Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overcoming the Things that Baffle

This year I've really jumped into food related hobbies I know nothing about.

I would always love to go back into the food business once Sallie and I are a bit more financially stable. I guess the dream is that of most people, I want to open my own place, be my own boss, and become a household name.

I have certain strengths already. Sauces, I gotcha covered. Pasta, yeah I can do that too. Meat, I'm pretty good at throwing something together.

First thing that has always baffled me is baking, more specifically bread baking. Bread can literally be the corner-stone of any meal. Can't make a proper sandwich without bread. Best way to mop up leftover pasta sauce is bread. Hell, some people eat bread as a meal.

I didn't know much about bread making, but a guy at my work is a second generation baker. I started talking to him around the end of November and the passion he talked about different bread making techniques piqued my interest. He suggested The Bread Baker's Apprentice as a good starting point. It not only comes with 40 recipes, but explains the history of bread making, why bakers are passionate, and techniques for creating various flavors and shapes.

I tore through the first 70 pages of the history and techniques within a few days. I was eager to dig into my first real bread.

The first thing I made was pizza dough. It's a two day process to properly ferment. It seemed almost too easy. I only had to create the dough and let nature do its stuff for 2 days, until pizza time. I created my own sauce and used Imo's cheese. Although I didn't quite master the pizza dough spin, I did manage to make some of the best pizza I've ever had.

The second bread was a little more complicated, but I could already tell that my skills had improved 10 fold. I made 2 loaves of ciabatta bread. As I bit into the moist, warm bread, I thought to myself, now I understand. I'm ready to dig into much more difficult breads now.

The second thing I've always had a hard time grasping is beer making.

I've drank dozens of flavors and types of beer thanks to the ridiculously cheap prices in Columbia.. I've become somewhat of a connoisseur. But I don't understand how the same basic ingredients can produce wildly different flavors.

A few weekends ago, we went to beer school at the Anheuser-Busch brewery. This was what I really needed. Reading about brewing wasn't teaching me much. I've always been much more about the hands on experience.

I wanted some friends of mine that have been home brewing to help, but our schedules just never worked out. So I decided to jump in, and I love it.

Cory ran around taking pictures of me boiling the hops, mixing in the malt, and watching it ferment for two weeks. (Ok, that's not exactly the most interesting part of the process.)

I just bottled up the beer tonight and over the next three weeks I find out if I made exploding beer time bombs. Yes, if I didn't wait for fermentation to finish, the bottles can fill with so much CO2 that they explode. Either way, I either have beer or a great story.

Third, Sallie and I got our garden going again and this year its bigger. Assuming that neither of us need surgery again this year and we keep up with it, most of our produce and some of our fruit will grow on its own.

I never really knew much about growing, but last year we had some solid results by just throwing seeds in the ground. This year, we've read up a little on this.

We planted lettuce, tomatos, bell peppers, cantalope, watermelon, and cucumbers.

All these DYI hobbies have been great for meditative purposes. It's been a pretty rough beginning of the year and sometimes you just need to go outside and dig in the dirt for a few hours to remember how silly money problems or issues at work really are.