Friday, February 29, 2008

How Dare I?

I paced. I wrung my hands. I pleaded with God.
I considered pleading with the head of The Daring Baker's Blogroll herself, that this recipe was, well, too DARING.
Then I took a deep breath and flung myself off the cliff, accepting that I would attempt (with a 3.5 year old and 1 year old underfoot and only one successful attempt to make a loaf of bread ) to make a French Batard. All, so I could publicly parade myself about as a Daring Baker.

Come along on my journey: Mission 1:
1) First I decided I needed to attempt one more bread making excursion before embarking upon the Mount Everest of the bread-making world - a French Baguette. I decided to make Julia's Country Bread. Without closely reading the instructions, I presumed that since it was called Country Bread that it would be simple as surely people living on a farm (in the country) didn't have too much time to muck about with the necessary task of making bread. I never reread the instructions and simply began the process. During that process I learned (not until I came upon each broken bridge in my journey) that: a) this bread requires 3 different rises b) it required a baking stone of which I had none c) stabbing your bread with a large chef's knife is NOT the same as slashing your bread with a razor blade, d) spraying mists of water across the back of your gas oven could cause it to sputter and screw up its temperature gauging mechanism and e) pulling bread out early and then deciding it wasn't completely finished cooking and then putting it back in the oven while the cold oven climbed back to 400 degrees F does not produce edible bread.Status of mission: FAILURE

2) Next I thought I should read, re-read, and read again the instructions for making the French Batard (a short stubby version of the French Baguette) in hopes that I would be less likely to make a mistake. On about the third read through and 236th interruption by Sizzles and Sticky-Butt, I noticed that the recipe called for compressed yeast, also known as fresh yeast. I do not, nor have I ever, owned fresh yeast. I went to Whole Foods and found no fresh yeast. I went to the Dekalb Farmer's Market and found no fresh yeast. I called the Cooks Warehouse and found no fresh yeast. I called the critically acclaimed Alon's Bakery and was SHOCKED when I found no fresh yeast. Their head baker told me to call the head baker at Dekalb Farmer's Market (and tell her she told me to call her) and see if they might have some in the back. I still found no fresh yeast. She called her distributor and they don't sell fresh yeast anywhere in Atlanta.

Status of mission: FAILURE

3) Regardless, I soldiered on and knew I had to figure out how to substitute dried yeast for fresh yeast. Luckily, there are plenty of resources on the Internet that pointed out that one package of dried yeast is equivalent to a .6 oz cake of fresh yeast.

4) Make the bread. I was moving along nicely for about 15 minutes. Then I realized the appearance of my dough was not in step with Julia Child's description of the her dough. It was because I essentially added an extra cup of water and a tablespoon of sugar into the original recipe when I proofed the dried yeast, according to rough attempt at translating the package's instructions. So I figure I would wing it and toss in an extra 3/4 cup of flour.

Note to reader: Winging it while baking is NOT recommended.

5) I commenced with making the bread and had a heck of a time understanding the instructions, while keeping my children entertained. The small bowls of food I was putting on the floor for Sticky Butt, as if she were the cat, only bought me about five minutes at a time. Eventually, I started grabbing off hunks of dough and adding those to the piles of purple, blue and yellow bowls all across the kitchen floor. I even got desperate enough to let the girls play with a bowl of flour and measuring spoons. (My kitchen will never recover, somehow even the coffee maker ended up caked with flour). At some point during all this, I decided that I am a visual learner and googled away to find out if PBS had archival footage of this particular episode of Baking with Julia. AND THEY DID! Once I saw that, I got a clue as to the kneading and seam work required to make the batard.

6) Bake the bread. The first loaf was a bust. It turns out something is wrong with my oven (not a surprise as my 2 year old snazzy Kitchenaid has been nothing but a pain in my booty). I switched to the gas convection option and baked the remaining two to perfection.

Mission Status: THEY WERE GREAT!

So, I am officially a daring baker!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Barf Brain

We have had a challenging week around here. On Sunday, Sticky-Butt sat up in her crib and barfed all over herself, on Tuesday we had a parent/teacher conference and learned that Sizzles is being contrary at school. On Wednesday, in the morning rush to get to preschool and work, somehow Sticky-Butt locked herself in the bathroom and proceeded to rummage through the medicine drawer while we tried to jimmy the lock. On Thursday, Sizzles sat up in her bed and barfed all over herself.

It has been a long, long week but now it is the weekend and we are glad. :)

On the agenda for the weekend:

  • Find a small rocking chair for the girls' bedroom

  • Find some compressed yeast and rye flour

  • Bake country bread

  • Go to the farmer's market and buy organic beef, red carrots and fresh beets

  • Restock our muffin liner supply

  • Make beef stew with our farmer's market finds

  • Have a date with Brian

  • Read some more of Barbara Kingslover's book

  • Make pancakes and sausage for breakfast

  • Go to church on Sunday night


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Simple Life

I have been on a simple life binge. I realize this is probably an oxymoron but it is my reality. I'm gobbling up books, blogs, recipes, pictures, songs, ANYTHING that I can paw to hear about simplicity. All the while, life barrels on.

I have found some good limbs to grab hold of as life rushes me down its rapids. Some of those limbs belong to authors like Alice Waters, Barbara Kingslover, and Katrina Kennison. Their works hold me down. They could hold you too.

During the busy seasons of life, simple recipes become restful places to repeat the practice of centering your priorities back to God, your family and friends. Over my life the recipe that rises over and over as simple and soulful is my Grandmother's Chicken and Dumplings. It has been ages since my arms have pushed dough across a wooden table until it failed to bounce back to its glutenous knot; taking a butter knife and cutting long strips down and across; scooping and plopping limp rectangles into a bubbling broth of chicken parts and potato stumps.

Although the years have pulled the details of this recipe away from my mind, it has not been pulled away from the memory of my hands and fingers. Those hands and fingers were creating that food as far back as my ability to stand underneath my Momom's housecoat as she moved from the sink, to the stove, to the table.

I rest on those memories, making muffins with Sizzles week after week. We fill those muffins with blueberries, spotted brown bannanas, pumpkin puree, applesauce and strawberry jam. It is our refuge together when our days have been long with struggle, stress or disappointment. Together we find our way back to the kitchen, back to where we belong, back to the beginning of that muffin recipe. And we are home.

If you asked me for the muffin recipe that we use every week of our lives, I would have to look it up. If you asked my hands, they could tell you in one long movement.

One day, my daughter's fingers will tell it too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ho Hum

Hmm. I don't have anything pithy to say but I feel the nagging presence of a week old post. So, I figured I would hit the keyboard for a while and see if I became inspired.

Nope. Nothin.

Oh wait!
One exciting bit of news is that I became an Aunt for the first time Sunday night! My nephew's name is Brody Elisha. Cute name, huh?

Unfortunately, I haven't seen a picture of the kiddo yet because my brother took a picture with his phone and then text(ed?) it to everyone. My blackberry didn't get the message. So, I am waiting for my kin to leave the hospital, then have the time to send an email picture via the computer.

Apparently for Lent, God intended for me to practice patience.

Patience isn't my thing. Cooking is my thing. Oh, that reminds me!
I have a new goal coming down the pipe for all you fancy readers!

I am going to start tossing out some turn of the century recipes. (Not the recent turn of the century, the one before that). These recipes come from an old handwritten cookbook my grandmother gave me before she passed away. I have to take it out and look again, but I seem to recall that it was my grandfather's mother's. That sounds about right (well, maybe not grammatically). Anyway, some of the recipes have dates on them and the oldest one is from 1895! The trick though is that hardly any of the recipes have tempature or time notations. Some just give ingredients list and lack the narrative instructions. So, I will need your help to test them out!

Oh boy. Sizzles, is circling so I will grab a short one so that I can jump off the computer before she starts acting crazy. Sizzles does a fine rendition of crazy. Believe you me, no one wants any of that stuff coming their way, especially not this worn out mama.

Let's start with Snow Flake Cake:

1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of sweet milk (not sure what that would mean other than NOT buttermilk or sour milk?)
Whites of three eggs
2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
Then it says: flavor and frost.

This recipe is on the same page as a cake entitled, Mrs. Phinneys Sunshine Cake.

Doesn't that name just make you smile?

So, get to it! Make some Snow Flake Cake!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

This just in - apparently today is TUESDAY.

Hmm. So I guess some words will do.
We had lots of drama this weekend:

  • Friday night my car would not start after numerous attempts by my collegues and as a result was stranded a top a six story parking deck on the CDC campus.
  • Saturday morning - I return to campus to get the tow truck through security only to discover that a tow truck can't get up the parking deck because the overhead clearance is too low. The nice man hand carried his equipment up to my car to jump it and we drove away.
  • Saturday night - We had an awesome date night. Brian helped me pick out some new clothes, we saw a movie and ate some late night guacamole. Then we returned home to find Sizzles with a raging fever. :(
  • Sunday - We spent all day caring for Sizzles and Sticky Butt. They were both very sick.
  • Sunday night about two hours before the Superbowl - the plumbing went nuts and the toilets began to overflow.
Plumbers were called, Hell was raised and we thanked God for TIVO.

Today was the second day in a row of attempting to take care of sick children and get some paid work done.

Somewhere along the way today, I decided to bake bread from scratch. At some point, I remember thinking this would be easier than loading up children into the car to go to the store to get some bread.

Did I mention that I have NEVER baked bread before?

Did I mention that the kids were sick AND that I was trying to work from home?

And I wonder why I struggle with balance. :)

At the end of the day (which is now), the day was GOOD and for that I am truly GRATEFUL.

(Later tonight, I will post the recipe for the white bread I made which was a simple recipe that required little of me except my full attention and even without that, the bread turned out great!)