Holy Saturday morn

Rain storms during the night have left the Earth green and heavy with moisture.

From my window I see the blue green of Colorado spruce needles, lime green of new sycamore leaves, deep green of pine trees in the backdrop, and delicate light green of spring grasses in their thick tufts and lush stretches.

Tiny streams have carved pathways on the hilly banks. A burst of wind sways the branches and sends a spray of droplets into the air.

Mounds of fluffy white daffodils bounce in the breeze at the house across the way, nodding approval of the generous watering of the Earth.

From their secret hideouts, birds chatter away, as they happily await the sunshine.

On this Holy Saturday, may we too be filled with hope and wonder as we prepare for the amazing joy of Easter morning.

Friday Morning

The sign said Fresh Pretzels and Logs. Interesting enough, but what really got my attention was the wonderful aroma of yeast, sugar and cinnamon, plus a smidgeon of savory sausage and melting cheese!

Behind the glass wall, a young Amish girl rolled out dough, stretching and pulling and then cutting it into fist-sized balls, laying aside the extra as she began to shape one portion at a time. Working quickly, she snipped off a long piece, then rolled again, tied a loose knot and flipped the newly formed pretzel onto a large baking sheet.
Without a pause she darted over to trays of freshly baked pretzels, carefully picked up each one with a tong and dipped it into melted butter. As a lineup of customers waited at the counter, mouths nearly watering, the warm buttery treats landed in a drawer of cinnamon sugar and then into small paper bags.

Three little tables stood tucked in beside the glass window on the customer side, fully occupied. One kindly gentleman had an elderly mother at his side; he spoke loudly and tended to her constantly, picking up her napkin whenever it fell and offering her another cup of coffee.

Several mid-aged ladies looked like they were ready for a casual date wearing colorful sweaters, smart leather shoes, and a touch of jewelry. A few sported freshly done hair, as if they had just come from the salon. They looked fit and healthy too, though were eating warm pretzels dripping with butter and sweetness. Several ladies munched on sandwiches filled with meat and cheese. Everyone was smiling.

Not one young person was among them. On the porch outside, I had seen a handsome- looking older couple on old-fashioned rockers, chatting as if it were perhaps a first opportunity. Could these folks be members of Seniors Meet or Match.com for the silver sneaker crowd?

The event was an informal convention of retirees, it seemed. Very likely, in fact. According to data, ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five each day, and they are the healthiest and best educated generation in our nation’s history. They are out and about. Well-tuned representatives of this population were snacking on freshly-baked pretzels and enjoying their Friday morning, right there in the local farmers’ market.

I was on a speed visit to get a few donuts for the weekend, but decided to slow down and take it all in: a stroll through the country furniture aisle, a sample of home-made pickles, people-watching at the gourmet wing counter where at least eight different flavors of chicken wings created some drama, a leisurely visit at the corner shop that sells everything from buckwheat pancake mix to chocolate-covered strawberries.

Of course I remembered the donuts, warm with sticky icing and fresh cream filling, and then made my way to the door, again passing the pretzel and log shop. The tables were still full, customers still smiling. I was tempted to ask them the name of their club but decided to simply come back next Friday and take a place at one of those tables. After all, I’m retired too!

A Nor’easter arrived…..

…. as predicted. Fancy meteorologists with their latest equipment and unmatched hour-by-hour precision were among the most excited, next to school children! Wet snow fell furiously during the turbulent periods of the storm and changed the landscape with its heaviness on bushes and trees. During lulls in the storm,  children gathered with sleds and mittens to travel the slopes in the neighborhood. Dogs pranced around in the snow among the children and a few brave Dads stood by.

What to do on such a day? Once a teacher, always a teacher. Of course, I checked the school closings early in the morning, cup of coffee in hand.  Then I began to work in the kitchen! Homemade bread was first on the list, my grandmother’s recipe for oatmeal whole wheat bread. Yeast, just enough sugar to help the yeast rise, two kinds of flour, a pat of butter, warm water, a little mixing….and the dough was complete, rising in its safe warm place.

Next came the soup, just waiting to happen with a turkey carcass leftover from Christmas in the freezer. While the yeast dough rose in my slightly warm oven,  simmering turkey remnants, veggies, and herbs filled the house with a light, savory aroma. It was a recipe for coziness.

As the day went on, the soup broth became rich and reduced. I removed the bones and strained the broth. Additional vegetables, including diced carrots, chopped celery and onion, lima beans, and a nice sprinkling of quinoa and cute curly pasta found their way into the soup pot, along with tasty chunks of turkey  from the bones. The soup simmered on.

Back to the bread…..having risen to double in size, it was ready for the next step. I prepared the pastry cloth with ample flour and turned out the dough to be kneaded and shaped. This is a special step of bread-making for me. It’s a hands-on experience, literally; a chance to imagine; a promise of something yummy to come; and an encounter with the magic of transformation (the yeast). This time, I added chopped pecans and dried cranberries, slightly moistened in a cup of water for a few minutes. Two medium bread pans would provide the form today (one to share with a friend and one to enjoy myself). Then another time of waiting followed, aka the 2nd rising.

The beauty of bread-making is that the baker has free time between stages. The down side is that one needs to be home to get the timing right, perfect for a cold snowy day when weather gurus have said “Stay home!”  Before long, the timer went off and the bread was ready for the oven. Aromas filling the house turned to yeast and warmth and all kinds of delicious. How else does one describe freshly baked bread? Not able to resist, I sampled the treasure while still warm. It was just right!

Dusk came, the meteorologists warned of freezing slush and slippery roads, and evening cancellations scrolled across the screen. My soup and bread supper was  delightful!  The day had been somehow festive—watching the outdoor world from a warm perch inside, doing things I love to do, creating something useful and nourishing—and I was grateful.

In case you’d like to bake bread during the next Nor’easter, I share my recipe here. It comes from my grandmother’s kitchen, where she often served it with butter and fig preserves. The bread is best warm from the oven or toasted.

1 pkg yeast dissolved with 1 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water – Let this sit for a few minutes while you complete the next step

Place in bowl: 1 cup quick oats, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp soft butter, 1 scant Tbsp salt

Pour over the above 2 cups hot water. Mix with electric mixer and let cool until warm. Add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and then enough white flour to make a firm dough, 3 to 4 cups. (not too sticky but soft)

Let dough rise in warm place covered with a damp clean cloth until double in size. Knead, form, and place in buttered pans or onto baking sheet. Let rise again until double and bake, starting in 450 oven for 10 minutes and then 350 oven for about 30 minutes. I test bread for doneness by tapping. If it sounds hollow and crust is nicely browned it’s ready to remove from oven, cool a few minutes, and turn onto a rack. Enjoy!!!