What’s the definition of insanity? doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. I used to bake bread a lot, but haven’t so much lately. My wife bought me the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (hint hint?) for Christmas, so I’d had bread baking in the back of my mind. A few days ago while visiting her home-town, her high school best friend’s father offered us some starter. It turns out he’s an avid baker and had a delicious, freshly-baked sourdough boule on the counter. Since a well-maintained starter is use it or lose it, he happily loaned me a batch.
Here’s the thing: sourdough doesn’t like me. I don’t know how much it really likes anyone, but It seems to have a special loathing just for me. I didn’t used to have this problem, but the last couple of times I’ve tried making starter from scratch, they’ve fizzled. They start out strong–precocious even. They double or triple in bulk, and on the next refresh, dissolve into nothing. Maybe it was the wrong time of year or temperature–the last two years, I’ve started my starters in the spring time when pollen is high. Also, since we got our cats, we haven’t had much luck either. I have theories, but the bottom line is, for the last couple of years, every recipe I’ve tried, following directions to the letter, has failed.
A lot of that, I think, is just the nature of sourdough. If baking is a science, then bread-making is microbiology. The arms race of yeast, lactobacilli, and enzymes isn’t something you can gauge with everyday kitchen tools. Try as you may, there’s only so much within the home baker’s control.
I’m a pretty easy-going person, but cooking brings out all of my type A. I cook savory. I bake. I barbecue. I’ve dabbled in curing meat. I’ve cooked for a hundred plus a handful of times. Nothing pisses me off more than having to acknowledge I want to cook something but it’s just not within my ability.
And that’s how baking is like a New Year’s resolution. They’re both about exercising control. Or at least trying.
A few friends tell me it’ll be a crowded couple of months at their local gyms. These friends have been working out for years. They’ve built it into their lifestyles. A lot of folks make their way to the gym on January first or second with a sigh and a grumble. Losing weight or getting into shape isn’t something they want to do. It’s something they “should” do.
I made, I think, three resolutions last year. I achieved none of them. You see, I also work a full-time job, a part-time job several weekend days a month, and am a parent. I’m not trying to make excuses for why I didn’t achieve my resolutions. In fact, I’m pleased I made as much progress on them as I did. The problem is, with as much time as I spent last year checking off “should do” boxes everyday, I regret time I didn’t spend doing other things.
I didn’t do a lot of creative cooking and recipe crafting. Truth be told, we ate out a lot.
I could have spent a lot more time enjoying the presence of my wife and daughter.
I could have been more mindful and present in the moment. That one thing more than any other seems to help everything else click into place, though it’s often the first to be sacrificed.
The New Year is a time we tell ourselves a lot of things we should be doing. Frankly, I think that happens when we lack confidence in our own ability to juggle priorities and just do what we need to do, when we need to do it. I know that’s the way it is for me. My gym-going friends are going to be working out to dual-screen CNN and Fox long-after the rush fades away in a couple of months, maybe because their desire to stay in shape comes from a place of conviction rather than insecurity. There’s a great saying you hear a lot around folks in recovery: “wherever I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” We all have a lot on our plates. We all have a ton of things that aren’t even within our control.
And that’s why I would offer we talk less about New Year’s resolutions and more about New Year’s serenity.
Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? The sourdough turned out awesome! I started the process accepting it would probably bomb. Then I remembered one of the essential skills in making sourdough: patience. The starter doubled in a generous 12 hours, so I figured it was a go. I used this recipe for Chad Robertson’s Tartine bread. The gluten seemed a shade underdeveloped and it took a lot longer than the recipe suggested for the dough to rise, probably on account of our home’s temperature. That being said, the taste was astonishing. It reminded me of my favorite local artisan bakery’s bread–a nutty and sweet attack with a tangy, but not-too-sharp finish. Here was my New Year’s breakfast this morning:
Yes, that’s Nutella on top–I tried it on a whim. Try it, you must too! For me, it was more evidence that the unplanned things in life can also be some of the best.