Saturday, August 29, 2009

Recipes: Bread From Scratch

This is not my recipe. I found it on Allrecipes.com, and it worked so well for me - and turned out no matter how many substitutions I made - that I adopted it as my permanent bread recipe.  I've substituted various oils for butter when I was out of it (just don't use anything a strong flavour, like olive oil). I've even used corn syrup instead of honey. (I imagine molasses would work too, maybe with dark rye flour and a little caraway to make a nice pumpernickel loaf!) I sometimes forget the salt, which doesn't affect the rising or texture of the loaf, just makes it a bit sweeter than my liking.You do need at least half of the flour to be all purpose or bread flour though, for the gluten to make it rise nicely. Notice that I don't use bread flour myself - all purpose requires a little more kneading, but is cheaper and more convenient for me. So, here goes:

Bread From Scratch

3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tbsp active dry yeast (quick rising)
1/3 cup honey or white sugar
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons melted butter or oil
1/3 cup honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups flour (whole wheat, rye, oat or all purpose)
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Generously flour a flat surface and knead with more flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still a bit tacky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down, and divide into 4 loaves. Place in greased medium loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch. Bake at 350° F for 30 minutes. Turn out of pans onto wire racks and let cool before slicing.

Tips:
Rising: I let my dough do all its rising in my oven. First I briefly preheat the oven just to warm (not hot), and put a large cake pan full of hot water on the bottom rack. Then I put the dough on the next rack up, with the oven light on to maintain the heat, and close the door.
Baking: Later, when it's time to bake the bread, I leave the pan of water in during baking, which gives the loaves a nice brown and crusty top without a professional steam-injected oven. I also leave the risen loaves in the oven during preheating - it doesn't hurt them, and it prevents them from falling before they start baking. Freezing: Since my oven doesn't accommodate 4 loaves at once, I usually divide the dough after the first rising and freeze half for later in the week. To use frozen dough, thaw overnight in fridge or for a few hours on the counter, then knead and shape into loaves for second rising. Do not over-knead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How To Make Lobster In One Easy Step

Here's one recipe anyone can try - but shouldn't. You won't like it. Trust me.

Baked Lobster

1 adult, lightly dressed
2 youngsters, lightly dressed
1 large bottle of 55 SPF sunscreen

Liberally slather sunscreen on the 2 youngsters.

That's it. Sounds like a no-brainer, eh? Or maybe I missed something...
Anyway, we still had lots of fun at Riverview Park & Zoo today. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Neverending To-Do List

Here we are in the final days (I hope!) of getting ready to open our home for foster care, and the list of things to be done seems interminable. Medicals are done, criminal checks are done, bedrooms are ready, but still there are the last couple of reference letters to collect, CO detectors to buy, small handyman jobs to finish, locked cabinet to pick up, and... first aid training to take! Just when I thought I had everything ready to go, I realized we don't have our CPR certification.

I really didn't have any idea, going into this, how much it was going to cost all at once to get up and running. It certainly can be a deterrent for anyone looking at fostering as just "a job". For us, however, it has if anything given us an opportunity to reaffirm that this is something we feel is a real calling. Whatever it takes, we will make it through, because of our convictions. Being parents is an enormous privilege, whether of biological children or otherwise. It's worth investing our time, money, and best effort in, and the rewards will be great.

What parent doesn't think the neverending bottles and dirty diapers were worth it the day their little toddler or preschooler says I love you, mommy? Is this so very different? It may take a lot of work, but in the end I'll know we mattered to some little lives. Meanwhile, I must get back to work on that to-do list!

Friday, August 21, 2009

A World Of Tastes

I've been thoroughly enjoying making curries lately, blending my own spice pastes and hot oil to release fragrant aromas throughout the house. In fact, I've been doing a lot of from-scratch cooking in the last while: baking bread, scones, brownies, creatively using pantry staples, and finding new ways to use clearance produce. In the midst of my foodie euphoria, however, I am having some trepidation.

