Tomato Focaccia

A tomato focaccia sandwich on a square green plate

Today’s Musings:
It’s 5:00 a.m. and I am wide awake.  Yesterday morning, I made myself espresso, but forgot to put a cup under the spout.  I’m exhausted.  I went to bed yawning and woke up yawning.  Insomnia sucks.  I’ve always been a good sleeper, a light one, but a good sleeper.  Nine hours is my sweet spot; I usually managed eight during the week.  Now, I’m lucky if I get four.  It began around the start of the pandemic.   I’m sure others can relate.  I’ve been prescribed a drug for it – Klonopin.  Klonopin has been a friend, ensuring I sleep through the night and wake well rested.  It’s also highly addictive.  You can easily build up a tolerance to Klonopin, as well. Dependency can also be a problem.  My doctor was worried about the tolerance, meaning I would need more for the same effect.  I was concerned about the addiction.  So, a few weeks ago, we decided it was time to say goodbye to Klonopin.  The insomnia returned.  Nothing seems to help.  I’ve taken long hikes early in the day in hopes of tiring myself out; I’ve drawn myself a warm bath just before bed; I’ve taken melatonin; I’ve tried meditation; I’ve avoided “blue light” an hour before bed; I’ve basked in more sunlight during the day; I’ve tried warm milk, blackout drapes, and a cold room.   Band-Aides, at best.  My doctor and my concerns missed the target – it was the dependency that got me.  I received another drug to take its place.  That lasted two nights.  It made the insomnia worse – revealing creative, stunning, intense images whenever I closed my eyes – really cool stuff.  I was so entranced by the art, I couldn’t sleep.   If I was an artist and could sketch what I saw, I’d be all over this drug.  I’m not.   

New tactic.  I’ve decided to taper off the Klonopin slowly.  Cold turkey was too much.  This week, I’m trying half.  Next week, it’ll be a quarter.  The week after, melatonin instead and the week after that, nothing.  We’ll see if that gets me back to my nine hours, light but good, sleep. 

Today’s Recipe:
This is what you do when you have 25 lbs. of “00” flour that close to its expiration date.


TOMATO FOCACCIA

The focaccia is fluffier than most, almost cake-like. I enjoy it drizzled with a bit of truffle oil or as a bread for sandwiches.


Ingredients

  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup warm water (105-107°F)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 4 ¼ cups “00” flour
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ lb. of the best tomatoes you can find (I used heirloom)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions

  1. Cover potato with salted cold water in a small saucepan, bring up to heat, and simmer until a knife pierces the potato easily, 10-15 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, and mash until smooth.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine warm water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine potato and ¼ cup oil. Add yeast mixture and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Remove paddle attachment and attach a dough hook. add flour and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Mix on medium speed until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes (dough will be soft and sticky).
  4. Scrape dough into a lightly oiled large bowl and cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2-2 ½ hours. Generously oil a 12 x 16” baking sheet.
  5. Punch down dough (do not knead) and transfer to baking sheet, then gently stretch to cover the entire baking sheet, side to side, corner to corner.
  6. Cover dough with oiled plastic wrap or a proofing bag and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1-1 ½ hours. You’ll know the dough is ready when you gently poke the dough and it slowly springs back.
  7. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in lower third. Arrange tomatoes on focaccia (do not overlap), then sprinkle with fresh rosemary and flaky sea salt; drizzle with remaining ¼ cup oil.
  8. Bake until center is firm, top is pale golden, and underside is golden (lift to check), 20 to 25 minutes.
  9. Loosen focaccia from pan with a spatula and slide onto a rack to cool slightly. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from Epicurious

Tomato Focaccia on a cutting board with a few slices taken out

Fruited Irish Soda Bread

Today’s Musings:

It’s a new year. Time to shove 2020 out the window and welcome a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Two

“Each relationship when it ends really damages me; I never fully recover. That’s why I’m very careful with getting involved because…it hurts too much.”  – Celine, Before Sunset

They say mothers forget how much labor and childbirth hurts.  This forgetting is perhaps the body’s attempt to ensure additional offspring.  If the agony is remembered, perhaps the act would not be duplicated.  The same appears to hold true for heartbreak. 

