Winner of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day giveaway

The winner of an autographed copy of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” is

Cindy Sanborn!

I’m a little bit worried about whether we should give it to her, because she’s the leader of a CULT! But it’s a bread cult, so surely we’re OK.

Here’s her comment:

I love this book! I recently hosted a “bread party” for co-workers and showed them many of the wonderful things that can be made from this book. It was a blast and several that didn’t already have the book ran out to buy it and we are planning another bread get together soon. My daughter calls it our bread cult. I would love to have a new copy because mine is getting dog-eared from being passed around so much.

(Cindy’s comment was picked by the number generator at Random.org.)

Thanks to everyone who entered and shared your experiences, questions and suggestions.

Pain d’epi

I tried another loaf of the bread yesterday — the pain d’epi. They also call it “wheat stalk bread,” because it is meant to look like an elegant stalk of wheat. (“Epi” in French means “ear” or “point.”)  The authors’ blog has terrific detailed instructions for shaping the bread. And of course, their bread looks gorgeous.

Mine? Not so much.

It has some of the shaping, but my dough, which I mixed up earlier that morning, did not achieve the nice, smooth skin theirs has. In fact, without a lot more stirring, I don’t think mine *would* have that. My dough was also taller and more energetic-looking than the blog photos — her dough looks relaxed and a slack, in a good way; a much longer rest in the refrigerator might have mellowed mine. Hopefully, the bread will still taste good — it’s a gift for the teachers’ lunch for school conference day.

In the future, for a more precise same-day loaf like this, maybe it’s worth mixing the dough in the mixer. Meanwhile, I’ll reserve judgment on using same-day dough.

Have you tried this or any of the more elegant breads in the book? How did they work for you?

Remaking a sweater

Yesterday I wrote about storing sweaters. But what if you look at your sweater collection and find a few duds that shouldn’t see the light of next season? Too small, too pilled, too short, too huge, just not right.

You would think sweater projects would be perfect in the fall — but in the fall, you’re going to want to USE those projects. Plus, it’s National Craft Month! Get one or two ready now, and they’ll be all set to use this fall. Store sweater projects as you would store the sweaters they’re made from.

Revamp it

My first step is one I’m going to take with a sweater I just knit myself. I’m new to knitting sweaters, and it turned out waaaay different than I anticipated. I wanted a cute little cardigan. But I couldn’t get the armpits to fit, and the wider you knit the shoulders, the wider the arms. Everything turned out much wider — even though I was knitting at the right gauge, followed instructions, tried it on multiple times as I knit, and got second and third opinions. And somehow, it sticks out in the back, making me look much wider all around than necessary.

I could tear it all out and start over … but I’m tired of the yarn, which did not cooperate through 3 tries with a different pattern, and ready to move on. Mr. Cheap suggested wearing it more like a wrap jacket, and belting it (this advice is a fringe benefit of marrying an artist). I’m going to knit a belt and call it done. It’ll be shaped a bit more like this:

Here are some great examples — and instructions — for other sweater remake projects I found around the Web.

Transform it into a different sweater

If this issue is that the sweater’s shape doesn’t work for today, you have several options.

You can just trim it down into a narrower silhouette, like julie-bird.

You can make it into a cute cardigan (suitable for spring!) a la Threadbanger (click over to see photos).

Trim it up and create a Nordic capelet like the one featured on this post, or visit the creator, Felted Finery, to buy one.

Or go edgy and cute with something like this sweater-vest-turned-dirndl-vest, featured in Craft’s blog:

Bag the sweater

You can also turn an old sweater into a bag, preferably after felting it, and preferably with a liner. I found several options, from the tote bag created by Perched on a Whim

… to a really cute bag with felted decoration from Karmology Clinic

… to a yoga mat bag made from sweater sleeves:

Make mittens

You can limit yourself to using the sleeve cuffs as mitten cuffs, or turn an entire sweater into sets of mittens. Instructions are here.

