Bread 2.0 (and 2.1)

Three days after I wrote about Bread 1.0, I began Bread 2.0. That was more than a month ago. Making bread ain’t a sprint, kids.

Between the mixing and kneading and proofing and waiting and punching down and restarting–well–it’s a good thing bread smells and tastes so good or nobody’d ever bother.

Bread 2.0, from page 70 of James Beard’s book, is simply called “Sourdough Bread.” It begins with a note from the head baker and author decrying the popularity of what he deems an “overrated” bread that is “difficult to perfect at home.” (No kidding.) Sourdough bread is one of my favorites. I have tried many times with many recipes to make it because if it tastes so wonderful from the store, imagine how delightful it will be warm from my oven. Spoiler alert: Beard’s recipe isn’t so great. It isn’t even good. So just save your pennies dollars and buy Publix sourdough and live an easy life.

I promised to tell my journey, so after that grumpy intro, let’s see if you keep reading to see the pictures.

I made the sourdough starter for 13 days. For the first nine days it sat on my counter wreaking like death. I mixed and stirred and checked and remoistened the cloth cover. Finally I capped it and stored it in the fridge until I found time to make the actual loaf of bread (a 2-day process.) Here’s the starter. I had to hold my breath while I held my camera so close for you to peek in.

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The recipe requires a sponge made the night before the loaf. I made a half batch on my first try. The next morning the dough is made with yeast and more flour. My favorite part (kneading) went well and the dough felt stiff as directed.

The dough rose nicely in the bowl.

I formed the loaf and placed her in a buttered pan to rise. It was getting late, so I only let it rise for an hour. I think I should have waited three hours. I boiled water and poured it in the pan on the bottom shelf of the preheated oven. This is for development of a crusty crust. I baked her forever (35 minutes). During the bake, she continued to rise, seemingly in competition with her developing crust, until she burst through that armor crust. I don’t normally care if bread looks ridiculous, as long as it tastes amazing. Here she is.

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The crumb was dense and almost tasteless. Disappointed but determined, a week later I tried again. This time I made a full batch. The sponge and subsequent dough seemed fine.

The kneading went well. The recipe says it should be a stiff dough and in Bread 2.0 it was. For Bread 2.1 I didn’t add as much flour and let the dough stay a bit softer.

She rose like a champ in the bowl.

I formed a huge loaf and decided to let her bake on a flat pan this time, unconstrained by a loaf pan. I was a little concerned how flat she looked on that flat pan. But I persevered. Boiled water. Baked forever. Endured DH’s comments about 1. how it looked, and 2. how it didn’t smell great while baking. You’d think for sourdough bread a not-so-great odor during the bake could be laughed off–hey, it’s supposed to smell sour. It didn’t even smell like sourdough bread. It just smelled bad. Anyway, she baked up pretty.

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Bread 2.1 came out much softer inside than Bread 2.0, and had a nice crust. Despite her lovely appearance, the aroma and taste were not sufficiently sour and required a lot of butter, not quite salty enough for me. I try and I try. I follow directions (mostly). I tossed away half the loaf a week later. That’s a bad sign: homemade bread is never discarded at my house. My friend says I should wait and try a different sourdough recipe in July when it’s good and steamy outside. I’ll take advice from anyone who ever succeeded with sourdough bread. And somehow someday I’ll make a good one. Until then, there’s Publix bread.

Disappointed, I flipped in the book, desperately seeking hope, and I found a coffee cake to try. Stay tuned for Bread 3.0. Early predictions are that it’ll take 10 hours to make this next concoction. In light of the more than 20 days to make Bread 2.0-2.1, it’ll feel like lightning.

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Bread 1.0

Bread 1.0

More than three decades ago, I started making homemade bread. Before breadmakers and cell phones, I learned the feel of the dough that marked the end of the kneading process. I fell in love with the smell of bread baking and the taste of the first steamy slice slathered in butter. All of this followed months of failed attempts where I made bricks, and I even sliced and tasted them. The best lessons are learned by failing. I repeatedly killed the yeast with too-hot water to produce those bricks. I recall making half a dozen bricks, at least, before accepting that I needed help.

