Every Day Gratitude

This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
–Psalm 118:24

We’ve just finished up the month of November, when there is a lot of emphasis put on gratitude. But gratitude should not be a once-a-year thing, or even a one entire month a year thing (though if you have to start somewhere, you might as well start the habit there). We should have gratitude not just every day, but for every day.

This is easy when you wake up and the sky is blue and the sun is shining, and the birds are twittering outside your window. It’s easy when you have no pain, when you have plenty of money to get through the month.

It’s not so easy when life looks gray, whether because of cancer, the death of a loved one, or any other hard circumstance. It’s not easy when getting out of bed is a struggle.

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
–Psalm 3:3-5

This psalm was likely written by David while running from his third son Absolom, who had incited the people to rebellion against David so that he himself could replace David as king. Imagine the betrayal and hurt David must have felt.

Yet even in that time of darkness, he could sing praises to God and acknowledge even the fact that he woke up in the morning was a gift from God. Perhaps it seemed especially precious because he knew that Absolom’s men were pursuing him, but the Lord guards and protects us in invisible as well as visible ways all the time.

I wake up each morning because I didn’t die in a car accident when I was nineteen. Emergency medical responders were nearby at just the right time. My dad wakes up because he’s been preserved by medical technology through two heart attacks. These are visible ways God has saved us, but what about the ones we wDSC_0419_2ill never see, like the delays or wrong turns that may keep an accident from happening? God’s providential care truly gives us the gift of each day.

Each day is a new opportunity for us: opportunity to repent of things that distance us from God, and opportunity to bring others closer to God. Each day we can be a light by our example, perhaps especially when times are hard, because a light shows up best in the darkness. Who knows, perhaps by our light God may use us to help someone that we don’t even realize needs it.

“…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;”
–Ephesians 5:20


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


Two Birds With One Dough…er, Stone.

20151202_103735Yesterday I wanted pizza for supper, and we were out of bread.  Though I confess I’ve been buying a lot of bread at the grocery store lately (gasp!), I wanted to make bread.  It had been written on my to-do list all day.  So to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to make dough for a French-style bread, then use half of it for bread and half for pizza crust.

Most basic french bread recipes are very similar to pizza dough recipes, in that they don’t have a lot beyond flour, water, yeast, and salt.  Pizza crust usually has some oil, but it still works perfectly well if you leave that out.

I decided on the Cuban bread from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads.  I think I tried it once before and it’s very simple.  I was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time agonizing over a recipe.

It worked fine for pizza, though it did have a slightly different texture than I am used to.  No one complained.

I didn’t taste the bread until this morning, but I was very pleased when I did.  Store-bought white french bread is the only store-bought white bread I buy, and that rarely.  Rarely, because I can’t stop eating it, and it isn’t really healthy.  It’s a guilty pleasure.

This tastes almost exactly the same.  It doesn’t have the same texture; it’s denser, which is all to the good in my book.  I hate a bread that just squashes down when you try to cut it.

So I definitely plan to make this again, though with some whole wheat in it so at least a smidge healthier.

I didn’t follow the directions exactly.  Instead of a second rise, the recipe calls for shaping the dough and putting it in a cold oven, then turning it to 400 degrees F, so that the dough rises as the oven heats.  I did a traditional shape, second rise, and then bake sequence.

I didn’t time the rise, I just kept checking it until it was nice and big and when I poked a finger in it, the indentation was slow to rebound.  I call this the poke test.

The recipe can be found online at Bread Experience (though I hate to post the link because her bread looks much prettier than mine).

Ladybugs on a Log



20151026_184550I haven’t been blogging much lately.  I’ve been baking less, and just usually making my standby whole wheat bread recipe.

A lot of it gets made into PB & J for the kids’ lunches, when they take them.  Last night we were out of apples, so I told my son that he could take ants on a log instead.  It’s the only way he’ll touch celery.

Then I realized that I was out of raisins.  “Oh no, we’re out of ants!” I said.

“Ants?” my daughter asked, confused, apparently unaware that they were one of my pantry staples.

I did have a handful of dried cranberries, so in that moment ladybugs on a log were invented, and were deemed a suitable substitute by my son.

It’s not much of a twist, but sometimes a little novelty is all it takes to get vegetables into a child.  I’m still amazed that calling broccoli “little trees” makes them palatable to my youngest.


This is my newest bread obsession.  Unfortunately, it’s an obsession that contains quite a bit of butter and shortening, so I’ll have to make it an occasional thing.

Conchas are a Mexican sweet bread, named after the cuts in the top of the topping, which make the rolls look like shells.

I had seen them a lot in grocery stores and the Wal-Mart bakery, but some of them are colored a weird sort of yellow, and I don’t know, I just never thought they looked very good.  Then we went to a Mexican restaurant for Mother’s Day and they had bags of them, chocolate, pink, and white, and I thought Hmmm, those look pretty good.  Maybe we’ll try them.

So we did.  And they were good, if just a little stale.  Then I started wondering exactly what they were called, because as far as I knew they were “those Mexican sweet rolls”, and wondering how the topping is made (because it isn’t a traditional icing).  Google to the rescue, of course.  I found out the name and found several recipes, at which point of course I started thinking, I can do that!

