In a totally bizarre twist, the company where I currently work is outsourcing our entire dept to… wait for it – the United States. The irony is not lost on me…. but apparently it’s a sound business decision as they can use economies of scale with their existing departments and become a bit leaner in these difficult times. I am personally not too worried as good people are hard to find, and I’m pretty good.
But it has made for a less than stellar work environment lately. People are noticeably upset, worried, stressed, and in general not pleased. Why am I largely escaping this condition? Mainly because I’ve been a contract worker for the last few years, and am used to living with large degrees of uncertainty. Lets face it, if a company wants someone gone, they hardly need many excuses to accomplish this fact, and whether one is a contractor or a full-timer, there are no guarantees in this world.
But I did have a couple of weeks of emotionally strained times, and when I feel blue, even a bit, many tasks suddenly become less important. You know how people that have a health scare suddenly become crystal clear about their priorities? That’s what stress does to me. All of a sudden, eating, sleeping, reading and cooking become the few things that are mandatory and much else falls by the wayside. Okay, showering’s in too, I suppose, but that’s it!
My routine becomes very predictable – work, exercise, home, and then the eating-reading-sleeping in a lovely cycle of stability and comfort. That way I can conserve my precious emotional reserves and not lash out from stress. It’s a good technique if you can swing it. On the weekends I do the minimal housekeeping and shopping, preferring to spend the bulk of the day lazing around the sun-filled house and either cooking or baking.
The last two weekends were all about baking. Bread, specifically. See I’ve spent most of my life firmly in the cooking camp, being very unprecise by nature and throwing together the very odd loaf or two but generally abstaining. And then, inspired by the very famous, very successful no-knead bread by Jim Lahey, I decided to give other breads a try. Surfing a baking forum or two, I purchased a copy of the iconic The Bread Bakers Apprentice, made sure I had some yeast in the cupboard and went to town.
The fist hundred pages or so, are reserved for the overview of what makes good bread, which was fascinating and invaluable reading. From flour to hydration to shaping the loaves, I learned an abundance of neat things. Like did you know that the bread continues to develop its flavor as it cools? And that if you cut into it too soon and let out all the steam you’ll lose out on some flavor development, so it’s best to let it cool for 20 – 30 minutes before digging in. The rest of the book is full of recipes: from cinnamon buns, challah, french bread, baguettes, pizza dough, ciabatta, foccacia, sourdoughs and more. The book is very light on rye breads and whole wheat breads, but I guess there is a book dedicated to that out there, that’s now on my list.
Many breads are two day breads, where you make a starter out of flour, water and yeast, stick it in the fridge, then mix up bread proper, rise, shape, proof and bake. The process is ludicrously easy if you’re already puttering around the house, just walk up to it, deflate it, turn it perhaps and go on your merry way. The baking is also neat, with an improvised steamer that gives your bread great ‘oven spring’ which is a quick rise as it hits the heat and steam.
It’ s hard to believe how much fun I had, and how good the results were. Check it out:
This is a no-knead bread that started the whole thing. It’s a slow ferment bread that takes 2 minutes to put together, and makes a very good loaf.
The ciabatta has a golden crumb, an airy interior and a lovely nutty flavor. FYI: This recipe needs more water than written, as it is, the dough would be too dry. Luckily I found this out the easy way, by googling the recipe first and seeing how it did for other bakers.
The baguettes are as good as a bakery. Soft inside, with a wonderful flavor they are an awesome daily bread. Or dipped in soup.
The foccacia is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Soft, flavorful, soaked in herb oil and flaked with salt and cheese on top, it’s nothing short of bliss. I chopped up a quick bruschetta to eat on top of it, and I made a dinner out of it. It’s to die for, and I don’t say that lightly.
The only thing that didn’t work as it should have is the cinnamon buns. For some reason they didn’t rise like they should, so while being soft, rich and delicious, they were shy of the cinnamon bun nirvana. But I’ll get ‘em yet.
So that’s been my life for the last two weeks. Lots of stressful events, and lots of bread to balance it out. The orange kitty is still on the loose, and I’ve given up trapping him myself, as I don’t want him to associate my house with traps, or he’ll stop coming by to eat. As it stands, he comes by every evening, right around suppertime, and waits patiently to be noticed. Then he gets plenty of food and water and gets to hang out on a yoga mat so his paws don’t have to freeze. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten. He is running away less now though, so perhaps he’ll let me touch him yet.
PS If you’d like to try your hand at any of the recipes, let me know and I’ll post one up.