Monthly Review

Two Months Review

November

How do you feel about the project? 

I’m feeling glad that I decided to do this, but also realizing how impulsive of a decision it was. Even though I continually fail at completing each and every assignment for the week, I’m still encouraged by how much I am already aware of in the world. When I come across the name of an obscure Middle Eastern or African country in a news article, I can visualize where it is on the map. When NPR makes a mention of political and world events, I actually already know the backstory. (Thanks, The Economist!)

What have you learned? 

I’ve been working on the countries of the world using this website‘s quizzes, and although initially horrified at the state of my world geography, I’ve been improving a lot.

My class on Islam has just one more class to go, and I’m hoping to visit to a mosque soon too. I finished reading my book on Islam also, so maybe I’ll have another notes & quotes post on the class and book soon.

I’ve also learned that mental endurance is pretty similar to physical. All the excuses to not work out (I’m tired, I earned some rest time, it’s not going to be fun, etc.) also can be applied to doing things that are mentally taxing, but that’s when it’s time to dig deep and keep my eye on the prize. This usually involves sitting in the most uncomfortable chair in the house and drinking coffee or ice water to stay awake while reading. Or, I just practice baking bread.  

What do you like?

I like that this project is a measurable sign of growth. It’s so easy after being in the systems and rhythms of the education system to want to abandon it all for the freedoms of adulthood. (Tell me I wasn’t the only college student dreaming about the day I could get home after work and have all the time in the world to relax or sleep or grab hold of whatever else the wind blew my way.) And I did really love taking the time to do that right after graduation. But now, I’m enjoying the re-introduction of structure. I’m glad that I’m not a hamster running in circles but never going anywhere. I’m glad that I know what I’m interested in, and I’m investing in it. The times when I think, what in the world am I doing with my life? I quickly remember that I am working in 2 jobs where I am frequently challenged to learn new skills, I’m taking classes and reading books about new things, I’m learning how to tutor ESL, I’m on the path to discover the perfect loaf of bread, etc. AND I’m saving up for what will be an amazing trip around the world. (Lord willing.)

What do you not like?

I still don’t like feeling conformed to a one-year plan. Sort of ironic, since I got this whole project idea from a blog titled “The Art of Non-Conformity“. But I think that the best way I can keep pushing myself to stay accountable to the plan is, well, to stick to the plan–without deviation. I don’t like this tension, but I’m not sure how to get around it.

What are you looking forward to? 

I’m looking forward to the knowledge I’ll have at the end of this year! I am already seeing improvements in my mental and physical strength, renewed curiosity, and a desire to improve creatively (both professionally and personally). It’s great thinking it only gets better from here.

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Kneading vs. Needing Whole Wheat Bread

I can hardly believe it, but it’s time for another monthly update on this project. Hopefully I can get to that in the next few days! 2013 has really been flying by, and it’s completely crazy! At work, we’ve started to get busy brainstorming (and now executing) Christmas promotions and programs, which is exciting for me since I believe this to be the best time of the year. (Finally, the rest of the world joins me in listening to Christmas music!) I’m certain the next 7 1/2 weeks until the new year will be gone before I know it with all the extra projects at work and traveling for the holidays. But like I said, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

With this new season comes colder weather and more reasons to stay cozy inside…. in the kitchen working on bread or other seasonal treats. Unfortunately, I have yet to land on my ideal no-knead, whole-wheat sandwich bread. I’ve tried two different recipes so far, and although they certainly turn out, they aren’t quite what I’m hoping to achieve. For whatever reason, my bread always seems to rise too much. (I have even tried kneading the dough a time or two part way through the rise so that it won’t just keep expanding forever like that greedy blueberry girl on Willy Wonka, but it always seems to rise too much anyways.) Since I live in an apartment where I cannot set the heat/air, environmental factors are always different and practically impossible to control. The latest time, I stuck the dough straight into the fridge to rise, and even then, the rising was surprisingly fast. Perhaps I bought the yeast with super powers…?

Exhibit A: The Fallen Loaf

Exhibit A: The Fallen Loaf

Besides this phenomenon affecting the appearance of my loaf, I also feel like the texture of the bread is almost spongy. I’m still trying to figure out if this is a result of the rising or just the nature of no-knead bread. The photo below is from my most recent attempt, and after I let the dough have it’s final rise in the loaf pan, I pulled the sides of the dough (at that point starting to expand over the edges) to overlap on top of the loaf. I think this helped a lot with it not falling while baking.

Exhibit B: The Still Spongy, But Not Fallen Loaf

Exhibit B: The Still Spongy, But Not Fallen Loaf

I did learn from some research that the reason why whole wheat bread is typically denser than its white wheat counterparts is because the bran on the wheat is actually sharp enough to cut the gluten strands in the bread, thus making it not stretch the same way. Maybe because my whole wheat bread is no-knead, the bran isn’t cutting through the gluten, thus making it rise differently? But I would imagine this should just make it softer, like white bread… But then again, the purpose of kneading is to activate the development of gluten, so I suppose not kneading bread would have a pretty direct impact on the bread’s texture. Maybe without the smooth and elastic-y gluten, the gases released by the yeast just creates little air pockets instead of causing the dough to evenly expand. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know!

Exhibit B, Again: Good Crust on This Loaf

Exhibit B, Again: Good Crust on This Loaf, Minus the Little Corner Bit that Got Stuck to the Pan

I’ve also done some research on amounts of yeast in bread. I know that longer rise times (and therefor less yeast) produce more flavorful breads, but I’m wondering if it’s also better for your body to use less yeast. I know that a couple teaspoons of yeast divided between a whole lot of bread equals out to a small amount per serving, but somehow it makes sense to me that there be a nutritional significance to it. However, any searching for answers on this one just bring me to information on nutritional yeast, which is obviously different, and seems to mainly serve the purpose of making vegans feel like they can have their cake mac and “cheese” and eat it too.

Exhibit C: Sliced and Ready to Go. A hungry belly does not discriminate against spongy-textured fresh bread!

Exhibit C: Sliced and Ready to Go. A hungry belly does not discriminate against spongy-textured fresh bread!

In any case, my favorite thing about these no-knead recipes is they require just bits of time over the course of a day or two (and they seem to be pretty forgiving if you get off schedule) which works very well for me. Now, if only I could discover the perfect recipe!

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