Country White Bread Made with Poolish

The other day, I baked some bread that turned out exceptionally well and I posted a couple of pictures on Instagram (and that also showed up on Facebook):

 

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My friend Lisa asked about a recipe, and since I haven’t written/blogged about anything like that for a while, I thought I would procrastinate a bit (okay, procrastinate a lot) and write this.

Back in 2017, I wrote in some detail about my bread making ways as directed/guided by Ken Forkish’s excellent book Flour Water Salt Yeast. Sure, I have read other things about baking bread and have followed other recipes, but this is what I always go back to. It’s an extraordinarily detailed and well-written book, and considering the fact that the recipes in this book are all just variations of the same ingredients (thus the title) with slightly different techniques, I think that’s quite the accomplishment. And apparently, he has a new book coming out too.

I had been making mostly natural levain (aka sourdough) breads the last two or three years, but besides taking a few days to revive the starter and proofing, my results lately have been inconsistent and not great. Maybe I need to make some new starter. So I went back to Forkish’s book and gave the poolish recipe another try.

First things first (and this is stuff I kind of cover in the post from a few years ago):

  • This recipe makes two French “boule” style loaves of bread: round, ball-shaped loaves that are very crusty and the sort of thing that’s great for hearty sandwiches, toast, or just eating by the slice when it’s still warm. It’s not like baguette (though you can use this dough to make baguette, but that’s a different thing),and definitely not like soft sliced grocery story bread.
  • This isn’t rocket science, and if you follow the recipe closely, it will probably turn out well even if you don’t do a lot of baking. There are a lot of details here both because I had a lot of procrastinating to do, and also because I wanted to describe the steps in as much detail as possible. That said, this does take a bit of practice and your results might not be that great right out of the gate. Just keep trying.
  • The measurements matter, both in terms of ingredients but also in terms of temperatures and time. I can never get it perfect (the original recipe calls for .4 grams of yeast for the poolish, for example), but you want to get as close as you can and actually measure things. And as a tangent: that’s basically the difference between “cooking” and “baking,” as far as I can tell.
  • This does require some special equipment.
    • At a minimum, you need a kitchen scale and at least one four or five quart cast iron Dutch oven that can go into the oven at 475 degrees– so not one with a plastic knob on the top. I think the kitchen scale I’ve got cost me $10 or $20 and I use it all the time, so a very worthwhile investment. I have a fancy enameled Dutch oven I use for stews and soups and stuff, but for baking bread, I use the much less expensive, cast iron models you can get for around $50 at a hardware store (and those work just as well for stews and soups and stuff as well). Everyone who cooks regularly should have both of these things anyway. I bake bread at least once a month (and usually more), so I have two of the cast iron Dutch ovens– and as you will see with the steps below, if you bake a lot, using two instead of just one Dutch oven helps speed things up A LOT.
    • It’s helpful to have a couple of large food storage containers, too; here’s a link to what I’ve got on amazon, though I bought mine at the local Gordon Food Service store. You can just use a couple of really big bowls and some plastic wrap to cover them, but besides being  great for baking, these containers are also useful for things like brining a chicken or a turkey.
    • While not essential (and probably not something you want to spend the money on unless you want to regularly bake bread like this), a couple of wicker proofing baskets. Besides helping to create the cool texture of the finished bread, they also allow the dough to proof properly– and it’s what professional bakers use. Here’s a link to the kind of ones I have (also on amazon); I’d recommend just getting the baskets and none of the other baking doodads like a “lame” (which a French knife used to score the bread– I just use a razor blade or a sharp knife) or weird pattern molds or anything else.
    • Finally (and also all stuff in the category of you probably already have these things if you cook at all regularly), a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients (or large food storage containers), two medium-sized bowls lined with clean tea towels for proofing each loaf (or the proofing baskets), a dough knife/board scraper, a razor blade or very sharp knife, an instant read thermometer to measure the water temperature and some very heavy-duty oven mitt or grill gloves (which is what I use) to handle the smoking hot Dutch ovens, and a cooling rack for the finished bread. Oh, also: two plastic shopping bags, or a couple of small plastic garbage bags.

