My husband lowered a glass bowl from the top of the refrigerator, peeled back an edge of plastic wrap, and peered in. “Does this look dried out to you?” he asked.
I looked into the bowl he held in the palm of his hand and saw a tan spongy mass. A dry crust was forming around the edges, but in the middle it was moist and bubbling. My nose got too close to the opening in the plastic wrap and I flapped my hand in front of my face. “Hoooo, it’s fermenty,” I said. He pulled it back to his face and inspected it again; he furrowed his eyebrows as he studied it.
A friend recently called me a food Nazi. She meant it in the nicest way possible, as in, “I wish I were more of a food Nazi like Andrea.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought she meant towards our kids, but unless I am totally off base, I feel like we are pretty relaxed with our kids’ food choices. We eat pie for breakfast, enjoy treats after lunch and dinner, eat lots of pizza, mac and cheese, and hamburgers, and the kids almost always have a supply of candy on hand. You know, normal stuff. So when my friend said that about me being a food Nazi, I was confused.
“No, I mean the way you make all your own foods,” she said. Ahh, yes. We do make our own pizza and mac and cheese and hamburger patties. “I wish I made our own Nutella and hummus and hamburger buns like you do,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. “We don’t do that because we have some set of strict rules or anything.” And we don’t. My God, if good pre-made food was available for the buying, and we had the money to buy it, I’d totally buy all the stuff we currently make. Making our own food is time-consuming and, frankly, annoying. You’ve got to start with raw ingredients, prep them, cook them, assemble them, and then clean up afterwards. I would love to eliminate all that work and buy food already made. But the fact of the matter is this: I am a food snob.
I like good food, as does my husband. Good food is one of our favorite things. He and I go out once a year for a dinner date, just the two of us, and those dates are some of my fondest life memories. I remember the velvet of bouillabaisse on my palate, the crisp tang of Hendrick’s gin and blue-cheese stuffed olives, the melt of fresh fish on my tongue. We only dine this way once a year, usually for our anniversary, because we splurge big time when we do: as far as I’m concerned, the only way to get really good food, as good as we want it, is to pay the big bucks for it.
Unless we’re going ultra cheap (fast food) and therefore have no expectations, convenience foods at the grocery store or dinner out in a casual restaurant almost always leave us disappointed. We might spend a decent chunk of change on a family dinner – enough to buy a new shirt, say, or replace that ghastly light fixture – and it’s not as good as what we can make at home for a fraction of the cost: pies, pasta, cakes, Tom Collins; hamburger buns, Nutella, salsa, Gin Slings.
If you’re a food snob on a tight budget, consuming fine things means making them for yourself. It means buying dried beans, soaking them, cooking them, cooling them, processing them, washing the Cuisinart by hand. It means squeezing lemons, soaking cherries, simmering simple syrup. It means weighing flour, kneading dough, shaping buns, brushing butter. It means washing tons of dishes.
In other words, it means work. Lots of work. Lots of work that I don’t always want to do. I used to think I loved the kitchen, I used to think I loved preparing foods, I used to think I loved cooking. But when my friend said that about me being a food Nazi I realized it’s not the cooking I enjoy, it’s the eating; cooking is a means to an end. We cook from scratch not because of a health agenda or an environmental agenda but because home made food is good food we can afford, because we can cater to our own palates, because our taste buds are beasts who demand flavor and complexity, heartiness and wholesomeness, real food that is food, not “food” that is chemicals.
Which is why I can’t stop adoring my husband for his latest culinary exploration. When he lowers his glass bowl to inspect and prod, poke and punch, it makes me want to skip around him like a butterfly in our kitchen.
“I’m not sure if this is doing what it’s supposed to do,” my husband said. He pulled The Bread Baker’s Apprentice off the shelf and paged through to the sourdough starter.
I used to make bread for us, but then gluten went out of vogue, and bread’s calorie count is outrageous, and bread-baking is time consuming, and a million other reasons. But the thing is, bread is one of the most beautiful foods there is. It is golden, wholesome, can be savory or sweet, can be eaten as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack, a side dish or a main dish, toasted or soft, buttery, drizzled with rosemary olive oil, broiled with cheese, dipped in onion soup, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, slathered with jam, smoothed with almond butter and honey, dipped in batter and fried with cinnamon. Bread can be all of these things and more, and store-bought bread is not recognizable to our taste buds as the same crust and crumb we pull warm from our oven. Also: bread is our son’s favorite food.
