Mate is out of the country again for several weeks, so I am left to my own devices. Thus any mitigating effect she has on my eccentricities is gravely attenuated.
The tiny home we share has been sliding into a state of chaos over the past three weeks since we returned from our trip together. Mate has been quite busy and I have not, so I claim full credit for the decline. I figured that with her gone I would get a chance to do some tidying up. In fairness, I did manage to get started on that today and made a bit of progress.
I also decided I would try to bake some bread.
For the first time.
In a homemade oven.
Which I do not have.
Step One – Find an easy bread recipe matching ingredients I have on hand
I did a search and chose pretty much the first thing that popped up matching my criteria – EASY NO-FAIL WHOLE WHEAT BREAD by Alison Andrews of Loving It Vegan. There were only five ingredients:
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Instant Yeast
- Maple Syrup
- Warm Water
The recipe called for 4 cups of wheat, but for reasons I only used a quarter of everything. The recipe was very easy (although there were a whole lot of words I had to scroll through to find it). Basically you combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, and add the small amount of maple syrup to the water, mix it together without kneading it, let it sit 20 minutes to rise, and then bake it in…some stuff I don’t have and at a temperature I won’t be able to match precisely for a duration of time that is, by this point, clearly irrelevant.
Step Two – Do those things (right up through letting the dough rise)
I did that.
Step Three – Build your oven
No photo of the assembly but you can probably get the gist. I arranged the bricks on the grate in a kind of triangle arrangement, put the canned heat in the middle, lit it, balanced the smaller dish above it, and set the larger dish over the top. Here I have my oven “pre-heating” while my dough is theoretically rising.
After 20 minutes I took out the dough. I couldn’t really tell if it had risen. The instructions, which I did not read carefully, clearly state that if the dough hasn’t risen you should wait some more. Not having read that part, I did no such thing.
The oven was quite “pre-heated” by this time. I got the feeling that you aren’t supposed to just throw these kinds of dishes on top of an open flame with nothing inside of them. I could tell because the inside of the smaller dish was developing some discoloration.
I sprayed some non-stick oil into the dish, and it sizzled right up and collected in the bottom. So I threw in my lump of dough and closed it up again. I set about doing some chores but quickly noticed a lot of smoke coming out of my oven. I opened it up and, just as I suspected, the bottom of my loaf was smoking. I pried it loose and flipped it over. It looked like this –
I guess I had the temperature set too high, so I turned it down a bit.
I put the lid back over it. The corner of the lid was right over the flame so I figured this would be a happier temperature. It worked out okay, but I think it was still set a bit high, because when I checked again the outside seemed cooked more than the inside. No matter.
Pulled it off the heat and sliced off that burnt piece.
Hey! The other side of that slice doesn’t look half bad!
I could tell that the inside wasn’t done. No problem, I sliced up my loaf and set it back in the oven for a few more minutes to heat through.
At this point I tasted some of the cooked bread that had broken off when I was slicing. It was…adequate.
Now, you should know that I am NOT a picky eater. I can make a meal out of pretty much anything, so long as it is actually food and it isn’t spoiled, or the sort of thing that if you ate more than a few bites of you would go into some kind of salt or sugar induced coma or something. Literally as I write these words I have been finishing my dinner which consisted of a main course of sauerkraut, and for dessert toasted and buttered sourdough bread with some chocolate chips on top.
It’s not that I don’t APPRECIATE good food. I LOVE fancy dishes, vegetables and salads and healthy foods, and my favorite food in the world is probably Indian cuisine. My olfactory sense is highly developed. I just have a divergent perspective on pretty much everything, and that certainly includes anything so fundamental as food. I have spent a large portion of my life as a sort of “starving artist.” Also, I am acutely aware that even the trashiest and most unappealing food available to me today is more palatable than most of the food that has been available to most of the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this planet.
So when I describe food as “adequate,” it might mean the exact opposite to you. But with a few more minutes in the oven, at least it was all more or less cooked.
I was hoping for a little more than “adequate” myself. So I turned to my secret weapon. Sardines!
There are sardines, and there are sardines. In fact, I am going to have to write a post just about sardines. These here are my very favorite of the canned variety available to us around here. (Grilled sardines on a Mediterranean beach fresh from a Spanish chiringuito with garlic, olive oil, and lemon – now that’s a whole different ballgame).
But I fully grasp that, unless you were raised on them, sardines can be a hard taste for most moderns to acquire. As Andy Linn once remarked when I asked him how the product of a grunion run turned out on the table, “I mean, there’s a reason they don’t have Grunionfest at Red Lobster.”
More’s the pity – finely preserved fish have been a delicacy for humans since the dawn of time.
At any rate, with the addition of my cherished sardines the dish was elevated immeasurably from “adequate” to “tasty!”
Conclusion – Great Success! Even if I had been forced to choke down the loaf of bread dry I would have still considered it a success. I mean, it’s fresh baked bread from an oven cobbled together in ten minutes!
Epilogue – my explorations of primitive engineering and radical frugality continue apace. The other night as I contemplated the copious olive oil left in a can of sardines after the fish were consumed and considered the best way to dispose of it, I was struck by the incredible, timeless value of lipids. The oil in this can represented the diffuse energy of the sun’s rays bathing countless leaves of a great tree for untold hours. Not only was it difficult to dispose of, in that moment it felt like a travesty to discard it.
On a lark, I took a used paper towel and tore four strips out of it. I twisted them haphazardly, then set them in the can to soak up the oil. I placed this haphazard oil lamp on a metal tray and lit the wicks, just to see if it would work. Astonishingly, this “lamp” burned for maybe forty-five minutes while I sat on the deck in the warm night contemplating the stars and my little lamp.
I’m hoping to take this discovery to the next level.
Next stop – the same meal with bread baked in an improvised oven fueled by the oil from the very can the sardines came in! (It’s going to require some more tinkering – the wick for the chafing fuel doesn’t work so well with olive oil).
The Daily Stone
And speaking of which – I love you so much Mate! I hope you are ready for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience when you get back!
I am so lucky to have you. As Oma always reminds me, “It takes a very special woman…”