Sunday, October 30, 2016


I am really ready for this election to be over, assuming everything goes my way of course.  I’m really tired of the endless ads, etc., and the evidence of their pervasiveness is this:  Owen was playing with his superhero figures the other day and I heard him say:  “I am batman, and I approve this message!”  Ha!

I won’t have pictures until sometime in November, so I decided if I can’t give you photo breaks, I’ll at least give you bullets:

·         I made my third loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread last Saturday and it turned out well.  Now I’m going to move on to trying out a bread cloche I got for Christmas many years ago and forgot about.  It’s a large and heavy piece of pottery that is supposed to be good for making a peasant loaf.

·         And can I give a shout out now to King Arthur Flour?!  They are the best company.  I used their hotline the other day when I was having trouble with my bread dough, and then more recently I sent them a question in an email, because the only specific recipe I had for the bread cloche called for all white flour, which I didn’t want to use.  They got back to me within 24 hours with the proportions of wheat or rye flour I can use instead.  They have great customer service!

·         We went apple picking on Sunday and I have some cute photos which I shall have to add later.  We had to journey pretty far into the orchard to find trees with apples still on them – note to self: don’t wait until the end of October to pick your apples.  But we came home with a large box of apples and I immediately made some whole wheat apple muffins, which turned out well although I seem to be the only one in the family who is eating them.  So that is 2 apples down, about 48 to go!  I need to get my mother’s apple sauce recipe, and I think I’ll make Smitten Kitchen’s breakfast apple crisp again.

·         Owen is a Hillary supporter, of course, and Susan informed me that at Target the other day he was telling anyone who’d listen that we need to Dump the Trump.  That’s my boy!  It reminded me of the story my sister Martha tells about my nephew Henry at 5 years old lecturing 3 year-old Georgia about not shopping at Walmart because, as he screamed in her surprised face, THEY ARE MEAN TO THEIR WORKERS!  Sounds about right.

·         The weather this October has been very Jekyll/Hyde.  We had several days in the eighties last week (very odd) and now it is the low fifties (more like it).  One feels a bit battered by it all.

·         I can never get Owen to talk to me about what he did in nursery school usually.  The only time he gets very animated about it is when reporting on another kid’s transgressions.  Yesterday he told me three times that Brayden had to sit on the time-out bench for hitting the teacher.  The time out bench, in case you are wondering, is blue.  And Owen, according to Owen, has never had to sit on that bench.  Let’s keep it that way.

·         Sean and I are both completely smitten with the British TV show “The Detectorists”.  There are two seasons available on Netflix and it is a complete gem.  We both watch each episode with goofy grins on our faces.  It is so funny!  And so well-done.  I’m adding it to my list of the best TV shows ever, after Buffy, Star Trek:TNG, and Sex and the City.  How about that for an eclectic pairing?

·         I got Luisa Weiss’s (The Wednesday Chef) much anticipated new cookbook last week, Classic German Baking.  It’s a beauty, but I realized upon eagerly paging through it that I didn’t want to so much cook the items myself, as be served them all, one after the other.  Any takers?  I do plan to attempt many items, slowly.  I hadn’t realized there was a difference between European and American butter, but there is – and guess which one is better?!  Luckily, one can get Irish Kerrygold butter at Trader Joe’s, which should do the trick.  There’s also yeast differences, vanilla extract differences, and the fact that a main ingredient in some German concoctions, quark, is not readily available here.  Plus I’m not sure where to buy fresh poppy seeds, and do I really need a poppy seed grinder?  The jury is still out.

Bread, Second Attempt

I decided for my next attempt at a loaf of whole wheat bread I would try a King Arthur flour recipe that received rave reviews online.  The ingredients were a little bit odd – nonfat dry milk, instant potato flakes, orange juice, amongst others – but I trust King Arthur’s.

On Saturday then I mixed the ingredients together and set my old kitchenaid mixer to kneading, and the dough – instead of looking like a ball – looked like streusel topping.  It was very frustrating!  It would go together in a ball when I pushed it so with my hands, but the minute the dough hook started kneading it again it would return to its streusel format.  Owen came into the kitchen at this point, because he likes to share in the anger.  I roared; he roared.  I stamped my foot; he stamped his.  I called my mother and she did not answer her phone.  But then I noticed that the recipe had King Arthur’s baking hotline number printed on it!  How convenient!

I called it and talked to a nice woman who informed me that I measured the flour incorrectly – I scooped instead of spooning the flour into the cup.  Apparently when you scoop you get too much flour in, because it isn’t aerated properly.  She suggested I keep adding tablespoons of water until it came together, and then also to let it sit for thirty minutes so that the whole wheat flour can start breaking down.  I did both and it worked!

