Review: Flour Water Salt Yeast

For somewhere near eight years of my life I battled stomach pains so intense that I would curl up in a ball for a day or two waiting for it to go away.  I tried and failed to chart what was causing it.  When I married my wife, at the time a chef, I asked her to help me figure it out.  It seemed obvious it was food related but it was so sporadic when it would hit.

We tried a great variety of different diets to pin point what was happening.  We tried removing lactose, gluten, and various other things, and while some of them seemed to alleviate some of the other symptoms of my stomach issues, none of them took away the sharp pains.  One of the last resorts we went to was trying probiotics to see if that would do anything, and amazingly it did!  Probiotics reduced the amount of time I laid in pain and if I was able to sense it coming I could take a pill and eliminate the pain before it started.  But it required constant vigilance to retain a normal feeling stomach.

I wasn’t quite satisfied with it as I believe we can fix many of our bodies health issues by proper dieting and I’d rather work at doing that than taking a mystery pill to fix it.  Probiotics are a concentrated form of bacteria designed to bring your stomach back into balance.  Yogurt is known to be one of the best sources of natural probiotics, but it didn’t serve me well.  And so for a year or two we continued this delicate balance, with no idea what might fix this dieting issue.

Around this time last year, we were watching The Great British Baking Show and I saw a baker bring out a tub of some gooey substance that he claimed he kept in his closet.  Steph and I had a conversation about what it was (sourdough starter) and I got super excited about the idea of making bread with home grown yeast.  Steph began doing some research on it and found a blog where a mom talked about all of her children having stomach issues and starting her own bread using sourdough starter (levain) fixed all of their issues.  With even more excitement we began our own levain.  It instantly healed my stomach but after a month of baking bread we forgot about feeding our levain and returned to our normal dieting regime.

Six months or so later we decided to restart our bread making (both for need of my stomach and also for the delicious results of these efforts).  As part of restarting our levain, we decided to buy a book and work with it to get things going much better.  Steph did some research and found Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and so began some amazing food experiments.

Book Review – Flour Water Salt Yeast

Ken Forkish writes much about the history of bread, the benefits and drawbacks of various flours, yeasts, and why you only need four ingredients to make a delicious bread.  With exclusion to one recipe in his book, all of his bread recipes are constructed from only flour, water, salt, and yeast.  (That one recipe is bacon bread, because what isn’t improved with a dead pig?  Really, nothing.)

If you want to try making bread with or without levain this book will tell you how to do it and gives you recipes to practice with and suggestions for how you can tweak them into something of your very own.

Ken talks at length about how the best flavored breads come, not from commercial yeast, but from a levain you grow yourself.  His method of growing one is very different than what we tried when we did our little bit of internet research the first time, and I think it has a lot to do with how scientific he gets with his approach.  Throughout the book he includes very engaging stories of his successes and failures in the baking world.  Having made a good number of the recipes I can also say that his theory that all you need is these four ingredients to create an abundance of delicious flavors is very well proven.

This books makes me feel like a bread expert, like I can figure out any issue with the bread.  On a knowledge level that might even be true, I have solved several issues, but on a practical level I have trouble working the dough.  I simple can’t say enough good things about this book.  If you want to know how to bake bread, get this book… it’ll make it seem like baking is as simple as eating cake.

Overall, I give this book five stars.

Next Up: World Sourdoughs from Antiquity by Ed Wood

Recipe: Chicken Curry

In an effort to start going through our unused spices, we looked up a recipe for Curry.  We found one that we only required us to buy 1 ingredient from the store and so we gave it a try.  Our first run was good, but lacked the punch it really needed.  So we tried it again the next night and made some key changes.  It was so delicious we found ourselves high fiving and moaning with delight.  I’m sure there are things we could do to make it even better, but I’m not sure I’d want to mess with this recipe any more…  it’s just too good.

Chicken Curry

Details

Time – 40 minutes

Skill – some

Servings – about 6

Cost – $10 or less

Ingredients

Chicken Rub

2 tablespoons Curry Powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons dried cumin

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons sugar

8 serving sized pieces of chicken – skinless

1  tablespoon olive oil

1 onion diced

3 tablespoons curry paste

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 14oz can tomato puree (or crushed tomatoe)

1 1/2 cups rice

Directions

(If going chickenless, use 1/2 the dry spices and 1 tablespoon less curry paste.)  Combine all dry spices in a bowl.  Cut chicken into small pieces.  Spoon spices over chicken until fully coated.  Take the remaining spices and mix in curry paste, ginger, and garlic.  Then set aside for later.

Cook rice using the normal methods ~20 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook chicken till done.  Remove chicken from skillet.  Add onion to the skillet and stir in hot oil until caramelized ~ 20 minutes.

Add spice mix to skillet, stirring into the onions. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant ~ 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes), remove from heat and stir in the chicken and rice.

Enjoy with some garlic naan for an even more delectable meal.

Find the original recipe here.

Review: The Deathly Hallows

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I finally finished J.K. Rowling’s heptalogy, Harry Potter!  I read the entirety of this book in two days, so you know I enjoyed it.  Life got busy afterwards and so it took a couple weeks to get to writing this, which has been beneficial for clear evaluation.  I can honestly say that much of the joy of reading this final book comes from how invested I was in the series.  When you’ve read six books already, it’s kinda hard to not finish the story.  You really want to know what happens to the characters, and that shows some good writing skills on Rowling’s part.

There are certainly parts of this story I like, and parts that I think are just poorly written.  As I was reading it, I counted no less than three coincidences that led to culmination of the story.  The absence of any one of them would have resulted in a very different ending to the story (SPOILER:  I.E. the bad guys would have won).

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good coincidence and I recognize that life is full of seeming coincidences that lead us down that path we live.  Someone else quits a job so you have that dream opening to apply for; or someone pulls out of a parking spot right as you pull in allowing you to snag the closest spot to the store.  These things happen, but if we’re honest they don’t happen with as much gravity and frequency in real life as they do in this final book.  And that difference makes the story unbelievable.  (Funny I’d say that about a book full of Magic, but magic is more believable than these coincidences due to the rules and structure it follows.  Random happenstance that hands you a first place trophy in the Olympics… that just doesn’t happen.)

If you’re looking for a light hearted book of fantasy and adventure, Harry Potter is a good series, but if you’re looking for meat and potatoes fantasy with a believable (though fantastical) story, this may not be the series to invest in.

Overall I give this book 3 stars.

Next Up: Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish

Review: Side By Side

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What is friendship?  If you were to ask this question in certain parts of the world, the answer would be that a friend is someone you could wake up at 2am and say, “come with me” and they would come, no questions asked.  In still other places a friend is someone you can easily bear your soul to.  Someone who draws out the parts of you that you can’t tell others about because you’re ashamed of them.  Friendship is a bond that knows no bounds.

That’s not what this book is about.  This book wastes no time telling you what a friend is, but instead tells you how you can best help others.  This book provides useful tips on how to create those deep an enduring friendships we all desire.  If gives practical tips on how to engage people in conversation and to move relationships from the common surface level engagements we have today to more meaningful and deep relationships.  It talks about living life together and about how to move conversations to areas of personal growth.  It shows you how to overcome the pride that prevents us from being real with ourselves and others about our innermost thoughts and feelings.  This book is all about how to help your friends become more awesome.

This book is more focused on how to help others be successful in life that it is about you being a better person.  If you can master the skills here you’ll find the people around you are more open and honest with you and with themselves.  And in turn, you’ll get to be more open and honest with them, but the focus is on them opening up and not you.

My main problem with this book is that I’ve read all of this before.  I don’t know if Welch has just combined all these tips from other places and things I’ve read or what, but there was nothing challenging in it.  The book’s language was simple and approachable to all, that is also exactly what I disliked about it.

It’s not that I think I’m a good friend… the truth is I’m not good at employing the principles laid out in this book; even though I do agree that they should be employed.  The kind of person that does what Welch describes will find themselves surrounded by deep and meaningful relationships.  But despite the truth of all of that, I found this book simply a chore to read.  It could be that I read through the book too quickly (the chapters are short and would probably be best served by reading one every few days while you worked to implement the suggestions in your life).  I was reading 2-5 chapters a day so that I could cram it into the last week of March.  So take this review for what it’s worth, the book has great material and possible a boring delivery.

Now, that I’ve spent explaining how boring this book is and only the hardcore readers are still reading, here are two good insights this book made that make it worth while:

1st, we are all helpers.  Welch states that “a young child is most satisfied when helping a parent cook or clean.”  I fact checked this with several families and they all agreed.  (All wanted to clarify that we’re talking about satisfaction and not happiness and a few wanted to clarify that some kids hate certain tasks and are not satisfied or happy to help with them.)  We are designed to help one another and the purpose of this book is to give you tools to be better at it.

2nd, this book really drove home for me just how bad I am at helping my friends be what they want and more importantly need to be.  Perhaps it’s a bit of pessimism, but I suspect that if you read this book you’ll find just how bad you are at helping your friends too.

There are many good reasons to read this book, and if you want to be a good helper of your friends I think it’s worth the effort.

Overall, I give this book three stars.

Next Up: The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Review: The Half-Blood Prince

32402The Half-Blood Prince is without a doubt one of my least favorite books in this series.  It takes 50-60% of the book for any action to really develop.  The beginning of the book is just so slow that it’s boring.  It’s not as though that boring content is pointless.  I think Rowling did a decent job of making all points of the story come together to tell a consistent story, it’s just uninteresting.  I became tired of Harry’s inability to do anything back in book four and the majority of this story is Harry sitting around and talking to people, but not doing anything.

It’s interesting too, because as I read it I could recognize far more key scenes in this book than in the previous five combined.  What I mean is, I knew ahead of time from having seen the movies that there are 4 or 5 key scenes in this book that were coming up, but I had no idea they would all happen in the second half of the book and that absolutely no development would happen in the first half.  This might be why the book felt so slow.  I was eagerly waiting the cool scenes from the second half and had no patients for the lulls that permeated the first half.

On the positive side, we do continue to see some good character developments in side characters throughout the book.  And we learn more about the magical systems in this world.

Overall, I give this book three stars.

Next Up: Side By Side by Edward T. Welch