It Was the Summer of…

Sheep

I am reminded by posts on Facebook about capturing the “last gasps of summer” that it is Labor Day in the US.  Here on the Mediterranean, we expect to have several more weeks of warm weather.  In fact, today, I’m just putting a hem in a pair of white pants that I plan to wear quite a bit this fall.  But mentally, it is the turn of the calendar and I, too, am feeling nostalgic for last summer.

Since the boys have been in university, our summers have had a consistent pace, but this summer, some things changed.  We aren’t pulling them off to be with us in our overseas life as much, anymore.  They have their own involvements and responsibilities, now, and they can’t just up and leave for several weeks like they used to.

This was the summer of girlfriends.  Having significant others hanging at the house with us was a completely new development, and we really liked it.  It was fascinating to watch our sons attend to women they have chosen to have in their lives,  and I was proud to see their consideration and more grown-up ease with themselves.

This was the summer of full-time jobs. Most parents, I’m sure, would agree that it is enormously satisfying to send your able-bodied young person off for a big ol’ day of work.  This was, at the same time,  the summer of baby animals.  Gabe has a real gentleman’s  farm in operation on the island.  He took in a menagerie of Craig’s List babies last spring:  lambs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks and then there is the biggest handful of them all, his beautiful preschooler dog, Geist (he just turned 1 so he’s technically not a baby anymore).  Allan and I became quite enchanted by the whole free-ranging brood and were perfectly happy to send Gabe off for a 12-hour work day in exchange for tending the animals.  I could have and now think should have taken so many more pictures of them as we watched them grow.  It was fascinating how they made choices and communicated to each other,  everyday, about where they wanted to go on the property and what they wanted to do.  They were so silly sometimes, but my heart was happy seeing them have completely natural, stimulating lives.

Turkeys

This was the summer of nieces.  I think the generation of my siblings and me has shifted slightly and our children are stepping up to be our friends and to provide us with authentic support.  Through this season of the passing of our mom, my nieces, in particular, came forward to not just cook and help arrange things, which they did capably and creatively, but they made us laugh and amazed us at all of their adult involvements.  I know that my mom would have been so happy to know how her passing strengthened and even changed our relationships in many wonderful ways.

Finally, this was the summer of home-town affirmations.  Allan and I have had our wonderings, over the years, if our plan to eventually repatriate back to Whatcom County will be the right choice.  We have other overseas friends who are building their retirement nests in farmhouses in France, condos in big cities, someplace warm.  We love Lummi Island, but we haven’t always been sure that we could fit back into the culture we left, now, 15 years ago.  This summer, though,  we had encounter after encounter, often by chance, with people we have known in the past, but didn’t know so much about presently.  We were astounded, first of all, by what positive lives so many old friends are pursuing.  Many have lost unneeded pounds and as a result, feel fantastic.  Many have become incredibly active, riding bicycles, taking strenuous hikes.  Many have let go of negativity and are living in grateful places.  Several have completely stopped drinking.  I found myself becoming genuinely excited thinking of living in community, in the future,  with these old friends and our Lummi Island neighbors.  Of course, lots of conversations turned toward our bounteous summer provisions in the Northwest and how we were preparing and/or preserving them.  I am really looking forward to sharing cooking when we can.  One of the cookbooks I read cover to cover this summer was Monday Morning Cooking Club, and I can picture that sort of get-together with old and new friends to learn more about and from each other and to enjoy the cooking skills so many of us have been honing these long years.

Gabe
Gabel, after a Sunday of preserving. He put away 4 gallons of blackberries (slated for blackberry wine-making in the fall), 4 pints of beets, two bags of blanched beet greens, and a crock of sauerkraut, all from his own garden and yard.

One friend and I already got the conversation going when she and her husband came out to spend an evening of crab-eating, sunset watching,  and visiting with us.  Even though she had worked that day, she had, because she’s just like this, baked off a heavenly loaf of artisanal bread in the morning to bring out.  She swore that nothing could be easier than making up this no-knead bread, developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, and once I tried it, I became a devotee, too.  It is also a wonderful dough to form into foccacia or pizzas.   I am not going to retype the recipe.  Go to this link because you will also find some short videos that will illustrate a couple of the finer points involved in the process.  Peggy, I hope that this is the beginning of a long and delicious conversation.

