Lynn's Musings

From a Deep Well

Scrumptious Butternut Squash Bread

Butternut squash have taken over a third of my garden, winding its way through the potatoes and I’m pretty sure it’s planning an escape into the backyard.  I’d saved the seed last year from a squash I bought from an Amish gardener at the farmer’s market.  I’d turned that squash into a delicious soup.

            There are so many tasty dishes to make with butternut squash but I thought, why not bread?  I have a good pumpkin bread recipe that I’ve made several times and since pumpkin is just another kind of winter squash it made sense to me to substitute one of my homegrown, homegrown beautiful pinkish-beige ones. 

Butternut squash has a milder flavor and the flesh is lighter in color than pumpkin, but I was betting it would make a delicious bread.  The first step was to cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, brush the flesh with olive oil (to keep in the moistness) and roast until it was soft and mash-able with a potato masher.  I set the oven to 375 and placed the squash on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  I checked the squash with a sharp knife after 30 minutes but it wasn’t quite done.  I gave it 10 more minutes.  Once it had cooled, I peeled off the outer skin, cut the squash into small chunks and put it in a bowl. I was pleased to notice that it wasn’t stringy like cooked pumpkin can be.  It took a little muscle, but I mashed it up good.  Next time, I’ll use an electric mixer.  Now I was ready to bake some bread!  The bread turned out delicious and moist.  Here is the recipe I used.  I hope you enjoy!

LYNN’S BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAD

1 butternut squash, cooked, peeled and mashed

4 tablespoons of water

1/2 cup raisins

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup cooking oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup cooked and mashed butternut squash

1 3/4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Topping:

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

DIRECTIONS:   Cut the butternut squash in two lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds.  Place both halves, cut side up, on a cookie sheet and baste lightly with olive oil. 

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes.  Test flesh with a sharp knife.  It should easily pierce the flesh.  Let cool enough to handle, then remove outer skin. Cut into chunks and mash with a potato masher or an electric mixer. Place water and raisins in a small saucepan.  Heat until warm but not hot.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Do not drain.  In a mixing bowl, stir together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Add 1 cup of mashed butternut squash along with the raisins with water and blend well.  Into a separate large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Add egg-squash mixture and carefully mix well.  Add walnuts, stirring to mix.  Grease and flour one 9×5 inch or four 3×5 inch loaf pans.  For the topping, mix cinnamon into sugar and sprinkle over the top of the loaves. 

You don’t .need to use all of the topping mixture, just what looks like enough.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 45 to 55 minutes for a large loaf or 35 to 40 minutes for small loaves.  Cover with an aluminum foil tent if getting to browned. Test with a toothpick for doneness.  Let loaves cool for 5 to 10 minutes before carefully removing from pans. 

Copyright September 3, 2021

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

Gardening – An Act of Faith

            What is it about those firsts in the garden – the first sprouts, the first blooms, the first miniature vegetables?  Every year the seeds germinate, the flowers turn into tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers and every year I’m as delighted as I was with the first little patch of garden my mom said was just for me. 

It is an act of faith when each seed is planted; faith that water and earth will awaken the life held dormant inside, faith that a seedling will emerge seeking the sun’s light and warmth. 

            I tried a new vegetable (to me) in my garden this year – parsnips.  The seeds were in the ground and weeks passed but no little leaves were breaking the soil.  I waited some more and hoped I hadn’t weeded them out by mistake.  Not ever having grown parsnips I had no idea what the sprouts looked like.  Then one day there they were all in a row.  Childlike amazement swept through me.

            Perhaps that is why we gardeners garden; the pure joy of watching life rise from the earth.  I’m as excited as a kid at Christmas when I see the first little green tomatoes, baby green beans and budding squash. 

Every time I find a self-seeded tomato plant, an unexpected melon vine, potatoes growing in the mulch pile, I consider them gifts.  It makes me wonder at the tenacity of the life hidden in the dirt and I’m grateful for the unanticipated bonuses.  I do my best to find a place for each one in my already full garden. 

