Zumba / Tartine’s Sourdough Bread

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This week’s recipe: Tartine’s Sourdough Bread

They say that you should do one thing every day that scares you. To which I say, who’s got the time? Some of us have full-time jobs. Still, that’s what went through my mind lo those many months ago, in the halcyon days of August, as I arrived at my first Zumba class at Alvin Ailey. (Not the real Alvin Ailey – the Alvin Ailey Extension, in which flabby non-dancers like myself can pay $20 per class to pretend that we are the gorgeous graceful creatures whom we glimpsed rehearsing in the studio before our class began.) I had taken a Zumba class once before, in a manner of speaking. It was at my friend’s insane house in the Hamptons—a story for another blog post—with her family’s private Zumba instructor. No joke. Anyway, it was a lot of skinny Hamptons ladies but all in all, it felt like a pretty low-pressure situation.

Not so my first class at Ailey. The instructor, Richard, was a short, muscular man with tattoos running up and down his limbs. There were women of all ages, sizes, and races—a very different crowd from the white, ectomorphic, sleek-haired, Lululemon-clad pod people who populate most New York fitness studios. Richard began class by saying, “There’s only one rule in my class: there are no rules. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, you know your body better than I do.” (By contrast, I once took a high-intensity interval training class that began with the instructor commanding us to “prepare your body for what it’s about to do.”) But once the music started, I knew that this was no joke. The beats were fast, the footwork was fancy, and I was almost immediately lost. Moreover, there were all of these girls in the front row who knew every single step and could move like nobody’s business. I left the class convinced that they were ringers, professional Ailey dancers who went to Zumba class in order to unwind/make people like me feel bad about themselves.

I’ve always been an awful dancer. Anyone who has ever seen my mom dance knows that I come by it honestly. But what makes it worse is that Mark is actually a great dancer—so good that it’s hard to believe that he’s a white Jewish boy from Long Island. So every time we go to a wedding, as he is tearin’ up the dance floor, I am committin’ crimes against humanity on the dance floor. Part of the reason I decided I wanted to take Zumba was to better understand my body and improve my dancing so I wouldn’t be such a huge fucking embarrassment to Mark. After a few classes, I came to “understand” that, for instance, my body was incapable of moving its left foot and right arm at the same time. Still, Zumba is mostly made up of a few types of moves, and although I’ve never been able to master the fancy-footwork ones, I was eventually able to figure out the rest.

I’ll never be like those girls in the front row (who, by the way, I have discovered are not ringers but simply very talented and devoted Zumba-goers). But that’s okay. Zumba, at least the way Richard teaches it, is a great workout. My friend Brianna, who is a longtime Zumba aficionado, started coming to classes with me, and she said that she’s never been to a class with such fast music. The music, by the way, is stuff that I really like but never would have been exposed to in my regular life, so that’s another great aspect. But most of all, Zumba is fun. I do lots of types of workouts these days—running, barre, HIIT, general gym stuff—but Zumba is the only one that I really look forward to. And these days, I actually move my hips somewhat while dancing, so that’s a big improvement. Zumba, I am officially no longer scared of you!

So anyway, here’s some sourdough. Talking about things that make you scared…I started making sourdough a few months ago using the Tartine recipe from the New York Times, and I was scared indeed! It’s incredibly involved and it feels like so many things can go wrong. (For example, this time around, I accidentally washed most of my levain—the stuff you are supposed to keep for your next round of starter—down the sink, and threw the rest out and then had to fish some out of the trash. But don’t tell anyone.) The truth is that sourdough, like most bread, is a lot more forgiving than most people realize. For a long time I was afraid to make bread, period. It seemed like it never turned out right. But as with most baking projects, all it took was following the instructions, some patience, and some experience (and in the case of sourdough, literally an entire day). This sourdough is definitely a project, especially if you have to make your starter from scratch, but the sense of accomplishment you feel as you pull your perfect loaf from the oven is, I imagine, much like the pride one feels at pushing out a baby. Right? Right.

