Monday, May 31, 2010

Hair, Hair!

We should have known: quiet preschoolers, together, in the other room, with scissors.

Okay, so perhaps we're overly trusting. Or probably more likely naive.

But it ended well.

Well, depending.

Mama and I had finished our breakfast and wandered into the living room where the kids had been playing since finishing their breakfasts. And I saw the hair. The kids had cut the manes off their hobby horses, enjoying playing salon together. But as I examined the mess, I noticed other hair. Human hair.

Sis's hair. She had cut a chunk out of the back of her head. Not a big chunk; there is no bald spot. She said she wanted short hair like Bud and Mama. And she cried that we wouldn't let her finish what she'd started.

Bud confessed that he'd taken a little bit off the top of his hair too, but we couldn't tell at all.

Of course, we all do it: I cut a neighbor boy's hair when I was a preschooler; apparently, Aunt Banana cut her own hair. And at our Groundhog Day party, some girls in our basement cut each other's hair.

So Mama and I didn't flip out. I mean, there was a bit of a mess but no real harm done (in fact, parents that we are, we were hard pressed to explain just what was wrong with trimming hobby horse manes after all, if that's what the kids wanted. Now, their own hair was easier, which is ironic, because, of course, it can grow back, unlike the horses'). We just ended the makeover, took away the scissors, tried to distract them.

And tried to figure out when we could go get them real haircuts (since we didn't go yesterday, as planned, 'cos Sis threw up first thing in the morning, which altered all our plans) and how in the world we could get the hair off of everything!

Hot Off the Grill

I think it is my new favorite grilled food: pizza!

Some guys at church said they do it all the time. And so, tired of grilled veggies and frozen veggie burgers, I thought it was worth a try, especially because Mama assured me that it was doable.

Plus, I'd read the article in the NYTimes about homemade pizza, the secret being letting the dough rest overnight to develop a richer flavor.

So, on Friday night, I made my basic pizza dough in my bread machine and left it out in a container at room temperature overnight. The next day, with homemade sauce, slices of fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves, we were ready. I divided the dough in half, spread it in a rectangle, and Mama threw it on the grill before anything else, closing the lid after it. In about 4 minutes, the dough was done on one side, bubbled and crisp, with pretty grill marks. We flipped it, spread the sauce and placed the cheese and basil, closing the lid again. In about 4 more minutes, the pizza was done.

And it was amazing. Not just the best grilled food, but some of the best pizza I've ever had. And so fast and easy. We even froze the second pizza in foil, not able to finish it all, and defrosted it the next day and reheated it on the grill--almost as great as the first day!

We'll be making this pizza every weekend . . . and you can too!

My MRI Meditation

A friend of mine said, a few weeks ago before my recent medical thing (is it a spot? is it a blur?), as we were talking about belief in God, that I would discover faith and a belief in a higher power if I suffered something life-threatening. She didn't mean it ominously, only reflected how she herself had drawn on her faith when she had cancer and other members of her family were dangerously ill. And in a weird way, she was right. And wrong. (Though I wouldn't exactly call my wait for MRI results "life-threatening," though perhaps life-altering.) I have been giving a lot of thought to Buddhism, the notions of attachment and suffering, and meditation, but I am no closer--and perhaps even further after attending a Catholic funeral mass on Saturday--to believing in a sentient higher power or God.

I had my MRI Thursday afternoon, at a different facility, with friendlier people. It was a much easier test, even with the contrast injection, maybe because I knew what to expect. Just like before, I meditated by counting my breaths. And when the counting became disjointed because of my attention to all the different noises (more than to the random thoughts in my head), I just noted that I was breathing in and out. I won't say the time passed quickly or even easily but I didn't move and I didn't get upset, so that's success in my book.

Especially because some of my sitting meditations recently have been disastrous. When the ortho first told me about my lordosis (the flattened back) and thus my reduced pulmonary capacity (yes, my ortho tells too many scary stories when he doesn't need to), I would sit to breath and in breathing would think on my lungs and just cry, cry, cry. That's been waning since my GP told me that the lordosis might keep from being an opera singer or Olympic athlete but otherwise probably wouldn't be noticeable. And so on Thursday, I could count and breathe for the 40+ minutes I think I was in the tunnel (I guess I can meditate more than 5 minutes now! I might be more ready for sangha than I thought).

My leg hurt afterwards; I must have been holding it tightly. I spoke to the nurse and walked it off while I waited for the CD-Rom of my pictures. Yeah, I have the pictures, the evidence of whether the gray spot was a false positive or proof positive. But since I can't read them, and the radiologist's report will come later, I'm not going to bother to open them. What is, is.

While I walked and waited, I also looked at the latest Shambhala Sun (a magazine on Buddhism), which was in my mailbox as I left for the test (along with the new King Arthur Flour Baking Sheet, to which I'm newly subscribed). And there in its pages was something I needed: five questions to help us deal with distress. I read the beginning and then took the article by Ezra Bayda to the coffee shop (okay, yeah, you know it was Starbucks, but for iced soy chai not crappaccino), where I worked my way through them. It gave me a handle on what I have been trying to grasp since last Tuesday.

1. What is going on right now? Well, nothing. I don't hurt. There are no symptoms. So if I stay in the present, am mindful of the "what is" instead of focusing on negative possibilities, then everything is fine.

2. Can I see this as my path? I took this to mean do I want to deal with this. Yes. Because I am starting to recognize that suffering, frustration, disappointment are everywhere. And if I run, it would just be in a vicious circle.

3. What is my most believed thought? There are several: that I can't do this, that I don't want to do this, that being ill will ruin the lives of not just be but of Mama and the kids, that I'm scared of dying.

4. What is this? It's all fear. A scary lack of control.

5. Can I let this experience just be? I'm going to try. What else can you do? Fighting it doesn't help. Though it reminds me of that story about the man whose son broke his leg and when people said that was too bad, he said "maybe." And when the son didn't have to go to war, people said that was good, and the dad said "maybe." It goes on and on . . . . Everything is both good and bad. It just is.

And so, when I feel myself starting to picture the worst-case future for me or without me, I stop and remind myself that it's just the fear. And I face the fear. And it seems to run from the light . . . .

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A BABY!!!!!

Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer are having a baby!!!!! Hungry Cousin is due around Thanksgiving. Congratulations!!!!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rise Up: A Sweet and Sour Day

Today is day number 40, the last day of my bread pledge, (which I will wrap-up in a post later this weekend complete with all the recipes and lessons I've learned). I decided to commemorate today by making a traditional Sourdough Bread. I received the starter from my friends at Bloodroot, who have kept their starter alive as long as they've had the restaurant, for 34 years. It sounds old, but my understanding is that it is young for starter--apparently there are some starters kept alive by dedicated bakers in New England that are as old as our nation; in Europe, I've read that some starters can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Of course, the actual ingredients of the starter aren't that old, per se, but the same yeast has been kept growing with new additions of flour and water for centuries. I don't know how long I'll have mine, but I'm looking forward to using it for years to come (and in the meantime, I hope I learn to like sourdough bread, which is sometimes too sour for my taste; but I like the idea of it so that's a start). I even bought it its own little ceramic crock, from King Arthur Flour, for it to live in inside the fridge. The crock arrived today, which is meaningful. And so, the end begets a beginning, a continuation, not only of the last 40 days, or even of a 34-year old starter, but of a tradition of bread baking that has gone on for thousands of years. And there's a crock of starter and a rising ball of dough and me in my kitchen, participating in this community of bread . . . .

