Tuesday, July 14, 2015


In my family, the pivotal ingredient of daily fare has always been bread. My grandmother’s family were wheat ranchers. For them bread-baking was a way of life. This method has been handed down for generations.
First, grind wheat berries into flour. Then fire up the wood cook range in the summer kitchen. Only kidding!

My grandmother actually did have a screened outdoor summer kitchen complete with a sink and wood-fired cook range. My mother didn’t have a summer kitchen but she did have two cook ranges in her big farm kitchen, one wood-fired and the other electric. Almost no one cooks that way anymore. I take that back. Amish women still do. We used to attend Amish auctions in Iowa where women and girls would serve refreshments prepared inside one of those big screened summer kitchens. Pies, cookies, cakes, lemonade and coffee were always available for purchase by those in attendance. If you ever get a chance to go to an Amish auction, don’t hesitate. It’s a real treat!

Even if you have no summer kitchen, you will have to turn off the air conditioning. And close any open windows. The ideal temperature for yeast to activate properly is between 70 to 82 degrees F. Bread dough likes a warm cozy place so it is essential to maintain evenness in room temperature throughout the bread making process.

The basic ingredients for this method are liquid, flour, and yeast---and time. Eggs, oil, extra fiber and salt are optional.

Make sure you will have sufficient time to devote to the process. The entire morning. Or an afternoon. You can be doing other things around home, but a certain amount of focused attention is needed to maintain an evenness in the procedures as these unfold.
If possible have all your ingredients at room temperature. You will also need a supply of clean kitchen towels, a large mixing bowl, and a heating pad. (If you don’t have a heating pad, that’s Ok. We’ll deal with the constant temperature issue later.) You will also need a wooden “bread board” or a clean smooth wooden surface such as a low table top upon which you will knead the dough. Or you could use a pastry cloth on top of any clean table top surface. Even the backside of a clean wooden kitchen cutting board will work if it is a big one. But don’t use the side that you’ve sliced and diced on. You wouldn’t want the dough to absorb the tastes of old garlic or fresh onions!

Ok. We’re ready. Let’s do it! Let’s bake bread.

I use about one cup of liquid for each loaf of bread. For our purposes, we’ll make enough dough for two standard loaves. You may use water, the water left over from cooking potatoes or carrots, or you may use milk. I use milk. If I had fresh organic milk, I would use that, but since I no longer have access to my family’s dairy farm, I buy milk at the grocery store like everyone else. You can use skim milk, 2%, or whole milk--- It’s up to you.

The liquid must be scalded--- whether we use milk, plain water, or vegetable cooking waters---This step is to make sure there are no natural yeasts or bacteria present in the liquid. Scald means to heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the liquid inside the pan. Do not bring milk to the boiling point as it scorches easily and will boil over the sides of the pan. (Allow scalded liquid to cool to a lukewarm temperature.)

Put a couple of pats of butter into the hot milk, or a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. If low-fat bread is desired, this addition can be eliminated.

Add a couple of handfuls of wheat germ, or flax seed, or flax seed meal, oat flakes, sunflower seeds, or even cooked cereal left over from breakfast. Add some, all or none of these ingredients. It’s up to you. Whatever you add will give texture to the bread and help to cool the milk. You may also add a beaten egg or two at this point once the milk/cereal mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Cover your milk/cereal mixture with a clean cloth and set it aside in a warm place.

If you have sour dough starter:
I use a cup or two of my sour dough starter to create a sponge, placing the sour dough in a warmed mixing bowl and placing the bowl on top of an electric heating pad which has been placed beneath a towel. I place a clean white kitchen towel over the bowl and let my starter sponge begin to bubble. I might proof and add an additional tablespoon of dry baker's yeast to this mixture if my sour dough is not particularly active.

If you're starting from scratch:
Use two cups flour and enough water to get a sticky gooey dough going and then add 1 tablespoon dry yeast which has been proofed. I proof the yeast in a glass cup with about 1/4 cup warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. When this yeast mixture starts to foam up, I scoop this out into the flour mixture and mix it in with a wooden spoon.

Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let the mixture get to bubbling. Turn your electric heating pad to medium, so that it maintains an even warm surface beneath a towel placed under your bowl. If you don’t have an electric heating pad, you may place your bowl in any warm place in your kitchen as long as it’s free from drafts.

The Sponge
The yeast mixture is called the sponge. When it gets to working you will notice lots of nice bubbles forming. Once the bubbles are lively, it is time to add the tepid milk mixture to the sponge. Once you’ve added your liquid/cereal mixture to the sponge, place a clean kitchen towel over the bowl, and let it do its thing. You will want the sponge to take on the appearance of bubbly pudding. WARNING: NEVER TASTE THE YEAST MIXTURE! Even if it looks good enough to eat, it is NOT cookie dough! Uncooked yeasts can cause severe intestinal distress and do great damage to the ecology of the gastrointestinal tract!

Salt is optional.
Bread made without salt will not draw moisture from the atmosphere after baking, so it will not easily mold in a bread box. On the other hand, bread with salt has a nice taste. It can be refrigerated to maintain freshness. Moldy bread is not a problem at our house because it is eaten before it gets a chance to go stale. I mix in 1 teaspoon salt for each loaf of bread.

High gluten flour is optional.
At this point I usually add some high gluten flour---approximately 1 tablespoon or so for each cup of flour already in the mix. High gluten flour makes the bread lighter in texture and helps buoy up any fiber content in the bread. If you have an allergy to gluten, please consult recommendations for substituting another kind of flour for wheat.

Now you have a bubbly, gooey mixture. Yeah. Hurrah! It's time to add flour!
Use any kind of flour---white, all purpose flour, whole wheat or rye---just enough to form a big blob of springy dough in the bottom of the bowl, one which is just stiff enough to be able to remove it from the bowl. And time to work the dough... 
By now your flour will be at room temperature. Time to bring out your bread board. My husband made me a nice one which I use exclusively for making bread, but even the back side of a kitchen cutting board will do, as long as it is absolutely clean. Flour your board. That is, place a about two cups of flour right in the middle of your work surface. White flour or whole wheat---it doesn’t matter---white or all purpose flour makes a lighter loaf, whole wheat a heftier one. Make a "well" ---an indentation in the middle of the flour. Spread a little flour to the edges of the board so dough will not stick to it. Place the sticky ball of dough into the well and begin working flour up and over and into the dough with clean hands, a little at a time, until the dough is pliable. The goal is simply to make a dough ball that holds its shape--- still sticky but not at all stiff.  

Time to pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. And time to set the dough to rise.

Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of your original mixing bowl. Grip the ball of dough in your strongest hand and turn upside down, anointing the top of the ball in the oil and then turning it so that the anointed section is now topmost when you put the dough ball back into the bowl.
Cover the bowl with a clean cloth once again. Place the bowl back on top of the heating pad, (or in the same warm corner of your kitchen as before). I know some people advocate using the oven which has been warmed up at low temperature, and that's fine, if you're a real pro at temperature regulation. If the dough is mistakenly overheated, the yeast will be killed, leaving the new bread maker with a loaves that are as hard as bricks!

Allow the dough to double in bulk. The dough needs a warm steady temperature to make it rise---that's why my mother and grandmother used a wood stove in a hot kitchen, but I use a heating pad. (FYI…A heating pad also works great for making yogurt.) When the dough has doubled in bulk, "punch" it down with clean hands to get the carbon dioxide out of it. The dough ball will look like a deflated balloon and return to original size. Allow the dough to double in bulk one more time.

When double, turn it out on your floured board, and knead it. It is hoped that your board can be placed on a low table, so you will have sufficient leverage to work the dough. You will want to lean into it, using the heals of your palms to work the dough ball with the rocking motion of your body and your wrists. It takes awhile to get the feel of it, but you will soon get the knack. At this point you will be taking up only as much flour as is necessary to keep the texture of the dough "flesh-like" and bouncy.

