Pupils of the King: a Week of King Arthur Bread School, Part I

“YOU’RE going to bread school?!”

said almost everyone I told I was going to bread school. The usual next response: “Oh, lucky!!!”

They were right about my good fortune, but wrong to be surprised at my need. Before I started getting paid to bake, I was always a pie/cake/sweets gal–bread, not so much. And though I’m now entering my 8th season of professional baking, I spent the first two seasons as Assistant Baker, i.e., managing neither bread nor oven. When I trained to be a Head Baker, the people who trained me had received no professional training. Now, “We do this because it works” works just fine most days, but it leaves two questions unanswered:

  1. What do you do if it doesn’t work?
  2. What if something else worked even better?

Therefore I was THRILLED when my current boss, who bought Holly B’s Bakery from Holly B, decided to make the investment to send me to an intensive, 5-day, 38-hour course in Bread Fundamentals. I knew I had a LOT to learn. Like, everything.

But the answer to “What did you learn in Bread School?” is so big and complex, I’m going to turn this into two posts. Or maybe more! That knowledge might just ferment and grow, like a certain little yeasty-beast I’ve been hearing about all week.

I should also say off the bat, in case you’re a sourdough enthusiast, that this class covered pretty much everything BUT sourdough. Those breads require a class of their own. Hopefully, someday…

But back to Bread Fundamentals. Long story short, King Arthur Flour Baking School is the brainchild of King Arthur Chef Jeffrey Hamelman (world’s mellowest rock star chef) and Washington State University Bread Lab’s Stephen Jones. They teamed up several years to begin offering intensive baking classes (mostly bread) out here in the Northwest. King Arthur, of course, has been offering classes forever, all over the country but especially on their Vermont home ground. Lucky, LUCKY me–this workshop was under 20 miles from our ferry terminal!

I started on Monday, wide-eyed. So much of this was new to me, starting with the uniform. At Holly B’s we wear aprons, but I’ve never worn Chef Whites!

Gretchen’s first-ever work uniform!

Then there was the equipment in the teaching room.

4-deck steam oven with a moveable loader. At my bakery, the only loader is me.

Best of all, however, was the combination of Chef Jeffrey’s short lectures followed by immediate demonstrations and hands-on guided practice. Here he demonstrates a Challah braid:

He makes it look so easy. Well, ok…braiding isn’t actually very hard. Ask most long-haired women.

Now here’s my own careful step-by-steps (different braid on this one):

…with four strands…

A three and a four

Both finished challahs, with a few friends…a good Wednesday!

Chef Jeffrey also wowed us with possibilities. Here’s an amazing 3-tiered Challah he built

Whoa.

I thought it looked like a ferry boat. 🙂

The teaching was always firm and immediate, but gentle. (As a teacher, I sure appreciated that; I think from TV chefs I expected to be snapped at.)

Checking the “heads” of our petites brioches…

OK, maybe I could have used a little more guidance on my Epis de blé…

By the end of Day 3, we had made baguettes with three different doughs; whole wheat batards, oat loaves, challah, brioche, sunflower seed rounds, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Day 4 we got FANCY:

Auvergnats. Trés chic.

Coronnes Bordelaise. Wouldn’t that be a cool addition to Thanksgiving?

One more picture of my new, freshly-baked confidence:

Ahhhhh…

Next post: So what DID I learn in Bread School?

 

Why Road Trip? A Top Five List

“You drove here?”

The Mate and I have become used to that question over our decades together–especially the last six years since we’ve added an annual Washington-to-North-Carolina sojourn to our regular Bay Area jaunts.

Why drive? I’ve been musing on this topic for the past several hundred I-5 miles. Thought I’d share the results.

1. Falling back in love with America. When you love someone, you notice tiny details, like the wrinkles at the corner of your sweetie’s smile. On road trips, I like to notice transitions between my beautiful country’s beautiful sectors. “Look–first redwood! We’re officially in coastal California!” “Aha–sagebrush! We’re in the Mountain West.”

