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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.

Sunday recreation

I am continuing my efforts in baking bread today. Sunday is a great day to tackle a piece-by-piece recipe like bread; it allowed me to have the house smelling wonderful and still manage to get laundry done and vacuum and dust.

This time I tackled a rye bread recipe. I do have Scandinavian roots, and rye is a grain that flourishes in Northern climates. It also has health benefits over wheat breads, and so is supposed to be a good carb choice. (Just in case you were feeling any guilt about enjoying a slice. ) A rye sourdough is on my list as well, since that will offer even more benefits and a more unique taste.

It’s interesting that with all the data now on the Internet, you can search for the “best” whatchamacallit you’re looking for. If a lot of people have tried out something and recommended it, that gives a bit more background than just a simple reference to material. I’m hoping this recipe for Best German Rye Bread lives up to its title. I won’t list it as best because this is my first shot at trying rye, so I’ll reserve judgement. I’ve listed it as “Rye Bread” and I adapted the recipe with a bit more rye flour and making it only one loaf.

rye-bread-collage

This bread was easy to work. It is also very tasty, light in texture but full of flavour. My only complaint is more about my equipment than the recipe. You see, we have a large standing mixer. It works great for my hubby, who is a private chef, but for me it’s almost always bigger than I need. In other needs, I’m not making enough for it to work well. But those are first world problems, aren’t they? When I started cooking and logging recipes, I had no electric equipment at all; even my beater was a hand-held model that ran on “arm-strong” power.

That said, bread is the kind of thing that seems to respond well to machines, but it is a soulful food. Working it by hand is cooking at its essence, some say. I do find a peace in making it.

 

 

 

Pause-café

Sundays are my favourite day of the week. I love the relaxing decadence of a day devoted to good things, family and best friends. After all, have you ever heard anyone speak of  Monday brunch or Tuesday dinner? We gather on Sunday like no other day. It is a day to share and capture those treasured moments we look back on.

Sundays are my big day for coffee, because I devote the time to sit and enjoy it. In French “pause-café sounds more elegant than a coffee break, and it seems to demand attention.  I am a morning person so I don’t need caffeine to get going. I like being able to enjoy a cup with breakfast, but most days I’m busy so breakie is a quick bowl of yogurt and fruit. Sunday if I have the time  it’s fresh coffee, a hot breakfast with my man.  Then another cup of coffee and a chance to catch up on good news with CBS Sunday Morning with my furry girl. I’ve been watching the show since I was a kid and my Dad and I enjoyed it together. (A shout out to now-retired but always loved host, Charles Osgood, for his birthday today!)

In a world where Mach speed seems the norm, the lazy pace of Sundays should be lauded and preserved. So lean back, put your feet up and snuggle in next to a loved one. You are logging quality time, remember.

P.S. For those who read my post yesterday, the bread turned out great! I’m writing out the recipe later today – look for “Whole Wheat Bread” in the recipe archives.

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 🙂

 

Edible Chain Letters

recipe exchange old fashioned

There are many traditions of food with friendship. In today’s age of emails and the Internet, it seems that recipes are shared via Pinterest boards and chat rooms more often than by handwritten recipe cards or passed-on magazine articles. Even recipes can go viral though, especially if there is a good story attached. Have you had one of those emails? Not the prince looking for money, the friend who says they are sharing a famous recipe! What foodie could resist such a claim? Not me 🙂

One email chain out there was for the infamous Neiman Marcus cookie: as the story goes a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it after tasting it at a Neiman Marcus department store café was charged $250. As revenge, she sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I ever received. This story has been around for a number of years and when I looked into it as an urban legend I discovered variations of it have been floating around for about 50 years, using different recipes and different companies. (There was one published in a cookbook in the 1950’s that told of someone being charged the exorbitant fee of $25 for a fudge cake recipe!) Neiman-Marcus-Chocolate-Chip-CookiesThe attraction of course, is that we get to stick up for the little guy and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time, not to mention eating cookies. The Neiman Marcus story is not true, by the way. There is a recipe though. If you’re interested, the Neiman Marcus cookie is not all that unique, but feel free to try a batch – you can eat for free nowadays.

 

I felt privileged when a person chose me as one of the friends who would receive this prized recipe. I became part of an inner circle, and then I could share the wealth with other friends too. It’s amazing that food can be a symbol of such status, even just with a recipe.

There is another chain, about a friendship cake. This too, is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a loaf recipe is  made with 1 of the 4 cups of the dough. You keep one cup  of the “starter” aside and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake. There are many variations on the history of it, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (this recipe tells how to make the starter and the loaf, with raisins and cinnamon). Amish friendship breadAn elder and authority on Amish history was asked about the origin of this recipe and she replied that the tradition was simply to share bread or sourdough starter with those less fortunate or sick. It seems the idea of passing it to a friend simply to honour the friendship was just an extension of that gesture.

I know that many people in this day and age don’t have time 10 days in a row to make a sourdough starter. Many people don’t eat certain things so likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake recipe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share. The fact that we take the time to send the e-mail says something, doesn’t it? People used to send “care packages” of food by snail mail but you can’t send food through the internet waves. I guess this is just the latest iteration of us trying to still be friends. You can live without friends, but who would want to? One of my favourite childhood authors said it best:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival.
– C. S. Lewis

Whether you use one of these edible chain letters or you just drop by with a bit of something, I think the gesture of sharing something homemade does retain a certain special quality. Friendship is about sharing; it is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life. (The best part is, your friends will still sit by you, even if what you cook is not that great!)

 

 

 

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