Friday, April 30, 2010


Inspired by Karen Maezen Miller's new book, Hand Wash Cold.

Happy about the flowers in our garden.

Concerned about what I need to do for our new NVC group at church.

Thinking about several articles I read in the NYTimes (more on that later, I promise).

Sad about oil in the Gulf.

Curious about the new exhibition on the Civil War at the National Archives.

Hungry for something gooey and chocolate. Or pizza.

Amazed that I'm starting Year 3 of being a vegetarian tomorrow.

Touched by how excited the kids are about Mother's Day.

Scared of kindergarten.

Looking forward to trying the no-knead bread recipe next week.

Wishing for a pain-free day (my scoliosis is definitely in a pain cycle right now).

Laughing because we're actually watching tv--"Private Chefs of Beverly Hills"!

Proud that I lost another pound this week.

Ready for a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rise Up: Cinnamon Raisin Wonderland

I didn't have plans to bake bread today, having several loaves left over from Monday.

And I had planned to have my grandmother Bammie's bread be my first all-by-myself, from-scratch, homemade loaf of the bread pledge.

But after school, Sis wanted Cinnamon Raisin Bread. From the store. Except we're not doing store bread right now. So, I said I'd make her some. She was actually excited by the prospect (having rejected such offers before). And so we went to the grocery store and bought raisins. And buttermilk powder, just in case. Because I had no idea what recipe I would be using.

I turned to my new, obviously trustworthy King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook and immediately found a recipe. Which we all tackled together (well, the truth is, they abandoned me once the dough was all mixed and didn't reappear). For my first from-scratch loaf, I was probably in over my head, what with there being whole wheat flour, mix-ins, and three loaves! But we do nutsy things for our kids and I just embraced the recipe, including the real possibility of failure. At least we were starting early enough that it would be done before playgroup, so I could hide it if necessary.

Except it wasn't. Either done or necessary. The bread came out--great flavor, excellent texture--just after friends arrived. I was disappointed on three counts (though I think two are related): it stuck to the pans (had I undergreased? used the wrong stuff? Oil, not butter or shortening); it didn't expand much in the pans (were my pans too big? was the dough too stiff?); and the seams never really merged so there were funky breaks in it (which is probably related to the fact that it didn't expand/coalesce). I tried not to dwell, especially because the flavor and texture were excellent and everyone at playgroup thought it was great (it was even better toasted with cream cheese!).

But I've already researched what might have gone wrong and I figure two things: I think the dough was too stiff and didn't rise like it should and, since it was too stiff, I didn't shape it as well as I could. Plus, of course, the pans weren't properly greased. It was a lot of dough and it was hard to knead, which I am still new at (note to self: don't knead on my silicon dough sheet because it slips), and perhaps it wasn't as elastic as it could have been. But it passed the finger-poke elastic test (I didn't know about the second "punch-in" test).

So maybe I shouldn't say it was "wrong." Because it really is fantastic bread. And I made it all by myself.

Though, I think I'm going to tackle something simpler next time.


Cinnamon Raisin Bread

1 cup raisins
apple juice (or water), warmed

Preparing the Fruit:
Cover the raisins with warm water or warmed apple juice and set aside to plump while you proceed with the following.

Proofing Sponge
2 tablespoons or packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup KA unbleached AP flour

Making the Sponge:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and flour. Stir to combine, cover and set aside until bubbly, about 15 minutes.

1 1/2 cups milk, scalded (heated just to a boil)
1/2 cup sugar, brown or white (or honey)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups KA Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour
5 to 6 cups KA unbleached AP flour
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for wash)

Mixing the Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the milk, sweetener, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Stir and let cool to lukewarm. Add the beaten eggs, the sponge, and the whole wheat flour. Combine well. Drain and add the raisins. Stir in 5 to 5 1/2 cups of flour until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

Kneading and Rising:
Turn the dough onto a board where you've sprinkled the remainder of the flour. Scrape the bowl and add the bits to the bowl. Lightly oil the bowl and set aside.

Knead the dough, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to the board. When it's smooth and elastic, after about 10 minutes, place it in the oiled bowl. Turn to oil all surfaces, cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel and set aside in a warm place to rise until doublled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Shaping and Rising:
Punch down the dough, divide into thirds and let it rest for 10 minutes. Shape into loaves and place into greased bread pans. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

About 15 minutes before you want to bake your bread, preheat oven to 375F. Brush tops of the loaves with the egg wash.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until the loaves are a rich brown color. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Best Singers in the World Singing the Silliest Song

The kiddos are into silly songs right now. And apparently, when they sing "the silliest song in the world" at school, the teacher tells the class that they are the best singers in the world. Which very much pleased my kids, who have been serenading me every dinnertime with their rendition of this song:

It ain't gonna rain no more, no more
It ain't gonna rain no more
How in the heck can I wash my neck
If it ain't gonna rain no more?

Oh, a peanut sat on the railroad track 
His heart was all a-flutter 
Along came the 5:05 
And--uh-oh--peanut butter!
A woman took a bath
She didn't tell a soul
She forgot to put the stopper in
And slipped right down the hole!
I woke up in the morning
I glanced up at the wall
The roaches and the bedbugs
Were having a game of ball.
The score was four to nothing
The roaches were ahead
A beetle hit a homerun
And knocked me out of bed!
I didn't know it went like that. I knew the chorus, who knows why. And a whole song about beetles and bedbugs playing a game of ball. Not roaches. But oh it is fun to hear them sing it, with Bud singing out loud and shaking his head to do it and Sis making sure we get all the lyrics exactly right, smiling the whole time at herself.

And then they have me sing all the silly songs I know: "Little Bunny Foo Foo," "The Doughnut Shop," "The Buffalo Song," "Peanut Butter and Jelly," and their favorite . . . "Little Cabin in the Woods." What's funny about that, you ask? It's the humming. Especially when you get to the point with "'help me! help me! help' he said." I sound like a maniac dolphin. They just about fall on the floor laughing.

No wonder dinner takes longer these days.

The Heat is on in CT

No, not pressure.

Or even Glenn Frey.

But actual radiator heat.

Because it's going to feel like 27F tonight!

Rise Up: The Queen of Bread Heaven

Yesterday I spent the day in "bread heaven" with a generous church friend--a Queen of Baking--who had offered to give me a breadmaking lesson. And so, with a bag of ingredients and an empty notebook, I showed up at her door as quickly as I could get there after the babysitter arrived. On tap: three homemade yeast breads, including Ricotta-Chive Bread, Buttermilk Bread, and Date, Prune, and Pecan Bread. We got started immediately and spent the next 6 hours making bread.

Of course, the actual time mixing and kneading and shaping the dough was only a small percentage of the overall time, but we a variety of rising times, and number of rises, and baking temperatures, it took all of the afternoon and some of the evening to produce 5 loaves (including one gigantic one!) of bread. In the lulls, I made a quick run to the store for an ingredient I'd forgotten (prunes), we had coffee and banana bread (which she'd whipped up, with Chinese 5 spice powder, that morning!), a tour of her stylish house with all of her fabulous projects from stained glass to knitting to gourd decoration, and even dinner with her husband (golden curry on veggies with spinach noodles!). And lots and lots of conversation, from baking information to church news, from politics to contemporary food issues, from personal histories to recent challenges. The time seemed to fly by!