Okay, with all that out of the way:

Ingredients:

For the poolish:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour
  • 1/8th teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 500 grams of water (a bit warm, at about 80 degrees or so)

For the final dough:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250 grams of water (quite warm, at about 105 degrees)

Steps:

  • You want to start with high quality flour. My go-to is King Arthur, though I also sometimes splurge on some kind of artisanal, stone-ground, small batch flours once in a while too. You can also make this with all white flour or try adding more wheat or maybe a little rye flour, but be careful about using too high of a ratio of not white flour because it can throw things off in terms of amount of water, yeast, time, etc.
  • At about 6 pm and the evening before you plan to finish and bake the bread, make the poolish. In a 6 quart tub (or a very large bowl), whisk together the flours and the yeast, and then mix in 500 grams (by weight, though volume is the same) of somewhat warm (80 degrees) water. Mix thoroughly so there are no pockets of dry flour left at all. Snap on the lid or cover snuggly in plastic wrap, and leave it out on the kitchen counter overnight.
  • At about 8 am the next morning, start to make the final dough. You have a little bit of “wiggle room” on when to start this step– a bit earlier, a bit later, etc.– but you don’t want to start much earlier than 12 hours after you started making the poolish, and not much later than about 14 hours.
  • In another larger bowl (or a 12 quart tub), whisk together the final dough flour, yeast, and salt until well-combined.
  • Measure out 250 grams of very warm/bordering on hot water, around 105 degrees. Uncover your poolish, which by now should be quite bubbly and tripled in size. Carefully pour the water around the edges of the poolish to loosen it from the container, and then poor the whole thing into the larger container where you mixed the other dry ingredients.
  • Mix this dough thoroughly. Now, Forkish goes into surprising detail about “the best” method for doing this by hand with large pinching motions, but I honestly don’t usually want to get my hands that goopy with the dough. So I just use a big metal spoon I like that keeps my hands a bit cleaner and that gets at all the dry flour bits out of the corner of the container. Mix this so there are no dry parts left and cover it back up.
  • This first proofing/resting lasts about 2 hours, though you do need to fold the dough at least twice. Again, Forkish goes into a lot of detail about what “folding” means, but what I do is lightly flour my hands and then scoop underneath the dough, folding it back over onto itself. I go all around the tub so that I’m folding/turning over the whole mess of dough so what was on the bottom is on the top. I try to do this the first time after it’s proofing/resting for about 30-45 minutes and then the second time about another 45 minutes later. After 2 or 3 hours, the dough should be more than doubled in size.
  • Next, it’s time to make the loaves. You’ll want to start this at about 10 or 10:30 am; again, there’s some wiggle room here, but it should be ready in about 2 hours and you don’t want to wait longer than 3 hours. You’ll need about 2 feet of cleared off and squeaky-clean counter space to deal with the dough; once you have that, spread a light dusting of flour onto the counter. If you don’t have wicker bread baskets, you’ll need two bowls that are each about 8 or 9 inches wide and a couple of clean tea towels. Set up your bowls/baskets first by liberally flouring the inside of them. This helps the dough to not stick, and it also gives that cool color/texture to the finished bread. Set the bowls/baskets nearby.
  • Take the lid off of the now proofed dough, flour your hands, and dump the dough out of the container and on to the floured work surface. You don’t want to add too much more flour to the dough, but you also don’t want to make it into loaves while it’s sticky. So what I tend to do is flatten the dough out into roughly a rectangle shape, add a little more flour to the top of the dough, flip it all over, and flatten it out again. You don’t really have to knead the dough much, but you do want to work it so you squeeze out some of the bigger air bubbles that will have developed.
  • Using a dough knife/bench scraper, divide the flattened out dough in half. You don’t need to obsess over it or anything, but you want to shoot for more or less equal halves. Bring the corners of each half of dough up together and form the dough into a tight ball and smooth ball. Put the rougher side/seam side of the ball in the bottom of the basket/bowl.
