Ask the grumpies: What above-range microwave/hood should we get?

Ewan asks:

Your dishwasher-slash-grossness post prompted me to ask you to ask your (apparently well-informed on appliances!) readership: recommendations for an above-range microwave/hood? Our Kitchenaid just hit the ‘too old and expensive to be worth fixing’ point after 12 years; the kitchen really needs the microwave there even though we probably wouldn’t do it if starting over. External venting. Thanks!

Oooh, I hate the above range microwave.  We had one on our last sabbatical (that was also a convection oven) and it was so annoying.  I would pay a lot of money to just get a normal hood and then put a regular microwave on the counter.  But you may not have counter space, and it may not be worth the money to counteract those crazies who thinks countertop microwaves must be hidden from view.  (You may also be tall.)

Consumer reports talks about their choices here.

Good housekeeping favors the samsung (though tbh, good housekeeping doesn’t generally agree with other rating sites).  Bob Vila also plugs a Samsung.

The Spruce likes the GE.  The Chicago Tribune agrees.  So does the NYTimes.

So… it looks like most places think you should get a GE or a Samsung.  Probably the GE.  (Disclaimer:  We are not experts!  Do your own research or consult experts before making important life-changing decisions.)

If you want to get fancy, you can get one that doubles as a convection oven, but we never did use ours more than once or twice even though we cook a lot.  Maybe if you were more into convection baking?  But it’s still such a pain to have hot stuff so far up there.  I think we’d probably use a convection oven more if it were closer to the ground.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Ewan?

Ask the grumpies: Ideas for a pet friendly couch?

Chelsea asks:

I need a recommendation for a new couch. Right now we have a 12-year-old, tan, fabric-covered 3-cushion sleeper sofa from Ashley furniture. I would describe the style as “normal couch”. It has served us well but – after daily hard use by three children – it is pretty nasty. To the point that, despite replacing the cushions once and washing the cushion covers (and spraying them with pee-neutralizing spray) I really don’t like to sit or lay on it anymore. Even my mother, who never replaces anything until it is absolutely worn out, says “couches don’t last forever…” in reference to ours.

We are looking for something durable and reasonably priced. We don’t want a sleeper this time. We are trying to decide if the ease of care that would come with a “leather” sofa is worth the extra expense. I wish I liked the Ikea Ektorp because it seems perfect for us, but I feel like it always looks very “rumpled” in the showroom and like it might not hold up well. But I could be convinced otherwise. I do not like the “overstuffed” look but don’t care much about the styling otherwise. I would love to spend less than $1k but could do between $1k and $2k for something really great that would last.

I would love to hear readers’ suggestions for a family/pet friendly couch. Thanks!

We are not good people for this question… #1 has overstuffed black “leather” graduate school couches that have lots of scratches from cats and one of the pillows seems to have melted a little from before Nice Kitty got on Prozac (this is why I’m not sure it’s *actually* leather, especially since we were able to afford them in graduate school).  We will not be changing anything until our kids are in college.  #2 has a kind of standard wooden futon kind of thing.

So we asked a friend who is good at interior design.  Here’s what she says:

I have had an Ektorp for 15 years and I love it. Mine has held up great with 2 cats and a small dog (but no kids). With pets, I will never have a couch that is not slipcovered. The trick to not having the Ektorp look rumpled is to dry the slipcovers on low until they are just slightly damp and then immediately put them back on the couch – the end result is no wrinkles (this is NOT what Ikea recommends – they say their covers are air dry only – but the internet convinced me to try this). My slipcover is white and I use bleach on it with no issues. It has been peed on and puked on and looks (and smells) no worse for the wear. The Ektorp was recently discontinued, but was replaced by a similar-looking couch called the Uppland – I hope the slipcovers perform similarly.

I do hear leather is also good for dogs, I am just not personally into that look.
Hope that helps!  Grumpy Nation, what has been your experience with couches and animals?  What do you recommend?

