I love Autumn. I really do. It’s the incessant, never-ending rain that the change of seasons brings that I gets me down. I am not a rain person. Bundled up in my huge, padded coat, cap pulled down snuggly on my head to my ears, sneakers or, worse, rubber boots, on my feet, I’ve got on my frumpy dork look as I tromp out of our building and over to the market for provisions. I feel less like a chic Frenchwoman on her way to browse through the gaily colored market stalls and more like a badly dressed Girl Scout slithering her way through the wilds of an unknown, dangerous land foraging for anything edible. My face gets splotchy, my hair frizzes, my bangs curl up, making me look like some cartoon character, the dorky one in the back of the class.
But if I am lucky enough that I don’t have to leave the house on one of these drab, gray, wet days, if I can stay all cozy warm inside, then I just want to bake. I peek out of the kitchen door and reassure myself that Marty is snuggled up against the hot radiator, pouting for lack of a bright ray of sunshine, but snuggly all the same. I glance up at the menacing sky out the kitchen window and grumble, never happy when Autumn shows its ugly side. No bright, chilly walks in the vineyard with Marty, happy as a bug racing in and out among the vines, no mushroom hunting in the forest, looking for that one magic cèpe to dig up and bring home, no hand-in-hand lover’s stroll over to the château or across the river to see the elephant. Maybe there will be a rugby match on tv this afternoon, the 3 of us curled up together on the sofa, cheering on Les Bleus, pausing at mi-temps for le goûter, something warm from the oven.
The weather is fright’ning
The thunder and lightning
Seem to be having their way
But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a lovely day
The turn in the weather
Will keep us together
So I can honestly say
That as far as I’m concerned, it’s a lovely day
And everything’s OK
Stirring creamy cake batter or kneading fragrant, yeasty dough is my favorite rainy-day activity. The oven preheating, warming the kitchen up all toasty, waiting for the odors to permeate the air, cinnamon or chocolate, fresh bread or cake or scones, the promise of tasty goodness, comfort on a rainy day. The rain comes and goes, a regular, hypnotic pitter-patter or a sudden wild flair-up, hailstones pounding against the window panes and down onto the balconies, Marty wide-eyed with wonder and concern, JP huddled up on the couch all wrapped up under a blanket or, better yet, with the warmth of a small fuzzy dog on his chest. I reheat another mug of café au lait as the timer ticks off the minutes until the bread is done and I sit at the kitchen table with my book, Daniel Deronda this week, an occasional quick, furtive glance towards the oven to survey the progress.
I grew up in Florida, as you know by now. Many call it The Sunshine State, but its evil twin, The Hurricane State, lurks not very far behind. From June through November, the brilliant, scorching sunshine is regularly broken by flash showers, like clockwork. Hot, bright sunshiny skies, heavy, humid weather and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, at 3 o’clock on the nose, the black black clouds scud across the sky, thunder rumbles in the distance, moving closer, menacing. Flashes of lightening out of nowhere light up the ever-darkening afternoon as kids scatter, dropping bats and balls, rocks tossed willy-nilly onto hopscotch grids chalked onto the cracked sidewalk, kids running for cover as goose bumps skitter up and down their arms as the temperature does a roller coaster drop. The sky opens up and the rain pours down in Biblical proportions, straight, heavy, unforgiving.
And then it stops as quickly as it began, the black clouds roll back like curtains and the brilliant Autumn sun bursts out again, drying up the wet, as if it never happened. And all the kids pop out of their hiding place and resume their play as if it had never been broken.
The Autumn rain in Europe is as unpredictable as the Florida storms were predictable. Rain here is unremitting, days on end, no burst of heat and sunshine to warm and comfort us and allow us to run out and play. Just rain with an occasional pale, weak light peering shyly at us through the clouds, promising something that just doesn’t come. Rain, interminable rain.
Well, at least it gives us the excuse to bake. And bake. And bake.
Today, bread. A wonderful bread, ode to Autumn, full of oatmeal’s earthy goodness and sweetened just enough with the season’s maple syrup. It takes a while to put together, mostly just waiting, time to run in and catch the rugby match or an old movie or dash to the store for more supplies. A wonderful almost cakey bread that is the perfect snack or breakfast slathered with soft butter and drizzled with more maple syrup, or a wonderful complement to a cheese platter.
