Saturday, July 24, 2010

Snapware Giveaway Contest!

Head on over to Happily Domestic at to enter her contest for a Snapware giveaway! I have a ton of the product and love it. In fact, if you read my post below, there's snapware in the picture under the Back to basics grain mill.

What’s for Breakfast?

With new camera in tow, I made my usual breakfast bread. We slice and freeze this loaf, pulling and toasting a piece to eat each morning en route to work. Usually peanut butter or someof my home-made jam is involved. Most recent jam involved black currants, but that’s a different story.

The loaf starts with the dry ingredients. I love spices, so breakfast bread is a creative outlet. A normal loaf has cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, orange peel and cardamom. Not many bakers use cardamom, but a smidge in your baking makes things taste as good as they smell. I hate it when a baked item smells yummy but tastes flat. Not so with cardamom. I use Penzey’s spices and extracts. They are high quality and you can buy in bulk. There is no middle man, so prices are great. For the cost of a small bottle of cinnamon in the grocery store, you can get a 4 ounce bag of very high quality cinnamon from Penzey’s. Who doesn’t have old spice jars to reuse? OK, if you are the ONE person who does not, you can buy it the first time ina jar, then refill it from the larger bulk bags. I use about 1.5 t of cinnamon and 1/4 t of everything else. If I can get TRADER JOE’S Pumpkin Pie Spice blend, I throw in 1.5 t of that as well. It is a wonderful blend for most baking, but seems to be available only around the holidays.

To the spices, I add 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt (Morton’s), 2 Tablespoons of dry milk, 1 tablespoon of Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten for each cup of fresh-ground flour I will add and 1.5 cups of ‘store-bought’ flour, usually a bread flour like King Arthur or Gold Medal. Note: for bread-baking purposes, a cup is by weight, not volume, so one ‘cup’ at my altitude and humidity is about 3/4 of a normal measuring cup.

To this mix I add 3.5 cups of fresh ground flour. I usually mix at least 2 grains for more balanced proteins. Today it was rye and hard white wheat. If I have KAMUT on hand, I will throw some of that in the mix. I experimented with grinding popcorn the other day, so had a quarter of a cup to throw in. Occasionally I ‘ll throw in some buckwheat also, as it also has some differences that improve the nutrition of the loaf, which is the point in doing all this.

I’m currently using a small BACK to BASICS mill, which makes good flour. If you are feeding two, it’s fine. I’ve been looking at a larger mill from Lehmann’s. I had to return the one I bought as there was some odd problem. It could have been operator error, which would embarrass me a lot.

When I have other good dry additives on hand, I will throw some in before I leave the dry bin. My favorites include oat bran, wheat bran or almond meal. Today, it was almond meal, chopped dry ginger and some pecan pieces.
The wet stuff goes right into the zojirushi bread pan. 2 eggs, 3 T olive oil (if I have virgin coconut oil I will substitute 1T of this for 1 of the olive oil), 3T honey, 1.5 t of almond extract, and about 1.25 cups of warm water. I usually put the Pyrex measuring cup of water into the microwave for 30 seconds. This allows me to use the ‘quick’ cycle of the bread machine. That way if I make bread in the evening, I don’t have to wait up for it to come in before I go to bed!
After giving this all a little stir, I add the dry mix on top and add about 2t of RED STAR yeast.
I close the lid, set on quick wheat bread (2 hours and 8 minutes) and let it ROCK AND ROLL. I will check it often in the first 15 minutes. Between the altitude and the low humidity, adjustments are needed to almost every loaf. Sometimes it’s a tablespoon or two of water, other times it is flour. Once it has ‘cleared to floor’ of the bread machine, I leave it alone. By ‘clear the floor’ I mean that the beater bars are not surrounded by a soft dough and the mix has a soft but not too mushy texture.

Before I walk away, I chop some dried fruit. Today I used about half a cup of golden raisins, chopped dried pineapple and dried apricots for a total of a loose cup of fruit. When the zo beeped for additives, I dumped in the fruit and started doing other chores.
The scent of baking bread begins to permeate the house. Is there anything more wonderful? Yes! Enjoying the fruits of your labor!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Daily Mini-vacations

I work in a truly beautiful place. Some days are more beautiful than others. Today was one of those. Luckily I had my camera. I took a mini-vacation on the porch of the historic building that holds my office. Thought I'd share. A wonderful monsoon storm was moving in, the breeze was picking up and the blue sky was running for cover. Here is the view:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monsoon Season Comes to the High Desert

It’s here!! The glorious rainy season, the MONSOON has truly arrived. The official date (15 June) came and went. The traditional kick-off date (July 4 – independence from the heat!) came and went. The three consecutive days of dew point above 55 degrees F came and went. We had a few sprinkles, but no MONSOON until Saturday. In a good 2 month monsoon season we will receive 65% of our annual rain. In a poor one, the year will be dismal, as we will be dry again until December.

