Our perceptions of the world around us

Gardens are inherently soothing spaces

Guests to my home, the one hubby and I have carefully decorated together, invariably make one of two comments: a) they find it very relaxing, and b) it reminds them of Indiana Jones’ house in the famous movies. Both of those reactions are exactly what we were going for.

When we bought our house early in our marriage, neither of us had a really strong sense of style. The house is a pretty standard 1960s raised bungalow; what we liked about it was all the large windows and flowing spaces that give it a feeling of airiness. But how to put our mark on it? After months of waffling, I decided to cut photos of rooms that I liked out of decorating magazines, using only my gut response without analysis. When I’d assembled enough of them, I could see that they all had one thing in common: they were all decorated in earthy tones with natural textures.

There were two other influences after that. The first was a visit to the home of friends of a friend. It came about when hubby and I were deciding where to travel to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. My long-standing dream was to visit Egypt, which became possible that year while the political situation there was relatively quiet. Hubby was kind of on-board, but still had some reservations, so a good friend of ours suggested we go and talk to good friends of his, who’d not only been to Egypt but had travelled to many countries and could give us a broad perspective.

Their house was wonderful, full of artifacts from their travels. Walking inside it immediately made one want to pack bags and set off on an adventure; we loved it so much that we decided to bring the same feeling to our own home. After that visit, we did book a tour of Egypt and had a sensational time.

But it was Indy’s house in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that put the final touches on the feel of our home. We buy a piece of artwork in every place that we visit – a brass hookah in a market in Cairo, a heavy bell from a small antique shop in Bangkok, a carved mask in Bali, a hand-woven basket in Botswana – and although these pieces don’t have the archeological weight of Indy’s collection, when visitors to our home make those comments, we feel we’ve achieved what we set out to.

I bring this up because just this morning I read an article about how we use more than just five senses when we react to different environments. In 5 senses? In fact, architects say there are 7 ways we perceive our environments, we learn that architects design buildings that appeal to more than just sight, sound, smell, taste and feel. They also take into account our unconscious response to a place’s environment – its setting (wide open, as in a desert landscape, or tucked away inside, say, a forest) and ambience. Small spaces with lower ceilings tend to feel cozy, for example, while cavernous spaces can be overwhelming.

On a personal level, I find very noisy, busy spaces really tiring. Here’s an example from several years ago that struck me on the spot. Hubby and I were Christmas shopping at our large local mall, which was full of people bumping into each and a lot of general hubbub. We stuck it out to get the last of our gifts, but on the way home we decided to stop at a Harvey’s joint and pick up some hamburgers. There was hardly anyone in there (probably all at the mall!), so it was nice and quiet, and the interior was quite cozy on a cold December night, with lower ceilings and a few holiday decorations, and I noticed how quickly I relaxed inside – so much so that it felt like the perfect soft wrap-up to a hard, crazy day.

I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ deliberately. Have you ever noticed how very soft clothing, like a cozy sweater or hoodie, can instantly relax you, as compared to something stiff or scratchy? My home is decorated with furniture and colours that make me feel the same as putting on a soft sweater. It seems to resonate with our guests as well.

On our travels, hubby and I have encountered all kinds of ‘spaces’, some that are awe-inspiring, some that are soothing, and everything in between.

View from our over-water bungalow at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort

We had the great fortune to be able to stay in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti several years ago. Air Tahiti Nui was offering a fantastic promotion, with flights to Tahiti and New Zealand as well as three free nights accommodation in Tahiti, and for a fairly low price I was able to upgrade us to a hotel with those bungalows you see in exotic photos. It was a remarkable experience. The sound of water gently lapping against the pylons supporting the bungalow was so soothing, we’d shut off the air and open the windows at night, and just drift off into the best sleeps we’ve ever had.

Classic pub decor in London, England

British pubs are the epitome of coziness, with lots of wood, homey decor, and often fireplaces that burn warmly during chilly weather. The food is always comforting, the beer and tea always hit the spot, and the ambience is always welcoming when you need to rest your weary feet after several hours of touring.

