Whole Wheat and Rye Bread

A very interesting thing happened this week.  I had a day off on Friday.  Many of us did because it was a school parent/teacher interview day.  If we had no interviews then we had the day to ourselves.  The kids and I wandered around for a while.  Haircuts were had.  We took in some local bakery treats.  A movie was watched and I went for a run.  Finally - a run.  A run that I've been waiting to take since what feels like forever.  But I still haven't given you the 'interesting' thing.
You see, after all of that I decided to take a bath.  I never take a bath.  Only when I'm feeling sick does the thought of lying in hot water sounds soothing to me.  Whatever the case may be, on Friday I found myself taking a bath.  A wonderful warm/hot bath.  All by myself, nobody daring to disturb me.  This is my chance to steal a few moments alone with my thoughts.  To breathe deeply and let the psychological knots untie themselves a little.  What do I find myself doing?  I start cleaning the bathtub while I'm in it.  I'm whittling away at little spots on the tile.  I rub my fingers on some of the grimy spots to get them off.  I even reach outside of the tub and start to pick up little fuzz things on the floor.  As I'm doing it I realizing how completely ridiculous this is.  I at least have the presence of mind to know that I'm completely missing the point of this 'quiet time'.  Why is it so hard to simply not do anything.  I refuse to believe that this is a 'male vs female' thing or a 'working professionals' issue or a 'parent' problem or whatever else is thrown out there.  I think that in reality it's just damn hard to unplug and sit still with oneself.
In university I spent a lot of time and mental energy (probably too much of both which may explain a little about why my degree took so long) researching, reading about and working at being still with oneself.  It seems silly to use the word 'work' when referring to being still but in my experience that is the reality.  It takes work.  The minimal amount of success that I achieved felt wonderful.  I felt so much better connected both to myself but also to those around me.  It felt like I could listen better.  I could tune in and really focus on something outside of myself which is a paradox really when you think about how much time you spent just 'listening' to yourself.  I know that my 'success' (these word don't really fit) was minimal and it made a big difference but it was a LOT of effort.
I think that it might be our lives - both our outward and inward lives - take on this inertia like being on a treadmill.  If I'm running on the treadmill I can't just stop running without slowing down the whole machine.  I've got to stop the treadmill and I've got to slow it down relatively slow otherwise my body wants to keep going.  In other words, everything has to follow suit.  I can't expect to be able to compartmentalize to such an extent that my quiet bath hour will be my meditation time - it won't work for me.  It was a a real wake up to me about how far away from myself I've gotten.

Honestly, I understand why it would be so natural for monks to make bread.  It's quiet work really.  There is something caring about the whole process beginning to end.  The proofing, the flour, the kneading, the rising.  It's nurturing and comforting and quiet.  It was just what I needed this week.  My kids declared this the best bread I've ever made.  It's got a larger than normal proportion of white flour which is probably why the enjoyed the texture so much.  It just felt amazing to make it, to knead it, to be forced to stay home and take care of it.  I probably won't be hoping into the bathtub anytime soon but I'm thinking about using my bread making as part of my quiet/meditative/focussing routine.

Whole Wheat and Rye Bread adapted from King Arthur Flour
makes 1 loaf

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat or Red Fife flour
1/2 cup Rye flour
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1 1/4 cup water, warm but not hot
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp butter (melted) or oil

Butter or grease a medium sized non-reactive bowl and set aside.
Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar together.  Stir and place in a warm, draft free spot to proof for about 10 minutes - it should be bubbly and yeasty smelling and probably will have risen.  If it hasn't then you should start again.
Meanwhile, combine 2 cups of the all purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, the rye flour, the salt and the dry milk powder together.  Once the yeast mixture has proofed add it to the flour mixture along with the honey and the melted butter or oil.  Mix well until it has formed a sticky dough ball.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead, adding the reserved all purpose flour if needed, until it forms a silky, smooth and elastic kind of texture.  Place the dough into the greased bowl, turning so that everything gets covered.  Cover with a clean cloth and place in a warm, draft free spot to rise for about 1 hr (dough may not have doubled).
Butter or grease and loaf pan.
Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down and knead just a little to form it into a log form to fit into the loaf pan.  Place in the loaf pan and cover with a clean cloth and place in a warm, draft free spot to rise for about 1 1/4 hr.  The dough should have risen over the top of the loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place the loaf into the oven and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes or until browned and the crust hardened enough to sound hollow when knocked on.
Let it cool completely (preferably for an hour or two) before slicing.

