Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hand Me Downs

Grandma's paring knife

Being the only girl born between two brothers, hand-me-downs weren't really part of my daily life. In fact, when I did happen to acquire something passed on by my older, very stylish and much-admired friend, Margaret, I cherished it above all else. I wore my Chemin de Fers (anyone remember those?) until the material was transparent and despite the fact they didn't fit my shorter, curvier frame they way they molded to Margaret's tall, willowy, modelesque figure. I worshipped the white and lemon-yellow striped sweater she casually passed over to me and I can still feel that giddy, I-can't-believe-she-gave-this-to-me feeling as I type this. I wore that poor sweater until the gust of a strong wind would have blown it apart.

And so it has gone throughout my life. My most treasured possessions are not the shiny, spankin' new, of-the-moment, latest "it' things. They are the items that have been passed down, passed on, have some history behind them, have a story to tell. I buy antique furniture and wonder who used to love it, I gaze longingly at old silverware and china sets and wonder what celebrations they were used for, and, oh, to hear the stories that were told around them. I live (when not on the road) in a little, old Victorian house with intricately carved door moldings and baseboards and I wonder which craftsman worked so painstakingly on them. I'm even addicted to old photographs. The people staring out at me are not of my blood but I long to know their story. What were they thinking when the cameraman snapped that shot? And better yet, where are they now and how was their life after they stepped away from that captured moment in time?


No surprise then that it was with much interest that I was reading Clotilde's (Chocolate and Zucchini) post about how she came to acquire a beautiful marble mortar that her grandmother found buried in her garden in Marseille, France in 1937. It was such a touching story and it made me regret my own family's lack of cooking tradition. Unfortunately, in my house, cooking was a necessity, not a joy, and if opening a box or a packet or a can could make the ordeal any easier, it was used enthusiastically. Thus, I have very few kitchen hand-me-downs; my grandmother's paring knife, a heart-healthy pie crust recipe and a Joy of Cooking (yes, I see the irony) cookbook from my aunt and little else.

Kay and her favorite guy, Terry

To make up for this lack of kitchen heirlooms, I started raiding the history of other families by collecting their family recipes. One of my dearest friends, Kay, generously shared a bread recipe that was passed on to her 45 years ago by her aunt, Lorraine Thompson, of Petersburg, AK. Kay grew up in that tiny fishing village on an island in the middle of Alaska's Inside Passage, and with its strong Norwegian heritage, tradition and history are valuable commodities. I was absolutely thrilled to be entrusted with it and this recipe has become a staple in my baking repertoire.

In honor of all of you out there who might not have a rich family kitchen heritage, I am humbly handing down Kay's kick-ass bread recipe (with her gracious permission) and hope it becomes as treasured a hand-me-down to you as it has become to me. Make it with love, people!
Aunt Lorraine Thompson's Brown Bread Recipe

3 cups lukewarm water (110-115 degrees)
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 cup milk, scalded
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil (I use olive oil)
3 cups whole wheat or rye flour
8 to 9 cups all-purpose flour

(I half this recipe since it's only the hubby and me and it works great. FYI, I still use the whole pkg of yeast but half everything else, using 4 cups of all-purpose flour to start)

Stir the yeast into the water and set aside to proof (approximately 5 minutes). Combine milk, brown sugar, molasses, salt and oil in a bowl (I do this directly in the bowl of my KitchenAid which, by the way, was a hand-me-down) and stir to dissolve. Add proofed yeast mixture, whole wheat or rye flour and 8 cups of the all-purpose flour. Mix (with dough-hook if using your KitchenAid) until well-combined and it has formed a ball.

At this point, Kay uses her KitchenAid to knead it until the dough is smooth, I turn the dough out on a floured-surface and start kneading by hand, adding additional flour as needed. If kneading by hand, knead for approximately 7 to 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Oil a large bowl and put dough in it, turning it once to coat. Cover with a cloth and let sit overnight or at least until it has doubled in size (approx 1 to 1-1/2 hours).

In the morning (or once doubled in size), punch dough down and divide into 3 to 4 loaves. Put into greased bread pans, cover with cloths and let rise again until double in size (approx 45 min).

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool in pans for 5 minutes then turn out loaves onto wire rack to finish cooling.

Eat and enjoy, knowing that many other people in places far, far away have eaten and enjoyed it as much as you. Cool, huh? Gotta love hand-me-downs.

Thanks and much love to you and your family, Kay. My life is richer and fuller because of you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wildflower Safari

One of the best things about this Grand Adventure that we're on is getting the opportunity to explore places we might not make the effort to get to if we were at home. This weekend, we headed out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and went on a wildflower safari!

I can't even begin to tell you how much fun it was to stalk, with camera in hand, through the wild desert landscape and come upon a mass of blooming flowers. It was like the ultimate Easter Egg Hunt with a twist. You had to be very careful where you were walking and take a good look before you knelt down (yes, I learned this the hard way!) because the number of plants and animals that are willing to run you through and take you down out there are innumerable. And let me just say that pulling Cholla cactus spines out of any body part is not a pleasant experience. I still find myself looking carefully where I'm stepping. (Can you be psychologically damaged from a wrestling match with a cactus?)

The other thing that stuck with me (yuck, yuck) is that the majority of these flowers are so delicate, and so fleeting. In such a harsh landscape, you expect the big strong cactus and creosote bushes and agave but stumbling upon flowers with paper-thin petals and delicate tiny leaves was so surprising...and confounding.

Another interesting dynamic was seeing a delicate, beautiful flower perched on top of a frightful plant body. It was like the face of a supermodel with Rambo's appendages. Bizarre and strangely disturbing. Take the Desert Lily, for example. Those leaves! What the hell is that? I was afraid to take my eyes off of it for fear that, when I wasn't looking, it would slither over , grab my ankle and toss me into the closest cactus. Creepy!

With all of the rain this year, they should have a bumper crop of color extravaganza out there in the desert so if you happen to be heading to this corner of the world between late February to about mid-March, it really is worth the effort to get out and stalk that elusive desert sunflower! Happy almost Spring!

If you want more info, check out my article at For more photos, I put up a web album here. Yes, I went crazy with the photos. Over 200. I just couldn't stop. I was like a soon-to-be bride at the basement sale of Filene's. But, not to worry, I only put up about 35 or so.


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