53. No Thyme to Waste’s Braided Challah

A few days back, I was having a nostalgic day and decided to bake a loaf of challah. I have no claim to challah’s long history, but in college it was a bread I learned to make in my parents’ bread machine and so whenever I was about to head back to school, I’d make two loaves: one to eat with my family, pulling sections of the braid off with our hands while it was still warm, and the other to slice cool in my college town, accompanied by my roommates or nearby dorm neighbors. The bread seems built for community building: soft, pliable, woven together, and always slightly sweet and eggy.

I found No Thyme to Waste’s recipe for braided challah and was also somewhat enchanted by her blog – it uses the same WordPress theme that I do, but to much greater effect! I’m inspired to include recipe cards with any recipes I make from friends or from a handwritten card – obviously will keep linking to recipes that come from other blogs. I was impressed that it used so much whole wheat flour, and this recipe didn’t disappoint: Husband does not like super whole-grain bread and he thought this was the best loaf I’ve made yet! We ate on it for days, letting it replace store-bought bagels in the morning, toasted with a layer of cream cheese all over it. I didn’t have the seeds to put on top, but otherwise I pretty much stuck with the recipe; I’m learning that it pays to follow the directions with bread.

While I didn’t get to bring any on this road trip with me, I’m hoping to be able to at least prepare a few meals while I’m here visiting with my sister – she’s a much healthier eater than me, but if she let’s me, a loaf of homemade bread might be just what her kitchen needs.

 

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Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

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Do you ever read something, and have it remind you of a good meal? I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and it has me thinking of macaroni and cheese. Sure, there are two foods in the title, but macaroni is thick and creamy, worth lingering over. Her work is by turns sad and sweet, by turns rich and stark.

Niequist is a religious writer, but she makes it a part of her life, not the goal of the book. She seems more interested in showing how food and life have come together for her than in forwarding a particular experience of spirituality, which I find really refreshing and lovely. It also opens me up to all the lovely parts of her religious experience: she’s gotten to marry friends of hers, and share food while discussing the Bible, and pray over those she loves. I don’t know much about her specific beliefs, but I do love that I learn about the foods and the travels and the friends that matter so much to her.

She has some serious thoughts about hospitality, which seem relevant as I’m embarking on my badly-defined quest to know how hospitality fits into modern life. She sees her home as a place that hosts others: even when she and her husband disagree on how warm to keep the place, even when things are awkward or unplanned or not what anyone expected. There’s something so authentic about the way she discusses both her own need to make a lot of experiences good for her guests and her own longing to release some of her unnecessary worries.

I’d recommend it as a winter time read; it has made me feel comforted and warm while I sit in a cold house and nurse a frigid cup of old coffee. It makes me think about how it’s worth it to make a new pot of hot water, to enjoy each bite of a piece of toast, and to write about the way people have made my life so rich and lovely. It’s a good way to feel about a book.

32. C’s Banana Bread

When we were kids, my mom would make banana nut bread that she gave to the neighbors for Christmas. She also made some for us, thankfully, but I remember that while she wouldn’t necessarily stand at the fence and chat for hours with our neighbors, that one time each year she ventured over with foil-wrapped loaves and shared with them. My mother taught me how to have neighbors, which I’m now learning in my own house, in a new city, where that can sometimes be a challenge.

I really don’t know how to make friends with people just because they live next door to me, it turns out. What I do know, however, is that the outside of banana nut bread, when done right, is chewy, not really crunchy or soft but instead almost caramelized. It’s the best part of the bread, though obviously the moist interior is as good or better than any fancy-store muffin or sweet bread you can find.

From my kitchen, I can see my neighbor’s dog tearing around the square of lawn like a banshee. From my kitchen, I can see my other neighbor working on his truck, or another neighbor grilling some dinner. From here, I can take the overly ripe bananas that have somehow survived Husband’s fruit obsession and mash them with other foods, creating the pasty mixture that browns up into that enviable chewy crust. 

This particular recipe isn’t my mother’s; I found one online, substituted pecans for walnuts, and made a brown butter glaze to make sure the top was extra rich. It turned out thick and sturdy, able to hold up in a toaster, and because I had only one banana ready, I added applesauce and so it’s a two-fruit treat.

C’s Banana Bread

2 Bananas, very ripe (or one banana and one little single-serving tub of applesauce)

2 Eggs, large

1 1/3 cups All-purpose flour

1/4 tsp Baking powder

1/2 tsp Baking soda

3/4 tsp Salt, fine grain

2/3 cup Sugar

1/2 cup Pecans

5 1/3 tbsp Butter, unsalted

Combine sugar and butter; cream together. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix the baking powder, baking soda, and flour in a separate bowl. Add slowly while stirring to the butter mixture. Mash bananas and add with the pecans to the mixture; put into a loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

 

If you want to brown butter, here’s a technique to use; I added sugar to mine once it was done, to make a glaze, but I just eyeballed it and would suggest you do the same. http://www.thekitchn.com/basic-techniques-how-to-brown-77018

Food Memory: Quiet Time at Soup-remacy

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Conferences inspire a somewhat-unnatural efficiency in me – I want to see as much as possible, with the time spent in only the most useful ways. I’m the opposite of a smell-the-roses  gal when I’m also trying to learn for graduate school or work. One time, though, in Indianapolis, I happened to be headed back to the hotel for a lunch break, thinking I’d probably eat a protein bar and catch up on email, when I saw Soupremacy. It was a long narrow restaurant, and sure enough, it mostly sold soup. The lunch special was 3 small bowls of soup, you pick, with a hunk of bread big enough to dip in them all. I got a potato bacon soup, a tomato bisque, and a curried squash soup, all of which brought the warmth back into me. I know it’s technically possible to snarf soup down quickly, but the hot creamy soups at Soupremacy beckoned me to slow down, or risk spilling all over my business casual clothes. Soup is nice like that – I felt less lonely despite slowing and hearing my own thoughts as I looked out on the busy street.

