“A remarkable thing about microbes—and it is only remarkable from our anthropocentric point of view—is the coöperation among them,” he told me. “We in the macroscopic world need organic material as food, and oxygen to oxidize it, to get energy. You, a cow, a giraffe—we’re all the same. We may not be in each other’s way if one eats fish and the other grass, but little coöperation is possible, considering our metabolic needs.” Bacterial metabolism, on the other hand, is staggeringly diverse: some microbes eat ammonium, some eat hydrogen; some breathe sulfates, some breathe iron. Often, microbes are interdependent: what is waste for one is essential for another.
If antibiotics are indeed weapons, then humans are latecomers to an aeons-old arms race, whose rules remain opaque to us. “It is absurd to believe that we could ever claim victory in a war against organisms that outnumber us by a factor of 10 to the 22nd power, that outweigh us by a factor of 10 to the 8th power, that have existed for a thousand times longer than our species, and that can undergo as many as five hundred thousand generations during one of our generations,” several scientists argued in a recent paper. The arsenals in question took bacteria billions of years to develop. “In contrast, antibiotics were not discovered by humans until the first half of the twentieth century.”
From The Unseen in this week's New Yorker
Talal, who lives in Kuwait and works as an architect, and I share an obsession with baking sourdough bread. He and I met at a baking class a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch ever since. He travels a fair bit for his job and his Instagram feed is stuffed with exquisite photos of breads in Japan, Norway, Eastern Europe and North America. He is a fine source of ideas for new recipes, one of which I am going to try this week.
Talal runs a microbakery and sells exclusively through Instagram - @33breadlane (no website - how efficient!), using an "On demand" delivery service that handles payments and logistics for his customers around Kuwait City.
Smoked Spelt and Rye
Talal mentioned that he had purchased some oak-smoked rye berries from a mill in the UK and that got me thinking about trying this ingredient out in a sourdough loaf. Michael Pollan writes extensively about the grip that cooking with smoke has on folks in Cooked. Incidentally, the book has been turned into a Netflix documentary series and has a good chapter on bread. Many of you no doubt enjoy BBQ (Not grilling) and some of you may slow cook yourself. I guess if we cannot get our carcinogens the old fashioned way, we should at least be able to consume them in a way that tastes fine.
it took a few rounds to figure out how best to smoke grains: I now soak the berries for 24 hours to soften them and then spread them on a screen in my Weber grill. I build a small fire (5 - 10 briquettes) off the side and feed with hardwood sawdust, leaving the berries to smoke for 6 - 8 hours. The berries pick up a fair bit of the smoke and the kettle is running hot enough that they end up somewhat toasted.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a bread made with 20% fresh ground smoked spelt and rye, with white flour and some high extraction for umph.
Let's see what you think of the resulting bread.
Your Canadian Baker