Late nights are the norm now, with mugs of tea and snacks to accompany. Eye-bags are the new Chanel. Moony lullabies by Lana Del Rey, Hozier and the like echo in my head. The bulk of my week is spent at school, with my creative hours turning me nocturnal. I sit, I write, I think. I write about my thoughts, my reflections, my opinions. I think about purpose, values and meaning. I try to make meaning out of my jumbled thoughts.
The fleetingness of the days astounds me, sometimes. It's like I'm hopping across the calendar, with the hands of clocks speeding towards the end of days. The ephemeral moments are precious, really. They remind me of impermanence - of how morning mist is evanescent, of how everything eventually comes to an end.
The past week has been a quiet one, to say in the least. The house is strangely silent with only two souls within it, with the television being our nightly soundtrack. We lead an uncomplicated life, eating noodles cooked in fifteen minutes, finishing them half as quickly, going out shopping, staying in watching Modern Family. It's a simple existence.
The sky - cloudy. I know not of the weather that is to come, it be sweltering or stormy. My surroundings are enshrouded in a foggy mass that reeks of burnt sulphur and smoke. It's rather bleak, I admit. The muggy sky is far from picturesque, a scene fit in a post-apocalyptic movie.
But it definitely does not reflect my mood, despite the sky that's a sight for sore eyes (sorry 'bout the pun). I trudge, though with a light heart, down the familiar concrete path. After all, it's Friday, the day I've been anticipating most eagerly since Monday. But today, I bypass my house, walking past the familiar gate to the new complex, sitting there like a present waiting to be unwrapped.
I have yet to explore, so on an adventure I embark.
I roam the walkways, still new with their dusty surface and other curious venturers who traverse them for the same reasons I do. I walk about, blissfully ignorant of the sweat that makes my collar cling to my nape and the load on my back that makes the strength needed for every step seem to be multiplied tenfold.
My stomach rumbles. Lunch.
I make my way to a café, a diner with a warm ambience and the fragrances of cooked food lingering in the air, mingling with the quiet chatter of diners. I greet the cashier with a smile, order my soup, and make my way back to my seat with a steaming bowl of carrot-orange (color) pumpkin soup with sprinkles of parsley. The green bits of parsley are soon mixed with the black of coarse pepper, and I inhale deeply before digging in.
The bowl is drained quickly, bread used to mop up the stubborn dregs that remain at the base of the bowl. My right hand advances towards the plate of bread, the other holding David Sedaris' Naked. The right discovers that the plate is bare (heartlessly so), and so I pack up, purchase a pastry or two before hearing the bells jingle with my parting footsteps.
It's another twenty minutes that I spend there, for can't help but stroll the supermarket aisles, fascinated by foreign products. I return home with my pastries, bananas, oats, an energy bar, and a jar of Fauchon spread. There goes my budget, oh well.
The rain tumbles down now, in a shower I'm certain will be shortlived. The groceries are unpacked, my bun was eaten, and this post written (as well as somethings that's pretty exciting but I can't say shhh).
And now, bread.
The below two recipes were made with the time-constrained soul in mind (after all, when are we not constrained by time?). Quick and with little fuss to be made, no-knead bread is the answer. Last year, I baked a loaf of this bread that I'm sad to say, was largely unsuccessful. Hence, I've devised a cheat's method for all you poor dears out there who like me, sadly lack a dutch oven.
And so bread it is - loaded with spice and gooey figs, sultanas as well as dates. It's for the sugarfree junkies out there, vegans, bread lovers, and the everyday person alike. Enjoy!
No-Knead Spiced Bread
makes 1 21-cm loaf
3 c bread flour (450g)
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 c water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp clove (optional)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 c dried figs (4-5)
2/3 c pitted medjool dates (4-5)
1/3 c raisins / sultanas
1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add the water and stir till a sticky but even mixture is formed.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot for at least 2 hours.
3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a 20-cm disk.
4. Flour the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 200c with a ovenproof casserole / dutch oven (see below for notes if you don't have a round one) for 10 mins.
6. Tip the dough into the casserole and cover. Bake for half an hour.
7. Remove the lid and continue baking for another 20 mins, until golden.
8. Let it cool for 30 mins before slicing. Enjoy.
If you don't have a round casserole, you can place a cake pan IN the casserole and bake the bread in the pan like I did.
And now, bread always needs a spread.
The two packets of pre-roasted chestnuts sit on the dining table most invitingly (we have a continuous supply on hand). My hand, the left one this time, stretches out and grabs them. The contents go into our ancient food processor along with the seasonings. I blend. Blend and blend. Blend till the processor's overheated, cools down, and blend again. My hand grasp the small piece of equipment while my eyes are fixated on the blender. C'mon, I say, c'mon let the oil flow. But it doesn't.
