Friday, July 31, 2015

Blog Books and Bread

I find I am putting more and more pictures on my blog recently, and now a recipe,  and here is the reason.

I found a site that easily turns each year of the blog into a book.  I love scrapbooking and have made many a scrapbook. I have multiple fancy scissors, paper punches, stickers, stamps and on and on.  But life's events of one type and another have not left time for such pursuits in a very long while.

This is just too easy,  put in the dates, and there are the pictures, dated and in order, for my littles to peruse when they visit, in a lovely hard bound book.

With that in mind, I've decided to do a tutorial, of sorts, on bread and cinnamon rolls.  A friend at Lafayette Elementary where I attended, as did all of my children and now my grandchildren, shared a starter with me a very long time ago.  My kids were in grade school. I've made the bread since.  Later, I decided to use the dough for cinnamon rolls that are somewhat famous locally, and then it dawned on me to try them as savory, cheesy, garlic rolls.  Recently another blogging Grandma asked how I made them and it occurred to me that down the road, a Gramerling might like to know how I do it.  Rae-rae has pursued the perfection of sour dough bread.  I was the recipient of that freshly baked yumminess on a couple of our pre-K dates.  Ceece would rather take pictures of someone cooking, it isn't her thing.
So, I'll set down my culinary secrets here and perhaps a Gramerling will pick it up one day and it will be his or her thing. You are instantly welcomed anywhere with a loaf of this bread or a pan of rolls.

I've actually given this recipe and the starter to many people, even showing them step by step, but only Ms. Glitzy makes it and she makes it only for Thanksgiving.  The Monday before I bring her the starter and she fixes the bread for the family meal.

Don't have a starter? Well, I can give you one or if that isn't possible you can make your own with some sugar, water, yeast and potato.
Now you can take the long way home at Mother Earth News
using a whole, like real potato, or you can do like me and use flakes
This last recipe is the one I use.
 I seldom need to start a new starter, but when I have let it die, I usually make it, feed it, let's say twice over a week or two before using it.  It is a bit too yeasty to me to use immediately.

I feel there are likely a number of reasons that so few make this bread.
The first reason given to me is, "If I knew how to make this, the whole family would gain fifty pounds."  I reassure them that it only took about three years before the family stopped hovering around the oven waiting on the next batch to come forth.
Another reason might be because it is a two day process and you know we live in a world where speed is the ticket.  I am so accustomed to making this bread that it isn't a bit different to me than filling the coffee pot or brushing my teeth.  It takes 2 minutes to feed it in the morning, five minutes to stir up in the evening, two minutes to blop it in the pan the next morning and 25 minutes to bake, which doesn't require me.  I'm great at multi-tasking, so I hardly notice until that heavenly smell is wafting through the room.  Now, the rolls are more involved, but only an extra fifteen minutes.
If a person is a bread baker, this really isn't like traditional bread, in that there is no kneading, at all.  It is a very tender, soft bread.

So, if I want to bake a loaf anytime from noon to supper, let's say on Sunday, I plunk the starter on the counter when I'm doing kitchen stuff on Saturday.  This may be 5am or 1pm, either way works.  In a measuring cup I put a cup of hot water, add 3/4 cup sugar and the potato flakes, stir, add to starter, leave on counter, and ignore.

Saturday evening, I stir it up.  For whatever reason, I  start by throwing some sugar and salt in the bowl. I just use my hand and put more sugar and less salt and don't really worry about measuring, but it is 1/4 cup sugar and a tablespoon salt.Next in the measuring cup I put the half cup of oil, followed by the one and half cups warm water.  Does any of this matter? No, but I ever feel the need for doing things that make sense and when I use oil and warm water, it makes sense to do the oil first, so the warm water rinses any oily residue out of the cup.  Then a cup of starter, stir. Put the starter back in frig.
I paid more attention the last time I made it to see exactly how much bread flour I was using.
I actually only use 4 and a half to 5 cups.  You see here at two cups it is watery and lumpy, fine.

The next two cups give you a wiggly blob, but it is no longer watery.

This is what I'm looking for, still taking the flour in, but not dry or  terribly stiff.

And that's it-done. Throw a dishtowel over it and forget it.
When you wake up in the morning, it should look like this.

