Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lotus Eaters

OK, I have to got to admit it. Once again, I've been a bad blogger. I've only put up one post this month and the month is almost gone. I was gone for two weeks, and the week before that I was packing and prepping for the trip. In the week since I've been home I've scaled Mt. Laundry, harvested the fields of suitcase regurgitation in my living room, and tried (not very successfully) to refocus our brains into work and school mode. What I haven't done is bake.

Sure, I've made bread for sandwiches and I've made dinners, but nothing that made me run for the camera and shriek, "Don't eat that yet!" I think I must have caught something in Hawaii. A bug? A virus? Or maybe just a way of life.

We noticed a peculiar phenomenon while we were there. Wherever we went we saw a certain type of person, usually a man. He would be lean, leathered, wearing minimal clothing, as though fresh out of the surf, with an unfocused quality to his gaze as he looked out at the waves.

We dubbed them the Lotus Eaters. They would sit in parks, walk down the streets aimlessly, or stand on the beach, watching the sets roll in. It was as though they had come to the islands many years ago and had been sucked into a timeless existence, living from one ride in the surf to the next, unaware of the passage of time.

Just being in Hawaii does tend to bring on that mindset. Each day is so like the one before it, with temperatures in the 80's, a light breeze coming off the ocean to cool the skin, clouds scudding across the sky, and the sound of the surf always in the background. The only difference day to day is what you choose to do with that day. Playing in the ocean, stacking rocks, watching the sunset, or just closing your eyes and smelling the plumeria.

On the drive back to the airport I kept asking my husband, "Have we really been here two weeks? Are you sure it's time to go back. It feels like only 3 days. 4 at the most!" Without that dated return flight ticket, it would have been so easy to put off the return for just a few more days. And then a few more. And I'd eventually be wandering the streets of Maui with browned, crackly skin, wearing a thong bikini, and a faraway look in my eyes.

I suppose it's for the best that we came home when we did. The thought of appearing in public in a thong bikini is enough to jolt me back to reality. I guess instead of a lotus eater I'll stick with being a brownie eater. It works for me.

These are delicious brownies that I made before the trip. The recipe is one that I've heard raves about. I had to try it, but, of course, couldn't leave perfection alone and had to add my own spin on it. They are fudgy, chocolatey, cherry goodness in a bar, much tastier than lotuses.

Baked Cherry Brownies
- adapted from Baked

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11oz. dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1o-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup tart dried cherries

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, preferably glass or light-colored metal.

2- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.

3- Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder into a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter and completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

4- Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Ad the 2 remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat, or your brownies will be cakey.

5- Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Sprinkle the chips and cherries over the flour. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture, chips, and cherries into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

6- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

7- Let the brownies cool completely before cutting into squares. Store tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Note - I stored mine in an airtight glass container and a few got forgotten on the counter before our trip. When we got back, they were surprising still edible. Hey, why are you looking at me like that? When you've got a chocolate craving, you go with what you've got!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Three S's

Can you guess where I am?

Here's a clue.

Here's another clue.

Got it yet? How about this. It pretty much says it all.

Yup. I'm in Hawaii. Maui, to be specific. The sun, the sand, the surf. It's pretty fabulous. Especially knowing that back home people are breaking out their extra warm sweatshirts and snuggling up to warm mugs of tea. Here the tea is iced and we debate whether to turn on the AC or just let the ocean breeze blow through the screen doors.

We've gone snorkeling, boogie boarding, body surfing, swimming. And by we, I mean my husband and kids. I don't like getting my face wet. What? Don't look at me like that! You already knew I was weird. I anchor the beach towel and take pictures so that my daughter and husband can have something to post on Facebook.

I also excel in the shopping department. No vendor remains unvisited in my quest for Christmas presents and thank-you gifts. In case you're thinking there will be a hefty overweight bag fee at the airport, fear not, because I travel like a hippie.

I realize that most people, when on vacation, want to do as little in the kitchenette as possible. We're staying in a beautiful condo where everything is brand-new and the kitchen is gorgeous! (Contact information available on request). Knowing this, I menu planned in advance and brought along ingredients like a jar of honey, a baggie of salt, a baggie of yeast, a 5 lb. bag of King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour, and a 6 liter dough rising bucket. Yup. Hippie. I'm on vacation and I'm making my own bread, pizza crust, and hamburger rolls.

You might think that's a bit much for a vacation. Let me tell you about my hippie daughter. She and her husband and their daughter are here, too, but in a different part of the island. She started her packing and menu planning 3 months in advance. She fermented, dehydrated, and prepped food to take along, including a dehydrated scobie so she could make her own kombucha in paradise. She also carefully packed her daughter's cloth diapers (no diaper rash on vacation!), the Sweet Pea Baby and favorite blanket, her daughter's special eating time bowls and food coats, as well as coconut oil, olive oil, and spendy food supplements. Guess what happened.

The morning we were flying out my son-in-law was loading the bags into the back of the car, which was in the driveway, back hatch open. He put in the big suitcase, went in the house for another bag, heard a sound like a car door slamming, went outside with the second bag, and the first bag was gone. Someone had stopped, grabbed the suitcase, hopped into their El Camino, and sped off down the street. Seriously. Who steals a suitcase? What were they hoping for? Whatever they hoped for, I'm sure they were tremendously disappointed.

Every single thing in that suitcase was expensive, either in terms of the time spent to make it, or the cost to replace, but not one thing had street value. My chin quivers when I think of some landfill being gifted with a whole load of lovely organic cotton double-thick diapers.

But, thankfully, my son-in-law is awesome. He shrugged and said, "They didn't take anything that can't be replaced. We'll go shopping in Hawaii." And with the wonderful attitude, the trip went on, it wasn't ruined, and we're all having a grand time.

I don't have pics of the food that I made. We were too busy enjoying it to stop and take pics. Here's the dough recipe, though, in case you travel like a hippie, too, and want to have your own healthy bread on the go. I'll bet you could even enjoy it at home.

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Makes two to three 1.5 lb loaves

1 1/2 c lukewarm water
1 1/2 c lukewarm milk (I used coconut milk)
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt
1/2 c honey
5 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (I used coconut oil)
6 2/3 c whole wheat flour

1. Mix the yeast salt, honey, and oil with the lukewarm water and milk in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded, not airtight food container.

2. Using a spoon, food processor with dough attachment, or a stand mixer, mix in the whole wheat flour without kneading the mixture.

3. Cover the mixture, and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flatten on top); approximately 2 to 3 hours.

4. Although the dough can be used after it has risen and collapsed, the authors state that the mixture is easier to handle when it is cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded, not airtight container and use over the next 5 days. After the five days, put the dough in the freezer for up to 1 month.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Using wet hands, scoop out a 1 1/2-pound (cantaloupe-size) handful of dough. With wet hands, quickly shape the dough into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. Drop the loaf into the prepared pan filling it slightly more than half-full.

7. Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Flour and slash the top of the loaf using the tip of a serrated bread knife.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 5 minutes, if not using a stone; otherwise, preheat the oven 20 minutes before baking time.

9. Place the loaf on a rack near the center of the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake the loaf for 50 to 60 minutes or until deeply browned and firm.

10. Allow to cool completely before slicing in order to cut reasonable sandwich slices.