Tartine’s Sourdough Bread

From the New York Times Cooking Section

Yields 2 loaves

For the Starter and Leaven

  • 1000 grams white-bread flour
  • 1000 grams whole-wheat flour

For the Bread

  • 200 grams leaven
  • 900 grams white-bread flour
  • 100 grams whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting
  • 20 grams fine sea salt
  • 100 grams rice flour

Instructions

  1. Make the starter: Combine 1,000 grams white-bread flour with 1,000 grams whole-wheat flour. Put 100 grams of warm water (about 80 degrees) in a small jar or container and add 100 grams of the flour mix. Use your fingers to mix until thoroughly combined and the mixture is the consistency of thick batter. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature until mixture begins to bubble and puff, 2 to 3 days.
  2. When starter begins to show signs of activity, begin regular feedings. Keep the starter at room temperature, and at the same time each day discard 80 percent of the starter and feed remaining starter with equal parts warm water and white-wheat flour mix (50 grams of each is fine). When starter begins to rise and fall predictably and takes on a slightly sour smell, it’s ready; this should take about 1 week.(Reserve remaining flour mix for leaven.)
  3. Make the leaven: The night before baking, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mature starter. Mix the remaining starter with 200 grams of warm water and stir with your hand to disperse. Add 200 grams of the white-wheat flour mix and combine well. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours or until aerated and puffed in appearance. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon of leaven into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.
  4. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine 200 grams of leaven with 700 grams of warm water and stir to disperse. (Reserve remaining leaven for future loaves; see note below.)
  5. Add 900 grams of white-bread flour and 100 grams of whole-wheat flour to bowl and use your hands to mix until no traces of dry flour remain. The dough will be sticky and ragged. Cover bowl with a towel and let dough rest for 25 to 40 minutes at room temperature.
  6. Add 20 grams fine sea salt and 50 grams warm water. Use hands to integrate salt and water into dough thoroughly. The dough will begin to pull apart, but continue mixing; it will come back together.
  7. Cover dough with a towel and transfer to a warm environment, 75 to 80 degrees ideally (like near a window in a sunny room, or inside a turned-off oven). Let dough rise for 30 minutes. Fold dough by dipping hand in water, taking hold of the underside of the dough at one quadrant and stretching it up over the rest of the dough. Repeat this action 3 more times, rotating bowl a quarter turn for each fold. Do this every half-hour for 2 1/2 hours more (3 hours total). The dough should be billowy and increase in volume 20 to 30 percent. If not, continue to let rise and fold for up to an hour more.
  8. Transfer dough to a work surface and dust top with flour. Use a dough scraper to cut dough into 2 equal pieces and flip them over so floured sides are face down. Fold the cut side of each piece up onto itself so the flour on the surface remains entirely on the outside of the loaf; this will become the crust. Work dough into taut rounds. Place the dough rounds on a work surface, cover with a towel, and let rest 30 minutes.
  9. Mix 100 grams whole-wheat flour and 100 grams rice flours. Line two 10- to 12-inch bread-proofing baskets or mixing bowls with towels. Use some of the flour mixture to generously flour towels (reserve remaining mixture).
  10. Dust rounds with whole-wheat flour. Use a dough scraper to flip them over onto a work surface so floured sides are facing down. Take one round, and starting at the side closest to you, pull the bottom 2 corners of the dough down toward you, then fold them up into the middle third of the dough. Repeat this action on the right and left sides, pulling the edges out and folding them in over the center. Finally, lift the top corners up and fold down over previous folds. (Imagine folding a piece of paper in on itself from all 4 sides.) Roll dough over so the folded side becomes the bottom of the loaf. Shape into a smooth, taut ball. Repeat with other round.
  11. Transfer rounds, seam-side up, to prepared baskets. Cover with a towel and return dough to the 75- to 80-degree environment for 3 to 4 hours. (Or let dough rise for 10 to 12 hours in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before baking.)
  12. About 30 minutes before baking, place a Dutch oven or lidded cast-iron pot in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees. Dust tops of dough, still in their baskets, with whole-wheat/rice-flour mixture. Very carefully remove heated pot from oven and gently turn 1 loaf into pan seam-side down. Use a lame (a baker’s blade) or razor blade to score the top of the bread a few times to allow for expansion, cover and transfer to oven. Reduce temperature to 450 degrees and cook for 20 minutes. Carefully remove lid (steam may release) and cook for 20 more minutes or until crust is a rich, golden brown color.
  13. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees, clean out pot and repeat this process with the second loaf.

