Taking a break for bread

This is literally the eighth time I am sitting down to write this post. It’s not because it is a special post or about anything difficult, it’s just about bread. I have been busy and distracted, with Mo out of town at a day school conference in D.C. and my cousin visiting from frozen New Jersey. I wanted to show her a good time in Miami and give her my attention while the kids were sleeping. So, in the past week I didn’t get much done other than mothering, tour guiding, and laundry. We really had a great time: girl talk, great coffee, beach walks, home cooked food, and we even watched Twilight for old times sake!

Also, some really good, difficult, button pushing things have been happening lately. I have had to change and cancel appointments due to our sweet visitor and then a sick baby. I tried to be kind and not start calling myself a flake in my head. A neighbor got aggressive with my cousin about my leaving laundry in the dryer past the moment the timer ran out. This neighbor has been known to stand in the laundry room and watch the minutes on the dryer tick down, to stand over me and tsk disapprovingly as I switch loads, to check the lint traps when she isn’t even doing laundry (just to make sure no one is leaving the room “disgusting”) and to check on who is in the room any time she walks by (just to make sure it isn’t someone from another floor). It is clear that she is a bit troubled in a way that has nothing to do with laundry. She is also on the building’s co-op board, so I don’t to ruffle her feathers too much. I do at least feel successful for not letting her craziness shake me too much, and I’m proud of myself for not worrying about how to appease her (my usual m.o.). I managed to do two loads of laundry today without incident, although I did have a sneaking feeling that she was about to pop out like a jack-in-the-box every time I opened the laundry room door!

On the parenting front, I was feeling disconnected and frustrated toward Ben, and then started judging myself harshly about it. I cut off the “I should”s and “Why didn’t I”s and tried to focus on having clear boundaries with him, letting go of the guilt, and finding small moments to connect. Guess what? It worked! I feel much better and I think he does too. I’m really proud of myself.

All in all, it has been kind of an uncomfortable week for me emotionally, but I am glad that I can have the presence of mind to see the things that are happening in a different light, and work on whatever is coming up, little by little. I am in the process of writing a post about defensiveness and denial, but all that introspection will have to wait. The baby is still sick and I am tired. For now, at long last, is the sourdough post I have had on the back burner.

The best bread I have ever tasted is sourdough challah. Zak the baker gave me some of his “Mother” a while back so I have been experimenting with different types of sourdough. Let me first explain that sourdough both flavors and leavens bread. A small piece of dough from each previous batch is held over and added to the next batch which the bacteria then cultures, causing it to rise. I had been wanting to try baking sourdough for a while, but I was too intimidated to make my own “starter.” When my sister-in-law Whitney of Jewhungry took us to meet her friend Zak, I mentioned that I had been thinking of trying sourdough. He generously offered to give me some of his starter aka “Mother” and I am more than a little thrilled to have some of his acclaimed sourdough to work with! I asked him to explain briefly what to do with the piece of dough he gave me. He said it was too much to explain quickly and that I would have to experiment to figure out what works. Zak did say to take the dough and add it to five times the amount of flour and water.

So far I have baked four batches and each one came out different. The first was dense and crusty, the second was too crusty with lots of air bubbles inside, the third was kind of flat, and the fourth was miraculous, heavenly, and incomparable. Seriously.

I pretty much followed this recipe, as well as I could, in spite of my anti-recipe tendencies. I used maple syrup as the sweetener and coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. I brushed the loaves with coconut oil just before I baked them. The whole apartment smelled AMAZING! Mo and I had to break into one of the smaller rolls to try it while it was still hot. With a little butter it was out of control. The rest of the bread we ate over Shabbat was also great, a little less spectacular than fresh out of the oven, but I guess that goes without saying. On Sunday I used the rest of the loaf to make PB&J sandwiches and they were thoroughly enjoyed. The bread was so awesome I decided to make it again the other day. I veered a little further from the recipe mostly because I made a ton of starter, and because I generally can’t don’t like to follow recipes exactly. The loaves came out with a great dense, tender texture inside, and a crispy, not too thick crust. I ended up doubling the amount of flour in the recipe because I had a lot of starter, but I didn’t quite double the other ingredients (eggs, coconut oil, and maple syrup). Next time I’ll try to make sure the recipe is more in proportion because I liked the previous batch best, with its sweet challah flavors.

Here are some photos to hopefully get you inspired to find a friend with a starter and start experimenting!

I like to make one huge braided loaf to slice into on Friday night, and the make grilled cheese sandwiches with on Saturday night. Mmmm cheddar and goat cheese with avocado...
I like to make one huge braided loaf to slice into on Friday night. Then we make grilled cheese sandwiches with the rest on Saturday night. Mmmm cheddar and goat cheese with avocado…

challah 2 challah 3 challah 4 challah 5

I have to admit that after these past few batches I feel really happy and proud of my experimenting. I feel like I was really brave with following my intuition and not stressing about the final product. I am really diving in to letting go of perfectionism and living out loud, starting in the kitchen, as always. Baby steps folks! I have to start somewhere.

Please feel free to ask me anything about my sourdough experience (or anything else for that matter) in the comments!

I’m also looking forward to going through the rest of my menu from the catering job soon, so stay tuned.





6 thoughts on “Taking a break for bread

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