March 31, 2005

Flaxseeds

I always wondered if this was a weird little fetish of my own, but now I know that I am not alone, based on your comments.  Such happy reactions to a simple picture of flaxseeds, they gladden my little heart.

I guess it's obvious.  I love flax.  As our beautiful nakedjen mentioned, flaxseeds are a terrific source of essential fatty acids, and are really good for you, but there a lot of foods that are good for you, and that taste terrific, but do not inspire the kind of happiness in me that flax does.  One of my favorite things to do with flax is to make the Date and Peanut Nuggets from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe, in which you combine chopped peanuts, peanut butter, chopped Medjool dates, ground flaxseeds and some optional (but still useful) flaxseed oil.  Mix it all together with your hands -- moosh, moosh, moosh -- roll it into little balls, and keep them around for snacks when you feel a little peckish but don't want to eat, say, an entire cinnamon bun.  (By the way, dear nmiguy, flaxseed oil is sold in health food stores and is pretty much clearly labeled "100% flax oil.  Store this in the freezer or else it will turn rancid in, like, seven seconds."  I think I know the baseball player of which you speak; if he thought his steroid cocktail was flaxseed oil, he is either thick, naive or putting way too much trust in his handlers.  Either way, he should know better than that.)

It will probably be no surprise that my favorite place for flaxseed is bread, although all of the literature I've read on flax urges us to eat them raw and ground (unground flaxseeds are indigestible, and heat destroys those prized essential fatty acids).  In bread, the whole point of the flaxseed is taste and texture, and it has plenty of both.  At Bread Camp (see Sourdough breadhead, above), we made seeded loaves studded with flax.  To soften that hard seed wall, and to keep the seeds from shredding the dough, we made soakers out of the flaxseeds, covering them with water and letting them sit overnight before adding them to the dough.  Dear friends, if you want to run your fingers through the dry flaxseeds in the picture above, you will definitely want to run your fingers through a flax soaker.  At Bread Camp we were encouraged to touch everything, to feel the dough so that we could learn the various stages of gluten development by touch, to feel the difference between bread and pastry flours,  and wheat and rye flours.  Chef encouraged us to put our hands in the flaxseed soaker to feel how unctuous and smooth, almost lotion-like, flax becomes when it is hydrated.  To this day, I still wonder why the various day spas in New York have not latched onto flax treatment.  You can get manicures and pedicures and facials made with everything from grapes to chocolate.  It makes perfect sense to me that if you put your hands in a bowl of flax soaker for half an hour, you will emerge in a more relaxed, overall better mood.

Not only do I love flax, but flax loves me back.  I know this because that day at Bread Camp, no matter how carefully I rinsed my hands off, I managed to get flaxseeds all over myself.  We all had a bit sticking to our chef's jackets and aprons, but only I managed to scatter them all over myself like freckles:  one between my left thumb and forefinger, one in the crook of my elbow, one over my ear.  It became a running joke in class that day: about once an hour, another flaxseed would manifest itself on my hand or wrist.  Considering that I was dressed in Full Chef Monty (chef's jacket, houndstooth trousers, clodhopper boots, apron, silly little hat that made me look pinheaded but did its job of keeping my hair out of the way), I still don't know how this happened:  I went back to my hotel room that night; I drew a hot bath and filled it with bath salts for the soaking of my tired, sore muscles; I peeled off my uniform, only to find three more rogue flaxseeds, two on my collarbone, one on my ribcage, just under the general breastal area.  I'm sure there's a reason that this happens with flax, but not with anything else, but for now, on this rainy Saturday baking day, I'll just chalk it up to love.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:20 PM in • (1) Comments

Quoting liberally because it says all that I could hope to say but says it so much better:

     “I know that many people agree with the Christensen sisters [that ‘life, in several respects, at any rate, is much like a river’], but it has always seemed to me that life, in several respects at any rate, is more like clam chowder […].

     “Some people’s lives are the kind of chowder made with cream,” I said, “which is quite acceptable, but others are the kind made with tomatoes, which can be superb, especially with a little cayenne.  Each life is like an individual batch of chowder; some have too many potatoes, and others have too much cayenne.  Each has it high points--- “

     “The clams!” suggested Red.

     “Of course,” I said.  “And each has its low points---“

     “The potatoes!” offered Porky.

