January 2007

For some people, breadmaking is a form of meditation. It is calming, and earthy. For me, I just really like fresh, home-made bread. I also like doing things that will in some way show my commitment to sustainability. By using my own steam, I am saving a microscopic amount of energy, keeping myself warm so I can feel better about having the thermostat low, and teaching my family that not everything has to come from a store. I like to make bread, but it is time consuming.

So, I like to listen to good music and get in a little dancing in the morning while I make my bread. My current favorite music for kneading is Close to the Bone, by Old Blind Dogs. They are a Scottish folk band with some modern influence. They are highly danceable. I especially like the ballad The Cruel Sister, and the instrumentals The Honeymoon reel/ Kings/ The Clayslaps reel, and The Universal Hall/ The Nuptial Knot/ The Barlinnie Highlander. The pipe tunes are so sweet, I can’t keep my feet still, and the rhythms are perfect for kneading, or for dancing with your baby. My kids also love this stuff. Calvin always sings along with the fa-la-las on The Cruel Sister. I’m sort of glad he can’t understand the words, though.

I also love Spanish Guitar Music, a collection by John Williams. He is so smooth, not at all distracting with crazy loose interpretation. Just the right kind of rhythmic. I hate listening to music where I can’t find the beat, or keep track of it. I listened to some Pablo Cassals the other day, and it nearly drove me crazy. He might be a master, but I like my Bach with a discernible beat. Not metronomic, just not so free that you can’t follow it. That’s how dear Pablo was. I couldn’t hang on to the melodies, I felt like I was in a small boat on the big ocean. Wave after wave was tossing me up and down. I might try that again someday, but definitely not for breadmaking.

Another good one is the soundtrack to Footloose. But that’s only if you’re really feeling hyper, and you have a jungle-gym to swing on in your kitchen.

I love The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. This book has changed the way I think of bread, from the making all the way to the cutting and eating. I love bread, and I always will. Apprentice gives general instructions for all breads, and specific formulas for individual, and fantastic breads. The scientific section is so readable that I sat down and read it all the day I got the book. I have been accused of reading cookbooks, but this one was like a novel. I loved learning about yeast, the properties of flours, different kinds of heat, ovens, crazy places in Paris that I’ll probably never get to go to, and what to expect from a perfect loaf of bread. Also, it has a formula for the most intense and fantastical corn bread I’ve ever had. I made it the day after Thanksgiving for a big group, and it was a smash hit. Bacon. Yes, bacon.

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is similar to Apprentice, but has many more formulas. She seems to really like sweet things, breads with chocolate in them, etc. She is not a meditator. I found her introduction slightly off-putting, just because she so vehemently denied any spirituality in breadmaking. I just can’t think how one woman can tell anyone else that they can’t feel spiritual about any one thing. And I had already read Apprentice, which, to me, is much more welcoming and personal. It’s more about love. The Bread Bible has pretty pictures, and is very comprehensive. It has the same scientific info as Apprentice, so it really has what you need, and it has formulas for all those rich things like brioche and biscuits and chocolate bread. I just don’t like the tone as much. I feel like she thinks she knows everything, and is merely blessing us with her literary offerings. Granted, she does know a heck of a lot.

Another favorite is The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, by Rick Curry. If you want something spiritual, here it is. He give recipes for seasonal breads, feast breads, and everyday breads. He also throws in some prayers, thoughts on meditation, beautiful stories of his breadmaking journey, and the joy he gets from sharing his bread. He makes bread every day, always some to give away. I love that. And the guy only has one arm. He makes his bread by hand, with one arm. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, because I only borrowed the book and had to give it back. But I think I’m going to buy it.

Before I had The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and The Bread Bible, I started with Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. This is a good starter book. It does not go into detail about the science of bread, and the recipes sometimes have to be adjusted for your location (recipes are given in English measurements, not metric. I live in a very dry place, so flour is dryer and needs more moisture per cup to hydrate it fully. It is easier to weigh the flour and the water, rather than using a cup measure), and I also found more success with lower oven temperatures than the ones recommended. But the recipes are good, and uncomplicated. He give instructions for sponge and straight-dough methods, with hand mixing, food-processor mixing, and stand-mixer mixing. I think that’s helpful, especially for a beginning breadmaker.

