Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From The Kitchen The Staff of Life

As promised, wind gusts arrived in Tiny Tim's Garden, swirling the leaves like wild rice circling the strainer.  Emulating fireworks and comets fallen to earth, they lie, defiantly brilliant against grey, blowing days.

Every day, the garden unfolds new color combinations, pinning me to Bruce's custom garden window for long incredulous minutes.  Inside my head, I hear a song:  "I got sunshine, on a cloudy day."

Oh, yeah, I got sunshine, all right, and an unfathomable Landscape Artist outside my kitchen window.  Turning back to Beanie's Baking Cart, I consider my latest contribution to art.

Some people may say this looks like cement.   Others, probably from nice San Fernando Valley suburban elementary schools like me, may recognize the paste we used to create fantastic paper mache pinatas.  Others may think I can't cook oatmeal.

What I'm learning to do is to create an exceptional artisan loaf of "God, this is the best bread I ever had!"  sour dough bread.  

Which brings us to Lucille Halop, my indomitable, mostly wise Nana, who, though Russian was her first language, rattled off English nursery rhymes and aphorisms, such as, "Bread is the staff of life."  The kitchen was her home's epicenter, and since she cooked "by hand" her fabulous food was redolent with fresh vegetables, lovingly hand cut, and kosher meats and chicken braised to melting tenderness.  And if you were her grandchild, you were inevitably treated to the most fresh, delicious breads and bagels, smeared with ...wait for it ...sweet cream butter.

In the San Fernando Valley, there were as many good Jewish bakeries then as there are Subways now, so kids in the 50's and 60's knew good bread:  challah and poppy seed and rye (dark, light) and pumpernickel.  And if they were lucky, like me, to have family in San Francisco, then they learned to love hot fresh, sourdoughs and baguettes.

Skipping up to the present day, there is very good bread where I live.  Two companies in particular, have spectacular bread:  Avenue Bread and Bread Farm.  I've bought and enjoyed bread from both companies, and believe we should support our local businesses.  My budget with one of us not working full-time dictates that given a choice, we should eat well and yet stay fiscally sound.  Thus began my personal search for my own "Staff of Life"

Gerta's Incredible Cinnamon Rolls (thanks for the great lesson, Wing Commander)

Not Sour Dough, but a gorgeous King Arthur Flour Recipe
In the last two months, I've tried and tried to make a good crusty rustic Italian bread, learning to put a metal pan in the oven to preheat.  Once the oven comes to temperature, you put in your bread and then pour two cups of boiling water into the metal pan set below your bread rack.   The results were and are amazing, much more important than an eggwhite or water and cornstarch wash.

But always at my back of my mind was the Ultimate Sour Dough Artisan "God, This is SOOOOO Good" challenge, and that kind of curiosity cannot be squelched down into normal life forever.  So, I combined ingredients and started a sour dough starter on November 7th, and Sunday, November 13th, I put it in its new ceramic crock, covered it lightly with saran wrap, and put it in the fridge.  With great aplomb, I removed it from the fridge the next day, combined a cup of starter with bread ingredients and delivered very tasty sour dough flat bread snowboards to Bruce for dinner. I'm not kidding, you could wax them and take them to Mt. Baker this Friday!

Again, they were pretty tasty and the steamer pan helped.  But, like Jack Nicholson says after kissing Helen Hunt in "As Good As it Gets:'  "I KNOW I can do better than that!"  So, Monday night I take out the crock of starter again, giving it 18 hours to come to room temperature. On Tuesday around 3:00, new recipe in hand, I mix flour, water, a little yeast and salt with the starter, cover it, and put it and the starter back in the fridge.

This morning, I take the bowl out, wince at what I see, cover it again and leave it on the counter.  Three hours later I stare at this creature again:

Now, I will have to touch it, flour it, encourage it with kneading and soft words, oil another bowl and place this . . . thing in it.  It grows, and I make certain arrangements with the oven, cookware, cornmeal and pot holders.  The treasures are bestowed into the oven, time passes, and this is the final result.

Chock that one off the bucket list--God, that was so GOOD!  Nana, I can make the staff of life!

No comments:

Post a Comment