I’m currently participating in a Bible study on the book of John with some of Mark intertwined. The theme of John is the Kingdom of Heaven. Over and over, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven. Nature showcases the kingdom of heaven. Here’s my observation from my own back yard.
They stood out bright and cheery: lime green tennis ball sized blobs scattered all over. I used my collection tool like a vacuum to pick them up. Occasionally, I would not see one because the color had changed from lime to blend with the yellow and brown walnut leaves.
The transition of lime to lemon to brown comes gradually, sometimes expedited by insects and weather. The outer hull has strength to protect the inner nut from damage as it plummets from height to dirt. It’s like a cushion of protection. Once it has fallen, the hull changes from firm lime to mushy and brown and of no value in protecting the contents, till it falls away like rotting flesh off a bone.
Many spiritual lessons come to me every fall as I retrieve the thousands of nuts off the lawn and transfer them to the gravel overdrive.
The protective walnut hulls assume the color of the leaves and green turning brown grass as it morphs into fall colors. They aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes, I step on one because it blends with the yellow and brown walnut leaves, littering the lawn.
It seems the nut is able to maintain its lime green color on the tree…in fact, they are hardly noticeable looking up into the branches of the tree because they look just like the leaves. But once they detach from the source of life (the Vine, if you will) the decomposition or deterioration begins.
The rotting process reminds me of what happens when we separate from the Source of Life and the downward spiral of accepting the world’s ways of life begin. A little lemon color isn’t so bad till it leads to brown, which is smelly and slimy, and stains with touch. No one wants to be around it except other smelly, slimy like-bodied entities.
The walnut has three parts: the hull which buffers and protects the strong shell which encapsulates the nutmeat. As the hull decays, it reveals the shell. Still the strength of the shell is difficult to break to access the sweet treasure of the nutmeat. Likewise, our body, slowly gives in to age and eventually loses the race. Our spirit and soul remain intact.
Autumn is synonymous with fall because that is what the leaves do at the end of the growing season. Fall is what we do when we don’t keep our eyes on the Giver of Life.
The squirrels treasure those nuts. They are busy preparing for the winter, storing nuts in hiding places, ready to be dug up and consumed in the bitter cold of the winter or the early spring months when the ground has given up the frost. They investigate my piles of nuts, selecting only the finest; quickly hull it with their sharp teeth and dexterous fingers. Off they scamper to store their wares. I don’t mind sharing because it lightens the burden of cracking and picking the nutmeat out. I am a little jealous they can use their body to so easily accomplish what takes me much longer to complete. As I watch them prepare for the coming season of scarcity, I’m amazed at their intuition to prepare. I want to store treasure, too. Songs of scripture imbedded in my mind; memorized section of the Word to digest and nourish my soul; discernment to know foolishness from wisdom. I want to be as diligent as the squirrels in preparing for the future.
If only we could see the kingdom of heaven in the simple things around us, like black walnuts that rot when they are not attached to the source of life and fall to the ground. Jesus spoke in parables comparing what people saw to the Kingdom from which He came. We would be wise to watch nature proclaim the Glory of God every season and apply what we see to our own life.
Wrapping up the canning season usually means a big crock pot full of chili for us. There are always a few tomatoes left, not enough to can, but too many to eat as slicers. The logical thing always for me is to gather up the fragments and make something new.
I visited my larder, where purchased food is stored next to my home canned produce. Normally, I purchase multiples of things. I had one can of chili beans on the shelf. I use two for a crock pot of chili. I was perplexed and it forced me into research.
There were dried pinto beans on the shelf adjacent to the canned chili beans. Of course, they are in no state to join the chili. Yet, I had looked unsuccessfully in the past to find a recipe for making my own chili beans. This drove me to the computer to see what I could find.
Voila, there it was, the very recipe I needed to make my own. It’s quite easy, though I suspected it would be very complicated. This is a cost saving way to make your own. I froze the extra after mine were done percolating in the crock pot.
First, I measured the beans and soaked them overnight. That’s easy and not something that needs any attention, though I did check to see if I needed to add more water the morning after they soaked. They did and it was a 30 second fix.
Making the chili beans requires almost no effort. Drain the soaked beans. Mix a few ingredients together, bring them to a boil and then let them simmer for a couple of hours. I put all the ingredients together in my enamel lined Dutch oven and brought it to a boil. But, I had other ‘fish to fry’ so to speak and didn’t want to tend the kettle. I transferred the beans to the crock pot where they simmered on low till they were tender.
