Spring Musings

Bleeding Heart
I know it sounds morbid but I told Jonathan "if I suddenly died, don't forget to have a look at my Instagram." Have S look at it as well, to see where his mom has been while he was living his college life. See that I rejoice in the smallest of moments in life.  Typical Jonathan responded "If I remember"and "how sudden?"

Jonathan has a way of cutting right through my intensity and diffusing it with the funniest, sometimes frustrating, short responses. Making light, often with his New England dry humor, of what can seem a very dire circumstance. Lightens me up once in a while, but I believe I already said that, multiple times.
Fragrant Viburnum
Like when I was super concerned yesterday about the morning dove nesting at our window sill. "She does not sleep. She does not close her eyes." I turn to J with the utmost concern. J responds: "birds don't have eyelids" which turned out to be false but was really funny at the time. I was thinking poor bird can't bat an eyelash.

I married J for his brains, but as it turns out, both he and I have a major void and were lacking in our bird eyelids education. I was made aware of our fowl illiteracy via a twitter friend of mine who pointed our gross misgivings out. She used to own a parakeet. Trust me I am not making this up.
Wild Azalea Flower Bloom
This enlightening tidbit sent me on a research frenzy about birds eyelids. No wonder I haven't posted food here in a while. I get so easily distracted and swept up by the urgency to look into such pressing matters. Spring has a way of doing it to me, distracting. The gorgeous weather is so enticing that I can't stay indoors. I observe everything outdoors. I take nature in even if it's not sweeping views of an epic National Geographic photojournalistic trek, only my little piece of yard haven.

The powdery pollen on the anthers and the healthy looking red fox, mid-day, boldly standing in our overly exposed, sunny back yard. Do you feel the blinding rays piercing?! The robin swooping on to the front stoop, where the azalea bushes are in full bloom, pecking at the chipmunk who is burrowing for something, beneath the earth at the corner of the brick pavers. At first I thought it was quite accidental, as in the case of a bird flying into a translucent window, but then the robin ascended a couple of times more, as the chipmunk was trying to climb the woody azalea trunk. I knew it was not coincidental. Is this normal?! I have never seen a robin that combative. It must have a nest somewhere nearby he or she is protecting. The chipmunk unhurriedly changed directions and then took off. He clearly couldn't be bothered by this pesky little bird pecking at him with conviction.
Look at this picture perfect Morning Dove duo
All the while I am standing just inside my front door, trying to seem inconspicuous, trying not to rattle the chipmunk and the robin. As just to my right, in the tiny cape cod style window sill, is the morning dove nesting, on its lone white-ish egg. I didn't wish to agitate the poor girl, already on high alert from the movements in the house, old wooden floor boards creaking, Wizzy scratching at the door and god only knows what other concerns cross this mommy dove's mind?! Maybe snakes, quite possibly, as they are known to wrap themselves around the twine, camouflaged, ready to rob the nests and the birds of their future offsprings.

Mommy morning dove is determined. She no longer flies away as we walk by. We were cowering for the first few days. We take Wizzy out for a walk through the back door and wait for the hatchling. J says it's going to be fairly quick, the incubation period is 5-10 days, but don't take him up on his word, as we all already know, he has already led us astray once, when it came to bird trivia and facts.
Lone Morning Dove Egg
It's a sign of spring as the leaves unfurl and the buds bloom. It's a sign of spring as the dormant grass, photosysnthesis-ed. It's spring as I bird watch and snap photos of nature coming alive. It will truly be spring when we see the hatchling poke through the broken egg shell with his beak open yearning to be fed.

...and if I unexpectedly died, it shouldn't be morbid at all. I wish for my two guys to know that birds have three sets of eyelids, one set closes horizontally, not vertically like ours, and smile at how fun loving and wacky I was.

