I wake up these days to a bed that belonged to my parents for fourteen years. There’s usually a dog breathing deep sighs in my ear. I found a ladybug on my lampshade when I grabbed for the cup of water on my nightstand. I couldn’t take a drink; everything felt contaminated for a second.
My mother bought lace and made curtains from them. My mother makes me coffee and keeps it warm in a thermos for me. My mother wrote me a note this week that told me she loved me and she’d miss me. She called me on her lunch break to makes sure I was staying warm. “California is pretty hot, isn’t it?” she said between bites of her sandwich. “Don’t want you to freeze because your father’s too cheap to buy more gas.”
I didn’t freeze. I’ve worn two pairs of socks in the house; but I haven’t frozen yet. Instead I spent a day ripping clementines with my fingernails. I ate a chocolate bar for lunch. I drank too much coffee and shared three beers with my dad. I forgot to blow out a candle and ate leftover pizza for two days. I’m letting the days pass me by for right now, I’m savoring it slowly. Letting it dissolve on my tongue like cotton candy, like the snow that gets stuck in my mother’s eyelashes, like the echoing “I love you” outside of Terminal A that hangs in my mind like a heartbeat going still.
I keep myself busy; I have to. I keep waking up from dreamless sleeps to the sound of a space heater and hardly anything else. I thought I heard the snow fall one morning, gentle and slumbering as my parents’ Labrador. It was just my mother running the water for dishes. I set four alarms and slept through them all. I still woke up at eight. The coffee in the Thermos burned my tongue and I kept my glasses on until noon.
I keep myself busy. Sometimes I think about the past. Who I used to be. How I used to build space ships from cardboard boxes and hold my breath in the bathtub, letting my ears pop and my heartbeat get louder until the soap got in my eyes or the water grew cold. I was alone a lot back then, awkward and closeted. I didn’t have friends and it was easier to stay hidden indoors most days. I read a lot. I changed a lot, too.
But I’m back in the old farmhouse, with its closets too small and its ceiling fans won’t be dusted until the Spring. Since I last left, I’ve been a fiancé, unemployed, a law student, and an outpatient. I’ve had temper tantrums and an academic paper published. A few more nosebleeds and a few less wisdom teeth. I’m back to the old farm house and my parents still watch TV Land when they get home from work. Nothing’s changed but me here.
In the seven years since I have lived at home, I realized how desperately I need people. Connections, contact. Friendships. Relationships. People. I used to be so bad at saying I was sorry, I used to be even worse at saying anything nice. I’ve grown up in that way these last few years. I learned to appreciate the human conditions. That is why I feel so lucky to surround myself with good people, people I consider friends. Friends who create bread lames and buy coffee for you while it’s raining in Philadelphia. This bread recipe is for them: the artists, the makers, the creators I call my friends: Aron Fischer of Facture Goods and Robbie and Pat of Dear Henry Owen. Aron created two gorgeous bread lames for me this Christmas and Robbie and Pat showed me how welcoming the East Coast can be, after so many years of being away from it. I made bread. I cultured butter. I made this bread for them. They took the time for me.
Potato Bread with Cultured Butter
This bread is made in steps and you will have extra butter. Embrace it. The crumb is soft, the tanginess is there. My mother had three slices for dinner, so you know it’s good. Makes one loaf.
Ingredients for the cultured butter:
· 2 cups heavy cream
· 1-2 cups filtered water
· ½ teaspoon salt
Directions for cultured butter:
1. Measure out 2 cups of heavy cream and leave out at room temperature in a warm room for 12-48 hours (the longer the tangier)
2. Every 4-6 hours, gently disturb the cream as a skin will form
3. When you think you have a good culture in your cream, pour into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment (I recommend freezing the bowl and the attachment for a good hour beforehand, as the cream will be warm/room temperature)
4. Beat on medium-high for five to seven minutes. First, your cream will whip into stiff peaks. Keep beating as this breaks down and the solids separate from the buttermilk.
5. Reserve liquids in a cup or Tupperware (this is cultured butterfat and it is golden) and push out anymore from the butter with a wooden spoon, turning and squeezing a couple times
6. Wash the remaining butter with the water until water runs clear
7. Salt, pat into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until needed
Ingredients for bread:
· 2 medium-sized potatoes
· 2 TB cultured butter (above)
· 1 cup water, warm
· 1 cup of reserved buttermilk (from above), warmed slightly in a sauce pan
· 5 teaspoon yeast
· 1 ½ teaspoon salt
· 1 egg
· 4 ½ - 6 cups flour + more for kneading
Directions for bread:
1. First, bake the potatoes. The easiest way to do this is in the microwave. Pierce potatoes with a fork 5-6 times and then microwave for 5 minutes. Flip over and repeat. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork. Inside should be soft.
2. Cut lengthwise and allow to cool slightly before handling
3. While cooling, in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, pour water, yeast, and salt. Allow to sit while bubbles form
4. Spoon out potato into a bowl and add 2 TB cultured butter, mixing in the butter and ensuring it is melted (can be done in a food processor too). You will need one cup of this mixture
5. When yeast is ready, add egg and beat on medium to incorporate.
6. Add mashed potato mixture and beat on high for one minute
7. Reduce speed to medium and begin adding flour by the cup.
8. When dough begins to form and does not stick to the sides of the bowl, turn mixer off and turn onto a floured work surface
9. Knead by hand for 5 minutes until springy
10. Place in a well-oiled bowl (turning once to oil the top) and cover. Allow to proof in a warm room for 1 hour or doubled in size
11. When hour is done, punch down and cover again. Allow to rest for 40 minutes
12. While dough is resting, preheat oven to 410*
13. When dough is finished resting, turn onto a floured work surface and shape into a ball before placing into a dutch oven.
14. Slash your bread with a razor blade or a bread lame in a couple lines at an angle
15. Put lid on Dutch oven and bake for 36 minutes covered
16. Remove lid and bake for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, or until top is golden
17. Remove from oven and allow to cool before eating with even more of the cultured butter
In the spirit of friends and giving, I am giving away a Sweet Tooth bundle from Remedy Quarterly, an independent food magazine that shares the stories behind recipes. There are two ways to enter: Either comment below with your favorite memory of "breaking bread" with loved ones and friends, or comment on this instagram photo and tag two friends with whom you would share your bundle prize. Winner will be announced on February 15 at 12:00 pm EST.