In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Daily bread

When we arrived on McNutt's Island in the spring of 2007 our food situation was a little strange. We were restoring the old house, and so everything was in a kerfuffle, as they say.  We got our drinking water from a good well on the other side of the island. Greg would trundle a couple of miles along a rocky path with a five gallon water jug in a wheelbarrow, fill up the jug from the well, then trundle it home again. We had no refrigerator, since we quickly disposed of the ancient kerosene refrigerator that was here when we arrived.  Our cooking was on an old Coleman camp stove that we inherited with the house. We had a table set up in one little room off the kitchen. All our food was crowded onto that table: cans of things, mostly, and boxes of things you dump into boiling water, and crackers and peanut butter and cheese and store-bought cookies.  It was eternal-shelf-life type food.  In those days our standards were what they needed to be. 

By late summer, though, we had our propane gas range hooked up, and our refrigerator and our freezer plugged in. We had cold running water, delivered via a pipe in the ground from our very own well.   The house had leapt across the centuries in just a few months.  But our initial experience helped me appreciate how hard it must have been to keep food safely and to make meals here in the days before electricity and running water and gas ranges.   

As soon as we got the gas stove hooked up I went back to making bread. Greg is the cook around here, but I do like to make bread so I kind of hold the line there.  I hadn't made bread for years, but at one time it was a regular part of my life.  It took a few weeks to get into the rhythm of it again. But now we just don't ever buy bread.  

I'm a lazy bread maker, so I like my old Tassajara Bread recipe. Because even if you don't particularly feel like making bread, with that recipe it's so easy to get started, and then of course once you've started you've got momentum on your side. Plus, five loaves at a time!  What an abundance.  But you have to have a really big bowl. Fortunately for us, the house came complete with an old china pitcher and wash basin.  The wash basin is perfect for making bread.

I also like The Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook recipe. It's good for lazy breadmakers, too, since there's only one rising -- in the loaf pans.  And the dough is so silky in your hands when you are kneading it. It's one of the truly great sensual experiences. 

In winter the kitchen is too cold for bread to rise. So I bring the wash basin into the living room and set it on my work table near the woodstove. I particularly enjoy the look of dough rising in a bowl next to a flat bed scanner.  Kinda says it all.

Fast & Easy Yogurt Bread from The Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plain yogurt
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast and honey in the warm water and set the mixture aside to proof for ten minutes. Add the salt and yogurt to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Sift the flour and add it gradually, stirring it in until you can no longer stir. 

Remove the dough to a floured board and knead for five to ten minutes, slowly working in the remaining flour. Divide the dough in half, form 2 loaves, and place each in a greased 8x4 inch loaf pan. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 50 minutes or until it comes to the tops of the pans. 

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from the pans and cool on a rack. If you want a soft crust, brush the tops of the warm loaves with butter. 

Yield: 2 loaves. 

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