Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Silence in the Snow

I was standing on the roof of my bakery in Santa Fe as I saw a man approaching in the snow, dressed in a long black robe with a little black cap with a red cross embroidered on it. Long white beard, old, but obviously full of live/light. After I had decended from a thin and long ladder, it turned out that his name is Father Elias, hermit of a tiny Greek Orthodox Monastery in Northern New Mexico, south of Abiqui lake.

He was collecting some of the day old Cloud Cliff bread. I gave him what was on hand, and then he asked me for a little it of the sourdough 'mama' culture from which all the Cloud Cliff artisano nativo breads come forth. The mama culture is about 35 years old now, and it goes back to my own days living as a lay monk in the Tassajara Zen Monastery, the place where I started to understand bread baking. Without further thinking I gave him some of the sticky and moist live mother dough.

A few days later I started to worry. In a way, a 'self-made' healthy sourdough culture consisting of at least 5 different micro-organisms (some say it is more like a hundred or so),
that lives on for many years (as long as it is nourished properly) is the most prized possession for a baker. Inadvertent destruction of the culture is nothing less than a disaster.

I wanted to make sure that my brief instructions for the care of the mother dough, the 'Levain', en francais, were clear enough, so I tried to call Father Elias, and when that was unsuccessful, I impulsively announced that I would make the trip up North and bring some supplies for baking bread, in particular rye, and of course, inspect the mother dough.

Shortly after I arrived --about 2 hours from Santa Fe in an intimate New Mexican valley with a year round river, Indian ruins, cattle and forests -- it began snowing..... hard.
Meanwhile in the comfortable guest kitchen, Father Elias and Father Cristian, and myself were addressing the fine points of bread baking. In a glass jar, the sourdough mama seemed happy, bubbly and very alive. I had been worried for nothing.

My car couldn't make it out somehow -- it just went up a little ways on this tiny frozen incline and then it would slide backwards, towards the monastery entrance. There were a few other distractions that I won't go into here, but to make a long story short.... I got stuck two days.

Over time I gathered all kinds of excuses.... to see some beautiful Greek Orthodox Icons and to find silence in the snow.

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