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January 8, 2017

The greatest white sandwich bread

soft white sandwich bread
By

This is once again a Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe from The Bread Bible.  During the winter I often find myself baking a lot of bread.  In fact, I bake more bread than Craig and I are capable (or should attempt) of eating prior to it going bad.  Luckily I manage to have pretty good luck in freezing my loafs, and when we don’t have great sandwich bread to fall back on, I find myself disappointed and get down on myself for not just baking off a few loaves of bread every now and again to prevent us from eating something with 11ty different ingredients from the supermarket.  This bread also makes incredible hamburger buns if you decide to shape it into small rounds.  This recipe has a permanent bookmark on it.

preferment

This bread requires a preferment.  That is a small batch of saltless dough that is usually pretty low on flour that spends time allowing the yeast and other microbes in the flour to start developing flavor and interesting.  These are especially important in hearth style breads, but almost all breads can benefit from a little bit of preferment.  Depending on the culture that the style is from, the preferments will have different names.  Italian breads have a biga, French breads have pate fermentee, and American style recipes just have a preferment or a sponge.

knead

Since I only ever use my stand mixer to make bread, my instructions call for the use of the mixer.  If you prefer to make this by hand, please do so, but consider that hand kneading tends to take longer than using a mixer. I also urge you to cook by weight.  This makes bread baking so much easier. And note that instant or bread machine yeast is not the same thing as active dry (which is less fervent than instant)

rise

Basic Soft White Sandwich Loaf – Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum

Makes 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf

Preferment Ingredients:

  • 2.25 C + 2 T unbleached all purpose flour (341 grams)
  • 1.75 C room temp water (405 grams)
  • 2 T + 1 tsp honey (45 grams)
  • .75 tsp instant (bread machine) yeast (2.4 grams)

Instructions

  • Make your sponge – In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the ingredients for your preferment
  • Whisk (either by hand or using your mixer) for 2 minutes to incorporate air and ensure that the mixture is smooth.  It’ll be thin like a pancake batter.
  • Mix your dry ingredients in another bowl and gently spoon over the top of the preferment, completely covering it. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside and allow to set out for at least 2 hours at room temp (or up to 24  hours in the refrigerator).  If the preferment bubbles through the flour blanket during this time, it’s fine.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2.25 C unbleached all purpose flour (311 grams)
  • .25 C dry milk (40 grams)
  • .75 tsp instant yeast (2.4 grams)

Add-Ins:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams)
  • 2.25 tsp salt (15 grams)

Instructions:

  • Add the butter to the bowl and mix with the dough hook on low speed (#2 on a Kitchenaid mixer) for 1 minute, or until it has formed a rough dough.  Scrape down the sides and cover.  Let rest for 20 minutes
  • After 20 minutes has elapsed, sprinkle on the salt and use the dough hook to knead the dough on #4 speed (medium low) for 7 minutes.  Watch your mixer! Mine likes to “walk” during kneading like this and has almost made it off the counter a couple of times.
  • The dough will be sticky and messy and will only start to pull away from the bowl in the last minute or so of kneading.  If it hasn’t become smooth and shiny, allow to beat for up to 3 more minutes. If it is not stiff, add in a little extra flour a teaspoon at a time, if it is too stiff, mist it with a little water.

