Thursday, October 30, 2008

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Here is the recipe for the Honey Whole Wheat bread that I make several times a week.  It's great plain fresh out of the oven, in a savory sandwich, as toast with butter, french toast, or whatever else you want to do with it.  The bread is flavorful with honey and butter, but not so overtly that you can't use it in a good, hearty, BLT.

This is my version of my mom's original recipe.  I am completely happy with this recipe, but feel free to vary it according to your own taste, adjusting the balance of whole wheat to white flour, etc.

Note: These directions assume that you are making this recipe by hand.  If, instead, you are using a substantial stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid) or a bread machine, add the liquid first, then the dry, and break the egg on top of it all.  If you're using the bread machine, you will want to add both cups of whole wheat flour right away -- just check on it after it's been kneading for a little while to see if it needs more flour or a few more tablespoons of water.

Combine in large bowl:
1 cup whole wheat flour (you will need one more cup after liquid ingredients have been added)
1-1/2 cups white bread flour (very important that it's bread flour and not all purpose)
1/3 cup rolled oats (I use Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
1 tsp salt
1 scant Tablespoon yeast
1 heaping Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup honey
1 cup water

Warm in microwave or stovetop to 110-120 degrees (it's almost too hot for my finger to stay in it for more than 2 or 3 seconds when it's this temp.) 

Time and clean-up saving tip: melt the butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add honey until it reaches the 1/2 cup mark, then add water to the 1-1/2 cup mark.  Put all in microwave together -- in mine it takes 50 seconds to get to the right tempurature, and in my parent's microwave it takes just over a minute.

Add wet ingredients to dry, along with:
1 egg

Stir with wooden spoon until combined.

1 cup whole wheat flour

Tip out onto lightly floured surface, and knead for 5-8 minutes to build up gluten in flour, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking.  Knead until smooth and elastic.  (There are videos on YouTube that show you how to properly knead bread if you've never done it.)

Grease bowl and place ball of dough inside (I spray PAM on the the inside of the bowl, put the dough in, then spray the top of the dough to keep it from sticking).  Put a piece of waxed paper over the bowl, then a kitchen towel to insulate.

Allow dough to rise until doubled (this may take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on your house, your yeast, the weather outside, and many other factors I have yet to determine).  You will know that it's ready when it looks like twice the original amount, and when you stick your fingers in the top about two inches down, the indentation stays and doesn't spring straight back up.

If you are having extra trouble getting your dough to rise, or are in a rush, turn on your oven to the  very lowest setting.  Place some boiling water in an oven proof bowl or pan in the bottom of the oven, and put your bowl of dough on one of the oven racks.  Turn off oven when it gets fairly warm, and your dough should rise nicely.  (Thanks to MA for that great tip!)

Pull dough out of bowl, and roll up into loaf shape, pulling a "skin" of dough around the whole thing to smooth it over.  Place in greased loaf pan.  Cover once again with waxed paper and kitchen towel, and leave to rise until doubled (this, once again, will vary in time, but expect at least an hour unless you have an especially "yeasty" house.)

Once the loaf is risen to your liking, put into a cold oven, and turn the heat on to 350 (you could pre-heat the oven, but putting it in cold gives it the extra punch to rise just a bit more).  Bake until suitably golden on top -- in my oven this takes 35, and at my parent's house this took just under 30 minutes.  An instant-read thermometer stuck into the loaf will read 200 when the bread is completely baked through.

Note: if you badly jar the loaf when putting it into the oven, it could deflate.  If this happens, you will need to re-form the loaf and let it rise again in a re-greased pan.

Turn out immediately on to a cooling rack.  This bread slices best when it's completely cooled, but seriously.  Who wants to wait?

(Pictured here with mini-loaves of date-nut bread)
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A birthday and gifts in the mail

On Sunday, Greg turned 31. I was sad that we couldn't be together to celebrate, although, true to form, he didn't even remember it was his birthday until he noticed all of the emails in his inbox that morning. So anyway, Happy Birthday to my favorite person ever! I feel incredibly lucky to be able to spend the rest of my life with you. You're my best friend, etc., and that's really great. I love you.

Greg is in the middle of a move to a different area right now, so he shipped us a box of stuff he doesn't need anymore, like books he's read, CD's he's loaded into his iPod, and the like. We picked up the box at the post office yesterday, and there were two little boxes tucked inside for the children.

The Iraqi children like to play dominoes, so Greg picked the boys up a set, which was a big hit:

I used to have a set when I was little, and loved setting them up in neat rows, and making trails of them to push over.

