Living Without Paper Towels

cloth napkin

As I started reversing the process and started getting the factory out of my pantry, I started to think about all the things in my kitchen which people didn’t have before my grandparents were alive. Coincidentally, as I was having these thoughts, I happened to see a documentary film called Greedy Lying Bastards which connected the Koch brothers with commonly purchased products like paper towels. These two diverging trains of thought finally pushed me over the edge and made me give up paper towels.

That was more than a year ago but I’ve done it. I’ve completely given up paper towels and here is what you need if you want to do the same.

Stop buying paper towels.

You can’t stop until you stop. I tried minimizing the use of paper towels, but the household dependency on them didn’t end until I stopped buying them.

Buy more kitchen towels.

If you want to live without paper towels, you are going to need more kitchen towels. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be 100% cotton and if you want to maximize absorbency, you should stop using fabric softener. You may want to keep two kinds of towels, one for cleaning and one for everyday use, but I didn’t do that until after the first year or so. Now, I keep one stack of older, more stained, cleaning towels, and one stack of newer, less stained, kitchen towels for every day use.

Create a place to hang towels in use.

This should be near the sink or near wherever people will reach for when they would reach for a paper towel. I have hooks for three towels which are in use and one is generally sitting on the counter below, ready for easy access and use during miscellaneous kitchen tasks.

Create a place to hang dirty towels where they can dry before laundering.

If you don’t want smelly laundry, you need somewhere to hang towels which are too dirty to use, but too wet to put in the laundry. You will need to train the people in your kitchen to put the dirty towels in the right place where they don’t get used again until clean. Towels which have touched the floor, have cleaned up raw meat messes, or which have been used a lot should be hung to dry but should not be used again. I have three hooks in a prominent location for towels in use and four hooks for dirty towels in a more out of the way location.

Buy cloth napkins.

You may want to buy one kind for every day use and one kind for more formal dinners, but either way, you will need enough to replace paper towels or paper napkins at every meal. How many you will need will depend on the size of your family and I recommend 100% cotton napkins for their more natural feel and for their better absorbency.

Use cookie sheets and cooling racks for draining bacon and fried foods.

I didn’t think of this until I stopped buying paper towels, but a cooling rack on a cookie sheet is actually better for draining fried food than a paper towel on a platter. It prevents condensation and keeps the food much crisper than the paper towel alternative you are used to. I tried newspaper once, but the chemicals on the print grossed me out.

Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.

I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Esty store owner Morgen sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store.

Use terry cloth towels for washing windows and mirrors.

Wash off the dirt and mess with a wet cloth and buff dry with a dry terry cloth towel. You can’t get a streak-free clean with a damp towel, but you can buff a mirror or window streak-free with a dry terry cloth towel. You don’t need paper towels or newspaper, and you don’t even need window cleaner.

Use kitchen towels for patting dry meat.

Anyone who cooks meat well knows a dry muscle is necessary for a good sear. So, pat your meat dry with a kitchen towel, just like you would with a paper towel. Hand wash the towel in the sink with some dish soap and hang it to dry with the dirty towels. Red meat will stain your towels but you can keep two kinds of towels to contain the staining.

When you make a horrible mess, sacrifice a towel or two.

Sometimes, you make a horrible mess, and sometimes that means you have to throw out a towel or two. My first real mess after giving up paper towels was a quart jar of sugar-mint syrup dropped from waist-high, right in front of an open fridge. It was horrible, and there was glass everywhere, and there was a house full of people waiting for dinner when it slipped out of my hand. The first words out of my best friend’s mouth were, “I bet you wish you hadn’t given up paper towels now!” I swept up the mess, broken glass and all, with a couple towels and threw them away without a second thought. I did the same when I dropped a jar of honey and I am sure there will be other horrible messes in my future.

Good luck!

Giving up paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household, but it is possible. It takes a certain amount of retraining, but humans lived for thousands of years without paper towels, just like they lived without pasteurization and microwaves and saran wrap. You don’t realize how many times a day you reach for a paper towel until you actually stop buying them, but there is something so gratifying about not putting them in your shopping cart ever again. Since I gave up paper towels, I have also given up plastic storage bags and saran wrap and I’ve never owned a microwave. You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.

