Friday, November 30, 2012


     …or how I (sort of) rescued my bread.

This is the story of a near disaster – not as disastrous as the Titanic, but it did give me that sinking feeling.  Here’s what happened…

… a day like any day, I started after lunch and had two loaves of bread risen and ready to bake.  Earlier, I had put the loaves in the oven to rise, and the display showed its usual 100° as it always does when it starts out. Because 100° is just about the proper temperature for rising I never noticed, when I did turn of the heat, that the temperature never got any higher. It was a mild day, so the loaves rose nicely in their draft-free spot.

Loaves risen and out of the oven, I entered 450°, the starting temperature, and wandered off to do something else while I waited.  Eventually I realized that the oven hadn’t beep…beep…beeped to let me know it was up to temperature.  Oh, swell – the thing was on the blink.  Now what?

Knowing that yeast is forgiving, I dumped out the dough – it immediately deflated – and put each in a bag and popped them into the freezer.  Then I called the repairman.  Long story short… and over $250.00 for a new igniter… two days later I was back in business.

I had other baked bread in the freezer, so when I did decide to bake up the frozen dough I did it one loaf at a time.  I took out one loaf, kneaded it nicely, formed it into a boule, and baked it.  It was excellent! It had even ‘aged’ a bit and had just a hint of sourdough flavor.  I don’t think I want to go through all that again, but the outcome was good on the first loaf.

The second loaf was another story – and let this be a lesson and a reminder to any bread bakers out there – because dummy me, having a Senior Moment, I just formed a loaf and put it in a pan to rise.  I never thought to knead the loaf as I had the first one.  Yeast is forgiving, yes, but it needs to be kneaded (don’t we all?) in order to recapture the gasses that were lost when it was deflated.  The loaf baked up nice and brown, but it was very, very dense.  I cut it into croutons, and they did taste fine, but they were a bit ‘chewy’, for want of a better word, in a bowl of soup.

This saga rounds out this National Bread Month of baking essays and recipes.  I do hope you’ll try your hand at making bread.  These coming winter months will be a great time to start. The initial ingredients don’t cost very much – much less than for store-bought bread – and the taste of the final product, not to mention the divine aroma as it’s baking, will be well worth the effort.   



Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Wikipedia says that “Brussels sprouts as we now know them were grown possibly as early as the 13th century in what is now Belgium.” And that they spread to the northern parts of Europe. No wonder my parents liked them – they were both of German origin, and loved all the strong tasting cruciferous vegetables.  Brussels sprouts? I can take ‘em or leave ’em, and mostly I’d usually leave ‘em, especially when my mother cooked them, as she did most green vegetables, until they were the color of a pallid pea soup. Bright green veggies were a definite no-no.

Up until recent years I cooked Brussels sprouts according to an amazing recipe I found eons ago in the Sunday magazine from the New York Times. It was a recipe for a hot Brussels sprouts salad.  What with the onions and olive oil and vinegar to accompany the shredded sprouts I could manage to eat a portion, generously giving the rest to my husband.  

In recent years I have sometimes managed to find what I call “baby” Brussels sprouts in the market.  These babies have not lived long enough to develop too strong a taste. Steamed and served with salt and pepper and a generous amount of butter, they were pretty good.  Just at the beginning of this month I found a stalk of baby Brussels sprouts at Trader Joe’s.  The price was terrific, and I could see that they were nice babies, so I grabbed a stalk. (I’d once before purchased Brussels sprouts on a stalk – I should have known better because it was obvious that they were mature adult sprouts. I hate to say it, but a lot of those became compost. I can eat Brussels sprouts salad only so often.)
I figured the sprouts on the stalk were worth about three suppers for us, so I first snapped off enough for one night. I began snapping at the bottom of the stalk, and was left with some bare stalk and the remaining sprouts. I really didn’t want to give the stalk “house room” in my refrigerator.  Looking around I realized I could treat the stalk as a flower stem – that’s sort of what it is – so I cut off some of it and put it in water in one of the little pitchers in my kitchen.  We had the first sprouts that evening and they were the best sprouts either of us had ever had. Ever! 

