Monday, January 31, 2011

Making Music Together

Even before we were expecting our first baby, Curtis and I decided that we wanted music to be an integral part of our children's lives, as it has been in ours. So, while most families center their living rooms around a television or entertainment center, we decided to make a piano the center of ours. As it turns out, it is not just the center, but most of the living room because though it is a baby grand and small when compared to other grands, our living room is also relatively small, leaving little room for anything else. Despite its size, we love our 1929 Knabe piano (even though the first piano tuner we had come over wondered if it was made in Mexico and passed off as a refurbished Knabe and said it was so bad that he wouldn't even tune it before we had some extensive work done on it. We got someone else, and never called him again!).

Most nights after dinner has been cleaned up, when other families may sit down in front of the television, our family heads to the living room for some music making. Either Curtis or I play the piano and the boys play along on a rhythm instrument. Isaac bounces up and down on his knees and is quite the little maraca and jingle bell player. Recently, Noah's instrument of choice is the 'ma-ca-ca' (harmonica), when he isn't just running in circles, that is. Often, when I am playing the piano, I will glance over my shoulder to find Curtis, the percussionist, dexterously playing three or four rhythm instruments at once and keeping us all on beat. Our repertoire ranges from children's folk tunes to the Beatles to Jason Mraz to Johnny Cash. And I can belt out a dreadful version of Unchained Melody that makes Noah laugh and Curtis cringe (lovingly, of course).
A few weeks ago, all this boisterous music-making led to me wanting to learn to play the guitar. I already have about a million other balls in the air. Why not add one more? So now, armed with my Dad's guitar (which I still hold rather awkwardly), I practice my chords for a few minutes each night as well. Literally, just a few minutes. Because my goodness it really hurts my fingers to hold down those strings! Apparently it takes some time to toughen them up. We shall see...

Until then, I will play the piano or just sing along as we live out those dreams we had years ago of making our family a musical one.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Daily Bread

When Noah was about a year old, I began making all our bread for a variety of reasons, including the avoidance of high fructose corn syrup and preservatives in store bought bread. I began using the method in The Tassajara Bread Book. Because it was pretty much a day-long process, I would make two loaves and we would eat one fresh and stick one in the freezer for the next week. It worked out well enough, but let's face it, bread really tastes best on the first day. And while it was better than store bought bread, it never seem to get that perfect sandwich bread consistency, or taste how I remember fresh bread tasting when I was a little girl.

After Isaac was born, time was short, and we resorted to buying bread once again, though I felt a bit guilty every time I put a loaf in our shopping cart. Now that Isaac is able to play for a few minutes without constant supervision, I am once again delving back into the world of bread baking. Still in search of the perfect bread recipe, I decided to try a few new techniques. A couple weeks ago, I began a sourdough starter. I tried baking a loaf (actually, a boule, a freeform ball-shaped loaf) a few days ago using the baking stone and pizza peel Curtis got our family for Christmas. I didn't bake it long enough and it didn't taste any different than regular white bread, BUT the homemade butter we made to go along with it was yummy! It was our first time making butter, and a bit of an exercise in faith that the cream would actually turn into butter if we kept shaking (and shaking, and shaking) long enough, but it worked. It is funny how something as simple as shaking a couple cups of heavy cream in a glass jar with a pebble (we didn't have a marble) thrown in for agitation produces butter. And buttermilk, of course, which I poured off and used to make some fabulous buttermilk blueberry pancakes on Saturday morning.
So the sourdough recipe needs some tweaking. In the meantime, I tried the method in the book, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day with a truly fantastic result . The basic premise of this book is that you can mix up a large batch of dough, store it in the refrigerator, and then lop off a chunk to bake a fresh little loaf whenever you want. I was a bit skeptical of the basic recipe, which contains only water, yeast, flour and salt, but followed it to the letter using our new baking stone. The result was amazing. Truly. With a crispy crust and a soft, chewy inside, it tastes just like Mom used to make. While I originally thought, "OK, who really needs to make bread everyday?" The answer, apparently. Because it was so good we ate it in less than 24 hours. But that's just fine because I made another one today, and it really does require just a few minutes of work. The basic recipe uses white flour, but I am excited to try it with wheat as well. The authors also have a new book out called Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes A Day, which I may have to try if we are going to keep eating it up so fast. Until then, we are enjoying our daily bread and the wonderful smells wafting through our house.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We're Still Here

It has been almost a month since I have written here. Once again, the days are full, but with what I don't know exactly. Keeping one eye on Isaac while trying to get anything else done at the same time is a full time job. From the moment he wakes to the moment he goes to sleep at night, he goes, goes, goes. Just getting his diaper changed and dressing him could be a sport in an of itself. Was Noah like this? I don't think so. Neither does my family, who got to experience his enthusiasm for life firsthand during the holidays. The only thing more exhausting than a curious baby that gets into everything, is that same baby in a non-baby-proofed house. He has a great sense of humor, darting behind doors, swinging them shut behind him, and then sitting behind them so we can't open them, all while giggling and squealing. But he is also very generous with his snuggles and kisses, and I have been known to be blinded by drool when he is in a particularly affectionate mood.
We had a quiet, simple Christmas this year. Because I prefer to give handmade gifts, my gift list was kept short out of necessity. Somewhere in those hours between the boys' bedtime and mine, I finished just a few gifts this year: a scarf for Curtis (OK...I actually finished this one the day after Christmas)...
A green gnome for Grandma.
And a soft doll for Isaac to snuggle with at night. Upon returning home after a week away, it was lovely to settle back into our familiar rhythm. For the past week or so, the days have been filled with wonderful play as a few new toys were introduced to old favorites. The tree blocks have been a big hit.
The boys are playing with each other more often now, and Isaac misses Noah when he is napping (Noah naps more than Isaac!). So do I actually, because Noah keeps Isaac happy and busy. Can you guess what game they are playing here?
We have a quiet couple of weeks coming up, and I have been doing some experiments in the kitchen...more on that next time.