A Guide to Easier Pandemic Living: a Super Easy Bread Recipe, Ergonomics, and Balcony Gardening
* Note: blogs are a great place to store information for yourself. But, because it’s public, someone else also might benefit from it.
It seems under some level of pandemic shutdown (we’re not technically in lockdown here in British Columbia), everyone started baking. Some did it because they had more time on their hands than usual. Others did because they find baking soothing. I jumped in to baking bread because the grocery-store bread I ordered online wasn’t available, and I forgot to select the “allow substitutions” option (I’ve been trying out online shopping with the ability to pick up my grocery orders from just outside the store).
Anyway, I have two adolescent boys to feed so I considered making bread, but I was quickly horrified at the amount of time and effort involved: I may be working from home (though will be heading back in to my school here and there to help out as some younger students are heading back to school June 1st), but I’m still working a lot, not to mention keeping my own kids focused on full-day online emergency learning. Like most of you, this work-at-home thing is NOT giving me time to start a hobby or write the next Great Canadian Novel.
As it turns out, amazing bread can be very easy to make, and so cheap! My mom sent me this video showing an easy recipe which requires only a total of five minutes of prep! The only thing is it’s an almost five-hour process, so pick a day you know you can get started the minute you get home from work so it’s done before you hit the sack, or on a day off where you can do this between running short errands. You also need to be able to get flour and yeast which has been challenging over the last couple of months (though there are apparently breads you can make with beer if you can’t get yeast), but fortunately I had both on hand. I did explore how to make sourdough starter, but that kind of relationship seemed far too much commitment for me. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the tweets from this fellow – his enthusiasm is so charming! Click on the image for more of this Twitter thread and the joys of cultivating yeast:
Tips – Jenny’s FAQs page, but also:
- This extremely simple recipe calls for three cups of bread flour. I haven’t been able to get any bread flour, but all-purpose flour works fine. I also successfully substituted one cup white flour for whole wheat to make it healthier – I normally only buy 100% whole grain supermarket bread, but I figure this is still relatively healthy enough. I plan on trying half whole-wheat at some point.
- Additionally, I added one tablespoon honey for extra flavour, though the original recipe does not have any sweetener in the ingredients list. I mix the honey in with the hot water before pouring over the rest of the ingredients.
- Don’t fret if you don’t have a dutch oven – there are many other tools you can use for this. I first tried using a large stainless steel pot with an aluminum foil covering, as my glass pot lids were not rated for the required temperature. It didn’t work as well as using a dutch oven, but still turned out so good my youngest son, who helped me make it, exclaimed, “we’ll never have to buy bread again!”. That said, I will probably buy supermarket bread in future, at least to keep on hand in the freezer as backup, because during normal times I’m so often running around like a maniac.
- I used dry active yeast. Apparently, once opened it’s best kept in the freezer, but then you must defrost the portion you’re going to use before making the bread – I just let it sit out for 30 minutes.
Though we decided we preferred this first recipe, if you prefer fluffier, yeastier, even faster bread, watch this video.
Another idea: are eggs being rationed where you are? Want a delicious chocolatey snack cake? Try this recipe which doesn’t use eggs or milk, so it’s not too rich but it is moist (and vegan if you’re in need of that), and add your choice of icing, or not, because it’s still yummy without. This type of cake is often called “crazy cake”, “Depression cake” or “war cake” as it can be suitable in times of shortages, but I like it during good times and bad. I also like a sour-cream based icing like this one.
And, for a bit of fun, those of us who are fortunate enough to have the privilege to work from home in such uncertain times might be struggling a bit with poor ergonomics. I got sick of it so MacGyvered my cat’s scratching post into a standing desk for the balcony. My employer did end up providing a laptop stand and external keyboard to improve things a bit, as you can see in my “action” shot:
I’m very excited about my burgeoning balcony mini-garden. The herbs are taking some time to come up, but on one end of my little balcony I’m experimenting with peas (with edible pods – I’m all for efficiency) and intermingling them with climbing nasturtiums as the latter not only attract aphids away from the other plants, but the flowers are edible! I also added some kale, which is growing quite well and some spinach, which is not as cooperative. Speaking of aphids, I picked the last of my spring radish and the leaves had aphids. I think I washed them all out before adding them to an omelette, but, eh, if I didn’t get them all it’s just more protein (joking, sort of!).
In these photos I’ve got tomatoes, which are growing like gangbusters, pepper (hot weather plants so taking more time) and strawberries. In the big container and the bag below it I have more kale – it’s not because I have a particular love for kale but I planted more seeds than necessary, and they all unexpectedly sprouted, so as the weather gets hotter I’m replacing the ready-to-harvest cold-weather radishes with it. Come fall as the weather cools again I’ll plant more radish, which grows really quickly. There is also some gai lan (a type of broccoli), turnip, and beets. Bonus: it turns out radish, turnip, and beet greens are edible – I had no idea (but watch out – apparently parsnips greens are NOT)! I usually mix greens into omelettes or soups, or fry them up in butter with some mushrooms.
I had also hoped to grow potatoes in one of those blue reusable IKEA bags. You need to cut some holes in the bottom of it for drainage, though because I don’t want dirt draining out onto my balcony, I’ll also line the bottom with a reusable mesh produce bag. The only problem is it became impossible to find seed potatoes because what’s the best thing to grow in an apocalypse? Apparently potatoes! So I bought the supposedly next best thing, which is organic potatoes, as supposedly they aren’t sprayed with a sprout inhibitor. Sprouting potatoes are necessary to produce more potatoes. Alas, a few weeks later and only some of the potatoes are half-assedly sprouting – not nearly enough for planting. I remain hopeful.
Cheers all, and please let me know what pandemic (or just life) hacks you’ve got going because thought things may be opening up a bit, there will probably be a second wave and this kind of thing is useful in general, and super interesting to a nerd like me.
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