Ask the grumpies: Advice about hearing aids

D asks:

Some of us older academics are having aging issues, loss of hearing being one of them. Hearing aids seem to be very expensive and way overpriced at the neighborhood audiology office. What is the experience of similar folks in buying hearing aids and getting support? For example, I’ve heard Costco sells good, inexpensive “non-rip off” hearing aids- but the sample size is 2-3. Also, any experiences with insurance coverage?

Disclaimer:  We are not medical professionals!  Get medical advice from real professionals and/or do your own research before making any important healthcare decisions.

My father has a hearing aid from Costco.  He put off getting one for decades because, as you say, the neighborhood audiology office is expensive, but finally decided Costco was a good enough deal.  He seems happy with it.  So, that’s another N=1.

My FIL has the overpriced audiology version and he seems happy with it.

Both of them complain that it’s hard to separate out voices in a crowded room, and both tend to turn theirs off at restaurants or other crowded locations (my FIL tends to use restaurant time as time to catch up on napping).  Technology may have improved since they got their aids though, I don’t know.

Consumer reports reviews hearing aids, so you might want to look into what they have to say (they do like Costco’s Kirkland brand).  This article talks a bit about the pros and cons of Costco hearing aids.

In terms of insurance coverage, that will vary across plans so it’s probably easiest to give your insurance carrier a call and ask if it isn’t clear in the plan info provided by your university (or by wherever you get your insurance).  Some states only require that insurance provide hearing aid coverage for children.  Others include adults.  Many states don’t require it at all.  You can get more information here.  Many insurance plans will cover the screening but not the aids themselves.  But again, it’s something that varies by plan.

Grumpy Nation:  Do you have any better information than we have?  Do you or a loved one have experiences with hearing aids that you could share?

Ask the grumpies: Why would anyone still use Facebook given how fascist their monopoly power and lack of government intervention allows them to be?

K asks:

Why would anyone in their right mind-ever? still? be using Facebook?
No, seriously.

Beats me?  DH deleted his because of the privacy problems.  I at first didn’t get on because I have an addictive personality and I wanted to get work done, but more recently I am super creeped out by how it and instagram and all the other Facebook subsidiaries are no longer trying to pretend they’re selling things to us, they make it very clear that it is US they are selling.  No, I am not going to get a Facebook or Instagram account just to see a second picture on Instagram or to get the darned box out of the way on some random restaurant’s webpage.  Stop collecting my data!

More seriously, Facebook has two things going for it.

  1. It is addictive.  People want to stop.  They’re happier when they stop.  But they can’t stop.
  2. It is a natural monopoly.  If you want to keep up with people without, you know, actually talking to them (or bothering them as those of us with social anxiety term it), Facebook is basically your only option.  You want to see baby pics and your friend isn’t a social media influencer, this is your only option.  People don’t email these things anymore.  They only text them to close friends and family.  Facebook by dint of being the place where everyone is, is the only place everyone is.  You are out of the loop when you’re not on facebook.  (I remember the first time I was at a conference and found out one of my high school friends in my field was pregnant, and I texted one of our mutual high school friends and they were like, I know, she posted it on Facebook, you would have known this if you were on Facebook, and that was kind of a let-down.  So… now I don’t text anymore because there’s no reason to?)

Update:  This is a timely post!  #DeleteFacebook  The DOJ anti-trust division thinks they’ve been illegally shutting down their competition… they definitely *behave* like a monopoly.

Grumpy Nation, those of you on Facebook, why?  Those of you not on Facebook why not?

Ask the Grumpies: What to do with a windfall/how much to keep in cash/etc.

anonymous in the midwest asks:

My husband and I are also sitting on too much cash, and I’m trying to get over my fear of putting it in the market now. We had $30K in a 3% CD at our local credit union, but that matured and now we’ve got $50K earning nothing in our savings account. We (especially my husband) want to get some kind of return, but we also want to spend a good chunk of it on a new minivan and/or a bigger house in the next 5 years or so. I’m also wary of complicating our tax situation – we’ve never had non-tax-sheltered investments before. We’re considering bonds, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea.

