Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Calling All Extra Ordinary Children

It happened today.  I was so unprepared for the question that I was nearly unseated.  I was struck dumb...and probably looked pretty stupid as well.  I was just hanging around, shooting the breeze with a couple of cooped up mommies whose children are on Spring Break this week.  A break from what I feel compelled to ask?  The rigors of learning how to tell time and playing basketball in gym class?  But I digress...

Well there we were, plotting and planning the remaining days of the Break and someone dropped the bomb.  Eager.  Perky.  Innocent.  "So what kinds of things are you signing your kids up for this Summer?"  Ummmm...uhhhh...  "We're just having such a hard time deciding between soccer and dance camp because they overlap with play practice and swim lessons and art enrichment and, and,'s all so overwhelming."  Well shit.

Am I overwhelmed by the number of summer options?  Well, I wasn't before she asked that confidence crushing question.  It's March.  If this maternal administrative assistant is overwhelmed simply by the choices then how the hell is the kid going to feel when he gets his schedule in June? 

Sometimes, actually a lot of the time, I have guilt about this.  I have this intense fear jealousy of you mothers who are already signing up for swim teams and soccer lessons. You internet mavens who wake at 11:49 pm to wait, finger poised over the half filled out online registration form, for the clock to tick over to 12 am so you can get in on the mad rush to sign up for a very popular summer camp.

The truth's me.  I am simply not willing to spend my summer running from one activity to the next and keeping a calendar so I can remember who has what on which day.  Am I squandering their opportunities?  Perhaps.  Missing out on a chance that my kid is the next female tennis phenom?  I guess.  Clipping her artistic wings by letting the deadline for art camp pass us by?  Sigh...   These children that are being groomed, grown, shaped, enriched, trained...they will most certainly evolve into extraordinary young people. 

So where does that leave me and my kids?  Actually, it doesn't leave us anywhere as far as I'm concerned.  It puts us exactly where I meant to put us.

Our plans for the summer include a variety of very ordinary activities.  Humdrum, commonplace time fillers like riding bikes on the street in front of our house and impromptu wagon parades with left over 4th of July streamers.  Creating sandbox cities, chalk masterpieces on the driveway and spectacularly muddy pies complete with refugee earthworms.  Running in the sprinkler, reading in the shade and eating pb&j sandwiches at the park (the one with the swings and the slide, not the roller coasters and the 40 story water feature.)  How ordinary...

So if you have some extra ordinary children hanging around your house this summer, please bring them over to play with my girls.  We'd be happy to share our rather mundane kind of fun.  We'll kick ordinary red balls through ordinary goals made with sticks from the woods.  We'll make ordinary art work with ordinary supplies.  We'll get them wet with ordinary water...right from the hose. 

What?!  You don't have a fancy battery operated squirt gun with lights and a heat seeking tracking device?  Don't worry, I have a stash of industrial sized spray bottles that work just as well AND they don't need to be refilled nearly as often.  How extraordinary.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Give Us This Day...Holla! It's My Birthday

When you make bread from scratch, you accept the responsibility of creating something with your own hands.  There is wisdom in the making of bread if you are looking for it.  Simple ingredients; yeast, sugar, water, flour.  Getting your hands dirty, adding substance just a little bit at a time with each tiny handful of flour.  Taking the time.  Good bread takes time.   

When you live your life from scratch, you accept the responsibility of creating something with your own hands.  There is wisdom in the everyday making of life if you are looking for it.  Simple ingredients; faith, patience, forgiveness, joy, love.  Getting your hands dirty.  Adding substance just a bit at a time with each new experience.  Taking time.  Making time.  Making a good life takes time.

I made a lot out of my 36th year of life.  Ingredients combined from scratch, not processed by someone else and simply digested by me.  Things like a new faith and a charming new friend.  Some fragile bridges over wide expanses and making time to see the joys I was missing.  Getting to them is messy.  I made quite a few messes in my 36th year of life, but the end product was quite nice.  And very easy to digest.  

Today is the last day of my 36th year.  Tomorrow I begin again.  Happy Birthday to me.  Holla!

Cheese and Chive Challah
(pronounced holla!)

