Monday, August 31, 2009

RECIPE: Pumpkin Brunch Oatmeal

I got this recipe from my online friend, Colleen, and modified it somewhat to suit my family's tastes, and I have to say that this is the BEST OATMEAL I have ever eaten, and many's the porridge bowl I've scraped in my day.

The first thing that makes this oatmeal so good is that it is anything but instant: You can bake it (tightly covered with foil) in the oven for an hour, or you can simmer it for three hours on low heat in your slow-cooker. The results will be something like what your great-great-grandmother had when she put the oats in a covered pot and moved them to the back of her big cast-iron stove to slowly transform in to pudding-y goodness all night long.

The second thing that makes this oatmeal so fabulous is the PUMPKIN. Could anything be more autumny than SLOW-COOKED PUMPKIN OATMEAL? The confluence of those three words together almost makes me need to go lie down. Combine the fall of the year with the Crock-Pot and the spices and the delicious smell wafting through the house and a halo of corn shocks and chrysanthemums will suddenly encircle your head: this oatmeal is autumn magic. True story.

So! Without any further hyperbole, I give you the recipe for Pumpkin Brunch Oatmeal. Serve it with those little tiny link sausages and some hot, milky coffee. Mmmmm....


6 scant cups old-fashioned oats
1 large can pumpkin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Splenda®
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups milk
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon baking powder

Put all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Place into a buttered slow cooker or Dutch oven. If slow-cooking, set heat to Low and cook for three hours. If using Dutch oven, set oven to 375 degrees; bake oatmeal, covered, for one hour.

Prepare to swoon at the hearth-and-home aroma wending its way through the house.

When cooked, add more sugar/sweetener and milk as desired to individual bowls. Give it a drizzle of maple syrup and sprinkle on some pecans. Serve with little sausages, as mentioned. Particularly enjoyable when it is cold and rainy outside.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I took a little break

I am back after taking a week's break to kind of get things organized for the coming school year -- we start on Tuesday, September 1. Meelyn will be a sophomore and Aisling will be a freshman and I will be chewing on the ends of my hair by mid-October.

I also took another little break, of my leftward piggie toe, which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. So I've been hobbling around the house and complaining a lot, which is what I do anyway so the level of sympathy and support I'm getting from my loving family has been shockingly low.

My internet friends Amy and Karen and I met for dinner tonight and Amy took a picture of the afflicted appendage. I hope to have a picture to post sometime tomorrow because you want to talk about swelling and bruises and a generally gnarly appearance that will make you kind of clench your glutes? Well, I've GOT IT.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are you familiar with this house? This is the famous home designed for Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Kaufman, Sr. in 1934 by seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright known as "Fallingwater." It's located in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

Fallingwater is an arresting house in the modern style, looking as if it sprang, organically, out of the jutting granite shelves that create the falls. It was designated a national historic landmark in 1966, and Bob Vila featured it on his A&E show called Guide to Historic Homes of America. The National Institute of Architecture named it the "best all-time work of American architecture" in 1991, and according to the AIA, Fallingwater was twenty-ninth on the 2007 list of America's favorite architecture.*

Considering, then, that Fallingwater is so recognizable, so well-known, I thought that maybe some enterprising architect should design a house that would reflect this post-modern era, something that would demonstrate a minimalist angst as we live our American lives in this era of closing banks, financial bail-outs, rising foreclosures, abysmal property values, freakishly stupid and complicated government-run programs like "Cash for Clunkers," and advancing socialism.

To that end, I think the house should be called "Fallingdollar." It could look a lot like Fallingwater, only the big cantilevered cement balconies could be kind of crumbling, maybe decoratively enhanced with some of that yellow warning ribbon to keep people from pitching into the drink; a few of the windows could be broken out and mended with cardboard and duct tape; and the chimneys could have empty spaces where the stone has fallen out, reminiscent of a mouth with missing teeth. A large tree could be smashing part of the roof, serving as an architecturally expressed symbol of everyone's 401(k)s and college funds.

Bear Run, the narrow body of water that slides over the massive rock outcroppings, could be dammed upstream, allowing just the tinest trickle of water to emerge, signifying the rate at which our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be paying off the national debt.

Instead of housing just one family, maybe about fifteen different families could move in after the banks take back their own homes. They could all take turns paying the electric bill and play charades and Pictionary together when the cable service gets cut off.

Sounds just beautiful, doesn't it?

Source: Fallingwater, August 2, 2009.

RECIPE: Zucchini bread

Ah, August! The time of year when all those people who planted their zucchini seeds in the ground and then carefully nurtutured them last May are now frantically scrambling their arms around from beneath the pile of zucchini they're buried under, searching for a gun to shoot themselves with.

"Why did I PLANT all these?" one friend moaned to me, clutching a huge Old Navy shopping bag bursting with the small summer squashes to her chest. "Was it some kind of sickness? Some mental disorder?"

"A love of zucchini muffins?" I suggested.

She eyed me coldly. "Well, obviously. But they're COMING INTO THE HOUSE."

"I wish I could help you out and take a few thousand off your hands, but I just bought some," I admitted.

"You BOUGHT zucchini? In AUGUST? In INDIANA? Are you STUPID?"

I thought that was very rude. I am not stupid, and if I'd known she was growing them, I would have been over at her house with a basket and an acquisitive gleam in my eye, getting some free zukies. Because that's me: ALWAYS THINKING OF OTHERS.

Anyway, here's a recipe I found online and tinkered with a little. It will produce two deliciously moist loaves of zucchini bread, whether your zucchini were purchased, grown in your own garden, or given to you by a frenzied friend with dirt under her fingernails.



3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unpeeled shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)
1/2 cup raisins (if desired)


Preheat oven to 325o F. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugars, oil and vanilla. Stir in the shredded zucchini, walnuts and raisins. Sift in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Pour batter into two oiled loaf pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Remove from oven; allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Remove from loaf pans -- you may need to run a knife gently around the edge of the pans so that the loaves will release. Turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.

These loaves freeze very well if carefully wrapped and placed in freezer bags. Or just sit down and have a big ol' slice right now.

I could have told them that

I read an article online today that made my mouth water and my teeth long to go crunch, crunch, crunch. Researchers have discovered that popcorn is good for you. It is a banner day in our house; maybe in Nanny and Poppy's house, too, when they find out.

