Home is hopefully not where the sourdough starter is

Day 4

Got home from Russian tutoring. Smelled sourdough starter. IT KIND OF SMELLS LIKE SOURDOUGH!!!!!!!!! Am deeply excited. Also pleased that it is still bubbly and that I did not murder it by dumping most of it down the drain.

Dumped half of it down the drain, again. (I never learn.) Added one ounce of flour—or rather, 1.13 ounces—and 1.66 ounces of water, because I did not realize how heavy water is. (It was like 50 mL which is a very small amount.)

I have stirred it and put its pot-holder hat on it. Good night.

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Look at the bubbles and just ignore absolutely everything else about this

 

Day 5

We are all in the exact same situation that we were in yesterday. The sourdough starter, who I think should have a name, has gotten some new interesting yeast (I’m guessing; I don’t know what it does all day), and I have not done anything worth noting.

 

Day 6

I think it’s dead.

 

Day 7

It looked very sad and not bubbly when I woke up. I gave it some more food and put it on the kitchen table, which it seemed to like better than the counter. The internet says it is probably not dead, but just slow and tired.

 

Day 8

I left it alone for 1.5 days while I went home for Passover. There has been no change. I think it might be too cold—my apartment doesn’t have heat anymore because it’s “spring.” So I made it a nice little nest next to my router and modem, because they are warm.

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Day 9

IT IS FREEZING IN HERE. It is snowing out but the heat is not on because it’s April. The sourdough and I are both very sad. I have put it in the oven and turned the light on, because that will make it nice and toasty in there but will not kill it. (It will waste an enormous amount of electricity, though.) In fact, I just stuck my head in to check on it and feed it and wished to curl up and go to sleep there. But in a very normal, mentally healthy way [ha ha like i know anything about that].

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(The glow in the corner is the oven light.)

 

Day 10

😥

 

Day 11

There is heat again in my apartment, and THE STARTER IS ALIVE AGAIN!!! This has been an emotional rollercoaster. I still do not trust it, though, and it does not trust me. Thus its constant dying.

 

Day I have absolutely no fucking clue

I have put it in the fridge, where it will wait until I am able to deal with it.

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SOOUUUURRRDOOOUUUGHHHHHH

This post is approximately one hundred years in the making, i.e., I’ve been thinking about and putting off making sourdough for roughly one hundred years. HOWEVER, I’m writing a story where the protagonist basically is having a mental breakdown and makes a lot of bread (which is obviously autobiographical, but she’s more advanced than me and makes sourdough, so I figured I would have to learn so as not to let her get ahead of me) (and also so I can see if the story makes any sense). I’ve been working on this story for almost a year and I’m SO tired of it (I’m on draft 6.2, per my numbering system) and I’m hoping that the sourdough experiment will somehow push it into being finished.

So I got this brilliant idea at the library during writing group, and then I got home and started preparing, and then realized that Passover starts on Friday. But I think the starter itself will be ready right around Friday, so then I can put it in the fridge (where it will enter a state of suspended animation) and revive it after Passover ends (much like happened to Khan, but hopefully the starter will be less distressed/violent). And then I can have sourdough to break Passover. It will be very exciting.

I am starting with Phickle’s sourdough starter tutorial; it’s based on Tartine Bakery‘s book (link courtesy of my neighborhood independent bookstore!), and thus should be good. It looks easy to follow, thus its appeal (and it was the first thing I found). If anything goes terribly wrong I’ll consult Breadtopia, which is a very soothing and lovely site.

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Everything is going exactly according to plan, no issues here whatsoever.

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THE MTA SUCKS pineapple

Wow, I am super not in the mood for this. I was trying to get over writer’s block by writing some nonsense here but I already don’t feel like listening to myself. Oh well I already took all the #relativelyshitty photos (that was self-deprecating in a charming way, but actually they are not good photos) so I have to write. Please send me a story idea and I will write it.

I went to the supermarket, as usual, and I was very cranky when I got there because I was hungry, and the supermarket was entirely full of couples fighting and children having mental breakdowns, so I joined them and also had a mental breakdown. This was brought on mostly by walking back and forth several times trying to find barley, and then it was where I thought it was all along. Then I spent 400 hours trying to decide what ice cream to get, and trying to find feta cheese. Long story short, I bought a pineapple.

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If you brought me diamonds, if you brought me pearls, if you brought me roses like some other gents might bring to other girls, it couldn’t please me more than the gift I see—a pineapple for me.

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Friday night catless rye bread

Good day! I am back in America and back in my normal life after a three-year break. So I am also returning to my tendency to buy expensive ingredients and cook difficult things out of boredom and a vague, undefined, unimportant loneliness. And because I only just want to write, but I am not settled enough–feeling in my apartment to write, but this is almost like writing. Also, I do not have a cat, because certain parents who will remain unnamed did not want to give me their cat, even though I gave them my cat (HAHA I just tried to write a closing italics tag in HTML but actually wrote < /cat> which is very funny and also what happened to Fitzpatrick) so there’s only going to be bad food pictures in this post.

This is a three-day weekend and I forgot that you have to make three days’ worth of plans for such things, so I made like maybe 1.5 days’ worth of plans, which would be fine if you were in Russia because you could go to your Russian single-combat private lessons or watch propaganda and learn about “the Ukraine” or just daydream about being in Russia. But here I haven’t figured out what to do with myself yet, so I am returning to old habits. And bread takes forever to make (and at the end you get bread). Continue reading

Plov with Young Chicken: The Soviet Experiment, Part 1

Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.

It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)

Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.