            On a whim, one day the accountant in me decided to add up the cost of my gardening.  As the dollar signs grew I chose not to finish the tally.  Maybe it would be cheaper to buy the produce at the farmers market, but the joy of gardening can’t be had without feeling my hands in the warm earth, waiting for those first leaves to appear, keeping a daily vigil and toting watering cans and hoses.

            Humans have been gardeners for millennia.  It is part of what makes us who we are.  I feel rooted in knowing my ancestors, past counting, welcomed the spring solstice, waited for the rain and planted seeds with the faith that life would again rise from the earth and greet the sun.  

Copyright July 19, 2021

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

Re-Entry

I’m having a little trouble and I know I’m not the only one. After a year of a limited and very different type of social life the world has opened up and some of us folks are feeling a little overwhelmed.
When Covid hit, I along with many others, went into panic mode and didn’t leave the house for a month. By then the pantry was pretty empty. A trip had to be made to the grocery store. That required the full regalia; a mask, latex gloves and hopefully my glasses would double as goggles. Scurrying down the aisles, holding my breath as strangers (danger!) passed by, I was dismayed at the decimated shelves and everyday items that weren’t to be had. The groups of shoppers staring at empty displays let me know I wasn’t alone.
After a few weeks of adjusting to staying at home, my attitude began to change. All of a sudden there was time; time to shorten the bedroom curtains, put a fresh coat and new color of paint on the bathroom walls. Time to pour a hot cup of coffee, lean back in the recliner and read a book for as long as I wanted to. The start of each new day felt a little lighter and less stressful.
Then the day came when I picked up a pen, dug out a half-written manuscript and started working on my unfinished novel. My mind reach back to the story of Benjamin and Ruth’s journey through the Black Swamp on their way to West River Bend. I was writing again; peaceful and contented in my solitude. But there was also a small whisper of guilt because I felt that way. So many people were suffering.
Now the post-Covid summer is here. Getting vaccinated let me enjoy lunch with my brother for the first time in eighteen months, be a spectator at my granddaughters’ softball games and take a hike with my Audubon friends. But after all those months of staying close to home, several days of socializing leave me with the need to go dark for a day or two, recenter and catch my breath.

Copyright July 5, 2021

All rights reserved. No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

FOREST BATHING

I discovered the other day that I’ve been participating in an activity called Forest Bathing, when here all along I thought I was just taking a walk in the woods.  Come to find out Forest Bathing is a real thing and has many benefits beyond the sense of peace I’ve always found.

            One of my favorite memories is of going into the woods across the road with my dad.  In the spring he would point out the sprouting blood root and showed me the hidden delicate blooms that would become May apples.

  Robins and cardinals sang in the trees and flew in flashes from limb to limb.  Woodpeckers drummed letting us know they were near.  We silently stood at the edge of a pond listening to the deep sound of bull frogs claiming their piece of turf.  He showed me the tiny creatures living in the waters and explained their importance. 

He instilled in me a sense of awe, wonder and stewardship.  I have never lost my love for the forest.

            A few years back I bought a new house.  The reason I chose the area I moved into was because there are two nature-type centers close by.  I did a lot of self-debate about taking on a mortgage while walking along paths covered in last year’s leaves.  Nothing calms my soul and clears my mind more than listening to the trees, standing in their presence with that primordial feeling of being a part of it all. 

            I looked farther into the benefits of Forest Bathing and found that spending time with the trees can lower your blood pressure, will lessen anxiety as well as increase a person’s over-all physical and mental fitness.  Not everyone can take the time for or has access to a walk in nature but bringing nature into urban settings – trees planted between buildings and streets, flower boxes and planters in front of store and office buildings – is also beneficial. 

            Hanging out with the trees gives a feeling of being a piece of something larger, it refreshes the mind leaving a feeling of peace and opening it to creativity.  This emotional response is one of many reasons why it is important to protect and preserve our irreplaceable natural places. 

