Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: baking

Time for Some Biscotti

For many years now, I’ve been making a double batch of biscotti to give away as Christmas gifts to co-workers and friends.  I think it comes from a combination of anti-Christmas-commercialism and the fear of going shopping among the crowds and a little bit of laziness that has made me do this kind of gift-giving.  Also, I think my adult friends and family all have what they need or want, and I don’t know what to get anyone anymore.

Anyways, this is the best biscotti I’ve ever had in my life.  Hands down.  I was introduced to it by my dear friend in college.  Her mother would bake a batch and send it to her, and I was one of the lucky friends who got to have some!  We’d have morning coffee on Sundays, I’d supply the coffee with my trusty little Gevalia coffeemaker (illegally stashed in my closet along with my illegal rice cooker, hot water heater, candles, and toaster oven!) and she would supply the delicious almond-y treats.  Many a chilly Sunday morning was spent gossiping about the weekend’s goings-on and savoring the crunchy biscuits dipped in coffee.  One of my favorite college memories.

I finally got the recipe at some point.  Maybe this was after college, when I was missing the biscotti, not having been able to find its match in any store. Biscotti that I’ve bought is often like hard-dried bread.  And it’s not so tasty.  I don’t know what it is in this recipe – maybe the prominence of the almonds, the bit of cakey-ness that makes it not so dry.  It’s perfect with a hot cup of coffee or even warm milk.

So here’s the recipe.  Thanks for sharing, Mama H!

photo (1)

(double recipe amounts in parentheses)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup butter (2/3 cup)
  • 2 cup flour (4 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (1 1/3 cup)
  • 2 eggs (4 eggs)
  • 2 tsp baking powder (4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts, finely chopped (3 cup)
  • Glaze:
    • 1 cup chocolate chips (2 cup)
    • 1 tbsp shortening (2 tbsp)
    • Heat in small pan, low heat.  Stir till smooth.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat butter till softened.
  3. Add 1 cup of flour.  Add sugar, eggs, baking powder, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Stir in remaining cup of flour and nuts.  Mix well.  Resulting mixture should be a like a sticky dough.
  5. Divide dough in half.  Shape each portion into a tightly packed log (about 9″ x 2″).
  6. Place logs about 4″ apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
  8. Cool logs on rack for about 30 minutes.  Drop oven temp to 325 degrees.
  9. Cut each log on slight diagonal with serrated knife into 1/2 inch pieces.
  10. Lay slices on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 8 minutes.
  11. Turn slices over and bake another 8-10 minutes.10.  Cool slices on rack.  While cooling, prepare chocolate glaze.
  12. Dip cookies into glaze.  Let set.
  13. ENJOY!

So pass this recipe on!  It’s a little labor intensive, but SO worth it.  And my photo above shows the double batch yield.  Happy holidays!

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A Study in Sourdough

I brought back a sourdough starter from New Zealand, from one of my homestays.  The starter is from a German woman, and I’m thinking she got it from Germany and brought it to New Zealand.  And then she gave me some dried up chips to bring back to the U.S.!  That’s something I love about sourdough starters– the passing it forward aspect.  I wonder how many households are using this same starter around the world?  And what’s cool is that all the loaves of bread, or other bread-related foods, all probably taste and look really different.

Here’s my sourdough starter, sitting in a mason jar after having been revived from a dried state back in December when I came back to the U.S. after my most recent travels:

starter

And here is a collage of some of the loaves I’ve made.  I’d say I’ve probably made close to a dozen loaves in the last months.  And each one has been different.  I haven’t quite hit upon the right combination of ingredients.  But I’ve learned a ton just from the process.  It’s always amazing what you can learn from doing something over and over and over again.  Like running– there are all these learnings from running that have been documented: Haruki Murakami wrote about these learnings (a great little collection of essays) and there are lots of blog postings about lessons learned from running.  Just type in those key words into your favorite search engine, and a slew of posts come up.

loaves

So here are my learnings from making sourdough bread using a sourdough starter.  Let’s start with the more practical, mechanical learnings.

