There is No Rush

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“The mindful nature of sourdough production is that it can’t be rushed, in fact the essence of its success, and the accompanying feelings of satisfaction and pride, are bound into the amount of time it takes.”

-Jo Bisseker Barr, Breathe Magazine, Issue 11

There is no rush has been my chosen mantra over the last couple of weeks.  Simply saying the words to myself periodically as I move throughout the day has a grounding effect…my breath slows, I feel rooted in the present moment and an opportunity to refocus on whatever task is at hand suddenly reveals itself.

Rushing has become the norm in our modern world.  We run from here to there trying to accomplish what we can, all the while thinking of the next thing on our to do list.  We are rarely present in what we are doing, fully immersed in what is right in front of us.  I find that even when I’m not busy I feel rushed, not because I have so much that I need to get done, but because it has become my default way of being.

The practice of baking sourdough bread helps me embrace the values of an unhurried life.  From the time I mix the levain for a loaf of bread to the time I take it out of the oven is usually close to 36 hours.  The process cannot be rushed.  The dough sets the pace, and I am here to engage with it when it is ready for the next step in the process.

Intentionally engage in slow activities that encourage you to move to the rhythm of the natural world.  Your kitchen is a great place to practice this kind of slow living.  Good things take time.  Let them unfold as they will.  Be ready when they are.  There is no rush.

Mandelmussla (Almond Tart Shells)

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Are you considering becoming a creative person?  Too late.  You already are one.

Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

I listened to an episode of NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett this morning in which Ms. Tippett interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and, most recently, Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  Ms. Gilbert talked about how many people believe that creativity is reserved for the artists of the world, and that they themselves are not creative.  She went on to say that we can easily disprove this theory by looking to our ancestors.  Our grandparents and great-grandparents were creative makers, somewhat out of necessity, but also because human beings are inherently creative.  We have a desire to make things, and to make beautiful things…it’s simply the way we are.  “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person,” she says.  “You and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers.”

These little tarts remind me of my own legacy of creativity, the one that began with my Scandinavian ancestors spending long cold winter days in the kitchen baking exquisite breads, cookies, cakes, pies and tarts.  Why?  Because they wanted to create something that went a little above and beyond the ordinary….it’s what we are hard-wired to do.  Little tarts like these are lovely and delicious works of art, a small offering of beauty made for no reason other than the pleasure of doing so.  Oh, and the pleasure of sitting down and savoring their sweetness with a strong cup of coffee, of course.

How will you be the artist that you already are today?  What will you make that’s just a little more beautiful than it needs to be?   Perhaps these charming little almond tart shells are just the thing to get you started.  The blank canvas of fika treats, these simple tart shells can be dressed up with any manner of fillings…jam, sweetened berries, pastry cream, lemon curd, whipped cream just to name a few.  They are also delicious on their own, served upside down and dusted with a little powdered sugar.

You will need a set of small tart pans for this recipe.  I am fortunate to have inherited my pans from my mother, but if you do not already have a set, they are available through Amazon for a reasonable price.

Mandelmussla (Almond Tart Shells)   Makes 25-30 tart shells, depending on the size of your tart pans

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, ground fine in a food processor

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2.  Add the egg, followed by the ground almonds, salt and almond extract. Mix until incorporated.

3.  Add the flour and mix on low until just combined.  Do not overmix.

4.  Remove bowl from mixer and knead the dough gently with your hands inside the bowl for a minute or two until it all comes together into a cohesive whole.  Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a large sheet of plastic wrap.  Wrap tightly and chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter 25-30 small tart pans.  Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and tear off a piece that is approximately the size of a walnut.  Pat the small piece of dough into the tart pan using your fingers.  The dough should be uniformly 1/16th inch to an 1/8th inch thick across the surface of the tart pan.  Be mindful to create a nice even edge at the top of the pan.

6.  Place 8-10 filled tart pans on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper and slide them in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until they are light golden brown in color.

7.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow tart shells to cool before handling.  Once they are cool enough to touch, tip them upside down and remove the tart shell from the pan.  This may take a little help from your fingers and by tapping and/or wiggling the pan a little to loosen the tart shell from the sides, all the while being mindful of the fact that the tart shells are fragile.  This may take a little practice.  Let the tart shells cool upside down on a wire baking rack.  Repeat with remaining tart pans, baking 8-10 on a baking sheet at a time.  Fill (or don’t fill) as desired.

*These tart shells freeze beautifully.  Put any tart shells that you are not immediately eating or filling in a freezer bag and consume at your leisure.

