rainy day dragon bread

DSC00694Ever since we went to How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the drive-in movie theater (just barely squeaked that summer wish list item in on Labor Day weekend! By the way we were 11.5/14 on that wish list – not bad but a far cry from my pledge of TOTAL SUMMER WISH LIST DOMINATION. Next year, baseball, camping and preserving!) As I was saying, ever since we saw HTTYD2 it has been All Dragon All the Time over here. My son especially goes really full-on with his passions, and in the past 4 years I’ve learned more about steam locomotives, creatures of the deep sea, evolution, and outer space than I ever knew in my previous 30-cough cough years on the planet. And so it is with dragons. Budding naturalist that he is, the classification system of the dragons in the HTTYD universe really appealed to him, and I’ve even heard my three-year old tell us that “Deadly Nadder isn’t his name, it’s his species.” Of course, being recovering dinosaur addicts, they enjoy all the stomping, roaring, and giant reptilian destruction as well. We’ve read the first two books in the HTTYD series by Cressida Cowell, which the movies were very loosely based on, and with 11 books and counting in the series, I think it’s fair to say there’s no end in sight to the dragon mania.

As a onetime Waldorf preschool parent, I especially think of dragons at this time of year, with the Michaelmas holiday that Waldorf schools traditionally celebrate at the end of September. So when a dark, rainy day spoiled our plans to go hiking and apple-picking, I decided to declare it Dragon Day and have an indoor adventure instead.

We started out by reading the story of Saint George and the Dragon, a retelling by Margaret Hodges with pictures by probably my all time favorite children’s book illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman. As an early subscriber of Cricket Magazine, of which she was the art editor and frequent contributor of illustrations, her pictures shaped so many of the stories of my childhood and I loved to pore over the beautiful and rich detail of her Cricket covers.

The Saint George story is pretty weak in terms of female characters, but hopefully that’s mitigated by the awesome library book we read last week, another Trina Schart Hyman beauty called “The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women.” It’s a collection of folk tales from different cultures, that all happen to feature female protagonists. Not all the stories have dragons, but a bunch of them do, and they all have kickass heroines.

The Saint George story, however does have an awesome dragon and some good blood and gore in the story for those of you who go in for that. (The cover features blood spurting out of the dragon’s severed tail, which I was like, ewww, but my children apparently found deeply entertaining.)

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After the book, it was time to make some dragon bread. One of my very favorite things to do with kids is when you can tell a story that goes along with an activity you’re doing, so I was so excited when I found this dragon bread story and recipe on Cypress Space. I made some adaptations to the recipe, and as it turned out, to the story as well. My version was a far cry from the original, which comes from the lovely book All Year Round, but this secular, angel-free retelling was the perfect dragon story for our family. When it comes to storytelling with children, it’s my experience that the best way to capture their attention and imagination is to adapt your story to the needs and interests of the particular children you’re telling it to, being flexible enough to improvise along the way if you need to. And regardless of your feelings about dragons, angels, or Waldorf woo woo, this bread is indisputably super delish. So if you just want some fabulous, slightly sweet, wholesome bread that’s great with a cup of tea, scroll down to the bottom for the recipe. But if you want a dragony story to tell as you make your dough, read on.

This story begins in a small but beautiful village in a valley surrounded by lovely forests, hills, mountains and rivers. [We used mixing spoons to shape the flour into the hills, valleys, mountains, and riverbeds.] The people worked very hard tending their farms and caring for their families and each other, but they were happy.

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But one day, an angry dragon flew down and breathed fire upon the land, boiling the rivers up until they flooded the valley. [We poured in a foamy mixture of warm milk, yeast, sugar, and melted butter.] The heat from the dragon’s fire scorched the land and made it barren. [We stirred the flour and milk together until they created a sticky dough.] The smoke from his breath cast darkness over the land. [We sprinkled brown sugar down onto the dough]. And without the sun to warm them, the clouds froze and rained ice down upon the village. [We sprinkled the salt over the dough.] The villagers were so cold and scared and sad that they hid inside, unable to work or play outside, and worried if they could survive in this dark, desolate land.

