Category Archives: Travel

Sourdough Made Simple

Sourdough has a reputation for being a bit tricky, so a lot of people find it intimidating. Thanks to my friend P, a fellow baking geek, I’ve been introduced to the Lahey method, which makes it super-easy to bake bread at home. I love this book!

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I’ve been experimenting with Lahey’s method for several weeks and my adapted recipe for sourdough is even simpler. It looks like a lot of steps but bear with me.

The genius part: Instead of folding/kneading your dough every few hours, you let your dough ferment overnight (18 hrs), do a second rise for 2 hrs and bake. No more being stuck in your house all day during the rising process!

STEP 1

All sourdough begins with a starter — natural yeast with a brinier flavor than the commercial yeast you find at the supermarket. Plan on 3-4 days before it’s ready to use. All you need is flour, water, air and time.

Mix equal parts water and flour in a wide mouthed container, cover it loosely so air can get to it, leave it out on your counter and wait. THAT’S IT. Really!

Once your starter is bubbly and active, try to make your dough within a few hours, before it loses potency. Thereafter, if you’re not baking regularly, dump out about 50-75% once a week, stir in equal parts water and flour, and start the process over.

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Starter is ready to use!

I encourage everyone to invest a few bucks in a kitchen scale and measure by weight rather than volume because 1) it’s easier and 2) it will guarantee consistent results. Remember, different flours have different densities so one cup of A may be slightly more or less than one cup of B.

Put your empty container on the scale, and set it to zero. Add 50g-75g whole wheat flour, 50g-75g bread (strong) flour, and 100g-150g cool water, resetting to zero after each addition. Don’t worry if you’re off by a gram or two as long as your ratio of total flour to water is roughly 1:1.

STEP 2

You’ve been patient and you now have over 100g of starter. Let’s get going.

Put a large bowl on the scale, zero it out, and add:

  • 600g flour (I like 475g bread flour +125g whole wheat or another grain)
  • 16g salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of active dry yeast (the kind you get at the grocery store)
  • 450g water
  • 107g active starter*
  • Optional: Add a generous handful of chia seeds and a tablespoon of caraway seeds, as I’ve done here.

*If this amount uses up most of your starter, replenish by adding  50g flour plus 50g water, mix well and set it aside to reactivate for a couple of days.

STEP 3

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Once you have a well mixed dough (it will be sticky; DO NOT be tempted to add more flour), loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature overnight for 18 hours. If you do this at, say, 4 PM, your dough will be ready for the next step at 10 AM the next day.

STEP 4

18 hours later, your dough will be bubbly and will come away from the bowl in long strands – this is the developed gluten. It will be loose and sticky; don’t add more flour!

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Those strands are the gluten

Dump it onto a lightly floured counter, and form the dough into a ball by tucking the edges under – using either a dough scraper or your (lightly floured) hands.

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The dark bits are the chia and caraway seeds.

STEP 5

The traditional method is to bake your dough in a pre-heated cast iron pot.  This is an easy alternative.

Divide dough into two balls. Shape each ball into a log and put them in a perforated baguette pan. For a free form shape, place your logs (or ovals) onto a baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal. Leave plenty of room between them.

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Lightly dust the tops with flour. Cover the pan or baking sheet with a linen or cotton dishtowel (avoid terry cloth) or plastic wrap, and let the dough rise again for 2 hours.  After 1.5 hours have elapsed, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.

STEP 6

After another half hour (the full two hours), your dough will have puffed up nicely. Spritz your hot oven with water, put the bread into the oven and lower the heat to 475 degrees F.

You can spritz again after 2-3 minutes to keep the steam going and create a crispier crust. You can also score the dough at this point to let steam escape during baking but it’s not crucial.

Bake for about 25 minutes and check your bread – it should be a rich golden color. Depending on your oven this may take another 5+ minutes.

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Left: the bottom, showing bumps from the perforated pan.

To ensure your bread is baked through, check it with a kitchen thermometer – the internal temperature of the bread should be 205-210 degrees F.

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Nice and craggy with an open crumb

Cool. Slice. Eat.

 

Traveling With Others/Business Edition

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In the rest of life you can choose your travel companions. A business trip is more of a crapshoot, some crappier than others. Do these descriptions remind you of any of your co-workers?

It’s All About Me. This person schemes ahead to make sure they get the best airline schedule/hotel room/seat assignment/you-name-it… even if they are junior to the rest of your group. WTF?