The beans cook with onion, garlic, taco seasoning, a can of tomato paste and a quart of vegetable broth and a quart of water. I make my own taco seasoning, as I have all the ingredients on hand. Many of the spices came from my garden, so even that was ‘free’. I used a tomato powder I made as part of the food processing in the fall rather than the paste.
The cost for dry beans is about $2.00 a pound, which will make 16 cups (8 pints) of chili beans. If the taco seasoning and tomato paste are added, the cost is roughly $.30-.40 per pint to make from dried. The price for canned chili beans runs from $.90-1.50 per can.
There are many benefits to the make at home variety. The seasoning can reflect the tastes of your family. I like organic products and buying organic dry beans is no more expensive than the standard. I make vegetable stock from the skins of onions and other vegetable pieces, freeze it and use it to flavor soups and casseroles. This enriches the flavor of the entire recipe.
The work takes a few minutes here and a few there but there is no long arduous afternoon required. The total time spent on this was under 10 min. If I saved $1.00 per can for 10 min. of labor, that is a $32.00 per hour salary. Not that I have ever been paid that much, ever. It makes my labor sound impressive, though.
Chili beans can be used to accompany any Mexican dish; combined with rice for a complete protein; and used as a straight side dish. Pair it with some cheese or in a burrito for a flavor and great fiber for your gut.
The nutritional component of beans gives lots of bang for little cost. Pinto beans are an excellent source of molybdenum, a very good source of folate, and a good source of protein, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6 as well as the minerals copper, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Pinto beans can lower your risk for heart disease because they can help you lose weight or prevent weight gain. A half-cup of pinto beans contains only 122 calories. High-fiber, high-protein foods such as beans are low in calories and help you fill up so you don't eat as much. High in fiber, calcium, and iron, beans and legumes are also a great source of protein. Combined with high protein whole grains like buckwheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and teff, beans and legumes not only make a delicious meal, but often provide the full complement of essential amino acids needed by humans.
In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, the dietary fiber found in pinto beans helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, pinto beans can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy.
The dried bean is shelf stable, so it is always available. The time required to make and simmer is not much, hands on. I soaked overnight and cooked overnight in the crock pot. I don’t count that ‘time’ because it didn’t require ‘hands-on’ labor. Dried beans are not a convenience food till the soaking and cooking is complete.
If you are watching your pennies to make the most of your grocery dollars, I recommend learning to use beans as an inexpensive element in your menu. For a few dollars and a couple of minutes, you can divide your cost and multiply the quantity of food you get.
Over the past year, my mother in law has been forced to down size. She isn’t ill. It isn’t her fault. The community in which she lives is adding a building to the complex, requiring some remodeling to the one in which she lives. One of her two bedrooms will be lost to the project.
It has been agonizing for her to part with sentimental possessions. In the beginning, she resisted. She dug in her feet. She complained and insisted she would just live in the mess while her unit was being remodeled. But, push came to shove and she moved from a two bedroom apartment on third floor to a one bedroom on first.
In the process of downsizing, we inherited some things. One of which was a lamp that seemed to coordinate with a piece of furniture in the dining room. The only other light in that room had been the ceiling fixture. Now, we have a three-way light that offers us indirect lighting, perfect for entertaining or background light for the living room. I like it.
A few years back, I brought home a floor lamp which my husband looked at with disdain. However, I had a vision for where it would go and the function it would serve. Once he saw it, he was on board. It offered light to a room that had none in the evening. That room had big windows so light in the daytime was seldom needed. In the darkness, having a light was a benefit.
Light in the darkness is a phrase that has been running around in my brain for a few weeks. I found it in a passage in the Bible study I attend. I heard it in the sermons. I see it in my home. Light in the darkness.
Light illuminates things. It helps me not stumble into furniture or on something misplaced or forgotten. Light helps me see what is really out there. Light is physical and light is spiritual. It opens our emotions and speaks to our soul.
Light dissolves darkness. It eradicates it and makes it disappear. Light chases away the darkness because in the darkness there is no light.
My new lamps let me shine as much light as I would like into my living room and front entry. If I want a lot of light, I turn it on high. If I want just a little light, I leave it on low. If I don’t want light, I don’t turn it on.
Isn’t this what we do in our own lives? If we want to be sold out for the Lord, we try to turn the light on full power. We want no dark spaces hidden in our spiritual being. We read. We pray. We seek counsel. We move in the areas of light to open ourselves.
