The New Homemade Kitchen

I have many fond memories of teaching bread baking classes for the late Joseph Shuldiner’s cheekily named Institute of Domestic Technology. Joseph had a unique formula for the curriculum of the IDT. I’d summarize as “stuff that you’d never think of doing from scratch but once you find out how easy it is your life will be transformed.” In addition to the aforementioned bread baking, the IDT offered classes in mustard, cheese making, jam making, coffee roasting, cocktail crating and much more.

Joseph gathered the recipes and collected wisdom of these classes into his posthumously published book The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas for Reinventing the Art of Preserving, Canning, Fermenting, Dehydrating, and More just released this month by Chronicle. The section on cocktails is a good example of the IDT’s methods. Yes, you get a Martini recipe. But you’ll also be making your own vermouth and it will be easier than you think.

Then there’s the life changing chapter on coffee roasting. One of the perks of teaching at the IDT was getting to sit in on the other classes. This was how I learned to roast my own coffee in a Whirley-Pop roaster. Like a lot of IDT obsessions, roasting your own coffee simultaneously up-scales and bomb proofs your pantry. Green coffee can sit around for a long time and knowing how to roast it is a useful skill in our current crappening. In short, this book is very quarantine friendly both in the sense of having skills handy when supply chains are broken and having something more productive to do than binging Netflix.

In addition to coffee you’ll find chapters on pickles and preserves, baking, dairy, meat and fish, cocktails, fermentation and dehydration. You’ll also learn how to make your own mustard, ketchup, harissa, sriracha, preserved lemons, vanilla extract and much more.

Joseph was a gifted artist, designer, activist and photographer and the book reflects his ability to represent and explain, in clear language, information that can seem intimidating. I learned a lot about how to teach from working for Joseph. Many of the classes took place at the Altadena home of Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel. They tended to be day long affairs with a lunch served to students and an after-party for the instructors. At the end of the day, over glasses of wine, we would review the classes we taught and figure out ways to make information clearer. Joseph was a team player with a thoughtful leadership style. I can still hear his laugh and miss him greatly. This book, for me, is a kind of time capsule of those happy days teaching at the IDT that felt more like attending a lively party than work. And I have this book to remember Joseph’s joyous spirit and knowledge.

The Brown Derby Cocktail

Recipe for a Brown Derby Cocktail

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup*

Combine ingredients with ice and shake. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*To make honey syrup combine equal parts honey and water. Stir. You don’t need to heat it up unless the honey has crystallized.

Now there you have it. You’ve got a cocktail and I can pat myself on the back for inverting the all too common internet formula of endless paragraphs of nattering before posting the damn recipe. You got the recipe first and now here’s some brief chatter.

This cocktail sounds like an odd combination of ingredients but it works. The honey balances out the bitterness of the grapefruit juice and the bourbon broods over the face of the waters.

The cocktail’s origins are cloudy. A version of it appears as the “De Regueur” in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Some say that bartenders at the Vendome, a popular delicatessen on the Sunset Strip in the 1930s, did a slightly readjusted version of it that ended up being named for the Brown Derby restaurant.

Allow me to digress. If Steven Pinker tries to sell you on his hustle of how things are sooooo much better than they used to be just show him what happened to the Vendome:

The Brown Derby got minimaulled too:

At least we still have the cocktail.

How to Store Bulk Goods

Our present Covid conundrum has a lot of us thinking about bulk goods. Collectively, we’ve had our illusions about the reliability of our food system shattered. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our “efficient” market system turns out to be not so efficient when there’s a crisis. As David Harvey puts it in A Companion to Marx’s Capital,

By rationalizing the way in which space is organized, you can save on movement costs. So the whole space-time structure becomes an organizational question of how capitalism works. This was the big innovation that the Japanese introduced into the labor process in the 1970s with just-in-time production, the tight scheduling of flows of goods in space and time such that you had almost no inventory anywhere in the system. This was the innovation which gave the Japanese car industry its competitive advantage over all others during the 1980s, and the Japanese raked in the ephemeral form of relative surplus-value until everyone else caught up. The downside of this system is that it is vulnerable to disruption. If one link in the spatiotemporal chain is stopped by, for example, a strike, then everything has to close down because there is no inventory.