But here’s the point of my essay: twelve days later I discovered that Brussels sprouts stalks will root!  Not only did they keep beautifully, without a lot of yellowing leaves as they would have had in the fridge, but they were still deliciously mild. I harvested another third for that evening’s meal and, truth be known, saved some of the largest ones for that hot Brussels sprouts salad – I think it may be even better with these sprouts.

So - next fall if you see Brussels sprouts on the stalk do get them if they look like babies: an inch or less in diameter.  Then use them from the bottom up and plunk the stem in water to keep your babies bright green and tasty.



Friday, November 23, 2012


In addition to being just plain National Bread Month, November is, so they say, also National Raisin Bread Month. ‘They’ are several references on Google, but none tell me who, or what entity, originated this celebration. Despite all that, the topic makes for a tasty bit of research: on raisins, which have been around since man first gave a try to some dried-up grapes left on a vine; and on cinnamon, which comes in many varieties, and about which folks can get absolutely snooty with their preferences; and on the many and varied recipes and methods for making said raisin bread.  Other than my own recipe, which I think is a good one, my favorite variation on raisin bread is Yule Kake, the Norwegian Christmas bread, where cardamom is exchanged for the cinnamon. I’ve got some dandy ‘extras’ in my recipe, but my husband’s Grandmother’s recipe is absolutely decadent. I use water and vegetable oil - her recipe uses milk and butter. Oh, the calories!! 
The aroma of baking or toasting raisin bread is one of life’s little pleasures.
I’ve developed this raisin bread recipe over the last few years. Don’t be intimidated by the yeast - even if this bread falls it will be delicious. Toasted or not, spread with warm butter or cold, or maybe cream cheese - well, that’s that! I’m off to have some myself. Meanwhile, here’s my recipe:
Note that this is a heavy bread - your loaves will weigh almost two pounds each.  To facilitate the rising, I use a tablespoon of yeast - more than is in one packet.  You might want to empty several packets into a small container, measure out the tablespoon you need, and refrigerate or freeze the rest to be used later.
The recipe is based on the use of a KitchenAid or other similar, heavy duty mixer.
Bread Ingredients:                      Filling Ingredients
1½ cups raisins in                       ½ cup white sugar                          
1¼ cups of water                        ½ cup brown sugar          
1 cup of water                            1½ tsp. cinnamon      
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil                   1 cup coarsely chopped pecans   
2 Tbsp. honey            
2 Tbsp. molasses             
1 Tbsp. salt                   
2 tsp. ground cinnamon       
3½ + cups white flour        
2½ cups whole wheat flour   
Place the raisins in a microwavable bowl, Cover with water, cook on high for 90 seconds. Drain the raisins, reserve the liquid to go into the bread.

Pour one cup of the hot raisin water, along with this second cup into your mixing bowl.                
Sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Add the oil, honey, molasses, salt, and cinnamon.  Whisk this all together.  Add the raisins.

Add the flours to the mixer and begin mixing on low.  You can increase the machine speed when the flours start to mix in, otherwise the flour will get flung around. 


Depending on how the dough reacts, you may have to add more white flour, a tablespoon or so at a time, if the dough is too sticky. The dough should come away from the sides of the bowl and lump up on the dough hook.
         Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it by hand for a little while.    Form the dough into a flattened ball on a floured counter.  Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the filling ingredients: sugars, cinnamon and nuts. 

Also at this time, grease or spray two 8½ x 4½ x 2¾ bread pans. 

Cut the dough in half.  You might want to use a kitchen scale to be sure the weights are even.  

Roll out each half into a rectangle about 8” x 10”.  Sprinkle evenly with the filling mixture.  Starting with a short side, roll up the dough into a log. 

Place the loaf into a prepared pan, being sure that the seam is face down in the pan.  Repeat this for the other loaf.   Place the loaves in a slightly warmed oven - no more than 100° - and let them rise in the oven until doubled and a half. This may take an hour or more.  

