Thursday, December 8, 2016

yeasted streusel cake with lemon glaze

At  noon today, when I picked my younger son up from my friend’s house after a morning of writing (I was doing the writing, not him), she asked me what my afternoon plans were. After pausing for a second to scan the fridge calendar with my mind's eye, I said, “Oh, nothing, really. More writing, probably, and cooking and homeschooling. That’s my activity trinity, you know.”

And it’s true. That’s what I do every day: write, kids’ studies, cook, rinse and repeat. It’s fun, often—a fair balance of creativity, people-time, and productivity—but I never quite feel like I have sufficient time for each activity. Also lamentable: when I sit on the sofa to write in front of the cozy fire (pure bliss), my vacant-eyed presence drives my kids positively bonkers.

Such is life, chillens, I say. I have work to do. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE. (They don’t, of course.)

Anyway...where was I going? Oh yes, cooking. Fun, fun!

Last Thursday I made that turkey dinner and then we ate turkey for four days straight until the masses revolted and I had to switch it up. Last night was pizza. Also last night, I set a pot of beans to boiling and then, while I watched a movie (I'm reading this book and felt research was necessary—turns out, I'm ambivalent about both) with headphones, the beans boiled dry. All this while my husband was sitting on the other sofa, reading, no headphones in. He heard the burbling pot and then he heard it not burbling and yet he did nothing.

“I assumed you knew what you were doing,” he whined, sniffing the beans to check for scorching.

(They’re fine, just pleasantly toasty. No one will know.)

But beans and pizza are not the stuff of December cooking. No, no, December food is all about the baking. I’ve been doing my share of messing in the kitchen, mostly thanks to Luisa’s book. I’m working on the cookie section now, but earlier I was up to my elbows in yeasted cakes, one of which I will share with you as soon as I get done running my mouth, too much coffee, thank you, Panera. 

One thing you must know about this book: the recipes are different enough from my typical baking so I’m not always sure how I feel about them. Which is good, I think, because it means I’m making different food—food that has not been adapted to cater to my North American tastebuds—which is as it should be since this is a German cookbook. Three cheers for authenticity!

The downside, of course, is that I’m not immediately hog-wild about every single recipe. I have to sit with the food for a while, eating it (oh, curses), mulling over the textures and flavors, seeing how they hold up against time and our appetites. Some recipes I’ve enjoyed straightaway (the cinnamon pretzels were a slam-dunk), but others I’ve had to make numerous times, to give myself time to acclimate to the different flavors and textures. In a way, you might say, I’m breaking them in. Like shoes, but sweeter smelling (except for the ammonia carbonate, but more about that later).

This basic yeasted coffee cake is one such breaking-in recipe. I’ve made it a number of times, playing with the method, experimenting with different techniques and ingredients. Do I like it best with fruit or without? Does it matter if I switch out the instant yeast for rapid rise? Is it easier to mix the dough by hand or with a mixer?

testing, testing. one-two, one-two, testing, testing, one-two-three

But no matter what I did (and I did a lot), there remained one constant: my family gobbled it up. Also, I discovered that I craved a piece of the cake every time I had a cup of coffee. Positive signs, those are.

Bear in mind: The texture of this cake is more like a bread-y muffin than a cake, really, so stay open-minded and refrain from thinking “cake.” Also, it’s on the dry side (because it’s a bread, see?), so take care not to over-bake and make sure to serve it with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk.

Yeasted Streusel Cake with Lemon Glaze (Streuselkuchen)
Adapted from Luisa’s bestseller book, Classic German Baking.

Using a kitchen aid yielded a dough that was more biscotti-like than bread-like, so…stick with hand-mixing. Also, I adapted the recipe’s method to work for rapid rise yeast. If you prefer instant yeast, stir an equivalent amount into the flour and do not heat the milk.

According to Luisa, streusel ought to be pronounced “stroy-sel.” And she's right (of course)! Saying it that way makes one sound like an honest to goodness Germanic maven. Try it!