It’s been some time since I’ve allowed my heart access outside of its protective cage and, had I remembered the sensation of heartbreak, I may have chosen a safer path.  Yet, here I am – again.  Everyone has advice and comments on how to find my groove again, from “get back on the horse as soon as possible” to “we never liked him anyway.”  Most advice is unhelpful.  However, I’ve managed to cobble together the following steps which have helped me, if not heal my heart completely, patch it up enough to fight another day. 

Treat yourself as if you are sick. Heartache is a sickness.  If you had a fever, you’d treat yourself with kindness – maybe stay home for a few days, lie on the couch in your jammies, binge on Netflix.  You wouldn’t beat yourself up for not being “over” your fever.  You’d veg on the couch for a few days to get over the worst of it and then slowly start doing things to make yourself feel better –  getting plenty of rest,  eating well,  building up your strength again.  Allow yourself three days of the jammies and Netflix and then, with the kindness a sick person deserves, gently start your journey back.  If you have a relapse one evening, nurse yourself gently, get a good night’s rest, and begin again the next morning.

Pamper yourself.  Do a little something for yourself that says, “I love you” every day.  Think of all the little things you did for your ex to let him know he was special.  You deserve the same.  I bought myself fresh flowers, deep conditioned my hair, picked up a new candle, gave myself a dry-brush massage, bought a sexy new bra, steeped a cup of Earl Grey with honey and a splash of milk, and painted my nails bright red with a new polish. 

Move each day.  Exercise is known to increase serotonin and dopamine – mood-altering, feel-good brain chemicals. It doesn’t matter what you choose – go for a walk with a friend, ride a bike,  practice yoga, dance in your living room – whatever gets your heart racing.  However, try to avoid spending too much time on activities that allow you to think alone; you’ll end up ruminating about him.  If you go for a walk, listen to a podcast or an audiobook to keep your mind on something other than your heartache.

Talk him up to others.  Whether you like it or not, your friends and family (and coworkers and acquaintances and the dry cleaner) are going to give you their condolences and, possibly, ask you about why the relationship ended.  By taking the high road, instead of playing the victim – you take the power back. Tell them about the bits of him that made you smile – and keep the rest to yourself.

Don’t prod the relationship wound. Just as heartache is a sickness, the relationship is probably feeling like a tender, unhealed, open wound.  When you are injured, sometimes the best treatment is to just give it time to heal.  Poking and prodding at the sore just makes it bleed and possibly get infected.  Don’t moon over pictures of the two of you in happier times, don’t open the folder where his email letters are kept, don’t visit the places where you had your fondest memories.   Let the wound scab over and heal.  There may always be a scar, but scars don’t hurt, do they?

And slowly, very slowly, you will recover.  Just remember it takes time. 

Today’s Recipe:


Fruited Irish Soda Bread

Soda bread is a quick bread which uses baking soda for the rising agent instead of yeast. This version, with walnuts, orange and golden raisins, is slightly sweet.


Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk (or whole milk with 1Tablespoon white vinegar added)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins, softened in hot water and drained
  • Zest of one orange
  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 15 minutes

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Whisk the buttermilk and egg together; set aside. Combine walnuts, golden raisins and orange zest; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the very cold butter and pulse until the dough resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Pour flour mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the walnut mixture and make a well in the center. Pour buttermilk mixture into well and gently fold the dough together. With floured hands, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough just comes together. Shape into a 7”- 8” round loaf. Do not overwork the dough.
  4. Transfer loaf to baking sheet. Cut a deep X into the top of the loaf, cutting about ¾ of the way down into the loaf. Bake until crust is golden brown and center registers 200⁰F., approximately 50-55 minutes. If top of loaf browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow bread to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted with lashings of butter. Bread can be stored wrapped in aluminum foil at room temperature for 2-3 days.

 Slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Grandma Jo’s Kolache

A Tray of Kolatche

This was not the initial introduction for this recipe.  Crafted two weeks ago, the original was black and grim and utterly fitting of my mind at the time. I write best when I’m in one of those melancholy moods – the words soar off the page, even while the rest of me steeps in the mire. 

But in this morning’s dusky hours, humming between the cool sheets, I realize my gothic words no longer fit my current mood.  In the first version, I was a victim, lamenting, keening and tortured.  Today, I no longer suffer. A strong and determined bird ascending from the ashes, I will survive the surging fires that 2020 has kindled at my feet, smiling, irrepressible and radiant, as I rise towards great heights. 

Finally, after weeks of failed yeasted sweet dough recipes that were never quiet right, I’ve created these kolaches, based on my friend’s grandma’s recipe.  Here’s to brighter, delicious days ahead!


Grandma Jo’s Kolache

  • Servings: About 2 Dozen
  • Print

This recipe was inspired by my friend, Pamela’s, grandmother’s kolache recipe.


Ingredients


Dough
– 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
– 1 ¼ cup whole milk (105-110⁰ F)
– ½ cup sugar
– 2 egg yolks
– 1 teaspoon lemon zest
– 3 – 4 cups bread flour
– ⅛ teaspoon mace or ½ teaspoon vanilla
– 1 ½ t. salt
– 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
Raspberry Jam
– 7 oz. frozen raspberries
– 1 cup sugar
Cheese Filling
– 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
– ⅓ cup sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
Posipka Topping
– 3 Tablespoons sugar
– 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Directions

  1. Make the kolache: In a small bowl, combine yeast and warm milk and set aside for 5 minutes to bloom. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla (if using). Add milk mixture. Switch to a dough hook, add 3 cups bread flour, mace (if using) and salt and mix on medium speed. Add additional flour (up to 4 cups total) until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Add unsalted butter, a little bit at a time and mix on medium speed until soft and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and let proof in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Make the fillings while dough proofs.
  2. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool and set.
  3. Make the cheese filling: Stir together all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. Make the posipka topping: Sir together all ingredients until topping resembles rough sand. Set aside.
  5. Once dough is proofed, roll into 24 1½ oz. balls, flatten slightly and place on a silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan about 1½” apart. Cover and let proof again for 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 400⁰F. Make a large well in each with fingers. Fill with about 1 Tablespoon of cheese filling. Dollop cheese with about 1 teaspoon jam. Sprinkle kolaches with posipka. Bake for 12-15 minutes until brown.

Unbaked Kolache ready for the oven

Cheesy Bacon Semolina Bread

Two Boules of Cheesy Bacon Semolina Bread
I host a monthly fiction book club. Successfully running for about 2 ½ years, our lineup ranges from historical fiction to surrealism to sci-fi and everything in between. I started the club with visions of it becoming a modern version of the traditional salon… a gathering of like-minded individuals discussing a shared interest, in this case – reading and books.

The other day, a potential new member asked me if we tackle uncomfortable issues – poverty, homelessness, women’s issues, and BLM. This was my response (in part):

“This is a fiction book club and while the books we read have, at certain times, focused on various issues such as slavery, poverty, the rise of Nazism in Germany, family issues, etc., these topics are always couched within a fictionalized story. Our primary focus is reading for pleasure and a good discussion.”

After responding, I felt guilty – guilty for reading for mere pleasure and a good discussion. In the face of MAGA, global warming, COVID-19, school shootings, and BLM, why am I gathering a group together to discuss fanciful escapism stories? Shouldn’t we be tackling these bigger issues? And what about my blogging? Why am I spending hours testing, writing, photographing and posting a recipe for some complicated artisanal version of bread when children in my own city went to bed last night without a morsel in their belly? Shouldn’t I focus on moving the needle rather than my own pleasure? Could I be doing more? Should I be doing more?

I’m confident I’m not alone in this feeling and, I decided, we need to cut ourselves some slack. We can donate, march, vote, and volunteer to support the causes important to us, but we aren’t doing anyone good if we don’t also support ourselves through self-care:  recharging by doing the things we love like reading and cooking and gathering socially. It’s a balance – no guilt required.

