My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Rising & Rising 2

Posted on February 26, 2010 by crankycheryl

I’ve been so mad at bread.  I wanted to make it and have it be great and I couldn’t.

I became obsessed with Gerard’s incomparable European style sourdough and its slow risen, gently tart taste, its big, open, custardy crumb.  Perfect crust.  I wanted it at home.  I tried one thing after another, a friend gave me starter, and I made a variety of slow sourdough loaves.   I followed the one recipe I found, with no success.  I spritzed to get crisp crusts, I baked at high temperatures, I baked in loaf pans and on baking stones and on half-sheets.  I’d marvel at the transformation of powdery flour and water into a ropy, bubbling mass, and then a crusty dense loaf.  I wavered, wanted Gerard’s, but instead made the no-knead.  And I made a quite lovely straight-rise pumpkin-flax.

And every now and then I’d buy a loaf  and be reminded what the best bread was like.


So I gave up.  I let the starter sit and grow more and more forlorn under its layer of questionable grey liquid on the top shelf of the fridge.  I’ve baked up a cyclone of cupcakes and all manner of sweet treats.  But no bread, because if I couldn’t get it right, why keep trying?

I didn’t make bread, but I’ve been busy of course.  I’ve been working to adjust my ideas about myself, my capabilities, what I should expect of these wild little people who bless my life, who are so brilliant and fierce and energetic that I finish the day in a breathless heap.  I’m trying to keep my creative juices flowing, to do good work for the folks I’m working with, to be some kind of friend and girlfriend and daughter and neighbor to the people who matter,to keep the bills paid and some semblance of a clear path through the craziness of my house.  Perfect bread?   Forget it.  How about perfect exhaustion?

Then I picked up an issue of Family Circle at the doctor’s office the other day.  I liked the big bodacious lasagna that was on the cover, plus figured maybe middle America could give me some coaching on how to get my home organization skills on  (it could happen!).  I was flipping through the pages, musing on how it’s come to pass that this most-mainstream of publications includes recipes for arugula salads and recommends yoga and alternative therapies.

And there on the last page, written by a self-described  novice baker on the staff, was a no-knead bread recipe.  I scanned it, interested in how it addressed some of the problems I’ve had with the no-knead results I’ve gotten, like the sort of half-assed sour flavor that’s neither here nor there.  And how the standard recipe doesn’t really seem to give the dough quite enough time to transform.  I made some changes and I gave it a whirl.

Perfect?  No.  But it slices terrifically and makes great toast.  It’s delicious, and certainly good enough for now.

If you want to give it a try, just remember to give it the day it needs to do its slow and amazing rise.

No-Knead Everyday Bread
Adapted from Family Circle, February 2010

1.  Mix together in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups whole wheat bread flour, or 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 t. active dry yeast
  • 2 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar

2.  Add and stir until dough comes together in a ball, about 2 minutes:

  • 1 1/2 c. room temperature water
  • 1 T. vinegar (I used Limousin Apple Bouquet, which worked nicely – the recipe called for white vinegar so I’m sure you can use what you’ve got on hand)

3.  Cover and let sit and room temperature for 18 hours.   Place dough on lightly floured board and knead a few times.  Return to the bowl and let it sit for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

4.  30 minutes before the 2nd rise is through, place a Dutch oven and its lid in the oven, and preheat to 500.

5.  When the dough has completed its rise, carefully slide the dough into the heated pan by sort of pouring the batter right in.  It should sizzle in a satisfying way.  Put the lid right on and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid, turn the heat down to 450 and bake for 15 minutes more.  Let cool in the pan for a bit, then complete cooling on a wire rack.


Making Bread 7

Posted on June 09, 2009 by crankycheryl

bread-jan-09-002Here’s how making bread goes.

Morning:  I am flinging shoes and making eye contact and nodding at children as I try to get them to get on their backpacks and socks and put down the damn marker that someone’s about to puncture an eardrum with.  I take the starter out in its little pyrex container and set it on the counter.  I give kisses goodbye and wave and watch as E. runs up the gravel path for his ride to school.  I add a cup of flour and a half a cup of water and stir and marvel at how the kitchen is already piled with dishes.

