Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Electricians' Turn

Saturday, January 26, 2007
The electricians came today and put new electric outlets in the wall.

We're going to have about twice as many outlets and about twice as many lights as we have now, not to mention a few new windows. Our kitchen will be dazzling with light. The electricians were from South Side Electric, an old local firm that, coincidentally, I worked at one summer when I was in college. The electricians seemed less amazed by this piece of small-worldness than I was. They did not, for example, offer me the Friends and Family Discount, even though I was practically one of them. One of the electricians was a woman, which would have been barely within the realm of possibility when I worked there.
Jim is very pleased because we now have an overhead light in the kitchen, which makes it less likely that we will trip over one of the pieces of plywood covering the now-nonexistent kitchen floor.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Plumbers Arrive

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Yesterday the big event was the radiator being removed from the wall and placed neatly about a foot away from where it used to be.

We're going to have in-floor heating, so it was necessary for the radiator to go. Many people have told us that these old radiators are very valuable now. Oddly, when I've offered them this valuable old thing, every single person has declined, which I don't think they'd do if I offered them something of more obvious value, like a hunk of gold, for example.
Today the plumbers from Blaylock Plumbing were here bright and early. Like the carpenters, they were very agreeable and assured me that I would eventually again have a kitchen. They roughed in some pipes. I'm not sure what the pipes are going to do, but they look very nice.

We had a regularly scheduled meeting with Adam this afternoon. One thing I really appreciate about Otogawa-Anschel

is that they're very big on keeping you informed about what's going on. And, although Adam cautioned us that there are many, many ways for a project to have problems and countless ways to fall behind, at this point, he could say those lovely words "right on schedule."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Thursday, January 24, 2007
I was in Chicago from Wednesday to Sunday. While I was gone, I almost forgot that, back home in Minnesota, my house had no kitchen. When I got back (the plane was late because they had overfueled and couldn't locate the truck that had a big hose to take the fuel out, but that's another story), I could no longer it wasn't happening. Our carpenters, Susanne

and T.R.

had done a good job tearing everything up while I was gone.
They took out the door that goes nowhere, and framed it in for cabinets and the new oven.
The other doorway--the one that leads outside and to the basement--was moved about eighteen inches to the right and the new doorway was framed in. The plan here is to make use of a little area that's outside the kitchen and try to make it seem like part of it. I have never quite understood how all this is supposed to work, but other people seem to, so I am willing to take it on faith.

When I came home from the airport, I tried to turn on the kitchen light to see what was going on. Because there was no wall to speak of, there was no wall switch. I knew that the light still worked, so I searched for the switch. I found it when I ran into it.
You can really see the innards of the house. It's disconcerting, to tell the truth, because it all looks very insubstantial. I think of our house as old but sturdily built. Under the plaster, it doesn't look all that sturdy. In fact, it looks like somebody just picked up a bunch of wood and started nailing pieces together more or less at random. I'll be glad when it's covered up again, and I can once more tell myself that they just don't make houses like they used to.

Hidden somewhere in the wall was an old, empty bottle of denatured alcohol. The label warns that it is not to be taken internally. I have a strong suspicion that someone was taking it internally and had to quickly stuff it in the wall as he (or she) was about to be found out.

Here is a view of the deconstructed kitchen from the center hallway:

On Monday, the cabinets and the appliances were removed. No more refrigerator, no more sink, no more dishwasher.

There are no more cabinets now, and no more cobalt blue formica.
The kitchen always looked small. Without cabinets and appliances, though, it looks tiny! I start to second-guess myself. Maybe we should have done a bigger project, with a two-story addition, allowing for a bigger kitchen and another room upstairs. But then I remember that this would have added well over $100,000 to the project and would have meant that I could not afford to retire until I'm 92. The teeny kitchen doesn't seem so bad after all.
Yesterday, they tore up all the flooring, but we can still walk through the kitchen because they put big pieces of plywood over the holes that are now where our kitchen floor once was.