Shall We Fika?

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To truly fika requires a commitment to making time for a break in your day, the creation of a magical moment in the midst of the routine and the mundane.

Fika, Anne Brones and Johanna Kindvall

At its very essence, the Swedish term “fika” (pronounced fee-ka) means to take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly a delicious baked good to go with it.  Fika can be a noun (it’s time for fika) or it can be used as a verb (shall we fika?).  But to simply call it a coffee break as we understand that term in English would be missing the point.  The tradition of fika runs deep in Sweden.  Life in structured to accommodate fika, even in the workplace, and the expectation of a midday opportunity to stop what you are doing and enjoy a cup of coffee and a treat is something that is anticipated and enjoyed as a part of daily life.

Fika is not something you do in front of a computer screen or as you scroll through social media on your phone.  It is meant to be a sacred pause in the day, an opportunity to rest, reconnect and nourish ourselves.  One can fika with others, strengthening our relationships with friends, coworkers and family over coffee and conversation.  One can also fika alone, nurturing the relationship with the self instead.  The particulars are entirely up to you…coffee or tea, treat or no treat, alone or with company.  What matters most is that you pause, unplug and enjoy a momentary respite from the day.

Spicy Olive Bread or We Do Not Recommend Mixing this Dough by Hand

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But little by little,

As you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own                                                                                                                             

-Mary Oliver, The Journey

 

I am an excellent rule follower, and what is a recipe if not a list of rules?  Precise instructions that, if followed, will produce a delicious outcome.  As I set out to make this Spicy Olive Bread, I read the headnote to the recipe.  The last line grabbed my attention….We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand.  Oh, okay.  I obediently began setting up my KitchenAid mixer.  Suddenly I stopped and thought, but wait.  I want to mix this dough by hand!  Getting my hands in the dough is pure sensory joy!  And then the part of me that wants everything to turn out perfectly said, but it might not turn out if you don’t follow the instructions.

It might not turn out if I don’t follow the instructions.  

How often do we disregard our own desires and inner knowing simply because it’s not the proven path of success?  We are hard-wired to follow the those familiar voices outside of ourselves claiming they know what’s best for us.  “Get married and have children”, they might say, or “get a secure, stable job with a good company” or maybe they are simply pointing out that whatever it is that you are longing to do “isn’t practical” or “won’t work out”.

But if you are listening, you’ll know what to do.  You will pour the water over the flour, yeast and salt and with a great deal of courage, you will slide your sacred, beautiful hands into the mixture.  They were meant for this.  You will feel the soft flour between your fingers and the cool water in the palm of your hand as you gently mix everything together.  You will forget the voices for a moment as you remove the wet dough from the bowl, slop it onto the counter and begin to knead.  Clumsily at first, perhaps, and undoubtedly with a great deal of sticking and mess.  Just as it should be.

A small risk taken, to be sure, but practicing courage in the small gestures of our lives not only can create a gorgeous loaf of hand-made bread, but also an authentic life lived with soul and intention.

Spicy Olive Bread

(adapted from Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen)

This is a very lively yet rustic sandwich loaf that packs a spicy, olive-y punch.  I highly recommend this bread toasted and topped with a little cream cheese, salami, arugula and a drizzle of olive oil.  

3 cups  (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 1/3 cups (10 2/3 ounces) water, room temperature

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 cup pitted olives (I used a mix of black and green greek olives from the Whole Foods olive bar), rinsed, patted dry with paper towels and coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons salt

1.  Whisk flour, yeast and red pepper flakes together in a large mixing bowl.  Combine water, sugar and olive oil in a separate bowl until sugar has dissolved.  Hold back the salt for now.

2.  Pour the water mixture over the dry mixture and with your very clean hands (I usually just use one hand at this stage) gently mix the wet and dry ingredients until they are just combined. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

3.  While dough is resting, combine olives and garlic in a small bowl.  Set aside.

4.  Sprinkle salt over dough and fold the dough in and over on itself, encasing the salt inside the dough.   Remove dough from the bowl and place it on a clean counter.  The dough will be sticky.  Resist the urge to add more flour.  Sticky is okay.  Using a metal bench scraper as needed, pick the dough up from one end holding it by your thumb and forefingers, pincer style.  The dough will be hanging down toward the counter, probably threatening to ooze back down into a blob.   In a quick, sure motion, slap the dough back down onto the counter with a hearty whack, as if the dough were a beaver tail slapping the water.   And then, using your bench scraper, fold the dough back over on itself.  Repeat the process until the dough starts to develop strength and seems more cohesive.  This may take 5 minutes or so.  This is fun!  Enjoy the process.*

5.  Towards the end of the kneading process, begin adding the olive and garlic mixture as you slap and fold, slap and fold.  Your olives will try to escape but be persistent!  They will fully incorporate themselves given enough time and kneading.

