Category Archives: cooking

Baking Bread, Breaking Bread

I have cinnamon bread rising in the kitchen now.  I love making bread.  For one thing, nobody ever asks me for the recipe.  I like that especially because bread recipes are long, tedious, and it requires some experience to translate the directions.  I don’t have a bread machine and I don’t want one.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Besides, bread baking is as close to church as I get, and I cherish that reminder of my relationship to the universe.

I bake cinnamon bread a lot.  Other breads not as much, but I want to start making our sandwich bread.  I hate all that ultra processing in store breads, and bakeries are not typically any better.  Cinnamon bread is my daughter’s favorite thing.  She loves it as toast and when I make French toast with it she thinks it’s the best thing in the world.  At the store, for all those crazy and hard to pronounce additives and preservatives, they charge about five bucks for a very small loaf.  I loosely figured what it cost me to make it, and I figure even when I use expensive ingredients it’s about a dollar a loaf.

Sure, it’s very labor intensive, but it is a labor of love.  I smile about my daughter’s stories from the day.  I think about the marvels of the world.  Yeast is a powerful ingredient and brings, in me, a strong emotional response.  This thing is alive.  Alive.  It grows and eats sugar and creates this incredible relationship with the gluten in the flour.  You can pull a little chunk off and stretch it between your fingers until you can see through it.  It smells of the best of the world’s pleasures.  It’s musty and earthy and imbued with centuries of human history.  This is what I love to feed my children.

When I started pastry school, I will admit I was not excited about the bread making portion.  I wanted to learn about chocolate and sugar.  Bread?  Somebody else could make it.  And it turned my whole world upside down the second it started.  All the qualities we cherish and strive to achieve – patience, artistry, willingness to let a thing be its simple self, care, tenderness, timeliness – they all come out when you bake bread.  They have to, or you don’t get very good bread.  Try making a croissant without patience, or hand knead a brioche without tenderness, or try to fuss too much over cinnamon bread.  You will see what I mean.

And bread is one of those things that maintains cultural significance despite reason.  Why do we still value the ceremony of breaking bread with each other?  Why does bread, hot and fresh from the oven, remind everyone of their favorite memories, even those who have never had hot fresh bread before?  Why do we revere the talent of a baker, even if we never purchase his handicraft?

I once read this great story about a woman who grew wheat in her front yard, and before the neighborhood black party she would have all the kids come over to harvest and mill the wheat and make the bread for the party with it.  I want to do that one day.  I want my children to experience that thing that reaches further back in our shared lineage that almost nothing else we can recreate today.

No culture lives without bread.  As far as I know, no religion is without at least one bread parable.  There is a reason for this.  Bread is a part of us.  It has been since we decided to settle in one place.  It reminds us that we don’t have to be nomads and that we can be where we are and create something perfect out of the simplest and most complicated things.  We could use more of that notion these days.

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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in cooking


Putting Up

So the kids and I visited my aunt Susie and her neighbor and our mutual friend Cathy (who is also my “putting up” mentor) at their farms today.  I love going out there.  My daughter said, “Horses make my heart happy.”  The kids love the wide open spaces, and really love the animals.  I love the visits and the bringing home of a bounty.  Life is kind of funny.  Cathy was my boss, and we quickly became friends.  I had no idea that she and my aunt were close friends.  It is a small world.

Anyway, Susie took Keegan around to chase goats, and gave us 18 wonderful eggs that I just adore.  Yay farm eggs!  I have many rants about the goodness that is to be had from free-range local eggs, but I won’t bore you this time.  That is to come…  She also generously loaned me her cooler.

At Cathy’s, I went out with my daughter to pick blackberries while Cathy practiced her grandma skills with my son.  Her grandson is due in about 9 weeks, and she is excited as can be.  Usually my daughter is great at picking berries, but today she picked enough to fill her belly and got bored.  Fortunately, Cathy arrived just in time and took both kids to see the horses and cows.  The pigs were particuarly smelly today, so they didn’t get a visit.  Now, picking berries on a beautiful summer afternoon while your kids are off exploring and getting muddy is just about as close to heaven as you can get on this planet.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I was quite generous to the birds, and I got about 2 gallons of blackberries.  Pie time.

Speaking of visiting the animals, Cathy sent a bunch of beef home with me.  I wonder how well I’m going to handle it when the kids put together the fact that we are eating a cow that they have pet, and bottle fed, and generally adored.  I’m glad I get to put that one off for a while.

Cathy loaded me up with 30 bags of last year’s corn (each bag is about 2 cups, perfect for dinner).  When I talk about Cathy’s corn, I want you to know that I love this corn like I love nothing else, except maybe chocolate.  My husband jokes about breaking into her house to steal more when we are running low.  I have no idea what makes it taste so good, but it is phenomenal.  This wasn’t a good year for corn, and it makes me a little nervous.  We really love this stuff.

So this year, she also sent me with my own corn to put up.  I’ve never put up corn before.

I shucked it on the porch while my husband played games with my daughter.  It was peaceful.  After getting her to bed, I did dishes and got the kitchen cleaned up per Cathy’s orders.  Everything has to be sanitized.  Water has to be ready.  Ice has to be ready.  I have to be ready.

This is the recipe for putting up corn:  Shuck corn.  Bring a big pot of water to a good boil.  Drop corn in pot.  Bring back to a boil, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  Drain corn and dump it in an ice bath.  Let it get really good and cold, so the milk can get back into the kernels.  Cut from the cob.  Measure into freezer bags.  Freeze.  Simple, right?

It took me two hours to make eight bags.  Eight.  And I’m not counting the time it took me to shuck it.  This is no way to get a lot of corn in the freezer.  One of these days, I will be good at it like Cathy, who did god only knows how many dozens of bags in 4 hours this morning.  So as of right now, we have 38 bags in the freezer for the year.  Considering that we have been known to eat it 3 or more times a week, we are going to have to learn to conserve…

It’s probably a good thing I don’t have a garden yet.

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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in cooking, food, preserving