Monday, January 28, 2013

DIY page holder for hands-free hardcover book reading

Paperback books are not the only ones that give me trouble when I am trying to read hands-free. Most hardcover novels, even those that have circulated through the library system for a long time, simply won't lie open to a particular page.

Someday, I intend to create a book weight, but until then, I took a clue from my hands-free paperback book holders, and came up with a very simple solution for hardcover books.

All you need is a piece of elastic cord, tied in a loop. With your book open to your page, hook the loop of cord around the upper left corner and stretching it across the back of the book, hook it around the lower right corner. With any luck, it will be just enough to hold the book open, even if not quite perfectly.


Update: see this post about using my paperback book holders to hold hardcover books... sometimes the above trick does not work well enough:  using-hands-free-paperback-book-holders

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Perfect Indulgence - Cocoa Toast

Last winter I met a beautiful lady who taught me one of the best little indulgences. Cocoa toast.

Ah-hah! I said, I know what that is. I grew up making a piece of hot buttered toast cut into fingers for dunking in a cup of hot chocolate. Nope.

This is better. Way better.

Generously butter a piece of bread. I prefer to use homemade bread or a good rustic bread. Don't skimp on the butter, it should be thick on the surface.

Sprinkle with cocoa powder. A sugar/flour shaker works great. I do this over the sink for easy clean-up.

Next, sprinkle with sugar - regular, demerara, turbinado, or raw sugar, or my favorite, a cinnamon sugar mix.

Broil until bubbling and caramelizing. A toaster oven is perfect for this.

Although it doesn't show up in this picture, the topping was still bubbling. That's why it's important not to skimp on the butter, there needs to be enough to help caramelize the topping.

A steaming cup of Celestial Seasoning's Nutcracker Sweet with a bit of sugar and milk and a piece of cocoa toast for the perfect mid-morning indulgence.

Thank you Marilyn!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Artisan bread - with less equipment

I love freshly baked bread but never felt like I had the time to really learn how to make and bake it. Then I learned about baking bread in a very simple way by reading about it in this post on Where the Wild Ferns Grow.

The method is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois.

It really doesn't take much time at all and once you do it a couple of times, it is even easier. 
1) Stir up the dough. 
2) Let dough rise specified time or longer, it isn't fussy. Refrigerate. 
3) Shape a loaf and let it rest, again, it isn't fussy if it sits a little longer than specified. 
4) Bake. Cool. Eat.

The equipment list is what held me back at first. I didn't have was a pizza peel or a 6-quart food safe container. Although I probably could have made a cutting board work if I'd tried, my mom-in-law gave me a pizza peel for my birthday.

The biggest hurdle was the need for a 6-quart food safe plastic container and the space it required in the refrigerator. The ones I found in stores and online seemed too expensive for what might turn out to be a one-time experiment. In the end, I decided that an ice cream pail was an acceptable food safe container. Since we never get rid of them (you should see the stack of them), I was able to find a couple old ones that are larger than they make them now. 

The ice cream pail works great, but I wish I had a picture of the soft American-style white bread dough that overflowed the pail during it's initial rise. I had left the dough to rise while I was out one evening and when I returned home, everyone was hootin' and howlin' with glee over the dough that was taking over the kitchen!

Add three or so tiny holes along the rim and in the center of the lid with a nail or sewing awl for gasses to escape.
Since then, I just stir up a half batch, which makes two loaves of the master recipe (boule) or one large loaf of the soft American-style white bread. While a full batch of the master recipe will fit in the ice cream pail, I usually only stir up half a batch so I can change up the breads I bake more often. I've made the master recipe with herbs, such as thyme and rosemary and I've made the kalamata olive bread. Both are absolutely wonderful.

The bonus to mixing up half a batch, is it's easy to stir by hand, no mixer required.

Cutting the dough to make one loaf.
Shaped loaf resting before baking.
Slashed loaf, ready for the oven.
My baking stone is a Pampered Chef large round baking stone and it is what is now referred to as the "old" stone. On the Bread in Five website, there are several comments regarding Pampered Chef stones as cracking and some speculation that it is the "new" stone. So far my old stone doesn't show any signs of trouble from being preheated. I am very careful not to spill any water on it when adding water to the broiler pan.

Loaf in oven (sorry for the blur, I was in a hurry to keep oven heat).
The soft American-style white bread is baked in a bread tin and no baking stone is required. My bread tins are all larger than the one called for in the recipe. I compensate by making one half batch, which is equivalent to one-and-a-half loaves and bake it up to one half-hour longer. Although I prefer the crusty loaf, the rest of my family likes soft bread for sandwiches.

Finished loaf, just trying my best to let it cool completely before cutting!
If you have ever considered making bread this way or just desire bread that is better than what I refer to as "mushy" bread, I encourage you to try this method. You get bread that has a great crust and the interior is always moist. The loaves are purposefully small to be eaten while fresh, and please, don't store it in a plastic bag. Just place the cut side down on a cutting board and cover with a tea towel. It really is simple and I've found that it can be done without buying the entire equipment list. 


P.S. Yes, do store the soft American-style bread in a plastic bag to keep the crust soft.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How the creative "ice" day turned out

As predicted, we crossed two things off yesterday's list:

We made the buckeyes, mmmm, they are yummy!

And, the books were put back on the bookshelf... ?

