I make everything from scratch, to avoid ingesting hormones, additives, and preservatives that I consdier pernicious, or at least whose beneficial or pernicious qualities are an open question. Dinners, desserts, soda, sauces and jams, breakfast cereal, trail mix, all sorts of bread. (Still haven’t made my own noodles, because I can’t seem to run out of the ones I have. I’ll get there Susy Morris, I swear.)

At almost 60, I’m a remnant of the last generation that routinely learned to cook at home. While I never stopped making dinner- the stews and soups and roasted chickens- I had largely abandoned baking, picking it back up a few years ago. I started with crackers, then scones, and moved on to pie (yes the crust too, thanks for asking).

It turns out to be like language– while I do rely on recipes, I found baking intuitive for the most part; call it “touch memory” from my childhood. Like smells, it turns out the texture of a proper pie crust, and the correct amount of cookie dough to scoop up, and the shape of a pita are learned skills that lurk in the interstices of your brain until you need them again.

But I didn’t trust myself with bread.

I’ve been through many recipes- the Browneyed Baker, and Mark Bittman and my favorite legacy cookbook. I’ve watched the complex terror that is America’s Test Kitchen’s minute description of how to fail at breadbaking. I followed every step to the letter. I asked my pro-baker buddy for tips. But it wouldn’t rise, and it didn’t look right, and the crumb was too loose or too dense.

The only expert I didn’t consult was that lizard brain of mine, which kept telling me that none of my breads felt right.

A month ago I went to a bread baking demonstration, expecting to find That One Weird Trick That Will Make Your Bread Turn Out Correctly Every Time!

And I did.

The presenter started throwing ingredients into a bowl– warm water, melted butter, yeast, sugar, coffee, salt. He dismissed experts and recipes– “two cups of liquid, some kind of shortening, yeast, flavoring like salt, 4-5 cups of flour. That’s bread. Any kind of bread– flat bread, loaf bread, fancy bread.” Now this sounded more like cooking, and less like that scary, scientific, chemical-reactions, cautiously weighed ingredients mystery that is baking. And I remembered baking bread with my mother; she used to have a cookbook out, but I seldom remember her looking at it. She would just make the bread, and tell me “this is what the dough should feel like when it’s ready to rise, and this is what it feels like when it’s ready to bake.” Here’s how it looks and here’s how it smells.

So I started making bread, instead of reading recipes. The first time I ignored the recipe, I forgot the shortening in a loaf bread. Bread without shortening gives you flat bread, like pita, so you can imagine how nice and dense that loaf was.

But it freed me from the tyranny of perfection– I made edible bread armed only with ingredients and my knowledge. So I made another loaf (and forgot to punch it down– this results in a bread “balloon” in case you’re wondering), but it looked and tasted like bread. I’m on my fifth loaf now, and third successful loaf. Easy, in fact, as pie turned out to be.

Standing at the counter kneeding bread feels not just like, hey, I’m going to have some delicious bread in a few hours. It feels like I’m Eve, or Miriam, or Mrs. Ingalls, or my mother, doing what women do, and have always done.

Making bread.


A few months ago on the Not Dabbling in Normal facebook page I mentioned that my neighbor/friend had seen a newspaper article on Monster Spinach (Monstreaux de Viroflay) and wanted to plant some. Off we went in search of some transplants. We found it and go it planted in December (a bit late for us.)Monster Spinach 1

The weather was already on the cool side and we have had our share of freezes over the past few months. Our Monster Spinach didn’t seem to be doing much bu surviving.

When I got back from Prague I took a walk through the garden and WOW had it taken off. I have been picking it for a few weeks now and it just keeps growing and growing.

Today it is going in a quiche, some empanadas and a pasta dish. I know I will even have enough to freeze to add to things this summer when all the leafy greens have disappeared out there.055

I haven’t done any research on this “Monster” spinach, other than a newspaper article I read that told me it was an heirloom. I do know that when it bolts I will be patient and hold out for seeds this spring.

Do you have a variety of spinach that grows well for you? And how do you to prepare it?

