Friday, April 30, 2010

He'd Been Known to Bake Bread: Grandpa Joe (Honey Oat Sandwich Bread)

The last few days have been bittersweet, as a very important member of our family passed away on the 26th. My father-in-law, known to us lovingly as Grandpa Joe, left us quietly on Monday morning. A smart, interesting, funny guy who loved a good laugh, he was also distinctive in appearance--large in frame, with a nice face and a snowy white mustache and beard. Meeting him for the first time 20 years ago, I inevitably thought of Santa Claus. He did a lot of smiling that day, and I recall feeling that he was very warm and welcoming to me.

A long-time high school biology teacher and then a counselor, Grandpa Joe never lost his willingness to share knowledge. Just for fun, he enjoyed posing little trivia questions to family members out of the blue. I remember how he'd focus his gaze on me and say very pointedly, "Jane, this one's for you . . ." then he'd let loose with an arcane query on a topic about which I may or may not have had the slightest inkling. If I managed to respond correctly, he'd acknowledge that with a grin and comment, "Not bad, Jane. Not bad."

Oh sure, he'd had a few grouchy moments over the last couple of years as his energy diminished. But now those moments just seem like isolated stitches in the broad colorful fabric of who he was. This is my favorite line excerpted from his obituary, which was written by my husband:  "He loved singing, a good meal, was known to bake bread, and had a wonderful sense of humor." Yeah, the man even liked baking bread. He greatly appreciated well prepared food, loved watching cooking shows, and he read cookbooks. How many fathers-in-law do those things?

And the guy did love to sing. Last Saturday evening, from his hospice bed, he gifted us in a quavering voice with the melody from a couple of old tunes. When asked about his favorite music, he exclaimed over the obvious pre-eminence of Frank Sinatra. What wasn't to love about a man like that?  J.R.R. Tolkien said, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Well, the world will be a little less merry now without Grandpa Joe in it and, somehow, we'll have to pick up the slack.

When I made this loaf of fresh bread the other day, I was thinking of him. I believe he would have liked it.

Love you, Grandpa Joe. See you again someday.

About this recipe . . .

Besides honey and oats, this yeast bread also includes whole wheat- and white flour. It's a dense, moist loaf with a slight and pleasant sweetness. Very easy to make, and probably very difficult to screw up, this a good uncomplicated recipe from the excellent book, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. I've made at least half a dozen items from this book with fine results each time.

The only change I made to the recipe was to omit nuts from the dough, and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents here and there. I hope you like this hearty loaf of bread. It's tasty toasted and buttered, but also awfully good untoasted and topped with a little peanut butter. Really satisfying.

Honey Oat Sandwich Bread

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Lightly grease a standard size loaf pan (9" x 5") and a medium size bowl. 
1 and 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup old-fashioned oats (I only had quick oats on hand so I used those instead)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (okay if it's cold)
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup honey (I used clover honey)
1 cup traditional whole wheat flour
1 and 2/3 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (if yours isn't fine and powdery, crush it before adding it in)
2 tsp. instant yeast

In the bowl of your mixer, stir together the water, oats, salt, butter, and honey. Let this cool.

In an ungreased bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, white flour, dry milk, and yeast. Pour this into the mixer bowl with the water-oat-honey mixture.

Put the mixer bowl onto the mixer. Using the dough hook, knead until a smooth dough forms (I mixed mine on the lowest speed for about 4 minutes; you may also choose to do this by hand, if you prefer).

Put the dough into the lightly greased medium-size bowl and cover it (I used a clear plastic food-safe box turned upside down to help create a warm moist environment) for about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Once doubled, oil your hands, and thenn deflate the dough gently. (You won't need to do this on a floured surface, believe it or not.)

Shape it into a 9" log, and nestle it into the greased loaf pan.

Cover it with greased plastic wrap, and put it again in a nice proofing environment--someplace kind of warm and not too dry. Let it rise again for at least an hour or more, until it's crowned about 1.5" above the sides of the pan. About half an hour into the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Uncover the risen bread carefully, put it in the oven on the middle rack, and bake it for approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Put a foil tent over the loaf about 20 minutes into baking to prevent overbrowning. Test the bread for doneness by poking it with an instant read thermometer; when the middle of the loaf reads 190 degrees, the loaf is done.

