Beautiful Day

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Top Eleven Books of 2011

Year's end has me pondering and reflecting.  It's one of two occasions in the year where I evaluate, plan and dream.  I love the new hope that a new year seems to offer--how should I most wisely invest my time?  What will cause me to grow spiritually?  How do I love my husband and children better?  Where will we possibly vacation this year?  What skills do we want to learn?  What and who should I/we then read?  How should we then live (to borrow the phrase from Francis Schaefer)?

Some wise person has said, "You will be the same person in 5 years, except for the books you read and the people you meet."  So I've been maintaining a reading list for the past few years.  I wish I'd kept such a list for most of my life.  I enjoy looking back at what I read in the course of a year.

Following my friend Carrie's lead, I am focusing presently on my top book reads for the year.  I was going to do my "Top Ten."  But I noticed I really wanted to keep eleven.  And that just seems appropriate for rounding out 2011.  So here we go.  I'm not necessarily ranking them here, but highlighting them in the order I read them.

1.)  "Reforming Marriage" by Douglas Wilson---Theologically deep and inspiring.  I like Wilson's "No-Apologies" kind of writing.  I think he gives some of the best writing out there on the beauty and power of how marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church and what that means for us and those who witness every day!  This one goes to the top of my most highly recommended marriage reads.

2.)  "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt---Since we have some Civil War-savvy children in our home, this was one we wanted to read aloud.  It was moving and well-written and we all enjoyed it very much.

3.)  "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven" by Joel Salatin---I appreciate all that Joel Salatin is doing in this country to reform how food is produced and consumed.  And I was kind of disappointed to miss his local appearance this summer.  This book made me laugh with his all-too-true humor and opened my eyes more to how important it is to support local farmers and those who are truly seeking to make a difference in a nation where food-consumption is becoming all too regulated.  I have a Country Girl who is quite passionate about this too and she would love to live on a farm that operates like Salatin's.

4.)  "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp---This woman's writing really stirs my soul and makes me think deeply (as if I need help doing that!)  I appreciate her honesty and transparency in her writing and how she has caused me to reflect more on gratitude in the smallest of moments and seeing God's hand in even the mundane.  There is one chapter in this book I do not care for, but the rest I find very meaningful and powerful.

5.)  "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois---Yes, it's a cookbook!  And one that has given me a few more tools in my bread-baking-knowledge repertoire.  I love the techniques I've learned from them and how it has both simplified and enhanced some of my bread baking.  Such an easy method that just takes a bit of a learning curve in technique.  I love this!

6.)  "Emma" by Jane Austen---I did manage to read a classic by Austen.  Hurray!  It took me awhile, but I enjoyed every moment.  Especially after having watched (a couple of times) the newest (extremely well-done and true-to-the-book) BBC version of the movie.

7.)  "The Ministry of Motherhood" by Sally Clarkson---This is a re-read for me ( a couple of times over, I am sure).  No year is generally complete for me without at least one Clarkson book.  She has been a mentor -by-book for me for many years and I just need the vision she imparts on a regular basis!

8.)  "Little Men" by Louisa May Alcott---Oh, a second classic on my list!  My Young Warrior requested this one and so I read it aloud to all and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

9.)  "Health for Godly Generations" by Renee DeGroot----I had a blog post in the works for this book alone, but I don't know if I'll get it finished.  I really appreciated this book and its theology regarding food and health choices (Did you know that even food has a theology??  It is true).  This book goes to the top of my recommended reads on the topic of nutrition and health and I like the "whys" discussed, its biblical groundings, and that it gives a bit of practical direction as well.  This book encouraged me to re-evaluate food choices and that is always a good place to revisit each year.

