Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finding Wild Yeast

by Angel Jackson

I have recently gotten back into baking bread for my family.  Years ago I made bread all the time but with some health issues of my own causing me to go gluten free 3.5 years ago I gave up bread making and the the bread machine sat in our basement untouched.  A few months ago I remembered that I like making bread whether I eat it or not and I care that my family has good bread so I cleared some space on the counter and brought the old beast up.  Since returning to the kitchen it has refused (out of pure spite from being forced into a dungeon for years) to make a good whole wheat loaf.  Without fail, if I bake a whole wheat loaf in the bread maker it does not rise or wont rise fully, here is today's loaf.

No it's not supposed to be a quick bread!

Fortunately my family is willing to eat dense bread probably since every so often I make it by hand and it rises fine.  I have experimented this year with the 5 minute-no knead bread which has worked beautifully in any combination of white or whole wheat and was a fun new way to make bread, but its not a sandwich loaf. The boys like it most when I forget about the second rise and the dough over-rises all over the counter and drips on the floor.

To try to treat the bread machine as a machine with scientific properties instead of a true beast I started to chip away at the different things that might be going wrong with the loaf.  The boys got involved at this point wanting to know what exactly is yeast and how does it work.  Fortunately YouTube had a nice video for this.  As they watched the video I found the most basic bread recipe I could using boring old white flour and newly purchased yeast from whole foods.  I actually have never purchased yeast there so I thought I would try a new kind.

Now I had changed two factors something I was told never to do in high school science classes but hey new flour and new yeast and ---wait for it, that's right a big puffy all baked in the bread machine white loaf.  Ah well it must have been the yeast.  No, not the yeast, as the loaf you see at the top was the very next loaf.  My 9 year old saw it and said "wait what happened I thought it was the yeast". At which point I decide to abandon all science call the machine a true beast and learn how to make sourdough bread.

Why sourdough, I don't know just something I have always wanted to do and why not at this point.

That is when I come across "wild yeast", this is new to me but as I have now read, and somewhat knew, yeast is everywhere (NOT JUST IN THE GROCERY STORE under the name Fleischmann) and lives on all flour.  This yeast, however, is different than store bought yeast.

Yeast bought in the store will "proof" in a matter of minutes if put in warm water with some sugar. It will stay good in its packets or jars with no attention from us (other than a recommendation to store it in the fridge and don't keep it "too" long).   It doesn't take a lot of work and works well and quick, but you have to go to a store to buy it.

Wild yeast is the opposite.  It's everywhere you don't need to go anywhere to buy it but you do need to find it.  Once you find a place you think will have some you need to spend 5 days feeding it and letting it proof, sometimes this process fails and you need to start again.  Once it has proofed you can then spend a lifetime or many lifetimes caring for it, keeping it alive and vital.  If wild yeast is given the right conditions and time it will come to life and--make sourdough bread:).

I do not come from a family where a live starter was fed and cared for generation after generation and passed down to me.  No, this one I am going to have to start on my own and why not now.

Trying to proof wild yeast (my sourdough starter)

Finding wild yeast is more to me than a bread starter though, as you have probably gathered.  For me, finding wild yeast is the moment with my family where we discover something that has been there all the time, something we did not even know existed but we give it the right time and conditions and we see it come to life.  It is truly my favorite times.  It's the natural places we discover only a few miles from our house that we never knew were there.  It is the mulberry or goldfinch posts I made last year. It is Ian's writing passion. It is my older son's drawing or my younger son's singing.  It is spending enough time together to see things come to life.  It is paying attention to what is actually going on.  I am looking forward to finding wild yeast in 2016!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Montgomery and Montgomery, Chapter One

This is the first story of the Montgomery and Montgomery series I mentioned in a previous post. Read more about how it connects with Family Learning Adventures here.

And I'm looking for feedback! Especially if you're a parent of a 4-10 year-old, or or if you spend time with kids that age. Over the last 15 months I've been telling my kids a series of stories about Montgomery the Moose and Montgomery the Mouse, two characters who get up to many surreal adventures including a whole cast of characters. I've started to type up a few of the hundreds I've told, and would love you to try the first one out on your kids, and give me genuine feedback if you do. Did they like it? If so, what did they like? If not, why do you think that was? Did you enjoy reading it to them? Did they read it themselves? Would this be better with illustrations? As a picture book or just occasional illustrations? Could you imagine reading a whole series of these stories with your kids? Feel free to post your thoughts below, or email them to And if you do read this to your kids, THANK YOU!


Chapter One

Deep in the woods in Maine, Montgomery the Moose was looking for his favorite food - chocolate.

He often found some small pieces - or even giant candy bars - when humans stayed in the woods in strange fabric houses. They must not like the houses very much, he thought, because they always took them away after a day or two. Sometimes when the humans were away from their houses, he would try to go into one to see what they were like inside, but it never really worked; he tried going through the doors that people went through, but he couldn't seem to open them. He pushed, but the whole house would move. So he pushed again, and it moved some more. So he pushed again, and this time the whole house collapsed. Then it was quite a fun thing to walk on - very soft and made fun popping noises.

But today he couldn't find any small fabric houses, so he just sniffed around where he'd seen houses before. He sniffed the ground and found some nuts and raisins, so he thought he might find some chocolate chips nearby. So he sniffed some more and found some.

He opened his mouth to gobble them up.


What was that? 

"Don't eat me! Please!"

Montgomery panicked. The chocolate chips were talking! He got so scared he jumped up in the air. But since moose don't jump very often, they don't know how to land, so he collapsed in a heap on a nearby bush and smushed it down into a flat cushion.

"I didn't mean to scare you. Sorry," the voice said.

From his new position on the bush cushion, Montgomery focused his eyes and looked over to where the voice was coming from. He saw some chocolate chips, but he also saw something else; a small, white mouse.

"It's just - you were about to eat me," the mouse said. "And I don't really want to be eaten."

"No, neither do I," said Montgomery. "And I wouldn't really want to eat you either -"


"- I was just trying to eat those yummy chocolate chips that people leave for me."

"Ooh, me too!" the mouse said. "Aren't they good? I knew I'd find some here because I smelled some nuts and raisins, and they usually go together."

Montgomery nodded. He could tell he'd found someone like him.

"Would you like me to take you somewhere where there's always chocolate?" offered the mouse.

"Yes, please!" Montgomery replied. "Is it around here?"

"Pretty close. Well, close for you, I suppose - you have much longer legs than me. Maybe, if you wouldn't mind, I could ride on your back to get there?" he asked.

"Yes, of course," said Montgomery, happy to make a new friend.

The small creature climbed up Montgomery's fur and onto his back, eventually settling on his head. He felt comfortable and warm in his fur, and Montgomery was happy to have him there. As the creature told him which direction to go to find chocolate, Montgomery felt glad he had met his new friend, and wanted to learn more about him.

"I've never see a creature like you before; what kind of creature are you?"

"I'm a mouse," replied the mouse. "What kind of creature are you?"

"No, I'm a moose," Montgomery replied. "You're not a moose; you're way too small!"

"No, I'm a mouse," the mouse replied. "You're not a mouse; you're way too big!"

"Wait - what did you say?" they both asked at the same time.

"Moose!" "Mouse!" they spoke over each other again.

"Ohhhhhhh..." they both said.

"Well, my name is Montgomery," said the mouse. "What's yours?"

"Wait, how did you know my name?" Montgomery asked.

"What?" asked the mouse. "I said my name is Montgomery. What's yours?"

"Your name is Montgomery the Mouse?" Montgomery asked, almost unable to believe it.

"Yes," Montgomery the Mouse answered, losing patience. "Now that we've got that figured out, what's your name?"

"My name's Montgomery too," Montgomery the Moose replied.

Montgomery the Mouse didn't say anything for a few seconds.

"What?" he asked finally.

"My name is Montgomery the Moose."

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Mouse laughed. "I don't believe it! That's crazy!"

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Moose laughed. "That is crazy..."

As they continued walking, with Montgomery the Mouse pointing the way, they kept laughing at the coincidence; anytime there was silence, one of them would giggle a little, and then before they could stop it they'd both be laughing so much that a few times Montgomery the Mouse fell off Montgomery the Moose's head and tumbled all the way to the ground. After making sure he was OK, they'd both start laughing again, and by the time they got where they were going it was starting to get dark.

"OK, here we are, Montgomery the Moose," said Montgomery the Mouse, emphasizing his name and pointing at a series of wood cabins facing a lake.

"Thank you, Montgomery the Mouse," said Montgomery the Moose, returning the favor. "But I don't understand, where's the chocolate?"

"It's inside these," Montgomery the Mouse replied. And now that it's getting dark, that's the best time to look. We find a place without lights on, and then go inside."

"But how do we get in?"

"Simple - there are always holes somewhere," Montgomery the Mouse said. Look, I'll show you," he said, sensing the doubt in Montgomery the Moose's voice.

He led them both around the side of a cabin without lights on, and climbed down from Montgomery's back, running straight up to the side of the building, and in through a small hole. He came back ten seconds later, saying "Yep, this is a good one. There's lots of chocolate in here."

"But I don't think I'll fit through that hole," Montgomery the Moose said.

"Well, you might be right. What I do when it's a tight squeeze is to just run fast at the hole, and before I know it, I'm through the hole and on the other side," his new friend said. "I'll go back in and get us some chocolate." He ran back through the hole.

As Montgomery the Moose waited, he thought about what his friend said. "Hmm, that hole does look like it would be a tight squeeze," he thought to himself. "And I can run pretty fast..."

He backed up, and squinted his eyes as he focused on the small hole at the bottom of the cabin's wall. Then he closed his eyes and ran right towards it, tipping his head down to make sure his big antlers didn't stop him from squeezing through the hole.


Montgomery the Mouse stood motionless in shock as he looked at the rubble in front of him. The chocolate he'd been holding in his paw dropped, and more fell out of his mouth.

Montgomery the Moose opened his eyes and was thrilled to discover he'd made it through the hole and was standing right in the cabin's kitchen.

"Wow, you were right!" he said to his new friend. "That was easier than I thought!"

Montgomery the Mouse didn't know what to say, and stood still in shock.

"Ooooh, chocolate," Montgomery the Moose said and started munching off the floor. After a minute of eating, he looked around while his friend still couldn't move. "Wow, they left this kitchen a mess, didn't they? And look at that hole! How did I think I wouldn't make it through that? It's much bigger than it looked on the outside!"