coming home

March 27, 2017 § 3 Comments

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Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.   Gloria Steinem

How do I start. 1 year, 9 months and 3 continents have gone by since I was last here. After many false starts and false promises I find myself cross legged on the couch in my Melbourne suburb home and ready to share a story. The windows are open and autumn is rolling in across the busy streets right up to our front door. And by god does it feel good! Not only to be here again, but to feel a sense of coming home – settled.

It recently dawned on me that it is exactly 3 years ago to this day that I made the decision to leave Australia in search of a dream.

I was living in Darwin and had gone to Bali to do a yoga teacher training course. Some whimsical desire to get away from it all and move from my head and into my heart. I never had the intention of becoming a yoga teacher, I just wanted to go away for a month, do lots of yoga and explore my mind – that inner world – sweep it out, open the windows, give it a good air and take the duster to it.

One morning, in a little seaside village of Bali, I found myself in a cafe where you could sit on top of the rice fields, eat organic eggs and watch the golden light rise over the sound of the roosters. Dark clouds were brewing in the east and my heart was dancing. I realised what kind of a negative state of mind I had been in in Darwin. I was reeling from a recent break up and stressed and anxious in my job. The weight of it only seemed to dawn on my once I saw again how things could be good. 

With the morning sun on my face, my mind drifted to the previous day when I had stopped to watch an old man painting the gate at the guest house where I was staying.  It wasn’t a huge gate by any standards, but it had taken him two whole days to complete. He sat there in such concentration, with steady slow even brush strokes, totally absorbed in his task. The man who painted the gate became my inspiration, my guru, I decided I wanted to be more like him – to be more present, to be more absorbed and joyous in each task, to love each daily ritual. 

Because it is my nature to up and leave when inspiration hits and this was no exception to the norm, I started dreaming of my escape. I would quit my job back in Darwin and become… well I didn’t know what… maybe a yoga teacher?

The idea I had planted must have taken hold. Within that very same week one of my fellow students approached me with an offer to teach yoga in her women’s surf school on the west coast of France!

It didn’t take me long to come back to her with a loud and resounding YES!

You see, I had always wanted to learn another language. Not just to get by with a few words but to really know another language. For about a year I had been taking evening French classes with the idea that I would one day move to France and make this dream a reality. How elegantly life seemed to weave itself into place.

I decided I would take a year off, move to France, teach Yoga in the surf school and enlist myself into French classes. I would devote a whole year to learning French!

Little did I know that no more than 6 months later, life would continue on its mysterious path and in some intertwined and serendipitous twist of fate, I would meet and fall in love with a French painter. His name was Jon. When Jon was young he had a map of the world on his desk. In the bottom right hand corner was Australia. For any reason he spent a great deal of time when he should have otherwise been doing his homework looking at it. His eyes would drift through Europe to Africa, South East Asia and come to rest on that island continent straddling the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. He would wonder what the seemingly empty country draped by sea was like. Ever since, he dreamed of visiting one day.

By the time we met I had forgotten about the old man in Bali  but in those early days Jon would tell me how he loved the work he did. How painting was a kind of meditation for him where his mind was set free through the labour of his tasks. I respect him deeply for this. In his beautiful and broken English he would say. “I love doing hand jobs”. I would try to hide my smile. I never did want to correct him when his English was muddled, because as well as being sometimes hilarious and enormously cute, it offered a peek into the structure of the language I was trying to learn.

It wasn’t until recently that I remembered the old man who painted the gate and I realised the poetry of it all. Pay attention to your dreams. Dreaming after all is a form of planning.

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wild sourdough bread

November 3, 2011 § 3 Comments

I had a sourdough starter given to me from a friend who had been given it from someone else who had inherited it from his mother. The original was rumored to be 30 years old or so the story goes, and no wonder it made such lovely bread. It wasn’t my first, I had inherited others and made some myself but I was never devoted enough to go the distance as travels would take me here and there and houses were often new. Needless to say, a lot of them got lost or perished along the way. But during their various lives spent with me, they all became well-loved members of the family.

Even though my descendent of the 30 year old starter had not been in my life more than four months it was no exception, it had worn a comfortable place in my heart. But one day it mysteriously disappeared, the little jar where it sat dormant in the fridge was gone without a trace. My reaction was one of somewhat panic. The mysteriousness made it all the more tormenting. I felt I had lost a wise old friend.

After some lonely days left yearning for some dough to stir and knead and bake and smell, I pulled myself together to start again, from scratch, to see what kind of a beast this spring Melbourne air would bring to a culture. Also, I have been wanting to post a recipe on sourdough for sometime now but never knew quite where to start… I guess at the very beginning is best.

Sourdough is pretty much a way of making bread without conventional yeast, instead you use natural yeasts harnessed from the air. And thats what is so very wonderful about it, every culture is unique taking the native variety that comes with the location.

How to make sourdough bread

The starter

Place 1 cup flour (I like using spelt or rye, but any wholemeal flour will do) and 1 cup water in a large wide-mouthed jar, stir well and let it sit, covered with a muslin cloth, for about 4-6 days or until it starts to bubble. During this time you must stir it at least once a day, twice is better – once in the morning and once in the evening. When it bubbles and starts to rise in the jar you should notice it has a nice sour smell. You can now add 1 tablespoon of flour every day for 3 or 4 days and continue stirring as before. It should get more bubbly and be doubling in size between feeds. Now you know it is ready and you can either feed it one last time and store in the fridge with a muslin cloth covering the jar or begin making your bread.

When storing the starter in the fridge it is best to feed it about 2 – 3 Tbsp of flour and a dash of water twice a week, it should remain the consistency of a thick paste or very wet dough. It will last in the fridge for about 3 weeks without being fed but might need a bit of extra feeding and stirring to get it happily bubbly again. You will get a feel for it as you go along.

The bread
The foundation for this recipe comes from another old friend Jenny, who gave me my very first sourdough culture about 5 years ago.

First you will need to empty the sourdough starter into a large bowl. Here its best to use a porcelain non reactive bowl. Stir in 1 cup water and 1 cup flour (again I like to use spelt or rye, but you can use any flour, or any combination of flours). Return half the mixture back into your jar, cover with your muslin cloth and return to the fridge for next time. Let what is left in the bowl sit for 6 – 12 hours. I usually cover it with a plate to prevent anything falling in.

When it is active and bubbly again, add another cup flour and water, mixing well. Allow to rest for another 6 – 12 hours (the colder the weather the longer it will need). Once active for a final time, its ready to make your bread!! (note if you used a starter that had been left in the fridge unfed  for more than a week it might need one more feed at this stage to get it really bubbly and happy again). You should now have roughly 2 cups of mixture.

The final stage
To your mixture add, 1 cup water, ~ 3 – 3  1/2 cups flour and 1 tsp salt. Stir until combined. Then knead for 10 minutes adding more flour as needed.

Richard Bertinet has a wonderful technique for kneading, really just the French way, but he is where I discovered it. I found a rather unglamorous you-tube demonstration here. You will need a slightly wetter dough than my recipe, so add less flour. Also, I have never had success with this kneading method when I have used rye. A combination of spelt and wheat or all wheat seems to work best. I think high gluten is important here. You will end up with a more chewy result with this technique but its a bit more tricky so it might be best to master the basic sourdough before moving into complicating ways of kneading.

Once kneaded into a smooth dough, place into a greased and lightly floured bread tin and allow to rise covered with a damp cloth or plastic bag, until it doubles in size. This is usually between 6 and 12 hours depending on the temperature. Hot weather will make it rise a lot faster. You also have to be careful you don’t let it over rise as you will notice it starts sinking again.

Finally, bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°C/390°F for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped.

For example
Fri AM – Feed and split
Fri PM – Feed
Sat AM – Knead and put in tin
Sat PM – Bake 

For further reading on sourdough see Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Sandor Ellix Katz Wild Fermentation 

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