You Can’t Live On Bread Alone But It Makes For A Pretty Sweet Hobby

We…we need to talk.  I don’t know how to say this. Maybe you should sit down. In fact, you might need a stiff drink. You see, I’ve…I’ve been keeping something from you.  A secret. For months now. I know, I know, I had no right. It probably turns your stomach just to think about it. The fact is, I just can’t live with the guilty anymore. I’ve got come clean. To shine a light on my deceptions.

The thing is, I’ve got a new hobby.  I’ve been working on it since the first of the year.  I’ve…I’ve been…baking bread.

What? You’d expected that I killed a man or something? I mean, come on. How salacious could my “secret” really have been? I’m a software engineer who rights fantasy novels. I’m not exactly 007, you know.

Ahem.  Back to the point: yes, I’ve been baking bread.  With my own hands.  In my home, in full view of the children and everything.  Regularly.  And I’m not even sorry about it.  Because not only is it not really taking up too much of my time, it’s delicious.

Of course, I realize the first question is probably “why?”  I mean, I live suburban American, after all. There’s, like, 1562 places for me to buy bread within 30 second drive radius from my house.  Why on Earth go to all the trouble to make bread by hand, of all things.

There are two main reasons. First, I realized that when the Zombie Apocalypse finally comes, I didn’t have a good means of feeding my family.  Sure, I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to get away from most populated areas fast enough to survive the first wave, but what happens then? I certainly don’t want to have to go skulking back through the remains of civilization a week later because our supply of Doritos and DIng Dongs is bottoming out.  Let’s face it, skulking isn’t my strongest suit.  I’m more the “lumber around noisily and pray I don’t trip over my own graceless feet” type.  Which, incidentally, not only puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to surviving return trips to the Super Target, but also limits my ability to feed the kids venison brought down by my own hands.

Speaking of hunting, I do realize that most modern day game hunting involves more waiting in an uncomfortable booster seat concealed in a tree than any actually stalking prey, but I have the attention span of a toddler after 30 minutes in a room full of Airheads and a like ability to sit still in a seat for any length of time. So regardless of the fact that “hunting” these days really ought to just be called Big Game Waiting, I’m have no skill with either.

The good news is, I do, know how to brew beer, so as long as there’s a source of water handy* we won’t go thirsty, regardless of whether or not said H2O is generally safe to drink (aka, non-Monsanto’d).  Which means we only need a reliable source of food in order to survive.

And then I realized, hey, bread would probably do it!

The second (and somewhat less ridiculous) reason I decided to start baking my own bread is because one day last year, I forgot to make toast. And it scared the hell out of me.

What happened is that one day, a happy-go-lucky dude (we’ll call him, um, Puddin) decided to take a couple of pieces of common, everyday packaged supermarket bread (think Wonder™, but a wheat variety and not exactly Wonder™ the Brand) to work with him for breakfast. But, as happens, work bonfires smacked him in the pudgy, bearded face the moment he walked in the door.  Any forlorn hope of breakfast was soon forgotten.

As was the bread in question.

Thus, those two pieces of Wonder™-like-but-not-actually-Wonder™-brand wheat bread sat on his shelf, looking over his shoulder for days. The days became weeks, and then the weeks became months, but never did our friend, (uh, what was his name? oh,yeah…) Puddin think of it again. Until another day came, near the end of the year, when he found it.  Now, knowing it had been waiting there, literally, for months, he crinkled his nose and squinted at it, expecting it to be hard and moldy and basically something worthy of study by high school students everywhere.

Imagine his surprise, then, to find It. Was. Not.

Not moldy, not hard, not showing any sign of having been forgotten for, literally, months, on a dusty shelf.

My friends, plastics should behave this way.  But foods? Maybe ham or jerky, stuff that has been cured and/or dried for long term use.  But bread? No, bread should not demonstrate a tendency towards immortality.

Yeah, I don’t know what they’re putting in Wonder™-like-but-not-Wonder™-brand wheat bread these days, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it isn’t natural. Or wholesome. Or of this plane of existence.

