Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let them eat bread

The joke at my house has long been that all dad knows how to cook is oatmeal and French toast (and don't expect him to fry bacon at the same time).  And yet, over the last year or so, that's been changing.  I think it was when my mom sent her recipes for chocolate-chip cookies and zucchini bread.  After that I started making sweet cornbread muffins - on a regular basis - and the kids laughed at me.  Then I pulled out the bread maker we bought a couple years ago but never used, and now some mornings we wake up to the smell of freshly-baked bread.  Now I've started getting cookbooks and actually trying some of the recipes.  I think I might even be turning into something of a "foodie."  

Last month I mentioned the "classic snacks" cookbook I've been having fun with, but recently I received Bread: The very best recipes for loaves, rolls, knots and twists from around the world by Anne Sheasby from GoodReads Giveaways (in exchange for an honest review).  It's a very beautiful book with great pictures that accompany most of the recipes.  And there's a range of recipes from regular breads to gluten-free options to bread maker recipes to seasonal favorites (and more).  Since I'm still new to baking I appreciated the instructions and tips in the beginning, and it's helped me understand better how to use the bread maker.  I had no idea how important it was to keep the salt, sugar, and yeast apart when loading the bread maker - especially for delayed bread-making - and I think it's made a difference in the quality of my bread.  I had tried several different recipes from the bread maker manual and some I found online, but they all came out a bit on the dry side.  But the "simple brown bread" recipe in this book has instantly become my favorite - much softer, moister, and better-tasting than any of the others.

Another was the marbled chocolate-banana bread.  It's a very pretty bread but it wasn't quite sweet enough for my sweet-tooth.  Everyone I shared it with at work, however, appreciated that it wasn't so sweet!  Nobody could tell it was a banana bread though, because the cocoa ends up being the dominant flavor.  I've made a few notes for some changes to try the next time I make it.

Although a number of the recipes can be made in the bread maker, it's not just a bread maker recipe book.  It also explains how to do regular dough-recipes, and there's one for rosemary ciabatta rolls I'm eager to try.  Some of recipes surprised me, considering it's a bread cookbook: there's recipes for pancakes (the book calls them "drop-scones"), French toast (a much fancier recipe than I usually make), and pizza dough (well, the recipe is for much more than the dough).  And there's a lot of "seasonal favorites" that seem very European, like bread pudding and such.  It's a very nice cookbook (hardcover and hardbound, not spiral), and although I think my family is getting tired of my baking, I'm having a lot of fun with it (even though it's interfering with my diet).  So, don't be too surprised if I show up at the beach or a church meeting and offer you some homemade baked goods.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"You must survive!"

"There are times and places where children do not dream any more about how to commit pranks, but about how to take the government to task." 
 Stephan Hermlin

Our first home was in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City.  It was a humble neighborhood but most people took great pride in their homes and yards, and we loved it and still count many friends there.  We got to know most of our neighbors through church and many of the older members were a source of inspiration, some of whom had made great sacrifices to come to the United States following WWII.  One of these neighbors was Sister Wobbe, and my wife remembers her as one of the hardest working people she ever met.  Her husband, Rudi, had passed away about a year before we moved in, and although I sometimes heard stories about him, they seemed almost too much to believe.

Rudolph, or Rudi, Wobbe grew up in Nazi Germany.  As a boy his family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the LDS or Mormon Church) and he eventually became friends with two other LDS boys, Helmuth Huebener and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.  But as they watched the Nazis exercise power and control over they people, they recognized it for the evil that it was.  Rudi resisted joining the Hitler Youth despite the intense pressure, but with Helmuth he began listening to BBC radio broadcasts that gave a very different picture of how the war was going than what the government said.  Eventually the friends began secretly distributing leaflets (written by Helmuth) denouncing Hitler. 

“It may be easy with the retrospect of history to see how bad the Nazis were. But to grow up in the midst of that environment, being taught every day that Germany had the best and finest government on earth and still to have the insight and courage to break free of the propaganda, took a man of a high and special caliber. ”
— Rudi Wobbe (speaking of his friend Helmuth) 

Three Against Hitler by Rudi Wobbe (and Jerry Borrowman) tells his story of how the teenage boys were caught by the Gestapo and put on trial for "Preparation to High Treason" against the nation.  Helmuth bravely defended himself and his friends before the "Blood Tribunal," but the sentences handed down were harsher than others because of the political nature of their crimes.  Wobbe tells of the time he spent in prisons and concentration camps, of the brutality he faced as well as the kindness of some fellow prisoners and even a few guards and wardens. 

I never met Brother Wobbe but through this book I felt like I got to know him.  He shares how his faith helped him in times of trial and it's very moving.  It's not a long story or as polished of an account as you might expect to find in professional biographies, but it comes across in his own words and feels that much more powerful because of it.  At times it made me ache inside for what he and others faced in such a difficult time and place, but it also made me very grateful for the life I've had.  This is a book I can eagerly recommend for anyone interested in WWII history.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The best lies

Kim Philby rose easily through the ranks of MI6, England's foreign intelligence organization.  In a group made mostly of the upper class of British society, they prided themselves on being part of an elite group - a club, actually - that traded in secrets.  And Philby was as charming as they came, easily making friends of nearly everyone, but especially those with information.  Unfortunately, he was also passing that information on to the enemy - the Soviet Union - and did so for about 30 years!

I found A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre both frustrating and infuriating, and yet I couldn't put it down.  Philby became friends with another member of MI6 who joined about the same time he did, Nicholas Elliot, and an American counterpart in the CIA, James Angleton.  And while the men drank (and drank, and drank) together, Philby listened to all the information his friends shared.  Whether it was about internal matters or operations that involved communist nations, he passed it all along to his Soviet handler, and the volume of information was such that even the KGB wondered if he was stringing them along.  And yet his information lead to the deaths of numerous people: anti-communist Catholics in Germany (and their families), Albanians sent to foment rebellion (and their families), and British and American spies in Russia.  It is estimated that thousands of people died because of Philby's friendships... and their willingness to share their knowledge over drinks.  And even when circumstantial evidence pointed to their friend, Elliot and Angleton couldn't believe that the guy they thought they knew so well could possibly be a Soviet spy.  It's said that the best lies are the ones we tell ourselves, and nowhere was that more apparent than in this case.

MacIntyre knows how to tell a good spy story, especially when the story is true.  I enjoyed Operation Mincemeat and have more by him on my to-be-read list.  This isn't exactly a biography in the traditional sense, but also profiles Elliot and Angleton, and focuses on the friendship of the three men.  And as frustrating as this one was to read (how could they not know?!?), it was a great story I just couldn't put down. (I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.)