Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dazzling Dahlias

Planting dahlias in the garden was Tayta's idea. She is still learning the names of all the garden flowers so she called these daffodilias for the first half of the summer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Let Them Eat Bread

And eating bread is what we are happily doing since I have madeThe Discovery That Revolutionized Home Baking and started baking Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Now, I would tend to suspect any book which makes such grand claims in its title and subtitle, however some online friends were chatting about the success--and bread--they were enjoying, baking by this new method and I knew that I had to give it a try; even if it took ten minutes a day it would be a worthwhile investment of time and money.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I was pleasantly surprised--no, make that close to ecstatic--that this book delivers on its claims one hundred percent. The recipe and method couldn't be easier and the bread couldn't be more delicious. Developed by pastry chef and baker, Zoe Francois, and scientist, Jeff Hertzberg, the basic method calls for storing a pre-mixed, high moisture dough--no kneading or rising required. They couldn't be serious! I began with the Master Recipe:

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form)
(one should master this basic recipe before moving on to all the other great recipes in this book)
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt (I use sea salt. Don't use regular table salt--it really does matter.)
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for the pizza peel--or just a plain baking sheet, which is what I use.

Directions (in my own words)

I mixed the four ingredients in a large Tupperware container* with a wooden spoon--this doesn't even get the mixer or the counter dirty: first put the warm water in a large container and add the yeast and the salt. Add all of the flour and mix thoroughly with a large wooden spoon--my choice, or your hands. Make sure you've mixed in all the little pockets of flour. You don't need to knead the dough--really! The mixed dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container. Loosely cover the container with a lid.

Once the dough rises and and begins to collapse (about one hour in Amman September weather) it can be stored in the refrigerator--still loosely covered-- for up to two weeks (though we bake bread so often that a double batch of dough never lasts more than a couple of days.) The dough is now ready for use, though it is easier to handle after is has been refrigerated for a few hours.

Baking the Bread (again, in my words)

The authors of Artisan Bread recommend using a wooden pizza peel and a baking stone but I have neither and no opportunity to purchase them in Amman so I forged ahead with my trusty metal baking sheets. Not a problem. So, my method varies a little from the book here. I spray my baking sheets lightly with vegetable oil and sprinkle them with cornmeal.

Next, I sprinkle the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour, and with floured hands, pull out a one-pound piece of dough (about the size of a grapefruit). The dough is quite sticky so I continue to add a bit of flour--just enough so that it won't stick to my hands. Then, stretching the dough a bit I gather up the ends of the dough underneath, forming a ball. Don't worry about smoothing up all the underneath ends. This process takes about a minute.

I place the ball of dough on my prepared pan and let it rest for 40 minutes--Hmm, a 40 minute rest sounds nice. 20 minutes into the resting time, I pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F. (Place an empty broiler tray for holding water--mine is under the bottom rack.)

When the dough has rested for 40 minutes I dip a serrated knife into flour and score the loaf. After placing the loaf in the oven I quickly pour a cup of hot water into the boiler pan and shut the oven door to trap the steam. I bake the bread about 30 minutes or until the crust is browned well. I've over-baked a couple of loaves but because the dough is so wet, the bread has never been dry. I cool the bread on a cooling rack but often we are cutting into it before it is completely cooled.

My First Loaves
I've baked a few loaves that didn't turn out quite as beautiful as the ones in these pictures--a couple loaves flattened out a bit more--but the bread quality was just as good as in the pretty ones.

The Master Recipe makes such delicious bread that I haven't yet ventured to try the other wonderful recipes in this book--though I have substituted some whole-wheat flour (5 of the 13 cups) and added ground flax seed and olives**. I had to add a more water to the recipe--about a cup-- when I used whole wheat flour.

Whole Wheat Olive Bread

I've also used the Boule' dough with or without a little olive oil added to the dough to make a pizza crust, with the added benefit of not needing to rest the dough before adding toppings and baking. So, I'm trying to keep sauce and cheese on hand so that a pizza can be in the oven just five to ten minutes after the thought.

For more ideas and recipes, check out the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day site. And, buy the book. You won't regret it. Oh, and buy a big bottle of olive oil for dipping--we haven't used butter on this bread yet.

*The book recommends using a 5 quart container for a single batch of dough. I use a 6.7 liter--about 7 quarts--for a double batch (picture above)
**When I add olives I set the dough down on the oiled baking sheet, flatten it out just a little, sprinkle the olives over the surface, roll it, and form the ball of dough.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Form of Cuteness


According to Plato, these kittens are both cute...and ugly. In his famous explanation of how we know what we know, which includes his Divided Line simile describing the different degrees of knowledge, Plato says that some sense perceptions 'summon' thought while others do not. When I see these kittens frolicking in the garden or sleeping together in one big intertwined ball of fur I am not compelled to ask if a kitten is at the same time the opposite of a kitten. However, what about their bigness? Their smallness? And what about their cuteness?? Now, Plato says, my understanding has been awakened, or summoned, by the perception of these qualities. Big compared to what? Small compared to what? Cute compared to what??