Fold the dough towards the center, press down and push away, turning the dough a quarter round each time, repeating the process again and again until the dough no longer sticks to your hands or to the lightly floured board. Too much flour will make the loaf heavy and dry. So easy does it. Always handle the dough with a light but confident touch. The dough will soon feel smooth and elastic. It should feel alive---like the proverbial baby's bottom. If your bread is whole grain, it should feel like a strong man's arm.
Cut the dough ball in half. Fold each half as if you were folding a table napkin and fashion into two loaves. Grease two standard bread pans with shortening and put the loaves in the pans. Allow the loaves to rise just to the tops of the pans but no higher.

If you would like a round free-form loaf, do not use bread pans. Use baking sheets. If a glazed crust is desired, see options in the two types of bread shown below. Fashion the two loaves into large balls, sprinkle cornmeal on the baking sheets, and place the hand-shaped loaves on top of the sprinkled cornmeal. Allow the loaves to double in bulk. 

Then place the prepared loaves in the pre-heated oven. Toss 1/2 cup of water onto the bottom of the hot oven and close the oven door quickly to capture the steam. Bake for 50-55 minutes at 375 degrees or until the golden brown loaves respond with a "thump" when smacked with your thimble finger.

Cool the loaves on a wire rack before storing. Loaves that are thoroughly cooled may be refrigerated in zip-locked plastic bags to maintain freshness.

The Overacker/Freeman Family Bread Recipe is easily adapted to other traditions. 

Here are two other types of bread to consider:

French Bread
  • Omit the sugar and oil.
  • Divide dough into 4 equal parts and hand shape into long, narrow loaves. Use French bread pans, or baking sheets lightly greased. Slash a cut through the top of each loaf from top to bottom and prepare a mixture of egg white beaten with water to glaze the tops of each loaf. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then at 350 degrees until the crust appears crisp, and brown.
Challa - Sabbath Bread:
  • Use white or all purpose flour.
  • Don’t add extra fiber---well, maybe a little wheat germ.
  • Use salt.
  • Use potato water for the liquid.
  • Use baker’s yeast instead of sour dough and proof it in 1/4 cup water with a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Add two or three beaten egg yolks and oil to the sponge.
  • Proceed as usual.
  • Cut dough in half. Put one half on the board and cut into 3 equal pieces. Roll these pieces into equally long segments and braid these together. Pinch the ends tightly and tuck under. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Sprinkle baking sheets with corn meal and place these braided loaves on top of the corn meal. Brush the tops of both loaves with the beaten yolk of one egg and top with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) for 15 minutes and then turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue to bake for about 45 minutes or until the braided loaves are golden brown. Place on wire rack to cool.

Congratulations! You've baked enough bread for the week. It's time for lunch. Enjoy!

Why not put a couple of slices in the toaster and make a nice Apple Salad Sandwich?

  • Place diced apple, diced celery, and chopped sweet onions into a small bowl.
  • Add the drained contents of a can of high-quality tuna or a can of salmon. Mix in a tablespoon of homemade mayonnaise*, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, fresh ground pepper and sweet pickle relish to taste. (Or use diced cubes of cooked chicken instead of tuna. *No commercial mayonnaise ever tastes as good as mayonnaise you can make yourself. There are lots of recipes available on the web.)
  • Spread the apple salad mix on toasted homemade bread and serve these nutritious sandwiches with tall cold glasses of fresh milk! Buy local. Help support organic farmers and family farms whenever and wherever you can.

The Ranch House Cookbook © 2007 by Natalie Neal-Whitefield

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

If it's October, it's time to make Hoot Owl Cookies

About this time of year I start seeing different versions of my prize-winning cookie recipe pop up on the internet, so if you also would like to share the recipe on your blog or website, simply give credit where credit is due, as Tori Avey has done: http://toriavey.com/history-kitchen/2013/10/hoot-owl-cookies/, and identify this cookie as the second grand prize winner in Pillsbury's 8th Grand National Bake-off®. For best results, please continue to use the original wholesome ingredients.

