Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pretzel Bread Detective

I. Love. Pretzel bread.

And after acquiring my very own Kitchen Aid mixer, I decided to find a way to make it at home. That way, I'd never truly be without this carb-happy delight.

I've successfully used a recipe from Recipezaar several times. It is as follows:

1 1/3 c warm water
2 tbsp warm milk
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 c light brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, melted
4 c all-purpose flour
kosher or pretzel salt
2 quarts cold water
1/2 c baking soda

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with dough hook, mix 1/3 c warm water (105-115 degrees) with the yeast, and let stand until foamy (10 min.)

Add the remaining c warm water along with milk, sugar and melted butter. Swirl to dissolve sugar. Add flour and mix on dough cycle or med-low speed. Remove dough once it forms a firm, pliable ball. Add more flour if necessary.

Knead for two minutes. Roll into a two foot long log and cut into 12 even pieces. Cover with plastic and a damp cloth and let sit for 10 minutes.

Pat into rolls and arrange on lightly floured surface about an inch apart. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. Cover baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot, bring the cold water to a rolling boil and add baking soda.

Drop two rolls in at a time, boiling for no longer than 30 seconds, turning once. Carefully remove with tongs or slotted spoon and let drain. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining rolls.

Arrange rolls on parchment paper and bake on the upper and middle racks of the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until browned all over. Shift pans from top to bottom and back to front halfway through for even baking.

I love this bread. It tastes exactly like a pretzel, with a chewy center and a hard brown crust. I load it up with kosher salt for maximum effect.

Today, I tried a different recipe from Two Bites in Suburbia, hoping to create an entire loaf of pretzel bread ... and just wanting to be different. It goes:

2 ¼ tsp yeast
1 cup water (110-120 degrees)
2 Tbsp room temperature milk
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
2 ½ – 3 cups bread flour
4 quarts water
½ cup baking soda
Kosher salt to taste
2 Tbsp melted butter

Add yeast, water, milk, brown sugar and butter into a large bowl, whisking until all ingredients are combined. Let mixture rest for 10 minutes for yeast to activate. Mix in kosher salt. Start by adding two cups of the flour to the bowl, combining it with other ingredients. Add more flour as it’s needed, reserving just a bit for coating the dough mat later.

The dough should form a slightly tacky, but firm ball. Oil the bowl, place the dough ball in the bowl, and cover with a damp towel for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, knead the dough by hand or machine for at least 5-10 minutes until the dough is elastic and satiny. Place dough back in the bowl and recover for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bring the 4 quarts of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, slowly add the baking soda.

Remove the dough from the bowl and gently degas it. Form two separate balls of dough, forming them into the shape you want. Drop one of the smaller balls into the baking soda bath for no longer than 30 seconds, turning it once to guarantee both sides covered. Drain the excess water from the dough and place it on an oiled baking sheet. Repeat with second ball of dough.

Sprinkle the kosher salt over the bread to your specific tastes, and make sure to use a knife to cut a small incision on the top of the bread so the dough has somewhere to expand.

Cook the bread for 22 minutes, rotating the baking sheet once. Once removed from the oven, immediately brush the melted butter over the loaves to guarantee a soft crust.

The result was OK. The loaf had a great crust, but the chewy insides were entirely unremarkable. If not for the kosher salt, I could have been enjoying a regular ol' dinner roll.
Looking at the recipe, my favorite uses more brown sugar and more flour. QED, if you want good pretzel bread, don't skimp on the sugar!
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Sick of it!

I am tired of being overweight!

Well, of being fat. I'm always going to be overweight. But I don't have to weight this much. I officially classify myself as fat these days.

That's not to say I am not a good-looking gal. I am. See? (Full disclosure: I've put on about 10 pounds since that photo was taken.)

So how am I going to do this? I've given up coffee for the extra calories; switched most of my breakfasts to Slim Fast; concentrate on having a sandwich and bag of baked chips for lunch (instead of the Full Monty available in my work's cafeteria); and keep string cheese and sugar-snap peas on hand for an afternoon snack.

