How I Started My Sourdough Starter

Since I started to learn how to make #sourdough a few people have asked about how I started my ‘starter’, the active yeast ingredient used in sourdough so they can also make theirs.

I have no idea if this is the exact, best or professional way of doing things, but this is what worked for me under the guidance of my very kind brother-in-law and the book he gifted me which is this one by Casper Andre Lugg and Martin Ivar Hveem Field :

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The section about Starters in this book is really easy to follow with lots of pictures of what it should look like at each stage of the five day process.

So, this is what I did…

Day 1: You’ll need a clean glass jar with a lid you can leave on loosely, some scales, wholemeal flour and water. You’re going to be adding flour and water to the jar for the next 5 days so make sure it’s big enough to allow that to happen.

Put 30g of whatever type of wholegrain flour you have in the jar together with 80g of  warmish water (about 30c if you have a thermometer)

Mix together. This should make a paste. Place the lid loosely on the jar so that air can get to the paste and leave in a warmish place-maybe on the kitchen worktop for 24 hours.

Day 2: The mixture might look a little thicker and that’s great! It means the process has started.

Weigh and mix in 50g of the same flour you used yesterday together with another 80g of warm water and leave for another 24 hours.

Day 3: Some bubbles may have formed in the paste. This is the CO2 you want to see because that’s what makes the holes in the sourdough bread. This is my Starter on day 3.

Again, weigh and mix in another 30g of flour and 80g of warm water. As the flour and water is added this is ‘feeding’ the mixture so the sugars can turn into CO2 (apparently)

At this point I started to notice a warm, beery biscuit smell coming from the mixture. I think that means it’s doing its thing?!

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Day 4…nearly there! there should be more bubbles forming now and the active ingredients should really start working. By the end of day 4 my mixture looked quite frothy.

Add your 30g of flour and 80g of water again to this and mix well. Don’t worry if your bubbles disappear temporarily. I thought I was knocking all the good stuff out of it! The chemical reactions will still continue to happen and the active ingredients won’t be destroyed by storing the starter.

My jar was actually very full so I stored some in another jar, but some people just throw half away at this point. The active ingredient is there is its not really the volume that counts, as long as you have enough for your first loaf and some left to keep adding to for your next one.

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Day 5: Now your baby Starter is ready to turn into a teenager.

You’ll need a second clean jar or a container to put some mixture in temporarily.

Weigh 30g of your Starter mixture and place it in a new jar or in a container.

Add 50g of your wholegrain flour to the small amount of your Starter.

Add 50g of strong white flour and mix.

Finally, add 130g or warm water and stir together.

Leave to stand for 12 hours (in the new jar or the old jar after you’ve transferred the original mixture out and cleaned it) and then you’re ready to bake with your Starter.

Some Starter recipes tell you to feed (Add the flour and water) to your starter once more before you make dough and bake with it, but I suppose it depends on how developed and bubbly your Starter is? I did feed mine again once just to be on the safe side.

Hope yours works out 🙂

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Sourdough and Self Care

I knew I needed to do something. Over the past couple of years I’d slipped into that freelance whirlwind where you say yestoo often and nonot often enough. I’d also noticed that this awful little tendency to over worry about what people thought of me had crept in. I also needed a clear head to work on the report associated with the scholarship that this blog was originally written for!
I first wrote about an experience I’d had while speaking at a conference on the Huffington Post  blog a couple of years ago. It came to the part of the event where I took questions and from deep in the audience came the one I always avoid, ‘What do you do for your own self-care?’ Boom! I tried the usual ‘Well, what do you do?’ but to no avail, so I fudged something about good sleep and walking and sat down knowing I hadn’t really answered the question.
Then this year over Christmas and New Year I felt like the past two years were catching up with me and I was exhausted. A couple of important things happened that meant that I’d fallen into #SelfCareJanuary. Firstly, I was accidentally vegan for 24 hours when the recipe for veggie tagine I was making one evening turned out not just to be vegetarian but actually vegan, to boot! – definite health brownie points there. The second thing was that my brother-in-law came to stay with us from Denmark. As we caught up we talked about lots of things: work, life, kids and eventually, and I’m not quite sure how or why, our conversation turned to bread making and just how therapeutic it can be.
Now, for me, self care has to have a pretty swift outcome. I know that’s probably shallow, but it’s also true. I can’t run for miles day after day waiting to feel the benefit. I’ve tried the gym and felt the same way about that. I can talk about other people’s artwork all day, but definitely lack the artistic prowess to create work myself, so that’s out. All in all, I thought that starting something and seeing…and eating…the fruits of my labour within 24 hours sounded like a good self care fit for me.
My brother-in-law offered to show me how to make a sourdough ‘starter’, the flour and water mixture that develops naturally to provide the yeast element in sourdough baking. Sounds simple, but I had to overcome the fact that having anything living AND growing in the kitchen made me feel a little bit sick. The responsibility of ‘feeding’ the starter and keeping it warm also filled me with dread.
All of that aside, I thought I’d give it a go and later that day Steven the Starter was born. Mixing the right amount of flour and water together in a jar, my very kind brother-in-law taught me how and when to feed the starter after he had left to return home. Most importantly he bought me a sourdough bible. This was such a lovely parting gift, although I think he probably did that so I wasn’t asking him questions every five minutes!
In the days that followed I had to keep Steven the baby starter alive and warm and fed. The pride I felt as those little bubbles of CO2 appeared! I can’t tell you the joy! By day 5 and Steven the baby starter was ready to grow up and we were ready to make dough!

