Baking Mishaps

Like seemingly half of Twitter, I’ve taken up bread baking during the apocalypse—sourdough, to be specific, because I couldn’t find yeast for the longest time. I started off making the America’s Test Kitchen no-knead sourdough, but I never turned out a great loaf. It always tasted delicious, but it was shaped more like a hockey puck than a nice round loaf.

America’s Test Kitchen is usually bulletproof for me, so I don’t know what was going on with that recipe, but judging by the comments section, I wasn’t alone.

After tweaking the recipe several times and continuing to fail, I moved on to King Arthur’s no-knead sourdough.

Why no-knead? Because I’m lazy. I’ve watched a small mountain of sourdough YouTube videos now, and I didn’t want to invest quite that much time, effort, or equipment. The more hands-off, the better. And the KA recipe delivers on all fronts: the hands-on part doesn’t take too much effort and you don’t need a special proofing basket.

And behold, my first loaf with the new recipe: it’s tall, round, and beautiful.

A golden-brown, nicely rounded boule of sourdough in an enameled cast iron dutch oven.

It’s also 100% stuck to the bottom of the pan. Welded, one might say. Fused, perhaps. The crust and pan have atomically bonded into a new entity never before seen. 😂😭😭

I got it out, but only at great sacrifice. You can’t see it here, because I’ve cleverly hidden the bottom, but zero bottom crust remains on the loaf. But, other than that teeny tiny (terrible) mishap, isn’t it lovely?

The loaf out of the pan on a wire cooling rack, where you can hardly tell the bottom crust is missing.

I’m going to try the recipe again, only this time I’m going to use parchment paper to (hopefully) prevent the stickage. I should’ve used oil this time (instead of the flour I tried), but I didn’t want to have to scrub the residue off the pan.

That plan did not work out like I thought it was going to. 😂

Have you started baking this month? If so, how’s it going? Have you had any mishaps?

It’s ALIVE!!

We have officially made it through the longest month on record: March 2020, which clocked in at about three lifetimes. I hope you all are doing well and staying home as much as possible.

Austin remains on lockdown, so Dustin and I are both working from home. We try to get out for a run or walk every day (while maintaining appropriate distance from our neighbors), but otherwise we’re at home all day.

So I decided to get a pet.

Probably not the kind you’re thinking.

Behold, my sourdough starter! I’ve nicknamed him Sludge, though Sir Doughy (a recommendation from @WriteByJeannie on Twitter) was a close second.

A quart mason jar half full of sourdough starter on a wooden cutting board on my counter.

Sludge is a vigorous little fellow. I got him from my BFF on Sunday and fed him for the first time yesterday morning. He was still firmly contained when I went to bed last night, but I woke up this morning to this:

A quart mason jar of sourdough starter, with the starter overflowing into the wide, flat bowl it's sitting in.
It’s alllliiiiiiive!

Luckily, Dustin suggested the extra bowl last night, even though the jar wasn’t yet full. Smart fellow, my husband.

We don’t eat much bread usually, but with the longer times between grocery store trips and the desire for comfort food, I’ve taken up baking more often. Yesterday, I made a loaf of Irish soda bread with some leftover buttermilk. It turned out a little misshapen but delicious.

I’m going to try my first loaf of sourdough tonight. I’m starting basic with the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Almost No-Knead Sourdough. I’ve had very good luck with ATK recipes, so I’m hoping this one will deliver, too. I can get more artisanal after I remember how to make bread at all. 😂

If you want your own pet to love, you can create a sourdough starter from flour, water, and time. King Arthur Flour has a good guide.

And if you need a smile today, here’s Samuel L Jackson giving you some excellent advice (warning: language). It should auto-start about 6:10 in, or you can jump there manually.

Stay safe out there!

Video Game Recommendations

So with the worldwide pandemic, a lot of people are finding themselves at home more than usual (if you can, please stay home and help flatten the curve). In addition to my book recs, I thought I’d recommend some video games. A lot of these can be played co-op, since that’s what Mr. M and I usually play. So find a friend and play together!

Phone/Tablet Games

All of the following are available on iOS, but I’m not sure about other platforms. Links are to the iOS App Store.

A couple of the phone games I play are digital copies of boardgames we like: Ticket to Ride and Pandemic. Ticket to Ride is nice because the game keeps score for you, so you don’t even have to do math. And while Pandemic might be a bit too on the nose right now, it certainly is satisfying when you wipe out the in-game viruses.

When I just need something to fidget with, I play Threes, 2048, or Spider Solitaire. I’ll often play these while Mr. M is watching TV because I can listen to the show and play a game at the same time.

We both also played a lot of Game Dev Story, Grand Prix Story, and Dungeon Village. These single-player games have an interesting interface because I think they were originally for phones with number pads instead of touch screens, but they are super cute if you like building and managing type games.

And if you like Harvest Moon-type games (virtual farming, romancing villagers, exploration), then check out Stardew Valley (also available on PC and game consoles).

PC Games

If you play PC games, these won’t be new, but these are my comfort games.