10.) "Reformation Heroes" by Diana Kleyn and Joel Beeke---I took the course of two years during the months of October and November to cover this book with my children.  I learned so much about the Reformers and came away with a much greater appreciation for these men and women of faith!  It's glossy pages and illustrations also make you feel like you are holding something very valuable and almost gives you a sense of reverence just by holding it!  I also learned quite a bit of English history as well.  This is one of those that needs to be revisited every so often and the month of October is a good time to do so.

11.) "Keeping Holiday" by Starr Meade---I held onto this book all year to wait for the Advent Season to read it aloud to the children.  Oh, it was worth it!  It is a clever tale that conveys the Gospel and some Reformed theology woven through the search for "The Real Holiday."  It has hints of Pilgrim's Progress, Narnia, and The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Thus my children would groan every day when we had to stop!  They begged for more of the story and I daresay it was the favorite read of the season.

That's my list of favorites--all eleven of them.  To date, I read 43 books this year, which is turning out to be about the average for me.  Though there's always plenty to read, I am quite content with this amount.  More important than numbers though, are the lessons gleaned and whether they are changing and impacting me so that I continue to live by Semper Reformanda---always reforming.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Candy Cane Pancakes

On a recent walk we were discussing food.  Food is a popular topic this time of year, after all.  Since Christmas Eve would be on a Saturday, we were thinking of creative breakfasts.  Saturday is our usual pancake-or-waffle-type day.  They take various forms and flavors from week-to-week or season-to-season.  And on most Saturdays my Tender Warrior even makes them.  Nowadays he even gets help from Young Warrior.

Our favorite pancake recipe has been in use for over a decade now--ever since I began milling my wheat and storing whole grains, and a like-minded friend in the South shared her recipe with me.  I've since adapted it some.  And I smile as I look in my recipe box and see how I've expanded the recipe to make enough for our growing family as they eat more and more pancakes.

 So I had this thought....what about Candy Cane Pancakes?  How should we make those?  I didn't want them TOO sweet, but I thought some kind of chocolate and peppermint flair was in order.  So of course I did an internet search.  I saw a few kinds of red and white pancakes--even ones in the shape of candy canes.  They really do look striking.  But I am not keen on red dye in my food.  Nor do I generally eat white pancakes.  I love my multigrain pancakes too much and I do prefer to eat something nourishing.  So here's where I landed---pancakes with a chocolate-peppermint syrup and chopped candy cane pieces on top.

This was my plate and it's true that I am usually sparing with the syrup so that it's not too sweet.  These were very tasty and I think they will make it into an annual tradition along with the Gingerbread Pancakes.  You could probably put candy cane bits in the pancakes if you so desire.  I think I would prefer to try them with those Andes Peppermint Chips sometime!

Multigrain Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
4 cups golden wheat flour
1 cup oat flour or other flour (cornmeal, barley, buckwheat, etc)
4 TBSP Rapadura sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Wet Ingredients:
4 cups buttermilk
up to 1 cup milk, as needed
4 eggs
4 TBSP coconut oil or Spectrum shortening, melted
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together to blend.  In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients.  Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients until well combined.  Cook them on a griddle on medium heat, flipping when the edges look dry and there are bubbles on top.  Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Chocolate-Peppermint Syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup organic light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2.6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. peppermint extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, syrup, and cocoa powder.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate and peppermint extract.  Let cool a little to thicken for serving.

Serve pancakes with the syrup and crushed candy canes on top! 

I hope you might enjoy a new Christmas-time treat. It was a fun and productive experiment in our home!  Candy canes and chocolate or not, these pancakes are yummy all year-round!  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Perfect Bookshelf Solution

In the early fall, as school preparations were in full swing, I noticed this grand idea in a few places around the internet.  I tucked it away as something I thought would be perfect for my Princesses' bunk bed.  You see, we are a little bookish around here (rather, A LOT bookish to be sure)!  And as a result, we have this problem.  Books all over the bed, stacked at the foot of the bed.

