How do I get started baking bread?

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The short answer to the question of how to get started baking bread is Josey Baker. His name is Baker, after all. While I’ve reviewed his book before, it’s worth repeating since I get asked for good bread recipes all the time.

Why do I like Josey Baker’s book? Baker is a former science educator. He’s good at explaining things in a clear, step-by-step manner. Many of the other bread books floating around right now are, in my opinion, overly lengthy and, often, confusing. Best of all, Baker emphasizes whole grain, sourdough fermented breads.

Baker has summarized all the popular methods out there right now in one place. Want to make a New York Times no-knead/Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day type loaf? No problem, that’s the first loaf in Baker’s book. Want to make a Tartine style loaf without reading a hundred pages of directions? No problem, that’s also in the book. Wan’t to graduate on to a style of whole wheat/sourdough breads pioneered by people like Baker and Miller? He’s got you covered. If that’s not enough, Baker also shares the excellent Cooks Illustrated Chocolate Chip cookie recipe as well as a recipe for moist scones (no, scones don’t have to be as dry as dog biscuits!).

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Baker and hosting him for a bread class here in LA. He’s a supremely nice guy, more than happy to share his expertise and spend hours answering hydration ratio questions. I don’t think there was a moment when he wasn’t smiling. His mentor is someone I consider to be the finest baker in the US right now, Dave Miller (who was profiled in Michael Pollan’s Cooked).

If you’re visiting San Francisco make sure to visit his bakery which is located within a cafe called The Mill.

084 How to Make Your Own Cheese with David Asher

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Want to learn how to make delicious cheeses in your own kitchen? It’s easier than you think. Our guest this week is radical natural cheesemaker David Asher, author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses.

During the podcast we discuss:

  • The difference between natural cheesmaking and the way most cheese is made in North America.
  • Using a kefir culture to make cheese.
  • The importance of quality milk.
  • What if I can’t get raw milk?
  • Easy cheeses.
  • The ins and out of rennet and how to make your own.
  • WalcoRen rennet.
  • Using cardoon flowers instead of rennet.
  • Tools you need for cheesemaking.
  • Hacking a fridge to make your own cheese cave.
  • Using leftover whey for fertilizer and cooking.
  • Making chèvre.
  • How to store cheese.
  • The cheese scene in Canada and the legality of raw milk.
  • Raw milk cheeses in Quebec.

To find out about David’s classes visit his website The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking.

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.

Should I Put Coffee Grounds in a Worm Bin?

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First off, in my post on using coffee grounds in your garden I linked to the wrong article. The correct, and very useful publication by Linda Chalker-Scott, “Using Coffee Grounds in Gardens and Landscapes” can be found here.

There were a number of questions and emails about the pamphlet’s recommendation not to add coffee grounds to your worm bin. Why might coffee grounds not be good for worms? Chalker-Scott cites a study, “Evaluation of three composting systems for the management of spent coffee grounds” that looked at using worms to compost coffee waste. The study showed high worm fatality in spent coffee grounds due, the authors speculate, to the acidic pH of coffee and harmful organic compounds. The addition of cardboard reduced fatality. They go on to suggest pre-composting coffee grounds for three weeks before adding to a vermicomposting bin.

It should be noted that the study was looking at worm bins where the feedstock was entirely made up of spent coffee grounds. Adding a few coffee grounds to a home bin made up of a diversity of feedstocks is probably not going to kill the worms.

But, in a discussion thread on the Garden Professor’s Facebook group speculating about what percentage of coffee grounds would be safe to use, I found myself agreeing with Raymond Eckhart who says,

In the absence of peer reviewed literature as to what percentage is acceptable, the cautious approach is to avoid it altogether, is my takeaway. If and when someone studies the issue to determine a safe percentage, it would be unwise to recommend the practice, given the results of the referenced paper.

Coffee grounds also form large anaerobic clumps worms don’t like. Clearly, they prefer vegetable scraps and large amounts of fluffy carbon material like cardboard and wood shavings.

Now wouldn’t it be great if Elon Musk would fund local Extension Service home gardening research rather than trying to figure out ways to blast rich people into space? We need definitive worm bin advice!

Islamic Geometric Patterns

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I’m making an effort (not always successful) to avoid falling down the Google/Facebook/Youtube hole vortex in the evening. The siren song of internet distraction rarely leads anywhere useful and I’ve never regretted turning the damn thing off and taking up pencil and paper.

Through some library serendipity, I discovered Islamic Geometric Patterns by Eric Broug. It’s a book of step by step drawing instructions. All you need is a ruler, compass, pencil and pen. While the geometry behind theses patterns is enormously sophisticated, actually drawing out the shapes is surprisingly easy and relaxing. It’s also a fun and painless lesson in geometry, especially for those of us not inclined towards math.

The first chapter breaks down the basis of all the patterns–squares, hexagons and pentagons–and how to generate these shapes with just a compass and ruler. Here’s the square and hexagon:

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Starting with these basic shapes, you then do further subdivisions. Once the pattern is penciled out you start using ink to make the final design. Add color and texture and these basic patterns can become enormously complex, what David Wade calls “windows into the infinite”:

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So what can you do with this arcane exercise in geometry? Just look at some of the amazing things Broug has done with these patterns on his website. I’m particularly fond of simple applications for patterns such as the way he painted his garage door. If only my school geometry was as much fun as spending an evening drawing these patterns.

Weekend Tweets: Poppies, Insane Comics and Black Metal Cats