I can remember the moment it happened - the moment I realized I have no survival instinct. I was, I think, 12. My parents had invited their friends over for dinner and we were eating on the back porch. Daylight had ebbed away over the time we were eating and we'd neglected to turn on any lights in the house. I grew up in a small town where locking doors is still a "city folk" sort of thing to do, so naturally, all of our doors were wide open, with only the screen doors closed to keep the mosquitoes out.
I was the first person to leave the table. I walked through the house turning on the lights as I went. As I approached the hallway I froze. Standing in the pitch black of our hallway were two tall white tube socks. I was a smart kid, pretty advanced for my age, so I was able to deduce that within those tube socks were legs, and attached to those legs was most likely a person. Tube socks weren't what the kids were into at the time, so my next safe assumption was that this tube sock wearing fellow was not one of my friends popping in for a visit. Once I followed this train of thought my mind sort of went blank. My knees locked and I stood there staring at the tube socks. The tube socks, too, didn't move at all. After what felt like an hour the tube socks bolted right out of our front door. It took me a few moments to recover use of my legs, at which point I tip-toed back to the back porch with my family and took my seat. It was probably 5 minutes before I leaned over and whispered in my mother's ear that there had been someone in the house.
At this point chaos broke out. I hate chaos, so I sat still as my parents grabbed knives and broomsticks and paraded around the house like some tiny and very poorly equipped vigilante brigade. In the end all was well, nothing was stolen, no one was hurt and apparently the tube socks had no friends that he left behind in the house. I don't recall the police being called, since nothing had actually happened to report. Perhaps my parents didn't even believe me since I didn't have the frenzied frantic response which I'm positive both my mother and sister would have had.
This moment has always terrified me, not because there was an intruder, but because of my possum-like response. Although it can be argued that "playing dead" is a survival response, it's an extremely primitive one at best. It's poorly suited for, say, when a car is barreling down the road at you at full speed, or when someone is aiming the shoot you and toss you in the pot for dinner (hey, it's Texas, someone here does that, I'm sure). So I am scarred. I realized at a young age that my survival response is no more advanced than a possum. Where does that leave me?
Well, years of possible intruders and an intense fear of ghosts left over from a different scarring experience as a child has proven to me that responding to fear and possible imminent danger is not a skill I'm going to acquire. That meant I had to acquire a few of my own that weren't actually instinctive, survival skills suited to a wide variety of situations.
I spent some time after the tube socks rationalizing the fact that although I'm not that good at responding to imminent danger, I do have a really wonderful immune system. I never get ill, and this type of survival trait was highly prized by every generation of humans prior to the advent of the vaccine. Okay, so immune system - check.
One thing I like to do is watch scary movies and analyze the chase scenes. The victims always choose the crummiest exit paths that lead them to death. I've learned from these and have crafted exit plans from all of the places I've lived. Escape routes - check.
Another thing I do is hoard food. This I did not actually teach myself... it's just a nifty character trait Mark likes to point out about me every time he opens the freezer and its entire contents tumble to the floor. It makes me wonder about past lives. I've created a list of things my past selves may have lived through which led to this character trait. These include the great depression, being at sea for long periods of time, living through the potato famine, witnessing the hundred years war or being a cave woman. Food in a crisis - check.
I like to create scenarios where I face an intruder and actually come up with a witty comment. Sometimes it's an insult, sometimes it's a joke... but whatever it is, I practice it in my head. Witty repartee - check.
And finally, I have taught myself to make bread out of thin air (well, and salt, water and flour). This last one is especially exciting for me. I know sourdough has been around since the Egyptians, and that's a long, long, long time. But somehow as I was learning to make sourdough I managed to complicate matters. I thought too much about the process. I thought about how sourdough was the creation of a culture, isolating of a specific yeast and then the regular feeding of it to keep it alive. It's really easy to geek out on what sourdough actually is, and then never make it. I blame it all on Harold McGee. The thing is, sourdough is really easy. I now think sourdough is easier than using conventional yeast. So now, I can officially add another item to my catalog of survival tools. Harvesting yeast from air - check.
