Baguette Recipe

There are a million bread and baguette recipes out there and I was looking for one that worked in my electric oven in the 78°F of a/c Florida life. I know what a baguette tastes like and how it is made in Europe, and I wanted it here. This recipe has thirty minutes of ‘hands on’ time over a five and a half hour timeframe. “Easy’ is prevalent in our recipes as thirty minutes is unacceptable for most of us. "Easy" recipes are rarely acceptable. In my world, this is easy and much less expensive than a weekly ticket to France. Click HERE for King Arthur Flour professional video link for the ‘easy’ shaping techniques to make the bread great.

Enjoy Munchkin.
  • 1 cup cool water
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups King Arthur Bread Flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 6 oz lukewarm water (414 g. water; 600 g. flour; ~69%) *
  • all of the poolish
  • 3 cups King Arthur Bread Flour
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
*Use ~1 oz less in a humid environment, ~1 oz more in a dry climate, or somewhere in between.

1.     Make the poolish by mixing the yeast with the water, then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours, or overnight.
2.     Mix active dry yeast with the water, then combine with the poolish, flour, and salt. Mix and knead everything together at a lowest speed to incorporate the ingredients (and make adjustments) until you've made a soft, somewhat shaggy dough - it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough.
3.     Cover and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
4.     Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer. The dough should then be smooth and elastic showing good gluten development.
5.     Place the dough in a medium-size lightly olive-oiled bowl, cover, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours. The deflating and turning can be done on a lightly floured work surface - the final one should be - stretching it and folding all four sides, tamping gently to degas.
6.     Divide it into three equal pieces. Pre-shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval. To shape, slap/pat gently with the heel of the hand to degas and then pull and fold top 1/2 over, then pull and fold top corners, then small folds from the top with fingers curled over the top edge and the thumb and palms pushing/oscillating forward on the work surface until it forms a smooth and soft long oval.
7.     Cover with towel/plastic wrap or greased plastic wrap, and let them relax for 20 to 30 minutes.
8.     With the seams up (ends right to left), pat out the gas, flattening. Fold top 1/3 over and press in with fingers removing more gas, turn 180° and repeat. Start at one end working to the other end and fold top third+ over and down with one hand (fingers wrap over and thumb buries in), pat/press the dough with heal of other hand to meld and degas, fold & press, fold & press... Repeat, but take fold and seam all the way over to the surface edge.
9.     With the seam-side down, cup your hands and very gently roll the dough into a 16" to 24" log. Finger tips and base of hand stay in contact with work surface when rolling. Start in middle and roll back and forth out to the ends. Place the logs seam-side up onto a lightly olive-oiled or parchment-lined sheet pan.
10.  Cover them with a floured towel/plastic wrap or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they've become puffy, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on room environment.
11.  Preheat oven to 435°F to 450°F.
12.  Using a bread lame or sharp knife, make 3 to 5 angled slashes in each baguette. Mist the baguettes heavily with warm water to help them develop a crisp crust.
13.  Bake the baguettes until they're a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30+ minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Optimum time and temperature varies with different ovens.

~6 hours


Bread Lame

Homemade Bread Lame

To make bread rise in our home non-steam ovens, it takes a good cut and some serious water misting. I like stuff that lasts, not plastic or such garbage and after seeing the King Arthur Flour video (link at the end here) I realized how simple a lame was.

So, I made one with stuff I had lying around. All you need is a piece of 1/8 inch brass hex rod, available at your local hardware store, a pack of old-fashioned razors, and optional is a small piece of wood for a handle.

Squeeze the razor by the ends and it will curve and slide onto the hex rod and when in place will not turn or slide. It has a nice curve to get under the dough surface. Add a bend in the hex rod of about 15 degrees for more comfort.

If you want to get fancy, you can fashion a handle - drill it for the hex rod and glue or just add a slight kink in the rod to hold it tight. More fancy, taper it to make the hand feel more yummy. Fancier yet, sand the wood and let some olive oil soak in. And, if you’ve gone this far, might as well rub it with a candle and then a small cloth to melt the wax into the wood for a nice shine.

To view a video of scoring bread, click here to visit the King Arthur Site.