So after a year without homemade bread, my husband has decided to take over the bread baking.
“Is it done? Do you need to do anything else to it?” I asked after he read the sourdough passage.
He pulled the gooey mass out of the first bowl and placed it in a new bowl. The lump was the size of a sea biscuit. He added flour, kneaded the dough, turned it in the bowl, worked it in his hands. “I need to keep feeding it,” he said.
And so he feeds our beasts.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart: this is the book I recommend if you want to bake your own bread. If you want to explore whole grain breads, Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor is also excellent.
12 thoughts on “Feeding the beast”
Thanks Cindy. Now I want to eat bread.
I’m hungry now! Love this.
Me too! Luckily I have this loaf of homemade multigrain…
Nothing finer than homebaked sourdough. I keep a jar of starter in my fridge, feed it about every other month (when I’m not baking bread…the calorie count…no kidding!) I love the dark hootch that forms on top of the sponge, the alcohol byproduct of yeast eating sugar. Drunken bread dough. 🙂
Now that’s my kind of bread dough. My husband hasn’t made a sourdough loaf with his starter yet – I can’t wait till he does. What kind of jar do you keep yours in? We have ours in a bowl with seran wrap right now. My mom had some kind of cool ceramic thing made specifically for housing sourdough starter. If this sticks maybe we’ll get one of those.
Wow a husband who bakes bread. How I wish I had one of those. The overriding food purchase rule in our house has always been ‘Would my grandmother have recognised it as food?’ I was cynically thinking the other day as I shopped in the ‘whole foods’ aisle of my supermarket that in my grandmother’s day there was no need for any such distinction as there was so little processed food available. I love shortcuts and convenience as much as anyone but perhaps ‘food nazis’ will come back in vogue as we realise just how much we”ve sacrificed in taste and nutrition. What’s old is always eventually new again. Perhaps you are a trailblazer Andrea?
Andrea, Carol’s become a really good bread baker. Right now on the counter there’s a loaf of cracked wheat (two thirds gone) and a sourdough boule, both recipes having come from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (a gift from Kristina). She’s gotten pretty efficient at it and, as you know, it costs a small fraction of store-bought and tastes incredibly better. I hope Brian embraces his new responsibilities and has the patience to accept a few goof ups along the way. And, while I wouldn’t call Carol a food nazi, over the last several years she has become immensely more conscious of avoiding prepared foods as much as possible and focusing on meals made from scratch. I and our family and guests are the blessed beneficiaries! Yum!
I wish I had more time to post! Off i go.
Good food is so rare to find. I hate frozen goods and prefer making a fresh all-veg. burger, a little olive oil and in the pan or under the grill.
Enjoyed reading this too. I really believe in the ‘you are what you eat.’ The time it takes to make food can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience and you know what you are putting into your body. In turn, it makes you feel much better.
I can compare cooking to writing. It has a calming affect on me. I’m not very good at it but with practice comes perfection.
ps. I do hate washing the dishes afterwards, not so calming unless the water is warm.
Thank you- I’ve always wanted to bake my own bread. I love bread and need to try and cut down on it!
I agree with you.
I make our bread, sourdough. It’s cheaper when you don’t have to buy yeast all the time. 🙂
I keep the culture in a bowl that has a lid but is not airtight, in the refrigerator.
Your family sounds a lot like mine, especially the part about the anniversary dinner splurge. It is a comfort to know that there are other food snobs out there on a budget.
I attempted to make our own bread after my son (our first) was born a year and a half ago, but I found I couldn’t quite find the time to make the kind of natural sourdough that I truly desire.
Lucky for us, here in Seattle there are some great bread bakeries, and I can buy naturally fermented sourdough. But it does come with a hefty price tag.
My husband baking bread is most certainly a pipe dream; but hopefully I will be able to step up to the plate again, perhaps when our children are out of diapers…
Store bought bread does suck! But home-baked bread tastes so good that I’m in danger of eating the whole loaf by myself, at least two slices each of each of the ways you mentioned. So I eat less of the crappy bread and stay 40 pounds overweight instead of 60!
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