Many, many hours later: the bread is amazing! I really liked this sourdough. Not too sour, not at all tangy, just crunchy crust and dense, uniform loaf. Wonderful with butter. And a whole extra loaf to take to church on Sunday to share with everyone. What a great way to end the pledge, with a gift from friends, a hand-kneaded dough, two beautiful loaves, and a yummy nighttime snack.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Sourdough Bread

1 cup sourdough starter (my note: not fed within last 12-18 hours)
1 1/2 cups warm water
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
cornmeal to sprinkle on pans
ice for oven (my adaptation)

Making the Sponge
When you take the starter from the refrigerator it probably will have separated. Blend it thoroughly with a fork or wire whisk. Pour one cup into a glass or pottery mixing bowl. Replenish starter by adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and leaving out to bubble at room temperature for 12 hours before returning it to the refrigerator.

To the starter in the mixing bowl, add the warm water and about 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a spoon or wire whisk.

Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and put it aside to begin to come to life and work. This timer period can be very flexible, from 2-24 hours. (I did it about 5 hours). The longer it has to work, the more yeast there will be for the second rising period and the more pronounced the sour flavor of the finished bread.

Making the Dough
Blend the salt, sugar, and baking soda into 2 cups of flour. Mix this into the expanded and bubbly sponge with a large spoons. When the dough begins to hold together, ,turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it for 3-4 minutes. Add flour as needed to make a fairly stiff dough (today, that was about 1-1 1/2 cups more).

Give the dough a rest while you clean out and grease your bowl (actually, I grease my big 8 cup measuring cup not the bowl so I can see how much it has risen). Continue kneading for another 3-4 minutes. Place the kneaded dough back in the bowl turning ti to grease the top. Cover it again to let it expand and rise for anywhere from 2-4 hours (I did about two hours).

(I skipped the second rise, mainly because I don't like a strong sourdough).

Shaping and Baking
Knock down the dough and shape it into 2 long French-style loaves. Place them on a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet (I used my baguette pans with cooking spray) and let them rise for another 2 hours or so.

Toward the end of the rising period, place a baking pan on the oven bottom (or on the lowest rack) and preheat your oven to 450F.

Just before it's time to bake, slash the tops diagonally with a knife every couple of inches, about 1/4" deep, and brush with cold water. (Then my trick I read somewhere, instead of pouring boiling water on the pan: throw 15-20 ice cubes on the baking pan in your oven and proceed). Put the loaves on the rack above the steaming water and bake them for about 25 minutes.

The crust will e very hard when you remove the bread but in 5 minutes it will be soft and chewy. To make the crust hard and chewy, turn the oven off and leave the bread inside for an additional 5 minutes. (I wanted to do that but my loaves were already too brown).

This bread apparently tastes wonderful the next day.

King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, with a few notes by Mommy Hungry

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rise Up: Here Today

I'll be blogging today even though it's Thursday. This will keep me from thinking about the MRI this afternoon and the wait until initial results next week. Also, I'm again attempting the loaf that started it all, Oatmeal Molasses Bread (aka the loaf that I ruined) which is doubly apropos because the woman who gave the recipe to me is getting married this weekend. And so I will make her bread and send loving thoughts to her and her bride. Only change: I'm making it with my stand mixer and dough hook, not wanting to put any additional stress on my back (the recumbent MRI, with legs straight, is stress enough).

I'll keep you update, with additions to this post, so check back.

-=-=-=-=-=-

So far, so good. The dough doubled, was punched own, rose again--almost sounds religious! Two loaves are in the oven right now, ready right before my MRI, so I probably won't try any until I get home. Perhaps that will be my reward! And it'll give me something positive to think about.

By the way, thanks to everyone who has emailed and called. I'm hanging in. And have played 3 games of CandyLand and two of Chutes and Ladders today.

-=-=-=-=-=-

The MRI test went smoothly; now we just have the wait until Tuesday.

But the bread wait is over: the loaves were a huge SUCCESS!!!! It's the right taste, color, crumb, crust--just like Rev. M's!!!!! So good. So marvelous. And I have 2 loaves. One for us. One to take to church to share on Sunday as part of our 40-40-40 wrap-up celebration. I'm so excited, so proud. Even though I don't know what went wrong the first time--bad molasses? overproofing? too much kneading? I have no idea. But I've done it right once now and plan to do it many more times.

Blessings on you and yours, Rev. M! Your bread is great!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rise Up: Too Hot to Bake

Oh, mercy, it's hot in CT today. Sun glaring, humidity high. UGH. Bud said of his sweat-soaked head, "My hair is crying!"

And so we had ice cream for lunch, straight from the convenience store! Bud had cherry Italian ice, Sis wanted Haagen Dazs chocolate, and I got coffee ice cream which I made affogato (that's just hot coffee, usually espresso, I think, poured over ice cream, as I understand it).

I had thought of baking cookies today--oatmeal with Craisins and chocolate chips--as both a treat for our playdate and something fun and distracting to do with the kids. But, even with central AC on, I'm not turning on the oven today.

And our poor contractor, who has been replacing our old sliding patio doors and is now framing in the ignored AC pipes upstairs, is sweating bullets in what is apparently a heat index in the mid-90s. That's fine for you Texas folks, but those of us up here just aren't ready.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

¾ cup margarine/butter

1 ¾ cups flour

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

3 cups oats (actually, I left this ingredient off when I transcribed it and don’t know how much exactly)

1 cup raisins (or 1/2 cup each Craisins and chocolate chips, approximately)

In a mixing bowl beat butter on medium for 30 seconds. Add about half of the flour, brown sugar, sugar, egg, baking powder, vanilla, and baking soda. Also cloves and cinnamon. Beat until thoroughly cominbed. Beat in remaining flour. Stir in oats and raisins.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2” apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool cookies on wire rack.

Appointments Made

Okay, here's what we have:
  • MRI w/contrast tomorrow afternoon
  • results w/ortho on Tuesday midday, which is hopefully auspicious because it's Gommie's birthday!
  • Neuro consult on Wed morning, kid's graduation from preschool day
Breathe.
And do housework. (And if that doesn't make sense, check out Karen Maezen Miller's new book Hand Wash Cold).

The Rest is Still Unwritten

(Gommie, etc: There is no new news or appointments. This is just a summary.)

So, first, the MRI shows that my back pain is nothing more than the scoliosis causing joint inflammation and perhaps some disc degeneration.

But the radiologists also had what they call an "incidental finding": basically, a gray spot where there shouldn't be one. This could be just a blurry MRI mistake, from movement or something else. A "false positive," the doctor called it. Or it could be some kind of demylinization, caused by some autoimmune disease like MS or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease, which killed my grandmother Bammie, though they say it isn't hereditary). That would be bad.

So, there will be another MRI, with dye contrast, and a consultation with a neurologist, all of which will take longer than I'd like.

For now, I'm just taking it one day at a time, trying not to imagine the worst-case. But that's easier said than done. So I guess I'm spreading my worries around to friends, family, and the internet at large, if only to ease them.