Hoot Owl Cookies


2 1/2  cups sifted Pillsbury® all purpose flour

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup of unsalted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)

1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

1 unbeaten egg

1 teaspoon of real vanilla

1 and 1/2 squares unsweetened dark baking chocolate

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Dark chocolate chips

Whole roasted cashew nuts (salted or unsalted, whichever you prefer)


* Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

* In a separate bowl, work the butter, gradually adding the sugar and creaming it well. Blend the egg and the vanilla into the sugar mixture and beat well.

* Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top half of a double boiler. Remove the pan from over the hot water and set aside to cool.

* Add dry ingredients gradually into the egg/butter mixture and mix well to form a ball of dough.

* Remove 2/3 of the dough to a lightly floured board.

* Stir the 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda into the chocolate and blend chocolate mixture into the dough that remains in the bowl. Chill this chocolate dough in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour.

* Roll out half of the light-colored dough on your board to a 10 x 4 inch strip.

* Shape 1/2 the dark dough into a roll 10 inches long; place the dark dough roll onto the strip of light dough. Mold the sides of the light dough around the dark; wrap this in aluminum foil and chill in the refrigerator.

* Repeat this process. Chill both rolls of dough about two hours.

* Remove aluminum foil and cut rolls into slices about 1/4 inch thick; place two slices together on greased baking sheet or on a parchment-lined baking sheet and press the slices together to resemble an owl’s face. Pinch the outside corners of each slice to form “ears”. Place chocolate chips, upside-down in the center of the dark circles to make "eyes"; press a whole cashew nut with the pointed side down between the slices to form the "beak".

* Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for 8 to 12 minutes, just long enough for the cookie's light-colored rim to become slightly brown. Remove cookies from the baking sheets immediately and place on racks until completely cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

* Cookies can be wrapped, single layer style, in aluminum foil for storage.

Hoot Owl Cookies were created by Natalie Riggin, the first junior contestant ever to win a grand prize in the Pillsbury Grand National Bake-off® - Photo is from the personal archives of the author.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Uplifting Role of Women...

 “Woman is at the top of creation. This is her place and her Dharma, and this she must never lose, for it she does, there will be wars, suffering and cruelty, because she is the opposite of all these things. The nervous system of a woman is by nature more refined and much more delicate. She is the first to sense the good, the pure, the beautiful, the divine. By nature, man is more gross. His position is to deal with the world, so he must be able to deal with stress. Woman is balance, a balance of all nature. She takes in all the stress of her husband and children and does not pass it on. Must not pass it on. Healing is in the lap of the mother; she heals the child's soul. Her place is to see that man goes for higher consciousness. The love of mother that comes through the hands of every woman is Mother Divine. A woman should not get so tired. Her structure is for finer things.”  ~Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Transcendental Meditation in Iowa Produces Dramatic 50-Month Drop in Violent Crime

(NOVEMBER 15, 2010) An unexpected 50-month decrease in violent crime in the United States, as reported by the FBI, provides “compelling evidence” for the success of a $50 million scientific demonstration project documenting the long-term effects of large group meditations on national trends, according to Dr. John Hagelin, executive director of the International Center for Invincible Defense and director of the “Invincible America Assembly.”

The Invincible America Assembly, launched by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on July 23, 2006, is being held at Maharishi University of Management and Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, with nearly 2,000 experts participating in the Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying program.

Federal law enforcement officials neither anticipated the sustained drop in violent crime, nor have they been able to identify a cause. However, Dr. Hagelin lodged in advance with the global press his predictions of a dramatic crime decrease before the start of the Assembly over 50 months ago.

Since then, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime has fallen for three straight years, with the number of murders now the lowest in four decades. Reuters reported: “Year-end statistics for 2009 from the largest U.S. cities defy the predictions of many police commanders who braced for a crime wave they expected to be unleashed by the recession, rising home foreclosures and social despair.”

