Archives for posts with tag: sourdough bread
Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8" by 12". Sharyn Dimmick.

Manzanita. Ink and watercolor. 8″ by 12″. Sharyn Dimmick.

I am obsessed with the garden. Johnny has taken to calling me “Farm Girl” (I have never lived on a farm although I had great uncles and grandparents who farmed). Since I last wrote I have planted both Teddy Bear Sunflowers and Mexican sunflowers, plus the blue sweet peas. The first sunflower leaves are just breaking through the soil and the sweet peas are what I call “invisible plants” — that means “I know they are there even if you can’t see them. Please water them, honey.”

The monstrous Sun Gold tomato plant is gargantuan now and full of blossoms and small green tomatoes: I do not know when they will begin to turn orange, but the heat wave we are having now might help them along. Soon they will have sibling tomato plants, which are hardening off in the garden as I write. I planted Amish paste tomato seeds and Principe Borghese seeds, but I did not label them, so I will not be able to tell the plants apart until they fruit. The leaves, however, are different colors, so I can be assured I have two different kinds.

So far I have been unable to produce peppers or Russian tarragon from seed in three tries and one of my varieties of basil failed to germinate. When the  basil plants get bigger I’ll be able to tell which one I have and I will plant some more somewhere. I will also plant more lettuce in the shade of other plants.

The scarlet runner beans have begun to climb up their improvised tepee, but nothing is in flower yet except the tomato plant. The butternut squash have their first real leaves. The cabbages are much larger, beginning to crowd one another, but there is no sign of heads forming. I have not grown cabbage before.

One of these days I will have an herb-planting day and put in dill, oregano and chives. I will also add some green beans to fill in the gaps in the bean rows. I want to plant more and more, but I am watering by hand and it already takes almost an hour to get around the garden with my tea kettles and milk bottles.

MK's Breakfast Strata. 12" x 12" gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

MK’s Breakfast Strata. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

When I am not in the garden (I don’t sleep there!) or fussing over seedlings I still busk, cook, sketch, etc. I recently left the plants to Johnny’s care and some fortuitously-timed rain and went for a long weekend in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The event was called Ballads on the Mountain, hosted by a friend who likes to call herself “Mary Kingsley.” Twelve women assembled to sing traditional ballads from the Francis James Child collection and to eat up a storm. Kingsley’s red kitchen produced meal after meal. One of my favorites was new to me: breakfast strata, a savory concoction of eggs, cheese, sourdough bread cubes, meat and vegetables. We had a wonderful one with chicken apple sausage and mushrooms, which I’m going to share with you here and then cook for Johnny when the weather cools off again. I don’t have any problem with eating this dish for lunch, brunch or supper either, believing in breakfast served all day.

Mary Kingsley’s Breakfast Strata (adapted)

12 slices dry sourdough bread, cubed

8 eggs, beaten

3 cups shredded cheese

2 cups sliced mushrooms

12 oz sliced chicken apple sausage

3 Tbsp prepared mustard

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

1/4 tsp cayenne

olive oil for greasing pan

Toast your bread cubes in a 250 oven until dry and perhaps a little golden in spots. While the bread toasts you can saute your mushrooms. Set aside bread, then bump your oven up to 325. Lightly oil or butter a 3 quart rectangular baking dish. Place half of bread cubes in baking dish. Top with half of the mushrooms and half of the cheese. Top with half the sliced sausage. Repeat layers of bread, mushrooms, cheese and sausage.

Whisk cayenne, mustard and salt into beaten eggs. Pour eggs over other ingredients. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure all bread gets moistened.

Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes until puffed and set. Enjoy.

Food notes: The recipe MK sent me included variations, one with sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. When I saw this, I immediately wanted to incorporate sun-dried tomatoes into my own strata. I would also like it with peppers. MK actually made one with mushrooms and leftover broccoli for a vegetarian. The original recipe also calls for 3 cups of milk, which MK eliminated. Since I didn’t miss it, I have eliminated it, too. If you add it, you’ll probably get a more custardy texture, rather than the firm, dry, one that I enjoyed, with crunch from the bread crumbs.

Painting notes: When I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or singing, I was staring out the window at a manzanita. Hence the painting. The other painting attempts to capture the strata and some of the many reds in MK’s kitchen.

self-portrait of Sharyn Dimmick at Occupy Oakland with meditator and wolverine rolls.

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.