Quarterly Report

I've got lots to report

I spent the few months before and after I left my full-time gig at America’s Test Kitchen lining up freelance gigs to make up for the income I was giving up. Inevitably in this sort of situation, one says yes to all the opportunities that present themselves, especially when they involve projects that are interesting. And in that regard I have been extremely lucky, because I’ve found myself given the chance to pursue all sorts of fun and related-to-my-interests projects.

But when one says yes to all of the things, the deadlines can easily start to pile up, especially as you are still learning the art of freelance time management. The last few months have been a string of seemingly endless due dates, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve been working more or less 7 days a week since the start of 2021 to meet them all. I’m not really complaining, mind you. All of the work I have been doing has been also fun. I’m mostly amazed that I got it all done more or less on time, since I’m generally a lazy, lumpen sort of person, averse to work of most kinds. Thankfully, perfect storm of deadlines has mostly past, and I think I can finally take my foot off the gas and go back to keeping the speed of this vehicle below posted limits most of the time.

What that also means is that I can finally devote more time to this newsletter, the reason for me going freelance in the first place. Which is good news for you all, because I have a lot of nearly-finished newsletter projects to finally finish and release into the wild, many of which I have been quietly working on in the background while doing freelance assignments. These include a classic kouign amann, a sourdough chocolate-cherry-hazelnut loaf, a new hybrid sourdough-yeasted focaccia, an oatmeal amazake sourdough, a bar pizza dough, and a tahini banana bread recipe that has been a friends-and-family favorite for years now, to name but a few. And then there is the huge world of not-sour sourdough enriched breads like brioche and challah that my pal Jess and I have recently unlocked, which may be the thing I am most excited about these days.

So no new tangible things to share with you just yet, but stay tuned, because they are coming.

Another thing I had been working up to over the past few months and finally arrived at recently was getting my Airsub/Zoom online-teaching shit together. I had my first class this past Saturday, and though it was not what you might call hiccup-free, it went well enough to feel like it is something I could do on a regular basis and actually enjoy. I’ve always loved teaching baking classes, but until now I’d remained skeptical that I could derive similar pleasure from teaching over the interwebz as I do in person. I still prefer being able to look my students in the eye and give them hands-on instruction (especially since in many cases that’s the only way to get certain types of information across), but on the other hand, it’s pretty satisfying to teach to nearly 100 people at one time and still have the class be considered a success.

I need again to thank everyone who attended the class for their patience and willingness to be test subjects in my inaugural class. The hiccups were mostly related to my somehow thinking I could cram all that I know about sourdough baking into a mere 90 minutes time. I’m teaching the same class again in a month, and I am already planning to extend the class time to 2 hours (plus an optional extra hour for Q&A) and scale back the scope of the class slightly. And I have a much better sense of how to structure the class to cover a multi-day process in a few hours time to without it being overly chaotic. I expect the next one to go much more smoothly, and have offered to share the recording of it to everyone who attended the first class, since they helped me to sort it all out.

Now that the first class is under my belt, I also feel much more confident about scheduling new ones, and already have plans to add a baguette deep dive class and a thin-crust pizza master class to the calendar, so stay tuned for those to drop soon. In the meantime, there remains space in both future sourdough classes and in the pizza al taglio class, so sign up if you are so inclined.

(Speaking of baguettes, did you all see the Baguette Tools and Techniques post I did for the King Arthur Artisan Bread campaign that dropped last week?)

One of the best reasons to teach a class on a particular subject is that it gives you an opportunity to bring your knowledge around said subject into greater focus. The handout for the class (which I shared with Wordloaf subscribers last week) is already shaping up into a really useful reference guide to all things sourdough (as I see them), and is feeling like the prototype for some sort of future physical object (I’m not prepared to use the b-word in reference to it quite yet).

And while I called the first class session a “Sourdough Crash Course”, I’ve already changed the name of future classes to The Sourdough Lifestyle, since in putting it together, I realized that the best way to get good at baking sourdough breads is to treat it like any other habitual, periodic activity, like tooth-brushing or physical exercise. Once you adopt it as a lifestyle and not a one-off or once-in-awhile activity, it will quickly fade into the background as a practice, and you will soon see rapid improvement. My goal is to give you the tools and skills you need to get there quickly, both here and in my workshops.

One of the other things I’ve been scrambling to complete recently is the choereg recipe that I’ve been working on for Serious Eats. It’s not out yet, though it should drop in the next day or so, just in the nick of time for people to make it for Easter next weekend. I know there is a version of this recipe already here, but creating this one gave me an opportunity to refine my method and improve the results slightly, (no recipe is ever truly finished) so I hope you will try it.

Finally, I need to bring up the subject of Substack itself, the platform which currently hosts this newsletter and gave me the opportunity to go solo last year with their generous fellowship. I don’t want to go into all the details of exactly why right now, but I’m one of many people who aren’t particularly happy with how Substack is doing business lately, and like many I am considering migrating the newsletter to another platform if they don’t make some serious changes soon. Yanyi, one of my fellow 2020 fellows, has already made the move themselves, and they sent out an email explaining why earlier today that sums it up the situation succinctly, should you be interested. I’ll be watching and waiting to see how Substack responds to the heat that is being applied to them. If I do make the move, it will be mostly seamless on your end, though I’ll be sure to give you a heads up before it happens.

Alright, more soon, see you all on Friday, when I have a backlog of things to cram into the Bread Basket this week.