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Cooking with Myra: Mastering talents

By By Myra Starkey
Sept. 25, 2012 at 4:25 a.m.

Delicious Pumpkin Bread

DELICIOUS PUMPKIN BREAD

Topping

• 5 Tbsp. packed (2 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar

• 1 Tbsp. flour

• 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

• 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

• 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

Bread

• 2 cups flour

• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. baking soda

• 1 (15-oz.) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

• 1 tsp. kosher salt

• 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

• 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

• 1/8 tsp. ground cloves

• 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

• 1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar

• 1/2 cup vegetable oil

• 4 oz. cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces

• 4 large eggs

• 1/4 cup buttermilk

• 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

TOPPING: Using your fingers, mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.

FOR THE BREAD: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda together in bowl.

Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 11/2 cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese can be seen in the mixture.

Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK). Fold walnuts into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf. Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow bread to cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove bread and allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated. Published Sept. 1, 2012, From Cook's Illustrated

What a difference the hands of a master make. I realized this when I tried to put the yarn on my loom so I could weave.

It is amazing that one can struggle with a task and then someone who has mastered the art can show up and make it all turn out just right.

Earlier this year, I attended a week-long weaving school. A very kind lady had given me a fairly large loom that she was not using. It was much more complex than the smaller looms I had used before.

I began the task of trying to teach myself to weave on it. I had little success. In fact, I had no success.

But I really wanted to learn to use this machine because it was much more advanced and could be used to make much better weavings.

I know that it is not necessary to weave things yourself because a person could always go to the mall and find what they need. I just find it incredibly satisfying to actually make something like a blanket or shawl. The truth is that when I create a piece it becomes a part of me and by giving it to someone else it becomes even more special.

The school I went to is north of Waco. It is part of Homestead Heritage Farm, which is a Christian community. They specialize in what modern folks call sustainable living. In the old days, it was just the way rural people lived, making their own furniture, blacksmithing, weaving, making pottery and producing their own food.

At the farm, they are very simple in their needs, modest in their dress and incredibly kind, peaceful and relaxed. It is amazing how excellent they are in their crafting skills.

My teacher was a young woman named Rachel. I was her sole pupil for the week and so I got to know her and we became friends.

Under her direction, I was able to weave several projects including a wool blanket.

A couple of months ago, I cleaned out a room in our house so I could use it for crafts. I set up my special loom and tried to warp it.

Warping involves stringing the yarns vertically so the weaving can be done horizontally or side to side. I had done it in my weaving class and despite the fact that I had performed the task before I could not figure it out.

Night after night, I went to my craft room to try again. I consulted books, videos and YouTube and finally gave up and called Rachel to rescue me.

As luck would have it, Rachel and her mom were planning a trip to the beach and fortunately for me, Victoria was on their way. When she arrived, we sat down together at the loom and she patiently talked me through the process of warping and slowly, very slowly my brain remembered.

In her hands, the hands of a master, the threads stayed where they were supposed to be and the loom seemed to respond to her touch.

I had been wrestling with it for weeks without success, but now it seemed the puzzle was solved and after several hours I was ready to weave.

I am starting to weave a new blanket. I know I may have to call Rachel, but I am gaining more weaving confidence each hour I work at it. I think that there are many things we do in life that are learned best by watching the master and then putting our own hands to the task.

I believe that some people have more talent than others for specific crafts, but when it comes to weaving I am willing to keep trying until I get it.

I asked Taylor the other night if he ever got discouraged when he was turning bowls. His craft is to make large wooden vessels on a lathe. I felt certain that the bowls did not always turn out like he hoped. He has told me that the wood is sometimes cracked or decayed in the middle so that makes the project a challenge.

He responded that he just keeps at it until he figures it out. That is good advice for most anything in life.

Taylor has sort of an artist brain and he seems to have almost a compulsion to create. He has spent the last 20 years turning bowls from different types of wood. He doesn't think of himself as an expert, but I assure you his bowls tell a different story. He makes them in many shapes and sizes depending on the wood he finds. Most of his bowls start out as a rough log covered with bark, but by the time he completes the vessel, it is a finely finished work of art.

I hope that one day I can weave works of art. Until then, I intend to keep trying.

I think at last, I have perfected one of the most amazing pumpkin bread recipes. I have tried many recipes and some of them turn out well, but the one I am sharing with you today seems to stay moist longer and is even better the day after it is made.

The flavor of pumpkin reminds me of fall and at this time of year, I fill my grocery cart with cans of pumpkin puree, brown sugar and spices and start baking.

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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