Thursday, January 13, 2011

Challenge 2. Become a Better Cook

I have a feeling that, of all the challenges I've laid out for this year, this one, becoming a better cook, is going to be the easiest because I have so many friends who are willing to be a part of it in one way or another.  I still have some offers from last year's new things list that I need to take up, such as my friend Dean's promise to take me through the multiple stages of croissant baking.  My uber-supportive friend Lilly not only sent me a crock pot and an Indian cookbook for my birthday this year, she's offered to do some long distance tandem cooking together.  Siham is going to teach me to cook some Moroccan dishes, Chris has promised to eat all my main-dish experiments, even those that turn out less than perfectly, and I have a whole slew of students and former students who want to hone their cooking skills as well, so I have lots of co-conspirators on this one.
Success!  The pretzels pictured here and the calzones we made are both definitely keepers -- let me know if you want to make some sometime

Yesterday evening, in the midst of a snow shower that cancelled lots of evening events but didn't deter her in the slightest, my friend and student, Claire, made good on her long-term plan of trying some new cooking things together.  She's back at Saint Mike's a week early because this is her semester to student teach, and so she brought another friend who's also student teaching, Siobhan, as well. The two of them had left it to me to decide what to make, and so I went with something I love to eat and hence, would love to know how to do myself -- spinach calzones.  Last week when we went skiing Josh and I went to Das Bierhaus afterwards for beer and soft pretzels and I've had pretzels on the brain ever since. So, though I'm not sure Julia Child would approve of pairing pretzels and calzones for dinner, that's what we did.
Claire thought the balls of dough we were making into pretzels looked like mouse ears.

After Claire and Siobhan arrived, we started by making the dough for pretzels, since it needed an hour to rise in the oven. You have to dissolve the yeast in warm water with a little sugar, and we were a bit surprised that between the three of us, we were still not exactly sure what the borderline between "warm" and "hot" is -- and in the world of yeast that's a life and death question.  We made our best call and whipped up some dough the old-fashioned way (i.e. mixing and kneading by hand) and while that was doing its rising, make the calzones. The calzone filling included spinach, three kinds of cheeses, eggs and herbs, and was surprisingly easy to put together.  Siobhan proved that it is possible to roll out calzone dough in a perfect circle, and filling them was kind of fun.  Our one mishap there was learning through trial and error (mostly error) that calzones are hard to seal.

Siobhan and Claire pouring the dissolved yeast into the flour "well".
Once the calzones were in the oven, we went back to the pretzels and rolled and twisted them.  In case you've never made a pretzel, here's the secret.  You dip them in a baking soda bath before putting on the kosher salt.  Apparently, the alkaline water gives them their thin brown crust on the outside when baking, They smell fabulous when they're baking too. 
The secret "pretzelizing" step -- Siobhan dipping the dough in a baking soda bath.

Just after we sat down to eat, Chris, who had been trying his cross country skis on the fresh snow outside, dropped by and then Drisk came home from work.  Of course, we pressed them into service as tasters as well, and we all agreed that it had been quite a fine experiment.  I know I'll definitely be making both pretzels and calzones again in the near future.
Chris, Drisk, Claire and Siobhan.  Both Claire and Siobhan are in their first weeks of student teaching; hearing their stories made me realize how much easier it is to deal with young adults than little kids in a classroom (though the kids definitely produce more funny story material.)

In the Works

Last year when I was doing a new thing a week, I would always finish my blog post with a note about what was coming up in case people wanted to join me or make suggestions.  This year, with 12 challenges and at least a new thing a month, I'm going to try to post in this section how different challenges are going, what next steps are coming, and new things that are on the horizon as well.  Half the fun of last year was doing these activities with other people, so please, if something looks fun or interesting, let me know if you want in on any of it.

Challenge 1. Become a better skier/snowboarder  Assuming it's not too cold, Chris and I are going to a new place (for me anyway) to ski on Friday -- Sugarbush.  Thanks to the generosity of Drisk, who got me skis for Christmas, and Siham, Leah, Katrinka and Brian, who bought me gift certificates to the Outdoor Gear Exchange, I'm just about all outfitted for the rest of the winter.  I have a bash badge for Smuggs and am looking for people who want to go....

Challenge 2.  Become a better cook This one is such a lot of fun. Some things I'm hoping to try in the next month or two include; croissant-making with Dean, making homemade yogurt, learning to make fruit tart, soups and stews (including in the crock pot); fruit tart; Indian curries; and homemade from scratch pierogis.  If any of these sound like fun, or if people have other ideas of things to cook together or in tandem long-distance, let me know!

Challenge 3.  Learn to jump and spin on ice skates This one is still not really off the ground the way I'd like.  Although Chris and I went last week, I haven't been able to get on a regular schedule. Between Leddy Park and Cairns, it is possible to ice skate between 8:30 and 11:15 Monday-Friday, and I need to contact Ali to find out when the Ice Barn has skating as well.  Anyone want to get on a regular schedule with me?

Challenge 4.  Finish a Marathon Took the plunge and registered for a class at the Y that is supposed to help you do exactly that.  After convincing us that we absolutely had to do it, Colleen is now iffy about whether she can come do the Burlington City Marathon.  In the meantime, Siham and I are on our training schedules. Anyone else out there think this is the year for them?

Challenge 5. Become a Better Rock Climber I haven't been at all in the New Year, and really want to get going on that again.  Nicole and I might re institute our once a week night at Petra Climbing Gym and now that rock climber extraordinaire Dan is back in town I'm hoping to go with him soon.  Claire, Kate  and some other students are interested in trying it, so if you'd like to go, write and let me know!

2011 New Thing 1.  I think the first new thing of the year will probably be either sled hockey (maybe this Sunday) or going to the Snowflake Bentley Museum in Jericho.  Any takers?  Also, John wrote and suggested a closer-to-home alternative for dog sledding -- the Vermont based Peace Pups.  I'm looking into it and will post when I get more info.

I think that's pretty much the focus for the next couple of weeks.  Let me know if you want to join in!


  1. Okay, I don't think being a taster counts as "service" or "work." You walk in and eat something. That said, I'm volunteering for the mindless, I mean laborious, task of eating. Let me know

  2. Looks yummy! I wish I was there to sample some of these goodies!