Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Newsletter April 2017 Sourdough and a Bad Dog

Email from a Reader

Hello Sharon,
Thank you so much. We received the Baker’s Sampler yesterday.

So far, we sampled the chocolate bread (yay dessert), gingerbread (I really enjoyed the clove) & English muffin-cinnamon (toasted- cut in half as disks, slathered in yes, pasture-raised butter).

Your newsletter post about including animal fat in the bread was super-inspiring. The fat lends a singular satisfying element.

When I was a child, we would visit Argentina and have "factura" which are tea time pastries made of bread and tallow and sugar topped with quince jam or a custard. OMG

In my most recent baking exploits, 2 sourdough & 1 bread event slowed things down:
1. Jasper my redbone coonhound dog got into a batch of sourdough
2. I neglected to feed a starter and got mold :(
3. Jasper ate a full pan of bread.

Jasper is the quintessential "bad dog" when it comes to food.
Worse than a chocolate lab.

I finally baked a loaf again. This loaf was a full-on buckwheat starter with milk kefir whey, coconut flour, salt, eggs, bacon drippings & chicken schmaltz (chicken fat). I forgot to add both chia and flax seeds. It was still a success.
Half is frozen, half is high above out of any possible dog reach.

My prior successful bread batches consisted of:
teff starter made with milk kefir whey
coconut flour
olive oil
flax & chia gels
bacon drippings

I baked these uncloched (uncovered) and they became very DENSE biscuits.

The next trial, Round 2, baked up softer, given that I used a cloche (cover).

On another note,  I am using Milk Kefir to boost my starters because it seems to be beneficial for me. Also, I have not had great success with water kefir. Also, my kombucha seems too sugary.

Joyous, delicious baking to you :)

Hello C,
Thanks for your feedback of my Baker’s Sampler so far. Also thanks for the interesting and humorous stories of your baking adventures. It is obvious to me that Jasper is a well educated dog as he truly enjoys the benefits of sourdough starter as well as the finished bread.

Sorry to hear your starter got mold. Gluten-free starters are more delicate than wheat or rye starters and need to be fed regularly to prevent spoilage.

I’m so glad you found my animal fat post inspiring. I hope more people will come around to the possibility that animal fat builds health rather than hurts it. It is a good source of energy that digests slowly, reducing hunger. Using animal fat is also a good way to rotate your diet rather than eat the same fats all the time. (Food rotation is important for people healing leaky gut. Everything in moderation, of course.)

One questions about Factura, the Argentinean tea time pastries made of bread and tallow? Could you taste the tallow or did it blend into the pastry? I never noticed a tallow or lard taste in my breads or cookies when I use it. However, sometimes when I use a soup fat that had been heavily seasoned, the taste of the seasonings goes into the fat, and then into the bread, giving it some delicate, savory spice.

I found your buckwheat-coconut flour bread very interesting as far as flour combinations. I always think of buckwheat making a very spongy bread that tends to be dry without enough water in the starter. I also think of coconut flour as a super absorbent flour with a tendency to be dry without enough oil in the finished product.

In my experience, using those flours together might make a severely dry bread. However, the oil, bacon fat and eggs would help balance any density as would chia and/or flax gel.

I must try this combination the next time I experiment. The bonus is that I could use up a trifle of the enormous amount of fat in my freezer.

Sometimes I use a “cloche” or cover for the breads during baking and really appreciate the soft top it gives. Other times I like the slightly crusty tops. Cloches can be oven-proof glass, clay, (sometimes people use clean flower pots), or a simple metal baking pan placed over the bread pan.

I’m glad to hear the milk kefir is working well for your starters. For those who are unfamiliar with milk kefir, it is a culture that will ferment milk into a yogurt-like product. The actual combination of bacteria and yeast are different than yogurt cultures so the taste and texture are different than yogurt.

In my early gluten-free sourdough experiments, I used it as a booster and saw that it gives a bit more lift than water kefir-boosted starters. Unfortunately, I had to give it up because I couldn't tolerate it. I continued making it for my family, though, making milk kefir liquid for morning hot cereal as well as milk kefir cheese. I would snitch a bit as I made the cheese. I really loved the sour, creaminess of the milk kefir cheese.

