Seven months have past since my brother left us and I am still stunned. As his birthday approaches, thoughts of him rush through my brain, memories of a big brother always there, a childhood and more full of adventures, highlights of my life. Lately summer visits to our grandparents’ house in Albany have been swirling around in my head, memories of badminton in the tiny backyard among Grandpa’s rose bushes, having to sneak into the upstairs neighbors’ apartment, terrified of being caught yet goaded on by my brother, to rescue a birdie that had strayed onto their balcony; forbidden trips down into the dusty, cobweb-draped basement, sunlight barely filtering through grimy windows, boxes piled high, spilling their jumble of treasures out onto the dirt floor, unlabeled bottles filled with mystery lining the stone walls, ghosts waiting around each corner, the musty, damp odor with me still; sneaking armloads of marshmallows and candy bars, contraband goods, into the tiny bedroom we shared, daring and exhilarating in our boldness, knowing that we would have to eat them in the dark, a nighttime picnic, so the parents and grandparents wouldn’t see light seeping out through the crack under the door, but then, in our excitement, tripping – him or I it is hard to remember – and our sweet treasure flying, forbidden fruit rolling under the beds and into deep, dark corners and spending the rest of the night on our hands and knees searching for our loot. Barbecues at cousin Sandra’s, eating clams for the first time followed by popsicles of chocolate and cherry under the brilliant burst of 4th of July fireworks. Ice cream trucks and real New York bagels and lox. Memories filled with laughter, lots of laughter.
And life goes on. My baby is leaving home this week, spreading his wings and happily leaving the nest, flying off to New Orleans. I know he’ll be doing great work, volunteering to help rebuild neighborhoods destroyed by Katrina, but he’s still my baby and he’ll be too far away. What will I do? #1 son is still at home but will be no consolation, sentimentality not his strong suit where mom is concerned, and he is so involved with his own life: working, working, working, excelling at school, he has also started a company on the side and already has several clients, has become, at the ripe old age of 21, a powerhouse, a bundle of energy and JP and I are thankful that it has finally arrived!
All this hot on the heels of a milestone birthday that also has me quite stunned – How in the world did I get this old? What happened to all those years? - I have been trying to deal with so many life-changing events. Sometimes I feel down, sometimes I feel the weight of the bad things in life, the unfairness, the swiftness of time passing. But sometimes we have to push all that aside, wrap it up in a box and bury it deep in the ground, and reach for something else, something different and exciting or something reassuring and motivating. Changes in life can lead to changes in goals, changes in mindset, changes tout court. And that is where I am now, what I am working on. Trying to readjust my blog to adapt to my new goals, preparing for Food Blogger Connect in June where I will be speaking about my passion: writing.
Things have changed in my life, but there are some constants, certain things that I turn to again and again, those things that keep me grounded and give me comfort and succor in times of stress like a child’s favorite security blanket. Walks with JP, Marty dancing happily alongside us, dashing in and out between our legs. Eating homemade pizza with my men in front of a movie on TV, chick flick or horror movie or, better yet, some crazy wild guffaw-inducing comedy made only to entertain. And baking. Stirring, blending, whipping, kneading, the slow, constant movement, the physical force behind each stroke, each push and fold and turn, the silky, luxurious coolness of cake batter as it flows in ribbons from my whisk, or the satin smoothness of dough, voluptuous like flesh as I press my hands into the gorgeous heft of a mound of dough, the bite of the yeast as it tickles my nostrils, the earthy goodness of salty Parmesan cheese raining down through my fingers urging me to bring some up to my lips and taste. Yes, things of the earth, of the body, these things always center me and I can focus on my senses, each texture, each scent, the sounds around me, the birds outside, the silence of the house, the occasional sigh of a dog in his dreamless sleep. Kneading dough, watching as it silently rises before my eyes, I watch and see it even though it tries to sneak quietly unnoticed. I punch off a bit of the raw dough and taste the subtle bitterness of uncooked yeast mixed with the saltiness of the cheese like earth and sea. And all, once again, is calm.
I am sending these utterly gorgeous, flavorful rolls with their crunchy rich topping over to Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen who is this month’s host of Zorra’s Bread Baking Day. This month’s theme as chosen by Rachel is Bread Buns!
I am also sending this to Yeastspotting, our favorite weekly yeasty event created and hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast.
PARMESAN DINNER ROLLS
Based on a recipe found in The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.
4 ½ tsps (13.8 g) instant dry yeast
½ cup (125 ml) warm water (body temperature)
1 tsp sugar
½ cup (60 g) flour
1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm milk
¼ cup/4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
1 large egg, beaten until well blended
4 to 5 cups (500 to 625 g) flour
7 oz (200 g) freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs (30 g) butter, melted
¼ cup breadcrumbs, homemade is preferable!
¼ cup grated finely grated Parmesan (for this I used packaged which is finer)
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbs cold water (save that egg white for your macarons)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the instant dry yeast, the 1 tsp sugar and the ½ cup flour. Add the warm water and stir briefly with a fork just to make sure that all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Leave to activate, about 15 or 20 minutes until frothy and bubbly and it seems to have grown a bit.
Now add the lukewarm milk, the softened butter, the salt, sugar and beaten egg and stir just to combine. Now begin adding and stirring in the flour and the grated Parmesan until you have the cheese and 4 cups of the flour has been added and a dough is forming: all the dry ingredients are moistened and it is all starting to pull together into a ball. Add a bit more flour if it is too wet.
Scrape out onto a floured work surface and knead for 6 minutes or so, kneading in as much of the remaining cup of flour as necessary until you have a soft, smooth, elastic dough.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat in oil, and cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes. The dough will have risen though not doubled.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press down. Divide into 16 pieces for large dinner rolls, up to 32 pieces for small buns and gently shape into rounds. Lightly butter the bottom and side of a 9 x 13-inch (22 x 33 cm) baking pan and place the rolls in the pan leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) between the rolls. Cover once again with the plastic wrap and towel and let sit and rise for about 30 minutes until doubled. They will now be touching.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Gently heat and melt the butter for the topping. Blend the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan in a small bowl and stir in the melted butter until you have a crumble. Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash then generously sprinkle the tops of the buns with the crumble, pressing the crumble on to stay.
Bake the rolls for 20 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the rolls and your oven. The rolls should be very puffed up and fluffy and the top should be a deep golden brown. If you think that the tops of the buns are browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil until they are done.