Monday, January 31, 2005

In Hawaii you weren't late with holiday greetings until after Chinese New Year. I love this photo because this is what my family is like right now. The two older girls are focused out but Anna is still looking to me.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Three fish at daybreak

This winter has been Richard's slowest since we moved to Michigan 15 years ago. He has had only small one day jobs, and only a few of those. There are still some houses being built and kitchens ordered, but the builders are unwilling to lay anyone off so they are having their own guys doing the installations.

He expects to get busy again in the spring, but for now he's fishing. Out on the ice, twice a day, at sunup and sundown. I estimate that he comes home empty handed a little more than half the time, but walleye are big fish so his catch "pays for my bait", as he puts it.

Mornings are more successful than evenings, but evening excursions are useful as scouting trips. Today he got three, all from the same hole, one after another before 7:15.

Today he will take Anna to High Lake, near Traverse City. They are driving so far because he expects to get a lot of "action" there: maybe not keeper size fish, but enough bites and catches to keep a kid interested. After weeks of single digit temperatures, we are enjoying a heat wave of near 30 degree weather. I'm sure they'll have fun.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Artificial Intelligence and Chickens

The ads in this weblog have been a surprising source of entertainment. (If you don’t see ads in the right sidebar you need to enable javascript for this site.)

The way the ads are placed gives an insight into the potential and limits of artificial intelligence. “Web crawlers,” remarkably self-sufficient programs (also called web bots, short for web robots) read over the writing on each site, attempting to classify the site and attach appropriate ads. If I were a straight how-to writer, or if I was only interested in writing about one thing, this would work superbly. But I am sneakier, hiding family anecdotes in the midst of a bread recipe. (Am I, perhaps, annoyed with people who read the jacket notes and never get around to the book?) It’s also funny that I spent four or five postings detailing how to integrate bread baking into the rhythm of a household and I host half a dozen ads for $250 bread making machines from companies who want to tell you that you don’t have time to make bread the old fashioned way.

The web crawlers reread and reassess from time to time. When we first put ads on Kathleen’s dyslexia piece the ads were all for asthma and arthritis websites. Later the bots read down to the part where she is talking about teaching writing in the prisons and the ads changed to companies who do criminal background checks. Today they are all tsunami relief ads.

My best ads have been from my Bread and Chickens page. Not only did I get ads from good companies (like Murray McMurray Hatchery, my source for mail-order chicks), but I got some outstanding sites, like The ads change frequently and they tend to be heavy in content, cool links, and pretty photos of chickens

So do I tailor my writing to try and attract good ads? The programmers that produce and update web bots are hip to the cruder ways that people try to “game the system”. You can no longer get your site moved to the top of a Google search by putting a black border at the top of your site and repeating key phrases in black over the top of the black border (making the words invisible to your audience but visible to the bots). As the bot programs are revised and perfected they may become able to identify the more subtle elements of written communication, like theme and tone, but only if the full range of written communication is available to analyze.

Fortunately, I like writing about chickens. And I submitted my favorite chicken saying (“Don’t cackle if you haven’t laid”) to and they are sending me my “When Chickens Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Chickens” bumper sticker. Ever had so much fun in the dead of winter?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Leland Township Master Plan Comments

January 24, 2005

Comments on the Leland Township Property Owner Survey

On housing: Please don’t confuse “affordable housing” with “low income housing.” Affordable housing means places that a family making $40,000 can live in. This might mean a new teacher whose spouse works part time. This could mean a husband who works a Van’s while the wife works at the Children’s Center. It could be the guy who is going to fix your plumbing and the woman who will provide visiting nursing services while you recover from surgery. It is the people who stay here all winter and make sure that your roof is shoveled and that your pipes don’t freeze.

The current exodus out of Northport is a warning about maintaining a diverse population in our villages. As the proportion of full time residents, working residents and families decreases the village businesses become less profitable and are endangered. Affordable housing integrated into a village insures a base for village businesses and upholds everyone’s property values.

On the sewer: Although I strongly support protecting water quality I cannot favor expanding a sewer system that does not work correctly. I live near the last pumping station on Popp Road. My neighbors and I are still subjected to noxious odors from the pumping station on a daily basis. I understand that numerous attempts have been made to fix this problem, yet the smell remains. I suspect that any attempt to add on to this system would rile everyone who lives in the vicinity of a pumping station.

On the economy: We can expect to see more internet-based businesses and more people who are employed elsewhere but are able to work from home with the help of fast internet service. Our zoning laws should encourage these home-based businesses and we should look at establishing industrial “incubator” space to keep these businesses in the township as they grow. Talk to Bob Pisor: is it inevitable that when a township business is successful (as Stone House Bread is) it has to relocate to Traverse City to find room to expand?