It's been hard not to cry and worry, especially because Sis sang to me last night the song from their upcoming graduation:

"You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you're miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
Just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
You've got troubles, well I've got 'em too
There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you
We stick together and we see it through
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me"

I love that girl, and her brother, and Mama, and my parents, and my sister, and all my family and friends. Thanks for being with me with this, regardless of what this is.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In the Paper

A quickie:

My Parenting Rules

It is said by "experts" that my kiddos are in the testing phase (or isn't that every age?), where they test boundaries and rules, trying to understand their world or at least their parents. And so we've been talking a lot about our seven Unitarian Universalist Principles recently. I find they're a great touchstone, especially when we are discussing difficult situations or concepts. We even have them posted on the fridge and regularly sing them to remember what they are:

(Sing to the tune "Do-Re-Mi")
One, each person is important.
Two, be kind in all you do.
Three, we're free to learn together.
Four, and search for what is true.
Five, all people need a voice.
Six, build a fair and peaceful world.
Seven, we care for earth's lifeboat.
And that brings us back to
Me and U-U!
One . . . . . (repeat ad nauseum)

It certainly makes parenting easier, in the sense that I have clear guidelines that I believe in to guide my decisions and to explain and support my answers, instead of "because I said so" or "because that's what we do." Like when we were talking about why we don't mess up a spider's web (Principle 7: Caring for Earth's lifeboat) or why it's not nice to hurt someone (Principle 1: Each person is important) or even why they have to go to school (Principle 3: We're free to learn together). Hopefully, it also gives them some guidelines to consider their own actions when faced with difficult choices (like when I'm not there. Like when they're in public school next year. Gulp). It also brings our faith's teachings into our daily lives, instead of just in church school on Sundays.

(Okay, so the UU Principles don't answer or address any spiritual issues along the lines of "Is there a God?" or "What happens when you die?"--nothing like the Nicene Creed, for instance--but I'm good with that, especially as I believe the cosmic mystery is inherently mysterious, unknown and unknowable. That's a hard parenting stance sometimes so I'm glad the Principles make other parts, mainly the here and now, easier for me.)

In shorthand, I often talk about "health, safety, and respect," the basis for things that don't obviously fall within the Principles, like why we don't run across the street, climb the piano, "give the guinea pig a bath" (to borrow something I heard a friend warn her kids about yesterday!), write on the car (ask Bud why he isn't allowed pens in the car right now!), etc etc etc. Sure, you could make connections to, say, the inherent worth of each person (i.e. take care of your own body!) or taking care of the web of life (for the poor guinea pig), but that's pretty abstract for a preschooler. And where would, say, writing on the car fit in? Is it involved with my dignity? Theirs? Health, safety, and respect are easy and concrete (especially because I have often defined respect as "nice" for them, for now). And now they've heard these words so often that they just give up and give in, mainly because it's something they can understand.

So, I'm realizing why lists like the Ten Commandments or the Noble Eightfold Path or the Wiccan Rede or our Seven Principles are at the basis of many religions: it's not about God, it's about parenting!

No wonder young parents often seem to return to or seek out faith.

(Which brings up one of my favorite UU jokes: What do you call an atheist with children? A Unitarian Universalist!)

The End is Nigh

Our preschool teachers: Spoiler Alert

Sis and Bud have decided that their preschool director, who is retiring this year (though they don't know that), is "the Queen of the School!" That's about right. And so today I took them to the bookstore to select end-of-year gifts for the teachers. The kids chose four books, in sections that I selected (cooking, music, art, and gardening) plus a box of chocolate for the Queen. Which they plan to deliver tomorrow. Before that, we have to finish our scrapbook pages for the gift for the teachers. And it was hard for me not to seize artistic control. Instead, I let Sis cut out the pictures, choose exactly what I wrote, spread glitter glue all over it, and affix unusual animal stickers in random patterns. Is it as pretty as many of the others? No. But it is definitely "her." (Bud hasn't done his yet! I'm sure it will be very, er, individual, too.)

The Right Ingredients

I told the kids yesterday that we would soon be making a meal to take to our friend's house because her mother died. Sis looked thoughtfully for a moment and then decided, "We'll take her our pie right now. And I'll choose the prettiest red leaf from our tree to give her." I was almost sorry that we weren't scheduled to take a meal until next week, but you can bet there'll be pie.

Snake in the Grass

No, really.

We have a snake. It currently lives in our rock wall. We've seen it three different times: once, when I crossed the wall a week ago to go to a neighbors; yesterday, when Sis spotted it as she was traversing said wall; and, finally, today when Sis was again walking along the wall.

She was going to name it "Scary" but has since opted for "Hydra," after the multi-headed snake of Hercules lore.

But that doesn't mean we're all friends. She's cautious but curious, keeping a very respectful distance but still wanting to look for it. Bud is not so sure. I'm very sure: I don't like snakes.

It's a garter snake, which means it's relatively harmless and even good for our garden. Still, we've been talking about what to do when we spot a snake: freeze and stay in place until it slithers away, while calling for an adult, and in no way try to touch it or get closer. Otherwise, we should be careful around rocks and weeds and fallen logs (and Pop, Sis mentioned your canoe!) because that's where snakes live. While ours is a "good" snake, I wouldn't trust me or a preschooler to quickly identify a "bad" snake--even with "Red and black, venom lack; red and yellow, kill a fellow!" (which leaves ours, "black and yellow, scare/kill/help a fellow"???)--better safe than sorry.

Ugh. I like the other "pet" woodland creatures who live in our yard--squirrel family Chippie (the mom), Brown Eyes (the dad, named for the chipmunk in Bearnstain Bears books), children Acorn and Pinecone--much better. But no sense creating a snake phobia in the next generation . . . .

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rise Up: Pie in the Sky

I was in the freezer today and spotted blueberries, the ones we picked last summer. Blueberries + bread pledge = blueberry pie!!!! I made pie crust . . . my own flaky, buttery, tender homemade pie crust!!!! No bitter aftertaste. No gummy bottom crust. I think it was the best pie I've ever made. I'll never buy refrigerator pie crust again.

-=-=-=-=-

Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup butter, unsalted and chilled, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ice water

In a food processor, pulse flour with salt and sugar. Add butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces remaining. Add water; pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if needed, add up to 4 tablespoons more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Do not overmix. turn out onto a work surface; knead once or twice, until dough comes together. Chill dough shaped in discs in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Everyday Food

-=-=-=-=-

Blueberry Pie

2 pie crusts
2-10 oz bags of frozen blueberries (approximately 4 cups)
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg
1-2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Place crust in pie plate. Place blueberries (still frozen) in bowl with flour and sugar. Mix together and slightly mash. Spoon blueberry mixture into shell. Cover with other crust, piercing to vent. Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar over crust and dot with butter. Bake at 350 for approximately 1+ hours, until golden brown crust and bubbly, covering rim of pie until last 15 minutes.

Mommy Hungry!

With Sadness

I just received word that the mom of our playgroup friend Miss J passed away this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Our Not-So-Secret Garden

Come to my garden,
Nestled in the hills.
There I'll keep you safe beside me.

Come to my garden.
Rest there in my arms.
There I'll see you
Safely grown and on your way.

