January 20, 2016

adventures in sourdough

The desire to bake bread started out of curiosity. I was curious to know, to understand, how easy or difficult it could be to make your own loaf. It was apparent to me that bread was devised from a short list of simple ingredients so my assumption was that it couldn't be that challenging. One day, about five years ago, my curiosity got the best of me and I started experimenting. First, I admit, I did much reading, researching and recipe combing. I wanted to make French baguettes and I threw myself into the process with much gusto because really, how could one go wrong with a little water, flour and yeast? Very. My dough was soupy, it barely rose (though I wonder now if I even gave it the time?), my baguettes were misshapen, and though there was a lovely baked bread aroma filling my apartment, these bread loaves were as hard as concrete when I finally pulled them from the oven.

I was confused but not dismayed. On the recommendation of my mother I turned to Julia Child and her words on making bread. From there something clicked and when I went back to the kneading board my second attempt bore baguettes. Since then my bread game is continually improving and naturally at some point I started getting curious about sourdough. The idea of capturing wild yeast from the air around us that will, in turn, leaven bread is pure magic to me. I needed to take part in this science project in my own home. Again, I turned to the internet spending many hours reading and watching videos of how to get the sourdough process started. I was especially charmed and inspired by Marie of My Life In Sourdough.

There were so many things that I learned along the way, most importantly that there is no one exact way or exact science to this. Starting a sourdough starter is an experiment, one so easy and fun it may make you feel like you are in the 7th grade Science Fair again. I started mine one day late last summer. I took a ball jar (the one in the photo above), added a half cup of water and a half cup of whole grain flour, mixed it all up and topped the jar with a bit of cheesecloth screwed down under the cap ring. I placed it on top of the refrigerator and excitedly revisited it the next day to smell it and check it out for any changes. There were none. I added a 1/4 cup of each flour and water, stirred and replaced the cheesecloth. I did this every day for a week, sometimes pouring out some of the mix when the jar got too close to full, but I never noticed the yeasty/sour smell and never really saw any bubbles. It was summer in Georgia and the house was sealed up with the air conditioning going, so I started leaving the jar outside for a while each morning before the day grew too hot. I would stare out of the back door at that jar and will it to capture all the wild Georgia yeast flying around out there. And you know what? It did. Finally the magic happened and I had myself a starter! I am proud to say that going on five months later, it is still alive.

Here are some things I can tell you that are not hard fast rules for making a starter.

  • It is not necessary to use all purpose flour to start, though it may get things going faster.
  • It is not necessary to use distilled, spring or room temperature water. I use filtered water from my Britta that is in the refrigerator and have no problems.
  • Most of the instructions I read said the starter would be active in 5 days. Mine took close to two weeks. Don't give up.
  • It is not necessary to discard a portion of the starter each time you feed it, especially if you are taking a portion away to use in a bread dough. Just discard when you feel you have too much to use. Better yet, give some to a friend!
  • The grey water that rises to the top of the starter (called hooch) is perfectly normal and can be stirred back into the starter.
  • Starters do not have to be fed constantly. Most of the time I feed my starter every other it day and it does just fine. Most importantly notice if the starter looks active and bubbles are forming and that it has that wonderfully funky sourdough smell.

And so here is my recipe for a sourdough loaf...

Take one cup of starter, one cup of water and one cup of flour and mix together in a large mixing bowl until you have a batter not unlike what you would expect for pancakes. Let this sit anywhere from 1.5 hours to overnight covered tightly with plastic wrap.

When you are ready add two more cups of flour plus a healthy pinch of salt to the "batter" and stir until combined and dough-like. Turn it out onto a floured surface and let it rest while you clean out the bowl. When the bowl is clean, rub the inside of it with a bit of olive oil, knead the dough into a ball, place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic to rise for another 1-2 hours.

Once risen, punch the dough down onto the floured surface, knead again, shape into desired loaf style (I chose a small boule), cover with a tea towel and let rise again 1-2 hours. Heat the oven to 450* and when ready score the top of the loaf and slide it into the oven on a baking sheet or directly onto a baking stone. Bake for 20 minutes, remove, let cool and enjoy.

January 8, 2016

back to my roots

I haven't dyed my hair in 16 months and that is, by far, a record. Coloring my hair started around the tender age of 12 and I can count how many times I allowed my natural color to grow in over the course of my adult life on just one hand. And though I noticed my first grey hair while still in high school, that was never the reason for why I chose to dye my hair. Changing the color of my hair was, for me, like changing my outfit, my persona, my style. I tried everything from bleached blonde to blue black and all the shades that fell in between. It was the crowning part in reinventing myself from time to time. After over two decades, it also most definitely became a habit.

Three years ago I finally started to get fed up with the habit. It started feeling more like a chore and an expense in a fight to keep from looking older. Honestly, on the brink of turning 40 I wasn't sure I was ready to look... old. I blogged about it as a way to hold myself to letting my natural hair grow in which, by the way, did not work. I did manage to make it through most of that year and inspired my own mother to ditch the dye but sometime in the Fall I caved for color and got some pretty dramatic lowlights put in. The habit was real and for me, not easy to kick. The year following, I kept the coloring to a minimum but still was highlighting, ombré-ing, and balayage-ing the greys away. Then in the summer of 2014 I relocated.

Changing my surroundings was a huge shake up for me. For the first time every thing in my life felt different. It became a priority, a mission even, to find out what it meant to be myself, authentically, and my hair was absolutely a part of that. In October of 2014 I colored my hair for the last time. After three months of grow-out, I cut off 10 inches. Around the six month mark I started feeling better, more confident about all the silver hair that was shining through. Currently I am at 16 months and have about 7" of silver grown out. Some days I love my gr-ombré and other days I want to chop all the colored hair that is left off. But I'm enjoying my hair long again and not ready to part with more length.

Full disclosure - it feels a little silly writing a post about my hair but I wanted to because I think this is a challenging experience for a lot of women. It certainly was for me and I'm gaining a great deal of insight along the way. This is really about so much more than hair color. It is about accepting who you are, being true to yourself and choosing health over vanity. Sharing stories is inspirational and helps to get through the tough moments. Doing whatever I want with my hair is a privilege and being alive at this time when ideas are being challenged about what "older" women are expected look like is exciting. I remember looking at photographs of my grandmothers at my parents wedding and thinking they both looked so matronly and mature yet they were only in their thirties! It is amazing how far we have come in 40 years. And cheers to the women who have embraced their natural hair color all along with ease and grace!

This is what I can tell you about getting through the grow-out. It's not for the the undecided or uncommitted. You need to be ready to do it and it may take a few tries before you feel like it's the right time. Do it for yourself and don't let other people talk you out of it, most especially your hairdresser. Unless you cut all of your hair off and start with a pixie, you are looking at 1.5 - 2 years or more before your transformation to a total silver fox is complete. This process is lesson in patience and a journey of discovery, embrace it and embrace yourself throughout it. Prepare yourself for the positive feedback. Surprisingly, I have been getting more compliments on my silver hair than any other style or color I have worn in my life. It feels good. Literally. Since I let my hair go natural, it is much softer, shinier and healthier looking. Even the bottom part that still has color. As for looking older? Well, I am. What can I do about it other than try to be as happy and healthy as I can be. This decision to stop chemically treating my hair is a step in that direction.

December 2015 - 15 months of grow-out

There have been a bevy of ladies that I have looked to for moral support and inspiration throughout this trek so far. To name a few key players... Sarah Harris of British Vogue, author and designer, Annika Von Holdt, grey hair adventurer, Susan Paget, stylist and beauty maven, Linda Rodin, models Cindy Joseph, Kristen McMenamy and Yasmina Rossi. And of course I continue to find inspiration on regular basis on Pinterest and from my own mother. In the spirit of it all I'd like to leave you with some images of ladies young and old in all their silver, grey and snowy white glory...

January 1, 2016

hitting reset

The party that is New Year's Eve has never completely charmed me, though the ritual of taking a moment to pause, reflect and look ahead is one I find quite compelling. This year, like many of the years before, New Year's Eve was a late night of work. I came home tired and went straight to bed. Today started slowly. The morning was gray and coming off a week straight of rainy weather, it felt cooler than the previous days. I stayed in bed long enough to watch my fiancé fall back asleep and then left the bed, dressed and went to the market for eggs and black eyed peas. After cooking breakfast (baked eggs over garlicky kale and spinach drizzled with heavy cream and goat cheese) I cleaned up and got to work on a giant pot of broth made from root vegtables, two chicken carcasses and some left over lamb chop bones I had in the freezer from Christmas dinner. Once that was starting to heat, I placed the black eyed peas along with chopped onion and garlic cloves into a crockpot, covering it all with water and set it on high.

Resolutions have never worked well for me though I have noticed a habit forming in the past few years of setting intentions and mapping out goals for my life in the year ahead. This process of manifesting begins in early December and continues right through into the coming year. I believe I am getting better at it at each go-around. Last year I was filled with a lot of ideas and plans that mainly centered around putting more time and energy into Forged & Found, my place to be creative. Dedicating more time to throwing pottery and sharing my work became my priority. I chose to be confident and give it my all and see what kind of feedback I received from not only other people but from the universe. I was exposing a part of myself as a test to see if I had the desire and commitment to really express myself as an artist and not just think about or talk about myself as one. A lot of wonderful, positive things came from doing that and I am happy to continue on this creative journey.

This past year there were a few things that I touched on that I would like to revisit and go deeper with. I spent a good amount of time searching for healing. I was and am still seeking an antidote for a skin issue and allergies I have been dealing with for sometime now. I deeply feel the root of this particular problem starts with a digestive issue and I plan to continue experimenting with different supplements, diets and detoxing practices. I also plan on returning to the yoga mat, something I definitely feel the benefits from when I practice regularly. Tomorrow I start a 30 day yoga practice with the help of an online mentor. I hope this daily ritual will help to reset things - my way of thinking and feeling, cutting loose some of my poorer habits and moving toward being the best, most authentic version of myself.

January is my month to sort out what will not support me in this reset and to consciously bring in what will. I have found great inspiration from the lovely Kirsten Rickert of Magnesium Blue and the social media fast she is taking on during the first month of this year. I have decided to join in with her. I ditched Facebook in 2010 when I realized I was pretty much addicted to it. The final straw was stumbling across some information about someone in the newsfeed that I wish I hadn't read. Then and there I deleted my account and never looked back. Presently I feel it's time to check in with myself and break the habit of sometimes spending an embarrassing amount of time looking at my phone, working on Instagram posts, scrolling endlessly through feeds, mindlessly pinning. Instead of waking up and grabbing the phone I want to start seizing the day and pursue more noble pursuits like writing, which makes me incredibly clear-headed and happy. On the flip side of writing there is reading. If I spent the time I waste scrolling through my phone apps on reading, I would have consumed a minimum of 12 novels last year. I look forward to spending as much time as possible developing new skills within my pottery pursuits and designing a new collection for spring. I plan to seriously comb through my belongings, most intensely my clothing and accessories, and pare down to only what fits, flatters and has value because it brings me joy. That is a task I am slightly terrified of, to be honest, but now feels like the right time to tackle it. There are travel plans to be made. There are friends and family to see.

Reset. Intentions. Manifesting. Letting go. Growing.
Happy New Year :)