Post #544 The Original and the Best

August 21, 2017 at 3:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ice Cream and I have a long and complicated history.  I like ice cream okay, but I’m not crazy for it.  I know people who think it’s the greatest stuff on the planet, totally forgetting that chocolate actually exists.    When I was a kid, particularly while in Arizona, we ate the stuff like it was a food group.  We have fond memories of hours spent churning by hand to get a scoop full of that frozen stuff.  Dad like it so much, he ate it nearly every single day.  As I got older, into my late teens, I stopped eating it and never really went back to it very much.  People will try to tempt me and are astounded when I say, “No Thanks” and really mean it.

That being said, there are times when I really want some ice cream.  It’s not often.  And the feeling can pass pretty quickly.  There are certain ice cream treats that I’ll eat anytime, and once started, I won’t stop till the box is gone.  Klondike bars, for instance.  There once was a commercial where the chorus sang “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”  I always answered, “Whatever it takes.”  The Klondike Ice Cream Sandwich is also very good.  Yet, I can still leave them in the freezer for months before touching them.

So, it’s safe to say that I like ice cream well enough, but I don’t eat very much of it and it doesn’t bowl me over.

So this past weekend was one of those perfect New England weekends.  The sun was out so it was warm.  The sky had a few puffy clouds but nothing threatening.  There was a breeze that kept things cool.  On Saturday, Partner/Spouse had a morning meeting.  He wanted to be there pretty early so he would have time to set up.  I rode along and sat in the car until it was over.

We parked in the shade, the doors were open, there was a fresh breeze off the ocean, and I had my tablet and access to some local wifi.  I also had a bottle of water and access to my writing files.  For the next few hours, I was entrenched in my own work, with side forays into research on whatever struck my mind.

Can you believe it?  Middle of August, I’m sitting in the car watching the clock tick down to noon, and the it’s not a health hazard.  It wasn’t even uncomfortable.  I worked and played and soon, he was ready.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Let’s go through that small town we tried a couple of weeks ago but couldn’t.  They had that festival going on and there was just no getting in and out there.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but that wasn’t unusual.  Lots of times it was “Remember that small town we drove though once and said we’d like to visit some day?”  That describes every small town across the country we’ve ever driven through.  But it was a beautiful day, and nothing was pressing so driving wherever wasn’t a problem.

We traveled west and passed small towns, and farms, and farm stands, and flea markets, and yard sales, and estate sales, and auctions, and more farm stands.  Seemed like it was the day to sell things from your front yard or driveway.  The only thing we didn’t see was a little kid with a lemonade stand.  We saw lakes and lakeside homes, as well as log cabins and kayakers.  There was something to catch our attention every couple of minutes.

Finally, Partner/Spouse asked, “Are you getting hungry at all?”

I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning.  I seldom eat breakfast.  I’m never very hungry when I wake up.  An odd quirk in my system, if I eat breakfast right away, I’ll eat all day long.  It’s like I can’t catch up on the calorie curve.  But if I don’t eat breakfast, I can go till middle of the afternoon before I suddenly say, “I gotta eat right now!”  So my reply was, “A little, but I’m not famished.  You?”

He likes breakfast, and he likes the foods of breakfast.  So he’d eaten, but he’d also had a pretty busy day so far and breakfast was several hours ago.  “I’m getting there.  We could stop for something.”

I thought about it and suddenly knew exactly what I wanted.

“Hey!  Wanna stop at a DQ for a hot fudge sundae?”

He laughed at me.  I so seldom ask for ice cream, and the idea could so quickly leave that he agreed and told me to look up the nearest on my phone.

In this state, nothing is ever really far away and the DQ was only 2.5 miles away.  8 minutes according to Google maps.  And, it was on the road we currently were driving on.  How’s that for synchronicity?  (Look it up.  It’s a real thing.)

We found it with very little trouble, only one mis-turn.  As we parked, I saw the sign saying “Original Dairy Queen”.  I don’t know much about the history of the product or the store, only that they started in the mid-west, but I impressed hoping it was an original.  Unfortunately, apart from asking the people who worked there, the two teenagers, one male and one female, there wasn’t likely any way to find out.  But, it was very similar to the DQ I grew up with.

