Sourdough, a lesson in patience and discipline

I’ve recently restarted keeping a sourdough starter. This marks my 4th starter that I’ve cultivated since becoming introduced to the concept, the other three have sadly been given up on by me or killed by various roommates. The thing no one can really prepare you for in beginning your sourdough adventure is that it’s the equivalent of having a pet. You have to feed it regularly and care for it. Sure you can leave it for up to a week unattended if you pop it in the fridge but longer than that and you need to have a friend come take care of it or you need to make larger preparations to put it into hibernation. It’s not hard or difficult to maintain though and feeding it daily takes less than ten minutes. You simply remove the majority of your mature starter and then feed it fresh flour and water. Most of the time, unless you’re preparing to bake from it you do nothing to it and have no interaction with it. If you’re keeping your starter in the fridge the amount of interaction you have with it is even less, being reduced to the already mentioned ten minutes once a week.

The hard part is two fold for me. First,  finding something to do with your discarded starter or coming to terms with throwing out a large portion of it every feeding. And second, building the discipline to feed it regularly. This historically has been the hard part for me, most of my life I’ve struggled with self discipline. I’m the king of procrastination and one of my favorite games to play is “Do I really need to go to the grocery store?” But if I don’t feed my starter it will die and I will no longer be able to make delicious baked goods from it. So far I’m on week three of daily feedings for my starter. I’m happy to report it’s fairly active with a good rise and a fruity smell. As for the discard, I’ve discovered a fairly simple and delicious biscuit recipe that makes use of my discard each day. While it’s more biscuits than I can/should eat in a day I like to take a page from Terry Pratchett and store my excess biscuits in my community members. After all Community is Security.

SOURDOUGH DISCARD BISCUITS
Makes 6-8 biscuits

Dry ingredients:
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tsp. Baking Powder
3/4 Tsp. Salt

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 Cup Butter, cold
1 Cup Mature Sourdough Starter

Combine dry ingredients in bowl and whisk together.
Cut butter into dry ingredients until crumbly dough is formed
Mix in sourdough starter
Knead until Stiff dough is formed
Pat Dough down to 3/4 inch and cut biscuits
Bake on non-greased tray at 420 for 12-15 mins

Tooth brushing and other things

“You only have to brush the ones you want to keep,” is what my mother always told me. Admittedly I’m terrible about establishing a regular tooth brushing habit. It’s also a hard thing to keep up with when you don’t have running water. Having spent the last month living on an urban homestead without running water I have not advanced my tooth brushing level. The other thing that has been an interesting change is bathing. These days I collect rain water, several gallons at a time and keep it for bathing. I take bucket baths much like I did when sailing and working on boats. It doesn’t bother me much. 38 degrees is warmer than you think when the wind’s not blowing. Soap suds are surprisingly insulating, and as long as I don’t get my hair wet, bathing in near freezing temperatures with near freezing water has been surprisingly not that bad. That being said I’m excited for the day we upgrade our rain water catchment and build our shower out and I can take a warm shower once again. Until then I’ll continue my cold water baths, which science says has numerous benefits.

Books

Hey all,

As some of you may know my comfort genre when it comes to books is Early 20th Century Boys’ Adventure novels; of which I bought a literal grocery bag full when I was home in Pennsylvania for the winter holiday. While I’ve been chewing through them and enjoying the fluffy stories where bad things may happen but you know the heroes will triumph in the end I do occasionally need to take break from the predictable plots and inherent racism of the genre. I’ve out down my collection of ripping yarns for the time being to pick up Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. It’s a fascinating true crime book about the 1920’s serial killings of members of the Osage tribe, the wealthiest individuals, per-capita, in the world and the intervention in the investigation by the fledgling agency that would grow into the Federal Bureau  of Investigation. So far it’s been a gripping tale of greed, murder, and betrayal. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in Native American affairs, the history of the FBI (the Osage murders where the FBI’s first murder investigation) or true crime stories in general. Well written with wealth of information and pictures Killers of the Flower Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable read so far.

