A New Neighbor

We have a new neighbor. She took up residence in our kitchen window the other day, and I intend to leave her there, as long as she wishes to remain. She is a barn spider, araneas cavaticus, and since I was raised in this country as one of the last members of generation X, that means I am compelled to call her Charlotte A. Cavatica, so I do.
Meet Charlotte.

I took the picture, and then scoured the internet to find out what kind of spider she was, before I could decide on a name for her. Charlotte had come to mind at first, but I wanted to know what she was, in hopes of a less cliched name for her. No such luck, once I saw the latin name, I was stuck. But it suits her I think.
Isn't she pretty? I love the way her legs fade to a redder hue near her body. I wish I could get a picture of what she looks like with the light in the window behind her at night, but the camera wasn't doing so good at getting a good exposure with a shutter speed fast enough to fight my unsteady hand. But I still think she's pretty.


More Adventures in Baking

To continue on the baking theme . . . I did bake a few loaves of sourdough the other day, I just didn't get a chance to post pics because I ran out of time.
After adding flour and water to the starter, I had a dough ball

This I kneaded, and let rise for one hour. Then I folded it like a letter twice, and let it rise for another hour. Another set of letter folds and it was left to rise for a couple hours. I then formed it into a round loaf and placed it upside down in a colander lined with a towel. After another three hours or so, I carefully turned this out onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven. This made a loaf of bread.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the process, neither it's length or how the bread turned out - I don't like my crust that dark - but the bread tastes just fine.
Next time I think I'm going to forego the round loaf and make the loaves in my bread pans, for easier sandwich construction. Also, I'm going to turn down the heat in the oven a bit, and bake a little longer, which will make a less burnt looking crust.
I ended up with four loaves of bread from that baking day and we already had one in the freezer from some I'd made earlier - so I won't need to bake again for a little while. Now I'm trying to decide what to make next.
Whatever I do, the next baking day needs to include some more ciabatta - or chewbacca bread (the boy "re-named" it) - for sandwich buns. It makes a great panini, and we're betting it would be good as texas toast and hamburger buns.


A Surprise Today

I decided, that while I was over at mom's doing laundry, I would take the camera and peruse the garden for interesting things to shoot.
Well, mom's surprise lilies were up - we're not positive what they are, or how they got there, but they're pretty so we don't complain. See?

Well, this particular surprise lily included an added surprise, you might have noticed it in the last picture, but I managed to snap a better one . . . the lily had a little friend!

And just for flavor, I just want to share . . . A warm, soft, fluffy towel that smells lightly of lavender just makes a day so much better, even if it's already good.


A small lesson learned

1Today we remember as a country. We remember a day when we all felt the pain of a now iconic tragedy that struck us from behind when we weren't looking.Yesterday we remembered as a family. We remembered a day when we felt the pain of a still somewhat fresh tragedy that struck us from behind when we least expected it.Today is the five year anniversary of the plane crashes on September 11th. Yesterday was the six month anniversary of my dad's death.
And I've been thinking today, about pain and tragedy, in an altogether not depressing or morose context. I'm feeling incredibly blessed to have not experienced the numbing pain of a major tragedy too early on in life. I feel like I was spared that depth of painful experience until I was mature enough to handle it. One never thinks oneself capable of handing the pain before it happens, I certainly never would have guessed I could. And yet, I think of all of the versions of me that I've been as I've grown up, and I'm glad it's the post-freshman-year-of-college me that's been faced both with the tragedy of 9/11 and with the loss of my dad. The other me's weren't ready for that. God is good.
After the towers fell I felt tired and numb for a few days. I didn't know what or how to think, and I felt like napping a lot. Now I can look back and see some of the good that has come out of it all, though I still don't know quite what to think about all of it.
After I found out dad had died, God and I had a very animated conversation in my truck, in the Home Depot parking lot. Then I had mom to look after, and there were certainly tears, but I had something to do, I had a "mission" of sorts. Now I look back, and 7 out of 10 times, I smile. Sometimes I still cry. Like today.
I can't even hazard a guess as to what would have happened to the pre-college me, in this type of situation . . . I'm just glad I'm the me I am now. Like I said, God is good.
___________________________________________________________________1. I have yet to go to bed, so it is still today, despite the fact that it is past midnight.


