Not Business As Usual

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When I was a writing student in college, I was able to and even happy to articulate my views. Gradually as I stopped writing, I stopped feeling confident in my ability to speak well or sometimes even speak at all.  As an actor, I spoke other people’s words, engaging when I could in theater that spoke directly to me and to causes that were important to me.  This has been often fulfilling.  Both film and theater have a direct and visceral impact on audiences and for theater, the response comes to the performer immediately and often powerfully.  I have very much missed the act of writing, though, the ability to translate the thoughts in my head into words on paper.  This has definitely been the impetus behind this blog.  I often feel like my voice is echoing in an empty room, but it’s something that no longer concerns me as the act of writing gives order and a voice to my thoughts, even if  I’m the only one reading them.

The current political situation has frequently left me frozen and unable to write. I am so full of sadness and rage that it’s often hard to confront the thoughts in my head.  My mother’s parents were immigrants from Russia.  My father’s family came from Europe, mostly Germany.  I grew up with an idea of this country as a melting pot where people could celebrate both their similarities and differences.  As a person with a half Protestant, half Jewish background, I met and married a man of half Muslim, half Christian background.  I have friends and family from many nationalities, religions and sexual orientations.

In the past, I voted conscientiously, protested when I felt it necessary and gave money to causes I believed in when I was able. Now I’m no longer even certain how to respond.  I’ve watched in horror as this new group in power works as quickly as it can to dismantle everything about this country that I hold most dear.  I’m not sure what I have to add to the discussion other than my anger, my disgust and my need for change.  I’m not sure what purpose there is in adding my voice to the mix, but at this point, I can no longer remain silent.  I will not accept hate and discrimination as the creed of my country.

I’ve been trying to rise above despair and act in any way I can. I’ve also been trying to ground myself by making my corner of the world as pleasant as I can.  I’ve spent a lot of time contacting both friends and family as often as I can.  I’ve also been baking a lot, something that always makes me spin a little more slowly, since it involves focus and an attunement to the processes involved.  Rising bread greets me with a soft, fragrant sigh as I punch it down and shape it into loaves and my anger is mitigated by the sweet smell of bread baking in the hot oven.  With my anger somewhat abated, I can think more clearly and work towards productive paths of action.

The below recipe comes from the lovely cookbook New Feast by Greg and Lucy Malouf, a really splendid collection of vegetarian Middle Eastern Recipes. I’ve made it several times and the dough is a real pleasure to work with, and of course the finished bread is a real pleasure to eat.  The bread is referred to as rolls, but after tearing off the first hot slabs, we tend to slice it like a loaf of bread.  It makes very lovely toast.

Turkish Milk Rolls

15 oz. white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
200 ml warm milk
4 oz. clarified butter (1 stick)*
1 egg

Glaze:
1 tablespoon full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1 tablespoon nigella seeds (if your unable to find these, you could substitute sesame sees, but they are worth tracking down)
½ teaspoon flakey salt

Add the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side of the bowl. Add the milk, butter and egg.  Mix on medium low with the dough hook for about 10 minutes until all of the ingredients are a homogenous, soft mass – add a little more flour if it is too sticky to form a ball.  Knead on a floured surface for a few additional minutes.  Lightly oil the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl, turning to make sure the dough is coated with oil, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise until doubled in bulk (1-1½ hours).

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a small loaf pan.

Punch down the dough and divide it into six even pieces. Roll each into a small, fat log and place in a row in the loaf pan.  Cover again with a cloth and leave to rise until doubled (your finger will leave a slight dent).

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt and butter for the glaze. When the dough has risen, brush with the glaze, then sprinkle on the nigella seeds and salt. Bake 30-40 minutes until the bread is golden and makes a hollow sound when you tap it with your fingers.

*I am often lazy and do not always clarify the butter, but will melt the 4oz of butter directly in the milk and then cool it down until it is barely warm. For the glaze, I usually melt the butter in a ramekin in the oven as it preheats, then cool it and mix in the yogurt once it’s cool.

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