Friday, June 29, 2012

And, we're off

On our way to Alyce's last day at school.

Today just felt different. Alyce seems to have loved Junior Kindergarten, and watching her develop friendships with the other kids has been my favourite part of this entire school process. But as much as she loves her friends, and most of the other kindergarten world of circle time, painting, and learning how to insert potty language at every turn, Alyce has almost every day of this school year asked to stay home with me and Shira. I think she feels left out of the party a bit, perhaps deducing from our body language and our secret handshakes that the two of us stay home all day playing princess and eating chocolate ice cream. (We'll never tell.)

Last day of school watermelon sundress courtesy of grandparents!

That is to say that Alyce is Excited for summer vacation. She's thrilled to have the entire summer ahead of all three of us, ready to dive into princesses and ice cream. I think Shira is completely game for Alyce's full time return. While I thought briefly that Shira might miss our time together, just the two of us, I'm fairly certain she's more interested in tagging along after Alyce. I have mixed feelings about the summer, I'll be honest. There's the question of how we'll fill our time for two months. But that's not quite it. I think one of the reasons this end of school year feels so momentous is that we've been waiting months to get back on our feet, out in the world, and that's happening in four days. Our move signals so many things: new jobs, new surroundings, new goals, new fears. After spending more than a year trying to get started fresh in Canada, it's finally happening. I want to jump head first into the awesomeness of all these new opportunities, but at the same time I don't want to scare it away. Some days I'm afraid that if I breathe too easily it might all disappear.

Pigtails courtesy of the softest blonde hair on the planet.

You see we're not crossing over into some fantasy land of high-paying jobs and job security. We are getting ready for a new start, but that doesn't mean it's easy. It feels so exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. What if our plans aren't enough? What if things fall out underneath of us again? What if we're unemployed in a year? Please just give me a moment to collect myself.

This summer. This summer contains the first steps of many our adventures. It marks my first real commitment to staying home with girls while I work part-time, a path I'm choosing because I want to, not because I need to (and I'm grateful to begin this new phase in the busy centre of Toronto). It marks my husband's return to academic life, and I'm fairly certain he's there to stay. It will mark the beginning of my new doula business, something I've been very quiet about while so many details are in the works (but I can't wait to share!). But when I put all of that aside for a moment, more than anything else the coming of another summer, another year, means that our little family has done it again. We're seen one member of our crazy household complete her first year at school. We've seen another one learn to talk. We've celebrated seven years together and five years married. Graduation certificates for everyone!

Bring it on, summer. Let's do this.

P.S. In honour of her last day of school, I packed jelly beans in her lunch. 
P.P.S. My mum and I are also taking her out for a celebratory pancake breakfast tomorrow.
P.P.P.S. And we're moving to Toronto in four days!

Have the greatest of weekends, everyone! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Countdown to summer vacation

Summer begins Friday afternoon at 3:30. Of course we've already had weeks of hot weather and enough ice cream to last an entire season, and did I mention the popsicles? But tomorrow marks Alyce's last day of school, as in we are about to embark on our first real summer vacation. Alyce is now a kid who counts down the days until summer holidays, making lists (because she's my daughter, after all) of all the things we will do this summer. Her current list includes eating ice cream and popsicles, drinking lemonade, swimming, playing with Shira, and going to the beach. My list, in case anyone is asking, includes unpacking in our new apartment, getting reacquainted with one of my favourite cities, mornings at the Riverdale Farm, iced green tea, and dragging my girls on some rather excellent road trips. (Shira's list? Breastfeeding, mostly. And probably ice cream.)

Our summers are framed in a whole new way now, at least until the girls are done school in many, many (many) years. Alyce seems to have grown up in the last few months, and I know all parents say that at least five times a year, but I mean it, she's older. I find myself in conversations with her that just don't happen with your baby. Why do we have blood? How long would it take to walk to Africa? When I finish this ice cream can I have another one? This leaves me wondering what this means for our summer at home together. I don't know almost five-year-olds (I've just barely figured out just turned four-year-olds). But I'm grateful that the three of us will make our own fun this summer, not having to worry about day camps and daycare and all those challenges that come with two working-outside-the-home parents.

