Tuesday, September 29, 2009

a cord of three strands

This is my favorite (and only) go-to bread. The outside is crisp, the inside is soft, the kitchen is warm, and the smell is divine. Sprinkle with dried herbs to pair with something savory, or cinnamon to go with something sweet. Or if you are undecided, you could be non-committal and sprinkle with sesame seeds. To feel extra special, try making this bread while wearing your hair in a braid.

My long-lost friend Kristy gave me this recipe years ago. Back then she was baking the two loaves every other Sunday, freezing the second loaf for the next week's bread. Apparently this was her compromise, being an American ex-pat living in Switzerland, where the women do the weekly baking. (Kristy, are you still making this bread?)

Braid Bread
(makes 2 glorious loaves)

In a small bowl, dissolve 1 (.25 oz) package of active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast) in 1 3/4 very warm milk. Let this stand about 15 minutes, or until creamy.

Meanwhile, mix 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for brushing on top later), 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the yeast/milk mixture and stir. Pour in 3 cups white flour and stir well. This is where I add any fun stuff, like flaxseed or garlic powder, whatever extra flavor or texture you want, or nothing at all, for you purists. Add about 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead this for a few minutes with floured hands, exclaiming "I knead you!"

The dough should look something like this.

Divide the dough in half. Split each half into 3 chunks and gently stretch each chunk into long strands of (generally) equal length. Sprinkle the dough with flour if things are getting sticky and you start wanting to say bad words. Rest the strands on a greased cookie sheet and say, "Okay, that wasn't so bad."

Braid the strands. Tuck ends under.

Repeat for the other loaf.

Take a breather while the loaves rise in a warm spot. I like to cover them with a clean dishtowel and set them near a sunny window for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and light.

Then, get a really cute three-year-old to brush the reserved egg white on top of the loaves while wearing her bathing suit. When she's done, have her sprinkle on her dried herb or ground spice of choice.

Bake at 400* for about 10 minutes or until the top is getting crisp. Reduce the heat to 350*, and continue baking for about 15 more minutes or until the bread is nice and golden and firm when pressed.

Cool for awhile, slice, and try not eat the whole thing at once.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Our recent party

This was our first non-mandatory party. One where it was totally optional for guests to come. No birthdays. No national holidays. Just a Let's-celebrate kind of party. Come-share-your-Saturday-with-us kind of party.

I tried not to cook. That almost worked. The local Trader Joe's supplied the taquitos. My mom brought some fun 7-layer bean dip (can anyone actually name all seven layers?) and the taco salad. My sister-in-law brought her famous pico de gallo. Because the forecast called for a dreary day, I did end up tossing together a corn and bean soup. There was a light sangria and punch for the kids. And for dessert, I assembled (technically, not cooking) 5 ice cream pies with ganache. After the party, we had outrageous amounts of leftovers. That is, except for the pies.

Here is evidence of the happy people. What are they doing? Eating. Drinking. Chatting. Oh, and building some raised garden beds.

Update: for pics of these garden beds in action, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

If you don't love fall,

If you don't love fall, you may have a serious problem. You really ought to have it checked out. Low serotonin? High dopamine? Thyroid malfunction? General paranoia? Your list of disorders could be endless.


Because fall is wonderful.

Moderate temperatures. Breezy afternoons. Colorful trees. Crunchy leaves. Equal parts night and day. Socks. Did I mention The Apples?



Soups. Gourds.

Oh, boy. I'm hooked.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the summer soup I make for others

What's your definition of soup?

Has broth. Has cut up stuff. Eat it with a spoon.

Well, my mate's definition has one other component: warmth.

So he doesn't eat this amazing gazpacho. And every year, when the garden is bursting with tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, I get this spicy, acidy compulsion for gazpacho, a cold, raw, flavorful soup. Nothing else will do. So I wait, and wait, till....

...I'm invited somewhere! And I have an outlet. People who will eat my soup. One year, it was friends from church. Another year it was a family get together. This year, it was the neighborhood picnic.

