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Monday, March 03, 2003

Diogenes hath no need

Isaac Walton's "Piscator," in the Complete Angler, advises his young friend thus:

Let me tell you, scholar, that Diogenes walked on a day, with his friend, to see a country-fair; where he saw ribbons, and looking-glasses, and nut-crackers, and fiddles, and hobby-horses, and many other gimcracks: and having observed them, and all the other finnimbruns that make a complete country-fair; he said to his friend, "Lord! How many things are there in this world, of which Diogenes hath no need!" And truly it is so, or might be so, with very many who vex and toil themselves to get what they have no need of. Can any man charge God that he hath not given him enough to make his life happy? No, doubtless; for nature is content with a little. And yet you shall hardly meet with a man that complains not of some want; though he, indeed, wants nothing but his will, it may be, nothing but his will of his poor neighbour, for not worshipping, or not flattering him: and thus, when we might be happy and quiet, we create trouble to ourselves.

It's all right to garden and bake, and read, and sing, and nap, and patch clothes, in other words.

The trouble comes in when we get ambitious, as Plato said, for more -- that more which sets us at odds with neighbors and neighboring countries.

I have gone to the greenhouse; found the two flats of lettuce satisfactory, and the peas, and found the beets acceptable, but little else has responded to what heat has come in through the fogged, rain-streaked glass. I have found some unremembered packets of -- yes, still more lettuce -- and corn salad, chard, and some white radishes, and dedicated still more space to the hopeful flats.

Sigh.

And swept the floor, mindful of the importance Sato's monastery gave to tidying up round the buildings and gardens.

Afterwards, baking.

I took up an almost-empty jam jar, added warm water from the tap, a small spoonful of baker's yeast, put the lid on, shook the mix a bit, and removed the lid right away. In experiments of this kind, you don't want pressure building up under that lid. The beasties liked the jam and started multiplying right away. The jar is a sixteen-ounce size, so that's perfect for about pound and half loaf.

In a large mixing bowl, I put about a tablespoonful of salt, and threw in a handful each of miso, wheat germ, and oats. Rooting through the current supply of veggies, I came across a green onion that needed using, diced it small, and added that to the bowl. A dollop of honey and another of molasses, and now, with the salt buried under all that, it won't shock the yeast too much, so the yeast water goes in.

I keep whole-wheat flour in a five-gallon "white bucket" and dole it out with a hand-sized bowl.

After three bowls, I stir, and keep stirring steadily, adding flour, till the batch "rises up off the bowl," which is the expression I always heard for when the lump achieves the right consistency -- cleaning all residual flour off the bowl, into one lump that's not too sticky when touched, yet not too hard to work. At this point I turn the whole thing out onto a chopping block that has been lightly floured, and either shape it into a round loaf, or roll it out and cut a dozen rolls out of it.

No two batches turn out exactly the same.

Earlier in the week, the "extra ingredient" was raisins; this time it was the onion.

I don't really do much kneading, and only have the patience to let the loaf rise once. The bread pan, which is really a large size cookie sheet, or two sheets, to insulate the bottom of the loaf, starts out on the corner of the dining room table nearest the wood stove, then, as I get hungrier, moves onto a trivet on the stove top, then into the oven on "warm." When the loaf is finally tall enough to bake, I simply crank it up to baking heat and check it in a little over half an hour. Much the same for the rolls, which are nothing but little loaves.

Bread this loosely defined can be used to keep a lot of food from going to waste.

The watery whey from tofu or from draining a batch of pasta can be useful here. Got soup stock? Veggie stock? Leftover rice? Breakfast cereal? Try it.

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