The Day I Made a Deflated Milk Bread Balloon

img_7440Every couple of months, I declare that I’m going to try to make a loaf of bread. This is usually met with eye rolls and complaints of “Here we go again.” Maya will inevitably bring up the fact that I have tried to make bread approximately 800 times and none of them have worked. While I can make amazing cinnamon rolls, the ubiquitous loaf of bread eludes me. Sometimes it comes out dense and grainy. Other times it doesn’t rise at all and is more like a brick.  Every attempt seems to start out well but then end in disaster. Today was no different.

Back at Thanksgiving, I needed some good bread for making stuffing (because what’s Thanksgiving without stuffing?). Rather than use plain sandwich bread, I picked up a loaf of sweet french bread. It was a whole loaf bread that had a nice chewy crust but was soft as a cloud on the inside. It cubed like a dream and our stuffing was heavenly. I can’t always find it in the store, though, so I thought why not make it? You’d think that I’d know better by now.

After much research, I settled on a recipe: Soft and Fluffy Milk Toast (Take 2) from Kirbie’s Cravings. This recipe uses the Tangzhong method developed by Yvonne Chen to create a super fluffy and slightly sweet dough. In addition to yeast, milk, egg, butter and sugar, the dough also uses a flour paste (the Tangzhong) to keep it soft and elastic.  I had to make a small tweak to account for the fact that it’s near impossible to find dry yeast here but other than that, I followed the recipe. I even hauled out my KitchenAid and hooked it up to a transformer for the kneading process. After 20 minutes of kneading, I had a pretty good-looking dough ball. I closed my eyes and put it in a warm spot to rise while I hoped for the best. To my elation, the rise went well. It would prove to be a temporary triumph.

I didn’t have the same sized loaf pan she uses in her recipe. Remembering that another blogger mentioned over stuffing her pans to get a big loaf of bread, I thought that I could put all the dough in the pan and I’d just have a really big loaf. Oh I got a big loaf alright. After the second rise, my bread had grown to comically large proportions. In the back of my mind I knew this was bad news but I told myself it would be ok. I put it into the oven knowing full well that disaster was likely just 30 minutes away. I scurried upstairs to my craft room to avoid the inevitable.

It baked beautifully but it kept growing and growing and getting more and more brown. It was also drooping way over the sides of the pan. After sheepishly taking a peek at its progress 20 minutes in, I knew things were going south. I decided to take it out when it “looked” done. I knew it was probably a little bit too early but the top sounded hollow so I pulled it out and dumped it out onto the cooling rack. The second I removed it from the pan, it deflated like a helium balloon that had been left outside over night.  The top was a delicious golden brown, but the bottom just flopped over helplessly. The longer it sat, the more it sank into the top. I flipped it back over and put it back in the pan for support but the damage had been done. I pulled off a piece to see if I at least got SOMETHING right. Surprisingly, the taste was there and, actually, the texture was there too (though a bit underdone). It just suffocated under its own weight.

I still have some Tangzhong left so perhaps tomorrow I’ll give it another go and divide it up between two pans this time. I’m determined to try again but I have no hopes of being successful. Some day, I will be victorious. Today is not that day.

Bread: 801

Me: 0

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The Very Loud Welcome Home

img_7395-1We just returned from spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Riga, Latvia. Riga is a surprisingly gorgeous city with a strong economy and wonderfully preserved old city area. In fact, the entire downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Latvia has done an amazing job preserving it and recovering after decades of occupation. If you ever find yourself looking for a unique place to visit, look at Riga. I highly recommend it.

Our last day there, we decided to take one final meander through the old town area. We found the famous “Three Brothers” buildings, the old Swedish gate (Latvia was once part of Sweden), and saw lots of beautiful medieval buildings some dating back to the 1200s. One store in the oldest part of the city had a really cool mural on the front which caught my eye because it had a little black and white cat peeking out at you from the bottom corner. It was almost judging you for even looking at the mural. As if he was saying “How dare you disturb my artful peace.”

This is almost the exact same face Moose (who is our ancient tuxedo cat) gave us when we returned after six days away. True, it was our first long trip away since moving to Denmark, but I think Moose was rather insulted that we had left him behind. In years past, the dogs stayed at the house and we had a dog walker come three times a day. Now that Elsa stays at the hundpension, Moose is on his own when we go. He meowed incessantly when we got home which was to be expected to some extent. He was a few pounds heavier thanks to the absolute mountain of food I left for him but I could tell that that had not been enough to appease his emotional needs. We gave him lots of hugs and held him close until we went to bed. Or at least tried to.

