Hi, hello, here we are again at a fresh start to a new year. Like a Monday morning, bright and untouched and waiting. Like a clean, unmarked sheet of paper, ready for a crisp line of sharpened pencil. Poised to be filled with…a to-do list? Projects we want to try? Words of intention? It should come as no surprise (because I am a living, breathing human with regular skills and flaws who occasionally wears ripped t-shirts and still can’t manage to properly apply winged eyeliner) that resolutions don’t entirely appeal to me. I used to consider this a character flaw—thinking I should be able to set a goal and achieve it, regardless of how silly and small or lofty and ambitious it may be
But now I work more at embracing myself and finding other ways to appreciate and take advantage of this (arbitrary, but hey) reset button. I’ve seen a few particularly nice ideas in the past week for ushering in 2019 with vim and vigor and enthusiasm. Over on Cup of Jo, she shared illustrator Julia Rothman’s lists for the New Year, which consist of a column of “do less” and a column of “do more”. Her lists included more vegetables, books, and nature and less gossiping, mess, and bras. [Prompting me to say…which I never say but I must…LOL.]
I haven’t made my list yet but as I muse about it now, I’d say definitely more: spontaneity, breakfast, laughter, living room dancing, sisters, avocado. I’ll work on my less list, but LESS BRAS seems just downright wise. (Yes, mom, I realize it technically should be ‘fewer bras’.)
Or maybe I’ll try the idea of monthly projects—mini blocks of things to focus on. January could be “master homemade pizza” and February could be “be on time” and March could be about trying to ride my bike more. Another thing I thought about was writing a letter to myself at the end of 2019. What will I want it to say? I don’t know exactly, but I can tell you I hope it doesn’t read “Dear Po, you…pretty much did the same thing for a year.” and I hope it’s more like “Dear Po, you were so brave this year! You remembered how fearless you like to be, and how adventure makes you happy and all lit up. You made other people really happy too. You [insert something cool here like, STARTED WRITING A BOOK (possible!) or INVENTED A NEW KIND OF DIPPIN’ DOTS (not, but wouldn’t that take the world by storm?)]. You did hard things. You simplified. You barely ever wore a bra!” Okay the last part is unlikely, don't worry. But you get the idea.
But before we leap ahead to what the year will bring, how was your New Year? Did you celebrate with wild abandon? Did you drink six Kir Royales at a fancy black tie party? Did you drink an unknown number of suspiciously strong vodka tonics in a dark, packed bar? Did you fall asleep well before midnight? This morning, one barista at my local coffee shop told me her New Year’s Eve was “excellent! I drank way too much and apparently ordered a dozen sandwiches to a bar in Bushwick but I don’t remember any of that” and the other barista chimed in that she and her mom drank Champagne, watched a movie, and had take-out Chinese food which is their annual tradition. Both valid options, my friends. You do you.
We rang in the New Year at our friends’ new place just north of New Year City. They’ve recently moved to a beautiful, rambling white house perched above the Hudson River. They are consummate hosts—the sort who make parties look both beautiful and effortless at the same time. Case in point: they have two beautifully decorated Christmas trees (I had zero), a fire blazing in each room behind a pretty brass grate, and a crudite tray that would have made Martha Stewart weep. There were tiny puff pastry bites filled with bacon and Brie, lots of bubbly, and two dogs snoozing on the brick hearth.
All of this brings me to today’s recipe for everyday focaccia, which happens to nicely check two boxes related to all this chit-chat: hosting parties AND new projects.
The recipe is perfect for entertaining—so if you want to throw a big party and look very calm and composed and Barefoot Contessa-esque like my aforementioned friends, I highly recommend it. You can make the recipe days in advance (or weeks if you want to freeze the bread). I suggest baking it in round 9” pans (though a sheet pan works well too) and slicing it horizontally, then filling each round with different sandwich fillings. Slice them up and you have an excellent party spread that you can tailor to whomever is coming.
Or perhaps you’re eager to try a new project. And here’s one that I can’t recommend highly enough: learn to bake bread! And if you’re already an avid bread baker, then learn a new bread or vow to really perfect one you may have tried.
All of those lead you here! To this excellent and completely foolproof everyday bread recipe that will become part of your regular recipe rotation as soon as you try it once.
I know yeast baking can seem a little intimidating to some people, so this is the best place to start. The recipe comes from Alexandra Stafford, who never, ever lets me down with her recipes—they turn out reliably well and always are the sort of thing I end up making again and again. She uses a no-knead method for this focaccia, meaning you literally do nothing but mix up the dough and let it sit. That’s….pretty much it.
But even though there’s no kneading, you still get to enjoy the hands-on, tactile part of bread baking when you dimple the dough with your fingertips just before baking. All the fun with none of the tricky bit: how could you resist?
TIP: This bread is also a great candidate for weeknight dinners—a favorite in our house is filling the focaccia with thinly sliced cold steak, horseradish mayo or Parmesan aioli, arugula, and caramelized onions. But the options are endless: turn it into a big grilled cheese with bacon and roasted tomatoes. Make a wintry sandwich with balsamic roasted squash, pickled beets, and feta. Spread it with green goddess dressing and pile it with crispy mushrooms and greens. Or, just eat it with butter and salt. You get the idea.
Note: Alexandra recommends making this the night before to allow the flavor to really develop with a longer, slower, cooler rise. I absolutely agree, but as she says, you can definitely make it the day of too—it’ll turn out beautifully, but the flavor won’t be as complex.
From Bread, Toast, Crumbs by Alexandra Stafford
4 cups (512 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant or active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
flaky sea salt, for finishing
The night before you want to bake, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl.
Pour the water in and mix the dough together with a spatula until it’s evenly mixed: the dough will be quite sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight (about 10 hours).
[Note: If you want to make this the day off, just place the bowl in a warm spot and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled, then proceed.]
The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge. Pour two tablespoons of the olive oil into a 9” round pan and two into a second 9” round pan.
Using two forks or your hands, divide the dough in half, deflating it gently as you do. Use the forks to lift and plop half of the dough into one pan and half into the other.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Let the dough sit at room temperature for 1 hour (if you’re not doing the overnight method, you can just let it rest for about 15 minutes).
Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over both pans. Now for the fun part! Using your fingers, press the dough gently to the edges of the pan so it’s in roughly an even layer, and then press firmly and deeply down on the surface to create dimples across the dough.
Sprinkle the flaky sea salt over both pans, place in the oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until deeply golden brown on top.
Remove from the oven and let cool IF YOU CAN RESIST ripping into the warm bread.