Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Having a Home-Based Routine

I've gotten bread and bagel making well incorporated into our home routine, largely because our routine is based around activities at home, rather than how it has been in the past, that is, based around lots of activities outside the home. With Annabel having one day for swim, yoga, and dance lessons, plus Fridays for playdates, I'm less harried, the house is becoming more and more orderly, we're cooking everyday, baking multiple times a week, and doing our homeschool lessons regularly. I'm less harried because I'm less hurried, but also because I am accomplishing things that I wasn't able to accomplish when we were going out almost daily and thanks to the house being more organized, I can find things, which also makes me less stressed. I feel good about all the baking and cooking I do for my family. We are spending less money on groceries and eating tastier, healthier food.

I had worried in the past that Annabel would be bored or unhappy being home so much, but she doesn't appear to be at all. I suppose I am pressed into service as her partner in pretend more often, but I still have more time for my "own" pursuits (in quotes because these pursuits--the organizing, planning, cooking, baking, housekeeping, etc., I do for my family, not just for me) than I did when I was paying someone else to entertain her a few hours a week.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bread Baking as a Form of Exercise

Mike and I have been talking about losing weight. Somehow. Some way. Weight Watchers has been discussed, though neither of us has gone to the web site and signed up. I'm less enthusiastic about the thought of paying for someone to tell me how much to eat than he. Instead, I would rather force myself to put so much effort into making something eat that I will one, burn calories in the process, and two, limit my consumption because I will want to savor my efforts (that's usually how I think).

So, for the first time in about a billion years, I made a menu plan last weekend and except for last night, when we made a rare family appearance at the Oregon Hunters Association meeting (I decided to attend, which of course meant the children would attend, because a couple falconers were presenting and that sounded interesting enough to me to get out of the house) that Mike had to go to right around dinner time, we stuck to the plan all week. This is what we've been eating (never fear, I'll get to the bread baking bits soon enough):

Saturday dinner: grilled ratatouille (or at least that's what I call red bell peppers, patty pan squash, sweet onions, cherry tomatoes, and eggplant marinated in balsamic, EVOO, and herbes de provence, then grilled and returned to said marinade), corn on the cob, and ??? It seems like there was something else, maybe a salad?

Sunday breakfast (for me, anyway): the last store bought bagel I will allow myself. In theory.

Sunday dinner: citrus-marinated chicken (from the freezer, cooked days ago) in my "Chinese" Chicken Salad. What is Chinese about this, I don't know, but that's what they called the inspiration dish at The Cheesecake Factory, where I used to eat lunch almost everyday as a manager at Borders Books well over a decade ago.

Monday lunch: leftover Chinese chicken salad, this time with the wild & brown rice mix that should have been in it the night before. Ooops.

Monday dinner: ratatouille quiche...this was marvelous...must repeat. Used ol' Julia's pie dough and quiche recipes, natch.

Tuesday lunch: leftover quiche and cheese soup from leftover mashed potatoes, cheddar, and dried onion.
Tuesday dinner: grilled tri-tip (I kept my mouth shut while Mike stuffed no less than 10 cloves of garlic into that poor slab of beef, but he later admitted himself that it had too much garlic), grilled patty pan, carrot & dried cherry salad tossed with balsamic, and the last of the grilled ratatouille, tossed with wheat berries. Problem was, while I had soaked the wheat berries for some time, I forgot to cooked them. This turned out to be a blessing...

Wednesday lunch: per Mike's suggestion, I tossed the wheat berry salad into a pot, added water to cover, and made soup. He threw in the garlic and the tri-tip. Sublime. So, out of one batch of grilled vegetables and a bit of leftover grilled meat, we got three meals--all quite tasty.
Wednesday dinner: grilled tuna, cucumber soup, and sugar snap pea-radish-and-carrot salad, tossed with rice vinegar, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds.

Thursday lunch: took the kids to Subway after a trip to the library.
Thursday dinner: worst pizza ever at the Pizza Baron.

Friday: leftover tuna and cucumber soup.
Friday dinner: al pastor, black beans, and corn on the cob.

Saturday breakfast: applesauce-buckwheat pancakes with sliced apples
Saturday lunch: leftovers
Saturday dinner: spaghetti with Bolognese sauce from the freezer

Sunday brunch: garden vegetable (uh, that would be tomatoes and some chard) and mozzarella omelette.
Sunday dinner: roasted chicken, boiled potatoes from the garden, steamed broccoli, roasted carrots, celery, and onions. I'll make chicken salad and chicken soup with leftover vegetables, corn, and black beans.