Popcorn, in my opinion, is one of God's most perfect foods. First of all, a lot of it grows around here, so it is in vast supply. You can find popcorn for sale everywhere, not just at the grocery. Sometimes it's fresh popped, sometimes it is microwaveable and sometimes it comes in little bags, ready to pop on your stove.

The stovetop kind is the only kind we eat around here, because I am a major popcorn snob. Yellow popcorn, which is light and fluffy, is my favorite. White popcorn is okay, but the smallness of the popped kernels is not as delightful as the puffy poofiness of the yellow. Black popcorn is very corny tasting, which is a good thing in popcorn. Ruby popcorn, while utterly beautiful and jewel-like to look at, is just plain bland. It doesn't taste like much of anything, more's the pity.

Microwave popcorn is anathema to me because? Have you ever cut open one of those bags before you pop the popcorn and seen what that stuff looks like in there? Biyuuuuuck!! It's all yellowy. And....congealed. It does not possibly look like it could be good for you, which is what popcorn is about. Well, that and deliciousness. Microwave popcorn tastes okay, but the health benefits are dubious and wouldn't you rather just have plain old kernels that haven't been much messed with? Straight to you from God, that's where popcorn comes from. We should keep it that way.

I grew up snacking on popcorn. During the blizzard of '78, when I was a ninth grader and hugging myself for joy that I was missing two whole weeks of algebra, my parents looked at one another and said with relief, "Everything's okay. We'll all be fine. We have plenty of toilet paper and five pounds of popcorn."

In my family, we pop popcorn the way I learned from my parents: In a heavy pan WITH A LID, popcorn sprinkled across the bottom, olive oil poured in, high flame on the stove. A little shaking around will keep the unpopped kernels falling to the bottom of the pan, and you'll have a big bowlful before you can say "Orville Redenbacher, Indiana native and renowned grower of popcorn." Dust it with some sea salt and, if you're in the mood, a little grated Parmesan cheese, and you have got a cheap and easy treat that everyone likes.

Except my husband.

Early in our marriage, I popped some popcorn before we sat down to watch a movie one evening, and when I brought the bowl out to sit on our knees as we snuggled on the couch, I couldn't help but notice that he ate, like, two popcorns and then studiously ignored the bowl, even when I nudged it closer to him and said in a hearty voice, "MMMMM!!! GOOD POPCORN, HUH?"

"Um, yeah," he said, smiling a big jolly smile, but with a false note in his voice that I could hear even over the munching sounds I was creating as I threw another handful down the hatch.

I swallowed. "Do you.....not like popcorn?"

"No," he confessed. "I like Doritos."

"DOR-?!?! Doritos?! Are you kidding me?"

"Yeah, Doritos. Those triangular things-..."

"With the fakey cheese that comes off on your fingers," I finished bitterly. "Doritos. Why did we never discuss this before we got married?

He looked at me with amusement. "Is my dislike of popcorn a deal-breaker for you?"

"No," I sulked, reaching for another handful. "I just feel inclined to never let you forget this moment when YOU BROKE MY HEART."

And you know what? I haven't. I am the Defender of Popcorn. A crusader. A ZEALOT.

Go find yourself a pan. Some olive oil. Yellow popcorn. Sea salt. A hackin' big bowl. Pop the popcorn, salt it, enjoy it. Do not add butter. What are you, crazy? Do not ruin the benefits of whole-grain crispy goodness and the heart healthiness of the olive oil by adding a saturated fat. Ohhhhhh, okay. If you must. But just a little, hear?

Here's an article from The Independent (UK) outlining the findings of the researchers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Goal posts

I have turned over a new leaf, or maybe even a whole new tree.

Considering that my favorite bumper sticker reads "Housework Makes You Ugly," you can imagine that puttering around the house, dusting, tidying, sweeping, polishing, CLEANING is not one of my favorite activities. However, it drives me crazy when the house is a cluttered mess. I just can't stand it; I get all twitchy and weird and kind of sad. This is probably because my years of learning at my mother's knee that inward serenity is expressed by outward beauty, both personal and domestic. And then she'd go clean the shag carpeting fiber by fiber. While wearing lipstick.

It's difficult, trying to reconcile those two different sides of my nature. There's the one side that says "Dust is part of a fiber-rich diet" and the other part of me that says, "Inward serenity is expressed by outward beauty, both personal and domestic." I hear there's medication that can make the voices stop; perhaps I should look in to that.

But this past week, I've been trying to overcome my lazy, wanton nature by posting my daily goals through my online calendar. And for some reason, typing them out every morning and then crossing through them like this when I'm done, well, that just gets me motivated to DO THINGS in a way that I can't understand and which sort of scares me.

This list represents everything I've accomplished during the last week, minus the strike-thrus to make it easier to read. The girls and I are, by the way, in our seventh week of our new housekeeping schedule, and it is working very well for us.


Dust my bedroom
Vacuum my bedroom
Wash/dry sheets
Empty all laundry baskets & put stuff away
Vacuum kitchen and laundry room
Go to grocery for salsa ingredients and chips
Make homemade salsa for tonight's dinner
Bake a loaf of bread
Empty and reload dishwasher
Dinner - Mexican Feast Night: chips/salsa, tacos, refried beans

Few little extras:
Clean off top of desk
Stir up new batch of bread dough (oat bran)


go to bank and get housekeeping/grocery money
go to store
Meelyn to work -- pick Meelyn up
Aisling having friend over today -- go pick friend up -- take friend back home
take two 14yos to Blockbuster and rent "Aquamarine" (changed minds about pool)
bake cake, frost, top with Andes mints
continue reading/taking notes on "The Merchant of Venice"
clean upstairs and downstairs toilets
vacuum kitchen wash dogs' bedding
email parish DRE about getting hands on new books
Dinner: Spaghetti leftovers - always better the second time!

