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bread1

Yesterday was a beautiful day, a teaser for better days to come, sunny, mild, spring-like. Alas, today we returned to winter with a jolt as another snow storm swept through. The snow began in the morning and continued with determination all day long. *Heavy sigh.* To make the most of being shut in for yet another snowy day, I took a notion to make bread.

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Here’s the yeast proofing in warm water. I’m not a big bread maker, and more often choose to bake focaccia or a braided pull-apart loaf that we enjoy, but today I went with two simple white loaves that I make occasionally for a change. It’s a simple recipe that I’ve had good results with.

bread2

Here’s the dough after the first rise, ready to punch down. Some cookbooks wax eloquent over the joys of kneading bread. So relaxing! So meditative! All I’ve ever got out of it was sore wrists! I only started baking bread with any regularity after I purchased a stand mixer. I bought the mixer after many, many years of doing everything by hand. What a wonder! It takes the drudgery of kneading out of bread making. Having no experience with stand mixers, I bought a low-end model. If I were doing it again, I’d buy the best and largest I could afford. A stand mixer is a very worth-while investment for anyone who bakes regularly.

bread3

Here are the two loaves in their pans, ready for the second rise. Bread making doesn’t really take much active time, but you have to be available to process the dough after a couple of rises and wait while it bakes. I can sit and read a book for the afternoon while my dough rises and still feel virtuous, confident that I am achieving something even as I sip my tea and turn pages.

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Here are the two loaves, fresh from the oven and lifted from their pans to cool. Below you’ll see one of the sliced loaves. I often serve fresh bread with soup, but tonight we had it with pasta. If you’d like to make your own, here’s the recipe.

Two Loaves of White Bread

2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup oil
6 cups bread flour (I used all purpose organic flour today)

In a large bowl (mixer bowl), dissolve the sugar in warm water and
then stir in the yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles
a creamy foam.

Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Add 5 cups of flour.
Knead with mixer until smooth. Add additional cup of
flour gradually as needed to produce smooth dough.

Place in a well-oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover
with a damp cloth and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Knead a few minutes and then divide in two.
Shape into loaves and place into two well-oiled 9×5 loaf pans.
Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until dough has risen
1 inch above pans. Preheat oven to 350.

Bake at 350 x 30 minutes.

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grape1

I baked my first Grape Pie more than 35 years ago, when we first moved to our country home in North Halton. I was looking for a way to use up the grapes on the old Concord grape-vine that was well-established there. Grape pie became a family tradition for Thanksgiving, and I often freeze grapes or a pie for Christmas too. When we moved to Willow House, we missed our Concords. Of course, you can buy grapes in the fall, but it’s not the same as picking your own in the back yard. Consequently, we planted Concord vines 3 years ago, and this year there is enough of a crop for at least two pies.

According to Wikipedia, the Concord grape was developed in 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bull in Concord, Massachusetts. Bull planted seeds from wild Vitis labrusca and evaluated over 22,000 seedlings before finding what he considered the perfect grape, the original vine of which still grows at his former home. The new plants we are growing are called Seedless Concords. According to Cornell’s horticulture site, they aren’t really Concords at all, but they look and taste pretty much the same…but without the seeds.

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If you are using seeded grapes to make pie, you need to add a step to remove the seeds. Otherwise, your pie will be tooth-crackingly crunchy! Just pop the middles out of the grape skins and heat the middles in a pan for a few minutes over low heat until the seeds are released by the jelly-like centers. Then use a sieve to remove the seeds. Reunite the seedless middles with the skins.

Grape Pie

4-5 cups Concord grapes
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup flour
dash salt

1 Pie Pastry

For topping, mix 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar. Cut in 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of butter to form a crumb texture.

Stir the pie ingredients together and place in pie shell. Top evenly with crumb topping. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, until top is golden brown. Allow to cool before serving…if you can wait! Great with whipped cream.

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soup

It’s been a great season for tomatoes, but the crop is pretty much finished for the year. Yesterday, I picked the last of the ripe fruit and made them into tomato soup for our supper. I love this recipe. It is simple to make, and perfect for using up a bountiful harvest or blemished tomatoes. And it tastes delicious, full of sun-ripened goodness!

Easy Fresh Tomato Soup

4 cups of diced fresh tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
garlic to taste
2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste

In a stockpot, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and blend. (I use a hand-held blender. Quick and easy.)

Melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour to make a roux, or paste. Gradually whisk in a bit of the tomato mixture so that no lumps form. Then stir the roux into the soup. Season with sugar and salt to taste. Enjoy!

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squash1

With Jack Frost knock, knocking on the door at night, it was time to harvest the squash. I’m a lazy vegetable gardener and tend to stick to the crops that offer the largest reward for the least amount of effort. In this category, squash probably top the list as the lazy gardener’s dream plant. You tuck a few seeds in the ground in the spring and in the fall, you gather up your squash! I planted a couple of varieties of squash in the garden, but also had a tangle of vines tumbling over the composted manure pile. What a cornucopia!

At the top left of the photo is Heart of Gold. This variety is listed in the seed catalogue as a sweet dumpling hybrid acorn squash. I like it for its compact size, good for two people, and attractive exterior, which as the name suggests, sets off its golden interior prettily. Beside it are some decorative gourds that seeded themselves from last year’s thanksgiving decorations. The large yellow number is a golden zucchini and below it is a little butternut squash.