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In the traditional Waldorf telling of this story, it is at this point that the Archangel Michael (or, the knight Michael, depending on how secular the storyteller is attempting to make it) comes and gives cheer to the villagers and encourages them to be brave and work together to defeat the dragon. Just as I was about to get to that part, my daughter piped up said “They just need to train that dragon.” In the movie version of How to Train Your Dragon (unlike in the book), the vikings are so terrorized by the dragons that they strive to kill any dragon on sight, until Hiccup, the young hero, teaches them they can tame the dragons with nothing more than kindness and understanding. This is an especially powerful message to children who themselves struggle with aggressive impulses when they’re feeling threatened or ill at ease. So at that moment I realized that instead of telling these dragon-loving kids yet another story about slaying a dragon, I should give the dragon a chance to redeem himself. So our story continued like this:

From his home in the cliffs above the village, the dragon looked down upon the land and the unhappy people, and his heart was filled with remorse. He felt such compassion for the poor frightened villagers that with his next breath, he sent golden sparks down into their skies. The sparks turned into a thousand stars, and the people marveled at the magical light in the dark night. [We scattered golden raisins over the dough.]

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With another breath, he gently blew away all the smoke and icy clouds so the sun could shine down upon the land once again. [We dropped in the egg yolk and mixed it and the raisins into the dough.] The people were warmed by the sun and began to venture out of their houses to begin repairing and restoring their farms. The dragon came down and brought them new seeds to plant. [We scattered the pumpkin seeds over the dough.] He told them how sorry he was for what he had done. The warmth of his words softened the icy cold ground and the plants soon grew into tall wheat fields. [We mixed the seeds into the dough with our hands.]

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When the crop was ready to harvest, the dragon helped the villagers thresh the wheat and grind it into flour. They mixed the flour into dough and the dragon baked the dough with his fiery breath until there was enough bread for all the villagers to share. They gave the biggest slice to the dragon, and their generosity and friendship warmed his heart. From that day on, the dragon was a friend to all the people in the land, giving them courage to face even the biggest of challenges.

And with that, we placed a cloth over the bowl of dough and set it to rise.

While we waited for the dough to be ready, we made some dragon paintings with crayons and watercolors.

painting a hideous zippleback

When the dough had risen, we turned it out onto a board and began to shape it into a dragon. I followed a method of shaping that I learned from a post on Waldorf (Inspired) Moms. By the way I pre-emptively apologize for the unattractive photos in this post – it was such a dark dreary day that it was a difficult lighting situation for photography. But a dark dreary day is pretty much the perfect day to stay indoors baking bread and telling stories.

So basically, you chop off about 1/3 of your dough and divide that piece into a chunk for the head, four short legs, and a long skinny log to make the dragon’s crest and spines. The remaining 2/3 piece gets stretched and rolled to a point at one end to create its body and tail.

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It’s easiest to assemble the dragon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so you can just slip this bad boy into the oven when you’re finished. Once you’ve got the head and body shaped and attached, lay the crest/spine piece along them and add some almond slivers or other flattish nuts or seeds for his teethDSC00233

We used prunes for his eyes and sliced almonds for his scales. Attach the four leg pieces and use a knife to divide each foot into three toes, which can then be embellished with seed or nut claws. Brush some egg white wash over the whole beast and snip along the crest/spine piece at 1-inch intervals to create the spikes. Bake until toasty and golden brown.
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Our dragon turned out more like a Gila monster than a Monstrous nightmare, but he’s still cute and terrifying in his own pastry reptile way.
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And most importantly, he’s totaly scrumptious, especially when spread with honey butter and served with a mug of hot apple cider.DSC00252

Here’s the full recipe for our dragon bread, even more fun when baked with a story. Feel free to adapt mine as you wish or make up your own!

Rainy Day Dragon Bread

1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 ½ cups warm milk
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup golden raisins
1 egg, separated
¼ cup of pumpkin seeds
2 prunes
¼ cup of sliced almonds

1) Add 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar and the yeast to the warm milk. Stir and set aside.