And was amply rewarded with the amazing loaves of bread I pictured last night. The Ricotta-Chive was the one we started first--it doubled quickly and became this huge infant-sized loaf after resting. The chives were pretty in the white dough and not too strong, with the ricotta mainly providing moisture. Next we made the more traditional buttermilk loaf, which she shaped into round loaves and slashed on top as wells for melted butter. I thought these were the prettiest loaves, very artisanal looking, much better than if we'd put them in a plain old loaf pan. And the taste was mild with a tender crumb and an excellent crust (I'm thinking it would be great as breakfast toast with jam!). It was the last bread--the fruit and nut one--that took the longest, from beginning to end, with 3 hours of rising and resting overall. We were surprised with how little dough the recipe made --it's mostly fruity mix-ins! (And, mercy, that wheat dough was stiff!) We thought apricots would have been good, maybe with almonds, or cranberries with walnuts. Of all three, I can see returning to this bread to experiment with other flavors. It didn't get very big but the taste was--sweet, crunchy, chewy, nutty--hearty! I think it would be great with butter or cream cheese.

I came away from the lesson--with all of the practice kneading and shaping loaves, checking for elasticity and doneness--with confidence that I can make homemade yeast bread by myself. Except, with all these loaves--plus one of her banana bread and a bag of crunchy cookies!--I won't need to for awhile!


Some notes I wrote beside the recipes, to remember what we were doing:
  • proofing yeast: wait until cloudy and bubbly--no exact timetable
  • humidity changes how much water the flour will take--add water or flour in small increments (teaspoons) to adjust
  • while recipes are not extremely flexible, you can alter the mix-ins as long as the type and amount are similar
  • knead times are approximate--knead until "elastic and smooth"
  • "elastic"--when you poke it with your finger, the print will "pop" out
  • two kinds of kneading we used: kneading with the heel of your hand, including grab with fingers (using other hand to hold), OR two-handed thumb knead when the bread was stiff; for both, knead a few times, turn it, shape it into a little log, do it again.
  • to incorporate mix-ins, poke them in using the tips of your fingers
  • tip: finish the kneading in the mixer with dough hook, especially if there are mix-ins
  • rise times are approximate
  • rise under a light for added warmth, or near stove
  • always cover, either with non-fuzzy towel or plastic wrap
  • shape doesn't really matter--we didn't use loaf pans, instead opting for more free-form loaves on parchment-lined baking sheets
  • to get round shape, rock dough back and forth; place seam down
  • you need a really sharp knife to cut the top
  • butter makes a great crust (oil in rising bowl helps too)
  • the bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom
  • two storage options: in paper bag inside zipper bag in fridge or in foil in zipper bag in freezer

Ricotta and Chive Bread
makes 1 loaf

4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 oz yeast (that's 3 tablespoons)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup ricotta
2 tablespoons chives

Put flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, water, and cheese in bowl. Mix 3 minutes by hand. Tip onto floured surface and knead 2 minutes. Add chives and knead 3 more minutes. Put in bowl and rest 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tip dough onto floured surface and shape into a sausage shape, tapered at each end. Place the bread on the baking sheet and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425F. Bake 25 minutes then turn out onto wire rack.

Paul Hollywood, 100 Great Breads


Buttermilk Bread
makes 2-1 lb loaves

1/4 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, divided
2 teaspoons salt
4 3/4 cups flour, divided

In cup, combine warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

Meanwhile, in 1 quart saucepan, heat buttermilk, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and 6 tablespoons butter over medium low until warm (butter does not need to melt completely).

In large bowl, combine salt and 4 1/2 cups flour. Gradually add yeast mixture and buttermilk mixture and, with wooden spoon, beat until blended.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic, working in about 1/4 cup flour as necessary just to keep dough from sticking. Shape dough into ball and place in greased large bowl, turning dough over to grease top. Cover bowl adn let dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. turn dough onto lightly floured surface and cut in half; cover and let rest 15 minutes. Grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans.

Shape each half into loaf; place seam side down in prepared loaf pans. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Just before baking, with serrated knife or single-edge razor blade, slash top of each loaf lengthwise, cutting about 1/4" deep. Brush slashes with melted butter. Bake 25-30 minutes until loaves are golden and bottoms sound hollow when lightly tapped with fingers. Transfer loaves to wire rack to cool.

Good Housekeeping Great Baking


Date, Prune, and Pecan Bread
makes 2-1 lb. loaves

1/2 oz. yeast (that's 4 1/2 teaspoons)
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
scant 1/4 cup soft, no-soak prunes, chopped

Dilute yeast in a little warm water then put in bowl with flour, salt, butter; mix well. Slowly add enough water, mixing all the time, until dough becomes elastic. Tip on onto floured surface and knead 5 minutes. Put dough back into bowl and let rest 2 hours.

Divide the dough into two pieces and incorporate half the pecans, dates, and prunes into each piece, pressing in firmly. Knead for an additional 5 minutes, then rest the loaves for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease two 1 lb-loaf pans. Flatten each loaf and roll into sausage shape. Place the seam underneath, then taper each end. Put each loaf into pan, seam side down, then dust with flour and using a knife, cut a zigzag pattern on top.

Bake 25-30 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool

Paul Hollywood, 100 Great Breads

Rise Up: Family Pizza Night

I like the idea of a family dinner night. Something with lots of options and a do-it-yourself vibe. And I love pizza. But I don't usually like homemade pizza--the crust is just never right.

However, for my bread pledge, I wanted to give the homemade crust another go. Especially because I had a lot of great leftover roasted vegetables that I just knew would be good on pizza. And so on Sunday night, starting later than we should have considering we were making dough, I attempted a new pizza dough from the recipe in Beth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. I even made her sauce, which was great. We all had a great time playing with the dough and constructing the pizzas, even though Sis only wanted breadsticks and Bud only wanted olives on his pizza. Following something Mama had read, we put cheese (cheddar, oddly) right on the dough and then ladled the sauce--apparently it keeps the dough from being too soggy (and it did!). We put it all in the oven on my pizza stone and watched it all bake, getting hungrier by the minute.

And it was well worth the wait. Mmmmmmmm! The dough had great flavor and good crunch, though I left it a little too thick with too big of an edge. But that's more about my rolling skills than about the recipe. Bud wanted more than his quarter and Sis loved her breadsticks. Even Mama and I thought it was as good as we'd ever made at home and much better than frozen (even if it still wasn't as good as delivery). And we did it altogether! So we'll be having pizza again . . . maybe again on Sunday night for our new family theme dinner!


Basic Pizza Dough

1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients in the pan according to manufacturer's instructions. Program for dough cycle and press Start. The dough will be soft.

When the machine beeps at the end, immediately remove the bread pan from the machine and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into the desired number of portions. Flatten each portion into a disc by kneading a few times then folding the edges into the center. Cover with a damp towel on the work surface to rest for 30 minutes until the dough has increased about 20% in size.

Roll out and shape the dough as directed in your pizza recipe. Or place the dough in plastic zipper bags and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To use, let rest for 20 minutes at room temperature before rolling out. The dough balls may also be stored in the freezer for up to three months; let the dough defrost in the fridge overnight before using.

[Note: Most of her recipes have you baking at 450F plus for about 12-18 minutes.]

Essential Tomato-Herb Pizza Sauce

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
2-8 oz cans tomato sauce
1 clvoe garlic, pressed, or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram leaves (we used Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle)
salt and pepper

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat and saute the onion until soft and the edges begin to brown. Add the tomato sauce, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a low boil and adjust heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Can puree in blender. The sauce will keep in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Beth Hensperger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

Fabulous Faux Fassolia

I can't get the fassolia I had in DC out of my mind--those firm big white beans in a tasty stewed tomato and onion sauce. But were they gigante beans? large limas? favas? or something else? No telling.