  • Put each basket/bowl inside a large plastic bag, making sure that the opening of the bag is bunched up/closed at the bottom. The best thing for this are the sort of plastic shopping bags you get from the drugstore or grocery store, though a (obviously clean and never used) small garbage bag works as well. These loaves will be ready for baking in about an hour.
  • Right after you bag up your bread for the final proof, put your Dutch oven(s) on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat it to 475 degrees. You want to have the lids on too because you are preheating both the larger oven and the smaller, baking Dutch oven(s).
  • If you only have one Dutch oven, you’ll have to bake in stages. So after about 40 minutes of the oven pre-heating and the loaves sitting out on the counter for their final rise, put one of your proofing loaves into the refrigerator, still contained in that plastic bag. You’ll take it out of the fridge again after the first loaf bakes. Of course, if you have two Dutch ovens, you can bake both loaves at the same time.
  • Either way, about an hour to 90 minutes after you divided the bread up into two loaves and after the oven has been preheating with one or two Dutch ovens for at least 30 minutes and after it is indeed at 475, you’re ready to bake. This step moves kind of quickly and can be a little nerve-racking because the dough can be a little tricky to handle, and of course, the pots you’re going to cook this in are dangerously hot. But here’s what I do:
    • Put on this grill gloves or heavy-duty oven mitts, take the Dutch Oven(s) out of the oven, place them on top of the stove, and remove the lids. Take off the grill gloves.
    • Turning to the bread, take them out of their plastic bags and carefully invert the dough on to the floured counter. Using either a single razor blade or a very sharp knife, make a few scoring cuts on the top of the loaf. You can get super fancy with this or you can skip this step entirely, but I like to make two or three gashes in the top because it helps release some steam and it looks cool at the end.
    • With floured and otherwise bare hands, carefully scoop under the dough to pick up the entire loaf and then gently lower it into the waiting and ripping hot Dutch oven. Now, three important things to note. First, the dough at this point can be kind of tricky to pick up; it’s sort of like handling a half-pound blob of jello, so you kind of have to get your fingers under the loaf and cup it with your hands. Second, that pot is super-duper hot so be careful to lower the dough into the pot while not touching the pot with your bare hands! Third, don’t worry too much if the dough ends up being kind of uneven or whatever when you put it into the Dutch oven(s) because as long as it is proofed properly, it will still bake fine.
    • Put those grill gloves or oven mitts back on, put on the lid(s), and put the Dutch oven(s) back into the oven at 475. Don’t peek! Keeping the Dutch oven(s) closed for this first 30 minutes is key to a crunchy crust, and also it is what enables the “oven spring” that will cause the bread to rise and round-out further, and, unless you really fumble getting the bread into the Dutch oven(s) (it happens), this is also what will “round out” (so to speak) the shape of your loaf.
  • Bake for 30 minutes– again, no looking and no opening the oven, either.
  • After 30 minutes, get out those grill gloves/oven mitts again, open the oven, take off the lids and briefly admire your now lovely but not quite browned bread, and close up the oven again. Set up a cooling rack on the counter.
  • Reduce the heat to 450 and continue baking for about 30 more minutes without the lids, checking it again after about 20 minutes to make sure it’s not getting too dark on top. How dark (burnt?) is too dark/too much is probably a matter of personal tastes, but I’d encourage you to let it get really dark brown even to the point of a few burnt-looking spots for the best crusty flavor. If it looks like it is getting just too dark too quickly, you can always turn the oven off and let the bread continue to bake, or, after about 20 minutes, take the Dutch oven(s) out of the oven and leave it on top of the stove to bake through for another 10 minutes.
  • For one last time, put on those grill gloves/oven mitts and tip your now complete bread onto the cooling rack. The best (and most satisfying) sign that you have succeeded in making a lovely and crusty bread is the cracking sound it makes as cools.
  • Leave the bread alone at least an hour before you cut into it! This is a “discussion” I have with my wife all the time who always wants to cut immediately into the steaming hot bread. I understand that, but the bread is still basically baking as it cools, and if you cut into it too early and while it’s still really hot, you’ll release a ton of heat and steam and the inside of the bread (the “crumb”) will be more sticky than ideal. It’s hard to resist, but it’s worth it.