While I had her on the phone, I also asked why the recipe seemed to omit the punching down between the two risings – the best part of making bread according to my four year old.  She informed me that one now no longer punches bread dough (alas!) but just releases the air while shaping it into a loaf.

Anyway, it rose beautifully twice and cooked well, and other than having a bit of trouble getting it out of the pan (note to self:  don’t take it literally when instructions say to “lightly grease”), the loaf was quite respectable and tasted delicious.  It was so good, that Owen had a slice as a snack, and even requested it again at dinner, without even needing it to be slathered with butter!

I shall attempt it again – perhaps next Saturday so I can take advantage of the orange juice I bought for my first attempt.  If anyone is interested in trying it, it’s King Arthur Flour’s “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Brisket, Whole Wheat Bread, & Hand Pies

I wrote the below entry a few weeks ago and then when I went to post it I had computer issues which are ongoing and are preventing me from adding pictures.  Alas!  So for the next couple of weeks, there will be no pictures of a cute boy or cute pets pasted throughout.    My laptop is now twelve years old, so I cannot really complain.

Now that Owen is 4, I am finally able to do a bit of cooking on the weekends.  I had forgotten that it is actually fun for me to try new recipes when I do not have a crying toddler attached to my leg or hip.  I organized all my cookbooks and looseleaf recipes and have been very slowly making my way through them.

I decided though to create a fall cooking goal, and it is to become proficient in the random trio of brisket, whole wheat bread, and hand pies.  We’ve been buying brisket on occasion from the smokery that is set up outside of our Whole Foods on the weekends, and it is divine.  I found a recipe for cooking brisket and onions in a slow cooker all day, and shall attempt it soon.

I’ve also been wanting to learn how to make a good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread.  About eight years ago I decided to learn how to cook sourdough bread, which is my favorite, and after about four failures I finally was able to make a respectable loaf.  However, I was living alone at the time and didn’t feel like I could eat enough bread to keep the sourdough starter going, so my breadmaking fell by the wayside.  So I figured this time I would just do whole wheat without the sourdough part of it.

My first attempt this past Saturday was with a Steakhouse-style bread recipe which I got from the good blog Girl Versus Dough.  I got special rye flour from King Arthur and was all ready to go.  And all went well at first.  The dough rose beautifully the first time and Owen got to punch it down.

Then it rose beautifully the second time, and I put it in the oven to cook.  This is where the problems started, because it did not rise during cooking.  I did some google troubleshooting and discovered that this was probably due to the dough forming a bit of a crust during the second rising (it did), and the crust kept it from rising while baking.  To fix this, I could have a) put a pan of water in the oven and/or b) sliced down the top of the loaf.

The bread was good—just very very dense.  And I did like the recipe, which called for rye flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, a cup of dark coffee, and two tablespoons of cocoa!  I would try it again.  My next loaf will be a King Arthur recipe, though, which people rave about on the website.

And then I want to become proficient in the making of handpies – both sweet and savory – because whenever I see pictures of them on Instagram or blogs, they look like the most wonderful thing in the world.  Yet where can one buy a handpie?!  Seemingly nowhere.  So I plan to learn how to make them myself, little red hen me.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Reviews September 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  I had mixed feelings about this book.  It is a modern day rewrite of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and for the first third of it I was basically just grumpy that I wasn’t reading the original.  But then I discovered that if I pictured the main characters as Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, then I could enjoy the book a little more!  Some of the updates are interesting – Lydia elopes with a transsexual, for example, and Mrs. Bennet is a compulsive shopper – but some of the story just doesn’t translate into modern times, particularly the family constraints.  It doesn’t matter today if you have tacky sisters and a stupid mother – that is no longer going to affect your own opportunities.  Sittenfeld is clever though, and the writing isn’t bad.  It’s an entertaining but not mind-blowing read.