Fearing, then, that the Great Underlord of the Darkness Below was attempting to siphon my soul away with pre-packaged bread, I decided the time had come to learn to make it myself. But, oy, bread. Such work! With the mixing and measuring and the kneading and the proofing and the…ugh. The thought alone was almost too daunting to contemplate.

Thankfully, just before I gave up and decided to take The Lazy Man’s Only Real Alternative and succumb to the Soul-Killer Bread, online friend and picture book writer extraordinaire, Julie Falatko, pointed me in the direction of a book that would save us all. I’m rambling, of course, about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

And, yes, if you want to avoid the Bread of Soul Death, you’ll want to learn everything you can about it. I’d start at the website.

I received the book in question for Christmas. See? This is how my copy looks on the counter at home.  Purty, right?

IMG_0008

I haven’t looked back since.  I daresay that the method laid out in the book is so easy, even for a Captain McSlothypants like me, there hasn’t been a single day between my first attempt at loaf-baking and today that we haven’t had real, home-baked bread available at la Casa de Puddin.

All you have to do is mix up a batch of sticky dough like this, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

WP_000852

Then you pull some out and shape it however you want.

Sometimes I make French-style baguette-type things.

IMG_0014

Other days I get out the loaf pan, because I’m too lazy to even do basic shaping.

IMG_0176

Which really doesn’t save much time at all, because rolling dough into a ball and just lettin’ it rip turns out some perfectly lovely, tasty goodness too.

WP_000853

In fact, the absolute best thing about the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes thing? Even if you don’t feel like making bread at all (as I didn’t last night), you tend to literally spend more time trying to talk yourself out of it than it actually takes to prep a loaf for baking. I’m not kidding, I sat in my Middle Aged Guy Recliner of Comfort for five full minutes last night trying to come up with a good reason not to bother, but ninety seconds after I got off my loafing behind** I had my dough formed and set, ready to go.

And if that’s not the perfect hobby for a guy like me, especially considering it results in tasty bready goodness, well, I just don’t know what is.

Pud’n


*Yeah, yeah, I know I’ll need malt or some kind grain and something hop-like. But I’m sure I’ll find something suitable.
**Loafing.  Get it? Lazy?  Bread?  Heheheh.  Ah.  Um, sorry.

Image

Monday Morning Mistakes

20140421-200707.jpg

I had every intention of bringing one or both of the egg-shaped things pictured above with me to work this morning. Because, you know, eggy goodness reasons. I’ll leave it to you to debate exactly which of those two I was looking forward to work more enthusiasm (hint: it was probably the chocolatey one filled with peanut butter, which only makes sense seeing as breakfast was, after all, the meal in question).

Unfortunately, though, my 7:30 AM pre-coffee brain is generally about as effective at remembering to take things with me as a piece of notebook paper is at serving as a flotation device. Which is to say, yeah, I almost forgot to put on pants, let alone take my eggs with me.

Disappointment, thy name is forgotten eggs.

Incidentally, Forgotten Eggs would be a sweet band name. Feel free to use it with my blessing (I’ll happily settle for a paltry 10% cut of gross receipts).

Luckily, try as they might, my children did not succeed at consuming all the eggy goodness before I got home from work. You’ll be glad to know, then, that, yes, I have corrected this morning’s egg-related errors. Rather deliciously, I might add.

Hopefully I’ll do better at remembering tomorrow. Because something tells my the kids are going to win the daily race for Reese’s, and probably sooner rather than later.

Pud’n

A Haiku For National Haiku Day

Hey, look, once again, it’s National Haiku Day. And well, obviously, I can’t let that slip past without a haiku.  So, here, hope you enjoy!

Haiku Day today!
Sorry, Man from Nantucket
Guess you’ll have to wait

You know what? Why not have two? It is, after all, a Special Occasion!

Last Haiku Day post
Seems way better than this one
Go read it again?

Yeah, not exactly magic, are they? You got something better? I’d love to read what kind of 5-7-5 magic you have stashed up your sleeves. If you’re up to the challenge of out haiku-ing me, drop your 3-line masterpiece in the comments or shoot it my way via one of the usual suspects (twitter, Facebook, Google+, or email). 

