Sunday, February 28, 2010
But let me caveat last night's loaves - they were indeed sour, with an excellent crusty yet chewy crust and a good crumb, but not as chewy as I think a ciabatta should be. It was really good bread, but still doesn't fit my imaginary endpoint for this year.
Some detail then. For these ciabatta, I did a series of short kneads of a fairly wet dough, though not so sticky I couldn't handle it, with ever-increasing proving times. So maybe 10 second kneads three times with about 10 minutes in between each, then about a 2-hour rise before splitting the dough, stretching it carefully and allowing another half-hour rise. Into a very hot oven (250C) with a water bath on the top shelf & a quick spray of the loaves at the beginning & one midway through baking. My starter, Fran, is currently mostly organic wholemeal flour, and the flour I added for these was organic unbleached. I didn't add any commercial yeast as I was looking for a flat bread anyway. This was lazy baking at its finest, and the results were lovely.
A few nights earlier, I whipped Fran up into some rye dinner rolls to have with our soup.They achieved exactly the soft, pliable texture you want from rolls, with crusty crusts. This dough was wetter than the ciabatta, and I added some commercial yeast for a better rise to great effect.
I've also embraced the joys of sourdough pizza crust, which goes perfectly with the salty, spicy combination of Stuart's home-cured olives, anchovies, bacon and chilies, plus garden-fresh tomatoes and basil and a thin lashing of homemade passata.
So it seems my 'specialty' breads are the winners thus far, as my loaves have often been unwilling to give me a good rise. They do say that sourdough starters are unreliable leaveners, and I'm finding this to be distinctly true. Check out my most hilariously unintentionally flat loaf, which still tasted quite nice, though a bit dry (and hell on the toaster, let me tell you!)
When I'm looking for a higher loaf, especially for toasting, I'm learning to add commercial yeast. It doesn't affect the flavour, which is invariably sour, but gives the bread the lift that Fran seems unable to offer.
I should add that the sourness is wildly variable as well, though predictably so. If Fran hasn't made some bread for more than a few days, she gets rather sour. If I'm making bread every day or two, she's less sour. The metaphors write themselves, so I won't bother here.
This last loaf below was my sourest to date (and by the way, given my California origins, I'm looking for the sourest of the sourdoughs!), and it also had the best crumb, even though it didn't rise much. If you check out the dough below, you'll see I really took Annette's advice to heart on this one and worked a really sticky, wet dough. In fact, it finally inspired me to get a proper dough scraper to assist with this rather messy method.
I feel almost guilty that for those of you out there looking for a scientific account of breadmaking, I'm just tossing around vague generalities. But these days, I cook by touch, smell, taste and imagination, rather than ratios. There are obviously ratios involved, but given my propensity to constantly adjust them by a smidgen, I'm afraid I can't really offer much insight into quantities of what's in my bread.
I think one of the best things about my relaxed approach has been the way it makes breadmaking seem like a simple and lovely thing to do, much like making the children a milkshake rather than mastering a croquembouche. It means I wander into the kitchen, see Fran on the bench and think, 'Hey, I might get some bread started,' and then wander in and out of the kitchen to tend to the dough over the afternoon or evening. The other positive outcome is the exciting array of outcomes - this is no McDonald's where you can expect the same burger every time, no matter where you are - open your palate and be prepared to be surprised at every new loaf of bread. :-)
Thursday, February 18, 2010
This article appeared this week in Campus Review - an interview with me about the year ahead as CAPA President. :-)
February 15, 2010
I am what I eat. You are what I feed you,” Tammi Jonas’s bio on Twitter asserts. When the new president of the Council of Postgraduate Associations is not cooking – or thinking about, talking about and communicating about food – she’s completing a PhD (with a food focus – of course) and representing the country’s 270,000 postgraduate students.
Jonas’s blog, called ‘Tammi Tasting Terroir’ and subtitled ‘The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a PhD candidate, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and would-be cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community ...’ sums it up.
The blog is a random mix of recipes for sourdough and passionate monologues on the state of higher education.
Food frames most aspects of Jonas’s life – even the political. Two years ago she held a soup kitchen for University of Melbourne tutors under vice-chancellor Glyn Davis’s office window to draw attention to poor conditions and unpaid work that their lot in life.
“We got everyone to come down with their fingerless gloves and I made a giant pot of potato and leek soup. I literally fed the tutors,” laughs Jonas.
