November 2007


I’ve made this bread a couple of times now, and really like how it turns out — it’s good for sandwiches and toast, but is also really delicious right out of the oven and as rolls. The recipe comes from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, which is all whole grain bread and muffin recipes. The one thing I would stress is to make sure that the whole wheat flour you have is milled from hard wheat berries (spring is ideal but winter would also probably work). Most whole wheat flour is milled from soft wheat, which doesn’t have enough gluten to make good bread, and if you use that you will have to add vital wheat gluten to make it work. I used King Arthur whole wheat flour the first time I made this, and it came out really well, and the second time I milled my own flour with organic wheat I bought at our local organic market in the bulk section.

Also, since I hardly ever have buttermilk on hand I used powdered buttermilk following the package instructions for substituting it for fresh, but that didn’t seem to hurt the results.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water

1/4 cup very hot water
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups cold buttermilk

5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

Dissolve the yeast in warm water.

Mix the hot water with the honey and add the buttermilk. The temperature should be just slightly warm.

Stir the flour and salt together, making a well in the center. Pour the yeast and buttermilk mixture into the well, and stir from the center outwards, incorporating all the flour. Test the dough to see whether more flour or water is needed and adjust accordingly (I would recommend letting the dough rest for five minutes before making this decision so the flour can absorb more of the water). The bread is lightest if the dough is slightly soft. Knead about 20 minutes, adding the butter in cold bits at the end of the kneading time.

Form the dough into a ball and place it smooth side up in the bowl. Cover and keep in a warm, draft-free place. After about an hour and a half, gently poke the center of the dough about 1/2 inch deep with your wet finger. If the hole doesn’t fill in at all or if the dough sighs, it is ready for the next step. Press flat, form into a smooth round, and let the dough rise once more as before. The second rising will take about half as much time as the first.

Press the dough and divide in two. Round it and let it rest until relaxed, then deflate and shape into loaves or rolls. The recipe makes two loaves for 8″ x 4″ pans. For rolls, one loaf’s worth of dough makes 9 large or 15 small dinner rolls in 8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 13″ pans, respectively.

Place the shaped dough in greased pans and let rise in a warm place until the dough slowly returns a gentle fingerprint. The dough makes a very high loaf when properly kneaded, so be a little bold about giving it time. Bake the bread in a preheated 325 degree (F) oven for nearly an hour. Rolls take 15-20 minutes, depending on their size, at 400 degrees (F). Brush the rolls with butter when they come out of the oven.

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In my continuing efforts to get completely separated from government service (or “The Man”), I have finally managed to sort out health insurance. It may surprise some of you that it took over a month from my separation date (30 September) to finally get myself transferred over to Danny’s insurance, but if it does then you have clearly never had to work through a government HR office, and for that I envy you.

Before resigning, I filled out the paperwork to notify my insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield (BC/BS) that I was quitting my job and wanted to end my individual health plan and be transferred to my husband’s plan, also with BC/BS, which had to be changed from an individual to a family plan. Seems fairly simple, and required only two forms to be filled out. That was 26 September.

On 30 October, as I sat in the offices of the Washington Radiology Associates about to have my 20 week sonogram, I realized I didn’t know if I should submit my old BC/BS card or give them Danny’s card. I called BC/BS, who advised that they still had received no paperwork from my insurer telling them that I had resigned, and that therefore my plan was technically still active, but really only until the end of that day, which was the 31st day of my 31 day grace period. Not good news for someone in the middle of maternity care, which only gets more expensive as it goes on…

Thankfully, I have always found BC/BS representatives to be very helpful, and they assured me that since I was just switching from one account with them to another account, they would make sure that one way or another I did not end up paying for any of my allowable medical expenses.

My HR department, however, was a different story. After several increasing nasty phone calls to the insurance branch of my HR office (getting an outside phone number for them alone took a couple of hours), I convinced them that they did indeed need to take care of the situation IMMEDIATELY. This was, of course, once I finally got them to a) answer my calls and b) call me back when they were not at their desk, which appeared to be most of the time.

This literally took weeks of calling, and Danny finally advised he would be more than happy to sue the entire U.S. government for any unpaid expenses, pain, suffering, and mental anguish suffered by his pregnant wife if they did not sort it out. Miraculously, it was at exactly that moment that they managed to find my form and locate a working fax machine to get said form to BC/BS, since the form they claimed two weeks previously to have mailed had yet to traverse the expanse of Washington D.C. I barely managed to refrain from observing that I could have WALKED the form across the city in less time.

