Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow

 

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

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In response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:  Yellow

Woodland Gnome 2014

A Forest Garden 2015 calendar

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English Muffin Loaf

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 We watched an unusually interesting bread preparation on Cook’s Country  last night on PBS.  Unusual enough that I searched out the recipe online later in the evening, and tried a batch of my own first thing this morning.

Do you like English muffins?  We do.  We love the open airy texture which gets crunchy when toasted, and then holds little pools of butter as you bite into the muffin.  I love them with most any jam from orange marmalade to apple butter.  My partner is a purist, and wants them just as they are, covered in melted butter.  They are so good and comforting with a mug of coffee in the morning.

But I don’t like buying factory made bread.  And I really don’t like pitching all of that packaging for a purchase of only 6 muffins!

And since this recipe for English Muffin Loaf  is quick and simple to prepare, easier than mixing up a cake, really, I decided to try it out.

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Now, if you’re a baker, you know all about the difference between making quick breads, like corn muffins, and yeasted loaf breads.

This recipe from Cook’s Country is a hybrid, which is what makes it so interesting.

You mix the batter as you would a quick bread.  Both yeast and baking soda go into the batter to give this bread its texture.   There is absolutely no kneading to this preparation.  Then you give the batter 30 minutes to proof (rise) before pouring it into loaf pans.  Yes, pouring.  This is a very moist, loose batter.

The bread gets another 30 minutes to rise before you bake it for an additional 30 minutes.  Once the loaves are cooled, you slice the bread and toast each slice before slathering on the butter and jam and enjoying the decadent luxury of your own home made better than anything store bought English muffin toast.

You can go from empty bowl to finished loaves in under two hours.  Make these the night before, and you can have your morning English muffin toast as quickly as you can brew your coffee.

If you watch Cook’s Country, then you know that it is essentially a test kitchen of very dedicated, precise chefs who demonstrate some pretty unusual recipes for junky amateur cooks like me.

And so of course you know I’m going to give you the recipe exactly as they presented it, right??  Wrong!

I’m going to give you my “tweaked and improved” version.  A few seconds with your favorite search engine will give you their original if you want to compare.

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You need only 6 pieces of equipment in addition to your oven.  And this preparation goes so fast I suggest you assemble it all before you start mixing.  You’ll need a large mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a large measuring cup, a spatula, and either 2 loaf pans or one tube or Bundt pan.  You’ll also need plastic cling wrap and vegetable oil cooking spray.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl:  3 cups BREAD flour (higher gluten than all purpose flour), 2 cups white whole wheat flour (I use Gold Medal), 1 TB Vital Wheat Gluten (Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one), 4 1/2 tsp. rapid rise yeast, 1 TB white table sugar, 2 tsp. table salt, and 1 tsp. baking soda

Mix these thoroughly with a whisk or spatula so no “pockets” remain of any of the ingredients.  You may substitute 5 cups of BREAD flour and leave out the white whole wheat flour and Vital Wheat Gluten if you would prefer.

You can also dress this recipe up with a handful of dried cranberries, golden raisins, some grated citrus peel, a teaspoon of cinnamon, or perhaps some finely chopped nuts, if you’d like.

Mix together 3/4 c. of sour cream and 2 cups of very warm water in the large measuring cup.  Stir together until all of the sour cream is dissolved in the water.  Cook’s Country specifies the milk should be 200F, which is right on the edge of being so hot it kills the yeast.  I microwaved the sour cream and water mixture for about 30 seconds until it felt warm to my touch, but not hot.  The temperature of the liquid is important mostly to speed up the rising of the batter.

Stop and turn your oven to “warm.”  We are going to proof the batter in the oven.  Leave the oven on for no more than 2 minutes so it doesn’t get too hot.

While the oven is warming, mix the warm sour cream mixture into your flour mixture.  You want a fairly loose, wet batter which still clings to the sides of the bowl.  Mix until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, then scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Remember, NO Kneading!  And NO electric  mixers for this step.  (Add up to another 1/4 c. of warm water if the batter looks dry and stiff.  Different flours absorb more or less water.)

Tear off a piece of cling wrap large enough to cover the bowl.  Spray the “down side” with cooking spray, and cover the bowl.  The spray prevents the dough from sticking to the plastic.  (I normally use waxed paper.  Either product works to cover the dough as it proofs.  It seals in the moisture so the top of the dough won’t dry out.)

By now your oven should have been turned OFF, but it is warm.  Place the covered mixing bowl in the oven (I put a hot mat under the bowl so too much heat didn’t transfer from my cooking stone to the dough) and just close the door.  Let the dough proof for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare either 2 loaf pans or a tube pan with cooking spray.  Be generous.   The only problem I experienced with this recipe was the bread sticking to the pans.  Next time, I’ll remember to dust the pans with a little dry cornmeal before adding the batter.

Have you ever heard of “Sally Lunn” bread?  This is popular in rural Virginia, and we had it from time to time growing up.  It is also a yeasted batter bread, always cooked in a tube pan, so it comes out looking like a cake.  You slice it, toast it, and enjoy it.  It is a little bit like this recipe, but has a much finer texture… more like a heavier, richer, regular bread.

I believe this English Muffin Loaf would work great cooked in a tube or Bundt pan, like Sally Lunn bread,  and plan to bake my next batch this way.

The batter will have risen a lot after 30 minutes.  Remove the plastic wrap (scrape off any dough with a good rubber spatula) and pour the dough into your baking pans.  Use the spatula to spread the  dough so it fills all of the corners and is of a fairly even height across the pan.  Scrape down the sides of the pans to neaten things up, and put the pans right back into the warm oven.  Use the same piece of plastic cling wrap to cover the pans again for the second proof.