More recently, she drew national attention to the issue of casual teaching when she resigned from the University of Melbourne council – and then wrote about it in an article for New Matilda.
Now her penchant for the big political statement is due to find its fulfilment in her role as president of CAPA – and she hope’s individual branches will follow suit.
While she likes the publicity, Jonas says her resignation from Melbourne University council was more than just a stunt.
“I certainly wanted the publicity to keep shining light on the issue [of exploitation of casual staff], otherwise no one will realise we need their sympathy,” she says.
“It wasn’t so much a stunt as a principled and ethical resignation, because I was no longer willing to be part of a body that wasn’t in my view behaving ethically by leading the way and ensuring all members of the academic community are being treated fairly.”
The issue, which Jonas says she had been campaigning on for years (and is itemised on her blog), revolved around postgraduate students being asked to present unpaid “guest lectures”, lack of adequate office and desk space, and unpaid work in other areas such as marking.
However, she would like it known that Melbourne is not the worst culprit – and can point the finger at any number of the other universities which she considers even more exploitative.
As Jonas takes up the top gig with CAPA, 2010 might be the year that some of the more pressing issues to do with postgraduate workforce issues get resolved. The government’s research workforce strategy reference group is due to report in the first half of the year.
“We’ve had the Bradley and Cutler reviews, but there are still many issues around lack of sustainability [of the research workforce] if things don’t change,” says Jonas.
“We have too many people leaving the sector because it’s not attractive enough. We are particularly interested in seeing conditions improve for research students both as casual labour and also in terms of their own basic minimum resources – computers, desks and so on – when they are doing their study. And then, of course, there are follow on effects of that on coursework postgraduates such as having better funded teaching programs so everyone is getting better quality courses.”
Jonas says other key items on her agenda for the year include the welfare of international postgraduate students and the quality of coursework programs on offer.
Originally from the US, Jonas moved to Australia 18 years ago after meeting her husband Stuart while backpacking around London.
“Being a migrant explains my interest in national identity,” she says. “My passion for issues around international students I’m sure [is partly inspired] from being a migrant myself – although I’ve never been identified as one because I’m white and sound a lot like the people here.
“I often assert my migrant status to highlight for people the diversity of what migrants are.”
Jonas recently chaired a working group to set up a new national representative body for international students and is hopeful it will be launched later this year.
The CAPA and National Union of Students initiative came about in the aftermath of the hijacking of the former representative body, the NLC, by a group led by a Chinese businessman Master Shang (CR, 27.04.10 and 11.05.10).
“It’s such an important job – they have no independent national voice right now and we would like to see international students representing international students again.”
Jonas said the third big ticket item for CAPA is student services and student organisation. CAPA’s finances have been savaged since VSU legislation introduced by the Howard government. With the Student Services and Amenities Bill currently being held up in the Senate, there is uncertainty as to whether the government will get the support necessary to get it passed.
“CAPA is really struggling to survive. If you look at some of our achievements last year such as making sure that postgraduates got the stimulus funding, the rise in APAs and getting income support for masters students, these are really big achievements. If we didn’t exist, none of these things are likely to have happened.
“I find it extraordinary that people [politicians] who are in the business of representation themselves don’t understand the importance of the representation we provide.”
While Jonas has a big year ahead, she said there is no way her PhD (on multicultural foodways and cosmopolitanism in Melbourne) will get put on ice. With an invitation to submit an article to the Australian Humanities Review and another to present a paper at the international food ethnography conference in Finland in August, Jonas says she will plough on.
In the meantime, there is also CAPA, the family and food, beautiful food.Find Jonas’s blog at http://tammijonas.blogspot.com
Saturday, February 13, 2010
So here's the story of the Jonai family raising chooks for eggs, and slaughtering and eating them when they stop laying.
A little background: we've had chooks since about 1997, primarily for the eggs, but also because of their contribution to a healthy garden system – they dig, eat insects and weeds, and fertilise extremely well. We move them around the garden, planting out the spot they vacate to great effect. Our system is based on the principles of permaculture, though we are fairly unorthodox in most of our gardening efforts. The one aspect of permaculture to which we are totally committed is to maintain a closed cycle – no organic waste leaves our property, which is an average sized suburban block in Melbourne.