Oh, and hey, if haiku isn’t your thing, apparently it’s National High-Five Day and also National Cheeseball Day? So maybe give your significant other Five Up High, or, uh, roll yourself up a spheroid of Philly cream cheese and pecans and get out the Ritz.

And unlike the usual occasions where a cheeseball might be involved, the guests today are totally optional.

*high-five*

Pud’n

A Little Obsessive Behavior Makes The Whole World Weird

I’m a pretty firm believer that everyone gets a smidgen hung up on a certain something, from time to time.  For instance, ever since I got it, I’ve been managing my iPhone’s battery level obsessively. I’m not sure why, exactly, but if that tiny percentage besides the battery icon on the display dips below a certain percentage (pro-rated for time of day, or course), my gums tighten up around my teeth and my forehead crinkles like I’m preparing to hop off an amphibious troop landing ship and advance on a hostile beachhead.

90% at 10 AM? Oh, well, okay, that’s not so bad.

75% at lunchtime? Hrm…that’s getting  a little too low for my liking. Better turn off Wi-Fi and ignore those texts from the Puddinette. Gotta make sure I have power left at 11:30 tonight when I need to, um, I dunno, play Plants versus Zombies or something.

Down to a mere 53% come quitting time at 5:00 PM?! ZOMGODZILLABINGOBLANKET!! Awooga! Awooga! Danger, Will Robinson, danger! Silence Siri! Step off the Word With Friends!  Put the phone down and walk away! Identify the closest charging location and pray your mother doesn’t make a surprise just-checking-in call at 7:30! Whatever you do, Don’t Panic!

Of course, I realize that this behavior is, um, atypical. It’s not like my penchant for power-pinching is the prevalent approach amongst the populace. Most reasonable people, my wife included, are plenty happy if their smart phone simply makes it to the standard overnight charging session without checking out mid-facebook update while they’re waiting out a commercial during The Littlest Couple. So, yeah, I know I’m a little twitchy about it.

But the thing is, I think perhaps a little bit of taking something too far is okay from time to time. I mean, it’s not like my irrational concern for the battery life of my phone is a bad thing. Or if it is, I can’t see how. I wouldn’t chuck someone in front of a moving subway train to reach an outlet before them. And I’m not neglecting personal hygiene (thereby picking up unfortunate nicknames like “Edward McEarwax”), or missing days at work because I can’t cope with the thought of All That Lost Power.

So, yeah, maybe I tend to fret over my phone a bit.

As I said, though, I’m pretty sure everyone’s got a little hot button that really stokes the campfire from time to time, if you know what I mean. In which case, it’s time to ‘fess up. Come clean. Shed a little light on your idiosyncrasies. What do you do that’s not unhealthy, per se, but is definitely a skosh outside the norm of how the 9 of your 10 neighbors operate? What tiny tic keeps you ticking?  I’d love to build a list of the myriad eccentric, unique ways we all live your lives, without losing our minds.

Although, I suppose the question of whether my mind is lost is still open for debate.

But that’s a discussion for another day.  Preferably a day when I’ve got a full battery icon.

Pud’n


Please note that at no point in the above rambling nonsense did I use the letters OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a much more serious anxiety disorder that interferes with one’s normal daily life. It’s a clinical mental illness treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. Which is not at all the same thing as me hoping my phone battery will last long enough to give me twitter notifications after midnight. For more information on OCD, check out the National Institute of Mental Health.

Image

A Little Time Off The Routine

There’s a pretty good chance I’ve written enough times about the vital importance of keeping a young, largish family like ours affixed to the regular weekly schedule that you’d rather hear me pitch life insurance or bend your ear about a sweet deal on a time share in Boca Raton. But here’s the thing I haven’t written much about: the absolutely necessity of occasionally deviating from said routine.

And that’s exactly what we did this evening.

