Sheer Indulgence

unnamedSometimes when we have worked hard or perhaps need a little motivation or (bribe) it feels right to indulge oneself. This past week we took a break from work and so I took the opportunity to indulge myself in many ways.  I spent the week adventuring fairly close to home, hiking, walking to do errands and exploring new places in the wilderness.  I also did some spring cleaning, recycled and took a large bag of tired sweaters and clothes I never wear to the thrift store.  It felt good to purge and clean out after the ‘cozy wintriness.’  I feel ready for space and green and blue skies and warmer breezes now.

To reward myself for all this I turned to something I love to do, bake.  I spent time perusing my favourites Pinterest pages, delving deeper through the layers of amazing food photos and discovering new websites and blogs that inspire me.  One of the sites I discovered is a site called Local Milk.  Beth Kirby creates this inspiring site and besides being an amazing photographer with a fashionable, vintage flair, she is an enthusiastic, creative baker.

Part of my reward for cleaning and exercising and freeing myself from the constraints of everyday business was trying out one of her recipes.  Among the many recipes that had me salivating and itching to get in the kitchen, one stood out.  Salted, Spicy, Double Chocolate Chilli Cookies.  Are you kidding me?  Salt and double chocolate anything works for me, so, I just had to try these.  I have become partial to a coffee called a Mexicano, at a local coffee house this past year  and this recipe reminds me of a cookie version of the same flavors.

So with great fervour I hauled out my mixer and blocks of deep, dark, Callebeaut chocolate and began to create.  As usual, I adapted the recipe to suit my tastes and since I knew I would be giving most of the cookies away I substitued really good quality cinnamon for the cayenne pepper.  As well, instead of mixing the salt into the recipe, I chose to wait and sprinkle pink Himalayan salt on the tops of the baked cookies, just where the chocolate was oozing out of the thick, rich, dough.   I didn’t want the chocolate to totally dissolve so I waited a few minutes after I removed them from the oven and then carefully sprinkled the salt so it would be visible to the ‘consumer’ when biting into the delicious morsel.

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The results?  Let’s just say I have dubbed these the most divine cookies I’ve ever made.  I mean the most ridiculously delicious, divine, indulgent, rich, dreamy taste I’ve  ever savoured.  I am not sure how but I did have the restraint to wait until the cookies were cooled and set (although I did sample the dough), before I tested one and let’s just say I was more than satisfied.  In all, I ate three cookies over the course of a couple of days, before packing them up and taking them to my daughter,who is in the final weeks of her second year of university.  I figured they would be good study treats, a reason to keep going even when she has had enough and just wants to pack up and head home.  I hope she is as delighted with them as I was.

My son is also at university but much too far away to send cookies, so he received a text message with photos of the cookies.  He inquired what was in them and asked for more details because he also could use a little ‘pick me up’ treat but unfortunately he had to make due with the pictures.  I will definitely be baking up another batch of these when he gets home.

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A good Loaf

Swedish Caraway Rye Bread

Swedish Caraway Rye Bread

Last Thursday night we had chicken for dinner.  I knew we were leaving really early in the morning to go away for the weekend and so I saved some of the chicken breast for sandwiches for the road trip.  I decided that I had time to whip up a loaf of really good bread and so as I thought about what kind of bread to make Swedish Rye bread came to mind.

It’s ironic that I would want that kind of bread though because as a child I hated caraway seeds and my recipe had caraway seeds in it. Funny how our tastes change as we get older.  I now love caraway, fennel, anise, ginger and olives; all of which I detested when I was younger. Anyway, I got out my recipe and got the bread mixed and rising as I made preparations for our weekend.

Much to my dismay, when it was getting time to get to bed the bread had still not completed its second rise and I needed to get to bed.  In true, ‘I can do everything’ style I decided that I would let it rise overnight and just pop it in the oven at 5:00am when I got up if it was still good.  Needless to say, it didn’t turn out to be quite that simple.  We got up to a snowstorm and needed to get on the road earlier so although the bread had risen nicely overnight I did not have time to bake it.  Now what?