This unexpected trend towards markedly reduced violent crime continued during the first three quarters of 2010:

Time – Nov 15, 2010 - Violent crime in America the lowest since 1973
Wall Street Journal – Nov 10, 2010 - NY’s crime rate lowest since statistics 1st kept in 1963
Chicago Tribune – Nov 9, 2010 - 2010 may wind up with lowest murder rate since 1965
Los Angeles Times – Oct 14, 2010 - Homicide rate lowest since 1975
Houston Chronicle – Nov 4, 2010 - All major crimes decreased first nine months of 2010

Research confirms positive influence of group meditations

According to Dr. Hagelin, extensive published research shows that coherence and positivity are created in collective consciousness when a significant number of people practice the Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying program together in a group. This rise of positivity in collective consciousness reduces negative trends, including crime and violence, and promotes positive social trends.

“Rigorous statistical analysis shows that the upsurge of positive trends started on the month the Assembly began—July 2006—when an initial group of 1,200 experts assembled from across the U.S. and around the world to practice these technologies in a group,” said Dr. Hagelin, who added that when the number of group meditation experts rises from its current average of 2,000 to the desired level of 2,500, America will rise to become a true powerhouse of peace.

“Twenty-five hundred is the number required to create a far more profound and comprehensive shift away from violence towards positivity and peace,” Dr. Hagelin said.

The Invincible America Assembly has been funded by a grant from the Howard and Alice Settle Foundation for an Invincible America.


For more information, please contact:
Ken Chawkin
Communications Office: 1000 North Fourth Street • Fairfield, Iowa 52557 • 641-470-1314

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review of Healey's Cave

Author: Aaron Paul Lazar
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Genre: Mystery, 264 pages
Publisher's Address: P O Box 3340 Kingsport TN 37664
ISBN number: 978-1-60619-162-0
Price: $16.95 - pre-order now at Barnes and Noble

Publisher website address: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/
Author’s personal website: http://aaronlazar.blogspot.com/
Mystery-writing blog: http://www.murderby4.com/

When I began to read Healey’s Cave, a new novel by Aaron Paul Lazar, the author and the book immediately captivated me. I was and still am especially intrigued by how the author as artist has drawn his characters. He sketches the relationship of man and wife in soft strokes, like a lovely pen and ink drawing on fine paper. A grandparent taking delight in the love of his grandchildren, is a pastel portrait framed in gold. Childhood friendships drenched in sepia tones are like old photographs in a long forgotten album taken from the shelf. Flowers in a garden, horses long gone from their stalls in a barn, the feel of leaf mold in the hands of a man who loves the earth— are sense memories so strong, that individuals spontaneously manifest themselves in complete fullness upon the page.

The pace of the book from the very beginning also is to my liking. Nothing is rushed. There is no leap headlong into a maze of frantic action nor is there a plunge into needless back-story. There is a gracious and soft unfolding of detail, layer upon layer, as if one were looking at a painting of a lush landscape.

At first we see the truth of things as through the mists of the natural world in early morning. Gradually the early light matures, and forms emerge; moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, the mid-day comes. Characters reveal themselves. The story unfolds.

Sam Moore is a methodical man, used to figuring out mysteries in life by using tried and true principles. He has honed his solid intellect during many years as a physician and isn’t prone to imagining things. He begins the very first day of his retirement from private practice with a degree of certainty that he would eventually like being away from the office, but before the day is over he is not quite sure whether or not he will be able to keep from going crazy.

Sam loves to work in his garden. And now that he has time to spend there, he hopes his love of the soil will soothe and smooth the inevitable feelings of transition he expects to experience. Instead, he begins an adventure of mind, heart and spirit that will shake him to the core of his being.

It all begins with the innocent discovery of a marble in the soft friable earth. One of those big, bright, green glowing cat’s eye marbles kids used to call “shooters”. The marble flashes scenes of his boyhood, flashes of remembrance of his younger brother Billy, who had been so dear, the brother whose disappearance had left behind an unsolved mystery and a hole in Sam Moore’s heart. The marble seemed alive in his hand, glowing and almost hot to the touch, reminding Sam that this, the first day of his retirement, was also the anniversary of his brother’s birth.

