An Education of the Wild Yeasts.

In my thirty-six years on this planet, two things have completely eluded me: Jury Duty and Sourdough Starters.

Although not even being considered to sit on a John-Grisham-worthy international espionage trial did bother me, being left out of the sourdough club disturbed me at a more intrinsic level.

I was beginning to think that all of the sourdough starters in the whole world must have died between my childhood and my motherhood, because I remember my mom receiving, using, and eventually killing many starters, and in the in between, making fresh, hot, sourdough bread a semi-regular occurrence. Yet never had I ever even heard of one of my peers having a starter, and never had I ever been offered one myself. Perhaps my mother was actually an Infamous Sourdough Starter Serial Killer and my family had been put on a Don’t Share List. Or perhaps it was me. Not having the ability to produce fresh bread did lend me to feeling Imposter Syndrome at a deep level. I mean, was I even momming?

It was a painful quandary.

I wasn’t ready to tackle the issue of being ignored and/or avoided by the judicial system, but it was past time to address The Mystery of Dough. So in January, I posted this Instagram photo.

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Within a day, I was offered not one, but two starters.

My life had finally begun.

I graciously accepted the starter from the person I would see the soonest. She brought it to me, in an insulated bag, at the Homeschool Spelling Bee. WHERE ALL STARTERS SHOULD EXCHANGE HANDS.

Melissa-The-Sourdough-Fairy gifted me with a large yogurt container with vents cut into the lid, along with a full 8 1/2 x 11 page of typed instructions. This page included a not-to-shabby pedigree for my starter, tracing its roots through two other homeschool moms and 12 years of shares.

And now I was the owner of this beautiful new baby.

I carefully carried it home, placing it gently in my cupholder and looking at it warily, wondering if it would spontaneously bubble out and fill my car. But when we arrived home, there was a present from Thomas-the-Porch-Cat on my welcome mat, as always. Except instead of the usual gag-inducing treats, it was a perfectly preserved chipmunk. I ran inside, placed my starter on the counter, grabbed my camera and props, and ran back out to play. After I appropriately memorialized the beautiful creature left behind just for me, I moved on with my day, extremely satisfied.

That night, when Chris got home, I proudly showed him my starter. I explained to the children my severely limited knowledge of how it worked (thinking, at the time, that I sounded like a seasoned expert), which was the exact point in time that I remembered that it was brought to the spelling bee in an insulated bag. CLEARLY I was supposed to put it in the refrigerator when I got home and now all these hours had passed because I let a chipmunk distract me and oh my goodness did I just kill my first starter before I even produced a single loaf? Maybe serial starter killing does run in my family what have I done!!

Chris, though an eager eater of all homemade goodness, laughed. Then comforted me with the words, “If you killed your sourdough starter because you were too busy staging roadkill, I will love you for that. We’re more of a roadkill homeschool family than a bread-making homeschool family.”

“BUT FRESH BREAD! DON’T YOU WANT FRESH BREAD!”

“Yes but, the story!!”

I did some frantic Googling and discovered that all was okay – I’d likely just made my yeast more hungry, it was hard to kill a starter, and it would probably prove itself to be alive the first time I fed it.

I quickly refrigerated it, and fed it as soon as my instruction pamphlet allowed. It happily ate the food, grew, and then grew into a lovely dough upon mixing.

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I made my first ever sourdough loaves, and finally felt like a Real Housewife of The Deep South.

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Regardless of his feelings about what kind of homeschool family we are, my husband was incandescently happy with the hot fresh bread slathered in freshly mixed honey butter (or butter honey, as Noah prefers it to be called) that I had coming out of the oven as he walked in the door from a wet run.

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As the weeks passed and the successful loaves stacked up, I became obsessed with my little pet, reading more about what a starter really is, and even buying the new novel, Sourdough, which only deepened my understanding and unhealthy adoration of my starter. I have since been going around explaining to everyone what starters are and how they work.

Because you see. There are wild yeasts floating all around us. And you catch them and create a starter by leaving out flour and water for a week, feeding it more flour and water and taking some out. The wild yeasts are all like “Well, honey, doesn’t that look like a delicious home!” and set up a colony in your paste. Furthermore, Wild Yeasts like to travel with their BFFs, good bacteria, and those guys are super protective of their yeasty friends. So they guard their new encampment, refusing entry to bad bacteria, gross mold, or other things that might want a crack at your lovely flour and water.

