Kitchen Witchery

Posted on March 18, 2017

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18 March 2017

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NYT No-Knead Bread

In my ELA classes, I teach mindfulness to my students as one tool in their “self-care toolbox.” I encourage each student to find the things that work for them. I, like many people, find the methodical nature of kitchen tasks to be soothing and therapeutic. In this blog, I write about spending my Saturday on cooking, cleaning, and self-care.

I’ve spent the morning in the kitchen, doing what gives me joy: cooking and baking. I began the day around 8 a.m., making French Toast from the delicious Challah bread I bought yesterday at Sow Fresh Market. The bread is from County Grains bakery in nearby Sylvania, OH, and it makes a damn good French Toast, especially when it’s topped with Calder Dairy butter and local, Emery-Schneider Family Maple Syrup, delivered direct to my classroom by Julie, a student who told me recently that “Grandpa says we’re done for good. We’re all too busy to help…it takes so much time, and he can’t do it alone. It’s so sad.” Knowing that their family will no longer make the syrup makes each bite even more precious.

Why the product placement? Is this an infomercial? Not at all.

However, a very real part of the joy of cooking and baking is knowing the farmers and other food producers personally, and knowing that I am helping the economy of my friends and neighbors, my town, my county, my state. I know that by doing what I am doing, I am helping my loved ones and the local economy survive and thrive. As I crack the egg from my friend and farmer, Jamie Stoner’s, chickens to make muffins with frozen raspberries from the Madison Farmer’s Market for my work lunches, I feel connected to all of the people who contributed to producing this food, as well as to the plants, animals, the soil, water, and air that gave them life.

I feel connected to all beings; I feel grateful and loved. By supporting my local food producers with my dollars, I am loving them and the land we all rely on for life. I am filled with gratitude and joy as I measure, stir, mix, and bake. I am filled with a sense of inter-relatedness, a feeling that is rich, deep, and complex–an awareness of the sacredness of all life. “Mitakuye Oyasin” echoes in my mind, and for a moment, I am transported to the sacred circle of the Inipi, where for a decade I made sacred ceremony with my Inipi family. My gratitude deepens, as I am reminded of all the nourishment I found for my soul in that circle.

Although I am feeling love for all beings that produced the food, I am also practicing self-love and self-compassion. I’ve been suffering–both emotionally and physically–lately. Circumstances both big and small have converged to cause me feel depleted and defeated; I’ve had times of feeling burned out and used up, and I need to withdraw from the world and immerse myself in my senses. At times like this, I miss my Inipi family intensely, but at the same time, I am comforted in the wisdom of my medicine elders’ teaching, that the ceremony never ends, that the ceremony is really the life that I live, in each present moment, and that we are ever in the sacred circle, the circle of life. Though far away, my Inipi family is ever with me, ever in my heart.

After enjoying my Holla-for-Challah-French-Toast (yum!), I make No-Knead Bread, two loaves: one for eating and one for freezing. As I mix the gooey dough, I think of my friend, Lia, who gave me the recipe about a year ago, when I went to see her in Asheville, NC for Spring Break.

Lia is an excellent cook, and she has lived in cities–even NYC–where she has had the opportunities to encounter foods and flavors I’ve never imagined. I love her cooking, but I am, unfortunately, a very picky eater. I am so picky, in fact, that I always worry that I will offend a host who has worked hard on a meal when I am unable to eat it.

With Lia, however, it’s a different story. Nearly every time we get together, we cook together or one of us cooks for the other. We love food and cooking and eating. With Lia, I have a special deal: she won’t tell me what’s in the unfamiliar foods she cooks for me, so that I won’t become prejudiced against the taste of the dish by recalling the flavors of the ingredients I’ve previously tasted. She knows I have a limited palate, and she knows the childhood food experiences that created it, but she cooks me foods, knowing that I might not be able to eat it. Somehow this arrangement has allowed me to eat many new foods. I do believe that over several years of enjoying her cooking, I’ve never rejected a dish. It’s some kind of record for me. Sure, I have picked out an occasional ingredient, but I’ve eaten the dish and found it delicious.

Last April, Lia served me the No-Knead Bread she’d made from the recipe she found in the NYT. I was amazed not only at the flavor and the cr-crunchy crust, but that she had time to bake bread while she was working full time teaching college poetry classes. I lamented that I, too, used to bake bread, before chronic shoulder pain made it physically impossible for me to knead the dough.

