Friday, October 29, 2010

(Almost) Whole Wheat Bread

As I mentioned in my post about making chocolate chip cookies, I was also making bread. I don't have a whole lot of experience baking bread and searched for a recipe online.

There are seriously a million recipes out there. I found a website with a lot of really good information about baking bread and different kinds of yeast and decided to go with that recipe. I also liked that the recipe only made enough dough for one loaf (this was convenient since I only have one bread pan, which I borrowed from my very generous mother-in-law!).

Here is the link to the original Homemade Wheat Bread recipe from Tammysrecipes.com.

Here is what I used and did to make the actual bread:

1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon organic milk
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons organic honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups organic all-purpose flour
1.5 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

First I mixed the warm water, milk, oil, honey, brown sugar, and salt in a large glass bowl.

Next I added the flour (gradually) and the yeast and kneaded it all together. I kneaded it in the bowl. This worked well and saved me making a mess on the counter top. In retrospect I should have paid more attention to how long I kneaded the dough. The directions say 10-15 minutes until it's "smooth and elastic". I waited for it to be smooth and elastic but didn't notice how long it took.

Then I oiled the bowl and turned the dough so it was lightly covered in oil. I put a clean towel over the bowl and left it to rise until the dough doubled in size. Theoretically this should have taken about 30 minutes. My dough took a really long time to rise. I wondered if it was because I didn't knead it enough or because I didn't proof the yeast (it was a brand new jar of yeast, I figured it would be fine).

Finally I put the bowl of dough in the sun on the kitchen window seat. Eventually I decided to call it good. I think it took about an hour. Then, following the directions, I punched the dough down and kneaded it for a few more minutes before forming it into a loaf shape. I put it in a greased loaf pan, covered it with a towel again and left it to rise. This time I put it on top of the stove. It was warm from the baking cookies and I thought it might help.

30 minutes later it had doubled in size and I baked it at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. The recipe says 30-35 minutes. When it was done baking I let it rest in the pan for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire cooling rack.

I made a grilled cheese sandwich with the bread and it was pretty yummy--a little crumbly but perfectly acceptable. (I suspect the crumbliness was due to my baking and not the recipe).

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pecans

I've realized that baking makes me feel at home in a new place. A house (or boat) doesn't feel like home until it is filled with the wonderful smell of good food (preferably something filled with chocolate, sugar, and/or butter).

Consequently, I decided to spend today in the kitchen. While Lilly was napping I made bread dough and, while the bread dough was rising, I made chocolate chip cookies with pecans.

After years of searching for a chocolate chip cookie recipe I like, I've started using the recipes on the bags of chocolate chips. I don't think I ever get the same kind of chocolate chips twice, so the cookies are always a little different. Today I used Hershey's Real Mildly Sweet Chocolate Chips (Special Dark). I give them full credit for the recipe below (although I've paraphrased the ingredients and directions).

2 and 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup softened butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 package chocolate chips (10oz)
1 cup chopped nuts (I used 3/4 cup pecans)

Here is what I did (pretty much following the directions on the Hersey's bag):

First, I mixed the flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl.

Then I mixed the butter, sugar (both white and brown), and vanilla in a second, larger bowl until it was smooth and creamy.

Next, I beat in the eggs one at a time until it was well mixed.

After that I slowly added the flour, baking soda, and salt that I had combined earlier.*

Lastly, I mixed in chocolate chips and nuts.*

The directions say to put teaspoons of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. I think my blobs of dough were more like large tablespoons and I used parchment paper on the cookie sheet. I watched them closely because our oven cooks a bit hot. They were done in about 7 minutes. I waited until they were golden brown on top.

According to the recipe it should make 5 dozen cookies. I got 27 cookies total...obviously, the Hershey's people like small cookies. Obviously, I don't.

I have to say, they turned out extremely good (if I do say so myself) and the house smelled wonderful. Baking chocolate chip cookies make me feel like a mom.

*Updated 12/22/11: I've switched to Ghirardelli chips (60% bittersweet). I love them, seriously. Also, make sure the butter is really soft when you get started. And mix the chocolate chips and pecans into the wet stuff before you add the dry stuff. It's easier and the chips and nuts are distributed more evenly.

Happy baking!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Thursday after Wordless Wednesday

I know everyone and their mom does Wordless Wednesday on their blogs but I thought I'd do it anyway. And you know what? It's ridiculously hard just to post a picture. I want to explain it and talk about it and go on and on and on. I think Wordless Wednesday's are going to be hard for me. Is it cheating if I talk about Wordless Wednesday on Thursday?

Friday, October 22, 2010

What to do on a sunny afternoon?

L. and I needed to get out of the house today. I've been feeling a little anti-social but knew I would feel better after some fresh air. When I'm inside I forget how nice it is outside. I think part of me just assumes the weather is nasty because, in my experience, it typically is this time of year. But it's nice here. It's sunny and warm and not at all like fall.

I love that it's warm and dry right now but when I'm honest with myself, I miss having seasons. I miss the leaves changing color and reflecting on the water, making it shimmer with shades of orange, yellow, and red. I miss bundling up in a big sweater and sipping tea while crunching down sidewalks covered with leaves. I want to take L. to the cider mill to pet the animals and drink warm, spicy cider, pick a pumpkin off it's vine, and listen to the geese honk as they fly south. But we can't really do those things here. (In truth we might not have been able to do them even if we weren't here...the leaves don't crunch if it's been raining.)

So this afternoon, L. and I went looking for fall. I wanted to find fall in our new home. I wanted to find little signs of the changing seasons. We wandered through the neighborhood and ended up at the park near our house. It's almost November and it's still 80something degrees outside. Perpetual summer. I feel like I'm in a time warp. I can't believe it's supposed to be fall. Don't get me wrong--I am grateful for the sun, but having it almost all the time takes a little getting used to.

