Deb’s Kitchen

Today in Deb’s Kitchen…

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Granola. A little short on the oatmeal proportion because it scorched a bit while it was in the oven.

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I was busy dealing with slimy, slippery, naked peaches. I bought a bag of them yesterday to bake with, figuring, how hard could it be? Because, of course, it’s been years since I tried peeling peaches. I’d forgotten how much I truly hate peeling them. I even tried the blanch-in-hot-water-slip-the-skins-right-off method but really, no. It worked on exactly ONE peach, but none of the others. So, I manually peeled these slippery things and then sliced them … and, seriously, as much as I love peaches, it’s going to be at least another 5 years or so before I peel any more of them. (Or at least, if I can help it.) Otherwise, they’re going to be eaten like this in our house from now on.

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Well, AFTER we finish the cobbler I made today. Peaches on the bottom, biscuit on the top. Mmmm.

Then, I was in the mood to make cookies … another rare thing. I had made a batch of large, chewy oatmeal cookies the other day, to help fill in the empty places after lunch because my tooth was too sore to eat a sandwich like I usually do, and a bowl of yogurt just isn’t quite satisfying enough … but yogurt with an oatmeal cookie stuffed with dried cranberries and walnuts? Yes, definitely.

So, I baked a batch of those on Tuesday while my parents were at the movies, but I’ve been thinking about how much I’d like some soft, chewy ginger snaps (my favorite cookies, next to traditional, soft chewy Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies like my grandmother made). Except … no ginger in the house. No chocolate chips, either. I almost never want to make cookies, so it’s frustrating to be in the rare, rare mood to make them and not have the necessary ingredients.

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So I made these. Hermits. Mostly because they were the first recipe I came across in the cookbook that I had everything I needed, and wasn’t chocolate. Of course, they’re jam-packed with raisins and I really don’t like raisins very much … not sure what the rationale was, there. They’re pretty good, though (despite the raisins), even though I haven’t heard from the other family members yet, to know what they thought.

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We had pot roast, too.

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But, you know, sometimes the simple things are the best of all. I LOVE cherries, and bought a bag of them at Whole Foods yesterday, and they’re almost gone already. It’s really a good thing that cherry season is so brief … they’re addictive, like potato chips. I can’t eat just one.

We all went to the park yesterday. A gorgeous Saturday … in fact, let me just say that as hot a summer as this has been, and as wet as last week was, August 2010 has had a FINE line in Saturdays. No matter what the rest of the week was like, every Saturday has been a gem. (And coming from a hot-weather-hater like me, that says a lot.)

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Anyway, we took Chappy to the park yesterday and met a whole bunch of really nice dogs–full-grown and puppies. (A couple really cute puppies, in fact.) The only drawback, where Chappy’s concerned, was that, while trying to dip his hot, tired paws in the stream for a quick splash, he SLIPPED, and fell into one of the deep spots and got wet all over. He did NOT like that. He doesn’t care that genetically he is a water-spaniel retrieving dog, he prefers his paws firmly on the ground, thank you, and only likes water in his bowl (except for the aforementioned occasional splash).

All three of us, I’m sorry to say, laughed lovingly at his shock and disgust, even while I was helping him out of the stream. (This is where leashes attached to harnesses really come in handy. You can’t really PULL on a leash attached to a collar.) Naturally, it was right after that, while his fur was still dripping wet, that we bumped into about four more really nice dogs. How embarrassing! Though one dog didn’t even care. All he wanted to do was stand in the stream and bark at reflections. Unlike almost every other dog I know, he completely blew off the dogs standing nearby, greeting and sniffing. All he was interested in was the stream. And the barking. It was cute.

Oh, and since he was wet already AND had played with one of the puppies in the middle of the dropping-strewn horse trail, Chappy got a bath when he got home. It’s just the way it goes.

Still, all in all, a good weekend. And if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go find something to snack on!

Strawberry Shortcake

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Mmm … Ever since Saturday, I’ve been longing for strawberry shortcake. But … no strawberries.

Today, though, when Mom was at the store? They had lots of strawberries! So she bought some, and some cream, and I came home and baked. A rare thing for me, really, on weekdays.

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Worth it, though.

I used this recipe, for what’s basically a big, one-piece scone. You bake it, split it in half, and then layer it with strawberries and whipped cream. (Cream which I whipped with a little gelatin which will hopefully keep it from deflating in the next couple days.)

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For assembly? This needs to be refrigerated, and ours isn’t exactly large. Not only that, strawberry shortcake by its nature is messy. Whipped cream drips, strawberries fall out. Trying to cover it in plastic wrap just makes a mess. And a platter big enough to catch any of the drips would just take too much space in an already crowded refrigerator.

So, I put it together in a pie plate. It’s the same size as the shortcake, and it’s got sides to help keep things in control. The whole thing is in the big, tupperware cake container we’ve had for ages, and it’s just sitting down there, tempting me …

Um.

Gotta go.

Strawberry Pie

For our Easter dessert this year? The prices for the strawberries was incredible at the grocery store today, so I couldn’t resist. I had to buy them and turn them into Strawberry Pie.

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Start with a single, blind-baked pie shell. Mine, despite numerous stabbings with a fork to let the air out, still bubbled at the bottom and shrank down the sides, but really, for this pie, it doesn’t matter.

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Then, while that’s cooling, address the strawberries. In my case, that’s three containers full (for only $5!).

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Cut them into pieces. I admit I almost never bother to core the strawberries. I just don’t see the point except for a few of the really huge berries.

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Generally, I just lop off the tops and then lay the cut side flat on the cutting board and chop the berries into long, narrow pieces.

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Separate the berries into two groups. About 2/3 go into a bowl to sit and wait patiently for further instructions. 1/3 goes into a saucepan. (You can do a 75/25 split, if you prefer more fresh berries. It’s not an exact science.)