Make pillows

I have several sweaters set aside for this purpose, and even have some yard-sale pillows to go in them. Maybe this will be the year! MintBasil has posted a tutorial on her method here, with great tips for sewing the felted sweater.

Make critters

You can turn a sweater into a cute, cuddly creature.

Or you can make a hat with a creature on it, again from Karmology Clinic (and of course, you can add this kind of embellishment to anything!).

And if you’re really, really handy with the felting, apparently you can turn your Roomba into a lifelike marauding creature to amuse yourself and terrify housepets (at the same time). This one isn’t from a sweater, but someone inventive could work something out.

I’m inspired now! Have you made other things from sweaters? Share below!

Reader mailbag on bread

The post on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has generated a lot of comments — and quite a few questions. I’ll answer some of them here.

I’ve done no knead before, but not really happy with the results. Have you compared the two recipes side by side?

Not side by side, although I’ve written about both. Here’s my take on the no-knead recipe, last year.

If we compare the ingredients, we’ll see that they’re quite different in two key areas — yeast and salt.

No-Knead Bread (for one loaf):
0.25 tsp yeast (this equates to 0.08 Tbsp)
1.5 cups water
3 cups flour
1.5 tsp salt (this equates to 0.5 Tbsp)

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day basic boule (for several loaves):
1.5 Tbsp yeast
3 cups water
6.5 cups flour
1.5 Tbsp salt

The greater amount of yeast (9 times as much) is likely why the Artisan Bread recipe can rise and bake immediately (within two hours), whereas the No-Knead recipe first must rise 8-12 hours.

As for salt, it gives the bread flavor and affects its rising and stretching characteristics. The Artisan Bread boule has 50% more salt than the no-knead recipe. For a full, detailed expose on salt’s role in bread baking, check out this article.  For the quick view, this paragraph should suffice:

Besides flavoring the bread, bakers have long noted salt’s alteration of certain dough characteristics. Unsalted dough mixes faster, has little resistance to extension and feels sticky. Bakers who delay the salt addition during mixing find that once salt is added, the dough tightens, becoming more difficult to stretch, but also becomes stronger, and is thus capable of stretching farther without ripping. (Testing by cereal scientists confirms this seemingly contradictory observation: salted doughs are both more resistant to extension and more extensible once deformed.) During fermentation, salted doughs rise more slowly, an occurrence usually solely attributed to salt’s dehydrating effect on yeast. To understand how salt affects these changes, and to see if our assumptions hold true, we will need to take a look at the interactions within the dough on a molecular level.

In short: If you haven’t tried both recipes, give the Artisan Bread version a try — maybe it will work better for you.

The only problem I had [with a ciabatta] was the crust did not stay crusty after it cooled. What am I doing wrong?

The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book mentions underbaking as a possible cause.

Or consider this tip from Rose Levy Berenbaum:

Allow the bread to cool completely before placing it in a brown paper bag. If the loaf has been cut into, store it in a plastic bag and recrisp it in the following way. Place the loaf cut side down on the oven stone or baking sheet. Turn the oven to 400°F and check after 7 minutes. The crust should be crisp and the crumb will be warm.

Try using a baguette pan with perforations.  The dough rises and bakes in the pan – no stone needed. The bread comes out perfect, and the smaller size only takes 20 minutes to rest, 25 to bake. I get my pans used from a bakery supply company, but there are many for sale online.

I do indeed use a baguette pan (mine only has two “bins” — I think I purchased it at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table years ago).  They work beautifully. Lately I’ve been finding that my dough sticks in the holes when the loaf is baked. I can twist it like an ice cube tray to get it out, but I’m going to try to remember to oil the pan next time.

I have tried this no-knead bread and it is good. I am still experimenting to get the right loaf though. My loaves turn out a little too moist in the middle so when I cut them they stick to the knife. Does the book include troubleshooting tips and high altitude adjustments? Just wondering.

The book does include troubleshooting tips. For your problem, it mentions that you might be underbaking the bread slightly. They say (and I do the same) that their bread, when baked properly, comes out with some black bits on parts of the crust that protrude.