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Steven the Sourdough Starter
I went for a light rye loaf for my first bake. I actually had no idea if this was easy or difficult, but it was the first in the book that included the flour I had so I went for it. I knew the process would be important because, with only 4 ingredients, flour, water, salt – and Steven the Starter – I had to make the magic happen for those little holes to appear inside the finished loaf. I diligently followed the recipe to the letter, for fear of either killing Steven or feeling the disappointment of efforts wasted.
For the next 8 hours I mixed and weighed and kneaded and folded, turning each page of the sourdough book and comparing my dough with the one pictured in the baker’s bowl. Mine didn’t look exactly the same, but the fact that it was similar and it was starting to smell like real bread was miraculous in itself.

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First attempt at proving dough
Another remarkable thing was that while I was concentrating on bringing the ingredients together I didn’t have the head space to think or indeed worry about anything else. It was marvellous. Physically handling the flour and kneading the dough also meant that I couldn’t type or answer my phone or even reply to the messages that I could see and hear coming through. In one youtube video I watched it said that in order to get the best results from your kneading you should picture someone who you really dislike and let all your frustration out through the dough. Well, I did say I was going to follow the instructions to the letter…so, I did that part too!

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First Sourdough loaf fresh from the oven
My first loaf cost around £75 to make. Everyone was so excited that I was doing something that was the closest they’d seen to domesticity that every time friends came to the house they brought more equipment and ingredients: small bowl, larger bowl, proving bowl, thermometer, special dough scrapers, sieve, books, ‘artisan’ flour, etc.
The bug has well and truly bitten and so far I’ve baked 9 loaves in 19 days. 
…and as I type I have number 10 cold proving (I’m even using the sourdough jargon now) ready to bake tomorrow morning.

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Steven the Starter has worked his magic and the sourdough has holes
So, if you happen to be in the audience the next time I’m speaking feel absolutely free to ask the ‘What do you do for your own self-care?’ question, but be prepared for a long answer about warm proving, cold proving and how to get a good rise from rye.

To Share Lived Experience Or Not? This Free Course Can Help You Decide.