Would like to:
go to farmer's market and buy tomatoes and zucchini
wash out dog's crates (probably won't do, if honest)


bake loaf of bread in bread pan for sandwiches
make new batch of bread dough
wash dogs' dishes
do laundry for husband and self (girls do their own laundry, yay!)
ontinue with reading and notes for "The Merchant of Venice"
go to Indiana State Fair tonight - eat much food of the deep-fried variety
Dinner: See above

Extra goals:
give Wimzie a bath because she STINKS
open box of home schooling materials and began reading teacher's editions


Deposit Shakespeare class money in bank.
Drive Meelyn to work at 11:00 so will have car -- Pick Meelyn up at 2:00
Go to Kroger and maybe Aldi (laundry items, look for meat on sale, ingredients for granola)
Mop floor in downstairs bathroom
Vacuum kitchen floor
Read and take notes on "The Merchant of Venice"
Dinner: Spaghetti and garlic bread

A few extras got done:
Unloaded and reloaded/ran the dishwasher
cleaned upstairs bathtub


Dust and vacuum my bedroom
Do the whole polishy thing on the stove, range top, dishwasher and microwave.
Fold a small mountain of wash cloths that are left over from yesterday's laundry.
Go to grocery
Go to bank
Dinner: Mexican Chili


Go to Wal-Mart for picking up this-and-that.
Clean the toilets upstairs and down
Vacuum the kitchen and laundry room
Take Meelyn to work and pick her up at 2:00
Take Hershey to the vet at 3:15 for an allergy shot
Order school books for coming year
Finish up laundry that DH started yesterday
Dinner: Chili dogs and corn on the cob

Monday, August 17, 2009

Okay, what's going on?

For some reason, I can't view my own blog. I keep getting some stupid error message from Google. Google! Look, Google, when I need your help, I'll let you know. If I want to look up a character analysis for Hester Prynne or find out if I can substitue oat flour for wheat flour in a recipe or look for the best price on a sustain pedal for Aisling's electronic keyboard, I'll let you know, 'kay?


(Why can I post on my blog, but not look at it? Does that even make sense?)

Ah. A little searching around revealed the fact that NO ONE who has a blog on Blogger can access their sites. Apparently, Blogger is suffering from a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, which is an attempt on the part of hackers "to make a computer resource unavailable for its users," according to this article at Wikipedia. I don't know when it will be fixed, but the Blogger tech crew is working on it. Twitter and Facebook were also subjected to DDoS attacks a couple of weeks ago.

By the time this post is able to be read in InsomniMom, it will be totally irrelevant. Because right now, none of you can access this site either.

Here's my idea of what should happen to the hackers, when caught.

And, Google? I'm sorry I was so mad at you. C'mere. Give us a hug.

Just. Don't ever do this.

Mondays are the days on our chore schedule when I vacuum the kitchen and laundry room, which is not as much fun as it sounds. The actual task doesn't take ten minutes, but the dreading of the task consumes at least an hour beforehand, and I think it could be fairly said that more time is eaten up in greater quantities as I contemplate doing the same little duty on the following Monday.

I have a loathing of housework detailed into an ART FORM.

So today, I was vacuuming the laundry room. And there on the floor in front of me was a cotton ball. Just a simple cotton ball. I'm not sure how it arrived on the laundry room floor, but there it was. So if you were pushing a sweeper and you saw a cotton ball on the floor, what would you do?

You'd sweep right over that little bugger, wouldn't you?

And that's what I did. And it took a whole four seconds afterward to realize what a big mistake that was. Because those bristled rollers under the sweeper that are called "beater bars"? Well, the beater bars viciously tore that cotton ball into dirty little shreds and refused to suck them up into the dust bag. No, the beater bars coughed the fragmented cotton ball right back onto the carpet, which I'd like to add is an extremely low-pile Berber type. In other words, to coax those grubby little shreds out of the pile, I'm going to have to lie on my face on the floor and pick them up with tweezers.

It's this kind of thing that gives both housework and Mondays a bad rep.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Politically grumpy

My intention has never been to turn InsomniMom into a political commentary blog. There are enough of those. Of course, I think it could be argued that there are a lot of mommy blogs out there, too, but nevermind all that. There are just some times when I feel particularly motivated to make a political statement and this is one of them.

I don't want to get started on the national health care fiasco, the stimulus plan, or the massive insanity that my husband has been enduring, "Cash for Clunkers." Although I will say -- briefly!-- if the average citizen knew the bureaucratic hoops that U.S. auto dealerships have been forced to jump through in the past few weeks by the government, there is NO WAY they'd want this same entity to be overseeing their health care.

My beef today is this: My husband and I, because of tight finances, had to forego the family vacation to Florida back in July. He couldn't take the time away from work, and even if he had been, the money wouldn't have been available because of the gasping, suffering economy.

But the Obama family, well! They went on a taxpayer-funded vacation to Paris back at the beginning of June, just about a week after Barack flew Michelle to New York City on Air Force One for a dinner-and-theater date night. Now the frisky First Family is out in the great American west, visiting Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and other sites of interest. Supposedly, they're all going to head back east for a jaunt to Martha's Vineyard at the end of this month.

Gee, all this, and only seven months after his inauguration!

With our country's economy in such financial disarray -- foreclosure rates rose at a startling 7% from June to July, and July also found consumer spending flat -- Barack Obama's decisions to treat his family to multiple vacations at home and abroad make absolutely no sense to me. They're part of what I consider to be his political tin ear. He is CLUELESS. With so many people in the country teetering on the edge of ruin, with the Labor Department citing a rise in initial jobless claims, with businesses closing and with cities and entire states poised on the edge of bankruptcy, for the Obamas to be whisking off here and there on the taxpayers' money is just outrageous to me. Especially considering that a "family vacation" for the president's family includes an entourage of Secret Service personnel and costly special arrangements needed for security.

Here's a thought: Why doesn't Barack just STAY HOME AND WORK like so many other fathers have done this summer? Maybe Melia and Sasha could get some use out of that swingset that was constructed near the Oval Office. Michelle and her mother could enjoy each other's company and sit outdoors with some iced tea to watch the girls playing. It should have been a fairly relaxing summer for all of them, considering how they don't have to worry about losing their jobs or their house.

Until 2012, that is.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feast Day: The Assumption of the Blessed Mother

Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, one of the Holy Days of Obligation in the Church's liturgical calendar. Because it falls on a weekend date this year, the day of obligation is blended with the regular Sunday Mass.

This is the day when Mary was called up into heaven like Enoch, who "walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him" (Genesis 5:24) and the prophet Elijah, about whom it was said: "As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. " (2 Kings 2:11).

