Bi-Weekly Roundup September 20 – October 3

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

What even is an event anymore? I’m basically going crazy from staring at my computer screen at this point from too many classes with too many assignments and too many discussion boards.

I did make myself a desk though–my first IKEA hack. I’ll post about it later this week and show you the result!

Books Read

I should probably preface this list by mentioning that I’m doing historical research on cookbooks right now for a historical research methods class. So I’ve been reading and am continuing to read A LOT about food, cookbooks, gender, and so on. It’s pretty great actually, very enjoyable and interesting, but some (most) of it is very dense. So I haven’t had a lot of time to read fiction.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances by Laura Schenone If you’re interested in food and women’s history, this book is a great and very accessible place to start. Schenone’s background is in journalism and she combines interviews with in-depth historical research to provide a history of women and cooking in the United States from indigenous women’s techniques to frozen dinners. It’s a little bit dated at this point since it’s almost twenty years old, but it’s still a good read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan Since we’ve really been trying to stay inside, and since most of our favorite places are closed, Robin Sloan’s writing about San Francisco could not be more poignant for me. I love reading about the places around the city that I love or that I haven’t discovered yet. Throw in a secret society and I’m hooked. I also really like the line Sloan walks between respect for technological advances and craft, which was also evident in Sourdough. I think this really captures some of the mindset of the Bay area.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table by Sherrie A. Inness The author’s writing is really accessible, and I should know because I’ve spent a lot of time reading her work in the past weeks. This book looks at the ways in which women have resisted conservative views of gender and domesticity through writing cookbooks, and it’s really got a lot of good evidence and ideas. The writing could certainly be less repetitive and the arguments could be more insightful from the details she observes, but it was definitely a worthwhile book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Tasteful Domesticity: Women’s Rhetoric and the American Cookbook by Sarah W. Walden This book is really good–thorough, revealing, and a great addition to the history of cookbooks and women. It is extremely theoretically dense, but it’s also quite insightful. There were a couple chapters I mostly skimmed, but the chapters on virtue and race in cookbooks were really worthwhile.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan I’m not even sure I should count this novella as a book per se, but I’m going to because I read it and I’ve hardly had time to read anything. I wanted to read this novella while the book was still fresh. It’s a short prequel to the events of the novel, but it’s a nice little addition to the universe, if, like me you feel that Robin Sloan’s work is really enjoyable and that there’s not enough of it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pilaf, Pozole & Pad Thai, ed. by Sherrie A. Inness This book explores how “ethnic” food influences U.S. American cuisine through a series of essays by different writers. Some of the essays were brilliant and very helpful to my research, but overall I found this collection to be uneven. If you’re looking for food writing, this would not be my first suggestion.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Movies Watched

I did not make much progress in the movie watching department in the last couple of weeks. So many projects were due… However I did watch these two:

Ibiza: Love Drunk (2018) Is this movie the best? No. Did it make me laugh my ass off? Yes. Probably more so than anything I’ve seen recently. It’s a great escape from the everyday as three (improbably good looking) friends make their way to Spain, turning a work trip into a vacation and, of course, a chance at true love. Or at least some good looking dudes. It’s ridiculous, but I think it may take your mind off of life right now. As a warning, there is a lot of drug use in it. Netflix original.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Enola Holmes (2020) I mean you had me at Holmes, really. Plus with Helena Bonham Carter how could you go wrong? And Henry Cavill may be too sexy to play Sherlock, but I’m not going to complain because when Netflix gives you a horse, you shouldn’t look it in the mouth. No really don’t–there’s probably way too much corporate greed and the need to churn out content in there. Especially content that only touches in the most superficial way on women’s rights and breaks the fourth wall all the time… But still there’s something very charming about it. I find Enola to be an earnest character and I think she makes a good connection with the viewer. The clothes are fun, there’s plenty of crossdressing, and viscounts with ridiculous names… I didn’t mind escaping into this (probably too neatly tied up) whodunit through Victorian London (though it’s more of a where’dshego, really). Netflix original.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Links/Articles

Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

Are you looking to become a better ally/listener/friend/advocate? You may want to check out Amélie Lamont’s Guide to Allyship.

Does anyone else have a Skillshare subscription? My partner got one for me for my birthday, and I think it’s a great gift idea. I’m currently taking a class on drawing your feelings that I really like.

How was your week? Let me know in the comments!

Baking for Bookworms: Making Sourdough from Sourdough by Robin Sloan

“I needed a more interesting life.

I could start by learning something.

I could start with the starter.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Sourdough bread has become something of a fad these days, so much so that there have been flour shortages as everyone else has discovered the benefits of baking on the soul, if not the waistline. I’m not going to lie to you, what I’m about to share with you is a process. But it’s also rewarding, and the end result is worth the effort. When you buy sourdough bread from the store, it’s often a little dry, but when you make it yourself it’s chewy and stays fresh so much longer.

I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon a little late. In fact, I decided to create my own starter after reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan.

Sourdough is central to understanding this book. I mean, it’s the title. But it’s also very much alive in the book, and not just with microorganisms. It acts and has agency, which is a product of the book’s magical realism, and this agency lets an inexperienced baker create some of the best bread she’s ever had. The bread is so alive that when it’s baked where normally you would see the bread’s marks, she sees faces in the bread instead.

The book’s protagonist is an electrical engineer in San Francisco who is getting burnt out. Her stress translates to her stomach and everything she eats is upsetting her system until she finds a little takeout place that makes a spicy soup and sourdough bread combo. The relationship she develops with the brothers that run this underground restaurant leads to a gift of the starter, which she uses to transform her life.

“Baking, by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, because every time, the solution was consumed. I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was ongoing. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Making bread becomes a therapeutic process for her and allows her to find more fulfillment by repeating and refining processes. This book definitely emphasizes craftsmanship, but it doesn’t totally reject technology either, which I found really refreshing. There is a call for reason and moderation, and there are consequences when this idea is violated. And this moderation must be constantly managed because the starter wants to eat; it’s hungry and wants more. Entire civilizations are living and dying within the flour and water mixture. The book explores this way of viewing cultures as a drama taking place on an extremely different scale.

Sourdough also provides a connection to San Francisco, a city that is known for its bread. Thus the newly arrived protagonist is able to connect with the new city she lives in and with herself through the medium of baking bread.

“I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice-and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

So how do you achieve a magical, life-sustaining, delicious loaf of sourdough bread? It’s as simple as mixing flour and water. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting…

This is the guide I used to make my starter, but there are many more on YouTube.

I’m not going to walk through the entire process of making a starter when Joshua Weissman can do it for me, but it’s super simple. You just need flour (I’ve used all purpose, bread flour, and rye flour. You can use whatever you prefer, but unbleached bread flour will work just fine) along with tepid water (85 degrees F), a glass jar, a scale, and some sort of mixing implement. You can also buy a starter online and have it shipped to you, then you only need to maintain it.

Sourdough is comprised of:

“yeast, which is a fungus, and lactobacillus, a bacteria. They eat flour—its sugars—and poop out acid—thus, sour—”
― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

The yeasts that are in your starter come mostly from the flour you use, which is why so many people use rye flour to make starters because they have a lot of natural yeasts in the flour. This is not essential though. I didn’t use rye flour in my starter until it was already quite active. It does like high quality flours more though… but don’t worry. You’ll get good results with unbleached bread flour of any brand or variety.

Once you have your starter going, you might wonder, what can you do with the starter you have to discard every day while feeding it?

These are my three favorite recipes:

Honestly, there are so many things you can do with sourdough besides make sourdough bread… it is astounding.

But say you actually want to make bread with your starter. That’s perfect. That’s what we’re here for. Here’s how to do it. You know that scale that you purchased for your starter? That’s going to be really helpful here. You may also want to learn about other things like DDT (desired dough temperature), but that’s optional. Also, I won’t lie to you, you’ll get decent results if you bake on a baking steel/stone, but the best sourdough bread at home is going to come from a Dutch oven which helps trap steam and delivers that delicious crust…

This recipe is from Thomas Charles Mathiassen’s Skillshare course on Sourdough bread.

Note: This is not exactly the same recipe as I’m using, but the process is super similar, and I think the visual really helps.