I also believe in each child having their own spot to display a few of their own things.  So when I saw it, I fell in love with the idea.  What is it, you ask?  A bookshelf made of a vinyl rain gutter!  And if I had the space, I might just line an entire wall with these because I think they display books in such an attractive and winsome manner.  Just like when you go to a library or bookstore and you see the faces of books looking right at you and they beg you to pick them up and open the pages.

But not only do they hold books.  They also hold a few of a child's beloved treasures, like dolls and stuffed animals in our case.  And I love how they hold the books upright.  No more trying to find bookends to hold up the stack of books that wants to keep falling over.

I thought this was a grand way to make the most of the limited space a bunk bed has.  It was a great father-son project for my Warriors.  And it was easy!  Delightful and lovely and my Princesses are happy.  Mama is also happy for organization and no more book piles on the bed.  Maybe I should put some of these next to my bed?  I have a hard time containing my own pile of books!

For a tutorial on how to make these, visit here .

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Crafting----Transparency Stars

Two years ago, I took the children to a local "Winter Light Festival" at the Waldorf School.  It was a lot of fun and we came home with some beautiful handmade projects.  While I do not subscribe to the overall worldview of a Waldorf education, there are many things I find admirable about it.  I love the emphasis on learning through the hands and I love the quality of craftsmanship associated with their projects.  I also keenly appreciate their desire to engage children with the natural world (God's world) and natural materials to make things with.  When we visited the school, I needed a quiet place to change a diaper and lo and behold, found the room of dreams for creative play!  It would have been my childhood dream room to have one so filled with wooden play kitchens, tables, tea sets, dolls and doll beds draped with play silks.  Oh, I think I rather coveted it at the time!

So through the years I have collected materials and made many projects that are Waldorf-oriented----beeswax candles, books to teach children various hand skills, and the wonderful signature cloth dolls.  I think Tasha Tudor herself would have approved of such handiwork.

One of the things we came home with that day was a star made of colored transparency paper that has the appearance of something like stained glass when it hangs in the window.  So I determined to find some of those materials myself.  I've had them sitting around for at least a year and this year it was time to bring them out.

 Little hands needed lots of help with the folding, but they could manage to choose colors and place the glue stick in the appropriate places.  Bigger hands enjoyed creatively arranging designs.

These look lovely in the windows.  And with all of us working, we have them in many windows.  Notice the patterns the folds make on the inside of the stars.

This one is made with foil paper and this is indeed the perfect spot for it.

Now I'm off for today's projects.  As always, so much we want to do.....never enough time!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Crafting---Glitter Cards

We are finally making time to do some of those much-anticipated craft projects .  I treasure these times because, like our read-aloud times, they are moments where EVERYONE wants to join in the fun.  Eager hands come to the table and little ones learn to be patient for their turn to have Mommy's attention for their own project.

What is Christmas without glitter?  Remember the days?  Oh, I loved this stuff when I was a child and my children love it just as much.  Day One was card-making.  Out came the blank cards, glue, and several colors of that magical shiny glitter that transforms everything!

Glitter, glitter everywhere!  Christmas trees, candy canes, Stars of Bethlehem, snowmen, snowflakes, holly and even nativity scenes (this one was a little tricky but Little Princess insisted on Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus on her card so I must oblige to such a scene as this!  With a little help from Tomie dePaola)

Country Girls are a bit more sophisticated in their designs.

When all is done, we have quite a number of cards all over the dining room table.  I think they're beautiful in all their simplicity.

Oh, and at the end of the day, I quickly put together these little guys.

I was a little caught off-guard by how fast St. Nicholas Day came around this year.  Plus I had some sick little ones on that day.  So when I took a little belated visit to St. Nicholas Center I found this idea and adapted it to something I liked better.  I think they're rather cute myself.  And I'm happy to be making them even if I am a little behind.  They will be ready for next Saint Nicholas Day!

