Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back in a routine

In the two-and-a-half weeks since I last posted, we:

  • started the school year (Jimmy in 4th grade, Audrey in Kindergarten)
  • hosted our cousin Aidan for five days
  • celebrated Audrey's birthday
  • wore cowboy boots to the county fair
  • kicked off soccer season
  • went on a field trip to Thorp Mill
  • stayed overnight with friends near Seattle
  • returned to regular cub scout meetings

In between all these goings-on, I've been trying to find a new normal--staying on top of housework by having the kids help, carving out time to exercise and take care of myself, baby-proofing everything now that Joseph is walking (and yes, my kitchen is still gated off while I contemplate the daunting prospect of deep cleaning and locking down everything below three feet high)--all while figuring out the trick of homeschooling two kids at once.

Surprisingly, I've been feeling mostly successful at all of this. We've had the requisite amount of griping about piano practice and math worksheets, but overall, school has been fun and Jimmy's self-direction has allowed me to spend the time with Audrey that she needs. I've made a lot of progress on taming my short temper. My house has been cleaner more consistently than I can ever remember it being before. In the afternoons, I've even had a few hours between helping the kids with their chores and putting Joe down for naps to cross off a few extra projects on my to-do list like cleaning out closets and getting rid of baby gear we no longer need. Just yesterday I made up a triple batch of laundry soap and a batch of dishwasher detergent, too.

Today is bread day.

For a while now I've been wanting to stop purchasing store-bought bread, but I haven't been happy enough with how my own bread turned out, so I've been experimenting and tweaking my recipe and methodology. I got my original recipe for three whole wheat loaves from my mother-in-law, but found that my bread always seemed to turn out too dense and low. Through a lot of trial and error I've discovered a few things:

1. My kitchen is drafty, which means it is usually too cold for the yeast to grow, especially during winter and spring. I can mitigate this by turning on the oven and leaving it slightly open while the yeast is proofing to warm up the room.
2. Using exclusively whole-wheat flour (along with any additions like oats or flax) makes for very dense, heavy bread, which means that it won't rise as high and will be more crumbly. So now I use all-purpose flour for half of the flour content, and sometimes add in a bit of ground flax or oats--but a little goes a long way.
3. Recently I figured out that refined sugar, even in small quantities, aggravates my arthritis, so I've switched to using honey, which makes me hurt less and the bread more moist.
4. Our family eats about four loaves of bread a week, so if I wanted to bake only once a week, I would have to readjust my recipe.
5. My friend Carol, who used to have a bread business, told me that adding some baking powder helps get a bit more rise during baking, so I started doing that, too.
6. My kids love my bread. Both Jimmy and Audrey have said, "Mom, your bread is waaaaay better than bread from the store." The fact that Joe eats more of it than he throws on the floor is his own ringing endorsement.

Chicklegirl's Wheat Bread

5-1/3 cups warm water
1/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons active dry yeast (I buy the bags of Red Star brand at Costco, which cost only slightly more than a few packets purchased at the grocery store)
5 cups all-purpose flour
6-7 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds or rolled oats (optional, exchange for 1/4 cup of the flour)
1/3 cup olive oil
5 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Mix yeast, water and honey together in bowl of stand mixer. Proof for 15 minutes, until bubbly. Add other ingredients and mix together with two or three turns of the bread hook. Let rest for 10 minutes. Knead with bread hook for 10 minutes. Turn dough out of stand mixer bowl into larger metal bowl, then cover with a tea towel or cloth to rise until double (about 30 minutes, depending on if your kitchen is drafty--the warmer, the better and faster the dough will rise). Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter top and divide into four equal parts. Form parts into loaves and place in greased loaf pans. Let loaves rise until they round up above (but not overflow) the rims of the pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes. Makes 4 loaves.

Tonight, I'm trying a new recipe for peach jam made with honey.