Though our thermostat stays the same most of the year, it still rises more in summer, but doesn't make any difference in the end product.
At this point, you can decide if you want bread or rolls. Bread?  I spray three bread pans with a spray oil and just use the spatula (that I typically left rising with the dough in the bowl) to blop one third of the dough into each pan.  This is a very scientific, mathematical activity.  It goes like this, "Hmm, that looks right," blop.   And the loaves will be never look exactly the same or be uniform.  I have never had a person comment on that when they are stuffing it in their mouth.

Cover with a towel.  Bake it a few hours later, again for lunch or for supper, or anytime in between. I usually bake at 350 for 25 to thirty minutes till brown on top and hollow sounding if you plunk it.  I butter it, let it sit ten minutes.  Usually I turn the bread over in my toweled hand, flip the pan and sit the bread on it.  Wait another few minutes to cut. Again, this a tender bread.  When time to slice, I use a long, serrated blade and sort of pull out the end while slicing.  Other people at my house just pull off hunks and eat it.  They are unconcerned with uniform slices.
As soon as it cools, if there is any left to cool, I put  it in a plastic bag.  This has no preservatives and will not last in the bread drawer for ten weeks like store bought. If you don't eat it in three days, freeze or refrigerate.  It makes the best cinnamon toast EVER!

If you want to try rolls, then put some flour all over a blank, clean spot on the counter (prime real estate in my kitchen and usually takes longer to acquire than the time it takes to make the rolls), blop the whole dough on the flour and sort of shape it into, umm, well whatever you might call this blob.

 Roll it into a big rectangle the size of a jelly roll pan, which is half again bigger than a 9 by 13 pan.  I use a rolling pin Handy Man made me twenty five years or more ago. I needed one, of course, right this minute one day.   He said he didn't have any cured wood, but he'd make me one right this minute from what he had and when it cracked and split, he'd just make me a new one.  Did I say Handy Men are so very handy?
He brought me this.

 It never has done anything but roll doughs around in all these many years, so I don't know what he was talking about- no cracking or splitting.  I figure I'm going before it does and maybe a Gramerling will take on the bread making and the rolling pin will come with it.  I've been places with no rolling pin. I've used big cans, small cans, my hands, whatever, just smash it around till it looks like a big rectangle.
So, for savory rolls, I mix a cup of cheese, usually sharp cheddar, but use whatever you fancy, in the first dough round.  Oh, that's funny, dough round. I mean you put in the cheese with the salt, sugar, water, etc. No change for cinnamon rolls.
Next, I melt a stick of butter and smear it all over the rectangle for cin rolls.
Savory, I've already mixed butter with garlic (which I've usually roasted before hand) and smear that over the dough. Ahem, Sandy if you are reading this do not throw yourself off anything, ha!
I then cover the butter for the sweet rolls with brown sugar, then cinnamon.  How much?  Of course you would ask that. Ughh, till it looks like this picture.  Maybe one to one and a half cups brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkled all over.

 For savory, I sprinkle with parmesan.
Let me interject here that I am an ingredient snob. I use real butter, real vanilla, Philadelphia cream cheese, and I do not buy powdery, parmesan fluff stuff. My only concession, is those potato flakes and that is likely because that is the recipe originally given me.
I start at the back, left corner and pull a little forward, across, forward, across. Get the idea?
 And now you have a log.
 Next, I slice and arrange in sprayed pan.  A 9 by 13 pan yields twelve to fifteen rolls, depending on how thick you cut them and one recipe makes two pans.

Sometimes when you just want a taste, I roll the rectangle longer so the log is skinnier and thereby smaller rolls.  Cover, for the day, or begin this whole process in the evening and cover for the night, so they are good to go in the oven first thing the next morning. Bake at 350, 25 minutes like the bread.
I ice these with an icing made from one box of cream cheese, one stick of butter, one pound 10x sugar and some vanilla that is beaten until fluffy.  If I'm traveling with the rolls and it's possible, I put the icing in a ziploc bag and bake them wherever I am going.  The smell is half the thrill.  I then slice and ice.
An amusing memory of these rolls.  Once we hosted a young lady from Japan.  I had made rolls and left them covered on the bar.  She said, "I ask you question?"  I replied, "Of course."  Curiously she inquired while lifting the wax paper off the rolls, "What happen to middles?"  Ha. One of my cherubs, I suspect Drummer Boy, had eaten the soft middle out of every single roll.  I didn't say, "Well, middles aren't as good, so you pull them all out before serving."  What could I say?  I've eaten the middle out of the watermelon since I got married and realized I could.
Oh, I put some more garlic butter with parmesan and parsley on the savory rolls once they are baked, just in case there weren't enough calories already.
Alrighty, you can do this.  Let's make some bread.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

