Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Catching up on December

(Can you find the Pookie Moose in the above photo?)

November ended as the wettest one ever in Orgeon's recorded weather history. Ernie just wasn't impressed at all.

Dec. 1 brought a new visitor to our yard: a gorgeous, huge red-tailed hawk, who took to sitting on the power lines and perusing our back-yard feeders as if they were an all-you-can-eat hawk smorgasbord. Now, I’m all about nature and food chain and all that…. I just don’t want to see carnage in my own back yard. He’s a beauty, though.

Early December kicked off with fall term Dead Week and Finals Week. Here I am (right) in a classic overworked grad student pose. The rest of the desk looks pretty much like the corner. Final exams went fine, thank Goddess. The gpa is intact. No pressure.

Dec. 7: Having turned in my last piece of finals work, I drove to Eagle Crest for the day. Took cookies and some other goodies to Mom and Joe. The drive over was a little scary, thanks to some ice and snow atop Mt. Hood. But I arrived at the Redmond Health Care Center to find out that Mom had just walked 30 feet by herself, using a walker-cane thingie. Wow! I then got to watch her PT, and was there to watch her move her fingers for the first time (!), curling them into a fist. Pretty amazing. Before leaving, I strung colored holiday lights around her room—a bit of holiday cheer.

Dec. 8: Visit with my orthopedist, Dr. Colorito. The MRI showed suspected bilateral tears--i.e., of both medial and lateral meniscus cartilages in the right knee. I was put on the surgery schedule for Dec. 15. (Dr. Colorito is a sports medicine specialist—did I mention that he also played for the Denver Broncos? It makes sense when you know that, because he is a huge man—probably 6’5” or 6’6” and massively built.)

Dec. 9: Valbo and I (right) had our annual Hoska-thon. Scroll down to the Dec. 17 entry for details.

Dec. 10: Party at Scott K’s in Vancouver. In attendance—the first and second year GAs and their families. Hildy, too. It was a lot of fun—a great post-finals kick-off to the holiday season.

Dec. 12: I went in to Emanuel Hospital to have preop bloodwork and an EKG, the latter mandated by the fact that I’m now in the over-50 group. All seemed well, until the EKG tech looked at me and said, “You’re a nurse, right?” I nodded. “Then you might want to know about this.” She showed me the instant computer reading of the EKG trace. “ABNORMAL EKG. CANNOT RULE OUT ANTERIOR WALL MI.

For those who don’t know, an ‘MI’ (myocardial infarction) is another word for heart attack. Every so often, an EKG picks up a silent MI—an MI that occurred without symptoms.

I freaked, of course. Could I have had a silent MI? Could that, rather than the stresses inspired by school and Mom and never enough sleep, explain why I was always so tired? I drove home, my life passing before my eyes in steps, thinking, “This is what I’ll do if….”

Dec. 13: Saw Dr. Colorito again for a pre-op visit. I told him about the EKG and he chuckled. (Chuckled!) “Not to worry,” he said. Apparently the computer reading is often (make that 'usually') wrong. Twenty-four hours of worry for nothing. My heart was completely normal. While it was a HUGE relief, I can’t tell you how angry I was at the tech who dared give me that information. Shame on her.

Dec. 14: My first-born, Katie Marie Pesznecker, was born 30 years ago today. I can’t even believe that! We talked on the phone (I’d already sent my gifts to her in Alaska). I don’t have a birthday photo of her, but below is a 4-generation picture taken on her first birthday: Dec. 14, 1977. Katie was 1, I was 23, GG was 77, and Mom was 47. Isn’t Katie adorable? (*waves to Katie*)

Dec. 15: Knee surgery. Scroll down to Dec. 15 and 16 entries for a couple of photos.

Dec. 21: The Winter Solstice—“Yule,” in Pagan-dom—fell at 4:22 pm Pacific time. I watched the sun set and celebrated quietly with an in-house ritual of candles and light.

Dec. 22: Did the holiday grocery shopping. When I arrived back home, I found the galley proofs of my Gargoyles book waiting on the doorstep! The proofed galleys are due back to the publisher by Jan. 8. Publication is set for February. Go here to pre-order!

Dec. 24: Scott, Erin, and Rebecca arrived in the wee hours of the morning. While everyone else slept in, I got up in the early darkness to greet the day and to snag some good photos of the tree, the lights, and the little village.

