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Whole wheat bread

When I lived in Maine I baked bread almost every weekend.  I started because it was such a long drive to a good bakery and I kept it up because there is really not much that makes me happier than the smell of baking bread or the taste of a fresh loaf.

Now that I live in Portland where there are amazing bakeries on just about every corner (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) I find I don’t get around to baking as often as I used to.  Last weekend, though, the urge came upon me and I pulled out one of my favorite baking books:  The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

The book opens automatically to the recipe I have made most often — a simple whole wheat and buttermilk recipe that has never failed me and that can be used to make beautiful loaves that are perfect for everyday toast or sandwiches or rolls elegant enough for company.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

(adapted from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book)

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

¾ cup very hot water

¼ cup honey

1 ¼ cups cold buttermilk

4 ½ cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine)

1 cup white flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine here too)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 – 4 tablespoons butter, cut in to small pieces

1 large egg

1 tablespoon half & half

Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until foamy.

Mix hot water, honey and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup; the final mixture should be lukewarm.  Set aside.

Mix flours and salt and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the dough hook and mixing at medium speed, slowly add yeast/water mixture and buttermilk mixture to the flour.

After all of the liquid has been incorporated, stop the mixer and let the dough sit, covered with a towel, for about 20 minutes.  This will ensure that the flour absorbs all of the liquid.

Restart the mixer and knead on low to medium speed for about 15 minutes.  The dough should be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If it does not, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time (mixing well after each addition) until it does.  You want this to be a soft dough, so be careful not to add too much additional flour.  Add the butter in small pieces as you near the end of the kneading time.

Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it in an oiled or buttered bowl.  Cover and let rise for about 90 minutes or until you can poke it with a damp finger and the hole doesn’t fill in again.  Gently turn the dough and let rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.

Shape the dough into two loaves and place in oiled/buttered loaf pans.  Cover and let rise a third time.

This dough should rise quite a lot in the pan, so feel free to let it go for at least 45 minutes, if not more.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk egg and half & half together and pass mixture through a small sieve until smooth.  Brush loaves with egg mixture and place in the middle of the preheated oven.

(If you want to make rolls, this recipe will make 9 large or 15 small ones.  Shape the dough into balls after the second rise and let rise again as above.  Brush with egg and half & half mixture.  Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15 -20 minutes.)

Bake loaves for 55 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.

Cool completely on a rack before slicing and eating.

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Finally, after what feels like weeks (months?) of rain, spring seems to be making a slow return.  Yesterday was a lovely day, a few clouds, an amazing downpour complete with thunder in the afternoon, but mostly a day sunny enough, and warm enough, for a trip to see what is blooming at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden on the SE side of Portland.

Before getting far enough to see more than a hint of the profusion of color to come, we were greeted by a pair of mallards, resting close to the path and completely unafraid (probably because of the many children who feed them cracked corn, sold at the entrance).

There were a lot of other birds (I recognized a cormorant and many red winged blackbirds) but I’ll have to visit with S to get a more complete list.

The first flowers we really noticed were not rhododendrons, but instead subtle and intriguing hellebores.

Then, around another corner, it was clear that the rhododendrons really were “the thing,” and they were truly amazing.

Varied in color (we stopped once in front of a wall of blooms in at least 4 distinct shades of lavender), shape and size, the blooms, on bushes and even full-sized trees, were truly glorious.

Striking,

subtle,

complex,

and just plain lovely, they were everywhere we looked.

Some of the flowers aren’t blooming yet,

and there are clearly many  irises still to come

so a trip to the Rhododendron Garden is definitely something to try to fit into your busy schedule over the next few weeks.

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I know.  It’s February 20th.  But in spite of what the calendar would have you believe, today everything in Portland is screaming SPRING!

The warm sun and bright sky (and the fact that we have been staying at a downtown hotel all week during some home renovations) drew us out for a walk after breakfast this morning.  I’ve wanted to show S the Eastbank Esplanade walk along the Willamette River for months now so we headed down to the river and across the Hawthorne Bridge.

It’s always cooler on the east side of the river and much nosier, too, as you make your way alongside and under the freeway.  Even the incessant roar of traffic couldn’t keep us from enjoying the sights along the way — from the natural

to the industrial.

I’m not sure if it’s good for the bridge, but all the rust on the Steel Bridge is remarkably photogenic.  This shot reminds me of a map.

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