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Snowy Day

February 27, 2011


We had a small snow storm this last week. Well, “storm” is really a relative term, since any snow here in Portland is considered a big deal. We barely received an inch on our side of town but I will have to admit that it was exciting. Sitting inside, watching it fall, seeing our yard and garden covered in a lovely white blanket was something that just warmed my heart and made me feel a true sense of home.

While some may share my feelings on this, many find it a bit silly. See, I am South American by birth, Southern Californian by up bringing and a true lover of all things warm. But it was many years ago that I slowly found myself yearning for cold. The sense of what it meant, to be warmed by something other than the sun and sand and to have to try to make a coziness last for the family intrigued me. I decided, at a young age, that I wanted to live somewhere where there would be seasons changing, to be able to truly experience all that the year brings to us.

This brings me back to our small snow storm. Watching my son watching the snow fall, seeing him try to understand what it was and what it meant was like seeing it for the first time for me. Having him play, tromp and fall in it, picking it up in a mittened hand and attempting to taste it, it all brought me the joy of seeing him learn to love nature, love the seasons and hopefully, enjoy the snow.

And then, we went back inside to share a bit of hot cocoa, warm up by the fire (which he learned the word for that day too!!) and watched the snow fall some more. We shared the experience and learned that even a little bit of snow is enough to learn and love and get our fill.

 

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Coffee Cookies

February 23, 2011


It has recently dawned on me that we all have a sacred place, a serene and calming locale where we go to feel reacquainted with ourselves. For me, this place is my kitchen. It is the place we enter into our home,  the first glimpse of warmth and homecoming, filled with comfort and usually something proofing, baking or simmering away. In my kitchen I feel safe, and when I am in need of nourishment (whether emotionally or physically) it is here that I seek my comforts.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself in one of these wandering moments, in need of something to bake but not needing to finish any necessary items at the time. I had found this recipe in a vintage cookbook I checked out from the library many years ago, wrote it on an index card and stashed away for a future bake-off.  I wish I could tell you where it came from, but I have lost that information many years ago.

I pulled this out and felt myself day dreaming away as I mixed ingredients. I wondered who made this recipe, where it came from, why they added the ingredients they did. I dreamed the recipe away, mixing coffee and sugars wondering how this little simple list of ingredients would turn out to be.

I have to say they were wonderful. I hope you enjoy this one as much as our family has – even the little guy has loved gnawing on them as he toddles around the house.

Coffee Crisps

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup hot coffee

1 tsp baking soda

2 3/4 cups flour

Dissolve baking soda in hot coffee. Mix molasses, sugar, butter and coffee together until blended. Gradually add flour until a dough forms. Roll thin and cut out with a juice glass or biscuit cutter. Bake at 375 for 14 minutes. Cool on a  wire rack.

Grateful

February 22, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for health. I supposed this is one of those things we take for granted when we have it, yet would give anything for when we don’t.  We toast to it, drink to it, wish for it, pray for it, and more often than not try everything we can to get it.

As many of you know, my little boy has had many ear infections which caused problems with his weigh gain and growth. We have not had a positive check-up in thirteen months, not once have we been given an all clear. Today was the day at the Ear Doctor’s office – today was that day I have been hoping for for over a year.

As I played blocks with him this afternoon I marveled at the little boy who, since his December tubes surgery, has grown an inch and a half, gained about three pounds and has grown into a whole new size clothing. He has also had four teeth come in and I can see two more pushing through. He has been busy, this little trooper, with growing and speaking and running and catching up to where he was supposed to be.

Yes, tonight this Momma is grateful for health. Grateful for the little things we take for granted everyday like hugs and kisses and being able to hear. I hope all Mommas with kids who hurt or are ill get a chance to feel this feeling of gratefulness at having a healthy child.

Sourdough Bread

February 20, 2011


I wrote about starting a sourdough starter about two weeks ago, sharing my high hopes for my newest project. Well, after many, many feedings and much anticipation, here it is! I finished off the first loaves two nights ago and am currently making another batch for Sunday Family Dinner tonight.