Dec. 24 was our family Christmas/Yule. We had a late breakfast (featuring a massive loaf of hoska), opened gifts, and feasted on prime rib for dinner.

After dinner, the kids went out with friends, and Bill and I went to bed. I was exhausted and after two days of being “holiday Mom,” the knee was throbbing. But it was a good kind of pain.

Dec. 25: Bill left in the morning to take in holidays with his family members. The kids and I made cookies and hung out until around 3 pm, when they headed back to Seattle. I was sad to see them go, but unfortunately they had to work the next day. So much for a long, relaxed vacation.

Rock star photo:

Dec. 26: Bill and I drove to Eagle Crest (Redmond) to see Mom and Joe. Joe fetched Mom from “The Home,” and we had a lovely day opening gifts and enjoying yet another prime rib. For those who don’t know, this kind of major beef eating is a once-a-year occurrence, and having prime rib twice in two days was quite extraordinary! I cooked the roast really rare. Bill kept threatening to get a gun and put the roast out of its misery. Mom loved it, and scarfed a whole plateful of blood-rare meat. Bwahahaha….

Joe had their house fixed up really cute. And Mom really got into the Groucho glasses (thanks, Rebecca!).

Dec. 27: Today I went to my third PT appointment, plus I visited the doctor for my post-knee follow-up. The PT is going very well and the ortho was so happy with my progress, he said I didn’t need to see him again. Yowza!

He also gave me copies of the photos from my arthroscopy. In the upper left panel, the shreddy-looking stuff is debris and “bone tatters” from the underside of my kneecap, and the metal thing in the right of the photo is a little bone-shaver that they used to trim away all the debris. In the upper right photo is a really cool (I think it is, but I’m a nurse, so sue me…) picture of my torn lateral meniscus cartilage. While it’s icky to know that the cartilage was torn, it’s good to know that there was something wrong and that the surgery was worthwhile. Dr. Colorito said I wouldn’t have been able to manage without the operation. There would have been progressive pain and immobility. So, I guess it was worth it.

Still to come.... Dec. 28-31. More PT, housework, and hoped-for progress on my second book, Writing Down the Moon. Also a quiet New year's celebration here with Bill. On Jan. 1, Katie and John arrive! John will be here for almost a week, Katie for two weeks. Can't wait!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Annual Hoska-thon

Dec . 9, 2006. An all-day hoska-baking session with my dear friend, Valerie.

Valbo arrives!

Before coffee....

Measuring, scalding the milk, melting the butter....

The bread bowl goes back for at least four generations in my maternal family.

Behold, the miracle and magick of the yeast!

After coffee.... (Maybe coffee is to tired women as yeast is to deflated bread dough?)

Adding flour....

Ernie seemed unimpressed. But can this position really be comfortable?

Eggnog-- nothing like a bit of energy mid-way!

After a lot of kneading, the first batch of dough was ready to rise. We used my office as our rising room, thanks to the toasty wee electric 'fireplace' in the corner.

During the first rising, we dashed to Albertsons for eggs and a couple of extra lemons-- a quick jaunt. Little did we know it would be the first of three store trips we'd make that day.

By the time we put the dough down for a second rising, we'd realized that we didn't have any candied pineapple. Horrors! This time, we headed to Sheridan . Could we have gotten away without using pineapple to decorate the loaves? Nope. Mom would have noticed. It was fun, though. Sheridan is this really amazing greengrocer on Portland's industrial east side. Lots of wonderful produce, artisan cheeses, imports, good wine, etc.

On the way home, we picked up a Papa Murphy's pizza for lunch.

The risen dough was punched down and shaped into loaves. You start with "ropes," and braid these to form the main loaf. Smaller braids top the larger ones.

The loaves are decorated with nuts and fruit, brushed with an egg wash, and sprinkled with poppyseed.

Pizza break.... Funny that Ernie work up right about then.

We made four batches, so repeated the whole process four times!

When the loaves came out, they got a nice brush with melted butter and a rest under a clean towel.

We had to return to the store for a third time, when we realized we needed plastic bags and a couple of other things. By then it was very dark outside.

Those of you who know me won't be surprised at all by knowing that I always put up holiday lights inside of 'Xena, Warrior Car.'

