I have been called many names in my life.. nicknames, that is.
Smidge, Little One, Barbie, Barbie-doll, Barbarian, and Pup-face.
I had my own room and my own clothes but that’s where the line was drawn. It was “keep up and shut-up (you better not tell Mom)” in the Exclusive Boy’s Club of home-made wooden forts, go-carts and top-secret reconnaissance through the wilds of Spy Hill.
We’d trample around, a motley, ramshackle gang of boys (with me tagging along) through the neighborhood, playing “kick-the-can”, baseball, and G.I. Joe’s until the lights went on and we knew we had to high-tail it back home.
We had a secret meeting place on Spy Hill where some vagrant or group of teenagers had lugged an old flea-bitten couch and left it to ruin. We reveled in that heroic find, bringing along our Cap’n Crunch Secret Decoder Rings (well, maybe that was just me) we’d ordered off the cereal box. Glass bottles of Coke, Orange Crush and comic books in hand we’d set off for the day through the wild prairie grasses and crocuses just minutes from our front porch.
My older brother was the mastermind and architect for our go-cart contraptions. One particular design was ingenious, it had axles, wheels, a steering wheel and a wooden seat. We chose my younger brother Jack to do the first test run on the steep slopes of Claret Street. He was an athlete, an always a game, ready-and-willing participant. He set out from the top of our gravel strewn spring street with our Grandpa’s airplane goggles on.. only to discover half-way down that we’d neglected to install a brake system. That was one of many trips to the Emergency Room for my mom.
Through the seasons, we’d hang out at various skating rinks, swimming pools and community centers after school and on the weekends. There were very few “organized” events back then. Confederation Park or Triwood Community Center were the hills we went to for an afternoon of tobagganing. On one such day, we couldn’t believe our luck at finding the perfect spot where no one else seemed to want to tobaggan. This time all three of us set off, Jack the brave one in front, my youngest brother safely tucked between Mike and I, and we boldly tore down that hill on our wooden sled. It didn’t take long for us to realize the error of our decision when the baseball backstop loomed ahead. My brother and I grabbed Rich and bailed, unbeknownst to Jack, piloting bravely up front. That was another trip to the Emergency Room.
Our forts were no small feat.. I remember one had four walls, a roof and a door with a handle and real hinges. You see, the side of our garage was always stacked with scraps of plywood and 2×4′s that my Dad had left over from our basement construction. Since television only had a few black and white channels back then, our days were spent hauling out the scraps. With my brother planning and supervising, hammer and nails in hand, we’d follow his directions. Sleep-outs were then planned, and many a scary tale was told in backyard tents and forts. I knew I had to plug my ears and put on a brave face or suffer the taunts of “chicken” for weeks after. Haunted houses were constructed in our basement and neighborhood kids would be charged a nickel to go through. It’s been years.. but I still feel apprehensive when I have to go into the basement of a home.
One after another, we all attended Brentwood Elementary school. It was Grade Five when I first began to express myself through the way I dressed. I borrowed my brother’s faded blue jeans (my first pair hand-me downs!) and faced the wrath of my male teacher. He asked me to stand in front of the class so that everyone could see that this wasn’t how a young girl should dress. That was the first and might have been my last time I dared to be different… until Woodstock hit a few years later.
“Can I play?”
Now, if John from the Bartolini Kitchens looked behind him, he’d see me running behind like a kid-sister. I so admire his talent and skill in the kitchen! When I saw his beautiful loaf of Easter Bread of Le Marche – Crescia al Formaggio.. I had to run into my kitchen to try to keep up!
Crescia al Formaggio
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, white reserved
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper (white or black)
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, Romano or Asiago cheese or a combination of these
reserved egg white
2 tsp cold water
Combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and satiny. It’ll be very sticky; stop the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the mixing process.
Add the cheese, and beat until well combined.
Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and set it aside to rest/rise for 1 hour; it won’t do much. Gently deflate the dough, turn it over, return it to the bowl, and allow it to rest/rise for an additional hour; again, it may not seem to rise much — that’s OK.
Oil or flour your hands. To make one traditional round loaf, form the dough into a ball, and place it in a greased pandoro (star) or panettone pan; a large souffle dish; or another round, deep pan. The pan should be about 6″ to 7″ wide, and 3″ to 4″ deep.
To make a pretty loaf, divide the dough into three pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ log; and braid the logs.
Nestle the braid into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
Cover the loaf lightly, and allow it to rise for 2 hours (or longer, depending on the warmth of your kitchen); the dough should have become noticeably puffy, though it won’t have doubled in size.
To bake the bread, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush the top of the loaf.
Place the bread on the lowest rack in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, tent the bread lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. The braided loaf will require less time than the round loaf.
Remove the bread from the oven, and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, if necessary, and turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.
Store airtight, at room temperature, for several days. Freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage.
Yield: 1 loaf.