My meltdown came the Friday before last. I shut the door on my cosy apartment in Parma around 5am on the Monday, and arrived in Bogotá that evening after almost 24 hours of travelling. My brave face during those first few days was not so much brave as disbelieving, and when the realisation hit that my year at UNISG is over, that face crumpled into a big sobbing mess for several hours. Since then I've been feeling a bit better.
My post-UNISG recovery / mourning period will be here in Bogotá where I am the fortunate guest of La Mamá de Latino Man (hereon-in known as Mamá Latina). To keep myself busy I'm studying Spanish, getting to know Latino Man's friends, family and hometown, and of course, baking. But just as my heart is adjusting to the absence of all my incredible foodie friends, so too must my baking habits adjust to my temporary high-altitude home.
The first challenge was finding bread flour. Truly. Despite the huge per capita bread consumption in Colombia, bread flour is very hard to come by. We tried several supermarkets and food stores but they sold only pastry flour of the bleached and "vitamin enriched" variety. The former architect who now runs the gorgeous bakery called Árbol del Pan around the corner helped us out by giving us the details of her flour supplier. I'm not sure if what I bought is indeed intended for bread, as I didn't get a look at the packaging. The store selling this flour is old school: a wall-to-wall counter at the front and rows of food supplies behind it. We asked for bread flour (by we I of course mean Latino Man) and the guys at this store disappeared out the back and returned with two bowls of flour, one of white and one of wholemeal. When discussing the flours I heard the word "fuerza" which might have been a reference to "strong flour", the term for bread flour in Australia, or maybe they were saying "you'll need a strong oven for these babies." Either way I bought 2kg of each and fed a little of both to Simon.
Simon is my sour-dough starter whom I created last year in a period of fermentation-fascination. Before I left Italy I followed these helpful instructions to dehydrate him, in order to make him easier to transport and potentially to help explain him to a customs official. The dried flakes look less menacing to a country's eco-system than a goopy mess of wild Italian yeast. Alas he took some time to re-hydrate. I thought maybe he was suffering jetlag, or maybe altitude sickness, but it turned out that it was simply too cold in Mamá Latina's kitchen to achieve any level of fermentation. So I did what anyone living in an unheated house in a cold climate does, I took Simon, and a hot water bottle, and I hopped into bed. The combination of body+hot-water-bottle heat did the trick, and he was back to his bubbly self in a few days.
"Bread therapy" is how the girls from Árbol del Pan describe the act of baking, and I couldn't agree with them more. Kneading is an act of meditation for me (and a good upper body workout) and watching a starter I created from scratch transform a mixture of flour, salt and water into a crusty flavourful loaf of bread gives this slightly lost and uncertain graduate some sense of control over her life.