 

 

998 Good Bricks

Ajahn Brahm has a story of building his first brick wall. Of laying brick after brick and a lesson in patience of making sure each brick was level and smooth. In the end when he steps back and looks at the wall there are two bricks out of place, and it drives him mad. He becomes focused on these two out of place bricks and can only see them flaw in his work. Until one day a visitor tells him his wall is beautiful and that, while yes there are two bad bricks, there were also 998 good bricks. And he realizes that he’s been to focused on his flaws to see the good.

As a crafter I often fall into the trap of only seeing the flaws or areas for improvement in my works. It’s hard for me to let them go, and value my works when all I see are the mistakes. Lately I’ve been trying to focus on the good bricks in my works and stop answering the compliments I get with the flaws I see.

Soap Making

The boxes took a while to roll in. First was the castor oil, with the Coconut oil and Lavender oil. Also in this box was the lye. As with the arrival of any package there were the curious hangers on determined to see what treasures this mystery package would contain. The removal of the Lye was greeted with an immediate “What’s that!?” from our resident Tiny Taurus. When told it was Lye they pressed me with more questions. Which opened up a conversation that went something like “Lye is a caustic chemical that will cause severe chemical burns if you get it on your skin and leave it there.” “How?” “The Lye will start to convert the fats in your body to soap, this reaction will release heat, it will be hot, and hurt as it strips the fats from your body and makes them into soap. Do not play with it. It’s also poisonous.” “…Oh.” “Yep” “So why do we have that if it’s so dangerous?” “We need it to make soap.”

It would take a couple more weeks for the Olive oil to show up and us to be ready to make soap. I asked for hard commitments from people interested in making the soap and set a hard boundary of if they were late and missed the safety video in the beginning of the offering then they wouldn’t be allowed to make soap. After establishing the seriousness of working with hazardous chemicals we were ready to commence making our soap.

An hour before the offering was to start I premixed the Lye with water to form our Lye working solution and mitigate the risk for the kids of working with straight powdered lye. Once the offering began I took down the names of those in attendance and started the safety video. After the video we did a Q&A about soap making, working with hazardous chemicals and a walk through of our soap making procedure. We then moved to the makerspace and began measuring out and mixing our oils. We decided on making a Lavender soap for one batch and a Pine tar soap for our other batch. Measuring and mixing our oils was fairly straight forward, and a good opportunity to stress the importance of exact measurements in chemistry. Once our oils were measure and mixed I carefully poured our Lye solutions into our batches while the kids stirred them. Once the soap began to set, a stage called trace, where the liquid is just visible on the surface before settling back in when dripped on the surface, we poured our soaps into the molds to set.

Today I removed the pine tar soap from the mold and cut into bars and on Monday will do the same for the Lavender soap. After the curing process, of 4-6 weeks our soap should be ready just in time for Christmas.

 

Wood work

This week I’ve mostly been focusing on getting over a cold that had entrenched itself in my chest over our weekend trip to Philly Last weekend. The trip itself was delightful. It’s always a pleasure to get to see my mom who picked me up from the train station Friday evening and then joined us for breakfast at Abby’s parent’s house Saturday Morning. Breakfast was followed by a knitting crash course from my mom who’s a superb fiber artist, proficient in knitting, crochet, and spinning. After that our crew went to a local corn maze at Hurricane Hill a farm run by one of Abby’s old friends. The corn maze was in the shape of a Steam locomotive with different word jumble clues and train image rubbings scattered throughout. While my group didn’t make the best time through the corn maze we did get the most rubbings and word jumble clues allowing us to figure out the secret word. Following the corn maze was a hay ride and then back to the Oulton’s for dinner and a fire circle. Sunday was a lazy morning and then quick run through Philly to catch our bus. I’ve spent the week at school helping Jan build a nesting box for an American Kestrel, knitting and reading interspersed with a couple close park trips, soda making and I’m working on carving my first spoon. We’ll see how it goes. I’m looking forward to having a weekend where I’m not travelling and can do some laundry and grocery shopping as well as just laze about the house.

Here’s the spoon I’ve been working on. Hopefully have it finished in a day or two. Anyway, till next week,

With wool and wood shavings,

-Chuck

Dusting things off

Pickled Eggs

Ingredients:

  1. 1 Dozen Eggs
  2. 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  3. 1 cup water
  4. 1 cup sugar
  5. 1 med. onion
  6. 2 (15oz) cans of Beets (I prefer sliced but whole also works)

Hard boil the dozen eggs.

