Back-to-school Baguette

Back-to-school Baguette

 

I’m spending part of this Labour Day baking baguettes. It’s a cool and rainy day and tolerable to have the oven on. I’m glad to have a bit of baking therapy to help me get over the back-to-school anxiety pervading the house. And this way the sandwiches on the first day of school will be amazing.

On our summer holiday this year we spent a few days in Quebec City. One day we walked all over the Plains of Abraham, the fort and the old city. (Thank you, National Battlefields Commission, for such an informative website about the whole struggle for Quebec, and not just the battle on September 13, 1759. And I learned a new word: justaucorps, the long fitted eighteenth-century coat.)

We paused for lunch in the glorious Jardin des Gouverneurs, overlooking the St. Lawrence, with a big monument to Wolfe and Montcalm, the victor and the vanquished.

20170817_124101We bought our lunch at a little grocery store nearby. The non-celiacs had baguette with ham and cheese, reportedly absolutely delicious. I promised the family then that I would make baguette in time for the first day of school. This week I stocked up on ham and Jarlsberg, and here I am baking the bread.

One piece of specialized equipment can be used here: the baguette pan. You can also make your own out of several layers of aluminum foil (more relaxing handwork) or just bake the loaves on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. They will spread a bit that way, but still be delicious. 20160422_143831

The recipe is from my old favourite, Kneadlessly Simple. As with all the recipes in that book, you start the day before by mixing up the sponge so that it can rise overnight. The dough could not be simpler to mix up. Then, the next day there is a certain amount of forming and shaping. This is where the anxiety-calming occurs: sprinkling a handful of flour over the pieces of dough, forming rectangles, folding and rolling, and finally slitting the narrow loaves with a sharp knife. I’ve made this bread enough times that I can feel when the dough is the right texture and it’s somehow comforting to know this with my body rather than my brain.

Here is the basic recipe. I always double it since the children can eat a batch in the wink of an eye.

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast
1 1/2 cups cold water, or a bit more

Method

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix (with a wooden spoon or dough whisk) until spongy but still quite firm. Add a bit more water if the dough is too floury. Cover with a silicone mat and leave overnight to rise.

The next day, the dough will look quite wet with little bubbles on top. Scatter a handful of flour over the top and massage it into the bread. As the dough becomes less wet, start kneading it with one hand (leaving the other hand clean for touching your tap or knives or whatever). When it feels dry and squishy and springy, dump it out onto a silicone mat with a little flour dusted on it. Cut the lump of dough in two and leave it alone for ten minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and make shaping easier. 20160422_143827

In the meantime, oil your nifty french bread pan or whatever pan you are using.

After ten minutes, start shaping your dough. Push it into a rectangle about the shape of a piece of paper and fold it in thirds as if you were folding a letter. Then make it into the same size of rectangle, but this time roll it along the long side so that you have a sort of snake. Pinch the edges well together and continue rolling your snake until it’s the same length as your loaf pan. Put the snake in the loaf pan and slash the tops diagonally three or four times with a serrated knife. Admire the professional effect.

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Allow to rise for 45 minutes to two hours, whatever works best for your schedule. About 20 minutes before you want to bake, put a broiler pan or cookie sheet in the bottom of your oven and turn it on to 500°F.

When the oven is hot, spray the loaves with water and put the pan towards the back of the oven. I use the middle rack, but a lower rack may work better in your oven. Carefully pour 1 cup of cold water into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. Shut the door quickly to capture the steam. Turn the oven down to 475°F.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, and then remove the pan from the oven. The loaves will look somewhat solid and slightly coloured. Using a palette knife or thin spatula, loosen the loaves and slide them onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. Put back in the oven for 6-8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 4-6 minutes. These times are a bit approximate and will depend on your oven.

Then remove your glorious loaves and allow them to cool. I will guard mine until it’s time for the lunches to be made.

And…breathe.

