A Lesson in Writing — and in Making Bread

Shredded Wheat BreadI’ve been struggling for several weeks with a piece of writing that exploded onto the page – OK, so it was five, single-spaced, pages. This particularly piece shouldn’t be more than three pages, and even that’s too much to inflict on its intended audience.

After wrestling with it again early this morning, I contemplated throwing the whole damned thing out and starting all over again.

Groan.

Muttering crossly about wasted time and effort, I went outside to feed the horses and came back inside to make bread. The recipe (which follows) uses a mixture of boiling water, shredded wheat, butter, molasses, and salt. Mentally, I was still focused on writing — and inadvertently used 3 tablespoons of salt, not 3 teaspoons.

When I tasted the mixture, it was almost inedible.

Briefly, I considered persevering. Maybe adding the flour would make the bread sort of OK, if just barely? But one of these loaves is a guest offering for a dinner party this evening…

The parallel between writing and making bread wasn’t lost on me. Salt is vital to this recipe, just as details are what bring life and emotion to that piece of writing. But even though all those details are important to me – apparently, I needed the release of writing them — including all of them in this piece will choke my readers.

Fortunately, given that I live in a remote corner of Arizona and the nearest grocery store is a 2.5-hour round trip away, I still had enough ingredients to start a new batch of bread.

The dough, made with the correct shredded wheat mixture, is rising in the sunny east window. I’ve saved the too-salty mixture and will dilute it with a NO-salt version – after next week’s trip for groceries – for later baking.

And I’ve saved the piece of writing for later as well and started a brand-new version – this time with 3 teaspoons of details, not 3 tablespoons.

Here’s the recipe, based roughly on Judith and Evan Jones’  The Book of Bread. (I’ve converted all my bread recipes to three loaves: one to give away, one for the freezer, and one to start the moment it comes out of the oven, hot and delicious…

 Shredded Wheat Bread

(modified from from Judith and Evan Jones’ The Book of Bread)

Makes three 9-inch loaves

  • 3 C           boiling water
  • 2 1/4 C    bite-size shredded wheat biscuits, or 3 of the big biscuits
  • 3 T           yeast
  • 3/4 C       warm water to dissolve the yeast
  • 1/3 C       molasses
  • 3 tsp       coarse salt (or 1.5 tsp table salt) – that’s TEASPOONS! 🙂
  • 4 1/2 T       butter
  • 7-8 C  white flour, preferably unbleached

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the 3/4 C of the warm water.

In a separate bowl, add the boiling water to the shredded wheat. Add the salt, molasses, and butter. Stir until the butter’s melted and the ingredients well mixed.

Add the shredded wheat mixture to the yeast, then add the white flour, cup by cup, until the dough gets stiff.

Turn the dough out onto a floured working surface, and let it rest while you clean out the bowl and grease it. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, for about 10 minutes until it’s no longer sticky and feels resilient and smooth.

Place it in the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until double in volume—about an hour.

Turn the dough out, punch it down, form into three loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover lightly with a towel, let rise again until almost double in volume—about 45-60 minutes.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, maybe a little more, depending on your oven. Let loaves cool on racks.

To freeze: Put each loaf in a brown paper lunch bag, then in a plastic bag (produce bags work great). The loaves will keep this way perfectly in the refrigerator as well — for two or more weeks — unless eaten sooner!

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In love … with an octopus??

Photo by Brandon Cole

Photo by Brandon Cole

I confess. I’ve always been a lover of cephalopods – and not just for dinner.

In “Deep Intellect: Inside the Mind of an Octopus,” published in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion magazine, Sy Montgomery has written a stunning piece of literary journalism. By meeting Athena, a 5-foot, 40-pound Pacific octopus, we see these creatures’ personalities, opinions, intelligence, ability to “see” with their skin, and even their need to play.

Not surprisingly, the article has leapt to the top of Orion magazine’s most-read list. Click here to see why. You can also download a conversation with the author here in which she explains more about how writing this story affected her.

A wonderful read — thank you, Sy Montgomery and Orion!

Even if it does mean I may never eat octopus again.

Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb a Blast!

Bisbee 1000 logo

And, what’s more, it was even worth getting up at 3 a.m.

Debbie and I met in Rodeo at 4: 30 a.m. and arrived in Bisbee around 6  with plenty of time to park, find our way around, and settle in at the Screaming Banshee to drink coffee while watching everyone else scramble for parking … perfect!

The event itself is easier than it sounds, at least if you start in the last “corral” with the walkers. We ran a few of the downhill streets, but walked up all the steps since there were so many folks ahead of us. What a fun and festive way to see Bisbee’s quirky backside: artsy railings (I particularly love the dragon), cheerful paint schemes, ceramics incorporated into rock walls, and it’s always interesting to see what other people plant in their back yards.

Musicians played and sang on most of the landings,hundreds of volunteers lined the route and handed out water, and even helped us remove the computerized chips from our shoelaces. After the run, which is closer to 4 miles than 5K, we rambled through the Artisans Market, enjoyed our well-earned beers, and headed back to the by-then packed Screaming Banshee for excellent pizza. I recommend the house-made fennel sausage/mozzarella/roasted onions/mushrooms/rosemary. Yuumm-m-m.

This was the 21st running of the Stair Climb, a benefit for Bisbee community development. According to the website, “Save Our Stairs, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to playing a positive role in community development by providing & supporting initiatives that promote healthy, active living in Cochise County. We accomplish this through an annual fitness festival, the Bisbee 1000, The Great Stair Climb, partial proceeds of which are used to support healthy, active living programming in Bisbee, Cochise County and all of Arizona.”

This year entries and donations exceeded $20,000 — and Freeport-Mcmoran Copper & Gold Foundation matched it.

Next year’s event is Saturday, October 20, 2012. Time now to make a hotel reservation so you DON’T have to get up at 3 a.m. …