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?

A good time to buy a house?

If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to buy a house, this might be the year to leap — if you have a job and money in the bank.  Here’s a rundown on what’s good about our housing market right now, according to Bills.com.

“For individuals who have a steady source of income, good credit and cash in the bank, today could be an excellent time to purchase a home,” said Bills.com president Ethan Ewing. “Low prices, a large inventory of homes for sale, low interest rates and beneficial government programs have made this year one of the best ever to buy a home, especially for first-time home buyers.”

Here’s the rest of the information Bills.com sent out today:

The median sales price for U.S. homes was 14.8 percent lower in January than it was a year earlier.  And first-time homebuyers can benefit from the tax credits implemented as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as this year’s economic stimulus package).

Ewing offered these tips for individuals and families thinking of investing in a piece of America this year:

1)    Know your score. Check your credit score before you make any decisions. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The median U.S. credit score is about 693, according to Experian, one of the three main credit reporting agencies. A score below 680 usually results in a borrower being charged a higher interest rate or being denied credit. In this economy, you will need a good score to qualify for a mortgage. If your score is lagging, wait a few months. In the meantime, pay every bill on time, pay down as much debt as possible and increase income if possible to improve your chances. If possible, ask creditors for increases on your credit limits to help out the “credit available” aspect of your credit score – but do not tap into the addition.

2)    Do not stretch too far. Often, borrowers are told they can qualify for a higher mortgage than they can comfortably pay. It is wise to keep housing expenses below 35 percent of your total income. Leave breathing room in your budget so that if something unplanned does occur, you will be able to keep your home. If you are not certain, wait to buy.

3)    Know the full costs of buying. The down payment and principal and interest on a mortgage payment are only the beginning of home-related costs. For a typical mortgage payment, “escrow” payments, or the costs of home insurance, property taxes, and, in some cases, private mortgage insurance, can total hundreds of dollars per month in addition to principal and interest.  Determine the property tax amount – the largest part of the escrow payment – by checking with your real estate agent or county property tax assessor before your buy.

Be sure to not deplete savings or cash on hand when making a down payment, since new home owners often must complete initial work on the home, such as painting, flooring, landscaping or bringing an older house up to date. After that, a rule of thumb is to budget 1 percent of the home’s purchase price per year for home repairs and upkeep.

4)    Understand private mortgage insurance (PMI). Mortgages with less than a 20 percent down payment require PMI in case the owner defaults on the loan. When the home owner pays the mortgage down to 80 percent or less of the home’s value, the home owner can request the lender to cancel the PMI on a conventional mortgage and stop paying the additional amount. Meanwhile, PMI is tax-deductible, at least through 2010.

5)    Check for prepayment penalties and other provisions. If your loan has a prepayment penalty, borrowers face hefty charges if they pay it off early. This provision also can apply to future refinancing, so be forewarned. To determine if there is a prepayment penalty, review the Truth in Lending disclosure or ask your lender to find out.
Prepayment penalties have come under increased scrutiny since the mortgage crisis began, so if you find your loan has one, voice your dissatisfaction directly and clearly to your lender or broker.

6)    Consult a tax advisor. First-time home buyers — including people who have not owned a home for at least three years — qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000 if they purchase a home before Dec. 1, 2009. The credit does not have to be repaid if the buyer keeps the home for at least three years. In addition, all home owners qualify for tax credits for certain home energy efficiency improvements made in 2009.

7)    Buyer beware. Some of the lowest prices on homes today are “fixer-uppers” or homes sold “as is” because of foreclosure. Invest in a home inspection before agreeing to purchase any home. You may even be able to split the cost of this inspection – typically less than $400 – with the seller. The inspection will inform you of any faults in the home and help you determine the approximate cost to remedy those problems. Without an inspection, you could wind up owning a home that requires thousands of dollars of repairs.

***

Cheap back here:

We wish we could take advantage of this market to snap up some of the cheap properties for sale in our neighborhood — but it feels like a bit of a risky time to buy. For those positioned right, it could be great — but others are just trying to hang onto their homes. What do you see in your area?

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!

Sweater storage

Spring is just around the corner. That means it’s time to go through the closet, trade winter clothes for summer ones, and store away old sweaters. It’s also a great time for a flurry of cleaning, getting rid of what you don’t need to make room for a fresh season.

Storing sweaters

Any clothes you store away should be clean, of course. But sometimes with sweaters, storage is especially challenging. Especially for knit garments of wool, alpaca or other animal fiber, take extra precautions:

  • Take each sweater out and look it over to make sure it’s really clean. Sweaters are often worn, aired and put back in the closet because they weren’t next to the skin — but you wouldn’t want to store away that spot of cake on the cuff for the winter.
  • Give it a good sniff test and examination. Even skin oils can attract moths that will want to live the winter munching on your woolen goods.
  • Wash sweaters per the tag instructions. Some wool sweaters can be washed in the machine on cold water, but you do risk stretching the garment out. Don’t wash a wool sweater in warm water, and NEVER, EVER dry it in the dryer — it’s likely to come out sized to fit a child and with the wrong texture — felted! Best to hand wash in cold water (you can use a mild soap such as Dr. Bronner’s). Rinse well. Roll in a towel to dry, then lay flat, shaped as you want it to be when dry (this is called blocking). Be sure sweaters are completely dry before storing.
  • Store sweaters folded, in an airtight container.
  • Do not use mothballs. They are made with naphthalene, which is toxic to us as well as rodents and insects — and of course, they’ll make your clothes smell disgusting.
  • If you are concerned about moths, open your box and check your clothes every month. You’ll see live moths (probably the males) and maybe eggs, which look like little white flecks.
  • If you are REALLY concerned about moths, you can eliminate them by freezing your garments. Freeze the sweater for a week; remove it from the freezer for several days; freeze again for a week, and you will have killed moths and eggs that might be lurking in your wardrobe.

And for my fellow Gen-Xers out there, brighten up your Monday with a video of Weezer’s “Sweater Song.” (Sorry – they won’t let me embed it here.)

Did I forget something? Share your sweater storage tips (or nightmares) here. And tomorrow … ideas to do something with those sweaters you just aren’t that into anymore.

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

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.

Save on photo books this weekend

If you have a virtual stack of digital photos waiting to be put in albums, scratch that project off your list this weekend with some good offers on photo books from Shutterfly and MyPublisher.

  • At Shutterfly, you can get one 8×8 photobook FREE ($29.99 value) and receive 20% off additional photobooks. Use code PHOTOBOOKS. This offer ends Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
  • MyPublisher is offering special deals to Costco members through Monday, March 9, 2009. Get 45% off on orders over $100 (perfect if you have a few years of photos piled up), 25% off orders over $50, and 20% off orders under $50. Savings will be automatically applied at checkout. Enter their site here or through Costco.com.

I haven’t used Shutterfly’s service, but I did have good luck with MyPublisher around the holidays.