Access to high speed internet is a limiting factor for new business, or even for people trying to start a new business. On line computers at the Leland Library are in high demand; look at opening a similar service (publicly or privately run) in Lake Leelanau.

Provemont Pond: This “park” is a disgrace. It doesn’t even have a sign anymore. It is increasingly used for dirt bikes, paintball wars, trash dumping, etc. It should be properly identified as a park or nature preserve or whatever it is and then the rules need to be posted and enforced. It could be a really nice place for mushrooming, hiking, cross country skiing, etc.

Utility lines: New utility lines should be buried everywhere, not just in the “downtown” areas. Any additional lines should be placed on the current right-of ways instead of placing parallel lines on both the new and old corridors as is now proposed by Consumers Energy for M-204.

On the Master Plan: Our current Master Plan was drafted after much public input and hard work by the drafting committee. I remember people talking about light pollution (then a new concept) at those meetings. Residents had a clear idea of what sorts of evils they wanted to avoid as the township grew.

Years later I found myself in front of the Township Board asking why this same Master Plan and the zoning laws that it generated were being ignored by the board when it approved new street lighting for Lake Leelanau. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that the Master Plan was just a document for the shelf, not something to be studied or heeded. At one point I heard the comment “Well, we can’t tell people what they can do with their property!” and I wondered what the point of having zoning or a Master Plan is, if we are too gutless to enforce any of it.

So here we go again. Is this another waste of taxpayer time and money? Are we going to demand of our elected officials and ourselves the discipline that it will take to preserve even a little of what made Leland Township attractive in the first place? Are we going to look beyond the buzzwords and our preconceptions to find solutions that fit our township and our lives?

I hope these comments help to provide some perspective. Please feel free to contact me at any time

Susan Och
51 S French Road
Lake Leelanau, MI 49653

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Last Night's Best Joke

I was dealing Texas Hold'em to a table of regulars. A couple of players dropped out and were replaced by a pair of brash young women who turned out to be dealers from one of the casinos downstate. The were not exactly incognito, in fact the blonde seemed unable to go more than 60 seconds without attracting the table's attention in whatever way she could.

George, who was sitting to her left, was playing along. He noticed her tattoo and remarked in a loud voice, "Excuse me ma'am, but did you know you have writing on your butt?" She promptly stood up and turned around to show the whole table her tattoo, while explaining that he day she got it she was wearing "silk pants" that slid down so far that the tattoo was in the wrong place (which was why she came to be standing at my poker table nearly dropping her drawers).

The retired attorney on her right, who is accustomed to his share of the limelight, wait for the uproar to die down before he offers "Well, I also have a tattoo." He waits another moment. "It has a T and an A, but when I get excited it says 'Ticonderoga'."

Blondie apparently can't spell or do math because the joke goes right over her head, but the rest of us were chuckling for a while.

Coincidently, my neighbor has a new essay "Tattoos and Marriage" on her blog: Kathleen Stocking .

Friday, January 21, 2005

The next morning

When I went to bed the moon was shining in the window, laying a big pool of moonlight across the bed. Richard got up not much later, about 5 am, to go fishing. The thermometer read 4 below zero when he left the house.

He has been fishing Lake Leelanau lately as gas is too high to go far from home. The moon was still up as he walked out the lake glowed. He drilled his first hole and set up his tipup and then walked a ways to set up the next hole. He was just scooping the slush out of the second hole when he glanced over and saw that he had a flag on the first.

It was a fat walleye, the only fish of the day as it turned out. Still he was happy to get action so quick, perhaps proud to be the proverbial early bird. He came home about 11am, still happy about that fish.

The ride home

It was a slow night at work. I started for home about quarter to midnight. It was cold but the sky was bright in Peshawbestown. When I got home there was a mostly clear sky with a 3/4 moon.

The first time I saw something move in the road I sat up straighter and scolded myself. Seeing things that aren't there is a symptom of being too sleepy to drive. The second time I realized that I was seeing real things. Rabbits were out and running around. They come out on winter nights and eat bark from the trees. In the morning we will see their tracks in the snow. A few weeks from now I will start to hear owls mating when I come home at night, but right now the rabbits think they are safe.

A few years ago I was driving home and got to the dip by Belanger Creek. I thought I saw something in the road, so I slowed down. I couldn't make out what it was: it looked first to be a pile of old clothes, or maybe someone sleeping or lying in the road. As I slowed it moved but I still couldn't tell if it was a person or an animal. Finally it slunk off, furry, hunched over, and looking over its shoulder with beady eyes. I told myself that was the ugliest dog I had ever seen.

