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These two loaves will hopefully provide lunches for the first two weeks of school.

These two loaves will hopefully provide lunches for the first two weeks of school.

The kids go back to school this week, which means it’s time for me to get back into my baking routine. Today I baked two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread from the Kripalu Cookbook. We use this recipe a lot at the Homestead, and the bread is a perfect all-purpose loaf. The loaves are cooling in the kitchen now, and the smell of warm bread is making its way throughout the house. I think this aroma is better than any incense.

Making bread is one of those things that intimidates most home cooks, but it is well worth overcoming fear and giving it a try. I think the reputation that bread has for being difficult comes from the bread machine craze. Making bread in a bread machine is tricky and often produces poor results. This is because bread is a work of compromise between the ingredients, the environment, and yourself, and bread machines create the false impression that human interaction with the dough was merely optional.

I am not going to write a full tutorial on bread making here because many before me have done it so well. The best written lesson for the art of making bread that I know of is in the Zen Monastery Cookbook, which taught me that baking bread is not so much about following a recipe as it is about shepherding the yeast through its life cycle and preparing the gluten to properly net the yeasts’ exhaled gases.

There is one thing I can teach you about making bread: you must touch the dough with your hands. Knead it in a stand mixer, by all means (I do most days), but unless you feel the texture of the dough as it forms and again as it rises, you cannot possibly hope for it to turn out well in the end. Some days the dough will need more flour; other days it will need more water. If you feel the dough as it’s kneading, you can tell easily if it is too wet or too dry. The rising time will also vary for each loaf, and the only way to tell it’s done rising is to touch it. The same can be said for baking it: no timer can determine the done-ness of a loaf as well as tapping it can.

Baking bread is not a chore to me. It is a joy and an honor. On days like today I wish I could earn my living baking, if only to spend my days surrounded with this wonderful scent.


Yesterday I was taken over by a need to try something new, so I decided to try making laundry soap. I had purchased the ingredients a few weeks back and was planning to make it when my tub of “environmentally friendly” detergent from Costco ran out, but it appears that this tub of mediocre washing goo has broken the laws of physics and is somehow bottomless. I am tired of waiting to run out of so-so stuff to try something more interesting! (I promise I’ll use the rest of the “environmentally friendly” goo for towels, at least, because I don’t want to be wasteful).

Grating the Fels Naptha took a while, but it was easier once I switched from the microplane grater to the box grater.

Grating the Fels Naptha took a while, but it was easier once I switched from the microplane grater to the box grater.

I have seen a few recipes for liquid detergents that look gloopy and icky, but then I found a recipe for a dry version at Debt Free Adventure. I modified this a bit to make use of the Fels Naptha bars I had already bought rather than using Ivory bars. I tested this recipe on three loads, two of which were darks and one lights (which included a white T-shirt smeared with guacamole). The clothing came out really clean, except for the guac which needed a second run, though to be fair that was a lot of green fatty stuff on white which would be hard for any detergent. Everything smelled clean but not perfumed, which is nice.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

  • 1 bar Fels Naptha
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda
  1. Grate the Fels Naptha bar. I tired using a microplane grater, which took forever and made little curls, and the fine side of my box grater, which was faster and produced fine soap powder.
  2. Stir together borax, washing soda, and grated soap until well combined.
  3. Dump it all into a container for storage and seal. Use 1-2 Tbs. per load of laundry, depending on the size of your machine.

I am glad to see this week winding down. It’s been a hard one, but it’s nearly over. I did try out making laundry detergent, and it’s in the wash being tested right now. Later today I’ll share the recipe and results.

Here’s a few links for you:

Hey folks. Sorry for the slow pace of posts in the last week. Between the weather, the back to school prep, getting ready for soccer season (I coach), visiting with my sister, sick kids, and worrying about my mother, I haven’t had much inspiration to write recently. The next few days are not likely to be much better, as I run Thing 1 to the doctor (looks like strep), wring my hands waiting for my mother’s biopsy results (looks like the breast cancer has returned),  shop for soccer gear and school supplies for both kids, and say farewell to good friends who are moving out of the country.

Hopefully by the weekend things will settle down, and I’ll have more time to think happy green homesteading thoughts or at least share my feelings on the many big changes moving through my life this week.

The weather here for the past week has been hot and humid. It’s been so muggy that clothing hung out to dry doesn’t! These conditions are great for mosquitoes and cicadas, but it makes me sleepy and grumpy…and also exceptionally lazy, so there’s been little of note happening around the Homestead. Hopefully the weather will break this weekend, and I’ll feel more comfortable outside and more inspired to write posts here.

Here’s a few links for you to check out while we wait for nicer weather:

  • Try something eight times before you give up. Good advice that dates back to Robert the Bruce, who gained insight into persistence while watching a spider spinning a web in a cave off the Irish coast. The spider failed 7 times, but succeeded on the eight. I heard this story when I visited the King’s Cave on the Isle of Arran, which is one of several caves claiming to be the home of the famous spider.
  • Setting up a homework zone. It’s back to school season here at the Homestead, and one thing we’ve been talking about is where homework will be completed this year. Thing 1 has her own desk, but Thing 2 likes to do his work in front of the TV. We’re going to help him develop a better system this year.
  • Self, Meditating. I have considered attending a silent meditation retreat before. Heck, there have been times when I have considered running off to spend a week as a hermit in the mountains! This op-ed piece removes a lot of the romance, and makes me wonder if I could handle all that silence, and if so, how it would change me.
  • Driver crashes through Lakewood bus shelter. I am a big fan of public transit, but here in NJ we’re just doing it wrong. Who would want to ride the bus when this sort of thing can so easily happen to the “shelters” at bus stops? (I wish this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. At least this one was empty.)
August 2009
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About me

I am on a personal and professional quest to find a happier, healthier, greener and more cost effective way to live life in the suburbs.