Father Of The Four Winds

Next weekend promises to be busy. A fashion show on Saturday and a photo shoot on Sunday.

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The fashion show is over at Morris in the Central West End and the photo shoot is at SALT restaurant (also in the CWE) on Lindell Blvd. The restaurant has a theatre room upstairs and it is decorated in an Egyptian theme. I’ve been thinking about ways to incorporate the design and looking around for other Egyptian style architecture in St. Louis.

I’m looking for models and other support people to help out with the photo shoot but I would like everyone else to come and support the restaurant by spending your money on brunch. it’s actually quite reasonable and the food is great. It’s a very pleasant, relaxing space and the staff is outstanding. Check it out on Sunday.

Salt – 4356 Lindell Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63108

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Popping, Crashing, Snapping

We made Cake Pops at home on Sunday. The rain this weekend was constant and cold. We looked for new cars in the rain on Saturday and of course the salesman couldn’t figure out why we might not want to drive around in the rain dodging city traffic. We had already passed a couple of wrecked cars on the way there. We looked at more cars in the rain later but never decided on anything we really liked.

Looking at cars gives me no special pleasure. I’m still hoping the old one can be fixed for not too much money. I think we made the mistake of holding on to it too long and now it’s going to cost us. I always seem more comfortable around old things for some reason. Some fool (uninsured motorist) ran into the car in the parking garage at work a couple of weeks ago. I figured it was a waste of time trying to get it fixed or getting the repairs paid for. Hmmm… why to they call them reckless drivers when they are always having or causing wrecks? Just another reason not to get a new car but used cars don’t seem to be any great bargain either.

So even though there is a lot to be happy about there is also some stress because of all these things we probably don’t need but always think we do. The car problems have put a hold on all our other plans and purchases. We wanted to take a trip next month but that is probably out the window if we have to buy another car. It’s almost funny when you think about how silly these problems are but I seem to feel obligated to fret about such things for some reason.

Maybe things will start looking better now that the sun has come out again.

Baking The Day Away

Imagine a cold and cloudy Sunday morning. One where the kitchen floor is cold on your bare feet and you look up at the window to see fine white flakes blowing past a gray city backdrop. It’s a perfect day for staying in and baking something. I usually bake bread around this time of year when the whole family gets together for dinner and holiday parties. Family gatherings are where I first learned the art of making bread from my wife’s father Jack. He was a much more precise and deliberate bread maker than I am,  priding himself on exact measurements and repeatable results. He had bread baking and communication skills that I do not… and his bread was truly great.

I am more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” bread maker. I measure… but not so carefully.  And I have never weighed anything on a scale as Jack always did when splitting the raw dough into two or more loves. He kept one eye on the clock and one on his watch as he waited for the bread to rise. I use a more flexible method based on whim and guesswork. When the rising bread dough rises above the top of the bowl, I figure it’s time to punch it down. The kids always like to punch down the bread dough. It’s almost as much fun as pushing buttons on an elevator.

The point is there are just as many types of bread bakers as there are types of bread. Don’t be shy about baking bread, even the rare failures provide a rich source of entertaining stories and future family traditions.

The bread I am baking today is called Challah, a traditional Jewish bread that looks and tastes great and is guaranteed to impress your family and friends. They won’t always tell you they are impressed but they will ask you to make more bread.

Challah

2 packages active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1-1/2 cups milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons butter

3 large eggs

5-1/2 to 6 cups all purpose flour

1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water

Poppy seeds

Proof the yeast by putting it in a cup or bowl with the warm water, a pinch of flour and a pinch of sugar. I do this first and let it get going while I measure out the reset of the ingredients.

Warm the milk and butter gently in a small pot. I cut the butter into pieces but it does not really have to melt completely. You are just warming everything up to keep your yeast happy. You should be able to put your finger in the milk without burning yourself. If it’s too hot for you it will be to hot for the yeast.

