Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bialy, Anyone?

In 1984, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom, and we moved to New York State when the baby was ten weeks old.  I decided this was a good time to start baking bread, and it was such a positive experience that I have baked virtually all our bread ever since.  I've taken time off for such Important Events as childbirth and vacations, but other than that, we eat homemade bread.

Terry and I went to see Julie and Julia when it came out, and I knew I had to take a look at Julia Child's cookbooks.  The one that appealed to me most is called Baking with Julia, and my very own copy is now lying on the desk next to my computer (Christmas gift!).  I tried my first recipe yesterday, called Onion Bialys.  I had never heard of a bialy till Melanie B. mentioned them to me some time in the last year, so the recipe rang a bell and I decided to make them.

Well.  Talk about delicious!  I think I like them better than bagels.  So in case you are inspired by the photograph to try them too, here is Julia's delicious recipe:

Onion Bialys

2 1/4 c warm water
2 1/4 t active dry yeast
2 t sugar
2 T solid veg. shortening
1/3 c minced yellow onion
1 t black pepper (optional)
3 c flour

Combine water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes.  Melt shortening in a small skillet and saute onions till they are tender, about 3-5 min.  Scrape into a mixing bowl, add the yeast mixture and pepper, and beat in the flour.  Beat at medium about 3 minutes and let stand for 1 1/4 hours (this is called a sponge).

Meanwhile, do this:
2 T oil
1 c minced yellow onion (I think this is a lot, I used about 1/2)
2 t poppy seeds
pepper to taste
Heat oil in a skillet and saute onions with poppy seeds and pepper till tender.  Let cool.

Preheat oven to 500.  Put a metal pie plate or cake pan on the bottom shelf; place the baking shelf just above it (all this should be in the bottom 2/3 of the oven).

Back to the dough:
1 T salt
3 more cups flour

Add salt to the sponge and then gradually add flour, beating well.  If you have a dough hook, knead with the mixer for about 3-5 minutes. If you are doing it by hand, add flour till the dough is too stiff to stir, turn out onto floured counter and knead 3-5 minutes, adding flour to keep it from sticking.
Let this dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours or till doubled.

Punch down and turn onto counter.  Cut into 12 pieces.  Shape each into a circle and flatten in the center to create a thick 1/2" wide rim.  Prick the center with the tines of a fork and spoon some onion filling into the depression.  Prick again to keep it flattened.  Place bialys on a greased baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them.

Put four ice cubes and 1/4 c cold water in a cup.
Place baking sheet with six bialys in the oven, and toss the cubes and water into the metal pan you put on the bottom shelf.  Shut the oven door and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 450 and bake another five.  The water/ice creates steam in the oven which makes a wonderful crust on the bialys.

Remove bialys to a rack to cool, set oven temp at 500 again and repeat with the remaining six pieces of dough.  

We had leftover Christmas ham on these and it was delicious!

As you can see, I left a few of them plain, for the non-onion fans in the family.  
I am a little baffled by the difference between my bialys and Julia's.  Hers are flattened in the center even when baked, while mine, in spite of furious activity with a fork, are pretty rounded on top.  However, as they taste fabulous and are not likely to be abandoned in the breadbox, I will not fret about this.

By the way, bialys originate from Bialystok, Poland.  Julia told me so.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winnie the Pooh

I have always loved books.  I don't really know if my parents read me a lot of books when I was very young, but I do remember being in about the fourth grade, and browsing my classroom bookcase - while waiting in line to leave - for something to read on the hour-long bus ride home.  I read constantly and I loved re-reading books.  I still do!

I am also a bit of a purist.  I was devastated when I discovered that Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children were not written by the same person who wrote Heidi - somehow, it didn't feel right and those books didn't have the same charm they had for me previously.  

In a similar vein, I really wish that Disney would have left Winnie the Pooh alone.  His pictures aren't as good as the originals, neither are the stories, and what is up with those Heffalumps, anyway?  Hello, they are supposed to exist only in Piglet's imagination!!!!  

So when I learned that a new Winnie the Pooh book, obviously NOT written by A.A. Milne, was being published, I experienced emotions ranging from horror to extreme skepticism.  However, I happened to see a copy in a store one day and took a gander at it, and immediately went home and added it to my Christmas Wish List.  My generous granddaughter (via her generous parents - she is less than a year old, after all) gave it to me, and I have been reading it for the past two days.  It is called Return to the Hundred-Acre Wood and was written by David Benedictus.

It could almost make you think A.A. Milne has come back to life, it's that good.  The illustrations are just like Ernest Shepard's, the animals talk and think like they did 80 years ago, and even the addition of Lottie the Otter feels like it belongs in the story.

For once, I was wrong - and I'm happy I was! (thanks, Abigail!)

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas 2009

This has been a highly satisfying Christmas season for me.  I've been pondering why this is so, and although I'm not totally sure, there are a few things which have made it special.

* I started playing Christmas music in early November.  You might think this would mean I'd be seriously tired of it by now, but this is not so because I don't have music on all the time.  I only play a cd every now and then...and so I feel that I've heard just enough Christmas music to feel satisfied.

* A wonderful new Christmas CD: Peace on Earth by Casting Crowns.  I actually gave this to Jacob for his birthday (Nov. 28) but Terry and I love it so much that we bought our own copy of it.  The title song is hauntingly beautiful.

* Terry, Jessica and I went to downtown Kalamazoo and wandered through Bronson Park and some nearby streets.  The decorations were beautiful; snow was falling; the Nativity was inspiring and the evening satisfied my Christmas spirit!

* A beautiful Christmas Eve service at church.

* Family visits during November!  My parents, Terry's sister, and my aunt and uncle all visited in the space of about 12 days.  It was busy but fun and just sort of became a part of the holiday season (which technically lasts from Thanksgiving through New Year's!)

* It was our first Christmas with a grandchild. I love giving gifts to my kids, but let's face it, shopping for small children is so much more fun!

I told my kids on Christmas Day how much it means to me that they are all believers, following Christ and making (mostly) wise choices in their lives.  The older I become, the more I value and love the words in the Bible and it blesses my socks off to know that each of our four are 'in the fold'!  I feel deeply blessed to know that God chose me...and that makes this Christmas, and every Christmas, special.  I hope it has been a special one for you, too.

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home