December 15, 2015

Stollen Moments

First thing: this entry might be better titled Stollen Hours. Not that I begrudge the time it takes to make the bread. But my blog entries have become so sporadic that each time I have re-learn some or all of how to do it. Today was remembering how to log in to Blogger. Then how to get my photos off the smart phone and into the cloud. And then from the cloud to Picasa. Or somewhere. Frankly, I don't know exactly where they are, but I made a web album and imported all of them here. They are in at least four places now. That's a lot of stollen. 

Don't get me going on trying to put the photos into some sort of logical order, because they didn't load that way.

But today is Tuesday. The baking happened on Sunday. So...let's take a trip back to Sunday. The smell of yeast dough, spices and brandy is in the air. It's crisp outside. Foggy, too, which isn't common for Calgary. Maybe Leo could enlighten me, perhaps fog is a harbinger of climate change. Oh, wait. That's another post. Not here. Not by me.

Anyway, it was cold outside. And warm inside. Many thanks to the boiler that spends six months of the year happily gurgling and pressurizing and cycling water through the radiators in our home. The boiler is also an awesome place to proof your bread dough. Or my bread dough. Actually, my bread dough.

Leave the starter overnight, come get it the next morning, use it to make the dough and then put it all out on the boiler in the basement to grow big and strong.

Here's a second thing: The downside to baking is the complete mess it makes. The baking makes a mess. I don't. I took this photo as proof of messy baking.

The highly modified KP version of Challah
And the mess

Keelan calls this my grimoire. That makes sense. I have the pretty "cook" books with the great photography; these never get near the kitchen while I'm cooking. They're more for couch time review and inspiration.

Then there are the ones I've had forever and pull out over and over again. Norm has often offered to get me new or reprinted copies of my favourite recipe books. The thing is, the new ones wouldn't have my notes scribbled all over them, would they? Nope. Of course, they also wouldn't have the spines broken and entire chapters falling out. Somehow though, the risk of accidentally mixing two recipes together is worth the joy I take in paging through them, remembering why I changed up a recipe, the times I made it and for whom, and thinking about when to make it again. Those recipes are like old friends. The kind that wait for you to call them and pick up where you left off.

More proof (ha) of messiness. You can't tell from here, but it's also time for a new bowl and lid for the food processor. This one has seen more than its share of heavy doughs and batters. The casing is starting to crack and the lid part that controls the on-off ability of the processor doesn't always get it right the first time. Gooey bread dough is also one of the worst things to try and get out from the blade housing.

No, I don't actually let it sit exactly like this overnight.

The other thing that sits out overnight while the starter is starting is a mix of fruit and nuts. Candied citrus peel, currants and dried cherries are my choices. Throw in some sliced almonds and call it a party. They soak in whatever is handy to plump them up. In this case it's Calvados, but any brandy would do. Or Kirsch. Come to think of it, that might actually be more traditional.

A good use of Calvados.
Because I'm too lazy to make cocktails from it.

Lunch time already? All this washing up and waiting gives me an appetite. And nobody in the kitchen to tell me that Hungarian hunter sausage and port a) don't go together and b) aren't good for me.  

Back to business. Lug the dough up to the kitchen. You know the dough is ready when it's busting through the plastic wrap.

Slap it onto the counter. Literally. There are two bowls of this. Each bowl makes two large loaves and two small loaves. That means there is still a lot of work left to do. Chop chop. The sun is getting lower.

Scoop out half of the fruit mix onto the slab of dough. Then do your darnedest to knead it in. Most recipes I've seen call for the fruit to be mixed in when the dough is first being made. I like to wait until after the first rise because otherwise it seems to impact the ability of the dough to really expand. Might be too much sugar if the fruit gets mixed in right away. I'm no chemist, but trial and error has shown me it's best to mix it in after a first rise, and then set it aside for a bit longer before shaping it into loaves.

Trial and error has also shown me that there are always willing four-legged helpers convinced that I will never get all that fruit into the dough. They are correct. Inevitably, brandy-soaked cherries make their way to the kitchen floor and down the gullets of the hounds.

Okay, so the dough is hanging out back in the bowls with the fruit all mixed in. Minus what the dogs ate. Take a kilo of almond paste and throw it into your stand mixer...

...then have your son's tuna fish photobomb the almond paste. I wonder where he was when I wanted lunch?

Add some butter and eggs. I don't always do this, but when I do, I use free range eggs and organic butter. Kidding. I use those all the time. But I don't always mix them into the almond paste. It depends on the paste - sometimes it can be dry, and the last thing I want is for my kids to be able to take slices of stollen and simply poke out the marzipan centres for their eating enjoyment (they don't like the bread part, but love the marzipan). Loosening up the almond paste with butter and eggs keeps it softer when it bakes. Less susceptible to post-bake finger pokers.

Shape those loaves. Make ropes out of the almond paste. Watch out for dogs staring daggers at you.

When the loaves are done baking, slather them in butter. Yes. Slather. While still hot. And sprinkle with some granulated sugar. This makes a little bit of a crust because when the loaves are cool you want to heap them with icing sugar and you don't want that just soaking into the bread.