I hope you are making time this season for fun projects with your children.  It passes so quickly.  I am about ready for Christmas to last 3 more months just to enjoy the sparkly lights and beautiful decorations throughout the dark days of winter.  And if I had my way, we would probably ONLY make crafts and read every day!  (Okay, we'd bake and eat too).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scenes of Advent and the Hope of the Gospel

With some small ones with colds and coughs and Warrior on drill weekend, we are home this Sunday morning. It is delightful to sit together and sing the songs of the season that worship the newborn King come to save the likes of us. It's even more delightful to sing these songs, gazing into the eyes of my own little babe and wonder what it was like for those who followed the star to Bethlehem to see and for Mary, his mother. 'Tis incomprehensible, I think, even as a mother who tenderly loves her own children, to truly understand the mystery of it all.

I brought down the harp today. Almost nothing so soothing to my heart as the sounds of these strings. I wish I could do the instrument justice and maybe someday that might happen, but the beautiful thing about the harp is that you almost can't make it sound bad. My Young Warrior enjoys playing tunes by ear on it.

We chose a conference message by Pastor John Piper as our sermon for today. I am keenly aware of making my life count for God's glory. I am also keenly aware of the great chasm between the woman that I am and the one I really want to be! So his conference series on the theme of "Don't Waste Your Life" seems wholly appropriate. I think it's my favorite Piper book. Today he spoke on "The Origin of the Unwasted Life." What I didn't anticipate was just how encouraging a message on total depravity and the hope of the Gospel would be! I love his definition of what total depravity is. To paraphrase, it is that we prefer the beauties and pleasures of God's creation to God Himself (Romans 1:23). We prefer His gifts to us over Him. We prefer to be in darkness rather than in the light (John 3:19). We prefer to be comfortable on our cozy couch (his analogy) to preferring another. I appreciate that Piper chooses this definition of depravity over law-breaking. For he says that we can "keep" laws with a begrudging spirit (if you are a parent, you know all about this.....Amen??) So the recognition that we are totally depraved should drive us to the Gospel daily. Without it, we would be utterly hopeless. I am powerless to change myself. I don't especially like to admit that (because I rather like self-sufficiency). Yet this is so liberating.

Having heard these words today, I am left with an appreciation in my spirit even more for the joy and hope that Christmas symbolizes. So I thought I would share some scenes of Advent here.

Our Jesse Tree is a tradition we started 2 years ago. I love that it tells the story of the Gospel each day of the Advent season.

Our Little Princess received this set last Christmas. I so appreciate having nativity sets that can be played with by little hands.

And we still have this set I found at a Playmobil store in Florida on a special trip we took when our Country Girls were small. I think we've lost a few bits here and there (if you know Playmobil, you know this is easy to do). But it remains a highlight of every Christmas for the children.

And I have the "big people set"--the breakable one that sits up high. Alas after about 18 years or so, it does have a couple of small casualties like a donkey's broken ear and a shepherd's broken arm. But I still find it a sweet reminder of a shopping trip with one of my still-kindred-spirit friends in the days of that first AF assignment. We both bought one for our homes. I think of her every time this nativity set emerges from its storage box.

And my favorite picture of peace today....(I can't resist pictures of my little ones asleep).

As today is Sunday we will all gather together this evening at the table, lit by lantern and Advent wreath, talk about our weekend, and read from our Advent devotionals. We try to make a simple tea-time each Sunday, but especially during the Sundays of Advent. There are far too many recipes to try and never enough time to try them, but we rejoice in the bounty of what the Lord has blessed us with. Last week it was two kinds of cranberry bread including my recent favorite cranberry-pecan sourdough artisan bread, homemade eggnog, peppermint crunch chunkies (oh, these are so good!) and always the bowl of popcorn. It's a delightful way to end the Sabbath and begin a new week. Here's to the hope that the power of the Gospel will penetrate my heart in new ways this week and this Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Celebrating Advent---the Book Basket

The celebration of Advent season has a long history in our family---that is to say, long for one generation, as in the length of time WE have been a family. It was on the first Sunday of Advent that my Tender Warrior proposed to me as we sat on a bench overlooking the waters of the Montlake Cut connecting Lake Washington and Lake Union near our college campus, our one candle aflame while we read from a devotional these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[a] his shoulder,
and his name shall be called[b]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

~Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV
On that evening, candle held steady to illuminate the pages, a drop of wax landed on the page. It is still there today--a sweet reminder each time we open its pages.