Stardew Valley is available on PC as well as tablets, but with co-op so you can build your farm with friends. And as far as building/exploring games go, Mr. M and I have spent literally hundreds of hours playing Terraria and Starbound. Both are co-op, so play together! Build yourselves a 2D palace of wonder.

We’ve also been playing a lot of Borderlands 3, which just recently came to Steam if you were waiting out the Epic Store exclusive. I don’t play too many shooters, because I generally prefer swords and sorcery, but BL3 is more of an action-RPG than a straight shooter. Plus the writing is terrific.

Our favorite oldie but goodie is Diablo 3, and we just started playing again for Season 20. We play in Adventure mode now because we’ve played the story so many times. It’s basically click monsters, get loot, and I find it very soothing. Especially because this season I’m playing as a Wizard—not my usual style because I prefer melee builds—but destroying huge swaths of enemies with spells is fun.

Switch Games

We also each have a Nintendo Switch and I’m currently obsessed with Rune Factory 4. It’s not co-op, but Mr. M and I are playing at the same time. It’s like Stardew or Harvest Moon in that you can virtual farm and romance the townsfolk, but you can also go slay monsters and build weapons and armor. It’s super cute and I want to play it all day instead of working. Alas, so far no one wants to pay me to play games.

We also own Stardew Valley on Switch (because of course we do) and the Switch build supports co-op. Yes, we have farms on every system, lol. :)

Need to get in some exercise but don’t want to go to the gym? Try Ring Fit Adventure. It’s not going to replace a heavy lifting routine, but it gets your heart rate up and has a little strength-building with the resistance ring. Plus it masquerades as a game, so it’s more fun than staring at a treadmill screen.

If you play games, what have you been playing lately? Stay safe, friends, and wash your hands!

Borderlands, Plants, and Theater

I had a restful weekend. I’m about halfway through copyedits, so I took the weekend off. I’m still trying to remind myself that work-life balance is a thing, and just because I’m behind on everything doesn’t mean I have to work all the time.

On Saturday, Mr. M and I used the outdoor ceramic cooker my parents brought us to smoke a pork butt. It took most of the day and we had to babysit it, so we played Borderlands 3 all day. It. Was. Awesome!

We did take a break in the middle of the day, once we’d transferred the pork to the oven, to go for a walk and enjoy the nice weather. The trees are going crazy even though we’ve been having some late-season cold. This tree was more berries than leaves.

Our new neighborhood is much hillier than our old neighborhood (which was basically flat), so walking and running are far more challenging. And any direction we pick, there are hills. Some are bigger than others, but there’s no avoiding them. If I keep it up, I’m either going to be in awesome shape or dead. 😂

On Sunday, I started the day with a yoga class with my BFF, then Mr. M and I headed to a nursery to pick up some plants. He is starting a garden this year and I went along for moral support. :) He was there for veggies, but I took pictures of some of their beautiful flowers.

Sunday night, BFF and I had theater tickets to see Come From Away. Thanks to a series of unfortunate events, we were about 15 minutes late. Thank goodness our seats are near the edge. 🙈

Even missing the first couple of songs, the show was incredible, easily one of the best of the season. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it!

Now I have to finish CR copyedits, start writing (again) TQT, and continue to noodle on the new series. It sounds so easy all typed up in a single sentence, but reading it causes me to break out in hives, lol. I hope you all had a nice weekend!

A Weekend Off and the Creator’s Dilemma

Venting post ahead, you’ve been warned. :)

Despite having a mountain of Things to Do™, I took this weekend off. I haven’t had a completely lazy weekend since… hmm. I don’t remember, but it’s been months.

Mr M was off yesterday, so we had a three-day weekend. We did a little bit of house stuff, but mostly we slept in and played Borderlands 3. We bought the game back in September, but we never got a chance to play because we were too busy. It’s fun! If you liked the previous games in the series, you’ll like this one, too.

But while I took the weekend off, my brain didn’t. All weekend I felt low-level guilt for taking a break and having fun rather than doing something productive. I think this is a creator’s dilemma. There is pressure, both internal and external, to do more, faster.

For a while, that pressure can be harnessed to produce content. But live it too long, and it’s a one-way ticket to burnout city. I’m not there, but there is a certain dread every time I open up Scrivener. I know I’m behind and that gets in the way of writing, which puts me further behind. It’s a vicious cycle.

And I know I’m supposed to be writing a proposal for a new series, which should’ve been done months ago and isn’t. Argh.

So while I’m technically not under deadline anymore, my brain thinks I am, and I can’t relax. But the only way out is through* (for me, something else may be better for you!), so I’m going to turn on some music and make some words for our Rogue Queen. Wish me luck!

And lest you think it’s all doom and gloom in house Mihalik, I have two pieces of good news to end with. :) One, we got an offer on our old house the day we listed it. Yay! And two, my editor just sent me an all-caps squee about the changes I made to Chaos Reigning. She likes it! Huzzah!

*Or become a hermit. But since I like our new house, I’m going to go with through. :)