30 September 2010

29 September 2010

Felix, Day 0

Felix, Day 0
Originally uploaded by Mom_Me

When all else fails banana bread

Banana bread
“All else” here means me. There are days when I simply cannot do anything right. Sometimes a few of those days string together and I begin to wonder why anyone (kids, husband, friends, dogs) keeps me around. I could wallow on those days (weeks) or I could throw my shoulders back and do something I know will not be a disappointment.
So sure, the world doesn't really need another banana bread recipe. My friend Justine just posted one the other day (with chocolate chips!) and if you Google “banana bread recipe” you get “about 3,330,000 hits.” But I needed something to work, and this always does.

There are two basic tricks to quick breads and muffins, first, don't over mix. Once you add the dry and wet ingredients together, stir just enough to get the flour wet, and then stop. Second, watch the bread, not just the time. For reasons known only to my oven, a recipe that took 45 minutes one day will take only 35 minutes the next time, and an overbaked quick bread is no one's friend.

Simple banana bread
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-5 very ripe bananas (3 if they're big supermarket bananas, 5 if you've been seeking out smaller bananas because your toddler requests them twice a day.)
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup add-in, optional (walnuts are a classic, but chocolate chips or chopped fresh cranberries are good, too.)

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit
Butter and flour a bundt pan. (Or use baker's spray.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Beat in sugar, again until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until completely combined. Beat in vanilla. Beat in bananas (no need to pre-mash) starting with the mushiest one, adding next bananas when the previous one is well incorporated. It's okay to leave lumps so long as you don't mind lumps of banana in your banana bread. I happen to like them.

Put down the electric mixer and pick up a wood spoon or rubber spatula. (Do they still make rubber spatulas? Aren't they all silicone now?)

Add dry ingredients to banana mixture, folding gently just the flour is wet. Stop.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

24 September 2010

Collard Bread

Just suppose perhaps the baking powder isn't good? I used it out of the new can. And Mrs. Lynde says you can never be sure of getting good baking powder nowadays when everything is so adulterated. ~Anne of Green Gables

Collard Bread

Good intentions...crisper drawer...healthful vegetables...blah blah blah...

This is a savory quick bread, so don't think zucchini bread when you look at it. Think soda-bread with vegetables included, or think quiche with integrated crust. It's tasty, with just enough honey to balance the natural bitterness of the greens. This will be breakfast tomorrow, along with eggs made to order.

I used up a bunch of raw collard greens in this recipe, but you could also use it for doing something with the leftover greens from last night's dinner. Really, you could use any leftover cooked veggies, up to 2 cups worth, chopped small.

If you're starting with raw greens, count on prep time to wash, chop, cook and cool the greens before you start making the bread.

1 bunch collard greens
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion

10 ounces (~2 cups) whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons honey
1 egg
2 ounces Parmesan cheese
To prep the collard greens:
Place a skillet over low heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Cut the ends off the stems and then cut out the rib of the greens from the leaves. Wash the stems thoroughly, then cut into small pieces, about ¼ inch. Add stems to the skillet, stir and cover. Cut onion in small dice and add to skillet, stir and cover. Wash leaves carefully, stack and cut into thin strips then cut again to make small squares. Add to skillet along with about 1 ounce of water, stir and cover until greens are dark and wilted, and stems are soft. Remove from skillet to drain and cool. This can be done up to one day ahead.

To make the bread:

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Set aside.

Grate the parmesan cheese.

In another bowl, beat egg, then add milk, oil, and honey (if you use the same measure for the honey as for the oil, your honey will slide right out of the measure, no sticking.) Stir to combine. Add cheese and greens and stir to combine.

Stare at wet mix, and realize you are an egg away from a quiche.

Lightly oil the inside of a loaf pan.