Once the dough has risen, remove the loaves from the oven and place them on top of the stove, near the heat of the oven outlet. 

Heat the oven to 450º. When the oven is up to temperature, put the loaves in side by side - maybe three inches between - and time them for 10 minutes.  At the 10 min. mark, turn down the oven to 350º and time the loaves for 30 minutes. 

Remove the loaves from the oven and, immediately, from the pans on to a cooling rack.  As seen above, you may have some ‘syrup’ ooze out of the loaf until the loaves cool a bit.  Do not slice the bread until it is completely cool.  Slicing too soon will make for harder cutting, and gumminess where the knife has pushed through instead of slicing cleanly.  This bread freezes very well.

Frank, my handy-dandy bread slicer, likes his raisin bread toasted. Me, I'll take it any way I can get it - but always with lots of butter.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012


...for just about everything! It's been a pretty good year here on Owl Court, and the whole family is in general good health - and fairly contented to boot.  I've had a great time doing up my blogs this year. Even as I post this I've got some really great pecan-raisin bread rising in the oven. I'm taking progress pictures of the whole procedure to go with Friday's blog.  I just love celebrating National Bread Month.  A happy, thoughtful, thankful Thanksgiving to all my readers.  And Zen Hugs too!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Even at 6 I was a curmudgeon! *
For many years I’ve had a beautifully printed and framed quotation from Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the author, social activist, and educational reformer who brought the Montessori method of childhood education to America: “One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it’s such a nice change from being young.”  The saying ‘spoke’ to me twenty years ago, and with a change from “middle” to “old”, it speaks volumes to me today.
The concerns of the old are many and varied – in as many and various ways as are those of the young - but we are usually more philosophical about our concerns. I suppose it’s because we probably won’t have to deal with them for too much longer. Fatalistic? Could be, could possibly be. 

My cousin’s husband’s Aunt Grace – got that? – was a character.  At seventy she believed she could say and do anything she wanted because her years had earned her the privilege. Unfortunately, I mentioned this to my Mother and she took up the practice. I’d rather she hadn’t because she was often unthinkingly unkind to people who couldn’t easily retaliate. I’m not going to follow in those footsteps, but lately I find, more and more, that I would really like to rip a stripe off of one or two selected miscreants. I shall resist the temptation to do so.

What I do enjoy now is looking at the lives of the younger folks – some of the younger baby boomers, the Gen X-ers, those ‘thirty-somethings – and just going “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”  What are they thinking?  Not that I have all the answers, but it’s such fun to kibitz, and even whine occasionally – but only in private, of course.  Years ago I was sure everyone was looking at me - kibitzing, whining, judging - and I was partially right: the seniors around me were probably enjoying doing the same things I do now.

I am glad for some of the privileges I now have as a Senior Citizen. I’ve always had my moments, but now I am able to qualify and dismiss them as being “senior.” I love and take advantage of senior discounts in stores, on the train, in restaurants.  A selection from any fast food chain’s dollar menu and a senior drink make for a quick, inexpensive lunch when I’m out and about.

I can see a time in the future when Senor discounts will be a thing of the past.  Fortunately for us our own ratio is fairly good, but it’s predicted that by 2030 we will have 33 seniors for every 100 working Americans – one to three. (In some countries it will be one to less than two!  I can’t imagine life among so many old people.) Even though I enjoy the privilege, I really don’t see what entitles one quarter of us to discounts just because we made it to age fifty or so. Just my own opinion – feel free to argue. 

Earlier this year I gave our son’s oldest daughter a copy of A.A. Milne’s “Now We Are Six” – for her sixth birthday, of course. (I also got her “Eloise’s Guide to Life or How to Eat, Dress, Travel, Behave, and Stay Six Forever.” That one’s from her silly, irreverent Grammy, not her serious Grammy.  Both Grammys wish ‘we’ were six again and knew what we know now.) I thought about putting together an essay on arriving at the wonderful age of seventy, only to find that Milne had beat me to the title. He also beat me to “Now We Are Seventy-five”, but I’ll whine about that in five years.  I’m seriously, actively delighted to be here, starting in on my eighth decade.  It’s a hoot!

