Here’s the good thing about having your preferences well known — you end up with a lot of good stuff coming your way.
You see, anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows how much I love the color Tiffany blue. And bacon. And vintage things. And Fritos. And far too many things to list here, but bread ranks up there for me, so I find when I’m not eating it I’m often just talking to others about it, favorite bakeries, loaves, etc.
(I’m so obsessed with bread that I think back on Paris as two weeks of constant bread errands– plus a little sightseeing along the way).
Occasionally, a very good friend will drop off a loaf I should try. Gillian remembers to get me a loaf from Tabor Bakery when I can’t get to the farmer’s market to get my own and Elona, another bread loving pal, often comes through there, too. Just recently, in fact, she shared a very special piece of bread she’d been given that she really wanted me to try.
I know you’re thinking, Wow, a piece of bread. How exciting.
You’d be wrong.
I don’t have a picture of it as I ate one distracted bite of this Corn Caraway Rye and then it was like my mind exploded.
Simply put, it was the best rye I’d ever had.
I texted her with her later about that bread. Who’d made it? Where could I get more?
She then told me that the maker was a writer and student in her yoga class, and he’s been experimenting with breadmaking for years. He wasn’t a professional, just someone clearly passionate about it.
I told her I wanted to meet this bread genius and she introduced us by email, and I asked him: would he be interested in giving me some bread tips at my house in exchange for a mini cooking lesson?
Paul was game and just a few days ago we met at my house.
What a sweet guy — and such an amazing baker.
He brought all kinds of goodies, starting with a loaf of another terrific bread he’d made — a levain-like bread with a superlative crust.
He also brought a starter from his kitchen for future bread baking, and both the recipe and the dough of his (should-be famous) Corn Rye. He said I could let it rise on my counter and bake it up later on that day — or keep it in the fridge for a couple days and then bake.
After he gave me some bread pointers, we made some focaccia dough (I didn’t have anything but all-purpose and bread-flour dough on hand: note to self, buy rye and whole wheat) and then he showed me what else he’d brought: some vegetables from his garden, and some beans he’d grown, dried, and then cooked.
He wanted some advice on other things to do with the beans; he usually eats these beans in Mexican-style dishes (think enchiladas and the like) and wanted some advice on mixing it up.
I just took a look at the ingredients I had on hand and started playing around with them.
I was cooking chicken stock at the time, and I had some roasted vegetables from the previous night’s dinner, so I made a quick Asian style soup, using the beans as just one of the ingredients.
I think we were both surprised at how well the beans took to the intense flavors of sesame and ginger. With just a splash of rice wine vinegar and soy and rounded out with some leftover basmati rice, it made a surprisingly tasty soup.
We talked about different kinds of soups he could use his beans in, and I encouraged him to think of them more as supporting cast then the stars of the show; this would make for a more varied end result and ensure that he’d be able to stretch his precious dried bean collection that much further.
Next up, a salad.
Because he’d brought some lovely tomatoes (and I had a collection from New Seasons the day before)
we started with those and his beans.
He talked about the vinegars and oils he usually uses for vinaigrettes and I urged him to mix up his choice of oil and acid; sometimes just a change of those can totally send your salad in a completely different direction.
Because right now feels like a true shoulder season (the last of the ripe tomatoes linger but one can feel autumn’s chill more and more with each passing day), I went with a vinaigrette that mirrored that seasonal duality: a Truffle-Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette.
Now don’t think that’s so fancy– I just squeezed and zested some fresh lemon, added a touch of Dijon, salt, pepper and a good sized glug of white truffle oil (a gift to myself last Christmas) and shook it up in a jar.
Paul had never had peppadews before so I had him try some. He liked their piquancy and so I added those, some marinated Danish feta and the beautiful arugula he brought along with those little beans and the salad was done.
Before he left we traded more tips (he on forming bread and how to keep your starter thriving in the fridge, me how to turn the beans into a breakfast bowl with brown rice, fried egg and avocado) and I sent him with more of those Meyer lemons, peppers and a piece of the pumpkin bread I’d saved for him.
He came into my home as a friend of a friend (but still a stranger) and two hours later he left like both a collaborator and a teacher– and a generous new friend from whom I have much to learn.
(By the way, you had me with your sneakers –I’m convinced that all my favorite people sport Converse sneakers on occasion.)
The next day, I looked forward to baking up the dough he’d given me.
Taking a deviation from the norm, I decided to turn that gorgeous dough into little rolls.
I fired up the oven, formed the soft, sticky and yielding dough into little balls, and brushed them with a little butter.
Twenty five minutes (and one more solid butter wipe) later, heaven.
but I will try anyway.
They were crusty and salty on the outside, earthy with a pronounced caraway flavor and the tang of a wild yeast starter.
Cracking open these rolls while still steaming hot — and dousing them with good butter– was insanely good.
The upshot of this bartering session is a new-found appreciation for how hard excellent bread-baking is (Paul even has his own lava rocks that live in his oven to capture crust-making steam) but I figure if I even learn a few tricks to go from an average breadmaker to a good one, then I will be so happy.
And I am so juiced about this idea of bartering — and eager to do more.
Trading largesse. Swapping skills. Friends helping each other become better cooks.
Breaking bread — and having fun.
Anyone out there having fun bartering? Email me — I’d love to hear your success stories.
In the meantime, I leave you with this.
Maldon, take me away.