Monday, June 30, 2008

A Hunter She Is Not

Not long ago I was with a dev. disabled client on a Friday night. As usual she wanted to go to Goodwill and Wal-Mart. As we were walking around the store, we chatted amiably about things like the radio station we had listened to in the car and whether or not we ought to recycle. She told me for the umpteenth time about her pet bird, a cockatiel named Spike. She loved birds in general and her bird in particular. To her they were almost human, a friend to talk to and someone who cared about her.

After browsing the toy section of Wal-Mart we headed past the hunting section toward the fabrics and crafts. Unfortunately as we passed the sportsmen's counter they had a large, flat-screen TV with footage of various hunters triumphantly capturing their prey. In this particular case a large wild turkey covered the screen, hopping and flapping along.

My client stopped to watch eagerly. Of course it looked innocently like a nature program about a rather large bird and as such captured her attention immediately. The only problem was the section of the store told me that innocence was about to end. Before I could comment or distract, the fatal shot rang out and the turkey, hit, wobbled and screeched. The hunter emerged from the bushes with his rifle raised.

My poor client let out a cry of grief and dismay. "Oh my gosh! He hit that bird!" Her benign nature program had suddenly turned sinister.

I walked quickly on, hoping she would follow and stop watching before the evil hunter finished off the doomed bird. She did and I tried to console her, not sure whether she had ever been exposed to hunting before. For the rest of the evening I watched to see if she was unduly upset by the carnage she'd witnessed. She did mention it several times but she accepted it as she must have had to accept so many unlovely things in her long life.

Looking back on the incident though, it makes me wonder at the twist of fate that had us walking in front of that silly screen just as a game bird was the star of the show. I feel compassion mixed with the most unholy desire to laugh at the look on her face as the bird met its grisly fate.

Mommy Time Out

My friend, Tacomama, stopped by the other day with a housewarming gift for me, a little something she thought I might be able to use and love.



Today as my kids refused once again to settle down and take their naps, I read Texastschirgi's post about her boys and suddenly I just had to laugh. We moms really do need a time-out, probably more often than our children do. Sometimes I wonder how we do it, how we manage to have the patience to continually teach small people, to bite our tongues when we want to yell, to laugh when we want to tear out our hair and run screaming out the door.

We do it because we love, more deeply than we have ever loved. There is something inside of us that remembers that our job to teach the next generation is of vital importance. And we keep going because we know the secret, the one thing that can possibly keep us sane when all else fails except possibly divine intervention. We have the Mommy Time Out.

Playroom!



This weekend Hubby unpacked a bunch of the leftover boxes in our basement. The rest he pushed back against the wall and stacked bins in front of them, opening up the rest of the large open basement area for a new play room. We took some of the bigger toys down there this morning and had a wonderful time, enjoying both the space and the cool air.



The basement door opens right onto the back yard, furthering the play opportunities, but right now Hammy is not allowed outside so the kids kept the door shut and the kitten in.



Seth was being a goof and posing for the camera, but he really was happy to be able to get the trains out and have space to build a really big track. Natta helped him and I even got in on the action after a while, building a bridge and a tunnel.

We're still wriggling and stretching in our new house, figuring out how to best use the space we have and finding out where things fit. This summer as the weather gets hotter, I have a feeling we'll spend a lot of time in our basement play room.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hot Chicks

After the early service was over, three friends and I met up at Kamiak Butte for a hike and some girl time. There were my new friends, A. and Sue from my new church in Moscow and my best bud, S., from my old church. I was a little nervous about the different contingents but everyone ended up having a great time. Sue, A. and I drove over together from Moscow and while we were waiting for S. we ate lunch, yakking about our kids and the problem of school.

Then when S. arrived we had a rousing game of hearts, which I lost miserably. At last, we ventured out of the shade onto the hiking trail. In the shade temperatures were tolerable but out in the sun it was almost 100 degrees with the air barely stirring. We got to the top of the Butte where the view is the best. Then we started onward to the three mile hike around the top of the hill but after we hit the second shade tree we sat for maybe 20 minutes and nobody felt like going on. We were pouring sweat and A's dog panted too hard for such an old dog. We opted for going back down the hill.