Raisin Bran Bread

It is evident that I go 'bananas' for breakfast breads and this Raisin Bran Bread is no exception. A fine addition to the Red Star Yeast series, just in time for your breakfast, or lingering brunch this weekend. I can't wait to have a slice with my favorite apricot jam.
The original recipe instructions are for kneading by hand so I adjusted the directions for the mixer. In order to do so, I wished to double check my facts, especially the water temperature and yeast conversion chart. A refresher once in a while never hurts. In the process I came across a few baking tips and facts that made me think.."how about that?!"
Three curious tid bits I found in Red Star Yeast's Baking Tips section:
1. Olive oil will prevent the loaf from drying out too quickly. I needed the reminder here. Maybe I'll use olive oil when baking olive bread and try it with other breads too.
2. Using milk instead of water produces softer crust. I personally thought it produces a softer crumb but the crust didn't cross my mind.
3. Lite salt can be used if it has both potassium chloride and sodium. I had no idea there is such a thing as lite salt.
Some fundamental questions such as 'what's the difference between bread flour and all purpose flour' and 'tips for baking in high altitudes' are answered in the frequently asked questions section. It is quite educational, so I am going to geek out, yet again, at Red Star Yeast's site and with my baking books, over a cappuccino, this weekend.

This post is a part of my professional collaboration with Red Star Yeast. See a complete list of the breads in the series, below.

Raisin Bran Bread
adapted from Red Star Yeast original recipe

1/4 cup melted butter or oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw)
2 packets active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons total)
4 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup raisins

Melt the butter, if using butter, and set aside.

In a mixer bowl dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (110F-115F), stir in the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Whisk in the milk and sugar and mix.

Gradually add 2 cups bread flour, salt, bran and wheat germ. Mix on a low speed, with a dough hook attachment, until smooth. Scrape the sides of the mixer bowl with a rubber spatula as you go. Fold in the melted butter or oil and raisins.

Add 1 more cup of flour, 1/2 a cup at a time, to the mixture, while continuing to knead on low speed with a dough hook attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl as you go with a rubber spatula. Gradually add what you need of the last 1 1/2 cups of flour until the dough forms into a nice, elastic,and smooth ball. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles in volume, for approximately 1-1 1/2 hours. 

Punch the air out of the dough on a floured surface. Roll out the dough to a 14X7 inch rectangle and roll tightly from the shorter side into a tight roll. Pinch the edges and tuck under the loaf. Place the loaf, with the seams facing down, in an oiled parchment papered 9X5X3 loaf pan and let proof covered with kitchen towels for 1 hour in a warm place.

Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 40 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Cook's notes:
1. I wanted a large hefty loaf but by all means you can divide the dough into two smaller loaves.
2. Freezes well. Slice, wrap in foil and store in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Reheat in foil at preheated 350F oven, for 10 (or more) minutes.

DC Eats & Food: My Lunches with Jeanne: Taylor Gourmet

Out of all the new developments in the Mosaic District, I was happiest with the arrival of this eatery, Taylor Gourmet. Funny thing is, don't let the contemporary industrial design interior and façade fool you, the deep hued, wooden beams exude warmth and the vibe is of a neighborhood joint.
One of the managers, if not both, even knows my custom made hoagie by heart. Aren't I special?! (insert Dana Carvey's voice here). Truth to be told, I visit there more often than I wish to admit, so no wonder. Grilled chicken cutlets on a whole wheat hoagie roll, pesto, diced grilled bell peppers and spicy pepper relish, I inhale without fail, every single time I go there for a late, late lunch. Sometimes when I feel like I need to 'healthify' my lunch further, I am compelled to jazz it up with some peppery arugula.
Taylor Gourmet is inspired by Philly style hoagies, according to one of the owners, David, 35, a PA transplant, who zipped over to meet with me the other day. David and his business partner, buddy, Casey, 32, have very different and distinct roles in this up and coming, DC based, hoagies done right, growing empire. Casey has the food background, while David's background is in construction.
What appealed to me, in addition to the flavorful food, is the green philosophy of both entrepreneurs. Repurposed oil barrels as giant patina chandeliers, are smart, cost cutting design elements but also environmentally conscientious. The seal on the wooden tables and planks is non toxic, soy based, to ensure indoor air quality. These are just a couple among other "eco-practices" as they put it on their website.
A year ago, according to David, when President Obama held a small business roundtable at their 14th St. DC location, it catapulted Taylor Gourmet into national name recognition. Not a direct quote but paraphrased. David seemed very down to earth. A poster child (man) for his own brand.  Immediately after the roundtable, POTUS brought some hoagies from 14th St. to a meeting with some members of Congress. You can read all about it on The White House blog.
On the menu you can find traditional meatball hoagies to vegetarian options and build your own with on point, robust flavors. Sinful risotto balls with melting, oozing cheese on the inside are well worth the indulgence.
With eight Taylor Gourmet locations opened over the last five years, Mosaic District is the first Northern Virginia shop. Don't be surprised if a couple more will be sprouting around the corner in your neighborhood. Possibly a Reston, Arlington and/or Rosslyn eateries are on the horizon, so stay tuned! Don't forget, you first got the scoop, hot off the presses, here!

