Chuck was my Uncle-in-Law, if there is such a thing. Forget that. Chuck was my uncle, and he was a wonderful, wonderful man. He made quiet and persistent efforts to connect with everyone around him and was uncompromising in his determination to enjoy his life and spend time with his family. Chuck took us to his favorite places, sent us his favorite books (hand chosen for our tastes), and taught my children tricks with coins that they think are really cool. After my first visit with Uncle Chuck, in which I was overdressed all of the time in an effort to make a good impression, I began to pack my Chuck shoes.
These are my Chuck shoes. My Chuck shoes can go anywhere. I’ve worn them in the woods of New England while Chuck showed me a trail that runs where a colonial road and Native American trail had gone before us. I wore them while Chuck walked with us to the historic family farm and walked us over the stone bridge, sharing the history of each element as we walked. I wore them when we went to the beach in Rhode Island and discussed the complexities of seabirds, decking, and cedar shingles. I wore them when we visited one of the greatest small zoos in the U.S. and I wore them to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. I wore them in a rock garden that Chuck wanted to share with me because we were both in the process of building stone walls. They are my Chuck shoes because Chuck would go anywhere to find commonality and explore shared interests and these shoes went the distance with us.
My dear Uncle Chuck has passed away and I have had the privilege of being counted as part of his family as we grieved the loss of him. I was lucky enough to watch a remarkable family and a stunning community draw up and surround the grieving with love, support, and, out of sheer necessity, food. As soon as the funeral service ended, the food began to arrive. And what a relief it was to know that this was a worry that was taken care of. And what a comfort it was to receive massive containers of food from the kitchens of community members who hoped only to ease the difficulty that Chuck’s family was forced to bear. A small joy to be found in being released from the responsibilities of food preparation in order to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of the youngest generation running laps around Uncle Chuck’s home and marveling at his stone walls and pathways.
Uncle Chuck’s Hebrew name was Chaim, life. And so, in honor of my beloved Uncle, who I was lucky enough to gain through marriage, I shall return home to the basic task of baking. We shall celebrate our continuation of life with the staff of life. I will toast Uncle Chuck with bread (it’s okay to laugh at that; he would have).
Today I want to share the multigrain bread that I took with us on our recent trip and warmed in the toaster in the continental breakfast room (and I will save my rant on what passes for travel breakfast for another day), topped with a little peanut butter (yes, I checked the recall list for the brand) and a sliced banana. This bread is easy to put together and has a great texture. If you’re not experienced with bread, I promise you will be okay. This bread turned out to be the perfect way to start our days in New England – the nutty heartiness of the bread and the banana for my achy back and legs. Who else could provide the key to such a perfect loaf but my favorite chef, Deborah Madison. The recipe is in her massive and incredibly useful Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I will write it up as I made it -a few vegan adaptations and flour choices based on my desire to give up all purpose flour as part of my own Baby Steps to Healthy Eating program.
Multigrain Bread with Sunflower Seeds – adapted from Deborah Madison
- 1 cup uncooked multigrain cereal (I used Bob’s Red mill hot cereal, I’ve no idea if this is what she meant, but it worked)
- 1 1/2 cups hot water
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 1/2 T salt
- 2 T safflower oil (or as you like) plus extra for glazing
- 3/4 c sunflower seeds
- 4 cups whole wheat flour (I used 2 whole wheat and 2 white whole wheat as this was what I had)
Mix ingredients for the sponge in a bowl (If you have a stand mixer, use the bowl for it). Cover it (I used a clean dishtowel) and let sit for an hour. Your sponge should become bubbly and should smell, well, yeasty. Stir the sponge to release the air and add the salt, oil, and sunflower seeds. Begin stirring in the flour (move to stand mixer for this if you have one, if not no worries, totally doable by hand). If using a mixer, switch to dough hook if you have one as you get down toward the end of the flour to add. When all flour is in, allow mixer to knead for a couple of minutes. If mixing by hand, stir flour in until it is too heavy to manage, then put the bread onto a lightly floured cutting board or counter and knead in the remaining flour by adding a little at a time and folding the bread dough over on itself until the dough is tacky but not wet or overly sticky. Put dough in oiled bowl and allow to rise to double size, about an hour and a half (a warm but not HOT location will help this process). Push down the dough, divide into two and shape into loaves (I’m sure there are right ways to do this, I just fiddle with it until it looks loaf-ish. Place in oiled and floured 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch loaf pans and let rise again for about 45 minutes. About 25 minutes into this rise time, preheat your oven to 375. Cut the top of the bread and brush the top with oil to glaze. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes or until brown and awesome. L’Chaim Uncle Chuck.