Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's Dough: "Buttermilk" Rolls with Flaxseed & Wheat Germ

Making your own dinner rolls is almost as easy as buying the frozen ones from the grocery store - and it's a lot healthier and certainly more satisfying.  This is a relatively quick dough as it requires only one rise.  The resulting rolls are soft, flavorful and beautiful.

I adapted this from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites and you can give these a try yourself by visiting An Unrefined Vegan.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Out of Nowhere: He Looked Like Jesus

Most of my "out of nowhere" memories - the ones that stick like glue for years and years - originated at night.  It's when perception is strongest. When ears and eyes strain to catch the slightest disturbances and the shadows are thick with mystery. 

There have been a few times in my life when I have needed help.  When my own resources and ingenuity had failed; when I was in a strange place.  Each time this has happened to me, a person has appeared out of nowhere to help.  Call them Good Samaritans.  Call them Godsends. Call it complete coincidence. I don't know.  Perhaps the scared and the lost give off vibrations that attract both the well-intentioned and the nefarious - and I've just lucked out and attracted the benevolent variety. 

Wendover, NV, September 2011
Wendover, Nevada.  Dry and brown and sparsely populated.  At least back in the 1980s.  Hardly a destination town unless you were from Utah and you were looking to get a beer stronger than 3.2.  Or you wanted to lose some money.

The four of us sat in the sky-blue Pontiac Bonneville in the parking lot of the casino in Wendover.  The engine refusing to turn over.  Refusing even to make that sad *click* when the battery is nearly dead.  It was very late.  The plan had been to spend a few hours in the casino and then head back across the Bonneville Salt Flats, back to Salt Lake and to sleep.  It didn't look like that was going to happen.

My brothers had poked around under the hood and determined that the alternator was shot.  There had been no hint of trouble when we'd left Salt Lake late on a bright, sunny afternoon.  Where to get an alternator at two in the morning in a deserted border town?

It didn't occur to any of us to pool together our meager funds (credit cards? we didn't have those then) and get a couple of hotel rooms - leave the problem-solving for the sunlight hours - and so we sat, thinking of what to do next.  We didn't see the man come up to the car.  All of a sudden he was peering into the driver's side window, tapping his finger on the glass.  Startled, my brother's head reared back.  The lights in the parking lot had turned the stranger's face yellow, his hair into a bright halo.  The man spoke through the glass, "Do you need some help?"

The man looked like Jesus.  Or like the classic depictions of Jesus: tall and thin with long brown hair, a long beard.  My brother replied and the man said, again through the glass, "I know where you can get one."  It seemed utterly preposterous, but they were the words my brother needed to hear, and so he opened the door of the car.  The man's voice was clear now, loud, since glass was no longer separating us.  "I can take you there right now if you want."  Without so much as a glance into the back seat - where my other brother and I were sitting - Jesus and my brother walked away and disappeared into the dark.

I was certain that I had just seen the last of him.  No good could come of a stranger tapping on a car window during the darkest, the most unsettled hours of the night.  Yet we all sat completely immobile.  It seemed to me we could have sat there, unmoving, throughout the night, into the next morning and deep into the next day.  I'm sure the three of us remaining in the car spoke, but I can't remember what was said.

It seemed as if hours had gone by, yet the sky was still black when again, out of nowhere, a person walked up to the car.  My brother.  Alone.  He opened the driver's side door.  Cradled in his hand, like a surgeon gingerly carrying an organ meant for transplant, he held an alternator.  The boys got out of the car and went to work under the hood.  Then they were finished and my brother turned the key.  The engine sounded weak, the patient slowly coming back to life after surgery.  The dash lights flickered and died.  But the engine eventually turned over and we rolled cautiously out of the parking lot and headed east, back into Utah.  We discovered that to keep the car running there could be no dash lights, no radio, no rolling the windows up and down.  The Salt Flats stretched out on either side of the road, eerily bone white even in the dark.

