Sometimes a recipe is so resilient that even major screw-ups don’t prevent it from turning out tasty.
Appropriately for a hard-scrabble land of Appalachian make-do, it’s the West Virginia recipe that proved itself a survivor. My goal was to make Perfect Pepperoni Rolls from Chickens in the Road’s recipe. Imperfections turn out to be surprisingly undaunting (and are going to contribute to a really nifty bread loaf tomorrow). So let’s celebrate with A Little Nosh’s Tastetastic Thursday, where most people’s recipes go right.
In a similar feat of lack-of-daunt, the Boston Phoenix’s pick for West Virginia, Logan Venderlic (Bandcamp) turned out to be a perfectly sensible and charming choice, giving an edge to the acoustic folk sound. So let’s dig about in the refrigerator for yeast and start with “Jerkwater Town,” which is about exactly what it says on the tin.
Part of the charm of this song, for me, is that it’s romantic, only not. The romance is in being drawn back. But the viewpoint character is refreshingly blunt that rural America isn’t necessarily bucolic. The “chemical air” is for real that part of the country: I’m still haunted by the scene in one of Sharyn McCrumb’s more serious novels in which some high mucky-muck is forced to drink a Mason jar of the gloppy brown river water from downstream of the big industrial plant.
This is probably not an image to take into contemplating proofing yeast. Here’s the deal:
–1-1/2 cups of water
–1 teaspoon of yeast
–2 tablespoons of sugar (I was skeptical, but it helps with proofing and browning)
–generous pinch of salt (then the liquid rest, if you like)
–1/3 cup oil
Stir all this up and start adding flour. I started with two cups of flour, which surprisingly wasn’t enough to get beyond a liquid-sticky stage similar to some river flats. Keep adding flour and stirring and kneading.
This song is explicitly a response to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — which is, of course, the most romantic possible view of West Virginia as paradise on earth, all blue waters and clean mountain air. I’m more than a little reminded of the disputed question, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, of how to read Hushpuppy’s father’s claim that the bayou (with its scraps and junk) is the most beautiful place on earth.
Also disputed is how much flour to add to the bread dough. I’m leaving it relatively sticky, as I want to let it rise in the refrigerator while I’m at work, which usually calls for a gloppier dough. I’m also going to divide the dough in half, as if this dough doubles in size, it will over-run the fridge and devour my ham, and I’m counting on my ham to last the week.
“Glasses” picks up a livelier hoe-down sound with a nice little picking motif during the verse that mutates very naturally into the bouncier chorus.
When I got home many hours later, I let the dough sit on the counter to warm for a bit, then applied myself to kneading in flour. That’d be one-handed kneading-in of flour, as my left hand is still bandaged from Saturday’s adventures in baking.
The kneading part goes okay, but trying to roll and pat flat a highly elastic dough with one hand… this does not go well. Indeed, rarely has my futility gotten such a thorough workout. It’s not the fault of the recipe: it’s just really helpful to be able to hold dough still with one hand while manipulating it with the other.
So I muttered imprecations and shaped half of the first bowl of dough to a pie pan, resolving that instead of making pepperoni rolls, I’d construct a sort of calzone.
By now, I’d already given up on the step of mixing pepperoni and cheese into the dough itself, as the recipe calls for. Okay, so pepperoni slices! A sprinkle of cheese. It’s the wrong cheese because by now, I’m not up for grating Romano… and then I tried to open the jar of peppers that I’d purchased specifically for this recipe.
Several attempts after ripping open the scabs on my burns, I said “hell with it” and used kalamata olives instead because that jar, I could open with one hand.
In this context, I’m inclined to interpret the lyrics of “Glasses” as being about how creativity comes from learning to see clearly. As one of the last few people who voluntarily wears glasses rather than contact lenses, I love this metaphor: my view of reality is a lot blurrier when I’m not looking through my space-age prescription lenses, and yes, that is what it feels like to not understand something because one lacks the proper perspective. It’s like a Plato’s Cave analogy for the severely near-sighted.
Pat the second half of the dough onto the top of the fillings and give it all half an hour to rise while the oven preheats to 350. In it goes for about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. Preslicing is messy but looks pretty and makes the loaf easier to penetrate when it’s baked.
This should not be anywhere close to as good as it is.
The cheese isn’t sharp enough, and yes, it would be improved by the tang of jarred pepper slices, and yes, it would be improved by giving the cheese some surface area to brown and bubble.
But the bread. Oh, the bread. Garlicky and soft inside, crusty outside! I’m going to grate some Romano into the second bowl of dough tomorrow morning and make a nice loaf of bread for my ham.
And bread with pepperoni and olives has few or no downsides, in my book.
Let us celebrate this triumph of backbone and bread over folly with Logan Venderlic’s delightfully snarky and cynical go at a love song, “Me, Me, Me.” It has all the right sweet sounds (a little dark around the edges, but that’s probably from the strip-mining of coal — the dust goes everywhere)… and the lyrics reward being a grown-up.