I woke yesterday morning to the stirring, welcome sounds of a late summer storm. My trees and grass and flowers were, I’m sure, quite grateful as it’s been a rather hot, dry season here in the Heartland. Added bonus: I didn’t have to water my container plants as Mother Nature gloriously provided sustenance for the day! Thanking her for that…

We watched CBS Sunday Morning with hot drinks at hand (coffee for Bill, tea for me), always a soothing combination. After showering and making ourselves presentable, we drove to The Jordan House, a local historical site I’ve been wanting to visit for some time now. We were not disappointed. The home and its furnishings, its ode to the history of both the Valley Junction area of West Des Moines and the role it played in the Underground Railroad and our lively and engaging tour guide satisfied my eagerness to see this place, finally, for myself.

After a brief Starbucks pit stop – yes, more hot beverages – we returned home. I threw in a load of laundry while Bill resumed self-tutorials on learning Lightroom, a new tool I think I will need to employ as well. With just a few clicks and minor adjustments, photos really POP and without some of that overdone post-processing I see far too often with some photos on Facebook and elsewhere. A little sure goes a long way!

My sister texted me to say she had some sweet corn and zucchini if I was interested so I drove over and spent some time visiting with her and her husband. She has several chickens – love this handsome fella! – and they are always fun to watch.

In addition to the zucchini and corn, she gifted me with okra and green beans. I’ve never had okra before and welcome recipe suggestions. Someone on Facebook strongly advised against steaming it. Duly noted!

I was pleased to discover when I got home that the books I’d ordered from Amazon had arrived. The package was sitting in the chair by the front door. It seems strange to me that deliveries are made on Sundays – this is the second time this has happened – but I’m not complaining. More books to read – my winter will runneth over!

We rounded out our day catching up on the results of last week’s America’s Got Talent, our annual summer TV fare, but not before enjoying sissy’s sweet corn for supper and cranberry-oatmeal cookies I’d baked – fresh from the oven!

Yes. It was a good day. Nothing fancy, nothing ‘wow’. Just – nice. Weekends and life, just the way I like it.

I want to bake!

Fall weather, that wonderfully cool, crisp time of year, entices many of us back into our kitchens to whip up quick breads, muffins, biscuits, scones, pies and cookies. Seasonal spices that evoke sharp memories of childhood – cinnamon, pumpkin, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom – will soon fill our homes with the heady aromas of autumn.

Three overripe bananas sit on my countertop and fortunately, I have a new banana bread recipe to try. Facebook recipes jump out at me left and right as do offerings found in several of my favorite magazines. I peruse each of these publications when they arrive in my mailbox, scribbling small ‘to try’ notes in the margins. Interesting how, despite my best – and lofty – intentions, I often find myself baking the same ‘tried and true’ concoctions. Still though, I love to seek out new ideas to implement in my pursuit of Adventures in Baking. Occasionally I hit upon a real winner now and then, something to add to my entertaining tool belt.

Although I grew up the eldest of six girls, I never picked up any kitchen domestic skills from my mother nor (to be fair) did I have an interest in acquiring them. For family get-togethers it was understood that my contributions would fall into the category of food stuffs and eating supplies such as hamburger buns, potato chips, plastic silverware or a six-pack of soda. After Bill and I were married I became interested in learning to cook and bake. In recent years cable television programs such as those aired on Food TV and the Cooking Channel have further whet my culinary appetite and aided my self-confidence in navigating previously daunting tasks such as ‘turning on the oven’.

Early in our marriage I stumbled across a recipe for a Two Ton Bourbon Pound cake. It looked scrumptious and (most importantly) doable. I made it for a family Christmas and proudly posed for a photo that my husband snapped before we left for my parent’s house. The thing was massive (hence the name), covered with nuts and flavored with bourbon whiskey. I recall that it tasted very good and was really quite lovely. Unfortunately my family is not that much into sweets and hardly anyone touched it. Despite this seeming rejection, I now had more confidence in the kitchen and was eager to try new recipes.

Some folks love pie, others cake or cookies. As for me, I love bread (scones come in a close second). Two years ago I decided to try working with yeast bread recipes. Quick breads are easy to make and delicious but there’s just something wonderfully appealing about the aroma and texture of the dough and the satisfaction of baking delicious bread from so few ingredients. The pièce de résistance, a moment even more gratifying than the time I made my bourbon-infused cake, was when I first made ciabatta ‘Italian slipper’ bread. The whole process of making the bread is like a circus for all of my senses: getting the yeast to activate, preparing the dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, hearing the whir of the dough hook and the slap, slap, slapping sound as the dough encircles the mixing bowl, kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, shaping the loaves, savoring the heady aroma as it bakes, pulling those beautifully colored ‘slippers’ out of the oven, slathering them with butter and then – oh! – sinking your teeth into that fabulous crumb. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Yes, fall is a wonderful time to reacquaint oneself with the kitchen preparing comfort food at its finest. Soups, stews, harvest vegetables – my taste buds relish the change of pace this time of year – but mostly, I just want to bake!

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  A quick Google search reveals that Samuel Johnson is (perhaps incorrectly) credited with this little nugget.  Different sources suggest otherwise or provide variations on the theme such as ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ or ‘nice guys finish last’.  Fair enough.  Whatever the phrase I understand the thinking behind it and know that it applies in spades when it comes to our kitchen-related activities.

While I love Adventures in Cooking and even more so Adventures in Baking I’ve started to detect a bit of a pattern.  Can anyone else relate?  It usually goes something like this…

Busy weekends:

  • Places to go, things to do, too much time frittered away (let’s not get into that…)
  • No time to cook or bake. Out we eat for the rest of the week.
  • Or pull out frozen leftovers (if we haven’t done that already the week before).
  • Peanut butter sandwiches. Grilled cheese and soup.
  • Hey. Air-popped popcorn with very little butter and a couple quick shakes of salt provides needed fiber, no?

A calendar respite:

  • Peruse dust-covered cookbooks and bookmarked web sites, categorized computer folders. My beautiful Amana Colonies walnut recipe box filled to over-flowing with magazine clippings and recipe cards.
  • DECIDE.
  • Compile Menu Planner for the next seven days in a spiral notebook.
    • Name of recipe
    • Name of cookbook with page number
  • Compile grocery list.
    • Group ingredients together by recipe
    • No use buying sour cream if I can’t find the other ingredients for XXX Casserole
  • Drive to the store (assuming something more interesting to do doesn’t come up).
    • If it does, plan to go later. Tomorrow is another option.
    • Otherwise, we’re on our way.
  • Saturday
    • See previous bullets.
    • Do we have what we need? BEGIN.
    • If not, see ‘Drive to the store’. Rinse, lather. Repeat.