 

That one right there, on the corner across from my dad’s gas station.  I spent a lot of time there.

The one we visited on Saturday wasn’t set up like this, but it was this small.  There was no inside seating, and a fairly limited menu.  But it had all the standards.  We both got a medium hot fudge sundae and a medium drink.

Makes your mouth water just looking at it, doesn’t it?

We went outside to sit at a table in the shade of a tree and again I marveled over the fact that it was the middle of August.  It was supposed to be blazingly hot, and any sane human should have been inside trying not to die.  Instead, we were enjoying a drive through our new state, and taking a break with some ice cream and some sodas.

Our conversation drifted all over the place but mainly centered on ice cream treats we’d enjoyed as kids.  Fudgesicles, Dreamsicles, ice cream sandwiches . . . .

“You know,” I said.  “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to try a banana split.  It looked so good and was always covered in chocolate and whipped cream.  When I was sixteen, I had one, and it didn’t live up to its promise.  I don’t know if they made it wrong, or it just wasn’t as good as I thought.  Never had another.”

He nodded.  “Yeah.  For me, it was éclairs.  They looked so amazing, but tasted like wet bread.”

I laughed.  “And they were usually stale, too.”

I finished first, partly because I was hungry, and partly because I was in an ice cream mood.  We cleaned up, drove home, and ate something salty.  It was a good Saturday.

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Post #543 The Star of the Show

August 18, 2017 at 1:52 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two days ago, I was making a pasta dinner.  It was cobbled together with ingredients I had on hand, but was loosely based on a recipe we saw on television the night before.  It was Mary Ann Esposito’s Classic Recipe that makes a tomato based sauce using pork ribs for meat base rather than beef.  We had country style pork ribs the night before with some left over.  They were slathered in barbeque sauce but that wouldn’t hurt the tomato sauce, only make it a trifle sweeter.

It worked out really well.  It’s incredibly easy.  You take a couple of cans of whole roma tomatoes and use your hands to break them apart.  Squishing them is easiest.  You put them in a large skillet with some olive oil, and some herbs, then nestle the ribs into the sauce and braise them until they’re tender.  Then you can do one of two things.  You can leave the ribs whole and eat them straight off the bones, or you can take them out and strip the meat off and put it back into the sauce.  Then you add whatever cooked pasta you like, toss some cheese on top, and eat well.

What I did was make the sauce following the guidelines above.  I added a good chunk of frozen tomato paste to make it thicker and a large sliced onion because we like them.  Then I put the leftover ribs into the sauce, laying them on top.  I put a lid on top of the skillet and set the heat on medium low so everything would cook slowly.  After about 45 minutes, I turned the rib over.  This served two purposes.  First, it allowed the ribs to heat from both sides and become very tender; second, it allowed the barbeque sauce from both side of the ribs to mingle with the sauce.  Once everything was heated through, I made the pasta, removed the ribs, stirred the cooked and drained pasta into the sauce, set everything on the table, and we tucked in to fill our stomachs.

However, as good as that was (and it was very good) it wasn’t the real star of the show.  Pasta is a carb heavy meal as the best of times.  But we both love to have bread with our pasta.  Mostly we like to have garlic bread.  But this night I decided to make Irish Soda Bread.  But I decided to cobble it together to make it unique and it turned out GREAT!!

So let’s talk about ISB for a moment.  ISB was a staple of the peasant diet along with potatoes.  It doesn’t use yeast to leaven it.  It uses baking soda, hence it’s name.  But to make the soda react and cause the gases to make the bread rise, there has to be an acid.  Remember when you used to mix baking soda and vinegar together and have fun the resultant explosion when you were a kid?  It’s something like that only on a baking scale.

So, the first thing you have to do is figure the right proportion of ingredients.  There’s usually just four:  Flour, soda, buttermilk, and salt.  The soda and the buttermilk provide the correct reaction.  The flour creates the bread, and the salt adds a little flavor.  However, traditional recipes add other flavor elements, usually sweeter ones.  I must have read a dozen recipes that added raisins.  Some of them added a little sugar.  A few used sour cream or plain yogurt for the acid.  One even mixed eggs and sour cream which wouldn’t give a traditional soda bread loaf, but I imagine would taste phenomenal.  So, since we don’t keep milk of any kind in the house (neither of us like it), I needed to figure out what I had and how to do this.  I think I came up with a reasonable compromise.