…memory flashed through him—brief, but palpable. Billy and he, aged twelve and eleven, had walked barefoot on the hot pavement after a spring rain. Soft tar warmed their feet. Rain puddles sizzled and misted on the road. The boys laughed, then raced home to dinner. Steak, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, and salad. Billy's favorite. Sam checked the date on his watch. May twenty-fourth. Billy turns sixty-one today.

The little boy who slept in the bottom bunk, who breathed hot, sweet breath on his face when they hid in the closet beneath the stairs, who offered his sticky hand during scary movies, and who mysteriously disappeared on his eleventh birthday—would be sixty-one today.

He closed his eyes and let the wind blow across his face. The breeze lifted his hair. Sam felt the cool soft touch brush his leathery skin. He pictured his brother communicating with him from Heaven. He'd often imagined it, and was comforted by the thought.

Had it really been fifty years? Was he hearing his brother speak to him from across the void?

A strange ritualistic serial killer had been targeting young boys every five years since the time of Billy’s disappearance. Could Billy have been one of his victims? Bodies of other young boys had been found. But Billy simply had disappeared without a trace. Questions swirled and whirled in Sam’s mind. Was the killer still alive? Would he strike again? Was his own grandson a potential target?

Aaron Lazar is a master storyteller. The sense of intrigue never dims in this book. As we look over Sam Moore’s shoulder into the fire of the Green Marble, we are drawn with him into an experience of the paranormal, seeing into the unseen worlds he unearths, never to rest until we know the whole truth about what happened to his brother Billy— and to the others.

Though never fond of detective stories or murder mysteries myself, even when written by such greats as PD James, or Agatha Christie, I now must confess that I feel quite compelled to read all of Aaron’s novels. I love a good story. This is one of the most intriguing stories I have read in a very long time.

Healey’s Cave is the first of the Green Marble Mysteries, a riveting paranormal series by Aaron Paul Lazar, which feature our hero Sam Moore; scheduled to be released by Twilight Times Books under the Paladin Timeless Imprint on August 28th 2010, it will soon will be followed by One Potato, Blue Potato in 2011, and For Keeps in 2012. For more information, see: http://www.mooremysteries.com

The LeGarde Mysteries— Double Forté, Upstaged, Tremolo, Mazurka— with hero Gus LeGarde, have long been popular and come highly recommended. Firesong, the newest book in this series, will be coming out later in 2010. For more information, see: http://www.legardemysteries.com

Aaron Paul Lazar tells us that he “writes to soothe his soul.” The author of LeGarde Mysteries & Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York. His characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Visit him on Gather.com: http://aplazar.gather.com/ and on his websites: http://www.mooremysteries.com; http://www.legardemysteries.com

Natalie Neal Whitefield writes about ranch and family life in the contemporary west. A student of history and in love with the great outdoors, she works alongside her husband, guitar maker Stephen Neal Saqui, on the banks of the Salmon River in the rugged mountains of central Idaho.

Visit her on Gather.com: http://writerswrite.gather.com/

© 2010 Natalie Neal Whitefield

Natalie's bookshelf: read

Healey's CaveThe Hundred DaysThe Rendezvous and Other StoriesTestimoniesMen-of-war: Life in Nelson's NavyThe Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

More of Natalie's books »

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Darling is a Foreigner...

My Darling is a Foreigner, which finished filming Oct 2, is scheduled for release on April 10, 2010. Jonathan Sherr stars opposite Mao Inoue, one of the most celebrated young actresses in Japanese film and television. Jonathan, well-known to Tokyo Comedy club audiences for his energetic comedy improvisation, was chosen for the role from almost one hundred contenders because of his spontaneous good humor and command of the Japanese language, not to mention his other obvious qualities! What fun! And good luck, Jonathan. We can hardly wait to see this charming romantic comedy. Best Foreign Film perhaps?

photo provided by Jonathan Sherr