The Bread Feed
I grieve for him and I grieve for our family. As if it were not tragic enough that Noah was murdered, five months later, parts of our family are being ripped asunder by brutal internal forces which compound the pain and suffering by destroying the bonds that would make mourning a little less unbearable. Sadly, post-traumatic shock syndrome has become our reality.
But the ties that the Man and I forged on May 14, 1983 are stronger and more alive than ever. There is immense comfort in finding the same partner by your side, day in and day out, in sickness and in health, in sadness and in joy, in having your hand fit into another's hand whose warmth and touch are as familiar as your own, more maybe, in knowing that, every day, you have the unique power to make someone's world a little brighter that it would otherwise be and that he has the same power in return. Time, interrupted, will never be repaired but there is much to be said for enduring love. My wish for the future is that it will one day be allowed to prevail again.
As I did so many times over the years, today I am turning to my mother for comfort. She passed away in early 2010 and I like to think of her alive in another world fussing over Noah. She never met him in real life (they lived an ocean apart and he was only three when she died) but she had been plied with pictures of him and his siblings since the day they were born and she was very familiar with their faces and antics.
We had bought her a digital photo frame and she had put it on a chest of drawers near her TV set. It was always on, even at night. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether she was watching a show or watching her family although pictures of her great-grandchildren always made her eyes shine in a way TV never did. I am pretty sure she has never let Noah out of her sight since he joined her in this other life I like to dream about.
There is some degree of solace in imagining both of them together. But nothing will ever change the fact that Noah should still be with his family and looking forward to a long life on this Earth as should all the little kids who were murdered on December 14th. This Mother's Day is indeed very hard but then, we already know that all the ones that follow will be just as painful. Wherever she is, I know my mother knows it too and grieves for all of us especially, as I do, for my daughter Veronique, Noah's mom.
My dad took the top picture in 1948: my mom was 34. I took the bottom one in the summer of 2009: she was 95. In between the two, a lifetime of love. On this very difficult Mother's Day, I draw my strength from my mother's continuing and loving presence in my heart. Merci, maman!
But he still uses his outdoor oven when he bakes for family and friends, and I was lucky enough to see him operate it on the day I visited. Whether baked in the backyard or in the kitchen, Mark's bread is made with the same simple ingredients: organic white flour, organic grains which he mills himself into whole-grain flour, sea salt and distilled water. He currently bakes about twenty loaves a week: miche, levain and rye. The miches are 70% fresh whole grains (hard red winter wheat, hard red spring wheat, spelt and rye), the levain 30%. The rye is 40% whole rye and 60% wheat. All are leavened with natural starters, all gorgeously rustic, healthful and flavorful. Just the kind of bread I can never get enough of!
I followed Mark with my notebook and pen as he unwrapped tray after tray of proofed loaves and carried them outside to his oven. He was in a bit of a rush because the oven had reached the perfect temperature (550°F/288°C near the dome, closer to 500°F/260°C near the sole) and the bread was clearly ready to bake. But I walk fast and scribble even faster, and he didn't appear to mind my shadowing him back and forth.
As seems to be the case with so many people I have met in the bread world since I began this series, Mark didn't start out to be a baker. He actually still makes his living as a consultant for non-profit organizations. He attributes his lifelong love affair with bread to the fact that he became a vegetarian when he was still in high school. His mom supported his decision as long as it didn't entail her cooking two sets of meals a day, one for him and one for the rest of the family. So he ate whatever he could and soon became bored with his diet. Once in college, he decided to start cooking for himself, using The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas. The book offered a recipe for French bread.
Mark decided to give baking bread a try. The rest is history. The Vegetarian Epicure was followed by Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking whose chapter on baking provided him with years of inspiration and learning. He even built himself the simulated baker's oven Julia advocates for serious home bakers. From there he moved on to Carol Fields' The Italian Baker and finally decided to focus on traditional French country bread. He started grinding his own flour, took a class with Jeffrey Hamelman, discovered Gérard Rubaud (through this blog, I am delighted to say) and now relies on his own levain à la Gérard. Along the way he also built an Alan Scott oven in his backyard with the help of a friend (it took them four months, working on weekends, figuring out each step of the way)...