A small section of Victoria Falls from the Zambian side

For a sense of awe, it’s hard to beat Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, during high water season. Since we live within easy drive of Niagara Falls, to be honest I was wondering how much we’d be impressed with Vic Falls, but it’s famous and we went to see it. You can hear Mosi-oa-Tunya, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ in the local language, well before you can see it, but as we walked along the stone-paved pathway to the Falls and got our first sight of them, my jaw quite literally fell open, just like you read about. We were there in April, right after the rainy season, when every second millions of gallons of the Zambezi River cascade 330 feet down into a snaking chasm, sending a thick mist over 1,000 feet into the air and making so much noise you can’t hear each other speak.

The intricate spiritual spaces of Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico

Recently, we were awed by several places in New Mexico – the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, the striated rock walls in the wide open desert landscape, the massive and spiritual ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Park, and the enormous radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (you may have seen those in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster).

Being in nature tends to be very soothing and refreshing. There are numerous theories why, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, whenever I need to decompress I go for a walk in one of our local gardens or wooded areas, and I’m certainly not alone in doing that.

The architecture article even mentions our perceptions of time as being a factor. Driving across wide-open spaces tends to feel longer because our destination always seems to be so far away, or while flying across an ocean I’d add, while crossing denser spaces feels shorter, presumably because we have frames of reference that indicate movement. That may also be why rooms crowded with stuff feel smaller and less relaxing than rooms with less clutter.

It’s a fascinating perspective on how and why different people and cultures live, now and far back in time, the way that they do. I remember visiting a church in Austria that was so crusted with gold inside that it felt anti-spiritual, more about the excess of money thrown at it than the religious experience. Hubby and I drive past the mammoth, ostentatious homes built along the Niagara River that are clearly more about showing off than living comfortably. Next time you go out and about, notice your reactions; they may guide you in making your home a sanctuary from the chaos of our modern times.

All photos are by me and none may be used without my permission. E. Jurus

Conquering the pestilence of malaria, a modern-day bogey

Wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Pestilence, aka Death, is one of the terrifying Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a group of End of Days riders described in Chapter 6, verses 1-8 in the Book of Revelation of the Bible. They each ride on a colored horse and represent some aspect of impending doom.

In the Book, a heavenly being called the Lamb opens seven seals that portend the Second Coming of Christ. Biblical analysts are divided as to whether the passage was meant to be an actual prediction, some sort of moral allegory, or a commentary during the period when the Christian Church was being heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire.

However you look at it, it’s scary stuff that has provided great fodder for fantasy/horror novels, as well as on television in the Sleepy Hollow series.

The rider of the white horse wears a crown, holds a bow, and rides as a conqueror. Opinions on its identity is also divided between Christ and the Antichrist. The red horse is fiery, and its rider holds a large sword and causes War. Riding the black horse, the rider carries a set of scales to measure wheat and barley, and is believed to represent Famine, possibly as a result of War.

The fourth horseman is described as riding a “pale” horse and is given the name Death. He’s closely followed by Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and has the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and also by the wild beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7-8). Chloros is the actual description for the horse in the Bible, Greek for a yellowish-green but with an ashen cast – it was translated into “pale”, the hue of the very ill and dead.

Many widespread plagues have killed millions of people throughout history, but in modern times we’re much better at conquering them, thankfully, even though they still strike fear into humans. Happily, one of the long-standing diseases plaguing much of Africa, Asia and South America – malaria – now has a new foe in the battle: a vaccine!

My hubby and I have been travelling for decades to countries with a variety of endemic diseases, most of which had prevention through some form of vaccination, either oral or through injection. Malaria, however, wasn’t one of them, and it’s a scary disease that has been killing more than 400,000 people a year, even though insecticides and netting for beds have been widely in use.

Malaria is a parasite, transmitted through a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasites travel to a person’s, or animal’s, liver through the bloodstream, where they reproduce and cause all kinds of problems. They manifest primarily as an initial period of intense chills, shivering and fever, followed by sweating, headache, muscle pain, and other increasingly worse conditions. Symptoms usually don’t show up until ten days to two weeks after infection, so it’s one of those sneaky delayed diseases.

