Trying My Patience Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

I'm a very impatient person. I think I always have been but as I've gotten older I have gotten worse. I'm the person huffing and puffing behind you in line at the supermarket when you pay for a quart of milk with a personal check. I'm the one muttering "keep it moving people" when a crowd of tourists stops foot traffic while standing right at the top of my subway entrance as they stare mouths agape at the site where John Lennon was murdered. I tell cab drivers which route to take on the rare occasions that I take a taxi because, frankly, I can usually get there (wherever ‘there’ is) more quickly using mass transit or my feet. You might wonder where I’m rushing to and really, it’s everywhere. In addition to being impatient I run about five minutes late to everything, hence the rushing. You’d think those two characteristics would run counter to each other yet, somehow, my psyche is lucky enough to house them both.
I’ve tried to calm down, be more easy-come, easy-go and leave enough time to get to my destination. First it was yoga. That didn’t work. I found the enforced relaxation to be well, forced. Instead I made lists (food, birthday presents, movies to see) while lying in shavasana instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing—acting like a corpse.
I’ve also tried acupuncture. Listening to the wind chime-y music and lying on the little table in the dark with needles poking out of my body in every which way only made me feel trapped and claustrophobic and again, my mind raced. Raced to the growling of my stomach or how I was going to check out that 99 cent store I’d passed on my way to this Carmela Soprano look-a-like’s office (weird for an acupuncturist, right?) or when the Hell is that woman coming back in here to de-needle me?!
At a certain point I guess you just have to accept we are all hard wired in specific ways. I’ll never be Zen, calm or patient and please don’t ever tell me to relax because then I will be even more unrelaxed plus I’ll have to hate you.

One thing people have suggested as a calm-inducing tool is bread-baking. My resistance has come from the reason they want me to try to bake bread in the first place; I’m impatient. All that proofing, kneading, rising, and waiting just seems like such a big bore—especially since I live in walking distance of great bakeries. And I don’t even eat that much bread. Sure, we made bread in pastry school but it was under such luxurious circumstances that I knew couldn’t be replicated in my tiny red kitchen. We had a proofer that was as big as a refrigerator, professional ovens with steam injection and, most importantly, we had Chef Michelle (who is allergic to gluten, what torture for her!) monitoring our every move.
But, the other day I was going through my recipe files as I often do when I should be doing something else (like darning the 10 holey socks that are sitting on my coffee table waiting to be whole again) and I came upon Mark Bittman’s follow-up to his famous “No Knead Bread” creation which appeared in the New York Times in 2006. This clipping contained two recipes, “Speedy No-Knead Bread” and “Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread.” With words like “speedy” and “fast” I couldn’t resist giving one a try. I went with whole wheat since I had whole wheat flour and it’s better for you.

And this is where the story of failure began. You will see from the recipe below that although there is no kneading involved there are several hours of waiting which necessitate you planning your day in four, one and one hour increments. Also, after purchasing the rye flour and the yeast I realized I bought “Active Dry Yeast” and the recipe uses “Instant Yeast.” An emergency call to not only my brother but also to my brother-in-law (both of whom are excellent bread bakers but unfortunately, don’t live near enough to keep me in bread) yielded the same advice. They felt if I activated one packet of the dry yeast and then used half of the mixture but reduced the amount of water called for in the recipe by the ¼ cup I was adding with the yeast I would be safe. Don’t you have a headache already? I did. But I forged ahead.
All I can say is that throughout this day-long process my apartment reeked like a brewery and I smelled like both Laverne and Shirley—probably because I didn’t wear their protective hair kerchiefs. When the result was a heavy, 1 ½ inch high brick, and it took way longer than the 45 minutes it was supposed to take to bake so that I was (shock) late to the movies, I really did lose my patience and became so much more irritable than I would have been had I just coughed up the $4.98 for the multi-grained deliciousness of Eli’s Health Loaf or given up bread for Lent despite not being Catholic.
The best comment came from my brother-in-law who sweetly gave it a try, “Wow, I’ve never tasted bread that used yeast as a flavoring.”

The good thing to come from this is now I have thrown the gauntlet at myself. Because not wanting to feel like a failure trumps assuaging my impatience I am going to try a real, non-fast, non-speedy loaf this weekend. Stay tuned….

Trying My Patience Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from the New York Times, October 8, 2008
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon instant yeast (or activate dry active yeast as per instructions on the package and use 1/2 of the resulting amount)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
oil as needed

Combine flours, cornmeal, instant yeast (or activated dry active yeast) and salt in a large bowl.
Add 1 1/2 cups water (or 1 1/4 if you use activated active dry yeast) and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Oil a standard loaf pan (8x4 or 9x4 inches).

