the first man whose heart I won and the cookies that did the job

Roger lived up the road from the tiny homestead we lived on when I was a teenager. “Up the road” is common enough to hear out there, even though all the roads are flat as can be. To this day, my brothers and I have to say the words in our best ‘German Midwest bachelor farmer’ accent, followed by a deep sigh and then, “Poor Bob….” It’s become a tradition, and you’ll have to ask me about it another time.

But – back to Roger. I believe he parked his old truck on our front lawn the first day of fair weather the year we moved there, introduced himself and told us in great detail about having died after a heart attack and how the miraculous physicians at the Toledo hospital had resurrected him. My brothers and I stood amazed and slightly terrified on the stone driveway, but we very quickly came to realize that Roger had a talent and deep passion for telling amazing and terrifying stories, and sometimes they were even true.

He was sixty-five and retired from a life of doing anything and everything that was dangerous and just barely decent. When he was young, brave and insanely good-looking he shipped himself off to the jungles of who-knows-where to fight some smokey war and when he came home he married a fiery Quaker girl and kept right on fighting. He was a widower now with not much adventure left in his hard-used heart, so he took up with our farming ventures and was always deeply interested in whatever it was we had going on. He would park his truck on the side of the road and lean against our fence and talk for hours if we’d let him. He never came in the fence, never stepped foot inside the house, he was just as happy as could be standing on the side of the road telling stories and doling out advice.

One day I baked him cookies and he ate them right there.

“Annie – I swear you’re gonna make some poor shmuck a good wife someday! Mark my words. Why, if I were a hundred years younger, your mama would have me to deal with!”

I blushed deeply and didn’t know what to say. I was fifteen and still reeling from the dizzying heights of my most awkward phase.  “You know, you remind me something of my Marty – she was quiet and all domestic and ornery as heck! ” I tucked his words inside and kept them there as protection against the spinsterhood I saw rapidly approaching (at fifteen!!)

He would spoil us with warm, juicy Indiana melons in the summer – a luxury we could never really afford, and we baked for him. One spring he presented me with the loveliest yellow rose bush that fragranced my entire garden. He watched us ‘grow out our pinfeathers’ as it were, and go from a bunch of ambitious kids to a handful of dreamy-eyed young adults bent on moving far from home and finding adventure of our own.

 

Roger’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter or shortening

1 cup each brown and white sugars

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon each baking soda and salt

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup raisins

I admit, this recipe doesn’t seem to hit the mark health-wise but it certainly reminds me of good times and the sweet man who lived up the road and made a very awkward, frizzy-haired teenager feel pretty with his blatant praise. In my old recipe notebook I’ve scribbled out the proportions for tripling the recipe, which goes to show you how well-loved these cookies were, simple though they be!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the fat and sugars then beat in the eggs until the mix is ‘fluffy’. Add the vanilla and stir again, then add your dry ingredients. Stir to combine well then drop the cookies with a cookie scoop onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Share with a neighbor, served with icy milk on a warm Spring day.

 

the preggo ten

Wow – has it really been several short decades since I did a 10 Things Tuesdays?

You can all throw your tomatoes now, I won’t duck or deflect – I promise.

This 10 has to do with – you guessed it – being pregnant (which I very much still am)!
Enjoy…

 

10 Things About Being Pregnant:

1) I now look pregnant. For months people have been saying,  “But you don’t *look* pregnant!!” which was somewhat distressing because my clothes started not to fit almost immediately. Immediately, I say. I felt extremely pregnant really fast and I have to say that I am glad I finally look like it to the rest of the world! I have a decent baby bump that sticks out and gets me stuck in tight places and makes me look like a mama.

2) 25 weeks – that’s how far along I am. 15 weeks left. Craziness.

3) It’s a BOY! Yes, we found out. No, it’s not a secret. Yes, I am thrilled. No, I don’t feel like it’s ruined any surprises. Yes, we have a name. No, that’s not a secret either… it’s Bruin. Yes, I can’t wait. No, he is not named after the hockey team. Sorry.

4) The sickness finally stopped around 22 weeks – one of the reasons why this blog-o was so cruelly neglected, I was sick out of my mind. I am sure other women have had it much worse and I certainly don’t mean to say that it was unbearable, but I am not a good sick person. I like to be able to do what I want, when I want and I want to feel good while I am doing it.