Preventative medication works – hubby and I have taken it many times – but it’s always been a cumbersome regimen. Up to now, travellers have had to start taking the medication for one to two weeks before arrival in the country where the disease is present (depending on the drug), all the way through the trip, and for four to eight weeks after returning home, to make sure that all the parasites you might have picked up have been killed in all stages of their life cycle.

Quinine was the first medication created to treat and prevent malaria. It comes from the bark of a tree in Peru called cinchona, and as early as the 1600s was brought back to Spain by Jesuit missionaries. Tropical outposts of the British Empire mixed quinine with soda and sugar to mask the bitterness of the quinine, and then put it into gin cocktails to get soldiers to take it – hence the classic Gin and Tonic. Now you know what gives tonic its somewhat bitter taste – never been a favourite of mine, but I do know some people who like the cocktail.

Malaria, once you’ve gotten it, is never fully cured. Symptoms can recur for years. One of the pharmacies I worked in as a technician years ago had a number of older war veterans as clients who continued to suffer bouts of the disease from time to time.

As a form of pestilence, malaria ranks with the best due to its pervasiveness. At one time it infested every continent except Antarctica – even Canada and the U.S., where it flourished in swampy areas that mosquitoes love to breed in. In my province of Ontario, it spread through early settlers from Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) to Cataraqui (now Kingston). It was so common that it was considered unusual if a newcomer didn’t develop ‘fever and ague’ within a year or two of arriving. In both countries, drainage of large tracts of marshy breeding grounds was the main weapon in eradicating malaria as an endemic disease, but other countries continue to battle it.

You see the scale of the problem, and why the development of a vaccine is such great news, and is being hailed as “world-changing”. It’s the work of scientists at Oxford University, and trials have shown up to 80% protection. In addition, it’s not expensive to produce and can be widely deployed, lessening the number of people who get it and then infect more mosquitoes. It’s expected to prevent 1,7 billion cases and save 10.6 million lives.

So, knocking on wood (literally) as I write this, we’ll hopefully force the fourth Horsemen to remove one piece of pestilence from his roster.

For more information on the fight against the disease, visit the website of Malaria No More.

Giving our brains a much needed rest

How often do you take a break from daily life? If you’re like most North Americans, probably not very often. And yet studies were showing, long before the pandemic, that not only our bodies, but especially our brains, need some down time. How much more do we need it now, bombarded by successive waves of the pandemic and political instability around the world?

Breaks throughout the day refresh our brains. When I was working in the counselling department of a college, lunch times were sacrosanct for all the staff, and knocking on an office door when it was closed had to be backed up with a damned good reason.

In the mid 1990s, studies demonstrated that our brains demand a lot of energy – 20 percent to make our bodies run, and even more when we’re doing mental work. Is it any wonder that we so often ‘hit a wall’ before the end of the work day?

The interesting thing, though, was that even when we’re at rest, perhaps just daydreaming, there was still considerable communication going on between certain regions of the brain, which the researchers called the default mode network. That’s an interesting name, including the word ‘default’. It turns out that letting our minds to drift into this basic state allows our brain to process all kinds of information that’s been accumulated but not dealt with. When our brains aren’t occupied with external pressures, they have time to make sense of everything, order it, imagine solutions and connect all the dots.

Some of our most creative moments occur when we’re not trying to find them. As a writer, I’ve found many times over that if I’ve reached a place in my novel’s plot where I’m not sure how to address a problem or move the story from one point to the next, the answer occurs to me when I’m lying in bed, essentially day-dreaming before I fall asleep, or first thing in the morning as I’m awakening but haven’t felt like getting out of bed yet. First thing in the morning is better; last thing at night requires me to tap a quick note into my phone lest I forget, unless it’s something so brilliant that the idea carries through to the next day.

And indeed studies have shown that the default mode network is more active in more creative people, not necessarily because those people have different brains but perhaps devote more time to getting out of the way of their own minds.