But if you’re only going to get one book about bread, get The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

This soup is a great way to get your greens. I made it the other day from things I had around the kitchen, and my kids loved it. It was one of those rare times they asked for seconds, then Calvin asked if we could save some for the next day for breakfast. Yes, breakfast. He has an enlightened view of breakfast, for an American. I had pre-cooked red chard on hand, but any greens would do, especially tender ones. I would use fresh or frozen spinach, any chard, mustard greens, even collards if I could steam them for a while first. Anyway, I was trying to approximate the Saag Shorba at our local Indian restaurant, which is divine. If you use this recipe, could you come back and tell me if you like it?

So here it is:

Saag Shorba

6 stalks chard, leaves and stalks, chopped or 6 oz spinach, chopped
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 T canola oil or ghee
2 large cloves garlic
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger
1 1/2 t coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t turmeric
pinch cayenne
pinch cardamom
2-4 C vegetable broth, depending on how soupy you want it (or chicken broth)
1/2 C tomato sauce (I used some that I made in the summer and froze-so no salt or herbs) or 1/4 C tomato paste
1/4-1/2 C coconut milk or heavy cream
1 C leftover basmati or other long-grain rice
salt to taste

Steam the chopped chard stems for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and steam about 10 minutes more. They need to be soft. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil or ghee on medium and add chopped onions. Saute for about 8 minutes, add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and cardamom, and saute for 2-3 minutes more. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chard, tomato sauce and rice, and boil briefly. Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk or cream slowly, to avoid curdling. Add salt to taste, and more cayenne, if you need it to make you happy.

If you use frozen spinach, you can obviously skip the steaming and just add it straight from the bag. Make sure it comes to a boil before you add the cream. You could also use baby spinach fresh from the bag and just add it at the end, but boil for a few minutes to wilt the spinach.

For the tomato sauce, you could also used crushed or chopped canned tomatoes, or even fresh chopped tomatoes. If they’re fresh, just add them with the broth and boil for 10 minutes or so. You will need less broth with canned or fresh tomatoes. I grow my own tomatoes, because they’re sooooo much better than the ones you can buy, and I make a couple of batches of tomato sauce in the summer. This is the most versatile stuff. I don’t add salt or herbs, so I can use them in recipes that are Mexican, Indian, Italian, or whatever. I just add the appropriate spices or herbs later, with the recipe. This sauce has no seeds or icky skin, and is not runny like pureed tomatoes. It’s sauce, not juice. It’s pure, sweet tomato joy.

Tomato Sauce

Here’s how to do it: get about two gallons of fresh, very ripe tomatoes. I don’t use Romas, because they don’t ever get totally soft. I just use regular red slicing tomatoes. Blanch them about 4 at a time in boiling water for 1 minute. You can cut a little ‘x’ in the non-stem end, to facilitate peeling. After they have blanched, plunge them into cold water. Peel them, cut out the core, slice them in half, and scoop out the seeds and seedy pulp with your fingers. Do this over a sieve, to catch the juice that falls. Add them straight to a warming pot large enough to hold 1/2 – 3/4 or your tomatoes. You do not have to chop them or anything. Turn the heat up so they begin to simmer slowly, so that as you work, they will boil down and make more room. If you run out of space, take a break and eat some ice-cream, then go back and there should be more room. Pour the collected juice into the pot, discard the stems and seeds, and simmer the tomatoes for 2-4 hours very slowly, stirring often. You need to pay attention, especially after the first hour or so. They will stick to the pan and burn if you don’t stir. Let the sauce reduce to about 1/2 the volume you started with. The tomatoes will disintegrate as they cook.

When your sauce is nice and thick, and there is very little water floating on top, you can turn off the heat and let them cool to room temperature, stirring every so often to help it cool. At this point, you can either can it, or freeze it. The frozen tomato sauce is wonderful, and much less work than canning. Just get a bunch of 1 quart freezer bags and put about 2 cups of sauce in each one, squeezing out the air and laying them flat. Or, you can even use zippered sandwich bags, and put them all into a gallon size freezer bag together. Then put them in the freezer laying flat until they’re frozen, then stack them or put them upright where they fit. Use them all winter.

This makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world, with freshly sauteed onions, and whatever else you like in spaghetti. It’s also great to have for tomatoey Indian dishes like aloo gobi or baygan bharta. It’s so much quicker when you’ve already got the tomato sauce. It will make you happy in the winter, when there are no good tomatoes anywhere. I promise.

Today, Calvin asked for something, which I gave him. He then said, “Mom, you’re the best mom in the whole entire world. Well, I think so, but nobody else does.”

Then, later on, he looked at me and said, “Your eyebrows aren’t attached.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Your eyebrows aren’t attached.”