I wanted a smaller loaf, so I went with smaller proportions.  I wanted a tastier loaf, so I added a sweetener.  I originally considered lemon as my acid, but then decided to go with vinegar since I had more experience using vinegar in this kind of situation.  Turned out I only had balsamic vinegar, but thought, oh what the heck! and went for it.  (In case you’re wondering, vinegars are certainly not interchangeable so if a recipe calls for a specific vinegar, use it.  In this case, it worked out.)  So here’s what I ended up with:

  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 stick butter

I used the egg to add richness, and I used the butter to add flakiness.  First, preheat your oven to 375.  Part of the rising element is the oven temp, so it needs to be a little hotter.  The next time I bake this, I’m going to try 425 as some of the recipes suggest.  The oven needs to be completely heated before the bread goes in.  since it doesn’t use yeast, there’s no proving time so once it’s mixed it can go straight to the oven.  So it needs to be hot before you start.  (This is the concept of a quick bread.)  Put all your dry ingredients in a large bowl with steep sides and whisk them together thoroughly.  Cut the butter into the flour, then using a fork, a pastry knife, or your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center.  In a measuring cup, measure 1 1/2 cups cool water and add the vinegar.  Pour into the well, then add the egg.  You don’t want to beat the egg into the water and vinegar so it won’t curdle.  Immediately start mixing with a heavy wooden spoon.  Make sure to mix thoroughly.  The dough will be wet, and it will look brown from the vinegar.  I added another 1/2 cup of flour because it seemed too sticky, but that seemed to make it dense.  More on that later.  You can choose to add more or not.  It’s up to you.  Once all the flour is incorporated and there are no lumps, take the dough out of the bowl and shape it.  Since this is an artisan style loaf, you can shape it any way you like.  Traditionally, it’s shaped into a round loaf with no pan for support.  Also, to allow steam to escape and aid rising, you should cut a large X in the top.  I typically don’t because then the top will crack in unique and unusual patterns.  See the pic above.  But it can help.  I put it into a round tart pan with the removable bottom, but sprayed it well with vegetable spray to make certain it released from the pan.  Then it got baked for 45 minutes.

So, appearance-wise, it was a success.  I got a high rise out of it.  It almost doubled itself at the crown.  It got the wonderful cracks that are the hallmark of a good ISB.  But the proof is in the eating, and I had to wait for a couple of hours for it to cool off.  A lot of people think that warm (or hot) baked goods are best, and there are times when I’d agree.  Have you ever eaten a chocolate chip cookie five minutes from the oven?  Hot, and gooey, and melty, and buttery?  But remember what it does?  It falls apart.  The reason you have to let baked things cool is to allow the steam to dissipate preserving the inner structure so it won’t fall apart.

So, dinner that night, I cut half the loaf into thick slices and set on a plate.  Once everything was ready, we both reached for the bread and slathered butter thickly onto our slices.  I chewed mine, swallowed, and took another bite.

“Does this taste vaguely like banana bread, or pound cake to you?”

He replied, “It does, sort of.”

I thought about it.  “Well, this recipe did call for sugar.  I may reduce the amount for the next one.”

“It tastes good.  Not a dessert bread, but not a sandwich bread either.”

I chuckled.  “A tea time bread, then?”

He laughed too.  “Yeah, cuz we drink tea so much.”

Then it hit me.  “It’s the balsamic.”

“What balsamic?”

“We didn’t have any other vinegar so I used balsamic.  That’s why it looks so brown.  The egg and sugar with the rests of ingredients basically made a cake.  The balsamic added the flavor.”

And you know what?  It tasted good.  Better than good.  Happy accident!  Vinegars aren’t just sour stuff.  White distilled vinegar started as a cleaning agent, but can be used to leaven baked goods without adding flavor.  Apple cider vinegar adds the light flavor of apples.  Balsamic when it’s reduced loses all of the acidity of the vinegar and imparts an earthy, jam-like flavor.

