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Through The Screen Door

"Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson; you find the past perfect and the present tense"

Frugality

January 30, 2011

With the economy, in less than stellar condition,  people are learning how to be more frugal.   Growing up, I had the privilege, of seeing frugality at it’s finest. My Mom could make anything out of, well, just about anything! Everything was made from scratch. Once a week, we baked bread, made crackers, and homemade egg noodles (to die for!). We always had a garden and chickens. Some of my fondest memories are in a steamy kitchen on canning day, washing cucumbers, pitting cherries, or slicing strawberries. REAL frugality! We also talked. Nothing sets the world to right, like work for your hands, and a talk with your Mom. Nobody takes the time to really TALK anymore!  And, until you’ve had a slice of bread, fresh from the oven, doused in butter and slathered with homemade jam, you, my friend, have not lived!

Now that I’ve made myself, and a few others I’m sure, hungry for homemade bread, here is the recipe that I’ve come up with!

“Simple Bread”

5-6 cups all purpose flour (can substitute whole wheat for 1 or 2 cups)

3 tablespoons dry yeast

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt

2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)  NOTE: I just use mine hot out of the tap.  I fill up my cup when the water is too hot to keep my hand under it.

cake pan of hot water.

1. In a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer), mix 3 cups of the flour, with the yeast, sugar, and salt.  Pour in the hot water and beat 100 strokes (or 3 minutes with your mixer).  NOTE: I use my stand mixer and start out with the paddle, then switch to the dough hook later.

2. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough loses its stickiness.  NOTE: Here is where I switch from the paddle to the dough hook.  Also, if you’re not sure, error on the side of too wet rather than too dry.  The dough should leave the sides of the bowl, but still be a bit sticky on the bottom.  You will have to get this out of the bowl with a rubber spatula!

3. Turn your mixer to medium speed and let it knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes.  NOTE:  If you’re doing this by hand, turn onto a floured surface, and knead for 15-20 minutes, adding flour as needed, until satiny.  Kneading is less about time, and more about texture.  The dough should be satiny and springy.  You should be able to stretch a piece until you can see light through it, without it breaking.

4. Turn the dough, from the bowl of your mixer, onto a floured surface, and knead by hand for 5 minutes.  I like to finish off the kneading by hand so you squish some LOVE into the bread!  It will be a bit gooey, but don’t despair!  You can add a little bit of flour as you go if it gets too sticky to handle.  Also, you know your yeast is working at this stage because you will often hear little “poofs” of air escaping when you “smoosh” the dough! Obviously, if you’ve kneaded the dough by hand, you can go to step 5.

5.  Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a warm damp cloth, and let it rise for 15-20 minutes in a warm spot, away from drafts. NOTE: I turn my oven to the lowest setting, some new ones actually have a “proofing” setting, and put my bread in there to rise.

6. Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 sections.  With a rolling pin, roll each one into a large rectangle, about 1/2″ thick.  Starting at one end, roll the dough in on itself, into a log.  Pinch the seam closed.  Pinch both ends closed, and tuck them under the log.  Place each log in buttered bread pans.

7. Place the loaves of bread in a COLD oven and put the cake pan of hot water on the shelf underneath.  Turn the oven to 400 degrees (mine runs hot, so I usually do 375.  You’ll have to play with yours and see what works best) and set your timer for 40-50 minutes.  40 usually does it for me.  The bread is done when it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.  NOTE: Do NOT use a vintage cake pan as it can have ancient “gunk” in the pores which will leak out once the oven heats up, puddle on the bottom of your oven, and start a nice little “campfire” at the bottom of said oven…don’t ask how I know…just trust me on this one!

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Why The Screen Door You Ask?

January 24, 2011

Well, I was pondering the other day – yes, I do that at random.  Washing dishes, showering, cooking, walking the dog, gardening…all good opportunities to ponder!  But I digress. – It seems to me, the screen door, in many ways embodies “Nostalgia”.  That feeling you get sometimes, like maybe you would like to go back, even for an afternoon, to a time when life was less complicated.   No matter which side of the screen door you started on, it was a portal to things held dear.

As you stepped inside, you were enveloped with the fragrant welcome of Mom’s cooking. The jewel tones of homemade jelly, summer in a jar, slathered on fresh bread, tempted you to try just one bite. Greedy fingers, risked life and limb, to steal the gooey perfection of cookies, straight from the oven.

Crisply starched aprons, flaky pie crusts, buttery biscuits, and tangy lemonade, along with Mom’s hugs and laughter, were sure to be found within. Many a bump in life’s road has been smoothed out over a pitcher of cold sweet tea.

A lot is uncertain in life. Few things can be counted upon. But you always knew (and if you’re lucky, know still) that if you needed it, comfort was just a short distance away. Through the screen door…..

“You Want Me To What?!

January 23, 2011

Fix it. I want you to fix it. Yes, I said it! That phrase that has been nearly obliterated from our modern vocabulary. “It’s not worth fixing”, “Cheaper to just buy a new one”, and on and on it goes.
It wasn’t that long ago, nearly every self respecting town, boasted an appliance repair shop. I recently discovered however; those days are long gone!

It all started when my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer made a funny noise and – GASP! – bogged down in the middle of one of our bread making sessions. After rocking back and forth, clutching it to my bosom, and whispering tenderly that “Mommy will make it all better!”, I made the decision to seek professional advice. “No problem,” I thought. Just whip out the old phone book and go to it! After confidently jotting down a few phone numbers, I set about the task of calling.

A sense of foreboding began to set in when, I got to the 4th number on my list, and it too was disconnected. So you can imagine my wild excitement, when a real live person answered the next one I tried! There was hope after all. Repair men were not mythical creatures on par with unicorns, pink elephants, and the cable guy! But my joy was short-lived.

The perky lady, who answered the phone, had no idea what a counter top mixer WAS! In my state of utter shock, I involuntarily muttered something sarcastic about it being a small appliance, that resides on one’s counter, traditionally used for mixing things. Like FOOD for example……
Still astonished, I asked again if this was a small appliance repair shop. Polly Positive assured me it was indeed. And furthermore, she was going personally, to inquire whether or not, they could repair this mysterious creature known only as “Counter Top Mixer”.
When she came back, I was cheerfully informed, they could most certainly repair my mixer! (I know, quick recovery huh!). The charge would be $25 to look at it. Extra if the mixer needed taken apart for repairs.

At this point, I knew three things: #1. The issue could NOT be solved by merely staring it down (naturally, I tried THAT first thing!). So $25 would be only the beginning of my investment. #2. These people were NOT touching my mixer! and #3. I felt that they should pay ME $25 to look at my gorgeous Kitchen Aid mixer. Because after all, before I waltzed into their lives, they didn’t even know what one WAS!

So, you ask, what did I finally do? I called the last number, and a wonderful fellow, who said his name was Ray, answered the phone. He said he’d look at Old Red for free, but based on her behavior, he already knew what was ailing her. The repair would cost $40 or less, including parts. Ray told me they were closed on Saturdays, but if that day worked better for me, I was welcome to call and come by, because he was sometimes there on the weekends.

As I hung up the phone, I had to smile. I had reached a real person, who was friendly and knowledgeable. But most important to me, he knew EXACTLY what I meant when I said, “Yes, I want you to fix it!”

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