Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Inspired by Michael Pollen's book Cooked and several Science Friday guests, I started experimenting with whole wheat sourdough bread about a year ago.  I've played around with the recipe, and now that I have something that I like, and that gives me consistent results, I'm sharing it here.

First you need a starter, which you can make or purchase.  I don't honestly remember whose instructions I followed to make mine, but I'd suggest trying these from King Arthur Flour.

Once the starter exists, store it in the fridge and feed once a week with 1/2 cup of all purpose flour and 1/3 cup of filtered water.  Filtered or distilled water is crucial, because tap water is treated with chlorine to prevent microbes from growing in it.  This is great for our well-being, but terrible for sourdough, as it may kill the microbes you're working so hard to feed!

Get the starter out of the fridge at least 2 feedings before you plan to mix your dough.  Pour off the layer of alcohol on top (this is normal) and then feed with:

1/2 c all purpose flour
1/3 c filtered water

Keep the dough at room temperature, and feed every 12 hours.

To make the bread:

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water

add:

2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough.  

This is what a shaggy dough looks like:


(I had to look that up the first time I read it in a bread recipe.)

Close the bowl with a lid (Tupperware is great for this!) and allow to rest for 12 to 24 hours.  How long depends on your climate, your sourdough starter (it is different in different locations) and the time of year.  The yeast and other microbes in your sourdough need time to do their work.  Your dough is ready for the next step when it has grown and looks like this:



At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

If you would like the full sourdough bite, skip the baking soda and kneading.

Form into a ball, 


close the bowl with its lid, and let rest a few hours until doubled in size.


Place a covered casserole (the cool kids use a dutch oven) in the oven and preheat both casserole and oven to 425*F.

Once the oven is up to temperature, bake in the covered casserole or dutch oven for 35 minutes.

 before baking

after baking

Remove from the dish and cool on a wire rack.

You can test if your bread is done by holding it in one oven-mitted hand, and "thumping" it with the other.  A loaf that is fully baked will give a full satisfying thump. 

Sourdough is interesting stuff.  The wild yeast and other microbes in the starter are a combination of yeasts and microbes that were already living in your flour, and the yeasts and microbes in your kitchen.  This is why sourdoughs from different places will have a different flavor.  I brought my starter with me to my summer job, only a 4 hour drive away, and it was different there than at home.  I didn't taste a big difference, but it was much more active--generally lighter and frothier at my summer residence than it is at home.

Keeping this in mind, I encourage you to use this recipe as a launching off place.  Your kitchen is different than mine, and your sourdough will be different too.  Feel free to experiment with the amount of moisture in your recipe, resting times, cooking time, and anything else you care to play with.  A good scientist changes only one variable at a time, and records his/her methods and results each time!

Once you know how long your dough needs to rest at each step in your kitchen and climate, you should be able to bake bread any day, even in the middle of your work week, if most of your intervals work out to 12 or 24 hours.  I love that this recipe doesn't require a lot of time at any given step since there is almost no kneading, so while you make it over the course of 3 days (including starter feedings), it takes less than an hour of actual effort.

Here's the short and sweet version of the recipe, easy to copy and print and without the pictures:

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Remove starter from refrigerator at least two feedings before use.

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water

add:

2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough. 

Seal bowl and rest for 12-24 hours.

* optional:   At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

Form into a ball,, seal bowl, and let rise a few (up to 12, depending) hours until doubled in size.

Preheat covered casserole and oven to 425*F

Bake in covered casserole at 425*F for 35 minutes.

Remove loaf from casserole and cool on wire rack.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Knit Argyle Socks in the Round


*Want the pattern for the socks pictured here?  Click here to purchase* 

Traditionally, the leg of an argyle sock is knit flat.  Once the leg has been knit it is seamed up the back, and the rest of the sock is knit in the round. 

This is fine for the un-ambitious.

Personally, I prefer to knit anything I can in one piece.  I think that’s knitting’s biggest sculptural advantage—one can knit a fully shaped, one piece garment without any cutting or sewing.  Add to that the fact that store-bought argyle socks are seamless, and perhaps you can see why, when I learned that argyles “need” to be seamed, I took that as a challenge.

I’ve played with a few different ways to knit argyle in the round over the years.  I came up with each on my own, although I’m sure that lots of other knitters have come to the same solutions on their own over the years.  I’ve settled on what I think is the most successful method.  That’s what I’m sharing here.
These instructions are written with the assumption that you are familiar with and have knit a basic sock.
First, take a look at an argyle sock.  There are usually diamonds in 2 different colors, with a third color making the x’s that run through the diamonds.  This pair has blue diamonds which will be on the sides of the sock and green diamonds, while will be the front and back of the sock.  The diamonds interlock, so that the blue diamond makes up the negative space around the green, and vice versa.

To figure out where you are at each step of these instructions, on each row you work, you’ll need to keep in mind which color of diamonds is growing, and which is shrinking.  We’ll start where the green diamonds are growing, and the blue are shrinking.  By the way, I HIGHLY recommend winding your diamond colors onto bobbins, whether you knit your argyles in the round, or traditionally flat.  Either way bobbins greatly lessen the amount of tangling, and therefore frustration, with any kind of intarsia knitting.

 Argyle 1

But that’s jumping ahead just a bit.  To start the sock, cast on the number of stitches you like to cast on for a sock.  A multiple of 4 is ideal.  The example sock is knit on 60sts at a gauge of 8sts per inch.  Work 2x2 ribbing for about an inch in your main (background) color.

Set up row:  you’re beginning in the middle of the green diamonds, which is at the point of the blue diamonds.  Add in 2 different green bobbins, and 2 white bobbins for the x’s.  Also add a second ball, or bobbin of blue.  Divide your total number of stitches by 4 to get x.  Knit 1 blue stitch, then continue knitting in green until you’ve counted to x.  Start counting again, but this time the first stitch is a white cross stitch, then the rest of the green bobbin until you’ve counted to x again.  For the second half of the sock, you’ll do the same thing, but this time you’ll start back at the beginning of the row and purl across the inside.  Using the second balls of each color, p x-1 green, p1 white, p x-1 green, p1 blue, and you will have met your other half of the cast on, half way around the sock.   On our 60st example sock this means:  k1 blue, k14 green, k1 white, k14 green.  Start 2ndball of blue, p1 blue, start 2nd bobbin of green, p14 green, start second bobbin of white, p1 white, p14 green.  End of row.  Arrange your stitches across 4 needles, one for each diamond.  So at the moment, each blue stitch is on its own needle.  You’ll use a fifth needle as the working needle.

 Argyle 2

The arrows show the direction each green diamond was worked.  One was knit, the other purled.
At this point, both green strands of yarn are at the same end of the sock.  At that end, shift the last green stitch on each needle onto the needle with the one blue stitch.

 Argyle 3

Knit those 3 sts in blue, being sure to wrap the blue yarn with the green before and after you knit 3.  i.e. wrap, knit 3, wrap. 

 Argyle 4

*VERY IMPORTANT* You will always have the yarn ends of the “shrinking” diamonds right next to whichever “growing” diamond you are working on.  This is so that you can wrap the ends around each other in proper intarsia fashion at each edge of the growing diamond to prevent holes.  If this is not a familiar process, please look up intarsia knitting in you knitting books or online.  You need to wrap your ends whether you work your argyle socks in the round or flat.  This is what those wraps will eventually look like on the inside of your sock.

 Argyle 12

Now work across each green diamond to the other side of the sock.  You’ll knit across one diamond, and purl across the other, so as to keep the outside of the sock in stocking stitch.  In both cases, stop one stitch shy of the end of the needle.  You’ll also add the last 2 bobbins of white (4 total) on this row.  Remember that the white stitches each move by one stitch on every row.  If this makes you crazy and is just one too many things to keep track of, feel free to leave them out and add them with duplicate stitch after your sock is finished.

 Argyle 5

Slip each of those un-worked green stitches onto the needle with the blue stitch.

 Argyle 6

Purl these three stitches in blue.  Remember to wrap your ends.

 Argyle 7

Slip one more green from each green needle onto the blue needle you are working on.

