Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Great Toaster Oven Experiment: Focaccia

Continuing with alternative baking methods/bread, I decided to attempt focaccia. Spoiler alert: not perfect, but perfectly acceptable in a pinch.

In my search for a suitably-sized vehicle, I discovered that out of the dozen or so bread/loaf pans accumulated in decades of marriage — this not being the first for either of us, though that may not explain the excessive number — only one actually fits in the toaster oven.

Dimensions, for anyone else who is oven-less, or wants to give this a try (the rest of you can enjoy a short snooze):

  • Length: Exterior including handles 9.75″/25 cm; interior 8.25″/21 cm
  • Width: Exterior 5″/12.25 cm; interior 4.25″/11cm
  • Height: 2.5″/6.5 cm

Ingredients

(Dough)

  • 1 cup warm water (not too hot; you don’t want to cook the yeast)
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon (more or less) extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

(Topping)

  • 12 pitted olives, Kalamata or Castelvetrano, as you prefer, sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • Kosher salt or fleur de sel

Method

  1. Place warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle the dry yeast, stir and let it dissolve for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp salt to the bowl and stir. The dough will be sticky.
  3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Add more flour as needed. Shape dough into a ball.
  4. Pour a little olive oil into your bowl, add the dough, and roll it around until it’s lightly coated.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm area until doubled, approx. 1 1/2 hours. (First rise)
  6. Punch it down, knead into a ball, return to the bowl, cover with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. This takes about 45 minutes. (Second rise)
  7. Pour a small amount of olive oil into your loaf pan and spread it around to coat the inside.
  8. Once the second rise is finished, punch it down lightly, transfer it to the loaf pan and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and add the olives on top. Let it rise uncovered for about 25 minutes. (Third rise).
  10. Using your fingertips, press indentations into the surface of the dough. The oil will pool in the indentations. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt
  11. Bake at 450 degrees F (230C I think?) for about 15-20 minutes. Mine began to burn at 20 so keep an eye on it!
  12. Serve warm with more olive oil. Adding garlic and herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) to the oil is even better.

How to MacGyver Oven-less Baking

Wanting to take advantage of an overabundance of fresh tomatoes, I had a pizza craving yesterday. I could have ordered one, but a) take-out pizza around here is less than stellar, b) I only wanted a small portion for lunch, and c) I was mostly in the mood to bake and we don’t have our ovens yet. (Ah, the endless joys of home remodeling.)

One option would have been the grill but I didn’t feel like a massive post-lunch cleanup and preferred something quick and easy. Solution: the toaster oven. I was also curious to see if other items like cookies or baklava could be baked in it.

Step 1: Divide a pizza dough recipe by 25% to make a quantity that might fit in the toaster oven. Caveat, this is not my favorite recipe, which is best made 2-3 days ahead, but it was ok in a pinch:

  • 1 cup bread flour (sorry, MacGyvering did not allow time to convert to grams)
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • Approximately 1/4 cup warm water

Method

  • Mix dry ingredients in a medium-large bowl
  • Add most of the olive oil, retaining a small amount in reserve
  • Add about half the water, and begin mixing everything together
  • If dough is too dry/crumbly, add more water a little at a time until it comes together. Likewise, add more flour if the dough is too soggy.
  • Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it forms a ball.
  • Spread remaining oil around the inside of the bowl, add the dough, and roll the dough around until it’s lightly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.
  • After the dough has nearly doubled in size, punch it down lightly and shape it into a rectangle on an aluminum foil “tray” that will fit in your toaster oven.
  • Pre-bake the crust at the hottest temperature (mine only heats to 450F) until golden brown.
  • Remove from toaster oven and add toppings. I used a light layer of (more) olive oil, then sliced tomatoes, chopped fresh basil, and scattered bits of Boursin cheese because that’s what I had in the fridge.
  • Return to the toaster oven and continue baking until cheese is melted and everything is cooked. You can blast it on the “toast” setting towards the end to help brown the crust.

I can’t tell you exactly how long this takes because you’d have to experiment, but it was maybe 20-30 minutes baking time.

Before
After

Delicious quick lunch with my nonalcoholic Faux Cosmo:

Fill a tall glass with seltzer or sparkling water. Add a splash each of orange juice and cranberry juice. Add the juice of 1/2 lime. Garnish with a slice of lime. Pretty and refreshing!

When Bad Bread Happens to Good Restaurants

I hope this is not a new trend. In recent weeks, Dear Husband and I have eaten at two excellent restaurants with truly inferior bread. What gives??

First up, Toulouse — a lovely French/Creole place in Seattle, where one would expect to find good sourdough or certainly an acceptable baguette. Instead, we got flabby structure and squishy crust; mon Dieu!