Moses is the third Old Testament person who was assumed into heaven. Deuteronomy 34:6 relates that Moses was buried but no one has ever known the location. Secondly, the archangel Michael "disputed" with the devil for the body of Moses in Jude 9. I'm assuming the argument was over taking Moses' body up into heaven rather than letting it decay in the earth, and naturally St. Michael won. Then we see Moses with Jesus in the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:3 - he's already up there, part of the team and strategizing in power meetings on top of a mountain.

Sometimes people wonder why, if Mary was assumed into heaven, the Bible never mentions it, which is a good question. But when you think of it, it's also a powerful argument against sola scriptura, because the answer is that Mary was still alive when what later became the canon of New Testament scripture was being written. As amazing as the Apostles were, it's still kind of hard to write about the assumption of someone's body into heaven when the someone is still alive.

Since Jesus had no brothers or sisters to care for Mary after his death (and subsequent resurrection), he told St. John to look after her. Scholars think that St. John took Mary to Ephesus, which is part of modern-day Turkey, when the political and religious climate of Jerusalem became increasingly hostile to Christians, culminating in the martyrdom of St. Stephen in AD 37.

Author Donald Carroll wrote very compellingly about the historical, spiritual and archaeological findings of the further life of the Blessed Virgin in his book, Mary's House. It's a slim little volume of ninety-six pages and a fascinating read, one of those books that I simply could not put down. So I'm lucky that it wasn't, like nine hundred ninety-six pages long, or my arms might have fallen off.

Here's a picture of the house, which was excavated by archaeologists in the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the locals who lived in seclusion and simplicity on the top of the hill nearby, had always known about "Meryemana," as they called it in Turkish. The evidence as to its authenticity was so compelling that Pope Leo XIII declared the house a place of pilgrimage in 1896.

There is a place called the Church of Mary Theotokos ("God-bearer" in Greek) near the West Bank by the town of Nablus which was thought for centuries to be the site of her empty tomb, but that church was built in the fifth century, hundreds of years after Mary's death and hundred of years before the excavation of Ephesus.

This little house was, then, most likely the site of Mary's assumption into heaven. Considering who she was, the role she played in bringing salvation to the world, and her importance to the Christians of the time who knew her personally, it seems extremely unlikely that they would have lost track of her grave, that there would be no cherished relics of her body. Mary was a quiet figure, but not one to be lost to obscurity. What is true -- a dogma of the Church -- is that her purity and goodness transcended mortal decay and that, like Enoch before her, she was no more, because God took her.


From the archives:
Feast of the Assumption 2008 on InsomniMom

Feast of the Assumption 2007 on InsomniMom

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Say hello to my little dog

I took Wimzie to the vet for her annual shots the week the girls were gone to Florida and I haven't written about it yet because I think she can sense me thinking about that day; she starts eyeing my ankles in a speculative manner and I have to hurry up and start thinking about cookies.

Wimzie, shameful animal, has been known to bite people. She once bit a plumber, who came unannounced into her yard. He didn't take me seriously when I said, "You see that fluffy little dog out there? She will try to kill you, so let me know before you go to the back yard so that I can lure her inside."

"That dog?" he said incredulously. "The one that looks like she could be doing television commercials for the kind of food people serve to fluffy little dogs? I have a Domberman who poops bigger than that."

I warned him. The next words he said to me, as he was jumping up and down in front of the patio door, were, "GET HER OFF!!! GEDDER OFFME!!!!"

Thank goodness he was wearing leather boots, or she could have really done some damage.

So this was Wimzie's first visit to this vet -- I found a place that has very competitive prices on their dog doctoring, so I changed practices. As I took her in the treatment room, the vet tech and the summer intern both went "Oooh, wook at the little sweetums!! Wook at dis furry widdle baby! Isn't hers just the cuuuuutest widdle fing?"

Wimzie responded by silently showing her teeth and trembling with rage.

"Oooh, hers is a mean one!" giggled the vet tech. "Is hers gonna show dems bad teefies?" She extended her hand for Wimzie to sniff and Wimzie responded by trying to lunge out of my arms to go for her throat. The vet tech did an amazing backward leap, as if she were doing the long jump in reverse, and she and the summer intern huddled back against the wall, their eyes wide. Wimzie, still in the confine of my arms, was vibrating like a fighter jet. Actually, she was sounding like a fighter jet as well, with this deep, menacing roar taking place inside her fourteen pounds. Her lips quivered, pulled back over glistening fangs. Her entire demeanor said, "Address me in that tone of voice once more, bimbos, and I will BATHE MYSELF IN YOUR BLOOD."

"Um, do you have a muzzle?" I asked lamely.

Wimzie did not take kindly to being muzzled. Once she couldn't bite, the only thing she could do was stand rigidly upright, shooting her eyes from side to side, while continuing to make that sound, which could also be identified as "Vesuvius, just before three." Wow, she was so ticked. I honestly wondered if she'd just have a stroke right then and there; she is twelve years old, after all.

It was not a happy visit.

Later on that evening, I was telling my husband about the experience. Wimzie was sitting by his side, looking up at him with adoring eyes, batting at him with one paw so that he would continue administering ear rubs. Every time he stopped, she'd lick his hand in a lovesick, infatuated manner than frankly makes me a little nervous; whose husband does she think he is?

"If someone ever tried to break in the house," my husband said thoughtfully, "I could go to the foyer with Wimzie tucked under my arm and go all Tony Montana on them. 'You wanna play rough? Hokay. Say hello to my leedle dog!'" He grabbed Wimzie up and pointed her at me; predictably, she snarled and snapped her teeth. She resents her portability.

So here's Al Pacino, going all bullety. Just imagine my husband instead, with a Jack Russell terrier instead of a gun.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day -- A little secret

I posted last week, I believe, about my bread-baking experiments from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. Jeff and Zoë are the proponents of a bread baking method in which one uses a very wet dough stored in the fridge for maximum gluten development, removing it from the fridge for a final proofing, then baking it either in a pan or on a stone in the oven. What made this whole thing even more stunning is that the recipe requires no kneading.

I can't tell you how stoked I was for this method to work. Fresh bread several times a week? With no boring kneading? Jeff and Zoë, I'm your girl!