Red Fife Ginger Cookies with White Chocolate Chunks

Ladies and Gentleman:  As I told you at the beginning of this week, we would not hold you any longer than necessary.  I have some good news for you all.  We do not require your services for Valentine's Day.  Nor will we be needing your services on Friday.  Ladies and Gentleman, Thank you so much - Your Jury Duty services at this court are officially finished. 

That was probably the best paragraph that I've heard since, oh I don't know... maybe 'Will you marry me?' or 'It's a girl' or 'It's a boy'.  Ok seriously.  Not as good as those sentences but almost as good.  Yes all you kind and gentle folk, I have finished jury duty.  And what a saga it was.  I nearly got to the serious selection interview on Monday but dodged that bullet by two people.  On Tuesday we had a fire alarm which meant that a good portion of the morning was spent outside (did I mention that I live in Toronto... CANADA.  It's not especially balmy this time of year) because once we were allowed back into the building we all had to go through security again.  All 300 or so of us.  Today we had a repeat performance of the fire alarm so you can guess how my morning went.  Combine that with a last minute choir needed on Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday services today, it's been a crazy time.
I was so relieved that it was all over that I treated myself to a mini-cupcake from this bakery and whatever else you do in life DO NOT check the calorie count on these bad boys because that's just a frustrating way to live your life.  I meant to get a picture of my mini's but I didn't because I ate them.

In other news, my school is going to Rome.  This is a big deal because it's our 75th anniversary and it's ROME.  We're singing for the Pope... wait, what... hold the phone.  As of the end of February guess what... we have no Pope.  He stepped down.  Now historically men usually die in the post, either of natural causes or... hmmm, unnatural.  The last time a Pope stepped down the Pope elected after him put him in a dungeon until he died.  That puts us squarely back to the death thing again.  We've been assured that a new Pope will be in place by Easter, (and that our present Pope will not be spending any time in a dungeon) ensuring that we will be the first to perform for him. So essentially what was originally deemed a disaster has transformed into possibly the best thing for our school in 75 years.  Silver Lining.
In yet other news, tomorrow is Valentines day and if you know me either in person or through this blog then you know that I don't give a S*^%.  I'm not anti-valentine's day or anything, I just don't care.  I have not spent my spare time making heart shaped anything.  I have not bought a card for anyone.  I will not be going out for dinner tomorrow evening (blech - the worst night of the year) but if I was offered a bottle of Veuve then I wouldn't refuse (who would).  I won't be giving or receiving any chocolates or baubles of any kind and nothing either pink or red will be worn by me.  Not because I hate it but because I don't care.

I made ginger cookies... boring, I know.  With whole wheat flour... ahh - even more boring.  I put white chocolate in them... ok, less boring.  But they were really really really good.  The catch that I'm finding with using whole wheat flour is that things don't last as long.  You'll get a couple of days out of these and then they're done.  They get pretty hard but not hard enough that they can't be hammered to pieces and sprinkled on vanilla ice cream.  Silver Lining.

Red Fife Ginger Cookies with White Chocolate Chunks adapted from 'Good to the Grain'
makes about 3 dozen

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat (I used Red Fife) flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 egg
2 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
6 oz white chocolate coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (or so) coarse sugar for coating

Combine both flours, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg together.  Mix and set aside.
Combine the melted butter, both sugars, molasses, egg and grated ginger together.  Whisk to mix well.  Add the flour mixture.  Mix until it forms a batter.  Add in the white chocolate.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to 24.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicon liner.
Pour the coarse sugar (I use fairly course white sugar anyway so I just used what I had) into a bowl.
Using about 1 1/2 tbsp of dough + Chocolate Chunk and form into a ball and roll the ball through the sugar until it's coated.
Place the cookie balls on the cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10 - 12 minutes for soft cookies (14 minutes for crunchier cookies) - turning about halfway.
Cool on a rack before digging in.