Then, last week, a local place on the Oregon coast — the Bay House — which has a relaxing ambiance, superb service, and beautiful food (see below) — with this notable exception. Hey, if it’s too humid, pop the loaf in an oven to crisp it up! I’m tempted to bring my own sourdough next time. Think they’d mind?

At the Bay House, DH’s beet salad starter was a work of art
As was my halibut— those green shapes are pea purée

Bread lovers of the world, unite! And what’s your pet peeve when eating out, dear readers?

The Curse of Almost

Six little letters that can change your life:

“You almost got the job” (Translation: You were second out of a zillion applicants).

“You were almost accepted” … to the club, college, team, etc.

“You almost made the flight”… and now you’ll be stuck at the airport lounge eating stale peanuts for three hours.

This sneaky little word can encapsulate the difference between success and failure, or, in the case of our never-ending home renovation, the difference between ”livable” and ”not exactly”.

When our well-meaning neighbors ask, ”Is the house finished?”, no doubt wondering how in hell this remodel has taken a year and a half and counting, we generally answer ”almost”. As in, we still don’t have shower doors in two of the bathrooms because, well, somehow they were measured incorrectly. Twice. And no ovens, because they were “only” ordered nine months ago. Oh, and an unusable bath tub because the tub filler was set too far away from the tub so water splashes all over the floor and needs to be replaced. I could go on, but you get the picture.

On the other hand, ”almost” could have magical powers, e.g., ”The bullet almost pierced your lungs/spine/brain” or ”That car almost plowed right into you”.

If only this were one of those good ”almosts”. Grrrr.

Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

To Breed or Not to Breed

A couple of weeks ago, I wandered down a blog rabbit hole reading a post and responses concerning the author’s dilemma of whether or not to have a third child.

The comments were sensitive and thought-provoking, relying on various writers’ personal experiences and larger ethical questions, such as: Is it selfish to bring more children into a world where profound climate change threatens to create an uninhabitable future for the next generations?

Set against the current debates on Roe v. Wade, the decision whether to have children at all is increasingly fraught.

It is, of course, both a deeply personal and mostly unknowable decision with no ”right” answer. Some of the women had yearned for children and wished they’d had more before their biological clock stopped ticking. Others admitted that parenthood involved more sacrifice than they’d ever expected. Which isn’t to say they regretted or resented having kids, though some might have, but it was not exactly what they’d envisioned.

Having struggled to balance a demanding career with raising two kids— on my own after my divorce when they were young teens— I know it’s not a simple choice. And that it’s not for everyone, regardless of what your friends, family, or well-meaning co-worker tells you. Or, frankly, your spouse, unless they are the sort of person who is guaranteed to cook, clean, change diapers, do at least 50% of the work, and take over when it all becomes too much to handle.

The only person who should decide what you truly want is you. Letting anyone else pressure you either way will just lead to resentment.

As someone who is not particularly patient, and who likes things done the way I want them done, I could easily have forgone the parenting experience. And not because I don’t love my kids, which I do, but because I would have been a happier person if I hadn’t been stretched so thin.

I do know this: parenthood is hard. Kids get sick, get hurt, require a lot of attention for the first two decades, change your marriage (not always for the better), and come into the world with their own personalities which may not be the mini-me you envisioned. And how would you handle serious illness or disability— theirs or yours? Or becoming a single parent?

For anyone on the fence, I’d say you will be ”ready” when you feel that any and all obstacles are less important to you than not having kids. If you thrive on order and control, the chaos implicit in having children will be profoundly stressful, no matter how much money you can spend on childcare. Kids are messy, unpredictable, and not for everyone. I know an awful lot of people who never had children and don’t regret it.

Another litmus test: What’s your ideal pet? A cat, which can be happily left on its own? A dog that needs frequent walks, lots of attention, and rewards you with unconditional love?

Or no pets at all?

Photo by Julia Filirovska on Pexels.com


I Got the Broken-down, Busted, Can’t be Trusted, Moving Men Blues

Ack, what a week it’s been!
Last Thursday, the movers delivered all the furniture etc. that had been stored since we had it all packed in March 2021. (Thanks to Covid and living halfway across the country, we couldn’t do this ourselves so we hired “professionals”.)

Since then, we’ve been driving to the house (about an hour away from where we’re renting) to go through everything. And finding lots of broken china, crystal and antique furniture— much that we collected in our travels or had been in our families for years.


Most breakables were packed reasonably well, although their boxes weren’t marked “fragile”. The damage seems to have occurred when boxes were loaded, unloaded, and probably dropped along the way.