Can we say, “Proud and Stubborn Mama!”

Can we say, “Lesson Time!”

I feel as though I took the crash course “How to Not Be a Miserable Person but Deal with All Things with Thankfulness and Patience and Joy” and just slid through by the skin of my teeth. I won’t be posting my report card on this blog *that’s* for sure!  At any rate, I am so exceedingly thankful to be feeling better. So thankful. So happy. I’ll take tired, I’ll take sore, I’ll even take spacey and ditzy and hormonal – the sickness is over!! I was definitely humbled my the first half of this pregnancy, and that’s a good thing. I was expecting to breeze right through it on strength of mind and steeliness of will. Um – no.

5) El’Ditzoid. What was I saying? Where was I going? What was I doing? What? Why? Huh? I don’t remember. I can’t think. My brain has died. I’m so sorry, can you start again? I can’t quite figure that out. I don’t remember how I got here. Was I asleep? Did I eat already?  When did I say that? You already said that? Math? What do you mean I ate my piece already?  ‘Nuf said.

6) Gymnastics. It’s what Bruin loves to do best. If this little boot is *half* as active out of the womb, we have some fun times ahead of us! I lay in bed in the morning and imagine him spinning and punching and kicking all at once because I am SURE that is what he is doing in there and will continue to do until I get up and get something to eat. He does not like to be hungry. Not. At. All.

7) Crazy curly hair has been downgraded to crazy thick wavy hair. Interesting. And, even though I know I flirt with ‘oversharing’ when I say it, the hair on my legs has all but stopped growing (nice) and I have a beard (not so nice). Hair – it does crazy things under the influence.

8) Cravings? Not so much. I craved spaghetti for a couple of weeks, then pickles and now I’m just hungry. I drink a lot of smoothies packed with good things like chia seeds, coconut oil, flax seeds, fruit, homemade yogurt, etc. and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping my cravings at bay. I do, however, thoroughly enjoy *other* people’s cooking and will eat monstrous portions of it when I have the opportunity.  Food weakness? Organic Cheese Puffs. No joke. I’m trying hard to stay away from junk food and caffeine and too much sugar, but organic cheese puffs….. yum.

9) Exercise? I do ‘labor-prep yoga’ and take walks. Sometimes. I fail. A lot. But I have glorious plans to do better tomorrow. Really.

10) 15 weeks left and I have quite the list of things yet to do. It’s just hitting me now in the past couple of days that this thing is happening, and we’ll be there in no time at all. There were three of us young pregnant ladies in our church at the same time, all 10 weeks apart. The first one had her baby a little while ago and the next will reach her appointed time in a month – you know what that means, folks – I’m next. It’s like waiting in line for a scary ride. I’m frantically taking notes as I watch the ones before me bravely step up for their turn and I can’t help but feel like I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to having this baby in my arms, but boy howdy – there’s quite a bit to get through before that happens!

God is good and we pluck on. I am blessed to have so much love and support from my dear husband and family and friends, it’s overwhelming.

We shall do well.

Until next time… What’s your life looked like for the past few months? Can you sum it up in 10 things? Please share!

bread in a dutch oven – O the brilliance

Someone is getting a gold star.

I’m not sure who it is but I have tucked a shiny new star in my pocket along with a handful of confetti and a recording of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and when I find that wonderful person I am going to tag them with the star, baptize them with glitter and give them a round of applause, because they’ve made my bread-baking life into something glorious.

What happened? Go ahead and ask because I would love to tell you. Go ahead.

I read a book in which someone wrote that someone else said (the mystery person I am searching for) that you can reproduce the effects of crusty, hearty artisan loaves hitherto unattainable to myself by simply baking them in a covered Dutch Oven. Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.

Thank you, lovely random man, because it works. It really, truly, honest-to-goodness works. I’ve done it twice now.

Baking a basic ‘lean’ bread dough (flour, salt, yeast and water) in an oiled Dutch oven creates a gorgeous loaf of bread fit for the snoodiest of artisan tables. My husband and I love a good rustic crust you can tear at and dip into stew without the threat of disintegration and I’ve finally achieved it. Seriously folks, this can only be topped by giving birth (which I am fully intending on doing in a few short months).

