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December 4, 1999
two years ago

Long Cooking

Lots to do, today, though it didn't really start out that way. John just told me that he had some errands he wanted to do and it was a sunny day and I wanted to get out of the house and away from any screens, whatsoever, and so I said that I wanted to go with him. So he had his list and we went into Boulder and did dozens of things, found lots of stuff, and I figured out a number of things that I wanted to find as well.

I actually woke up dreaming of Chinese bow and how to make them using sourdough and baking soda to cut the sourness and add some loft to the dough. It's a seed my parents planted during Thanksgiving when Mom was saying that she really wanted to make the texture of her bow right and that she hadn't ever really done that and had no idea why. Both Mom and Dad had a household where the maid did a lot of the cooking, and when they ran through the process that their maids did when making them it was pretty easy to figure out why. Mom and Dad use the modern process of using commercial yeast for their dough. The maids used to raise sourdough, add soda water until it was 'right', and then make a dough from that. If there was too much soda, the dough would turn yellow when steamed, and if there was too little soda, the dough would be sour, so Mom thought it was too much trouble to do it that way.

I kinda agree, but I thought that, likely, a combination of modern yeast and baking powder, which is essentially neutral, would work and be easier for Mom. Still, I *had* sourdough, which Mom and Dad didn't, and it intrigued me to think of how that would work. Given the texture of the bow they'd bought from the lady that makes bow to sell, it seemed obvious that she was using some kind of leavening other than just yeast. So I mixed up my starter with a cup of warm water and enough flour to make it batter again and left it in a warm oven to rise.

John did the cool thing and made breakfast while I was starting my experiment. Sausage and egg burritos with salsa in warm flour tortillas. That was a very good thing. It lasted us through all the prep to get ready, getting beer makings for a batch of Christmas brew, a wander through a few card shops, half a dozen things in McGuckins, and a run through the entire mall to a toy shop. We made it all the way back, doing our best not to move the car any more than absolutely necessary because parking was just a zoo out in the holiday rush. Luckily, I remembered that there was a Great Harvest bakery near the end of the parking lot that our car was parked and that they made good sandwiches and we could go there and just sit and eat and watch the traffic go by.

We each got our sandwiches and took a nice discount on drinks and a cookie as well, and happily sat in the sunshine, eating our lunches and watching the mad, mad dash of shoppers through the parking lot. Sometimes I wonder how people even survive these things. Cars everywhere, pedestrians everywhere else, and none of them really looking out for the other.

I got a taste of that at our next stop, where we stopped near the Pearl Street Mall to go to a cool little shop called Get Fleeced. I was waiting at the corner and when the light turned green, I stepped out onto the street. John suddenly bellowed, "STOP THAT!" and he grabbed me and I turned around to see this guy stalling his car and, apparently, about to zoom into a right turn right on top of me. Idiot. Blind idiot. Then again, knowing I was right and he was wrong would have done me no good if I were flattened by a few tons of car. John was good and it wasn't until much later that I just shook a bit at how stupidly close that was. Really, the law is that pedestrians have the right of way and cars do have to stop for the right turn, but it's so infuriating that they are so impatient about having to wait for their turn.

Can I say that I really hate Colorado drivers? Yeah. I really have some problems with them when it's sunny and nice out. They're good when it snows and more careful and clueful in the snow than Seattle drivers, but there are some aspects of how they drive that I just get mad at.

Anyway. We made it safely, and Get Fleeced is a store that sells discount, factory direct artificial fleece clothing. They have good deals, good construction, usually, and usually a fair selection. It is pretty amazing to me that it's so cheap compared to the fleece prices that I see in any other store, often 25-40% off the other retail places. Nothing really beats the warmth and fluffy softness of the micro-fiber fleece.

The walk back to the car was a bit more cautious and part of the walk was delightful as it was in the shadow side of a big building, so the sidewalks were still covered with snow and ice. I had to be a bit careful, but the patterns were intriguing, and I was able to go up, under some cover for a part of the walk so that I wasn't sliding anywhere, but still able to see the crunchy stuff. I liked that. Trundle trundle and off we were to Safeway to get the last of a few ingredients.

Then glorious nap time. John went to sleep in the bedroom, so I just lay out on the couch and just watched football until I went to sleep. Fezzik woke me up eventually, and I felt much better. So I pulled the starter out of the oven to check on it and it was doing really well. Okay, this is one of those longer term recipes, as it does take sourdough a good eight hours to prep for actually doing some rising. Leaving the starter alone, I then soaked bean thread and dried shitakes in boiling water. I chopped much ginger, chives, and some dried tofu for texture. Thawed 12 oz of chopped spinach and chopped it finer. Used the food processor on two skinless chicken breasts, and then on the shitakes without their stems, the ginger, and some garlic. Tossed everything in a bowl with soy, wine, and sesame oil and mixed it up good. I then stuck it in the refrigerator and washed everything that had touched raw chicken.

The starter came out and I put a pint of it back into my starter jar, and the rest got a teaspoon and a half of baking soda. Too much, I know. But the first teaspoon caused everything in the bowl to bubble and the batter suddenly had twice the volume. I was worried that the initial reaction in the bowl took all the rising properties out of it, which was why the extra half a teaspoon. Note: you shouldn't do this, in an entire two cup of flour batch of biscuits one only uses a quarter teaspoon of soda. It leaves an intersting taste and does strange chemistry, which is why Irish Soda bread is the way it is. Anyway... from there I added flour until it made kneadable dough, which I then kneaded on a floured board until it was smooth and elastic. Then cut it in half and the half into eight pieces, and the pieces were then all put under a wet paper towel. I pulled out the filling and started using it to fill the bow, a few at a time.

I cut squares of parchment paper to put them on and laid down some cheesecloth on the bottom of the steamer pan and soon filled each layer with eight bow. I put all those into the oven and set it on warm to let the yeast dough rise a bit more. Put the first layer in when I was done with it, and working on the second while a big pot of water came to a boil. When the second was done, the water was boiling, so I could put the first layer on, and so I did and also put the second layer into the oven to do its rise. It really, truly startled me, thirty minutes later, when I pulled the first layer out of the steamer and they were this deep, rich yellow. Mom and Dad had warned me that if I put too much soda into the dough it might turn yellow, but I'd expected something pale or ugly, this was a rich, saffron hued yellow. Wow.

When I was done with all the dough I had more filling left, so I did potsticker dough and filled potstickers with the stuff. Potstickers are good for quick dinners, so I just stuffed 'em into the freezer when I was done so that we could cook them whenever we had the chance. Simple planning for a simple, half a minute of prep in the future for a good, hot meal.

The buns turned out really good. The bread shells were soft, with exactly the texture I was trying for and none of the sour of the sourdough, at all. The acid was completely absorbed by the soda. There was just a bit too much soda, so the yellow color, but it really didn't affect the taste. I just know to use less next time. The filling was nice and textured and tasty. Yay! So the experiment was mostly a success. I'll have to try it again.

While I was doing all that John was brewing beer, so the whole house smelled of culinary endeavors. With all the steaming and boiling and brewing, too, the house was pretty well filled with some moisture as well, so we slept pretty well that night.

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