Friday is her last day of school and I'm sure I'll be back here then to ask you how it's possible that Alyce already has one year of school under her tiny belt. I'll probably tell you that it's been a really hard year in so many ways but that through everything taken such joy in watching my Alyce burst out into the world. A world of her own. But I'll wait until Friday, you'll see. For now this is all I'm saying: summer is almost here. So grab your lemonade, find a hammock, and enjoy.

How will you spend your summer?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Resetting for a good Monday

The last week has swallowed me whole and I feel lucky to have made it to the other side. No, nothing monumental is taking place, just a busy life and a busy family (just like you). But at the end of a week such as this one I'm ready for a new start. It isn't that this past week was bad by any means, but I'm just in need of a good reset. For the sake of lists, let's review the past few days:
  • visits to the park
  • building a house for the summer fairies (thanks to the inspiration over Knitty Gritty Homestead)
  • flower picking
  • Shabbat dinner
  • grading papers
  • grading more papers
  • birthday parties of best school friends
  • planning cookie-baking for Alyce's farewell Kindergarten picnic (no, it can't possibly already be the end of her first school year)
  • even more grading
  • taking Alyce on a date to see Brave, a movie I hope to tell you about later this week
  • packing
  • farmer's market
  • dinner with family I don't see as often as I'd like

And here is what we have lined up for this week:
  • more packing
  • more grading
  • date with friends for treasure-hunting (I'll fill you in later)
  • doctor's appointment I've been avoiding for months out of sheer laziness
  • Alyce's last week of school
  • some baking for a special thank-you package
  • adjusting to the realities of a very big move in one short week!

Was it a good weekend for you?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


We're in a heatwave in southern Ontario, not my favourite part of summers here. But I really do love lemonade and I know it tastes best when it's unbelievably hot outside, so I'm choosing to make the most of this opportunity. Last week, during Shira's nap, Alyce and I made some lemonade. Alyce's excitement at the prospect of using the lemon reamer could have reached the moon and back. Every day I'm learning that she's just bursting to learn new things and all I need to do is give her a little responsibility and she's at her happiest. I've never seen someone wash lemons as joyfully as my little one did in preparation for our juicing. After she washed them in the sink she dried each one with a tea towel (her insistence, not mine), I sliced them in half, and then she juiced away. Twenty lemon halves later (and a little extra squeezing from me, since I'm not content to accept six droplets of juice from a lemon), we were ready to add the sugar and water. It was exactly what we needed.

Fresh Lemonade
Inspired, as much as one needs inspiration for lemonade, by Martha Stewart

10 lemons
1 cup white sugar
lots of ice
fresh mint or thyme, if you like

Squeeze the juice of 10 lemons, straining for seeds and pulp. Mix lemon juice with sugar before adding water to taste, around four cups. (Some people prefer to make a simple syrup of sugar and a little water so that it dissolves more easily with the lemon juice and water, but we didn't have any problems just mixing the plain sugar in.) Serve over lots of ice (and the herbs if you're using them), find a seat in the shade somewhere, and enjoy.

Alyce enjoyed four glasses, thank you very much.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


In two weeks we'll be living in our new apartment.  We'll have been living her at my mum's for eight months. Add to that the two months me and the girls lived here while Matt was teaching in Europe, and that makes a long year for everyone. Can I just say an enormous thank you to my mother and stepfather? Thank you. We're a lot to handle some days, I know. We're loud, always in the kitchen, go through laundry at warp speed, and, the toys. But they have welcomed us unconditionally this past year and that has made my heart feel so much better.

We're ready to move (at least mentally, because, well, packing). Me and the girls have spent approximately 346, 234 hours in this house together, mostly while everyone else is at work. I can't lie, it's been a challenge some days. We're without a car while Matt is communting and in the suburbs that means you mostly hang out at home. We're only a few minutes away from Alyce's school and a twenty minute walk (an hour, kid-walk speed) from the library, so we're by no means stranded. But we aren't wandering around a city the way I'd like to be. Parents come in all shapes and sizes, but my preference is to keep moving, adventuring if you will. Alyce and Shira are excellent tag-alongs on an adventure, as long as I keep them in snacks and flower-picking breaks. We do best near water, in parks, museums, friends houses (can we come over?), and anywhere near good food. And while I haven't taken them to an outdoor music festival, I think their natural rhythm and near-constant urge to dance would make them feel right at home.

