Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Little Prince

Naturally, when I first got here, I had to make the acquaintance of The Little Prince - poste haste. Somehow I'd thought he was a black cat, but no. He's a very handsome gray and white.

His love of sitting on the scooter instantly stole my heart away.

As did his FIERCE ATTACK CAT!!! pose.

Yeah. Real fierce.

I told him I'd try not to blow his cover...but this cat just loves his mama Livey.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


It's official. It's decided.

I'm on vacation.

:-O !!! Hey! Wait a minnit! Just how can I be on vacation if I don't actually work?!?

Easy answer. I'm on vacation from my regular life.

No duties. No responsibilities. Minimal medical fuss. (relatively speaking, of course.)

When I worked liquidating the failed banks, handling a way over-specs portfolio of the messiest delinquent commercial loans and beat-up real estate owned, people would ask me sometimes what my favorite part of the job was.

You see, the profession of *bankbuster,* *liquidator,* *commercial loan workout specialist,* *contrarian asset manager,* whatever they call us at whatever time it smells just as sweet - that profession is both emotionally stressful, and multi-disciplinary, to great extremes. It's a job that many apparently qualified folks simply can't handle.

Every now and then, we'd get a New Guy in, a banker perhaps. Someone in a nice suit with a respectable resume. They'd come to work and get their first portfolio on a Monday. They'd look that portfolio over, maybe read some loan files, field a few phone calls. They'd watch and listen to the rest of us buzzing about, dealing with the constant emergencies, *putting out fires* - the day-to-day norm of our work - and talking in our impenetrable jargon, just like others do in their own professions.

After a couple of days of work, they'd suddenly and quietly disappear off into the sunset. This often occurred on a Wednesday.

Frequently they'd leave no forwarding information. No address. No phone number. They wouldn't even pick up their two-day paycheck for the time they'd worked.

Their poor abandoned portfolio would float around in the Black Hole of orphaned portfolios for awhile. Maybe a piece or two, some particularly egregious accounts, would get parceled out to some of us for temporary custody. You know. Accounts with serious problems that need a lot of intense management as of yesterday? Yes. You can just hear the groans and sighs of us long-suffering, already overburdened asset managers as we spied a new foundling on our doorstep, can't you?

Then we'd entertain ourselves making up and trading rumors about where that Disappeared Asset Manager landed. One extremely large person, dubbed *Earthquake* due to his great poundage, was especially fun. A sneaky bcc-type memo would pop up from no one in particular, circulate throughout Major Assets, maybe even trickle its way down to Auto Loans. *New Sighting! Earthquake's been spotted in ______ [state] doing [_____]* - something that had NOTHING to do with failed banks or even finance, of course…

Eventually, perhaps several months down the line, we might actually even find them. (I mean, we did a lot of skip-tracing of delinquent borrowers. We knew how to find an escaped former coworker pretty fast, if we really wanted to.) We'd *volunteer* some one of us to call that truant up to say, --Hi! Hey, howya doin'? how's the weather out there?-- But they'd shy away from their phone like a spooked horse, wouldn't even take our friendly call. heh!

Multidisciplinary. No individual person could be great at every possible aspect of our work. That meant that as co-workers, we were all far better off if we truly were a team. We'd ask and answer questions and get advice from each other.

Here's a brief overview of a few of the subjects we needed a good general acquaintance with: negotiation, banking, financial analysis, real estate management, real estate repair and rehab, forms of business ownership, discovering the *real* people behind closely-held corporations and/or partnerships, determining both personal and non-human financial liability for loans and guarantees, PMI, VA and HUD mortgage guarantee and/or insurance programs, fiduciary responsibilities, accounting, insurance on property, Errors & Omissions (E&O), Directors and Officers (D&O), and more, civil and criminal law, real estate and banking law, bankruptcy law, asset searches, fraud investigation, zoning, construction loan disbursements, the peculiarities of programs like UDAG grants, property inspections, real estate title issues, negotiation, local government laws and rules and regulations on everything from grass-cutting liens to maintenance of roads in abandoned developments, market analysis, employment and economic analysis, appraisal analysis, inheritance, HOAs and condo boards, laws and regulations on seizures of everything from real estate to chattels to bank accounts, foreclosure, every type of bankruptcy under the sun, long-arm statutes for collection across state lines, how to drop everything you're doing and answer a *congressional* (inquiry), real estate tax deed redemption, negotiation, post-foreclosure deficiency, income taxes whether personal, business, or non-profit, financial analyses and resolutions for religious entities, alternative uses for such properties as abandoned churches, skip tracing, marketing, real estate sales, taking depositions, discovery, government bidding procedures for appraisals and engineering studies and title disputes and the like, auctions, dealing with hazardous materials found on properties owned, pledged or seized, our legal *delegation of authority* rules strictly governing our roles as government banking officers, quoting chapter and verse of *The Bible* (meaning, the Credit Manual), how to write all this up and present it to Committee for approval, how to actually get that approval - without which, of course, one could resolve nothing at all - and did I say negotiation?...

