The Day After Christmas

Again I’ve been gone a long time. For the same reason: I’m sick. I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy on the 22nd, and, as per usual, they didn’t find anything they expected to find. Instead they discovered my stomach, duodenum and the upper part of my small intestine is full of ulcers caused by bile (AKA gall). Interesting since I had my gallbladder out almost 3 years ago…  So there is more to be done, and, in the meantime, I’m supposed to avoid grains…  Which puts a damper on my bread baking.

Though something else happened this Christmas.  I found myself missing my family of origin, and the way we celebrated Christmas — without being in denial about the hell that was then, and without dreaming that “this time it would  have been different.”  Christmas was both a time of great danger and of great joy in my original family.  It was dangerous because my father and mother could both be quite violent.  The joy came from all the new stuff, and the old traditions.

The old traditions started long, long before the Christmas season began.  I had two much older siblings, and the three of us had a rule that our Christmas presents to each other had to cost less than 10 cents.  That took a lot of planning and imagination.  One year my brother saved Coke bottle caps for a whole year, punched a hole in each one, and threaded it onto a heavy piece of string.  By the next Christmas there was a 8 foot “necklace” of Coke bottle caps for my sister.  Another year he made me a Viking War ship (that I still have) out of a 10 cent sheet of thin balsa wood, with carved sticks for the the dragon front,masts and shields, and braided white thread for the ropes.  (His gifts were always the most creative.)  I made my sister beaded jewelry (that she never wore) except one year when I raided a wild goose nest in Spring and carefully cut the eggs in half, waterproofing the eggshells with melted wax crayons inside and out and made a hanging “garden” mobile out of them.  Unfortunately one of the plants I put in the mobile was poison ivy from the woods, but I also had marsh marigolds in bloom, and several others.  Everyone else in the family was allergic to poison ivy, so my mobile was banished to my room.  But I liked it.  Anyhow, sometimes our Christmas gifts to each other didn’t work out very well, but we all put a lot into making them.

On Christmas Eve, assuming there were no implosions from my parents, we always sat in front of our fireplace, with the Christmas tree behind us, and my father read Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol aloud, all the way through.  We had a rare and wonderfully illustrated copy, though I don’t remember the illustrator.  One year my siblings rebelled and we read The Other Wiseman by  Henry van Dyke.  And that year my mother, rather than my father participated in reading.  (My parents avoided each other as much as possible, even just reading Christmas stories.)

Actually everyone except me, and sometimes my brother,  avoided my father as much as possible.  In many ways we were two separate families living under one roof; Dad and me, and my mother, brother, and sister.  In the half century plus, I learned why this was so.   And yet, thinking of Christmases past this year, it didn’t hurt to remember.  I loved my father, no matter how many times he literally tried to kill me.

And, in a very strange way, that was my Christmas gift this year.  One of my friends who was also severely abused, calls one of her perps, “my favorite perp.”  I’ve finally admitted my father is my favorite perp.  Yes, my body is covered in scars he inflicted, but, contrary to belief, “stick and stones will break my bone, but words…”  Words seem to live on forever and hurt much more…  By some miracle, I’ve learned to truly forgive my father.  Yet, at the moment, I only feel very sorry for my mother and sister.

I’ve always loved my brother, and he’s the only one alive now, thank God!


Sour Cream and Sourdough

It’s a good bread for sandwiches, though it doesn’t keep well.  I confess I fell asleep while it was in the oven, and the top is definitely overcooked.  Normally I make this with whole wheat flour, but it does require bread flour (Hard flour) to work and I currently am unable to find whole wheat bread flour.  This bread tastes a bit like salt-rising bread: slightly cheesey, with very little taste of sourdough.  It’s very, very good bread to make into fresh croutons if you have any bread left the day after you make it.

Makes 2 loaves of Sandwich Bread

1 cup sourdough starter
8 ounce container of sour cream
1 cup very warm water

Mix until entirely combined and there are no islands of sour cream or starter floating around. Set this mixture aside until the top of the mixture is entirely covered in bubbles. (About 15 minutes)

Sift together:
2 cups (300 grams bread flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Baking soda

In a very large bowl add the liquid ingredients to the flour and stir until smooth.

Work in another 2 to 3 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, kneading it in the bowl as you go.   Here’s a YouTube video showing how to knead bread in the bowl.  The finished dough should be very loose.  It won’t hold it’s shape.  Yet it should be extremely “elastic” and not sticky.  This takes a lot of kneading.  More kneading and less flour – only enough flour to keep it from being too sticky.  The dough should “kiss” your hand, but not stick.  I think it is impossible to over knead this dough when you work it by hand in the bowl.

Cover the bowl tightly, and let it rise until doubled in size in a warm, draft free place.

Butter two sandwich size bread pans.

Once the dough has risen, cut it in half while still in the bowl, and maneuver one half of the dough into each of the buttered bread pans.  This is easier said than done.  Pat the dough down in the bread pan (it looks like a tiny amount) to form a flat surface filling the bread pan.

Using a pastry brush, brush the top surface with milk.

Cover each bread pan with a large bowl, and allow the bread to rise to the top of the pan.  Just before putting it in the oven, brush the top of the bread with a little more milk.

Bake in a 400°F oven for 25 minutes or until  the interior temperature of the bread reaches 200°F.  Using a probe thermometer really helps.

Sour Cream and Sourdough bread, cut slices

Happy Eating!

Auld Doh

When I first thought of a writing a bread blog, I thought I’d begin by talking about my “sourdough starter.”  I mentioned it to a few FaceBook friends and many of them asked, “What’s sourdough starter?”  Duh… um… uh… er.. This stuff?

A colony of wild yeast that I keep alive in my refrigerator. It needs to be
A colony of wild yeast that I keep alive in my refrigerator. The liquid on top is alcohol.  It needs to be “fed” regularly.

Obviously, most of my friends are not bakers. The picture didn’t help.  Calling the sourdough starter a “leavening agent” didn’t work either.  “A colony of wild yeasts” almost worked, but the caption under the picture mentions alcohol, and one friend wanted to make beer…  Clearly I need a better name for the stuff!

Names are important.  A name designates how we think of something.  When discussing bread, however, there are so very many names that it gets confusing.  Bread is eaten all over the world, and every country has their own words that describe different types of bread.  In the USA there are the main divisions of “yeast breads” and “quick breads” and under “yeast breads” there’s a subcategory that’s often called “sourdough.”  Yet, properly, “sourdough” is actually a specific type of yeast that was native to San Francisco circa 1850, and the strain has been kept alive since that time…  “Sourdough” is even patented in California.

So what does one call the culture of yeasts that are used to leaven bread?  And it takes a culture, a group of organisms!  It’s not just yeasts.  It’s also an assortment of bacteria and some fungi that aren’t exactly yeasts (though I think that’s highly debatable.  It’s a bit like saying spelt isn’t a type of wheat, which can also get one into a rather heated debate.)  What’s the best name for the dough that is made entirely from wild yeasts?  To get old dough, one first must have dough.  To make that first batch of dough, one must have the means to leaven the dough which means one needs a culture or colony of wild yeasts and everything that grows with wild yeasts…  To me, a colony of wild yeasts, that has happily lived in my refrigerator for months, fed, divided, and used to leaven my bread, is sourdough starter.  If I toss some dough in a jar just before I shape my bread, saving it for use later in the week, it’s old dough.

I know exactly what I mean, but how do I tell you exactly what I mean —  especially since your colony of wild yeasts will be different from my colony of wild yeasts.  There are a lot of types of yeast in the world, and, while some are pretty common, most are specific to geographical location.   Plus, yeast grows on human skin, though (hopefully) you can’t see it because it isn’t plentiful enough.  (If you can see it, you need to see a doctor!)  Your gender and race, the water you drink, and the foods you eat will all help determine what you will grow if you start a colony of wild yeasts.  The yeasts that are found naturally growing in Italy are quite different from those found in France which is why both the French and the Italians are rightfully  proud of their unique breads, even if the breads look very similar.  So what should I call this:

This is the well fed version of the stuff in the crock.
This is the well fed version of the stuff in the crock.

that, with the addition of nothing but water, flour and salt, becomes this:

An extremely basic loaf of bread
An extremely basic loaf of bread

I first got interested in bread when I noticed its’ importance in literature.  I was in college, taking a class on medieval lit at the time.  Being a nosy sort of person, I wondered how they made bread and searched until I found a very old recipe.  The recipe started with “auld doh.”  From context I understood that “auld doh” was unbaked dough that was leftover from the previous day’s baking, and stored until it was ready to be used to leaven the next loaves.  I also learned an interesting side note:  the word “lady” or, in Old English “hlæfdige” literally means the “one who kneads bread.”

That was more than 40 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten those two things: keep some old dough handy,  and to be a lady, I need to knead bread.