Ridley “Bit” Stone, a middle-aged man, finds himself back in the community where he grew up–Arcadia, a hippie commune in northern New York state–after the community has fallen apart.
“If he listens closely, over the wind against the screens and a distant place above, he can almost hear the Arcadia he know, the strum of Handy’s guitar somewhere in the thickness of the house, the women in the Eatery kitchen, laughing as they cook. His own young voice, urgent and high. Although he almost hurts his ears, straining, he can’t understand what the once-upon-a-time Bit is saying to the current version of himself or to the one who will stand here in the future, a man changed as the house is changed, worn a little more by time and loss, gradually dragged down by gravity.”
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff, is a novel saturated with this idea of time. The story itself is told by Bit in four bursts of time–at ages five and fifteen in Arcadia, early middle-age in New York City, and then back to Arcadia for the last part of the novel when Bit’s daughter is fifteen. The pacing is jarring in itself, but Groff manages to pull each part together as she goes along, so they build off of one another rather than split off into separate islands.
Here’s the thing I loved about the novel. It’s about a hippie commune, but truly about a hippie commune. There’s the good–Bit and other children eating fresh tapped maple syrup with their hands and groups of people practicing yoga–and there’s also the harsh side–the overcrowding that occurs, the Trippies, the food and clothing that is stretched too thin by all. Groff presents one and both at the same time, asking us not to consider only the preconceived notions we may have about a place, but to understand living there day by day. At the end of the novel, Bit still remembers longingly the warm days of summer, but it is the memory of youth–utopian ideas like Arcadia can only stand the realities of life for so long.
In the novel, Bit’s mother works in Arcadia’s Bakery and the smell of baking bread is at the center of his memories. Tie in a recipe for bread that also, at its essence, is about time and you’ve got yourself some kind of pairing. This bread is incredibly simple, but delivers bakery quality bread with a crunchy crust and chewy inside. Oh and it’s also vegan–in true Arcadian spirit.
From Williams Sonoma recipe
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 5/8 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- Cornmeal as needed
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, rosemary and zest. Add 1 5/8 cups water and stir until blended; the dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at warm room temperature (about 70°F) until the surface is dotted with bubbles, 12 to 18 hours.
Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and fold the dough over onto itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel, not terry cloth, with cornmeal. Put the dough, seam side down, on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise until the dough is more than double in size and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger, about 2 hours.
At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a 2 3/4-quart cast-iron pot in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
Carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over, seam side up, into the pot; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is browned, 15 to 30 minutes more.
(Aha, if you’re feeling super lucky pairing, try out this ohmygoodness delicious Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Alfredo pasta we had with our bread.)