Kneaded at Solstice, More Bread, More Poetry

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It’s solstice day once again, but with two twists, as it were. Twist #1: the personal challenges are up this year, and several traditions, among them baking bread, may be off the plate. I don’t know yet. However, on schedule for this afternoon is another “kneaded” activity — a massage. I’m thinking this will help slow things down for today, enough for me to consider kneading it forward with a fresh batch of cardamom bread, and therefore I will legitimize this annual post.

Twist #2: I learned, through DNA testing, that I have Finnish genes, further legitimizing my annual activity. Doubly necessary to get it done. Here’s the post:

Time to post my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. In year’s past, I’d been troubled my a non-working recipe and I thought long and hard about giving her a go this year. I was saved by last year’s post on this topic, which reminded me I’d found a working recipe! So – I will do it and update last year’s photo (at right) if everything works out.* Still – there’s always the poetry, right? Here it is:

Solstice

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

*The 2013 batch turned out fine, but we were eating it before I had a chance to take a photo!

Solstice = Bread and Poetry

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It’s solstice day once again! Time to post my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. In year’s past, I’d been troubled my a non-working recipe and I thought long and hard about giving her a go this year. I was saved by last year’s post on this topic, which reminded me I’d found a working recipe! So – I will do it and update last year’s photo (at right) if everything works out.* Still – there’s always the poetry, right? Here it is:

Solstice

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

*The 2013 batch turned out fine, but we were eating it before I had a chance to take a photo!

The Perfect Solstice Recipe for Bread and Poetry

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A few days late, I’m posting my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. While I did bake some on solstice day, there were issues and – honestly – I’d had issues for years with the recipe I’d been using (from a famous Scandinavian cookbook author’s recipe). After searching high and low, I adjusted my recipe

(borrowing the chemistry* from a julekake recipe and ‘tweaking’ it) and finally have arrived at a working recipe! Yay!

Solstice 


I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

Snow Day

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11″  in the last 18 hours and still piling up. The first big snow always brings welcome changes — to the landscape and people’s attitudes, usually. Most people feel a sense of excitement anticipating the first major snow storm of the season. And even though snow means work for many (shoveling), and potentially a change of plans due to treacherous travel, the first big snow seems somehow less inconvenient than all the other snow storms we’ll see.

I spent the day baking – cinnamon swirl bread and turkey pot pies. Snow seems to bring this out in me. Perhaps some hibernation instinct kicks in, and I feel the need to store more food, particularly more carbs, for the winter. Others spend the day engaging in other creative pursuits, enjoying the outdoors, watching football, or all of the above. Even though we could do these things any other day, somehow it’s more special to be doing these things on the first snow day. Less of a chore.

The natural world changes, and invests us with new moods, new ideas, and new energy. I’m lucky to be living in a place that has all four seasons, so I can reliably count on lots of changes in the natural world to help recharge my day-to-day life.

Make Pie, Not War

I set out this morning with high hopes of seeing the two-thousand-year-old  terracotta tomb warriors and other artifacts from the Qin Empire (the era of the First Emperor of China) now on exhibit here in Minneapolis.

Except for the cleaning and other Thanksgiving preparations I’d planned, the other part (the relaxation piece) of this time-off hasn’t gone entirely as planned.  Hubby wound up having to return to work early, his time-off eroded by a few sick days. We managed a fine-dining night out (having earlier thought of a weekend getaway), and squeezed in the latest James Bond movie.

All in all, not bad, but I’d hoped for more than a break here and there from the vacuuming and baking. I had one last chance for a bit more culture, so this morning I decided to head out on my own to the exhibit.

As described by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts website, the emperor’s tomb was “discovered in 1974; later, Chinese archaeologists excavated three pits containing more than 7,000 terracotta warriors with horses and chariots, all designed to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife. His tomb was an elaborate subterranean palace, a parallel world that would enable his rule after his death.”

After a smooth, fast drive on the interstate, I arrived near the museum and discovered that gridlock squeezed every side-street to a single lane. Gridlock involving numerous school busses.

I had so looked forward to visiting what is essentially a graveyard for its prospect of peaceful contemplation among the silent, giant warriors. School busses filled with lots of lots and lots of school kids didn’t sound like peaceful contemplation to me. My quest to see the Emperor and his army came to a dead end amid the gridlock surrounding the museum.

So I returned home via the grocery store (needed more cream and eggs – so it is with a week of baking), and spent much of the day making pies, lots of tiny little pumpkin pies. Used my favorite crust recipe (a two-hour process that is not so laborious, but does require two hours – with lots of resting, chilling, freezing, pie weights), and a new custard recipe (no evaporated milk – just cream, eggs, milk, brown sugar, spices – and, of course, pumpkin). The delicious ancient smells of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon filled the kitchen with otherworldly incense. It was pokey work making a lot of tiny pies, but I had the extra time, and when they were finished, and I lined them up in little rows, entombing them inside a covered pyrex dish to keep the marauding pets out.

Tomorrow – more baking, more preparation, a bit more cleaning, and then the feasting day arrives.

Happy Sadness

It’s that transitional time of year, which, due to my Northern temperament and locale, always seems mournful, but in a good way. : )  A perfect trifecta of three events almost demands reflection: the winter solstice, the end of the year, and a lifetime in a cold, confining climate.

It is particularly the shortest, darkest day of the year — winter solstice — that makes the loudest call for reflection. All that dark makes the soul crave contemplation. What I mean by Happy Sadness is that sort of rumination about how things could be worse, but aren’t. A quiet reflection on one’s blessings, but not to gloat.

The short list – I’ve accomplished a lot this year, met some lifelong goals: published one book, wrote another, made progress on other personal projects. Along with my kids, I took a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime train trip down the West Coast and had what can only be described as a near perfect time with friends in Seattle and L.A. (‘Near’ only because one key family member was unable to join us due to an illness).  We are living comfortably – modestly – and that is quite an accomplishment given the times. On our street alone, there are a half-dozen neighbors who lost their homes, and those homes have remained empty this past year. The extended family is mostly in good health, gainfully employed, and growing (one wedding, one engagement, perhaps more on the way).

Stating what I’ve stated in the past paragraph makes me want to knock on wood. It could all change overnight, but I’m not staying awake nights thinking about that. I have in the past. Times were tougher in other years. But at the moment….knock wood….we’re in good shape.  

And so it is once again time for the Winter solstice poem to make its appearance. The poem is about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. I can think of nothing better than the smell of cardamom bread in the oven: it sustains the spirit on the darkest day of the year, when the reflections sometimes turn away from the positives, and focus too much on the negatives.  Fresh bread always makes things better. I bake several loaves and bring them to holiday gatherings.  Yummy. The poem originally appeared at Tattoo Highway, and the page features this wonderful illustration of a braided loaf.

Solstice 

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December.