...and to all the single ladies out there, haven't seen a ring on it! (ahem, David!)

Taylor Gourmet
Mosaic District, Merrifield, VA
2905 District Dr. #160
Fairfax, VA

DC Eats and Food: My Lunches with Jeanne series:
Mark's Duck House
DGS Delicatessen

While I was meeting with David, Jeanne was on a vacation in China. True.

Disclaimer: I do not get comped by restaurants or their PR agencies to write these posts. I foot the bill myself. I will share only places I love. This series begun as an iPhone series but this post was shot with my Nikon.

Travel Sunday: DC Monuments & Scenes

Travel Sunday focuses on DC snapshots. Spring is especially gorgeous in the DC area. The cherry blossoms were yet to fully bloom due to the cold weather lingering. The one or two trees in full bloom around the Tidal Basin were flocked with tourists so my efforts to capture the buds were a complete bust. Today, I am sharing with you my favorite snapshots from my weekend outing. First up Roosevelt Memorial.
Above is another scene from Roosevelt Memorial. I framed it wider, the fourth photo below is framed tighter. I would be curious which one you like better?
Still...Roosevelt Memorial.
Here above is that tighter snapshot. Do you like one over the other?

Baking wIth Heritage: Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah by Parsley, Sage & Sweet

My next guest up in the Baking with Heritage series is Lisa of Parsley, Sage and Sweet with a twist on her Grandmother's challah. I know Lisa to be a conscientious food blogger with the highest integrity, but I didn't expect her to even outdo herself. All, and I mean without exception, of her posts are of the highest quality.

I have posted challahs in the past, always meant to go behind the scenes into the history of the bread but never got around to it. Lisa here is touching the subject and then some. Interwoven with smart writing and few chuckles when least expected. I've known Lisa to be a phenomenal baker and just from my email exchanges with her, I understood her language skills are something to be aspired to. Not to mention her epic photographs below.

Lisa has many variations on Challah on her site, what intrigued me the most was the Salted Caramel Apple Sourdough Challah. You would also enjoy her Parlet-Vous Croissant? Gosh it's so flaky! Lastly, a non yeast creation, you can only find in Patisseries and at Chez Lisa's, Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet - Peanut Butter and Chocolate all Decked Out.

Hello, everyone. My name is Lisa and I'm the 'talker' and picture taker behind the blog Parsley, Sage and Sweet.  When Shulie asked if I would like to take part in her Baking with Heritage  series, I was incredibly flattered.  I've admired Shulie and Food Wanderings for some time now, so I'm honored (and humbled) that someone so talented would think of me for a guest post.

After sifting through my paternal grandmother's recipe box several times, I knew exactly what I wanted to bake and talk about - challah, and a twist on my grandmother's challah recipe. The recipe traveled from Russia to America, and has been indelibly woven into my life in so many ways - from preparation to family to love and sparkling memories - traditions I try to carry on.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah
I can't remember a time in my life when there wasn't challah.  Both of my grandmothers used to make it every holiday, barring Passover, of course.  My paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Russia to the US in the early 1900's, as did my maternal grandmother's family, albeit a little later. In both families, challah making was passed down from generation to generation, mother to daughter, except in the case of my mother, who hated/hates baking.  So, being the first grandchild, and female, considering my paternal grandmother was blessed with two boys who had as much interest in baking as Henry Kissinger did in stand-up comedy, I was to be the next in line.