Try it out the next time you feel overwhelmed, like your brain is ‘fried’. Take a break and go for a walk, without your phone. It should preferably be in nature, whether it’s a park or even a path through a garden, and un-occupy your mind. Be alone with your own thoughts, and let them flow like the breezes around you. Notice the things going on all around you, from the butterflies flitting from flower to flower to the texture of the path beneath your feet and the colour of the sky. You’ll be amazed both by how refreshed you feel afterward, and by what interesting things your mind will come up with.

When I need to decompress, I love to take walks around our extensive local botanical garden. There’s always something interesting to see in every season, and the peace and quiet are soothing within the first few minutes.

For even better breaks, go on as long a vacation as you can, and make it a complete getaway. The modern penchant for managing your entire trip through a series of apps totally defeats the purpose of getting away from it all. You can check the day’s weather, or find a restaurant, but apart from that it’s important that you put away your electronic devices and just be in the moment. Take some photos if you like to do that, but only a few of yourself. What you should be noticing is the place you’re in and all its wonders, not worrying about how good you look for a series of selfies.

One of the best vacations my hubby and I ever had was our first safari in Africa. Deep in the wilds of Botswana, we spent days bouncing along sandy roads, feeling the wind ruffle our hair and keeping our eyes peeled for the next herd of zebras or elephants, gazing into the golden eyes of a lioness lying under a bush near the road, having morning tea while we watched antelopes graze by the river while hippos snorted in the water. We’d left all our problems at home and immersed ourselves in the hot African sun and the stillness of a place without the noise of other humans. At night we fell asleep to the chirping of tree frogs, woke up to the chatter of francolin birds. It rejuvenated us after a very challenging year, made us feel alive and whole again.

When you’re standing in the magnificent ruins of ancient Machu Picchu in Peru, dazzled by the remarkable stonework somehow built on the top of a mountain surrounded by other blue-green peaks as far as the eye can see, your mind imagines what life must have been like all those hundreds of years ago, waking up with the dawn, walking along paths that overlooked the silvery Urubamba River far below, gathering food from the steep terraces just below the city and feeling the spirituality of the many sacred huaca stones all around you. You’re far, far away from the daily grind, breathing in the crisp, fresh mountain air, watching a lizard skitter across the intricately laid stones right next to you.

Taking down time is essential to our well-being. Make sure you use it well.

All photos are by me, and all rights are reserved.

Step away from your screen(s)

An African sunset, truly magical

Since March 2022 I’ve been a local explorer. During the autumn preceding the COVID pandemic, my hubby and I had visited Ireland, and over the December holidays we’d spent time with a relative outside Nashville, TN, so at least we had those under our belts to hold us while we waited to see how the global disease was going to play out.

Some of our friends and relatives decided to travel outside the country, bucking the requests and advice of our government; we chose to stay within our province for the greater good. So if you’ve been following this blog during that time, you’ll have seen memories from all the local adventures I’ve been embarking on. On those journeys, there has been so much history and local culture to discover, and plenty of local beauty as well. Most of my, and our, best moments have happened out and about.

We have spectacular ornamental cherry blossoms in our area each spring, but hardly anyone goes out to see them

I was intrigued to see what advice a 100-year old traveller – someone who’s reached a milestone most of us never will – would have to offer, in a recent article posted on AFAR Magazine, and wasn’t really surprised to see that it dovetails with my own philosophy.

Both Deborah Szekely and I (and most of my friends) grew up in the decades before smartphones, tablets or even the internet existed. We had no other option than to really embrace the world around us and be in the moment all the time. It was a great time to travel, sometimes by the seat of our pants, and without the benefit of GPS, online city guides, or any kind of convenient app. That meant that we had to think on our feet, pay attention to our surroundings and form our own opinions.

Now, I see all kinds of travellers with their faces buried in their screens, completely missing what’s going on around them. They base their choices on the opinions of influencers who offer no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about, and often present false fronts on their media sites. People destroy popular tourist sites so they can take a photo of themselves looking cool, thus being a general nuisance and often ruining the site for any visitors that try to come after them.