     “Mmmmm—Not necessarily,” said Red.  “What about the grains of sand that collect at the bottom of the bowl?”

     “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,” admitted Porky.

     “Those may be the dark, gritty bits at the bottom of any life that one would really rather forget,” I suggested.  “Any dark, gritty bits at the bottom of your life, Porky?”

     “Well—“

     Red and I enjoyed a little snickering at Porky’s expense

     “Of course,” I said, pushing my empty glass toward Red, “some lives have no sand at all, because they’re made with canned clams, but they’re a bland bunch.  Now here comes the real secret to a good chowder or a good life—a good broth.  Why?  Because in any life, even the richest, one finds so many moments that are neither high nor low, those times when you scoop up a spoonful of broth without any clams or potatoes or dark gritty bits at all.”

     “Amen,” said Porky.

       Eric Kraft, Little Follies “Life on the Bolotomy” 

Here's the link to the Eric Kraft website, with an interesting comment on eggs v. clams, just to make it pertinent to Bakerina.

And one more digression, just for o. :

     "You know, they’re a lot like women, clams.  The older women are kinda tough and wily, but they have real flavor.  Those in their prime are sort of the standard, the ideal, but since they’re what most people want, the real connoisseur generally wants something else.  Now the younger ones, well, they are tenderer, and there are times when tenderness is all, but after a few you find yourself wanting something that you can chew on.  And the ones that are too young are a guilty pleasure; you know that you shouldn’t even consider them, but every once in a while, when no one’s looking---"      

     Eric Kraft, Little Follies in “Do Clams Bite?”

So.  Is your life… er, chowder, red or is it white?  We need your best-ever clam chowder recipe ASAP to go with Bakerina’s sourdough.  (P.S.  I'll show my bias and state that I believe the best clam chowder is white.  I'll try to post my recipe on Friday morning to prove it.  Meanwhile, stock up on bacon, potatoes, cream or half-and-half and, of course, clams.  Convince me otherwise?)

Posted by 'mouse at 12:56 PM in • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks

Bread love is back, dear friends, in full force.  The starters are growing like weeds and will be the foundation of some truly beautiful tangy sourdough breads this weekend.  I came home from tonight's appointment with my mental health professional -- which is not only de rigueur for New Yorkers, but also required by law -- all set to show off pictures of the starters, to wax rhapsodic about how bread love never lets me go no matter how many times I turn my back on it, and most importantly, to answer the question posed by BF, a/k/a Housse, a/k/a Big Fella of our Dear Witho (dear Witho, I don't visit you as often as I should, but I adore you now as ever I did, and I promise I'll be back with plenty of, uh, useful comments wink, namely, what is sourdough bread?  Once again, I have bitten off more than I can chew, and am thus going to try again tomorrow night.

In the meantime, while I crack my knuckles and break out my thesaurus, here is a fun little time-waster, a few pictures of how I spent my Easter weekend:

Bleecker_st_cinema_rip

Once upon a time, this used to be the Bleecker Street Cinema, home of some of the happiest memories of my teenagerhood.  In 1990 the landlord tripled the rent, and puff, no more Bleecker Street Cinema.  Sure hope it was worth it, guys.

Happy_easter

This is the bell tower at the Orthodox church on Bleecker Street.  I have been told that this is a very Gothlike Easter picture, something that might grace the cover of the 4AD Easter music compilation.  I like the idea of this.  All together now:  "Yesterday I felt so old/I ate my chocolate egg..."

Dante_windows

Most of my favorite places to eat and drink and dream in the Village are gone:  the aforementioned Bleecker Street Cinema, the Schapira Coffee Company (a/k/a Flavor Cup) on West 10th Street, the Peacock Caffe on Greenwich Avenue.  (The loss of the Peacock really breaks my heart, for reasons too long to go into here.)  Happily, the Caffe Dante on MacDougal Street is still here, as it has been since 1915, where sweet young women have been bringing me double espressi and gianduja gelati since my first visit when I was 16, when I took one taste of that gianduja gelato and announced, "it's like frozen Nutella, only it's so much better."  When I first moved to New York when I was 21, I was amazed by two things:  I could now buy beer at the corner store, and I could go to Caffe Dante for gianduja ice cream any time I wanted to.

