A Tale of 2 Sourdough’s

Hi All,

Barter is a beautiful thing. I recently swapped 2 of Steve’s lovely handmade spoons for a new sourdough starter and some kefir grains. It’s great sticking it to “The Man” and no “man” deserves sticking it to more than our supermarkets folks! How do penniless student hippies get the extra’s that they want? They barter for them! Aside from being a means to an end, bartering is fun, sustainable and bolshie, all of my favourite things rolled into 1. I know that supermarkets don’t sell sourdough starter and kefir grains but they do sell white crappy bread at $1 a loaf that lures people with reduced incomes to their doom and drags farmers down with them. Milk and other dairy products are also heavily discounted, to dairy farmer’s detriment, and intensive dairy farming with minimal returns result in cost cutting farmers and something’s got to give.  My first sourdough effort resulted in something orange and funky that needed to be flushed down the loo A.S.A.P! I got given Herman’s grandfather by a fellow blogger and after coaxing him back to life from his long journey from N.S.W. he rewarded me by 2 months of slavetude and vinegar bricks. Herman had the misfortune of being fed only once a day and was teaming with lactobacilli, the bacterial quotient of the symbiotic relationship that results in a good sourdough. Thanks to being lactobacilli heavy, he was concurrently yeast challenged. It’s a bit like a seesaw relationship, too much of one means not enough of the other and you have to make sure you juggle your sourdough bacilli with yeast initially until your starter stabilises and becomes strong enough to develop its own robust personality. Herman was sour. Herman was past sour, he was positively vinegary! He couldn’t raise the skin off a rice pudding either and so Herman is in stasis on my pantry shelf in a vacuum sealed bag. I don’t blame Herman, I blame myself. I didn’t realise that a balance needed to be established and Herman was the result.

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My cinnamon muffin mise en place with the glass of cultured kefir and my breakfast smoothie spinach

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A closeup of the cultured kefir which is a lot like yoghurt. The difference between yoghurt and kefir is that yoghurts culture is eaten along with the yoghurt, kefir grains are fished out and reused over and over again and can be used to culture just about every kind of milk aside from UHT milk (what does THAT tell you? 😉 ), goat, sheep and non dairy milks as well.

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Here’s the fermented starter, flour, milk and rolled oats for the cinnamon muffins. You can see that the mix has bubbled up and looks somewhat like pikelet batter

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The resulting muffins looking and feeling more like cake than robust sourdough muffins

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A closeup of the fine texture that the fermented sourdough gave to these muffins

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The miracle chocolate cake…once separated oily ropey gunge, now combined and smelling amazing! Sourdough magic 😉

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As dear old Mr M Loaf once sang…”2 out of 3 aint bad”…and he was right 🙂

Now that everyone knows that I am unbalanced…lets proceed! Herman in stasis and me swearing to never dabble in the sour arts ever EVER again lasted about as long as a first time mothers pledge to never EVER have another child…the memory softens and gets a sepia tone to it and suddenly you are pregnant all over again or in my case, begging for sourdough starter from Jessie, a.k.a. “Rabid” from the wonderfully sustainable blog http://rabidlittlehippy.wordpress.com/ and a chunk of her brains. Well, little white brain like kefir grains to be more specific ;). Not only did Jessie send me a lovely hand knitted black organic cotton dishcloth (that is too nice to use 😉 ), she sent me the daughter of Bertha that she split with another lucky recipient and some kefir grains. The kefir grains have decided to band together in a mass and spend their days backstroking around a glass of milk until it sets where they call out to me telepathically and I change their milk for fresh milk. I used the cultured milk to make icing yesterday and apparently it tastes lovely. I will give them a week of happy backstroking before I introduce a new medium into the equation and let them take a float in some home-made coconut milk. Variety is the spice of life kefir and life on Serendipity Farm is about as spicy as you can get! I had fed Audrey twice a day for 2 days before I decided to actually use some of the discarded sourdough and following recipes closely I mixed together the flour, milk and starter for a batch of cinnamon muffins, a chocolate cake and a batch of English muffins. The remaining starter was fed a cup of rye and white flour mixed a cup of water and after it rose up in her jar she was put into the fridge. I am going to rename “Audrey”. She deserves to have a much more favourable name because when she was initially named I envisaged a hungry tyrant who would lead me to baking’s dark side and it would ultimately end in tears…to the contrary, this new starter is malleable, compliant and most charmingly willing to please!

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Bezial was hot and bothered on our walk on thursday so we let him off his lead for a swim and here he is fishing, a much happier and cooler dog 🙂

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We found this poor tawny frogmouth in the road on our walk. Steve thought that it was dead but when I went over to investigate it was still alive.

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We took the poor thing in to Launceston to the vet who told us that he was too far gone to recover and he was euthanised. I was in 2 minds whether or not to share these 2 photos with you but decided that he deserved to get his 15 seconds of fame. R.I.P. Mopoke 😦

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We took this photo at a little park in Launceston where we stopped to give the dogs a drink of water and a bit of a walk after taking the Mopoke to the vet’s. This shop specialises in high quality fake flowers and Christmas decorations…very specialised but they must sell enough because they are still there.

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This is the bark of a gorgeous old Pinus pinea (Italian Stone Pine) in the same small park. We have several small ones that we grew from seed collected from another specimen. These trees produce cones that contain the edible nuts sold as “pine nuts”.

I got up yesterday morning and had a little peak and the separate bowls of fermenting milk, flour and starter to find that the ensuing mass had indeed risen and was rippled with bubbles and smelled yeasty and only slightly tangy. If I had used Herman the whole lot would be curdled, it would smell like malt vinegar and would take your breath away and it would be flat as a tack! We were already ahead! We headed out to walk the dogs and when we got back I started to bake. Steve headed out to the shed to make a spoon when he was interrupted by a local calling out to him from over the gate and he headed down to have a chat and was offered several trailer loads of spent horse bedding hay for our garden beds. All we had to do was go and pick it up. Sorry Steve…I am too busy, it’s going to have to be you ;). Steve does all of the cooking in our covered bbq and is quite proficient with it. I have never cooked anything in this bbq and was to be left alone with it to cook my sourdough creations so if something was going to go wrong, it would go SPECTACULARLY wrong! The bbq was behaving itself and I was able to mix up the cinnamon muffins and after 20 minutes (turning halfway) the muffins were ready. They smelled amazing! They had a light and fluffy texture that I wouldn’t have thought possible from sourdough products and in addition to their flour, milk and starter overnight ferment they had rolled oats. After a night the rolled oats had virtually disappeared and the resulting muffins were more like a light spongecake than a robust muffin. That would be a “tick” for recipe 1…I pulled down the homogenous mass waiting to be made into chocolate cake. I mixed the chocolate part and stirred it into the homogenous fermented mass and dubiously poured it into a baking tray (it is a big cake). It had started to separate, had greasy blobs all around it and generally looked like a failure waiting to happen. Being the stalwart that I am, I decided to bake it anyway and after 15 minutes cooking I headed out with dread to check it. Feeling sure that it would have bubbled over and set the bbq on fire I was pleasantly surprised to find a “chocolate cake” doing the right thing under the cover. After 35 minutes of low heat the chocolate cake was finished and set out to cool on a wire rack…that would be tick number 2

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I found this “thing” on my walk with Earl yesterday. We took a bit of a detour down the Batman Highway to check out a source of Foeniculum vulgare (Weedy fennel) seed but it was still in full flower and no seed yet but we DID find this. Steve thinks it looks like it came from an irrigation system. No idea but it is huge…it is metal…and it is mine! It looks steampunk enough to carry one of my more spiky succulents or cacti 🙂

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We went through the overflow pantry cupboard in our middle spare room on thursday and ended up finding several ancient containers of goodness only knows what. One smelled of garlic and was riddled with weevil tunnels…(Italian weevils are a problem on Serendipity Farm 😉 ), another contained Macca powder that had suffered the same weevil infestation albeit a long LONG time ago. These weevils are the equivalent of biblical humanity to their modern day weevil equivalents. The white stuff is some sort of African processed cereal product made from maize that I bought and tried once only. Maybe African’s actually like the flavour of wallpaper paste? The darker brown is from some forgotten (also weevil infested) zaatar and there was a jar of ancient breadcrumbs that joined the throng. I poured a kettle and a half of boiling water over this mass and served it up to the chooks for breakfast. At least SOMEONE enjoyed that garlic, macca, zaatar flavoured wallpaper paste!

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This is the lush foliage of one of the cape gooseberry plants on Serendipity Farm. You can see the green fruit capsules hanging like lanterns from this perennial plant. The offer is still open to anyone (aside from Kym who has already taken me up on the offer 😉 ) who would like some of the seed to grow in their gardens. It produces edible berries that can be eaten raw or cooked and it will grow in the Gobi desert it is so hardy 🙂

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The fruit is inside the husk

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1 of our transplanted artichokes (showing signs of predation) that might just make it. The rest of them have disappeared 1 by 1 into various chicken, possum and wallaby craws

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I found this little fellow in amongst the carrots that our friend gave us recently. I couldn’t bring myself to chop him up. He is currently sunbathing in the lid of my recent coconut conquest 😉

I then attempted to make the English muffins. It has now become apparent that you need to make a somewhat stiffer dough for the muffins and Jessie has given me some hints and tips for making them next time. This time they were more like pikelets or flatbread and although Steve ate a couple of them with some butter I know he was doing so because he was hungry after hauling all of that hay rather than a genuine desire to eat the results. I just processed up the cold remainders to put into the dehydrator to dry out and make breadcrumbs. No waste here :o). At the end of the day I was completely enamoured of my new starter. She is currently hibernating in the fridge where Jessie told me she can wait it out for 4 days before needing to be fed again. She deserves a place of honour for her efforts and my recent bartering has opened up a world of yeasty possibilities, hours of happy researching and a plethora of recipes and experiences waiting to be discovered thanks to a mutual swap. Life doesn’t have to be tough and there are many ways to skin a cat. We need to be able to step back and think about other ways to get what we want if the folding green stuff is remote or completely absent.

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This trailer load of old horse bedding hay got forked into the chook yard for the hens and Yin to fossick through to their hearts content.

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The rest got dumped next to the existing vegetable garden beds

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Garden bed futures…I just realised that our veggie garden area is looking a bit “Tip Like”…time to get on top of that pile of junk Steve! It is all metal and apparently in demand. We owe some of it to our friend in the witness protection’s welder partner and we will use some of it in future ventures but for now we are going to stack it up nice and neat so that we might look like we are growing illicity crops BUT at least they will be neat! 😉

It has been exceptionally windy on Serendipity Farm for the last few days which has reinforced my desire to one day install a small wind turbine to harness the power of the wind. Tasmania is prone to windy gusts and this phenomenon has been given a name, “The roaring 40’s”, which is also the name of a large wind farm in the states north east. I am really interested in alternative energy and as the technology becomes more and more mainstream the prices of sustainable and renewable energy should reduce. We are waiting for a reduction in price before we jump onto the bandwagon. We don’t want to be lumbered with a substandard solar hot water system because of unscrupulous producers racing to take advantage of the windfall that government subsidies dropped into their laps. Many Tasmanians’ raced to sign up and are only now finding out solar powers limitations in our state where summer tends to be peppered with cloudy days. You need to tailor your requirements and make sure that you aren’t hoodwinked by savvy salesmen and green wash hype. Do your homework. Our friend in the witness protection is a case in point. Her home is completely off grid. They rely on water from tanks, mobile phones and a large shipping container bank of solar panels to power their home. The solar panels can’t generate enough power for the requirements of her family and her partner, a welder, has had to put a water jacket in the back of their solid fuel heater to ensure they have enough hot water for their needs. I downloaded tutorials for how to make your own wind turbine but wanting your own wind turbine is a far FAR cry from being able to build one. I know my limitations and electronics and I are not good bedfellows. It’s another one of those “wait” opportunities to learn patience…it’s a pity that patience and I are not good bedfellows either!

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Bev from the wonderful permaculture in practice blog Foodnstuff http://foodnstuff.wordpress.com/ has asked Steve to make her a sugar spoon. He decided to try something new and this lovely rounded celery top pine spoon is the result

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This is the back of the spoon

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The angle of the handle and bowl detail. Steve is really enjoying where making spoons is taking him and has been developing lots of ideas for spoons for his website that we will be creating this year. You will be the very first people to see our website designs. Stay tuned folks, it is going to be a most interesting year! 🙂

That brings us to the end of today’s post. I have lots of photos to share with you and they should have finished uploading into my blog by now. Time to tack this post into the appropriate space and dust it all off for you to read tonight (or yesterday if you are in the Northern Hemisphere 😉 ). Have a lovely Sunday and see you all again on Wednesday :o)