Back at the picnic area in the shade again, A. broke out her daughter's shaved ice maker and made us all slushies. So instead of hiking any more we sat around in the shade and drank cherry slushies.

When we got back home I felt like a new person. I can't remember how long it's been since I hung out with girlfriends away from the demands of family and housework. And it seems to be unusual that there is such a pleasant, amiable group. No one was offended over anything; we all just had a good time. A good time and a hot time! I need a good, cold shower!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Learning the Hard Way

Fences and shopping carts are tricky things. Our back yard fence had seven gaps in it large enough for Piper to fit through. This morning my project was to plug each and every one of those holes so that we could let Piper roam freely in the back yard instead of putting her on a rope which she winds around the barbecue 36 times as soon as she gets out there.

Natalie went with me to the hardware store. Our goal was to purchase enough lumber in the form of discount cedar fencing to successfully cover all the gaps. I also treated myself to some new tools and a few other sundry items.

When we got to the store, Natta saw the big silver shopping carts she decided she wanted to ride on the bottom of the cart. I agreed, since I remember many a happy shopping trip as a child riding around on the bottom of the cart. I did not count on the mischievous nature of my daughter, however.

For the last few weeks she has repeatedly tested our patience by draping appendages out of whatever vehicle she is riding in. In spite of many warnings, she trails her fingers or feet out of the stroller, touches the wheels and brushes off our dire predictions of bodily harm. Today was no different. Being down so near the floor it was not long until her little hand was trailing along the linoleum and flirting with the rapidly spinning wheel.

It happens sometimes that parents know what they are talking about. In this case, it was not long before the cart jerked wildly and the child let out a piercing shriek. Hastily I stopped and hoisted her up into my arms. She continued screaming as only my operatic daughter can scream, in ear-splitting, siren-like shrieks. I looked at her finger, the skin was worn off where the wheel had squished her. I did not know if it was broken or not but decided to wait until later to poke and prod. Meanwhile every customer in the hardware store had stopped and turned to stare; I'm sure the ones on the opposite side had halted in amazement, wondering where the air siren was. I wished a hole in the floor would open up and swallow me and my loud offspring.

Luckily I had my Mommy-Bag-of-All-Tricks, my purse, with me and it contained Shrek bandaids. I pulled them out along with some handy Neosporin and soon had the wailing child doctored up. She quieted down, reveling in her new injury and resulting bandaid. She did not, however, insist on riding on the bottom again.

Back home she proudly showed Daddy her war wound and I retreated to the back yard where I spent a happy two hours measuring and sawing and screwing patches on the fence. We also checked the finger and it is not broken, just very sore. I fervently pray that this latest accident will make her think twice about disobeying us when it comes to dragging her fingers or feet out of strollers and carts.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Paint By Number



The lady who lived in this house before we bought it painted a lovely stained glass design on the front door. I love it because it offers privacy but still lets in a lot of light; it also looks very elegant.

Our dining room window looks out on the alley but is the main light-source for the house. In the morning sun streams in, flooding the house with beautiful light. The trouble is, I have to walk past it to get from the bedroom to the bathroom. If the curtain is open, I had better to remember to be fully clothed or YIKES! I don't want to go there. After a few too many close calls, I decided the same technique might be in order for that window too.



So I trotted off to Michael's (craft store) and bought window paint. Actually I bought a whole kit with paint, patterns and instructions since I have never done anything of the kind before. Enjoying the last VBS morning, I sat down at the table and worked on my window painting project. It actually is really easy to do, much like the old paint-by-number kits I used to do as a kid. The only trouble is that each section has to dry for eight hours. It is going to take me all summer to get the entire window done.



Although it is a lot bigger project than I originally thought it would be, I actually don't mind a bit. I'll just paint some more sections here and there until the whole thing is done. I'm excited to watch it come together. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Poem I Wrote For My Hubby



The Circle of Life

Another day, another dollar.
Another dollar, another coffee.
Another coffee and...
Wheeeeeeee! Another day.




This was such a literary masterpiece, Hubby actually posted it on his blog.

These Make Me Happy



My son with a diaper on his head.



We will not run out of essentials for at least another week.



A new bench on my front porch. I sit here and read, watch the goombas play with sidewalk chalk or listen to music wafting over from the park.