When Play is Work and Work is Play

I am a big daydreamer and one of my most prevalent daydreams has been having my own school. For all kinds of kids, but especially for my gramerlings.
I mean seriously, look at that face.  How could I ever want to teach anyone more than him?
That picture was taken ten years ago today when my first grandchild turned one.  I really had no idea how big that grandchild love could be.

Though a lot has changed in these ten years the love and the daydream remain the same.

Now, don't you know that I think I have all the answers to the appropriate way to educate young children and my school would be awesome. Such is the way of daydreams.
Alas, I can never quite come up with a way to keep the lights on in said school, so back to my regular teaching job I go. How blessed I am to know that while there won't be any gramerlings, there will be a lot of sweet, bright students.

Playdate has provided lots of opportunities for teaching my way and this summer I went a step further.  Rae-rae wants to do some Pre-K work at home with Giddy-Up this fall and just wanted some ideas about methods of teaching.  So, for these precious few weeks, maybe five, I was able to do Pre-K with my sweet boy and a side ( Mr. Smiley), just one day a week.

Sometimes the reality of a job makes it drop a notch or two, or perhaps completely, from the daydream agenda.  Hmm, well, not so much in this situation.  I would love to keep teaching him. I loved it. He loved it.  That lack of paycheck however is a force to be reckoned with isn't it?
I don't have many pictures as I was teaching.
Mr. Smiley developed quite a relationship with the Raggedy's whilst I was teaching.

We did a lot of what you might expect. While I truly don't much adhere to formal education before seven if there is an involved and interested adult around to lead exploration and discovery down appropriate paths and make connections that allow learning to just happen. He certainly has that in many adults in his life, especially his parents.  I realize that isn't how our culture works, so I did want him to know how school works.  So I did some learning, like an opening prayer and pledge and doing a lot of work with the calendar on days of the week, months of the year, weather and seasons.  Often he stood throughout instruction. That is never a problem for me at home or in the classroom.
This boy has an affinity for numbers, but has been a bit gun shy with letters.  This is very frequently the case with busy boys.  About the time he turned four in the spring, he began to turn the corner and enjoy writing, coloring and would tolerate his Mama dwelling a bit on how letters work.  
Anything to encourage that writing, mostly for building strength and stamina is a good idea. I thought he might enjoy that old Spirograph activity and he did.  I did too.

We worked each time with Cuisenaire rods. If you aren't familiar, small centimeter cubes are white, two cubes together are red, and so on to ten.  We would put together ten or twenty white cubes, then see if we could make the same size stick of another color (number group).  He would do this for a long time and figured out lots of things about numbers all on his own, as I somewhat guided this play.

I have quite a few very simple books that can easily be remembered from the pictures, so each week he would pick a new book to read.  Before we finished he was already reading his little book stack to his brother.
 Weekly,  we would practice making letters and numbers. It was really surprising to me how far along he came in just a few short weeks.
I would send home a little sheet of our activities, and each time he practiced one at home he received a sticker.
I also did other things, like cook with him and talk about measuring, etc.  This picture was taken after we put the chocolate cake in the oven.  We wrote a little book about the experience to add to his "I Can Read" collection.

One week Pappy was home with us and Mr. Smiley loved having him all to his self.  Pap got more loves and smooches. It was just the sweetest thing.
One week we broke out the apple peeler, corer, slicer to make pie.  Often Mr. Smiley joined us for parts of the lessons. Can you imagine my joy at how clever this little one is.  He had such a hard time at birth, I was worried it would make other things hard.   He not only wanted his turn at cranking, he wanted to put his apple on himself and understood just how it worked. This boy misses nothing.
In the school of my dreams, classes would have mixed ages. Even expectant Mama's could come.  Mr. Smiley is learning right along with his buddy.
I love the look on Giddy-Up's face here. Apples that are a bit squishy don't work to well on this apparatus.