Tip

  • The remaining leaven is your new starter. Continue to feed it if you plan to bake again soon or hold in an airtight container in the refrigerator for future use. When you want to bake again, begin feeding the starter a few days or a week beforehand until it once again behaves predictably.
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Dear Evan Hansen / Kabocha Squash Soup

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This week’s recipe: Miso Kabocha Squash Soup with Maple Roasted Walnuts

This past Tuesday I saw the Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen. My sister saw it in December, while it was still in previews, and advised the rest of us to get tickets immediately. I’m glad we did because it’s become a huge hit and it’s probably a lot harder to get tickets these days. I can see why. Its themes—loneliness, feelings of invisibility, the desire to be cared for—resonate with everyone in the audience. I’ve never heard so much crying in a Broadway theater as during certain numbers of Dear Evan Hansen. The music is tuneful pop-rock, and even though almost every song has an exceedingly generic-sounding title, the songs are lovely and very well-integrated into the script. The cast is uniformly excellent, but Ben Platt, who plays the title character, is unbelievable. He embodies Evan’s nervous, needy loneliness through a series of tics and twitches, hunched shoulders, and words that spill out of his mouth with a fantastic velocity. And of course he sings beautifully, even through some heavy tears.

But what I liked most about Dear Evan Hansen is its emotional honesty. A quick explanation of the plot (spoilers ahead): Evan is a nerdy outcast, in a cast (see what I did there?), which he got after falling out of a tree and breaking his arm. His therapist has advised him to write pep talks in the form of letters to himself—hence the title of the show. He is printing one of these letters, about his feelings of invisibility and his crush on a classmate named Zoe, when it’s found in the computer lab printer by a violent loner bully named Connor who happens to be Zoe’s brother. Connor steals the letter and, shortly thereafter, commits suicide with the letter still in his pocket. Connor’s parents, finding the letter addressed to Evan and signed “Sincerely, Me,” assume that Connor wrote it to Evan. They reach out to Evan, and although he intends to tell them the truth, he finds that he can’t bear to deprive them of what they think is their last piece of connection to their son. Instead, he builds an elaborate fantasy where he and Connor were secretly best friends. Things spin further out of control when he gives an inspirational speech about the meaning of Connor’s life and death at a school assembly and the video goes viral. He becomes the face of a national movement called the Connor Project, wins Zoe’s love, and integrates himself into her well-off, two-parent household—much to the distress of his divorced mom, who is loving and supportive but who works all the time and can’t afford to send Evan to college. He gains confidence and popularity, but is always aware that any good things coming his way are because of a lie. Throughout, he is haunted by Connor’s ghost, who forces Evan to confront the fact that he fell out of the tree on purpose in a halfhearted suicide attempt. Ultimately, he is moved to confess to Connor’s family when the social media mob turns on them—and to his mother when she figures out what he’s been hiding—but although the gaps in his story are becoming increasingly clear, no one else ever finds out the truth. The play ends a year later, with the hysteria of the Connor Project in the past. Evan meets up with Zoe, who forgives him for what he did and admits that even though they all know the story of Evan and Connor’s friendship is a lie, that lie saved her family.

