bake for good

DSC_0018 (2)There’s nothing more simply satisfying, more homey and wholesome, or more basically beautiful than a loaf of freshly-baked bread.

Unless you bake two loaves – and share one.

When I bake bread, my heart fills in direct proportion to the rise of the dough. I love all the steps: the measuring, the mixing, the kneading, the baking. I love the aroma as the crust browns. I love to cradle the warmth of each loaf as I wrap it in a cotton cloth just out from the oven. I especially love feeding my family.

I’ve written before about the joy and grounding I find when baking. (See Warmth.) I’m not much for cakes, although this is a good one, and I’m family-famous for my chocolate chip cookies, but my new fascination is with baking bread. It’s been a long-standing someday thought, only recently realized come an unexpected snow day off from school.

And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Time-consuming? Yes. But easy. And so worth the time.

This latest good thing in my life rose even higher, so to speak, this week after an in-school presentation by King Arthur Flour. Based in Norwich, Vermont, King Arthur Flour’s been a baking name to know since 1790 and employee-owned since 2004. With a company focus on connections in the community, the flour company not only maintains a baking school, but several outreach programs designed to “Bake for Good.”

Last week, the students in our school enjoyed King Arthur Flour’s Learn. Bake. Share. program where they learned all the basics of bread baking and the science behind it too. Each student was sent home with a flour-filled canvas tote, a dough scraper, a packet of yeast, a booklet of delicious recipes to try with their families at home … and an invitation: To share what they bake by donating a loaf to a local food bank.

Kids can participate in two ways:

King Arthur representatives visit over 200 schools all over the country every year. In-school presentations can be arranged by visiting here. Self-directed group baking can be arranged by visiting here.

Youth groups of all kinds can participate in Learn. Bake. Share. Anyone can participate and pledge to King Arthur’s Bake for Good. One pledge = one meal donated to Feeding America.  So far, King Arthur’s donated over 41,000 meals to date!

Bake. Enjoy. Give. And rise.

 

 

 

 

looking for light

DSC_0688 (2)It’s been a long, cold winter. The world’s been iced over and slippery.  Mostly gray.  Dark. For a woman who craves warmth and loves the light, this winter mood of mine sometimes feels bleak.

Seasons change, of course, and despite more snow in the forecast, I know winter’s waning and spring’s just ahead.

But it’s hard to get better at something when I dabble at it more than do it, and I’ve spent most of the winter without a camera in hand. Like everyone who tries to balance passion with responsibility, I’ve been riding the time and opportunity merry-go-round.  There’s either one or the other, but never both. I’ve been a little wistful and wishful hoping at each day’s go round for a minute or more in the light with a lense to my eye.

DSC_0664 (3)

Yesterday, my husband tucked three bunches of tulips among the bags of groceries he hauled home.

Today was the day.

I played happily for hours, tilting the blooms and tucking the long leaves just so. I fiddled with the camera settings and changed lenses … over and over and over. Never quite satisfied – or still hungry, not sure which – I took over 300 photographs in the changing light by the dining room window.

Off and on: about four hours of creative self-satisfaction.

I don’t mind tossing all but about ten of those three hundred because whatever the outcome, it was process I was after more than product.

DSC_0658 (2)

And the light.

This post dedicated to my friend, Jaclyn … on her favorite day of the year!

 

 

 

Miss Maggie’s Pumpkin Biscuits

 

DSC_0376Little Miss Maggie arrived in our lives early this January.

Puppy love.

Indeed.

I’m pretty okay with the fact that my first grandchild is a dog. And I spoil her accordingly ~ especially when her daddy’s not around!

Here’s the recipe for the healthy homemade dog biscuits I make every week for our girl:

DSC_0455

MAGGIE’S PUMPKIN BISCUITS

preheat oven to 300 F

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
  • chopped fresh parsley ~ about two tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • water

Mix together the flour, oats, parsley, dried milk, and salt.

Add the eggs, pumpkin, and peanut butter and mix well. Add water a bit at a time to bring the dough together.

Flour a cutting board and roll out dough to about 1/4″ thick.  Cut with cookie cutter or roll into small ball-shaped treats and flatten with your hand before baking. Keep re-rolling the scraps until you’ve used all the dough.

Bake for about 45-60 minutes until crisp and browned.