I loved to bury myself in some particularly messy account. Something consisting of, say, $5.22 M book value but only $323,000 current value, contained in two entire upright file cabinets, construction loan disbursements after *inspections* certifying the work was x% complete - even though it was still underwater swampland to this day, and where the heck did those phony photos come from anyway?, heh! - and with ownership interests by eight now-defunct corporations including one s-corp, plus a general partnership and two limited partnerships; but secured only by the low-value real estate, two corporations, five personal guarantees including two by wives who had no idea what they were signing - which is no excuse from liability but is a bit pitiful sometimes - and one by a so-called farmer (who was also, incidentally, a former bank board member) using his 5-acre non-farm house plot to hide behind a Chapter 12 (farmer's) *cramdown* bankruptcy, and two worthless third mortgages, one on a corporate president's house and the other on a corporate treasurer's house; and yes the General Partner's liable too, even if the fool still thinks he's exempt just because he neither guaranteed it nor signed as an individual, but what the heck did he think General Partner means anyway, that's pretty basic law there, if you wanna be a limited partner then don't be a General Partner...

and a week later I'd come up for air, my fancy silk business suit all covered with cobwebs and dust, and me all covered with paper cuts and a sly grin, to gleefully announce I'd found a good and viable $100,000 avenue of collection others had missed for the last two years of resolution attempts because it was SO buried in that paperwork...

I loved that job, myself. This was clear and obvious to everyone around me. Asking me what my *favorite* part of the job was, that made sense. It was a real curiosity. I could see that.

My answer?


I LOVE vacation!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

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The Fawn

(Note: The pictures below are smaller than usual - the regular size didn't want to publish. But! Clicken to embiggen. They're ever so cute.)

This morning we took Livey to Urgent Care, where they gave her antibiotics for her current infections. Just after we left the place, she spotted a deer in the woods next to the road, and then a beautiful fawn. I turned the car around and got out to get a better pic.

Meanwhile, the fawn had decided to lay down. It was so perfectly camouflaged it was almost impossible to see. But then - it got up. It was much bigger than we'd thought.

And so was its mama, hiding a little way away next to a tree line. At first her back was turned to us. Livey told me that as I was photographing the fawn, Mama looked about two seconds away from attacking me.

The fawn spotted us, and got up and looked...

then, looked over at Mama. Mama? Mama???

I'm here, little one. Let's go.

Okay! Okay! I'm coming!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Want Some Critters? Here's Livey's Snake.

Not everyone likes snakes. Me? Sure! All kinds.

Livey's got a resident snake, perhaps a garden-variety garter snake. The first time I saw it here, I was inside and she was outside, and I heard her hollering like a girly girl.

People. This is NOT your typical Livey fashion. No. She is quietly - and absolutely - tough.

Naturally, I came running to see.

As I ran toward it, she was running away from it. Shrieking and flipping her hands.

Just like Walrilla seeing a spider!

I couldn't get a good picture that day. But being the Snake in Residence, our hero reappeared recently. At the time, Livey was taking one of her periodic turns at the stump. The soon-to-be-infamous Stubborn Stump.

I got all excited because I had my camera ready for this run. She was trying to hold it in - the shrieky stuff? - so I thought she'd decided snakes were okay after all. Mr. Snake was a bit discombobulated by the commotion anyway, so he was trying to run off and hide. I was following after with the camera.

Toward the stump, you see? Where Livey was.

She finally said, --HEY! Don't chase him towards ME!!!


Okay! I fix it!

He showed up on one of her walkways, on the right side of the house. The Stubborn Stump side.

Whee! He's looking right at me!

Ummm...wrong way. Sorry, Livey! Okay. I'll chase him the OTHER direction.