“To what?”

“Mom, look at me. Come down here,” he said, as he pulled my sweater so my face was close to his. “Your eyebrows aren’t attached.”

“To what?”

“To each other.”

Again, I asked what he meant.

“Look. This one (touching my right eyebrow,) is not attached to this one.”

“They’re not supposed to be.”

“Well Daddy’s are.”

You didn’t know this, but my son invented brainwashing. This was about a year ago. He was 4. Alas, he has shown no signs of remorse.

When my second child was born, Calvin was 2. He retaliated by not acknowledging the existence of said younger brother. He waited for us to take it back. When we asked him his brother’s name, he would say, “That’s baby Max.” Which, of course, it was not. Max was a cousin born a few months previously. Calvin expected us to realize that this alien didn’t belong, and surely wasn’t welcome as a permanent addition.

When Calvin was 4 and Gozer was nearing 2, Calvin realized the potential of his experimental procedure. You see, his favorite color is green. This is very important to the story, since no one, and I mean No One else may have that same favorite color. It is against the laws of nature. Gozer, as the younger sibling of an extremely verbose boy, was likewise verbose, and delighted in learning as many new words and phrases as he could, as fast as he could. He repeated everything he heard.

He often heard Calvin saying, “My favorite color is green.” Soon, Gozer, too, was saying,
“My favorite color is green.” Well this would never do. Calvin would only drink from a cup that was green, only eat from a spoon that was green, and only wear a shirt that was green. Unfortunately, we only had one green cup and one green spoon. When Gozer announced his preference for green, and his desire to drink from the green cup, there was war.

Soon enough, I overheard Calvin telling Gozer in the other room, “Gozer, your favorite color is red.” Whereupon Gozer would disagree, only to have Calvin repeat, “No, your favorite color is red.”

Within 2 days, Gozer was announcing that his favorite color was, yes, red. He would only take the red cup, and wear the red shirt. He was apoplectic that there was no red spoon.

That was a year ago, and things have not changed. There has not been a fight for the green cup in a year. Calvin still prefers green, and Gozer still prefers red. Brainwashing works. I’m fairly certain Calvin has used the same methods on me, but I just… can’t… think…

Tune in tomorrow, when I will tell the story of how a lawyer in our church congregation approached my husband and asked if he could pre-sign Calvin to be his CEO in 18 years.

I don’t feel awake in the morning until I have been running. It’s an addiction, and one that I enjoy. I’m ruminating over the idea of committing to a half marathon this summer. There are two very popular ones in my area in August, and I have done them both before, two weeks apart. Since coming back to running after a full year, I have been remembering how hard it is to start, but the enjoyment far outweighs the pain. And since I know the pain will go away, but the enjoyment won’t, things are looking good. Maybe I could start with some 5ks in April and May, then move on to 10ks in June and July. That seems doable. This is a stupid post, but who cares? I can’t stop thinking about running.

I think I would choose the Hobble-Creek 1/2 marathon over the Provo River. Hobble Creek is much milder in the downhills, and is not at popular. Provo River has thousands of people, and those first 3 miles down South Fork Canyon are so stinking steep. I sort of killed my knee on it 2 years ago, which is why my Hobble Creek time was 20 minutes slower than my Provo River time. Well, I guess it was pretty stupid of me to run them so close together, but I still liked them both.

I almost salivate at the thought of those runs. This morning I ran 7 whole minutes, at a 9:30 pace. So sad, but so much better than none. I’m trying so hard to be careful and not go out too fast. The 10 % rule has got to be pretty important when it’s been so long. Except for muscle memory, it’s the same thing as starting out in the very beginning. So I’m making little tiny goals every week that are gains of only 10 % in duration per week. That means that next Saturday’s long run will be only 8 minutes. OK, I’m not being totally strict, since 10 % of 7 minutes is only 42 seconds. I think it will be fine.

Calvin went through a period where he would only eat things that started with “ch.” Cheese, chicken, Cheerios, cherries, Cheetos, chocolate. Some of those weren’t exactly my first picks, as far as teaching my child healthy eating habits.

Gozer ate everything that was edible from the time he figured out how to masticate. He eschewed the puree, though, so I had to give him solid food from the beginning. But he was really non-discriminating as to what variety of solids he was offered. In fact, he would hyperventilate and start to wail if anyone had the gall to eat in front of him and not share. Sometimes he got himself a bowl of salsa, because I was too afraid to give him the chips, what with the lack of teeth. He happily ate his salsa. Pretty soon, everything was salsa. Including maple syrup. Can I have some salsa on my pancakes? Then, everything became syrup, or see-bop. Can I have some see-bop on my tater tots?