After 30 minutes of proof time, open the oven and remove the cling wrap covering.  This is a very important step!  This is a good time to make sure you took your hot mat out of the oven, too!

Leaving the bread pans in the oven, on a middle shelf, close the oven door and set it to 375F.  The bread continue to rise as the oven heats.  At some point, the yeast die, and “rising” turns to “baking.”

Allow the loaves to bake, at full temperature,  for 30 minutes.  You know they are done when they are golden brown and fragrant.

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This recipe calls for very lightly baked bread.  You don’t want a heavy dark crust to form.  You bake only until the bread is set and solid all the way through the loaf.

Cool the loaves on wire racks.  Let them set in the pan for 2-3 minutes, loosen the edges with a knife, and then turn the loaves out onto the racks to cool.

Allow the loaves to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing them with a serrated bread knife.

I make toast under the broiler, the way my grandmother did, so the butter melts as the bread toasts.  You may prefer toast made in a toaster.

Do whatever works for you.  Just take time to enjoy this beautiful, fragrant toast with someone you love!

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Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Forest Garden 2015 Calendar… available now

 

This is the calendar I always wanted to purchase, and couldn’t find.  So I compiled it myself…

You’ll find all of the important gardening dates for Zones 5-9 in this calendar:  first and last frost dates, moons, equinoxes and solstices. You’ll also find gardening tips and reminders to help you stay on track throughout the year.

In addition to all of the normal American holidays, you’ll also find some other interesting observances.  Jewish, Muslim, and traditional Celtic holidays are noted, along with a few Saints’ feast days.  I wanted to remember these special days for all of my circle of friends.

Illustrated with more than 60 of my favorite photos from the past year, you’ll find landscapes, flowers, and lots of wild life as you turn the pages from one month to the next.  All of the photos were taken in our garden or in the greater Williamsburg area. 

This year’s  theme  is “Kindness.”  Each month brings a new, thought provoking quotation.

$15.00 includes the postage anywhere in the United States.  Please contact me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com to order.

 

 

 

Transformed

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“Light precedes every transition.

Whether at the end of a tunnel,

through a crack in the door

or the flash of an idea,

it is always there,

heralding a new beginning.”

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Teresa Tsalaky

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“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters.

Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome.

Terrify and terrific.

Every negative experience

holds the seed of transformation.”

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Alan Cohen

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“Our duty is wakefulness,

the fundamental condition of life itself.

The unseen, the unheard,

the untouchable

is what weaves the fabric

of our see-able universe together.”

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Robin Craig Clark

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“And if travel is like love,

it is, in the end,

mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness,

in which we are mindful, receptive,

undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.

That is why the best trips,

like the best love affairs,

never really end.”

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Pico Iyer

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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“A Forest Garden 2015”  calendars are here

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Sunset

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The sun setting over the pond lit the sky tonight with rich gold and pink, brilliant yellow and purple.

Storm clouds moved in this afternoon.  High winds whipped the leaves into swirls and eddies, stripping branches bare and leaving piles of leaves in odd places around the house and garden.

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I was sweeping leaves off the deck when a sudden wash of color caught my attention.  Sunset.

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And the first sunset we’ve seen clearly here since spring, when those same leaves burst out of their tight winter buds.

What a view we have when we can see the bright sky unobscured, and sunset’s reflections in the pond.

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It is the sunset of the day; the sunset of the year. 

The season of light is fast upon us.

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Light shining through winter’s darkness, as above, so below.

 

“May it be a light to you in dark places,

when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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November 21, 2014 calendar 001

A Forest Garden 2015

A Forest Garden 2015 Calendar

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Our  “A Forest Garden 2015” calendars arrived yesterday, and are finally ready to share.

Our theme this year is kindness. Each month offers a different quotation somehow related to the importance of kindness in creating a better world for ourselves and our loved ones.

This  2015 calender contains 60 of our favorite photos taken over the last year.  Birds, bees, butterflies, or other creatures we’ve encountered  grace each page, reminding us of the fascinating animals who share the garden with us.

 

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But what makes this calender very special, and different from other calenders you might purchase, is the wealth of information contained on each page.   Every calender will give you the official public holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  But A Forest Garden 2015 also includes fun and not so well known observances such as Dr. Seuss’s Birthday (Read Across America), Global Forgiveness Day, National Ice Cream Day, American Chocolate Week, Men’s Health Week, and Husband Appreciation Day!

Every month highlights several special monthly observances, weekly observances and commemorative days.  This is an ecumenical calender, citing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and traditional Celtic feasts and celebrations.  We’ve even noted “Free Thinker’s Day!”  It’s helpful when one has a wide circle of friends!

The astronomical information many gardeners follow is of course included.  Moons, solstices and equinoxes are noted along with first and last frost dates for zones 5-9.  And, I’ve added a few personal gardening tips and reminders of things to do to keep the garden going strong for each month of the year.

 

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I want this special calender to be  beautiful, useful, and entertaining!  It was compiled with loved ones in mind.  We’ll be giving the family version, with all of our birthdays noted, to extended family members.

But we also have a version to share with friends,  and you can note your own family’s birthdays and special celebrations on its pages.

There is a limited number of extra copies to share with you, if you’d like your own A Forest Garden 2015 calendar to use as you prepare for your personal new year.

I can offer these for $15.00 each, which includes postage within the United States.  Please send me an email if you would like to order a copy for yourself or as a gift to:  woodlandgnome@zoho.com. We can exchange information, and I’ll mail your calendar out to you right away.

It is never too early to plan ahead, and to prepare  for the happiest of new years.

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 All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

woodlandgnome@zoho.com

 

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