*See Anything For Thanksgiving  to find out why I was decked out that way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

RUNNING AROUND... a chicken with its head cut off?  Well yes, Thanksgiving is next week, and I have been reminded today that Christmas is just 41 days away. Some folks are decorating already.
I must brag and tell you that I am not running around, I am not even flustered: 1. someone else is doing all the major cooking for Thanksgiving (I'm just bringing one dish) and 2. my Christmas shopping is done.  I am one of those anal folks who do the shopping all year long.  And as for my granddaughters' books (I am the book Grandmother) I've got those for them, Christmas and birthdays, into the year 2016.  When I see a good book I grab it!  So now I'll spend the rest of the year relaxing.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The story about this loaf will be posted on November 30th.

These instructions, written ages ago for one of my nephews,  and recently revised,assume that you have a KitchenAid or similar mixer. Originally I did this all by hand, but the machine is very handy for my arthritic hands.

Basically, my bread has these ingredients for two 9½x5½x2¾ pans
      1 Tbsp. yeast
      2 Cups warm liquid* - water 
      2 Tbsp. sugar**
      1 Tbsp. salt***
      ¼ Cup shortening**** - oil
      5½-6 Cups of flour - white*****    

Notice all these stars!!  Read through all of this, noting the starred item notes (way) below.
I put the liquid in the bowl, sprinkle on the yeast, add the sugar, salt, shortening, and mix it all well. A whisk is handy for this. I add 5½ cups of flour and mix it in.  The last half cup or so is added depending on how the dough reacts.  If it is too sticky I'll add more. The dough should come away from the sides of the bowl and lump up on the dough hook.  Dough will be easier to work on rainy days where the barometric pressure is low.  If your dough is on the sticky side, you should flour up your hands and board.

White bread is just as above.  You can use milk and butter to make a silkier loaf.  These are nice if making raisin bread. (add 1 T more sugar, some cinnamon, 1 tsp. or so, and about a cup of raisins before adding the flour) (substitute cardamom for cinnamon to a make Norwegian Yule Kake type bread.)

Most times now I add a cup of quick oatmeal (not instant or old fashioned) to my white bread for some extra fiber.

For wheat bread I increase the water to 2¼ cups.  Instead of the sugar I use 2T molasses (for color and a different flavor) and 2T honey. The flour mix is 2C whole wheat flour, 1C quick oatmeal and 2½-3 C white flour.  Always more white than wheat.

For a nice whole grain bread you can add 1 C Harvest Grains Blend (I get this on line from King Arthur Flour) to the wheat bread recipe.

For sweet rolls you can 2T more sugar and a beaten egg to the basic white bread mix.

For a cheesy bread, add a cup of grated cheese to the liquid mix.

Always add the flour(s) last. 


After mixing and machine kneading, I knead the dough by hand for a while - very satisfying - and then I form the dough into a flattened ball on a on a floured counter, and let it sit for 20 minutes or so, until it rises a bit.  Don’t worry if you let it go longer: “official” recipes tell you to let it rise until doubled.

Punch it down and form it into two equal loaves (I weigh them on an old postage scale to get them about even) - or rolls - and put the dough into greased pans.  I put the loaves into the oven and - this is tricky!! - turn on oven until it is just warm-- Then turn it off.

      (Better yet - warm the oven, then put in the loaf pans!)

If you can see the temperature display on your stove don’t let it get too much above 105°. The oven provides the warm, draft free place for the dough to rise.  (Sometimes I have forgotten and left the oven on - a bit of a disaster some times. The loaf may look like they have risen properly, but they usually deflate in the baking.  Still tastes good though.  Croutons anyone?!)

