This blog is changing.
When I started it, I had things to say about writing. I still do, but by focusing so strictly on one topic I’m selling myself short. I have so many interests that occupy my mind, interests that are constantly shifting as one pushes the other to the forefront, that I see no reason not to represent them here. My hope is that it makes this blog a truer expression of myself.
To be honest, it can be something of a curse. I have nothing but respect for those who can spend a lifetime devoted to one pursuit, honing it to the sharpest edge. In all likelihood, I am doomed to be proficient at many things and a master at none.
None of this is to say that I have given up writing. I still aspire to sit down and write fiction every day. Many days I succeed. But when you’re in the position that I’m in, deep in the editing of a first novel, you find you run out of new things to say about the process.
What has recently occupied the flitting squirrel I call my brain, is bread.
Last year for Christmas, I received a cookbook called Tartine Bread. It follows the process for baking set out by Chad Robertson, the San Francisco baker with an almost cultish following. It took me all year to feel like I was in the right place to take it on. It is by far the most involved bread recipe I have ever attempted.
This year, in the midst of the Christmas bustle, the urge to try it hit me hard. For the first time in any baking project, I took notes and recorded temperatures. I even did a photographic journal of the process. Despite a few foibles, the bread came out amazingly, the best I’d ever done. It also lasted for almost a week, still fresh and soft.
I plan on posting the whole process here soon. Unfortunately, the pictures that I took of my first bake, are locked on a camera that doesn’t want to play nice with my computer.
In the mean time, I thought I would share some thoughts about the real heart of the process. Fermentation. The bread laid out in Tartine is naturally leavened, sourdough in other words, although the purpose is to make a loaf that isn’t sour tasting.
So now, in addition to a new way of baking, I have a new friend in the kitchen. Bubbling away and requiring daily feedings, is a little crock of wild yeasts called a starter. In reality, it’s a stew of lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeasts that are fed with flour and water. The act of watching bread come to life out of nothing but flour, water, and salt, is an amazing thing to see.
Putting this new hobby together with some of my other interests, wine, cheese, and curing meats, has made me realize that, before refrigeration, managing a household was an act of managing fermentation. Almost any food that could keep, was made shelf-stable by encouraging the wonderful little critters called lactobacillus, who by their greedy nature, push out other harmful bacteria.
The process has given me a feeling of connection. As someone whose ancestors were Dutch dairy farmers, I know that in a way, I am taking part in the same process that they used for untold generations. Since wheat has been ground into flour, bread has been made this way. Pretty neat if you ask me.