Tomorrow, I will turn the ripe old age of 38 years. That means, among other things, just one more stop between here and 40.
Birthdays aren’t quite what they used to be, are they? They no longer mark a day of arrival, or a chance to do something that’s newly-legal. While still fun in a This-Day-Is-Officially-All-About-ME sort of way, they just mark one significant thing: the fact that we are truly only getting older. I do have a trump card, though: the luxury of having a son who’s birthday is a mere five days after mine. So I always have his celebration to look forward to and plan for during the week following my birth anniversary — those days that might otherwise be filled with thoughts that drift ominously toward middle-age navel-gazing.
Of course, being in my late 30’s rather than under-10 doesn’t make my birthday wish-list much shorter. I’ve just traded the toys in the playroom with toys in my kitchen. My continuous list has levels: so, there’s the Lottery-Winning List, containing items such as a convection double wall oven and a commercial 6-burner gas range. Then there’s the Once-Every-Five-Years Upgrades list, containing expensive items that might replace things I already have, like this Cuisinart Stand Mixer, or a few more pieces of Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware. And finally, the Reality List, containing items that I might actually have a chance at getting. Things like this, this, and maybe even this (a stretch for the Reality List, I know, but I’m being hopeful).
I’ve decided, though, what to pick for myself this year. My parents usually send me some cash, since they wisely gave up long ago the idea of crawling into my uber-selective brain to figure out what I might want (the check’s in the mail, right Dad?). The item I’m going for at the end of this 38th year is the Oxo Kitchen Scale (item #2 on the Reality List). It recently received top-reviews from Cook’s Illustrated, has an 11-pound capacity, and a pull-out display that makes reading easier when you have a large item overhanging your scale (say, a box containing an item you just sold on ebay and need to purchase online postage for). But mostly I’ll be weighing flour. Pounds and pounds of it. And hoping that it makes my bread-making a touch more predictable.
In all my years of making bread, I kept thinking it was the humidity that made the end result seemingly so unpredictable. Why else would I need only 6 1/2 cups of flour one day, and 7 1/2 the next? I was measuring my water on a level surface, and doing the dip-and-scrape method for my flour. It’s the South, I’d say. The South is so humid, I’d like to see Rose Beranbaum come down here for a week, walk in our humidified shoes, and see how predictable her bread is. But then we moved to the Midwest, and my bread is just as whack.
I finally came to my senses, after reading about three different bread books that continued to express in no uncertain terms that measuring by weight is the way to go when it comes to bread. So this week I’ll check one more item off the continuously-growing List of Kitchen Covetousness, and begin making bread in a whole-new way. I hope to convert my weekly sandwich bread recipe to one of weights, and charter new personal territory with cautious experiments in the mysterious world of sourdough.
Which is a good segue to my final, and ultimate birthday wish: that my commercial sourdough starter, rehydrated over a week ago, would actually double, and therefore tell me it’s ready to be put to work. Because if there’s one thing that money can’t buy, it’s bacterial cultures that behave themselves in a 66º kitchen.