Saturday, January 2, 2010

Consumption, Conceding Failure, Connections

I tossed out the sourdough starter this morning and then stomped around a bit. Perhaps sourdough and I are to have a relationship like mine with meringue. Relationships can be mended, right? Maybe eventually. But until then, I will stick to loves like cake and rye bread. THEY appreciate me for who I am, so much so that my 4 year relationship with the YMCA wasn't enough to hold off the benefits of their love.

As a result, today I started a new relationship with the Aspen Athletic Club where I pay a smidgen less, get to watch Fox News while I run (the sarcasm is clear, yes?) and best of all, work out next to 75 other sweaty people at the same time. Plus, this gym won't close on holiday weekends when I have planned in advance to drink myself silly every night. I made this decision even though the nice woman who opens the Y in the mornings had just learned my name, as had all the other people I'd been seeing every M-F at 5:30 am for the last six months. (I'm not that shy, but I'm certain my default face says "back the bleep off" - especially when running - which doesn't encourage small talk or even friendly smiles.) I hope I didn't make the wrong decision. But Aspen is five minutes closer, with longer hours, and they gave me three hours free with a trainer because of my insurance. I am well aware of what a trainer did to my skinny minnie older sister - the hardcore woman kicked my sis's skinny minnie butt into shape. So who knows what someone will do to my not-so-skinny behind? Well, hopefully just my abs, because the running takes care of my behind. But yes, maybe it's what I need.

In the meantime, I'm sticking to baking cake. The stout cake tested beyond delicious, although we'll see in about 2.5 hours how it tastes after resting a day.

The buchty? Not pretty. I'm not sure what went wrong. The dough was eerily similar to making egg noodle dough - it wouldn't join together no matter what, it wouldn't knead, it was very unhappy in the Kitchenaid, and it was homely. That's right, a homely dough. I felt sorry for it.

Strange, yes? Cracked and pitted, not as dry as they look, but not as golden and glossy as the picture - at least it tasted okay. Obviously, the fault lies with me - but I don't know how to fix it. I don't LIKE not knowing what went wrong. The sourdough starter, I cooked it. But this? I'm just not sure. I suppose I'll try regular white or wheat rolls, though, soon, and see if I can do that.

Funny, though, the connections emerging between cooking, writing & my gym/food life extravaganza. My delightful writing group, the Self-Forging Fragments, have encouraged me with my first published story. Even with its flaws - of which there were so many that I was horrified to see it online - they suggested that maybe "Skinned" held a different point: to take me somewhere, to show me something, a stepping stone for new ideas and goals and platforms. Maybe the buchty, the failed sourdough, is the same way. Opens doors to new breads. New chances. Maybe the Y has been the same thing for me, leading me to this gym, this new trainer, new definition in my triceps, and an increased stamina so Amy and I can run the Oklahoma Memorial Half-Marathon with success. That's encouraging to me. Inspiring.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Options. Lots of Yeastie options.

Part of me wants to blather on about how this was such a hard New Year's, how thinking about my first year without Mom is ___ and ____; I hate how it has attempted to overshadow mine & John's joyous first complete year with no long distance. But this is a happy blog, not my honest morning pages. So cheers to the regularity of life, which includes awful and traumatic things, too.

For example, the lack of rising in my starter. John gracefully pointed out - the lovely man - that it's flatter this morning than it was last night. Yeasties grows around 80-90 degrees and die at 120, so clearly the temperature is at fault, which I have already suspected and commented on. How to fix this? I am determined to have fresh sourdough with soup in two days.

Then I get the great idea to turn the oven on, set the jar atop a burner, and turn the oven off. Off, on, all day. I do so, grab my coffee, go upstairs and write my morning pages. When I go back down for a refill, the oven is still on, and there is brown crystallizing on the bottom of the jar. I have cooked the yeasties! The bottom measures 140 - a brutal death. But the mid to top of the goop reports 100, so perhaps they're still clinging on? Survivors? I'm ready to throw it all away and collapse dramatically on the couch, never to bake again, but John says 'perhaps you can try again.' My initial response is 'I've been trying this since last Sunday! I am a failure!'

This might be one of those times Malia says you have to laugh about it, and remember. We have options. Other breads. Other recipes. New starters. New everything.

