Laying in Stores for the Winter

There’s an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History where you can see everything that happens underground: moles tunneling up to eat tulip bulbs, earthworms slithering through the soil, tree roots  sending spiky little root-hairs out for water.

My favorite part of the exhibit is the chipmunk’s nest, which is filled with layers of leaves and acorns. The chipmunk sleeps on top of all her acorns, and when she wakes up after a long winter’s hibernation, her emergency food stash is right there waiting for her.

I’ve been feeling like the chipmunk ever since getting back to New York. I’ve laid in my stores for the winter – flour, grits, quinoa, oats, butter, oil, sugar, honey, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, apricots, prunes, pecans, walnuts, cashews, almonds, peanut butter, milk, eggs, and cheddar cheese – and I feel as secure as the chipmunk asleep on her acorns.

Last week, I made oatmeal bread, lentil soup, and brownies, cooked dinner with a friend, met a friend for a home-made lunch at her office, and felt smug every time I walked past a bakery with my empty wallet. It’s the dead of winter and the beginning of a recession, but I have my emergency stash right here.

Recipes after the jump

Oatmeal Bread

Heat 4 cups of milk, 4 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a big pot. When the milk is warm (imagine that you’re going to give a baby a bath in the pot – that’s the temperature you want), turn off the heat, stir in 3-4 cups of oatmeal and a cup of honey and test the temperature again. If it’s warm, but not hot, stir in 2 tablespoons of yeast. If it’s hot, let it cool off before you add the yeast. (Yeast need a warm environment to grow, but they’ll die if it gets too hot. And bread with dead yeast is, well, very sad.)

Once you’ve added the yeast, stir in a combination of whole wheat and white flour until what you’ve got in the pot is hard to stir and looks like bread dough. Just stir in a cup of flour at a time, alternating between white and whole wheat, until you it’s hard to stir.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for ten minutes. For those of you who don’t know how to knead yet, here is how it works: fold the dough in half, press into it with the heel of your hand, give the dough a quarter turn, and repeat. Repeat that about 300 times. If the dough starts getting sticky, add some flour to the counter and your hands. If the dough, doesn’t look like a ball, don’t worry. This is normal. It will look better in ten minutes.

After you knead the dough, put it in a big pot and cover it with a dishcloth. Put it somewhere warm (next to the radiator is good, and the kitchen counter is fine too) and go amuse yourself for an hour or three. When the bread has doubled in size (usually after the first hour or hour-and-a-half, but you can let the bread rise for three or four hours if you like), punch it down, and knead it for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into four pieces, and knead them for a few minutes each, adding flour if they are sticky. Shape them into loaves and put them into four greased loaf pans. Alternatively, shape them into balls and plop them down on two greased cookie sheets (2 loaves will fit nicely on a cookie sheet). Cover them with a clean dish towel and let them rise for an hour or an hour and a half.

Bake the bread at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cover the loaves with aluminum foil for the first thirty minutes so that the crust doesn’t burn before the middle has finished cooking, then remove the foil for the last fifteen minutes so that the crust will brown. You can test to see if the bread is done by sticking a knife in – if it comes out clean, the bread is ready.

Brownies

Melt two sticks of butter in a saucepan. Stir in half a cup of cocoa and 2 cups of sugar (the heat should be off at this point). Stir in a cup of flour. Beat four eggs, then stir them in too.

Pour the brownie mixture into a greased 9×13 inch baking pan and bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

Lentil Soup

This recipe is from The Greens Cookbook, by Deborah Madison, which I strongly recommend buying. I’m typing the recipe from memory, so it may not be exactly the same as the recipe in the book.

Boil 1 cup of green or brown lentils, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and a stalk of celery (clean and chopped) in seven cups of water. Turn down the heat once the water boils.

Meanwhile, saute a chopped onion in olive oil. Once the onion is getting soft, stir in two cloves of minced garlic, a pinch of salt, and 3-4 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley (I probably put in 1/3-1/2 cup parsley). When the onion is really soft, stir in a can of diced tomatoes (or three medium sized diced fresh tomatoes if it is summer and you have access to good tomatoes) and cook for five minutes.

Once the lentils are soft, add the onion-tomato mixture to the pot and cook for a few minutes. Then add a bunch of spinach (washed, stems removed, chopped – about 5-6 cups altogether) or chard (1 bunch of chard, washed and chopped, does the trick nicely) and stir. Once the greens cook down, taste the soup to see if you need more salt. Add a little red wine vinegar or lemon juice to brighten the flavors. (I use the cap on the vinegar bottle as a measuring cup – 1-2 caps, about 2-3 teaspoons, usually does the trick.)

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2 Responses to Laying in Stores for the Winter

  1. […] Lentil-spinach soup […]

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