So, this post isn’t strictly to do with my Churchill Scholarship, but it is about something that’s very important to me. I hope it’s useful!
Sharing lived experience can be a lonely game. There’s no getting away from it.
Every time you give an interview. Every time you step onto a stage. Every time you tell a colleague, or a new friend, or someone in the supermarket about your lived experience, you’re allowing those listening to have a glimpse into the darkest, most personal time in your life.
And after you dip into the dark recess that you’d much rather didn’t exist…you make your way back home or to a hotel room alone, trying to lift your way out of the place that you’ve just allowed yourself to go to… again.
I don’t think the forum matters. It can feel the same in a support group. After a while people with a crude understanding of why you might be attending the group, ask why you keep attending, long after the event? Some have likened it to picking at a scar that then starts hurting again. Well, I suppose the news is that for people like me, like us, the scar never heals. You can reopen a wound that gets better, yes, but it never heals in that true sense of not being there anymore.
It’s always there, and part of its undesirable power is that people like me can dip back into the intensity of it at a moment’s notice. Isn’t that what makes lived experience valuable? Allowing those who’ve never walked our path, seen what we’ve seen, a momentary glimpse of what we’ve felt and what we’ve learnt, from a safe distance.
After our film Life After Suicide aired on BBC 1, lots of people got in touch to offer to share their lived experience with the wider public, which was a welcome response to a film that was trying, in a small way, to address the stigma around suicide. However, I always found myself advising caution when deciding whether or not to share lived experience, because it’s something that needs some really careful consideration – something that I had to do myself when agreeing to make the documentary. What I have recently discovered is that there is actually a structured programme that can guide people through such decision making.
Yesterday, I spent a fascinating day here in Chicago with Patrick Corrigan, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Currently, he is principal investigator of the National Consortium for Stigma and Empowerment and his team, who specialise in stigma and discrimination experienced by people with health conditions and disabilities.
After years of research and sharing of lived experience, Patrick and his team have designed The Honest, Open and Proud (HOP) programme. The rationale behind the programme is that research shows that those who disclose aspects of their lived experience and mental health issues report a subsequent sense of personal empowerment and an increase in confidence to seek and achieve individual goals.
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The HOP program is a peer-led program used to help people with mental health issues make decisions regarding the disclosure of their condition.  The curriculum includes three parts —evaluating the pros and cons of disclosing in specific settings; identifying people who may be more receptive to the conversation; and crafting a disclosure story. 
Using a community-based participatory research approach, the team comprises researchers, people who have attempted suicide or have family members who have attempted suicide, and people who provide suicide prevention services. They have created, developed, and tested the curriculum for the HOP program with the goal of seeing positive changes in psychiatric symptoms, relationships, quality of life, and help-seeking, especially in suicide attempt survivors.
Sitting in a Skype meeting, as an observer, with Patrick in his office in Chicago and colleagues beamed in from across the globe, I wish that everyone had a chance to do the programme and work through the potential positive and negative aspects of sharing lived experience – but I wish I’d known about it years ago! No, it wouldn’t have changed my decision to make the film, but surely taking control of that process can only be a positive thing?

Why I’m Here in New York

I can’t believe it’s almost a year since I wrote this blog post for the Huffington Post describing the areas of Outsider Art that I’m hoping to look at during my time in the US and Japan.

Things have developed since then, but the basic premise is still the same.

A Letter From Winston Churchill

15/03/2017 10:40 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 10:40 GMT

It seemed to take forever for the letter to arrive, but when it did it was worth the wait: “Dear Angela, I am delighted to let you know that you have been awarded a 2017 Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Very many congratulations. 2017-03-13-1489417885-6761645-IMG_9371.JPG

 

Those words mark the start of an exciting adventure! The letter went on to invite me to attend a seminar just a few weeks later, during which I would meet the other successful recipients along with Churchill Fellows who had completed their travels this past year.

Weeks before, as I sat waiting to be called into my final Churchill interview, I met one of my fellow applicants who was also waiting to be called in. Despite our nerves, we started talking about our projects and right there and then. I remember thinking ‘If I don’t get my project funding I really hope she does’. Her project was to travel to the USA to research culturally appropriate services for black women with multiple complex needs. You can imagine the smile on my face when I walked into the seminar for successful applicants to see her familiar face as I walked in. It was her – Geraldine Esdailee.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust states that it funds individuals from the UK to “Travel to learn – return to inspire. We fund British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries, and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK”. This year has awarded 150 Travelling Fellowships across the UK totalling £1.4 million. The Fellows will be travelling to 49 countries between them, across six continents, where they will carry out a wide range of projects, designed to benefit their communities and professions in the UK. The average length of a Fellowship is six weeks, but I will probably be away for closer to eight.

My project will bring together my experience of working both in mental health and the Arts as I visit New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo to look at Outsider Art practice. The definition of Outsider Art is often subject to debate as discussed by Priscilla Frank in What Is The Meaning Of Outsider Art? The Genre With A Story, Not A Style. First used in 1972 by Roger Cardinal as the title of his book, Outsider Art was an exact translation of the term ‘Art Brut’ used to describe artwork produced by untrained artists since 1948.

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Some have argued that the term Outsider Art is itself exclusive and not inclusive, serving as a divisive term rather than a useful label. Outsider Art is often viewed as work produced not only by formally untrained artists, but also by those who often face physical or mental health challenges.

As you can imagine, it would be impossible to thoroughly investigate all Outsider Art in just 7 weeks, so the scope of my work will specifically look at Outsider Artists with mental health challenges, exploring 5 specific aspects;

1. Is the label Outsider Art useful? Does it help us to navigate the complex intersections between health and creativity, work and wellbeing, mainstream and marginality?

2. How is Outsider Art best curated? Should convention mean diagnosis/biographical details are included on labels and interpretation?

3. What are the ethical and moral considerations of exhibiting Outsider Art, especially in a commercial setting, managing finances, the expectations of the artist and the gallery?

4. What are the clinical and therapeutic implications of Outsider Art? What is the source of the tension between formal art therapy and facilitating Outsider Art. Should we in the UK adopt a non-interventionist approach?

5. Should Outsider Art be more closely aligned with public health services in the UK as it is in Japan? How/should we make this happen?

…and so my journey begins, almost 10 months before my first plane takes off in January 2018. It will be almost a year filled with forging links in the places I’ll visit; talking to artists, curators and mental health professionals working in the field in the UK and making sure I can share what I witness in the USA and Japan when I return.

 

Walking In Agnes Martin’s Shoes

Agnes Martin is an artist who has always held a strange fascination for me and as I write this I’m sitting in a coffee shop opposite her old studio at 3 Coenties Slip, New York. I could actually cry at any second. Although I’ve wanted to sit in this exact spot for many years, I never expected to feel so emotional when it actually happened. Maybe I was a bit naive. I’ll admit that I’ve actually google street-viewed this exact spot so many times that my search history probably indicates me as obsessive.

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Agnes Martin’s Studio today 3-5 Coenties Slip, New York
Really, it was my fascination with her grid paintings that first sparked my interest in so-called Outsider Art and those who make work that falls into this diverse category. I always knew that there was something about Agnes that no one seemed to be talking about, and it was during my research for my Masters in Art History and Curating, that I decided to write my dissertation about Martin’s work. I was fortunate that Frances Morris, now Director of Tate Modern, shared my fascination and was researching Martin at the same time I was. Mine was dissertation research, but Frances’ was for the Agnes Martin retrospective at Tate. Frances’ knew that it was hard, almost impossible, to find the information I needed, and in one of the greatest acts of kindness I’ve ever been shown, she gave me access to her research – a shelf in her office with everything that you could ever wish for. I was like a child in an Agnes Martin sweet shop!

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SILVER PRINT, 18 X 17 IN. GIFT OF D. FREDERICK BAKER FROM THE BAKER/PISANO COLLECTION, 2012.1.50
Agnes Martin by Diane Arbus (1966)
It was during this time that I read about Martin’s diagnosis of Schizophrenia for the first time. Everything dropped into place. The missing episodes in her biography. The periods spent in hospital. The way Martin talked about the ‘inspiration’ that sent paintings to her as fully formed images, the size of postage stamps which she re-drafted onto canvas. The mystery about why she left New York so abruptly in 1967. Decades later Martin said, “I left New York because every day I suddenly felt I wanted to die and it was connected with painting. It took me several years to find out that the cause was an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.”
Sometimes curators fall into the trap of pathologising art work once they discover that an artist has a mental health diagnosis. They believe that the paintings have been produced because of the diagnosis as opposed to the mental health issue playing some part, but not all parts. In a way, it’s a good thing that Agnes kept her Schizophrenia secret from all but a few of her close friends. That way, her work has been protected for many years from this pathologising, and I hope it stay that way. Agnes Martin did not produce her work because of her Schizophrenia, but I do wonder whether her work provided some kind of coping mechanism, or had a therapeutic effect. When you look at Martin’s paintings, the canvas is so controlled that it may have provided her with a level of control that fell outside of Martin’s everyday exprience as someone hearing command voices that she didn’t feel in control of.
Yesterday I visited the New York Outsider Art Fair. Many pieces of the work shown by the over 80 participating galleries was made by artists with a mental health diagnosis and I was really relieved to see that the agents and gallerists behaved more or less in exactly the same way as they have in every other art fair I’ve ever attended. They were definitely interested in sales and definitely looking over my shoulder to see if anyone interesting was coming through the door after me. I was worried that the same pathologising that Martin sometimes suffers, would be apparent here and that the work would be talked about in hushed, patronising tones, but nothing could be further from the truth. Red dots appeared more often than I’ve seen in other Fairs and probably a similar number of artists were there too, speaking for themselves and enthusiastically describing their artworks.

Treatment for Schizophrenia was still archaic in 1957 and Martin’s diagnosis must have seemed heavy with the weight of the stigma of the day. As I sit here looking up at the studio she was brought back to after her hospitalisation and ECT treatment at Bellevue Hospital, I wonder how she found the emotional strength and tenacity to pick up a paintbrush again.

There is something so moving about walking up this street where she would have walked after she was released from hospital and that she walked down for the last time when she decided to leave The Slip for the last time. I suppose when we breathe the same air they did, it somehow brings us closer to them. I don’t think I’ll forget this afternoon for a long time.