The recipe I settled on came from here, at Delicious Shots.  Her pictures are much prettier than mine.

The dough is very similar to a brioche, and in fact when I do them again I plan to make them with the “Poor Man’s Brioche” recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  It has a few tweaks to the technique that might make the gluten develop better.  I think I kneaded the dough for about 20 minutes in my mixer before it came together.

The topping is a sort of cross between pie crust and icing.  It has lots of shortening, sugar, and flour.  You roll out little balls of it into flat circles and drape them over the rolls, then slice cuts into the topping and let the rolls rise.  The recipe made so much topping that I only used a little over half, so I froze the leftover for next time.  Since it’s so much like pie crust, I figured it would freeze.

My son asked me if I was trying to make those kind of rolls we had bought at the restaurant, and I said yes, at which point he admitted that he liked mine better.  Score one for Mommy! (And I also had to admit to him that I thought they were better, too.)

I took them to Wednesday night Bible study to share, as well, and they got good reviews there, too.  I was worried that they weren’t “authentic” because mine were much denser than ones we’d bought, but a lady who grew up eating them and says conchas are her favorite said she actually liked the denser texture better because when you bite into them, the topping doesn’t go crumbling and flaking all over the place.


On Wings of Prayer


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silhouette bird - blackA couple of weeks ago I spoke on “Praise in Prayer” at my home congregation’s Ladies’ day.  The theme of the day was “On Wings of Prayer”.  If you are interested in hearing my talk, as well as two other speakers, the audio can be found here. I was very nervous, because public speaking isn’t my thing, but after I got some technical issues with my Powerpoint worked out, I think it went pretty well, and I’m glad I did it.

Homemade Bagels Vs. Store Bought – A Cost Comparison

bagel cost

Sitting down to write this post actually required a lot of math first.  I majored in Creative Writing, so I hope you appreciate my sacrifice.

Once in awhile I get the urge to figure out just how thrifty it is (or if it is) for me to bake things at home instead of buying them.  I especially got this urge lately because to make bagels I bought a jar of barley malt syrup that seemed terribly expensive.  When you break it down to cost per batch of bagels, though, it isn’t so bad.

To do these calculations, I looked at the price for Sarah Lee bagels at the grocery store I usually shop at, and broke it down both by cost per bagel and cost per ounce, to account for the difference in size between my bagels and storebought bagels.

The recipe I used was Bruce Ezzell’s bagel recipe, which is my current favorite.

Some of the ingredient prices reflect what I actually paid on a recent shopping trip, and some of them I looked up on Wal-Mart’s website for a general estimate (and in the case of the barley malt syrup, Amazon).

Sarah Lee bagels: 6 count package, 20 oz, $ 4.39

This breaks down to: 73 cents per bagel and 22 cents per oz.

Homemade bagels:

1 tablespoon honey: $ 0.13

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup: $ 0.18

3 g yeast: $ 0.15 (I buy it in a jar, which is much cheaper than packets)

baking soda: $ 0.02 (hardly worth counting)

kosher salt: $ 0.07 (also hardly worth counting)

bread flour: $ 1.05

whole wheat flour: $ 0.28

Grand total: $1.88

This yields 16 bagels that weigh about 43 oz, which is 12 cents per bagel, and 4 cents per oz.

Which means that making bagels is over 5 times cheaper than buying them at the store, although making them takes awhile, and the savings wouldn’t make a very good hourly wage.  There is no comparison in the taste department, though.  Homemade bagels definitely  win there.

Bagels: Sourdough Edition


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20150303_075846My poor sourdough starter has been sadly neglected.  I bet I use it less than once a month.  It’s a good thing that starters aren’t as high maintenance as I was afraid they would be.

I am still fixated on bagels, and I figured I’d give sourdough bagels a shot.  I used the 100% Sourdough Bagels recipe from Wild Yeast.

I have been mixing my bagel dough by hand.  My mixer starts making ominous noises with the stiff bagel dough, and I just don’t want to risk it.  No matter how much cheaper it is to make bagels at home than to buy them (never mind how much better they taste) it is not cheaper if you blow out a mixer that cost hundreds of dollars while making them.

This is a smaller recipe, making approximately half as many bagels, though, and I thought I’d try it in the mixer again.  I can’t get as much of the flour worked in by hand, no matter how hard I try.  So I used my mixer to get all of the flour incorporated, but again it started with the whining, so I took the dough out and finished kneading it by hand.

I did not follow the directions well when making these.  First, I shaped them not the old-fashioned way, by making a rope of dough and sticking the ends together, but the way I always do, by sticking my thumb through the ball of dough.

But really, that’s just a matter of aesthetics.

The part I really didn’t follow was the rest periods.  My house was cold yesterday, and it took my dough all afternoon to rise enough to “look and feel a bit puffy”.  So when it came time to refrigerate them 4 to 8 hours, I refrigerated them one hour and figured that would be fine.  I don’t want to be making bagels at midnight.

