muscle toning
March 4, 2007

When I glance out my window this afternoon, contemplating grit buildup on the glass, I'm demoralized to discover that despite the temperature having topped 55 yesterday, it is now snowing again. Spring cleaning rendered out the window, as it were, I opt for bread baking.

I've included rosemary focaccia on a some-time-in-the-future menu, which means that I need to test it. It's just a five-ingredient affair—flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and rosemary—and it seems like a good match for the garlic soup I'd promised Tracy I'd make this afternoon.

I imagine everything is going wrong when I bake bread. There are too many chemical reactions I'm afraid I'll throw off, and I get impatient waiting for things to happen. The little packet of yeast never bubbles, but after 15 minutes I throw it in with the flour and salt anyway, hoping for the best. But when the dough fails to coalesce despite vigorous kneading, I'm about to start over.

"Knead by hand for a few minutes or until smooth." After five minutes the dough is still in floury pieces and my forearm muscles are on fire. I try again, twice, before I desperately add a fourth of a cup of water and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Now my dough sticks together; it sticks to everything. I've created oily paste. I start adding back flour tablespoon by tablespoon until finally I seem to have a workable substance, albeit one that feels pretty much like a rock.

Since the apartment is cold, I put the bread in a warm oven to rise (although I'm not optimistic about its prospects). I make soup and salad. I wait a little while. Then I eat some soup and salad without focaccia. Impatience mounting.

An hour and a half later, my rock-dough has miraculously grown to the point where I can actually punch it down (which I do with some force). After dimpling, salting and adding rosemary, I'm surprised to find it does look like focaccia. And 20 minutes later I have a browned loaf.

Since I've already eaten, I sample only a corner—then proceed to eat about a fourth of it in "just one more bite to even it out" fashion. Then I start dunking pieces into the pot of soup still on the stove. Without ever putting anything on a plate, I eat a second lunch standing in the kitchen.

Since my forearm muscles are still sore, I figure I deserve it.

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