A Nor’easter arrived…..

…. as predicted. Fancy meteorologists with their latest equipment and unmatched hour-by-hour precision were among the most excited, next to school children! Wet snow fell furiously during the turbulent periods of the storm and changed the landscape with its heaviness on bushes and trees. During lulls in the storm,  children gathered with sleds and mittens to travel the slopes in the neighborhood. Dogs pranced around in the snow among the children and a few brave Dads stood by.

What to do on such a day? Once a teacher, always a teacher. Of course, I checked the school closings early in the morning, cup of coffee in hand.  Then I began to work in the kitchen! Homemade bread was first on the list, my grandmother’s recipe for oatmeal whole wheat bread. Yeast, just enough sugar to help the yeast rise, two kinds of flour, a pat of butter, warm water, a little mixing….and the dough was complete, rising in its safe warm place.

Next came the soup, just waiting to happen with a turkey carcass leftover from Christmas in the freezer. While the yeast dough rose in my slightly warm oven,  simmering turkey remnants, veggies, and herbs filled the house with a light, savory aroma. It was a recipe for coziness.

As the day went on, the soup broth became rich and reduced. I removed the bones and strained the broth. Additional vegetables, including diced carrots, chopped celery and onion, lima beans, and a nice sprinkling of quinoa and cute curly pasta found their way into the soup pot, along with tasty chunks of turkey  from the bones. The soup simmered on.

Back to the bread…..having risen to double in size, it was ready for the next step. I prepared the pastry cloth with ample flour and turned out the dough to be kneaded and shaped. This is a special step of bread-making for me. It’s a hands-on experience, literally; a chance to imagine; a promise of something yummy to come; and an encounter with the magic of transformation (the yeast). This time, I added chopped pecans and dried cranberries, slightly moistened in a cup of water for a few minutes. Two medium bread pans would provide the form today (one to share with a friend and one to enjoy myself). Then another time of waiting followed, aka the 2nd rising.

The beauty of bread-making is that the baker has free time between stages. The down side is that one needs to be home to get the timing right, perfect for a cold snowy day when weather gurus have said “Stay home!”  Before long, the timer went off and the bread was ready for the oven. Aromas filling the house turned to yeast and warmth and all kinds of delicious. How else does one describe freshly baked bread? Not able to resist, I sampled the treasure while still warm. It was just right!

Dusk came, the meteorologists warned of freezing slush and slippery roads, and evening cancellations scrolled across the screen. My soup and bread supper was  delightful!  The day had been somehow festive—watching the outdoor world from a warm perch inside, doing things I love to do, creating something useful and nourishing—and I was grateful.

In case you’d like to bake bread during the next Nor’easter, I share my recipe here. It comes from my grandmother’s kitchen, where she often served it with butter and fig preserves. The bread is best warm from the oven or toasted.

1 pkg yeast dissolved with 1 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water – Let this sit for a few minutes while you complete the next step

Place in bowl: 1 cup quick oats, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp soft butter, 1 scant Tbsp salt

Pour over the above 2 cups hot water. Mix with electric mixer and let cool until warm. Add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and then enough white flour to make a firm dough, 3 to 4 cups. (not too sticky but soft)

Let dough rise in warm place covered with a damp clean cloth until double in size. Knead, form, and place in buttered pans or onto baking sheet. Let rise again until double and bake, starting in 450 oven for 10 minutes and then 350 oven for about 30 minutes. I test bread for doneness by tapping. If it sounds hollow and crust is nicely browned it’s ready to remove from oven, cool a few minutes, and turn onto a rack. Enjoy!!!

Blueberries are in ….

and my kitchen is a mess. The sink is full of stained utensils. A large soup pot sits idly nearby waiting to soak in warm soapy water. You see, I just cooked up a batch of fresh blueberry jam. Various mason jars fill one side of the counter along with an assortment of extra rings and flat lids. I’m sitting here at the computer to rest my legs and prepare for the clean-up. At this point I could be thinking about how easy it would have been to select several lovely jars of jam from the shelf at the grocery store or my favorite country market. But wait…

I would have missed the treat of going to the farm stand to buy freshly picked berries, the feel of those lovely little fruits as I washed and drained them, the hands-on work of chopping them with my large chef knife and discovering below the deep blue skin a soft yellow-green center. And I would have never had the fun of measuring all those cups of sugar. This is where the healthy aspect of jam becomes questionable–nearly twice the amount of sugar as fruit– and the directions make it clear that the exact amount of sugar is required for success. I’ll just spread the jam very lightly on my toast and muffins, I think, while stirring the conglomerate of fruit and sugar together with a pat of butter. The butter is to reduce foam. Now who ever knew that foam could develop from berries and sugar?

With the stirring and timing complete and after skimming off any surprise foam that may have snuck into the jam, I carefully ladle the hot bubbly mixture into jars using a funnel to prevent spills. I keep a small portion aside. Somehow spots of deep reddish- purple end up on the stove and counter and on my kitchen towels but all is well if I manage to keep the jars upright as they become filled with the beautiful steaming hot liquid. The potential for burns is real and caution is important. With sealing lids and rings screwed on, the whole project is slowly lifted into a large pot of boiling water one jar at a time for the final treatment–the boiling water bath.

The most fun is the final step as the jars are gently removed and begin to cool. The difference in temperature causes a suction and the lids pop as they are pulled tightly onto the jar. I count the pops to be sure all jars are sealed. Finally I can relax, leave the jam alone to cool, and taste that little sample I had kept aside. It’s sweet, still warm, and fresh as a garden full of summer blossoms–this is why I love to make blueberry jam!