To add insult to injury, we’re also missing several valuable items. The list keeps growing, though as we get to the last remaining boxes, hope is fading. Luckily, we have insurance, but I anticipate a long, unpleasant process to resolve it all. And, admittedly, this is a first-world problem and we have accumulated way too much stuff, but still.

End of rant; hope your week is going better than mine!

Snapshot: Bruges

This is our favorite day of the trip. We dock in Ghent, which I would love to see but alas there isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore both cities, and we want to do justice to beautiful Bruges.

Bruges is a fascinating combination of old and new, from its medieval buildings and churches, tree-lined canals and peaceful courtyards, to its many delectable restaurants, chocolate shops and other modern offerings.

Chocolate tools!

We begin with a stroll through the convent originally established in 1245 as a béguinage. This was a community of religious laywomen who lived and worked together, following the prioress’s rules, but did not take vows: a remarkable opportunity at that time for unmarried women to be (relatively) socially and financially independent. Today, Benedictine nuns call this lovely complex of 16th-18th century houses and gardens home.

We stroll through narrow streets to the expansive main plaza, where horse-drawn carriages await eager tourists such as ourselves. It’s still too early for lunch so off we go for a tour led by our horse Gina. Our driver warns us that Gina can display a bit of a temper if we get too close, so we stay safely tucked in the back while she clip-clops through town.

Other visitors have the same idea

Earlier, we’ve serendipitously stumbled upon the Delvaux boutique, which is enticing to me and tolerated by my long-suffering husband. I spy, and purchase, a silk scarf with Delvaux’s famous Magritte-inspired designs, which goes perfectly with one of my favorite bags, the Tempête.

We see many people taking advantage of the sunny weather to float along the canals but we continue our wanderings until it’s time to return to the ship and rejoin new friends for cocktails and dinner.

One of the most-photographed sites, we’re told

Snapshot: Antwerp

Greetings from Belgium! Today we’re in Antwerp, which seems to have more chocolate boutiques per square foot than anywhere else on the planet. Luckily for me, they are all closed at the moment. Antwerp is also famous for diamonds, should you need a bauble or two.


This magnificent lion welcomes you at the harbor
Wealthy merchants often displayed images of the Madonna outside their homes
Grote Markt
How cute are these little lambs!

Antwerp was the home of Peter Paul Rubens, and you can see his 17th century masterpieces in the beautiful Gothic cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady) in the main square. The medieval guild houses are quite stunning as well.

Cathedral of Our Lady
One of the Rubens triptychs
And the other one
Belgian lace: another art form
Another view at the harbor
And one more street scene

Snapshot: Kinderdijk

Happy Passover and Easter; I hope you’re having a lovely holiday weekend.

Resuming our travels, we arrive at the scenic village of Kinderdijk, a World Heritage site remarkable for its nineteen preserved 18th century windmills. Not merely picturesque, the windmills are an innovative hydraulic system (first developed in the Middle Ages) that harnesses wind power to pump water away from the land, allowing cultivation and preventing flooding. Low-lying Holland would be underwater without its network of polders (land reclaimed from the sea), windmills, and protective dikes (embankments)!

We’re docked near eight of them (built in 1740) — an easy walk — and begin with an overview of the area, aka Windmill 101.

Yes, the wooden shoes are functional and still used

We then stroll over to one of the mills which allows visitors inside. Much like a lighthouse, it features minimal living quarters (and low rent) for the person who tends the mill and keeps it in running order.

The cozy living room

l skip the steep climb to the top, as I can envision one of us losing their footing and everyone tumbling down like dominoes. Even so, the windmill is a majestic sight.

Almost a straight vertical to the sleeping quarters
Up close and personal from the inside

Snapshot: Arnhem

You might not expect the site of a failed WWII operation to be on the itinerary, but the nearby Airborne Museum is well worth the trip.

As depicted in the famous 1977 epic war film A Bridge Too Far, Allied forces tried to secure a series of bridges in The Netherlands in a massive airborne operation that was the largest of its kind at the time. The most interesting part of the museum is the Battle of Arnhem immersive experience, in which you “board” a plane and find yourself dropped into the battle, complete with visual and sound effects that make the events all too real.

Though sadly we didn’t have time to explore the city itself — next time!— it’s worth noting that Arnhem boasts a museum featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and more, a zoo where the animals roam in large ”eco-displays”, medieval cellars, and many boutiques and restaurants.

In the afternoon we head to the Netherlands Open Air Museum— think Colonial Williamsburg, Dutch-style. Unfortunately, all the indoor exhibits are closed, but it’s a beautiful day to stroll outside and admire the authentic buildings and windmills that were transplanted to the site to showcase life as it used to be.