Friday, June 8, 2012

sweet and tender, toasted

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on June 6, 2012.


Little footsteps pitter-patted down the hall. A tray clattered. I lifted my head just enough to see who was bold enough to wake me. It was my little boy bearing two pieces of toasted, heavily buttered, store-bought bread and two grease-smeared glasses of water.

I glanced at the clock. It was 7:01, the latest I had slept in three weeks. I moaned weakly and scrunched further down into the pillows. My head was splitting, my whole body nearly sick with exhaustion. At that moment, my day—nay, my life—seemed insurmountable. I wanted to cry and scream and break glass, but I was too tired.

Despite my righteous indignation, I was acutely aware of my boy’s golden sweetness as he bustled about, arranging the tray on the night stand. Scrambling up on the bed beside me, he chirruped, “There was a baby bird in the driveway, Mama. It was trying to walk!”

For the last several weeks, thanks to the community play I was involved in, I had not been around to help give baths, read stories, and do bedtime tuck-ins and kisses. I was home during the days, true, but I was distracted. My little boy missed me. I could hardly fault him for that.

The unappetizing breakfast wasn’t his problem, either. I had all but ceased to cook, and bread baking was one of the first things to go. It was much easier to pop a loaf of sliced air into a shopping cart than to deal with bowls, flour, and a hot oven.

I had, one day, in a valiant effort to be nurturing, tried to make some oatmeal bread—a treat in our house. Fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and jelly, it’s swoon-worthy. It’s sweet and tender, almost dessert-like, and makes excellent toast.

The golden, high-domed loaves had been a peace offering, of sorts, compensation for all the skimpy meals we’d been having. Tragically, they were underbaked, one more casualty of my fuzzy-headed stupor. We devoured the hacked-off crusts before tossing the doughy insides to the chickens.

doughy remains

That morning when my sleep was cut short much too soon, I did eventually get a handle on my roiling emotions and eat my greasy piece of tasteless toast. After swallowing the last bite, I finally turned to my little boy who was hovering close by, watching and waiting.

“Thank you,” I said. And I meant it.

Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.

This is the bread that I wouldn’t have had to throw to the chickens if my head hadn’t been in the clouds. Toasted, it’s divine.

1 tablespoon yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup oats, quick or rolled
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups boiling water
5 cups white bread flour

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

Measure the oats, whole wheat, sugar, salt, and butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and stir to combine. Let cool to lukewarm. Stir in the dissolved yeast and the white flour. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, only adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle the bowl with flour and plop in the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled.

Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into loaves. Place loaves in greased pans, seam-side down. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until dark golden brown. Remove from pans and cool to room temperature.

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