So what to do for our households and communities? Buy food in bulk and eat from it. Restock as you eat.

Need some tips on how to store food? Utah State University has you covered. I’d emphasize the importance of buying foods you like to eat. And watch out for pantry moths. UC Davis has a nice fact sheet on dealing with pantry pests.

Lastly, share resources and techniques with your neighbors. Knowing the folks on our block, thanks to our neighbor Jennie’s monthly happy hour parties, has been helpful. We check in via Zoom once a week, trade food and backyard fruit and run errands for folks in deep quarantine. We need not equate emergency preparedness with the sort of destructive individualism partly responsible for getting us into this mess.

FlicFloc Sticker Shock

The Covid crisis has bulged by inbox with questions about many of the topics covered in our two books. Once again, people are baking bread, planting gardens and worrying about the fragility of our food chain.

In recent years we got a bit lazy around the old urban homestead. There were a few too many meals out and an over-reliance on convenience foods. But at least we had experience growing and processing our own foods. When the yeast disappeared from the store I got a sourdough starter going within a week. So I’d say that experience trumps equipment when it comes to the living from scratch lifestyle. It’s never too late to learn. If you’re just getting started baking bread or starting a vegetable garden now is always the best time to begin.

An interesting example of technique over tools comes with today’s blog post. I had intended to write about one of my favorite kitchen tools, the KoMo FlicFloc Oat/Grain Flaker. It’s a manual device that turns whole oat groats into rolled oats. You can then use those oats to make oatmeal, müsli or granola. I had assumed that I’m saving money by rolling my own oats. It turns out that’s not the case.

I bought a 50 pound bag of oat groats for $54 from Central Milling via a bulk order run by the King’s Roost. Already rolled oats are, for some strange reason, a dollar cheaper per bag at $53. Properly stored rolled oats will last up to 30 years without losing much nutritional value according to Utah State University. So here’s the lesson: start with bulk goods in buckets (that you actual cook from) before obsessing over kitchen gadgets (Johnny of Granola Shotgun already pointed this out on his blog). My monkey consumer brain just leaps to the fun gadgets before I consider the prosaic five gallon bucket, time in the kitchen cooking from bulk goods and, ugh, doing dishes.

That said, I still like my FlicFloc. It’s a beautiful object and there’s a certain amount of self-satisfied smugness that comes from turning the crank to mill your own breakfast. Perhaps the freshly rolled oats taste fresher but I can’t prove that. And you can flake other grains such as wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. I can also use the oat groats to make oat flour with my flour mill (another gadget that I’ll cover in another post). Of course, maybe I’m just justifying an expensive euro-trashy kitchen gadget.

But before we leave the sphere of oatmeal I’d like to note one nice hack that Josey Baker suggests in his book Josey Baker Bread. Josey suggests soaking a mix of whole oat groats and flaked oats in water on the counter for a day or two at room temperature. The time at room temperature causes fermentation and gives your oats a pleasant, sour flavor. You can make a batch of it ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator after it reaches the right amount of sour funk. Baker suggests adding nuts and maple syrup to make your oatmeal more interesting.

Lastly, let me add that, back in 2015, I compared the results of the FlicFloc vs. a cheap, surplus store grain cracker. If you want to do your own flaking (I guess that makes you a flake) the FlicFloc works better.

Participate in the Science of Sourdough Project

If you missed the short sourdough lecture I linked to last week, you can watch it above. To summarize, researchers at North Carolina State’s Department of Applied Ecology are attempting to figure out the biodiversity of sourdough cultures from around the world. One of the questions they’d like to answer is how the type of flour you feed a starter influences its taste and viability. This is where you can help through their Science of Sourdough Project. Using the simple instructions on that site, you create a new starter with whatever flour you have on hand, record the results and send that data back to the researchers. If you’re a teacher or a parent this would be an easy science project for our days in quarantine. I’m going to participate and share the results on this blog.