Inspiration

yellowTwo weeks ago, our dear friend Jane took Jacob behind the scenes at the Space Sciences Lab at Berkeley. Though I eventually dissuaded Jacob from wearing his astronaut suit (it was raining, the suit is white …) he insisted on his NASA cap. He followed Jane through the long hallways, some moments strutting like a little space rooster and others hiding under his cap’s giant brim. Scientists and astronomers and engineers and grad students all shook his hand and welcomed him with smiles just as serious as his; perhaps it was the cap, but it felt like they recognized one of their own. After watching a video display that showed actual, real-time satellite orbits he got to sit at a giant computer monitor (!) and “help” with an experiment (!!) at the Mission Operations Center (!!!) for Themis (!!!!). He also visited an enormous room to see some space-bound contraption under construction, held pieces of an asteroid and a Mars rock and a meteor, and came home with his very own two-inch canister of aerogel and a (NASA) bag full of treasures.

He hasn’t really stopped playing Space Scientist (or wearing his astronaut t-shirt and/or NASA cap) since.

lunch date

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We went down to Los Angeles for the weekend, a mad dash of midnight driving along 5, the everywhere smell of cows and the slow climb up the grapevine like some strange Proustian madeleine, hurtling me back into memories of cousins and summer and LA’s hazy, golden, dream-drenched light. My Grandma fell down in January, not the first fall but definitely the worst. She’s out of the hospital, but she has round-the-clock care now and she doesn’t get up from her wheelchair unless she has to. Her arm is in a cast that the little kids all signed, me hovering anxiously while she smiled and asked for more flowers, more hearts. “I love you,” she said to me when we were saying goodbye. “You will always be my number one. My number one.” Her hands trembled as she held my face and smiled up at me.

Sonia’s Strawberry Shortcake doll has hair that smells just like that cereal, Dan says to me. Did you smell it? I bury my nose in the doll’s hair: candy, plastic, a summertime long ago. When we stop for gas on the way home, I get the boys a bag of gummy fruit snacks, and their artificial fruity fragrance fills the car. Lucas leans over his fistful to inhale, sighs with pure joy. Somewhere, some part of this Southern California weekend is rooting in their brains, their hearts. I breathe in deeply as we hurtle north, back up the highway, headed home.

guac

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Eating (and reading) this week:

A classic guacamole and an old favorite, Roasted Lemon Chutney (I’ve made both of these this month. Both disappeared within an hour. Both will be made again in February. Also, if you ever doubted Heidi’s styling skills (as if), peep those chive flowers in the guac.)

Browned Butter and Pomegranate Molasses (Seriously: there are not superlatives enough in the language. Any language.)

Steel Cut Oats (A beautiful, creamy, love-filled version of this most familiar breakfast. And Mt. Tam, too.)

#ScienceWOW (Wow, indeed.) 

A pig farmer who thinks eating meat is wrong. (“Conscientious animal farming is necessary for a transition toward a vegan world.”) 

dinner loaf

Whole Wheat Dinner Loaves
Adapted from the “French-Style Bread” in Beard on Bread by James Beard (1979 edition)

Getting back home from even a brief weekend away means a day with laundry, groceries, and bread-making on the agenda. We made two loaves of this bread along with a stunner of a soup, and it occurred to me that though I mentioned my plans to try it long ago, I have never actually circled back and recorded the whole wheat version of this favorite bread recipe. It is now our go-to for a quick(ish) yeasted bread to have with soup or salad, since it still has the huge benefits of one rise and starting in a cold oven. When bread inspiration strikes, you can be thought-to-table in 2 1/2 hours.

As with the original, this bread is best fresh. It can be frozen, and I find it keeps fresh for about 24 hours (and makes great toast for another 24 after that). I go with a higher hydration percentage (5 cups total flour instead of 6, still with 2 cups water) because the whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture, and because the final set of the crumb will be loftier and more tender with less total flour. 6 cups flour will give you a stiffer dough and easier-to-shape loaves, but perhaps less delicious ones.

This recipe makes two long loaves.

1 heaping tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups very warm water
2 teaspoons salt (or, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more as needed)

Butter, for the bowl
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal or whole grain flour, for dusting baking sheets

Optional: 1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water, for glazing before baking (I omit this step, and love the slightly softer bite to the crust – but the egg white does help make it more shattery in the oven).

Combine yeast, water and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and allow yeast to dissolve and foam.

Add the whole wheat flour to the yeast mixture. Mix well with a fork, then cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and let sit for about ten minutes.

Add the salt and three cups all-purpose flour to the bowl, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition.  The dough should still be wet and not too stiff.

Attach the bowl to the mixer, and start kneading with the dough hook attachment. Give the dough three minutes to come together; if it doesn’t start cleaning the sides of the bowl, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until it does. Knead until smooth and elastic and just slightly sticky, about five more minutes. Turn off mixer and remove bowl.

Wet your hands, then gently lift the dough onto your counter. Wipe out the mixer bowl, then coat the inside with a teaspoon or two of softened butter. Place the dough back into the bowl, turn a couple times to coat, then cover with the dishtowel and let rise for one to two hours, or until doubled in bulk. (Make sure you are letting it rise in a relatively warm and draft free location.)

Dust two heavy baking sheets with cornmeal.

Punch the dough down, and knead for a minute into a ball. On a lightly floured counter, cut into two equal pieces and form each piece into a long (“French” shaped) loaf. Place the loaves onto baking sheets; cut each loaf diagonally with scissors or a sharp knife, three times across the top. (If you are using the egg wash, do it now.)

Put the pans into a cold oven, and turn it on to 400 F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the loaves are crusty and golden and sound hollow when you tap the top lightly.

first doughready to shapedusted pansshaped loavesdinner loafpiano man

10 thoughts on “Inspiration

    • Same kick we’re on, Grace! Well, that and lots of tacos. It was basically this soup, minus the ham though, and with a random cup of cooked lentils thrown in at the end. Which sounds strange but was actually oddly similar, texture-wise, to the ham. If that makes sense? I’d love to hear what soups you’re enjoying these days …

      • Ha! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about making that soup and then ended up not. Now I will, with confidence!

        I’m loving the coconut-milk-based soups lately. We’ve made Molly Wizenberg’s curried butternut squash soup several times recently, the wild rice soup with sweet potato croutons out of Super Natural Cooking (Heidi proved me wrong! I loved it!), and my husband’s recipe-less chili.

        I think I’ll try your bread along with our next round of soup :^)

  1. Hannah! Your cookie sheets look just like mine. I feel silly admitting it, but I gasped when I saw them. What resolute, wonderful old friends, still doing such good work after being stained and speckled. Mine are warped out of shape the moment they hit the heat, and still freckled after endless scrubbing. I’ve bought their replacements (and use them for cookies) but I still can’t bear to retire my old warhorses. What a lovely moment to see such similar trays gracing your counter, in such a lovely little homecoming bread story.

    • Warhorses indeed. These are my “daily drivers” for veggie roasting and the odd loaf of bread. The cookie-making ones get replaced every few years – these I’ve had for a decade. I see no reason to replace them though, since they always get the job done! I love hearing that yours are similarly scarred, and similarly loved.

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