In which I bake tomato and mozzarella bread and chase an old dog through the neighborhood.

The wind is a-blowin', and Truman feels the call of the wild.

Truman is our dog. He is our oldest dog. He DOES have something to do with tomato and mozzarella bread, but you'll have to bear with me for a second.

Here is Truman, with me, back in late September, when I still had hair and desperately needed lip gloss. (Prepare yourself for adorableness. And Truman's cute, too.)

A year ago, we had three dogs left: Minnie, a 13-year-old Great Pyrenees, Jack, a five-year-old Basset Hound, and Mabel, a two-year-old Great Pyrenees. Then, in July, our precious Minnie passed away, and, for two months, we were sad. And Jack and Mabel were sad. And the house was sad.

Pictured below are Terry, Jack and Mabel. I know they don't look sad, but they were, except it was hard to tell with Jack. He always looks like that.

So, in September, we adopted Dixie, a six-year-old Border Collie/Beagle mix, from the Bowling Green Warren County Humane Society in Bowling Green, KY. And everybody was less sad, except for me because then I became obsessed with adopting another dog from the shelter. I'm what they call an "easy mark" or "susceptible to pathos." Thus, a month later, we adopted Truman, a 10-year-old (at least) Basset/Lab mix from the same shelter. I'm a sucker for Basset mixes. You could mix a grizzly bear with a Basset, and I'd be like, "He's so cute! I'LL TAKE HIM RIGHT NOW. Has he been neutered, yet?" (I ask that question WAY too often.)

Pictured below are Dixie and Truman, being adorable.

A month after that, we ended up adopting an eight-month-old Newfoundland puppy, whom we named Michael Dean (Big Mike) after my dad (who didn't actually go by Big Mike, by the way--he didn't play football for Mississippi). It was unexpected and unplanned, but we hadn't had a large puppy for a year or so (Mabel), and, thus, nothing in the house had been destroyed in that time. Obviously, we were getting spoiled, and it was time for everything around us to be ruined again. This is Big Mike with our other two adoptees:

Truman. As you may know already, every dog has his/her own peculiarities, so adopted adult dogs are one of life's greatest mysteries. Dixie had worked out so well and was SO FREAKING SMART that I didn't even consider that another adult dog might have unexpected issues. We brought Truman home on a Friday afternoon, and, in his first 45 minutes, he had done the following:

1. Escaped from the yard and run around the neighborhood;

2. LIfted his leg and urinated on my bookcase;

3. Knocked the kitchen trash over.

Soooooooooo, Truman was not housebroken, loved trash, and was an escape artist. In other words, he was a wily old street dog.

Truman is very, very, very sweet. He's wonderful with us, with the other dogs, and with our son.

See? He's great and has a loyal following on my personal Facebook page.

But, make no mistake about it--Truman is a runner. He couldn't care less what your plans are for him; he's got his own goals, and he will meet them. These goals always, without exception, involve getting the hell away from you.

Caught in the act:

In the past five months, we've filled in so many holes under our fence with rocks that, pretty soon, the entire perimeter of our back yard will be lined with piles of rocks. It already looks like we've erected a dozen shrines to a very strange god. No matter what we do, Truman finds the weak spots. He's exactly like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, except more annoying.

He will sometimes go several weeks without even attempting to escape. We used to think that he was happy and settled during those times, but now we know that he's just allowing us to relax so that he can take advantage of our lowered guards and tunnel his way out to freedom. We are Warden Norton, and he is Andy Dufresne, and our life is The Shawshank Redemption. If he offers to do our taxes next month, I will be unsurprised.

Truman is currently in an escaping phase. The ground is very soft from all of the weird winter precipitation we've had for months, and he is taking full advantage. When we let him out, we have to go out with him or just be a few seconds behind him so that we can observe him and call him away from the fence if he starts to dig.

So, yesterday, I decided to make the tomato and mozzarella bread from How to Bake.

I threw together the dough before I left to pick up our son at school and left it to rise while I was gone (because the pick-up line process takes forever, amiright?). Most of the breads in the book are easy and fast to put together for the first rise; they just require an average of 10-15 minutes for mixing and kneading, and then they're ready to rise for 1-3 hours. Yesterday, my only problem was that I over-oiled the bowl the dough was to rise in and discovered too late that we were out of paper towels, so I had nothing with which to wipe off the excess oil. I had no time to do anything else, so I just left the dough in the oily bowl and skedaddled, all the while grimacing at the effect the oil would have on the bread. I visibly cringed 3-4 times.

I arrived home to find this:

The dough had risen well, but that pool of oil all around the edge of the dough made me cringe again. And sigh. I'm sure I sighed.

