Sourdough and the VW Van

For several days I’ve been keeping my sourdough active, ready for the right mixing moment. Late Wednesday I decided to get my hands into some dough, and mix a batch of homemade yumminess for Thursday night. If you want sourdough from scratch, you have to think 20 hours ahead.

My arm muscles got a workout and the physical movements cleared my mind and allowed me to shift into prayer. I do love the miracle of making bread.

Fast forward hours and hours and it’s time to score, and bake, and figure out what to do with that extra loaf. I almost posted a facebook status, hoping someone would be in the neighborhood, want to swoop by, and relieve me of a giving adventure. Giving is an adventure–especially when there’s NO plan.

AHA! I thought. Three weeks ago there was a raffle at school, and my little one needed to sell tickets. We scurried door to door, and at one house we met a new family who had recently moved in. I felt awful that our first meeting was all about exchanging $10 bills, so have wanted to bring them a proper Bread Welcome. Here was our chance.

But they weren’t home. At this point, I honestly wanted to return to the house and settle back into introvert world. I prefer weeding over meeting new people.

But we spied a gentleman down the road who was tinkering with the engine of his VW van. John Ronan was at my side, and he bounded down the road, shouting out hellos. I followed with a bagged loaf of bread. (Isn’t it pretty?!!!)

IMG_3889

Twenty minutes later, after a full tour of the VW van, its two sleeping compartments, a peek at the engine, a few stories of trips to Canada and Mexico, some fiddling with the cool cup holders, radio, etc and a last exchange about my daughter who plays piano at all hours and whom the neighbors adore… well, I finally dragged the little one away, promising we’d return another time for another van adventure. We had met a new friend, put a name to a face of a man we’ve been living near for over a dozen years… Once again, this giving proves…

That chatting with neighbors is better than weeding!

That giving is better than just about anything…

Cheers, friends!

Sourdough Starter

Recently I’ve been sharing my sourdough starter as fast as I can bulk it back up. Two women two weeks ago, two more last week, and some for Dean who made sourdough dinner rolls and said they were kind of ugly, but delicious!

Here’s what I gave to Dean…

Typically my starter lives in my fridge, where I feed it once a week or less, if I’m not baking with it. It gets tucked all the way to the back left side, and usually has apples in front of it, or tubs of salsa, or a jar of homemade plum jam.

When I’m in a sourdough frame of mind, then the starter gets moved to the counter, where it lives in the open air and I feed it once, even twice each day. It goes bad out in the warmth if you don’t pay attention, so I keep it where I’ll always see it, right by the drawer that holds the dinner napkins and the phone charger. For the last two months, my starter has been working overtime.

Fido. I know it’s silly to name a sourdough starter, but Fi-means faithful and Do-is a lousy but fun version of dough. Catchy? Ha. Our family’s lore says that we Garaicoetxea folk (Ga-ra-ee-ko-eh-chay-uh… that’s the way you write our very Basque surname) brought our levain–our sourdough starter–all the way to the new world in the 1890’s. Since we were bakers in the Basque country, and immediately opened a bakery in California, it’s probably all very true! Here are some photos from my last trip there.

Anyway, what’s the big interest suddenly in sourdough? Well, articles are popping up everywhere about fermented foods, and so I thought I’d share a few links so that you might know a little more about this sour magic.

On food sensitivities

One person’s story on going grain-free, then reverting back to eating grains and their health benefits

The science behind sourdough, and a bit about San Francisco’s claim to sour fame

So, if you live near me and are tempted to try your hand at baking some of your own sourdough-based recipes, send me a message and I’ll put you in the giveaway lineup. If not, just make your own. Here are some sourdough starter recipes from trusted baking websites:

The Fresh Loaf

King Arthur

Bon Appetit–with some nods to Richard Bertinet, one of my favorite bread book authors, and a recipe for sourdough bread to boot!

Just be careful if you are inspired, but don’t want to bake sourdough bread yourself. Many of the commercial varieties aren’t all that special. Instead of using the traditional method of allowing the bread to ferment and rise over a long period of time–thus gaining that sour flavor and the benefits of fermentation, many of the large commercial bakeries simply add vinegars or souring agents to a typical loaf of industrial, yeasted bread… The ingredient list will be long, and you won’t gain any of the health benefits. Real sourdough bread has these three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. 🙂

Lastly.

Sourdough toast with butter and homemade plum jam. Stew and sourdough. French toast from sourdough bread. Bread pudding made from stale loaves. Egg in a hole. Grilled panini on homemade sour. Sourdough pancakes and waffles! Hot sourdough baked in a pot, on an open flame.

Are you hungry yet?

Not Baking… and Here’s Why

So, if your brother tossed an enormous bag of bread into the front seat of your car, what would you do?

We–pull out the bread knife.

The Kids–eat all the chocolate bread in one fell swoop.

I–make a lot of croutons.

I–give some of it away.

I–make two batches of French toast. (French toast made with old sourdough bread is the BEST!)

I–burn some of the French toast. (See this post.)

I–don’t do a whole lot of baking. Not for five days–maybe more.

And now, the brothers are threatening me with a 50 pound bag of flour sent up on one of their bakery trucks. My answer?

Yes!!!

 

Oh, Dear

Sometimes life gets busy and the dough that is rising just keeps on a risin’.

I mixed up some sourdough last evening, forgetting that I’d be away all day on a field trip to the zoo with 40 munchkins. When I returned, I didn’t even look in the kitchen, I headed straight for my pillow.

The nap ended and here’s when I emphatically said, Oh, dear!

16 hours on the rise, that batch of sourdough was losing steam. I quickly dumped it out, shaped it into a ball,

heated the oven and a half hour later popped it into a super hot pot.

And, voila! Who said baking has to be a perfectly timed, measured and calculated event?

And it’s never to late to share when you have a house full of Arizona guests, happy to flee from their summer heat. Tonight it will sit all lonely on the cutting board–for the Capo Chef is making pizza. But tomorrow–oh, tomorrow! it will make some amazingly delicious French toast, don’t you think?

Sourdough Swap

My parents have moved to Santa Barbara and it’s the first time since I was eighteen that I’ve been this blessed to have these two generous and interesting people so nearby!

My mom marvels at the fact that I make jams, sew Dr Seuss shorts, and bake bread, while I marvel at the fact that she can do a crossword puzzle in about five minutes flat. She’s a whiz. The other day, because she says she wants to learn some new hobbies (she’s also taking calligraphy from Carla!), she came over and we tackled another batch of homemade kumquat marmalade together.

Back up. We have a lovely, healthy kumquat tree in our front yard, and some years it fruits like crazy, but this year. 😦 hmmm. Nothing. So, for the second time this season I raided my neighbor’s tree. They don’t like kumquats. (Are they crazy?!!!) And I do.

I set my mom to de-seeding, while I flipped between subtraction problems with John Ronan, the laundry, and chopping cut kumquats. She’s a worker, that mom of mine. Five cups of chopped kumquat later, a cup of local honey and a bit of water and we raced to shut the doors to keep out the bees. Bees seem to know where the honey is, I’ve found, and don’t mind trying to get back that which we sneak from their hives.

I know this because four bees came into my home to inspect the pot last week during Kumquat Marmalade Number One.

Mom sliced, I chopped, and only a little while later we were ladling marmalade into jars and canning them in my big red pot.

Back up even more.

The same day as the marmalade, I baked off the MOST beautiful loaf of sourdough I have ever made. If I didn’t think it was obnoxious, I would have typed all of that in caps. I mean, beautiful. So, as my mom was leaving, after all her hard work of picking out those dastardly seeds from inside a tiny citrine fruit, I offered her my best–my most beautiful. Plus a jar of marmalade. She taught me how to share when I was just a wee one. And here I am, still working on it in her midst.

Cheers to all of you, and I’d love to know what you’ve been either snitching from your neighbor’s tree, or cooking in your big red pot 🙂

Out of Doors

In Southern California we are able to eat outside for many months. We have few bothering bugs, we are drenched with warmth and sun for much of the year, and for all that we pay massive amounts of taxes–with more surely to come! 

Anywho, many of us have these dinky little homes, which means that using whatever outside space available is… smart. And with teenagers, whose bodies are bursting out of these little rooms and places, going outside helps maintain sanity (plus you don’t have to sweep!).

Recently I baked up a beautiful batch of sourdough. I toted my two loaves over to my parents’ new home, and we grilled some sausages, set the tables and enjoyed the fresh air and the view. It’s that time of year, and more often than not, that’s where you’ll find us in the evenings, gathered around a table or another, pairing grilled sausages and sourdough bread, with fava beans plucked straight from our forest. sipping lemonade or margaritas, and knowing that–

hopefully living the fact that–

(despite the taxes!!!)

we are blessed.

Wild about Sourdough and Snow

Two loaves of sourdough (the 24 hour kind, and baked in a pot)

Mixed: 3:45 pm

Molded: 10:30 am next day

Baked 4:30 pm

Cold weather and warm ovens mix so beautifully. The storm that passed through our state over the weekend beckoned me into the kitchen, and wasn’t I pleased when my batch of sourdough came out looking authentically wonderful? I just had to share.

It was already dark, but I noticed most of my nearest neighbors weren’t home. I grabbed the umbrella and prepared for an adventure. After combing the two nearest streets, I ended up almost back where I’d started–right next door, chatting on the front porch while the rain fell all around.

Warm bread. They were pleased, I was pleased, and that nice mood kicked off all sorts of weather planning once I returned home.

Having grown up in sunny Southern California, I relish any weather that veers from blue skies and warm breezes. Now, there are those around me, who grew up in just the same way, who don’t appreciate my viewpoint. I don’t mind this at all–for when a sprinkle of snow comes to our mountains, only the wild-eyed weather-seekers are motoring their way up the hills. And that is just what we did the following morning.

What fun. Whatever the weather, I pray this day finds you well, my friends. I’m off to bake some rye crackers and maybe even find my way to the library with the little ones. If it snows again, grab your boogie board, a thermos of hot chocolate and I’ll meet you on Figueroa Mountain.

Deal?

The Tale of the Blue Cactus

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 8:45 pm

Molded: 12: 45 pm next day

Baked: 2:15

The baking was done, the drizzle had passed, and glorious sunshine poured everywhere. Despite the list of inside things to do, I headed out front to pull weeds.

John Ronan joined me and worked on his gardening skills, pruning my beautiful but now fully dead pomegranate tree. I decided that I’d make giving simple, and that the first person walking by who said hello would get the warm sourdough sitting indoors on the kitchen counter. 🙂

But even though there were plenty of potential-bread getters–folks running, folks walking, folks talking on their cell phones pushing a stroller–no one was in a chatty mood, even though John Ronan cried out “hello” to more than one.

We changed tactics once I had finished weeding the strawberry bed. With the loaf of sourdough in hand, we weaved right (nobody home), we weaved further right (nobody home), we weaved even further right (looked like somebody was home but they didn’t answer), we weaved left (two nobodies home again!) and ended up down the street where an old grandma was straightening up the front porch of her home. (I love this old grandma. She lives with her son’s family, has a European accent, and is often seen calling after a black and white mischievous kitty.)

She recognized us and we immediately struck up a long conversation about her blue cactus on the porch that blooms a beautiful velvety flower, and how she’d found the perfect blue pot just to match… We talked for a long time about that blue cactus while she peeked over and over into the bag to smell the warm loaf of sourdough bread. Simple enough. A bit of galavanting through the neighborhood and a small dose of sharing… How I loved listening to that sweet woman talk about her blue cactus!

So, that was my latest giving. Always a surprise or two to follow in the wake of the baking…

(And speaking of what’s to follow… Photos! My camera went kaput on Christmas Eve–and is being repaired in some faraway land. So, forgive the black and white words… The two photos were taken by my beloved Madeleine…)

What about you? Please share your giving adventures–or your blue cactus stories–or how you can’t believe that we’re weeding our strawberry beds when you’re out shoveling snow from the sidewalk!

Cheers–and happy giving!

Sourdough Recipe

Growing up in a family of bread bakers who specialize in sourdough I can tell you two things. I recognize the look, taste and smell of a perfectly made loaf, AND I have been completely intimidated by that living yeast to tackle this style of bread baking, until now. You know, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve decided on many fronts that I’d rather continue to try new things and fail instead of living in a little bubble spinning in the same circles. Sourdough is a good challenge–and I’ve made several batches now of really delicious bread!

Sourdough is made with the simplest of ingredients. Flour, water, salt and that wonderful mixture of sour sponge. (Sourdough starter–or sponge– is flour and water and many little living yeasties that are kept alive by consistent feeding. It’s like having a little puppy in the house–a puppy who lives in the cupboard. Here’s a recipe for making starter from scratch that explains the process well.) Because making a starter takes quite a bit of time, ask around to see if there’s someone you know who might be willing to share theirs. I’ve given away many small batches of starter already this year to neighbors and friends…

Note: I don’t give any firm times in this recipe for when to mold the dough and when to bake. This is not a loaf of bread for beginners because you’ll need to be familiar with the way dough looks when it’s ready at each stage. Much will depend on the temperature and moisture in your kitchen, and the liveliness of the sponge. That said, go ahead and give it a whirl–there’s nothing like learning by doing–and you can always make croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right!

Time Commitment: Between 20 and 24 hours, depending on the conditions in your kitchen. You’ll need to activate your starter before you begin, so think about that as you’re planning…

Tools you need:
  • Cookie sheets or bread peel
  • Large mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 10-12 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • rice flour or corn meal for dusting
What to do:

Step One: Activate the starter. If your starter hasn’t been used in a few days, then it could do with a bit of refreshing before you begin. Add a little flour and water into your starter several hours before you want to mix your dough.

Step Two: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the starter, mix some more, then add the water. (I keep my starter fairly liquid, so I have to adjust my water accordingly.)  Stir, then get your hands into the dough and mix.

Turn it out onto a clean surface and begin kneading. Knead for about 8-10 minutes. Pray while you knead… Sing some Sourdough Slim ballads such as You Are My Sunshine while you knead, maybe even do a little yodeling :).

Step Three: In a large, clean mixing bowl, either dust the bottom of your bowl with flour, or oil it. Place your dough in the bowl and cover it with a moist, clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk. I typically mix my sourdough in the early evening or late afternoon. The first rise will take around 12-15 hours. Sleeping during this rise makes the most sense!

Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked. Another method I use is to dust rice flour on my husband’s favorite wooden pizza peel and allow the bread to rise there…

Mold your dough. I like to shape my sourdough into round boules. Once your loaves are molded, cover them again with a damp cloth.

Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about 5-8 hours. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Step Six: Your loaves are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Score the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I use a small, serrated pairing knife. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven, or peel off your bread directly onto the stone. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Sometimes I will remove the cookie sheet at this point and allow the bread to bake directly on the baking stone for the rest of the time. Bake another 20-24 minutes, depending on the shape of your loaves (rolls require a shorter bake) and the true heat of your oven.

Remove the bread, and cool on a rack, unbothered, for at least 30 minutes. Then, the best part.

Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)

Christmas Cheer

Two rounds of bread baking in one day…

It’s oven season and mine is humming along (now that I have my new and improved relay board installed!). I’ve been sticking to my experiment, to always bake double of what we need and give half away. Recently I baked two pans of a lenten carrot cake, taking the second pan to church to share with friends. Then I went on a sourdough bread extravaganza, mixing up an enormous batch, which turned out to be a mighty flop. How can you give flopped bread away? It’s hard.

Backing up. I know some of you still don’t believe that last week’s ugly batch of bread was really all that ugly. I told you, the photo just didn’t show all the hideousness. I truly would have offended someone if I’d offered it as a gift.

Well, I did it again. My sourdough loaves came out ghastly.

This is hard for me–to accept that after all these years I can still make such beginner baking mistakes. But being humbled is good. I placed the bread in a beautiful wooden bowl which is the color the bread really should be. And I brought it out into the natural light so that you could really see the pale, icky crust. And I know what I did wrong–I simply had too much water in the mix. My husband thinks the second loaf resembles a portabello mushroom. Here are the photos. Feel free to gasp and be horrified!

I may be many things, but I’m not a quitter. As soon as the ugly sourdough came out of the oven, I mixed up a new batch of French bread, making sure the dough was on the dry side. How pleased I was, several hours later, when those golden loaves greeted me as the oven timer dinged…

Of course, when you’re baking two batches of bread in one day, this all takes time. Time to mix, time to rise, time to bake. Not to mention all the other time-related things I do like reading with John Ronan, cleaning the very dusty living room, washing loads of laundry, algebra with Madeleine and running to the store for hummus…

So, when the second batch of bread came out of the oven at 6:30 pm I wasn’t sure where to take it. Most meals are planned and half way eaten by 6:30 in our neighborhood, but you just have to trust in the Law of Giving.

As we prayed for our own dinner, then sat to enjoy the simple meal my husband had cooked, we discussed who to give the warm (and gorgeous) French bread to.

As I lit the candles around our Advent wreath I was inspired. How about to the only neighbor on our block who has donned her house with Christmas cheer? How about Ashley?

The two littlest and I dashed across the street–and wouldn’t you know? Ashley hadn’t eaten yet, was thrilled to have some warm bread in her hands, plus, John Ronan got to talk to her all about the making of our Advent wreath (and many other things…).

What to do with all that ugly sourdough?

Croutons!

It’s the season of giving. Cheers to you all!