Life

The Ridiculous Bread Pan That I Love

Last week, Sludge (my sourdough starter) celebrated his one-year birthday. That means we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year at this point, but let’s not dwell on the negatives.

For the past year, I’ve mostly been baking sourdough in round boules in a dutch oven. A round boule is pretty easy to shape, and it bakes up nice and tall in the dutch oven without a lot of fussing, but it’s a bit harder to cut than a nice loaf-shaped loaf.

So after a year of baking, I decided to try my hand at loaves. The problem is, sourdough likes to have steam to really get that nice oven spring that gives it its height and airy texture. Professional bakery ovens have a steam setting that does the work for you. Home ovens, not so much (at least not mine).

There are a myriad of ways people try to get around this: pans of hot water, cast iron skillets filled with lava rocks and boiling water, spraying the oven walls with a squirt bottle, and so on and so forth. All of it requires fussing, and I am anti-fussing.

I tried a few things and none of them worked as well as a dutch oven, which traps the bread’s own steam in the vessel. So I set about finding a loaf-shaped dutch oven equivalent.

Enter the Emile Henry Italian Bread Baker. This ridiculously priced piece of ceramic seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

But that price. Ouch.

So I waffled for weeks. I looked at every other option in the history of the world, most of which weren’t that much cheaper and some of which were way more expensive.

Finally, in a fit of retail therapy, I gave in and bought it, and a few days later, my new ceramic precious showed up.

Shaping a long loaf is a bit weird, and I’m still in the learning stage, but I made something vaguely log-shaped, plonked it in the bread baker just like it was a dutch oven, then deposited the whole thing in the oven—no fussing required. (If you’re looking for a no-knead recipe, I highly recommend King Arthur’s.)

A crusty loaf of sourdough bread on a wire rack.

Fifty-five-ish minutes later, out came a beautiful, light, crusty loaf. I didn’t quite get the scoring right, so there was a bit of an explosion, but the bread still tastes fantastic.

The same loaf in the Emile Henry pan, after we'd sliced some off for sandwiches.
My preciousssss…

And the best part was it was very low effort, which, really, is my favorite kind of baking.

Was the pan ridiculously expensive? Yes. Am I glad I bought it? Also yes. Will I get my money’s worth? Ehhh… that remains to be seen, but I’ve baked bread for a year already, so it’s possible.

But even if it wasn’t the most financially sound decision, it’s already made me happy, and that’s worth a lot. :)

A Tale of Two Shots

A selfie of me in the car wearing a mask and holding up a "I got my covid-19 vaccine!" sticker.

This week, I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine, so now I’m fully vaccinated! 🎉

I was in group 1B, but with a lot of the country expanding eligibility to everyone, I thought I’d tell you about my experience so you know what to expect if you haven’t gotten your shots yet.

I got the first shot about a month ago and it gave me a sore arm for a few days. The first twenty-four-ish hours were really sore, then there were a couple of days of just lingering soreness. Otherwise, I didn’t have any other symptoms. Easy peasy.

Shot two was a whole different beast. If you don’t have a flexible work schedule, I recommend getting the second shot when you have the next day off. I got my shot Wednesday afternoon. By Wednesday night, my arm was once again sore, but this time the pain was bad enough to interrupt my sleep.

So Wednesday night I didn’t sleep well. By Thursday morning, I was feeling achy, but I got up and tried to work. I spent two hours staring at my computer in a fog, wrote a grand total of seven words, and decided that maybe the couch was a better option.

I spent the rest of the day dozing. I ran a low-grade fever (the highest was 100.3F) and my bones ached. Specifically, my thigh bones and hip joints. Why those? Who knows! In the evening, I went for a slow walk with Mr. M, then promptly returned to the sofa.

By 9:30, I decided to move to the bed, “to read.” By 9:35, I was asleep, which is kind of a miracle on its own. I slept eleven hours and woke up this morning feeling pretty good. My fever is gone, I can no longer actively feel my bones, and while my arm is still sore, it’s a lingering pain, not an intense one.

Could I have powered through it yesterday and worked anyway? Probably. And if I was on deadline, I might’ve tried harder. But I’m doing my best to be kind to myself this year, so I took the day off.

Would I get the shot again if I had it to do over? YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

I hope everyone gets their shots. Selfishly, I want to be able to return to normal and go out and see my friends and travel and do things.

But I also don’t want anyone else to die. I don’t want the virus to have enough hosts to continue to mutate into something that will once again kill hundreds of thousands. I want to be able to stop worrying about my parents, and my friends, and my brother, who is on the front lines as a fireman.

