Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold Nights and Knitting

I've been spending the cold, dark nights of January knitting by the fire. Doesn't that sound all warm and fuzzy and rustic? The reality of it actually is that I've been sitting on my couch next to an electric heater that looks like a fireplace with my husband watching TV.  I am still warm and cozy. However, in my mind, I am imagining that I am knitting in a chair by a hearth in a 18th century house with candles burning. I don't hear the blaring sounds of the television ; instead, I hear the clank of the needles as strands of yarn form delicate little loops that will be transformed into a warm article of clothing. While the idea of knitting brings out my inner colonial lady, my actually knitting projects do not seem to reflect that era.
Here is one of my recent creations:

I knit an Arrowhead scarf made with Feza  Alp yarn. The overall  pattern wasn't hard to follow. I did however find this particular yarn challenging due to the fact that it is made up of various fibers with different textures. I am glad I persevered. The colors and textures create a beautiful piece of wearable art!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dulce de Leche Cookies

I had to do some cookie baking for someone special. When I went into my cabinet, I discovered two cans of dulce de leche that I had bought last month and forgot all about. I found this recipe for Dulce de Leche Cookies on one of my favorite food blogs, Annie's Eats. The recipe is from the cookbook, Dorie Greenspan's Baking:From My Home to Yours , which is one of my revered baking cookbooks. I took a peek in the book to find that Dorie suggested spreading melted bittersweet chocolate on each side of the cookie before spreading with the leche. YUM! I took it a step further and added coconut. YUM! YUM!

I was a little concerned that these might be too sweet adding all of the extras but they are not at all! The cookie itself has a  subtle flavor of caramel and is chewy. I could easily eat a few of them plain with a glass of milk and be content. Adding the chocolate, dulce de leche, and the coconut turns turns my contentment into pure bliss. Who wouldn't want a cookie that does that?

Photo by: Heidi Blanchard

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baking Bread

Back in the late 80s when my hubby was in the army, we lived in a small village in Germany which contained not just one, but two quaint bakeries.  I knew I could always walk to one and pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread.  I rarely did do that though. I used to make my own bread in those days. I was taught how to bake bread by Maria, my German landlady. She was solid woman who wore an apron around her waist and a kerchief on her snow white hair. She always had the biggest smile on her very round face and the first time I shook her hand, I was astounded by the broadness of her palm and the strength it contained. I’m not sure how old she was but I would say that she had to be in her sixties.
Maria taught me the basics-proofing the yeast, kneading, rising, baking and listening to your bread.  She taught me how to make a starter but at this moment, I can’t remember that instruction. I think if I peel away some crusty layers of my brain, I might remember. All of these teachings were in German (mind you, my knowledge of the German language was  in its rudimentary stage) so there were times I would stare at her in utter bewilderment as she would say, “Verstehst du?” (Do you understand?) I would nod my head, saying “Ja, Ich ferstehe” (Yes, I understand) but not really having a clue. Somehow, we spoke the universal language of baking and the end result would be a loaf of bread.
Eventually, I was able to bake my own loaf from start to finish without my landlady’s help.  I remember her praising me, telling me that I was a good bread baker. She also told me "now that you can make bread, you will always eat". At least that is how I translated what she said to me.  I think she was trying to use the same philosophy as the quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat forever.” I was young and at that time in my life, I didn’t really give it much thought. Looking back now, I realize that she had gone through WWII in Nazi Germany and most likely had seen and experienced many things during her young years. Food was scarce and rationed. I believe that Maria must have made bread to feed her family. I like to think that she was telling me that bread is a basic necessity of life. By baking bread, one sustains life.
Fast forward to life now… I live in the tri-state area where I can get the most awesome bread. There isn’t anywhere in the US where I can get a better loaf of Italian bread. I can also get a hearty Jewish rye or a “to die for” sourdough bread. Bread is everywhere. I haven’t baked bread since I lived in Germany. In the 90s, somebody gave me a bread machine but I never used it.  I gave it away. I didn’t need to bake bread (especially not with a machine!) I was too busy.
Last year, I realized that life was getting too crazy. I took a hard look at my family and how we lived. We were too dependent on “things” and gadgets. I felt a very strong urge to simplify. So since my epiphany, I have been taking baby steps to create a more simple life. I started taking those first steps in my kitchen. Bread is being made in my kitchen these days with my hands while my Kitchen Aid takes a well deserved break on the shelf. Bread is simple. Bread is basic. Bread is life sustaining.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

I eat Cheerios with fruit every Monday through Friday for breakfast. In my mind, I feel as if Cheerios are some sort of "super" food that cures all that could possibly be wrong in my body. I also feel this way about yogurt and apples. Yes, I eat those daily too. I'm not sure why  but these "super" foods work for me. According to my doctors, all possible levels of whatever they look for in my blood are perfect and my blood pressure is excellent. So maybe I am on to something; maybe my solution could be the next "Atkins" craze. Maybe Cheerios can pay me lots of money for these findings. Maybe... Oh, wait,  I am getting off track here. This is a post about blueberry muffins (I think?).

So once the weekdays are done, Saturday and Sunday arrive, and I want something different for breakfast. Sunday is easy; since the beginning of time in this house, breakfast has always been buttermilk pancakes, bacon/sausage and eggs. However, Saturday is a free for all - bagels, croissants, danish, scones, etc... If I had to choose just one thing for Saturday morning breakfast, hands down it would be my blueberry muffins. I have had this recipe forever.  These muffins are simple, light and delicious.  No add ins. No toppings. Just blueberries with a slight hint of lemon. I love them warm with a small pat of butter.I think you will too.

Blueberry Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease bottoms only of 12 muffin cups.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries *

In a medium bowl, mix the above ingredients; adding blueberries last. Set aside.

3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten

In a small bowl combine the above ingredients. Blend well. Add to the dry ingredients all at once. Mix only until moistened. Do not over mix!!  Fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 22 minutes until light golden brown. Let rest 1 minute. Remove from pan. Serve warm.

*I like to buy fresh blueberries on sale and then freeze them so I always have them on hand.