Monday, March 18, 2019

the quotidian (3.18.19)

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

Same quantity of dough + two baking methods = noticeable difference in loft.

While listening to Don't Fear Math: Ice cream and Monopoly.

When I said "train the dog," I did not mean "to sit on the table."

She's home!

Why I keep running out of clothespins.


Circuit board flashlight.

FAFSA fun.

She opens the door and then waits: Maybe, just maybe.....

This same time, years previous: good writing, wear a helmet!, a good reminder, the creative norm, bolt popcorn, from my diary, all by himself, blondies.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

puff pastry, expanded

Ever since I posted that recipe for croissants, I have been steadily chipping away, familiarizing myself with the process, experimenting with different variations, growing ever more comfortable and self-assured.

I’m still not all the way there, of course — that will take months — but I am much, much, much more confident.

I mean, just look at these babies! ARE THEY NOT SPECTACULAR?!?!?!?!

(In case you were wondering, the answer is, "Yes, Jennifer. Why yes, they are.")

In fact, I do believe I have crossed the line from experimental puff pastry baker to The Real Deal. The proof? I keep a couple pounds of Kerrygold butter in the fridge at all times, just for puff pastry.

I even gave my niece a lesson in puff pastry. (No fair! my former self cries. No one ever taught ME how to make puff pastry!)

When she arrived, I had Day Two and Day Three doughs in the fridge ready for laminating and baking, respectively. Together, we mixed up a new batch of dough from scratch, laminated a batch of dough, and then baked up a tray of croissants and Danishes. And all in one afternoon, shazam! I should’ve been on TV.

A few of my experiments:

Puff pastry twists: I loosely bundle together the cut-out scraps and then brush with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Same for little round dough cut-outs.

Tip: for added deliciousness, dust with powdered sugar. They’re dangerously addictive.

Puff-wrapped Brie: Actually, this was two bakes, and a complete failure, to boot. I split the brie in half and did part cranberry-pecan and the other part onion jam-pecan.

But the pecans were a mistake — the crunch messed with the gooey cheese — and I didn’t bake it long enough so the puff was doughy. (Should've stuck with this recipe.)

The chickens had a feast, at least.

Almond croissants: I thought almond croissants would have almond paste in the them, but no.

The vast majority of recipes said I was supposed to split stale croissants in half, brush the cut sides with an almond-flavored simple syrup and then fill with a mixture of almond flour, butter, vanilla, and sugar before slapping the two halves together, spreading more filling on top of the croissant and sprinkling with sliced almonds. Then, bake.

We weren’t fans — not enough flavor (weirdly enough) and too buttery (again, weird). I’m still holding out for a more authentic version, and now I have a jar of almond filling rotting in the fridge, ugh.

Danishes: These are fun!

It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to fill these in such a way that the filling doesn’t mash down the puff pastry and make it doughy (or spill out the side).

I’m still not a hundred percent there, but I do know these are definitely worth figuring out.

Cinnamon buns: these are, of course, crunchier and flakier than regular cinnamon buns (which I prefer), but still exotically delicious.

I’d also like to figure out puff pastry cups (flipping muffin tins upside down, draping with dough, and then baking, probably) so I can fill them with my favorite chicken salad. And what about parmesan twists, or using the pastry as a topper for chicken pot pie or as a crust for a simple cheese pizza? And I think I owe it to myself to make at least one batch of cronuts, right?

A few notes about the puff process (and I will be cross referencing this information with the actual post on croissants):

*I think the gumminess I was struggling against in the beginning was due to the moisture in the butter. I read somewhere that I should warm the butter to room temperature and beat in a couple teaspoons (tablespoons?) of flour before spreading it into the desired square shape and refrigerating until set. I’ve never done that — too complicated — but I do sprinkle the top and bottom of my butter with plenty of flour before rolling it out. Ever since, I haven’t had any trouble.

*Confession: I said that you can’t use Rapid Rise yeast — it has to be instant rise — but I’ve used both and I can’t tell the difference. In fact, I’m not sure why I couldn’t use my regular yeast. I use hot tap water — the milk is cold, and so is the butter, but the hot water, plus the friction from the six-minute mixing is probably enough to activate the yeast. But maybe not? Hmm, for a dedicated baker, it’s quite shocking how little I understand about yeast.

*After Day Two’s Lamination process, the dough can live in the fridge for several days. I kept thinking the long refrigeration might result in a smaller rise, or a sour taste, but I needn’t have worried.

day three (or five?) dough: LAYERS!!!!

The croissants were as good as ever.

*On Day Three, I often cut the dough in two parts.

Again: LAYERS!!!

I bake one half and rewrap the other half in plastic and return to the fridge for another day.

*After brushing the croissants with an egg wash, do not cover them with anything — neither cloth nor plastic — while they rise because they'll stick.

*While croissants can be frozen raw (after rising), they seem to do best if they’re baked fresh, without the freezing. They just get so lofty high and lovely!

*Baked croissants freeze well. My parents froze a couple that I gave them, and just this week my mother sent me the following email: They freeze perfectly and we had perfect ham-and-cheese croissants for breakfast. So there you have it — perfection!

*To keep the bottoms of the croissants from getting too dark, I often slip a second baking tray under the pan around the 18-minute mark for lovely golden brown, unscorched bottoms.

*I store baked croissants, uncovered, in the jelly cupboard. After several days, they’re thoroughly stale but still quite delicious, especially with a smear of knock-off Nutella.