I spent Saturday making this, my first sourdough. It was certainly time-consuming and I didn't really have the time, so I added a pinch of instant yeast. It doesn't effect the flavor and it just barely kicked up the proofing times. I recommend it if you're running short on time.
Throughout the recipe I've added step by step photos of what this dough goes through. I thought it was really interesting that I could clearly see the changes in the dough that were happening at each stage of the process. Hopefully these will help you if you're making this bread and are a little new to bread baking, or sourdough.
Oh - and how did it turn out? Well, aside from the fact that I was blown away by the fact that my first sourdough came together so nicely, I also thought it was delicious! I ate half a loaf for dinner on Saturday. I couldn't stop myself. It's sour, but the olives and rosemary really stand up to the sour and add another dimension. If you're a kalamata olive lover great - if not, this bread works equally well with green olives. So without further ado....
Thom Leonard's Kalamata Olive Bread
adapted from Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer
Makes two 1 1/2 lb loaves
Time: At least 27 hours, with 20 minutes of active work
The evening before baking
Make the levain:
25 g (1 1/2 Tbsp) fermented firm (60% hydration) sourdough starter, refreshed 8 hours before
115 g (1/2 cup) lukewarm water
115 g (3/4 cup) bread flour
Beat this into a batter-like dough until smooth. Place in a covered container and let ferment overnight on the counter for 12 hours, or until fully risen and beginning to sink in the middle.
Fermented levain (use all of it)
320 g (1 1/4 cups, plus 2 Tbsp) lukewarm water
500 g (3 1/4 cups) all purpose flour (pref. King Arthur)
30 g (1/4 cup) rye flour
14 g (1 Tbsp) salt
One good pinch of instant yeast
225 g (1 3/4 cup) rinsed, pitted kalamata olives, very good quality (or very good quality green olives)
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
I am giving instructions for a stand mixer, but feel free to make this bread by hand.
Add the water to the fermented levain. In the mixing bowl add the flours and combine them quickly to blend. Pour in the levain and water and mix by hand or by spoon to form a rough dough or shaggy mass.
Using the dough hook mix on medium speed until it is smooth and shiny and cleans the bowl, about 15 mins. It will be very extensible.
Sprinkle the salt on the dough and keep mixing until it is much tighter, about 3 mins.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and set on a work space. Pour the olives and rosemary into the bowl and with your hand knead the olives and rosemary into the dough until evenly distributed. The dough will be soft and sticky and fairly extensible.
Place the dough in an oiled container about 3 times its size and cover with plastic (I use tupperware and cover with the lids).Let it ferment, preferably at 75 degrees, until it is airy and well-fermented, but not yet doubled in bulk, about 3 hours in total. Fold the dough (as you would fold a letter) 3 times at 20 minute intervals, that is, after 20, 40 and 60 minutes of fermenting. Then leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining 2 hours.
Flour the counter and gently turn the fermented dough onto the counter. Cut the dough in half and gently round each piece into a boule. Cover in plastic and let rest for 15-20 mins.
Shape the dough again into tight even boules, tapping any air bubbles out of the skin. Place the dough top side down onto linen lined baskets or bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It should be well-expanded.
At least 45 minutes before baking the dough preheat your oven with the baking stone and steaming implements in it to 450 degrees. I use cast iron pots with lids to bake my bread in to trap the steam.
Work quickly here. Right before baking pull the cast iron pots out of the oven and line with parchment paper. Put each bread in a separate pot, seam side down. Score the bread as you wish and cover the pots. Slide the pots into the oven in the baking stone. Close the oven and turn temp immediately down to 425 degrees. After 20 mins take the lids off of the pots. Continue to bake for another 20-25 mins. Vent oven door for last 5 mins to let out the steam. Cool the breads on wire racks.
For a list other fantastic breads check out Yeastspotting at Wild Yeast!