Friday, October 12, 2018

English muffins

Years ago, I tried — and failed — to make English muffins. I don’t remember what the problems were exactly. Perhaps the flavor was flat? But I do know I tried about a half dozen different recipes before throwing my hands up in disgust.

Fast forward to last month when I came across a recipe in, of all places, a news magazine. We subscribed to The Week — a weekly (duh) magazine filled with lots of short snippets from lots of other news sources — when we were in Puerto Rico because we wanted a simple, hands-on news source. But then we ended up hardly ever reading it (or anything else) while we were there, so it might not have been the best use of our money, oh well.

ANYWAY. Last month the magazine ran a recipe — they run one recipe each week — for English muffins. Four-ingredient English muffins, to be exact.

My first reaction was a ginormous eye roll. English muffins are hard! There was no way you could make good English muffins with just four ingredients. Obviously, these people didn’t have a clue. Also, their method called for baking the muffins in the oven and everyone knows that English muffins must be cooked on a griddle. That’s what makes them English muffins!

But at the same time, I was intrigued. Could flour, salt, baking powder, and yogurt actually make a decent muffin? And as long as the muffins tasted delicious, did I really care if they were baked or griddle-cooked? No, I decided, I did not.

Turns out, the muffins are delicious — the yogurt adds a subtle tang — and the method is blink-your-eyes-and-you’re-done fast. And as for the baking method: IT WORKS, end of story.

P.S. In the middle of all the renewed English muffin vigor, I purchased a box of "real" English muffins ... and was horrified to realize that they tasted like chemicals! Has anyone else noticed this?

English Muffins
Adapted from a recipe found in the August 31, 2018 issue of The Week.

Note: Once, I mixed together the flour and yogurt the night ahead of time, thinking that the extra fermentation might yield a more tender, flavorful product. However, the result was a batch of gummy-gross muffins that got tossed to the chickens. Summary: say no to pre-mixing.

Note Number Two: These muffins are quite moist on the inside, thanks to the yogurt, so, in order to have a good ration of toasty crust to tender bread, it's important to shape the discs into no more than half-inch thickness.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain fat-free Greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients. Knead briefly. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten into a puck that’s about a half-inch thick (similar to a hamburger patty).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or grease it with butter) and sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina. Place the muffins on the baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Flip each muffin and baked for another 10 minutes.

Cool for a bit before splitting the muffins in half with a fork (stab all the way around the edge of the muffin before pulling the two halves apart). Serve warm, with tons of butter and jelly.

This same time, years previous: the relief sale donuts of 2017, peanut butter fudge. up and over, contradictions and cream, roasted red pepper soup, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

the relief sale donuts of 2018


I have a love-hate relationship with this whole donut operation thing. The hardest part is the anticipation of it. Or maybe “the dreading of it” would be a more accurate term.

For weeks, the event hangs over my head like a French guillotine. The all-nighter, the loooong stretch of monofocus. The noise, the people, the grease. All the details to keep straight: Who is driving what car and when, the volunteers to be lined up and the items to purchase, calculations to figure, notes to read and re-read and re-re-read. In the final days leading up to the sale, I feel like I’m grinding down into low gear, my body going rigid as I brace for impact.

This year I was terribly tired before I even started (I tried to sleep a little on Friday night but I only dozed briefly before finally giving up), and, let me tell you, it’s horrible to be dog tired and yet be up against once of the longest and hardest days of work of your entire year.

Then again, it’s not that horrible. Because by that point there’s really nothing to be done but cry a little, tell your husband through clenched teeth that you will never EVER do this again, drink a coffee, and then get on with it.

And the funny thing was, once we got to work (at 12:30 in the morning), I began to enjoy myself. Like, REALLY enjoy myself. Which leaves me wondering how it is that I can go from utterly loathing something to thoroughly enjoying it?

My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t worry about the relief sale at all. Instead, he gets excited and weirdly happy.

What happens when he sticks his nose in my business: A MESS.

And then when it’s upon us, he works harder and longer than I ever could and has a rip-roaring fun time doing it, too. I don’t think we could be more different if we tried. (The older two kids love it, too, and they claim they want to be in charge completely next year.)

