The Plan

4 Dec

It’s December. Ack!

Lions

Who let that happen without checking with me first? And how did it happen? Wasn’t it just October? Did November slip past without my noticing?

I mean, yes, I did see them putting up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I saw it with my own eyes. You’d think that would have been a strong hint that the holiday season was approaching. But no, it didn’t register.

Then there’s the Chrazy Chanukah karaoke-fest that my co-worker Jane has planned. Did that get me to acknowledge the inevitable? Oh heck no.

Perhaps it was the restraint that my neighbors showed in putting up their Christmas decorations. The folk here in Bay Ridge are crazy for holidays. They dress their brownstones in the finery of even the most underrepresented holiday. I had mentally predicted that they would be incapable of not decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but I was wrong. In fact it was only this past weekend that many of them started gussying things up, and to gorgeous effect, too, might I add.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Christmas doesn’t stress me out. I’ve got a small family, no children, don’t entertain often or get invited to many parties and, if I may say so, am a talented gifter. So the actual holiday is a breeze. What does send me into squeaky, unpleasant Ann-mode however is the end of the year at work and hoo boy, is that coming along real quick.

There’ll be meetings, both of the planning and rah! rah! variety, a few cocktail parties and the part that sends me into spirals of depression, the receiving of bonus checks. There’s something so symbolic to that one white envelope with its crinkly pane of translucent paper. It’s the culmination of 12 months of hard, hard work, late nights, weekends spoiled and tears of frustration cried.

But this year I’m not going to let whatever number is printed there bother me because it’s all part of my master plan. And why am I telling you this? Because the ever eloquent, sweet and thoughtful BlogLily asked me (and many others) to tell her about how we plan. It’s a good time of year to think about this, don’t you agree?

Ice Skating, Bryant Park

I’m not a big planner when it comes to the small stuff. On weekends, I’ll write up an agenda of things I’d like to accomplish, but if they don’t happen, it’s no big deal. This is how I cook, too. I’ll put together a recipe in my head with a list of ingredients and if they all make it into the pot, brava! If they don’t, I ask myself, “Did dinner taste good?” If the answer is yes, I’m happy. If the answer is no, I make a mental note and try not to repeat the mistake the next time.

But a few months ago I decided it was time to work on a big plan, the master plan, the path to a better future (that sounds so communist). I decided it was time to get serious about my career and to make other people serious about it too.

What was my plan? It’s rather mundane really. I set myself goals. Revolutionary, no? But what I feel is even more important, I got a haircut and started dressing better. You know that old chestnut, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” well ladies, I do believe it’s an oldie and a goodie for a reason. People take you more seriously when you dress the part. They’re more willing to have you meet important people, delegate responsibility and offer you chances. And to top it all off, it makes me feel better about myself.

Santa & the Shoppers

So, has it worked? I’m not sure yet, but I have hope. All signs point to good things. And if not? Well, I guess it’s on to Plan B. What Plan B might be though, is anyone’s guess.

There’s one thing for sure that I’m planning though, and that’s working on two new tweaks I’ve developed for another old chestnut, Bittman’s no-knead bread. The first tweak was intentional; I substituted whey for water. It’s a good tweak, if you just happen to have cups and cups of whey in your freezer. It enhances aroma, flavor and color rather nicely.

The second tweak was definitely a mistake that turned out to be (possibly) a revolution. I kneaded the no-knead bread.

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

You see, the starter, or poolish, or sponge or whatever-you-want-to-call-it I made was too wet, but I didn’t want to waste it. So after the first rise, I tipped it out onto my heavily flowered board and gently kneaded flour into the amorphous blob of goo until it resembled the most gorgeous, springy, alive feeling dough I’ve ever handled. Then I tucked it into a ball, placed it in a bowl, let it rise two more hours and baked it.

It’s the loaf I’ve been dreaming about. Fragrant. Beautiful. Tasty. Perfect. Without further testing I can’t tell if it was a fluke or if this is a revolution. Might this new step, kneading the kneadless, be the way for the stand mixerless masses to make perfectly structured loaves of European-quality bread?

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

Only time and testing will tell. But I plan to work on it.

20 Responses to “The Plan”

  1. K December 4, 2007 at 11:08 am #

    I can’t wait to hear the results of any repeat tests. Do keep us informed, because that bread looks amazing!

  2. Jennifer Hess December 4, 2007 at 11:51 am #

    Swoon. That’s gorgeous!

    And I am also working on A Plan. Big changes ahead in 2008. Here’s to a good year for all of us!

  3. Ann December 4, 2007 at 4:18 pm #

    I STILL haven’t tried that bread! I’m so ashamed!

    Yours looks amazing. Wanna know what you think the difference is next time you make it…

  4. Lydia December 4, 2007 at 5:38 pm #

    Beautiful bread — please do test and let us know the results. And good luck with your plan — sounds like you are optimistic and that is wonderful!

  5. Clumsy December 4, 2007 at 6:47 pm #

    Wow the bread looks great, nice tweaking! I too am planning, little things like blow drying my hair more often and what not… it does make me feel good to accomplish little things like that! :)

  6. Anne December 4, 2007 at 8:11 pm #

    Good luck with your plan, Ann.
    I’m a big fan
    You have elan
    And you can make flan

    OK, that was a lousy rhyme, and I don’t even know if you can make flan, but if you can make delicious-looking bread I figured a Spanish custard would be a cinch.

    I totally agree with your dress plan. It really works. And if it doesn’t, well, at least you look like a million bucks.

