Wednesday, February 18, 2009


During last year, my Year of Living Differently, I often found myself not moving on to new ways of living, but going back to how I used to live, back when I took more time for the things I enjoyed. One of those things was baking from scratch.

From the time my husband and I moved in together until we had our first baby nine years later, I used to bake at least once or twice a week. All of our friends were students, most of them guys living in dingy apartments or dorms who came to our place for dinner several times a week, so I always had enthusiastic recipients for my baking.

I took a class on bread making through the community centre and I was hooked. I baked almost all of our bread and rolls. A jar of sourdough starter perpetually bubbled in the back of our fridge.

Other things crowded into my life and baking was pushed aside (left on the back burner?) more often than not. But I’ve dusted off my recipes and gotten back to baking. Ah, kneading—I had forgotten how therapeutic it is. Set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes, flour your hands (or, in my case, flour your hands and then remember to set the timer, thereby getting flour all over it), and start. Fold, press, turn; fold, press, turn. Stop thinking about all the things on your to-do list, feel the tension start to abate, fold, press, turn.

Recently I’ve combined the old and the new by baking something I’ve never made before: bagels! Dropping donuts of bread dough into boiling water—how fun is that? Quite a lot of fun, actually. I used a recipe that I tore out of a Family Fun magazine way back in 2004; you can see it here. The first time I followed the recipe exactly, and the second time I made 16 smaller bagels instead of 8 larger ones. They turned out great both times, even though I bake in a 1970s-era oven that achieved consciousness sometime before we moved into this house and likes to spontaneously heat itself up to 500 degrees F.

Sorry, I have no pictures. My kids loved these bagels so much that they even had them—plain—for dessert instead of ice cream (crazy, I know. It must be their father’s fault), and they ate them all before the light was good enough for a photo session.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Simple Valentines

Some of you know that I have two blogs, this one and Always an Editor, which is more writing oriented. I’ve decided to merge them into one—this one. From now on, I’ll just be posting here. Maybe this way I’ll post more often, because apparently Hayley misses me.

I had two favorite parts of Valentine’s Day when I was a kid: making paper-bag “mailboxes” to hang on the backs of our chairs at school (I was addicted to the mail even then) and getting a box of candy from my dad.

When my parents were still married, I would wait by the window for my dad to come home from work on Valentine’s Day. He always had three heart-shaped boxes of candy, small ones for my brother and me and a larger one for my mom. After my parents split up, I got my box on the Saturday after Valentine’s Day. In those days, we didn’t give out candy at school, so that box—being the only Valentine’s Day candy I got—was much anticipated. I would eat just one piece a day, making it last as long as possible (where has my sense of self-control disappeared to since then?).

I moved a thousand miles away from my dad when I was 14, when my mom decided to return to her hometown. I was so surprised on that first Valentine’s Day when a heart-shaped box arrived in the mail. It was more than a little squished, but it made my day.

We don’t make a really big deal of Valentine’s Day in our house. For one thing, my husband just doesn’t do romance. And over the years, as we’ve watched Valentine’s Day at school escalate from a simple card to full-blown goodie bags and mother-made cards worthy of Martha Stewart, we’ve kept it simple. Child Two gives out cards—made by her if she’s had the time, store-bought otherwise—and one small piece of chocolate.

In the spirit of using what we have, Child Two and I looked for the leftovers from previous years’ boxes of valentines, thinking that because she’s always favored themes with wide age appeal, like animals and I Spy, she could probably cobble together a mix-and-match set to use this year for school. Lo and behold, we found an unopened box of Peanuts valentines. It’s amazing what we find in our own home!

I follow my dad’s tradition of giving each kid and my husband a box of candy. And I made four cards this year, two to send off to people who could use some cheerful mail and two for my kids. The ones I mailed were made (appropriately) from stamps.

For my kids, I cut hearts from my stash of saved paper (magazines, junk mail, old calendars, patterned paper bags, etc.).

These were originally folded greeting cards, but I realized, as I glued the last heart down three minutes before I had to run out the door to pick Child Two up from school on the 13th, that one card was upside down. Typical! Knowing I would have no time to work on them that night, I just cut the fronts off, turning them into postcard-style cards. That’s the great thing about making stuff for your kids—perfection is not necessary.