The dough usually takes an hour or so to rise properly.  About double and a half.  If you forget it and it really looks puffy, it will almost always deflate some (see above!) in the baking.  If the loaves are for 'show', or if you’ve accidentally hit the side of the oven or rack and the loaf deflates, just remove them, punch them down, reform them, and let them rise again.  Yeast is very forgiving.  Note - the barometric pressure has a lot to do with how fast the bread rises.  On a high pressure, sunny day it will take longer to rise.  Just think of the high pressure as pressing more heavily on the dough.  On overcast and rainy days, low pressure, the light air lets the dough rise more quickly.  (pray for rain!)

Once the dough has risen, remove the loaves from the oven and place them on top of the stove, near the heat of the oven outlet.  Heat the oven to 450º. When the oven is up to temperature, put the loaves in side by side - maybe three inches between - and time them for 10 minutes.  At the 10 min. mark, turn down the oven to 350º, and time the loaves for 30 minutes.  (Rolls for 15 minutes) 

Remove the loaves or rolls from the pans and cool them on racks.  Do not slice the bread until it is completely cool.  Slicing too soon will make for harder cutting and gumminess where the knife has pushed through instead of slicing cleanly.

If the sliced loaf or rolls won't be used up in two days, I recommend freezing them because there are no preservatives in these loaves. You can take out just what you need for the meal, and it will defrost in no time, helped along by a microwave if you're running late.  With some toasters, like mine, it is possible to plunk in the slices still frozen and still have them toast properly.

Of course, if the bread goes stale there are always French toast, croutons, stratas, etc. to be made.

King Arthur Flour has a treasure chest of bread recipes.  The nice thing is that you can choose to have the ingredients listed by volume or weight in ounces or grams.

* liquid -what have you?  Over the years I have added bouillon, potato water, milk: regular, skim, buttermilk; tomato soup, orange juice, cottage cheese, sour cream, - any liquid or semi-solid I had left over and wanted to use up - with water or milk added to make the needed measure. (I use an extra ½ cup if I’m making bread with whole wheat flour because it sucks up more water than regular white flour.) Use your judgment and instinct to know what will 'go', according to how you want to use the bread.  Always make sure to use warmed, not hot, liquid.  Yeast slows down in the cold, that’s why I keep mine in the freezer, but too hot a liquid will kill it.

** sugar - white or brown granulated, honey, maple or pancake syrup. Powdered sugar isn't recommended. 

***never forget salt - your bread will be blah!  Sugar you can forget, never salt!

**** These days I use olive oil for the most part.  You can use vegetable oil (Usually, not nut oils because they are too flavorful, not to mention expensive) I have, in the past, used bacon fat and butter – butter, even now,  especially for sweet breads and Christmas breads like Yule Kake.  Oh, the cholesterol!  Oh, the calories!  Oh, it’s delicious!

*****Some folks measure flour by the cup, some by weight. The recipes on the website at King Arthur Flour give you the choice of either method.  If you are measuring by the cup, be careful of taking your flour directly from a new bag.  This flour has been tamped down and there is much more weight in that cup than if you had first transferred it to a canister and taken the loosened flour. 

That’s about all I can write down.  I have been making bread for over thirty-five years, so some of this knowledge has come to me be osmosis over that time.  It isn’t easy explaining the feel of the dough, how it reacts on a rainy day – you just have to get some experience under your belt.  I can say this – even my disasters have tasted O.K. – provided I didn’t forget the salt!!  

P.S.  Email me if you have any questions.  ;-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012



This is Jules, the late éminence jaune of Le Château de Vergières in Saint Martin de Crau. We got to know and love him in the times we stayed at the  Château during our visits to the Camargue.  The bane of Marie-Andrée Pincede’s existence, he would be forever roaming around – you see, he could open the lever-handled doors – and she’d find him and scold him: “A la cuisine Jules!” He would slink off to the kitchen – or to the back of the Peugeot – and contemplate his next move.


Friday, November 2, 2012


My Multigrain Bread
There is absolutely nothing to beat the aroma of bread baking, unless is it is the taste of the first slice you’re allowed once the bread cools.

November is always National Bread Month.  What better month than this to start a winter of wonderful bread baking.  I came to bread baking in my early thirties. My Mom wasn’t a baker at all.  After my Mother-in-Law died – and I still miss her like crazy – I got her recipe book.  She wrote all the family recipes in a marbled, black and white composition book.  As I do now, she had her own Mother’s daily bread recipe in her head, but I thank the stars above that she thought to write it down. 

Frank remembers when he’d come home after school, bringing along a friend or two.  There would be fresh bread and homemade grape jam for their snack. No butter, it was war time, but they hardly needed butter. After a while they’d be off doing whatever it is young boys do, and that was left on the table were a few crumbs and a knife resting in an empty jam jar.

I began experimenting, and I finally got the hang of bread baking. The original recipe was for white bread – plain, wonderful white bread. It is, of course, what I do best.  After all these years I can tell, just be the feel of the day, how much flour to use, how long it will take to rise. You may have to use a bit more flour to tame the sticky dough, but bread rises faster on a rainy day than a fair one: lower barometric pressure lets the yeast do its thing more easily.  Reading and experimenting, I’ve devised many different recipes for myself for breads from multi grain to to-die-for Pecan-Raisin bread.  

Of late, many of the food and shelter magazines have had wonderful spreads (of course!) on artisanal bread.  Frank will get a hold of one of the articles, and read it and tell me how easy it looks. I’m sure it is, but it seems to me that to do up these breads with their various starters, bigas, mother doughs, and the like, you almost have to go into regular production.  The starters have to be maintained, and I just don’t make bread regularly enough now, in our old age with our smaller appetites, to warrant the bother.  From start to finish, I usually have bread in about three hours.  Once we devour the first, fresh slices, the rest, properly bagged, goes into the freezer where it keeps wonderfully.

I am a bit put off by the “holier than thou” stance taken by some bread bakers.  You’ think they were building a fine Swiss watch.  Yes, you might want to follow their methods scrupulously if you are a newbie, though all I had from my Mother-in-law were the basic ingredients and instructions. There are the rapid-rise vs. the regular-rise yeast fans, and there are the weigh-the-flour vs. the measure-the-flour fans.  Arguments abound on how much, if any, sugar to add, and which salt is best; how long and where to let the dough rise; what pans, or none, to use to bake it. To me it is much ado about very little.  If you think you might take up bread making, you’ll soon know all the ropes, shall we say.  Experimenting is half the fun, if you go by the starter method or the fresh yeast method.

I make the bread as we need it. We do get a ciabatta bread or a nice boule every once in a while, and we couldn’t do without English muffins, but basically we rely on my own baking. During this November I’ll bring you three more posts on bread: Bread Basics, the Pecan Raisin Bread story, and, last, a tale of a bread disaster. 




Thursday, November 1, 2012


Oh, aaarg!  This morning I was folding wash from the dryer and what did I find that had been through the whole cycle? My good, black, cashmere-lined, 4-button Fownes gloves!  Aaarg!  I know the glove fell into the laundry basket from a shelf where I had placed them temporarily, but why didn’t I notice this before I threw the whole mess in the washer? Yes, I know I can get a new pair, but these were my Mother’s.  It’s the sentiment attached, doncha know. 

Looking for another pair to put in the pockets of my black winter jacket, (It was 35° when I got up this morning) I mooched around in the box where I keep odd, miscellaneous scarves, gloves and little purses. I don’t have a great collection of any of these items and rarely use them, but as the say: “One never knows.”  There – ah the memories! – I found my pair of white kid gloves. They are so lovely I’m ready to meet royalty.  Back in the sixties I was asked to be in my friend Lolly’s wedding.  Her wonderful mom – one of my former Girl Scout leaders – was a stickler for manners and etiquette. Everyone in the wedding party was expected to wear gloves – yes, the men too. I remember the men had on grey gloves – were they cotton? – but she bought all of us girls white kid gloves. I don’t remember if I ever wore them again, though I must have over these last 47 years, but I keep them “among my souvenirs.”

So, needless to say, I trotted out my album to look at the picture of us gals. I scanned it in for posterity, and safer keeping.  That’s me, the chubbiest one, in the picture below – and you can just see my pair of white kid gloves.