The lemon glaze, in my non-Germanic maven opinion, is not optional.

A couple times I followed Luisa’s recommendation to add fruit (a layer of chopped apples before topping the cake with the streusel) and while yummy, I prefer the cake with no fruit.

for the cake:
½ cup milk
3½ tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon yeast
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour

Put the milk and butter in a small pan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter has melted. Cool to lukewarm and then stir in the yeast.

In a mixing bowl, combine the salt, sugar, and beaten egg. Add the milk mixture. Stir in the flour and mix well. Turn the dough—it will be quite sticky—out onto a floured counter and briefly knead until the dough is soft and supple. Place the dough into a buttered bowl, cover with a towel, and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. It will puff slightly.

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper (I suspect you could skip the paper and just grease the pan, but I haven’t tried that yet). Press the dough into the pan as you would pizza dough. (Actually, I first lay the paper on the table and roll out the dough directly on the paper before transferring lifting the paper-dough combination into the pan and then using my fingers to press the dough all the way to the edges of the pan.) Cover the dough with a cloth and let rest for 30 minutes.

Dimple the dough by pressing down on it with your fingertips. Sprinkle the streusel (see below) evenly over the dough, gently patting it down so it sticks.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is puffy and slightly golden. Drizzle with the glaze (see below) immediately. Let the cake cool to room temperature before slicing. It keeps well, on a covered cake plate, for several days.

for the streusel:
1 2/3 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
10 tablespoons butter

Measure all the ingredients into a bowl and, using your hands, mix together until combined. There should be smaller crumbs mingling with pea-sized (or larger) lumps. Set aside.

for the glaze:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon each fresh lemon juice and water

Whisk together and set aside.

This same time, years previously: managing my list habit, the quotidian (12.8.14), and a family outing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

welcoming the stranger

After moving here two years ago, my mom floundered a bit, trying to get her bearings. She did some job hunting, a little substitute teaching, and then, through my sister-in-law, she discovered our local branch of Refugee Resettlement of Church World Service and began volunteering as an English teacher.

Now she teaches a class three days a week. The class is four weeks long and cycles through the same material over and over again. The first hour is topic-based—health and hygiene, finances, housing, transportation, emergency services, schooling, etc—and the second hour (Mom’s part) is an English lesson. New students enter the class at any point, which means the students' nationalities and English-speaking abilities is ever changing.

Keeps my mom on her toes, it does.

* * *

Each of my kids have taken a turn helping out with the class. My older daughter got to show several students around town: the bike shop, the library, and so on. When she pointed out a drinking fountain, they wanted to know where the cups were.

There are no cups, she said.

So we use our hands?

No, no. You do it like this, and she demonstrated.

One of the men pointed to a trash can. What's that?

So she explained how it’s illegal to throw trash on the ground in the United States. Then the man spied a cigarette butt on the ground. Oh! he said. He picked it up and carefully deposited it in the trash.

When my older son took his turn, the day's lesson was about safe driving and biking practices. He talked with a small group of men about how bikers must never ride right next to parked cars in case the door opens suddenly, how a bike needs to follow the same rules as a car, and how a biker should always wear shoes and always, always, always wear a helmet. (And then he told them about his broken back and wonky eyeballs because, when it comes to helmets, my kids are positively evangelical.)

Even my father has gotten in on the fun. One of church world services's refugees, a Syrian, requested extra language practice so my father began meeting with him. Gradually, a friendship developed: they've reciprocated dinner invitations (after working the previous night at the poultry plant, the young man returned to his apartment, slept a bit, and then made my parents a fabulous home-cooked meal), and now that the student has passed his written driver’s test, Dad takes him out for driving lessons on Sundays.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I attended a middle school production of 937, a play based on a true (but little known) story from WWII in which more than 900 Jews fled Germany on an ocean liner. They tried to enter Cuba but were denied permission, and then both the United States and Canada refused to let them enter, as well. The ship was forced to return to Europe where more than 250 of the refugees were killed by the Nazis. I teared up, watching (and at a middle school play, no less!).

