Oh hi, I know I’ve all but vanished into the void. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to write for over two weeks now, but somehow the words fail me. You see, dear reader, I found myself in a perfect storm, where too many pieces of my life came to a head all at once. And still yet, around me, so much uncertainty still swirls that when I sit down and want to write about bread and cabbage and biscotti, all of which I owe you belatedly, I just stare at an empty page with no so much as a single sentence that can be squeezed out.
Certainly, there are some lovely, shimmery things going on. Things that bring me to smile, and keep me grounded and sane – like running, and my upcoming half marathon on April 26, for instance. I ran a 10K in the pouring rain on Saturday in the park and felt so elated and overjoyed, I wanted to bottle up that feeling and send it to everyone I love. My friends have been unbelievably supportive and nurturing, reaching out, checking up on me, keeping up my spirits. I want to hug them all at once – a girl can get so lucky sometimes.
Without going into much detail, there are some possibly dark uncertainties insofar as family health is concerned. There is much left to be learned and we’ll wait patiently on the results, but until then, it’s a lot of worrying and waking up in the middle of the night and just sitting quietly in the dark listening to a wind chime somewhere outside. That wind chime, I tell you, has been a sore spot for me ever since I moved into this apartment, which in every other way, has been idyllic. But in the last few weeks, when I have found myself piercing the inky darkness of the room, that wind chime with its infrequent sounds, made me feel a little less alone. I hope, I pray, for good news in the meantime. This is all I have – hope.
Quite frankly, there’s a small maelstrom of worrysome activity that all kind of came down all at once. Within days, really. And all I could do was just go for long runs, alphabetize my books, reorganize my kitchen. Little areas of control. They ground me.
And it’s so easy, at a time like this, to feel very much not in control of anything – it gets quite overwhelming. My mind feels a bit scattered, like pieces of a puzzle that need to be put together to form one coherent thought, one complete picture. And it’s at times like these that I turn to my kitchen for guidance and comfort. For me, the kitchen has always been a place of clarity and sorting out my thoughts – it’s my equivalent of a yoga studio, except for head stands and downward-facing dogs and warrior poses, I have doughs and soups and roasts and cookies to make. I control the outcome and the results bring comfort.
So when I found myself, two weeks back, so completely defeated I was at a loss for words. My parents were on the other end of the phone and I just stayed quiet – no words came to me, my mind drew a complete blank. When we finally hung up, I went to my pantry and took out the flour.
I had meant to make no-knead bread for so long, I am embarrassed to even say. I think I am the last person in the blogosphere to do it. And perhaps I was saving this recipe for just the kind of moment when you just have to bake bread. All else has failed – and you bake bread instead. You mix the flour and the yeast and water and somehow dough comes together and then rises and permeates your house with that sweet, fermented smell – the kind that makes your home smell comforting and cozy.
I must say though that I wasn’t floored with it. I wanted more from my bread, and that, I suppose, comes from kneading and working with the dough. I loved eating the warm bread, loved it with eggs and cabbage, loved spreading ricotta over it and eating it with figs, drizzled honey and black pepper (oh yes, that’s coming!). But I wanted something more from it – what it is, I can’t quite put my finger on. Still, the satisfaction of having made my own bread brought great comfort and desire to make more. I’m curious to experiment with different flours and recipes. And I long for that smell to fill my apartment once more.
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
via New York Times
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.