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Cooking With Myra: Breaking bread with good friends

By By Myra Starkey
Oct. 9, 2012 at 5:09 a.m.

Focaccia bread

FOCACCIA DOUGH

• 4 tsp. active dry yeast

• Pinch sugar

• 2 cups warm water (105-110 degrees)

• 11/2 tsp. salt

• 5 cups unbleached all purpose or bread flour

• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

• *3 Tbsp. chopped rosemary

• Cornmeal for sprinkling

In a two-cup measure, sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water and let stand until dissolved and foamy. This should take about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine salt and 3 cups flour. Stir in yeast mixture and olive oil and beat hard for 3 minutes. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clears the sides of the bowl.

On a lightly floured surface, knead briefly to form a springy ball, adding only a tablespoon of flour at a time as needed to prevent dough from sticking to work surface. Dough will remain very moist and pliable. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until tripled in bulk. This should take about 11/2 hours.

Spray jelly roll pan (cookie sheet) with cooking spray. Sprinkle pan with cornmeal (about 2 Tbsp.) and place dough on pan. Use heel of hand to flatten dough. You can make into a 11x17-inch rectangle or a circle.

Let dough rise on cookie sheet for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

With fingertips, make indentions in the surface of dough. Drizzle olive oil over dough and let it pool in the indentations. *Sprinkle with rosemary or other herbs. Bake in oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.

*optional

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese.

Garlic focaccia: add 3 cloves of minced garlic to dough during mixing.

Herb focaccia: add 1/2 to 2/3 cup of finely chopped fresh herbs to dough during mixing or sprinkle top of dough with choice of herbs.

*Use basil, rosemary, oregano or marjoram.

Whole Wheat focaccia: Substitute 21/2 cups of whole wheat flour for 21/2 cups of the unbleached flour.

I have an obsession with fiber. I am not referring to the type of fiber that one eats for bowel health, but rather the kind that is used to knit or weave.

I love the textures and colors that yarn offers. I love to run my fingers through yarn in a store to experience each type of wool, cotton or other material. Rayon, acrylic, bamboo, cotton, alpaca, angora or merino wool all feel different to the touch.

I can imagine making shawls, sweaters and scarves. My imagination often gets me into trouble since I seem to buy and hoard yarn for future projects. I plan to use it all eventually.

If I started now and knitted eight hours a day, I would probably still have some stock left many months from now.

I know others also find fulfillment in creating or doing crafts or art. It is very gratifying to start with only the raw materials and work them into something that is beautiful or functional.

Using our hands, our minds and our imagination, we can create things that are unique.

I think this starts early in life with crayon drawings and Play-Doh sculptures. We enjoy the praise from our parents or teachers even though they sometimes can't even figure out what we are drawing or sculpting.

By our teenage years, we may become more self-conscious and not willing to be artistic because we think someone may criticize our project.

As adults, we may not care so much what others think of our skills; however, we may be so busy or tired that we lose our desire to create.

For the past several years, my good friend, Mary Ann, has invited me to spend a week with her stitching and knitting. Actually, she invites several ladies, and I am the lone knitter. She and her husband have a ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, far from the civilization and busy life that I know. Janet, Meggie, Barbara and Mary Ann needlepoint, and I knit. We all yak and eat a lot.



This year, I finished knitting a shawl that I started a year ago.

I went to the Fiber Fest in Forth Worth a while back and left with many sacks of yarn and great intentions. Once I got back home to my real life, I put the yarn away. I just couldn't find the time.

Retreating to the mountains gave me the perfect opportunity. The shawl is made of about 11 colors of wool. All of the skeins (rolls of yarn) are hand-dyed in soft pinks, mauves, cream and olive green with flecks of gold.

Our week together was filled with laughter, good food and adventure. As usual, we ate very well, and I used the altitude as an excuse to consume more calories than usual, since I heard that you can burn more calories at higher altitudes. This is generally bad news for us who live near sea level, but it was great news for me when I was walking around at 9,000 feet elevation.

We did not just sit and knit all day. One afternoon we hiked in the mountains on a trail littered with yellow leaves that were fluttering down from the quaking aspens. The forest was putting on its annual fall spectacle, and the foliage was green, yellow, brown and red.

I thought about all these colors contrasted against the bright blue skies above and the wide valleys and rocky peaks around me and was simply awed by the beauty of God's creation.

And who was I to be so blessed to witness it? It is an incomparable show that has occurred from time eternal for anyone - or no one - to see.

As we walked, I heard only the rustling of the leaves and footfalls of our group. Occasionally, the stillness was interrupted by our conversations. We spoke softly, almost reverently, as one might if they we in the presence of something truly grand.

Janet asked what would happen if a bear came after us. I smiled and said that the good news was that he could only catch one of us at a time, and I didn't think that I was the slowest runner in the group.

I filled up my paper bag with colored leaves, various types of pine cones and bits of sage and moss. Mary Ann referred to these as my "woodland treasures."

These samples of nature will remind me of the beauty I experienced, and I thought I might be able to craft them into something.

Meggie, the adult daughter of Robert and Mary Ann, joined us for the trip and brought along her 2-month-old baby, Davis. I loved playing grandmother's assistant and cuddling this bundle of joy. He is just learning to smile.

I found myself dreaming of the day when I might have a grandchild of my very own. I find almost any baby irresistible, particularly if I can return it to its mom when it gets fussy, hungry or wet.

We stopped in Santa Fe on the way to our destination and dined in a courtyard surrounded by shops. The restaurant was called La Casa Sena, and I ordered the poblano pepper stuffed with squash and covered with a light tomato sauce.

After the meal, I went looking for more yarn. Janet and I found a shop called Miriam's Well that I had researched before the trip.

Miriam, the shopkeeper, greeted us with a smile, standing barefoot in the courtyard of the small house. She is an artisan who spent many years in New York weaving professionally and then fulfilled her dream by moving to Santa Fe.

Her shop carries her creations along with weaving and knitting supplies. I felt right at home there. The room was bursting with color and texture.

I was drawn immediately to a knitted shawl using a shadow knitting technique. She took it off the hanger and draped it across my shoulders. Janet said I looked like a butterfly. I am unsure if she meant it as a compliment, but I purchased the yarn to make the shawl myself in those same colors.



The others had dispersed in search of a grocery store to stock up on supplies for the week, but I relished my time in her shop listening to her talk about her adventurous life and giving me knitting and weaving tips.

She was anticipating her first trip to Texas the following week and asked about the weather. I told her to bring shorts.

While at the ranch, I prepared rosemary focaccia bread to go with roasted Brussels sprouts and lamb chops. This is an easy bread that can be proofed in an oven.

Set your oven on the lowest setting, and then turn it off 15 minutes before placing the bowl filled with dough inside. Make sure to cover the bowl with a cotton towel.

Prop the door open to allow the heat to escape. It is best to place the bowl on a wet towel so the dough will not cook on the bottom. Enjoy.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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