On Bread and Pumpkin Pie

The holidays are back! As I get older, they whirl back around again with an uncanny speed. I often forget what month I’m in. I have no idea how we are at the end of November, but here we are. This is the time of year I bake the most.

I have two easy bakes to share with you. I’ve been in the throes of finishing book 5 of 5 in my dark fantasy book. “Blood to Bind.”  (Last 5 days to save 50% on the e-book! $2.99. Click here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Blood-Bind-Tales-Darkwood-Book-ebook/dp/B0BLMB5XJF )

I use walks, swims, and bakes as my antidote to the eye-burning task of finding and removing extra words in that manuscript. I promise both of these are easy.

PUMPKIN PIE

Use the recipe on the back of a condensed milk can, and then add lots of extra cinnamon and nutmeg, so it’s a nice dark orange, not that baby puke color. That’s it.

 I buy refrigerator crust. They were out of Pillsbury ones this year, which are BY FAR the most reliable pre-made crust on the market. I used Trader Joes’ version on this one. Now you know I love TJs, but not this crust. Hard to work with, it came out of the package cracked into about 14 fiddly pieces. If that happens to you, stitch it together in the pie tin to an approximate shape, then put it in the oven at 375 for ten minutes. It softens the darn thing so you can use a spoon to smooth over the cracks.

BREAD BOULES

This recipe makes 3 small, or 2 large loaves. Even if you’ve never baked bread before, you can bake this. That is my firm Thanksgiving promise. You need a big bowl to start with, so the bread has room to grow. That one you use to serve salad in will work just fine.

1 ½ packets active dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
1 hefty pinch of salt.

Mix these together in your big bowl, and let it sit for 10 minutes. You’ll start to see a few bubbles as the yeast does it thing.

6 ½ cups BREAD flour. Not regular flour.

Add the flour in slowly – I do 3 cups at first, then 2, then 1, then the pesky .5. Mix it in with a spoon and your hand if you need to. You want the flour absorbed. Be gentle and zen. Think happy thoughts. You might even talk to your dough and tell it how lovely it smells.

Cover it loosely (paper towel is fine) for at least 2 hours, until it grows 2x and is flat on top. If it’s cold out it can take longer.

Prep your cookie sheet (or if you’re lucky you have one of those pizza stones) with a thin layer of cornmeal so the bread doesn’t stick.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour, and a bit more for your hands. Use a serrated knife to cut it in half, or thirds. It will be sticky and remind you of playdoh if you’re old enough. Use your hands to form a ball, tucking the ends under. Don’t overthink this, its bread.

Let rest for 40 minutes. It will rise again on your sheet. 20 minutes into this process, heat the oven to 450. Right before it goes into the oven, use the serrated knife again to make a crisscross slash on top of the bread so it can grow in the oven. These should be pretty deep.

Pop a pan of water on a lower rack (this makes steam and is the magic that makes for a crusty loaf). Put your bread in on the rack above it. Bake for 30 minutes. Take it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Or don’t. Hot bread is one of the great joys on this planet but do wait at least 10 minutes to cut it.

On Italian Salad and Birthday Resolutions

May is our month for multiple birthdays. My father, me, my husband, and one of my best friends all have birthdays within a week. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get kind of rolled up in the bunch too. My mother’s is the last day of April, so we often add it in. I like baking the pies and cakes we eat to celebrate.

I don’t mind birthdays some years, others I do. I really hated the year last year’s celebrated. And yes, I am fully aware there are many people who wish they could be so old. A ridiculous number of friends died this past year that will never hit 61. I try very hard to be grateful.

I just fall short sometimes.

The theme around many of my birthdays is the desire to make big changes for the year to come—or at least a small one—on my birthday. Last year’s pit of despair led to me taking a writing class and now it looks like writing books is my 3rd act in what I hope is a lengthy lifespan. I’m giving it ten years, and my goal is to have 40-60 books on the book/library shelves by the time I’m done. And be in at least 20 anthologies. So, as bitter-tasting as that birthday was, it yielded some good stuff.

So far I’m at 1 publishing company established, and 3 complete novel-length books, 1 long novella, and 1 anthology completed this past year. On target! The hard part hasn’t been writing the words, it’s been learning the publication side of things. Next mountain is getting a handle on advertising and growing my newsletter and IG account.

This year finds me focused on health. Like many of us, Covid helped me add pounds I didn’t need, and as an *ahem* older adult, it’s proving to be harder and harder to get the pounds off. Losing our dog last July didn’t help either. All those walks not taken. I really miss her. No, we’re not ready to get another dog.

I know advertising on both IG and FB works because I occasionally cave to one. There’s a walking app called “The Conqueror Challenges” that has been dangling their medals and postcards and intriguing copy in front of me for years.

Resistance was futile when they offered not a walk along Hadrian’s wall, or a Swim across the English Channel, but Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor.

My inner geek squealed. My finger punched more info. I caved and signed up. I am just now through South Farthing in the Shire, 28.5 miles of walking* in my first 6 days. The moment when Sam realizes if he takes one more step, he’ll be further from home than he’s ever been before.

So, I guess joining the “group” the app provides is working for me. Are you like me? Do you make “birthday resolutions?” If so, let me know some of yours.

Next up is regulating my food choices. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe I promised you last week for a most excellent Italian salad. Find someone who likes chopping or get some music going as you prep this.

The smaller the chop, the tastier the salad. I use Trader Joe’s Romano Italian dressing, just enough to coat. Any Italian dressing will do. If you’re a vegetarian, you can eat around the meat bits. Or just don’t add them. It’s an easygoing recipe.

You can make this big or little. The amount listed below fed 6 people for a main course with leftovers. We had a side of sourdough bread and rhubarb pie** for dessert.

ITALIAN SALAD

Chop:

5 Persian Cucumbers or 1 large English cucumber

1 red pepper

1 box cherry tomatoes

½ of a red onion

Half a can of black olives

Add: 10 oz cubed low-fat mozzarella cheese, half of a cubed summer sausage (I used turkey summer sausage), cubed cooked chicken breast and a can of garbanzo beans drained and rinsed. Toss lightly with dressing. You can also add baby spinach if you wish.

*the app also counts my swimming and converts it into steps.

** see my rhubarb pie post for recipe. It’s probably the best pie you’ll ever eat, and I CANNOT BELIEVE how many people don’t know what rhubarb is.