Friday, July 31, 2009

She awakes!

“I’ve been looking at ‘Granny Bread’ for three weeks,” my mom told me over the phone yesterday. Ever my faithful reader, she’s set my blog as her home page so as not to miss a single post. And I have let her down, along with everyone else who's checked my blog hoping to learn more of my Wonder Wife secrets.

It’s been rather a busy three weeks (!), but I think the worst problem is my blog-writing process. Seriously. At night, while I’m lying in bed, I think of lots of things to post. But in the morning – my “blog posting hour” – I sit lamely in front of the computer with not a thought in my head. It’s the same mindset that makes it supremely difficult to get absolutely anything done before 9 AM. Tiredness. And complete uninspiration. So I tell myself I will post later, when I have something good to say, and then I find myself zonked out on my keyboard.

Speaking of tiredness, I’ve been absolutely exhausted lately. I gave up coffee, for one thing… and I have decided that I’m going to start drinking it again. From start to finish, if I don’t drink that coffee, I am more tired throughout the entire day. It’s really shocking that giving up this one single thing can have such a noticeable effect on my body, for such a long time. I remember betting my dad that by my eighteenth birthday, I would not be addicted to coffee like he and my mom were. I won that bet, because I guess at eighteen I was still powerful and strong – the real Wonder Wife - but now at twenty-one I have apparently begun my physical decline.

Secondly, and thirdly, we had VBS at church last week. I list this as two reasons because not only was I supervising a class of about a dozen three- and four-year-olds every evening from 6 to 8, but I was also in the process of catching what I think was the swine flu from one of them. I know I sound like a total wuss – “Maegan, wait till you have three or four kids of your own and then you will understand what true tiredness feels like” – and that’s fine. All I’m saying is, thank GOD IN HEAVEN that my husband has been so knightly to not impregnate me yet. Also that I could hand those kids back to their parents after two hours, fun as it was to hang out with them for an evening. (One of the women at church who is desperately excited to see us start a family said to me, “Isn’t this fun?” and after I nodded sincerely, asked me, “And seriously, doesn’t it make you determined to have children of your own pretty soon now?” I admit, I wasn’t exactly truthful when I nodded again. That did not make me excited to have a family soon, but instead made me excited that we still have at least two years before we’re planning on starting one.)

We’re kitten-sitting this morning, and I’ve put the poor, scared little thing in the bathroom so she can get some peace. And this is what’s been happening now for several hours:

Bo and kitten 1

Bo and kitten 2

Kitten on bed 1

Kitten on bed 2

Friday, July 10, 2009

Granny Bread - Printable recipe at bottom.

It's early in the morning. The dishwasher is running, I've watered the garden, and the dining room chairs are up so that I can mop. I'm feeling home-y today, and in celebration of this home-y feeling - and the fact that it is Friday - I am posting one of my favorite recipes.

Granny Bread

This is what Brian calls "Grainy Bread," but the first time I heard him call it that, I thought he said "Granny Bread." And that's what I've been calling it ever since. It just reminds me of something my grandma would make - lots of fiber and straight-up delicious.

Let's get started.

I make this in my KitchenAid. If you don't have a KitchenAid, you can use beaters - until the dough gets too thick - and then knead by hand. But that is not fun.

Empty KitchenAid bowl

Next, I add the grains. I have to stress, I never make this bread the same way twice. In fact, although I am adding a lot of grains in this post, sometimes I only put in one. The bread will turn out just fine - it all depends on how much flour you add when you are mixing it up. I'll explain that a little farther down the page. Just remember that part of the fun of making yeast bread is that you can really just wing it. It's not a science. (Actually, I guess science does play a part, but that wasn't my strong point in school and we're not going to start getting ambitious now.)

Dump in 1/4 cup of flax seed. Or more. Or less. It's up to you. I bought this at Food Lion in their "natural foods" section.

Flax seed

Next, 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds. I make sure to use unsalted, because then it's easier to control the salt amount in the recipe. I bought these at Walmart.

Who the heck calls them sunflower nuts?

Here's 1/4 cup flaxseed meal. Don't ask me why it's important. I just thought it looked healthy and I bought it when I was at Food Lion.

Flaxseed meal. Supposedly, it has a lot of good fats or something.

My sweet mother sent me some millet one day when I told her I couldn't find any in stores near me. It adds a crumbly crunch to the bread. Whatever that means. Let's add 1/4 cup, shall we?

