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Sam Fromartz
Washington, D.C.
Writer, Journalist focusing on food, environment and bread
Interests: Day job: Editor in Chief of the Food & Environment Reporting Network http://thefern.org
Recent Activity
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Just under two months away from launch of In Search of a Perfect Loaf, reviews are starting to trickle in. Here's what Library Journal had to say in a starred review (July 1, 2014): *Fromartz, Samuel. In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey. Viking. Sept. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780670025619. $26.95. COOKING Fromartz (Organic, Inc.) might push the boundaries of what it means to be an amateur baker. The author was, after all, asked by chef Alice Waters to bake the bread for a charity dinner she gave in Washington, DC, after winning a local contest against professional bakers. He’s a bread obsessive, and his exhaustive knowledge of the craft, history, and culture of bread making is on display here. This impressive work falls somewhere between a cookbook, an exploration of bread-baking techniques, and a history of bread. It’s thoroughly researched and engagingly written, and his dedication is inspiring. He uses careful description to impart to the reader something of a craft that can truly only be learned through practice. In addition to writing about his own experience, Fromartz has interviewed (and baked with) some of the biggest names in the bread business, including Chad Robertson of Tartine and bread historian Steven Kaplan. Even those who think they know bread will find something to gain here. VERDICT: Highly recommended for those interested in food history, the evolution of artisan baking, and learning to make the perfect loaf at home. —Laura Krier, Sonoma State Univ., Rohnert Park, CA Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2014 at Chews Wise
I like the flecks, and don't particularly like white wheat in bread. I do in pancakes however.
Toggle Commented May 22, 2014 on Baguette Traditional - Fromartz Recipe at Chews Wise
As a writer, I’ve often approached the written word through an instinctual and sometimes painful process. I’ve put a lot of currency into a kind of gut feeling of what works and what does not. But now as an editor, I’m working with younger writers. In many instances, I’ve had to think about what I actually do and how to convey it. So here are some tips to consider on getting your project done. Ideas are cheap—but don’t always go searching for the next one. You’ll ignore the ones you already have. Write everything down, pick one and proceed. I use the memo function in my smart phone to take notes. Many never get beyond the jot-down stage. Some do. Like this one on writing. Research—yet know when to stop. This is one of the hardest things in the process of writing non-fiction because research and interviewing can be endless. As a writer, I’ve worked with editors who wanted more and more research and then ended up discarding it all. But I think this endless research reflects an inability to see the story. For a writer, it can also stem from a fear of actually writing. As you learn more about your project, you should begin to see a narrative structure and that should inform your research. It forces you to ignore certain paths, avoid potential dead ends and pursue the questions you really need to answer, often with a lot of research. Sit down. Everyone says it takes 10,000... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2014 at Chews Wise
And I'm sending it back in the mail to Viking/Penguin. (Yeah, at this stage it's hard copy, not electronic). This is the final stage before the whole thing goes to rest. I can't believe it's over. But there have been so many of these last stages, turning in the manuscript, going over the edit, doing the second draft, etc. etc that it almost feels anticlimactic. And any remaining mistakes are now my own damn fault! For those who are curious, the book will be out right after the summer. Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2014 at Chews Wise
Secondly, folding creates a series of weak and strong gluten bonds, the key to the uneven holes in the crumb. If you develop your dough fully in kneading or mixing and get very strong gluten bonds, your crumb will be rather uniform.
Toggle Commented Feb 27, 2014 on Baguette Traditional - Fromartz Recipe at Chews Wise
Gina, sorry for the delay in replying. The video link shows how to make an initial starter. Continue to feed that, or let it rest a week in the refrigerator, then feed once or twice before you take 25 grams to make the initial 90 gram starter. The point of the video was how to make a sourdough starter from scratch that you can then keep on hand to make this and many other breads that call for sourdough. Good luck!
Toggle Commented Feb 27, 2014 on Baguette Traditional - Fromartz Recipe at Chews Wise
Kristi, awesome. So glad you enjoyed the recipe.
Toggle Commented Feb 27, 2014 on Baguette Traditional - Fromartz Recipe at Chews Wise
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Screen shot from Borgen, episode 24 For the past two years, I've been watching Borgen, a Danish television series which tracks a female politician who rises to become prime minister. The series is quite entertaining and actually addictive, since the stong-willed but principled leader is someone you could relate to: Season 1 began with her riding her bicycle to Parliament. It deals with the conflict of work and home life, and all the intrigue of multi-party politics. I've only had access to Borgen online, at linkTV, careful to watch the shows in the two-week window after they air on cable. (Season 1 and Season 2 are out on DVD). I've found the themes fascinating. They focus on immigration, right wing free marketers, left-wing social issues, the greens and, of course, The Media, which is ever-present as the third wheel in the story. It's narrative drama, well done. But I was very surprised by the most recent episode, in season 3, which took up the issue of Danish hog farming and the use of anibiotics in confined animal operations. Now, this is pretty wonky stuff in the US, and it hasn't made much headway in breaking out of food and policy circles. But in Denmark, industrial hog farming is obviously the stuff of television drama, including the memorable line from a farmer who says he doesn't eat the confined hogs he produces but rather the swine out back, in a field. During the episode, when issues of antibiotic use and humane... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2013 at Chews Wise
Folding the dough builds gluten. You can achieve this by kneading, but it's a lot more work than using the folding/resting/folding method.
Toggle Commented Oct 25, 2013 on Baguette Traditional - Fromartz Recipe at Chews Wise
On an 8-minute video shot with a smart phone that won a film festival prize I recently heard Carlton Evans, the director of the Disposible Film Festival, speak about “disposible films”— all the video that is made when you click open your smart phone and start shooting away.We’ve all done it, but what I didn’t realize was the possibility of the medium. Luckily, Evans and his team did and created a film festival around it. The festival celebrates “the democratization of cinema made possible by low cost video technology: everyday equipment like mobile phones, pocket cameras, DSLRs and other inexpensive devices.” This sounds good in theory, but what does it mean? If you have 8 minutes and 19 seconds to spare, I would direct you to “The Adventures of a Cardboard Box,” by Temujin Doran. The short, an entry at the 2012 festival, starts out with the filmaker holding up a Nokia N8 smart phone a bit larger than his hand. And then the film rolls. It’s about a boy and the cardboard box that arrives at his house one day. The countryside setting is vaguely northern European (I’m guessing), the day sunny, and the creative possibilities, within a warm family, large. If you’ve ever had kids—or spent time with them—you know the allure of cardboard boxes. My daughter has spent more time playing in them, making up stories around them, and then cutting them to pieces, than any toy we’ve ever bought. The attraction of cardboard is only matched... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2013 at Chews Wise
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The crust crackled but the heart is fine. A pain de compagne with white, rye and whole wheat. Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2013 at Chews Wise
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Illustration: "Literary Lion in the Winter," by Dame Henriques By Samuel Fromartz Shortly after I heard from my mother that our close friend, the novelist Sol Yurick, had died at age 87, the obits began appearing. I was glad that Sol, the first serious writer I knew and a strong influence on me as a teenager, was getting recognition. But I was also chagrined that the obits almost exclusively focused on The Warriors, a work he wrote in 1965 about warring New York gangs based loosely on Xenophon’sAnabasis that went on to became a movie and cult hit. Sure, it was a fast read and his most popular work, filled with his requisite cast of rogues, misanthropes, disaffected youth and innocents but the gang bang work hardly defined Sol, who liked to remind people that he wrote it in all of three weeks. His more substantive novels that made a stir in the ‘60s and ‘70s—The Bag, Fertig, and his short story collection, Someone Just Like You—and his later works such as An Island Death, Richard A. and extended nonfiction essay, Metatron, were hardly considered though they defined Sol far more than the Warriors. Taking Someone Just Like You down from my bookshelf after years of neglect, I’m impressed by the writing, though it’s hard for me to separate the work from the man. I can’t really judge his literary merit against the backdrop of the ‘60s. I’ll leave that to the Ph.Ds. I can just appreciate the words, like... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2013 at Chews Wise
This is an interesting video about memories of bread from people in various countries. I know I have mine. Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2012 at Chews Wise
To answer the question, you leave half the dough in the refrigerator so you can bake fresh baguette the following day. These are best fresh so make the same day you are eating them or make them and then freeze. They're still pretty good defrosted and crisped in 400 f oven for 5 minutes but still fresh is best.
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For the past three years, I've tried to grow cantaloupe in my community garden plot in Washington, DC. The first two years, I planted my seeds in late May or early June and then transplanted the plants to the garden a few weeks later. All would go well. The vines would spread on the ground, the flowers would appear, the bees would show up to help pollinate the plants, and then I'd see tiny fruit. The fruit would get bigger and bigger -- and then, I'd leave for vacation in August. Once, I picked the fruit while still green hoping that it would ripen fully on the trip. It tasted awful. But when I left the fruit to ripen on the vine, the melons were usually half eaten by the time I returned. After all, these melons were extremely fragrant. If I were a rodent prowling the neighborhood, I'd want a bite too. This year, I took a different approach. I planted the seeds in early April, and transplanted the seedlings in May, under row cover for warmth. I began to get fruit by June. By July, when DC was basking in 100-plus temperatures, everything was humming. Then I went to extreme measures. I bought a solar powered owl , which I propped up on a stake. The owl's head turns periodically (it actually freaked out my wife, who went to the garden and didn't know about the owl. She jumped when its head turned). So far I've had no... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2012 at Chews Wise
I want to highlight a couple of stories we recently produced at the Food & Environment Reporting Network (@FERNnews on Twitter), where I serve as editor in chief. I'm pointing them out because I'm particularly proud of these stories and they took some time to come to fruition. The first, which appeared last week in a joint investigation with ABC News was reported by Maryn McKenna, a brilliant science journalist who focuses on nasty microbes (check out her recent book Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA). This past spring, she told me she had come across a number of studies that genetically linked the microbes in antibiotic-resistant bladder infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in chicken. I immediately sensed there was a good story here, because bladder infections affect, as the story points out, one-in-seven women. What was new, Maryn told me, was that the number of antibiotic resistant infections appeared to be rising, at least based on anecdotal medical evidence, since they are not officially tracked. Secondly, there was this curious link to the microbes in chicken, which develop resistance because chicken are fed antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness. (For a more in-depth look at this issue, read Maryn's story FERN produced in collaboration with The Atlantic.) Although the researchers had, in effect, genetically fingerprinted the bacteria, the question arose whether chicken causes the infections. The researchers assert that chicken are a likely and important source of these highly resistant infections, although as Maryn points out, establishing that... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2012 at Chews Wise
One of the toughest things about the 1,080 page Farm Bill is to write about it in a way that's accessible to readers, since the policy touches everything from agriculture to food stamps. Rather than cover the whole thing, the Food & Environment Reporting Network, where I serve as editor, decided to focus on one element: crop insurance. The piece by Stett Holbrook, running on msnbc.com, begins: Here’s a deal few businesses would refuse: Buy an insurance policy to protect against losses – even falling prices -- and the government will foot most of the bill. That’s how crop insurance works. The program doesn’t just help out farmers, however. The federal government also subsidizes the insurance companies that write the policies. If their losses grow too big, taxpayers will help cover those costs. In the farm bill now making its way through the Senate, crop insurance will cost taxpayers an estimated $9 billion a year. Never heard of it? This isn't your mother's car insurance, nor the home policy you have to cover disasters. No, this is a program that insures that farmers make the revenue they expect from crop sales. It's hard to imagine anything else like it in the business world, which is why one fund manager who buys farmland in the U.S. was quoted as saying in the Financial Times: "I don’t know of any other business where you can insure 90 per cent of your P and L (profit and loss),” said an adviser to large... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2012 at Chews Wise
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For those who missed it when it came out in the premier issue of Afar, the magazine has now posted my article on baking baguettes with the winner of the Grand Prix de la Baguette de la Ville de Paris. (This then led to a baguette competition back home and my winning recipe -- which can be demanding). Here's how the article, Time to Rise, opens: In Paris, the 9th arrondissement is popular, hip even, dotted with wine shops, boutiques, and boulangeries, but still has the close-knit feel of a residential neighborhood. The streets are lined with old apartment buildings that seem to lean onto the sidewalks. Inside intimate bistros on these quiet, narrow lanes, maître d’s chat with locals as they arrive. One Sunday afternoon last winter, when I visited, the streets were crowded with couples and families out for a leisurely stroll. By 3 a.m. the next day, however, Rue des Martyrs, a main artery in the district, was empty, the stores dark except for a slit of light coming out of the side entrance of the Boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel. Everyone was still asleep. Everyone, that is, except for the bakers—whose ranks I was about to join. Over the centuries, how many bakers have walked Paris’s dark avenues at night, heading to the fournils—baking rooms—to provide the city’s daily bread? In the 18th and 19th centuries, les geindres (the groaners) began before midnight, each laboring over hundreds of pounds of dough that they kneaded by hand and baked... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2012 at Chews Wise
Last week, I attended the Sustainable Foods Institute, hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As in the past, the session-packed affair of panels and keynotes did not disappoint, even though the outlook -- for fisheries, for food production, for humanity in general -- was pretty sobering. Among the speakers was Jonathan Foley, a professor of ecology and director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Minnesota. He gave a big picture view, noting that agriculture is not only the single biggest factor in global warming but obviously crucial to feeding a growing world. If there was one surprising takeaway, it was that the highly efficient machine of American agriculture -- and modern agriculture in general -- doesn't measure up to the hype. As Foley stated, "yields from the Green Revolution have stagnated and what we're doing isn't sustainable anyway." This discussion of how to feed the world often begins and ends with the question of whether we're maximizing crop production per acre of land -- something American farmers do quite well. But what yield doesn't tell us is whether that land could be used even more efficiently to produce more calories of food. Foley pointed out that crops such as corn and soybeans which are then fed to livestock -- or cars -- amount to a grossly inefficient use of land resources. "The elephant in the room is the cow," was the way he put it. Measured this way, it takes 32 pounds of corn to produce... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2012 at Chews Wise
Here's what it's like to catch a Yellowfin tuna on a bamboo pole off Ascension island in the South Atlantic. Most fish, of course, are not caught this way. (The tuna strikes just after minute 2 in the video, but watch the whole thing, you'll get the build up). Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2012 at Chews Wise
I agree with what you write ... my only point is that the conversation often stops at yield -- i.e., that conclusions get drawn, policies adopted, decisions made based solely or mostly on yield considerations, even in areas where such considerations aren't the driving factor in productivity. Fred Kirshenmann put it best once -- organic is a method, sustainability is a goal -- and I would probably depart from the more resolute organic camp in saying that organic is one method, but not the only one appropriate to all situations.
When measuring the productivity of farming, yield -- or output per acre of land -- is the metric that is often trotted out. And when this measure is used, organic farming usually falls short since it can’t match the yields of conventional agriculture. From there, it’s a short jump to conclude, as my friend Marc Gunther does, that organic methods will take more land to produce an equivalent amount of food, especially when population is increasing. The upshot, “organic food is not as green as you think.” The problem with this argument is not that the yield calculations are wrong. The problem is that yield studies are inappropriate by themselves in measuring what’s “sustainable,” in determining what might “feed the world,” and which methods actually end up using more land in a particular situation. That’s because farming does not occur in a vacuum where yield is the sole measure of success. Consider that the conventional farming methods that achieve higher yield require costly fossil fuel inputs in fertilizers and pesticides (the environmental impacts of which fall outside of yield studies), that they require highly mechanized tools that replace labor, and may rely on intensive irrigation from increasingly scarce water resources. Measured against the methods in most of the world -- 80% of the world’s workers are still farmers -- I have no doubt that the highly intensive model would produce a higher yield. But are those methods available or even appropriate to farmers in areas where food is most scarce... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2012 at Chews Wise
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Recently, writing about ancient grains, I serendipitously got an email from Mary-Howell Martens offering to hook me up with some of the grains she and her husband Klaas grow in New York for Lakeview Organic Grain. Rather than shipping the wheat, they brought it to the winter meeting of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture in State College, where my friend Bernie Prince (the now celebrated co-founder of FreshFarm Market) put it in her trunk and brought it to Capitol Hill. Now that's what I call networking. There were bags of whole oats, spelt, a red winter wheat and a beautiful white wheat, some heritage corn, toasted green spelt, known as frikeh, used in savory dishes from the Middle East (great post on it here by Anissa Helou), and then the ancient grain closely associated with the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, emmer wheat. Now emmer is genetically distinct from bread wheat and was the ancient forerunner of durum, used to make pasta and semolina flour. It's more commonly called farro and makes a wonderful risotto, as do many whole grains. The grains sat around in a big mason jar for awhile, a bit intimidating, since I had to grind it, but then I went to work with a stone mill I recently bought. I made a simple flat bread, using this recipe (I mean, it can hardly be called a recipe since it is simply flour, oil, water and salt) and then a method where you cook... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2012 at Chews Wise
Here's the lead-in to a brief interview about the Food & Environment Reporting Network at CJR: Even as interest in all things food-related skyrockets, space devoted to serious food issues continues to lose out to the gastroporn of hot restaurants and hotter chefs. So last year, a group of fed-up food writers launched the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), a nonprofit that funds investigative journalism on matters of food, agriculture, and environmental health. Its first piece, on New Mexico’s dairy industry, was published last fall in High Country News; a second story, published on msnbc.com in January, explained how a drug designed to keep pigs lean is hurting US pork exports. CJR’s Brent Cunningham spoke with Sam Fromartz, FERN’s editor in chief. Read the rest at CJR Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2012 at Chews Wise
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I spent a wonderful couple of days last May with Mike Zakowski, a baker in Sonoma who graciously took me into his backyard bakery where he was making loaves. I was curious about him, because he worked entirely by hand and was also in training to compete in the world cup of baking. These seemed like polar opposite pursuits. I will see him again next week when he's competing in Paris, where he's baking with Team USA in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Here's the opening of the story I wrote about him on Gilt Taste, which begins: The world of baking seems to attract free spirits, but Mike Zakowski—who calls himself The Bejkr—stands out even among them. Few bakers, even the most committed artisans, mix their dough by hand, because of the demands of production. Nor do they work in a converted shipping container plopped in their backyard. Nor do they often bake with a wood fire, because the heat and oven can be as fickle to master as the bread itself. Zakowski does all of this. And then he drives to the farmers’ market in Sonoma, smoke billowing out of an oven hitched on the back of his vintage delivery truck with bright green hub caps. If I left the image there—stellar artisan baker in California wine country, selling loaves that feature local ingredients, ancient grains, organic flours and hemp seeds—you would nod. You would get it. But it’s not the whole story, because Zakowski has... Continue reading
Posted Feb 29, 2012 at Chews Wise