I have finally had a successful attempt at baking a bit of bread! Randomly deciding to have another go at it the other day, I found that the only recipe I had on hand was the Brioche in my copy of the French Laundry Cookbook, and so that’s what I made. Above is a photo of all the ingredients required, with the exception of the yeast, which I didn’t realize had been excluded from the photo until deep into the rising process. It’s OK, though, as it was just your run of the mill yeast. In the past, I have tried and failed to make a decent loaf of bread approximately once a year, for the past five years, and have previously been so dismayed by the results that it would take the ensuing year for me to build up the courage to try again. However, that epoch has now passed. As can be seen below, it is basically perfect– the crumb, the crust–what more can I ask for? This is the bread that the Croque Madame is intended to go on, but in the past instead of just biting the bullet and making my own, I would spend hours trying to find a decent loaf at some bakery or another (a surprisingly difficult item to find.) Nevermore!
Well on Sunday, I had to come up with something to do while the bread was rising, so Gabrielle and I decided to venture on over to Mississippi Ave. (Portland, OR). We were delighted to happen upon the new food cart village, the Mississippi Marketplace that has sprung up over there. I had heard about it peripherally because a lot of folks were stoked about Jesse Sandoval’s cart Nueva Mexico being there, but I didn’t really give it much thought beyond that. However, the digs are pretty sweet. There’s a huge canopy tent down the center with tons of tables for adults and children, and the whole lot is out-fitted with some pretty incredible looking carts. I ordered the Carne Adovada Sopapilla from Nueva Mexico, because the suspense was killing me, and I just had to get it over with. Naw! The real reason was that last winter I tried to use ‘sopa’ as a word for a kind of sandwich in a game of Scattagories and was denied by a one Christy Linden who stated, if I remember correctly, that it was soup! Honestly, I didn’t know what a sopa(pilla) was either, but now I have to say that it could pass for a type of sandwich in a game of Scattagories. It’s basically a piece of fried, lightly sweetened dough that’s filled with things. It might depend on what your definition of bread is. I hear someone around here has a cheeseburger on on a glazed VoodooDoughnut, so where does that argument end? Anyway, it was a pretty good plate, all and all, but what really made it for me was the pinto beans. Those were killer. What happened was that now I’m going to have to chill out on all these canned beans and get off my duff and make some fresh beans from scratch. Simply incomparable.
Gabrielle visited the cart named Ruby Dragon. They served up a pretty awesome never-ending cup of maté, and the special that day was very tasty—ginger quinoa blueberry gluten-free pancakes with a side of yammies. However, I have to say that if circumstances dictate that your costumer will have to wait upwards of 30 minutes (1 of 3 costumers at the time), and then only receive a single pancake (for $8), thus rejecting almost everyone’s idea of the term ‘pancakes’, then in my opinion a bit of a strategic overhaul is in order. Gabrielle thinks that what happened was that they had run out of her first choice, and then she decided on the special as her second choice, and that they didn’t want to admit that they had run out of her second choice also, and therefore scrambled to make more, instead of simply admitting that they were out of the pancakes as well. My take is that if you are out of something, at least as a food cart, then that is a good thing. It means that people are buying your food in numbers greater than you expected them to, which is a totally awesome scenario for a couple of reasons, but one that stands out in these circumstances is that you will be able to exuberantly tell costumers that arrive after you have sold out that they were so popular that you SOLD OUT of them! Anyway, it was really good, but took way too long to arrive, and we were expecting at least two. That, and excellent maté.
Next we meandered down Mississippi weaving in and out of specialty shops, reading menus here and there, wandering through the ReBuilding Center (which helped us realize that we know nothing about houses, among other things) with our ultimate destination being The Meadow. Ahhh, where to begin with this one. Gabrielle is still mulling it over. We learned many things about salt on Sunday at The Meadow, a salt specialty shop, but specifically we discovered that the universal acceptance of kosher salt (an agent of dessication) as Salt was equivalent to the universal acceptance of, say, “infanticide”. When asked if that might be a bit of a stretch, Mark Bitterman, owner, Selmelier, and crusader for overexageration replied with a “hmmm. . . I don’t think so.” Later on we learned from a second source, a one General Patrick Ripton, that “people who use kosher salt are indeed not like Hitler, but in fact are Hitler.” I’d like to remind everyone that we’re talking about salt here, or rather, Salt and Sodium Chloride. Where does that leave us? From now on, every time I blanch vegetables or boil pasta will I have to face the consequences of essentially being a baby killer? That’s a lot of guilt, and I’m so desperate that I actually bought some of the fancy salt.