So there you have it.  Follow that recipe and let me know what you think.

Oh, and just so you know, yesterday I made brownies again.  I did it right and these brownies are phenomenal!  I haven’t lost my touch.

Post #542 A Cake Left Out In The Rain

August 14, 2017 at 10:22 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This is a food blog.  You know that; I know that.  Today, it’s not a food blog.  A LOT has happened over the last week, and this is my forum to vent about it.  But, to start us off on the right foot, here’s a food related picture:

The original caption read: Our generation ate fruit and veggies floating in green jiggling slime so your generation didn’t have to.

Now, on to the other stuff.

In the last week our country was:  brought to the edge of nuclear war; the possibility of World War 3; the likelihood of our allies turning their backs on us; the possibility of an actual bomb attack on our shores; and an assembly of people espousing the rise of Nazi-ism where a state of emergency had to be declared and one person lost her life.  It’s been a roller coaster of emotions with barely a time to catch our breath before the next thing happens.  All of these incidents, an more, can be laid at the feet of our President, who refuses to be a leader, and does what is right for him and his cronies, rather than what’s right for his citizenry.  He’s enabled by the spineless majority party in congress who seem to believe that their corporate sponsors are more important that their constituents, the people who voted them into office.  Clearly, something has gone wrong.  It’s broken and needs to be fixed.

But that’s not what this post is about.

I get most of my news from the internet.  I spend a significant amount of time tracking down the veracity of news stories.  There are some sources I trust, but others I want independent verification before I’ll take for fact what they’re saying.  In short, a meme, while sometimes funny, is not enough to make me believe what it’s saying.  I used my FB feed to like a bunch of different news sites, and organizations so I don’t have to wander all the internet to see what I want to see.  I also have a bunch of friends and hobbies and writing and et cetera on my wall.

Some things make me impatient.  Click bait makes me impatient.  Deliberate ignorance makes me impatient.  Rudeness makes me impatient.

There’s something else, though, that I’ve been seeing a lot of recently, and it’s coming from people who are on the “right side of history”.  It makes me impatient.  They laughing and making fun of people.  That’s not right.

We’ve got a problem in our country.  We need to fix it.  We have turned into a country of factions instead of a union.  It’s no longer the country of “huddled masses”.   Our elected leaders don’t seem to be interested in bringing people together.

When I was a child on the playground and having an argument with someone, it inevitably devolved into name-calling, insults, then slugs.  Logic was never among our standard list of options.  Shouting the loudest determined who won.  Making fun of someone was the thing to do.

I’m seeing a lot of this on social media.  So many people say they want to bring the country together.  Millions want to fix the problems.  But millions of people are acting like kids in the school yard.  They shout the loudest.  They make fun of people.  They point and laugh out loud and insult people’s stupidity.  I can’t help but wonder, “How is this fixing things?”  When I want to help someone, or change someone’s mind, I know that the way NOT to do that is put them on the defensive.  I don’t belittle them.  I don’t make them feel inferior.  I don’t try to impress them with my smarts.  I try to find a common ground, a point where we agree on something and work from there.

Laughing at someone never, ever fixes things.  So why are we doing it?

Another thing that irritates me is someone who’s “involved” but is not impacted by the situation who says “Not my President.”

Guess what?  He is your President.  He was duly elected, and confirmed.  Just as we used to tell all those people who, for 8 years, said Obama wasn’t their President.  I don’t like it anymore than they do, but his is my President.  He is not my President of choice, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he’s holds the nations’ highest office, for good or ill.  I don’t like what he’s doing?  Then I work to change that.  I write letters to my congressmen to make sure they know how I feel.  I write letters to congressmen who are on committees making decisions about the things that impact my life.  I post things on social media to try to convince others to write letters, make phone calls, attend town hall meetings, talk to their elected officials.

And I vote.  That’s the biggest thing a citizen can do.  I let a congressman up for election know whether they have my vote or not, because that’s the biggest determinate of how an elected official will act.  They want to keep their jobs.

My point is, I work within the system.  I don’t cross my arms, act huffy, and protest by simply saying, “Not my President.”  That does nothing.

