Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tale of 2 Cities - Mpls VS Saint Paul

Wow......Big Fricken Deal!

Charles Dickens wrote about two cities, but did he ever bake for two...simultaneously?

A lot of the Last American Bakers readership is outside the United States.

The blog hits in Western Europe and Asia has been climbing at a rapid pace and that kinda cracks me up.

To be honest I can't think of anything cooler than somebody drinking tea in Denmark, and starting off their day with a new installment of L.A.B.

One of the things that I'd be remiss to not mention is did you know that Danny Klecko doesn't bake for an entire city every day, he bakes for two.

In my state of Minnesota, our capitol is Saint Paul, this is the city that I live in, but just across the Mississippi River, just a stone throw away is Minneapolis.

According to the 2010 Census the "Twin Cities" is the 16th largest metro area in the United States and has a population of 3.5 million residents.

I have live 15 years in Minneapolis, and 25 years in Saint Paul. Each one of these cities is wonderful, but yet totally unique from one another.

Both sides of the river has it own additude.

Each day when Klecko goes out to do sales calls, or eliminate a problem with a current account.....he actually has to develop a persona that will match up the customs and mentality of whatever camp he is visiting.

Even though these two cities have fit together as well as that ying-yang symbol, the differeneces can be confusing.

Permit me to illustrate.

Minneapolis is a big city with many important people
Saint Paul is a small town where everybody is your friend

Minneapolis has Museums
Saint Paul has Walmarts

Minneapolis likes to negotiate
Saint Paul will slug you in the jaw

Minneapolis used to be referred to as the Mill City
Saint Paul was called Pigs Eye

Minneapolis followed Western time during part of the 60's
Saint Paul remained steadfast with Central time

Minneapolis houses the campus of the Unniversity of Minnesota
Saint Paul houses the campus of the University of Minnesota

Minneapolis is where Prince filmed Purple Rain
Saint Paul is where Bob Dylan smoked weed and talked to God

Minneapolis is the birthplace to film directors, the Coen Brothers
Saint Paul is where Coopers Grocery was a shooting site for their film "A Serious Man"

Minneapolis has profesional baseball,basketball and football teams
Saint Paul has hockey and roller derby

Minneapolis has the Basilica of Saint Mary
Saint Paul has the Cathedral

Minneapolis was headquarter to the Billy Grahmm World Wide Ministries
Saint Paul is home to Klecko's religous musings

I love the Twin Cities and have grown to appreciate their differences.

Some chefs will insist that their patrons will obtain a sophisticated palate before they will expose them to their premier dishes.

Klecko just simply requests that you aknowledge the differences between the two cities that motivate him every day.

Big Daddy Diamond - NyQuil Bombs & Locker #43

OK, you kids have gotten to know me by now, let me ask you think Klecko would make a good drug addict?

As a kid, I grew up in the 60's, the smell of weed was encrusted in my nostrils from the time I came out of the womb. Outdoor festivals, art fairs, drum circles......This is where baby Klecko spent his formative years. I'd get dragged to these events by my free spirited mother (and 1/2 the times my entire wardrobe consisted of nothing more than a loin cloth and heavy pewter peace sign necklace) who believed that the entire hippie nation could collectively raise her son.
I think a lot of peeps my moms age subscribed to that ideology.

Here's a couple illustrations to show you why I would make a great drug addict..........

#1 - I totally love the movies TRAINSPOTTING and SID & NANCY.

#2 - Instead of using 5-Hour Energy Shots, I use "Extra Strength."

#3 - When Klecko gets the flu he drops NyQuil Bombs, these feats of magic are made up of one part NyQuil, and one part Jagermeister.

#4 - When Klecko had his wisdom teeth out, he laid on the couch watching Jackie Chan video's until his entire prescription ran out.

Of course I'm busting your chops a little, but I really think any of us could fall victim to the dragon. During my career I have seen this armor scaled beast take the souls of dozens of people I've worked with. I'm telling ya kid, that Lizard King plays for keeps.

Many-Many years ago in a bakery far-far away, I worked with this cat who everybody called "Big Daddy Diamond."

Big Daddy had the same build and general overall behavioral traits as Skipper from the TV show Gilligan's Isle. Well except that he bought an eight ball every Friday on payday, and fried it before his Saturday shift....oh yeah, and except he'd take new-young-rube bakers (mostly from Wisconsin LOL) and take them to Saunas and get them in even though they were under age, oh yeah....and expect he would always take new employees by locker #43 at about 2 a.m. and bump it so the door would pop open, only to reveal a large plastic receptacle (which was filled with speed) and the multiple lines of crank that were cut out in perfectly even lines.

Then Big Daddy Diamond would give you the following paraphrased speech much in the same manner that your shop teacher, or driving instructor would talk to you.

"Oh my, what could that be, I certainly don't know." Then he would close the locker door with his shoulder before continuing "You know, sometimes the baking industry can be hard on a guy, sometimes a guy needs help, a guy could use a friend. I've heard that some people like round doughnuts (he was talking about the speed) priced at 25 cents each, other folks prefer a better breakfast by selecting the powdered doughnuts, those are $12:50 a piece.  It's not every bakery where "Breakfast Service" is made available, so it would be a shame if this favor ever got abused, because you know how stuff like that turns out.......eventually abusers are caught and the laws of nature has a way of evening everything out."

I wasn't sure if I should laugh or be scared.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'd talk with workmates in a hushed whisper, over in some isolated corner and ask..... "Dude whats up with locker #43?" Without exception, the workmate(s) would turn their back and walk away. Never was a response uttered. You didn't know who was a player and who wasn't. was like the Mob-Mafia-Cubans and American government talking about the Kennedy assassination in the foyer of the book depository.

If the culinary field was a rodeo......Commercial wholesale baking would be the bull riding event. Nothing against Chefs, Retail Bakers or little kids with Kool-Aid stands, but the Commercial baker is simply a bad a** freak of nature. Working 40-50 days in a row, 12-16 hour shifts wasn't was expected. You lived to bake and baked to live.

"Well Klecko I knew a chef in Montreal that...." let me interrupt you right there sister, before you sound silly, did that chef friend work from 10 pm to noon, on an opposite spectrum of society? Did they work in a cinder block tomb where they were chained to a bun machine?

All respect- All love tossed out at anybody crazy enough to work in "The Show", but just as everybody in the MLB can't argue the fact that the Yankee's have the most sucsessful org in the biz (and I so HATE those pin striped turds), the Wholesale baker is the culinary Godfather of the food industry, and if you want to scrap over this, use your mind before you lift your fist.....history will back my opinion.

The standard Wholesale baker who uses drugs (which will almost always be stimulants) really doesn't view themselves as druggies, in fact most of them will frown on, or make fun of "that guy" who smokes their mind, there is no reason for it, there is no payoff. The guy is written off as a clod.

I can't tell you how many times I came to work and "dude" would be at the time clock, eyes sunk to the back of his skull, bearing the confession 'Brah I pounded a 1/4 (crank) yesterday, I just couldn't "F"ing sleep, I'm not sure if I can work another shift."

Sometimes the crew would take pity and send them home, or let them sleep in the warehouse for 6 hours until boss man strutted the floor. other times like Christ standing before the mob....instead of hearing "Give us Barrabas" they'd here "Buck up A-Hole and get your work done."

Klecko has always flirted with obsession and living the process of life in the ditch, but straight up.....these guys scared the crap out of me.Hard drugs and fast roller coasters have always freaked me out. I'd see body's hit the concrete as often as you might see your office mate swiping an extra 5 minutes by the company water cooler.

And maybe its that "clean living" that has helped me survive. At 47 years old, working in environments with less than 100 employees, a guy shouldn't be able to rattle off dozens of colleagues that have died at the hands of drugs.

In closing, I realize that the topic is kinda a drag, but I will say, every single one of those peeps knew what they were getting them selves into, and for the most part, they smiled all the way.....that is until they dropped.

Be clean Kids!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Bread and Souls in Manhattan Kansas

Just about the time Mother Earth began this new millenium, strange rumblings were moving through the international bread community.

Some of the more daring artisan bread bakers were following a trendy template that had been set by the folks who figured out a way to stretch the price point on coffee.

Let me explain.

In the 90's most people would stop into a raunt, cafe or coffee house, ask for a cup of Joe, and if it was pretty good stuff, you might have had to plunk down as much as 50 cents.

Then along came these crazy cats named Starbuck's who said.....

"Hey guy's, guess what? We are going to quadruple the price of your beverage, and you're going to feel even more en vogue for letting us take your money."

When one concept cashes in,it doesn't take long for other merchants to start considering if they too can squeeze those extra shekels from their clients pockets.

Funny thing is, when the bakers bought into this ideoligy, all they did was inverted the bread customs of the worlds social classes.

From the 1950's, up until the year 2000, most middle class to wealthy familys ate enriched breads, while the 3rd world nations and poorer people of the world ate "peasant breads", such as foccacias, ciabatta's and baguettes made from lean doughs.

Culinary puppet masters started marketing to beautiful people that they would become unhealthy and suffer status hit's if they didn't change their bread staples immediately.

And the downtrodden? Nobody spent a nickel to market to them. The now antiquated products were simply placed on the shelves of their outlets with the knoledge that if they were'nt willing to make the switch...they could just go w/o.

At this point....the floor dropped out on the bread industry, and all of us were in a free fall. all of us wondered where we would land.