Stay there in the garden,
Where love grows free and wild.
Come to my garden.
Come, sweet child.
--"Come to My Garden," Secret Garden

We finally put in our little garden plot this weekend, after delaying it because of cold weather, rain, necessary yard work, and other family activities. But yesterday, Mama labored all day to build the raised bed in the newly-cleared back corner, where a huge burning bush was removed (the consequence being a lot less privacy in our backyard, as well as much more space and a cleaner look). The kids alternately played and begged to know when we would plant. Finally, they could help spread out the organic garden soil and then put in the stakes and lastly the plants. We have a yellow crookneck squash, an Italian striped zucchini, 5 poles of beans, 5 poles of snow peas, and two romaine lettuce plants, in an 8 x 4' rectangle. Soon, we'll be adding horseradish and rhubarb from our dear church friend Miss M, who calls those two plants "home plants" because where you plant them is your home. She's given them to her kids and now to us, her "church kids." We can't wait. And I even have some rhubarb recipes. All the herbs that I get from our CSA (which starts the first week of June), usually basil, thyme, parsley, etc, will go in pots. And the flowers are still in our old garden bed around the mailbox in front (with the seeds from Gommie growing in two "window boxes" hanging off our deck). It's probably all more work than we're ready for, but isn't that what gardens are all about--hope, hard work, and a little luck?

Rise Up: Final Stretch

I have five days to go on my bread pledge. Though, I know already that the baking will continue after the 40 days are over. I'm not sure I could eat a grocery store loaf of bread again (now, bakery bread is different!). I won't wrap up here just yet, saving that for the end of the pledge. Particularly because there are a few more loaves I want to make, namely sourdough with the starter I got from my friends at Bloodroot and the Oatmeal Molasses Bread recipe from Rev. M that kinda started all of this, plus pie crust--I want to make a pie crust. But today, I have Sour Cream Bread in my machine (and Maple Baked Beans in my slow cooker), having some backaches from too much fun and not enough rest this weekend.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Sour Cream Bread

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cup sour cream
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons gluten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients in pan according to manufacturer's instructions, with the water and sour cream put in first, and adding the dry ingredients on top. Set crust on medium and program for Basic; press Start (not suitable for delay timer).

When the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the pan and place it on a rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

-=-=-=-=-=-

Maple Baked Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cups navy beans or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste mixed with 1 1/4 cup hot water

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cover, and cook until softened, after 5 minutes.

Transfer onion to 3 1/2-4 quart slow cooker. Add all ingredients and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.

Robin Robertson, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quandry

A few days ago, I wrote about my kids' new interest in those brightly-colored, fun-shaped Silly Bandz (or Crazy Bands) and my subsequent search for them. Now, some of you, those of you who always think I'm anti-princess and anti-Barbie, might wonder about my interest in and support of both a a). fad and b). plastic toy, about which I do usually rail. And I have now given much thought to giving in to such things, even consulting early childhood experts (i.e. our preschool director!). And so here's what I've come up with:

Let's just say my bark is worse than my bite most of the time. We have princess stuff and Barbie stuff. I'm not against most anything in moderation (even non-organic fruit! :) ). As long as it doesn't obviously conflict with our family values, like, say toy guns (somehow, medieval weapons of destruction like bows and arrows and daggers and swords are okay. Go figure.) or tv-branded food (we don't eat stuff, read "crap," because Clifford or Dora do), I'm okay with it. Especially because the financial outlay in this case is minimal. And because Sis and Bud want the bracelets because they're fun, not because everyone else has them. That's a big difference in my book. So, it's not a hard-and-fast rule about buying trendy things, but I think I can see my way clear for now.

It reminds me of that part of Little Women when Amy wants to buy oranges with the family rag money because it was the thing in school and Meg understands. I understand--I wanted a faux rabbit coat and jeans with patches on the pockets in elementary school, jelly shoes, twist-a-bead necklaces, and other things I've now forgotten (and in this case, wanted those things because everyone else had them). I think I got most of them and in doing so they lost their power. Had I not, I'm sure I would still fret, in some way, about it--it's hard not to fit in.

No sense giving such power to a little band of plastic. So, I'll talk about materialism and peer pressure but buy the bracelets anyway (especially because the kids want to share them with friends and put them in their party favor bags. Sorry, Mama Teacher, I'm sure they do drive teachers crazy. Hence the name, perhaps?). I'll draw my battlelines somewhere else. Like right before any toy guns.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sis's Little Stalker

Sis's special little friend at school knows where she lives now. His mom had to drop off some school stuff (which by the way was a scrapbook page for school that said one of his favorite things was to draw a city with Sis!) and he was in the car. Apparently, in the four days since they came by, he's asked constantly to drive by her house or, if they do pass our street, asks if he can come to the house to say hi. It's all very funny, but only because she was doing the almost exactly the same thing today at the Greek Festival, which happens to be held at his church.

See, this is the kid that Sis has asked to marry (and the one she cried about not playing with her a month ago, right before they became inseparable), or at least come to her birthday party! We've told her she can't get married until after college, but since she gets college and kindergarten confused, that might not be wise on our part. Though, she has other prospective marriage partners, including: Bud; and, when we said she can't marry family, her church school teacher, Miss M; and, when we said that Miss M is already married . . . . well, she gave up and said she'd live with us.

At least her little friend will know where to find her.

Kung Fu Fighting

The kids took a trial martial arts class today, their very first group lesson of any kind (not counting Chinese, because that included parents at all times). And I think it was stressful for us all, in different ways. In fact, Bud admitted to being nervous even beforehand because he wasn't sure what was going to happen.

This is what transpired: the kids removed shoes and socks and lined up inside the studio in front of the teacher (Lao Tse), who led them through a recitation of the school's motto, stretches, and beginning forms. There were about 10 kids in class, which was then split into the more accomplished kids and the newer kids. Our kids were in the latter group, working with the master on the "fighting style" pose and some punches and kicks (which he counted out in Mandarin--and we understood him!). Sis could follow along almost immediately, but Bud had more trouble following some of the forms. And both often switched their left and right. They also had trouble staying far enough apart and the teacher had to keep moving one off the other. But the teacher was amazingly patient and encouraging with all the kids, even when Bud at one point did a bit of his (unbeknownst to him) Bruce Lee impression.

I was mortified. Which I totally didn't expect. I was embarrassed that Bud was being a bit silly (or not paying perfect attention) but also worried that the teacher would be harsh on him (which he wouldn't understand). Luckily, nothing happened and Bud stopped pretty soon. And then I felt bad that I felt bad (I'm sure I was feeling self-conscious because the kids are half-Chinese and this is martial arts with a Chinese teacher and I feel, irrationally, like they have to prove themselves. Not because of the racist view that Asians are supposed to be good at such things, which is ridiculous. I'm not sure I can explain it. Or understand it myself). Ergh. But after class Bud and I talked about respect, which meant listening to the teacher and not playing around. I'm sure it'll happen again, though.

I was also amazed at how much Sis, whom the teacher called "smart girl," really got into it. She beamed proudly as she punched and kicked at the teacher's pads. She's tiny but tough.

At the end, the class gathered together and watched some of the routines of the older kids who are going to competition next week. They did a few more stretches. And then the teacher reviewed class, giving praise and suggestions, before asking them to bow, first to him, "Xie Xie Lao Tse," then to the assembled parents (who all stood and watched the whole time). Clap, clap, class over.