Sometimes, we are unsure what the light will reveal. We ‘dip our toe’ in the water and just turn the power on low. We can find our way but we don’t see the details in the corner. It’s not dark and we might even feel comfortable in this situation. Shadows may lurk in the corners never to be dispelled.
Medium high gives us more vision and fewer shadows. It’s water up to the knees. It’s a commitment to not be in the dark but it’s not a ‘sold out’ posture. There is still room for some smokey corners to linger.
Jesus said He was the Light of the World. He was With God in the beginning and he was God. This is the light I want to flood my home. I want it to chase away every shadow and cobweb there is. I want to be open and vulnerable to Him to reveal what I cannot see but what He can whisper to my heart and soul.
What kind of Light operates in your home and life? Is it the eternal One or the Thomas Edison version, the temporary, worldly one? I want the Light in my life not to be tied to possessions and things but to eternal Truth.
By the way, now that the down sizing is over and the move complete, my mother in law is thrilled with less and wonders why she didn’t do it sooner. Isn’t that just the way it is?
This is the time of the year to prepare for the season ahead. Cold and flu season are before us, as surely as leaves fall from the trees in autumn, children return to school, and cold weather sets in.
This is the time doctors prescribe antibiotics for viral infections because in our microwave society, we want fast acting, feel good, do something remedies. Antibiotics don’t touch viral infections (colds) and have become so over-prescribed and over-used we now have a new plague before us: antibiotic resistant bugs. Super bugs, if you will.
There are ‘natural’ things we can all do. Stay home when we are ill. Wash our hands with soap and water (skip the anti-bacterial soaps and lotions). Sneeze into our shoulder or elbow. Eat lots of vitamin C. Get as much natural sunlight as the temperature allows. Stay hydrated. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet with many fruits and vegetables.
Food as medicine is just one option. Pharmaceuticals are another. I’ve been a fan of ‘do it yourself’ for many years. It might come from living far from towns and requiring one to have the knowledge and resources at hand to manage any situation. It might be a bias I have developed from observing the establishments not create limits and boundaries in which to live.
Whatever it is, we have explored many at home remedies, some with greater success than others.
A few years ago, I ran across a home brew for colds and simple infections that has been tested and true. Two years ago, I could hardly keep enough on hand for the family members who knocked on my door and asked for Dr. Mom’s remedy. Last year, the demand wasn’t as great, perhaps because there were fewer colds and illnesses through the family.
There are many testimonials from our family of how effective this is. The important part of the recipe is advance planning. It requires 2-4 weeks to ‘brew’, so starting now is vital if you want to be prepared for the season. Yes, I have already heard of colds with the first weeks of school. So, there is no time to waste.
The recipe is simple and most ingredients are available in the produce section of the grocery store (food as medicine, get it). You might have to meander to the pickle aisle to find the other ingredient. I will give you the recipe in a minute, but first, I want to warn you this doesn’t taste great. It’s hot. Your kids might not like it, but we have a remedy for even that.
The ingredients you will need are: cayenne or jalapeno peppers, horse radish (fresh), ginger root, white onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar (with the mother). Just a few words about preparing these. They are all ‘hot’ vegetables. Be careful as you work with them so your eyes don’t water and the oils in them don’t burn your skin. Buy organic if it is available. The recipe calls for equal parts. That’s always a little tricky as one purchases the ingredients. I’ll share what I used with the most recent batch I made to give you an estimate.
I used 4 large onions, 2 packages of jalapenos, 4 lengths of horse radish, 6-8 heads of garlic, 2 large knobs of ginger. This made 3 (1/2 gallon) jars, using 3 quarts of apple cider vinegar. You won’t need that much, so reduce the quantity to suit your family size.
The easiest way I have found to peel the ginger, is to use a teaspoon and scrape the outer edge off. I cut across grain once it is peeled. I used a potato peeler on the horseradish. A paring knife will also work. If you have a strong enough food processor, you can use it to grate the vegetables. The ginger and horse radish will force the machine to work hard, so be mindful of the ability of your machine. Take it slow and do an easy vegetable first and then a harder one, giving breaks to the machine as it seems to work hard.
All the vegetables should be grated or chopped small. Mix them together and pack them into a jar. Cover with apple cider vinegar. Put a lid on the jar. The apple cider vinegar should be ‘cloudy’ and have a deposit in the bottom of the jar. Shake it well before pouring it out. Don’t lose a single drop of its goodness.