I picked one of the unnamed varieties and made soup with it last night. The thing I like best about squash soup is the fabulous rich colour. It tastes good, too! I usually add apples and ginger to the squash for a bit of zing. The very easiest way to serve squash is simply to halve it, scoop out the seeds, cut a small slice off the bottom so the squash half doesn’t wobble, and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees till soft, about 45 minutes. Open a can of beans in sauce and warm them up. Fill the squash cup with beans and there you have it, a nutritious delicious no-fuss meal. Serve with warm bread or a salad. If your standards lean more towards the gourmet, you can dress up the beans with onion and pepper and tomatoes, or make your own bean medley from scratch.

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pie

No hard frost, a killer frost that coats everything in icy crystals, has arrived yet, but we’ve had a couple of cool nights. Cold enough to leave the tender tomato vines wilted, a few late tomatoes clinging to their sad stems. The tomato season is winding to an end. We’ve certainly enjoyed it. Since the first tomatoes ripened in August, we’ve had tomatoes with dinner pretty much every single night. There are so many great ways to prepare them.

One recipe that is perfect for the harvest season is Tomato Pie. Delicious! I used up some of our last tomatoes on this pie a couple of evenings ago. Are you a tomato lover? You won’t be disappointed by Tomato Pie.

Tomato Pie

1 unbaked pie crust
1/2 cup quick-cooking rice
Several large tomatoes or a bunch of little ones
1/2 onion, chopped
Tomato seasonings
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°

Prepare the pie crust.

Sprinkle the rice evenly inside the pie crust.
The rice will soak up the tomato juice as the pie bakes
and keep the crust from becoming soggy.

Layer in thickly sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with chopped onions.
Add seasonings. You can use chopped basil or parsley or italian seasonings,
whatever suits your taste.
Mix the mayo and shredded cheese together and dollop the mixture
over the top of the pie.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy. We had the pie with fresh corn on the cob that I picked up at a farm stand (actually the back of a pickup truck!), some of the last of the season. Mmmm Mmmm Good.

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rolls1

It was a quiet weekend. No mudpuppies. No regular puppies even. No visitors. On Sunday, the weather was dull and grey. It didn’t encourage outdoor activities. I decided it was a good afternoon to try out a recipe I bookmarked ages ago, early in the winter. It’s a recipe for Apple Walnut Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes posted by Can You Stay For Dinner. I might not have taken note of the recipe were it not for the commentary that accompanies it, in which the author shares her favorite emails, received from her mother. If you’re a mom, drop on by and enjoy the post for yourself, even if you don’t bake.

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It’s the scent of the cinnamon that makes sticky rolls so irresistible, I think. I don’t spend a lot of time shopping in malls, but just before Christmas, I usually make one or two forays into the crush. The combination of tired feet, cold weather waiting outside, and the delicious smell of cinnamon wafting out into the aisle make it hard to give Cinnabon a pass.

Can You Stay gives very complete directions, and I had no trouble putting together these rolls. I was a bit skeptical about the cupcake part, but it actually worked out well. The paper liner catches the drippy, gooey leaks and keeps things tidy. I think I should have waited longer before applying the glaze, which promptly melted, but who can wait? RailGuy and I each had a roll with our tea as soon as they were cool enough to eat. Delicious!

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Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15. The object is to unite the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. In 2010, the topic for Blog Action Day is water.

You would think that recognising access to clean water as a basic human right would be a no-brainer, right? But you would be wrong. Recognising the human right to access clean water proved very controversial. Many wealthy nations dragged their heals and fought against the UN resolution on this issue. Finally, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly agreed to a resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” The resolution, presented by the Bolivian government, had 122 countries vote in its favour, while 41 countries – including Canada, the UK and the U.S. – abstained.

There are many, many issues relating to water that urgently need addressing. We are blessed, here in Canada, with abundant fresh water, yet even here, clean water can be in short supply. Ninety percent of Canadians live in a narrow band along the southern edge of the country, while 60% of the freshwater supply is found to the north. This concentration of people places high demands on local water supplies and leaves little flexibility for coping with water shortages. In picking a topic for Blog Action Day, I chose an aspect of individual water use, the virtual water we eat as food.

meatless

Some of the ways in which we use water are obvious. You use water from the tap when you brush your teeth or make coffee. However, a lot of the water we use is less conspicuous. Eating meat, for example, has a huge cost to water supplies. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.

Meatless Monday is an international movement. The goal is to encourage the reduction of meat consumption by 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of the planet. Meatless Monday has a great website where you can obtain more information about the movement. There is also an interesting index of recipes to inspire you.

My favorite vegetarian cookbook is Ontarian Evelyn Raab’s “The Clueless Vegetarian” (Reissued in 2008 as Basic Vegetarian Cooking by Raab). Wherever you find your inspiration, join in the movement. Save water. Improve your health. Give Meatless Monday a try.
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Squashbread

One of the nice things about keeping a blog is the people who drop by and share their thoughts and views. When I wrote about my squash harvest, Shanda left a comment about her Squash Bread and I asked if she would mind sharing her recipe. She very kindly took the time to write it out for me and I couldn’t wait to try it.

Here at Willow House, turkey soup follows turkey dinner as surely as day follows night. Today was soup day, and it offered a perfect opportunity to make squash bread to accompany our soup dinner. It turned out beautifully and was delicious! Thanks again, Shanda! If you would like to try it too, here is Shanda’s recipe.

Shanda’s Squash Bread

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup squash puree
1/2 cup veg oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use either toasted pecans or black walnuts, yum!)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. Mix the squash, oil, eggs, water, and spices together, then combine with dry ingredients. Stir in nuts. Pour into well buttered pan (I’m serious, you better well butter it!) Bake 50-60 min or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Turn out after about 20 min to cool on rack.

This is a recipe for one loaf, just double it! If I’m gonna go though the labor for one loaf, I’ll just make it two (share or freeze).

Enjoy.

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