I would make the milk kefir, which means adding the kefir culture to the milk and let it sit on the counter until it separated. For cheese, I would pour it into a strainer lined with a cloth, tie up the cloth and let the whey (water) drip out.  Depending on how long it hung and how much whey dripped out, I could make yogurt, cream cheese or farmer cheese. The whey was excellent for boosting starter or just drinking as a probiotics tonic.

 Milk Kefir separating
Milk Kefir strained with a metal strainer for cheese. The whey drips into the bottom of a bowl for other uses.
If you are interested in trying Milk Kefir, here's a link to an excellent company to purchase the culture. Cultures for Health

Thanks again for your feedback and sharing!
All the best,

I received a follow up from C about how the taste of the animal fat blended right into the factura pastries from Argentina.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Exhibiting at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Stamford, CT.

The Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest was totally exhilarating. My good friend, Peggy Matthews, went above and beyond. I could not have done it without her! Thank you, thank you, Peggy! The conference staff was amazing as they were always helpful and efficient. The hotel staff at the Hilton Stamford was outstanding.

As I got to know the other vendors I was continually amazed at the stellar level of creativity in the products that people are bringing to the gluten-free community. Lots of whole grain pastas and chips, beautiful whole grain and grain-free breads and gorgeous healthy snacks and treats. We have waited a long time for the healthy products and I believe, they are here to stay!

We rented a cargo van to contain all the stuff we brought. Driving the van on the highway took a bit of getting used to but we eventually mastered it. Peggy loves to document events and took many fabulous photos. Here are the boxes finally unloaded in the exhibition area:

We brought those rolling carts as well as a toaster oven to warm up samples.
The 2-shelf cart doubled as extra table space, which we sorely needed.

Peggy and I leaning on each other in utter exhaustion
after driving all day and setting up for way too many hours.

Here are many labeled boxes of samples. (Peggy brought her label maker!)
We were left with many lbs. of samples due to much lower attendance than projected. Thanks to all of you readers who bought bread cubes for your holiday stuffing and cobblers!

I had the opportunity to meet many appreciative attendees during the 2-day fest!

There was one vendor sampling unbelievable Ethiopian food from a local gluten-free restaurant named, of all things, "Teff"!!
This is a family-owned business, with mom being the head cook. Check out their website:

Their samples were served on little strips of Injera,
which is traditional Ethiopian flatbread made of fermented teff.

The artfully spiced vegetables and meat dishes were complimented by the
very sour, very spongy injera.

Peggy found out that their restaurant was close to the hotel and we eagerly planned to have our Saturday night dinner there.

After working a very long day, we thought we would go for a swim and then go out for dinner...just after we laid down for a little rest. We rested in bed for what we thought was a little while and woke up 3 hours later, astonished that so much time had gone by. Thankfully, we managed to find the restaurant before they stopped serving dinner.

Notice my plate with cabbage, kale and meat placed on a giant injera flatbread. The waitress showed us the traditional method of ripping off a piece of injera and scooping up the food with it.

We began ripping and scooping and dipping and found it worked really well. The metal taste of the silverware never interferes with the taste of the food. I never noticed the taste of silverware until I experienced the absence of it.

Peggy is holding up a piece of injera that is practically transparent!! It must take years of practice to make injera that thin.

Since the food was fabulous, we decided to order take out for the next day's meals. Notice the injera flatbread neatly folded in a take-out container. We were happily well fed for the next 2 days until we got home.

Gluten-free people know how challenging it can be to eat out so Peggy and I deeply thank Teff Restaurant for feeding us with such care during our stay.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chocolate Bread Mini Loaf  Ginger Bread Mini Loaf.....          
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The Chocolate and Ginger Bread Mini Loaves are great at room temperature and simply knee-buckling warmed in the toaster. They are great plain with tea or coffee as well as slathered in butter, olive oil, coconut oil or jam. They would also be perfect on a holiday table, sliced, warmed and served with a mini-dollop of whipped cream, be it dairy or cashew (recipe here).

The breads are substantial and a small piece satisfies. They have no noticeably sour taste but are fully fermented making them highly digestible and nutrient dense. Grace the holiday table with a dessert bread that makes people feel good!!

These keep for 3-4 months in the freezer.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Grains or Not?

Currently in our culture, an extraordinary number of people have digestive disorders and challenges, some involving gluten sensitivity. There are now two well known diets recommending the elimination of grains: The GAPS diet and the Paleo diet.