So it is with such delight that we approach Advent each year. I confess this season makes me want to drop all of the daily responsibilities that are pressing, curl up on the couch with my children to read, read, read. Then pause and do some fun crafting with them. Make cookies. Nestle in in the evenings by the cozy Christmas lights and peruse the Christmas issues of Victoria magazine. Take my time to soak in my Tasha Tudor Christmas books and video (I would have LOVED to visit her home in Vermont and have tea!) Knit soft and cozy hats or sweaters for my loved ones......well, you get the picture. It is true I will do all of these things in some way during this season. Yet I'm still trying to find a balance between simplicity, schooling, and the desire to create.

Last year one of the fun things we did was to wrap children's books---one for each day of Advent. This year I had a notion that I wasn't looking forward to gift wrapping them all and throwing paper away every day. Not to be a Scrooge, but this has been a year I've been trying to make more reusable options for various things around our home.

So, I came up with the idea of these little book jackets! There are so many adorable Christmas fabrics this time of year. Country Girl and I spotted the horse fabric a while back and couldn't think of anything to use it for. So I was delighted to get some for this project. It's just such a beautiful design!

This is essentially like a little pillowcase for books to hide in. I know it might not keep the littlest of children from opening them too early, but that could be fixed by tying a ribbon around it just like a gift-wrapped present. Right now it works perfectly for us. I keep the books, wrapped in their sleeves, in a basket near our Advent tree. Each day one child gets to choose the book (we rotate through the children). The Christmas books return to the basket to be enjoyed throughout the season. When the season is done I have 24 book sleeves (that probably only took me as much time to make as it would to gift wrap each book) to tuck away and pull out for next year, when I can quickly select books to tuck in and assemble my basket.

One simple solution I am rather happy about! I look forward to continuing this tradition for many years. Hopefully it might leave a little extra time for looking over those Christmas books, magazines and cookbooks, or creating other fun projects.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Write them on Your Doorposts"---Scripture Adorning the Home

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
~Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV)

In the past few years I have been slowly adding Scripture verses as a means of home decor. It is beautiful, because God's Word is beautiful. It brings peace to my soul when I remember to look up and actually read what is written. There are many times I have been comforted by the words of the Bible written on the doorposts of our home. The photo above is what you first see on our front door. It was a special gift given to us when we moved into this home. I love that it immediately tells guests something about who we are as a family (and, it can be rather convicting to think about whether we are accurately reflecting the love and beauty of Christ to those who knock!).

Since Doorposts is hosting a contest of ideas for adorning our homes with Scripture, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to go around photographing and actually pay attention to areas of my home that have Scripture and those I would like to add Scripture to.

My favorite one is is in my kitchen (and I spend LOTS of time in my kitchen and I need LOTS of time with this verse!)

I bought the three-dimensional cherry stencil close to ten years ago. I used it on our previous house, but didn't have room for a verse. When I found this verse at Wise Decor, it was absolutely the perfect size for the space I had to put it in. I was delighted! I love red themes in my kitchen and dining room and I had wanted a cherry-decor kitchen for years. So it was such a joy to bring these two ideas together.

I have another verse in my dining room. This one I purchased from Vision Forum and it fits perfectly in this space as well. As an extra bonus, the color of the lettering matches my dining room!

I have this sweet throw blanket in the favorite spot where I rock my babies, spend time in the Word and prayer, and read lots of books to children (and myself).

