When last we met I regaled you with my personal problems with food — mainly that I don’t eat at the right time, have issues with menu planning and meal preparation, yada, yada, yada.
I feel like such a whiner — but, I have one more thing to say about that. Sometimes, meal planning and preparation can be fun, a great motivator, the very thing one needs to help plan around — and here is where lovely dishes that bake come into play.
The first, and my favorite, is bread.
Winter is the perfect time to establish a bread-baking routine. It’s rather like cutting wood, it warms you twice — once in the baking, again in the eating. Ummm. Plus, your house will smell amazing. The aroma of bread spreads through my senses. I love the feel of a warm artisan loaf, it’s weight and crisp crust begging to be broken, buttered and devoured. Sight, smell, touch, even sound, whether you break it or slice it with your heavy serrated knife, the inviting crunch of crust. And of course, taste. I can barely write this. I want to jump up and go start a sponge.
If you don’t bake, you are wondering, ‘what in the world is a sponge — and how does she start one?’ A sponge, sweet novice, is the thing that makes yeast breads possible (well, that and a dozen other things, like carbon dioxide, but this is not about the science, so . . .) the mixture of moisture, yeast and sugar (honey, guave, molasses) and a little bit of flour. Do you make pancakes? Then you know that adding the baking soda causes the batter to bubble. It’s like that, sort of.
The All-important Sponge:
First you dissolve the yeast in luke warm water. Luke-warm water (or milk) feels neither hot nor cold. It’s supposed to be at least 85 degrees and no more than 105. I mention this because for yeeeeaaaars I failed at bread-baking because I couldn’t get the temp right. I figure 98 is perfect, so if the liquid feels cold, I warm it, too warm, I wait for it to cool. Some recipes call for oil or butter. I wait until the sponge is active to add them. Salt, too. Yeast works better without salt.
Once the yeast is dissolved, add the sweetener (yeast eats sugar) and some of the flour. There are no measurements here because it varies with the batch size. A sponge will take a few minutes to get bubbly. During that time you can prepare your other ingredients. Then it is just a matter of adding flour until it can no longer be worked with a spoon. Then kneading (which also qualifies as exercise!!) until the dough is soft and elastic, coating with oil and setting to rise.
Now you can write. Probably for an hour!
I feel like I should repeat that over and over for an hour. This is a great feeling. You are being productive and writing!! By the way, you may not sweep, do dishes, clean toilets, or watch soap operas. You may, first thing, put a load of wash in the robot-machine. But return to writing immediately.
Then, when the dough has doubled, punch it down, knock the air out, flip it and put it to rise again!
Now you can write. Probably for another hour!!
See how this works. You may now put the washed clothing into the dryer. But return to writing immediately.
A second rise, then loaf shaping, then, at last, the baking.
I swear, this really works!! And in the end you are rewarded with a warm house, warm loaves, and words written.
Now we must also prepare food to go with bread, and we want to accomplish the same goals, delicious food cooked, more words written.
Casseroles & Soups:
These are my go-to choices for food that makes itself, after some preparation, and comes out of the oven, or off the stove ready to eat AND if you work it right, with enough for another meal or two. Oddly, I don’t have photos. They must not be as photogenic as bread.
Briefly, casseroles and soups share the same ingredients and process, just that one possesses more liquid. First, vegetables must be cut and saute’d. Begin with onions, sweat them in olive oil in the bottom of a big pot if you’re making soup, a skillet for the casserole. Add carrots, celery, garlic, and any other root vegetables, except if you’re making potato soup. Then you’ll parboil the potatoes. Green beans, broccoli, etc. Cook up a pot of grain or pasta, or if you’re adding barley, just throw it in later. Protein — if you’re doing beef I cook it first, chicken can be added to liquid, or better, saute’d with your vegies. Toss it all together in a baking dish, toss into low oven and write/write/write!
Now, while you’re cutting and sauteing and stirring and measuring and all that jazz, you are also exercising! Making multiple trips to the refrigerator is called ‘walking’. Put on some music while this is going on and you have ‘dancing’. Bend to retrieve pans from lower shelves, reach to get bowls from above. ‘Stretching.’ Remember this. Cooking is exercise. And if you make food that bakes, it leaves time to write.
Food is good for our minds. Exercise is good for our minds. Both are good for the soul. And getting that writing time in is crucial to our self-worth, self-esteem, and prevents self-loathing. Am I right?
Let me know your thoughts, your tricks, your coping mechanisms!
Till next time, Happy Baking! Great Writing!