I started making bread twice a week about three weeks ago. Haven't bought a loaf at the store since (though I did continue to buy bagels). For the first couple weeks, I only had bleached all purpose flour in the house, purchased accidentally while I was bargain hunting and not reading labels carefully at Winco. Started with a French baguette, from Julia's Way to Cook. Next, I made sandwich loaves (from Baking with Julia) that were predictably Wonderbreadish with the bleached flour. I had promised myself to use up all that flour before making a run to Bob's for something better, but after about four loaves of the stuff, I couldn't stand it anymore. I took the kids there for lunch and shopping last Friday and we now have unbleached organic white flour, organic white whole wheat flour, cracked wheat, amaranth flour, and some other Bob's goodness. I've made one loaf of sandwich bread with the unbleached white, but left the dough to proof too long (as I learned later from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking) and the loaf came out half as tall as it ought to have been.

My greatest flour, water, and yeast triumph, however, has been with bagel making. The first batch, not so pretty. Returning to Baking with Julia, I seasoned the dough with black pepper and I just love the results. Shaping the bagels takes some practice, as it's important to develop a gluten coat by rolling the dough into a ball with a gathering up motion. I hurried while shaping the first batch and also left the boiled bagels sit on a towel to drain too long--they stuck when I tried to move them to a baking sheet. Anyway, that batch wasn't so great. Batch two received a "Looks like the ones you get at the store," from Mike, which I suppose was meant as a compliment. The taste is so superior to store-bought!

I also started a batch of sourdough starter and will bake a cracked wheat loaf from that this weekend. I also need to start another batch of bagels.

This bread baking is exercise, though. I mix the dough in my stand mixer, but knead it by hand for 8-10 minutes. I enjoy look forward to kneading. It's my favorite part of all this homemade bread business (besides slathering my own strawberry jam on a still warm slice).

Time to make the bagels.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm Awake

Literally and figuratively, I'm awake.

I'm literally awake at an unusually early hour because some dude with a pile of rocks in his mouth called at 4:30 this morning, looking for Owen. Our daughter is on a sleep over, so I was wide awake and in perfect enunciation form when I picked up the phone and responded, "You have misdialed."

"Can I speak to Owen." It's 4:30 in the morning, you're making unapologetic phone calls, AND you're not listening?

"You have misdialed." Click. Damn if the rock-mouth didn't call back again 10 seconds later.

"Dude!! It's 4:30 in the morning." (There's something about these gravel-mouthed boys that brings out the surfer girl in me.)

I'm guessing it was my use of a big word like misdialed that threw him off?

I have read conspiracy theorist explanations about the purpose of our public education system. The story, of course, is that it is meant to produce mindlessly consuming docile workers, which sounds plausible, yet is so disturbing to think about that it was always easier to dismiss it as mostly baseless paranoid ranting. Yes, that does seem to be the effect of public education, but I didn't care to believe that the outcome was anyone's conscious intent. I was awoken in a more figurative sense last night while reading John Taylor Gatto's 2003 Harper's Magazine piece Against School. Holy crap, "they" really did mean to create a system that produced unquestioning, conforming worker bees and to push those who refused to go along with the plan to the margins of society, where they hopefully won't get the chance to breed.

The US education system was not based on idealized notions about egalitarianism or democracy, but on the 19th century Prussian education system designed to prepare men for service in the military and bureaucracy. "The schools must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will," said 18th century German philosopher and father of the modern Nazism Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

How much does this matter now, that public education was based on such views? One could argue that while some founders of the modern school system did advocate the production of weak-willed lemmings, surely the all the of good people who have strove to improve public education have made some changes that negate the original intention? Looking around, at the mainstream media, the people I have worked with at various jobs, the people I meet in most social situations, I have to say that it seems the founders of US education did a fine job of creating a self-perpetuating system that more than adequately meets the needs of the ruling elite. There seems, in fact, to be cumulative effect and as the schooled school the succeeding generation, the adults they churn out seem more and more childlike, in the worst possible ways. It's almost an insult to children to compare them to petty, jealous, greedy grownups who obsess about celebrities while our unelected administration commits atrocities around the globe, who ponder which new green gadget to buy while our continued consumption, green or black, destroys our home, who go on diet after diet as our corn-fattened bodies betray us and our government does nothing to change the subsidy system that created the abundance of unhealthy food marketed by multinational corporations that have no responsibility to the public they should be serving.

I'm ranting and writing run-ons now, aren't I.

I blame the dude.