Sometimes this lifestyle makes me crazy. I will admit it. When I try to rush out the door in the morning and notice my sourdough starter sitting on the counter, yearning for the feeding I have neglected to give it, I get why people don’t want to look after one. Although feeding my starter takes all of 10 minutes, that feeding is one more thing I have to do every day.
But my sourdough bread tastes so good! And it’s much healthier than industrial bread. With only three ingredients—one of which comes from my tap—it simplifies my life. I can’t live or eat any other way. For me, the benefits of this lifestyle far outweigh any disadvantages.
Yes, I could buy sourdough bread at a bakery—in my own cloth bag to boot! Did I mention the taste of homemade? Then of course, take into consideration the ingredients. I am pretty sure that if a bakery crammed as many golden raisins as I do into its coriander-raisin sourdough bread, it would go bankrupt.
Last month, two readers emailed me in as many days to ask basically the same question—how do I manage all of this? What does my schedule look like?
1. My Weekly Schedule
Weeks vary, but they roughly follow the schedule below, depending on whether I teach a workshop or not. Right now, I teach a workshop every other weekend. In the summer, I’ll teach one almost every weekend. I will take some time off to visit family though.
- Monday — Work in office
- Tuesday — Work half day from home
- Wednesday — Blogging day at home (This is work!)
- Thursday — Work in office
- Friday — Prepare for class or workshop OR work half day from home
- Saturday — Teach workshop OR day off
- Sunday — Farmers’ market and other food shopping
2. An Ideal Weekday
This schedule doesn’t always go as planned. This past Monday, for example, I woke up in the middle of the night, couldn’t fall back asleep and so sat up reading for an hour. Then I slept in and ruined my plans to meditate.
- 5:15am — Wake up
- 5:30am to 6:00am — Yoga or meditation
- 6:00am to 8:00am — Shower, feed Eleanor (my sourdough starter), feed myself, answer email, post to social media, pack lunch if going to office
- 8:00am to 5:00pm — Work, either commuting to office, working from home or riding bike to a café to work depending on the day
- 6:00pm to 8:00pm — Make dinner, eat, clean up
- 9:00pm — In bed reading, ideally (usually more like 9:30 or 10 and falling asleep mid first page)
3. A Short Commute
Although I don’t live very far from the office where I work, driving in horrifying Silicon Valley traffic can eat up a ridiculous amount of time on the two days I work at the office. Once or twice a month, my boss and I will work together in a café downtown and I’ll ride my bike there. I love combining exercise and commuting to work—and not burning fossil fuel!
I am fortunate enough to have been able to organize my life in such a way that I don’t spend much time commuting. With the housing crisis here in the Bay Area, living close to work is simply out of the question for a lot of people. Many teachers, nurses, construction workers—i.e., low-tech workers—can no longer afford to live here. They have to commute long distances to their jobs.
4. A Meal Plan
We eat pretty simple fare made of very good, fresh ingredients, mostly plants. Yes, I do cook our meals every night—sometimes we eat out on the weekend—but I don’t cook a new dish from scratch every night. If I did, I would:
- Be a slave to my kitchen
- Spend a fortune
- Waste piles of food
- Lose my mind
Before I shop, I choose a couple of meals to make. I’ll cook one of those meals and the next night, either eat the leftovers or combine the leftovers with other ingredients to make something new. Then I’ll cook the next meal, followed by the next leftover meal. I try to always have something on hand that I can turn into something else. Meals are a constant work in progress rather than new dishes made completely from scratch. This saves a lot of time. (Click here for more on simple meal planning.)
5. Food Shopping and Prepping
I shop at the farmers’ market every Sunday religiously, ideally by bike so I can squeeze in some much needed exercise. I hit the grocery store once a week only (usually), either by bike or on my way home from the office or the café. I buy less food than I used to, which prevents food waste and reduces that I-have-to-use-all-this-food-up-right-away panic that sets in when I have a refrigerator full of food we haven’t eaten.
On the weekend, after I go to the farmers’ market, I’ll prep a few things. I might make salad dressing and wash and trim my kale or spinach. This make salads really simple to throw together on a weeknight. I might cook beans in my pressure cooker for a dish I’ll make later in the week. When I reach into the refrigerator for something I prepped on the weekend, I thank my earlier self for planning ahead. In the summer, I roast and freeze probably 50 pounds of tomatoes over the course of a few weekends. I use these throughout the winter. They are my version of canned tomatoes from the store.
If I want to cook something and realize I lack one ingredient for it, I make do. This is very important and saves me a lot of time! I dread rushing to the grocery store at 5pm on a weekday, fighting for parking, picking up one item, standing in line with all the other harried customers, rushing home and then starting to cook. I can usually figure out a suitable substitute for the missing ingredient or just leave it out, depending on the ingredient and the dish.
6. Not Shopping
I spend as little time shopping for other stuff as possible. When I was younger, I loved shopping at the mall. But today, I go only if my teenager really wants me to take her there. The unbridled consumerism of a sterile mall usually sends me over the edge, spouting off tirades that embarrass my daughter, so that she now goes with her friends instead, although not all that often because she prefers thrift shops (sometimes those tirades rub off…). I also rarely buy stuff online. I would rather support local, independent small businesses.
We do have a very good thrift shop in our area. I enjoy going there occasionally and often can’t believe the good stuff I find. Occasionally I’ll stop at a garage sale and score some good deals. I organized a community swap Meetup earlier this year. It was so much fun. We socialized and snacked on homemade bread and cookies, no money exchanged hands—and we diverted stuff from landfill. (Read more about the community swap here.)
