JUST ANOTHER DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOD BLOGGER
The alarm trills at 6:45 a.m. Sluggishly, I push off the blankets, roll over and groan. My feet hit the floor and, bundled up in the warmest fleece sweatshirt I have, I, the chosen one, stumble my way to the kitchen in the dark. Wiping sleep from my eyes, I grope for a filter and the coffee can and light the little blue flame under the pot of water. It is my turn this morning to make the juice that courses through our veins and gives us life: coffee. The other, him, JP, meanwhile, relieved of the day’s burden of making the coffee, snuggles down a little further under the covers and waits for that luscious coffee smell to permeate throughout the house, beckoning him to begin his day.
Once the day has been kick started, JP off to the office, Marty walked, I wend my way over to my desk, hit the button on my laptop and think about how long I should decently wait before pouring myself a second cup of coffee while I wait for the blue backdrop to signal the computer’s awakening and my day as a food blogger to begin.
Now I rarely use my blog to write about my daily life, the successes and the failures, the discoveries, the simple repetitive errands and just the boring ho hum of the every day. Maybe because I think no one would be interested, maybe I believe that there’s nothing exciting to be told, but once in a while I feel that maybe I should bare a little more of my soul, open up my home to curious eyes and let you into my crazy world. Yes, I have a husband who adores me, yes, I have a funny little Boston Terrier who is happy to snuggle up on a cold winter day or entertain you when you are down, yes, I have 2 grown sons, both talented, smart and kind, and yes yes yes I live in France. And yes, I bake, pardon my French, out the wazoo, but life is no bowl of cherries.
I leave many of you breathless with the amount of baked goods popping out of my oven on a regular basis. Well, it’s not all chocolate cake, lemon tart and the sweet life. Sometimes I’m forced to eat crow, other times I end up eating my heart out. If truth be told, much ends up in the trash, the occasional flop, yes, burned this, undercooked that, or just plain yucky tasting, but the bread and cake and cookies and, yes, macarons, that they just plain refuse to eat as well. One sulks, complaining that he doesn’t understand why I make new things all the time, things that it is just so obvious he won’t like, imploring me to just keep baking the same 4 or 5 things I can be sure that he has always enjoyed. The other one takes the political route, a stand off, a sit down strike against any and all that I bake, openly and adamantly accusing me of force feeding them against their will, child abuse, dangerous and reckless behavior and simply willfully trying to embarrass them in front of their friends. And the husband? He waves his arms around, voice raised, ranting against waste and frivolity, urging me in no uncertain terms to put a halt to the mad baking, pointing to his growing girth. And so next day, the uneaten, the stale, the unwanted finds its poor way into the trash.
My days, when not on twitter and facebook, are spent running around town in a mad search for ingredients for this dish or that baked good, madly flipping through cookbooks for ideas, pulling out bowls, trying to figure out where husband has decided is the appropriate storage space for measuring spoons, lining up and measuring out ingredients, trying so very hard not to mix up two or even three recipes I’ve decided to attack at once, balancing bowls, hand mixer and buttered pans on the edges of counter, rickety table and sink praying nothing flops off onto the floor, piling up ingredients and baking sheets on chairs (for lack of any more table space) all the while pushing little dog nose away, trying like hell to find a flat, even surface in this ages-old apartment with warped floors like a roller coaster on which to place my liquid measuring cup in order to be assured of an exact reading, juggling this thing and that, praying, cursing, flicking batter all over the walls and washing dishes. Lots and lots of dishes. Dishes piled up in the sink from last night, dishes the sons have dumped on the countertop too busy to wash, dishes I need for my next project or simply dishes in the way. This lovely old apartment we moved into in July? Gorgeous rooms, authentic wooden parquet, lovely, gracious marble fireplaces and gilded mirrors and quiet? Well, kitchen from hell! Sons plead with me to stop cursing, stop banging pots and pans against countertop in frustration, stop muttering “I hate this kitchen! I hate this kitchen! I hate this kitchen!” over and over again like some crazy lady mantra. No space, no room, uneven floors which cause sloping counters and a 30-year-old school desk in the guise of a table, the only piece of furniture that would fit into this ungodly space, in which everything that can rolls off onto the floor, oven door that won’t open unless the furniture is moved, fridge door that opens backwards which means I must wedge my body between open door and shelving in order to find anything, faucet too low and sink too small leaving my dish and glass collection growing smaller each week and counters flooded. And no dishwasher. And the dirty dishwater that goes down the drain and up into my shower on the other side of the wall.
And in between I rush frantically back and forth between kitchen and computer, checking mail, checking cake in oven, clickety clacking on the keyboard as thoughts rush through my head, download my pictures and pull up iPhoto. And here is where my lack of organization and non-existent concentration comes into play. Writing a blog post – sometimes two at a time, - visiting a few blogs that I’ve neglected, write a few more sentences, back to the kitchen, back to the computer to touch up the latest pictures, write a few more sentences, visit another blog, see who on twitter is looking for me, back to the kitchen. Hang up the laundry, do some dishes, walk Marty (where is Simon?), promise myself that I will clean the bathroom tomorrow and back all over again. Surrounded by utter mess spread willy-nilly around me: books, cookbooks, dictionaries, my beloved Thesaurus, scraps of paper, agenda and more, pots and pans and bowls and on and on. Get the picture? Is anyone else as totally unorganized as I am? At least I don’t have Deeba’s problem of losing electricity for hours at a time!