Let the Dough Rise

  • Scrape the dough into a 4 quart container or bowl (I like using narrow tall containers as it’s easier to gauge exactly how much dough you have) that has been lightly oiled with cooking spray or oil.  Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap.  Mark or mentally note where double the volume will be.  If the container isn’t marked already, I like using a dry erase marker.
  • Allow the dough to rise until doubled.  In my cold house, I set up a heating pad and set my containers on it, covering them with a towel to hold in the heat.  This usually takes a couple of hours in my house.
  • Turn the dough out onto an floured counter and gently pat/stretch it out to form a rough rectangle.  Try to maintain as much air in the dough as possible. Fold the dough into thirds(like a letter), turn 90 degrees, stretch/pat it out again, and then fold it over again.  This step will help keep you from getting too many big weird holes in your loaf of bread.   Place your dough back into the oiled container and create a new mark at double the height.  It should take up more space this time, there’s air in the dough now.
  • Once your dough has hit your “doubled” mark, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter.  If you are making 2 smallish loaves (this is the size of my old timey pyrex loaf pan), cut it in half, if you are making a big loaf, don’t cut it in half (my large loaf pan is pictured).  Press/stretch the dough into a large rectangle, dimple it to pop any large bubbles, and fold it into thirds again (just once this time). Now roll the dough tightly starting on a short side.  Pull all of the “unfinished” edges in and pinch them together to ensure you have a tight skin.  Place your loaf(loaves?) into a ungreased loaf pan(s?)
  • Spray some cooking spray onto plastic wrap and cover your dough with it.  Allow the dough to rise, once again, until roughly double it’s size.
  • Once the dough has been set aside to rise, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  If you have a baking stone or steel, make sure it’s in there.  Preheat the oven at least an hour in advance.  Place an empty sheet pan or cast iron skillet on the floor of then oven (if you don’t have an exposed element – if you do, put one oven rack at the bottom position and put your pan on that).
  • When the bread is ready to go, grab a handful of ice cubes and put them in a container. Remove the plastic wrap gently and use a razor or very sharp knife and a confident hand to make a deep slice down the center of the loaf.
  • Gently place your bread in the oven and dump your ice cubes into the preheated empty pan and close the door.  Keep the door closed.  The steam that this ice will generate will allow your bread to rise before the crust sets, and gelatinize the starch on the outside, generating a more robust crust.
  • Bake for at least 50 minutes, turning after 30.  A skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean, or an instant read thermometer will read 205-210 degrees.  One large loaf may take up to 20 additional minutes.
  • When the bread is cooked through, remove it from the oven and immediately turn it out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.
  • As good as it smells, do not cut into the bread until it has completely cooled, otherwise you’ll smush it and it’ll be gross.
  • This makes phenomenal sandwiches, grilled cheese, toast, or anything you’d use something like wonderbread for but you know, you want it to be good.  With my big loaf pan, the slices only fit in my toaster sideways, but maybe you have a toaster that isn’t 12 years old and tiny.

shape

toast

Posted in: Baking, Food
September 26, 2016

In order to go faster, you must add lightness

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The poor miata.  The more we take it apart, the more we realize just how poorly it’s been abused.  Everything about this car is shitty.  We are slowly doing our best to help it out a little.  Part of the fun of an underpowered car is trying to squeeze the most out of the power it makes.  The miata was rated at 140 horsepower from the factory.  17 years and 175k miles of abuse surely haven’t done it any favors.  The best way to make the most of what it has is to remove as much weight as possible.  We’ve removed the majority of the interior, taken out the entire air conditioning system, removed the power steering pump and lines, and generally taken out everything we can get away without.  The car has also had the benefit of a number of simple greening the engine bay sessions.  There was so much disgusting greasy oil and dirt residue.

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Most of the weight removal and cleaning was biding our time while we waiting for the many boxes of parts we ordered to arrive.  We haven’t been able to drive the car much.  The steel belts on the front tires were showing and the suspension was so awful that we pretty much had to let it sit until we had the suspension installed, got the brakes, new wheels and tires on, and then had the alignment done.  This part of the project has definitely been the most overwhelming.  There is just so much to do.  We spent about 12 hours at my in-laws’ fancy garage and got started in taking out the old coilovers.  While the suspension was apart, the brake stuff came out too.  We have new lines, calipers, rotors and of course pads.  Seeing just how awful the coilovers were was kind of a kick.  I would say that having instructions printed on your suspension components doesn’t say much for their quality.

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The car was also dumped so low that not only were the fender liners missing, the tires were rubbing on the insides of the actual fenders.  As noted, the front tires were worn so far that the steel belts were out and frayed.

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With all of the small stuff that needed doing, bleeding the brakes, monkeying with sway bars, etc, that was all we really got done, but a lot was accomplished on our first day.  The car had all new coilovers and a big brake kit, plus the new wheels and tires we picked up for it.