7. Taking Care of My Starters
I’ve had many questions regarding starter maintenance. How do I manage to keep them alive? Eleanor turned four in February. I was fairly proud of this until I read an article about a woman in her eighties who lives in the Yukon and keeps a starter that’s 120 years old!
My starters need regular attention:
- Sourdough (Eleanor). Eleanor, the star, gets the most attention. I generally keep her out on the counter, which means daily feeding. But if I need a break from Eleanor and I don’t have any sourdough bread classes coming up, I’ll put her in the refrigerator for a week. Then I take her out and feed her. After she digests her meal (a few hours), I either put her back in the refrigerator or leave her out on the counter and resume daily feedings.
- Ginger bug (Mary Ann). I regularly keep Mary Ann in the refrigerator and pull her out to feed once a week. I adore ginger beer—it’s my favorite drink—but I make it about once a month only.
- Kombucha (Etheldreda). I make kombucha about once a week. This involves brewing tea, sweetening it, letting it cool (sometimes overnight if I’m tired), adding a bit of kombucha from the previous batch and adding the SCOBY. Etheldreda is more independent than Eleanor or Mary Ann. She can go for weeks without feedings.
- Yogurt (I’m not sure why I have never named my yogurt…). I make yogurt every few weeks. Like all of the other starters, to keep it going, I have to add a bit of the old culture to a new substrate—the food that becomes fermented, in this case, the milk.
I accidentally killed Betty, my buttermilk. The following tips will prevent your starters from suffering a similar fate:
- Keep the number of starters to a minimum. I am maxed out at four. Any more and I will become the crazy cat lady of fermentation. If you have 10 starters that need daily feeding, that will consume well over an hour every day, maybe two. And how will you ever go on vacation again? You will need a starter sitter—which is a thing, although rare.
- Keep track of feedings. I prefer a calendar but you could also write the dates of the last feeding and the next feeding on the jar that houses the starter. A china marker works well on glass. My sourdough starter jar gets too messy for this.
- Don’t feed your starters every day. Take a break occasionally. Put your sourdough or ginger bug in the refrigerator. Let your kombucha sit for several weeks. At that point, it will be very vinegary but you can use the vinegar for cooking and cleaning and save money on store-bought. I’ve been using my kombucha vinegar instead of rice vinegar in peanut sauce and stir fry dishes. No one has noticed. Not that there’s anything wrong with it…
8. The Sourdough Bread Schedule
My neighbor told me she gave up on baking sourdough bread because she found it too difficult to keep up with a regular schedule of feeding and baking. She wondered how I manage my sourdough.
Here is the basic schedule I follow when I make sourdough bread. It may look long and time-consuming but throughout most of this schedule, the dough merely sits.
8:00am — Feed active starter
8:00pm — Make leaven and soak flours
8:00am to 2:00pm — Make the dough and form loaves. I don’t work on the bread this entire time! The bulk fermentation lasts for the bulk of this time, during which I have to turn the dough every 45 minutes. That takes two minutes. After I form the dough, I put them in the loaves in the refrigerator for a cold proof.
5:00am — Bake bread. You also have the option of baking late on Day 2, say around 8 or 9pm.
Yes, baking this way does require some advance planning but not a lot of actual active work on the dough. I usually make my bread on Tuesday or Wednesday while I’m home working on other stuff. If I have an upcoming sourdough bread class, I make bread the day before the class. My students need to see the dough formed and ready to bake and we also need another loaf to eat.
When I make my bread, the following completely optional steps gobble up MUCH more of time:
- Posting Instagram stories off every little step.
- Toasting seeds and soaking seeds or other add-ins.
- Grinding fresh flour. I will not lie. If you want to save time, do not grind flour in a grain mill like mine. Yes, the flour is wonderful. But it takes so long to grind. When my daughter Charlotte was little, she and her friends practically begged me to grind flour with it. I would channel Tom Sawyer, saying, “Well, okay. I guess I can let you kids have all the fun.” It was great! Students in my sourdough bread class also enjoy using the grain mill, so they will often grind up a bit of flour that I’ll use later. I covet an electric KoMo mill. Or a hand-cranked mill attached to a stationary bike. So awesome.
8. Electronic Distractions
One reader asked me if I own a TV. I haven’t had a TV for about 20 years and I don’t miss it. I do however have way too many other screens in my life. Instagram is my favorite app on my phone. My second favorite app is Freedom, an app to block apps. My daughter MK likes the app Moment to track how much time she spends on her phone. On my laptop, I use Self Control to block websites while I work so I actually get work done.
9. Beauty Routine
I have no beauty routine to speak of. This may not appeal to some of you. I do spend a lot of money on my haircuts but not on any hair products—no dyes or treatments or whatever people spend a lot of money on for their hair. I don’t spend time doing my hair either. I wash and go. And I don’t spend time putting on makeup, to my mother’s exasperation (“Anne Marie, why don’t you wear at least a little bit of makeup?”). I do exercise regularly though. That keeps me in shape and sane. (I am sane, right?)
Reading this post, you may think this regimen sounds like too much work. Or maybe you think I live a life of ease. I guess it depends on your perspective. I haven’t written this post to suggest that everyone live as I do but people ask me regularly how I manage my time, so here it is. Take from it what you like—if anything.