Now don't get me wrong. I love home. I love my mum's home and I'll love our new home in Toronto. I love slow mornings, hiding in bed reading books, or spending hours in the kitchen. Home is a good, good place. But you and I both know that feeling trapped in one place can challenge even the most homebody of homebodies. So we're getting set for some changes. We're packing. We're making plans. And I'm creating a very long list of adventures we'll take once we're back on the mothership in the city.

But for two more weeks we'll make our own fun here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Five years ago today I married my favourite person. It was a good day. It was also the hottest day in the history of the universe. Last night Matt took me out for a dinner unlike I've ever had before. Maybe it was the fact that our children were not at the restaurant. Maybe it was asparagus and poached egg salad or the cheese and fresh fig plate (finally! A fig!), or the champagne or the wine. Maybe it was the dirty haiku I gave him as an anniversary present. Whatever it was, it was a good night.

Happy five years. I think so far we've got this marriage thing down.

Friday, June 15, 2012

If something is forbidden, do you want it less or more? And other questions.

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project thinks that knowing ourselves--our true nature--is necessary to building a foundation for happiness. I tend to agree, since not knowing, or completely avoiding, myself gets me in a world of trouble every time, like when I set goals or expectations based only on what I would like to be, rather than on who I actually am (and self-knowledge is connected to self-esteem, and, I would argue, confidence, something I've been lacking lately). Rubin offers a list of questions to ask yourself in a quest for self-knowledge. I thought I'd answer a few in hopes that I wake up tomorrow morning all the wiser. You can find the whole list here.

Alyce's portrait of me, in green. She knows me very well and doesn't need such lists. And thank you, Alyce, for the lovely eyelashes.

If something is forbidden, do you want it less or more? 

My instinct is to say that I want something more if it is forbidden, but I don't think that's it. I want stuff all the time, but I don't think it has anything to do with anything being forbidden. When I smoked I wanted it all the time, and when I quit I wanted it all the time. Same amount of wanting. And telling myself I can eat as much cake as I want doesn't mean that I'll moderate my slices, but eat the entire thing. It seems I might be more of an abstainer than I realized.

Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? Especially in control?

Out of control? That's easy. My health. I'm in the middle of making a lot of changes (in search of more energy) and these changes are so hard. I am an intelligent, strong, capable person who struggles so much with saying no to food that makes me sick or unhealthy, even when I know in my bones that it is the wrong decision. Same goes for getting enough exercise.

Especially in control? Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Good one.

If you unexpectedly had a completely free afternoon, what would you do with that time?

This is a tough one. I would like to think that I would drag a friend out for a long lunch or find a new book and just plain read. In reality, however, I think I would probably waste it away trying to accomplish a million things, eventually getting distracted from each task and feeling frustrated with myself for not making better use of my time. I blame this annoyingly negative response of mine on the fact that I spend so much time trying to get things done around two young children, where their short attention span becomes my short attention span, that I've lost faith in my own ability to take charge of such an afternoon of opportunity.

Are you motivated by competition?

Nope. Not at all. I am completely shut down by it. That doesn't mean I'm not competitive, but more in that perfectionist-compete with yourself kind of way. For me competition often translates into self-doubt. Unless, and this is a big unless, it's competition with my husband. I much funnier than him.

Alyce knows herself.

Do you work well under pressure?

Sometimes. I write well under pressure, and always have, but the stress of waiting until the last minute takes away the glory, especially the knowledge that I rob myself of some very valuable editing time when I write hours before a deadline. This is a habit I am actively working on now.

How much TV do you watch in a week?

Not counting Dora, The Backyardigans, or Stella and Sam (which might be the sweetest portrayal of siblings ever), my TV watching varies quite a bit. I love TV and don't apologize for it. I've lived without TV for three years and managed just fine, but I'm not philosophically against it. In the regular season I follow Parenthood, Grey's Anatomy (and Private Practice, but don't tell anyone), Smash, 30 Rock, Glee, and Modern Family. My favourite things to watch, however, are Dexter, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, and True Blood, all on at various times of the year. This seems like a ton of TV when I write it out like this, but I should add that I wouldn't watch half of these shows if I couldn't record them, watch then at 5:00 am when Shira greets the world or after 8:00 pm when the girls are usually long asleep. It also gives me the chance to stretch a season out over months, even after the on-air finale. So, no spoilers, please. I'm still on season three of Mad Men.