But not too many days ago, I came across a bag of large limas at the grocery and decided to try them in my version of the above. I slow cooked the whole bag after a night of soaking in salt water but got home later than expected that night to overcooked beans. Still, I put half of them with some wheatberries I'd boiled the day before, added diced yellow pepper and carrot, and a red wine vinaigrette and was pretty pleased with my first cold ancient-grain-and-bean-type salad.

The magic was yet to come: I sauteed onions in olive oil, added some garlic when the onions were translucent, then poured in half a can (or less) of tomato sauce, and added the other half of my cooked limas. This was incredible. Both hot and then later in the weekend cold, just like it had been in DC. Mmmmmmm.

So, I still don't know what the deal is with the lima-gigante-fava bean thing but my faux fassolia was fabulous all the same.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rise Up: Bread, Beautiful Bread

. . . . or, everything I ever "kneaded" to know about bread, I learned today at my friend's house.

And, yes, Mama Teacher and playgroup friends, you will get to try some Ricotta-Chive Bread, Buttermilk Bread, and Date, Prune, and Pecan Bread this week!

(Recipes, tips, and a whole description of the day to come separately. . . later.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Homo Depot

We always see "family" at the hardware store. Today, it was two middle-aged women, one with an Human Rights Campaign (HRC) yellow equal sign (one of the most closeted GLBTQ symbols in America) hat on, and her sweetie. They were loading up a flatbed with all sorts of garden supplies and clearly did not need the help that young men kept proffering. I just love dykes sometimes. And so I told her I liked her hat and we shared notes on flowers. It's as close as we come to a secret handshake.

We also saw playgroup friends whom we hadn't seen in awhile. The kids had on their special project aprons and their parents raved about the weekly project for children. We might have to try it sometime.

Otherwise, we spent the time overloading on garden supplies and hardware, just like we always do for our first trip of the season to the hardware store. We got a new grill and accoutrement, some mulch, some edging stones, flowers (let's call them volunteers, since it was more for fun, knowing full well that it could freeze and the flowers--pansies, petunias, and marigolds--could die), and two little American flags, the kids' 79 cent bribe for behaving.

Next, we picked up grilling ingredients--zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, black bean burgers, chicken (which Mama marinated in coconut milk!), corn on the cob, even bananas and s'mores. Yum! Everything was tasty on the grill (even frozen black bean burgers are great), but the corn on the cob was just a revelation. So sweet. And it wasn't even particularly good corn. Plus leftover fassolia (a stewed giant bean dish; more on that soon) and some watermelon lemonade we made yesterday. It was a delicious meal . . . . and a great afternoon cleaning, planting, and playing.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I love it! There is such an outcry on the Starbucks website about the new gawdawful frappuccinos that I'm almost hopeful that they bring the old one back pronto.

Okay, sure, it's not world peace or saving the earth. And I'll live if it never comes back--and be richer for it! But I will miss my mocha frappuccino . . . .

RIP Mocha Frappuccino

The new Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks is gross. Ugh. Too sweet. No mocha flavor. I hate it. Which leaves me bereft of my favorite drink. And maybe my favorite hangout place, since I don't really drink much else there. So, this is terrible for my mommy-time R&R.

But probably really good for my waistline!


Thursday was so much better than it could have been at the start, with Sis crying because of a headache that turned out to be yet another raging ear infection, probably caused by allergies and a poorly-draining ear. After a compensatory lunch following the doctor's appointment, we played outside in the yard to celebrate Earth Day. Sis was intent on collecting garbage so we gathered our gloves and some bags to walk our neighborhood. We went around the corner around our neighbors, also over to the big street, as well as walking the banks of our stream. "It's important to take care of our Earth!" they proclaimed as they picked up cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and random little pieces of paper. I'd say we got about a pound of garbage, maybe--our area was surprisingly clean. Usually there's lots of garbage on our corner, both because things blow there and because all the kids walk past the area on their way home and drop things. After picking up trash, we planted some of the flower seeds Gommie had sent, despite my warnings that it really was too early to plant seeds in CT. But we put them in window boxes that can be moved onto the porch should a freeze threaten. Maybe we'll have some marigolds and larkspur in a few months! And then we played--scooters, tricycles, and random backyard dramatic play, which they continued when babysitter arrived and I left to run errands--physical therapy, breadmaking consultation (more on this soon), coffee. All of which means, even if it wasn't overt, it was our own kind of show-the-kids-what-I-do-kinda-day.

In the Shadowlands

The lights are off. The shades have been drawn. And Bud stands sideways surrounded by the strong light of our biggest flashlight with his hands in front of him.

Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Chinese Dragon.
Pug dog.
Sea anemone.
Venus flytrap. With fly.

He's making shadow figures with his hands.

And he's really good. First he stops to think or look at a book, coming up with his next idea. Then he wraps his fingers around each other in odd configurations. And next thing you know, the shadow does really look like what he's attempting. He's tried making shadow puppets with various toys and cutouts, but he prefers doing it by hand. Thank heavens for room-darkening shades!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Plans Change

No TYC2WD or Earth Day here.

It was TYC2Ped day--ear infection and allergies. More meds. Recheck later.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Earth is Our Mother

Happy Earth Day tomorrow! The big 4-0! (Not the planet, of course, the "holiday.) The kids have talked about it, both the holiday and environmental action in general, in preschool and church school, in positive and affirming ways (not, thankfully, the destruction we as a species have wrought on the planet). And so we're having our own little party. Sis wants to walk around picking up any trash in our yard and neighborhood. And we're thinking of starting the fruit and vegetable seeds Gommie sent us in small containers on the porch (we can't plant here in CT until Mother's Day, as the rule goes). Otherwise, I hope to spend as much of the day outside as the forecasted rainy weather allows us, making the Green Hour into a Green Day: fairy houses, seeds, nature walk, fairy boats, bubbles, trash pick-up, picnic, playset, scooters, tricycles. The sky's the limit. Have a great green day!


Tomorrow is "Take Your Children to Work Day."

And I think I just might, being inspired by a Motherlode post.

No, not the "working" Mama's work. They're not doing anything special this year that I know of (not sure if they did last year; at 3, our kids were too young anyway).

My work day. Stay-at-home-mom kind of work.

And no jokes about mopswinging, please.

Especially because housework is at the bottom of my usual list, despite previous posts trying to cultivate house pride and eco-housewifery dedicated to improved, mindful housekeeping.

I never really saw my mom do any of the things that she did behind the scenes to keep the house and family running--not the typical housekeeping/cleaning or childcare duties and not the more abstract duties of maintaining self, marriage, family, and community--because she usually did most of them while we were out of the way at school. And so I'm sure I didn't think she did much of anything. While I knew that my dad "worked" everyday and was paid to do it. With her work invisible, I had a completely skewed idea of what it meant a) to run a household and b). be a parent. I also had a skewed idea of what work had value and respect.

And so I'm thinking that a bigger picture of what I do might not be a bad idea, even just for me, to acknowledge that I do something everyday, even if only what I don't do is what gets noticed--even if what I do do isn't what I used to do, isn't all I can do, isn't a traditional professional job, doesn't garner much respect except the obligatory words around Mother's Day or qualifier if someone is talking about working moms and says "oh, yes, staying at home is work too, of course."

Of course.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rise Up: The King

It seems silly, but I had forgotten all about King Arthur Flour as I prepared for my bread pledge. Okay, not the actual flour, which I have in AP (all-purpose flour), whole wheat, bread, organic cake, and organic AP varieties, or even the cookbooks, of which I have the companion and the whole grain tomes, but the website, with its recipes, blog, and shop. I ended up there this morning as I was researching baguette pans and La Cloche, which is a rectangular, lidded, ceramic baking pan for traditional loaves. Ooooooh! I love that site. And it is going to be a huge help for me over the next 40 days (maybe I should add a counter?! It's more like 38 now). Immediately, I found several cracker recipes for when our current stash is gone--one that uses AP flour to make simple soda crackers but also a gourmet one that calls for Italian 00 flour. Wouldn't I love to play with that, maybe even make some DOC-inspired Neapolitan pizza like we had in DC? But I didn't order that. Yet. I did, however, buy a simple baguette pan because Sis is very attached to the long loaf (the ceramic baker, while attractive, was almost triple the price). And I'll be trying their baguette recipe as soon as the pan gets here. See, I knew this pledge would be more fun that drudge!

