Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photos for New Year's

We had great plans for New Year's Eve this year; my son had a date with his grandparents, and we had a date with each other. But it turned out we were double booked, and my husband also had a date with the flu.

So we ended up at home, eating chicken noodle soup I'd scrounged up using pantry staples while my husband glumly apologized for ruining the night we'd looked forward to, as if it were even remotely his fault.

To beat the gloom, I started what I hope will be a New Year's Eve tradition. If Greg was double booked, so was I; only I had a date with Picasa. In about an hour, I frantically scrolled through all of our photos from 2010, starring the highlights and placing them all in a web album. By the time dinner was ready, we had a hastily assembled slideshow recapping our year.

It wasn't a night out, but curling up on the couch and watching the year go by in photos felt fitting.

My only regret was wishing I hadn't just seen them all while I assembled the slideshow. I had already experienced my nostalgic amusement putting it together, and I had more fun watching Greg's reactions to the photos than the show itself.

So this year, I already have a folder labeled "New Year's Eve Slideshow, 2011". Every time I transfer photos to my computer, I choose a few highlights and slide a copy into my slideshow folder. Now when New Year's hits, I can just play the slideshow, sit back, and enjoy them. Maybe we'll even go out after :)

And as much fun as the slideshow will be this year, how much better will it be in five, ten, or twenty, when I have a selection of the top 200 or so photos from every year? In a few clicks, our thirteen year old could review the year he was born, or watch himself go from two years old to three - without sorting through thousands of photos.

Memorable photo from 2010 - Nemo at the Westin

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baking Bread

I grew up with the smell of home baked bread wafting from the kitchen more often than not, and I hope my children will say the same. I love baking bread. Yes, it tastes good. But even more than that, I love the feel of kneading dough with my palms, the sweet smell of the yeast as it works its magic, and the satisfaction of punching down a well risen dough. My mother, who taught me everything I know about bread baking, once told me that when she kneads bread, she feels connected to all the women who have baked for centuries before us.

When we share bread I've baked, I am often asked if I used a breadmaker, and treated with amazement when people learn I've made it from scratch. I can understand, because I was a little daunted the first time I made bread away from the helpful gaze of my experienced mother . What do you mean, let rise and then punch down? How do you know it has risen enough? Mix until the dough "comes together"? Knead until "smooth and elasticy"? How can I tell?

But really, it's a fairly easy process, I promise! The reason bread making is a lost art in many households is not because it requires a great deal of skill, but because it requires time and foresight, two things busy families don't always have in abundance. It's not tricky if you've done it once, and it doesn't take much effort, just time to let the dough rise. Make it on a Sunday afternoon, or a mid-week morning while you're juggling laundry and naptimes. I've let it rise too long, not quite long enough, punched it down a third time so I could run to the grocery store... let's just say bread can be pretty forgiving :)

Here's how you do it, with a classic white bread recipe that begs for your favorite jam. It's the first bread recipe my mother made, and the first one she taught me.

Dissolve 2 tablespoons yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water.

I use active dry yeast, which requires this step of dissolving the yeast in liquid for a few minutes to wake them up. You may also see instant yeast on the market; it doesn't need to be dissolved in liquid but can be mixed in directly with the dry ingredients. Rapid rise yeast, also marketed as bread machine yeast, takes the shortcut a step further by reducing rising time. I generally avoid it, since a slow rising process contributes to better tasting bread. Make sure the water is warm, but not too hot, or it could kill the yeast. Cold water won't dissolve and wake up the yeast as well as lukewarm water will.


• 3 cups warm water
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 T salt
• 1 beaten egg
• 8-9 cups flour *start with 8, then add more gradually if the dough sticks too much to your hands during the kneading process

Mix in a bowl with a spoon until the dough starts to come together and becomes difficult to keep stirring. At this point it might look like a gooey mess that will never come together - that's ok! Dump it out onto your counter, it will all mix in to become beautiful and elasticy once you start kneading it.

Knead. Find an online video if this step makes you nervous, but I promise it's not only easy, it's fun. Just push the bread away from you with the heel of your palms and then turn it over. Do this repeatedly until the dough is all the same consistency, adding more flour if it's sticking to your hands each time you knead until it no longer does so.

Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise until it's approximately double in size. I usually check after about an hour, and then every half hour or so until it looks good. In the summer, sometimes an hour is enough, but in the winter it can take closer to two. A warm, non-drafty place is ideal. If the weather is very dry, moisten the cloth you're using to cover the bowl to keep the bread from drying out.

Once the bread has approximately doubled in size, punch it down. You'll hear a release of air and the bread will reduce in size. Let it rise again. I find that the second rise takes less time than the first. Knead lightly and form into 3 loaves. Allow to rise in 3 greased loaf pans while the oven preheats.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 min, then turn down to 325 and bake another 30 min or until loaves sound hollow. Butter top crusts and cool on wire rack. Great served with jam or butter, or sliced thick for egg in the hole the next day for breakfast!

My New Normal

A few weeks after our son was born, I remember wondering when I would feel better and life would get "back to normal". Cue laughter. Life never got "back" to normal; our lives and daily routines will never be like they were before our son was born. Instead there's a new normal, and that's what this blog is about - the joys, activities, challenges and strategies of my new normal.

Why blog? Well, I would love it if someone else benefited from my experiences, but mostly it's for me. My hope is that it will keep me writing, giving me an opportunity for reflection and a sense of accomplishment. It will help me remember all the fun we're having during the precious time when "the days are long, but the years are short". Not to mention how exactly I got that stain out of the carpet, or how much cream of tartar goes into the home-made play dough recipe. It's my own little self-validation that what I do as a stay at home mom is worth remembering and writing about.

So here's to my new normal! May I keep finding a new thing each week worth sharing, contemplating, or remembering.