Yes I did: welcome to the family, Bert

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This is Bert. Bert is a mother, like me. Gets food when he can, lives in a state of semi-neglect, and lives to feed people

Bert the sourdough starter, or “mother”, came to our family in the usual way – through a generous adoption from our local Buy Nothing group which has been a savior for my “but this is still useful” near-hoarding ways.  He (preferred pronoun) lives in a purple mason jar, because of course he does.  And he is helping me through my midlife crisis, because while I would rather have a puppy, Bert at least helps to feed the family and serve as last minute host gifts for any number of occasions, therefore he pulls his weight around here.  He’s only been here for about 2 weeks but he has already provided 3 loaves of bread, 2 batches of crackers, a breakfast of pancakes, and a pile of crepes.

I feel like a sourdough starter is a rite of passage for so many things.  It’s definitely a rite of passage for my neighborhood of Boston, which can be described using words like hippy-dippy, progressive, quirky, and dangerously rapidly gentrifying, all of which can be the subject of a different post.  I tried to find a Weck jar to give Bert a more wide-mouthed and less…purple…home, and I went to the local small kitchenwares store to see if they had one.  Bantering with the cashier about “my first sourdough starter” was met with a very serious “the air here is so perfect for cultivating the wild yeast!”  so I slunk out of the store careful not to make more inadvertent hippy jokes.  I’m surprised that my starter has not come with papers and a full adoption story, although I’m sure if i reached out to its previous owner, I might get one.  (Kombucha SCOBYs offered on the Buy Nothing group are often accompanied by “only fed organic sugar and love” type caveats.)

I also briefly remember my mother being gifted a sourdough starter in my youth — if I remember it, then she must have been about my age when she acquired this starter.  I vaguely remember eating bread made from it.  I vaguely remember my mom lamenting about keeping the starter fed and having to make all that bread all the time.  I’m pretty sure it did NOT have a name.  And then I have no recollection about how the starter met its end or when or why the bread fount stopped.  So between my sister cultivating her own sourdough starter from scratch recently (no thank you, it’s not LOCAL wild yeast, haha) and the offer on the Buy Nothing group, and these memories, I figured it was time for me to adopt my own.

Welcome, Bert!

For the first week, Bert lived on our counter, and I started tracking his feedings.  Since I can’t be trusted to keep my own bullet journal going for a whole week, the feeding tracking lasted about 2 feedings.

I tried following feeding schedules. That lasted for about 2 days.  Now I am working on a schedule of taking Bert out of the fridge on Wednesday, and feeding him Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday morning and late Friday night in order to bake a loaf for Saturday evening that can be a gift or eaten, and maybe another on Sunday evening to last the week, before putting Bert back in the fridge until the next week.

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Bert posing for pictures with BertBread1 on its first rise

Despite the wealth of online advice and timetables, somehow, I can’t figure out how to reverse timeline a loaf of bread through 2 feedings and 3 rises.  And I tried logging the cycle for a loaf of bread, but the logs on the BertBread 1, 2, and 3 are fraught with inaccuracies on timing.  I can’t even be trusted to write down the time that I did something, never mind proofing bread for a specific amount of time.  I still have a learning curve for being able to visually evaluate both starter and dough, learning how to shape bread dough, and determining which factors will lead to a better crumb.  (The crust and flavor of all 3 BertBreads have been pretty great.  It’s that wild LOCAL yeast, man.)

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(L to R) BertBread 1, 2, and 3. MOAR CRUMB PLZ! And better folding.

I’m also feeling the typical guilt about discarding starter and have looked up recipes for sourdough pancakes/waffles and crackers and crepes and banana breads (which I haven’t made yet, but there are 4 bananas tempting me from the kitchen counter right now.)

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Top: BertCrepes – pretty tasty, if a little stiff. Probably needs to be watered down more. Bottom: BertCrackers 2 – the Bertening.

I guess all I need now is time and practice, and assurance that a sourdough starter can in fact survive in a house of growth by hands-off parenting.  Maybe a good fridge proofing technique.  Oh, and more hours in the day to get to the gym to burn off all this bread that I am happily eating with my cultured butter.  Next step, churning and making my own butter.  Yes, I can do that.

Anyone local want a sourdough starter?

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Yes I did: “this will only take one hour”

A Dress-up Pillowcase Play Kit for my niece.

Spoiler alert:  it didn’t take one hour.

I have “just one more thing” syndrome.  To others, it mostly looks like chronic lateness mixed with insanity.  However, in the moment that I am having these brilliant ideas, I feel like time is an irrelevant and malleable construct in which I can warp to fit my gnawing desire to complete JUST ONE MORE THING before I leave the house.  One more thing before I go to bed.  One more thing before I start that project or chore that I’ve been putting off.

