Friday, September 27, 2013

Trust Me, They Are Pulling Our Leg

My friend Cecelia, whom I absolutely love (and who blogs here and is one of the bravest bloggers I know) put the bag on my desk a little over two weeks ago. It was a gallon size plastic bag with some pale glop in it. Alongside the bag of glop was a sheet of instructions to make "Amish Friendship Bread."

You know what I am talking about. These recipes have been circulating for decades. My beloved late mother-in-law, Ellen, had one tucked away in her cookbook with a note that it came from Betty Meyers next door. Somewhere in my long ago past, I was even on the receiving end of one of these recipes. I was unsuccessful back then: my glop turned rancid and moldy.

The whole friendship glop thing is not unlike a chain letter. You feed the batter, you nurture the batter, then you beef it up and pour off cup portions of it to give to friends.

It never stops.

All the same, I was intrigued. What Cecelia gave me was about a cup of potential sourdough starter. I have always been interested in baking with starters, but never went beyond envying people who baked with them. Given my extremely limited and highly unsuccessful experience with glop in the past, I never tried my hand at a starter.

So here I was, with glop from someone I truly, truly like, which meant I couldn't just toss it away. And it was starter. So I squeezed it and fed it and nurtured it just like the instructions called for. By the miracle of fermentation, the glop actually did what it was supposed to do. It developed bubbles and froth and had a nice tangy odor when I opened the bag.

Today was "make more glop to give to people and bake the bread with the remaining glop" day. I just popped the "bread" into the oven. I have a large bowl of starter, which I may just be selfish and keep for myself.  We'll see.

But here's my take on the "Amish Friendship Bread" recipe. Somewhere there are a group of Amish women laughing their heads off.

I don't know why the recipe calls for starter, except to make middle class white women (who I imagine are the only ones who ever, ever make this stuff) feel they are baking something authentic and earthy. They may be communing with their Little House on the Prairie alter egos (and who among us doesn't do that?) but trust me, this is not a recipe that needs starter. There are more than enough ingredients (eggs, baking powder, baking soda) to make it rise on its own without the starter.  

But I digress. The real reason this recipe is still making the rounds is that "Amish Friendship Bread" is a sugar fest from the word go. Even cutting back on the sugar, there is more than enough in the dough (especially after you add one LARGE box on instant pudding) to stun a horse. And that was before I sprinkled the cinnamon sugar combo on the top. As it bakes, I can smell the sugar rising through the house. While traditional Amish baked goods do call for a lot of sugar (because this is a community that does everything manually and they need the calories), I doubt there is an Amish woman anywhere in this country who ran to the general store in her little community and popped a large box of instant pudding into her basket so she could make this little treat.

I won't be making "Amish Friendship Bread" again. But I DO have a lot of starter now and see no reason it cannot be used for real bread. And I'm willing to be the butt of the joke in the meantime. Because I know darn well that somewhere out there is a whole bunch of Amish women laughing their heads off at us all. "Oh, ja, that's what we bake all the time," they assure us, waiting until we turn the corner before clutching one another in gales of laughter.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The 400th Post

I knew I was approaching this milestone in blogging and had been turning over topics in my head. I wanted my 400th post to be something truly worthy of the status. So here it is:

I walked home today from work.

I know, I know. You are reading this thinking "that's it? That's April's 400th post? She walked home today from work?"

Let me explain.

It's been a long time since I have walked home from work. More than a month. Almost two months. First I had a blood vessel behind the knee cap break, which caused great pain and made walking impossible. Just as I was recovering from that, the whole Aunt Ginger crisis started. Five days walking and sitting at the hospital set my knee recovery back almost to the beginning, making walking painful and walking almost any distance impossible again.

But finally we are on more solid ground. Ginger has been home for a week and is making good progress. My schedule (daily/work/home/community) is starting to fit again. And my knee has finally (I think, I hope) healed.

So I walked home late morning, under a brilliantly blue autumn sky. All the way home I thought about how wonderful it felt to walk again, how much I had missed walking, how grateful I am that I am able to walk.

I have two posts in the wings: one on weddings, one on "The Wizard of Oz." They will appear (all in due time, of course).

After all, I walked home today from work. And that has made all the difference.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Away

Back in August, I started the following post:

Canning is a messy business. Over the weekend I canned a batch of salsa, only seven pints, and by the time I finished, there were dirty dishtowels everywhere. Everywhere. In the sink, on the table, on the stove. By the time I had washed and dried bowls and cutting board and knives, there were even more towels.