 

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

Sauce:

About a tablespoon of minced garlic

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

28 oz (a “big can”) of crushed tomatoes

16 oz (a “small can,” or if you want more sauce, another “big can”) of diced tomatoes

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a teaspoon of grated nutmeg (optional, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each  (go easy on the salt because you’ll be adding the meatballs)

A half cup or so of wine, beef stock, or water (optional)

Meatballs

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground turkey thigh or ground pork

Between a 1/2 and a full cup of bread crumbs

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley and/or basil (if you’ve got it)

A teaspoon of grated nutmeg (again, optional)

3 or 4 tablespoons of milk or cream to bind it all together

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each (the cheese adds a fair amount of saltiness, so just a bit)

Cooked spaghetti or a similar pasta

This is a meal I make all the time and one where I never have to look up any of the ingredients or steps in the process, so why is it worthy of a recipe? And what if it’s something so common that it’s just another thing “everybody” makes? Who needs a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or for a hamburger? And since I can look up pretty much any recipe for anything nowadays, why write any of this down? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t already a zillion spaghetti and meatball recipes on the internets. What’s the point of any of this?

Didn’t mean for this to turn dark like that. Anyway…

When my wife wants a comforting and homey dinner, this is it. I make this at least once every two weeks, sometimes more often than that. This recipe with a salad and maybe some garlic toast or whatever can serve four people, though this is what I make for me and Annette, and the leftovers are good for lunch for a couple of days. This is one of those things where you can do from start to finish in about an hour and it’ll be good, but it’ll be better if you let the sauce cook on the back of the stove for closer to two hours. Obviously, there are a million variations.

Instructions:

  • Start the sauce. Put a large sauce pan on a not yet lit stove burner. Add two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Turn the burner on to medium, and give it a stir once in a while for three to five minutes. The idea here is to infuse a little garlic-flavor into the oil and what will be the sauce, but without really browning the garlic.
  • When the garlic starts to just barely simmer, add the tomatoes. Purists might say you should only use whole tomatoes canned in Italy or whatever. I do tend to buy not the cheapest canned tomatoes, but I don’t usually have the time or interest to hand crush them. So I tend to use one “big can” of crushed tomatoes, and one “small can” of diced tomatoes. Sometimes I want more sauce and I’ll use two “big cans” of tomatoes.
  • Add the Italian seasoning, nutmeg, and a touch of salt and pepper and bring it up to a simmer. It won’t taste right until it simmers at least 20 or so minutes while you make the meatballs, but do taste it as you go. I also suggest going easy on the salt at the beginning because once it simmers and cooks down for a while and once you get the meatballs and cheese and stuff involved, it’ll get more salty. Simmer that sauce for a minimum of about 45 minutes, and for pretty much as long as you want. You’ll simmer it some more after you add the meatballs.
  • While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Dump the ground meats into a large bowl. I always use at least half ground lean beef, and then half of either ground turkey thigh or ground pork. Either way, I do think the different meats do add a flavor you don’t get with just one variety– the same is true with meatloaf. Add the Italian seasoning, a bit of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese, and (if you’re using) fresh chopped parsley and/or basil and grated nutmeg. Then start with about a half cup of breadcrumbs– and either use some you’ve made yourself from leftover bread (and of course you should make your own breadcrumbs with your leftover bread simply by cutting it up in chunks, toasting it a bit, and then running it through the food processor), or just some normal/plain supermarket breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t use panko here–save that for the fried foods. And finally, start with about a quarter cup of milk or cream and mix in more if necessary.
  • With your previously washed and sparkly clean hands (and if you haven’t washed your hands yet in this process, what’s wrong with you?), roll up those sleeves and get mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. If the mixture is too sticky, add some more breadcrumbs– but be careful because no one likes meatballs (or meatloaf or crab cakes either) that have too much breading. I make them a little bigger than a golf ball, and I usually get 13 or 15 meatballs out of this mix. You can make them bigger or smaller of course, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • You could pan-fry them, but I cook my meatballs in the oven because it’s a lot less mess. Put the meatballs on a sheet pan and broil them so they get a little browned on each side– about 3 minutes a side (I flip them over halfway through)– or until they feel like they’re starting to cook through. They don’t have to be done because they will cook in the sauce for a while. If you want, you can deglaze the sheet pan with a little red wine or beef stock and add that to the sauce.
  • Put the meatballs into the sauce and turn it down so it is barely or not quite a simmer. The meatballs should be cooked through in about the amount of time it takes to heat up a big pot of water and to cook the pasta, but I like to let the meatballs slow simmer in the sauce for 30 or 40 minutes.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions. I of course like spaghetti with my meatballs, but any pasta will do. Put the pasta into bowls, top the pasta with sauce and the desired number of meatballs (usually 3 or 4), and grate on lots and lots of good parmesan cheese.