Let the mixture sit 2-4 weeks. I leave it on the counter with a t-towel over it. I unscrew the lid occasionally just to be sure it is brewing well and no carbon dioxide is forming. Once the time is up, strain the vegetables out, refrigerate the liquid. Keep the vegetables, too. I find they still offer aromatic qualities to a roast in the crock pot, so I recycle by using them as a base for roasts. I have also used them as a seasoning for soups. Use just a few tablespoons and add to your personal taste.
This ‘tonic’ as we call it at our house should be taken at the first sign of a cold. We all recognize that ‘a cold is coming on’ feeling. Each person will experience different symptoms. Since it is ‘hot’ it is great to have a glass of orange juice or some kind of chaser to consume after taking it. Start with a small amount: 1 teaspoon 3 or 4 times a day for an adult, less for children. I would mix it with raw honey for children over the age of 2 and then give a sip of juice.
My mother in law who has respiratory issues uses this every season. She takes it a tablespoon at a time and consumes it with every meal and at bedtime. She is just one reason I make vast quantities of this for the winter months. We try to keep her stocked. It has helped her stay home instead of getting so ill pneumonia has developed. Another family member claims it has stopped a cold in its tracks. Still another tells me the family members who use this are the ones who don’t get ill.
I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods or snake oil, but I do want to offer you options that are healthy and won’t harm you. You can research the health benefits of each of the ingredients or we can evaluate them in another article.
Just prepare yourself for the season ahead. Use food as your medicine!
The Last Conversation
Spoiler alert: this might be personal.
The phone rang. My husband answered and it took me a few minutes to discern the caller from the side of the conversation I could hear. I could tell there had been a tragedy. I just could not tell who had been hit by the vehicle or what damage had been done.
It was our daughter. She was calling for reassurance and to hear a familiar voice. Her roommate’s father had been killed in a car accident. She had driven her roommate to the airport to fly the grueling trip home: several legs by air and then a long drive. Grueling hardly describes what was before her.
This was particularly personal for our daughter, because this roommate also has a special needs sibling. A parent left alone to do everything in a remote area. It struck our daughter between the eyes. That, and the fact her roommate didn’t get to say, ‘Good bye’ or ‘I love you’ one more time. Haunting notions and memories. Life will never be the same for her friend.
And, it dredged up some memories for her from many years before. She was the older sibling to her brother who had a traumatic brain injury. They were true siblings: loving and having fun with one another one minute and arguing over who got to drive the student vehicle the next second. She recounted her memories of such a discussion the morning of Matt’s injury. She went to his room to tell him she didn’t need the car and he could have it. He was taking a nap after his early morning Ironman work out. She didn’t tell him. Her last conversational memory was her need to have the car.
More than that, reality dawned that her parents will not live forever. This is our child who calls frequently: on a long drive home or a walk with her pet. This is the child who works constantly and doesn’t have much time for relationships that feed her soul so she depends upon familiar voices and tremendous wisdom from a father who is always patient and kind, insightful and gentle. This wake-up call was like a bucket of ice water in her face. Startling. Unnerving. Panic-filled. Unsure of what she would do if she were the daughter who lost a parent.
Our tragedy didn’t just affect her, it changed all of us. Many moons ago, impatience was more frequent in my life. Little things took disproportionate importance. Then, brain injury changed everything. It washed away the unimportant things. It brought clarity to what was important. It changed every conversation with each of my children. It reminded me to praise instead of correct. It ended every conversation with the words, “I love you.” Tragedy is a wake-up call. It sloughs away the foggy silly elements of life and solidifies what matters.
I know that grace and forgiveness come more easily for me today than they did before Traumatic Brain Injury came into our family. I know that it is easier for me to yield to the needs of others before my own. It is easier to be quiet and listen. It’s easier to remind myself ‘this too, shall pass’ when I don’t like a situation. It’s easier to see truth from fiction.
Life changes on a dime. Nothing will be the same ever again for this family, or ours, either. No one can change what has happened. What we can do is to make the most of every day: to see the best in people around us, even if they feel like sand paper next to the skin. We can be full of compassion for others in the midst of their own situations. Because we haven’t walked in their shoes and they haven’t walked in ours.
No one is a greater example than Jesus who urged his followers to live differently, love better, see beyond the circumstances into a reality of a more ‘real’ place than the world. We would all do well to see beyond where we are and be what we were called to be by a force greater than we.
