“A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in.
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in.
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble, And never a laugh but the moans come double.
And that is life. A crust and a corner that makes love precious,
With a smile to warm and tears to refresh us,
And joy seems sweeter when cares come after,
And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter. And that is life.”
~ paul laurence dunbar
“You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life” ~ julia child
…and that IS life ~ bread and butter ~ and also, and of course, pasta and salt. I could live on these; and sometimes I do. Sometimes it takes me making a very specific effort to bring in things that are green or orange, yellow or red ~ anything NOT beige. And on occasion I’ll add a vegetable or meat, thyme and some pepper, but to me, bread, pasta and salt are the foundation of goodness. I even look forward to eating out at certain restaurants particularly for their choice of bread and accessory ~ their choice in butter or type of oil; and sometimes I crave it more than the main meal. And the smell….of bread baking, bread consumed warm, bread with melted butter ~ I truly can’t think of anything more desirable at certain times of day. However, until recently the idea of baking bread myself was beyond daunting. I have a husband who, when we met 18 years ago, viewed (and still does) Carol Field’s book on bread baking as the bible, and he’s been baking bread since college. So it took the collision of perfect timing, inclination, and aesthetic provocation (in the guise of a deep burgundy dutch oven I bought for my husband for Christmas) for me to actually act on something i’ve really wanted to learn how to do for some time.
above ~ My husband Lloyd’s pizza, Lloyd and I with food writer Carol Field and her husband John, at my “last supper” / salon dinner #77, June 20th 2015. Breads and focaccia made by Lloyd, Anthony Sibthorpe and Eric McKinley…
…and then there’s pasta ~ the ultimate comfort food. I grew up making it ~ at times with a pasta machine, but mostly hand rolled and thumb pressed ricotta gnocchi ~ that bring me right back to a childhood in the kitchen with my grammy and papa. Pasta came easier maybe because the people who taught me were more casual about it. It was something we did as part of our daily or weekly ritual. We made pasta during the day, prepared a bolognese to go with it, and ate it family style that night.
above ~ my grandma’s ricotta gnocchi we made for salon dinner #19 for my mom’s birthday / 23rd december 2012. August making pasta. Renato Sardo, left with Angelo Garro, right ~ making pasta at the Forge, SF.
So, I remember vividly being reintroduced to pasta-making at Angelo Garro’s Renaissance Forge in San Francisco when I moved to the West Coast almost 20 years ago. There was the dough, and there was the machine (a more sophisticated version of our hand-cranked one), and out came pasta that we boiled in salted water and ate al dente. one-two-three…bread/pasta/salt ~ Stephen Yafa, Renato Sardo, Angelo Garro…What is so fascinating about how these three ways of seeing came together in my mind around thinking through these staples in our lives, is the questions and curiosity that led each one of them to where they are now. Each of them enters into their subject matter from a different point of view ~ and in the end we have different ways of conceiving the social life of each object. Like Sidney Mintz’s 1986 book Sweetness and Power, where the single commodity of sugar opened up a whole new way of perceiving social relationships and human behavior in modern (and colonial) history, our consumption of bread, pasta and salt (or not) can highlight many of our present day concerns, phobias, and trends. Here are little clips of each of their stories, through the eyes of writer Stephen Yafa, Baia pasta’s Renato Sardo and Omnivore’s Angelo Garro.
STEPHEN YAFA ~ on bread and other things…
above, left ~ Stephen with Guy Saperstein at Salon Dinner #62, February 21st 2015. right ~ At Stephen’s book party May 2015.
I’ve known Stephen for more than a few years. He’s the husband of a close friend Bonnie Dahan, and the author of the illuminating book Grain of Truth / The Real Case for and Against Wheat and Gluten. I knew him first as a wine maker who also wrote about wine, and also as a screenplay writer; he had also written a book on cotton and was working on a book about bread. I remember the first time he told me about the bread book was at a reception for Michael Pollan’s book Cooked at St George Spirits in Alameda. And after listening to Michael talk about his own experiences baking bread at Tartine, I remember leaving the party thinking I need to learn how to bake bread ~ how hard can it be?
