On my to-do list for at least two weeks now, have been:
Blog: bread (opinion)
Blog: Puritanism and American eating habits
Blog: cook book preview
Other items on the list include, "write to dad," which means, "my dad sent me a card more than a month ago and I haven't talked to him since last August, so I really ought to do something about that, maybe write a letter."
I also apparently have to "talk" to someone about script-writing (though what I'll say, I don't know—maybe that's why I've put it off for so long), and book hotels for a trip to London in September.
And what kind of opinionated things did I have to say about bread? I believe that note was inspired by Jeffrey Steingarten's book The Man Who Ate Everything, a light and comical collection of essays, mostly from the early 1990s, by Vogue's food columnist. At some point, he bitches about bread, and if I recall, I found myself agreeing.
Bread is a major topic of discussion in this household. Being that Boyfriend is from San Francisco, home of admittedly exceptional quality sour dough, he is decidedly picky about bread. On the other hand, the New York loaf, also known as "Italian bread," takes some getting used to, as does New York coffee, especially if you are from the West coast, where thick, black java flows in the rivers, and the streets are paved with crusty baguettes (or so I've heard).
Once you get accustomed to bread in New York, it's easy to differentiate between a good hunk and a bad hunk. But travel to San Francisco, or better, continental Europe, particularly France, and a whole new world of delicious carbs opens up. Nothing beats a New York bagel, until you've had true brioche. If you don't live in new York, you probably don't even know what a bialy is, but if you can regularly get an epi baguette, with it's golden arms sticking out every which way, who the hell cares what a bialy is?
Italy has good bread, too, though I've only really been to Florence and Sienna, and in Tuscany, the bread is typically made without salt, giving it a very specific and almost peculiar identity. Belgian bread is as good and varied as in France. In Barcelona, slices of baguette are used for serving little nibbles of food, or pinxons. In Athens, miniature hula-hoops of sesame-studded breads are sold on the streets all day long, but mostly eaten for breakfast.
There a myth—and maybe it's not a myth, really—that various regions cannot produce the bread of another region due to the quality of its water. It may be true in part, but it's hardly the whole story.
Different areas and climates produce different natural bacteria, and hence, yeasts. And that's where flavor, rise, and a whole host of other properties of breads begin. Jeffrey Steingarten does a fair job of explaining in it his book, and extends that premise to include other factors, like the specific type of grain that is used in a place, and so on.
But I have to cut myself off here and not get too wrapped up in bread. After all, I really should write my dad a letter.