So what makes it the real McCoy? It is the end of heat that makes you run from shadow to shadow, to pant with the jackrabbits. It is the cool stiff breeze that rolls in ahead of the massive deep gray sky. It is the bright orange sunset seen through the building clouds. It is the rain so brief yet so hard that the streets and streambeds run like little rivers and my 200 gallon rainbarrel fills in half an hour. It is the brilliant lightning with thunder so loud and so fast you wonder if you’re dead and don’t know it yet.

It is also the handsome, majestic tarantulas creeping up from their long hibernation to mate. Other strange creatures and unusual flowers make their brief annual but flamboyant appearances. You can feel a release of the tension that builds day after scorching day during June. Suddenly, it is another spring. A luxurious, wet green glorious spring in July. The earth is renewed. We are renewed.

Some good storms will drop an inch of rain in an hour. Occasionally the winds take down a power line or pole. Who needs power when you have rain and cool breezes?

The sunset looked like a forest fire in our mountains through the deep gray brewing sky tonight. A cool wind is blowing and there’s a whopper heading our way. No problem. We are prepared. My candles and matches are strategically placed around the house and my filtered water jug is full. Let it rip. IT’S THE MONSOON !!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Living with Fibromyalgia (part 2)

How time flies! So here is part two on managing fibromyalgia – at least how I do it. Several aspects of daily life play a huge roll in managing pain levels. Having a routine and trying to generally keep to it is important. I’m not sure why, perhaps because it helps keep from running out of energy, but it works for me. My ideal routine would be sleep until 7 and then slowly ease my way into the day. By 9 or 10 a.m. I’d be starting a couple hours of gentle exercise for the day. What qualifies as gentle exercise for us may be different than for normal people. Doing two loads of laundry (I use All free and clear) and folding it is a good workout. Making beds and vacuuming the floors is another. A couple hours of gardening is a good stretch-and-tone work out. To most people, this does not seem like exercise, but to a sufferer, these chores stretch muscles and allow some good movement without triggering a flare-up. I’d follow this with a nice walk and then some time on the computer, baking bread, or running errands. Finish up the day with a light dinner and some reading or television and turn in around 11 pm.

So what is a flare-up? Everyone has their definition. For me, its any level of pain above that controlled by VOLTAREN GEL and ADVIL LIQUI-GELS. The Advil liqui-gels are a wonderdrug!! I can pop two of these and experience a significant pain decrease in about 20 minutes. In contrast, I experience NO relief from regular ibuprofen, tylenol or aspirin. I use the voltaren gel on my lower back, due to pain from degenerative disk disease. Not sure whether that relates to the fibro or not, but it can add to the discomfort and this topical gel has replaced oral meds that I’d prefer not to take.

Unfortunately, my job doesn’t allow me to keep to my ideal routine, except on weekends. So getting to work is a different routine that I know I need to follow to be functional. Alarm rings at 6 a.m., grab a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of instant coffee, and dive into a very warm shower. I use the combination of warm water and some great lavender bath gel to substitute for two hours of stretching and warming up. Toss on makeup, dry hair, throw on clothes and am out the door by 7:30. Keeping hair short is helpful. Having a good makeup system is also essential. For me, the Trish McEvoy system is indispensable. Her product line has great selection and lets me have what I want in one container. I usually duplicate everything in another pallette, in case I need to take it to work or on travel. I solved the ‘clothes that don’t hurt’ dilemma by using a lot of Chico’s travelers tops and jackets. Coupling these with a basic black pallette (skirts, trousers, shoes, stockings) helps me look some what professional without my clothing being physically painful, which it can be. I avoid anything with a snug waistband or other pressure points. For shoes, I wear a lot of MUNRO AMERICAN, a brand made in the US, which are high quality and have a lot of padding in the sole. Whatever pantyhose I use, I buy at least one size larger than recommended for my height and weight, again to avoid the pressure- point pain.

Next time – traveling with Fibro. How to avoid spending your trip in bed with a flare-up!