*Deep breath.*

This leaves only my retirement funds and my Thrift Savings Account left to transfer over to some sort of private sector account, and I will finally be really and truly separated from the government. Since I think that both of those things require no action on the part of my former employer, I’m hoping maybe they’ll be slightly less painful.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that expression growing up. I think that most of the time I wasn’t a willfully disobedient kid, but I have always had trouble keeping focused on the task at hand — I daydream and space out and generally don’t pay attention more than most people I know. It’s worst when I’ve been reading for a long stretch of time, but it happens on a fairly regular basis even when I haven’t been reading.

One of those times when I really should pay attention and not zone out? Baking bread. I’ve been trying to make a whole wheat sourdough bread for weeks now, but those plans have been delayed several times for various reasons, usually involving me not planning ahead or not reading the instructions far enough down to realize that some stage or other had to sit for a day or three before moving on to the next step.

This morning, however, was going to be the morning. I had the sour starter all ready and fermented, had taken it out of the fridge yesterday and mixed it with additional flour that I ground myself, and ground the rest of the flour I would need to add in to make my first loaf of sourdough as well as the first loaf I’ve made with freshly ground organic flour. I got up, mixed it all together, kneaded it until it became supple and elastic, and was preparing to set it aside for the first rising.

That was when I noticed that I had forgotten to add the yeast, carefully dissolved in lukewarm water to activate it, into the dough during the mixing phase, before kneading it for the required fifteen minutes. In a panic, I tried to add the yeast and water mixture to the dough, which proceeded to splash all over the counter and slosh around in the bottom of the mixing bowl but which did NOT combine with the rest of the bread dough.

Sigh.

I threw away the ruined dough, and since I didn’t have more starter at room temperature premixed with flour and didn’t want to wait ANOTHER twelve to eighteen hours for my reserve starter to sour properly, I made up a batch of whole wheat buttermilk bread instead. I did grind additional flour (not having any preground whole wheat bread flour), so this will still be somewhat of an experiment, but of course I was infuriated that my carefully laid plans were thwarted.

I did manage to channel my frustration at the ruined bread into an energetic cleaning of the kitchen, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

Since I don’t like to drink straight milk, and rarely ever drink juice or soymilk, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to get enough calcium into my system. I’ve started having a nightly cup of hot chocolate (made from real milk and cocoa, so it does count toward my calcium intake!), but I can’t really justify more than one cup of cocoa a day given how much sugar it has in it as well as the small amount of caffeine in cocoa that would add up if I drank it nonstop.

When I was in Israel on my study abroad, I used to get this almond tea drink at my favorite coffee house in Jerusalem (Tmol Shilshom, in case anyone has ever been there). It was basically just herbal almond tea (so caffeine free, which is important right now) steeped in milk and lightly sweetened with honey. I’m sure part of why the tea at Tmol Shilshom tasted so rich is that it was made with whole milk, but I think it would still be really good with skim milk. Until I can find a suitable substitute almond tea here, I’ve been at somewhat of a loss in the milk-based beverages arena.

Today, I came up with what I think is a pretty tasty option for trying to drink more milk. I heated up a mug of milk and liberally sprinkled pumpkin pie spice on top, then sweetened it with one teaspoon of honey (much better than the two tablespoons of sugar per cup in my cocoa) and added a little splash of vanilla. I know it sounds weird, but it actually tastes a lot like vanilla chai tea, except that it has no caffeine in it, only a small amount of sugar, and I didn’t have to buy the chai powder mix or whatever since I already had all the ingredients on hand. I put a small cinnamon stick (probably about half of a regular stick) in the cup as well, but since the pumpkin pie spice has cinnamon in it, that was probably extraneous. I’m not saying that if I weren’t restricting my caffeine intake I would choose this over my favorite double spice chai tea, but under the circumstances it’s a good alternative.

One of the scary things I had to do once I was no longer a military brat was figuring out how to choose doctors and dentists. I realize that lots of people do this all the time, but after twenty one years of going to whoever was on duty for sick call that day, the prospect was awfully intimidating.

I was thinking about that today, as I somehow managed to end up with both a really great dentist and a fabulous set of OBs. I found both through the recommendations of people I worked with, which I guess is how most people who have to find doctors in a new city probably do it, but who knows?

What impresses me most about both of the docs is the little touches of humanity that they interject into their interaction with me as a patient. For instance, my dentist had to reschedule my appointment today. Her office called a week in advance, asking if I could come in two hours later. Not only did the receptionist thank me for agreeing to change times when I talked to her on the phone, but today when I showed up in the office, the dentist immediately thanked me for being so flexible and taking the later appointment. She didn’t really have to do that, but I appreciated that she did.

One of the things I really like about my OB practice is that when they call to tell you about our lab results, the actual doctor that I saw at my last appointment calls me, not one of their receptionists or assistants. For some bizarre reason my house is a black hole for phones right now, so I usually end up hearing them on my voice mail, but I like that if I were able to receive phone calls I could actually talk to a doctor in case I had questions.