Christina Hollis author, Recycling, sourdough bread

Of Cakes and Chain Letters…

 I’ve been keeping the same sourdough starter going for nearly a year. It makes incredible bread, but to keep it going I have to feed it regularly with flour and water, throwing away the excess on days I don’t need to bake. This always seems such a waste. Yesterday, I asked my sister if she’d like to take on my next batch of excess starter, to save me having to throw it away. She responded with news of the school-gate phenomenon that is ‘Herman the German’.  This is a chain letter in the form  of cake mix – you take on the responsibility of a fancier version of my own sourdough starter, giving the excess batter away and baking a Friendship fruit cake with the remainder.  The cake sounded a good way to use up my own excess starter on the days I don’t need to make bread, so I tried it out. It was delicious, so that’s taken a weight off my mind (even if it has moved straight to my hips). While looking up the recipe online, I came across this on the web. It’s the only good example of a chain letter I’ve ever seen – unless you count ‘Herman the German’!  Please pass it on to any idealistic teenager – or pin it up in plain sight as I have. It’s a reminder of how (relatively) easy our lives are now and how we could all save a bit of energy here and there. 
       The Green Thing
          In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. 
       The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”
        The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today.  Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”
           She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.  So they really were recycled.
            But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
            We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
             But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
             Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind.  We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.  Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
             Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
              In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.
             When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.  Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.  We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
             But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.
            We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
            But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
            Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.  And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
           But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
            Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartass young person.
I hope that piece made you smile, but there is a serious point. Please feel free to pass it on, like Herman the German!

Bakery Bits, Christina Hollis author, sourdough bread

Something Warm For A Cold Day

Sourdough Starter
Proving Basket (Bakery Bits)
It’s been a very mild start to the year. That’s both a relief after last January’s relentless snow, and a reminder that, for whatever reason, our seasons aren’t as predictable as they once were. The weekend was grey and gritty, with ferocious winds. It was a good excuse to make soup, and that always cries out for something crisp and home-made to go with it. I decided on sourdough bread. The name isn’t very attractive, but it’s delicious and very filling. Making it is an easy, although longwinded, process. I have a sourdough culture of wild yeast I’ve kept going since last year, which gives the bread a unique flavour. To make two big loaves, last thing at night I put about a pound of bread-making flour in a big bowl, add a ladleful of my sourdough starter and about a pint of warm water. After stirring this together I cover the bowl with cling film and leave it overnight in the kitchen to start fermenting. Next morning it will have bubbled up, ready to have another one and a quarter pounds of bread making flour added, together with a couple of teaspoons of salt. My amounts are bit vague as all flours absorb different amounts of liquid. If you’ve made bread yourself, you’ll know it’s difficult to be precise!  You want quite a soft, sticky dough to begin with. Knead it well for ten minutes (this is a good point to work off all those work-in-progress frustrations). Then persuade the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave it to rise for an hour. Tip it out, and using the minimum amount of flour that will stop the dough sticking to the table, knead it for a few more minutes. Cover and leave it to rise for another hour. Repeat this brief kneading and hour-long rising cycle twice more, then gently deflate the risen dough a final time and shape it into two or more loaves. These will be too soft to support their own weight so I put them in proving baskets (Bakery Bits online shop will be the ruin of me!) for two or three hours, until the loaves have doubled in size. To cook the bread, I heat a heavy metal tray in the oven at maximum heat then, as fast as possible, ease the dough out of the baskets and onto the hot baking tray, give it quick spray of water, slash the tops and bake for ten minutes. Then I have a quick look at them – if they’re still pale I turn the temperature down to 200 degrees Centigrade(170 degrees fan). If brown,  the heat’s reduced to 180 degrees Centigrade (160 degrees fan) and they’re cooked for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. This bread has got enough character and flavour to be enjoyed as it is, but goes perfectly with soup and is even better spread with butter. Enjoy!