6.  Once the dough has developed strength and formed a cohesive ball, return to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rest 45 minutes.

7.  Uncover dough and, leaving it in the bowl this time.  Use the same pincer finger grasp to pick up a corner of the dough, stretching it up and then folding it back down to touch the other side.  Rotate bowl slightly and repeat process 5 more times.  This is a process known as “folding” the dough.  You just completed one fold.

8.  Let rest 45 minutes and than fold the dough again as described above.  Let rest for 45 minutes.

9.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter.  Pat into a round shape about 8 inches in diameter.  Begin folding the edges toward the center creating a ball.  Secure into a seam at the center  This side of the dough where the edges are all gathered is known as the seam side of the loaf.

10.  Flip the dough seam side down and cupping your hands around the ball, use the tension of the counter top and pull the ball toward you while turning it ever so slightly.  Repeat, rotating the ball and gentling pulling it towards you until you’ve created a round, taut shape, keeping the seam side down facing the counter.  Sometimes I will start the dough ball in a more floury part of the counter top and then move it to a less floury area to do the shaping.  A counter top with too much flour will not provide the tension you need to create a taut surface on your dough.  When you are finished, the dough should be smooth and tight in appearance on the top.**

11.  Lightly grease a 16 x 12 piece of parchment and transfer the loaf seam side down to center of parchment.

12.  Using the parchment as a sling, set loaf gently in a bowl, basket or large colander and cover with lightly greased plastic.  Let rise until dough rises by about half and the dough springs back slowly when poked gently with your finger.  Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

13.  Meanwhile, place a baking stone on bottom rack of oven, and place a Dutch oven with lid on top of baking stone.  Preheat to 450 degrees.

14.  Using a sharp paring knife or a lame (or a razor blade), score the top of your bread with a cross shape, about 5 inches long in each direction and 1/2 inch deep.

15.  When dough is ready and oven is preheated, carefully remove the pot from oven and remove lid.  Using your parchment as a sling again, carefully lower the parchment and loaf into the pot.  Replace lid, place back in oven and bake for 20 minutes.

16.  Remove pot from oven and carefully using the sling and mitts to protect your hands, lift loaf out of the Dutch oven by using the parchment sling and place onto a peel.  Using the peel, transfer parchment and loaf directly onto the pizza stone in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

17.  Using peel, remove loaf from oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack.  Remove parchment.  Let cool before serving.

Recipe Notes:

*For a good read on how to knead wet dough and a link to a YouTube video that demonstrates this technique, check out this King Arthur Flour blog post.  It is an excellent tutorial on the subject.

**For a short tutorial on how to shape your dough into a ball as described in Step 10, watch this YouTube video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still and Still Moving

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We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion

-T.S. Eliot

I have become very good at being in the last few years.  I practice yoga and meditate.  I journal.  I can stare at trees for hours.  And this has all been very good for this once Type-A lawyer.  But I think it’s time to find the balance of effort and surrender again.  To bring the still, quiet center I have so carefully cultivated over the last few years back into motion.  To be, as T.S. Eliot said, still and still moving.

The art of being still and still moving is a matter of letting the next right action arise out of stillness.  Most of the time here in the western world, we take action based on what others expect of us, the wants and desires of our egos or simply as a reactive response to what is happening around us.  But what if we allow our actions to come from a much deeper, truer source?  What would happen if we regularly tapped into the wisdom of our souls as we create our to-do list each morning and set goals for ourselves?   Inside each of us there is a quiet voice that longs to guide us forward with all of the wisdom and compassion of 10,000 gurus, sages and shamans.  We must simply be still and quiet enough to listen.

And so it is that I find myself here in the quiet, ready to add some doing to my being.  What do I feel deeply called to right now?  What feels like the next right action?  As many of you know, I am a bread baker.  I studied baking and pastry at the Institute for the Culinary Arts and teach sourdough bread baking classes here in Omaha.  Peter Reinhart, legendary bread baker and teacher once said, “I love myth and romance and, in fact, think bread is the perfect mythic symbol to explain the meaning of life.”  I’m not promising you enlightenment through bread, but I am very drawn to idea of exploring the concepts of mindfulness, purpose and meaning through the medium of bread.  Please join me on this journey as I bake, reflect and write.