The summer I was seventeen I lived with my grandparents as a caretaker and learned from my Navy Veteran Grandpa Wally that the American Flag is a beautiful thing.



My daughter, peacefully asleep.



This is the corner of the house that is all mine. My family members are not allowed to enter this space or steal my tools. Today I worked on organizing and putting up shelves. I think I could live down here and only come upstairs to eat.

iPod Bliss

My son, who had the morning to himself since I was busy reading blogs, decided it was high time he investigated the contents of my purse. There were just certain things he needed to know. Things he needed to find.









Aaah, sweet success.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Working This Fall

I have been tossing around ideas in my mind for this fall. We have Natalie signed up for Preschool again, much to her joy and that frees up some time for me to possibly get a job. This is one of those times where I really wish we had a grandma living right here in town, the kind of cookie-baking, child watching grandma that many of my friends seem blessed with. We love our moms to pieces, don't get me wrong, but they are unusually busy!

So I'm debating on daycares, friends babysitting... you know the drill. My entire paycheck would go to child care but on the flip side it would pay for preschool, which is something we're set on doing, given Natalie's success there last Spring. Her experience at VBS this week only solidifies my resolution to put her in preschool five days a week. She is so obviously happy and much better behaved when her high social needs are being met on a daily basis.

I have been offered a beautiful part-time position at the lighting store by my old boss who was already looking for someone to watch the shop in the mornings. It is all coming together so flawlessly that I can't help but think it is what I ought to do. If only there was a quiet place for Seth to go where he would be happy and not too overwhelmed. Please pray that if this is God's will for our family that God would work out the Seth detail to His satisfaction. Or my satisfaction. Or both. Or whatever. Thanks!

Kitten Scratches



Hamilton, more commonly known as Hammy, is settling in quite nicely to our family chaos. In fact he delightfully adds some of his own insanity to the mix, mostly in the form of feline attack maneuvers.

When I'm sitting on my chair with my laptop on my knees, he watches my fingers typing and I can see the gears turning in his little cat-brain. Those fingers are Prey and he, Hamilton, is in charge of taking care of Prey. He wiggles his bottom, twitches his whiskers, dashes and pounces. Got em! But then the human (me) shrieks and dumps him on his head on the floor. What indignity.



Lately he has taken to sitting across my neck as I sit and type, purring loudly in my ear like some kind of vibrating fur stole. This is fine with me until I get up. Then, unbalanced, he digs in needle-sharp claws in an effort to maintain his post. Clinging to my back, he cries and I cry. I bend and twist, flailing to get the acupuncture nightmare off my back. He slips southward, claws rending, tearing my flesh and my shirt. I finally grab the little demon and fling him, gently, of course, oh so lovingly and gently onto the couch.

In order to distract the Claw-monster away from using that couch as a scratching post, I rigged up a toy for him, dangling a crumpled piece of paper from the ceiling grate by a string. He was thrilled, attacking, parrying, chasing, dancing. He's our daily entertainment.

After we banned Natta from carrying him over her arm, draped in half, he has decided he is going to wreak his revenge on the small human who so tormented him. He sits on the back of the couch waiting for his perfect attack opportunity. When she innocently walks by, he leaps, claws unsheathed. His quarry, however is not quite the fearful, cowering adversary he expected. Instead of screaming and running she calmly picks him up again, much to his very vocal dismay. Then mean ol' Mommy ends he fun and makes her put him down again before her small fingers squish his vital organs.



Another benefit of sitting on my laptop is the view out the living room window. Daily he watches the happenings in the front yard, announcing with characteristic Siamese yowls the presence of a pedestrian, dog, truck, car, bug, bird or blades of grass.





Soon, however he tires, then he sits curled up on the chair or on the back of my neck and purrs, falling asleep in sweet kitten bliss.





Hi there!

Cracker Crisis

As Seth gets older, he has been learning to verbally express himself more and more. I delight in getting to see into his thoughts which, boy-like, center mostly around food. For a snack I usually give him a few Ritz crackers which he carries around the house with him as he plays, much like the fabled Hansel, dropping crumbs for Piper to pick up later. Then yesterday, tragedy struck. We ran out of Ritz. Now generally in the past I was able to substitute Cheerios and he didn't know or care. Not now. He is older and wiser now.