...won a couple of blue ribbons for his bread (LA County Fair, 2005; California State Fair, 2006)...
...and finally realized that he might as well bake to sell since he now had an excellent and roomy oven. By then it was 2008, and Mark had already acquired quite a reputation in his neighborhood as a homebaker. He didn't have to go far to find outlets for his bread: the cheese stores in nearby Silver Lake and Echo Park were only too happy to carry it. The word spread. Food bloggers found out. More people asked for his bread. He started selling to a CSA. Soon he was baking fifty to sixty loaves a week and working non-stop mixing, proofing, shaping and baking Thursdays through Sundays. "Informal apprentices" came every week to watch and learn.
Alerted by the online buzz, the Los Angeles Times expressed an interest. Mark explained to the reporter that the stores which carried his bread were not authorized to sell homemade food products; he didn’t want to get the owners in trouble. If the reporter went ahead with the article, she couldn't say where his bread was to be found. A week before the story ran, she called saying they had to let the people know where to get his bread: “We’ve done this before. Don’t worry!”
The story was featured in the June 2, 2011 print edition of the paper. The next day, inspectors from the LA County Health Department descended on the stores. As it happened, Mark's bread was already sold out in both places and the inspectors didn't find any. But at one store they made the owners throw away cheeses which were kept at room temperature for ripening and at the other, they started going methodically through the inventory. Seething, one owner started a huge battle with the Health Department. Whatever the outcome, Mark knew he could no longer sell his bread.
Crushed for a couple of days, Mark quickly realized it was in his best interest to make friends with the Health Department. So he called them up, innocently asking about baking bread at home and whether it was legal to sell homemade food in California. There was a long pause on the phone... and then the answer came: "Is this Mark Stambler? What were you thinking?!", the Health Department inspector asked. He then said that while it was illegal for Mark to sell bread he baked at home, it would probably be fine for him to sell wholesale bread he baked at a certified bakery or catering kitchen. Mark started asking local caterers and bakeries if he could use their ovens, and when two said "yes", he double-checked with the Department to make sure it would indeed be okay. The retail side of the Department said "yes" but the wholesale side said "no". It took a year to get the issue sorted out: it turned out that in LA County, a bakery couldn't legally do both wholesale and retail in the same location. Mark called bakeries all over California to find out if other counties had the same restrictions. They didn't. All over the place, bakeries were happily mixing wholesale and retail sales.
What about the bagel stores in LA? Mark drove to the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery. The owner said they had always been selling wholesale and retail and got inspected by the LA County Health Department every year. Mark informed the Health Department who was speechless with surprise at the news. Through sheer single-mindedness, he managed to get through to the upper échelons and, in 2011, the policy was changed. It became legal in LA County to do retail and wholesale in the same bakery.
But people still couldn’t bake bread, pies, cookies, etc. at home and sell them wholesale. It was legal in eighteen states (some states had had such laws for twenty years) but not in California. Mark googled "selling California homemade food"and learned of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), a group of Northern California young lawyers looking to fight whatever regulation was stifling community-building in the state. Mark explained the situation, SELC agreed that a law needed to be written and Mark started looking at how to write laws. Then, late in the summer of 2011, just when it became clear to Mark that he hadn't a clue how to write and pass a state law, Mike Gatto, his representative in the California state legislature, called out of the blue and asked what he could do to help.
Mark worked with Gatto’s staff and SELC through the rest of 2011 on drafting the text of the law. Then he spent the best part of 2012 lobbying for it in Sacramento and visiting scores of assembly members and state senators (he says he now has a lot of respect for what legislators do). Working with SELC, he started an online petition, got thousands of signatures and managed to generate a lot of publicity and public interest. The Assembly and the Senate approved the bill towards the end of summer and Governor Brown signed it into law on September 21, 2012. It became effective on January 1, 2013. A couple of days later, Mark became the first person in LA County (and possibly in all of California) to be able to sell homemade food legally. The stores and the CSA started carrying his bread again.
