The sourdough journey

5 years ago, I started dabbling in bread making. I borrowed my sisters bread machine because I wanted to bake bread because it might be cheaper. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy baking bread until one day the poor motor on her machine died. I baked it in the machine until I worked up confidence to use the dough cycle and bake real looking loaves in the oven. Let’s be real, the bread machine loaves that are baked inside the machine are ugly and half your loaf will have a hole in the middle. I only use the dough cycle now on my current machine when I feel too lazy to do the mixing by hand.

So, this December, I was on Instagram and I saw in suggested videos one of a woman who bakes the prettiest breads.

breadjourney by Anna Gabur

I got sucked in.

 

As a creative person, some of my first thoughts are “I can do that. I want to make pretty breads.”

 

And down the rabbit hole I went.

I went to youtube after that. I knew my favourite hosts from Bon Appetite had done a sourdough tutorial. Very soon, my youtube search history had more searches for sourdough tutorials and how to make starter. I watched and re watched them. One cold morning I was sipping tea, writing down recipes and notes when Tony sleepily stumbled downstairs to get his first cup of coffee. He stopped, coffee in hand and curiosity got him. I told him that I was looking into making sourdough bread. Well, he sat down and we re watched my favourite sourdough videos together. I could see his brain a turning, he was intrigued. After that morning, we decided we’d go on this sourdough journey together. We scrounged up a couple old mason jars and made some starter. The goal was to make a loaf by Christmas. We had a few weeks to go.

Our starter was sluggish at first (spoilers: it did not work for our first loaf), and then as we researched flours we added rye and then whole wheat to the starter and used filtered water, and then BAM it took off. We were proud parents of a gooey fermented friend that we cared for once a day. The kids dubbed it our pet and giggled when we’d take it down off the fridge to feed it.

The red line shows where it started so we can measure the rise and falls of the starter. It was doing quite well by this time

So, after 6 days of feeding the starter, Tony was raring to go. His expectations were so very high. He was so excited, so we made our first loaf.

the first loaf

It was a disaster.

It was like a pancake with one huge bubble on top. I had set my expectations low, and I knew we’d fail We can laugh about it now, but my husband was devastated. He thought we’d get a decent loaf, at least an edible one. The first loaf was so horrible I wouldn’t try it. Tony tried it, but it was inedible. It went straight into the green waste bin. He pouted on the couch all evening after that.

The next day we were back at it again. We re watched all the videos, took more notes and tried to determine what went horribly wrong. We were so excited to try baking that we impatiently used our starter that wasn’t quite ready. But we didn’t know this until days later after seeing how a starter should really rise and fall after using the rye and whole wheat flours in it.

And yet, we persisted.

With each loaf of bread we got better. It was a slow process. Baking sourdough can take at least a whole day of prep work before you bake. Some bakeries take three days. Tony is not patient, so we use a full day and start in the morning, and bake late at night, like 11 pm.

The next thing we worked on is creating surface tension on the loaf. Learning how to shape dough was crucial. Of course, videos on youtube make working with this extra wet dough look easy.

It’s not.

extra wet dough

At the beginning when you dump that dough on the counter to “knead” it, it’s like handling that stupid slime that my kids love. We were so grateful to have bought bench scrapers before we started this endeavour. There would still be dough stuck to my counters if I hadn’t had them. You really do start using them as an extension of your hand when you are working the dough.

not pancake volcano, but not great. Second loaf

Finally, by Christmas day, we had a decent edible loaf of sourdough bread. Just in time for spinach dip. It was delicious, and well worth the time and effort.  I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished given our limited knowledge of bread baking.

The first good loaf, just in time for Christmas day

We’ve tweaked and tinkered with the recipe and method, and we’ve got a new book on bread baking that was recommended by the sourdough forum on reddit. It came yesterday, so I’m reading that today. Its called Flour, Water, Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza.

So, as newbies we are still working on stuff, but if you too want to go on this journey, here are a few things we recommend using to help you out:

-5 quart dutch oven. I ordered one from amazon. It has always been a thing I’ve wanted anyways, so I had even more of an excuse to get it. It really gives the loaves a nice round shape, and keeps the steam in better than my oven.

We did one on the cast iron skillet and one in the dutch oven. After 20 minutes we removed the lid to get the bread brown.

-Rice flour!  Part of the process is to flour a banneton or casserole dish lined with a tea towel. This prevents the dough from sticking to the dish while it proofs. We would liberally flour our stuff with all-purpose flour, and still dealt with dough sticking to the banneton and tea towel. The all-purpose flour would just get absorbed into the dough. After putting in hours of work to have a dough stuck was devastating. Tony was so frustrated as we tried to pry dough out without ruining it. Rice flour has been incredible for preventing all of this and making the dough so easy to get out. It also comes off the dough easily and prevents you from having a huge crust of flour stuck to the finished bread. We found rice flour at bulk barn.

-Food scale. If you’re using a good recipe, it’s always by weight. Food scales are cheap, and I have had one for years for when I baked macarons, so get one.

-Big rubbermaid bin for the stretch and folding

We leave it in the oven with it turned off, but the light on. Then pull it out every half hour to stretch and fold it

-Bread lame or sharp razor blade. If you’re like me and your knives aren’t always super sharp, a bread lame (ahem, pronounced lom) is the way to go. Essentially, it’s a razor on a stick that you use to score your loaves. Alex shows you how he puts a razor on a chopstick to get the same effect. I got a lame for Christmas this year and I love it.

Left side was skillet bread, right side is dutch oven. Better uniform shape in the dutch oven.

Tony scored the left one, I scored the right one. The left one has pretty rings from the banneton on it.

Ok, so maybe you want to learn more, or just see the process of making sourdough. There are a few different methods and techniques that some use and others don’t. After trial and error, you’ll find what works best for you.

What works for us is to smack and turn the dough to knead it, for about 10 minutes. Then let it sit in a sealed bin, and every 30 min, stretch it and pull the sides out gently and then tuck the sides inward, then let it sit again. We do this 5-6 times before shaping and proofing. I think Claire from Bon Appetite does this method.

So, useful videos we love are here:

Joshua Weissman is where we originally got our starter recipe from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTAiDki7AQA&t=16s

Bon Appetite Claire and Brad make sourdough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oidnwPIeqsI

*Her method for kneading and recipe is what we use.

Patrick from I Love Ireland shows you how to shape the dough really well and honestly, I could listen to his Irish accent all day (I love how he says flour): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FVfJTGpXnU&t=656s

Alex, from Alex French Guy Cooking does a fantastic job on what flours to use, and how to make starter, as well as how to put your starter on hold, this is series on sourdough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Ssdzk6uhI&list=PLURsDaOr8hWWSiMZBLGP2UEs8w3nQDTVY

Another we watched- which had no real helpful tips, it was more just a video to get you jazzed about baking bread was this video on the Magic of Bread Making by Tasty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGbNI26PPYg

 

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My favourite Easter Cake

I could have baked a pie. I love pie. I really really love pie. But, I knew from last Easter that Sadie would be sad if I didn’t make carrot cake. Growing up, carrot cake was never my thang. I really hated the extra cream cheesy icing, and finding raisins or whatever in my cake was off putting. Last year I wanted to give it a try, maybe I could make it how I liked instead of what was always done.

So, I follow Smitten Kitchen on twitter. I’ve tried some of her recipes before with great success. She had posted a carrot cake recipe with graham cracker crumbs in it, and that piqued my interest. First I wondered how dense it would make my cake, and then I thought, WHO CARES? I love graham crackers, and I will try something new because what could possibly go wrong?

I followed her recipe, not too many graham cracker crumbs were used, and realistically, I could have added in more. Very light and fluffy cake, no raisins, and I added pecans because I love pecans. At Sadie’s request, I didn’t over ice the cake. She really hates tons of gloppy icing, and I figured I’d be trendy and do a kind of a naked cake.

Everyone loved it, especially Sadie, who ate a piece at every meal until it was gone. She even had one at breakfast, and who am I to say no? Especially since she might have seen me eat a piece at breakfast.

The icing was too cheesy in my opinion, but nothing I couldn’t fix with more butter and icing sugar. 100% will make again.

Recipe is linked here : https://smittenkitchen.com/2015/03/carrot-graham-layer-cake/

Growing pains and dates

When I was a kid, I remembered my legs hurting. Just general soreness and shin splints. To me it seemed like part of growing up. When Lucas complained of pain in his legs, I just brushed it off and told him that it sucks and its his legs growing. But then, he started complaining every day, especially at bedtime. I was giving him tylenol and advil every day and it got as far as me sending some tylenol to school for his teacher to give him. Since I didn’t remember it being this bad, I booked him a doctors appointment.

He got to skip most of school, and hang out just with me, and oh boy did he love it. The doctors appointment went well, and x-rays are going to happen. He’s very excited about seeing his bones. He got to eat special lunch with me, which was Starbucks. He ate all my lemon loaf, and most of the breakfast sandwich. I have another story about them + food later.

We went shopping downtown, it snowed a bit, and we got to ride the bus home. He loved holding my phone and watching our blue dot move along the designated route on google maps. He leaned over and told me “I just really like having a special date with you”. Our special date was really needed, even if it was a doctors appointment and some window shopping.

The best part of that day might have been the robots. The local university robotics guys came to their school and brought robots to teach the kids to use. We made it back to school for the last 2 hours and I got to help with the robots and watch my boys face light up when he got it to do what he wanted.

He was laughing at something while we were waiting for the bus.

The tiny robot followed the black lines that they were drawing. He loved the tiny guy.

When you’re out of warranty anyways, you’ve got nothing to lose- a story of desperation and triumph

So, remember how I told you all that my conventional brother sewing machine had died a year and a half ago? Well, it did and I shall explain what happened.

I got her for Christmas many years ago, she replaced my kenmore machine, the very first one I learned to sew on. Well, this brother machine had all kinds of bells and whistles. Fancy stitches, button hole capability, and it was great. She got the job done for the most part. I used her for everything. Well, one day when I went to plug the pedal into the back of the machine, the plug went in and felt like it was not connecting to anything. The connector for the pedal cord had come loose inside the machine. I shook it and could hear it rattling around inside.

Ughhhhh great. Thankfully I had become more used to using Gert and just relied on her. And a beautiful partnership was made. That sad plastic brother machine sat covered up on the shelf until last month I realized that I really needed to use the zig zag on her.

For about a year I pestered Tony to help take it apart and fix it. Yeah yeah, I’ll do it next weekend he’d say. Then we’d both forget to do it, or something would come up, or the thought of taking up the entire kitchen table with sewing machine parts became overwhelming.

I knew what was wrong, and other than the pedal connector rolling around inside, there was nothing else wrong with her. So, one gloomy day, I hauled that machine upstairs along with all the screw drivers and got to work. What did I have to lose? The cost of getting it repaired would be more than the machine was worth anyways, and I was out of warranty. So I put all the screws in an ice cube tray with labels as to where I found them.

Pre op machine. Ready to be taken apart.

I had seen the inside of my other machine when I oiled her, so how scary could it get? Um, a little. 

More computer parts than I’m used to, but not unlike the printers we would take apart at Stream. So, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought. I got more comfortable when I knew I was documenting what I was taking apart.

That dumb connector was behind everything and the hardest thing to get to. Part way through dissection, I had to text Tony to ask about connectors on one of the computer chips. Its a good thing he reads his emails. and look, that stupid black plug at the bottom of the machine beside the pliers was right off. The plastic piece holding it in place was missing.

Nothing like jamming your hand under a bunch of things so you can use gorilla glue to get pieces back in place. Then I put it all together and was like VICTORY! Except, I got error messages when I tried sewing.

Now this totally brought me back to my days of tech support. Took it all apart, realized I had missed a connector to a computer chip.

Got cocky and put it together again. I got this, just a disconnected cord.

Another error message. This time it said the foot was up when it was clearly down. So, had to go back in, and find the sensor for the presser foot, and make sure it was in the right position. Finally, it worked.

I had fixed my sewing machine on my own.

VICTORY INDEED!

I’m not as terrified of my machines as I used to be, or taking anything apart honestly (unless it can electrocute me, then HARD PASS).

I think this is why I took Nancy apart. Documenting and videotaping and photographing all the steps I took. She’s far more simple than this guy in some ways.

I also appreciate the quality of my vintage machines even more. Seriously, so much plastic in these new machines. My others are made of cast iron and have some solid parts to them.

 

Two more ladies have joined the family and a small tour of my sewing space

So, I’ve introduced you to Gertrude about 2 years ago. You can read that post here.

Well since I purchased her for the insane deal of $10, she’s been my go to gal. My conventional white brother machine broke, and so that forced me to rely on Gert more and more. I developed quite a love for her, those beautiful straight stitches, her ability to go through heavy duty fabric with ease, and her simplicity. At the time I had heard that vintage machines could handle heavy duty fabrics, and I was having issues with my brother machine skipping stitches on the wallet I was making. So how could I go wrong for $10??? Guys, if you are ever offered a vintage machine and it works, BUY IT. You won’t regret it.

She truly is the best sewing machine that I own.

I did finally fix my conventional plastic brother machine because she too has her specialities. Specifically in zigzag stitches and button holes.

So, my first addition to the family since Gert is Nancy. Nancy is a vintage toy singer 20 sew handy sewing machine. Made around 1950, she’s my teeny gal. When I saw her in my facebook buy and sell page, I had to have her. Her paint is atrocious, but its oxidized and peeled and I can fix that.

I think.

I hope.

singer 20 sew handy toy sewing machine

So, the base is peeling pretty badly, but, she has all her parts and clamp and I’m up for a new project.

singer 20 sew handy toy sewing machine

My project is to take her apart and refinish her. I’ve already taken her apart, and I’m just waiting on warmer weather so I can strip the paint off, and sand and repaint her. I’m thinking a light aqua blue. I thought about doing the traditional black, but why do boring black when you can jazz her up and have fun with it? She’s mine, and I hope that the kids can sew with her. I’m more about her being useful that being a “collectable”. She’s collectable to me and I love her, even if her paint isn’t original.

So, anyways, on to my newest addition, Helen! She’s a Singer 127 with sphinx decals

singer 127 sphinx

Ever since I bought Gert, I wanted a treadle machine. I was pretty intimidated by the vibrating shuttle that they use because its sharp, and very different than my 201-3. Its funny how when you start talking to people about your love of vintage machines. People who have used them swear by them. So reliable, so well made, they’ll never fail you or die. Its true though. I can swear by them. This lady was made in 1910. She’s over 100 years old. It seriously blows my mind how a machine so complex was engineered like this. Tony is very fascinated by it.

A friend of ours had her in the garage. Her mom was downsizing and this girl had to go. She needs some work. I will try and deep clean her and re oil her. I hope to refinish the cabinet, but its not my priority. It was a good thing I had sold a bunch of things on facebook, because those earnings bought her, and it was very hard for me to justify purchasing ANOTHER sewing machine to Tony. He rolls his eyes when he sees me stalking facebook for these beauties. Its a weird obsessions right now. singer 127 sphinx

Since these suckers are so heavy, she’s just hung out upstairs in my living room, and the goal was to put her downstairs, but perhaps if I refinish her cabinet, she can stay upstairs. The cabinets are very neat looking, and the iron legs are super cool. Wouldn’t it be nice to display some of my obsession upstairs? And so it begins….

My obsessions will slowly take over the house.

I mean, this is the 5th machine I’ve collected and hung on to. I’ve got a weakness.

 

Anyways, this is my sewing area of the basement. I share the toy room with the kids. 

There’s Gert, sitting pretty.

My cutting table, and I store my serger and brother sewing machines there.

Never mind the piles of fabric. I’m working on finishing up a net for Lucas this summer. Notice, the nerf bullets on my bin of projects on the right? I find those darn things everywhere.

Helen (if she ends up down here, will go to the left of the butterfly pictures against the wall)
Nancy is upstairs in a cardboard box in pieces awaiting refinishing.

Little tidbits

-Lucas loves to sing. He sings in the car, he sings at home, he sings little songs on the way home from school. The kid just belts it out. Sooo that means we watch what we listen to even more now.

-I overheard Sadie and Lucas working out their problems and talking rationally and calmly about it. It gave me hope that one day their arguments will be less of a battle scene.

-Sadie got her report card back from school. She is indeed a Chatty Cathy. She has a hard time focusing on her own work and would love to turn around and talk to her buddies at the table next to her.

-Lucas is learning to draw more at school, and therefore, he’s more interested in art, and it makes my heart happy. He’s improved drastically. His teacher even had to tell me how much of a difference she noticed in his art work.

-We got on the topic of what kids used to play with in the “olden” days. I brought up the Laura Ingalls Books, and now we’re reading Little House in the Big Woods. Sadie loves it. She was absolutely shocked that the kids only got mittens and a candy cane for Christmas. We’ve had discussions on what headcheese is, and butchering, and not having running water. Its been very eye opening for her.

-Its supposed to snow on Sunday and monday. The kids are thrilled about the prospects of making snowmen again. We’ll see how long it lasts for.

-We are looking forward to doing a road trip in a couple weeks to see Tony’s sister in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

-Brought up some Christmas decorations yesterday. Looked at the kids’ tiny handprints that I did one year on some glass ball ornaments. So TINY!

-Finally cleaned up all the leaves in our back yard. Our yard is like the vortex for swirling leaves to collect, and the snow is about to hit. Too bad we procrastinated until the day before the snow was to begin and it was super windy. Tony spent 5 minutes picking leaves out of my hair.

-Made ornaments with the kids today. I try to make at least a couple every year, and buy a couple every year. Eventually, my tree will look full. Last year I didn’t have my own tree, but still made a couple felt ornaments. This year I’ve made a star, but I plan on making more.

-I’ve been online shopping every once and a while. Trying to get presents bought a little at a time and shipped before the mad rush. So far, so good. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are approaching, and I’ll be hunting for mad deals then.

-That’s all for now, I’ll be back later with more.

Halloween 2016

I’ve gotta say, this year’s Halloween was pretty great. Kids loved being a part of making their own costumes. Lucas wasn’t as involved in the making as much as last year, but he still loved the way his costume worked. He chased his sister and his friends around the yard hissing (as spiders do apparently).

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Sadie loved designing the wings of her costume. She wanted super big wings, and was all about them being blue and spotted. I suggested monarch wings, but she would have none of that. The best part was the glitter spray paint we bought for them the day before halloween. She gasped when she saw them fully finished. Then she wore them all afternoon on halloween until dinnertime.

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That evening we headed out when we saw our neighbour kids hanging outside. They told us that because our neighbourhood wasn’t as into halloween (older couples)  and that they drove to a relatives neighbourhood to do trick or treating. They invited us and it was really fun. There were 8 kids plus some all racing to houses, while we chatted. Near the end, Lucas bailed hard and rolled his ankle. We said good night to our friends and headed home to do candy inspection. The great thing about halloween with our kids is that when I tell them that we would divide the candy 3 ways, they didn’t bat an eye. They were super happy to share and to have things fairly equal. Also, I’ve never been to a neighbourhood where they give away full chocolate bars, but each of our kids got 2 of them. Whoa.

 

 

Today I’m busy setting up the etsy shop again and getting a sugar high while I work. Tootsie pops are my jam.