Before I continue - a brief history on challah.  There are so many different interpretations of the origin, meaning and how it came to be called 'challah’, so I'm just going to tell you the bits that I recall, in laymans terms, learned from several people and a little internet research.  Around the 15th Century, Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews began braiding their usual round or basic loaves for Shabbat, possibly emulating the fancy, twisted white breads throughout other parts of Europe. The braids came to symbolize entwined arms representing love, unity, and the commandments to remember, observe and guard the Shabbat.

The challah is eaten on Sabbath to represent the manna that G-d dropped from the heavens to feed the Israelites during their 40 years in the dessert after their Exodus from Egypt. On Friday night, two loaves are served, because the day before the Sabbath, G-d gave a double portion of manna so the Sabbath could be a day of rest for him.  It's also said that the two loaves served should be 6-braid loaves, 12 braids commemorating the 12 tribes of Israelites. 

The term, challah, is believed to come from the biblical commandment of ‘hafrashat challah’ which is the mitzvah of separating a portion of the dough (challah) before braiding to set aside as a tithe for the priests in the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, the mitzvah was fulfilled by burning the separated dough in remembrance of the destruction - a symbolic sacrifice. Years later, the Ashkenazi Jews began to refer to the whole bread, rather than the portion of dough separated and burned, as challah.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Sworl Challah
I learned the secret to this lovely, burnished braid from my paternal grandmother. When I was very small, I loved watching her (and occasionally her three sisters, bantering and bickering) knead the dough, then cut it into anywhere from 3 to 6 pieces, depending on the occasion, since a 6-braid challah was usually for holidays or large family gatherings - mostly to impress.  She would roll each piece into long snakes, tapering the ends - which is the first 'skill' she taught me, my tiny hands perfect for the job. I was in awe of her braiding skills.  She could 6-braid a challah in mere seconds. I used to liken her speedy braiding to the Roadrunner.  That always got a chuckle out of her.

As the years went by, her hands slightly gnarled from arthritis, she still managed to turn out braids in seconds.  Unfortunately, I never learned the 6-braid challah from her because, although I loved baking and watching her, as I got older, I was more interested in boys than braiding and was too distracted to really focus and get it right.  I eventually did learn how to 6-braid a challah, from a tutorial on the internet.  I admit, this saddens me, but I'm pretty good at it (though not as fast), so I attribute any skills I have to her.

At home, challah was a staple at our dinner table and not just for the Sabbath. We loved it so much, we'd plead for it many an early morning while getting ready for school. Since my mother didn't bake, it was always a treat to come home and see the familiar white paper bag from a local bakery on the counter.  We never cut into it with a bread knife, or any knife for that matter, instead we tore pieces off with reckless abandon. My father used to call it 'the old-fashioned way' from the old country, which I thought to be an excuse for our challah savagery. But, I was soon to learn that tearing, rather than cutting challah, is tradition, since a knife can represent violence, which should never infringe on the peace of Sabbath.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah - risen
On a side note - The old country was a fictional country my father made up and told us wacky tales about. It had a name, but I'm afraid my father might revoke my place in line to the throne, if I reveal it.

The challah you see here is based on a loaf my grandmother used to make for my father, and since it did not involve braiding, the first loaf I actually made with her, step-by-step, one Rosh Hashanah when I was about 6 yrs old. My father loved cinnamon raisin bread, so she began adding cinnamon sugar to the round raisin challah she made every Rosh Hashanah, from the time he was a child. She would knead the raisins into the dough, then roll the dough into a large rectangle, brush it lightly with margarine, and sprinkle on lots of cinnamon sugar.

The rectangle was rolled tightly, twisted a few times, then coiled into a greased cake pan, brushed with a double coating of egg wash and baked. The round shape was not only for Rosh Hashanah, but it was also to distinguish it from the basic braided challahs at other holiday and family gatherings, since she always made this loaf for him when she was making challah.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah
Over the years, I've remained staunchly faithful to her challah recipe, until this loaf. I felt this special loaf she made for my father wouldn't hurt with a change here and there - beginning with the raisins. I love cinnamon raisin bagels and cinnamon raisin breads, but I don't love, or even like, raisins in challah. I can't explain why, so I won't.