What's more satisfying to you: Saving time or saving money?

I suck at managing/organizing/evaluating time, so the benefits of saving time is often lost on me. That, in combination with my mum's deep-rooted commitment to not wasting money, means that I often value saving money more. Since I need so badly to develop a savings account (ahem), you'd think privileging money over time would be good for me, however I think learning the value of time would serve me better in the long run.

Is your life "on hold" in any aspect? Until you finish your thesis, get married, lose weight?

Yes, that thesis is very much on hold right now.

My entire life has been on hold for the past year, something I'm desperately trying to change my perspective on. The conditions of my life are what they are, but my perspective can make a world of difference. I might not know what's going to happen in the next year, but I can still choose to live my life directly, with expectation, and sparkle.

How would you answer these questions?

Alyce also knows her best friend, T.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

4:36 am

So we're all a bit tired.

Remember that thing I wrote yesterday about not getting too worried about tough transitions because it will all settle down into normal before you know it? Well, good for me, but I'm tired and wondering if I'll ever feel rested again. Shira has been getting up extra early, even for her, and I don't think it has anything to do with their new sleeping arrangements. For some ungodly reason Shira still likes to start the day at 5:00 am, or today, 4:36 am. And there are a few downsides to their room-sharing, and one of those is that sometimes Alyce is waking up way too early for her sleep needs, like yesterday when she woke up at 5:15 am, probably startled by Shira's early wake-up call. Not cool, Shira.  (I should also mention that I'm only working on a sample size of two nights, so my data is meaningless.)

Shira would like to chime in here and remind me that she didn't force me to stay up until 11:00 pm last night. And I would like to remind her that she doesn't contribute financially to our family income and someone has to stay up and grade papers and respond to student emails. And then she would like to remind me that isn't she adorable? And then I would like to remind her that six in the morning is an amazingly wonderful time to wake up, and now I'll cover you in kisses because you are so darn adorable.

All that matters is that eventually sharing a room will be their normal and they will (let's hope) figure out how to get the sleep they need. But for today, right now, we're zombies. Alyce is being impatient with me, I'm being impatient with Alyce, and Shira is actually walking into furniture. It's one of those days when I start counting the hours until bedtime, and when said bedtime is in the works to be bumped up a couple of hours. There is a good chance that Shira is in bed by five o'clock today. I'm just saying.

How are you feeling today?

Monday, June 11, 2012

They sleep

Good morning, everyone! It's Monday again! Or, at least, it will be soon, since I'm writing this Sunday night, just after having watched the premiere of True Blood (which required that we order HBO a few hours ago, which was totally worth it. I even convinced the cable representative on the other end of the phone to start reading the Sookie Stackhouse books, so it's a win-win).

But my point here is not to reflect on True Blood and my total weakness for good television. I'm here tonight/this morning to tell you that for the first time in history Alyce and Shira are sleeping/have slept in the same room. At the same time. Together.  It's been a long couple of years with us having to share a room with one of our children, some of the time Shira sleeping in her crib in our room, or Alyce on a mattress on our floor while Shira enjoys the girls' room all to herself (as we've done the last seven months at my mum's), or, sometimes, one of them in bed with us. I love sleeping close to my girls. But holy cow am I excited for some privacy again.

We will be moving in three weeks to a small apartment with only two bedrooms. This leaves us with no other choice than to put Alyce and Shira in the same room because we are not, I repeat, not interested in squeezing one of the children into what will be a very small parent bedroom. We've always known that they would eventually share a room (and we even tried combining them when Shira was eight months, with little success) and outside of practical necessities we think there are so many good reasons for siblings to share a room. We're both only children (mostly) and I know I've always dreamed of having a sister close to me, sharing a room and all the secrets that go along with it (please don't burst my sibling bubble. I'm enjoying it right now). I want that for Alyce and Shira, and though I know it might be a tough transition, it's ultimately for the good.

