Bran and Date Muffins

It came over me like a fit.  I just saw the picture of these things and new immediately that I needed to make them.  It's such a weird things because I honestly can't think of any time in my life when I have craved a bran muffin.  My weirdest/funniest bran muffin memory - my sister is going to kill me - happened while I was living in Montreal.  I was ridiculously young and had only been living there for a few months when my Mom and my sister came to visit for a weekend.  I was super excited and planned a full itinerary of events, which fortunately included sleeping, that I thought we would all enjoy.  I had just discovered these restaurant/cafe thingies that focussed on serving desserts.  Great desserts.  And there was one of the best within walking distance (a good walk) from where I lived.  I was so excited to drag them to this dessert place.  The specialty was cheesecake and you could go to the showcase and check out what you wanted to order.  Awesome.  My sister was pretty young at the time  - she's ten years younger than me - probably about 10 or so.  It had been a pretty big day and she was feeling kinda out of it.  Either way when the server came to take our order I excitedly ordered my raspberry mousse cheesecake and a decaf cappuccino.  My Mom gave her order... something similar.  My sister was last and she ordered... a bran muffin.  Stop.  What.  A BRAN MUFFIN.  I couldn't believe it.  Nearly fell off my chair.  I brought my sister all this way to this awesome dessert place and she orders.... a bran muffin.  I got over the shock and I learned to appreciate that my sister and I could do weird things together (she was addicted to 'The Monkeys' and we watched 'Desperately Seeking Susan' so many times that she started watching it while hanging upside down just so that she could see what it looked like) and that in fact, she got a lot of her weirdness from me.

It still makes me laugh though.  I've kinda had this thing against bran muffins ever since and it honestly wasn't until I saw these bran muffins that I realised that its changed.  I no longer blame bran muffins for stealing my sisters opportunity to enjoy absolutely wonderful desserts.

What's cool about these muffins is that they're almost eggless and sugarless and you don't miss it at all.  They're really moist and tasty.  I LOVED that these muffins included dates instead of raisins.  Raisins aren't my thing.  I'm not a fan of the texture and how they get all weird when they're baked... whatever. Dates are hot.
So, I think that this bran muffin recipe marks a cool new time in my life.  One where bran muffins no longer represent what I'm missing out on - cool, awesome, light, mousse, dessert things - and are something that I kinda like... maybe my sister had it right all along.

Bran and Date Muffins adapted from Good Things Grow
makes about 9 medium sized muffins

1 cup dates, pitted and diced very fine
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used organic greek yogurt)
2 generous tbsp honey or molasses
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Line about 9 muffin cups with liners.
Combine the warm water and the finely diced dates.  Set aside for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 75 degrees F.
Combine the wheat bran, both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.  Mix and set aside.
Combine the yogurt, honey, melted butter and egg together and mix well.
Add the softened dates and water to the yogurt mixture.  Mix well.
Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture.  Stir until everything is just combined and all ingredients are wet.
Spoon batter just to the top of each muffin tin.
Bake for about 15 - 18 minutes or until the muffins feel kinda firm to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool completely (or break them open warm and slather with something wonderful - think butter or cream cheese).  Store well covered or freeze for later use.

Pear and Apple Pie Squares... and three down.

Work is not a job... that's a different thing entirely.
A job is what I did in high school.  The fast food restaurant, the book store,
I've been thinking lately a lot about work and life and how they go together.  I've always thought that they should be separated, compartmentalized from each other.  'Work is life/Life is work' being either a relic of our religious work ethic past or something that people who happily work 80 hr work weeks for ridiculous sums of money are fond of reciting off to us lesser individuals.  I'm becoming less sure though.
More and more I'm thinking that work is just a subset of life.  Albeit a large subset - probably one of our biggest.  These days we work for a paycheque but it used to be that we worked literally to subsist.  We farmed, we foraged, we made, we grew, we preserved and we did it all so that we could live.  It was work.  It was the only work that made sense.  And it was both our life and what gave us life.  The concept of leisure time is something that is quite recent in the history of human society.
You see I'm thinking more and more that life is work just as much as it is anything else we do.  I'm even starting to think that the whole idea of leisure and doing 'nothing' is a joke.  Like it's some kind of hugely successful propaganda campaign by governments and corporations to keep us on the treadmill, safely occupied.  But I only think that stuff in my 'super-tired-paranoid-conspiracy-theorist-but-probably-the-most-sane' moments.
What I'm trying to say - rather unsuccessfully I fear - is that I'm starting to feel like work and life need to and are meshing together more in my life. Work is something I've been feeling good about.  I've been feeling fed by it.  Work exists for me right now because of personal friendships (thanks KT ;-) and many of my work friends have become personal friends.  It all blends.  And this is where this post will now tie into the squares that you see floating around here.