Ingredients for two small loaves

  • 200 g starter (also, you should name your starter! Mine is named Bernadette)
  • 400 ml water
  • 600 g bread flour (unbleached!)
  • 12 g salt

Step 1: Autolyse. Mix the starter with the room temperature water. Add flour and mix with your hand until combined. Let rest covered with a clean tea towel for 45 min.

Step 2: Bulk Fermentation. Add salt and mix thoroughly. Clean the sides of the bowl with a spatula and cover with a towel for 30-45 min.

Step 3: Lift and fold. Since we’re not kneading the bread, this is what helps develop the gluten structures in the bread. Lift and fold, firmly but without ripping the bread, lifting the dough towards the center. Turn and do about 8 folds. Cover and rest 30 min. Do this whole process 3 more times.

Step 4: Preshape. Using a dough scraper or your hand turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. This recipe makes two small loaves, so divide into two. Now pull and turn the dough so that it folds under itself and creates a bubble shape (see video). You’re trying to create tension in the bread. Cover loaves with a towel and let rest 30 min.

Step 5: Shape. Turn the dough balls over. Lift the corners towards each other top to bottom, side to side, and then diagonal to diagonal. Lift into prepared banneton if you have one or use glass bowls lined with tea towels (this is what I use). Sprinkle flour into your chosen mold. Then plop the dough in (so that the folded side is face up). Now cover with a towel and put in the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Step 6: Bake! Preheat the oven to 475 F with the baking vessel in the oven. I use a deep cast iron skillet with a lid, but a Dutch oven is perfect or you can use a loaf pan. Carefully! Transfer your bread to the preheated vessel and score with a lame (basically a razor blade) or a very sharp paring knife. I pretty much tried every knife we own to find one that cut deep enough (the deeper into the dough you can cut the better!). Bake with the lid on 25 min and then take the lid of and bake an additional 10-15 min. And voila! Sourdough. Now take it out. Let it cool all the way and then cut it up and slather it with butter or jam because after nearly 18 hours of work, you’ve earned it.

The finished product.

Do you have your own starter? Have favorite recipes, techniques, or tools? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly Roundup: July 5 – July 11 Sourdough and Romance Films

I made these muffins yesterday with my new sourdough starter!

Welcome to the first weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

My husband was notified that he will be working from home *in our tiny studio apartment* until at least the New Year. These past 4 months or so have been the first he’s ever experienced working from home and he doesn’t feel very productive. I’ve been working from home for years…so I understand. Welcome to my life, dude!

I started my first ever sourdough starter! I’ve been wanting to do this for years, but I was always worried we’d go on a trip and I wouldn’t be able to keep it alive. But now…we’re not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. It was time. At first, I was really not sure if the starter was going to make it–it was putting off all this liquid. After some research, I learned that it was eating through its food too quickly and was putting off alcohol, the byproduct of the fermentation process. That’s probably because, for the Bay area, it’s been quite warm recently. So I’ve started feeding it twice a day and now it’s very happy and grows so much. I’ve been trying to make things with the discard, like the muffins pictured above (we ate them all–they were so delicious).

I’m learning to read tarot cards. I will do a post on that later, when I’ve learned more than 3 cards.

We’re doing a minimalism challenge. Every day we get rid of the number of things that correspond to the day. For example, today on the 11, we each have to get rid of 11 things. I don’t think we’ll make it through the whole month as we honestly don’t have that much stuff. But my goal is to make it to the 15th and go through everything.

Books Read

Sourdough by Robin Sloan : Midway through reading this book, it became very obvious that I needed to make sourdough bread. Now. The book is sort of a love letter to San Francisco, and if you’re familiar with the area, the places the book mentions will instantly bring up different pictures. Magical realism and the power of baking plus robot arms. I really don’t know what better book you can read to escape right now…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca : Romance at the Renaissance Faire! Another great escape right now, since none of us are going to be attending renn faires anytime soon. A fun, steamy romance. Emily, the protagonist, is often frustratingly dense about her own life. But aren’t we all? I loved the atmosphere of this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Movies Watched

I have a lot of free time this summer. So I thought I’d use it to work down my ever-growing movie backlog. This is what happens when you’re a film student–you’re so busy reading philosophy and criticism there’s no time to watch the movies everyone is referencing. I’ve challenged myself to watch one movie from this list a day.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. I have a lot to say about this film. It’s going to be a separate post at some point soon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) This is a western my husband remembers from his childhood with Don Knotts as a bumbling, would-be outlaw. It’s streaming on Disney+ and it’s silly and light-hearted. And as you might expect of a 70s western, there’s outdated depictions of women, Chinese Americans, and Native Americans.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Love Affair (1939) If you think you don’t know this film, you might be more familiar with the 50’s remake An Affair to Remember. Honestly, besides vivid color in the 50s version, there is very little difference between the two films. I do love Irene Dunne in this version though. She’s so funny and sincere, and she gives the very dramatic plot a lift.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Major and the Minor (1942) This Billy Wilder stretches disbelief a little as Ginger Rogers plays a gorgeous woman who is fed up with how men treat her like an object and decides to go home to Indiana. The train fare, which she’d saved, has gone up and she doesn’t have enough, so she decides to pretend she’s 12 and get the half fare price. On the train she meets a US officer with an eyesight problem and antics ensue.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Paris–When it Sizzles (1964) You ever get that feeling of film déjà vu, where you’re not quite certain if you’ve seen the movie before but it all feels very familiar? That’s what I felt with this Audrey Hepburn film. Let me preface by saying this is not one of her best films (though I did enjoy all the little references to them). It’s a movie about screenwriting and an almost washed up writer who needs to come up with his next script. It’s pretty funny and even charming in places. But it’s a role that doesn’t really call for an actress of Hepburn’s caliber.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Young Goethe in Love (2010) This German period film left me wanting something. Maybe it’s because I’m not that familiar with Goethe’s work, but this film left me feeling deeply meh. Some parts of it were sweet and earnest feeling, but other parts were over the top or too slow (at least for my mood). It didn’t help that the audio quality of the film depreciated a lot after the first 20 minutes and felt tinny and grating. It reminded me a lot of Bright Star, if you’re into that, this will be up your alley.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What Price Hollywood? (1932) This is the movie that all of the A Star is Born films are based on. And this one is undoubtedly one of the most watchable because it’s one of the shortest and the costumes are the best out of any of them. Plus this pre-code movie has a little innuendo to keep it interesting.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Two for the Road (1967) Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney’s marriage is falling apart, but the film shows that their relationship has always been a series of ups and downs. This movie actually captures the complexities of many relationships and uses a series of elegant flashbacks to tell the couple’s story through the road trips they’ve taken together. This is a great summer movie.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Gaslight (1944) I’ve seen this film before, but my husband had not even though he has often used the term gaslighting. I thought he should know where that idea comes from. Ingrid Bergman is brilliant in this, but I really love Angela Lansbury as the snarky maid. A great old psychological thriller.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Seventh Seal (1958) Ingmar Bergman’s art house film about a returning crusader and his chess match with death is often listed in the top 100 movies of all time. And I can see why because some of the shots in this film are so layered and nuanced… Plus the exploration of life and death, faith, violence, and fear is so masterful.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

3 Things I Learned This Week

There’s a gorgeous library in China where it looks like there are thousands and thousands of books lining the hive like structured walls, but most of them are stickers. So disappointing.

I’m listening to lectures from The Great Courses available on Kanopy (more on Kanopy next week in my post on digital resources your library may offer). This week I’m listening to a medieval scholar talk about King Arthur in history and legend. I’ve learned that there was likely an Arthur-type figure in the 5th century in Britain, although he would not have had a stone castle, a magician, or a loyal Sir Lancelot.

If your sourdough starter has a lot of liquid on top, it needs to be fed.

Links/Articles

Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

I supported this Kickstarter game this week. I am a huge fan of Kickstarter for tabletop games, and have supported quite a few. This game is called Oversiege, and it’s a card game for 2 players (although you can buy more decks and play with more people even remotely!). You basically have to siege your opponent’s castle. I love this game’s artwork and how small it is. It seems like it’ll be a great game to travel with (at some point).

This article was a good one– Tear Them Down: Siri Hustvedt on Old Statues, Bad Science, and Ideas that Just Won’t Die.

Poll of the Week

How was your week? Did you read or watch anything you enjoyed? Let me know in the comments!