Remove the bread from the oven, and take it out of the pan after 1 minute; put it on a rack to cool. If you like, brush melted butter lightly on the top of the loaf when you remove it from the pan; this will help the top crust stay nice and soft. Cool it on the rack completely before trying to slice it.

P.S. Did I forget to mention that Grandpa Joe used to keep honey bees? I would give anything to have a picture of him in his bee-keeper suit.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Double Trouble turns Double Digits

Quote of the Day:  There's a clean bathroom in Heaven for Mothers of boys. I saw that on a bathroom wall hanging at a friend's house, another mother of boys.  We're also called MOBOs (Mothers of Boys Only).

Those cute little babies from my post on True Friends turned into these tree-planting Cub Scouts.  They are turning 10 today, April 29. 

Happy Birthday, Boys!

Here are a few things I've learned about raising twin sons:
1.  Two babies at the same time is exhausting.  Naps were something I could only daydream about.
2.  Twin babies DO talk to each other.  They managed to outsmart, undo, and out-maneuver any so-called safety latch known to Moms.  (They helped each other climb over the baby gate!)
3.  I'm not lost if my brother is with me.  (They do tend to wander off, but they eventually find me back again. Thank God!)
4.  They can play a made-up game with little or no talking where they somehow know the rules and outcome.  It's amazing to watch.
5.  They love to argue and express their individuality, and they're each other's best friend.

Everything "they" say about twins is true.  They do have a special bond.  They do speak their own language.  They comfort each other and feel each other's pain.  When one is hurting the other cries.  Although they seem so much alike, they are more confident in being themselves because they have each other. 

Thank you, God, for my four healthy sons, and the double blessing I got on April 29, 2000.

Journaling Prompt:  Write about a special bond you have with a sibling, relative, or really close friend.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

False Start

Quote of the Day: Once you accept the fact that you're not perfect, then you develop some confidence. ~Rosalynn Carter

Another good one for us writers:  No one is perfect...that's why pencils have erasers. - Anonymous (or is that all of us).

And, one from my drama:  Perfect is a word used to describe something that doesn't exist. - heard it from a friend of a friend.

Here are a pair of imperfect hands.

I played for our church service again today.  I started out with some fun prelude music.  One piece was a jazzed up version of our gathering hymn.  Then, the service started.  I don't know what happened, maybe I was distracted by the readers who were right next to me and the really tall candle, or maybe it was the water they poured into the Baptismal bowl, or maybe I had the prelude song in my head and didn't know where to start, or I hadn't drunk enough coffee that morning. When it came time to start the first hymn, I was in the wrong spot.  I mean, way off.  I felt like asking, "Does anyone know where they put middle C on this piano?"  or, "Can you tell me what key we're in?  Oh, those tiny tic-tac-toe grids mean we have a couple sharps."  Whatever the reason, I had to stop the intro and restart, twice. 

We all have false starts now and then.  After the service, while I had fellowship snacks and conversation with other moms, they reminded me that they know all about false starts.  In fact, one is a track coach.  Ever heard of a foot fault, jumping the gun, dropping a baton?  How about some more: fumbling the ball, missing a cue, forgetting a name, burning the bacon.  Ever typed a word wrong, on a job app?  Agent query? Have you ever looked at your writing and thought, Nope, this is not going in the right direction.  I need to turn around and start over.  Which brings up another great comparison.  Have you ever turned down the wrong road? How about your relationships, ever felt a need to start over?

The best way to keep your poise in such situations is to let go of perfect, smile, appologize, and start again.  This is the advice I gave my students when we had our piano recital.  I said, "If you're off, either play through it, or find a place to restart.  Don't fall apart.  We all make mistakes.  Keep on playing."

Thanks, Rejoice friends for accepting my imperfections today.
Play on (or off) the Page!
Journaling Prompt:  Describe a time when you needed to start over.

