Tag Archive | homemade sourdough

Alchemy of Dough

Requisite cuteness
What a sight to wake up to… I’m grateful for the alchemy of dough. Overnight rise.
Ninety minutes later…
Another hour later…

I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. With temperatures above 50℉ the past two days, it was time to get into the garden. I needed some of the wire cages to protect the tulips poking up through mud, before the does destroyed them. The cages were stored in the back shed, so I had to brave a snow field to get to them.

The first few steps were easy: snow crusty enough to hold my weight. Then I punched through. Little Wren danced around on top of the crust the whole time. So did Topaz. It was a long way to the shed and it was rough on my knees and my back. I found a shorter way out, after dropping the cages over the back fence where I could get to them easily from outside. Then I crawled over the crust for twenty feet til I got up next to the raised beds, where reflected heat had melted a narrow path. It was fun, crawling over the snow, and doubled as icing on my knees.

More cuteness at lunchtime, Wren rolling and wrestling with the rug swatch toy I stitched together for her.
And gratitude and delight in the crocus patch now in full bloom. Lots of flies have hatched, but I haven’t seen a single bee yet. Fingers crossed.

Life of a Loaf

The most recent loaf of sourdough, fresh out of the oven eight days ago, lived a fulfilling life. As planned, I froze half of it after slicing, and enjoyed it almost every day since then.
It came out with the most perfect crumb so far, and sliced beautifully once cooled.
The center slices were so big that I ate each singly, toasted, with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and avocado mayo, for a couple of days for lunch.
On the fourth day the slices were small enough to justify a two-piece sandwich, and I added red onion to the cream cheese, with Havarti on top.
The fifth day I pickled the last of the tiny garden onions in seasoned rice vinegar, and mixed up some tuna fish, then grilled that with some sharp white cheddar.
The next lunch, I ate another open-face with avocado and leftover tuna salad, grilled with cheddar again.
In a crazy way, much as I enjoyed each of those sandwiches, I was eagerly anticipating the last of the loaf, knowing all along exactly what I’d do with the tail end: French toast with yogurt, blueberries, and pure Vermont maple syrup. That was today’s lunch. I’m grateful for the life of a loaf that was a joy to make and bake, and also to eat for a week, nourishing me body and soul. Each meal it made was simple and delicious, and all the more fulfilling for the attention I gave it through every step and bite. I’m grateful for the fish, the plants, and every other being who contributed to the short, happy life of this loaf.

Things We Never Knew

A photo from Singing Mountain Observatory just down the road from me on Fruitloop Mesa, four days ago. Thanks to George Dunham for permission to share his beautiful image of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

I’m grateful for so much today, starting with the middle of last night. Just before I crawled into my cozy bed, for which I am always ever so grateful, I stepped outside on the deck with binoculars to see if I could see comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). I don’t even need to know what that name means, except that I do know it was discovered less than a year ago as it approaches Earth for the first time in roughly 50,000 years. How exciting is that? I’m grateful for things we never knew.

Once I finally figured out where the Little Dipper is, which I never bothered to learn, it was easy to find the comet, and a thrill to observe it even though it was just a bright smudge in the dark sky through my birding binoculars. It will be another few days before it reaches its perigee, but it might be visible to the naked eye tonight in a dark enough sky. Last night, at 12℉ with a faint cloud cover, I didn’t stay out long. Talk about perspective though! I love the cosmos for putting me in my place.

I am little ashamed of myself that I boycotted the sciences in college because of judging the credit system to be unfair. It seemed wrong that should get three credits for three one-hour classes in English, and three credits for three one-hour classes PLUS a four-hour lab once a week in most of the sciences. I was also attached to what I knew, and I resisted the idea that in science, what we know changes constantly. I wanted to learn something and have that be that. That ridiculous bias faded through the years of simply living and recognizing the impermanence of everything, and now I kinda wish I had studied science more intensely. However, it’s been my hobby for decades, and one delight has been the night sky. For the requisite science course, I took Astronomy/Cosmology, which did not have a lab requirement, with a fabulous professor named Hans von Baeyer. I had a massive crush on him, and loved that he sent us out overnight to keep a star and planet log. I went with my new boyfriend and it’s one of the happiest memories of my college life, dozing and waking in our sleeping bags through the night to keep my log. I’m a fool for physicists still. Not the boyfriend, he was a sports writer who enjoyed a long career in that pursuit; I mean my crush on Hans and a couple of other physicists through the years.

I’m grateful that Wren had a rather uneventful vet visit today, with good heart and lung sounds, and the sad news that she is a little too chunky for her health. This did not come as a surprise, and it’s going to be hard to cut back on her treats, but she needs to lose a couple of pounds. She didn’t get even a tiny taste of the Sonic shake despite her best efforts at persuasion. She also has a little freckle on her belly that has been growing since I noticed it a few months ago. Dr. Emily measured it at 1.5 mm and told me to come back in six months or if it reaches 3 mm, whichever comes soonest. She mentioned the risks that come with anesthesia and didn’t want to do an unnecessary biopsy. So we wait and see, and hopefully it stops growing and is just a freckle.

And finally, after leaving out a dozen other quotidian things I’m grateful for today, I’m grateful for maybe the best loaf of bread so far. It freezes well so in the morning I’ll slice it and freeze half, and enjoy sandwiches and French toast for a couple of weeks.


In addition to being grateful for peaceful proximity of siblings, I’m grateful for attending an online writing retreat today with my dear friend and mentor, Sarah Juniper Rabkin. I’m so grateful that I met Sarah half our lives ago when she visited Dinosaur National Monument where I was an interpretive ranger for a few seasons. It was one of those rare, random soul meetings, but also I realized later, characteristic of Sarah who greets the world with an open heart and enthusiastic curiosity. We hit it off and have cultivated a long-distance friendship fortified with a few visits through the years. From playing in the mud on the banks of the Green River to writing in the desert, sharing letters and emails and mutual readings of our projects, I’m grateful for knowing Sarah, and for her unequivocal support of my creative endeavors.

Sarah gently juggling the aspirations and egos of sixteen writers through a day of provocative prompts.

Today, she skillfully led sixteen people through a dozen writing prompts, and gracefully encouraged us to share some of our words. It was great to devote the better part of a day to a practice I’ve been neglecting. Over the course of the day in my writings I explored my past, present, and future, through memories, insights, and motivations. It was exhausting! I’m glad I had nothing pressing to do between sessions, though I did manage some housecleaning and laundry, as well as baking the thank-you loaf for the neighbor.

I am definitely getting the hang of this recipe, and am also grateful that I got to share it and support the Bad Dogs through baking their first loaf. So simple, so delicious! And flexible, too. You can bake one loaf, or two loaves, or as I did today, one large loaf and one roll, inspired by the empathetic joy of my most loyal reader. For dinner I enjoyed the warm roll, half with butter and Havarti, and half with butter and homemade chokecherry jelly.

Good Luck

I’m grateful that I’ve finally perfected the no-knead sourdough bread; with the caveat that external conditions are always different so I can’t be sure I’ll get it quite so perfect next time, but at least I’ve got the mixing, rising, and baking down pretty well. I love that it looks like a shaggy mess when I’m done mixing, and with ten hours and a few stretches of the dough, it turns into this:

And this: I made two small loaves this time, so I can give one to my Personal Shoppers. Naturally, I sliced into one as soon as it was cool enough, and enjoyed a crusty piece that melted butter.

I’m grateful, too, that just before the last bite, I felt an anomalously hard chunk and did not bite down on it, but spit it into my hand. I pondered it as I continued to chew, sensing nothing amiss in my mouth, until–uh-oh! I felt a big hole in a back molar. Sigh. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice. I was able to accept this minor misfortune in stride, and enjoy the last few bites of bread, instead of panicking and fretting. I won’t think about it tonight; I’ll think about it tomorrow! I am really grateful for the good luck that there is no slicing-sharp edge (as long as I’m careful) and no pain. To think, I warned everyone about breaking a tooth on the biscotti, and went and broke one on a slice of bread! I’m grateful for irony. I’m grateful there are some dental care options I can call around for tomorrow, and still be able to eat if it takes a few days to get in. I expect I’ll lose the tooth, but that’s ok, it’s one less mercury filling in my mouth. We’ll know more later. It could have been a lot worse.

So Much

Most days I’m just grateful for so much. This morning, it was sunshine after a couple of grey days, and a brush long enough to reach the top of the solar panels after a five-inch snowfall overnight. How did I go thirty years before buying a telescoping brush at long last last winter? And grateful for the snowfall!

Grateful for a Bad Dog saying she was ‘going outside to play in the snow,’ which reminded me that I haven’t gone outside to play in the snow for a very long time. I’ve been forgetting to play! Though I’m sure she meant she was going outside to work in the snow on the ranch, I went just to play.

Wren had never made a snowman, as far as I know, so we had fun building one together. And by that I mean, I built the snowman, and every time she charged at the snow I was rolling, I threw a snowball for her to chase. Even though the snow was pretty wet, it didn’t hold together as I rolled, so after being bent over for twenty feet rolling the first ball, I decided to make a Wren-sized snowman.

I’m grateful she chose to eat the vegetables first, red cabbage lips and a carrot nose, so I could eat the M&Ms.

She hauls her carrot prize a few feet away to devour in peace.
Proud retriever of a snowball, the only thing I’ve thrown for her in six months that she reliably brings back!
And, practice makes perfect. I’ve solved the challenge of the sourdough loaf, I think, though I’ll have to wait til I cut it open in the morning to know for sure. The main difference is not trying to let it rise overnight as the instructions call for, but to mix the dough first thing in the morning, and bake in the evening. Altitude makes such a difference with baked goods, and I’m just figuring out how to compensate for significantly lower atmospheric pressure at 6800′ with bread. I’m grateful for finally beginning to understand the wisdom of opportunity inherent in failure: “If we can remember that life is a messy playground filled with opportunities to grow, cry, laugh, fail, succeed, love, lose, win, and learn, then we can more easily let go of our fears of imperfection and insecurities, and focus on simply doing our best…” (Daily guidance 12.29.22, Laura Bartels, Mindful Life Community)

Zoom Cooking with Amy

I spent the day cooking. I’m grateful for the strength and energy to cook all day. I cooked down black beans with roasted tomatoes and onions left from the garden, and some oregano from the sunroom. Then rolled up a bean and cheese burrito with sour cream and fermented hot sauce for lunch. For dinner, Amy and I made Bello’s cheesy potato bread, and loaded sweet potatoes.

While the sweet potatoes were baking, we chopped red cabbage, drained garbanzo beans, tossed in some spices, then roasted that mix too. Toward the end of cooking we mixed in some chopped pecans. I forgot the dried cranberries! They were sitting on the counter but I glanced right past them. A tahini dressing with balsamic, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder topped the plate. Pretty easy. So delicious. A successful Instagram recipe. And lots of leftovers!

But the day began and ended with bread. This sourdough is so simple, so delicious! Mix a shaggy dough first thing in the morning, let it rise an hour, fold it four times, let it rise eight-ten hours, then four-fold it again and shape into loaves. Another hour and a half rise under a flour-dusted tea towel, and into the oven at 450℉. I’m grateful for all the delicious food I concocted today, for the kitchen, tools, fuel, and time to do so; and for Amy and our time together. I’m grateful for the contentment that settles over me more completely as time goes by: for the dawning recognition that I am enough, just the way I am. It’s taken a long, long time to get here. Some people are just born with it, but for others of us it takes a lifetime of letting go to finally arrive at peace with who we are.


Sourdough. I’ve mentioned it before, but, in that way that we spiral back to the same place, we deepen our understanding with each revolution, I understand sourdough, and dough in general, much better now, having practiced with it; as a potter with clay, to comprehend its texture, properties, behavior. It’s a living thing, which I knew, but now I know better. 

My sourdough starter, which I’ve been using for … how many, Ruthie? at least six years, went… well, sour. I left it for so long in the fridge, slid it to the back in recent months after keeping it thriving for years. When I remembered and pulled it forward, liquid on top was more than usual, grey, and stinky! It smelled awful. I poured it off down the drain, and rinsed a couple of times with fresh, clear water. I left half an inch of fresh cold water on top of the fairly firm sponge, let it sit for a day, rinsed again, and fed it by mixing in equal parts flour and water. For the past week, I’ve been pouring off discard, a new concept to me (the enemy of learning is the presumption of knowledge), and baking with it.

Twice I’ve made sourdough biscuits, with great success. Sourdough pizza crust was a winner, and half of that dough is in the freezer to see if it works as well later.

The recipe suggests ‘pizza dough seasoning,’ but I used Penzey’s Frozen Pizza Seasoning, just a couple teaspoons in the dough.

Tonight is sourdough focaccia.

Bedtime, and the focaccia dough rests covered in the cold mudroom overnight. Can hardly wait til tomorrow to bake it!

Tomorrow is Boyz Lunch, the first of the season. It is finally warm enough to lunch outside, relaxed, without too many layers, sun-warmed flagstone patio, shade cast from the umbrella sufficient only to dim the glare of that low spring sun, not enough to put us in shadow; we will be warm with lunch in our sweatshirts and ballcaps. Spring is on its way, and how we’ll welcome it, a longlost friend, respite, color, joy.

Crusty Snow

We discovered a new tree today, one I’ve never noticed before, or don’t remember if I ever did.

Today I’m grateful for crusty snow, allowing a different type of walk through the woods than usual. I skirt the trees, off trail, walking an uneven path along drip lines, where shallow crusty snow meets frozen juniper duff, picking my way carefully to avoid punching through unsupportive crust over deeper snow, aimlessly following the dog’s nose; the cat Topaz both follows and leads, intermittently running up trees. I’m always eyeing these trees: which can go altogether, and which can simply be trimmed, an ongoing fire mitigation and path pruning exercise.

Stepping along atop snow crust has its own peculiar charms, or there would rarely be reason to do it. The simplest way to explain it is to say it’s fun! How well can I gauge the crust’s strength step by step? How far can I walk without punching through with an uncomfortable jolt that sends snow down into the sides of my shoes? It’s a game of chance, and carries a similar allure to any other gamble; though the satisfaction is purely mental, and the risk of injury is real.

I’m grateful for Topaz who loves our off-trail rambles.
I love how she rockets up a tree, hangs out demurely for awhile, then flows down the trunk.

We explored until I was too hungry to continue then turned home, a well-earned hour of reality after a morning at the desk, a quotidian adventure with cat and dog, discovering new trees to climb and photograph, lifting our legs high to step over sticks and sagebrush, giving our hips and thighs good exercise. 

I’m grateful when I remember to do the things that bring home to me why I chose this place to be home.

I’m grateful for the first crocus tips up yesterday, and today other tiny bulb shoots as well. Spring is coming!
I’m grateful for lunch after our morning adventure: panisse on toast with avocado spread. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for avocados, and where they grew, and who grew them, and how they got to the store, and how from there to my kitchen, and how even those that aren’t ideal for slicing can be salvaged, mushed together with mayonnaise and a pinch of sriracha salt into a gourmet sandwich spread or salad dressing.