Monday, August 17, 2015

Bread & Tomatoes

What lengths would you go to for the perfect loaf of bread?

How about an entire year?

That's what William Alexander did on a self-imposed crusade to bake the perfect loaf of peasant bread. 

It all started after he dined out at a Paris restaurant on a European vacation and had what he called the perfect peasant bread. Thus, starting a quest to re-create it. The book is  divided into 52 chapters (no coincidence) because he baked bread every Sunday for an entire year. Each chapter address a specific concern in this process.

But, unlike those who just experiment in home kitchens, Alexander went much (much) farther: he traveled to Paris to attend a cooking class at The Ritz; went to Morocco in search of a village oven; and revived the art of bread baking in a 1000+ year old French monastery; grew and ground his own wheat, and built an earth oven in his back yard. He created a levian (sourdough starter) that went with him everywhere — on vacation to Maine and to France. The retelling of the airport scene when he tries to explain why he is boarding with a mass of what resembles plastic explosives is very funny. 

The historical changes in flour, the milling processes and the differences between U.S. flour and flour in France are explained. Alexander researched pellagra, an early 20th century dietary deficiency disease and its relationship to the diet in the U.S. South, how a tobacco product was included in bread making, and why niacin is present in every bag of enriched flour.

Near the book's end, Alexander tells (some of) what he's learned over the 52 weeks: 

  • Bread in a healthy diet doesn't make you fat.
  • Too much bread eaten with wine, does.
  • Do not undertake any project that starts out with the statement that it can be completed in a weekend.
  • Don't drink the water in Morocco, or the tea or the coffee. And, you might consider skipping Morocco totally and go to Barbados instead.
  • Bread is life.
The book is a fun and easy read even if you don't decide to bake any bread. 

Alexander also wrote the $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.

As as you can tell by these titles, he's a writer and humorist and tends to get over obsessed. (His day job as director of technology at a psychiatric research facility perhaps funds these obsessions.)

I'm reading that one now. However, we're not planning a(nother) garden. This time of year, tomatoes are much easier to buy at the local farm markets and can be less costly as well.


Blogoratti said...

That's an interesting story indeed, thanks for sharing!

Sandra said...

I love bread, and get my perfect bread at the bakery in Publix.. and i dont drink wine or alcohol so i should be safe. LOL..

Out on the prairie said...

I make most of my bread in cooler months. I have my entire counter full of tomatoes to work over today, but would take the 67 bucks.

Mari said...

I've learned to eat bread in most of my meals since I moced to Russia. I somehow understand people's preferences of a good bread but to that far lije this author did?! Wow, I admire his passion & perseverance. This must be a very interesting book.

Suzy said...

I'm so glad to read that bread doesn't have to be bad like all the media say! I love a good homemade bread and I can't imagine life without soup in bread! (:



DeniseinVA said...

That sounds like a great book and you've written a real nice review. I think I will be ordering this one.

Emma Springfield said...

I can combine the two subjects neatly. I love tomato sandwiches. Fresh bread and a couple of slices of tomatoes make the best snack.

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Hi there. Thankfully we don't have to go far to get a wonderful fresh loaf of bread..right out of the oven..and it's FREE! Usually brought right to my home by my son and his wife who own Jammin' Bread in Riverside, CA. I cut the day old bread in two hunks and then slice it an inch thick and freeze it for French Toast. I dip it in egg, frozen, and then into the cast iron skillet..lots of butter and syrup..some scrambled eggs and toast and you have a breakfast fit for a king. :)
I love a good fresh loaf of bread..

Barbara Hale said...

Those sound like interesting books for a book club. I might suggest on of them in the future.

William Kendall said...

Oh, I don't know, there are things about Morocco that would appeal to me!

Daisy said...

That sounds like a fun book to read. I can't think of an aroma much better than that of bread baking in the oven.

diane b said...

He shows great imagination to write on such a topic as bread and tomatoes.

Anvilcloud said...

We, or at least our inlaws, found a wonderful bakery near the cottage. Bread was wonderful, and the blueberry pie was out of this world. He bakes primarily in an outside fireplace as I understand it. Must visit him myself someday.

Rebecca said...

Those books sound great. I love to make bread, but don't do it often for just the two of us.

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