Friday, July 31, 2009

I Need No-Knead Bread

I love bread. Love it, love it, love it. And there is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven — as a sensory experience it ranks right up there with brewing coffee and blooming lilacs. The problem is, while I am quite competent in the kitchen, I don't have the time/patience/skill to make a good loaf. How then, was I able to make this fine specimen yesterday?

All you need is a bit of flour, salt, yeast, water and about 20 hours, or so. Here's how:

First, make sure you have an oven-proof vessel of some sort with a lid — I use a pyrex casserole dish. A cast iron pot or a La Cloche clay baking pan would be ideal if you want to invest. The bread will conform to the size of the pan, so keep that in mind when you make your purchase.

Next, combine together 3 cups of white flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of instant rise yeast in a bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of room temperature water to the mixture and stir until combined.

And you're done! That's it. That's basically all the work you're going to have to do. The rest is just a waiting game. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 18 hours. The dough will look odd — it should be a kind of stringy/wet/dry lump of goo. But as time passes, the yeast will basically do the kneading for you. Eventually the lump of goo will look like this:

Admittedly, it looks a little bit brain-esque, but stick with it. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it down. Then fold it in half, then in half again to make a ball. Cover it with a tea towel and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then lay the tea towel flat and sprinkle some cornmeal on it. Transfer the dough onto the towel and sprinkle the top with a bit more cornmeal (you can use wheat bran for this, too... I find cornmeal to be very tasty). Cover with the other half of the tea towel and let rise for two more hours.

About 15 minutes before the dough is done rising, pop your baking pan into the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees (both the oven and the pan have to be piping hot). After 15 minutes, invert the risen dough into the pan, cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the top is dark brown. Slide the loaf into a cooling rack, and voila, perfect bread every time. Here's what the finished product looks like right out of the oven:

You will be amazed at the quality of this bread. I even venture to say it might be among the best you've ever had — the crust is crunchy and the crumb (the inside) is moist and chewy, and full of perfect air bubbles. Making this wonderful bread has become my new weekend tradition (that way I won't be tempted to load up on carbs all week).

Note: If my directions are utterly confusing, watch this youtube clip with the recipe's creator, Jim Lahey of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery and New York Times food writer Mark Bitman:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Canadian Men Don't Get Fat

I know it's not exactly breaking news, but I just NEED to talk about my obsession with Mireille Guiliano's wonderful books French Women Don't Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons. Released in 2004 and 2006 respectively, these wonderful books are meant to inspire North American women (and a few highly evolved men) to adopt a French-like "joie de vivre," and in turn trim their waistlines while enjoying the five senses to their fullest.

Unlike other diets that encourage restrictions or eliminations, Guiliano's credo is to enjoy the finest flavours available in moderation. For example, bread, chocolate and wine are all good things when they are truly savoured and of the utmost quality — "just say 'non' to mediocre bread," the author proclaims on her website. So simple, yet so effective. It's not as much a diet, really, as it is an shift in attitude. When you become a connoisseur of life, you live mindfully and consciously. And that's healthy for both your mind and your body.

These books explore another aspect of living that I find intriguing: creativity. You need to have a vivid imagination to live with flair. Eating good, whole foods can seem like a boring prospect to many people; however, if you think outside the box a little bit, the possibilities are endless. And as you open your mind to the world around you, what starts off as creative menus at home turns into curiosity about fashion, books, art and design. I guarantee it.

To add to the usefulness and pleasure of these books, the author shares many tips on balanced living with her readers, including many wonderful recipes. I have yet to try all of them, but several stick out, like this one for her wonderful vichyssoise:


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white parts only, minced
1 onion, peeled and minced
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces sour cream
Dill for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions, and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the potatoes and the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 35 minutes, partly covered.

2. Put through a vegetable mill, and then, if you want a very thin soup, through a chinois). Return the liquid to the pot, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring back to a boil, and whisk in the sour cream.

3. When the soup has cooled, refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Serve cold, preferably in coffee cups, and sprinkled with dill.

Courtesy of French Women for All Seasons (2006). For more recipes and a virtual treasure chest of information, visit

I had a conversation yesterday with my best friend Natalie, and we both vowed to live with intention, no matter what the task, decision or action at hand. When we eat, what do we intend to accomplish? To gain nourishment, enjoyment and health — so when we plan or prepare our meals this is what we should have in mind. Nobody intends to gain weight, become lethargic or unhealthy from what he or she consumes. So why is that what we usually end up doing?

Living with intention isn't easy, but it's more enjoyable, and, of course, you have to act upon your good intention for it to count. I really hate the saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Whoever came up with that didn't acknowledge that good actions are bred from good intentions. We need to think first, then act. I imagine there are more people in hell that intended to to bad things in their lifetime than there are who intended to do good things.

This attitude also transfers to other areas of life — even style and shopping habits. When you wear something, what is your intention? Are you just throwing cloth on your back to protect you from the elements, or do you intend to look and feel good. My wonderful Grandmother Zayshley lived with great intention when it came to style. The new day was treated like a special event, and she dressed like the guest of honour. I love that about her — she must have some French in her.

When it all boils down, there is no magic rule of thumb, or guideline that will lead you to the path of joyous, creative living, at least not written by anyone else than you. You write the book as you go. And sometimes other books like French Women Don't Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons are great research for your own amazing manuscript.

note: the photos posted in this entry are courtesy of French Women Don't Get Fat (2004) and French Women for All Seasons (2006)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Striking Cord!

From where I sit as I write this entry, I have a clear view of two chairs in my living room. One is a comfy, curl-up-in-a-ball-and-read chair and the other is a work in progress: I bought it at an antique dealer for $20 and vowed to get it fully restored (which, after five years, I have yet to do). While I've grown to love its unkept look, I often fantasize that it's my dream chair — an Eames, or perhaps a Corbusier, both of which are way out of my budget. But thanks to the über stylish Toronto furniture store Avenue Road (, I have a new dream chair to add to the list — the Canadian classic Cord Chair by Jacques Guillon.

Cord Chair in Walnut by Jacques Guillon

Ok, I admit it, I probably can't afford this one either; however, I try to aspire to great things in life, and this chair is now one of those things. I love it for a few reasons: It looks as if it's light as air, yet the design quality — the balance, use of materials and fluid lines — give it substance. It's also very comfortable. Unlike purely wooden chairs, the Cord Chair distributes your weight evenly and forms to your body. But perhaps best of all, it is one of the best examples of 20th Century Canadian design.

Jacques Guillon may not be a household name, but chances are you're familiar with his work. Besides making a notable impact on the Canadian furniture, industrial and interior design worlds, Guillon created the signage for the Montreal Métro:

Montreal Métro Sign by Jacques Guillon

Guillon designed the Cord Chair in 1953 and introduced it at the Milan Triennale in 1954. Production stopped about 40 years ago, but thanks to the wonderful Avenue Road, it has been lovingly reissued. And as with all exceptional modern design, the chair looks like it could have been conceived this year, and would look equally beautiful in either traditional or modern homes and offices. Timeless indeed!

Cord Chair in Black Lacquer by Jacques Guillon