Josh and I crawled into bed at about midnight and tried to get to sleep. We both had a busy day planned for today and needed to get some sleep. We had been traveling all evening (after our morning explore of the city) and were ready to collapse. And that’s when it started. MRRRROOOOOOW. MAAAAAOOOOWWWWWW. MOOOW. MEEOW MEOW MEOW MEEEOOOOOOOW. MROOOOOOAAAWWWW. It was so loud. I couldn’t tell if the windows were shaking from the 30mph winds going on outside or Moose’s ghostly cries. Sometimes he was right next to us. Sometimes he was in the hall. Sometimes it was a muffled wail from the basement. Sometimes it would be dead quiet long enough for you to almost fall asleep only to be lurched awake by a panicked MROOOOWWWWWWWW from the stairwell. It was as if the ghost of Marley himself had come to haunt us on New Year’s Day.

He finally stopped at about 3 am. I’m not sure if it’s because he decided we had suffered enough or if he just tired himself out. There were a few more pathetic meows this morning when we woke up until I fed him. After that he seemed to accept that we were home for a while and settled down. I’m not sure he’s forgiven us though. Only time will tell. Fingers crossed we can get some sleep tonight.

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Deep Thoughts from My New Calendar

I swear I’ll keep up with it!

It’s that time of year again. That time when we all convince ourselves that we WILL drink 8 oz of water a day and we’ll keep up with that morning yoga routine. We’ll track our expenses and pay off the last of that debt. We’ll do it all and, for some, we’ll keep track of it in a beautiful bullet journal filled with quaint doodles of sweet wildlife scenes.

Photo credit: Christine My Linh

Like so many other people, I fell in love with the idea of bullet journaling. I’ve always been so much better with pen and paper than digital tools. Writing things down helps me remember things in this scattered wasteland of a brain I have. So in my quest to keep track, I turned to bullet journaling for answers to all my problems. I love watching people draw these beautiful spreads and plan their weeks out with all these cute doodles. There’s only one problem: I suuuuuuck at drawing.

Don’t get me wrong; I can somewhat draw. But the spreads these pro bullet journalers do on Instagram and Youtube? I’m better off just watching videos and drooling at their insane skills. I tried a few times to do it with mixed results. Some things worked, some things didn’t. And, yes, I know there is the original basic bullet journal idea but that didnt really work for me either since I can’t keep up with all those damn icons. Failures aside, I was determined to try again this year on January 1 with a beautiful, fresh journal.

That’s how I found myself at a stationery store in Riga, Latvia tonight. The clarion call of a fresh notebook has been impossible to resist. I have a personal alert system for stationery stores and was delighted when we passed one while walking on the way to our hotel. I decided to take an hour for myself and head over tonight, determined to find the blank journal of my dreams (at a much lower price than in Denmark). This one, I told myself, I would definitely keep up with and fill with SO MANY DOODLES.

As I picked up and put down (over and over again because I’m terrible at decision making) I kept finding my way over to the calendars thinking about how I would plan out my spreads. One of the biggest parts of the bullet journaling trend is making those fancy weekly spreads. But, as I thought back on the 50 videos I watched last night when I couldnt sleep, I realized that a big component of those was the art. Art that I, frankly, suck at and really don’t enjoy if I’m honest. Hmmm. Blah. Strike one. Another problem is that the typical bullet journal is actually pretty big and won’t fit in my purse. Strike two. Annnd, if we’re being honest, I’m really not into drawing all those habit trackers and syrupy inspirational quotes. That’s not at all relaxing to me. Strike three.

I realized I needed two things: a calendar that I can easily keep with me and reference in a pinch and a personal diary to capture my thoughts. Nothing super fancy, just a diary and maybe a place to plan miniatures. So, while I did pick up a fancy schmancy Leuchttrum 1917 journal to randomly fill at my leisure, I was excited to come across a very inexpensive calendar that has exactly what I need:

A section showing the number of each week because in Europe they go by week numbers (i.e. Week 1: Jan 1-7)

A section where I can see whole months at a glance

And a weekly layout with the days on one side and notes on the other

What’s the point of all this? I guess it’s just an exercise in honesty. Sometimes we so badly want to be the cool kids with all the best things be it drawing skills or whatever else there is out there that we want but don’t have. But, sometimes, it’s good to listen to that little voice inside that’s saying “Girl, you know there is no way in hell you’re going to want to draw 52 different themed weekly spreads and let’s not forget that motivational quote pages make you want to hurl.”

