Love in the times of Corona - best sourdough pizza base


Here we still are, not in complete lockdown, but as far as husband and I are concerned, the difference is academic. And we might not be far from another full lockdown. When things were looking a bit better around August we went to a beer garden a couple of times, we had our Cornish escape in the beginning of September, and we went to Westfields once. Won't repeat that experience in a hurry, it was way too busy. And now as the infection rate is on a steep rise again we are staying at home. We only leave the house for a walk every evening after I finish work and on weekends we drive somewhere to walk in a different area, but anything more exciting than that will have to wait. 

Smoked reindeer and reindeer salami sourdough pizza. 

I have been to the office once since March. I went some weeks ago for a meeting. It was the kind of workshoppy all day thing you couldn't really do on a video call. It was very exciting wearing proper clothes and putting on some make-up. And shoes! I think my toes were a bit shocked after months of trainers and flip-flops to find themselves confined in that way. I couldn't go all the way to high heeled courts, even the ballerina pumps I went with had to be secretly kicked off under the meeting room table. But it was fun to see a couple of colleagues. One of them brought me a Starbucks skinny latte. I'd forgotten how good proper coffee tastes. I know for a coffee snob Starbucks probably is a swear word, but my benchmark is instant coffee.  

But it's not all bad. As Dalai Lama says "Choose to be optimistic. It feels better"'.  I choose to focus on the positives, of which there are many. 

Therefore here are a couple of my lockdown favourite things:

1. Husband

It's been lovely to spend more time together. Particularly as he quite scarily got stuck in Iran at the start of the pandemic. My sister says "He came close to being lost" in a sepulchral voice. I don't know why exactly. But it's definitely been great to have him locked up safely at home with me and with no means of escape. 

He's an excellent person to have around in this kind of situation. He is calm, positive and philosophical quoting 2Pac: "Be patient, tomorrow is a better day", "For every dark night there is a brighter day",  “Where there is a will, there is a will to search and discover a better day" or "I swear I'll never call you bitch again".

But seriously speaking, similar to a road trip (at which we actually aren't that great), a lockdown situation is a great way to really test your compatibility and the strength of your relationship. We seem to be standing the test despite some disagreements about whose fault it is that a fly got in the house, how I should hang the dishcloth (on a special hook installed by husband, not over the kitchen tap), how much smoke in the kitchen is too much smoke and is there a place for courgettes in seafood pasta.

2. Baking

Bonjour, monsieur le pain.

Finnish sourdough ryebread

Finnish "Wienerpitko", a brioche type dough filled with custard and jam. 

Only recently I broke down and bought some bread. Husband was after beans on toast, so I bought a loaf of soft seeded bread. That kind of soft and fluffy bread is not my baking expertise, mine tend to be Finnish style sour and tough with a formidable crust. A bit like your average Finn. But that was the first since March. Both my sourdough starters, Tellervo and Jean-Pierre, have been in regular use and I bake most weekends enough for us to get us through the week. Husband's greeting to me on Saturday and Sunday mornings from the kitchen door usually is a slightly exasperated "What's burning now?" I'm usually not burning anything particularly, but the rye bread is baked in high temperature, so there is a bit of a smoke and smell involved in the process and the smoke alarm usually goes off at some point unless I've remembered to place it outside before I start. I also like to reuse baking paper because my mother as a post-war child always used to use hers until the paper was literally disintegrating. It is environmentally friendly but you will find a bit smelly.

This might actually have been a cunning plan to get husband to clean the oven, which it wasn't. But after once again on a Sunday morning having been woken up with the smell of smoke and the sound of the fire alarm (Karelian pies in the making) he decided to clean the ovens. And indeed, it's been less smoky since then.

3. Our daily walk

We have skipped our daily walk only a handful of times during the whole lockdown, We usually do around 5k around our local area. In the weekends we sometimes drive somewhere else for a change of scenery. We've only been to Central London a few times, a couple of times in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and once in Westminster by the riverside. But even in our local area it's been great to pay a bit more attention to our surroundings and observe the change of seasons where normally we are too busy driving around with eyes on the road to pay attention to the pretty houses, neat front gardens or flowering Japanese cherry trees. 

Husband often tells me what's been going on in his latest Netflix superhero series he stays up to watch after I've gone to bed as we walk around the quiet Ealing streets. And he always takes my hand when we cross a road which is very sweet and also maybe a bit necessary taking into account my appalling eyesight and lack of attention to my surroundings. 

