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Y Is For Yeast

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I have a confession to make. I am not good at baking bread from scratch. I have been told I am a great cook and I can bake items like cakes and cookies, but for some reason I have trouble making breads that have yeast as one of their ingredients.

When I attempt to make bread, I know I have to be patient. The recipe may say to wait 30 minutes to let the dough rise to double its size but if it does not do it when the timer goes off, I don’t give it more time. Instead I go on to the next step by either punching it down or putting it in a pan and placing it in an oven. I also think I sometimes knead it too long so it loses its buoyancy. Regardless, the bread comes out as hard as a brick and each bite is very heavy.

Life can be like making bread. We come up with an idea or goal and we want to bake/execute it. It may be to find a new job, buy a house, or get in shape. We investigate and then buy all the necessary “ingredients” and get excited about eating/experiencing that “slice of life”. Some of these “ingredients” may be very easy to obtain and others may require going to a special store like Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma to purchase a special pan, and/or Whole Foods to buy an exotic spice or a certain type of flour.

The quest to find these “ingredients” should be as enjoyable as eating the final product. If not, we may become unmotivated and throw the whole thing in the garbage. When determining what bread to make, ask yourself what are the preparing and baking times necessary, and is this the right time to do it. If you are making food for a dinner party or large gathering, making bread may become more of a chore and not the fulfilling experience you had hoped for. You have to recognize your limitations from time, financial, and motivational standpoints and make sure you are truly committed, OR buy rolls this time and make bread on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Will you eat your bread plain or put butter, jam, or something else on it? Get creative when deciding this and it could be so much more rewarding. As an example, if you always relied on friends and online ads to get a job, attend a networking event or a business Meetup. When house hunting, don’t just use Realtor.com or a realtor, but instead cruise neighborhoods first and then go online and see the inside of particular homes.

Once you have baked bread a few times successfully, you will gain confidence to the point that you can easily add or switch ingredients like nuts and cheese. Experimenting can be fun and ideas you never thought of emerge. For me, I decided not to make yeast breads for now but have been using yeast in pretzel rolls and am delighted with the results. Enjoy the recipe below…

Pretzel Rolls – Active: 1 hr / Total: 4 hrs 45 min / Makes: 8 rolls

1 cup milk

1 ¼-ounce package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon fine salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Cooking spray

½ cup baking soda

¼ cup coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until a thermometer registers 110 degrees. Pour into a medium bowl; sprinkle with the yeast and let soften, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the sugar and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Combine the flour and fine salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low-speed, add the yeast mixture and butter and mix until the dough is slightly smooth and soft but still sticky, about 2 minutes. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray; add the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Generously coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Stretch into a 16-inch-long log, about 2 inches wide; cut into 8 even pieces. Roll and stretch each piece into a 6-inch-long rope, then wind into a coil; tuck the end underneath. Transfer the rolls to the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature 15 minutes, then refrigerate until slightly puffed, about 2 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a large pot or deep skillet with 3 inches of water. Add the baking soda and ¼ cup coarse salt and bring to a boil. Add half of the rolls and cook until slightly puffed, about 1 minute, flipping halfway through with a slotted spoon. Recoat the baking sheet with cooking spray and return the rolls to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Brush the rolls lightly with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with coarse salt.

5. Transfer to the oven and bake until the rolls are deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Transfer to a rack and let cool 10 minutes in the pan, then remove the rolls to the rack and cool completely.

X Is For Xanadu

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Xanadu represents a place of great beauty, luxury and contentment according to Dictionary.com. How often do we feel that we are in our own Xanadu? Your work space may not be luxurious but is it a place where you can work at your peak performance? Is it designed for functionality but not personality? Does it scream “I want to get out of here” or is it more of a place that sets you up for success?

Look at your home. Some may not have total control over the layout, decor, etc. due to renting or other living situations. They may share a place with a roommate, a spouse, parents, or even in-laws! Regardless of that, do you find contentment when you come home or is it more of a structure with four walls that you really don’t like?

Have you thought about your car as another type of Xanadu? The average person drives 37,935 hours in their lifetime. That’s about 798,000 miles with vehicles that you enjoy being in or ones that are so messy and disorganized that you can barely get into the driver’s seat.

William Penn once said Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” We may not always be able to control how we spend our time but it is essential for your health and well-being to have various Xanadus in your life.

To get started, choose one of the three places I mention above. Write down all the things you like and then the ones you don’t. Of the ones that bring you discomfort, determine which ones you can change – the ones that can be done now and ones that may take longer, i.e. cleaning out a section of your house versus a total remodeling project. To feel a sense of accomplishment, choose one or two easy things that can be done within 48 hours and then map out the things that may take longer. One idea for your office is to find a pretty picture to hang on your wall or cubicle, or bring in a flowering plant. I have some fun pens including a troll and a big pink flower that are in a mug on my desk that make me smile even on the most stressful days.

Just organizing a space with nice looking and functional baskets or boxes can be easily accomplished and does not cost a lot of money. Things that you no longer want can be thrown out or given away to donation centers and friends. Instead of thinking you need to keep everything, think of it this way – someone else will enjoy it more than you and you will also be helping others in need. It is a win-win!

However you decide to create your Xanadus, keep in mind that you spend a tremendous amount of time in these places so they need to be welcoming. If you have this feeling of contentment when you are in others’ homes, cars, or workplaces, enlist their help in creating one for you. They will feel flattered that you feel this way about their Xanadu and you will get some very helpful ideas.