Why did my bread come out so dense? When people start to learn to make bread that is often the most common question. Unfortunately, it is also one of the hardest ones to answer. On one hand, bread baking is so simple. Flour, water, salt, yeast. It really is very easy to bake a loaf of bread at home. What’s hard is to bake a consistently good loaf at home.
Next week Cecilia turns nine. She’s getting very good at rolling her eyes. Allison has just a few months left of daycare. If you turn your back on her, she grows three inches. It feels like that moment when the plane is vibrating and hugging the runway, but about to lift off. We are headed somewhere new. Not the teenage wilderness everyone assures us is coming, but somewhere new beyond car seats and labeled food containers.
What challenges might this new place bring? How will the girls react? How can I help them?
I’m a worrier. My mind drifts out to the future and I convince myself of a story that isn’t actually true. When the kids get sick, I’m a basket case convincing myself that a mild cough might be TB and will soon spiral into a hospital stay in the isolation ward. It can be exhausting and with the Addison’s literally bad for my health.
One reason I take the time to do these Saturday posts is because it can act as an antidote. It forces me to stop, slow down and just be with the kids, with Michelle, with myself. At least for one day. I don’t always succeed but there is relief in trying.
Would you think less of me if I told we ate the entire first loaf in less than six hours? In our defense, we were mostly stuck inside with all the snow, but that first loaf of warm soda bread and salty butter in early March always tastes so good, it’s hard to stop with just one (or two, ok, three) pieces. I’d say it tastes almost like spring but given the two feet of snow outside that would be a big fat lie. But it still tastes really good like a leprechaun’s smile.
I made our favorite classic recipe with the girls, but I also tried a new recipe this year for whiskey soda bread. Despite, ample trials and evidence, every few years I start to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t the best recipe? Maybe I should try something else.” Nope. It is. And I shouldn’t. But can you blame me for wanting to try a recipe with the title Irish Whiskey Soda Bread? C’mon?!
Saturday was the first dominoes night of 2018 and we were hosting, so we spent most of the day just straightening and prepping and making sure there was no undergarments lingering in odd places and that all the dried food scraps were scraped off the couch. It took most of the day. Exciting pictures ahead!
Having people over whether for pizza or dominoes always makes me remember how under-appreciated and overlooked these relationships often are in our lives, especially for someone around my age. Children and family are vital and joyous, but they take a lot of physical and mental energy.
As parents, you are their sole caretakers and the world quickly shrinks down to the boundaries of your offspring. You spend most of your time together: in the car, in the bathroom(!), in the kitchen. It would be weird if that close-knit warmth didn’t sometimes start to border on maddening. The happy turns to harried, the harried to the routine.
That is why it’s worth the effort of folding the two week old laundry pile, sweeping the floor, and shoving all the miscellaneous junk into drawers before your friends visit. It’s a sanity check. It’s opening up your world a little bit beyond the edges of your kid’s lunch box. They will commiserate, they will sympathize, they will console, they will make sure you’re not drinking alone. In short, they will make sure you don’t go crazy. A few household chores seems a small price to pay.
They say you can judge a really good restaurant by how well it does a really simple dish. A simple dish gives the cook no room to hide. If the restaurant can do a really good roast chicken or pizza margherita than you know you are probably in good hands. Maybe we can say the same thing about cookbooks? If they can teach an amateur to make something simple or make it look simple than you have found yourself a good cookbook.
I feel that way about Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast. This is the cookbook I find myself reaching for most when I want a foolproof loaf ready for tonight’s or the next night’s (when I have my act together) dinner. These are not fancy or high concept breads, just simple, tasty, every day basics. If you can understand the concepts and follow the instructions for these loaves, you will not only make great bread but also have no problem with those fancy breads in other cookbooks.
One of my jobs for the Friendsgiving Potluck was to bring the bread. I originally planned to make Parker House rolls, biscuits and an herbed focaccia, but at the last minute switched out the focaccia for some cornbread.
Sometimes you just need bread fast.
I like to plan. I operate best when I know what is coming. Changes or unanticipated surprises make me grumpy. Like when meal planning goes awry and we end up having soup or stew and I don’t the time or dough ready for bread.