I have to share that I before the loaves were baked I wondered if this was really worth all the effort. The very first starter has to be started two weeks before you can bake, then the night before you have to make a leaven and various other steps. I wondered if my end results would really be that spectacular, or if it would be something I would repeat.

My answer is YES. The flavor of the sourdough was comparable to any bakery made loaf: chock full of holes, crispy crust and amazing sour taste. I will say that the first loaf was half gone before the second was out of the oven (they only take forty minutes to bake!) and every person that has tasted it agrees that it is amazing.

Since bread is the food of life and feeds our family as well as our souls, I have decided the bread is a staple in this family. Once your starter is ready to bake, you can feed it everyday (it becomes habit, really) and bake a loaf every day if needed. I am so proud of my bread and the whole process to make it. It really is worth the time and effort to know you, yourself, can make a loaf as fantastic as any bakery’s.

The recipe came from Martha Stewart Living, January 2011 issue and it is the Tartine Country Bread. This is the recipe I followed but found some flaws in it for my style and climate in my kitchen.

Sourdough Country Bread

Starter:

1135 grams Bread Flour

1135 grams Whole Wheat Flour

455 grams lukewarm water

 

Per Feeding :

150 grams flour blend

100 grams lukewarm water ( you might need 50 grams more)

 

Now, I know this seems like an excessive amount of flour and a whole long list of ingredients, but trust me, it is spread out over two weeks and it is worth it.

You start out by mixing the 1135 grams of each flour and reserving this blend. You will use this to feed the starter for the next two weeks. The starter is made by mixing 315 grams of flour blend with 455 grams lukewarm water with your hands till it is a thick lumpfree batter. You use your hands to get any wild yeast off them. Cover with a tea towel and let sit in a cool dark spot until bubbles form – about three days.

Feeding: at the same time everyday, remove 75 grams of starter and discard the rest. Mix 150 grams of flour blend with the starter and 100 grams of water. It should be a thick lump free batter, so add a little more water if needed. I need 50 more grams of water for mine. Repeat these feeding for 15-20 days until the starter rises and fall predictably with each feeding.

 

Leaven:

200 grams lukewarm water

1 tablespoon starter

100 grams bread flour

100 grams whole wheat flour

The night before you wish to bake, take 1 tablespoon of starter and discard the rest. Feed with 200 grams flour blend and 200 grams warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit for 10 to 16 hours in a cool dark place. You will know the leaven is ready to use when a spoonful dropped into a bowl of water floats. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to mature. It should change smell from sour and ripe to sweet and fermented.

Bread:  (makes 2 loaves)

750 grams lukewarm water

200 grams starter

900 grams bread flour

100 grams whole wheat flour

20 grams salt

(Save the leftover leaven since this is the beginning of a new starter)

Pour 700 grams of warm water in a large bowl and add 200 grams of leaven. Whisk to dissolve. Add the flours and mix with your hands until a ball forms. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams of water and fold over itself to incorporate.  Let rest, covered for 30 minutes.

Now you can start the bulk fermentation. At first I thought this was silly, but it gives the bread an amazing texture and airiness. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours by wetting a hand and grabbing the underside of the dough and pulling it up and over itself. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Each fold should have 2 or 3 times per fold. It is really quite easy even if it sounds complex.

After the 3 hours the dough should feel airy and softer and be about 20-30% bigger.

Pull the dough out of the container onto a floured board. Dust the top lightly with flour and cut into two pieces using a dough scraper or knife. Work each dough until it is a nice taut round ball. Dust top of balls with flour, cover and let rest for 20- 30 minutes.

Once rested, line two bowls with tea towels and dust generously with flour (I forgot to do this and it WILL stick!). Gently pick up dough balls and place each in bowls, flour side down. Let rise, covered with a towel for 3- 4 hours. Go have a glass of wine.