I made this one on the occasion of our wedding (don't mind how wrinkled it looks--I didn't know much about framing stitch works back then!)

And finally, this lovely arrangement around my tub. It makes for a peaceful retreat.

I have been eyeing a few more spaces for the next verses. In the meantime, I would like to also add memory verses on smaller paper in strategic places to remind me often. I don't know about you, but my memory isn't as sharp as it used to be. I was talking about this with a friend recently and I thought perhaps the discipline of it is just magnified in a season of life with many, many thoughts constantly racing through the mind in a busy household. I do want to sharpen my lazy memory in this regard though. More than that, I want these Words of Life to live deep within me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cranberry Thanksgiving and Bible Bee

Last week, Warrior and his Country Girls were off in Nashville, Tennessee celebrating that Country Girl 2 qualified for the National Bible Bee! To say their time was amazing is an understatement. What a blessing it was for them to be so encouraged in their commitments to learn and memorize the Word of God and to share the sweet fellowship of others doing the same! Not to mention Civil War sights to see. I wish we all could have been there. However, Littlest Warrior is still yet very small and an airplane excursion is quite expensive. I am so thankful they had this opportunity and for the memories they will surely carry for a lifetime.

It was a challenging week on the homefront with my big helpers away and my heart in two places at once. I determined to make it special for my littler ones as it was a unique time to focus on just them. So we took a little tangent in school work. Hence, the "Cranberry Thanksgiving" lapbook! We've enjoyed this book (and others in the series) since our oldest was the youngest. So it was fun to revisit Maggie, Grandmother and Mr. Whiskers.

I love lapbooks and we have done many over the years. I am not quite as able to do them so often these days---academic needs shift, time demands change, and we all adjust. These take some prior planning so I find that we can manage a couple of them each year. One of the beauties about them is that they are adaptable to various ages--older ones can independently create more and younger ones can copy more. They are very worth the effort as they become treasured keepsakes for all--Mama and the children. They take joy in their very own book.

Most of the ideas and printables came from this site. We included hymns, Scriptures about thanksgiving, silhouettes of the children, information about cranberries (wow, did I learn a lot about these!), maps of New England, and of course, the recipe for "Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread!" And what would the week be without actually MAKING this bread? It is delicious.

It was a successful week on both sides of the country--even if a little harried at times. And we rejoiced to all be together again, celebrating God's goodness to us all. It even felt a little bit like our own little "Cranberry Thanksgiving"--without the recipe thief who smells of lavendar and carries a gold cane.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Duchess Bakes.....Sourdough Bread

Have you ever read this delightful book with your children?

If you haven't, you really ought to! It's funny, it rhymes, and it's rather charming. My children ask to read it repeatedly. What does this have to do with sourdough bread, you ask? Well, not a whole lot. But if you are familiar with the story, you know a bit about what happens to the cake. And here is where my story begins.

I mentioned that I have been re-working some things in my diet. Namely, I am minimizing my sugar intake and trying to avoid refined carbohydrates and anything made with commercial yeast. My research confirms that this is a worthy endeavor not only for our own issues, but something it seems would be helpful for just about any American. Our diets tend to be steeped in sugar. We also like to make and eat bread and rapid-rising yeast has made this easy for bread machines and mixer breads alike. I have been doing such for more than a decade. I've always been intrigued by sourdough, but have not always produced ideal results. I've definitely had some successes along the way and loved the results of some of the artisan loaves I've made. But I let my starter die......and haven't picked it back up for what seems like a couple of years.

So, I was motivated. I didn't want to live completely without bread and I revisited sourdough. There are so many nutritional benefits to sourdough. Lately I've also discovered that there is also something gratifying about taking the time. Sourdough takes lots of that. By this, I don't mean it necessarily takes lots of your time to work with (it doesn't)--it just takes time to rise. I can't explain it, but there is a certain peace that I find in something that is a slow process (this coming from one who continually prays for more patience!). It's as though it is one more step recaptured in the effort to slow life down. Indeed, it makes me really feel like I am nourishing.

