Sunday, November 18, 2012

What recovery looks house at a time

So far I've managed to be a positive force for change around here.  The Jersey shoreline has been all but destroyed in many areas, and there are many locations where the state police are doing their best to keep gawkers and "disaster tourists" out.  The cops are pretty good at letting volunteers in, and in Sea Bright, NJ, I witnessed such an outpouring of kindness and help on all levels.

"All levels" range from cleaning out destroyed and/or condemned homes, to people cooking meals for the volunteers.  I saw helicopters flying low over the disaster area and folks stopping to cheer for the military, to firefighters flipping burgers, average Joes manning food and clothing stations, to FEMA folks going around trying to help as many people as possible.

In Port Monmouth, I saw strangers come together to clear out a condemned home under whose roof resided two kind older women who cared for special need children.

Of course there are those who are angry they've been inconvenienced by minor things.  We ran into a woman driving a Porche who wanted us to to up to a huge dump truck and bucket loader to ask them to move so she could drive through.  "I have perishable food items in the car and can't wait 15 minutes for them to finish!"  We would not comply with her request as she seemed totally oblivious to the huge mess right in front of her.  How she could be so worried waiting 15 minutes when the entire belongings of a home full of love had just been lost was beyond me.

Today I met a homeowner who lost her entire first floor and her car that was parked in her garage.  The force of the water ripped off the door and deposited nearly three feet of sand around her car; it needed to be pulled out with a front end loader.

Here are some pictures I've taken in my volunteering travels...


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Aftermath

I'm extremely thankful as this time around, the house did not flood!  God kept the house dry as a bone, and while others got socked with rain, we barely got touched. 

While we were largely spared, we found ourselves wanting to help those who are worse off.  Donning work gloves, we headed out to start cleaning out destroyed houses.

It's really quite sad work.  You see a person's life dumped out onto the side of the street, and the person stands off to the side, wondering if anything can be saved.  You do your best to clean out and salvage at the same time. 

Our first house clean out happened today as volunteering efforts are now starting to get properly organized.  The water line was easily 4.5' high, and we could see sea grass in places it didn't belong (like inside a barbecue).  It took 12 of us working very hard to strip the entire first floor and toss it onto the side of the street.

When will I cook again?  Not sure, but there's a priority to help my neighbors that trumps making good food right now.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hurricane Sandy gets in the way

I had planned on trying my hand this weekend at fortune cookies, but instead my plans are on hold while I try and prepare for the hurricane.

It's no fun being in the bulls eye section, and even if I could run west, it wouldn't help as the other storm's moving in.  My day has been busy with running around between grocery stores, hardware stores, electronics stores, gas stations, and propane filling stations.  No matter where you go, there's a line out the door.

The plus side of the running around, I landed a generator and two inverters (to run the sump pumps off car batteries to avoid basement flooding), not quite all the gas I need, and enough food to get through the initial storm.  If it were all up to me, and it isn't, I'd have at least a week's worth of canned and dry goods around, but if I buy too much, Fred freaks out, so I don't. 

When I build the future house, it will have a large walk in pantry and always stocked with at least a month's worth of extra food for long term emergencies and/or layoffs. 

I hope everyone stays safe!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Future House - Bathroom

My future house is somewhere between something "farm-y" and "English country".  I love the idea of a straw bale house coated with a specialized adobe/cement coating, and my plan is to remain rather rustic or antique considering this place will be a working farm.

I stumbled upon this beautiful tub, and it reminds me of all the old cartoons I used to watch - the barrel that always sat at the edge of the porch and caught rain water.  I'm dying to try my hand at wine making, so of course it reminds me of an oak barrel you'd age wine in.  Whatever it reminds you of, it might be one heck of a fun splurge on my end.

A Cool Conversation Nook and Oven Space

I really love the idea of a great outdoor space for my future house, and an adobe oven with a nice patio/gathering spot for conversation is high on my list.  It'd be great to have a place to not only cook, but to hang out and maybe toast a few marshmallows on a cool fall night.  I'm not sure if it's the smell, or if there's a good memory associated with fire, but a nice adobe oven where maybe some of the heat is vented out underneath the benches might be a perfect place to relax and let your hair down after a long day.