So the play deals in some difficult themes (though it’s actually very funny in parts). Being an adolescent is really hard, and although there’s been a lot of focus in recent years on the various societal pressures and psychological torments that teenage girls face, I imagine that certain aspects of adolescence might be even harder for boys, because the socially acceptable range of emotion and expression is so limited for them. No one really knows what to make of Evan or Connor, two different species of loner. Evan is exceedingly sensitive and feels every emotion intensely, traits which are not exactly encouraged in teenage boys. We don’t get to know Connor much, other than the version of him that exists in Evan’s head, and so instead we build our picture of him from how his family reacts to his death. His mother, a dilettantish stay-at-home-mom, is devastated. His father, a distant, traditional type, is stoical but inwardly furious.  Zoe, who got the brunt of Connor’s antisocial behavior, resists any attempts to turn her tormentor into a misunderstood martyr, and at first she is skeptical of Evan’s picture of Connor as a troubled soul who wanted to change. But her skepticism melts away relatively quickly, indicating that she, like her parents, wants to believe that there was a side of Connor that they never saw.

It made me think a lot about what it must be like to be the parent or sibling of an objectively “bad” kid. It seems terrible to label anyone, especially a kid, as objectively bad, but the truth is that there are born psychopaths in the world. The audience doesn’t get to know Connor well enough to know if he’s a psychopath, though a brief moment of empathy between him and Evan seems to indicate that he’s not. Still, it’s clear that throughout his life, he’s caused his family and his schoolmates nothing but trouble. Part of the reason his parents cling so desperately to Evan’s stories is because they’ve never known Connor to have a friend. The only positive memories that his family has of him are the ones that Evan manufactures for them.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t love him. I remember reading a comment from the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, Sue Kleebold. While every other Columbine parent was praying for their child to be alive, she said, she was praying for hers to be dead. Sue loved her son intensely, and continues to love him even now, but you can love somebody and still recognize the pain they cause. I can’t imagine the mix of grief, relief, and guilt that Connor’s family would feel, but it all felt very real and honest to me.

So anyway, here’s some soup. I made this delightful miso kabocha squash soup on Thursday night, after the big snowstorm, and it was the perfect antidote for a cold night. As with all squash recipes, you must factor in the time it takes to actually peel the damn thing (25 minutes in my case)! I also learned a cool trick, which is putting the squash in the microwave for four minutes—it makes it a lot easier to cut. But once that’s dealt with, the soup comes together easily and beautifully. Eat it with your loved one while watching the Netflix Michael Bolton Valentine’s Day Special.

Kabocha Squash Miso Soup with Maple Roasted Walnuts

From Connoisseurus Veg

For the Kabocha Squash Miso Soup
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • 6 cups diced (1/2 inch) kabocha squash (about 1 medium, 3 pound squash, you could substitute butternut or acorn squash)
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
    • 3 cups water
    • 2 to 4 tablespoons white miso paste
For the Maple Roasted Walnuts
    • 1 cup shelled walnut halves
    • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
    • dash cayenne pepper
    • salt

Instructions

Make the Kabocha Squash Miso Soup
    1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with oil and place over medium heat. Add onion and squash. Cook until onion is soft and translucent, and squash just begins to soften, about 10 minutes, flipping occasionally. Add garlic and ginger, and cook for about 1 minute more, until very fragrant. Add water, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 10 minutes.
    2. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Return the soup to the pot, place over medium heat, and warm it back up to the desired temperature. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of miso in a small amount of hot water, then add it to the soup and stir. Taste test, and if desired, dissolve some more miso in hot water and add it to the soup. Keep going until you reach a balnce of sweet/savory/salty that you’re happy with.
Make the Maple Roasted Walnuts
    1. While the soup cooks, preheat the oven to 375°. Place the walnuts, maple syrup and cayenne pepper into a bowl and toss to coat. Arrange in an even layer on a baking sheet with a rim or lip and sprinkle with salt. Bake until nuts are browned and the liquid has cooked off, about 10 to 13 minutes, watching them closely to avoid burning.
Serve
  1. Ladle soup into bowls and top with walnuts. Serve.

