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.
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”.
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.