Tuesday, February 27, 2007

By the seat of your pants

When I was considering children but before they actually appeared in my life, when caring for children was as foreign to me as raising a sea otter, I read a passage from Annie Lamott about a long night she spent in the hospital with her young son Sam. As I remember it, Lamott is making great efforts to stay calm and light for the sake of her son, who had some anxiety-producing, but non-life-threatening malady, when he complains he’s bored.

Lamott retrieves a couple of index cards from her purse, grabs some tongue depressors and a pen and out of these materials makes two samurai warrior puppets who act out a sword fight to the amusement of her son.

I read this with a mixture of admiration and apprehension for my own dearth of creativity. Can’t bored children just read magazines like the rest of us? Lamott seemed so evolved, like she was from another species of inventive and resourceful adult. I felt like an invertebrate watching jealously from my mud puddle as the smart ape poked her clever grass blade down the mud hill and came up with a yummy kabob of ants for her little one.

Then my own kids arrived and I realized coming up with fun and amusing stuff for them isn’t an innate trait or a byproduct of reading childcare books, it’s SURVIVAL.

I realized this again this weekend when Randy was off at a funeral, LUCKY HIM! and the low and gloomy overcast sky outside promised eight or so inches more snow tonight. Lunch was over, Nora’s nap was a couple of hours away and I wanted nothing but to stretch out on the bed. The girls’ wrestling match was turning ugly, so I rallied, made a cup of strong tea and we made breadsticks.

I introduced the girls to the thrill of the flour sifter. “See, you’re making snow!” We added a little warm water to the pile of white power and lo and behold, instant dough! Is it really that easy? Nora’s hands were covered in sticky so I set her up with a bowl of warm water in the sink and a sponge. She giggled for twenty minutes, splashing and squeezing.

Breadsticks (Grissini)
Makes 10 big sticks

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 package (2 teaspoons) dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (between 120 and 130 degrees if you have a thermometer, very warm but not hot, if you do not)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to grease the pan
Fine sea salt

Mix the flour, yeast and a pinch of salt. Stir in the oil and the water by tablespoons to make a soft dough. Careful! You may not need all the water!

Knead the dough for five minutes or until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, turn once to oil the other side and cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap or a damp towel. Leave in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into ten pieces.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll each batch of dough out on a lightly floured surface into a long breadstick. Sprinkle with salt.

Place the sticks on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden. Watch carefully – baking could take between 8 and 20 minutes.

From Party Food! by Lorna Wing

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