil
3 cups bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour plus a bit more to even out texture

1. Mix ground flax seeds and 1/3 cup warm water in a bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix together lukewarm water, milk, yeast, salt, brown sugar, and oil.

3. Add in flax seed mixture and stir.

4. Stir in flour. If mixture is too sticky, add in more whole wheat four with your hands. Dough should be very moist, slightly sticky, and take the form of the bowl. Loosely cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until doubled.

5. Put covered dough in the fridge and keep it there overnight.

6. The next day, remove half of the dough from the bowl by cutting it with a bread knife. Shape the dough into a loaf shape and place in a lightly oiled loaf pan. Allow to rise 1 hour 45 minutes, 2 hours if your house is pretty chilly.

7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Place an empty pan on a rack that won’t interfere with where you want your bread loaf to go.

8. When oven is ready, place bread dough into the oven and fill empty pan with one cup of hot tap water. Close the oven and allow the steam to do its magic.

9. Bake 45 minutes. Bread is ready when it is lightly browned on top and firm to touch.

10. Allow to cool before slicing- if you can!

11. The remaining dough can sit in the fridge for up to about 5 days before baking.

Sadly, I have no pictures to show for this because I was making bread in a hurry! I guess that’s the point though, right?

Grace’s New Freecycled Train Table- Improved By Me!

I said I would blog about this a long time ago, but unfortunately every time I tried to, I’d have some sort of computer problem, internet problem, or photo upload problem. Therefore I’ve been really turned off from finishing this particular entry, which is annoying. Anyway, this time I’ll actually finish it, but it might not be as long and pretty as it might have been in oh, May.

As you may have gathered from past entries, we freecycled a train table that our neighbor left on the curb this spring. Score! We had been wanting a train table for Grace and free is my favorite price. The only problem was that the surface was sort of worn down and peeling.

The first thing I did was to use a little elbow grease and sand down the boards and remove the existing plastic coating. I suppose it would be easier if you had an electric sander. I don’t.

Then, I laid down a drop cloth and primed the boards. If I were you, I’d wait for a day that is not too windy, but since I live in Kansas, those don’t happen very often. Especially in the spring. My boards kept getting specks of dust and fuzz and leafy bits stuck all over them… oh well.

For some reason, I don’t have a picture, but before all this sanding and priming, I made out a design of how I wanted the table scene to look. Then I measured and drew a grid over the design so I could transfer it to the board. If you’re actually a decent artist, you might be able to freehand it. I like the grid. Next step is to put a matching grid onto the boards and draw in my design.

Liesbeth photographed me as I was painting in my scene. Obviously not a finished product.

So, I don’t have pictures of the next step, but once the painting was done, I dragged the boards out away from the house and sprayed everything with a coating of Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic so that the design won’t be scraped up by Grace’s toy trains.

It dried quickly in the Kansas heat et voila! A finished train table. Not the best pic here, but you get the idea!

From Junk Heap to Useful Basement Space in One Week

As I wrote about in the recap of my May Goals, I recently turned the junkpile at the bottom of the stairs into a real, live, organized office space with storage for craft materials as well. If you ask me, this was desperately in need of a makeover and, you know, some shelves. I also cleared out our downstairs family room to turn it into a playroom for Grace.

Here’s the before of the office:

Not so nice, huh? Believe it or not, this is much better than before we brought in the desk, but it still tended to get messy very quickly because it was necessary to move everything around in order to get to items at the bottom of the pile. Also, Liesbeth and I both had bins of craft supply and they needed to be merged and sorted through. No need for multiple storage locations for the same materials.

Since we were doing this project on a budget, it was time to hit the thrift stores and garage sales. Luckily, spring is an awesome time for garage sale-ing. First, I bought an old-but-great-condition gray file cabinet at a local thrift store. Then, I picked up a metal shelf at a garage sale. Hit up the hardware store for a bucket of interior paint in FUCHSIA and some spray paint for the new furniture and I was ready to go! Here’s what everything looked like once it was painted:

A can of spray paint is a fabulous tool for making boring metal furniture into something bright and fun. Yep, we like bright! I managed to organize all of our art materials using the bins and boxes I already had, and I threw out lots of things that were to old and worn out to be useful. The completed office space:

It is now so much easier to get to things! This area ended up being a much bigger project than the playroom, mostly because I decided to paint the wall. The playroom is also now functional, but it will need more work. I plan to paint a chalkboard onto one of the walls, sew a valence for the window, decorate or paint the walls somehow, and of course, bring in more toys eventually. However, this is as far as I got before it was time to pack for our trip and I must say, Grace is quite pleased.

