Monday, April 30, 2007

Man cannot live by bread alone; woman, however...

I just found a boss hog bread recipe (love you, Eryn!) at Like Clotilde, I did not find immediate success. My first attempt was dough soup, baked into a golden brown curling stone in my Le Creuset dutch oven (curling stone, because a hockey puck would be too small). But undaunted (thank goodness Clotilde admitted her own third-time's-a-charm luck with this recipe), I made a second loaf today and, my dears, it's nearly gone. I did share a large hunk of it with some fellow bread-desperate friends, but mostly it's just been the work of me slicing into it all evening, slathering on the butter, and telling whoever walks into the kitchen, "I'm so happy! I made good bread!"

Find the recipe here, and then pull out your scale – kitchen scale, that is; pull out the bathroom scale and you may never make bread again. The key to this bread is the moisture content, and humidity is gonna mess with standard cup-of-this, cup-of-that measurements, as will variations in measuring a cup of flour (scoop? spoon? tap? level?). The loaf I'm nibbling on now (yes, right now), is plain Jane, strictly by the book. I have started another loaf tonight with the addition of three sprigs' worth of fresh rosemary needles, and will top it with coarse sea salt before baking tomorrow morning. See, that's the beauty of it: there's no kneading. You mix it, let it sit forever (or at least the next 12-18 hours of forever), drop it into a hot cast-iron lidded pot, and bake in a very hot oven. No mess. No kneading. No more crappy white Taiwan bread.

I am SO happy. You have no idea.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who is the crazy lady hugging a box of Grape-Nuts in aisle five?

Oh, that would be me.

After the last post got me thinking about raspberries, and how much I crave them, I started thinking about how many things we can get in Kaohsiung now. I mean, raspberries have a short season in Washington, and luckily I fly home at the start of it, so I can't really complain about how scarce they are here. But other foods I have longed for are beginning to hit the shelves on our little island, and for that I am deeply grateful. When western foods become available, not only do I get to enjoy them right now, but it also frees up a lot of space in my checked bags at the end of the summer. My bring-back list is getting shorter and shorter every year.

Here are some of the goodies I've found around Kaohsiung in the last nine months:

Grape-Nuts (I really did hug them).

Cream that doesn't taste funny. It's still UHT, but it has no weird ingredients, only cream, which makes a huge difference in homemade ice cream and such. Plus, it's from Ireland, where all the cows are clean and happy.

Green peppercorns.

Bourbon vanilla extract.

Orzo, or rather Rosemarino, which is a bit more needle-like but still cooks up into a lovely pilaf.

Sea salt, and loads of it: New Zealand salt, Chilean red salt, local salt -- it all makes me happy.

Yogurt starter, with even more bacterial strains and a creamier taste than the starter that I've been smuggling over here for years.

Chili powder -- Costco size.

Rye flour. Haven't bought it yet, but I know where to find it now.

Brown rice flour. Bought it, but haven't used it yet. Somewhere I have a great lavender shortbread recipe that calls for it.

Ginger snaps.

Fresh dill! A friend bought some at the morning market and shared it with me. It's salmon with dill butter on the menu tonight.

There are still some essentials that elude me: beef bouillon, couscous, tapenade, chutney, vanilla beans, lentils, dried pears, powdered sugar that doesn't make your frosting gritty. But when you consider how cheap the fresh produce and meats are here, and how easy it is to get western staples, it looks more and more like a cook's paradise. And with all the extra room in my suitcases, maybe I can bring more books. Or travel lighter. There's a thought.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Signs of spring

Easter is behind us; kids are counting down the days 'til the end of school, and teachers are counting down the hours; the days are getting warmer, but rain's in the forecast.

All true, but that's not really what I mean now when I say signs of spring. I mean spring in Taiwan, spring as an expat, spring that takes some getting used to. (By the way, was anyone else out there taught to capitalize the seasons? It is a deeply entrenched habit, one that I fight only half-heartedly.) Anyway, spring (Spring), for me, is this:

Walking through piles of dry brown leaves that have finally fallen off the trees.

Looking for giant caterpillars, or their dessicated casings, nestled in the crevices of our school wall.

Mangoes the size of a lap cat.

Making mental lists of what I need to buy in the states this summer. Every morning for the last two weeks I have said to myself, "I should buy two of those lipsticks this year." Every morning.

Dead baby birds in the carport. Did they fall? Were they pushed? Why don't they get eaten?

Constantly feeling like I'm forgetting something. Too many parties, projects, and weekend trips as the school year winds down and people make ways to spend time together.

The accompanying feeling of sadness, kept just below the surface, as the end of the year means saying goodbye to dear friends.

Chirping geckoes.

National auto taxes (bad), and an automatic extension on my IRS filing (good).

Daylight that lingers long after the garbage truck's anthem, Für Elise, has faded away.

Swinging between two extremes: wanting to see everyone this summer, and wanting to do nothing all summer.

Scarred and charred hillsides, after families have come to fufill their duty to ancestors on Tomb Sweeping day. There is some small irony in the living honoring the dead by wiping out all of the plants that have grown around the tombs. We show up at a grave with flowers; they show up with weed trimmers and lighter fluid.

Strawberry season is over.

Raspberries await.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What would Jesus do?

Just came back from school where Nora and I had lunch with Tim. On the way home Nora was holding a bookmark Cole gave her, imprinted with a cross and those ubiquitous letters, WWJD. She held it up and asked, "What does this Bible say?" (I guess the cross gave her that connection.) I told her, "It says, 'What would Jesus do?'" Her eyes lit up. "He would give me a present before Christmas gets here a long time from now!"

Well, why not? Actually, today being Good Friday and all, I think we can say He already has.

Blessed Easter, everyone!