Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blessings of Bread and the Big City

I once told the story of my sweet friend June who showed up on my doorstep (an hour round-trip from town, I should note!) one evening with warm, fresh-baked bread to give me. I thought that this magnanimous gesture could never be topped, but my boys out in Oregon may have done it. When we got home from work last Thursday night, there was a package by the back door. We didn't even get the box opened before the enticing scent of its contents assailed our senses.

Though I am extremely jealous of John and Keith (Keith is pictured below, all smug and pleased with himself!) and harbor much ill will against them because of their new, monolithic wood-fired brick oven, I am compelled to set aside my envious and vindictive feelings because they sent me this most wondrous care package! Inside was a long sunflower-encrusted baguette of some sort, a country levain boule, a good-sized ciabatta, and even a sticky bun, lovingly prepared from natural/sourdough starters and pulled from the fiery mouth of their own backyard oven before being hustled off to the post office. Oh, and as a bonus, they tucked in some wonderfully moist, tender and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes. Could there possibly be better friends on this planet? I think not!

Unfortunately, we were going out of town the next day, so I had to park the sunflower loaf in the freezer, but we managed to quickly consume half of the levain before dinner that very night. I sliced it thinly, buttered the slices and broiled them until crisp. Then I rubbed the slices with cut garlic and topped them with mozzarella, popped them back in the oven to melt the cheese, and then served the cheesy toasts with a big spoonful of my homemade roasted red pepper spread. MERCY, MERCY, and again I say it, MERCY!

Cyd took the sticky bun to work the next day for her breakfast or coffee break or whatever, and she reports that it was wonderful! (Naturally, I didn't have any of it because it involved raisins....shudder!) And as for the ciabatta, I decided to make a pressed, Italian, muffaletta-type sandwich out of it to take on our weekend road trip into the Big City. I sliced it in half and spread one side with mayo, then layered on sliced mozzarella and every cold cut I could find in the fridge, including pastrami, turkey, ham and salami, then topped that with a finely-chopped veggie mix of mushrooms, black olives and red peppers marinated in olive oil, vinegar, and minced fresh garlic (trust me, this MAKES the sandwich...any sandwich!). Of course, I had to add a layer of banana pepper rings, like I do, then I squirted some vinaigrette on the other half of the ciabatta and closed her up. I double-wrapped the big bitch, and let it rest overnight in the fridge, weighted down by random heavy things like a big tub of sour cream (what did you call me?) and a Tupperwared vat of mysterious leftovers. Somehow smooshing the sandwich layers together and letting those flavors all mingle makes for a magical outcome. YUM!

As for the City, it was a quick but satisfying trip that included specialty dog shows Saturday and Sunday at the Meadowlands in Secaucus, NJ, dinner Saturday at the Carnegie Deli where the world's most ridiculously large sandwiches and creamiest cheesecake are served (I had the "Woody Allen"--that's corned beef and pastrami), an amazing Broadway musical* where we encountered SNL's Amy Poehler who had come to see the show, a requisite trip to the Sullivan Street Bakery, and our last, most glorious meal Sunday at AmyRuth's in Harlem. I had "The Rev. Al Sharpton"--that's chicken and waffles to the uninitiated, though I gave serious consideration to "The Ludacris" (wings and waffles). Cyd had fried chicken with sides of potatoes and gravy, string beans, and we shared a simply divine mac and cheese and a heavenly slice of sweet potato pie for dessert. Truthfully, everything is amazing there--the best soul food north of the Mason-Dixon Line! We squeezed a lot of fun and good eats into two days in Gotham, but we're older now, and we're really dragging this week at work. Thank goodness we still have homemade bread baked by loved ones to sustain us. :-) THANKS, Keith and John!

*On a semi-related tangent, I beg of you, if it is in your power, get yourself to NYC and go see the Tony award-winning musical, Spring Awakening. It is just the most incredible show with absolutely gorgeous music! It is based on a German play that is over 100 years old, but has banned from being performed for most of that time for its surprisingly fresh and obviously timeless issues surrounding teenage sexual exploration and maturation. Its themes are dark, but it is, at the same time, remarkably uplifting. Indeed, I haven't been so moved by a show since Rent, and that is saying something for me, as Rent is my all-time favorite. And if you can't make it to New York, at the very least, get the cast recording. You will never regret it. The haunting songs (by Duncan Sheik--remember the song "Barely Breathing?") will seep inside you and infuse the fibers of your being.


Jules said...

Please let me have your friend's email address or him them email me as I have been dreaming or having my simple wood fired oven as I make my own bread which has my wife swear for the heat in the cottage caused by the propane oven. We live 350 miles north of Montreal which I think. you know well. Have you tried the Premiere Moisson breads? You should and buy their all purpose flour for your bread making or pastries. Surprise!!!
They make the best french kind of bread in Quebec - I swear...

Anonymous said...

We should all have good friends with big ovens...lol...YUm!

Randi said...

Omg, I loved Rent too. I "won" tickets for a show in LA by spinning a wheel at the mall. Unfortunately, the wheel landed on some lame ass mall t-shit, but when the girl turned her head, I spun the wheel so I'd get the rent tickets!!

Btw, I bought your camera. Its waiting for us at my box in MI. We're going to Ann Arbor for 2 days of "city time" too. Can't wait to get it, although I'm a tad bit scared of it.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Salut, Jules! Thanks for your comment. I do enjoy Premiere Moisson, although my favorite bakery in Montreal is probably La Patisserie Belge on Parc. They have the best almond croissants and these custard pastries that I just adore! But I will have to try Premiere Moisson's flour. Thanks for the tip!

I am sure that my friends would love to discuss their oven with you. They built it themselves (with some professional help), so I know that they would be a great resource for you.

I can't figure out how to email you (it says your profile is not public). But you if you email me (the link is in my profile), I can connect you with my friends, Keith and John, ok?