2.20.2014

Here's the honest truth

This past week has been so scattered and so full; I've been trying to write this post, with fits and starts, for the past four days. Pathetic. Every time I sit down to write I am either interrupted by work or a new video from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, like this one.

So, here's the honest truth: I don't even know what I'm writing about any more, but if I don't actually post this blasted thing I'll feel even guiltier than I do right now for neglecting my writing for weeks. So here is my collection of reflections, reading, and the things that have stirred my soul of late:  

I've been reading these two really remarkable books over the past couple weeks. When I was in Seattle last fall, someone recommended Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. It's about calling and vocation, and listening to the deepest and truest version of yourself. Parker Palmer is a Quaker, and as such, he writes a lot about listening as an essential piece of discovering who and what you were created to be—something that my phone, calendar, and workplace don't allow much room for. I was relieved to read his perspective on the importance of knowing just as well where you don't see yourself in five years as where you do. "There is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does—maybe more... We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials." I'm grateful to him for those words. And these words, that seem to save us from the thinking that we may choose "wrongly" or that the trajectory of our lives doesn't impact the world:

Every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need. The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act.

According to Palmer, the world needs us to discover our truest self just as much we do. 

In an effort to do just that, I picked up Susan Cain's book Quiet in the airport recently. It is a fascinating and insightful read on The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I already feel indebted to her for putting these insights out into the world. She begins by identifying people in history who were creative, influential, and remarkable because they were introverts. Susan Cain marks the societal loss when we undervalue introverts—largely as a result of the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the 20th century, which has permeated our culture, education system, and standard of success. She debunks the myths that friendly = extrovert, leader = extrovert, successful = extrovert. I find myself nodding and "hmm-ing" as I read, resonating so deeply with the way she talks about our culture and the counter-cultural way of the introverted soul. 

She opens the book with A Manifesto for Introverts, which I love. I was really struck by #3, which is something of a societal charge: 

The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strength.

I was at the food pantry last night. It was an oddly slow day for distribution, but it gave me a chance to interact with clients a bit more than usual. A woman came in who I learned was the mother of the 3-year-old child who died in an apartment fire on the west side last weekend. Her 4-year-old child, rescued from the fire, is in critical condition. The 14-year-old brother of the two children tried to save them both, but couldn't. I had seen him on the news, tearfully telling the story of his failed rescue. 

Our pantry manager spoke to the mother, who shared that she didn't have enough money to bury her child. Some of the pantry volunteers pooled together some money to give her, because we just couldn't begin to imagine this mother's struggle.

I'm not very proud of this week. The days have been long and hard, and I can't seem to shake the festering gloom. But this young mother's story put things in perspective. The week's struggles shrunk, and I was ashamed for my attitude. I'm grateful that God gives us opportunities to see beyond ourselves. When he demands that we look up from the little plot of ground we stand on, we can't help but see the hurting neighbor beside us. 

2.01.2014

It's that good


Perfection.

I made this a few weeks back when my sister, brother-in-law, and little Elsie were coming over for breakfast. It was sort of impromptu, and she told me not to fuss. I was going to just whip up a batch of muffins or something. Until I saw this! Totally worth the extra effort.

And then we had a snow day. So I made it again. Because this is what everyone should have for breakfast on a snow day. 

I made a beautiful Braided Cardamom Pulla bread a while back. This Cinnamon Roll Pull Apart Bread is very similar—the same kind of dough. It's light and buttery and lovely. And surprisingly simple to make.

If you have a KitchenAid mixer, the dough pretty much makes itself. I have made it both by hand and with the aid of a mixer. As the recipe stands, you have to get up at like 5am if you want to have this for breakfast, which is pretty standard for bread bakers but definitely not standard for a snow day. So I made my dough the night before and refrigerated it overnight, for the first rise. It's probably wise to punch your dough down once or twice in the first couple hours in the fridge, as it is still warm and will rise as it cools in the fridge. But the next day it is easy peasy to roll out the dough, sprinkle the filling, slice, and bake! The log is sliced partially through, on an angle, and the pieces alternately pulled to one side. It makes for a really gorgeous presentation of something exceptionally delicious.

