Slow Reading Plus Loving My Library

Finished The Accidental Tourist and liked it more than A Spool of Blue Thread: maybe a stronger plot with clearer connections between the characters.

Anne Tyler tells human stories with characters that verge ever so slightly on the stereotype. The Leary siblings in The Accidental Tourist seem almost too quirky, tied as they are to the past and their own routines and needs. It makes personal relationships difficult and marriage almost impossible unless the spouse understands those needs and can make accommodations in the name of love. Macon Leary has gotten out, it seems, until an almost unspeakable tragedy leads to the end of his marriage and his return to the arms of his sister and brothers. It takes Edward, his dog, to help him reconnect to an unlikely “fixer” who helps him really see the world outside the cocoon he has built.

Now I’m working through Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. A think book but Gwynne knows how to tell a story. He fits in the details and yet balances them with human interest. Even the battle descriptions, usually a turn off for me, are well written. I’m reading it for the nonfiction “challenge” on Library Thing but decided it’s more important to me to read slowly than finish it by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, kudos to my library: when I was in a couple weeks ago, the librarian turned me on to their digital magazines. WOW! I’ve printed a few recipes from Bon Apetit, read a feature about Joy Mangano in Good Housekeeping, and enjoyed browsing the other available subscriptions. It’s a wonderful service, easily accessible from my laptop or iPad.

We got about 10 inches of snow and ice during the big storm. Enough to keep me tucked inside: made beef stew and the most amazing Liege Waffles from King Arthur Flour. They were delicious made in my plain old waffle maker and I’m looking forward to toasting them for breakfast this week.

Baking and Books

I’ve been reading…I’ll get to 70 for this year.

And, I’ve been baking: whole wheat bread in various forms, cornbread with cheese and jalapenos, and, tonight, Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Icing from King Arthur. They showed it with a ginger cookies and I substituted shortbread. These are ready for the wonderful staff at our local Farm Credit office. They financed us when the regular banks said no.

Gingerbread cupcakes with cinnamon icing and a shortbread cookie

Instant Yeast & Other Wonders…A Second Try

In my 20s, when I dabbled in vegetarianism, Diet for a Small Planet was something of the holy book. In those days,  I baked most of the bread I ate with Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book guiding the way .  Then real life intervened with work and higher education and other interests, and I drifted in to the world of industrial eating: plenty of meat, white sugar, and processed flour.

Now, a whole series of books has led me back to those early days of real food, and I’m finding that the farm environment only makes it seem more sensible. Not to mention a not-so-much-older friend whose failed stress test led to a strict vegan diet and just a general desire to feel better and lose some weight.   I suppose it started with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma coupled with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  They were stark reminders of just how far away I personally had moved away from my own convictions when it came to what I put in my mouth.  And the baking impulse can be traced to browsing the King Arthur Flour’s whole grains baking book, fondly remembering the wonders of bread baking and the enticing smell and nutty taste of whole wheat bread.

The most recent book came from the Green Valley Book Fair in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  I wandered through the wooden tables and made it across the walkway to foods and crafts.  And there was Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cook Book.  I was taken immediately by his pragmatic tone…he still eats meat but is trying to be less meatatarian.  He has adopted a different relationship to meat and that has made the difference.  His wonderful recipes celebrate all the foods that often take a back seat to the protein and in the section on baking, I found his amazingly simple whole wheat bread recipe that called for something my friend of the King Arthur book had also mentioned: instant yeast.

What a concept.  How many bricks have I baked when the yeast failed to rise?  Even a short flirtation with a bread machine did not make things any more consistent unless I used a mix.  I found sour dough bread to be fool proof but after months of eating it, my husband begged for something else and that really was the end of my bread baking days.

But now I’m back, with two loaves of bread under my belt just this week.  I baked them with the instant yeast, and both of them–one made with white and one made with whole wheat–turned out perfectly.  I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and try something else: maybe some whole wheat hamburger buns.

I’m also experimenting with a healthy muffin recipe as a vehicle for all the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in the freezer.  My friend on the strict diet ate three of the most recent attempt that included oats, whole wheat, apple sauce and agave nectar instead of the white stuff (flour, sugar) and vegetable oil.  They could have been a bit moister but other than that were quite good with nice flavor and texture.  I sent the rest of the batch home with them and made whole wheat scone with raisins for us to eat this weekend.

And so, the bakery at Bottle Tree Farm is born.