Bread School Post-script: Staycations Are Cool

Don’t worry, I’m done talking about bread for now. Bun there, doughn that.

What I did want to mention is, how cool it was to spend five days in Mt. Vernon, a town barely 17 miles from our ferry terminal. I’ve never had a “staycation”; now I want more.

To avoid going back and forth on the ferry each day, the Mate proposed renting an Air B ‘n’ B place so we could do our own cooking. He planned to spend the days exploring via foot and bike while I baked. So we got this cute lil’ ol’ bungalow on a street of cute lil’ ol’ bungalows.

See what I mean?

Mt. Vernon is famous for its bulb fields: daffodils, iris, and especially tulips. 

Can you tell?

Every morning I rode to class, crossing the Skagit River on a bridge (with a scary-narrow sidewalk). The weather was pretty grey and windy each day, but that’s just April here.

Who needs sunshine when you have tulips?

In the name of exploration, I took different routes to the Bread Lab each day, but of course one of them took me past the tulip fields. Since they weren’t open for visitors yet and I didn’t want to trespass, I settled for this shot of alpacas with a tulip backdrop.

Just another day in Paradise…

Not pictured: the coyote I saw

Each evening we dined on Things You Can Eat With Bread, brought from home or purchased at the wonderful Skagit Valley Food Co-op. One staycationy thing we did NOT do: dine out at restaurants. (Did I mention all that BREAD?)

So this isn’t a travelogue post about the delightful town of Mt. Vernon–though we did find it delightful. I didn’t visit stores, poke my nose into quaint corners, or even take very many pictures.

What I did: appreciated how simpatico it felt to be in, essentially, the next town over. Like being invited over to the home of a neighbor you don’t know well, and finding out you have the same taste in food, decor, and books. 

Happy spring, neighbor.

This is simply an ode to the Staycation. For those of you who’ve already discovered that delight–good on ya! Care to share? 

 

Pupils of the King: King Arthur Bread School, Part II

What I learned in a week of bread school:

I LOVE bread! But I knew that already…

  1. The things you think will be easy turn out to be hard.

RIDICULOUSLY hard to score baguettes just right!

2. The things you think will be hard turn out to be easy.

You don’t scare me, challah.

(Except when they actually do turn out to be hard.)

Turns out I’m a little scared of the pizza oven.

3. Baker’s Math is a THING, people. Now that I’ve seen how easy it is to convert recipes using metric weight instead of cups and tablespoons, I will never sniff at weighing out ingredients again.

What if you only wanted to make two big brioches? Can you math that?

4. Technology is your friend…

Oven loader? Yes please!

5. …but so is good ol’ muscle power.

Can you imagine mixing this giant batch of pre-ferment by hand? It’s been done.

(OK, I knew this already, but dealing with the volumes at Bread School–in comparison with my wee bakery–really hit that home.)

6. Dough is alive. Again, I knew that too–in theory. But until spending a solid work week studying and manipulating those four basic, precious ingredients–flour, water, yeast, salt–I never appreciated the truth of that statement. Handling those great lumps of dough, patting and pulling and prodding to determine readiness, I came to think of them as powerful animals, like horses, which need careful attention and reining in if you don’t want them to gallop away.

7. Gluten has become such a scapegoat, I really feel sorry for the lil’ protein. I realize this is a controversial topic, but if you want a scientific assessment of the issue, please check out this article by Michael Specter of the New Yorker. 

8. The folks involved in bringing good grain, good flour, and good bread back to local communities are MY KIND OF PEOPLE. Like Stephen Jones, founder of the Washington State University Bread Lab. He starts his sentences with words like “chromosomes” and “endosperm,” and ends them with words like “cookies” and “love.”

Steve Jones in the Bread Lab.

Here’s what his work has sown:

Our Mission: The programs of the Bread Lab work to breed and develop publicly available varieties of grains and other crops that will benefit farmers, processors, and end-users while enhancing access to affordable and nutritious food for all members of our communities.

Our Vision: Through innovation and discovery, and an appreciation of the culture and traditions that define what we eat, the Bread Lab plays a major role in moving food systems in more meaningful and just directions.

Or Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills, which we toured. Here’s what they’re all about:

Local grain, local flour, local flavor

Cairnspring Mills works directly with farmers who share their commitment to sustainable agricultural practices and mills their grain with care to maintain a transparent supply chain. Each batch of grain is milled separately to preserve its unique identity and flavor; each batch of flour can be traced back to the origin farm.

Touring Cairnspring

And probably the most important lesson I learned: how much I still have to learn. Ain’t that always the way?

Just look at all these local wheat varieties, waiting to be baked into beautiful loaves!

Any bread lovers out there care to chime in at this point? How ’bout some bread puns–I loave ’em!