I guess the question was ~ why was bread baking such a mystery to me? I actually knew why. For some people it involved a scale, and knowledge of what yeast actually did and something to do with refrigerating a starter yeast, grams, and words like “rise” and “proofing” and all of those things that I never had time to think about. So fast forward a couple years when I was invited to a party for Stephen’s book on bread. When I got there I met a few bread bakers and Stephen read excerpts from his book and went into the historico-cultural and investigative journalism aspect of his research, which then lead him to not only thinking about the trend of gluten free but also led him to making bread himself… Ah-ha….how did he get to the “making bread himself” part? So a few weeks later, after having read a good portion of Grain of Truth, I contacted Stephen about this piece, knowing that it might inspire me (as well) to start baking bread. I also questioned what would I miss, or rather, what bread ~ in my full history of bread possibilities ~ would I miss, if I were to be gluten-free? And I realized that it was a memory of a bread which I had never found done quite like I remembered it in Venice, Italy. So I decided I would attempt to make “the memory” of this specific bread. And I googled “olive bread” and came across Jim Lahey’s (of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery) recipe for no-knead bread. I was in. And made it. Thought it needed salt, re-googled it, and found the adapted Mark Bittman recipe for the NYT. Made it again with the added salt, leaving the lid on the dutch oven during the pre-heating. And it was even better. And I made it again, refined it, again, added the olive juice, again. It’s perfection. It didn’t require a scale, knowledge of grams, proofing, or a starter.
above ~ my very first loaf December 25th 2015. My second loaf of kalamata olive bread December 28th 2015.
MY “ADAPTED” RECIPE ~
adapted originally from Jim Lahey’s My Bread, and then from Mark Bittman’s No-Knead recipe for the NYT, which adds salt.
One loaf, served 1-6, depending on appetite.
3 cups of all purpose flour (does NOT have to be bread flour (which Jim Lahey recommends); but this is fun to experiment with, to see what happens when you use whole wheat, etc and the subtle changes that ensue)
3⁄4 teaspoon instant yeast (Mark Bittman’s recipe calls for 1⁄4 teaspoon of yeast which means you need
more time for it to rise, esp if you leave the dough out. I put mine in the fridge.) 1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt
1 1⁄2 cups cool water
2 cups kalamata olives, pitted and chopped in half
Mix flour, yeast and salt together, add water and mix using a slotted spoon or hands. Mix in the chopped kalamata olives. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and an elastic and put in fridge overnight (for at least 18 hours). Flour a work space (or use cornmeal, which adds texture) and scrape dough out onto surface and fold a couple times. Form into a ball, cover with towel and let rise for 2 hours. 45 mins before dough is ready, preheat oven to 500, and let dutch oven (and cover) heat in the oven for at least 30 mins. Before putting the dough into the pot I lightly oil the whole ball of dough, primarily to prevent the bottom from sticking, but this adds a lovely glaze and texture to the final bread. Bake for 30 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and let bake another 15 minutes to the desired browning. Remove to cool on a rack. Cut and add butter ~ my favorite is the french “beurre de baratte” or any local salted butter.
When I met up with Stephen at the end of January, I was prepared for our bread-making lesson (more or less), having made a few loaves of my own; and so we tackled forming, shaping, “proofing,” and the tightening and tucking process of the loaves.
We talked about his apprenticeship at Bien Qui in Brooklyn in 2013, that he he did at the beginning of his research for the book. “A humbling experience,” he said. And of course I knew what he meant, having apprenticed at Chez Panisse back in 2011… There are us researcher-writer people, and then there are bakers and chefs/cooks. The precision with which the latter perform each and every task, is very humbling indeed. We talked the beauty of learning by doing, the concept of bread as “a carrier,” the rest period called “autolyse,” and essentially understanding the way things work in the world by looking at a single object like Bread, or Grain, or Wheat. With grain, however, Stephen continued, health gets involved… and I think in reflection, it was his reading of the opening of his book back at this book party the previous year, was actually what made me smile, made me relate, and made me want to read more of his book, and made me want to understand the process of bread baking.