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This weekend the primary project was getting the car safely drivable.  We got partway there.  The sway bars needed adjustment so we installed new end links.  The tie rod ends needed replacement.  It appears as though the impact that damaged the bumper (and maybe the fender too) also bent a tie rod end.  All of the tie rod ends were removed (and when that happened we did some more cleaning on the steering rack) and replaced with stuff that wasn’t destroyed.  We replaced the radiator with something a lot more robust.  The old one wasn’t in great shape and if we end up turboing the car some time in the future, we’ll be glad to have something that can keep up with all of the additional heat the car generates.

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The hard top was taken off once again and the seats were removed.  The whole inside of the back of the car was cleaned out and all of the old dust cleaned off.  I began the arduous and patience testing job of chipping the tar out of the foot wells.  We got the new roll bar installed.  This new one sits further forward and is a little taller, so Craig’s freakishly long torso can pass the broomstick test.

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We ended up needing adjustable sway bar end links due to the way the new sway bar sits with the coilovers in front (and the back end links literally will not come off the old sway bar) so those went in.  Craig did a lot more fussing with ride height and toe adjustments with the car before it goes in for an alignment this week.  We did learn that the seat bracket mounting points (the bumpy parts in the photo of the floor pan above) are stronger metal than the floor of the car, so when we tried to air chisel them off, we put a sweet hole in the floor.  We have a rivet drilling bit on its way right now.  The mounts need to come off and we need to fabricate the seat brackets for the new racing seats, and figure out mounting points for the harnesses before we can drive it for the alignment on Thursday.  All in all, a great deal has been accomplished, it’s just time consuming and visually the car doesn’t look that different, so it feels a little disheartening.  Our next projects are the seats, followed by prepping the car for vinyl, which is going to be its own adventure.

 

Posted in: Cars, Miata
September 4, 2016

Removing poorly applied Plastidip from the Miata

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plastidip removal before after

The kid who applied the white plastidip coating to the miata was either in a phenomenal hurry to get it on the car, extremely lazy, or just impatient.  He did a piss poor job of prepping the car.  Very little was masked off.  There is overspray in all of the body creases and the coating near the bottom of the car doesn’t even cover up the silver reliably.  Most of the rubber gaskets around the windows, headlights, etc are covered in white plastidip.  We decided to remove it.  The expectation was that there was something so wrong with the car that would require it be painted or otherwise covered, and we went into the project with the expectation that we would be coating it in plastidip again (except applied correctly and with a real paint sprayer, instead of dozens of spray cans) in a color like a dark grey.  The morning after we brought it home, Craig took it to get emissions done and got it registered.

 

peeling plastidip

As soon as he got home, we got down to taking the plastidip off.  First we tried peeling it. Part of the allure of plastidip as a coating is that if applied thick enough, it peels off in one big sheet and leaves behind almost nothing. In most places it was just too thin to peel effectively.  It just ripped as soon as you started to get going.  But it turns out that paint thinner will melt plastidip but not hurt car paint.  So we got started.  And it was slow going.  It seemed that the paint was in fine shape.  We kept expecting to find a panel that was purple or filled with huge patches of bondo or something.

removing plastidip with paint thinner

The worst we could find was the front bumper.  Looks like he hit something and broke the chin piece and did a poor job repairing it.  The hood’s also not in great shape, but they both look better than the the too-thin plastidip coating.

removing plastidip with paint thinner

I took over plastidip removal as I have the patience to get into all the seams and I am much better suited to such persnickety pursuits.  Craig started taking things out of the car.  Starting with the hard top.  Then the carpet in the back area.  Spare parts, junk, and otherwise unnecessary weight in a car built for track use were removed, weighed, and cataloged.  Most of it went into the trash.  Some items got tucked away in in case we ever want to use them again. The hard top is white, not silver like the rest of the car, but it nonetheless got a huge amount of plastidip overspray, so Craig focused on cleaning that as well as trying to remove the epoxy left behind by the super fancy rear-window spoiler(!?).

