Monthly Archives: February 2016

Me and Star Wars: A 35-year saga

Picture it. Santurce, Puerto Rico. Summer 1980. I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a good idea to take their 4-year-old daughter –who’d probably never seen the first Star Wars movie– to see Empires Strikes Back.

Sandra iphone photos and videos Aug 2014 900

My older siblings and me around 1980.

All I know is my 7-year-old brother was eager to see it, so all of us went. We must have gone to a matinee, because I remember the sun being very bright. It was hot. And the line outside the theater went around the block. People in the line were fanning themselves with whatever they could find, including pieces of cardboard they must have torn off some box(es) somewhere. Soon I started to feel funny. I pined for a bit of shade, and the makeshift cardboard fans provided only minimal relief. My dad must have noticed something, because he went to move me out of the sweltering sun into the shade. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, blinking up at the sky, at Papi’s worried face, and at the pieces of cardboard in the hands of well-meaning strangers fanning me back into consciousness.

paramountsanturce

An old movie house in Santurce, PR.

Turns out I have an abnormally high sensitivity to heat. That was my first time fainting, but I’ve been collecting similar embarrassing stories ever since. (Just ask my husband David about our hike in the Grand Canyon when we’d been dating less than a year.)

sw1

David and me the day after I “survived” the Grand Canyon.

Thus was my introduction to Star Wars. I don’t remember anything about the movie except for the fainting, and the incredibly jarring scene where Darth Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand. It sucked.

By the time Return of the Jedi came along, and we once again went as one big happy familia, I actually adored the ewoks, and the power of love in the final showdown between the emperor, Luke, and Darth Vader moved my 7-year-old soul deeply. But it wasn’t until the prequels came out many years later that I really got into the high anticipation for each new release, and the terrific excitement of watching them in theaters.

The Force Awakens has been an all new experience. I’m 10 years older than I was at the last Star Wars theatrical release, and am now the mom of a young Star Wars fan. There’s also social media. On opening weekend last December, friends’ Facebook statuses featured a lot of Star Wars-screening-related updates. I also saw folks who were earnestly out of the Star Wars loop and were moderately interested at best. Then there were the ones who are so above it all, who had great fun baiting their Facebook friends by faking an innocent I-just-don’t-get-what-the-big-deal-is! shrug and headshake. David and I (make no mistake about it) were super excited to see it. We were also okay waiting a couple of weeks.

iPhoneFeb2016 1800

At the movie theater for The Force Awakens. Funnily enough, this was also in Puerto Rico. We loved it! And not just because I didn’t faint this time.

After some debating, we decided our 5-year-old Eric wouldn’t come with us. We really didn’t think he was ready for all that nonstop action and loudness (and drama!). Since he hadn’t yet finished Empire Strikes Back, and he himself wanted to be caught up on the stories, the decision was easy.

iPhoneFeb2016 2316cropped

Reenactments are a frequent scene in our house.

Eric had declared, right before his 5th birthday last March, that he was going to start watching Star Wars after he was 5 years old. He remembered it, too. He was a little scared in some scenes but made it through A New Hope after a few sittings. We started Empire Strikes Back with him in July. By now he was deeply invested in the characters, and as soon as things started to go awry for Luke and Han, he demanded that we turn it off.

“What if Luke dies?”

“He won’t die. We’ve seen it. We know.”

“But he could die!”

“He doesn’t.”

“BUT HE COULD!!!”

iPhoneFeb2016 2281

So we let it go for a while. Eventually, the frenzy of The Force Awakens got him interested again. He finished Empire Strikes Back almost exactly 6 months after starting it. David and I were on pins and needles over the scene where Darth Vader reveals his true identity. But Eric seemed more concerned for Luke’s hand than the weight of Vader’s revelation. (I don’t blame him.) And there you go. After that, Return of the Jedi was a breeze. We watched it soon, and quickly.

iPhoneFeb2016 2243

It’s dawned on me that my kid started watching Star Wars precisely 35 years after my parents took my siblings and me to see Empire Strikes Back. What vastly different experiences. I love few things more than a good hero’s journey tale where evil is redeemed by good. I don’t say this in a religious sense or to sound Pollyanna-esque. There’s immense life-affirming power in the triumph of light over darkness, and that draws and resonates deeply with many of us. This, for whomever doesn’t “get it,” is the reason why we love these stories. Experiencing and discussing them with my sensitive, inquisitive young boy is wondrous in ways I never could have dreamed back in 1980. (Not losing consciousness helps.)