This is Adam, our project manager. He stops by every day to check on the progress. So far, he seems very calm. If he starts looking harried, I will start to worry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Gas Leak

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The wall that we were warned might contain various bad things had a bunch of old pipes. Nobody knew what kind of pipes they might be or what they might have done in the past, but they found out today that one of them was a gas pipe that still had gas in it. So the carpenters, Sue and T.R., opened all the kitchen windows and turned the gas furnace off. (It hit a high of ten degrees today in Minneapolis). When they were getting ready to leave at the end of the day, they told Jim they would go turn the furnace back on. "No, no," Jim said generously, "go home to your families. I shall turn the furnace back on myself." And he thought he did. When I got home, however, I observed that it was quite cold in the house. And a half-hour later, it was colder. And the radiators were cold. I mentioned that the situation did not seem to be improving, so Jim went down in the basement. He announced that he was fixing things. Another half-hour later, he came upstairs, looking sheepish. It seems he couldn't fix it but he had called the gas company. Did I mention that it was ten degrees at its warmest today, and it was no longer at its warmest? The Minnegasco man came not much later and assured Jim that there was nothing that he could have done because the thermocoupling was bad. Fortunately for us, he had a new thermocoupling that would do the trick. We got Chinese takeout, which we ate with our down coats on. Now, at 9:00, it's starting to warm up.
I'm going to Chicago tomorrow for an appellate training conference. I wish that somehow the kitchen would magically finish itself by the time I come home on Sunday. My sunshiny attitude has already gone entirely by the wayside, and it is only Day 2.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Wall Comes A-Tumblin' Down

Monday, January 15, 2007

Today was the first day of demolition, which consisted of taking down the wall between the kitchen and the hall closet, which will give us just another foot or so of space. All along, there have been dark forewarnings of something bad that we might find in the wall--something that would add unspecified amounts of dollars to our contract. The bad thing was never specified; apparently there are endless possibilities of disaster looming in an old-house remodel. When Jim went down to look at the remains, he was cheered. "It looks like you didn't find anything unexpected," he said. "Well," said Sue, our carpenter, "except for the stack...." (The stack, I gather, is the main plumbing conduit in the house).
Here is the exposed stack:

The problem is that all the plans were premised on a perfectly straight stack. Ours, however, has a little jut that comes out about 1/2 inch. "Oh well," Sue said, "plumbers can sometimes work miracles." I fear that this oddly shaped stack will end up costing a lot of extra money. Suddenly I fear that everything is going to end up costing a lot of extra money. My mother used to complain that her children were going to send her to the Poor House. I had visions of the entire family being swept up and carted off to the Poor House. (I didn't know exactly what it was, but I had a pretty Dickensian imagination as a child). Apparently this worry has never quite left me because I am suddenly thinking about the Poor House again.
When the carpenters started tearing things up, they uncovered some of the old vinyl flooring that we covered up with the temporary laminate I talked about yesterday.

This reminds me of why I really wanted a different floor.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kitchen--1980's Style

Monday, January 15, 2007
We live in a standard, 1915-ish two-story stucco house in south Minneapolis. It has a standard small kitchen, typical of the era. We moved into the house in 1985, and the kitchen had been remodeled shortly before we bought the house, so I'm assuming it was done in the early 1980's. Part of the original remodel was done well, but some of it looked like they ran out of time or money and just slapped something together. We're hoping that our remodeling job will not be subject to any criticism of slapdashery.

I was very fond of all that cobalt blue when we first moved in, but it does have an 80's air to it now.
During the last owners' remodel, the refrigerator was pushed into a corner from which it cannot be moved without dismantling the window. We know this because we bought a new refrigerator. Like all the replacement appliances we've bought over the years, the refrigerator was purchased because it was on sale, not because it fit a decorating scheme. I haven't yet decided whether my collection of George Bush magnets will survive this remodel.

The stove, an old Roper range, has stolidly refused to give up the ghost. It doesn't perform very well, but I've put off replacing it because I knew I would get around to doing a complete remodeling job eventually. I really shouldn't be too negative about this stove--it has, after all, turned out some fine loaves of bread.