A minivan has a well-defined price, but a bigger house doesn’t, so I don’t really know how much we’ll want to spend on these big things (and we might decide not to do either one). I guess the questions I’d like to see answered are more along the lines of:
-how do you decide how much $$ to keep in cash?
-how do you (and readers) think about which investments to put in tax-sheltered versus taxable accounts? Do tax implications play a role in those decisions?

Jenny F. Scientist says:

My mother decided to give each of us (3 daughters) $100,000 so I, too, need to figure out what to do with too much cash!

First disclaimer:  We are not professional financial planners.  See an actual fee-only financial planner with fiduciary responsibility or do your own research before making any important financial decisions.

Second disclaimer:  I keep WAY too much money in cash.  Especially now that Trump is not going to be president soon and it becomes less and less likely we will need to flee the country or worry about having some of our assets being seized illegally.

Here’s some earlier posts:

What to do with a windfall (we put it in the mortgage)

Do I see a financial planner about a 300K inheritance?  This one has some commentary on college savings.

What we did with an extra 40K.

What does a 20 year old do with 600k?

How much should we have in cash?

How your cash emergency fund can change as your net worth grows.

How to account for large purchases in your budget/cash flow.

How we approach diversification

A post on what to put in taxable vs. not taxable accounts

You already know the heuristic to not put any money into the stock market that you will need in the next five years.  I’m not Suze Orman (and don’t have all your financial details) so I can’t tell you how much to spend on a mini-van or house vs. not.

In terms of how much to keep in cash:  Every year when the new academic year starts for me, I take a spreadsheet that has an estimate of how much we spent the previous year, then tinker with known changed costs (ex. childcare going away, health insurance prices going up, etc.), to get an idea of about how much we spend each month.  Then, since my summers are unpaid, I make sure I have 3 months of summer spending (this will probably not be the case for you), then add a month in case of emergency, and call that the minimum amount we’re allowed to have in savings by May.  Now, I can’t be fired without several years of warning, so I don’t need more than 3 months in savings.  If I could be fired, I would probably want at least 6 months of money in cash, just because people tend to lose jobs about the same time the stock market is tanking and I’d want to not feel terrible selling stocks when I was already stressed out about money and work.  Back when we had less income, we necessarily only had about 1 month in cash, and we just knew we’d have to get loans if there was an emergency that couldn’t cover things.

So, to sum:  Have 3-6 months of spending in your account in case of job-loss (less if you are just starting on saving and need to start saving for retirement– the principal in an IRA Roth can be used as an emergency fund).  Have up to a year if a year of spending is only a small part of your net worth or you work in an especially volatile industry.  Add more if you have any expected large expenses coming up like replacing your heating/a/c unit or buying a new car and so on.  Or if you’re saving for a downpayment for a new house.  Remember that money is fungible, so if you have 3-6 months of spending and your hvac goes out unexpectedly, you can replace the hvac and then rebuild the emergency fund.

Disclaimer redux:  I have a little over a year of $ in cash right now, spread out over 3 different banks.  This is ridiculous and I was going to move some to taxable stocks, but then DH found out about his job going away and isn’t sure he wants to even get unemployment (since he’s not sure he wants to job search), so I just kept it in cash, figuring maybe we’ll want to spend it.  I do plan to put some of it in IRAs in January, and it will get chipped away into DC2’s 529 plan every month unless our financial picture changes.

In terms of what investments to put where:  We only recently hit the point where we ran out of tax sheltered places to put new money (we had some money in taxable stocks back when we didn’t have work retirement accounts and the IRA limits were much smaller).  So… max out your work retirement accounts.  Do Backdoor Roths every year that you can if your income is too high for a regular IRA.  If you work at a company with a mega backdoor Roth 401k, look into putting money there.  If you have kids, consider 529 plans.  We talk in much more detail about what kinds of money to put in what kinds of accounts given tax implications in this post.  Remember, perfect is the enemy of the good– it is better to have a money allocation that is non-optimal than it is to do nothing (unless, of course, you decide you want to keep the 30K in cash!).

Re:  what to do with a huge windfall?