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Add a splash of orange juice (or whatever you like) into the pan to prevent sticking and bring the berries to a boil. Add some sugar … as much or as little as desired, depending on the sweetness of the berries. I usually add a dash of cinnamon, too.

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Then … this is what holds the pie together … take some cornstarch and a little more of the orange juice and mix them into a slurry. Pour it into the pot and cook until it thickens.

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Mix the cooked berries with the uncooked berries and pour them into the pie shell.

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Then put the whole thing into the refrigerator to cool. Before serving, I’ll melt a little jam and brush it on top to make the top look as shiny as it does right now, and I will, of course, be serving it with whipped cream.

When possible, I make this pie with a blend of berries–strawberries and blueberries are my favorites, but raspberries and blackberries are good, too.

Or, I’ll skip the cornstarch and just mix this together to make a great berry sauce, because the part-cooked and part-fresh berries just make such a wonderful combination.

Either way … yum. Can’t wait until tomorrow!

Celebrating Pi(e) Day

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I mentioned at lunch today that it was Pi-Day (3.14 etc), and I barely had the words out of my mouth and Dad was saying, “What do you need?” So he headed to the grocery store for emergency pie making supplies. Premade pie crust and frozen fruit.

When he was checking out, the woman on the register called over to her boss, “I’m clocking out and following this guy home.” Tee!

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Frozen peaches, frozen blueberries, tossed with sugar, flour and a dash of cinnamon, then dotted with butter. The entire assembly process took about 7 minutes once the groceries were in the house.

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The pie with all its edges tucked in, ready to go in the oven. I never try to do the pretty, fluted crust around the edges for a few reasons. One, the premade crusts don’t reach over the edge of this, my favorite pie plate. Two, nobody here really likes eating the crust edges. So, I fold the top crust in, along the outside of the bottom crust and kind of tuck them in together, which pinches the edges closed enough. Then, when it bakes, yes, you end up with a thick crust at the back, but it’s covered in fruit juices and much more “edible” (for Dad) than the drier, crispier crust on the edges of more traditional pies.

Besides, it’s easier.

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And see how pretty? The finished pie has a ring of fruit juice around the edge, but nothing burnt, nothing bubbled over.

But, the best part of celebrating Pie Day?

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My favorite furry pie eater is acting like himself. Spring in his step, joy in his heart. Yay!

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He didn’t get out for a walk, though. It showered on and off all day. And when I say “showered,” I mean RAINED. Hard. We even had thunder! In March! Practically unheard of. The odds of us having timed a walk so that we would NOT have gotten drenched are pretty slim, and anyway, he wasn’t giving any hints over by his leash, either.

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Incidentally, I got a ton of knitting done yesterday. First on my sock at McDonalds with Risa and Kim, then on my sweater while we all watched the Toy Story movies … and even more later while watching “Catch Me If You Can” with Mom. My sweater’s just past 15″ long now from the neck.

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Believe it or not, Spring is coming. Gray and wet (really, really wet) as today was, looking out back, there are hints of real, fresh green.

Hey, did you know the Juniper Moon Fiber Farm Lambcam is up and running again? And not only that, but they had their first babies of the season about two hours ago, live on camera. Two twin baby angora goats. Awww! I haven’t seen both of them on camera yet, but I have seen at least one of them crawling around.

I’ve got two videos for you.

As much as it kills me, this is practically a perfect ad and it didn’t use a single word. It’s just perfect, and you will particularly love it if you like dogs … but even if you don’t, you should watch. It’s beautiful and beautifully done.

And then, this one has been making the knit-blog rounds the last couple days, but I wouldn’t want you to miss it. It’s just a wonderful evocation of what a warm home is–using yarn.

(Don’t miss this little gem, either–the “making of” film behind that commercial.)

(I’m not the only one who loves a truly good television ad, am I?)

What I Did Today

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So glad that Stollen Day is over for another year!

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Cake and Granola

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So, what’s a girl to do, once she’s home from errands on what turned into a snowy Saturday?

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Yep. Make yummy stuff in the kitchen!

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I got my Cooks Illustrated yesterday, and this recipe looked really good.

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It smells really good, too. I’m just waiting for it to cool off enough to have a piece. Because–yum! I don’t know if my cream cheese filling has worked out the way it’s supposed to since it was a little too runny to position correctly in the center, but it smells so wonderful at this moment, I don’t care.

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There’s granola, too.

So, we looked around our house and realized that we really didn’t have room for our Christmas tree. Kind of a sad thing, but we can’t let that stop us!

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So, we picked up a little, 4-foot artificial tree for $25 and put it on the coffee table. We’ve only just plugged it in, so it doesn’t have any decorations yet, but it’s a Christmas tree, so no complaints.

Otherwise–did I mention? It’s snowing out there!

Feels Like Normal

Well, except for the fact that Mom’s been wiped out by a cold, and I haven’t gotten any writing done, it’s almost felt like a normal weekend. Of course, Mom’s not usually sick. She’s slept away most of the weekend–which is good for her, but highly unusual–and I really DO have a lot of writing I should be doing, but … I think my brain is still in the “nesting” kind of stage. All I seem to want to do is housework, puttering kinds of things.

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Like spinning. I mentioned that I’ve been getting a lot of spinning done. Of these three skeins, just wound off their bobbins last night, one was finished in the old house, one had one of its two plies finished in the old house, but the other three bobbins of singles and the plying of two of them all happened here, just in the last three weeks. The two newest skeins are both Cormo from the Juniper Moon Fiber Farm (formerly Martha’s Vineyard Fiber Farm) share that arrived in September. And, that bobbin of finished, but not-yet-skeined yarn I brought with me? I finished it in August.