Argyle 8

Turn and knit these 5 sts.  Remember to wrap your ends. 
You have worked 2 rows on the growing blue diamond, as indicated by the arrow.

 Argyle 9

Now you’ve established your pattern.  Here’s the whole thing in sequence.

1.       Work both shrinking green diamonds back to the other side of the sock.  Purl one, Knit the other, keeping the outside of the sock in stocking stitch.  Do not work the last stitch on each green diamond needle, instead, slip them to the needle holding the growing blue diamond.

Argyle 10

2.   Purl the stitches on the blue needle, slip another green from each needle, turn, and work across again.  Remember to wrap your ends.  I’m going to stop writing that now, but you should keep doing it at every boundary between colors.  You’ve now gone back and forth on the blue needle.

 Argyle 11

That’s it.  You’re now ready to work back across the shrinking green diamonds, and do the same thing on the other side. 

In general, you always work across both shrinking diamonds to bring them to one side of the sock, leave the end stitches, then work back and forth on the growing diamond, knitting the left behind stitches on the first pass, and the slipping two new stitches to the growing diamond’s needle to work on the second pass.
Keep doing this until the growing diamonds have grown across the whole sock.  There will be one row with only blue and white stitches, no green.  At this point everything shifts.  The green diamonds start growing from one stitch, and the blue diamonds become the shrinking diamonds.  Start over again with the instructions just after the set up row, but this time with the colors reversed.  Once the blue diamonds shrink down to just one stitch, you’re back to the beginning.  Continue like this until you’re ready to do the heal, at which point your sock can easily become a simple sock, knit out of just your back ground color all the way to the toe.  You could also do a contrast heal and toe.  It’s your sock—do what pleases you.

If, once you’ve tried this, the whole thing makes you want to throw your project across the room, don’t torture yourself.  Go back to knitting your argyles in the tried and true flat method.

*Want the pattern for the socks pictured here?  Click here to purchase* 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Year of the Snake


dyed "snake" sock blank

2013 is the year of the snake.  I celebrated back in January with my fiber pals at Raveloe.  We dyed long thin sock blanks to look like snakes.  Everyone had their choice of what to do next.  I unravelled mine and knit socks as intended.

Year of the Snake socks

I am happy with the results, and even though it was January, I figured I was sort of done with the year of the snake and wouldn't think about the Chinese Zodiak again until January 2014 or the next time I ate in a Chinese restaurant with the Zodiak placemats.

Silly me. 

My property has a pleasing amount of wildlife living on it, or at least passing through.  It feels good to see lots of plants and animals around the yard; I feel like I've made good choices and have created a healthy eco-system.  We tend to see one or two garter snakes around the place each summer.  There is a creak running along the edge of our property and because of that there seem to be a lot of frogs, and frogs are a favorite food for garter snakes.

For whatever reason this year we have many more garter snakes than we have had in the past.  In the spring I would see at least 2 every time I worked in the yard or flower beds.  I started trying to count them based on size and markings, and I think I tracked at least 6 different snakes.  They make me really nervous when I mow the lawn, because as I mow I see them quickly slithering away from the mower.  If they head for a flower bed I figure that they're safe, but sometimes they make bad choices, like slithering into the unmown grass, or onto the concrete sidewalk where I know they won't stay until I'm done, or back towards the mower, so I had gotten into the habit of picking up the ones who made bad choices and carrying them to the flower bed.  When I did this two weeks ago, I found out that while garter snakes are only mildly venomous, I am one of the lucky few people who have a reaction to their bites.  Not terrible, but my hands puffed up for a day, and that snake was set into the flower bed less gently and from a greater distance than the others.

Then last week my worst fears came true, and I inadvertantly hurt an animal.  I'm still upset about it and don't know how exactly it happened, but now there is a snake in our yard that we have nick-named "stumpy."

Finally yesterday morning I was doing some landscaping before going to work.  We had some topsoil left over from the spring and had stored it in the yard on a tarp.  We folded the tarp up over it a few times to try to keep it dry.  When I unfolded the tarp it was FULL OF SNAKES.  Like 2 in each layer.  One was a baby, which was super exciting to see, but I'm a little nervous now that I know about the allergy, so I left the tarp open and walked away, hoping that they would leave.  I had  to keep checking under the tarp before shoveling the dirt so I wouldn't accidently hurt any hiding snakes with my shovel.

So yeah, it's definitely the Year of the Snake at my house.  What's next year?  I hope it isn't the Tiger yet.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Good Day to Dye


I haven’t done any dyeing at home since before getting married. Once I was married, it seemed unfair to ask the other two members of the family not to eat any food in the kitchen all day because it would be contaminated by my dye.  There is an extra stove in my basement, waiting to become a dye stove, but so far no one with the know-how has had time to install a 220 line and hook it up.  Lately, I’ve gotten really antsy about waiting.

I finally realized that now that the boy has moved out, whenever my husband goes on a business trip, I’m home alone, which means I have time and opportunity to dye in the kitchen without poisoning anyone.  I’ve had a project in mind for a few years now.  The various fibers have been stored away waiting.

 Dyed wool, silk, and angora
From l to r:  Purple, navy, and green wool; purple, navy and green tussah silk; grey angora; and black wool.

The plan is to blend a heathered black.  I have over 2 pounds of wool, plus 8oz of silk and 4oz of satin angora.  What isn’t shown in the picture is that I dyed the majority of the fiber black (over a pound and a half).  The 3 other colors together make up about a third of the total weight.  I’m hoping to get a black with a dark rainbow that shines out here and there, kind of like an oil slick.

Some observations/stuff I learned while doing this:
  • ·         I need to dye more often!  Far too much of the process was unnecessarily nerve wracking because I couldn’t remember enough from the last times I’ve dyed, like how much fiber  each dye pot holds, or how quickly the dye starts absorbing.
  • ·         Angora doesn’t take dye very well.  As I watched the angora resist dye, I realized that I must have already read or seen that somewhere before.  I used just as much black dye on the angora as everything else, and heated it for just as long, but it’s hardly grey.  I’m not worried about this in the final project, as it’s such a small portion of the overall weight I doubt it will have any negative effect on the color.  I’m hoping it’s just enough angora to add softness and a slight halo to the finished yarn.
  • ·         Good record keeping is everything it’s cracked up to be.  Even thought I haven’t dyed in ages, it was easy to figure out my color formulas based on my samples and records from previous projects.
  • ·         It pays to clean the kitchen, weigh the fibers, and do the math the night before.  Again, because I don’t do this often enough, I had to spend considerable time reviewing Color in Spinning to find the formulas for calculating how much of each assist to use.  Doing the math the night before allowed me to use my dye time much more efficiently that day.
  • ·         Wet fiber won’t dry while clumped together.  Enough said.
  • ·         I need a giant salad spinner to whip the water out of my dyed fiber using centrifugal force.
  • ·         I want more time in my life to dye, card, and spin.
  • ·         I really like green and purple.

Wool, Angora, and Silk, ready to dye
from l to r:  wool, satin angora, and silk, all pre-soaking in synthropol in preparation for dyeing.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Bunny Chauffeur



Poppa in his new foster home
Poppa arriving at his new foster home, Blue Skies Forever

I just chauffeured 2 rabbits about 80 miles today.  This is pretty common in rescue; the town where animals end up in trouble is not always the town where a rescuer has space for them until they can be adopted into their forever home.

The other thing that is sadly common is rabbits suffering because of human ignorance and neglect.  It’s an age old story.  Someone went to a pet store and bought a rabbit.  She didn’t do any research before hand on how to take care of rabbits, and she didn’t do any after the purchase either.  She bought the crappy inadequate “rabbit” stuff the pet store told her to, and went home.  Later, she decided to buy a second rabbit to keep the first company.  This would have been a great idea, if she had bought the first rabbit a spay or neuter first.