gutting miata

My method for plastidip removal goes as such:  Wear nitrile gloves, have a ton of paint thinner and a ton of paper towels.  You’ll also need a plastic drywall/spackle scraper or a bondo squeegee scraper.  Both are effective. Soak a few paper towels in paint thinner and lay them as flat on the car as you can.  Any place the paper towel doesn’t make contact will not soften. This is pretty straightforward on large flat surfaces like the hood.  Much more difficult for the complex curves found on bumpers.  Let the paper towels sit for a few minutes.  I have found that working in 2 different parts of the same panel is an efficient way of doing this.  Once the plastidip has begun wicking through the towels, it’s probably soft.  Carefully peel the towels off and place them in a new location.  You may need to rewet them so they’ll stick effectively.  Use your scraper to scrape as much of the gooey plastidip off as you can.  Wipe the scraper on a dirty paper towel or in a plastic trash bag.  Use a thinner soaked paper towel to wipe up as much extra as you can.  The rough part of the paper towel can be used to clean off any unsoftened  patches.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Sometimes I will scrape and do a quick wipe, then put new towels over the top of the “treated” are to finish up the soaking area.
using paint thinner to remove plastidip

We spent about 8 hours working on removing the plastidip on day 1.  We accomplished removing it from the hood, windshield frame, front bumper, trunk lid, both rear fenders, and the back bumper.  Craig also managed to peel it off of one of the doors before the area got too thin and it stopped peeling. It was too dark to continue, so we packed up and went to bed.

removing plastidip from miata

Day 2 took about 4 more hours of cleanup to finish the 2 doors, side view mirrors, and front fenders.  We also removed, polished, and clear coated the tail lights.  One of them has a small crack and we are hoping that the clear coat will help to keep water out of it.  The 4 corner markers got removed and polished, and the headlights just got polished on the car.

polished lights miata

As I got into some of the weirder creases, like in the door jamb, and around the mirrors, it became apparent that the car had at one point been plastidipped another color as well.  Someone had done it with black or dark grey plastidip, but it seems as though it wasn’t our young scholar, as this was prepped well and applied thick enough to be peeled off, which is perhaps why the previous owner thought that his halfassed job was going to turn out better than it did.  With a bit more soaking and scraping, we had the majority of the coating off of the Miata.  The paint on the mirrors is damaged beyond salvation.  Since we intend to get the top painted black, we hit them with a satin black spray paint just so they’re not bare fiberglass and flecks of leftover silver paint.  The bumper is irreparable and the fender is pretty heavily damaged.  We have a family friend who works at a body shop and can get pretty good deals on spare parts, so we will have her look for a bumper and fender painted silver, and probably keep these in case something awful happens to the car and we need functional albeit ugly body panels.

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After getting the solid plastidip chunks off, we went over the whole car a few more times with “clean” paint thinner soaked paper towels.  Unfortunately, thinner leaves a residue.  After the car was as clean as we could get it with thinner, we went over it another couple of times with chlorinated brake clean.  That got pretty much all of the remaining residue off.  As we poke around at the car, we are finding little areas that still need to be gone over a second time, but for the most part it’s all the way clean.

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Next project is the suspension.  The tires are bald to the point that the metal belts are showing, so it’s not really safe to drive the car much.  We have new tires and wheels on their way, but we don’t want to put those on the car with the alignment the way it is.  And we don’t want to get the car aligned until we’ve replaced the godawful suspension.  So, we will get suspension, then get the car aligned, then put the wheels and tires on.  Then maybe the car will look like grown ups own it.

Posted in: Cars, Miata, Misc
September 4, 2016

The Miata Project Begins

miata
By

When Craig and I met, we were both pretty into cars.  I was deep into my old turbo legacy wagon (I love station wagons) and Craig had  (at the time) pretty fancy BMW M3.  We did a number of autocross events (driving around a course of cones in a parking lot). When I realized that my poor old station wagon didn’t make a good race car, I eventually decided to sell it and bought an ’86 corvette.  We did a track school and Craig did a number of track days afterwards.  When we bought our house 8 years ago, car stuff got put on a back burner. We finally have the time and money to start tinkering again.  After Craig and I did high performance driving schools the last month, the bug has bitten us again.

miata

miata

The real issue with taking a “high performance” car to a road course style racetrack is cost.  On a car like Craig’s  2015 Mustang(heavy and high horsepower), you burn through part of a set of tires and brake pads, and replacement tires and brakes for a car like the Mustang are pretty expensive.  Factor in the wear and tear on the car, the fees to use the track, and the cost of track insurance (unless you feel confident that you won’t put your daily driven new car into a wall), and you’re up near $1000 for a single day of driving.  It’s crazy expensive.   That’s where the Miata comes in.  Miatas are fairly cheap, their parts are cheap, they’re tiny and super light so in addition to the wheels and tires and brakes being tiny and cheap, the car goes through a whole heck of a lot less of them.  Add to that – they handle phenomenally.  They even have entire racing series devoted to them.

