Archive for December, 2012

Happy New Year – Please Ring It In Safely!

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Hi Everyone!

It’s that time of year again – New Year’s Eve is just around the corner!

If you find yourself out and about and not in condition to get yourself (and your friends) home safely, please remember that The American Automobile Association (AAA) is again running their holiday Free Tipsy Tow Home service for New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day morning (December 31, 2012 – January 1, 2013) for anyone in Northern California, Nevada, and Utah. If you’re drinking and don’t think you should drive, give them a call.

Write the number down and keep it in your car’s glove box:

800-222-4357 (AAA-HELP)

Just tell the AAA operator, “I need a Tipsy Tow,” and a truck will be on its way.

You (or your friends) do not need to be AAA members – this service is available to anyone in Northern California, Nevada, and Utah. For full information, please see:

Here’s wishing everyone a happy, joyous, fun, safe, delicious and healthy New Year!

Beautiful & Chilly Morning

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

It is another stunningly beautiful, yet quite chilly, morning. If I am going to ride today, I had better get out there soon because I have LOTS to do today.

I’m happy to say that I’m officially and properly pedaled now. All it took was for one person to be very encouraging and patient, and to not laugh at me for being afraid of the pedals.

And there you go.

Where Will You Ride Today?

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Wow! It is stunningly beautiful outside today … I want to head out NOW!

Homemade Soup & Bread Weather is Here!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

If ever weather called for homemade soup and bread, it is now. We’ve been having quite the little storm here in Northern California, so yesterday I made a super healthy chicken vegetable rice soup and a batch of whole wheat bread with a hint of oat bran, polenta, and pumpernickel.

Hearty, healthy, and delicious!

For the soup, I precooked some short grain brown and black rice in my rice cooker (positively one of the best kitchen inventions EVER!). I sauteed in a little olive oil some carrot, celery heart, and crimini mushrooms just to soften a little. I set these aside, and in the same big soup pot, I sauteed 3 chicken sausages and about 4 ounces of leftover herbed chicken breast from the night before. I used Trader Joe’s chicken sausages (2 sundried tomato and 1 smoked apple chardonnay, but you can use whatever brand or flavor you like). I sliced them into about 1/4-inch slices, then in half, and sauteed them just enough to heat them through and brown them just a bit for flavor. I added back the vegetables, about 1 cup each of frozen peas and green beans, and some baby kale, chard, and spinach  (Trader Joe’s Power to the Greens), and some fresh thyme. I sliced a few cherry tomatoes in half (Trader Joe’s heirloom cherry tomatoes), then used about 2 1/2 quarts of organic chicken stock (Kirkland brand). I let it cook gently while I finished up the bread.

The bread is based on the Tassajara Bread recipe, with a couple of variations.

3 cups filtered or bottled water, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons dried yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 cup dry milk
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup polenta
1/2 cup pumpernickel flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup butter, melted & cooled
2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 to 1 cup flour
additional flour as needed for kneading

Prepare the sponge:

  • Add the honey to 1 cup of water, then sprinkle the yeast over top. Set aside for the yeast to soften and begin to dissolve in the water (5-10 minutes).
  • Combine 2 cups of the water, dry milk, oat bran, polenta, pumpernickel, and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour. Gently stir to make a smooth mixture, but be careful to not over-mix at this point.
  • When the yeast has dissolved, stir together the water, honey, and yeast mixture and then add to the bran, polenta, and flour mixture. Again, stir to make a smooth mixture, but don’t over-mix.
  • Cover with a towel and set aside to proof about 15 minutes.

While the sponge is proofing, melt your butter, then set aside to cool. Combine 2 cups of whole wheat flour with the salt. When the sponge looks “proofy” (starting to bubble and rise), add the melted butter on low speed (or stir in by hand) until mostly combined. Then, add the flour and salt mixture 1/2 to 1 cup at a time. If you’re using a mixer, do this on low speed. If you doing it by hand, stir it in with a large, heavy wooden spoon. When you can no longer stir it in with the spoon, you can work it in with your hands.

Just out of the mixer

This dough turned out to be fairly wet, so I ended up using at least 1 cup additional flour.  It’s important to go by feel, not just by measurement when you’re making bread. It takes some practice, but once you get the feel of dough, you just know. Flour varies a lot by brand and type, so you can’t always measure exactly and expect consistent results. I used a combination of King Arthur and Guisto’s flours; both are premium flours. King Arthur flours are available in pre-packaged bags, and Guisto’s flours are usually in bulk.

Both of these brands are available online:
King Arthur:

I mixed this dough a long time on low because it was so wet, then finished it with about 3 minutes on high speed. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer, but this is a great dough to do by hand, also. It’s very satisfying to handle; it just feels good. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. You want to use enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking, but be careful to not use too much; you don’t want to work too much more into the dough.