So, when I tell you I’ve gotten a lot of spinning done in the last three weeks–along with moving, unpacking, setting things up, and heading back to work? You have to believe me.

(This also explains why I’m not getting any writing done.)

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It’s true, it seems a little under-plied, but I’m not really worrying about that. What I AM wondering about is how I’m going to wash it to set the twist. The sink in my bathroom is smaller than my old one and doesn’t actually plug to fill up. Or, it WILL fill, technically, but it’s not a tight seal, so it starts draining just as quickly–so soaking is not an option. The kitchen sink might work, though I’d have to dig out the plug that came with that and see if THAT was a tight fit. (We keep a mesh drain-saver in the kitchen sink that catches odds and ends like oatmeal and stray pieces of pasta when you wash things, and almost never plug it to fill it. The bathtub could be an option, maybe, except that I had to take ITS plug out completely because (1) it wouldn’t release to let the water drain without unscrewing it and removing it and (2) it’s a large, bulbous plug that didn’t let the hair-catcher I always have in my shower do its job … and catching my long hair (and Chappy’s fur) from going down the drain is very important.

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I’ve started my next batch of yarn, too, though I can already tell it’s going to be a bear to photograph properly. Why? Because it’s really a dark brown. This is Sheep Shed Corriedale that I got at Rhinebeck in 2008. I figured the dark brown was about as far as I could get from the white Cormo, huh?

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I baked, too. I’ve had a yearning for, well, an old birthday cake. For years, whenever I didn’t want to bake a Grandma Cake for my birthday, we’d get one from the Three Crown Bakery. They did fabulous cakes–everyone said so–and my favorite was white cake, lemon filling, and buttercream frosting. (Their buttercream was great–not too sweet, not to plain, just really yummy.) They retired and closed several years ago, but every year around my birthday, I start thinking about that cake. The fact that the “lemon souffle” hand cream I use at night smells not just lemony but sweet and lemony doesn’t help.

So, I tried making my own variation.

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Well, it looks pretty, I suppose.

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But, my lemon curd didn’t cooperate and came out tough and tasting over-cooked. (Which is to say, not burned, but like it was thinking about scorching when I took it off the stove. And its rubbery texture simply highlights that.) The frosting recipe I tried is okay, I suppose,  but like almost every buttercream recipe I’ve ever tried, it tastes SWEET. Not just “sweet,” but screamingly, eat-your-teeth, diabetic coma kind of sweet.

So, it’s a disappointment. And it doesn’t help that I can’t think of a single bakery around here that I would go to try one of their cakes. The Viking Bakery in Denville makes great cookies and breads, but I’ve never been a fan of their cakes. I don’t know of any other bakeries in reasonable driving distance that would give me a cake close to the one I crave every November … but this wasn’t it. In fact, if it weren’t so wasteful (and if Dad weren’t enjoying this one), I’d be tempted to just throw this away, it’s so far off from what I want it to be.

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On the plus side, these loaves of bread certainly look promising!

Okay–got to go check on the pot roast and think about what to do about potatoes for supper … and hope that Mom’s feeling well enough to come down for it. She was really dizzy this morning and I ended up bringing her breakfast in bed, something I don’t know if I’ve ever done before. I even let her use the bed tray that I use as a computer desk so she wouldn’t spill her coffee. (Yes, orange juice would have been more nutritious, but the two sips of o.j. she had yesterday afternoon bothered her sensitive stomach, so … if coffee and toast was what she wanted, I wasn’t going to argue!)

Not My Day

It’s really just not been my day today.

Well, not that it’s been all bad. I took the day off from work, so I got to sleep late–that’s always good! The fact that I woke up to a rainy day isn’t really its fault, right? Chappy made me laugh right off, too. We usually save the cream cheese containers for him. I’ll put his vitamin in one and then hide it for him to find, which doesn’t usually take long because he knows all the good hiding places by now. Well, this morning, I put it on the stairs–midway between the halfway-point landing and the upstairs … and he couldn’t figure out how to reach it! All he needed to do was stand on the landing, put his front paws on the second step and take the container in his mouth, but he didn’t think of it. Instead, he ran up the stairs PAST the container and then sat at the top trying to figure out why he couldn’t reach it, three steps down. Silly dog! I finally had to help him by sitting next to him on the landing and pointing out that it was in reach. (Oh, his softie of a Grandma helped too, by moving it down a step. She was going to just give it to him, but I told her he needed to figure it out on his own.)

I planned to leave the house at 10:00, to go visit my friend Cindy (the one who had open-heart surgery last month), but ran a little late, not getting to the car until 10:15–very much not like me. I bundled up, left, took the time to fill up the gas tank (in preparation of Rhinebeck on Saturday), and headed down the highway.

I’m not sure why, exactly, but at some point, up ahead, a couple of police cars with flashing lights blocked off the traffic to let a string of cars onto the highway. At first I thought it was some kind of entourage, like the Govenor was visiting, or something … or maybe a funeral with a longer cortege than usual. I didn’t see a hearse, though–although I was a way back so didn’t have the best view. But it was interesting! Not something that happens every day. (Or, well, maybe it does, I’m just usually at work.)

My first stop, though, wasn’t actually visiting Cindy, it was my favorite apple orchard to buy some apples for her and for us. Except, I forgot to allow for the fact that lots (and lots) of schools come by for field trips to play in the orchard, and even on this rainy day, the parking lot was full of yellow school buses. Which meant that the shop was full of KIDS. Lots of kids, getting donuts, picking out candy .. largely bypassing the apples, though. I waded through with a nice smile for everyone and collected my apples, as well as a frozen apple pie and some donuts for Mom. (She loves their donuts.) (And, um, we won’t discuss the frozen pie I dropped on the floor, right?)

