Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It has been a full more-than-week since I last wrote here, not just because of the Toronto film festival (TIFF), though the five films I saw did take chunks out of my week, but more centrally because I am now working my way through the edits on my Burma book Rivers of Flavor. I should be spending my days and nighst at it. But of course there are only so many hours of high quality concentration time available in the day. The mind and body are very limited I find, when it comes to this stuff.

Anyway, as the person doing the line editing and generally overseeing this process said to me in a note: remember to take breaks and breathe and enjoy the spaces in between (or something like that). This evening the "break" was a meeting up north of the city of the Women's Culinary Network. There was a panel on social media and new media and I was one of three speakers. Those of you who know what a luddite I am will be surprised, I'm sure. I know nothing about using the internet for self-promotion, or about marketing generally. The two speakers who went after me talked about all that.

I wanted to remind all of us there that Twitter and Facebook and all the other connecting tools are a wonderful way of getting access to new ideas and fresh information about creative people, unheard of projects, etc as well as to hard news. I rely on a number of curatorial people, like @brainpicker on Twitter for example, who find and put up links to interesting sites or articles or videos. I am constantly astonished by what she has links to. I reminded the meeting that lots of links are not related to food, but are still important, and they can enlighten us and be relevant in unexpected ways. One such link I came across just today; it's about our sense of smell . Pretty interesting, and a surprise because it's not the way we've assumed smell works in humans. [NOTE: I put the link in, but somehow this time blogspot doesn't recognise it. If you want to have a look cut and paste the link in. The URL is www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128301.800-the-unsung-sense-how-smell-rules-your-life.html?full=true" - more tech incompetence here, sorry!]

And then at the other end of the spectrum is longreads.com, which gives access to in-depth articles of various kinds, real reading! Those of us who dash from item to item can soon lose the capacity to hang in for a long concentrated exposition of ideas. Longreads helps keep us tuned-up, as well as furnishing us with new ideas and concepts.

All this I mentioned, along with a list of my favorite tools and sites and Tweeters. Hope it was useful.

I also reminded myself as I was preparing for the panel, that I enjoy taking a day away from all this follwing and connecting stuff. Often it's the day I write here... A day off enables me to imagine and think about things in a longer-arc more reflective and introspective way. That's valuable, as valuable as any particular insight or piece of information that I might come upon as I explore new links online.

Sorry to go on and on about this; it's all so self-referential and suffocating after awhile, this talk of social media. I'm reminded of how often that chat sounds like people are rehearsing for life. And that's a waste, for this is it, now. We're not rehearsing for a bigger and better stage down the road once we understand things better. The whole of life is happening as we talk about it.

I think sometimes that we've been infected (or maybe just I have been infected) by the implicit and explicit message in primary school, that we'll grow and learn and improve and eventually be more able, more capable, more responsible. But in fact that message gives us less-than-useful reflexes. All of life is life. The preparation and the living out of it are all one. That's true even of our two-year-old selves. It's not a rehearsal.

And so whether it's the mundane details of social media and self-promotion, or the deeply important emotional connections we have to our nearest and dearest, it's all happening in the now, and we get the privilege of taking it on, being responsible for it, enjoying it, appreciating each breath and each moment.

Once more I'm back at this idea of balance, reasonableness, or perhaps we could call it sustainability. It's up to us to balance our screen time with our other work. And that means not being needy and greedy about tweeting and FB'ing.

Last night I had dinner at a friend's place. Her cousin was visiting from Vancouver, and that was a treat, for i met them both when I was an undergraduate at Queen's. And then a third of that band of women I knew in first year so long ago came by. I had seen her only a few times since undergrad, and the last time was nearly 25 years ago. Unbelievable! we said to each other. And yet with all those years gone by, we were each recognisable to the others, each essentially the same person, even though marked by age and scars of various kinds. How lovely, the privilege of knowing people over time, and of reconnecting with them unexpectedly at a later stage of life.

It was pouring rain last night, but I was wearing my father's wool dinner jacket, which kept me warm and dry as i walked to the subway. The chill in the air, despite today's sunshine, gave me the urge to make a skillet cake, as did the damson plums that a friend had found for me. This afternoon I made two medium-sized skillet cakes, one topped with the plums and the other with chopped apple on top. It is a sign of cold weather, this cake-baking. Another was the bread I made last week. There was some leftover white rice that was on its second day, so just starting to ferment. I added lukewarm water, covered it loosely, and left it to ferment for a couple of days. Then that water plus rice became the base for a bread dough. It included whole wheat pastry flour as well as all-purpose. NO oil. It made wonderful bread, after an overnight rise, even though there was no yeast, just the leavening of wild yeasts and the fermented rice.

We all agreed it was a treat to once again have home-made bread on hand. Now here's the question: how to make bread fairly regularly, without it becoming a chore or a burden? If I figure out the answer, I'll let you know!


tea_austen said...

I've just started baking regularly again. I use a sourdough starter, which I keep in the fridge and feed once a week, on Sunday.

Sunday evening, I pour out a bit of starter into a bowl, add water, some fours, salt, honey and mix it. I let that rise overnight, knead it a bit in the morning, and bake it later that day. Mondays have never been so much fun.

Here's the rough method I follow. Makes a lovely and super easy loaf--a nice antidote to all the high technology in our lives!


naomi said...

It's great if you can have a regular schedule. I never manage it. The easiest starter/sourdough arrangement I know is from my Portuguese Mountain Rye, in HomeBaking. That starter/remnant dough is VRY forgiving. People I meet tell me they have forgotten it in the frig for as long as a month and it is still effective. I love hearing stories about people's breadmaking.

katie said...

Skillet cake recipe, please!

naomi said...

OK Katie, the skillet cake. It's easy and flexible, that's the first instruction!
I make it in one 10-inch cast-iron skillet or in two smaller ones, an eight and a six inch diameter. They are greaed with butter and the oven is at 400 or so.
Cream together a 1/4 pound butter and 1 cup sugar (I prefer brown); add 1 generous cup yogurt (I prefer full fat, 3 1/2 %). Whisk four eggs (large usually) and add.

In another bowl assemble the dries: I like to use whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose, a cup of each. It makes a tender delish crumb. If using all a-p then use about 1 3/4 cups only. Add 1 teasp baking powder and 1/2 teasp baking soda, as well as 1/4 teasp salt, generous cinnamon, dash of clove powder, and that's it. Shake to blend, then whisk the wets again and stir/fold them in. I usu add a little vanilla to the wets before mixing it all.

Do a bare mix until all the dries are wet then pour into the one or two skillets. Now at this point I usually put chopped apple on top, or whole damsons at this time of year, with some extra brown sugar.
They bake for ten minutes at 400 and then the rest at 380. It takes 50 minutes or so in the large skillet and a little less in two small ones. Test with a skewer; it shold come out clean. The cake will be pulling away from the edge.

Let stnad ten minutes, thenturn onto a plate and flip over by turning onto a second plate.

Eat at any hour.

katie said...

Thanks so much for the recipe, Naomi.

I have been re-visiting Flatbreads lately and just really enjoying the stories. Can't wait for the new book.
By the way, ImmerseThrough is still not coming up as a site for us on Firefox / Mac in Colorado.
Happy Autumn,