Category: Confessions

How to bake really good bread

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A friend just emailed for my bread recipe. Her daughter comes over after school, sometimes, to play with AppleApple, and they always make themselves peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big slices of my homemade bread. And the child always asks, “Is this your homemade bread, Carrie?” I gather she’s a fan.
Anyway, I wrote out the recipe for her mom. And then I thought, hey, why not post it here. I do have a “Bread Baking Tutorial” over in the recipe section, but below you’ll find the messy real-life version I make almost every weekend. It’s extremely flexible, with room for all kinds of extra ingredients, and the only time it ever flopped was when I used 100% whole wheat bread flour (we were all out of white; the resulting loaves resembled building material). So don’t do that.
Carrie’s Every Day Bread
I don’t follow a recipe, so there are no precise measurements. I make this bread so often that it’s second nature. But I’ll try to write it out for you. This makes four loaves.
4-5 tsp yeast (use the higher amount if you’re using a lot of whole wheat flour)
temper with 1/2 cup warmish water (ie. let sit for about 5 minutes)
Add 2 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 4 tbsp oil, 4 cups warmish water
Also add (and here is where it gets imprecise!) any or all of the following: ground or whole flax seeds, sesame seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, ground sunflower seeds (I usually add all four, in about a 1/4 cup amount each); 1/2 cup wheat germ; 1 cup of oats (optional); 1/2 cup ground lentils or ground quinoa or ground millet (optional, though I always add at least one of those ingredients for extra protein); (you can also add leftover cooked breakfast cereal)
Stir (as often as you’d like, at any point in the above process).
Add 6 cups of flour, stir. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white bread flour, probably about 1/4 ww to 3/4 white. Then start adding by 1 cup measurements. Eventually you’re going to add about 12 cups of flour total, more or less, but honestly, this is entirely by feel. When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading the flour in. Knead until you’ve got the right consistency and it feels ready (you’ll know what I mean!).
Oil and let rise for an hour or two. Punch down and cut into four sections, shape into loaves, and let rise again in greased loaf pans. Heat oven to 450, bake for ten minutes, then turn down to 350 without opening oven and bake for another thirty. Cool on rack. Done!
Also note: I have a coffee grinder that I only use to grind seeds/grains. It’s very handy, very inexpensive. I think it grinds about a 1/4 cup at a time, but it might be slightly more — that’s how I measure the seeds/grains that I add in — whatever fits in the grinder.

Give this woman a nap, please

I haven’t been napping. It’s starting to show. Because, yes, I’m still getting up early four mornings a week to exercise, and the combination of less sleep and construction mayhem and zero power naps makes for a woman who looks just a little frayed around the edges.

Confession time. Come a little closer. Let me lay it on you: By early evening, my bark has bite. And the person most likely to be bitten is, well, my husband. He’s around, he’s a grownup, he’s probably doing something not to my (impossible) standards, and snap. Like that.

Yesterday evening, I arrived home from yoga, a two-hour out-of-the-house, happy alone time for me, which is made possible by him. (It’s also made possible by a ton of pre-planning by me). Anyway, I walked in the door, and the dishes were basically done, the school lunches had been made, and the children were upstairs in pajamas with brushed teeth. He was reading to the younger ones. What a lovely scene! All was well. All continued to be well as I did laundry, checked in with homework obligations (older children), and went through the necessary bedtime rituals with the younger ones. All was well until I came downstairs to get myself some supper. I was pretty hungry by this point, and, yes, flipping tired.

I opened the fridge. I saw before me a half-consumed jar of pearsauce. And … I just about lost my mind. Pearsauce!? The pearsauce I canned less than three weeks ago? Which I’d planned on serving in February when pears are but a distance memory? When WE STILL HAVE ACTUAL PEARS????? Yup. That was me. Losing it.

And this was him. Working away at the computer and blinking at me in silence. Really, what else could he do?

I sat down to my bowl of supper, still seething. (Side question: Am I crazy, or do others out there have ideas about when canned food should be eaten? Restrictions? Personally, I like to wait until the snow is falling).

Then I noticed it was time for the big kids to get to bed. “Could you go up and tell them?” I asked Kevin. Who responded, “This is the first time I’ve gotten to sit down since you left for yoga.” Yup, he was probably pissed about the pearsauce; or more precisely, about my reaction to the pearsauce. Which he’d served the children for bedtime snack. While I was at yoga. Having quiet alone time.