I recommend having it with a cup of Chemex coffee—the popular brew in my family right now. It has made its way through our family as a Christmas or birthday gift, and now we can't seem to drink anything else; it's that good.

If you need a good book to read while you're enjoying a piece of warm cinnamon bread and a cup of Chemex, I just finished another great novel from Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind. I read Moyes' previous novel, Me Before You, last year and loved it. She's a great writer, with really interesting characters and captivating stories. I was pleasantly surprised by her second novel, a sort of historical fiction story about a girl and a painting and what you'll do for the things or the people you love.

Speaking of, I read this post from writer Anne Lamott today, on the slog that often is the act of writing:

I don't usually count on inspiration in my work. I count on the belief that if I show up, keep my butt in the chair, hold a potato gun to my head, and make myself sit there, something writerish will happen. 

Sentiments I can relate to. Usually by the end of it, I'm glad I sat down and put the potato gun to my head. It's entirely possible that most of what I've written is complete crap. And I think I'm guilty of putting too much weight in "inspiration." Waiting for when it "feels right" to sit down and write. It's kind of a crapshoot, honestly. I'd like to be better at doing it the way Ms. Lamott does. Making it a habit even if you don't always like it—like flossing—because it's good for you and the tiny little writer that resides in you needs to come out and play more often than when all the stars align.


Let's be honest. I've been working on this post all week. I've been putting it off for two weeks—with some very excusable travel apprehending me. I've been battling some wicked respiratory infection for weeks. And I'd rather just watch last week's Downton Abby or make a batch of cookies. 

But I sat my butt down and did it. I'm always glad I did in the end.

I did a really horrible job at articulating, much less sticking to, any new year's resolutions this year. But I guess I'd like to be better about sitting down in hopes that something writerish will happen. Even if it sucks. So thanks for sticking with me.

On that note, I believe there's a recipe or a book or a cup of tea waiting for me. Cheers.


Cinnamon Roll Pull Apart Bread
Adapted from Pinch of Yum and Bea Ojakangas
Makes 2 loaves*

INGREDIENTS
1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
8+ cups bread flour (don't over-flour!)
½ cup melted butter
4 tablespoons softened solid butter (not melted)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup sugar **

For the Glaze:
1 egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla


INSTRUCTIONS
Make the Dough: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water; it should be frothy. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add and mix the milk, sugar, salt, eggs, and 2 cups of flour and mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix at a slightly higher speed; the dough should be smooth and glossy. Add the melted butter and mix again until the dough looks glossy. Mix in the remaining flour until a stiff dough forms.

Rest and Knead: Turn out the dough onto a surface dusted with flour. Gently toss it around a few times so it becomes lightly coated with flour. Place back in the mixing bowl, cover, and let the dough rest 15 minutes. Knead until smooth and satiny (10 min by hand, 4 min in the mixer). Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until doubled in bulk.

Roll and Cut the Bread: On a floured surface, divide the dough into 2 parts to make 2 loaves. For each loaf, take one part at a time and roll it into a large rectangle. I didn’t ever measure mine but it was probably 9×13, about ½ inch thick. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Spread 2 tablespoons butter onto each dough rectangle, sprinkle with just enough cinnamon sugar to cover, and roll into a log starting on the long side. Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut diagonal slices like pictured in the post, almost down to the bottom of the log. Arrange the cut sections so that they lean to alternating sides. Let rise for about 20 minutes to puff up a little bit. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake: Brush the loaves with the beaten egg. Bake for 20-30 minutes on a baking stone or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Do not overbake or the loaves will be too dry. Remove from the oven when a light golden-brown. Let cool slightly. Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla together to make a glaze. Pour over the loaf and let set. Slice or pull apart and serve.


*This recipe makes TWO loaves. I halved the recipe both times I made it, because I couldn't be sure I'd use the dough quick enough. It will keep in the fridge for a day or two. Or you can attempt to freeze half the kneaded and risen dough; just thaw it on the counter overnight. Let your dough warm up a bit before attempting to roll it out. Note, your 2nd rise time will be longer if your dough is cold. 


**I lessened the amount of sugar for the filling, after halving the recipe, and even then it was too much. So just use enough to cover the dough, not burn your pan.