For the first time in a long time, the writing bug has caught me in a cocktail bar. Not a bierhaus (though I certainly have my favorites in this town), or just a neighborhood bar (plenty of those too.)
Tonight, as I write this, I am bellied-up to the downtown, underground bar of Pepe le Moko. In my bag is a brand-new horror manga, and I am a fine cocktail down (a “Mexican Firing Squad” for the record) and now nursing a small measure of bourbon.
Because this has been a week, I can afford it every now and then, and I have earned it, damn it.
If you want to build good habits, or just remind yourself that life isn’t necessarily an endless hamster-wheel till you die, rewarding yourself for good work is critical.
So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?
Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.
“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches? “Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it? “Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”
So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!
You may have noticed, but reality can suck. Quite often, really.
It feels like the world wants something from you every moment. Things go wrong, or they go right in the wrong way, and sometimes you don’t even know what the hell the point of everything IS.
I read somewhere that humans are the only intelligent creatures for whom our own existence poses a problem. Other creatures live in the moment, learning as the go, with the sole aim of “survive another day.” For us, at the pinnacle of the food chain as we are, existential threats to our lives aren’t nearly so frequent. We still have all those frustrating survival mechanisms- transformed into stress, anxiety, depression and all that- but mostly we have the time and leisure to say “Why am I here?”
Reality can be heavy… and fortunately, our intelligence has given us a whole bunch of ways to lighten the load, even for a moment. We came up with movies, video games, all sorts of activities- but it all started with stories.
In America, then, the externship is the first time many students will enter the culinary world. It’s a part of the curriculum, and a requirement for graduation- “You paid for four years of us harrowing and lecturing you- time to show you’re worth a damn.”
After last weeks post about the basic science of bread, I figured it might be a good idea to keep going on this rudimentary road trip through the land of yeasted loaves and carbs. For this post, and most of the posts coming up, I pulled out one of my old culinary school textbooks as a reference, and the memories came flooding back.
A few years back, Emily and I were checking out a candle shop in Collingswood, NJ. The place (predicatably) smelled almost overpowering. Besides candles there was a lot of incense, Wicca, natural- healing, and- what I have been told is an accepted term- “woo-woo stuff.”
The proprietress was behind the counter, and she asked what we did as she rang up our purchases. I told her I was a baker, and the following exchange happened:
“Oh good! I’ve always wanted to ask a baker this! Okay, so what’s the difference between wheat, yeast, and gluten? Like I’m trying to go gluten free because it’ll help my chakras align, but I’m also vegan and I REALLY like nutritional yeast, so like, is there gluten free yeast? Isn’t yeast alive, so isn’t it actually not vegan? And I was also wondering bzzzzzzzzzzz…..”
To avoid anyone from having to deal with this shenanigans again, and to answer a couple questions that have been pitched to me by other non-baking pros, here’s a Crash Course on Bread.