miata

miata

miata

Anyway, we were on the lookout for a little Miata to pick up.  We have an older subaru that we rarely drive anymore, and found this white one with a hard top and roll bar on Craigslist.  The guy wanted either cash or an automatic all wheel drive sedan in trade.  Luckily, we happened to have a sedan matching that description just sitting in our driveway collecting pollen.  Craig set up the meeting and we went from there.  The Miata was/is a basket case, but it runs and drives fine, and most of the stuff that’s wrong with is cosmetic or something that we would want to replace anyway.  The guy couldn’t believe the deal he was getting, and we were happy not to have to deal with listing and selling the car and dealing with a whole pile of weirdos from Craigslist and not pay any tax (in WA, you only pay tax on things you buy, and since no money changed hands, no taxes).  It worked out well for both of us.

miata

The worst part about this car besides the mismatched wheels with backwards tires worn all the way down to the steel belts is the “paint.”  The previous owner had sprayed the entire body of the car with a coating called plastidip.  In theory it’s a pretty great product.  Applied skillfully and thick enough, it is a rubbery coating with a smooth matte finish that is “easily” removable.  Applied by a lazy college student that didn’t seem interested in doing masking off or prep work of any kind, it’s not that great of a finish.  He used about half as much as he should have, and as a result, it wasn’t thick enough to peel off on most of the car.  Additionally, it had a really rough texture that managed to collect mold and mildew.  It was pretty awful.

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miata

My favorite part of the car was the “CRUSH ON THIS” sticker on the passenger window.  Unfortunately it spent less than 5 minutes in the driveway the night we brought it home before the sticker was removed.  No worries though, I rescued it and it’s on the vacuum cleaner now.

CRUSH ON THIS

The wheels and tires are horrendous. The rear wheels are off of a celica and the bolt pattern doesn’t match the Miata, so the previous owner put spacers on with a different lug pattern to take the wheels.  So the rear wheels stick out way too far.  The fronts aren’t much better.  They’re an appalling basket weave design, and the tires are mounted backwards on them.

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miata

The entire suspension will need to be replaced.  The kid put $400 eBay coilovers on it, and they are awful.  Based on the state of the rest of the car, numerous other suspension items will need to go on as well.  I have a feeling we’re just going to need to go through and replace most of it.  Following that, we can get it aligned and then put on the new wheels and tires we’ve ordered.

miata

miata

Posted in: Cars, Miata, Misc
August 23, 2016

Custardy Sous Vide Crustless Jar Quiches

Sous vide jar quiche
By

Whoa nelly, that is a mouthful.  It has been hot in the Seattle area.  Hotter than most of us are equipped to deal with. With many stretches of days in the 90s, the idea of turning on the oven, and frankly even using the stove has been far from appealing.  I have set up shop on our covered back deck and doing the vast majority of my cooking out there. We have a little plug-in induction burner that I’ve been using extensively.  We also have the Weber grill and my somewhat ghetto fabulous styrofoam cooler lined with a black trash bag that I’ve been doing sous vide cooks in.  It’s super efficient so we’re using a lot less power to cook stuff.  As is my true summer style, I’ve been slacking pretty phenomenal at avoiding meal planning, and that has resulted in pretty sad improvised dinners and lots and lots of breakfast sandwiches (I haven’t told you about the new chickens yet, but we’ll get there).

I really needed to get back on the wagon and start pretending to be a grown up who is actually capable of managing their own life and feeding themselves and their family, so I came up with a meal plan for the week. One of my favorite make-ahead breakfast items is quiche.  Crustless if I’m being lazy or otherwise avoiding extra carbs.  Unfortunately, part of making quiche involves turning the oven on. Sometime last year I read post about making personal sized cheesecakes in jars.  Makes sense, you use a water bath to regulate the temp of cheesecake in the oven anyway.  I imagine that you’d get an even more even perfectly silky texture with a sous vide style water bath.  That got my wheels turning and I decided to try my hand at making personal size crustless quiches in the water bath, and damnit, they are fantastic! They are creamy and custardy (totally set) but not dry or runny.