Then it strikes me.
There is no oil to be released.
So water swooshes in and saves the day.
My end result: a creamy paste, mild in flavour with a not too oily disposition. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Maple Cinnamon Chestnut Butter
makes 1 large jar
300 g pre-roasted chestnuts (2 cups)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sal
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 c water
1. Process chestnuts in a food processor to a floury consistency with salt and cinnamon.
2. Add in maple syrup, then water in tablespoonfuls. Process some more until a creamy / pasty consistency is reached.
3. Transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge. Lasts for about 10 days.
The little things matter. Trust me, they truly do. It's the little details of the big events that we hold most dear to, that stand out amidst the fuzzy blob of sound, color and smell. The yellow shorts patterned with flowers worn to an excursion when I was five. The cookies in the glass jar during Chinese New Year 3 years later. The unbuttoned collar during a performance. They are all the minute constituents which make up the big picture. Every brushstroke painted upon canvas. Every tablespoon of flour tossed into a batter. Every additional word on a page.
The little things DO matter, like the second-last page guy of Time Magazine (Joel Stein) who is one of the factors I read Time. The little spoons which came along with boxes of kiwi in the past. The samples from my mum's Chanel sets when I was little (evidently, I wasn't the most street-smart).
But it's not just in the past. It's today too. The flowers which appear casually strewn over a set-up? Every individual one carefully placed in the spot. Every word written on an essay to grade? Each word analysed thoroughly before submission. Every detail examined with precision, examined and re-examined countless times.
They matter since we draw inspiration out of them, those small edges which stand out from the blurred background. We learn from them, develop ideas from them. They set off a spark in our minds, one that grows into a full-blown firework display to dazzle all. Those humble roots, those small beginnings which once appeared insignificant.
They matter, especially in bread-making. It's what I've been up to : baking bread. I've been elbow-deep in dough, pressing and pulling. Unfortunately, the little things really mattered, and being absentminded me, I forgot to warm the milk in my second batch, later paying for it by having to recompensate for the time used trying to re-activate the yeast (luckily, I succeeded). Anyhoo, I tried it out with both bread and all-purpose flour, my verdict being that bread flour yields a slightly denser bread than all-purpose.
Peanut butter in place of butter / oil makes a dough very, very lightly laced with a peanut flavour, and jam, well, it saves the trouble having to spread jam on your bread. What are you waiting for? Stop loaf-ing around and start making this!
PB & J Rolls
Adapted from the little epicurean
makes 10 rolls
2 1/2 c bread flour (all-purpose works fine too)
1/2 c extra fine flour
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c warmed milk (lukewarm)
3 tbsp. peanut butter
2 tbsp. coconut / olive / any other neutral oil
1/3 c jam (I used St. Dalfours Strawberry, though you could use this)
1/4 c peanut butter
2 tbsp. milk
1-2 tbsp. sugar / maple syrup, depending on how sweet you'd like it to be.
1. Sift both flours, yeast, sugar and salt.
2. Add in peanut butter and oil. Rub it in the flour till 'crumbs' form.
3. Pour in milk. Gently knead it until a ball of dough which does not stick to the bowl is formed.
4. Transfer it to a greased bowl and cover with cling wrap. Leave it in a warm place to rise for an hour. (I put it in the microwave)
5. Remove and roll it out to a 9 x 15 inch rectangle. Spread jam on it, leaving an approximately 3 inch border from one of the 15 inch sides.
6. Carefully, roll it up starting with the 15 inch side without the border.
7. Using a long section of dental floss, slice the roll into 10 pieces.
8. Neatly arrange the rolls in a baking dish with some spacing between them, and leave in the oven for half an hour.
9. Switch on the oven to 180c, and bake for another half an hour.
10. Let them cool for 10 minutes before removing from the dish. Meanwhile, combine ingredients for frosting and drizzle over the rolls. Serve, and enjoy.
Store them in the fridge overnight and warm with a microwave for 10 seconds or lightly toast in the oven.
Cinnamon Raisin-Almond Plaits
Using the basic bread dough recipe from above with 1 tsp cinnamon (sans jam), after the first rising, knead in 2 tbsp. chopped almonds and 3 tbsp. raisins. Divide it into 14 pieces. Again, divide the individual balls of dough into three long 'ropes'. Press the end of all three together in a 'pyramid' shape, then begin to plait. Once left with a little dough at the end, press all ends together. Spread them out on a greased baking tray and leave to rise for half an hour in the oven. Switch on the oven to 180c and bake for 25 mins. Let cool for 10 mins and enjoy.
- to be continued -