Again, because I knew that a remodeling job was in my future, when I couldn't tolerate the vinyl floor that came with the kitchen for another minute, I decided to just do a temporary fix. We put in some fake wood laminate flooring. I have to admit it's really easy to clean. However, Michael Anschel, of Otogawa-Anschel, our kitchen contractor, saw this floor, he turned up his nose. "You shall have a hardwood floor," he decreed.

My sink is a one-bowl ceramic model. It has served well enough, but it scratches easily, and the grout doesn't look so hot.

My biggest complaint about my kitchen--not enough counter space. It has three small areas, most of which are taken up with various appliances. Probably if I put all the appliances away all the time, I'd have enough counter space, but that's unlikely to happen. You can see all three little counter areas in this picture:

We had always thought we would put an addition on the back of the house to get more kitchen space. When we thought about how much it would cost, we thought again. I asked Michael if maybe I could get a little more space by getting rid of the door that goes nowhere.

Except to the landing on the stairs next to the coat closet.
Our new oven and some cabinets will go where this useless door is now.
We have old-fashioned steam heat and old-fashioned radiators. This is more or less okay with me except that it makes it complicated and expensive to add air conditioning, and in a small room--like this kitchen--it takes up valuable floor space. We are going to get rid of the radiator and install radiant in-floor heating. This decision added several thousand dollars to the original estimate, but by that time we were thinking of it as play money. Very dangerous.

We have a tiny space in the area from the back door into the kitchen that houses a small cupboard, a microwave, cookbooks, and a pile of recipes I've cut out from various magazines and newspapers that's awaiting organization. We're going to try to better integrate this area into the kitchen. I don't quite understand how it's going to work, but Michael does.

I am going to clean up my cookbook collection, of which this is just a part. I haven't quite decided how I'm going to deal with them.

I went through a French Flea Market period of decorating about five years ago, and I picked up this painted chest, which stores such items as napkins and Tupperware.

I also bought this distressed table and four distressed chairs for a song. Jim has been singing a sad song ever since he fell to the floor on one of the (very) distressed chairs. He has re-glued them and pounded them into shape, but we still have to warn people not to sit on the third chair in the kitchen. They invariably ignore our warnings, and the chair falls apart while they're sitting on it. We could move the chair out of the kitchen, but it's more interesting to watch people's chagrin as the chair collapses from under them. Jim hates these chairs. I believe this is the main reason he agreed to the kitchen remodel.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Accidental Bread

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I really wasn't going to do any more no-knead bread for a while. After all, this was probably going to be my last weekend with a kitchen, so I probably should try something new. But I was intrigued by the idea of doing a caraway-rye NKB, so I thought I'd do just one more.
I know that if you're experimenting, you shouldn't change more than one variable at a time, so the rye flour should have been the single variable. But I decided to kick up the salt a little and also add about 1/4 cup of sourdough starter. And the caraway seeds, of course. As I was mixing the dough, I wondered why my caraway seeds were so big and green. Umm. Yes, the caraway seeds were actually fennel seeds, which I absent-mindedly dumped in instead of caraway seeds as I was having visions of turning out the perfect loaf of no-knead caraway rye. I tried to fish them out, but it was soon clear that that was a losing proposition. Then I had to decide whether to add the caraway seeds that I had really wanted in the first place or just to settle for what might be a very odd fennel rye bread. Well, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I said to myself, pausing a bit to work out the meaning of that expression, and I put in the caraway seeds too, plus some minced shallots. This gave me about five variables.
I went to my computer and googled "fennel bread," and was heartened to see how many people before me had made fennel bread. Why, Amy's Bread has a semolina bread with golden raisins and fennel (it's their signature bread). I also found a Russian Black Rye bread made with ta-da! rye flour, caraway seed, and fennel seed. This is made by a place call Persimmon Hill Farm and is available at the Oklahoma Food Coop I began to think craftily that I would not have to admit my little error, but just claim that I had intended all along to bake a rye loaf with caraway and fennel seeds. I could even claim it as my signature bread. I could do it, I said to myself in the immortal words of Richard Milhous Nixon, but it would be wrong.
Accident or no, this turned out to be the best NKB I've made so far. Not as holey as some of the other versions, but still a lovely crackly crust. It looked a little flatter than some of the others, so maybe if you use rye flour, you should put in a little extra yeast. Still, I can't complain about the texture.