At the local park I met a mom of two little blond boys. My red-haired daughter caught the eye of the red-haired mom and helped me make one of my first adult friends. The other mom and I got to know each other and one day at the apartment complex pool I told her the funny story of my bread bricks. She didn’t laugh like everyone else. She invited me over the next day to teach me to make bread.

She taught me to proof the yeast with some sugar in a small bowl with the perfect temperature of water. She actually taught me the feel of the water by showing me what was too hot and too cold and just right under the tap.

She taught me to knead, from the raggedy mess of the starting mixture to the smooth and elastic ready-to-rise dough.

She taught me to form loaves and how long to bake them, and to melt butter on the baked crust by rubbing it with a partly peeled stick of cold butter to make the crust delectable.

She saved me from my path to one hundred bricks.

For Christmas this year, my daughter (who has given up on gifting me novels anymore because she said my writing hobby has ruined me as a reader) gave me a bread cookbook call BEARD ON BREAD, first published on Mole Day in 1973. Unlike my pie habit from last year with glorious heaps of meringue and brightly colored fruits, my bread blog entries might be bland and pale and tan, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Last weekend I made the first recipe in the book, called “Basic White Bread” on page 22. Unlike my memorized recipe, this loaf called for no butter or milk, and a flipped ratio of sugar to salt. I followed along like a neophyte.

I proofed the yeast.

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I mixed and kneaded the dough.

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I let the first rise occur in a buttered and covered bowl until doubled in bulk.

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I formed a loaf and let it rise again.

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I baked for twice as long as I’ve ever baked a loaf, and even preheated the oven for half an hour and left my pizza stone in there. I tapped the loaf to hear its hollowness and set it on the oven rack sans pan for a few extra minutes to finish the bottom crust.

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Then I served it with pasta. It smelled right and looked beautiful and tasted so bland and basic. It made me miss my memorized recipe.

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Next time I’ll try a sour dough recipe since I have never had success in that arena and I must learn some new tricks in 2019.

 

The other path to publication

Read this if you wrote a book.

After the first draft (which took multiple passes of adding layers on layers, printing, reordering chapters, ideas coming at you in the car, on the train, in the shower, at work, at dinner, on a run) was completed and sat in a drawer for a month or two like bread dough rising in a covered bowl, you revised it.

You rewrote the whole thing (more than once).

Shared it with a group.

Revised it again. Shared it with more writers. Revised it again.

Hired a professional editor. Revised it again.

How long did that take? I’m estimating ~2 years.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want milk to go with it. If a writer spends 2 years crafting an incredible story (one that she didn’t know existed in her heart or mind until it spilled onto the page), she’ll want readers to go with it. Writers want to share with readers who love stories and characters and getting wrapped up in a really good one…those are the humans we writers seek.

Which kind of writer are you? Do you want to quit your job and become a bestselling author, or do you have an inexplicable need to share your story with readers? Either way, you must publish your book. It’s time to make a decision. Will you publish it yourself? Or will you (attempt to) publish it the traditional way?

One huge factor to consider is timing. Here are some estimates for each process.

Traditional publishing requires

1. Writing, revising and polishing a query letter (2-4 weeks)

2. Writing, revising, and polishing a plot synopsis (2-4 weeks)

3. Researching and reading and finding agents (1-3 months)

4. Submission of query letters in batches (2-24 months)

5. Receiving rejections (minutes that feel like weeks in hell–they stepped on your baby’s neck–side effects may include insomnia and eye twitching)

6. Receiving requests for partial and full manuscripts (hope like rainbow bubbles)

7. Receiving rejections (popped bubbles get soap in your eye, but you won’t cry)

8. Receiving Revise and Resubmit requests (sour hope, but only the fringe of the rug is left so grab it quickly)

9. Waiting, waiting. . . waiting (oh. my. god. the interminable waiting)

[All of the above can take about 2 years and you MUST have incredibly thick skin and perseverance.]

If the two years result in signing with an agent, the following is likely to occur:

10. Revisions with agent (1+ year)

11. Submissions to editors at publishing companies (0.5-1 year)

If the revisions and submissions result in a publishing contract, the following has to happen:

12. Revisions with editor, cover design, marketing, book tours, wait wait wait (Estimated range from 0.5-3 years–agents/editors/famous authors? feel free to correct me here)

Overall, from the moment you conceived the idea for your story to the day your first reader plucks it from the pile to read will be ~4.5 years (if the first agent loves the story, submits right away, and the first editor picks it up and does only line edits) to ~9 years (more likely).