Of course, you’ve guessed what happened next.  Here are some interesting facts about rabbit reproduction.  Female rabbits don’t have a fertility cycle like most mammals.  Instead of ovulating once a month, or once a week, they ovulate in response to being mounted.  In other words, they are designed to get pregnant every time they have sex.    The gestation period for a rabbit is about a month.  They can get pregnant again only 24 hours after giving birth.  They have litters, just like cats and dogs.  One rabbit had a litter of 9 just after we rescued her.  Rabbits have developed 2 main defenses against predators, run away, and make as many bunnies as possible so that one of them will survive long enough to reproduce.

So when a human being messes up with rabbits, it only takes a few months for them to be in over their heads.  We see this far too often in rescue.   Before I began volunteering at a local shelter, I didn’t realize how many rabbits are in shelters across the country.  My shelter has a waiting list, as most do.  I am lucky to volunteer at a shelter that does not euthanize any healthy or treatable animals, and to be a member of The House Rabbit Society and our local chapter, THE Rabbit Resource, both of which are no-kill rescues.  Sadly, many, many rabbits are euthanized every day at shelters who take in more than they can adopt out.
I was expecting to drive 4 rabbits today.  They are the only 4 survivors of a larger family, but even though they are survivors, 2 of them continue to have health problems due to their original owner’s neglect.  So 2 are staying with the rescuer/wildlife rehabilitator who is nursing them back to health, and 2 got to ride in the car with me.  As I mentioned, their family started as two un-altered rabbits kept together.  When they had a litter, the owner didn’t separate them, so they kept having litters.  Because she didn’t inform herself about their care, caring for babies, or rabbit behavior, there were casualties.  We don’t know how many, but we do know that only one baby from the most recent litter survived.  This is heartbreaking to me, not just because of the loss of life, but because it was completely preventable.  If she had done some research, she might have decided that she wasn’t ready for the amount of care and attention even a single rabbit needs--as much as a dog.  If she was ready for a rabbit, she would have discovered that they are happiest and healthiest when spayed or neutered, that her local shelter is full to overflowing, and that adopting an already spayed rabbit is much, much cheaper than buying that $20 rabbit at the pet store, only to discover that it will cost $400.00 to get her spayed.

I sometimes feel like I’m fighting a losing battle with rescue.  Pet stores will sell an animal to anyone, whether they are equipped to care for an animal or not.  My stepson worked for a couple of pet stores and was infuriated that he wasn’t allowed to tell someone that they were not capable of taking proper care of an animal.  Add to that the fact that few pet stores seem to train their employees on even the most basic rabbit care, or carry sufficiently large cages, and most pet store bunnies will end up in awful situations.

The numbers work against me.  As my father likes to point out, half of all people are below average.  So a large number of humans buy rabbits without educating themselves.  Every time one of them keeps a male and female together they have a litter.  Figuring an average litter of 4 rabbits, the female could have 48 babies within a year.  But wait, there’s more!  Those babies don’t stay babies for a year, by 3 months old, they can start reproducing too, so assuming half the babies are female, after 3 months the original pair has had 12 babies.  In month four, the original pair has 4 more, and the two females in generation 1 have 8 between them, so month 4 adds 12 babies.  By month 5 we have 5 potential mothers for 20 more babies (44 total) and by month 6 we have 7 mothers and 28 more babies (72 total) and by month 8 generation 1's babies are old enough to have babies and, well, I’m already tired.  Plus, they’re all completely inbred, bless their hearts.

This is why I’m dedicated to “getting the word out” about rabbits.  Not just that they are great pets, which they are, but also that the shelters are full of really wonderful rabbits who are only there because people let them down.  The harder word to get out is that rabbits aren’t for everyone.  They are absolutely the worst pet for a small child, because they are prey animals, and small children are the most terrifying of predators.  They are not a “starter pet” or an “easy pet” for someone who “isn’t ready for a dog yet.”  They aren’t for someone unwilling to do some research and learn their habits and their language (a body language very unlike what we may already know from cats and dogs).  That “easy pet,” no-research-needed mentality is how my passengers ended up with me today. 

I wish that we could have saved all of them, these 4 and the babies and siblings who died before we knew about them because of one person’s ignorant neglect.

But we did save four.

Holding Trucker 
Me holding young "trucker" at his new foster home, Blue Skies Forever