So, I waited on line for ages while individual kids pulled out their change purses to pay their $.95 for whatever little things they were buying, and then the cashier rang me up. She balanced my two bags of apples on the scale, rang up the pie and the donuts and then turned back to the next kid … and as I reached for the donuts she’d left on her side of the scale … one of my bags of apples plummeted to the floor. Ouch! Talk about bruised apples, some of these were cracked, they landed so hard. NOT the kind of apple you can bring home and store for a while, you know?

Anyway, I got back in the car and headed up to Cindy’s–only about 10 minutes late (which, considering the number of kids at Wightman’s was pretty efficient of me). We had a really nice visit. She’s still tired and wears out very quickly, kind of sore, but at least starting to feel better–which is good!

Her dog, Horatio, was delighted to see me, too. He is Chappy’s best friend–they’ve known each other since they were three months old, and even though it’s been about nine months since they’ve seen each other, they have one of those great “best friend” relationships where, it doesn’t matter how long the delay has been, they reconnect instantly when they see each other. I TOLD him that Chappy had wanted to come, and that he was going to be super jealous that I got to see Horatio but he didn’t, and Horatio was just so thrilled to see me and smell Chappy on my clothes … it was so sweet.

When I left there, about 1:30 … it was raining, but … with snow mixed in. In fact, by the time I got home, it actually was snowing. Wow! And it’s pretty much snowed all day long, turning spots on the grass white, even if it was too wet to really accumulate.

Naturally, though, I had to bake, because those poor, abused apples weren’t going to last for long at ALL. So I peeled and sliced all the badly-bruised ones and ended up with enough for a huge pie. Except, we all know my trials with pie crust, so I opted for an apple streusel crisp instead (once I’d dug out my cookbooks that Dad moved to the garage). I couldn’t get them all to fit in my Edge Pan, so I put the extra into a loaf pan and popped them both into the oven.

Ten minutes later … a pop followed by a nasty smell. The heating element had burst! Now, this has happened before, but … it couldn’t have lasted three more weeks??

We called our neighbor across the street to beg the use of her oven … and, wasn’t it lucky that I had the second, smaller crisp? They got to keep it as a thank you.

All in all, an interesting day.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, too. It’s been so gray and wet, it didn’t seem worth digging out my camera.

And–is anybody else worrying about the weather for Rhinebeck on Saturday? The forecast is for rain mixed with snow … brr!

Sunday

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So, this morning, I got up. Twice. At 6:49, Mom knocked on my door, thinking I was going to be late for work. Except, of course, this is Sunday and I don’t GO to work on Sundays. So I went back to bed, but didn’t really manage to get back to sleep … and since I was up until 1:15 finishing a book last night, I’ve been a little tired today.

Still, I didn’t let it slow me down! First, after eating breakfast (oatmeal with walnuts), I baked a cake. A Nut Cake from Nick Malgieri’s “How to Bake” (a great cookbook, by the way).

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While I got that started, I finished a batch of granola. Like Susan (Have you voted for her yet? Time’s running out!), I make mine in batches these days, except that I (1) use a skillet for the nuts and stuff and my crockpot for the oatmeal part, and (2) I cook enough of the nuts, seeds, and coconut for TWO batches of granola, but then do the oatmeal part separately. As in, I cook 6 cups of oatmeal/honey/oil and mix it with HALF the nuts/seeds/coconut. The second half I save until the next time I need granola, and then I cook another batch of just the oatmeal/honey/oil and have a complete, second batch with a lot less work. This is convenient because it takes a lot less storage space for the nut/fruit combination (about 3-4 cups, total) than it does for an entire batch of granola (about 16 cups). So, I make half a batch, stash the other half of the nut-part, and then make the oatmeal part when I need it.

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I did pretty early, too, so that I could then get my batch of yogurt started. I’ve been doing that in the crockpot, too. I heat the milk in a pot on the stove (much faster than the crockpot) while warming the empty crockpot–then pour the milk into the crock and turn it off, and let it cool down to about 105-109 degrees. Stir in about 1/4 cup of starter yogurt, cover with a warm towel, and let sit for 6-8 hours.

Then, we got the news that that house adamantly does not accept pets, which made Mom cry, and made Chappy feel guilty.

Luckily, we had a distraction!

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A pair of wild monkeys.

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Risa (whose picture I somehow managed NOT to take) had called on their way down to the NJ Sheep and Wool festival (or whatever it’s called), to ask if I wanted to join them, but I really couldn’t … but I suggested that, if on their way home they weren’t too tired and it wasn’t too late, maybe they could stop by and say hello.

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They had so much FUN!

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Especially once I pulled the flying squirrel toys out. (The look on Chappy’s face in this picture just cracks me up.)

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The good news was that I had two Flying Squirrel toys. The bad news was that Chappy tends to focus on only one at a time, so Alex had to work a little harder for his attention.

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But then, there was jumping…

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Because who doesn’t love jumping?

Oh, and Risa got quite a kick out of this.

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While the kids were jumping, Chappy was sitting right in front of me, looking up and smiling. “I’m having so much fun, Mom!” But every, single time I would lift my camera to take his picture, he would look away. I’d lower the camera, and he’d smile. I’d lift the camera, and he’d turn his head. We must have tried at least five to seven times! This was the best shot I got.

And, right now? He’s sound asleep … all that romping wore him out–in a good way!

Thanks so much for the laughs, Risa–we needed that!

So, we’re back to looking for something I can afford that’s nice, and big enough for the four of us. The really sad part is that the house we found yesterday was perfect–3/4 miles from work, lots of space, an incredible price, and so, so gorgeous with newly-finished floors, new kitchen appliances, everything. Gorgeous. It almost feels that finding anything else at all is going to feel like a letdown. So, please, don’t stop crossing those fingers for us! (Please.)