Lightly oil hands and shape dough into a rough rectangle. Put in in pan, pressing it out to the edges.

Brush top with a bit more oil.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 1 hour more.
Preheat oven to 350.

Bake bread about 45 minutes (or in my case, 1 hour 20 minutes!) until loaf reaches an internal temperature of 210 degrees.

Remove bread from pan and cool on rack.
Yield: 1 flat, 1 1/2 inch high brick-like loaf


Not Settling Brown Butter Rice Cereal Treats

There’s a new book out that’s been getting a fair amount of attention and I can understand why. It has a catchy title: Marry Him, The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. First of all I should say that I have not read this book so my opinions are based solely on reviews and my gut reaction to the premise. Ugh. How depressing, right? Let’s start with the word “settling.” Wouldn’t “compromising” be a little easier to swallow? Most mature adults understand that a relationship requires compromise and flexibility but settling? Imagine if you were Mr. Good Enough. How would you feel knowing your Ms. Right looked at you and thought, “Eh. I can take him or leave him. I guess he’s good enough.” What is the point of searching for a life partner if all you’re going to get is “eh?” Wouldn’t you rather look for “yay!”?
Now, I realize I’m not in a particularly convincing position to be lecturing on what a person should or should not be looking for in a spouse. But, I do think it is a sad state of affairs if the getting married part of getting married is so important that “settling for Mr. Good Enough” is what we’ve come to. Why settle at all? Be happy in your own skin and in your own life to live it fully and when you cross paths with Mr. or Ms. Right you will say “You are great!” and "enough" won’t figure into the equation.

I feel the same way about sweets. For example, these days I would never eat a Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookie. Once upon a time in college we’d put those hard, chocolate-y chipped hockey pucks in the toaster in the hopes of awakening some home baked goodness (and often starting small fires in the dining halls). They never really satisfied although I guess next to nothing else they could have been considered “good enough.” Desperate times lead to mediocre cookies.
But thankfully these are not desperate times and we have more control over what we ingest--except when a treat is unexpectedly given to us. The last time I was at the hair salon (a.k.a. my home away from home) I was offered something that looked like chocolate chip biscotti. I gave a skeptical eye to my thinks-he's-Warren Beatty-in-Shampoo-hairdresser who promised me they were "amazing." Not true. The minute I popped the nugget I chose from the Ziploc bag into my mouth I realized it was mandelbrot (made with oil and not butter) and I was stuck chomping on a dry, dusty, tasteless cookie. A joyless waste of time and calories. And what was I going to do? Spit it out? I swallowed and begged for water.
Knowing that this week a lot of kids are home on vacation I was thinking about ways to make their favorite treats even better. Why "settle" if it isn't the best? (Or at least better). Thumbing through my stack of recipe clippings I found one that appeared in the Times a few years ago for Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats. Sound great, don't they? Thank goodness I did some googling and came upon several postings by people who’d made them only to find themselves using their teeth as saws—the treats cooled to rock hard. So, I just played with the original recipe, upgraded the ingredients and hoped to bring them to a grown up level without alienating the small set eagerly awaiting a buttery, marshmallow crunchy square that is definitely better than good enough. I think that’s a good lesson to teach early and often.

Not Settling Brown Butter Rice Cereal Treats Ingredients
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4 Tablespoons European Style Butter (I used Plugra)
10 ounces of better marshmallows (mine were from Whole Foods and were on sale! $1.42)
6 cups brown rice cereal (Erewon from the health food store)
¼ teaspoon Maldon sea salt

Butter an 8” square baking pan.

In a large pot over medium high heat melt butter until it turns dark golden and gives off a nutty aroma.
Lower heat to low and add marshmallows.
Stir until marshmallows melt completely and add salt.
Take off heat and stir in cereal quickly to coat completely. A silicone or plastic spoon or spatula is helpful here.
Spoon cereal into prepared pan using wax paper to help press the mixture down evenly.
Let cool and cut into squares.
Yield: 16 2” squares or however many of whatever size you want.