Like a pathetic puppy he followed me around the house yesterday. "Cra-cra?" he'd ask hopefully. For good measure, he'd take my hand, lead me into the kitchen and point to the cupboard above the stove. "Cra-cra?" I would then apologize to him and explain that his beloved Cra-cras were all gone. I'd open the cupboard and show him the barren wasteland where the box should be sitting. Undaunted, he'd repeat, "Cra-cra?" Darn it, Mommy ALWAYS gave him crackers before. Why was she being so reluctant now? He simply did not understand.

This morning after we dropped Natta off at VBS, we headed to the grocery store. I intended to pick up only yogurt but as we walked in the door, he joyfully announced, "Cra-cra!" Oh yes, crackers. Check. As usual I thought of a few more things and a few more things until $70 later we staggered out the door under our load.

Once home I was again reminded about the crackers by a small boy who had kept the thought in his head that whole time. That's how important these crackers were to him. With alacrity, I opened the box and handed him four. His eyes lit up like Christmas tree lights and he cracked a grin so wide, I thought he's split his face. He took them eagerly, two at a time, and deposited them on the dining room table. At last life was back to normal. At last he had his Cra-cras and I watched him, sprinkling crumbs as he went, off to play in his room.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tree Measuring

As I was sitting here reading my usual morning dose of blogs, two men in bushy beards came along and measured my tree. As in one of them took out a tape measure and walked around the tree to measure the girth.

Then he walked on and measured my neighbor's tree.

I guess they probably work for the city, division of tree measuring. But it was unexpected this sunny June morning to have my tree measured. The things I see sitting by my front window. I feel a bit like Mrs. Rachel Lynde sitting here. What do you suppose she would have thought of the tree-measuring?

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Secret Weapon

We all have the "Honey, Not Tonight" jammies, you know the ancient plaid ones from 1978 with the giant gaping hole under the left armpit? I have something even better.

Today I was wearing little plastic butterfly clips in my hair. Hubby loves it when I wear those; he thinks they look cute. But tonight I think he changed his mind as I gave him a hug in the kitchen and accidentally stabbed him in the face with those darned clips. He pulled away and said with a straight face, "Is that your 'Honey Not Tonight' headband??"

I guess you had to be there.

Barrier

Ever since we upgraded the kids to "big-kid" beds they have had trouble falling asleep. They spend hours in their room giggling and bouncing; the next day they have dark circles under their eyes and drag their fussy little pathetic selves around like shadows. Okay, I exaggerate a little. But in the interest of going to sleep sometime before midnight, I have been trying different remedies for this ongoing problem.

For a while it was the stern-mommy tactic. Not only was this no fun at ALL, but it was spectacularly unsuccessful. They simply would not settle down.

Next I tried staying in their room to supervise. After just one attempt I scrapped that idea. They behaved themselves, laying awake in their beds for an hour looking at me with their bright eyes. Why was I the one being punished here?

I considered just letting it go. They'll go to sleep eventually, right? Not my Natalie. She takes a good thing like playtime with her brother and literally runs with it. In a week she'd pull an all-nighter, I'm quite certain.

Finally, at last, I hit upon a solution that seems to be working. I built the Great Cloth Barrier. Now they can't see each other. For some reason, although they can still hear one another, the fact that Natalie can't lay there and innocently make faces at her brother until he gets wound up and screeches is enough to stop the whole darn fiasco.



Now as I sit here in my chair there is blissful silence coming from a room where two children are peacefully going straight to dreamland.

"Mommy!!! The kitten is in here jumping on me!!"

Hmm..... rescue kitten.

Ahhhh, back in my chair; now two children are peacefully...

"Moooooommmmmmmmyyyyyy.... I need to go potty."

Hmmm.... allow child to use the restroom. Reinsert into bed.

AAahhhhh, now two children are...

"Maamaaa!! Baaaa-baaaa!!!!"

Hmmmm....

Okay, so there are still a few bugs to be worked out.

Whatcha Readin'?