Here are some of the fnished loaves-- we made 4 batches, or 16 loaves.

And of course we had to have a sample.

Valerie's Bill brought Thai take-out. My Bill poured eggnog all around.

Bye, Valbo. See you next year....

For those of you who survived this photo essay and might be interested, here's the recipe.


2 C. milk
1/2 C. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. grated fresh lemon zest (peel)
1/2 tsp. mace
1/2 C. warm water (110-115°)
2 packages fresh dry yeast
1/2 C. unsalted butter
1/2 C. cold water
4 eggs, well beaten (reserve 1 T. for glaze)
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 C. raisins and currants
1 C. chopped, peeled almonds
10+ C. flour (all-purpose, bread flour, or a combination of both)
Candied pineapple (green) and candied cherries (green and red), for garnish
Whole almonds, peels removed, for garnish
Poppy seed, for garnish

Scald the milk. (Do this first and it will scald and begin to cool while you get other items ready.)

Combine sugar, salt, lemon peel, and mace in a very large bowl and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, stirring thoroughly. Set aside.

Add the butter to the scalded milk. Stir until melted. Add this mixture to the sugar-salt mixture. Stir well. Add the 1/2 C. cold water and stir again.

When this mixture has cooled to below 115°, add the yeast mixture, eggs, and lemon juice. Stir well.

Begin adding flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir in with a wooden spoon. After 6 C. of flour have been incorporated, add the raisins and chopped almonds.

You’ll likely use at least 10 cups of flour, but don’t be afraid to use a bit more or less—aim for a dough that remains sticky enough to almost—but not quite—stick to the surface as it is kneaded. After all the flour has been added, turn the dough out and knead for 5-10 minutes. You may actually have to “knead in” the last cup or two if stirring becomes too difficult. The end-point for kneading is when the dough is satiny, barely "tacky" to the touch, and blistery.

Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, turning the dough so that all sides are oiled. Cover with waxed paper and then with a clean towel. Leave to rise in a warm room until doubled*, 1 1/2-2 hours.

When doubled, punch down** and let rise again for about 45 minutes, until close to redoubled.

Divide the dough into four portions. Each of these will make 1 loaf of bread. Cover portions 2-4 with a towel so they won't dry out.

Divide portion 1 into fourths—we’ll call these A, B, C, and D. Set D aside covered with a towel—this will become the small braid that sits atop the loaf.

Roll and shape A-C into three "ropes" of the same length (12-16" long). Braid these, squeezing the ends together so they won't spring apart when the dough rises. This will form the large braid that makes up the bottom of the loaf. (Note: if you aren’t happy with your braid, start over! Bread dough is very forgiving!)

Take portion D and divide it into three pieces. Form each piece into three “ropes” of the same length (about about 12”) and braid them into a small braid Arrange this braid atop the larger one. You should now have a finished load that looks like a big, plump braid topped by a very small decorative braid.

Repeat with the reserved dough (portions 2-4). In the end you will have four finished loaves.

Place each loaf (as you make it) on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Decorate by pushing almonds and candied fruit into the "holes" in and between the braids. Be liberal with the decorations—they will make the loaves festive. Push the almonds and fruit deeply into the dough, so that they don’t “pop out” as it rises; however, be careful not to crush the braids.

Brush the finished loaves with the reserved beaten egg*** (thinned with a dab of water) and sprinkle lightly with poppy seed.

Cover loaves with waxed paper and towels and leave in a warm place to rise until they appear doubled (don't stick your fingers in to test!).

Bake at 325° for 40-50 minutes. Turn cookie sheets around once, midway through the baking. Check at the 35 minute mark—if already a dark golden, cover loosely with a shield of foil to prevent over-browning.

The loaves are done when they are a deep golden and smell heavenly. If you lift one and thump with your finger on the bottom of the loaf, it should sound hollow.

Hoska stores at room temp for at least a week, and also freezes well.

* To test, poke two fingers deeply into the dough. If the dough has doubled, two deep holes will remain.

**To punch down, literally punch and hit the dough with your fists, driving out all of the air and air bubbles (which is exactly the point--this is how out pioneer forebearers took out their frustrations!). You can also pick it up and slam it down on a countertop.

***The egg yolk wash gives the bread its golden color. Make sure to spread it over every nook and cranny for a uniform glaze.