Monday 26 September 2022

The Great Bread Making Adventure: Pugliese

Well, now, that's disappointing! After making a nearly perfectly formed and risen loaf, it got scorched in the oven. 

But I still think it's beautiful. I've had experiences with bread being too crumbly, fallen in the middle, really yeasty tasting and other bread failures. That I managed to produce such a well-formed loaf is pretty impressive to me. And the inside is still good. 
And tasty. Initially, I was just going to cut off the burnt top crust, but bread without a top crust does not slice very well. So, I decided to leave it in place and just cut the burnt parts off each individual slice. 
Today's loaf is another Italian bread, Pugliese. In case you need to know how to pronounce that (I did), here it is:
(Even after listening to it several times, I still don't think I have it quite right). 
The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making has this to say, "This much-loved Italian bread was once the regional bread from Puglia, in the southern region of Apulia. Perhaps is is the extra virgin olive oil from this region or the excellence of the wheat, but pugliese is considered to be among the jewels of Italian breads, popular all over the country and beyond as well. The bread is normally white, with a pale, floury crust and a soft crumb, quite dense by Italian standards, compared with the holey ciabatta and the open-textured pagnotta."

I want to make a couple of statements in regard to this quote. The first is regarding the use of fats/oils in these breads. While I prefer to avoid the use of added oils in most of my cooking at home, I am not attempting to make these breads oil-free. Having never made them before, I need to know what the taste and texture should be with the oil, before I attempt to make them without. Also, the standard replacements for oil may not work in breads. Pureed prunes and apple sauce likely will impart a slightly sweet flavour, which may not be desirable. Avocado and pureed prunes could also add some inappropriate colour. So, I will be making the recipes with the oil/fats included. Having said that, there is a recipe for lardy cake and, as I pointed out in my previous post, I will be making all of the recipes vegan, so I most definitely will not be using lard. 
The second statement I want to make is just a reminder that, as far as possible, I will be making these breads 100% whole grain. So, in spite of the fact that the book states that this bread is normally white, and the recipe calls for only 2 cups whole meal flour out of a total of 5½ cups, I did use whole wheat for the entire amount. 
An interesting thing about this bread is that it starts with a biga. This is sort of like a sourdough starter, except that the traditional sourdough starter is made using wild yeast, not commercial yeast (though I think many modern cooks start their sourdough with commercial yeast) and the cook keeps replenishing the sourdough starter. A biga starter is made using commercial yeast and only sufficient for that recipe is made. If you want to know more, I suggest you check out this link

As mentioned in my first bread post, this book was published in Britain. As such, I will have some challenges with ingredients. The recipes frequently call for fresh yeast, which comes in a soft cake, rather than dry yeast, which comes in a package or jar. So I've had to use this website to help me figure out the equivalents, as well as this one because fresh yeast is not readily available where I live. However, if I find some I might buy it just to give it a try. But more than just yeast, some products are really challenging to find in North America or figure out the North American equivalent for. Granary or malthouse flour, for example. I can find them on Amazon, but the shipping nearly doubles the already high price. I suppose if I knew someone going to visit the UK, I could ask if they could bring back a kilogram of one or the other... Nevertheless, I will figure out what I will do when I get to those recipes. 

Meanwhile, I am planning on taking a detour from Italian breads in order to make the Barley Bannock in honour of Canada's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30th), also known colloquially as Orange Shirt Day. I'll tell you more about that next time. I'm also going to look for an oven thermometer to see if my oven temperature is accurate or not. 


Thursday 22 September 2022

The Great Bread Making Adventure: Olive Bread

Different cultures - their customs and traditions, their history, their dress, their food - fascinate me. So, when I found the book, The Cook's Guide to Bread, in a bookstore, I bought two copies, one for myself and one for my daughter. That was PD (pre-divorce), so I've had it for quite a few years. Later on, I found the second book, The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making, in a thrift store and purchased it as well. not realizing that the contents were identical. 

