Thursday, December 9, 2010

Easy Breads

I am a huge bread fan.  The fresher the better.  Throw in some seeds and nuts.  I just could eat it all day long if I let myself.  I don't really buy storebought bread as the kinds that I like and feel are wholesome are usually a bit more expensive than I can stand to pay.  Matt and I both have this compulsive attitude of : why spend so much more on something I could do myself with a little bit of effort?!  Besides, making bread is really rather fun.  Its rather magical to turn a pile of powders and milk into something so tasty!  Plus, the house is all warm and smells delightful.  What is not to enjoy?!

I was typing these up for my sister to encourage her to bake with my little four year old niece so I thought, what the heck, I'll post them...I already typed 'em.  I already wrote up the recipe for my favorite quick, go-to bread stick/pizza dough in an earlier post, but here are a couple other quick breads I use when I am craving some great bread-y goodness and don't have time or ambition to make a real honest to goodness loaf.  Sometime I will type up a few of my favorites of those as well.  All in due time...

Baking Powder Biscuits
1 C    whole wheat flour
1 C    white flour (or other flour of your choice)
3 t      baking powder
1 t      salt
1/4 C Earth Balance (or shortening of your choice)
3/4-1 C milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Stir together all dry ingredients.  Add the shortening and mash it into the dry ingredients until the margarine is well broken down into small bits and mixed throughout the dry ingredients.  Stir in the milk starting with 3/4 cup and adding a little more at a time as needed until you get a nice sticky dough.  Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes.

Basic Cornbread
1 C     whole wheat flour (or half-and-half with white if you prefer)
3/4 C  cornmeal
3 T      sugar
3 t       baking powder
1/3 C  applesauce
2 t       vegetable oil
1 C     milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix together all dry ingredients.  Add in remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.  Pour into a baking dish (we use a 9inch pie plate) and bake for about 20 minutes or until it has achieved your desired level of golden.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Magic

The snow is sort of magical.  The light fluffy drifting of flakes.  The sparkling crystals.  The quiet brightness of it all. I came home from my week out on the coast to a full day of non-stop snowing.  The city has been covered in a dazzling blanket ever since.  I have a much more positive attitude about snow anymore.  It used to really bring me down.  However, when I think about it that was probably because I had to drive through the snow which is always a terrible pain.  Now I just walk or jog my way through it and it is so much more enjoyable.  I also have come to really value these months of time to work around the home.  There are holiday gifts to make and the last of the tomatoes to can, epic Risk battles to wage, tie-dye inventory to stock up, and so much more.  I used to feel trapped, but now I feel happy about staying in with my slippers on and tackling the mending pile.  Winter encourages domestic bliss.  The fact that I am domestic at all is really magical.  Oh, how the seasons pass and we all grow and change.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Running and Yoga

A recent issue of Runner's World had a cover article about barefoot running.  As I am getting into running in my Fivefingers I wanted to give it a look-see.  While flipping through the pages I also came across a short yoga routine in and thought to myself that I really should start practicing yoga again.  I really enjoy it so I am not sure why I go through bouts of "falling off the wagon" about it.  So, I copied the page and took it home.  After practicing it for two or three days in a row my muscles were sore from the effort.  It is so surprisingly effective.  Bend, stretch, and hold.  It hardly seemed like an intense work out.  But, it is!  Most importantly for me is that it is fun and fairly easy, requiring no special equipment or trainers or gyms.  I also am blown away by how much it is all around health improving.  It soothes my soul while soothing and strengthening my body as well.  I am not sure if it will help with the running or not, but it certainly can't hurt.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Confusion and Panic at the Bird Feeder

I was in my house wrapped up in the tense grip of a suspenseful segment of the book I am reading when I hear the bird bush come noticeably more alive and agitated.  There are louder peeps and chirps and the rustling of leaves and wings beating about.  I unwrapped myself from my quilt cocoon and head over to peer out the window to investigate.  Then: thump, thump, thump!  Three sparrows crash  into the window pane in rapid succession and bounce off again out of sight.  The vision of this makes my heart start pounding.  Another follows wildly out of the bush and smacks the window.  I want to scream at them to stop, but I can tell they are escaping something.  The flight into the window is impulsive.  However, the thought of the sweet little sparrows, all round and fluffy this time of year, injured or dying really makes me feel dreadful!  What can I do?!  What can I do?!  I run to the to other window still trying to see the source of the panicking mob of birds.  Thump!  Thump!  More smash into the glass as they frantically flee the bush, but I still cannot see anything out of the ordinary.

