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The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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A Taste of Place 

We had the good fortune of a day off this past weekend and so we took full advantage. It’s a bit early to celebrate the bounty of the region but we did our best. 

The best place to start is you want a taste of fresh local food is a farmers market. My favourite in our region is the Penticton market, a sprawling conglomeration of farm booths, food trucks, craft vendors and even a bit of kitsch. Being able to wander Main Street amongst the families with dogs and children while being serenaded by the many buskers along the way is a special experience. I love the chance to enjoy my coffee in a ceramic mug too – local roasters Cherry Hill offer freshly brewed java and you just deposit the mug in one of the bins they provide en route.

I brought my travel mug this time, but another great environmental gesture is their innovative “stir sticks” – biodegradable and low cost!

There is plenty of sustenance to be had – we each got a muffin from Brodo Kitchen and some fresh-picked strawberries (“picked last night” he told us). The fruit galette we got at Joy Road Catering we wanted to save for later, but we also could have munched on Thai food, crepes, tacos, or any one of a myriad of pastry choices. 

This early in the summer the fruits and veggies are not as plentiful of course. However there are plenty of booths offering flower bouquets, homemade preserves, honey, eggs, and even frozen meat from the farm. 

There is something both strong and delicate about fresh seasonal blossoms….

These guys weren’t kidding – you can take home your own guava tree! How cool is that?


Another wing of the market has crafts and artistic products as well as goods sold by what I call “hawkers”. These items are no so much “as seen on TV”, as they are nifty inventions or natural alternatives for household or body maintenance. I feel like I’m at the county fair when I walk this section; it’s entertaining. 

I thought this artist’s commentary was well done – sometimes we don’t recognize just how much heart and soul goes into someone’s creative efforts.


This fellow might be working to expand his demographic- he offers bat boxes for the adventurous, bird houses for the artsy folk, and even redneck bird feeders!

 

Once we had our fill of the market fun, we mosied up the road for some wine. After all, when in Rome – or wine country … We didn’t have much time but I had pre-ordered some wines in the spring. I took a bunch of scenic photos and a few pages of notes, so that will be in a soon-to-be released post. 

Here’s hoping you make time to taste the flavours of where you are this weekend. 

Easter is a wonderful occasion

There is so much about Easter that is beautiful. It is truly a turning point. Spring has sprung and there is new life bounding in the fields with baby animals and new plants. Lent has ended and Easter Sunday is a day of feasting, with chocolate and sweet breads and a groaning table of delicacies, shared with family and friends.

Here at Rabbit Hollow, family is over the mountains and most of our friends are across many miles (some are even on the other side of an ocean). As such, we give thanks for their love and toast their good health and happiness. We always have a feast of our own – this year our homemade “Lamb Jam” and garden beets pickled with star anise were well suited for the succulent lamb chops my hubbie prepared

Cheers to Cedar Creek Winery – their Platinum Malbec was delicious with the tangy plum chutney and beets that accompanied the lamb.

with roasted asparagus and market potato wedges. And then there are the extras…

  • I wanted to do some baking, so bunny cookies were the order of the day. I used Anna Olsen’s cardamom sugar cookies as an inspiration. My tweaked version of her recipe will be added to the archives this week, under Easter Bunny Cookies.

  • we were spoiled by a certain motherly figure who used modern technology to contact our favourite pastry chef, Sandrine. Dessert was the perfect end to the holiday weekend.

The background doesn’t do it justice but the Paris-Brest was divine, and the chocolate mousse cake was perfectly decadent


I have to admit, it was a bit lonely visiting the market by myself this weekend and baking cookies alone in the kitchen; not to mention hunting for chocolate eggs all by my lonesome self (well, except for Ella’s help). However, I am truly grateful to know I have such wonderful friends across the world. Thanks to technology I was able to chat online with many of them, and I hope to see them soon.

I hope you shared love as well as chocolate this weekend. Here’s to a new season, full of sunshine and good feelings.

Even Ella and her new stuffie were popped after a hard day of hunting and baking. There was nothing left to do but bask in the sun…

Breaking Bread

I love a Sunday when I can do homey things. There is something especially satisfying about sitting down Sunday night knowing I worked in the garden or did the laundry or baked something.

Needless to say, with snowflakes drifting down most of today I didn’t get to work in the garden, but the other things got checked off the list.I don’t imagine you want to hear about the laundry, so I’ll tell you about the baking.

I love baking. Baking has more instant gratification than cooking. Often cooking means organizing an entire meal, and that encompasses a number of skills. You usually have everyone ready to eat at once, and you might have to deal with different preferences. Baked goods might be part or even the end to a meal with everyone at the table enjoying them, but most often they are enjoyed more spur of the moment, and over time. I started baking as a youngster, and it is still dear to my heart.

Today I decided that bread would be just the thing to warm the house with cozy aromas. I used to be afraid of making bread – the wild nature of yeast was overwhelming, and the time it took was stressful (I never knew until it was too late if I did a good job). A few years ago I decided to conquer my fear, through the best method I know – jumping in with both feet.  I went from baking biscuits to baking whole wheat loaves, sourdough, rye and even a Rosemary Pecan Bread. I will admit I had some less than stellar results at the beginning, but now I seem to have found my rhythm. (Streaming oldies while I knead the dough helps a lot.)

This Sunday I made a sweet bread I had tagged in an issue of Saveur magazine from last winter. I love Scandinavian sweet breads with their aromatic spices, and I liked the design of the loaf  with cuts made to create a design. I love the transformation and surprise of a loaf that shows its wonders as it bakes. It seems to exemplify the expression, “breaking bread”.

I wanted to tweak the spices a bit as my hubbie isn’t a huge fan of cardamom, so I added some complexity to the filling. I also decided to use decorating sugar; the original recipe called for pearl sugar, but I find it’s more like gravel than anything tasty.

Mine didn’t look quite like the one in the magazine, but I was happy with it. The slice I took as it cooled was just the right amount of sweet, spongy and heartwarming. My Sweet Spice Bread was the perfect way to end a Sunday afternoon.

The Staff of Life

Baking bread is such a comforting activity. It’s a thoughtful process, a hands-on activity, a food meant for sharing… and it smells really good in the oven. Today as I took down the Christmas decorations I wanted to produce something, have a positive counterpart to the melancholy of packing up the lights and love of the holidays. Baking bread seemed to be the right kind of heart-and-kitchen-warming activity, integral to a happy day.

I could have just googled a recipe or checked my Yummly list, but I wanted something more tangible. I have no shortage of cookbooks, so I checked the older volumes for a real stand-by. I was rewarded when I opened “Cooking with Mona“, a book my Dad gave me that contained recipes from Woodward’s, a Canadian department store that had wonderful food floors. It had a straight-forward whole wheat bread recipe – just the thing!

daddys-cookbook-dedication

I measured. I mixed, I stirred, I kneaded… and then I waited. I punched, I kneaded again, I rolled and tucked… and waited again. I baked, and smelled… and waited a bit more. (I did peek in the oven window a couple of times.) I knocked, I tipped and I smelled some more. Then I gave myself a high five. Fresh homemade bread for breakfast – I can’t wait! (Once I taste the bread and confirm it’s as good as it smells, I’ll post the recipe link.)bread-rising

bread-bakingbread-freshly-made

 

My Dad might have frowned today if he saw me vacuuming the tinsel off the tree before I took the lights off (my mom saved it and put it back in the boxes to re-use when I was a kid). I think he would have smiled at my bread though. Another happy memory 🙂

 

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