I went to Macy’s on Saturday.
Compared to the last time I was there, and to the tumult in my head, it was an oasis of stillness, a sea of calm.
Things have been a little hectic at work since we’ve been back from Italy. I got one day to re-acclimate, one day to tell my silly stories about getting stuck in the parking garage in Perugia, of nearly being trapped on the Autostrade, of running around Orvieto with my nephew like a pair of headless chickens, and then, *wham* right back into the thick of things.
I have been working on my first really big, really high profile project since getting promoted. You see, The Plan worked! The new gig isn’t that much of a change from the old one. It’s more of a readjustment. And my work on this big thing was my first big test. It’s been stressful, and thankfully, it’s over. The project launched late last night and it’s beautiful. I’m really proud of the work I did on it, but holy cows am I glad that’s over!
I find the tumult of big, chaotic stores soaked in history and cloaked in shabby gravitas soothing when my mind is full of too many thoughts. I like rambling around Tiffany’s, gawking at all the pretty baubles, staring into the depths of the lofty, dark wood ceilings, marveling at the grace with which the sales girls handle the throngs of tourists with dollars burning holes in their pockets.
I love the shoe floor at Saks. The packs of women, milling and foaming, like lions in the Coliseum, or concubines in a harem, protecting their chosen pair from usurpers. The armies of salesmen hidden behind tall stacks of boxes, like a footman in a Jane Austen novel. The bored men, reclining on silly, uncomfortable grey poufs like a pod of walruses, wishing to God there was a newspaper and that his wife would just be honest and buy the damn shoes she wants, not the ones she thinks he wants, because, seriously, he doesn’t care. Lust, betrayl, elation, boredom; it’s a lot like being at the opera.
And then there’s the men’s store at Bergdorf’s. Isaac and I stumbled in there on Saturday. There’s not a thing in there we can afford. Okay, maybe we could buy a pocket square, or the very cheapest set of cuff links, or a tie… But that’s not the point. Walking around, staring at all the beautiful craftsmanship is, especially when it happens to be a day that they’re serving free wine and very good Scotch and macarons and brie with caramelized pear and toast points with caviar all accompanied by a jazz quartet. It was so civilized and calming and delightful.
But, what about Macy’s you may be asking? Well, I went to Macy’s because I wanted to buy myself a little present, for being almost done with “the project.” I’m such an only child that way… I was standing in line, when a salesman, with massive dreads and a huge smile, waved me over to his register. I popped my chosen gift up onto the counter, and he leaned in and asked me in a lilting, Caribbean brogue, “Is this your first KitchenAid?”
I nodded, and then he dissolved into a puddle of breathless raptures, “Oh my god, you’re going to love it! I have one. I make roti and all my kids’ birthday cakes and pies for my mother and bread for our dinners! Oh, you’re just going to love it! You’re going to always be asking yourself how you ever lived without it!” I was dying. Never in a million years would I have pegged this man for a baker, and there he was, positively gushing about a kitchen appliance. It was too funny. I turned around to leave, giggling to myself, but found my way blocked. There, directly behind me, was another man.
“Oh! Is that your first KitchenAid?” he asked. I was thinking to myself, “Ohyouhavegottobekiddingme.” Uh-huh I nodded. “Oh my! You’re just going to love it! I’m a baker myself. I make a few loaves of bread a week, all different sorts. What are you going to do with it?” “Uh, bread, mostly,” I stammered. “Oh, you’re just going to love it!” he replied in his gorgeous, proper English accent.
I positively floated out of the store. I had been slightly hesitant about my purchase. Where would it live? Would I bake enough to make it pay for itself? But all my fears had been blithely pushed aside by those two gentleman’s enthusiasms.
I got home, unpacked her, (I got black caviar in case you’re wondering) and made a beeline for Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to make first. Focaccia. It’s the one bread you absolutely, positively cannot make in this book without a stand mixer, and it is, of course, the one I’ve been most hankering to make since Isaac brought the book home to me as a gift months and months ago.
It’s a very wet dough that should, as she puts it, resemble melted mozzarella when it is done. It requires 20 minutes of “kneading” during which it forms all sorts of mesmerizing patterns as the gluten activates and relaxes, throwing out strings of dough and then gathering them back in. I stood transfixed, staring into the bowl, rocking with the rhythm of the mixer the whole time.
And then it rested. While the dough was rising and relaxing, I made garlic confit to tuck into little pockets of the dough. The garlic was delicious, sweet, piquant and yummy, but it is the oil that remains that is the real prize.
As the bread was baking, we used the garlic oil to dress a salad with a dash of sherry vinegar and a drizzle of lemon juice. Holy moley is that good! I only wish the oil had still been a little warm. It would make an excellent stand in for bacon grease in a warm spinach salad. Yep, it’s that good. It rivals bacon.
And the bread? Amazing! I don’t think the stand mixer (she really needs a name) has paid for herself yet, but if everything I make with it comes out this well, she will soon. The focaccia was laced with giant, fragrant bubbles amidst the pockets of garlic and spiky, toasted splinters of rosemary. I wish I could eat it for breakfast every morning.
I’d stink, but I’d be very, very happy.
No recipe for the focaccia as it’s not mine, but head below the jump for instructions for making Garlic Confit.
prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes
- 30 or so cloves of Garlic, peeled
- Olive Oil, about 1 cup
Place the peeled cloves of garlic in a small pot. Pour enough oil over to cover all the cloves. Turn the burner to low and bring the oil to a simmer. Turn the burner down as low as it will go and partially cover. Allow the cloves to cook this way, shaking every now and then to ensure they’re doing alright, until the cloves being to pull away from their clear, papery exterior and become golden. Turn off the heat, remove the cloves with a slotted spoon to a plate to cool and allow the oil to cool.
Use the cloves in focaccia, pasta, or anywhere roasted garlic is called for. Use the oil for salad dressings, pasta sauces, for dressing vegetables, as a dipping sauce or perfume, just be sure to use them quickly.
Garlic is very low in acids and can therefore be a good home for the boulinium toxin. Use the garlic confit right away, and make sure to refrigerate the oil and use within a week or two!
Adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levey Beranbaum.