The first few years we had chooks, we lost them occasionally to foxes or disease, and continually replenished the flock with new pullets. Then came the year Antigone brought home nine chicks that her kinder had hatched – our first time raising them from so young. Of course, probability being what it is, we ended up with a few roosters, which you're not allowed to keep in the suburbs. The dilemma of what to do with them had an obvious, if not easy, solution – we would have to slaughter and eat them. Neither of us had ever killed our own meat, though we'd always said we should be willing to do so if we were going to be meat eaters. At last, here was our chance to practice what we preached.
The first time was definitely the hardest, but each time since has not actually been a great deal easier, insofar as it's difficult to take a life. Roosters are truly magnificent creatures, and it seems a shame to cull them so young and glorious. But of course, all those carefully wrapped breasts and thighs in the supermarket were once lovely young (mistreated, usually) creatures, and they're tastiest while they're still young.
Stuart slaughters them by laying the chooks gently on a chopping block, patting their head all the while so they remain very calm and content. And then quickly, down comes the cleaver, the chook is beheaded, Stuart holds its wings so the nervous system's reaction doesn't result in that awful sight of a headless chook running around the yard, and then the bird is hung from the monkey bars to drain the blood.
We've experimented with both plucking and skinning, and unlike the intrepid Zoe's preference, we prefer plucking so that we still have the luscious fatty skin on, which is especially important if you're roasting a younger bird. But even with boilers, we pluck as neither of us really likes the sensation of skinning a still-warm animal.
We both find the eviscerating quite unpleasant, especially if we're trying to keep a whole bird to roast, which requires that someone reach inside and pull the guts out – it's rather blech. With the boilers, we cheat and cut them open at the breastbone with sharp Chinese scissors and then sort of scoop the organs out. The kids are fascinated by sorting the organs and feet on a piece of cardboard, and we either save those bits to feed to the neighbour's dog or compost them, though we have eaten the livers from some of the roosters.
With the young roosters, I make roast chicken, chicken arrabiata and other such tasty dinners, but the old girls aren't called boilers for nothing. And so Australia Day 2010 was our first experience of culling non-layers and making the most of them. We explained the plan to the children, who were initially a bit sad that we were going to kill the chooks, but after we reiterated the rationale for keeping, slaughtering and eating our own animals, with details they've heard before about the horrors of factory farming, they were back on board with the project. They feel sad about killing the chooks – I do too – but I think it's irresponsible for omnivores to use that sadness as a justification for not exposing children (and ourselves) to the realities of what's behind meat eating. I really think only vegans have a reasonable position from which to oppose exposure to animal slaughter.
The killing went as usual, and this time Atticus was game to help me pluck them, which made a mother proud. :-) The evisceration was interesting as we'd never seen the eggs inside a chook before. Zoe's got great photos, but you can see in mine that there were some large and small – we worked out that one of the chooks was in fact still laying once or twice a week but had set up a secret nest in a little-seen corner. We were a bit sad about this discovery, but figured she would have stopped completely like the other two soon enough.
Three chooks filled my biggest stock pot, and after simmering for about six hours, we had a deeply flavoursome 18 litres of clear stock. I pulled all the meat off and finely minced some, mixed it with prosciutto, ricotta and reggiano, and the kids and I made masses of tortellini for that night's dinner & to freeze. The resulting feast included tortellini en brodo, and a tomato and bread salad made with a variety of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden and the stale remnants of my last loaf of homemade sourdough, dressed in olive oil pressed from last year's harvest with the Binks. For starters we enjoyed that day's fresh loaf of sourdough with Stuart's olives and a tapenade. The sense of homely virtue and connection to the natural world as we enjoyed this dinner was profound, and I reflected on the fact that it's only fairly recently in our history that we've lost these daily rhythms, skills and ensuing satisfaction.
Our society will almost certainly never go back to the majority of us raising our own meat. However, probably more of us than realise could do the sort of small scale livestock raising that we have in our backyard, and growers could certainly go back to or redevelop sustainable models of production, such as if egg producers were to slaughter unwanted roosters and sell them for the meat, and then sell the old non-layers as boilers, as well as the obvious need to raise chickens (and pigs) in free range environments. In the meanwhile, it's a very simple decision to refuse to buy factory farmed meat of any type, which gives producers the message that these systems will no longer be tolerated by the public.
