Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A sign at the Times

Mark Bittman, New York Times columnist/

One of my favorite food writers, Mark Bittman, is moving from the food pages to the opinion desk at the New York Times. (Some of you may know that once upon a time, I wrote for a newspaper and still read many newspapers daily. With newspapers online these days, the New York Times has become my paper of record. They even covered the biggest story in my little town in the past century – the 500-year flood  – better than my “local” papers. ) Bittman’s Minimalist column started as a way to help home cooks improve their game, nourishing themselves and their families, and it grew to reflect changing times and attitudes toward food. Bittman sums up the 700 stories in 13 years here.

What I think is interesting about the move is what Bittman will be writing about next: food policy and ethics on the Times op-ed page. That’s right, next to the daily musings on the state of politics and policy, Bittman will write about what Americans eat and what that means. The conversation is changing from how to prepare what we eat to the provenance of what’s on the plate. The issues go beyond carbon footprints, teenage obesity and when to eat an heirloom tomato, encompassing the ethics of food, the rights of workers, the ominous -sounding term “food justice.” I’m an unabashed Bittman fan and I have no problem saying that I’m looking forward to this next bold step in food journalism.

In Bittman’s history of the Minimalist, he talks about the most popular recipe he never wrote, Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread. If you’ve ever baked a loaf of bread, this revolutionary technique will rock your world. The recipe requires very little yeast, no kneading (although I’ve found a few turns around a floured counter really help to pretty up the loaf), and it’s baked in a scorching hot covered Dutch oven. The joy and genius of this bread is that you make it in stages, mixing up the dough one day, letting it rise, shaping and baking the following day. Hands-on time is minimal, the resulting rustic hearth-worthy loaf will amaze your friends and family. I live in a bread-poor area of town, at least in terms of “artisan” loaves. Having a loaf of No-Knead Bread on my counter assures me that a hearty sandwich or even the after products - homemade croutons and quality bread crumbs, are within my reach.

Here’s the link for the recipe – let’s give the NYT some love. My only variations are in the pot that I use and the fact that I knead the dough for a minute or two before the first rise. The pot that I use is a Lodge cast-iron chicken fryer with a lid. It’s not quite as deep as a Dutch oven, but it gets screaming hot in the oven and produces a chewy, rustic loaf.

A rustic loaf of No-Knead Bread by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
What about you? Are you a Bittman fan? What will you miss about the Minimalist? Do you think food writing belongs on the opinion page?

Text and bread image copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.


Lisa said...

I can't wait for the new column! That's an area that I've become very interested in over the last few years, so I'm looking forward to reading Bittman's take on it.

I love that bread, too. Ann Nichols posted the recipe (or a similar one) on her OS blog a while back, and I've made it several times since. Yum.

Grace Hwang Lynch said...

It's a sign of our times, that our food supply has gotten so politically entangled and the NYT spotlighting it on its op-ed page is commendable.

However, I hope Bittman will continue to write about cooking and recipes in some format, as I really enjoy it. I was just thinking about going out to buy some chicken to make his Hainan stewed chicken for my sniffly family.

Did you know Bittman also has a blog about running at Runner's World?