I think he's trying to tell me something.
Probably because I ate the last of the Hungarian sausage

Once you've wrapped all but one loaf up you should have supper. And it's okay if supper is Stollen. But go to the gym, okay? I did.

July 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday

So all of a sudden it's seven [SEVEN!] months since my last blog post. That's the post where I wrote about how long it had been since the post before that.

There really can't be any more renovating without a blog because in my mind they go hand in hand. And there haven't been any renovations in that seven months which means nobody has missed anything. The trouble is I have to be prepared to write the blog posts AND to renovate. In the same dimension, on the same plane of existence, at the same time. Clearly, the stars haven't been aligned. Or whatever.

But I really do want to renovate the master bedroom and master bathroom. Also to finish the family bathroom. I do have a collection of ideas for the space. Norm and I have even discussed the possibilities. Now I need to lay out some plans so we can get going. My thinking was that by getting back to the blog, I'd also get back to renovating.

Hang tight while I continue to gird my loins. [Add that to the list of Things That Sound Dirty But Aren't.]

Here's a picture from way back. It is Throwback Thursday after all. It will give you an idea of the current style of the second storey, where the master bedroom is. Old. Plain. Untouched, except the floors which we refinished before we moved in. Yeah, that's it, it's a blank canvas!

December 7, 2014

Patio - condensed version

Remember this?   Ugh. When we moved in, it appeared that this addition to the house may have previously been used as a summer kitchen. There was a hoodfan and oven electrical outlet installed. Other features included leaky skylights, dark brown paint, moldy and stinky indoor/outdoor carpeting, and a floor made from old decking. It was dark, dingy, hot and stinky in the summer and full of everything we couldn't fit into the garage or the crawlspace.

So we tore it down:

That was good, because meanwhile, these had been delivered to the front drive:

Let's back up a minute. The teardown required a bobcat. You may remember that the summer of 2013 saw Calgary in the middle of a flood. It was tough going to find ANY equipment that hadn't been put to use helping with the demolition and repair of so many ruined homes.

Time and patience would be needed. If I needed any further convincing all it took was one walk for me to realize that my yard reno was nothing compared to the devastation that had to be dealt with around the city...and these shots from within walking distance of my house:

Blocks and blocks of houses had to be gutted

Muck and muck

All I need is a bobcat. You win. How can I help?

I know there were many things to be thankful for. But this still got to me. 

Our basement got a bit wet from all the rain, but in comparison to the folks impacted by the flooding river, we do not have a thing to complain about.

We were finally able to get a bobcat! He had to find the way in through the back yard, which was still pretty much undiscovered territory at the time:

It's a jungle out there.
That was okay, since we needed the bobcat to help clear a space for the new dog run too.

Back to the patio...loads of crush and gravel, and then loads of sand. Sloped away from the house just enough. Then we could start laying the pavers. Well, not really. First we had to rejig the pattern to get the most out of the ratio of brown to grey that we had ordered. 

The pavers are really interesting. They are installed on a grid system. Once you have your pattern worked out, then you have to figure out how to incorporate it in the square grids with enough overlap to the next grid so the whole thing is stable.
AZEK Pavers are the first composite material in the world made almost entirely of recycled content with the physical strength, durability and natural appearance to replace concrete. AZEK Pavers utilizes up to 95% post-consumer recycled materials (scrap tires and plastics), requires 94% less energy and releases 96% less carbon dioxide than the manufacturing of concrete pavers. - See more at:

They look brick-like, yes? But no...these gems are AZEK pavers. Without wanting to sound like an advertisement for the company, they are made almost entirely of recycled material. 95% post-consumer. They use 94% less energy than manufacturing concrete pavers. Plus, they have just a bit more give than concrete if you fall on them. Again, ordered from my new friends at Lumber King.

And when you're all done the deck and patio...what you really need is a party. For that, you have to wait until the following summer when it finally stops raining:

For a bit of contrast, here is a photo from about that same vantage point, one year earlier:

December 2, 2014

Deck The Halls

You wouldn't think writing a blog was complicated stuff. I guess it's not. As long as you are in the mood. The mood almost struck, many many times over the last 18 months. Now that the bug is back, my test post yesterday went up and nothing blew up or bounced back and I seemed to remember how to do everything. So, it ought to be a simple enough matter for me to catch you up on the home renovation escapades of the last long while before diving into anything new.

Not so simple. I spent the last hour (plus one glass of wine and three times the "suggested serving" of buttercrunch chocolate) going through photographs from last summer, autumn and a good chunk of this year. Folks, there is no way to summarize the work. All the remembering has left me exhausted. Oddly enough, when people we know ask how the renovations are going, my usual response of late is, well, main floor is pretty much done, some work to do upstairs...  The looks I get! And sometimes the comments. Like how long is is supposed to take to finish? What the heck have you been doing?


You're getting the play by play.

