Striking the Mother Loaf: San Francisco Sourdough

Baker, Boudin BakeryFernando Padilla, – Master Baker, Boudin Bakery, San Francisco

I could live quite happily just on fermented stuff: wine, cheese, sauerkraut (but maybe not Eskimo whale flipper), but most of all bread, my favorite being San Francisco sourdough. Fernando Padilla has been Master Baker at San Francisco’s Boudin (pronounced bowdeen) Bakery since 1988. But Boudin goes back to 1846, when Isadore Boudin (French pronunciation), son of a Bordeaux baker, took the miner’s bread he discovered during the California Gold Rush and alchemized it to fermented gold.

The secret is in the starter, a pool of microorganisms consisting of lactobacili and natural yeast living in a blob of wheat reverently called the mother dough. Miners carried Mom close to their hearts, in pouches around their necks and on their belts. The beauty of this concoction, mixed with wheat, water and salt, was that the bread it made didn’t spoil and mold quickly, due to its acidity. Boudin’s perhaps not-so-secret ingredient was honored with scientific name, lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Padilla says that the DNA of his mother dough probably dates back to Gold Rush times.

Sourdough differs from other breads in that it doesn’t use commercial yeast to speed it along. It takes 72 hours to make a loaf of bread, but the reward is the unique sourness that bubbles up inside.

So how about celebrating the phenomenon of fermentation with a glass of Pinot, a slice a cheese, and while I’m at it, why not tear off a chunk of San Francisco sourdough?

Boudin is considered the oldest still operating business in San Francisco. Its showplace bakery, museum and restaurant is located at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Celebrating Arthur C. Clarke 100th Birthday

Today would have been the 100th birthday of futurist, science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke, best known for his screenplay (with director Stanley Kubrick), “2001: A Space Odyssey”, inventing the concept of the communications satellite, and shedding tears on TV (with US commentator Walter Cronkite) when the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon. He earned the title “Prophet of the Space Age”.

 

I spent a day with Clarke in his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1994, watching him redesign the surface of Mars on a primitive computer, having long chats about everything under the sun, and interviewing him for a documentary I was producing on the future of travel. Following are excerpts from my upcoming book “Tales of the Radio Traveler” and a video memorial I put together upon his death in 2008. 

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RIP Joe Sutter : An Interview with the Father of the Boeing 747

Joe Sutter, Father of the Boeing 747

Joseph Sutter, rest in peace. The engineer who was regarded as the”Father of the 747″ was 95.

Airlines come and go, but one airplane, put in service in 1970 by Pan Am and designed and built by Boeing, is still flying, still being manufactured and, like Swiss Cheese or a Brooks Brothers suit, still looks the same. It is that ubiquitous, bulbous Cyrano of the skies, the Boeing 747.

Joe Sutter led a team of 4,500 (his number) engineers in designing what he called “the old ladies airplane” because not even granny is afraid to fly in it. We caught up with him in Hong Kong a few years back.

20 MIN
 

Thirty Faces of Nepal

All Photos (c) Russell Johnson – Two Boys, Kathmandu

I  spent quite a lot of time in Nepal in the 1990s participating in heritage conferences and for the UN Development Programme on a project to reduce poverty through sustainable tourism. I met hundreds of people. Here are some of the faces that need the world’s help now more than ever.

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