Saturday Morning Musings: Weekend Reflections

The sunflower lost a bit of its luster in all the rain, but I wanted to get in a picture, just for the sake of history--well, yeah, my garden's history.

There should be little danger of fires around here this Fourth of July weekend.  In just the past couple of days, we’ve had more than six inches of rain.  This Saturday morning, I’ve already been out dumping water from all the pots and other containers so that mosquitoes won’t have even more opportunity to increase their numbers.

The sun is trying to shine through, but the patchy clouds seem to be winning, so it looks like there’ll be even more rain  Although six inches is a lot of rain, fortunately, the showers that came weren’t deluges, so the plants in the garden weren’t mashed down into the soft soil.

Last evening, I started reading a new book just as a heavy shower came through, and felt so snug and protected in my house.  It’s a feeling that a year ago at this time I had never experienced.  Then, out in the garden this morning, picking some okra and tomatoes, and having the whole weekend before me, I couldn’t help but remind myself how I had spent many of my weekends a year ago.

At that time, I’d be peering through the online real estate listings, and later, out in my car, checking out possible houses and neighborhoods.  It was how I spent a lot of my free time for more than a year.

I have to admit I still like to go through the online listings from time to time, just out of curiosity, but I’m happy with the choice I made, and glad that this weekend, I will have the pleasure of puttering in the garden, taking some action at getting this very room finally arranged, and curling up on the sofa with a book, rain or no rain.

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Memorial Day: Enjoy It But Don’t Forget What It Means

Memorial Day falls at a time when I can never get more than just the three days off from work, so although I’d like to go back to Kansas and my little hometown of Dorrance every year, the short time and the chunk of change I have to cough up for the airfare just doesn’t make that feasible.  (I’ve written about why Memorial Day is important to me before.)  This year I’m going to enjoy the still-newness of living in my house, putter in my yard and garden, and take advantage of some discount coupons to do some shopping.  I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend that you’ll take a few moments to remember those who have passed on, whether Veterans or not.

It’s still early on this Saturday morning, but though I was sure I would want to climb back into bed after taking Annie out even before six, I I was lured by the garden and other things I can do, having the luxury of three days before me.

With the sun a bit more up, I checked out the garden more closely and see that I will be able to pick my first beans in just a couple of days.  Altough all the plants in the garden look lush and full, I’m afraid that the poor soil keeps them from producing as many and as big of vegetables as they might if the soil were better.  This first year is a learning experience, and with the compost and more good soil, I’m sure next year’s crop will be better, but I don’t know if it can be any more fun!

This little garden seems to grow and change week by week. (5-29-10)

There are lots of blossoms. How many will become beans is a question.

This ruellia (ruellia elegans) was given to me by a friend and just keeps blooming and blooming. (And, yes, the grass will get mowed this weekend.)

Homemade Panettone and Painting–Patience Is the Recipe for Success

I’m one of the lucky ones to have a three-day weekend, and though I have a number of tasks on my to-do list, I’ve been taking a leisurely pace getting things done.  At the moment, I’m waiting for some spackle to dry so that I can paint around the window in this room and finish it up.  I had promised myself that I would have this room painted more than two weeks ago, but this first go-round made the walls look too much the color of mint ice cream.  That coat turned into being the primer, and now it’s still green, but a nice, fresh green called Cool Cucumber, which makes this small room feel bright and maybe larger.

Between my efforts at getting the room painted, I baked a couple of loaves of panettone.  I doubt that there’s much Italian DNA in me, but after having tried the store-bought kind that appears near holiday time, I decided that an attempt at some homemade panettone would be my first real baking in my new kitchen.  I must admit I like the store-bought kind because of its texture, something akin to the light, stretchiness of crescent rolls or cinnamon rolls.  This is what makes panettone different than some other nut and fruit breads; it’s a leavened bread rather than a quick bread.

Because of the rising process, interspersing the baking and painting worked well.  The recipe I used was one which I found in my old Joy of Cooking, with some of my own adaptations.  I decided to use up some of the shelled nuts still left from Christmas and a lone apple, which, otherwise, would soon have seen its better days.

Homemade Panettone

Ingredients:

1 apple peeled and chopped into small pieces

1/2 cup white raisins (any type of dried fruit works well, as do fresh blueberries–a cup and a half of fruit total seems about right to me)

1 cup (approximately) orange liqueur (I used the cheapest brand I could find–still not cheap)

1 cup warm (not hot) water

2 packages active dry yeast

4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2-4 eggs room temperature (2 eggs give a definite bread texture; 4 eggs give a texture more like that of cake)

Zest of one orange (I thinly peeled an orange, then pulsed the peel a couple of times in the food processor to grate it)

1 cup of coarsely broken nuts (I used walnuts)

Directions:

Put the fruit in a small saucepan and nearly cover with the orange liqueur.  Heat just to a boil; then immediately turn off the heat and let steep and cool.  You can do this while you’re making your morning coffee.

Put the warm water into a good-sized bowl and stir in the dry yeast until it is completely dissolved.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes; then stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix to get an even consistency.  Cover with a cloth and set aside for about 1/2 hour.  When ready,  it should have a light, spongy texture.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Slowly add in the sugar and salt until well-blended.  Mix in the eggs one at a time and the cooled liquid drained from the fruit.  Then blend in the yeast-flour sponge.  Mix well.  Slowly beat in the remaining 3 1/2 cups of flour.  Fold in the fruit and nuts with a spatula or your hands.

Cover the bowl of dough with a cloth and let rise for about two hours or until about double in size.

Punch down and divide  and put into baking tins.  Traditional panettone looks round and tall.  Joy of Cooking suggests using 1-pound coffee cans, but most coffee isn’t packed in metal cans these days.  I used silicon and metal loaf pans and liked the result.  If you use a metal baking pan, try cutting a piece of brown paper (grocery sack type) the size of the bottom; grease the paper as well as the sides of the pan before putting in the dough.  This recipe makes two good-sized loaves.  After putting the dough in the pans, cover with a cloth and let rise one more time, at least 1/2 hour.

You may want to brush melted butter on the top before baking, but I didn’t do that and the crust looks nice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Joy of Cooking says to bake for 1/2 hour.  Mine took longer.  The smaller loaf in the metal pan took 45 minutes and the large loaf in the silicon pan took 1 hour.  I always look at the crust.  When the crust is a nice, golden color all over (I don’t want it burnt), then the inside of the bread should also be done too.

My rendition of panettone is quite a bit different than the kind I bought in the box, which I like because of the light texture.  The texture of my homemade panettone is heavier, like a lot of good homemade.  However, the taste is another matter.  Every bite of my version is full of tasty fruit and crunchy nuts, with just a hint of orange that comes almost as an afterthought.

Baking most kinds of bread takes time and patience.  These days because of busy schedules, people are satisfied to buy ready-made or mixes.  However, I think that when time is not so much of a factor, there is a real pleasure in making bread from scratch, or any other foods, for that matter, working through the whole process.  You can choose  exactly what ingredients you use; for me, experimenting is half the fun.   What’s more, it’s hard to compare anything to the taste of homemade.