30 September 2010

Thinking thoughts... while kneading bread...

...which is, I guess, better than not thinking. Seriously though, I'm finding these early Friday morning bread baking times quite delightful as I pray, meditate and work. As I mentioned the other day, I had great hopes that I would be using my Kitchen Aid to knead all the whole wheat bread that this family likes to eat. It didn't take long to discover however, that my machine just wasn't big enough for our favorite bread recipe... and that rather than trying to divide the recipe into smaller batches, it would be more efficient to go ahead and knead it by hand. And as I've done so, God has encouraged my heart as we've spent time together...

There is something uniquely wonderful when you knead bread by hand!  It starts as a gooey, sticky, lumpy mess that mushes between your fingers, under your fingernails and if you forget to remove it, every knook and cranny of your wedding ring. But as you continue to work with the dough, it transforms from that beginning glob of gooeyness. It starts to smooth out, stick more to itself than your hands as you fold::push::turn::fold::push::turn... sometimes you need to add a bit more flour because it is too sticky, but there is this magical moment where the dough that had been hard, sticky and difficult to work suddenly feels satiny smooth and soft, elastic and pliable, gently bouncing back each time you push it down, for the yeast has started to do its job.

Now, it doesn't always work out this way - I've got to get the right proportions of all of the ingredients into the dough. Too much flour makes the dough stiff and hard and the resulting bread is dry and heavy. Too much water makes the dough sticky and difficult to work. Water too hot kills the yeast and the bread never rises. Too much yeast and the bread starts to smell like one of those breweries where the yeast was fermenting (our swim coach used to take the team to tour breweries when we were on our annual Trip Team) ...and so on.

While I was considering all of these things, the Holy Spirit brought to mind these words from Philippians 1: "I thank my God in all remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

I'm glad Paul is confident... because I don't always feel that way. I look at the mess of things that seems dumped into my life - and it is nothing but a sticky, gooey, goopy mess that no one would want to plunge their hands into. Yet God does... and in fact, He is the master baker who rolled up His sleeves, precisely measured exactly which ingredients He wanted into that bowl of my life and then begins folding::pushing::turning::folding::pushing::turning ...kneading and working until someday, some blessed moment I will become what He wants... elastic and pliable in His hands, smooth and gentle to touch, ready to rise. And we have the promise in His Word that the work He has begun He will continue to perfect.

It was also a fabulous reminder - it is easy to look at brothers and sisters in the Lord around me (or my children) and forget that the same Sovereign who is working and kneading my life is also working and kneading in their lives. I shouldn't be deeming their lives or situations as sticky, gooey, goopy messes or lumps of dough that should be tossed out since they could never rise... because the Heavenly Father has just as precisely measured out the ingredients of their circumstances and will continue to work and knead until they, too, are exactly where He wants them... because He cannot not be true to His promise.

Now that I've written all that out, I'm not sure if it will make sense to anyone else who reads this... but I've been so thankful to meditate on... and return to ruminate some more on... these thoughts, particularly as I spend time with the Lord and a rather large pile of leavened dough early Friday mornings.

Photo by ceaserastudillo, on Flickr

28 September 2010

Finally Found!

...our favorite bread recipe!

Although ready made French baguettes are available on almost every street corner, whole wheat, pre-sliced bread certainly is not. A few of the bakeries sell it in tiny loaves (i.e. it would take about 4 of them for our family to have sandwiches or grilled cheese...), but in general, if you want loaves of bread, you make them yourself.

In the past, we've had a house helper who worked about 6 hours each day: baking bread and other goodies, cooking, cleaning, hanging out laundry, ironing... while I focused on home schooling and writing Sheep Tales scripts. This term, we've decided not to engage a house helper... so that means that I'm doing the bulk of that work, with lots of help from the rest of the family (even Jonathan, Elsie Mae and Mary Michelle pitch in). That also means that I'm the bread baker for the family, and in the 2 months we've been back, if I've heard it once I've heard it 1000 times: "Have you found Madame Safana's bread recipe?"

Never mind that I was the one who gave the recipe to her and taught her how to make it... in the eyes of our children, SHE is the master bread maker and they were missing a Niger favorite: Madame Safana's homemade bread with peanut butter, cinnamon and sugar for breakfast.

Last week, I finally found "un"-stored the recipe, praising the Lord that it survived unscathed by termites, and began using it. I also pulled out my brand new Kitchen Aid stand mixer, figuring I'd let it do the kneading for me.

I bake bread - 8 loaves or 6 loaves and a batch of cinnamon rolls - every Friday morning. I get up at 4, mix up the recipe and bake it... ideally having a fresh, steaming loaf ready for breakfast on Friday morning. I quickly discovered that while the Kitchen Aid is a wonderful tool, my bread recipe is too large to use it, even when halved. So, I'm still kneading bread the old-fashioned way, but not minding it too much (more on that later this week... it is a great time to pray and meditate on God's Word) as I listen to the call to prayer every Friday morning.

Many have asked what bread recipe I use, so I thought I'd share it with you. It comes from The Not-strictly Vegetarian Cookbook... I bought it because the title intrigued me... and have found many delightful recipes within and because it is a health-crazed, totally from scratch cookbook, the recipes require very little adaptation to use here in Niger. It really has become one of my favorites (ranking third behind my Niger Common Pot and my favorite wedding gift - which means I've been using it almost 16 years now - All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book!) My copy, however, no longer looks nearly so nice as the picture beside... It is dogeared, oil splattered, coffee stained and otherwise looking well-used.

Without further ado or yattering about, here's our favorite bread recipe. Let us know if you try it and what you think of it!
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (+ or -)
  • 7 cups white flour (+ or -)
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 4 cups warm milk
  • 4 tbsp dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 6 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup honey or syrup
Dissolve yeast in warm water, adding about 1 tsp of honey/syrup. Set aside. Heat milk. Combine salt, oil and warm milk. Add honey/syrup and blend well. Add oatmeal. Begin adding flour a cup at a time, beginning with whole wheat flour, until a runny dough is formed. Add softened yeast. Stir well and continue adding flour until dough comes away from sides of bowl. Turn out on floured board and knead for about 10 minutes (I just knead in the bowl... less mess...), adding flour until dough is no longer sticky. Rub dough with oil, spinning it around and flipping it over to make sure all sides are oiled. Set in warm place to rise. When doubled in bulk, punch down and knead again for 5 to 10 minutes. Divide into 4 quarters. place inoiled bread pans and let rise again. Tops can be brushed with beaten egg if desires. Bake in 350' oven for abotu an hour till well borwned.

This is also the recipe I use for cinnamon rolls... after the first rise roll dough flat. Spread softened butter and then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar to taste. Roll like a jelly roll and slice in about 3/4 inch slices. Place, touching each other, in oiled cake pan or baking sheet. Let rise again and then bake at 350' for 45 minutes. While warm, drizzle glaze made from vanilla, powdered sugar and a bit of water.


27 September 2010

Multitude Monday ~ 1000 Gifts

"Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling."
-- Margaret B. Runbeck
#426 airport arrivals

#427 birthday bashes and lots of birthday greetings

#428 recipes that don't turn out quite like hoped, but are so incredibly yummy anyways... and the special lady and sweet girl who went to all the effort to give me such a delightful treat (thank you Nadia and Mary :-)

#429 friends, friends and more friends

#430 family that you'd choose as some of  your favorite friends too

#431 news from distant places

#432 beautiful song recommendation from a wonderful niece

#433 receiving photos of past fun

#434 watching softball, even as the sweat runs down the back of your legs

#435 actually checking everything off the "to do list"

#436 a clean house... even when it is only that way for a very few moments

#437 big kids old enough to take the responsibility for their own laundry

#438 barbecue chicken and 12 quarts of chicken broth

#439 homemade glazed donuts that we can share with friends

#440 little guy who can swim, but is only very slowly gaining the courage to swim in water that is over his head

#441 giving our kids opportunities to succeed... even when it is scary as mom to watch and wonder... and see how they grow and are encouraged

#442 good test results that are the result of studying and good effort 

#443 the challenge of new things

#444 finally organizing the kids' playroom, and seeing once again how she is so much like me!

holy experience

25 September 2010

~ A Favorite Niger Image ~

I saw this picture on one of the on-line Niger News Sources we use frequently... I love it ~ it is so "Niger!" The river waters have receded lately, and the rains seem a little less ferocious and coming less often... heat is mounting...

All of that to say that I think, and many of our African friends have said, that "monsoon" season is winding down. However, the Niger River does not typically crest each year until January. Therefore, we'd like to ask you to pray for this country... That the Lord gives the right balance of rain in the few remaining weeks of rainy season to help the crops mature into an abundant harvest, but that there is no more significant flooding with destruction of homes, loss of other property or loss of life.

And pray that same thing for this country (and our family)... theoretically, on a spiritual level. That God provides enough of the difficult so that people will seek and search for Him, and then He will reap an abundant and amazing harvest for eternity in this land.


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