Time is my enemy

Right now, time is not on my side.  It won't slow down and allow me to get everything done that I need to.  It seems like I blink and there goes my day.  I have determined, using very non scientific methods, that Time hates me that we are in a battle trying to find a balance that will make both sides of the equation happy. 

So my dear readers, that is why I have not been posting anything.  It has nothing to do with lack of cooking, well maybe just a bit but, I am finding my groove between work, school and home, but more with my lack of time.  I cook the new recipe, then forget to type it out because something more pressing interrupts me or I type it out and never take a photo, and of course have the best of intentions to prepare the recipe again so I can include a photo but don't. 

I will do my best, but the next few recipes everyone will just have to imagine how beautiful the photo was going to be and how utterly delicious the food was.

Friday, April 23, 2010

All Happiness Depends on Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake . . .

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." -- John Gunther

What befits an unhurried breakfast on a sunny spring morning more perfectly than a slice of fresh homemade coffeecake? A relaxed breakfast can be just the gentle launching pad one longs for at the start of such a day.  

Best enjoyed in a quiet cozy nook with someone you love, or lounging alone in the most pleasant corner of your own backyard, this is the kind of meal that leads you to appreciate morning's finest attributes.

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen." -- William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXXIII

Adapted from Margaret Fox and John B. Bear's book, Morning Food, this recipe isn't complicated, but it does take time to assemble. By necessity, I made a few minor changes to the original formula, though nothing that radically altered the intended character of the finished product.

Instead of using yogurt, I subbed in sour cream with a little milk; instead of using apple juice in the mixture with the berries, I used strained orange juice with a smidgen of added sugar. I also omitted lemon zest from the batter, because I didn't want a strong citrus factor. And, as usual, I reworded the instructions here and there.

The resulting coffee cake was pretty darn delicious, I must say. Not too sweet, not too cream cheesy. And the thin, crunchy almonds in the topping? Well, let's just say "yum" and leave it at that.

Oh, yes--one more thing I must divulge. You know the kind of recipe that, once completed, impels you to express deep and abiding love for your high-capacity dishwasher? Well, I won't lie to you, this is one of those. Mmm hmm, it's a bit of a dirty-dish factory.

That, however, is not sufficient reason to avoid making this treat. Often, the end justifies the messy means, and that's more than true in this case. So, go get yourself some blueberries--fresh or frozen will do--and pull out your springform pan. And have yourself a lovely breakfast.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour, or spray with baking spray, a 9" springform pan.

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen Maine blueberries; they're tiny and very sweet.)
1/4 cup orange juice, strained to remove pulp
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water
2 and 1/4 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt (I actually used slightly more than this, but less than 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 cup sour cream (I used regular)
3 Tbsp. milk (I used 2 percent)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil the berries, orange juice, and 2 Tbsp. sugar. Over very low heat, simmer for 3 minutes, stirring periodically.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a little bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. of the blueberry mixture into the bowl and stir, then pour this back into the saucepan. Continue to simmer and stir for about 1 minute, until the mixture is reduced to about 3/4 cup; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, place the 3/4 cup of sugar and the flour; pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add in the cold butter chunks, and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Separate out 1 cup of this mixture and set it aside in a small bowl; this will be used later for the topping.
Dump the rest of the flour mixture from the food processor bowl into a large mixing bowl. Into this, stir the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another small bowl, by hand, mix together the sour cream, milk, the beaten egg, and vanilla. Pour this  into the flour mixture in the large bowl, and stir to combine. The batter will be quite thick.

Using a small offset spatula, spread the batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan and then up the sides about 1/2 an inch or so; you want to create a shallow well.

Pulse the cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, egg, and lemon juice in the food processor until smooth. Spread this on top of the batter to within about 1/4 inch of the sides.
Now pour all of the blueberry sauce on top of the cream cheese mixture. Use the spatula to spread it around; it needn't reach too close to the sides of the pan.

Into the bowl with the reserved flour mixture, add the sliced almonds and toss them around to combine. Sprinkle this all over the blueberry sauce and the exposed batter edge; the top should be completely covered.

Set the springform pan on top of a sheet pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling seems set, and the cake is topping is light golden. Cool the cake in its pan, on a rack, for 10 minutes.