Compared, of course, to the Forms, the perfect, intangible, objective, transcendent First Principles which Plato believed exist independent of any object and can only be known by the reasoning soul. Thus, the Form of Cuteness. And while these kittens, as physical beings, can only represent the Form of Cuteness I just have to think that they must be in one of the very highest categories of things cute. And sweet. And adorable.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

What to do?

The young miner, Curdie, on a yet undisclosed mission in the service of his king:

"At last in a gorgeously painted gallery, he saw a curtain of crimson, and on the curtain a royal crown wrought in silks and stones. He felt sure this must be the king's chamber, and it was here he was wanted; or, if it was not the place he was bound for, something would meet him and turn him aside; for he had come to think that so long as a man wants to do right he may go where he can: when he can go no farther, then it is not the way. 'Only,' said his father, in assenting to the theory, 'he must really want to do right, and not merely fancy he does. He must want it with his heart and will, and not with this rag of a tongue.' "
p. 142

The Princess and Curdie, by George McDonald

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Jerusalem Doors: al-Haram ash-Sharif

al 'Aqsa
This is just one of he doors of al 'Aqsa Mosque, the second oldest mosque and the third holiest site in Islam. al 'Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic shrine, The Dome of the Rock, make up the "Sacred noble Sancuary, or al-Haram ash-Sharif. Islamic tradition holds that the prophet Muhammad, after his miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, made his ascension to heaven from the rock which is now covered by the a golden dome.
The al-Haram ash-Sharif is one is one of the most sensitive sites in Jerusalem as this Islamic compound is built on what Jews believe to be the Temple Mount or the site of the second temple; the site of the Dome of the Rock is considered by some to be the traditional site of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and the Holy of Holies of the Jewish temple. Jews are forbidden from praying on the compound and instead pray at the Western Wall, which borders the west side of al-Haram ash-Sharif.

An interesting bit of Jordanian and Al 'Aqsa history:
On July 20 1951, King Abdallah I of Jordan was assassinated while attending Friday prayers at Al' Aqsa. As the story goes, King Abdallah traveled to Jerusalem with his grandson, Hussein, but when they arrived it was discovered that Hussein had left his military uniform in Amman so King Abdallah insisted it be sent for. (Jerusalem is only about 45 miles from Amman but modern day border crossings make the trip take about three to five hours.) When King Abdallah was shot, Hussein who was at his side was also hit but the bullet deflected off a military medal he was wearing, one which had been worn at his grandfather's insistence. Hussein was enthroned as the monarch of Jordan in 1953 and reigned until his death in 1999.

Dome of the Rock

An interesting bit of Jordanian and Dome of the Rock History:
The gold leaf which covers the now aluminum dome--it was once all gold--was donated by the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Turning to Learn

While many ceremoniously began the school year last week with special breakfasts, school orientations, and new uniforms, our efforts at education commenced inauspiciously: I overslept and by late morning we were still taking stock of the supplies we needed to purchase at the nearby maktabi (office supply store).

As I did last year, I began our season of study by reading aloud this essay by George Grant. Just slightly different than the Knowledge is Power philosophy that I was raised on, Mr. Grant's essay reminded us that the beginning of true and right learning is repentance, a humble turning of ourselves away from ourselves, towards community and the pursuit of truth:

"At the beginning of every academic year I like to remind myself and my students that true education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we've not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies. It is that remarkable rebuke of autonomy and independence so powerful and so evident that we actually shut up and pay heed for a change.

C.S. Lewis said it well: "The surest sign of true intellectual acumen is a student's comprehension of what it is he does not know; not what he does know. It is a spirit of humility that affords us with the best opportunity to grow, mature, and achieve in the life of the mind. It is knowing how much we do not know that enables us to fully embark on a lifetime of learning; to recover to any degree the beauty goodness and truth of Christendom."

Likewise, G.K. Chesterton asserted: "I am always suspicious of the expert who knows he is an expert. Far better to seek the wisdom of the common, the ordinary, and the humble--for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Active Son, Artist Son, and I are beginning our year with readings and discussions from Plato's Republic, which by the way, should be read and discussed, at least in part, by every high school student. As we considered Plato's proposals for the desired education of philosopher/kings, i.e. the idea rulers, we again found this idea of turning:

Socrates: Then here is how we must think about these matters, if that is true: education is not what some people boastfully declare it to be. They presumably say they can put knowledge into souls that lack it, as if they could put sight into blind eyes...But here is what our present account shows about this power to learn that is present in everyone's soul, and the instrument with which each of us learns: just as an eye cannot be turned around from darkness to light except by turning the whole body, so this instrument must be turned around from what-comes-to-be (things we know by our own senses) together with the whole soul, until it is able to bear to look at what is and at the brightest thing that is--the one we call the good. Republic 518b:5

Plato's Republic