And off he went, running away this time, hiding in the rocks.

Yes. He'll probably curl up in there, snuggled in all safe, and come back out to see Livey another day, real soon.

Baby Birds Too

Livey had not one but two sets of bird nests going when I first got here. This one was very low to the ground, some kind of tiny little thing.

See them?


Surely you can see them NOW.

Here they are! Two babies, newly hatched, and two eggs.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Livey's Place, And a New Camera to Photograph It

It's so beautiful here. SO beautiful.

I think it's harder for Livey to explain it than for me. Being a picture-taking fiend may have something to do with that. When we look through that camera's eye we can see things that don't jump out at us otherwise.

After taking the baby pix of the mantises, and talking to LL about the photo quality, I realized full force that my treasured old film Nikon just wasn't the right camera for blog pix. I'd shot some mantis pix with my *beater* digital - which is literally held together with a rubber band - and some other mantis pix on film.

There was a photo sequence on film that should have been a knockout. Oh! I just KNEW that the Circle of the Spineless was calling me! Visions of the Friday Ark (Invertebrates) were dancing in my head!

But when I blogged the sequence of the tiny mantids cannibalizing, and tried to click and embiggen for that beautiful detail my beater digital could provide - it didn't work.

LL talked to me about pixels and resolution. I took the negatives back to Sam's and they put it on the highest resolution CD they could do. The result was better, yes. But obviously they would never even approach that clarity I love to find in blog pix.

I was disappointed. There are photo ops that just don't come along very often, and the tiny praying mantis stalking and eating its sibling was one of them. The subject matter surely was not for everyone, I'd think! But having a great pic not turn out how you'd dreamed? Most of us can relate to that.

My Walter, who should NOT be doing things like this given his heart condition, decided to bust his butt working too hard so I could buy a new digital camera.

And as much as I love that man, and as worried as I am about his health now...pure human covetousness reared its ugly head.

I succumbed.

I bought that camera.

I throw myself on the mercy of the court - and yet I also must confess, I can feel no remorse.

It's wonderful. It takes such pix!!! Macros as close as 4" away. A 7x optical zoom. That stabilizer that so fascinated me when I saw it in action over at Granny J's. 7 some megapixels, more than my blog can even use.

I've been practicing with it here, taking photos of Livey's gorgeous flowers and plants and neat critters. I still haven't put in the instructional CD's to actually learn about it. Granny J's advice for me the technophobe was to learn just one camera thing at a time.

That advice is working. I'm not at all afraid of this one. It may not be the very best I could have gotten, it's a Casio and the reviews say it does have its imperfections...but so do they all. And no other camera in that price range could zoom and macro like this one can.

Instant human-to-equipment bonding - for a 'phobe - is a huge plus factor. Actually, it's probably the deciding factor, for me at least.

Most of the pix I'm posting now were taken with the new camera. Livey looked at her own flowers a little differently when she saw them. I hope they convey the beauty I see here.

There are window boxes under the windows all around the house. Most are chock-full of pansies, which we can't grow so well in South Florida except in winter. I adore pansies, big-time, so seeing them here is a real treat.

The first time I came here, there was a hummingbird sipping away at the flowers under my own window one day as I napped. Livey almost woke me up to see it but decided to let me snooze instead.

Everywhere you look, you see little arrangements that are almost hidden. I love the green and white on the foliage above, and that plant also makes very pretty white flowers. Then, of course, is this knockout blue. With me, if it's blue, you can't go wrong.

There are rocks everywhere, beautiful ones. A previous owner collected them not just from here but his travels around in America. Some are from places like Colorado - just like mine!

The arrangements of flowers, rocks, foliage plants, yard art, wood - it's just stunning.

Many of the ones that sort of sneak up on me are wildflowers. Just like me, Livey will stop at the side of the road to dig up a stray *weed* and bring it home to plant it. This white wild rose was one of them.

More of Livey's Flowers

Livey's house is built on a slope, on a 5-acre plot. This makes for interesting woodland *falls,* and no end of excellent opportunities for stepping-stone type walkways.

Another? Here's a patio, tucked into the left side of the house. Chairs!!! (I'm always in favor of chairs.) And once again, you come upon an almost-hidden view of beautiful gold-and-blue irises, tucked in among the ferns and other plants.

Oh yes - clicken! These pix should be eminently clickable from here on out.

