Thanksgiving Loaves for Family
Good, Better, Best:
Let us never rest
Until our good is better
And our better best.
- My Grandmother, who will be 102 yrs old this year
(reciting a rhyme she learned in public school)
Here are a couple of everyday breads made with my wild yeast. I haven't used commercial yeast in quite a while now. Why not? Well, pick any one of several reasons: (1) I have the sourdough, so I might as well use it, (2) wild yeast tastes better, (3) it is healthier for me.
As usual, I am basing this spelt loaf on the Tartine technique, although you will look in vain for the recipe in the Tartine Bread book. I think the Rye bread is actually the Rye Bread recipe from Tartine; it uses all purpose flour, and my intention is to give it away. It is Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. Of course, I have to work, but my wife is meeting with my son, and so I hope he gets one of these loaves to take home with him. Since it has rye in it, it theoretically should keep slightly longer.
|My wife wanted a slice for her lunch, so I've had a look at the crumb. Her verdict: no good for honey.|
- 200g starter, made with spelt
- 650g water + 50g water later
- 200g barley flour
- 600g spelt flour
- 200g ww flour
- 20g salt
B. The Rye Loaf
- 630g ap flour
- 200g ww flour
- 170g rye flour
- 700g water + 100g water later
- 100g cracked wheat
- 20g salt
I have been wondering if my bread baking is getting any better. How do you compare the bread you are eating now to the bread you ate a week ago, a month ago, a year ago? Yet the mind has the faculty of discrimination: we can place two images beside each other and choose the best of the two, whether that image is a literal photographic image, or an imagined image or a memory of an actual loaf. We can compare. And like everything else in the real world, we must choose.
Skip the rest of this if you just want the usual bread info. There's not much more bread info from here on in. It is all segue to 'Back to Bread'.
Political Scale: a quick lesson
Many years ago, when he was very young, I offered to my young son a quick and dirty explanation of the linear scale that popular media uses to differentiate political parties. We often hear the terms "Right wing policies" or "On some issues he leans to the Left". This scale is not taught in school, evidently. We pick it up by osmosis because everybody uses it. But it really isn't all that useful, as it tends to gloss the reality, which is complicated. Nevertheless, it can certainly show you when and where the media has become overly simplistic. On the eve of another Provincial Election, I am reminded of this scale again. With three main political parties in Canada (Conservatives, Liberals, and the New Democratic Party), this scale has become a sort of short-hand:
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NDP Liberal Conservative
As I told my son about this scale, I also gave him a little family history lesson. His mother's family came from Germany, and to understand why they came to Canada, one had to know something of German politics and how it affected everyday life there. Just prior to the advent of the second world war, Germany was still reeling under the weight of reparation payments following the first world war. In an attempt to alleviate the plight of the ordinary people, the German populace used their democracy to try everything they could think of: right wing, left wing, and everything in between. When the conservative parties were not far enough right, they looked to fascists; when the union parties were not far enough left, they looked to communists. The ideological rifts that occurred plunged the world into another world war, and physically divided the entire country for more than a generation.
And the recent history of Canadian politics can also be written on this simplistic linear scale: in the 80's and early 90's, the conservative government of Brian Mulroney moved toward the liberal centre of the scale, squeezing the liberals and achieving successive majority governments for the conservative party. Unfortunately, this alienated some of the long-time members of the conservative party, who actually splintered off from the main conservative political party and formed their own "Reform" party, particularly in the west. When the Liberal party came back even stronger and pushed the conservative party back toward the right, the old conservative party was crushed and obliterated. The current conservative party is built largely on the ashes of Mulroney's legacy, with a good smattering of Reform. But they have grown stronger again, largely due to the lack of leadership of the Liberals.
In practice, most people in Canada are not card-carrying members of any one political party. They like some things about the NDP: for example, our universal health care (an idea that came from the heart of Tommy Douglas, one in a long line of excellent NDP leaders that Canadians love but do not elect to the highest position (the latest being Jack Layton, may he Rest In Peace.)). But they also like the basic idea of the conservative parties -- that is, keep ownership private, and keep the government out of our business. What this means is, most people are liberal in practice: we like our services, we just don't want to be the ones who pay for it. It's not always the most realistic choice, but we do tend to gravitate toward the middle, like a bell curve.
We call ourselves a democracy, but we don't get a personal vote on every issue. We really have to choose a single person to represent us in government, and they are always affiliated with a political party, and we take a lot of baggage we don't necessarily want, along with the personality.
But I really don't want to talk so much about politics and my oversimplification of it. what I really wanted to talk about was the idea of a scale.
In palliative care in Canada, we regularly use a scale that was developed in Edmonton to assess the needs of our patients. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) would have a person assign a number, between 0 an 10, to some symptom or quality in their life. When first introduced to this scale, many people have difficulty wrapping their head around the concept. Rarely do we ever associate a quantity (the number you are asked to choose) with a quality (usually something fairly nebulous and not well-defined, like a subjective feeling). For example, right now, try this: on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being the best possible quality of life, and 10 being the worst quality of life, where would your quality of life fall on this number line?