Today, I baked eight large dog-bone shaped biscuits and 32 tiny heart-shaped treats for my Miss Maggie. I pulled the tiny hearts out @ 45 minutes and the larger treats at about 60 minutes.

Such an easy way to love the girl who’s brought so much love to me.

in the company of children

 

DSC_0416Hope’s been a little hard to find lately.

Truthfully, I’m not sure where to look most days.

Life’s been a little too.

Too much to process.

Too much to feel.

Too much to cope with.

I am the sum of my emotions, reactions, and responses to what I see, hear, and feel around me. Preoccupied one minute and a bit absent-minded the next. Sometimes articulate and then just as quickly in tears and tongue-tied.  I am a confluence of emotions merging one on another and into the next. I am world wary, poorly sleeping, and fiercely protective – making a focused effort to somehow manage and make right my own corner of a world I find increasingly difficult to live in or understand.

If not hope exactly, there’s some sort of solace found within the four walls of my classroom and in the company of children. Together, we enjoy simple things: a good book, card games, coloring, cookies … laughter. There’s renewal to be found – however fleeting – in the routine of our days and in the discovery of new ways to learn. To understand. To grow.

And there’s gratitude among us for each other.

Just there by the window is a blooming pot of bright, red geraniums: summer’s promise that warmth will one day return, and maybe along with it – some hope.

 

Zooop!

DSC_0365

I’ve been singing all morning.

Today is Monday – a traditional folk song – inspired an Eric Carle picture book. It apparently inspired me too, because I’m happily singing and singing.

Today is Monday … Today is Monday … Monday, string beans. All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

A week’s worth of eating continues, ending with Sunday and ice-cream. It’s a fun, catchy, sing-song sort of way to teach kids the days of the week.

The very best day though … is Wednesday.

Today is Wednesday … Today is Wednesday … Wednesday, Zoooop! All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Zoooop!

So. Much. Fun.

Here’s a link. Enjoy the song. And the book. And some Zoooop too!

It’s been a Zoooop! kind of week around here. Butternut Squash soup on Monday. Tortellini Soup on Wednesday. And Cheddar Broccolli’s up next on the menu.

I’m all in. My husband is too – and he’s a self-proclaimed, “Not a soup kind of guy.”

What follows is the recipe I adapted for Butternut Squash … Zoooop. You’ll find another version with smoked bacon and a baguette  in my favorite Vermont Farm Table Cookbook.

Not a Soup Kind of Guy declared it,  “the best soup I’ve ever had.”

I’m not sure if he means it … he said the same thing about the Tortellini Zoooop!

Butternut Squash Soup with Maple Syrup

  •  tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 3 pounds butternut squash (1 large), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup pure Vermont maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock1.
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Saute the onion in butter in a large stockpot, stirring occaisionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the squash, maple syrup, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add stock if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
  4. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe fed our little family of three one night for dinner and the next day for lunch, as well as four additional servings frozen and waiting for another … Wednesday!

in service

DSC_0009 (4)

A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness can be spread without dinimishing that of yourself. ~Mahatma Gandhi

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and today’s national day of service, what follows is a 2018 service resolution list.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my general interests and about how I can put them to use for good. I’m a ways off yet, but my latest, biggest dream is to learn more about portrait photography and acquire the necessary equipment to offer senior portraits to graduating high school seniors who might not otherwise be able to afford them. Once I started thinking along those lines, ideas came fairly quickly for how best to use my photographs for good. Prom pictures? Baby Pictures? Family portraits?

Since that idea’s a dream in progress, here’s some other service resolution ideas  I’m thinking about for this new year:

Cooking and Baking

  • bake and deliver boxes of baked goods to local community workers in service to others – it’s so easy to double the recipe and deliver an extra couple dozen cookies to the fire station, library, or police department
  • bake and ship boxes of baked goods (and other treats) to our miliary in service – be sure to check out these websites for some guidelines and ideas:
  • homecooking … for those without a home – our local church houses local families for week-long stays as part of a transition program from shelter to community housing, and home-cooked meals are part of the “welcome home.”  Creating several nourishing, warm meals for a homeless family’s table is high on my list this year.

