June 26, 2006


We finally went camping this year. Nothing too exhaustive, just overnight at Belfair State Park in, appropriately enough, Belfair. In fact, it was by far the least active camping trip we’ve ever taken. We spent more time at the campsite than not and that is rare. But we were pooped and Belfair isn’t exactly a thriving metropolis. We did try to explore the town by going to two separate markets. The Belfair Farmer’s Market is misleading. Unless quilts and handmade soaps are now farmed. It was quite small and held not one item of produce. This all sounds harsh and that’s kinda too bad. Don’t call it a farmer’s market unless someone grew some food.

We spotted a sign for a second market, though this one did not claim to have any farmers involved. It was, however, really lame. The produce they did have was from a wholesaler, that was obvious. Unless small farms are now adding stickers to their tomatoes. The rest was very sparse. We felt like we had slipped into a parallel universe. We felt very out of place just roaming from one side of the lawn to the other. Why did we even bother to turn off the car? We could easily see what a waste of time it was.

To Belfair’s credit, we really enjoyed the wildlife we spotted at the Theler Community Center and Wetland Trails. This area makrs where the lower Hood Canal meets the Union River Estuary, where fresh and saltwater marshes meet. We walked the trails on Saturday and Sunday.
From the boardwalk you can see a bit of the Olympic Mountains.

We spotted creatures we had never seen in the past. For example, the Green Heron.

A magnificent bird that took us by surprise. It flew from one tree to another, would circle around and swoop past us then land in a tree again. Never was able to get a shot of it and never saw it in the water which is where we always see Great Blue Herons. The Green Heron is a small wading bird with striking colors, especially when in flight. I most remember the vibrant orange of its underside. I read that the feeding habits are interesting in that they use bait to attract prey. “Foraging Green Herons sometimes drop feathers, worms, insects, or other items into the water as bait to attract fish.” Very clever. I’ve posted a couple of pictures that are not mine. I found these online and in no way take credit for them.

More photos are here.

Also spotted were, we think, a couple varieties of grebes. Even with excellant binoculars and a wonderfully illustrated guide book to Washington’s birds, we couldn’t say for sure if these were grebes. We did our best. Sometimes the bird was just too damn far away.

We did happen upon a Great Blue Heron as he was patiently stalking something tasty. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted this fellow through the greenery and snagged this shot. A second one was spotted striking a pose down in the mud flats.

A bald eagle flew overhead for good measure. Redwinged blackbirds are the Bird Of The Month at the wetlands. They were everywhere and have the coolest call. Its sounds electric. Plenty of swallows in several varieties.

And dragonflies for days. We saw an incredibly beautiful red one. I tried in vain to focus on him for several minutes. The macro feature on my digital camera seems to have it out for me. It refused to focus on the insect, even thought it was in the center of the cross-hairs and a quite reasonable distance from the camera. It managed to focused on everything else but not what I really wanted. I could never narrow down the kind of dragonfly it was but I’m betting it’s a Meadowhawk because of the brilliant red color. I checked several photos from the wonderful collection at the Slater Museum of Natural History at the University of Puget Sound. The photos of male Meadowhawks are predominantly red, have the thicker body instead of the long, narrow body, and I also kept in mind the color and number of wings. Then again, with over 7,500 species, I could be wrong.

Here are two red-winged blackbird ladies fighting over a tasty dragonsfly. Pretty sure we spotted the ring-necked plover and a few spotted (solitary) sandpipers too. Again, the photos are not mine.

June 25, 2006


Henry does spend every available waking moment outside (as long as someone is home). This doesn't mean, however, that he is outdoorsy or athletic. Apparent in this photo is the obvious result of his lack of physical exertion. But he is a nature lover through and through.

You can see all the Weekend Cat Blogging at Eat Stuff.

June 19, 2006


It was a pretty busy weekend, as usual. Friday night I cleaned up some food items from the refrigerator and wound up with two delicious dips. A black bean, chipotle dip and a hummus-esque dip seasoned with a six-pepper spice blend. Both dips included a healthy dose of carmelized onions and mushrooms (the items from the refrigerator). Mmmmmmmmmm.

As usual, there was plenty of work in the garden. Strawberries have been arriving steadily but not in any great quantities. You can see a few of them here. You can also see all the plant starts that by now have, for the most part, been planted.