 

 

Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably black or French green ones)
  • One medium-ish carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning (or about 2 tsps dried thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings and with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a French bistro, and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is a good book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for around 15 minutes, not until they’re finished but just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that. I like to use black lentils for this because they keep that cool black color after they cook, but French green lentils are easier to find.
  • If you want, rinse your lentils. Now, this is probably a completely unnecessary step and I’ve never seen it described in any other lentil recipe, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. So give it a try if you want and see if it makes a difference, or just skip it. To rinse the lentils: after they’ve cooked have cooked about 15 minutes, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just try a combination of about 2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 to 30 minutes, though you can turn the heat down to warm and keep it on the stove after it’s done for an hour or more while you get everything else ready.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: how you want to cook it is up to you. If you like the skin crispy and don’t mind a bit of smoke and clean-up hassle: put a bit of salt and pepper on top, and heat up a non-stick pan with just a bit of oil in it. Put the salmon in skin-down, allowing the skin to crisp up and render some of the fat. This will make a fair amount of smoke and sputtering, so open a window and if you’ve got a splatter screen for your pan, have it handy. After they’re crispy, flip over the filets to brown a bit. Turn down the heat to let it finish to your liking– or if you like your salmon on the rare-side, take the pan off the heat and let it finish in the cooling pan.I don’t do this often because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because (like I said) it’s kind of a mess. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put it under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

The beginning of my basement gardening experiment

 

First of all, no, it is not weed. Though it’s now legal in Michigan to do so, I have no interest in growing marijuana. And besides, if I was actually interested in growing marijuana, do you think I’d be posting about it online? C’mon now….

No, this is my effort at a DIY indoor LED garden for herbs and such. Here’s the deal:

I usually buy a rosemary bush/tree in the spring because it’ll live just fine all the way into fall and with not a lot of care. The problem/challenge is it’s too cold in southeast Michigan for rosemary to live through the winter. In the past, I’ve tried covering it up under one of those styrofoam insulators that are for roses and I put a potted version in the garage a couple years ago. Neither approach worked. When it started getting too cold this year (and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before), I put my potted rosemary in the basement and didn’t think about it much. It got at least a little sunlight through a tiny window for some of the day, and I managed to remember to water it once in a while too. It wasn’t exactly “thriving,” but it wasn’t dying either.

A couple months ago, I stumbled across an article about the growing (no pun intended) business of indoor farming thanks in part to advances in LED lighting, and that got me to thinking about helping out my little rosemary bush and beyond. I took a look on amazon both to find out how much these lights cost and also to find any sort of book/advice on indoor gardening. The price for the lights are all over the map, and I didn’t find any useful books. So, deciding to just wing it and I bought a couple of 50 watt LED grow bulbs. I stuck one bulb in an old clamp-on utility light shade-thing-a-ma-bob, clamped it on to something, and turned it on once in a while for my rosemary. Lo and behold, it started growing and bending toward that light.

