Sunday, January 29, 2012

My New Superpower is Baking Sourdough Bread

Nothing has brought more comfort to our home and family than baking.  Simple, yes, but so rewarding.  Doesn't matter how messy my house is, or how cranky we've been, pulling something out of the oven brings instant 'comfort.'  And yes, there's a certain psychology in play when my kids come home and this wonderful SMELL hits them right as they open the door.  Yep, I know how to create family harmony (at least once in awhile.) Or at least I'm not ashamed of a little bribery :)

Oh yes, and notice my SaWEET oven.  A bit of a splurge on that baby.  Dual-fuel convection oven, with a high BTU burner, among other features.  Some people buy new furniture and stuff like that.  Silly people. But I've got my priorities.  I got myself a 'hot' new oven.  HOT, get it??? HOT! 

This post is dedicated today to my old friend and my college roomie Madolynn.  I had tried to bake bread so many times, and every time I made rocks.  I was convinced I was cursed - she convinced me otherwise.  I'll never, ever, forget that first wonderful loaf she helped me to make. There isn't a week that goes by now  without something yummy comming out of my oven (OK and many distasters, too), but how often I still think of her showing me how to 'punch down the dough' or knead it by hand.  Thanks, Madolynn.

I also owe a great debt to all my fabulous church sisters who took my baking to levels I never thought possible!  What wonderful teachers they have been. All the books and internet information in the world can't give you the experience of watching skilled hands maneuver some dough.  I am very blessed.

Ahhhh, but today - I have achieved new culinary merits.  Gone to greater heights than I ever dreamed possible!  I am a baker EXTRORDINAIRE!!!!  I finally, (OK, fourth time is the charm) made REAL Sourdough bread.  No commercial yeast, not even a pinch in the starter.  I mixed together flour and water and voila - I have a pet to feed that gives me yummy bread.  It truly is a miracle to me, and entirely fascinating, that I could really do that. 

I have been so accustomed to putting that tablespoon or two of commercial yeast in my dough and knowing exactly how it will rise.  Now it amazes me to watch this bread rise without any of that in there at all!  Just natural yeast, that came from my flour, my air, my kitchen.

There are so many versions of how to start a culture you could get lost reading books and looking on the internet for how to do it.  I certainly did, but here's the link to the version that worked for me.  From a very funny, talented, Southern Lady, an internet version of Paula Deen, who I'll now be grateful to forever.

She even has video links of the process - How great is that?? 

Now as I write, I realize this has been a triumph of FAITH.  I kept reading about natural yeast, I kept trying to culture it, but after three failed attempts I was pretty discouraged.  I didn't give up 'believing' that it was possible.  I can't see the microorganisms - it just looks like I'm adding a flour/water batter to my bread.  And the bread rises so SLOWLY it leaves you wondering all along the way if you were wrong, but in the end it springs up beautifully in the oven.  I'm so glad now, that I didn't give up. Sometimes things we can't see are very real - and very wonderful.

Here's my crazy life teaching me new things each and every day!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Starting off on the RIGHT foot...............

I wrote this article for my fellow church group of women yesterday.  We had a great time together, as usual, and I courageously demonstrated my passion for bellydance, or Middle Eastern Dance.  Considering all my nerves, I had a really fun time - thanks to a lot of positive energy and love from my fellow sisters.  Here's my article, taken from my comments yesterday - By the way sisters, you know who you are, and I love you all..............

I don’t have a pair of shoes that are of any significance to me.  My bare feet though, have been through quite a lot in the past 6 years.   The foot IS, by nature, a sensory organ of the body.  Native Americans and primitive cultures walk toe heel, instead of heel  toe – This is in order to ‘sense’ the earth they walk on and to better find BALANCE with each step that they take.  Learning to Bellydance brought BALANCE to my feet, and also to my life.
The Autism Year

The Year 2005 for me is one that stands out for me as our most difficult ever.   It began with a difficult pregnancy requiring bedrest, and a move, and ended in a frenzy of driving everywhere.  Two days after our fourth was child was born, the diagnosis was in for our oldest son: It was Autism. 

In the middle of new baby fatigue, and juggling now FOUR kids, I spent EVERY waking hour of my spare time trying to fight his disorder.  Neurologists, specialists of all kinds, hours and hours of internet research, and the best of the best kept telling me, 14 hours of therapy per week or MORE in early childhood was producing the best results.  So I drove him everywhere:  Behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and so on.  I dragged a new nursing baby along and the other kids.  I sat in a conference room with a two week old baby while they were trying to explain this therapy stuff to me, and I nodded along, too tired to catch anything, and MUCH of that year is a blur……..
In the mood for something different

As my baby hit his first birthday we were on a bit of a roll, and I was getting used to this crazy life.  Our son was making slow progress, even telling me ‘it was blue’ after school one day, which was the most he had ever communicated in his life.  I was STILL immersed in this world of being an Autism Mommy, but my close friend, living now in Colorado had done something quite unique with hers, she had learned to bellydance!!  I thought she was very interesting, but maybe a little crazy.  I didn’t even know what it was, and had never seen anyone bellydance in my life. 

However, I was going crazy myself.  And one day I thought, I’m in the mood for something different – What the heck, and on a whim, just like that, I decided to take a class.  BTW, I have the most supportive amazing husband in the world, who almost KICKED me out of the house once a week, and said ‘GO’. 

So, I showed up for class.  My first day I stood next to two, I’ll say very large Poly ladies who had quite the moves!  I tripped over my feet, got dizzy, bumped into people, and felt very plain Jane.  But there was something in this that sucked me in – first it was the music – I’m a music geek, but this music sounded strange and then beautiful and very expressive.  Then it was my teachers, who seemed to know everything about Egypt and Turkey and gypsies, and lets face it this was getting to be like taking a fine  arts course – it was fascinating, like taking a visit to another country.
The surprise:  Finding my balance!

But it was HARD!  It was so challenging!  I had to learn control over every muscle group in my body, and then get them to move in ‘isolation’.  It required ALL OF MY FOCUS, and ALL of my concentration, and then I noticed something remarkable:  My mind stopped worrying.  I stopped thinking about all the things that I had no control over and couldn’t make go away.  I stopped thinking about Autism.  And the music took over and my brain just stopped thinking  about that stuff.  There was no way I could do both at the same time and it forced me to rest.

I found my balance!  While my feet were literally learning to balance, I came home realizing that sometimes it’s ok to let go.  Sometimes it’s ok to let others help you, and to take some time for yourself and grow in a totally different way than you might have thought possible. 

I don’t take classes every week now, but our family is in a totally different place than we were then, and I still enjoy a quiet moment every few days to swirl around the room and enjoy this amazing art.  It allows me to express through dance, things that I don’t always have the words to say.  My home and family are my foundation, and let’s face it they come first.  The whole airplane analogy of taking care of yourself first, doesn’t always hold up in the real world.  But while you may not come first, you still have to make time for your needs, and find something in your life that restores peace to your mind and health to your soul.  It’s doesn’t always have to be about who’s first, sometimes it’s just about finding the right balance.

So for me, that’s starting off on the right foot, um, quite literally.  Even if you are like me, and might have been given two left ones.