For Lavella, there was this pretty little silver box:

Containing an even prettier bracelet:

She was rather impressed. She was strutting around the house all day feeling the bracelet and saying "Daddy! Here, Daddy!"

Andrew, Elijah and Lavella say "Thank you, Daddy, for the cool new stuff!"

Lavella also got a box from Aunt Mary Ann. Remember the shoes that didn't fit? Well, Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Bob made good on their promise for another pair:

Pink, suede boots. They have criss-cross lace-ups in the back, but I didn't want to make her mad by rolling her pants up. She has very definite ideas about fashion, and since she was being so good and happy I didn't feel like disturbing her at that moment. Thank you Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Bob!

(Another Andrew picture -- this one is entirely uncropped!)

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A video and some cute little handknits

Here's a video that I uploaded about a week or two ago but forgot to post.

We were outside playing the other day, and Lavella was wearing a new knit set that I put together for her last week (using handspun that I created during the summer while we were staying down the shore):

Andrew sees me using the camera all the time, so he asked to take a picture too.  Here's what he got:

For more adorable pictures of Lavella in these new knits (and more knit and spinning speak than you could possibly hope for), click here.
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Pumpkin processing (and a belly)

Thank you to Jill (in the comments), Aunt Terry (via email), and my mom (over the phone) who helped out with my pumpkin question.

My mom gave me step by step instruction to follow for processing the pumpkin. It's simple, but it takes all day, so if you plan to do it too, start out in the morning. This is what you do:

First, you prick the pumpkin all over with a fork. This was enacted with great vigor by all.

Then you bake it on a rimmed cookie-sheet or jelly-roll pan for about 3 or 4 hours until it's soft, deep golden orange, and possibly collapsing on itself (sorry, no pictures).

Then, you cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out and set aside all of the seeds, and put the baked flesh in the food processor (or in small batches, the blender), and process until it's a smooth puree.

Now take the puree, put it in a pot with a lid askew, turn your burner to the lowest heat, and slowly cook off the extra water for about 3 more hours.

Take all of the pumpkin seeds, rinse them as well as you can to get off all of the gunk, and spread them out on a baking sheet (they'll still be slimy feeling, but that's OK). Bake for about 30 minutes, or until dry feeling.

The next step is optional, but it was recommended by Aunt Terry, and it makes a good thing even better. Put the now dried seeds into a saute pan with a little olive oil and sea salt, and toast for a few minutes until they're as golden as you want them.

All three children and I agree that this is a great snack!

I measured out the pumpkin puree into batches of 2 cups each, and they're now in the freezer in quart-sized Ziploc bags.

Next on the menu -- pumpkin curry!

And, because I've been sadly delinquent on belly picture until now, here is the first official one, taken earlier today:

31 weeks, my dears.

I've just ordered a maternity support belt. My midwife agrees: my stomach muscles have had enough of this.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Discovering flowers

Thank you to Alicia and Beka, who have taken the time to respond to my previous post.  It was inspiring and encouraging to read about how other mothers make their days work.  (If you haven't yet, I encourage you to click the links above and check out their posts!)

If you haven't noticed yet, I'll bring your attention to the pregnancy ticker above.  There's one less week than there "should" be.  This is because, during her visit to my house last week, my midwife officially moved my date to December 18th(ish).  While nothing is set in stone, of course, and I've gone anywhere from more than a week early to more than a week late, this gives me a shorter window of time than I thought.  This would put me at 31 weeks, with 9 weeks to go.  Oh goodness.  I should probably start taking belly pictures at some point.

Today in science we were learning about the anatomy of a flower, so after we were done with all of the reading and copywork for the day (our homeschool day is "officailly" 2 hours long, ending at 12 noon), we went outside in search of flowers.

Living in Germany, there is no shortage of roses, specifically, and there are always plenty of roses blooming, even almost into the winter.  We visited the rose garden that's planted around a fountain near our house with magnifying glass in hand.

Elijah, checking out a rosehip with his magnifying glass

Andrew with a leaf that's bigger than his head

Running round and round is one of the most important parts of any good field trip

Lavella, looking non-plussed

I had thrown a loaf of bread in the oven just before we stepped out, so our time was limited, but we brought the last of the old bread with us to make the all important stop at the Duck Bridge.

Something that's always funny to me is that, while the bread and muffins or whatever that we bring to throw is past it's prime, with seemingly no more call for it, the children always make a snack out of this visit, eating almost as much as they throw.  They never actually eat MOULDY bread, but it's certainly not fresh or anything.  Somehow it seems that it must just be more enticing out in the wild, and since the ducks are excited about it, why not?  Makes perfect sense.