Just finished in the last couple of weeks:

Blink
This was kind of a pop psychology bestseller and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I read the whole thing in 24 hours, it was that hard to put down. Lots of entertaining stories illustrated his conclusions on the usefulness and dangers of first impressions. The book brought back memories of reading Stephen Pinker's pop psychology books on the nature/nurture debate back before Natta was born.

O Pioneers!
I have been going back through some of the literature classics that I seem to have missed in high school. I found this one to be pretty good. It has lots of descriptive metaphor, which I love, and really well-drawn characters.

100 Cupboards
Great story! I loved the imaginative plot and the quirky style of writing. This was a second attempt by a local author and I think he improved immensely on his fist book. I look forward to the second installment in this trilogy.

Blind Courage
The story of the only blind man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Bill Irwin hiked the 2,100 miles with his guide dog, Orient, as a personal journey of faith. This was a re-read and I liked it as much this time through as the first time I read it.

Finn Family Moomintroll
I had never heard of these little beasties until I read about them on a blog. The story reminded me somewhat of The Wind in the Willows; I'll probably read these to the kids when they get a little older. I loved the unusualness of the characters but I didn't find the stories very compelling. I probably would have found them quite magical as a kid though, so I'll definitely try them out on my kids.

Secret Language
This was a dud. The story was supposed to be about two schoolgirls who invented a secret language while at their new boarding school. I was sadly disappointed as the language only had two words and the characters were not very well-rounded. So much for a random pick at the library.



Up next this week:

The Brothers Karamazov
I read this a long time ago, in ninth grade. I don't remember much of the plot although the character of Dimitri stands out in my mind. I'm eager to read it again as an adult and see what my impressions are, now that I know a little more about politics and history than I did then.

Out of the Silent Planet
I made the mistake of starting with Perelandra, which is the second in the trilogy. Time to backtrack and read the first one.

Summer of the Great-Grandmother
I'm halfway through this one, the second book of memoirs by Madeline L'Engle. The story centers around her mother, who is senile and the pleasure of remembering her life coupled with the pain of watching her drift away. I love to read the memoirs of familiar authors; it makes their work even more alive to me. I also love the flowing style of her writing as well as her philosophical musings on life and family.

Letters From a Nut
I don't know much about this. It was recommended by a friend and is supposed to be really funny.

Do Not Disturb
The Curse of the Pharaohs
Paperback mysteries, just for fun.

Everything You Need For Early Learning
This is a preschool resource book I got at the library. Natalie is so close to being able to read words, I want to work with her on some phonics skills to see how she does with them. Also this book is full of fun coloring pages and games to help keep her busy in these summer months.

Moominsummer Madness
Previewing more Moomintroll books for future family read-alouds.

Wicked
An impulse buy during a recent bookstore trip, this book is really strange, or so I am told, but the musical is fantastic.

What are you reading?

Kitchen Light



My internet was down this morning and Natalie went to VBS which gave me an unusual amount of free time and no internet addiction with which to fill it. This can be a dangerous combination for me, especially with a new house just chock-full of projects waiting for my attention. This time, the kitchen light fixture caught my eye.

There were several problems with it. First and foremost, it didn't work. Secondly, it looked like it belonged on someone's back porch thirty years ago. I decided it needed some help. I took it down and looked at the pull-switch to see if I could repair it. I decided I probably could (I used to fix lamps at one of my many part-time college jobs) but that the fixture itself was so ugly it wasn't worth repairing.

Instead, I loaded Seth into the car and drove to the lighting store where I used to fix lamps. Browsing among the wall sconces was both delightful and disconcerting. Some gorgeous fixtures graced the walls of the store but the price tags dangling from them read sometimes in the triple digits. YIKES! That's a lot of cups of coffee, folks.

Fortunately, I saw the owner, my old boss, puttering around the store. Knowing his propensity for being a pack-rat, I asked him what he had in his attic. After rummaging around for ten minutes, he came up with exactly what I needed: a two-bulb wall vanity in a subtle style and an amazingly ugly shade of brick red. I was delighted.

I bought some black frosted marbled glass from him to pay him for his time and he threw in the secondhand fixture for free. Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later I was home digging out some black craft paint and a drill.

The first thing I needed to do was to install a pull-switch in the fixture. Rather than drilling a new hole for it, I simply installed it in the center hole where the nut to hold the fixture went. Then I needed new holes on the sides to install the fixture to the wall. This accomplished, I painted the whole thing black. I wired in the switch and got ready to install the fixture above my sink.

