Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breads and Babysitting

I had a great time in Minnesota babysitting my three grandchildren, ages 10, 7 and 3.  While there, my son took us to a comic book store where they were having their annual "free comic book day".  I am not very mobile, so I didn't know how much I would enjoy walking around... and there were wall-to-wall people filling the store and the parking lot outside.  Many customers were in costumes... mostly super-heroes... and there were many "super heroes" greeting the people as they arrived in the parking lot.  When we drove up, a red face grimacing with fangs appeared, banging on my window!  I had no idea who he was, but he was incredibly realistic looking... and appropriately terrifying!  Then he opened my door and with a gentlemanly swoop of his arm, invited me out, saying he also could work with the good force!
My son told me he was Darth Maul, and one of the group that uses the dark force on Star Wars.  Mark said the look on my face was priceless.  To the left is a photo Mark took of Quentin and Charlotte with some of the Star Wars characters.  Now tell me YOU wouldn't be a little bit startled if that guy with the red face banged on YOUR window!  The kids wet heads are due to the fact that we had just come from their swimming class.  

I was hobbling around the store with my cane in hand when an older man came up to me, pointed, and said, "I know who YOU are... I'll bet you walk into a closet and come out as Wonder Woman!"  It was a fun experience, all in all, and I urge you to go to one of those next year, if there is a comic book store near you.  Mark said they have them nationwide, sponsored by the comic book companies.  I can't say it was on my bucket list, as I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I had the experience.  The Star Wars characters looked very realistic, as did a few others... but some of them were not exactly as I'd have expected.  Indiana Jones, for example, had just about doubled in size, and didn't look in the least bit swashbuckling, and Wolverine looked nothing like Hugh Jackman! 

The little girl from Kick Ass was there, and she was a hoot (see photo at right)!  Her father was also dressed in costume, but didn't do or say much except stand by looking proud.  Ava wasn't in the photos, as she was on a camping trip that weekend.

Other than swimming lessons and forays into the fantasy world of comics, we were busy all the time.  Between homework, cooking, baking, and keeping a three-year-old occupied, I barely had any time to work on the knitting project I'd brought along.  We did a little beading together, did Charlotte's "homework" of flash cards, coloring, and reading every day, but Charlotte and I did have time to squeeze in a nap every afternoon, even though she thinks she's too big for naps.  After I'd left, she told Mark she was glad she could go back to school and didn't have to take care of Grandma anymore!  Quentin, on the other hand, told Mark if I would move in and live with them forever, he would gladly give me his room.  It was a joy to spend those two weeks with them, and I'm looking forward to summer vacation when they will be coming to stay with me for part of the time.

We made bread sticks (a favorite of all the grandchildren), French bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, dough gods (fried bread dough) and Peasant Bread, using up two bags of bread flour and one of all-purpose flour.  They have bread sticks and rolls in the freezer, and a roll of chocolate chip cookie dough in the refrigerator to bake another batch of fresh cookies... or eat the dough.  I've mellowed out in my old age... I used to scold my kids when they snatched cookie dough while I was baking cookies... now I invite the grandkids to "taste" it!  Here's a great recipe for bread many ways in the bread machine:

All-Purpose Bread Dough:
Place in the bread machine pan in this order:  1-1/2 cups warm water, 1 Tablespoon Olive or other vegetable oil, 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon salt.  Add:  4 cups bread flour.  Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon instant yeast over the top of the flour.  Put on dough setting and press start.  Check to make sure the dough is firm enough as it processes without being too hard... flours vary, and humidity has a bearing on it, too.  When the dough is done, shape it as desired and let it rise, covered by a tea towel so it doesn't dry out.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until done.  Brush crust with butter after removing from the oven.  This can be rolled and stretched out for pizza dough, or shaped into dinner rolls (makes about 1 dozen lovely rolls baked in a greased muffin tin), a loaf or two of French or Italian style bread (I make two smaller loaves, rather than one big one.)  Sometimes I add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cracked wheat, and that's delicious, too.  You don't have to adjust the bread flour. You can fry small chunks of dough and then shake them in cinnamon sugar for dough gods, a poor man's doughnuts!  The following recipe for Peasant Bread is my favorite bread of all time!  I just put whatever I have handy into it, and it is a delicious artisan-type bread with a crunchy, chewy crust and moist interior.

Peasant Bread:
5 cups bread flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup flax seed
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant yeast
1-1/2 Tablespoons salt
Stir to mix dry ingredients.  Add:
3 cups tepid water (or a little more to make a nice wet dough)
Stir well.  This dough should be wetter than a normal bread.  NO kneading!  Cover the bowl with press & seal, let sit for 2 hours.  Dough will rise up almost double.  I took out half and formed it into a round loaf.  Let sit on a lightly floured parchment paper covered with a tea towel for about 45 minutes or until about double in size.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees, with the casserole in the oven.  Put dough into the HOT casserole, slash the top, cover casserole and bake for about 20 minutes covered, then uncover the casserole and bake another 5 or 10 minutes.  I put the remaining dough on a floured tea towel and just rounded it up a bit on the flour so it could be handled lightly, then put it into a plastic bag and it can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before baking.  When you are ready to bake it, put the dough on lightly floured parchment paper covered with a tea towel, and proceed as with the first loaf. 

You can use just about any kinds of flour you like.  My youngest son thought sunflower seeds would be a good addition.  I think you could also add dried raisins or dried cranberries for a variation, but haven't tried that yet.  While I was in Minnesota, they had wheat flour and a 7-grain breakfast mixture that I used, and that turned out great, too.

It's good to travel and spend time with the grandkids, but it's always good to be home, too.  I have been busy cutting strips and sewing on four quilt tops, simultaneously.  I'll put pictures up when I'm finished.  The two Scrappy Squares are getting borders, and I'm finishing a framed 9-Patch that I made a long time ago for a class sample.  The fourth quilt is a scrappy heart pattern using 1-1/2" pieces... 16 of them to form the 4" body of the heart, set on point.  And there are others already forming in my mind!  My mind is so much faster than my hands.  

I hope it's sunny wherever you are, and there is just enough rain to make your garden happy!