Recipe: No-Knead Bread

 

Artisan Bread

Yuletide

I just read a scathing review of Sarah Palin’s new Christmas book, and frankly, I thought the review was more hostile than anything he claimed she wrote.  I do, however, disagree with one premise Ms. Palin frequently makes, and that is that many Americans are waging a war on Christmas every time they separate the sacred from the secular in reference to “the holidays”.    I am certainly not waging any sort of war on Christmas, but I do find it silly when people sanctify every little Christmas reference without an acknowledgement that millenia of humans have been living on this earth prior to us, and also prior to the advent of Christ, and they contributed to the lexicon of the season in ways in which we may not be aware.

Earthlings have had the security of living on a slightly tilting planet, 23.5 degrees, to be almost exact.  I call this cockeyed position secure because while the tilt creates dramatic seasonal and daylight shifts at the poles, at least it has been consistent.  Watch or read Game of Thrones to get a taste of what it would be like to have years of summer and then unpredictably, an unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or even generation, of winter.  Whether you like or dread the solstice daylight shifts, we do know that they are temporal.  We can count on the change.

Allan’s ancestors are Norse/Germanic.  The idea of Yule comes from those cultures and simply means a time of merriment.  The use of natural decorations such as trees, holly, mistletoe, and fire, later replaced by lights,  became traditions.  Circular shapes, as in the Northern European centerpiece called the Yule wreath, were made of evergreens with a candle in the center, symbolic of  the circle of the seasons with the sun in the center.

It is believed that early Christians, who were persecuted by the Romans, moved the celebration of Christ’s birth, which was probably closer to mid-April, to the winter solstice because there was already a party going on at that time, and they could gather those revelers around the celebration of Christ, building their numbers for resistance.  The symbolism of the solstice, light returning to a people in darkness, gradually became a metaphor for Christians of Christ’s message bringing joy and hope to mankind.

A carol that comes to mind is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, in German, or the traditional English carol Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.  Here is a verse from my favorite translation:

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender root hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

I think we can all take hope that no matter how dark our moment, it is possible to experience new growth, probably in the most unexpected places.

Snow Berries

Allan is coming home tonight.  We have been apart for five weeks, the longest time in our 30 years of marriage.  A solstice feast is being prepared that is full of symbolism for us.  There will be crab bisque made from the dungeness crab we harvested when the sun barely set last summer.  We will have some other bright flavors with the meal like a citrus salad and a tart cranberry panna cotta for dessert, and for an edible centerpiece, I’ve made this bread wreath.  Allan will be bringing the French champagne for the sparkle.

Bread 2

  It will be true yuletide, or time to celebrate, as we sit around our table together tonight.

White Candles

Bread Wreath

From Martha Stewart, November 2013

Ingredients

    • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and sprinkling
    • 1/2 cup rye flour
    • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
    • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
    • 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees), plus 1 cup water for baking dish

Directions

  1. Mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, the rye and bread flours, salt, yeast, and warm water in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. (Dough will be sticky.) Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Refrigerate dough in bowl until cold, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with a pizza stone or inverted rimmed baking sheet on rack in top position and a baking dish on rack in lowest position. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Knead briefly to incorporate, then form into a smooth ball. Return to bowl, cover with towel, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  3. Invert a cookie sheet, cover with parchment, and dust with all-purpose flour. Place dough in center. Poke a hole in center of dough with your thumbs and stretch it until dough measures 9 inches in diameter and hole measures 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Generously sprinkle with all-purpose flour and let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes. Using kitchen shears, cut 14 deep Vs into top of dough, going almost all of the way through. Pull points of cut Vs away from center to create 14 leaves around wreath. Let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes.
  4. In one quick motion, slide wreath on parchment onto pizza stone, then pour water into baking dish. Bake until bread is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Slide wreath on parchment onto a baking sheet, then slide wreath off parchment onto a wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Bread is best eaten same day it is made.

Poppy-Seed Lavash

LavoshI think the word lavash is elegant, but also evokes the daily rituals of life in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.  In Tunisia, the baguette is our bread currency, a legacy of French colonization, but as you move farther east, fabulous flatbreads are the staff of life.  Typically baked by slapping a yeast dough against the side of an underground clay oven called a tonir, the breads have a rustic shape and brown inconsistently, giving them some chewy parts and some toasted, crisp bits.

Armenian cooking can be complicated, incorporating an array of no less than 300 types of herbs and wild flowers.  This recipe, however, simply features poppy seeds.  I recommend making up a batch of this dough when you want something to bring a meal together or give it a little heft as with soup or roasted meat and salad.  Lavash can provide that burst of toasted flavor and chewy/crispy texture to make it a satisfying meal.  It is also great as a leftover.  Turning crispy in the air, you can use it the next day with a dip or crumbled in a salad.

