An Epic Fail

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Why FIFO Is Critical To Good Food

This weekend my brothers came to visit Mom and me. They brought their hefty tool kits and spent an afternoon fixing and mending all over the house, an engaging and much appreciated enterprise. Then my brother Eben made a remarkable dinner for us all, starting with a plump organically raised chicken (unnamed but no doubt cherished), which he roasted in a solidly made cast iron Dutch oven. He very kindly brought one of his spares along to replace my beloved old one which had mysteriously vanished sometime in the past few years (along with my squeez-o strainer…but that’s another story). The lovely chicken was nestled into a nest of onion, carrots, and celery, with all the flavorful foliage added for extra savor.

Noticing my impressive collection of ripening tomatoes, tucked neatly into open egg cartons, he also made a gorgeous tart. He crafted a buttery crust, lively with pepper and grated cheese, layered in sliced Asiago, then thinly sliced onions, zucchini, and tomatoes, interspersed with soft goat cheese and drizzled with a fragrant blend of cider vinegar, avocado oil, and home-smoked paprika. While he was doing all this, I sat with Mom and told her what the guys were doing, as she could only vaguely hear their merry banter.

Uh Oh

Eben knows his way around my kitchen, which is organized by category: baking corner here, cookery stuff there, utensils in these drawers, salts on THIS shelf, peppers on THAT shelf… However, the frequent presence of my toddler grandson has caused some shifting, as anything breakable and/or dangerous has moved steadily upward, increasing with the length of his considerable reach. Several categories had to move altogether, which required some major rearranging. Thus, Eben was stumped a few times but quickly found what he needed, and an amazing dinner was born.

As he dished up the tart, Eben was wondering whether he had messed up his proportions, but a stick of butter to 2 cups of flour should be about right for rich biscuits or crust. When we sat down to enjoy it, however, it was quickly apparent that something was Not. Quite. Hmmm… Though the filling was sublime, the crust was curiosity gritty, with an oddly musty flavor. Sam said he thought it tasted like tapioca, an astute comment, as it turned out. When I asked Eben what he had used for flour, he brought out a tub labeled ‘Bread Mix B’ which he had found tucked back on an upper shelf in the baking section.

An Oldie But Not Very Goodie

Oh my. That tub was a flash from the past: Bud had been experimenting with gluten free baking for a year or two before he died. Later I did not have the heart to toss his collection, but stuck his bits and pieces out of sight on the highest shelves far over my head. He had been baking often in his last weeks and when he died, the countertop where he kneaded bread still bore the marks of his floury hands. I left that corner untouched for an embarrassingly long time until a kind friend gently undertook to wash it for me.

Bud died 5 years ago this Halloween, so that vintage collection of baking ingredients is now at least that old and it’s a wonder it wasn’t totally rancid. I was a bit shocked, since I fondly imagine that my kitchen is pretty clean and tidy. Indeed, Mom’s recent move into my home necessitated a complete reorganization of my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry in order to accommodate her particular favorite foods. While I am pretty good about keeping my herbs and spices up to date, my fridge had been packed with oddments; novelty condiments I’d used once or twice, salad dressings and marinades that were ok but not great, a clutter of little jars filled with crusted dabs of something wonderful that I had been ‘saving’, sometimes for years…eeep.

Sell By & Use By

The result was immediate: my reefer and cupboards are uncluttered, you can find things quickly, and they are not scary when you do. Plus, everything tastes better and there’s a lot less waste. It’s such a basic lesson: first in, first out. Use it or lose it. If in doubt, throw it out. Right? Why was that so hard? Now Eben’s inadvertent debacle pushed me to do a thorough review of the last enclave; those high cupboard shelves. I had to use my long-handled pasta fork (my favorite fetch tool) to get things down, but I found a motherlode of outdated grains, gluten-free mixes, and mysterious jars of unidentifiable ingredients that all made their way into the compost.

As Eben pointed out, all this begs the question of why he, a cook in a cook’s kitchen, ignored the clearly marked containers of fresh flours (three kinds in active use) in the cupboard above the fridge and went rummaging behind a funkier collection of goods (or not-so-goods) on a high shelf in a less-accessible cupboard. I like to think he was somehow prompted by Bud’s bread-making spirit that longed for refreshment. Indeed, the episode encouraged me to try my hand at making bread again after a many-year hiatus. Why bake bread when you live alone? Now that my house is frequently full of hungry people, it makes sense to cook in quantity again, so here’s what I’m baking today:

No-Knead Double Oat Bread

1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup dark molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, combine oats, butter, molasses and salt with 2-1/2 cups boiling water. Cover bowl with a plate and let stand for 1 hour. Add yeast and flours and mix well. Let rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in bulk (about 2 hours). Stir well and divide between 2 oiled loaf pans. Let rise again until doubled in bulk (about 1-1/2 hours). Bake at 350 degrees F until done (40-50 minutes, or to internal temperature of 180 degrees F). Makes 2 loaves.

An Oldie And A Goodie

As a child growing up in New England, I loved old fashioned cornmeal-based Anadama bread, which dates back to Colonial days. I never see this earthy, slightly sweet bread here in the Northwest but it’s easy to make, smells and tastes marvelous, and makes terrific toast, hearty sandwiches, and especially toothsome poultry stuffing.

Anadama Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soft butter or canola oil
1/3 cup molasses
1-1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet dry yeast
4-1/2 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal with 2 cups boiling water. Let stand 1 hour. Stir in molasses, butter, salt and yeast, then blend in 4 cups flour. Let rise in an oiled bowl until doubled (about 2 hours). Knead into 2 loaves (about 5 minutes each), adding remaining flour as needed. Let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1-1/2 hours). Bake in well-buttered bread pans at 350 degrees F until done (40-50 minutes, or to internal temperature of 180 degrees F). Makes 2 loaves.

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5 Responses to An Epic Fail

  1. susan banas says:

    Hello Ann: just read your most recent blog about the flour disaster and found out that you too are a widow. Don’t know if you remember me from your Victoria, actually Deep Cove on the peninsula visits to talk etc at the Hardy plant group events. I live near David and Elaine Whitehead. Any how it doesn’t matter if you remember me or not but it is heartwarming to hear you talking of the loss of your husband, it has been less than 2 years for me and am finding it a struggle to stay on top of my large garden and big old house and not knowing if I can manage to stay here. Over the years I have thought of you often, my husband and I once came to Bainbridge Island, a lovely place to be, and wondered if you still managed to do all the great gardening things you talked about. Do you still do yoga?
    Anyhow, enough for now and I will go back and read some of your blogs that I have missed. Sincerely Susan

    • Annie says:

      So sorry, my dear. I’d be willing to talk about this with you, if that would help? You can contact me more directly through my own blogsite (Green Gardening With Ann Lovejoy). It’s a huge transition, that’s for sure.

  2. Deirdre says:

    A poignant blog, with some good reminders about tidying kitchen cupboards etc! I’ve just tided out two of them since reading it this morning!

  3. Candi Merrill says:

    Ann, I love your blog in general, and particularly this post. This time of year is inherently bittersweet, and it was at this time of year (3 years ago) that my husband went into battle with leukemia for the last bout. I can so relate to not wanting to change things and throw things away, and the relief a person experiences when it’s finally done. I’m happy to report my storage unit has finally been emptied and all Roger’s paintings have found good homes. What a relief. Thanks for encouraging me to take action. -Candi

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Thank you, my dear. It is indeed a bittersweet time for me, too, as Bud died on Halloween and my Dad died the day after my upcoming birthday. So glad you got through some very hard choices and processes and hope you are feeling deep peace.

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