Bold Baking


As co-founder of a baking Meetup group, I get to see a lot of what Michael Pollan somewhat crassly calls, “crumb shots.” One consistent error that I see in many of those bread selfies, is that the baker did not leave the dough in the oven long enough. The crust is too light in color.

I’ve found that my best loaves are the ones where the crust is chestnut brown, taken from the oven just before it starts to burn on the bottom. Too soon and you have a light colored loaf with a soft crust and gummy interior. It took me a long time to figure out that you get a good crust by baking your bread almost to the burning point. Josey Baker calls this “bold baking.” It’s bold because it goes against the beginner’s fear of burning.

While crust color provides a convenient clue for when your loaf is ready to remove from the oven, oven temperature and baking times are also factors. If the bread bakes too fast you’ll end up with a soft crust; if the oven runs too cool you’ll get a crust that’s too hard. In our old O’Keefe and Merritt, I bake my bread at 500º F (260º C). If you’re using a convection oven you’ll need to bake at a lower temperature.

So be bold baker!

Strapping Bee Hives

Eric, of Garden Fork TV, posted a video response to my scary toppled hive situation. Langstroth hives are heavy and get tipped over by high winds, bears, teenagers and (where I am) earthquakes. Eric says:

Strapping your hives with ratchet straps, the good kind used by truckers, will reduce the chaos when a beehive is  knocked over.

We first started strapping our beehives as part of our bear proof the bee yard project. If the hives are strapped, the hives stand a better chance of surviving a bear in the beeyard. One can say that a ratchet strap won’t keep a bear from tearing open a beehive, but I’ve read where the strapping has helped save hives.

Read the rest of his post here.

John Zapf, our digital design podcast guest, came over to help me re-stabilize my own hives and they seem to have recovered (thank you John!). I need to make more substantial and termite proof stands in addition to strapping them. And in the comparison between Langstroth vs. top-bar hives, you can add tipsiness to the list of problems with Lang hives. I think I’m still in the Langtroth camp, but just barely.

Saturday Tweets: Artichokes, Rants and Rare Bee Art

Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail


Grapes on an arbor over patio furniture: what could possibly go wrong? It’s the very embodiment of the permacultural notion of “stacking functions.” The grapes provide both shade and food. The fantasy was to spend the summers like a Roman emperor, reclining on a couch and occasionally reaching up to grasp a succulent cluster of grapes.

Let me, however, add a few a few unsavory slices to this permacultural sandwich (in addition to the delusions of grandeur): rats, mice and squirrels. All day and night hungry mammals rain down half chewed grapes. And the freak rain over the weekend, combined with a few days of heat and humidity, got some very funky fermentation going. It’s like something out of my inner Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare.


A poster by Benjamin Dewey. Available in his Etsy store.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post with a miraculous solution, like say specially trained roof Chihuahuas. I don’t. I do wish that the non-fruit producing Vitis californica vine that grows along our northern fence could be swapped with the prodigious one on the arbor. If fruit grew on the fence vine I could more easily net or cage it, or it least thin it out without having to move a ladder and patio furniture around.

As always, I’m open to reader suggestions or just commiseration . . .

054 Digital Design Tools on the Homestead


Our topic this week is using digital design tools such as Sketchup to conceptualize and build simple projects around your house or apartment. Our guest is designer John Zapf, proprietor of  Zapf Architectural Renderings and the genius behind our chicken run. During the podcast we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Emily, We’ll Miss You

Baltimore, you are about to receive a gifted writer and journalist. Los Angeles, we’re losing Emily Green.

Green was on episode 20 of our podcast to discuss how to shift the mow, blow and go landscaping paradigm here in LA. Green wrote often about this problem as well as the consequences of climate change in our region. She’s was unafraid to take on LA’s corrupt and hypocritical politicians. Her voice here will be missed and there’s no replacement.

I hope she’ll keep up her blog Chance of Rain. If you haven’t visited lately, you should check out her excellent twelve part series, After the Lawn.

LA Observed has a tribute to Green, Goodbye to all this.

A Painful Beekeeping Lesson


Just a few of the stingers imbedded in my bee suit.

I spent the weekend in a Benydryl haze. When you make a mistake in beekeeping you get immediate feedback.