    1. Pay off high interest rate debt (if any)
    2. Create an emergency fund
    3. Max out all retirement savings
    4. Pay off lower interest rate debt (though you may want to wait a couple years on any student loans– there is a non-zero chance some portion of them will be forgiven in the next year, but who knows)
    5. Put money in 529 plans (if applicable)
    6. Max out an emergency fund
    7. Taxable savings and/or fun!

Grumpy readers, what did I miss?  How would you answer these questions?

Ask the Grumpies: Dollar Cost Averaging

First Gen American asks:

I’ve been sitting on too much cash for almost a year now. (I had 2 pension payouts among other things and it’s still not invested). Market has scared me and being very close to my magic retirement number I am much more gun shy now and I know it’s something I need to address….or do I? I think dollar cost averaging is the answer as that is why I didn’t invest when everything was 18000 because I don’t think at the time It was the bottom. It dropped more in 2008…but everyone says finding the bottom or top of the market is near impossible.

We are not professional financial advisors.  Please do your own research or listen to a fee-only financial planner with fiduciary responsibility (Not Edward Jones!) before making any important investing decisions.  #Disclaimer #pleasedontsueus

Walter Updegrave, who is one of my favorite professional popular personal finance peeps says that you should just invest the lump sum all at once in the asset allocation that you want.

This is retirement money.  Even if you start drawing on your retirement money in 10 years, you’re not going to be drawing down all of it for decades yet.  That means that the long term is what’s important, not the short term.  And by delaying, you are missing out on market ups, not just the market downs.  It is extremely unlikely that you will accidentally put money in at a 10 year peak.  Most likely, even if you put it in during a peak,

Remember, without a working crystal ball, you cannot optimize the market.  You can only get a good expected value.  You can only mitigate risk.  By the time you need this money, the market will have gone up, and it will have gone up more than leaving it in your 0.5% savings account.  On average, according to Updegrave, you’re better off putting the money into the market/bonds in a lump sum than you are dollar cost averaging.  In simulations, dollar cost averaging wasn’t even close to lump sum, assuming that your lump sum took into account your stock/bond mix.  The trick is that you diversify with market allocation, not just market timing.  That is, when stocks are doing well, bonds aren’t as attractive and when stocks aren’t doing well, bonds are more attractive.  Market allocation is something you can specify, but you cannot time the market itself.

So, bottom line, decide on your overall stock/bond allocation and use these lump sums to get your money into those percentages.  That’ll help you rebalance too!  Which is another thing that you can control better than you can control market timing.  You may also be able to save some on fees with a lump sum depending on how your brokerage works (if it’s a flat fee vs. %).

The one exception is if you are putting off doing lump sum investing because you’re trying to time the market.  If you just keep putting it off, then for goodness sakes, some of that money in the market is better than none, so dollar cost average it.  Basically, if you have a lump sum:  lump sum > dollar cost averaging > putting off putting a lump sum in.  If dollar cost averaging helps you actually take the plunge, then set it up!  Otherwise, just put that lump in today!

Ask the grumpies: Thanksgiving garage decorations?

kt asks:

Any decor ideas for Garage Thanksgiving?

I love this question!  We’re not really into decorating, so we won’t be doing anything… but….the idea is lovely.

Definitely cinnamon brooms.  I’d probably go for some potpourri action too, or if you have an induction stove I’d put a big pot of heavily spiced apple cider on it to add to the fall fragrance.  Things to make the garage smell less garage-like and more holiday-like.

I asked one of my friends who loves home decor.  Here’s her advice:

I’d set up a table and decorate it like an inside table.  I’d probably get old throw rugs for the ground.  I’d light candles.  Pumpkins.  Mums.

Here’s a google image search on the topic.

Here’s some suggestions for repurposing things that are already in your garage (assuming you don’t just like, keep cars in there).

Someone made a video (the end result is impressive, I think):

Grumpy Nation, I am sure most if not all of you are better at this than we are.  What suggestions do you have for decorating a garage for Thanksgiving or just keeping the air flowing while you eat with loved ones that don’t live with you?  (If we do Thanksgiving with my sister it will be on the deck or in the patio, depending on the weather.)