When I have to fix dinner (Hey!  I brought it back to food on a food blog!  How’s that for good writing?) and I don’t know what I’m going to fix, I look at what I have.  I figure out a recipe based on what’s at hand.  If I truly need something, I got get it.  But I get the job done because if I don’t, my family goes hungry and that simply isn’t an option.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a pot of rice and vegetables.  Other times, it a crown roast with stuffing.  But it’s always something.

The state of the country is much the same way.  I look at what I have on hand, and use what I’ve got to create something so my country gets fixed.  Because really and truly at this point, not doing something isn’t an option.  People are dying.  It’s got to stop.  The only people who are going to stop it is us.

Yesterday, Partner/Spouse wanted to do something nice.  He had watched a cooking episode on television and wanted to recreate it based on the things that I liked.  When he was done, he grumbled a little and said, “It doesn’t look the one on TV.  It was a lot harder than they made it look.”  But he got it done.

And it tasted so good!  It’s a raspberry/blackberry tart.

Thanks for letting me rant, and please feel free to share as you choose.

 

Post #541 What to Do With That Extra Cup of Sugar and a Dead Porcupine

August 7, 2017 at 5:48 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Okay, so I goofed over the weekend and found out what happens when you add a cup of sugar too much to a pan of brownies.  On Sunday, since we had a beautiful day, we decided to start by going to one of our favorite diners for breakfast.  They have the BEST bacon-egg-cheese-croissant sandwich anywhere.  It’s just so good it’s all I ever order.  Partner-Spouse varies his orders, but at this place, he likes the waffles, but he likes them plain with just butter and syrup.  So we were both tickled when we walked to the counter and she immediately wrote down my sandwich.  P-S then gave his order which was basically mine on an Everything Bagel.  For those who aren’t in the know, that’s a bagel with every kind of seed and seasoning imaginable on it.  She lifted her eyes and said, “No waffles?  Are you tired of them?”  We both laughed and he said, “No, just want something different.”

Pretty soon, they’re going to know us by name.

After we ate, we drove east then north for an hour and a half just to see new country.  We almost ended up in Cape Cod which is why we headed north.  One of these days, we’re going to head into Boston, but that’s not going to be a trip without a destination.  At least until we get to know the city a little bit.  But we did pass some really interesting historical areas and noticed quite a few antique stores that set our hearts pattering.

So when we got back home shortly before noon, he wanted to make bread and ended up with an artisan loaf with sesame seeds on the outside.  It was so good!  Then it was my turn since we were both jonesing for some home made brownies.

I’ve written about these brownies before.  They are simplicity itself and start to finish, it’s 45 minutes from no brownies to a pan of brownies cooling on the countertop.  Then, it’s a harsh two hour wait until the sugar is cool enough to handle.  Never eat brownies too soon.  You’ll end up with second degree burns in your mouth.

  • 1/2 cup of real butter, no substitutes here
  • 1 cup real sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (if you want a shiny, papery top)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of your favorite kind if you want them

Melt the butter over low heat in a medium sauce pan.  Add the sugar and stir.  Take off heat and stir in the eggs and vanilla.  Add the cocoa powder and carefully mix it in until completely combined.  Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and mix till completely incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts if you’re using them.  Pour into an 8×8 inch baking pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Cool for at least two hours before cutting.

Anyone can do this.  I’ve done it a million times.  Yet on Sunday, I goofed it all up.  You see, I don’t have all my “normal” cooking utensils.  So things that are on autopilot have to stop.  They didn’t when I made these brownies.  So I melted the butter, measure the sugar, dumped it into the pans, started stirring, and immediately thought, “What the hell?”

There wasn’t nearly enough butter to incorporate the sugar.  I reviewed the recipe in my head to make sure I didn’t forget to add another stick of butter since I was doing this from memory.  I looked at the bag of sugar, noticed my measuring cup, and started cursing myself thoroughly.  Partner/Spouse asked, “What?”

“I put two cups of sugar into the brownies when it only needs one!”

My measuring cup is a two cup model.  And on autopilot, I filled it right up.  Cuz I used to have a one cup model (as well as a 2 cup, 4 cup, 8 cup, and 16 cup) and that’s what I typically used for making brownies since nothing was over one cup.  So griping to myself, I made adjustments in other ingredients to see if I could compensate.