Mark sees the legislation as a stepping stone: it gives people who are starting out a way to try their hand at the business. If successful, they can expand and go commercial. Mark himself is thinking of opening a bakery with a wood-fired oven one day. When he does, I hope he'll invite me to come back down and visit. Bakeries have got to be my favorite stores. There is no headier fragrance that the smell wafting out of freshly baked naturally leavened loaves and few more comforting sounds than the crackling song of cooling bread. Photos and words are sadly inadequate in that respect...
You might think Mark had been busy enough over the past few years, working at his full-time job during the week, baking all weekend, lobbying legislators in Sacramento, gathering signatures and so forth that he had time for nothing else but collapse in bed when he had a chance but you would be wrong! In 2011, together with two friends and fellow bakers who attributed the scarcity of good bread in the LA area to the absence of a baking community in Southern California, he decided to even the playing field by creating the Los Angeles Bread Bakers. By early 2012, the group counted more than 600 members throughout LA County, as well as elsewhere in California.
The members were lamenting the lack of local access to good organic flour and grain: Mark contacted Keith and Nicky Giusto from Central Milling, drove up to Petaluma and filled the trunk of his Honda Civic. Back in LA, he split his bounty with his fellow bakers.
Today LABB members order a couple of pallets at a time a few times a year (thus greatly reducing delivery charges), bulk-order baking equipment such as baskets, lames, whisks, etc., offer classes (oven-building, bread-making, soba-noodle making, tortilla-making, etc.) and lectures and, listen to this, grow grain themselves!
Yes, you read that right, LABB is trying its collective hand at raising different varieties of wheat and spelt in Los Angeles: of course it helps that one of the members has acreage in Agoura Hills and is letting the group farm some of it. I was supposed to go and see the fields on the day of my visit but we were in LA with our oldest granddaughter for her spring break and somehow I didn't get the feeling that a nineteen-year old girl's preferred activity for her last day in the city (she was flying back that night) would be a long drive to the hills to watch wheat grow. So we skipped the tour.
Fortunately LABB keeps a blog and I have been following its farming adventures closely, especially the encounters with sheep and friendly pigs and the contest with the ground squirrels who apparently love good grain as passionately as bakers do. Mark visits the fields regularly and was warned by a local farmer against the large, aggressive rattlesnakes who patrol the area on the lookout for human intruders. As he put it in a recent email, "who knew that baking bread could be so hazardous?"
Who indeed? If one excepts the break-in by a big raccoon one night as loaves were cooling in the screened porch at our little cabin by the River, my only baking encounters with wildlife have been with the yeasts which leaven my bread: they may have a mind of their own but they are not threatening.
Mark kindly sent me home with three loaves of bread, the first "real" bread we had had in the week since we had left home. What a treat! With Danielle gone, we couldn't possibly eat it all, so we took it with us when we drove to Escondido the next day to visit my friend Mimi whose family owns and operates an avocado ranch (which is so beautiful that I'll share a few photos in another post). Mimi was delighted with the bread (from what she said, I got the feeling that good bread isn't easy to come by where she lives) and as we were hungry, she set out to create a simple snack.
She sliced some of Mark's bread, cut open and sliced an avocado, added a few drops of Meyer lemon juice (she had picked the lemon as we visited the ranch), ground some salt and pepper over the whole thing and voilà, she was done. Silence reigned around the table as we chewed, mindful of the harmony in our mouths. I never knew the taste of levain could make an avocado sing... Bravo, Mark, and merci!
This bread is our bread
The color and texture of a loaf of bread tells a story about how it was made. When reading a loaf, remember that every baker has different goals, says David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow. Sometimes, you need simple sandwich bread; other times, you want ...
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Recipe: Pretzel bread
Minneapolis Star Tribune
From top: Pretzel bread dough can be made into several shapes, including breadsticks or buns for burgers or sliders. 1. Divide risen dough into equal portions. 2. Shape into smooth, firm balls by pulling the dough around your fingers and pinching ...