The extra refrigeration time is really to add to the flavor, not a matter of structural integrity or anything.  Although I do also think some bagel recipes require the refrigeration period so that you are putting a cold bagel into the water.  That way it doesn’t rise as much, giving a denser final product.

I also didn’t monitor boiling time closely.  This recipe calls for a 20 second boil, and I am used to more like a minute, so some got boiled longer than others because I forgot to watch.

Through sheer laziness I didn’t read the instructions at the end of the recipe closely, so I didn’t turn my oven down 25 degrees after the bagels were in, which meant they baked for only 15 minutes or so before being well-browned.  If I’d put them in the oven for 26 minute and gone off to do other things, I would have had bagel briquettes, and only myself to blame.  Learn from my mistakes, blog readers, because I probably won’t.

But, all’s well that ends well.  The sourdough taste was subtle, which my dearest husband prefers.  I’ll save this recipe for the next time I look into the back of the fridge and think “Oh yeah, I have a sourdough starter”.

Just a note – if you like to use sesame seeds, they adhere better to the bagels if you brush the tops with egg whites before sprinkling the seeds on between boiling and baking the bagels.  They do stick if you don’t use egg whites, but not nearly as firmly, and they come off in the bag, in the toaster, and all over the table.

More Bagels, With Strawberry Cream Cheese


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20150219_083412This is actually a bagel I made last week.  I like to procrastinate like that.  Anyway, it’s the third time I’ve used Bruce Ezzell’s Bagel Recipe, and it has turned out great every time.

I hunted up the barley malt syrup that the recipe calls for at a health food store.  I won’t say how much it costs, but it wasn’t cheap.  However, a jar should last quite a while using a tablespoon at a time.

I have to say though, I don’t think it makes much difference.  I actually liked the bagels made with molasses a teeny bit better.  So, if the price of barley malt syrup puts you off, just use molasses and don’t worry about it.  Unless you’re from New York.  Apparently these things are very important to some New Yorkers.

Strawberries were on sale, so instead of buying the strawberry cream cheese spread that the dearest husband and the kids like, I decided to try making homemade strawberry cream cheese with part of the plain cream cheese I was buying anyway.

I have to confess, I had never actually tried the strawberry cream cheese spread.  I don’t like sweet stuff on my bagels, and the pink color just put me off.  But since I made this, I had to try it, and I loved it.  It wasn’t as sweet as I was afraid it would be, and had a deliciously fresh strawberry flavor.  Plus, it’s super easy to make.

I still have no plans to try the pink stuff from the store.

The first time I made the bagels, they stuck to the parchment paper.  The second time I made them I drained them on a rack and then put them on parchment paper, and they still stuck.  This time, I drained them on a rack and then put them on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal (which I think is how the Saveur bagel recipe went) and it worked great.  No sticking at all.  So that’s how I’ll do things next time.

I also splurged and bought lox to try lox and cream cheese on bagels.  I have no traditional vices (books, are books a vice?), so I figure occasionally buying expensive ingredients won’t hurt anything.  But this bagel experimenting is adding up.

The lox was good, but not so good that I plan to buy it again.  However, it was worth it to me to have my curiosity satisfied.  I planned to take a picture of the lox bagel, but didn’t remember until I was halfway through eating.  Oh well, it wasn’t pretty anyway.

Bagel Success


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A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, before I had a blog, I tried to make bagels.  I think it was with the recipe from Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day.  They were not a dismal failure, but neither was I inspired to ever make bagels again.  So I didn’t.

Until last week.  I ran across a recipe for homemade bagels in the Saveur cookbook I had borrowed from the library, and decided to make them.  That recipe requires an overnight rest of the dough.  I have not been good at remembering to put stuff out the night before lately.  I haven’t baked much  anything with sourdough in months as a consequence.

I forgot to make the bagel dough the night before I wanted bagels.

So the next day I was trawling the internet for a similar recipe that didn’t require an overnight rest, and ran across Bruce Ezzell’s bagel recipe (which has a 4 to 12 hour rest).  It also won points for suggesting the substitution of molasses (which I have plenty of) for barley malt syrup (which I did not have).

The bagels were good.  Even without the barley malt syrup, which is supposed to  give them the authentic bagel flavor, they were really good.  The four hours of fermentation really did their job.

Boiling and then baking anything is a bit of a pain.  It’s an extra step, and messy.  My previous batch of bagels didn’t turn out well enough to merit the extra fuss.  These, however, I plan to make again.

Besides the substitution of molasses for barley malt syrup, the only change I made was to make the bagels from 3 oz. balls of dough, not 4 oz.  I don’t know how many the recipe made at that size, I didn’t count, but I’d guess around 17 or 18.  They’re all gone now, however many there were.

I did have one problem.  I remove20150128_210534d the bagels from the boiling water and put them on half-sheet pans lined with parchment paper, as the recipe author recommended.  They stuck to the paper, and I had a very hard time getting them off without leaving the bottom crust behind on the paper, or paper bits stuck to the bottom of the bagel.  It might be because I used the parchment paper from Dollar Tree, I don’t know.  Next time I will drain them on racks before baking, though, as the Saveur recipe recommends.

I also still intend to try the Saveur recipe, eventually, when I can actually remember to do the overnight part.