Sous vide jar quiche

Sous Vide Crustless Quiches (Ingredients for one, easy to scale)

Equipment:

  • Sous Vide temperature controller, immersion circulator, etc
  • 1/2 pint wide mouth jars
  • immersion blender (useful but not necessary)

Ingredients (per quiche – if you have a calculator or basic math skills, scaling up is pretty easy)

  • 22g frozen broccoli florets, defrosted & drained
  • 27g mushrooms, sautéed (just a few slices)
  • 15g shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 slice thick cut bacon, fried then chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 30g heavy cream
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Prep your jars – for easy cleanup, spray or rub with a neutral oil of some sort.  This isn’t necessary though.
  • Portion out broccoli, mushrooms, cheese, and bacon into each jar.  Everything can be capped and refrigerated for up to 3 days at this point if you’re not going to have the time to do your cook right away.  My poor little Anova has a heck of a time getting my water bath up to 172F, so I did this on separate nights.
  • Preheat your water bath to 172 degrees.  While it is heating, crack your egg(s) and add in cream.  I made a batch of 6 quiches, so used 6 eggs and 180g heavy cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Either whisk thoroughly or just blitz it for a few seconds with your immersion blender. The IB will give you a more consistent texture.
  • Divide your egg mixture evenly among all jars and cap them.  You want to tighten the lid finger tight.  Firm but not so firm that extraneous air can’t escape.  If  you’ve ever canned anything, think that tight.
  • Place your jars in the water bath at 172 degrees F.  Bubbles will likely escape as they sink.  If they don’t sink, let them float and cook.  No harm no foul. Cook for 1-2 hours.  Remove from bath.  To do this, I use my canning jar grabber, and with the depth of this bath, I also use a dishwashing glove so I don’t burn my hand.  Verify that your egg mixture is set.  I tilted my jars to pour off the water that’s accumulated on the lids and keep an eye on the filling to see what it does.
  • Allow to cool for 15 minutes on a towel on the kitchen counter, then transfer to a bowl with ice water to cool more.  Refrigerate overnight.
  • I imagine that these are actually pasteurized and as such would last some time in the fridge, but since I am no scientist, and frankly, they’re delicious, mine aren’t going to last all that long.  Safe refrigerated for a week.

Sous vide jar quiche

Nutritional Breakdown if that matters to you:

Per Quiche:

320 calories

25g fat

4g carbohydrates

2g fiber

16g protein

Posted in: Food, Low Carb, Paleo, Sous Vide
May 1, 2016

My back yard project

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Over the last 4-5 years, I have somewhat lost the desire to deal with the back yard, short of planning my edible garden and wishing that the rest of the yard wasn’t such a shithole.  My best descriptor for the overall aesthetic we had going was “the back yard looks like meth addicts are squatting in our house.”  There were a lot of things that I really wanted to accomplish in the back yard, but I just didn’t have the spirit to execute on most of them.  A few years ago, Craig’s parents had given us a pretty hefty handful of really fancy retaining wall blocks left over after a project in their own yard.  I got started using these when I was working on the duck enclosure and then started building a small retaining wall in the area where I had previously had  used small basalt boulders to form a small raised bed around the “main” deck. I got partway through before running out of blocks.  Facing purchasing a bunch more retaining wall blocks at $8 apiece, plus all of the caps necessary to finish the project, things stalled.  For 2.5 years.  It was just a big financial commitment and those suckers are heavy (75lbs apiece).  I ran out of steam.