And it's such a beautiful soup.

Note about the photos: the bell peppers are not included because they were still out in my garden, and frankly, I'm afraid of slugs after dark.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I'm not this crunchy, really.

So the other night, I'm in the kitchen (of course, why would I want to be anywhere else?) and Darel comes in and says, "Honey, I've been thinking."


"About how much trash we make."

"Me, too!" We embrace. No, we don't. Actually, I stop what I'm doing because I've been thinking about this very thing. I honestly cringe when I throw out a #4 or #5 container that our great city does not recycle. All I can think about is the smelly, disgusting city dumps that I used to pass every day on the way to school and how the filthy sea gulls circled over the piles of trash. And how one city dump got filled up and they turned it into a ski slope. We called it Mount Trashmore.

"We throw out a lot of yogurt containers," he says.

"I was thinking the SAME THING!" We embrace. "What would you think if I tried to make our own yogurt?"

"You can do that?"

Did he really just say that? Is he challenging me?

"In the crockpot. While we sleep." We are still embracing. This is getting fun.

But the thing is, you don't really make yogurt. Yogurt makes itself, while you sleep. I used local milk, no packaging, and no multi-syllabic additives. There are literally 2 ingredients: a whole lot of milk, and a little bit of store-bought (or previously-made yogurt). Does it get any easier?

Here's the recipe.

The next day, we experimented with add-ins. For sweetness, we gravitated toward jams. Darel liked the blueberry. I preferred the strawberry. The offspring still needs convincing. We finished up a bunch of it this morning in a smoothie-style lassi, the idea for which I found in a fun book "Too Many Cooks" that was recommended to me by this fun friend.

Overall, a big thumbs up from this kitchen junkie, but time will tell if this inexpensive, super healthy, green (as in eco) alternative makes its way into our weekly list of must haves.

I remember that a friend once said that she was so crunchy that she knits her own yogurt. Because I have, on occasion, been known to knit, does this recent yogurt event push me into the crunchy category?

Update: click here to see Kristy's commentary of her community's creative management of waste.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Corn, anyone?

A nearby produce farm is offering 5 dozen corn for $12. I couldn't pass it up. Especially when I think about enjoying real corn in the middle of winter. So the other day, I brought home the 60 ears of corn and the girls and I hand-shucked it all, boiled it, cobbed it (I may have just made up that word), bagged it, and froze it. I'm thinking of that slightly spicy corn, ham, white bean soup with the diced chiles. mmmm.

Friday, September 4, 2009

How much is too much?

Yesterday was a big kitchen day for me. Chocolate ginger cookies because my youngest turned three-and-a-half.

Martha's butter pie crust for tonight's chicken pot pie (using planned leftovers).

Shredded zucchini to freeze for the winter's zucchini bread.

Banana muffins to take to Greenfield Village today. Salmon cakes for last night's dinner.

I feel full just thinking about it.

I used every mixing bowl, measuring cup, and baking sheet I own. And I ran the dishwasher twice. And left a counter full of dirty dishes. Really, is this all necessary? Of course not, but it's so much fun.

It helped that my husband took pity on me and dragged in the computer and popped in a Netflix around 9pm. What a supportive companion he is!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My disorder disorder

I have a problem with disorder. I can't seem to conquer it. It actually makes me feel slightly uneasy to have my kitchen totally in order. It doesn't feel like my kitchen for the 8 minutes that it manages to stay pristine. So today, there's at least one thing in the sink, one thing on the counter, one thing on the fridge. Mostly it's more than one thing. There are lots of things. And they don't even really belong in the kitchen. Sunglasses, candles, papers, artwork, bills, ponyties. But they just wanna be where I am. Where I go, they go. Sometimes I get really energetic (read:frantic) and put everything in its rightful place. That's usually about 30 minutes before guests come over. I'm so exhausted after that, that I treat myself to tossing some random object on the counter. There, that's better.