So I bought the book. When it was delivered to my house from the nice people at, I did sit down to make myself read it before just leaping into action, as is my usual wont. I read it, and parts of it sounded plausible (I was rating the plausibility factor by lining what I read in ABin5 up against Peter Reinhold's The Bread Baker's Apprentice) and some of it sounded questionable. But you know? I am not a very experienced bread baker, so I figured who am I to judge? And I went on from there.

So I made Jeff and Zoë's basic recipe. I made the European Peasant bread. I made their Light Whole Wheat recipe, and their brioche. The brioche was the ONLY recipe I had any success with in terms of getting the stupid dough to rise. (And I have to say, the ABin5 recipe was MUCH better than the one in TheBBA.) Because I don't have much experience with bread, I didn't have a clue why the brioche rose to beautiful golden heights and the other breads were so, well, FLAT.

I mean, I have nothing against a flatbread if it's supposed to be one. But I have a great deal on angst about breads that are supposedly going to "bloom" in the oven but don't and come out tasting delicious, with a good, chewy crust and a holey, moist crumb, but are only an inch and a half tall. The girls and I have eaten many very short sandwiches in the past couple of weeks and it isn't as fun as it sounds.

And the other day, when my husband asked me if I'd make him a tuna-and-dill sandwich with fresh tomato on home baked bread to go along with the one I was making for myself? Well, let's just say when I presented the sandwich to him and it was four inches tall (because of the way I sliced the bread) but only and inch and a half wide? Well.

"This....uhhhh....looks great. Thanks!"

"I made that bread myself," I said shyly.

He scrutinized me thoughtfully. "Yes, I can see that you did." He then proceeded to eat the sandwich without another comment, but in a morose manner that suggested his (wisely unexpressed) inner wish that he could have a go at a great big plastic-wrapped loaf of nasty, squishy white bread from the grocery.

I was kind of frustrated. I wanted the ABin5 recipes to WORK, GOSHDARNIT! WORK! So that I don't have to! I think The Bread Baker's Apprentice is a fascinating book and I even bought my own copy finally, but I don't have a stand mixer and I don't want to do all that kneading and baking Peter's kind of bread from scratch makes delicious bread, don't get me wrong. But it is also time consuming. I don't have the kind of time to devote to that kind of baking, even with a stand mixer and a will to knead.

Then Kayte, blessed Kayte, sent me an email the other day. It turns out that she has had the time to experiment with ABin5 with some of her internet baking group friends, and she was having a lot of trouble too: Sometimes the bread would rise, sometimes it wouldn't and there was no predicting from one time to the next what would happen. MADDENING. Kayte had woefully brought this contretemps to the attention of her friend, Glynnis, who emailed Kayte back, saying that the ABin5 recipe is fatally flawed because it contains no sugar for the yeast to feed on and produce that necessary rise in the final proofing and the oven bloom.

I read Kayte's email on Sunday evening and went right out to the kitchen and stirred up a batch of Jeff and Zoë's Light Wheat, adding Glynnis's recommended two tablespoons of sugar to the dough, let it do its on-the-kitchen-counter initial two hour rise, and then popped it in the fridge. The next day, I went ahead and made one boule and it turned out PERFECTLY.

Nice and round, tall, luscious, honestly looked like it came from a bakery. And it tasted absolutely delicious. The sugar adds something, taste-wise. I'm not sure what, but I'd define it as...more complex. Richer, maybe. More....dimensional. I am very pleased.

And now I think I understand why the brioche recipe rose when none of the others did: Jeff and Zoë's brioche recipe contains sugar.

So now it is 7:08 a.m. and I'm going to the kitchen to get out another hunk of dough for its two hour pre-bake proofing. Hopefully, this amazing rise won't prove to be a one-off. Fingers crossed!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Conversations with our daughters

Oh, it takes nerves of steel to be the parents of teenagers, especially teenage girls. Because why, you wonder? Well, it's for the same old reason that's always been with us: Girls can get pregnant. Boys can't.

In my own personal life, I could clearly see that my brother was raised in a different way than I was. I think that partly this was because he had a lot more common sense and because I was just such an idiot. For instance, my brother got to live in an off-campus apartment and then in a house with a roomie, whereas I lived in the Virgin Vault at Ball State for two years and then moved back home with my parents. I told them it was because they had better food and bathroom facilities, plus no scary roommate who slept with her blankets totally over her head like a zombie. They nodded their heads in agreement, yes, yes, yes.

What they were saying to one another was probably something like, "If we don't want to be saddled with this little Madonna-wanna-be's problems for the rest of our natural lives, we'd better get her back here where we can keep an eye on her."

But my dad, when pressed to explain Pat's apartment and my bedroom at the ol' homestead, would just stubbornly say, "It's different with girls than it is with boys."

At the time, I did not have a CLUE what he meant. But now I do. I certainly do.

As I've made my way through my adult life, I've seen more evidence that girls are raised with a greater degree of parental looming, and frankly -- while I detest and abhor the double standards that take place in our society -- I understand and endorse this "helicoptering," as it's now called. It can be a bad world out there for girls, especially girls who have been taught that they are WOMAN, that they're ten feet tall and bulletproof and have such a vividly developed sense of self-esteem, they don't know the first thing about self-preservation, either with their hearts or their bodies.

Consider that girl, Natalee Holloway, the one who went missing from the senior class trip to Aruba. She was just a regular girl, a normal high school girl. And she went on her class trip with her girlfriends and the rest of the graduates, and somewhere along the line, she got drunk in a bar. And with her inhibitions lowered, she left with a person or persons unknown and she's never been heard of since. Somewhere out on some secluded beach, under the cover of darkness, was a man or a boy who didn't respect her at all, poor soul. Poor girl.

While I'm on that subject, I have a couple of thoughts about adults who think it's a grand idea to arrange a senior trip to Aruba. What? Could this have possibly been a stupider idea? Who needs to go to ARUBA because they've just managed to drag themselves through high school? My gosh, where do you get to go when you graduate from college? Like, JUPITER? Geeeez.