Rise Up: Vive la France!

We've been planning today's picnic since yesterday: bread, ham, cheese, fruit, homemade cookies. Last night, when Sis couldn't sleep, I lulled her to sleep with talk of picnic foods. And it's a gorgeous day for it. So we're making baguettes! Our little budding Francophile, inhaler of pain au chocolat and croissant, loves French bread. I just hope she loves ours. The recipe comes from my Cousin S, down in Texas, who has a special pan for it. I don't but am making do with cookie sheets. I'll let you know in an update embedded in this post later today. For now, here's the recipe. Wish us luck!

Update: "Brilliant!" said Bud. "Better even than the store," admired Sis. The two baguettes were a huge hit. Even though the soft dough spread--it really probably does need a sided pan (and I've now researched baguette pans. More on that soon). But it wasn't French bread, technically. The crust and crumb weren't exactly French, as golden and soft inside as it was. Maybe it was more Italian. But I've looked on Wikipedia and other places and real "baguette de tradition française" is made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. No sugar. No butter. But the recipe did make a lovely bread; I think this recipe would also make superb dinner rolls. In fact, when I told Sis that I was going to buy baguette pans, she pointedly asked if it would make the same recipe with the same crust, exactly. So, I know we'll be making it again.

French Bread

1 package dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast)
1 1/2 cups warm water, 105-115 degrees
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
4 1/4 to 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (I used 4 1/4 in bread machine)
2 teaspoons cornmeal

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.

Add sugar, salt, butter, and 2 cups flour. Beat with a spoon until thoroughly mixed. Gradually add remaining flour until dough is easy to handle.

Knead on a lightly floured surface for five to ten minutes or until dough is elastic and not sticky.

Place in a greased bowl; cover dough with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double in size, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Punch down and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a long narrow loaf, about 14" long and 1 1/2" in diameter.

Lightly grease inside of EKCO French Bread Pan. Sprinkle 1 tsp. cornmeal in each section. Shake pan to distribute evenly.

Place loaves in pan. Make sure the loaves do not come any closer than 1 1/2" to ends of the pan. With a sharp knife, make three or four diagonal 1/4" deep slashes on the top of each loaf. Do not cover. Let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 45 minutes.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from pan at once.

[My Bread Machine adaptations: Put all ingredients excepting cornmeal (I didn't use that) in pan of your bread machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Set on DOUGH cycle. When cycle is over, remove dough from pan and divide into two. Grease your hands lightly with vegetable oil and shape dough into two long baguettes. Place on cookie sheet lined with silpat to rise. Continue as above, by slashing top, letting it rise, baking, etc.]

EKCO pan recipe

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rise Up: Bread and Community

Recipes, anecdotes, advice, resources, even a lesson--people have reacted warmly to my bread pledge. Not only am I providing food for my family and learning a new skill, but I feel like I'm fostering a little community of bread lovers. I was given my Cousin S's French bread recipe, which is proofing in my kitchen even as I type. My Aunt T sent me her mother Bammie's recipe for bread, transcribed exactly as she sent it to my aunt years and years ago (Bammie died of ALS in 1975). My church friend sent me the recipe below for Beer Bread, which I hope to try when I make beer beans later this week. And several more church friends offered places to look for recipes, including Soup and Bread (from the CIA) and an annotated cookbook which was donated to the church (ironically by the almost 90 year-old woman down the street who was a good friend but now doesn't like us because we had kids without a father. And now the book is coming to me. I wonder what she'd think.). Another church friend, one of our best cooks and bakers, has offered me a private bread lesson, a traditional loaf and a European loaf with lots of seeds, which I'll be taking on Monday. It's so generous of her--and it sounds like she is as excited as I am! And I just know that this "staff of life," part of communion in many faiths, really does create community when it is shared.


Beer Bread
This is delicious warm, or the next day, sliced/toasted with butter or jam. I find this bread to be a bit sweet and yeasty. I love it and it takes about 5 minutes to prep.

3 cup self rising flour
3 Tbs. sugar
12 oz beer (any beer works, but I did find a lager seems better)
2 Tbs. Butter, melted

Mix flour sugar and beer. Reserve the butter.
Place the mixture in a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes in 350 F over. Pour melted butter over the top and return to oven. Let bake 10 minutes more or until top is nicely browned. Let cool in pan 5 minutes before serving.

J, I grease the pan using butter personally. When you have to flour a pan, using Pam is pretty gunky. Butter or shortening works better.

(Note: The original recipe called for it to bake a total of 1 hour (45 minutes, top with butter, then 15 minutes. I have never needed it to go that long. See how it goes for you. I feel my oven bakes fairly hot anyway though the temp gauge says it's right on so I've let the time adjustments based on my baking.

(2nd Note: If you only have all purpose flour the conversion is: PER CUP add 1 1/2 tsp. baking powderand 1/2 tsp. salt.)


Hill of Beans

Something new for dinner, from the Whole Foods website (which I am learning to love)--Chipotle-Orange Black Beans. I've never cooked with chipotle in adobe sauce before but it gave the beans a nice zing! And it wasn't even that much (so I have a whole can left to figure out how to use). Are chipotles hotter than jalapenos? Yep, usually. Just checked the Scoville scale--jalapenos are at 2,500-8,000 while chipotles are at 5,000-8,000. Learn something new everyday. Another thing I learned: 2/3 cups dry beans = 1 can (or about 2 cups) cooked beans. Also, 1/3 cup dry = 1 cup cooked; 1 cup dry = 3 cups cooked. Good to know. Funny that I didn't. Last thing on the bean front for today: did you know that Roman beans are more commonly known as cranberry beans? I didn't and so bought a bag at the store today. I'll be making them later this week. Though, I'm not sure exactly how yet.

Chipotle-Orange Black Beans

1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 teaspoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo (plus more to taste)

Juice and zest of 1 orange

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco


Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add beans and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in chipotles and orange juice and zest. Cook 1 minute longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with cilantro and queso fresco.

Whole Foods website

Out of the Crowd

One of the kids new favorite series is The Berenstain Bears. Never one of my favorites--though one of Aunt Banana's, as I recall--I hadn't realized they were so lesson-based, even preachy. But mostly, it's preachy in a good way, or at least one in line with most of my parenting philosophies. When the kids were getting a bit souvenir-focused on spring break, we reminded them of the Berenstain bears book about the "gimmies." And they've also been fascinated with the book about the in-crowd.

Except this morning, before school, Sis was concerned about being out. "Mommy, there's a kid at school who doesn't play with me. I want him to. But he doesn't." Sniff. "He has another best buddy." Double sniff. What to do? I suggested she keep trying and asked if she wanted me to ask the teacher for ideas (like, does this little friend have a favorite play area that Sis could join in?).

And when I picked her up this afternoon, she and said friend were playing together as his mom and I walked up. Amazingly, he then told his mom that Sis had said that she was allowed to have playdates and could she please please please come over right now? I was floored, having just related the morning's conversation to the little friend's mom to see if she had any insight. And she'd said that he talks about Sis a lot. And so we've agreed to schedule a playdate for next week.

