Sunday, November 26, 2006

P's backyard olive bread

This is a picture of happiness in my life. A few simple ingredients, worked by hand, involving only starter, flour, water, oil, olives and salt. (Or to look at it another way, only flour, water, olives and salt if you consider their sources and ignore the microscopic stuff that seems to come from the "ether" to inhabit our starter - but more on them later)

I think I have gone over some sort of hurdle when it comes to making bread. The tedium of kneading has changed, it is a joy to fold and squish away, nurturing a live mass with tough love until it becomes food. Don't get me wrong, when the monkey is at my leg, not able to give me 10 minutes alone with my dough, and I'm trying to finish it up quickly, it's not really fun or relaxing. That said, the process is now a sort of meditation (of course, that is if I enter the task aware and intentioned, and with cooperation from the three foot tall forces at hand).

It is a delight to gather ingredients, and contemplate where they came from and how they lived. I like to think about the olives growing on a sunny slope, within view of the majestic lady Pele in her Shasta form. How some of these were pressed for their oil while others relaxed in a brine, maybe with some herbs, after being tended by folks who care about them deeply. I like to think of the high plains that the wheat was grown on. Probably a hard winter kernal that makes this such a fine bread flour. Hard beacause you need to be tough in winter, to deal with taking more time to grow while the elements try to keep you down. I like to think of the salt evaporated from the sea, and the water that came down from the Sierras (actually bringing that salt into the ocean, as has happenned since the first days that water ran over rocks). I contemplate how a mixture of mold strains, constituting what some call "bloom" on the surface of grapes, can be used to create a live symbiotic mass, a balance of saccharromyces and lactobacillus in a wet flour medium, that tended just right and used often enables my family to enjoy a satiny-dough that is fluffy (thank you mold world) and tasty (love them bacteria).

Why backyard? Or even more suspiciously and specifically P? Well, I have mentioned in a past posting of a sourdough starter derived from grapes, grapes from a certain brother-in-law's golden ratio'd grape arbor. That is the same starter used here. It has acclimated well to its life in and out of my fridge. It has a spot on the second shelf, usually in a container labeled "P's Starter - Do Not Open!" (The uninitiated may well throw it out, for their good intentions of ridding the icebox of the stuff that may be a bit fragrant, and shall we say not too appetizing to look at.) After creating the dough from our elements seen above, and setting aside in an oiled bowl for a few hours, we have a notion of how alive and gaseous the creature is.

This represents the dough at maybe 80% of capacity, as this picture was taken during an interim, don't over-rise period.

After three rises the dough was put into an oiled ten-inch round cake pan. When it formed a nice dome above the rim of the pan I gave it a four slashes like slanted spokes, only reaching half way to the center of the sphere. This seemed to give the center a nice loft when baked at 425 for about 18 minutes, and then removed from the pan and left in the oven, now turned off, for another 10 minutes. Baking bread takes some paying attention and a little time, but the satisfaction granted to my mouth as I splurge on slice after slice is splendid.

Even the next morning, after half being consumed, it was springy and soft (okay it spent the night in a plastic bag).

After eating so much of the bread plain, or with generous portions of butter, it was time to mix it up a little and try it with something else. What better than to go back to the fruit source of the bread. I believe the folks over at Olio Olinda will agree that this is definately a nice way to enjoy bread, fresh or leftover, and a nice way to contemplate what we eat. From thoughts about the dependance upon the sun for our sustenance, and the water coursing down the rivers to nourish the olives and wheat, all the way to "should I really have had that 17th piece?"

May the dough (and a high-quality source of olive products) be with you.......

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