So I decided over winter break to go a little more “all-in,” and that’s what’s in my Instagram photos. Besides that rosemary bush, I am trying to keep alive the Norfolk Pine we got as a stand-in for a Christmas tree– another plant that I’ve had a hard time keeping alive after the holidays in the past. I bought a storage tub, the kind of thing designed for clothes and to be kept under the bed, and filled that up with just normal potting soil. In that trough of dirt I’ve planted seeds for butter lettuce, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I’m kind of pessimistic about the seedlings, frankly. But what I think probably will work is to grow some herbs this summer in pots and then take them down to the basement in the winter, things like thyme and chives and tarragon and what-not.

On Baking Bread

Bread Baking (Fall 2017)

I baked bread again last weekend. That’s not all that unusual; I don’t think I’ve bought bread since March or April. It kind of came up on Instagram and Facebook because my long time friend and colleague (and fellow baker/cook-type) Bill Hart-Davidson commented that I should post some pictures. So I did. More than necessary. And now here I am writing about baking bread, also more than necessary.

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On Homemade Pizza

Pizza is interesting in that you have connoisseurs who fetishize all aspects of this relatively simple food, and you also have people whose concept of pizza is limited to Dominos or Little Caesars. If you are a connoisseur, chances some of what I’m talking about here has some elements of sacrilege and I apologize in advance for that transgression.  I work with what I’ve got– at least until I can embark on that fantasized backyard pizza oven project.

On the other hand, if you are someone who makes a decision regarding a pizza order based on whether or not the crust is double-stuffed and/or if you get an order of chicken wings with it, there is nothing for you to read here. Move along.

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Dear Ticketmaster et al

Dear Ticketmaster, Tony Bennett, and Deathcab for Cutie;

I’m writing about a concert my wife Annette and I attended on August 24 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, a show that was supposed to have featured the band Deathcab for Cutie as the opening act for Tony Bennett.  Why didn’t DfC appear, and don’t you think you owe me at least an explanation, if not some of my money?

Don’t get me wrong:  Tony Bennett was great, as I’ll get to in a moment, but one of the the delicious appeals of this show was that pairing of an indy band that’s made it big with the man who is perhaps the last of the great “old standards” singers, unless you count Harry Conick Jr. and Michael Buble and so on, and I do not count these people.  Imagine the possibility of Tony coming out to sing duet on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” or Deathcab backing Tony on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”  And imagine the crowd!  Finally a show that teens and hipsters might be able to attend with their grandparents!

Alas, that was not to be, and I guess we started to see the signs of what was wrong by lack– a lack of reference anywhere to Deathcab, a lack of merch (and you would think that Tony Bennett would at least be selling some CDs if not t-shirts), and a complete lack of anyone who looks like they had heard of the would-be opener.  Somehow, we were the last people who didn’t get the news that the bill had changed– or maybe it was never actually meant to be that way, and it was some sort of odd snafu in the Ticketmaster systems.

In any event, the show started oddly on time and early with Antonia “so-so singer who happens to be Tony’s daughter” Bennett followed immediately– and I mean “immediately,” as in the same band playing and no break between sets whatsoever– Tony was on the stage, giving his daughter a kiss on the cheek, and getting a standing O just for appearing. Which was great, don’t get me wrong, but again, where were Deathcab for Cutie?

Bennett immediately launched into song after song after song, told a few stories he had obviously told many times before (how Bob Hope was the one who came up with “Tony Bennett,” for example), did a little dancing hear and there, and continually and masterfully worked the crowd over like a warm handful of play-dough.  At one point, Annette said to me “there’s no way he’s 85,” and I looked it up again on my phone on Wikipedia, and damn it anyway, he really is 85.  Eighty-five freakin’ years old and still doing somewhere around 200 shows a year and bringing down the house with a version of “Fly Me to the Moon” he sang in the enormous Fox with no microphone to show off both the acoustics and his voice.

Again, it was a great night all-around.  Annette and I had a lovely dinner at the meat-intense Roast restaurant, had no problems walking around the mostly empty mid-week/early-evening downtown Detroit streets, and hey, how many more chances are we likely to have to see Deathcab for Cutie coming somewhere near a college town like Ann Arbor versus Tony “did I mention he’s 85?” Bennett.  So, okay, I don’t need any money back.