I let my apt student cut little shapes in the dough

He then wanted to put the cut outs back on the blank spots.  Since Pappy loves apple pie, as does Giddy-Up's Papa, I said we would make two, so he could take one home.  He said, "Oh, but I want to eat some here."
I told him we would eat some after lunch and then he could take the other one home. While he picked the smaller pie as his own, that's the one he wanted us to eat, so the big one went home.  Bright as a button this one.
Next he ordered another cake, but since the last one was a rectangle, he wanted this one to be round.
I found some dye that is natural, as he has a bad reaction to Red Dye #40.  He loves to have colored food, so we made a rainbow cake.  

He said this was a King's cake and enjoyed creating it as much as eating it.

On our last day, he found a feather and asked for ink so he could write. We had many such impromptu activities. I had no agenda in mind, just to let him explore an idea.

One day I gave him this same tray with a dot of water color paste in each well, an eye dropper, paper, water  and a paint brush.  He mixed colors for the very longest time.  I had no expectation of an end product. The process was sufficient.  Our little morning school time would eventually melt into summer play.  Last Thursday, the creek was still amazing, so we spent a couple of hours of more discovery as he constructed his own lake to the side, while again, Mr. Smiley played right along in a puddle he made  him.

Along with Playdate, these days were absolutely the very best of my summer.  I will miss them so.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Science, Drama and the End of 2015 Summer Playdate

So, yesterday we finally reached the point at Mom's that we are seeing empty basement rooms and can  pass each other in the garage without tripping.  Yesterday, Aunt SuZQ and Aunt Tish ran an impromptu yard sale, while I sorted Mom's costume jewelry for her on the porch.  I took pictures of the result of our six weeks of hard work and heartbreak, but decided to just keep those for myself.  Some people are very insensitive, or just flat out inappropriate to Mom.
Due to the yard sale, a few neighbors asked to see Mom.  As I said, she and I were sitting on the back porch, sorting her jewelry, no where near the sale.  The neighbor greets her, then leans over her and grabs an old duck diaper pin out of her jewelry box, no doubt one of ours and says, "Can I have this, I haven't been able to find a big safety pin anywhere?"   I leaned over and took it back and said, "No, that's a keepsake."  Rude.  Now normally, if Mom offers you anything, anything at all, I'm giving you the "Pleading Eye."  Please, please take it.  But this wasn't stuff in the yard sale, or that Mom had even seen all of yet. And, in an unusual turn of events, there was only that one little ducky diaper pin, not six dozen where that came from.
There were things to lighten the mood, and for me, this will always be a sure fire way.
Excuse me, but you are not giving away my pretty beads, are you?

Okay, back to our last long day Playdate.  When we pulled the cherubs out of the creek for lunch, they had a surprise visitor. Mom was able to come with her caretaker for a couple of hours to see them.

Uncle Jimi did one last tool time with the boys.  As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to add something to Playdate that was a bit more involved for the boys who are older, but the little ones are not at all accustomed to not being allowed to try everything and more and more became a part of the tool time hour.

Science this time included a pool of bubbles, more because we always do big bubbles and hadn't gotten to it yet this summer than about science.  This time I used a recipe with cornstarch of all things.  I couldn't really tell that it worked better than my old faithful - Dawn and glycerin (both of which were also in that recipe.

Two new activities this year.  I figured it would be hot and thought this would be most entertaining, especially for the wee ones.  It turns out the middlers were just as interested.  In the Mom Sort process, I came across an unopened packages of syringes.  Over a couple of days I froze a big dish pan of ice with layers of little plastic toys and beads.  I put a bucket of blue water, bowls of salt and the Antarctica miners had to release the treasures from the ice block, using the salt and syringes. This was a cool activity in several ways and they worked at it all afternoon.

Next, I provided buckets of water and a cheapy box of school erasers, pencil grips, etc., corks, sinkers (Handy Man scoured the garage for) and clay.  The objective- create a Flinker.  An object that neither floats nor sinks, but bobs about in the middle of the water.