A few weeks later in the breakroom someone made a comment about a bear. Just hearing talk about a bear brought back the memory of my "ugly dog" and suddenly the pieces all fit together. In the old stories bears are always changing into people and back again. I've never seen a dog look like a man in the headlight's glare, but it makes all the sense in the world that a bear could do that.

Since then there have been a couple of "nuisance bears" in the county. Last spring a beekeeper had to kill one that kept smashing hives, doing $10,000 damage a night. It is accepted that they are around, but usually shy. If I see one again I hope to know what I'm seeing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Six Soldiers Mourned

I saw an item on the news a few nights ago about the public ceremony in Lafayette, Louisiana to bring home the caskets of six National Guardsmen, all from the same parish, who were killed in an explosion in Iraq. The public ceremony violated Pentagon policy that there were to be no photographs of the flag draped coffins of war dead. An editorial in the Fort Worth, Arkansas Times Record explained how the Louisiana National Guard had gone against Pentagon policy at the request of the families:

“They grew up together, went to school together, went to war together. They died together. It was important for the family to see them come home together.”

That’s what Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a public affairs officer, told the Lafayette, La., Daily Advertiser, and his words are telling. He speaks of “the family” as singular, not plural, because this is one family, a community united in its sorrow.

Nor was this an accident. Responding to questions about the guard’s decision to let media observe and photograph the returning caskets, Schneider told CBS news, “What we thought was, we’re going to do what the family asked us to do.”

The decision was made, news reports say, despite a Pentagon request that the guard adhere to the military’s policy of not allowing coverage or photographs of returning casualties of war.

It’s a good thing to be part of a family; family members pull together in a crisis and defend each other. In this case, the Louisiana family wanted to share its grief and memorialize its dead with the whole country. No one can bear alone what this family must now shoulder. They are asking us to be pallbearers, to walk with them to the cemetery as they bury their dead.

In rural communities, connections between people tend to overlap. When my daughter in 12th grade called last night to say she was staying overnight at a friend's, I asked her to pass on a message to her friend's mom about the 4-H meeting group that the friend's brother is in and that I lead. My husband's Little League team includes the daughter of our first grade teacher, the son of my husband's best client, the granddaughters of our plumber, and a whole bunch of neighbor kids. I can't even keep straight who is cousins to who.

I can just imagine being a mom in that parish in Louisiana. Do you attend your best friend's son's funeral, or your nephew's? People who die young have large funerals, as the community as a whole struggles to understand and process the loss. Small towns mourn en masse, regardless of Pentagon policy. Does someone imagine that there is a place in any small town for a "private" ceremony?

I'm wondering if this will be the end of the "mourn in private" rule.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Bread in the Oven

The last steps of baking bread are to shape the loaves, let them rise a final time, bake, and eat.

When the dough has risen in the bowl about 45 minutes it will look like the classic description “doubled in bulk”. That 45 minute figure is a flexible, of course, but if you let it rise too long, the yeast will exhaust itself and your loaves won’t rise so well. In a hurry, I have started shaping loaves as soon as there was an observable rise and that works out OK, too.

Take the whole pile of dough and lay it out on a floured bowl. Flour your rolling pin and then roll the dough out flat, being sure to pop the air bubbles that turn up at the edges. You don’t need to roll it paper thin, but you need to eliminate those bubbles because they will end up as voids in the finished loaves. After the bubbles are gone, fold the whole thing in half, fold it in half again, then one more time into a wedge shape. Roll the dough up starting at the point, and then let it rest while you grease your pans.

This recipe fills four 5 by 8 inch bread pans or you can use three 5 by 8 and two 3 by 5 inch pans. Cut the lump of dough into fourths and then cut one of the fourths into two hunks of dough for the kiddy pans. If you are baking with kids, let them grease their pans and then let them take turns rolling out their dough and putting it in their pans. Kids will do what they do and be happy with the results; adults will want to take a more methodical approach.

Roll out one piece of dough at a time into an irregular rectangle, still looking to get rid of bubbles. Roll the rectangle up tightly from the narrow end, and then fold the ends of the roll under so that the cylinder you have left is the same length as the pan. Lay the loaf into the pan with the seams down and then shape your other loaves the same way.

I used to let my loaves rise on the counter under a damp dishtowel, but I found that the dishtowel often stuck to the dough, causing it to fall again before I got it into the oven. Now I set all four loves side by side on the middle oven rack and let them rise in the cold oven. If you have kneaded well, they will rise for quite a while. When you have more experience you can try for giant loaves. The first time just get wait until they have filled the sides of the pan and rounded an inch or two over the top of the pan. After about an hour, I check them and if they look nice and plump I turn the oven on to 350 degrees and set the timer for 40 minutes. (If they are going into a preheated oven they only need 35 minutes.)