And so I think we'll go back. Both kids liked it a lot, especially the punching. And the uniforms. Bud especially liked the lion head costumes on the wall, which we'd seen at the Chinese New Year celebration. One day, he'd like to be a lion dancer, which requires lots of martial arts training, apparently. We can call him Bud Lee.

Joys and Concerns

Mostly concerns, for:
  • the family and friends of my Uncle J (Pop's sister's husband), who died yesterday;
  • Pop, whose skin biopsy came back as melanoma so that he'll need surgery. But they caught it early;
  • Miss J's mom (N & N's "meme"), whose cancer has spread, again.
But joy for our little friends going to kindergarten, who all seem to be headed to the schools of their (parents') choices.

Opa!

Same thing, this year:

souvlaki
roasted chicken
dolmades
olives
taramsalata
tzatzkiki
skordalia
spanokopita
tiropita
ravani
galaktoboureko
karidopita
methismena
kataifi
diples

plus:
two little Greek flags
two bags of Gigante beans
a jar of Cretan honey
and a cookbook with recipes for many of the above, because Sis wants to make galaktoboureko!

Good News in the Mail

We got our first choice for school for the kiddos for Kindergarten in the fall!

YAY!!!!

Now we just have to get there . . . .

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rise Up: Bakerwoman God

In honor of our "Celebration of Bread" gathering at church last night, during which I shared my tips for making no-knead bread, with two compound butters on the side, and our minister talked about bread and spirituality, sharing this poem:

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown, Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft and being-shaped loaf.
I am your rising bread, well-kneaded
by some divine and knotty pair of
knuckles, by your warm earth-hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.Put me in your fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice, swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.I fall up in a red pool
in a gold world
where your warm sunskin hand is there
to catch and hold me.
Bakerwoman God, remake me.

--Alla Bozarth-Campbell, U.S.A In ‘No Longer Strangers’, WCC Geneva1986

Rise Up: This Day's Daily Bread

I needed a bread that fit some very specific criteria of a friend who would be coming over: no cheese and no white sugar. The first criteria meant that this would be a sweet not a savory loaf, the second that the sweet would need to be honey or maple syrup or something. Along came a recipe for something called Lou's Daily Bread. With orange zest, olive oil, honey, and whole wheat flour, I was intrigued. And the bread is intriguing: not really sweet, despite the orange and the honey, which were perhaps balanced by the oil and the whole wheat (can't wait to try walnut! Could you guess that Lou is Greek? And she uses the whey of homemade yogurt instead of the milk apparently). A gorgeous golden-orange sunset color, this bread had a pretty fine crumb and a soft crust. I liked it, my friend liked it, but the kids didn't. There has been another request for "twin bread." Which I've decided reminds me specifically, in smell anyway, of croissant. Anyway, it might be Lou's daily loaf, but it won't become ours unfortunately.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Lou's Daily Bread

zest of two oranges, cut into very thin strips (I just zested with a grater)
1 1/4 cups fat-free milk
2 tablespoons olive or walnut oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 5/8 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon gluten
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients in the pan according to the order in the manufacturer's instructions. Set crust on medium and program for Whole Wheat cycle; press Start (do not use delay timer).

When the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the pan and place it on a rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

15 in 6

We've had something like 15 doctors' appointments in 6 weeks: GP, pediatrician, ortho, dermatologist, physical therapist, eye doctor, dentist, OB (not including MRI, bloodwork, contact lens "fittings"). That's pretty much one every other weekday. Yesterday, there were three different appointments alone. And that's just for 3 of us (Mama is suspiciously doctor-visit free for herself, though she's been to several of these). For the most part--despite all the appointments or because of them???--we're doing okay--still the back thing (I feel better but not great), also some dry skin patches that needed cream (Sis), an eval of his walk (for Bud, he needs not to kneel), plus all the usual checkups. Whew. I'm ready not to be in a waiting room, not to fill out another form, not to make another run to the pharmacy (there were 3 just yesterday, because one Rx was out of stock and had to be transferred elsewhere). But it's good to keep on top of things. And I like the post-appointment treat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In the Paper

I'm very behind in my reading and even more in my posting about what's in the papers:

Today, Again

So, I blogged earlier this morning that Sis was sick and the day's plans had changed.

Time for a do-over.

Turns out that the few coughs she emitted just as she got out of bed faded almost immediately and didn't return. She ate breakfast heartily and played with Bud, with no other symptoms. So I sent her to school, delaying a decision about our playdate this afternoon. I think it might be allergies and the attendant morning stuffiness. Time will tell.

But the other thing I mentioned in that post was my immediate need for those bracelets, about which they are still both upset and desperate. I have a few ideas now about where I can find them, thanks to my quick-emailing playgroup friends. And I'll be posting later on the philosophical and ethical quandry of giving in to fads later. Right after I do it.

Today

Sis is sick: barky cough. Which means, not 3 weeks after her last ear infection, we'll be watching for more fever, more earaches. It also means no school for her today. And a trip to at least one doctor--and if they find a thing, we're going back to the ENT. Enough is enough.

Bud is miserable. Not only is he going to school alone, but Sis has a fairy silly band from a friend and he doesn't. (These are the in thing now: brightly-colored plastic bracelets in shapes like animals, fairies, dinosaurs, and letters. Style is to wear several of them at a time, just like we did with those Madonna-inspired black bracelets c. 1983.)

Oh, shit. She just accidentally broke hers. Today is just gonna suck.

Know where I can find some of those fast?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rise Up: The Twins

It's raining, it's pouring, and so I'm baking. Made Butter Bread, choosing it mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand. The dough was so soft, as a baby's bottom, you might say. And the final bread is very, very tender. And oh so buttery. Bud had two huge slices with jelly. Sis hasn't had any yet but liked the name of it, which is also les gameaux, or "the twins," because traditionally this bread is two loaves baked side-by-side. Kinda looked like a big baby's bottom, too!

-=-=-=-=-=-

Butter Bread
1 1/8 cups water
1 large egg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon gluten
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon bread machine yeast
[Note: there are long instructions about making les gameaux, or "the twins," by stopping the machine midway, making two separate pieces of dough, and baking them side by side in the bread machine pan. I used the machine for dough and then divided the dough, made two long loaves, put them together in the 9 x 5" bread pan, rose again for 45 minutes, and baked at 350F for 40 minutes. I also had brushed the top with a tablespoon of butter.]

adapted from Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

Monday, May 17, 2010

Commitment

com·mit·ment  [kuh-mit-muhnt]–noun
1.the act of committing.
2.the state of being committed.
3.the act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself.
4.a pledge or promise; obligation: We have made a commitment to pay our bills on time.
5.engagement; involvement: They have a sincere commitment to religion.

It's a word I've heard a lot these last few weeks: in WW meetings, from my PT about a lifelong exercise regimen, about my swimming.

But I haven't been feeling a lot of it.