Also, as predicted, all good intentions regarding bedrooms were bamboozled. First one kid jumped ship to spend the afternoon and night at a friend's house. Then, in place of the "roadblock" of books, evening sleeping quarters were created for the other :

I joined them. I finished yet another puzzle last night. :)

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Creative "ice" day

Opportunity is on my mind today. Due to icy roads and freezing rain, school has been cancelled for the day. Not as good as a snow day, but I'm almost as excited as the kids who now have an unexpected three-day weekend.

On the list for a day like today is a mixture of fun, make that yum!, and making some rooms more bearable.

Roadblock for testing motorized K'nex monster trucks
This post is taking a turn I didn't anticipate when I started writing. 

Remember? No resolutions, just determination; except that the kids just might be more determined to not get the list done than I am determined to get it done. And they have the support of all the rest of the kids in the neighborhood, who are beginning to drop in left and right. After all, it's not fair to make them pick up their rooms when their buddies are here, is it?

I was going to follow up this post with one about the fruits of our creative day. However, it looks like we'll be lucky to make at least one thing on the list of sweets and never mind the mess. Maybe I will stir up some bread dough and make another cup of tea. After all, there's always tomorrow. 

Have a great day!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No resolutions, just determination

New Year's Day came and went, and I did not make any resolutions.

But, as I look around each day, I become more determined to get some things done. 

Less than a year ago, I was given the opportunity to spend a great deal of time cleaning, organizing, and arranging the house. I did it.

And now, after several months, it is quite apparent that it needs some of that same cleaning, organizing, and arranging.

Things I'm determined to deal with in the short term:

Messy birds and squirrels, adding to my list
  • organizing the photos on at least one hard drive (it will be years, I think, before I am up to tackling the printed photos)
  • finish preserving the Digital8 tapes on DVD and hard drives
  • reclaiming the walk-in closet in our bedroom from paper piles and photo avalanches
  • daughter's bedroom (it's beyond her abilities at this point)
  • learn more about Facebook, Pinterest, Picasa, IrfanView, Blogger (this blog needs more formatting), Chrome, Google+, and so on
  • guest bedroom which doubles as my creative space
  • more frequent and more interesting blog posts
  • create more items for the shop (BountifulWoods on

Things I've accomplished lately: 

  • moving all the paper piles and junk from the walk-in closet onto the floor of the bedroom, the closet is vastly improved, the bedroom however...
  • running three computers at one time to save movie files on all available hard drives as additional backups and found out one hard drive is too small!
  • two 500 piece puzzles completed and another one started with a little help from the rest of the family
  • burned at least two copies of one Digital8 tape to DVD
  • drank many cups of tea a day in an effort to stay warm without turning up the furnace before lighting a fire for the day

  • frittered away hours on the computer learning how to use Facebook (I finally succumbed), Pinterest, Blogger, Google+, Chrome, Picasa (well, not yet, but getting there), how to watermark photos with IrfanView (can use fonts, unlike Picasa), updating the photos on this blog and for the BountifulWoods Etsy shop with watermarked photos (most done, not all)
  • transferred the last Digital8 tape to the oldest laptop hard drive as this is the only computer in the house that can connect to the camcorder
Final tape transfer and puzzle in progress
  • drank another cup of tea
  • shut the door on daughter's bedroom
Ahhh, mess dealt with!
Please bear with me and I will try my best to get on a better schedule of more interesting and creative posts.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sleds, snowflakes, and treats

Happy New Year!

I didn't get these things shared in December, but since they tend to stick around our house throughout much of the winter, I've decided they are still appropriate to share with you instead of waiting for next December.

A few years ago, we made sleds from craft sticks and decorated them with felt cutouts. I love to get them out each winter and hang them up.

They are simple to make: line up five craft sticks with the center stick just a bit higher than then two sticks flanking it, and the outermost sticks just a bit lower than those. Drizzle a line of glue (school glue works great) across all five sticks and cover with another stick crosswise. Cut out pieces of felt to your imagination and glue in place on the sleds. Finish with a ribbon or twine loop.

Another garland that spends a greater portion of the winter on display is the snowflake garland gracing the mantel. I've tried various ways of hanging the snowflakes in past years, some more successful than others. This year, I happened upon a ball of twine and realized I had the perfect solution to hanging the snowflakes. I thought I could just use the snowmen hooks from either end of the mantel, but I had to enlist the help of the squirrel who makes his year-round residence on the mantel.

And finally, I managed to get a picture of the holiday treats from our house before they all disappeared (some to the freezer to come out when least expected). Truffles are a standard treat every year and two of this year's flavors are perennial favorites: creme de menthe and eggnog. Not pictured are the kirsch truffles, which didn't turn out with the flavor I'd hoped for, neither were they pretty. Well, the ones rolled in chopped pistachios were pretty, but they were gone by the time I got around to taking the photo.

As for the cookies, the almond shortbread are one of the very few cookies I bake and they get made almost every year, sometimes more than once a year. The pecan balls were new, but I'd rather have Russian teacakes so won't make those again.

The star shaped cookies were also new for me this year. They are a Swiss cookie made with ground almonds and no wheat flour. Although I wasn't looking for a wheat-free cookie, I was happy to be able to share them with those who have problems with wheat. They are really good and I'll make them again. My cookie recipes were all taken or adapted from Tea Time magazine, so I don't think I can share them here, but there are many recipes online for the Basler Brunsli. For the almond shortbread, simply replace one-half the flour in your favorite recipe with almond flour.