Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Simple pleasures

I ask you, is there anything more wonderful than the smell of bread baking? Not just any bread mind you but the quintessential American white sandwich bread. There is something so comforting about the sweet yeasty smell that fills the house right before you take a high crowned loaf with a golden brown crust out of the oven. It is all we can do not to rip the bread apart before it even gets out of the pan.

MBH says that just like the 2nd law of Physics, the one that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, you can tell my stress level by the number of things coming out of the oven/off the stove. Weekend count: 1 loaf of Farmer's White, 1 loaf of honey whole wheat, 1 large baguette of sourdough, 1 large almond cherry cheese tea ring from the sourdough toss-off starter, 1 batch brownies and one large batch of beef stew. I don't feel stressed anymore.

Farmer's White Bread:
This is the best no-fail bread recipe I have ever used. The loaf is high, the crumb fine and the smell as it bakes...oh heavenly! (SHHH, the secret is in the sponge)

9 oz water
2 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour (11 - 13% gluten)
1/4 cup bread flour (13% or higher gluten)
1/4 cup dry milk
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
3 tablespoons of sugar

Step 1: Sponge
Mix 1 tsp yeast, 1 1/2 cup of the all purpose flour and the 9 oz of water in a 2 quart glass bowl or Tupperware container. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let it sit for 3 hours in 70 degree room. (This time will be longer in cool room or shorter in warmer room). Tip: If your oven has a light, turn the light on and put the sponge in the oven to rise.

Step2: Make the dough
Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the remaining all purpose flour. Add the remaining flour 1/2 a cup at a time until the dough is firm but still a little shaggy. Sprinkle a little flour on a good clean surface and flour your hands to finish kneading the dough; only about 5 minutes or so or until you see the development of gluten. Dough will be smooth and elastic feeling when it is ready. Put in oiled bowl or proofing container and let rise until double, about 2 hours.

Step 3: Form loaf
Punch dough down and press into rectangle about 12" x 5" Fold rectangle into 3rds and place seam side down in large greased glass loaf pan. brush a little melted butter on top of loaf, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until top of loaf touches plastic wrap. Remove plastic wrap and let loaf rise until about 2 inches above rim of loaf pan.

Step 4: Bake
In 350 degree preheated oven, bake bread for 30 - 35 minute or until internal temperature is 190 degrees. If crust begins to get too brown, cover with foil until last 5 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and pan when done and let cool about 2 hours before slicing...if you can ;-)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Exit Plan C

I love holidays that don't require my presence in the corporate rat trap; especially when it snows or rains on those days, forcing me to lay in bed read, write, and bake copious amounts of breads, scones, cookies and the such. This President's Day is such a day. MBH and I were up at the crack of dawn to find that it had snowed 4" of big fluffy flakes during the night. While MBH showered, I prepared a beef stew for the slow cooker and fed the sourdough starter in preparation of making baguettes and sourdough blueberry muffins later this afternoon, the BBC World as my soundtrack. Katley sat on his "box" in the kitchen eyeing the chopping of rump steak with interest and hopes that a small bit might fall on the floor. Then, in the still quiet of the slightly growing morning light, we walked to the bus stop, kicking up clouds of fresh powder in our wake. Now, safely two cups of luscious creamy mocha into my day, NYT arts section read and Anthony Bourdain's excellent autobiographical "Kitchen Confidential" finished, I am ready to watch it snow through the windows of Dammits, watch people trudge in and shake snow from their coats, backpacks, and fleece hats and contemplate my actions of the weekend.

I have been feeling like I've been trapped on the inside lane of a roundabout and couldn't decide which road to get off onto. But today I turned the indicator on to merge off of this roundabout. It is both exciting and scary at the same time. I'm sure in the morning I'll smack my hand to my forehead and wonder what in heaven's name have I done. But right now, the pleasure and excitement of having finally made a decision about what to do next is very satisfying. So much so, I think I need another mocha to celebrate and spend the rest of the afternoon sketching out on my yellow pad of paper an outline to Plan D.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Playing in puddles

Shhh...don't tell the groundhog but I think it may be spring! It sure looked like spring out there today, bright blue sunny sky with wispy clouds. It sure smelled like spring, that earthy smell with a hint of melting snow. It sure felt like spring, cold when we left the house this morning but by 10am almost too warm for a jacket. Today was a personal BDF (Big Day of Funness). I had scheduled to have the day off a few weeks ago and then MBH found out he had to go to a computer expo that was in town. So, that left me with a whole day to myself. What is a girl to do but to make the most of it?