As for high altitude, the authors do not include high-altitude adjustments. Here are some tips about baking in general at high altitude, but in short, experts advise adding a bit more liquid at high altitude to compensate for drier flour. I am baking at 5,300 feet, and that’s what I do. Generally, don’t be afraid to add some more liquid to make a dough more moist, if that is an issue. Just do it a little bit at a time.

But if yours is too moist, I would assume the liquid is sufficient and try baking it a bit longer. The dough is meant to be very moist, which gives it the delicious interior with nice holes and good texture. But the baked texture shouldn’t be soggy. Good luck!

Why are your Silpats not brown?

I have no idea, except that I don’t typically cook greasy foods on them, perhaps? I found this explanation in a review on Viewpoints.com:

The mats are wonderful except that while taking care of them as directed, we have never gotten one to last the advertised number of uses. We use them several times a week and take care of them as directed. After a while the mats start to turn brown. I wrote to the company and the reply was, “Unfortunately, what you’re experiencing is a normal stage at the end of the life of a Silpat. The Silpat is a fiberglass weave coated with a layer of silicone. This silicone is porous, and will begin to absorb the fat/grease from the items cooked on it over time. As the silicone absorbs more fat/grease, it fills the valleys between these peaks, and creates more surface area for the mat, causing more friction. It also will start to appear stained.”

You use the 1/2 recipe (so 3, 1.5, 1.5, 6.5) in the 2 gallon container?  How much does it rise?  If I do the whole 6,3,3,13 will it just need a 4 gallon or will it rise too much?

I just checked again, and my container is maybe one gallon. The dough rises up to about 1 inch below the rim at its maximum height. A 2-gallon container should be ample for the full recipe, but YMMV.

How ’bout some pictures of your dogs?

Let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

The Canines Cheap

The Canines Cheap

Great rechargeable battery deal at Walgreens

I just found this great deal at my local Walgreens and wanted to share.

Walgreens sells Energizer rechargeable batteries, size AAA, in packs of 4, normally $12.99. At my store (through 3/28/09), they are on sale for $7.99 per pack.

In this month’s EasySaver catalog, customers can get a rebate of $10 for buying two packs of Energizer batteries (or $15 for three packs). That rebate is increased by 10% (to $11 or $16.50) if you choose to have your rebate added directly to a gift card instead of sent by check. To claim a rebate via gift card, you can submit rebates online anytime during March. The balance can be added to your existing gift card automatically.

If I claim my rebate for these packages, I’ll ultimately get them for $3.13 a pack including tax. This is perfect as we are seeking to convert all our batteries to rechargeables.

I’m not sure if the sale is at all retail outlets — if you find out, let us know! But it’s sure worth checking. I don’t need any more AAA batteries, but I do need AAs, so I will be checking back before the sale ends just in case I can claim that 3-pack rebate.

As always with deals, YMMV.

Find books for cheap or free reads

If you love to read, you know the cost of books can really add up. A tempting new hardback can run $25 or more. It’s a small price to pay for hours of enjoyment — and sometimes, years of memories, a new skill or a new perspective on life. But when times are tight, books are an area where you can trim costs.

Not so cheap

As a writer myself, with writer friends, I find the idea of not supporting authors to be really sad. And yet, in the interest of both money and decluttering, I know all too well that books take up a lot of room — and very few get read again, even for a household of avid readers like ours.

Books are collectible, you say? Perhaps a signed first edition. But my grandmother died with a house full of thousands of books — many of them collected intentionally — and more than 500 are still in my garage, listed online for sale but unsold. And we kept only the best.

I also like to support my wonderful local bookstore. Unfortunately, the nature of expanding information means they very frequently don’t have the title I want — so supporting them means planning ahead and having them order the title, which they happily do.