This is how wars start.

But off he went, to tell the kids to get to bed. I sat gobbling leftovers and muttering under my breath, Do you think I’m sitting down all day? You get home from work and I’ve got supper on the table and mumble mumble swim lessons! and mumble mumble porch guys here this morning and mumble trying to work and … add in a few choice swear words and you’ve got the picture. I’d dumped it out of my system by the time he came back downstairs. Well, almost. I managed to get in a good grouse this morning when serving the kids breakfast, reminded by the half-eaten jar in the fridge. I’m pretty sure none of them will be asking for canned pearsauce again until the snow flies.

Lest you think I’m all zen all the time. I’m not. And boy, do I need a nap.

(But isn’t that photo zen? Ah. Another one from our summer holiday.)

The things that went wrong, despite all good intentions and much preparation

Problem: six-year-old’s pants no longer fit; discover salient fact at exact moment pantless child needs to be leaving for school; discover half a minute later that box in attic containing six-year-old hand-me-down clothes has next to no pants, oodles of pretty dresses
Solution: six-year-old leaves wearing pants that are slightly too big, but at least not too small; mama makes mental note to buy child more pants, preferably soft; mental note not good enough, should probably go on list; which list?

Problem: ten-year-old’s brand new labelled-as-non-marking shoes leave marks on gym floor, therefore ten-year-old can’t wear them as his indoor shoes (yes, the school requires children to have two pairs of shoes at all times, one for inside, the other for out); too late to go shoe shopping; old shoes wrecked and don’t fit
Solution: ten-year-old’s feet approximately same size as mama’s; ten-year-old agrees to wear mama’s old running shoes to school; but will this work for longer than one day?; mental note to add shoe-shopping to list (maybe); which list?

Problem: late bedtime due to late soccer practice and excursion to get binders that ten-year-old needs for school; three-year-old wakes incapable of speaking to anyone in tone other than grumpy, grouchy, or extremely put out; three-year-old threatens mutiny re attendance at nursery school
Solution: early to bed, early to bed, early to bed (mutters mama, thinking, oh dear, this is all on me tonight, as husband will be working late)

Problem: rising super-early to exercise, mama is Just Plain Tired by the time kids straggle off to school; precious few hours of work-time available; fuzzy-headedness not conducive to deep thought
Solution: one super-short nap; not sure it’s working, as mama is currently blogging and is not, therefore, starting to write her brand-new book, which she’s not scared of starting, really, honestly, okay, she’s pretty nervous about this (file under Things to Get Over; It Will Be Okay, Promise; You Can Do This, Just Take a Few Deep Breaths)

Problem: too much mama multitasking; items slipping through cracks; library books overdue; lists festering; brain overload; can’t read recipe for crockpot while serving porridge and trying to write notes to children’s teachers AND field question from husband about lunches without snapping irritably in reply
Solution: nothing comes to (over-stuffed) mind

Problem: there always seems to be more; it’s not predictable; no amount of list-making can answer the unknowable future
Solution: embrace improvisation; accept failure, reject defeat; welcome to the joy of being alive

Uglifying the yard: a work in progress

I usually show photos of our house and yard looking its best. So here’s an alternate view. This is our house and yard (and shed-like garage) looking, well, less than handsome. (The flipped-over wading pool and abandoned sprinkler don’t help).

These photos were taken soon after we cut down several trees in our backyard. I’ll admit that I felt despairing as I assessed the mess. I miss those trees. Taking them down is all part of a long-term plan to bring more sunshine into certain areas of the yard–and next summer, more vegetables. But short-term, let’s just say it looks ugly. The rusty garage is exposed. (Weren’t we going to cover that garage with siding?? It was at the top of our to-do list when we bought the house eight years ago. Funny how priorities change). The house itself looks sort of forlorn and crumbling, an old, shambling, rambling kind of house, like the one I imagine for Meg’s family in the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Which isn’t so bad, really; it’s just that I never noticed before.

The photo above, and the next one, were taken a few days later, when I was feeling better about the general state of our backyard affairs. In the interim, Kevin worked really hard to clean the yard. Either things really do look better, or I just think they do. Don’t tell me which it is, please.

