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Coronavirus Break, Day Five: Snack Less, Cook More

For the person who is not accustomed to staying home all day, and yet suddenly finds that fate has decreed it so, there is a good chance that snacking will become a dependable way of alleviating boredom. For those who work away from home, eating is simply what you do in your home: In the morning, you get out of bed, you shower, you eat, you leave. In the evening, you return, you eat, you shower, you get into bed. Cooking and eating take up the lion’s share of time spent at home, which means that spending more time at home means eating more food. Not eating while at home is like not swimming in a pool. If you don’t— well, what the devil are you even there for?

I find inordinate snacking to be depressing, not just because it tends toward needless weight gain, but because snacking has a tendency to ruin my enjoyment of dinner, and I do not merely regard dinner as evening-food, but as one of the formal events of the day which gives the day meaning. Without dinner, the day is not really over, and that which does not end cannot really begin, either. Endings and beginnings are mystically bound up in one another; all things come from God and all things ultimately return to Him for their fulfillment. A little hunger through out the afternoon not only sharpens our desire for the end of the day— and the end of a thing is better than the beginning of it, according to Solomon— but reminds us of our final end and the banquet which comes after it. Without suffering a little hunger in the 3 o’clock hour, a man can’t be truly human.

The solution to snacking is cooking, for it is hard to snack while cooking. After having too many chips and crackers yesterday, I woke this morning committed to being hungry. My two little daughters and I made bread this morning, and while I know everyone is an ersatz gourmand these days, it takes all of five minutes to get a loaf of bread going in the morning. I was intimidated by yeast for many years, but once I actually took a crack at it, I found bread both surprisingly easy to make and satisfyingly nuanced in order to perfect. Here’s my recipe:

6 cups of unbleached, unenriched flour

30ml yeast

25ml salt

Between 4 and 5 cups of lukewarm water

Stir the dry ingredients together, then add 4 cups of the water and stir again. The result will be far too dry, but after the first four cups, water should be added half cup by half cup until the dough is sticky and mucky, but not sloppy wet. Cover the dough and let it sit for two hours to rise, then put it in the fridge. The dough must stay in the fridge until cold, which will mean at least three hours, although the dough can last for weeks before cooking. The longer you let the dough sit, the more it will smell like beer and the more sour the flavor will get. I advise at least three or four days of waiting.

When the dough is ready, preheat a cast iron skillet in the oven at 425 degrees. The skillet should be shiny with oil (olive or avocado), but not slick. Use a spatula to sculpt the dough into a ball in the bowl it was mixed in. Dust the top of the ball with flour. Remove the pan from the oven and scrape the dough ball into the hot pan, then dust the top of the dough ball with flour. Using a sharp flat edge, impress a cross into the top of the dough, then put the skillet back in the oven for as long as necessary. I advise using a middle rack.

In some circumstances, this recipe will work out perfectly. There is, however, a learning curve. Depending on your elevation, your oven, and a dozen other variables, you may need more or less water or a higher temperature. It all depends. Regardless, somewhere between 45 minutes and 90 minutes will be needed to cook the bread all the way through, though I once accidentally cooked this recipe for three hours and it was (arguably) edible when I remembered to take it out.

Of course, a loaf of freshly baked bread for dinner will not keep you from snacking throughout the day. For that, you will need a stew, but I shall write more of that on another day.

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