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What You Need to Bake Bread

As the co-founder of a club for bread nerds, I field a fair number of urgent, sometimes panicked baking queries. While in the past I’ve posted basic bread recipes and lists of equipment, I’ve since taken to simply referring people to Josey’s Baker’s excellent book, Josey Baker Bread.

In the hopes of one final post on the subject let me suggest the following bread related resources and tools:

Bake With Baker

Again, get yourself a copy of Baker’s book. It’s a class in baking organized into recipes in ascending order of difficulty. Work your way thought the book and by the end you’ll be a baking god and the life of every party. Baker is a fan of whole grains and sourdough and if that isn’t enough he has the only decent gluten free bread recipe I’ve ever tasted. At the end of the book you’ll find cookie and scone recipes that will make you the most popular person at the next potluck you attend. If you’re a Los Angeles local, you can also take a whole grain baking class taught by Root Simple pal Roe Sie at his shop, the King’s Roost.

Scale It

A digital scale. The inaccuracies of measuring flour by volume is a path to frustration and misery. The model pictured above has a pull out display which makes it easier to view under a large bowl of flour.

Legal Pot

A 5 quart dutch oven. I like the model pictured above for the reasons I outlined in a previous blog post.

When you encounter problems—and I guarantee you will–I really like this handy visual guide on a Serious Eats blog post. And a note on baking disasters. I recently heard an experienced craftsperson explain that, despite his accomplishments, he never feels like he’s ever reached some kind of final, blissful state of mastery. During a class I took with Josey Baker’s mentor Dave Miller (I know, those last names!), Miller detailed some of the baking disasters he’s been through including the mysterious failure of a sourdough starter that shut down his bakery for several weeks. With this caveat on baking problems, let me assure you that if you go though Baker’s book carefully, you’ll have more wins than losses.

Mill Your Own Damn Flour

Should you want to go deeper down the baking rabbit hole, there’s a nice, inexpensive new mill designed by the legendary German engineer Wolfgang Mock. I have the Mock Mill 100 and will post a review sometime in the future. I’ll just say now that it works great and is a lot cheaper than other mills on the market. But you don’t need a mill to get started.

With those resources you’re pretty much good to go.

I’ve had to take a long break from baking due to the family emergencies of the last year. I’m planning on getting back into baking soon and when I do I’m going to go step by step through Baker’s book starting at the beginning.

Stickley’s #603 Taboret

There are many things I should be doing other than meticulously constructing my own copy of Gustav Stickley’s #603 Tabouret.  I could be writing a new book or magazine article, replying to emails, paying bills, lining up contractors for overdue home repair projects or filing the stack of papers growing around my computer.

Tabouret in progress awaiting sanding, glue-up and finish.

Instead, I’m taking a tip I learned from some of the creative people I’ve worked for and known in the past. Their work habits, if you call them “work” or “habits” seemed to consist of letting all the “important stuff” go to hell while pursuing some arcane, overly complex and silly project. While the Stickley’s #603 Tabouret is not really complex, it has occupied way too much of my time in the past two weeks and I haven’t even gotten to all the possible confusing finishing options.

By way of excuse let me suggest that with screen time averaging 10 hours a day for the average American, perhaps 2018 is the year we all might consider taking up a few arcane, overly complex and silly projects. It could be sewing, gardening or any other activity that takes us away from our phones and slows us down.

Now I’ve got to get away from this screen and start cracking on that finish . . .

I Ate 100 Power Bars

Every spring, with my friend Dale, I attend the massive Natural Products Expo West, where thousands of health food, cosmetics and supplement manufacturers compete for precious grocery store shelf space. Each year, Dale and I morph into human garbage disposals, wandering the long aisles and shoving every imaginable power bar, soy beverage and gluten free pizza sample down our gullets in order to locate for you, our dear readers, the optimal “natural” junk food snack.

But this year was different. A massive rebellion of the sales force proletariat rose up, smashed and burned the booths of their overlords, seized the means of production and declared that from this point forward there would be only one central, state approved power bar, one kombucha beverage, one gluten free pizza and one generic yoga mat.

Well, no. But let me say it was hard to head to this display of consumer excess after that interview we did with climate scientist Peter Kalmus last week. With thousands of variations of junk food all individually wrapped in plastic packages it was hard not to think that things have gone downhill since those traditional farms and medieval guilds got “disrupted.” Wouldn’t we better off with just a few unprocessed vegetables and animal products? But suggesting that makes me a crank so let’s move along and never mind those crazy ideas. What natural food trends did Dale and I discover?

  • Turmeric is in everything.
  • Kimchi has gone mainstream.
  • Whole grain has been let out of dietary prison.
  • Patagonia is selling food.
  • Crossfit bros love butter and coconut filled coffee and flavored beef jerky.
  • Bicycles are being used as a symbol of hipness in convention booth displays.
  • “Regenerative agriculture” has been appropriated as the latest buzz-phrase by large food companies.
  • Every natural food product is labeled either “pro-biotic” or “pre-biotic.”

If one could distill all those booths down to one item you’d end up with a pro-biotic turmeric, kimchi, kombucha, paleo sports bar grown “regeneratively,” whatever that means. But I’m getting cranky again. On a more positive note I met a nice Root Simple reader who works for Q Drinks, an Oakland, California based producer of tonic waters and ginger beer. I was also given an interesting cloth produce storage bag for testing by a Australian company called Swag. And Dale and I ate delicious roasted crickets in the Exo Protein booth.

But back to the crankiness. Let us collectively reflect on the fact that Amazon now owns Whole Foods and that data gathering has long since gone mainstream in the food business. With powers that would make the Stasi blush, one company I met promised to provide me with, “real-time shopper behavior intelligence” with a database that goes back, “35+ years of every UPC scanned in store.” (1) When I asked if this information is tied to me personally, the rep said that it’s all connected to my credit card information before abruptly cutting off the conversation when, I think, he noticed that I was wearing a media badge.

Speaking of that media badge my credentials were downgraded this year due to the fact that I have under 10,000 social media followers. So in addition to having every grocery purchase from the last 35 years tracked and analyzed, we now have a new popularity metric with which to evaluate our personal worth. So what happens when you combine shopping habits, credit scores and social media interactions together? You get a what’s called a “reputation system.” What could go wrong?

It’s obviously long past time to bring out those analog sledgehammers again for some social “regeneration” but you just might be able to bribe me in to compliance with those new nut butter filled Clif bars.

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