Lately I have been using the timed cook feature on my oven to start the bread after I have left the house. This is only a good idea if there is going to be someone home at the end of the cook time to take the bread out of the pans, as it will sweat and turn mushy if it is left to cool in the pans. My teenagers love it when they are home alone and suddenly smell bread baking.

Bread is done when you turn it out of the pan and the bottom of the loaf looks golden and sounds a little hollow when you tap it with your knuckles. If you have an instant read probe thermometer the internal temp should be about 190 degrees.

Cut bread with a bread knife, that is a serrated knife. The serrations make the knife rip instead of crushing. Cooled bread is easier to cut, but everyone wants to eat fresh bread out of the oven, even if the loaves get mashed in the process.

When the bread has completely cooled, you can put it into plastic bags for storage.

If you make this bread recipe with all white flour it is very much like the bread that Grandma Bunny used to make. I have often wondered exactly why my grandmother gave me a book about baking bread instead of inviting me into her kitchen to show me. Grandpa was the vocal half of their marriage. Even though Grandma Bunny had been a central figure while I was growing up, after she died I found that I actually knew very little about her. She shunned cameras, so I had no photos. She had never told stories about her childhood or about herself at all. Even her hometown of Dewdrop, Pennsylvania had been flooded when the Kinzua Dam was built.

Grandpa Lee had earned an engineering degree at University of Michigan and launched a successful civil engineering firm. Until I was 5, he also ran a sand and gravel company from a pit about half a mile behind our house. He was legendary for the “silver tongued speeches” he used to persuade the townships of our county and the adjoining one to build a regional water system. He was also quite at home riding a construction crew. Unlike Bunny, Lee told everyone about his life and experiences and for his grandchildren it was usually to illustrate how little we knew and how easy our lives were in comparison to his.

I think now that Leon was frustrated that his wife didn’t “hop to” on his command the way the rest of the world did. Grandpa often argued with her about baking bread, saying that if you counted up the cost of the ingredients and the electricity to run the oven it would surely be cheaper to just buy bread. She didn’t argue with him, but she didn’t stop baking, either. Still, I recall that Grandpa’s opinion was that it was a waste of my time to learn to bake bread, that I should learn more important things. (This was in the late 1960’s, when it was still an oft repeated prediction that in the future people would not bother to cook and eat at all, but would get all of their nutrients from vitamins.) Grandma countered in her quiet way; I knew right away that she had carefully picked out the book she gave me and it did start me on a lifetime of baking bread.

The conversations with Grandpa when he was worrying about people knowing how to feed themselves came well after Bunny’s death. A much as he had criticized her during her life, he missed her terribly and spoke of her like a saint. Living alone, he had time to really appreciate what it takes to feed oneself. He baked beans over and over again but they never came out the way that Bunny used to make them. His curiosity about food extended to wondering about where it came from. At this time I was learning to keep bees. Grandpa, now in his eighties, was fascinated to hear how bees forage for nectar and pollinate crops. He asked over and over again how I would make the bees collect the sort of nectar that I wanted; it was a revelation to him that you couldn’t direct them, but you could simply take advantage of what they were going to do anyway.

These were the last conversations I had with Grandpa. I had moved to Hawaii when he started becoming sick and disoriented. Perhaps his personality change was the beginning of his decline, but that short interval of conversations made more of an impression on my than the years of lectures that came before.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The ads on this blog are mainly here for my own amusement and so I can figure out how the ad process works. Today one of the bread pages had an ad for Urban Homemaker, a Paonia, California company that sells electric grain mills for grinding your own flour. (Grain keeps better than flour, so you would have tastier bread if you just kept wheat berries around and ground your own flour every time you baked.) They also sell water storage containers under their "disaster preparedness" button. Our friend Doug, who works for FEMA, called last night to say he was being deployed and to ask if my husband would keep his driveway plowed until he returned from California. I wonder if the Urban Homemakers had to employ their own wares?

I realize that I have a few cliffhangers going on here. Global warming is challenging us with more that our share of freezing rain in the past few days so it is taking extra time to get the usual chores done. Tomorrow, I promise, I will walk you through the end of the bread baking process and also try to figure out why Bunny did not want to teach me herself how to bake bread.