You see how welcoming this is? Coming around the corner, you might not even expect to see such a thing - and there it is.

Iris is another bulb we have difficulties growing in our own hot climate.

This is the window box under MY window. Pansies. YES!

Hello. What a sweet face!

Yet More of Livey's Flowers

Fuschia is another beautiful flower I broke my foolish heart on, trying to grow it in South Florida. Not even our winters are really cool enough for these.

She has two different colors in one pot.

Here's the white and dark purple one, close up. AND, you can clicken too!

Marigolds everywhere, in pots, in the ground...

Huge and healthy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Home Baked Loaf Bread, part 1 of 3

The pix and draft of this post have been hanging around in my computer for months. Suddenly I decided to leave Livey's sweet dog and cat, and her gorgeous flowers and house, alone for just a bit, and post this one instead.

First is the recipe part - short and simple. Then comes the explanation of all the stuff it helps to know if you've never made bread from scratch before - way long! Even if you have baked bread before, there might be some interesting info in there for you. So don't be afraid to peek.

And don't worry. It's NOT hard to do this. If you've tried before and it didn't work out right, you'll probably see the answer here, and I betcha $5 it'll be a simple answer at that.

Snog Dot, this one's especially for you. Yes! An actual BREAD RECIPE! You don't have to be depressed any more, son. It's AAALLLLLL better now. Mama k gonna take good care of you!

oh - and, um, seeing as how I'm at my usual technochallenged self here, this one will be in 3 separate posts because I still don't know how to post more than 4 pix at a time, okay?

Hey. Stop with the giggling, will ya? At least I can bake bread, all right? ;-)


Loaf Bread
½ c warm water
1 T yeast
1 T sugar

Put water and sugar in large bowl; sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for apx. 10 minutes until foamy.
Meanwhile, measure out:
2 c warm water
½ c oil
½ c sugar
1 ½ t salt
1 egg

Blend this into the yeast mix.

Next, mix in a total of:
8-10 c bread flour

After half the flour is added, mix on high for 1 minute. Add remaining flour, mixing in the last cup or two by hand.

Cover and rest 10-15 minutes.
Knead 10-12 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Put dough in oiled bowl, turn, and cover.
Let rise until double, apx. 1 ½ hours.
Punch down and form loaves; put in oiled loaf pans.
Let rise until almost double, apx. 1 hour.
Place in cold oven, turn heat on to 375 degrees, and bake for apx. 35 minutes.
Cool on wire racks.

Some recipes truly need very exact measuring and so forth. This one doesn't. There are many ways to handle the yeast mixing, for example. Here, I've put down what works best for me; certainly there are many other perfectly good methods.

In this recipe, the quality of the ingredients DOES make all the difference in the world. The yeast and flour are especially important. I buy mine at Sam's, where commercial quality (professional) yeast and bread flour cost far less than what the local food stores charge for significantly inferior products.

As in any bulk shopping, you'll get more yeast and flour than you may need. It's okay. It's truly worth it, even if some gets thrown away. And if you have a really great time making and eating this bread? You'll use up all your flour and yeast and go back for more.

Yeast - The yeast at Sam's is simply Fleishmann's dry yeast, the same brand as at the local food store. The difference is in freshness and cost. The Sam's pack is 2 vacuum-packed containers, 16 oz. each. It's been properly stored so it's truly fresh. Total cost for all 32 oz is around $3.50. That's about what you pay for a grand total of only 3/4 of 1 oz - yes, that's not a typo - of usually improperly stored *dead* and expired yeast packs at the local food store.

If the yeast isn't fresh your bread won't rise. Any rising problems you've had in the past are usually because the yeast was expired. If you really don't want both packs from Sam's, give one to a friend or neighbor. Yes! Inspire breadmaking pursuits in those near and dear to you! It's GOOD for them!

Since I live in hot humid South Florida, after I open the pack, I put the yeast in the fridge in an airtight container to keep it fresh and dry.

Flour - Use that commercial quality bread flour. Again, it's big: a 25 pound bag. Cost? All of $5.50 or so. If you don't use it all, still, it's way worth it, in cost and quality both. Flour is almost always presifted these days. I usually give it one more sift as I go, to make up for settlement during shipping and to remove any shreds of the paper bag I accidentally got in there because I'm clumsy.