I started with this recipe by Serene Allison in an Above Rubies magazine. You can even watch her method on some YouTube videos. I've been telling myself I wanted to try it ever since I saw it. And that's been at least a couple of years, as I said. It is largely similar to the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, which I have made before. I spent a week "catching" my yeast and building my starter. I did start with a rye starter as both NT and Serene recommend. It worked perfectly! Then came the fun of experimenting. I made my dough, as instructed by Serene, so it could rise overnight. Well, after two hours it had risen a lot! Now I was beginning to envision "The Duchess Bakes a Cake" was going to happen in my kitchen while I was sleeping. I even went to check it in the wee hours of the morning a couple of times when I was up feeding my sweet baby. Alas, I was spared from such incident. It stopped at a certain point. In the morning, I plopped it in the pan as Serene said and let it rise again. I baked it and it turned out....okay. It was rather tasty, but I think a bit underbaked. I think the wet texture of the dough made it harder to bake thoroughly. It was entirely wheat-free and made from rye and spelt. The result was a very definitive artisan rye-type bread. My husband said it tasted like European bread that should be served with cheese. So the verdict was that we all liked it but it needed longer baking time. However, we couldn't eat this as our "daily bread" necessarily.

Round 2. I found another recipe on a site I love called The Nourishing Gourmet. It looked promising. By now, I was feeding my new "pet" on a regular basis and did start to add in some wheat flour because I'm not sure I want all of my breads to have rye flavor. Kimi's sourdough bread recipe looked like just the thing to try. Again, I made my dough the night before and let it rise overnight. This time I did not fear the aforesaid "Duchess" incident, but it did rise beautifully. In the morning I shaped my loaves and let them sit most of the day in the pans to rise before baking. Oh, these looked very promising indeed. When they were finished baking and cooled just a little, we cut off a couple of slices in advance of dinner. Oh, these were delicious! And I was so delighted. Could I truly have found a recipe I could use for everyday bread? Yes, I think I have! And if you know sourdough, you know it needs to be fed often and so it also needs to be used often. So I am working on my third batch of this bread now. I love how the dough feels and how workable it is. Yes, this bread will be a bit more dense than even my regular whole grain bread I've made. But for sourdough it seems like a great texture and I really could eat too much of it!

These loaves were a little shorter because I had to experiment with exactly how many loaves a batch was supposed to make (the recipe was unclear at this point). I discovered I needed to adapt the recipe just a bit to fill my 3 bread pans just right. These loaves are a combination of wheat and spelt. They really are delicious.

To view the recipe and detailed directions, see here. I tripled the ingredients listed to make 3 loaves of bread. I do not have a Bosch mixer, but a large size (and old-workhorse-version) Kitchen Aid Mixer. This would be the maximum size that my KA can handle and it does it very well. There is also a hand kneading method described.

I encourage you to try it out sometime! Sourdough does feel like a "pet" to take care of sometimes, but it's been fun to try out different recipes to make with it. I feel very satisfied knowing I can actually produce good bread with a natural yeast! I've since made some excellent pancakes and coffee cake as well. Plenty of kitchen adventures to be had. And I am fond of saying that high school chemistry (which Country Girl 1 is now taking) really should be about "real-life" experiments that you can actually do something with! There is plenty of kitchen chemistry that can be learned with sourdough. And it is much more appetizing than the sound of that cake that the duchess tried to bake.

Let me know if you decide to try it out. A starter is really easy, especially with whole-grain, fresh-milled flour. If you have successful sourdough recipes, I'd love to hear about them too!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall in all its Beauty and Fun

This past week I have still been trying to rest a lot. Which means I don't get to participate in some things. But on the other hand I get nice blessings like cuddling a newborn and having a husband who takes the children on fun outings, leaving me with an amazingly quiet house for a few hours. That has a beauty all its own.