Bean was the first successful Flinker creator.

This appealed to all the ages at some level, and they worked and worked to be successful.

 This is absolutely my favorite kind of activity.  So much thinking. Wow!

Of course, there was much creating of another sort as the little girls wrote, directed and acted in a play about flowers.

You know you can click on the pictures to see them bigger and I just know you want to read this.

Our beloved Anna Laura was able to join us for our last afternoon,  and lost no time making a friend of Mr. Smiley, and allowed him the pleasure of co-narrating the play from her hip.

Gee whiz, I am a total sap. When they at last lay down to rest, planting their seeds for the next generation, I nearly boo-hooed.  So sweet.

Uh, huh, I get it. Perhaps I'm prejudice, but I've paid money to see plays that in no way matched the cuteness of this one.  Love, Love, Love.

The middle of the afternoon brought a celebration of Bean's 11th birthday.  So hard to believe he's already that old.  

And before she made her exit, Ms. Glitzy once again performed our traditional "Mentos in Diet Coke" trick that still appeals.  It is kind of like the last fireworks on the 4th of July.

  And speaking of love, this is my Love's favorite Playdate activity.

So ended ten years of summer Playdates.

Sometime in the afternoon, I twisted my ankle and was again reminded of how very blessed we have been.  Ten years and the bees and a twisted ankle rank as the worst disasters.  Well, there was the time that  gigantic tree fell about five minutes before we would have been standing under it in the creek, and kind of terrified us for a minute, but we weren't under it.
Thank you Lord.  What learning, and what joy, what love has happened here.  I am grateful.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What a Wrap-Up

After weeks of abnormal rain, high humidity and energy sucking heat, our last summer Playdate dawned bright and beautiful with a slight drop in temperature and huge drop in humidity.  I'm telling you, about as good as it gets in late July in this area.  Thank you Lord!
We packed as much fun as possible into our last long day.
Sometimes I feel like I'm still twelve. I have been teary for three days. Duh, I've been teary since my last Friday at school, when I left there for the hospital, not knowing what awaited me that next week and the days that have followed since losing my sister.
Last time I spoke of transitional objects.  I need to figure out to make that work for me.  I am just having the worst time with summer being over.
Our last day was Science Day and celebrating that little Bean who is going to be eleven.  What?  What in the world are you talking about. How can that be?
I tried a couple of new things for science,  and I just absolutely get my kicks and giggles from watching those brains work when they are given a few little items and plenty of time.  Love it!
So, we'll begin where we've started Playdates this summer, in the deep, dark woods.  These pictures are from last week.  I forgot to take the camera into the woods this past Tuesday. The big boys went off on their own.  The little girls had other plans, so it was the big girls and little boys building a fort.

They can recognize lots of the woodland trees.  Giddy-Up is happy to point out the multi-flora rose that likely grew over Sleeping Beauty.  Best of all, they each became "noticers"  and went in the woods looking for a new plant, a different tree and tracks made by a deer and her fawn.  Mission accomplished.
After changing to swim suits, we didn't waste anytime heading for that perfect creek- so cool, and clear and still moving.   And a popsicle in a crystal clear beautiful creek just increases the joy factor.
 We used foam noodles and duct tape to create boats.

 These baby boys had the best time, whilst Ms. Glitzy serenaded them with "Ebony and Ivory."
I will continue this wrap-up later.  It is early, not even 7am but duty calls.  I just needed a shot of sunshine.  The work at Moms continues and continues to be hot, dirty, long and hear wrenching.  At least now we are actually experiencing cleared rooms and paths, which should encourage, but one look at her brokeness tends to bust that bubble with haste.  Today is a hurriedly thrown together yard sale.  I've never done a yard sale in my life, but I guess  we'll figure it out.  Thankfully, I have siblings to help and the Handy Man and Cpt.,  along with Jordan and Ol' Mother Hubbard have lent a hand to get us this far.  Likely, I'll do my best to comfort Mom while Aunt SuZQ and Aunt Tish run the sale. 
Still praying for direction and peace for my Mom.  We could use your prayers too.
I'm off to the bank for some dollars in change.