For Starters

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My hands plunged wrist-deep into impossibly silky flour, a bit of tepid water was blended in, and now I wait. Like a father sent to pace while his wife enters labor, I am antsy – even jittery. The unassuming glass bowl with a towel haphazardly thrown over it contains my “Tartine Bread” sourdough starter. Or at least I hope it does. If the right microorganisms are nestled within that inert, glue-like paste then I will begin a month long journey culminating in a loaf of bread.

But not just any bread. Creamy, fissured, auburn, floral, and pearlescent are just a few of the praises Chad Robertson heaps on his famed classic country loaf. Sexy right? In fact he is quite the romantic, a scruff sporting surfer from the Bay Area who is not afraid to wax poetic about the shattering of a crust or flavor of a custardy crumb. Seriously, check this man out.

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However, it’s thanks to another person that I have arrived here, jiggling my feet nervously over a bowl of sludge. That man is Michael Pollan. I somehow managed to go through the first 24 years of my life without reading a single word by him. Sure, his modern-classic “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was on my radar (I come out from under this rock sometimes), yet I never cracked the spine. Instead, while searching for an audiobook on a recent trip to NYC, I fell headfirst into “Cooked”.

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In this treat of a book, Pollan’s journalistic wit pairs perfectly with his chosen subject matter, the transformative process of cooking. Each section is centered around one of the four worldly elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Woven throughout the pages are recipes, mythological tales, history lessons, and a heavy dose of humor. It was truly a pleasure to read…even if it left my stomach growling after every chapter.

At one point, he dives down the rabbit hole of bread baking. Pollan visits a Wonderbread plant, a grain mill, and several artisanal bakeries before tackling Tartine Bread’s country loaf. His obsession with this “perfect” loaf borders on religious fanaticism and I was clearly converted by his proselytizing. Now I’ll have to wait to see if my offering to the sourdough gods is worthy of microscopic, bubbling life.

(If you’re interested in embarking on your own Tartine Bread quest, purchase the book here or consult the abridged recipe posted in the New York Times.)

 

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