Sincerely, Emily

1. Weekly laundry loads are really small.
Oh, oops. Did I wear the same clothes four days in a row? Did I remember to change for sleeping? (no)

2. Bed is made
See below, “creative procrastination.”

3. Nose prints on back window
When was the last time I went outside?

4. Creative procrastination
Made a cake in the middle of a Wednesday? Check. Swept kitchen floor? Check. Extended phone call with daughter? Check.

5. Oh, you get to “leave” work at 5 p.m.?
How cute.

6. What’s a “business line?”
Is there anyone who doesn’t have my phone number?

7. Don’t open the heating bill without a strong drink in your hand
No such thing as setting the thermostat for when people are in the house. People are always in the house.

8. Starbucks is my conference room
At least they clean their toilets regularly.

9. We call it a “perk.”
Remember that drink in your hand? Yeah, I have a drink in my hand.

10. You never shop on the weekends or after 5 p.m.
That’s when all the cube farmers are there.


I know I haven’t been posting regularly… I think I have a pretty good excuse. A few weeks ago, my husband came home from work on Friday night and told me that he was going to Prague the following Friday for some meetings. Prague! This same trip almost happened 6 months ago, but never solidified. This time, his airline ticket was already purchased.

Looking toward "New Town" from Charles Bridge

Looking toward “New Town” from Charles Bridge

I have about a 48 hour conversation/battle in my head about the trip. Should I go? Is it even a good idea if I go? I mean, I still can’t walk very far or very fast. By Monday morning, I was searching for airfare and had booked my ticket.

"Old Town" Square

“Old Town” Square

We were only there 5 full days and saw as much as we could. I managed to come down with a terrible cold half-way through the trip, so half of it is sort of a blur. But it was worth it.  Everywhere you look you see something old and beautiful. 015Have you been to the Prague?

Sincerely, Emily

Blogging perks

I  somehow got on the Renee’s Garden media list, so they let me order seeds every year!

Here’s what I’m planting, along with the tomatoes and peppers that I grow from my saved seeds.

Beans: Nickel Filet and Bush Rolande
Cabbage: Baby Pixie
Carrot: my perennial favorite mix “Circus Circus” tricolor/
Eggplants: Italian Trio
Leeks: Striesen (a new variety for me. I’ve been doing the Baby Primors last couple of years)
Pak  Choi: Baby Green Fortune
Squash: Delicata Butternut
Zucchini: Raven
Basil: Italian Pesto
Celery: Amsterdam
Parsley: Sweet Curley

AND my favorite Sunflower Chocolate Cherry, with a Chocolate Daisy to match (!).

Now if only this snow would Go Away.

What are you planting?

The endless winter

Probably 30″ of snow in the backyard— it’s been death by a thousands little snowfalls this year. Two inches here, six inches there, not too bad shoveling-wise, but it’s been just one after the other, with something like 37 separate snowfalls in the past 40-45 days. The season total- with a month of winter to go, is 62″, a 20 year record.

And with zero melting in between. It just stays below freezing, often well below freezing. Along my back walk, where I’ve shoveled the snow up onto the yard, the wall of snow is at least shoulder height.

Usually in winter it’s kind of fun to track the animals based on their footprints, but this year there are no footprints— they are either traveling under the snow or they are nowhere.

Likewise the birds. I’m not seeing any. There were some bright blue finch-like ones on my porch about 10 days ago (someone suggested indigo buntings, and they do look like that, but we’re awfully far north for indigo buntings.), but I haven’t even seen a sparrow in a week. I always leave seed pods for them— angelina, phlox, sedum, coneflower— but the snow is so deep that the 2 foot tall heads of the plants are buried. There’s only northern sea oats and some monarda tall enough to still be visible.

Weather report calls for four days with highs below zero (that’s fahrenheit, folks). Then a maybe 33º on Thursday, before it plunges again for almost a week. Oh, and two possible snow “events” in there too.

I like winter as a rule, but I’m just worn out by this one.

I have been storing my organic ground pepper in a jar and for some reason haven’t gotten around to refilling the shakers.

Now I wish I had!opps!Opps! That’s a little too much pepper with my morning eggs. I made the mistake of shaking it from the open jar instead of just taking a pinch or two.

Clean-up when fairly well. The egg was edible, a bit peppery, but edible. I sneezed quite a bit too.

What type of mishaps have you had lately?

Sincerely, Emily


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