Oil - This is another Sam's purchase for me: I use their Extra Light Olive Oil - NOT Extra Virgin, but Extra Light. There's no olive oil flavor to it, so don't worry, your bread won't taste a bit odd. Traditional alternatives are lard, Crisco, corn oil, etc. For quite a while I used goose fat I'd rendered from roasted goose, which gave a fabulous bread. I only stopped using it when I became allergic to goose. About the only oil I'd recommend against here is butter. For some reason it just doesn't make good loaf bread.

Sugar - Since the yeast consumes sugar as it rises, use regular white sugar rather than a low-calorie substitute.

Water - The water should be around 110 degrees. To me, that's slightly warm on my wrist, just like a baby bottle. I nuke it. In my microwave, the initial 1/2 c water takes 20 seconds, and the 2 cups 2 minutes, to hit the right temperature. Livey's got a very good microwave, so hers takes a little less time to get the water the right temp. If it's too warm I add a little cold water before I measure it.

Mixer - Any electric mixer is fine; I use a plain hand mixer. Of course, you can mix it by hand, but that requires more strength than I want to use, especially for the *beat 1 minute on high* part. Eeek!

Rising - For rising, a glass bowl is best, if you have a big one handy. Why? Metal conducts temperature better than glass or wood; a metal bowl stays cooler, which holds back the rising.

Loaf Pans - Glass (Pyrex) loaf pans make a far better crust. Metal pans almost always burn the crust a bit. I use spray oil in the pans, then also dribble a bit of melted butter both in the pan and on top of the loaves for tenderness and flavor.

Cooling - For cooling the loaves, any wire racks are good, including a BBQ grill. It only needs around 1/2" of air under the rack for the bread to breathe as it cools.

Cutting and Storing - Fresh bread is notoriously hard to cut. Use a bread knife: long, serrated and sharp. To make the bread firmer - thus, easier to cut - I put the loaves in the freezer for about an hour when they're just cooled, then take them out and slice them, slightly frozen.

Fresh bread stays fresh only for a day or so. If I won't use it that fast, I put it back in the freezer, sliced, in freezer ziplocks. I also ziplock any bread I'm not freezing. Yes. Fuss fuss fuss.

Mixing - Using a big ole metal bowl, one the mixer won't chip, put in the 1/2 c warm water and 1 T sugar; sprinkle the dry yeast on top and let it sit a few minutes. This gets the yeast *started* and dissolved. If it's not all dissolved when you start mixing the other ingredients in, that's okay. The timing on this part is not critical.

The yeast, sprinkled on top of the water, is dissolving and getting foamy.

Mix in the flour 1 cup at a time. After you've mixed in about half the flour, beat on high for one minute, then add in the remaining flour a cup at a time.

The dough quickly becomes stiffer. Stop using the mixer and blend the last of the flour in with a very strong spoon or your hands. Keeping the flour content as low as possible gives you a lighter, more tender bread, so always use just enough flour to keep it from sticking too much.

At the end, the dough clings together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a lightly floured kneading surface and knead in the last bits of flour and little shreds of dough.

Knead in the last bits of flour. It looks all gloppy as you get to the end.

Kneading and Resting - Kneading bread dough develops the gluten, the substance in wheat and potatoes that makes dough *gluey* and elastic. Developed gluten holds in the air bubbles (CO2) that the yeast - *leaven* - makes as it consumes sugars. The bread dough rises and becomes light and airy, delicate, not thick and solid or crisp like unleavened bread products such as crackers and matzos.

Alternatively, resting the dough lets the gluten *undevelop* a little bit. That makes it less stiff and much easier to work with, to knead and to form loaves. You can *rest* the dough pretty much any time you like; some people even take a short break in the middle of kneading.

So: After you've added the last of the flour, cover the dough and let it sit - rest - for 10-15 minutes.

To knead, get comfortable. I sit down on a high chair in front of my kneading surface, which is my perfectly ordinary kitchen counter. Lightly flour the kneading surface, adding more flour from time to time if the dough sticks. I use a metal strainer for sprinkling flour on the surface, the same strainer I use for sifting.

Fold the far end towards yourself...

Put the dough on the lightly floured surface. Put your open hands on that dough. Push down and away from you, like you're trying to press it through the surface. Turn it 1/4 way (90 degrees), fold the farthest edge back toward you, folding it over the hunk of dough, and repeat the pushing motion.

...then push it away from you.

With my too-small hands, I press it 4 times along the surface before turning it. Kneading ain't written in stone.

Although I will say, I've seen people beat their dough. Slam! turn. SLAM!!! ouch!

Personally, I just don't get it. It's totally unnecessary to whack the stuff, okay? It looks and sounds violent to me, like they're mad at their bread. It takes far more energy too. Me, it would hurt my arthritis something fierce, instead of giving me that nice hand massage I get by kneading dough gently.

Some modern recipes show 5-6 minute kneading times. No no no. That's not enough time to get the tastiest product. The folks that say that's okay? Those are people who hate kneading, and who believe you're a wuss when I know you're not, and they're just pretending good kneading is unnecessary so they can sell more cookbooks.

Knead it until it's done. Here's how you know. The dough goes through an important change, one that you'll learn to watch for, when you've kneaded it the best amount of time. That's usually about 10-12 minutes. When it suddenly becomes satiny smooth and elastic, and doesn't stick to the kneading surface any more, you're done. It's a subtle change, but it is a noticeable one. After you've made bread several times, your hands learn to feel the change so well you won't even consciously think about it. You'll just know, and you'll look up at the clock and realize that, say, 11 minutes have gone by.

OTOH? If you overknead, the dough looks different, becoming *blistered* instead of smooth. It looks a bit like a stucco finish on a house. The final bread will be edible, but a bit dry and tough and heavy-grained, not nearly as soft as it should be.

(Mini-lecture here:) I know people love bread machines. I like them for this reason: they encourage people to make homemade bread, when before, they were too shy to try it without a bread machine.

But please, just once...KNEAD IT BY HAND, PEOPLE. At least do this one time in your life. Preach preach preach! Okay. I know. I'm harping at ya. But kneading bread should be on everyone's *Life List of Stuff to Do* - even just that once.

It's NOT difficult. It IS fun. It's homey and domestic and meditative and a superb stress reliever. It only takes 10-12 minutes, and the dough KNOWS whether you kneaded by machine or by hand. If you let a bread machine do the kneading you may well notice the difference in quality. I do. If you can't tell?...Okay. I'll stop getting on your case! It's your bread. Of course. Knead by machine if you like. Me, I'm just happy anyone is interested in making bread, any way at all. It's GOOD for you! (Mini-lecture over.)

Home Baked Loaf Bread, part 2 of 3

Rising - When the kneading's done, put the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn, and cover.

*Turn* means this: Put a little (olive) oil in the bowl. Put the dough in the bowl and then turn it over, so it's oiled on all sides.

*Covering* the rising dough or loaves is a good thing. It keeps the dough from drying out on top. Historically, people usually used a damp cloth. I like plastic wrap, laid very loosely on top, not touching the dough. As it rises, the dough comes up and meets the plastic wrap. I pick up the wrap and let it settle back down, so the dough can rise free and uninhibited.

Let it rise in a warm, relatively humid and draft-free place for apx. 1 1/2 hours, until double. You can check it by touching it very lightly with your finger. It's ready when this leaves an imprint of your fingertip.

Yup. Looks double to me. Looks like it's about to explode all over you, the kitchen, the kids, the dogs, the cats...

I like to rise it almost as long as it's safe to rise, a shade more than double. But! This is a bit risky. Just like over-kneading, over-rising is not good: it collapses, and the final product is nearly inedible.

If the air is too cold and dry, yeast dough can take much longer to rise. A couple techniques to help it along are:

-Put a large bowl or pan of hot water on the lower shelf of your oven. Turn the oven on a few minutes, then turn it off and let it cool until it's just slightly warm. Put the dough in to rise.

-Even easier: Put the covered bowl of dough in the bathroom, and turn on a very hot shower a few minutes to create a warm humid environment. It's like steaming your wrinkled shirt in the hotel room while traveling on business.

In the end, if the bread tastes very yeasty, it's NOT because too much yeast was used in the recipe. It's from rising it too warm. This is a subjective taste thing: many people love that extremely yeasty flavor. More than one restaurant knows this, and rises bread or yeast dinner rolls too warm on purpose. If that's what you like, too, go for it. Just like the bread machine bit, okay? It's YOUR food. Eat it how YOU like it. Food police are Not Allowed to take over here at ksquest.

Making the Loaves - After the first rising is done, punch it down: just shove your fist right on in that sucker, and watch that big hunk of airy dough collapse. Kids of all ages love this part.