I'm not swimming and am afraid I won't get back to it even when I feel better. I haven't tracked or even counted food points since this latest back pain started. And I have about four new pounds to show for it. Because I eat to feel better, which my GP says is so normal, so comforting (and that I should forgive myself a little now until things improve some). As for an exercise regimen, well, I feel lucky if I can just function (I'm driving again, finally). I get overwhelmed when I hurt and then all my good health habits fall to the wayside as I hunker down to cope. You know what the first indicator is to me? I stop flossing my teeth. Because I'm too lazy. Because I don't care. Because I'm tired. (And before you worry that I'm falling into a depression: I'm seeing someone about coping with chronic pain and the attendant anxiety and she says I'm not depressed. Just in pain and anxious about it.).

Good news, though: I've flossed these last two nights. My back isn't "back" but my commitment might be.

Mama's Grill Pledge

Mama is on a grill kick and having a great time learning a new skill for which there are tools (yeah, well, some stereotypes are true.)! She has grilled once and even twice a weekend for almost a month now--chicken drumsticks and thighs, Chinese sauced pork ribs, t-bone steaks, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, a variety of vegetables (squash, eggplant, mushrooms), banana boats, even leftover pizza. Not only does she produce these great meals (I've listed below but not appended recipes yet for some of her dishes), but the outdoor cooking and eating contributes to a whole fun family outside afternoon, with the two of us hanging out on the deck while the kids run around the backyard. Yesterday, in addition to creating and running through their own obstacle course and visiting with a neighbor, the kiddos watched birds build a nest in our recently trimmed hedge and a squirrel, newly named "Chippy," stick her head out of her nest high up in the knot of our tree. In fact, we were outside well after 8 pm, which is very late for them. But that's what summer is for, right? And with school out in less than a month, it definitely feels like summer is on its way.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Corn

Sweet Potatoes

Chinese Pork Ribs

Banana Boats

Freekah Show

I've been pampered since Wednesday, with meals, gifts of coloring books, and being chore free. On Saturday, Mama took the kids to the library for hours, where they played computer games, chose books about dinosaurs and in the Magic School Bus series, selected videos, and even chose some books for me. Apparently, Sis marched right up to our favorite librarian, "Excuse me, Miss T, excuse me. I need books about cooking bread." And she came home with four, including two on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Everybody Bakes Bread (and the search for the three-handle rolling pin!), and one by famous Julia Child editor, Judith Jones! Lots of fun for us.

Then they went to a Middle Eastern food restaurant and brought home a wonderful lunch: shawerma for them, amazing tahini-heavy hummus (and a spicy version), smoky and sweet baba ganoush, incredibly crunchy falafel, Syrian rice, mujadara, this thick crisp flatbread, dolmades, olives, and mango nectar. My two new favorites were freekah, a pilaf with freekah/farik (roasted greenwheat), almonds, and peas, as well as a bright red rosewater drink. MMMMMMmmmmmm! We ate leftovers for two delicious days.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Freekah
This isn't exactly the pilaf from the restaurant, but it's close. And I think I can get freekah from Trader Joe's.

Ingredients500 g freekeh
4 cups 99% fat free chicken broth
1 tsp olive oil
50 g garlic, crushed
25 g fresh rosemary
.5 c chopped onions
.25 c diced or grated carrots
.25 c frozen green peas
.25 c slivered almonds
salt and pepper to taste


DirectionsSweat onions and garlic in olive oil. Add rosemary, and sautee gently. Add broth, freekeh, and carrots. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender. Remove from heat, add peas. Let sit while toasting almonds. Plate, and garnish with a few almond slivers. Serves 8.

Number of Servings: 8

from sparkpeople.com

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rise Up: No Need to Knead

I'm finally getting to the original no-knead bread (and the cast-iron Dutch Oven I put on my bridal registry for this very reason!), originated by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. I started it last night and still have about an hour and a half left to go (mainly, the end of the second rise and then baking). It almost seems like too much trouble, like kneading would be easier, but the proof is in, well, the proof, I guess: taste and texture. Meanwhile, I'm also repeating the chocolate challah I made on Friday, to give to the teachers who let us drop Bud and Sis off early on Friday to make my doctor's appointment in time.

Update: This bread is AMAZING! Beautiful to look at, wonderful to eat. Crusty crunchy crust and holy hole-y inside! How does it compare to the other? Well, I'd say it's better, hands-down, for flavor and crust but the sponge-ness of the warm bread is similar (haven't had it cold yet; I never can wait). Mama liked it too, as did a neighbor passing by on a walk who stopped to admire our "new" yard.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

as printed in The New York Times

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alone Time

I've had a lot of alone time recently: Mama worked late both Thursday and Friday nights and she has taken the kids out today while I rest at home. But since I've made enough bread recently and am not doing much crafting because of my back (nor much reading for similar reasons), I'm watching tv. I've watched four episodes of "Cranford" and "Return to Cranford" (I love Judi Dench! Especially as a Victorian . . . ), plus "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills" and now "Law and Order." I'm sad about the cancellation of L&O, not because I watch it (or any tv) much anymore, but because I watched it for years and also would've liked them to pass "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running show ever. Plus, it has been quite intertwined with my NYC experience--I even saw Jerry Orbach in person on the streets around Broadway a few times (though, oddly, I'm not sure if any of the film crews I ever saw were L&O).

Anyway, I'm not sure what to do with myself. Besides tv, I keep wandering outside to see how progress is going on our yard renovation. Our babysitter's dad, who is in the landscaping business, is cleaning up our big bushes in the back corner, trimming some trees, and mulching around our swingset. It's a beautiful day for the work, which has transformed our yard, adding tons of space where it was once overgrown with poison ivy and probably providing the habitat for lots of critters. So I keep going outside to see how pretty it's becoming. Funny because I usually have tons to do with myself on the days when Babysitter is here or the kids are in school. But it's Saturday and we're usually altogether and I'm a bit constrained in my activities . . . . maybe I should practice my breathing some more. While I watch tv!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well, there was definitely a tunnel. A very small one. But I don't know if there was any light at the end because I never opened my eyes. For 25+ minutes in the MRI machine, I practiced counting my breath, completely unable to convince myself that I was, say, with the panda bears or walking around Rome, or something--mainly because the noise of an MRI machine is a cross between the funky techno sounds of some dance club and the loud and unexpected whirrs and thuds and such of a construction site. Nothing hurt, and I could even say that the vibrations of the machine were kinda comfortable--I mean, how often do I just lie around? Worst part was that my legs, which were bent to support my lower back, got tired and jumpy and so I had to work hard to hold them still; otherwise, no worries. They said I did a great job, but I'm guessing they say that to everyone. Still, it would've been harder, I think, had I opened my eyes because it really was a very small tunnel (but, oddly, air conditioned, I think!). If I ever have another MRI, I want to remember to:
  • wear clothes without metal--because I was in sweats and a t-shirt, not much else (not even my brand-new lift-and-separate-and-support-er that has garnered compliments and makes my back feel better. Not so much my wallet--can you imagine $40?? But at least I got, count them, three not two letters!! Because they don't do E anymore. TMI?), I didn't have to change into a gown.
  • have pants with pockets, in which I stashed my hands which kept my arms from being jumpy..
  • not open my eyes.
  • not bother to try to pretend I'm somewhere else but just practice my meditation breathing--because you're nothing if not fully present when you're in that tunnel.
I actually have a CD-Rom now of my upper back, but I'm not going to look at it. I mean, I can't read those things and who needs to get worked up about blotches and spots I don't understand. Mama says she's going to look at it. Fine. So, my doctor will get the images and the report probably by Wednesday and I'll go see him after that to hear what's up. Then maybe I'll look and see some light at the end of my tunnel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rise Up: Pete Repeats

My mom used to call me "Pete" or "Charlie"--my sister, too--odd nicknames for us, with no rhyme or reason (not even that she wanted boys!).