Given how lazy I am, you’d think I’d have started using a KitchenAid mixer years ago. But believe it or not, I’ve recipe-tested for three books using nothing but a wooden spoon or a Danish dough whisk.
Well, I’m tired. So above, my new KitchenAid Professional 600 series, 6-quart capacity stand mixer, which is an outstandingly beautiful piece of industrial design that hasn’t really changed its look in nearly 100 years. I have been visiting it in the kitchen as a way of avoiding work. More on the mixer in a bit.
So many doughs, so little time. I’m hooked on this machine, especially when I have to make more than one dough for a recipe, like in this very beautiful Braided Black-and-White Pumpernickel and Rye Loaf from two doughs in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (this photo by Mark Luinenburg):
You can find a whole-grain version of this loaf in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
I went with the larger motor (575 watts) and the 6-quart bowl because I make a lot of bread, and sometimes in double-batches from our books (about 13 cups of flour), and if you do that, you need this size mixer. But if you’re sticking with our single batches, you’re fine with the 5-quart bowl and the smaller wattage motors, something like these smaller mixers. I definitely preferred the models with the bowl-lift design rather than the tilt-back mixer head, but play with both before you buy. It’s just a matter of preference but I feel like our wet dough is going to drop outside the bowl when you pull the mixer head back back on the tilt-head models.
You’ll need two doughs for this recipe, rye and pumpernickel, from our first book, where we had people mix the yeast and salt into the water first, then add the flours. But you can start with the flours, and whisk in the yeast and salt before adding wet ingredients; it doesn’t really much matter unless you’re using vital wheat gluten (in which case, you have to mix the dry ingredients together first to prevent clumping). Either way, it’s a snap to mix in the KitchenAid, but use the paddle attachment, not the dough hook– our stuff is too wet for the hook (note that KitchenAid calls the paddle a “flat beater”):
This machine comes with the coated “bowl-scraping” version of the flat beater, above. That attachment is dishwasher-safe, which is why I’m using it exclusively. It also came with a burnished aluminum version (no bowl-scraper, which doesn’t make much difference for this kind of dough). It’s beautiful, but it’s not dishwasher safe (pictured here with the burnished aluminum dough hook, which is great for stiffer doughs but not for our wet ones):
First mix your dry ingredients for the rye dough (briefly) on lowest speed in the bowl:
1 tablespoon granulated yeast, instant or active-dry (1 packet)
1½ tablespoons kosher salt (can reduce to 1 tablespoon to taste)
1½ tablespoons caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on the top
1 cup rye flour
5½ cups all-purpose flour
Turn the mixer on and off if continuous mixing throws flour overboard. Now gradually add the 3 cups of lukewarm water and mix per your mixer’s instructions (different brands are different):
A soft wet dough will form (don’t add more flour); you may need to scrape down dough that sticks to the beater– turn off the mixer (KitchenAid says to unplug it!) and use a plastic or rubber spatula:
Either the 5 or 6-quart bowl is large enough to accommodate full dough-rising over the next two hours at room temperature, or until the dough begins to flatten on top. If you didn’t buy KitchenAid’s optional non-sealing lids, you can use a pot lid which won’t make a perfect seal even when seated on top (you don’t want an airtight seal). You can store in the same bowl in the fridge after this initial rise, and use the dough within the next two weeks:
You can buy extra bowls and lids from KitchenAid, and you may need them if you do Black-and-White Pumpernickel. Here’s the ingredient list for the Pumpernickel dough, same mixing instructions but this dough only stores under refrigeration for 8 days:
Pumpernickel: Dry ingredients
1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1½ tablespoons caramel color
1 cup rye flour
5½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated yeast, instant or active-dry (1 packet)
1½ tablespoons kosher salt (can reduce to 1 tablespoon to taste)
Pumpernickel: liquid ingredients
3 cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons molasses
Now, on to shaping the Black-and-White braid:
½ pound (orange-sized portion) stored Pumpernickel dough (see recipe)
½ pound (orange-sized portion) stored Deli-Style Rye dough (see recipe)
Water for brushing loaf
Caraway seeds for sprinkling on top of loaf
1. Dust the surface of the pumpernickel dough with flour and cut off an orange-size piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
2. Dust the surface of the rye dough with flour and cut off an orange-size piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Cut the ball in half and form 2 balls.