This beautiful iris in the cloud forest of Peru only blooms one day a year; exploring by myself, I was the only person in our tour group to see it

According to the article about Szekely, her philosophy is “to find our own inner peace by looking away from our screens and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world. And sometimes, the best antidote to doom scrolling is by going on a walk—not on the treadmill, but in nature—and by focusing our awareness on the birds and other wildlife around us, we’ll find “all kinds of answers.” “ 1

Building on that, if you look through history, political clashes come and go and the human race goes on. Devastating epidemics have occurred over the centuries – the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, the Spanish Flu anywhere from 17 million to possibly 100 million worldwide – and humanity survived those with far less medical advances than we have today. Many people are working hard to save species and our planet.

Things you see on the side of the road deep in the African bush: an elephant refreshing itself in the hot afternoon sun

It’s important for us to stay informed enough to remain safe, but not to drive ourselves crazy with it. Conspiracy theories count on fear to help them spread, but wouldn’t you rather feel good about life and stop worrying that everyone’s out to get you? Sure, there’s bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good also, and that’s the kind of news I want to look at.

My advice builds on what Szekely has to say: stop living your life through an electronic device. Get out and actually live! The world is still very beautiful and there are plenty of wonderful people in it. But you’ll only experience all of that when you look up. Go someplace, see what it has to offer without any preconceived ideas, and make up your own mind about it. Learn to rely on your own opinions and judgements. Travel locally or travel abroad, safely and with full awareness of where you are. And then let me know what you found 😊

Look up, look down, look all around — you’ll be amazed at what you see

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

1After Living, Traveling, and Learning Her Way to 100, Deborah Szekely Has Some Advice for You, byChloe Arrojado for AFAR Magazine, May 10, 2022, www.afar.com/magazine/wellness-tips-from-100-year-old-legend-deborah-szekely

Outside the box wellness: winter’s magic

It’s a disheartening time to be a Canadian. There’s a large philosophical divide between the truckers who refuse to get vaccinated and the thousands of us who believe that in a world-wide pandemic, the greater good supersedes individual contrariness. We thousands have all had the vaccine and are doing just fine, apart from a couple of days of flu-type malaise after each injection. The development of vaccines has meant that millions of people no longer die from diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid, diphtheria and polio. I don’t argue the truckers’ right to protest, just their complete disregard of how their gatherings are disrupting the lives of thousands of people who, I believe, have just as much right to avoid getting sick.

When my frustrations reach boiling point, I head out to spend time in the peace and beauty of nature. Even in winter, you say? Winter is a wonderful time to get outside. I bundle up, grab my camera, and enjoy the artistry of the winter landscape.

Snow forms complex patterns on the frozen surface of the Welland Canal
A bollard creates its own animal shadow — I see a horse’s head
What appears to be some kind of buoy forms a bright spot on the ice of the Canal
Multiple tracks in the snow — I think some are squirrel, one white-tailed deer, and other I’m not sure of
A gorgeous blue jay explores a thicket along the Canal
The white backdrop makes everything look sculptural, like these black benches and bright red dogwood branches
An unidentified tree has buds on it!
A picturesque fence draped with tangled vines
More anthropomorphism — an evergreen shrub is transformed into a hulking winged beast
Even the snow has patterns, from smooth white, to windy swirls, to these granules that I assume dropped down from the trees above

Bread of life

Today’s loaf of fresh bread — the Rapid White product

So, hubby and I are self-isolating for a few days. We’ve only been lightly ill; in any other year we’d just be treating this as a seasonal bug, and it’s strange to have to consider that we might have picked up the coronavirus. Provincial health officials stated a few days ago that anyone who has symptoms of a respiratory illness has a high probability of actually having the Omicron variant, such is its transmissibility.

I did a grocery run on Sunday, using all the proper precautions — surgical-quality mask, hand-sanitizer after I left every store, then washing my hands for 20 seconds when I got back in the house.

On Monday morning I started getting chills, aches, a headache, some coughing and possibly a mild fever. None of these are unusual for me by themselves (except the fever) — they’re just a fun part of having fibromyalgia. After popping Vitamin C and acetaminophen all day long, and waiting to see what might develop, by the next morning I felt substantially better. The Omicron variant has a shorter incubation period (as low as 2 days), but I had no other symptoms, so I put it down to one of my worse days with a chronic condition.

By Wednesday morning, hubby told me he was so achy he wasn’t going in to work. That is highly unusual; I can probably count on one set of fingers the number of times he’s stayed home over the decades. He spent most of the day wrapped up in multiple throw blankets. When he remained home again today, we decided to do the right thing and follow the province’s protocol to assume the worst and quarantine ourselves.

There’s no way to tell if we have the virus or not; we’re certainly not ill enough to go the hospital (not complaining!), but since we’ve had symptoms we can’t go out and get a couple of Rapid Antigen test kits to see if we even have the antibodies. So we’re ‘stuck’ at home, sitting by the fire with cups of tea and watching television — not the worst position to be in.

Fortunately we have plenty of the two most critical needs in stock: food and toilet paper 😉 We were running low on bread, though, and as a result, today became the day my hubby must stop yanking my chain about how much each freshly-made loaf has cost us so far after we invested in a bread machine last fall.

I began thinking about getting an automatic bread-maker — even though we didn’t really need to add another appliance taking up counter space in our modestly-sized kitchen — after some of my favourite commercial breads started adding barley to their flour mix. For years I’ve had to read ingredient-labels on everything to avoid things like soy and sulfites, both of which give me nasty migraines; after several unexpected migraines I wasn’t happy to be forced to add barley to the list. Barley can add fibre and help the fermentation of the yeast. Neither of those benefits did me any good, and I started looking into making my own bread.

After talking to friends with a variety of machines and conducting online research into features and user reviews, and after hubby suggested we buy a machine as a Christmas ‘house gift’, I made the decision to go for the top-rated brand, the one with the weird name, Zojirushi. The brand has had some negative reviews on Amazon, although most were very positive. I’ve been using it at least once a week for about a month and a half now, and have no complaints at all.

I chose the Virtuoso Plus model for one crucial reason: it makes Sourdough bread, and even makes the starter. My hubby and I were introduced to great Sourdough in California on our first visit. It should be chewy and distinctively sour, and since it’s been hard to find good Sourdough in our neighbourhood ever since, that was the first feature I looked for.

Our machine makes a very good Sourdough. The whole thing takes about six hours: a little over two to make the starter, after which you must directly segue into making the bread itself, another roughly four hours. The bread has a nice crust, good toothsome-ness, and a lovely tart flavour.

I didn’t jump into that at the beginning, though. I tried the easy Italian bread, because it didn’t require dried milk, of which I had none on hand. Carefully measuring the ingredients and adding them to the baking pan in the order prescribed (apparently each bread machine has a specific order it wants you to follow), I keyed in the correct Course on the control panel and nervously pushed START.

When the machine beeped 3 & 1/2 hours later, I was rewarded with a perfect loaf of warm bread.

Here’s how an automatic bread machine works (at least the one I have): After washing and some assembly — basically putting the little beater bars in place inside the baking pan, which mix the ingredients and knead the dough — you put the ingredients in as listed in the handy Recipe Book. If you’re making one of their suggested breads, you enter in which one (with Zojirushi they’re all numbered) and push the Start button. That’s essentially it, until 2 & 1/2 to 4 & 1/2 hours later the aroma of freshly-baked bread fills your house.

The image isn’t the clearest, but this is the control panel of the machine for today’s bread: Course 9, Rapid White Bread, to be finished at 3:45pm

Some breads have added ingredients, like Raisin Bread; the machine pauses and beeps at you to let you know when to add the raisins. I haven’t tried every single standard recipe, but the Raisin Bread is very nice, pleasantly cinnamon-y and tender.

The machine will also just make dough for you, which you can then take out and shape into a number of other bread-based things, like bagels or dinner rolls. For Christmas Eve I found a recipe online for making buttery Parker House rolls using a bread machine, and they turned out perfectly despite the fact that I messed up and put double the amount of butter in. (There must be a saying somewhere that you ‘can’t have too much butter in a roll’, or there should be.) For the Parker House rolls, I used the “Homemade” course, which requires you to manually enter the timing for each cycle of the process by pressing the Cycle button: Rest >> Knead >> Shape >> Rise 1 >> Rise 2 >> Rise 3 >> Bake. Depending on what you’re making some of the cycles may be set to zero, i.e. they’re not being used for your bread type.