The eggs in this bread give it a wonderful, flaky pastry like texture.  Very different from the breads I have been writing about for weeks now.  This one takes awhile to execute, but it's so worth it.  Give yourself at least 3 hours and be rewarded with two gorgeous braids of challah for your dinner table.  These braids do not have an overwhelming cheesy-ness.  The addition of the fontina gives the dough a wonderful complex flavor.  It  is my favorite choice, but Swiss would work well also.

1 cup warm milk, any % will work
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoon butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 large egg yolks (save the whites)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup shredded fontina cheese, about 3oz.
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh chives
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3 cups all purpose flour, divided
cooking spray
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1.  In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until it gets foamy.  Stir in the butter, salt, 5 yolks, and 3 eggs.  Add the fontina and the chives.  Stir in the bread flour and 2 cups of the all purpose flour.  This dough is really sticky.  Really, really sticky.  Don't panic!

2.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Add in that last 1 cup of flour a handful at a time, and some additional all purpose flour if necessary, to keep it from sticking to you and your surface.  Knead for 8 minutes and then place in a large bowl coated with cooking spray.  Turn the dough to coat with spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes.  After this first rise, punch it down in the bowl, cover again and let rise for another 45 minutes until it doubles in size.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Don't use too much flour here.  It is actually easier to stretch and roll this dough into ropes if it is not sliding around in a pile of flour.  Divide into 6 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a rope about 15 inches long.  Braid three ropes together, pinch the ends together and fold them under.  Repeat with the other three ropes.  Place each braid on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  If you don't have parchment paper this recipe will not be a failure.  The paper works well because this bread is so "eggy" and this keeps it from getting too crusty and hard on the bottom of the loaf.  You could use a silicone mat or just coat your baking sheet with cooking spray in the absence of parchment, but think about it for next time.  It really does make a difference and is really cheap to have on hand.  Lightly coat the tops of the loaves with spray and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled in size.

4.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5.  Using the leftover egg whites from step 1, take 1/4 cup of the eggs whites and whisk it together in a small bowl with the 2 tablespoons of water.  Brush the loaves gently with the egg mixture, or use a paper towel to glop it over the top if you don't have a brush.  Sprinkle the loaves with the Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 25 minutes until golden.  Cool on a wire rack and then try and stop yourself from eating a whole loaf!  Quick!  Take the extra one to a deserving neighbor!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I've Heard That One Before...

So a Buddhist, a Jew and a Muslim walk into a coffee shop...

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right?  Oh you've heard that one before and so you'll stop reading now...meh.  Oh you're shocked by how politically incorrect that sounds and so you'll move on now...meh.  Oh you're too focused on what you think this is instead of seeing what it actually too sometimes, and so here we go.

I am often frustrated by how groups of mothers can't find anything else to talk about besides their kids.  Actually, it makes me crazy!  It's like we forget about who we are in addition to being mothers.  And just stop, before you think you hear me saying I am not proud to be a mother.  I am proud to be a mother.  I chose to be a mother.  Some days I am a mother first, before anything else.  On the butt wiping, laundry doing, appointment scheduling, toy cleaning days...I am a mother only, in spite of everything else.  But the other parts of me are still under there...somewhere.

Here in The Middle, it's tough to find a mother who's willing to admit that those other parts are under there.  We cling together like refugees and connect because we have a common crisis; toddlers with drippy noses, struggling readers, babies with separation anxiety, 4 year olds that are still in diapers, 2 year olds that aren't talking yet.  Common crises.  They are very real and very present, but sometimes I wish I could just set them aside for a few hours and go looking for those other parts of me.

So when a group of moms refugees that I know suggested we meet one evening a month without our kids, my first reaction, honestly, was, "No thanks."  I've been to that meeting before.  I've already heard that joke.  You can stop now...meh.

In classic Nancy fashion, when I'm wrong, I'm really wrong.  I don't do anything in a small way.  I miss out on things when I am too focused on what I think something is, instead of being able to see what it actually is.  Damn.  Damn.  Once I took a tiny moment to see that I was missing out on an opportunity to add some new friends to my collection, I decided to join them.

Hands wrapped around warm cups of coffee and glasses of pinot noir we floundered for just a moment with conversation.  We started with poop, preschool and how fast their little short legs are growing out of their pants...sigh, here we go...and then someone showed up with an enormous piece of coconut cake and three forks and the Mother Load fell away.  It turns out she was so excited to have cake because they don't eat gluten at her house and she was so glad to be sharing her cake because she wanted to and not because she had to.  It turns out we all love coconut cake and novels about girls with tattoos and shamelessly watch reality television even though we know it's bad for us.  It turns out she is a nurse and she has a husband who travels a lot.  Huh, never knew that before...  It turns out we're all struggling with the same things in this tiny town where we live and none of those things have anything to do with potty training or homework or laundry.

