75% whole wheat boule with Camembert.

75% whole wheat boule with Camembert.

Few things make me happier than being covered in flour, hand mixing dough. Sometimes it’s for pasta or dumplings or pizza, but lately  my head and heart have been devoted to making bread. So it’s decided. I’m going to be an artisan baker. Someday I may even make it official.

The web has no shortage of talented artisan-bread bloggers and fermentation nerds. And I’m a relative newbie, so I hesitate to go into details for fear of exposing myself as a fraud. But since the beginning of the year I’ve been baking once a week, sometimes twice, and I am gaining confidence. I’ll even go out a on a limb and say that I’m honing some bakerly instincts when it comes to timing and temperature, feel and smell. My wild-yeast starter is healthy and strong. She’s named Shirley.

I’m especially lucky to have willing guinea pigs in my bread experiment so Jeff and I can share the products of my practice. Neighbors take loaves off my hands and give me kind and encouraging feedback. My favorite so far was a note from the niece of my next-door neighbor. She tried my bread at her aunt’s house — a basic loaf of pain de campagne —  and wrote me a note saying how much she enjoyed it. She even detailed why: the dark, hard crust, the beautiful open crumb. (I’m paraphrasing.) The note lives above my desk, a bit of encouragement while I tap away at my day job.

There’s still so much to learn and improve on. My baguettes are misshapen and my scoring technique needs work. But I am determined to be a fermentation nerd myself, and can’t wait for my next bake.

The nicest bit of encouragement.

The nicest bit of encouragement.

Tradition: NYE Celebration

January 1, 2014

Every year since 1999, J and I have rung in the New Year with our annual tradition of caviar, homemade buckwheat blini and bubbles. (This year, we celebrated with a special bottle of bubbles, a gift from Robb and Dana. Wow!) We remember our families and friends, and toast our good fortune. We are truly grateful.

Happy New Year!

Impromptu Oyster Feast

December 28, 2013

Oysters Rockefeller.

Oysters Rockefeller.

One morning last week, James called to ask if we had plans for evening. He said that he and Zandra had received a hefty parcel on their doorstep: a box of fresh Gulf oysters, courtesy of Dorothy and Bob, a reminder of our recent trip to New Orleans together. They had no idea how they were going to eat them all. So that evening, they knocked at the door carrying a huge Styrofoam cooler and a couple of bottles of wine.

An inquiry to our benefactors revealed that the oysters were from Joe Patti’s Seafood Company in Pensacola, Fla. Dorothy had ordered two bags, each containing two dozen. The open cooler revealed a mass of oysters, three dozen (the other dozen J&Z saved for another meal), certainly more than we could eat in one sitting. But, reminding ourselves that this was not our first oyster rodeo, we poured some wine, snacked on a bit of cheese, and got down to shucking.

Shucked and ready.

Shucked and ready.

First order of business: baking a dozen Rockefeller-style with a topping that Zandra had prepared. While those bubbled in the oven with butter, spinach and Parmesan, the other two dozen were pried open and arranged on a platter. (The proper method, we learned from the man with the oyster knife at Bourbon House in New Orleans: “Stick it in and wiggle it.” Good advice for the uninitiated in any number of circumstances. The Hokey-Pokey, for example.)

And the feast began. The Rockefellers were consumed in moments, bright and savory with fresh spinach, a bit of cheese and a hint of anise. Then, on to the raw: a squeeze of lemon, a splash of homemade mignonette, a dab of horseradish cocktail sauce. Top, slurp, repeat. These oysters were so fresh and clean-tasting, we might as well have been seaside.

Before we knew it, the mountain of oysters was a pile of shells.

Tomato sandwich

J + R + T = Love.

Some couples have their song. (“This is our song! We danced to it at our wedding.”)

Some couples have a place. (“We are going back to Cabo in the spring. It’s where we met!!”)

Jeff and I, we have a sandwich.

Ok, to be fair, it’s a sandwich and a side. So it’s really a meal. Our meal is the tomato sandwich and “dry” ramen.

Of course I’d had BLTs before, and everyone knows how I feel about ramen, but this combination is special. Early in our relationship, Jeff introduced me to this glorious partnership, which he and his brother had perfected during their college years. The sandwich requires juicy, sweet, still-warm-from-the-sun, vine-ripened tomatoes, which are so plentiful in Salt Lake. It’s not worth making if you don’t have this component (and I’ve griped about the lack of decent tomatoes since leaving Utah).

The focus on the tomato makes this sandwich different from a BLT, where bacon steals the show. This is a T sandwich all the way, and the other ingredients are supporting cast: Two pieces of toasted wheat bread, one topped with a leaf or two of lettuce (I like either iceberg or butter lettuce). The other piece of bread has a slather of mayo and Dijon mustard. Call in the tomato. It should be plump, sweet and juicy, not like the anemic grainy flavorless imposters you find in the supermarket. At home we grew Early Girls and Beefsteak, and both made lovely sandwiches. Lay two, three or four thick slices on the lettuce. Grind a little black pepper over the tomato and put a couple not-too-thick slices of cheddar on top. The other piece of bread sits on top of the cheese. (You’ll notice the cheese and the lettuce insulate the bread from all the juices from the tomato. Ingenious, I know.)

While one of us assembled sandwiches, the other started a little pot of water on the stove for the ramen, which is drained and dressed with a dash of rice wine vinegar, a drizzle of soy sauce, several good shakes of Tabasco, half the flavor packet and five or six grinds of pepper.

Sandwich and ramen


Sandwich on the plate. Ramen on the plate. Nothing could be more beautiful.

During the summer in Salt Lake when the tomatoes were bountiful, Jeff and I would eat tomato sandwiches for lunch at least a couple times a week. We even considered serving it at our wedding, only half-jokingly, before we decided that Log Haven likely would not tolerate Top Ramen in their kitchen.

Every once is a great while we come across the rare tomato that is sandwich-worthy, like the ones Jeff found last week. We pounced and went through the delicious summer ritual of so many years ago. Hunched over our plates, tomato juice dripping down our chins, we thanked our lucky stars that we don’t have a song or a place. We have a sandwich.