Many things affect your quality of life. If I asked this right after you stubbed your toe, you might, between hopping around holding your foot and cursing, give your life a quality rating of 7, or 8. Or if I asked this of you just before you nodded off to sleep after the greatest sex of your life, you might mumble 1, or 2 (it wouldn't be 0, because I would be pissing you off, annoying you about assigning a number when you really just want to fall asleep in the rainbow afterglow...).
ESAS attempts to measure a lot of different symptoms that always seem to pop up in end-of-life care: pain, tiredness, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, appetite, wellbeing, shortness of breath, and other. The "Other" category is for patients to define their own category that is important to them. You can then use these scales to plot any given symptom or category at any given time, to see the changes that have occurred using a chart like this. Obviously if a person categorizes their pain at a 3 or greater, we have to make an intervention, and deal with it.
On the other hand, I am concerned about the over-use of such scales, because I believe that placing attention on pain certainly ensures that pain will be experienced. A study has been done that suggests talking about pain increases pain. In other words, when I ask a patient if they are experiencing pain, they experience it...so how do I assess them, if as we are taught in nursing school, 'pain is what the patient says it is'?
Quantified Self Scales
Every since I have skim-read Douglas Hubbarrd's book "How to Measure Anything - finding the value of 'intangibles' in business", I have been interested in scales that quantify what are essentially subjective qualities.
I have been a closet follower now for some time of the Quantified Self website, interested in how people put together their independent self-studies, and curious as to what sorts of things they are interested in. A lot of fascinating people are using tools they have invented that are similar to ESAS, in order to examine quantitatively how they feel about various things. Just a few recent examples:
Ari Meisel - curing the incurable through self-experimentation
Ari cured himself of Crohn's disease by self-monitoring of his experiments related to diet and fitness. In this short video of his talk he casually mentions a ton of computerized tracker devices and software that he tried.
Robin Barooah - "I am broken, or I can learn"
Robin used a much simpler binary process of attending to what he ate and how it made him feel three hours later, and ended up losing 45 pounds. It was apparently enough to place the attention on how he felt (energized or lethargic?) to awaken the unconscious mind to deal with the issues of his weight.
Roger Craig "Knowledge Tracking"
Using a lot of web-based tools he wrote himself, using text-mining, a Jeopardy Q-A database, and various mathematical tools to improve his answering ability, Roger went on the Jeopardy show and kicked ass.
There are tons of other examples. Check them out.
My friend and I have had a recent conversation about how he and his wife trained their girls to describe their emotional life with a rich vocabulary. Their intention was to provide the girls with a more refined ability to experience their emotions, by more carefully naming the affective states. You teach a child the parts of the body by pointing to their "head and shoulders, knees and toes"; but as they grow, they may need to learn more exacting terms for the body parts: scapula, uvula, antecubital.
But what about our emotions? Mostly we learn the basic terms, and you know when you feel sad, happy, angry. To quote my friend:
A person, after all, who understands that something can be moving, touching, poignant, bittersweet, crushing, haunting, unsettling, depressing, etc., could have a richer, deeper experience in life, say, that someone whose only word to describe these things is "sad." A person who understands that something might be exhilarating, liberating, joyous, triumphant, empowering, satisfying, etc., etc., could have a richer experience in life than someone whose only word for these things is "good."
And that brought to mind this short comic by xkcd, which suggests that we can become connoisseurs of almost anything.
|See the original cartoon on xkcd|
I was thinking about that, and about how some of our perceived scales are actually naturally logarithmic. Take a look at this video (Vi and Sal Explore How We Think About Scale/ How Humans Perceive Nonlinearity) that I found to understand what I mean.
Before Freud, no one paid any attention to the unconscious mind. Things seem to be invisible to us until we can name them -- whether it be the recently discovered (?but still unconfirmed) neutrino that travels at hyperlight speeds, or the rarest emotion that humans can experience (Lets call it Self Actualization, after Maslow, even if that is not exactly or merely an affective state).
The point I am making: what is going on, really, deeply, wholly, inside of us, or outside of us, that we are not aware of? How do we name it, how do we quantify it, how do we study it?
Back to Bread
I have, for the past couple of years, been blogging about every single bread I've made. Some have been absolute disasters, some have been very good indeed. I think I've been getting a bit better at baking bread, but this is a very difficult thing to measure as it involves a whole lot of different metrics, not to mention different types of bread for different purposes. I probably would have to develop my own personal "bread tracking scale," for my own personal use. But what should I be tracking? The more data, the more one can play with the numbers; but too much data, and all you get is noise, and you can't really make sense of it.
There are things that you would expect that would be on such a scale: grain, hydration, ferment, taste, crust, crumb, aroma, healthfulness, shelf-life, appearance, shape, etc.
Still, it makes sense that I should be elevating my experience of bread to the same level of language as the connoisseur of wines. Things like mouthfeel, aftertaste, the layers of flavour -- these are all things that can be named, scaled, refined. What other things are measurable?
Notes to Myself
- Learn what scales already exist for the description of bread, and dough, and flours. Probably this has already been done. What about the rules of every fall fair where people enter their bread to be judged? What are the criteria? This should give you an idea of how judging is done.
- Do you have enough info on each bread that you have blogged about to determine which bread you have made is the best?