Being a task-oriented yet capricious person is super frustrating.  I need to get things done.  I only want to do things that I’m inspired to do.  That makes no sense at all.  So I invent things to do when I have a whole task list of other things to do that can’t even be completed in time.  It’s totally maddening — I can’t help myself.

So, the words “Yeah, I have this exciting project, and it will probably only take one hour” really did leave my mouth yesterday.  I had bought the Dear Stella Dress Me at the Playground fabric because I saw it and was thinking I could make a play mat for my niece and nephews for Christmas.  Better get the fabric now because who knows how long it would take me to make it, you know, I’m oh so busy with opening a new school and moving the last of our belongings and renovating our kitchen and a baby and all.

Of course all the beautiful fabric arrived, and along with it came the rationalizations: I’m actually going to see my niece this weekend, she’s driving 9+ hours to get up here, maybe I could make her a play set to take home in the car…it’ll be small and reeeaaaally quick.

SUNDAY

I decided to make a pillowcase with French seams (only 15 minutes, it promises!) and it would be great for the car.  Well, let’s wash and dry the fabric and see what happens with my time.  Oh OK, I can iron the fabric too.  Just one more thing.

MONDAY

I tell my friend I have a cool one-hour project. She gives me the knowing side-eye, and says “Sure.”  I got home and I was just going to make some of the clothing pieces.  The instructions for the clothing print are to “cut them out, adhere to fusible fleece or flannel, and they’ll stick to the Dress Me fabric.”  Oh no, that’s too simple. Fusible fleece falls off and the edges will ravel.  So I stitch around EVERY PIECE OF CLOTHING.  Well, I start to, at least.  I get through about one-third of the clothing pieces, and then baby comes home and we do baby things until he goes to bed at 7:30PM.  OK, I’ll do the other two-thirds before I go to bed and won’t cut anything tonight, I’ll just sew.  Hm, it’s only 9:30PM.  I could cut the pillowcase pieces.  Hm.  It’s only 10PM, the pillowcase is only 15 minutes right?  Wow.  It’s 11:15PM.  But I have this extra fabric to make a pouch to hold the clothing pieces, and the sewing machine is out anyways.  HOW IS IT MIDNIGHT ALREADY?

Pro tip: No 15-minute project ever involves pinning things together.  BUT HOW CUTE IS THIS FABRIC??

Pro tip: No 15-minute project ever involves pinning things together. HOW CUTE IS THIS FABRIC??

Pillowcase and matching pouch.  Because matching.

Pillowcase and matching pouch. Because matching.

TUESDAY

Morning.  grrghsnrrgh. Ben: do you have to BE anywhere this morning?? Me: ughhh. Baby: <waah>  slog slog slog.  Nursing while sleeping is a thing right?  Brain: YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF.

In the afternoon, I need a mental break because I’m tired.  Go figure. I decide to cut out some pieces of clothing.  I decide to cut all pieces of clothing.  I decide to organize and take pictures of clothing.  I decide to finish the project. I DECIDE TO BLOG ABOUT THE PROJECT.  WHY?  WHYYY?

All the individual clothing pieces, stitched around and then cut out.  Clipping threads was the worst ever.

All the individual clothing pieces, stitched around and then cut out. Clipping threads was the worst ever.

No outfit is complete without shoes.  And an ice cream.

No outfit is complete without shoes. And an ice cream.

Do they make this dress in adult sizes?  Here's the crazy thing about the Dress Me fabric collection - you COULD make any of these in life sizes.  Diabolical, Dear Stella.

Do they make this dress in adult sizes? Here’s the crazy thing about the Dress Me fabric collection – you COULD make any of these in life sizes. Diabolical, Dear Stella.

Yes, I also made a

Yes, I also made a “closet” where outfits could be laid out. I’m not a monster.

Ok, it was more like 5 or 6 hours.  5 or 6 hours that I should have been 1) working, 2) sleeping, 3) organizing the craft room in order to make room for the move, 4) doing ANYTHING ELSE.  I hope my niece finds it as fun as I do — I just want to sit around and make outfits for the bunny and the cat.  But I “know my limits”.


Funny post and cute project aside, “just one more thing” is a real problem for me, and I hate that I feel literally compelled to do something other than what I need to do.  I just can’t help it when there are so many awesome things to do.  I have always been this way. I need to learn how to stop myself from giving in to the instant gratification of awesome things in order to do other things that lead to greater and more awesome things.

Yes I did: 18 hours to a baby shower

Have you heard of the Five Love Languages?  They are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving (Giving) Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  My interpretation of these principles is that you have primary love languages that you “speak” and other love languages that you “hear”, and that they are not necessarily the same.  Christian-roots aside, I believe in the simplicity of this concept—by understanding which languages you and your loved ones speak and hear, you improve communications in your relationships.

For me, I am most comfortable expressing myself with Acts of Service and Giving Gifts 1.  No “diagnostic quiz” taken, just deep introspection over time and many dinner conversations with friends rehashing examples and hypotheticals.

Given those love languages, making handmade gifts is my favorite expression of affection.  It pains me when I don’t have enough of my own time to create personal gifts by hand.

I had grand plans for this weekend’s baby shower – I was going to make a small tag blanket 2, with one knit side and one minky side, and a matching baby hat with ears.  With 18 hours to go (6PM Friday), I was looking at 10 rows of baby hat, AND had just remembered that I volunteered to make a savory finger food.  NOT ENOUGH HOURS LEFT. I resigned myself to purchasing a more substantial gift off the registry, but was going to make a great effort to finish the hat and make some food.

FRIDAY NIGHT:  Finish baby hat & decorate and wrap the present.

One last-minute baby hat, still made with love.

One last-minute baby hat, still made with love.

I really wanted to make the Flour Sack hat from Baby Beanies: Happy Hats to Knit for Little Heads by Amanda Keeys, but I don’t want to buy books of patterns anymore, so I decided to wing it with a basic square hat.  (If this pattern were individual PDF on Ravelry for $3, I would have totally bought it because I’m lazy about knitting trial and error.)

My “pattern” is basically a square hat, with the corners tied off for ears.  Same as book?  I wouldn’t know!

Yarn: Berroco Comfort in Boy Blue.  It’s a washable nylon/acrylic blend that is actually pleasant to knit with and I use it on nearly all my items for kiddos these days.

Needles: size 8 40″ circular, using Magic Loop method

  • CO 60 stitches, divide for Magic Loop.
  • K2P2 ribbing for 10 rows for a foldover brim.
  • Knit in the round for 36 rows (or for the height of the hat to fit the entire head, then extra rows for the length of the ears).
  • Turn inside out and use 3-needle bind-off. Weave in all ends.
  • Turn right side out.
  • Thread needle with yarn, and run thread from side “seam” 8 rows down, to top seam” 8 columns over on both sides. Tie in a square knot to form the ears. Leave ends as bows or trim.

I managed to finish all the decorations at 11:30PM.  Bedtime until the AM and then, savory snack-making.

SATURDAY MORNING: Savory Treats before 9:30AM

Of all the days, Ben & I had to go to a bath showroom today to look at and pick out a bathtub for house renovations Round 3 (definitely for a different post).  With the baby shower at noon, and the showroom opening at 10AM, this meant that all baby shower preparations had to be complete by 9:30AM.

Mac & cheese muffins
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You can eat mac & cheese with your hands. Genius!

The momma-to-be does love her mac and cheese, and I really wanted to make these for her shower.  However, I didn’t have cheese in the house, and it was really tempting to shelve this in favor of something where I already had all the ingredients.

I opened my eyes at 7:08AM, still felt like mac & cheese was the right choice, ran to our local grocery and picked up cheese in order to make this happen.  Fork-free mac & cheese, what’s not to love?

I used Food & Wine’s basic technique:  undercooked mac folded into cheese-enhanced white sauce (butter, flour, milk).  I doubled the recipe for 1 pound of pasta and 24 muffins. I substituted 1/2 the amount of mozzarella for the American cheese.  I added seasoned breadcrumbs to the parmigiano reggiano at the base of the “muffins” and also on top of the muffins to make a better crust and to add flecks of green color.  I also baked in the oven at 375-degrees instead of 350 for about 20-25 minutes until the tops were super crispy and the bottoms held together, checking frequently to make sure they didn’t burn (too badly).

I left them out to cool, plated 21 of the 24 muffins, and left 3 to be devoured by Ben at some point during the day.  He claims that they’re even better at room temperature, because of the increased crispiness factor.

Bacon-wrapped apricots
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Everything is better when wrapped in bacon. Yes, everything.

This was my original plan – bacon-wrapped apricots with sage.  The prime reason was because I had some sage growing like crazy in the herb garden, we have apricots on hand for snacking, and I had a package of bacon in the fridge.  I scrapped this for the mac & cheese muffins because I wasn’t sure about pregnant women and eating bacon.  (Big Data must think that I’m pregnant with all the searches I do for what pregnant friends of mine can and can’t eat…)

While the mac & cheese was in the oven, I found myself a little idle…and craving some bacon.  So the bacon-wrapped apricots were back on the menu.

Things I learned from the recipe:

  • You really only need 1/3 a slice of bacon for each wrap—the flavor balance is perfect.
  • You don’t need a whole sage leaf.  I cut my leaves up, because I had a few GIANT sage leaves on the plant, and I also didn’t want to completely decimate my sage plant so early in the growing season.  It was plenty sage-y and the flavor complemented the bacon so nicely.
  • Seam-side down means you don’t need toothpicks.  I didn’t believe it, but it worked like magic.
  • YASSSSS…brush lightly with maple syrup.  NOM.

I managed to get both these dishes out by 9:35AM and make us a breakfast with the leftover egg whites and some ham from the fridge.  We were out the door by 10AM, and had picked out a tub by 10:50AM.  (I could have mooned over everything at the bath/kitchen/lighting showroom forever.)  Back in the house by 11:15, and off to the baby shower at noon. Productive morning all around.

Mac and cheese and bacon and apricots and sage.  Eat all of the things!

Mac and cheese and bacon and apricots and sage. Eat all of the things!

Why?

Why did I put myself through all this?  It would probably have been fine to pick up a vegetable platter and some dip and just have the registry gift.  In fact, no one notices at a shower whether you actually brought a gift at all, and a late registry gift to the house would have been totally acceptable.  Well, two reasons:

  1. I have a hard time backing off of my commitments.  Once I say I’m going to do something, like “make a savory finger food”, I will MAKE the food unless it is completely impossible, or else I will feel bad about it.
  2. Handmade with love is my best love language.  If I can give you a gift made with my time, that is the best gift that I can give you, whether the time is spent knitting, cooking, or just decorating the box that the gift will arrive in.  I don’t need my recipients to treasure their gifts forever, just to recognize that I care about them.  (Once a gift is given, it’s yours to do what you want with it, as gifts SHOULD be.)

People often tell me that I should sell the things that I make, but I don’t craft or cook for money, and I don’t think that I can be motivated to make things for people that I don’t love.  Actually, it’s hard for me to get motivated to do anything that I don’t love.  That’s a growth area for me.


  1. The love languages I “hear” are Quality Time and Acts of Service. Gifts are nice, but only if the giver has thought about the gift and has chosen something meaningful, so effectively an act of service. 

  2. Try to avoid buying from the Taggie company.  They are excessively EVIL about protecting their patent, which basically says that any ribbon sewn in a loop between two pieces of cloth is FROWNED UPON in this ESTABLISHMENT.  Google tells me that not only are you not allowed to sell them, but there may be issues if you even MAKE them.  Who knows if that’s truth or just paranoia, why can’t I make what I want if I’m not selling it?  I will thumb my nose at that, here’s a pattern for a great tag toy for babies from Sew Like My Mom, and here’s a picture of one that I made for my nephew:

    I made this ..."soft toy"... any resemblance to other real toys is purely ... coincidental.  Yesss...coincidental.

    I made this …”soft toy”… any resemblance to other real toys is purely … coincidental. Yesss…coincidental.

     

Yes I did: reclaimed bookshelf

During the move to my 11th cubicle in a year at my office space (co-working space growing pains), we ended up with this weird corner space that really really needed a bookshelf to organize our crap.

After searching on IKEA and Target and all the usual suspects, I remembered that I had a house that we were busy demolishing and a fairly huge stack of “reclaimed wood,” a.k.a. things in the demolition pile, and a basement workshop full of awesome tools to play with.  Obviously, it would be easier to just build a bookshelf that fits in the space and meets our needs, right?

I mean, this is our basement workshop:

Doesn't this look like a creepy murder room?  Oh wait, it probably was one.

Don’t all the corrugated tin walls look like a creepy murder room?
Oh wait, it probably was one.

Just kidding, that picture was from when we first moved into the house, just after we removed the shower curtain/vapor barrier that was covered with wet moldy carpet remnants and discovered the newts living under them.

THIS is our basement workshop:

vault basement

This workshop is pretty sexy, no?
The main workbench is an antique surgical table bought off of Craigslist. Totally preserves that “creepy” feeling.

Anyways, I pulled shelves out of our demolition pile in our garage, ones that I had already labeled “not worth saving” and set to work putting together this office bookshelf, armed with a general idea, some measurements from the office, a rough sketch, and an extra set of man hands.

This pile of yucky wood boards from the walls of the attic:

Nail-filled, tar-paper-covered, fairly musty reclaimed wood.

