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Bread recipe for people who are afraid of baking

I actually tried Jim Lahey’s recipe for No-Knead Bread some time last year.  It could be nicknamed “a bread recipe for people who are afraid of baking” which is me to a tee.  It’s a fool-proof recipe (evidenced by the fact that I could make it and serve it to people who didn’t spit it out after taking a bite).

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.


Sienna Month 4

I just visited my quickly growing niece.  She enjoys kicking me in the stomach as she babbles on and on about her day in baby Spanish and baby English.   It’s only month four and I’m completely taken in.

Epilogue: If you’re flying from London to Los Angeles . . .

. . . lift up your window when your map on your media console tells you that you’re flying over Iceland and you’ll see this.  Beautiful isn’t it?  You might have a moody steward or stewardess bark at you to close your window, but it’s worth it.

Act IV: The highest of all London High Streets

Throughout England, if you’re on a High Street, then you’re probably on the main shopping drag of the neighborhood.  Not all high streets are, however, created equal.  Without a doubt, Maryleborne High Street tops them all.

First of all, Marlyeborne High Street is not overrun with tourists and chain stores.  Instead, it’s a charming major street that shoots off of Oxford Circus, a street often spilling over with crowds.  Do your gift shopping on Oxford Circus and peek into its many well-known and reputable chain stores, but step onto Marlyeborne High Street to linger and meander in and out of shops with character.  You’ll find independent book stores, gourmet, organic grocery stores and cafes, European boutiques and the occasional farmer’s market and craft fair.  As someone who dislikes crowds, I’m always searching for that uncrowded, unspoiled patch of London whenever I’m in town.  I found it on Marleyborne High Street.

London, my old cat

Let me start with a great quote about London. 

London does not reveal itself with one shower of dazzle as Paris does; she is an old cat, secretive and independent, and although she enjoys purring pleasantly, being stroked once in a while, and, when she has the mind to, rubbing her back against your leg, she doesn’t care that much to wag her tail and sit up prettily, like the excited poodle cities.  Her pace is slow, and so must yours be (and that of a travel writer); she will not be rushed into showing her hiding places.

Kate Simon

I was just in London earlier this week.  I was gone for exactly 7 days, 2 of which were spent on a transatlantic flight.  A friend was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with a silver ceilidh, a Scottish dancing party.  Everyone asks if I took pictures of the ceilidh.  No, I was too busy dancing.  Anyway, photos don’t really capture the essence of what a ceilidh is the way Youtube can.  Here’s a snippet some someone else’s ceilidh — a dance I have done called “Strip the Willow.”  Sounds a bit like “Go out back and find me a switch” but it’s really quite pleasant.

Back to London itself.  I’ve been to London six times in the past ten years.  That’s a lot of mileage.  I’ll post some stories from my trip in five acts.

Bringing Up Baby

I’m spending a few days with my little niece while my brother is out of town on a business trip.  Thankfully, he had the good judgment to purchase and set up a brand new iMac loaded with all his pics of the baby before I arrived.

Happily, I cooked meals for both of us while Lizet was constantly tending to the baby’s insatiable appetite.  In moments of quiet (they have been few) I snuck away and borrowed some pics of the baby from the iMac.

Being with a newborn 24/7 requires having a good sense of humor when the baby pees on you, spits up on you, or cries inconsolably because no matter what you do, you’re not her mommy.  Thanks to Sienna’s incomparable cuteness, I weathered through it all.   Fortunately for me, Lizet took care of some of the worst case scenarios like the blowout bowel movement that soiled the baby’s clothes and back.  (A trip to the grocery store spared me from that one!)

Imagine Mexico was playing a World Cup match against a team of joint Japan-China team. In this case, Mexico clearly won the battle of the genes as Sienna looks a lot more like her Mexican great-grandma than her Chinese one.

Here’s a pic of Roscoe as a small but strong puppy.  He used to be the baby of the house but now he’s Sienna’s babysitter.  Poor dog didn’t see that coming!

Kirei / Guapa / Mei-li

Kirei is beautiful in Japanese.  Guapa is beautiful in Spanish.  Mei-li is beautiful in Chinese.  Those are the words I would use to describe my three week old niece Sienna.  She’s so special, above-average in so many ways to me, because she is a combination of three nationalities.

Upon first glance, she looks really Asian.  Especially when she’s sleeping.

But when she opens her eyes, she sometimes looks Latin and other times Asian. She doesn’t cry when strangers pick her up, but she does look intently at you and perks up when you speak to her in a high pitched voice. She’s happiest when swaddled tightly like a burrito and will happily fall asleep on your chest. She’s such a mellow baby except when it’s time to change her diaper or change her clothes. During the first four hours of my visit, we had to change her diaper 4 times and her clothes 3 times. After her bath, three adults scrambled to dress her in record time to soothe her baby cries of distress which only ended after she was dressed and wrapped up tightly in a blanket.

Sienna is so beautiful — we are all enchanted by her.