In the right hand corner, you can see our new reading nook, which is probably my favorite new addition to the room. We had an old circular bed that was made up of four wedges. We are getting rid of the bed, but I decided to recycle one of the wedges into a corner seat. It is so comfy and perfect for snuggling and reading! The bookshelf is next to it. On the far wall, you can see a big mirror which I freecycled from a dumpster- and it is in perfect condition. Someone was remodeling their bathroom and they just threw it out! After a little bit of digging, I dislodged the mirror from the construction scraps and stuck it in my trunk. That was definitely our best find. I visited a local glass shop for materials and instructions for hanging it on the wall. I will mount the mirror close to the floor so we can use it above a Montessori movement mat for our future baby. I’m sure Grace will enjoy it as well. To the left, you can see Grace’s completed new-to-us train table, which will be blogged about in the future.

In this photo, you can see a closer view of the train table. I don’t claim to be any sort of artist, but I think it turned out just fine. On the left are some dolls, leftover from Liesbeth’s childhood. At the back next to the standing mirror is a bin that will hold dress up clothes. The TV and entertainment center will be moved to the extra bedroom, provided we don’t find someone to rent it out. The right corner is cut out of the photo, but we have a bunch of cardboard stacking bricks and in that corner is where I’ll be painting a chalkboard onto the wall.

In case you are wondering how much has been spent on these projects (so far), here is the breakdown. Once I finish decorating the playroom, there will surely be a bit more spent.
Metal shelf: $3
File cabinet: $8
Spray paint: $18
Interior paint: $24
One pre-fab bookshelf:$17
Mirror hardware: $11
Total: $81

I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with how well I’ve been able to transform our space on a budget!

A Gracie and Mama Day

Ahhh, it’s been a busy, fun, and productive day today. Liesbeth is on an end-of-year trip with her students and Grace and I had the entire day to spend together. Although I am home with her for most of the day on weekdays, it is rare lately for me to have a whole day to spend alone with her, so today was just what we needed. I decided early this morning that we would take a little day trip to a nearby city (about an hour away.) It’s about the same size as our little town, but since the attractions here (zoo, park, library) get old after a while, we really needed a change of scenery.

It took me forever to get us out the door, but we managed to leave at a decent time for Grace to be able to have her morning nap in the car. While she snoozed, I listened to music and enjoyed a relaxing drive. When we arrived at our destination, I decided to get my shopping business done with first while Grace was happy. I pulled into the parking lot of the craft store and read my book while she finished her nap. Of course, she woke up soon after I turned of the car and I changed her, nursed her, and loaded her up into the stroller. Our town has no craft store (really!) so it is a treat to go when we’re someplace else. I picked up some fabric for a little outfit for Grace and some nice yarn for knitting.

After the craft store we found a playground to eat our packed lunch in. Would you believe that on a 65 degree beautiful sunny afternoon on a Saturday we were the only people in the park? I don’t understand what’s wrong with Kansans… We are almost always the only people in the park, no matter which one we go to or when. Anyway, Grace had a great time climbing up the stairs on the play equipment and the huge stone staircase that led into the park too. Climbing up and down staircases is her latest skill and she likes to practice it whenever possible!

Once we fueled up, we headed to a local public art gallery. It was fun to go inside and see what they were showing, but I didn’t care for the artist on exhibit’s work, so that was disappointing. But I can’t complain because I’m not sure that there are any galleries in our town at all.

Down the street from the gallery was the public library, so we headed over there to read some stories and play. They had a great children’s area and Grace had fun crawling around like crazy. There was a craft workshop going on for older kids so she had the whole place to herself.

Finally, we decided to head home, just in time for Grace’s afternoon nap. She slept the entire way home, so the trip was pulled off perfectly.

Of course, once we got home I remembered that I’d left the house in a state of disaster and so I attempted to tidy up before Grace’s bedtime which was quite a feat. Wash one dish, nurse the baby. Wash another dish, clean up cat vomit. Wash hands. Wash one more dish, rescue Grace from the bathroom where she’d closed herself in. Remove toilet bolt cover from her little hands. Wash hands again. Wash another dish. Attempt to convince Grace to play with her toys instead of electrical wires. Wash another dish. Remove Grace from electrical wires again and put her in exersaucer. Wash another dish. Remove her from exersaucer because she is cranky and doesn’t want to be in it. You get the picture. Lately Grace is really fast and finds her way into anything and everything but she also gets frustrated really easily when she can’t do something the way she wants to, so basically I run around the house rescuing and/or helping her all day long. Somehow I managed to wash all of yesterday’s dinner dishes, tidy the living room and kitchen, hang the clean diapers on the line, and feed myself some dinner.

Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time I got her into bed, but I had one more project that needed to be completed… I’ve been working on a birthday dress for Grace and it needed a few finishing touches before her party tomorrow. I’m not sure how, but I mustered up the energy to finish it, so it’s all ready for her tomorrow!

The front

The back

I am pretty pleased with how the dress turned out. I used the tutorial at The Cottage Home. I’m inclined to believe that you can make just about anything as long as you have a good enough online tutorial! (Except mayonnaise. I can not make mayonnaise to save my life.)

Now I do believe it is time for me to pump and get myself to bed!

The Soap Nuts Experiment

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been reading loads of raves about soap nuts on blogs and message boards these days. Of course, I had no idea what these nuts were- all I knew is that people were using them to clean their laundry. Really? I looked it up. Sure enough, soap nuts are actually a fruit with surfactant qualities. I was curious, but I had no real need for a different laundry solution as the bottles of detergent we’ve been using for our laundry and diapers are still half full (even after a year of use- we only use a teeny bit in our machine!) However, lately I’ve been making my own all-purpose spray for kitchen and bathroom cleaning. It’s much more cost effective than the commercial variety and I can avoid using unknown or factory processed chemicals- better for my budget, better for my family, better for the planet. The only problem was that I was missing that certain… soapiness. So when I saw a soap nuts sample on one of those half-off flash deal websites, I decided to go for it. (I’ll admit, I did some research online first to help me decide if they were going to work or if just maybe it was just some weird new fad… Even after looking it up I was still undecided but I decided to give them a try anyway.)

The berries are about the size of a hazelnut and come in their dried form. I also received a small fabric bag for throwing the soap nuts into the washing machine and a sample of the company’s stain remover. Of course, since I bought these for making all-purpose cleaner, I haven’t even tried out the berries-in-a-bag laundry method.

After perusing several different methods online, I boiled a few soap nuts in 3 cups of water for about a half an hour. Look! You can see suds forming!

Once the mixture had simmered for a half an hour, the liquid had boiled down to about one cup. I strained the liquid through a kitchen cloth.

Once the liquid was strained, I added it to a spray bottle with one cup of plain water and about two teaspoons of tea tree oil for disinfecting surfaces.

Guess what? It works! The liquid does not end up terribly slippery, but it definitely contains enough surfactant to combine the water and tea tree oil quite well. My cleaning spray has the same consistency of commercial sprays and easily cleans surfaces without leaving streaks or blotches. I even used it to clean my windows today! I’m somewhat surprised to say that soap nuts definitely have my vote. Yay for minimally processed cleaning supplies!

Easter 2011

Happy Easter to those of you out there who celebrate it. I don’t really celebrate the holiday myself, but at some point early in Liesbeth’s and my marriage it was decided through an odd compromise that we would celebrate it with our children. Personally, I’m not Christian and thus Easter is not particularly meaningful to me. I’d always thought that I might raise my kids with an open mind to many spiritual beliefs and let them decide what felt right to them. Actually, I suppose will be raising Grace that way, but we do attend a church regularly and Liesbeth is a member. If I recall correctly, what I got out of the agreement in exchange for Easter is that we’ll raise our kids vegetarian (unless a day comes that they decide on their own that they want to eat meat, but we have no intention of providing it for them.) Someone told me once that that was an unfair bargain, but as far as I’m concerned, Easter is a big deal; it is the history of this particular day upon which an entire religion is founded.

At any rate, we celebrated yesterday by dyeing eggs. Inspired by this Mothering article about coloring eggs with natural tints, I decided to give the homemade dye a try. After all, I do try to minimize Grace’s exposure to artificial food additives (and my own, for that matter.) The results were not quite as good as I would have hoped. I wasn’t expecting the vibrant hues that the commercial dye kits produce, but I do feel that there was some room for improvement.

Getting ready to boil the dyes

Here are the colors we used:

Orange- orange juice and paprika
Green- spinach
Red- strawberries and raspberry goji berry tea
Yellow- turmeric and orange peels
Brown- strong black tea
Purple- grape juice

What was nice about dyeing this was was that we already had all of these ingredients in the house. The brown and yellow turned out quite nice, though I might use a pinch more turmeric the next time. The purple worked well, but it would have been better if the juice was more concentrated. Next time I’d skip the strawberries altogether and instead use a strong red-colored tea as tea staining seems to work very well. I’ve heard that using red wine works well too so I’d be interested in trying that. I am not really sure about the orange… maybe if I had used more paprika it would have worked better. The spinach was not even worth using at all because it barely changed the color of the eggs at all. In the end, I do like the way the eggs turned out and I enjoyed the paler, natural colors. I’m not sure that Liesbeth enjoyed it as much as I did.