Right now our family has adventurous palates. My husband will eat anything I make, and usually love it. My toddler will eat almost anything (except for some reason she doesn't like meat much), and my teething baby will try to eat ANYTHING she can get her hands on. And me, I love food. If it's edible, I'll eat it. But soon we will have new mouths to feed, who will probably be unused to many of the foods and flavours that we enjoy.

Take lamb for instance. I don't know a whole lot of people who like lamb. We love it! It has such a great, full-bodied flavour, and is nutritionally one of the best meats you can eat. Or Indian food. Spices like cumin, turmeric and cardamom, herbs like cilantro, pungent and foreign to many North Americans, are full of health-boosting benefits and are like comfort food to us. I know my own family (parents and siblings) won't eat these kinds of foods that we enjoy, so what will I do when I have to plan dinners with other children? Will I be stuck with beef, chicken, and potatoes? Plain?

One of our nephews had a limited range of tastes, and often the family resorted to feeding him plain noodles or hotdogs when a meal was not to his liking. I think nutrition is important, no matter what your age, but especially for children. I realize that you may not be able to get kids to consume all their required nutrients in a meal, or even in a day, but over the course of a week they OUGHT to be required to eat what their body needs. Options are good, but healthy options. If kids have the choice to substitute junk for healthy food, they will. I am a firm believer in offering healthy choices, like salad or carrot sticks, banana or apple, whole grain pasta or brown bread. My toddler can have milk or watered down juice a couple of times a day, but otherwise she has water. Pop is not an option.

I think it's great that people have different tastes, after all, variety is the spice of life. But if someone is a picky eater and only likes a couple of things, that is not okay. Man cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes we need to be pushed to broaden our tastes, and this often takes time and perseverence. I read that it may take 10 - 15 tries to get a toddler to try a new food. Dr. Seuss had the right idea in his book Green Eggs and Ham. It may take persistence, and it may take some extraordinary creativity in the presentation, but we can develop and acquire new tastes. After all, there's a whole world out there waiting to be discovered!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Poop Hits The Fan

Yesterday was what Anne Shirley would call a "Jonah Day" for me. It wasn't the large cup of coffee that my toddler dumped behind the couch at 8:00 AM, it wasn't the 29°C heat in my house, it wasn't the food that got thrown on the floor at every meal... but these things didn't help.

Things really started going downhill when I went to get Boo up from her morning nap and found her diaperless, smearing poop all over the crib, her body, her face and hair. Now don't get me wrong, I love my kids, and I can even see the humour of the situation - when it's happening to someone else - but at this particular moment, I felt like I was losing it. This little girl got an earful and besides that was forced under the shower despite her aversion to getting her head wet. If it's the only way to get her clean, I'm sorry, but she will just have to cry!

After she was clean, dressed, and hair done up pretty, I put her downstairs in the playpen and went back up to strip down the crib, scrub the frame, and clean the floor. Then we all had a nice lunch together, albeit messy. That's life for a mommy with two babes, I guess. But later that afternoon I put the girls down for a nap again, and headed off to clean up the lunch mess and my new pile of laundry. After a while I heard my baby fussing, so I got her up and changed her, gave her a bottle, and decided to check on my napping (so I thought) toddler. I found her once again diaperless, sitting oh-so-innocently with pieces of poop scattered around the crib, the floor, the walls... and Mommy was having a meltdown. Toddler was bathed. Crib was stripped and scrubbed AGAIN. Both kids were confined (to playpen and exersaucer) downstairs and put in front of the virtual babysitter. (In these emergencies, the TV is my lifeline to sanity!) I called their Daddy to vent.