As we drove, my brother told us what had happened. I will leave the details for those of us in the car that night.  And to Jesus, of course.  Suffice to say that after they found the part that was needed, my brother gave him a few bucks and Jesus walked back into the night and disappeared.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Today's Dough: Anadama Bread

In his bread baking tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart relates the apocryphal story behind the origin of Anadama bread: an angry fisherman finds that his the wife has flown the coop - leaving behind only a pot of cornmeal mush and molasses.  To make a more substantial meal, he adds yeast and flour and curses her by saying, "Anna, damn 'er!"  Over time the oath was allegedly shortened to Anadama.  Whatever the true origin of the name, the bread is generally agreed to hail from Rockport, Maine - possibly via Finnish immigrants.

It is a hearty, slightly sweet whole grain bread that bakes up with a nice, crunchy crust and soft crumb.  It works well as a sandwich bread whether the fillings are sweet or savory.  The version I'm sharing on An Unrefined Vegan is a big batch of the no-knead variety so it can be made up, stored in the refrigerator and baked as needed - as loaves or rolls.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Peril of Flat Surfaces

There is something more dangerous than the icy slope, stronger than the hungry pull of gravity, more treacherous than the scree-strewn slopes of a mountainside: it is the dreaded flat surface.  The side table, the bench, the seat, even the kitchen stool is not safe.  A magnetic force pulls objects towards the alluringly safe surfaces.  Their pancaked placidity cries out for detritus to be stacked upon them which then become trapped, immovable as Easter Island stones. There is no known remedy to combat the flat surface; as yet preventative measures have proved unsuccessful.  Where is the measuring tape?  The baseball cap from last summer?  The key to the lock on the gate?  Check the nearest flat surface.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Out of Nowhere: The Body in the Road

We carry around in our heads thousands of memories, some of them fragments, some so rich with detail they feel as if the event just occurred.  Others are so frayed and thin that they are more sensation than a past reality.  One wonders if a memory they've thumbed over again and again truly happened - was it part of a dream or something that happened to someone else?  In a series (which I'm calling "Out of Nowhere"), I will be sharing the kinds of memories that remain bright - that have stood out because of their strangeness, because of their poignancy, or significance - or maybe for no particular reason at all.

The Body in the Road

I was the last to be dropped off that night, late.  Early, really, around 3 or 4 am.  I'd been with my friends since early evening, doing nothing much.  I was on the passenger side of the big, broad front seat of Gary's 50s-era car, all shiny chrome and waxy leather.  He loved and babied that car so as he made the right turn off of the pavement of Wilson Mills onto the gravel road that ran past my home, he slowed down to avoid any spray of rocks pinging against the pristine paint job.

Save for the headlights there was no illumination on the road on that mild summer night.  And it was quiet.  Even the crickets had gone to sleep.  As Gary turned, the headlights swung wide and resettled onto the road and something flashed ahead of us.  Gary slowed and put the car into park.  The sound of the crunch of wheels on rocks stopped.  Seconds ticked without either one of us moving as our brains' struggled to make sense of the image on the other side of the windshield.  A few feet in front of the car was a limp form, human, down in the dirt, right in the center of the road.  My throat constricted but my hand was reaching for the door handle.  Gary was already out.  We walked to the front of the car, the light flooding our faces, the body bright, alarmingly three-dimensional yet sickeningly boneless. Neither one of us wanted to reach for it.

But.  A dummy.  Something stuffed and dressed to look human.  We looked at each other, relief mingling with the dissipating remnants of fear and dread.  Thank goodness it hadn't been real.  Thank goodness we hadn't run over it.  Thank goodness we didn't have to help.  Gary dragged the dummy to the side of the road.  My heart rate slowed.  We got back into the car and drove the next mile in silence, following the sturdy beam of the headlights to my house, dark and comforting in the early morning.

(Thanks to Kel for playing The Body.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Winter Comes (Briefly) to Oklahoma

I bought the jacket from Eddie Bauer back in 1997 while living in Russia.  Mail order is a wonderful thing.  It's a man's large - not sure what my thinking was on that.  I'm 5'4" and weigh, well, not nearly a man's size large, let's put it that way.  It is the warmest jacket on earth - based on my vast research on cold-weather jackets employed around the globe.