I need places to brain dump without having the burden of it being cluttered with layouts and drawings. At the end of the day, I just want to remember that we’re going to concerts on March 22nd AND March 25th. I need a place to remind myself to schedule Maya’s appointment to get her NemID. And I need to be able to quickly look ahead to see that the Tønder Festival is at the end of August. As much as I love the cutesy bullet journal spreads, it’s not me and I dont think it will be. I’m way too practical and DEFINITELY not organized enough.

So, here I am with my sweet little calendar instead of a fancy bullet journal. And this year, my message is “Be the Calendar.” Or be the bullet journal. Be whatever is YOU and not what you are trying to convince yourself is you. Be willing to admit how you really feel and find a path to acceptance. Because, at the end of the day if we aren’t who we really are, it weighs on our souls when we realize we aren’t going to be able to live up to who we can’t be.

And that is deep thoughts from my new calendar.

Better than a stick figure but NEVER AGAIN

An Ode to Christmas Cake

Let’s talk about the black sheep of Christmas: Christmas Cake. You may know it by it’s sinister other name, fruitcake. For whatever reason, fruitcake seems to strike fear into the heart of even the strongest of men. Every time I extol on its virtues, I see the eyes of everyone in the room roll into their collective heads. Why, I ask you? WHY?

Deliciousness from last year’s cake

Let me break fruitcake down for you. It’s base is a dense spice cake flavored with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. To that you can add a variety of extras like candied fruit peel, candied ginger, raisins (both golden and red), currants, and even nuts. What is gross about any of that? I make one every year and, you know what, it’s damn delicious. Pour some rum over it and it’s an out of body experience. Ignore your memories of that horrid stone of a baked good your Aunt Betty brought to Christmas 10 years ago. Store bought fruitcake is NOTHING like home made. I’m pretty sure Bacon (RIP) wouldn’t even have eaten store bought fruitcake and he ate trash. No, no. Christmas cake, REAL Christmas cake, is divine and I will fight anyone who says different. 

This year’s cake: Less is More

Here in Denmark, it can sometimes be a bit tough to find the ingredients I would use at home. This year’s victims were currants and nuts. I can get nuts but they’re stupid expensive so I decided to pass. I couldn’t find currants anywhere so I skipped on those as well. I ended up with red raisins, candied orange peel, candied citron, and candied ginger. I added in extra cinnamon and clove to the recipe to amp it up some and I don’t regret it a bit. It came out of the oven a delicious deep brown color and tastes like heaven. I really like how this year’s iteration let the flavors really develop and never let’s the mix ins get to overwhelming. You have the fragrant spices as the top note and then the raisins and candied peel come in to add just enough sweetness that you don’t even need frosting. *cuts a square*

WHY ARE YOU MAKING THAT FACE?! Fine, more for me. *shoves piece in her mouth*

So far, Josh and Maya have had about as much interest in it as pickled herring. Some day, I’m going to get them to like it. It may take soaking THEM in rum first but some day.

All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is a Danish dictionary with phonetic spellings of Danish words that also has English definitions and doesn’t cost 600kr. Is that too much to ask? If I’ve asked for the impossible, I’ll take Gucci Bloom perfume in the red scent. *hint, hint*

When I was in college, I had the genius idea to minor in honors level English. If I remember correctly, I believe I ended up taking about 22 credit hours of English courses over four years. They were quite varied and ranged from Advanced Comp to Arthurian Legends. One summer, I decided to squeeze in some extra credits and take an intermission course called The History of the English Language. What seemed like a great idea turned out to be one of the hardest courses I took in college.

Over the six weeks of intermission, we studied 1200 years of changes in the English language. Not only the history of why it changed but the actual phonetic changes. We even studied the phonetic differences between dialects in the same language. We learned Old and Middle English (which are VASTLY different) along with their respective grammar and syntax. Our tests consisted of a multiple choice portion, an essay portion and a portion where we translated phonetic texts into regular written words and vice versa. It was a fascinating class that, to be honest, I was lucky to squeak a passing grade out of.