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In the meantime …

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At least we have cake. (Nut cake, with maple frosting–because, yes, it really is beige. And yummy!)

No Yogurt

Well, I tried… All this chatter about homemade yogurt, you know. If nothing else, I know Chappy would like it (he gets some with every meal), so I gave it a shot yesterday. I heated up my milk to just under boiling to kill any nasty bacteria. Cooled it down to 125 degrees, stirred in some of Chappy’s Stonyfield Farms yogurt, poured it into a stainless steel thermos (which I’d scalded with boiling water), and let it sit on the counter for about 5 hours.

First, I must say, my thermos is very efficient. I put it in the refrigerator last night about 5:00, after a quick peek inside, and when I took it out today at lunchtime–almost 20 hours later–it was still warm inside.

Then … what did I HAVE inside? Sour milk. Not yogurt. Not particularly tart and runny yogurt. Not even cultured buttermilk.

Sour milk.

Yuck!

So, the next question … where did I go wrong? Was the milk too hot when I added the yogurt so that I killed the cultures I wanted to encourage? Was the container of commercial yogurt too old? (Its expiration date was 8/26.) What should I do differently next time I try?

What do you yogurt experts think happened? My guess is that I made it too hot. I think I need to treat the yogurt cultures as lovingly as I do the yeast when I bake, without over-worrying about sour milk.

Because, after all, look where that got me!

Have you heard of Freeride bicycling? It’s something my nephew is getting VERY excited about. Check out these videos. My God, even when I used to bicycle every day, I wouldn’t have been able to remotely begin to do this stuff (grin). I’m impressed!

Berries

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Brought to you by:

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Fourth

Mom and I took Chappy out for coffee this morning, as a birthday-weekend treat. Although, of course, WE are the ones who drank coffee. He drank water. But he shared my cinnamon roll and her scone while we sat outside on a lovely July day. Then we walked to a new, gourmet kind of dog store and bought Chappy a bag of pizza-flavored biscuits, baked right there at the shop.

After we came home, I ran out again because somehow the cream cheese I picked up at the store yesterday disappeared between the checkout counter and the refrigerator, and I absolutely had to have some for his cake … which I baked once I got home. (Lemon pound cake , from the best recipe for lemon pound cake I’ve ever found. The lemony scent just from mixing the lemon zest with the sugar makes me swoon. Then I gave Chappy a bath and threw together some supper from some chinese food leftovers the other night.

Oh, and I squeezed in a nap in there, too.

Tomorrow, my sister’s family is coming down for Chappy’s birthday “party.” No barbeque, though. I think we’re the only family in America that not only does not own a grill but who has no desire to own one! We’re having pot roast and baked potatoes, followed by lemon pound cake with fresh berries …. mmmm.

(I know, no pictures … I don’t know how that happened, either!)

Hope everybody is having a wonderful Saturday, whether or not July 4th means anything extra to you!

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Today would have been my grandfather’s 106th birthday. (And yes, I know, he probably wouldn’t actually have lived that long.) As it is, though, he didn’t live nearly long enough. He passed away in 1967 when I was about 10 months old.

Obviously, I didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him, but sadly, neither did my mother or my older sister, because he died of Alzheimer’s back before they even knew it was Alzheimer’s, and when Mom started dating Dad and met his family … well, according to Dad, his father was already not the man he had been.

Still. I’m glad that he and I overlapped, at least a little. I hope he and Susan are having a great time up in heaven, with my other grandparents, and our other dogs. (Of course I believe that dogs go to heaven!)

Speaking of Grandpa, I let him inspire my guest post today about communication over at Joyful Jubilant Learning, if you care to go read it.

So, what have I been doing today? The office was closed, which is always a plus for a holiday, and this morning, Mom and I went into town. Well, first, we went for coffee. Then I called (after calling home to ask Dad to look up the number) my hair salon to ask if my stylist was in today because I needed a little adjustment to my haircut. It was too long around my face, especially on the right side, and just needed some tweaking. They said to come by at 12:30. Which was fine, but … our other stop for the day was going to be the grocery store, and we couldn’t leave the milk in the car, so … we dawdled some time away by doing a little shopping instead.

After we got home a little after 1:00, I cut up some berries for dessert for Sunday, and threw together a Banana-Blueberry Bread (Blueberry Banana Bread?) to salvage the three, dying bananas in the fruit bowl. I sat with Chappy in our favorite chair and read for a while, and then I made tomato sauce for supper.

I really like homemade sauce SO much more than any sauce that comes out of a jar. No comparison. I have no objections to starting with canned tomatoes (much easier than trying to peel and dice them myself–especially since I don’t love lumpy sauce), but I like the actual sauce to be fresh. It’s so easy, too. Saute an onion and some garlic–maybe some pepper, celery or carrot, too. Brown some meat if you want to add it. Then add two big jars of crushed tomatoes, some basil, some oregano, salt-and-pepper. Maybe a little sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. Or, another trick, a little baking soda to do the same thing. A splash of red wine is good, too. But, ultimately, it’s easy. The most strenuous part is cutting up the onion.

Actually, that IS the most difficult part. A couple years ago, my niece and I made a batch of French Onion Soup, and cutting up that many onions made my eyes tear dreadfully, and ever since then, they’re really sensitive to onions. Except for using contacts (which I don’t wear), I’ve tried all the tricks, but still … Even if my eyes don’t tear while chopping them, they’ll sting while stirring them as they begin to cook. One of these days I’m going to cave and buy a pair of those ridiculous onion goggles … (grin).

(And, no, sorry, I don’t have a picture of the tomato sauce.)