 

 

 

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The OCDSB has, in two recent decisions, decided to sentence all high school age children in Overbrook and Vanier to a bus commute to a suburban school, Gloucester High School. On March 7, the board voted to close Rideau High School, after vigourous opposition from the community. This decision ensures that all children in the English stream in Overbrook and Vanier would be sent to Gloucester High School. I wrote a letter after their initial vote and attended the meeting at which the final vote was taken. An excerpt from my letter:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with your vote to close Rideau High School, and to urge you to change your vote the next time around.
Rideau High School serves a very special community within Ottawa. It has a high number of indigenous and Inuit students, as well as a high proportion of new Canadians. The programs that are in place there work well and there is no compelling argument that setting them up again at a school that is further away will provide any improvement. 
There is significant evidence to suggest that students in need do better at smaller schools. A growing body of research shows that it is particularly important for students in high school to have physical activity built into their day. Walking or cycling to Rideau High currently provides at least part of that. Gloucester High School is not at all a pleasant place to cycle to, and putting high school students on buses will not improve their mental or physical health. 
I understand the point that Rideau High School is underpopulated at the moment. I have seen no evidence of creative problem-solving on the part of the board to deal with this issue. Closing the school seems to be a very blunt instrument; in recent years, Viscount Alexander was also under threat of closure and has seen something of a Renaissance once a French immersion program was introduced there. 
Last night saw me again at the headquarters of the OCDSB on Greenbank Road. (I booked a Vrtucar; because I got home at 10, the spouse returned it so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. How jolly it will be to book a car every time I need to get the children’s high school: read on).

Our school trustee made the following motion:

Trustee Ellis has given notice that he intends to move as follows at the Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 21 March 2017:

Therefore be it resolved:

A. THAT starting in the school year 2017-2018, grade nine students residing in the York Street Public School grade 7 to 8 English attendance boundary east of the Rideau River, and south of Beechwood and Hemlock be directed to LisgarCollegiate Institute (see attached map);

B. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, grade nine students residing in the Manor Park English attendance boundary (see attached map) be directed to Lisgar Collegiate Institute; and

C. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, Lisgar Collegiate Institute will accept grade nine students to the Gifted Congregated program if Lisgar Collegiate Institute is the closest high school offering that program to where the student resides. (This will create space for students from the above areas.)

I spoke in favour of the motion, noting that we live in Overbrook, 2.4 km from Lisgar, a safe and pleasant walk or bike ride for our grade 9 student.  Sending the children of Overbrook and Vanier to Gloucester would take them away from this reasonable commute and send them on to a very unsafe bike lane on Ogilvie, or more likely, the bus. We have no interest in sending our children to a suburban school, 5 km from our house, along an appallingly unsafe bike route, unprotected from vehicular traffic.  Here is some video of the bike lane on Ogilvie. The OCTranspo quick planner tells me that the route from my house to Gloucester High School involves 3 buses and would take 45 minutes (on good days when the connections work, of course).  There is also a two bus option taking 56 minutes. Friends in Vanier, living over 7 km from Gloucester High School, have a number of options, ranging from 38 to 56 minutes and two of those options involve 3 buses. My child can ride his bike to Lisgar in 10 minutes.
Several delegations spoke at last night’s meeting, and all were in favour of the motion. The board then voted against the motion. I am appalled that the board did so and now proposes to send all students from some of the poorest areas in Ottawa to a suburban school. Two other high schools are closer to my house than Gloucester: Glebe and Hillcrest.
Study after study has shown that the best outcomes for children occur when active transportation is built into their day. Further studies have shown that walkable neighbourhoods have more social capital. The school board seems to be disregarding recent social studies research in its decisions, to say the least. I thought the Prime Minister said when he was sworn in that we were in a new age of evidence-based decision making. The PM has no sway at the OCDSB, of course, although if his children went to high school in that board they would be going to Lisgar.
We bought a house about 3 km from Parliament Hill so that we could raise our children in an urban environment. We have endured the bussing during elementary school from our house to Manor Park PS with the expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel come high school. The board’s decision ensures that no child in French Immersion living in Ottawa or Vanier can walk or bike to school DURING THEIR ENTIRE SCHOOL CAREER FROM JK TO GRADE 12. I am enraged. Please excuse the yelling.
My fury is not abated by the fact that a neighbourhood significantly further away from Lisgar than ours, Lindenlea-New Edinburgh-Rockcliffe Park, continues to be able to send its children to Lisgar. Lisgar is much more my neighbourhood high school than it is theirs. If I lived in Lindenlea, my house would be about 4.8 km from Lisgar and an 18-minute bike ride. I can only conclude that the school board continues to draw its boundaries along class lines.
I turned to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study for more information. Their website notes: We are a team that brings together the University of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, local Community Health & Resource Centres, Ottawa Public Health, United Way/Centraide Ottawa, The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, and other community-based partners. Our goal is to better understand the neighbourhoods in which we live, work and play in order to offer evidence about the dimensions that are important for community health and well-being. We also provide the City of Ottawa, health service providers, social service agencies, community organizations and residents with information on 107 neighbourhoods in Ottawa in order to help them to identify what is working well, and where community development is needed.
The survey provides the following information. The percentage of the population in the bottom half of the Canadian income distribution is 61.9 % for Overbrook-McArthur; 53.9% for Vanier North; 22.4% for Rockcliffe Park; and 25.6 % for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The average percentage for Ottawa is 35.3%. Furthermore, median income after taxes is $25117 for Overbrook-McArthur; $28848 for Vanier North; $43788 for Rockcliffe Park; and $46050 for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh. The average median income for all of Ottawa is $35554.90.
I am not arguing that the residents of Rockcliffe Park etc. should stop sending their children to Lisgar. The bus routes from those neighbourhoods to Gloucester High School are similarly daft. I am pointing out the injustice that the children of  Overbrook and Vanier,who live much closer to Lisgar, and whose families are much less able to weather the extra expense and strain of having children attending a school much further away, are being shifted before those in wealthy neighbourhoods who live further away from Lisgar.
The school board is using the French Immersion children of Overbrook and Vanier in order to bolster an already bad decision to close Rideau High School. The board needs to show high levels of enrolment at Gloucester for next year in order to be able to pronounce the closure a success. This is a face-saving, self-serving exercise and is bad for the children of my neighbourhood.
Overbrook and Vanier children need to be able to use active transportation to get to school, and would benefit immensely from the Lisgar environment. The school board appears to be set on a series of policies (the closure of Rideau High School and now this) that would hollow out an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood that needs all the help it can get. This is not the way to plan for a successful future for our community.
The reason that the board is drawing the boundary this way is that residents of wealthier neighbourhoods have better contacts, more social capital, more time to spend on activism and are more adroit at navigating administrative systems. The poor cannot do this so well. The OCDSB does not want a posse of Lindenlea parents screaming bloody murder. I am an Overbrook resident with a lot of social capital myself, so watch me: BLOODY MURDER.

Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Two years ago, we decided to splash out and buy new lunchboxes. The old ones were smelly, stained, creased and too small, and that was after one year of use. We had experimented with metal ones, but they were poorly made and the rivets popped or the clasps broke. Surely there must be some sort of lunchbox that was made to last, to be bashed around, and that would survive the numerous yoghurt explosions that seem to be our lot.

And then I found the perfect thing: made in Canada to last 30 years. The Miner’s Lunchbox was invented by Leo May, a miner at INCO in Sudbury, Ontario. He wanted a lunchbox he could sit on. I’m not sure our children have ever done that, but their lunchboxes do get hard wear. The lunchboxes have been made in Sudbury ever since 1956 and at one point almost all of INCO’s miners had a lunchbox from L. May Mfg. I ordered one red anodized version and one bubblegum pink version from www.lunchbox.ca. They are not cheap; at that time they cost $65 each, plus shipping. They have been worth it a thousand times. OK, possibly not literally, since $13o, 000 for two lunchboxes would be a bit steep.20160905_185724

They are now beginning their third year and look only slightly worn. In that time, I would have bought at least two more soft-shell lunchboxes, which I would have washed by hand and then waited for them to dry at their usual achingly slow pace. The carrots would have left marks on the inside and the split yoghurt would have made the zipper edges stinky. Now, no matter what disaster comes home in those miners’ lunchboxes, I just wash them with the dishes, and they drip dry in two minutes, all ready for the children to fill them again.

And now the best part: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of packed lunches I have made for children. One reason is that we are mean slave-driving parents who have the children make their own lunches from grade two onwards. They have to pack a vegetable, a fruit, a starch and a protein, and otherwise the choice is theirs. Since it’s the first week, they are allowed to take a pudding as well. One of them packs the exact same thing every day. The other two love taking leftovers, veggies and dip and a wide variety of fruit.

The other reason is that I was raised in a household where my dad made the lunches. I can still remember the taste of slightly soggy cookies, wrapped up in wax paper along with a salami sandwich, and bearing the perfume of that same salami. We had to make our lunches starting in grade seven, and packed them in manila envelopes. My mother got a lot of manuscripts in the mail at that time, and I often ate my lunch out of a big UNESCO envelope.

I emerged from the parental home with the firm belief that women do not pack lunches. When I moved in with the spouse, we made a bargain that he would make the lunches until the end of time, and I would do all the ironing to the end of time. It’s 23  years later, and we’re still happy with the arrangement. Unfortunately, my equally firm belief that women do not vacuum or go grocery-shopping did not survive.

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