After a mind-numbing morning of Playhouse Disney, I’m swooping through the house gathering towels and toiletries and water bottles and swimsuits on the way out the door, always late, to swim class.  The starter has expanded and is liquid and bubbly and smells yeasty and sour and I stop in my tracks.  I look at the clock and scoop out a cup of the fed starter and thunk the thick, gluten-stringy stuff into my cracked mixing bowl with a cup and a half of water and 3 or 4 cups of flour, ideally a mix of Gleason’s Grains Whole Wheat Bread Flour and spelt and rye.  I stir, cover the bowl with a plate and race for the door.

After swim class, after lunch downtown, after picking up E., we return home, racing down the path playing “I’m Going to Get You” all the way to our door.  The boys run to the dirt that’s piled up in the garden, their favorite spring location.  I go in to see how things are looking.  The dishes seem to have multiplied in our absence and the sponge has expanded.  I add in the remaining flour and a tablespoon of salt.  Today I’m feeling a little kooky and throw in a generous sprinkle of dried orange peel and a pinch of ground ginger, thinking of Swedish rye bread.  I turn the oven on to 350, set the timer for one minute, and put the covered bowl into the oven once I turn it off.    The door opens and the boys are there, caked with dirt and laughing and asking for juice.

The bread rises and warms for an hour or two.  Close to bedtime then and I’m trying to do the math of when the bread is going to get itself baked.  We have the usual spasmodic dance of toothbrushes and washcloths and they moon me with their little tushes and cry like I’ve stuck spears in them when I ask them to get on their own pajamas as they bungee themselves around their tiny room.  The timer goes off and I slip downstairs to form the loaves.

bread-jan-09-005I’m half-listening to them, suddenly calm without me there, as I stretch the dough thin and wide in my hands.  I sprinkle cornmeal onto oiled half-sheet pans and wonder how real bakers do this as I sort of roll, sort of tuck, stretch and pat and fold the dough into a somewhat oval shape.  I cover the loaves with a dry cotton towel under a slightly damp one and head back upstairs to read Cowboy and Octopus.

We have read and snuggled and put down the shades and they are quiet as  I make my way downstairs.  Dishes still.  Plastic tools covering the couch and paints and markers all over the little table.  Blueberry trails scatter across the dining room floor.  The loaves have expanded.  Enough?  Maybe.  I turn on the oven to 450, cringing and remembering the several times I’ve managed to set off the smoke alarms and wake up the boys.  I open two windows and turn on the exhaust fan.

bread-jan-09-0101The oven beeps, preheated, and I take a steak knife and cut slits across the bread, slip it into the oven.  I set the timer for 20 minutes and wait, thinking about the next day, wondering whether it would kill me to clean the bathroom.  Suddenly remember that I haven’t yet checked E.’s school-to-home folder and get his backpack from the mudroom.  A field trip is coming and another homework page I can’t bear to force a kindergartener to do falls to the floor.  I sign the permission slip and replace the backpack, line up shoes, jackets, baseball caps for the morning.

The timer goes off and I take out the pan, quickly closing the door before the heat or the charred whatever in the oven sets off those noisy alarms.  I put the loaves on a rack, and listen to the peepers singing in the pond in the dark.  Upstairs someone wakes up a little, talking to their dreams.  Then quiet, cool, night.

You can do it too.  Let me know if you want some of my starter.

Favorite French Toast 0

Posted on April 14, 2009 by crankycheryl

french-toastWhen I was a little girl I insisted on a new Easter dress every year.  I don’t know why my mother indulged me.  We were not Christian and did not go to church.  I particularly remember one Easter morning, wandering around and around and around our block, clutching my brightly colored basket in one hand in my lavender gingham with not another child in sight in our Italian Catholic neighborhood.

Of course, neither were we observant Jews, with my father having left behind his family’s religion long before.   The closest I ever got to Passover was matzo and canned macaroons.