I wish all social problems were so easily resolved. There will come a time, sooner than I'd like, that moms and playdates and running around at recess together won't fix it.

Half-Truths about Half-Mast

"Mommy, why are the flags at half-mast today?" Sis notices everything. And I'd noticed too. And had looked it up at home. Today is National Day of Service and Remembrance for Victims and Survivors of Terrorism, on the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. I remember watching the video footage live in the special ed department of the school where I was working as an aide. For the first few hours, remembering the first attack on the World Trade Center, we thought it was foreign terrorists; only later did the truth--better? worse?--come out.

And help me, I couldn't explain terrorism to the kids this morning. Not Oklahoma City. Not the WTC in 1993. Not September 11, 2001. Slavery and the Civil War, though there are reverberations today (and even links to domestic terrorism and the Tea Party), is still mostly a thing of the past--Gettysburg happened safely in the past. September 11 didn't. Nor did Oklahoma City, the white chairs of the memorial of which are clearly visible in my mind.

"Today's Remembrance Day."

"For what?"

"To remember people who have gone before us."

Bud chimed in, "I bet it's for people who died. Like the miners."

"Or like people in the earthquake in Chile."

Maybe I tell them too much as it is. And so, today, I didn't tell them. Later. When they're older. Though, sadly, it is perhaps too much to hope that terrorism will ever be as past as Gettysburg.

On Vacation: Saturday

We're almost there . . . .
  • We were up and ready to go early, which the kids weren't too keen on. They were sad that the vacation was drawing to a close, even sad to be saying goodbye to the hotel. And the Washington Monument! We drove past the Iwo Jima Memorial one last time--it was very close to our hotel--and I giggled recalling an earlier conversation with Sis. She wanted to know who "Ima Jima" was. And I explained, as I had several times, that it was an island where a battle was fought and the soldiers were raising the flag to show that they'd won. She seemed disappointed to learn it wasn't a woman because then she said, "I want to name my first baby Ima Jima." Or would that be "Imogema"?
  • National Aquarium in Baltimore was the only thing on our itinerary and about an hour away. It's located in the Inner Harbor, somewhat akin, in spirit at least, to the River Walk in San Antonio. Lucky we were there just when it opened because the line just to buy tickets was incredibly long by the time we left--it is a very popular place. And no wonder! There are sharks, a dolphin show, stingrays, a leatherback turtle with missing flipper, colorful coral reefs, a rainforest exhibit with a hiding marmoset, and the Australia exhibit with rainbow lorikeet and guldalian finch (I think). But the best part, arguably? Riding all the escalators up and down through the multi-level space. The kids loved the dolphin show--the flipping in the air and splashing. Bud had even asked one of the volunteers near the tank beforehand why the dolphins jump out of the water--and Pop, the woman gave your answer (though not word for word): "because they're loving life!" Bud laughed to realize that animals could do things for fun too. (Note: during the show, it was also explained that scientists think the jumping might also be to look for food, remove parasites from their bodies, or to communicate. But they just don't know.) Bud also asked one of the trainers after what his suit was made of. And I asked whether the dolphins we see (or are they porpoise--apparently the "rostrum" is different) in the Gulf are the same North Atlantic Dolphins; could be, he said. Maybe we can check this summer! Sis didn't like the sharks so much so we let Bud and Mama explore them on their own. She did like all the coral reef tanks and helped Mama take pictures. Mama especially like photographing the colorful birds in the Australia area. I liked watching the rays glide through their huge tank. And everybody liked the jellyfish. Their favorites were what we now call "bumping jellies" because they tended to run into each other a lot. Bud and Sis stood in front of that tank bumping into each other and laughing hysterically. I'm gonna start calling them "bumping jellies!"
  • Then we had our long drive home through MD, DE, NJ, NY, and CT. Nothing special to do or see, just stopping for input and output. But to our great amazement and relief, the kids slept through all the states but the last two and so we made it in record time (as Mama and I crossed our legs so as not to have to stop and wake them up!)
  • After dinner at babysitter's restaurant in CT (which was better than trying to find a place to eat somewhere off the highway in NY), we finally arrived home . . . .though, it didn't feel like home completely until we picked up our kitties at "kitty kamp" today.
And a few random things I forgot:
  • Starting at the welcome center in PA, we picked up a lot of travel brochures along the way. Bud's favorite was the one advertising Medieval Times, the dinner show. He really wants to do that next time!
  • Did I mention that Mama has National Parks passports for everyone? But because we never made it to any actual memorials, we only got the stamps at Gettysburg. We'll have them for next time.
  • I didn't mention souvenirs much, if only to downplay the "gimme" aspect of the trip. But we did bring home the stuff. Mama gets a patch or pin anywhere she goes. I tend towards t-shirts or mugs or magnets. We both like books and now have several from Gettysburg (on civilians during the war, Civil War-era recipes, etc) and the American Indian museum (folktales and an explanatory introduction). The kids decided they wanted to collect stuffed snakes--each got one. Great.
  • Because, see, I don't like snakes and usually they're pretty good at warning me about and protecting me from snakes on view, like at the Aquarium.
  • Food-wise, this was a great trip for Mama and I, with new foods at Gettysburg (that incredible peanut soup), 2Amys, Mitsitam at NMAI, the Lebanese place, and even Whole Foods. Sis, however, really wasn't in her element and found very little pleasing--"where are our regular restaurants?" I think her favorite meal was the last one, in CT. Bud vacillated between fruit cups, Gorilla Crunch cereal, and whatever there was on offer. They're gonna have to get with it though, because Mama and I like to eat.
Whew. That's it--our first big family vacation (where family weren't at our destination)! And I think we'll be doing more soon (either around Philly or Boston, that is, after Texas early in the summer).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Vacation: Friday

