For a while, the only thing they wanted for snack was Nutty Numbers. Jacob made them at school, and the recipe was so easy that I almost didn’t believe it would work. So we tried it – it worked, as well I suppose as any “pretzel” made with wheat germ and an entire stick of butter will. And then, for many days, snack was Nutty Numbers.
At first, Jacob wouldn’t let anyone use their snake of dough to make letters, or stick-people, or shapes. (They’re called Nutty Numbers and can only be numbers!) He relaxed a bit on the tenth or so go around.
And then last week rainbow carrots showed up at the farmers market, and we were back to carrots and dip, carrots and dip, carrots and dip. (They dipped in hummus, in yogurt mixed with dill, in tahini mixed with honey, in straight up peanut butter. It’s their call.)
On Monday we had only plain old orange carrots, so we made a batch of some favorites.
Jacob took a bite, chewed, laughed.
“Hey! Speaking of! These kind of remind me of Nutty Numbers.”
Some weeks are busy, and we do what we have to do. But most weeks allow some time for adventure: visiting the aquarium, driftwood building, dolphin watching, treacherous-stair hiking. When we have time that aligns with a negative tide and not-too-rainy weather, we visit the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Jacob likes to wear his galoshes and carefully “water walk” out as far as we can through the rocky tide pools. Getting out close to the break is our best shot at seeing his favorite “treasures” – big colorful starfish and maybe, someday, an octopus.
Lucas prefers poking into the pools right along the beach, and squealing “Cab!” each time a hermit crab (there are hundreds) shows its head. He bends down close and offers shells from his (now barely-baby-chubbed) fingers: “New shell, cab! New shell!”
Twice now we have seen a crab come scrambling out of their home, naked and mossy-black, then use their big pincher claw to try on new shells until they get a good fit. Never has any “cab” taken Lucas up on his offered shell. But maybe, someday.
In blatant disregard of the No Collecting laws, Lucas invariably fills all his pockets (pants, sweatshirt, socks) with rocks, shells, sand. In pictures of him at the tidepools there are always bulges around his waist, and his pants sag with the weight of his collecting.
We stop before climbing up the stairs from the beach and empty him out, but always a few rocks end up in his carseat. Any remaining stragglers wind up in the washing machine; I find them that night when I switch the laundry. We keep a pile in the laundry room to take back to the beach when we return.
In the last month, the guys are suddenly getting along – not just causing trouble together, but actually playing together, happily, for stretches of time. They can even sit in peaceful quiet together. Or at least they have, once. Two nights ago, the twenty minutes leading up to dinner went like this: me, browning butter and stirring soup and slicing bread and shaking vinaigrette in a jar. Jacob and Lucas, sprawled back-to-back on the kitchen floor, reading. (Pigeon for L and Putter for J.)
I kept looking at them – I felt like I was in some parallel universe that looked just how I imagined parenthood would be, before I had a toddler and a preschooler. There was no yelling mama, no frantic-hungry kids racing circles and screaming like banshees, no sudden silence that tells me something terrible must be happening in the other room, no injuries from would-be gardeners walloping each other with ersatz leafblowers.
It was a sea change. Like any sea change, it wasn’t permanent – last night looked much more the usual. Still, I find my faith in the possibility for peace during dinner-making time renewed: we know something about the pull of the moon, about gravity. We know about cycles. Life ebbs and flows, and we move along with it, swept up in tides and rushing after them, looking for treasures, returning time and again to the places that feel like home.
Lately, I’ve found myself making this bread again. It was a staple around here for a while, but then I got going on this oatmeal bread and sort of forgot about the oatmeal sandwich bread we had been making (that was a predecessor to this cranberry whole wheat bread, may all things come full circle).
Then the other day I pulled down Good to the Grain, looking for something to do with buckwheat flour, and the book opened right to this page. Ah, yes – oatmeal sandwich bread: I bought Kim’s book after seeing this bread on Orangette. Molly’s delicious description of the toast that it made hooked me right in – and both the bread and the book are really that excellent. I forgot about the buckwheat flour, and instead went to see if I had any molasses.