Make today count. Say “I love you to those who matter.” Don’t wait to do something nice for another person. Send a note to someone who has crossed your mind. Make the phone call the Holy Spirit told you to make. You will never be sorry because tomorrow is not a guarantee for any of us.
Embarrassed as I glanced at my hands, I didn’t know what to do. How could I go looking like this? It would be easier to stay at home and not let others see. But, I felt the urge to go, so I did, with the hope no one would notice the stain. No one would recoil if they noticed.
We have black walnut trees in our yard. There are two. The squirrels love them but they cannot keep up with the production of nuts. As much as they hull, bury, leave notes for themselves in their nests or hallow logs, there are still some left in the yard.
We pick them up. We hull them. We dry them. We crack them. We separate the shell from the nut. We use them for baking or snacking. And by ‘we’, I mean, primarily I, except for the eating. Then, my family eats them if I use them for baking.
Black walnuts taste different from the traditional English walnut most chefs use in baking. The tannins in the black walnuts leave a strong after taste. But, it is addictive. For some of us.
The black walnuts are hard nuts to crack. Special tools need to be used. The little nut cracker you have seen on your grandparents dining room table will not work. The tool we use was a special order thing we bolted to a 2x6 board. It’s about 18 inches long, necessary for the extra leverage required to break the shell. But, oh, the reward for the extra muscle power!
The drawback of black walnuts, however, is the stain. Even though I wear a couple pair of vinyl gloves nested inside one another, my hands are still stained because of working with them. So, if I extend my hand to shake yours and you notice inky stain on my hands, I do not have a disease. I have washed my hands. I realize the appearance is not pretty.
The redeeming notion of my stained hands is this: it comes from an honest day’s work. I don’t mind the stain because I am using what God has given me: walnut trees. As I think about it, I know why gloves were a necessary accessory years ago. The farm women worked hard. Their hands were not anointed with oils. They scrubbed dirty laundry on wash boards with homemade soap. They dug in the dirt and planted seeds and weeded gardens. Their cuticles may have been uneven and cracked. So, gloves covered the hands. Maybe. I can understand why if that is true.
Now, let’s look at what is so good about walnuts:
A major benefit of eating walnuts is a healthy dose of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, the plant-based source of omega-3 fats. A steady diet of these omega-3 fats helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, decrease inflammation, prevent blood clots, strengthen bones, increase cognitive function and lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Although they’re high in calories, walnuts can actually help you lose weight because they are low in saturated fats and high in fiber.
From a handful of English walnuts, about 1 ounce or seven whole ones, you get 190 calories, 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, along with high amounts of vitamin E, potassium, copper, phosphorus and magnesium, according to the California Walnut Commission. You can buy them unshelled, halved or in broken pieces.
One ounce black walnuts contains about the same amount of calories, protein and fiber. Also high in potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin E, black walnuts have less omega-3 than do English walnuts, but more arginine and selenium, according to the University of Missouri Center of Agroforestry. Often handpicked in the wild, black walnuts are a popular ingredient in ice cream. They are more expensive than English walnuts.
So, if, when you shake my hand, you notice walnut stains. Just know I’m very aware they are there. I’d like to hide them, but honestly, I don't mind an honest day's work.
You don’t have to be German…
Cabbage. Love it or hate it. It’s a vegetable many people spurn because of the strong sulfur taste. It’s part of the cruciferous vegetable family, alongside broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kohlrabi. They are recommended for anti-cancer properties. I like all those vegetables and we eat lots of them. I find them to be versatile and flavorful depending upon how they are seasoned. They can be eaten raw or cooked, put in stews, baked in Stromboli, or cut up for a salad. They are economical and nutritious.
One of my favorite things is sauerkraut. We have a lot of German blood in our family. Each of our paternal grandmothers was German, in part. So, maybe we love it because of our genetic makeup. I’m not talking about the canned vinegar and cabbage that is available in cans at the store. I’m talking about fermented cabbage, sliced, pounded, salted, fermented.
Just yesterday, I went to the garden to pick a small cabbage that had grown as an appendage after the first head was harvested. I needed just a little diced cabbage for the casserole I was making for dinner. I found more than one growing and picked three to bring to the house. I used what I needed for my casserole and decided to ‘put up’ the rest of it.