I’m still the same.  I’m not overrun with ham or with brisket like many of my friends.  But what I’ve got running amok in my kitchen is scads of rapidly aging bread that showed up at our Easter potluck.  Well, leftover bread is not such a bad thing.  Plus I’m not morosely wandering the neighborhood in gingham.

And it gives me a reason to share my favorite French toast recipes, one traditional-ish, and one savory.  I’ve got the first one in the fridge ready for tomorrow morning.

Bev’s Overnight Oven French Toast
Serves 6 – 8

This is my former mother-in-law’s recipe, which she makes on Christmas alongside fried Spam (mmmm).  She used to make it with a warm winter fruit compote that I’ve never seen anyone eat, so now it’s just maple syrup.  It’s really nice and fluffy and souffle-ish.

  • 1 long loaf (10 oz.) French bread [or your leftover whatever, of course], cut into 1″ slices
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 C. milk
  • 4 t. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 2 T. butter

Arrange bread in greased 9″ x 13″ dish.  Mix together eggs, milk, sugar, salt and vanilla and beat well.  Pour over bread.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, dot with butter and place in cold oven set at 350.  Bake 45 – 50 minutes, then let stand 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Chive French Toast with Lime Cream and Smoked Salmon
Reprinted from Food & Wine, August 2000

4 servings

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C. skim milk
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3 T. snipped chives
  • four 1/2″-thick slices challah, semolina, or other firm-textured white or whole grain bread
  • 1/4 C. light sour cream
  • 1 t. freshly grated lime zest
  • 4 t. unsalted butter
  • 6 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon

In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the milk and salt.  Stir in the chives and let stand for 10 minutes.  Add the bread and let soak until saturated.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with the lime zest.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt half the butter.  [I never use non-stick skillets.  I don’t trust Teflon, and try to avoid cooking in it.]  When it sizzles, add 2 slices of the soaked bread and cook over moderately high heat until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.  Turn the slices and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes longer.  Transfer to plates.  Repeat with the remaining butter and bread.  Top with salmon and pass the cream on the side.

Why It Matters 0

Posted on March 05, 2009 by crankycheryl

I thought I had finally demonstrated my cooking nuttiness this week when I looked down in the sink one evening and saw every one of my 8  (8!) wooden spoons there.  There was the one from starting the sponge for sourdough bread, the one for the cake, the one for its icing, the oatmeal, the custard for the cohousing dinner, plus whatever else I’ve already forgotten.

But I realized that I didn’t feel nutty.  I was tired, but I felt kind of great.  And it made me realize that there’s something I haven’t yet said here:

I cook for the joy of it.  For the satisfaction and simplicity of feeding those I love.  For the pleasure of necessary thriftiness.  Because it’s art and craft and creation and primal and needed.

For me, cooking all the time – the daily grind of it, and the fanciest flights – is life.  To do it with a glad heart is to try to keep my own best self close.  That I can make people happy and engage in the organic magic of bread-making and fill the house with the smell of chocolate or melting butter and evoke memories and even save money is a pure and needed joy.

So every day, here we are, slogging along through money worries and perpetual lateness and ADHD and cabin fever and the rest of it.  But every day we can come back to this quiet, necessary, open-hearted act of creation and sharing.  And if that doesn’t make it all somehow worth it, I don’t know what could.

And in that spirit, I’m sharing some recent, unblogged creations:

Good Sandwich Bread 6

Posted on February 19, 2009 by crankycheryl

003I adapted this from the recipe on the back of the King Arthur Flour White Whole Wheat bag.  I’m surprised by how well it came out!

Multigrain Molasses Sandwich Bread

2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/3 C. water (start with the smaller amount)
1 T.  olive or vegetable oil
2 T. molasses
1 1/2 C. white whole wheat flour

1 C. white flour
1/2 C. oats (I used quick oats, but I don’t think it much matters)
1/2 C. ground flaxseed
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured or lightly greased surface, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it becomes smooth.  Place in a greased bowl, cover with a damp dishtowel and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Punch dough down, knead a couple of times, and then shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with the dish towel, and allow the bread to rise for about an hour, until it’s risen about 1 inch above the edge of the pan.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s light golden brown. Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190°F at the center of the loaf.) Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack before slicing. Store bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

No-Knead Bread 0

Posted on January 03, 2009 by crankycheryl


My to-do list for the week is impossible.   My degree of overwhelmed gives me a special love for anything effortless – like the fact that by 4:30 tomorrow afternoon, this blob will have turned into sourdough, and by the time the monkeyboys have gone to bed, the oven will be heating to make a pair of beautiful crusty loaves.

Though I’m pretty sure I was the last foodie to have discovered No-Knead Bread, maybe it was actually you.   If you haven’t yet tried it, you can visit Mark Bittman’s blog and check it out.

Next: An Epiphany 0

Posted on January 02, 2009 by crankycheryl

orangesSo my next turn cooking for our cohousing community is coming up on Tuesday, January 6.  And because I’ve seldom encountered a theme I don’t like, I’ve been researching traditional foods for the Epiphany.  (This is the “12th Day of Christmas,” the day that the three wise men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem after Jesus was born.)  I have found many cakes, often a type of fruit cake, but dinner menus have been much more difficult to come by.

At last, I stumbled onto a Tuscan Epiphany dinner menu here.   Keeping in mind that we’ll be cooking for a big gang of people, that we’re only supposed to spend $3.50 on food per adult, and that we’ve got plenty of vegetarians, I’m truncating this multi-course meal to:

  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi (a pasta course is naturally traditional for an Italian meal, but in American fashion it’ll just be part of the main course, plus the orange color represents gold and the sun)
  • Vegetarian Sausages (sausages represent abundance)
  • Broccoli Saute (broccoli’s bitterness has some apparent significance)
  • Oranges & Figs
  • For dessert, I was tempted by both a sweet foccacia called La Fugassa de la Befana, and Ciambella de Rei Magi – Three Wise Men Torte.    I like the sound of La Befana – a witchy character who leaves presents/charcoal in stockings on the Epiphany.  (She’s survived from older, pagan times – maybe an agriculture goddess, according to some sources.)  After searching through many, many funny translated Italian websites for a recipe, I at last found myself back at good old Recipezaar for this Befana Cake.

(And for more interesting things about the holiday and its pagan origins, visit  here and here.)

I’ll report back with pictures and results.  And hopefully also with sore muscles from a vigorous workout to atone for more feasting.

But First: Bread 1

Posted on December 15, 2008 by crankycheryl

All right. The cupcakes are done. Here’s a picture of one, even (they’re full size by the way, just being held by a friend’s enormous hand). I’ll share the recipe and talk about them tomorrow. But right now, I’m eating the whole wheat pumpkin bread we made yesterday and am reminded how much I adore this recipe from “have cake will travel.”

I’ve made this a lot. Bread is one of the few things that both my wild monkeys will deign to eat (though one only as toast or a sandwich, one only with butter and untoasted), so I tend to pay a bit of attention to it. In the summer, we get Gerard’s bread with our CSA share from the Intervale. The rest of the year we’re on our own and I like to make our own good stuff as much as possible. And now that both crazy beasts are old enough to help, it’s even a rockin’ good family time – for the 6.25 minutes that I can capture their attention.

So yesterday when I got home from yet another grocery store trip to discover that I hadn’t bought bread (but at least I had had the sense to backtrack for the milk I missed before we checked out the first time), we scrubbed up and got to work. As I was tossing ingredients on the counter, I discovered that I only had half the squash puree in the fridge that I had thought. Rather than making only one loaf (I always double), I decided to toss in 3/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce instead.

Another adjustment that I’ve gotten in the habit of is using 2/3 whole wheat white flour, and 1/3 unbleached white. The bread is great both ways, but I like the slightly lighter version that you get if you use some white flour.

For some reason, this time it just didn’t rise quite as well as usual. I’m sure I should have done the oven-on-f0r-one-minute trick to get it off to a nice warm start, but I didn’t. So I gave it a good long time rising, and it eventually came out of the oven looking great – not as golden as when made with all the suggested pumpkin, but a nice color anyway.

And sitting here eating the bread abandoned by the monkeyboys as they’ve scurried off to their day, I must admit it tastes as good as ever.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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