My little man turns 6 in a couple of weeks. Can you guess the theme of his birthday party?

evitescreenshot

This is Eric last Halloween, helping with the groceries.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

French bread recipe

If you’re like me, you’ve often thought that homemade bread is something only the most sophisticated cooks can pull off. Oh how wrong we’ve been, and I couldn’t be happier to share this recipe with you! It is full-proof. And since few things bug me more than fussy, over-complicated recipes that feel unattainable, this one’s the opposite of that, and only requires ingredients most of us already have in our pantry. By the second or third time you make this, it’s going to feel so easy.

My inspiration/baseline was this online recipe. But I made some important changes to it that I think simplify things and deliver and even better texture and flavor. I also broke it down with lots (and lots) of pictures.

A note on warm water: Basically you run the hot water on the tap for a few seconds, but it doesn’t hurt your fingers to touch it. Not hot enough to cook anything, but definitely more than lukewarm.

Start by dissolving 1 tablespoon of sugar into 1 cup of warm water. After the sugar, quickly and gently stir in 1½ teaspoons of active dry yeast. Place in a warm place for at least 10 minutes. I often use my radiator when it’s nice and warm, or the top of the stove, with the oven underneath it preheated to 200.

2191601c

While that sits, mix together 2½ cups of all purpose flour with 1½ to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (only 1 teaspoon or less if using fine table salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.

iPhoneFeb2016 2563

When the warm water with sugar and yeast mixture starts to look like a funky, frothy science experiment –that’s exactly what it is!– and to smell a little bit like a brewery, you know you’re in business.

2191602

Frothy and bubbling less than 10 minutes later. This part is so much fun.

Start running the mixer on medium speed, and add in the water with yeast. Try to scrape every bit from the measuring cup into the mixer.

iPhoneFeb2016 2566

At this point, I always have flour nearby for sprinkling, and I refill the “yeasty” measuring cup with warm water. I mix for about 30 seconds. If A) the dough still looks too crumbly and isn’t coming together and off the sides of the bowl, I add additional warm yeasty water from the measuring cup, about 1 teaspoon at a time, then wait another few seconds.

iPhoneFeb2016 2569

My dough was looking crumbly and dry, so slowly I added 1 tsp at a time of the warm yeasty water. Works every time.

If on the other hand, B) the dough looks too wet, I sprinkle very small handfuls (also about a teaspoon) of flour at a time. I usually run into A more than B. My point is, if the dough doesn’t look like it’s coming together like it’s supposed to, it’s still very fixable if you go slowly and watch it carefully. Just don’t panic!

Once you see the dough come together and off the sides of the bowl, continue to knead with the mixer on medium or medium high speed for about 5 minutes. (Make sure the tilt head on your mixer is locked, otherwise the dough will make it wobble and shake and it won’t knead properly.)

iPhoneFeb2016 2575

This is what you want your dough to look like, then you let the mixer do the kneading for 5 minutes.

iPhoneFeb2016 2576

Meanwhile, prepare a large flat rolling surface with flour, and a medium-sized bowl (it should hold at least eight cups) with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to coat the bottom and sides.

iPhoneFeb2016 2585

iPhoneFeb2016 2579After 5 minutes, turn off the mixer. Coat your hands with flour, and remove the dough onto the floured surface.

iPhoneFeb2016 2586

See how sticky that is? You’ll need flour to unstick it from the dough hook.

iPhoneFeb2016 2587

Knead with your hands* a few times until it looks and feels soft and smooth. It can look like a disk or a ball. (*This just means you fold it onto itself and push down with the heel of your hand.)

iPhoneFeb2016 2590

2191603

Place into the bowl with oil, turning over once or twice to make sure the dough is evenly coated in the oil. This prevents an awkward crust from forming as it sits and rises.

iPhoneFeb2016 2591

2191606

Now it’s covered in oil.

Immediately cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free place until it’s roughly doubled in size, at least an hour, up to 2 hours.

2191607

Again, putting the dough on top of an oven preheated to 200 works really well.

2191608

After an hour and a half, I was good to go!

Now you’re ready to prepare the dough for its second rising. 🙂

Uncover the bowl and take dough out. Don’t be alarmed when it deflates the instant you touch it. It’s supposed to do that.

2191611

‘Punch down your dough’ is the bread bakers’ equivalent of the literary ‘kill your darlings!’