A freak summer storm descended on Los Angeles this past Saturday. Lighting strikes knocked the power out in many places and lit palm trees on fire. Unfortunately for me, the deluge softened the soil underneath one of the legs of one of my beehives causing it to fall over and knock over another hive. I didn’t discover this situation until 7 p.m. as it was getting dark. Kelly was out of town and I was alone in the backyard staring at a jumble of bee boxes.

Here’s what I should have done:

  1. Take a deep breath. Pause, and assess the situation.
  2. Come up with a plan.
  3. Gather all the equipment I needed.
  4. Smoke the hive boxes.
  5. Slowly and confidently put them back together.

Here’s what I did instead:

  1. Panic and run around like an idiot.
  2. Throw on my bee suit wearing just a t-shirt (thankfully I had pants on!).
  3. Skip the smoke and just start hefting the boxes around.
  4. Not only did I not assemble the needed equipment (smoker, lighter), I did not have the garage door opener to access that equipment. At one point I had to run through the house covered in angry bees to get the clicker.

Then I started moving the boxes without first smoking them (which I know is wrong, but I did anyways). A lot of bees came out to let me know they were unhappy. I felt the full and fierce anger of nature. I got the crap stung out of me through my suit. One of the things you learn working with bees is that a hive acts as one mind, one consciousness. When bees and humans are working together the relationship feels like telepathy. When we’re at odds it’s like something out of your worst nightmare. You’re struggling with a unseen, intelligent and very powerful adversary, one that feels very alien and “other”.

By acting hastily, I caused a potentially dangerous situation not only for myself but for other people and animals. Thankfully it was raining and dark and I was the only victim. It was one of those situations when I knew what I was doing was stupid but I did it anyways, propelled by a needless hysteria.

What did I learn? When it comes to beekeeping, never panic, always think ahead and stay calm and deliberate. Use smoke if you think there is any chance that bees might get angry. Wear a thick shirt and pants under your bee suit. Call for help. Bee boxes are heavy and sometimes two brains are better than one. Maintain your equipment (I knew that one of the boxes was leaning but I delayed fixing it). Have your tools at the ready so you can just grab them when you need them.

Of course all of this is common sense. I guess the final lesson is that we humans have a special way of screwing things up. Bees? They plan ahead, store up food for a rainy day and keep focused.

Picture Sundays: Bread Fail


Lest anyone think there’s just one DIY success after another here at the Root Simple compound, behold my failed attempt at a whole wheat pecan loaf. The very wet dough stuck to the banneton and got ripped off when I tried to transfer it to the dutch oven. I baked it anyways and it tasted alright, but it didn’t rise much in the oven.

Speaking of failures, I need to blog this week about why I’m hopped up on Benadryl. Hint: it involves a freak summer storm and a bunch of angry bees. Stay tuned.

Saturday Tweets: Cool Instructables

Restoring a Built-in Ironing Board

ironingboard1 copy

If the original inhabitants of our old house found themselves teleported to the present, I imagine the first question they’d ask is why people go out in public wearing (me included) what to 1920s sensibilities would seem like baggy and wrinkled pajamas. The presence of a built-in ironing board in our kitchen indicates the centrality of ironing and a commitment to well pressed shirts and dresses back in the 1920s. If I were an archeologist, I’d be tempted to call these 1920s folks an “iron age” people.

But then this happened:

Apparently, in the 1960s there was just too much strenuous “action” to bother with ironing. Around this time or at some later date, the previous inhabitants of our house converted the ironing board into an awkward spice rack. I guess all the “action” required seasoning.

Restoring the ironing board was one of the first things I did when we moved into this house back in 1998. I just looked at some pictures of built-in ironing boards in an old copy of the Sears Home Catalog, cut out a piece of MDF and covered it in ironing board material. I attached a dowel to the back of the board that slides in a track in the lower portion of the cabinet. But somehow the commitment to iron-worthy fashion did not follow.

On my bucket list is a much overdue attempt to dress better. Our neighborhood produces eccentrics such as the late Silver Lake Walker and Five Dollar Guy so I could dress like a 1920s monopoly man and nobody would notice. Just another aging hipster! But I need not push this fashion thoughtstyling into self parody. Perhaps some moderate ironing and a commitment to looking just a bit better would suffice.

Do you use an ironing board? How often?