By this time Hubby had brought Natalie home from VBS so I put the kids to bed. I needed to turn the power off in order to put my fixture up, much to Natta's dismay as her night-light went dark. I carefully wired in the fixture, installed the screws and resumed power to my house. Whenever I work on lamps, the moment of turning the power on is always a "hold-your-breath" feeling as I wait for sparks to fly or something to arc. So far, nothing ever has, but I still work in fear and trembling lest I electrocute something. As usual, this one turned on just fine.

Happily I put on the glass and attached a pretty finial to the pull-chain. Now our kitchen sink has a light. It also has a pile of dirty dishes. Why do I not feel equally inspired to tackle those?

Before:



After:



Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer: All About Freezing

I'm freezing. It's a beautiful, glorious June day and plenty warm, but I'm sitting here in my tank top with goosebumps running up and down my arms and my fingernails are purple.

But I absolutely cannot, cannot under any circumstances do anything about it. You see we don't have an air conditioner. So instead we have an elaborate method of cooling the house in which we have a fan running on high at the top of the basement stairs sucking cool, musty-scented air up from the depth and shooting it out into our house. The air is then transported through my kitchen into the dining room around the corner and up the stairs where another big fan is blowing OUT of the bedroom window. It's kind of like an oxygen roller-coaster. And it works. Really, really well. I bet the house is only 58 degrees. The thermometer says 73, but who believes a lousy thermometer anyway? IT doesn't have goosebumps.

The thing is, if I turn the fans off the bedroom upstairs immediately turns into Dante's Inferno. Last night I did not get to sleep till 4:23 AM. It was that bad. Well, the scary book I was reading did not help. So this afternoon I sit here connecting the goosebumps on my arm with a sharpie (did you know that's really where the zodiac came from?) and thinking about how nice and cool my bedroom will be tonight. And how I should go sleep in it right now. Under an electric blanket.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Skirt Steak Fiasco

Last night for our dinner guests Hubby thought it would be fun to barbecue steaks. Since we'd had a "skirt steak" at Sangria Grill that was heavenly, that was the cut he bought. He popped the steaks into a marinade the day before and stuck the whole mess in the fridge.

Neither one of us know anything about skirt steaks. This became obvious when I pulled the steaks out of the marinade and they had some sort of membrane on them. Not knowing what to do with it, I left it and merrily began grilling.

They grilled up beautifully but I was a little worried nonetheless, especially as I had orders that ranged from rare to medium well done. It was only a few minutes later that I hauled them back inside and served them to my waiting guests. Why do we always try something new and experimental when we have guests over? We ought to learn our lesson and try new cuts of meat on our own first!

It ended up tasting phenomenal. The marinade, a combination of Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, bourbon and shallots worked its magic. But the steaks were impossible to cut. People were wielding steak knives like surgeons, trying to get the membrane off the top and bottom so they could cut bites. Our guests, a family from church, were extraordinarily polite about it, commenting about the wonderful flavor as they poked and sawed. Even their teenaged son ate his, although perhaps he eats anything set in front of him.

Does anyone out there know how to cook skirt steak? Has anyone ever HEARD of skirt steak before? Or should I stick with a more traditional cut? What is your favorite steak to grill and why?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good Ol' White Bread

I have been getting comments, emails, phone calls, visits and letters from stalkers who want to know how to make bread. Even the Paparazzi have been following me around attempting to sneak in a picture of a loaf. So as a public service, I am going to teach you how to make my now-famous bread which can then be transformed into TPBLTs or grilled cheese sandwiches fried in bacon grease like I had for dinner tonight (please don't tell).



In the style of P-Dub (where the captions are BELOW the pictures instead of above them... I can't figure out why she does this. I think it is a philosophical difference where in her world the pictures are the important thing and the words are complimentary whereas in my brain the words are everything and the pictures are simply there to help), here are the cast of characters: milk, egg, butter, sugar, salt, yeast and flour.



The first thing to do is measure out 1/2 c. milk into a microwaveable dish. I like to use pyrex measuring cups.