4. Mini picnics 

When the days were still warm I sometimes packed some fruit, drinks and a picnic blanket in the backpack and after our walk we found a nice place in a park or by the river depending on where we were and chilled on our blanket. In our local little park there is a mini golf course and they sell drinks that you can take with you to the park. So on Fridays weather permitting we got an Aperol Spritz each and a tub of vanilla ice-cream for husband and enjoyed them on our blanket.

This is now a thing of the past as the days get colder. I hope they will start doing mulled wine in the golf course bar. I could be persuaded to stop for a quick one.

5. Pizza 

Cheesy garlic bread.
Turkish Gozleme, one of my favourite lockdown flatbread discoveries.

We have definitely had a lot of pizza. I have discovered the best ever pizza base recipe which uses my sourdough starter Jean-Pierre. I'll share the recipe below. (It's not mine, it's King Arthur Baking Company's.) I've made my favourite smoked reindeer and reindeer salami pizza a few times, but a real revelation has been husband's suggestion of tuna, anchovies and sweetcorn. With some red onion, tomatoes and loads of cheese of course. And sometimes prawns or olives as well and jalapeños in mine. My pizzas are reasonably thin crust but always generous with the filling, maybe even too generous. 

For weight management reasons we've moved from 12 inch individual pizzas to sharing a pretty reasonable sized square. 

The sourdough base is also awesome in garlic bread, of which we have had quite a bit. 

I also love all kinds of middle-eastern flatbreads, which I have been doing with quite reasonable success.  

6. Home-working

I love working from home. I should set up a proper office in the spare bedroom, but I quite like working at our kitchen table. My office is my laptop, phone and notebook which I set on the table for the day and when I'm finished I place them on one of the chairs under the table. 

Distance to fridge is a bit of a problem though. I can often hear a chunk of smoky Scamorza cheese or leftover hummus pot in there screaming for attention. 

Work has been really busy, so the days fly by on conference calls. We do quite a few with the video on nowadays too, so it doesn't even feel like you haven't seen anyone for weeks and months. 

And husband is enjoying me working from home or "screaming in the kitchen" as he calls it (I'm on the phone most of the day and apparently talk quite loudly). So the one day I went to the office he couldn't get back to sleep after I got up because the normal wall of sound wasn't there to lull him to sleep. 

I fear the day I have to get up at 6am to make myself presentable and ready for the commute to the office. Or 4 am for my flight to Newcastle. Now my mornings consist of getting up about 20 minutes before the work day starts. I shower and put my hair in a ponytail. Sometimes if my hair sticks up at to top of my head I need to give it some extra attention by flattening it with a wet hand. That's the beauty regime done. I put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, take my laptop and notebook from the kitchen chair. I make coffee and toast some bread. And I'm ready to go. 

Some mornings I get up early and go for a little run. Not because I love running, I really don't, but the amount of pizza that we keep having needs exorcising. 

Lately I have started to style my hair sometimes. And even put on a little bit of make up. Makes it a nicer experience to see your own face on the MS Teams screen. I prefer Zoom to Teams because you can apply a filter that makes your face look slightly better.

7. Online communities

Traditional Karelian pasties, rye dough filled with rice typically
eaten with a mixture of boiled eggs and butter.  
Another Finnish classic Cinnamon rolls. 

They should be eaten still warm with a glass of cold milk. 

I've been a lot more active in some online communities during the lockdown. There is a cooking and baking group for Finns living abroad where everyone shares their pictures or cinnamon buns, rye bread and Karelian pasties. It's a really positive group, we never criticise even the most obviously overbaked bundt cake or incompetent Karelian pie crimping.  

The other online community is a lockdown cooking themed one where I have realised that British people really eat eggs and chips, I mean eggs and chips are both ok individually, but together? And fishfinger butties? But it is a nice community and the eye rolls about my weird Nordic meals have been very gentle and well-meaning.  

In that group and generally in FB there has been a lot of banana bread posts for some reason. I succumbed and baked one wanting to be part of the movement thinking it must be a lockdown thing and what if my step-grandchildren ask in 20 years' time if I also baked banana bread during lockdown. I burned it a bit, but it was ok. Husband loves bananas and cake, so he was happy, just scraped off the slightly burned bits. 