It felt good to talk to an adult and get some sympathy. I felt better, well enough to let the girls out of their confinement to play together. I thought, I'll just put up the baby gate and run upstairs for a minute to finish mopping the bedroom floor. Bad idea. When I came down again nothing seemed amiss immediately. Boo and Cutes had pulled out all the kids movies and taken some out of their cases, but that's a common occurrence. They were still playing nicely together, so I ran downstairs to switch over my laundry, and found a large puddle next to my dryer. Puzzled, I mopped it up with a towel, and went to put my next load in the dryer. That's when I realized... my laundry tub, into which my washer drains, had gotten plugged with a couple of rags, and a small flood was creeping across my basement, under the wall, and into the next rooms. This has happened before, but in the midst of minor disasters I had forgotten to check the tub before starting the load. So I ran back upstairs, called my hubby and (on the verge of tears) asked him to bring the shop-vac from work when he came home.

Then I went to check the girls' diapers, and found that Boo had poopy hands again, although I couldn't see where it had come from, as she was still wearing her diaper. Upon closer investigation I found that she had managed to scoop out a handful and use it to "paint" the movie cases, the cupboard where they are kept, and a bit of the floor nearby. Thankfully I had a big pack of moist wipes nearby, which I quickly used to clean her off and wipe up the rest of the area. The soiled cases were bagged and removed for later cleaning. Both kids went back into confinement. I pulled out the vinegar and sanitized everything. And cried.

I don't know what I would have done if I were a single mom. My wonderful husband came home and took over with the kids, he cleaned up the dinner mess, put the kids to bed, cleaned up the basement flood, gave me some money and sent me off for some time out. This is one of the reasons I love my husband so much - he's the "tag" to my team. I'm am doing okay now, and I think I just might put my kids on a low-fibre diet for a while.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wanted: A Heart Big Enough

One of the reasons my posts have been sparse and oft interrupted in the last month or so is that we are in the processing of taking a big step towards opening our home to more children. That is, we are soon to be foster parents.

Having passed through the rigours of psychological testing / personality profiling and an initial home inspection, we are now in the process of getting our home fully safety compliant, going through medical screening, criminal background checks, and character references. On one hand almost anyone can be a foster parent, but on the other hand, it sure takes a lot to get to be one! All the rigamarole, far from being burdensome, is just getting me more excited about being a foster parent to the kids we will have in our care.

My Prince Charming and I have felt for some time now that we would like to adopt an older child who might have difficulty finding a good home. Ever since we started thinking about raising children, I knew I would love to have a big family...but with young children of our own and some debt we would probably not be considered for adoptive parents at this stage in our lives. This opportunity was just a divine gift for us to be able to pursue something we had already had on our hearts, and it fits with where we are as a young family right now.

Here with my house, husband, and children, I have really felt how blessed we are to live in this country, free, prosperous, and with loving friends & family. I have also been very aware of the fact that many people, even in our own area, are poor, lonely, hopeless, and slaves to addiction. Because I follow Jesus Christ, I want to be able to give hope to those who are in despair, material comfort to those who are needy, and opportunity to the disenfranchised. In short, I want to love people like He loved (loves) them - in action.

Sometimes when we look at the the world, the needs are overwhelming. We wonder, what difference can we really make? You know, I can't solve the world's problems, but I can have an impact in the lives of people I know for the better. I may not change the world, but I may change the life of a child. All it takes is a little compassion and a heart big enough to let someone else in. Do you have what it takes?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happily Ever After

One of my favourite bloggers runs a "Wifey Wednesday" posting, and this week's was about the idea that a man who makes his wife cry is not worth having. The point of Sheila's post was that we need to get over the idea of a fairy-tale life with Prince Charming and value our real-life marriages.

I saw the Disney movie Enchanted just last night (and loved it). I found it more humourous than anything, and took it to be poking fun at our tendency to expect fairy-tale endings. (All the spoofs involved were hilarious!) The premise is that Gisele, a fairy-tale girl, is waiting for her Prince Edward to sweep her off her feet, complete love's duet with her, give her True Love's Kiss, and marry her for a happily-ever after ending. Unfortunately, the jealous evil queen interrupts her plans and sends her to the real world of New York City, where "there is no happily every after." There she learns about love in real life, where she can actually get upset, get hurt, and get angry, and still find true love.