  • Going inside a real castle: We're such early risers and the DC schedule isn't prepared for tourists who want to go places at 8 a.m. The kids were up and rearing to go on Friday and, even though we killed as much time at the hotel as we could, we were still on the Mall, after a very exciting shuttle ride to the Metro and awfully steep escalator ride down into the Metro and Metro ride to the city (and even though they've been on city buses and subways in NYC, it was relatively novel). So we walked the Mall a bit and went into the red Smithsonian Castle, which opens early at 9 a.m. We looked around at all the little exhibits, examples from each of the SI museums, admired the 1847 Gothic-inspired architecture, and had a snack in the main hall. Sis devoured a whole croissant while Bud ate yet another fruit cup. (I could subtitle our trip "Of Fruit Cups and Chicken Fingers). And we smooshed some pennies. I think this started, on this trip (it really started with Gong at the Bronx Zoo!), at Gettysburg, but the machine was broken. But we managed it about everywhere else, including the Zoo, Natural History, Smithsonian Castle, Air and Space, National Aquarium, and Maryland rest stop.) We took to saving all our quarters and pennies.
  • Then two rides on the carousel, one of Sis's favorite things of the whole trip . . .it's not a pretty or historic carousel, but it is fast and has long rides, so it scores high on our list of favorite carousels. Especially because the views of the Mall are pretty impressive. Sis rode the aquamarine sea creature the second time and couldn't have been happier.
  • . . . right after finding and blowing more dandelions. Dandelions could be yet another subtitle of our trip: "Our Search for Dandelions and Smooshed Pennies." You see, Sis was just amazed that dandelions in DC had reached the "puffy" stage while those in CT were still in the yellow-flower stage. They've been ready to blow dandelions since the yellow flowers first appeared and were only too happy to do it in DC. Noted Sis, "Washington DC, you know, has a lot of dandelions. They're so puffed." We did a few at Gettysburg but were looking for a chance in DC, since they were always spotting them out the window. But the Mall is relatively mowed, with no dandelions, except in a few roped-off areas. And you guessed it, we let her go in and pluck a few. And she was very happy. (I thought she'd be more cautious about entering this roped off area, but it was Bud who only ducked in and then out quickly. And no worries, there was another kid nearby picking grass too. It wasn't a memorial or monument area).
  • Air and Space: This is apparently the most-visited museum in the country. And it was indeed packed with kids running every which way, taking pictures the whole time. Sis took several pictures in the lobby of the various space modules/capsules. Bud marveled about how the museum suspended the planes from the ceiling. Off all the exhibits, they loved the Skylab--with its collapsible shower and exercise bike and living quarters in space--and the moon rover which we sat and sketched for a long while (and ooh, what a disaster that almost was--I realized I forgot Bud's paper and pencil pack when we were at the Castle--much upset with no remedies at the time--so Mama had to run to the Air and Space shop to find replacements, including a "space pen.") and the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo and the Wright Flyer (and it is the real one! not a replica! Bud liked the kite better. Sis liked taking pictures of it) and the telescopes and infrared sensors. I was most amazed by the Cold War missiles, which were not there when I last visited in approximately 1985, during the Cold War. I remember being so scared of being bombed by Russians . . . and here were the very rockets on display. Gave me the shivers. The kids got rockets and space shuttles to play with, and even tasty candy moon rocks but no space ice cream!
  • Headed to the National Museum of the American Indian. And it's gorgeous--curving sandstone exterior with water features and rocks and native plants. On this increasingly hot (82+F) day you could feel the change in temperature as you approached the museum. I had trouble calling it the Museum of the American Indian, vividly remember "Indian" being drilled out of me at some point in school Apparently, now, it's okay again, a term embraced over the more legalistic (and imposed on them) "Native American." Though, truly, I understand, from my new book Do Indians Live in Tipis? (yes, that spelling has also changed), that the preferred term is actually whatever specific tribe name is under discussion, i.e. avoiding generalizations in favor of acknowledging the diversity and differences of native tribes. Our goal was the cafeteria; we had heard that the food was incredible. And it was--squash and bean tamale pie with a side of guacamole plus cabbage and hominy and stewed white beans, a three sisters soup, fry bread with honey, spicy pickled vegetable empanada, smoked boniato (and sweet potato) salad, cherry aqua fresca, atole, lime/hibiscus/chipotle aqua fresca, tres leches cake, strawberry corn pone, orange cake. And, yes, chicken fingers. There might have been more but that's all I remember. As for the museum itself, well, the building is beautiful, highly symbolic--loved the "woven" walls and rainbow light. But the museum as collection was confusing. I couldn't figure out the mission--is it to educate the general public? At this it fails miserably as most of the exhibits and installations I saw are so particularized and detailed that they almost have no meaning to the general visitor beyond. Okay, sure, the little introductory movie was good, set in an original space utilizing a variety of media, but it was too general to be much use. The rest of the collections are just the opposite: too particular to be interesting. I wasn't looking for a "cowboys and Indians" history but I did want something I could grasp. I mean, I walked through small rooms about the cosmologies of 6 or so different regional variations of tribes I'd never heard of. The minimal number of artifacts were interesting but left you wanting more, particularly because the accompanying text was so dense. This has the very negative effect of reducing the artifacts to being "pretty" or the like. Frustrating. Each tribal room was accompanied by pictures of the people from the tribe who organized the space, as if to say this is one family's way of doing things, which strikes me as Medici-like self-aggrandizement. Now, if the mission of the museum is to honor Indians (and the Indian curators who put things together) for a specifically Indian/insider audience, I can't evaluate if they've accomplished it or not. Because, being turned off by that first exhibition, I didn't bother to go anywhere else in the museum (which has spent a hefty sum on interactive technologies--Sis loved all the folktale videos and Bud liked the animal artifact kiosks). It's too bad, really, because I have really enjoyed our visits to the Mashantucket Pequot museum (and they were huge financial and organizational contributors to the NMAI), but it better manages the insider/outsider equation while being very tribe- and location-specific.The museum as an institution is very young and so I imagine it will find its stride and some balance in the long run; in the short, go eat and then head somewhere else. Which is pretty much what everyone seemed to be doing (and what all the online reviews I've read say too).
  • I had dinner with the woman I'd met up with the day before and another friend I know from years and years ago. We had a nice catch-up conversation over pan-Asian food. The second friend left us after dinner and my college friend and I--who had hosted each other's baby showers--talked shop about kids. And I realized, as I always do, that I wished I stayed better in touch with her the rest of the time.

On Vacation: Thursday

Our vacation continued on Thursday . . . .
  • Panda at the National Zoo! Of course, visiting the pandas, who will return to China later this year after a 10-year visit here in the US, was our main impetus in heading to DC. And so first thing Thursday morning--2 full hours before the zoo officially opened (though, the grounds are open as early as 7 a.m. with several animals on view), we headed to see the panda. Only one panda, Tian Tian, was on view because they think the lady panda might be pregnant (they won't know until there is a cub, I think), but that's okay. We heard him before we saw him, munching away at bamboo. First he sat up to eat, then he reclined, spreading his treat all over his stomach as he continued to munch. We took zillions of pictures, from in front, on the side, and even above his enclosure. I'm sure he's one of the most photographed animals in the world. But Bud was quickly over seeing a real panda, perhaps not grasping the rarity of it and certainly unaware of the actual danger of extinction. I told Bud we were there to say goodbye to the pandas before they went back to China. "Bye, bye Panda," he said. "For now and for China." I guess he's not the sentimental type! It was the third time I've seen the pandas--first years ago when Mama attended some training in VA, then when the kids were babies and we went to see the panda cub (over a weekend trip to host a baby shower for the college friend we saw again this week). And I still just can't get over how furry and big and, well, cute they are. Mama even let me commune with the panda for a bit, gathering mental images for my panda happy place. And, amazingly, we had the pandas all to ourselves almost until the zoo opened (of course, we went to see other animals too--while Mama and I could probably watch the panda for 2 hours, there's no way the kids could).
  • Oh, yeah, and the other animals too (including red panda, cheetah, wallaby, fishing cat, clouded leopard, elephant, Asian otters, but no sloth bear). We spent another hour or two at the zoo after it opened, particularly on the Asian trail nearby. Mama particularly liked watching the red panda climb around its enclosure, while the kids liked running and jumping like a cheetah. But it was beginning to become crowded, we were hungry, and, well, we have the Bronx Zoo so nearby, that we decided to head out. . .
  • For an amazing lunch at 2Amys--highlights include fried rice balls (not quite the arancini at home, this was called suppli a telefono), oven roasted olives, serrano ham, potato frittata, polpettine al forno, D.O.C (official Neapolitan) margherita pizza, almond cake, ice creams and a marsala custard that reminded me of my grandmother's Charlotte Russe. OMG, I think this was one of the best meals I've ever had. The restaurant came highly recommended by my restaurant friend, so we added it to our itinerary and were so thankful we had. There wasn't a thing that we tried that wasn't delicious . . . and there were several more things on the menu, like zucchini fritters and asparagus in vincotto, that we didn't even get to try. We'll be going back here. (Though, in full disclosure, Sis didn't like any of it, from the bread to the ham to the chocolate ice cream; I think she was just being disagreeable. Bud liked his meatballs and the ham (a lot) and the strawberry sorbet).
  • National Museum of Natural History with my college friend and her two kids (and all those hostile tea partyers)--sea life, bones, dinosaurs. Lots of people. This was probably, excepting my visit with my friend, my least favorite stop. I was just very, very, very underwhelmed by the museum, from collection to installation to all the loud, crowded craziness in between. I've never seen a museum so full of glass cases and blinking lights and didactic panels--it really looks like educators and designers run amok or something. And it wasn't enjoyable at all. And even though the kids aren't museum professionals, they picked up on it too, not engaging or interacting with any of the exhibits as they might normally (especially because every installation was also a crowded pathway leaving little space for contemplation, at least on the ground floor), with the one exception of the sea life "diorama" with reconstructed skeletons of manatee and penguin and seal forbears in front of a painted mural. Perhaps I was just tired and grumpy, but I didn't like it. I did, however, like my friend and her daughters. So that's all good, in the end.
  • Tidbits from Whole Foods, including several new salads--orange couscous, black beans with cumin, wheatberries with kale and raisins and olives, chickpeas, key lime quinoa, another bean salad--lots more than we have at home! This was my treat for dinner--and I'm getting to the point that I know how I'm going to make my own beans-and-grains salads. Sis had chicken fingers, Bud had macaroni and cheese; Mama had a bit of everything.
  • Pajama tour of the district: Mama wanted to do the monuments much like her parents had done when she was a child and so we piled into the car after baths and pajamas, around 8 pm, and headed back into DC. The kids were so excited to be out and about at night in pjs. And of course, they spotted the Washington Monument first. We saw the White House (said "white__house" with a pause, as opposed to "White House" as all adults say it), the Capitol, the Mall, all gloriously lit up. The best was seeing all the rockets and planes inside Air and Space, a prelude to our next day's visit. And then the kids fell sound asleep. We figured we'd wake them when we got around to the Jefferson Memorial. Us and 100s of buses of teenagers. It was a zoo. With no parking. We couldn't see hiking them at night in the pjs woken up from a sound sleep underneath a highway a half mile from the monument. Same thing at Lincoln. Apparently, all that up-close parking disappeared after Sept. 11. Next time, when they're older. But we were still disappointed. Luckily, they were too asleep to care and didn't remember in the morning.

