Gratitude

I’d like to live in the plane of gratitude, not just offer it up when I’m feeling warm and loved. In the way that some pray without ceasing, living and acting from a place of gratitude would have a profound effect on my frame of mind. Instead of shouting at Abe, my dog, for digging up the grass in the backyard and tracking in  mud all over the house, I’d consider my (justified!) anger alongside how much I love him, and how wonderful a presence he is in my home and my life.

My sweet puppy

My sweet, furry, messy puppy

Instead of banging kitchen utensils around in frustration with the half-burned granola I need for one week’s worth of breakfast, I might realize I have the money to buy new ingredients, and be grateful something (even if it is half-burned) will fill my belly each morning to fuel me for that day.

I find it’s often hardest to practice gratitude in the midst of a challenge. Emily, the owner of Blossom Yoga Studio in Laramie, taught a yoga class recently where she constantly encouraged us students to cultivate gratitude, and yet she was simultaneously guiding us into very challenging poses like arm balances.

From YogaJournal.com, this is firefly pose, which is a type of arm balance

From YogaJournal.com, this is firefly pose, which is a type of arm balance

I found myself immediately criticizing – my legs weren’t straight, my hips weren’t high enough off the ground…. There was so much for which I could be thankful, though – the strength of my arms, shoulders, and core; the flexibility of my hamstrings; my perseverance and power; my ability to breathe while I balance; even my having the time for this class, and the teacher, and the studio itself.

When we fall into pattern and familiarity, it’s easier for us to see what’s missing rather than what’s present, which is part of the reason the Holidays can be so hard for people. Families change; people grow up, move away, marry, divorce, and pass on.

Yet great and disruptive change gives us an amazing opportunity to take note of what it is we hold dear, that for which we’re thankful. And once we notice these things, we can turn them over in our minds until they become woven into the very fabric of our way of living, until they become a constant prayer.

I am thankful for the people in my life who love and care about me. I am thankful for the ever-changing seasons. I am thankful for my house and my home, this little town of Laramie in the wide open state of Wyoming. I am thankful for the snow-capped mountains that loom large over Laramie. I am thankful for nourishing food and libations. I am thankful, as always, for a good book (right now I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed). I am thankful for yoga, the yoga community, and for my healthy body.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Baking Bread

When I was little, I used to asked my Oma (“grandma” in German) how her hands were so soft. She told me that her kneading bread softened the skin of her hands over time.

Oma passed away earlier this year, in case you didn’t read my earlier blog post about her. Oma made this one particular type of bread so often that our entire family refers to it as “Oma bread;” and I’ve been meaning to make it since her funeral this summer. I acquired the recipe from my uncle Tom, my dad’s younger brother, who has made it many times. I shy away from bread recipes that require kneading since, I don’t know, that sounds like a lot of work, right? When I lived in Chapel Hill, I had access to delicious, fresh bread everywhere. The Guglhupf, an amazing German bakery in Durham, North Carolina, was only twenty minutes away. To note, if you’ve never visited a local bakery, fresh bread is CHEAP!

There aren’t any bakeries in Laramie that make fresh bread (there is one that focuses mostly on wedding cakes and other fancy pastries), so I’ve been making a lot of this King Arthur flour recipe, which doesn’t require any kneading (hooray!). It’s a great first loaf if you’ve never made bread before. It’s also fairly versatile; I’ve used it for circular sourdough-esque loaves as well as baguettes.

I felt like baking something this past Sunday because, well, it was Sunday. And the weather is beginning to deteriorate; we’ve had such a wonderful fall in Laramie this year! But today it snowed, and is still snowing.

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

And the email Tom sent me with the recipe has been burning a hole in my inbox. I told Matt, “I think I’m going to make Oma bread today,” and he asked, “Home-ah bread?” I said, “No, OMA bread – duh!”