I replaced the oil with browned butter infused with vanilla bean. In a traditional challah recipe there is no dairy, so the bread can be eaten with meat in kosher homes.  My twist is more of a breakfast, dessert or snack challah - a challah that would pair well with coffee or tea. I highly doubt anyone would want to serve it with meat or any savory meal, but if you keep kosher and are uncomfortable with this in any way, infuse melted margarine with the vanilla.

The last change I made was using brown sugar in the filling for a deeper, richer flavor and gooey texture - similar to a cinnamon roll. I barely egg washed this loaf because of the open strips of cinnamon-brown sugar on top - just a light wash on the risen strips of solid, risen dough.  However, the cinnamon-brown sugar caramelized beautifully..aiding in the lovely burnished color associated with challah.

Once baked, cooled and sliced (or torn), the layers pull apart beautifully, with hidden pockets of cinnamon goo and toasty butter, plus a slight essence of vanilla throughout the whole loaf.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah
The directions for this challah are by hand, the way my grandmother made it, but of course you can use your stand mixer or the dough cycle on your bread machine, following the manufacturer's instructions (the order in which the ingredients are placed in the machine before mixing and kneading).

Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup tepid water
1/4 cup sugar
4 to 5 cups bread flour
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned (6 tablespoons in the dough, 4 tablespoons to brush on dough)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Egg Wash - 1 egg beaten

1.  In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup tepid water. Cover and let bloom until foamy.
2.  While the yeast is blooming, brown the butter then pour it into a medium bowl. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the melted brown butter.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it infuse while preparing the dough.
3.  Place 1 cup of the flour into a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and pour the bloomed yeast into it. Mix the bloomed yeast into some of the flour from the sides of the hole, covering lightly with flour. Place in warm place, covered with towel, for about 15 minutes.
4.  When the flour-yeast mixture starts to foam and rise, add the 6 tablespoons of the vanilla bean brown butter, sugar, salt, eggs, the yolk and the remaining 3/4 cup water, then mix until batter like. Slowly start to stir in remaining flour until you get a workable dough. You may or may not use all the flour, or may need more, depending on many factors, like the weather.
5.  Remove the dough from bowl, and knead on a floured board for 10 - 15 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
6.  Combine the cinnamon and brown sugar in a small bowl, cover. and set aside. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
7.  When the dough has doubled in size, gently fold the dough onto itself to deflate it.  Remove from the dough from the bowl to a floured surface.  Roll the dough out into a 20 x 24-inch rectangle, lifting the dough and flouring the board as you go along, if necessary, to prevent sticking (I keep a dough scraper on hand). Brush the surface of the dough with the remaining 4 tablespoons of vanilla bean brown butter (you will have to melt it again - just a few seconds), then sprinkle evenly with all of the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture..lightly pressing it into the dough, then patting it down.
8.  Roll the dough up, tightly, from the 24-inch side.  Seal the ends and seams.  Slice the roll in half vertically (some sugar and cinnamon will fall out, don't worry about it) and immediately twist both halves together.  Coil the twist into a greased 9-inch springform pan, starting in the center of the pan and wrapping it around that center.  Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. 15 to 20 minutes before it's ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
9.  Brush the strips of solid dough on top with egg wash, being careful not to brush the open strips of cinnamon sugar. Place the springform pan on a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until a deep, golden brown (the brown sugar caramelizes, so keep an eye on it the last 10 minutes)
10.  Let the challah cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then run an offset spatula or the back of a knife around the challah to insure it releases cleanly.  Place the loaf on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing  (this is very hard to do - we usually start pulling it apart while still warm).

Thanks again to Shulie for inviting me to write this post for Baking with Heritage.  I hope you all try and enjoy this challah!

Baking with Heritage series:
A Romanian Flatbread with Roasted Tomatoes
An Argentinian Tortitas Negras - Little Black Cakes

If you would like to be a guest in this Baking with Heritage series please feel free to contact me.