My friend lost her father last week.  This is someone that I wouldn't have met if it weren't for work.  As time has gone by we've discovered that we work pretty well together and we like each other.  It all blends.  I wanted to make stuff for her family right away after hearing about my friend losing her father but they were heading out of town for the funeral so it would have been wasted.  When they got back I was in the thick of doing craziness like this and going to hear these guys and drinking a bit of this.  So I finally settled down enough to make these squares which I'm still disappointed about not because the squares sucked but because they weren't accompanied by the two or three other dishes that I had hoped for.  I dropped them off with some bran muffins (recipe to come) for her and her family.

I'm not quite sure how to end this post and I think it's mostly because I really haven't completely worked through my thoughts about work.  Either way, these squares were good.  I tried two before they were sent off.  I added a little more butter to the topping because when I made it to the original specs it just wasn't enough crumble.  It does make a big pan so it's a great one to share.

Pear and Apple Pie Squares adapted from Technicolor Kitchen
makes 1 9x13 pan of squares

5 pears (I used home canned bartlett pears), sliced and then diced
2 apples (good cooking apples), sliced and then diced

2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Cover a 9x13 inch baking dish with foil leaving the foil folded over the edges.  Butter the foil and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
For the Crust:
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Set aside.
Beat together the butter and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla and the egg.  Mix together until fluffy and well incorporated.
Add the flour slowly, stirring continuously.
Once combined well pour into the foil lined baking dish.  Press the batter down a bit.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until turning golden and pulling from the pan at the edges.
turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.
Cover immediately with the diced fruit.
combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Mix until just blended.
Add in the cubed butter and cut together using two knives or a pastry cutter until the mixture is a crumbly texture.
Sprinkle evenly over the fruit layer.
Bake for 25 minutes or so.  The topping should be kind of melted together and kind of blended with the fruit a little.  It will be a little golden as well.
Cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cutting into bars.

Multigrain Red Fife Bread... and a soap box.

I'm getting the soap box out.
I'm getting up on the soap box... steady... and up.
And now...

D went to a birthday party recently.  The party was for a former church friend.  I haven't seen this person in a long time.  We used to do service music together.  D happened to be in the area and decided to swing by and catch up a bit.  In talking, I came up and D got them up to speed on what I've been up to.  Upon hearing what's been happening for me lately at home and at work our friend replied that my success is a sign of God's favour.
D told me about the conversation and to be honest I didn't think anything much about it at first.  However, after a couple of days passed I began to get mad.  After another day or two passed I got even angrier.  Now don't get me wrong, I totally understand where that statement came from and that it was intended as a positive thing rather than negative.  So what was it exactly that had my blood boiling.
Here it is - by telling me that where I've gotten to and my successes are God's favour it feels like my own efforts had nothing to do with it.  To be honest, it felt like an insult and trivialisation of the blood, sweat and tears that have brought me to this place in my life.
Labouring through years of an undergrad degree, broke and struggling the entire time.
Working dumb jobs until I stumbled on this one, which I love.  Working like crazy to make that job my own.  Mothering two children while working.  Learning the game of politics and not being afraid to play it.  Look, anyone whose gotten anywhere in their life has worked hard. Damn hard.  If that's what one might call the favour of God then I certainly don't see it.  If the favour of God takes that much toil on my part then I'd hate to see the opposite.   As I've gotten older I've learned to see opportunities for what they are and take the best advantage of them that I can.  It's called growing up and getting smart.  When someone gives takes my hard-earned contentment and puts it in someone else's name it feels like it's been stolen.  So in short I think it's bull and it makes me seethe to think that someone would credit God with all my hard work.
And... down I get from the soap box.

This, as you may have guessed by now, has nothing to do with bread.  It's just that while spending a little quiet time kneading this bread my brain had a chance to put all of this together.  I love Red Fife flour.  It's a beautiful thing.  I got mine from local granaries but I'm told that it's also available at the Bulk Barn here in Canada.  If you find it please pick it up and give it a try.  If you don't have red fife flour then by all means substitute away - try rye or pumpernickel or... whatever.  This bread worked out really nicely.  I thought it tasted good.  Quite good.  So if you find some Red fife flour and you've got a few minutes to knead some dough and work out some issues then go for it.  Give this stuff a try.  You won't be sorry.

Multigrain Red Fife Bread  adapted from King Arthur Flour
makes 1 loaf

1 1/3 cups warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup red fife flour (or a combination of cornmeal and pumpernickel flour)
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup  - less 2 tsp - brown sugar
1/4 cup dry milk powder

Combine the warm water, dry yeast and 2 tsp's of the brown sugar together and set aside in a draft free spot for 10 minutes to proof.  The mixture should have doubled in size and be bubbly and foamy.
Combine the flour's, salt, the rest of the brown sugar and dry milk powder.
Add the yeast mixture to the flour.  Stir until it forms enough to turn out onto a very lightly floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth almost silky.
Place the dough into a buttered stainless steel bowl.
Cover with a clean cloth and place in a warm, draft free spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Reshape the dough into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan.  Cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm, draft free spot to rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has risen about 1 inch over the rim of the loaf pan.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush the top of the loaf with a little melted butter if desired.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown on the top and you can knock on it and it sounds hollow on the inside.

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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