It is important to realize that when we marry, two imperfect human beings are joining together in the closest relationship we can possibly have. Each one of us is far from perfect, and that means there are bound to be conflicts and bumps along the way. Love means dwelling on the best parts, and getting over the worst parts. It means forgiving, putting the other person first, sacrificing cheerfully, and sharing generously, and all this unconditionally. Love is not for wussies.

Unfortunately sometimes people (ourselves or our spouses) can be selfish or hurtful, either spitefully or unintentionally. Also, for most women, there will come times in our lives when our hormones are causing a chemical imbalance in our brains (like prenatal/ postpartum and menopause), and we simply may not be aware that we are thinking irrationally or being driven by false emotions. Sometimes "conflicts" don't actually exist, they are just in our heads. So, even if your husband is the most sensitive man in the world (mine is!), you cry. And maybe sometimes it's not really him that's making you cry, even if you think it is.

No matter what our partner's actions or level of sensitivity, we need to be able to deal with our emotions safely and productively. We must learn to overcome hardships. We need to know that we can take our issues to a loving Father and get help. This is why Ecclesiastes 4:12 says "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." A marriage that fully relies on God will last.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Grass Is Always Greener...

I made a new friend this month, who is as interested as I am in eating healthy, living on a dime, and family matters. You can visit her blog here, which is a fairly recent initiative. Deep in conversation with my new friend, however, I felt convicted of not having spent enough energy blogging about the OTHER "green".

While a lot of my blog posts have focused on low-cost living, not so many have talked about our environmental impact. The fact is, my husband and I are both very concerned with living sustainably and practicing good stewardship, and finances are only part of the picture. Maybe I don't blog about eco-friendly living mainly because most of our household choices naturally tend in that direction without much thought. For a large part, frugality is synonymous with sustainability: For instance, buying in bulk reduces waste AND saves money. Cutting down on energy consumption reduces your carbon footprint AND saves money. Saving food scraps for soup and composting reduces waste AND saves money. Cooking vegetarian foods contributes to good health, puts less stress on the environment, AND saves money. Planting your own veggies cuts down on carbon emissions, lowers your pesticide intake, encourages you to EAT more veggies, AND saves money. Get the idea?

If you are truly living "on a dime", it's a pretty good bet that you are already doing a good bit towards preserving the earth. Which is not to say you can't do better. It is always good to be pushed out of our comfort zones and challenged to greater levels of responsibility. Here's what our own family has been doing, and what we have yet to do.

1. We work, play and shop locally. (But, we do love to go for long drives.)
2. I buy organic as the budget permits. (Not everything is worth paying for organic.)
3. I started growing some of our food. (Unfortunately, didn't turn out well this year.)
4. We exchanged all incandescent lights for CFLs.
5. We got energy efficient appliances & hot water tank.
6. We bought reliable cars with excellent fuel efficiency. (However, we do require two vehicles.)
7. I use vinegar and minimal soap when cleaning and doing dishes. (I still use storebought laundry soap and occasional fabric softener.)
8. I cook nearly everything from scratch and make at least one vegetarian dinner a week. (We still eat more meat and dairy than we need to, I think.)
9. I breastfed my babies as long as I was able (though not as long as I would have liked).
10. We reuse towels before washing, and wear clothes again if they're not dirty. (I'm sorry, I don't want to be dirty and smelly just for the environment.)
11. We keep our house cool in winter, open lots of windows in summer, and turn off lights when not in use.
12. I unplug small appliances when not in use. (Still a few electronics need a power bar.)
13. We buy secondhand when possible, and both use and pass on hand-me-downs.
14. We compost and recycle A LOT. Very little goes to the garbage. (I tried cloth diapers and EC initially, but the hassle was too much - so most of our garbage is diapers.)
15. We share with others and borrow things we would use once or seldom.
16. We buy in bulk when appropriate. (We don't have tons of storage space, so this is done judiciously.)

So tell me, what do y'all do to care for the earth and be good stewards?