Adnan’s Story: The Search For Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry.  If you listened to the podcast, Serial, and enjoyed it, then you should definitely read this book.  Actually even if you didn’t, it is a fascinating – if long – read.  Rabia’s brother, Saad, was Adnan’s good friend, and when Adnan got arrested in 1999, Rabia, who was then in law school, became his advocate.  It was Rabia who brought the case to the attention of Sarah Koenig, who then made theSerial podcast.  Anyway, Rabia puts all the very, very extensive evidence that Adnan Syed is innocent into her book.  I thought he was innocent before I read the book, but I definitely think so after.  She leaves no stone unturned, and once Serial becomes so popular, she gets a lot of help from professionals and others to sift through the transcripts and evidence and follow old leads, etc.  It was one of these helpers who discovered the fax page that has led to the case being reopened.  She shows how the police very early on came up with the theory that it was Adnan and some kind of a Muslim honor killing, and she goes on to prove how very silly and unfounded that theory was.  The police then bent all evidence into fitting that story line, however, and Adnan’s attorney was having major medical problems that people didn’t know about at the time.  Her illnesses made her incompetent.  It’s an often times stressful read – I had to put my kindle down and rage a bit from time to time, and Sean got very tired of me filling him in on outrageous details.  Adnan Syed has been in prison since the age of 17 for a crime he clearly didn’t commit.  Free Adnan!  And please find the real killer of Hae Min Lee.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.  This was an excellent novel and I look forward to reading more books about DS Manon Bradshaw in the future.  Manon is a detective assigned to a missing persons case in Cambridge, England.  Edith Hind, a 22 year-old student, is reported missing by her boyfriend who returns home from a weekend away to find the door to their apartment open and Edith gone, although her purse and phone and coat are all still there.  He calls her parents and the police.  The majority of the book is through the viewpoint of Manon, a 39 year-old woman who is good at her job and not as good in her personal life.  She is in the midst of internet dating and finding the pickings slim.  We also get chapters from the viewpoint of Miriam, Edith’s mother, and also Davy, Manon’s work partner.  The characters are all very well-written and developed and believable, and Steiner does a good job of telling just what is needed without getting overblown in the process.  The case unfolds slowly, and as more time passes, of course, there is less of a chance that Edith will be found safe.  I recommend it!

You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein.  This is a hilarious book of essays, and I often found myself laughing so hard on the train while reading it, that I think I caused a fellow passenger or two to move a few seats farther away from me.  But it is so funny!  Klein is a comedian, and also a writer for Amy Schumer, so of course she is funny, but her writing is quite good too.  She concentrates in this book on her dating experiences, and then once she meets the man she goes on to marry in her late thirties, she writes about their relationship and infertility problems etc.  She has a great eye for detail and is also really adept at the interesting turn of phrase:  I laughed for several days at her description of herself trying on French lingerie in a high-end boutique in Manhattan, looking in the mirror while wearing a thong and saying that she looks like a groundhog wearing a tiny belt.  She pokes fun at herself constantly, yet she also finds the right balance of making serious commentary about relationships and what people go through to find good ones.  I knew she would be funny, but it is seriously an excellent book.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich.  I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, although I think a lot of my problems with it had to do with the fact that it is a work of fiction, yet I kept forgetting that and thinking it was a graphic memoir.  I’m not sure why that caused me irritation, except that it did.  Lena is a woman in her late thirties with two daughters, who has just gotten a divorce and is on her own for the first time ever.  Lena and Anya are Russian immigrants, and Anya writes well about what it is like to have dual identities.  In the course of the book, too, Lena Finkle travels back to Moscow for book tours, and realizes that she cannot truly return.  Much of the first two-thirds of the book are about the different men she meets on an internet dating site.  I feel like the book hit its stride more when she starts dating “The Orphan,” a wealthy heir who lives like a homeless hipster.  One sees that the relationship is not going to last, but Ulinich does a good job of portraying Finkle’s devastation when it ends.  How she does so is also a good example of how graphic novels can perhaps show certain emotions better than words alone:  each time Lena returns to The Orphan to go over why he broke up with her, Ulinich draws her as a duck quacking “But I love you” over and over.

The Woman In Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware.  In general it is a pet peeve of mine when I’m reading a book in which the main character cannot a) sleep, or b) sober up.  It stresses me to the point where I don’t enjoy the book, and it also seems like an easy way out. I’m not saying it isn’t effective in plot advancement, as a sleep-deprived person of course makes bad decisions, but it just is unpleasant being dragged down that path.  Having said that, however, whereas I began being grumpy at this book for precisely the above reasons, I was grudgingly won over by the suspense and the plot.  Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, and has the opportunity to go on a small luxury cruise for copy.  The first night on the boat, she borrows mascara from a woman in the cabin next to hers, and then when she tries to return it, realizes that there is no trace of the woman.  The crew denies that anyone was ever in that room, and the readers and the people in charge on the boat aren’t sure if Lo is telling the truth or if she was muddled from lack of sleep and too much drink.  Lo is stubborn, though, and keeps up her search for this mysterious woman, even when she begins to get frightening threats left in the steam on the mirror while she showers!  The suspense does not let up, and our curiosity and worry is piqued even further by between-section emails Lo’s boyfriend writes about Lo having disappeared herself from the ship.  It’s an excellent read!