I’m in mourning for the RV I never had.
In my life, I’ve been the owner of two high-top conversion vans, both of which I adored despite their endless technical problems and the fact that the front seats are so far apart, I couldn’t drive and hold hands with my husband at the same time. My first van had a back bench seat that folded into a bed, and a little table between the bench and the captain’s chairs, which swiveled to face the bench for thoroughly delightful car picnics with my baby boy.
They didn’t hold a candle, though, to the camper I grew up with: the same size as my vans, but with a little kitchen, a hammock that folded out from the ceiling for my sister’s bed, storage for all sorts of playing-house sets of camping dishes and percolators and mugs, and a back bench with a huge table that folded down in front of it for card games. That bench folded out into a snuggly soft bed, and in the glory days of no carseats or seatbelts, my sister and I would climb in on the way back from trips to the mountains or Washington, tell ghost stories, and fall asleep to the gentle rocking and the roar of the wind (this because of the campers one downside — no air conditioning).
That camper left me with a lifelong desperate need to travel. Go too long without getting out of town and I get really cranky, especially because we live in a fairly small town. A marathon trip last summer, finally undertaken after years of waiting for my baby to get old enough to remember it, filled me up for a while, and I thought I’d be fine this summer with smaller trips to the beach and mountains. As the end of summer loomed, though, my version of restless leg syndrome kicked in, and I started trawling travel guides for day trips.
The first took us to Bailey, a small town east of Raleigh, home of the Country Doctor Museum (and, charmingly, not much else). There we saw the implements of well-intentioned torture from a century ago, from live leeches to a Civil War doctor’s saw. A few of the implements, though, I didn’t actually see — just the docent’s description of the tooth-pullers was plenty.
On the way home, we stopped in Raleigh for ice cream in the old Wonder Bread bakery building, where I had to explain to the kids what squishy white bread is.
Somewhere in between those two — squishy and tooth-pulling — is how I like my bread (bet you didn’t see this story getting around to that!). To my mind, too many bread-bakers today confuse “artisan” with those old pliers that would, the docent said, sometimes fail to finish the job, leaving you with snapped-off tooth stem.
That’s led to my continuing quest for perfect bread, both sandwich bread and what I think of as supper bread — any loaf that I wouldn’t use for the kids’ pb&j. I’ve gone through multiple sourdough phases, with all sorts of starters; trendy five-minute artisan loaves (which take just a few minutes to mix and shape); food-processor dough; by-hand, long-kneaded loaves; and endless recipes for perfect focaccia. The only thing missing from my attempts has been anything with a bread machine, as I’ve never owned one.
I love the concept of having a sourdough starter in my fridge, but I’ve always disliked the tyranny of sourdough, demanding to be fed and used every few days. My current starter, though, has taken to long stretches in the back of the fridge with equanimity, never turning or going too sour on me.
Funny, though, that I’ve never bothered to attempt an actual loaf of sourdough bread, chewy and “artisanal,” with this starter. It’s intended instead for sandwich bread, and for that it has proved pretty terrific. I found the recipe on the message board at the website for King Arthur flour (the website is well-stocked with terrific, well-tested recipes, and some of the member recipes on the message board have been great). Because I make all the sandwich bread we eat, I look for recipes I can make in bulk, giving me a month’s worth of bread to freeze.
That stocked freezer, of course, also makes day trips easy … and a camper, if I ever get one again, would be the perfect spot for a loaf or two of bread, sliced and toasted on top of the little stove, spread with jam and eaten on the back bed before a lulling ride home.
Recipe: Buttermilk Sourdough Sandwich Bread

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