Good News

Kelly made it through an eight hour open heart surgery yesterday. Her surgeon reported that the operation was, in his words, “successful if tedious.” She has a new valve and a repaired aorta. This was a difficult and scary surgery and Kelly has a long recovery ahead of her.

I want to thank all of you Root Simple readers for your kind words and prayers. It means a lot to Kelly and I to be surrounded by so many loving people. I want to also thank our friend Caroline who came over yesterday to sit outside with me and calm me down during an excruciating wait. And many thanks to the clergy and parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral for helping us prepare for the surgery and for sending me words of encouragement over the past few days.

Because of Covid I can’t visit the hospital which adds another layer of stress to this ordeal. But we are thankful to have good insurance and access to the kind of surgeon who can tackle such a complicated operation. Looking forward to bringing Kelly home in a few days.

A Note

Dear Root Simple readers,
Kelly has to go in for another open heart surgery later this month to fix some issues related to her aortic dissection that happened four years ago. It’s not an emergency surgery this time so we’re optimistic for a good outcome. We are thankful to have insurance and a good surgeon.

I need to take some time off blog posting until after the surgery. I promise to post updates and be back to this blog soon. In the meantime your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.
Best,
Erik

Don’t Worry About the Boule: Bake Bread in a Loaf Pan

In the frivolous, pre-pandemic before-times I slacked off on my bread baking. At the beginning of quar, I prepper-panicked, hastily re-started my starter and fired up the Mockmill 100 grain mill.

Baking with a sourdough starter puts you on a collision course with the unpredictability at the heart of the “natural” i.e. non-internet world. For me the unintended randomness of my loaves came down to the discovery that I was using too course a grind with the mill. Thereafter, my loaves improved.

Even after that simple fix, I still get can get distracted by chores and forget to shape the dough in a timely manner, thus leading to what looks more like a pancake than an Instagram worthy boule. But if you’re not making bread for the ‘gram, you don’t have to do a boule or batard unless that really floats your boat. There’s nothing wrong with baking in a loaf pan. Sometimes it’s kinda nice to have a square loaf for sandwiches anyways.

The pan I have is a Pullman pan made by USA Pan. It’s square and has a lid. The lid is especially handy in that you can do the first 20 minutes of the bake with the lid on, thus sealing in the moisture which helps with loaf spring. You don’t need the fancy Pullman type with the lid but if you’re going to buy a pan I’d suggest getting a Pullman. I use a bit of olive oil to keep the loaf from sticking. If you don’t have a Pullman pan, you can cover any loaf pan with a piece of aluminum foil for the first part of the bake.

You have my permission. Bake in a loaf pan.

Lastly, I’ve been fielding some emails about what kind of mill to get. The Mockmill 100 has served me well. I’ll do a full review sometime in our quarantine part II future. If you’re curious about my bread recipe, I use Josey Baker’s 100% whole wheat recipe (with a higher hydration) that can be found in his book.

On Moldy Jam

Spores from green mold growing on an orange. Image source: Wikipedia.

If ever there was a measure of how bored us non-essential types are under quarantine let me note the furor over the leaked photo depicting a moldy tub of jam sold by a local restaurant here in Los Angeles. I’m not going to go into detail but if you’re curious Eater LA did a story on the initial crisis, the apology and the more important issue of labor practices in the restaurant business. That’s all out of my lane. But we can, so to speak, open the third eye on our own moldy jams.

Here’s what my go-to source on canning, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, has to say about mold in your jam and how to prevent it,

Even though sugar helps preserve jellies and jams, molds can grow on the surface of these products. Research now indicates that the mold which people usually scrape off the surface of jellies may not be as harmless as it seems. Mycotoxins have been found in some jars of jelly having surface mold growth. Mycotoxins are known to cause cancer in animals; their effects on humans are still being researched.

Because of possible mold contamination, paraffin or wax seals are no longer recommended for any sweet spread, including jellies. To prevent growth of molds and loss of good flavor or color, fill products hot into sterile Mason jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, seal with self-sealing lids, and process 5 minutes in a boiling-water canner Correct process time at higher elevations by adding 1 additional minute per 1,000 ft above sea level. If unsterile jars are used, the filled jars should be processed 10 minutes. Use of sterile jars is preferred, especially when fruits are low in pectin, since the added 5-minute process time may cause weak gels.

One additional tip: remove the rings once you’re done canning. Jam that leaks out during processing can creep under the ring and go moldy. The rings are just for processing and transport. Once the jars are on the shelf you don’t need them.

Initially, the restaurant in this scandal took to Instagram to defend themselves offering the excuse that their jam is low sugar and more susceptible to mold and that it’s the “same types of mold that develop on some cheese, charcuterie, dry aged beef, and lots of other preserved foods.”

As to the first point, it’s perfectly fine to make a low sugar jam but if you’re going to can it you need to use a lab tested recipe. Alternately, you can refrigerate low sugar jams but you need to use them before they go moldy.

As to the molds on cheeses and other preserved foods, the question of fungal cultures on these products are only now being studied using new genetic testing technology (1). There are beneficial fungal cultures as well as toxic ones that can develop on preserved foods. In short, our understanding of food safety issues of these types of fungal-preserved foods is evolving and complex. However, while fungal cultures are intrinsic to the preservation of certain foods such as blue cheeses, fungal cultures don’t belong on jam. The restaurant has since promised to follow food safety practices regarding the product they package as well as what they serve in-house.

Inner Mold
Why, in the midst of a global pandemic crisis did we all get so caught up in the story of a restaurant with moldly jam? Part of it is the growing resentment against the sort of folks (affluent, aging Silver Lake hipsters such as me) who can afford a $9 slice of toast at this particular cafe while thousand of people in Los Angeles are facing eviction or already homeless.

But there’s more to it than just that. In my weaker moments I will sometimes binge old episodes of Gordan Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. I’m not proud of this and after falling into Kitchen Nightmare hole I wonder what attracts me to a show that’s so repetitive. Every single episode follows the same trajectory: in the first half we see a failed restaurant owner wallowing in laziness and expired tubs of chicken wings. In the second half Daddy Ramsey comes along to yell profanities (in the American version ’cause that’s how we roll here) and redeem the fallen owner.

Perhaps Kitchen Nightmares holds up a mirror to our own moldy souls while offering the promise of a quasi-religious redemptive cycle. We’re all caught up in the shiny distraction of the internet and the latest Netflix series while stuff rots in the kitchen and we neglect our chores and those around us. This is part of what makes this jam scandal so rubbernecky in the midst of much more serious problems. Unfortunately, Daddy Ramsey ain’t gonna drop by and whip us all into shape. We’re going to have to join together to un-jam our moldy jam.

Saturday Linkages: In a Jam

My shop uniform.

To unite the country, we need honesty and courage

Why the Internet Is Blowing Up About LA’s Most Infamous Jam Maker

There’s No I in Jam: Sqirl Wrestles With the Sticky Question of Who Really Owns a Recipe

The Billionaire Behind Efforts to Kill the U.S. Postal Service

Bear whisperer out of a job

Jet engine becomes unique camper

An alternative to Ipé

Museum of Material Failures