2) Stir together the flour, creating a valley in the center.

3) When the milk/yeast/sugar mixture has bloomed and you see a foamy top, add the melted butter to it, stir, and pour into the valley in the flour bowl.

4) Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar, the salt, the raisins, the egg yolk, and the pumpkin seeds over the dough and mix well.

5) Cover with a dishcloth and let rise for one hour.

6) Preheat the oven to 375.

7) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut off about 2/3 of it and shape it into the body and tail of the dragon.

8) Divide the remaining piece into a head, four small legs, and a long, skinny piece the slightly longer than the body and tail, which will become the dragon’s crest/spines.

9) Place the body and tail piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape the head and attach it to the body, adding the prunes for eyes and almond slices for teeth.

10) Lay the long skinny piece along the head and back of the dragon. Attach the legs and use a knife to cut each one into three toes. Stick pumpkin seeds or almond slices on for claws.

11) Add almond slices along the back for scales.

12) With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the crest piece at 1-inch intervals all the way down to the tail.

13) Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the entire dragon.

14) Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

May every slice bring you warmth, strength, and courage! Huzzah! Dragons!

mango lassi ice cream

So, I’m back with another refreshing frozen summer treat for you! It’s funny cause when I had a recipe blog I used to never post on it, but now that I have a blog that’s not particularly about recipes, I can’t stop doing recipe posts. Whatever. This mango ice cream is freaking great and you should all eat it.mango lassi ice cream

I’ll never forget the first time I tasted a mango lassi. I was 21, with my friend Juliet at the newly-opened Basmati Restaurant in Champaign, Illinois. It seems crazy, considering how many Indians live there, that this was Champaign-Urbana’s first Indian restaurant. Growing up, my only experience with Indian food was from my mom’s kitchen, a white girl from suburban Chicago. Her curries were delicious (if a little unorthodox), but she never introduced me to the joys of naan, chicken masala, or glorious lassi. Though I moved away from Central Illinois a few days later, I ended up in Rogers Park in Chicago, a mere 10 minutes from Devon Avenue and Chicago’s Little India. So basically I’ve drunk like 300 mango lassis in my time and it’s a serious hardship living in a town where the only Indian restaurant went under 11 months ago (RIP India Palace).

Enter, mango lassi ice cream. I invented this last week and it is outrageously good. Basically, make a mango lassi, mix in some half and half, and put it in your ice cream maker. Refreshing Indian heaven in a bowl. By the way, do you know how to peel a mango? This was all over BuzzFeed last week, so maybe you do, but just in case,

Amazing, right? So anyway, you do that to 2 mangoes, and then purée them in your food processor.mango purée

Boy, I’m getting really good at taking photos of the inside of my cuisinart, huh? Add a cup of plain yogurtyogurt

and half a cup of half and half (half half half… that starts to look like it can’t possibly be a word. More like a sound effect. The sound of a cat working out a hairball situation. OK enough disgusting sound imagery, Self, back to semi-appetizing process photos.)making mango lassi ice cream

Then bloop in some honey and cardamomadd some cardamom

and stir until you get a nice, smooth, pale yellow, speckly mixture:
mango lassi ice cream base

Pour the whole thing into your ice cream maker bowl and let it churn until you get something that looks like this:churning mango lassi ice cream

I was explaining to my kids this morning how we used to churn ice cream when I was a kid (“In the old days,” I found myself saying. It was the 80s.) In a big wooden barrel filled with ice and salt and you had to keep cranking it around and around for a million years. I seriously can’t believe anyone ever made ice cream. BARBARIC, IT WAS. Now you just turn the thing on, wait until it’s ice cream-ish, and then toss it in the freezer to finish. It’s so easy you basically have no excuse to not make this. (Except if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But you should definitely buy one because this stuff is awesome.)mango lassi ice creamMango Lassi Ice Cream
makes about 12 servings

Ingredients
2 mangoes
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup half and half (or 1/4 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup whole milk)
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon cardamom or rosewater

