Culinary Interlude: Bread day

I can get truly mediocre baguette at Safeway for under a buck — it has a decent crust that seems to surround cotton batting. Or I can get top-notch loaves at an independent bakery in town — at about four bucks a pop. We eat a lot of bread with our meals, dipped in olive oil or spread with roasted-vegetable puree, so I’ve purchased both in the past. But these days I mostly bake my own.

Baking bread isn’t hard — I just started with a recipe out of a Williams Sonoma cookbook and went from there. You have to be willing to make adjustments to suit your circumstances, though — temperature, humidity and altitude can play havoc on the balance of flour and water, and on time required to rise. In bone-dry Arizona, I generally add more water unless it’s monsoon (which just started), when I might actually need to add more flour. I find my dough rises a lot faster here than the recipe suggests. I’ve also switched up the recipe a bit by using a 2:1 ratio of unbleached, all-purpose flour to whole-wheat flour.

Roughly every other week, I bake a batch of baguette, which I freeze and pull out as needed. When it’s gone, which it is as of last night, I break out the mixer and the flour and start the day-long process.

Honestly, I like bread days. No matter what else I may be doing (or not doing), I accomplished something that day. The house smells great, and I have something to show for my efforts.

But I bake bread not just to save money and give the old abode a fresh, yeasty scent, but also because it’s appreciated. We’ve always eaten well — plenty of vegetables, fruits, grain, lean meat and the like — and we dialed up our efforts earlier this year, down-playing meat a bit (though I do wish my wife would eat rabbit, which I can bag just by sitting on the back patio with an air pistol). My wife has a family history of cardiac trouble from both sides, and her mother needed a triple-bypass in January. With her own cholesterol count edging into the danger territory, it was time to make some changes.

The more of our food I make, the more I can control what’s in it. That’s certainly good for my wife (who is just about due for another cholesterol test), for my son and for me. And, hell, I certainly have the time.

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