A senior class trip to Aruba, complete with a bunch of seventeen and eighteen year olds, just a recipe for disaster. I mean, even if this hideous thing hadn't happened to Natalee, it would still be utterly ridiculous. I used to be both seventeen and eighteen: I know what kinds of shenanigans kids that age get up to when they're right there in their parents' house. The legal drinking age on Aruba is sixteen. Yes, you read that right: sixteen. The legal age to go into the casinos and gamble is eighteen. Nice choice, adults. You big freaking idiots. What's wrong with your heads?

Aruba is said to have a very low crime rate, but not all the bad things that can happen to teenagers are necessarily criminal. I wouldn't think it would take a genius to figure that out.

At any rate, I am now back from my brief trip to the Lesser Antilles and I'd like to say that my husband and I talk to our girls all the time about their sexuality. The subject comes up at least two or three times a week. We talk as a family; we talk one-on-one. The girls have been very receptive so far, although they were totally grossed out when I showed them some pictures of genital warts I called up on a Google images search. We talk about STDs. We talk about God's plan for sex within marriage. We talk about what it might be like to have sex with your boyfriend and then find out he's told all his friends about what you look like naked.

We're very, very frank.

We have to be.

Here's a list of topics we commonly address:

How Boys Think About Sex vs. How Girls Think About Sex

Breaking Up is Even Worse if You've Had Sex (subtitled: "Seeing Him with His New Girlfriend in the Dining Hall will Just About Kill You")

Hormones Can Trump Your Best Intentions

Some STDs Are Yours For Keeps, Unlike the Guy Who Just Dumped You

Avoiding Near Occasions of Sin (subtitled: "Being Alone with a Member of the Opposite Sex in a Dorm Room, a Parked Car or a Parental Dwelling Place is Just Asking for Trouble")

Pre-Marital Sex is a Mortal Sin* and Do You Really Want Your Guardian Angel to See You Doing That?

Nice Boys Get Nice Girls Pregnant Every Day

We also have a series of talks on 1) the utter stupidity of going to bars and/or fraternity parties; 2) how drinking at age twenty-one or older is fine, but drunkenness is a mortal sin; 3) how girls who stupidly go to bars and/or fraternity parties and drink had better know what a roofie is and other assorted themes.

It can be really rugged. I mean, really. Intense, even. We talk and talk and talk. We don't know yet if what we're saying has taken hold of them, and we hope we're catching their hearts as well as their heads. Because there's an understanding of "Ewwww! I do NOT want to get HERPES!" and there's knowledge of what the Church teaches about God's law concerning human sexuality, but then there's also that part you're hoping is in there where they just don't want to disappoint Jesus and harm their relationship with Him.

Will it all work? Ask me again in a few years, once all the rose petals have been thrown at the last wedding.


*Mortal sin is defined as a sin of grave matter, committed with the full knowledge and deliberate consent of the sinner. In other words, a mortal sin cannot be committed accidentally. Mortal sin destroys the life of grace in a person's soul and cuts a person off from a relationship with God.

Please don't write to me and tell me that God doesn't see a difference between mortal sins and smaller wrongdoing (venial sins). It's right there in your Bible. Have the courage and intellectual integrity to go and
read this excellent article by Mark Shea where he spells it out, complete with verses from Scripture.

And also don't try to tell me that once you're saved, you're always saved. It won't work. I read the same Bible you do and I believe what it says. Just a friendly warning.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lip gloss for dogs

I've been thinking about making some lip balm to sell, some lip balm from my very own formula that it took me eighteen months to perfect. And I don't mean to brag -- okay, I do. I mean to, very much. You caught me -- but it is some awesome fabulous lip balm that actually moisturizes your lips and gives you a little bit of gloss.

So I was looking at some of my favorite online sites that sell flavor oils for lip balm and luxuriating in the many delicious choices: Ginger peach! Green apple! Spiced tea! Red currant! Buttercream! Honey! Cranberry! How will I ever choose? I'd like to use them all.

Anyway, while I was browsing around on the internet, Hershey and Wimzie were lying at my feet, snoring and farting and making my eyes water and that got me to thinking: What kind of lip balm flavors would dogs like?

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Baby Rabbit Guts -- Warm and smooth, without all the annoying squeakiness

2. My Own Vomit -- Twice as nice the second time around!

3. Another Dog's Butt -- Why wait for a sniff when you can have it with you all the time?

4. Mom's Lunch -- Named for Kayte's Vash, who stole the pizza right off her plate one day when we were talking in her foyer. Great flavor without the go-to-your-basket banishment.

Because I loved the Monkees

I can't help it. I know it's insane. I don't understand myself and think I may need some kind of medication. But I luuuuuurve this Jonas Brothers song, "I Fell in Love with the Pizza Girl." It reminds me of the Monkees and their cute, goofy sweetness.

And here are The Monkees with "Last Train to Clarksville" and I think I was all of four years old when I saw them singing it on their Saturday morning television show. This song debuted in 1966 when I was three, so that sounds about right. By four, I was already a steadfast fangirl, playing for Team Mickey. I LOVED him, but the truly funny thing is, I can TOTALLY remember wistfully wishing that he was my big brother.

I had no recognition of this tune as a VietNam-era protest song, which it apparently was. I don't think the Jonas Brothers' song about the pizza girl is protesting much of anything, except maybe having giant ripe olives rained down on them from above. Or maybe how fake the shredded cheese looks.

A total racket

One of the things Meelyn and Aisling are going to be doing daily in school this year is an SAT preparation course. It not only teaches them the kinds of problems that they'll find when they sit the exam, but also teaches them how to take the test, which could only be a good thing to know.

For instance, did you know that you shouldn't do problems you don't know how to do on the SAT?

I mentioned this to Gary and Katie the other night when the Prince of Salesmen and I were having dinner with them and Gary looked at me thoughtfully and said, "Yes, that's the way it was when we took the SAT."

"I'm sure it was," I sighed. "And I'm sure someone told me. But it didn't compute in my head because I was too busy thinking about lip gloss and boys and wondering what level of death my parents would kill me to if I skipped school to go buy Van Halen tickets in Indianapolis. So I answered EVERY SINGLE QUESTION, sometimes obligingly forming patterns in case just filling in the little 'a' circle a thousand times was very boring for the grader. Even back then, I was always thinking of others."

This would explain why, in the old way of scoring the SAT at 1600 points, I got a 740 on the verbal part and a 10 on the math. And I think I got those ten points because whatever entity grades the exams felt sorry for me: it was an act of MERCY.