I quote from his opening Prologue when his wife Bonnie returns from an Ayurvedic retreat announcing ~ “I have a gluten neck.” She explains ~ “one of the bodyworkers dug his knuckles into the kinks in my neck and shoulders and after a minute he just stopped,” Bonnie reported. “He told me, ‘There’s very little I can do for you until you stop eating gluten. Your upper torso is so inflamed that if you sincerely want to see change, you’ll have to take gluten out of your diet.” And I am starting now.” This was not the punch line I expected.”
Stephen continues in the book by going through his reactions to
the disappearance of all gluten from the pantry and then his effort
to explore the true nature of wheat today ~ and takes the reader
on a journey that merges science, history, biology and economics
from the viewpoint of an investigative journalist in search of
answers. I’ll say no more, except to pick up the book and begin the
journey, hopefully learning how to bake your own bread along the
way… After our little lesson, and talking about his
learning/doing/writing process we put the dough to the side to
proof for another 2-3 hours and left (together with Bonnie) to have lunch at MH Bread and Butter down the road.
* Ponsford’s Place in San Anselmo
* Acme Bread in Berkeley
* Tartine and The Mill/Josey Baker in San Francisco
You have my quick no-knead recipe above, but here is Stephen’s recipe / his ingredients and method:
56 grams (1/4 cup) fermented sourdough starter– refreshed 8 hrs before
140 grams water, lukewarm (50%)
140 grams each organic whole wheat and high extraction bread flour
Mix and rest at 75º 16-20 hours
750 grams organic whole-wheat flour
400 grams unbleached bread flour, preferably organic—or, if using 100% whole. increase to 1300 g, or 100% water)
150 grams organic whole-rye flour, dark or light
1170 grams water , warm but not hot ( 90% hydration)
Fermented levain (1/2 of the total above, use rest as starter for next batch)
1 TBS sunflower oil; 1 1/2 TBS salt, add after first mix and 30 minute rest, before second
Optional: sunflower, sesame, pumpkin seeds or walnuts
Mixing: If using Kitchen Aid, set at Speed One for 3 minutes, rest, and Speed Two for another 3 minutes. Also mix by hand afterwards or throughout until dough becomes spring, about 500 stokes if only by hand Bulk ferment: pull and stretch dough gently, 1/4 turning bowl, each hour for three hours—the no-knead method. TIP: If working in cool kitchen, set dough bowl and levain both on seed propagator covered with one layer of towel. Proof for 2-3 hours or overnight in refrigerator before baking.
RENATO SARDO ~ BAIA PASTA
above, left ~ Baia paccheri at Salon dinner #32, October 25th 2013. middle, right ~ Renato making pasta, on the day of our interview. bottom ~ Renato in his shop, photo by: Kaia Diringer, Berkeleyside.
When I met with pasta maker Renato Sardo in his production facility in Jack London square, he was in the midst of making pasta. Sheet after sheet of beautifully sculpted pasta in the very cool shapes that Baia comes in. He said for him it was “meditation” ~ just the act of making the pasta every day ~ the process, the focus, the output. I knew exactly what he meant. For me, whether it was building a clothing collection, or preparing a salon dinner ~ it was the singular focus and act of doing that I ultimately fell in love with. Renato took me through his history and relationship to pasta which, which stemmed from his childhood in Bra, and being brought up as son to Piero Sardo, a cheese expert ~ “It was on my father’s side of the family which did the wholesale of cheese, salami and milk.. and he was one of the people who started Slow Food in Italy. I remember over 15 years ago mozzarella di buffalo and when he bought all these culatello, these little salami called “little butt”. And in the 80s when he was bartering his cheese for truffles. I became enlightened kind of like when John Belushi sees the light of God…” His brother, the film-maker Stefano Sardo, also made a film called the Slow Food Story, about the history of the Slow Food Movement in Italy which was screened in Telluride Film Festival in 2013, the same year that Angelo Garro took me foraging for porcini (see below).