When we got back home the brioche was bursting over the rim of the bread pan, begging to be baked, and so I obliged its need. For the next 35 minutes I drank a cup of coffee, and did a lot of nail biting. You’d think I’d reinvented the zipper or something, I was so ecstatic to pull such an awesome loaf from the oven. To celebrate, I made this Grilled Ham & Cheddar Sandwich on it:
1 This isn’t actually the first full slice from the loaf it’s the 3rd. With the first full slice I tried something that had intrigued me when I saw it on the daily board at Addy’s Sandwich Bar: Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Olive Oil. While the bread was still warm, I broke off 3 pieces of a Chocolove Toffee & Almonds 33% Milk Chocolate bar (a brand of bar which comes packaged with a love poem), laid them out width-wise along the bottom of the slice, drizzled them in Olive Oil, and sprinkled a bit of the fancy salt, namely the Fleur de Sel de Guérande from my Finishing Salts starter kit from the Meadow, folded it in half, and ate, polishing the half-sammy off in three bites, one for each chocolate square. The experience was sweet, and savory with just the right amount of textural crunch from the toffee bits and salt. Addy prepares hers on a small baguette from Little t bakery, which I suspect is probably a better bread match for the combination, being that baguettes are much chewier and crustier than a brioche could ever hope to be, the chewiness and crustiness of which I can’t help but think would lend a textural component that would be unparelled in this paricular combination of ingredients.
2 The cheese used here is Black Diamond White Cheddar, the sharpest that was for sale at Pastaworks. It was good, but not any different than Tillamook, really, which I think I’ll stick with in the future because it has a better price point, and is a bit more local than Canada.
3 The onion slices are from a Purple Torpedo, which I could not help but try because of it’s fantastic shape. Surely, these must be a cross between a shallot, and a red onion, because indeed it resembled a shallot multiplied by a factor of 4 or 5, and sported a coat somewhere in between the purple skin of the red onion, and the bronze skin of a shallot. The flavor profile leaned more towards that of a shallot, however, being quite strong, and pungent. Recommended for those who truly love a powerful onion.
4 A good smoked ham is hard to find. I can’t even count on three fingers the times that I have eaten truly unforgettable ham, and here I’ve been able to purchase some of the best caliber from the butcher at Pastaworks, just across the street from me, and I hadn’t even realized it. In the past I have bought Boar’s Head, which is fine, I guess, but nothing special. It’s your basic deli meats. The difference is that the ham pictured above is extrordinary, and it is less expensive. It’s sourced from Voget Meats in Hubbard, OR, a mere 30 minutes outside of Portland. I’m tempted to make a trip down there on my next day off work, but I’d be hard pressed to eat a 16 lb smoked ham on my own. But still, I am indeed tempted.
5 I try not to buy too many products sourced from other countries (with the exception of salt, haha), but in the case of this avocado, I was hoodwinked. The sign said it was of Californian variety, but later on as I peeled off the ‘Purity’ tag I read there in tiny font that the source was instead Chile. I’m don’t feel as much guilt about this misstep as I do about my decidedly suspect support of infanticide, but there is a pang, meaning that I think about it, but then let it fall from concioussness, and try to do better next time. I did a search in order to try and find the correct term for the outer layer of the avocado, be it the skin, or peel, or what have you, and came upon this page, hosted at avocadosource.com, “dedicated to the dissemination of avocado knowledge” (this being the type of statement which always kills me, because it never ceases to amaze that there is always someone to disseminate any information that you could ever dream of.) In the article they refer to the avocado as a berry, which surprised me a great deal, and that the scientific term for the outer layer is the exocarp, but the skin or rind are acceptable for layman’s terms. What struck me most in the article (from the 1940’s) was that there was a participant by the name of Haas A.R.C., and what I thought was, well, Haas, that is the leading seller of avocado’s right? The Haas Avocado. But right now, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the idea that a ‘Haas’ Avocado doesn’t exist, and that I am just one of many, many people who have fallen for the common misspelling, as the ‘Hass’ Avocado wikipage, and website are leading me to believe. There is an incongruity here that I need to solve, and only close observation at the grocery stores will be able to solve this for me. In any case, I web searched the ‘Haas’ avocado, a search I made because the study lists 5 varieties of avocados that were included in the research, and in my mind, I can only think of one variety by name (the Haas), and the first hit was the Hass site, a company whose flippant motto (for any one who cares about seasonality, or at least the grossly absurd idea of a winter tomato) , or slogan, is “Always in Season.” Is it? Are they. . . always in season? They can’t possibly be, and if they are, at what cost? The avocado season is spring. That means that in the Northern hemisphere they fruit and ripen sometime around April, give or take a few months. I just learned that myself, so we’re together here, unless of course you are a seasonality wonk. For the normal, everyday grocery shopper, the idea of seasonality doesn’t exist. If it’s in the store, it means that it’s growing somewhere, and that’s the end of the thought process–it’s available, so lets eat it. Which brings us around to the fact that the avocado I bought was shipped here from Chile, a distance of 5,500 miles by sea, where it is Spring now, so that I, and many others in this hemisphere, could eat one in the fall. Is all that matters is that it is in season somewhere?