Ask the grumpies: Gifted vs. Local school for a new Kindergartener?

K asks:

I have a 4-year-old daughter who will be starting kindergarten next year. I have two school choices that are both within a few miles of our house, and am trying to weigh between them.

Choice 1 is a well-rated public school. I don’t know much about it—the website makes it sound pretty standard.

Choice 2 is a well-rated K-12 charter school that focuses on gifted students. They mix kids into different classrooms based on ability in the subject, and the classrooms are age-mixed. Even kindergarteners switch classes in this school. They don’t expect a given kid to be gifted in all subjects and say that they meet each kid at their own level this way.

Choice 2 is more racially diverse than Choice 1… but the gifted focus takes away a different sort of intellectual diversity that I would expect to see at Choice 1.

Right now, I have the impression that my daughter is very open to learning and is pretty far ahead of her age level on academic skills. I believe she’d test as gifted, but she’s still very much a 4-year-old socially/emotionally. I don’t want put her in a school that squelches her on the learning front or on the social/emotional front. And I see both choices as having that potential, just in different ways.

What are your thoughts about these choices, both as parents and as educators?

What are the questions you would ask the schools if you were judging them?

Here’s a similar question from a past Ask the Grumpies.  Here’s one on dual language vs. gifted (this one has some links at the bottom to related questions).  (Here’s one on what dual language program to pick.)

Basically our advice was:  Visit both!

But it’s Covid-time, so you really *can’t*.  Likely they’re not in session and even if they are in session they’re having to deal with new modalities so you won’t be getting a picture of what things are going to be like (hopefully) for the bulk of your DD’s school career.

Ok… so let’s start brainstorming here.

As GT kids, we were not socially integrated until we went to a GT high school.  I was completely out-of-synch with my classmates.  I’m not sure that it’s ok yet for girls to be incredibly smart.  My own DC1 gets along a lot better with kids that are not hir age– zie gets along well with older kids in terms of interests, and gets along well with younger kids because they tend to look up to hir.  My DC2 has best friends that are hir age, but they’re all GT and two of them are just incredibly sweet people– as nice as DC1.  Social/emotionally you just don’t know which is going to be better until you try it.

I would hope that neither school will squelch academically.  If your kid is advanced, I would hope that a good public school would differentiate.

Given that the GT school mixes ages, it is likely that there is going to be plenty of intellectual diversity.  They say that not everyone is gifted in all subjects, so that’s how it is going to be handled.  I was in a first grade a bit like this for one year (before moving to the midwest) and it was pretty great.

The fact that Choice 2 is more racially diverse is a good signal.  In many places, gifted charters are not actually there for gifted students, but to cater to a white clientele who does not want to pay for private school.  These tend to be watered down.

End brainstorming.  Start thoughts about choices.

One very important thing to keep in mind when choosing between schools is that (with the exception of say Waldorf where they have some potentially harmful general beliefs about things like vaccines, but even then some are probably fine), it is generally not the modality that is important.  It is the schools themselves.  Some GT schools are fantastic places to learn that attract GT kids and are totally inclusive with dedicated teaching and acceptance of individual differences.  Some GT schools use GT as an excuse not to teach since the kids will do fine on their own, or are really just regular schools that are attempting to screen out people with brown skin (as noted above).

Some regular schools in high socioeconomic status areas are the same.  Their kids will do fine on the annual exams without their intervention, so they provide zero differentiation for smart kids.  Some regular schools are delightful with creative teachers who meet each kid within the classroom and/or allow single subject acceleration.

Sometimes these differences come down to individual teachers and you just get lucky.  But sometimes there’s good leadership and communication across teachers so they help each other out and the entire school is good.

End thoughts about choices.  Start questions to ask.

