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Editor’s Column: Working with what you’ve got

In my opinion, reading all of the directions before you get started is for wimps. Who has time? Jump right in, and things will work out.

So when I saw the photo of that delicious-looking loaf of bread that came in along with dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s recipe, I decided to give it a shot. It looked pretty simple. One pot, no kneading. I already had the flour in a mixing bowl before I realized how little my kitchen has in common with dee’s.

The first thing I didn’t have was einkorn. Well, I was pretty sure I didn’t have it, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was. When I figured out it was a specialty flour, I substituted some home-ground brown flour from my freezer and carried on.

Then the recipe called for crushed seeds. I could have sworn I had some flaxseed and maybe even some sunflower seed somewhere, but I couldn’t find them. I substituted with a handful of Red River cereal.

Next on the list was milk stout beer. “Milk stout beer?” I thought to myself. “What even is that?” Then I realized “milk stout” was right there in the name of the bread recipe, so I quit complaining. This didn’t seem like a job for Corona, but I found an odd-looking bottle of some sort of ginger beer that had been lurking at the back of the basement fridge for well over a year.

Three substitutions in one recipe didn’t phase me. I’ve been living 30 miles from the nearest grocery store for more than 15 years. You can sometimes get away with borrowing a little icing sugar from the neighbours if you’re having a carrot cake emergency, but nobody’s going to tolerate you coming around demanding einkorn and milk stout.

Learning to substitute comes with the territory of farm living. It’s especially true in the kitchen, where ordering in a pizza is just not an option. But it happens in the shop too. There are all kinds of situations where figuring out the next-best solution is faster than driving all the way to Home Hardware.

And now, substituting is easier than ever. It doesn’t take a lot of kitchen skill to type “what can I substitute for sugar?” in to Google. You’d be surprised what you can cook without having the actual ingredients on hand. (Well, my husband and son are often surprised, at any rate.)

The bread came out looking fine. Nothing like dee had intended, but not too bad, if you weren’t expecting something else. When I sent her the photo, dee wrote back. “Bread as a rule is very forgiving. So ignore the naysayers who live and die by exact ratios and formulas, and improv all you like.”

Thanks dee! I’ll keep taking that approach with more than just the bread.

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