Tomorrow? I’ve got a birthday cake to bake for a certain, almost-8-year-old gentleman we all know. (You know, the furry one stretched out on my floor.) He also needs a bath, but first, Mom and I plan on taking him out in the morning for some coffe… er … some water and maybe a few bites of a cinnamon bun or something like that. He’ll enjoy that. His actual birthday is Tuesday, but we decided that the whole weekend should really revolve around him!

Remember last Fourth of July when one of my favorite independent bookstores burned down? Well, they just, finally, reopened a few weeks ago and then yesterday–the very start of Independence Day weekend–they got hit by lightning! What are the odds?

Granola

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First, there was granola. In this case, homemade granola. The batch I made last week was so tasty, I was inspired to make more.

Mom and I stopped at Whole Foods yesterday–and, say what you will about their prices, their coffee is actually pretty cheap. $10 for pound and a half of good coffee beans can’t be beat. So, while there for coffee, I browsed my way down the bulk goods aisle and brought home a bunch of goodies. What you see here is a combination of oats, almonds, soy nuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), dried cranberries, coconut, and a sprinking of flax seeds and wheat germ for good measure. Mixed together with 1/4 cup each of honey and vegetable oil and then cooked in the crockpot for about 3 hours.

Love.

What do you like in YOUR granola??

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It’s pretty, too–all those golden-y shades of brown with hints of red (cranberries) and green (pepitas).

I’m really enjoying making my own granola, and have cooked some into my morning oatmeal every day for a week. Not to mention just standing there, nibbling on it. About the only fault with this recipe is that, since you need to periodically stir it in the crockpot to keep it from burning, any “clumps” get broken up, so it gets a little messy to eat with your hands. (Luckily, Chappy likes oatmeal and helps keep the kitchen floors clean.) Seriously yummy, though.

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I turned the rest of last week’s granola into bread (recipe courtesy of the 5-minute Artisan bread book). I’ve only had one, tiny piece so far, but … yum! And it turns out that, much as I love cherries, I prefer my dried cherries to be baked into something. Just “straight” in a batch of granola isn’t my preference. In this bread, though? Fabulous.

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Bread and granola aren’t the only things I baked this weekend, though. I put together a cake, too. I was really in the mood for carrot cake, but we didn’t have everything necessary, so … I kind of made up a recipe with pureed, baby food carrots, apple butter, brown sugar, spices and a dash of lemon juice. I have no idea (yet) how it tastes, but it looks good!

(Although, you can tell in that picture that neat frosting isn’t really one of my priorities when finishing a cake, huh? It’s all about the taste.)

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Not only did Mom and I stop at the Whole Foods yesterday (a rare treat, you understand), but look who we saw at the Madison library? Yep, Jessica was giving a spinning demonstration. This was the first time I got to see her since her surgery, and it was nice to chat for a bit and watch the wide-eyed kids come up and try to figure out what on earth she was doing (grin).

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Though, the wide-eyed looks she was getting were NOTHING compared to this person. Fun and playful, yes, but kind of intimidatingly weird to the small-fry, huh?

Oh, and for the record, no, I have NOT yet started knitting the Gray Cardigan I swatched for weeks ago for two reasons. One, I needed to get my shawl to certain (undefined) percentage-done before I could mentally add in another project, and Two, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my gauge. I ordered some KnitPicks wooden needles in size 3 the other day, and will try those when they come. Because, honestly, it doesn’t matter how I hold my yarn, how I tension my fingers, how big or little I make my stitches, I just can’t seem to get my gauge under control–it is just way, way too relaxed. Sigh…

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On the plus side, that’s two sunny days in a row. Even if there are still clouds up there, that’s a huge improvement.

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The thunderstorm that rolled through last night even missed us, though I’m pretty sure Chappy heard it. He certainly acted like he had! The other night, he started woofing at the thunder, which I told him is NOT acceptible behavior … especially since that would probably escalate into full-blown barking at every storm which would REALLY not be acceptible! But, still … two sunny days in a row!

Hey, can you draw a giraffe?

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Now, about that whole spinning thing … my Little Gem DOES seem to be sulking in the corner a bit, even if she IS getting a chance to bask in the sun. But what I really need to do? Get that quilt piled in the corner finished ASAP … while I still have a corner to stash it in!

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An Abundance of Blueberries

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For months, now, blueberries have been ridiculously expensive. Like, $4 for a half-pint, which is crazy. But when Mom and I stopped at the A&P yesterday to pick up stuff for a Father’s Day pie, they were on sale for $1.28 for a pint.

So, naturally, I bought blueberries! Six pints of them.

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So, I baked a blueberry pie, using a recipe from one of the “America’s Test Kitchen” cookbooks, which are always fabulous. The only problem was that I didn’t have the recommended potato starch for thickening, so I used cornstarch instead.

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Um, there’s a reason I don’t make pies very often. (grin) I’ve basically got blueberry soup in there, and a half-raw bottom crust, despite the fact that it was in the oven for well over an hour, as per the recipe. It certainly looked done to me! Except, obviously, with this much liquid UNDER the top crust, the bottom crust had some challenges, so, well … Dad liked it, anyway.

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In addition to the pie–which used only 4 of the 6 pints I bought, I made this cake, which was entirely successful. This was the Brown Sugar Blueberry Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. This is a fantastic cookbook, and this cake? Wow. Really simple, and the batter was so light, the blueberries sank to the bottom and turned into this intense blueberry flavor with a delicate flavor on top, and … yum. This recipe is a keeper.

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I made granola, too, for the first time. I got this recipe from Coconut & Lime–Almond-Cherry-Coconut granola. It came out great, too, and the interesting thing? Every other granola recipe I’ve ever seen has the granola spread out on cookie sheets and baked dry in the oven. This one uses a slow-cooker, which I just thought was really intriguing. It doesn’t have the “clumps” that granola usually has, but then, it didn’t have the quantity of oil and honey that some other recipes have, either. And, of course, the stirring probably broke up a lot of the clumps, too, but that’s fine with me. I actually prefer non-clumpy granola.