I decided I had nothing to lose by freezing the risen, unbaked loaf.  If I got home and it had fallen in the freezer or would not bake properly I would throw it out but I was just not ready to give up so easily Friday morning.  It was a long road trip and I pined for my hearty rye bread with hints of caraway and juicy chicken breast atop it.  But it was not to be.  I substituted nut, seeds, raisins and a morsel of dark chocolate, somehow just not the same.

I was anxious to check the freezer when I got home last night and as soon as I got in the door I ran to the kitchen to check and see how the loaf had fared in the freezer.  It looked great but it was now a solid ice brick.  Hmm, what to do. I removed it from the freezer and after an hour when I realized this was not going to be a project I could complete that night I decided to put it in a warm place and leave it again overnight.  As it thawed it had lost some of its rise and so I really thought it would be garbage in the morning.

This morning I got up at 6:00 and hurried down the hall to check and see what had happened overnight.  To my surprise there was a beautifully risen loaf again.  I quickly preheated the oven and put the loaf in to bake.  It smelled glorious as wafts of  yeasty rye aroma spread throughout the house. When I removed the loaf from the oven I was hopeful.

After the loaf had cooled in the pan awhile I tipped the pan as usual onto a cooling rack.  Nothing.  Oh well, maybe it just needed a good whack onto the counter.  After a noisy bit of banging and dropping of the pan eventually I realized the loaf was stuck to the bottom of the pan. Shoot.  Upon further inspection and trying to pry it out with a knife I decided to just leave it cool in the pan and wrote it off as a flop.

About a half an hour later I had built up my resolve and I tried the prying method again and the loaf popped out nicely.  I still thought it was probably just a hard rye brick but when I sliced into it I was met with a dense, brown slice.  Still wary I put a little walnut oil on the slice and bit into it.  Divine, just like I remember my Mom’s bread when  I hated it so much, only now it brought me comfort and memories of how creative and adventurous a cook my Mom was, in spite our unwillingness to be open minded in our tastes.

As I anticipate the coming home of my children for Christmas I think about their tastes and the favourite baked treats and meals that say Christmas to them.  I think of the things I love and feel so smug about that they turn their noses up at.  This Christmas I think I will stick to their favourites and indulge my adventurous, creative spirit in the kitchen after I finish making a selection of goodies they love and will be anticipating.

I am including the recipe for Swedish Rye Bread here for those of you who like a good hearty loaf and the taste of Caraway.

Do they really have to grow up?

 

Hanna and the forest

Hanna and the forest

This weekend my youngest daughter will come to visit.  She is on a reading break from university and will be able to spend a couple of days with me.  After the great time with my son I look forward to the opportunity to connect with another of my children.  Hanna, as  I said is the youngest of my children.  If I had to sum her up in a word I would use the word ‘quirky.’  She is so like her brother and sister in some ways and then so different in others.

Hanna has always been creative and free spirited. From the time she was able to make things she believed in making gifts, cards and tags rather than buying things.  The funniest of these gift givings was when we opened our beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts from Hanna and each one of us received something that belonged to the other.  Hanna was really young at the time and she thought it was a great idea to go into other family members’ rooms and find something special, wrap it up and give it to another family member.  It was a pretty amusing Christmas morning as we all tried to balance our shock with gratitude so as to not hurt her feelings.  After that she mastered the art of homemade gift giving and we each have a collection of pottery, drawings and crafts Hanna has thoughtfully made and gifted us with. In the last few years it was actually hard to watch her become less free and creative as she felt the pressure of the world around her and the need to fit in with her friends, a work schedule and rigours of university study.

Hanna and I have been pretty tight but it has been a painful process for me to allow my last child to grow up and explore who she is.  I have learned much from Hanna, some of which I have not learned willingly.  I described this last year as, Hanna transforming from “Heidi” to ‘party girl” in one easy year.  She doesn’t like that description but for me, a mother wanting to hold on to the last bit of innocence of childhood for my baby, it seems accurate.

Fast forward from a party summer, a totalled vehicle and not enough money saved to make it through the next year of university and here we are.  She is doing well in school, learned to drive a standard vehicle, basically all on her own and is again pursuing her creative spirit.  She is studying her two passions, physical education and art and has decided to follow in her mother and father’s footsteps and get her degree in education. She will be an awesome teacher and I think she will be very satisfied in that career.