Last year was "Year of the Yard" one year behind predicted schedule. It then morphed into this year too. First up, the deck. You'll remember from here that we were in the process of researching and deciding on deck materials, getting quotes from builders and that sort of thing. Then we decided we could do it. So we did:

Place Deck Here. Note dog in doorway. He has been waiting there since the
door was installed two years before.
Ignore the rebar and gravel on the far right. That's going to be a dog run, and it's a post for another day. Some time when you're in the mood for sad stories about deluges threatening freshly poured concrete.

I can't remember the exact logic behind the mini goalposts and string, something about making sure everything is square. Whatever, it worked.

Augering. It's fun. And not.
Words of advice when using a gas powered auger: don't get the thing so deep that your fingers are squished between the handles you're holding and the hard Alberta ground. It's really hard to back that sucker up. It's especially fun to yell at your partner that your hands are stuck but he can't hear you of the ear protectors he's wearing for the engine noise, all while you get lungs full of gas exhaust.. But hey, what's a few scraped knuckles for a good cause?

Before anybody goes all regulatory on me, I want you to know that this entire adventure was condoned by the city. I spent a couple of lunch hours putting together the permit application, including doing my own to-scale drawings. Works of art. I can say that because the inspector was very taken aback (quality, right?) and couldn't complain about a thing when I showed up at the counter to request a permit. He also gave me what I took as a compliment: "Well, it ain't goin' anywhere, is it?". No sirree. Those holes are very very deep. And full of concrete. And rebar.

Things that look rude, but aren't.
If you look carefully, you can see the dogs, still waiting at the door. They are some kind of patient. At this point we couldn't have them out with us because we didn't have the new fence in yet. In retrospect, we really did bite off a lot at one time. You'll see what I mean when we move on to the destruction of the sunroom so we could put a patio in. Because everyone needs 550 square feet of patio. Amen. But a post for another day. I told you we were doing stuff.

To be fair to Norm, I present you with the following, since the picture above might be looked at in a different light than intended:

Top View. THAT makes more sense.
What he is really doing is attaching the ledger board to the house. Very important, that ledger board. I'd like to tell you that we've been able to train Rory to take photographs. It would have saved me a lot of running in and out.

Then we built beams. Because of course you can't just use any ol' wood. Nope, you gotta make it. And if you are making it then there is no better person to visit than my new friend Dan at Lumber King. It has been a long time, but I was there often enough that he must remember the redhead that was a pain in his a** last summer. This guy deals with contractors and other people who know what they need, get in, get out. So, I brought my lovely drawings and my estimate of the materials we needed. Then Dan set me straight. We went out there a few times, and ended up getting our patio pavers from him too. He was busy enough that he didn't have to take the time, but he did. After that kind of straight-up honesty and helpfulness, I won't set foot in a big box store for lumber or decking.

Sandwiched 2x10s and plywood. Or thereabouts.

This permit didn't require an inspection until completion. But that didn't stop the dogs from supervising:

Gotham: Are we there yet?
Rory: Be patient, Grasshopper. Enjoy the sun. Oh, right, I've got it all.

Once you've attached the posts to the concrete footings (for the record, that sentence does no justice to what it actually takes to ensure posts are plumb) and hung the beams (another no justice sentence, right there), then you install the joists:
Gotham. Still there.

Note the lump of dog in the door. 

There ought to be an award for our dogs. It's like they were waiting for their long lost master to come home, the way they waited at that door and watched us. Every. Single. Minute.

Finally, a test run! Gotham isn't easily convinced, but Rory loves a sunbeam. The deck was done enough for him:
This works. I don't know about the rest of you people.

 Here it is, all framed and cross braced. Before we put the deck surface on, we wrapped every exposed edge with a waterproof membrane (not pictured here, but you can see it in previous photos already applied to the beams):
Must have been the dogs' supper time.

Oh right...we'll need stairs. One set here on the cutoff corner leading into the yard. the other set near the opposite corner going down into the future dog run:

And lest you think I do nothing but run in and out of doors taking photos, here is one of me. There could have been more. After all, who else would have fit in between the joists in order to hang each one? In this case, it's limberness more than size that was important:
Safety moment: don't let that latte fall on my head.

That worked out well.

Just to keep things interesting, I wanted the decking laid on the diagonal. You know, because that's how we roll around here. Remember this? Anyway, I just figured the outside living area ought to carry on from the inside. While we were at it, I also thought we should picture-frame the deck boards in a different colour. This made for some good times trimming the overhanging decking back so that one board width with the correct amount of overlap would fit exactly:
Keep it simple? 
If you're still with me, hang tight. Just a few more to go. Here are more official versions of dog testing:
"This appears to be a four-foot drop. Were you aware of this?"

Sun hounds. 

Glass railing on sides, wind wall (not seen here), and stair railings.Not too too bad to install. Had to do some blocking underneath (guess who fits under the deck?) to make sure there was enough material for the 6" bolts and screws that hold the railing to the deck.

And here you have it. This was September 28th, 2013. And I'm still tired.
Happily Ever After.  For now.