The day started out with MBH and I having an early morning breakfast at this hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon in Harvard Sq. After that, we headed downtown to our separate destinations; him to the Hynes Convention Center and me to my secret cafe, Pancifico on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, to enjoy a second cup of coffee, the NYT crossword puzzle, and a particularly naughty indulgence; a lemon poppy seed muffin. I just love sitting in Pancifico's windows facing Charles Street watching the people get off the "T" (subway in Boston), head to work or leave their houses on Beacon Hill. Today was a particular good people watching day. The people in the house directly opposite the cafe were moving. Exciting huh? But in Beacon Hill, where streets are so narrow you can barely park cars on one side of the street, getting two moving vans down the street let alone making room for them to park is quite tricky. See what I mean? There is always some joker who thinks the Boston City "Do Not Park Here, Moving Van Permit" does not apply to him. Of course today, that joker not only didn't think it applied to him but I'm quite sure he thought that even if it DID apply to him, that he wouldn't really get towed because he was driving a 2005 Cadillac. He was wrong. After blocking traffic for 20 minutes, a tow truck came and took the Caddy away...bumper dragging on the street. Don't mess with moving vans in Boston. Somewhere between all this I managed to finish the Tuesday NYT crossword puzzle, drink 2 cups of really good coffee (sorry Dammits, Pancifico's coffee is better), AND talk about the places I love to visit when I'm showing friends around Boston to two nice ladies from Wales. My next destination on my BDF? Kitchen Arts, a home chef's toy store, on Newbury Street. But first a walk down Charles Street window shopping in the antique stores. After browsing through all the cooking gadgets and goodies but not buying, a first for me in that store, I decided to go have a nice late morning cup of tea at the Boston Public Library's cafe, the Map Room (really called Sebastian’s but we call it the "Map Room" because it has old maps of Boston on the walls). I sat and enjoyed the quiet of the room, the nice warm tea, and let my mind wander on this and that with no intent to think too hard on any one subject. As I sat there thinking about nothing in particular I realised that the best part of my BDF had already happened.

To get to Newbury Street from Charles Street you have to walk through the Public Garden. The Public Garden has a very different feel during the winter. There are no flowers but the trees are all showing signs of getting their spring buds. And since the weather was so nice, there lots of small kids out and about with their mothers, au pairs, nannies, etc. One little girl had the best idea of all. She was dressed in brown pants her mom had rolled up over these great yellow boots with pink polka dots and she was jumping and running through all the puddles left by the melting snow. She inspired me. I had been trying to avoid the puddles because I didn't want to get my shoes wet and the cuffs of my pants muddy. But she was having so much fun splashing through the puddles and looking over at her reflection in the ripples that I just had to jump in a puddle or two or..ok, three. There, I jumped in three puddles. I forgot how much fun playing in puddles can be. Of course, I'm sure that at least one mother chided her charge, "now, don't jump in puddles like that crazy lady over there" but it sure was fun. Thank you little girl in the cool yellow boots for reminding that sometimes you just need to splash in puddles.

Monday, February 14, 2005

We all need a team Captain

I'm a Post-It junkie. My monitor at work is ringed with staid yellow, neon green, vibrant pink, and powder blue Post-Its. Some lined, some unlined, some have been up so long they are attached with my other office supply habit, Scotch Tape. My leather engineering notebook even has Post-Its with scribbled formulas attached with Scotch Tape to pages. Last week I was trying to find an AutoCAD cheat command and came across the "new" work number of a former business colleague/friend and decided to call him to see how life was over at the 'evil empire', as I call the company he went to work for, and check out how his plan to blow up the rebel base was going. When I called the number some woman answered the phone. I made an inquiry about my friend and found out that he had left the company several months ago due to health reasons. It seems the cancer he fought so hard and defeated on three separate occasions had returned and he was home fighting it again. Problem was, it wasn't going so well. I thanked the woman who now had his job for the information and immediately began pawing through all the other Post-Its to find email addresses of other mutual friends and colleagues. I sent an email out to the folks I knew probably didn't know about Darth Vader's relapse because Darth is one of those types of people who never burns bridges and keeps his former colleagues as friends, even when he may be staring at you across the table in a business dog-fight. When I came into work this morning, my mailbox was full of emails from friends and former colleagues; some I hadn't heard from in years who had my email forwarded to them from a friend of a friend. Seems that each and every one of us had a funny story to tell about Darth or wanted to pass on further news; a bone marrow donor match was found and Darth was in the middle of his third round of chemo, his wife had to find a second job, his mother had moved in to help, etc. One email though really caught my eye. It was from the person who 8 years ago put Darth, myself, and several others together to form a most formidable sales/technical/marketing team; a group that in one 16 month stretch designed, sold, and installed some of the most impressive sound systems in the world. It was the hardest work and the most fun I have ever had in my 12 years in this job. He had decided that at this year's major industry trade show there was going to be "Wrecking Crew" reunion and he had set up a fund for Darth's medical expenses, etc. We are going to meet in Sin City, play a few rounds of golf (I'm writing 180 on my score card and driving the cart), drink a few drinks, tell a few stories and lies, and then make the drive up to Lake Tahoe to visit Darth. Funny how even after all these years since each of us was traded to another team, this guy is still the Captain and how he always just knew what needed to get done and then kicked each of us in the toosh to get it done.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I coulda been a contender?