Before and after the show, a couple local refugees shared their stories of how they came to this country, and at the very end, a JMU professor spoke about the refugee crisis, debunking myths and laying out the facts. I was so proud of the public middle school for putting on such an edgy play, and proud of our town for all the work that has been done on behalf of refugees. (These signs are everywhere, it seems.)

As I left the theater, I found myself wishing Mom and Dad could’ve been there, what with all their interest in the refugee situation, but then I remembered that they were having dinner with some of Mom’s students.

Ha, I thought. They’re too busy hanging out with refugees to bother seeing a play about them.

* * *

This morning, for the first time, I visited Mom’s class. I watched as the students struggled to respond to basic questions (address, phone number, first and last name). The previous hour had been a lecture (with translators) on how to interview for a job, and in the second hour, Mom pushed that out, explaining how to shake hands (let the interviewer initiate the contact), make good eye contact, and then having the students practice exchanging pleasantries.

She explained the importance of always being on time and drove home her point with a little Bible school ditty from her childhood.

Maria von Trapp, practically

I worked with a couple men (a chatty Iraqi and a brand-new Iranian). We discussed their previous jobs, and then went down a bunny trail in which I got to learn all about the different countries and their corresponding types of naan.

PS. All photos from this morning's class, taken with permission.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.7.15), holding, iced ginger shortbread, winter quinoa salad, my kids are weird, zippy me, and baked corn.

Monday, December 5, 2016

the quotidian (12.5.16)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

I suspected I wouldn't like this apple tea and I was right.

They disappeared way too fast.

Lebkuchen: the dough sits at room temp for two months (!!!) before baking.

Pfeffernusse: the real kind, with two dots over the "u."

Dog in a bucket.

Cat in a basket.

Startling: a size comparison.

Christmas show at the horse farm.

In  the haystack: a city of burrows.

He  builds things.

Elevated walking.


Late fall.

This same time, years previous: oatmeal sandwich bread, the college conundrum, in my kitchen: 6:44 p.m., cinnamon raisin bread, baked ziti, 17 needles and 4 children, the quotidian (12.5.11), bellydancing... in public, raisin-filled cookies, and chocolate truffle cake,

Friday, December 2, 2016

writing: behind the scenes

I haven’t been here all that much lately. Maybe you noticed?

I want to be here—I miss this space—and I am here, just not here here, if you know what I mean.

It’s the book that’s taking up all my time. Well, that and baking and going to the theater and spending time with the kids (because for some odd reason they persist in needing me) and cooking extra turkey dinners because TURKEY and writing Facebook birthday emails to friends that go like so:
This morning the power went out so I couldn’t shower, get supper in the crock pot, flush the toilets, make my coffee, or check email, Also, I couldn’t go running because it was raining, the kids were squabbly, and not a single one of the five mousetraps my husband set caught the mouse that has been plaguing us. I hope your day is going better than mine. Happy Birthday. 
About the book: the going is slow. Torturously slow. I started the whole thing over (no joke) and while I’m happy I did (because I finally feel like I might—maybe, maybe, maybe—be on the right track) it still kinda stinks because STARTING OVER.

But it’s okay. Really.

Though sometimes, I confess (quite readily), I get soooo weary of fighting for writing time.

It’s hard enough, dredging up the self-discipline to plop my butt down and type, but there are an infinite number of other things that must be attended to if I am to write.

First, there’s the child care for the younger two and the juggling of the older kids’ work and study schedules, and coordinating Melissa’s work transportation. If the older kids are at home while I’m writing, I have to give them to-do lists so Life Can Go On while I’m squirreled away in my lonely torture chamber I MEAN WRITER’S GARRET.