Super Bowl / Fava Dip

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This week’s recipe: Greek Fava Dip

So the Super Bowl started four minutes ago as of this writing. Who will win, the team or the other team? Just kidding, I know who the teams are, barely. I’ve never cared about football, not even a little. I know that this means that I’m not a Real American but there are so many other reasons for that that I’m a hopeless case anyway. My one firsthand exposure to football was when I went to a game my senior year of college. It was our school’s first ever night game, against the hated Harvard University (no, I did not go to Yale, but doesn’t everyone hate Harvard?) and was therefore a Big Deal. All of my friends were going, including a friend who tried unsuccessfully to sneak a Nalgene full of vodka past security. Once we arrived, I realized that there was this whole other side of Brown that I had never seen before–I called it Fratty Brown. It involved tailgating and keg stands and muscly guys in sleeveless racerback shirts. My only experience with Fratty Brown up to this point had been attending a Halloween party at a frat house my sophomore year. There was a costume contest–separate contests for boys and girls–and two girls dressed as a slutty ladybug and slutty bee made out with each other and they STILL lost to a group of girls dressed as the Village People. Their self-esteem, which must not have been great to begin with, no doubt plummeted to new lows that night.

But anyway, the football game. My friend Warren, who is a Hong Kong native and had limited exposure growing up to the joys of American football, sat next to me and we tried to figure out the rules, much to the agitation of my friend Rebecca, who was sitting in front of us and is a big football fan and almost had an aneurysm because of our ignorance. Good times, good times. I left after 45 minutes because our team was winning, and we ultimately won the whole game, so I guess they didn’t need my support.

So that’s a positive memory, which is good, because otherwise I think football is a piece of garbage. It’s boring, it’s slow, it’s incredibly dangerous for the players, and it seems to be full of wife-beaters (every time the NFL runs one of those treacly, cynical “NFL Means Family” commercials I want to throw something at the TV). I know that it’s truly an original hot take to say that maybe we shouldn’t be entertained watching young, mostly minority men bash each other’s heads in for the benefit of their old white corporate masters who have spent decades lying about the effects of said head-bashing, but I’m just the sort of brave truth-teller to say it. Here is an interesting article about attempts to make football safer for high school players, but until those reforms get adopted nationwide, it’s going to be the kitten bowl for me. Just kidding, I would never watch football. Did you know that, according to a Wall Street Journal study, there are only 11 minutes of actual action on average in any given football game? Eff that ess, I’d rather watch paint dry, ’cause at least paint isn’t giving anyone CTE or putting money in freakin’ Dan Snyder’s pocket.

(By the way, if you’re wondering, I’m rooting for the Falcons. And by “rooting for” I mean “occasionally thinking about in a vaguely positive manner because I went to college in New England and Patriots fans can be real assholes.”)

So anyway, here’s some fava dip. It’s very appropriate to be posting about dip on the Super Bowl, now that I think about it. Now I know this is confusing, because fava is a type of bean and one can make dip from it, but this is actually made of yellow split peas. I first encountered fava dip at a Greek restaurant in December. I don’t really like Greek food and I tend to prefer my carbs straight, thank you, no meddling protein-rich dips welcome. But my coworker convinced me to try in and, why, I’ve never looked back since! By which I mean I made some two weeks ago and may make it again because now I have this two-thirds full bag of yellow split peas and what the hell else am I going to do with them. No, but seriously guys, this was really good, and so easy to make. While it cooked, I threw together some pita from the Breads Bakery cookbook and blammo, delicious lunch. I halved the recipe but there was still a lot left over so I spent the next week eating it with baby carrots and generally feeling very virtuous about my healthy lifestyle. You too can enjoy that feeling of smug satisfaction with the recipe below!

Greek Fava Dip

From The Wanderlust Kitchen

  • 2 cups (~500g) dry yellow split peas, rinsed
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped red onion
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Paprika for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the split peas in a large saucepan with 5 cups of warm water. Set the burner to high heat and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Skim any foam that forms on the surface of the liquid, then add the red onion, scallion, and garlic. Return the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Once the peas are tender, turn off the heat and add the olive oil and salt. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture (or process in batches in a tabletop blender). Taste and add more salt as needed.
  3. The fava will thicken as it cools. Serve topped with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika; provide crusty bread and/or sliced vegetables for dipping.