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Defining Real Food

real_food

In my first post about reversing the process, I explained that I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I promised to explain what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible. Like I said before, this is a little hard to talk about because I really don’t want to offend anyone but the commonly accepted definition of food now includes what I would call real food and what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances.”

Humans have been producing food for thousands of years without synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Humans were gathering for elaborate feasts long before scientists were engineering food in laboratories, and still today when you have healthy soil, you can build a sustainable farm. You can raise healthy animals for food, milk and eggs, and you can grow all sorts of food bearing plants, depending on your geographic location. You can grow food for yourself and if you choose, you can grow food for other people. It’s the circle of life and it includes people and animals and seeds and plants and soil and water.

We give scientists credit for all sorts of advances in food and agriculture technology, but we are presuming a lot when we call each new industrial process an advance. Science has given us synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and farms which can grow an enormous amounts of one thing with relatively little manpower. Science has given us pasteurization, hydrogenation, homogenization, irradiation, and shelf-stabilization. Science has given us food that can be mass produced and stored for long periods. Science has given us factories which produce packaged foods in numerous varieties using very few real ingredients which are highly processed and mixed with a lot of different kinds of chemicals. Science has given us food that is convenient, predictable and loaded with flavor, never mind if it’s frequently artificial. Science has given us food which requires no work if you don’t count the dollars you pay for it or the non-communicable diseases you might develop from eating it. I don’t mean to hate on science, but science has given us food our forefathers wouldn’t recognize as food. Science has given us food that is not real food.

Real food is food someone from one hundred years ago would recognize. Real food does not require chemicals or laboratories or factories. Real food is nurtured by real people living real lives on healthy soil. Real food comes from farms that grow more than one thing. Real food does not come in colorful packages with ingredients listed in fine print. Real food doesn’t require any fine print.

Since real food and not real food have been so co-mingled in our lifetime, I have provided two lists below. The first list includes real food, which I try to eat more of. The second list includes edible food-like substances which are not real food and which I try to eat less of. I’ve eaten all the things on the second list and I used to eat them all with regularity. Now, while I make plenty of allowances out the world, I make far fewer allowances at home, but reversing the process has taken me more than a decade and it wasn’t one single choice I made one day.

Gradually, over the years, I’ve started eating and cooking more real food. It’s not as convenient, but real food is not about convenience, it’s about nourishment. Real food is nourishing not just in the ingestion, but in the preparation and each time we make a choice in that direction we are supporting ancient traditions.

In my next post, I’ll write about my first steps towards real food and my journey down this path, but for now here are two lists which will help clarify what I mean when I say I try to eat more real food. Neither of these lists are complete, but they are a good start and should give you the idea.

Real food includes:

  • Organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, rices and nuts
  • Meat and eggs from organic pasture raised animals
  • Raw whole milk and cream from pasture raised cows
  • Butter made from raw cream
  • Oils from olives and nuts
  • Naturally rendered animal fats
  • Fresh and dried beans
  • Home canned vegetables and preserves
  • Fish which swam in wild waters
  • Bone broths
  • Naturally fermented foods
  • Cheese and dairy products made from raw milk

Not real food includes:

  • Hydrogenated oils of all kinds
  • Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Natural flavors (which are not natural)
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Other pasteurized foods
  • Chemically grown fruits, vegetables and grains
  • Industrially canned food
  • Irradiated food
  • Meat and eggs from industrially raised animals
  • Farmed fish
  • Anything bleached, homogenized or irradiated
  • Cheese and meat products that require the word product because the aren’t actually cheese or meat
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Preservatives like sodium benzoate potassium benzoate
  • Food grown from genetically modified seeds

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Cherry Pie Recipe

cherry_pie

As promised in my last post, and in celebration of spring, here’s my cherry pie recipe. It’s a short season so I’m on a mission to see how many pies I can squeeze into 2015.

Ingredients – Pie filling:

2 1/2 lbs cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Ingredients – Pie Crust:

For the top crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

For the bottom crust:

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

NOTE:  For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

Instructions for the pie crust:

Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.

NOTE:  I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.

Instructions for the pie filling:

Pit cherries using a cherry pitter and place in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to cherries in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.

Instructions for the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.