garden comp

Couple the procrastination of spending the labor and money on finishing the retaining wall block project (and it really did need to get done, the dogs were kicking gravel out into the yard over the little rocks I had put in initially) with the frustration I’ve been feeling over the dogs tearing up or killing via literal pissing contests everything we have tried to grow that hasn’t been protected by raised beds, fencing, or the sheer will of the plant to survive, it was tough to come up with a game plan.  Part of what I’ve learned about myself is that I simply am not great about regular maintenance.  Upon getting comfortable with that truth about myself (instead of just trying to “get better”), I’ve developed systems that have made my day-t0-day laziness easier to live with.  I put up a clothes hanging rack in the laundry room, and 8 different bins, so I can hang “important” clothes and sort specific or small clothes (Craig and I each have a bin for underwear, under shirts/tank tops, socks, etc) and then we live with the day-to-day pile of clean clothes that accumulates in front of the washer.  My modified hugelkultur raised beds have been lifesavers in terms of freeing me from regular watering chores while still allowing me to grow edibles.  I’m switching some of my smaller raised beds to growing perennials like berries so I don’t have to plan, plant, and maintain them.  So part of the yard project was trying to be realistic about what I can handle, how much effort I am willing to put in, and how I would like to use the yard.

yard comparison

I started a new job in January.  With it came a drastically shorter commute and a lower stress level.  I felt empowered to change things that I didn’t like. I started taking better care of myself, eating better, and finally got started thinking about taking care of the yard.  We have a few friends coming to visit from out of town in May, and with a deadline looming ahead (the only way I ever really get anything accomplished) I decided that the yard needed to be “done” by the time they arrived.  So of course the project had to be scheduled out so I was able to accomplish my goals.  The biggest hurdle in even getting started on the project was getting the retaining wall blocks and caps delivered.  It was an expensive delivery, and 2 days before the day the blocks arrived, our 43 year old fence blew down in a wind storm.  The neighbors and us had been casually discussing splitting the cost of putting a new fence in, as our sad repairs just weren’t cutting it.  This was the year that the fence actually needed to be replaced.  So within the span of a few weeks, we had accomplished the scariest hurdle thus far in the plan along with dealing with the thing that we’d been avoiding for the last several years.

yard comp

Having both things completed felt good, and got some really good momentum going.  Part of the block buildout was rebuilding and expanding the fire pit.  While pondering what exactly the area around the fire pit would look like (we knew that 2 sides would be gravel, and the other 2 were shaping up to be mulch) I decided that I just wasn’t quite ready to give up on the idea of something pretty and green and grasslike vs a wide sea of brown mulch.  So I spent weeks researching all of our options.  The biggest issue with grass is that it needs watering… like a lot. Stuff like clover and wooly thyme handle that issue, but just won’t stand up to the type of heavy traffic only people who own multiple large dogs would understand.  Which is when I found a link to Pearls Premium (don’t worry, they aren’t compensating me at all for this, in fact, their grass seed is crazy expensive) where they claim that their seed blend grows very deep roots and grows super slow, only needing to be mowed once a month, and the root system is supposed to go like 12″ deep, so it doesn’t need to be watered nearly as often as “normal” grasses.  We will see.  This weekend our next door neighbor was asking me about seeding lawns and I told him that I found this special grass seed and he had read the same stuff about it.  We are both anxious to see if it will live up to the hype from the website.  I called the company to ask them about what they thought of my plan of excavating the current mat of glorious weeds and just topping the area up with compost before seeding.  I was told that my plan should work well.  I also asked about adding clover to the grass mix as clover fixes nitrogen (feeding the grass) and also stays green through drought, and attracts bees with its flowers.  The man that I spoke with told me that they were actually considering adding a clover mix to their lineup for those exact reasons, but hadn’t done it yet.  With his recommendation for 1-2% clover seeds by weight (to the grass seed) I felt confident in my plan.    We had a few yards of compost delivered, and used it to fill in the freshly excavated lawn area and the garden beds that I had built up a bit with the retaining wall blocks.  We moved a tree from a pot in the front yard to the garden bed, and planted the grass seed that weekend.

DSC_0334

Of course there were other projects between the blocks and the grass – most notably, sifting through all of the gravel that hadn’t made it into the designated gravel area prior to the lawn going in.  The last thing that I wanted was a bunch of rocks in our new lawn.  When the fence got replaced, the contractor regraded and used the old basalt boulders that I had replaced and built a small retaining wall.  Part of the reason the old fence was doing so poorly was that over time, the hill between the houses had eroded and was piled up against the fence. The retaining wall combined with planting some very drought tolerant plants should help prevent that from happening this time. Please pretend that my sad tomato cage and paracord “fence” isn’t there. Hopefully once things fill in, we can remove the barriers, but I want to at least dissuade the dogs from running through that zone until everything is thriving.