Now I have even found a Christmas themed group for Finnish people living in UK. Quite specific some of these groups. But it's great to find I'm not the only nutter who already booked their Christmas food delivery slot and has been lobbying their husband about "garden lights" for weeks. I think in a sad year like this we should all cheer ourselves up with some outdoor lights. I even promised to keep the polar bear, reindeer and snowman projector back until December. He wasn't ready to do it right away, but yielded by one week. Normally it would be 1st of Dec, but due to the extraordinary circumstances we can put them up a week earlier. The fight is not over yet,

There is also a community about the Ealing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which is this insane idea to close lots of roads to create quiet neighbourhoods and safe roads for cyclists. All it's done is make it really difficult for residents to get in and out of their neighbourhoods and make the main roads even more congested and dangerous. So there's this lovely FB group where we all go to bitch about the Ealing councillors, Sadik Khan, Boris Johnson and aggressive lycra cyclists who mow down toddlers and bang their fists on the roofs of cars. I know for my mental health I should stick with the cooking forums. 

8. Online shopping

My larder.

Fruit and veg for the week.  I do like tomatoes. 

Since the beginning I have done almost all our food shopping online. First getting delivery slots was difficult, so I ordered food boxes from where I could and only went to our little local shops early in the morning to get what I couldn't get online. 

But eventually I started to find some delivery slots and began my weekly routine of one big online food order that would take us through the week. I've gotten very good at it and many weeks go by that we don't need to go to a shop at all. I often have a detailed meal plan, I freeze things that can be frozen and have established a larder in our spare bedroom. 

Fruit and fresh vegetables sometimes become a problem and by the time the new order arrives husband is immediately at the fruit bags doing a little jig. "I haven't had a banana for ages." (= Appr. 3 days.) He can also sniff a pack of biscuits from a distance. I had piled all the shopping on the kitchen counter and he saw a small corner of a red pack in there. "What is that" he asked excitedly. It was Jammie Dodgers of course. He would make a good search and rescue person as long as the missing person had biscuits on them. 

9. Netflix and Amazon Prime

There's been quite a lot of TV. Husband stays up late and watches action and superhero stuff. I wake up early and watch period drama. During weekend mornings while husband has still been sleeping I have watched the entire series of Downton Abbey and most Jane Austen related productions. 

The new Rebecca movie was a disappointment though. I love the book, it's one of my all time favourites and I actually started reading it again because of the film. Why a screenwriter would feel the need to change a story so expertly written and so much loved by generations of readers, I don't understand. The best thing about the film were Kristin Scott Thomas's cheekbones, Lily James's haircut and Mr de Winter's outrageous mustard suit. Actually Kristin Scott Thomas was great as she usually is, Lily James was OK, but too pretty and not awkward enough for the role and Mr de Winter too American, hunky and uncomplicated. 

10. Eating dinner together every night

Crayfish with toast and dill butter - a Scandinavian tradition. Husband hasn't completely
bought into this yet. My sister suggested next time more vodka. 

Romantic sunset by candlelight. 

My most favourite thing (after husband) about this time is the fact that I have time to cook us a proper dinner and we eat together every night when in the normal times I only had time to cook over the weekends. For the first couple of months I never cooked the same exact meal twice, but I have now started to repeat some favourites. I'm still trying new recipes and I think I've become a better cook by trying dishes that I've never done before. I've for instance learned to make a very tasty beef rendang, I made a very lovely and cheesy Vasterbottenpaj, a Swedish cheese tart which I'd never tried before.  

It's basically just a round on cheese with a sprinkling of chanterelles.

And I have learned that husband doesn't like beetroot. WHO doesn't like beetroot. Well, husband obviously. He also doesn't like cabbage or celeriac. 

But he likes chicken. 

Rosemary and lemon chicken, I forgot what an easy meal this is.
Leftovers made an amazing alfredo. 

Sourdough pizza base 

(this recipe makes 2 x 12 inch round thin crust bases, for our rectangular one I make half a portion, original recipe)

1 cup (227g) sourdough starter, unfed/discard
1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups (298g) all purpose or strong bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast

Put 1 cup of your starter into a large mixing bowl. 

Add the water, flour, salt and yeast. Mix to combine. Knead for about 7 minutes either in a mixer or by hand until you have a nice elastic ball of dough.

Cover and leave to rise until almost doubled. This will take between 2 and 4 hours. For a faster rise, place the dough in a warm spot, or double the yeast.

For two thin-crust pizzas, divide the dough in half, and shape each into a flattened disk. Drizzle two 12 inch round pizza pans with olive oil, and brush to coat the bottom. Place the dough in the pans, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. After this rest, gently press the dough toward the edges of the pans. 

Fill with your favourite fillings and bake in as hot as your oven goes (or if your oven goes very how, somewhere around 250C should do) until the toppings get a nice colour and the edges of the crust look crisp and browned, about 15 minutes.

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