Hanna's latest art work

Hanna’s latest art work

This weekend when she comes I will try to remember that she is no longer my little girl but a developing young woman with talents and hopes and dream all her own which I need to honour.  I have already made her a batch of ginger cookies to take home with her and have apples, salmon, dried fruit and a few other treats for her to take back to school with her that will comfort, nourish and remind her of home.  She loves homemade soup and is very good at making it so I thought today I would play with scone and biscuit recipes so that we can freeze a bunch for her to take and reheat on those cold dark nights when she is having a bowl of soup.  Her absolute favourite are cinnamon buns so when she gets here we will mix up a batch of sweet dough together from Beth Hensperger’s book, Beth’s Basic Bread Book. I love the Caramel Rolls Recipe on page 47. Hanna also loves a good BBQ steak so I have ordered up some really good, hormone free Rib Eye Steaks from my favourite butcher and we will feast on those Sunday night.

Hanna is also a nature lover.  This is my daughter who will call me to say ‘hi Mom, I’m at the top of a mountain and the view is so great.”  When I ask her who she is with, she replies casually, “just myself.’  Although I am not keen on her being in the woods alone and not telling anyone where she is going, it does make me proud that she is so confident and comfortable in the woods.  So, this weekend we will walk in the forest, along the ocean shore and maybe even have a hotdog roast over an open fire in the yard one afternoon.  She will tell us her funny stories and crack us up with her quirks, like getting the ending sound of a word wrong or using a word that rhymes with the word she should be using, or telling us to ‘adios’ when she gets annoyed.  We will laugh, share food, the outdoors and memories from days gone by together and perhaps I will be feeling generous enough to share my new bottle of Taylor Fladgate, 10 year Port with her by a roaring fire one night.

ready for a night by the fire

ready for a night by the fire

I am anticipating her arrival with warm thoughts and a busy kitchen!

What is comfort?

My son and I

My son and I

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Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.    Hippocrates

Comfort always, as prescribed by Hippocrates is pretty much what my son and I spent the last 12 days doing.  Technically, neither of us is ill, although I would say he is rather homesick.

As I drove away from his house today aware that I won’t see him until Christmas I refrained from tearing up for his sake and mine.  We had such a good time together and I chose to think about what we have rather than what we don’t have.

Last night as he was baking the oatmeal cookies he whipped up for dessert and was wanting to feel guilty about the calories I reminded him how important comfort can be. We were avoiding what was on both our minds, I would be leaving the next day. The cookies were something familiar and ‘treatish’ to comfort and remind us of good times we have had in the past.  I teach my students a little brain science and I was well aware that we were getting our dompamine fix by stimulating good memories as well as our taste buds in order to move away from the ‘sad place’ we could easily have gone to.  We took goofy pictures of ourselves eating the cookies and played cards and then said good night on a high note.

Our children will teach us if we allow them to.  My son reminded me that when we are sad, suffering, lonely or uncomfortable we often think that ploughing through is the best way to cure the ill feelings.  In fact the opposite is true.  Sure there are things we need to do that we don’t like but that does not require that we never allow ourselves a moment of pleasure or at the very least calm.  Why do we practice mindful breathing exercises, meditation, prayer and creativity?

So what is your comfort?  Is it a certain food that reminds you of a safe comfortable time?  Is it nature?  How about poetry, reading, gardening, crafts, journalling?  All of these activities are capable of providing comfort to a weary soul.

In our family food was definitely a comfort because I loved to cook and bake so much ( one of my creative outlets that brings me comfort). My children were used to a house filled with an eclectic mix of music (also a comforting activity), lots of activity in nature and outdoors as well as being very active in organized sports and music lessons.  Any of these activities can create comfortable feelings that remind them of home.

So, as my son and I played cards,  walked along the lake and in the woods, baked, cooked and talked while listening to classical, country, jazz and even Christmas music we were creating comfort through familiarity.  Even though we were in a strange house, in a far away town, in another country, we could still conjure up the peace and calm we find in each other’s company.  We made each other laugh with what we believe are  witty comments and stories but most of all we were getting comfortable with  our new relationship as mother and adult son.