It seems like it’s been a decade since I’ve written anything here. I promised my friends that my next post would be the pavlova of posts—light and airy and easy to digest—but I’m afraid I just can’t deliver on that promise. November was a very strange and heavy month. First, there was that stress-circus of an election that had me so on-edge I was nearly catatonic and feeling mostly like this by the time election night actually rolled around. In the hours before the results were read I was so overcome with anxiety I ordered a four-person serving of nachos and found myself unable to eat them. Did you hear me? I said I was unable to eat nachos.
Then, there was the explosion of Thanksgiving turkey stress, which seemed to descend upon the butcher shop the absolute moment people shed their Halloween costumes. For three weeks the phone rang at a constant pace, the voices of the people at the other end growing increasingly panicked and closer to tears over brining and deep-frying, stuffing, trussing and the impossibility of finding turkey tenderloin (which I have to admit, I had no idea was a thing people sold separately).
In the background of all of this was the enormous shadow cast by Hurricane Sandy, which decimated New York with a vengeance that none of us who weathered the dud that was Irene last year could have imagined. On the Sunday before the storm hit the line at the shop spilled out the door and onto the street for hours, until all of the cases were empty. There wasn’t a cube of stew-beef in sight when we turned the lights off that night, only bins of bones and two bottles of coconut-flavored vodka that had mysteriously appeared on the counter sometime around 1pm. Everyone was jolly with the prospect of having a couple of days away from work, curling up with a good book or a few movies, cooking and drinking and eating (and eating and eating).
The next morning my coworkers and I headed back to the shop to prepare it as best we could for the possibility of flooding or loss of electricity. The wind had started to pick up, creating tiny leave-cyclones all over the empty streets and boarded-up storefronts. The sky over the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway was lit up with that doomy, electric, hurricane-gray—you know the one I mean? That light that somehow manages to be both the brightest and darkest light you’ve ever seen? The one that makes you think that maybe this hurricane won’t just be a cozy, two-day vacation?
By the time I walked back into my door later that afternoon I was on the brink of full panic. Consumed by visions of a post-apocalyptic Brooklyn, I decided to calm my nerves the best way I know how: bread. I mixed and kneaded and shaped four loaves and when I finally sat down on the couch I felt somehow calmer knowing that they were all tucked in, rising in the heat of my tiny oven. Scrolling through storm updates on my computer, I was struck by a photo in the New York Daily News of a man standing in front of a boarded-up book shop that had been covered in literary quotes about storms.
I couldn’t quite make out what the quotes were so I started compiling a list in my head of famous literary hurricanes. The best known are probably the storms in Shakespeare’s King Lear and The Tempest, but there are also the epic hurricanes of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital. Better still are the raging storms in Guy de Maupassant’s “The Drunkard” and Kate Chopin’s short story “The Storm.” No literary character is tossed around by more storms than poor Odysseus. Throughout The Odyssey he is constantly being re-routed and delayed by divinely-inflicted hurricanes, pushed further from home and tossed onto islands with lecherous women and hideous beasts. I found my old copy of The Odyssey, poured a huge glass of wine, and with my bread rising in the oven, started to read.
I began to notice, as I drank my own wine and waited for my bread to rise, how often the words “bread and wine” appear together throughout the text. This combination is everywhere in The Odyssey and it is always symbolic of being welcomed and safe and home. Bread and wine are ancient staples of comfort and hospitality, they appear in almost every root text, from the Bible to The Canterbury Tales, and always offer relief and solace. For me, they certainly do the same–they are always the first things I reach for in a crisis or offer to a friend having her own. Here, I combined the two comforts into one with delicious results. Eat this bread with salted butter and more wine, it is immensely satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that if the siding on the building across the street is ripped off by the wind and comes crashing into yours, you’ll be so calm you won’t even stop chewing.
- 3 cups of bread flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 ¼ cups warm water
- ¼ cup red wine, warmed slightly (I used a cabernet but I’m sure any kind you prefer will taste great)
Sift together flour, salt, rosemary and pepper in a large bowl. Dissolve yeast in warm wine, add water to wine and mix all of the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until it forms a shaggy ball (very shaggy, don’t fret). Cover the bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise for 16-20 hours (an oven, turned off, works great).
After 16-20 hours turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The part of the dough that was flush with the bowl while rising will be the top of your loaf. Shape the loaf by tucking the bottom, ragged parts into the center of the loaf—it will look like a belly button. Turn the shaped loaf over, place it in a bowl, cover it and let it rise for 2 more hours—it should about double in size. When you have 30 minutes left of rise-time, place a heavy, lidded pot into the oven at 450 degrees. Let it heat up for 30 minutes, then place the bread into the pot, cover it and let it cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes uncover the pot and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the bread has a golden, crackly crust.