We had the playground to ourselves. It was perfect. I got to get out and be anti-social at the same time. Our dog basked in the dry grass next to a bench while I chased L. around.

By the time we headed home I figured fall in our new home would have to depend on decorations--the scarecrows and pumpkins placed in front yards, tissue paper ghosts hanging from trees, pumpkins in "pumpkin patches" at every local church.

[As a side note, I should mention that our own pumpkin is in the compost already. I suppose it was a rookie mistake. In my mind October is hardly warmer than a refrigerator and a carved pumpkin lasts most of the month. After just two days on our front walk our poor orange friend was squishy, molding, and surrounded by a cloud of flies. I'm thankful L. isn't old enough to care yet. Next year we'll do as our neighbors do and wait until the last minute to carve our masterpiece.]

Anyhow, there we were, walking home through our neighborhood, thinking about the importance of decorations and tragedy of deceased pumpkins, when I saw this tree.
I'm pretty sure it never had any little orange berries before (if it's had them all along, don't tell me). I decided this was the first sign of fall. I'm hopeful it won't be the last.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking time out for Mom (and dealing with unexpected anger)

My self-care has been lacking lately. I've been aware of this for a while but inevitably I find myself saying, "I'll shower in the morning". Then, morning comes and goes and I still haven't showered. It's always something--I'm tired, L. is hungry, J. is late for work.

I've decided to start fresh. No more worrying about the things I should have done last week. All that is forgotten and I'm moving forward. I'm going to do something for myself (at least one thing) every day from here on out. That sounds really overwhelming now that I put on paper. One thing every day? Yikes.

I can handle this. Today I showered. I didn't manage to shave my legs but I washed my hair. Definitely a step in the right direction.

I decided to go out on a limb and spend L.'s nap time playing on the computer (i.e. writing dafl) instead of cleaning the kitchen floor (It really needs it. It's really sticky under L.'s chair). Still, the floors can wait. After thirty minutes of rocking and nursing and cuddling, L. fell asleep. Feeling exhilarated I sat down at the computer. The doorbell rang, the dog barked, the baby started crying. No joke.

I almost lost it. I wanted to scream and cry. I could feel the anger and frustration bubbling up inside me. I was a bit shocked at how angry I felt. I'm not usually the angry sort. The insurance man at the door needed to take pictures of the house and climb on the roof. No, he couldn't come back when the baby wasn't sleeping. They should at least warn people they are coming.

Nap time over. No more mom time. At least not until later. Luckily, L. took an afternoon nap and now I'm having my much needed mom time. Hopefully, by taking a little time to myself every day I won't be so irritable. Hopefully, in the future, I won't feel like it's the end of the work if my thirty minutes of quiet time is interrupted.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who am I and why am I writing this?

Good questions. Let's start with why I'm writing this. I've always found writing therapeutic. When we found out we were pregnant my husband set up a blog so we could easily keep our family updated with everything baby related. It ended up being a wonderful project that I willingly took over and I poured my heart into it.

Our little girl's first birthday is approaching quickly and I'm starting to feel like our baby blog doesn't have space for mom anymore. It has room for updates on our baby (I'll refer to her as L. from now on) and lots and lots of pictures. However, it no longer feels like the appropriate place to write about my emotions and sore nipples. When we were pregnant people would say, "just wait...as soon as the baby is born, you'll be invisible. People will go straight for the baby". In a sense this is true and I don't mind in the least...Obviously, I'm the one posting endless pictures of L., trying to capture every cute little thing she does every second of every day. I'm okay with obsessing about my baby. But, I miss writing. Really, writing--about more than just what L. had for dinner.

There is a big part of me that figures no one is interested in what I have to say now that L. is around. I've decided that doesn't matter. I'm writing because I love to write and know it's a healthy thing to do.

You're probably thinking, "Why not keep a journal?"

Well, because I've learned from writing our baby blog that sharing what I write brings a different aspect to the experience. I'm not so narcisistic that I think people should read and appreciate every word I write. At best, a few people will read and enjoy my words and, hopefully, gain something from my experiences. At worst, I end up with a fabulous record of my time at home with my daughter. I think it's a win, win situation.

Which brings me to my first question: who am I? I'm a married mom of one darling little girl and the last person to think I'd ever want to stay home full time. I went to school, got my degrees, started working, and the minute L. entered my life I realized it was not what I wanted to do.

At the time I didn't have a choice. I went back to work when L. was eight weeks old and worked full time for the following six months. I didn't do well as a working mom. I was depressed and stressed out. I didn't sleep well and I had a hard time enjoying the time I did have with L. I didn't have enough time to spend with my husband (I'll call him J.) either . In short, it sucked. Something had to change.

When L. was three months old we moved from our sailboat to an apartment with all the modern amenities we could want (hot water, laundry, our own toilet). It still sucked.

In retrospect I realized that what needed to change was me going to work every day. Since I wasn't able to quit my job, we had changed the boat for an apartment. It was the only thing I could control. Obviously, it didn't solve anything. I was still going to work every day.

When J. finished school, we decided to move. It was a gamble but the odds were good that it would improve things. J. didn't want to stay at home and I did. Moving would allow that to happen. We'd have better weather, more sunshine, and be close to J.'s family. The downside was that we left my family and an amazing community of friends behind. Still, it looked like our best option.

So we moved, bringing me to where we are now. I'm at home with L. and J. is working. We're a world away from our sailboat and cold weather, trying to be true to ourselves while living in a house on land, attempting to make new friends and develop a sense of community.

The best part is being home with L. All the rest is a new adventure...

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