Most of the garlic has been harvested. It's currently curing in the mud room. One day I'll learn how to braid them. For now, they simply hang in a bunch. The bulbs are better than last year. There's about a dozen bulbs still cooking. The stalks are still green and standing so we wait on those.
With the new found space I've planted some of the spicy cooking greens and some mache. Just nibbling them from the flats I can tell they will be a very delicious addition to a salad or stir fry. Speaking of stir-fry, I've got another two handful of scapes. These came from garlic, onion and leeks and smell wonderful. Friday night some of them were chopped up with a couple zucchini in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Sauteed it all until the zucchini was golden brown and man, oh, man. Very simple and very delicious.

Pulled some green onions and we threw those right onto the grill with our salmon on Sunday. A little bit of char on there makes it all the better. And in the pea department, we gathered enough to make a super summer pasta dish -
Past with Peas and Lemon as featured on Cucina Bodanza.
Collected a big batch of kale and mizuna to cook up on Sunday. Prepared a few heads of lettuce to use throughout the week. The garden is really turning out the green as of late.

June 16, 2006

Dr. Atkins Be Damned!

Last night I attended a 3-hour bread making class offered through Discover U, a local organization offering adult continuing education classes ranging from exercise to book publishing. We’ve taken classes through Discover U and other like organizations and they are always fun. The Rustic Bread Making class was presented by the owner & chief baker at the Essential Baking Co., George DiPasquale.

He basically discounted all the traditional methods we probably have learned from our grandmothers and mothers regarding bread making. Sure, there are as many bread making methods as there are bread eaters and many mothers and grandmothers would argue to the grave over some of the methods employed by contemporary professional bakers versus their own. But this guy makes damn good bread. He wants the product to be the best and he believes these methods make the best product. He wasn’t directly dissing the traditional methods, but he is a firm believer in the methods he employs. I was all ears and eyes. I took copious notes. I’ll try all the methods and see for myself. If these ideas make better bread, why not use them? On the other hand, the homemade breads and bread products I grew up eating were delicious. Perhaps it all boils down to a matter of taste.

Because baking is far more scientific than regular cooking, there is the dreaded math involved. I cook by feel and I rarely bake. When I do bake it has to be simple. Even if the math simply means measuring ingredients I get itchy. I dread math and I dislike measuring but I like to make bread so I put up with it. Breads are easy but they are very time consuming. And the introduction of “baker's percentage” into my cooking world isn’t encouraging but I am going to do my best to understand it. Once I do, I think things will be easier and I will enjoy the process of using these formulas more than I dread the prospect of using them.

So I have to start thinking of recipes as formulas and measuring ingredients in terms of weight rather than volume. I need to think of the ingredients as percentages in relation to the main ingredient – flour. The baker's percentage is not a true percent because the total ingredients do not necessarily add up to 100%. In the baker's percentage the 100% is the weight of the flour in the formula. The remaining ingredients are calculated in proportion to the weight of flour. Here comes the math: Weight of ingredient divided by weight of total flour times 100 = ingredient %.

There is a very good discussion of baker’s percentage (baker’s math or baker’s formulas) with examples on
this flour company’s site and on this cooking site.

How does one accomplish all this weight measuring at home? With a sensitive scale. Perhaps a birthday present idea, huh? If you do not have a sensitive scale at home, I found this
conversion chart.

Another good birthday present idea might be a Kitchen Aid. Although he admits that kneading bread by hand results in better dough and a better bread, he realizes that the 1,000 strokes it takes to properly knead dough is a killer on the arms. Buy the best one you can afford. That expense will have to wait a while. Besides, I have no place to store it or use it. I’ll consider future bread making as part of my exercise routine.

I also learned about the biga. Biga (BEE-gah) is an Italian “starter” or “pre-ferment.” A biga adds extra flavor and complexity to bread. Unlike sour dough starters, the biga is made fresh each time it’s used. It’s the biga that makes ciabatta a ciabatta. Many Italian artisan breads use biga and that is why they taste so damn good. Flavor, textrure, moisture. Biga should ferment at least 4-6 hours, ideally 8-12 hours and not more than 24 hours.

He also discouraged us from using caked yeasts. I’ve never used them so that’s not a problem. He advised that they are unstable and are difficult to keep fresh, even in a professional baking environment - let alone a grocery store or home refrigerator. Active dry yeast needs to be hydrated by adding water. Essentially, the hydration acts to wash off the dead yeast cells from the live yeast cells. But, unlike what you usually read in a recipe, active dry yeast doesn’t need sugar and doesn’t need to proof. He recommends using instant yeast (rapid rise, quick rise) that comes in the 3-packet variety you find in the grocery store. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated unless it has been opened. Instant yeast is what most professional bakers use, including his company.You can use less of it and it mixes right into the dry ingredients. I’ll have to look into buying instant yeast in bigger quantities. That 3-pack can get expensive for its size.