I like to include an egg with my bread. It makes the dough a little richer and also makes my mother squirm when I sample the raw dough. Hey, I like to live dangerously.



Add the butter right in with the milk. Cooking anything with real butter feels a bit sinful and decadent, but then so did the bacon grease.



Salt goes in with this stuff. Pardon the giant mutant arm. Don't know where that came from.



Zap this mixture for 45 seconds or so, just long enough to melt the butter and warm the milk. Make sure you don't put it in so long you cook the egg! Otherwise your bread will resemble fried rice when finished. Unless this is the texture you're going for, then nuke that baby!



Now, in a new, fresh, clean measuring cup, obtain 1 1/2 c. warm water. I like to use plain old tap water, but if you want to use the bottled stuff you can. Just be sure to get it EXACTLY the right temperature. I cannot stress this enough. This is by far the most important part of bread baking (except maybe not forgetting the flour) and you MUST, must, must be careful to get the temperature right. The warm water wakes up the yeast. If it is too cold, winter hibernation never ends; if it's too hot the yeast decides it would prefer to die than dwell in the inferno. I check mine with a candy thermometer. It needs to be between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.



Pour the water into the mixer bowl and add two packets of yeast. In this picture I have Quick Yeast because they were out of the regular yeast at WinCo. Usually I only use Quick Yeast for cinnamon rolls and other sweet breads. But in a pinch it works here too, you just might need to shorten the rising time by ten minutes or so on the second rise.



Stir the water/yeast stuff with a fork until all the gloppy (is that a word? outside of Candyland, I mean) parts are mixed in and the yeast is dissolved.



Add the sugar to the yeast-water and give it a gentle stir.



Check the temperature of your milk mixture. It needs to be between 105 and 115 as well so it makes the yeast continue on its happy little journey (name that PBS show).



Add the milk mixture in with the yeast mixture. At this point the stuff looks like barf, so you're gonna just have to hang in there and trust me.



Fire up your trusty KitchenAid mixer and give the barf a swirl.



Add 4 1/2 cups of flour slowly while it is mixing on speed 2. The "slowly" part is so the flour doesn't explode up out of the bowl in a cloud and coat your entire kitchen. Voice of experience, here, folks. Learn from the mistakes of others, in this case me.



Mix on speed 2 until all the flour is mixed in. You can stop and scrape the sides down if you want to, but it isn't necessary.



After about two minutes of mixing, when the flour is all mixed in, begin adding MORE flour 1/2 cup at a time. Let it mix in good then add another one till you're up to 5 or 6 cups total. This is the really inexact part of the recipe that I love but makes some personalities want to rip out their fingernails. Here's the secret: You put flour in until the dough becomes a ball and doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl any more. Got it? Just don't overdo it because too much flour makes the bread heavy and tough.



It ends up looking like this. Let it knead with the dough hook on speed 2 for about 5 minutes. I even set the timer because I am so dang impatient I think it has been five minutes after only 23 seconds have gone by. Or you could take a potty break. Or you could... well, I'm sure you can come up with something to fill your five minutes.



Oh, I almost forgot. While you're waiting for the five minutes to be up, take out the biggest bowl in the house, like the one you use for popcorn during the Superbowl. With the rest of that stick of butter, grease the sides really thoroughly.



When I say thoroughly, I mean, rub it all around with your fingers until there are absolutely no gaps, cracks or holes. This is another "learn from my mistakes" section because if you don't get it all, the dough sticks to the ungreased spot in a very unattractive way.



Another good thing to do here is turn you oven on for one minute then turn it off again. This heats the oven just slightly, which will help the bread rise. Don't leave it on, you only want the temperature in there to be about 85 degrees or so for the rising.



Once the five minutes are up, pull the dough off the hook (oh, yeah, stop the mixer first) and toss the lump of dough into the greased bowl. This is where you can sneak a pinch of dough and eat it, then worry the rest of the night that the raw egg will make you sick.



Grab the lump of dough, which feels surprisingly like a newborn baby (warm, soft, relaxed) and flip it upside down so the greased side is up.



Cover with a clean towel (I hope mine was clean) and pop it into that warmed oven. Set the timer for one hour. Then find something really naughty to do during that hour. If you need ideas, email me.



