SUMMER FAMILY BONDING

easter-01Last Holy Week our entire family packed up and went to our parents’ place in Cavite, a place full of trees and flowering plants and birds.  While walking around, my sister Joy saw this empty nest.  It was about 9 inches high, and 3 inches across, perched on our bougainvillea.

easter-02We took my 5yo niece Lilo to the aratiles tree by the pond, and were able to pick a handful of berries.  I must have been in high school the last time I did that!  I think it’s one of those things all Pinoy kids should experience.

easter-03We also found this giant millipede.  Meanwhile, we collected the eggshells from the week’s omelettes for a special Easter project

easter-04which later became this Easter Egg Tree:

easter-05easter-06And while we didn’t have an Easter bunny, we were happy with Moonball the Easter Guinea Pig instead!

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Photos copyright 2011 Joy Abara.  All rights reserved.

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NO KNEAD BREAD, REDUX

We’ve been baking our own bread for 3 weeks now.  Just two kinds, the ones I wrote about in Baking Our Own Bread.  My brother-in-law Tristan managed to borrow another Lodge cast iron Dutch oven from his parents.  We thought we’d save on the fuel by baking two loaves of No Knead Bread at the same time.

Last Thursday night my little niece Lilo mixed all the ingredients together for two recipes’ worth of NK Bread.  One was a mix of all-purpose flour and a bit of whole wheat flour, while the other one used a mix of bread flour and whole wheat flour.  This time we lessened the water from 1 1/2 cup to 1 1/4 cup, producing a less runny, but still sticky dough.  The next day we put the dough on some greased foil for its second rise, and put the whole thing in the preheated cast iron pots.  This made it easier to remove the bread safely.

breadredux-01breadredux-02Next time we’ll try not using the greased foil and will pour the dough directly from a greased bowl.  Small bits of foil got stuck in tiny creases in the bread, which were a PITA to remove.  But on the whole, I thought the loaves looked delicious.  This time we let them cool for about 45 minutes before we tasted.  Some of it was a little gummy – we discovered (thanks to our new oven thermometer) that our oven only reaches a maximum heat of 400 degrees F instead of what we thought was 450.  So next time we’ll add about ten minutes to the covered baking time.

breadredux-03This IS a crusty bread.  It’s great for toasting and buttering.  I love the crunch and the almost-popcorny flavor in my mouth with every bite.  I’ve been having this for breakfast two days in a row now.  We’ve finished the first loaf and a quarter of the second already.  Next time we’ll try the version flavored with beer and vinegar, called the Almost No Knead Bread on Breadtopia.com, with all the adjustments we’ve made to the recipe. While making our own sourdough is a bit beyond our powers, that ought to be interesting.

PLATINUM MIX FREE INKS

Platinum Japan is coming out with a line of fountain pen inks that can be mixed with each other to produce other colors.  There are 9 basic colors:  a black, 2 blues, a purple, a pink, a red, a brown, a yellow and a green.  The picture above shows you the many possible combinations.  Alas, I can’t read the information on the Platinum website, which is in Japanese.  According to the Fountain Pen Network forums, the inks haven’t reached interntaional distributors yet.  The inks are supposed to be waterfast.  (Comparable Japanese ink lines are the Pilot Iroshizuku series or the Sailor seasonal inks, only these inks are specialty colors not meant for mixing.)

Maybe one day soon one of my more intrepid friends will not be able to resist and may come up with at least 4 of the 9 basic Platinum Mix Free inks (CMYK, anyone?).  The ability to mix new colors would be such fun.

[Note:  Where to get fountain pen ink in Manila:  National Book Store branches have the ubiquitous Parker, Waterman and Cross inks.  The Montblanc boutiques, of course, sell their own ink. Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood City has the French J. Herbin inks and the German Pelikan Edelstein line.  My fellow fountain pen lovers and I have a few inks from these sources, but have also tried eBay, online shopping or asking friends travelling abroad to buy other well-known brands for us.  I am not affiliated to these outlets, but mention them as a guide for the interested.]

BAKING OUR OWN BREAD

For the past two weeks we’ve been enjoying our own bread.  Two weeks ago my brother-in-law Tristan decided to make focaccia bread again after a long hiatus.  He wanted a father-daughter Saturday afternoon activity with 5-year-old Lilo.  So they trooped to Baker’s Depot at Robinson’s Galleria and bought bread flour (about PhP26/500gm), whole wheat flour (for roughly the same amount) and SAF-Instant yeast (PhP70/small pack).

This recipe is of great significance because Tristan and my sister Joy learned it when they were still dating.  Their friend Elena taught them how to make focaccia and pizza dough in exchange for them being interviewees for her master’s degree course at the Ateneo.  (Elena is a baker and currently sells her artisanal breads at the Mercato weekend market at The Fort.)  That Saturday produced several tasty small loaves flavored with rosemary, shallots and garlic that looked like this:

bread-02Needless to say, the bread was delicious toasted, with or without butter.  It had a soft crumb and a lovely color from the olive oil spread on top of the loaves before the last ten minutes of baking.