Second, there’s self-care prep work. If I’m to think properly (ha), I must have a decent night’s sleep, and exercise, too, so I don’t completely rot into a pile of nothingness. This means I have to go to bed in good time so I can wake up in good time to go running with my crotchety husband who almost always insists on fighting about running in the morning because dark/rain/cold/early/you name it even though he knows he’s going to lose so I don’t know why he bothers. Then, of course, there’s my shower to take, my clothes to put on, my coffee to make. After which I have to prod the kids downstairs, wrench their books from their rigid claws, de-glaze their eyes, supervise their chores, and then actually get everyone where they need to be.

All that to carve out a measly two or three hours of time for something I dread with every fiber of my being and that may not ever even see the light of day, hello, existential crisis.

Actually, it’s not all bad. I get a buzz from tearing words from my brain (call me weird), and I have committed cheerleaders who wade through my muck and help point the way, bless their hearts.

The bad news: There’s no fast way through this mess, so I’ll see you in ten years.

The good news: I have something to work on, yay.

Anyway, after writing all morning, come lunch time I’m generally so screened-and-thunked-out that the mere thought of composing a blog post makes me want to weep. Instead, I sit on the sofa and scroll idly while drinking the coffee that’s supposed to make me productive while battling waves of guilt because real writers churn it out and I could do more if I pushed harder. And then it’s time to make supper, and oh crap, I still haven’t checked my older daughter’s algebra and, Whoa-oa, THAT’S what my son calls that a clean bathroom?

And thus concludes my long-winded explanation for my skimpy posting. The end.

PS. In case you're wondering, the man in the above photos is one of the owners at the farm where my daughter works.

This same time, years previous: in the sweet kitchen, the quotidian (12.1.14), nanny sitting, Thanksgiving of 2013, sushi!!!, the quotidian (12.3.12), Friday variety, Mom's cabbage salad, beef bourguignon, and potatoes in cream with Gruyere.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2016

Hell on wheels, is what I call car trips. Stuffing everyone into an excruciatingly small space, strapping them down, and then barreling down the interstate at breakneck speeds… I mean, really. It’s insane. 

However, I am happy to report that despite my poor attitude and a new (old) van that has hardly any foot room for the back seat riders (seriously? of all the possible design flaws and they screw up foot space?!?!), the trip was surprisingly bearable, mostly thanks to a flip-down monitor and a bag full of DVDs.

Movies are magic, amen and hallelujah.

We  made it to the big green house filled with cousins and spent the next few days doing all the things that one does at Thanksgiving.

Our specifics included:

Running: a 5K, around town, and, in this case, indoors at 12 mph and on an incline.

Eating so much cheese that we started using it as an art medium.

Lounge-about games.

Stand-in-a-line-and-make-faces games.


Island eating, and cleaning up, and eating, and cleaning up, and eating, and....

Getting a kick out of the little zester that turned the making of the cranberry sauce into art.

Ze  Hostesses on La Sofah.

Letter tiles: for offical bananagram matches and random word building parties.

Homeschooling discussions.

Younger brother pokes older brother and voila, a smile!

A walk to the cemetery.

My  contribution to the T-day feast.

Arm wrestling matches. 
(Girl on the left scoops ice cream for a living and gave my husband a run for his money.)

The Saltine Cracker Challenge: 4 saltines in 1 minute.

Chatting with the Hong Kong relations.

And then we came home and I dug the turkey I bought last week out of the freezer because the design flaw of going away over Thanksgiving is The We-Just-Celebrated-Thanksgiving-And-Have-No-Leftovers Problem. So this Thursday is slated to be our Second Thanksgiving Extravaganza. Bonus: I get to experiment with my sister-in-law's killer turkey recipe while it's still fresh in my mind. Can't wait!

PS. I should probably share that my sister-in-law pulled the whole thing off without a stove top—it broke/popped/exploded (depending on who is telling the story) right before we all descended. She never even batted an eye, that woman.

This same time, years previous: apple crumb pie, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2015, the day before, a treat, kale pomegranate salad, Thanksgiving of 2012, monster cookies, peppermint lip balm, Thanksgiving of 2011, Thanksgiving of 2010, and apple chutney.