Thursday, August 6, 2015

Take Me Home, Country Roads + Whole Wheat Oat Bread

I remember, quite often, coming home from school to the smell of homemade bread wafting throughout the house. My mom has always been pretty notorious for supplying freshly warm slices of bread, slathered with butter and cinnamonsugar, to us hungry kids right when we need it the most. To this day, just the smell of homemade bread takes me back to being eight years old and running inside from the bus after a long day of "learning" (aka kickball). 

The bread I'm sharing with you today isn't my mom's recipe, but it's still pretty delicious! 

Since warm, soft bread goes hand in hand with my mom, I thought it only fitting to pair this loaf with one of her all-time favorite singers, John Denver. This song in particular happens to be one of my favorites of his: "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Pull up a seat and take a listen! Perhaps while this loaf of bread is baking? 

About the Artist

John Denver was a prolific singer-songwriter of the 20th century, getting his start in the late 1960s and early '70s. He first began performing in New York City with the Chad Mitchell Trio, though his solo career took off after his folk-style songwriting skills came to light; the group Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded his "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in 1969.

Denver, who changed his name from Deutschendorf before signing with Mercury RCA Records in '69, released several solo albums throughout his career, including the very popular Rocky Mountain High (1972), Back Home Again (1974), and Poems, Prayers, and Promises (1971). He was known for his wholesome "good ol' boy" look and folk-pop musical style, and often capitalized on this image in his film appearances that began in 1977.

He was seen often with the Muppets and hosted/starred in several television specials over the years. He also won countless awards for his music and humanitarian efforts, including being named the Top Male Recording Artist by Record World magazine in 1974-75. Tragically, John Denver died in a plane crash in 1997, in which he had been piloting his own experimental aircraft (he had a huge love of flying, second only to his love of music) and subsequently crashed near Pacific Grove, California. He has been posthumously recognized by awards and tributes across the country since his death, and Windstar Records, Denver's own record company, is still in business today. His music continues to be highly influential and admired by many people; two of his songs are now considered official state songs. 

About the Song

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" was released on John Denver's album Poems, Prayers, and Promises in 1971 and quickly rose to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He worked with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert to write it, combining their collective poetic musings about the winding roads of West Virginia into the most notable of John Denver's hits. 

Danoff and Nivert had originally planned to sell the song to Johnny Cash, but when they sang it for Denver, he fell in love. The three of them worked together to mold it into the popular song it is now, receiving a five-minute standing ovation when they first performed it. It was met with such positive reception that it became the theme song of West Virginia University, and in 2014, was named the official state song of West Virginia. John Denver himself performed the song at the dedication of Mountaineer Field, and it has been covered and quoted thousands of times since then. The Mountain State Brewing Company even has an ale named after a lyric in the song, "Almost Heaven."

Here are just a few of the many, many covers that have been done of John Denver's iconic song:

Whole Wheat Oat Bread
makes 1 loaf
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs yeast** 
  • 1 Tbs Earth Balance margarine
  • 1 1/3 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/3 C rolled oats
  • 1/2 Tbs salt
1. Whisk the sugar and water together in a stand mixing bowl. Add the yeast and whisk to dissolve. Set aside for 5-10 minutes. It should be done when the yeast has created a layer of foam on top of the water. 
*At this point, you can pulse the oats in a food processor for a few seconds if you want, but you don't have to. 
2. Add the flour, oats, and salt to the yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the margarine into pieces and add it in. 
3. Mix well with a dough hook. Knead the dough for about 3-5 minutes. 
4. When the dough is elastic and smooth, round it into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Coat a piece of plastic wrap in oil and loosely cover the bowl with the plastic, oil side down. Let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's doubled in size.
5. Punch the dough down and a knead it a few times. Form into a neat ball, fold the sides under, and tuck them under the ball. Place the loaf in a greased bread pan and let it rise for another hour, uncovered.
6. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake for 35-40 minutes (the whole house will start smelling delicious!). Let the bread cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack.

I know how hard it is to wait, but try to let the bread cool for a little while before you cut into it, or else you'll have squishy, hot crumbs all over the place. The slices are especially scrumptious when slathered with vegan margarine, and adding a sprinkle of cinnamon on top is "almost heaven." 

**You should make sure your yeast is not expired before you use it. If it is, your bread won't rise the way it should (it'll end up looking like mine -- still delicious, but slightly more dense than I was hoping for). Enjoy!

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