Self-Portrait at Occupy Oakland with Wolverine Rolls. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor penciil. Sharyn Dimmick
Last week was quite a week: I landed in Oakland, CA, for two days of vocational tests so that some poor soul can help me find a suitable day job. The testing center sat across the street and several stories above the site of “Occupy Oakland.” To get to my testing site by 9:00 AM I had to leave my house when it was barely light, loaded with reading material, pens, water, a thermos of milk and enough food for lunch and to get me through five hours of testing. I went back today for the third and final testing shift.
The first day I took sourdough bread, Cotswold cheese, an apple, two homemade spice snaps and a zucchini-gingerbread muffin. The next day I don’t remember what I took, but it was similar: apple, cheese, bread. I eat my lunch in the park where the demonstrators gather.
Monday I had off from testing and got to stay home all day. I took advantage of the hours at home to mix up some sourdough of my own, using recipes from my favorite bread book, The Cheese Board Collective Works (Read more about my most-used cookbooks here). Sourdough breads are made from wet, slow-rising doughs so it helps to have a whole day to make them.
I made a batch of wolverines, a round, part-whole wheat, sourdough bun, containing dried sour cherries, apricots and pecans (I used walnuts). The original recipe also calls for golden raisins (sultanas), but I see no reason to include them.
About now, you are either turning away in horror at the dried fruit, or you are hoping for the recipe. Alas, I must encourage you to buy your own copy of The Cheese Board Collective’s book because the instructions for making the sourdough starter alone take two full pages. Wolverines are made from a recipe called “Suburban Bread” (another full page), but they get their own page, too, and you also need to read the pages on shaping, working with sourdough and making sourdough in a non-commercial oven. Me? I’ve done this before.
Anyway, a “quick” batch of wolverines takes over nine hours if you already have your sourdough starter on hand. That I had — my “Cheese Board” starter gave up the ghost a couple of years ago, but I made a new sourdough starter from another recipe four weeks ago and have a healthy batch in the fridge that must be used weekly. I’ve been making “cowboy biscuits,” leavened with sourdough, soda and baking powder once a week, but Mom informed me on Sunday that she liked regular baking powder biscuits much better. Oh well. So I had the sourdough starter and we love wolverines. “We” love bread of all kinds (except perhaps sourdough biscuits and Irish soda bread), but we are particularly partial to crusty yeast-risen breads. I like wolverines so much that I ate two last night when they came our of the oven, had one for breakfast this morning, and took another for lunch today with some more Cotswold cheese. It is with the greatest restraint that I am not eating another as I type but am instead eating cold green beans with a bit of basil.
I ate my wolverine sitting on the ground in a sunny spot next to the bicycle lockers. The tent city was much larger than it had been on Friday afternoon and there were a lot of new booths and information tables. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship does sitting meditation there, so I sit with them after I eat my lunch while people talk, the wind blows, traffic signals send their audible walking calls, a clock tower chimes the half hour. I think about my blog and day jobs when I forget to focus on my breath or sounds or sensations. I “sit” on my backpack, pretending it is a zafu, putting it between my knees and sitting astride — it makes a pretty good substitute, although I can feel the lumps made by my water bottle and thermos.
Vocational testing doesn’t tell me much I don’t already know: I like writing, painting, singing and cooking. “About” page gives you more of the scoop on this. I’ll write for hire. I’ll teach writing practice for hire. I like to sell paintings. I sell music CDs too. I sit with the Buddhists for free and I cook for free. Long, complicated projects like wolverines don’t phase me because I like to take my time doing things and make things from scratch. Sourdough baking is a big adventure — if you love yeast baking and are up for a challenge, get yourself a good instruction book and go for it on a day when you can be home all day (or all night for you night-owls). If you don’t have sourdough starter on hand, you’ll need anywhere from three days to two weeks to mix it up and get it going vigorously. If you go for the Cheese Board book, you’ll find wonderful recipes for pizza and many quick treats such as muffins and scones in addition to the sourdough chapters.
Occupy Oakland is calling for a general strike tomorrow. I imagine the Peace Fellowship will be sitting there again. I will be “working” at home again and grateful to be there with my computer and my paints, a pot of black tea and at least one more wolverine.
Cowboy Sourdough Starter (adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works and the “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Starter” recipe in The Book Lover’s Cookbook).
Get a glass jar with a non-rusted metal lid. Please note: this metal lid is the only metal object you will allow near the starter and you don’t want the metal to touch the starter. Big pickle jars are good. Punch several small holes in said lid, as though you want to keep something alive in the jar (You do!)
Place 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour or bread flour in the jar.
Add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or rye flour
Add 1 tsp kosher salt.
With a wooden spoon, stir to mix well. Do not use metal while making or handling sourdough starter.
Dissolve 2 and 1/4 tsp baking yeast (equivalent of one packet) in
2 cups warm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the friendly yeast)
Add dissolved yeast to jar and stir again with your wooden spoon until it is mixed well.
Place a folded linen or cotton smooth kitchen towel on top of your jar and set it in a warmish place where you can remember to stir it twice a day. You will be leaving it out for at least two or three days — remember, you want it to sour. Save the lid for later — you don’t need it at this stage. The towel allows your local yeasts that live in the air to join the yeast in the jar.
Check the starter twice a day. When it is bubbly and smells like yeast you can bake with it by taking it out cup by cup and adding it to biscuits, pancakes or yeast breads. Whenever you remove a cup of starter you need to add a cup of water and a cup of flour to the starter jar.
Sourdough starter is designed to be used once a week or more often. You can store it in the refrigerator. Sometimes liquid separates and rises to the top. You can either pour this off or stir it back in. It will keep for months if you use it regularly. Watch out for mold (mine has never molded): if your starter develops visible mold or bad smells throw it out, wash your jar thoroughly and start again.