Can't do this from an airplane!

Can’t do this from an airplane!

2. Discovering special unknowns. Like the sign on Oregon’s Rt. 199 that advertises “Sweet Cron.”  Or, for that matter, the jaw-dropping Smith River that Rt. 199 is honored to shadow.

3. Strengthening that marriage glue. The Mate does 80% of the driving. I do 100% of the Spanish studying, music listening, blogging, navigating and sandwich-making. Both of us are in our happy place–2 feet apart, but in two separate worlds from which we blow kisses and share smiles when we see a sign for “Sweet Cron.”

4. Bike paths. Hiking trails. (Not many of those in an airport.)

5. Old friends along the way–really a combination of #s 1-3. They remind us who we are, why we love each other, why we love them, why we love this country. Because we can just drive up to their door…and hear them say, “You drove here?”

Road Trip V, Days 9-11, Albuquerque-Memphis: New Mexico Has a State Question; What’s Yours?

Red or green?” That’s it. That’s the New Mexico State Question. Simple as it is, it tells volumes about the culture of this mini-nation-within-a-nation. It’s different.

Forget the Republic of Texas, which prides itself on being the only state with the right to fly its flag at the same height as the US flag. Forget “Don’t Tread On Me” California. Both those states are as quintessentially American as you can get. Even if you’ve never been to either, you know them–from movies, TV, ads. They’re what foreigners think of when they think of us.

New Mexico? Here, an American from any other state feels like the foreigner, but in a good way. New Mexico is different. Although The Mate and I only spent two nights here on this trip, our family lived in Santa Fe for five months in 2004, and all those memories of first impressions now jump to the fore.

Think you know multicultural society? How about a state where the dominant culture is not only “minority” (Hispanic), but also older than the rest of the US? (Santa Fe is, arguably, the longest continually-inhabited town in the US, competing only with St. Augustine, Florida for this honor.) I remember seeing campaign signs for some local election in 2004; every single name was Spanish. That’s who runs the place, and they are NOT immigrants.

Think you understand the relationship of Indian reservations with surrounding towns and states? New Mexico’s pueblos are more numerous, vibrant, and front-and-center than anything I’ve seen from Arizona to South Dakota to Washington. This is NOT to say they don’t struggle with dire poverty and all its issues; they certainly do. But in New Mexico the pueblos are right there, not tucked away. It’s no accident that the annual Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in the US, is held in Albuquerque.

Fancy-dancing at UNM's Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Fancy-dancing at UNM’s Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Architecture is New Mexico’s most striking feature. Between Pueblo Style, with its adobe (or, today, stucco) in the brown spectrum from beige to rust, its gorgeous curved lines, its ladders and vegas and juniper-post fences, its ristras of red chiles hanging at every porch, and Territorial Style, with its Spanish colonial Zorro-esque balconies, New Mexican towns can feel like movie sets. (In Santa Fe, where this look is coded into city rules, even Burger Kings are humbly brown and curvy.)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

Now that I think about it, the curve is a fitting symbol for New Mexico. The adobe walls, the higgledy-piggledy streets, the mountains and dormant volcanoes; the white sand dunes and cottonwoods and piñons and chiles. Ah, the chiles…

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

which brings me me back to the State Question: Red or Green? It refers to your choice of chile sauce on your dinner. Can’t decide? There’s a third choice: “Christmas,” which means–duh–both!

Mmmmm...Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Mmmmm…Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

If my current home state had a State Question, I think it might be, “Salmon or apples?” or perhaps, “REI or Cabela’s?” (Washinfton’s pretty polarized, east-west, but we’re all outdoorsy!) My native state, North Carolina, would probably ask, “Biscuits or cornbread?” Most states in the Lower 48 aren’t distinctive enough, in my opinion, to have a State Question. But if they did–what would they be? Use your imaginations, and let us hear! I’ll feature the most creative in my next post.