Seems there has never been a better time to be a principal oboist wannabe....

Oboist Wanted Signs - NYT 2/12/05

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Uncomfortable in my own skin

I've had a rough week. Plain and simple. There is much change going on in my professional life and it is spilling over in my personal life. MBH has decided I don't handle change well nor the stress that accompanies change. Maybe he is right. I always liked to think that I could "go with the flow" as it were but maybe that is just my self delusion. The problem with self delusion is eventually you either have to face the reality that is all around you or you are going to find yourself locked in that little padded room somewhere. Sounds nice in theory, peace/quiet, etc. but they don't let you play with sharp knives or hot ovens in those padded rooms; a definite downside for me considering my real life revolves around cookbooks, stoves, ovens and whipping up "stress relieving goodies" for me and my loved ones. My reality is that I'm going to have to deal with being a full fledged manager within my organisation. I don't like it but if I want to keep MBH and Katley in the lifestyles they've become accustomed to, not to mention support my cookbook habit, then I had better get that copy of "The Dilbert Future: Thriving on Business Stupidity in the 21st Century" I saw at the Harvard Coop last weekend. A little history may be in order here for you to fully understand why this change is causing me so much angst.

I work as a Sr. Engineer for a very large internationally recognised brand electronics and loudspeaker company. Yes, that one. Actually, as far as corporate America goes, the company really is not a wretched place to work beyond the fact it IS corporate America. I don't worry about my job security (that much), I have excellent benefits for MBH and myself that I don't worry about losing (that much), ample vacation/personal time that I am not harangued about taking (that much), I have a boss who doesn't micro-manage me (that much), and the division within my corporation is one of the "up and coming". So, you are sitting there reading this wondering, "What is she grousing about?" Here is the rub (isn't a good working knowledge of Shakespeare wonderful?), I sold a partnership 12 years ago in a company I started to come to work for this corporation because I hated being a manager and "in charge" as it were. I mean I HATED it. I hated dealing with the operational side of business. I'm an engineer who finds dealing with P&L margins the most boring math there is on the face of the planet. I don't do "office politics" well; every review I have ever had at my current company has the phrase "doesn't play well in the sandbox with others" somewhere (hey, I was hired because I went angels fear to tread!!). I fidget in meetings because my brain is off on the last acoustical problem I was working on or wondering "what if I used this amplifier with that speaker". I have reputation for being a "clinch player who will make it happen and when it does it will sound fantastic but she's prickly". The last three years I've been the defacto supervisor of an in-house tech/applications group and frankly that was as close to middle management as I wanted to be. But, yesterday, after a week of internal shakeups and the appearance of more to come, I found myself sitting in a meeting with my boss's boss discussing the direction my group should be taking and answering questions like "if you were leading the group, where would you take it?" and "what do you see as the biggest hurdle to take your group to the next profit level?" I felt like asking this person, "shouldn't you asking PHB #1 about this?" but for once, the Sand-Castle-Kicker in me decided to get out of the sandbox and go climb on top of the jungle-gym to see what the air up there tasted like. And you know what, it wasn't as smog filled as I remember it to be and that is a bit scary and my skin doesn't feel like it is fitting right anymore and I think that Anne Klein suit I saw in the window of the store on Brattle Street might look really good with that scarf that MBH bought me for my birthday and isn't this an excuse to buy those really great shoes I saw at Filenes during lunch on Wednesday...

Recipe for Comfort Dinner in the Midst of Career Angst:

2 1/4 Cup Water
1/2 Cup 1 Minute Cream of Wheat
1/2 Package Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
Dash of milk/sugar

Bring water to rolling boil. Lower heat to medium and stirring constantly (unless you are like me and like a few little lumps in your hot cereal), add Cream of Wheat. Cook for 1 minute or until Cream of Wheat thickens. Remove from heat, put in large bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Add milk as needed to make creamy. Top with as many chocolate chips as you think you require (this is proportional to your comfort need, 1/2 a bag is typical). Let chips get gooey but don't stir them in. Serve in bed with one romantic comedy: "Mostly Martha", "Amelie", "You've Got Mail" work well here, and a really tall glass of cold milk. Footie PJs are optional. Katley and MBH required.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

What I learned at the Diner today

Owing to the rather nice weather here in Cambridge today, a balmy 40 degrees thank you, MBH decided that we should break with our routine of Dammits and visit the New England Mobile Book Fair. My contribution to the "Big Day of Funness" was breakfast at our local diner, The Deluxe Town Diner. The food is quite good and if you get there early enough, say before 8:30am on Saturdays, there is no wait. After a pretty good goat cheese, spinach, and bacon omelet for me and scrambled eggs, bacon, and sourdough toast for MBH; we sat and chatted about the most recent program that MBH is working on while finishing our drinks. It was a nice change of pace for us and we were enjoying our leisurely conversation and the relative quiet of the diner despite the fact that it was packed with couples and families and there were quite a few people waiting to be seated. Now you should know, that the Deluxe Town Diner is a true diner, not a restaurant claiming to be a diner but a real, honest to goodness diner complete with the diner car that has been on the same site since 1947 to prove it. We were just finishing up and getting ready to leave when in through the door strode a woman with a baby in her arms followed by her husband and three other small children ranging in ages between 3 - 5. She stood in the middle of the doorway, letting in the cold air and demanded to be seated immediately. The hostess/waitress at the door explained that it would be several minutes but she would come get them when a table was ready. The woman sighed heavily and said that she needed to be seated immediately and any table would be fine. The hostess very patiently explained that it was just not possible at the moment. The woman was about to "pitch a fit", when this nice couple and their friends said that the woman and her tribe could have their table. The hostess grabbed a few menus and said that while there was a high chair available for two of the children that there were no booster seats available at the moment. The woman stopped in the middle of the walkway, swung around about knocking over a waitress with her hands full of plates and sighed to her husband with THAT look. MBH and I left before we could witness any more of the woman's histrionic performance but I have to wonder what those poor children are learning about acceptable behavior in a restaurant. Now, before I get hate comments about not understanding about having a family or that dining out with children isn't easy, let me say this: I like children and as long as they are relatively well behaved (you should read this as not running amok through the restaurant like it is a playground, not throwing temper tantrums on the floor kicking and screaming and are generally polite to their parents, the wait staff and other diners) then bring on the kids. BUT what are these children learning about the fact that you don't always get what you want right when you want it? And more importantly, what are those kids learning about how you treat people, especially people like waiters/waitress/shopkeeps? I'm sure the rest of the patrons at the diner enjoyed their dining experience with Mr. and Mrs. Seat-me-now and their lovely family.

The New England Mobile Book Fair is not mobile but rather a large bookstore that carries everything new and old but directly from the distributors and offers very good discounts as a result. Best of all, it has a very large and extensive cookbook and computer book section, meaning both MBH and I can spend hours browsing through hundreds of books on our respective favorite subject just a few aisles apart but close enough to walk over and see what the other has found. Their motto is: "I only came for one book" and that was our intention....yea, right. Let's see here, sitting right next to me as I type this is a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Bread Bible" (this is the doctoral thesis of bread making), "The Breath of Wok" (most beautiful pictures of Chinese food I've ever seen), and Anthony Bourdain's "Les Halles Cookbook" (French Bistro cooking at it's best). MBH picked up a copy of "Managing Security with Snort and IDS Tools" , a cookbook of sorts for Linux security and the "Python Cookbook", which he assures me has nothing do with cooking snakes. To borrow from that un-named credit card company’s overused catch phrase: Breakfast: $22.13 Respective cookbooks: $132.00 Enjoying the time spent browsing books together? Priceless....