I digress because this post, title aside, is all about bread and nothing to do with my childhood nicknames. I made a great bread last night when another one was an utter disappointment (I'm not even going to post that Guinness and Molasses bread recipe here because it was just ick): Buttermilk Whole Wheat. Not too wheat-y, good crumb, perfect for toast.

Except that it wasn't new. Until I reviewed my recipes tonight, I hadn't realized I'd made it before. In fact, it was the first recipe I made out of my favorite bread machine cookbook, Beth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. I guess I've gone full circle.

And then some, because I think I'm finally ready to tackle Hensperger's other, more famous bread cookbooks (which don't use bread machines), particularly the James Beard award-winning Bread Bible.

Rise Up: Good Shabbos

After my GP appointment this morning reassured me that we're doing what we can, I looked forward to my afternoon playgroup. And for this I made Chocolate Challah, choosing challah not because one of our moms is culturally Jewish but because we all like chocolate and challah can be such a wonderful, rich bread. And it was good, especially because I only made the dough in the machine and then braided it myself, as is traditional, and baked it in the oven. Let's just say that we all burned our fingers grabbing a piece and that only about 1/4 of it is left!

Good Shabbos to us all!

-=-=-=-=-

Chocolate Challah

1 cup water
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tablespoon gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Place the ingredients, except the chocolate chips, in the pan according to the order in the manufacturer's instructions. Set crust on medium and program for the Basic or Sweet Bread cycle; press Start (not suitable for the delay timer). At the beep, add the chocolate chips.

When the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the pan and place it on a rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Update

Okay, posting on Turn-off-your-engine Thursday but that's okay: ortho ordered an MRI (scheduled for this Saturday) but says the symptoms are consistent with diagnosis and upped my anti-inflammatories. At his suggestion, I'm going to cut back on swimming until this calms down again.

Had a ped appt for Sis afterwards, to check up on her latest ear infection, and talked to the doc about my ortho, whom she's heard of, says he's good at backs (even if he isn't the touchy-feely, chatty type). Oddly, her husband has the same thing--upper back scoliosis--and said that PT had helped. So maybe it's just a matter of time.

Feeling better mentally and physically today. And so making bread in my mixer, which is basically hands free--Guinness and Molasses! If there's extra, I'm going to make Brown Bread Ice Cream. Which just sounds too odd not to try! Otherwise, I'm hanging out at home with my very cooperative little helpers.

And I promise to post on something else soon. I'm tired of writing about my back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rise Up: Ghosts of Bread Past

I was channeling the women of my family on Tuesday, making a bread recipe of my maternal grandmother Bammie, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease when I was only four. The recipe had been used by her throughout my mom's childhood and was remembered as being a fantastic bread with a crunchy crust and also incredible for toast. I had never had the bread but remember Gommie talking about it, how they would put pepper on it fresh out of the oven. And so, I got a copy of the recipe from my Aunt T, who apparently still makes it from time to time.

The recipe, below, was contained in a typewritten letter to Aunt T, as apparently Bammie always typed things. I'm guessing it was sent to Aunt T as a young bride and housekeeper, because the last line mentions that Bammie could come up and make some for them on Saturday. More than that, I don't know yet.

Seeing the reference to the mixmaster, I decided to make the dough in my Kitchen Aid with my dough hook, a first time for me. Besides, my sense of Bammie is that she was a no-nonsense, not sentimental or nostalgic, practical woman (but apparently a great crafter and cook and sportswoman who loved to have fun) and she would probably have taken advantage of a machine to make bread if she could have.

I was surprised that the recipe called for 4 cups of water, realizing that was a lot. And half of a 5 lb bag? That's more than 10 cups!!!! I thought it would be okay (alright, honestly, I hadn't calculated until I started, my faux pas, and would have known that was too much) until the dough climbed over the dough hook and into the spring/motor of the mixer, getting grease everywhere before I could stop it. Was Bammie trying to tell me something? Something like "get yourself to a store to buy bread, girl!" Let's not romanticize the past too much--I think most of our foremothers would embrace many of our modern-day conveniences. Even if they don't taste nearly as good. But, I was determined not to be beaten by this family heirloom recipe.

I had to throw all that dough away, clean up and revive my poor mixer, and start afresh. With half a recipe. From there, everything went swimmingly. Love using the dough hook--mix all the ingredients right in it, stop when the dough isn't sticky and pulls away from the bowl, let it rest in the bowl covered with a damp towel (as per instructions, I oiled the top lightly. I also put a warm damp towel around the bowl as it's too cold in my kitchen for bread to rise quickly these days, 64F instead of 75-85F!), then "punched down" an hour or so later in the bowl on low for just a few seconds (when dough bounced back at a poke), rested it a bit, then "kneaded" for less than a minute, removed the dough, shaped it, and put it in my bread tin to rise (waiting for it to not spring back at a poke). It was big in my tin and I knew it would make a huge loaf but I resisted separating it into two, since half the recipe should've only made one. I did, however, slash the top and give it a water wash before baking at 350 for about an hour.

Except this all took so long that I had to be at an appointment before it was done so I briefed Babysitter who confidently took charge, having only ever baked a box mix cake once in her life! I was a little sorry not to be there for the "birth" of the loaf, for the first warm slice, but realized I will be making it again. And again. The loaf was there and partially devoured when I got home: a huge loaf which slices are too big for my toaster with this amazing hard crust and nice, dense crumb. I called Gommie to tell her how good it was, not only feeling proud that I'd managed both the dough hook and another bread recipe but also feeling excited that a new generation, or two, has the family bread recipe.

Gommie, and Aunt T, and Bammie--we'll save a piece with pepper on it for you!

-=-=-=-=-=-
Bammie's Bread Recipe, a la Aunt T

"About the bread.........I use one dry yeast package, 4 cups water, 1 Tbs. sugar, 2 Tbs. salt and 2 Tbs. oil. Add enough flour so that it will sorta stay in a mold, or slowly go back down after you beat it.......seems like it's a little over half a 5 pound package. Spread oil over the top so that it won't get crusty and let rise. I use the mixmaster bowl and it always rises up higher than the bowl, sometimes even runs over. Knead on floured paper, working in more flour and then put in the pans and let rise.....now this will depend on the size of your pans. If they are not as large as mine, well, just don't add as much water to begin with, but use the same amount of yeast. I bake it a 350 for almost an hour. Oil the top of the loaves when you put them in the pan. I can't understand why you can't do this. If you don't get to it, I'll make you some the Saturday that I'm there."


The above is exactly what she sent me. Makes 2 loaves. I beat the flour in by hand. The pans I use are regular bread pan size. Also, when I divide the dough into half to put in the pans for the second rise, I sort of form it, pour a little oil in the pans, and them put the dough in the pan top side down and roll it so there is oil both around it in the pan and on top. The loaf seems to come out better even using non-stick pans. The bread will be heavy and very crusty. When you turn it out after baking, wrap each loaf in a dish towel to cool. I then slice it and store it in a zip lock bag and after one or two days put it in the fridge so it won't mold.
Makes wonderful toast.