But still, what happened to the opener?  If you could just give us an answer to that, I’d appreciate it.  Thanks,

–Steve

 

Whole Foods is just another grocery store– shocking!

Gawker has published a couple of stories about disgruntled and generally former Whole Foods employees, here and here.  The short version is some of these folks are not happy about Whole Foods behavior toward its employees, the environment, recycling, and so forth, how it’s bad to eat the prepared foods, about how WF fights unions, etc., etc.

Continue reading “Whole Foods is just another grocery store– shocking!”

#cccc11 recap

This is kind of scattered because I started it over a cup of coffee Monday morning and finished it Wednesday morning before meeting meeting meeting/grading grading grading.  I’m super DUPER busy with wrapping up the winter term.  The last day of classes was yesterday, and I’ve got at least four stacks of things I need to/want to assign grades to by the end of the day a week ago.  I know.

But before I get to more detail than you want to know, I thought I’d make four general comments:

  • Partly in response to Derek and Alex and Kyle and I am sure others:  I’m not particularly grumpy about the quality (or not) of the panels or anything else at this year’s conference.  Yeah, the hotel was too expensive, but that’s why I didn’t stay at the conference hotel.  Yeah, there was no decent wifi and I think that should indeed be addressed, but most major conference hotels have the same problem and I always plan ahead and assume I won’t have decent wifi anyway.  Yeah, I kept running into the same people, but I kind of like that and I always have the odd experience of running into the same people at a particular year of the CCCC and not others– for example, last year I ran into Brian McNely everywhere, but this year, I didn’t see him once.  Etc., etc. I think I preferred the Louisville location to Atlanta for a variety of reasons (though I had a lot of fun in Georgia), but Atlanta was a lot more reasonably priced than New York or San Francisco.  And I don’t want to be too critical because….
  • … I don’t want to get involved.  While I do have some complaints about how the CCCC and the NCTE do business in all sorts of ways (its conferences and a lack of willingness to offer alternative formatted presentations like poster sessions, its publications and its confusion about the paperless publishing world, its view of what an organization is and how it ought to fund itself, its dumb as a bag of rocks view of anything resembling the internets, etc., etc.), I feel like I more or less give up my right to complain too loudly when I am unwilling to do anything about it by getting involved in the organizations’ governance.  I’m not willing to run for the Executive Committee of the CCCC or anything else involving the NCTE.  I thought about it at one point, but it just isn’t the sort of administrative/service work that interests me– at least not now.  So if I’m not willing to pitch and and “make a difference,” so to speak, then I can’t complain too much about the people who are willing to do that.
  • I don’t know if the conference has changed that much or not, but I know I’ve changed.  The first CCCC I went to was (I think?) in 1995, and I attended and presented at the conference pretty consistently through about 2005 or so.  When I was a graduate student and first starting my career down the tenure-track, listening to what people had to say at the CCCC was part of my education and presenting at the conference was real scholarship.  But this year wasn’t my first rodeo, and I’m all tenured/promoted -out.  I still learn some things from panels; but mostly, it’s variations on things I’ve heard before, simply by virtue of the fact that I’ve been around long enough to have heard a lot of stuff before.  I still propose to the CCCC so I can get on the program (and thus some funding for the trip), but I need another CCCC presentation on my CV like another hole in the head.  So sure, the conference isn’t as “new” and as “exciting” as it once was; but neither am I.
  • Having said that, I do think there’s more that the CCCC could do to reorganize itself (more like– dare I say it?– MLA by having subject areas organize panels instead of assuming that we’re all there to talk about freshman comp in some variety; have a wider variety of presentation-types; have published proceedings; etc.); and, in an era in which I can communicate with like-minded scholars all over the world via email and the blogosphere and I can publish a media-rich version of my presentation for free, I think the fundamental purpose of the “academic conference” has to be questioned.  Why do we spend the time and resources to do this anymore?  The answer to me is not panels; it’s being in meet/meat -space with other scholars in the field.

The biggest thing I get out of the CCCC at this point is the incidental contact.  So, along with the actual and direct activities, here’s more or less the order of things as I remember it:

Continue reading “#cccc11 recap”