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Sunday, May 5, 2013


I have a great tendency not to practice what I preach, especially when it comes to trivial matters.  I am always the first person to say 'look on the bright side', or insist that the 'glass is half full'.  However, when it comes to matters in my own life, as mentioned a couple of weeks ago when my washing machine was failing to thrive, the world crumbled beneath my feet, and doomsday was upon me.

I decided sometime at the end of last year that I would discard the conventional, and go 'natural'.  With the help of Joe and Gail's expertise, I concocted my own bread 'starter'.  (Sorry if you were expecting something else!) In other words, I no longer have to use yeast each week.  Without going into great detail, (I can if requested!) I used my two and a quarter teaspoons of yeast, put them in a bowl with a mashed potato, a cup of water and about a third of a cup of honey, and let it sit and bubble for about four days.  I felt like I was back in the 'science lab' at school!  The liquidy substance stood on the kitchen table, for the allotted time, and was peaked at every night and morning, to make sure it was still 'breathing'.  Finally, after the incubation period, I added another mashed potato and a cup of water, and left it for another 24 hours.  Once fermented, I drained off a cup of liquid into a small jar and put it in my fridge.  This is what is known as 'the starter'.  The idea is to repeat the final stage (e.g. add mashed potato, water and honey and stand for 24 hours, let it ferment) drain off a cup of liquid (the starter) to put back in the fridge, and use the remaining gloop to make the dough, by adding the flour, oil or fat, and whatever else is in the recipe.  This is a process I have been using for the last six months.  The bread takes longer to rise than using processed yeast, but the results are pretty amazing.  

I was so impressed with my new found talent, that I decided to make another starter, for sour dough, by simply 'capturing' the natural yeast in the air. The first effort was thrown away, as the flour and water resembled wallpaper paste, and started to emit a gas which I was convinced could have run a small vehicle!  Not to be beaten, in the words of Robert the Bruce, I tried, tried again, and it was on the second attempt that success was achieved.  I fed the noxious substance flour each day, and finally put the entire contents into my mixing bowl, added some water, and then drained off  my cup to put in the fridge.  I was slightly dubious as to whether this would actually work, but although it took about forty eight hours for the raising process, the loaf was magnificent!  I would never have to buy yeast again. 

Dana was slightly perplexed as to the two strange looking jars in the fridge, and started to fear that my cold box would shortly resemble the urology department at the local hospital.  I did attempt to allay his fears, but when the third one showed up, he was less than convinced.  However, despite my best efforts to explain that each time I 'fed' the individual 'starters', there would be no more than three little pots of dubious coloured liquid, he continued to check. 

My three jars were necessary for the three types of bread.  The first, my 'baby', is for my choice of breakfast bread, which I usually make slightly sweeter than anything else.  Sometimes I add some more eggs to create a brioche, and sometimes I add orange pieces and chocolate drops.  Practically anything that you would put on the loaf, can be put in the loaf.  The second jar (perhaps the most suspect colour of all) is for my sourdough, and rye loaves.  My third jar is for 'Dana's delight', which is a savory loaf.  The 'starter' was a hybrid.  It was made from half of the 'baby' and half from the sourdough starter.  I have taken the basic french bread recipe, and either add a pot of shredded Parmesan, or some jalapenos, and sometimes both!  Toasting the cheese bread and spreading it with butter, makes an instant 'cheese on toast' without the need for grilling (broiling)! 

For six months I fed one of the starters, left it to ferment, drained off a cup, and poured the remainder into my mixing bowl.  Last week, however, disaster struck.  My auto pilot must have been in the 'off' mode, and I took my fermented stock and poured it into my mixing bowl.  It was after I had added the melted butter and salt, that I realised I had not drained off my cup for the next loaf.  Fortunately, I had not added the flour. Standing over the rotating bowl, I froze for a few seconds.  Once I regained the use of my limbs, my initial reaction was to remove the bowl from the mixer, pour out a cup of liquid into my jar, place it in the fridge, and shut the door as if nothing had happened.  I even looked around my kitchen to make sure no one was looking!  If I pretended it didn't happen, all would be okay!  It was then that the panic struck.  I would have to start again!  Putting things into perspective is not one of my strong suits, and it was as if my whole world had collapsed. 

Just before I crumpled into a heap on the floor, I emailed Gail.  'Help!  I have compromised my starter!'  I explained what had happened and waited for a reply.  In the meantime, I continued with my housework, checking my computer every two minutes.  By the time Gail responded, I had managed to regain composure and was of the opinion that the amount of salt and butter added was rather minute in comparison to the amount of liquid, and if in the fridge, the butter would solidify and perhaps be easily removable.  Alternatively, I did have other 'starters' in the fridge, and I would be able to 'borrow' liquid from one to make another.  Dana failed to understand my angst, and suggested I just go to the store and buy a loaf!

Gail is a woman after my own heart.  Her reply was very upbeat.  Her advice was to 'drain off a cup, put it back in the fridge, and carry on as if nothing had happened.  Tell everyone to move along, there is nothing to see here!'  She too had seen the imaginary people in my kitchen!!  She followed her initial email with the theory about the butter solidifying, and was very positive.  My world appeared to be getting back to normal.  The third piece of advice was that I could 'borrow' liquid from one of my other 'starters' to make a new one.  We appeared to share a brain.

The following week did not bring forth success, but Gail refused to believe that my starter was even compromised, much less dead, and so I decided to give it one more go.  If the liquid fermented after feeding, and the 'first rising' was successful, the final product should be perfect.  I decided to think positive thoughts, and it appeared to work.  This week I have used my own hot cross bun recipe. 

With all well in my world, I was able to continue creating, and turned to my other hobby, which have caused people to say, 'get a life!'  Knitting!  Although the weather has not been warm enough to swim, it had been pleasant enough to dip my feet in the water, and I was relaxed enough to take an hour 'off' from my winter routine to begin the Sunday afternoon ritual of reading.  I make no apologies to those who have young kids, and tell me, 'I don't have time to relax'.  Been there, done that, wearing the Mother's Day t-shirt!  Next week is Mother's day, here.  Samantha and I were laughing at each other when we realised we had to remember to get our respective mother in law's cards, when we had already celebrated 'our mums' earlier in the year.  However, we have a week to go until the festivities, which is so much time to produce....... another story.

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