Baking Day

Not too much going on in the gardening arena, and nothing to photograph of the knitting projects right now . . . but I did bake today. I also cleaned the bathroom, but that's not half as exciting, even to me.

So I decided a couple days ago to make a Ciabatta (Italian for slipper, bakenese for crusty italian bread with lots of holes in it)

This process starts with a biga

Meet Biga:

After a day or so, that's what happens to a small amount of flour, water and yeast, left in an oiled bowl.

So I mixed that with some more flour, water, and a little more yeast. Then I put it back in the oiled bowl to rise. This is when I went and cleaned the bathroom, made the bed, put away the laundry, and finally got out of my pj's. After a couple hours, I poured the blob out on the bread board, and poked it and stretched it so it finally looked like this, when I put it on the cookie sheet:

After another hour and a half or so, it looked like this:

Then it went in to a very hot oven, and came out like this:

Meanwhile, I had to bring a fan into the kitchen, because it was getting quite warm. I let the loaf cool a bit, and then sliced into it:

After that I decided it was time for lunch:

Nevermind the fact that it was around four o'clock. I had breakfast around noonish, so it worked out nicely. So, I noshed on fresh bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives stuffed with garlic cloves, hardboiled eggs, and carrots while I put these pictures on the laptop. It was a good day.


Sourdough Saga

I'm making a new sourdough starter - so this time I thought I'd document its growth.

Day 1: 9/2

Added - 120g organic whole wheat flour, 120g water
Removed - nothing
Aroma - wet wheat
Consistency - a moistened and stiff dough

Day 2: 9/3

Directions - there will be no visible change in the color or texture of the starter. Do nothing.

This was the day we spent up on the Northern Neck helping my grandparents, I have no pictures, though I assume it looked much like it did day 1, maybe a little bigger.

Day 3: 9/4

Removed - 120g starter (approx half the original amount) before feeding
Aroma - slightly wheaty, with an unknown note
Consistencey - a moist dough
Added - 60g flour, 60g water

Day 4: 9/5

(no before picture, my apologies)

Removed - 120g starter (approx half the original amount) before feeding
Aroma - cheese, more specifically, white cheddar cheese puffs
Consistency - thick pancake batter
Added - 60g flour, 60g water

Day 5: 9/6

Removed - 120g starter (approx half the original amount) before feeding
Aroma - Cheese with a trace of fresh paint
Consistency - thick pancake batter
Added - 60g flour, 60g water

"You will now have about 1 cup of active starter. (You may feel the impulse to give it a name. Give in to it . . .)"

If anyone would like to suggest a good name for my starter, I'd appreciate it. I want to give it an interesting name. Now I must keep feeding it daily for two weeks.

For the record - I have been working from "The Bread Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum.


Ernesto ploughed through Norfolk, the center of the storm passing right over our heads. Sounds scary right? Ernesto was back down to being a tropical depression when he hit us; I drove downtown to work just after he'd passed by - not because I needed to wait for him to leave, but because I didn't need to go to work that early. There was a little flooding, but we didn't even lose power. Well, there was a lot of flooding, but we didn't have much where we were.
Ernesto actually came at Hampton Roads from the best possible direction - over land. But as it continued up the bay, it had more water to push and hit a high pressure system, that compacted it, driving up the wind speeds. By the time he made it to my grandparents on the Norther Neck, he was dealing damage somewhat like Isabel.
We drove up Sunday to help my grandparents dig out of what Ernesto left behind.

We took around 100 bags of debris to the dump, and that still leaves half of the pile of sea grass in front of the cottage (another 50 bags or so). The boat losses were high, because Ernesto wasn't supposed to be so bad - but no one anticipated what he'd manage to do up in the northern bay - they had 90 mph winds in Baltimore. This was certainly not a Katrina - but I think we underestimated Ernie just a bit.