How did Ma Ingalls do it?

We know Ma canned, because Laura refers to her doing so in The Long Winter. So if Ma was canning at the homestead shanty at De Smet, we are not talking a big room. We are not talking about a family that had a lot of towels either.

My good friend Margo and I often dissect the Little House saga with painstaking precision. Where did Ma go the bathroom? And now this all consuming question: how did Ma can?

I am not planning on a lot of canning this year. My heart is not in it and, other than the salsa, I am not sure I want to lay up treasures in my earthly pantry.

That's as far as I got.

My writing got set aside for lots of reasons. A concert cancellation lead to Warren being able to leave town for a week and we made tentative plans for a long overdue break. Aunt Ginger unexpectedly went into the hospital for the better part of the last week of August, an adventure that started at 8 p.m.on Monday and segued into rehab at a nursing facility at 4:00 p.m. the following Friday. Our vacation plans tottered and threatened to all with the medical crisis, but once Ginger was safely ensconced in the nursing home, I felt I could leave town with impunity.

So we fled. Fled to Cape Hatteras and the gift of a cottage at the ocean. Fled to a week of no office, no Symphony, no hospital, no much of anything. Oh, we did a little bit of going out and looking: Monticello on the way to the cape, the Wright Brothers National Monument when we got there, but for the most part we kept quiet and stayed home. The ocean was a short walk over a dune and we both spent time walking or just sitting and listening.

The cape is two weeks behind us and I am still playing catchup. (But I'm closer, really I am.) The great news is that Aunt Ginger was released today from the nursing home and is now back home in her own comfort zone. She lives a block away from me, so now she is a short stroll away instead of driving across town.

It's good to be writing again. I did write some while I was gone, but not blogging posts. It's good to be back, but because I am still catching up, I am finishing this post with my September Myeloma Beacon column:

I once read an article in which the author described her habit of working herself into an illness requiring hospitalization about every two years. She did this routinely until a doctor finally pointed out to her that scheduling a vacation every so often would be a more cost-effective, healthier practice. The author, who had been eschewing vacations as a waste of time, became a convert.
I read that article decades ago. I read it back in the pre-computer, pre-cell phone, pre-tablet, pre-plugged in 24/7/365 era. Today, a similar article would have to start with the precept, “disconnect.” While I agreed with the author’s conclusion, I too have been guilty of not taking time for myself but instead pushing myself to the point of dropping.
Not this year. The first week of September, I took an unplugged, “health first” vacation. It was made possible by the generous loan of an ocean cottage by a very good friend and an unexpected opening in my hus­band’s too tight schedule. A last-minute medical crisis of a family member managed to resolve to the point I felt I could leave town without worrying too much. So the first day of September, we were on the road to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Living with myeloma, I never forget the reality of having a chronic, terminal cancer. Every time something new and different emerges (the latest being veins that spontaneously break), I flinch. I try to spend my days not dwelling on it, but the truth is that myeloma is never far from my mind.
But for the vacation, it was, at least much of the time. There is a timeless quality to the ocean, an eternal pattern in the waves. Sitting on the beach and watching them roll in, I could shove myeloma to the far corner of my mind.
To my surprise, my awareness of the cancer was strongest the first time we walked up over the dune and dropped down onto the shore. I stood for the longest time just watching the waves, closing my eyes to listen to the surf. Then I turned to my husband.
“I didn’t realize until just now how much I was afraid I would never see the ocean again,” I told him, my voice hoarse with emotion. I sensed a weight lifting from me as I took in the sounds, the smells, the sights. I stored them up greedily, hoarding them for when the surf is too faint and distant to sense.
Prior to our leaving on the trip, my husband asked me what I wanted to do while we were on vacation. My answer came quickly.
“Sit on the beach, listen to the waves, and do nothing.”
Okay, we did a little more than that. We toured Monticello en route to the ocean, and we ventured away from the cottage a few other times as well. And we did watch some old movies (old, old movies: “Giant” (1956) was the newest of the lot) on television. But a lot of the vacation was spent reading and resting and watching the waves.
The great naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “[a] man may stand [at the shore] and put all America behind him.” He was writing of Cape Cod, which he walked the length of more than once in his lifetime. I was considerably farther south, but my sentiments were one with Thoreau’s.
On Cape Hatteras, I could stand facing the ocean and put all America, as well as all of my myeloma, behind me.
And I did.