In fact, many recipes for bread and pizza dough will specifically tell you to “punch down the dough” at this point in the process. Place on floured surface again, and smooth out a little with well floured hands.

iPhoneFeb2016 2603

iPhoneFeb2016 2604

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out thinly, to about the size of a standard half sheet pan, about 13 x 18 inches. Cut the dough in half, lengthwise, until you’re left with two roughly 6 x 18 pieces.

iPhoneFeb2016 2606

iPhoneFeb2016 2610

Begin to roll each half of the dough up, again lengthwise. Keep it tight, and smooth out air pockets.

iPhoneFeb2016 2613

iPhoneFeb2016 2614

Pinch the seams as much as possible. The aesthetics are an area where my baguettes still need a bit of work (as you’ll see in the photos below) but the flavor and texture are so 100% legit that I know the rest will catch up. Place each rolled up dough half, seam side down, on a half sheet pan lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Fold and tuck the ends in and under using your fingers, again pinching the seams a bit.

iPhoneFeb2016 2616

 iPhoneFeb2016 2618

iPhoneFeb2016 2619

I like to –very gently– rub a bit of flour on the baguettes at this point. It helps create the crust when it bakes later on.

iPhoneFeb2016 2621

I just rubbed these with a small amount of flour. This is optional.

Use the same sharp knife to slash each loaf (I go in about an inch). You can do a few diagonal lines, or one line lengthwise along the baguette. (Here are a few fancier ideas I’m excited to try soon.)

iPhoneFeb2016 2626

Here I did diagonal slits.

2191612

Here I went with one long lengthwise slit. As you can see, I had some issues rolling one of these. My problem? I didn’t like how it came out the first time so I tried to perfect it. It would’ve been much better if I’d left it alone!

Place in your warm place of choice, no need to cover it this time. Allow to rise a second time for another hour, until it doubles in size again.

2191617

A little over an hour later, these had risen perfectly. And my awkward-looking one was still looking awkward. Scroll to the end for the result.

Now you’re ready to bake your bread! Place a roasting pan (at least 2 inches deep) on the bottom rack of the oven, then preheat to 375.

2191619

Combine 1 egg while with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush bread with the egg wash.

iPhoneFeb2016 2630

iPhoneFeb2016 2631

Once the oven is preheated, fill a large measuring cup or pitcher with hot water. Put the half sheet pan with the bread in the oven, then pour hot* water into roasting pan below it, until you fill it about ¾ of the way. This will create a steam in the oven while the bread bakes, which combined with the egg wash, will give your bread a delicious golden crust that won’t murder the roof of your mouth.

(*The reason you don’t want cold water here is because the steam it creates when poured into the preheated roasting pan could be dangerous — hot water creates the steam with less chance of causing any burns.)

iPhoneFeb2016 2635

Watch out for that steam!

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes, and continue baking for 2 minutes at a time until the crust is golden brown.

iPhoneFeb2016 2636

I was a little bummed at how visible the seam was on this baguette. Then I tasted it, and all was well.

Your only challenges now will be waiting for it to be cool enough to handle so you can eat some, and once that happens, trying not to eat half a baguette in one sitting. I have failed at both challenges and am not even a little embarrassed to say it. It’s so delicious I dare say you will impress yourself and your friends, and the return is that much more amazing considering how easy it is!


 

French bread

Active prep time: 30 minutes                       Inactive prep time: about 3 hours

Cooking time: 20-25 minutes                        Makes: 2 loaves (2 baguettes)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons kosher salt (½ – 1 teaspoon fine table salt)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water

Instructions:

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Add active dry yeast. Let sit in warm place about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine flour and salt in bowl of electric stand mixer.
  3. Running the mixer on medium speed, add warm water and yeast mixture to the flour and salt. Mix until the dough comes together and off the sides of the bowl, adding up to 1 tsp at a time of additional warm water or flour as needed. (See notes for A and B above.) Once dough comes together, run mixer on medium-medium high speed for 5 minutes.
  4. Prepare medium-sized mixing bowl with vegetable oil.
  5. Using floured hands, turn dough out to floured surface and knead by hands a few times until smooth. Transfer to the oiled bowl, turning over once or twice to coat in the oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set in warm draft-free place for 1 – 2 hours until it doubles in size.
  6. Remove dough to floured surface and roll out thinly to 13×8. Cut in half lengthwise. Roll each half up (lengthwise) to form a cylinder. Transfer to lined half sheet pan, seam side down, and tuck and fold the ends under.
  7. Score/Slash with sharp knife. Set in warm place to rise a second time for 1 hour, until it doubles in size again.
  8. Place roasting pan in oven, then preheat to 375. Prepare egg wash with 1 egg white and about 1 tbsp of water. Brush the bread and place in preheated oven. Fill roasting pan to about  ¾ full with hot tap water.
  9. Bake 20-25 minutes.

iPhoneFeb2016 2641

iPhoneFeb2016 2646

Wow.