That's right: aside from the size and cover, the books are the same, even to the page numbers. 
I'm still happy I bought the second book, however, because the print is larger and it stays open easier. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with the first one. 
While this book does make an interesting reference book, and I enjoy perusing its pages, it also has at least 100 recipes. None of which I had tried, until yesterday. Making a dinner of lasagne, I decided to complete it with a Caesar salad (vegan dressing recipe here) and bread. An Italian bread, since the meal was Italian (though apparently, Caesar salad was invented in Mexico by an Italian American, who had also lived in Canada). The book has this to say about Italian Breads: "The distinguishing feature of most Italian breads, especially those bought from an Italian-style baker, is the shape rather than the dough... The difference lies in the shaping, the slashing and the baking..." p. 66.
Flipping through the Mediterranean Breads section (most of which are Italian), I found the Olive Bread recipe and knew I had everything required to make it. About olive breads, "Olives are grown throughout Italy and it's not surprising to find all sorts of olive bread. the more commercially produced loaves are enriched with eggs and butter, and normally contain pitted green olives and sometimes whole olives stuffed, Spanish-style, with red pimento. Smaller bakers often also produce their own olive breads. These are plainer doughs, which usually contain black olives, sometimes pitted, sometimes not - so take care when biting into a slice." The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making, p. 71
I did use pitted olives. 😉 The green ones were stuffed with pimento because that's what I had on hand, and I added black and Kalamata olives as well.  I prefer to use whole grains, so instead of 2-1/2 cups of white flour and 1/2 cup of whole meal flour, I used 3 cups of whole wheat flour.
And it turned out delicious! Admittedly, my loaf is not as professional-looking as the picture in the book. I think one of the problems is the measurements. This is a British book and in Britain, they weigh their ingredients rather than measure them by volume, like we do here in North America. And while the book provides measurements in both metric and imperial, I think sometimes something is lost in translation. The book actually has this statement on the copyright page:

For all recipes, quantities are given in both metric and imperial measures and, where appropriate, measures are also given in standard cups and spoons. Follow one set, but not a mixture because they are not interchangeable. (In the smaller book, it omits this note). 

Fair enough, but it is an inexact science. 

As a Canadian, I automatically defaulted to the cups/spoons measurements and that went well until it came time to add the olives. Olives, kind of like dry pasta, do not measure well in a cup. Being oval shaped and hollow if they're pitted, there's lots of empty space in and around the olives. The kalamata olives were already sliced, so it took more of them to fill the space. The pimento-stuffed green olives also took up more space than the hollow black olives.  And mine ended up being a "generous" one cup rather than a level one cup. How do you level a cup of olives anyway? So, I found it was almost impossible to incorporate the olives into that amount of bread dough. And in the picture from the book, there appears to be a lot less olives than in my finished loaf. 

Taken from The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making
Next time, I think I will weigh the olives instead of trying to measure them in a cup. And anything else that might not measure well in a cup. I will have to keep this in mind as I continue to try the recipes. 

And that's what I intend to do. I've set myself the goal of trying every bread recipe in this book. They will, of course, be veganized, and made with whole grains as much as possible. So, stay tuned and I will report on each one. 

By the way, this book has been reprinted once again under the title The Bread Bible and you can find the full pdf of this book here. The printing is so small as to be almost inscrutable, so it's not like you could actually try any of the recipes from it, though, at least on my 21" screen. And certainly not from your cell phone. So buy the book if you want to follow along and experiment with different breads from around the world. 

Monday 19 September 2022

Grieving and Not Moving On

Last week, I was really struggling with whether or not I should renew my registration as an active nurse, or whether I should switch it to "non-practice". I'm honestly feeling that I will likely never go back to my nursing career. I was reading this article about the changes being implemented in Ontario regarding patients waiting for long term care placement in hospital, and came across this statement: 'Jones said discharge planners will have to have "very challenging" conversations with patients about going into a home that they do not want to go to.' I have been having those "very challenging" conversations with patients for years already. And as I was writing a commentary on the article on Facebook, I realized how very burnt out I am. Not just depression, anxiety and winter driving phobia, but burnt out as a nurse. I'm really tired of being responsible for other people's lives, of trying to convince them that it's no longer safe for them to live at home, convince family members that have promised mom, dad or spouse that they would never put them in a nursing home that keeping them at home is not the best or safest option. And yes, convincing them that they couldn't wait in the hospital until a bed becomes available in their first choice of long term care because it has a long waiting list. Of putting up with their anger because I was the one they were dealing with, even though I didn't make the rules. And regularly being caught in the middle, between clients, families, doctors, home care, acute care, long term care, placement office...

