Sacrificing upwards of 50 g of flour per day to the levain gods isn't really a sustainable model, nor is it convenient - eventually we'd like to get back to a regular schedule, right?
So, how do you put your bread adventures on hold, without needing to wait 5-6 days to start a new culture of yeast from scratch? People often throw their starter in the back of the fridge in a glass jar to sit in timeout, right next to the bread and butter pickles that you regret buying because B&B are absolutely disgusting. Don't @ me. But if your fridge is at all unlike a professional kitchen's (read: a superposition of controlled and uncontrolled chaos), you'll forget about it. For weeks, or at worst, months, you'll have a still slowly fermenting jar of flour sludge (alas! is that mold also? can we bake mold? *frantically Googles*). You can certainly do this if you know you'll be back on the sourdough train within a week or two - hey, we all need breaks. Any longer though, and you'll need to almost pay more attention to it than if it were freely fermenting on your counter. You can read conflicting answers on how to store it in the cold recess of your fridge: open top, tight lid, only cheesecloth, cheesecloth plus a rubber band, cheesecloth with a layer of parchment as well, cheesecloth with the blessings of Martin Luther himself. And truthfully, you've already had a cold fermented loaf before - you know the yeast doesn't just stop being active at 35-38 deg F. It will keep fermenting and accumulating excess acidity in an uncontrolled fashion. So what's the point? What's the solution?
Don't put your starter in the fridge.
At the point where you have a healthy sourdough starter (i.e. it can easily double in volume after feeding over the course of 5-6 hours), you'll have excess. The discard. You've seen the bakers on the 'gram making everything from sourdough pasta, to sourdough pie crusts, to sourdough biscuits, sourdough liege waffles, to sourdough hair ties. I generally do not fall into this camp of what I do with my discard. I cannot sustainably eat or store the baked goods that you can make from an every day discard schedule. I'm sorry, sometimes I just don't want discard pancakes - read: very often I do not want discard pancakes.
But Cas, that seems supremely wasteful to just throw away the flour and water mixture resulting in a yeast colony that you worked so hard to cultivate by doing absolutely nothing but awaiting the cruel passage of time, right? Right. You can toss it. I'm not going to judge you, but remember, the more you throw away when you aren't under the explicit plans to bake loaves of sourdough within the next several days to a week, the more flour you wind up wasting in the long run.
That was merely an aside to the true argument I want to make here: dehydrate and freeze your starter. What are the chemical and physical process that are keeping your yeast colony alive? The presence of liquid water and above freezing temperatures - you know damn well it's harder to make a new sourdough starter in the winter than it is in the summer due to differences in ambient temperature. Solve this problem by spreading out your discard (or your entire ripe levain) onto a silicone mat as thin as you can - I use an offset spatula to aid with this. It'll get sticky, but whatever, you were going to throw the starter away anyway. Let this sit out, uncovered, in a dry-ish room temperature location in your house. If you have a crafts room, feel free to use that, but you'll need to make sure it goes undisturbed for 2-3 days while it completely dehydrates. If you were to somehow suck all of the water content out of your starter, it would surely kill it, but by slowly starving it of water, the colony sacrifices parts of itself to save the whole (maybe the analogy here is broken, but hopefully you get what I'm talking about). Smooth gradient dehydration. Don't try to speed this up in a warm oven or anything, let nature do its magic.
Once you can easily pick up the sheet of dehydrated starter and snap it like a Christmas cookie, do just that. Break it up into tiny chunks like you're reenacting the one scene from Breaking Bad, you know...the one where they make meth. Weigh out the starter and place into a freezer bag, and FFS, label the bag with how much you have, it'll make your life much easier. Toss that bag into the freezer. Congratulations, you've now preserved a portion of your culture that you took so long to make in the first place (unless you were gifted an already ripe sourdough).
But the temperature!! Won't this kill the yeast)? It will not. Commercial yeast production facilities essentially flash freeze and coat their yeast with a protective barrier to place into those nice little packets. Recall that the yeast SLOWS DOWN at fridge temperatures, but will essentially go dormant at near-zero deg F temperatures. You can now call yourself a preservationist for your lactobacillius.
When the spark of sourdough strikes you again, or for when you have another protracted length of time when you're home for say, a pandemic, you can start your addiction much quicker than going from scratch. And is much less of a pain than taking up precious fresh food storage in your refrigerator.
Simply take 30-40 g of your broken chunks of frozen starter and place into a jar with equal parts room temperature water. Let that sit for 2-3 hours and give it a stir to make sure your chunks are well hydrated. If you smell it, you should already be getting whiffs of acidity and sourness. Once you have a tahini-like consistency in your starter, give it a small feed (if you normally feed 50 g of flour and water each day, go with 25 g on this first one), and check back in after another 4 hours. If there isn't any activity, let it go another 4, or until you start to see activity and bubbles popping on the now ideally domed surface of your starter. After 2 subsequent days of regular feeding, your starter is now ready to be baked with for full loaves of bread. Record time, if you ask me.
For testing purposes, I have now successfully revived frozen, dehydrated starters 3 times, all from the same mother starter at regular intervals (after 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months). They are all winners. I have some data to show a side-by-side of how a frozen starter and a fresh starter compare at the same time interval. 5-6 days on average for a fresh starter; 2-3 days for the frozen one. The math is there, folks.
As a closing remark, I want to remind you of the crucial second element: temperature. Your dehydrated starter will fizzle out in activity if you do not put it into your freezer. I conducted an experiment where I took the same dehydrated chunks and tossed them in my room temperature pantry and attempted a revival after 12 months. This did not work, even after several days of feeding. By then, the yeast is fully dead. I don't recommend this.
I have plenty of pictures to below that show the process of revival and dehydration process. Ask me if you have any questions or need clarification in the comments below, or email me at my contact page.
Comparison of two sourdough starters that were revived at the same time, each measurement on each day on the x-axis is at 5PM after an 8AM feeding schedule, identical amounts of whole wheat flour and room temperature tap water for both. (color online: frozen starter in blue, fresh starter in orange) Note: on day 2.5, I was able to measure the height over lunch, indicating that the frozen starter had reached its activity peak for the day and had sank down by the time I measured again at 5PM
Instagram has connected me with an overwhelming level of supportive, real individuals who encourage me to expand the repressed creative urges (thanks science). People are generally more than willing to go to bat for you and your content if you truly put your soul and energy into it. You'll (and we'll by extension) share recipes, ideas, helpful commentary and/or critique, product reviews, and even passing massive heart eye emojis in the comments. You're all sharing your experience(s) in the kitchen, whether they be good, bad, a complete disaster, or the beginning of something that is truly joyful. It becomes a creative outlet for you, displaying the confidence to be able to express your feelings on a passion through writing about food in my case. Life is good. You enjoy the challenge. You enjoy the experimentation. You enjoy the social aspect of it.
Continuing to do this will inevitably grow your audience. An increase in your influence will inevitably lead to branded, sponsored content appearing in your feed. You might get a DM, an email, maybe even a phone call (for all you freaks that keep a phone number on your 'gram profile) from people that enjoy your content. What's this? You want to send me a bottle or two of wine to use in a recipe? Hell yeah I love free shit, plus I can easily take down a bottle of wine in an evening. And that's your downfall as a creator; that's where integrity begins to erode, not by your doing, but by the temptation from someone or something much more nefarious than it seems.
Brands. I'm talking about the toxicity of brands and sponsored content here, if you aren't catching on.
Brands that are looking to increase their digital presence online can farm out their work to third-party advertising agencies to do the work of setting up social media posts, promotion, etc. A lot of these agencies are looking to exploit the carrot-on-a-stick mentality of giving you two bottles of (subpar) wine to, what is essentially, buy the cheapest advertising space they will ever purchase. Payment in cold hard cash for services rendered? Blasphemy, this [INSERT PRODUCT] is just as good as cash (can only be redeemed at Chuck-E-Cheezes in Indiana and Ohio only). I hesitate to call this a consciously malicious practice, in that they are complicit in the exploitation of adventurous/enthusiastic content creators who may be creating content to challenge themselves in the kitchen, but it definitely exploitative in nature.
A brand that seeks to do this level of grassroots advertising and outreach is similarly capable of reaching a plurality of potential sources for new advertising opportunities. Creator A talks about a product, Creator B finds out the connection and pushes the same product onto his or her audience. The cycle multiplies, arguably faster than traditional print media, broadcast media or otherwise. It is clear which party holds the power and the largest share of what is to gain. You've all seen the meme where someone claps back to an eXpoSurE agreement instead of monetary compensation, saying that their rent is only 43 or whatever the number exposures per month. Exposure can be good for people like me who aren't necessarily in love with the idea of monetization of my content. So a share is great to gain a following; we all want to be popular and liked, I'm not here to argue the point of social media, go read a sociological thesis on the matter.
Brands also inherently affect your editorial, oftentimes by design. How can I possibly write an even average review for something I didn't buy and was "gifted" to me (knowing well that there's a very slim probability I'd ever jump at the product on a Tuesday night grocery run). I HAVE to endorse this somehow, even worse whenever the agency requests that you include a 200 word essay and links back to their client's website, thus completing the trauma cycle induced by 8th grade writing assignments as a kid. By displaying a brand, not out of your own will, but as an obligation for receipt of a product, you have opened your entire audience to a subversive advertisement that some cannot distinguish from a genuine endorsement.
I have turned down more brands than I have worked with based in part by their reputation amongst other creators online, but mainly with complete and utter confusion how their product that would fit anywhere inside my aesthetic or cooking philosophy. Yeah, sure an instant ramen packet would be PERFECT for my line of cooking, as would pre-bottled combinations of brown sugar, soy sauce, and hoisin. I want to be extremely careful with what products I endorse or feel comfortable working with on a regular basis. Otherwise, I lose all credibility in my perceived authority in my sphere of a thousand people that know I exist. I personally hold little to no brand loyalty, or at least publicly. I have certain things that I can speak for in private or things that I prefer to use in my own kitchen, but the farcical activity of incessantly posting branded content and tagging the multi million dollar company on Instagram will do you or I no good. Cooking *isn't* all about having the next biggest line of (insert haughty french name tourtière dish) to show off to your entertaining buddies.
Allow me to wax my self-indulgent philosophizing to say that cooking is one of the base human instincts that keep us alive. Anyone can do it, our ancestors did it with extremely primitive tools, people in dimly lit YouTube videos do it. You don't NEED expensive equipment to do it (at any level, I've seen extremely good cooking out of very basic kitchen gadgets). Skill, enthusiasm, and research make a good cook. Not a "perfectly balanced" Riesling with ye olde foode photographye props. I'm not here to argue if fancy tools make the job easier, they arguably do, but that's not the point of this essay.
I hope that none of this information is revelatory at all, and that *I'm* the only naive asshole willing to make content for what is now free labor.
All of that, just to say: There will be *no* more sponsored content on my page for the forseeable future. My vision and cooking philosophy was challenged by a recent encounter, and I will simply not be taking product without payment in addition. I encourage you to do the same. This practice is as toxic as it is unfair to creators such as myself, if you even consider me a creator.
Now that we're at the end...it's painfully clear I am specifically not pleased with my dealings with Pacific Rim wines or their hired ad agency THAT Agency (referred to as TA). Do not work with this company, and I would implore you to spread this knowledge.
Stop reading here if you don't care about the specifics or drama. Thanks for coming.
To summarize my dealings: I was asked to create content in return for two bottles of wine (valued at a whopping $24 total) and a non-specific amount of exposure on their social media platform(s) totally 1 million impressions annually. Lemme know if that's actually an impressive number (it isn't). The representative from TA (let's call her Obama) that set me up with the deal initially gave no indication on a time frame to post the content, an important detail to dissect, and that I should email them when I post so they can uphold their end of the bargain. I was to create a recipe using their wine, with a middle school writing assignment of 200 words and from 2-4 links back to their client's website. Cool, I can do that. A few months go by (don't @ me, life got in the way) with me finally publishing the content at the end of January. This entire period, they've been flying under complete radio silence, because why should an ad agency hound an independent content creator about his or her schedule? Seems wild to assume that.
So, I send an email to Obama about my published content. No response, and then later a returned email saying it could not be delivered. Awesome, not sure what that means beyond Obama left the office for a new job. I send a direct message back to Pacific Rim wines, informing them that I posted the agreed-upon content. It was left on "Seen" for 5 days. Unprofessional. I think by then, PR actually engaged with my content in the least-effort way imaginable. A like. No comment, no thanks for making content either publicly or in my DMs. Just a like. Hardly enough serotonin and dopamine to fill a neuron. Finally I get a reply from a new representative, let's call her Dern, to email her instead. So, I forwarded the entire conversation Obama and I had to Dern to fill her in on the details. This should clear everything up. Narrator: things were not going to be clear.
Dern either willingly ignored my email or is terrible at her job. Seven full days go by without a reply, an update, a heads up, anything. This is now nearly two weeks with a mainly one-sided interaction with TA, and I'm tired of my content not being reposted as part of our original agreement. Other brands that I have worked with were extremely grateful for the content I made and generally reposted things within minutes of them seeing it. On a fundamental level, that's really all I want, the repost for exposure for a) my own personal influence and growth and b) for their end of the agreement. I send a formal email to Dern informing her that I will be removing the content within 24 hours and that if they wish to repost my content, it will be reinstated. Nice and firm; I have years of sounding like a complete asshole via emails.
Reminder: two weeks pass with radio silence. All of a sudden, I get a reply *within the hour* claiming that my content was "planned to go out" on Feb 20, but Dern can "talk with my team and see if we can get it out tomorrow, Feb 13". Right. That wasn't impromptu at all. By now, I'm completely done with the entire interaction, so I agree to let them post it on the 20th. If they do, great, transaction complete. If not, then that's why you're reading this. I thank them, because I'm a total asshole.
No reply. It is currently the afternoon of the 18th. I'm waiting, with little expectation, for their repost. The content will likely be removed anyway, as there is little to no incentive or legal binding for me to keep the post active with the links back to their ecommerce site. Expect some snarky follow-up post including that second bottle of wine that I used.
Oh, and the wine was frankly awful. It was unpalatable on its own, and was only edible by cooking or baking with it. I tried to pawn it off on the in-laws after cooking with it, and eventually left it with my mother in law. I'm not sure she finished it or tossed it down the drain. I haven't cared to ask.
Make my coq au riesling recipe; it's excellent. Use any dry riesling you'd like. Make my upcoming pear and riesling tart. Use any sweet riesling you'd like. Just...maybe look elsewhere, like a riesling actually made in Germany or Eastern France.
Let’s pretend that I am going to reserve this space for penning somewhat refined, yet carefully calculated thoughts on food culture as I perceive the greater spheres of influence in my day-to-day life. In reality, this post and the greater content of my blog may devolve into madness, but you should be expecting that if you’re around me.
First though, perhaps some context: I’ve been doing the whole ‘Post Pictures of My Food on Instagram for All to See’ thing for almost two years at the time of me penning this, and it’s honestly been an unequivocally beneficial aspect of my life. In terms of personal growth, good ol’ self-worth, and creativity, I have never been at a greater high point. I’m surrounded by individuals who share a passion for food, cooking, drink, and sundry other things. I’m finally able to hone one of my longest held hobbies of mine (one imparted to me by my father) in a setting where I have the freedom (and financial stability) to approach each day as a new adventure in the kitchen.
However, there are aspects about the greater foodie culture that bother me. Maybe this is a new paradigm shift in what it means to be a foodie. Maybe these elements have always existed, and I’m just now cognizant of them.
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth…Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.
In my journey to have a pretty faithful group of y’all that are supportive (for which I am eternally blessed), I have noticed a large degree of (perceived) disingenuity in circles outside of mine in the form of trend-surfing, low-effort content, recycled content, and everyone’s favorite ‘get IG famous fast’ scheme via aggressive follow-unfollow techniques. Generally, in lieu of engaging, original content, posts like that garner success (results may vary, obviously – insert jab about the IG algorithm), so individuals are incentivized to take these route(s). Is there anything inherently wrong with trend-surfing? Hell no. The seasons are changing right now – you can see both pumpkins and fresh watermelons in side-by-side displays at your local grocery store – so you can bet your ass I’ll have some Fall harvest-themed meals to post. Really, there’s nothing wrong with any of my gripes in isolation, but there’s definitely A TYPE of individual that milks all of them for what they’re worth, and y’all know how much I can’t have dairy.
Amongst a jungle of homogeneous, Instagram posts, sometimes it can be hard to distinguish oneself, even with the production of clever, honest, original content. You all have been there – you’re ready to post something that you poured a lot of work into, only to have it ‘underperform’ in reaction from your followers. Sometimes, you post a literal picture of some melted cheese on top of potatoes in a post-consumer beige-colored recyclable container and you’re raking in the fame. It’s disheartening.
Earlier this year, this overwhelmed me, and I became extremely jaded, in that I was not successfully fulfilling the niche I had carved out for myself and my audience. Had I not been a science nerd and actually picked up a book about content creation and a general sense of inadequacy, I might would have known this going in, but alas, here we are. I took a break, an extended hiatus one might say, and I felt like my posts lacked character; I struggled with writing captions (that a large percentage of people don’t read) because my heart and mind were just not feeling it. It’s easy to get burned out on your passion – correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s exactly what happened to me.
So what do I do? I’ve invested a lot of time into this passion, and I’m not about to let it go. Take the scientific approach and distill exactly what you enjoy about the general foodie community and seek out/rediscover accounts that really exemplify what makes this community great. At the same time, I’ve aligned my (what I’m calling) content-mindset with those same creators that do amazing work. In summary:
All of that bullshit, just to say that I can almost fully credit @feelinwhisky (links to social media below) for reinvigorating my spirit on Instagram. I honestly only have positive things to say about her and her work – everything she does is approachable, realistic, unfiltered, and unfettered by ‘traditional/stereotypical IG standards’. Since I’m not that creative, and it’s a flawless tagline to describe her body of work, Emily makes “Real food that doesn't suck.” She said it herself. A particular element of her page that is aspiring is her commitment to effective, honest, and genuine story-telling. It’s almost like she has a communications degree and understands nuances of human interactions. She’s killing it more than I am, but I feel like we are both carving a path through this vast digital landscape of colorful food pictures, and that’s really what this is all about. That is, making delicious food that looks good, is easy, and affordable while also providing a platform for other like-minded individuals with genuine passion to do the same. That, and you can always expect Emily to have a thoroughly steeped personality of millennial attitude and wit in her posts (an attitude that we should all strive to achieve).
Plus, I mean, she shops at Fresh Thyme. What’s not to love?
I’ve blatantly ripped off (read: modified for my own purposes) several of her recipes and greater content as inspiration for some of the content I’ve posted – sometimes this has been consenting, but other times by pure coincidence, which lends more credence to the idea that one should find content creators that one can align to easily (organically or via emulation). They’re ALL home runs (also insert other sports-based analogies here). They’re ALL cheap to make. I can’t complain, and neither should you.
In fact, I’ve recreated her biscuit pot pie bake recently(see below), and ALTHOUGH I didn’t make enough gravy to go with it, it was still undoubtedly delicious. It’s really got everything you’d need for this transitionary weather period: vegetables, filling starches, mouth-feely gravy, and biscuits which “are better anyway so like, who even cares?” You can find her amazing recipe here: https://www.feelinwhisky.com/vegetarian-biscuit-pot-pie/ to make it for yourself and all your loved ones – inclusive of soon to be loved ones of the people you serve it to.
Again, you can find Emily and her body of work at (@feelinwhisky on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/feelinwhisky/ and on her recipe archive and blog https://www.feelinwhisky.com/ where she updates it a much higher frequency than I update mine). Check her out, maybe she’ll reinvigorate your broken spirit. Maybe you’ll learn a few things about sustainable, healthy, and mostly plant-based cooking. Maybe you don’t even have Instagram, for which I’d like to congratulate you on finding this paragraph buried in the infinite of the internet.
Have fun out there cooking, y’all.