Monday, June 13, 2011

Bread That Rises?

A few months ago, I bought a loaf of Winter Wheat bread for $4.99.

$4.99?! Seriously?!

I have this silly mindset where things just shouldn't cost that much more than they did when I was a kid. I don't know if it comes from a denial of my true age, ("These things were $0.78 five years ago when I was in 5th grade!") or from my inborne cheapskate tendencies ("I can get these 73% cheaper at Goodwill!"). But, one way or the other, I was offended at having to lay down five smackaroos for some flour and water.

So, I decided that we were going to eat homemade bread from now on. How hard could it be?


It started out easily enough -

Proof your yeast. Check. Add honey. Check. Add unbleached bread flour. Check. Add whole wheat flour. Check. Add seeds, cornmeal, oat bran. Check check check. Flour board. (I want this to be healthy bread, so I flour board with whole wheat. . .) Knead 10-15 minutes.

Wait, wasn't I supposed to add salt? Aye aye aye! Now how do I get the salt in there? It's all kneaded together.

Is it supposed to feel like a rump roast as you knead? Oh well, they say keep flouring the board until it won't accept any more flour. It's starting to seem like it won't accept any more kneading! But keep going for at least 10 minutes. You can breathe and stretch your tired arm muscles while it's rising.

Oil a large glass bowl. Place large hard ball into oiled bowl and roll around to coat. Cover. (What better to cover something with than plastic wrap?) Let rise until dough doubles in size, approximately 60-90 minutes.

Hmm. It's not getting bigger... I dunno... Maybe it is... No, not much.

Massage sore muscles.

Check dough again. Well, it's been 90 minutes, so it's time to start kneading again. Now it's supposed to start "talking to you". Mine's been talking to me, and has quite an attitude if I do say so myself.

Punch down. (I'm not sure why this step is needed, as it wasn't being that rude...) Pour onto floured surface and knead for an additional 5-10 minutes. How on earth do people do this; it's so tough I can hardly fold it over on itself! Eh, best to just follow directions...

Divide in half. Place in bread pans. Cover. Let rise another 30-50 minutes until doubled.

Oh my goodness - it's rising! I can see it through the saran wrap! Woohoo! I must be doing something right!

Preheat oven. Uncover dough.

Wait, what's happening? It just . . . deflated! Flat! Like less than flat, concave!

Maybe that's supposed to happen. I'm sure it'll rise again in the heat of the oven. Won't it?

No. No, it won't.

Bake 18-25 minutes until golded brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.

Yeah, hollow, right.

In 20 minutes, look in oven. Discover than you've just made . . . bricks. Brown, yes. Hollow, no.

Think maybe it'll still be delicious.

Try to serve it to husband.


Grab wallet, car keys, and try not to choke as you hand the cashier $5.29 for a loaf of Winter Wheat.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Jane Austen School of Homemaking

I think it ought to be noted that I am, like much of my sex, an avid Jane Austen reader; an enthusiast to be sure. I find myself easily lost in the language of her novels and the sweeping orchestral panoramics of the movies. And their lives - they were simpler then. All a woman worried about was finding a suitable mate of good fortune and making sure you had an appropriate bonnet to wear with your new sprigged muslin dress. Your time was to be spent in such pursuits as drawing, writing letters, needlepoint, and practicing your pianoforte.

When did they have time to do the washing, the dusting, the candlemaking , the cooking, and so forth?

They didn't. They had maids, menservants, and housekeepers. How else could Marianne Dashwood declare that she was going to spend six hours of every day in earnest study after she realized the frivolity of her life thus far? What kind of inheritance would Longbourne have been for Mr. Collins had it not been perfectly able to keep a cook? Of course they needed servants - they had things to do!

Daniel Pool, in his book What Jane Austen Ate & Charles Dickens Knew,

a reference guide detailing all things 1800's and English, states:
"That was, afterall the whole point of being a lady - you didn't DO anything, except tell the servants what to do, receive your callers, and work on your embroidery or perhaps paint decorative flowers on the fire screen for the hearth."

What a life, eh?

But, as nice as it sounds, I have to say I enjoy the thought of keeping up with all those things myself. Ok, maybe not the actual keeping up with them, but certainly of being capable of doing so. I'd like to walk through this life not overwhelmed by the mounting pile of laundry in the corner or the dust accumulating in between the slats on the back of my dining room chairs. I want my future chdren to say that I was amazing. "My mom did it all!" they'll say when I'm old & gray. I hope.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the lifestyle portrayed in Regency novels is not one that can be easily copied, though I do think that knitting and practicing music are wonderful and fulfilling passtimes. But who has extra time to pass?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What I'm Doing Here...

Where do I begin?

I have been single and living on my own since I've been considered a "grown-up". Honestly, I thought I was doing okay domestically. My laundry was always clean and relatively wrinkle-free. My dishes were always rinsed well and neatly stacked by the sink until time came every Thursday to wash them. (When and if they got put away is another story.) I knew how to use a vacuum cleaner, Windex, Swiffer, and the like. I just didn't have to very often. I am a neat girl! Things just didn't seem to get dirty all that often.

Then we have the whole cooking thing.

I honestly thought I was a good cook. I thought spaghetti was a gourmet meal and copycatting Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana was a feat for the ages. I thought I knew the basics at least.

I didn't.

How did I start learning just how much I didn't know? Well, just under seven months ago, I got married. Yes, married - that life-altering state of being where the happiness and comfort of another comes before your own. Where you find yourself believing you actually can fulfill all those promises your lovesick heart made during those delirious one a.m. phone conversations. Where you are in such a state of utter bliss that you hardly notice the rug as it is swept out from under you, and you don't even know you're down until you're flat on your back staring up at the ceiling.

That day comes over and over again for the undomestic among us. You never quite know in just how many areas you are lacking. Until you fail in one after another. After another. After another...

So, here's to self-improvement. Here's to doing the dishes daily. Here's to bread that rises, casseroles that are cooked-through, and well-ironed Oxfords. I can do this!

And you will be my witnesses.