In fact, I can't complain about anything. I think I got the salt just right this time (18 grams, which is almost a full tablespoon), and the addition of the starter added just a little extra flavor, as did the shallots. And, do you know, I like the combination of fennel and caraway seeds. Who knows what other accidental discoveries might be out there just waiting for someone to fail to read the label.

Rich and Creamy Ginger Scones

Saturday, January 13, 2007
These are fabulous scones. I could probably spend a lifetime alternating between Rose's two scone recipes in The Bread Bible, trying to make up my mind which one I prefer. This may be a worthy goal, although a greedy one. As an aside, a group of women at work were sitting around at lunch trying to decide at what age they could simply let themselves go and eat whatever they wanted. The younger ones thought that they could throw caution to the winds at 60. The older ones, including me, were more inclined to think of an age like 80. If I ever hit that age, it would be just the time to do alternate scone-testing weeks.
I made these scones once before, back in March of 2006, when we were vacationing in St. John. At our condo in St. John, we had limited cooking facilities. I didn't have anything to whip the cream with and I didn't have baking sheets and the oven was tiny and its temperature was off by about 100 degrees. Still, as Jim reminded me, although the scones may have been inferior in St. John, we ate them as we looked out over the Caribbean in balmy 70-degree weather, and our friendly pair of pearly-eyed thrashers gobbled up the crumbs. In Minnesota today, the high was ten degrees. So there are always trade-offs.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lime Bars

Wednesday, January 11, 2007
I do occasionally bake something other than bread, although I can't stay away from it for very long.
Tuesday night was book club night, and my assignment was to bring one of the desserts. The main claim to fame of our book club is that in addition to dinner, we always have two desserts. I think it started as an accident once--the salad person made a mistake and brought dessert, and so we had two desserts and no salad. As with so many happy accidents, the wisdom of this became immediately apparent. These bars are from Food and Wine's series of simplified restaurant desserts. The original is a Key lime tart with almond cream topped by lime curd from Fauchon. Omitting the almond cream layer and the tart pan, it becomes a classic, and easy, bar.

2 T. salted roasted almonds
1/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. all-purpose flour

2 large eggs
1/4 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/2 t. grated lime zest
9 T. cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1. Pulse almonds and confectioners' sugar in food processor. Add butter and pulse until smooth. Pulse in egg and vanilla. Add flour and process until blended. Press pastry into 8x11-inch glass baking dish, pressing it up the side. Chill until firm.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Price pastry with fork and bake for 25 minutes. Cool.
3. Make lime curd. In heatproof bowl set over pan of simmering water, cook eggs, sugar, lime juice and zest, whisking, until thickened (about 7 minutes). Set bowl into ice water bath and stir until it cools slightly. Whisk in butter until mixture is smooth. Let cool at room temperature for about an hour.
4. Pour lime curd into pastry and refrigerate at least 6 hours. Cut into bars and serve with dollop of whipped cream.
-Adapted from Food and Wine

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Flaxseed No-Knead Bread

Sunday, January 7, 2007
I wasn't sure I was going to bake another bread this weekend because I had already made scones on Saturday, but the call of the no-knead loaf could not be resisted. The ingredients are so simple and basic: 468 grams flour, 1/4 t. instant yeast, 10 grams salt, and 382 grams water. This time I decided to use three flours: bread, whole wheat, and durum. I used about 50 grams each of whole wheat and durum, and the rest was bread flour. After I mixed it up, I remembered that I wanted to try flaxseed, so I cracked a few tablespoons and added them. This is the dough after 18 hours of just sitting around:

Last time I tried this bread, I used a clay pot made by The Pampered Chef. I got this as a gift a few years ago, and have used it in cooking various things, but this is the most perfect use I've ever found for it.