Millet, aka what birds like to eat.

Here, I'm adding 1/4 cup bulgur. Usually, you're supposed to cook this like barley or something, but I think it tastes really good, raw, in this kind of bread. It gives it a hard, nutty crunch. And it gets stuck in your molars so you can keep getting tiny bites of your bread as the day goes by!

Yeah, that's kind of gross.

Bulgur. Good luck finding this anywhere!

I hope this isn't already getting old. Next up, we've got 1/4 cup of wheat germ and 1/2 cup of wheat bran! The wheat bran is cheap to buy, so I use more of it. Also, a ton of fiber never hurt anyone.

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup of wheat bran

We're almost done with these grains. Bear with me.

Here's a cup of plain old oatmeal. You can use quick oats or old-fashioned... whatever! I bought quick oats for Bo but he's not crazy about oatmeal, so now I have this crap sitting in my cupboard. I think I'll use it in this bread.

One cup of oats

Let's see what we've got here. Hmm - almost done with this stuff.

A plethora of grainy things

Ah! And there you have it! Granny bread!

Just joking.

Finally, I add a cup of whole wheat flour. Now, I ONLY add one cup, even though we're making two loaves of bread. For one thing, there's already enough stuff in here to make it healthy. Secondly - and most important - it is vital to the success of your bread that there be lots of gluten. Gluten forms the strands that make it possible for the yeast to create lift. If there's no gluten in the bread, you could add a cup of yeast and it wouldn't do a thing. And none of these grains have any gluten, and whole wheat flour doesn't have much. That's why, from now on, we're adding plain old white flour.

But first, the wheat.

Healthy-but-not-very-glutenous whole wheat flour

Now, for the wet ingredients.

Heat up two cups of water in the microwave until it's very warm - about the temperature you would want your shower. NOT BOILING HOT! For my microwave, this is about twenty seconds.

Then, after testing the temp with your finger - I repeat, it should not be so hot that you can't keep your finger in the water - add a tablespoon of white sugar.

Sugar water

Next, add a heaping tablespoon of yeast. I think this is instant yeast - I'm not sure how "rapid rise" yeast would turn out so I don't use it. This was actually all the yeast I had left, and I wasn't sure if it would be enough. Oh, but it was. Never underestimate the power of instant yeast.

Yeast, the might of the operation

This is what the yeast looks like after you've sprinkled it on top of the water.

Yeast, part one

This is what the yeast looks like after you've stirred it up. (But then, leave it.)

Yeast, part two

And THIS is what the yeast should look like after you let it sit for at least five minutes.

Yeast, part three

Pour it on in, and keep that cup for the next step.

Yeast goes into the bowl

Pour in between 1/3 to 1/2 cup oil. I use canola.

Oil in a dirty dish

Next add about 1/2 cup honey. You can use brown sugar if you want, or white sugar. Or molasses. Remember, this recipe was meant to be changed.

Oil and honey

Pour it in the bowl with everything else.

HEY, BY THE WAY! There's no picture, but you also need to add one cup of milk! Warm it in the microwave so it's not refrigerator-cold.

Finally, ADD SALT! If you don't, your bread will not taste very good! I give it a big old handful. This might be almost two tablespoons.

The salt of the bread

What do we have here?

So far...

Get your white flour all ready to go. We're going to be adding it into the dough while it mixes. Right now, the dough should be really wet... it doesn't look like bread dough.

I use bread flour, which has more gluten than all-purpose. I buy this because I often make bread. But you can use all-purpose if that's all you've got.

Bread flour

Now, to mix it up. Here, I've added about three cups of white flour and it is still too loose. It shouldn't look like batter.

After about three cups of flour

We're going to go ahead and add more. Here, I've added about five cups. And it's good! Now, I know this might look too loose, but it's not. You don't want to pack this bread full of flour to the point that it's so dense it won't rise. When it's a little looser than your basic loaf of white bread, it'll rise nicely and won't be hard to handle.

Almost there...

Now, let the mixer go (mine is on speed 2) for another five minutes. Or knead by hand for 8 - 10 minutes. And here, it looks done.

Lookin' good...

Now, grease a bowl and scoop in the dough. (I won't tell anyone if you don't wash all of your dishes right away.) Next, spray the top of the bread with cooking spray.

Dough unrisen

Cover with plastic wrap and a towel.

Go to sleep, little doughball...