As a solution, I buy books of friends, and I often buy and have autographed a copy of a book when I attend an author’s reading. This isn’t a huge expenditure; I attend a reading every year or so, sometimes a few times a year. These books are special to me. If a book is not so special (like the reading where the author acted put upon to be there, insulted our city, and then the book wasn’t even good), I resell it.

Cheaper

New books are available at a discount on Amazon.com (where, for instance, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day costs $16.77 instead of the cover price of $27.95). Discounts on bestsellers and classics are available at Barnes & Noble online (where AAA members save an additional 5% and get free shipping) and Borders.

Used books are available online aplenty, and they add the benefit of re-use to that of saving money.

Used books on Amazon are even cheaper than new ones (usually  — but do double check). And Alibris and ABEBooks have millions of used books, from inexpensive paperbacks to valuable collectibles — including textbooks. Do a search online and you’ll find services comparing prices for the book you need. Be sure to check shipping costs for the total cost to receive a book.

Cheapest

Thrift stores typically have a motherlode of books. In our area, prices range from 50 cents for children’s paperbacks to $10 for special volumes. On a half-price day, those prices are cut in half. Also, stores now assign their colored stickers to books, too, and those tags are featured on sale for half off on certain days.

During garage sale season, books can be found even cheaper — sometimes 10 cents each or whatever you can bargain the seller down to. Face it — they’re just glad to get those dusty tomes out of the basement, so your gain is their gain.

Local used book exchanges can be a great deal. My grandfather, who is far cheaper than I, made a science out of getting cheap reads when he and my grandmother traveled the country in their fifth-wheel trailer. He would take a grocery sack of paperbacks to a used bookstore in any location and trade them the sack for a sack full of different books. Grandma didn’t get to pick and choose what she read — but she had a plentiful supply to carry her to their next stop, without cluttering up their tiny portable living space.

Online book swaps serve the same function, but you do get to pick and choose. PaperBackSwap.com currently has over 3 million books available; BookMooch.com has some 500,000 and has ways to share books with charity. The books themselves are free: You list what you have to give away, and then you earn points to claim others’ books. The only cost is postage for shipping. Use the U.S. Postal Service’s “media mail” option to save significantly on shipping costs, although transit will take a bit longer.

Free books

If you like the idea of book swapping with a “random acts of kindness” angle, a nod to “Where’s George,” and a dash of geocaching, check out BookCrossing.com. On this site, you give your book a tracking number, “release” it somewhere in your community, and note on the site where you left it. Other participants can “catch” the book, log it at the site, read it and pass it on.

Many communities have places where books are available for free. Check your work lunchroom, your local coffee shop, sushi restaurant or bar for a discreet stash of books. You can read while you sit, and in some places, you can take a book, leave a book.

Have similar-minded friends over for brunch and a book swap. Everyone can bring books they no longer want and go home with a few good reads, prescreened by friends.

The library is, of course, the queen of free reads (well, funded by your tax dollars). If your library’s collection leaves something to be desired, learn your way around Interlibrary Loan. Even in rural areas with small libraries, readers can access the world’s collections this way.

And I just found this great service — if you’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, but you just never found the room on your nightstand, you can now do so, one day at a time. DailyLit.com will deliver a manageable chunk of a book to your e-mail every day. In just 663 installments, you’ll be done with War and Peace — and you can read it guilt- and back-pain free on your smart phone while waiting for the kids at soccer, or have it arrive for a fast pick-me-up at work in the afternoon.

What have I missed?

What are your secrets for finding great values on books?

How to hang out laundry

Spring is here, and it’s a great time for all of us to create backyard replicas of those classic springtime images of clean clothes whipping dry on a clothesline.

(Why is there no ACTUAL image today? I tried, but the camera is not cooperating.)

Anyway … as you very likely know, hanging clothes out to dry has many benefits:

  • Uses natural solar and wind energy to dry clothes instead of electricity, natural gas or propane.
  • Adds that fresh, outdoor smell.
  • Does light sanitizing from the sun’s rays.
  • Saves $70-$80 per year if you can hang out laundry for 7 months (compared to using an electric dryer).
  • Eliminates 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions if you do it 7 months a year.
  • Gives you a little bit of exercise and a chance to get outside.