We got back home just in time to pull a (very deep golden) loaf out of the oven, then headed straight back out with granola bars to sustain us and played until the raindrops began to fall.  (Here in Germany, during the colder seasons, we see more rain than anything else, so it's essential to enjoy the sunlight while it lasts!)

Speaking of bread, I haven't forgotten about posting the recipe.  I will.  Soon., not tonight.
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Self-discipline and learning the art of a peaceful day

This is one of those "wordy" posts. I've strategically placed cute pictures throughout to help things along a bit, but they have nothing to do whatsoever with the subject matter -- well, except for the fact that this is about organizing children, and the pictures are OF the children (feeding ducks off the bridge, digging for bugs). Of course I realize that I don't even need to say this, but if you don't wish to read, please just feel free to enjoy the pictures. =)

One last note: I do not pretend to try to understand, nor can I explain, the glasses.

How does a mother make it through a day? More to the point, how do they succeed at their day. When I see other mothers "out" in the real world, make-up on, clean hair, children dressed presentably, I often wonder: did they plan for this day? Do things just come together for them? Did they get impatient with their preschooler over breakfast too?

I've found that for me, a successful day takes careful planning, strategy, and practice to make it a habit. For me this also requires a good deal of self-discipline and thought to make it a habit. This is to say, I have times in my life when I have the occasional Really Successful Day, and then other times when I am able to live a Successful Life. I've also found that the more children I have, the more essential it is to have things really pulled together (and be self-disciplined) so that we can all have happy, productive and peaceful days.

I was just emailing with my friend MA about this, and decided that it would be a great idea for a blog post -- I'll tell you the things I've discovered that make my day really work well, and then you post to your blog and give us your ideas. What does your day look like? How do you keep everything going? How do you keep everything from going all to pieces? Leave a comment here linking back to your post so that we can all read and get ideas from each other. (Of course, if you don't have a blog, just share your ideas right in the comments!)

Before I continue, let me remind you that I do not imagine myself in any way perfect: I was too harsh with Andrew before dinner tonight, and I yelled at my children just before bed. Together, we have much to learn.

Over the summer back in NY, when I didn't have the added urgency of dinner and cleaning and errands and such, I started making it a point to get up every morning with my children (rather than with whoever else happened to be awake -- like my mom), and spent quality time with them in the first part of our day. Then, since I had started my second trimester, I started baking again (I get so much satisfaction from baking, but always have trouble with it, of course, when I am in my first trimester with morning sickness), and I would try to get something in the oven (or if it was yeast-raised, at least rising on the counter), before I even sat down to eat. Being productive in the morning feels good, and I can't count on having energy later on in the day, so it's prime time to accomplish things.

The next step was establishing a bedtime routine. Our normal thing when Greg is home is that HE puts them to bed, and he has his own special, exciting, "Daddy" way of doing things, so I had to completely re-think the whole process: I began bedtime an hour before the official Lights Out that I have established at 8pm, and we would brush teeth, tidy the bedroom, read books, visit and sing.

Before I left NY, I had some brainstorming sessions with my mom on how I was going to manage things once we landed back in Germany, and this helped immensely. From the very first night (and every night since), I've enlisted the boy's help as my "team", so to speak, with tidying. I have them drive laundry baskets through the house and load up all of their toys and books that they have scattered everywhere throughout the day, and then bring the baskets back to their room to organize them into their proper places. It was hard at first, but they soon started to remember where everything goes, and now they can do a lot of it by themselves (small toys get put into 4 or 5 small containers on the dresser so they don't fall to the bottom of the toybox, big trucks get lined up and parked under the bed, big toys in the toy box, stuffed animals in two large baskets, misc toys in one med-sized basket).

My tidying team still get side-tracked, of course, and on nights like tonight, they couldn't have the bedtime snack they wanted (popcorn), because they wasted time throwing Tigger all around the living room instead of cleaning while I was doing dishes. It's all a work in progress though.

A little over a week after we got back here, our homeschool curriculum arrived (as you all know), and I found that our new team-work attitude and scheduling were key in getting anything done.

I get up now at 6:30 in the morning to do yoga and get centered, taking care of MYSELF before they even wake up, which helps me so much. I've discovered that, although it sucks to rise before the sun does, I find great freedom in taking control over that one part of my day. I tend to start feeling really depressed and hopeless if all that I feel like I'm doing is taking care of my little people every single day with no breaks, so I've found that this is an essential part of my weekday.