Let the bread rise up like this...

It is risen!

...and then punch it down, like this.

Looking deflated

You can do that one or twelve times. Usually, I am not in the mood to deal with it after the first couple of times, so I just keep punching it down until I'm ready.

Scoop out the dough, cut it in half, and fold each piece a couple of times. Then pinch it all together at the bottom and use your palms to make it more oblong that round. Voila! A formed loaf.

Lightly spray two loaf pans and put in your bread dough. I didn't take a picture of this, but after that, spray them lightly with more cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. You don't want it to dry out right now.

Make sure you cover with plastic wrap!

When the loaves have risen like this...

Busting at the seams.

Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes!

These look a little deflated on top, because I let the dough rise a little tiny bit too high in the pans. But when we cut into it, it looked just fine. Soft, healthy, and delicious.


This bread freezes great. Once it's cooled, you can wrap a loaf in plastic wrap and throw it in the freezer. Or, you could slice it first. OR, you could slice it frozen- it's easy to do. So many choices!

I can honestly tell you that this bread is WAY better than store-bought. Yeah, it's more work. But in my opinion, it's definitely worth it. Plus... it's kind of fun to make bread. Just you wait and see.

Granny Bread
  • ¼ c. flax seed
  • ½ c. sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. flaxseed meal
  • ¼ c. millet
  • ¼ c. bulgur
  • ¼ c. wheat germ
  • ½ c. wheat bran
  • 1 c. oats
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of yeast
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • ½ c. honey
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of salt
  • 4-5 cups of bread or all-purpose flour
1. Throw the first 9 ingredients into your mixing bowl.
2. Heat the two cups water until very warm but NOT hot. Mix in sugar and yeast. Let stand until foamy.
3. Measure next four ingredients, oil through salt, and add them to the bowl.
4. Start mixin’.
5. Blend in up to five cups of flour (I usually use four) until the dough is NOT batter but still clings to the sides of the bowl while it’s mixing. You should be able to reach in and pull out a chunk. It shouldn’t slide through your fingers.
6. Mix on speed 2 of your mixer for 5 minutes more.
7. Scrape into an oiled bowl. Oil top of bread and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit until bread is risen (45 minutes to an hour).
8. Oil two 9x5 loaf pans. Scrape out the dough and form into two loaves. Let loaves rise in pans until about one inch over the rims.
9. Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes. If tops are browning too much, cover loosely with foil.
10. Remove loaves from pans and cool on a rack. Butter tops, if desired.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weigh in.

Your opinions, please. No, this is not my weekly weight total.

The following picture - there's something about it I really like. This building is old, it's red, and it was in the middle of the woods where Brian shot a monster buck. Brian took this picture, and I've always liked looking at it.

But should I blow it up and hang it on my wall?

I remember walking through the flea market with Brian a couple of months ago and noticing chipped, beat-up antique windows stacked up in a cart. "How cool would one of these look," I asked Brian, "as a mirror?" I held it up and he scowled. "That thing is a piece of junk," he said.

A few weeks later, my family was in town. When my mom and sister and I visited the flea market, I dragged my mom over to the same booth and excitedly told her my idea. "They're cheap, rustic and cool-looking," I explained, "and all I'd have to do would be remove the glass and stick a mirror behind it."

She inhaled. "Oh, boy." Her face scrunched into an I'm-trying-to-be-polite-and-don't-want-to-insult-you-but-it's-not-a-good-idea smile. "Honey, this might be a big project. You'd have to strip this old, dirty paint off, repaint the window, and then distress it. I don't think it would look very good if you left it this way." I shrugged and set it down. "Okay."

Later, we walked by a booth where an old man had done exactly that. He had bought some of those antique windows and had really spiffed them up into distressed mirrors. But those mirrors looked good. My mirror would have looked like crap. (If I had actually completed the project, which is doubtful.)

All that to ask: would hanging a picture of this barn in my dining room be cool, in a comfortable, rustic way? Or would it be like buying an old, dirty window and hanging it on my wall?

Red Barn 2

And which do you like better - the one above, or the one below, which has a warmer color cast?

Red Barn 1

Be honest.

Oh yeah, did I forget to tell you guys that I TOTALLY ROCKED IT?

I'm sure you've been on the edge of your seat this past weekend, wondering whether I did it. Wondering if I got my list done before we left on our car trip. Wondering if I'd walked hand-in-hand with my husband out the front door, humming a vacation tune, or if I'd crumpled into the front seat an hour behind schedule, unshowered and unhappy.

