Monday, September 7, 2009

It Doesn't Take Much...

It doesn't take much.
I wrote those words after Nik ate a coupla pieces of this bread and repeatedly exclaimed that this was "maybe the best bread I have ever made", he "loved this bread! it was so good! so good! you have to make this again!" get the idea. (Nik rarely implies the use of exclamation points, but when eating this bread...he did.)

This bread, from Carol Field's classic The Italian Baker, certainly is tasty. And it's as satisfying to make as it is to eat. Watching it mix, you can almost see the gluten gradually develop, creating a whirling amorphous soft elastic cohesive glob in the mixer bowl that YOU JUST KNOW is going to bake up splendidly and be really really good to eat. Moist bread with big holes in it, great flavor, chewy blistered crust...I'm in heaven.

This bread also is quite simple. I quote my FCI bread instructor Chef Amy Quazza..."Bread is nothing more than flour, water, yeast, and salt." It's what is done with those four ingredients that makes the difference. In this case, just a little time, a little patience, a soft touch, and a hot oven. But really, to go from flour to doesn't take much.

I was going to say that all good things should be so simple. But then I got to thinking about that idea, many good things are that simple.

It doesn't take much to make our dogs happy...a belly rub, a treat, snuggle time.
It doesn't take much to make me take a deep rejuvinating breath...a gentle breeze early in the morning, a hint of autumn in the air, the desert after a rain.
It doesn't take much to stop and listen.
It doesn't take much to say hello.
It doesn't take much to ask rather than tell.
It doesn't take much to say thank you.
It doesn't take much to take a moment.
It doesn't take much to think.
It doesn't take much to think twice.

Now don't think me a gushy touchy-feely namby-pamby wuss...though sometimes I am a bit of a gushy namby-pamby wuss, because sometimes (though less and less frequently, I am happy to report) the flipside also can happen...

A jerk tailgating me at 55 mph...
Ignorance as the basis of an argument...
A smoker throwing a cigarette butt on the ground...
Egocentrism, without a neurological reason...
No big picture...

See, sometimes, it doesn't take much. In either direction. Which I think is both ridiculous and okay. I'm just glad that a loaf of bread can make Nik happy. I think I'll make another batch tomorrow.

Crocodile Bread
Makes 2 loaves
(I made this bread wrong, which is to say that I made it right. I was confused by the two starter thing, which after i did it wrong I figured out, but seeing as how the wrong way came out so good, I think that it's really a new right I won't even include the original right way. Also - Please Note: I omitted 1 1/4 cup of water from Starter B in the orginal posting. It has been corrected, thanks to JOsh.)
Starter A
Water...................1 cup
Durum Flour............1/4 cup
AP Flour.................3/4 cup
Yeast....................1/2 tsp

Start B
Water...................1 1/2 cup
Durum Flour............1/2 cup
AP Flour................1 1/2 cups
Yeast....................1 tsp

1. Mix the ingredients for the two starters, in two separate bowls, until they are smooth. Cover with plastic and let rise for 12 - 24 hours.

Final Dough above
Durum Flour..............1/4 cup
AP Flour...................1 cup (plus an additional 1/4 cup, if necessary)
Salt........................1 1/2 Tblsp
1. Combine the starters and the flours in mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on the lowest speed for 17 minutes.
2. Add the salt and mix 3 additional minutes (add the additional 1/4 cup flour if the dough has not come together).
3. Place the dough in a wide bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for 4-5 hours, folding every hour.
4. Turn dough out onto a well-flour board, preshape roughly into a round. Place on a well floured piece of parchment, cover with a damp towel and let rise for 45 minutes, until risen and bubbly.
5. Heat oven to 475.
6. Cut the dough in half lengthwise with a dough scraper and gently separate the halves, turning the cut side up in the process.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, placing the parchment directly on the baking stone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Babies N Then

I have 3 nieces and a nephew, and they are no longer babies. And that is fine with me. Now, don't get all this-and-that about me being a baby-hater or something. Babies are cute and soft and smell wonderful/awful. The thought of having babies makes me get a little bit misty everytime. Babies cry and I just can't say no...babies scream and it's cute (unless you are their parent)...babies throw up a little bit and it's no big deal, it's not even called vomit, it goes by the cute/diminutive term spit up. But, I gotta be honest here, I don't know what to do with babies...hold them, look at them, smile, look at them some more, smile again...then wait until they start grade school when they have opinions and a sense of humor.

But that age can be a hazard as well, for those of us without small people in our daily lives. I remember talking to adults/family friends/distant relatives/the dentist when I was a kid. Short conversations mostly. They always asked what grade you were in. So you told them. Then they took a stab at what you might be learning in that grade ("So you must be working on fractions now? What do you think about them? Hehehe."). End of conversation. Of course, I was not the most outgoing kid in the world, so I am fairly certain that I did not hold up my end of the conversational agreement. Hey, I was shy, give me a break, I was a kid...and I was bad at math. As an uncle, I have tried to avoid that particular conversational black hole/grown-up nerd alert.

The next generation and I live in separate towns/states, so my interaction with them has been mostly on the phone, with an occasional short visit around a holiday/event. I am happy to report that they are better equipped to deal with adults than I was. They have interests, talents, conversational skills, and accomplishments that I honestly don't think I had at their ages. F'rinstance, Sally S. decided, when she was in kindergarten, that her favorite colors were brown and pink...and that was before Target designed a line of clothes featuring that palette. Joe J. is an honest-to-goodness world-class 6th grade. Miss M. wrote an award-winning essay on Darfur that took her to Washington. And Jackie L. is doing postgraduate work in math that uses symbols and logic that my temporal lobes do not recognize, let alone understand. I don't think this is merely uncle-pride talking here, I seriously think that evolution has occurred and genetic advances have been made...okay, maybe it is just uncle-pride, but (WARNING: old man statement ahead...) these kids seem to have it together more than did me and my friends at those ages. makes me hopeful. Hopeful that some lessons were learned during the past 40-some years and that knowledge is being passed on. Hopeful that not everyone in our future is represented by Reality TV/Fox News/Social Conservatism. And hopeful that the children of today will see a bigger/brighter picture than did the children of yesterday/the adults of today.
Another baby shower cake at work prompted this familial beaming. Shelly currently is on bedrest and is as big as a house, with a couple more weeks of largedom ahead of her. The cake I made for her baby shower, as per usual with me and cakes, underwent several last minute edits...some successful, others not so much. All in all, I would say that it was tasty but clunky-looking...less than elegant. But, the sour cream sugar cookies with which it was decorated were as cute as I had envisioned...Good luck Shelly, husband, and baby!!
Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Butter...........................1 1/2 cups
Sugar............................1 1/2 cups
Sour Cream....................1 cup
Baking Soda....................1/2 tsp
Baking Powder.................1 tsp
Vanilla Ex.......................1 Tblsp
AP Flour.........................6 cups
1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Beat in the egg, sour cream, and vanilla.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients then add to butter mixture. Beat until combined thoroughly. Cover and let chill for at least 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 350.
5. Roll approx. 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes.
7. Let cool; then decorate. (I used royal icing.)