1) Slice and peel mangoes. Purée them in a food processor until smooth.
2) Transfer mango purée to a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
3) Pour mixture into ice cream maker and churn until it looks like soft serve ice cream. Transfer to a lidded container and freeze at least 3 hours.

pineapple coconut chia pops

DSC02928Popsicles are one of those things you can pretty much make without a recipe. Take some sweet stuff, freeze it with a stick coming out, enjoy. So I feel a little sheepish sharing what is an extremely simple “recipe” – only four ingredients in fact, but these were way too delicious to keep to myself. It’s basically frozen piña coladas, with maple syrup instead of rum, and chia seeds for some extra texture/protein/hippie cred. The flavor reminds me of this amazing soft serve pineapple ice cream they used to serve at the Champaign County Fair back in my central Illinois youth. Creamy, tropical, and sweet, with just a bit of tang.

If you haven’t worked with chia seeds before (aside from making a terracotta-based shrubbery back in the 80s), they are totally weird. When you put them in something wet, they get this swollen gel-like coating around the seed. I’m making it sound kind of gross, but they’re actually quite yummy. Like a mix between a tapioca ball and a kiwi seed. But it takes a while for them to swell, so mix a few tablespoons of chia into one can of light coconut milk, and then stick it in the fridge for a few hours.DSC02849Meanwhile, chop up your pineapple.DSC02883Once you’ve cut off the tough outer skin, you can give your leftovers to your sous chef for her to practice her knife skills on.DSC02895Cut the bald pineapple into quarters, lengthwise,DSC02904and trim out the tough core. We don’t want any fibrous bits in our creamy frozen tropical heaven.DSC02910Cut into chunks and purée.DSC02914When your chia-coconut mixture is ready, mix with the pineapple purée, along with a goodly amount of maple syrup. How much you need depends on how sweet your pineapple is. Mine was super ripe, so I used only about 1/4 cup.DSC02926And finally, pour into molds and freeze over night, or at least 5 hours.DSC02936That’s it! Easy peasy. These are best enjoyed in a warm breeze, with eyes closed and some Ramito playing in the background.

Pineapple Coconut Chia Pops
makes 10-12 pops, or more, depending on the size of your molds

Ingredients:
1 can light coconut milk
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 pineapple
1/4 cup maple syrup, or more, to taste

1. Mix the chia seeds into the coconut milk. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
2. Cut the tough outer skin and eyes from the pineapple. Quarter it and cut the tough core out of the inner corner of each pineapple quarter. Cut into chunks and purée in food processor.
3. Combine coconut-chia mixture, pineapple purée, and 1/4 cup maple syrup in a medium-sized bowl. Stir until well blended. Taste it. Add more syrup to your liking, if necessary.
4. Pour into popsicle molds (or, if you don’t have any, paper cups with a popsicle stick stuck in for a handle will do just fine). Freeze at least 5 hours. To unmold pops, run hot water over the outside of the mold until the popsicle slides out easily.

rhubarb shortbread squares

Summer in Vermont is idyllic, there’s no question. But I will admit one thing that is a teeny bit disappointing. The fruit season takes forever to get going here. Strawberries, which I think of as a May fruit from my Illinois days, aren’t ready for picking until mid to late June. And the rest of the berries don’t even come around until July. So for a fruit pie lover in springtime here, it’s pretty much all rhubarb all the time. I was so excited when my daughter turned six months old in mid-June, that her first taste of solid food would be some uber-fresh tender summer produce from the Farmer’s Market. Imagine my dismay when I went there and saw nothing but plant starts, salad greens, and rhubarb. Spoiler alert: we gave her a banana instead, so it worked out OK.Image

Prepared well, rhubarb is actually pretty delicious, mouthwateringly tangy and so gorgeous with its pinks and reds fading into pale green. I fell in love with this rhubarb curd shortbread recipe I found on food52 a few years ago. I’ve made it tons of times and have developed my own tweaks and tricks so I’m sharing my adaptation of it here. It’s actually getting to be kind of like a game of telephone, this recipe – Rivka, who submitted it to food52, and has a terrific food blog of her own by the way, adapted it from Cook and Eat, who got the rhubarb curd recipe from Ginger Tablet. So I guess I’ve got a lot of chutzpah to think I can improve upon what all those actual food bloggers did. But seriously guys, my way is a leetle bit better. Kidding. Sort of. Not really.Image

So basically, you chop up a bunch of rhubarb and bung it in a pan with some sugar and a little water. While that’s cooking, go and make your shortbread. Throw a stick and a half of chopped up butter into your Cuisinart.Image

Have your three year-old sous chef add the flour for you.Image

Go check on your rhubarb. Whoa, a lot of juice has come out of it! Don’t worry, that’s normal. You want it to cook until it’s totally submerged, and soft enough to fall apart.
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Now for the first genius part of this recipe. Spices in the shortbread. I would never have thought to combine spices like cloves, ginger, and cinnamon with rhubarb, but it’s perfect together. So perfect that I went ahead and made it even perfecter by adding two of my favorite dessert seasonings, cardamom and nutmeg.
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Blend the whole shebang together until it looks like this:Image

Then dump it all into a baking pan and press evenly into a nice crust.Image

Chuck it in the oven on 350 and bake til golden. By now your rhubarb should be soft enough that you can do this to it just by mooshing with your wooden spoon. Image

But we don’t want it just moosh soft, we want it puree soft. Like a smooth pudding. Like an expensive face cream. So get in there with your immersion blender.Image

Looks appetizing, doesn’t it? Once in a while I find rhubarb stalks that are red all the way up and create a beautiful pink puree. But more often than not, it looks like something out of a Gerber jar. Not pretty. So let’s call in a little of nature’s food coloring. Raspberries. I always have a bag in my freezer for smoothies, so I just made a tiny bit of raspberry coulis. Half a cup of frozen raspberries, a tablespoon of sugar, and some vigorous stirring over medium heat makes this:Image

Strain it into your rhubarb and you will get something that looks like this. Much prettier.Image

When your shortbread looks like this, it’s ready to come out of the oven and cool on a rack.Image

While it’s cooling, mix together some egg yolks, sugar, and lemon zest. Add the rhubarb a scoop at a time and then place the bowl over a double boiler and for god’s sake, keep stirring. After about 5 minutes, it should be warmed through and thickened. I didn’t take any pictures of this part because the steam from the double boiler kept fogging my camera lens, but it looks pretty much like eggs mixed with sugar mixed with pink stuff. When it’s done, spread it over the shortbread and bake 10 more minutes at 350.Image

Droool… seriously you guys, these are so good my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I have one more left in the pan downstairs, I’d better go eat it before the kids wake up…Image

Rhubarb Shortbread Squares
makes 16 bars

For the rhubarb curd:

  • 3/4 pounds rhubarb
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh raspberries *optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar *optional
  • egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • teaspoon lemon zest
  • tablespoons softened butter

For the shortbread:

  • 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch cloves
1. Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Add rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, and water to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until rhubarb falls apart. Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender. If it looks pink and beautiful, you’re done for now. If it’s not pretty enough for you, cook the raspberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small pan over medium heat, stirring until all the berries are mashed and the juice has thickened to a syrupy consistency. Press the cooked raspberries through a fine mesh strainer into the pot of pureed rhubarb and stir to blend.
2.Preheat oven to 350. Put all the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and mix until combined. Dump dough into an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan and press evenly to the edges. Bake 30 minutes until light golden brown. Place the pan on a rack to cool, but don’t turn off the oven.
3. Fill the pot of a double boiler with a couple of inches of water. Place the bowl of the double boiler on the counter, and add the egg yolks, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon zest, mixing well. Add the rhubarb one spoonful at a time and stir until well combined. Place over the simmering pot and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until the curd is warm and thickened. Remove from heat.
4. Spread the rhubarb curd over the cooled shortbread crust and bake at 350 for 10 more minutes. Cool to room temperature on the counter, then store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to cut and serve.