A few highlights from this year:

Guests! My husband’s brother and his three girls traveled down from Upstate New York, dragging their camper behind them. They arrived at the sale about the same time we did and spent their whole weekend working right alongside us.

Coaching! This year, I took more time to actually coach the volunteers. For example, if someone was new to the dough-rolling process, instead of explaining and then walking away, I stood beside them, pointing out problem spots and giving hands-on demonstrations. I was impressed on two accounts:

1) how receptive and appreciative the volunteers were to input (because I’m always afraid I’m going to offend someone), and
2) how much more uniform the donuts were.

Quality Control! I also made a much bigger deal about quality control and how to do it. I’d tell the volunteers, YOU are in charge of quality control. It’s YOUR job to check and double-check the product when it arrives at your station.

For example...
*Dough mixers make sure the milk-potato mixture is hot enough and that the potatoes are thoroughly blended.
*Dough-room people make sure the dough is neither too sticky nor two dry.
*Tray-fillers check for donut size, discarding the ones that are too skinny or too fat.
*Tray-runners double check donut size and make sure the trays have been properly filled.
*Glazers set aside donuts that are too dark or too light, or that got mangled in the fryers.

And everyone rose to the occasion! It was so fun watching the volunteers take ownership, especially when it was an assertive wee-spright of a lass keeping tabs on a Mennonite lady.

Made me chuckle, it did.

This year’s process was the smoothest yet. Aside from being short three bags of mashed potatoes (our church’s senior group mashed all 180 pounds of the potatoes I’d given them, but I should’ve ordered 200 pounds, I guess), everything went swimmingly.

more space equals drier donuts: improving the system

We turned all the dough into donuts (except for one bucket of dough that got skipped over in the proofing room and then fermented — drunk donuts anyone?), used up all but about a couple inches of glaze, and sold out completely. And we kept an official tally so for the first time we actually know how many donuts we made: sixteen thousand, seven hundred and forty, ba-BAM.

In other news, Chiro, Lery, and Demeric made (nearly) six hundred pinchos! Even with a late start and inadequate grills — one didn’t show and another didn’t work right so mid-morning my older two kids had to take leave of the donuts and run home to fetch our grill — the pinchos were a smash hit.

The line was crazy long (Lery said it made her feel panicky so she avoided looking at it), and they sold out completely. To top it all off, they managed to do some fantastic PR (ha! PR for PR, get it?) for MDS. (Currently taking volunteers for the upcoming winter! Sign up here!)

They even made the paper!

And then they came home, cleaned up, and, at nine o'clock, left for DC where — GET THIS — they proceeded to rent bikes and spend the entire night biking around the city before finally, in the early morning hours, making their way to the airport and flying home, crazy-azy-AZY Borinqueños!

Me, on the other hand?

Saturday, 1:13 P.M. 

The end.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.10.17), the quotidian (10.10.16), salted caramel ice cream, it's for real, clouds, party on, the quotidian (10.10.11), what we came up with, green soup with ginger.

Monday, October 8, 2018

the quotidian (10.8.18)

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

(Also, grammar.)

What distracted looks like.

Even before making donuts: wiped out.

From her auntie, with love: birthday lasagna and cake.

The head strikes again.

Thanks to her Puerto Rican uncles, a new computer screen.

On my way to the hospital to visit a new mama.

Whatever makes your skirt fly up.

This same time, years previous: happy birthday, sweetie!, pasta with chicken, broccoli, and oven-roasted tomatoes, o happy!, catching our breath, one foggy morning, green tomato curry, pie pastry, with lard and egg.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

the quotidian (10.2.18)

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

Fall colors.

The milk bar.

Dog pile.

Dog bones.

Snap! goes the rubberband: no more bull.

First time.

For math class: a temporary tat.

Fixing all our computers.


This same time, years previous: twelve thousand donuts, the soiree of 2014, a lesson I'd rather skip, the quotidian (10.1.12), a book, a dangerous book, pulled braised beef

Saturday, September 29, 2018

hey-hey, look who's here!

Straight from Puerto Rico, it's Chiro, Lery, and Demeric!!!

