Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm in love...... with No Knead Bread!

This past week, during my "spare time" (ha! read that as "stress relief" time) I decided to do something I've wanted to do for a long time - bake some homemade bread. Homemade, handmade - without using a bread maker. I recently gave away my bread maker anyway.

I first made a loaf of Whole Wheat bread in the traditional way. You know, knead it for 10 - 15 minutes (what a workout for my poor wrists!), let it rise, punch it down, let it rise again, then shape and bake. It was really good and we liked it. This is the second (oblong) loaf pictured.

But then I found an article about No Knead Bread as baked by Chef Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. And, oh my, what heavenly bread! ( top photo - the round loaf). We more than liked it.... we loved it! If you like a crusty bread this is the one for you. (If you like a softer bread, after it's cooled store it in a plastic bag and it won't retain such a crispy crust). It's SO simple to make... and there really is no kneading (stir to mix, a couple of folds, one quick shaping and that's all). Instead of your hands doing the work, time does the work instead. You mix it up and let it sit for 18-24 hours and, according to Lahey, the long slow rise time is the secret to this artisan bread. It has the most wonderful crust and a great texture inside with all these irregular shaped holes. Slather some healthy butter substitute on it and top with raspberry jam... oh me! Or drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic powder and toast...... mmmm! If you decide to give it a try and, like me, you only have access to "down home" grocery stores, Rapid Rise yeast by Fleischmans is the same as instant yeast.

I've also started an oil painting. It's 16 x 20 and the subject is a lighthouse in Maine (photo from a vacation... can't remember the name of the lighthouse). I'm posting the first WIP. Now, if Laure from Painted Thoughts Blog will stop posting tempting tidbits and examples about the luscious Daniel Smith watercolors she's using (thus drawing my easily-led attention away from my oil paints) I might be able to make some progress on it! ;-)

Newspaper Column for April 2010

Geese, cows, pigs and seaweed: a perfect vacation

Quite a few of my childhood vacations were spent in a tent in the middle of a farmer’s field. I never realized during those years how creative my parents were in squeezing out awesome vacations on a shoestring budget. Like a lot of parents with growing children and the usual household expenses (This was back in the day when folks seldom used credit. It was mostly cash or do without.), Mom and Dad didn’t have a lot of extra money lying around to send us on a funship cruise to be constantly entertained and waited on night and day. Thank goodness. Instead, we packed our stuff and headed for the outlying regions of England or Wales. Since we lived in the landlocked middle of England a lot of our vacations tended to be in coastal towns.

Talk about firing a kid’s imagination. There's nothing like it. A camping holiday is different from a holiday where you stay in a hotel. Even if you stayed in the same place you would experience it differently in a tent than in a hotel. There’s a freedom, a closeness to nature when camping that you lose when in a building. When camping, you feel the coolness of the early day and the wetness of the morning dew on your toes when you step outside, you hear the morning song of the birds - or the moo of the cows - and are more likely to see the sunrise. Somehow you feel more alive. And everyone knows that food tastes so much better when it’s cooked outdoors. Our meals were simple but hearty and full of flavor. And with a “dining room” like we had, we considered ourselves dining in first class indeed. We usually had company on our campouts- Mom’s sister and her family, or some of my parent’s friends and their children would go camping with us so there were other kids to play and go exploring with.

One of my fondest vacation memories is of a holiday spent on a farm in Wales. It was an ordinary farm - we didn't camp in commercial campgrounds. Mom explained that it was much more fun to do your own thing and have lots of space rather than be crowded in by campers and non-stop activities all around you. What Mom didn’t say was that it was also much cheaper - such a smart Mom I have! So, as we passed Butler’s campground with its blue painted swimming pool and plastic water slide we felt a little sorry for the kids whose parents didn't know any better and were stuck in that campground, hemmed in by campers, tents and noise on all sides; and, worse, having to make do with a crowded swimming pool while we had
the wide sea or sparkling mountain streams to swim in and glorious open hills and fields to run and play in to our heart's content.

The only camper’s amenity at this Welsh farm was a simple outdoor bathroom with a sink and cold running water. For city kids, it was roughing it at its delightful best. It was a chance to roam free: no school, no homework, no teachers telling you to sit still and pay attention, no lumbering double decker buses to watch out for as you crossed the road. Just miles of blue sky, lush green fields dotted with cows and sheep, beautiful beaches and miles of narrow country lanes that curved temptingly out of sight, beckoning to adventures just ahead. I could not imagine that even Heaven itself was more beautiful than Wales.

The farm was a working farm whose owners allowed a few campers on their property each summer to earn a little extra money. Campers were not catered to in any way except for a quick warning from the farmer’s wife not to chase the geese who had the run of the farm (they peck a lot harder than you think), plus - we found out - they’d chase you back. Also free roaming were the cows... right into the field we camped in. I was a city kid. I don’t think I’d ever gotten that close to such a large animal that wasn’t in a cage in a zoo. I remembered wild west movies and wondered if milk cows stampeded? Sure hope our tent was out of their path.

But the farm inhabitant that made the most lasting impression on me was the pig. As a city dweller my only acquaintance with pigs was sausage, ham and bacon. When we first arrived at the farm that would be our home for the next week, I noticed a pen on the right side of the driveway with a good-sized pig in it. I meant to visit that pig as soon as possible. It didn’t take me long. After settling in, a few hours later I was up at the pig pen. Expecting a plump pink cherubic creature as often depicted in children’s books, I was quite taken aback when I got close to him. He seemed to be as curious about me as I was about him because he ambled up, snorted, and boldly stuck a flat wet snout through the fence. His
snout glistened light pink and there were bits of dirt stuck all over it. I stared at him in fascination, both drawn and repelled. His ponderous body was hairy and mud-caked. He grunted and stamped his feet up and down which slopped more mud up his legs. I tried to equate this dirty, decidedly uncherubic thing with the sizzling smell of bacon and delicious sausage links. It was work even for my active imagination. He kept pushing his nose through the space in between the wooden boards. Was he asking for food? I decided he was, so I pulled up some weeds and offered them through the fence boards. I immediately gained new insight into the expression “eating like a pig” and decided that perhaps it was best not to ruminate too long on the source of one’s food.

Grubby pig aside, the farm was a place of many delights, chief of which was the beach. What a beach! The farm was situated next to the sea, but was much higher than sea level. It was actually on the top of a small cliff, that at the time seemed dangerously and excitingly high. The beach was a horseshoe-shaped bay hollowed out from the seaside cliffs. A stone footpath carved into the side of the cliff led to the beach below. Best of all, because it was part of the farm it was a private beach and since most other folks were cooped up in Butler’s Campgrounds (poor deprived unfortunates) we almost had the whole beach to ourselves. Mom was right - this was great!

Us kids had the time of our lives. English and Welsh coastlines are frequently rocky so you often see caves in the side of the cliffs, tide pools on the beaches with crabs, tiny fish and creepy crawlies in them and all sizes of rocks on the beach which active young minds can find myriad uses for. Some rocks were big enough to hide behind, some just right to build with, others nice to sit on and watch the sea. And who knew whether there might be hidden treasure in a cave... left by some pirate many years ago who met a watery demise and never returned to claim his loot?

In addition to the rocks, there was also lots of different kinds of seaweed, both on the beach and in the water. Some of it was bubbly and made a fun popping sound when you squished the bubbles. Some of it was long and stringy, and after we got over the “yuck factor” my cousin, Beverly, and I used the stringy seaweed to arrange all kinds of elegant (or so we thought) hairstyles on rounded rocks. Imagination fueled our play. There was no television and no telephones during our vacations. Heck, there wasn’t even electricity! And we didn’t miss any of them one bit. There were too many fun things to do and interesting places to see.

I realize now how incredibly lucky I was to have parents wise enough to give us the kind of vacations that exercised our minds, bodies and spirits. We explored, we played, we learned, we daydreamed. Perhaps that’s why, even today, I’ll take a quiet beautiful spot over a noisy, commercialized theme park any time. I prefer God’s theme park: clean blue skies with drifting clouds, lapping waves on a shell speckled beach, country lanes dotted with wildflowers, breezes rippling the clear waters of a lake, or just simply enjoying the everyday pleasures right here in my own garden.

Nature and simple things... still the perfect vacation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Family Illness

Hi All,

Thought I'd write a few lines and explain my absence. My husband's mother is seriously ill. She's partially paralyzed and speech impaired from a stroke almost 10 years ago and also has a variety of other health concerns. We are caregivers for her on weekends. Last weekend she was hospitalized again, and because she cannot communicate with the hospital staff, family members take turns staying with her around the clock to "interpret" and help out as needed. She was released from the hospital last Wednesday and on Friday came down with shingles. My DIL took her to Urgent Care on Saturday (the hubby's band was playing so we were on the road) and on Sunday afternoon the hubby and I took her back to Urgent Care for a follow up appointment. She's running a fever, in pain and isn't eating, so is requiring constant care. We're all pitching in and putting together 'round the clock care as best we can. She is adamant about not going to the hospital again, so for the time being we're giving her Ensure and Pedialyte along with her medications and making her comfortable.

Will get back to blogging and catch up my emails as soon as I can. If you've emailed me and I haven't responded please know it's not intentional. Miss keeping up with y'all! ("Y'all" ..... that's pretty good "Southern" for an English city slicker don't you think? ;-)
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