 

Pupils of the King: a Week of King Arthur Bread School, Part I

“YOU’RE going to bread school?!”

said almost everyone I told I was going to bread school. The usual next response: “Oh, lucky!!!”

They were right about my good fortune, but wrong to be surprised at my need. Before I started getting paid to bake, I was always a pie/cake/sweets gal–bread, not so much. And though I’m now entering my 8th season of professional baking, I spent the first two seasons as Assistant Baker, i.e., managing neither bread nor oven. When I trained to be a Head Baker, the people who trained me had received no professional training. Now, “We do this because it works” works just fine most days, but it leaves two questions unanswered:

  1. What do you do if it doesn’t work?
  2. What if something else worked even better?

Therefore I was THRILLED when my current boss, who bought Holly B’s Bakery from Holly B, decided to make the investment to send me to an intensive, 5-day, 38-hour course in Bread Fundamentals. I knew I had a LOT to learn. Like, everything.

But the answer to “What did you learn in Bread School?” is so big and complex, I’m going to turn this into two posts. Or maybe more! That knowledge might just ferment and grow, like a certain little yeasty-beast I’ve been hearing about all week.

I should also say off the bat, in case you’re a sourdough enthusiast, that this class covered pretty much everything BUT sourdough. Those breads require a class of their own. Hopefully, someday…

But back to Bread Fundamentals. Long story short, King Arthur Flour Baking School is the brainchild of King Arthur Chef Jeffrey Hamelman (world’s mellowest rock star chef) and Washington State University Bread Lab’s Stephen Jones. They teamed up several years to begin offering intensive baking classes (mostly bread) out here in the Northwest. King Arthur, of course, has been offering classes forever, all over the country but especially on their Vermont home ground. Lucky, LUCKY me–this workshop was under 20 miles from our ferry terminal!

I started on Monday, wide-eyed. So much of this was new to me, starting with the uniform. At Holly B’s we wear aprons, but I’ve never worn Chef Whites!

Gretchen’s first-ever work uniform!

Then there was the equipment in the teaching room.

4-deck steam oven with a moveable loader. At my bakery, the only loader is me.

Best of all, however, was the combination of Chef Jeffrey’s short lectures followed by immediate demonstrations and hands-on guided practice. Here he demonstrates a Challah braid:

He makes it look so easy. Well, ok…braiding isn’t actually very hard. Ask most long-haired women.

Now here’s my own careful step-by-steps (different braid on this one):

…with four strands…

A three and a four

Both finished challahs, with a few friends…a good Wednesday!

Chef Jeffrey also wowed us with possibilities. Here’s an amazing 3-tiered Challah he built

Whoa.

I thought it looked like a ferry boat. 🙂

The teaching was always firm and immediate, but gentle. (As a teacher, I sure appreciated that; I think from TV chefs I expected to be snapped at.)

Checking the “heads” of our petites brioches…

OK, maybe I could have used a little more guidance on my Epis de blé…

By the end of Day 3, we had made baguettes with three different doughs; whole wheat batards, oat loaves, challah, brioche, sunflower seed rounds, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Day 4 we got FANCY:

Auvergnats. Trés chic.

Coronnes Bordelaise. Wouldn’t that be a cool addition to Thanksgiving?

One more picture of my new, freshly-baked confidence:

Ahhhhh…

Next post: So what DID I learn in Bread School?

 

Remembering An Awful Day: The Murder of Dr. King

April 4, 1968. I was six. I remember looking down from the top of the stairs to see my mother looking up. She was crying.

Courtesy Wikimedia

If you are old enough to remember the day Martin Luther King died, where were you?

If you are too young to remember…here’s a song for you. It’s about Coretta, because April 4, 1968 was worse for her than for any of us.

 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

                        All of those years…imagine the tears.

                        Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

                        Sink or swim…opposition is grim.                     

                         Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail              

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

                        Stay at home, keep the children calm.                          

                        Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.           

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

                        Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies                                  

                        Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.          

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

                        Made of steel…Lord, this is real:               

                        41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss         

And you march and you rally and you  pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

                        Become its soul…it took its toll.    

                        But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.*

 

 

For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways      

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

       Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.                              

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

                        Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.          

 

G. Wing, March 2013

*I wrote this song in a more optimistic time. Not sure I still believe that goal’s getting any closer

Road Trip VIII, Days 46-48, Boise, Olympia, Lopez Island: What a Long, Wonderful Trip It’s Been

48 days. 22 states. Nearly 8,000 miles. 70-something friends and family members. 13 motel rooms, 3 state park cabins, one VRBO. 11 restaurants (we travel cheap!). One ACC men’s basketball tournament and 4/5 of the Big Dance (go Loyola Chicago!) 8 pies—and two cobblers—baked in other people’s kitchens (my version of a house gift).