Nail-filled, tar-paper-covered,
fairly musty reclaimed wood.

Took about 5 hours, some elbow grease, a hand sander, and lots of force (some of the 2x3s were warped) to become this:

She is a thing of beauty.  (The bookshelf, not the man-butt.)

She is a thing of beauty.
(The bookshelf, not the man-butt.)

Not all the wood was super-old; we did find this awesome note on one of the 2x3s:

Adam Dyott, 3/1/88, THE BEST CARPTER IN THE WORLD.

ADAM DYOTT, 3/4/88, THE BEST CARPTER IN THE WORLD.  
What is a carpter?!

And here is the bookshelf in its rightful space, in action:

Now to actually organize the things in the bookshelf...

Now to actually organize the bookshelf…

What was trash is now treasure again! Here’s to hoping that there are many more reclaimed wood projects in the works.  Maybe I can make the radiator covers in the house out of reclaimed wood this summer.  So ambitious, so many projects, not enough time!

Yes, I did: the turducken of cheese balls

I think I am going to start a new trend of “Yes, I did:” posts on this blog, since I am one of those people who say “I saw that on the internets” and then actually try a few crazy things.  Here is my first.

I was going to add these photos into my “Kitchen Adventures” album on Facebook, but this feat was so gargantuan that it pretty much deserved its own post.  And since “wallowing in excess things that are bad for you” seems to have been the theme of my 2013, what better way to close it than with an excess of cheese?

I came across this on Chow.com somehow, and it beckoned with its majestic title — the turducken of cheese balls.  Since I am headed to a NYE gathering where the theme is “Southern Comfort Food” (of all southern regions, not just the USA), I figured what could get more southern than a turducken cheese ball?  (Disclaimer:  I am from New England and have mostly always been from New England.  I can’t imagine my life anywhere else other than New England.  So I probably do not have any real idea what it means to be Southern.)

Voila, the final result. What you see on the exterior is a mix of goat cheeses and a coating of sliced almonds and bacon bits:

The Turducken of Cheese Balls, top view

The Turducken of Cheese Balls, top view

Now for a layer-by-layer picture breakdown of its construction.  First layer was the core of Grace’s Choice from Plymouth Artisan Cheeses surrounded by pepper and bits of salami.  The recipe called for chorizo, but the salami in the fridge was calling louder than the recipe.

Grace's Choice & Salami

Grace’s Choice & Salami

Second layer, to surround the core, was a layer of Manchego, covered in chopped figs.  Today I learned that chopping figs is sticky and a PITA.

Manchego & Dried Figs

Manchego & Dried Figs

Layer #3: Emmenthaler, coated with parsley and scallions.  If you don’t currently use the scissors and drinking glass method for mincing herbs, I highly recommend it.  I learned the trick from Chef Paule Caillat when I escaped to Paris for one whole month in 2003.

Emmentaler and Herbs

Emmentaler and Herbs

Layer #4 – wait, but you say a turducken is only THREE layers?  Yes, there’s more!  Now for the good ol’ American Sharp Cheddar Cheese, covered with diced pears.  AMERICA!!

Sharp Cheddar and Pear

Sharp Cheddar and Pear

Layer #5 is the one that nearly broke me.  I used a mixture of Roquefort and Stilton for the blue cheeses, because…that’s what I had in the fridge.  I knew that blue cheese plus neufchatel was NOT going to form a nice “dough” of cheese that I could just lay on top of these herbs.  But I had high hopes and forged ahead…ending up with a nice blue cheese mask for my hands.  Very moisturizing.  I managed to get enough onto the growing cheeseball to cover most of the layer, but my hands definitely ate up a lot of the blue layer.

Blue Cheese and Pecan

Blue Cheese and Pecan

Layer #6 was the final layer – a mix of goat cheeses from the fridge (Drunken Goat, Arina Goat, and Chevre crumbles) plus more neufchatel, which also did not combine to form a dough.  I got wiser after the last layer and made a lot of extra.  My hands are quite cheese-moisturized at this point.

Here’s a lovely pic of the bottom side of the cheese ball, in all its layery goodness.

Cheese Turducken Butt

Cheese Turducken Butt

I’m not sure this is what the host was expecting when I said I’d bring the turducken of cheese balls, but I will be sure to update this post (tomorrow) with pictures of the cheese turducken in action tonight.  Happy New Year, folks!

UPDATE (1/1/14):  Pictures of cheeseball in action – it was 6 layers of pure cheesy conversation goodness!

My friend had the perfect cheeseball presentation plate.

The perfect cheeseball presentation plate.

cheeseball-pic

This cheeseball was the life of the party.