Rise Up: The Adventure Begins!

Today begins my 40-day adventure in breadmaking, which I officially pledged--on a bag of King Arthur Flour and my Tassajara Bread Book no less--in front of church and everybody! Here's almost exactly what I said (except approximately three sentences I skipped):

I head the call for Earth Day 40-40-40 pledges and knew I wanted to do something. as the main cook in our family, providing three meals and 2 snacks a day, everyday, I give a lot of thought to food. Like is there life after chicken fingers? (There's not). We've joined a CSA; we try to buy local, organic, and seasonal; we've given up most cans and plastics; and I try to cook from scratch, if possible, most of our meals most of the time. Of course, reality hits and we eat out a lot and I'm a habitue of Starbucks. I thought of pledging to give up restaurants, but I wanted to embrace a positive action, to do something, or to make something. Besides, I knew a restaurant pledge was never going to fly.

What could I make that we usually buy? Bread. Sure, the stuff at the store is okay (actually, the kids think it is better! Well, except the crust), but it has high-fructose corn syrup in it and preservatives and can last for weeks without molding. And that bothers me. So, I could make all of our family's bread. Now, you must understand, I love to bake--cookies, cakes, quick breads--but I don't really know how to make yeasted breads. Apparently, my maternal grandmother made great bread but my mom never bakes. And so in a generation the skill has been lost in my family--my two attempts were mostly awful failures. And I've always wanted to make excellent homemade bread--kneading it by hand and oh, the smell of it! The crust! The crumb! So, today, I pledge on my bag of flour and my bread book that I will make all of our breads, buns, muffins, whatever for the next 40 days. Almost everything with flour. Except pasta. I'm not going there. Sure, I'll do a lot of it in my bread machine, but I'm going to practice handmade breads too. And lots of new recipes, like no-knead bread. And I'm so excited. And also glad to be able to make something so sacred and symbolic as our family's daily bread.

After church during coffee, several people came up to me with either recipe suggestions or confessions that they too wished they could bake or bake like they used to. Obviously, I'm not alone. And so I'm looking forward to sharing my experience with my church community--maybe even getting some help from the ones who identified themselves and lifelong breadmakers. One gave me a tip: let bread dough proof in the fridge if you need more time--it will rise slowly that way.

And so, I've started. We don't have any bread in the house because of our spring break trip. Sure, my kids aren't big bread eaters, but we need some in the house for toast. However, exhausted from the trip and with a thousand things to do, I'm not going to attack my first kneaded-by-hand bread. But the bread machine counts in my book. So I'm trying a new Light Whole Wheat Loaf from Beth Hensperger's Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook, since I want a whole wheat that we all can like. Already I've hit a snag: I thought it called for dry milk powder but it was dry buttermilk powder. Oh, well, this is a learning experience in more ways than one. If we even like it a little bit, I'll try making it the right way!

Some upcoming adventures:
  • Cousin S's French bread recipe
  • No-knead bread a la Jim Lahey of Sullivan Bakery
  • Sourdough, if I can borrow starter from my restaurant friend
  • Said restaurant friend's famous Oatmeal Bread
Stay tuned . . . . and wish me luck!


Light Whole Wheat Loaf

1 cup water
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable or nut oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons dry buttermilk powder
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place all the ingredients in the pan according to the order in the manufacturer's instructions. Set crust on medium or dark and program for the Basic Cycle; press Start. The dough ball will be moist. (Not suitable for use with a delay timer).

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

Beth Henspger, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Home Sweet Home

After a fantastic day at the National Aquarium (including dolphins! and sharks! and "bumping jellies!"), we had a much shorter drive today, owing to taking the urban not scenic route and not hitting any traffic, even on the NJTP. It was made all the better by the kiddos sleeping through MD, DE, and NJ!--we got to CT around 7 and had dinner at--guess where!--our babysitter's restaurant. Because we knew she was working today. The kids couldn't have been happier. And are, thankfully, asleep again after several temptations to play with their new souvenirs. Mama and I are headed to bed now, in what is the cold night air of CT; we even had to turn our heat on because the house was chilly in the mid-50s. We had watched as the temperature on the dashboard dropped from South to North, also how the greenery of the trees became lighter and thinner, to the point of several bare ones still visible up here. Toto, we aren't in Virginia anymore. It's good to be home.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On Vacation: Obviously Not Live

I'm several days behind in what was going to be a nightly summary of our exciting day's events. Stay tuned, there is more to come:

  • Panda at the National Zoo!
  • Oh, yeah, and the other animals too (including red panda, cheetah, wallaby, fishing cat, clouded leopard, elephant, Asian otters, but no sloth bear)
  • an amazing lunch at 2Amys--highlights include fried rice balls (not quite the arancini at home, this was called suppli a telefono), oven roasted olives, potato frittata, polpettine al forno, D.O.C (official Neapolitan) margherita pizza, almond cake, ice creams and a marsala custard that reminded me of my grandmother's Charlotte Russe.
  • National Museum of Natural History with my college friend and her two kids (and all those hostile tea partyers)--sea life, bones, dinosaurs. Lots of people.
  • tidbits from Whole Foods, including several new salads--orange couscous, black beans with cumin, wheatberries with kale and raisins and olives, chickpeas, key lime quinoa, another bean salad--lots more than we have at home!
  • Pajama tour of the district, with 100s of teenagers in buses all around, but those buildings really are pretty when lit up at night--and we could see all the rockets and planes inside Air and Space before they fell sound asleep!
  • Going inside a real castle--breakfast snack at the original Smithsonian building
  • Then two rides on the carousel, one of Sis's favorite things of the whole trip . . .
  • . . . right after finding and blowing more dandelions ("Washington DC, you know, has a lot of dandelions. They're so puffed."
  • Air and Space--loved the Skylab and the moon rover and the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo and the Wright Flyer and the telescopes and infrared sensors. Drew and photographed a lot. But didn't buy space ice cream!
  • Headed to the National Museum of the American Indian (more on why it's okay to call them Indians again, later). Kids loved the water features. We ate a magnificent lunch there: squash and bean tamale pie with a side of guac plus cabbage and hominy and stewed white beans, a three sisters soup, fry bread with honey, spicy pickled vegetable empanada, roasted boniato (and sweet potato) salad, cherry aqua fresca, atole, lime/hibiscus/chipotle aqua fresca, tres leches cake, strawberry corn pone, orange cake. And, yes, chicken fingers. There might have been more but that's all I remember. Less great things to say about the organization of the museum, but we liked all the films and interactives.
  • Dinner with my college friends.
And there will be even more . . . .