Renato was the International Director of Slow Food in Bra from 1994, and he moved to the Bay Area in 2005. Everyone was talking about sustainability without doing very much (back then), so Renato thought ~“I must switch from theory to practice… and pasta seemed a good idea. At that time there weren’t many choices… I was inspired by Acme Bread and Blue Bottle Coffee and I thought why not. I love pasta so lets make a terroir product. I saw the niche.” And Baia filled it ~ with its focus on the best organic flours ~ durum, whole durum, spelt, whole spelt, and Kamut® khorasan wheat. Renato continues, “To me, Acme makes such a good product and it’s accessible and he did this all without much of a website. Also, Rancho Gordo, the bean producer. He de-commodified the bean so if he can do it with beans, I can do it with pasta. I like Rancho Gordo as a model too because he sells 80% on-line.”
When I asked renato about his favorite type of pasta as in shape and then kind of pasta as in dish, he answered… “In the end, I like a very good pasta with pomodoro. I love paccheri but they break all the time. Also, pasta la norma with eggplant and spaghetti con vongole. I prefer perfect simple plates, like Alice, and Chez Panisse.”
On the gluten-free trend ~ “I am a little concerned these days with this gluten-free thing and I’m mystified by this. Everything has gone as planned with my business but it takes way more stores than I thought to do volume; and some day we’d like to mill our own flour. So yes, we have more branding to do and also more consistency for restaurants which is necessary…but when you think of the basics of pasta, that’s what I’m interested in. If you are a student and know the recipes to cook a couple pastas, you can avoid fast food.” Exactly, I thought. The basics, and the simplicity of eating and living a slow(er) life, which of course we know can be so hard to do, especially without really understanding some of the basic techniques of cooking.
As I leave, I take a peek at the front of the shop, the types of pastas that Renato had mentioned, and the other products too. And then I pop next door to my friend Steve Sparkes’ Steel Rail Cafe, where they served Renato’s “organic durum wheat corkscrews” in their Mac & Cheese Daddy. So I sat and flipped through Ten Speed Press’s Mastering Pasta (a present from Aaron Wehner, after coming to Salon dinner #62) and reflected on what some of my favorite pasta shapes and sauces were, and why myself and of course my kids are just so in love with pasta ~ for me, it’s a favorite bolognese (with a touch of chicken liver), or SPQR’s fettuccine with uni and for my daughter Royal, she adores basic elbow macaroni pasta with a simple olive oil (sometimes a favorite butter) and some salt and pepper.
“Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
~ sophia loren
ANGELO GARRO ~ Salt (and other things)
“Where would we be without salt?” ~ james beard
“Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.” ~ george herbert
above, left ~ Angelo at the annual pigroast that our friend Richard Hylton hosts. middle ~ in Telluride 2013, foraging for porcini. With Charlie Hallowell and I and 80 pounds of porcini, Telluride.
