Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Our Daily Bread

I have tried many times to bake bread -- not just to bake bread, but to become a bread baker, which strikes me as something entirely different: anyone can make a loaf now and then, but it takes a certain discipline to make bread regularly, as part of a daily practice of life.

Discipline, practice -- the words sound rigid, don't they, but I don't mean them to. On the contrary, I imagine bread bakers are akin to people who do yoga or people who medidate; the activity becomes so much of their routines, their measured movements, their breathing, that it's not an imposition of willpower but just a natural part of their days. Wake up, do your sun salutes and mindful breathing, and then knead the dough. Exhale as you push into the glutinous mass with the heel of your fist, your fingers strong but still loose, your arms engaged but not stiff, and inhale as you pull the dough back gently with your fingertips, caressing it into a a ball again. Exhale, push your hands down, inhale, pull your fingers back. Exhale, inhale. Exhale, inhale. The dough sits; it rises. You go about your day, knowing it's there, alive, on your counter, under the floured cloth, breathing, inhaling and exhaling, growing. You plan your day around it, the way you might a visitor, making calculations about when to go to the store or go for a run according to what the dough will need to be doing at that moment (resting, rising, baking). You weave it in. You submit yourself to its rhythm.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cooking from Future Memories

So much of what I cook is the product of taste memories: things I've eaten on my travels, in restaurants, at home, at friends', etc. But there are a few moments in my life when I've become enamoured with -- even obsessed with -- certain dishes and cuisines that I've only ever experienced in my imagination. I'm never sure what, exactly, prompts these fascinations. Perhaps they are purely aspirational, an acting out of what I want to do, where I want to go; perhaps they are some sort of exotic fantasy, a projection into a culture or a place that I experience in an entirely bastardized form because it exists at such a distance to my daily experience.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bounty

I stock my kitchen the way survivalists in Montana stock their bunkers, except instead of industrial-sized cans of pork and beans or hundreds of pounds of dry milk powder I store lentils, dried chilies, olives, saffron, preserved lemons, Thai chili jam, a variety of olive oils and soy sauces, sea salts, esoteric grains, and enough frozen meat, fish, and poultry to last until doomsday. I am not proud of this -- this excess -- because it smacks of greediness, of a fear of deprivation, but I understand where that fear comes from: if you are told, from the time you can first understand what people were saying, that you eat too much, you learn to look at food as the thing  you shouldn't want. And when your plate is taken away even when you want more, you learn to look at food, forever, as the thing that can be taken away. So you learn to equate "plenty" with "plenitude": quantity becomes peacefuness -- if you were really loved, your childish brain tells you, no one would make you feel bad about wanting to put another bite in your mouth. You wouldn't hate yourself for it, either. All that shame at one's own hunger, instilled in you from your youngest days, is now assuaged by the fullness of your cupboards --  now you are a grown up and you can revert to that childish equation of food and love, and start loving yourself one can of imported tuna packed in olive oil at a time.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whetstones

I was thinking about a person -- someone real, but who I know mostly in my imagination, poor dear -- who goes through girlfriends like... Well, that was what I was thinking about: like what? Like a dull knife through a loaf of bread, perhaps. Tearing, indiscriminate, leaving a ragged scar instead of a clean cut. He isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to relationships. We use the phrase as if the worst part of dullness was simply an innocent stupidity. But dull knives aren't so innocent: they hack at meat, they squash tomatoes, they hurt their wielders.