For two whole weeks, they are here, in OUR house, whoo-hoooooo!

They first got the idea for the trip (I think) one night when they were bustling around getting the pinchos ready for the volunteers and I said, “You know, these would be great for the relief sale.” (We’d already told them about the sale and how we make thousands of donuts each year, so they knew what I was talking about.) Without batting an eye, Chiro said, How many do you need? A thousand? and Lery said, We both still have vacation days. What are the dates?

Realizing they were dead serious — they would just drop everything and fly to the states to volunteer for a sale they’d never been to — I backpedaled real quick, explaining that it wasn’t my place to invite them and that I’d need to talk to the board first.

But then one thing led to another and now here they are!

They spent the first few days in Pennsylvania, visiting Kenton and Co and attending meetings at MDS headquarters (their status as long-term, on-the-ground leadership volunteers is now official, whoop!), and their last few days will be dedicated to making hundreds of pinchos for the relief sale, but the two-week space in the middle is dedicated to a whole lotta R & R.

Saturday night they arrived at our place and we’ve been going strong ever since.

Everything is an adventure — feeding calves, lighting fires in the woodstove, green beans eaten hot (not cold out of the can, as is their custom), vegetable stands selling food on a trust basis, attics and basements (their first time in each), bathroom doors without locks (horrors!), buying a 50-pound sack of popcorn direct from the farmer, borrowing/stealing potatoes from neighbors, purchasing produce from an Old Order Mennonite farm, etc.

making my birthday supper: guiso de pollo, rice, tostones

I love hearing their reflections: It’s so quiet here! What views! The weather changes so fast and so dramatically! There’s so much green! Lery told me, I knew you lived in the country, but now I’m here and I see how TOTALLY different it is — how in the world did you survive in Ponce for four months?!

Friends from church loaned the a car (thank you, friends!), and I’ve been charged with managing their social calendar. They've sat in on the kids’ choir rehearsal, visited the rescue squad with my son, stopped in at the barn where my daughter works, and fallen in love with Gift and Thrift. They’ve been meeting different people for lunch, and going out for coffee with friends, and visiting the university. They come home utterly exhausted from speaking English all day long, and we nod knowingly and then laugh, Now you know how we felt ALL SUMMER LONG.

Last night we hosted a potluck party for all the local people (and their families) who volunteered in Ponce over the summer.

I grilled dozens of hot dogs (and scorched the last grill-load black, oops), and everyone brought food and lawn chairs. We sat outside in the yard, soaking up the last rays of sunshine — after a week of rain, the sun and blue skies were the best part of the whole event  while the kids raced around kicking a soccer ball and jumping on the trampoline and playing with Coco and the calves.

Our older son set off a fireball (of course), and then, once it got dark, we set up an outdoor projector. Nilda and Norleene had sent a video clip for us to share with the group, though I didn’t know about it until their faces appeared on the big screen/bedsheet: What a treat to see the two of them sitting side by side in their new home, sending their love to all of us!

 And then we showed the video that Rolando had made for our despedida. The whole situation felt extraordinary, really: All these people had helped at different stages over the course of the summer and now here they were, standing together in the dark in a semicircle in our yard, watching the project in its entirety — from clips of Maria ravaging the island, to shots of Nilda sifting through the rubble, to the empty lot, and then — oh joy! — to the many, many people working together and a new house rising.

P.S. After everyone left, we crashed in the living room to process the evening's events, and then just when I was thinking it was time to call it a night — everyone was so chatty, shouldn’t they be exhausted? — Rolando walked in the door. 

In our house???

We were completely stunned and disoriented. We knew he’d been in meetings in Canada, but he’d never said a word about coming to Virginia! (Chiro and Lery knew he was planning to surprise us — thus the reason that they were, we learned later, trying to keep us from going to bed, ha!) Once things settled down, they set up a bed for Rolando in the guestroom, and John and I fell asleep to the distant hum of their chatter drifting up through the floorboards from below.

And so the party continues!

This same time, years previous: you're invited!, welcome home to the circus, the myth of the hungry teen, the quotidian (9.29.14), the run around, 37.