It should rise to double its size. Kind of like my stomach after eating at Tucci's Italian, which is our version of the Olive Garden.



Now here comes the fun part. You get to take out your aggression and violent tendencies on the poor, innocent, helpless pile of bread dough. Punch it. Yep, stick your fist into that baby. Pretend it is the face of that guy in junior high who used to trip you when you walked past his desk every day.



Now that therapy is over, divide the lump of dough in half, lift one of the halves out of the bowl and set on a lightly floured surface.



This means you sprinkle some flour around then spend the next few minutes drawing smiley faces and flowers in it. Unless you're Hubby, then you would draw robots.



Roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 9 inches wide and 16 inches long. Trying to stay focused here and be succinct. (No, my hands have not gotten bigger or grown more hair. Hubby helped with this part.)



Roll it up into a log from the narrow end. See how good I'm doing staying focused?



With the sides of your hands, pinch the ends of the roll down in exciting karate-chop actions. Well, it's more like karate-chop in slow motion. Well, so it's not like karate at all but you do get to use the sides of your hands just like when those guys on TV holler "Ki-yah!" and break 8 sheets of ice, two logs, four bricks and their sensei's kneecap. Just like that.



Whoa, that was a rabbit trail. Time to grease the loaf pans. Same technique as before. Did you know that butter is really good for your skin? It feels wonderful if you rub it in good after you do your pans. It might inspire all sort of food-related spa techniques like cucumbers on your eyes... wait. Bread.



Now, tuck the ends under...



...and place it oh-so-gently in the loaf pans.



Time again to stick those babies back in the oven (you might need to warm it up again) for the second rise. Make sure they are several inches apart. As in not touching. Again, voice of experience because when they rise, they'll fuse into conjoined-twin-bread-loaves. Then when you try to rip them apart the dough stretches out like mozzarella cheese on a pizza. Just trust me on this one. You want them far apart.



Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour. Continue with naughty activity.



They should look somewhat like this. These are a little on the tall side. I probably should have checked them about ten minutes ago. Oh well. Yet another reason to learn from my mistakes.



Now they have risen to beautiful bread-shaped proportions, pull them out of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.



Once the oven is the correct temperature, put the loaves in so that the top of the loaf is in the center of the oven (you might need to lower your rack).



Set your timer for 30 minutes. This part's important too, right up there with adding the flour and making sure that the water is the right temperature. If you don't want your hard work to turn into lumps of charred carbon, SET THE TIMER.



To tell if the loaves are done, they should be 1) golden brown and 2) hollow-sounding. If you tap the loaves with one finger it should sound slightly hollow. If you get a bass drum boom, you have gone too far. No, just kidding. But it really does sound like a tap-tap rather than a thunk-thunk.



When you take them out, you might want to rub a little butter over the top; this gives the top crust a little more softness. If you like it crispy, skip this step.



Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. Or paper towels. Or regular towels. Or whatever you have handy.



At this point, every family member in your household will be hovering around your kitchen like moths on a bug-zapper, so this next step is important too. As soon as they are cool enough to touch, slice off some pieces, spread with butter and honey and distribute to whining family members. A glass of milk goes well with this. Every member of your family will dance around you, eyes shining and will fondle and kiss your kneecaps in ecstasy (at least the small family members do this, I have found) while telling you how wonderful you are and how much they love you. This step is as therapeutic as the punch-down step.



So there you have it. A loaf of fresh, delicious, awesome homemade bread which can forthwith be made into TPBLTs and other yummy things. After the loaves cool to room temperature, store them in gallon ziplock bags or some other airtight container. Have fun, and if you try this at home, shoot me a comment or an email and let me know how it goes, ok?



Basic White Bread

Time: about 3 hours 45 minutes total.

1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (105F to 115F)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour

Place milk, egg, salt, and butter in microwaveable dish. Nuke until butter melts. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add sugar. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 4 1/2 cups flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to Speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf, and place in greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 - inch baking pans. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 400F for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

Yield: 32 servings (16 slices per loaf).

Per serving: About 95 cal, 3 g pro, 18 g carb, 1 g fat, 0 mg chol, 148 mg sod. (without the egg)


(Recipe from the KitchenAid mixer cookbook. Adapted by me.)