Introperspectives Preview

Another Blurb book preview.

This book reflects the first toss up in the air of some of my photographs to see how and where they will land. The book size required 76 images and the first run through my photos revealed about 4 I liked, which would have left 72 pages blank white. This seemed wasteful. So, I explored again, which was the point of the exercise anyway. The exploration revealed some good stuff that will, with hope and perseverance, provide for more clarity going forward. The book, therefore, represents a point before the beginning. And, yes I know Introperspectives isn't a real word.

(Excerpt - woohoo)
Introduction, as it were...

It's quite easy to take a photo, it is really hard to hold on to them.

The drive to take a photograph is not something I understand. Sure, I can philosophize, especially after drinking a few glasses of limoncello, but knowing or pretending to know the answer has so far not altered the drive. I will, for the moment, not worry about it.

A photo represents an experience for me. One may look into it and think it is about the objects or subjects being seen, but that's because we look at photos from above instead of from behind. A photo is me looking back at myself. It is connected to a time and a place, or maybe my mood, or something as simple as the bent of humor in my mind.

The problem in this digital age is the speed with which we can process and view a facsimile of the image on the monitor. At this point, only two real things were done - I was there and I pressed the shutter. The image does not yet really exist in any permanent, touchable, or materially crafted form. Similis vulgus, I see it, process it, get a nice feeling about it, and then go on with my life.
A while later when viewing the photo (not sure how long as time is a bit out of control at the moment) it elicits a more critical reaction. Missing are the sympathetic gray-matter synapse firings representing a more tactile reliving of the experience. The image is now only one of the one-hundred or maybe two-hundred billion photos taken on planet earth that year.

It is rather amazing the way most people view images these days. Incredible marketing has programmed the masses that it is all about them. Images are viewed with such inwardness that those that don't press an immediate Warm & Fuzzy button are cast aside without any thought or appreciation. The point of all of this is that the sheer number of images taken and this affliction of the masses somehow lowers the net worth, even in my eyes, of images that may have had some potential when taken, but not a time later. This is my problem, of course, and I do not presume to blame anyone else.

And so I make this book as an indication of some permanence in a world dominated by linear electron flow trans-matrixed into blinking walls of photons that when focused on the back of my eye, even upside down, make me think I am looking at something real. The book is minimally hand-crafted, but nonetheless, provides one something to touch, to hold in ones hands, and find a good patch of light in which to view the ink printed images.

I thank friends like Jim Cohoe, Dick Robertson, and Ben Dallas for giving me the basis to take this seriously enough to put together a collection no matter how bored I am with the lot. Going forward, I promise I will process the images during the time that they pique my interest and save them in an appropriate format so that they may be stuck into another one of these books.



Valencia - Las Fallas Photography tour

I am pleased to announce that I will be joining Edi Finamore with Spain Adventures leading a photography tour to Valencia, Spain for the Las Fallas Festival March 14th to the 21st, 2012. Photography workshops are included and the tour is for all levels.

Las Fallas is one of the most unique and exciting festivals in all of Europe. It is a spectacular celebration of local tradition which takes place in the form of an incredible street party. Enormous sculptural compositions, elaborate traditional gowns, music, fireworks and fantastic nightlife are part of the party that lasts for days. Plan to be there with us to capture it all!

It began as feast day for St. Joseph, patron saint to carpenters, and has evolved into a month long event that culminates in a five day art, food, and entertainment filled street-party celebration that ends in a frenzy of fire and fireworks.

During the year, hundreds of Valencian communities construct the colorful and artistic fallas and ninots sculptures. The sculptures are ephemeral, ornamental, and satirical symbols of humorous, social, or political comment. The very large sculptures are human, animal, or vegetable in form, portraying a critique of a local, national, or international incident, personality, or character.
On the 15th of March, the sculptures get placed around the City of Valencia and the city explodes with festivities. Each day begins with a desperta, which is the traditional firecracker wake-up call signaling the beginning of another day filled with excitement. The streets teem with colorful flowers and every food stand through-out the city beckons to you with buñuelos and rosquilletas from morning until the wee hours.

Every day there is the mascletá that occurs in the Plaza Ayuntamiento at 2pm. String-lined fireworks are ignited to thunderous rhythmic sounds emanating a primal beat felt throughout the area. An important event is the Ofrenda de Flores a la Virgen de los Desamparados, a very beautiful ceremony on March 17 and 18 that honors Valencia’s patron Virgin. Members of the Fallas arrive from around Valencia and take to the streets wearing intricately decorated costumes winding their way to the square. The flowers they carry placed at the base of the enormous statue of The Virgin and are then put into place by men who climb the structure filling her gown.

The closing ceremonial burning on the 19th, when all the fallas and ninots are reduced to ashes is known as La Crema. Beginning in the early evening, hidden holes in the statues are stuffed with fireworks. The crowds get bigger and more excited. In the streets are dancers and entertainers. The city's streetlamps are all turned off and beginning around midnight, the fallas and ninots are set on fire. An incredible barrage of fireworks is launched in to the air above the Valencia as a grand finale.

For more detailed information, please CLICK HERE to visit my website. For information on Spain Adventures, please CLICK HERE.

SM Boris robinson


Real Photographs

My Thoughts...

Photographs represent memories. Memories of your children, of the times when you and they were young. Memories of grandparents, of parents, and special occasions. Cell-phone pictures and point & shoot camera images are for right now - you won’t have them years from now. I take pictures and print them on archival papers so they can be framed and instill into the future the history of you, your family, and your friends.

Everyone looks good when you look at the back of a small point & shoot camera, and most people look good when you look at a typical image on the computer. Capturing the true beauty and personality and making a large print of the person being photographed takes more than point & shoot luck - it takes a natural talent, and it takes training and experience. We learn our art over time with effort and a passion for perfection.


Molasses Bread

Molasses Breakfast Bread
This bread is a dense dark and rich bread that is great for breakfast with lots of butter or cream cheese spread on thick toasted slices. It can be made with raisins, dates, dried apricots, or whatever you might like. It does not contain a lot of sugar and I use black strap molasses, which is not that sweet. It makes for a hearty breakfast meal that will last until the afternoon lunch.

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
4 cups bread flour
3 to 4 oz. blackstrap molasses
1/2 tsp. salt
3/8 cup butter
1 egg
1 1/2 cup total - raisins & chopped apricots
  • In a cup, stir the sugar into lukewarm water and then sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it stand without stirring for about 8 to 10 minutes.
  • To 2 cups of flour add the salt, butter (softened), molasses, beaten egg, and the warm milk. Mix a few minutes until the mixture is smooth with few lumps. Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour and knead the dough on the lowest setting for about 6 to 8 minutes total. After about 3 minutes of kneading, the raisins and chopped apricots can be added.
  • The dough will be quite sticky and but should not be wet and sticking to the bowl - add a bit more flour if needed.
  • Cover the dough and let it rest for an hour. Knead gently for a minute and transfer to a 5 by 9 inch greased medium bread pan.
  • Cover with a towel and let it rise from 2 to 4 hours until it at least doubles in size. The time to rise varies with temperature and if it needs to sit for 5 hours, that is fine.
  • Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. You can brush the top with melted butter to soften the top crust if you like.

The bread keeps well although sometimes we cut the loaf in half and freeze it for later in the week. Regular molasses can be used but it is sweeter and with less flavor.


Lemon Gelato

Both recipes produce a remarkably authentic gelato. In Italy gelato varies with region, or with what region the maker is from. I noticed two types: one made with just zest, which was often less sweet and very refreshing, almost like a granita; and a second with lemon juice that was often creamier and much sweeter. I use organic whole milk and raw sugar, and only the yellow part of the zest. These recipes make about 10 half-cup servings.

With Lemon Juice (faster)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Zest from 3 to 4 lemons
1⁄4 tsp vanilla extract (option - warms the taste)
1/2 to 3/4 cup lemon juice

  • In a small saucepan combine milk, lemon zest, and vanilla. Place over medium-low heat just until steaming; do not boil. Remove from heat, cover, and allow mixture to infuse for about 20 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Strain infused milk into a pitcher, then whisk it into yolk mixture.
  • Pour mixture into a clean saucepan, and place over medium-low heat (heat to steaming, not boiling). Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it forms a custard thick enough to coat back of spoon and leave a trail when a finger is run over the spoon, about 10 minutes. (Don’t overheat; doing so will change the flavor and it may curdle).
  • Cool mixture by placing bottom of pan in several inches of cold water and ice; give it an occasional stir.
  • Transfer to a bowl, stir in lemon juice, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
  • Transfer to an ice-cream machine, and process according to directions.
  • Transfer ice cream to a container, and return to the freezer for about 2 hours to ripen.  

Zest Only
2 cups whole milk
Zest from at least 4 lemons
1⁄4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Pinch salt

  • Heat the milk in a saucepan to a low simmer (until steaming), but not boil.
  • Put the lemon zest and vanilla in a bowl, and add the hot milk. When cool, cover and allow to infuse for about 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Strain the milk into a saucepan, add half the sugar, and bring to a simmer.
  • Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until combined.
  • Gradually dribble the hot milk into the egg yolks, half a cup at a time, whisking, to heat the yolks without cooking them. When all the milk has been added, cook the sauce over medium heat, stirring continuously, for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail when a finger is run over the spoon. (Don’t overheat; doing so will change the flavor and it may curdle).
  • Stir in a pinch of salt, and strain into a bowl set over ice. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  • Transfer to an ice-cream machine, and process according to directions.
  • Transfer ice cream to a container, and return to the freezer for about 2 hours to ripen.


Youthful Energy

In order to be young when older, one simply has to create and maintain youthful energy. Youthful energy can be created in the mind, but it is by far easier to create it in the body and let the heart move this energy to the mind and beyond.

Youthful energy is powerful and intense, irrationally happy, impulsive, super positive, contagious, a magnet for happy people, carb consuming, and life preserving.

Most young people possess this in their minds and they can sit in a chair for three days straight and feel little ill effects. But for us older folk, three days in a chair or in front of the computer stiffens and drains us, and adds years to our age.

The mind-body connection is not well appreciated and too many think they can ignore the physical and simply concentrate on work or TV. We are conditioned and it is accepted to ignore your body and kowtow to the mass contentions. Excuses are more respected: “Too much work, no time”, “Old people are supposed to relax and take it easy”, “Act your Age!”. We are programmed with a sense of entitlement. We believe life is better when it is easier. Why walk when you can drive, take the elevator not the stairs, bicycles are for people with DUI’s, faster phones, faster connections, faster friends, faster lives.

But it doesn’t work - it is not sustainable. Sure it’s good for retail business and making money, but is that more important than your health and true happiness? Is life really about buying heaps of plastic garbage or getting that new hot ultra-fast gadget in order to bring a modicum of fleeting joy to your apathetic existence?

The solution is just too simple - all you have to do is move. Move your body, ride a bike, go for a hard walk, do some yoga, just move. The older we get the more important it is to spend time every day moving. At 40, a person can get away with 20 minutes every day, at 50 it takes 45 minutes, at 60 or more, an hour. As we age our bodies atrophy much faster and heal more slowly.

Those that take the time to move and exercise learn and experience the incredible truth about the circle of energy. It has to do with the premise that in life you get what you give. Taking that hour away from work or your evening TV and doing some significant movement gives you more energy back. You sleep better, you wake up refreshed, you work better, you are happier. You may find that you can more appreciate some of the simpler pleasures in life. Time slows a bit, food tastes better, colors are more vivid, you’re not in such a rush, and you can listen to your friends and lovers with more intensity. You have discovered youthful energy.

It starts with a yoga class, or a walk up a steep hill, or a ride on a bike where you push hard enough that your heart starts pounding. It takes time also, so be patient. You have to convince your body and your programmed mind that this change is important. Once it becomes you, it’s easy to justify the time.

Youthful energy attracts youthful energy, no matter what the age. It enables active connections that produce more creativity and real friendships. Just do it!


Neapolitan Pizza

        Evolved and adapted from Vincenzo Buonassisi's PIZZA Plus, William Collins & Sons Ltd. 1985, watching cooks in restaurants in Italy, and from Tony Gemignani Neapolitan Pizza video on YouTube. The point of this evolution is that it is easy, real, a quick but incredible supper, and you can live on this stuff and stay skinny. It looks long at first but goes pretty fast after a few times.