The making of kraut is quite easy, requiring the most basic kitchen tools. I wash and dry it; core and slice it. Then, the fun begins. I pound it. I use my meat tenderizer. The pounding ruptures the cell walls to release moisture from the cabbage. Then, I add salt which expedites the releasing of moisture. It also serves as a preservative. I add caraway seeds and pound a little more. After 10 minutes of pounding, I pack the bruised cabbage into quart jars, pressing the cabbage firmly. The goal is for the moisture to rise above the vegetable by at least an inch. I fill the jar three quarters of the way full, add a full cabbage leaf to the very top and then put a weight on it to keep the cabbage submerged well below the moisture.
It sits on the counter for days. I refrigerate it. Pioneers put it in crocks with weighted lids in root cellars or a cool environment and stored it for months.
Real, fermented cabbage, aka sauerkraut has exceptional nutritional benefits. Besides the good things that are in cabbage, the fermentation process increases the probiotics. These are the good bacteria that help digest our food. They are essential to a healthy digestive system.
In days of real food consumption, fermented foods were side dishes served at every meal to help the digestive process. A tablespoon or two of sauerkraut eaten with sausage was the norm, not just a barbeque treat. Pickled beets, dilled pickles, other preserved vegetables were part of every meal.
The Standard American Diet has substituted vinegar for the fermentation process so we can purchase ‘pickled’ food, ready to go at the store. But it doesn’t offer the same probiotic benefit.
If you are interested in healthy sauerkraut, the Bubbies brand, found in a refrigerated area in the ‘healthy’ area of the store is a good brand. You might try it to see if you can develop a taste of it. Once you do, serving a little kraut next to your meat will be a standard practice. And, your gut will love you for it. You can start with brats and kraut for safe measure.
Perhaps I’m the only one left who does this but I cannot stop myself. I bake bread. From scratch. I had a hiatus from bread baking when gluten intolerance came into our home and it nearly killed me (the ceasing of bread baking, not the celiac). I yearned to put my hands in yeast dough and push and pull and shape and form it. But, yeast breads were out of the question. We shipped every product with wheat off to St. Louis when our daughter moved there. Her bread baking friends were delighted with the buckets of wheat berries for their own flour making, bread baking endeavors.
Till we watched SUSTAINABLE, a documentary about growing organic food for restaurants by an Illinois farmer was recommended to us. One of the food craftsmen featured in the film was an artisan bread baker who nonchalantly commented that even his celiac customers could consume his einkorn sourdough bread. One sentence changed my life.
The story is long and I won’t bore you with the details today. It took a month to create a sourdough starter with organic einkorn flour. But, it put me back in the realm of bread baking and I was delighted. Even better, the celiac and gluten intolerant in the family could tolerate einkorn wheat. (This is one wheat that has not been altered by genetic modification or hybridization and kernels attaches differently on the stalk.)
Research was a long part of the month of beginning this trek for me and one person after another suggested letting the bread rise in a couche. This is a heavy-duty linen cloth. Till I am convinced I will need another gadget in my kitchen, I improvise. I had linen towels in my drawer and I doubled them to substitute as a couche. It worked just fine.
Another detail recommended was to wrap the bread in linen for storage. I did. It worked. Home-made bread is intended to be consumed quickly and it will usually last for a few days properly stored, at room temperature. Refrigeration causes the starches to crystallize, changing the texture and flavor. And, so my linen towels have also become the storage tools for the home baked bread.
You may question whether plastic is a better option for bread storage. Sandwich bread is sold in plastic. It is a soft texture and the plastic keeps any moisture from condensation in the bag allowing the bread to stay soft. Notice, however, that baguettes and crusty breads are sold in paper sacks, leaving the crust to the air to remain crusty. These are the breads that are ideally stored in linen, allowing the bread to remain crusty while not drying out.
Linen bags are expensive to purchase. They are available from vendors, Etsy, or can be made at home. Linen napkins can easily be converted into a bread bag. Linen napkins are easily available and not nearly so pricey.
If bread baking is a bucket list item for you, I’ll share a quasi- sour dough recipe. I showed my Hollywood son how to make this bread. He and I call it the ‘Five Minute Bread’ because that is how long it takes to mix it up. He volunteers to make bread when he is invited to a dinner and folks are amazed at his skill. He doesn’t tell them it took 5 minutes. He just puffs up his chest and thinks, ‘Be impressed.’