  1. Managing a starter is a big part of the process.  And it’s not as difficult as one would think.  You just want to keep your starter bubbly and happy, and you can tell when it’s not happy. Happy = elastic, gooey, bubbly, white-ish, and yeasty-smelling.  If it’s grey, liquidy, and stagnant, then no good.  And the way to manage a starter is just to feed it flour and some water every few days.  More frequently if you leave it on the counter (like every other day or so) and less frequently if left in the fridge (once a week or so).  You keep it in the fridge if you don’t use it every week.  That’s what I do.  I make a loaf every 2nd or 3rd week or so, so I take the starter out of the fridge a few days before I want to make a loaf, feed it, and then use it.  And when I’m not making bread, I leave the starter jar in the fridge where the molecules just rest a bit.
  2. Pay attention to the starter but not too much attention.  It doesn’t need to be severely monitored, but it also likes some love every once in awhile.  That’s what’s great about a starter, it’s pretty low maintenance, like succulents which don’t need a ton of water or care.  I appreciate the low maintenance of this little organism.  It needs me but not too much!
  3. Just estimate measurements, but maybe start with a more exact recipe.  I’m more of a cook than a baker.  I like to use a recipe as a starting point and then make my adjustments, like adding more of one spice than another or substituting sour cream for yogurt or adding in different vegetables.  That’s why I can only do quick bake recipes like chocolate chip cookies or banana bread.  Anything that requires a lot of measurement and exact protocols is annoying to me.  It’s funny because I’m totally not like that in real life– I’m incredibly detail oriented and concerned with protocols and precision.  But when in the kitchen, I like to let that go.  It’s my chance to unwind and be free of the work-mentality.  So with sourdough bread, I started with a recipe, got comfortable with how the dough should look and feel, and then started to improvise from there.  I added a bit more honey or tried a different kind of salt or oil or flour.

And from there, the more meta-level learnings:

  1. Learn to let go.  As I said, I’m usually a bit of a control freak about things.  So making sourdough bread has taught me to be more free and improvisatory.  I’ve experimented with the recipe I started with, and just yesterday, I tried a completely new recipe, incorporating yeast along with the starter.  That resulted in a new texture to the bread.  I think I’ll try it again and add more salt and some honey.  Every loaf I’ve made, I’ve done something a little different.  I’ve had some success with some and some that weren’t so great (that went to the chickens!).  But I’m learning to go with the flow and be more flexible about bread-making, specifically and life, more generally.
  2. Make your own food.  I’m learning to look at the things I eat and see where I can cut back on processed, store-bought, ready-made consumables.  It’s really interesting to see how much you can “take back” into your own kitchen.  I’ve only bought two loaves of bread in the last six or so months.  And those were both when I had friends in town and was making bruschetta or something special that the sourdough bread didn’t quite work for.  Bread is my big project right now.  I’m not sure what other foods will come next in my journey of making my own food!  Any suggestions?
  3. Be in it for the long-haul.  Making bread is a lifelong process, I would say.  Because I’m not really using exact measurements and have been experimenting with different recipes, I keep playing around to find a really good loaf.  And even when I find that really good loaf, I’m sure I’ll keep maneuvering and wiggling to find another really good loaf made in a different way.  But I’m excited each time I put the loaf in the oven to see what will come out an hour later.  Besides the assortment of ingredients, things like climate, elevation, and water affect the bread, and that’s always variable.  So I can never come out with the same loaf twice.  But that’s part of the journey!

OK, I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure this list could go on and on.  But I like a series that just has three parts.  I’m still looking for good recipes for sourdough breads, so if you know of any, send them along!

Taking a Break

I've been spending quality time with family the last almost two weeks that I've been back in the U.S. This is the longest I've spent with family (parents, siblings, little 'uns of the next generation) since… summer vacation when I was in college, I think! What's strange is that my family no longer lives in Maryland where I grew up. Now half of them (my parents and a brother and his family) are in Arizona. So I'm in a town and state that I'm not familiar with, and I don't even have childhood friends around that I can reconnect and hang out with.

My main activities have been

  • hanging out with my niece and nephew, laughing at their antics and their silliness. They're 3 and 5, and they're a lot of fun to be around. They have such distinct personalities, and they're fun to talk to and play with.
  • cooking and baking sporadically. It's always a little weird cooking in someone else's kitchen where the pantry and cabinet contents aren't the same, and the equipment isn't the same. But I'm getting back into the groove. I've made some different cookies (glazed lemon shortbread, pumpkin-chocolate chip). My mom and I made 김밥 (kim-bahp, or Korean nori rolls) for dinner one night. I could eat 김밥 everyday. I love it! We used deli meats, but I usually use Spam. mmmmm.

  • experimenting with a sourdough starter that I brought back (shhh!!!) from New Zealand from one of my WWOOF hosts to make sourdough bread. I made one loaf already which was a little dense but still tasty. And I'm now working on my next loaf, waiting for its 12-18 hour rise (till tomorrow morning).

  • taking walks and hikes around the neighborhood. The Arizona landscape is so different from my New England part of the world or even the world that I was in for the last three months. Cacti, lots of mountains, brush, sand…

I'm trying to take each day for what it is and to relax and enjoy this free time. And trying to read some books. I'm in the middle of reading Barbara Kingsolver's newest book Flight Behavior. I'm a big Kingsolver fan. I most liked The Poisonwood Bible, a fascinating read about a missionary family living in the Congo. She's a great developer of characters and plot, and I was especially interested in the political bent to that book. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is also great, a nonfiction almost-autobiography written by Kingsolver, her husband, and daughter about their life in southern Appalachia, living off the land. It was really inspiring to read that after Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

The latest is about a woman and her family living in rural Tennessee. An unexpected natural phenomenon happens in the hills in their backyard and it totally changes her life (I'm not going to say what it is here because it's just too cool. You should read the book!). She goes from being a young mother and wife who's not very happy with her life to immersing herself in this occurrence and getting a job with researchers who are investigating the phenomenon. Two months after the chain of events begins to unfold, we read, “Two months ago. Impossible. Her world had been the size of a kitchen then. Now she had a life in which…” and Kingsolver proceeds to explain the changes that have expanded Dellarobia (the main character)'s life.