Collections and Donations

  • Traveling? Dedicate a corner of your suitcase to those in need in the United States and around the world. Visit Pack for A Purpose to research community projects and local needs for your destination. Leaving a few pairs of shoes behind will make space for toothpaste, crayons, pencils, bandaids, and other much-needed supplies.
  • Clearing out your closets? Check into who can best use what you’ve got. Sites like Dress for Success direct your donations for professional attire; Cinderella’s Closet directs your party-dress and formal wear donations for girls in need of a prom dress; and there’s a variety of organizations and retail locations collecting gently-worn business suits for men as well – a quick Google search popped up quite a few.
  • Several years ago, our local food bank promoted an empty can campaign. “Nothing Cans,” symbolic of what’s on the dinner menu for the almost 150,000 people in our state who do not know where their next meal is coming from, could be purchased for $5 each. Since they’re empty, the cans also serve as donation banks to help put some food on the plates of the hungry in our state. I saved the can and fill it a few times a year with loose change and bills. Any can will do. Collect and contribute.
  • This week our school will participate in End 68 Hours of Hunger.  According to their website, 1 in 5 U.S. children struggle with food insecurity. Collections for this program strive to end the hunger these children experience in the 68 hours between their free lunch on Friday and their free breakfast at school Monday morning. Find out if there’s a program or organization like this near you.

Get Out and Give

  • We’ve been mourning the loss of our beloved beagle for awhile now and thinking almost daily about adopting another rescue. While we work through that important decision, I’ll be checking into dog-walking at our local animal shelter. Why wait?
  • I’m committed to training for some road races come spring, and I’ll be finding a few races to run which benefit needs in our local community.
  • As our garden begins to bloom this year, I’ll be collecting small bouquets to bring to our local nursing home. My nana would’ve loved a small spray of spring on her bedside table, and I’ll honor her memory every time I drop by with a bunch of flowers for someone else who could use a bit of bloom.
  • World Read Aloud Day is scheduled for February 1, and the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” is scheduled for March 1. Maybe there’s a school, daycare, or library nearby who’d welcome a guest reader?
  • Visit Do Something to discover any number of do-able action projects … from packing “blessing bags” for the homeless to joining the elephant “tusk force” flagging ivory items for sale online … there’s a project for everyone.

Just Because

  • Leave a little surprise something special for someone who’s not expecting it … a bar of chocolate, a note of recognition, something green and growing … you get the idea. No reason necessary.
  • Day Brighteners … a dear friend recently gifted me a powerful packet of teeny, tiny papers – each hardly bigger than a slip from a fortune cookie – and each one offering a moment of widom or words of encouragement from some of the world’s most inspirational minds. Each slip guaranteed to begin anyone’s day more brightly.  It’s my intention to leave one here and there along my 2018 path, and I’m sure each quote will find exactly the right person at the most perfect of all possible moments.   Go find Ingrid Goff-Maidoff’s One Hundred Fortunes and other inspirational gifts… and pass a little love along!

Spread love everywhere you go. ~ Mother Teresa

Bless us all with your ideas for the greater good … and let’s light a thousand candles!

the direction of hope

DSC_0388 (2)Just the other day, I woke from a dream where I was taking a walk with my future self. There we were, side by side, walking down a country road. It was summer. We were relaxed. Smiling too, in my dimming memory of the dream.

I’ll take that as a good sign.

This morning, of course, I realize there’s so much I’d like to ask her – this me I’ve yet to be. I’ve had many conversations with the women I used to be, some critical and some congratulatory, but I’ve never to my recollection spoken with the woman I hope to become. Now the thought’s nested a bit, and I find it fascinating.

By nature, I’m a reflective and evaluative person.  My dominant glance is backwards and over my shoulder.  Just lately though, I’ve been trying to live more firmly placed in the present. I’m becoming more comfortable right where I am. This is good growth for me, and I can hear all the women I’ve been behind me cheering and raising a bit of a ruckus. Alleluia!

But what I want to know from that woman just ahead are questions I’m forming here at the crest of a new year – realizing as I ask them, that I’m almost completely in control of how she answers:

Are you happy?

Are you healthy?

Are you fulfilled?

Are you surrounded by people you love?

In my waking middle-of-the-night hours, I review my list of worries and what-ifs. It’s then I find myself wishing that woman from the dream was a fortune teller, reassuring me all will turn out fine in the end.

But what’s truly significant, I suppose, is how she and I walked forward together. Side by side. And I understand now that she’s just as dependent on me for how her life turns out, as I am hopeful for her life to turn out well.

So let’s keep walking. Side by each. Our whole cheering section walks just back over our shoulders and with us every step of the way.

Forward is, after all, the direction of hope.