So, my other mother friends, how do you make your day succeed?
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Big Red Balloon

I just ate an entire green bell pepper (cut into strips, dipped in Ranch). Is that normal? Hmm.

I've been feeling a little weird about food lately, and have been extra tired, so we've been having a few meals like this, enjoyed in front of the afternoon/early evening videos:

Animal paper plates!

Last week was busy and active with our homeschool schedule; over the weekend (perhaps because of that?), the children were happily peaceful and contented, doing quiet activities that they dreamed up themselves:

We've been enjoying our homeschool activities muchly, but sometimes there are days like today.

Today's Activities:
  1. Get picked up by Jillian in her rental to retrieve car from mechanic's (had brakes replaced -- kind of scary "no brakes incident)
  2. Stop at her place to pick up HER car from her house to bring that to mechanics while we were there (hers' had undetermined mechanical failure yesterday)
  3. Get our car, go straight to inspection station on post
  4. Pass inspection, but get sent straight back to mechanic because of leaking brake fluid (which was the problem before)
  5. Mechanic looks at brakes, cleans up fluid, and assures me that it's all the old stuff that they left on my car (for what reason?)
  6. Go to get car registry renewed, try to take off my licence plates, and discover that the screwdriver I brought will only take off front plate.
  7. Find guy who has adjustable wrench for back one.
  8. Get sent to insurance place to get an insurance card that's dated for today rather than the one I had, which was post-dated (I'd already gone there last week to save a step, but...)
  9. Go back to registry office and finish up the foolishness.
  10. Find out from registry guy that, since my plates are now different, I have to get my gas rations card changed at the PX, since it will no longer work for this car. (Yet another step I'd completed last week to save myself grief.)
  11. Go to PX, get new gas card.
  12. Go to gas station and fill up on gas, using half of the money that I just loaded my rations card with (the entirety of my last 1/4 tank was spent on the above list.)
  13. Make last stop at Post Office, and happily find that I have a box of beautiful wool to spin.
Thankfully I had carefully packed for our day before leaving the house and had sandwiches and snacks for the children, and I stopped for a bratwurst sandwich at the PX, so no one went hungry. Towards the end though, Lavella took to lying down on the floor of wherever we were and shouting "NO!" when we prepared to go to the next place. Honestly, I felt the same way.

A bright spot in our day were the red balloons given to us by the mechanic:

And the wool, which Lavella was loathe to relinquish:

And, of course, my children, cuddling in close as we read our night-time books before bed. (Currently in the middle of Boxcar Children, which I recommend!)
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Monday, October 06, 2008


We went pumpkin picking today!

The boys got to ride in a big trailer pulled by a tractor.

And then each of the children picked out their own pumpkin (although Lavella couldn't seem to hold on to hers).

My favorite shot from the whole day:

She looks sad, but she was actually just unsure.  (The boys were in the tractor, and she wasn't sure how to feel about it.)

Now we're wondering if these are actually the kind that are edible, or are they just ornamental?  I forgot to ask.

The boys are very excited about cooking them and turning them into pie and bread, so if they're not the eating kind, we'll have to get some of the proper kind (or just canned) at the commissary.

So does anyone know how one might tell the difference?
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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Learning to ride

Just now, I was finishing up an email to Greg, and through the baby monitor heard the boys playing a little wildly in our room. Suddenly Andrew started crying really hard like something was horribly wrong. I was thinking maybe a broken arm, or a toe snapped off or something. I ran with Lavella to see what the trouble was, and he came to meet me holding the side of his head (which was not bleeding). Once he'd calmed down enough, he was able to tell me that he'd collided with Elijah's head. There was total silence in our room, so I was imagining that maybe Elijah was knocked out by the impact or something. I asked if Elijah was OK. Andrew said "yeah, he's fine". I went in our room, and Elijah was just walking out with the masqurade mask on (shiny blue from our New Year's Eve party) and a non-descript look on his face. "Did you guys hit your heads together?"
Elijah: "Yeah"
"Did you get hurt?"
"Um.." (started to cry, then though about it for a minute, stopped and smiled) "nope."

In other news, Andrew learned to ride his bike this week! I still have to give him a push-start, but he can balance on his own after about a week of wobbling and being scared. He's actually progressed to circles around our courtyard, but in this video there's about 2 seconds of him cruising across after I push him.

And then here are two other videos of Lavella and Elijah riding too.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008


The kids sing "We Will Rock You"...there's almost an altercation (GRACES FACE!!)

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