The other day, I had a slice of bread and butter. It was very nice.
Quite a week!
It was an especially nice slice of bread and butter because K made the bread. That’s right: Casa Alotofwind has acquired bread capabilities. A major breakthrough, and not for want of trying – we’ve both been at it for years. We’ve basically been the Iran of bread making.
K has been the front runner from the get go; the results of her attempts have been consistently better than mine. Less ‘bricky’ somehow. Less evocative of the construction sector, if you will. Mine we have regularly not even bothered to eat. Bakery in general has always been her department, as is anything that requires any degree of precision or self-control.
When I say that her bread has been better than mine I should add, in the interests of transparency and candour, that the difference has not been a marked one. Neither of us ever produced a loaf that had the necessary vim to peep over the top of its tin till this week. To be honest, given that we didn’t even eat my efforts, they might actually be described as better, in that sense. Not that the bread was better but, you know, the outcome.
With K’s we ploughed ahead. Whether this was down to their (slightly) superior appearance or whether it was a personality type thing, fuelled by a fear of saying no to her, I couldn’t possibly say.
“I don’t think it’s risen enough,” she would diagnose, because she was allowed to. “It’s shit, isn’t it?”
“Not at all! It’s really good!” I would reply, anticipating the inferno of yeast-flavoured heartburn I would be experiencing that night.
“Just the right texture…”
I can say all this now (I think) because she’s cracked it. The slice I buttered this week was cut from a loaf of honest-to-god fluffy white bread that emerged from the oven bursting out of its tin. It had risen so much in there we thought it might take off. K was so proud of herself I thought she might. I don’t blame her – there’s something primordially satisfying about being able to make bread. I imagine.
Never one to rest on her laurels, she immediately set about mastering sour dough: a process which takes days and involves leaving a bowl of whitish gloop lying around on the landing, with a plate on it to protect it from the cats, or the cats from it, or whatever. I didn’t get involved.
As it happens we’ve had a strong weekend on the home front. Those of you who find accounts of middle class domestic idylls objectionable should probably look away now – this is going to get very unpleasant for you.
It began on Saturday with the tortilla de patatas. One shouldn’t boast, of course…unless that is one makes a tortilla-to-die-for, which I do, so I am. Boasting, that is.
Caramelised onions, potatoes from Sanlucar de Barrameda – ripped rather than sliced and confit’d rather than fried – and free range eggs, allowed to cool to room temperature and served with a mound of little pimientos de Padrón sprinkled with rock salt, a salad of button mushrooms in oil, garlic and a manzanilla vinegar we buy from the barrel in a despacho de vinos in Cádiz, garnished with fresh parsley. On the side a home made alioli with the same eggs, sunflower oil for a lighter flavour and saffron. Wine from a Ronda winery, which I bought in a cheese shop on a goat farm not far from here, where we have been to meet the goats and make our own cheese.
That was Saturday. On Sunday we shifted things up a gear – this was to be the day of the sour dough bread (or not) and my challenge was to make a fidueá (paella with noodles instead of rice). We’d been to the fish shop for a little hake and some bream along with a few shrimp and once I’d got it all filleted and peeled I put two pots on a simmer, one full of a slowly reducing fish stock (carrot, onion) and the other full of the shrimp shells and a bubbling broth (carrot).
With the stocks made early in the afternoon we went down to the water to get some air and a glass of wine as the sun set over the sea, and once the evening was chilly we returned to the house to cook. K initiated a complex series of kneadings and risings before dividing the dough, filling two baking tins with it and leaving it to rise again.
I toasted the fidueá noodles in the paellera and then set them aside, using the pan to make a sofrito of onion, tomato and garlic and giving it plenty of time. When it was thick and rich, like a paste, K’s bread went in the oven and I added the fish and the noodles to the paellera along with a good glug of both stocks. Just before the noodles were cooked I dropped the shrimp in and when it was all ready I took it off the heat and covered it with foil to sit for a few minutes. While we waited I poured the separate stocks into tupperware for the freezer and K took the bread out of the oven. It looked pretty good.
With our bellies full of the fidueá – enriched with more alioli – and a glass or three of wine, we turned our attention to the cooling bread. I won’t lie to you – I was nervous. K is not known for her good grace in the face of life’s little disappointments. But I needn’t have been. A beautiful crust and all fluff on the inside, she is pickier than I am and thought it could do with more salt, but for me it was perfect: confirmation of her new found bread powers. I tried it with some jam given to us by friends of ours who have their own fruit trees in the Extremaduran countryside, this particular one made from their nisperos.
I know, I know. Could we possibly be any more loathsome…