Remove the sides of the pan and let the cake cool the rest of the way on the rack. When it's cool enough, slide it off the bottom of the springform pan onto a serving dish.

"To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning."  -- Henry David Thoreau

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Guilty Pleasure

Quote of the Day:  No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap. - Carrie Snow, comedian

(I found that one plus several more great quotes on sleep in this month's Reader's Digest.)

And, here I am indulging in one of my guilty pleasures.  (Notice the Scriptfrenzy t-shirt.)  I was a busy Mama that day from early morning blog posting to lunch with a friend, to coffee and scriptwriting, then taught piano lessons, fed the kids, hauled them to their stuff, then more stuff, and still more stuff.

In my drama, Coffee Shop Confessions, five women meet often for coffee and to plan songs and shows.  They are Laura, Lolly, Jewell, Aubrey and Roxy.  Laura's guilty pleasure is extra whip cream on her latte.  She tells Sam, the barista, to use skim milk "because I put on five pounds just last week."

Sam:  Hold the whip cream, too?
Laura:  Don't be silly, Sam.  A girl's gotta have some pleasures in this life.

Jewell confesses that she saves up the change from her grocery money to get pedicures.

Aubrey reads online dating profiles in between clients at her salon that is conveniently across the street from the coffee shop.

Lolly reads mysteries and keeps travel brochures in her handbag.

This boy enjoys a book, a beverage, and a sunny spot to read. (notice the product placement, non-paid advertisement)

My other guilty pleasure is anything with the main ingredient chocolate.  I saw a brownie recipe on a newly discovered blog, Bunny's Warm Oven , that I need to try this weekend.

Journaling Prompt:  What's YOUR guilty pleasure?  Describe a time when you went to extremes to have it or hide it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

True Friend

Quote of the Day:  A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities. - William Arthur Ward

These little guys will be 10 years old next week.  When they were born, my oldest son was six, and my second son was two.  We get more sleep, now, but those were exhausting times back then.  I needed family support and friend support and good, old-fashioned advice and sympathy from all the Grandmas in the neighborhood.

In church last Sunday, the pastor's message (at least the part that stuck in my head) was on the tests and trials of family and friends.  It's easy to be there for someone when the times are good, come to the celebrations, help them plan a party.  Then, there are the times when it's a little harder.  The chaos of walking into a home filled with four small children takes a great deal of courage and energy.  What about the times when friends and family are in crisis and they need a loving voice to say something needs to change.  Or, they're hurting physcially and emotionally.  Can you be that rock for them when the waves of life are crashing over their heads?

Last week, we learned that President Obama wants to pass laws that allow a more open visitation policy in hospitals.  What has been restricted to blood relatives and spouses, needs to be open to close friends and life partners.  I was thinking, why does that need to be a law?  Why would you tell someone to go away and not show love and support to their friend?  What about the people who don't have blood relatives to come take care of them and visit them?  What about the people who aren't married in the traditional sense?  Why do we need laws to allow compassion and love in the time of greatest need?

People who love you need and want to be at your side whether you're on your birthbed or your deathbed, as you experience the first breath of life, or hear the last.  Theirs is the hand that reaches into the pit and pulls you up.  Thank you, God, for the gift of friendship.

Journaling Prompt:  Remember a time when you were in need and a friend was at your side.  Write a thank you.  Or, describe a time when you were there for someone. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lemonade Floats

It was B2's night to choose dessert and she went right to her own cookbook to find what she wanted.  I expected cupcakes, or cookie of some sort with a bazillion sprinkles on them.  But, much to my surprise she chose these light and refreshing floats.

The flavors are very similar to party punch, but there is a lot of ice cream so thus, they are a float.  On a beautiful spring evening these were a perfect dessert for the whole family!

Lemonade Floats
Recipe Source: The Pink Princess Cookbook
1 C Lemonade Concentrate
1/2 C honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 C Chilled sparkling water or club soda
Fruit Sorbet of your choice

Combine the first three ingredients until the honey is mixed in well.  Add the club soda. 

In small glasses, scoop as much sorbet as you like.  Top with the lemonade soda mixture and enjoy with a straw and a spoon!