To convert fresh yeast amounts into active dry yeast amounts, multiply the fresh yeast amount by .4 (so use about a ¼ of the fresh amount). To convert fresh yeast to instant dry, multiply the fresh yeast by .33 (so use about a 1/3 of the fresh amount). To convert instant into active dry, use ¼ less. Whew.

He spoke about the whole process of letting dough ferment, or proof (rise). He indicated that these recipes in which you are instructed to let the dough double in size, punch it down and let it double again is overkill. You’re over-fermenting the dough and will wind up with yeasty tasting bread. He suggests a ¾ proof 1 ½ times. As for punching down bread, never do this. You’re busting up all the hard work you’ve put into developing the gluten strands. Formulas that have utilized a pre-ferment (such as a biga) do not need to be “punched down.” Formulas that do not utlize a pre-ferment can simply be left to ¾ proof and then “knocked back” before continuing the proofing process. Press out the dough a bit, not too much, then fold in at each edge. Flip it over seam-side down and let it continue to proof.

I also learned how to score bread so as not to compromise the shape and cause too much of the crumb to be exposed to the heat of the oven. I learned to make a damn fine braid too. I wasn’t going to take home any of my played-with dough. Then I figured that my dough really hadn’t been handled by anyone but me anyway. I wanted to see the braid after it was baked. This loaf had a few walnuts thrown in from our practice with adding inclusions. Inclusions, by the way, are always added last, once the dough has been mixed and autolysed (rested). Inclusions being your added fats, like nuts, oils, herbs, olives, meats, chesses, etc. So I baked the loaf when I got home and it tastes fine.

I’ve got more notes on the topic. Plus the hand-outs we received on tools of the trade and some recipes. There were plenty of samples of four different breads and wine too. It was money well spent, especially if I can re-create the results at home. He said there is no reason why we can’t make those rustic, artisan loaves at home. Better get a spray bottle and a peel.

June 14, 2006


I've been pretty busy but I do have stuff to talk about and a few pictures to show. Hang tight.

June 06, 2006

Today I Saw...

...a chopper right over our house. It looked a little big for a news chopper. I could tell it was red but couldn't see if it was a Coast Guard chopper, as it was directly above me. And usually the news choppers circle. This one just hovered, did not move at all until it left. But choppers are not uncommon around here when news breaks. Not too long before I heard the helicopter I heard the sirens and such. Something is always going on in this neighborhood. I turned on the TV and checked all the channels for a while but no one was talking about whatever whent down.

June 04, 2006

Weekend Cat Blogging #52

This marks the first anniversary of Weekend Cat Blogging over at Eat Stuff. Henry doesn't know from anniversaries but he knows he loves the strawbale bed, even when it's completely wet. After I put in all the tomato plants it rained. Didn't stop him. Why he thinks that prcikly, wet, dirty straw is comfortable I'll never know. And he's drawn to the nasturtiums, just like an aphid.

Hello? Is this on?

June 03, 2006

Today I Saw...

and heard a Northern Flicker. The Northern Flickers are the most common suburban and rural woodpecker on the Pacfic Northwest coast. Because their beaks are unable to penetrate hard woods, they spend a great of their time on the ground looking for dead or rotting logs and eating bugs. They can stretch their tongues out two inches past the tip of their beaks. The tip of the tongue is sticky and barbed - perfect for capturing bugs. Their call is described in our bird guide as a "piercing single pee-YEW!" And that is exactly what made me look up. But when I looked up the first thing I saw was a hummingbird sitting on the very top branch of a tree. I knew that noise didn't come out the hummingbird. I kept looking up but, like the guide book describes, the Flicker was on the ground - in front of Chandan's stairs picking bugs left and right. I grabbed the camera and held it steady for a long time as I shot. The sun was beating on me and I was dripping with sweat when it was all over. I had to hang out, leaning on the deck railing for several minutes in order to get the shots you see below (which were the best of a dozen). A small price for some pretty decent shots of this quirky woodpecker. By the way, this is an adult male.

June 02, 2006

Check out Yes!

My cousin, Ed, has written an article for Yes! magazine. You can read it here. We are very happy to learn of the progress Cleveland is making in the area of sustainability. The information regarding the Great Lakes Brewing Company working to create a zero-waste business is exciting enough. But the Cleveland EcoVillage makes my hometown positively GREEN. Thanks for the article, Ed!