Gozer was the perfect child. He slept 21 hours a day from birth, went to bed awake and waved at me, slept through the night at 2 months, sucked his little thumb so he never cried, and ate everything I ever gave him. Then, when he turned 2, he somehow decided there would be no more vegetables or fruit for him. I didn’t really press the issue, thinking it would last only a few days. Ha, ha. He will be 3 in three months. I have discovered a few preparations that he will eat, and a few ways to trick him. This is helpful, since Calvin needs tricking too.

Almost any vegetable is improved greatly in flavor and texture with a thorough roasting. Fingerling potatoes are the current favorite, with olive oil, salt, and dried rosemary, since my rosemary in the garden froze to death a few degrees back. Cauliflower undergoes a marvelous transformation when roasted. Instead of being disgusting and smelly, it becomes nearly as addictive as french fries. I am not kidding. My boys start begging for it the second it is out of the oven. The burn their little tongues and beg for more. Winter squash is also sweet and lovely when roasted. Acorn squash can be sliced horizontally to make cute flowers, and the skin is even edible.

I have discovered lately that I love greens. Chard, collards, kale, etc. I chop up ruby chard and saute it in olive oil, then put it in a frittata, which Gozer calls “pie.” We have pie for dinner all the time, with a side of roasted potatoes or cauliflower.

A good way to get some spinach into them is to make a soup of yellow split mung beans with some ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions, and chopped spinach. Serve it over rice, add curry powder or cayenne pepper for the husband, and they love it. In fact, my two love just about any form of beans and rice, so I have lots of variations on the theme. Lentil and rice soup with Italian sausage (and carrots and celery), Black beans with cumin and coriander, Mexican style, maybe with some cheese on top.

That said, I am always open to new and inspiring ways of getting kids to eat their veggies. Any ideas?

We have liftoff. The bribery paid off, even if it is for just a little while. My 2 1/2 year old son, who calls himself Michael, (after the younger brother in “Peter Pan.” I prefer to call him Gozer the Gozerian, he’s so full of surprises) just did the deed in the proper receptacle. It’s been months since he has been aware of the functions of elimination, but he has flatly and vociferously refused to try the toilet. Even while he’s in the bath and needs to go.

Well, this morning, after having drilled it into him that he will be rewarded with M&Ms, he began the dance. He twirled, ran in circles, jumped up and down, grabbed his Buggy (the blanket crocheted for Derek by his Grandmother when he was born 28 years ago, none the worse for wear, except the one corner that is his current favorite, which he unravelled the other day, and which is also an alarming shade of grey) and sucked his thumb with abandon, all while yellling, “I don’t want to! I don’t want to! No, no, no!” I finally just picked him up, transported him to the bathroom, shooed Calvin and T-man (who were playing in there with the space shuttle. ???), and plunked him on the toilet. Within seconds, it was all over. He hugged me, I hugged him. We called Derek. There was much rejoicing.

You are gopher launch. Just in case anyone was wondering. That’s what the boys are currently saying about the space shuttle. They missed their cue by about 15 minutes.

So I think I have finally been cured of the damage done by a neighbor a few years ago. She insisted I read the book “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. I read it and thought a lot about the problems of rewards as opposed to intrinsic motivation. I have been reluctant to use any sort of reward when dealing with my children, including praise. My mind has been changed through lots of thought, as well as additional reading of other parenting books. My current favorite is “Christlike Parenting,” by Dr. Glenn Latham. He talks about showing your kids how to behave through example and love. Dr. Latham advocates positive reinforcement for good behavior, rather than punishment for bad behavior. His method requires greater self-control that I am good at, but I am willing to try to improve my approach. He teaches that children should be allowed to exercise their moral agency, and to reap the benefits or suffer the natural conseqences of their actions. Priviledges are gained or lost, depending on those choices. Just like in the real world.

Which one of us does not act based upon known rewards or consequences? We go to work to reap the benefit of a paycheck. We change the oil in the car so it won’t break. We exercise so people will tell us we look good. Or maybe so we will feel good. We go to church so we can learn to be better people, so we can get to Heaven. Isn’t that the basic model of our lives? We believe in rewards.

I just hope I can keep myself from stealing Gozer’s M&Ms.

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