I preheated it for about 45 minutes and dumped the dough into it. It landed all askew, and I shook it a few times, but it was still pretty crooked.

The recipe calls for baking at 450. I've found that 425 is better with this clay pot. I use a glass lid from a large Chantal saute pan, and it fits perfectly on the rim of the pot. And the dough miraculously straightened out in the oven, turning out a very handsome loaf.

This bread was, by the unanimous agreement of two, the best no-knead bread yet. The addition of durum and whole wheat flours added flavor, and it still had a good hole-y texture, to which the flaxseeds added crunch.

I have to admit, this is a pretty amazing bread.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cranberry Scones

Saturday, January 6, 2006
Today was the first day of our annual January Coffee and Doughnut hours. On each Saturday in January, we have a very casual open house at which we serve coffee, tea, cider, doughnuts, and (when I'm in the mood) something baked by me. Today I was in the mood to bake cranberry scones--the basic scone recipe from The Bread Bible, but with dried cranberries substituted for the currants. These scones are made with a half-pound of butter and 2 cups of cream, so right from the start, you have high hopes for them. And I remember that when I made them last year, with currants, I thought that they were the best scones I have ever had, even including some I had in England. And, by the way, although I had some excellent scones and pots of tea in England, I also had some of the sorriest excuses for scones that I've ever eaten and tea that consisted of one Lipton tea bag in a pot of tepid water in England, so the U.S. is not the only place that's going to hell in a handbasket.
Be that as it may, I was feeling quite confident this morning, since I had already baked these scones and remembered them as being relatively uncomplicated, and since I had all the ingredients at hand and plenty of time. Then I realized that I'd poured in an entire carton of half-and-half and the carton of cream was still in the refrigerator. You see? Pride really does goeth before a fall. If I had only been humbler and had double-checked what I was doing instead of blithely grabbing things out of the refrigerator, this never would have happened. I was left with several possibilities: 1) go ahead and bake sub-par scones, 2) dump the first batch and run to the store for more butter and cream, or 3) somehow get the half-and-half out of the flour mixture. 1) Never! 2) not enough time and too wasteful, leaving 3) as the only option. I took a small sieve and poured off most of the half-and-half and then added the approximate volume of what I had discarded. So much for my precise measurements!
The texture seemed pretty good, so I just went ahead with the recipe, and they turned out beautifully. I ended up with 15 scones, most of them shaped into triangles; the ones on the edge were misshapen but tasted just as good. I sprinkled extrafine sugar on one pan, and I actually preferred those because of the tartness of the cranberries.
I finished just before the neighbors started arriving. We had the platter of scones on one side of the table and the platter of store-bought doughnuts on the other side.

I watched surreptitiously to see who chose from the plebeian platter of doughnuts and who chose from the beautiful array of hand-crafted scones, adjusting my opinion of the person's taste up or down as the case may be, acknowledging that sometimes a greasy doughnut may just hit the spot.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pane alla Cioccolata (Chocolate Bread)

Monday, January 1, 2007
I had to find a bread recipe that made two loaves. We dogsat from Thursday until Sunday for the dog (Blue) of a friend (Sarah) of a friend (Teddie). Here is Blue:

Blue is a big dog, a Lab-Huskie mix. He's very sweet and very smart, and I thought it would be fun to have a dog for a few days, and Jim was planning to be home Thursday and Friday, so Blue wouldn't be left alone to get sad and lonesome. It was ideal. Except that around noon on Thursday, Elizabeth called and said, "Blue ran away!" "What!!" said I. "Ran away?!! What? How? When?" Teddie, who happened to be in my office at the time, gathered from my side of the conversation that Blue was gone. She started to cry. Well, to sob, really. Hysterically. (She is very emotional).
Jim and Elizabeth were out in the car searching for Blue, and Jim wouldn't talk to me because he was afraid I might yell at him. It turns out that Jim had decided that Blue should be left out in our back yard to frolic. Only he forgot that our fence has two spots where dogs can escape. We know this because our own dog used to escape until Jim patched the escape routes; since our dog died years ago, the makeshift patches have long since disappeared. Jim remembered one weak spot, but forgot the other one; apparently Blue found it. I didn't want to call Sarah, Blue's owner, because I didn't want to admit that we had flubbed our assignment so early in the game. Wiser heads prevailed, however, reasoning that since Blue had an ID tag, Sarah would be called. Sarah, heretofore having a lovely vacation, called her home phone number and heard a message from Joe, our neighbor across the street: Blue was safe at his house, just waiting to be rescued. I told Teddie, and told her that Jim and Elizabeth would go pick him up, but she said, "No! I don't trust Jim with Blue. I'll go pick him up myself, and take him home with me!" I hung my head in shame. She relented. Jim and Elizabeth fetched the dog, who stayed with us until Sunday with no further trauma. Elizabeth suggested that I should bake a loaf of bread for Joe, our dog-rescuing neighbor. (Yes, this shaggy dog tale is returning to the subject of bread). Excellent idea, I said, but I'm tired of baking bread and giving it away, so I'll bake two loaves. I perused The Italian Baker, and came up with this chocolate bread, which, conveniently, turns out two loaves of delicious, mildly sweet, very chocolatey bread.

It's got both cocoa and chocolate chips in it, and it makes a nice, velvety dough that's soft but manageable. Of course, we had to try it immediately to make sure it was worthy of being given away, so I sliced it while it was still quite warm--warm enough to make the butter melt. The crust was crispy enough and the bread substantial enough so that it didn't lose shape even when it was being sliced too early.

If only I had made a third loaf for Teddie, I could be sure that she would completely forgive us for our haphazard ways.

Favorite Breads

January 1, 2007

After we had eaten all 82 breads (that sounds like a powerful lot of eating, doesn't it?), we each tried to make a list of our ten favorite breads. Our instructions to ourselves were to be ruthless in deciding which ones made the cut. Even with these instructions, however, we both ended up with an initial list of close to 40. Jim finally culled his list down to his top twenty:

1. Olive Loaf
2. Stud Muffin
3. Wheaten Croissants
4. Sourdough Pumpernickel Bread
5. Grilled Focaccia
6. Pretzel Bread
7. Potato Flatbread Pizza
8. Cinnamon Crumb Surprise
9. Touch of Grace Biscuits
10. Golden Semolina Torpedo
11. Alsatian Onion Pizza
12. Flaxseed Loaf
13. Chocolate Sticky Buns
14. Cracked Wheat Loaf
15. Cranberry-Banana-Walnut Quick Bread
16. Ciabatta
17. Kheema Paratha
18. Rosemary Focaccia
19. Brinna’s Pugliese
20. Butter Biscuits

In trying to make my list, I decided it was too hard to compare wildly different kinds of breads, so I made some fairly arbitrary categories:

Bread That Makes Storebought Version Now Unacceptable:
Pita Bread
English Muffins

Best Sourdough
Sourdough Wheat with Seeds
Sourdough Pumpernickel

Best Plain Loaf:
Flaxseed Loaf
Cracked Wheat Loaf
Pullman Loaf
French Country Boule
Heart of Wheat Bread

Best Fancy Loaf:
Prosciutto Ring
Olive Bread
Monkey Bread
New Zealand Almond and Fig Bread

Best Quick Bread:
Carrot Bread
Cranberry-walnut Quick Bread
Cinnamon Crumb Surprise

Best Main Course Bread:
Kheema Paratha
Potato Flatbread Pizza

Best Italian Bread:

Best Biscuit:
Touch of Grace

Best Breakfast Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Best Bread with Chocolate
Chocolate Almond Swirl Kugelhopf
Chocolate Sticky Buns

Proudest Achievement:
Wheaten Croissants
Rosemary Focaccia (Redux)
Levy's Bagels

Favorite Bread That Doesn't Fit in Any of Above Categories:
Royal Irish Soda Bread

I believe there are 30 breads on my list of very, very favorites. Sorry, but that's the best I can do.