NOTE:  I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

#happyspring

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LA Does To Have Seasons

jacaranda blooming

Los Angeles is accused of being a lot of things which I cannot refute. Los Angeles can be deeply superficial and way too many people get way to much plastic surgery. The traffic here is ridiculous and despite how many people moved here from places which actually have weather, no one here remembers how to drive in the rain. This city does make people soft and there’s nothing I can say to argue with any of that.

However, many people complain about the lack of seasons which supposedly is what drives them back to all the different places from where they came. But LA does to have seasons and this one is my favorite. Spring here is about cherry pie and stone fruit. Spring here is about jacaranda blooming and pelicans flying north in awe inspiring bunches. Spring provides warmer temperatures in the coastal micro-climates and for those of us on the far west side each year is marked by another stretch of May grey which sometimes extends into June gloom.

We don’t have snow to deal with or large variances in temperatures to mark the passing of the year but we do have spring, summer, fall and winter here, and some of us do revel in each. We have trees that turn colors and leaves that fall. We have all sorts of produce which cycle through abundance as one season turns into the next. For me, the seasons here are more about food than anything else, but there are signs of passing time all around Los Angeles.

Even if they are too busy or self-centered to notice, people should stop complaining that LA doesn’t have seasons. They should admit that wasn’t why they left LA to go back to where they were from, and they should pick one of the other reasons to hate LA as an excuse for why they didn’t stay.

Tomorrow, I promise to post my cherry pie recipe so you can take time to revel in the small things life has to offer. And in the meanwhile, I’m going to go enjoy this beautiful spring day in Venice Beach.

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A Few of My Favorite Sentences

book page

I read a lot but occasionally I read a sentence that stays with me – and I’m pretty sure I just stumbled across another one. I recently read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles who is new to me. I made a sort of random reach for the bookshelf but I got lucky and I am sure I will never forget this sentence. In describing a scene of forbidden attraction between two characters in Victorian England, Fowles wrote the following five simple words which I found running through my mind long after I put down the novel.

“The moment overcame the age.”

My other favorite sentences include the first sentence of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

“Mother died today.”

This sentence which appears multiple times in The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

“Shit or get off the pot.”

This sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur.”

And then, there is one really long sentence in A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was going to include it in this post but I went back to look at it and it’s nine hundred words long. I even typed it all, but it’s not nearly as awesome out of context as it is when you stumble upon it. I’ll never forget where I was when I read that sentence, and found myself flipping back to find where it started. In the edition I have, it starts on page 323 and ends on page 325 and it is really great when you get to it.

Do you have any favorite sentences, sentences you’ll never forget?

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No Kids Does Not Equal No Life

peaches

<rant>

I read a recent article in Fortune by Katharine Zaleski, a former executive turned working mom who felt the need to apologize to all the mothers she ever worked with. With her honesty, Zaleski brought light to an issue to which all working moms can relate but her article got me thinking about the flip side. Unlike Zaleski, I’ve never been judgmental of working mothers, but as a woman who has chosen not to have kids, I feel like I pay a different kind of price in the workplace.

I’ve been really lucky when it comes to the companies I’ve worked for and most of them have gone out of their way for parents – men and women – who need to adjust schedules or take time off. Rightly, companies treat family time as sacred and no one complains if someone, mother or father, needs to leave at a certain time, or arrive at a certain time, or come in late on Thursday’s because that’s the morning he or she volunteers in the classroom. Personally, I go out of my way for people with kids so they can do whatever they need to do as parents.

But, why is a person’s personal time more sacred if they have kids? What if I would like to eat dinner at the same time every night? Or what if I’m working on a book on the side and would like to keep to an evening writing schedule? Or what if I really love to do something and I like to go home and do it after I’ve put in my eight hours? Why aren’t any of those things sacred?

No, I don’t have kids. But I do have a life and parts of it are really important to me. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for wanting to go home at the end of the day or not wanting to work on the weekend. No one should, whether you have kids or not. Though I agree companies should go out of their way for working parents, no one’s work-life balance should be more sacred than anyone else’s.

Ironically, the publication of this posts was delayed by one of those perfect storm weeks at work which made me drop everything and buckle down in a way that would be very difficult to do if I did have kids. But, I must say, this post was not inspired by this last week with three deadlines and too much work to do. This is an issue that I notice every now and then in subtle ways which does annoy me but which does not leave me begrudging working parents like Katharine Zaleski.

