So, since sometime around Wednesday morning, after the electricity had been out since Monday night, and after we took a step back to regain our senses, I have been baking bread. A lot of bread, in fact.
This is no small feat for me. I’m not a baker (or dessert maker, or candlestick maker, or any such children’s rhyme, except I just thought “Add that you’re a wicked witch! That would be so funny!” but then thought better of it, so, you’re welcome) I think anyone who loves to cook knows how wonderful the feeling of a elastic ball of yeasted dough is in their hands; when I’m kneading a good batch I feel almost alchemic- the act of creating a living thing from almost nothing is a rush.
Also, having freshly baked bread around the apartment helped to keep our spirits bright since stupid obnoxious Hurricane Sandy. Like I talked about in my last post, ever since that cranky old storm showed up, totally unwelcome on an otherwise plain old Monday night, the Big Man and I, along with the rest of the Great Unwashed of Lower Manhattan, lived in the dark for nearly five days.
Yesterday I struggled to keep things in perspective. I was hungry, cold, and sick and tired of lugging my laptop and chargers in a cramped bus forty blocks uptown just so I could check emails and make phone calls. I know our hardships are few compared to many. Our apartment building hadn’t been flooded and condemned, for example, like so many buildings in the Financial District and along the lower East River. Hell, our home withstood the winds, and didn’t catch fire, or collapse, or get covered in eight feet of sand like so many heartbreaking stories out of Breezy Point, the Rockaways, Coney Island or Long Beach. All we did was lose power, heat and hot water, and that is something for which I am truly grateful.
But I’m not going to lie to you, I’m totally.over sharing power strips in Starbucks with other displaced Downtowners and not having cell signal in my own apartment. Yesterday afternoon, after I tested recipes by candlelight in our dark kitchen, and read my book in the dying light of our bedroom window, I fell asleep sometime around 5:30. I awoke about an hour later in the dark and cold to a blinking voicemail notification- it was the Big Man, on the bus headed uptown to use our friends’ shower, and he had just seen lights on in some buildings in the Lower East Side. ConEd had left a voicemail on his phone, he said, letting him know they might restore power to our area that evening. At this news, I clambered out onto my freezing cold fire escape and began to wait. It didn’t take long. Sometime after seven pm, I watched, almost in disbelief, as one by one the buildings along our street lit up with power. Inside the apartment I heard the TV spring to life, and then the fridge kicked on, and I scrambled inside, running from room to room, flicking switches and plugging in chargers. I flung open the fridge to see its light on, and heard its motor running, and it was the most beautiful (albeit stinky) thing I’ve ever witnessed. I started washing my recipe testing dishes and when the water went hot over my hands I felt like weeping.
We might not be there yet, but we’re getting there.
Beyond all this bread baking and complaining and bus riding, I’ve been tearing through books with gusto. Laurie Colwin has been my bestfriend through these past few days, her book Home Cooking has been dog eared and its spine broken, the pages as stained as any of my favorite cookbooks. I wish I could have met her.
Instead, what I do have is her slightly adapted wheat bread recipe, which has helped us get to the other side of this crazy week. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have yet to see their house come alive again; if you would like to donate to the Red Cross you can do so by clicking the button on the left hand side of the screen.
Beyond a few loaves of this wheat bread I made a batch of our household favorite, Brown Irish Soda Bread. It’s good for what ails you. Click here for the recipe and here for the post I did back in May.
Please donate to Hurricane Relief, and check out these links:
American Red Cross (or click the button on my sidebar)
laurie colwin’s no-fuss wheat bread
slightly adapted from Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking
makes one loaf
1 ½ cups white all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 heaping tablespoon wheat germ
1 heaping tablespoon coarse salt
½ scant teaspoon dry instant yeast
1 ½ cups soy milk (regular milk can be substituted, any percentage)
½ cup filtered tap water
Combine the flours, wheat germ and salt in a large bowl. In a separate, small bowl, mix together the yeast, milk and water with a fork. Add the liquid to the flours and mix. Laurie says, “the dough should not be sticky but should tend towards sticky. If too sticky, add a little more flour”.
Place a large bowl in the oven with just the pilot light or oven light on. This is your rising bowl, and you want it to be a little warm when the dough goes into it.
Dump the dough onto the countertop (you do not need to flour the surface beforehand) and knead for a few minutes, at least ten or so quarter turns. Form the dough into a round, with the seam on the bottom, and place in the rising bowl.
Leave it sit for a couple of hours. I usually forget about it and rush back sometime around four hours later, and it’s never been a problem. Punch the dough down, knead it a bit, and set it back in the bowl in the oven for another couple of hours. Try to leave it a little less longer this time, but if the second rising is longer than the first it’s not a big deal.
When the time comes, punch the dough down again and shape it into whichever loaf shape you prefer. I like to roll it in flour at this stage- Laurie says it gives it a better crust and I definitely agree. Slash it three times across the top on the diagonal, and bake at 450 for 30-40 minutes. After this time, turn the oven down to 425 and bake another 30 minutes. Let the bread cool a bit before tearing into.