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Monday, October 31, 2011

Bread Test Run

This weekend, I will be attending a gathering of fellow BBQ enthusiasts from around the Northern California and surrounding states. I offered to provide bread dough, which, means I had to get a biga started. I did that today, it will sit out for a few days, hopefully improving during that time. I started this one with commercial yeast, active powder type, two packages, along with one cup of honey pale ale and 1/2 cup warm water. I like to not use chlorinated water, but, I didn't plan well. Here is the active Biga after 3 hours.

I decided to take this and run a test, so I added 1 cup of it to 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of bread flour and one cup of AP flour. I also added 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast, since the Biga is very young. This was combined and mixed until tight. I then kneaded it in the bowl for 5 minutes, until it pulled from the sides cleanly.

Onto the granite, some light flouring, since I use a highly hydrated dough, I can use up to 1/2 cup flour during kneading. I need this. (get it? :-p) Anyways, I then decided to get lazy, stuffed it into the bowl of the Kitchenaid and put the dough hook on. Three 5 minutes bursts for kneading with 2 minute rests and the dough was ready for a final few minutes by hand. There is no substitute for this. The last 4 to 5 minutes must be by hand, as you can feel the dough become softer and silkier. This is how to tell when it is time to rest the dough. I was going to make 4 small rolls, which changed after I got home and saw the rise. Here are the little balls.

So, this decision resulted in my having rather poorly formed loaves. Oh well, a bad decision. I tried to recombine the balls into two loaves, which I spread with some garlic sauteed in olive oil, some fresh cracked Phu Quoc black pepper and some kosher salt. I get the black pepper from Rob at Red Boat Fish Sauce. It is a great spice. The loaves were cooked at 450F in the oven for 35 minutes, sort of. I checked it and pulled it when it hit 200F internal temperature. Here is what came out.

As you can see, not pretty loaves at all. But, lookie inside.

Since I make the dough without salt, which I believe gives a better texture, as salt is toxic to yeast. I add the kosher salt to the dough before I shape it, it gives a more capriocious saltiness, as the kosher salt doesn't dissolve that much during cooking. Each bite will be a bit different, the bread evolves with each bite. The idea of a salt-less dough may seem odd, but, it is not so unusual when you look at traditional beads, such as those made in Tuscany. At one time, salt was very expensice and bread was for the masses.

This bread had a fine crumb, a soft elastic tooth and a crisp crust. You could hear it cracking as it cooled. There was the expected richness of the garlic and olive oil, the punch of the black pepper and kosher salt varying with each bite. A very good loaf.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Other Life

This past weekend, I got to visit an old project I worked on years ago in Benicia, California. Back in 1993, the firm I worked for got hired to administer and be the on-site representative for a project that would eventually become the Benicia Community Park. While the design landscape architect was another firm, I was on site daily to insure that the City's interests were protected. To that degree, I had the influence on several occasions to affect design of some site elements. One of the elements that required some 'site engineering' were these cooking grills. I made some 'tweeks' to make sure these units would last, were more functional and easily maintained. It was good to see that after 18 years of use, they function as well now as they did when new.
There are four of these units, each with the capacity to cook very large meals. The grates easily adjust up and down and will hold their adjustments perfectly. The actual mechanisms were designed and manufactured by a now defunct local company, what a great product that guy was making. I posted this at the BBQ Brethren forum and someone made a comment about all of the good food and good times shared around these. I am sure there have been many. But, this put in my mind, at this partucluar intesection of my two passions, cooking and landscape architecture, why I am still, after 30 years, passionate about what I do for a living. I have designed and worked on multi-million dollar residential estates, fabulous corporate campuses and some very interesting one-off buildings. But, my passion has always been park, school and playground design.
As cool as these grills are, and as cool as all the food I have cooked, and as much as I love when folks tell me that they love my food, it all pales to when I walk onto a park I worked on or designed and I see a dozen kids playing and laughing.

In fact, far beyond the food from these pits and all of the families that might have enjoyed them. I am a landscape architect whose passion has been designing parks, playgrounds and ballfields for public use. I have hated nearly every fabulous corporate campus or high end residential as a necessary evil to satisfy my need for earning a living. But, when I work on a park project, I know that for the next 20 to 30 years, and maybe even more, thousands of children will pass through each of them, laughing and playing, maybe making their first team, scoring their first goal or maybe just getting away from a real world that holds nothing but sadness for them.

I was recently asked why I have no passion for the 'art' of landscape architecture and I gave a useless answer. But, in truth, I have little use for the high end of design just for the sake of art, I am happy to leave that to other people. I have done probably close to 250 parks, schools and playgrounds over the last 30 years, multiply that by even just a 1000 kids per park (and that is probably a very low number) and I have fed the soul and joy of over a 300,000 children and they have fed my soul back everytime I go to any park and think about it all.

Yeah, I like these grills and they are terrific to cook on, but, they are all about fun for me. They are just a small part of a larger whole that has meant far more to me. When I took these photos, my nephew was with me, he wasn't even born when I did this work. He was quite taken and my nephew thought the whole park, especially the baseball fields, were amazing. My work never fails to enrich me in ways money has never done.

My name is Bob, I am a landscape architect and I make places were children laugh and play.