The GAPS diet recommends removing all grains from the diet for a period of time in order to let the digestive system rest and heal. They believe that this protocol will heal people of the gluten sensitivity, allowing them to eventually tolerate gluten products after they heal. Many people have embraced the Paleo diet which also suggests removing grains from the diet and theorizes that humans are not meant to eat grains.

If you are focused on healthy eating and are trying to heal your body from digestive issues you have probably heard of these diets. For those of us that seem to heal slowly or barely at all, we are always looking for the next food or supplement or diet or practitioner that might help us turn things around. It can be grueling.

I have heard from people that have made progress on the GAPS diet. They will often turn to my book and gluten-free breads as a stepping stone before they reintroduce gluten breads. I have also heard from people that didn't do well on the diet. They were always hungry or their issues simply did not resolve. Some lost an alarming amount of weight and felt like they were starving.

I don't know too many people who practice the Paleo diet although a dear friend of mine has embraced it as a last resort after going through years of tests and different practitioners. She finally was diagnosed with intestinal parasites. Her practitioners are trying to strengthen her body to prepare for the parasite treatment. After many years, her health is finally improving on this diet! Removing the grains has really worked for her although she said she had to get used to the feeling of never feeling full after a meal. The Paleo diet eliminates all grains, gluten-free or otherwise, as well as legumes.

It could be very easy to fall prey to cultural pressure to go grain-free. As I get older, I need less grain at meals. Is it because I'm healing and utilize and assimilate my food better? Is it because I should be grain-free? Is it because humans need less calories as we get older? Is it because my blood type is a grain-eating blood type? (remember the blood type diet?)

As a child, I had blood sugar fluctuations. As an adult, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroid disease, the symptoms of which, mimic hypoglycemia. We now know that these symptoms are linked to gluten sensitivity. Once, I tried going without grains which became a severe blood sugar roller coaster. I simply could not function. Proponents of those diets might say I'm grain-addicted but if grains makes me feel healthy, strong and clear headed and going without them makes me a nonfunctional mess, I don't see eating grains as an addiction or a problem for me.

Some people never need grains at a meal. Some people always need grains at a meal. It seems that for me, grains are fuel...and I need them to feel clear headed and stable. But not everyone seems to need them for fuel.

Those of us who are able to heal on a grain-free diet are fortunate that they have found the next step that moves them towards optimal health. Those of us that heal using other methods are also fortunate for the same reasons, that we move on to the next level of health. That's what it's all about. To get to the next level. And the next. And the next...until we feel good again.

People's bodies are different and people's histories are different. People's bodies need different diets at different times in their lives. No diet is right for everyone, no practitioner is right for everyone and no food is right for everyone.

Our generation has a host of new diseases that have baffled conventional medicine. The answers are coming slowly and seem to have to do with having access to clean food and water while minimizing medication and environmental toxins.

Grains or Not? The answer will always lie with how you and your children react to grains or no grains. Your gut knows what it needs and will let you know, if you pay close attention. If you are the parent of a small child with food sensitivities, until your child can tell you how s/he feels, you must trust your own instinct and observations over the many strong messages out there.

A mother of a young child asked my opinion about something I've heard a number of times:
"Fermentation will completely eliminate the gluten in wheat or rye bread."

This woman's sister was pressuring her to give her gluten-sensitive child sourdough wheat bread, saying it was safe and would not hurt her since it was fermented. The mother was hesitant, given her child's other anaphylactic allergies. This is where I began ranting. I apologized for the rant but she said "Please, I really want you to tell me how you feel about thisl". I ranted and railed for awhile and finally got to a place of composure again whereupon I said:

             "Even if the tests say that fermentation will completely neutralize gluten, the tests still don't speak to the depth of the child's complicated medical history and stressed digestive and immune systems. The tests test the gluten, not the patient. New diseases cannot be resolved with blanket statements that worked in the past, even if they fed people for millenia, like sourdough bread. And you know how committed I am to the concept of sourdough bread!!

I strongly believe in traditionally prepared foods as they dramatically helped me to heal. But so did removing gluten from my diet. Together, they helped me heal. Our current diseases are deeply complex. Our road back to health can be equally complex since we have little information about these diseases upon which to base healing treatments."

New diseases, new theories, new treatments. Our bodies will let us know what works for us. I support you to trust your gut and exercise control over your body as well as your child's body. And keep the faith that you will heal. It makes a big difference!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Art of Self-Regulation

Recently, I received some feedback from a woman who said she would never buy my cookies again because she ate a 1 pound bag in 3 days. Her email was full of bold letters and exclamation points.

A different woman sat on her couch eating her 1 pound bag of cookies like chips, one cookie after the other. Three quarters of the way through the bag, she knew she had seriously over eaten! She called me and described her experience. Here are the highlights of her description: "seriously stuffed" and then she made a grunting sound. Besides the feeling of having eaten too much, she realized the cookies had a high nutrient content because she did not feel hungry again for many hours.

She really loved the cookies and strongly suggested I package them in single portion sizes so that she could self-regulate her consumption of them.

I have to admit that when I don't eat my cookies for awhile and then have some, I feel that old familiar addiction response kick in. I want to eat as many as I can, for like forever!! But now I know that If I exercise my self-regulation skills, I can enjoy them without feeling like grunting afterwards. When I'm baking large amounts of them, I am surrounded by cookies that seem to be whispering "Eat Me", Alice-in- Wonderland-style, but I just glare at them and walk away. I reward myself with 1.5 ounces after my weekly Friday afternoon swim. And then don't feel like eating again till 7:30 pm.

These cookies have very high nutrient dense food value. I make them with sprouted, dehydrated almonds, fermented chia gel, shredded coconut and coconut oil. They are really power packed and one doesn't need much of them to satisfy.

It's similar with the baked breads and bread mixes. I think that when we have a taste of gluten-free bread that is "real food", we want to consume a lot of it to make up for the absence of good bread for way too long. I must confess that I gorged on each bread recipe as I perfected it but now I've found that one Muffin Top works well for a snack, one English Muffin is great for a meal and 1/8 of a bread mix flat bread is really enough. We just need to listen to our bodies about when we're truly satisfied and give ourselves a chance to self-regulate.

Last summer I brought some cookie experiments to my brother's house where his wife, 2 kids and I plowed through a lot of cookies, tasting and critiquing as we ate. I had to hide some away for my parents, who were next on my itinerary. There were cinnamon cookies, ginger cookies and my original recipe, vanilla spice. My young nephew said "Aunt Sharon...is chocolate gluten-free?", whereupon I said yes...whereupon he said "then I think you should put chocolate chips in your cookies".

I've been tinkering again and believe I have perfected the ginger cookies. The cinnamon cookies are close to perfection. Of course, adding mini chocolate chips to anything makes it better so the chocolate chip cookie doesn't need any more work. I used a chip that was dairy, soy and nut free. Alas, it has evaporated cane juice in it also known as sugar, but I think it's okay for the occasional treat (rather than consuming massive quantities at once). There's that self-regulation idea again. 
                                Cookie dough ready to bake
                                       Cookies baked
If my price points seem high, please remember that I invest in high quality organic ingredients rather than fancy packaging.

I really need some feedback on the cookies so I will happily include some free samples in any orders I ship out in April. If you are interested in receiving samples, please check "Yes" on the shopping cart contact info page. Please let me know any and all feedback about them.

Chocolate Chip



Customer sales update:

The woman who swore she would never buy them again has just purchased a 3 oz pack!

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Tips for Growing Sourdough in a Cold House

    As I write this from New England, we are receiving a huge major snowstorm. We have received nearly 3 feet and the snow is only now beginning to slow down after 24 hours of continuous snowing. The outdoors is like a marshmallow fantasy land with its billowy white shapes. I love the beauty of the snow but 3 feet is really challenging! We've also had many days of frigid temperatures. My little house is well insulated and toasty warm but my bake shop, located in an old mill building, is drafty and hard to heat.

During this period of arctic temps, It has been challenging to grow my starters and in this newsletter I share the tricks I've learned to help my starters ferment properly in a chilly space.           

Happy sourdough starter.
top, Rice, left Sorghum, right Teff

When we regularly buy a food product, we expect it to have the same taste and texture as the ones we bought in the past.  One of the challenges of making fermented products is being able to maintain a constant product from batch to batch. If you purchase my baked breads, you may have noticed some variation from batch to batch.
If you bake my bread mixes or breads, you may notice some differences in how they grow in warm weather versus cold weather. Alas, there are so many variables that can be difficult to control.

My bake shop is in a drafty old mill building. Some of the suites are well heated but mine is not. In order to really get my starters going, I have needed to get creative about getting them some supplemental heat. If you have a cold kitchen, my tips might help you:
  1. Use room temperature flour rather than chilled flour
  2. Use warmed water rather than chilled or even room temperature water
  3. Place your bowl of starter in sunny window
  4. Place your bowl of starter near a gentle heat source such as:
  • on top of the fridge or freezer
  • near a pot of simmering soup
  • near a crock pot
  • near a wood stove
  • in a warm oven
  • in a warm dehydrator
  • near a radiator
Keep in mind that too much heat may kill rather than energize the bacteria and yeast. You just want the bowl itself, and the sourdough starter, to be warm rather than cold. With practice and experience you can gain a feel for what the starter needs.

If you buy my breads, I ask for your understanding if batches are not exactly the same each time. I do my best to work with Mother Nature as well as with the billions of bacteria and yeast I have the pleasure of raising.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Can't You Just Knock Off 5 Pounds?

I know someone who is very focused on her weight and is always in the process of trying to knock off 5 pounds. She sees weight loss in very black and white terms: eat too much, put on weight; eat less, lose weight.

When I was still ill, I was carrying about 15 extra pounds. Every time I tried to "go on a diet" and eat less, I became sick. This person would say " can't you just go on a diet and knock off 5 pounds?"

When I learned I had systemic candida I began to understand that there was an overgrowth of a certain type of yeast in my body that was quickly reproducing. These multitudes of yeast were basically eating the food that I was ingesting. They happily fed on the wheat, sugar and dairy products that I was eating and made more of themselves who, in turn, needed to eat more wheat, sugar and dairy products.

The food I ate was feeding them instead of me making my body think it was starving. A starving body won't give up any of its precious fat stores. Also, because I was eating less food, some of the yeasts were starved and subsequently died, causing what is known as "die off". They die off results in cold and flu-like symptoms as the body tries to rid itself of that dead material. Now I understand why I got sick every time I tried to knock off 5 pounds. What was going on was much more complicated then simply eating less food.

It took many years to find the right balance of practitioners, healing modalities, treatments, and diets (not the weight loss kind) to heal the candida and leaky gut. Even when those ailments were mostly resolved, I still wasn't quite well. By that time I no longer trusted that doctors could understand my situation. However, at the suggestion of my husband, I saw a holistic MD, who diagnosed the gluten intolerance and other food sensitivities.

Changing my diet, yet again, yielded incredibly healing results and to my surprise, I lost those 15 pounds and without dieting. The way I see it, the foods I tested sensitive to, and had been eating, were stressing my body. Taking them out of my diet eliminated the stress and allowed my body to come back to a natural and balanced place. Only then was my body able to easily let go of that extra weight.

Now, nearly 10 years after the gluten intolerance diagnosis, I'm baking breads and cookies for sale. When I was perfecting the Sprouted Almond Cookie recipe I had to taste it, a lot, yum yum! These power cookies gave me so much energy that I had some after swimming exercise as well as for my midday snacks as well as for dessert after lunch and dinner. Course, I wasn't used to eating dessert, just occasional treats. Sooooo, by the end of this summer I put on 5 pounds!

                                           Sprouted Almond Cookies

Those words came floating back to me: Can't you just knock off 5 pounds?
I knew I had been eating more than I needed, so step 1 was to stop eating more than I needed. I also slightly shifted the proportion of grains to veggies in all my meals. (a bit less grain, a bit more veggies). It was an easy change and the weight came off in a month.

Then I developed my Chocolate Sourdough Bread and had to repeatedly taste-test until perfection. Yum again! Whoops again! another 5 pounds.
                                        Chocolate Sourdough Bread

Back to eating what I need and the pounds are getting knocked off, 2-3 more to go.

I feel fortunate and deeply blessed that I found a way through the maze of healing possibilities and now have a healthy body and lots of energy. One of the hardest challenges I faced was to maintain hope in the face of very slow progress. In the beginning and even the middle of these healing journeys, progress may be barely noticeable.

I wish everyone who is working through any health challenges:
  • patience with yourself and your body
  • to focus on what works for you, not what works for the masses
  • to maintain your hope and faith that there is a path to your wellness and you will find it if you keep at it