Letter from the canyon
Posted 20 June 2006 - 09:52 AM
There’s a lovely pair of mallards visiting our creek, swimming about in its seasonal water, rooting upside-down in its seasonal mucky bottom, roosting compactly among its seasonal vegetation. Ivan swears that this is the same pair of mallards who visited our little creek last year. Could be. Cursory mallard research, including Adam Balic’s expert advice, seems to concur, although Adam did offer the proviso that duck monogamy may be somewhat less than airtight. We call them Charles and Camilla.
But the real question, when they come a-quacking, as they do in the a.m. sometime during tea prep or tea consumption or tea cleanup, and then again at about cocktail time, flapping and hopping up the creek bank, waddling smoothly along the flagstone, sometimes right up the stairs to the terrace to peer, ducklike, into the kitchen door, is what to feed them? Last year’s mallard pair didn’t like tortillas, corn or flour, so one thing I know is tortillas are right out.
The bread we nearly always have in the breadbox, if the household is to be expected to run smoothly, is the perfection-in-sandwich bread from the Japanese baker. So the ducks have had their share of this, both the whole wheat and white varieties. Both white and wheat are perfection; yes, there are two perfections. (And if you add in the ciabatta and baguette and multi-grain walnut and so forth from this baker, well, you’ll be up to a half-dozen perfections right quick.) The ducks like both.
One morning I had sweet-potato biscuits left over from the night before, when they’d accompanied chicken drums with a sticky spicy glaze, corn on the cob, and homemade coleslaw -- a favorite recipe, just the thing for some menus, from Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking. I thought, proverbially, those lucky ducks! Now here’s something they’ll really like. But they completely eschewed the tender, pale-orange crumbly bits -- unequivocally turned up their bills without even trying a microbite, our family minimum requirement for new foods.
Especially Camilla. She made it quite clear that sweet potato biscuits are not what she had in mind. The omnipresent flock of gorgeous mauve mourning doves, which I consider to be my personal Greek chorus, was kind enough to clean up the detritus. For Charles and Camilla I scrambled -- they were hungry!
If I may, as modestly as I can manage, what Charles and Camilla have especially enjoyed is my 100% sourdough rye, a bread I’ve been working on after a liminal-state realization the other week that what my sourdough starter wanted was to be refreshed with rye flour. I got this starter from eGullet’s own Jackal10 from the generous offer he made at the start of his incredible sourdough class for eGCI. For evidence of a small donation to a charity of choice, he would send actual sourdough starter winging my way. I donated to a favorite charity hell-bent on doing good works, in whose fabulous thrift store I have made many great scores over the years. I’ve been the proud mother of not only a 14-year-old boy and three kitties but also my very own sourdough starter ever since.
And so I did, refresh it several times with rye, and even though it’d been, well, dormant would be the nice word for the sort of neglect to which it had been treated, down there on the bottom shelf in the back of the fridge for some unknown period of time, it roiled and bubbled and just generally came back to life like mad in short order: short order in sourdough terms. And the latest loaf I’d put together with this reborn starter wasn’t bad.
It wasn’t the 100% sourdough rye of my dreams, if I were to dream about 100% sourdough rye, but it was not bad. Edible. But even with propitious-seeming oven spring, it was a damn sight too dense. Excellent flavor, however, earning the highest accolade imaginable -- it would be impossible to overstate the immense highity of this accolade -- from Ivan, who is the reason there is sourdough bread, 100% or otherwise, being made at all by me. Said accolade: "Tastes like Russian black bread."
Flavor, check. Now, if only one didn’t need the big mawl and the log-splitting grenade from the firewood crib in order to break into it, we’d be in business.
With the big old offset Dexter bread knife I was able to shave off slices and cut them up into bits for the ducks -- they like bits -- which is a good thing because 1) it was the only bread in the house and 2) they liked it SO much! No cook can help but be charmed by that. They’ve been eating it happily, morning and evening, for days and days. Did I mention it was a very big loaf? I will make the remainder into Melba toasts, but only after Charles and Camilla indicate they want to make a change.
I’m thinking slender crispy ficelle from the Vietnamese French baker. This particular bread inexorably, inexorably recently anyway, raises the specter of my beloved Paul Prudhommeian flavor layering: chicken-apple sausage sandwiches, topped with apples and onions sauteed a la Alamanzo Wilder’s Ma in Farmer Boy, and the nice German apple juice mustard we keep around for just this dish. Could be time for Charles and Camilla to further broaden their horizons.
Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon populated by the typical mix of old hippies, wannabe off-the-gridders, equestrians running the gamut from 20-acre Thoroughbred full dressage to clip-clop nag-riding busted flat in Baton Rouge, schoolteachers, artists, wealthy entrepreneurs, and law enforcement officers (for some reason).
Photos by the author.
Posted 20 June 2006 - 06:36 PM
it would be impossible to overstate the immense highity of this accolade -- from Ivan, who is the reason there is sourdough bread, 100% or otherwise, being made at all by me. Said accolade: "Tastes like Russian black bread."
Apart from a compliment from your consort and father of your child and true love -- all wonderful -- what makes this the impossible to overstate accolade?
Posted 20 June 2006 - 06:43 PM
Do you think my Canadian Geese would care for some home-baked sourdough?
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Posted 21 June 2006 - 10:34 AM
The particular black bread of Ivan's dreams was the least-expensive, least-refined of what I have heard described (many times, she said, employing remarkable understatement) as an incredible range of delicious breads available in the average 1970s behind-the-Iron-Curtain Moscow quartier bakery.
This bread was a dense, sour, perfectly thin-sliceable pullman-pan loaf of a sort that could redeem the hackneyed "staff of life" epithet. (The loaves I've tasted were toted trans-Atlantically by friends and relatives; one day old is not a problem with all-sourdough breads.) Ivan says it was 8 kopeks for a full loaf, but was usually bought in half- or quarter-loaves, at a correspondingly fractional price.
Pam: Thanks, and I bet they would, esp. rye, which is a northerly sort of cold-weather grain, eh?
Posted 21 June 2006 - 02:14 PM
Mallards, like all ducks need water, even if its just a bowl of water/
There is rye, and there is rye. Much depends on the particular sort of rye flour, and the effect you want. You can get a lighter loaf by using half wheat flour. Pumpernickel, on the other hand, uses a coarse whole rye, and often 33% ground roasted old rye bread, and very long baking times (24hours or more) in closed pans and steam.
Posted 21 June 2006 - 03:16 PM
Posted 27 June 2006 - 10:06 AM
"Leave Mother in the fridge in a covered jar between bakes. No need to feed her." Jackal10