3. Roll each ball between your hands (or on a board), stretching to form 3 long ropes of equal length (the pumpernickel rope will be thicker because its dough ball was twice as large). If the balls resist shaping, let them rest for 5 minutes and try again—don’t fight the dough.
4. Line up the 3 ropes, keeping the pumpernickel rope in the center. Braid the ropes, starting from the center and working to one end. If you’ve never done a 3-stranded braid before, it’s simple—just remember to drape one of the outside strands over the center one, then do the same with the other outside strand. Repeat till you reach the end and then pinch the strands together. Flip the loaf over, rotate it, braid from the center out to the remaining end, and pinch the ends of the strands together. This seems to produce a loaf with a more uniform thickness than when braided from end to end (though if you like, just braid from end to end).
5. Allow the loaf to rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, on a pizza peel prepared with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough). Alternatively, you can rest the loaf on a silicone mat or a greased cookie sheet without using a pizza peel.
6. Thirty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 425°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty metal broiler tray on any other rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
7. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the loaf with water, and then sprinkle with caraway seeds.
8. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone (or place the silicone mat or cookie sheet directly on the stone if you used one). Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door (or see my video for steam alternatives). Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until richly browned and firm. If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat, or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it and bake the loaf directly on the stone or an oven rack two-thirds of the way through baking. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in resting and baking time.
9. Allow the bread to cool on a rack before slicing and eating.
Note: KitchenAid provided the stand mixer pictured for testing and use in this post.
But he came back to me in a dream ten days ago: I was playing tag with his twin sister Arielle around a very long oblong table in a nondescript apartment I had never seen before. However hard I tried I couldn't catch up with her and she was laughing and laughing, her long hair swishing around her face as she ran.
Then she stopped and turned. The long hair vanished and I realized it wasn't Arielle I had been chasing all along but Noah.
He was laughing and his eyes were full of light. He looked straight at me and he said: "You can't catch me!" I could see he was poised to start running again if I tried. So I just looked into his shiny eyes and stood there, my heart beating fast.
Then I woke up.
My first reaction was sheer joy: wherever he was. Noah was as active as ever and he was having fun.
Then I thought about what he said. We had just met with the medical team at the hospital regarding my breast cancer and came home with a prognosis and decisions to make. We learned both that there were many reasons to be optimistic and that there were no guarantees.
Noah had come to tell me that I wouldn't be joining him any time soon. He had come to me with the gift of hope.
He was quite a character, never at a loss for a joke and always willing to offer a helping hand to whomever was in need. He didn't like to dwell on what he felt powerless to change, looked for the silver lining to every storm cloud and usually found it. He was our last surviving parent and the last person on earth who still saw us as kids.
I like to imagine him up in heaven, joking around with like-minded saints and angels, and romping with Noah. Willy and Noah never met in the physical world but they shared the same joie de vivre (zest for life) and the same rambunctiousness. They'll hit it off for sure. That's the only silver lining I can find...
Also I would never have joked about the size of my breasts on an open blog! For me that's the equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction on network television. I am so mortified! If I had been less in a hurry to get the post out last night before rushing to the kids' house for 19-month old Lily's bath time, I would have paid more attention to which blog I was posting to. Meanwhile I can't help feeling that it is a bit funny! Like being on your way to work and realizing in the subway that you are wearing your old slippers...
Anyway the cat is out of the bag and there is nothing I can do about it now. I have removed the post (which really doesn't belong on Farine). But I'll keep you updated, I promise, and meanwhile I am deeply grateful for the messages of love and support you have already sent our way. Thank you!