Rich people were eating the bread of savages, and the destitute were indulging in the loaves which had typically been reserved for royaly.

The best thing to surface from this confusion was that both styles of bread were now being sold at a premium price.Bread profits had never been higher.

When trends come quick in the Food Show, the first thing a business has to decide is if the flourishing concept is a fad, or a trend that will continue gaining momentum over a prolonged period of time.

The owners of the bakery I was working at decided to send me on an expedition to find out some of these answers.

Much like the knights used to get shipped out to pursue the Holy Grail....

Klecko headed to Manhattan Kansas, in bakers terms, the Oz of all baking knowledge.

Manhattan plays host to the American Instatute of Baking which is strategically placed next to K-State.

Kansas State arguably has the best food science / cereal science programs in the world.

If you look at the resumes of all the General Mills employees, you'll find that a majority of them attended school there.

The distance between my house and this baking mecca is only 558 miles (898 km), so you'd think a guy would be able to catch a straight flight, but no, they had to route me into Wisconsin first.

I was pushed out of my 747 and made to wait a few hours in an airport in Milwaukee.

I don't know, I've guessing I've sat in at least 40-50 airports in my life, and almost everytime, they're all the same.

All these pit stops contain humans, buildings and food. Everybody is either in a hurry or looks as if the are being held captive against their will.

But the thing that is interesting about airports is that people are always coming and going. So typically the commuters appearance will be pretty diverse.

Not in Milwaukee though, every person in that airport did a perfect immatation of what my perception of Wisconsin resident.

This unerved me, and I wanted to flee.

When it was time to board my next plane, I was astonished to see this little puddle jumper taxi up to the tarmac.

I'd be lying if I said this plane didn't frighten me, I'm not kidding ya, as I looked at the rusty propellars, I made the sign of the cross and told the guy in front of me that even Buddy Holly refused to get on this rig.

Dude didn't laugh.

On the flight I read an information phamplet that helped me kill some time with usless Manhattan trivia.

For instance, the K-State Wild Cats Football program was once the worst Division 1 squad in the nation. Support was so poor that marketing tried everything from letting low level felons attend the games as part of their sentance, to hiring Willie Nelson to have a concert prior to the game so there would be a built in audience. Rroblem is, the concert goers left after Willie stopped singing.

The phamplet didn't forget A.I.B., in fact they informed me that when the school founders wanted to place this instatution in a centrally located place. The guy in charge had his wife point to the center of a United States silhouette and when they placed this carbon over a map, the dot on the tracing paper lined up with Manhattan Kansas.

So the puddle jumper sets down at a airstrip like the ones you see in the movies when the bad guys are running guns or drugs. A van picks me up, and my chauffer is a man in his late 70's.

As my new best friend fidgits with the radio dial to find a station that will give him reception that will meet his expectations.

I looked out my window and felt as if I were in a foreign film, even though I was plopped in the center of the wheat belt.

Water towers, store front windows, car bumpers, t-shirts, everywhere you looked appeared the image of the K-State mascot. A menacing purple Wildcat.I found this visual romantic, but yet disturbing-LOL.

I'm not kidding ya. I'll bet if you closed your eyes, were spun in a circle, and then allowed to walk a mile or 2 in any direction, when you removed your blindfold, and if you stood perfectly still, you'd be able to count out over 100 purple cats.

I don't remember which hotel chain put me up, but I do remember that its occupants were split down the middle. Half of the guests were in town on baking related business, and the other half were Armed Force Chaplains that were in town for a convention.

A lot of the preachers were from the Biblebelt, and most of the time they hung out in the parking lot with the trunks of their Lincolns and Cadillac open. Their sub woofers were blasting out hymms like "How Great Thought Art" or "Holy-Holy-Holy".

On my first day of class, the first thing they made us do was go around the room and do formal introductions. One of the prerequites for attending the conference was that you had to have a working knowledge of English.

This was a good idea since over 1/2 the peeps in attendance were from different continents.

It was a long time ago, but I remember there were folks from the Ukraine, Nigeria, Canada, Brazil and some of the Arab Countries.

The guy who was going to moderate the festivities was from Germany,and when he noticed many of us were sitting at work stations by ourselves, he encouraged us to double up.

I was in the back row, and during the "Meet & Greet" there was this woman in the front row named Maria. She was from Mexico City and may have been 1 of the 10 prettiest women I have ever seen.

So of course Klecko wanted to sit with her, but there was an ocean of people between us. Surely one of the adventorous young men would beat me to the finish line.

To my surprise, these wusses shot into every direction other than hers.I think her drop dead looks intimidated my colleagues.

When Klecko realized the cupboard was bare, well... he practically skipped up to her side.

"Hola Whey." was my salutation. If you havent had the luxery of working in a bakery of Mexicans, allow me to translate....Hello Dummy!

Then made Maria laugh. When she smiled, I remember Klecko wondering how so many huge, perfectly white teeth could fit into shut a tiny mouth.

If you've ever been to a convention, you know the ritual that takes place at the end of the first day of business right?

Everybody stands around in a foyer outside the conference room. Most of these people have come by themselves. Statistics show that probably 95% of these people are followers and are praying that an alpha will surface and come up with a plan so the collective can stay together on the first night.

Klecko doesn't nessisarily like being in charge, but I'll tell you one thing for sure. He sure hates being alone.

So now this dweeb named Trevor, the guy from a small town in Michigan starts inflating his chest just a bit, so I jumped in and informed my peers....

"OK guys, I've done the work ahead of time, theres a really cool place around here and I've called ahead to let them know a group of us is coming, so if you want to tag are more than welcome to."

Now remember, this is pre cell phone world, and none of us had the convenience of checking in easily with our familys, but Maria insisted that she had to stop back at our hotel and make a few calls.

It was agreed upon. We would all go back for 1/2 hour, freshen up and hit the road. I really didn't have a clue as to were we would be going, but I sure didn't want to follow Trevor and possibily end up at a venue that was worse than solitude.

So when we walk into the lobby of our hotel. Preachers are swapping scriptures, bakers are converting formulas, and the concierge whips across the floor in a B-line towards Maria.

"Excuse me Mam, I hate to bother you, but your husband has called a half dozen times and would like you to get a hold of him, he has also made arrangments for one of our staff to assist you in your shopping excursion on Thursday. If you will just follow........"

Maria looked at me with abject embaressment and slinked off with the local.

So I brought my motley crew to a place called "The Last Chance". It was basically the first place we passed by that offered the possibilty of beer, chicken wings and wall mounted televisions.

As everybody started to settle in, I was feeling homesick, but started to feel a little better when I saw the Miami Dolphins playing a meaningless Monday Night Football pre season game on television.

The age range our our pack was 25-50ish,so our server welcomes us, and then out of the side of her mouth explains they got busted a couple weeks ago for serving minors so EVERYBODY has to produce an I.D.

When the server looked at the first persons they audibally announced the date of their birth and the year. Each person in succesion followed suit.

When it was Maria's turn she announced "July 8th 1968".

I was up next and answered with "July 8th 1963".

It wasn't exactly the key to a hidden code, or some kind of miracle that needed to be studied by the Vatican, but none the less....when you meet somebody else that shares your birthday, and ecspecially when you broadcast them back to back unknowingly, there is an element of something there.Kleclo just doesn't know what it is though, or what level of swag needs to be attached to it.

So a couple seconds passed, everybody stares in my direction and instead of witnessing an awkward pause, Klecko risked becoming a lout and began the conversation.

OK guys, heres the deal. Everybody is excited and bored. None of us know each other that well, but within another 24 hours, we'll all pretty much know who we like, or who we hate. I'll bet tomorrow we'll break up into smaller groups, and the night after that...1/2 of you will just lay in your hotel rooms and watch TV, so lets take this oppurtunity to discuss our employeement and familys, are you in?"

Then I lifted a mug and everybody else chimed in. Typically I don't want to know about every person I meet, or ecspecially their personal life, but most of these cats were from different parts of the world. Places that I may never have the oppurtunity to visit."

I don't know if it was the beer specials or what, but the Last Chance was buzzing. If having the flu makes your perception on matters worse than they are. Hearing stories in an active bar make them 10 times better.

I'll bet it took us over 2 hours before this "Ice Breaking" topic was exhausted, each persons stories merited some kind of New York Times column.

However, Martha gave a much more generic account of her life,she didn't really address family and business hopes like the rest of us.

So, just as I had predicted, with each passing day the pack grew smaller and smaller. On Thursday evening, it appeared to me that nobody was going to go out, I remember I was going to head back to the Last Chance, and if nothing else....I'd play pinball with college students and locals.

In fact I probably would had already left, but the Royals were on TV VS the Yankee's, and whenever you are in an American League city, it is really quite a treat to watch a local broadcast of their home town squad.

Just when I was ready to place my hand on the doorknob, Royals first baseman Mike Sweeny stole home.I think it was off Mussina, but don't quote me on that part of it. That must of cost me another 10 minutes because each time on the replay, when they showed that lumbering goon glide over home plate I actually cheered out loud, even though I was alone.

I hate the Yankee's

But then....Boom-Boom-Boom, who comes to visit my room?

That's right, the ever effervesent Maria.

She told me that she was bored and lonely, and that she would be willing to buy me dinner if I would accompany her.

Ask Sue McGleno or any of the women of Klecko's Girlfriend Nation, and they'll tell you that Capitol Cities premiere baker has no problem letting women splurge on him.

But this was different, Maria was different. Throughout the week during the conference,she had on more than one occasion insinuated that her husband was a player in some kind of Mob or Cartel.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that Maria had probably never picked up a bar tab in her life. You could tell how she articulated, you could tell by how perfectly her clothes hung from her body.

So Klecko skirts the awkwardness by informing her that he would love to join her, but while she was in America, it would bring shame upon my household if she did not allow me to pay for the evening.

You could just see this sigh of relief come over her countenance.

At this point money just was'nt a factor in the equation. She was just thrilled that I knew her for who she was, accepted it and was willing to let her continue her role in the dignity that she was accustomed to.

So we went down to the Last Chance and sat out on the patio, it was an hourish before dark and the place was less busy than the last time we came.

The both of us tossed our ID's onto the table and when our server came, I ordered margaritas for the 2 of us, and before you know it my friend began to confide some of her business goals.

Her husband was going to finance a restaurant / bakery in one of the more metropolitan parts of Mexico City.

I've had literally 10 000 conversations like this before. Conversations where people share their million dollar ideas on how they are going to create something special, something unique.

I've always felt that was quite a boast when you figure over a billion feeding establishments have already opened over the the centurys.

Maria didn't dissapoint though.....

"In my country, most of the people do not eat as healthy as they should. I am going to not just create healthier dishes for them,I am going to explain to them why this way of eating is better."

If you've never been to Manhattan Kansas in late summer, not only is it hot outside, but the air is sticky as well. My shirt was drenched through, and the young-athletic server girlios were getting sticky as well.

However, my evenings date somehow remained dry and composed, as if weather didn't have the ability to dent her demeanor.

She continued sharing her vision.

"But in addidtion to health, I want to get to know the women who make my restaurant a daily or weekly occurrence.I want to build a relationship with them so I can help them with the one thing all woman want the most. Do you know what that is Pelon?"

I shook my head no.

"Woman are so afraid to exress their desire to be beautiful. I do not know why that is. Every woman has beauty inside of themselves. But they will never see it, if they don'y believe. I can teach them how to do this, and I will."

When you write something like that, and stare at it on your monitor,my friend comes across as a braggart, but you had to be in Manhattan that night. You had to look into her eyes to see that there was a need for her to help others.

You know Klecko, it doesn't happen very often, but I was quiet for a little bit. I was thinking about this vision, and I was hoping that it would become a reality.

Do you ever have one of those crossroads moments where you wonder if what has been presented to you is meant to be just what is was, or if maybe it was just a layer that was attached to another, deeper rooted topic.

Thats what I was thinking, and it was getting dark. I had made some earlier observations from the first night our pack went out and I felt as if they were connected, but should I just leave well enough alone?

Tick Tock goes the clock, the Margarita glass gets tilted one more time and Klecko just can't keep his mouth shut.

"OK Maria, we have 24 more hours together. The things you have told me are really interesting, I don't want to offend you because you are my friend, but may I ask you a question?"

Maria flashed those big white teeth at me again and assured me my questions would be welcomed.

Just like when I approached that puddle jumper, I was kinda nervous, crossed myself and delved in.

"The other night when everybody shared their story inside the bar. Everybody talked about their families, you never did.When me and the other people told stories of our children, your eyes went big. I could see that kids flipped a switch in you, but you never asked a single question about any of our children."

My friend stared at me void of expression. I continued.

"I realize this is none of my business, but I think there might have been some damage in your life that revolves around kids. I don't know, maybe you have 8, but I don't think so. I've heard a thousand people discuss plans for their upcoming restaurant, yours was the best ever because your focus is on the peoples soul....even more than the food."

Then I stopped, grabbed her hand with a non amorous grip and finished my thought.

"Had your birthday been July 7th, or July 9th, I'd be sitting back in my room watching baseball kid, but both of us are July 8th, and you were born exactly 5 years after me" now a grin comes back to Maria "But at the risk of going ESP all over you, just answer me one question, is your pursuit about kids, do you have conflict in that area?"

As these questions finished leaving my mouth. I swear to Caesar I couldn't tell if they sounded like the ranting of a mad man, or the prying of somebody who just had no social filter.

But Maria squeezed my had tight, and then tighter. Just about the time my fingers were about to break, tears began streaming out of her eyes.

Some of our patio guests kinda picked up on our drama now, but at this point, I guess you could say it was a little too late to worry about public perception.

I'll bet I can almost remember Maria's response pretty close to word for word.

"Pelon, before I married my husband. I was in love with a boy. He was from my village and I followed him everywhere. Eventually when we became old enough, he made love to me and a baby was produced. When I told the boy about this with excitement...he got mad and said it would bring shame on us since we were not married, and even worse, he could not afford to take care of himself, how could he provide for me and a child. He ended up taking me to get an abortion. I did not want to do this, but I did not have the courage to not do it. The place where this procedure took place had a man who wasn't a doctor do my operation. The result is that the baby was aborted, and I was almost killed, however I did get better, but the surgery wrecked my body and I will never have children. The boy ran away and I married a wealthy man who loves me and does not hold the past against me."

Now the crying that went to another level.

"The boy has returned now, and he wants me to divorce my husband and join him,and he said he wants to have many children with me now, but as I've said....I am not able."

So I asked if she even wanted to go back, the boy kinda sounded like an a** munch to me, but you know what.....she did.

Even though the tears were still multiplying, Maria began to smile while she told me one last thing.

"Before I came here, I asked in prayer for some aswers to my questions. Pelon....this incident happened 10 years ago. I have never mentioned it once to anybody. People have always looked at the outside of my body, but you looked inside and saw my problem.I don't know how you do this, and I don't care. I am just grateful for our friendship and your willingness to ask me questions."

I was feeling kinda akward. I don't know how people get placed, or if they get placed in one anothers lives. I'm just glad I stuck around to watch Mike Sweeny steal home base for those extra 10 minutes or this evening just wouldn't of transpired.

The conference turned out to be pretty cool, and I learned a lot of valuble info that helped me to increase my bread empire, but moneys leaves Kleckos hands before they even touch them.

but each year, on the morning of Klecko's birthday, it is not his life that he celebrates first. This honor belongs to a woman that is probably doing tremendous things south of the border.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anne Frank & the Polish Brick Starter

One of the things I've decided to do differently in Volume #2 of L.A.B. is to include some recipes and formulas.

The first one that I am going to submit to you is not only a staple, but its the backbone of Klecko's career - OLD WORLD BRICK STARTER.

The first thing I have to do when addressing sourdough is to go into your minds and erase all the untrue concepts that you've been exposed to by ignorant teachers who value vanity over practicality.

I hope most of you feel as if you know me well enough to know that this isn't a diss, it's factual. All people cannot be specialist on all topics, so often times it's just easier to subscribe to public opinion.

On December 25th each year many of us shower one another with gifts to celebrate the birthday of Jesus...LOL, just ask a dime store theologian and they'll insist that the Messiah was really born in late September.

The same thing is true with sourdough, for whatever reason people like to believe that it is supposed to be this tangy-acidic bread that contains a flavor which is capable of biting back.

Nadda-Nadda Enchilada. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure there are coastal varieties that pick up sharpness from sea salt like the San Francisco version, but these versions don't necessarily represent the standard sourdough palate .

The true definition of sourdough is density, always has been, always will be.

Sourdough was invented by the Egyptians. They would make their bread, pull back the sand, cover their loaves and then their family had food for up to a week.

As the Hebrews made their exodus westward into eastern Europe, they brought this technology with them. Not everybody who made this trip lasted from Point "A" to point "B", so the people who fell off the wagon train taught these new bread skills to numerous outposts.

As much as I love French baguettes,their disadvantage is its hard to get more than a days shelf life from them.

Sourdough can give you a good week, and its easily the most versatile of all doughs. The baker can manipulate the color, flavor or texture with little effort.

I'll be up front with you right now, many sourdough bakers are freaks. I've been to a million club meetings, read all the books, and the one thing many of them have in common is that they try to bully and intimidate the novice baker.

They'll ramble on as to how difficult and precise this technology is, or they will insist that you have to feed your starter 3 times a day. If you don't, be prepared because they will call the authorities and report you as an abusive sourdough parent.

In the world of sourdough will find 2 types, #1 is the liquid starter. This is what 95% of sourdough bakers use today.

Klecko thinks they are insane. Sure, he may not be as scientific, or as bright as many of his peers, but how many peeps can say that they have spun sourdoughs every day for 30 years?

But the main reason liquid starters became in vogue was because baking company's didn't want to ship the bricks, they weighed to much.

Money...its the answer to everything right?

The main reason I didn't give you guys my greatest secrets in volume #1 of L.A.B. was you wouldn't have understood them.

Understanding can never be fully achieved until there is trust, and by this point I think most of you know that I have nothing to gain by offering you my opinions.

Had I just kicked in the door and started screaming like a lout.....

"OK class, today is sourdough, and all of you will succeed!"

Many of you would have let your own self doubts get in the way.

But, now that you've become comfortable with Klecko, who's kidding who? You know you can do this.

Even baking professionals are freaked out by sourdough. Often times they seem defeated before they've even looked at the formula. Do you want to know why?

Because the is an additional step, that's it.

Old World Brick Starters are great because it's hard to mess them up. Seriously....think of some old woman baking in Istanbul in the 1700's.

She didn't have Food Network or designer cookbooks, but she could throw down stellar loaves.

Americans, as your country was being explored and settlers traveled westward... they used brick starters because of there durability and resilience.

Before I share my recipe, let Klecko share one last Brick Starter story with you.

My original brick was started by a couple other bakers over a 1/4 of a century ago at Custom Breads, when the bakery was sold and became Custom Bakery, the transfer in ownership took place with no down time, therefore the Brick Starter stayed in rotation.

But then came that fated day (about 7-10 days before the marriage of Klecko & Sue McGleno) where the IRS came and literately shut the bakery down. I still remember it was a Sunday morning, and the bakery doorway was taped shut like they do to the apartments where people get killed on television shows.

One of the reasons the shut down has to take place quickly is because otherwise...shifty concept owners would unload what assets were left out the back door.

I didn't have any invested interest in the equipment that was left behind, but Klecko was concerned about that sourdough brick starter.

Each sourdough starter has a name assigned to it, much like ships have personal names to identify them.

My sourdough starter was/is named Annalisa, and I began to realize that if I didn't take matters into my own hands, she was certain to perish.

All that time, observation, love...all tossed out the window. I was sick in the heart.

The following story you are about to read involves a crime, so therefore I will not say this is non fiction, I will simply describe this as a dream, and you can piece together the reality in whatever way you see fit.

OK, once there was a baker who was worried about his starter being held hostage by Uncle Sam in a tin building in Saint Paul.

The baker loved that Brick Starter so much that he decided that he would find a way into the prison and emancipate this sourdough fuel.

However, it then occurred to him.........

"What if I do rescue Annalisa? I am a baker w/o a job. how will I keep her alive until I find employment again?"

So first things first, the baker went rouge and liberated about 25#'s of Annalisa and brought it to a safe house in the Highlands of Saint Paul. The following night as he sat on his steps smoking cigs, and thinking about his pending marriage, an epiphany came to him.

One of the first bakers who worked with Annalisa was working with a bakery that was a direct competitor to Custom Bakery, so the baker swung by this rival shop and banged on the window to get his former colleagues attention.

When the guy came outside, the baker explained the situation and asked this guy to take Annalisa into his work space, feed her every 4 or 5 days, and as soon as the baker found employment, he'd be back to collect his love sake.

The colleague was pretty cool, but pointed out that if his owner found out, he'd fire him on the spot, when Klecko asked if that meant he didn't want to do it, he just said.....

"No, I'm gonna do it, I wouldn't let Annalisa die, this creep I work for is kinda like a Nazi anyway, so I'll just pretend she is Anne Frank and I'll find a spot to hide her in our cooler. I'm pretty certain I can refresh her late at night. The owners never come down into the shop after 10 p.m."

Klecko was out of work for a total of 20 days, but when he got into his new shop, the colleague stopped by with a healthy-happy Annalisa.

Sometimes the magnitude of events can become magnified in the middle of the night, but a couple days later Klecko just laughed out loud, all by himself, like a mad men.

One guy does a little B&E to secure an ingredient, and another guy risked his position and paycheck, all in the name of keeping a tradition alive.

Sure, another Brick Starter could have been mixed, but we all have to prioritize.

If you are a true baker.....I'm guessing that no further explanation needs to be given.

OK, here is the recipe for the Polish Brick, and in upcoming posts, I'll give you some recipes to incorporate it into.


(Obviously you may not have any recycled starter the first time you use this, but you can mix a batch, let it sit for a week and pull some out of that batch to use for recycled starter in your next mix.)

If you want, you could also split the All Purpose Flour content between All Purpose and a Rye as well....I.E.


Either version works.

In a mixing bowl, blend all the ingredients together.

This is a very stiff mix and you may have to knead by hand. Odds are this will snap the shaft of a Kitchen Aid mixer.

Mix until the water is absorbed, you don't want to over mix this.

Remember, we are not needing to build any gluten here, so just mix until all the ingredients come together.

Your finished "Old World Potato Brick" should be rock solid, but remember...solid does not mean dry.

We want the brick to be somewhat pliable, almost like the consistency of Play - Doh.

When it is finished, you can place it into a Tupperware container.

Some peeps wills grease theirs, I like to dust mine with flour.

Then set the lid on top, but don't seal it, let some air circulate, this will start fermentation a little faster.

In a cold weather climate, you could leave this "Brick" in its open container, out on the counter for 12-15 hours. You may notice it soften, but not too much.

On a hot / humid August afternoon, maybe no more than an hour.

Then we'll tighten the lid and put it in the back of the fridge.

Pull it out as needed to bake, or just leave it be, but I wouldn't go much past 2 weeks.

At this point, let's say you haven't used any of it, no big deal, just pull out the starter needed to refresh the new mix. If you end up tossing the excess in the trash, I know its wasteful, and that sucks, but whatever....

Its a small price to pay for this versatile tool.

In closing, don't buy into the bulls*** that a 20 year starter or 100 year starter is awesome and better than yours.

People who make those boasts are idiots.

After your Brick has a few months on it, it is doing the exact same things that a century Brick is doing.

That's the coolest part of sourdough......the enzymes are effected by your starter. Your Bricks enzymes change with everything they come in contact with, air - soil - different water sources - different varieties of flour, and maybe a billion other things.

In closing, one last thought.

Once you employee this technology, you will bake,blossom and brag, but I'm guessing as you continue looking at other Brick or alternative sourdough starters, you'll find many are fuels with acidic vegetables or yogurt instead of potato.

You can get away with that in hot climates, but if you want to try that in Minnesota of Moscow in December....well its about as problematic as planting palm trees in the Arctic.

Let me know how your Brick turns about....and make sure you give it a bad a** name.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Edition - Birthday Cakes & Czech Halls

It's Saturday night of the Easter weekend.

My family has all headed towards Omaha where Easter camp will be set for the Klecko clan.

In addition to not being there.....Klecko is on day 3 of the flu.

My friend Dr Frazin is turning 60 today, and she has a big bash planned.

the Doctor spends 1/2 of her life doing medical stuff in remote Alaskan villages, and the other 1/2 back home in Saint Paul.

I'm glad she has chosen to spend her special day with us.

Her husband Mike has rented out this wonderful Czech hall that must have been built over 100 years ago.

Being a baker and a Pollack, my job was to bring a cake and set up tables.

Holidays are the only time I enjoy driving in the city, because everything seems so ghost town.

I'm the first person to show up. I call Mike on his cell phone and he's still stuck in line at the liquor store.

So I take an elevator to the second floor where the auditorium is, I walk into this space where everything is wooden, and you know what?

I didn't even set the cake down. I just stood silently and observed the craftsmanship that must have been involved in putting this marvel together.

There just isn't a strong Czech population in Saint Paul anymore. My initial thought is to fear for how this treasure will become a relic.

But, then thanks to the NyQuil, my mind goes soft, my analytical side dissipates, and Klecko can almost see the multiple generations of ghosts dancing across this antique ballroom.

Mike shows up now and talks to the building contact person who is quite elderly. He is going to remain on site throughout the duration of the event to make sure all of our needs are met.

To be honest....Klecko is feeling banged from having Flu Head, but since all of my family is out of town, it was important that one of us was there to represent.

The doctor has done some work with the Minnesota Opera, so at some point in the evening, she with present herself on a tall stage that has multiple backdrops, rumor has it that she has selected a Prague town square during spring time, back drop.

When everybody starts filing in, I of course head towards the kitchen and make sure wine bottles are open, stacks are stacked, garbage is organized. These are the things that I feel comfortable doing when other people get together.

There is a guy named Leo who shows up, he was the man in the 70's and early 80's in the Twin Cities Food Writing world, and he showered me with stories of menu collections around the world to interesting tid bits like how the comedy night club guru Dudley Riggs was the 1st person to bring espresso to the Twin Cities.

The doctor and her husband have the most diverse set of friends of anybody I have ever met in my life, and I think part of that is because they are the most loving couple I have ever met.

Everything from PHD's to Punk Rockers cross the threshold of their home in Capitol City. Everybody enjoys their presence because they know they are going to be welcome.

At a certain point in the evening, I realized that nobody was officially assigned to gather the empty plates and bowls from the pot luck tables, so I started to gather them and took them into the kitchen where I washed them.

If you ever want to give somebody a present, humble yourself enough to serve them and their guests. Often times they won't notice it at the time, but I'll tell you this, when the bash is over and everything is already cleaned up, that certain delight of "I don't have to jerk with this" will make its self known.

When the food was gone, everybody was circling the birthday cake like vultures. The entrees and snack were vanquished, now we were down to booze and cake LOL.

I interrupted the good Doctor, knowing that she had a million other things on her mind and explained there might be a riot if she doesn't start cutting.

Cakes are weird. They are just another item in a bakery, but they hold so much more power than a coffee cake, or a muffin.

Cakes represent celebration. Cakes stand for accomplishment and achievement.

Every time people assemble around a cake, the moment is pinnacle, you get to see each one of these individuals in their best light. How cool is that.

So the vultures swoop in, I go out into the ballroom to gather up plates, cups and cans and place them into the proper recycle slots.

I've been here now for 3 1/2 hours, but Flu head is kicking in, and I'm starting to get that sweaty film across my body. If your eyes were closed and you touched me, you would have sworn that I was a walleye.

So now I say good bye to my hosts, and with that done, the big debate starts........

"Do I go pee now, or wait till I get home?"

It's funny, because I enter this debate often, and you'd think that the result would become typical, but to be honest, I never really know which way this argument will end.

But, last night it occurred to me that I had not seen this buildings bathrooms, and I've always enjoyed how bathrooms are set up, so my final decision was to relieve myself on the premises.

So the men's and woman's rest rooms are on direct opposite sides of the ballroom, along the back wall, as I began to ponder how much more difficult this set up made it for the plumber, I entered into the rest room.

Ladies, I'm sure most of you have seen a men's rest room, but if you haven't, let me fill you in.

Boys either pee into urinals or long troughs. The urinal is a one person unit but the trough usually accommodates 4-20 guys.

However, at the Czech Hall their trough was a 2 person unit. I though "My stars - how creepy is this?"

But, I lined up with said trough, and all of a sudden, I heard a stirring from the toilet stall.

This was odd, because w/o getting gross or graphic, I didn't hear nature taking its course, just minor stirring.

Sometimes in bathrooms people are shy, and don't like you to seem them leave the stall, as if its a bad thing that they had to go to the bathroom. I've seen a world of bizarre bathroom etiquette (especially in the Amsterdam Airport), I could write a book on it.

But whatever, Klecko zips up, heads towards the sink. Turns on the water and washes his hands. As he starts lathering with soap, he hears the stall latch move.

I can see the trough from my vantage point, but the stall is blocked by a wall like partition, then "BOOM" around the corner, from the stall come a trans gender guy.

I was startled, in fact I recoiled, and the second I did, I wanted to shoot myself. I wasn't afraid of trans gender guy, just shocked.

But I knew dude saw that briefest moment where my eyes said "You are not normal, or like the rest of us."

I've never been in a restroom alone with a trans gender person. I don't know the rules. But what I do know is that it was Holy weekend, and I thought how sad my actions might have made Jesus. There is nothing worse than shaming somebody for being themselves....nothing!

so I'm guessing stuff like this happens to this cat fairly often, so all I could do was recover.

Klecko - You having fun tonight?

Trans Gender Guy - Yes, it is a lovely party don't you think?

Klecko - I've had a good time, but you don't have to stand over there, won't you come and share my soap?"

Trans gender guy laughed out loud and both of us smiled.

I'll tell you peeps, I don't know why it has to be around a birthday cake, or on a Holy holiday that we accept and love everybody for who they are.

Maybe that's why I admire Jesus - The Doctor and Mike, they pretty much love everybody - everyday.

Have a happy Easter and please excuse the mispells and edits, I am late for my Holiday Meal.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Michelangelo, Static Flour and Sourdough

About once a year, we hire a cleaning company to come to our shop to clean our ceilings. The process is dramatic, well because for starters, anytime somebody is getting paid to do something 40-50 feet in the air, it always adds an element of danger...don't you think?

Not all bakeries do this, but they really should. Flour is a stunning element. all too often we think of it in it's bulk form, but flour partials broken down to their smallest micro components can achieve startling effects.

For instance, if you place a black sock on the work bench in the production area for 24 hours while the shop is dormant, I think you'd be more than surprised how thick of a film would encompass said sock.

All of this takes place before your naked eyes,every second of every day, but yet you never witness those partials dancing across the slightest jet streams of air.

The downside to this is when the these partials eventually adhere to your walls ceilings or the backs of ovens, they will cling to the moisture that has come to life through hot temperatures and humidity.

All most all wholesale production plants don't have air conditioning, so your range of atmosphere can have a huge window.

If this flour is allowed to congregate and sit in these moist conditions, it turns into what we call "Static Flour", and as this static flour gets some age on it.....funky things begin to happen.

I'll spare you the changing color prism that the flour will experience, because as gross as it is, it is nothing compared to the end result which is bugs.

Uh Huh, that's right, this goo wad will eventually morph into an insect hotel, and it gives me the jeebies to even thin about it.

So ceiling cleaner dude has the shop tarped off in sections and he raises himself towards the ceiling in his automated cherry picker as if he were Icarus approaching the sun.

The guy sports a vacuum unit that must have PSI that would allow him to juggle bowling balls.

The bakery ceiling isn't flat like a homes. We have metal beams, and lighting fixtures protruding, in fact they kinda look like hovering flying saucers.

So now cleaning dude is laying back down in the cage while doing his best to manipulate this flimsy, elephant trunk looking apparatus which is designed to get into nooks and crannies.

Now it occurs to me that this was how they frescoed the great cathedrals of yesteryear, and if circumstances were tweaked just a bit, maybe this guy who was vacuuming my ceiling might have been a famous painter.

Of course when most of us think of painted ceilings, the first place we think about is the Sistine Chapel.

Were you aware that Michelangelo had no desire to take that gig in the first place?

Actually it was viewed as a demotion.

This famous artist viewed himself as more of a sculptor than a painter. He finished his epic "David" statue before his 30th birthday.

Dude was an arrow up, and if he would have accomplished that statue today, I'm guessing People magazine would have listed him as one of the 10 sexiest men alive.

There were big things on the horizon for Michelangelo. I'm not a history major, but I think it was Pope Julius the 2nd who was in charge of not only the world, but in the dispensing of who got what art assignments.

In the art community, the streets were buzzing because the word was dropped that some major-major sculpting gig was going to take place.

I think it was something about columns of statues that lined pathways to burial chambers, or something like that. It was a gig that would sustain the lucky commission winner throughout their entire life.

Pretty much everyone thought that Michelangelo would win this hands was obvious that his talents were the best, but sheer talent isn't what always brings home the prize is it?

While our stories protagonist was busy feeding his ego, several of his less talented colleagues sidled up to the Pope.

When they received an audience, they proposed that this top project should be shared amongst others. Something of such magnitude could not rest on the shoulders of just one bloke.

So the Pope mulls it over a bit, and then asks what would he do with Michelangelo then?

The brood of vipers had already thought ahead and they came up with the ceiling painting deal. I can't remember how they justified it, and to be doesn't really matter.

The moral of the story is we have one of the greatest works of art ever. A vision that will outlive its creator by century's, and you know what?

He simply didn't want to do it. He was forced into it. He would have starved, or maybe worse...been thrown into debtors prison if he refused.

I wonder what he would think if he were alive today. I wonder what feelings would stir in Michelangelo's soul if he saw grandmothers holding their grandchildren's hands, heads tilted back and mouths sewn shut from bewilderment.

How could a mere man accomplish such a task.

Are you ready for the segue? LOL!

Danny Klecko never wanted to be a CEO of a baking company. He never dreamed of doing anything other than making rye pans breads.

Now days people ask food professionals what their favorite foods to eat are,but things were different when I got into the show. There was no sense of entitlement, nor was there ever a moment where you considered your own personal culinary desires.

Instead you thought about making what the masses needed, and if they actually liked it, well....that was a bonus.

So like I said, I wanted to make rye pan breads.

These loaves weren't meant to be artisan or glam, no in fact they were meant to be just the opposite, just like the mail carrier, or phone line attached to your home, rye loaves were something that that were meant to be staples that you simply didn't notice.

I love this attitude that was passed down to me, in many ways I feel that I was blessed to have Masters that trained with the bakers from the depression era.

With all that said, like Michelangelo, I really thought that if I implemented tunnel vision, and stared down the line at my eventual destiny, my legacy would delved deep into the rye camp.

But just as King David had Bathsheba to lure him off his predetermined path, Danny Klecko was pimp slapped by a sultry temptress as well, and her name was sourdough.

OMG, it was so love at first sight.

I'll never forget the day that Spencer Ludke first introduced me to the concept.

Spencer was the Production Manager at a shop called Custom Breads. His body was frail looking, but he kinda had the strength that long distance runners have.

After a messy divorce in Colorado he came to the TC's and started banging out sourdough cultures and pottery.

In my next post I am going to bypass the romance of this wonderful bread type and focus on a more utilitarian side.'s true, Klecko is going to give you - the KleckoNation, his brick starter recipe.

As I shut down for the day, I'm gonna toss a homework assignment at you. If one thing you've done or created in your lifetime would be considered your "Legacy", did you realize it while you were in the process of it?

Have a Happy Easter, I love most of you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Remembering a Masters Promise on God's Treadmill.

Klecko is sick.

Not level 10 sick, but level 5, or maybe 6, lets just say sick enough to tilt the NyQuil bottle last night.

This morning as I drove into work the sky was more than overcast, it was daunting. Almost as if the firmament was winking exclusively at me, letting Klecko know that just on the other side of the veil there might be enough water to float an ark for 40 days and 40 nights.

Whenever I'm driving through Saint Paul and there is an absence of sun, I can't but help feeling like I am in a Euro movie.

I like foreign cinema because it is so much more like life than Hollywood. In Euro movies everybody just wears scarves, smokes cigarettes, engages in acts of love...and of course, they all eat bread.

You very seldom will find an American Director who will implement bread into their film.

So I pull Bob Dylan out of my disc player and replace it with the Run Lola Rum soundtrack.

I swear to Caesar that it didn't take long for my mind to go numb. Has this ever happened to you after a NyQuil jag were you double dosed?

Perfection only crosses Klecko's intersection seldom, but this morning, for just the shortest time...I was there.

It was like I was on God's treadmill. I was completely still, but the bread truck obtained a mind of its own and somehow knew how to glide its way towards the bakery.

So now as Franke Potente sings......

"I don't believe in silence
cuz silence seems so slow
I don't believe in energy
the tension is too low

I don't believe in panic
I don't believe in fear
I don't believe in prophecies
so don't waste any tears."

I am struck how by these words. They are basically my personal anthem.

As the world blurred past me, I smile in a stupor and recalled a conversation that I had with Master Kiwis. It was towards the beginning of my career, towards the beginning of my employment at SuperMoms.

The old man pulled me in the office, I sat down.......

He just stared at me.

"Yes Mr. Kiwus, you wanted me?"

Now he has a scowl like look, but it was kinda whimsical, or at least enough that I couldnt tell if I was going to get praised, or ripped to shreds.

My Master spoke.....

"Did I offer you a seat?"

I bolted up out of the chair and him to forgive my presumptuous attitude.

So just like a Private in the army, I'm standing at attention in front of his desk. He starts looking me up and down. You can never see what goes on in another persons mind, but sometimes if you are careful, you can hear the speed in which their gears are turning.

"Let me ask you kid, what are you going to do with your baking career?"

I was nervous. I wasn't sure if this was a trick question. You know, like the ones that Shaolin priests ask to see if you are worthy of receiving there training.

I punted.

"Sir, I believe I will take American baking concepts and bring them across the world."

Now my Master laughs, but not in a mean or in a condescending tone.

"Hey dumbs***, why would you want to do that?"

I smiled back at him (but I was still standing at attention)and told him that I wanted to be adventurous, in fact I envisioned myself becoming the Indiana Jones of the Bread Guild.

The smile left his face and the old man became lost in thought. when his focus returned my Master no longer had his usual edge.

"You know kid, only "F"ing fools go chasing dreams. You don't have s*** to show anybody, and you won't for 20 years, but if you trust me....I'll make you a promise. If you can just keep your God-D mouth shut, and pay attention. I promise you...the world will come to you."

It was the truest thing anybody has said to me.

Suddenly my bread truck pulled into the Saint Agnes parking lot, the fog lifted from my head, and I kinda wished I could crawl back into that mindset, but now that I'm getting older, I'm learning its not always best to force moments.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MOM...Grandpa Tava is in the Wrong Counntry!

Automation isn't always a bad thing, in fact.....sometimes it makes the foods you like more assessable. If bakers practice proven mixing methods with their doughs, and the product receives permission to ferment at its own pace, it doesn't really matter if the loaves are rounded by mechanized means or shaped bu hand.

Efficient systems drive down the production hours and that way the consumer doesn't have to absorb so much of the cost.

Some of the nicest bakeries end up shutting their doors because they are to stubborn to realize that they won't be able to pay their bills if they have to provide staff enough to roll hundreds of baguettes, or round thousands of burgers buns by hand.

Time is money in the Food Show and every second is a cash register.

One of the top horrors that can take place in a bake shop is when a piece of equipment that typically gets taken for granted, abruptly comes to a screeching halt.

This almost always happens at the worst time like on a Friday afternoon, or 2 a.m. when you are all alone. Pans of dinner rolls, racks of sourdough boules scream to whoever the God of baking is "Help Us - Help Us......don't let us become a bread orphans.

I too like to scream out to God during my personal moments of distress, but if it's a Friday afternoon and my bun popper blows a piston, prayers come after calling the mechanic.

You might not know it, but there really is a tiny cult of people on the globe that do nothing but fix equipment in bake shops.

The tools of production in a bakery are as different than those in a kitchen, as a boat engine is from a planes.

Like Magicians and cable cars, bakery mechanics are a field that are fading away at a pace quicker than I want to acknowledge.

Now, some of you Motorheads out there might say.....

"But Klecko, I think I could change the belt on your Blumhoff, or I'll bet I could fix that start switch on your spiral mixer."

Sure, there are some things that any gear daddy could tackle, but I'd be willing to bet you a dollar to a monkey that you wouldn't know where to find the special blades inside my ciabatta machine, and even if you did, would you know the differences between the German version and the Italian?

Another thing that puts the baker at their mechanics mercy is that OSHA has different demands that only a grease monkey can appease.

I'll never forget the time their inspector crushed us with a 5 digit fine because a baker confessed to crawling into an oven with out understanding the essential protocol.

Yeah, I think its safe to say that if your shop has a trust worthy mechanic....they w/o a doubt are the most valued player on your team.

C'mon Klecko, we get the point, you think they are important, but surely they are not more important than your top baker?


The mechanic is like the fricken Calvary. When chaos rears her ugly head, that's when Mr. Good Wrench blows past everybody.

You can find a baker at the grocery store, but what are you going to do when some baker who wasn't paying attention got his arm trapped in a bread divider and only the mechanic can free this poor soul from level 10 pain.

For the last decade I have had the honor and privilege of working with a mechanic who I would say is nothing short of a blessing.

As a Pollock, I hate to admit this, but my mechanic is an Italian, well kinda, the whole story gets a little confusing.

I don't know if I believe in predestination, but when I look at the course of Maurizio Tava's life, and the journey(s) that were required to get him into my humble space in Saint Paul....I can tell you w/o wincing, there had to be angels involved.

OK, like most stories, its best to at a beginning.

A long time ago, Maurizio's Great-Great Grandparents were living in a small village in Italy.

Somebody whispered into their ear that there was an exotic refuge across the sea where wealth and happiness were an entitlement.

This Nirvana had a name, and that name was America.

This new world was growing fast so it was suggested that the Italians hawk what they owned and book passage on a cruiser as quick as they could....oh yeah, the best kept secret at that place was a city named Saint Paul.

In Italy, it is more common to pronounce Saint Paul as Saint Paulo. They mean the same thing, but the former is an English pronunciation, while the ladder is Spanish.

So the Tava clan take their cash and head to the place in Italy and book their tickets for Saint Paulo.

For days and nights - weeks and weeks they stood on the deck, stared at the waves and said prayers while they were anticipating their destiny.

The trip seemed like it lasted a life time, and as they finally pulled into the port, the Tava's all marveled at how exotic the terrain was.

They were living in a time where you couldn't Google images, or go on the internet to fetch data, but even with that said...they were surprised to see that New York City had palm trees.

OK....this is were it gets good, Great-Great Grandfather Tava walks up to a customs guy, produces his paper work and mentions that there might be some confusion. He was told that he would be landing in NYC.

Then the Abbott and Costello routine begins, the counter guy says.....

"Mama Mia, It says here on your ticket that you are heading to Saint Paulo!"

Mr. Tava looks at him, furls his brow and says.....

"Yes, I am going to Saint Paulo, but by route of NYC."

Both guys are speaking Spanish during this discussion, the counter guy is really perplexed.

"Mama Mia, I don't think they would send you to NYC to head to Saint is too far away!"

Mr. Tava stops to register the events that are swirling around his brain...

"No we take a train from NYC to Chicago, and from Chicago we go to Saint Paulo."

The counter guy finally gets it, his face turns as red as a good tomato sauce before blurting out.....

"Mama Mia, you are trying to get to Saint Paul in the United States. Currently you have tickets to get you to Saint Paulo, that is Brazil. You are on a different continent.!"

OMG.....can you imagine, Maurizio swears that this is what really happened to his ancestors.

The real "son of a gun" about this deal is that their money was almost all spent. they didn't have enough to relocate.

So the Tava's made their new base camp in Brazil.

Well, as time passed, the children of the Great-Great Grandparents (who would be the Great Grandparents) decided to travel to Brazil and make sure their parents were OK.

Eventually they too decided that they would stay in Brazil.

So within a few years you had 1/2 the Tava's in Europe, and the other 1/2 in South America.

When I mentioned to Maurizio how bizarre his families tale was, he just smiled and said....

"I know, us Italians will do anything to get away from you Pollocks."

After our laughter ceased, just like the people who get caught on Scooby Doo, I still had one more question.

"Maurizio, this explains that your family needs a GPS, but it doesn't explain how you got here, in North America."

The mechanic smiled and continued.

"I've got an Uncle, and he lived in Italy during WW2. When the war was over, America opened training programs. I guess it was cheaper to do that than rebuild all of Europe, but my Uncle came to America and was trained to be a machinist. When his training was complete, he sent for his parents, and eventually I received an opportunity and came over as well."

Either way, I'm glad that whatever had to happen did, because finding a solid bakery mechanic is like finding a needle in a haystack.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Harper Lee - Truman Capote and Bigfoot

Welcome to Volume #2's first installment of the Last American Baker.

Sometimes I think its a good idea to split projects into volumes because it gives the author an opportunity to take a deep breath and reexamine which direction they are taking their posse in.

In TV, often times when a season concludes, the writers will spend the off season musing as to what new characters, or twists will be needed to build stronger plot points for the upcoming episodes.

While KleckoNation has been busy going about their day to day, the Last American Baker has been locked away, in his prayer closet......and you know what?

A vision for Volume #2 has been given unto thee.

Sit back, relax, and lets get thing thing going.

Harper Lee and Truman Capote were best friends from the time both of them were children.

Harper Lee came from a stable family where the family's income was provided from her father who had a law practice in Alabama, while Truman was reared in a more dysfunctional setting on the outskirts of town.

During the summer months while most of the other kids played sports and went to the movies, Harper Lee and Truman simply went to court and enjoyed one another's company while watching trials.

As many of you know, both of these children would eventually grow up and make mammoth contributions to the literary world.

Harper Lee would go on to write the epic "To Kill a Mocking Bird", while her best friend would pen "In Cold Blood."

Both of these friends would have unique ways in contributing to each others success. Harper accompanied Truman to Kansas to gather research and data for his crime novel, while Capote served as the inspiration for a character in Lee's book named Dill Harris.

It is said that whenever Capote had a few drinks (which was pretty often), that he loved to brag about his involvement......

"I'm certain you've read To Kill a Mocking Bird, but were you aware that the author is my best friend and she based the most interesting character in the book on me?"

I think everybody in the world wants to have a friend with that "special" bond. A friend who not only has a wish list that eerily lines up with yours, but they also have to have a special-special love for you because throughout your friendships journey, this person is going to see the gaping flaws in your character that often times serve as reason enough to push your own spouse/partner away.

My best friend, my Harper Lee (cause of course Klecko wants to be Capote) is Kim Ode.

First off, the pronunciation of her last name is (Oh-Dee) and she is a columnist for the largest newspaper in the state on Minnesota.

About a decade ago when I started the Saint Paul Bread Club, she came into the bakery and the 2 of us had a natural fit. I was a baker who wanted to write, while she was a writer who wanted to bake.

We never signed contracts or tried to cut deals with each other though.....we simply became friends.

The one thing that Ode has acquired swagger for amongst bakers in the Twin Cities is that she built a 3000# brick oven in her back yard to bake bread.

If you look at a picture of this oven, it will stir your soul in the same way that a picture of the Empire State Building, or Wrigley Field might.

I mean this structure is not only like a cathedral, but she uses it to create not only life, but something almost as tangible....bread.

The first time I observed a picture, I was overwhelmed. I asked how long it took her and her husband to build this masterpiece, and that's when it happened.

She shot me the bit**iest glare that I had received in a long time.

The question was taken as sexist because this award winning writer wanted it to be clear that not only had no man helped her on this....haj, but no other human, period.

The oven was her baby.

Speaking of children, the other thing that connected us immediately was our love and appreciation of sourdough.

Klecko is the self proclaimed "Lord of the Sourdoughs", but nobody in our state has won more sourdough competitions than Kim.

She has a passionate love affair with liquid starter technologies, while I being a Pollock find anything other than a potato brick as savage.

I'm not sure which day it happened, or even if there was a specific event that warranted the necessity, but the 2 of us became welded together and from that day on she has earned the title of Klecko's Best Friend....Klecko's only Friend?

And with this dubious honor, Sue McGleno has alerted me on more than one occasion..."Being your friend is not always what you perceive it to be, for me...more often than not it's a cross to bare!"

That's another thing that is interesting about Kim, she too is straight forward, she too has no problem telling to to "Shut Up" or "Slow have gone too far this time."

I like that in a woman, in a friend.

It's funny when the 2 of us get together to do baking or poetry events because for all practical purposes people view Klecko as the rabid circus monkey who is interesting and clever, where Kim usually gives people the impression that she is quiet, reserved and highly intelligent.

LOL....this isn't always the case.

One day when I was on the road doing sales calls, I dialed Ode on my cell to check in and find out if there was any buzz around town worthy of our gossip.

But when somebody has become your best friend, and maybe even the definition of being a best friend, is being able to read between the lines.

I could tell that Kim was distracted and not paying the attention to me that I needed, so I asked...

"What, did I get you at a bad time?"

Then she apologized and told me that she was intrigued with a story that had just come across the wire. 2 guys, young professors I think, were holding a press conference in Cali and were letting the world know that not only did they have empirical evidence that Big Foot existed, but they had film footage of an entire colony.

I started to laugh, but even to my surprise, my mocking tone was shut down immediately.

"Klecko, you just can't be like that. You haven't even seen the film footage. They just showed a brief clip were one of the Big Foot creatures was wounded, and the rest of them were dragging it to safety."

I think I might of ran a red light when she said that.

But that's the thing I love most about Ode, she is far-far-far from innocent,

but....she wants to believe,maybe more than anyone I've ever met.

She wants to believe.

How beautiful is that.

so now that I realize I am treading on sacred ground, I asked when the press conference with the proof was taking place, and why they just didn't release it currently.

Kim wasn't sure, but she manufactured a defense that would support her hope, but then she ended by telling me that the final press conference was around 48 hours away.

So throughout the next couple of days I sent e-mails, voice mails, all indicating that it was only 27 hours until the Big Foot parade, or in 7 hours and 26 minutes....the Minnesota Vikings would be using their first round draft pick on Sasquatch.

All of these correspondences were met with F-Bombs.

And that's another thing about being a Klecko friend, if swearing is a standard go to in your vernacular, he'll get bored with you quick. But, if you are strategic and precise with the deployment of your'll probably make Klecko laugh.

So a couple days go by, I'm driving back from a meeting with a chef at the Westin Hotel. As I'm barreling down HWY 94 it occurs to me that the time has elapsed and the verdict should be out.

I have called Kim Ode over 100 000 times during our friendship, and I only 4 times has she not picked up the phone on the first ring, this was one of those times.

After ring number 3 I hear "This is Kim."

So I storm audibly into her earpiece with questions of inquisition.....

"Is it over?"

"Did it happen?"

"Was Bigfoot on the platform?"

But then I didn't hear the laughter I thought would be attached to my verbal pounding.

Instead i got silence, more silence, a heavy sigh.....and then a confession.

"God, I feel so embarrassed.The A-Holes came out and announced that what they did was some kind of hoax to bring awareness to what they believe really exists. God...I can't believe I actually set myself up for that. I am so embarrassed!"

When your best friend is in distress, I think you'll all agree that your top priority becomes finding a way of alleviating their circumstance.

I was prepared to do this, but truth be told.....I was still laughing my a** off (which is another thing you get to do when you are best friends.)

So tick-tock goes the clock, and I'm hurrying my mind trying to muster up something that will put closure on this incident.......

"You know Ode" I said to her "In the future, why don't you stick to writing for the TASTE section, and I'll be in charge of all things paranormal?"

She dropped another "F" Bomb.

Everything was back to normal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Sure,I've heard the rumors too. There's an interesting collective of peeps lurking in the shadows. Anxiously they're sitting in back rooms cradling espresso's and Diet Cokes...waiting - waiting for Klecko to finish his 100th Blog post so they can collect this first volume (of what they are hoping will be many) so they can pimp these observations and musings to Penguin, Harper or maybe even Chronicle.

In fact....Klecko's publicist even went as far as to elude that the 100th post should be extra special so the 1st volume of the blog would finish on a strong note. This is really important because initial projects that conclude with golden handles will always serve as a more suitable platform for sequels, and sequels mean multiple book deals.

So with 99 episodes in the rear view mirror, Klecko spent days trying to think of a definitive thread that would not only sum up the previous stories, but enhance them as well.

I think the "higher ups" were hoping for something like Klecko fighting off Nazi's, while falling in love with a mermaid, and formulating recipes that were set up acrostically and decoded by God.

It's simply not gonna happen.

If Klecko has learned one thing during his time discussing the mind set of the Food Service Worker with you, it's that people across the world hold food sacred.

I'm not going to cheapen the end of L.A.B. Volume #1 with Circus Monkey theatrics, so before I start, I just want to thank you all for your support. Your ideas and observations, they mean everything to me.

I love most of you.

With that said, sit back and enjoy this very special installment entitled....



We have people all across this crazy planet, and most of them have strong opinions. Many of us have different beliefs on who God is, or even if there is a functioning deity.

Others seem more focused on politics, and how candidates from certain parties can best help their own needs.

Perception is a funny word isn't it? We all have brains, and we all have hearts, but yet we rob,torture and murder one another to align reality with our own perception.

Now I might not be the smartest kid to ever come out of District #281, but I have noticed that ever since the antiquity period, people have yearned for truth and justice and only in a few situations has this hope come to pass.

The secret in achieving self actualization is putting others first, and whats the best way to do that?


Today Sue McGleno and I went over to the Copperdome Restaurant for some breakfast and a chance to catch up. I have been doing baking related things on my days off for 5 weeks, so we haven't had as much personal time together.

When life gets disconnected, nothing will pull it back together like breakfast.

So when we walked into the "Dome" there was easily 10-15 people waiting in a crooked line to get a booth. As my wife forged ahead to put our name on the list, I noticed an unusual couple sitting on one of the two benches issued for customers in waiting.

The tandem was comprised of a middle aged woman and a young man who looked 16-18ish. I'm guessing they were a mother - son combo, but who knows?

I can't be sure what their ethnic origin was, but since a storytellers job is to paint a canvas for their readers, I'm going to guess they were Filipino.

The woman had her hair pulled back tight, and the remnant that hung passed the shoulders was rounded into a sphere. It looked kinda bizarre because if you saw her profile in silhouette, you'd swear she was wearing a helmet with a basketball super glued to the back of her head.

She also wore a thick-worn Irish fisherman's sweater. On most people this gray piece of vintage apparel would have come across as a stylish accent, but on this woman it just framed her as hapless.

Her shoulders were slinking heavily as if she had the weight of the world on her back.

Customers were coming and going, and nobody that crossed her sight line seemed worthy to merit her attention. Instead she just continued sitting silently and motionless.

The kid was kinda a stocky young man. He had one of those fire hydrant frames, so to be honest with you I was surprised to see him wearing a track suit hoodie.

Dude had really short hair that was cropped close to the skull, but you just got the sense that if he let it grow at all, it would be really curly.

The kids eyes were dark brown, sad puppy dog like and were completely void of energy. How rare that is for a young person, I mean if they're not going to be happy, typically they harbor something going in the opposite direction.

Hells Bells....I'll take a kid with rage over a kid with apathy any day. at least you have some emotion to work with.

This young kid seemed like maybe he'd already had a lifetime of experience. His stare was set on a morose sort of cruise control.

I'm guessing that the combination of the kids extra thick lips and rings that sprouted from each earlobe must of been more weight than his neck could bare, cuz dude just continued staring downward.

So the hostess comes and brings us back to the "extra" room where people get placed when the house is full. the only bad part of this is that the artwork was missing since experiencing our record snowfall this year, the Dome had ice damns and water burst through the ceilings and raced down the walls.

In many ways the Copperdome is like a bakers/millers museum. throughout the expansive site every inch of wall space has been covered with framed flour bags. Most of the displays were between 50-100 years old.

Some people were glad that the art work in the "extra" room was removed because many of the themes featured African American characters in a less than flattering light.

Many of the images were reminiscent of characters like Aunt Jemima or Little Black Sambo.

Sure, I understand that these images are stepping stones into our countries past history,and maybe it is important that they remain on file to remind us of our collective ignorance, but is it really necessary to have them suspended in the air lurking over my hash brown platter.

Now one of the servers brings the Filipino's and places them at table #16 which is kaddy - corner from us.

The mother and son sit down to the table. they don't sit directly across from one another,instead (from my P.O.V.)she sits at the 9 O'Clock position while the kid is plop a**ed at 12 O'Clock.

Sue McGleno starts explaining to me in explicate detail about cowboy themed curtains she is going to sew after I take her to Jo Anne Fabrics to get the necessities, and to be honest, I am listening....but I don't really care at the moment.

The Filipino's are sitting motionless at their table. Their presence is out of place on so many levels.

They are the only non white customers in the establishment. They are the only people not talking. In fact....their table was kinda plunked down in an midst of tables which were outlined with a perimeter of cushioned booths.

Many of the other people dining have just come in after 9 a.m. Mass let out. Folks are smiling, laughing, and reliving sultry episodes that they had experienced the night before.

But the Filipino woman just looks straight ahead. Her stare seems to be blank, or perhaps she has that "Super Man Vision" where she can look through the skulls of all the seated body's that sit between her and the picture window which must be 40 yards away.

The boy continues looking downward.

Periodically he'll look up and finesse a cell phone that looks like the kind you might get for cashing in 1000 Skee Ball tickets at a Chucky Cheese.

The content of the phone doesn't captivate him for very long though, sheepishly it will be folded shut, and the young mans jaw will drop and he'll go back to looking at the floor.

I became dismayed at this point. Danny Klecko is a problem solver, and I wanted more than anything to just put a smile on their faces.

It occurred to me with perfect clarity that this couples mood was the result of some unnatural consequence, and to be honest with you,at that moment I wasn't concerned if it was self imposed, or forced upon them. the source of the agitation often receives to much of the attention.

I was all about the solution.

Now Sue McGleno knuckle cracks me with her cereal spoon and points over towards the western wall. Sister Rosalind has taken a booth with another woman who like her, appears to be in her mid 80's.

Sister Rosalind stands 4' 8" tall and is quite a celebrity in the Twin Cities. About 20 or 25 years ago, she started a school of massage and had a space over on Grand Avenue.

It goes w/o saying that there was a misunderstanding, the St Paul P.D. burst in one night on a raid thinking that the Nuns massage parlor was the kind that offered....oh how shall I put this....happy endings?

This mishap drew so much attention, mostly in the form of laughter though, nobody really seemed to get too bent, but the local boys in blue might of got a little embarrassed when their miscue drew the attention of the New York Times.

So Klecko snakes through the tightly knit interior tables and interrupts his favorite Nun...

"Good Morning Sister, I was in need of a hug and my Father told me I would find you here."

The most sincere smile that has ever been flashed was directed at me and the Nun bolted out of her booth and wrapped her arms around me in front of over 100 diners.

I didn't care, It made me feel good.

So now Sister Rosalind Eye-Spy's Sue McGleno across the room and places hers short little Danny DeVito arms out in front of her in the Frankenstein position.

This is meant for my wife's benefit, it is to serve as a warning that she is moments away from becoming shrouded with love.

While 98 of the diners share in our joy, 2 people sit alone, unfazed, as if they were on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

I'm so serious here. My heart was broken at this point, and I begin thinking that I should tell Sister Rosalind to get over there and perform some of her Nun trickery on them....but I didn't. I was fearful of directing a Nun.

When I sat down, a server was bringing food to the Filipino's. I thought to myself that life was unjust. We placed our order before them, and they were getting to eat first lol.

The woman ordered a waffle plate with a small dish of pork link sausages on the side, and the kid ordered eggs (hard yokes), bacon and white toast.


At this point I knew that these 2 were going to be the focal point of my 100th blog, why?

Because I knew that once the food hit their table, the 2 of them would loosen up, smile, and even if for just one brief meal....they would look past whatever was ailing them.

So I sat intently, I was waiting for the punchline, the stories crescendo, but you know what? They didn't smile. they didn't talk to one another.

In fact the boy just mumbled and grunted to himself while the lady ignored her silverware and simply used her fingers to pull the links out of the bowl.

You'll never know what an anomaly this was. sometimes I wonder if anybody on the planet has conscientiously watched as many people eat as I have.

Trust me, this is not a pitch for trophies or accolades. Its just that Klecko has always been intrigued by food, and how people don't seem to realize their connections to it.

Sometimes that connection is to a flavor, other times it might be to a texture.

Then there's the camp that become connected to the ethnic origin of whatever they are eating, or maybe to be more specific, the actual person who prepared this dish for them.

99 out of 100 times you can see a connection in the eyes of people the moment they take the first bite of whatever they are dining or snacking on.

The thing that is so beautiful about this is the deepest connections can happen at the most unlikely places.

Just watch the eyes of some old buck at a baseball game when he opens up a bag of peanuts and starts chomping.

If you look deep enough, you'll see that man in a youthful light, and chances are he'll be someplace interesting like Ebbets Field, or the Polo Grounds!

Kids eating cotton candy on the midway, brides taking that first bite of their wedding cake, or middle aged soccer moms buying their first rhubarb scone as the Farmers Market opens in the spring.

The woman doesn't even need to take a bite for this connection to take place. In fact, I'm willing to bet you a monkey to a dollar that she'll hold it in her palm for at least 5 minutes before she lifts it to her mouth.

Seasonal foods have that effect on women because they are thoughtful enough to take a moment to process what has taken place in their life from the last opportunity they had to indulge in something so special.

Its a moment of reverence, without thinking about it, these ladies are actually paying homage to the production of the wares that they are about to partake of.

The connection is like muscle memory, or white noise. This connection is 100% pure and can't be faked. If a person takes to long to think about it.....the moment is ruined. special as that moment is, it means nothing. In fact I might suggest if that's the extent of your eating experience, well you're not that much better off than wild dogs eating Alpo.


If there's just one secret I have to tell you....its that none of us are created to be alone. We have a need to be loved which is stronger than any other desire that the body will scream for.

A lot of people have weird ways of showing it, and many will try to fulfill these needs in bent or perverted ways, but none the less...this is coming from the need to be loved.

That connection that we make with food is a key to understanding, but what good is truth if you are stuck alone in a box with 500 pounds of it.

Truth cannot, and will not blossom until is is communicated.

The thing that separates humans from animals is that we have the ability to have the courage to attach a sort of....vulnerability to food.

There is an essence of humility in all of us when we show how delighted we are when a dish to our liking is served.

Without our knowing it, our guard is dropped and it gives anybody and everybody an opportunity to look in our eyes and see who we truly are.

Depending on how you've lived your life....that can be an interesting moment.

So now the server brings out a huge glass of chocolate milk to the young Filipino guy.

Figuratively I've got my fingers crossed because Mom is done with her meal, and after the kid drinks this brown cow juice, these guys are going to hit the street, and if these 2 people can actually spend an hour of hopelessness in this environment, Klecko begins to wonder what the world will do to them when they separate.

What thoughts will flow through their minds.

While the kid is tilting his beverage, his mother has some bills wadded up and is now digging through a purse, from within her purse and cautiously stacks up piles of coins.

The boy witnesses the procedure, suffers embarrassment and recoils in fear.

I've always been mentored that when conflict was at hand, and if you didn't know what to do, the best solution was to "Race Towards the Roar!"

For a long moment I considered going over and dropping a 50 spot on her table, and if you know know he's not afraid to do stuff like that.

But for whatever reason, I was afraid today. I feared that this woman would be angered, or insulted.

When I went up to the counter, the cat ringing up my order played on the offensive line with my son. He was counting piles of change, and when I asked if that came from the Filipino chick, the kid looked at me and said......

"Yeah, it sucked for her because she didn't know that we don't accept credit cards. She's not the first person this has happened to, and it wasn't really a big deal, she was just short a couple of bucks, but I think it freaked her son out. He seemed pretty ashamed."

With that I had had enough. I was about to embark on an adventure with Sue McGleno to the fabric store to fetch material for cowboy curtains.

So as I did my best to dial down my sensitivity, I hopped into my truck and ran through the events one last time.......


And then I just wished that those 2 would have spoken just once.

Without the communication, our connections are senseless.

Thanks for listening, and get ready.....Volume #2 is just around the corner.