Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baking away my (spring) blues

Yesterday was a cold, blustery and snowy day, one of those chilled-to-the-bone kind of days, so for dinner I cooked a great big hearty and gooey lasagna, served with a side of salad and bread for sopping up every last drop of sauce. As the kids and I raised our glasses and toasted the coming of spring, we said goodbye to Old Man winter and all of its (now tiresome) habits.

Today may be the first day of spring, but it's still cold and blustery and snowing. While some folks in the northern hemisphere are marking today's vernal equinox with seed starting and fits of cleaning, I retreated into my kitchen for some bread making, a decidedly wintery activity. Not to say that I don't bake bread year-round, but there is something particularly nurturing in the way a thick slab of still-warm bread slathered with fresh butter (or not, for you purists) takes the chill off a bitter day, filling the belly and warming the heart.

I have my staple breads -- caraway rye, whole grain, cinnamon raisin, and bagels, which rarely last long enough to see a new day -- but when Miriam at Mucky Boots Farm posted her recipe for Lentil Salad from Still Life with Menu from Mollie Katzen of Moosewood fame, it inspired me to break out of my recipe rut and revisit my cookbook shelf. (And if you're pining for a (virtual) breath of spring, visit Miriam's post on her "United Nations" garden. Get ready to swoon...)

I, too, am a Mollie Katzen cookbook fan, with a fondness for her hand-decorated pages and whimsical line drawings, and her simple mission to make vegetarian food beautiful, delicious and accessible.

I have several of her cookbooks, but I thought I'd try her Sunflower-Millet Bread in her The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest, named after the fanciful yet tasty recipe that features broccoli trees planted upright in a bed of herbed rice pilaf.

While I've long been a fan of baking with seeds, millet is a relatively new-to-me grain, one that is rich in nutrients and provides high-quality protein, B vitamins and minerals. It's also a pretty grain resembling tiny and delicate butter-hued pearls.

It's a time consuming recipe with several steps over several hours: first, you make what she calls a "sponge" with yeast, water, honey and flour and let that rise for 45 minutes, while preparing "the mix" consisting of water, cooked millet, butter, honey and salt. You then beat the mix into the sponge, adding a cup of sunflower seeds and more flour (whole wheat + white), then carry on with the usual kneading, rising, punching, shaping, etc.

There are busy days when I'm quite happy to whip together a quickie loaf of bread and even use the bread machine to do the kneading, rising, punching for me. (Though I always bake the loaves in regular bread tins as I can't stand those giant box-shaped loaves that come out of a bread machine.) But while the end result is a delicious loaf, I miss out on the satisfying, almost spiritual, pleasure of the process.

Then there are times like today when I'm content to putter in the kitchen, working at a slower pace, and experiencing each stage of  the making. Part release of tension, part meditation, I knead the dough until it loses its stickiness and becomes "springy and alive," remembering, writes Katzen, that my job is to "[guide] the dough, making suggestions to it -- not forcing it, tearing it, or otherwise employing intimidation."

It's an exercise in acceptance and patience, about taking time, and not rushing to the next step, which just so happens to produce a subtly flavoured, firm-textured, non-crumbly loaf with a satisfying crunch from the sunflower seeds.

So while soon I'll be spending long days working the soil until it, too, feels "springy and alive," for now I'm content to enjoy winter's last hurrah and with it, its gift of time.


Unknown said...

Glad you are back. I make your granola and yogurt regularly. I also use my bread machine for the dough as I do not like the loaves it bakes. I am west of you in CKL and today is beautiful and sunny but with a cool wind. The snow is melting and you can feel the power in the sun. Happy Spring!!

Mama Pea said...

I, too, am enjoying the last of this winter season, but spending more time (okay, I'm t-r-y-i-n-g!) in my quilt room enjoying the sensual feel of fabric and creativity of the quilting process.

Those loaves pictured make me want to sit down with one of them and a half cup of butter and go at it! It's pea soup and tossed salad for dinner here tonight. Oh my, wouldn't some of that bread go well!? said...

@ Rosalea -- so happy to hear you're enjoying the granola and yogurt! Those are both family favourites. Happy spring (?) to you too!

@ Mama Pea -- pea soup, yum! That is definitely a wonderful warm-from-your-head-to-your-toes kind of meal. Enjoy your creative time -- I know how hard it is to do, but it's so soul enriching, isn't it?

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