Aunt T

Mommy's Little Helpers

I'm having a pretty rough back day today. And it just got worse as morning progressed, even though Mama did all the prep work and all I had to do was get the kids to school. But that became increasingly hard to fathom as departure time loomed. To the point that I called the school to arrange a curbside drop-off. Then I told the kids that I wouldn't be taking them inside but that a teacher would be there to help them.

And putting her arms around her brother, Sis said, "It's okay, Mommy. We can help each other!"

They were such grown-up kiddos getting into school . . . and I cried all the way to my PT appt, more because of the heartache of not being able to do my mommy job than because of the pain. The concerned therapist did the best she could, which did help a lot, until Mama came to make sure I got home okay.

I'm home now, feeling a better but afraid to move too much. There won't be any bread baking today. Mama's gone for pick up and will be home all day with us. Thank heavens her job lets her do that. I have an ortho appt tomorrow and a GP appt on Friday.

But for now, I'm taking it one day at a time.

Just like the words someone gave me say:

Just for today, I will try to live through this day only,
and not tackle my whole life problem
at once. I can do something for twelve hours
that would appall me if I felt that I had to
keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today, I will be happy. This assumes to
be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that
"most folks are as happy as they make up
their minds to be."

Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind.
I will study. I will learn something useful.
I will not be a mental loafer. I will read
something that requires effort, thought and
concentration.
Just for today, I will adjust myself to what is,
and not try to adjust everything to my own
desires. I will take my "luck" as it comes,
and fit myself to it.
Just for today, I will exercise my soul in three
ways: I will do somebody a good turn, and
not get found out. I will do at least two
things I don't want to--just for exercise.
I will not show anyone that my feelings are
hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not
show it
Just for today, I will be agreeable. I will look
as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low,
act courteously, criticize not one bit, not
find fault with anything and not try to improve
or regulate anybody except myself.
Just for today, I will have a program. I may not
follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will
save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.
Just for today, I will have a quiet half hour all
by myself, and relax. During this half hour,
sometime, I will try to get a better perspective
of my life.
Just for today, I will be unafraid. Especially I
will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful,
and to believe that as I give to the world, so
the world will give to me.

--anonymous

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rise Up: Hello, Gorgeous!

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I'm Not Ready Yet

They are practicing a song from "Toy Story" for their preschool graduation.

Heaven help me, I don't even know what song that is, but it's making me teary already.

Just like my mom and the usual graduation processional song. Or the Wedding March. Both of which we've teased her about. In fact, we sang "Pomp and Circumstance" to Gommie for months before I graduated from high school. And she was pretty immune to it. And then they played a montage from my favorite musical, "Phantom of the Opera." I guess there's no avoiding tears at graduation.

But my mom was lucky. I can't even try to prepare myself because the kids said they won't sing the special song for me until graduation. So if any of you know what song it might be, please let me know.

And please, please, please let it not be that "I Believe I Can Fly" song.

Rise Up: Baking To-Do List

With approximately two weeks left on my bread pledge (until Thursday, May 17), there are still several things I want to try:

  • Jim Lahey's 18-hour no-knead bread
  • my Bammie's bread recipe
  • my dough hook attachment for my mixer
  • pie crust--by hand or in the food processor
  • sourdough
  • crackers
  • Salt Rising Bread
  • Bloodroot's Oatmeal Sunflower bread
  • and finally, the failed loaf that pretty much inspired it all, Rev. M's Oatmeal Molasses Bread
Okay, I probably won't get all that done in the next two weeks, but I don't intend to stop making bread on that Thursday, so there will be time for all of it. And more . . . .

Go Figure

For months now, Bud, and to some extent Sis, has been terrified of having his hair washed. I don't mean grumpy about it. But scared. Petrified. So bath time has been a real struggle, even though we only wash hair as minimally as possible. And it's not just me that has a problem getting his hair washed. Mama can't manage it either. Nor can Ma. And while we do not want to give in to any kind of tantrum or manipulation, we do want to recognize and respect real fear. We've tried cups, titling heads back, covering ears and eyes with washcloths, the shower head spray, letting them pour the water themselves, letting them wash our hair first, even goggles for protection. You name it. Nothing has worked.

Having heard them giggling for awhile now, I just popped my head into the bathroom where they are still playing. And Bud dumps a full cup of bubbly water on his head. Repeatedly. With a smile on his face. And he's still doing it! And enjoying it . . . . "I'm going to tell Mama and Gommie and Ma that I can wash my own hair! I'm an expert hair-washer."

There's no telling with kids, I say.

My Garden Gnomes

Maybe I should take the National Wildlife Federation's "Be Out There" pledge--"I pledge to spend time outside, exploring, learning and playing. I will encourage the kids in my life to get outside more, too!": Sis and Bud have been outside more than four hours now. Mainly, they are pretending to collect and then plant seeds, calling any off-limits plants, like my roses, daylilies, lilac bush, hostas, azalea, pansies, petunias, and marigolds, "poison ivy." They each gathered a bucket full of "seeds," mainly a leaf or two from every bush, tree, and weed in our whole yard, which they then used garden tools to plant under the "faerie tree." They are covered in dirt from eyelids to ears to fingernails to toenails and so are in a bubbly tub . . . still playing happily with each other! For my part, I meditated some, watched a lot, made bread dough, blogged, and then prepared an apple-caramel snack. And it's already 4 p.m.! A pretty great way to spend the day . . . .

Rise Up: Knead Therapy

I've been craving bread, mentally, and not the no-knead or bread machine variety. I've wanted to put the skills I first learned two weeks ago, then used in successful Cinnamon Raisin Bread last week, back into practice. And so I chose King Arthur Flour's introductory Hearth Bread recipe (which is way too long to type in here). There are a zillion "how-to-make-bread" recipes for the beginner, including ones in Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, the Tassajara Bread Book, Julia Child's The Way to Cook, and no doubt several from Martha Stewart, and those are just the ones I can think of right off. But I went with the KA one because, well, I like that confident, comforting big orangish book (200th Anniversary Cookbook) and I've had success, as I mentioned, with the Cinnamon Raisin Bread from the same source.

And so, I'm making that bread today. It felt good--not just the smooth and elastic dough, but the whole kneading process, which is no small feat considering how my back has been feeling. In fact, I think that is part of the reason I've been craving bread, or breadmaking. I was at the PT this morning and she can actually see the differential in my shoulders (left is lower), the twist of my spine, and the compression of the rib cage on my left side. No wonder I hurt. She's going to call my ortho to talk about other options for care beyond pills and PT; she mentioned a brace, perhaps. Yep, just like Deenie. Which she is too young to have read. I'll be back at PT on Wednesday, at the ortho on Thursday.

But back in my kitchen in an hour when it's time to punch down that bread, shape it into glorious round loaves, slash the top, and put it in the oven. I have real hopes that I've done it correctly so far--it was the most gorgeous ball of dough I've ever put to rise. And it will be ready just about in time for dinner, which is minestrone soup in the slow cooker. My mind, and even my back, feel better for it already.