  7. Anne December 4, 2007 at 8:12 pm #

    PS-I love that first picture with the lions. Is that in Bay Ridge?

  8. ann December 4, 2007 at 8:38 pm #

    K — My pleasure! I can’t wait til this weekend when I can try it again. Who woulda ever thought of kneading the no-knead ;-)

    Jen — Hear! Hear! I can’t wait to hear about your plan! You should stop by BlogLily’s site, I bet you’d love it. She’s so awesome.

    Ann — Oh you should try the bread. It’s delicious and so satisfying. (and btw, how confusing is it that you’re Ann, I’m ann and there’s Anne with an “e”?)

    Lydia — I’ve finally figured out (kind of late in life) that being optimistic is fun! Thanks for the compliments, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the bread!

    Clumsy — Oh how I wish I could blow dry my hair! We don’t have a plug in the bathroom which scuppers that whole shebang. It would be such a luxury!

    Hi Annie!!! How’s the little man? I love your rhyme! Thanks for that, you made me smile :-) And those lions? Every house on my block (both sides!) has them at the top of their stoops. Amazing no? I love them!

  9. Susan in Italy December 5, 2007 at 6:22 am #

    God luck on the work plan! I love the looks of your bread – in my experience the kneading changes nothing but the NYTimes recipe is a lot wetter than that I make so I’m thinking it was the extra flour that did the trick. Now, you got to dish about Chanukah karaoke! What does one sing?

  10. mary December 5, 2007 at 7:31 am #

    Sounds like your plan is a good one. As for the bread, I think the cooking it in the pot part is the thing that makes the bread so beautiful, but the actual recipe needs a lot of modification to make really good bread. I was thinking about doing a post on this too.

  11. Homesick Texan December 5, 2007 at 9:33 am #

    I still haven’t tried the no-knead because I like to knead. I like your take on it, and perhaps it’s time to finally try it by making it your way. And I can’t believe it’s December either–where did this year go?

  12. Christina December 5, 2007 at 8:34 pm #

    I’ve had reallly good luck with no-knead, but your idea looks like a way to give it that little sumpin’-sumpin’. I’m also glad to hear your work and other plans have been coming to fruition, even if it means this time of year is very stressful. Hang in there. The holidays will come, thank God.

    Have a happy day.

  13. Will B December 5, 2007 at 10:48 pm #

    Told you that you should try kneading!!! Made some myself today! Great brisk Berkshire winter day – snow flurries, 24 degrees, and fresh homemade bread in the kitchen!

  14. Toni December 6, 2007 at 2:14 am #

    Oh my – This looks SO much easier than the bread I just tackled! Wanna trade? I love your tinkering habits! (Lift a glass and toast the chef/baker!)

    And about dressing the part? True, true! People DO judge a book by it’s cover, so periodically a new “dust jacket” is in order! ;-)

  15. ann December 6, 2007 at 8:23 am #

    Susan — Karaoke is tonight. I’m dreading it with every fiber of my body… I hate karaoke. It’s like the movie “About A Boy” where Hugh Grant’s character is appalled by people who close their eyes when they sing… There’s a degree of that to it. Ah, well, who knows, maybe I’ll get in the spirit, and if I do, you can bet it’ll be a song by Susanna Hoffs ;-)

    Mary — Oh, I ‘d love to see how you tinker with it! I mean, no pressure… But.. You know!

    Hi Lisa — Zany isn’t it? I like kneading too. I think that’s why I attempted the rescue ;-)

    Christina — Today’s the first meeting, followed by the karaoke and it’s going to barely break 30 degrees today. It’s going to be a trying day, so thanks for the good wishes :-)

    Will B — That sounds so dreamy! The flurries here were beautiful too, but no where near as beautiful as they were in the Berkshires I bet. Someday… someday!

    Toni — I can’t wait to pop over and see what kind of bread you made! I’d love to trade, but it would be never get there unstale ;-) I love the dust jacket metaphor! Fantastic!

  16. s'kat December 6, 2007 at 4:44 pm #

    Kneading is where the flavour is! Plus, it’s just fun.

    The holidays are sneaking up on me, too. I seem to have lost the last week of November somehow.

  17. izzy's mama December 7, 2007 at 12:35 am #

    Please reveal why it is that you have whey hanging around the house? I think I might be able to get some from the raw milk farmer..

  18. ann December 7, 2007 at 7:34 am #

    s’kat — I agree. I’ve become a great fan of kneading! Good luck with the holidays. We can do it!

    Izzy’s Mama — From making cheese of course! We had a pot luck at work a few weeks ago and I made some goat cheese and froze the leftover whey. I’ve now got enough for at least 4 more loaves :-)

  19. bloglily December 7, 2007 at 1:06 pm #

    I have been wanting to try this for such a long time (the no-knead bread, I mean — and the other supposedly even simpler version that was in the NYT a month ago). It looks so lovely and I’ll bet your house smells great.

    I’m with you on the haircut and the clothing. It’s as much for other people as it is for yourself, I think. When I feel like I look the part, then I find myself more easily acting the part.

    2008 is going to be a wonderful year.

  20. Bruce Conway April 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm #

    I did exactly the same tweak, and it works extremely well – the bread of your dreams. It’s a very European/french texture, tough, crunchy, good with wine and cheese:

    – darker than conventional white bread (beige inside)
    – springier texture with a pronounced Swiss-cheese effect
    – a noisier crust (you can hear it crunch) – nice
    – works well in a couronne or crown shape as well

    I’m trying it with a starter, to see if it improves the taste.

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