Just call me Johnny Pieseed.

Road Trip VIII is at an end. It’s time to play Best Of.

Best hike: our last one, in Zion National Park. Gentle grade, crystalline creek, and footing easy enough to allow for gawking at the scenery above

Worship-worthy

Runner-up: Buckskin Gulch in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

After a rain, lots of stream-jumping!

Best bike path: the Louisville Loop

Pedestrian/bike bridge on the Louisville Loop

Best restaurant meal: The Grange in Bernalillo, NM

Encrusted with blue corn, served with arroz verde!

Best non-restaurant meal: every dinner cooked by our friend Ben in Asheville. The man’s a marvel. Sorry, no visuals.

Best breakfast: Waffles with Ward in beautiful Celo, NC

What’s better than old friends? Old friends with waffles!

Best basketball game: Carolina v. Duke in the ACC semifinals, watched with a roomful of Tarheel fanatics. Runner-up: Kansas v. Duke in the Sweet 16, which we listened to while driving through southern Utah. (Common theme: Beat Dook.)😏

Best animal: tie between the sleeping porcupine I saw in an Oklahoma tree, and my parents’ donkey, Stevie

With the moon in the background!

Stevie with some of his fans

Best mountains: are you kidding? They’re all best!

Sandia Crest in Albuquerque (thanks, Beth!)

the Chiricahuas in Arizona

The Blue Ridge, near Asheville

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado

Not pictured: our own gorgeous Cascades. Because it was raining when we went by. Because that’s what it does here.

Best radio news story that JUST KEPT GOING: Stormy Daniels* (thanks for the miles and miles you saw us through, Stormy!) *not pictured—you’re welcome

Biggest disappointment: our camping gear remained unused for the entire trip. But given our dates and latitudes, we canNOT complain when Mother Nature sends wind and snow.

…and more snow

Biggest surprise: red rock on the eastern slope of the Rockies! Who knew?

Garden of the Gods indeed

Hardest-working car: Red Rover.

I promise I’ll wash you soon…just another thousand miles!

Best traveling companion: the Mate!

Back in the ferry line, waiting for the boat home, I went for a walk, thinking of the chorus of my song, “Up in Cascadia”:

Up in Cascadia, in the dark of the Douglas firs

No forest, no coastline more raggedly gorgeous than hers

Your transplanted heart, it beats on your sleeve

How can you feel nostalgia for a landscape you’ll never leave?

Ahhhhh…

Wing’s World will now morph back into its usual random self, nice and cozy on beautiful Lopez Island. Thank you for traveling with me! Now stick around for whatever comes next, won’t you?

Road Trip VIII, Days 43-45, Page, AZ to Provo, UT: (Lake) Powell to the People?

I have always hated Lake Powell. But it was my idea to meet our Adventure Buddies in Page, Arizona, because it’s such a great jumping-off spot for nearby red-rock wonders. And one of those wonders is that dammed lake…the one that drowned a canyon every bit as grand as my beloved Grand Canyon.

What the Colorado is supposed to look like, running through a canyon.

I know all the arguments in favor of the dam, which is almost as old as I am (1963—though it took the lake another 7 years to fill completely). It protects cities like LA and Phoenix from the ravages of drought. It provides jobs. And it provides close-up access to the beautiful canyon walls, otherwise accessible only by hiking or rafting.

But should LA and Phoenix ever have been given the illusion of water security enough to grow as they have?

Could Glen Canyon not have provided jobs in its natural state, like Grand Canyon? (They’re really the same super-grand canyon. Only the dam gives them two names.)

And as to that access argument, I keep thinking about that old anti-dam slogan from back when Glen Canyon was still a fight: “Would you flood the Sistine Chapel in order to let people have a closer look at its ceiling?”

Close enough to touch. Except this wall should be hundreds of feet above.

So we went straight into the belly of the beast. We took a boat tour on the lake.

Talk about conflicted feelings!

Look at all these people having fun, I thought. Most don’t look like hikers; this could be their only glance deep into this red-rock world.

Shouldn’t everyone have access to this? Why does this view make me so sad?

Look at the Navajo Nation, running a marina full of million-dollar houseboats. Better than a casino, right?

LOTS of houseboats.

Listen to the tour recording. It’s telling about Navajo (Diné) History, about the Long Walk—their terrible forced removal in the 1860s. Would boatloads of people learn about this on their own?

But throughout the tour, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Colorado River lying drowned, 500 feet below our boat. And wondering…what would have been so terrible, to have left it alone?

Dam.

Road Trip VIII, Days 39-42, Colorado Springs, Durango, Page, AZ: Big Rocks Rock. Don’t Ask Me Why.

WHY are giant rocks so irresistible???? I’ve been pondering this for three days now.