Poppy-Seed Lavash

Reprinted from Martha Stewart Living and Matt Dillon, chef at Sitka & Spruce in Seattle

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour or a combination (I used 1/4 rye flour)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons course salt
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Steps

1.  Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat just until butter melts.  Place warm water in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar on top, and let stand until foamy and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Whisk together flour, course salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl.  Gather mixture into a large mound and create a well in the center.  Pour milk and yeast mixtures into well.  Gradually stir together mixtures with a wooden spoon, starting in center and working outward, until a dough forms.

2.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and, with lightly floured hands, knead dough, adding more flour if necessary if dough is too sticky, until smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes.  Cover dough with a lightly floured kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until dough is doubled in size, about 2 hours.

3.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone placed on rack in lowest position, or heat a covered gas barbecue to 500 degrees.  Meanwhile, punch down dough with lightly floured hands, cover with towel, and let rise again until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Divide dough into 4 equal portions.  Working with 1 portion and keeping remaining portions covered, roll out dough as thinly as possible without tearing, about 1/8 inch thick, with a floured rolling pin.  Prick dough all over with a fork and transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel, baking sheet, or grates of gas grill.  Lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with poppy seeds and flaky salt.  Slide dough onto pizza stone and bake until dough bubbles and blisters in places and edges become crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Repeat process with 3 remaining dough portions; serve warm.

Czech Beer-Cheese Bread

Our friends from Prague have been visiting this week.  At our final potluck gathering last night they treated us to a typical Czech pub snack called beer-cheese.

Beer-cheese is a variety of extremely pungent cheese and it is also the name of a dish that is the result of mixing and smashing the cheese with chopped onions, paprika, mustard, and a little actual beer to create a dish that is called beer-cheese.  Here is a short video showing the technique.

Actually, it’s NOT as bad as it looks, or smells.  I tried it spread on a Tunisian baguette and it was tasty.  It was so tasty that the flavor lingered in my mouth through the next five marinated olives I ate.  It really has staying power.

As we were saying goodnight and goodbye, they gave us our own packet of beer-cheese (Pivni syr) to enjoy at home.  It was already factory sealed in plastic, but because its odorous qualities were escaping the seal,  I immediately double-wrapped it when I got home and put it in the fridge.

The next morning…

When I opened the fridge this morning to get milk for my coffee, my first thought was, good Lord, a mouse has died and decomposed behind (or in) the fridge.   Then I remembered my friend talking about packing this cheese (smaller than a stick of butter) in baking soda and multiple bags to transport it to Tunis and I truly understood what she had been working with.

Using this cheese, today(!) came to the immediate top of my priority list.  Leaving it in our fridge to bring out as a novelty at our next social gathering was not an option.  I felt I needed to use it in combination with tempering ingredients that could hopefully soften and diffuse the pungency.  A cheese bread came to mind.  Dispersing the cheese throughout the mellow flavors of whole wheat flour, browned leeks, and toasted walnuts with a bite of paprika on top seemed like a good way to bring out its best qualities.

Cheese, Leek and Walnut Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 medium leek
  • 6 ounces walnuts
  • Paprika, 1 tablespoon
  • 12 ounces cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola…) or ½ that much Pivni syr

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip, combine the yeast, water, 1 tablespoon of the oil and molasses. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Combine the flours and salt together.

Change the mixer attachment to a dough hook. Add the flours and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and climbs up the dough hook.

While dough is rising, toss walnut halves in 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Turn out onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F.  oven for approximately 10 minutes.  When slightly brown, remove from the oven, turn out onto a cutting board and roughly chop.  Reserve.

Chop leek.  Saute in 2 teaspoons olive oil until lightly brown.  Reserve.

Grease a larger mixing bowl with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning once. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area. Allow the dough to rest until double in size, about 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Set one half aside. Roll or pat the dough out into a rough rectangle or circle. Sprinkle half of the nuts and 4 ounces of the cheese over the dough.  Work filling with fingers to thoroughly mix cheese into the leeks and walnuts.   Fold the sides in toward the center and knead the dough several times, working in all ingredients. Repeat with the remaining dough, walnuts, leeks and cheese. Form the balls of  dough into two small rectangles.

Grease 2 rectangular bread pans with the remaining oil. Place the dough in the prepared pans; press the dough to form to the pan. Sprinkle the top with more cheese, if desired.   Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise again until double in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place the pans in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake for 20-30 minutes more or until brown. Remove from the heat and cool on a wire rack.

Allow the bread to cool before slicing.