This same time, years previous: fresh ginger cookies, the quotidian 3.13.17), homemade pepperoni, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

for science

Back in the fall, my brother did a report about an NIMH bipolar research study that was targeting people of Anabaptist heritage. Bipolar runs in my family and we’re Anabaptist, so I signed up. So did my husband (even though he’s Catholic), my older son, my parents, and one of my brothers.

Over the last few months, we completed paperwork and some of us did phone interviews, and then, Friday afternoon, we all gathered at my parents’ to meet the research team who had traveled down from Washington to study us. There were six of them, including the head of the research project (who told us he only goes out to the field about once every two months). We were a bit surprised that so many researchers came, but they explained that having a whole family like ours participating all in one go is rather unusual so Party!

Photo credit: older son

We spread out all over the house: blood draws at the kitchen table, private interviews in the upstairs bedroom, more tests — face recognition, memory, decision-making, and a bunch of other stuff for who-knows-what — in the downstairs bedroom and study. At the end, they did skin biopsies on my mom, brother, and son. (They wanted to do biopsies on all of us, I think, but they ran out of gloves.)

I had the most fun with the psychological tests. To me, they felt more like puzzles, or games. The word memorization test (celery, squirrel, truck, cabbage, desk, spinach, cabinet, motorcycle, zebra, bookcase, boat, cow, subway, giraffe, onion, lamp) was a hoot. And the pattern recognition test (it was very much like Question 4 in this article, and it reminded me of Set) actually made my brain hurt.

After they left, we all stood around comparing answers and the logic behind them. Who knew getting studied could be so much fun?

And then it occured to me that these sorts of tests — the shape one, in particular — would be a great family reunion activity: simply project these problems up on a wall and then figure out, as a family, which pattern fits and why.

This same time, years previous: another adventure!, kitchen concert, the singing bowl, family weekending, adventuring, the quotidian (3.12.12), perfect pretzels, with a side of poison.

Monday, March 11, 2019

quotidian (3.11.19)

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

The search continues.

Egg custards.

A regular gig, finally.

We miss her.


Airborn: the girl is fast.


Tucked away in his Harry Potter office.

Upon discovering that long, long ago their very UN-sparkly and UN-pink father collected unicorns, my children purchased this decal and, without asking permission (he's an UN-decal
person, too), slapped it on his computer. And now I call him Mr. Magical.

This same time, years previous: one-pan roasted sausages with vegetables, Shannon's creamy broccoli soup, the quotidian (3.7.16), by the skin of my gritted teeth, the quotidian (3.10.14), work, oatcakes.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

a few good things

When I'm feeling at odds with the world (which has been more than usual these last few days), I like watching these cooking videos by Dianxi Xiaoge.

Calm and soothing, almost zen-like, they remind me of those "satisfying videos" that are all the rage (though those clips make me want to crawl out of my skin). Xiaoge's videos, on the other hand, are utterly entrancing and I usually only get about a minute in before I hit pause and yell at everyone to come watch with me. I'm particularly intrigued by the water-sealed jugs and that she rarely  like, rarely rarely  uses plastic. A couple favorites to get you started: lard-sealed meat and hairy tofu.


Look what I discovered! Costco is carrying a knock-off version of Nutella that tastes exactly the same but at a fraction of the price, and in hefty-sized containers, to boot.

Confession: We're not huge Nutella fanatics  I know, I know, call us weird  but I am rather fond of leftover croissants, split lengthwise and spread with Nutella, alongside my morning coffee.


For my younger daughter's birthday, we gave her an irresistably cute Zoe Dawn make-up bag.

The best part? Now she has no excuse to steal my bags whenever she has an overnight.

(More on Zoe here.)


I recently participated in an anti-racism Sunday school class at our church. During one of the sessions, the class leaders showed this time-lapse map illustrating the seizure of Native American land in the United States.

This information wasn't exactly new to me, but watching it in one tidy little morsel was  or is, rather  both sobering and eye-opening. (As part of the class, we were encouraged to do some reading, so I read Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, and this weekend I finished Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryon Stevenson. Next up: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.)


And while I'm on the topic: Have you heard of Code Switch

One of the Sunday school class participants suggested this podcast, which discusses "the overlapping issues of race, ethnicity and culture." Both my husband and I have been listening to it in our free time, and then, together in the evening, discussing what we've heard. Good stuff, that.


P.S. Good News! Season four of Catastrophe is almost here! A couple months back, my cousin-in-law emailed to tell me season four was coming out, but then, after some frantic searching, we realized that the date she thought was the release was actually just Great Britain's release date, so now, thanks to that false alarm, it feels like I've been waiting for forever. Hurry up, March 15!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.5.18), the quotidian (3.6.17), creamy, Costco-esque cake filling, tradition!, wintry days, to market, to market, the quotidian (3.5.12), sky-high biscuits.

Monday, March 4, 2019

the quotidian (3.4.19)

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

His Mama's-at-work-and-can't-see-what-I'm-eating breakfast: 
cream cheese with bagel, cheese Danish, scone, cinnamon bun.

Puff: yet another variation.

My younger daughter's mise en place for a baking competition.

Birthday thirteen: bagged.

Aaaaand... fifteen, so now their ages are 13, 15, 17, 19, wheeeeeee!


Bubbles for Coco.

In search of comfy: on a rug on the picnic table.

Trust: the forecast promised sun, so.....

A snowy Sunday afternoon.