How You Can Help

I thought I’d repeat something that I said at the end of the last blog post. There are a lot of people who are hurting because of this crisis. Those of us who are safe and secure need to step up for those who are not. I have a friend and neighbor who runs several farmers’ markets through a non-profit called SEE-LA. They are soliciting donations to support families sheltering in place in South LA. Your donation will help both those families and the farmers impacted by this crisis. The donation form is here. Please join me in chipping in!

If you need help there is a Covid-19 Mutual Aid Network set up by a coalition of grassroots organizations. You can also give to this network via this GoFundMe campaign.

Fermentology: Mini Seminars About Cultured Food

Many thanks to Carol Bornstein of the Natural History Museum for this tip on a series of short fermentation talks coming soon. The 20 minute talks will cover sourdough, cheese, beer, history, biology and even something called “zombie medicine.”

Join us for a series of short talks (20 minutes on average, some shorter, some a little longer) for anyone hungry to engage in food, culture, history and science–but in the context of what you have at home.

This project is sponsored by the Department of Applied Ecology at NC State University, the NC State University Libraries and the Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics at the University of Copenhagen.

All talks are Thursday at 4 pm EST, unless otherwise specified. All talks are virtual and will be recorded and available afterwards on the Applied Ecology Youtube page.

Registration here!  Follow us on twitter or facebook for updates.

A closing note: I’m fortunate to be able to stay at home, with plenty of food, and watch fermentation seminars. Many are not so lucky. I have a friend and neighbor who runs several farmers’ markets through a non-profit called SEE-LA. They are soliciting donations to support families sheltering in place in South LA. Your donation will help both those families and the farmers impacted by this crisis. The donation form is here. Please join me in chipping in!

Timing Sourdough Feeding

A recent “quarantine” loaf.

There are many paths up the holy mountain of sourdough bread baking. Wildly different methods will yield acceptable and edible results. But, no matter the method, I think one factor is important if you want to get a decent sourdough bread: the amount of time between feeding your starter and making your dough.

I keep a small amount of starter on hand since I bake, at most, twice a week under normal circumstances (Under quarantine I’m baking a lot more but the reasons for that would be the subject of another blog post). Just before I go to bed, the night before I’m going to make bread, I take a tablespoon of starer and add it to 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 60 grams of water. The next morning I have a little over 110 grams of starter with which to make my dough.

Starter float test.

Here’s the critical issue of timing: while I’m sleeping the sourdough culture is growing exponentially in the flour/water mixture. I need to make my dough within 8 to 12 hours of that feeding. If I wait too long the sourdough starter will lose its vigor. How do I know the starter is ready to use? I do a float test. If you gently spoon the culture into some water it should float, an indication that it’s active and full of CO2 bubbles. One of the most common mistakes with beginning sourdough bakers is not feeding the starter enough (you should feed at least once a day or put it in the refrigerator if you’re not going to use it) and trying to make a loaf with sourdough that’s been sitting too long after its last feeding.

To review my process:

  • The night before I make bread I mix one tablespoon of starter with 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 60 grams of water.
  • The next day I make up a dough and let it rise for approximate four hours at room temperature (this first rise is also called a bulk fermentation).
  • After the four hour bulk fermentation, I shape the dough, put it in the refrigerator and bake the next day. This second period of fermentation is called “proofing”). I’ve found that putting the dough in the refrigerator to proof has a few advantages: it develops a richer flavor, the dough is easier to handle, it’s less likely to stick to the bread form, and you have flexibility in terms of when to bake the next day.
  • When it’s time to bake I pull the dough out of the refrigerator and put it straight into a 475º F (246º C) oven.

So, in total, my bread baking process takes 2 days. You have to think ahead but there actually isn’t much work involved since I’m using a no-knead method. Again, it’s not the only way to make sourdough bread but I’ve found this method works well for me. For exact recipes and techniques I highly recommend the book Josey Baker Bread (library link). What I like about Josey’s book is that it’s kind of like a class in bread baking. He starts you out with simple loaves and then gets into more advanced techniques. There’s plenty of illustrations on top of the fact that Josey is a really nice dude (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him).

If you’re interested in the details of my starter method I did a video about it.

Stay safe and happy baking! As Josey Baker says, “Make Awesome Bread – Share the Loaves!”

Saturday Linkages: Covid and Non-Covid

Hermann Hendrich, Parsifal.

Mike Davis on Coronavirus: “In a Plague Year”

What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage

This Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation

Take a break from the covid links:

Make your own chalkboard paint with Eric of Garden Fork (and send Eric some love–one of his dogs passed on this week)

Masoor Dal (Spiced Red Lentils) Recipe

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies

The Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe

Fall into a German symbolist interweb hole: Nibelungenhalle and Walpurgishalle

Free opera all the time thanks to the Met–watch Verdi’s Macbeth tonight and if you didn’t get enough Wagner last week they are streaming Parsifal Thursday April 9th

Our New Home Economics

A Home Economics class receiving instruction in cooking, Ottawa, Ontario, 1959.

I keep thinking of the conversation I had with Johnny of the blog Granola Shotgun on Monday. If you haven’t listened to it you should. Johnny is a home ec master whose lifestyle has been vindicated by this crisis. At the risk of over simplifying our doomside chat, Johnny basically said this: buy in bulk, use this bulk food for daily meals (We’re not talking about stockpiling MREs that you never eat). With Johnny’s simple method you’ll save money and eat healthier. As a byproduct you’ll have food in an emergency. That’s pretty much it. And you don’t do it to prepare for disaster you do it because it makes sound economic sense and cooking from scratch is a worthwhile pursuit in itself.

Friend of Root Simple Michael asked Johnny on his blog about what food preservation appliances he should get. Johnny replied, “Storage containers – filled with food you already enjoy and cook on a regular basis – would be my first choice.” The sorts of appliances and food preservation techniques you use depends on what you like to eat and what bulk items you have access to. Do you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden? Do you go fishing or hunting? Do you live in an apartment or small house with no yard? There’s not a one size fits all approach. But buckets full of stuff you eat on a regular basis works for almost everyone.

In my own case this crisis has highlighted food related practices in my life that are useful and those that aren’t. Bread making? Useful. Vegetable gardening? Wish I had one right now. Avocado tree? Thankful that it has fruit. Storage space for buckets? Need to get on that.

In the next few posts I’ll look at what’s working in our household and what isn’t.