So anyway, I want the girls to be prepared. I wish I'd done this last year with Meelyn instead of the way we DID do it, which turned out to be not as good as what we're going to do now and if you understood this sentence, you either know me way too well, or you yourself scored 900 out of 800 points on your verbal SAT.

My original way to handle SAT prep was to sign them up for an online course. I had some friends who recommended different thises and thats, but the one I latched on to seemed very comprehensive and the format was user friendly and the website looked well-maintained. "Yep, that's the one we'll go with!" I said to myself last April when I was researching these things.

The only problem was that my research neglected to extend to the COST of that online course. When I went to the website last Friday to enroll the girls, I was rendered temporarily unconscious when I read that a one year enrollment was SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.

"Whoaaa....wait a minute. I must have momentarily blacked out, because I thought I just read that this online course costs six hundr...." and then I blacked out again, because my eyes once more fell on the button that read "One year course, $600. Click here to enroll now!"

I don't want to seem harsh, but OH MY GOSH HOW STUPID WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE to enroll your kid in an INTERNET course that costs SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS??!!

It's like my fingers won't even allow me to type that number in small letters. It's SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS, no matter how many times I press or unpress the caps lock key.

This is a course, please understand, where there is no human interaction. No instant messaging, no phoning, no mail-in-your-essay-and-we'll-grade-it, none of that. Zip! Zippo, zero, nada! SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS so that some bored techie can work from home making sure that all the buttons are clickable and that the shopping cart works because the owner of this site? He or she is probably off on a tour of the world on the new yacht. Which is probably named The Scammit or The Six Hundred Clams or something like that.

And if you think that's expensive, you should see how much some of the online courses that do offer personal interaction with a tutor cost.

Well, you know what? They're not getting my six hundred dollars. (There. It finally worked.) The fact that I don't have six hundred dollars is beside the point. The POINT is that I may have goofed up my own SAT all to heck, but I am not stupid. Shut up. I'm not. And there's no way non-stupid me is going to pay that much for an SAT prep course.

So I picked up the Barron's 2009 SAT prep book (see photo above) I bought last year at and grabbed a pen and a sheet of paper and a calendar and began meticulously going through that big thing, mapping out a strategy for the girls to study for the SAT. I hope it works. I don't know why it wouldn't. It isn't fancy, but it did cost me only the price of the book ($12.91) and about four hours of my time. I just can't see paying SIX HUNDR- oops, there it goes again -- that much money for an online course.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's that time of year again!

I spent a few hours online yesterday ordering alllll the school books for the coming year. Meelyn will be a sophomore and Aisling will be a freshman. She's been a freshgirl for quite a number of years now, so it won't be much of a change.

There's a detailed list I need to publish here at InsomniMom so that I can keep track of these things, but for right now, let me say that I ordered Algebra 1, English Comp, American Lit (including three copies of The Scarlet Letter), Vocabulary, Traditional Logic 1 (Meelyn is so excited about this course, she can barely stay awake), French 1, American History and a bunch of other stuff. It was great fun, but I suspect that's because I'm not going to be the one studying all the books. Muuaaahahahahaa!!!

One very nice thing about this year's books is that we already have a lot of them: Aisling is moving into the books that Meelyn used last year. We already have Spanish 1, Biology 1, Analytical Grammar, religion, SAT prep and something else I can't remember right now. Once again, MANY thanks to Katie, who lent us her Apologia Biology book set AND her microscope AND her set of slides -- that would have been a huge outlay of money for us, but we have it all free because she is so generous. Katie, you'll be happy to know that your microscope has been with us for a whole year now, yet it is still intact and not sticky with nacho cheese.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Creeped out

Today I woke up to the news that American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling had been freed from the clutches of the commies in North Korea and were on their way back home, set to land in Burbank, California, where they would be greeted by their assembled families.

Lee and Ling, who were captured when they accidentally ventured over the North Korean border last March, had been assigned to twelve years of hard labor in a work camp, which is probably not NEARLY as much fun as it sounds. Euna Lee is the mother of a four-year-old daughter named Hannah, and how she endured these last four and a half months without going completely insane is a real testament to her strength of character. Both women are married, as well.

I was intrigued by the story, so I sat watching as their plane came in and watched them disembark into the arms of their weeping families. I watched Euna Lee kneel down to lock eyes with her little girl and then open her arms to offer an embrace; Hannah accepted the invitation and went forward to lay her head on her mother's shoulder. I thought I would drown in tears right there.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the details of their release from custody had been brokered by none other than Bill Clinton.

Laura Ling made a statement to the media about their capture and release and she said, struggling to control her shaky voice, "We feared at any moment that we could be sent away to a hard labor camp, and then suddenly we were going to a meeting....We were taken to a location, and when we walked through the doors, we saw...President Bill Clinton....We were shocked, but we knew...the nightmare...was finally coming to an end."

At that moment, it was as if the aurora borealis shone over Bill Clinton. I looked at him and suddenly....loved him. And he is the divil! Oh my heavens it was the worst experience I have ever had. He was standing there off to the side in this, just, awesome suit and tie, looking extremely handsome and confident and as if he'd never considered saying, "Heeey, baby, wanna go get cozy in the galley?" to either Lee or Ling as they all made that long journey home together on the plane and I was all, like, "Bill! Buh-hillllllllllll!!! I luuuuuuurve you!!!!"

And then I was thinking, "What? WHAT??!! I am just ONE DONNA KARAN BERET AWAY from making a total idiot of myself. This is Bill Clinton!


Stepgran: Why does Bill Clinton wear pants?

Me [bitterly]: I didn't know he ever did.

Stepgran: Please play along and ask "Why?"

Me: Why?

Stepgran [smugly]: To keep his ankles warm.

Me [momentarily swallowing tongue]: Mrrrrrrppphhhhh!!!! GRANDMA!!!!

I swear, I died inside a little today, this day that Bill Clinton was, for an extremely limited time, my hero.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

FEAST DAY: St. John-Marie Vianney

"There is a holy man in Ars; go and see him."

