A few quick thoughts to start us off this week. Looking forward to hearing other folks' takes!
I guess what struck me the most this week was how much Pollan really seemed to love learning to bake bread. Even this chapter was longer! I'm not a baker myself (unless the bread machine counts—and I'm guessing Pollan would say no, way, José), but what seemed to give him the most satisfaction was learning to make something from practically nothing—and that's definitely something I can relate to as an amateur gardener. On page 234, he writes:
"The sense of accomplishment surprised me. I hadn't done much, after all, except mix together some flour, water, and a little sourdough starter, and then babied it for several hours. And yet—here was this substantial thing that hadn't existed before, this fragrant risen form. I might as well have pulled a rabbit out of a hat ..."
And then on page 248:
"Part of it is aesthetic—the satisfaction of making something, something beautiful that didn't exist before. A good-looking loaf of bread declares itself as an artifact, an original, man-made, freestanding object, something that cannot be said of too many other foods."
Besides gardening, it's the same way I feel about craft projects: Hey, I made that! It also appeals to my cheapskate side: Hey, I made that! For cheap! To me, that's one of the utmost satisfying feelings—which basically convinced me that it's time for me to try starting a sourdough starter. What about you guys? Are you bakers? Any sourdough tips? Are you like me and thinking of launching a first attempt?
And for next week: What do you say we read Part 4/Earth, ferment sections 1 and 2 (so pages 291 through 372)? That'll basically leave us with one more week left.
I'll preface this by saying I got the book a week or so ago and cracked it open for the first time over the weekend, so I read the intro and then skipped over Fire and Water so that I could finish Air before this discussion.
I agree Pollan seems pretty happy about the process of baking bread, and I love that he was all up in internet bread baking boards and their lingo. That's adorable.
My first take home message was
'great, now I'll have to stop buying bread and start making my own',
my second was
'good thing I've got that dry Vitamix container to grind my own wheat berries'.
There are times when reading Michael Pollan makes me feel bad for the choices that I have made, and times when reading him makes me feel good for choices that I have made, you know? Last year I bought a bag of Ultragrain flour thinking it was healthier than unbleached all purpose, and now I read that it's metabolized almost as fast, so what's the point of all the extra expense?
A year or so ago, I read another book about an author's search for the perfect loaf, can't think of it right now, but the author was in France (I believe in a monastery?) getting a starter at one point, and the loaf description reminded me of Pollan's description of Chad Robertson's loaves. It's fun to read someone waxing lyrical about bread.
I don't bake bread often, though I make pizza dough every week, but I will bake more after reading about all the crap in the bread I'm buying. However, I AM using my bread machine to bake this summer--I'll still control what goes into it, and my kitchen (and therefore the heat rising upstairs to the bedrooms) will stay cooler.
I'm intrigued with sour dough starter--and reminded that my son bought a packet of dried sour dough starter for me last Christmas which I carefully put . . . somewhere. I'll need to dig it out and get it going when we come back from our vacation.
In the meantime, I've got lots of whey left over from last week's cheese making and I've made an overnight soaked oatcake with it--so that will be my first tentative foray into soaking as a result of reading this section. Not sure if I should read Fire and Water before reading Earth, or just continue on with Earth and read the others afterwards.
If you want to try some baking but not go to full on starter, have you considered the Bread in 5 minutes a day method? It's easy to learn and results in a tasty loaf--good to learn shaping techniques and get used to the idea of baking.
Reading Earth sections 1 and 2 works for me for next week.
Here we go. I have to say that bread making is not a priority to me or my family. As a matter of fact we made bread for the first time about a month ago and it was great for a Sunday night to fill the house with the wafting smell of bread cooking, but it took three hours to get to that smell. Slow cooking it is. I have never done sour dough but I do remember my mom doing a friendship bread which i think was starter that was passed around.
My sons are lactose intolerant, as many of our friends are gluten intolerant, we found that if my sons drink raw milk straight from the cow they had no issues. I think page 229 hints to using Sourdough fermentation to combat celiac disease and allowing the dough to ferment longer. Go figure The government with "the quiet miracle" pg 260 thinks it can exercise its "desire to control rather than to dance or surf" pg 230.
Loved the quote from Milton's Paradise Lost in the footnote on page 250. Longest poem I have ever read.
We have a phrase at the farm "longing for what has been lost" I think bread from Air is wonderfully said. Something from nothing sure sounds like Genesis 1. God Spoke and it was so....
Well said Michael.
Consumerism rules in the food industry and the consumers are the guinea pigs.
I completely missed last week and am no where near caught up yet but am enjoying reading everyone's comments. I have dried sourdough starter if anyone is interested (it mails really well)... beyond that, I bake bread a few times a week but I must confess to what I'm sure Michael Pollen would consider cheating. http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ made it so easy for me to abandon my starter and I truly think the results are better. I wonder if reading this chapter will make me change my mind?
I really took my time responding this time! Anyways, glad there was still time.
Kristin, I totally agree with you about how Pollan's books can make you feel good one moment and bad the next. I guess that's good then, that he affirms and also challenges.
I have been baking sourdough for the last five or six years and love it. I also bake conventional yeast breads but always come back to my sourdough starter (actually, I'm on my third, having let two previous ones die). I find it a great challenge and like the fact that every loaf is a little different, some are better than others, but all get eaten!
Ultimately I didn't write too many things down from this chapter, I found most of it to be rather familiar to me because I've been reading bread cookbooks like crazy for the last several years (in my opinion Peter Reinhart's are the most useful, start with the Bread Bakers Apprentice or Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads which are included in the recommended books at the end of Cooked).
I'm excited to talk about the last section of the book because I've really been getting into fermentation in the last six months ever since I received a beer making kit for my bday.... Just today I bottled a naturally fermented ginger beer and a kombucha, they'll be fizzy in a few days I hope!
Sadly, I'll be out of town most of next week so once again I'll probably be late in responding.