Yet, a triumph to report from last night - not the lasagna, which was splendid with the semolina noodles. Absolutely delicious. I adore my Kitchenaid and the pasta maker appliance. Hungarian Split Farmhouse Loaf, you are a wonder. 4 cups flour, some salt, sugar (the grocery didn't have caster sugar - what is WITH this state? - so I used regular), fennel, water & butter. And yeasties - the recipe called for fresh, which of course cannot be found here, but it converst to dry easily enough. Off the top of my head, it's 2 1/4 tsp per .6 oz (one yeast cake, I believe) of fresh. Then of course I didn't read the recipe through, so it didn't autolyze properly (flour and water hang out, bond, create gluten), resulting in a ugly pile of dough that didn't look anything like the picture in my cookbook.

But then John punched the hell out of the dough - he likes to do that - and it smoothed out some of the rough edges. And the rising! Super speedy, and the fennel created a marvelous aroma.

It looked like a turkey. But oh, the taste! We garlicked up half and ate with the lasagna, and the rest will be for egg paninis this morning.

The key lime pie was a success, too. A simple graham cracker crust, which I could not force myself to purchase since they're so easy to make. Then I modified the recipe because I wanted to use up some cream cheese - only 1/2 a can of sweetened condensed milk instead of the full, only 2 egg yolks instead of 4, 3/4th a packet of Neufchatel, 3/4 cup of lime juice - I squeezed about a dozen key limes until I got annoyed and poured in regular lime juice (yes, I need a squeezer), and that was that! Only bakes for 15 minutes at 350, and just delicious - not as heavy as a true cheese cake, but far more fulfilling than plain key lime. I stuck the thumb of my oven mitt in it as I was pulling the pie out of the oven, so no picture. Plus, we were on on the end of the champagne bubbly, after already tapping into the wine hours earlier, so I wasn't thinking about pictures - only sugar, and sleep. We didn't even finish the movie we ordered because I was so sleepy - so now we'll watch terminating robots with our breakfast! Perfect.

On the agenda today, a whole lovely day of possibility - I have decided to bake a chocolate stout cake to bring to John's mom's house tomorrow; always a hit, and I don't want to wait until St. Pat's day to make it again. I already purchased 2 bottles of fancy chocolate stout - one for the cake and one for the cook. Plus, it tastes better when it sits a full day. Next, meatballs! With John's very amazing marinara, my meatball recipe modified from Mom's, and my attempt at buchty. Popular in Poland and Germany as breakfast bread, but supposedly tasty with cured meats, which is what drew my eye. Both of my eyes. We're going to skip the powdered sugar icing and see how they turn out. I'm excited.

What I'm really thinking about this morning is cheese. Smelly, ripe, delicious cheese. Good thing stores are closed or I might take myself somewhere and purchase anything I can find that I haven't tried before.

And then because Kitty has started napping by the vent, I moved one of his beds there. And look what I just found -

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sourdough Starter Day 5

Whoops, missed a day. But nothing happened, at least nothing of my doing, although I did purchase several delicious bottles of stout that John and I consumed along with delicious Chinese food. But my yeasties aren't growing the way I want and need them to, perhaps because of the rather chilly temperature of our home. Hypothetically, the volume should be doubling itself, and this morning of day 5, it had grown .5 of an inch, if that.

So...change of plans. I will keep the yeasties as warm as can be with feverish and dedicated baking in the next 3 days, in hopes that I can make sourdough bread on Sunday, with soup. And then tonight, we'll try a new bread to garlic up. And tomorrow, another new bread for meatball sandwiches. One can never have too many meatballs, especially with my version of Mom's Swedish meatballs. This will be the third time in three weeks. Yes. And if I can find a damn store that will sell the right cut of lamb, I can use my happy meat grinder and make that recipe in the January Bon Appetit.

Amazing, yes?

And then for next week's meatballs, I want these: I already bought the ancho chili powder, and next week I'll buy happy poblanos, since the ones currently in the fridge may need to be salvaged for breakfast eggs, as they're growing wrinkly.

I dreamed of bread last night. Oat bread, dark rye, light rye, carroway, dill, millet, whole grain, whole meal, oatmeal, cornmeal, etc. I suppose that's not surprising, considering every new venture or job I have results in this. When I first started working at Bath & Body Works back at Wheaton, I dreamed about the various scents of lotions possible for weeks. At Starbucks in grad school, coffees. At the accounting firm here, putting together tax returns. This dream wasn't anything out of the ordinary except that it was delightful. There was no stress of putting together the wrong gift basket, screwing up the nonfat extra foam half-caff sugar-free vanilla extra-hot latte, or forgetting to put the Oklahoma return summary after the Federal return summary. There was only bread, delicious, round, warm, fragrant and fresh. I hated waking up, not because I was tired or had too much stout & msg the night before and my head & gut both ached, but because the breads were obliterated by the ringing of my alarm.