IAAMs often have menu demands that have nothing to do with food allergies or legitimate needs. “Instead of French fries I want twelve organic Zanzibar zucchini spears; ¼” thick, blackened but not burnt, no salt, just a dusting of imported turmeric.” Expect this to be sent back to the kitchen regardless.

The Road Hog. Ever had to ride with a really terrible driver who insists on doing all the driving while flipping the bird and swearing at anyone who passes him, oblivious to the gun rack on the other guy’s vehicle?

The Loudmouth. With or without alcohol, the LM manages to alienate everyone in the vicinity by screeching at the top of her lungs on a continual basis. It’s even worse if you’re traveling internationally — because we really need to reinforce that Ugly American stereotype, right?

 The Expense Account Cheat. I don’t know if people still get away with this, but I can remember several occasions when co-workers justified personal items as business “necessities”.  Like you need designer sunglasses because you left yours at home? C’mon. It’s raining.

The Dawdler. No matter how important the presentation, meeting, shoot or whatever, this individual keeps everyone else waiting. ‘Cause you’re not stressed enough already?

Rude-y, Rude-y, Rude-y. He snarls at the waitstaff, desk clerk, cab driver. You stare at the ceiling, hoping nobody will think you’re together.

Forgetful Frank (or Felicia). You gave them the list. You checked it twice. They still managed to leave a critical part of the presentation back in the office. Now it’s ten minutes ’til showtime and you are frantically texting your assistant to e-mail you the document you need before you make an utter ass of yourself.

The Leech. You have a precious few hours of downtime. Your colleague clings to you like plastic wrap. Is he timid? Lonely? An inexperienced traveler? Do you honestly give a s***?

Ethelred The Unready. They have one job to do. You have gone off to take an urgent call from your boss. You return to discover that they a) revealed the one thing they weren’t supposed to reveal, b) didn’t get the crucial shot and now the film crew has moved on to a new location, or c) agreed to an impossible timeline which forces you to backpedal  and convince everyone that the necessary delay is their own idea.

Mr./Ms. GrabAss. “Oooh, we’re out of town. Of course you want me to hit on you even though you’ve never shown the slightest interest before.” They’re THAT irresistible? Mmm, no.

Happy trails!

Saving and Spending

A fun article; hope you can access it since some Wall Street Journal pieces are behind a firewall:  https://graphics.wsj.com/image-grid/OD50Spring2018/

And one on truly excessive excess, courtesy of my dear friend and fashion maven, SH.  Would be perfect for a certain President I can think of….

https://www.retaildive.com/news/retail-therapy-the-loo-uis-vuitton-is-here-to-flush-100k-down-the-toile/521780/

Hope you’re all having a great weekend! xo, A

Traveling With Others

Traveling with another person is the ultimate blind date. Do you like to do the same things? Are they overly assertive or passive compared to you? How would they handle a stressful situation?

With luck, you find a partner, spouse or friend whose rhythms match your own. But what about a trip with another couple, your extended family, or someone you don’t know well? That’s a real litmus test.

Mostly, I’ve had wonderful experiences. A trip to London with S forged a friendship that’s lasted for decades. DH and I took a European vacation early in our relationship and learned that we were able to cope when things didn’t go as planned. And our recent visit to Charleston was successful because my friend T and I talked frankly in advance about what we all wanted – or didn’t want – to do there.

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Other trips have been a challenge. Beware of these types of travelers!

The Sloppy Drunk. I’m all for having a good time. But when my ex-husband fell into the bushes after a booze cruise and had to be dragged out by a sailor I should have saluted that red flag and called off the wedding. Live and learn.

Druggie Howser. Similar to the Sloppy Drunk, Druggie will score whatever he can, wherever he travels. An ex-beau bought weed and hashish from a complete stranger when we were in Morocco in the 70’s… did ‘ya learn nothing from the movie Midnight Express??

Sir (or Lady) Bossypants has researched every heritage site, museum, etc. within an inch of its life and is a self-styled expert on all topics relating to the places they insist on dragging you to and Will. Not. Shut. Up. About.

The Slowpoke moves at a different – dare I say, glacial – pace. Unless you are a very patient person (unlike myself) this will drive you stark staring insane.

The Obsessive Planner follows a rigid schedule. By which I mean never, ever deviates from it. You’re enjoying chatting up the owner of a local art gallery? Too bad; gotta get to the next thing on the list. NOW.

Mr. Spontaneity, on the other hand, NEVER wants to plan ahead. You might arrive in another country without a hotel reservation, as happened to a friend of mine many years ago. In high season.