NINE years?! All of that work and effort and waiting and hoping and work and work and work and it could take NINE years?

Take a step back and think about this. It is not logical for writers to voluntarily put themselves through this slow process (designed before the digital era) and somehow do it with grace, patience, and no typos, always bowing and grinning to those with the power to rip the rug out from under us, when the rug wouldn’t even be there if we didn’t write the book in the first place. Is the process outdated, battered, slow. . . perhaps backwards?

Think about this too: why do you want to publish anyway? For the writing career or to share your art? (Your craft!) To share your gift of twining words into stories for others to read and feel and know your characters who came out of your brain in a process that is so incredible that you can’t even adequately describe it despite your gift with words? Is that you? Are you an artist? A storyteller? Do you write because you MUST and you cannot stop? Then, maybe the agonizing process of traditional publishing is not for you.

Don’t feel bad. You can still get your story to your readers.

Independent publishing is a wee bit faster than traditional publishing (divide by 3?). Where traditional publishing can take up to NINE years to complete, independent publishing skips almost ALL of the steps above and might take ~3 (THREE!) years from conception, through revisions and all editing, to publication.

Nine years vs THREE years. Think of all the stories you could write in the six years you’ll save. But before you leap to the other side of the fence, be sure to consider reality like this:

You’ll likely not be a bestselling author. Ever.

You’ll likely not be branded (so you can remain yourself–whew!) or forced to write your next novel based on someone else’s idea of what will sell. You may remain a writer of stories that sometimes suddenly appear in your mind, and compel you to bring them to life.

You’ll just be a writer and your work will be out there for readers to choose to read. Or not. But if you don’t put it out there, nobody will read it but you. Consider this option to share your craft with the world–it will let you get back to work writing your next book.

You’re a writer. Be a writer.

DIY: The 4 most important questions to answer before fixing the broken water heater

  1. How many engineers does it take to fix a hot water heater? 2
  2. How much will it cost? $10 plus lunch and gas
  3. What tools are needed? 1 butter knife, 1 voltmeter
  4. How long will it take? 9 hours

Note: the following answers were gleaned from data from one isolated incident.

Error bars on consideration number 1 are small, especially if one has the translated-from-somewhere-else and so very helpful manual (sincere) and a reasonable link to the internet as back up. In our case we needed 2 people because neither of us would do the 5 hour round trip drive alone, and company was coming in a week who expected a hot shower. I believe if only 1 of us went (him), the water heater would have been dismantled down to the nubs, or if only I went, a new water heater would have been purchased and a perfectly good one discarded. Here is a classic example where 1+1 equaled 2 million.

On cost, we hit the jackpot. The potential cost balloons up to almost a grand in the worst case (replacement and hiring a real plumber), and beyond if there’s damage due to water leakage (there was not).

To address question 3, we brought bags of tools for the 2.5 hour ride to the broken heater. The voltmeter diagnosed the problem. The butter knife was all we needed to fix it, although my MacGyver vehemently prefers the Phillips screwdriver.

But the time? Indulge me as I try to break down and justify 9 hours as the valid answer to question 4.

