So I've been pretty out of the food blogging loop lately, much to my chagrin. I've had to severely cut back my blog-surfing at work, because I was becoming appallingly unproductive. My present job is a one-year position, and I needed to step up the pace with my assignments. And, contrary to what I might wish, perusing the latest culinary adventures of my blogging fellows was not helping me put the pedal to the metal.
(This is, obviously, no one's fault but my own. If I possessed the self-restraint of the average three-year-old, such draconian measures wouldn't have been necessary. But...well, at least I can admit to my faults. Some of them, anyway.)
So blog-time at work has slowed to a trickle. At home, the internet connection is spotty and there are the usual interruptions (cats), distractions (cats), and yowls for attention (...guess). And then we've been traveling and hosting quite a bit since Valentine's Day.
All of which is simply to say, I'm sorry I haven't been commenting as frequently on everyone's sites, and I do hope to be a more frequent poster and commenter soon. (I'm working on that self-restraint thing.) I'm also hoping to plan my time better so I can participate in more blogging events, which have been awesome for getting me out of my culinary ruts.
One habit I have when working on a tight deadline is braiding my hair -- colleagues at my San Francisco firm knew that if they saw me in the hallway with pigtail braids, things were going okay, but if I escalated to the French-braid spiral, then doomsday was nigh. With my hair now in too many layers for easy braiding, but still feeling tense and out of sorts, last week I turned my plaiting fingers loose on dough.
I love challah. It's a celebratory bread, a beautiful burnished way of ushering in a better mood. I've tried many recipes over the years, but this one from the Madison is probably my favorite. I recommend it for the next time you need to let your hair down but can't manage to put it up.*Challah
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
2.25 c. warm water
2.25 tsp. (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 T. sugar
3 eggs, beaten -- reserve 2 T.
0.25 c. vegetable oil
1 T. salt
6-7 c. all-purpose flour, preferably King Arthur
poppy seeds, optional
Mix the yeast with 0.25 c. warm water and 1 tsp. sugar in a small bowl, and set it aside until it's foamy, about 10 minutes.
Stir the yeast mixture into 2 c. warm water in a large bowl, then add the rest of the sugar, the eggs, the oil, and the salt. Add the flour a cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. When it becomes hard to manage, tip it onto a floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour until you have a satiny, smooth dough. This always takes longer than you think it should -- about 10 minutes.
Oil a large bowl, then add the dough and turn to coat. Cover and set aside in a warmish place until doubled in bulk, about an hour. Punch it down, divide in half, and then divide each half into three equal balls.
Now return to your Play-Doh days, and roll each piece into a rope between 10 and 12 inches long. Take three strands and pinch their ends together to give you a place to start your braid. Braid the strands, taking care to periodically nudge the braid together to avoid stretching. When you come to the end, press the ends together and tuck them under to seal. Repeat with the other three strands.
Place the braids onto greased baking sheets, cover, and set aside until they double in size, about 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 375 degrees during the last 15 minutes, then make an egg wash with the reserved egg and 1 T. water. Brush the wash over the dough, taking care to dab it into the crevices of the braids. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, if you like.
Bake about 45 minutes, or until the bread is "burnished gold," as the Madison puts it. Cool on a rack and try to keep yourself from ripping your lovely braids apart before you admire your handiwork.
*Here at Peanut Butter and Purple Onions, we specialize in the mangled metaphor.