January 28, 2020

Sourdough Bread Making

In January 2019, I began a quest to learn about sourdough bread making.  I really enjoyed the experience and knowledge I gained, and the breads I made for our family over the course of the year.  I have tried to simplify what I have learned and how to go about it yourself, but if you are interested in learning more or diving deeper, reference the websites I used as my own sources which I have listed at the end.

It is possible to make starter over a week or two just using flour and water.  I used rye flour and filtered room temperature water, sourced from my refrigerator water dispenser into a cleaned gallon milk jug that I stored in my pantry.

It is possible to maintain a small quantity of sourdough starter in a pint jar.  I saved the discard in a plastic container in my refrigerator, and once a week or so, I used the discard as part of a pancake or bread recipe. 

You need to know that metal utensils and lids that come in contact with sourdough may inhibit it's liveliness, so use glass and plastic.

To begin, gather:
1 glass jar, pint or quart
1/8 measuring cup or 1 tablespoon measuring spoon
rye flour, or whole wheat
room temperature filtered water or spring water
two rubber bands
a coffee filter or scrap of fabric like a thin towel that breathes but keeps out little fruit flies
a spatula or other non-metal utensil for stirring

Day 1: Put a heaping 1/8 cup of whole grain flour plus just a scant 1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons) water into your jar.  Stir well so the flour and water are well-combined.  Scrape down the inside contents of the jar.  Secure your coffee filter to the opening of the jar with one rubber band.  Use the other band to mark the level of your sourdough starter in the jar.  Set on your counter until the same time the next day.

Day 2: Remove half of the contents of your jar.  The amount you remove can go in a plastic container stored in your refrigerator which can be used in other bread or pancake recipes that call for flour and water.  Then add the same amount of flour and water and stir well.  Scrap down sides.  Move your rubber band marker up.  This allows you to see if bubbles are forming from the growth and activity of your microscopic sourdough creatures.

Days 3-14: Repeat day 2 instructions.  Over time you'll notice when you come to halve and feed your starter, the contents have doubled and have lots of bubbles.  This is when you know your starter is strong enough to rise your bread.  Once you reach this stage, continue daily as long as you continue to enjoy making sourdough.

Vacation:  If you are going away or need a break from the daily routine, you can refrigerate your starter to be revived when you come back.  It can't be left there indefinitely, however.  Cold makes it slow down and dormant, but it still needs food every week or two.  When you revive it, set it on the counter, halve and feed, and within a day or two it'll be back to ready to use.

I aimed to use mostly whole grain recipes, but sometimes I would use half whole grain and half white flour to achieve the texture I wanted. 

I learned that in order to reap the nutritional benefits of sourdough, my dough needed to sit at room temperature with the sourdough starter mixed in for at least 7 hours. 

My personal preferences for getting good results of well-risen bread led me to decide that I would rather supplement my sourdough recipes with commercial yeast or baking soda.  Whole grain flours, which contain the most nutrition, are more dense and harder for my starter to raise.  Without additional leavening, I found my breads were too dense.  Still edible, but not as pleasant as with added yeast.  The yeasts in the sourdough are more diverse than the one strain found in commercial yeast.  So the nutrition is better using the sourdough.  Also, the process of souring the dough helps make the flour more easy to digest and helps our body better absorb the nutrients.  So I can let my dough sit for 7+ hours to sour and reap those benefits, and when I'm ready to move my dough to the baking pan, mix in my baking soda or commercial yeast. Or I have also mixed the commercial yeast into the dough before the 7 hours souring time.

Here is one of my favorite recipes:
Sourdough English Muffins - https://www.farmhouseonboone.com/how-to-make-sourdough-english-muffins - except I turned this into a loaf of English Muffin Bread by just baking the whole batch of dough in my bread pan for 35 minutes at 375 degrees F.  And I’ve made it with some variations: 
Cinnamon raising English Muffin Bread where I add 1 T cinnamon and 1/2 cup raisins
Chocolate English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup cocoa powder and 1/8 – 1/4 cup water
Chocolate Chip English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Blueberry English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup blueberries 
Pumpkin Spice English Muffin bread where I add 1 T of pumpkin spice.

I tried dozens of other bread recipes depending on what I wanted for our family's needs that week.  I made pancakes, buns, sweet breads, sandwich breads, artisan loaves, etc.  I would just take an ordinary bread recipe and modify it to become a sourdough.  The process takes hours of wait time, so if I start at breakfast, I could be baking by dinnertime. 
1. In a large plastic mixing bowl, mix 1/8-1/4 cup of sourdough starter with the water or other liquid called for in the recipe.  Add any sweeteners and other wet ingredients at this point as well.  I whisked this with a non-metal whisk.
2. Add the flour, other dry ingredients called for in the recipe, and some commercial yeast (my preference, though I wouldn't need the whole amount called for) and mix well with until no dry parts remain.
3. Alternately, instead of part of the water and flour called for in the recipe, substitute some of your sourdough starter discard that you've been saving in your refrigerator.  I'm all about being resourceful.
4. It seems that sourdough dough needs to be a moister dough than traditional types of bread, I think so the microscopic organisms have what they need to work.  So you may want to add a bit more water, milk, than the recipe calls for to moisten your dough.  Different types of flour and even same flours in different environments can be more dry or absorbant.  With experience, you'll find what consistency is your target.
5. Transfer dough to the pan(s) you intend to bake in.  Metal baking pans seem to be fine at this point.  Pan(s) should be about 1/3 full to allow for the rise.  Let the dough sour and rise at room temperature for at least 7 hours, covered with a towel.
6. Preheat oven and bake.

When you make a lot of homemade bread, you need a good quality, sharp serrated bread knife to cut your baked, cooled bread well.  I bought a 14-inch knife and a guard to keep it safely stored in my utensil drawer.

I hope you are inspired to try sourdough bread making for yourself!  I welcome comments about your own experiences!  For more details and information and recipes, you can visit my sources below:



The Science of Sourdough Video:

January 13, 2020

Friendships: One of the Sacrifices of Military Life

With the next Army move just a few months away, I'm already hearing my friends say, "We're going to miss you."  I genuinely appreciate knowing my family and I matter to them, and we will miss the people we're leaving behind.  My response usually is, "we're not gone yet!" because we are still fully invested in our community here until the day we have to leave.  

But it hit me today that there are so many people I have known throughout my life who I love, admire and appreciate, but we are no longer regularly in touch.  Many I am able to keep up with through social media, but that is not at all the same as face to face interaction.  It simply isn't possible to maintain all of the friendships I have made over my lifetime.  I prioritize the effort to maintain contact with our extended family, and beyond that I invest myself in the relationships in the community where I currently live.  Yet when I think about these people from which we've parted ways, I still hold feelings of fondness and I care for them deeply.  I wish I could have all of my favorite people around me wherever we go.  I wish we all had unlimited time and funds to visit one another regularly.

As a result, my heart is spread out all over all the places we've lived, or the places they have moved.  From my first friends in grade school to the beautiful people we spent 9 months of weekends ministering alongside while my husband completed his second seminary degree - every classmate, every church, every military assignment, every homeschool community.  I have met and known so many wonderful people.  If I've known you, I care about you.  My heart is big.  My heart is spread to everywhere.  My heart is sometimes hurting alongside those I know go through great loss even though they're hundreds of miles away.  My heart rejoices with those who celebrate achievements.  But it is hard to be disconnected from the communities where each person belongs.  I'm not there building the friendship any more.  I can't.  

My dream of post-Army life would be to always have old friends come stay with us wherever we retire, reminiscing, and continuing wherever we left off with enjoying one another's company, and whenever we travel, to see some of them along the way.  That may happen with some.

There have been times we've gotten the opportunity to go back and visit communities we've lived and loved.  We often go back to the church where my husband was the minister for 7 years.  But many of the people who were a part of the congregation then have moved away, switched to another church, or passed away.  A year after we moved away from Colorado, we had a chance to visit our old church and some friends.  A year after we moved out of Kentucky, we went to a friend's wedding and saw several people we knew.  But their community changed when we left, and they formed friendships with people we don't know, not excluding us, but making it awkward for us, the now "outsiders" in a way.  So returning for a visit is never exactly the same.  But we certainly treasure those who are still there that we get to see.  

I know we're not the only ones that move away.  Since we've lived in Oklahoma, several non-military families we know have moved for their jobs or to meet the needs of family.  So even in the midst of our stability in one place, our community changes and people leave to other states and countries.  My daughter questioned how I could possibly have over a thousand friends on Facebook.  But I explained that with all the places we've lived and served, they all add up, and I love to try to keep up with them all, at least a little bit.

It makes me sad that many of the people I know in this community someday will fade into the category of "when we lived in Oklahoma".  Our connections to this place will last, and we may be able to visit, but the remainder of our Army career will probably have us living somewhere else, and we don't yet know where retirement will lead us.  I have DEEP appreciation for each person we know here and how they have enhanced my life and the lives of my children and husband.  I'll definitely be upset to leave.

So I accept this hardship of making friends and moving away, but I don't like it.  There are moments I wonder if I even know what it's like to have a truly deep devoted friendship.  I'm the type of person who is interested in getting to know every new person I can.  My thought has been that even if I only have a conversation with you for an hour and never see you again, we can learn something from each other.  I love meeting all kinds of people and getting to know them.

Because of this, I will bravely jump into the arena of finding my new community in our next assignment location.  I need community.  And that will mean my time is invested in building friendships wherever I physically am.  "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold" - an old Girl Scout song.  I treasure the golds, and I look forward to meeting the silvers.

January 09, 2020

The Joy that Lies Ahead

"Oh sure, I'll interrupt my regularly scheduled life and do what it takes to pick up and move my family to an island in the Pacific.  Why not?" - me, sarcastically, right now.

This is the second time in our Army career (my husband's career that I support as his wife) that we have had an unexpected assignment to a dream location on an island in the Pacific.  Our first assignment was to Schofield Barracks, HI in 2006.  We enjoyed 3 years there.  It was beautiful!

So our next assignment will be to Okinawa, Japan.  The people we know who have been there are assuring us that once we get there, we will have the most amazing time due to the beauty of our surroundings, the food, and the adventures of exploring the island and the culture.

But there are hard things.  I know that we will be separated from our oldest child who will stay in the US and attend college.  She does this with our blessing, because it is something she is ready for, and we are happy with the plans she is pursuing.  We have great friends and family who will be close to her to support her in our place.  I know we'll be distant from our parents and siblings and their families, so we won't see them very often for the next three years.  We like our family, so it will be hard, but we'll do our best to keep in touch through video calls and e-mail.  There are many decisions to make, such as whether to sell or store our two vehicles, my piano and all the little items that we own.  We have been doing a lot of mental sorting between what we will ship to Okinawa, what we will store, what we will sell, and what we will give away or discard.  There are a lot of things ahead of us to prepare to go, including medical appointments and lots of learning and a bunch of planning and paperwork.  And I have to do all of this extra stuff all the while managing our homeschool semester, including our three oldests' participation in volleyball for the next 8 weeks, and two of our children's drama rehearsals and performances, and our oldest's graduation and celebrations for that.

I see an analogy to my spiritual life here.  God promises that our eternity with Him will be amazing, with no more mourning, crying or pain, and we will enjoy His presence and a celebration, and we will worship Him in all his glory, see Him face-to face, and enjoy the New Earth which He will create.  With this hope, we press forward in this hard life among difficult work and painful experiences.  With this hope, we also press into Him and nurture our relationship with Him, because He walks with us through our life, good and bad, and He provides us with joy in the journey, even when our circumstances are hard and painful.  But all of the Kingdom work we do will be worth it.

I have already accomplished a lot in our preparation for the move.  We've sold and donated and discarded a number of things we knew we won't need.  I have found three good suitcases for pennies on the dollar at local thrift stores.  We've had appointments with our PCM doctor to update our vaccinations and medical records. 

I struggled pretty badly a couple days ago, overwhelmed by all that needs to be done.  But today, I'm back to being motivated to complete as many projects as I can this week.  Whatever I can get done now will lessen what needs to be done later.  I am confident that it will be worth it.