So, without further ado, the (now) world famous OMA BREAD RECIPE!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached flour (up to 1/2c more while kneading)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 7-8 Tbsp frozen unsalted butter (8 tbsp = 1 stick)
  • 2 small packages yeast
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp anise (aka fennel) seeds
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ground zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp to brush loaf before baking

Steps:

  1. Set out the three eggs you’ll be using for the dough in order to bring them to room temperature.
  2. Microwave the cup of milk until it is warm enough that you can keep your finger in it for 5 seconds without feeling the need to yank it out – warm, but not hot. While microwaving, pour the sugar into your largest mixing bowl.

    Setting up

    Setting up

  3. Take 2 pinches of the sugar from the mixing bowl and drop them into the cup of milk. Add the 2 packets of yeast to the milk; do not stir. The sugar and the warm temperature of the milk will help to activate the yeast. If you’ve overheated the milk (as I did), simply let it cool for a minute or two before adding the yeast.
  4. Add the flour, egg, anise seeds, and salt to the sugar in the large mixing bowl.
  5. To capture the egg yolks, crack the eggs over a separate, small bowl. Drop the shell’s contents into your other hand, above the small bowl. Allow the yolk to sit in your hand while the white drips into the bowl between your fingers. Once you’ve sifted out the egg white, drop the yolk into the large mixing bowl with all the other ingredients. Repeat with the second egg yolk.
  6. To collect the ground lemon zest, use a zester or a grater. Add the zest to the other ingredients.

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

  7. For the butter: my Oma’s original recipe calls for room temperature butter to be added directly to the dough, but because I live in a small household, I almost always keep my full sticks of butter in the freezer, which means I have to know WAY ahead of time if I’ll be needing a full stick at room temperature later. I once read a recipe for scones that called for grated frozen butter, and I’ve been using this trick ever since. Take a cheese grater, like perhaps the one you used for the lemon, and an unwrapped stick of frozen butter, fresh out of the freezer. Grate the frozen butter – it will create beautiful little curly-cues that then stick together. Don’t worry! Once you add the clumped curly-cues, they will mix easily into your dough. After grating the whole stick, or 7/8 of it, add the butter to the dough. Mix the dough with a spoon.

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like - pretty enough to eat!

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like – pretty enough to eat!

  8. After mixing, check your yeast mixture. Is it foamy? If so, it is ready to add to the rest of the dough. (If not, wait a little longer. If it doesn’t foam after 10-15 minutes, either your milk was too hot/cold, or your yeast is bad.) Make a little indentation in the center of your dough. Pour the milky yeast mixture into that dent, and begin to mix with a spoon.
  9. After the dough is mostly mixed, switch to kneading with the hands until you get a smooth ball.

    Relatively smooth, anyway

    Relatively smooth, anyway

  10. Place plastic wrap or a cloth loosely over the bowl containing the ball of dough and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it’s doubled, 1.5-1.75 hours (or 1 hour if you live at 7,000 feet above sea level like I do!).
  11. After the dough is risen, knead it a little more. Take it out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 logs, or more, depending on what you want the loaf to look like.
    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    Interweave your logs to create a braided strand or loaf, and tuck the ends underneath the loaf. (I used this YouTube tutorial to braid my loaf like traditional Challah. Feel free to experiment here! What’s the point of all this work if your bread doesn’t end up being delicious AND pretty?!)

    Ta-da!

    Ta-da!

  12. Let the loaf rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  13. While the loaf is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place a pizza stone inside to warm along with the oven. A pizza stone will help to evenly bake your bread. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can just use a cookie sheet – no need to place it in the preheating oven.
  14. Mix your egg yolk and milk in a small bowl until the liquid is a pale yellow.
    Getting ready to mix

    Fixin’ to mix

    Once the loaf has risen, brush it over with the yolk mixture. This will make your bread look pretty! All brown and shiny.

    Brushed & ready to bake

    Brushed & ready to bake

  15. Lift the parchment paper to transfer the bread to either your cookie sheet or your preheated pizza stone. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the top is browned but the center is done.
All done!

All done!

Congratulations! You’ve made OMA BREAD!!! Taste it to understand our family’s obsession. Oma bread is good all by itself (obviously!), or with a little raspberry jam – organic, if you’re eating it in the spirit of Oma herself. I’m considering making some French toast with it one morning. What do you think?

IMG_9807

Love to all.