The irony is that I never actually EAT granola. I eat oatmeal for breakfast in the morning, so a bowl of granola with milk isn’t going to happen, and I don’t eat yogurt or ice cream to sprinkle it over. (It’s that dairy product thing, you know.) I DO add some to my oatmeal, when we have it in the house, and did you know it’s great for baking with? Granola baked into muffins or bread … mmmm. That said, though, I’ve been eating this by the handful all day. It’s yummy!

Otherwise? I don’t think we’re ever going to see the sun again. Although, there WAS about half an hour of sunshine today. I figure that was a special Father’s Day treat.

My Stock Pot is Tired

Not only did I have my stock pot on the stove all night long with the bones from last night’s roast chicken, but I kept it busy all day today, too.

It occurred to me the other day that it’s been literally years since I made Vegetable Soup, and considering I’ve been on a soup kick lately, that clearly just had to change.

Now, my vegetable soup is always made from scratch and it’s almost entirely waste free, so that I use just about every part of the vegetables. It makes me feel thrifty. (We’ll ignore the part where Dad walked into the kitchen and–being a salad-lover–said, “Are you going to ruin all those vegetables?” Um, yes, Dad, I DO plan on cooking them, that’s how you make soup.)

030109_0032 Start by assembling the ingredients. Onion, celery, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, cabbage, canned tomato, green beans, baby spinach, ginger root.

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To start with, I wash all the vegetables. Then, as I’m starting to slice, dice, peel all of them to put into the soup, all the parts I might normally throw away–the peels, the root ends, the onion peel, the outer leaves of the cabbage, the bell pepper core, all that stuff–I toss into a pot of water on the stove. This boils into a darn good vegetable stock that’s ready to use by the time I’ve got everything else in my soup pot.

030109_0043 Then, in a large pot, I heat a little vegetable oil and add the three classics: onion, celery, and carrots. (And, this time around, a little green pepper.)

030109_0038 Add some finely chopped green cabbage and let that cook down until it’s soft. Then add the green beans, the contents of two large cans of crushed tomatoes, and two peeled and diced potatoes. Also some red kidney beans and some corn. (I love corn in soup.) (I also decided at the last minute NOT to use the baby spinach.)

030109_0045 By now, the vegetable stock is ready. The vegetables have given their all, and I’ve got about 3 quarts of nicely flavored liquid to add to my soup. (These odds and ends, alas, are now destined for the garbage. They can only stave off the inevitable for so long.) I added about 2 quarts to my soup pot and saved another four cups for some other use.

030109_0047 Some seasonings. Basil, oregano, marjoram. Salt and pepper. A dash of allspice. A few bay leaves. (I love bay leaves.) And a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

030109_0050 And noodles, of course. The only non-vegetable ingredient (other than salt). Because I grew up on Campbells soup, this is really the only possible noodle.

030109_0052 Mmmm … served with a little parmesan cheese on top. Delicious!

030109_0063 The tricky part? Finding room in the freezer for all the rest…

Otherwise, we’re supposed to get socked by snow in the next 24 hours, so we’ll see how that goes. We’ve got plenty of soup, though!

For the Birthday Girl

021409_0010 As you know, it’s Mom’s birthday today. (Did you go wish her a happy birthday? Her new eFriend did!) We couldn’t come up with anything more exciting to do, so after much agonizing, we went out for coffee to this cute little coffee shop in Chester. We’ve stopped there before, but we’ve always had Chappy (or Katy) with us, so I’ve never really  been inside.

021409_0011 It’s a charming little place though. Three tables. Yummy baked goods. Good coffee. But, even more, it was so obviously the right place for us to go today because it turned out that the owner and the one woman who works for her are also both Valentine’s Day babies. How often do you go someplace where the people NOT having birthdays are outnumbered by the people who ARE?

We also stopped at a nice little LYS called “Why Knot Knit,” which is run by a pair of very friendly sisters. We actually spent quite a while chatting with them (and, hi, if you’re reading this!). And, um, oh yeah, I bought a little sock yarn. I mean, it was only the polite thing to do! They were trying to get their wireless router set up while we were there, and took my card when I mentioned that not only do I write knitting book reviews, but that I freelance and write websites, too! (I didn’t even mention the photography thing.)

You know, it was really nice to be in a yarn shop that had a selection of roving, along with the yarn!

021409_0026 Then we came home, had a quick bite of lunch (leftover fried rice from the other night cooked in some of my homemade chicken stock–instant soup), and then I started baking.

021409_0027 I blame Carole for these. Because while they might look like muffin tins full of tomato paste…

021409_0041 They are actually Red Velvet Cupcakes.

021409_0043 Guess how they got their name? Yep, that’s RED. As in, “two full bottles of red food coloring”-red. Darn tasty, though, despite the cream cheese frosting. (Which has never  been a favorite of mine and is now even less a favorite what with the way dairy products aggravate my asthma these days. But, well, you can’t argue with tradition, right?)

I’m extremely proud of myself for accomplishing this without staining anything in the kitchen red, except for one spot on my wooden spatula handle. Mom would have killed me if I’d gotten red dye in her white sink! (Really, you’d think she’s a nice, mild-mannered mother–and she mostly is–but you’ve never seen how obsessed she is about keeping her sink clean.)

After the baking, I sat down for about half an hour … did I mention I also made chocolate cake for tomorrow’s ice cream cake? Then, I went back into the kitchen and started supper. No, wait, first I made the cream cheese frosting. Then I started supper. Two suppers, actually. I started assembling ingredients for tomorrow’s beef stew, tonights rotisserie chicken, and a pot of chicken stock (because, well, there IS that extra carcass from the rotisserie chicken, right?)