walkway comp

The final couple parts of the puzzle were a handful of dwarf fruit trees and all of the mulch.  Over the course of 2 weekends, with the help of both Craig and my incredible tireless mother, we moved 13 yards of animal friendly hog fuel which was had for the extremely low price of $16.50/yd, about half what a standard beauty bark type mulch runs around here.  It should be able to stand up to the dogs better than smaller mulch, and also keep some of the chicken digging in check.  We also picked up the fruit trees that I was hoping for.  We now have a columnar mountain rose apple; a dwarf chehalis apple tree; a dwarf apple tree with 4 different varieties grafted onto it- jonagold, honey crisp, akane, & beni shogun fuji; a frost peach(curl resistant); and a harko nectarine.  Hopefully we start getting fruit in the next few years.  Otherwise, it’s just been filling in beds with inexpensive perennials and annuals to make things look a little less barren while we wait for things to grow, fill in, and settle.  As our barrier needs decrease (the grass is taking up every bit of temporary fencing we own right now), I will start adding in some perennials that will hopefully survive the dogs peeing on them, and see about getting something like a big piece of columnar basalt and try to make that the target.  I’ve read stories of it working in the past.  Who knows.

yardcollage

The chickens are also pretty irritated by the developments.  Tons of weeds and grass meant lots of bugs to forage and me not really caring if they damaged anything in the yard. With the veggie beds going and grass just really starting to sprout, I haven’t trusted them in the yard, so they’ve been on “house arrest” in their enclosure and are not thrilled with me.

chickens

Posted in: Garden, Landscaping
March 24, 2016

Eggroll Stir Fry Bowls

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I totally stole this idea from another blog.  It sounded pretty legit, so I fussed with it to suit our tastes and not depend on leftovers. I am well aware that this is one of the least photogenic foods that has existed.  I’m comfortable with that.  It’s delicious.  If you’re not being so strict about watching carbs, adding shredded carrots or thinly sliced red bell pepper would be really nice.  Really anything can be modified, this is just what I put in mine.

egg roll stir fry

Eggroll Stir Fry Bowls (makes 8)

Ingredients:

  • 32 oz boneless skinless chicken thighs – trimmed & marinated in a little tamari and white vinegar, cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 chub “hot” style breakfast sausage
  • 1 medium-large head green cabbage, cored and shredded (about 24 oz)
  • 12 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 container firm tofu, drained, and extra moisture pressed out (if you freeze and thaw, the tofu can be rung out kind of like a sponge) – cut into 1/4 – 1/2″ cubes
  • 3 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 2 tsp ginger root, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot chili oil

Instructions:

  • If you have a super hot stove burner and a wok, please, I defer to you.  I don’t.  Everything was done in batches and mixed together in a bowl off the heat.  If you are a mere mortal, follow my instructions.
  • Make sure everything is prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.
  • In a large skillet, brown your sausage.  Once browned, pull the sausage out of the pan into a large bowl but try to leave as much of the rendered fat in the pan.
  • Add your tofu and cook over medium heat to allow the tofu to crisp
  • Once tofu has crisped, dump it into a large bowl with the pork.
  • Reheat the pan over high heat, and add your chicken thighs.  Cook until browned, add to bowl.
  • Pour a little avocado oil into the pan, reduce heat to medium high and add your sliced mushrooms.  Cook until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Add them to your bowl.
  • Add the rest of your avocado oil and cabbage.  Cook over medium high heat until the cabbage begins to darken or char a little on the bottom.  Stir/flip the cabbage until it all begins to soften.
  • Add your ginger and garlic to the cabbage.  Stir.  As soon as it begins smelling really great, add the tamari, vinegar, sake, sesame oil, chili oil mixture.  Shake/stir until cabbage is coated and remove from heat.  Add to the bowl.
  • Thoroughly mix everything in the bowl and split the mixture into 8 portions.
  • Enjoy

egg roll bowl assembly

Nutrition Breakdown (per 1/8 recipe)

462 calories

36g fat

10g carbohydrates

4g fiber

36 g protein

DSC_0243

Posted in: Cooking, Food, Low Carb