If you haven’t hung out clothes before — or haven’t done it for years — here’s a primer on how to make it enjoyable:

  1. Launder clothes the night before (if your climate doesn’t cause them to mildew by morning) or at the crack of dawn, then get out and hang up the clothes in the morning. I guarantee it will be one of the best parts of your day. Take them down in the evening for a few minutes’ respite. Breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sun pouring vitamin-D-generators into your skin, listen to birds, and be happy you are not stuck in traffic, sitting behind a computer, listening to babies cry or whatever comprises much of your time.
  2. Make it easy. Get the tools you need. Set up a clothesline (a traditional line, a retractable strung between home and garage, a line across your patio or a revolving “umbrella” clothesline).
  3. Get enough clothespins. The wooden ones are more eco-friendly and more lasting. Find them at dollar stores, large Asian markets like Har-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. Put them in a hanging basket (even a milk jug cut out for access) to easily reach them.
  4. Save your back by elevating the basket. I put my basket on an upturned large flowerpot next to my umbrella clothesline. My former neighbors had put wheels on a basket so it rolled along their line.
  5. Fight wrinkles. Many garments — like linen — come out less wrinkled on the line, especially if it’s breezy. Give woven cotton garments a good shake (or three) before hanging to shake out wrinkles. Take a look after hanging to make sure a cuff isn’t turned up — it will dry that way if it is. For extra wrinkly garments, or “wrinkle-resistant” clothes that wrinkle on the line, throw them in the dryer for a few minutes while damp to get out wrinkles. If you’ve washed the garments several times, they should be fairly colorfast when they are nearly dry, and all colors can go in one load to conserve energy.
  6. Crowd synthetics. It’s not mandatory! But if you are running out of clothesline, remember that 100% polyester and polar fleece dry very rapidly and without wrinkles. In a pinch, I hang my daughter’s fleece PJs by one clothespin and crammed together — and they still dry faster than other clothes.
  7. Simplify socks. I pull socks out of the load as I remove it from the washer (or hang up the load and leave socks in the basket). Then I drape them over a folding rack instead of hanging them on the line. Somehow, working a clothespin onto every single sock just ups the annoying factor a little too far.
  8. Flip shirts over. I hang shirts upside down (from the hem) to minimize wrinkles and ensure that if there are any weird nipply things from the clothespins, they are at the hem instead of the shoulders. (There’s nothing like glancing in the mirror at lunchtime only to see that you have a knob of fabric sticking up from your shoulder.) Or, hang clothing on hangers — but for the broad- or narrow-shouldered among us, double check to be sure the shoulders lie smoothly on the hangers. For button-placket shirts, I hang the shirt upside down with a clothespin at each side hem. Then I lap the plackets over each other and clip the center, too.

My DIY yarn swift – made for $5

March is national craft month — the perfect time to focus on doing crafts … on the cheap.

This post is not so much a tutorial as an example of what we can do to re-use, repurpose, economize — and still enjoy hobbies, tools and skills. I hope it will inspire you to listen to that voice inside that says “I bet I could …” — and then make something great.

***

At my house, I am loaded with yarny goodness. I’ve knitted off and on over the past 15 years, but two years ago, at our local Renaissance festival, my mother-in-law bought me a drop spindle telling me that since everyone else was getting a souvenir, I should get one, too.

Once I started spinning with that drop spindle, I’d caught an obsession. Within a few months I had acquired a spinning wheel. Spinning gave me a new appreciation for yarns, and I got back into knitting again.

I have tried to economize where I can. I am proud to say that my pricey tools have all been acquired secondhand. But all the yarn I spin, and most of the yarn I buy, comes in skeins. These are long loops of yarn — easy to make after spinning, great for washing the yarn, and not very nice for knitting.