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A Call for Comfort [Food]

It’s not hard to deduce from my few posts that much of my initial cooking experience is owed to the blog smittenkitchen. Deb Perelman’s anyone-can-do-this adaptations of recipes from well-known sources eased me into the idea of producing real, edible meals in my very own home. Successes from those recipes gave me enough of an ego boost to host my own seder (gasp!). The only real victim here is my boyfriend (you may know him as my handy kitchen assistant) who was perfectly happy ordering in 6 nights a week, reserving the 7th night for Trader Joe’s amazing 99-cent macaroni and cheese. You know, the one from the box with the little packet of orange powder. Okay also maybe my wallet.

The finished product is spectacularly beautiful, with an orange hue you don’t often get with sticky buns.

To get to the point – I serendipitously happened upon the BAKED shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn around the same time this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe popped up on smittenkitchen. It felt a little bit (a lot a bit) like fate, and it was probably less than 24 hours later that I ordered the BAKED: Elements cookbook from that site I sometimes refer to. Of course, having the recipe (and two versions at that) is only the beginning. Months went by without any legitimate reason to actually make these buns. I hardly ever kept my pantry full of specialty goods like pumpkin, bread flour, or whole milk (I suppose nobody keeps milk in the pantry, unless it’s that new-fangled ultra pasteurized stuff, which I am skeptical of). I can’t even believe I used to consider those “specialty.” I mean, really, I get anxious now when there isn’t pumpkin in my pantry, right alongside shelf-stable cartons of cream. Regardless, it wasn’t until life got a bit more interesting (if you want to put it that way) that I decided to finally spend a good few hours learning some new techniques and making something I’d be able to indulge in as days upon days continue to unfold. A true comfort food emerges. As a side note, I also made ice cream (technically malted frozen custard with chopped hazelnuts. Yes, you want some.). Next week calls for chocolate cake (so stay tuned).

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Stop in the name of biscuits

I’m not sure why I make biscuits so often. (Once here and once before the blog, but I can’t remember much about that experience.) I’m not really a biscuit person (insofar as that’s possible while you’re still a human). I’m not from the South or anything. I love bread products, though, and hate kneading and long wait times. I also have a fear of white flour, possibly pathological, instilled in me by a psychopathic nutritionist I once consulted about my hypoglycemia. All of this led to whole-wheat biscuits.

I did extensive research and settled on this recipe, because you could use yogurt and I didn’t have any milk. It used a full cup more flour than the other recipes I found, relative to the baking powder and butter, but I decided to risk it; it sounds like she’s tested a lot of recipes, and her biscuits were very fluffy.

This is where things went south. While I was making these biscuits I was thinking, “This will either be a post about how my experimentation and idiocy make me a terrible cook… or how they make me a GREAT COOK.”

Ew why do they look so pink

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Stuffed focaccia

This week’s posts are brought to you by the unprecedentedly large amount of money I spent at the grocery store today. (I was forced to buy overly pricey organic spinach-arugula mix because there was no normal arugula, and I also had to buy non-poisonous fabric cleaner… I won’t say why. And also, swiss chard. And fuck you, delicious feta cheese. And enormous five-pound bag of whole-wheat flour that I bought because I think the old bag had gone rancid [thus a possible explanation for the badness of my Irish soda bread]).

So anyway, the first part of this week’s cooking is stuffed focaccia, courtesy of The Iron You, which I found through The Kitchn. (I LOVE the title of The Iron You—I haven’t read much of it but basically they use food and exercise to make themselves into superheroes. That’s my goal in life, too.) You may notice that I am procrastinating from cooking by adding tons of links to this post.

Back to business. I first made the dough so I could leave it to rise while I did other things (i.e. started dinner and the next post(s)). I proofed the yeast (combined it with warm water, sugar, and salt) and then added 600 g of w.w. flour, measured in my lovely kitchen scale, and the olive oil. I mixed it with a wooden spoon and was very worried about the fact that it wasn’t sticky—whole-wheat flour just seems to drink up any moisture. (My friend who is in pastry school says this is normal—whole-wheat flour is just really dry—but since the recipe was written for whole-wheat flour it was worrisome.)

Pre-kneading, but still. What IS this?

I kneaded for a while, on tip-toes, whole-bodily, for maybe five or seven minutes, until I decided to stop. I have no idea if it was smooth and elastic. It was easy to knead, though, because of the relative dryness. Now it’s sitting in a bowl, covered in more olive oil, rising away. Possibly.

Looks like a brain.

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aux Anything

There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.

Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.

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Buttered matzah: the affliction of affliction

As you may know, because I allude to it bizarrely frequently, I am Jewish. EW, wow, I just ate something nasty. More on that later. Shit. OK, so this week is Passover, and I’ve been following it religiously (HA) (oh dear) and not eating either chametz or kitniyot. So basically nothing I normally eat on a regular basis.

I have been eating a giant amount of matzah (the other day my boss came over, looked at me, and said, “You’ve really been putting away a lot of matzah this week”; note to everyone—never, ever say this to anyone) and have encountered a number of challenges. You may think this is a joke. It is NOT. Buttering matzah is one of the most difficult things Jews face, cooking-wise. Brisket? Pah.

The first step is to not use butter that has been in the freezer for a long time, improperly wrapped. (See paragraph one of this post. Throw out any such butter you possess.)

The second step is to take your butter out of the fridge to soften it. You cannot use hard butter; the pressure needed to butter will cause the matzah to break everywhere, and matzah will fly all over your apartment. The ideal way to butter matzah would probably be telekinetically, or maybe with one of those olive-oil vaporizers. Or nonstick spray. It would not affect the taste.

Then, take a piece of matzah out of the box. I have been using Yehuda Matzos because that is what my parents gave me.

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