Banana Blueberry Walnut Bread!

I make a lot of fruity quick breads; still, I was trying to find something breakfasty on Pinterest and came across this beauty, and was inspired to get to baking. Husband and I just tested out the bike I got at a local flea market, and I was the good kind of tired that makes you want to eat something with great gusto but eat, you know, something sorta good for you.

When I surveyed my ingredients, I had two bananas thawing from being frozen (it’s my last ditch effort to save them if they are about to go bad and I don’t want to just eat them), 1 fresh banana and a bag of dried blueberries. I first put a bit of butter on the walnuts and put them into the oven to roast up – I just like fruit-and-nut bread better when the nuts are roasted. Then I prepared the bread, realizing in the middle that I did not have the egg I needed – so in went a small tub of applesauce. In my opinion, applesauce works for consistency of the bread once it’s cool but it binds less well than egg overall and thus results in an intensely crumbly bread when it first comes out. If you have more patience then me, applesauce is a great addition, but I want a slice of the deliciousness as soon as it is cool enough to touch, so I was eating it with a fork.

Husband and I both agreed that its hard to beat bread with so many fruits and nuts in it, and the quantities of flour and sugar were really quite modest; much of the sweetness and substance of the loaf comes from the fruit itself. The blueberries were what really made it, though – I only really associate blueberries with muffins and bagels, but in this loaf form, they provided a good counterbalancing tang to the sweet bread and the savory walnuts. 10/10, would eat whole loaf if I could, but instead eat one piece each morning with my coffee. 🙂

When it’s too much, do something else.

I used to babysit for my friend S’s six-month-old child. The baby was a generally pleasant little guy, but when tired or if startled, he could get into cycles of sadness. Like so many of us, he immediately focused on the negative and was inconsolable sometimes. What I realized, especially with a small one who couldn’t use words to work his way out of his problems, was that sometimes distractions are life-giving. If I could get a sad baby to engage with a new toy, to listen to me sing, or to touch the textured wood on the bench outside, I had a chance of making him happier. Focusing on something else was enough to bring solace.

Lately, I’ve been spending time with other people who, as adults, having this problem: and I’ll confess, it’s sometimes me too. Focusing on one negative thing leads to another, and then to another. In that spiral, my brain stubbornly tells itself, “you must solve these problems in order to feel better. You must be miserable till then.” The tough part, of course, is that suffering, and loss, and emotional damage aren’t things that are solved: they are managed. What I’m learning is that, sometimes, the right thing to when negativity has you trapped is to do something else.

When sad, bake bread.

When heartbroken, tend your garden.

When furious, do some dishes. They make a lot of noise, so that’s nice.

It’s not that the thing or the emotion is solved by the action. It’s that distracting yourself from the negativity introduces another spiral, an upward one. It gives you one rung of a positivity ladder that can take you up. Obviously, the problems are still there; they will erupt from time to time and demand your attention. But living with all your attention on that isn’t as good as doing something else, something else good or something else that needs to be done. It’s a life-giving kind of distraction.

New best bread ever – easy-to-make Peasant Bread

I have unsuccessfully wrestled with many  bread recipes. This one, in particular, may not be the best bread in the world, but it is such a thorough recipe, with such simple ingredients, and such a good chance of success… I’ll say it. It’s my favorite bread recipe ever. And you make it in a BOWL. How cool is that? (pyrex only; something oven safe!)

The recipe is from Alexandra Bakes, and her whole site is basically food blogging goals; check it out here: https://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/11/07/my-mothers-peasant-bread-the-best-easiest-bread-you-will-ever-make/.

The romantic feeling of making your own bread is often undone by the flour everywhere, the stickiness of your fingers when you are kneading, and the sadness of not good rising bread. This bread, by being no-knead, means that one less variable is up to the poor baker (me, in this case), so I was able to see reliable rising and not accidentally leave it too long. I didn’t get big yeast bubbles like so many other people making homemade bread, but I did get airy dough.

I really love the crust that forms from the liberal coating of butter and the use of the bowl as the container for the bread; the amount of dough for me was perfect for my large pyrex bowl. Flipping it out of the bowl was so easy, and the bread is very slicing-friendly so it will be useful for sandwiches…

I’m just basically in love with this bread. I wish I had more of a romantic story about it, but if you have seen any of my sorta-didn’t-rise breads, or the hockey-puck style french bread I made one time, you would understand the sense of triumph I have eating a piece of bread that is actually good the next morning. I made it with one cup of wheat flour to three cups of regular bread flour, which makes it just a tiny bit healthy and slightly earthy/chewy, but mostly it’s just like any bakery-style white bread boule. As long as the yeast actually foams, your bread should be just as good as mine using Alexandra’s recipe!