Update on My Natural Yeast Adventure

My initial excitement in experimenting with natural yeast has worn off. Most of it was squelched by my family and I have realized that I should have probably gone about the whole process in a totally different way. I wanted to try everything at once and they were not so anxious. Therefore, they were the guinea pigs when the recipe didn’t turn out quite right or when I tried the one that had a stronger flavor than they were prepared for.

My husband actually complained that his sweat smelled sour because of all the sourdough in his system. I didn’t notice it, but he seemed to think it was a real problem! The bottom line here is that I may have gone a little overboard in applying this new practice in my cooking.

How many other things in life can this little idea apply to?

My children have continued to beg for me to just let the yeast die! I dehydrated some as a precaution in case that actually occurred, and then I practiced controlled disregard. I kept the natural yeast start in the door of the refrigerator like usual, but I didn’t look at it very often. Then, when it looked really hungry, I would feed it and then use a little in some waffles or English muffins (the items that got the least complaints), or just feed a cups worth and throw the rest away.

This has continued for a while now. The bread in the freezer actually got used without too much complaint and yesterday I decided to make bread again. Summer vacation is almost here and we’ll want sandwiches for lunch. This time I used the recipe that Melissa Richardson (author of The Art of Baking with Natural Yeastindicated was the most acceptable to those who are not excited about sourdough.DSCN2844I’m pretty sure that my family knows it’s sourdough because I forgot about it last night when I was supposed to do the second raise and bake it, so it got an extra long rise time (like 18 hours instead of 12).

This morning when I remembered, it had much more than doubled in volume! I made sure to use my timer that has to be manually turned off to time the 2 ½ hour rise so I wouldn’t forget. The bread is not as pretty because of the extra time raising, but it is nice and light. I love it! DSCN2845I hope my family will find it more palatable. There is still a mild sourdough flavor, but I plan to have enough molasses on hand for next time. I didn’t have quite the recommended amount yesterday and was loath to go to the store just then. The molasses is supposed to really mask the sourdough flavor. If they want different bread, they know how to make it, and I will at least have bread for me:) I thought about just making sourdough items when they’re not around, but the long rise times make that a bit difficult. They’re bound to notice when there’s dough sitting on the counter, covered with a damp towel. Little by little, I’m determined to convert them, just like I’ll convert my eyes to seeing in stereo!

21 Day Vision Challenge

Back in mid-January I decided I wanted to start a new program for vision improvement. It’s from the “Renewing your vision” chapter in a book entitled The Power Behind Your Eyes: Improving Your Eyesight with Integrated Vision Therapy, by Robert-Michael Kaplan. 1041614It’s the kind of thing that occurs when I make New Year’s resolutions and get a little carried away!

The Guidelines for the Twenty-One-Day Program are as follows:

• Obtain a weaker 20/40 prescription (I have been doing this for a couple of years now).

• Wear your lenses only during life-threatening situations. (This is very difficult because I can’t really see to do much of anything without lenses.)

• Eliminate all red meat and dairy products from your diet. ( I was already almost there. Just had to cut out the occasional sour cream and ice cream.)

• Use no added sugar or foods with sugar. (Sugar is everywhere, so this was also very difficult.) • Use no white-flour products. (No big problem.)

• Consume no alcohol or bottled or canned prepared drinks. (No problem.) • Use no cigarettes, tobacco, recreational drugs, caffeine drinks, or unnecessary medications. (also easy.)

• Wear a patch each day for twenty-one days for a maximum of four hours per day. (This one I interpreted to the current recommendations of my behavioral optometrist who told me to wear a bi-nasal patch. So I did that every day with occasional patching of my dominant eye.)

• Watch no late-night television (No problem.)

• Do not read for pleasure (novels, magazines) or do crossword puzzles. (This was tougher because I love to read. So I decided that all the reading had to be for information about vision therapy or health. That means I still did a fair amount of reading, but I justified it for the cause!)

• Take up singing, drawing, painting, sculpting, or writing. (I took up quilt piecing. It has become so addictive that one class wasn’t enough, I limited myself to two classes though–each once a month with two quilt blocks assigned for each class.)

•Play vision games each day. (Already committed to doing this!) • Eat grains, vegetables, legumes, and other healthy foods enriched with sea vegetables such as kelp, kombu, wakame, arame and hijiki. (OK, I must admit I didn’t get on board with the sea vegetables, but the rest of the eating plan was reasonable for me.)

• Keep a daily diary. (For this I started another program called Transform your Life through Handwriting by Vimala Rodgers. I probably didn’t keep adequate track of everything I should be doing as I journaled, but at least I wrote something every day. It’s a 40-day program.  I actually kept this up until March 30.)

• Exercise or move your body for at least fifteen minutes each day. (I figured that on the days I don’t do my 20 minutes of yoga, I do at least 15 minutes of housework.)

As if all of these guidelines weren’t challenge enough, I decided to combine this program with a diet program called The Virgin Diet by JJ Virgin. Basically you cut out the seven most problematic foods: gluten, eggs, sugar and artificial sweeteners, soy, corn, dairy and peanuts. I figured that since I was already on board with the dietary guidelines in the 21-day program, I might as well take it a step or two further. My biggest challenge is sugar, which is cut on either plan. The initial program for The Virgin Diet was also 21 days, so it seemed like the perfect compliment.

In actuality, it was pretty difficult, mostly in the diet area. It didn’t help that we celebrated 3 birthdays during that 21-day period. Finally on the evening of day 20, I had cake and ice cream with my family. I felt better  physically while I was on the program, but since my goal was to improve my vision, and I didn’t experience a great breakthrough, it was hard to stick to it. I’m not sure what kind of improvement would have enticed me to continue–maybe some degree of stereopsis? So, I returned to my regular, mostly-healthy diet and my regular vision therapy program.

Last month, I did a little experiment with taking really good eye-health supplement and a multi-vitamin, which improved how my eyes felt but was pretty expensive. (I’m noticing the difference without them though.) Next on the docket is a combination approach, something that I feel I can really follow long term.

My Natural Yeast Adventure

One of the things I have done over the years, and particularly in the last few months, is study ways to eat more healthy myself and feed my family a more healthy diet. I still haven’t converted my family to green smoothies, but the quest continues! I recently took a class on natural yeast, otherwise considered “sour dough.” I found it fascinating because it takes us right back to our pioneer roots in food preparation. Our instructor gave us a start which dates back to early Utah settlers. I appreciated the class because the teacher,  Melissa Richardson, spent a good deal of time explaining the health benefits: natural yeast breaks down harmful enzymes in grains, makes the vitamins and minerals in grain more easily digestible, predigests sugars for diabetics, breaks down gluten for the intolerant and turns the phytic acid in wheat flour into a cancer-fighting antioxidant. (No, I did not remember this–it comes straight from Richardson’s recipe book The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast). The start is also very mild in flavor, as long as you feed it regularly, which is a plus for my family. Melissa recommended naming the start and treating it like a pet to encourage proper care.

Soon after the class, my mother went on vacation for two weeks and asked me to care for her start. Since it has to be fed every three days or so to stay healthy, I agreed. I wasn’t sure how to use the start, so I kept feeding it and before I knew it I had seven jars (partially full) in my fridge. I discovered that if you feed the start and leave the jar three-fourths of the way full, it escapes as it grows. Healthy start will double in volume; hence the partially-full jars. I had visions of what would happen if this pattern continued, so baking day was in order.


I wish I would have taken photos of the seven jars, and the overflowing that happened before I got to that number, but I didn’t. This image is from Melissa Richardson’s blog, (You get the idea. . . ) I baked whole-wheat bread, pizza crust, English muffins, pancakes, waffles (twice), and crepes, all in the space of two days. It takes much longer because most of the items need a much longer rise time. The waffle recipe I used needed at least two hours, while breads and English muffins needed 8-12 hours, with two additional hours for the second raise. I froze some of the items and by the time I got the start under control again, my family wasn’t sure they ever wanted to eat any more natural yeast products!

There is a learning curve to this process, and I also realized that some recipes are better than others. Perceived shortcuts, like putting the bread in the oven on warm to encourage faster rising, resulted in failure. The bread looked great, but had a big hole on top and the rolls fell. It’s been over a month now, and my family is still complaining and telling me to throw the start away.  I finally ordered the cookbook The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast by Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson through Amazon. I’m glad to report that some of us like the new pancake recipe better than the previous one and I may be able to keep the start under control after all. There is a pancake recipe and a waffle recipe that use straight start (no extra flour) which makes it easy to use a lot of start quickly. While some family members are still complaining, I plan to keep experimenting until everyone is happy.

For those who want to venture into this territory, I endorse a slower beginning. In their book, Warnock and Richardson recommend that you practice feeding the start for the first month, then try recipes such as pancakes and waffles for a month, and finally tackle bread in the third month. I must be a gluten for punishment to try it all at once. The idea of throwing anything away is so contrary to my frugal mentality! I got to that point after my experimental stage though and threw the contents of a third jar away before feeding since it smelled a little strong anyway. Reducing the start before feeding it is imperative! I decided that Melissa’s recommendation that you either use it or send it to the compost or down the drain is a survival tactic, not just a convenient idea. I also recommend the recipes in The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast over the free recipes I found on the internet. The recipes and other helpful tips accommodate real life baking with a busy family lifestyle.

Baking with natural yeast may not help my eyes work better together, but at least we’ll all be healthier!