And then, of course, 6 o’clock rolls around and cake is cooling on the table, cookies are baking in the oven and I’ve just realized that I forgot completely about buying or preparing anything for dinner. 7:30 and JP slams in. Singing. Chattering to Marty who runs to greet him at the door. Calling out my name. And here I am still wearing my gym clothes that I put on in the morning hoping to find the time to work out (maybe I have and maybe I haven’t), frosting smeared across my face, bits of dough stuck in my hair, chopping vegetables, hoping Simon doesn’t get home too late with the salad and fruit I sent him to pick up, and putting on my happy housewife smile.
So sometimes, just sometimes, I want something simple, something good, something wonderful that won’t make me crazy in the making. Something lo-cal, healthy and fresh that counterbalances all the cookies and cake, all the chocolate and popcorn I’ve been nibbling all day, something homemade and not reconstituted out of a box to make the man happy and everything will be all right.
I would like to send this gorgeous Challah over to Yeastspotting, our favorite weekly yeast baking extravaganza created and hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast.
OVEN-ROASTED WINTER VEGETABLES
4 – 6 small Amandine potatoes, washed *
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 fennels, rinsed, trimmed of tops, bottoms and outer layer if need be
Chunk of pumpkin, about 1 lb/500 g
3 – 4 medium carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and peeled
Several whole garlic cloves, peeled or unpeeled (I left mine peeled for roasting)
Course or regular salt, freshly ground black pepper
Fresh or dried thyme leaves
* you can keep the skin on, no problem, they hold their shape while the roasting makes them luscious and tender with a wonderful nutty flavor
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Lightly grease a large oven tray or baking sheet.
Once all of the vegetables are cleaned and trimmed as needed, cut them into chunks or slices, taking into consideration that you want them all to roast together and be tender at the same time. Here’s how I sliced mine:
Place all of the sliced/chunked vegetables in a large bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil – again, depending on how many veg you are cooking; you want each piece lightly coated with olive oil, not drenched – and toss, making sure all the vegetable pieces are evenly coated.
Spread the vegetable slices/chunks out on the prepared baking tray in one layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt, generously with freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves.
Pop in the oven and roast until done – this can take anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes depending on your choice of vegetables, the size of chunks and the oven.
When all of the vegetables are tender – even slightly caramelized – remove from the oven and arrange them on a serving platter. Dribble a little bit of Balsamic vinegar evenly over the vegetables and serve.
I reheated the leftover vegetables the next day by simply tossing in a non-stick frying pan over a medium flame until heated through. They were delicious!
From the fantastic book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Zoë François (adorable!) and Jeff Hertzberg; M.D.
This recipe makes four 1-lb (500 g) loaves.
1 ¾ cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tbs active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs Kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup honey
½ cup unsalted butter (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil)
7 cups flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top, optional
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter (warm, not hot) with the water.
Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon, a food processor or stand mixer. I used the spoon. Stir and fold just until all of the flour is blended into the wet ingredients and is moist.
Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should rise then collapse. This actually took longer to happen for me with this dough (it did happen in 2 hours when I made their Olive Oil dough for both my Focaccia Farcita and my Olive, Sun-dried Tomato and Pine Nut Focaccia). I actually put the dough in the fridge after 2 hours when it looked like this:
And it continued to rise in the refrigerator.
The dough can be used right away but is easier to work with when chilled. I made the dough the day before I made the Challah.
To prepare the Challah:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, dust the surface of the dough, your hands and your dough scraper all with flour, keeping extra flour handy, and scrape the dough down the sides of the bowl. The dough will sink and flatten. Dipping your hands and the dough scraper in flour as needed (the dough is sticky) break off one 1-pound (500 g) piece of dough for each Challah you would like to make and place on a well-floured work surface. Dust the dough with more flour and shape it into a ball.
Divide the ball of dough into 3 equal pieces and, using your hands, form each piece into a long, thin rope (remember making Play-doh snakes? Same thing: roll between your hands with the rope hanging down and roll back and forth on the table.) If the dough resists shaping just let the pieces rest fo about 5 minutes and try again. Place the ropes of dough lengthwise on the baking sheet.
Braid the ropes starting from the middle and working towards one end, tucking the ends underneath the braided dough, then turning the baking sheet and braiding the other half down from the middle to the end, again tucking the ends underneath.
Allow the dough to rest and rise for 1 hour and 20 minutes (only 40 minutes if using freshly made, unrefrigerated dough).
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush the loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the seeds if desired.
Bake the loaf or loaves for about 25 minutes until risen and uniformly golden brown. The braids near the center will offer resistance to pressure.
Allow to cool before slicing and eating.