What I think about when I think about BREAD…Happy New Year and other things.

Hi Friends, that first part of the title is a Haruki Murakami reference. Have you guys read his book: “What I Talk About when I Talk About Running”? Ahh, so good. Go to your local library and take it out. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Ok, bread. This is me free-stylin’ a little bit. I haven’t written in far too long. So hear me out. Thanks for your patience.

Each week I seem to go back and forth between three worlds. On one hand, there is a world of “yes, I can.” This world tends to be purely optimistic and encouraging, but often ehhh, pretty short-lived. I may say something like “wow, I actually baked this myself. Holy crap. That’s amazing.” Ultimately I may not remember how I actually achieved that bake, but nevertheless.

And then the next bake/next world I fail in some way, usually with over or underproofing, where I curse and am annoyed, and full of blah. After hemming and hawing for a few, I am back to square one again. Luckily enough for me, I am normally a fairly optimistic person, so my time in this world is pretty brief.

Thirdly, there is this really cool zen-like world when I get so into the zone that I forget about judging myself or the situation and I just breathe the dough.

Beeeeeeeeee the doughhhh.

No seriously, though. That is the best feeling in the world. I think this is why I keep baking. Even when I have to pause and take a break for a few months, it still lures me back. And then I feel that dough on my hands and it’s like hugging an old friend.

There you are…Some weeks I feel like crap, others like I don’t have a clue, and then sometimes I actually realize how much fun it is and how much joy it brings me, and I get to sit in that space for a little while. Do you know what I mean? No matter what world I am in, I have made 1,000 plus loaves of bread in my home oven! That’s wild!

But — perhaps, most importantly, when all is said and done…the reality is, it is not about me. If there is anything that 2017 has taught me, it is this:

It is about us. Moving forward. It is about us. It’s about teaching one another, building eachother up, breaking bread with one another. Really looking at one another. Putting our phones down. Having a conversation in present time. Loving one another. And this bread that I make? In the end it is really about being of service to the community.

In the quiet moments, in that rare in-between Zen place, I come to realize: is that not why we are all here? Not to get all existential on ya’ll, but really. Is it not?

Happy New Year, friends. What are you planning on baking more of this year? I for one am going to focus on this “service” aspect of Bread Culture. I hope to combine my holistic practice of Eastern Medicine and herbal medicine with my love for teaching bread workshops. So stay tuned. I cannot promise more writing, especially with a 16 month old (LOVE) and a busy practice. Although I will try.

What about you? Please tell me. I love to hear what you are up to! Big love to you, my bread family!!

xox,

Mary

ps. this image was a free image I found online. It is not my bread. It is not my hands. I think that’s why I like it so much. It speaks volumes to me about sharing circular loaves of nourishment with eachother, with strangers.

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DIY: Sourdough Culture (revised)

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As many of you know, my purpose with beginning BREAD CULTURE was to get as many people as possible to start baking their very own bread in their home oven. Now that I am teaching more classes and seeing this purpose become a wonderful reality, I am realizing that I best be getting more material up and online, so I can reach even more people! I appreciate your patience so much! Having a 9 month old and running two businesses at once can be a challenge (of the best kind!).

So here is my newest, simplified sourdough culture recipe.  I recently read Andrew Whitley’s Do/Sourdough and was transformed by his simple and poetic recipes. I experimented with his sourdough culture recipe and added a few of my own tips and tricks.

So, without further adieu…

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR
OWN SOURDOUGH “STARTER”
aka “mother,” “wild yeast,” or “leaven”

DAY 1

Step 1: Get yourself a mason jar (pint, quart, whatever you have with a lid). Glass is preferred, but BPA free plastic will do too.

Step 2: Put the following ingredients into a jar: 30 grams (2 tablespoons) WHOLE GRAIN ORGANIC FLOUR, 30 grams (2 tablespoons) ROOM TEMP FILTERED WATER (or warmer, up to 95 degrees, if you can measure it).

Step 3: Stir gently with your hand or a wooden spoon (metal if you must). Place lid gently on top, not airtight.

Step 4: Place in a cupboard where it is free from drafts and will not get cold. Fermentation likes heat, but nothing hotter than 140 degrees (meaning, putting it by the oven or water heater — above that temperature will kill yeast cells).

DAY 2

Repeat Steps from Day 1, not discarding anything yet

DAY 3

Step 1: Add 30 grams (2 tablespoons) FLOUR, 15 grams (1 tablespoon) room temp or up to 95 degree WATER

DAY 4

Step 1: Add 90 grams (6 tablespoons) FLOUR, 45 grams (3 tablespoons) 95 degree water (to amplify and jumpstart fermentation and carbon dioxide bubbles).