From these breathtaking, knife-edged monoliths casually lounging practically in our friends’ Colorado Springs backyard…

The Garden of the Gods is just a city park!

…to the gloriously tempting caprock ledges of Mesa Verde…

The Mate skirts the edge…

But I gotta go right to it!

…to the hopelessly delicious sandstone of Navajo Country…

Must…climb!

…I am in awe. There are these Rockies…

Pikes’s Peak at sunrise, from our friends’ window

Looking back toward Durango from atop Mesa Verde National Park

and then there are these, and what they do to me I’m still trying to understand.

Is it their smoothness? Their age? Their color? Their…? I give up.

Road Trip VIII, Days 36-38, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Salinas, Kansas: Bike-Pathing Across America—Thank You, Trail Link!

Planning a drive across the country? Planning on staying in shape as you go? Does this look like a nice break from the highway?

Pedestrian/bike bridge on the Louisville Loop

Consider this post a full-on advertisement. Luckily, it’s for a non-profit organization. Also I’m not being paid. I just want anyone out there who travels across the US with a bike, or with a pair of good legs which like to stretch themselves on trails, to know about Trail Link.

Trail Link is a service provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

For a small subscription you get access to a website with an incredibly well annotated national map of trails, everything from small nature trails to strolls in parks to converted rail trails stretching hundreds of miles. Here’s an example:

One of our favorite trails ever—it goes through tunnels!

Clicking on any of those icons gives you directions to parking, plus more info, although Trail Notes sections are already as thorough as any well-written guidebook, complete with photos and reviews.

The Mate and I are dedicated Trail Linkers. When possible, we plan our routes through areas with inviting trails. Often we find these in out of the way places like Susanville, California—one of our favorites—but also near quite urban places like Atlanta.

Susanville! A destination trail. And the town’s pretty cool too.

The reason? Trains go everywhere, and when they are retired and organizations like … get on the case, then the trails go everywhere too. It’s a beautiful thing.

Our most recent example: the terrific Louisville Loop, a series of wonderfully curvy, hilly, bridge-studded trails that will eventually encircle the entire city by connecting its greenways. Easy access, a fantastic workout, your daily hit of natural beauty—what else does a road-tripper need?

Just look at those whoopy, swoopy, woodsy curves!

Here’s one from last year’s trip—a trail along the Illinois River.

Ahhhh…no pavement.

We’ve even found trails in Canada using Trail Link, like this amazing one around a lake on BC’s Sunshine Coast:

LOVED this trail.

Just because you’re driving purposefully without a lot of time to meander, does not mean you have to sacrifice your needs for exercise, beauty and adventure. Check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for yourself, and happy riding/walking!

 

Road Trip VIII, Days 32-35, Wilkes-Barre, PA to Shaftsbury, VT, and Back to Central PA: Oh, Yeah—Winter. That’s a Thing.

Most years in the Pacific Northwest, winter is no more than an intriguing concept viewed on screens, or listened to sympathetically over telephones. (Summer too, for that matter.) We are a mild people in a mild climate. So say I, who moved there for that very mildness. So it’s been kind of fun this week, remembering what winter is all about. See how many of these wintry facets you can relate to.
Wonderful: snow sports. We never were downhill skiers and these days we don’t XC much either, but hey—we didn’t schlep these snowshoes across the country for nothing!

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

Annoying: all those LAYERS you have to put on just to go outside! Fleece vest, parka, waterproof pants, gaiters, gloves, hat, scarf…all of which makes coming back in for a quick pee a matter of deep thought.

The Mate, wondering if taking a pee stop is even worth the trouble.

Wonderful: eating snow.

Annoying: digging out your car.

Can you tell I took this from indoors? I mean, why should both of us freeze our butts? (Thanks, babe.)

Wonderful: being snowed in when being snowed in costs you nothing at all. On our cousins’ farm in southern Vermont, even the chickens seemed to agree.

Nope, still don’t feel like going for a walk. Not till they invent chicken snowshoes.

Sheep are tougher than chickens. And people.

Annoying: avoiding ice, whether on foot, ski or wheel.
(Speaking of ice, here was our first reminded of how rough winter could be: these mountainous chunks of river ice flooded up by the Susquehanna in Wilkes-Barre):

Freezing AND flooding? Rough life.

I could add some other sweet memories from childhood: making molasses candy in the snow; cuddling up with hot water bottles, and of course—snowmen and snowball fights! But since this particular snowstorm refused to let up enough for those latter activities, sorry; they are pictured only in my brain.

As we make the Big Right a Turn to begin our westward, homeward journey,I’ll end with the last verse of a song I wrote last year after visiting snowy Vermont:

I’m going back to the land of wet,
No winter wonderland regret.
They don’t sell postcards of the rain,
But what you see is what you get.