Recently, I had the good fortune to be included in a meeting of Leland Feinman’s “Immodest Proposals” discussion group. This regular event brings together people from diverse backgrounds to share their points of view on a pre-determined topic. In this case the provocative topic under examination was “Procrastination, The Internet and The Future.” As a gesture of gratitude, I brought along some healthy snacks and a variety of savory and sweet breads.
Of course, if you spend any significant amount of time online the title of Lee’s seminar will likely lead to a number of guilty personal admissions about squandered time and lost productivity. While that was certainly the case for all participants at the session, we also entertained larger questions about the restless nature of human consciousness and whether we have created technologies that match the peripatetic function of our minds or if our brains themselves are evolving in tandem with the information delivery system that they interface with on a daily basis. Despite the presence of members who are trained in medicine, psychology, neuromarketing and biological research science, the group is discussion-based, so all evidence was presented in a purely anecdotal form, making it impossible to draw solid conclusions. Rather the conversation provided an embarcation point for each participant to further their own analysis about the relationship between the internet and their own attention styles.
When this topic was announced, the moderator circulated links to two articles that contained ideas that were central to the theme. The first, “Later” written by James Surowicki for the New Yorker, is both an examination of the mechanics of delay and a review of a book: “Procrastination, the Thief of Time” which is itself an anthology of essays on this topic by philosophers and psychologists. It’s an entertaining read and helps to pin down some of the reasons why immediate gratification pretty much always trumps long-term good intentions in the human animal. The second article, “Google’s Boss Envisions a Utopian Future”, is sourced from MIT’s Technology Review blog and provides insight into the next stages of development that the ubiquitous internet giant currently has underway. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, reveals plans to automate the flow of data to previously unwired venues such as automobiles, home appliances, and civic infrastructure. The nature of this development is open to multiple interpretations, depending on whether one chooses to view it as the benevolent hand of information guiding happy consumers, or the continued infantilization of a dependant populace increasingly unable to manage simple human tasks like navigation using a map, balancing a checkbook or moderating one’s own attention span over time.
The points of view within the group were expectedly diverse, enlightening and occasionally fractious, all of which provided for an entertaining experience. For those of you who are interested in learning more about this topic and in discovering the work of Lee Feinman, it is my pleasure to point you to the audio podcast of this discussion as well as to Lee’s blog “Better Worlds” Stop by, check it out and be sure to tell him The Hungry Librarian sent you!
The menu I chose to contribute to the gathering was an assortment of farmers market crudités, accompanied by roasted garlic hummus,
A second focaccia, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and oregano had a contrasting pillowy texture reminiscent of Sicilian-style pizza
Finally, a fat wedge of brie provided a rich closing note slathered on slices of rustic cranberry-walnut rye.
Most people associate items such as home-cooked dried beans and yeast-raised breads with well-planned industriousness and hard work in the kitchen. However, I am here to tell you that not only can these dishes be easy to make, they also allow for a very flexible prep schedule. Yeasted doughs can be kneaded in the food processor or stand mixer then set in the refrigerator to prolong the rising time. This allows the baker to make the dough in the morning or the night before then simply bring the risen dough to room temperature before shaping, adding toppings or additions and baking. This “now-or-later” trick makes these breads a culinary procrastinator’s dream!
Roasted Garlic Hummus:
- 4 cups cooked chickpeas (canned or home cooked) with 1/2 cup liquid reserved
- 1 head garlic roasted (to roast: slice of top of head, drizzle with olive oil wrap in foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until very soft.)
- 2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
Put roughly ½ of the peeled roasted garlic cloves in the workbowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor to break up the cloves into bits.
Add chickpeas, reserving a few to sprinkle on top of the finished hummus for decoration. Add the oils, lemon juice and cumin then blend, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is smooth, but very thick.
You may need to add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid to get a workable consistency. Just keep adding a drizzle at a time until the mixture has the right texture. Taste the hummus and pulse in more garlic or lemon, plus salt and pepper to suit your own taste.
Scrape the hummus into a serving bowl, sprinkle with a bit of additional cumin and scatter reserved chick peas and any remaining garlic cloves over the top, drizzle with more olive oil. Serve at room temperature with pita chips, crusty bread or raw veggies to dip and enjoy!
Basic Focaccia Dough
- 3 ½ cups bread or all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 7/8 cup tepid water
- 1 cup ice cubes – for creating steam in the oven while baking
Put the flour, salt and yeast in the workbowl of a food processor – pulse several times to blend dry ingredients.
With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube then very slowly add the water in a thin stream. Add ONLY enough water to make a soft dough ball that rolls around the workbowl with the blade. You may need less than the full amount or you may need more – it depends upon the moisture content of your flour, so proceed slowly and adjust as needed.
Once the dough has formed, continue to run the processor for another 15-30 seconds, then turn the dough out onto a clean surface that has been LIGHTLY dusted with flour. Knead the dough for a moment or two – folding it over itself and pushing down gently – you will feel the dough become slightly and elastic under your hands. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it over to coat with the oil – cover loosely and allow to rise.
If you are making the bread sooner – allow the dough to rise at warm room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
If you want to delay baking, place the covered dough in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours – really, it can sit there overnight or while you are away for the day there is no harm in putting the baking off for a while! When you are ready to bake remove the dough from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature, then proceed with the steps below.
Preheat your oven to 475. Put a rack in the middle of the oven – this is where you will bake the bread.
Punch the dough down – pushing down firmly with your hands to deflate the swollen dough. You may now shape the dough – turn it into a 9×13” pan that has been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal or any combination of smaller pans that you desire. Gently stretch the dough to the edges of the pan and allow to rise, covered, for about 30 minutes.
At this point, you may also top the dough with any combination of vegetables and herbs that seem appealing. Some nice choices are olives (which must be pushed firmly into the dough so they don’t pop out during baking!) sundried or oven roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, rings of sweet onion or even potatoes which have been sliced paper thin. Any of these may be paired with the fresh or dried herbs of your choosing. Keep in mind that the more toppings you put on the bread, the softer the top crust will be, so adjust your toppings-to crunch ratio according to your preference!
If you prefer your focaccia unadorned, simply press the dough with your fingertips to create an even pattern of dimpling, drizzle the loaf with good quality olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Let the dough rise for another 20-30 minutes and place in the heated oven. When you add the loaf, toss a cupful of ice cubes on the floor of the oven to create steam. This steam will help gelatinize the starch in the crust and create a bread with a crunchy, crispy exterior incasing a fluffy interior.
Bake the loaves for 20 – 35 minutes or until they are deeply browned and sound hollow when tapped.
Remove from the pan as soon as you can – no longer than 3-5 minutes – so that the bottom and side crusts remain crisp. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and slice into individual squares to serve.