In a separate saucepan combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and 1 cup liquid from the cans of beets. Stir until sugar is dissolved and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside for later. This will be the pickling brine.

Peel eggs, and chop onion.

In a 1/2gal. container layer boiled eggs, beets and onions. Pour hot brine over the eggs onions and beets until jar is full. Cap and place in fridge for 24-48 hours.

Eggs are ready in as little as 24hrs but the longer they sit in the brine the deeper the purple color will penetrate.

Having grown up in Pennsylvania I was aware of beet pickled eggs my whole life. My stepfather having Pennsylvania Dutch heritage has eaten them his whole life with great relish. I had never been bold enough to ask for one of the brightly purple colored orbs found floating in their ubiquitous jars on deli and bar counters alike for as long as I can remember. When I asked for suggestions for our weekly fermentation offering and Douglas immediately chimed in with pickled eggs I was skeptical about how they would turn out, but two weeks and two rounds of pickling eggs later I can say they’re much better than I expected. And they’re certainly a school favorite here at ALCNYC.

 

 

#AlfSummer Wk1

Here we are, the end of week one, Alf Summer. It’s been exciting, engaging, exhausting. I can’t recall another week in which I’ve had as many juicy conversations, learned as many tools, or connected with as many wonderful beautiful human beings.

Everyday has been full of wonderful discussions. Leigh showed me how to talk so children will listen, and listen so children will talk. I’ve sat in on discussions about the camp dynamics for the next two weeks, and am excited to be running a spawn point with @rochellehudson next week. Was glad to have helped @leigh create a “menu” of suggestions for kids who happen to be overwhelmed by the endless possibility of self directed learning. Learned about the “Blueprint of We” a powerful tool for relational dynamics. And so many other things that I hope to carry forward into my life and relationships. Ultimately, what I’m most excited about from this week are the relations I’ve forged with so many wonderful new people. People who are bright, beautiful, beings of infinite love who I am glad to know and call my friends.

Biting the Big Apple

Tuesday, was a day of travel. Rising bright and early to be ready to leave the land of QIVC at 7AM. Emilie Michaud was gracious enough to give @themadhatter and I a ride tithe bus station in Albany. We arrived shortly after 8AM for or 10:25AM bus. Sad news dear friends, the Rensselaer library does in fact not open until 10AM; though fear not, we had come equipped with our own books. I also, managed to be stung by a wasp which managed to help pass the time. Three hours of bus ride later we disembarked in NYC. And began the search for a subway stop. @failspy had promised to text us directions and despite them never coming through we managed quite well. @themadhatter managed to find us a station and figure out the map allowing us to make it to the 110th St. Stop and walk to school just in time to catch the last half hour of the day and the gratitudes circle.

Wednesday was an all school excursion to Brighton beach. Offering up the first chance of the year for me to wear my bathing suit. Initial fears of rain proved false as @ryanshollenberger managed to call the sun out of hiding with a little help from Sterling, one of our visitors this week. With luck and sun-screen I managed to soak up the delicious rays of the sun and not turn as red as my bathing suit. @bear and I took a trip to the Brighton Bazaar’s hot bar for lunch and I had some choice anxiety. There was just too much good food. After a scrumptious Russian inspired lunch, I combed the beach for coal. Never have I found so much coal in such a short amount of beach, as I have at Brighton Beach. If anyone knows the cause of this I would love to hear it. As the day on the beach wound down @failspy, @lillaw and I had a game of catch with the disc I brought before packing our belongings to head back to school and home.

Thursday was a fairly low energy day. With the help of @abbyo I polished up my résumé to apply for a haberdasher’s position in Park Slope. I read more of Trinity, a graphic novel  about Los Alamos, the Manhattan project, and the first Nuclear Weapons. The slurch caught me shortly after lunch and the resulting power nap was crucial. Post school day, I took @timotree home, we had some great conversations on the bus ride up town about different navigational apps and the programming of Galactic Nemeses. After we got off the bus he showed me the highest naturally occurring point on the Island of Manhattan and took my picture standing on the point itself. After catching the A train from one of the best looking subway entrances I’ve seen I met Hannah at Union Sq. park for some hanging out and Gelato. Quite possibly I had the best pistachio flavored gelato I’ve ever had. From there the delicious food continued as I met Abby back up town near school for grocery shopping and a dinner of fried fish.