DAY 5

If your starter is bubbling and active, you are ready to bake! If not, continue for a few more days, repeating day 3 and using 95 degree water and making sure the mason jar is in a warm enough space in your kitchen.

Notes/Tips:

*If you keep close to the recipe, and use warm enough water, and your kitchen isn’t cold, you should have bubbles from day 4 or definitely by a week’s end. But sometimes you have to add an acid to jumpstart things. You can add one teaspoon of freshly squeezed OJ or apple cider vinegar. But only once. That should do it.
*If your starter turns pink or has black mold on top of it or within its contents, toss it and start again.
*Once you start baking on a normal basis, you can feed your starter once a day or once a week. You can keep it in the fridge. It is resilient. When you want to bake, take it out of the fridge at least 4-6 hours before you bake (ideally – sometimes I mix dough with cold starter straight from the fridge on a hot day), discard 50% and feed it ONE CUP ORGANIC WHOLE GRAIN FLOUR, 1 CUP ROOM TEMP OR UP TO 95 DEGREES WATER.
* What to do with the yeast you discard? Make pancakes, compost it, make muffins, or something tasty.

More questions? Please feel free to reach out! I am happy to help and love to learn myself too! 

Love and Real Bread,

Mary

Babies Come With a Loaf of Bread

That’s what Greg said. A dear friend of my husband Kevin’s. Thank God for him. It was a challenge getting my hubby to agree to starting a family. I was just finishing grad school, we were newly married, artists, independent contractors. He is always the more practical one: fiscally responsible. A beautiful and respectable trait. His yang to my yin. My spirit is more carefree, perhaps whimsically irresponsible. I definitely just made that up. Being the responsible one he was concerned for us. He wanted to have babies but how would we do it?

But Greg’s phrase always meant a lot to us. Especially me being a bread baker, of course. So when it came time to try, we tucked that phrase in our proverbial positivity pockets and started trying.

I got pregnant right away. Trust me, I didn’t think that would happen. After years of Chinese Medical school where “advanced maternal age” was thrown around daily and a year into a practice where I focused on helping couples who could not get pregnant with Acupuncture and herbs, I figured it would take some time. But low and behold, my little boule baby was ready and waiting to be born.

So you all probably wondered what happened to me. Why did I stop baking? Why write one blog post announcing your pregnancy and then drop off the face of the earth? Let’s just say I didn’t have the easiest pregnancy. I was sick throughout most of it, so sick in fact that I had to stop baking for a while. That was by far the hardest part. But I knew at some point I would get back to it. After all, it is part of my mission in life. Spreading the word that Bread can actually be healthy for us, that gluten is not an enemy, and that baking bread one loaf at a time may just be the answer to many issues in our country. Even an answer to world peace, from my perspective. It forces us to slow down, to reflect, to share. Baking with whole grains brings us closer to recognizing the process by which bread is made, from Farmer to Miller to Baker to Consumer. I capitalize them all to emphasize their importance in my life. It is a magical process that I hope to continue teaching people about.

And more about my baby boule. Theodore James Parr. Theo for short, “God’s gift.” He was born at 37 weeks. I had to be induced because of complications, so you can imagine how stressed Kevin and I were. How can I love someone so much already? Theo was 8 lbs. 15 oz. at birth. Lord knows if I had gone to term I may have been looking at a 10 pounder or more. I laugh just thinking about that now.

I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be a mother. But in my wildest dreams, nothing could have prepared me for this. For this love. It is as if time has stopped and each moment is so filled with every joy-filled yet worry-inducing emotion that breathing often becomes secondary. That sounds so dramatic, re-reading it, but it really isn’t far from the truth. What else becomes secondary? Bathing, brushing ones teeth, cleaning house, the lot. Some days this love is buried under layers of spit up and crusted hair. But trust me, it is there like nothing I have ever experienced. A buried treasure that brings tears to my eyes on a daily basis.

I am mixing my first loaves in months as I type this. Teaching my boy Theo how to measure the water, the importance of grams vs cups, the smell of whole grain flour and why it is imperative to use it. Sure, he is asleep in his Ergo carrier on my chest, but it is getting in there, no doubt. Settling deep into his subconscious, where it will make the most impact.

It feels so good to be back. And with even greater purpose — With the love of a mother for her son. To share this newfound archetype with the greater community. To start teaching again. Wow. I forgot how good my hands feel; mixing the flour with water, then starter, and salt. So much to be Thankful for. Especially now with Thanksgiving around the corner and a difficult/jarring election bringing out all kinds of emotion in people. Look towards the light. Do what you love. Bring people together that way. Find your center that way. It will always lead to love. And boules of prosperity.

A Bun in the Oven

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Hi Friends!

So by now, many of you are wondering if I have dropped off the face of the earth, took up another hobby, or gone gluten free.

Not to fear! None of the above is true. Thank GOD (especially the gluten free part!).  What is indeed true is that I have a different kind of bun in the oven. A baby boy kind of bun! Kevin and I found out in January that I was expecting a baby. We are overjoyed!

But my first trimester has been particularly hard, lots of daily nausea and all-day morning sickness. Needless to say, I sadly was unable to bake for the last three months because of how severe my aversion to yeast was. If I even smelled it from another room in the house, I would get sick. At the time it was very upsetting, but I began to realize that I knew in time I would be back at it again, and the most important thing then was resting and not lifting cast iron pans in and out of the oven. (I will leave that to Kevin now!)

I have had many requests for a spring class, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I continue to feel better and that I can hold a class in late May or June. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate those of you who reached out and we were wondering where the heck I went and why I wasn’t blasting my Instagram page with pictures of my latest loaf or images from my latest bread class. So to that I ask you to still be patient with me. All good things take time. I am busy baking my little guy in my own oven of sorts, but will be back at it again in no time, I am certain!

And I must add, if you yet to see Michael Pollan’s new show COOKED on Netflix, I highly recommend it. I have been a huge fan of his for many years, and I was blown away by the adaptation of his history of food, particularly the “Air” segment, which dives into the history of fermentation and bread. So awesome!! You can watch here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80022456

Thanks again, my baking friends! May a lot of love be mixed into your loaves today, tomorrow, and always!

Mary

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Me at 18 weeks — Baby Parr is starting to make an appearance! 

 

Happy 2016 Bread Lovers!

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Organic whole grain rye and spelt bread with a 28 hour fermentation. And a few Klamath olives for good measure. Savory, nutty, and nutritious!

Hello Fellow Bakers! And Happy (almost) New Year!!

It is this time of year that I try to take deeper breaths amidst the often chaos, and I become more aware of the importance of this. What it does accomplish — is it turns my gratitude practice inward and more solid, as the clarity of what is most important in life becomes beautifully more prominent. That is — more family, more love, more nature, more pausing. And unmistakenly now, more writing is part of this. Yes.  And thus, here I am again. Twice in one month. Somebody give me a cookie.

Or a loaf of bread. Sure it is my mission to teach people to make their own, and I’ve seen dozens and dozens of wonderful pictures, but it would be nice if perhaps one of my students happened to make an extra one week, or even dropped off a few slices one day…

Hint hint. Just kidding…Or am I? 😉 😉 😉

Perhaps it will help if I answered more questions. Afterall, I am well aware of how daunting baking bread can be in the beginning. I remember my crazy first loaves. Not the prettiest. Certainly the densest. Maybe  “brick” is the most appropriate word to describe them. But you just have to keep at it. As Yoda says, “There is no try. Only do.”

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Some bread vocabulary explained (in laymen’s or laywomen’s terms)

autolyse: the time after your initial mix of flour and water, before you mix in the wild yeast (starter) and salt. It is between 30 and 60 minutes usually, and is essential for the initial enzymatic activity of the grains.

‘air’ kneading: a phrase that Andrew Whitley (an amazing British baker who wrote Bread Matters) uses to explain the belief that sourdough bread does not need to be kneaded. Ooo, a pun! And Chad Robertson also exemplifies in his book //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=breadculture-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0811870413&asins=0811870413&linkId=A37J2IZDYLLQPJRS&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true” target=”_blank”>Tartine Bread that dough can simply be given ‘folds’ every 30 minutes or so during the initial rise.

retard: aka ‘bulk fermentation’: this step occurs in your refrigerator. After your initial rise and shaping (after 3-4 hours), you place the dough in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours to a max of 28. I have found that my sweet spot tends to be around 16-24 hours, but everyone’s fridge will have a slightly different temp, so find what is best for you. It is during this stage that the wild yeast interacts slowly with the enzymatic activity of the whole grain flour, water, and salt. In my opinion, this is where the bread develops the ability to be considered probiotic and more easily digested, so please don’t shorter this process. 24 hours is ideal — 8 is the minimum and over 28, your bread may be overproofed or spoiled.

proofing: the ‘final rise’ of your dough after it has spent time ‘retarding’ or ‘fermenting’ in the fridge. This is the hour or two when the dough sits on the counter, rising, getting closer to room temp, before it is placed in a Dutch oven or on a pizza stone for baking.

over-proofing: oh, if I had a nickel for every time I overproofed a loaf when I first started baking, well…Let’s just say it happens to the best of us  especially when we are just beginning to learn how to bake bread. There is a particular test that many bakers use to determine if their bread is over- or under-proofed.

  1. Poke the dough after it’s finished its bulk fermentation or retarding in the fridge. If the dough leaps back at your finger, it is likely underproofed (meaning it didn’t have enough counter time during the initial rise.
  2. Poke the dough: if it stays indented and doesn’t bounce back, it is likely overproofed. Meaning — you let it go too long on the counter initially or in the fridge. You can still try to bake it, but it probably won’t have any oven spring.
  3. Poke the dough: perfectly proofed: you poke the dough and it slowly and steadily rises back to meet your finger. Well done, baker!

I sincerely hope that these vocab terms and tips were helpful. Thank you for reading my blog this past year. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below. You know I always love hearing from you! I am greatly looking forward to seeing what Bread Culture has in store for 2016!

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This is me outside of the famous Amy’s Bread in NYC. She is a great inspiration to me and I am thrilled I was finally able to try her bread!

 

 

 

 

Wild Yeast Questions Answered

Hi Friends,

Many students have been asking some great questions about wild yeast lately, so I thought it would be helpful if I clarified some things for you all.

I wrote a post called Wild, Wild Yeast about two years ago which you can read here, but since that time I have become better acquainted with my pet starter. Thus, I will happily share my knowledge on the little beast.

First off, for those of you who take my class, you know my little trick of breaking off a piece of dough from the one you mixed in class to jump start the process. Here are the directions:

When you get home after class, tear off a quarter-size portion from the dough and place it in a quart-sized mason jar (preferred) or BPA-free plastic container. To the jar add one cup organic flour and one cup filtered water. Stir. Place lid gently on top and place in a cupboard, out of sunlight. 

For two more days, feed it once every 8-12 hours: Dump out 50% of the starter, add one cup flour, one cup water. Stir. It shouldn’t be too liquidy. Think pancake batter with lots of bubbles and an aroma of wine. That’s a healthy starter. 

Once you have fed it 3 or 4 times over the course of the first 2 days, it should be happy and bubbling. At this point, you can try your hands at baking a loaf of bread with it, or if time doesn’t allow it, you can place it in the fridge. Make sure you feed it once/week if you store it in the fridge. Some say it can go months without feeding, and that may be true, but in my experience, it is best not to abandon it and just feed it once/week. That way it will also remind you to bake those loaves of bread for your friends and family.

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Some questions answered:

If I store it in the fridge, when do I need to take it out of the fridge in order to bake? Usually a minimum of 12 hours, but ideally one or two days before you bake is best. That way, you will get the chance to feed it between 2 and 4 times before baking. You want to see the starter bubbling and smelling yummy. That’s when you know it is ready to be mixed into dough.

Help! Is my starter dead? Wild yeast is amazingly resilient, but if it does turn pink or moldy in color, or smells horrifically of your sister’s nail polish remover (acetone), then it’s best to chuck it and start over again (directions here.)

Is that liquid on top hootch? Should I throw it away? That is ethenol (alcohol), and some people like to stir it in before they discard their 50%, bc it adds to the sour taste of the starter. Personally I usually pour it down the drain, and then discard 50%, and feed it.

Why do I have to discard 50% every time? What can I do with the stuff I discard? Yeast is a living bacteria. A probiotic one at that. Many of these bacteria experience die-off after hours of not being fed, so essentially you are discarding half of it to revive it with fresh food. I know it can seem frustrating to some who do not wish to waste, so luckily I recommend using the stuff you pour off in pancake mix (Chad Robertson has a great recipe in his Tartine 3 book), or instead of baking soda/powder in muffins or cookies (substitute 1 tablespoon starter for 1 teaspoon baking soda/powder). There are still many trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria in that discard, so why not create some new tasty creations with it.

 My starter has been fed nearly 5 times over the course of 2 or 3 days and it still doesn’t want to bubble…what do I do? Fear not! Add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or pineapple juice or freshly squeezed OJ to it and stir. The acid will wake it up. Feed it a few more times after this and if it still doesn’t bubble, you may need to start over.

How much starter should I have in my jar at any given point? I always like to keep a minimum of one or two cups in there, in case I want to mix dough on a whim. After you use a bunch of it, always re-feed it one or two cups flour, one or two cups water before putting back in the cupboard or the fridge.

Why can’t I use commercial yeast? Commercial yeast is made of only one bacteria: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t have lactobacillus or any other bacteria that is healthful for our gut health. It is also chemically processed, and by making it into a powder, it loses the peak of its nutrition over time. To me, the yeast is the most important nutritional aspect of the bread. It is what makes it rise, it is what has healed my digestion, and the digestion of many of my patients who eat my bread each week. I can’t emphasize it’s importance enough.

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There you have it, friends. If there is something I did not answer here, feel free to write and ask me questions. And stay tuned for a webinar with more details and bread baking galore in 2016.

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to you and your families and friends!

Love,

Mary

 

Bread Meets Balance

Hello my fellow bakers. The last few months of been a whirlwind for me.  By Midsummer I was teaching several bread classes each month, building a busy acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice, baking 20 loaves of bread per week in my home kitchen. And loving it. Then one day I thought to myself “why not try a farmers market?”  So I called our local farmers market, the one that Kevin and I go to nearly every Sunday. I did not anticipate how quickly it would all happen. They were intrigued that I had my cottage food license, that I baked from my home kitchen, and after I handed them some samples, the next day they called me to ask when I wanted to start. I just kept saying yes to everything.  Yes to more mixing. Yes to more baking. Yes to more phone calls requesting more and more bread. Yes to more lifting dozens of cast iron pans in and out of oven. Yes to 50 plus loaves per week. By myself. Yes too more patients wanting Acupuncture. Yes to bread deliveries. Yes to EVERYTHING.

People kept asking me “how are you doing this Mary?  Aren’t you just exhausted all the time?” And it wasn’t until several months in that I started really wondering if I was paying enough attention to my own needs and the needs of my family. My bread mission is so strong and is filled with a lot of love and grace, and it strives for goodness 100% of the time. Despite all of this, my body started to tell me that I was out of balance.   I started feeling palpitations, fluttering, weird heart stuff. And I was incredibly exhausted. As a physician, I was fully capable of knowing that if I were my own patient, I would have told myself to slow down three months before. But I just kept pushing through it. After all, was not the love of baking enough? Wouldn’t I find the energy? People were wanting to know, to buy whole grain bread, and to learn how to bake it…why shouldn’t I be the one to teach them? To inspire and empower them?

Fast forward a few weeks later:  I ended up in the hospital. For several days. They did diagnose me with a heart condition, and are testing me for several different possible causes. And although it was terrifying when it happened and I am still trying to piece everything together and wonder how this might change my life. I feel OK about it. I am conscious of acknowledging the fact that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s time to slow down a bit, to consider hiring someone and getting some help. To teach and not to bake 50 loaves in 12 hours (yes, I was doing that!).

On my really good days, I know the pause is not an end. It’s just to take a breather.

The whole reason why I am telling  you this, is that I hope my story may influence some of you out there who are pushing the physical limits of your energy. Life is too short, my friends. We need to take of ourselves. I practice a medicine that is based on ancient principles of Yin and Yang, and the striving for balance in all aspects of life. I teach my patients this, I meditate on this daily. I was not practicing what I preach. I know this now.

When I was in school, we studied many ancient Chinese medical texts. One certainly had the greatest spiritual influence on me, and although I have lost track of it through the years, it has come back full circle once again as things do and is helping me heal. It’s the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu, a Chinese prophet. One short phrase continues to inspire me now each day: “Retire when the work is done. This is the way of heaven.” Simple to some, but not for this non-stopper. Although it will be challenging, I think I may heed his advice for awhile and see how the future unfolds. Rest. Work a little. Rest again. Maybe these pauses will give me the opportunity to write more. That is something I have missed.  Maybe a commercial kitchen space with an actual proper bread oven will present itself to me, equipped with one or two incredibly assistants. Maybe I will just teach people how to bake bread for awhile and focus on helping my patients heal.

Maybe all of this. Maybe none of it. Ever still, the importance of the pause is a very real, essential practice. And I am being reminded of this now more than ever before. I hope some of you read this and understand, and maybe allow yourself a breather too.  After all, it is essential for health, balance, and vitality. Just like I always say, real bread takes time. Well, so do we! So does healing. We have been taught to think that if we get a cold, we go to the doctor, and get medicine that will just make us better immediately. When in reality, the true complete healing can sometimes take longer than we ever anticipated. This is so hard for many of us. Including me. But it is also that much more profound when we are able to look back and see that the work we have done to heal ourselves, that the time we spent gracefully caring for ourselves, well, it was ALL worth it.

So, go ahead: give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing. In that stillness is where you will find the answer.