On Vacation: Wednesday

And We're Off
5:12 a.m. Sis wakes up, practically in tears about it not quite being morning, "it takes took long!" Bud, hearing the disturbance and seeing Mama in his room, asks if it was morning yet. No. "What are you doing in here?" Indeed. And so we decided, with everyone awake, we might as well get up and at 'em. We were out of the house before 6 a.m., with the kids still in their pajamas for the fun of it.

Through CT, into NY, across the lovely Tappan Zee spanning the Hudson River, eventually into NJ, where we stopped for a break at a Starbucks somewhere. Starbucks is like the new McDonald's for roadtrips--always open, readily available, clean restrooms, nibbles for sale. We did some stretching and got back on the road, seeing many lovely parts of the Garden State.

Breakfast found us at Bob Evans, with biscuits and gravy and pancakes. And bottles of dressing and BBQ sauce for Ma, Gong, and Goo! The kids liked the bendy straws best. I was appalled at the points value of an egg white omelet, unfortunately after the fact. C'est la vie. Et via.

East Texas, PA
Why is there always funky weather in Pennsylvania? When we moved from Chicago in April 2001, it was hot in the valleys and snowed on us in the mountains, changing weather repeatedly as we crossed the state. Today there was fog in the hills, lovely gentle fog in the rolling spring-green hills. And ridges and ridges of mountains. Except for that--the mountains and fog--it reminded me, in spirit, of Texas: farms, hunters, Germans, smokehouses with game processing. Except none of the barns in Texas have those colorful, symbolic circles which I saw both painted on and hanging from old and new barns and houses alike. We even stopped at a place, Dietrich's Meats, that was just a Yankee version, though a little more modest, of Praesek's. As I was buying jam and hex symbols, I just couldn't confess to being a vegetarian to those nice old Pennsylvania Dutch women who were pressing me with salami and jerky and such, right next to a fully-smoked, eyeless hog's head--so I sent Gin in to eat samples! We also stopped at the Cabela's in Hamburg--and it was Texas-sized! The largest of all the Cabela's and I'd say it was as big as the mall near where I grew up. Gigantic! You can tell these PA people are serious hunters.

A stone's throw from the Mason-Dixon line, this tiny little farming community is of course renown for three days in July in 1863. Several friends judiciously questioned our intent to take preschoolers to the site of the turning point of the Civil War--how were we going to explain the battle? the war? slavery? death? It's hardly Sesame Street here (that park is in a different part of PA and on our itinerary for our next visit to the state). We do it as we do most things, partly by the seat of our pants, partly after much strategizing, and all with lots of honesty and short answers. Which meant we talked a lot about our Blue family (NY and CT, well, these days anyway) and our Gray family (TX and LA, actual Confederates those), tried on the chains and talked about slavery as one of the main causes of the war, looked at the medical kit but avoided any image of dead soldiers, focusing instead on the daily life and experiences of soldiers--from reveille and other bugle calls (what a neat interactive computer program that was!) to flag signals (another great interactive program about the 1s and 2s code for words), from tents to uniforms, games like chess and dominoes to muskets and the heavy loads soldiers carried. Bud sketched a lot; Sis took several pictures. Both wanted to get out to the battlefield, more than half expecting to see an actual battle.

We had lunch in the Saloon, which we learned was based on real Refreshment Saloons in Philly which distributed more than 1 million meals to deployed Union soldiers shipping south. We read about hard tack and messmates and the non-tomato origins of ketchup and how to fake cream for coffee with egg whites--there were table tents that kept us busy while we waited for our food. Typical fare except for the amazingly wonderful peanut soup, with whole peanuts in it, softened slightly by the cooking, perhaps some red pepper, just a really wonderful soup. The hardtack served with it? Well, not so much.

Then with battlefield maps in hand, we finally headed out to see the fields. We weren't going to do much at first, heading to the Pennsylvania monument as one of the most impressive. Sis and Bud climbed the monument with Mama, while I waited safely and happily below. Bud drew the fields and split rail fences and cannons (real, actual cannons from the Civil War marking the actual artillery lines), while Sis took photographs . . . of the dandelions! See, our dandelions are still yellow. No puffy, blowable heads yet. So this was quite a treat for her. And became an obsession. More on that later. But I was moved by the battlefield and curious about the rest of it and so we did the whole auto tour--through town past the house where the only civilian (Jennie Wade) was killed while baking bread, past old buildings some with visible bullet holes (other advertising all manner of tacky Gettysburg stuff), past Meade's headquarters in a little white house, past the monument to the Army of Northern Virginia with the statue of Lee. This is where I really felt the weight of the place, standing where Pickett's charge would have raced across the field, doomed. And there was Bud so innocently wanting to draw pictures. On past Little Round Top with its glorious view if not horrifying because of its tactical position as high ground for artillery, past literally thousands of monuments including the wolfhound a the base of the Irish cross and other memorials in the form of statues of soldiers looking very much like the ones that crouched behind trees and rocks, past all sorts of places that mean little to me because I've never really studied the battle--the Copse of Trees, the Angle, Cemetery Ridge, the Wheatfield. Sure, we didn't find a minie ball or even look, but you knew without seeing where the Gettysburg Address took place, without seeing the cemetery, what had transpired here. Even on such a gorgeous spring day. With Sis blowing dandelions, as sweet as could be.

A final stop at the Visitor's Center for souvenirs--the requisite blue and gray kepies and some plastic soldiers (from both sides!), some books (a very heavy one, plus some t-shirts, soon heading to Houston, though Pop, you really need to come see this for yourself)--and we were off.

On the Road Again . . .
The kids couldn't believe we had more driving to do, that we weren't there already. Geography means little to them. But we put some videos in the portable DVDs and they zoned out for the last leg of our trip, perking up a bit when we could finally say we were almost there. And, even though we arrived at our hotel 13 hours after we left home, we only hit traffic in the last 5 minutes. We couldn't have asked for a better traveling day.

A Taste of Lebanon
The kids played with their Blue and Gray soldiers, recreating the Civil War on the carpet while Mama called in dinner and I tried to organize our stuff. They didn't think much of the dinner we got, "Silk Road" food, as we call anything Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, but they were too tired and keyed up, at the exact same time, to care. Mama and I loved all the mezze, inhaling hummus, fassolia (this tomato-garlic-onion stewed gigante beans!!! One of the best things I've ever eaten), swhawarma, potato kibbe, seared haloumi (cheese) with pears and figs, falafel, and zucchini fritters, with orange blossom water-flavored syrup over halawet el jeben and kanafe (both also with sweet cheese).

Exhausted, Sis fell sound asleep, in her "day" pants, bum way up in the air as she perched on the edge of her sleeping bag. She was positioned to watch Food Network because, as she noted forlornly, there was no "kid tv" on that late. Bud was wired but fell instantly asleep when the lights were out. And Mama and I weren't too far behind.