The insulated overalls, which I love deeply, came from a local store called Sharpe's and are a boy's size large.  Apparently women don't merit their own cozy insulated overalls.  They'd probably come in pink anyway, so maybe it's for the best.  Mud and cow manure don't look so good on pink.  Then there's what I call a "neck gator," which can be used like a hat, scarf, or as above, for going around incognito.  Sometimes you just want to take a walk without being mobbed by crazed fans (cows).  Underneath it all are long johns, sweat pants, a long-sleeved t-shirt and two fleeces.  It's a wonder that I can move at all.  I could be down a long time if I fell.

This is how I've met the morning for the past couple of days as a very cold system moves through the state.  The forecast is for more cold and - maybe our yearly ice storm - late tonight and into Monday.  So I'll be gearing up again at least for another day.  If you don't hear from me in a while, assume the worst, and send someone over to pick me up off of the ground.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Today's Dough: Sweet & Savory Pinwheel Rolls

Stir the dough ingredients together; place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, roll out the dough and spread the filling over it. 

Roll from the long side - jelly-roll style - and cut into pieces.

Place on cookie sheets and let rise for an hour.

Bake and let cool a little bit - then dig in.

You can find all of the details on how to make these easy, no-knead rolls (with two kinds of fillings) at An Unrefined Vegan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Long Shadows of A Late Afternoon in Winter

"Which way should we go?"
"Let's go up."

And we do.  We follow the cows' paths, smooth and slim, erratic.  Some of the paths are deep gulleys with mud rivulets where rain has gushed; some are sandy and smooth.  We aren't the only ones who take these byways.  There are coyote prints and dogs' prints, opossum and raccoon, crow, turkey and large feline prints that appear secretive, slow, stealthy.

In spots the air is cooler and lighter.  We squint in the setting sun - which burns more fiercely as if recognizing its own sad passing below the horizon.  Don't forget me.  As the hour deepens, our shadows lengthen, soon so long it is as if we are following them home.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Versatile Is My Blog's Middle Name

Recently Lynette at Sweet Posy Dreams received the Versatile Blogger Award (yay!) which meant that she in turn was compelled to bestow the award to other bloggers - and lo and behold, she chose my blog as one of the recipients.  I'd seen the "button" on blogs here and there - and now I've got one of my own for Dough, Dirt & Dye!  There's just a few administrative things I need to do:

A) Thank the Bestower:

Thank you, Lynette!  If you haven't found her blog yet, click here and go check it out.  I enjoy chatting with Lynette via our blogs.  I'm always interested to see what she's been up to in the kitchen and reading stories about her "ordinary" life in the Midwest.  And she always has beautiful antique and vintage items to share as well (visit her Etsy shop here). 


B)  Share Seven Factoids About Myself:

1)  I can neither sew, knit nor crochet.
2)  My first "real" job during college summer break was in a bookbinding factory; I restored the bindings on antique and rare volumes.
3)  I thought I'd grow up and either be an actress or an archeologist.  I stuck with the "As" and became an artist.
4)  I can't love beets no matter how much I try.
5)  I once had a brindle cat named Squirrel Nutkin, after the Beatrix Potter book/character; and a gray tabby named, Big.  I still miss them both.
6)  Someday I'd love to live in the mountains - and right next to the ocean - with a view of red rock country - in a thick, hardwood forest - on rolling, grass-covered hills that stretch for miles.
7)  I did not inherit my mother's green thumb.

and, finally

C) Pass It On

I am passing the VB luv on to some of my fellow bloggers.  Without further ado, here are the 15 I've chosen - a nice mix (I think) of the personal, the crafty and the foody:

Bacon Is Not An Herb
Cabin + Cub
Good Things*
Handmade In Israel
Hello Beautiful
I Am Nanny Anna
Island Buzzy
Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler
Ms Val's Creations
Our Home to Yours
The Good Luck Duck
So About What I Said...
Sunset Shutterbug
The Inspired Lens

Now, fabulous fifteen, the torch is in your hands.  Go forth and be Versatile!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Driving Lesson in Baghdad

May, 2004; the sky a soft blue with no hint of the usual yellow haze from blowing sand.  Sitting in a white, subcompact car under the Swords of Qadisyah in Baghdad...Wait.  Let me start at the true beginning to this story.