This is a rustic bread, a great companion for soups and fall gatherings. I do recommend using bread flour for this recipe. There is a higher protein content in bread flour and this allows the bread to rise and hold its shape better. Though this bread only takes 5 minutes to mix, it requires time to rise and bake. I used to mix it up before going to bed at night, letting it rest on the bread board and baking it the next day. You could make it in the morning, let it rest 8 hours, shape it, let it rest and rise and bake it as you fix dinner.
No knead Bread
3 cups bread flour
¼ tsp yeast
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 5/8 c. warm water (not too hot or cold or the yeast will not survive)
Mix these ingredients together. Let sit 12-24 hours.
Place on a lightly floured surface and fold over a time or two.
Rest 15 min. Shape into a ball.
Rest 2-3 hours, till it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450*. As the oven is heating, place a greased, 6-8 quart, covered container in the oven to preheat. I use a cast iron Dutch oven or enamel covered cast iron.
Transfer the bread dough into the hot pan. Cover with a lid.
Bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid. Continue to bake 10-15 additional minutes
Yield: 1 loaf, 1.5#
Store in a linen bag at room temperature for 3-5 days for optimal flavor. It might not last long enough to worry about storage.
As temperatures drop this fall, make a kettle of soup, this bread, and invite someone for dinner or game day. Ask them to bring a salad or dessert and you are set for a night of delicious dining. They will never guess you only spent 5 minutes on the bread…better make 2 loaves!
Get your hands dirty
My family tells me I have a problem. I have several, in fact. The first: I like to finish projects. It is a problem because I will work frantically, well past the time my brain tries to tell me I should stop. I have worked into the night and sometimes to the dawn to complete things. I know I will pay the price later. But, I like to FINISH.
Last fall, I visited St. Louis where one of my children resides. One afternoon, I insisted we work in the yard. They had only lived in this home for a month and there was a mountain of work to be done outside: just my cup of tea!
My kids have the common sense to quit when their bodies tell them they have done enough. My daughter asked me to quit. I continued to find ‘one more thing to do’ about a dozen times. I urged her to go inside and call me when dinner was ready. She said she could not let her guest stay in the yard while she went inside. Then, she put her arm around my shoulders and led me out of the jungle of work and into the house. I felt like a child. I didn’t really want to quit. I still fight the urge to return and do some more work…there is so much to do. And if I didn’t live 6 driving hours from St. Louis, I’d probably be carving out some time to go help finish the project. It’s in my nature.
Back at home, there was a project needing completion. Last fall, it was left. Last spring, I dug it out and pushed it back under the garden sink. I knew it was there, lurking, waiting, beckoning to me to get it done. And, so when the humidity ceased, I decided I would dedicate some time to it. It is really never DONE. Because this project has something to do every season. Here is how it works.
In the summer, our black walnut trees grow nuts. They fall in August and September and we pick them up and let them sit. Before fall ends, I lay them all out on our overdrive and walk on them and wear heavy duty water resistant gloves to remove the green, staining hulls. The nuts dry for a few weeks or until I have time to engage the heavy duty nut cracker. Once they are cracked, the nutmeats are ‘picked’ out of the shell with a special tool. During the winter nights, I can work at picking the nutmeats out of the nuts while I watch a favorite television program or when I want to listen to music in my kitchen.
There they were: nuts to crack. I cracked 2 bushel baskets of nuts. A new project emerged: two bushel baskets of cracked walnuts, waiting for me to ‘pick’ the nutmeats out of them.
Another problem my family observes is that I don’t often ask for help. In an effort to amend this trait, I asked a family member to help with this project. The reply was, ‘I don’t want to get my hands dirty.’ It’s true: black walnut stains. Even when I wear gloves, the elements soak through the gloves and hands are soiled. Like the Little Red Hen in the children’s story book, I was undaunted and continued on with the seemingly endless project.
My mind instantly went to our church and I wondered how many times there is work to be done and positions to be filled and our excuse is ‘I don’t want to get my hands dirty’. I cringed.
The body of Christ needs willing workers who want to finish strong. And, as we pull together to do whatever we can to prepare the new facility for the worker bees that will install electricity, HVAC, walls, paint, details, decorating, ad infinitum, let’s not be afraid to dig deep and be willing to lend a hand, even if it gets dirty.
I want to be able to finish my life on earth strong. I want to finish the work I’ve been given to do. I want to do it well and do it until the end of my days. None of us know when the last day will be. And, I don’t care if my hands get dirty! And, just in case you are interested, my walnut job is done. Except, now it’s fall and we are collecting the nuts that are falling on the ground.