And Now, A Little Something Personal

So I bake.  So what.  Some random person out there in New England is baking in her apartment.  Yeah? And? 

It’s not just about baking.  It’s about life.  I’m out here, struggling with my weight, struggling with family issues, struggling with money, and enjoying my first year of marriage.  But who am I?

That is a story for my memoirs…yeah right.  In short, I’m an over-weight, 32 year old, executive assistant with a bachelors degree, married to a woman, and is currently estranged from her parents. 

With the new year starting I think about all the years I made resolutions and blew them off.  Last year was no exception.  However, this year we have real goals, immediate goals.  This is the year, THE YEAR!  We will start a family, we will pay down debt, we will get more active, we will take steps to realizing our dream of owning our own coffee-shop and bakery.   Personally, I will try to make better food decisions.  More salads and less steak.  I will try to add meditation back into my routine.  I will try to read all the books I’ve bought that have sat on shelves, made moves almost across the country to stay by my bedside, just in case!  I will try to keep our apartment clean, not just on weekends.  I will try to be a better wife, more listening, more giving, more understanding.  I will stop being a peacekeeper, giving in and compromising just to keep everyone else happy.

Does any of that sound familiar? 

And currently, besides all that, I’m baking.  I’m not great at it, I’m perhaps passable.  My loaves are lumpy, my baguettes are bulgy, and my boules are ballooning.  But I’ll get there, and this time I won’t give up and add this to my long list of resolutions that I don’t keep.

What resolutions are you making this?

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The Great Bread-Bowl Caper, Part 2

What a fiasco!  So I spent most of Friday cleaning and prepping, running errands and then crashing in order to be ready for Saturday’s 2nd Christmas.  We had 9 people scheduled for dinner, all hearty eaters, and I needed to make sure my bread-bowls came out great.  I set up three batches of dough, one from earlier in the week and two new ones.  Seeing those three large containers of dough in my fridge was a thing of beauty. 

Saturday morning began with a frenzy of activity.  I immediately set up my two baking stones in the oven, a pan at the very bottom for the steam bath, and began to pull chunks of dough out and form them into balls.  However, using the first and oldest batch of dough turned out to be difficult as it had these hard lumps in it.  Not good.  Unsure if that meant the dough went bad or not I opted for safety (would hate to give my family and friends food poisoning on a holiday weekend) and tossed the whole batch and made a new one.  No biggy, right?  I had two more batches of dough and the new batch only needed about 2 hours to rise.  By the time the first two groups of bowls were finished baking I figured the new batch would be ready.  The trouble came in that I realized I had now run out of yeast so if I needed to make another batch I was out of luck.

Then it all went down-hill.  Despite my best efforts and plenty of flour my dough boules were sticking to the pastry board, they were sticking to the pizza peel despite plenty of cornmeal, and once in the oven and happily cooking they began to expand in all the wrong places.  ACK!  I knew I’d need to make a few extra to be on the safe side I sent my wife off to purchase more flour and yeast.  Run!  Fetch!  Hurry!  Thanks!

So, in my frazzled state I reset the oven too high and when I checked on my second batch of bread I saw that the tops were starting to brown quite a bit.  I resolved the issue but then noticed an slight burning smell.  The cornmeal!  I hadn’t dusted off the excess cornmeal from the first batch and it was now burning on the pizza stones.  I couldn’t open the windows (old building and old windows) so I turned on the ceiling fan and began to grab the pizza stones, take off the bread bowls, and dust off the cornmeal.  Unfortuntely, in my attempt to do this quickly and smoothly I caught my arm on one of the racks and now have two lovely burns.  War wounds! 

So once the second batch was once again in the oven and cooking my sweety arrived home with flour and yeast and I made another batch of dough to be on the safe side.  My second batch of bowls looked no better than the first, but this set of three were much browner and slightly tougher.  Determined, I set up my next batch when my sweet wife reminded me that it was her turn and she needed the oven to make the desert.  Ack!  

I took that time to take a shower and to try to relax.  It was just my family and our dear friend after all.  I wasn’t trying to win a contest.  I was only up against my own expectations.  Well, in my cool, reserved new attitude I went back and threw on another batch, completely forgetting my steam bath because the pan was no longer at the bottom of the oven to remind me.  My wife had used it for her desert.  Oy.   The last batch was easiest and I had, in fact, needed ALL my dough, every last ounce.  The results were not ideal.  Some lopsided, some over-cooked, the crusts varied, the crumbs varied, but I had 11 passable bowls.  Then our friend Rob arrived and I began the stew.  

Rob, being a bread maker himself, made sweet comments about how great everything looked and smelled, oohed and ahhed profusely over my bread bowls.  And while everything simmered we watched cooking shows and chatted, Rob napped for 20 minutes (he had been driving all week and was exhausted), and then the rest of the night went off without a hitch.  The bread bowls were a hit.  As expected people gorged themselves on appetizers and snacks so by the time the stew came out no one was hungry enough to really dig into the bread…which I guess was a good thing considering I tried mine and despite the stew soaking into it was still quite hard. 

