[On a run, September 2012.]
Quiet days, sunny days. Time hums along with the ordinary: running, recipe-testing, dish-washing, baking, bean-soaking, laundry, soup-making, book-reading. Last weekend we picked blackberries for two hours in shifting sun and shade and had a pint after at the fancy-ish pub in town (with sweet potato fries, perhaps one of the only decent offerings on the menu) and came home to turn them into jars and jars of jam (this year I get to keep most of them for myself).
Reading Stegner and am struck again with his insight, the great green watery prose of it. “Crossing to Safety” was the first book I finally read of his (“Angle of Repose” came later, and how very different those two are, though I love them both for equally different reasons), and it is what I am reading again. I am a creature of habit and repetition and only now, in my 30s, have I embraced that. I will hike the same trails year after year and camp in the same meadows if that appeals to me and I will not question it. I can reread a favorite book 10 times if I am so inclined (of course, I will read new-to-me ones, too). I will run the same backroads happily and swim laps in the same pool and drink tea every morning without fail. And I will make blackberry jam every September, if there is fruit enough.
[What we picked, September 2012.]
Fall is the wistful season. I think it is the best season in California, but then March slips in each year with its particular charm of its own, all wind and pale light and green hills, and I revise my belief that fall is it. But still, fall is precious: the days shrinking ever shorter and the time change looming ahead like a specter. I sit at my desk on the 12th floor and look out over downtown shining in the sun, marked here and there by wisps of clouds, the sky blue, the windows of the tall buildings all around me winking in late afternoon, and I wish myself at the beach, my feet buried in the sand. Or on a kayak on Tomales Bay, my skin turning browner the longer I am out there. Or in the high mountains again, sweat dripping in my eyes and dirt sticking to my legs and nothing else existing except the right here.
If summer is lazy and indolent, soft serve ice cream cones and late nights sipping wine at a picnic table, fall is more frantic. It is the last bit before the cold clutch of winter settles in. Everything feels important: the tomatoes, the sunshine, the dry smell of grass that hasn’t felt rain in months, and the light – oh, the light. On a run this week I saw two hawks in Golden Gate Park sitting still and silent near the sign warning all and sundry dogs of the coyotes supposedly in residence. As I ran past them and they ruffled a little but didn’t move away; I kept on ’til I reached Ocean Beach and then turned left went all the way down the Great Highway past the gleaming Pacific dotted here and there by surfers. I was kept company by pelicans and drifts of sand that blew over the path. It has been sunny here for weeks.
This Sunday morning I will hope to see those winged friends again, and will cross fingers the fog burns off very early for I plan to be out there very early. Then I will come home and bake raspberry muffins, to be eaten warm with good butter and blackberry jam and cups of coffee; then we will have homemade bread and soup and cheese and smoked salmon from the farmers market; then chocolate cake. Then tea.
Fall makes me want to cook more even than I usually do. Now that the jam has piled up I have turned my attention to bread and bread-baking. For years I heard of the ‘no-knead‘ phenomenon but never explored it myself; I am now a convert (though I will note I have no aversion to kneading dough). This is a bread that likes a slow rise, and it needs plenty of time to do so – at least 18 hours worth. Then it needs another 2 hours to rest and rise before being baked. This is a Saturday or Sunday bread, not meant for after work (unless you don’t mind eating at 8:30, which I do). Tomorrow I will start my dough in the morning before I go to the farmers’ market and let it hang out until Sunday morning before my run when I’ll set it out for the second rise. When I come back it will be ready to bake, and I’ll slip it into my dutch oven type thing and stick it in the oven. In 45 minutes: a perfect loaf. Fall, sweet.
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, via the New York Times
I used half whole wheat pastry flour and half all-purpose flour here with good results. I would encourage you to play around with other flours you might have on hand.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.