If you knit from the skein, you would soon have a tangled mess. So knitters use a ball winder to wind the skein into a ball. The tool to hold the skein for winding is called a yarn swift. Typically, swifts spread out like an umbrella to hold different size skeins. They revolve so the ball winder can neatly pull the yarn and wrap it into a ball. And swifts usually cost $50 up.

Then my neighbors put out a broken wood patio umbrella. Ah ha! Mr. Cheap had his doubts, but by purchasing a lazy Susan and some screws, bolts and nuts, I turned it into a functioning swift for $5. Here’s how:

1. I waited till everyone left me alone so I could work in peace. First, I sawed off the “stand” of the umbrella just below the part where the arms attach. Then I evaluated the umbrella. All arms were present, but two of them were broken — one at the hinge, one at the base.

2. I decided to cut the arms off at the hinge and sand off the rough spots. (Mr. Cheap did the sanding when he got home. He’s patient like that.)

3. I fixed one arm that had a broken connection between it and the wire that goes around the top of the swift. I was going for function, not form — and did I mention my lack of patience? I unbent a picture hanger and used a staple gun to attach it to the wood arm.

4. I identified one more spot where one arm was broken off so that it was disconnected from the hinge (a part where the metal rod should have been encased in wood to form a hinge).

5. I fixed this spot up with another picture hanger — this one brass to go with the rod. I wasn’t sure if it would need to move, so I made it “swingable,” but that wasn’t necessary.

6. The most important structure of this swift is the spinning mechanism. I bought a lazy Susan dial at the local hardware shop. It cost about $2. First, I measured and cut a square piece of wood that would fit the base of the swift. Then, I measured and cut another, rectangular piece of wood that would be long enough to go under the square piece of wood and extend far enough beyond the swift that it could be clamped to the table without impeding the swift’s spin.

I used a pencil to mark the exact center of the square piece of wood. First, I measured — it wasn’t precisely square, so I drew lines to indicate the edges of the would-be square. Then I used a straight edge to draw an X from corner to corner. (The lazy Susan mechanism would be sandwiched between the two pieces of wood.) Next, I drilled pilot holes for the lazy Susan, based on the instructions that came with the package. I messed up (I’m no woodworker!) and did it again. The mistakes didn’t matter, as they would be hidden inside the lazy Susan sandwich and didn’t affect the integrity of the wood.

7. I attached the lazy Susan to the wood square. Before attaching it, I inserted small screws into the bottom of the lazy Susan, which would attach to the rectangular piece of wood. The screws had to go in first to extend down through the rectangular base to hold it on.

8. I used a long screw (about 3″) to go through the center of the square piece and into the wood base and center pole of the swift to hold the “umbrella” structure onto the base. This was the only frustrating/challenging aspect of the project. I used a vice to hold the pole and enlisted help to hold the square piece while I used a drill to screw it together. I don’t have a photo of that step, but in this shot you can see the open center of the lazy Susan mechanism through which I drilled into the base of the umbrella. The screw went right through the center of the X.

9. I used a large drill bit to drill holes in the outside of the rectangular piece of wood. Then I drilled holes for the small threaded bolts (sticking up in the photo above) to go through. Then I attached the nuts to the bolts using a small screwdriver with a nut wrench included. The holes aren’t especially neat (did I mention I’m not a woodworker, and also impatient?), but they are unseen beneath the swift. One could even glue a piece of felt to cover the whole base, to disguise ugly holes and protect furniture.

At last, I was finished! The swift stands up neatly for storage:

To use it, I open the “umbrella” and plug the peg (attached to a chain) into the hole at the top of the umbrella (this might have been the bottom, previously), which holds it open.

I use these clamps to attach it to any surface I like. The clamps, of course, are useful for any number of other projects.

The yarn extends from the swift to the ball winder:

I have thought about getting some mini-clamps to make adjustable “stops” to  hold any size skein on the arms. In the meantime, I use clothespins.

The swift rotates smoothly, making ball winding a breeze:

If only it would also clean up my craft table when it was finished ….