So, all in all it wasn’t a huge success but it wasn’t a disaster.  The bowls got made, some got eaten, everyone was impressed, and I learned a lot about baking.  Rob had a few bread-bowl making pointers that I will definitely take into consideration the next time.

In the meantime my fridge is empty of dough, all having been used up Saturday night.  I think now is the time to try my hand at the Olive Oil dough recipe.  Still haven’t figured out why my poll isn’t showing up, so if you have thoughts about what kind of focaccia I should try, let me know!  Comment!

The Great Bread-Bowl Caper, Part 1

In my family there is a history of crazy Christmas’.  With 3 sisters, all with families of their own, in-laws, and plans, it’s hard to get everyone together for Christmas, even after Christmas.  But this year, while missing a husband and a nephew, we are finally able to gather at the same time to celebrate Christmas, even if a week late. 

The problem?  The meal decision has been made for a hearty beef stew in homemade bread-bowls.  That involves me and my new baking skills.  Pressure!  So we have a total of 9 people coming over, thanks to an impromptu visit from our dearest friend from Washington DC, Rob.   So that is 9 bread-bowls I have to make.  Why am I nervous….well, I’m nervous over a few items….

  1. My bread, up until now, has been for me so if it turns out deformed there is no one to judge but myself and possibly my wife.
  2. I will be trying to make more than a couple loaves at a time, I’ll have to make 2-3 bowls at a time and my pizza stone is relatively small and I’m worried that they’ll get stuck together or burn, or come out warped and I’ll have to start all over. 
  3. Our friend Rob loves to make bread and I feel a little competitive, which normally I’m not.

I think I have the game plan all set.  I’ll start making the bread bowls in the morning and once one batch of dough is gone I’ll make another batch, and so on until I have all the bowls done.  This should also allow for a few horrendous mistakes. 

The great news is that my special King Arthur’s Flour package arrived last night.  Look!

Once this weekend is over I’ll try my hand at Olive Oil bread and spend next weekend making focaccia’s as thank you gifts for my coworkers/executives who gave me Christmas presents.  I’m looking forward to it but it is pushing off my pastry dough work.  But, it’s necessary.  Word of the loaf of bread I brought into work has made it to the execs and they’ve been asking about it.  Now is the perfect time to bake some great bread and give it as gifts.  

Now I need your help.  I know there are a few of you checking out my blog and I could really use your thoughts on what types of focaccia bread I should make, so I’m setting up my very first poll!  Please vote, let me know what you think, and I’ll make a few of the top choices and share them with you when they’re ready!

It Has Arrived

Surprising me last night when I arrived home was my copy of “Artisan Bread” that I had ordered just days ago.  I immediately sat down and began reading, from front to back like a good girl. 

As many people do, I tend to read cookbooks like newspapers.  I look at the front pages, the index, and immediately go to the sections I like.  This time, however, I had looked at some websites which talked about the book and got the great advice to really read it, the introduction, the tips section, all of it.  Good thing I did because I found invaluable tips in places I wouldn’t have thought to look.  So I read all the way up through ingredients last night and tonight I will complete my read (except for the various recipes, which I’ll get to later).   

My experience with this book has been three-fold.  I am now completely excited about getting started, I am confused as to all the specialized utensils they say you need (or at least suggest firmly), and frustrated that I do not already possess them so I could start immediately.  My wife’s experience with the book is that she doesn’t want to hear about it because we’re dieting and she’s a carboholic.   The only reason I’m even being allowed to do this is that, well, there could be fresh baked bread involved, I’m apparently very cute when I’m inspired, and she’s hoping it will inspire her to follow her goals of perfecting her pastry skills (and she does have the mad pastry skills). 

Saturday we make a pilgrimage to a kitchen store 40 miles away to locate and procure the necessary items for my task.  I believe, thanks to our kitchen-heavy wedding registry, that we have most of what we need.  What we’ll be getting is a pizza peel (small one), a dough cutter, a new pastry brush because I was silly and thought it was dishwasher safe (it’s not), and food-safe containers to hold the dough.   If our pilgrimage is successful I will be mixing my first batch of dough Sunday and baking my first loaf on Sunday night.  Oh Joy!

Last night I also received a good omen.  My cats, Phoebe and Nemo, fell in love with the book as well.  Phoebe pushed her way onto my lap while reading and rubbed her nose all over the edges, nibbling her way around the cover and making it impossible for me to both keep a straight face while I shooed her away but also from returning it.  Cat slobber and nibble-marks are not things Amazon.com will overlook.  Once I put the book down on our coffee table Nemo decided there was no better spot in the apartment to sleep than on top of the book.  I have never seen this reaction to a book before.  It is now one with our family.  Slobbered on, bitten, and covered in fur, and I haven’t even made a single batch of dough.