If you’ve read my bio tag at the bottom of my blog posts then you know that I’m a wannabe Homesteader. I live solidly in the suburbs and really want goats, chickens and rabbits but goats are against our zoning laws, my husband is anti- rabbits unless they are food and our property is up against a fox den so he refuses to start a chicken coop with me. I’m still working on convincing him. However, since I can’t have an animal homestead and my health prevents me from gardening as much as I used to, I contented myself with a CSA membership and as much indoor homesteading I can attempt. I’m working with baby steps right now, though I still have dreams of a slower lifestyle that harken back to a simpler time.
Well, that’s the dream life right? In real life I have very little energy that I have to ration out carefully between homeschooling four 2E kids, being a wife, friend, keeping up this home and just plain old self care. This dream life of mine doesn’t always end up looking like my own unrealistic expectations. Instead, it looks like a jar of apple rinds (from Halloween’s Apple Pie) on a counter with cheesecloth over it in hopes that one day it will turn into apple cider vinegar. It also looks like a freezer full of Strawberries from a summer harvest that are waiting to be turned into Jam as we need it. It looks like stacks of wood for a wood burning fireplace that we (my husband, his friend and my kids) chopped in the backyard when the storm last year knocked over a dead tree. But most deliciously my real life homesteading dreams have meant cooking from scratch and using as much from each ingredient as possible. Like turning that Sunday roast chicken dinner and a collection of kitchen scraps (that I collect in my freezer until I have enough) into bone broth or using up old bread as bread crumbs or stuffing.
But at its absolute best, it has meant baking.
Again I really don’t have a lot of energy thanks to my chronic illnesses. I probably only actually cook two to three times a week right now because I’m too exhausted past that. On the other days we eat leftovers or cold cereal, my kids cook or my husband cooks. On the really busy/bad days we do fast food. Meh, it’s a balance of sorts. I wish I could do more but right now I can’t. I rely heavily on my instant pot and bursts of energy that leave me with canned goods to use. Yet even with this lack of energy I love to bake. It’s a real joy for me and very calming to work my frustrations out on a piece of dough and end up with a wonderfully delicious treat. My favorite thing to bake right now is bread. There is something so satisfying about starting with something as basic as flour, water, salt and yeast only to work with nothing more than time, manhandling and heat and to end up with something that tastes as complex and comforting as bread.
A friend of mine recently ordered King Arthur Flour’s sourdough starter. If you’ve taken the time to gander through my Instagram account you already know that I love to bake and that I’ve been building an affinity for breads over the last year. Now match that growing affinity for baking breads with a love affair of sourdough that goes back to my 3rd grade, NorCal/ Bay Area living self who was introduced to the most amazing sourdough bread on the streets of San Francisco… and well you have me enthusiastically saying yes when a share of the starter was offered.
Now, I have no idea how to keep a starter alive… I’ve never even made Amish Friendship bread, but here I am. It’s been over a month and not only is my starter still alive but I’ve also grown it and shared it with another friend. I may not be able to live the homestead life of my dreams but my wannabe heart is so happy about this.
A few days ago I made sourdough Chocolate Chip cookies using the discard from feeding my starter. I didn’t even know that sourdough chocolate chip cookies were a thing! A few weeks before that I made a delicious semi-whole wheat sourdough loaf that was chewy and complex … even though I messed up the recipe twice because of my inattention to detail while also slightly under baking the whole thing. I had been so afraid to try sourdough bread because of all of the blogs out there that talked about the right way to do it only to find that working with sourdough was far more forgiving than I had originally surmised.
There is so much to learn in the world of baking but for some reason trying my hand at this new skill has felt more like a fun experiment. This experiment is not only delicious, it’s been so helpful to me in my growth as a homeschooler. I’m reminded regularly, and I remember from my own experience, how intimidating homeschooling can seem. Not only before you start but even while in the day to day. Learning how to work with dough in general has reminded me that learning is a process, not just a destination. Speeding through the process doesn’t end well and skipping parts of the process messes up the end results. Baking, like Homeschooling, is a labor of love.
Working with dough has helped me to understand the importance of not just the end but how we get there and the need to feel, smell and touch as we go. It’s also reminded me that nothing is really standardized. Sometimes a recipe can have great reviews and yet I find that it needs just a little more flour or a little more salt. Sometimes a recipe is fantastic but I want to use different flavor profiles so I need to understand the science behind why the ingredients are used in order to substitute appropriately. Figuring out how to gauge what is needed as I’m working is such a huge part of learning how to bake. Adding in Sourdough just brought everything to a whole other level but still the whole process of learning how to bake bread has really helped me to let go of so many of my homeschool related anxieties.
Before I get into any of the specifics mentioned above I just want to point out that according to the experts there is a right way to bake bread and a right way to make sourdough. I’ve read a lot of blogs that talk about failed starters, failed rise, mediocre turn outs… but the truth is that the same can be said of homeschoolers. If you had asked me 7 years ago about homeschooling I would have answered you as a defeated woman. Homeschooling was too hard for me and I was going to outsource my children’s education to the professionals!
However, like with baking there is a difference between the needs of a professional kitchen and grandma’s home baked recipe. There’s a difference between artisan bread that is based on the simplest traditions and just works as an everyday food and a loaf made to sell at the best bakeries. Homeschooling is to education, what Grandma’s kitchen is to the world of baking. Filled with love, tested through patient and not so patient effort, baked especially for the occasion and the foundation of memories that take you back to a simpler time.
Homeschool Baking is recognizing that homeschooling is not just an end point, but a process. You are working with living materials, yeast is not only alive, it also grows with just a little bit of help. It’s a growth that occurs in the intervals, when we are consciously making the best of the situations at hand. It’s taking each day as its own and recognizing the individual needs that are inherent in each individual “starter” whether that means jumping all in right now or slow and long careful working. Becoming a Homeschool Baker is accepting your role in the process. Becoming a Homeschool Baker requires regular attention, effort, patience and time. It recognizes that some needs are more sensitive than others while respecting that the environment itself flavor the final product. Becoming a Homeschool Baker requires trial and error. Learning how to listen and learn and adapt as you go. It sounds difficult at first and everyone has an opinion about it but the truth is that it’s very forgiving if you follow the basic rules and the end result is amazing even when things get a little mixed up.
At it’s foundation the basic homeschooling rules are the same as the baking ones, whether you unschool, follow a specific style or philosophy or eclectically gather materials, at its base the truths don’t change.
- Starters need feeding.
- Ingredients matter.
- Rise time is necessary.
- Kneading takes effort, but it is worth the work.
- The way you cook the dough affects the turn out.
Whether you are bucking tradition and trying to make sourdough brownies, sticking to a more forgiving loaf of no-knead artisanal bread or focusing all of your attention on a festive challah you still need these basic truths. You can choose to go simple or choose to be intricate, the foundations are still the same.
The more I bake bread, the more I realize that to be successful homeschoolers, we have to become Homeschool Bakers.
If you are a long time reader then you’ll recognize that this post is significantly shorter than my usual posts. There’s a reason for that. This is the introduction to a series that will be released every Saturday throughout the month of November and into the beginning of December. Each post will focus on one of the truths of Becoming a Homeschool Baker. Next Saturday, November 9th will be the 1st installment, Feeding the Starter.