What then, you might ask, is my freakin' problem? In list format, it is this:
  • I haven't been to the gym in two weeks. I HAVE been walking/hiking with my dog, but not on a dedicated, gym scale. Maybe three good hikes a week, and an easy mile or so walk on the other days. At the gym, though, I was dedicated to running between 3 and 4 miles, and throwing in some strength training days, too.
  • Donuts. Cake. And anything else that "helpful" coworkers bring in to the office.
  • Trader Joe's dark chocolate raspberry sticks. Can I just blame all the world's problem on those things?
Now that I've identified my problem, let me take some steps to correct it:
  • Committ to an hour of EXERCISE five times a week. Could be a hike, could be a walk, could be a gym session. But I need to sweat. For an extended period of time.
  • Give up cake and donuts for Lent. That would leave me an out with some chocolate treats and fruit salad, but keep the worst of my demons from my door.
  • Finish the darn box of raspberry sticks, and not buy another!
I think that'll give me a start. Wish me luck.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life, Interrupted

This is what I wanted to do last night:
  • Finish laundry
  • Put laundry away
  • Sweep
  • Vacuum
  • Garnish my 15-bean soup and eat a beautifully prepared dinner
  • Finish knitting at least one afghan square
  • Take my dog for two walks
  • Spend an hour talking to my husband before bed.
This is what I actually did last night:
  • Drink three glasses of wine
  • Watch "My Sister's Keeper" and cry
  • Get into a political discussion on a message board
  • Send apologetic messages to the people I argued with
  • Eat microwaved leftover lasagna
  • Chat online with my sister
  • Walk my dog, twice
  • Go to bed a half-hour before my husband came home from work
Sometimes, even though you have plans for life, life has plans for you. :)
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So stylin'

You will all be so jealous when you see the seriously awesome earrings I bought at CJ's Studio jewelry store on Friday.

How awesome are they?

Let's just say that I will put them on and solve global warming; win an Oscar; turn down both Angelina Jolie AND Johnny Depp; then rescue a puppy from a burning building.

Well, OK ... maybe I'll just look super cute. :)

But check this out! The designer of said awesome earrings (I'll post photos when I get them) has started a line called "Hope for Haiti." She's selling beautiful pendants in the hopes of sending $1,000 overseas to help the survivors of the devastating quake. Trust me, all the cool kids will be buying them.

So not only will you own a really great necklace created by a local artist, but you'll be stylish for a good cause.

That's called a win-win, friends!

(And if you do head over and pick one up, do me a solid and tell her that Steph sent you.)
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Magic Pants

This really happened.

It's a scientific fact that our brain continues to develop as we grow.

Once, when I picked Bryce up from camp, he was wearing a pair of track pants that I'd never seen before. I asked him about them, and he said he got them out of his backpack. But, now that he thought about it, his towel wasn't in his backpack at the time. Neither was his lunch. And his name wasn't on it either.

Are you following me, out there?

He put on some random kid's pants out of a random backpack. A backpack that was identical to his, to be sure ... minus the name I wrote three times on the outside of the pack with two different Sharpie colors, minus the caribbeaner/sunscreen clipped to the outside of the pack, and minus anything that was recognizably his inside the pack.

To you and I, as adults, that'd be a tipoff that maybe something's off. But for kids ... it's par for the course. Mparents have laughed along with me at this story, assuring me that it happens all the time. It's not entirely out of the ordinary for kids to come home dressed entirely in mystery clothing.

But that afternoon, something more horrible occured to me.

"So if you got your clothes out of someone else's backpack, and you're wearing a strange kid's pants, does that mean you're wearing a stranger's underwear, too?" I asked, too horrified to really want to know the answer.

"Nope," Bryce said as he hopped into the car. "There wasn't any underwear in the bag."

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I've Been There

I love to travel.

I don't get to as much as I'd like. In fact, for someone who adores hotels, new places to explore, new languages and new adventures, I've traveled embarassingly little in my life.

