Book Reviews

More from In Search of the Perfect Loaf

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Having already recommended Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I will refer you to my earlier comments as to why.  However, I can already identify two benefits from reading Fromartz.  One, it has given me the confidence to experiment with recipes and tailor results.  Two, should those experiments fail - or, more accurately, fail to meet expectations - I now have a better sense of why.  Both applied in this instance.


The first time I made this loaf, Jim Lahey’s.  There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that; it’s just not my preference.  This time, I felt confident enough in my baking to use a different temperature and cooking time, based on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Modena Mountain Bread. This involved not only a lower temperature, but also retaining steam in the oven.  This variation was, unquestionably, a success.



Unfortunately, as you can see here, the crumb is anything but light and airy.  It’s dense and chewy, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was going for.  What went wrong?  Fromartz’s recipe calls for letting the dough rise in a pantry that’s roughly 55 degrees.  Given the absurdly low temperatures last night, I am guessing our pantry was significantly lower than 55.  However, that wasn’t the real mistake; the real mistake was not trusting my instincts when I pulled the dough out this morning.  I was following the recipe exactly, but I should have known it needed a longer rise. 

Having written that, I now realize a third benefit of reading ...The Perfect Loaf: rather than discouraged by this disappointment, I will simply try again.

Posted by Kevin on 02/15 at 05:20 PM

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


The Bucolic Plague
is the story of two long-time partners and Manhattanites, Josh and Brent. Josh works for an advertising agencies, and is starting to feel disalusioned with the ad game and accounts that seem to drag on forever. Brent gave up a practice to be a resident Dr. on the Martha Stewart show. During a trip to upstate New York for the apple season, they get lost and discover Beekman Mansion, a 1802 estate that has gone to ruin. Immediately, they are drawn to the stately building, call a real estate agent, and faster than it seems possible, they’ve bought the Beekman as a weekend home.

Their fantasy of become gentleman farmers quickly becomes an obsessive, consuming job as they try to rehabilitate the grounds, start heirloom gardens and pasture sheep, and restore a house is serious disrepair. All while making the 4-hour commute back to their tiny Manhattan apartment for the work week. A surfeit of goat milk and a partnership with a local upstate soap maker becomes first a handmade Christmas gift for Martha, which becomes a spot on the show, which becomes a demand almost impossible to meet. The economic crash appears out of nowhere, and suddenly Josh has lost his ad job, and within weeks Brent has “dropped” from Martha Stewart. Though Josh had dreamed of making the farm a full-time reality, profit suddenly becomes a necessity. They throw themselves into perfecting the farm in obscene ways, and suddenly their different natures - Josh considers himself to be the “Oprah” who only want to live his best possible life while Brent is the “Martha,” who is happy with nothing less than perfection - drives a wedge into their relationship. I won’t ruin the end of for you. Do they make it through the winter with almost no heat? Can their skills in marketing make the farm profitable? Will they ever get over the Oprah / Martha dichotomy?

This is a story about a farm, but also about the love of architecture and beauty and an obsession with a house and it’s land. It’s about taking skills you have, and learning how to use them differently, and learning the skills you don’t. It’s about how connections to a larger economic system can help to save the economy of a small town. The Oprah / Martha comparisons get a little old, but if you can look past the gimmick, The Bucolic Plague is an engaging tale about how much work it can take to realize a dream.

Posted by Erin on 03/01 at 02:58 AM

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