So, I did my whirlwind impression–sauteeing some chicken legs to start the chicken stock, cutting stew meat into manageable pieces, browning those, then chopping onions–one for the stock pot, one for the stew pot. Carrots, ditto. Celery. Then (oops, get the chicken in the oven), start adding water to the stock pot while peeling potatoes for the … well, for supper first, then for the stew. LOTS of potatoes for the stew!

I added basic seasonings to the stew and the stock pot, then brought the stew to a simmer and turned it off. (It will finish cooking tomorrow, but tonight all the ingredients can start getting to know each other, while chilling in the fridge.) Got the chicken out of the oven, carved it, and then dumped the carcass in the stock pot, added more water, and gave Chappy the carving dish to clean off. Mashed the potatoes. Phew!

So, dinner was chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, and Red Velvet Cupcakes, and now I’m beat!

Which means you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to see modelled pictures of my sweater. Which I had WANTED to steam-block today. I think when I folded and tacked down the bottom hem, I should have attached it one row further up, because the bottom hem is flaring outward just a touch. I’ll try blocking it, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll have to either (1) leave it as is or (2) undo the hem and re-sew it. (Except for the parts that are knitted into the button bands, of course.)

021109_0021 But, here, I’ll leave you with some Saturday Sky. (Technically taken the other day on my way to work, but hey.)

Now, I’m going to go take my shower, grab my knitting bag–with relief because I’m down to one project and it FITS in the bag (for a little while, at least), make some tea, and then relax with Mom and watch a movie.

Hope you’re all having a good Valentine’s Day. I know Chappy is!

Chicken Soup

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Someone’s in the Kitchen

Chicken noodle soup, anyone?

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This is what I had for supper last night. A bowl of homemade soup, a piece of homemade bread (with a little butter), and a good book to read. Ahhhhh…

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And, today? I made cinnamon rolls. I made up a batch of the Soft American White Bread recipe from the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes” book, although I added some wheat germ and one cup of whole wheat flour for a little extra nutrition.

Then this morning, I split it in two–enough for one loaf of bread and then, a little more than half, which I rolled out, spread with some melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and then rolled up and cut into 12 pieces. I put them in a baking pan, let them rise and then baked them and topped them with some frosting.

They’re good, too! Not too sweet, and substantial enough, but still satisfying for the sweet tooth. A winner!

It was just over 40 degrees and sunny today–it felt like spring! We took Chappy out for a longish walk … what we normally consider “medium” in length. Longer than the usual, lunchtime walks, but not as long as one at the park. But today? It was the longest walk Chappy’s had in weeks. (Me too, for that matter.) He’s been completely wiped out ever since.

Bread

My sister gave me a pizza stone for Christmas. Well, technically, she gave me glass knitting needles that I would never use. So we exchanged them for a pizza stone which I just got the other day, and, anyway, today was the first day I had a chance to use it. So I decided to pull out my original, favorite bread recipe.

It turns out, I’ve been baking bread for twenty-one years now. 21 years!

012509_0001 I know this because I saved the pages from the Food and Wine issue that had the first bread recipe I fell in love with, and it’s dated February 1988.

Really, though, my love affair with baking bread goes further back than that. I blame Louisa May Alcott, really. Uncle Alec tells Rose in Eight Cousins (one of my childhood favorites) that the true way to tell a real lady is by the quality of her bread and her buttonholes–none of that fancy cooking and embroidery. Naturally, I wanted to be a lady (or at least, I wanted to be when I wasn’t outside playing in the woods), so I immediately started trying to teach myself to sew and to bake.

Of course, there were setbacks. I would read “set dough in warm place to rise” and would put my bowl of dough into an oven set to warm … so that the poor dough would start to bake around the edges. Trying to mix it without an electric mixer was hard on my arms, and Mom would complain that I was making a mess. (Which I probably was, BUT she also would walk into the kitchen at the worst possible moment before I had a chance to clean up.) I actually grew to detest the smell of yeast so much that I couldn’t bring myself to eat the bread I baked–and couldn’t stand warm rolls at restaurants anymore, either.

I was only about 11, though, and Mom doesn’t bake so she couldn’t help me out, so you have to make allowances, okay?

012509_0006 Then, in 1988, I found this article, with the author talking about baking bread with his daughter, and how she said, “But it’s alive. It feels like clay with life in it,” and how it became a tradition for them.

012509_0004 Not to mention that the recipe sounded like FUN. You start a “sponge” the night before, and get to throw ice cubes into the oven for steam. Much more fun than the Betty Crocker recipe I’d tried from Mom’s old cookbook!

012509_0010 I haven’t actually made this bread in a while … years, even … but I did today.

012509_0015 And you know what? Throwing ice cubes into a hot oven is still fun.

A couple links for you:

An article about Martha’s Vineyard in the current issue of the Smithsonian, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks. That’s a triple-win combination, and a sweet little article about Winter on the island.

Do you remember the movie Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, back when they were still married? It came out the same summer as the Jurassic Park movie and I dragged Mom miles and miles to the (not so very) nearest movie theater playing it and sat entranced with the gorgeous scenery, lush words, and great story and acting (Denzel Washington! Robert Sean Leonard! Even Keanu Reeves). All while dinosaurs loudly rampaged on the other side of the wall–an interesting juxtaposition. Anyway, my very favorite scene from the entire movie is right here on You Tube. When Denzel and the others try to convince Benedick that Beatrice–who really despises him–loves him. They talk loudly about her passion while he eavesdrops, dumbstruck, but oh, it’s so, so funny! Kenneth Branagh is pure genius in this scene. Love it, love it, love it.

The recipe, if you’re interested:

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