Baking Therapy

I spent quite a few hours in my kitchen this past Saturday. My father-in-law’s birthday was last Friday, and we were celebrating Saturday. My husband asked if I’d make a Sour Orange pie he’d seen on America’s Test Kitchen for his dad, who loves lemon meringue and other such sour things. I offered to make some coleslaw too, since hubby and his brother had decided to make ribs (heat & serve – Curly’s from Costo…so good!) and baked beans (BIL’s recipe) for the dinner.

I started off with the crust for the pie, then made the coleslaw while the crust was cooling, and then made the pie filling…and then hubby mentioned that his dad was out of his favorite peanut butter cookies and had hinted for more. So I whipped up a batch of those while the pie was cooling.

Then I had 4 egg whites leftover from the pie filling, and decided to make orange flavored (lightly) meringue cookies to go with the pie. So, I did that, made some orange-flavored whipped cream to go with the pie, and the meringues were just barely done by the time I had to head out the door with all that food.

One would think I’d be tired after spending all day in the kitchen, and I was. But it was a relaxed sort of tired, and my mind was clear and calm (always good before spending time with family of any sort). Everything I made was a big hit, and I had so many meringues that I took some to work on Monday, sent some to work with hubby, and still have some we’re nibbling on at home.

I know a lot of women (people, for that matter), don’t like to cook, or like having help in the kitchen. Not me. I like having the kitchen to myself, and if you offer to help, you’re very likely to be turned down. My kitchen is my “alone” space, a space where I don’t have to make room for other people, or try to work around someone else. I can do what I want, how I want, and when I want in that particular domain, and I don’t have to deal with compromise or interaction or even communicating what I’m doing when. I like having that time to myself, and my small galley kitchen gives me a great excuse for turning down company – there really isn’t a lot of space for more than one person to work in there. I actually kind of hate open kitchens because they invite people to “watch” or help with the cooking process.

Selfish? Of course. And obviously I’m polite and offer to help whenever I’m at someone else’s house (and normally people take me up on it and we have a good time, though I am more grateful for large/open kitchens in that scenario). But when I’m home, in my own domain, kitchen time is much-needed “me time”, and a sort of sneaky, yummy way for this introvert to recharge the social batteries a bit.

That’s probably why I like doing food prep for the week on Sundays – hardboiled eggs for breakfasts, making burritos, meat pies, or whatever else might be nice to have in the freezer for quick lunches, and prepping salads/cutting fruit for eating later in the week. I love food, I like to cook, and I love to bake (though I don’t much, because…calories & carbs), and while kitchen time is a lot of work, it’s also very therapeutic for me.

The only thing I’m really not fond of is the cleanup. But, it’s a small price to pay for the joy of making something I know that I (and hopefully others) will enjoy. And honestly, since I always have the kitchen to myself for my nightly clean-up time too (I don’t clean until late at night), it’s another good transition time when I can let my mind wander, and look forward to one last cup of tea once it’s done.

Now, if I could just figure out a way to cook, bake, taste, and not have all those calories stick like frickin’ glue…that would make this particular hobby/therapy absolutely perfect…

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Of Concerts, Ballasts & Bread

Two things about the concert I went to Friday night:

1. If your voices can’t hack it anymore, and your harmonies don’t harmonize, just bow out gracefully and find something else to do. Seriously. Don’t go touring and ruining your own songs. It’s just…sad for those of us who love your music.

2. I’ll totally pass on any events held at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. Not quite bad enough for me to stop whining about our Metra, but when you’re touching the stranger next to you because the seats are just that close together and there’s no way *not to*, it’s too close. Way too close. He was nice and didn’t creep me out or anything, but still. Awkward!

I spent a good chunk of Sunday in my kitchen this past weekend. Actually, we spent a good chunk of Saturday there too, but that’s because the ballast in my last working florescent light fixture finally bit the dust, so we had to fix that or I’d be stuck with only the light over the kitchen sink, and the light over the stove to work by. Candlelight, basically, which is good for power outages and romantic dinners, but not so much for keeping digits intact while chopping vegetables.

