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Happy-Gourmand

Old fears, new tricks

I decided this year to conquer some of my old fears. 

At the grand old age of 50, it seemed I should be able to tick a few items off my bucket list, despite being an old dog. So, when we were in Jamaica I screwed up my courage and did my first night dive. Pretty good for the girl who wouldn't sleep with the door closed 'cause it was too dark, and didn't want to look in the closet in case there really might be a bogeyman in there. 

I crossed one more item off my list this past week - I made bread.

I know, you're thinking, "That's crazy!" How can a foodie like me be afraid of making bread? Well, the secret's out. I have made it a couple of times in my life, but only because I took a class or someone asked me to do it. Last Sunday I just decided to do it, all on my own. Just like on my night dive, I discovered that after a few deep breaths, I felt better and was able to focus.

Making bread is such a soulful activity. Women have baked bread for thousands of years as part of sustaining families and settlements. Jesus handed out morsels of bread to each of the disciples at the Last Supper. 

Breaking bread together has been a tradition through the ages, to celebrate with loved ones and seal deals. I suppose the pressure was getting to me - if I made a crummy loaf of bread (no pun intended), did that mean I was not a good host, or a suitably nurturing female? 

Still, I kept finding other recipes to divert my attention. I felt bad for avoiding bread recipes, for always searching instead for biscuits or quick breads. 

Another of my projects for 2016 was to cook one new recipe every week, as a way to make better use of all my cookbooks. When I rediscovered an old favourite, Mark Millers' Southwestern classic Indian Market Cookbook, I was inspired. Martin was cooking duck for our Sunday dinner, and I found a wonderful bread recipe to pair with it. What better day than Sunday to work on bread making.

You could use a bread maker if you wanted to cut the time in making loaves, but I do believe you lose something in translation, if you'll pardon the expression. Incorporating the making of bread into a day's activities, letting it rise and shaping it so it can rise again, that is a big part of the magic you don't want to mis. 

It was encouraging, mixing and kneading and watching the dough rise. Bread is a visible accomplishment. I imagined the loaves looking golden and elegant, just the way they were described in the cookbook, and those images in my head gave me confidence in my hands. 

As the loaves began to bake, I could smell the benefits of my efforts. When they came out of the oven, I felt like an artist revealing a sculpture.

Okay, so perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, but it really did feel good to go through the process. It beats the instant gratification of popping a Pillsbury tube, I can tell you that much. Even if you think you are faking it ’til you make it, as you muddle along with your hands in the mucky dough, stick with it - you will be glad you did. Even if, like me, you don't get it perfect.

I have put the recipe for Rosemary Pecan Bread below. I can proudly say that my chef husband was most complimentary when I served a few warm slices with his duck at dinner. That, and the flavour and texture in my mouth, made my day.

The best part is, you will make two loaves, so you can give one away. They say it's a great token of generosity to share bread with a neighbour. It used to be a perfect gift for a housewarming, signifying a plentiful larder. If you don't believe me, ponder this Egyptian proverb:

"Rather a piece of bread with a happy heart than wealth with grief."

 

Recipe

WILD ROSEMARY PECAN BREAD

5 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water (about 100F)
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil 
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (don't use dried)
2-3 tbsp cornmeal, to keep loaves from sticking while baking

Preheat oven to 350F 

In large mixing bowl, mix together unbleached flour, yeast, sugar and water. Cover with damp towel or plastic wrap and allow this fermenting "sponge" to rise in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in size. 

Meanwhile, place pecans on baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes, until browned. Turn off oven. You can do this in a toaster oven if you have one, to save energy.

Stir down sponge with long-handled wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add pecans, wholewheat flour, oil, salt and rosemary, stirring until smooth. It might be a bit tough to get all bits incorporated; if so, pour out onto counter and knead it in.

Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for 5 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic (it will "bounce back" when you knead it). Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover with damp towel and let dough rise in warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled again. 

Punch down dough (literally, take your fist and punch into middle of dough ball) Divide in 2 equal pieces, shaping into round loaves by tucking under bottom as you rotate with your other hand. Place loaves onto baking sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal. Allow loaves to rise again for 1 hour, or until doubled. 

Preheat oven to 400F

 Sprinkle loaves with a little flour and slash tops with sharp knife or razor blade, making cuts about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from oven and turn out on wire rack to cool (if you don't remove from the baking sheet,  bottoms will get soggy) .

Serve warm, or at room temperature. TIP: It's fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches.

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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