In a tiny moment you can see what something actually is, but only if you're looking.  Only if you suspend your judgment about what you think you know, or what you think you've heard. 

A Buddhist, a Jew and a Muslim walked into a coffee shop...turns out this time the joke was on me.   

Thanks ladies.  See you next month.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Give Us This Day...Weed and Seed

My husband is preoccupied with his lawn.  It's genetic.  A time honored tradition passed from father to son?  No actually, in this's his mother.  She is obsessed.  The verdant carpet that stretches out across their backyard gets her attention every single day of the growing season.  And when it's buried in snow...she worries about it.  Urban legend has her outside every night at dusk, combing the lawn on her hands and knees, plucking out dry blades with a pair of tiny green tweezers and trimming the uneven spots with a pair of sewing scissors.

To be fair, her lawn is magnificent.  And 5 years ago when my husband became the proud owner of his first home lawn, he took on the challenge of living up to her example.  He investigated lawn mowers.  He launched major internet searches for fertilizers and seed companies.  He purchased specialized chemical delivery equipment.  He developed a irrigation schedule involving multiple portable sprinklers and beeping timers that maximized water use and minimized the number of times he got sprayed.

And for all of his efforts, I can honestly say...his lawn looked like a lawn.  Sigh...not particularly spectacular, but free of brown spots and dandelions and perfectly suitable for a roll down the hill or a mid July lunch picnic.  In the proverbial suburban male pissing contest that is "The Lawn", his was right in the middle.  Not quite as green as the neighbor with the in-ground sprinkler system and the lawn service (cheating!) or quite as brown as the unoccupied house next door.  Sorry love.  It was right in the middle.

This kind of consistent lawn achievement went on for 4 summers.  I was very content.  It was comfy to sit on and our children could run barefoot through the yard.  He, was getting restless.  Last year he heard about a new product called Weed and Seed.  Or Seed and Feed.  Or something like that...honestly, I can't remember and I really don't care...but there it is.  And he bought a new spreader.  Just went out one day and treated himself to a brand new $30 tool.  WooHoo!  If that's what you're into I guess...I'd rather have shoes...but I digress.

My point?  His lawn looked better than it ever had.  Really thick and green and healthy.  He beamed with pride and tried to hide tears of joy the day his mother came to visit and told him that his lawn had never looked better.  Really, it was quite pathetic touching.  He tried something new.  Made a few adjustments and got an improvement.

Our lawn just started peeking through the melting snow today.  And he has started talking about Weed and Seed.  Or Seed and Greed.  Or Need to Feed...or whatever the hell it is.  And I thought of a bread recipe that has weed and seed!  WooHoo!  See how she brings it all together...clever girl.

From year to year, the lawn is never exactly the same.  That is also true with bread.  So many tiny things affect how it will turn out.  If you use an extra large egg instead of a medium sized one, when you knead it you'll have to add a bit more flour.  When the recipe calls for water it feels different than when the recipe calls for yogurt.  Every bag of flour is a little different.  Even the level of humidity on the day you bake can affect the outcome.  Do these tiny nuances make the bread a failure?  Um, no.  Not if you let them.  Even my "failures" have been edible.  Baking bread is organic.  It's a living thing.  Is the idea to bake a loaf of yeast bread like a tiny patch of grass peeking through the snow?  Weed and Seed, my friend.  Weed and seed.     

Dill Braid

This recipe makes use of that bag of bread flour that you bought weeks ago for the pitas and have now safely stashed in your freezer!  The real stars of this recipe are the spices.  The dill and onion make this bread a fantastic compliment to basic soups or a worthy guest at your Easter dinner.  Replacing some of the water with Greek yogurt makes this bread dense and chewy.  Yum! 