In the end, I did put in for active registration. But when I had to answer yes to the questions, "Do you have a mental or physical health problem that prevents you from safely practicing nursing?" and "Are you currently off work?" followed by "When do you expect to return to work?" to which I had to answer that I was uncertain, the College of Nurses has placed my application in the "For further evaluation" pile. If they decide to place me in the "non-practice" category, I'll be fine with that, as long as they refund the difference I paid for active registration. 😁

But I'm still trying to figure out how to get on with my life. I don't really want to be on disability indefinitely. A month ago, I applied to a couple of insurance brokerages who were both advertising for insurance brokers as I felt that was something I could do that wouldn't be as stressful as nursing. I did a little investigating first and found the training that I could take to become a licensed broker and figured it wouldn't take me long to get my level 1 licence. However, I had no intention of paying for the course until I knew that I had the job. In my cover letter, I did point out how I felt many of my skills as a nurse were readily transferable to being an insurance broker. I did get an interview with one broker, but the anxiety the night before seriously hampered my sleep, making me wonder how well I could do in any job, subsisting on so little sleep. The interview only lasted about 10 minutes and they didn't even ask for my references, so I knew I wasn't getting that job. They were polite enough to email me to let me know that they wanted someone with training and experience. The second brokerage initially emailed me back stating that they had a likely candidate, so were no longer looking. I wished them well with their new candidate and was relieved that that was the end of that. At least I thought so. Then late last week, I got another email from them stating that the candidate they hired had decided not to pursue that line of work and was I still willing to come in for an interview. I didn't respond until yesterday. Honestly, I really didn't want to go in for an interview as I really didn't want to go back to work. And I was trying to analyze myself - is it because I'm just too lazy? Maybe this is God's plan for me. What if it's the answer that I've been praying for? And believe me, I was praying. I even asked God to make me feel positive about this job if it was His plan for me. But I didn't. However, I also didn't feel that I should pass this opportunity up. So, I actually had an interview booked for tomorrow, even though I was incredibly stressed out about the idea. But then I started crying and crying and crying, and getting short of breath and started hyperventilating. It didn't get to a full blown panic attack, but it was heading in that direction. And so I called my sister Judy. She's my second oldest sister and has basically stepped into the maternal role since my mother passed away. Yes, at 60-something, sometimes we still wish we could talk to our mothers. Anyway, she said that I need to just stay on disability. I agree. I know that God would not expect me to take a job, or even a job interview that would stress me out almost to the point of a panic attack. But I still feel lingering guilt about it. And that guilt and doubt has been forcing me to try to get on with my life when I'm just not emotionally ready. 

Meanwhile, the Queen died. We all knew it was coming, but I really didn't expect the Queen's death to hit me as hard as it did. I don't consider myself a monarchist, but nor am I anti-monarchist. However, she has been a part of my life for my entire life. I've known the anthem, "God Save the Queen", since early childhood and I'm still struggling to replace it with "King" and "him".  It's the end of an era. And I think my emotional health has really impacted my ability to cope with the death of the monarch. I've sat there and watched multiple long processions of her coffin, with tears running down my cheeks and sometimes great sobs racking my body. This morning, when I was watching the rerun of her actual funeral (I didn't get up early enough to watch it live), I thought I was doing okay until the bagpipes started to play. My prayers are with the royal family. Charles and Camilla looked absolutely exhausted as well as bereft at the funeral today. I almost felt as if was revisting the loss of my mother through this entire mourning period. 

On the plus side, I did a self-study module on insomnia and I am trying to implement better sleep hygiene habits, like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and not using electronic devices close to bedtime. And maybe someday, in the not too distant future, I will actually get a decent night's sleep in return. Hopefully, more than one decent night's sleep. This evening is not the evening for good sleep hygiene, though. After nearly having a panic attack over a job interview, I felt that I needed to write.