Add wet mix to dry mix and stir only long enough to get all of the flour moist, then stop. You will be tempted to give it one more stir. Don't do it. This will never be smooth or pourable and you will look at the mass of stuff in your bowl and think “this will never work.” Breathe.  It will be okay. Transfer mixture to loaf pan, smoosh it down into the corners a bit, smooth the top a bit, then put it in the oven and trust in your baking powder.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Just a Story

I thought I was going to write about books, and how reading education is getting it all wrong. Certainly I was writing about reading books when I began composing this in my head. But, as is often the case with the things in my head, I didn't end up exactly where was expecting to. So this is not about books. I will write about books tomorrow, maybe.

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” ~John Steinbeck

If you wish to annoy me, utter the phrase “just a story.” Mostly I hear it about the Bible, but people use it to deride almost anything with a narrative. “Just a story” is supposed to mean that we don't have to take it seriously because it's not REAL. Of course, anyone who has read The Velveteen Rabbit knows that real is a fluid construct. But then, The Velveteen Rabbit is “just a story.” (Unless you've ever loved anything enough to make it real. Then you know the truth.)

The Bible, of course, is “just a story.” And since it's just a story we can ignore it entirely, it's worthless. So are the Greek Myths and Aesop's Fables and the various tales told by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. They're all just stories, meant to distract us for a while until we can get back to serious real things that matter.

Your personal family mythology is “just a story.” It doesn't matter that Great-whatever Grampa came over on a boat with all of his worldly possesions in a single suitcase. It doesn't matter that your parents met at a mixer which your father was roped into after he attended a bachelor party and thus was already a bit drunk (true story) or that your father drove his motorcycle up and down your mother's street until she agreed to go out with him (probably false, as I don't think Dad owned a motorcycle.)

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before. ~ Willa Cather

But why are those stories so distracting? Why does IMDb list 44 film adaptations of Cinderella, and Amazon more than 4000 books with Cinderella in the title. Even accounting for the marketing genius of Disney, that's a lot of Cinderella. Why do we love Cinderella? After all, it's just a story. The people in it are made up. Most of the people in the Bible are probably made up, too. If Moses was indeed a real person, then he probably wasn't quite how he is portrayed in the book of Exodus. Heroic tendencies, and even his fatal flaw, were probably buffed and polished over time to create the character we know now.

Their story, yours and mine -- it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them. —William Carlos Williams

That's the reality: Cinderella and Moses and the turtle that the world rides on, even the story of how your great-whatever came to live here, they're all made up, the collective creations of many imaginations, of the people who told the stories and the ears that heard them, and the small children who asked “tell it again!” and “what happened next?” All those people shaping a story, saving it, noticing that their Aunt or Cousin or neighbor is just like one of the characters. How could anything real come out of that?

Nothing real has ever come out of anything else. If we pay attention, a story tells us about where people lived and what they ate and how they loved each other and what made them cry. There isn't anything else to know about people.

In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it’s not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle. ~Ursula K. Le Guin
Our stories are real. They were created by real people, preserved by real people, and even the gods and demons in them are based on the things we know best: real people. The people in the stories, they are real, because we make them that way, just like the boy in The Velveteen Rabbit.

19 September 2010

Rhett and Ruffie

A letter to Carol, head of Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue, regarding the two foster dogs we brought home yesterday.


Rhett and Ruffie behaved angelically all the way home, so still and quiet were they that we didn't notice that Rhett had also worked his way out of his harness.  So when we got home, with the car backed in to the driveway up against the back gate, I opened the hatch prepared to catch Ruffie and deal with Rhett later.  Instead both dogs bolted, one to the left and one to the right, and then raced together down the driveway and off down the sidewalk as if they knew where they were going. 

Fortunately they were curious enough to explore up and down people's driveways, and my exceptionally nice next door neighbor, her daughter and daughter's boyfriend helped us corral them. 

Once they were safely in our backyard we released the beagle, who wanted desperately for them to pay attention to her, to follow the proper dog protocols, but they were not interested and ignored her completely.  They are still ignoring her this morning.  They seem to know that she is not to be messed with, despite her size, so if they pick up something she wants, they drop it again as soon as she shows interest.  You said that Ruffie is the softer of the two, but neither of them is a very dominant animal.

They have seen the cat, and are curious about him, lying down by the cat door to stare at him, but they're not barking or scrabbling at the door.  I think if the cat ever decides to make an appearance he'll just be treated to a round of heavy sniffing and then left alone. 

Rhett and Ruffie have been very gentle with the kids so far.  Despite racing around the yard and around the house, at least until they settled down, they never knocked into anyone, and were very respectful of the boys.  Ruffie walked right up to the toddler and sniffed him, which delighted the toddler.   The toddler, keep in mind, is very new to toddling and therefore not always steady on his feet.  Of course, we have taught both boys from the beginning to be gentle, but there is only so much you can expect from small boys in the gentleness department.  Based on the dogs' reaction to the beagle and the kids I don't think there's any reason to worry about them being aggressive towards anyone or anything.  I think they'd probably do well in any home.

They really are a bonded pair. Even in the backyard they stick together, separating only briefly. They actually remind me a bit of sheep with the way they will trot around shoulder to shoulder. We're going to take the on a walk with a coupler today or tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.

Ruffie especially likes to pick things up and carry them around.  He can't be trusted with stuffed animals, but I think he will be quite content to leave them alone if there are enough sturdy dog toys to be carried.  Both dogs have very soft mouths and will let me take things from them without any trouble.

I think their last owner let them on the furniture, or they're testing their limits here, because they've jumped up on the couch a couple of times.  They're both so big that even if I were inclined to allow Golden Retrievers on my couch there wouldn't be room for the people with them there, so we're training them out of that trick.  They get off the couch as soon as we tell them too. 

I think you're right that they're not really eight years old, or if they are they have really marvelous bone structure, since I don't see any evidence of arthritis in either of them, which is surprising given their size and supposed age.

I'm going to trim their nails this afternoon and they have appointments for baths on Monday morning.  I'll send you pictures when they're all clean and brushed.  I think you really need new pictures for Petfinder because neither dog looks as old in real life as they do in the pictures you posted.

much love,

There's a glitch in the widget

If you've been following Bread, Wine, Salt in your RSS reader you may have noticed that my last couple of posts have been poorly edited, and then disappeared if you tried to click over to the blog and post a comment. ("Learn to edit, you ignorant twit," perhaps.) There's a glitch in the widget I've been using to send posts from the word processor I use for my initial draft to Blogger which apparently also sends out the RSS feed. Bad widget! I'll be using less elegant methods until the tech department figures out what the problem is. Thank you for keeping your ignorant twit comments to yourself.

18 September 2010

Golden Wheat Bread

I bought Uprisings, my first whole-grain baking book off the book-rack at a Fresh Fields grocery store in 1999. It was early in my bread-making career and I wanted a truly whole-wheat bread that made a good sandwich loaf.

The recipe

Golden Wheat Bread wasn't quite that loaf. But I loved it anyway. It was dense and chewy but not too heavy. The whole wheat flavor was good, but not overpowering. It makes really, really excellent toast.

I also loved the book, and still do. It's a great resource for baking with whole grains and less-processed sugars. The handwritten and illustrated pages are charming and the recipes are consistently good.

Like the banana sandwich bread, this starts with a sponge. The original recipe calls for barley malt syrup, but if you don't have an appropriately crunchy health food store near you, you can substitute with half the amount of honey.

For the sponge:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 2/3 cups lukewarm water
3 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup barley malt syrup (or ¼ cup honey)

Mix sponge ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and then beat at least 100 times. Cover bowl with a damp kitchen towel and allow to double, about 1 hour.

For dough:
2 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
approximately 3 cups whole wheat flour

Beat salt and vinegar into the sponge. Begin stirring in flour about ½ cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 20 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or counter.

After 20 minutes, shape your dough into a ball and leave it to rest briefly on counter while you wash out your large mixing bowl with warm water and dry with a clean kitchen towel. Oil the inside of the bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn once so that all sides of the dough are lightly coated in oil. Cover with the damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1`hour.