See, because when I left work, the sky looked like this:

20140410-192457.jpg

So we packed up the family, some fruit and some fried chicken, and went here:

20140410-192542.jpg

And, well, it just wouldn’t have been okay to do all that and not follow up with a little of this:

20140410-192554.jpg

With the kids winding towards the end of their Spring Break, I scheduled Friday off of work. We’re going to get out tomorrow and over the weekend and have some adventures. But don’t worry, trusty Schedule, there’s no call to fret. I promise we’ll be back with you next week, just like clockwork. For the next few days, though, those of us here at la Casa de Puddin will be flying by the seat of our pants.

If you need anything, I’ll be living off the clock for a bit.

And I pretty sure it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Pudn

A Limerick For Writers Who Let Things, Um, Deteriorate While Focused On A Project

dusty_writing

There once was a writer-type guy
Who awoke with his desk a pig sty
Toasted crumbs filled the keys
And with the scent of old cheese
He got the cleaner and tried not to cry

(Yep, I cleaned my desk today. Look! It’s shiny and dust-free! And, yes, that’s really an except from Project Tennyson. But no, I don’t handwrite my work as a matter of course.  Because, duh, check out that unintelligible chicken scratch!  I wrote that paragraph specifically for the picture. Good luck deciphering it!)

Pud’n

How To Cheat As A Middle Grade Writer (Part 1)

There’s a pretty well-known, damn near universal set of Official Obstacles for anyone writing with the intent of being published. You’ll spend countless hours making words—and later, making them shiny and minty fresh—while having roughly zero certainty that anyone besides your significant other and possibly your mother will read it. You’ll having to explain to everyone—from family members to complete strangers in grocery aisles—that publishing, as an industry, moves at a pace that makes Evolution point and snicker, and that your book might enter the real world after some uncertain period of time ranging from Soon to When the Sun Grows Cold And The Ice Returns. You’ll learn to hear and absorb rejection like some kind of gelatinous mass taking in new pens and binder clips as it oozes its way through an Office Depot.

Yeah, if nothing else, writing for traditional publishing isn’t just about putting words together into a compelling narrative, but also about learning to develop a tough outer hide to protect your soft, squishy cream center (mine tastes like dark chocolate, espresso, Dorito powder, and hopelessness).

There’s also a set of specialized obstacles, too, for writers in a particular category. Romance writers, Sci-fi and fantasy writers, Young Adult writers, all have a certain set of assumptions and challenges. It’s something I never realized until I decided to try my hand at Middle Grade novels. For isntace, things I’d taken for granted when writing my first adult book, Famine, suddenly had to be carefully avoided in Longshots. Hello, no F-Bombs! Oh, and maybe let’s not drop subtle references to sexytimes, eh? I mean, as amusing as it might be to have a 13 year old character call another kid a name referencing a specific part of an elephant’s genitals, that’s not exactly the likeliest route to the pages of the Scholastic order form.

Kid characters shouldn’t (generally) go around saying things like “God, you suck.” Sure, they often do in the real world when The Adults Aren’t Looking and yes, occasionally that’s represented in a MG story.  But that’s more the exception than the rule. Let’s be honest, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy aren’t half as vicious in their verbal assaults on one another as they likely would have been as actual rivals in a real school.

The point is, I sometimes struggle to get dialog between kids right in a MG story.  Because at times of high stress or big action, I expect the words coming out of their mouths to be the kind followed by exclamation points, rather than the lukewarm sort that the Beaver would have drawled to Wally back in black and white.

My personal inclination is to have characters say things like, “S#&tballs, we gotta get out of here!” as opposed to “Oh, dear, we gotta get out of here!” Because the latter just doesn’t sound, feel, or read as authentic.

But, see, there’s no “s#&tballs” in middle grade.

Which leads me to confessing my single greatest crutch as a middle grade author: parenting.  At this particular moment in time I am theoretically responsible for kids that are ages 11, 10, 8, and 5 years old (but let’s be honest, the Puddinette keeps the house from catching fire). What that means to me as a writer is that I have a veritable treasure trove of free resource to steal adopt from  as necessary.