Next Joy wanted to make No Knead Bread.  New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman popularized the recipe, by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery, in 2006.  We saw chef Michael Smith make his version on his Asian Food Channel show Chef at Home.  What convinced us was Jaden Hair’s Steamy Kitchen blog entry, showing her cute then-4-year-old son Andrew assembling the dough.  We are 5 years late to the baking-and-blogging NK Bread party, but then we only acquired a Lodge 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven some time last year (it was on sale at Gourdo’s, for something like PhP 2,500).  The recipe requires a sturdy, heat-resistant baking vessel with a close-fitting cover, usually a heavy enamel casserole pot or a cast iron Dutch oven.  It should be able to withstand 450 degrees F for an hour or so.  The blog 80 Breakfasts even tells us of a brave soul who made her NK Bread in a crockpot body covered with a ceramic plate, then baked inside a turbo broiler.  Talk about ingenuity.

bread-09bread-11

We started after dinner one night and left the dough to rise overnight, producing a wetter dough than you see in the video or in the Steamy Kitchen blog.  We’re not sure if it has something to do with the high humidity in the Philippines.  Next time we’ll reduce the water from 1 1/2 cups to 1 1/4 cups.  We’ll also use foil or baking parchment as a base when the dough undergoes its second rise; that way we can put the entire thing in the extremely hot cast iron Dutch oven safely.  Letting the dough fall from the floured towel made a huge plop that deflated the dough.  It also left some dough on the towel that was hard to scrape off (if you took all that trouble to prepare the dough, you wouldn’t want to lose some of it to the towel!).  However, we ended up with an interesting 9″-round rustic whole wheat loaf that rose some 2 1/2 inches.  We should have waited for it to cool completely, but we were too impatient.  The bread had a tasty crust and a hole-y crumb.

bread-13We slathered it in butter and nearly finished it in one sitting!  We managed to leave a bit to go with the seafood chowder we had for dinner that same night.  Yes, we’re making it again.  I read through many other bloggers’ experiences with the recipe and we will make adjustments accordingly.  We’d love for the bread to rise higher, but that would require a smaller, narrower (3-4 quart) Dutch oven.

Many Filipinos prefer their bread soft and sweet, but we rather like the No Knead Bread precisely for the difference of its texture and flavor.  It reminds us of French or Italian country breads, the boules and batards, the kind you toast and use to scrape up your delicious soup or gravy.  The kind you dip in a mix of herbed olive oil and balsamic vinegar and enjoy as an appetizer.  The kind you have toasted,  spread with butter and honey for breakfast, because it doesn’t need much else.  As an idea, it has romantic charm.  The tasty reality is a very good thing.

We’re eager to try other bread recipes, of course.  The cost of liquid petroleum gas is up, but baking our own bread is worth it.

JOURNALLING

DSC_0167xI realize I haven’t blogged since September last year.  I believe that was the time our wi-fi connection was going wonky.  Was it the wi-fi modem?  Apparently not; it was the PLDT modem that was overheating because we kept it on 24/7.  We’re still on the same fritzy modem, but are thinking of switching to other networks.

The last quarter of any year is always the most hectic, too.  I also haven’t been lugging around a camera to capture life’s bloggable moments with, since I do have to share the camera with the other members of the family.  Once I caught myself telling my mother to stop taking pictures all the time and to choose to enjoy the moment – there is the danger that we record moments out of habit and yet forget to savor them to the fullest, thinking that looking at pictures will do that for us.  We end up drowning ourselves in information and have difficulty choosing which ones to highlight. I go through a phase like this periodically.

What I have been doing regularly for the past two years is write in my journal.  I used to journal in college; I have 9 black books in my closet from those years.  I still haven’t tried re-reading them.  Maybe when I’m down low I’ll open them and be able to laugh at my teenage angst.  I had dream journals in those days too; my dreams were weird and wonderful and interesting.  I used to keep them next to my bed and wrote in them the moment I woke up, because the moment I folded my blanket the details of the dreams would disappear.  I didn’t start journalling again until 2007.  I had all these fountain pens and inks and needed a way to regularly use them in rotation.

This year’s journal is a 2010 diary that I never got to use as a day planner.  I have six different fountain pens inked in different colors (because I’m “maarte” that way, and I know several people who are like me), and I use a different pen every day.  I don’t care if it looks strange, and I don’t care if the ink may fade.  I get a kick out of feeling the glide of the fountain pen’s nib on the paper (it’s such a tactile pleasure).  I write whatever comes into my head, as the journal isn’t intended to win any literature prize. I don’t have to be politically correct in my journal, but I must be honest.  I celebrate things of significance only to me.  I vent my feelings and afterwards remind myself to be kinder and more generous in my daily actions.  I guess it helps me maintain a more even keel.

I’ve decided to blog regularly again.  I’m planning to get a new phone with a better camera (more on that later).  While the journal is just for me, there are things in life (when a Facebook status or Twitter update isn’t enough) worth sharing with my friends and relatives.