But the bonus to all that is that I bought semolina flour yesterday! Tonight, fresh homemade noodles. John thinks he's got the sauce all figured out (I think he thinks I put too much oregano & basil in the mix), so he's in charge of that, and we'll make a stellar lasagna (thanks to MO for the recipe, her dad's, I think!) to go with our champagne bubbly. (I have to clarify the 'bubbly,' since the Stocks girls say bubbly for bubbly water. And do I want to look up fun champagne bubbly cocktails, instead of champagne bubbly by itself? That could be memorable.) And there will be bread.

Kitty thinks this is all a great idea. He's already volunteered his help. He loves New Year's Eve. (John just snapped this pic and sent it to me. I've been lecturing Kitty lately to be social kitty, to go hang out downstairs with Daddy & Buddy instead of upstairs by himself all day.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sourdough Starter Day 3 part 2

Happy yeastie smell, happy yeastie bubbles. I took pictures. There's not the rising I'd hoped for, but perhaps that will come tomorrow? Here's hoping. John says it already smells like sourdough. And then he made me dinner, which was nice.

Sourdough Starter Day 3

Very ripe smell this morning, although fewer bubbles. But I had to breathe through my nose, and I consider that success. According to the blog where I've stumbled upon this fascinating process,, the gooey mess should begin doubling tomorrow? We'll see. We'll even see tonight, when I open the lid again. Tonight I'm taking pictures.

In the meantime, Kali invited John & I over for dinner on Saturday night, which means...cake! Can I tackle the peppermint meringue cake? Should I? No more tears over meringue, I've decided. 2 times this year is enough. Those damn meringue cookies. I WILL conquer you. I will destroy you! By eating you, or at least feeding you to John. Oh, and so if I get to make this peppermint chocolate-y deliciousness, then perhaps I can make him something lemon for our OKC anniversary. When I asked him last night, his first thoughts were lemon cream pie, but he does love meringue. Is it too much meringue for one weekend? When I've failed in all other meringue aspects? We shall see. Oh, and bread this weekend, too. Hopefully the sourdough.

Here's the cake. Mine won't look like this, I can guarantee. But it MAY be as tasty.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sourdough Starter Day 2

Bubbles! But not until tonight, after I had given it twelve extra hours (from this morning) and set it atop the fridge through the day in order to stay warm, since we keep the house fairly frigid. A nice ripe smell, too, which I was thrilled for. Per usual, I guessed when removing the 2/3rds out - hopefully it was close enough to the correct volume to not screw it up.

I want to make John both a regular loaf this upcoming weekend, and perhaps sourdough garlic bread (does that work?) this weekend for our one year together (not long distance) here in OKC. We'll see. I'm already afraid it won't rise.

At least he liked the Swiss chard tonight, although I overseasoned it a bit. And he loved the spaghetti squash. But who doesn't, when it's topped with asiago and butter?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sourdough Starter Day 1

The sourdough starter is ready, in a plastic container with the lid loose for gases to escape. I'm not certain it's going to work, since only 1 out of every 2 breads I make succeeds at all, although John might say it's 3 out of 4. But since I tend to throw things together, which works far better for cooking than baking, we'll see how it turns out. It sits for 12 more hours at least, possibly 24, before I do anything else.

But this baking bread thing is important for both my sanity and John' s - I can't keep baking cakes & cookies, since we both eat them. So I get my baking fix, and he gets bread.

Plus, we have all of Mom's cookies that I made for Christmas sitting in the tins I bought to give to Shannon and never did, because our flights were cancelled. Noodle cookies, of course (John thinks I should make them with peanut butter chips instead of butterscotch next year), French buttercreams (only red, this second batch), cream cheese mint cookies, a friend's recipe (which I dyed green and rolled in sprinkles - they look like ornaments, deliciously festive), and Russian tea cakes. No meringues, after 2 huge failures. Next year. And I'll make that damn peppermint meringue cake, too.

In the meantime, Buddy is laying against the chair with his bone, and Kitty's passed out on the suitcase, which I still need to unpack since obviously we never went to Houston. And it's time for breakfast.