        Your mixer does the work, but it takes about 3 1/2 hours from start to using the dough. The recipe makes 4 to 6 balls of dough and I usually only use 1 ball and freeze the rest in individual sandwich bags. For large pizzas divide into 4 balls, for individual pizzas, divide into 5 or 6. To defrost, put the frozen dough into a bowl covered with plastic wrap and leave out at room temperature for 4 or 5 hours. Then put in refrigerator and use after it has cooled a bit, or in the next day or two. I eat this for lunch once or twice a week and it takes about 20 minutes from start to table.

1 cup King Arthur Bread Flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
3 oz of water

3 cups of King Arthur Bread Flour
10 oz of water
1 teaspoon salt

        Slight adjustments in flour and water may need to be made depending on flour type and where you live. Experiment.

Basic Topping:
        Crushed peeled San Marzano tomatoes. Or, I use a can of Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. Puree using a Cuisinart Smart-Stick type mixer or blender. This will store for a long time in the fridge and only about 2 tablespoons are used per pizza. If too wet, sieve off a bit of the liquid.

        Whole milk mozzarella (the fat slows down the carbs - so avoid skim/processed crap). Use a brick of cheese, not grated!


        Dissolve the yeast in 3 oz of warm water and allow it to stand for a few minutes. In the mixer bowl, add the cup of King Arthur Bread flour and then the water/yeast and mix until a shaggy dough is made. Mix with a wood spoon and then ball up with hands as it’s quicker than using the electric mixer. Cover the mixer bowl with a plate (or plastic) and allow it to remain at room temperature (or slightly warm place) for 1 hour.

        After the starter has fermented for an hour, add salt and 3 cups of flour to the bowl. Turn the started dough with the wood spoon and mix it a bit with the flour. Add the 10 oz of water. Knead by hand (for a long time) or use 1 speed of KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook until mixed and then speed 2 for about 5 to 6 minutes. The longer the kneading, the more soft, smooth, and elastic the dough. After kneading, cover the mixing bowl with a plate and let rise at room temperature (or slightly warm place) for 1 1/2 hours or so.

        Scrape out the dough onto a floured work surface (a yogurt container lid cut in half works well as a scraper) and gently form into a long log. Divide the dough into 4 to 6 equal portions. Put what you’re going to freeze into sandwich bags squeezing out the air and put in freezer. For dough to be used, place into a large cereal sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour before use. The dough will puff up a bit. It can remain in the fridge for a day or two before use. Bring it out of the fridge a few minutes before use to warm just slightly. A trick to pushing out an even thin pizza is to have the dough cold - that’s what they do in the restaurants.

Pushing Out the Pizza:
        The best way to learn this is to watch the Tony Gemignani Neapolitan Pizza video on YouTube (see video below).

        Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a well floured work surface. Pat both side of the dough ball on the flour. Gently flatten a bit and then using your finger tips, repeatedly pressing down into the dough to flatten more, avoiding the very edges so a small lip is formed. The dough is now about 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

        Then, as in the video, use your hands to work/spin the dough into a thin pizza of about 1/8th inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter (for a single pizza). Enough flour underneath will help when pushing out. If the dough is cold, it’ll be more elastic and easier to push out evenly. It does take some practice, but becomes easy when you get it.

       For a Roma Pizza, take a roller and after pushing out with hands, quickly roll across the dough mainly to flatten the edges. The edges will then puff up when cooking.

Preparing & Cooking:
        I use a round steel pizza pan coated with a very slight amount of olive oil. The steel pan is easier than a stone or other tricks and does a decent job. To find better, you’ll just have to go to Italy. The trick is to keep the toppings cold, including the cheese so that it takes longer to cook and the crust gets crispier.

       Place the flattened dough on the steel pan. The shape is not as important as an even thickness. Top the dough with 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce and spread around with a spoon.
        Place whatever toppings you like (research different Neapolitan standards). The photo above is just thin sliced fresh sweet bell pepper, a little feta, and mozzarella.
       Use about 4 oz of mozzarella (1/4 of typical 16 oz package) and pinch off large chunks that you place on the pizza.
       Finish with a thin circular drizzle of olive oil and slide into the oven.

        The oven should be as hot as possible with rack towards the top, especially is using convection setting. My oven goes to 525 degrees on convection and it takes about 6 minutes to cook, longer if there are more dense cold toppings. Neapolitan pizzas in Italy cook at 800 degrees.

        For many toppings, it is best to cook them ahead of time with spices to get the most flavor. Cool them in the fridge before using and keep extras for a quick meal during the week.

        One of my favorites is with mushrooms cooked with cayenne pepper, olive oil, and a little red wine. Topped along with the mushrooms I add black nicoise olives. A pizza made with sweet Vidalia onions pre-cooked until slightly caramelized is my wife’s favorite. And, the recent fresh sweet green pepper pizza was really good. I had a potato pizza at an amazing restaurant in Trastevere called Bir & Fud (they serve Roma pizzas). The potatoes were sliced thin and pre-cooked in olive oil and salt to slightly browned, but still soft. This is another favorite and I add feta along with the mozzarella.

Hope your friends enjoy this Tatiana!


To Be Believed

        River and Amwell Roads intersected in Neshanic. The junction had an old stone church built in 1752 and about fifteen large Victorian homes surrounding. A quarter mile to the east was a large property and one of three seemingly abandoned homes in the small community. This one included four or five small barns and workshops and at one time must have been a very busy farm.
        To a ten-year old in 1969, the whole property, in fact, most of the abandoned properties, where exceeding simple and quiet places to escape and explore. There were never any worries of adults coming and reprimanding - no one seemed to care whether or not we were there. The houses, built before electricity or indoor plumbing, were miniature monuments to a forgotten time, a simple and industrious life. The pine clapboards with flaked white paint, 10 foot high windows facing south in the first floor rooms, large front porches, all spoke of family and light, reading and togetherness.
        One early summer morning I was walking down the path between the rows of barns and sheds towards the large Victorian house perched on a hill above Amwell Road. The grasses were already knee deep and the sun bright and warm. I had no worries, not a care. I had no plans, no ambitions, but walked towards the back of the house to the kitchen, now disused and devoid of appliances. I looked inside for a moment and then went around the side toward the front porch.
        My idle tranquility was suddenly broken by someone calling, speaking loudly to me. My impulse was to run; I was, after all, trespassing, although it took something substantial to register this thought. After running about thirty feet away I felt her saying to stop, it was alright. I did so, and turning I saw someone small standing in the shadows on the front porch.
        Nearing closer she was speaking to me, but I don’t remember what she said. I didn’t believe I was wasn’t in trouble, but being obedient to an adult, I obeyed. What I saw was an old woman about my size. She was thin and frail, white skinned and haired, wearing a simple dress that looked like more of a nightgown. On her feet she wore slippers.
        She spoke to me and I followed her into the house, and gaining confidence, I asked her what she was doing here. She said it was her house and her parents before her. The large front room had once been a family’s drawing room, probably with plush ornate furniture and bookcases along the back wall. There had been small end tables and large heavy curtains covering the huge windows. Now only the large oak boards of floor spoke of the past richness. The wallpaper was peeling and rotted, the windows broken out, the ornate plaster ceiling moldy but still bright. In one corner was a small bag with papers and an old thinned curtain from one of the upstairs bedrooms. It seemed to me that she had slept on the floor in the corner of the room.
        We spent the afternoon talking. She showed me around the property describing each of the buildings and for what purposes they had been used. We walked through the tall grasses so relaxed as if it was so perfectly natural for all of this to be happening.
        In the early evening I ran back to our house. It was a large Victorian also, but wide and flat. It was built on ground sloping away from the road with a stream behind it. There were three stories with the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and furnace room being on the first floor and below the level of the road. In front, there was a flagstone courtyard that fronted the library and drawing room and their tall windows. The third floor above housed the bedrooms and above a huge attic with a cedar closet.
        The next day I went to the farmhouse - saying nothing at dinner the prior evening. I brought food and something to drink wrapped up in one of my mother’s dish towels. The lady seemed to be getting older, she didn’t do as much. I knew that she slept on the floor. I don’t remember her saying to me not to tell anyone.
        She told me about a great rain and flood that occurred when she was 10 or 11 years old. I couldn’t believe that she could remember something at that happened so long ago. Amwell Road ran along a large creek, but just above the flood plain through which it meandered. The creek past her house joined the stream that ran behind our house down the hill and near our barn.
        Actually, our barn was just a carriage house, but big enough for two horses and a large carriage. Our house was originally a cottage built when the first church was being built in 1680. Afterwards, around 1720, the rest of the house was built by a doctor who relocated to the area. We bought it from Dr. Husted whose father had practiced in the house prior. It had been a doctors house for over a hundred years and they used our drawing room as their office.
        The flood was so huge that the water came all the way up to the front of her porch. She said our barn was under water but the houses, all built up higher, had water lapping close to them but were safe. Sitting on her front porch I could imagine the torrential rains and the enormous swelling of dirty brown water. The old woman was critical of the times today and of the new homes built along the road and even in the flood plains.
        Her ancestors had come to the area a very long time ago by wagon and I thought of the conestoga wagons from school books. She said that the first house had been built up the hill - she told me where I could find it. Her property, like all in Neshanic, sat at the foot of what was called Sourland Mountain. For most people, Sourland Mountain was not much more than a hill, but in New Jersey, it certainly seemed like a mountain. The land behind Neshanic was all undeveloped and unused. It was fields of tall grasses that became dry and yellow-blond in the fall. There were almost imaginary cherry tree lined fence rows of ancient rotted posts and stone walls that led forever; forgotten boundaries of fields and pastures.
        I do not remember what she said of her immediate family. She wasn’t an only child, but she was one of the last of her siblings. But this was her home. It was where she was born and where she had lived when she was young. She had moved away and started a family. But at this time in her life, she had wanted to come home and she had, but it was an act of defiance and that I knew. My knowledge was so naive. I knew nothing of life, of struggles, of insecurity, of hunger, or poverty, or joblessness. I accepted what I saw and treated kindness with kindness. And she was a kind, soft spoken, and intelligent woman.

        Time for a ten-year old is very different than that of an adult. Somehow a long day became me getting home just in time for supper. Supper was always formal, or at least the mood was. Papa and Mama, younger sister and brother. Round table, knives and forks in the proper hands. Napkin in the lap. Speak when spoken to.
        I needed to tell my story, but I waited. The air at first was always very heavy. One had to wait a bit for the food to calm the atmosphere and make it like a real family, like fun. One also had to be careful. My brother might be holding a secret and it was just a matter of when he was going to let loose and drop it and me. So don’t waste a good story if you’re going to be interrupted and the subject inevitably changed to what kind of trouble I was going to be in.
        This summer evening the meal was light and the elders were happy. When asked about my day I spoke up and told the story about an old lady who was living in the big farmhouse past the church. I told them about that she was born there and her great great great grandmother and father came there many years ago in a wagon and claimed the land. I told them about the great flood and how our barn was under water. I remember being so incredibly excited - I had entered this world of the past when the road was dirt and you used horses to get around.
        I remember being listened to but not believed. It was a strange feeling. There was quiet. I was being observed but not acknowledged.

        On the third day in the afternoon, I was going back to her house after my lunch. Walking between the rows of barns, workshops, and sheds, they had now been transformed into buildings with such positive presence that I knew the tools in one and the animals stabled in the other. They had become real and full of life, not decrepit and dull. Suddenly I noticed that there was a station wagon in front of the house. I ran to hide and saw several people coming down off of the porch with the old lady. They were kind and careful, but huge and dominant. She got in the car and a few moments later they all climbed in and drove off. I sat for a while and then slowly left, afraid to go any closer. She was gone. I never saw her again and I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t know that what I would feel years later was such a loss. She had become my friend. But I was ten and I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that I could feel so much for someone I didn’t even know.
        This third evening I told my story at the dinner table and for the third time I was told to stop telling stories, to stop telling lies. At the time, that was most significant, that my parents didn’t believe me when I was telling the truth. It went on for a week and I got to the point that I wasn’t sure myself if it had really happened. I snuck out from my punishment to the house and climbed onto the porch. Pushing open the door, whose antique locks had been borrowed years before, I stood and looked around. In the corner, there were some papers and the tattered curtain she had covered herself with while she slept. I knew and I didn’t need to tell. The perception of others was not my reality, but they could make it hurt.
        Sometime later I learned that the wonderful old lady had left a nursing home and had somehow gotten to the house where she grew up. She died shortly after. I was happy to have known her. And with my brother, I went through the fields and up the mountain behind her barns and we found the old stone foundation of which she spoke. We even found a spot in the shape of a large wagon with only rusted metal rings and straps remaining - we imagined it was the original.

        The black and white photos I happened to find online in a history book on Neshanic. The first two are of our old house, the third a view from near her house looking along Amwell Road towards the church. The color photo was taken from googlemaps and is a view of her house today.


Cherry Vareniki

Cherry Vareniki

This recipe is an evolution of several recipes and made for an authentic Vareniki as well as ease of preparation. Makes approximately 30 Vareniki.

2 1/2 cups King Arthur flour ~1 1/8 cups all-purpose & ~1 1/8 cups bread flour. (why use King Arthur flour)
1 egg
1/2 cup plain organic whole milk yogurt (Stonyfield or equiv)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork and then stir in the yogurt to form a mixture. Mix this and the salt into approximately 2 cups of the flour and knead until smooth and elastic. Add more of the flour until dough becomes supple and does not stick to the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place inside a covered bowl and let it ‘rest’ for at least one hour. The dough can also be refrigerated for several days and then used to make the Vareniki.

Cherry Filling and Sauce:
1 can of organic tart cherries
Reserved juice from canned cherries
1 tablespoon sugar
Approximately 1 to 1.5 cups of real cranberry juice with other flavor such as raspberry or blackberry (I use Northland 100% juice with no sugar added)

Drain the cherries very well against the side of a strainer, squeezing out as much of the juice as possible. Reserve the cherry juice. Sprinkle the cherries with sugar and mix in. Let stand for a while and then press and drain again more juice.

To make the sauce, mix the cherry and cranberry juices and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture until it reduces to about one quarter its original amount. Add sugar if needed. Cool.

Vareniki Making:

Place the cherries onto a plate covered in a few paper towels. Pat the cherries to remove more liquid so they are pretty dry. When excess cherry juice gets onto the edges of the dough, they won’t stick together and will leak when cooking.

On a floured work surface, take half the dough at a time and roll it with your hands into a long log about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Cut off about 3/4 of an inch and pat both sides of the cut medallion in flour. With a rolling pin roll the medallion into a very thin sheet about 4 by 4 inches. Use flour as necessary to keep it from sticking too badly.

Peel the sheet up and place in your hand with the stickiest side up. Place about 2 to 3 cherries in the center, wipe cherry juice off of fingers, and then fold and close up cherries in the dough so there aren’t any large air pockets, but being careful not to allow juice to squeeze out on the dough.

Squeeze the dough together and place on the work surface. Use a glass with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches and press down to get a half circle shape on the Vareniki. Pull off the excess dough and then lift the glass. Save this dough and remix thoroughly at the end and make more Vareniki. Press a fork carefully onto the Vareniki to seal the edges.

Arrange them on a pan covered in wax paper or dusted with flour and, if the Vareniki are not going to be immediately cooked, they can be frozen and then placed into a bag for storage.

To Cook and Serve:

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop the Varenkini one by one into the boiling water but not so many that they are crowed and stick together. Boil the fresh ones for about one minute, the frozen for up to one minute longer. Remove with a slotted spoon draining off as much water as possible.

Serve in a bowl with a few teaspoons of the cherry sauce drizzled over the top.

Tricks of this recipe are to figure out how wet the dough should be; drying the cherries so they don’t leak juice onto the dough when making the Vareniki; rolling the dough thin enough, but not too thin; and, flouring the work surface and pin sufficiently when rolling.

Making the Varenkini takes about 45 minutes and since only about 4 or 5 are eaten per serving, the frozen ones will last for many meals.