Home is where the heart is.

I’ve been out of touch for a while.

See, first my friend Sean came to visit. We had a great time, traipsing about New England, climbing mountains, canoeing, going to the circus, talking about books, and all that good stuff.  Then I went home. Then I lost my camera cable.

And that was a problem, because what I really wanted to show you was pictures. Pictures of home, in the summer.

I don’t remember feeling this way last year, but right now, my heart is on Highbridge Road. I often wish the rest of me was there too.

When I was home last week, I spent a morning walking around the farm taking pictures. It was a beautiful morning and I knew that the photos would capture the feeling of home that I miss so much.

I love all of the old things we have. The old house, the old barn, the old truck. They are old because they have been loved and grown up with.

I also love the feeling of quiet. You can be peaceful without even having to seek it out, to isolate yourself and shut the door.

Things are growing up and out, overgrowing, aging, devouring and entangling. Fences disappear. Views are obscured. I idly threatened to take a saw out and cut down some saplings, but all of this growth doesn’t actually bother me.

I love all this. But of course the last great thing about being home is my parents. I think I have finally reached a level of adulthood where I am not ashamed to say that I love them, not ashamed to go home to see them, not threatened by what it means about my independence to do all of this. Did you read that article in the New York Times about twenty-somethings? Thanks Mom and Dad, for everything, and for letting me live my crazy life, figure things out, and still come back home when I need you. I swear I’ll wear that suit you gave me to an interview one of these years…

Stay tuned for more posts, I have a backlog to be published.

Sleeping out under the Perseids.

Last night was the third night in a row that I looked for shooting stars. And each time I found them, whether it was sitting around a table at Parker Pie, beer in hand, friends surrounding; lying in the grass by myself contemplating life and the cosmos; or nestled into a sleeping bag next to slumbering teammates.

Every August the Perseids roll around, and Craftsbury is the perfect place to take them in. Other than a few trees blocking the view of the horizon, it’s quiet and peaceful, with no light pollution. When the stars come out, they really come out. You get the sense that you really are part of the universe, with the large, bright stars coming towards you and the smaller pinpricks of light fading away, farther in the distance.

Last night started innocently enough: Lauren and I and the biathletes who are staying with us this week (Mike Gibson, Danika Frisbie, and Carly Wynn) walked outside, across the field next to our house, and sat down in the grass. I had a cup of tea which I clutched to my chest, warding off the coolness of the night. A large cloud passed over us, obscuring the meteors. We were disappointed.

And yet… we were happy, sitting there in the grass. It was nice. We listed to the night sounds surrounding us and gradually became more and more comfortable. “You know, last year, I slept outside and watched the stars all night,” I said. “But this year, with the volume week, I feel like I should probably get a good night’s sleep in my bed.”

The murmurings began… it was so nice out…. and finally we all ran inside, grabbed pillows, sleeping bags, and quilts, and reconvened in the same spot. Before we had been sleepy and relaxed, but now we were giddy, like 7th grade girls at a slumber party. The cloud had passed, too, and we began to see spectacular meteors with tails that lingered in the night sky.

Eventually, everyone fell asleep except for me. This is because I’m a terrible sleeper even in the best of circumstances. I was awake at 11 o’clock when our housemate Troy walked in on the trail, literally feet from me, without seeming to notice; I noticed and freaked out. I was awake at 12 o’clock when my teammate Pat drove in from the Cape and unloaded his truck into the garage. And I woke up at 1 o’clock when the coyotes at the bottom of the hill had a raucous party.

I must have fallen asleep eventually, because when I woke up again, it was beginning to get light out. I lay there, content, until finally the sun was too bright to ignore. It was almost 7. Time to get up, eat breakfast, get ready to work out. The night might be beautiful and mysterious, but the day is just usual.

Épis de Blé

My bread is often appreciated, but is rarely remarked upon. Baked goods aren’t exactly a scarcity at our house.

This bread was different though.

“That bread you made was really good,” Matt said. “What was different about it?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t that different, but it was just so good,” said Ollie. “I had to restrain myself from finishing it all in one sitting.”

I consider this a victory, and told them that the more compliments they gave me, the more bread I would make.

I call this bread “épis de blé”, but that’s actually just the term for the shape of the loaf. The buns coming off the main stem are supposed to look like a stalk of wheat. And you can see it, even though mine was not as delicate as some. I didn’t take any chances and checked the shaping technique in my old handbook, Hamelman’s Bread. And they were great instructions: make a long, skinnier loaf than usual; hold the scissors at a very shallow angle and cut, parallel to the roll, almost all the way through the dough. Then pull each of the buns off to the side to form the “grains” of your wheat.

You can make this shape with any type of dough, so the shape alone wasn’t want made the bread tasty.

The recipe came from the February 2009 issue of Gourmet. Of the 13 issues of that magazine that ever arrived in my mailbox, this one was by far my favorite. The recipe caught my eye because of the unique shape of the loaf, but I was wary about the recipe itself. There are (or were) only a few bread recipes in Gourmet, and I had worried that maybe it meant they were lacking in bread expertise and the recipe would suck. I had baked enough bread to be a bit of a snob.

I baked it the first time that winter, minus the épi shaping. It was pretty good.

Recently, I got inspired to try the bun/roll recipes from this issue again, but using sourdough. This is the first recipe I tried, and I think the sourdough really improved it. Perhaps it’s my personal preference for sourdough talking though.

So in answer, finally, to Matt’s question: the bread was barely different at all from my usual sourdough loaf. I used honey instead of sugar, and a small amount of cornmeal mixed in instead of the wheat or rye flour. That’s all.

I would definitely urge you to try it, and even try the shaping, which looks difficult but is not. It makes a beautiful loaf, and one of the few tasty enough to get a comment from the boys!

I’m sending this one to YeastSpotting, as usual.

Crusty Sourdough Épis de Blé

(adapted from “Crusty Cornstalk Rolls”, Gourmet Feb 2009)

1 to 1 1/2 cups fed sourdough starter

2 cups warm water

2 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon salt

5 cups white bread flour

1 cup cornmeal

Stir together the sourdough starter and the warm water until the structure of the starter is broken up a bit. Then add the honey, salt, 2 cups of flour, and the cornmeal. Stir into a slurry and then add more flour, a cup or half-cup at a time, until you have a nice, though slack, dough to work with. At this point turn the dough out onto the counter to rest for 5 minutes while you clean the mixing bowl and smear some olive oil in it. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, for a few minutes until you have a smooth ball. Plop it back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 2-3 hours.

Once the first rise is complete, divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a long, narrow log – like a baguette – and let rise, preferably supported from the sides so it spreads up rather than out, for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 425°. Once it’s hot, throw a few ice cubes in to moisten the air. While they evaporate, transfer the loaves to your baking sheet and cut the them into the épi shape. Using a good pair of scissors, take shallow cuts in the direction of the loaf. You can cut most of the way through the log. After you’ve made a cut, pull the upper part of the dough over to one side, so that the point is toward the edge. Alternate which side you pull the “grains” to.

Put the baking sheet in the oven, and throw a few more ice cubes onto the bottom to create more steam so you get a nice crust. After 15-20 minutes, open the oven and rotate the pan 180°. After 5-10 more minutes, take the loaves out! Be sure to let them cool before you move them from the pans, because they are delicate and will break.