As for squeamishness about the killing of animals, and especially about children witnessing or taking part in the slaughtering and butchering processes, it's obvious we have this backwards. In the UK case where children witnessed the slaughtering of the lamb, some parents actually claimed their children would need therapy to overcome the trauma. I would argue the high rates of people seeking therapy is rather about not witnessing the food chain, it's about our lost connections – to the land, its plants and animals, to each other, and to the past. People who are engaged each day in creating things for their basic needs – by gardening, raising and slaughtering animals, cooking, building, repairing and maintaining a home and its contents – by and large enjoy a strong sense of competence, sometimes mastery. (My interviews to date support this claim across class, culture and generational differences.)
And it's not just a sense of competence that is gained by working for your food in this way. The respect engendered by having to face your dinner and take its life in order to sustain yours cannot be overestimated. Again, my research around frugality has certainly highlighted the strong drive to waste nothing that arises from both a fear of scarcity but also a true understanding of the value of what you've got. And of course my own experience has been precisely that. Understanding and respecting our food sources is a great motivator to reduce our consumption – especially of the high impact foods like most meats.
Yet we've drifted so far from this basic principle of living thoughtfully in the world that too many people think it's reasonable to insist that they should not be exposed to the realities of food production. It is indeed sad to kill animals. But the majority of us choose to eat them, and to eat them we must kill them, and so we must learn to do so in the most humane and sustainable manner. If every omnivore killed a chook even once in their lives, we might not be facing the serious ethical and environmental issues we have today as a result of overconsumption, and we might not be suffering the sense of disconnection and isolation that is the real trauma in our society.
Bring back competence and mastery in the everyday.
(This post is a part of Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade)
Monday, February 08, 2010
Although it's a short article written for an intelligent but non-academic audience, it's given me a lot of ideas, maybe even (gasp!) chapter ideas. I'm particularly interested in pursuing something I've been working on the past six months, which is about the importance of the maintenance of vernacular food cultures to sustain a lively cosmopolitan society. That is, if Australia's diverse foodways became a) all culinarily Anglicised, or b) hybridised to the point that hybrid becomes the new homogeneous, then we all lose opportunities for 'openness to the Other' that currently exist.
Zoe's excellent post, 'On sneaky racism and other culinary horrors', explores some of these issues, as do the plentiful comments she's received. Zoe's the kind of global citizen I believe we should all strive to be (maybe one day, we won't have to strive, because it will all come so naturally?), one who isn't afraid to engage with others, irrespective of culture or class, even when she's outside her comfort zone. She's not afraid to admit she doesn't understand something and ask for help, and similarly, she's willing to try new things and discover firsthand whether she likes them or not. Her post and the follow-up commentors are all symptomatic of a thriving cosmopolitan community out there (and yes, I recognise they are unlikely to be the majority of Australians, but they do give one hope).
And yet, while all of this engagement and diversity is fascinating, and, in my opinion, welcome, it makes it difficult to maintain a 'national imaginary' as per Benedict Anderson (1983). Anderson's argument is that the national imaginary was made possible by a broadly shared vernacular in print capitalism. Until then, nations had been 'unimaginable' due to a sort of Tower of Babel problem. And Anderson rightfully points to a number of benefits of national belonging, arguing that it more often creates something to 'fight for' rather than against - something to which people feel passionately attached that is much larger than themselves, and which is expressed through music, literature, and perhaps, food.
As someone who has never felt comfortable with nationalism (given my early exposure to its rabid cousin, patriotism), as I tend to read it more as a mechanism of exclusion than inclusion, I struggle with Anderson's optimism. On the other hand, my entire project is about trying to understand how the diverse population of Australia can find a meaningful sense of belonging to each other and the world, and how we are or aren't using food in that search. So really, I guess I'm a bit of a closet nationalist?
But to return to the problem of vernaculars (when there are many) and how they relate to both nationalism and cosmopolitanism. How can people imagine themselves into something collective from such wildly disparate food cultures (and, of course, the many other aspects of culture, but my primary concern is, as you know, food)? If that 'something' to which they are imagining themselves is cosmopolitanism, it makes perfect sense. If it's nationalism, not so much. And yet without the broader recognition of ourselves as Australian, is it really possible to imagine ourselves further into the world?
As is appropriate for a PhD candidate halfway through my degree, I will leave these thoughts with those few gestures for now... (that is, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this just yet, and I have formed no conclusions.) heh. pax.