The polenta adds a nice, slightly sweet crunch.

After the first rise.


Shape the dough into one large ball and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, then with a towel. Allow to rise about 45 minutes, then “punch down” the dough by gently pressing down on it. Then, fold the dough over itself, keeping the smooth top up. Recover and allow to proof another 45 minutes to 1 hour.

This batch will make two large loaves (9 1/4 x 5 1/4-inch loaf pan), or as many smaller loaves, or rolls, as you care to make. I like to use about half of it in a loaf pan, and then make 1 or 2 more rustic loaves that I proof in a baker’s couche (a linen cloth made for proofing yeast doughs). You can use a towel (the flour sack kind, NOT terry cloth!) to create a make-shift couche. Generously flour the couche. For this dough, I used whole wheat and pumpernickel flours, and for one of the loaves I also sprinkled on some polenta. Place the shaped dough top down (seam up) on the floured couche.

My make-shift couche, dusted with whole wheat and pumpernickel flours, & polenta.

Free form loaf.


Cover loosely with towels so the loaves don’t dry out too much. With the couche, the dough will dry out just enough to allow a really nice crust, but you want to make sure you don’t expose the dough directly to the air or it will dry out, creating an unattractive crust. If you’re using loaf pans, you’ll want to cover lightly with plastic wrap. Remember, the dough will rise again, so you don’t want to restrict it by covering it too tightly.

The dough will need to rise about 30 minutes, so start preheating your oven after about 20 minutes. You’ll want to bake the rustic, couched loaves first. They’ll need a hot oven (400-450 degrees) and a preheated baking sheet. If you have a baking stone or tile, that’s best, but you can also turn a professional sheet pan over and place that in the oven while it’s heating. A half-sheet pan will fit in most home ovens. I have one that I have sacrificed for this; it’s the oldest of the sheet pans I have, so it’s not in great shape, anyway, but it works like a charm for this.

When the oven is ready, place a sheet of foil on a baking peel and gently transfer the dough to the peel. This dough is sturdy enough that you can do this by hand, but if you have a delicate dough (like a ciabatta) you will want to use a hand peel to transfer the dough from the couche. Place the dough seam down on the foil. Score with a razor or very sharp knife.

Ready to score ...

Ready to score ...

Scored and ready to bake!

Transfer the scored loaves to the oven. I bake them on the foil on the inverted, preheated baking sheet. You want to keep as much heat in the oven as possible, so quickly spritz the dough with water or throw a couple of ice cubes on the bottom of the oven. If you use a spray bottle, be very, very careful to NOT spray the light bulb in the oven! It will shatter and your bread will be ruined. I speak from experience. After about 5 minutes, you can throw 2-3 more ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spritz with a little more water. What this does is to help to mimic that nice, chewy crust you get in breads baked in a professional oven.

Bake until the loaves are a nice, golden brown. They’re done when they sound hollow when you give the loaf a little thump on the bottom crust.

Fresh out of the oven. Smells so good!

Be sure to allow the bread to cool at least most of the way before you slice into it.

Now here is a little slice of heaven!


This will
warm you,
fuel you, and
nourish you.


Simple Pleasures

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
~ John F. Kennedy

Whole Wheat Bread …

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Smells so good!


… with a little polenta, pumpernickel, and oat bran.

Full post to follow …it’s time for dinner!


Oh, BTW … Pedals

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The smile of victory. I did it!

Last weekend I promised that I would use the new pedals this weekend. The “real” pedals.

I know that many of you out there are wondering “What’s the big deal?” Those of you who know me know that I have been terrified to make the switch to the clipless pedals, so this is a huge deal for me.

The pedals are going on the Colnago tonight. My Trek 5000 will now be my trainer / rain bike.

A Powerful Breakfast

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Heart healthy oats and walnuts

It’s been windy and raining like crazy this weekend. It’s not looking like there will be any outdoor riding for me today, even as the clouds are beginning to break and the sun is coming out. It’s just too windy and unpredictable out there for me today for a solo ride. I’ll just practice a bit with the pedals on the trainer and focus on getting caught up on some chores around home.

One thing for certain, though, is that it is a great morning for a hot, steamy bowl of steel cut oats, with toasted walnuts and maple syrup. Oats are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Regular consumption of oats has been shown to help reduce bad cholesterol. As soluble fiber passes through the digestive tract it forms a gel-like substance in the small intestines that helps to catch “bad” cholesterol (LDL), preventing the body from absorbing it. It does not, however, block the absorption of the “good” cholesterol (HDL). Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have  shown that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation, which can help protect from chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, arthritis). Maple syrup, you may be surprised to learn, has health benefits, too! It is a good source of manganese and zinc, which have been linked to good heart health, also.

That should give me the energy to get all my chores done today. Speaking of which … I better get started.