Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Pumpkin Saves My Sanity

It’s my favorite season, although I have to say that what I am most fond of about seasons is that each season actually occurs, at least where I live. 

There is an undercurrent on the internet of impatience with autumn and its major gourd, the pumpkin.  Sorry, all you fall-haters, but in the Common Household we love pumpkin.  A long time ago, our pediatrician approved homemade pumpkin muffins as a reasonable (ha!) source of vitamins for my son, who since the age of two has refused to eat any vegetables.

But sometimes a homemade, vitamin-laden pumpkin muffin can’t be had, and a desperate person must turn to Dunkin Donuts.  
Dunkin, I don't like your spelling and doughnuts are
 not my favorite carbohydrate, but your pumpkin muffins
 have saved me more than once.  Thank you.

The Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffin saved my sanity in September 2011 when I was helping my aunt get ready for her move to the retirement home.  I was having difficulty facing the task ahead of me, but a cup of hot tea and a pumpkin muffin at Dunkin Donuts made it possible to move forward.  We all know we should not turn to food to try to solve our emotional problems, but I tell you, that pumpkin muffin was positively therapeutic.

Earlier this month Dunkin Donuts came through for me again on my way home from the retirement home.  Yes, this muffin is basically mass-produced cake with sugar on top, but sometimes that’s what a person needs.
Pumpkin muffin on the left.
The chocolate chip muffin on the right is inferior.
When I took this photo I was so smitten with my pumpkin muffin
 that I did not notice the creepy way the library books by
Brian Selznick were arranged, looking hungrily at the muffins.

On the homemade front, I bring you an astonishing concept: Pumpkin Challah!  I know this is a thing that exists, because I made it at a cooking class at synagogue.  This pumpkin challah is not overly pumpkiny, but delightfully subtle.  It is delicious toasted with a bit of butter or cream cheese.  It would be great on the Thanksgiving table, in dinner-roll format.

Kneading bread is also sanity-saving.  Pretend that dough is your worst enemy, and pummel it!

If you are turned off by autumn and pumpkins, then, because this blog subscribes to the Pumpkin Fairness Doctrine, here are a few places you might feel more at home:

Pumpkin Challah

This recipe makes one large loaf (congregational size) or two household loaves.
Based on the Meg Marshak Challah Recipe.

1 ½ cup          warm water (hot bath temperature)
2 packets        dry yeast (quick rise is also suitable)

¼ cup             Sugar
¼ cup             honey
1 Tbsp            salt (kosher recommended)
2 Tablesp       vegetable oil
1/3 cup           canned pumpkin
1 tsp               pumpkin pie spice.
3                     eggs (at room temperature if possible)
2 cups            All Purpose flour
4 cups            Bread flour (if necessary, All Purpose can be used in place of bread flour)

Optional:        raisins or Craisins, ½ cup or more if you prefer

Egg wash:       1 beaten egg with 2 Tbsp water

In a large bowl, stir together the water, yeast, and some of the sugar (2 Tbsp or so).  Let the mixture stand for a few minutes until frothy and “yeasty” smelling.

Stir in honey and remaining sugar, salt, and then the oil and eggs.  Stir in the pumpkin and spice.  Fold in the All Purpose flour and most of the Bread flour.  If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, add the flour gradually to avoid lumps. 

Once the dough clings to the hook in a lump or is too hard to stir by hand, turn out onto a lightly floured board or countertop.  At this point the dough will be a shaggy mess.  (If you want to add raisins, this is the time to add them –  ½ cup or more.) Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding any remaining flour as necessary. The dough should be soft and elastic and NOT sticky. 

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl.  Turn the dough over to coat the entire surface lightly with oil.  Cover with a damp towel and place the bowl in a warm spot.  Let rise until almost double (about 30-40 minutes).

Gently deflate the dough and knead slightly (to remove large air bubbles).  Divide into three equal parts.  Roll and form into 3 strands.  Put parchment paper on a large baking sheet.  Using all three strands, brad loosely on the parchment.  Brush egg wash over braided bread (make sure you get all the nooks and crannies).  Let rise until puffy and almost double in bulk, usually 35-45 min. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and hollow-sounding when tapped.  Let cool before slicing.
Just reaching the shaggy mess stage.

