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.

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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.

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And the light.

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

 

 

 

Hot Cross Buns

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Good morning from the other side of winter storm Stella!

With upwards of a foot of snow predicted, school was cancelled before the storm even started. Snow day! A snow day sometimes feels like a gift, an unexpected (and much-needed) opportunity to slow down a bit and rest.

So I did plenty of that.

But I also puttered around the kitchen. As you’ve read before, nothing centers me quite like baking, and I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with hot cross buns for Lent. I honestly don’t much care for currents or other dried fruit typically found in these breakfast buns, so I tossed some cranberries in the dough to see how they’d turn out.

It was an adventure.

First, I almost broke our hand-held mixer. I really, truly thought I could get the dough to a semi-mixed consistency and hand mix the rest,  but it got too thick , too quickly. It was almost a disaster for that ancient mixer of ours.

Next, I think I added too many cranberries. By following the recipe, I added as many cups of dried cranberries as the recipe called for raisins and other dried fruit. Personally, I think it was a bit too much. Maybe cut the amount by a fourth.

After that, it was all Stella who stole the show because her drama-filled high winds knocked our power out just as I set the buns for their final rise.

Power resumed about two hours later, and by that time, I was ready for bed.

I did what I could to save the dough by refrigerating over night and baked this morning.

Stella’s gone now … and I think these buns are soon to follow suit.

Here’s the link to King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Easy Hot Cross Buns. Follow as is, or try the cranberries for something a little different. Enjoy for Lent … or any random Tuesday morning.

Snowstorm optional.

Reading Love

dsc_0346-2Love.

LOVE.

Love my students.

Love reading.

Love my students reading.

Here’s a quick little Valentine bookmark for the book lover in your life.

Supplies:

  • scrapbook paper
  • card stock
  • heart-shaped paper punch
  • ribbon
  • rubber stamp
  • gold ink
  • ribbon
  • coordinating marker
  • washi tape

Originally, I shopped at Walmart for multi-pack Valentine cards for my students. Since I have 30 students, and the cards were $7.97 for a pack of ten … I decided I could do better on my own. I didn’t even like them really.

These bookmarks are soooo much cuter. With a bonus: it’s a reading love note too!

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And made with love.

 

Seven Ways to Write

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It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten.

I’ve forgotten how quiet my usually ever-racing mind can become  when finally given the opportunity to speak.

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to stare at an empty screen. Without writing on a regular basis, I’ve forgotten how the cursor blinks. And blinks. It’s annoying, all that blinking.

And I listen for the rush of all those words I wanted to write back a only few days ago when time wasn’t my own. At the ready only a few days ago, all those words tired of waiting around for me to find the time – to make the time – and moved on. So now all I hear is … silence.

So starved for attention, any of the words I’ve tried on at first didn’t really fit right anymore.

But I’m not worried.

Because even after all this time of irregular writing,  I remember.

Here’s what I remember about finding my writer’s voice when it’s – temporarily – lost:

  • Just Start: Start somewhere or anywhere, doesn’t matter. Just start. Write and write and write because even if what you write is mostly unusable, you may just find a word or two of truth somewhere among the riff raff you can develop more fully next time you write.
  • Set a Timer: I can do anything for 15 minutes and so can you. You’ll be surprised how quickly the time passes, and you’ll be left wanting more.
  • Find a Prompt: A prompt can be a word, an image, a quote. Pick a theme of interest to you: kindness, courage, fear … and explore it.
  • Make a List: Lists are great sources for a writing jump-start. Animals you’ve loved. Things that make you feel squeamish. Favorite foods. Friends from childhood.
  • People: Describe who helped you when your car broke down. What do you remember about the woman two tables over at the coffee shop. Your toddler. The best friend you could call in the middle of the night. Recall an overhead conversation in line at the grocery store.
  • Places: A setting from your life is pure visual inspiration. Close your eyes and see it. A family dinner. A drive.  A remembered football game. Your last hike. One treasured scene from your last vacation.
  • Memories: Make it specific and small. Firsts. Lasts. Onlys. Those memories once-upon-a-times are made of.

Do you have a strategy for finding your writer’s voice? Please … please share!

 

 

Holiday Simmer Pot

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There are between two and six scented candles lit every night in our home.

A sort of visual prayer.

In our current rotation you’ll smell seasonal Christmas pine, cinnamon stick, gingerbread, and some sort of white linen set of four I picked for the size and color, not the scent, because they were destined for our Advent wreath on the table.

I’m a wee bit addicted.

Ask anyone.

Well, yesterday afternoon we took a candle intermission and tried the simmer pot instead.

Like any of my homemade soups, my simmer pot concoction is never the same recipe – or smell – twice. As with the soups I make, what’s in the pot depends on what I have around.

I knew the pomanders from last week’s project were aging, so they were ingredient number one with all their orange clovey juicy goodness. Cheery too, floating there in the black cast-iron pot. I also added:

  • cranberries
  • star anise
  • a sprinkling of cloves
  • chopped cinnamon stick
  • rose hips
  • about a cup of apple cider
  • water

A simmer pot is a warm scented free-for-all. I’ve also been known to add chopped apples, maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg, lemons, and honey.

Seriously, any good smelling combination goes in the pot. Turn the stove to low and simmer away the day … all your troubles float away in the sweet-smelling steam.

(Add more water as necessary throughout the day.)

Home. Sweet. Home.

I think the candles were jealous.

 

Pomander Balls

Every year, we put holiday candles in our windows. Most of them hand-me-downs my husband’s mother no longer wanted. The cords are too short to reach outlets and the plastic bases topple easily, but still we place them year after year in our windows – one part tradition, one part pretty, one part a need for light.

Of the eight candles lighting roadside windows, it’s likely any combination will actually be lit. The options are some, none, or all – depending on which children are home and who remembers -or not- to light them.

It’s all sort of random.

Which is a little like how I’ve been feeling these days.

Clearly there’s too much for any one human being to accomplish.

So in the spirit of slow … orange and clove pomander balls seemed the perfect random project this morning. Originating in Europe during the Middle Ages, the tradition of pomander balls has a past. From the French word pomme d’ambre, apple of amber, a pomander is literally a ball of perfumes – in this case, whole cloves.

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I’ve been leaning toward  more natural decorating for awhile now. Simple. Satisfying. Homemade.

All you need are oranges, whole cloves, and a little bit of time.

Sweet and spicy.

Style as you’d like.

And oh the smell …

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Leftovers work well in a simmer pot, too.  Another totally random concoction I’ll post about soon.

Enjoy!