I seem to be a collector of flours.  I currently have eight (eight!) in my refrigerator, which doesn’t include the All-Purpose in my pantry.  I chose this recipe to help use up leftover semolina flour. This recipe was inspired by artisan semolina bread from breadworld.com.


Cheesy Bacon Semolina Bread

This is a hearty, savory bread that’s great for toast and rustic sandwiches. The Poolish needs to be started the night before.


Ingredients

    Poolish
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • ¾ cup warm water (105⁰ – 110⁰ F.)
  • Dough
  • ½ teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • ¾ cup warm water (105⁰ – 110⁰ F.)
  • Poolish
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • ½ – ¾ cup bread flour
  • 8 slices bacon, fully cooked and crumbled
  • 8 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1 cup strong-flavor grated cheese (such as aged white cheddar)
  • 2 Tablespoons dried sage

Directions

  1. Make Poolish: Stir together flour and yeast in a medium bowl. Add water and stir until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight or up to 24 hours at room temperature. The poolish will become frothy.
  2. Make Dough: Dissolve yeast in water and let rest for 5 minutes. In the bowl of a mixer, combine water, poolish, olive oil and salt and mix on low speed with a dough hook until blended. Add semolina and ½ cup bread flour and continue mixing on low until fully combined. If dough is too sticky, add additional bread flour, if needed. On medium  speed, knead dough with a dough hook for 5about minutes until dough becomes a silky, smooth ball.
  3. Add bacon, scallions, cheese and sage and knead about another minute until ingredients have combined. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and proof in a warm location for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Working with each half, pull the edges of the dough towards the center, working your way around and shaping it into a round ball. Turn the ball over, cupping the sides of the ball, and roll the bottom around in a circle until the top is smooth and tight. Place both boules on a parchment-lined rimless baking sheet. Cover with cling film, ensuring the cling film does not touch the dough and proof for another hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 475⁰, arrange an 8×8 pan filled with 1” of hot water on the bottom rack (steam ensures a crisp crust), and a rack above for the baking sheet  (the sheet should be as close to the bottom of the oven as possible). Score each boule. Place the baking sheet on the rack and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the internal temperature  of the bread reaches 200⁰. Cool on wire rack.

Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Buns

Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Buns
Yesterday was about self-care. Cajoling myself to smile, if only a little, for a moment. I bought myself a new candle, vetiver and cedarwood. I took an extra-long, extra-hot shower. I sat on the floor and played with the kitties in the morning sunlight while sipping my coffee. I spent the afternoon in my kitchen, my Band-aid and bomb shelter, baking wonderful things to share, scenting my little house with yeast, sugar and lemon.


Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Buns

Decadent fluffy lemon buns studded with blueberries for indulging and sharing.


Ingredients

    Dough
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk (105⁰ – 110⁰)
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Star Yeast
  • 1 Large egg (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 ¼ cups bread flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
  • Filling
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (softened)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
  • 1 large egg (beaten)
  • Glaze
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ⅛ cups powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Combine milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg, vanilla, bread flour, sugar, salt, and milk mixture. Using a dough hook on low speed, stir together ingredients until combined. Increase to medium speed and mix for about 8 minutes, slowly adding the butter a little bit at a time, until dough is fully developed (window pane test). Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and let proof 45-60 minutes until doubled in size.
  2. Combine butter, sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl and set aside. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface 16” long by 15” wide. Cover dough with sugar filling leaving a 1” border on one long side. Cover sugar filling with blueberries. Roll up lengthwise sealing along the border with a little beaten egg.
  3. Cut into 12 rolls, approximately 1 ½” thick. Place in a 13” x 11” pan, cover with cling film and proof for another 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 190⁰-200⁰. Remove from oven. Combine glaze ingredients and glaze buns while still warm.

Note: I was originally going to use fresh blueberries in this recipe, but decided to use frozen due to their uniformity in size and the ease of rolling them up in the buns.