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plain Greek yogurt, like Fage, any % will work
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons onion flakes, or dried shallots
1 tablespoon dried dill seed
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 bread flour, plus more for kneading

1.  In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Let stand until foamy.  In a medium sized bowl, combine the yogurt, beaten egg, butter, onion flakes, 2 tablespoons of sugar, dill seed, dill weed and salt.  Add this yogurt mixture to the yeast mixture and stir with a whisk until well combined.  Add one cup of the flour and beat until blended.  Stir in as much of the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups of flour as possible and then turn it out onto a floured surface to finish.  This is a stiff dough, GO TRICEPS!, so don't be concerned if it is very difficult to get all the four mixed in with your spoon.  Below are some pictures of what mine looked like at this point in the recipe.  The second picture was after I worked in that last 1 3/4 cups of flour and before I started kneaded or had to add any additional flour.  It will all mix in...I promise, just be patient.
2.  Knead for 8 minutes incorporating as much additional flour as needed to make a stiff dough.  This one is not a fragile wiggly dough ball.  If your triceps are not burning by the end then you either have Madonna arms (ick) OR you need add a bit more flour and make this dough stiffer.  Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, turning dough to coat all sides, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.  It should double in size.

3.  Punch dough down, but do not knead, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into three equal portions.  Stretch and roll each section into an 18 rope.  This dough is moist but not sticky and you will have an easier time getting it to stretch if you do not add too much flour to your surface at this point.  Lay the three ropes next to each other, pinch them together at one end and braid the sections by flopping them one over each other until you get a loose braid.  Tuck the ends under and place the braid on a baking sheet coated lightly with cooking spray.  Lightly spray the top with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  I use the plastic wrap left over from covering the bowl in step 2.  Let rise again in a warm place until doubled in size.  About 30 minutes.

4.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the loaf looks lightly browned on top.  Let this loaf cool for at least 10 minutes on a wire rack before attempting to slice it.  Removing it to a wire rack for cooling is critical for this one.  The yogurt makes this a very moist loaf and if you let it sit around on a solid surface while you wait for it to cool, it can get damp on the bottom.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who's On Your Shelf?

I am a lot of things: mother of daughters, baker of bread, supportive wife, reluctant PTA member, public speaker, snarky bitch.  But I am also a Professional Organizer.  You know, (or maybe you don't know that people like this exist outside the realm of HGTV,) the kind that goes into people's homes and consults with them about how to order their things and which important pieces of paper to save.  Yes, I am one of those too.

Well today I had one of those moments when you realize that your words really do have an impact, on someone other than the 7 year old you're screaming at to put on her goddamn boots and get out to the bus stop...but I digress.  The kind of impact that is so jarring in its simple unfolding that you instantly feel like the whole world should be listening harder to everything that comes out of your mouth waiting for another one of these gems that could really make their lives better too...digression.  Again.  Sorry.

Here's the backstory...

More than 5 years ago, when I was just starting my business I went to meet with some new clients.  This dear couple met me on their doorstep early on a Sunday morning.  I had been hired for them by their daughter to help them transition from their stately, old home in the shadow of the college where they had been faculty for over half of their lives, to a tiny 2 bedroom condominium just over the river.  There were hundreds of decisions to be made about how to relocate so many of their things.  They were glad to see me and the pair of them were singularly focused on the same goal; To get to their new place with none but the most important treasures from their lives and to make a new space for this new time in their lives.  In a way, this made it easier.  We dispatched with furniture, hired a dealer to handle cases and cases of vinyls, sent multiple china tea sets to auction and brought their children in to become the new owners of favorite childhood treasures.  It was all going so well...until we got to the books.  There were So. Many. Books.  I cannot even begin to describe the extent of the librarious collection this scholarly pair had amassed during a combined total of nearly 100 years of teaching and learning.  They still owned every single book they had ever owned.

I focused on their willingness to part with things and their intention of, collecting for the move, only the most special things...but we didn't even know where to begin.  "How many should we take," this dear woman asked of me.  It was almost shocking to have her putting the fate of her memories in my hands.  I was truly overwhelmed by the need to devise some sort of logic to the decision making process for the books.  It was so much easier with the furniture.  We knew how big the walls were and what would fit, went.  What was too big or too many...was sold.  Dishes too...we figured out how much space was in the dining room hutch and the kitchen cabinets and they saved enough to fill those spaces.  The rest...were sold.

But how do you number the books?  And then it hit me.  The books to keep should not be measured by number, they should be measured by feet.  Linear feet.  How much space do they take up?  How many shelves will you need to hold your favorites?  So that's where we started.  We figured out how much space there was, and started sorting.  In the beginning it was quick...there were so many that were easy to cast aside.  But then we went through the novels that inspired her to become a writer and the texts that guided his lectures for 50 years.  Wrenching.  Difficult, to say the least.

