Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Colder than...

It's freaking COLD outside.  Not that I need to tell any of you that if you live in most of the continental United States.  I took this snapshot of the weather on my phone a little while ago, but I really should have taken it last night or this morning - when it was 2 degrees.  Really, 2?  Can ya spare it, Mother Nature?

My hands are cold, my feet are cold, my house is cold.  We ran out of wood for the wood stove about a week or two ago.  The dog, who used to love to lie behind the wood stove, has taken to lying on the miscellaneous blankets on the couch.  Winter was a lot more fun when my house was warmer.  You might say that "it's colder than…"  Fill in your favorite phrase here.  If you go to google, and search "colder than," you will find the phrase I was actually thinking of.   

"I'm cold"  I texted my friend a little while ago.

"We're all cold."  she said, "We're in cold hell."

It reminded me of the final scene in Dante's Inferno…  the icy wasteland, Satan gnawing on his three victims in the center...

Yup - pretty cold down there...

Well, if that was the case, "we just have to climb down Satan's hairy back and we can get the HELL out of here." I texted back.

If you don't believe me, google it - look for the end of the Inferno section. 

Personally, I really would rather just wait for Spring. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sourdough Bread Made with a Yeast Starter

As some of you know, I recently (unsuccessfully) attempted to start my own wild yeast starter.  For those of you who don't know, a "starter" is what you use when you want yeast risen food without using yeast you purchased at the store.  I first heard of this via reading about San Francisco Sourdough bread.  The yeast is "caught" locally in San Francisco, and that's what gives their bread its distinctively yummy taste.   The yeast makes its home in the flour and water mixture and "ferments."  "Fermented" bread (sourdough) is supposed to be better for you because the starches are more easily digestible and the phytase has been activated to dissolve the phytates, which means minerals in the bread are more easily absorbed.  For more info in this area, check out:


How do you catch wild yeast?  Wild yeast is floating around in the air all around us, (some websites said there is speculation that the yeast is actually IN the flour - who knows) and all you need to do to "catch" it is mix flour and water together in equal parts - and wait.  

… and wait.

Though it's not difficult, it does take some time.  I had some confidence that I would succeed in eventually "catching" some wild yeast because in the past, I've noticed the telltale bubbles in my flour and water mixtures when I make paper mache.  I just knew Long Island had hearty wild yeast.  

I scanned a lot of Pinterest pages and chose one to follow that had great pictures and clear descriptions. My starter (Bertha - from my last post) produced bubbles very quickly, but just as quickly turned horribly smelly and died (I'm just guessing it died, but I'm not an expert in yeast life…).  I read though a bunch more Pinterest posts and searched some bread making websites and decided a few days ago to try again, and I met with success!!  This time instead of feeding my starter every 24 hours, I fed it every 12 hours.  I threw out slightly less than half the starter every time I fed it, and I think this resulted in more available "food" for the active yeast organisms to eat. I eventually want to transition to making whole wheat bread, so in addition, I used a small portion (roughly 25%) of whole wheat flour right from the beginning with this starter.  

Here is the website that I found the most helpful.  I can't seem to get links into this blog, but if you cut and paste this, I'm sure you'll get there...


I started with 4 weighed ounces of flour, and 4 fluid ounces of filtered water.  I mixed, covered and let sit for 12 hours.  Then I added another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water, waited 12 hours again. My starter looked like this:

I took some out, put in another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of flour, mixed and waited another 12+ hours - probably more like 20 hours.  It looked like this:

I was excited!  And this time, it smelled a little yeasty, like beer, but not terribly singe-your-nose-hairs-sour, like last time.  Last time I had the bowl sitting near the wood stove.  Even though it was covered, maybe that had something to do with it…

It had pretty much doubled in size.  I decided I should attempt the bread.  I needed to bulk up this starter, but I didn't want to ruin my good luck with taking some out each time, so I removed one cup of starter, and added 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of water.  I put it in a slightly warm oven (that had been turned off) and left it overnight.  The website called for 5 cups of starter - 4 for the bread, and one to save in the fridge for next time.  

In the morning I had this:

As per the directions on the website I listed above, I removed 4 cups of this starter for my bread, and put the rest in a covered (but NOT airtight) container in my fridge.  I had a little more than a cup leftover.

I took out my KitchenAid mixer and used it to mix the starter with the olive oil, salt, warmed milk and sugar and dried herbs (I used rosemary, thyme and sage).  Then I slowly added the flour.  

It took almost all of the 5 cups of flour.  I didn't want it to be too dry, and the bread seemed moist enough, so I left the last 1/4 of a cup or so out.  I cut my dough in half, made 2 loaves and set them aside to rise for 3 hours.  

…and they did double in size!

I transferred one to my clay baker and let it sit for a while longer, to recover from being moved. 
Here it is, ready for the oven.

Here is is after I baked it at 375 for about 30 minutes. 

The family was afraid of the starter when they saw it sitting out on the counter. 

"Iewwwww!! that looks nasty!  You're gonna BAKE with that??"

But when the bread came out of the oven, all they could say was,

"Where's the butter?"

I gave my second loaf to my parents and they loved it.  My dad thinks I should have left out the herbs and put in raisins and cinnamon instead, so that tells you he sour taste is not overpowering.

Here's my remaining starter, ready for next time…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bertha, the Sourdough Bread Starter

In the last week or two, really, since the play has ended, I've been obsessing over the idea of baking bread.  Not just any bread, but bread made from Wild Yeast.  I partially blame this on my sister, who is very knowledgeable about healthy eating and has posted a variety of articles on Facebook that have been encouraging me to change some of my crappier eating habits.  We can discuss chia seeds at length in another post. Anyway, one of the articles got me thinking about how I should be making my own bread, and since I watch TV shows like Alaska: The Last Frontier and Alaskan Bush People, I naturally thought I shouldn't BUY yeast, I should CAPTURE it, WILD.

Enter, the Sourdough Starter.

I googled "how to make a sourdough starter," found a how-to that looked good and followed the directions.

The first day was easy.  I mixed 4 ounces of water with 4 ounces of flour (although I intend to make mine with organic whole grain eventually, the site said white flour was most dependable to start with), set the bowl on the counter and waited.

Now let me explain.  Weird experiments are fairly commonplace in my house.  I just spent two months making a Mushu costume out of spray foam and wire screening.  When my family sees weird, sticky objects drying in the basement, they don't get alarmed.  I guess the same goes for weird, sticky Pyrex measuring cups on the counter.

The first day was no problem.  It looked normal and smelled fine.

On the second day, bubbles eventually dotted the surface of the starter.  It grew slightly in size.  You could say it smelled yeasty.  Not unpleasant.

The third day was challenging.  It was distinctly sour.  I smelled it, but no one else seemed to notice.  My son frequently leaves his dirty socks around the house, but I never remembered them smelling like this…  Maybe everyone was ignoring it because they thought it was the kitchen garbage pail, which frequently went unmentioned because no one wanted to have to empty it - sort of like the fart rule of "Whoever smelt it, DELT it." The good thing about this day in the life of my starter was that it grew AMAZINGLY.  When I placed its delicate self in the Pyrex bowl, it was 2 cups in size. Before I knew it, it had grown to FOUR CUPS in SIZE!  I was so PROUD! AW, that's MY baby starter! I named it Bertha.  I made the mistake, at this point, of making my husband acknowledge my starter's existence.

"Check it out.  I'm making a sourdough starter.  You capture the wild yeast in the air and use it to make bread."  He looked vaguely interested, most likely he feigned this interest because I listen on a regular basis to his stories about carburetors, bronze worm gears and tiller attachments.  I held out the bowl for him to inspect.

"It's supposed to smell sour.  Smell."  I lifted the plastic wrap…

He leaned over and sniffed…


"Oh come ON," I said, "You're such an exaggerator!  It's not THAT bad."  Ok, so it smells bad.  But sour is the word, sour.  Isn't it supposed to smell sour?  It IS supposed to be for SOURdough.

So now Bertha is sitting on the counter again, well fed, but unloved by everyone except me. That's ok, she will have a chance to redeem herself when I make a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread next week.  My daughter told me she was "...wondering why the kitchen smelled like cheese."

When I came home the other day, I found an addition on my note asking everyone not to touch my starter.  Next to where I had written Sourdough starter:  DO NOT TOUCH, my husband had written,  "Who would want to?"

If we ever have to move to Alaska, I know my frontier skills will be much better than his.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Finished Costume! Mulan's Mushu on Stage!

After all that preparation, the day of the show finally arrived!  Here's a phone shot of one of the scenes with Mushu on stage, standing on a box.  They had two different students play Mushu, so I made sure the costume accommodated their two different sizes.

I may have made the Mushu costume, but my awesome friend Cindy made all of the other costumes.  Aren't they FABULOUS?  She was a sewing maniac for months! Everyone looked great!

I was told by the director that both kids who played Mushu loved the costume.  She said, "They didn't want to take it off!"

And that is what tells me I did a good job.  I loved the challenge, and I'm glad they loved wearing my creation!  

Great job kids!  Until next year!