Well, ha! I don't call myself the Wonder Wife for no reason.

Let me tell you, one of the most buoyant moments of my life, to this day, has been meeting Brian at the door of our clean house with a kiss and a June Cleaver smile and saying, "Let's go!"

My hair was clean. I wore clean clothes. The garbage was beside the curb, and there were no dishes in the sink to grow moldy in our absence. The bags were packed neatly in the trunk, and a cooler of chicken caesar salad wraps, ice water bottles, and fresh, clean produce was zipped up tightly on the floor of the car. I had even turned the car around, so as to get a better start out the driveway.

I did it all, friends, with the exception of scrubbing the tile grout and putting on makeup. Instead of these, I finished the laundry and trimmed and shaped my toenails. Both decisions, in retrospect, were much better uses of my time. For one thing, my self-pedicured toes looked cute at Brian's ten-year high school reunion. (Of course everyone noticed! Gee.) Secondly, the pile of laundry that came out of our suitcases was daunting enough. Thank God there wasn't an existing pile on the basement floor already.

Being organized in this way was a feeling I cannot remember ever experiencing. Even the morning of my wedding was a blur of nearly forgetting the wedding bands, leaving my bedroom strewn with clothes and other junk, and hustling around upstairs, crowding into the bathroom with my dad and brothers to brush my teeth. (Yeah, the special moment I'd envisioned - you know, the teary-eyed scene where my daddy would see his little girl walk down the stairs in her wedding dress for the first time - never happened. But thank goodness he was there to keep me from spitting toothpaste all over my pretty gown.) Walking out the door calmly and happily and coming home to a clean space - these are not things I have ever done.

And I've got to tell you, doing it felt darn good. Maybe that was the gateway drug to a life of cleanliness, of organization, of happiness. Hoo. It gives me shudders.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

So I don't forget to mention it.

One of the best things we did during our trip to Charlevoix was go on a fishing charter - with Brian's dad as captain and Brian as his mate - with Erin, Matthew, and my parents. I must have taken a hundred pictures, including some of an incredible sky that I may just retouch, blow up, and frame for our bedroom. I captured each person catching their big ol' trout, captured goofy moments and captured memories that make me smile. And these pictures - some of which I'll post tomorrow - would have been just imprints on my own memory if it hadn't been for Brian, who saw my disappointed face when I turned the camera on early that morning and noticed that there was no battery left. He saw me disgustedly put it back in the case and scold myself for failing to charge it.

Then he said, "There should be a charged battery in the other pocket."

And there was.

I know that sometimes I villainize my husband on this blog. It's the least I can do - and I do mean the very least - for a man as wonderful, as perceptive, and as forward-thinking as my Brian.

I thank God for a man who puts a charged backup battery in the front of the camera case.

NC 70 to NC 147 to US 40 to NC 52 to US 74 to US 77 to US 80-90 to OH 20 to OH 2 to M-23 to US 75 to M-32 to M-66.....

There's something about the strange buzz of caffeine energy mixed with the heavy weight of exhaustion - it's a feeling I've gotten used to over the past few years. Last night, while Brian slept into the wee hours of the morning and I ate sunflower seeds and bobbed my head to techno-dance-pop in order to stay awake on the road, I tried to estimate how many hours of driving we've logged in trips to Michigan. Let's see, thought my sleep-addled brain. We take about two thirty-hour round trips to Charlevoix per year, on average. Add in approximately two more trips to Detroit, and that's an additional forty hours. So one hundred hours a year is spent in the car, watching the hours on the clock slowly pass while nothing changes but the scenery around us. (Last year, though, we made four trips to Charlevoix. One hundred and sixty hours. Almost an entire week, out of fifty-two in a year, spent simply driving up to Michigan.)

And when I take over for Brian around ten at night, we trade places, switch the radio station, and take turns with the water bottle so that he can take his downer (NyQuil) and I can take my uppers (caffeine pill). Sometimes the buzz of the caffeine does nothing more than make my heart beat faster, which only pumps more blood to my eyelids and makes them heavier, heavier, heavier. That's when I start eating - which always helps, as long as I keep eating. So by the time we get home, I've got a queasy stomach and that weird, tired caffeine buzz. But the good thing is: we always get home. Although it often feels as though we'll never make it, that we'll just keep driving and driving until we run off the edge of the earth, we somehow always manage to reach our quiet, dark subdivision, where I roll down Bo's window and smile to see him recognizing all the smells of home. After all, even though we say we're leaving "home" when we drive past the Michigan-Ohio border, it feels incredible to walk into our house together and know that this is the only spot on earth that's ours alone - just Brian's and mine.