The Hysteric. S*** happens. Train schedules change. Planes get grounded. Connections get missed. Places are unexpectedly closed. You do not want to travel with someone who is totally unhinged by this. Trust me.

Morning vs Night. My father was a morning person. My mother stayed up until 2 AM and slept until noon. On family trips, we had to squeeze all activities between 1:00 and 8:00 PM. Know which one you – and your traveling companions – are, and plan accordingly.

The Cheapskate. Bargain-hunter in the extreme. Will only eat street food, go to a museum on the one free day, stay at a Motel 6, or take the bus even though you risk arriving at your destination after closing.

Hey Big Spender. There are two subcategories: Ms. Moneybags (who can afford it) and Mr. Moocher (money is no object because you’re footing the bill). Watch out for anyone who has no understanding of – or respect for – your finances.

Michelin Or Bust. Michelin-starred restaurants can be terrific — unless you have a sensitive stomach or wallet. Our last Michelin meal was so rich, both DH and I tossed our (artisanal) cookies within an hour of returning to our hotel room. Next time, we’ll suggest our friends dine alone, check out the simple place around the corner and meet up for an after-dinner coffee.

The Bottom Line: Pre-Planning

  • Discuss expectations and set ground rules in advance, even if it feels awkward. Especially if you’re traveling with another couple or someone you don’t know well.
  • Be honest about how you want to spend your time. Be open to compromise unless an activity will bore or annoy you. For example, don’t go shopping just because your friend loves it if you know you’ll hate every minute. A reluctant companion is no fun for either of you!
  • Benefit from others’ expertise. Some of our friends are serious foodies and love to research the newest or best-reviewed places in town. I’m happy to let them pick the restaurants since I don’t care all that much.
  • Eating out with others? Get separate checks. You won’t feel guilty if you have that extra drink or order something more expensive.
  • Travel with people who have similar resources. If you’re on a budget, make sure you don’t get sucked into spending outside your own comfort zone. On the other hand, if you always stay in a suite you may feel resentful if you get a standard room like theirs to be “polite”.

Enjoy traveling this big, wonderful world of ours!

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Charleston, Va “Benne”

How is it our last day already?! We cram a lot into our final historical dive, as well as two excellent meals.
First, a morning ferry to Fort Sumter, the strategic site where the American Civil War began. The excursion takes about two hours: a 30-minute ferry ride to and from the fort and 60 minutes on the island. During the ride, a recording describes various points of interest and the history of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. Best part: we see dolphins off the side of the boat.
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Construction of Fort Sumter was still underway when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Despite Charleston’s position as a major port, at the time only two companies of federal troops guarded the harbor.
The Confederacy (500 soldiers) captured the fort in a short but intense artillery bombardment of the US Army garrison (80 soldiers) on Apr 12 – Apr 13, 1861, following months of siege-like conditions. The Confederate victory marked the official start of this bloody war, although there were no casualties in this battle.

 The site includes a museum which details these events.  As a lifelong Yankee/Northerner, it’s fascinating to read the Southern perspective on slavery and other issues of the day. IMG-0273

We get back by noon and Uber over for lunch at the deservedly popular Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Our friends are eager to try the ribs, which could feed a modern-day army and are as fabulous as anticipated. Pulled pork is pretty great, too. Rodney stops by to say hi — we’d talk longer but our mouths are full!

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IMG-0290IMG-0291Next up: the McLeod Plantation, which takes an unsparing look at all aspects of plantation life. The plantation was built on the riches of sea island cotton – and on the backs of enslaved Gullah men, women and children. The stories of these families – black and white, enslaved and free – are vividly told through narrative and photos.  It’s sobering and terrible, yet the triumph of survival is ultimately uplifting.IMG-0293It’s 5:00 somewhere — oh, here! — so we conclude our last day with drinks and dinner. We discover a great bistro and bar right near the restaurant we’ve reserved.

The Ordinary is, in my opinion, rather ordinary.  Food is good but nothing special, the cavernous space (a former bank) is noisy, and the kitchen can’t get everything upstairs at the same time so some of us are eating while others are waiting. Wish we’d stayed at Felix!

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Finally, here’s a recipe for benne (sesame) wafers, a Gullah favorite — and now, one of mine too.

Benne Wafers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (+ optional splash of lemon juice)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet or cover it with parchment paper.
  2. Place the benne (sesame) seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast until light brown (about 10 minutes). Watch closely so they don’t burn!
  3. In a large bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, vanilla extract, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until combined.
  4. Drop dough by spoonfuls (each about ½ teaspoon) 1½ inches apart onto the baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 4 to 6 minutes, until light brown.

Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes before removing from baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls.

 

Charleston Sojourn Pt 2

DAY 2

Fortified by coffee and a nibble of fresh croissants, we’re off to explore more of the city.

IMG-0348.jpgFirst up, a guided tour of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States.

IMG-0217Charleston was founded in 1670, and by 1695 the first Jewish settler had arrived. Others soon followed, attracted by the civil and religious liberty of South Carolina and ample economic opportunities. Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God) was established in 1749; the original Georgian synagogue was destroyed in the 1838 fire that devastated much of the city, and the current Greek Revival building was built on the same site in 1840.

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Peeling plasterwork is scheduled for renovation — a big job!

The museum traces the history of these early families through maps, books, paintings and memorabilia. There’s also a wonderful letter written by George Washington to leaders of the Jewish community thanking them for their support and affirming his commitment to religious tolerance throughout the colonies.

Charleston was nicknamed “Holy City” for its religious freedoms and numerous places of worship: Calvinist, Catholic, Anglican, Quaker, Jewish, Baptist and Protestant. The many historic churches are pretty spectacular. IMG-0223

We slip inside Mount Zion AME to hear the minister’s rousing sermon.  He exhorts his congregation to “Shake, shake, shake the devil out!” during this Easter/Passover season.

Then, it’s on to The Charleston Museum.  Exhibits include artifacts, natural history, decorative arts and vivid depictions of plantation life.  Since the museum is overrun with school groups, we beat a hasty retreat to tour the nearby Joseph Manigault HouseIMG-0238.JPGThe family still lives locally and has kept the good furniture so most displays are true to the period but not original; that’s disappointing.

Back in the now-deserted Charleston museum, we admire quilts and dinosaurs.

Next: a “light” lunch of crab cakes and hush puppies at Hyman’s Seafood, established in 1890 when portions (and people) were a lot smaller.

 

 

Then: antiquing on King Street, and a folk art exhibit at the Gibbes Museum.

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George Birlant on King Street, founded 1922

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This enormous sweetgrass basket took 3 years to craft. It’s stunning.

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I’d have gone to this dentist in the 1800’s, wouldn’t you?

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A spectacular marble bust in the permanent collection.

We meet up with T&B for dinner at FIG, which is my favorite meal so far.

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 French’s French-fried onion rings were a childhood fave. FIG’s are a bit more sophisticated.

 

A Snapshot of Charleston, SC

Last week, Dear Husband and I spent a delightful few days in Charleston, a gracious city neither of us had visited before.  Highly recommended for food, sightseeing and history!

ARRIVAL DAY

We got in late afternoon, with just enough time to check in to our swanky Art Deco hotel The Spectator— where all rooms include breakfast and an on-call butler — and check out the sweetgrass basket weavers at the Charleston City Market. 

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After meeting up with our friends T & B who’d escaped another nor’easter the previous day, we all Uber’d to dinner at Leon’s Oyster House, which was lively even on a Tuesday.

Fried oysters were terrific, though we didn’t pair them with the local champagne as suggested.  Fried food + champagne = decadence to consider for the future!

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The ladies’ room at The Spectator. I’m coveting this fab mirror and art deco faucets!

DAY ONE

Today was all about walking. Heritage sites and signage abounds, keeping you aware of Charleston’s history before, during and after the Civil War.

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First, DH had a meeting at the Dock Street Theatre. The original theater didn’t survive the Great Fire of 1740 which destroyed many of the buildings in Charleston’s French Quarter. In 1809, the Planter’s Hotel was built on the site and in 1835 the wrought iron balcony and sandstone columns were added.

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Facade of Dock Street Theatre

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The beautiful music room upstairs is used for donor events and other special occasions.

Next, we strolled down Rainbow Row and admired other nearby homes. Many have been in the same family for generations.

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Do you think the resemblance between these bushes and the statue’s butt is intentional??

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Love this old movie theater and more pastel buildings.

All that walking entitled us to overeat at Husk, local celeb chef Sean Brock’s high temple of low country cooking, featuring locally sourced ingredients served with style in a charming Victorian house.

 

We ended with a nightcap at the Spectator’s Prohibition-style bar, where Allen the bartender creates 1920’s inspired cocktails (his specialty: “The Dude Imbibes”) or whatever you fancy.

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And poured ourselves into bed to rest up for Day Two….