"The cats," I thought to myself!  That has to be it!  There are several neighborhood cats which I am trying to discourage from hunting at my bird feeder.  I run to the front door, water bottle in hand and with more poor sparrows smacking the glass as I pass the living room window, and rush outside to ward off the attacking feline and stop the terrible glass-smacking thuds.  Rounding the corner of the house I actually have to duck out of the way of a speeding bullet of a sparrow that had launched right in my direction.  They are flying in scattered direction faster than I have ever really seen before.

As I begin up the drive way I hear a larger sound of scuffling, leaves rustling, wings flapping from in front of where the car is parked, just out of sight.  Suddenly, a small raptor launches from the ground catching me completely off guard.  I must have taken a few seconds to look back to the bird bush, which is basically empty by this point, during which time the raptor took off and disappeared from sight entirely.  I didn't even really get a good look.  Accipiter I think though.  Then, with some dread, I looked around under the windows in the garden and under the bird bush.  At least I can say that there were no immediate fatalities which I had to tend to, but, on the other hand, I don't think the raptor got any dinner either.

Nature is tough...who to "root" for: predator or prey?  I instinctively want to cheer for the safety of the sweet little balls of feathers that perch and chirp out my kitchen window all day, but it doesn't really seem fair to the streamlined blur of feathers and claws that need to eat them.  So, I try my best to cheer for both.   In order for life to go on, there must be death somewhere.

And, at least it wasn't the cats!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Old Fall-back: Spaghetti

At one point in my life I used to always make spaghetti whenever I had to cook.  It is easy to make and quite hard to screw up and that suited my lack of cooking ability.  I hated cooking.  Oh, the past is funny in retrospect.  I enjoy cooking now, or at least find it easy.

Last night however I was struck by a lack of cooking motivation.  Nothing sounded like what I wanted.  Then I realized how long it had been since I had eaten spaghetti.  However, I can no longer eat just a pile of pasta and sauce and feel good about that as a meal.  It seems crazy to me now, but at one point I didn't bother myself with considering if vegetables might be in order.  So, I scrounged around the kitchen and came up with some lentils, spinach, and bell peppers (from our garden) and thought that might make the sauce passable as a robust meal.  It was awesome!

I cooked the lentils and peppers for 10-15 minutes or so in a tiny bit of water so they were both at least partially softened by the time I threw them in the sauce.  When all the water was evaporated I added a can of our homegrown tomato sauce and spiced it up with some Italian herbs and salt and pepper.  I ran the spinach through the food processor and then mixed it in with the sauce. 

The end result was a very nice thick and chunky red sauce.  I love cooking with our tomatoes as they are so delightfully sweet.

I also made bread sticks, which I never DREAMED of doing years ago.  Who knew that making bread as so easy?!?!   I love it and am hooked on it because, really, nothing beats warm, fresh bread.  Especially topped with nutritional yeast.....

Easy Bread Sticks (or Pizza Dough)
2 1/4 t yeast
1 1/2 C hot water
3/4 t salt
3 - 3 1/2 C flour (plus some for kneading)
oil, salt, spices, nutritional yeast, etc for topping

Put yeast in a bowl and add hot water.  Stir until yeast is dissolved.  Stir in salt.  Add in flour.   Mix until well combined and then dump out on to a floured surface.  Knead for about 3 minutes.  Let raise for 15-20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Knead for another couple minutes adding a bit more flour if it is too sticky.  Let raise for 10-20 minutes.  Roll flat, brush with oil and top with spices as desired.  Cut into desired size bread sticks and bake for 20 minutes.  For fluffier, fatter bread sticks try hand rolling (think play-dough snakes) individual bread sticks instead of rolling flat and cutting.

This can also make a simple pizza crust if you just roll it out and prick it all over with a fork before adding toppings!  Baking time is about 35 minutes.