We have had a week of glorious sunny fall days. I LOVE these! Truth be told, it is rather hard for me to contain myself and MAKE myself stay quiet and rest when the outdoors are beckoning me and I recognize there won't be many more of them before the gray, rainy days come. And then I will have to wait until spring for more sunshine. I am learning to be content with the seasons. This is a season to be quiet and give my body (and soul) rest. It is altogether too fleeting and I know it will be gone in a heartbeat. I have learned to savor these moments with my babies because now that I also have older children I know how fast these moments are gone! I don't wish them away at any great speed. As my children are fond of saying to the littlest babes, "You can't grow up."

So I am browsing photos and I came across such beauty in my daughters' photography. I am enjoying my fall colors in a little different way perhaps. The children went with Daddy to a local pumpkin farm that is host to lots of fun activities. They had a wonderful time being active in the fresh air and sunshine, choosing pumpkins for decorations and baking.

In the meantime, I have had even more blessings. I have a very dear friend who sent a gift on the occasion of our littlest Warrior's birth. But it wasn't just that she sent an adorable camoflauge jacket for him. It was that she chose to bless me with a sweater. I can't tell you how much that blessed me! Baby gifts are delightful. But to be thought of personally in the midst of it all and to be graciously given a gift of beauty as a mommy of many just ministered deeply to my heart! (Thank you, dearest friend!)

We ended our week with a wonderful time of fellowship celebrating the Reformation. I was so thankful to be able to go and visit with local friends I cherish spending time with. The children had great fun as well. Good food, sweet fellowship, laughter over sweet children's skits about the Reformers, pumpkin couldn't get much better! The amazing thing is that with several families with many children amongst them, all were quite healthy and no one had to cancel! Hurray! I love celebrating the Reformation too. A fun way to learn history and bring glory to God in an otherwise "dark" holiday time.

Beauty comes in many forms. How precious it has been to see the places of beauty all around me that God has given. Especially in places and through means I did not expect.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catching Up (a Little)

Life is full. And very good. This past month I have been very occupied with one cute little boy. I am still trying to learn how to lower my expectations for what I can accomplish. My body is keen to remind me and I'm sure that's a good thing. If only I can figure out how to keep up on laundry, make sure all are fed (I do have good helpers) and TRY to have a little bit of a tidy home while resting. I find this even more tricky to minimize how many trips up and down the stairs I take in a day. Besides all that, I am trying to figure out how to adjust my diet. I think we have a mild case of thrush going on. It just so happens (God knew!) that I was reading a book on health and nutrition--I'll tell more about that later--then this issue came up. So I am seeking to keep yeast out of my diet and let me tell you, it's not easy for one who loves bread, and loves to make it besides! But, I am learning so much and being reminded of other things I have learned but have become lazy about. So in all my studying and research, I am coming back to soaking grains and trying to make sourdough bread again. I really do feel better over all having eliminated yeast bread from my diet for the present. So this all has me curious and looking back over my copies of "Nourishing Traditions" and "The Maker's Diet."

My challenge: How to eat well, keeping yeast bread, cheese, most dairy, and most forms of sugar out of my diet for the time being, and keep enough calories for myself and my wee little one. The first couple of days were kind of overwhelming. I would go to the refrigerator or pantry and ask, "What can I eat?" and nearly cry because I didn't know how to answer the question besides yogurt (which I DO like, by the way, but don't want to eat ALL of the time). But each day has gotten a little easier. Still, I do find that taking the time to think about soaking or sourdough is work. And I'm really not supposed to be doing too much. One little step at a time.....

Besides all of this, we had one sweet little Princess who had a birthday:

And a whole lot of grapes to make juice and jelly out of.

MANY blessings for which I am so grateful for. And did I mention we have some beautiful fall sunshine? That's not making it any easier to spend time horizontal, except that I at least have a lovely view from my room. And I should be going there now.....


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