Monday, May 14, 2018

Loafing through Summer? #phenology

The weather looks like it's trying to decide whether or not to rain. The clouds look pensive and brooding, but not yet sullen. Trees in the neighborhood have almost completely leafed out. We mentioned yesterday that the pear tree is in full bloom. Too many years we get one of the season's first thunderstorms shortly after that occurs. The winds and the downpours reduce many of the blossoms to petals on the ground. Maybe we'll get lucky this year.

pear tree in mid-May pre-storm bloom
pear tree in mid-May pre-storm bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Actually, we've already been lucky on a very different front. There's been a marked improvement in our artisan sourdough bread. At least that's what the family tells us as they eat it almost as fast as we can bake it. The crust is darker than we prefer but other express a preference for the added flavor and crunchiness.We're quite pleased that we've finally managed to bake sourdough with a more open crumb (the holes in the bread) and that it's made with no yeast other than the starter we developed ourselves.

As the Spring progresses into Summer and the weather gets warmer and more humid, we've decided to forego bread baking during past years. This year maybe we won't unless we hit a really hot, humid, extended spell. One of the things we've learned over the years is that our skills, no matter how well established, deteriorate if they aren't used. Your mileage may vary, but that's how it is with us. This would be less of a challenge if there weren't so damn many things we're interested in. There's bread baking; reading and writing poetry and reading about poetry; fly-fishing, water, rivers and almost all the rest of nature; places and what makes them desirable and memorable and livable; politics and public policy and environmental justice; zen, dharma, karma; and bioregionalism. We haven't yet found the thread that would let us meld these interests onto a coherent whole, but we'll keep trying. It's possible we are the thread and we've already done the melding, we just haven't realized that yet.

"new and improved" artisan sourdough bread
"new and improved" artisan sourdough bread
Photo by J. Harrington


Anyhow, many of the improvements to our sourdough bread baking can be attributed to the book Artisan Sourdough Bread Made Simple, and to our growing ability to actually read and follow directions. You may or may not be old enough to remember Sally Fields' speech when she won her second Oscar for her role in Places in the Heart. It included the phrase "you like me, right now you like me..." That's how we've come to feel about the family's reaction to our current sourdough bread efforts. That leaves us wondering if we'll ever get there with our poetry.

Side note: the Better Half, as we were writing this, sent us a link to a wonderful story about 120 year-old sourdough starter from the Yukon. We're delighted that we can relate to it even though our home made starter is much younger, it's part of the same very extended family. Kind of like we're all part of the human race and citizens of planet earth.

Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe


By Bill Holm


Start with the square heavy loaf 
steamed a whole day in a hot spring 
until the coarse rye, sugar, yeast 
grow dense as a black hole of bread. 
Let it age and dry a little, 
then soak the old loaf for a day 
in warm water flavored 
with raisins and lemon slices. 
Boil it until it is thick as molasses. 
Pour it in a flat white bowl. 
Ladle a good dollop of whipped cream 
to melt in its brown belly. 
This soup is alive as any animal, 
and the yeast and cream and rye 
will sing inside you after eating 
for a long time.


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