            Take a stroll down quiet paths covered in dappled sunshine.  Turn off your phone or leave it behind.  Feel a connection with creation knowing generation to generation have stood and listened to the whispering of the trees.




Copyright March 22, 2021

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

Happy Valentine’s Day

For the first time in ages I’m looking forward to Valentine’s Day. Living through this past year of separation, somehow I feel closer than ever to my friends and family. With long phone calls, texts, emails and photos, we’ve shared our Big News events but, more importantly, we shared our small ones, too.
During the summer and fall we were all able to meet up outside and socially distant for lunch in the park and coffee on the front porch. We gathered together for photo excursions and bird watching out in the woods and fields. We exchanged books to help get us through the dark winter months.
Now its February and Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow. The daylight hours are slowly growing and I’ve noticed the sun is still up and shining through my kitchen window as I wash up the supper dishes. Valentine’s Day will soon be followed by Lent, St. Patrick’s Day and the equinox; all markers along the road to spring. Warmer days and gentle breezes will soon be upon us along with the return of robins and hummingbirds and the blooming of crocus and tulips. I smile, feeling uplifted and looking forward to seeing my beloved friends and family once again.

Copyright February 11, 2021

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

 

Into The Winter Woods


I haven’t been on my skis or snowshoes in two years. I was reminded of that fact the other morning when it started to snow. Nothing serious just those late-November flakes, the ones that float in the air, line the edge of the driveway in white and are gone the next day.
I felt that childhood mix of joy and anticipation. I am excited at the prospect of donning my skis again and heading out on the trails or silently trekking through the woods in my snowshoes. I’m lucky to have both the Dahlem Conservancy and MacCready Nature Reserve close by. Their stands of hardwoods, pine forest, fens, beautiful lakes and ponds and a gently sloping prairie wait for me.
Before I go out, I’ll set up my skis in the front room, put on my boots and test out the bindings and my knees. I will imagine flexing and weaving my way down long hills and twisting paths. I can hear the sound of my skis sliding along another’s tracts or cutting through virgin snow. I can taste the crisp freshness of the cold air; feel the silence of the wild places. The beauty and peace will lift my soul. I’ll stop and stand in the center of it all – awed and amazed.
The last time I strapped on my snowshoes I couldn’t figure out why they sunk into the snow and didn’t hold me up. Trudging down the unbroken trails was quite a workout. I went farther than I should have, it being my first time out that season. I was breathing hard, heart pounding, hands sweating in my mittens by the time I got back to the parking lot. It was six months later when I realized the fifteen pounds I’d gained had put me over the weight limit of my gear. I was embarrassed but have it admit it was funny, too. The good news was, with a little will power it was something I could fix.
I’ve spent the last several months slimming back down, the image of easily striding along pristine winter trails as my motivation. The extra fifteen pounds are now gone along with a couple extra for good measure.
It’s raining again today. It is November after all but if the temperature was ten degrees colder that rain would be several inches of fresh snow and I am so ready.

Copyright November 28, 2020

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

 

 

Falling Back

This time of year the daylight hours get shorter every day. Soon there will be the switch from daylight savings time to standard time. It’s not the shifting of the day and the resetting of the clocks that throws me. It’s putting away the lawn mower, filling the gas tank and changing the oil in the snow blower. It’s in October that I notice Orion, a sure sign of winter’s approach, shining bright in the morning sky. But what really brings the change of season home to me is having my morning cup of coffee indoors with the curtains closed against the darkness instead of outside sitting on the patio enjoying the sunrise. During the warmer months, I love watching the morning break from the faintest light with Venus and a few bright stars still visible in the sky to the sun climbing over the horizon. That peaceful hour sets the tone for my day.
My parents moved to Florida years ago. One afternoon I was telling my mom of the projects I’d saved up to do during the winter. She said that was one of the things she missed about not living in Michigan. With the year-round warm weather in Florida there wasn’t that distinction between summer and winter tasks. She found it hard to settle in with a good book when there were weeds growing in the garden all twelve months of the year. She felt less guilty taking an hour or so to curl up with a steaming cup of tea and escaping into a murder mystery when the ground was covered in snow.
I don’t look forward to the long nights and gloomy days of November, but I love a good snow storm, the brilliant blue sky and bright sun the next day and a glowing fireplace.  