We had the most wonderful conversations about what to keep and what to leave behind.  They really listened to me as I guided them through this unimaginable transition and I continued to be in awe of how these two PhD's could possibly learn anything from me.  He, ever practical, and not having any intention to stop acquiring books, posed the question one afternoon, elbow deep in dusty tomes, "So what will we do with the ones we keep when we buy a new book?"  And she replied, "We'll just have to take another look at what's on our shelf and see if there's any room.  And if there isn't.  Something will have to go."

Just perfect.

Long story?  Yep.  Worth it?  Yep.  Here's why...

I was early for my yoga class tonight.  In the corner of the little sitting area outside the studio there is a lending library of books that have been donated by students for the use of others.  I have made use of this tiny collection many times and was delighted tonight as I stared, crook necked at the spines of well loved books on everything from meditation to making homemade pasta, to find a novel I had been wanting to read.  My fingers plucked the tattered copy off the shelf and as I opened the cover to remove the tiny card for check out I noticed that this volume's original owner had written her name in the cover.  Long before it became part of the yoga studio's lending library it had belonged to that wonderful lady who had been my client more than 5 years ago.

"So what will we do with the ones we keep when we buy a new book?"  "We'll just have to take another look at what's on our shelf and see if there's any room.  And if there isn't.  Something will have to go."

She did it back then.  And she is still doing it now.  Partly because I told her to.  But she was only able to be told this because she was ready to listen.  It was truly amazing for me though.  To know that she listened.  And did differently.  And is still doing differently.  And the next time I greet her in the aisle at the co-op I won't say a word about the book.  I'll just give her a hug like I always do while we scoop rice out of the bulk bins and fondle the local produce.  And I'll ask her if they're still loving their new place, which really isn't so new anymore.  And she'll tell me they love it, and that it's just the right amount of space for them and that she's doing such a good job of keeping everything organized.  But that's what they all say...when they see me in public.  My clients.

But she'll tell me.  And I'll believe her.  Because I held her book in my hands today.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Give Us This Day...Retreat! Retreat!!

Give us.  Give me. 

This day...something to feed me.  Something to feed my soul.  And fill up my spirit.  And recharge my battery.

The Sunday posts have been about bread for weeks now.  And about the journey that takes you to bread.  And simple ingredients.  And new variations.  And taking risks.  And trying doing something new.  And taking making time.

And this week it's about bread too.  And a journey, to Chicago for the weekend with just my husband and no kids.  And simple ingredients, like sleeping late and enjoying friends, and retail therapy.  And new variations, like Wicker Park instead of the Magnificent Mile.  And taking risks, like sneaking into the Fairmont Hotel and pretending to be a guest so the cute doorman will call you a cab when there are none to be found.

Making time for me this week meant I didn't have time for a few other things.  I don't have a recipe for bread to post this weekend, but if you look carefully you will see ingredients and instructions.  You will see that I was fed.

And I had the most unbelievable cinnamon crumb cake at a little hole in the wall called the Red Hen Bakery.  The dripping, warm pieces of batter.  The melting cream cheese icing.  The decadent creation with absolutely no nutritional value...sigh...on a doily...perfect.

 And I had the most wonderful sight seeing companion that told me I looked so cute in my pink jacket that I needed my picture taken in front of the sculpture...that's a whole different kind of nourishment...thanks were perfect.

The retreat is the thing you do to avoid defeat.

Give Us This Day will be back.  Next week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Give Us This Day...CaresAway Bread

A novel.  A piece of sheet music.  A jar of jam.  A slice of day old bread.  Uncommonly similar.  Words.  Notes.  Fruit.  Flour.  Ordinary ingredients.  Combinations of basic ingredients, that when assembled by the right person, yield something extraordinary.  And oftentimes terrifying for the person doing the assembly.

It takes a certain amount of ego to screw up the courage to put something out there that wasn't there before.  Conceive a story and then write a novel.  And publish it.  Compose a piece of music and then perform it.  In public.  Pick fruit from your garden, make something with it, and then serve it.  To someone else. 