That's what the people said and first there was just a small trickle of villagers who came through the doors to see the new pastor in the 12th century church at Ars-sur-Formans, but it ended with a flood of people making pilgrimages from all over Europe between 1830 and 1859. A tsunami of over three hundred people a day swamped the little French hameau of Ars, which is a speck on the map in the east-central Rhône-Alpes wine region, not far from Lyon. Considering the fact that the entire community only consisted of two hundred people, that was quite an influx.

St. John Vianney was spiritually gifted by God as a confessor. He often spent up to sixteen hours a day in the confessional, dispensing prayer, advice, consolation and forgiveness through the Holy Spirit. His fame grew to the extent that people would mob him when he stepped outside the rectory to walk over to the church; he took to keeping a handful of blessed medals in the pocket of his soutane so that he could toss them up in the air, making a break for it as the crowds scattered to scramble for the medals.

He was committed to the Biblical concept of personal sacrifice for the spiritual benefit of others (for a chapter-and-verse list, click here) and fasted from personal comfort by sleeping on a hard bed and limiting himself to a diet of potatoes, bread and milk, offering up his sufferings for the village of Ars and the people who came to him. He became one of the truest ambassadors of Christ our world has ever known. Priests from the area who knew him testified to the fact that supernatural grace kept him going, because any other person would have crumbled under the strict fasting combined with his work load.

Because of his holiness and his success in drawing people to Jesus, St. John Vianney was tormented by evil spirits for a number of years. Demonic influence caused his bed to shake on the floor and voices to jeer at him; once the curtains of his bed were set afire. There were times when the manifestations included physical attacks on the good priest. These occurrences terrified the villagers of Ars, but St. John Vianney, with his gentle sense of humor (and knowing that satan's vast pride is outraged when he is mocked), would just smile and say, "Oh, the old Grappin* and myself? We are almost chums."

In spite of all this, St. John Vianney barely made it to the priesthood. In our modern way of naming things, we would have said that he had "special needs" or "learning disabilities." Undoubtedly, he did. Schoolwork was not his forte. He struggled with Latin for years while in the seminary, and the difficult theology courses soared over his head. However, he had been brought up in a godly home (his parents hid itinerant priests who traveled about the country in disguise to say Masses for the faithful in those days of post-revolution France, where the churches were still padlocked and it was illegal to attend Mass) to love and honor Jesus and to consider the Blessed Mother as lovingly as he considered his own maman. His sermons never expressed great depth of theological insight, but were instead simple catechetical observations that taught his people how to live simple, humble, prayerful lives before God.

St. John Vianney did such a good job of this that his church was literally never empty for years. There was always someone kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

St. John Vianney, one of my most beloved saints in the calendar and Meelyn's Confirmation saint, died on August 4, 1859 at the age of seventy-three. The year 2009 is a special one because it marks the 150th anniversary of his death.

His body is incorrupt and lies in state beneath one of the altars at the basilica at Ars. You can see the shrine, the basilica and pictures of Ars by visiting the official Ars-sur-Formans shrine website. And here's a great photo journal posted by a priest named Fr. Gary Coulter.

St. John Vianney, we love you! Happy feast day, saint of God.

*archaic French word for "pitchfork"

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and more

I've been doing a lot of experimenting lately with bread baking from the book Kayte recommended to me titled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. Their method of bread making-and-baking is a very interesting one, relying on a very wet dough that is stirred up, left to rise for a couple of hours on the counter, and then refrigerated for up to two weeks. During that period of refrigeration, you pull off a chunk of dough (their recipes are enough to make four loaves), dust it with flour, shape it, allow it to do its final proofing, and then bake it. Fresh bread, no kneading!

I've met with success and failure with this method, the failure occurring in the proofing: All the bread tastes fantastic, but the problem (and I am not enough of an expert to either predict when this will happen or know what to do to keep it from happening) is that sometimes the bread rises and sometimes it doesn't. Jeff and Zoë say in the book that I should be getting a lot of "bloom" in the oven, when the dough does some kind of magical poofing maneuver, but quite often, my loaves are completely free of poofage. It's very delicious bread, but not tall enough to make a sandwich with.

The five-minute brioche recipe was fabulous and it had a lot of oven bloom. I baked us several loaves of that and gave one to our neighbors, Pat and Mike the identical twins, and they came over and told me I was a genius. Coming from the two of them, both of them experienced bakers -- you'd want to see their glazed cinnamon rolls -- was high praise indeed. However, I've not quite had the nerve to take over Jeff and Zoë's basic recipe or their European Peasant Bread, both of which I've tried and failed to produce anything over three inches tall.

I have their Light Whole Wheat bread dough in the fridge right now, and before I make the first loaf from that batch, I thought I'd post a few helpful videos.

Here are Jeff and Zoë themselves on a chatty morning program from Minnesota. They give the recipe and instructions for the bread in the video.

And here's a vid demonstrating their technique from a website I just found called

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day - More DIY How To Projects

This final video is from a bit of a rival, adapted from baker Jim Lahey's recipe from the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. The recipe follows the video; I copied it out because it is rather different from the Hertzberg-François method.

Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread Recipe
from the New York Times

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1½ cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Church festival day!

One of the many things I love about the Catholic church is that they don't skimp on the festivities. If there's going to be a procession, it's a PROCESSION, often with Knights of Columbus wearing plumy hats to escort the Blessed Sacrament under one of those little silk pavilions-on-poles. If there's going to be a special Mass, like at Easter Vigil or Christmas, it's going to be at an inconvenient time of day for the maximum effect and there are going to be lots of candles and singing and flowers.

It could only follow that if there's going to be a saint's day church festival, then it's going to be a great big deal, with cake walks and carnival games and everyone gathering for the rosary and a biergarten and a massive dinner so that everyone can go home all prayed up and filled with good food, clutching bags of little gizmo prizes.

To that end, I got up early this morning and baked two cakes for the Cake Walk, one a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting decorated with colorful cinnamon gumdrops, the other a devil's food cake (I couldn't resist) with milk chocolate frosting, decorated with those little Andes mints. It turns out that the Olive Garden didn't hog the entire supply of them to put the brakes on their customers' garlic breath.

So we're getting ready to leave for Mass in twenty minutes. My husband and I will be manning the Golf Zone game for an hour while the girls do Tic-Tac-Toe. Then we'll have dinner and talk to a bunch of our friends and maybe have a beer or two.

THANK HEAVEN the weather is decent today for the first time in forever.