You wouldn't know it for the recycled anecdotes I love to share, though.

In honor of my travel bug (and in anticipation of exciting future trips and more excuses for blogging), I've launched a second blog, "I've Been There." It's devoted to my travels--past, current and future. You can find a collection of amusing stories with which to procrastinate the day away.

The name of the blog is something that my husband is familiar with--and probably wishes he weren't. It's my penchant for shouting, "I've been there!" whenever a place I've visited pops up on the television screen, in movies or in conversation. Really, I'm quite annoying.

I'm also going to update this new blog with various reviews and recommendations, including some local places right here in California (in case I ever get any out-of-state followers). Keep in mind that I'm not an expert: I just know what I like.

So check it out! I'd love to hear of some of your own travel anecdotes at I've Been There. I welcome collaboration, guest bloggers and, as always, a rich assortment of comments.
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Can I be wealthy now, please?

A friend of mine recently started her own business, representing local artists. I think she is tremendously brave, and that she's in exactly the right line of work!

I checked our her Web site, which includes pieces by her clients, and was absolutely floored by these, from CJ's Studio:

And these:

Definitely these:

Apparently, they're available at this fabulous store in downtown Santa Cruz, The Artisan's Gallery. It's a store that I avoid like the plague, because I invariably find something that I love but can't afford.

And I don't have a baby, but if I did, I'd probably have a half-dozen of these, from Urban Baby Goods, another one of Judy's clients:

But since we're talking about adorable baby wear, can I bring up these?

They're from Onesie Twosies, by Natalie, a blogger I love!

Is that enough shilling for the day? I promise I get no discounts, promotional items or even credit for showing you these adorable things. I just looooove them!

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Monday, February 1, 2010

I'm gonna do it

Last year, we had such an abundance of apples on two trees in our backyard that I was stupified.

The hubs and I consulted on numerous occassions as to what kind of apples they were (since they weren't Granny Smith's or Red Delicious, we were stumped), and if they were ripe. Finally, we decided it was time to pick them. They were green and tart.

I invited a friend over for a massive pie/apple butter making session. We spent an entire day pounding out jars and pies of apple-y goodness.

And a couple weeks later, the apples we left on the tree turned red and sweet.


This year, though, I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to can those apples so that not one goes to waste. I'll make more apple butter, I'll make applesauce, and I'll make whatever else I can think of (although I'm not sure what else you can do with apples. Is there apple jam?).

But why stop there? We live practically next door to California's strawberry fields, and I'm forever buying jars of jam. There's a plum tree in my front yard, and I love plum preserves.

So this year, I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to can some stuff like the good Recession-Era wifey I am.

(Now, can someone please come over and show me how do it?)
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Where God lives

This is another cute post from 2008. This kid!

Conversing with Bryce is like driving during a high-speed chase in "The Bourne Identity." You think you're going left, and all of a sudden, BAM ... U-turn down a flight of stairs.

This morning, we were talking about our favorite characters from "Transformers Animated" on the way to camp. His: Bumblebee, "'cause he's fast." Mine: "The motorcycle guy. I think he's smart."

"Oh, Rachet?" Bryce asked with a disappointed tone. "He's the boring one. He doesn't do anything."

Well, excuuuuuuuse me!

Then, out of left field:

"What do the angels do when it's foggy?"


"Well, what do you think they do?"

"I think they have wind and water."


"And do you know where God lives? You go to outer space, and then on top of that, is where God lives. Because God can't live in outer space ... no one can. Sometimes God comes down to watch us, though. He doesn't talk--just watches. And I think God has a table, and you lay down on it, and he has the wings. But it's only for people in cemeteries. Then he puts the wings on you."

And, just as my mind was boggling trying to figure out where all this came from; and exactly what Sunday School he's been attending, he hit me with his on his way out of the car.

"And God has a crown. I know. And other people have circles that are light and go on your head. And they're magic."

"Halos?" I asked.

"What's a halo?" he replied.
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