Owning a house means participating in a perpetual work in progress. It’s very metaphorical. All the changing, shape-shifting, rearranging, and repairing. You can look at this yard and see who we are as parents, as a family, guess the ages of our children, get an understanding of our priorities, our finances, and our ability to put into action our intentions.

I like where we’re at. But we’re never done.

Bonding

Did I ever tell you (confess might be the more appropriate word) that we got our children a wii for Christmas? Yes, despite my determined rhetorical stance against electronic gadgetry, screentime, and giving in to the whims of trend, after much consideration and discussion, Kevin and I decided to get a “family gaming system.” Even just typing out those last three words makes me sigh. Kevin was the more enthusiastic of the giving parents, but I did indeed agree. What swung my vote was the fact that the children were already exposed to screens in a variety of forms. They watched movies, and played games on online sites like Poptropica and TVOkids. Albus played a computer game on Saturday mornings with the others gathered around the tiny screen to watch. We had limits in place on these other uses of the screen, so we figured we could treat the wii in the same way.

And it’s been … fine. Actually, in some ways–not to endorse family gaming systems–it’s proven to be a place of bonding between siblings.

Here’s what’s happening right now: Albus is playing a game with CJ that is easy enough for CJ to play, too. They are active and bouncing and laughing and taking water breaks. I’m not saying this bonding couldn’t happen in many other ways, because it can and it does. But this is okay, too. Okay. Guess that’s as enthusiastic as I can get in my acceptance of the family gaming system.

Compromise. Even I can do it.

Improvisation

Stepping into the green dream confessional. Ahem.

Working more makes me lazier on the ecologically sound homefront.

I am not taking time to hang laundry very often; instead, tossing everything into the “home sterilizer unit” aka the drier. (This decision is also based on several lice notices from children’s classrooms, and not wanting to risk an invasion; but when will I stop? I haven’t gone back to the clothes rack yet). I am also choosing to drive on occasions when I could walk. Yesterday, I drove to swim lessons, a walk of no more than fifteen minutes one way. But with the vehicle, I could toss the kids in the car last-minute, endure thirty minutes in the pool with CJ, shower, dry off, dress, and return home in exactly one hour. Which shaved time and stress off of my day’s beginning, and allowed me to invite friends over for a morning play. And then I drove to school yesterday afternoon because doing so allowed me to nap for an extra ten minutes (I’d already napped for ten when the buzzer alerted me to walk-to-school time). I hopped up, added another ten minutes to the timer, and fell back to sleep instantly. I can fall asleep in two shakes, and nap virtually anywhere, including my favourite spot: flat on my back on the the living-room floor. Wouldn’t want to get too comfortable.

(Side question: is my instant-sleep ability a talent, or a symptom of sleep-deprivation?).

:::

Have you read The Road? I ploughed through it almost against my will two nights ago, and it shook me to the core. I can’t recommend it–it terrified me utterly–but it is without a doubt a fabulously imagined creation. I won’t spoil the plot, promise; if you haven’t read the book and want to, you can safely read on. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it seemed to ask me: could you live without hope? And I’m not sure that I could. Is all of my spirit-searching a meaningless enterprise? Would I have the inner resources to cope with extremity? Are inner resources something that can be built or honed, a skill-set like any other? Of course, the nightmare world imagined in the book is extreme, but as an extended metaphor could stand in for any difficult experience that any of us might face (and most of us will face something–how could we not? We are alive and human, and our world is unpredictable, our fates perhaps unwritten, and certainly unknown to us). Most particularly, the book explores a parent’s love for his child, which might be the spark that keeps him hoping and alive. But the love is explicitly terrifying, because he cannot protect his child absolutely. None of us can. But somehow I let myself believe that everything will be okay, that we will all be strong enough to get through anything we need to, that my children will experience love and joy and comfort. I am almost incapable of contemplating the reverse. That is why the book terrified me. It made me contemplate the reverse, and question my inner strength, my resources. There is no way of knowing how–what? who?–we will be until the moment is upon us, and we are required to respond. This applies to everything we do. I am fascinated by the improvisational nature of living. Yet I also want to keep working–not to memorize my lines, but to trust in my responses, to trust in some inner core of calm and strength.

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