2191623

See, the one I was all perfectionistic about came out ugly. Plain and simple. Luckily, the flavor and texture were still perfect.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Three S’s for 2016

Okay. Yes. I made New Year’s “resolutions.” But no, they are not aimed at losing weight or making money. Instead, I set intentions for myself in the new year. The idea came after a bout of anxiety in the final months of 2015. Folks who, like me, are prone to periods of anxiety never know when they’re going to strike. But it’s captured quite well in this internet meme.

2f142cba-56f7-42c3-9ffe-1ad29a5fb311

My initial sneaky trigger last fall was a worry about my son Eric and illness. Think the usual worries most moms feel, multiplied by … a lot. Soon, the Paris attacks happened, and the negativity and anger that surfaced afterwards were deeply upsetting. I started a blog post about it and simply couldn’t finish it. My husband David was also travelling overseas a lot in those weeks, and I was in a state of constant fear for his safety. It was all just a little too much.

I went into a bit of a personal hibernation (despite the abnormally mild start to the winter) in which I was just productive and present enough in the daily wife & mom grind, but rendered pretty powerless in most other respects. I rallied and cheered up for the holidays, yet the start of the new year still found me feeling more than a little bit vulnerable.

So I set three intentions for 2016. Coincidentally, they all start with the letter S.

The first one is self-care. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: It’s often hard for moms to take time for ourselves. Even when you’re at home, like me, the time your kid is in school can easily be spent dealing with family and household stuff. Add to that a lot of stressful stress, and toward the end of the year, I wasn’t writing or seeing friends or going to yoga class. I was barely exercising, and wasn’t even reading much. I thought of returning to New York City, a hugely re-energizing solo trip I’ve made every February since 2012, but then wondered if I could justify it, since I’ve finished my novel set in the City. I usually know better than to be a martyr mom or to draw all identity or worth from parenting, but it’s such an easy place to hide when feeling emotionally lousy, that I found myself using family as the excuse for everything I simply had to or couldn’t do.

newyearssunset

On the second day of 2016, David and I watched the sunset off the West coast of Puerto Rico, and talked about what self-care means to me.

Thankfully, my knowing better caught up with me, as it usually does. And I realized I was in woeful need of some serious self-care. For me, it starts with taking time for myself without feeling guilty about it, or trying not to … baby steps, you know. Time for my writing, for reading, for exercise, for personal space and quietude. It’s eating right, and while I’m on the subject of what I take in, also learning to discern amongst the many —many— thoughts that enter my head. I mean, I can be discriminating about food but then accept every wild and crazy thought (and I have some real doozies) that assaults my mind like it carries a truth about me and my world? Uh, no. Right?

My self-care also entails saying no to things I’ve been accepting, which compromise who I am and my values. When I was in the throes of some internal struggles right around New Year’s, I came across this beautiful article. The highlight:

“The sapling doesn’t look to its elders for approval. It just grows toward the light … it all comes down to how each of us dares to say no when asked to be other than who we are.”

It can be hard to say no, but sometimes there’s too much at stake not to. I’m talking here about no as a complete sentence, without apologizing for it. And oh — yes, I am going back to New York City this month!

emptycup

Clichéd but true.

My second intention with the letter S has to do with my relationship with the concept of should. Because come on, think about it. If you’re anything like me, you obsess over what you should be like. And over how someone else should be behaving (usually someone who’s pissing you off). Or exactly what a given scenario should be, look, and feel like. Frankly, I am exhausted! The thing about should is, it conjures expectations. Obviously, right? And I don’t know about you, but I could seriously use a reality check on expectations, and a firm, honest sense of what I can and can’t control.

Which brings me to my third and final S, the Serenity Prayer.

SerenityPrayer.jpg-600x600

I think of the term change in this prayer as closely paralleling control. Iyanla Vanzant says that the greatest human addiction is the addiction to control. That we fear what we can’t control, and since we don’t want to be in fear, we try to control, control, control. Something like that. Though I may not be in a 12-step program for substance abuse, I must honestly confess that I have been addicted to control, in one form or another, my entire adult life. And it has been at the heart of So! Much! Needless! Suffering! I suspect I’m not alone in this. Enough, please.

Among the many reflections I’ve made on aging and life since turning 40 recently, maybe the most important lesson learned is, growing pains never really end. And at the same time, growth is always worth it. So, time to grow up, like the sapling, toward the light. Time to say no when it matters. Time to seek wisdom about what I can and can’t control. To embrace acceptance when something’s out of my hands, and courage when I do have power over it. Most times, the only thing I’ll be able to control is the story I choose to tell myself about what’s happening within and around me. And maybe, that’s power enough.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest