Not Baking… and Here’s Why

So, if your brother tossed an enormous bag of bread into the front seat of your car, what would you do?

We–pull out the bread knife.

The Kids–eat all the chocolate bread in one fell swoop.

I–make a lot of croutons.

I–give some of it away.

I–make two batches of French toast. (French toast made with old sourdough bread is the BEST!)

I–burn some of the French toast. (See this post.)

I–don’t do a whole lot of baking. Not for five days–maybe more.

And now, the brothers are threatening me with a 50 pound bag of flour sent up on one of their bakery trucks. My answer?

Yes!!!

 

Sharing Squared

No baking for me today…

My brother’s bread business is now delivering to several restaurants here in Santa Barbara, which means that every now and then, when the regular delivery guy needs a day off, my older brother John gets the honor of traveling up the coast–the back of his prius loaded with sourdough goodness. He’s charming enough to stop by our home on those days, and in return for his charm we offer him a cup of green tea and our morning smiles.

And usually he has an extra loaf or two of something that he shares with us.

He’s always been good at sharing. 🙂

Well, today he asked if we could use TEN loaves of par-baked sourdough. My eyes goggled a bit, and I saw massive giving in my future. Ten loaves! First, I thought about all my favorite friends and how they could make yummy gourmet sandwiches for dinner. But then, I remembered that this Lent I’m trying to really give to folks who are in need, or with whom I need to make amends. Because of the rainy and chilly weather, many of the truly downcast and desperate head straight to the Rescue Mission for dinner and a bed. So glad I was prompted to think of that…

Okay, my daughter and I were studying chapter 25 of the Algebra One book today after my brother left, and guess what? If (X+3)(X-3) then you can factor those together and get X²-3². Isn’t that cool? Both X and 3 are squared! My sharing today, being timesed by ten, felt absolutely algebraic! My brother shared with me, and I shared with the folks at the Rescue Mission. Algebra in bread-giving action…

The children were happy to go on an adventure. We even had extra fun since Morgan, our favorite neighbor-friend, spent the day with us. Here she is hiding behind some of the bread…

You know what? I felt tremendously fortunate to be the giver of ten loaves of bread on a rainy day like today.

Truly, I did…

Sourdough!

Two batches of sourdough

Gave two small boules to Mad’s intrepid science teacher, and shared a jaco with our in-laws

I grew up in a home where every day meant fresh sourdough bread on the table. There was an endless supply coming from our family’s bakery, and though I knew our sourdough was better than most, I was horribly surprised to land in Colorado as a young adult and discover that good bread couldn’t be found everywhere. As much as I loved the mountains in Colorado, that preservative-rich, chewy white bread that abounded there was dreadful. Eew! Eew! Eew!

In Colorado I tried to make my own sourdough but miserably failed. My baking skills were still too juvenile and I could only make beautiful yet inedible and overly sour loaves. Most of them were shaped into long flutes and served as fighting weapons for my kids. They were so heavy and hard and horrible!
Now that I’ve been baking consistently for many years now, I finally  decided I was ready to become a baker of sourdough. I can keep a starter alive–I can look at dough and know where it’s at in its rise, and I’ve learned some of the oven tricks which help create an artisan loaf. I’ve been gearing up for this big day for quite some time and yippee!!! I made my first real loaf of sourdough!!!
I say real loaf because I have successfully made several very edible batches of sourdough using the no-knead method, where you add starter to your mix, along with a tiny bit of commercial yeast, and bake off your loaves in an enamel or iron pot. And believe me, the no-knead bread is an amazing imposter and worth perfecting. But what I’m talking about is this method: mix-by-hand, let rise for 12 hours, then mold, then let rise another 10 hours, then bake. It’s patience bread, really, and so worth the time…

Sourdough is made by mixing “sourdough starter,” (or mother dough–or levain) with flour, salt, and water. The starter is a yeast mixture of wild yeast, flour and water that is kept alive by regular “feedings.” I know, it sounds a lot like having another baby in the house. This baby, however, eats infrequently, and lives happily in your cupboard or fridge…

Unlike my brother’s bakery, Etxea Bakery in LA, the temperatures and climate in my house vary from day to day, so baking a loaf of sourdough takes a watchful eye. The first batch I baked rose for an initial 12 hours (from 8am to 8pm), then I molded it and let it rise on the counter until 11pm, then I put it in the fridge until 7am the next morning, when I finally baked it. Almost 24 hours start to finish. The second batch rose for 16 hours (from 10 pm until 2pm the next day!), then I molded it, and baked it off at 6pm that evening. A 20-hour journey for this batch–and quite a different voyage for the two rises. Both batches were delicious, but so varied in the way those little yeasties went to work…

Some things I learned:

  • The first rise, just like in all other types of baking, will always take much longer
  • Sourdough is very resilient. The bread can even seem a bit flimsy when going into the oven, like it has overproofed, but the oven spring is amazing.
  • Working with sourdough seems very forgiving. The time frames are so much longer–if you need another half hour to finish a chore, it won’t ruin the bread to wait…

I’ll be posting a sourdough recipe in the next few weeks. For now, if you live in LA and want some terrific sourdough that my brothers are producing, you can grab a friend or spouse, and head to one of these hot restaurants for a taste 🙂

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe–Malibu

26 Beach Restaurant–Venice

Cafe on Location–Tarzana

Fin’s–Calabassas

Fin’s–Westlake

Fonz’s Steaks and Seafood–Manhattan Beach

Fratelli’s NY Pizza–Woodland Hills

John O’Groats–Encino

John O’Groats–West LA

Kate Mantilini’s–Beverly Hills

Kate Mantilini’s-Woodland Hills

Kip’s–El Segundo

Lawry’s Carvery–Century City

Lawry’s Carvery–S Coast Plaza

Lawry’s–Beverly Hills

Literati Cafe–West LA

Malibu Seafood–Malibu

Michael’s--Santa Monica

Neli’s Deli–West LA

Nichol’s Restaurant–Marina del Rey

Petrelli’s Steakhouse–Culver City

Rock’n Fish–LA

Rock’n Fish–Manhattan Beach

Stanley’s–Sherman Oaks

Tam O’Shanter–LA

The Galley–Santa Monica

The Great Greek–Sherman Oaks

Tony’s Liquor and Deli–Sherman Oaks

Venice Beach Wines–Venice

Sorrento’s Italian Market–Culver City

Zin Bistro–Westlake Village

Behind the Walls

My brothers are so fun!

Don’t you love this imaginative loaf of sourdough?

I grew up in Santa Monica–a Southern California beach town. When I was young it was a beachy place, where kids played in the streets (our street–18th street– was LOADED with kids), where my friends rode their bikes with surfboards over their shoulders, to catch a few waves before school. We hung out at the local drugstore and ate jolly ranchers. There was even a dirt lot around the corner where we took our bikes and shovels and made race courses… But, Hollywood folk, and other money-makers, have changed the landscape of Santa Monica into a city of walls. At least the north end, where I visit, and where my parents still live.

The other morning I was out for a walk. I wondered who in the world I would share a loaf of my brothers’ bread with, since an extra loaf or two makes its way to my parent’s home almost every day. Their sourdough is worth sharing–so very delicious–and missed by many who used to eat this bread for years before the original Pioneer French Bakery was closed.

But who to give to? So many of my own school friends have moved, and the close neighbors we once knew, and loved, have also moved on. My mom muses how amazing it is to live in a place with so many people who rarely notice one another… This city has become a place of walls,

where the only people you see moving up and down the old neighborhood streets are gardeners, maids and subcontractors…

But just when I began to despair about who to give this gorgeous loaf of bread to, I found an email on my computer from an old school friend. “Come meet us–we’re at the beach!”

Ah, the beach. The Mighty Equalizer! There are no walls at the beach. There is sand, and water, and little kids playing in the waves, and big kids with their boogie boards, and old friends still wearing bikinis! Love it!

So, I went to the beach and sat in the sand, and chatted for a wee bit with women that I haven’t really seen since they were girls. The loaf of bread was greeted by happy eyes. I wish I’d had more time, but what fun. What fun!

It makes me wonder, though, seeing and thinking about all these walls… What sorts of walls have I built in my own life to keep people out? I like being out of sight, and out of view. Maybe the walls in this changed city aren’t so very significant when it comes to giving bread. Maybe I just need to work a bit harder to knock down my own inhibitions–and simply head to the beach!

(Thank you, Susan and Linda, for the invite!)

Ten To Do’s

It’s summer. I’m on a baking reprieve, since I’m traveling and in my brothers’ bread baking territory. My two older kids are spending a week working at the bakery here in LA, waking at 4am to wrap bread and clean mixers and mold sourdough. I stopped in for a visit today, and here’s a bit of what I saw 🙂

250 pounds of sourdough on the rise

Dad, and my two growing teens, scaling the dough

A lot of dough on the rise

And flour everywhere...

I’m a tad bit jealous of their hours breathing in that yeasty air that I love…  But I’ve been a bit unwell, and this time to relax and ponder the upcoming months, while they gain a bit of work experience, is needed and welcome.

As I reassess my days and think about new goals now that my health has recovered (yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I’ve made a list of those things in my life that I most cherish and that help me stay grounded and growing. Here are my top ten To Do’s:

Pray    Write    Walk    Family    Bake    Garden   Read   Clean   Knit    Entertain

Now, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fit all of the above into one actual day–it seems a bit much, and most days I manage about four out of the ten. But why not try for the whole lot! I’ll be trying this summer, with prayer, writing, and family time as absolute essentials. I’ll be baking, too, and giving. The giving has proved especially important during this time when I’ve only wanted to sink into a stupor and moan about my misfortunes… Summer baking, with the warm weather urging the yeast into super speed, is going to be fun!

Anyway, enough about me…. What about you, what would make the top ten on your list? I’d love to know…

Ultimate Friday Giveaway

Been baking all week

My daughter requested a loaf of French bread for her birthday.

That was Tuesday…

My husband wanted to take another giant loaf of sourdough to Renato, the owner of his favorite coffee spot, Via Maestra, but this time not force him to eat it. Here it is below, before it took the short trip from our home to the coffee shop down the road. (See this post–A Tribute to Community–for the earlier story)

That was Wednesday, and here it is on display in Via Maestra 🙂

And Friday turned into Ultimate Bread Giveaway Day. I needed to drive my daughter to LA; she was invited to spend the weekend with her cousins. My brother, whose bakery now has all the health certificates you could ever ask for, will begin delivering bread to customers on Tuesday. They’ve been baking up a storm these last two months, with no one to eat all the product, so it just ends up everywhere–mostly given to the mayor of Hawthorne where the bakery is–who then takes it to the city’s soup kitchen and homeless shelter. When my brother showed up at his house with two giant bags of the most gorgeous sourdough, I was happy to take a loaf, or seven!

I then gave out three loaves at my son’s school. Gave one loaf to a lady walking down the street, and we’re eating a giant loaf of rye right now…Just had an avocado and roasted red pepper sandwich. Here’s a photo of some of the amazing loaves of bread coming out of Etxea Bakery.

I still haven’t given any bread to the triplets down the way.

Oh, oh…. and my daughter helped me gather some sea water at Butterfly Beach. We’re going to make our very own Santa Barbara sea salt. More posts on that as we progress, but until then, three cheers for Madeleine who braved some very, very cold water to humor her wacky mother.

Okay everyone, that’s my bread giving week. Let’s just keep chugging along together, giving to others as we can. I’d love to hear your stories…

Cheers!

Giving–February Play by Play

Four loaves of French bread

Mixed: 8 pm

Molded: 10:30 pm

(Retarded overnight)

Baked: 7:30 am

Gave two to a family with a newborn, one to a super science teacher…

The morning started with baking. The French mix I made had too much moisture… The bread came out looking super yicky. I decided to give it away, anyway. Lent is a time for humility!

Contrast this to the bread my brothers are making in their new bakery in LA. Ooh, la la. That sourdough is beyond words…

Off to science class. Dropped my daughter off to learn about molecules. Then made my way down the road to deliver two loaves of the ugly French to a family with a brand new babe. The mama’s a redhead–and I’m partial to those whose recessive hair genes won out. They were having a bit of a rough morning, so I gave the bread, and a book, and off we sped.

To the playground!

And in the mix of the twenty or so children jumping, digging, swinging and begging for snacks, I spotted a busy redhead burning off her morning’s cinnamon toast. Look at her go!

Then I bought a donut for my traveling companion, and we talked about how to make chocolate machines for a while.

The donut gone–we strolled a while, then bumped into a crocodile.

(I wish–that’s right out of one of my favorite children’s books, Tumble Bumble.)

We picked up my daughter, where I learned that one of the molecule experiments got a little too lively. The teacher recommended bringing goggles next week. 🙂

And now I’m home, wanting to redeem myself and bake a loaf of beautiful bread.

Onward!

Bakery Field Trip–The Real Deal

Brief baking hiatus

Too embarrassed to bake in my father’s house…

Our family is sneaking in a quick visit to wish our LA clan a merry Christmas. I haven’t baked in two days, and the only giving has been one of trying to keep our things from invading every corner of my parent’s clean home. I could never outgive my parents–nor would I ever try. They are the most generous people I’ve ever met…

But bread baking isn’t far from our minds. My brothers are just about to launch a new commercial baking enterprise, and yesterday we got to visit the construction site. There were dough mixers, conveyor belts just for baguettes, proofers, retarders, and a lot of talk about a certain dough cutter… There is an artisan oven being installed as we speak. It was a great field trip–so that’s what I’m bringing you today. A peek into Etxea Bakery; they will be testing bread in their new custom, Italian-made oven before the New Year arrives.

Dad and Chris, the contractor.

Such pretty new machinery

The intermediate proofer

Loves the machines!

Enormous proof box--got locked in one of these in St. Louis once. Almost ended up in the headlines...

Baguette conveyor belt

Bare bones of a rack oven--you insert a full rack on wheels into the oven for baking

Michel and his crew are installing the Italian-made, custom deck oven

My son with a very odd conversation piece from years past

In Honor of a Hard-working Sister

One enormous loaf of “Sister Bread” or “Pain a la Suzanne”

Mixed: Wednesday, 8 pm

Folded: Thursday, 10 am

Molded: Thursday, 10:20 am

Baked: Thursday 1 pm

Gave to: 18 very hungry Thanksgiving meal family folk–minus my sister 😦

My sister was once described as an Eveready Battery. She’s a dynamo, who charges into the world at 4am, teaches 23 aerobic classes in one week (I’m not kidding!), who somehow manages to still bake pies for parties, and can beat all of her siblings at pushups, long distance anything, and crossword puzzles.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day and Suzanne could not join us for the big turkey meal out on the terrace. Unable to recharge her massive battery in time, she opted out of the two-hour drive to the desert and stayed home to celebrate the holiday, (which was also her birthday,) with a friend. Missing her, and in her honor, my older baker brother and I made the coolest loaf of bread ever, and named it Pain a la Suzanne. Only problem is, we ate it!

For all those people whose lives are just jam-packed with busyness as Suzie’s is, this loaf of bread is perfect. You need only the most basic ingredients–you quickly mix it the night before, then fold and mold it after a 15-18 hour rise, then bake it in a large enamel pot in the oven. The end result is a very crusty hearth loaf that has a sturdy, chewy, delicious crumb. The originator of this no nonsense recipe is Jim Lahey of  Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan–and I just dare you to try it!

Here’s a link to the recipe, followed by a photo of the bread coming out of the oven.

No Knead Dough Recipe

And here is my brother and husband trying to beam the bread from the desert to the coast. It didn’t work, and as I mentioned above, we ate it…

But even though we ate it, we’ll be baking again tomorrow, and the day after. We’ll get her a loaf soon–no worries there.

Happy Birthday, Suzanne. We love you…

Brothers

Two loaves molassas bread (plus cranberry preserves)

mixed: noon

molded: 1:40 pm

baked: 2:20 pm

gave to: homeless dinner at our church

I grew up in a home of four children: girl-boy-girl-boy. I’m the third, squished between two boys–one six years older than me, the other who toddled just behind. These two boys have helped shape my life in countless ways. I was an indentured yet happy servant to one, and a mini-mother to the other. They are both people you love to be around, one so selfless and silly, the other completely made of charm… And they would do most anything for me. Run to me if I needed saving. Even drag me off on business to France. I love them.

As I watched the line gradually grow at the dinner for the homeless last night, where my basket of molassas bread sat waiting for hungry mouths, I wondered where their brothers were. These men and women, dirty, drunk, so full of hurt. I walked among them, chatted to Dina about learning Greek, signed a floppy leather hat of another who then begged to have his photo taken… Where are their brothers? Where?

I have such love around me, such happy security. Such beauty in the fountain that brings finches to my yard, the scent and space of the ocean just down the road, the smell of bread baking, the sound of my children singing while they play. And I have these brothers who make me laugh. I’m thankful for them, and pray I can be the right kind of sister to them, and maybe even be a sister,

at least for a moment,

to those standing, waiting their turn for my molassas bread.