6 More cheese, with a sprinkling of fancy salt.
7 I butter the bread before it goes in the pan. I did the same with the first slice, too. I used to heat the pan up and butter it just before I laid the sandwich into it, but those days are gone. It always led to inconsistent toasting, and to rebutter the pan in between the flip was always a pain to me. Once I discovered the joys of spreadable butter, that antiquated technique fell from the repertoire.
8 The consistent result of pre-buttering is pretty evident in this photo
9 Sometimes I have trouble deciding what I’d like to go with my sandwiches. In this case, I went with a handful of Kettle Chips, and fresh black radish chips paired with a sprinkling of Turkish Black Pyramid salt. I think that in reality it should be one, or the other. Choosing both is a product of my inability, at times, to make simple, sound decisions, instead opting to bounce between one option and the next until they become so blurred and indistinct that the only course is to choose either all or nothing. So I’m left considering all my choices in an interminable debate with inconsequential results. Gabrielle thinks that this carries over into a lot of my blog posts, her prime example being the one concerning our cat, Rigel. In other words, she called me long-winded. So in response, I decided to footnote this post so that I could further articulate some of the things that were on my mind without them impinging on the general trajectory of the post-prime. I think that there are readers who read footnotes, and readers who don’t, which is surely an important distinction in readers, and an important decision that those individual readers have made for themselves. I had a roommate who read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and skipped all the fancy parts, and loved it, where as I found the book an unreadable bore, and I’m a fan of footnotes. One of the reasons that I’m doing this, I think, is that I just read The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, and it renewed my admiration for the footnote. I had been living under a false assumption (perhaps the second that I’ve recognized this week!) that David Foster Wallace revolutionized the use of footnotes, but how untrue. While he certainly didn’t invent the footnote, it would seem that Baker is reponsible for elevating them to a higher status as a literary devise. DFW simply took it and went fucking crazy with the idea.
The cold weather finally broke and it is beautiful and warm now in the deep south. Since we started riding again back on January 3rd it has been either freezing or raining, or a combination of both. The weather made things very stressful. This post is to acknowledge and thank the people who helped us along the way from Alabama to Louisiana.
Courtland and Willamina hosted Brie and I while we were in Birmingham. On the first day in town, Willamina drove us all over the place so we could buy new tubes, and do the wash. She also was very knowledgeable about the history of Birmingham, and we had a wonderful time talking with her. The next day Courtland brought us to The Original Pancake House where we had an awesome breakfast, and then showed us around the city. We are very grateful for their kindness and generosity.
We are thankful that Hugh and Lona Plylar put us up in their extra house in Parrish, AL. It was freezing that night and they saved us from spending the night in the post office.
Also while in Parrish, we met a group of gentlemen at Smokin’ Joe’s who helped us a great deal, but specifically, it was Terry Barnes who helped us find our way through Alabama that day.
After finally making it to Mississippi, we stayed a night with Ryan Storment in Starkville. He is a student at MSU, and was a very interesting fellow, with a fresh perspective on life. He also escorted us on our way the next day, and gave us flawless direction to the Natchez Trace.
Donna and Gary Holdiness were the consummate hosts. While we were there, the temperature fell into the single digits. They put up with us for longer than they should have because we were too fearful of riding in the cold. Donna put some wedding ideas in Brie’s head which has really stirred the pot, and created a lot of trouble for me, but I can forgive her for that. If you are ever touring down the Natchez Trace and a women driving a white Suburban accosts you, just go with it–you won’t be sorry you did!
The last family we stayed with in Mississippi was Don and Becky Potts, and their daughter Cedar. As you can see in the picture, they have a mini horse. This is significant for two reasons: 1. They lived right in the middle of Jackson, MS, and, 2. Look at how cute she is! The horse’s name is Little River, and Brie fell in love with her at first sight. It was definitely cool seeing a mini horse walking around the yard of this neighborhood. Don took us to the Rainbow Co-op, which he helped found like 30 years ago, and now it’s a flourishing alternative grocery store. We ate dinner and then they proceeded to pour endless glasses of wine for us, before we moved on to Irish Cream and Caramel shots, talking and laughing all the while! We had a great time with them, and are thankful for their hospitality.
Two days later we rode over the Mississippi River and into Louisiana. Since then, the weather has turned for the better and we are looking at endless days of 70º weather, and sunshine. This weekend we are headed into New Orleans for some jazz, cajun food, and booze. We can’t help but think we wouldn’t be here in such good spirits and health with out all the people we met through Alabama and Mississippi.