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We are living in stressful times. I suppose every generation can say that, but currently a worldwide pandemic has added an extra layer of stress to the lives of most people. Dinner Table Doctor has always seen patients for stress-related issues, but the amount has skyrocketed in the last year. I have shared his take on anxiety and depression in previous posts, but I haven’t shared much about what we do ourselves in order to battle anxiety. Eating a mostly healthy diet and remaining active, as well as exercising every day are all important, but so is having some sort of outlet. A personal hobby or interest goes a long way in dealing with stress.
DTD and I love to spend time on our kitchen. As you know, cooking and baking are very important activities for both of us, and have definitely become a main method of strengthening our mental health. We like to try new recipes and to make comforting old standby dishes. During this pandemic we have expanded our cooking experiences to include making sourdough bread, ricotta cheese, basket cheese, limoncello, mead, vanilla, and infused vodka. Unlike trying a new recipe for a meal, which is always exciting, these are kitchen projects that take a little time. Doing our research and gathering supplies are part of the entertainment. The many resources that exist online mean we have an abundance of knowledge at our fingertips. The main challenge is narrowing down the information so we can move forward to the creation stage. Another difficulty is waiting to enjoy the fruits of our labor in some cases, since a few of these projects take several months to complete. Each endeavor continues to be fun and a great, albeit brief, distraction from the frightening things happening in our country and world. Temporary distractions are sometimes necessary in order to retain some semblance of normalcy and sanity. I’m going to highlight each of these happy little projects, in case you’re interested in adding them to your own mental health routine. Today we start with sourdough bread.
This is actually DTD’s favorite new hobby in that he’s the one who primarily makes the bread and I’m more of a helper. It is MY favorite new hobby to actually EAT the bread, so we make the perfect team! We learned from our Blue Zone cookbook that true sourdough bread is much healthier than plain old white bread, and now we also know it is far tastier. Some of you may be thinking, like I was, that sourdough bread is too strong for your taste. I have since learned, however, that it doesn’t have to have a strong sour taste. So much depends on your starter (homemade fermented yeast), and everyone’s is quite different. Baking sourdough bread is a process, and your starter becomes like a little pet who you care for and even make arrangements for when you travel. It’s very entertaining and the resulting bread is fabulous. If this is a hobby you’re interested in, here are a few tips to help you get started.
First, check out some YouTube videos and websites on making your own starter, which is the fermented yeast you will use when baking your bread. You can actually purchase a sourdough starter, but that takes some of the fun out of the hobby! It’s relatively easy to make as long as you’re patient. It is simply flour and water. Also, if you know someone who makes sourdough bread, they can give you a starter, because they probably dispose of a certain amount each week anyway. A starter must be maintained and “fed” on a regular basis to keep it fresh. To do this, you discard half of it and then add new flour and water. (There are many recipes you can use sourdough discard for, but a lot of folks just throw it in the trash, which means they could give it to you instead.) We received our starter from some dear friends and now both husbands constantly compare notes on their latest bread creations, which is a lovely and healthy competition! If I sound like I’m speaking a foreign language, just do a little research and it will all become clear…this should help:
This is also a helpful video: 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Sourdough Bakers Make
Here are some supplies we use all the time when baking bread:
This book has helped DTD immensely in his sourdough baking as well as in giving him many other baking projects like pizza dough. I highly recommend it as a good starting point and reference tool. Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast
You’re going to need a scale, because most of the bread recipes you find in books or online use grams for measurement and you want to be exact when baking. Get a long scale like this one, so you can see the digits even when you have a giant bowl on it. Escali Kitchen Scale
Some bread proofing baskets are helpful and the ones with the liners are a heck of a lot easier to use. Bread Proofing Baskets
A bread lame is a stainless steel blade to cut those fancy designs into your loaf. This makes a nice gift for a baker! Bread Bakers Lame Slashing Tool
A Dutch oven is also wonderful for baking bread. These last forever and can be used to cook pretty much anything- we found both of ours at thrift stores. You need a good size pot so your bread can expand in the oven. Dutch Oven
A lovely fact about baking sourdough bread is that you really don’t have to invest much money into your hobby. All of these items make nice gifts, so you could even encourage someone you love to start this pursuit by giving them a starter pack and then you can keep adding to it when holidays roll around and you’re looking for a good gift. Plus you can eat the results of their labor! Seriously, look at the magnificent creations DTD has made since he found his bread hobby!
Soon I’ll write about our other new kitchen creations. Subscribe to my blog and follow me on Facebook and Instagram so you never miss a post! Feel free to share and comment.