  • Drive 2.5 hours each way. (The same 2.5 hour route I had driven 14 hours before just to get home.)
  • Stop at Lowes to buy all potentially broken parts like replacement thermostats and heating elements.
  • Diagnose the problem. Here is what must be done to start the fixing: Take voltmeter out of bag. Turn off power to water heater by flipping the breaker. This also cut the lights in the whole basement and the closet where the electrical box is hidden. Figure out how to turn on flashlight on phone. Discuss whether either of us brought a phone charger. Take the panel off the top of the water heater. Get ready to test. Run back to electrical box and turn on power. Turn dial on voltmeter. Touch electrodes. Reading = 0 V. No power to water heater. (Question 1 of diagnosis answered.) Walk back to panel. Check breakers including the one labeled “water heater” and find it is dead. (Diagnosis almost complete.) Turn off power. Go get phone in dark for flashlight. Decide to take off breaker and another working one. But that means removal of the front metal cover of the big gray electrical box. The cover is stuck behind the closet shelves which are screwed to the wall and to four rods holding 20 pounds of clothes. Move the clothes. Remove two of the rods and hope that is enough and try not to lose the screws. Empty the shelves. Lift and grunt and pull on them to slide the shelves 2 centimeters away from the wall. Remove 6 screws from panel and remove cover–10 minutes of pulling and twisting because the top cover was wedged behind a shelf and we didn’t want to remove any more screws. Remove broken and neighboring breakers. Switch them. Turn on power. Go back to heater and voltmeter. Full voltage. (Diagnosis done.)
  • Walk around and see where we stole the breaker from. Realize it was for the air conditioning. Note, this was in September and it was 95F and muggy outside. Discuss the merits of a week without either hot water or AC. Discuss switching the breakers as needed until we can replace the broken one. Recall visitors coming in 5 days. Search online for advice on replacement breakers because the broken brand isn’t available anymore.
  • Take a break to order, pick up and eat lunch: ~25 minutes.
  • Decide to take broken breaker with us to the store and visually inspect what they have in stock. Drive about 1 hour (round trip) to Home Depot. Find a reasonable replacement. Pull out a new electrical panel from its generously taped and secured box and make sure both the broken and the replacement breaker can click onto it. Win. Pay. Ride back in hot car. (Something about not cooling off because we’re going to be hot in the house anyway. I don’t get it either.)
  • Switch breakers. Turn on AC. It works.
  • Put the closet shelves back together (find all the screws!) and replace the clothes.
  • Pack the car while waiting to see if we get hot water. We do. Leave.
  • Go to original Lowes to return all of the potential but unnecessary replacement parts.
  • Drive home but stop at the stupid market because that was number 2 on the actual To Do list for this lovely Saturday.
  • Get home 9 hours later. Unload car. Watch football and make dinner. Work for 3 hours. Fall into bed in the wee hours of the morning. Wake up early to write the first draft of this post to get it out of my head and start the second half of the weekend.

 

a puddle of spilled thoughts about writing and time (with no pictures of pies)

When you sing or paint or dance or write, you express yourself from a well of creative feeling. To live, you need oxygen (still free), water (clean, must purchase), and food (still locked up, need a source of money (aka job)).

If you rely on your creativity for the money required to buy the stuff needed to live, you must consider what will sell. You need a brand. Marketing. A fixed and clear genre so some publisher or producer can fit your art into a predetermined slot. This economics of art may surely influence the art you share, but I hope this reality does not stop you from producing the art of you heart–for your own soul.

I love to think, so I am a chemist. I love to feel my heart and pulse slow back down while my temperature drops to normal, so I run. I love to sing, so I do so when I’m alone and with a group of harmonizing voices one night each week. I love to laugh, so I search for funny things. I love to imagine, so I read. I love to create so I sew, and crochet, and design, and bake, and reupholster furniture. I love to create, so I write.

My writing began in 2005, when I had the summer off from teaching and wanted to do an experiment–to investigate what it took to write a book. I wrote 1500 words every day sitting on the rug in my bedroom with the door closed. No phone. No internet. No people. Just me and the old computer on the rug. After reaching the daily word quota, I printed the pages and added them to the growing stack. At the end, I read it all, wrapped it in a bow, and stored it in a box. Experiment complete. Time well spent. Now I knew how to do it.

But something happened about halfway through. I became addicted to the story, like a reader. I wanted to know how it all ended (and I did not). I fell in love with my characters. I realized a critical plot point and had to revise the first 100 pages. I thought about the story all the time. I became a writer.

Lucky for me, I have a paying day job, so my novels do not have to fit on a specific shelf at the bookstore. Unlucky for me, my novels don’t fit in any prescribed slot, so they are not marketable by traditional publishers. But somehow I have found readers and have not shaken my addiction to creating.

That notion of spending your time is apt. Once spent, there is no refund, no mulligan, no do-over. The time is gone. A day is gone. A week, a year, a decade is gone. Time, the currency of a life, must be carefully budgeted on a prioritized list of needs and people and tasks. Time spent creating can touch the future.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos