My mother always made the best homemade bread. Family legend has it that my dad asked for her hand in marriage once he tasted her Swedish rye. With seemingly little effort, she would mix and knead, and before we knew it, have six loaves of delicious crusty bread cooling on the counter. The house smelled wonderful. As kids, we didn’t appreciate it and begged for “storebought” bread….that soft, white gummy stuff that is so bad for you. When I married and moved away, I wanted the same wonderful tastes and memories for my own family. Unfortunately for us, my sister is the only one who inherited what I call “the bread gene”. She makes delicious whole wheat bread while she listens and sings along to the radio. She has even been known to whip up a homemade pizza crust after working all day. Me? I hardly want to admit it. In this family of wonderful bakers, I am yeast-impaired. I have tried, over the past 34 years of marriage, to make bread, rolls, pizza dough, or just about anything that calls for flour and yeast. I follow the recipe exactly. I use fresh yeast. I punch it down. I knead and I knead. Sometimes in desperation I have even have tried turning on the radio and singing to it. Some days it it rises, and some days it doesn’t. Occasionally, it will trick me and rise beautifully, only to come out of the oven looking and tasting like a soggy, heavy brick. Some of my failures have been cleverly disguised as Italian focaccia bread when spread out on a cookie sheet with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. My chickens will eat almost anything, but they often start clucking loudly and I think they are saying, “Not that stuff again!” when I toss the latest failure into the coop. My sister has offered to give me lessons, but I don’t want to learn from anybody who can whip up a homemade pizza crust AND walk for four miles after working all day when I am almost too tired to lift my fingers to dial for take-out. I haven’t given up, though, especially on those chilly Sunday afternoons when I have a pot of soup simmering on the stove. I make really good soup. You are welcome to stop over and have some, but please bring a loaf of bread. Just in case.
Archive for March, 2011
Everywhere we look, we see information on losing weight. Dr. Oz. “The Biggest Loser”. My son-in-law the personal trainer. Since joining a new healthy challenge at work, I started wondering about exactly what happens when someone loses a few pounds. There is probably some long drawn-out physiological explanation, but I am a simple woman and need to understand in a way that makes sense to me. Let’s start with something that I know: Fat is a solid. So how can a solid just disappear? Evaporation? Combustion? Magic? If you were to melt a pound of butter on the stove, turning solid fat into liquid fat, the only way it would disappear completely is if you put it on the table in front of a group of hungry Scandinavians with a platter of lutefisk and boiled potatoes. I was paging through a magazine the other day reading yet another “I lost 18 pounds of ugly fat in three days!” advertisement when the answer finally came, and it works for a common-sense woman like me. If fat can be lost, than it can be found, and I know just who found it. Ever since I turned 50, there it is. It hangs around my middle. It sticks to my thighs. It follows right behind me, if you get my drift. I’m sure there are many other fat finders just like me. We work very hard to lose a few pounds by eating salads for lunch, exercising and cutting out sweets. All it takes is a long cold winter, a crackling fire, a few good novels and Girl Scout cookie time, and the fat cells come right back, bringing a few friends with them. My theory is that as people lose fat, the cells become invisible and float around the atmosphere, hovering around a few poor schmucks who are too tired after work to hit the gym, or whose husband’s alarm woke them at 5:30 a.m. during Daylight Savings Time and they need to nap instead of walk. The fat cells then dive-bomb the victim and stick like glue. We schmucks know who we are, and we need to be wary. Spring is here. People are walking their dogs. Some are exercising, even running. People start to look thinner than you thought they were as they shed their long underwear and winter sweaters. Don’t be a schmuck. Put down that box of cookies and take a walk. Dust off your bike and pedal around the block. Please, please, watch out behind you. They are waiting to be found.
I watched a television show this week on “Extreme Couponers”. I love a good bargain myself, so thought I would tune in for some money saving tips. I was not surprised to find out that some people can get a large amount of groceries for a little bit of money by clipping coupons, checking the sales ads, and hitting the bargains at all the stores. I was surprised, however, at the volume of groceries that these people purchased. NINE shopping carts full? Who needs all that stuff? Each one had a special room in their house to keep all their bargains. One family had their supplies insured for over $30,000. Another lady pointed to her 1000 rolls of toilet paper and said “When I see all this toilet paper, it makes me happy.” Really? Toilet paper makes her happy? Puppies make me happy. Puppies and family dinners and finding a $10 bill in the pocket of a jacket that I haven’t worn for a while, but I honestly can’t say that toilet paper has ever made me happy. (UNhappy, maybe, but you will never see that story in print!) Here in America, we live in a world of extremes. We cheer for extreme makeovers of houses for people who can’t afford the taxes on them. We watch people eating extreme foods in huge portions and call it entertainment. Our athletes take things to the extreme, especially their salaries. Our actors and actresses go to extremes with their plastic surgeries and call themselves beautiful. Here in northern Minnesota we are extremely nice people who put up with extremely low temperatures and extremely deep snow. We have extremely long winters and extremely short summers. During those short summers we have an extreme amount of mosquitoes. I for one am happy to be living a much simpler life in an extremely beautiful area, mosquitoes and all. I wish Toilet Paper Lady all the best, and I hope she doesn’t get mice.
I keep in touch with friends and family from all over the world via social networking and the internet. This week, everyone seems to be commenting about spring. In Florida, folks are enjoying the blooms of the dogwood and azalia and planting their tomatoes. In Kentucky, they are waiting for their flower bulbs to burst forth into bloom and noting the first robin. Even here in northern Minnesota I noticed the first small sign of spring: I have slept for two nights in a row with my electric blanket switched off. It’s funny how perspectives differ from one end of the country to another. One southern friend recently commented “Brrrr….it’s 40 degrees outside today.” I would probably comment “Hooray! It’s 40 degrees outside today!” I wish I could say that I love winter, but I just can’t. I can only say that I like it until the end of January. I am ready for spring. Now. I’m ready for cowslips, a lighter jacket, and baby chicks. I’m ready for that slight green of the trees that gets brighter every day on my drive to work. I’m ready for the snow covering my garden to turn to mud and the rubber boots I have to wear to get to the chicken coop. Having spent many years in the south planting my garden around the first of March, my fingers are just itching to dig in the soil. Today I was perusing all the seed catalogs, making my list of what to plant this year, but then had to stop to sweep another two inches of “partly cloudy with chance of a few flurries” off the front porch. Living here in God’s country means knowing that we have a few more snowstorms to bear before we can celebrate the spring. It will be worth the wait.