When people hear that we've driven up to Michigan again, or that we're planning another trip, they tell us that we're crazy. Or young and chipper and full of energy. Or wasting days of our lives. But I have to admit that I don't hate the long car trips. I complain about them, sure - and it would be nice to have some extra hours in Michigan after a short flight - but there's something about them that is really special. It's our time to sit quietly and hold hands or to listen to a talk radio station until we drive out of range and the signal disappears. Sometimes we listen to music on the radio - "You like this song? This was what my parents listened to!" "How can you like that? You can't even understand the words." "Michael Jackson sings this?" - and talk about memories that some songs bring to mind. Sometimes, Brian serenades me with a sing-along to George Strait. ("I've got some ocean-front property in Arizona...") Most of the time, the radio's off, and we talk. Sometimes we hash out an issue that's been bothering us me. Sometimes we fight. Mostly, we don't. Every now and then, we'll get slap-happy, and I'll hold my stomach, laughing, while Brian cracks joke after inspired joke. Sometimes I'll read articles to him from books and magazines that his grandma has passed on to us - I'll read from issues of Alaska and Western Horseman until the articles get boring (to me). Then I'll pull out Reader's Digest and Ladies Home Journal - "Do you want to hear 'Thirteen Things your Mother-in-Law Won't Tell You'?" "Sure." Our favorite feature in LHJ is "Can This Marriage Be Saved?", an article that lets us wallow in delicious criticism and judgment of some strangers' marriage. ("Brian, we're in for a treat!" "Oh boy. What's that?" "You and I get to sit in on a counseling session for Lisa and Phil!" "You're going to read that whether I like it or not, aren't you?" "Yup.") We usually both agree that the wife needs to chill out, but at least I always try to take her side.

There's no TV, no laptop, nothing but the road ahead of us and the dog, curled up sleeping, behind us. (He's a great traveler, by the way. Except for when he throws up all over the back seat. For the record, I blamed Brian for feeding him that morning, and he blamed me for not holding Bo's head over a mess of napkins. I suspect the true culprits were the Kia, the Smoky Mountains, and the stretch of West Virginia road that winds around like a plate of spaghetti noodles.) In my opinion, the car trips are a testament to our relationship - proof that we really do love each other and that we can make even the mundane fun. There's not pressure to carry on stimulating conversation the entire time - all we have to do is sit together. And we do it really well.

I have a feeling that one day, I'm going to look back on these trips as some of the best days of our lives.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The trip is beginning. Before we even leave.

Hoo boy...

Today may not be as seamless as I envisioned. The departure time has moved up to 10:00 AM, and while I am happy that this means we will be pulling into Charlevoix around midnight instead of 2:00 AM, I am also frantically working to GET THINGS DONE.

Still to do:
Put my things into a suitcase (they are laying out on the dresser)
Pack up the car
Run with Bo
Water the garden
Finish making lunches
Scrub the shower... not entirely sure this is possible this morning...
Drag the garbage out to the curb

I'm sure I will think of even more as soon as I post this. Oh, road trips... bane of my existence!

I will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't get me started on how previous car trips have begun...

Tomorrow, we are leaving for a four-day trip to Charlevoix. The car, Brian has informed me, is pulling out of the driveway at noon. And I am determined to take my passenger's seat calmly, at 11:55, wearing a smile - and maybe some makeup - on my face. No tears, no gasps of panic.

I'm also determined to:
Be completely packed
Have the garbage cans emptied and the trash on the curb
Scrub the shower grout so that it can air out during the trip and so that I can seal it when we get home
Not be in an argument with Brian over who lost the cap to the water bottle (BECAUSE I am going to get the water bottles ready tonight!)
Have the garden thoroughly watered
Have a delicious lunch packed in the cooler - a lunch that is NOT beef jerky, dried fruit, and nuts
Bathe and groom Bo
Leave the house in pristine condition - no dishes in the sink, no clothes on the floor, no vacuum hoses strewn around the living room

Don't laugh. It's possible - I know it is. My strategy is to do as much today as I possibly can. This is huge. Stay posted.