Friday, January 07, 2005


When I was growing up my Grandma Bunny (my dad’s mom) baked bread every week in large quantities. My dad worked in the family business and he would come home once a week with a brown bag filled with six or eight loaves of bread, some home made jams and canned tomatoes, or maybe a casserole of baked beans. We had bread in the freezer and more bread in the bread drawer.

Although my grandparents lived in the city of Lockport, New York, Grandma Bunny had grown up in rural Pennsylvania. Grandma remained very much a country housewife, shopping the farmer’s markets and canning large amounts of tomatoes, peaches, jams, and jellies. Like everyone, my grandparents had struggled during the Depression. Grandpa Lee talked more about the Depression years towards the end of his life, around 1980, as he saw the US national debt rise to what was then an historic high. He worried that the economy would crash again, only this time people would suffer more because they didn’t have the practical skills in raising food and livestock that his generation had grown up with. “Even in the city,” he told me, “people knew how to feed themselves. Even in downtown apartments you saw people with chickens and goats on their fire escapes.” Those conversations have resonated through my life and I have made it a game to see how much I could “feed myself” instead of shopping at the supermarket.

When I was about fifteen, I asked Grandma Bunny to teach me how to bake bread. Curiously, she refused to teach me herself, but she did give me my first cookbook on the subject, Bake Your Own Bread, by Floss and Stan Dworkin. It was a good book with lots of recipes, a thorough description of techniques, and science and dietary advice that was ahead of its time. Even so, I found it hard to successfully navigate the passage between batter and dough. Either I was up to my elbows in sticky dough or I was arm wrestling with a stiff dough that was destined to rise no higher than a doorstop.

You can probably figure out that the cause of the first condition is too much liquid and the cause of the second condition is too much flour. So why don’t recipes just tell you exactly how much flour to use? Because they can’t. If your flour is older, it will absorb more liquid. If the weather is humid, it will absorb less. How you store your flour, whether you shake the cup as you measure, it all makes the process too unpredictable. Although it is initially hard to master, once you have experience turning a wet batter into kneadable dough is a skill that you never lose.

We have already seen several tricks of the trade:
• That glop of shortening that we added to the batter will help make the bread fine grained and tender, but it will also make the dough less likely to stick to your hands. If you need to cut out all fat, you can eliminate the shortening, after you get a little experience with baking.
• Use bread flour for at least some of the flour. A cup of semolina flour (also called pasta flour) used as part of the 3 cups of flour in the batter will help make the dough kneadable.
• Take your time while adding flour to give it time to absorb the liquid. If you have small children around you have guaranteed interruptions. If not, take a break to put laundry in the dryer or check your email.

I usually use about 4-5 cups total whole wheat flour and then switch to white flour. The white flour absorbs less liquid so I am less apt to use too much. Stirring thoroughly after each cup of flour, I find that as the dough gets stiffer I am stirring less and folding more. With a strong wooden spoon I can turn the dough in the bowl and fold it over on itself, sort of like kneading without getting my hands into it yet. Already there are drier looking bits of dough on the sides of the bowl; I scrape these down and into the wetter center of the dough. Eventually I am mostly just turning the dough over on itself and only occasionally adding flour. This is a good time to take one more short break and let the dough get used to itself again.

A word about work surfaces. To do this work comfortably you need to set your bowl on a surface that is a tad lower than hip height. Unless you are very tall, this will mean your kitchen table, not the kitchen counter. My kitchen table is ridiculously rustic, so I push the tablecloth back and lay down a dishtowel to keep the bowl from sliding. I have an 18in by 24 in piece of Corian that I lay over the dishtowel to finish kneading on. If I had a regular Formica tabletop I would just knead on the table.

When I come back to the dough after 5 or 10 minutes it is ready for hands-on kneading. Whether I knead on the table or in the bowl, the action is the same: flatten the dough with the heels of my hands, then fold it over on itself, turn it a little, then flatten, fold and turn again. At first I need to keep putting flour on my hand to keep the dough from sticking, later it gets to be moist, not sticky so my bare hands are fine.

It is impossible to hand knead standard bread dough too long. I usually look at the clock once the dough stops sticking and then try to keep up a good rhythm for 5 or ten minutes. Time spent kneading is very much like time spent in deep thinking. You stretch thoughts and fold them over on themselves until myriad elements take on a new identity of their own. If I am pressed for time I will knead for less time, but I know I’m gambling. Kneading develops the gluten that will make the loaves rise with strength; insufficient kneading makes loaves that tend to fall if you sneeze at them.

After kneading it is time to let the dough rise. If I am kneading on the table, I just invert the bowl over the dough and leave it alone. If I am kneading in the bowl, I leave it in the bowl, but cover the bowl with my Corian board or a cookie sheet to keep the dough from drying out.