Kalamata Olive Bread and Olive Kitteridge

The Connection. What’s in a name? Well, in this case, it’s a food. A salty, slightly bitter, distinctive food that calls up warm Mediterranean days and tastes amazing baked into crusty loaves of bread with cloves of roasted garlic—or eaten right out of container, but you don’t need a recipe for that.

Olive Bread with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary

4 1/2–5 cups bread flour (or all purpose)
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups hot water (100 degrees)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons dried rosemary (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
1 cup Kalamata olives (heaping)
2 heads of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil

Chop the tops off the garlic heads so that the cloves are exposed, but don’t peel. Drizzle on a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, wrap in tin foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, yeast, salt, and pepper. Add the water (should feel warm but not hot) and the olive oil, and beat about 50 strokes with a wooden spoon until smooth.

In a separate bowl, peel the garlic cloves and mash them up, then add them to the dough along with the olives and rosemary. Mix well, then add 2 1/2 cups flour. Knead by hand for 8–10 min. or with a mixer dough hook on speed 2 for about 5 min. The dough should be a little sticky to the touch, but not so sticky that it’s difficult to handle. Add a little more flour if needed during the kneading process.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for one hour until bulk has doubled, then punch it down (that is, manhandle it a little to knock the air out, making it easier to work with) and shape it into loaves. The shape is up to you—two long loaves, four round loaves, eight little dinner rolls, the choices go on. Brush on some beaten egg if you want a shiny crust, then take a sharp knife and score the loaves. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.

There are two good ways to tell if the bread is done. The simplest is to turn the loaves over and tap them. They should feel hard and sound hollow. You can also stick a thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. It should be approximately 200 degrees.

I also whipped up some lemon garlic hummus as a spread. In a food processor, combine 1 can of chickpeas (drained, liquid reserved), 1 1/2 teaspoons tahini, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 clove garlic, the juice and zest of half a lemon, and about 1/4 cup of the chickpea water to be added as needed for texture. Puree for 3 or 4 min. until smooth, creamy, and delicious.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (284 pages) ♥♥♥♥

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know[…]And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not know what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.…But here they were, and Olive pictured two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union—what pieces life took out of you.”

The Plot. Strout takes a character we all know, the stubborn, miserly, judgmental old lady with a chip on her shoulder, and lets us in. Through thirteen short stories centered on Olive, we come to understand her. She cares deeply about people, although she doesn’t know how to show it, and if she’s a little sad that life didn’t quite go her way, I’m not about to judge her for it.

Who should read it. People who use fiction to relate to unrelatable people, people with an interest in small-town New England, lovers of Alice Munro, and anyone who worries they might end up old and crotchety one day.

Why I liked it. The story of Olive somehow wrestled its way inside and lodged itself firmly in my chest. I didn’t mean to like it, but I loved this bitter, briny, love her or hate her old woman, and I felt all her aches and pains.

After I read a book I like, I often scan negative reviews to get another opinion. This is a terrible and depressing habit, and I don’t recommend it, but these reviews made me especially indignant.  To me, Olive Kitteridge is about bridging the generation gap, which is something that young people never seem to try hard enough to do. Case in point, quotes from Goodreads: “[I]f this book is representative of what truly happens with the ravages of age, maybe we’re better off dying quickly and young” and “Olive is one of those people who, in real life, no one likes and usually avoids if possible so why would I want to read about her?” They go on in this vein for some time.

Instead of degenerating into name-calling and throwing spitballs (excuse my inner two-year-old), I’ll just say this: the book is painful at times, and sad and defeated, but it’s completely worthwhile, even if you don’t like olives.

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