Unlike some people, I have not forgone child rearing so I can work more hours and make more money. I have forgone child rearing because there are things I love to do and those things are not necessarily the things that pay the bills.

</rant>

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Reversing The Process

real food on a counter

I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I am passionate about where my food comes from. I’m a regular at my local farmers market and all of the dairy products in my fridge are raw, straight from the cow. I make the vast majority of the food I eat from scratch. I even make all my own bread and all my own butter, and gradually, over time, that has become normal to me. I don’t prescribe to any particular school of culinary or dietary thought, but I have become very discerning regarding exactly what qualifies as real food.

I make generous exceptions so that I can continue to live and eat like a relatively normal person in public, but I make far fewer exceptions in my own home and I eat out far less frequently than most urban-dwelling women in their thirties. I bring my lunch to work more days than I don’t and I’m an anomaly around the office with my homemade lunches packed in thermoses, mason jars and waxed paper. To some people, the food I eat is dangerously decadent but I don’t believe in the kind of low-fat American diet which so many people swear by, doctors included.

For me, it’s about real food. It’s about food that was grown and prepared the way food was grown and prepared before the industrial revolution. It’s about food that has not been fucked with by corporations and people in laboratories. It’s about the kind of food my grandparents grew and raised and fed me. It’s about a way of life that existed for centuries before convenience was the driving force in the choices we make during those three times of day when we are supposed to feed ourselves.

For me, it’s about fruits and vegetables which grew because someone took the time to cultivate and care for them, not because the correct balance of chemicals was used to propagate them and mass produce them. It’s about meat that came from animals which ate the kind of food animals were meant to eat and lived the way animals were meant to live, not meat that came from some cow which some corporation kept alive with chemicals long enough to kill. It’s about knowing where my food comes from and what went into it before it gets to my table. It’s about meals which take time but which provide nourishment of many kinds. It’s about keeping alive ancient nourishing traditions which are dangerously close to extinction.

For me, food is not about convenience but that’s not always easy to explain to my peers, many of whom are so conditioned to make choices based upon convenience they have little awareness of such. When asked, depending on the context, I do my best to explain my choices in an appropriately concise fashion, but it’s hard for me because there is no single word that describes the way I eat. People know what you’re talking about, when you tell them you’re vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free, but people don’t know what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible.

And the hardest part comes when I have to explain what I mean by real food. I don’t want to offend or criticize and I don’t usually have time to explain the whole story of how I gradually slid down a slippery slope away from processed food and towards real food. And the way I eat challenges many beliefs which have become ingrained in the last few generations. It’s hard, for example, to explain what I mean by real food to someone who has been raised to believe that portion-controlled frozen lunches heated up in the microwave qualify as, “being good.”

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s hard for me not to stick out and lately, more and more people have been asking me about why I eat the way I eat and how I cook the way I cook. I think of it as reversing the process and here on my blog, piece by piece, I’m going to try to explain what that means. In my next cooking post, I’ll define what I mean by real food and after that I’ll explain how I got started on this path.

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Dear Venice Drivers

VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIADear people who don’t live in Venice but who try to navigate the back streets anyway:

Please accept this blog post as a desperate plea from a girl who lives her life pretty much AWOL, which in LA-speak means Always West of Lincoln. I live in the heart of Venice and I work in Santa Monica and I only venture East of Lincoln Blvd when I absolutely have to. And now that spring is here, I once again find myself frustrated by those of you who don’t live on the far west side but who try to navigate the back streets of Venice anyway. I know that traffic is worse this time of year, but please, please , I beg you, don’t venture off the beaten path to beat the traffic or find parking.

First of all, you’re probably going to get lost because Venice is not an easy little rectangle like Santa Monica. We’ve got the canals and we’ve got Abbot Kinney Boulevard which throws everything off on a diagonal. The streets aren’t numbered for your driving convenience, and more importantly, we have these funny streets which are two way streets even though they don’t actually fit two cars side by side. And this is why I’m begging you to stay on the streets you know.