Blizzard 2010 Playing with Grains

Last week we got hit with the Blizzard of 2010. Before I get started, why do all storms have to be the storm of the year? It’s only February. What if there’s a blizzard in March or December? Will that be the Blizzard of 2010A? The Blizzard of 2010-The Sequel? Anyway, during the storm I was assuming that everyone was holing up with a good book and some cocoa or making cookies with their snow-day kids or, at the most, working from home on their laptops but still in their pajamas. Then I made the mistake of calling my supposedly retired parents. I was imagining my mother thumbing through her stack of shelter porn and drinking some French pressed coffee and my father doing the Times crossword puzzle. Instead, when Dad answered the phone with a rushed “we’re busy here” snap to his voice, he told me he was about to walk ten blocks in the snow to a board meeting and reported that my mother had left for her book club early in the morning and wouldn’t return until late afternoon since she had a lunch plan, a board meeting of her own and a doctor’s appointment all on the other side of town. And then of course they had theater tickets that night. I felt like a lazy bum. Who knew I was supposed to be acting like business as usual despite the howling wind, frigid temps and rapidly accumulating precipitation?
So, I made up errands I didn’t really need to run and went outside to rush around with all the other people rushing around and apparently having a day. What a mistake. The only part of my street that had been cleared was the area right in front of my apartment building. I was forced to trudge to the corner through the inches of snow that were quickly turning into a black, icy slush and hiked across the street, using the paths worn by other boot-shod urban climbers. It took me 15 minutes to walk to the Love drugstore, a trip that usually takes me five, all so I could save $.59 on a roll of Bounty. My paper products re-stocked, I headed to the before mentioned depression-inducing rip-off Pioneer Supermarket. I thought I could justify not slip-sliding the several avenues required for the best price on soy milk by using the $.75 coupon I had just printed off of Silk’s website. “We don’t take those! They could be counterfeit!” the manager yelled at me after I had pleaded with the blank-eyed cashier. “Counterfeit? What are you talking about? It says right here ‘manufacturer’s coupon!’” I yelled back. “Listen, we’re not taking it so you can forget it!” I couldn’t believe this man was getting so heated and I was giving it right back to him, “Fine! Then you just lost a sale!” And I stormed out of the store vowing never to return.
But that wasn’t where it ended. I marched home, went online to Silk’s website and called customer service. The very nice lady from Minnesota who talked me down explained that some retailers had trust issues with internet coupons and promised to send me a real one for $1.00 off (yay). Her warm, Midwestern accent made me feel so much better but I couldn’t believe I’d turned into this person. Who calls customer service over $.75? Who prints coupons off of websites? Who goes to the trouble of stalking the market’s aisles in search of the manager? Had I turned into Jack Nicholson in The Shining? Stuck in a snowy wilderness and slowly losing my mind? Maybe there’s a fine line between cozily hunkering down and “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
I had no choice but to start to play with my food in order to feel productive, and to get over the trauma inflicted by my journey to the outside world. What is more comforting than hot cereal? Nothing. I’d recently met a friend at Le Pain Quotidien where I had what I thought was a barley porridge made with almond milk and dried fruit. (Actually, it turned out to be made with farro but I’d already bought the barley for my re-creation project. Oops.) So, I went a little crazy with grains (even though it was past lunch time) and made up a few combos that are variations on methods and themes and all really tasty. I felt a little like Goldilocks as I tried to find the porridge that was “just right,” but each one has its merits. The barley gets even better the next day. The cous cous provides the nicest contrast with the sweet and sour of orange and yogurt. And the quinoa has a little spicy heat. Most importantly, the next time there’s a storm, I’m not picking up the phone. Ignorance is bliss.

Blizzard 2010 Playing with Grains
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Bought by Mistake Barley Almond Milk Porridge

¼ cup pearled barley
¾ cup almond milk
2 Tablespoons chopped dried apricots
2 Tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½-1 cup additional almond milk

Combine barley and ¾ cup almond milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium high heat.

When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover until barley absorbs all of the liquid, stirring once in awhile if you get antsy. This could take up to 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour additional almond milk into microwave-proof pitcher and nuke for 30 seconds to take off any chill.

Spoon barley into your favorite bowl and top with apricots, almonds, brown sugar.
Pour additional almond milk until the texture looks appealing to you. Enjoy.

Let’s Try Something Gluten-Free Chai Soy Latte Quinoa
½ cup brewed chai tea
¼ cup quinoa
2 Tablespoons shelled pistachios
¼ of a pear, chopped
½-1 cup vanilla soy milk
Honey to taste

Combine brewed tea and quinoa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered over medium high heat.

When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover until quinoa absorbs liquid. This will take 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour vanilla soy milk in microwaveable pitcher and nuke for 30 seconds.

Spoon quinoa into bowl and top with pistachios and pear and drizzle with honey. (You will want the honey—the tea makes the quinoa a bit bitter without it.)
Pour soy milk to taste.

Creamsicle Cous-Cous
1/3 cup cous cous
½ cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons dried currants or raisins
1 Tablespoon toasted, chopped, hazelnuts
1 clementine, sectioned
½ cup plain yogurt, fat-free, low-fat or full-fat (depending on your cholesterol level)

Place orange juice, cranberries and currants in small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Stir in cous cous, cover and remove from heat.
Let sit until cous cous has absorbed all of the juice, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place yogurt in small bowl, add cous cous and top with clementine and nuts. Yum.