Creamed Vegetables with Polenta Crust

True Story: Tomorrow I report for Jury Duty Selection.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that.  I don't know what it even means really.  I've spoken with some people who showed up, were present for about 4 hrs and then were sent home 'Thank You Very Much'.  Others I've talked to have been there for a few days.  Others have gotten selected for trials that are months down the road.
Everyone has some advice on what to say during the interview - not even sure how much of an interview it is - or what not to say.  One person told me that it was a wonderful life experience for her friend (not she, herself) and that this could be an enriching moment for me.  I'll get back to you on that one.  I suspect that the reality will be quite boring, the interview may be more about whether the judge thinks my eyes are too close together or my nose too small than it will be about my character.  So after some thought I've decided on some things that I'm definitely not going to do:
1.  Pretend that I don't speak english.
2.  Ask whether I can take my medication while being seated in the jury box.
3.  Ask the judge if he's single.
4.  Pretend I voted for the Rhino party if asked my political affiliation.
5.  Wear a shirt which makes my tattoo visible.
6.  Offer to communicate with deceased relatives of the judge.

What I will do:
1.  Answer questions honestly.
2.  Bring a book.
3.  Not turn off my cell phone.
4.  Bring a lunch with me.
5.  Do whatever I need to do to make sure that I don't start to panic.

I'm not sure what's doin' this week as a result of everything above.  I've cooked up a storm to make sure that we have lots hanging around just in case.  Today I've made bread, ginger cookies with white chocolate, creamy orzo with roasted butternut squash and this.  This is something that I expected to be creamed veggies topped with a layer of crusty polenta.  What happened in real life is that the whole thing kinda baked into one thing.  What I might do if I try this concoction again is sauté slices of the polenta on each side before placing on top of the veggies.  I think that this might keep it from becoming part of the creamy stuff.  Not sure though.  Did it taste good?  Yup.  So the texture itself didn't deter the taste at all and the idea is a good one.  Just needs some adjusting.  The topping: Parmesan and chopped nuts made it for me.  This is a great dish to take for leftover lunches or to take to a pot luck kind of situation.  It easily makes a lot and it's pretty standard comfort food fare.

Kid #2 went to a cupcake decorating birthday party today and wanted me to add his creation to the  blog post.  
Creamed Vegetables with Polenta Crust adapted from 'Simple Bites'
serves 6

1 1/2 cups Leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 cups mushrooms, quartered
3 cups chard leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups milk, warm
4 tbsp butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup cheddar, shredded

1 1/2 cups coarse polenta (cornmeal)
6 cups stock (I used water with 'no salt' vegetable bouillon cubes added)
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped nuts

For Polenta:
Bring the stock to a boil in a med/large heavy bottomed pot.  Turn the heat down to medium/low.
Add in the cornmeal and whisk continuously. Continue to cook, whisking regularly, for about 30 minutes.
Once the the cornmeal has thickened nicely add in the salt and butter.  Stir to mix.  Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon liner and spread the polenta out evenly.  Refrigerate until it firms up to be sliceable - it will keep for 2 or 3 days.
For the Sauce:
Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
Add in the butter, letting it melt completely.  Once the butter is melted and heated add in the flour and whisk it into the butter.  Continue for a minute or two.  Add in the warmed milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Once all the milk is added and there are no lumps, bring it to a slow boil and whisk until it thickens (should not take long).  Once thickened, turn the heat down to low and add in the salt, Worcestershire, nutmeg, cream  and cheddar.  Once the cheddar has melted in take the sauce off the stove.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Throw the vegetables - all of them - in the bottom of the baking dish.
Pour the Sauce over the vegetables.
Cut the polenta into rectangles to fit on top of the vegetables.
Top with a little extra shredded cheddar.
Bake for about 40 - 45 minutes or until the top is bubbly and turning golden brown.
Before serving sprinkle the casserole with the freshly grated parmesan and the chopped nuts.

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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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