Punch it down.

Turn the dough out onto the kneading surface. Many people flour the surface again; I find it unnecessary after the initial kneading, as long as the old bits of flour and dough are cleaned off the surface.

Knead lightly for a minute or two to pop any remaining big air bubbles, or simply press them out with your hands. Kids of all ages love this part too because it makes funny bathroom noises, which often sends them off in irrepressible fits of giggles, leaving you some peace and quiet as they scamper about in the yard going ape on scatalogical humor.

If you like, cover and let it rest a bit. (This means the dough, not the kids. Well, maybe the kids too, if they're getting underfoot by now.)

Make a rectangle.

Divide dough into 4 sections - I cut it with a knife - and set one on the kneading surface. Press with your hands to make a narrow rectangle (apx. 5- 6" wide), pressing out any large air bubbles again as you go. Roll it up tightly to make a rounded rectangular loaf shape.

Roll it up.

Seal the ends and the final bottom seam with your hands by pressing down the edges of the dough with the edges of your hands, and turning them under the loaf. You can use your hands to smooth the surface as well.

Home Baked Loaf Bread, part 3 of 3

Baking and Cooling - Place the loaves in oiled loaf pans. I use spray oil for this, and then dribble a little melted butter in the bottoms of the loaf pans, and on top of the loaves, for tenderness and flavor.

Cover and let rise until almost double, about 1 hour. Put the loaves in a COLD oven. Turn the heat on to 375 degrees, and bake for apx. 35 minutes.

Some people can make these perfect looking beautiful loaves. I am Not One of Them. I have to fall back on: Don't admire it. Eat it.

Walter doesn't like to have little dog-ears hanging over the edge of his loaves, so sometimes I press it down when I put the loaf in the pan.

Now they're all risen and ready to bake. Uh, these ones have those darn dog-ears. Probably I took these pix from a different batch of loaves.

All done! YUM!

If the crusts are getting too brown for your taste towards the end, you can put a sheet of aluminum foil loosely on top of the loaves.

Test for doneness by turning a loaf out onto a wire rack and thumping it with your finger. It makes a hollow sound when it's done. In my own environment, 35 minutes is just right, so I don't need to test.

When they're done, immediately turn out all four loaves on a wire rack to cool.

Storing - This recipe makes 4 loaves. That's way too much for some people, but instead of cutting the recipe in half, I either give a loaf or two away to friends and neighbors, or freeze it.

It's best when very fresh, of course, so I freeze any excess as soon as it's cool. If I slice it first, I find it easier to use out of the freezer, just taking out a slice or two as I need. I nuke it for just a few seconds, say 25 or so, and it's almost as good as just-made.

Eating - Some cookbooks warn you against eating fresh bread hot out of the oven, saying it's *not as healthful.* Bah! It will leave a dry edge on the remaining loaf after you cut it hot - unless you've got some company and all y'all eat up the whole loaf in a matter of seconds.

Either way - so what? Hey, we cooked 4 loaves here! We got enough to mess one up if we like. Me, I cut it very hot, and slather whipped butter on it and scarf it down. YUM!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

This is GOOD.

So here I am in the Northwoods, hanging out with Livey. Sometimes I just sleep all day. Sometimes she just sleeps all day. We seem to alternate our energetic times and sleep times really, really well.

So when one of us has energy, the other doesn't, and whoever is up, does what needs doing.

It's great.

It's amazingly comforting to be around someone who's sick like me. That sounds a little cold-hearted, right? I know. I'd give a lot to see her NOT be sick. But it is what it is: we're two chronically ill people, dealing with a lot of identical issues, and it's so nice to be around someone who understands not just with their mind, but from personal experience. I can tell her things I can tell few other people; the things I say don't shock or puzzle her. From her own knowledge, I've already learned a lot of things to help me be healthier.

The first day I was here I had a little energy, and put away food I'd brought, and started cleaning her fridge a bit to put things away. (Don't want to give anyone my germs, here.) The next day, I totally crashed and slept all day. Then, yesterday, I was rested, and I cooked and did some more cleaning and organizing my Important Kitchen Stuff. See, here I am, taking over her kitchen.

One thing we don't have in common, healthwise, is digestive issues. I mean, mine are the opposite of hers. I get food allergy reactions that give me horrid cramping runs. She gets constipated, badly, and basically can't leave the house for days at a time as she waits for various, um, poop inspiring techniques to take effect.


