Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Faces of my Family

Before I moved to the country I was warned and advised that country life in a rural setting was hard and the isolation from people could be difficult to tolerate. This did not worry me too much. I was going to be with my soul mate and best friend. Plus I had my cats . I have never been one given to huge masses of friends - rather I make a few close friends. It is these people that have been through the storms with me. Some have been human- and others animals. Little Sophie is one of them. Shy and timid , Sophie was rescued from a cat shelter. She is a small bundle of sheer love. Once trust is won- Sophie is always around to cuddle up to or sit with. She has a quiet acceptance that I most value in my friends. The way she sits with me when I am upset and seems to say " I dont know how to help ..but I am here" Sophie is family.

Living so far away from my own family - there are times when I miss them terribly. Christmas and New Year are the hardest. Still I have found a wider family who I hold close to my heart. I talk to them daily , share joys and sorrows and vent. Oh! how wonderful it is to have family to vent to. I have a huge circle of moms , grans, and sisters. I have my quilting bee online in Quilt Talk. These women are my family. We sit around the table each day and discuss what we have quilted , new projects to start , pets who have been ill, love life and children , In laws and out laws....we talk about life. No pretense or judgements - just life . We share from our hearts , weep with each other , laugh and tease. The bond is invisable and strong.It is funny to think how far this love for each other stretches........from Idaho, to  New York, to Germany,  to Canada a whole mass if sisters across the USA.......Ohio, Texas , North Carolina , Kansas, Missouri..., Australia.and New Zealand. We have never seen or met each other - but the love and concern we share for each other is real. For outsiders it is unreal and impossible, For us it is simple- we are family. Today we are saddened ,one of our own has lost the love of her life. Our sister needs us - and love filters in from all over the world...hugs , kisses , words or comfort and prayers. We join hands across unseen miles and hold onto our friend . We will walk with her till she is able to be strong again. We are family.

The events over the past days have made me ponder the whole idea of family - what it is - who it encompasses. So many of us struggle with our own families - the expectations , the demands or simply the mold we are required to fit into. Hurt caused by our families can run so deep and hurt so badly. We look at the TV families and wonder - what on earth happened to ours. I read once a beautiful sentiment - that family are those you love you - accept you - and give you room to grow..They love you first before asking ..why. There are some who will insist that family must be blood related, draw from the same line, be just like you to count. They deny the possibility of the bond of family from people unseen and distant...but such is their loss. I have a large family - a brother who lives in quiet simplicity in a large tin shed, sisters and grans who sit around and quilt with me , brothers , dads , uncles and such. Everyone is accepted and everyone belongs .We are a strange crew - none of us look  or sound anything like the other .But we have a bond far deeper and stronger - love , acceptance and belief in each other. We are family.Simple.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Bread. Basic, simple yet such a pleasure to make and eat.
I discovered baking bread for myself only a year ago. I have always appreciated home baked bread and sometimes been involved in its making. I have even used a bread maker but only in the past year have I baked bread the old fashioned way for my daily sustenance and I have been amazed at how much I enjoy the process as well as the results. There is something very relaxing about the smell and texture of a yeasty dough. The working of the dough under your hands, the waiting for it to rise, the warmth of the elements involved and the immense satisfaction of freshhot bread with cheese and jam or even on its own.
For anyone seeking peace and tranquility in a rushed and unsettled world I recommend taking the time to bake bread. It really doesn't take much time at all, but the minutes spent doing it settle the soul and calm the nerves. And I'll make a bet that serving it hot to someone else will help them relax as well!

A Recipe:

I don't use recipes as once you understand the basic principles of bread making it becomes very simple so despite the fact that the rather vague instructions to follow may distress some of you I'm going to tell you how I do it, the way I do it.

In a large bowl put some warm (warm to touch but not hot) water. About 2-3 cups, you'll soon get the feel for how much is right. Anyway the amount of water dictates the amount of flour so it all pans out in the end.
Into this water put 2-3 tablespoons of dried yeast and about 2 tablespoons of sugar or honey.
Let stand in a warm spot. I have a sunny window seat, in front of the fire, or the hot water cupboard as options.(about 5-10 minutes)
When the mixture has "erupted" which takes 2-10 minutes add a dash of salt and a dob of butter( if the butter is hard just grate it), about 5 cups of flour (plain or wholewheat) and beat until smooth. Use a cake mixer on low with those wiggly things instead of beaters otherwise give yourself a sore forearm and use a knife for about 100 strokes minimum (or ask for a volunteer).
Now add extra flour, about 2-3 cups until a workable dough has formed, turn out on a floured surface and knead, adding flour as required to stop the dough sticking. Keep kneading until dough is smooth and elastic , ie: it feels silky and warm and sensual.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in your preferred warm spot until it has doubled in size. Go do something else in the meantime as this can take 30- 60 minutes depending on where you put it, and if it rises more because you are away for longer it doesn't matter.
Punch down the dough to it's original size and then leave to rise again ( If you are really impatient just throw in a cold oven and bake it. It will be OK but not as good as it could be).
When risen for the second time divide into rolls or place in well greased loaf tins or old spaggetti tins, pudding bowls, camp ovens, etc. Use butter to grease as oil will make the bread stick. About 1/3 fill the tins with dough and bake in a preheated oven at 160 degrees celcius until golden on top and hollow sounding when tapped. How long will depend on how big the loaves are, small round buns like the ones above took 35 minutes. The whole mixture in one loaf takes about 75 minutes.
When you've got the feel for this you can add anything you like to flavour the bread. I often throw a handful of rolled oats into the initial water and yeast mix just because i felt like it once and it seemed to work. Fruit and the like should be added between the rises.
Butter, cheese and wine should be on hand when bread is removed from the oven. Wrap any uneaten bread in a teatowel and store in a cool dry place. Enjoy, and let me know how you get on.