The best part is that it’s so simple. So Simple. I made baguettes once and it was an elaborate process, absolutely worth it in the end but very time consuming and impractical for everyday eating. After hours of rising and kneading and rising and kneading, I baked the baguettes in a hot oven where an iron pan was sitting in the bottom. To this day I am not sure exactly *how* I managed it, but somehow I slipped the bread into the oven and poured a glass of water into the pan before shutting the door quickly and tightly. The hot pan immediately created the steam bath needed as the final step in making a truly chewy crust. Success, but at a price.

Oh, how differently this works! After the first rising, the dough is kneaded down and then placed in the oiled dutch oven to rise again. Then, when the dough is doubled and the oven is heated to the right temperature, the loaf is brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and the cover is placed on top. This bakes for 20 minutes and the bread makes its own steam – how clever is that?!? Once the crust is firmed, the cover is removed and the bread finishes baking, browning and bubbling and making itself perfect.

Perfect, I say. We can hardly wait to eat it – and often don’t. Is there anything better than fresh, hot bread drowning in butter? Or – perhaps fresh hot bread dipped in garlicky olive oil and balsamic vinegar? I didn’t think so.

***throws glitter and claps***

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Cooking with Quinoa

There has been a lot of talk about Quinoa. It first appeared as a food that would put those who ate it in the “Health Nut” camp but has recently become more of a mainstream curiosity.

Quinoa (pronounced ‘Keen-wah’) is a funny little food – at first glance people are tempted to call it a “grain” when indeed it is a “seed”. A very small seed and prominent member of the Goosefoot species of plants. I’m sure most of you have fought valiant battles against quinoa relatives who love to pop up in the fertile soil of your garden year after year. Back home we called them ‘ironweeds’ or ‘pigweeds’ or even ‘lambs’ quarters’ and when young they actually make a tasty and nutritious substitute for spinach at the dinner table – but that’s beside the point.

Quinoa is an ancient food from Peru and surrounding areas. The Incas considered it to be a sacred crop which caused their new Spanish neighbors to hold quinoa in distain. It was even outlawed for a time and the natives were forced to grow the more European wheat. What the Spanish didn’t know and what we are now finding out is that the Incas had good reason to hold their quinoa dear. Though it be tiny and a relative of plaguing weeds, quinoa has an impressive resume. Full of fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, as well as being a complete protein in its own right, quinoa is gluten free and easy to digest. It’s also a smart plant, having a built-in defense system which causes it to be distasteful and even gastrically upsetting when eaten before the outer coating has been removed. The crop is easier to protect from critters that would sneak in and steal it before harvest. Most quinoa sold in the grocery stores has already been processed to remove the coating so when you purchase it (which I sincerely hope you do!!) it’s ready to be cooked and enjoyed.

How do we enjoy it, you ask? I have read that it can be considered ‘an acceptable substitute for rice’, but other than giving you a good idea of the broad range uses, I don’t think it does quinoa justice. I have found it to be so much more than ‘acceptable’ and so much more than a ‘substitute’!

My mom taught me to cook quinoa with a basic ratio of two parts liquid to one part quinoa and I have never had that fail me. Adding one cup of quinoa to two cups of slightly salted boiling water or stock, letting it cook until the water has boiled down to the level of the quinoa (8-10 minutes) and then putting the heat to low and covering it to ‘steam’ for 10 or so minutes more will give you a delightful, 2 cups (roughly) of cooked quinoa to serve plain as a side dish or to use in another recipe. The portions I just described will serve about 4 people.

Cooked quinoa is tender but still has a nice texture to it. It isn’t lumpy or soupy or mushy but can be ‘fluffed’ with a fork and the seeds will be separate. Another way you can tell is that the slim white ‘tail’ on each seed becomes loose, giving them an artsy look, as if they are wearing hats adorned with long feathers.

Once you have the basic recipe down and are ready to have some fun with it, there is certainly fun to be had! My latest quinoa craving has been satisfied by adding sautéed onions and chopped raw kale to the quinoa as it is cooking. So easy, so healthy, so very delicious. Another favorite method in my house is to start out by sautéing fat slices of sweet leeks in a bit of olive oil before adding chicken stock and then the quinoa. Oh. My. Word.

Add quinoa to soups instead of noodles or rice, use plain cooked quinoa in casseroles and and quiches. You can even cool it and sprinkle the seeds on salads. Your possibilities boarder on being endless and you will certainly not be doing any harm to incorporate this amazing food into your diet!  So go forth and enjoy…