Road Trip V, Days 1-2: Tacoma, WA to Arcata, CA

Redwoods, right? Or marijuana. Those are the botanicals most people associate with Arcata, a lovely town in one of California’s loveliest counties, Humboldt. But I want to give some love to a lesser-known plant: the madrona. (Or, for you Californians, madrone. But I think madrona’s prettier.)

We see a number of different ecosystems on our road trips: redwoods, cactus, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. So let me try an experiment. I’ll say a kind of plant, and you form a mental image, OK? Here we go:

Rewoods.

Cactus.

Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

I don’t ned to provide a picture, right? Even if you’ve never been to California, to the desert, or to the South, you’ve seen movies, TV shows. Those images exist for you. Now: how about madronas? Yeah–thought not. Unless you’ve spent significant time in coastal Washington, Oregon or California north of the Bay.

So let me remedy that.

image

What’s so special about madronas? Where do I start?

They’re deciduous, but they’re in no hurry to lose their leaves. Green all winter, they finally agree to drop their old leaves only when the new ones come to push them out in the spring.

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

They have the COOLEST bark, smooth as human skin beneath the peeling outer layer, in the most beautiful shades of red, bronze, and green. I love to lay my cheek against it.

Around Thanksgiving, they bust out bunches of brilliant red berries–early Christmas decorations.

In spring, they bloom bunches of creamy white blossoms that look like little bells and smell like honey.

Best of all, they grow in the wildest, most original loops and curves.

(This photo's all mine!)

(This photo’s all mine!)

…which is why, when I published my first book, I named my press Madrona Branch Press, in honor of that amazing, self-supporting branch. That’s ME, baby. That’s the beauty of the madrona.

logo

What a lovely way to start our road trip! And when we’ve trekked across the country, turned around and trekked back, to the tune of 10,000 miles or so, I’ll know I’m home as soon as I spot that first madrone. (Ooh, song lyric!)

How about you, dear reader? Favorite tree? Other emblematic member of the plant kingdom? What does it for you?

Are You Highly Campetent? (Stephen Colbert Would Be, If He Went Camping)

Like my new word? Thanks, so do I.

Since I really will backpack for chocolate, and since I just got home from doing just that, I’ve been making mental lists of the little extras that, over the years, have made ordinary camping trips extraordinary.

Though they’re most effective in backpacking, where luxury is harder to come by, I see no reason why these tips can’t be adapted for car-camping too.

Ready? Here we go:

Campetent campers pack mac & cheese. Highly Campetent campers do that too, but they add a small, chopped-up brick of real, extra-sharp cheddar…and some fresh greens. (Mustard greens are the best!)

Campetent campers pack a sleeping pad. Highly Campetent campers pack a chunk of carpet padding, 4 inches thick, 18 inches wide, long enough to pad a tired body from shoulders to knees, compressed in a sack to the size of a small sleeping bag. (I give all credit to my Mate on this one! Best camping sleep EVER.)

tent

Campetent campers bring rope to hang their food out of reach of critters. Highly Campetent campers bring bright orange rope, so they don’t trip over it at the edge of their campsite.

Campetent campers stay fully hydrated. Highly Campetent campers stay fully hydrated in the knowledge that they can safely enjoy a small box of Cabernet after dinner and still be ready to hike next morning.

Campetent campers pack biodegradable soap. Highly Campetent campers make sure that soap is lavender, or peppermint, so when they take that icy, delicious creek-or-lake bath at the end of a hot trail day, not only does their body thank them, their fellow campers do too.

Campetent campers pack a change of clean clothes. Highly Campetent campers leave a change of clothes in the car to change into when they arrive, sweaty and dusty (or cold and wet).

flowers

 My dad used to mix Tang into Cream of Wheat to make camp breakfasts more fun. Not necessarily recommending that, but…Got any tips of your own?