Hello, my name is Sandy.

Super Simple Herman Bread

cross section, showing crumb

For the last three months, we've been making our own bread. It's gotten to the point where 1kg bags no longer cut it; we bought our first 12kg sack of flour today. Yeah, we're turning into those people.

Without my own science lab, I can't say whether homemade bread is objectively better than bakery stuff or carefully formulated factory bread. But I am loving the process of doing this myself, and making time to think about what goes into an oft-overlooked staple. So, as far as I'm concerned, there's something special about homemade buns and loaves.

We use Herman the German sourdough starter. It's meant for cakes, but we're not big on sweets in our household. Using it for bread is perfect because we are big eaters. The dense and filling end product suits us just fine.

Fancy a super simple sourdough bread recipe?

Feeds 2 people.

500g plain flour  
240ml lukewarm water  
1 tsp salt  
1 cup of Herman

Mix ingredients.

Knead for 10mins.

Leave to rise for at least 2 hours.

Bake @ 230°C for approx. 20 min.

Tap bottom with a spoon. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.  

That's it. So easy, huh? :)

My best results come from kneading for 10 minutes, leaving for 10 minutes, then kneading again for another 5. The crumb turns out nice and smooth.

This recipe makes a nice loaf, but in my opinion, eats best as 6 little buns.

golden brown outer crust

my loaves always split in the oven

score the dough before you bake it to get cool little patterns

First and ferment

First project of the year: fermenting.

I have begun my adventures in breeding microscopic livestock. Let me tell you about this smelly and already-tasty undertaking.

Making kombucha

Just after Christmas, we bought a bottle of MOJO Ginger Kombucha after rattling around our area looking for a health food shop that a) was open and b) sold SCOBY. SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast, sometimes referred to as a "mushroom", but it's no fungus. It's the kombucha mother, which floats on the surface of a sweet tea, producing tasty kombucha through fermentation.

kombucha mother beginning to grow

I found an article on how to grow your own kombucha mother from a store-bought drink. It was a long shot. The first 4 days were intense. I'd check on my jar 2-3 times a day to see if any fuzzy mold had formed, but none did. Instead, from day 2, I saw a film begin to form on the surface of my tea. This would grow thicker and larger each day until it formed an ugly blob. My mother was born.

SCOBY mother at day 4

Last night, my SCOBY got to 1/8" thick and, according to the article, ready for another feed. Before topping up the jar with more sweet tea, I poured out half of the original liquid and had a sip.

After just 9 days, we went from having bottle dregs to something that definitely tastes like kombucha. :) It's been more than 12 hours since, and I've not been sick yet. Can't say for sure until the SCOBY is ½" thick and producing regularly, but looks like we're doing all right so far.

I've read that mother grown from bottled drinks might not make strong children, so we may end up having to do this all over again at some point. As a home science experiment, though, I'm very curious to see how well this baby mother will go. Right now, I'm brewing only black Madura Tea Premium Blend, but I've read it's worth trying other types of tea for different flavours, so there may be more experiments to come.

Making kefir

homemade kefir and muesli

Perth has been warm lately, and my little workers have been going like the clappers! Mum gave me kefir culture less than a week ago, and I've already had two little serves of homemade 'yogurt' with muesli. Did not get sick after. I call it a win.

The kefir process was less involved. I had someone to show me how to do it, which brought my stress levels way down. I don't think I could have done this before, when I was first offered kefir cultures. Yogurt wasn't on my regular menu, and I didn't understand fermentation enough to feel safe trying it. But it's easy now, and seems to fit well into my life. Let's see how long that lasts, huh?

A kefir culture looks like little cauliflower florets. They're also a SCOBY, bunch of yeasts and bacteria just hanging out. I got a culture that was wet and already working, but if you buy them from a store, they may come dry and require 'activation' (basically soaking them in milk until they're soggy and plump). I added full cream cow's milk and my kefir got to work.

It takes a little doodling to figure out how much milk to use and how long to leave it for, but a reasonable guess worked well enough for me. Again, the first few days saw me checking a few times a day. The pantry smells odd, with both kefir and kombucha fermenting together, but not unpleasant. Sour and clean.

my kefir and kombucha cultures

What else to make?

I'm only a week into fermenting, so it's hard to say whether this is a sustainable activity or just flavour of the month. The hot weather has all but destroyed my motivation to garden, which makes me doubt my commitment to everything. Ho hum. I thank last autumn's surge of activity for providing us with zucchini, basil and grape tomatoes over the last month and a bit.

We did get sunflower seeds after all. Learned it's much faster and less painful to harvest the seeds first, then let them dry. Plucking tiny kernels from a rock-hard flower head is for people made of stronger stuff.

Anyway, sourdough is next. A friend gave me a Herman the German sourdough starter today, so maybe we'll bake something wholesome and fuddy-duddy soon. :)

Changing and learning and Christmas

Year's end approaches, and I don't feel like the calendar brings a fresh start this time around. I suppose it's because the last 12 months have been full of fresh starts. So 2016 must be about continuing, learning, experimenting, getting used to life as it is now.

I pushed very hard for the first three months of freelancing, and now in Month Four, I'm in a good place. I like my clients, I'm interested in my work, I reckon I can ease off the accelerator and try a few things out. I don't want to call this a groove, because a groove so easily becomes a rut when you're not looking. This is a pit stop.

What I'm excited to try over the next few months:

Finishing my manuscript. Forget the thrill of completing a first draft - that's so three weeks ago. Now, it's like someone gave me a new toy for Christmas. One I can fiddle with until it becomes something another person can read without vomiting. It's nice to not be starting from scratch. Even though my first draft is a pile of poo, I am still one first draft ahead of where I would otherwise be. Yay!

Making a product. I spent the last 6 months in prototyping and testing (ie. ruminating over a test piece). Then my prototype failed. Then I found a better way to go about the production. And now I'm waiting on materials so I can make a batch. I'm spending a lot of spoons on the freelance writing side of my life right now, but nowhere near as many spoons as when I was still working an office job. So, hopefully the new materials are legit, and this thing can finally be done.

Trying fermenting and pickling. Since I can't keep furry and feathered livestock yet, I shall start with microscopic ones. A friend gave me a glossy wipe-clean booklet on fermentation, and offered one of her Herman babies when he's ready. That plus a kombucha SCOBY, kefir from Mum, and whatever vinegar mothers I find in our pantry should jumpstart a nice bubbling, smelly kitchen.

Cleaning my typewriter. Did you know one of the best typewriter oils on the market is the same oil you use in a gun? Neither did I. I have an old Olivetti Lettera 22 I've been meaning to get in touch with. As time passes, my fingers grow increasingly itchy to pull it apart, scrub under the folds, and give it a rub down. Today, I made a shopping list of tools and supplies for this project.

my cousin's Christmas ham

This Christmas felt like the least stressful in a long time. Instead of everyone buying gifts for everyone, we played Secret Santa. I used to have doubts about this game, as it's always been associated with office parties and buying for people I hardly know. But it's way less awkward among friends and family. Turning our family gift habits into a game made things fun again. Especially with a low price limit, giving us licence to get creative.

Actually, we tried a couple new Christmas practices in my family this year. The main one being that Mum doesn't shoulder the burden of feeding everyone. She's our local matriarch, and has always assumed responsibility for putting on a banquet. But this year, family lunch was pot luck.

What I observed:

  • Everyone contributed.
  • Every dish was a conversation piece.
  • There was no one person having to worry about everything.
  • There was no reason for anyone to feel like they weren't doing enough.

Best of all, Mum didn't have to spend a day and a half preparing everything.

I've learned I'm sensitive to patterns and repetition. Particularly in the last few years, I've felt at odds with my family's Christmas habits. They're more habits than traditions, as we don't fiercely cling to them as much as fall back on them when the holiday arrives. At times, they've struck me as the perpetuation of activity long after we'd run out of circumstances that made them ideal. Like when people move from mild climates to arid ones, yet still insist on keeping a lawn.

I suspect my growing stress over the years has had something to do with falling back on habits no longer suitable for the climate. I daresay we once found our groove, and somewhere along the way, it became a rut. At least for me. My mum is not old, but older. Us kids - my siblings, cousins and I - are now the adults. We have income and responsibilities, passable cooking skills and a new generation of kids to treat. And as people, we change and grow, and learn new things about each other. Maybe I'm the only one in my family who thinks so, but these new habits seem to me like the right fit for where we are today.

Can I call them "new habits"? Next year could be different still. Hopefully we'll be able to adapt.