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kickin’ the tires

August 7, 2012

When I bought my bike it was 1988 and I lived in California.  When I replaced the tires on my bike it was 2012 and I live in Chicago.  24 years!  The guy at the bike shop just shook his head when he looked at them.  There was plenty of tread left on them, but the side walls (do you call it that on a bike tire?) were actually dry rotted.  It must sound like I don’t ride my bike very often, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I don’t do a lot of rides longer than 15-20 miles and most of the time I’m only going 5-10 miles, but I’m on my bike several times a week.  I just never worried about anything more than putting air in the tires and getting the very occasional tune up.  Ok, only one tune up and that was 4 or 5 years ago.

Typically when I ride in the city, I try to get to the lakefront path using as few streets as possible.  I value my life.  So when it came time to find a bike shop there was actual planning and looking at maps and figuring routes, etc. because we weren’t going to be able to avoid streets, but we could avoid major thoroughfares.  Chicago doesn’t have the most bike friendly streets, although they’re working on it.  A plan to add more protected bike lanes has just been introduced, and I have to say that the one street we rode on that had a designated bike lane was pretty nice.

One of my regular rides is to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park and I usually bring some little thing home for us to have for lunch.  A favorite has been focaccia with fresh vegetables baked on top.  Focaccia is baked in a jelly roll pan which is roughly 17 x 12 x 1 and at the market they cut the bread into 6 pieces and at $6 per piece, that’s pretty expensive bread.  I knew I could make it for less money and choose my own toppings.  I decided that I wanted different toppings  on three corners and one plain corner so we could eat it over a couple of days and it wouldn’t be the same every time.  One quarter had heirloom tomato that I peeled and sliced and chopped garlic; one quarter had sliced yellow squash, shallots and garlic scapes; one quarter had shallots, fresh basil and chopped garlic; one quarter was plain, with a light sprinkle of sea salt.  My favorite was the sliced tomato and garlic although a case could be made for the plain quarter because we used it as a dipper with baked goat cheese topped with marinara.

Focaccia
adapted from Anne Burrell

1-3/4 cups warm water
2-1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or one package)
1 tbsp sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm, not hot or cool, place until the yeast is bubbling – at least 15 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low-speed. When the dough has come together, knead for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed until it is smooth and soft.  You may need to add up to 1/4 cup more flour if the dough is really sticky and tacky.

Using floured hands, move the dough from the mixing bowl to a lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand 1 or 2 times.  Sprinkle a little more flour over the dough if it continues to be tacky.

Lightly coat the inside of the mixing bowl with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it set in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.

Coat a jelly roll pan with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.  Put the dough onto the jelly roll pan and press it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil.  As you’re stretching the dough to fit the pan, spread your fingers out and poke holes all the way through the dough.  If you don’t make these holes, the baked focaccia will be smooth and won’t have the craggy finish you’re used to.

Put the dough in the warm place until it has again doubled in size, about 1 hour.  While the is doing is second rise, preheat the oven to 425F.

Top the focaccia with your choice of toppings or leave it plain.  Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt and bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool before cutting and serving.

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