Saturday, May 22, 2004
Of Sourdough And Bitter Failure

Friday night again, and I am vexed as ever. I've been particularly reclusive over the last week -- the shoot is approaching imminently now, and I'm storing up as much of my desire to interact as possible, not to mention taking the last opportunity I'll have for a month or so to sleep as much as I generally like to. And I still don't want to talk about politics and the state of the world; it doesn't bear thinking about.

My mother gave me a couple of small cartons of morels tonight; she said her boss had gotten some in a shipment (she currently works at a supermarket wholesaler, though not for much longer), but that he didn't want all of them. (!) She handed them to me and said, "I thought you might be able to use them for something." Now, you have to understand, morels are generally considered the finest field mushrooms available, second only to truffles in terms of desireability (and possibly equalled by porcinis in some eyes.) And they weren't dried morels, either... these are fresh. It was a bit like being handed a white truffle and being told, "here, see what you can do with this." I'm honestly a little intimidated by them... I'm a reasonably good cook, but I'm no gourmand, and morels feel rather out of my league. I'm afraid that whatever I do, I won't be doing them justice, and I'll have blown a rare opportunity to use genuinely great ingredients; it's not like I can afford to buy more if I screw it up. (They're really ugly -- they look more like some weird marine mollusc than a fungus -- and they smell, well, woodsy.) I'm thinking it'll have to be one of three things: 1) I could try to work them into some kind of creamy sauce, but I don't really favor that option; 2) I could just cook 'em in some good butter with some herbs and have 'em with steak (but where would I get a steak worth eating with them?); or 3) I could get some other interesting, cheaper mushrooms and make a stock. If anybody else has any ideas, let me know, I'd appreciate the advice.

In other culinary news, my first attempt at home-reared sourdough was a real disappointment, although basically successful. I cultivated myself some wild yeast (although it was touch-and-go there for a while), and over the course of several days, managed to take that yeast and successfully raise a couple of loaves. Things looked very promising until I slapped 'em in the oven this afternoon... my shitty, ancient electric oven just wasn't up to the task, and while I got an acceptable spring in the oven, they sprung in the wrong place, splitting through the bottom edge instead of through the slashes in the top crust; and then my parchment paper started to scorch, which burnt the bottom crust of the loaves... that really sucked The top crust, which should have been thick and crackly, was thin and weak; and the flavor of the finished, cooled loaves was okay, but nothing special: not very sour at all, and a tad on the salty side. The flour I use has a reputation for being a bit salty-tasting at times, but it's the best I can get, so I'll keep using it.

But the process, as always, was worth it anyway. There are two kinds of serious bakers: those who love bread and bake because it's the only way to get it warm and fresh, and those who bake bread because they love to bake, and bread is fun. I'm much more the latter... bread is good, but I prefer baking it to eating it. It occured to me today that I always bake more during times of stress or anxiety... kneading dough as a meditation, a way of centering and calming one's mind, getting back in touch with your own immediate reality. Bread has an alchemical, archetypal quality that makes it especially satisfying... you take four basic ingredients -- water, flour, yeast, and salt -- that in themselves have little or no individual character, and through careful, hopefully insightful manipulation, you turn them into one of the most evocative and comforting substances on earth. I've read that the smell of baking bread has demonstrated usefulness as an anti-depressant; I believe that. It seems to work for me, anyway.

And I'm still thinking about getting the hell out of Memphis... y'know, I've been in Memphis (or at least connected to it) for more than a decade now, and in all that time, I have yet to form much of a bond to anyone I've met here. Now, admittedly, I'm slow to warm up to people, and I tend to take my time forming bonds -- I consider myself very fortunate if I can carry one good friendship away from any given place, and generally I've done well in that regard. But here in Memphis... I dunno, I just don't seem to be able to really "connect" with anyone here.

Which isn't to say there aren't some great people in Memphis, people I genuinely like and care about and consider friends. There are, plenty of 'em. But -- apologies to anyone reading this who thinks I might be selling them short -- I don't think I know anyone here whom I'd still know, say, a year after I moved away. The sense of disconnectedness is pervasive, and I don't feel like I'm really "involved" in anything, I mean, on a deep level... and maybe that's my own fault. But it does feel like a big missing piece, and probably has a lot to do with why I've never thrived here.

(My posts seem to be leaning more towards the longwinded-and-personal variety lately... but hey, it's my damn blog, I'll post whatever I like. ;P)
12:57 AM ::
Amy :: permalink