Sixth_ave_going_south_1

This is Sixth Avenue, facing south from Bleecker Street, yet another picture where I stood in the middle of the crosswalk to get the shot.  Every time I stand on this corner -- indeed, every time I look at this picture -- my mind's eye puts the World Trade Center towers back.  It's still like an open wound that will not heal, looking at that empty space.

Bigelow_neon

I'm such a simple tool:  I'm a fool for neon signs, and I'm a particular fool for Bigelow's, home of the absolute positive coolest toiletries in the city.  If you've ever had a burning desire to buy a tube of Euthymol toothpaste, here's the place where you can find it.

Ghostsigns_on_downing

So I'm a fool for ghost signs and wrought-iron fences, too.  I told you I was a simple tool.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:52 AM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
March 28, 2005

Dear friends, how nice it was this afternoon to see my mood turn on a dime, for the better.  I love a nice rainy day, but even I was worn out by today's rain, a nasty cocktail of steady pounding rain, high winds and a stubborn chill in the air.  At 4 p.m. I was sitting in my cubicle, trying to ignore the smell of wet wool exuding from my coat, when my cell phone rang.  It was the lovely Moira at Who Wants Seconds?, calling to tell me that my goofy little musings on mustard and cheese had won the Comfort Me: A Cookbook Giveaway contest.  Color me stunned; I was up against stiff competition, wonderful essays by glorious writers and creative thinkers, including Julie at A Finger in Every Pie, who took second place, and Dawn at My Life With Garlic, who took third.  Congratulations to Julie and to Dawn, and kudos to everybody who shared their reminiscences in this delightful contest.  And thanks, of course, to Moira, for having the brilliant idea to do this in the first place.  To paraphrase Flannery Culp in The Basic Eight, I've said this so often that it's practically a biorhythm, but I'll say it again:  Go visit Moira, who is not only a soulful and charming writer, but a photographer whose work will take your breath away.

So, Jen, what did you win?  Funny you should ask.  smile  Moira has charmed Murdoch Books into sending me a copy of this beautiful book.  I am so excited that I could pop.

In other news, as if my head weren't swollen enough by the Comfort Me news, I have been so cheered and encouraged by all of your feedback on the Portuguese sweet bread that I'm feeling my long-dormant bread spark begin to catch.  I have a pair of sourdough starters that I cultured at the professional breadbaking classes I took in Vermont in 2002, the classes known affectionately to me as Bread Camp.  There was a time when I was feeding these starters twice a day and baking bread from them every weekend, but for the past year they have been sleeping in the back of the fridge.  I wondered if there was even a point to keeping them anymore.  Now I know.  A dear friend has asked me if I know how to make San Francisco-style sourdough bread.  It turns out that I do, and it requires both a white and a rye sourdough starter.  Yes, dear friends, there will be pictures, and words, and plenty of them.  Stay tuned.

 

Posted by Bakerina at 11:48 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
March 27, 2005

Such a tough act to follow, that Michael fellow.  I'm afraid I can't even touch that inimitable prose, so instead I'll do what I do best, and show off the results of the weekend bake:

Portuguese_sweet_bread

These would be two loaves of Portuguese sweet bread, the recipe for which was given to me by the lovely and talented receptionista.  In the interest of science, I baked the one on the left in an 8"x 2" Wilton cake pan, and the one on the right in an 8" perforated pie tin.  Both of them baked evenly and beautifully, but the one from the cake pan ended up straight-sided, while the one from the pie tin had the gentle curve of, well, a real loaf of bread.  Either way, I had to fight to keep from cutting into them the second they came out of the oven.  The way these breads smell while baking transcends all the best language I have.  These breads smell like love made manifest.  The question that faces me now:  Do I slice into one of these beauties, throw them under the broiler until they are brown and fragrant, dip a knife into the fresh, no-gums-or-preservatives-added cream cheese I bought at Murray's Cheese on Bleecker Street on Saturday and slather that cheese over that hot crunchy surface?  Do I eschew the cheese for a certain jar of apricot jam from a certain friend?  Or do I just skip the jam, skip the cheese, skip the toasting and eat it as is?  It's a conundrum, but I'm not complaining about it.  smile

Posted by Bakerina at 11:43 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (4) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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