For instance, my kids know better than to let the wrong sort of language slip  at la Casa de Puddin, so they can be downright creative when it comes to substantive substitutions. When I recently heard a particular turn of phrase being repeated several times in response to certain frustrating situations (aka, times when an adult might have muttered something, um, stronger, that would have obligated a donation to the Swear Jar), I lifted it clean from Oldest Son’s mouth and deposited it into the manuscript for Project Tennyson without delay.

If you’re a middle grade author, then, I highly recommend having some middle-grade aged kids around to remind you how to act like one. Sure, they come with plenty of unreasonable demands (“we need food, drive me to soccer practice, please please please don’t embarrass me again by singing ‘Do You Want To Build a Snowman’ out loud around my friends”), but that’s a small price to pay for a wealth of material you can pilfer from them and pass off as your own eccentric genius!

Plus, you can make them do chores, which is always a bonus.

Pud’n

About That Whole “No Mas Words” Thing

Of course it was an April Fool’s Day thing

My very precocious five year-old (who still occasionally justifies his original moniker, The Attitude, even if with less frequency these days) tends to become a tad uneasy when he thinks we’re yanking his chain about something. For instance, every time I quip something like, oh, “we’re having snails for dinner,” or “Daddy is going to have to sell a kidney to pay for your college,” or “I’ll send every last one of those damn interlocking bricks straight to the moon via carrier pigeon if you don’t pick up your contusion-inducing LEGOs,” his face will darken for a moment while he evaluates the likelihood of the situation.  Then, once he realizes the action in question isn’t really that probable, he’ll brighten again, offer a sly grin, and say, “joking?”

But it’s always a question. There’s always a hint of tentativeness tacked on to the end of the word suggesting that somewhere deep down, he really does fear I might have the power to send his foot-impaling Bricks of Doom moonward via avian delivery device.

Continue reading

I’m So Done With Words

I know this is going to come as something of a shock to many of you (although less so to the handful that know me and put up with my Puddiny-ness daily), but you’re about to see more change here at Puddintopia than a political candidate would be comfortable promising you in ten years.  We’re talking more change than a career panhandler can accumulate even considering the twenty years he’ll spend getting dropped off and picked up at that social-economically prime corner near the interstate by a nondescript minivan as part of the tristate area’s premier corporate pan-handling enterprise.

Change. It’s what’s for dinner.

So here it is, brace yourselves. In fact, maybe you should take a seat.  Because words and me? We’re finished. Through. Kaput.  Dasvidaniya, Comrade Lexicon; I’m out.

What this mean is that you’ll get no more 1000-word blog posts here that are little more than meandering accounts of my lunch. No more wading through paragraph after paragraph of ridiculousness just to have me finally reach my pedantic point of the day, which, let’s face it, is typically something like “while pickle loaf is, without question, objectionable, I’d eat it before going all Alive on my neighbors. But olive loaf? I’m not intentionally consuming that unless you strap me to a time-out gurney and funnel-feed it to me, pureed by your fancy Vitamix blender like a revolting meat smoothie.”

Yeah, no more of that from me. I don’t expect too many of you to cry for me, Argentina-style.

Continue reading

Weekend Conundrum: What To Do With A Bounty Of Blueberries?

It appears that recent events at la Casa de Puddin have led us to something of an overabundance of blueberries, without concrete plans for them. The berries in question were purchased in anticipation of our recent Blueberry Pancake Brunch Adventure™, but it seems there was a bit of a miscommunication between the heads of our Food Production and Acquisition departments regarding the minimum volume of the perky little indigo things required for a dozen pancakes.

That is, I (Food Production) decided it’d be swell to make some blueberry pancakes and thusly requested that the Puddinette (Acquisitions) pick some up the next time she was at the store. As it turns out, though, “some” wasn’t terribly specific when it comes to how many blueberries she actually needed to purchase. Choosing to err on the side of “it’s better to have too many than not enough,” she (quite reasonably) picked up two small containers.

We had blueberries!  And thus begat blueberry pancakes! And there was much rejoicing!

Except, then I looked at the remaining one and three-quarters packages of the fruits and suddenly realized we had enough berries to send Violet Beauregarde into a full-blown PSTD-induced panic attack.

Continue reading