After the pummeling.  Ready to take a nap in the bowl.

Napping under a damp towel.

Nap time for the dough is over.  Time for the final formation.

Three strands, with the longest in the middle.  
Braided and ready to rise one last time.

Done!  Two pumpkin challah loaves.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Just in time

Freeze warning tonight, people!  The natural turning of the earth progresses.

This morning I managed to find two minutes to harvest our final produce (and found two more minutes to post it here).  Frost is predicted for the next few nights.

Our "garden" (read two pots with dirt) produce, including the
smallest tomatoes ever.
When my husband saw that banana pepper, he said, "How did we grow that in our garden?"  He is correct in implying that growing things in gardens is not our forte.

Also on our property this week, just in time for Halloween, we have this:

This Raven is not quothing no more.

I think I shall name him Edgar Allan.  I am also going to leave him there until next week, in the hopes that a hungry animal will carry him away.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Travel Tips

Hibiscus, like the Dear Old Folks, still blooming despite
the onset of autumn.

This past weekend I went to the Old Folks’ Home.  I guess I am not supposed to call it that, but dammit, that’s what it is.  There are many pleasant things about this Old Folks’ Home, but parts of the visit are always difficult, and those are the parts I can’t tell you about. 

Here are some tips that I find helpful on any trip, but especially this one.

- Pack a survival kit

The essentials for this trip: alcohol and chocolate in
several different formats. Benadryl in case I have
to spend too much time in places I'm allergic to.

- Exercise your ability to set boundaries.

One of the great challenges of life is to remain compassionate
while also setting appropriate limits.

- Pray that you will be able to see the larger picture.  

Seeing the larger scene requires stepping back.

- If possible, bring pleasant, low-maintenance traveling companions.

Einstein brought a female traveling companion!  
Lady Liberty fights her way through the underbrush.

Einstein among the fallen.

- Don’t eat any poison berries.

Don't swallow what isn't good for you.

- Enjoy life’s colors wherever you see them.

- Look up sometimes.

In Maryland the trees were *just* starting to turn.

- Appreciate the trip home.
Oh, Pennsylvania, with your claim to the largest full-time
 legislature and yet no state budget for 100+ days,  with
your antiquated liquor laws, despite all your flaws,
my heart swells with love for you!
You are beautiful in your autumn glory.

This is what the road home looks like.  The PA Turnpike.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

With This Stomp, I Thee Wed

Nine thousand one hundred thirty one days ago, two people of different faiths dared to get married.  And here we are, twenty-five years later, still mixing it up.  I think it’s a miracle. 

Here we are beneath our Jewish chuppah, with our Presbyterian minister, having a half-Jewish, half-Presbyterian, half American wedding.  

Stomping on the glass! Mazel Tov!

Finalizing the wedding, just before cutting the cake.

I think tradition says that a Jewish wedding is finalized by stomping on a glass (it beats me why).  Maybe a Presbyterian wedding is sealed with the exchange of the rings (it beats me why).  But I considered that our wedding was complete when the minister, acting on behalf of The State, signed our marriage license. (I didn't think about it then, but it's just weird that a religious leader acts on behalf of the state for this one function.)
Hi, all you wonderful people. Thank you for participating
in our wedding, lo those many years ago!
Thanks for wearing The Green Dress and The Rented Tux!
When we decided to get married, we were living in New York and Connecticut.  We asked my parents to find a place in Baltimore for our wedding – a place with a worshipful atmosphere, preferably with a pipe organ, but not overtly Christian.  In a few days my Dad reported back to us that he had found the perfect place.  It was not a church, had no obvious Christian symbols, but was a solemn worshipful atmosphere, and had an organ.  The place?  - the Levinson Funeral Home.    

Thanks, Dad.

We got married at the chapel at Goucher College, in Towson, Maryland, thankyouverymuch.

My, what big eyeglasses we had back then.

One reason our 25th anniversary is a miracle is that at our wedding reception we survived the Jewish celebratory custom of having people lift you up on a chair and then dance around while holding you up in the air.  We hoped that these people had been lifting weights for several months before attempting this. 

Demonstrating my bouquet-throwing skills

Thank you, God, for this man and this marriage.