Homemade Bread

Tuesdays and Thursdays have become bread baking days in our house. Years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to bake bread. However, I gave up after a few dense loaves. I’ve been trying again this fall, and all my practice is beginning to pay off.

There’s something wholesome and cozy about taking the time to bake a loaf of bread. It’s not quick or simple, but the slow process of mixing and kneading and waiting for the bread to rise makes a small thing like spreading butter and jelly onto slices of bread feel so intentional and purposeful. It also makes our house smell like my grandma’s house, and I love the idea of passing on this baking tradition to my children.

I’ve been experimenting with different recipes and pans. I enjoy kneading bread, but this week I tried a no-knead loaf that turned out beautiful. Here are a few of my bread baking tips I’ve gathered from cookbooks and through the trial and error of my weekly baking attempts.

First, an electric mixer helps a lot. I originally didn’t have a mixer and wanted to learn how to make bread without modern appliances. It’s not absolutely necessary, but the mixer helps smooth out the dough, and makes the whole process easier–and you don’t get a sore arm *mixing on high speed for 3 minutes* by hand. My mom gifted me her vintage (old) mixer, and it has made the bread baking process so much easier.

Use as little flour as possible if you want a light and fluffy loaf. Begin with the measured amount of flour the recipe calls for in step one. When it comes time to add more flour add 1/4 of a cup at a time, trying to add as little flour as possible. As soon as the dough is stretchy and not sticky, stop adding flour. Every single speck of flour the dough touches as you knead it is part of the flour mentioned in the recipe, and it’s really easy to add too much flour– and too much flour makes your loaves too heavy.

While letting bread rise, cover it with a thin towel and place it in an unheated oven along with a pan full of hot water. I can’t remember where I read this piece of advice–probably in a Martha Stewart book–but it’s a warm, cozy place for the dough to rise. It’s also a safe place away from little, curious fingers that like poking and deflating the dough when it’s left out on the counter.

I purchased some mini loaf pans recently, and they’re currently my favorite pans to use. They bake the cutest little loaves, and the kids especially enjoy the small slices of bread. They’re also really easy to bag and give as gifts because each batch of bread makes 6 small loaves: plenty for our family and a couple extras to share.

What about you–do you bake homemade bread? If so, do you have any bread baking tips to share? It’s a process that I’m dedicated to conquering, and any extra ideas are always appreciated!

Book Review: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Every year I sludge through 1-2 books over the summer, and then as soon as the weather turns chilly I somehow become an avid reader. I think the desire to settle into a cozy chair with a book is part of my winter hibernation process; reading is just more fun when it’s dark and cold outside. I’ve decided to write a small review on each of the books I read this fall. Last week I read The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella and is quick and easy to read. Ivan Ilyich is a man focused on living his life solely for today. He marries out of social obligation and chooses to avoid his wife instead of working through the hard issues of marriage. He busies himself with creating the perfect image of self and home to impress a class of people he wants to belong to instead of being grateful for what he has and enjoying his family. It’s a simple story reminding us that we will all face death someday, and we will be forced to reflect on how we chose to live life.

Ivan Ilyich spends his last days fearing death and fighting through the process of dying. Although this process can appear frightening, I think this story shows the importance of this painful time of reflection on life. All the things he once thought were important suddenly appear frivolous. This book is a reminder to check our priorities, and it reminds us to live in such a way that someday we aren’t filled with regrets that we wasted energy on unimportant details.

I immediately felt the need to read Ecclesiastes after reading this book because it also talks about the purpose and point of life. If life is just living for today and dying, what keeps us going? I’ve always really enjoyed the honesty of Ecclesiastes. I think in our hearts we all question the point of life, and if we don’t work through the answer now we will eventually be forced to face this question as we die, just as Ivan Ilyich did. 

Ivan Ilyich hates everyone around him when he is dying because they are healthy and he is not; everyone except for one man who has compassion on him. This man is full of life, and his kindness and compassion towards Ivan contrasts the selfish way Ivan lived his life. I think this contrast stands as the subtle answer to the question of life and happiness and shows an alternative path to the self-serving, social climbing, image focused way Ivan chose to live his life.

Overall, I loved this little book and the thoughts and questions it brought up.

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Time At Home

I recently spent a full Saturday morning grocery shopping and cooking all the meat we would eat that week. I love taking care of business and being productive at home. I bought 10 pounds of chicken breasts and cooked all of them for quesadillas, stir fry, and soup; I also bought 7 pounds of bananas to peel and freeze for smoothies. I had to clean out our freezer to store the bananas, and ran across some meat that had been gifted to us a questionable amount of years ago. Instead of pitching it in the trash, I decided to cook all of it to re-store for our cat.  At one point I had the smell of chicken, goat (another story), and bacon all cooking at the same time. I actually hate cooking meat, so somehow getting it all done at one time feels better than waiting and cooking it throughout the week.

As I was cooking (and feeling really good about my productivity) this nagging, nasty, little voice kept sneaking into my mind trying to tell me I was wasting time and being selfish–that somehow spending the entire morning in my own kitchen cooking for my family was selfish. I was reminded of how the devil will use anything to kill my joy; it may be something someone said or something I’ve read that’s burrowed deep into my soul creating doubt.

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between conviction from the Lord and lies from the devil. However, Jesus told us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Life becomes complicated when we forget what and who we should be focusing on. The bible says in Proverbs, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.  Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” (Proverbs 4:25-27)

When we’re distracted from our work set before us each day, whether the distraction is good or bad, we’re not living with joy or accepting the abundance that the Lord is offering to us. My particular purpose that morning was to cook food for my family, and even the simplest chore can be done with purpose when we do it out of love.

Another translation of the bible says “give careful thought to the path” instead of “ponder the path”. When we’ve given careful thought and prayer to the path we’re on and know it’s where we’re meant to be, we can fight the doubts when they come along. It’s so easy to become dissatisfied with the path the Lord has placed us on and the blessings he has given us when we look to the left or the right away from God for our guidance. Why is it so easy to doubt and criticize ourselves? Whether we’re spending our entire days at home changing diapers and wiping noses, waking early to go to work, or living as missionaries in another country, we are on a path that has been set before us, and we can walk with confidence if we keep looking directly forward, doing our work for the Lord.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Drinking red raspberry leaf tea is one of the remedies recommended by my midwife during my third pregnancy, and I was hooked after my first cup. Red Raspberry leaf tea is rich in nutrients and antioxidants and is used to strengthen the uterus.  A stronger uterus can help shorten labor and aid in a healthy delivery and postpartum recovery. Because red raspberry leaf tea may help induce labor, it’s recommended you don’t drink it until week 32*. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, up to 3 cups can be enjoyed each day. It’s something I look forward to each pregnancy! (*always check with your doctor or midwife before trying any natural or herbal remedies as their potency can be surprisingly strong.)

This tea tastes good hot or iced, with lemon or without. I always buy my loose leaf tea at our local health food store where I scoop and measure it myself. Here’s the “recipe”, as simple as can be!

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea Recipe

1 Tablespoon loose leaf red raspberry leaf tea + 1 cup boiling water

steep 15 minutes

drink warm or pour the 1 cup of warm tea over ice and add enough water to fill a large glass

During the last few weeks of pregnancy I like to double or triple this recipe (2-3 Tbs. tea + 1 cup boiling water). After steeping 15 minutes, pour the warm tea over ice in a water bottle and fill to the top with cold water, leaving the tea ball in the water bottle. I’m counting down the weeks to when I can enjoy this tea again!

7 Ways to Ease Morning Sickness

I think all women who have ever experienced morning sickness would agree that whoever named the nausea of the first trimester “morning sickness” clearly never had it. I suppose confining it to a small, manageable part of the day makes it a bit less intimidating; if it were labeled “all day sickness” some of us might have been scared away from pregnancy altogether! I really struggle through the first trimester, and if I hadn’t been so determined to give our oldest daughter siblings, we would have one kid right. However, I suffered powered through, and over the course of five pregnancies I’ve picked up enough tips that by the fifth, my toilet hovering was minimal. Here are a few of my absolute must-do’s during the first trimester that have helped ease my nausea. Let me know if any of these have helped you as well, or any additions you might add to this list!

Epsom salt bath

I’m going to start with this one because it’s rarely on lists of things to do to help with morning sickness. My midwife recommended Epsom salt baths to me my third pregnancy. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was a placebo she was offering just to keep me distracted, but I decided if there was even the smallest chance it could help, I was willing to try. I normally follow the directions on the bag for the amount of salts to use; then I stay in the tub at least 20-30 minutes. I experienced less nausea on the weeks I regularly took baths in Epsom salt throughout 3 separate pregnancies. Maybe it’s coincidence that I felt better those weeks or maybe it was because of an actual magnesium deficiency, but there’s absolutely nothing to lose trying this remedy.

NEVER let yourself get hungry

This may be obvious, but it took me a long time to figure this out. The very earliest feeling that hits before the nausea of no return is hunger. For me it’s hunger so fast and so bad I don’t even realize it’s hunger, instead I assume it’s a need to throw up. When I realized this feeling began with hunger (around pregnancy number 3) I realized I could avoid the worst of the sickness by eating sooner rather than later; normally about every hour and a half. HOWEVER…

Protein is Important!

…a few crackers and ginger ale were not enough. I would eat roll after roll of ritz crackers to fend off the sickness only to hate ritz crackers and still feel empty and sick. By pregnancy number 4, I realized protein was important. Protein helps you feel full longer, and protein rich foods also provide other nutrients our bodies need during pregnancy. I ate all forms of non meat protein with my 4th, and it really seemed to help, but what I really discovered the fifth was the HUGE difference between meat protein and non meat protein. Cheese, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, vegan protein shakes, milk, and eggs all helped me feel a little better, but beef and sometimes chicken could actually make me feel “normal” and stable.

Lemon and Peppermint Everything

During my first pregnancy at one of my first appointments I asked the doctor what I could do about my incredibly oversensitive gag reflex; how was I supposed to brush my teeth if my toothbrush was always gagging me? She laughed and told me to just avoid brushing my teeth. I ended up finding a new doctor (not just because of her bad oral hygiene advice.) Nausea can at least be felt and planned around, but there’s not much you can do about an unpredictable gag reflex that acts up anytime it sees a stray hair. The gag reflex is often activated by smells. Sucking on a lemon drop or peppermint altoid (or any STRONG mint with real peppermint in the ingredients) and using lemon or peppermint essential oils (*in this necklace I was gifted a few Christmas’ ago) to smell in lieu of unpleasant odors helped me avoid many moments of being sick. I also diffuse peppermint throughout the house and add lemon juice to my drinking water.

Carbonated Water

Burping always helps my nausea–an unfortunate reality. When my go to fizzy drink was soda pop, though, I felt like I was limited because of the caffeine and sugar. Then I discovered carbonated water; any brand, any flavor does the trick. You get the satisfaction of the bubbles going down, bubbles coming up, and you can drink it all day and all evening without the consequences of too much caffeine or sugar.

Cut Sugar

Somehow milkshakes always sound good when I’m in the first trimester, but the sugar never settles well. I’ve discovered I feel much better when I avoid sugar as much as possible. About half an hour after eating protein I always feel good, but half an hour after sugar I feel worse. It’s really a win-win because keeping your blood sugar levels within a safe range is also important during pregnancy, and less sugar can help slow weight gain.

Sleep

The last tip is to get plenty of sleep. I’ve had pregnancies with young toddlers (less than 2 years old) who don’t sleep through the night, which means I don’t sleep through the night. It makes a huge difference sleeping a full 8-10 hours a night + a nap whenever possible! I know this isn’t always possible, but it helps so much it’s worth giving up anything else to get even one extra hour of sleep.

I remember spending so much time googling “ways to help nausea…” and “is it normal to….” throughout my first couple pregnancies; I felt like there had to be more help related to morning sickness. But, until there’s a magic pill to take away the constant nausea (other than the sleep inducing nausea suppositories I took during my first pregnancy) the best we can do is share tips and tricks with each other, and remember it will all be worth it in just a few short months!

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