Eating mostly hot dogs for a living is certainly not the cause of this problem. But it doesn't help. Or rather, it DOES help. Yup. That constipation thing really likes to have no-fiber foods!

So I knew before I even arrived that there were things I could do to help her out on this one.

Therefore: The very first cooking exercise wasn't actually cooking. It was just cutting up fresh fruit.

I'd left a pineapple behind on my first trip. When I got back here it was finally ripe.

Beautifully, perfectly, reeking to high heaven of pineapple, ripe.

Most people these days are not well schooled in making sure their fresh fruit is ripe. (My grocery store rant can wait, for now.)

She didn't know how good real pineapple can be. also looks like she may be allergic to it. Crap!

But the perfectly ripe fresh cantaloupe and pear look to be fine, allergy wise.

Next? Beef stew. With LOTS of veggies too.

Rich and tasty. Beef, onion, fresh garlic, carrots, celery, red potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, salt. Simple. Beef very well browned for that seriously beefy flavor.

Then, home baked bread. She'd never tasted fresh bread before. Oh, that was a TREAT to watch!

I love to cook, I have a *need to feed,* Walter's not home much when he's working, and I can't eat much food at all. So having someone to cook for, someone who - shockingly! - didn't mind one bit when this person from 2000 miles away strolled in and took over her kitchen? - is like Christmas for me.


Now is a rest day, and we'll go out in the car and do a bit of grocery shopping for her patient in Rhinelander, and basically mostly chill. I love to drive, so that's another thing I have to offer.

Have to offer.

See, with most folks? I tend to feel like I'm all *need* and little *give.* I can't walk well, and the canes and/or scooter take some work for others sometimes, helping me with it, or even just adjusting their pace to mine. I'm hyperallergic and people have to be very careful with things like their soaps and hairspray and laundry and air fresheners around me. I'm exhausted easily and then we have to stop visiting and send me home to sleep.

I'm in a place, here, where I can actually help another person.

Like that Productive Member of Society thing.



Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Little Ones Premier

I'll tell you more about the story of these baby praying mantises in a few days. In the meantime? Their curator, the inimitable LL of Chromed Curses, requested PIX!, which she has richly earned. I told her she'd get to see some as soon as she woke up. And one does not want to disappoint the Bitchmistress. Nope.

Especially seeing the loving good mothering she gave to these little ones.

For now, if you click on the pix to embiggen, the story of their lives in this terrarium will unfold before your eyes. They are tiny and they are many. The more I look at the close-up details, the more I see.


They Get Fed. Which Makes them...Restless.

Sitting in their terrarium, indoors, the baby mantids were quiet and calm. When LL brought them out in the sunshine, they may have livened up a bit from the light and warmth.

But it was quite clear that something else was absolutely, positively perking them up.


She opened a vial of fruit flies and dropped them in.

The praying mantises were hungry, and the instant they saw prey - dinner - they suddenly became alert. Focused, intently. Almost comically.

We watched for several minutes - in great suspense - as a fruit fly, oblivious to the threat, sat on a leaf and foolishly twitted his wings and washed his little feet. Behind him was a mantid, in full predator mode. With great care and deliberation, this mantid stalked closer and closer, coming up behind the fruit fly. Its movements were so slow and perfectly controlled we almost couldn't tell it was moving - but we could see it was closing the gap.

As the minutes went by, we tried to remember to watch the action in other parts of the terrarium. But looking away from this particular hunt was almost impossible to do.

The mantis finally crept within easy striking distance. The fruit fly was still utterly unconcerned. Suddenly the praying mantis snapped forth its powerful grasping forelegs so fast the motion was a blur, and it grabbed that fruit fly up. Triumphant and hungry, securely holding its prey, it wasted no time in settling down to dinner.

I wish I'd been able, somehow, to capture that with my limited equipment. But don't fret. There's an even better one I did catch. It's right down there in the next post.

And if you look closely at these pix below, you'll see more action going on than seems possible.

Here is a baby praying mantis sitting on LL's thumb. It looked to me like that little critter knew exactly who LL was. It sat there for quite a while, making no attempt to escape. It was perfectly contented right where it was, lounging about on LL's thumb; and went back in its terrarium with no argument when the time came.

Tiny and perfect. Looking up at her with those wondrous eyes.