Meditation, a make-shift solution, and monkey bread

There are very few people over the age of five and under retirement age who don’t own a smartphone. I am one of them, and my husband is too. Nowadays there are increasingly instances when I must out myself that I only own a flip phone, for example when I am told at a store that instead of getting a hole punched in the frequent buyer paper card, I can just log my purchases with the app on my phone. I get funny looks, and often feel compelled to explain why I don’t have a smartphone.

It’s been 18 years this month that I started working as a freelancer and it took me almost a decade to learn when and how to draw a line between work and private life. In the early days, my husband put a sign on my office door, “No access between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.” I was working with clients across three different time zones, and at any hour of the day or night when I turned on my computer, there were oodles of emails asking for something. I could have worked around a clock, and often did. The freelancer’s conundrum of “feast or famine” had gotten a full hold of me, and the 2008 recession, although it did not directly affect my work, made my inability to know when to stop even worse. Never knowing how much work I would get in the next month, I bent to crazy deadlines and unreasonable requests. Being a troubled sleeper my entire life, instead of tossing and turning in bed I often started working in the middle of the night. It was not healthy.

About the time smartphones became popular, I had finally gotten a better handle on it. I had learned to say no, and had moved my office to the basement to make it more difficult to sneak out of bed and sit at my desk at wee hours. Having a smartphone in my pocket at all times would have brought back into my life what I had worked so hard to control.This summer and last, not having a smartphone has also given me the chance to be in a much needed news vacuum. Just like I don’t need to check work emails when I am in my garden, I don’t need to learn in real time about the latest craziness happening in American politics. I can catch up with the news and get outraged later (for full disclosure, I do have an iPad to connect me to the world outside of work hours).

I’ve always been a high-strung and intense person. Yoga and meditation is not my thing. But gardening is my form of relaxation, now more than ever. Especially repetitive tasks like pulling weeds have a purging, lulling effect on my brain even though my limbs might ache afterwards. After filling five or six wheelbarrows with garlic mustard, there is just the cleared soil, me, and a feeling of accomplishment.

Harvesting, of course, is the ultimate feeling of accomplishment for us gardeners. This week, I harvested garlic. The timing was perfect – the cloves had formed yet not a single head had split, like they did in previous years. Following the rule of thumb to harvest garlic when 40 to 60% percent of the leaves have yellowed, I had always waited a bit too long.The wire boxes on which I normally place the garlic for curing are in use right now, one stacked on top of each other, to keep the cucumbers off the ground. Taking my freshly harvested garlic to our shed, I wondered where I was going to put it when my eyes fell on a pallet leaning against the wall. And voila, turned vertically, and tucking the garlic underneath the horizontal boards makes a great drying rack for garlic.As every year, I will use some of the garlic to make pesto – which brings me to the final topic of this blog post. For a garden gathering early this summer, I made savory monkey bread. I got numerous requests for the recipe so here it is:

Savory Monkey Bread

Monkey bread is usually sweet; there are very few savory recipes out there, and the ones I found online use ready-to-bake biscuit dough. Since I am a from-scratch purist, I adapted my standard recipe for garlic knots and doubled it to fill a 10-inch (25 cm) angel food cake pan. When it’s just for us, I bake the monkey bread with half the amounts in a smaller pan.

Photo courtesy of Khine Ngwe Hnin Zaw

You can adjust the toppings to your taste. I wanted to accommodate vegan eaters so I omitted the cheese this time but grated mozzarella, Swiss cheese or Provolone is very nice too.

Leftovers can be frozen and popped in the hot oven for a few minutes to crisp them up.

For the dough:

2½ cups (560 ml) warm water

4½ teaspoons (1/2 ounce/14 g) active dry yeast

¼ cup (50 ml) olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

7 cups (780 g) white whole wheat flour, or half white whole wheat and half bread flour

For the toppings:

Sesame seeds

Grated cheese

Black pitted olives, chopped

Sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and finely chopped


1. Mix the water with the yeast and stir to dissolve. Let it stand for a 5 to 10 minutes until it starts to foam.

2. In the bowl of the kitchen machine fitted with the dough hook, add the flours and salt. Stir with a cooking spoon, then add the yeast and olive oil. Knead on a low setting for 3 minutes. If the dough is very dry and crumbly and does not pick up all the flour from the bottom of the bowl, add a little more water, 1 teaspoon at a time. The dough should be slightly sticky.

3. Cover and let rise for 1.5 hours.

4. Knock down the dough to remove any air pockets. Divide dough into pieces about the size of a golf ball. Place the balls on a lightly floured countertop and cover with a clean dishtowel so they won’t dry out.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).Grease a 10-inch (25 cm) angel cake pan very well, also thoroughly grease the area around the hole.

6. Put the toppings of your choice in separate small bowls. Dip a dough ball in a topping of your choice and gently turn it around in the topping to coat it all around. If the topping does not stick well, spray the dough lightly with water or moisten your hands with water and gently roll the ball between your palms before dipping it into the topping. Coat all the balls with the same topping at once and place them on a large plate in once layer. Then proceed with the next topping. By doing one topping at a time, you don’t have to repeatedly wash you hands.

7. Loosely fill the pan with the dough balls, alternating the toppings so that no two balls of the same kind are next to each other. Do not squeeze them into the tin, they need to have ample room to expand.

8. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise in a warm place until visibly increased in size and reaching the top of the pan, about 30 minutes.

9. Place the pan in the lower third of the oven (the rack below the center rack in my oven). Bake until golden brown and puffed up, about 30 minutes.

10. Remove from the oven and let cool for 1 minute, then gently loosen the sides and unmold onto a wire rack. Do not to let the bread sit in the pan, otherwise it will sweat and loose its crisp. Let cool on the wire rack and serve within a few hours. You can also return it to the tin after cooling if you are transporting it.

Makes 24 servings

Photos by Ted Rosen



2 thoughts on “Meditation, a make-shift solution, and monkey bread

  1. If you run out of weeds—mine are from Jan-April. 3 different sets and drow very fast. On a corner with twice the size of a city yard. So get around and then there is more. Too hot and dry for weeds the other times of year.
    I have a 1932 (Bakelite) break your foot phone that I still use. Love the clicks.

  2. When I started writing twenty years ago from October, I was still using a typewriter and a rotary telephone. My primary editor helped me make the transition to a computer and email. Although I do carry a telephone with me, I rarely answer it. I really miss that old rotary telephone. It stayed on my desk and went nowhere else.

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