I was reminded of the class yesterday, when I started working in a Danish workbook that a fellow expat had given me to help me learn Danish. One of the most difficult things about Danish is that the written language is rarely pronounced the way it is spelled. Learning on your own can be quite difficult because you miss that really important pronunciation piece. This book has vocabulary lists and a English/Danish dictionary that includes the phonetic spellings of the Danish words. Having the phonetic spelling of words is a linguists version of Neo learning kung fu in The Matrix: Suddenly you’re wearing sunglasses, a leather trench and saying “I speak Danish.” OK, it’s not THAT life changing but understanding phonetics really does help. Being able to see that phonetic translation next to words like meget (meaning: a lot or very)  and know it’s actually pronounce “MA-d(th)” allows me to get really close to correct pronunciation without having to butcher Danish to a native Danish speaker.

Danish does still have a few letters that don’t translate to English phonetics such as the soft d and the very tricky ø (which I still can’t pronounce correctly). The website Speaking Danish has a good explanation of the phonetic differences and use the same notations for those sounds as my book does. So now, I have to try to find an English/Danish dictionary that has the phonetic spellings of the Danish words. All I’ve been able to find is the reverse. I went to three different bookstores yesterday and struck out each time. The only one that came close was a straight up Danish dictionary that seemed to be their equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary. It was an absolute TOME and was priced at a whopping 599 kr (roughly $100 USD). As much as I love phonetics, I can’t cough up that much for a dictionary. So, the hunt is on!

 

 

I solemnly swear…

That I’m OK. A few people have reached out to me after yesterday’s doom and gloom post. I didn’t intend it to be so dark. I really just wanted to be honest about why I had seemingly abandoned Faking It in Denmark for a bit. Emotionally, I’m fine. I promise. Everyone has a down day(s). I think it’s good to be honest about that, though, rather than put on a happy face every day because that’s just not real. Too often I bottle up how I’m feeling and only show people the happy side. Maybe that’s why everyone was so concerned.

Right now, I’m happily sitting on the couch being warmed by Moose and jealously wondering how he looks exactly the same as he did 17 years ago when we got him. I’ve spent the day thinking about the blog and how much I love writing; It’s both cathartic and enjoyable. It’s an outlet that I did realize I needed so much. Things will be better and life will go on. We can’t linger on the bad parts of life. We have to look to the good parts of life and remember that tomorrow is a fresh chance. 

Sometimes I just need to remember my favorite quote 

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present – Bill Keane

I’m not religious, but that will never not be words to live by.

It’s Been a While

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It’s been two full months since my last post. Right around the time of my chili post, we found out that my beloved dog, Bacon, was seriously ill with pancreatic cancer. Over the next six weeks, my whole life turned into caring for him. He was constantly at the vet and needed near round the clock care. He needed assistance getting up and had to be fed every two hours. He had to have injections twice a day. I could hardly leave the house for fear that he would scoot himself into a bad position and be stuck there for hours (which did actually happen a couple times). For most of it, he couldn’t make it up the stairs to our bedroom so I slept on the couch with him. It was a lot to deal with. Sadly, in the end it was all too much for his poor body to handle and we helped him across the Rainbow Bridge on November 14.

Since then, I’ve been in a bit of a funk and I just haven’t wanted to do much. I severely pulled a muscle in my back lifting Bacon into the car (he was a BIG BOI) which has been making it hard to sleep or do much of anything.   I don’t know if I’d call what I’ve been feeling depression but I’ve just felt…blah. He took a piece of me with him and I really miss him. I thought I was ok and then I saw a hound at Kronborg Castle this weekend and got teary eyed after petting his soft hound ears. I guess I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve also been coming to terms with my forced sabbatical. In addition to feeling down about Bacon, I’ve also been a bit down about where I’m at in life. I’ve been feeling a bit like I’m adrift at sea. What do you do when your career implodes because you followed another dream? It’s time to make a new dream, I guess. I’m not totally certain what that dream is but there’s something out there for me. Perhaps my dream should be to learn Danish in record time. Måske!

Anyway, hold onto your butts. I’m coming back.