When the brownies were done, they looked beautiful.  Two hours later?  It was like eating chocolate candy coated sugar.  And later than that?  It was a sweet brick.

Of course, looking back on it, I should have just adjusted the ingredients to make a cake and forget about the brownies.  But that decision came only after eating the sugar brick.  It would have been fairly easy, too.  Just increase the flour and add enough liquid to bring it to cake batter consistency.  It already had sugar, butter, eggs, and enough rising agent since I’d increased it.  Oh well, live and learn.  I bet I don’t make that mistake again.

But I made bread today, just to prove I could do it right, and it turned out great!

A while back, I promised a friend I’d re-share the recipe for Porcupine Meatballs.  This was a recipe I discovered in the cookbook my mom gave me for Christmas the year I started learning to cook.  It’s pretty decent.  It’s not made of porcupine.  It’s made of ground beef and has rice in it.  As it cooks, the rice swells and sticks out of the meatballs and looks a little like porcupine quills.  Thus, the name.  So here it is, for my friend!

  • Two pounds good quality ground beef, or a mixture of ground meats
  • 1/4 cup uncooked rice
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Alternatively, you can omit all spices and seasonings and add one envelope dried onion soup mix
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 14 oz can tomato sauce

Mix everything except last four ingredients together.  Form into well packed meatballs as large as you like.  In a large open skillet with a tight lid, heat a tablespoon of oil, and fry the meatballs lightly on each side.  Do this in batches if necessary.  When done frying, set meatballs aside and mix all wet ingredients in the skillet scraping the bottom carefully to incorporate all the brown bits of flavor, the fond.  Set the meatballs back into the sauce with any juices that have collected on the plate.  Set the temp to medium low, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes.  As the rice cooks, it will start poking out.  Serve in the sauce while hot or warm, with a salad or fresh bread, or both.  I tend to go a little crazy with the sauce and change it up to make an italian flavor by using a vinaigrette instead of the tomato sauce and ketchup.  Other times, I’ll give it an Asian flair with soy sauce, ginger, and other Asian flavors.  It’s really up to you how you want to create it.

So just to prove I could be successful in the kitchen, I made fresh thick cut oven fries, chopped tomatoes, and hamburger steaks while P/S made home made onion rings for dinner.  It was good even if the brownies weren’t.

Post #540 Updates on Life

July 26, 2017 at 2:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Well, the virus that hit me last week was more stringent than I thought at first.  I’m fine now, but it took longer to recover than I thought it would.  This is standard stuff for Partner/Spouse and I.  It takes anywhere from 6-8 months to acclimate to any new hospital system’s germs.  So we spend that time getting sick and getting better until all the antibodies for all the local ills are set in place and we can move forward.  This is the first real illness to befall us, and certainly won’t be the last.  So, we’ve had some “fun” stuff going on.

You may recall our sojourn to this great place.  We had movers come in and load up our already packed boxes and take them to their warehouse in another state to store until we had moved into a place.  The hospital booked the movers and advanced the funds to pay them off.  However, they never delivered, and kept giving excuses instead of furniture and belongings.  The hospital got involved with their legal team since they felt responsible.  Back and forth, back and forth, and just when we thought it was all resolved, the moving company came back with a bombshell.  According to them, and providing photographic proof, the warehouse was the victim of a weather related catastrophe.  Total loss.  We are not getting our stuff.  And it’s likely to take several weeks to resolve the insurance claims.  So, we have the few bits we brought with us (computers, luckily), but that’s all.  One of those, WTF moments.  Also kind of an “It can only happen to Joe” kind of moment, too.  The hospital lawyers are still representing us pro bono, and Partner/Spouse thinks they may advance us the settlement.  In the meantime, we’re working on lists of things we need to replace, and prioritizing the order of replacing the stuff.  But it’s all okay.  It’s stuff, that’s all.  Some of it had high emotional value and can’t be replaced, but whaddaya gonna do?  We can’t live backwards, only forwards.  Plus there’s always chocolate.