I’ve only lived in Venice for a decade, so I can remember what it was like to be perplexed by these two-way streets which should, in theory, be one-way streets. But now, now that I’ve lived in Venice this long, I use these streets like a native to get away from all the traffic on all the streets you’ve heard of caused by all the people who like to venture to the far west side, but who think it’s too chilly, or too expensive, to live here. Now, I need these side streets to get by. I need these side streets to run errands on the weekends and I need these streets to get to work every day now that the soon-to-be end of the Expo Line has traffic in downtown Santa Monica entirely effed up. These side streets, despite how perplexing they are, are my life blood. I zip around on them in my compact car with my windows down and my music blaring and it’s all well and good until I meet one of you on one of those streets on which you cannot figure out how to drive.

Somehow, people who live in Venice know what to do on these streets. We use the drive-way no parking zones and that convenient no parking zone right before a stop sign to politely pull over and let the other person by. Or, if necessary, we cross the street and stop far enough behind the parked car in front of us so the other person can pull out and we can pull past. We know when to let the wrong person go at a stop sign just to make it easier for everyone to get past each other and we know when we both can drive towards the center of the street at the same time because there are two drive-way no parking zones in the middle of the block which will allow us to path each other unscathed. I used to wonder how people did it, but now I’m one of those people and there’s nothing more annoying than one of you people who freezes in panic at the wheel because the street you just turned down seemed like a two-way street until you made the turn and saw a car coming at you in a space that is not in fact wide enough for two cars.

If necessary, we wait patiently for the other person to drive half a block and we don’t get all uptight about it because we are not just trying to avoid traffic or looking for parking, we live here. We wouldn’t live in Venice if we didn’t have a little joie de vivre and we don’t have any trouble at all navigating our far too narrow side streets until one of you people shows up and panics. It’s true, you can find yourself in Venice on two-way street that is not wide enough for two cars, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not so hot on the west side so you can turn off your air conditioning, open your window, breathe in the ocean air and chill out for a minute.

And better yet, you could stay on the streets you know. Stay on the streets you’ve heard of like Pacific and Venice and Rose and stay off the streets you’ve never heard of like Riviera and Andalusia. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking.

Sincerely,
From a west-side girl

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The Highest Road On Kickstarter

aubrey_at_the_beach

On Monday, September 1st, I had the privilege of meeting Aubrey Benmark at the Santa Monica Pier, at the very end of Route 66. It was a privilege  because Aubrey has spent the last five months walking across America. Yes, you read that correctly, walking across America.

aubrey_end_of_the_trail

Aubrey funded her trip on Kickstarter and The Brooklyn Paper wrote a great article about her before she set out from her former home in Brooklyn, New York. And after all those days on the road, with so few conveniences, all Aubrey had to share were stories of human kindness. Aubrey will be sticking around LA to finish her book, The Highest Road, and I look forward to reading the whole story which could not possibly be told over a dinner or two.

People like Aubrey exist on this planet to remind us all what is possible. Aubrey had an idea and she did it. Some people thought she was crazy, but she felt a calling to do something drastically different than her status quo and she did not shy away from that idea. I’ve known Aubrey since she was seventeen and I feel increasingly fortunate that our paths in life happened to cross.

What crazy idea do you have that you haven’t had the gumption to pursue? Think about it, and ask yourself, what would Aubrey do?

You can follow Aubrey on instagram @zodiacguru17 and on facebook at facebook.com/aubrey.benmark.


Making Your Own Bread

bread

I have been making all of my own bread for years and the cooking question people most frequently ask is, “How do you make bread?” Everyone is always expecting some complicated answer, but it’s really only a few clicks away. The following book – Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day – changed my life and helped me get the factory out of my bread box. I have baked many of the recipes in the following book but the rustic boule and the ciabatta are my every-day sort of breads. Although I don’t make it nearly as often, my favorite is the cinnamon raisin bread which takes a little practice but it well worth the effort.

artisan_bread_in_five_minutes_a_day_cover

Depending on your kitchen, you may need to purchase a few other items in order to embark upon this bread baking adventure, but nothing you can’t purchase inexpensively on Amazon. You will need a baking stone, a dough bucket and a pizza peel, but you can get away without the oven thermometer or the dough scraper.

Someday, I will post the video I made for my Dad about how to make bread, but for now, this reference will have to do. This book really is all you need to wow your friends and family with professional quality bread, and there’s nothing to it but to do it.