Place 5 cups of flour in a large bowl, add the sugar, salt, eggs and warm milk with the butter in it. Mix thoroughly adding flour as needed to thicken the dough. You want it to be sticky but not soupy. When everything is mixed and sticky, sprinkle about a quarter cup of flour on your clean countertop or cutting board to knead in the rest of the flour. This usually takes between five and ten minutes to do and you are basically stretching the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

If you are lucky enough to have an assistant, they will have cleaned out your mixing bowl and rubbed the inside with butter for you. If not you will have to throw a towel over your dough and do it yourself. Work your dough into a ball and then put it in the bowl top first and roll it around so it gets buttered all over and then turn it right side up, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set it in a warm draft free spot to rise until it doubles in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough! Roll the dough out on you lightly floured surface and divide it in two. Next divide each half into thirds (six pieces total). Roll the thirds into ropes about the diameter of a closet pole (1/14”). Take three ropes and braid them to form one loaf of bread, then do it again for the second loaf which will turn out better than the first loaf. When you get to the end of the braid you just wrap the last rope around and tuck it under the loaf giving it a good pinch to hold it in place.

If you are lucky enough to still have an assistant, they will have already greased two cookie sheets for you and have them ready and waiting for your bread loaves. If not, grease two cookie sheets with shortening or butter and dust with flour or cornmeal. You might be able to get away with one large cookie sheet but two gives you more flexibility. Cover you loaves gently with a clean towel or parchment paper and let them rest until they almost double in size again. Maybe about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the top of your loaves with the egg white mixture and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool on racks.

Walkin’ in Memphis

What better way to unwind from a trip to Spain, than to head down to Memphis for a little rib rendezvous?

We walked over to Beal Street and then to the restaurant. I just realized how tired I am.

They say that the first BBQ you eat in Memphis will always be your favorite and that may very well be true. I have always liked Tops BBQ. Laura took us to Central BBQ and that is what we brought home with us. The Rendezvous is an institution so we had to go there just for the experience.

Dining Out

Lunch was great. I had a crispy chicken salad, which is thin strips of seseme crusted chicken fried golden brown and a small handfull of salad on the side. After lunch we went to a half dozen high end stores. The shopper shopped while I took photos outside under a clear blue sky.

We have had our share of restaurant mis-adventures but lunch and dinner were both oustanding. For dinner I had butternut squash ravioli and the travel expert had some sort of rissoto. My ravioli had duck ham in the sauce. It was all going well until someone decided that they needed desert and we had to wait an hour to get it. My back was screaming no mas! I took some Tylenol but that seems to take an hour to work. I took a hot bath and that worked until I started writing this bent over the nightstand. It’s midnight and time to call it a day. Goodnight Johnboy.

The Convergence Of Almost Nothing

I heard someone talking about “the convergence of everything” the other day and that sounded pretty clever. I was trying to find out who might have been the first person to come up with that phrase and I eventually found out that it had been used quite a bit and that the clever part was not the phrase itself but what you thought the phrase meant or what product or idea could be considered as the actual point of convergence.

For me things never seem to converge nicely but instead take off in different directions like goose feathers in a cyclone. Oh how I wish that things would converge into a nice little package for me to study and admire.

We have a pretty big family and it is hard to get everyone together in one place at the same time. You can usually snag a couple with the offer of a free meal or some sort of gift that has to be picked up in person.  A party will usually produce a minimum of a fifty percent family turnout but it looks like our next big thing is going to fall below that average for the first time in a long while.

Usually I am the one against throwing big parties but once every few decades I think you need to celebrate an event in a special way. We will do that soon with whoever is able to make it and I plan on having a lot of fun. I’m going to set up the photo gear in the living room, which has decent ceiling height and just enough width and depth to get the job done after removing just about all the furniture. If it was up to me I would probably get rid of all the furniture anyway and have the studio set up all the time since the living room only gets used a half-dozen times a year anyway.