In  mid-February, about the time my joy at a fresh snowfall has turned into dread, I notice the sun is once again above the horizon and shining through the kitchen window while I’m washing the supper dishes then a few of weeks later I see the first robin in the yard.
I catch myself wishing for a few more weeks of winter because there are still items on my to-do list. They will have to wait because – thank goodness – spring is knocking at the door.



Copyright October 18, 2020

All rights reserved. No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

A Morning Adventure

 

Rethinking Priorities

All of this time at home has me thinking about changes I can make to live a little a better, more harmonious life. I can’t help but wonder how much difference it makes if I turn off the lights, turn up or turn off the A/C, compost my vegetable waste and plant a garden. How much will I lower the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? How much will I lessen the food insecurity of the world? The answer is: not much. But I know I’m not the only one; I am one more. Maybe someone else will see the steps I take and think, “I can do that too”.
I came up with a few ideas I can implement right now:
First, I really miss having a clothesline. At my previous house I hung out my clothes all summer long. The smell of bed linens dried with sunshine and warm breezes is heaven. An extra benefit is that sunlight is a natural disinfectant, and just think of all the energy saved. Even though I will be the only person in my neighborhood, I’m having one put up in my backyard this summer. I can’t wait!


Then, I visited a new dentist  this year. After a lot of poking and prodding, the hygienist suggested that I use an electric toothbrush (we have several right here at the receptionist’s counter). I understand that my brushing technique may need tweaking, but another appliance to do something that I can handle on my own? What a waste of electricity! Not to mention the $200 for the toothbrush.
Another easy thing I can do is dust off my leaf rake. Raking is great exercise. Instead of going to the gym for a cardio workout, I will pick up a rake and leave the leaf blower in the shed, saving lots of electricity, again cutting my carbon footprint not to mention lessening the noise pollution.

When I was growing up, on Legion Road, my dad and I would spend an hour or so when the night sky was clear with a flashlight and a star map. The Milky Way slashed across the sky and every now and then we were treated to the Northern Lights.

 

 

Today, living in the suburbs, I can barely see a few random stars. There is so much outdoor lighting these days. Why is this necessary or even welcome? If turning off the lights isn’t an option, there are alternatives to old-style lighting. Eco-friendly outdoor fixtures cut the ambient light escaping into the night sky and focuses the light only where it is wanted or needed.
This much light in the night isn’t just unnecessary, it’s harmful. Birds use the moon and stars to navigate, along with the earth’s magnetic field when they migrate. If they can’t see the stars they can’t find their way. Some seaside communities decided to turn off their lights at night when they discovered newly hatch sea turtles, who follow the moon’s path of light on the water, couldn’t find their way to the sea.

This is a good time to for me rethink my priorities and the kind of world I want to leave for my grandchildren. It is their creativity and self-reliance that will teach us all how to live in harmony and not in dominance with this one-and-only earth, our island home.

Copyright June 27, 2020

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

 

 

Sourdough – The Yeast That Keeps on Growing

I spoke with my friend Joan about the everyday products that are hard to find at the grocery store these days. The last time I went shopping I expected there would be empty shelves in the paper aisle and there were. But no yeast? No flour? A couple cans of off-brand shortening? These are items I would never have figured would be in short supply.


A few weeks back, when the governor announced we were all to stay at home and the world turned upside down, I stocked up on everything including baking supplies and yeast. My plan was to stay home-stay safe for a month.