Since moving will require so many transitions for the girls, we thought we would start with the new sleeping arrangement now, giving them some time to work out their demands issues. So tonight we tucked Shira into bed first, gave her some time to fall asleep, and then threw Alyce in the room. Alyce has taken to the changes well, helped in part by the new heart-infested duvet cover she received today. She's excited, so I'm excited.

Here are a few things I'm looking forward to:
  • Reading a book before bed by the light of a table lamp instead of the light of my iPhone
  • Not stepping on seventeen dollies all lined up around my side of the bed, placed lovingly by Alyce before she finally fell asleep
  • More alone time
  • Yes, you know what I'm talking about, but since my mum reads this blog I just can't seem to bring myself to say sex. Crap. 
 Here are a few things I will miss:
  • An easy bedtime routine (since we had things down to a science with them sleeping separately)
  • Seeing Alyce's face asleep on the floor next to me 
  • Waking up to Alyce's face first thing in the morning
I'm writing this post after only a few hours of room-sharing. Things could go badly still, I know, but whatever happens we'll figure it out. (That brings me to some advice I'd like to offer new parents, not that you're asking: when things are tough with your children, especially through transitions like weaning, sleeping, or toilet learning, it always feels like it will never end, that you will be suffering in that moment until the end of time. But you won't be. Eventually they adapt, they learn, or they move on to some other transition. When you're in the middle of it all it feels endless, but it won't be long, I promise).

So wish us luck and I'll report back later!

P.S. Do you have any advice for introducing siblings to sharing a room? Shira is still in a crib and I expect will be for another sixish months. Any suggestions?

P.P.S. Has anyone read the new Sookie Stackhouse, Deadlocked? I didn't even realize that it had come out.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two different shoes

It was one of those long days where nothing goes terribly wrong but you just can't find the patience for the whining or the questions or the whining and all you want to do is hide under a rock for a few hours, until the other parent finally comes home from his thirteen hours away at work, and he gives everyone hugs, and then you look down and see how when he got up at five this morning he put on two different shoes.

All day long he wore two different shoes. Both brown, different shades, one with laces and one without. He himself only realized on the train, on his way home, about twelve hours after he put them on.

Raise your hand if you would have smiled watching this husband of mine saunter down the street in two different brown shoes? I, for one, cannot stop smiling.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When children make poor eating choices, and other mushroom adventures

Can I just start off by telling you that I was making wild mushroom risotto for dinner? It was going to be delicious. Alyce and Shira were playing in the backyard, as they always do around the time I'm cooking dinner for the grown-ups (Matt gets home too late for the girls to wait for their dinner, so I make two dinners. It's not my favourite thing, but it's a temporary adjustment until we move and Matt stops commuting!). Anyway, after Shira woke up from a long afternoon nap we made muffins for dinner. Yes, muffins for dinner. Chocolate chip muffins. Sure, it's out of the usual dinner realm, but these muffins contain the following ingredients: leftover steel-cut oatmeal, whole wheat flour, 4 tbsp sugar or honey, an egg, some milk and butter, a handful of raw millet seeds, and yes, some chocolate chips. I can think of a lot of meals that might appear more on par with dinnertime that aren't nearly as good as these muffins (you can find the exact measurements here, from Soule Mama). So they baked them and they ate them. Things were going well.

That is, of course, until Shira started eating mushrooms growing randomly in the backyard.

Or at least I think she was, because the combined accuracy of two and four year old children is pretty terrible. I went outside to investigate the original claim, that according to Alyce, Shira was into the mushrooms. What mushrooms? I wondered. There they were growing all over the back garden and grass. Shira had a fistful in one hand and was grabbing at more with the other. Alyce (I think) understands that we can't eat random mushrooms we find outside (and has also extended that rule to apply to any and all mushroom varieties found in the fridge), but Shira, no, Shira doesn't know this rule. So I asked Alyce and Shira, both, to fess up about whether any of these mushrooms made it inside Shira's mouth. Shira told me, yes, she ate them and they were in her belly. Alyce confirmed Shira's story.

Do you believe young children when they are smiling and prancing around in a field of mushrooms? I wasn't buying it. I even told Alyce that I didn't believe her, which of course now I regret tenfold because that's just a crumby thing to say to a kid who tries so hard to follow the rules. But in the end, I sort of had to believe them because the alternative was a two-year old maybe succumbing to mushroom poisoning, and I also wasn't having any of that. I called Poison Control (the kind woman kept calling me Dianne, but I got over it) and they told me to get that child of mine to the hospital. They couldn't tell what kind of mushrooms she ate and wouldn't take the chance. Bad mushrooms could do leagues of damage to her liver and I spent far to many months growing that liver to take the chance that one handful of bad mushrooms might destroy it. I like that liver, and Shira too, so off we went. Fortunately Matt was home with the car in five minutes and off Shira and I went to the hospital.

Alyce, of course, was devastated that she couldn't come with us to the hospital. Her eyes were big with concern for Shira (and she even offered her best Bear for the trip) and I think she was a bit frightened. Lucky for her she was able to dull the pain with not one, but two bowls of ice cream while she awaited our return. This morning when she woke up I shared with her our hospital adventures and apologized for not believing her.

But back to the mushrooms. Poison Control called ahead to the hospital and we were given a bed in the ER right away. I should have known our night was going to suck when the nurse told me this isn't going to be pretty. They were going to fill my Shira's belly with charcoal, they explained, to absorb and neutralize the potential toxins. I will spare you most of the details, but I will tell you three things:

1. Shira does not enjoy have 8 large vials of charcoal shoved down her throat.
2. Children will not believe you when you tell them that charcoal is chocolate milk.
3. The entire emergency room floor is now familiar with my daughters screams.

I'll share one more thing, too. Breastfeeding came to the rescue (can I get high five for breastfeeding toddlers?). Shira was sobbing and screaming and I was sobbing right there next to while I held her down on the bed for the procedure. But between vials the nurses would let me hold my charcoal covered baby and breastfeed her. It didn't solve all of Shira's problems but it made a difference. She found some comfort in the middle of a terribly uncomfortable situation. All in all the charcoal treatment took about 45 minutes (halfway through I texted Matt to come to the hospital because I needed moral support and a change of clothes), and the rest of our time at the hospital was a breeze. We were there until 11:30 pm, having to wait six hours since the time she ate the mushrooms to rule out any toxicity. Shira didn't sleep a wink at the hospital, but she did a lot of the following: eat french fries, drink real chocolate milk, play with face masks, entertain the nurses, breastfeed some more, watch Dora on my iphone. She's feeling better today and we have a quick follow-up with the pediatrician.

Have you or your children ever snacked on the odd poisonous plant or fungus? Shira takes after it honestly. When I was four I ate the end off the leaf of a poisonous plant and holy cow did that burn my mouth. In my defense I was trying to imitate a ballerina who was dancing on tv holding a leaf and I was just trying to get my own proportions right.  And you?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday List

It was a good weekend. Now it is Monday and I am all of a sudden very busy. If any of you were wondering whether or not ignoring your giant to-do list over a weekend makes those tasks disappear, no need to look any further: no, they do not disappear. I can confirm with you now that to-do lists hold their shape until Monday. Here is what mine looks like for the week:
  • Monitor my online course (that's always there, lurking on my list. I keep my students busy, and in return, so am I).
  • Start packing! We've been living here for eight months and have slowly spread all over the house. It's time to sort, pack, and make a Goodwill donation.
  • Make some moving plans. Planning a move makes my brain hurt, but nevertheless plans have to be made.
  • Get some exercise. Three times this week I need to sweat. Maybe I can plan my move while I'm sweating and get two things done at the same time. 
  • Take Alyce and Shira on a picnic this Thursday. Anyone want to join me?
  • I have a date with some cookbooks I borrowed this weekend from the library. I am on a mission to cook with some new flavours, especially when it comes to vegetable and grain dishes. I'm working on a new meal plan that will eliminate white flour, most sugar, and include more vegetables. In order to make this work, I need to fall in love with some new ways of cooking. I can't just bake all the time dammit. (Do you borrow cookbooks from the library? It's one of my favourite hobbies).
  • I am very slowly sewing a dress for Shira, my first sewing project since I took that course at Spool in Philadelphia. I have an exceptional mentor whose helping me, but between our five children its sometimes difficult to find a time to get together. We have had to cancel our sewing date twice in the past two weeks, and this week we are trying again. Isn't there something they say about the third time? Let's hope.

What's on your list?
Happy Monday!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Whole Wheat Challah

It's Friday. It's been quite a week. Did I mention we found an apartment in Toronto? Did I forget to tell you that? Well, we did! We'll be moving at the beginning of July. More details (and excitement) to come!

Today I offer you my favourite challah recipe. I try to bake challah a couple of Fridays each month for Shabbat. It's so easy to do (really) and enjoying fresh bread from your own kitchen is a delight I hope you'll share with me. Try it once, just to see.

Deb's recipe makes challah of the exact perfect consistency and I didn't really want to mess with it, but I did anyway, just a bit. I desperately wanted a whole wheat challah that didn't handle or taste like a brick.  I found that substituting half (or almost half) of the all-purpose with whole wheat in this recipe worked perfectly. Almost too perfectly, really. Usually there are so many other adjustments when it comes to cooking with whole wheat, but not here. I'm not asking any questions. Don't mess with what works, right? I also added honey instead of sugar because I just love honey that much.

Do I have any bread making tips? Not really. I love using my stand mixer for the kneading, and I suggest you do the same if you have one. Some bread making purists might disagree, and I'd even understand if they did. Kneading bread by hand is one of my favourite things do, except that I'm five foot two and I'm too short to knead on most surfaces. You need to get above your dough when you're kneading and I can't find a good place here at mum's to do that. Instead I turn to my mixer, which is almost as delightful. One note, though, and Deb warns of this, too: the full recipe as listed below is a bit too much for a standard size mixer. Since I often only make half of the recipe, it isn't a problem.

You'll thank me when your house smells of baking bread. Also, and I just have to say this, you don't need to be a Jew celebrating Shabbat or a holiday to make challah. It's traditional in Judaism to use challah for special blessings, but basically it's just delicious bread. I think it's the reason my non-Jewish family embraced my conversion. Now, please, go make this!

Whole Wheat Challah
Adapted only slightly from Smitten Kitchen

Makes two loaves

1 1/2 packages dry yeast (or 1 1/2 tbsp)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup oil (olive or canola)
1/2 cup honey
5 large eggs
1tbsp table salt
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
sesame or poppy seeds (if, that is, you won't be sharing this with Alyce)

Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1 3/4 cup warm water (I do this right in the bowl of my mixer).

Whisk oil into yeast mixture, then beat in  4 eggs, one at a time. Add honey and mix again.

Gradually add the flour, about 1 cup at at time, kneading in your mixer for about ten minutes, or until the dough isn't too sticky, feels nice and soft, and stretches without breaking.

On a floured counter, knead by hand for a few minutes, just for good measure. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour. (You can also, as Deb suggests, let it rise inside an oven that has warmed up to 150 degrees and been turned off. I like doing this.)

After an hour, marvel at how much your dough has grown.

Punch the dough down in the centre and marvel at how much your dough has deflated. Cover it back up and let it rise for another 30 minutes.

Braid your challah however you like. I'll let you read how Deb explains braiding or you can watch someone else show you here. You'll be taking your dough, splitting in half, and then making either three or six long strands out of each half. From these strands you'll braid together a beautiful challah no matter what other people say. Oddly braided challah is delicious no matter what. Maybe even more so.

Beat 1 egg and brush it over your braided challah (don't throw out the rest You'll be brushing your loaves again soon). If you want to freeze them, as Deb suggests, you can do it now. Wrap up your loaves tightly with plastic wrap and slip them in a freezer bag. If you're not freezing them, you can cover them again and let them rise another hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once they are all done rising, brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle seeds on if you like them. Bake for 30-40 minutes, but I suggest you start checking around 25 minutes. Over-baked challah doesn't do anyone any favours. You'll know it's done with the incredible smell in your house, and by tapping the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, you're done. Really, take the time to tap the bottom (just put an oven mitt on so you don't burn yourself!), you won't regret having perfectly baked challah.

Cool loaves on a rack.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!