  • If you feel you’ve made a mistake with either choice, how easy it is to switch?
  • How do you feel about the administration and teaching at both schools?  Do they seem willing to work with parents?
  • (Can’t really do this one):  If you’ve visited the schools, do the kids seem happy and not acting up?
  • How will the school schedule work with your work-life?  Is there a bus? Are there after school programs?  What happens if your child misses the bus or wants to do an after school activity?
  • How do you feel about the curriculum at both schools?
  • What do they do about gifted kids?  Is there single subject acceleration (best), differentiation (second best), pull-out (better than nothing)?
  • How big are the class sizes in regular non-Covid years?  How many teachers per classroom?  (It is hard to do differentiation with a big class and no aide.)
  • Do you know any parents who have kids in either school who you could talk with?  Do you have friends of friends who could direct you to such parents?
  • In what way are the schools high rated?  Schools with high test scores and low socioeconomic status indicators are generally better schools than those with the same test scores and high socioeconomic status indicators.
  • How do they deal with bullying?  Do they believe in growth mindsets?
  • Suggestions from Grumpy Nation?

Hopefully these will both be great choices and just offer different options.

Grumpy Nation?  How would you go about making this decision?  What questions would you ask?  What advice do you have?

Ask the grumpies: What acceleration to prioritize and what about when they return to school?

Chelsea asks:

We are homeschooling because of high rates of transmission in our area and because my kids don’t sit in front of computer screens and pay attention well (TV on the other hand…). I have a question about a kid with mismatched skill levels. My DC2 just started K (will be 6 in Nov) and has very mismatched math and language levels. He’s a pretty normal Kindergartener as far as reading and writing goes (can write simple words but handwriting is terrible, can read sight words and is learning word families) but he has very good number sense and will probably be ready to start Singapore Math 2nd grade in a few weeks.

I guess the question is… should I care or try to do anything about the mismatched skill level? Like back off on math time and push reading and writing more? Or just roll with it and figure that his reading skill will catch up? DC1 made huge strides in reading in 1st grade so I assume this will probably happen for DC2…

Also, both of my kids are working ahead of their grade – at least for some things. DC1 is in 2nd grade and doing Winning With Writing and Growing With Grammar 3rd grade, etc. What should I do when they go back to school? Should I try to maintain what we’ve learned through homework (which is unappealing because they will have school homework, too)? Not really worry about it? I don’t think grade skipping is something that is done here, nor do I really think it’s what we want because I’m not sure they are ahead in every way (especially in maturity).

Thoughts?

I’m of two minds about letting kindergarteners just explore their interests and… helping give kindergarteners the skills they need to be able to discover new interests.  I mean, learning how to read is BIG and opens up huge wonderful worlds to explore.  It’s basically necessary for everything else.  So, I’d say in this case, so long as the kid is happy with it, add some phonics.  Since he likes TV, get a copy of the Leapfrog DVDs and learn their wonderful phonics songs by heart.  Sing them while doing chores.  As you continue to read to your child, putting your finger under the words you’re reading while you do it, reading may just happen on its own without additional upper-level instruction (We loved the Step into reading readers, like Too Many Dogs and Cat Traps — way more interesting than the dreadful Bob books).  A good phonics foundation is important, but there’s no reason not to start off in a way that is easy on you and fun for the kid.  No need to add any upper-level workbooks unless you and the child want to.  We also had some fun phonics puzzles where the kids matched a picture of an animal with the name of an animal, that sort of thing.  And definitely no need to cut back on math to make room for reading– just swap in some educational videos for TV and reading together for family time.

In the more general question… should you try to keep everything even, or allow single subject acceleration… What we have generally done:  If we think there’s going to be a grade skip, we push on anything that is not on level for the next year (like memorizing facts about who “invented” the steamboat in the US).  If one of the kids is behind on something (like spelling or grammar or Spanish or handwriting or typing) because it wasn’t picked up in the schools, we supplement for that, at least up to grade-level.  For acceleration, we mostly focus on making it so they’re not bouncing off the walls.  I love math and both my kids are interested in math, so it has been easier to push them on math than on other things (though DC2, the only artist in the family, has been using youtube to help explore that side of creativity, and DC1 has an extensive and growing knowledge of magic tricks).  So, for the most part, we have a baseline level of what we expect them to have, and we make sure they’re at that baseline, then we accelerate in things they (or I) find more interesting.  But a lot of it is about getting rid of some of their energy so they don’t start moving things with their minds like in Matilda.