After two weeks I ran out of store-bought bread. That wasn’t a problem since I enjoy making my own. At the end of the fourth week and after baking four loaves of bread I was down to two packs of yeast. I was starting to wonder what to do when I remembered my mom’s container of sourdough starter. It was an integral part of the kitchen counter terrain and it gave her an ongoing source of yeast for baking bread, biscuits and coffeecakes.


I’d baked with sourdough years ago and recalled that a packet of yeast, some flour, water and sugar were all that were needed to get a batch going. I looked through an old Amish cookbook and found the starter recipe, listing the amounts of each ingredient. It also had the instructions for feeding the starter every 7 to 10 days, which is important to keep it going indefinitely. And the starter has to be used or shared regularly or you will end up with a LOT of starter. I planned on baking at least once a week, probably more, so keeping up with the growing yeast wouldn’t be a problem.


Here is the recipe for the sourdough starter I found and some delicious recipes from King Arthur Flour to try:
SOURDOUGH STARTER

1 package of dry yeast
2 ½ cups warm water
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar or honey

Directions: In a large glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkle yeast over ½ cup of warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add remaining water and stir until yeast is dissolved. Gently whisk in the flour and sugar. Cover loosely – cheesecloth works good for this – and let sit on the counter top, at room temperature for 5 or more days, until bubbly and ready to use. Gently stir the mixture twice each day. At this time the starter can be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. If 10 or more days pass without using the starter, feed the starter by adding a teaspoon of sugar. Once some of the starter has been used, feed the starter by stirring in ¾ cup of flour, ¾ cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Leave at room temperature for another 5 days (or until mixture is bubbly again) stirring twice a day.

SOURDOUGH BREAD

1 cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
5 cups flour, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons salt

Directions: The afternoon before baking the bread – Combine starter, water and 3 cups of flour in a large bowl. Beat for 1 minute. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight for about 12 hours. Add remaining 2 cups of flour, sugar and salt. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, sprinkling with additional flour as necessary until smooth. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for about 5 hours, until dough is light and airy. Gently divide dough in half. Shape into two ovals, place on lightly greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise until very puffy, 2 to 4 hours. When ready to bake, lightly spray loaves with warm water. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make four diagonal crisscrossing slashes in both loaves. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until deep golden brown and loaves sound hollow when lightly rapped. Remove from oven and let cool. Note: Making sourdough bread is not an exact science. Be flexible. Rising times will vary depending on room temperature and vitality of the sourdough starter.

SOURDOUGH PANCAKES OR WAFFLES

Overnight Sponge:
2 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sourdough starter

Batter:
All of the overnight sponge
2 large eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons melted butter
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions: To make overnight sponge, stir down your refrigerated starter and remove 1 cup. Mix with flour, sugar and buttermilk in a large bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours overnight. The next morning, beat eggs and oil in a small bowl. Add to overnight sponge. Add salt and baking soda, stir to combine. For pancakes – Pour a little oil into a skillet and heat. Use about ¼ cup of batter per pancake. Cook until edges of pancakes are bubbly and starting to dry. Turn once and brown the other side. For waffles – Pour batter onto a preheated, greased waffle iron and bake according to manufactures instructions.

SOURDOUGH CINNAMON CRUMB CAKE

Topping:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ c butter, melted

Cake:
½ cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup sourdough starter
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons instant mashed potato flakes
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup milk at room temperature
Confectioner’ sugar

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×9 inch baking pan. Topping – In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add vanilla and almond to melted butter and pour into flour mixture. Stir until uniformly moist. Set aside. Cake – Beat butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until combined. Add eggs, vanilla and sourdough starter. Mix until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, potato flakes, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Add to the egg-starter mixture. Stir until combined. Add milk and mix until smooth. Spread batter in baking pan. Sprinkle topping over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until edges just start to pull away from pan. A knife inserted in the center will come out clean when cake is done. Cool and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Copyright May 2, 2020

All rights reserved.  No part of this blog, including written text and all images, may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.