When dough has doubled, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 20 minutes, adding small amounts of flour only as necessary.

When you have finished kneading, prepare your baking pans or baking sheets. If using bread pans, you may lightly oil the bottom of the pans only. If you oil the sides the bread won't be able to climb the pan as well during rising. Divide your dough in two and shape your loaves. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. When loaves have risen, bake for 45-60 minutes.

If using bread pans, remove loaves from pans as soon as possible after removing from oven to prevent soggy crusts. Please wait at least 10 minutes before slicing. It will give you time to soften your butter and break out that jam you've been saving.


17 September 2010

Simple meals

I had plans for you, oh handful of people who read this blog. I had big, important plans. I had a list. And then the week went not so much wrong as agley. It wasn't Murphy's Law that got me, just Burns'. So I've been in survival mode, which doesn't make for great blogging. Do you need a picture and instructions for spaghetti with tomato sauce? I doubt it. But, as I go into another day of slapping dinner together, I do have some wisdom to impart. It's even something I learned during a graduate school seminar, so you know it's crucial to the future of humanity.

Are you ready?

Here we go:

Pre-shredded cheese is crap. And not in a snooty, “processed food is EVIL” kind of way. It is demonstrably, scientifically, factually less delicious than block cheese. (This is graduate school level knowledge, remember?)

There are two reasons. First pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents in it. I don't blame the food companies. They don't have a choice. Without anti-caking agents the cheese shreds will stick to each other and become a giant, ill-formed cheese lump. And who needs that? Nobody. So, they add anti-caking agents, which keeps the shreds separated. But anti-caking agents don't taste like cheese because they are not cheese. So with every shred of cheese you are adding a tiny amount of not-cheese. That just seems to be counter-productive when the goal is to add cheese.

Only slightly less well known is this: never go in against a Sicilian...

No, wrong list, sorry.

The second reason why block cheese is scientifically better than pre-shredded cheese is that pre-shredded cheese is shredded on ginormous industrial shredders. When you shred cheese at home, do your shreds come out perfectly shaped? Or do you sometimes get clumps and crumbles and those bits that stick to the back of the shredder and have to be cleaned off by hand? All those clumps and crumbles are waste for the big industrial shredder. So they have to use younger, softer cheese to reduce the mess and waste. The problem is that younger cheese has had less time to develop flavor. So pre-shredded cheese has had less time to develop wonderful cheese flavor than a block of cheese of comparable quality.

I learned all of this from a presentation given by a fellow graduate student who was studying methods of making a better tasting low-fat cheese. She had lots of graphs and charts, as you do when you're a graduate student, including one which showed that low-fat cheese shredded at home had as many cheese-flavor compounds as pre-shredded full-fat cheese.

So, in conclusion, spend a few extra minutes and shred your own cheese. You'll be glad you did.

This message was brought to you by today's “you don't need me to tell you how to do this.” meal: black beans and rice. I do cook my black beans from dried in my handy-dandy slow-cooker, because they really are better than canned, but it's a much longer process and a lecture for another day. If you want to use canned beans, I won't judge.

beans and rice

12 September 2010

Astonishing (Tomato Tart)

Sometimes astonishing things happen.

The chocolate chips and hazelnuts are even better in your oatmeal cookies than you imagined they'd be. (That's 1 cup chocolate chips, ½ cup chopped raw hazelnuts, if you'd like to try it at home, and I recommend you do. You may never buy a Pepperidge Farm cookie again.)

An old friend you'd written off calls out of the blue to say she's in the area and can she stop by for 20 minutes.

A new(ish) friend says something really lovely about you about you for no reason.

You out your blog on your facebook page and no one points at you and shouts “You're one of those blog blogging blogger people? Why on earth would anyone read that?”

Your blog stats tell you that you have a reader in Canada even though you don't know anyone in Canada. (Seriously, neighbor to the North, please say hello, because I love you the most of all of my anonymous readers.)

So in honor of astonishing things, I give you a picture-less, but astonishingly good recipe which, unfortunately you may have to wait a year to try, because it requires you to have wonderful, ripe, flavorful cherry or grape tomatoes and the season is almost gone. (Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, which would be a real shock to my blog stats.) Making this astonishingly good recipe with grocery store tomatoes will only end in disappointment.

What is this astonishingly good recipe? Tomato cheese tart and it's super simple. (Astonishing!)

Do you remember my Clean out the crisper tart? The one with the elegant Clothilde's easy olive oil whole wheat crust. Second verse, same as the first (almost:)

Olive Oil Whole Wheat Crust made with freshly ground black pepper instead of dried herbs.
5 ounces chevre
1 pint wonderful cherry or grape tomatoes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
bunch fresh basil

Make the crust. I used a pie plate, which wasn't quite right. I should have gone rustic (or I might have to get myself a proper tart pan to make pretty tarts.)

While the crust is chilling, remove the chevre from the refrigerator to soften.

Halve the tomatoes and mix with salt. Place tomatoes in a strainer and allow to drain.

Preheat your oven to 400 Fahrenheit

After the crust has chilled for at least half an hour, remove it from the refrigerator and spread the chevre on the bottom. Then spread the tomatoes over the goat cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is just crisp.

While the tart is baking chiffonade your basil, then sprinkle it over top of the tart just after you remove it from the oven.
So good.

11 September 2010

Banana Sandwich Bread

Adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book.

“Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination streaming through you, with dough under hand, you are bread-making itself, which is why bread-making is so fulfilling and rewarding.”

Sandwich Bread

I was determined not to be two years behind in the delivery of bread to the mom with the new baby. So this morning, as I sorted out my day to get ready to make dinner for them, I cracked open my copy of Tassajara and settled on this yeasted banana bread. There's a lot going on here, and the banana flavor gets lost. I think you could leave out the orange zest and the cinnamon and have a perfectly yummy loaf of bread, but you could also leave them in and have a perfectly yummy loaf of bread.

This is an almost whole wheat loaf, so it uses the sponge method. The ingredients are divided into two parts, the first for the sponge, a batter which allows the yeast to make your heavy whole wheat flour into a light and fluffy loaf of bread.

Part 1

2 ½ cups warm water
1 ½ Tablespoons dry yeast (two packets)
¼ cup honey
1 cup dry milk
2 mashed bananas
2 beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
zest of 2 oranges
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour

Part 2

4 teaspoons salt
¼ cup butter
approximately 4 cups whole wheat flour

Combine the mashed bananas, eggs, cinnamon and orange zest in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl add water, yeast and honey. Whisk to combine. Stir in dry milk, banana mixture, and white and whole wheat flours and beat with a wooden spoon at least 100 times. This is your sponge. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Now is a good time to take your butter out of the fridge to let it soften for stage 2.

When the sponge has doubled, stir it down and then add the salt and softened butter (or, if you forgot to take your butter out of the fridge, melt it and allow it to cool to lukewarm or cooler.) Beat in flour about 1 cup at a time until the mixture becomes too stiff to stir. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 20 minutes*, adding flour as necessary. After 20 minutes* you should have a smooth, elastic dough. Form the dough into a ball and allow to rest on the counter for a moment.

Wash out your large mixing bowl in warm water. Even if you have more than one, you want to go ahead and get this washed before the dough dries to an impermeable crust. Dry thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel, then butter the inside lightly. Place the dough in the bowl, turn it once so that the top is lightly buttered, cover with the clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

After the dough has doubled, remove it from the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface for another 20 minutes* adding flour in small amounts only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the counter.

Divide the dough in two pieces and shape into loaves. For loaf pans, simply use a rolling pin or your hands to flatten the dough into a rectangle that is one loaf pan wide by two loaf pans long and roll it up along the short edge, then place seam side down in the loaf pan. Cover loaf pans with a clean damp towel and let dough rise until doubled.

Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Bake loaves in the center of the oven , rotating side to side and front to back halfway through, for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves are a gorgeous golden brown and your butter knife is twitching. Remove the pans from the oven and then the loaves from the pans and to a cooling rack as soon as possible. Allow loaves to cool on the cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.*

*Yes, really.

09 September 2010

Oatmeal Cookies for New Moms (and Others)

 Oatmeal cookies

I was way behind on cookie delivery.  A new baby arrived and I promised cookies, but then I got the plague (or a headcold, whichevs) and then and then and then...and then no cookies.  Two years later the same mom had another baby and she let me come, even though I hadn't made her any cookies.  The next day I brought these.  Of course sometime during labor I promised her bread, so now I'm behind again.

Oatmeal is a common folk remedy for new mothers who are looking to increase their milk supply.   While a bowl of hot oatmeal is a wonderful way to start the morning, and I would certainly fix it if I were staying with a new mom, it's hard to give as a gift.  These cookies travel well, and while they're not quite as good for you as a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, I'd wager they're at least as wholesome as oatmeal from a packet, with the added advantage of being easy to eat one-handed during marathon nursing sessions.

Of course, these guys are so yummy there's no reason to wait for a new baby to make them.

What additions you use is up to you.  Raisins are traditional, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are welcomed almost anywhere.  Chopped nuts add some minerals, protein and healthful fats to the mix.  You might be tempted to add more than 1.5 cups of additions, but I find that more than that makes it hard to taste the cookie, and hard for the dough to hold all the additions together.

There is no vanilla in these because I forgot it one day, and found that without the vanilla the flavor of the oats came through much better.  You can add 1 teaspoon of vanilla if you like.

These are small and they bake up fast.  They will look slightly underdone after 12 minutes, but they will continue cooking from the residual heat in the pan and the cookies themselves.  If you bake longer than 13 minutes you'll get a very crunchy cookie.

If you are organized and/or patient, you can make the dough ahead of time and keep it, carefully wrapped, in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for two months.

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
6.25 ounces whole wheat flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup additions

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cream the butter with an electric mixer until butter lightens in color.  Add sugars and cream again until mixture becomes fluffy.

Beat in egg until just combined.

Stir together oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and add to batter, stirring until just combined. Stir in nuts/raisins/chocolate or other additions, stir until evenly distributed.

Drop by tablespoonful on an ungreased baking sheet.  Twelve cookies will fit comfortably on a standard cookie sheet.  Bake for 12-13 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes 4-5 dozen

05 September 2010


This is what happens when you don't apply a second coat of egg wash halfway through baking.

Look, there's bread on breadwinesalt!

If you've never made yeast bread, this is a good place to start.  It's a very forgiving dough, and the results are both beautiful and delicious.    The key is to knead it thoroughly.  I almost never measure flour when I'm making bread, because I do it enough that I can feel when there's enough flour.  If you're just starting out I recommend adding in the minimum amount of flour and then adding more as you knead, just a sprinkle at a time.  When the kneading is done you'll have added enough flour.

These are braided round loaves with the second coat of egg wash. Much prettier.

2.5 cups water, wrist temperature
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 Tablespoons softened butter or olive oil
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 Tablespoon salt
8-9 cups all-purpose flour

Clean an area of your countertop large enough to knead bread.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, honey and water.  Beat 100 times with a large wooden spoon.  Add butter or oil, egg yolks, and salt and mix again until thoroughly combined.  Add flour, about a cup at time, beating between additions, until the dough is too stiff to stir.

Sprinkle about 1 cup of flour in a circle about 1 foot in diameter on your immaculately clean countertop.  Drop the dough out of the mixing bowl into the flour, sprinkle some flour from the counter onto the top of the dough and flour your hands.   Begin kneading by pushing the dough away from you, then turning the dough 90 degrees and folding it in half.  Continue pushing and folding until the dough begins to stick to your hands or the counter.

