Coronavirus Days--Week 20

Flatbread pizza
Flatbread pizza with
fresh garden tomatoes
Like many, I am cooking my way through the pandemic. Playing with food is nothing new; I always cook, obsessing early in the day (or sometimes days ahead) about the possibilities of what I might create, surveying ingredients in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. In prepandemic times, I'd head to the store and wander, deciding on a fresh piece of fish that looks appealing and then building the meal from there. But with the onset of the coronavirus, I needed to shift some of my practices, adapting to different times.

Nowadays, I don't venture to the store on a whim, and I don't meander in the store looking for something to catch my fancy. Most times, I don't even like the grocery store, wondering if germs are flying my way, feeling my anxiety rise if I have to share an aisle with a shopper. Some weeks, I create a written or mental menu, building off of what is already available at home, avoiding any unnecessary trips to the store. We are always stocked for variety, so there's plenty of play for me.

Like many people during the pandemic, I decided to undertake new recipes, new forays into experimentation. For years, I kept promising Nan I'd make bread, waving my copy of The Tassajara Bread Book. Each year, the book remained on my shelf, and I didn't make bread. It took the coronavirus to prompt me to finally make bread. I chose a new approach, no knead bread, a recipe a colleague had turned me onto a couple of years ago. And so, with the last packs of yeast, purchased for something probably a year ago, I made a couple of loaves over the first months. 

Sourdough bread
But then the yeast lust began, and like my fellow pandemic bakers, I couldn't find any. No panic. Apparently, sourdough starter became the rage, and recipes were plentiful. So, two months ago, I tried to make my first starter. I measured things carefully, precisely, something I don't normally do when I cook, since I don't usually follow recipes, instead relying on my sense of taste. A beginner in the baking world, in the bread world, in sourdough land. Each day, I'd add flour, discard starter, stir, wait twelve hours, repeat, day after day, looking for bubbles, looking for expansion. Around day ten, the starter had not expanded, so I deemed it a failure, discarded into my compost bucket. I considered grabbing some sourdough starter from a local bread company, but now I wasn't sure I could commit to the tending. After several weeks passed, I couldn't sit with my failure. I wanted some success, so I decided to try again.

Inside of sourdough loaf
This time, I attempted a different recipe, one that had me add less flour each time, one that didn't say discard since the starter was created with small bits of flour and water each time. This time, when day ten arrived and the starter hadn't doubled in size, I didn't toss it. Instead, I consulted many sites, reading about what good starter smells like, looking at pictures of successful bubbling. On day sixteen, I smelled my starter and it seemed just fine. I fed the starter and saw the bubbling occur. Even though it didn't double in size, I decided to experiment and create my first ever loaf of sourdough bread. It rose. It had texture. It tasted good. Even though the bread was heartier than intended, I counted it a success. I've kept the starter and will keep playing, attempting a lighter loaf in the coming weeks. Tomorrow, a bit of it will go into some zucchini bread, since our zucchini bush runneth over.

Gravlax homemade
It's been a week of experimenting with food. Several years ago, my neighbor showed me his method of making gravlax--rather simple I thought, yet shelved for someday. Perhaps it's the sense that some things, if not undertaken, may never happen. The immediacy of death on certain days. Or perhaps it's a needed distraction, something to concentrate on rather than the depressing news and future. Or perhaps it's that my summer vacation (if you can really call it a vacation since I did not venture beyond grocery stores, a local hiking trail, or neighborhoods) is ending in a week and work might swallow my food leisure. My first gravlax satisfied me. Hardly perfect. Many slices a bit too thick, but fine for putting in a salad. The taste a little salty at times, with some bites calling for more flavor. At some moment, I will attempt again, modifying the recipe some, playing with adding citrus for a bit of brightness.

Quick fridge half sour pickles
Quick refrigerator
half sour pickles
Food saves me. Not just because I like to eat. Not just because I thrive on variety. But because it occupies my time, thoughts, and brings satisfaction even if bleak is playing loudly. It has been a good week in my food life. 


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