Hubby replaced the ballasts in *both* light fixtures (the main one hadn’t worked in over 5 yrs…we’re lazy like that), and we went ahead and put LED bulbs in them as well. My kitchen is now insanely bright, and while I can certainly see a lot better, I can also see just how dirty the place is (I suck as a housekeeper – always have). This is going to require some serious cleaning, like soon.

Anyways, on Sunday I took the time to do a little reorganizing (not as much as I’d have liked, but again, lazy), and a few food prep things for the week that I think will benefit us in the long run, if I can make it a habit. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a breadbox, because I think my pantry is keeping bread too warm/moist, and a yogurt maker to replace the one I tossed a couple of years ago.The reorganization was to fit the breadbox where I wanted it (and it’s perfect there). Now if I could just figure out where to put the FoodSaver machine it ousted…

I’ve been wanting to get more probiotics in, and I’m not terribly fond of the yogurt choices in the store (didn’t want to just take a pill, either), so it seemed like a no-brainer to go back to making my own. Yogurt is crazy-easy to make…scald milk, cool it a bit, add plain yogurt or starter culture, and keep it warm for the next 10-12 hours (which is what the yogurt maker is for…basically an incubator for bacteria cultures). Voila, yogurt. Easy peasy. I bought some granola and I have jam, honey & real maple syrup available for sweeteners, so that will make a great after-workout snack. My first batch is already in the fridge.

I’m kind of tired of plain hard-boiled eggs for breakfast on Thursday, and I’ve been thinking about making some egg/omelet muffins to freeze, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. Hubby suggested I make pickled beet eggs – hard-boiled eggs pickled with beet juice, and I thought that was a great idea for something different. I found a recipe online, and on the same site there was a recipe for curried pickled eggs too, which also sounded intriguing. So I made a batch of each yesterday, and they’ll have to sit in the fridge for a few days before we can even try them, but hopefully by Thursday, they’ll be all tart & pretty. If it works, there’s our Thursday breakfast for three weeks or so. Very nice.

The last thing I did was to mix up a batch of Soft American Style White bread dough from my Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes A Day book. The whole premise of the book is that you can keep a wet version of bread dough in the fridge all week, and then only take out and bake what you need for any given day (need hot dog buns, take enough out for that, shape them, let them rise, bake them, and leave the rest of the dough in the fridge). It’s a way to have fresh bread whenever you need it with very little hands-on time involved. There’s really no reason I can’t do this, if I can find the right dough styles that my husband will like. And this will solve my problem of having to buy too much bread and throwing a bunch of it out every week…I can just bake what we need the night before we need it. No more waste, no more plastic bags, and it’s healthier too.

It does require some advance planning, but I can keep it loose, which is more my style than a hard & fast menu for the week. I can designate a couple baking nights per week (say, Monday and Thursday? AKA: nights when there’s nothing on TV until 8pm), and decide that day what kind of bread I need for the next day or two’s meals (homemade bread should be okay for two days or so). Then Saturday I can bake up whatever dough we have left for the weekend (if any), and mix a new batch on Sunday.

You’d think the decision to try this would create more stress, trying to fit one more thing into my schedule, but honestly, it’s kind of alleviating stress. I really wanted a solution for all the bread we were wasting, and this seems like it really could be “it”. I’m excited to try, in any case. I can always go back to buying bread if I need to.

As you might imagine, this gives me the urge to make other things at home that we currently buy for the convenience of it (because believe it or not, I enjoy doing the homemaking-thing as a general rule)…but we’ll see. I tend to take on too much, burn out, and backslide to worse than where I was before, so I’m going to just coast with this for awhile and see how it goes. Or try, anyways.

For those of you who might be so inclined, some links to pertinent info:

Homemade Yogurt Instructions (cooler edition, but the idea is the same)
Pickled Beet Eggs (and three other pickled egg recipes)
Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day

It’s been awhile since I made bread, and my first batch of dough is a bit on the dry side, but I’m gonna see how it bakes up anyways, and it’s raising on the stove now. Cross your fingers…

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