There are many styles of outdoor adobe ovens, and eventually I'll find "the one", but this could easily be a contender. 

This is a great kitchen space with an adobe oven next to a modern kitchen.  Although I love the design, it's too modern for what I'm looking to build.

I'd need more of an antique style stove like this...  It's a start, but the price is way too much.  I looked at some great modern stoves made in the antique style, but the price was still about $1,000-$1,500 more expensive.  There's one plus to the stove I was looking at in that it takes wood, so I could possibly do away with a separate wood/pellet stove, but we're back to the issue of efficiency, or lack thereof. 

This will take more searching - a baker can't do without a great stove, but where is it??  LOL

Baguette Breadmaking - Success and Failure

Recently I tried to make baguette bread after having read so many blogs about how this basic loaf is made.  It's not as "basic" as it seems, but I've learned a few tips that might help you down the road should you want to try.
  1. There's no substitute for a baguette making pan, or a proper shaping couche.  Your bread will flatten out like a pancake without either one of these tools.
  2. Knowing that it'd flatten/spread out, I thought I could improvise with flour sack towels.  Yes and no.  Yes, you can improvise with them, but you cannot successfully remove the loaves from the towels without deflating the risen loaves because no matter how thoroughly you dust/rub flour into the towel, the dough sticks to it.  This is why I'll invest in a baguette pan in the near future.  
  3. Score the dough after you've shaped and placed it in the pan; that way you don't deflate it by scoring after it's risen.  
  4. If you choose to use the couche, I found that placing it on top of a large cooling rack makes it easier to move around.
  5. The cooling rack also has another advantage; set it on top of a heating pad set on low and you've got a great place to slowly proof the dough.  
  6. If you want better flavoring, skip the heating pad and just proof slowly with loaves in the fridge.  
  7. This bread is better with lots of hydration; dry dough will result in a dry bread, and baguettes are crispy outside but soft inside.
 Sometimes you just need to be a little bit creative, and at the same time, give up your stubborn notion of being able to do something the "cheap way".  After all, it's not "cheap" to keep tossing out your failures.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Updates on Pineapple Vinegar and Wild Yeast

Well, the pineapple vinegar got poured into the compost this afternoon.  Why?  Well, with all the layers of cheesecloth to protect it, bugs still got inside it.  EWWW!!  I had little gnats inside the cover, happily getting fat off the brew.

I had a great "mother" on top of it and it was getting near the harvesting period as it had gone from clear, to murky, and then almost clear like the original recipe had stated would happen.  When I opened the top, a few gnats flew out, so that was the immediate end of that experiment.

Next time, I'll skip the cheesecloth and instead use a flour sack towel to cover it, which is a much tighter weave than four layers of its recommended competitor.  I'll wait until the spring to revive this experiment.

As far as the wild yeast goes, I tried making bread with it, but it didn't rise much.  I did add a little bit of commercial yeast to the blend and it barely got to the top of the loaf pan, but it did have great flavor!  I've tried making another wild yeast starter, and it seems to work better on warmer days (75+ degrees F) and cooler days result in a total flop, which isn't surprising since yeast in bread likes a warmer environment in which to grow and rise.

We did have a few warmer days here where I tried to make another batch, but in the end it still didn't work.  I found trying to revive starter that was put in the fridge after successfully being capture didn't work for me (you're supposed to feed it equal amounts of water and flour), but mine never proofed a second time.  What did happen was it grew mold before it got there!

So use the fresh captured stuff fairly quickly, but add in some extra commercial yeast if you want to make bread with it.  I found making sour dough starter with commercial yeast easier and more predictable in cooler fall weather.

Chalk up another set of "FAILS" for me on this, but hey...that's how you learn.  I'm not discouraged, but I'm going to have to wait until next spring when the fruit's fresh and the weather's warm enough to grow yeast to try again.