Today, has been another beautiful day at ALCNYC. After the change up meeting, I finally managed to cover some blank text blocks I’d bound a few months ago. It was satisfying to get the crash and glue on the spines and then cover them with some pleasingly teal card stock I cannibalized from a folder. While they sat under some weights drying I sat down to lunch with @abbyo, cheese, bread, hummus, pickles, greens, and some samosas. Delicious. After lunch I took a pleasant stroll through the park with @bear and we discussed the next steps to take for our beverage start-up. We made it back just in time for clean up and blogging. Later tonight I have both @lillaw’s play and a birthday celebration scheduled and I’m greatly looking forward to both.

Who know’s what this weekend will bring but I greatly look forward to spending some more time in the city with my friends.

Until next week dear readers, whoopy pies and cider donuts,

-Chuck

Lessons in humility through fancy work

The heart of a ship is its bell. Often the first piece of bright work to be polished and when a ship has reached the end of its life, it’s the last piece removed from the boat. Bells sound the meals, keep the time, and signal the change of watch. However, the bell can’t be wrung without a bell rope.   Hours of craft and work go into making a bell rope, as it is ultimately an expression of the crew’s pride in its vessel. This past week I’ve had the pleasure of crafting the new bell rope for the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

Before I had the fortune of being called to come play with the Agile crew I was most recently employed as a ship’s rigger for the Oliver Hazard Perry. It was my pleasure to be part of the building team for the first full rigged ocean going vessel of her size and class to be built in America in over a century. I met and worked with an amazing group of people, and learned another obscure skill set, namely how to splice and seize wire. Several weeks ago, after I had left the project, one of my friends sent me a picture of our ship’s broken bell rope. My response was if they furnished me with the materials to craft a new bell rope, and gave me a few weeks time I would make them one. Low and behold, within a couple weeks a package arrived in the mail from my dear friends Vincent and Elise, complete with a roll of #72 seine twine. The ball was in my court. When I was home last week I made sure to pick up my copy of the “Ashley Book of Knots” commonly referred to as the “Ashley’s” or “ABOK” (pronounced A-B-O-K).

And so began my lesson in  humility. I decided to work a variation of ABOK #3754 for my bell rope (The Ashley’s is an encyclopedic collection of knots which are usually referred to by their number in the book). Fancy work such as bell ropes and bag lanyards is something I used to do regularly and take great pride in. Although it having been over a year since my last project I had to re-learn a few things. My first effort took me about two school days to complete. The knot work looked fine however the sticks I had used for the cores of my sinnets were weak. One broke and the other would have quickly rotted after a soaking of fresh water such as from rain. But I was finished. Completed with my task grudgingly undertaken for an organization I no longer worked for. And then I had a conversation with @bear.

He pointed out the low quality of my cores, and how it wasn’t okay. And despite my making (bad) logical excuses for the low quality of my work. He kept digging and explained his frustration with me. How that sense of workmanship made him distrust me with certain work and projects. We had a really solid, open and supportive communication.

And then I went and worked in Paul’s garden for a couple hours and did some serious thinking. About why I was making it, how I had made the piece and why I was accepting of the standard of quality. I came out of the garden with a few realizations. The culture of “good enough” had been prevalent at my old job. The foreman had stopped caring and his attitude had slowly seeped into most aspects of the project, and that was part of the reason I had left. I had quit my job and moved here to work on getting away from those kinds of attitudes and personal pit falls and I was failing. I hadn’t really changed yet, I was still just being “good enough;” functional but not great. I  went back to Bear and told him of my garden thoughts, and thanked him for pushing me to be a better version of myself.

That evening I picked apart my two days of work. Not with sadness or regret but with a sense of joy for the practice. Knowing that when I remade it the next day it would be better, it would be something I could be proud of.