If you can get the vaccine, please do. And encourage those around you to do it, too. :)

Keep On Keeping On

The pandemic quarantine is a year old now, at least around here, and I’ve somehow yet to adapt. We’re luckier than many because Mr. M and I can both work from home. But there’s been a lot of at home time now.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my home. I’m a homebody, so I prefer it to most places. But finding creativity after staring at the same walls for twelve months has been… difficult. I’m starting to write New Shiny 2: EVEN SHINIER, and it feels more like the working title should be Dread: The Dreadening.

I was going to write a sekrit indie thing, too, but I just don’t know if it’s going to happen. I was supposed to start on it in February, but February got swallowed into the void, so no dice. I need to write it, both for career and financial reasons and because I want y’all to be able to read something new this year since Hunted (aka New Shiny) doesn’t come out until early next year.

But the motivation is… bleh. I sit down to write and bleh. Bleh bleh bleh.

Same thing for New Shiny 2, which I am under contract to write, and if I don’t, they will ask for their money back with many angry lawyers.

And the thing is, I *love* Hunted. Re-reading snippets of it, I think it turned out great, even if a quarter of it was written in a caffeine-fueled haze in December. Edits are due to land this month as the publishing machine creaks to life, so hopefully my editor likes it as much as I do, lol.

I love the characters and the world, and I want to tell the next story.

Right up until the point I sit down to write.

This is a lot of words to say: if you’re struggling with creative work, I see you. Everything is very bleh, and creative work is hard when many of the things that spark creativity (overhearing conversations in the grocery store, seeing people on the street, having drinks with friends) have all been put on hold for a year.

But there is light coming. I’m in group 1B, and last week I got my first dose of the vaccine. The weather is warming up, so more outdoor activities are available. We just have to keep on keeping on. We’ve got this! :)

How to Help

The ice and snow have melted and temperatures have returned to normal. Yesterday was 72! Mr. M and I made it through the week with only minor inconveniences—a few downed tree limbs, a loss of power for about thirteen hours, and a need to boil our water.

Others, however, were not so fortunate, and there is a great need in Texas for help and support. Here in Austin, some people were without power for four days or more while the temperatures plummeted into the single digits. The freezing temperatures combined with lack of power broke water pipes in houses, apartments, and water mains. Over 300 million gallons of water were lost to spills causing the pressure in the lines to decrease, which is why we’re all either boiling or have no water at all.

I know times are tough all around, but if you have a few extra dollars to spare here are three places in Austin that could use your help:

If you want to spread your donation across more of Texas, AOC is raising money for twelve charities via ActBlue.

Now I have to try to salvage the rest of February for writing. I don’t know where this month has gone, but I haven’t gotten anything done and it’s making me very anxious. I have another book due in the summer, and I was hoping to get a sekrit side project done, too, but that’s looking less likely. :(

I hope that wherever you are, you’re warm and safe!

Icepocalypse Meets Snowpocalypse

Central Texas has been hammered with weather this week. First we had freezing rain, which weighed down trees and snapped branches.

For those of you who live farther north, our live oak trees don’t drop their leaves in the fall like normal oak trees. Instead, they keep them until spring, when the new leaves grow in, which means when it ices, there is a lot more surface area for ice to collect.

A iced over branch of a live oak with a road in the background.

So far our live oak is holding okay, but we’ve lost two big branches from a cedar tree in the back yard and one big branch from the decorative holly-type tree by our front door. We walked around the neighborhood on Friday and it’s the same everywhere.

So we had ice, then freezing temperatures for several days, then last night, we got 4-6″ of snow. This is the second time we’ve received a decent snowfall this year, when it usually barely snows (just enough to see it falling) once every two or three years. On top of all of that, the temperature fell to single digits, which is the coldest it’s been since the 1980s.

Our snow-covered front yard, where the snow is deep enough that the grass is hidden.

The city has no infrastructure to deal with snow, so the plan is to stay home until it melts. Luckily, we went grocery shopping just before everything hit, so we’re good to sit tight.

But the house is a little more concerning because our houses are not designed to withstand single-digit temperatures. We’re dripping our faucets and hoping for the best, but there are going to be lots of burst pipes in town once it warms up.

It’s been so cold that we’re now having rolling brownouts because the power grid can’t keep up. So far, we still have power, but it’s only a matter of time until we’re hit. In fact, it’s been cold enough that our frost flowers are blooming. When frost weed freezes, the water in the plant is forced out in delicate ribbons of ice, almost like the layers of a croissant or cotton candy.

A frozen frost weed that has produced a frost flower of ice crystals.

If you want a couple more pictures of the frost flower ice, I shared them on instagram.

Overall, we’re fine, just hunkered down and waiting for warmer weather. I hope that wherever you are, you’re also staying safe and warm!