Oatmeal Sandwich Bread was one of my go-to weekly bread recipes for a long time, and with good reason: it is delicious. It makes excellent sandwiches, as you might expect, and amazing toast as Molly promised. It also satisfies my personal requirements for a beloved bread: it is whole-grain wholesome without being dense, it is soft and chewy without being flimsy, it is warmly sweet without being cloying. These are, of course, the very reasons that it makes good sandwiches (it holds up sturdily to fillings and smears, but still has a soft bite) and good toast (the toaster’s browning brings out those subtle sugars and adds a crisp edge over the nice chew of the crumb – all good toast is pretty special, but this one perhaps especially so.).
If none of this has sold you, perhaps this will: make this, and your house will smell not just like bread baking, but like the way you imagined bread baking would smell, before you ever baked bread. It might be magic, it might be a parallel universe, whatever – enjoy it. It also makes a great after school snack. And always, it’s wonderful – while it lasts.
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
3 tablespoons unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or about 2 teaspoons of table salt)
Grease a large bowl and a 9 by 5 by 3 inch loaf pan with butter. (Note on the pan: this loaf is big! It is tall and mushroomy, and also wider than the standard cake-loaf pans that I bake bread in. I found a 9 by 5 by 3 inch pan a while back at a garage sale, and you do need it, or a similarly large pan, for this bread – Molly uses a 10 by 3 by 3 loaf pan, which I have never seen but works too.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine 2 cups warm water with the yeast and molasses. Stir, then allow the yeast to bloom until it bubbles.
Add the flours, oats, and butter to the yeast. Stir to mix. The dough will look rough and shaggy. Now you’re going to autolyse – say what? Cover the bowl with a towel, and let it stand for 30 minutes. Now it is autolysed – you’re such a pro. (This step allows the whole grains to rest and absorb the water, making a dough that is wetter and creates a “moister bread with a better, more irregular crumb,” per Kim.)
Attach the bowl and the bread hook to the mixer. Add the salt, and mix on medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough will come together around the hook and should slap around the sides of the bowl without sticking. If the dough is sticking, add a tablespoon or two of bread flour. [You can knead this dough by hand for about 15 minutes, adding flour as needed – though Kim recommends the mixer as it allows you to use less flour.] The dough should be soft and supple and slightly sticky, with a warm, yeasty molasses smell.
For the first rise, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times. Then let it rise in the buttered bowl, covered with a towel, for about 1 hour. It should double in size. To see if the dough is done proofing, gently push a floured finger into it. If the dough springs back, it needs more time; if the dimple remains, move on to the next step.
To shape the dough, scrape it onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on it, working it into a square shape, taking care to depress any bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up from the bottom to the middle. Next, bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together to make a seam in the middle, pinching the seam to seal it. Then pinch the sides together, and roll the now roughly loaf-shaped dough back and forth gently, plumping it until it is evenly formed and about the size of your pan. Place the dough in the pan with the seam side down, and press it gently into the corners.
Cover the pan with a towel, and let it rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough rises to half again its size. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. [THIS IS IMPORTANT! You can see in some of the photos a loaf that I forgot to rotate, with a very crooked mushroom top – looks weird, but still tastes great. Rotate to avoid the weirdness.]
The loaf is ready when the top crust and bottom crusts are nicely browned. [I don’t get a crust as brown as Kim’s, which is molasses colored, but a dark golden brown is good – see the top photo for the best sense of it.] To see if the bread is ready, give the top of the loaf a gentle thump with your hand. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready; if not, give it a few minutes more in the oven.
Remove the finished loaf from the pan and cool on a baking rack. It needs to sit for several hours (I try to leave it overnight) to set the crumb and let the flavor develop. [If you cut into it too early, you will have a collapsed crumb, which you can also see in one of my photos! It smelled too good for my hungry boys to resist.]