(Except if I tried this, The Porch Cat would, with certainty, vomit directly into the starter, and no good bacteria can hold that sturdy a stronghold.)

It’s a genius system, clearly proving that God wants us eating bread. And people have been catching these wild yeasts for 5,000 years. So OBVIOUSLY, Sourdough is Paleo.

THEN, the wild yeast feast on the gluten of the flour, supposedly (though I haven’t had a gluten-sensitive test subject yet) making the end product gluten free. Because they pre-digest the gluten for you, turning it into gases which make your bread rise and create those lovely sourdough air pockets in your finished product. So apparently, wild yeasts are also gluten sensitive, because it gives them the worst gas.

As I became more and more intrigued by my paleo, gluten-free, basically-a-vegetable bread made for me by an entire microbial universe, I found myself perhaps in an unhealthy existential relationship with my bread. Because that’s normal, right? I pondered their civilization, their families, their lives, and hoped that when I cooked one cup of them, they’d sent me the penal colony of yeasts – perhaps the ones that had committed yeasty crimes were the ones in my measuring cup. It was like olden Australia, but the penalty for your crimes was being baked into a loaf. Because otherwise I was baking my chefs and eating my artisan breadmakers. It was all very confusing. But that didn’t stop me from making the world’s best hamburger between my dead pets.

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Meanwhile, I was making multiple loaves every week, and instead of a January Whole 30, we had a January Dough 30, and let me tell you – it’s a much more delightful way to spend that miserable month.

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I spread my loaves around to friends and family as best I could, although I must say it was difficult – there were multiple times that I was going to take a loaf to someone who had a death in the family or a sick child, only to remember at the last minute that they were gluten-free, or paleo, or on a ketone diet, or some other such limiting factor. I felt like getting all loud and Oprah-ish and in some faces about HOW AWESOME BREAD IS, but I didn’t. I just kept my bread and quietly ate another slice slathered in butter honey.

I even made three varieties of Stromboli with my dough, which had been for a long time one of Chris’ favorite creations from my mom (although she made it with regular bread, since she long ago murdered her sourdough starters.) Now I really felt like I had arrived in wifedom.

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Then my wild yeasts had a baby. (i.e. I fed them but then didn’t feel good and so didn’t make dough.) If you do this, you’re supposed to throw away a cup of starter to make them think you made dough, but although I can bake my tiny friends, I cannot just dump them down the drain to live out their existence in the septic tank. Talk about a penal colony. Septic tank wild yeasts are definitely the kind of colony that will rise up through the drainpipes, riding on steeds of poop, and drown you in your sleep.

So instead, I made a baby.

I took an old sour cream container, cut vents in the lid, and made a new starter. Then I messaged my small group.

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Nikki was the chosen new owner of my fresh baby yeast puppy.

I took the bundle of joy to her with a copy of my sheet of instructions/family tree. I am positive that when Nikki got home that night, she did not get distracted by roadkill and mistreat her puppy. However, I did check in with her the next morning to see how he slept his first night in his new home, and she told me that he was great, he’d slept well, and that she’d named him Yeastopher.

That’s right. Clearly Nikki deserves a wild yeast universe more than I. It had not, until that moment, occurred to me to name mine.

Naturally, I spent all day pondering the possibilities, and finally settled on Kanyeast. Pronounced (so you won’t be embarrassed if you ever find yourself addressing my yeast family,) as con-YAYst. Then I updated my feeding log to show my true love for my Yeast Puppy Colony Universe.

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So, yo bread, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but sourdough is one of the best loaves of all time…one of the best loaves of all time.

Stop the Barbarians and Their Toxins.

If there’s any modern truism, it is that we cannot have nice things. Any new good thing is immediately picked apart and ruthlessly demonized for its harmful effects on some segment of Earth-dwellers, be they human, animal, or plant. My dear fellow Earth-dwelling humans, it is time for me to discuss how we have all been deceived, and ruin your good thing.

We have been fear-mongered and fooled into purchasing flu-fighting poisons for our family – simply because everyone else was doing it. Like lemmings to the edge of a school-closing, family-wrecking, paranoid cliff, we have fought and bled to acquire the new holy grails of flu-fighting magic.

Move over Tamiflu, there’s a new kid and an old weird guy in town.

I, too, was fooled. With local pharmacies scrambling for stock, I even went so far as to preemptively order the fresh death products from Amazon – just to have them on hand if we needed them. Which is when I started looking into what I had done.

I am discussing, of course, the viral Facebook-urged purchase of Elderberry Syrup and Oscillococcinum.

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I purchased both of these things, just in case my family succumbed to the flu despite our best efforts at avoiding it.

But what are these things? Oscilloco-what? It sounds mediciney enough. Okay.

But elderberries? The only point of reference I have to them is a rude Frenchman yelling at King Arthur, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”

But hey, Facebook testimonials are the Consumer Reports of 2018. So I believed that they would save us, and I dutifully shoved Elderberry gummies down my kid’s throats every morning – just in case.

Until I started researching it deeper. One can never do too much research into product safety. So I turned over the box of Oscillococcinum.

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They hide their ingredients behind an extinct language to keep you from knowing what you’re putting into your body. But when translated, the active ingredient of Oscillococcinum is the anus of a barbarian. I have thoroughly researched this on the internet (which is quite the minefield let me assure you), and barbarian anus is TOXIC to humans, and doubly toxic to children.

Yet they tell you to feed your children, just two years of age and older, an adult-sized portion of Sphincter de Savage.

Furthermore, check out the inactive ingredients. Lactose! They are also trying to destroy the bowels of the lactose-intolerant. If they take this product, it’ll make them think barbarian anus.

AND THEY CALL THIS HOMEOPATHIC. What they mean is that it would be pathological for homo sapiens to put this in their bodies!

Furthermore, its counterpart, Elderberry Syrup, is causing a pandemic of previously unseen proportions within the church. Do you know how many Elders must be harvested to create just one bottle of Elderberry Syrup? Every protestant church in The Bible Belt is missing at least two and a half Elders. Deacons everywhere are having to step up their aging in order to take their place.

Some of the more liturgical denominations have written The Pope, asking to borrow a Cardinal or two until the depths of Elder Harvesting has passed. Because after all, no one is drinking Cardinalberry Syrup.

BE AWARE, people. Don’t just blindly follow viral Facebook posts when the future of your family’s well-being is in your hands!!

Let me offer a better solution.

If you feel strongly about fighting the flu with homeopathic methods and want a safer, more reliable product, then I highly recommend that you do your research – you will find that only one essential item will meet your needs. You need The Oil of Uranus.

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Uranus Oils are carefully harvested from the depths of artisan asteroids and are protected from seed to seal. It is guaranteed that no barbarians ever make it into the final product, ensuring a zero toxicity vial of the best Uranus has to offer. Just a drop of Uranus Oil under the tongue will stop a fever in its tracks, and rubbing a small amount of Uranus on the outside of the nose and throat will calm those upper respiratory symptoms instantaneously.

And of course, there is no greater power over your family’s health than keeping the Oil of Uranus continuously diffusing throughout your house. The peace and relief that you and your family will feel is unequalled.

But just like every other enlightening blog post out there, I know y’all are going to do what you’re going to do anyway and ignore this life or death warning that I cry out to you. So enjoy your barbarian anus and extract of senior citizen. Bottoms up!

’tis The Season to Curl Up With a Good Book.

I did a LOT of reading while I was recovering from my surgery, and since then, on sub-freezing days, I’ve done a LOT of reading to self-medicate myself through the evil ailment of winter. So it’s clearly time again to share my favorite reads (the last two versions can be found here and here, and I’ve gotten zero complaints about my recommendations, so clearly I would never steer you wrong.)


Favorite Read this Go-Round: The Sheila Turnage Mo and Dale Mystery Books.

These books are SO FUN. The dialogue and characters are fantastically southern small town. Think To Kill A Mockingbird, but set in the twenty-teens, and also lighter and sillier. She includes brilliant details that make these a delight all the way through (my favorite is that one of the characters drives an Underbird. It used to be a Thunderbird, until the T and h fell off), and sad when they’re over (a fourth book is due out in the fall – she best not be late.) The books are technically children’s books, but a lot of the topics are more mature than typical kid books (child abuse, affairs, murder, you know – the usual.) So I recommend them for adults, and you use your judgment as to whether your kids are ready to read them (I would let Ali read them, but they would also require some follow-up conversations, I’m sure.)


Best Historical Fiction: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

I do not gravitate toward historical fiction. I prefer made-up universes. So when I started reading this book and realized it was historical fiction, I was a tiny bit bummed. But then I fell in love with the three storylines and upon finishing, immediately loaned it out to a friend because it’s just THAT GOOD. It’s an enjoyable read, and I’ll definitely make Ali read this one when she studies World War II – it fleshes out several details of how the war affected people’s lives in a way that will definitely stick with me, and will humanize it for her.


In the category of New Series That’s Worth Following: The Apprentice Witch.

The best news about this series is that the second book comes out on March 1, so you won’t have too much waiting before getting another fix. Also, this book has the most beautiful, tactile cover I’ve ever seen. But besides all that, it was a great read. He creates a world where witches are assets and somewhat like soldiers in a war-torn world. Each town needs and honors their witch that helps protect them. A few chapters are a bit clunky, but it’s his first novel, and the creativity of the universe creation makes up for it.


Best Book You Never Heard Of: Ruined by Paula Morris.


This book would be a perfect read for the Mardi Gras season, or right before you visit New Orleans. It’s a ghost story that takes place in and among the New Orleans socialite, the Krewes, and the crypts of the old cemeteries. It’s not super creepy or scary, and is a very engaging read. There’s a sequel that I haven’t read yet, but it’s definitely on my Amazon wish list.


In the ever-popular category of Old European Men Find Their Way, I loved both A Man Called Ove and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

I will say that I cried a lot while reading A Man Called Ove, but I think it had more to do with my uterus having been freshly removed than Ove’s story.

I think.

(Let me know if it’s actually Ove.)

But they’re both fantastic reads if you like the genre of personal stories of old men. Which apparently I do.


In the category of seeking to understand someone else’s existence, I highly recommend The Stars Beneath our Feet.

It is set in the projects of Harlem and takes you through the journey of a 12-year-old boy in between being safe as a child and being recruited and bullied by gangs as a teen. This book explains the feelings and struggles he goes through in beautiful and relatable ways. I think this would be a great read for tweens and teens.


In the category of I’m not quite sure whether to recommend this one but I really enjoyed it so…read at your own risk, I recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This book is not for everyone. Neil Gaiman is weird. But I’m weird, so I kinda get him. I adored Neverwhere, I liked the audio book of Coraline, and I liked the movie (not-so-much the book) of Stardust. This book is a short read, but is really good, if you don’t mind some creepiness. Also, this book is not for kids. You might be like “Rachel, are you sure you meant to recommend this?” halfway through the book, but if you make it to the end, I think you’ll come back and say “Okay I so get it.”


In the category of “It’s a miracle! I finally liked an author’s second book!”, I enjoyed Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

I recommended her first book, Love Lies and Spies, in my first book recommendation post. And to be honest, these two books are quite a lot alike (the stories have totally run together in my head.) But if you loved Love Lies and Spies and want more, this book is definitely for you.


And finally, in the category of it’s about time I got around to reading that, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

This book wasn’t nearly as creepy as I expected (based on the cover.) As a blogger who often does this, I totally loved his ability to weave actual old photographs into his story. (Okay I don’t weave actual old photographs into my stories, but I think you know what I mean.) The characters he created from the photographs were delightful, and the story was fun, although it seemed to drag a bit toward the end. I bought the three sequels to this book, but haven’t read them yet. If you have and you loved or hated them, let me know!


I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from my book recommendation posts, and a couple people also asked for lists of the books I didn’t enjoy, perhaps to gauge whether I’m a reputable opinion giver, or perhaps so as to not waste their time on them.


Books I didn’t like:

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan – I adored Counting by 7s, but Short was a total drag. Which is a shame because the cover was adorable.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I mentioned this in the last review. But yeah. I got rid of this book as soon as I finished it. It gave me alll the anxiety.

Books that were okay, but not spectacular:

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Steward (a disappointing follow-up book after I fell in love with the Mysterious Benedict Society series)
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs (If you’re a total Hamilton geek, you will enjoy this – it just dragged on a bit.)

What have you read lately?