When they get back to school, play it by ear.  You may want to talk to the teachers about if they do single subject acceleration or if they do differentiation and clustering within the classroom.  They may need to have new placement tests.  Also look ahead:  testing out of fifth grade math is REALLY common in our school district… in DC1’s year they had two full classes of seventh grade algebra because of it.  If something like that is common, you may want to make sure you keep up with the math and fill any missing gaps.  If school is challenging enough, then only supplement if they want it.  Currently we have DC2 doing a full set of workbooks on weekends, but only Singapore Math (on grade level currently) during the week.  Since zie only does a page a day instead of a full lesson a day it doesn’t generally take that long after everything else is done.  When school wasn’t challenging enough, we had more supplementation during the week.  DC1 finished a round of handwriting practice this summer because hirs was atrocious but zie doesn’t have any other outside-of-school assignments because zie gets enough at school (as a sophomore) now and isn’t super behind on anything.

Grumpy Nation, what are your thoughts?  Anyone in a similar situation, what are your plans?  Philosophically, how do you feel about whether to allow a single subject to be super accelerated vs. making subject learning levels more even?

Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for Bread books (with some bonus other baking books)

Natka asks:

It looks like your husband uses a mix of on-line recipes and cookbooks… Any recommendations for tried-and-true bread books (especially sourdough) for amateurs?

Bread by Treuille and Ferrigno has a lot of explanation of different bread-baking processes and a number of their recipes involve a starter and they explain how you can modify any recipe to use a starter in the intro. I got a copy for my sister because it explains so much. (There are multiple editions– we have the 2004 one.)  I can’t think of any dud recipes we’ve made from there.   I think we started with the Stromboli recipe (so did my sister, actually) and are currently going through it somewhat in order, skipping recipes that require ingredients we don’t have (I keep telling DH we should just get malt extract, but our local brewing store only sells it in gallon increments…)

If you’re into whole grain only breads, The Laurel’s kitchen bread book is the one you want. It explains how whole grain breads being thirstier means they are treated differently. I’m sure at least one of those mystery breads listed is a bean bread from Laurel’s.  These have all been good and there’s some discussion of things to look out for while making the breads which is helpful.

Ok, so those are our two books that are both tried-and-true bread books and good for people who want a little more guidance.  We also have a number of other baking books.

Baking with Julia doesn’t have a lot of bread (it does have some though!), but it is a fantastic teaching book for other baked goods.  This is how DH mastered the pie dough, for example.  It’s an all-around fantastic book.

Home Baking by Alford and Duguid is a wonderful book taking you around the world and helping you make different breads.  There’s not so much detailed how-to as in the Treuille and Ferrigno book, but we’ve found it pretty easy to make things like pita bread from their instructions.  And the pictures are gorgeous.  For a long time it was our coffee-table book.

If you want to up your sourdough game, Flour Water Salt Yeast is where to go.  I personally don’t have the patience for this one, but DH does.  We also have Artisan Bread in five minutes a day, but DH quickly got tired of it.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe the Jim Lahey original no-knead recipe is just good enough.

We talk a lot about Pure Dessert.  This is mostly a desserts book, but it has our favorite brioche recipe in it.  The recipes are generally pretty simple but often call for unusual ingredients that we have to special order.  (Nuts.com, not a sponsored link, has a lot of them.)

Simple by Ottolenghi isn’t a bread book, but it does have some quick breads in it. So far we’ve been astonished with how good a lot of the recipes are.

And, of course it is no longer anywhere near in print, but I taught myself baking from the Old Fashioned Cookbook by Jan McBride Carleton which remains one of my favorite cookbooks of all time.  The bread section is especially wonderful, particularly all the Christmas breads.  (Likewise the cake section, and the stews… really it’s just an all-around fantastic book.)

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Grumpy Nation, what are your favorite baking books?  Do you bake bread?  Where do you get your recipes?