Twenty minutes before you’re ready to bake, heat the over to 500 degrees with the rack at the lowest position and place a dutch oven or cast iron pot inside. Turn first loaf into hot dutch oven and score with razor blade or sharp knife. Cover with lid and reduce heat to 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  Carefully remove lid and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes more.

Transfer loaf to wire rack to cool. Allow to cool (if you can!) for at least 15 minutes before cutting. It should feel light and sound hollow when tapped.

To bake second loaf, reheat oven to 500 and place lid on pot to heat up and repeat baking steps.

Cozy Days

February 16, 2011


We don’t get many snowy days around these parts. There are many rainy, wet days. We have foggy, soggy, puddle jumping days, but snow is a hard to come by element in the Pacific Northwest. Imagine my happiness this morning when Rudie called out, SNOW!!!

My heart racing, I ran to the window to watch it. Gerhard also ran to the window and gave me a look of wonder as to what that white stuff was. We cuddled up and watch the snow fall for a little while before heading out to storytime.

Although I grew up in Southern California (where snow is an even rarer commodity than it is here!), winter weather has always fascinated me. Being cozy by the fire with loads of cocoa, tea and hand-made goodies, winter weather brings out the home in all of us. The care we take in creating a warming environment for our loved ones, the time we take to make sure our little ones are bundled, mittened and scarfed shows the warmth of our souls, the fire of our hearts.

Unfortunately the snow did not last today, but the cold did. It was chilly enough for us to cuddle up and get warmed by the hearth fire while Gerhard and I read books in the afternoon. And now? Now I am next to my beloved fire, knitting away on husband’s scarf for next winter. Yes, my toes are toasty, there is a peanut butter graham cracker coming my way and I am a happy Pea.

Playing in the Dirt

February 14, 2011


The rain is back here in Portland, and I am rather happy about it. We have had several weeks of lovely sunshine these last few weeks but I am happy to get some rain and water my beloved gardens. Rudie and I are currently dreaming of our gardens, dreaming of digging in the dirt, spreading manure, tilling, fertilizing and getting it all ready for a long, glorious summer of outdoor dining and living.

In the spirit of the coming spring, we spent the afternoon planting and repotting various plants and getting our seeds started. I am so happy to get my nails dirty (even if I just polished them!) and get my plants groomed up and looking fresh. I replanted my Gardenia which lives on my kitchen counter by my sink. I love this plant, I was gifted it when it was just a little thing with three leaves and now it has grown into a leggy, gorgeous shining plant. I planted it into a larger pot, added fresh dirt and topped it off with some vanilla bean mulch.

Now, if you have never heard of vanilla bean mulch I highly suggest you find some at a high end nursery: it is the most amazing smells, finely shredded mulch and lends my kitchen a fresh homey smell of vanilla.

Since both of us love to cook, I gifted Rudie a package of Saffron Crocus a year or so ago and finally got them all planted up. I am hopefully for beautiful blooms with wonderful saffron stamens for cooking!  They don’t look like much now, but I am optimistic.

Rudie finally planted up his heated seed tray with various eclectic seeds for things we really can’t find in our local nursery. Peruvian peppers, thai chiles, exotic basils, ghost chilies, eggplants, melons, tabbacco and a few I can’t remember.

Yes, we are dreaming of spring this late winter. Dreaming of lusciousness green leaves, fresh picked vegetables and amazing flowers.

Around the yard

February 11, 2011


In our little home, there are many mouths to feed. Every mouth thinks it is the most important, each one demanding its moment in the sun for care, nurturing, grooming and love. One whines, the other cries, another scratches, and many more rally for attention as the days move from wintery frost to spring time rains and budding trees. 

We try our best to give each creature their due attention in a timely manner. We do not wish for anyone to feel ignored, unwanted or neglected. We feed and cuddle and stroke and love each one in their due time, and in return we have happiness.

As this winter begins to turn into spring we have signs of wellbeing from the care we give. Plants are budding, trees are swelling, shoots are sprouting and hens are laying.

These are the moment when our love really pays off. These are the beginnings of life reaffirmed, of the world waking up once more.

 

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