1989 or thereabouts.  Despite heavy pressure from my dad, I had been resisting learning how to drive from 16 to the ripe old age of 21.  I felt like the only teenager (and then not a teenager anymore) on the continent who had no interest in getting behind the wheel.  But one day a Hyundai Excel appeared parked along the sidewalk in front of my Little Italy apartment, a gift from dad.  The day had come.  I couldn't avoid it any longer.  I signed up for driving lessons from a chain-smoking 50-something woman who made me hold a super-size 7-Eleven cup in one hand while entering a highway at 60 mph.  I passed my exam the first time around despite mowing down the traffic cones while doing the parallel parking portion of the test.

For as long as I could remember, dad hammered away at us kids about the importance of learning how to drive a manual transmission - because we'd "be able to drive any car in an emergency."  But the thought of paying attention to steering, other drivers and the car's speed along with fooling around with a clutch and a stick-shift filled me with fear (I once drove - wondering why the engine sounded so strained - halfway from Cleveland to Columbus in third gear.)  But I learned and soon it was second nature.  And dad was right (as usual).  Knowing how to drive a stick got me my a good job at a commercial photographer's studio.

Now back to 2004, in Baghdad.  From the front seat of the car, I had a close-up view of the swords.  Impressive and menacing, it feels like inviting combat to simply walk under them.  They are a part of a large complex: a stadium, the sprawling Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers (we called it the Clam Shell) and a long, wide avenue for parading tanks and troops.  The swords, clutched in fists, rise 130 feet into the air.  The arms and hands were supposedly modeled after Saddam's own and the piles of helmets, cracked and battered, that tumble beneath the sabers are allegedly those of dead Iranian soldiers, some 5,000 of them.  Around the swords were acres of dull, hot gray surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire, baked by the sun.  It was a place as empty and useless as only a site of marches and triumphant gatherings of the recently vanquished could be.  For a few years to come, at least, there would be no more parades.  Grass and weeds had already started breaking through the concrete.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.
We'd chosen that place for its openness and emptiness.  No other cars.  No one was around.  I was in the driver's seat with a young man sitting next to me who knew how to drive, but he did not know how to drive a stick-shift.  Since all of the cars in the fleet of the ministry where I worked were standards, he'd found getting around the city at night (a questionable activity at best) difficult.  Since he was determined to drive alone outside of the Green Zone, it was at least prudent to know how to operate a car with a manual transmission.  Stalling one's car would be unwise.  I started out the lesson by pushing the clutch in, moving the stick into first gear, and then demonstrating how to release the clutch slowly until that magic sensation of resistance is reached and it is time to press the gas pedal - just so - until the car smoothly begins to move.  Words are one thing.  After a few more minutes of instruction, it was time for him to get behind the wheel.  Suddenly, I was nervous.  I felt what millions of parents have felt as they've relinquished the car to their inexperienced teenagers - chilled by that flash of eager cockiness in their eyes as they grab the keys.

He got behind the wheel and I told him to push the clutch in and out a few times, to get the feel of it.  And then he said he was ready.  He pressed in the clutch, moved the stick to first and - we hopped and lurched and stalled a few times and I understood my mother's unconscious reflex of pushing her foot onto the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger's side.  I was doing it myself along with a white-knuckled grip around the strap above the passenger side door.  He made a few loops beneath the swords, stopping now and then to start all over.  He got a little better, but not much.  He was far from ready for the open road, but I could see he'd grown impatient and was ready to go.  We switched seats so that I could drive us back to the parking lot. 

I knew that evening he would test out his new-found skill and again, I felt like a parent, watching her child throwing off the apron strings and heading into the unknown to learn and experience for himself.  He was on his own.  Not long afterwards and only a short time after I'd left Iraq, he was seriously injured in a car.  He wasn't driving and in fact, he was not even involved in a car accident.  It was something much worse.  Nevertheless, I couldn't help but think about our short lesson on that warm, bright day underneath the shining sabers and how that brief lesson might have added detrimentally to his confidence and feeling of security while driving outside of the Green Zone late at night. 

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