I’ve known Angelo Garro for close to twenty years. I’ve drunk his coffee and his wine (at times made from the grapes my children have picked), eaten his handmade pastas and cured meats, watched him carve the wild boars he (and once my husband Lloyd) shot in Healdsburg. I even foraged my very first porcini with him in Telluride, during the Film Festival. His forge was one of the inspirations behind my salon dinners in my 4th street atelier in Berkeley, and his do-it- yourself philosophy has touched much of the Bay Area food community in one way or another. When I interviewed Angelo last year, I loved his way of talking about the relationship of food and people ~
“It’s about community. The food tastes good, because… you are with your friends; and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. There’s so many simpatico people, and it is exactly about that. I came here in late 1983 and started my business in 1984. I met Alice (Waters) through Bob Carrau. I was having a birthday and two days before i got chanterelles and caught eels and Bob brought Alice, and she loved the ocean to plate idea…. that was 1986-87. Everyone was gravitating to the forge and I thought, I must have something to share, some knowledge. Alice took me to Chez Panisse and introduced me to Paul (Bertoli) and we foraged mushrooms, made salumi in his garage, hunted boar.. but these were all things I started to do in Canada. Paul and I made wine together ~ Zinfandel…I learned a lot through my life but most my inspiration comes from my friends. That’s my source of inspiration ~ everything is organic. It’s not an accident that I came from Sicily. It’s truly magical. We have been invaded by everybody. There’s something you know is there ~ the magic ~ enduring to survive and live because there is something in the air that’s mixed together with this amazing archaeology and past, that hovers like the fog over you. I can smell the orange blossom, drink the wine and everything tastes good…”
“(the forge) is totally consistent with my spirit. I create the space according to my needs and my need is I have to do my work. I’m the 5th blacksmith here. I’ve done a few small improvements to make it more Sicilian. I have a cafeteria and I sit with friends and share a meal or two; a cellar for wine, and an office where I have my past through music ~ Beethoven, Mahler, Verdi, Norma by Bellini. Those people who do great work inspire me to do great work. I still inspire myself by the old masters, Renaissance. It’s a way to re-create something you don’t have here. This is a new country. I bring in all my friends and share food and ideas. You were inspired by me because you did it for the same reasons. The one thing we need is love. It comes down to your stomach. Love and then you die. And we may also have taught things along the way for continuity. It’s like with the pig roast. We started awhile ago ~ with Paul, then here at the forge, and then with Alice and then it triggered me to be inspired to do Omnivore Salt ~ a way to rub this under the pig. And then maybe share that ~ to share with the rest of the world. It’s one product, so how much money can i make? But the salt is a vehicle to cook well and share the experience with your friends.”
above ~ left, Angelo with his salt, and handmade wild boar; middle, Jeff Burwell and August at the SALT exhibition at Fouladi Gallery. right ~ one of my favorite food pairings / David Tanis’s watermelon radishes with creme fraiche (and I add horse radish) and top it off with a bit of Angelo’s salt (made with Sea Salt, Organic Red Pepper, Organic Black Pepper and Organic Fennel).~~~~~Angelo with his Omnivore Sicilia condiment sauce which we paired with Stephen Yafa’s and Pizzaiolo’s breads at my YBCA “Art of Gathering” exhibit last december; sandhi new limone salt / mix of of locally harvested natural sea salt and lemon zest, dill, ginger, parsley, garlic, fennel and black pepper ~ (last photo, and lead/final photo below: by Laurie Frankel)
And I think that is the power of gathering ~ the sharing of whatever it is that we make and do ~ with our friends. Whether it’s the freshly baked bread, the just made pasta, or the package of salt that reminds us of those little moments of grace ~ of stopping, doing, reflecting, and adding a bit of salt, a bit of pepper and a touch of fennel. These are the things that are retained, and evoked in the soft scent of baking bread, the lightness of the texture of the ricotta gnocchi, that extra something-ness is Angelo’s salt that emits like Proust’s madeleine a memory of a time past present in that moment, to be savored now. I remember seeing Marcel Pagnol’s 1938 film about the Baker’s Wife and thinking I would love to be in a community where people came together in a line to buy fresh bread. Of course we do that from time to time ~ at La Farine, at Acme, and at Tartine (when I can get there in time)… but in those situations, how often do we put our phones away and turn to the person in front or behind us and greet them, engage them, become friends? I actually do… from time to time, when I have the energy, and am in the mood. I love the magic that food has to bring us together, and the ability of taste, to recollect, and the potentiality of doing it yourself that is inherent in the beautiful simplicity of bread, pasta, salt.
“Je vous ferai un pain comme vous n’en avez jamais vu … et dans ce pain,il y aura de l’amour et aussi beaucoup d’amitié”
~ Marcel Pagnol, La Femme du Boulanger, 1938
(“I’m going to bake you bread like you’ve never seen before, and in this bread there will be love and friendship.”)
“To see a world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand
and eternity in an hour.”
~ william blake