Sprinkle the dough and your hands with flour again, and continue kneading for 20 minutes, adding small quantities of flour as necessary.

When you are finished kneading, form the dough into a ball and leave it on the counter and scrub out your mixing bowl, first in cool water and then with hot.  Dry with a clean kitchen towel. Coat the inside of the bowl lightly in butter or oil.  Place the dough in the bowl and flip once so that all sides of the dough are oiled.  Place the mixing bowl in a warm place and cover with the damp towel.  Allow the dough to rise undisturbed until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour depending on temperature.

Clean your counter again.

When the dough has finished rising, sprinkle the counter very lightly with flour and dump the dough out onto the floured surface.  Knead for another 20 minutes, adding small amounts of flour only as necessary.  If you are kneading by hand you are very unlikely to over-knead the dough.

When you're finished kneading divide the loaves in half and shape the loaves.  The braid, above is the classic Challah shape.  Divide each half of the dough into thirds and roll out into snakes about 18 inches long.  Line up the snakes and braid.  I find it easiest to start the braid in the middle and work to the end, then turn the dough around and braid the other side, this time passing strands under the braid instead of over.  Tuck the edges under enough to make it pretty.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  Place the loaves on baking sheets, cover and allow to rise approximately one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat one egg and brush (or, if you have lost your brush, ahem, use your clean fingers, they work great) the egg all over the top of the loaves.  (Wash your hands)  Bake for approximately 40 minutes, rotating the loaves and applying a second coat of egg wash, about halfway through baking, until the crust is dark brown and the other people in your house are begging for it to be done already.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before breaking out the bread knife.

If you happen to have leftovers the next day, this makes excellent French toast.

04 September 2010

Birth Day

“I still think you should be a doula.”

It was one of those big dinner outings, where you're ostensibly out with 20 people, but really you can only talk to 4 or 5 other people because the table is so long and the restaurant is so loud.

“I'd love to be able to do that for my friends.”

Three people and one conversation down the table the pregnant woman said “Ooo.” We both leaned forward and around to make eye contact.

“Think about it.” I said, trying not to get my hopes up.

“I will.” she promised. I vowed to say nothing more, not wanting to be pushy, not expecting to hear about it again.

But a couple of weeks later she did bring it up. She asked what I would do as her doula. When I answered she nodded and said only “Yes.” I was excited and giddy and humbled to be invited into such an intimate space. And also, a bit worried. What if I'm really bad at it?

We arranged to meet to talk about what she needs from me. It seemed straightforward. I read through my favorite birthing book. I made a list of on-call babysitters. And finally I got the call that they were heading to the hospital. I jumped up and down in excitement, and I beat them to the hospital so I waited until they arrive and waited again until she was admitted.

It was a long night, and a hard labor. I suggested positions and rubbed feet and shoulders and hips. I filled the water bottle over and over again, found washcloths to wipe her face and wash her feet. I smuggled in the ultimate contraband: solid food. I translated a bit of doctor speak. I told her again and again that she was amazing, that her baby was doing great.

There were other things I wanted to say but couldn't, because I would have wept. That, I think, is why doctors and nurses are so officious. They have to separate themselves so that they don't weep love, joy, and sorrow for their patients.

When it was time for her to push there was a doctor and two nurses and her husband and there was nowhere for me to be but above her head, wiping her face, exhorting her to breathe deeply, and touching her shoulders in benediction as she pushed.

And then: one beautiful, perfect baby girl. I filled the water bottle again, fetched the camera, told the people in the waiting room, made sure the baby was snuggled skin to skin on her mama's chest and slid back out of the way. When I left my friend's mother hugged me and thanked me, for the second (maybe third? More?) time. Because to whom are you more grateful than you are to the person who eases your child's pain and fear? I had done that. I can say that assuredly, not bragging, but grateful that I was able to provide that gift, and hopeful that I will have a chance to do it again.


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