I recently was the recipient of a wonderful and fun award – The Over The Top Award - from two great bloggers and friends, Connie at W Va Fur and Root (great writing, a fun read, beautiful photography and an insight into an amazing person and her life) and Simone of Junglefrog Cooking (a gorgeous food blog with fabulous recipes, stunning food photography, amusing tales of her travels and cooking experience and a wonderful place to visit), both ladies truly are over the top! Thank you both so much for considering me Over the Top as well! And thanks for your friendship, both.
All recipients of this award must answer the One Word Meme, answering each question with a one-word answer, so here goes:
1. Where is your cell phone? Desk
2. Your hair? Dark
3. Your mother? Working
4. Your father? Heaven
5. Your favorite food? Homemade
6. Your dream last night? Reunion
7. Your favorite drink? Yahoo
8. Your dream/goal? Published
9. What room are you in? Office
10. Your hobby? Baking
11. Your fear? Many
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Traveling
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. Something you aren’t? Organized
15. Muffins? Yes
16. Wish list item? Move
17. Where did you grow up? Didn’t
18. Last thing you did? Lunch
19. What are you wearing? Jeans
20. Your TV? Off
21. Your pets? Dogs
22. Friends? Love
23. Your life? Complicated
24. Your mood? Hopeful
25. Missing someone? Siblings
26. Vehicle? Feet
27. Something you’re not wearing? Fur
28. Your favorite store? Publix (with Sue)
29.Your favorite color? Pinks
30. When was the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? November
32. Your best friend? Many
33. One place you go to over and over again? Market
34. One person who e-mails you regularly? Meeta
35. Favorite place to eat? Home
Now I’m to pass The Over The Top Award to 6 favorite bloggers. Whew, the choice of who I want to award this to is harder than answering those questions! There are so many great bloggers and great friends blogging! Well, let’s see:
Mowie of Mowielicious
Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey?
Her Royal Spudness of The Daily Spud
Greg of Sippity Sup
Alessio of Recipe Taster
Courtney aka Glamah of Coco Cooks
These blogs are truly over the top as are these food bloggers! Wonderful friends, beautiful blogs, great recipes. I love reading these blogs, fun and thoughtful and wonderfully satisfying and you will too if you click on the links and visit them.
I am sending this bread over to El Aroma de Idania, this month’s host for Bread Baking Day #24. Idania chose the theme of Mixed Bread and I decided to bake Oat Bread with Maple Syrup, a lovely mix of white and wheat flours blended together with oats. A delightful mix of the savory and sweet, this tender, moist bread is perfect to be eaten for breakfast or as a snack or with a meal or a platter of cheeses or sliced for sandwiches.
I am also sending this to Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event.
OAT BREAD WITH MAPLE SYRUP
From The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
Makes 2 loaves
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1 ½ cups (135 g) rolled oats (I used Quaker Oats)
1 package (2 ¼ tsp, 7 g) dry active yeast
¼ cup (65 ml) pure maple syrup
2 tsps salt
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
3 cups (400 g) white bread flour
3 cups (450 g) whole wheat bread flour
Heat the water and milk together in a saucepan until scalding (just under a boil when you see tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan). Pour the liquid over the oats in a large mixing bowl. Leave to soak for one hour.
After the hour, the oatmeal should be warm or tepid. Sprinkle the dry yeast over the oatmeal and stir it in. Then add the maple syrup, the salt, the melted butter and the white flour and stir until well blended. You will have a thick batter that can be stirred with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and leave it in a warm place for an hour to rise. It should double up and be light and bubbly.
After the hour, stir the batter down with a wooden spoon and start stirring in the whole wheat flour, about ½ cup at a time, stirring each addition in well. When the dough is too stiff to stir anymore with the spoon, scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead in as much of the remaining whole wheat dough, a little at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic and bounces back when pushed.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape them into loaves. Put the loaves into buttered, medium-sized bread pans or on a buttered baking sheet. Since I didn’t have medium-sized bread pans, I chose to form my dough into round miche-type loaves. Cover the loaves loosely with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise for just under an hour, until doubled in bulk.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Bake for about 45 – 50 minutes. Check the loaves along the way and if they seem to be browning too quickly, put a piece of aluminum foil over the loaves for the remainder of the baking. When done, they should be a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Remove the loaves from the pans or baking sheets and allow to cool before slicing.