The dyes- clockwise from top left: brown, green, purple, red, orange, yellow

Grace coloring on an egg

The process

The finished product

We also made Grace an Easter basket, which she has already been enjoying this morning.

All ready for Easter morning

The basket includes foam bathtub letters and numbers, Bert and Ernie’s First Book of Opposites, some sweet potato puffs, a Sunbaby diaper, fat toddler crayons, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and a toddler-sized fork and spoon.

This morning we enjoyed our breakfast of boiled eggs and shortly we will be off to church. Afterward, we are having friends over for a brunch potluck. I am making a tomato and brie tart, which I think will be very tasty.

I Can Bake Bread!

A few months ago I got curious and decided to try my hand at baking homemade bread. My thought was that it might be cheaper than store-bought and would surely be a lot yummier with fewer sketchy ingredients. I searched for a recipe and the first result Google brought me to was this simple whole wheat bread recipe. Perfect. It was just the sort of thing I was looking for- a basic honey wheat with good reviews. I’ve made this bread several times now, sometimes with slight alterations, and it’s turned out great each time. When my first batch was complete, I was pretty surprised how easy it was to make delicious bread from scratch, even without the help of a bread machine or stand mixer. All in all, the price seems to even out with the store-bought bread that we used to buy, but it really depends on what bread you usually buy and the quality of the ingredients in the homemade version. As far as flavor, L sent me an email from school one day saying she was eating the most delicious sandwich she’d ever eaten due to the bread. I can’t believe that I waited so long to try it! And in that spirit, I am going to highly recommend this recipe.

Now, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert at baking bread, and this is the only recipe I’ve tried. I do find the whole mixing, kneading, and rising process to be quite gratifying, and it’s always worked out just fine leading me to believe I ought to just stick with what’s working.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1.5 tablespoons active dry yeast (or two packets)
  • 1/3 cup honey (molasses works well for a darker bread)
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted (canola oil works too)
  • 1/3 cup honey or molasses
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Approximately 3.5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

The process is quite easy. Put three cups of warm water into a bowl. A big bowl. I use one with bats on it. You want the water to be warm enough to activate the yeast but not hot enough to kill it; the recipe recommends around 110 degrees Farenheit. I don’t know about you, but my kitchen tap does not have a thermometer so I just try and make it a little warmer than a hot tub. (Hot tubs are usually around 105 degrees I think…) Add the yeast and honey or molasses, stir. Add the five cups of bread flour, stir, and it’ll be a gooey sticky mess. Leave it on the counter and do something else for a half an hour. I pumped and then stuck my diapers in the wash.

When you return, your dough will be all bubbly. Add your melted butter or oil, the rest of the honey or molasses, and the salt. Stir until combined. Add two cups of whole wheat flour and stir it in. Don’t worry too much about exact measurements. Just throw it in. Now would be the time to wash your counter again if you have a meddlesome cat. (I do.) Cat hair does NOT a good loaf of bread make, and meddlesome cats have a way of walking (and shedding) on counters and surfaces when you don’t want them to. Now flour your surface, dump out the bread dough, and start kneading. Knead the flour into the dough and keep adding until it’s not sticking to your fingers or the table any more.

Like this

Lightly oil a big bowl (I just clean out the original bowl and oil that,) throw the dough into it, give it a quick flip, and cover with a towel to rise someplace warm for a while. Sometimes I just put it on the counter, sometimes I set it on the back of the stove while I’m cooking something else, and sometimes I put it in the oven with just the light turned on. This time I put it in the oven.

Once your dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into two loaves. The recipe says three but, well, we only have two loaf pans. I think the size of the loaves is fine with two. You could try it either way. Oil your loaf pans and set the bread dough in. Now it’s time to let it rise again. This time, let it rise until the top of the bread is an inch over the top of the pan, more or less. I would have taken a picture of this stage too, but my very helpful wife was  eager to get it into the oven.

Stick it into the oven at 350 degrees Farenheit and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. It will look all golden and yummy. If you underbake, it will be doughy in the middle (not good) and apparently if you overcook it it will be yucky too, so keep an eye for that nice golden look. Remove from oven, let cool on a rack, and enjoy.

This is the bread that I made on my first try.

SO GOOD.

Now, if anyone can teach me how to properly cut homemade bread into even slices, I’d be grateful.