Last week, while I was still sick and not entirely in my proper frame of mind, I decided to try to pull myself out of the doldrums and make bread.  I didn’t have a stand mixer, but I did have a hand mixer with a power/low speed setting and dough hooks!  Anyone who’s read this blog over time knows that my holy grail is the perfect bread recipe and I think I’ve come close to finding it.  I’m the time testing part of the quest.  And thanks to my good buddy at Food Interactive on FB, I have a recipe that I love!  And so far, it’s standing the test of repetition.  I won’t put the recipe here because it’s published in a couple of previous posts.  Search “best bread”  and you’ll find it.

So I pulled all the ingredients together and got out a bowl.  Out came the mixer and the dough hooks, and into the bowl with the ingredients.  Power on and there I go!  I knew that I wanted to knead this mix for about ten minutes, so I didn’t want to leave in the bowl for too long, but I also knew that I wanted it to be fully mixed and in one cohesive ball.  I’ve never mixed bread with a hand mixer before and I was fascinated by watching the dough come together.  Always before it had been in a bread machine or a stand mixer, both of which I could walk away from and come back later to a mound of bread dough.  This was kind of fun.  I could make adjustment to the dough immediately because I was watching it closely.  When it finished up and became a single wad of dough, I felt like I had accomplished something on my own.  So I turned it out on the granite counter which I’d floured and went to work on kneading.  I don’t know if it was because of the hand mixer, or the fact that I wasn’t 100%, but the dough felt different, and kneading it was easier than normal.  It was slightly sticky, which would be normal given the difference in mixing methods, but the flour on the surface took care of that.

Have you ever watched The Great British Bake Off on PBS?  It’s a cooking competition from Great Britain where non-professional home cooks enter a contest that’s several weeks long.  Each week highlights a baking technique and each week someone is eliminated until three contestants face the final bake off.  It’s a lot of fun and I’m totally addicted to it.  We even bought the DVDs for each season that’s available.  There are some standard competitions through the seasons, and one of those is bread week.  And I learned a way to determine if you’ve kneaded the dough enough.  When you think it’s ready, you break off a small chunk of dough and hold it to the light and stretch it gently.  If you can stretch it think enough to see through, a window pane, without it breaking or tearing, it’s kneaded properly.  So I did that.  The key to good bread is having enough gluten to hold it together and give a good chew, but not have so much that it become tough and hard to chew.  The window pane test works.

So I went through all the other steps, proofing, shaping, proofing again, then baking.  It smelled wonderful.  Fresh baked bread always smells wonderful.  Since I had two loaves, I decided to make one loaf a cinnamon swirl to have for breakfast toast.  So when I had the bread rolled out to a 9×14 rectangle, I spread a mixture of brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon on the top, a pretty thick layer.  Then I rolled up tightly so there would be a decent swirl inside.  Cinnamon retards yeast activity so it needs to rise longer.  Both loaves came out looking and smelling great.

We had some for with dinner that night and the bread was a little disappointing, but Partner/Spouse said it tasted good, so put it down to not feeling well.  The next morning, I made toast out of the cinnamon swirl.  I had to throw it away.  It tasted too salty.  But I wasn’t feeling well, and my taste buds were off.  I mentioned it to Partner/Spouse and we discussed it, but not deeply or for long.  A few days later, he tried the cinnamon swirl, pronounced it disgusting, so I tossed it.  The white loaf was in the fridge, a big no-no with bread, but since there were no preservatives in it, I didn’t want it to get moldy.  So last night, I wanted to make cottage eggs.  Those are eggs cooked inside a ring cut of a piece of bread so the bread toasts in the pan while the eggs cooks.  I cut four thick slices and used a biscuit cutter to cut out the rings.  Since I was feeling much better, I decided to test the bread again.  It wasn’t too salty, but it was certainly salty.  Uncomfortably so.  Into the trash it went, and back to the recipe I went.  And discovered the mistake.  One tablespoon of salt, not two.  Lesson learned:  do not bake when you can’t pay attention.  And I will never again make fun of a competitor who forgets an ingredient during a bake.

So, overall, things are looking up.  Despite bad bread, no more stuff, and illness, we’re still moving forward in a place we still enjoy the heck out of, and the dogs are fat and happy.  Life is good.  And the soup is on the stove.

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