“This is bread you can make,” she replied. “There’s NO kneading. You just mix it up, let it rise for twelve, sixteen, twenty-four–it really doesn’t matter, it’s a very forgiving dough that needs no special attention–get it out of the bowl, fold it, let it rise again, then bake!”

I couldn’t believe it, but I’m a believer now. This unbelievably easy, crusty bread has become a staple in my home. I’ve been baking it for months now, and I’ve never made a “bad” loaf. I bake it in the cast iron Dutch oven, and it has a crisp, crunchy crust on the outside, and a soft and tasty inside–every single time. I am so thankful that my friend made this bread for me then shared the recipe–every single time I bake it.

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Cale‘s “Do Knead” Italian bread and hand-carved spoons.

After the two bowls of bread are safely stowed in the band room to rise, I get busy making my lunch–for the next two weeks. I have 2 weeks to work until Spring Break, so I make a pot of Red Pepper, Corn, and Black Bean Chowder. I freeze individual servings to defrost and eat, one each day, accompanied by either a Raspberry or Pumpkin Crunch muffin.

Each day at school, I have a little lunch ritual: I take my bowl of soup out of my lunch cooler, and head for A115, the office with the microwave. I grab a piece of scrap paper from the recycling bin and fold it to cover my soup (instead of microwaving it with the plastic lid), then I “race myself,” to see if I can make it down the hall to use the restroom in the library and get back in the two or two and a half minutes it takes to warm up my soup. If nobody’s in the restroom, I can usually do it. This little ritual makes me smile and reminds me of all the “races” I made for myself as a child who spent most of her time alone. Being alone so much of the time sometimes left me lonely, but I was never bored. I did–and do–have an active imagination with a never-ending array of ways with which to challenge myself. Each time I successfully complete a challenge, I feel like a winner.

Sometimes these tiny victories are the only ones I get; I have to take ‘em as they come.

In my “clean as I go” approach to cooking and baking, I decide that while the soup simmers, I should tidy up the freezer, to see if there are foods that should be eaten soon, before they’re ruined by freezer burn. Amazingly, the raspberries from 2015 still taste like fresh-picked in the muffins I made today, and I can’t believe I bought what was actually a two-year supply of raspberries! I was sad that I had missed strawberry season that year, because it was short and because I was out of town on market day, so I made up my mind to buy enough raspberries that I should not be without  tart fruit all winter–even if I had missed out on strawberry shortcake and a freezer full of berries for future smoothies. I bought two racks of berries, and they lasted almost two years. Yum, yum!

In the freezer, I find a bag with several one-cup servings of pumpkin from the fall. I decide to make pumpkin…something. I hop online and find a recipe for muffins with a crunchy pecan topping. They sound perfect. I pull two bright yellow frozen discs from the bag, and put them in the microwave for three minutes to thaw. I don’t have the raw sugar that the recipe calls for, so I use brown sugar instead. It’s not exactly like the recipe, but it works. When I pull the muffins from the oven, the house is filled with a wonderful aroma.

When Cale and Ashleh come up from the basement, she cries, “Yummmm, it smells SO good in here!”

Yes it does, and I now have muffins to eat today, muffins to eat for lunch over the next two weeks, and muffins to share. “Make sure to help yourself to some muffins,” I say. “I made raspberry AND pumpkin crunch.”

“Yum,” she says.


As I chop, mix, dip, scrape, sautè, bake, cool, and freeze the food, I am feeling calmer, more grounded, more centered, and more peaceful. I feel like I’m communing with loved ones: Grandma Eddy, Mom, Aaron, and Saje, my beloved dead, so dearly missed, and many loved ones still among the living: Lia; my son, Ty, who shares a passion for food and is an accomplished chef; and many friends and family, near and far. I am remembering who I am, where I come from, what I love, and what makes life worth living.

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Hand-made plates by Margaret Miller

A crone bent over her cauldron, I am making a healing potion. With soup and bread, both slow and quick, both yeasty and sweet, I will drive away the darkness, I will nourish my body and soul. With a spoon hand-carved by my son, Cale, I’m cooking up comfort; I’m stirring up solace. It is a day for self-care, a day for self-compassion, a day well-spent. Mitakuye Oyasin.

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