Our world is only as big as the prior experiences we've had– places where we've been, people we've met, information we have gained, food we've tried, languages we've heard. It's amazing how much our world expands as we learn and experience new things. And the size of our world affects how much we really SEE.

For example, before I started recognizing edible plants (herbs, vegetable leaves, fruit trees before the fruit has grown), I just saw green leaves on stems and trunks and branches. So all of that green just looked the same, and I could easily see it as all the same– plants. But now, I recognize, for example, rosemary bushes, basil plants, lavender plants, and on, and a garden is no longer just lots of greenery but is a bunch of different things we can eat. I'm still learning so much about edible greenery, but once my eyes have been opened to the different kinds and colors of even just the leaves, I see garden landscapes with a whole new consciousness.

Broccoli, cauliflower, and purple cabbage (I think)

Travel has expanded my world. But also just taking the time to observe and reflect. Observing my family members. Observing new plants that I don't recognize. Observing the sky at different times of day. Observing my body's reaction to the REALLY dry air. Observing, reflecting, drawing conclusions, adding to my brain's file cabinet of consciousness.

Finding my Footing

I've been back in the U.S. for about a week now, and it's been like a hazy dream. Because it's the holiday season, and I'm back with family, I feel like I'm in visiting mode. So in some ways it doesn't feel like my travels have ended. I'm still living “out of a suitcase” (meaning my clothes aren't in a bureau or closet where they will remain permanently for the next year, at least), and not in my own bedroom or occupying my own kitchen with my own dishes, spices, sauces, cooking utensils. Funny how my own bedroom and kitchen are what dictates my feeling in my own home. Sleep and food matter to me most.

My immediate steps post-travel have been unpacking, sorting through my photos to post and share in some kind of coherent way, and reconnecting with friends (mostly by phone and email). But what about when that ends?

Christmas is two weeks away, so I'll be occupied with baking, preparing recipes for family dinners, wrapping some presents, and getting ready for a family reunion.

And then after the new year, I'll be going to a yoga teacher training retreat in Sedona!! I've been wanting to do a teacher training course, and when I was traveling, I did research on programs in Asia which might have worked for me (cost, timing, location). And although I found some interesting programs in Bali, Thailand, and Malaysia, the timing didn't work out. So while I was in Malaysia, I did some more research on programs in the U.S. and found this center, 7 Centers Yoga Arts, in Sedona that had a training for right after New Year's Day. Perfect! Timing was perfect. Location was perfect. The cost was around the range of programs wherever I looked.

After some hemming and hawing (could I afford it? how would I know if it was a good program? would this be a good time?), I decided to do it because when else will I be able to take a month off to do a teacher program? And the cost now will be recouped later in life; it's not a totally sunk cost. Yes, I'm taking more out of my savings, but it's an investment in myself and my skills.

The course will take me through the beginning of February. Then I really need to start figuring things out. The big questions remain:

  • Where will I move to?
  • What kind of work will I be doing? Or, more to the point, what will I do to make enough money to pay for housing and food and bills?

And the small questions that come under that are also lingering in my mind:

  • If I leave Boston, how will I move all my stuff? How will I tell everyone and say goodbye for real?
  • If I move to a new city (at this point, I'm only considering cities where I already know people. I don't have any desire to move somewhere where I don't know anyone at all.), how will I start over finding my community and setting down roots?
  • Will I be OK? Will it be scary?

I'm trying to “lean into uncertainty,” and not stress too much. I've learned, especially this past year, that when I stress and worry, all that happens is that I'm stressed and anxious and everything turns out OK. Instead of being stressed and worried, then, I might as well enjoy each moment and day as they come, especially since I won't be able to enjoy this kind of free time once I start working again.

I tend to gravitate toward the safety of answers and certainty. I want to learn how to live with questions and uncertainty.

The yoga training/ retreat will be good for me to get grounded again. I'm looking forward to it. We're supposed to disconnect from technology for the month and take the time to meditate, reflect, and breathe/sleep/eat yoga. It will be a cleansing experience in many ways.

In the meantime, I'm listening to lots of Christmas music to make up for all the lost weeks since Thanksgiving when I usually would start listening to my collection of Christmas songs. And I'm gearing up to do some baking and cooking this week. Pumpkin muffins. Lemon cookies. Maybe experimenting with some new recipes.

 

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