Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010 HBL update

I may not be ready to open my own bakery, but I can now check off another HBL item -- learn to bake bread. A couple of weekends back, I drew a deep breath and dumped the flour into my trusty stand mixer. And voila, the next day for dinner, Bate and I had homemade bread.

OK... it wasn't quite that simple or smooth. I am baking bread from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg, MD, and Zoe Francois. After mixing the dough and refrigerating it overnight, I faced the first challenge. Was the chunk of bread I was holding in my hands the size of a graperfruit? It was hard to tell since the dough looked more like...well, like paste.

Next up, challenge #2, the step Hertzberg and Francois call gluten cloaking. I reread and reread that passage. It seemed pretty easy and straightforward, until I held that chunk of dough in my hands. Stretch under, quarter turn, repeat, repeat. HUH? Should be done in 30 to 60 seconds? AAGGHH!! I know it took me longer than that. Now I worried my bread would be a bust.

Then came challenge #3. The dough had to sit out for 40 to 90 minutes to rise a little more. That wasn't the hard part. The challenge was keeping Brillo from getting her nose stuck in it and Bailey from knocking it off the counter just for the fun of it.

After 60 minutes, it didn't look like my dough had risen much, if at all. I felt as deflated as that dough look. My little but loudmouthed internal editor started in. "Every other woman in the world can bake bread. What's wrong with you?"

For the first time in my life, I answered back. "It's only January. I have 11 more months to master this!" And I shoved the pasty, flat hunk of dough into the oven.

I was supposed to wait 30 minutes, but patience has never been one of my strong points. At the 15 minute mark, I flicked on the oven light, expecting to see disaster. Instead, I saw a loaf of bread taking shape. When I took the pizza stone out of the oven, nestled in the center was a round, normal looking peasant loaf.

It smelled like bread. It looked like bread. Best of all, it tasted like bread. Like I said, I may not be ready to open a bakery yet, but I am ready to tackle the next recipes in the book. Cinnamon rolls, here I come!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Please pray for my computer

My work computer spent yesterday morning in a coma, and in the early afternoon was whisked away to the ICU. The prognosis is not good.

This is not a good thing to happen, ever, but certainly not two days before the Spring semester begins. As I watched it being wheeled away, I panicked -- now what was i going to do for the rest of the day? My entire work life revolves around my computer, whether it's answering email, checking student records, or tweeking class presentations. For most of that, I canuse another computer. But what about all of my files? I became a finely tuned sprotscar, only instead of 0 to 60 in under 2 seconds, I went from panicked to crazed.

Sure, most of my files were backed up, but during the chaos of the end of the Fall semester, I know I worked on a lot of things and I did not back them up. What were they? What had I worked on before the Christmas break? Was it anything really important? My brain refused to dig deep into its core to pull out those answers for me.

A cup of tea later, I was feeling calmer. This could be a good thing, sort of like that box of files the movers lost three moves back. When my memory acts its age, I now have a built-in excuse. "I'm sorry. That information was lost when my computer crashed."

Technology really can be a good thing. Even when it is not being good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year, New Goals

Like everyone else in the Universe, a new year means new beginnings for me. I have trashed New Year's resolutions, however, in favor of what I am calling My 2010 Happiness Bucket List, or as I have fondly nicknamed it, HBL. Instead of having a list of vague and meaningless resolutions that I give up on about halfway through January, I have identified 28 things I want to accomplish over the next 12 months. Some are simple --- like try Ethiopian cuisine and take a photography class -- to more involved things like finishing my children's book and giving up shopping for a month. Also on the list: updating my blog weekly at the very least! That should be easy; I can update my HBL progress.

The idea for my HBL came from two sources. Heather Bowser, a reporter with the Daily News Record here in Harrisonburg is doing a bucket list in anticipation of her birthday. Reading about her ideas got me to thinking about putting together my own bucket list. Then I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I decided to focus my bucket list on things that make me happy -- learning new skills, getting outside, spending time with Bate.

I've put my HBL into a year-long chart and printed it out. I'm pretty excited about this new approach. Hopefully next year at this time, I will see a whole lot of checkmarks on my HBL. I've already completed one -- Try Indian cuisine. It was good, but I don't think I'll be rushing back!