I don’t know what other brands have, but there are several things I like about my machine:

a) The Rest cycle, which the machine uses to bring all the ingredients to the right temperature. When making bread by hand, bakers have to be aware of the temperature of the room at the time, and make sure none of the ingredients are too warm or cold. My machine eliminates that.

b) The default setting for the crust is “medium”, which produces the lovely golden-brown crust you can see in the photo at the start of this post.

c) Although the manufacturer states that the machine gets quite hot during the Baking cycle, I didn’t find it too bad. I still pull the machine out from under the cupboard, where it normally sits, to use it (away from my wooden cabinets), and use oven mitts to remove the hot finished loaf, but otherwise I find it not much hotter to the touch than our toaster, and during the preceding cycles it stays cool.

The only suggestion I’d have for the manufactures is to light up the control panel; it’s hard to read without using a flashlight.

I’ve read that many bread bakers find the kneading process quite therapeutic. All I can say is that I find the simplicity of the machine, freeing you to do something else until the incredible aroma lets you know that your warm, fluffy loaf is ready, is very therapeutic — especially on days when you’re under the weather 🙂

Here’s what the machine process looks like:

Choose the recipe;

Measure the ingredients, using the handy measuring cups that come with the machine, and place them in the Baking Pan in the order listed;

I dump my bags of bread flour into a plastic bin — much easier to measure the flour correctly

Place the Baking Pan inside the machine; mine has metal feet that click into place;

One critical tip: you must place the yeast (the darkest brown in the photo) so it doesn’t contact the salt – otherwise the yeast will be deactivated. I tuck the salt into the back right corner.

Close the machine’s lid and program the bread course that you want (as in the photo earlier in this post);

Take out your beautiful finished loaf!

Using oven mitts (the baking pan is hot when you take it out), you just turn the pan over and gently shake the loaf out onto a cooling rack. Then you’re supposed to wait for it to cool down, but I wanted to show you what the bread looks like inside when freshly cut:

A slice of freshly-baked, pillowy white bread

Your loaf will have indents on the bottom where it baked around the beater bars. They’re not the most aesthetically pleasing, but once you bite into the delicious bread, you won’t care.

Bite into a piece of this bread and then tell me whether you’re worried about how pretty it is 🙂

For breads where you take the dough out, let it rest, and shape it (e.g. there’s a great Party Loaf recipe included where you cut the dough into equal-sized pieces, roll the pieces into balls, and stuff the balls with something like cream cheese or chocolate), you can remove the beater bars before you put the shaped dough back in, or bake your dough in a regular oven (as I did with the Parker House rolls).

Our machine makes a two-pound loaf, which typically lasts us about a week. The bread is more delicious than anything I’ve ever bought in a bakery, even a really good one (truly). Plus, you can’t beat a loaf that’s still warm from the oven, but even at that our machine-made bread has taken several days longer to begin going stale than commercial bread does.

All in all, our investment has been an unqualified success. As long as I keep stocked up on a few basic ingredients, I can make us bread whenever we want, which will be delightful during our self-imposed quarantine. The machine will also make things like pizza dough, cake, and even jam, none of which I’ve tried yet, but I did order some whole-grain rye from Amazon to use for my sourdough starter, and I hope to try making a full-on hearty rye bread with caraway one of these days.

Today, since I had a turkey carcass left over from having made a turkey dinner on Monday, I decided a good turkey soup was just the thing to go with a fresh loaf of bread — healthy, cozy and nourishing. By my hubby’s cheeky calculations we’re probably down to about $50 a loaf now, but like any new toy the cost will go down the more we use it, and the pleasure we get from having this resource, as well as the comfort of knowing I can both control the ingredients so that I don’t get a headache and keep us well-supplied even as prices in grocery stores rise this year, have already paid for the gadget long before we reach that break-even loaf. And that will likely happen very soon!

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus