The Secret Life and Loves of Sourdough

IMG_0735“The Secret Life and Loves of Sourdough.” Never has a documentary film had such an impact upon the life of an individual– nothing short of a religious conversion, an epiphany, and the attainment of enlightenment all rolled into one.  Fifty-three minutes that radically altered the course of a life.

Sourdough.  He would be transformed by the infusion of sourdough into every conceivable aspect of his life.  Sourdough was the elixir to elevate his mundane existence into one that could only be described as nothing short of extraordinary.

Sourdough would whiten his teeth, thicken his hair plus give it that spunky wave across his forehead he always dreamed of.  It would grant him the explosive physicality of a wrestler doing a back flip off the top rope and executing the perfect take-down, not to mention the endurance of someone who would do two Barclay Marathons before breakfast– a breakfast of sourdough croissants.

Sourdough would permeate every cell of his body, altering his DNA to be shockingly similar to George Clooney’s, only with a better sense of style.  His mind would be altered, giving him a sense of robust confidence to speak with an articulate authority not witnessed since the illustrious political career of John George Diefenbaker.

He wasn’t exactly sure of the science behind it all, but that wasn’t the point.  What mattered was belief.  Oh, sure, he had his theories about internal bodily fermentation which just made so much sense.  It was all about belief. 

His fanaticism was inflicted upon members of his immediate family who endured sourdough pancakes the consistency of semi-gelatinous kevlar, sourdough muffins with a texture reminiscent of a camping sleeping foam, and sourdough brownies that, in spite of the butter, melted chocolate, and excessive amounts of sugar, were deemed inedible even by the family’s pet goat.

The only success, and it was a minor victory, was with his sourdough bread.  Why only a minor victory?  The crust was only able to be sliced with the assistance of a circular saw.  But once sliced, the taste was something else.  And although the promise of personal transformation through consuming sourdough was never fully realized, he persisted with sourdough Christmas cake, sourdough angel food, and sourdough fritters.  And never once before his life was cut short by a fatal slippage of the circular saw while preparing a sourdough tomato sandwich, did he come to the realization and ultimate truth about sourdough:

You can pretty much make anything with sourdough, but this does not mean you should.


A Legendary Sourdough

IMG_0731Legend has it that it all began with some wild Yukon yeast blowing in the wind and landing in a bowl of flour and water belonging to none other than a prospector by the name of Jack London.  From this sourdough sponge, he baked bread that inspired a literary marvel, originally titled, “The Fermentation of the Wild.”

Failing in his fortune seeking and suffering the effects of scurvy, London left the Yukon only after gifting his sourdough to his favourite dance hall girl, Scarlett D’Angelo (likely not her real name).  She maintained the sourdough with tender care, employing it most effectively in a flapjack she appropriately named, “The Hangover Basher.”  Her cure for the common hang-over was legendary, earning her a place of high regard among many a tippled prospector.

With the gold rush winding down, she left Dawson City with a fortune thanks to this sourdough magic.  Taking up residence in her abandoned place of residence was a young bank clerk by the name of Robert Service.  His meagre salary from the bank barely afforded him enough to eat, so he supplemented his diet with bread baked from this inherited sourdough.  There is no need to tell the reader of what became of Robert Service, who left the bank and was then hounded by literary fame and fortune. 

From this point, the sourdough was passed on through a number of keepers, including Bonny Thompson, a hairdresser who lived briefly in Dawson City before moving, along with the sourdough, to Estevan, Saskatchewan where it resided for the next five decades.

Upon Bonny’s death, her will was read, and such was the first instance in recorded history in which a sourdough was mentioned in a will.  It remained in the family, moving about the country until ending up in Red Deer, Alberta where the dough was granted an honorary degree by Red Deer  College.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

1.5 cups of sourdough starter

1.5 cups of flour (I used whole wheat, but you choose.)

5 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

These quantities are estimates.  Variations will occur depending upon the personality of your sourdough starter.  Is it a stick-in-the-mud gooey, or a sloppy sloshy slurry or somewhere in between?

Just a warning on this crust.  It’s not your average doughy, squishy, melt-in-your-mouth type of crust.  It’s got character, which means you have to really sink your teach into it and chew for all you’re worth.  The reward is a tasty chewing experience like no other offered by the pizza chains.

  1.  Mix all of the ingredients adding extra flour or oil or whatever it takes to give you a pizza dough consistency.
  2. Let is rest for 30 min. or more.  It won’t really rise during this time.  You’re just giving it a bit of time to recover after the trauma of being transformed.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 500 F.
  4. Roll out the dough into a pizza shape of your choosing onto a sheet covered in parchment paper or a generous application of spray oil.
  5. Bake the crust only for 7 minutes.
  6. Take it out, brush it with oil, then add whatever toppings you wish.  The toppings I really like include tomatoes, mushrooms (all rolled in oil), goat cheese and dried herbs like basil or oregano.  There are, as you know, an infinite number of possibilities for toppings.
  7. Return the pizza to the oven.  The baking time will vary (as everything seems to involving sourdough), but I baked mine only for an additional 8 minutes and it was done.  The crust starts to really brown or maybe even tend to black, then you know it’s ready to go.

Dual Personality Rolls


Pictured Above:  A Savoury Roll.  No photo was taken of the sweet alternative as they were devoured before a camera could be raised.  

Sweet drowns out inadequacies.  Savoury is openly honest about shortcomings.

Sweet is a comb-over with a Kool-aid dye job.  Savoury is bedhead with a few passes of splayed fingers.

Sweet is a pickup truck with over-sized tires and a gun rack.  Savoury is a bicycle with a basket and no fenders.

Sweet tap-dances, Moonwalks and heal slides.  Savoury does the Downward Dog.

Sweet delivers an uppercut.  Savoury delivers a back rub.

Sweet is a tsunami of pleasure that overwhelms your senses and leaves you flattened like a lifeless bag of bones in its aftermath.  Savoury is a subtle tap on your shoulder that makes you take notice, but doesn’t knock you off your feet.

This recipe is for one roll, two fillings (not at the same time, however).  You choose which you are: sweet or savoury.

Sweet and Savoury Sourdough Rolls

(Adapted from the Unskinny Boppy)

The Rolls

1/2 cup of butter (cool in the fridge)

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of sourdough starter

1 Tablespoon of white sugar

1 cup of milk

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

The Sweet Filling

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1/2 cup of softened (not melted) butter

The Savoury Filling

Aged cheddar (or other strong-tasting cheese)

French’s mustard


You’ll need about 8 hours or so to make these. (But don’t worry, you’re not working on them the whole time.)

  1. Cut the 1/2 cup of butter into the 2 1/2 cups of flour until it’s pretty much reduced to a sandy texture.
  2. Mix in the 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1 cup of milk and make into a dough ball.
  3. Cover the dough ball and let it rise for about 7 hours (although I’ve gotten away with less).
  4. Knead in the 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.  Add more flour if needed until you have a smooth dough ball.
  5. Roll out the dough into a 1/4” thick rectangle.
  6. Spread either the sweet or savoury filling over the dough.  For the savoury, spread enough mustard to cover, then grate enough cheese to cover.
  7. On the long edge, tightly roll the dough up until you have a long tube of dough.
  8. Cut slices (and here’s the contentious part) between 1/2” and 1” thick.  (You decide what your preference will be.)
  9. Place flat on tin foiled or parchment papered tray.
  10. Cook in 400 F oven for 20 to 30 min.

The savoury rolls are great with soup, while the sweet cinnamon rolls are best eaten on their own all at once in a session of pure gluttony.

The Untapped Potential of a Genuinely Spectacular Failure

It takes a special talent to fail in a genuinely spectacular fashion.  Intentional failure is just a repackaging of rebellion, completely lacking a profound spontaneity with its disingenuousness easily sniffed out.  Intentional failure lacks the mystique of an unimaginable outcome that no one saw coming.

Most important, the genuinely spectacular failure possesses the possibility of being reinterpreted as an achievement.  All it takes is a shift in context.  Take the object pictured below. 


Its humble beginning was that of a sourdough starter combined with a variety of ill-advised ingredients and questionable methodology that all proved catastrophic to the intended outcome– a loaf of sourdough bread.  The result was a brick-like object which is bullet-proof, sulphuric acid-proof, with a density only slightly less than a black hole.  Clearly a freak of invention that defies physics, definition, or logic.  The potential for its use is only limited by the feeble capacities of the imagination.  Of greatest concern to humanity is that this marvel doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  For now, it is best kept in a secure, secret location, buried in the local landfill, until future civilizations can dig it up and find an enlightened purpose for this marvel of failure.

Frankenstein’s Breakfast Scone

Reverse Engineering

You see something you like and decide you want to make one yourself.  Such was the case with Dr. Frankenstein.  Although the earth had no shortage of humans, he decided to reverse engineer a human, making a few key errors along the way.  The result was not pretty, nor considered a complete success.  Considering the odds Dr. Frankenstein faced, he did come pretty close to achieving his goal.  Unfortunately, close wasn’t quite enough, and things didn’t exactly pan out for him.

The quest to reverse engineer a breakfast scone from a cafe in Tofino, British Columbia may seem much less ambition than the reverse engineering of a human, but the chances of unleashing a murderous monster upon an unsuspecting world seem a lot lower.  With this in mind, I forged ahead and attempted to replicate this:


I used a basic cheddar scone recipe, then formed the dough into nests.  The trick was to cook the egg in the nest of the scone such that both egg and scone would be done at the same time.  The first and only attempt so far was with baking the scones and eggs together for the full duration of 14 minutes. 

Don’t do this.  As the scones baked, their cupped shapes slackened, and there were a couple of dam breaks, with egg running out onto the cookie sheet.  The ones that did retain their form and hold their egg resulted in an overcooked egg, of a consistency slightly less chewable than a Goodyear winter tire (studless).

So, if one was to attempt this recipe again, I think the key would be to let the scones bake for five or so minutes to let them firm up a bit, then crack the eggs into their forms and continue baking from there.

The other issue is of “egg doneness.”  Some people like eggs soft, others hard.  So, if you want to keep everyone happy, it’s like cooking steaks in reverse.  Some eggs would have to be added earlier than others to attain the right variety of solidity.

So, in terms of reverse engineering, I’d say these Breakfast Scones are pretty comparable in their stage of development to Frankenstein’s monster– almost there, but with a few critical flaws that leave one slightly less than fully satisfied. 


Choking on Artichokes

Fictional recipe writer Antonio Esposito had this really bad habit of listing ingredients in his recipes that never appeared in his instructions.  “What are we supposed to do with the three pounds of artichokes?” was often asked when someone was trying to make a frittata recipe from page 162 of his cookbook, The Heart of the Artichoke.  In fact, if one was to methodically examine each and every recipe in this phantom cookbook, they’d find artichokes listed in vast quantities in each recipe, yet never appeared in the instructions.  Artichoke Lasagne, Artichoke Smoothies, Artichoke Risotto, and the list goes on . . . Not one of the recipes mentioned artichokes in the instructions.

If you knew Antonio Esposito, whose real name could have been Darren Schminckleberg, you’d know this was not the result of some forgetfulness or careless error.  Rather, it was a prank played by him with full intentions.

Okay, I’ll say it wasn’t exactly a prank.  Maybe a better description was that it was an underhanded conspiracy for the general public to purchase more artichokes.  For, you see, the book’s publication was secretly funded by the Artichoke Producers of America to promote the use of artichokes and, of course, increase their market sales.

And so, when you come upon a recipe in a cookbook which lists ingredients yet never mentions them in the instructions, you have to be suspicious, and are left with two options.

1.  Leave the ingredient out and hope to use it in another recipe.

2.  Improvise, and project how the author may have intended the ingredient to be used.

Such was the case when I made Yotem Ottolenghi’s recipe for Egg, Eggplant, Potato, and Tomatoes, which I decided to call, Eggplotatomato.

The recipe is quite wonderful, delicious, and very worthwhile to make.  However, after I made it, I was left to ask, “What do you do with the red onion and Sriracha?”  To answer my own question, I improvised.  The result is the rewritten instructions for this recipe which you really should try to make.  And while you make it, the ghost of Antonio Esposito may be seen drifting about your kitchen, urging you to incorporate artichokes, but not telling you how.



Adapted from Plenty More by Yotem Ottolenghi

4 medium tomatoes

red onion 1/4 cup diced!!!

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 cup parsley

1 tbsp Sriracha sauce!!!

2 medium eggplants

Cooking oil, about 1 1/4 cups

1 1/3 lb Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup tahini paste

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove of garlic

6 eggs

1 tsp sumac OR lemon zest

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

The Instructions . . . Which include the onion and the Sririacha

1.  The Eggplant

Peel and slice the eggplants into 1 1/4” chunks.

Put oil in saute pan about 1/2” up the sides.

Place over high heat.

When the oil is hot, fry eggplant in batches for 3 to 4 min at a time.

Remove and place on plate or pan covered in paper towel.

2.  The Potatoes

Slice potatoes into 1/8” thick slices. (Maybe cut slices in half)

Place in boiling water for 3 min.

Use saute pan to fry potatoes in oil for 5 min.

Add salt and pepper, and flip pieces then cook another 5 min.

3.  The Sauce

In a food processor, mix;

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Sriracha

clove of garlic

lemon zest


4.  The Other Stuff

Cut tomatoes into 1/2” pieces

Dice red onion into small pieces 1/4 cup

Chop up cilantro and parsley

5.  Poaching the Eggs

Boil a large pan with enough water to float the eggs.

Add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.

One egg at a time, crack into a cup, then gently place in water.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat.

Let eggs sit for 4 minutes or so.

6.  Assembly

On large serving platter, spread the potatoes first.

Spread half of the sauce over the potatoes.

Spread the eggplant next.

Spread the rest of the sauce on the eggplant.

Cover next with the rest of the fresh veggies and herbs.

Place eggs on the top.

Devour!  And show particular enjoyment of the onions and Sriracha sauce.

Seven Nation Army on the Trumpet


Doesn’t this look delicious?  Don’t be fooled by looks or preconceived notions in general.

Asparagus Season.  Eat it while it’s fresh.  To freeze asparagus is a sin, punishable with one hundred lashes on the left hand with– appropriately enough– a stalk of asparagus.  Believe me, after about eighty lashes, you’ll be begging to unplug your freezer.

The theoretical versatility of fresh asparagus is nothing short of staggering.  Boiled, fried, baked, pickled– the imagination reels with possibilities.  Asparagus flatbread, asparagus smoothies, shredded asparagus, asparagus fries, asparagus spring rolls, asparagus soup, asparagus lasagne, asparagus wine . . . okay, so I’ve never heard of asparagus wine, but I’m sure someone out there has given it a try.  My guess is that the results were quite underwhelming, so it hasn’t caught on in the wine world.

I say “theoretical versatility,” for if you look a little closer, in almost every case, asparagus is pretending to be something else.  Kind of like the guy with the trumpet trying to be a rock musician.  Or carob pretending to be chocolate.  It doesn’t quite fly.

But here’s an asparagus recipe that actually works.  Asparagus Pesto.  When you make this, don’t expect the pesto to taste like your old basil, etc. standby pesto.  Just open your mind to a new flavour, setting judgement aside until you’ve actually tasted it.  To forewarn you, I’ll just say it doesn’t have the bite that basil pesto has, which isn’t to say this is good or bad.  It’s just the way it is. 

So, keep an open mind.  Let the guy play his trumpet version of “Seven Nation Army.”  Try asparagus pesto.  Release those assumptions!

Asparagus Pesto


1 lb. asparagus

1 cup grated parmesan

2 cloves of garlic

3 handfuls of spinach

3/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 tablespoon juice


1.  Cook asparagus in salted water until soft.

2.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

3.  Roast or fry the walnuts.  (I like to fry them, personally.  Don’t microwave!)

4.  Puree the asparagus, garlic, spinach and walnuts.

5.  Slowly drizzle oil into mixture.  If too thick, add water.

6.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Simply mixed into fresh noodles, this makes a dish worth taking up the trumpet for.

The True Tortilla


With the completion of a circumnavigation of the rectangular Province of Saskatchewan by foot, he had reached the bottom of his Bucket of Lists and thought, Oh, my goodness.  I have no more reasons to live.  But then, he noticed a thin slip of damp paper stuck to the side about half way up.  Using the tip of a cracked fingernail, he peeled the paper off the side of the bucket and read a note he’d made so many years before– a time when his commitment to Southwestern cuisine was at the forefront of his compulsiveness.  “Make Homemade Tortillas,” read the simple ambition. 

Why this?  He figured that store bought tortillas– resembling cardboard cutout Frisbees– couldn’t really be what tortillas were all about.  No.  There had to be more to them than serving the role as a neutral non-entity platform for fillings. 

Now with a reason to live, he forged ahead to perform a task which gave a whole new complex level of meaning to a life desperate for accomplishments.

Homemade Tortillas

(Adapted from

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons lard or shortening or even margarine

1 1/2 cups water

Combine the salt and the flour with the baking powder in a bowl.  Mix the lard or shortening or even margarine into the bowl and work it with your fingers until you get an even consistency similar to cornmeal.  Combine with the water and create a dough.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding water if too dry or more flour if too sticky.

Under the cover of a dishcloth, let it sit for 10 minutes.  Divide into equally sized balls.  I made six with this recipe and rolled them out to be as large as possible.  You could make them half the size if that’s your preference.

Fry in a pan with oil until they bubble on the surface then flip.  Keep them warm in the oven while you cook the others.  With the amazing flavour of these tortillas, you can go fully minimalist on the fillings and still have a satisfying gastronomic experience. 

When you’re done, you can make a great big checkmark next to “Make Homemade Tortillas,” on your Bucket List and be assured that your life has a much greater depth of meaning.

Backhanded Complementary Cake


Chocolate’s last relationship with an alcoholic beverage had been a disaster.  An unlikely combination upon first blush– hot chocolate and red wine– seemed like it may have been a good idea.  Why not?  Together, they would be a bold, adventurous pairing their friends on both sides felt would work perfectly together.

They weren’t.  The result was a swift and irreconcilable parting.  Hot chocolate and red wine were never meant to cohabit the same cup.  It brought out the worst in both of them.  Their pairing was a proverbial match made in Hell.

And so it was with understandable reluctance when chocolate was introduced to stout.  But, with the support of plenty of butter and chocolate’s wacky friend cream cheese, they gave it a try. 

Only moments into their conjugal relationship, both chocolate and stout knew, and everyone that knew them knew, they were meant for each other.  Heaven hadn’t known a happier coupling, and everyone who met the two together raved about this culinary power-couple. 

The lesson to be learned in love is that not all types of alcohol are incompatible jerks, especially if they’re Irish.

This version was adapted largely from Meghan Splawn’s recipe on

Backhanded Complementary Cake

Cake Ingredients

1 cup of butter

1 cup of Crannog Ale’s Backhand of God Stout

3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

2 eggs

1 cup of sour cream

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

2 cups of all purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

3/4 teaspoon of salt

The Icing– (Not just The Icing on the Cake, but an essential ingredient)

1/2 cup of butter

4 ounces of cream cheese

2 cups of icing sugar

Pans and Such

1 round spring-form 9” pan or a 9” circular pan with 3” sides

Parchment paper

Electric mixer

Large bowl

Small saucepan

How to Make It

1.  Melt 1 cup butter and 1 cup of stout in a saucepan over medium heat.

2.  Take the pan off the heat and bloom the 3/4 cup cocoa by whisking in and letting stand for 10 minutes.

3.  In a separate bowl, beat the 1 cup sour cream, 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon vanilla with a mixer.

4.  Add the cocoa-stout-butter mixture to the bowl used in step 3.

5.  Add the 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt and whisk until combined.

6.  Pour batter into circular pan with parchment paper.

7.  Bake at 350 F. for 40 to 45 minutes.

8.  Cool the cake for about an hour before icing.

9.  To make the frosting, beat 1/2 cup butter until smooth.

10.  Add the cream cheese and beat for 3 minutes or so until smooth.

11.  Add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time until 2 cups are added.  Beat until smooth.

12.  This doesn’t make a ton of frosting.  Just ice the top of the cake, and it’s plenty.

13.  After a slice of this cake, have another, then refrain from driving for at least 12 hours.

The Discobolus Dispatch


Write the novel, paint the picture, compose the song . . . So, then what are you going to call it?  How about a novel titled,  “39,000 Words Divided into Twelve Chapters.”  Or maybe, “A Main Character Named Edward Who Falls Madly in Love with Another Character Named Doris.” 

Sorry.  It just doesn’t work.

So, why, when a recipe is created, is it called something like, “Avocado With Greek Yogurt and Horseradish Pizza,” or “Broiled Double-Thick Lamb Rib Chops With Store-Bought Mint Jelly Sauce?” Such names are completely lacking in flair.  No imagination.  The ultimate sin of being dull!  dull!  dull!

What an original recipe needs is a name that holistically captures the qualities of the creation without being too explicit about the ingredients.  For example, there’s “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” and “Bubble and Squeak.”  You have to know the recipe intimately to get the significance of the name.  But when you do, it makes so much sense and gives the recipe a splash of panache. 

With this in mind, I’d like to present a semi-original recipe I call, “The Discobolus Dispatch.”

This recipe is essentially made up of rounds of focaccia bread covered in a variety of cheeses, pesto, and roasted vegetables warmed up in the oven.  Call it a take on the pizza  Here’s how it goes:

Part 1:  Focaccia Bread

First you make the Focaccia Olive Oil Bread with Sage recipe from The Tassajara Break Book by Edward Espe Brown. The only change I made to this was, instead of dividing the dough into 8 pieces, I divided them into 4 simply because I wanted larger platforms.

Part 2:  Pesto

2 cups fresh basil

Pinch of salt

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix in food processor.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil

Add 1/4 cup walnuts

1/2 Parmesan cheese

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)

This pesto is so good, you’ll want to eat it on its own.  But don’t. 

Part 3:  Roasted Stuff

It’s pretty wide open what you can use, but here are some specific ideas:

red peppers

zucchini slices



Roast in a 400 F oven until done.

Part 4:  The Assembly

I sliced the focaccia bread horizontally to create a flat surface.

Spread the pesto, then pile on the roasted veggies. 

Also, add black olives to give this a bit of a kick.  Also, grate cheese over the top if you like.  I’m thinking some goat cheese could be spectacular.

Heat up in a 350 F oven until the bread’s nicely warm and the cheese melts.


Master Supply List

If you’re like me, you need a master list of ingredients for this pretty involved recipe for planning purposes, so here it goes:

Whole wheat flour

White flour


Olive oil


dried sage

basil (or supplement with spinach)


Parmesan cheese

lemon juice



red peppers

cheese of some sort


black olives