I let the dogs when we got home, too, and I thought, "I need to go out in a few seconds after I put the boy's stuff down to watch Truman," but the boy was getting ready to go to Grandma's house, which meant I got distracted getting him ready to go. Which meant that I didn't go out to check on Truman, which meant that, as the boy and I were sitting by the door, waiting for Grandma, I started counting the dogs in the room with us, and I had a horrible realization and said, "OH, CRAP!!" I ran out the front door with a leash and saw him in the next-door neighbors' yard because he had dug under the fence only to get stuck in their yard, and, as I yelled at him, I watched him dig out from their fence on the other side of their yard and escape to freedom. He double dug. He was Andy Dufresne in the sewer.

I was able to catch him and walk him back home in time to see the boy off to Grandma's house and to start working on the bread, but I was feeling frazzled by this time. Bread-making and frazzled don't necessarily go well together. Yeast sometimes has to be seduced into doing its job, and I can't seduce yeast if I'm screaming, "TRUMAN!! COME HERE RIGHT NOW! STOP DIGGING! STOOOOOOOOP DIGGING!!" at the top of my lungs. You probably haven't heard me yell, but rest assured that it ain't making bread dough yeast feel romantic.

The next step in the process was to tip the dough out onto a heavily floured surface (because it's a wet, sticky dough) and then divide it into four pieces. I should mention that the dough for this bread is supposed to rise in a square container, but I don't have one, yet. The sides help the gluten structure to form during the rise (I think), but I was hoping it would rise okay in a bowl. It seemed to.

Then, the four pieces are to be stretched a bit and put on the pans, which are covered with parchment paper.

In the picture above, you can see the air bubbles because it's important NOT to knock back the dough after the rise. This is one of those breads that should have big air bubbles in it, similar to ciabatta.

Then, the NEXT step is to add the tomatoes and the mozzarella. The recipe calls for fresh cherry tomatoes, but I had Terry buy sundried tomatoes, instead, because I like the taste so much better. I knew the lack of liquid in them might affect the finished product, but I was willing to experiment. Unfortunately, however, sundried tomatoes are not very attracticve. They look sort of like huge, tangy cockroaches.

And these tomatoes came in big pieces, which was also unfortunate. I did cut most of the pieces in half, but I know now that they should have been quartered, at the very least. On the other hand, I could have eaten three dozen of the little mozzarella cheese balls. OMG. Tiny balls of mozzarella are my kryptonite. So, I stuck the pieces of tomatoes and cheese into the four pieces of bread dough. The result was a wee bit underwhelming.

And then I realized that, somehow, Truman had gotten out again. And then I remembered that Big Mike had smashed the back door open (don't ask), and I had simply closed it again without even thinking about Truman possibly getting out. So, I left the bread, unfinished, and went on another Truman hunt . . . and found him, still stuck in the neighbors' yard. To his credit, he was so ashamed of himself that he came right to the gate and sat down so that I could put the leash on him and lead him home. Here's Truman, feeling shame:

When Truman and I got back home, I stuck tomato and cheese pieces into the other two "loaves" of bread dough. Again, the result was underwhelming. Even Truman looked at them and said, "Meh."

But I was fully invested in this whole annoying afternoon now, so I forged ahead and stuck them in the oven . . . where they stayed FOREVER. The recipe said they should bake for 15-20 minutes. My breads baked for 40 minutes and could have used another five minutes to get REALLY golden brown. These were the Great Wall of China of breads (in that they took a long time to get done, not because they were baked by the first Emperor of China).

I took this picture when I took them out of the oven the first time, at 30 minutes, and realized they were still raw:

So in they went for another 10 minutes. By this time, the tomatoes were looking ROUGH, and it became very clear that I should have stuck the tomatoes and cheese much further into the dough. They at least had color when I took them out of the oven the second time, though, and they smelled good.

I was glad to cut the end off of one and find that they were, indeed, cooked through this time.

I'm not really sure if these breads are supposed to be thicker than how mine turned out, but they really were quite delicious and tender, even if the tomatoes did escape from the breads with little to no provocation, very similarly to how Truman escapes from our yard with little to no provocation. I only ate a couple of bites because I can't get on the treadmill right now due to a cold/mild bronchitis, but Terry has already polished off the three breads allocated for him. (Grandma got one of them.) He said they were delicious and was quite enthusiastic about them. I thought the cheese was a little salty, but I imagine it's difficult to find a cheese that doesn't seem a little salty in bread.

And so, you see, that is the connection, now obvious to you, I'm sure, between our old, wily dog and Paul Hollywood's tomato and mozzarella bread. They both have great substance but were super irritating for me on the same sunny February afternoon. One thing this baking challenge is teaching me is that it won't always be my best effort or even a very pleasant experience, but that's okay. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin', y'all.


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