Every artist brings their entire self, their entire life, to every piece of new construction.  He can only craft the story the way he does because of who he is.  My music man brings every piece he's ever heard, or sung, or conducted to the keyboard when he sits down to write something new.  She creates with what's growing.  Or what she planted.  What she likes.  What she knows has gone well in the past.  Those kind of original compositions are based on experience.  Extraordinary.

I am so inspired by these people.  So.  Inspired.  I love to cook, but I have gotten famous preparing the compositions of others.  I'm a recipe girl.  Famously.  New construction in the kitchen has always been stressful for me.  I want to know, on the front end of my efforts, that it's all going to turn out well.  Be edible.  Look pretty.

And then he writes a novel.  And it's so good.  You should get yourself a copyAnd he sits down at the piano one Sunday afternoon to play a little something and it doesn't sound like anything I've heard before so I call down the stairs, "What is that you're playing?"  And he calls back, "This is the piece I wrote."  No way...really?  It's so good.  You'll have to hear it for yourself someday.  And I walk in the door from work one afternoon and there's a box in the foyer filled with mason jars.  They have magical labels like apricot/blue and rhubarb/chipotle.  And they are so good.  Sorry, not sharing.

And I'm inspired.  To take what I know from what I've done.  And attempt some new construction.  So I started with the basics and modeled them after some successes I've had in the past.  Yeast, salt, water, flour.  Now what?  Something new.  I pulled down every spice jar in my cabinet and started reading the labels to the 3 year old.  Fennel.  Cinnamon.  Dill.  Anise.  Caraway.  "What do you think Minnie?  Which one should we use?"   

Every artist brings their entire life to every piece of new construction.  All the parts.

"Let's make cares away bread mom."  And there you have it.  Let go of your fear of new construction, please.  Step outside your box a bit, please.  Try Do something original and be one of those people.

CaresAway Bread

Back to the basics of yeast, water, flour and salt.  You simply cannot go wrong with the basics.  True with bread.  True with life.  But then there's that whole variety thing...spice of life and all.  This basic recipe has been spiced up just a bit to take it from basic to something more.  Give yourself 2 and 1/2 hours for this one.  Don't bother leaving extra time for it to cool before you eat it...there is no way you'll be able to resist it smelling wonderful right out of the oven.  A special slicing technique will keep it from smooshing on you when you try and slice it hot!

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground sage
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
cooking spray

1.  In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Let it sit for 5 minutes until it gets foamy.  Add the butter, salt, sugar, caraway seeds, nutmeg, sage and half the flour.  Beat with a spoon until mixed thoroughly and smooth.  Add in the rest of the flour, stirring to combine.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to incorporate the flour, scraping the leftover bits from the sides of the bowl.  Knead for 8 to 10 minutes.  This dough ball will be very soft and sticky when you begin your kneading.  Add handfuls of flour as you knead to prevent the dough from sticking to you or your surface.  You'll know you've added enough flour if you can easily work with the dough without it sticking to everything.  Don't let sticky dough make you angry.  Don't knead angry!  Just add a bit more worries!

2.  Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, place dough in bowl, turning to coat all sides with spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.  Push your finger into the dough to make a dent.  If the dent remains, the dough has risen enough.  It should be about twice the size as when you began.

3.  Turn the dough out again onto a floured surface but do not punch it down or knead it.  Tuck the edges in all the way around to form the dough into a dome shape and place it on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, or use a silicone baking mat and skip the spray.  If you're feeling kinda "cheffy" you could take a sharp knife and make a crisscross pattern or some shallow slices in the top of your bread.  Spray the top of the bread dome lightly with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an additional 45 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

 4.  Bake bread for 25 to 30 minutes.  Watch it carefully near the end so it doesn't get too brown.  If you have zero self control and simply must eat it when it's still wicked hot from the oven, use this special slicing technique so this light and doughy bread won't collapse on your impatient little self.  Slice the dome down the middle.  Take one of the halves and turn it, sliced side down, round crusty side up.  Then make a series of slices from the top down to make half oval shaped pieces of bread.  Using the crusty edges to give it some structure as you slice keeps it from getting smooshed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

theMiddleBit of the week...


Occasionally we all enjoy a good laugh at someone else's expense.

We are not all willing to admit this.

Wednesday frequently feels like the longest day of the week.

I know some people who could really use a good laugh today.

It may be time to have The Father start closing the door when he uses the toilet.